Deal Me In 2020: #2

January 14, 2020 § 2 Comments

Picked ♥9 from the deck today:
Hell-Diving Women, by Meghan Mayhew Bergman, from Almost Famous Women

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The premise of this collection of short stories by Meghan Mayhew Bergman is an intriguing one. In her own words:

The stories in this collection are born of fascination with real women whose remarkable lives were reduced to footnotes.

How does one turn away a book like this?

In Hell-Diving Women, we are introduced to the world of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a jazz band that is not only all-female, but also “racially-integrated”, something that just wasn’t done back in the 1940s. In the centre of this tornado, is Tiny Davis, though from what we can tell, Tiny is anything but. She is big, loud, strong-willed, and so full of life, she affects everyone around her.

But this story is not only about Tiny. It is also about Ruby, the woman next to the woman. It is Ruby who has Tiny’s back. It is Ruby who watches out for her, who worries when she goes overboard, who stands up for her when she picks a fight. Tiny is boisterous and outgoing. Tiny loves the stage, and the audience love her, too. Ruby is a replacement, a back-up for anyone who’s out sick or down with the flu. She can be anyone, and yet she is no one.

But when Tiny walks up to Ruby and whispers in her ear, “You and me, baby,” Ruby feels her heart flutter, and her stomach do a little butterfly dance. And you get goosebumps, because Ruby gets goosebumps. She doesn’t say it, but you know she does.

Hell-Diving Women reads like a peek into the real lives of these women; what happens when they’re on the road between gigs, or behind the scenes just before the curtains pull open and send them into the limelight. It’s intriguing, but also mundane; it feels exhilarating, yet so everyday.

And maybe that’s what it’s like, to be almost famous women.

The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng

January 7, 2020 § Leave a comment

First published in English in 2012

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“What kind of gardener will you be, if you do not feel the soil with your bare hands?”

~Nakamura Aritomo

I completely forgot how dreamy Tan Twan Eng’s prose can be. It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt the urge to pull myself out of a book, just so I could pen down a line from the page, so that I could keep it, so that it could speak to me over and over even after I closed the book and returned it to my shelves.

“But how does one capture stillness on paper?”

~ Nakamura Aritomo

Sometimes, flowery prose can really annoy me. Especially when it feels like the prose is flowery just for the sake of it—to look pretty. But with Tan’s book, the prose sets the scene, it creates an aura, it opens up a world that rises from the pages and encapsulates me into it. His words, and how he arranges them to form sentences and paragraphs, have a magic that remind me of why I love beautiful writing.

The Garden of Evening Mists tells the story of Judge Teoh Yun Ling, who returns to Yugiri, a Japanese garden in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Her return to this place brings her back to earlier years: her memories of the time she had spent in the garden with Nakamura Aritomo, the Japanese gardener who had once worked for the Emperor of Japan; and the painful ordeal she had to face during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya during the Second World War.

This book is a love story, but not only about the love between a man and a woman. It is also a love story about our relationship with nature, with our memories, with our losses and our sacrifices. Because the best love stories are about push and pull, about tension, about bitterness mixed with sweetness. The most beautiful of love stories are filled with some sort of sorrow that we somehow convince ourselves that we deserve, that we need in order to get that heart-bursting, tingling feeling that all of us yearn for.

Memory is like patches of sunlight in an overcast valley, shifting with the movement of the clouds. Now and then the light will fall on a particular point in time, illuminating it for a moment before the wind seals up the gap, and the world is in shadows again.

Love.

Deal Me In 2020: #1

January 4, 2020 § 2 Comments

Picked ♠9 from the deck today:
Red Eye, by Dennis Lehane & Michael Connelly, from FaceOff

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This is the first short story I’m reading from this anthology, FaceOff, so I think it might be a good idea to talk about the book briefly before moving on to the story itself.

So this book is a collection of stories, each written by two thriller authors featuring well-known characters from their own books. In each story, the characters meet each other, they face-off, and a story spins from there. The premise is interesting, but perhaps even more interesting for someone who’s an ardent fan of thrillers, and who are familiar with the authors and their beloved characters.

As I read this story, I realised—with quite a surprise, really—that I don’t read a lot of books from the thriller genre. So, while the authors are familiar to me, their characters are definitely not. I didn’t know their ticks, their habits, their individual characteristics. I didn’t know them.

So, I found it a little tough to really get pulled into the story that was unfolding, not because I don’t like thrillers (because I actually do!), but because I couldn’t relate to the two men who were after the same guy. That didn’t sit well with me.

But that’s also not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading this story. Because I did. While slightly predictable, the story was presented in a way that kept the pages turning. And that’s one of the things that mark good thrillers—the pages turn themselves.

This is a good start.

Deal Me In 2020

January 4, 2020 § 4 Comments

Earlier today, I came across a blog post on Dolce Bellezza about a short story challenge hosted by Jay. And then I thought to myself, this is a great way to get myself reading short stories again. And the way this challenge is designed makes it really interesting. So despite this being the first time I’m hearing about the Deal Me In short story challenge in its tenth year, I’m really keen to join.

So, here’s my short story deck for the year:

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♠ SPADES ♠

Like Jay, I’m going with darker stories for this suit. Mysteries and thrillers. The stories in this list will be coming from one of these two books:

  • FaceOff, edited by David Baldacci
  • In the Shadow of the Master, edited by Michael Connelly
  • ♠ 2: The Murders in the Rue Morgue
  • ♠ 3: The Raven
  • ♠ 4: The Black Cat
  • ♠ 5: Manuscript Found in a Bottle
  • ♠ 6: The Pit and the Pendulum
  • ♠ 7: William Wilson
  • ♠ 8: Ligeia
  • ♠ 9: Red Eye – Dennis Lehane & Michael Connelly
  • ♠ 10: Good and Valuable Consideration – Lee Child & Joseph Finder
  • ♠ J: In The Nick of Time – Ian Rankin & Peter James
  • ♠ Q: Gaslighted – R.L. Stine & Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  • ♠ K: The Devil’s Bones – Steve Berry & James Rollins
  • ♠ A: The Laughing Buddha – M.J. Rose & Lisa Gardner

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♥ HEARTS ♥

Focusing an entire suit on women writers, and I’ve got four books of selected stories by four authors to choose from:

  • Carried Away, by Alice Munro
  • Moral Disorder, by Margaret Atwood
  • Almost Famous Women, by Megan Mayhew Bergman
  • Barbara the Slut, and Other People, by Lauren Holmes
  • ♥ 2: Royal Beatings – Alice Munro
  • ♥ 3: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro
  • ♥ 4: The Moons of Jupiter – Alice Munro
  • ♥ 5: Monopoly – Margaret Atwood
  • ♥ 6: The Boys at the Lab – Margaret Atwood
  • ♥ 7: White Horse – Margaret Atwood
  • ♥ 8: Who Killed Dolly Wilde? – Megan Mayhew Bergman
  • ♥ 9: Hell-Diving Women – Megan Mayhew Bergman
  • ♥ 10: Saving Butterfly McQueen – Megan Mayhew Bergman
  • ♥ J: Barbara the Slut – Lauren Holmes
  • ♥ Q: New Girls – Lauren Holmes
  • ♥ K: How Am I Supposed to Talk to You? – Lauren Holmes
  • ♥ A: Carried Away – Alice Munro

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♣ CLUBS ♣

For this suit, I’m going with anthologies, selected by three authors that I really admire:

  • Birthday Stories, selected by Haruki Murakami
  • Angela Carter’s Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women
  • The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith
  • ♣ 2: Timothy’s Birthday – William Trevor
  • ♣ 3: The Birthday Present – Andrea Lee
  • ♣ 4: Close to the Water’s Edge – Claire Keegan
  • ♣ 5: Birthday Girl – Haruki Murakami
  • ♣ 6: The Young Girl – Katherine Mansfield
  • 7: The Rainy Moon – Colette
  • ♣ 8: Aunt Liu – Luo Shu
  • ♣ 9: The Loves of Lady Purple – Angela Carter
  • ♣ 10: Hanwell Snr – Zadie Smith
  • ♣ J: Magda Mandela – Hari Kunzru
  • ♣ Q: Puppy – George Sanders
  • ♣ K: Cindy Stubenstock – A.M. Homes
  • ♣ A: Judith Castle – David Mitchell

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♦ DIAMONDS ♦

This last suit of the deck is dedicated to short stories written by Malaysian authors, from the following anthologies published by our local publishers: Fixi Novo, and Word Works.

  • KL Noir: Red, edited by Amir Muhammad
  • KL Noir: White, edited by Amir Hafizi
  • Bitter Root Sweet Fruit, edited by Dipika Mukherjee & Sharon Bakar
  • Love in Penang, edited by Anna Tan
  • ♦ 2: Mamak Murder Mystery – Marc de Faoite
  • ♦ 3: The Unbeliever – Amir Hafizi
  • ♦ 4: The Gift of Flowers – Shih-Li Kow
  • ♦ 5: Savages – Nadia Khan
  • ♦ 6: Breadwinner – Hadi M. Nor
  • ♦ 7: Playtime – Arif Zulkifli
  • 8: Mad About Mary – Terence Toh
  • ♦ 9: Trail – Bathmaloshanee M.
  • ♦ 10: Bird – Ling Low
  • ♦ J: Appa’s Mutton Curry – Sumitra Selvaraj
  • ♦ Q: Oh, Snap! – Mamü Vies
  • ♦ K: Double-Blind – Zen Cho
  • ♦ A: Oil on Canvas – Eeleen Lee

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So, this is a great way to start off the year. Let’s see how this goes!

Wrap up: 2019

December 31, 2019 § 4 Comments

I started this year aiming to finish 26 books. I haven’t been reading much in the past few years, all owing to always being “too busy”, or having “too much work”, or that I simply “don’t have time”. So I thought to myself, I’ll give myself a reading goal that’s achievable. Surely I can manage one book every two weeks?

So on this last day of the year, I’ve managed to finish 51 books. Very near to one book a week. I thought I would have finished The Garden of the Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng before today, but I still have a few more chapters go to, and it is a book that I don’t want to simply rush through. I had really wanted to wrap up the year with the perfect “one-book-a-week” ribbon, but I guess things really don’t always have to be perfect.

In terms of actual reading, I think it’s been a pretty great year, filled with many very good books. My absolute favourites include A Man Called Ove, and The Travelling Cat Chronicles. I have also discovered new-to-me authors that I highly suspect I am quickly becoming a fan of: Neil Gaiman and Ira Levin. My love for Japanese literature has somehow expanded to include the entire Asian region, the familiarity of our shared cultures resonating strongly.

It’s been a great year for reconnecting, for finding time for myself, for quiet, for reading. And I’m thankful.

I’m looking forward to a good reading year again, starting tomorrow.

The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas

December 17, 2019 § Leave a comment

Published in English in 2008

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It’s interesting how we choose the books we read at any given time. The Slap has been sitting on my shelves since almost five years ago, and never once was I compelled to pick it up. I was always aware of the premise of the story: a gathering of friends and family goes wrong when someone slaps a child. The book then continues to explore what happens as a result of that incident, and how everyone has been affected.

I have to say that the first chapter of the book was immensely difficult to get into. There were so many characters being introduced, each couple with their own child or children, and not everyone’s age particularly clear. It was also quite difficult to tell who was talking to who sometimes. And I found myself having to refer to previous pages just to check and see if I had the right wife attached to the right husband to the right kid.

It all felt a little tedious for me. And I typically either stop reading entirely, or it sits on my table for months until I finally decide that it’s got to go back to the shelves. Somehow, though, I made it past the first chapter, in which the slap has occurred. And moving on to the next chapter, I thought maybe it would be less tedious now that it’s no longer centred around the gathering with the many, many people.

I’m kind of glad that I finished the book. It wasn’t particularly excellent for me, and despite each chapter being told from a different character’s perspective, the narrative sometimes felt like it had the same voice. But the flow was intriguing. The “slap” didn’t necessarily feature heavily in their lives, but the effects were definitive.

I had wondered if there were just too many characters, so much so that they got jumbled up together. They sorted out themselves towards the end, but this is probably one of the reasons why I don’t really go for huge family drama books, especially those that span generations.

So, no, this is not the type of book I normally go for. But, it had a good flow, and it kept me interested through most of the book.

I am a little curious about the miniseries, though.

Sum up: November 2019

December 5, 2019 § Leave a comment

Blogging has somehow taken a back seat this past month, and while I would have loved to have been able to blog about my thoughts on the books (eight of them!) I’ve read since my last blog entry, I also have to believe that sometimes, we need to be okay with how we prioritise the things we have in our lives. Not everything gets to get our attention all of the time, simply because it is limited. Time is also limited. And despite wanting to do it all, we need to accept that sometimes, we cannot.

We need to be okay with it. I am learning. Still.

Nevertheless, I do still want to post about some of the really good books that I’ve managed to squeeze in this past month.

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I read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, which is a book about friendships between young girls. It’s a book that has somehow managed to stick with me. Not all the little details, but instead the overall feeling of unease that the book had, where Atwood warned us not to be so easily taken in, to not assume innocence simply because young girls are “sugar and spice and all things nice”. Female bullying is something that’s been underrated, mostly because we don’t identify it when it’s happening, and there are no immediate physical markings after. Bullying, especially between best friends, exists in a world that’s highly invisible, but the effects are typically more severe than fistfights. One never truly recovers from it—the bruises are so deep that we don’t even know we’ve been inflicted.

Very soon after that, I read Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It was also a book about young female friendships, but one in a completely different tone, about a completely different side of such relationships—about small jealousies, insecurities, and wanting to fit in. I don’t want to say that the book doesn’t delve as deep into many of the issues because it is a YA book—there are many YA books that perhaps explore the dark side of young adults and adolescents. And I don’t think this book is shallow in particular. In fact, I think it’s probably because I read it so soon after Cat’s Eye that I pitted the two against each other in my head, despite each being so different, and found Blume’s book coming up a little short.

The Peculiar Life Of A Lonely Postman, written originally in French by Denis Thériault, was a very pretty story, and had just enough of a twist that completely blindsided me, and left me rather breathless when I finished the last page. The haiku passages littered throughout the book were absolutely beautiful, and a very elegant way of sort of bringing the story full circle.

The last two books of the month were The God Of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy, and The Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi. It is only now, thinking back about them, that I realise that both of them revolved around cultures so different from my own, and also explores the mysterious bonds between twins that not all of us can fully understand. Again, both books had certain similarities, but surely, once more, their differences stood out even more.

The God Of Small Things explored a side of India I never knew, setting up the perfect backdrop for a story about people who loved, but who…

…broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.

The story itself was often rather surreal, never conforming to a conventional timeline, almost as if time had nothing to do with it, because this was a universal story that told of universal truths. Everything was Fact, and told as such.

It’s not the easiest book to get into, to be honest. It took me a number of days before I got with the flow, and allowed the author’s storytelling to float me along.

The Icarus Girl is equally magical in its setting, but the storytelling is much more straightforward, and it took less “effort” (for lack of better word) to really drown myself in the world that Oyeyemi built. Maybe also because it is told from the eyes of an 8-year-old girl, the world seemed simpler, and yet still so mysterious and complex.

In the past months, I’ve also read three Malay language books by Nadia Khan, a friend of mine. One of them, Gantung is so popular in Malaysia and Indonesia that it’s been made into a TV series, and very well-received. I don’t read nearly enough Malay language books, really.

I’ve also read a few non-fiction books, and while not all of them were impressive, I did really enjoy the latest one, After The Prophet, which tells the story of how the Shia and Sunni sects of Islam formed after Prophet Muhammad’s death. Fascinating, mostly because I’ve always been curious about religion, especially the Abrahamic ones, and Islam in particular because of my being a Malaysian. The book was easy to read and digest, and impressive because it told a very complex part of history with minimal confusion.

All in all, November has been a good reading month. I’m still going to hope that I’ll be able to blog individually about the books I read next, but if I can’t, I’m not going to beat myself up over it.

Here’s to a good reading month to end a very good year.

 

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