Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mao's Last Dancer by Li CunXin

This is a Memoir by Li CunXin. I nearly missed out this book coz I thought I had enough of those sobs stories about the hardship in China during Chairman Mao's era. I am glad I didn't.

Li was from a remote village in northeast China. The village was so poor that most of the time a bowl of white rice was a luxury. 

Nevertheless, his childhood have been quite good. His parents were a loving and gentle couple. Seldom fight and they were blessed with 7 sons. Li was the 6th son.

When he was 11 years old, a bunch of delegates from Beijing came to his village. They represent Madame Mao who wish to expand China Cultural dance. Li was chosen to go to Beijing and study ballet.

His parent though worried but they were quite happy that Li have the chance to escape the circle of poverty that engulf their life in the village. 

In Beijing, Li misses his family a lot during his first two years in Beijing. His dancing were just at an acceptable level. But it was his 2nd brother who made him realised how lucky he was to be given a chance to do something different. 

Thanks to Teacher Xiao who helped him a lot in the academy. Slowly his attitude changed and clawed to the top. 

In 1979 he was given the chance to go to Texas as part of the Cultural exchange group. He was prepared to show the enemy class how great the glorious China was. When he arrived in America, he was surprised by what he saw and experienced. It was not the "America" that he was told back home.

It didn't take long for him to realise the truth. By the time for him to return to China, he felt terrible. He wanted to stay on longer to learn more.

He was lucky as he had one more chance to return to America. This round he fell in love and got married to an American girl. He was desperate to stay on but at the same time worried about what would happen to his family if he should defect.

It was a very hard hurdle for him to cross as his sense of loyalty to his family and friends were very strong. He felt that he was an ingrate to his family and his America host, Ben. 

With Li's defection, Ben would loose all the goodwill that he had gain in China. And because of that the Chinese Government would surely refrain giving other dancers the chance learn dancing in America. 

In the end he did defect. However, his marriage failed. Hence he concentrated on his dancing. Soon his skill improved and he become one of the world greatest dancer. But still he misses his family a lot especially his mother.

There is a good ending in this story thanks to China new policy.

Yes, it's a rags to riches type of book. I am amazed at his strength facing up the bad whiplash due to his defection. It must have been an extremely tough decision for him considering that he came from China and the sense of responsibility and loyalty have been hammer into him since he was born. Never bite the hands that feeds you. Always be grateful and loyal. When he defected he cause considerable heartache to his family and his American host.

I am glad things turns out well for him in the end.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stories : All-New Tales Edited By Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

I went to BookXcess again last Wednesday. Saw this book prominently displayed at the front of the shop.

It's a compilation of 27 short stories by various authors. I had not intended to buy this book ..that is till I spotted the word "Jodi Picoult". Yes, she wrote one of the short stories in this book. Others talented authors include Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio(obviously), Jeffrey Deaver, Chuck Palaniuk, Lawrence Block, Joanne Harris and etc.

I think I have found a soul mate in terms of appreciation of books in Neil Gaiman. In his introduction, 4th paragraph  he said "Television and cinema were all very well, but these stories happened to other people. The stories I found in books happened inside my head. I was, in some way, there." Do you understand the meaning? If you do, it means that you know what I feel.

What I love about books like this is that it gives a variety. In it there are sure to be something which would suits me.

Surprisingly, I had not found Jodi Picoult story in this book to be something special. She is sticking to the theme which she wrote best - Love and lost.

I find that Joanne Harris's "Wildfire In Manhattan" to be delightful read with a hint of horror and fantasy. The old and the new blended well together.

"Unwell" by Carolyn Parkhurst and "Parallel Lines" by Tim Powers were also very good read about siblings rivalry to the death.

One work that goes well with me is "The Devil on the Staircase" by Joe Hill. Not only the story was well written.

The presentation was also very unique.

Yes, this book is a hit for me and am giving it 4 stars because of the magical four words which Neil Gaiman mentioned .... and they are "....and then what happened?". I found most of the stories in this book have this pull with exception of one or two stories.. It's not the fault of the authors but rather my poor brain would not accept the stories.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Joshua Then and Now by Mordecai Richler

The book is about Joshua Shapiro today and Joshua when he was young and middle age. He was a child and then he was a parent.

When he was young his father was sort of a mysterious figure. There was a time where his father was missing for a period of time. then it was discovered that his father was imprisoned. Other women does not like his mother as she was unconventional. Just imagine she performed a strip tease at his bar-mitzvah.

Joshua grew up to be a successful journalist, TV star, a husband and a father. He have a wonderful wife named Pauline. Pauline was from a good family who marry down when she married him.

I am unable to rate this book as I did not finish reading it. The plot was good but it's not enough to hold my interest due to the constant flash back. The frequent flashes from then and now made it hard for me to concentrate on the story. When I was getting hang of where the story was going, suddenly it flash forward or vice versa.

Maybe in future when I am more patience then I may be able to finish it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Heart Hollywood by Lindsey Kelk

This is a sequel to I Heart New York.Angela Clark is now living in New York. She is a blogger and have been writing online diary for TheLook.com . She have a sexy boyfriend, Alex, who is in a Band.

Angela cant believe her good luck when she was informed that she is being sent to Hollywood to interview a hot actor. He is none other than James Jacob. He have been link to various rumours and have a reputation as a ladykiller.

This is her first time doing interview, She have no idea how to go about it but she have got the help of her good friend, Jenny. Together they set out to Hollywood.

Soon some minor hiccups start to arise. Then bigger boo boo was Paparazzi catching Angela with James and the spotlights were on them. Everyone thought that there is something going on between them.

How can Angela convince her boyfriend, parents and friends to believe her? She runs the risk of being jobless and deported. Then she found out a secret. The secret could save her  job and live but is she willing to divulge the secret?

At first I thought this is another run of the mill Chit Lit, nice at the beginning then panic in the middle and happy ending at the end but it’s not. There are some interesting moments and there is an unexpected twist near the end of the story.

One thing I don’t like is how Paparazzi conveniently appear in the story. It seems that she is trying to portray Paparazzi kept following James but how come at other times, no paparazzi were about? That part was quite unbelievable.

Otherwise, this is not a bad read.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim

Najin Han was born in Korea. She comes from a Christian family and her father is a famous Calligrapher in his time. His work was so famous that it's being commissioned by the emperor. It's the beginning of the twentieth century in Korea. A lot of changes going on and her father is determined to follow the old ways.

She was a head strong girl who is full of curiosity. Her mother wants her to have an education and her father was against it. But with a bit of cleverness, the mother managed to have her ways and Najin went to school.

At the age of 14, her father wanted to marry her off to a twelve year old son of his friend. Her mother defying the father managed to get her sent to the imperial court to serve the King. There, under the tutelage of her aunt, she was presented to the Princess and soon become the Princess playmate. Najin also was given the opportunity to further her study.

Unfortunately, the King was assassinated and the Dynasty ended. She was sent home. Najin was shocked to see that her family have become quite poor. Money were tight but her father held on to his believe that woman should not work. Her younger brother was pampered and had become quite self centred young man.

Nevertheless, with the help of some Missionary friends, Najin managed to find some work and earn some money to help out the family and also save some money to further her studies.

She did managed to further her studies. When she came home, her parents found a young man for her. Surprisingly the young man have a modern view. She fell in love. They got married and planned to further study to America. But unfortunately, Najin's passport was denied. Married for one day and she had to stay back in Korea while her husband journeyed on alone. Unknown to them, this separation is longer that the 2-3 years which they had thought to be.

The War came and the bombing of Pearl Harbour made communication impossible. Najin had to carry on alone and faced a lot pressure from  her in-laws. Later on she went back to her own family and there were hardship too. She was being accused as a spy by the Japanese and was brought to prison.

Over the years, she still feel for her husband. Wondering if they will meet each other again and wondering if he had taken another woman as wife. But during these years, she learn to blend two ways of living together. The old ways and the modern way.

This is the first book that I have read regarding Korea and their way of life. From the book, the old way of life seems to be very strict on women. Not far off from the ancient China.

What I like about this book is its rich in cultural value.When reading the part where her father forbids her from venturing to his part of the house and how Najin did not understand the purpose of it, I was really impressed on how the author presented the view of the father from the voice of the mother. It makes me thing Korean woman have a lot of patient.

Overall it's well written. I only wish that it's more expressive emotionally. This book give me the feeling that emotion are being restrained when writing it. Emotions of the characters were being "described" instead of felt/acted upon.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mother's Day Celebration

It's Mother's Day again. Everywhere you go, you'll see offer and promotions cater for Mother's Day. Online, offline, in televisions, in restaurants and even in Mamak Stall there is some sore of promotions going on.

Next month it would be father's turn to be pampered as it will be Father's Day in June.

Well, everything is fine. Hip and Rosy. Everything is swell. Everyone will be happy or at least paste on a happy face.

Ya, I am starting to sound like someone. Ranting on about something that can't be helped.

While most people will be celebrating but there would be some who would be nursing wounds.

They are the ones who :
  • lost their mother/father to death
  • lost their mother/father after being abandon or sold off
  • lost their mother/father due to abuse
  • lost their mother/father to gambling/drug/drinking
  • lost their mother/father to illness
  •  and etc
For these group, what is there to celebrate? Maybe just be thankful that they are still alive after being used, abandon and/or abuse. Especially for those who have been abused physically and/or mentally.

That is life. Some where people are celebrating, at another corner there would be some who are crying inside.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Montmorency On The Rocks by Eleanor Updale

This is the 2nd book of Montmorency Series. The story is set in Victorian era.

In book 1, Montmorency leads a duplicate life. He was a rich gentleman and his alternate identity was Scarper, a thief.

In this 2nd book, Montmorency had shed off the identity of Scarper and is now and undercover agent of the British Crown.

But during one of his mission in Turkey, he got himself addicted to drugs.This addiction seriously affected his judgement and many times nearly lead him and his partner, Lord George into trouble

Lord George brought Montmorency to his family castle to help him out of his addiction with the help of  Dr Farcett.

Meantime, there was terrorist bombing London train station. They need Montmorency help on that. But he was too weak to help even himself. In view of that Lord George went by himself.

Montmorency and Dr Farcett was drawn to escort a maid, Morag, back to her home which is in an Island when she received news of her baby brother death. When they arrived there, they were intrigued by the many cases of baby dying of mysterious illness on the island. In fact a whole generation seems to be wiped out by this.

Then they received urgent missive from London urging Montmorency to go back to London to help. He had to go. There, the mystery deepens. Montmorency have to summon back "Scarper" in order to help him with the investigation.

Overall, I find this book an interesting read. It's really intriguing to be following two cases at one short. Suitable for teenagers

The thing I don't like about this book is there was no summary of the 1st book. It's hard to read this book without knowing what happen in the 1st book. I feel that a short summary on what happen in the 1st book would certainly increase my enjoyment of this book and make it easier to understand.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Illustrated Wee Free Men : A Story of Discworld - Terry Prachett

I have come across this book many times before at BookXcess but was not interested. It's due to the name Terry Prachett. Many have praised his works but for me, I don't really fancy his books.

The reason was, I had bought one of his book "Jingo" a few years ago from Pay Less Books Warehouse sale. Till today, I have yet to read it. Have tried reading that a couple of times but kept getting stuck at the first few pages. That's why I sort of gave up on Terry Prachett books.

Then what makes me change my mind and get this book? Well, it's due to the endless "kiasu-ness". You see, BookXcess were having World Book Day Promotion the other day. Each day they offer one book from Children Section, Fiction Section and Non-Fiction Section up for discount, 50% discount. Needless to say my "kiasu-ness" knows no bound.

 Well, am glad I bought this book. Coz the illustration are simply terrific.  There are several pages where we can unfold for a bigger view

 Each page are sure to have drawings of something.

 Some are beautiful

While some can be really scary like this one.

The story is about a Tiffany Aching who is a fledgling witch. Her little brother was stolen by an evil Fairy Queen and she have to get him back from her. In order to get her brother back, she will have to follow him to the other realm. There are a lot of new things, horrors and fighting.

At the beginning it's rather hard to understand the story as Tiffany's world is not the same as ours. In her world, they don't have school and they don't go to school for an education. They buy education using apples and carrots from something like a bazaar or circus where the educators have tents selling their knowledge.

Another thing which makes the story difficult to follow are the weird language by the Wee Free Men. For example, can you understand this "Crivens! Gang awa' oot o' here, ye daft wee hinny! 'Ware the green heid!". I can't so I have to guess as I read along.

Despite it all, I found myself enjoying this book a lot. It takes quite a bit of adjusting the mindset. It feel like going back into childhood and discovering fairytale or like reading The Magic Faraway Tree the first time. Releasing oneself from this world and going into another world.

Yes, I think I will look for more of these Wee Free Men books. Any recommendation?

Monday, May 02, 2011

And Thereby Hangs A Tale By Jeffrey Archer

It have been quite sometime that I have not read any Jeffrey Archer books. I have read most of his books except the Prison Diaries. False Impression was not that impressive to me but Path of Glory was not bad.

I was delighted to spot this compilation of short stories in BookXcess Facebook the other day and immediately e-mail them. Yay! they still have this book and they agreed to reserve a copy for me.

Anyway, back to the "tale". There are 15 short stories in this book and 10 of them were based on true incidents.

Among the stories I love most are "High Heels" in which a woman helped her husband to solve the question why designer shoes could not have gone up in flames

"Where There Is A Will" was also very impressive on the ingenuity of a woman

Needless to say, all those who have read Jeffrey Archer's book would know that the ending of his stories won't be straight forward. There is always a twist in the end.

Love this book


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