High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

1995,Penguin Books Australia. 245 pages.

Yuh, why not go this way? The orange Penguin Books way. What’s not to love. 10 bucks a pop, for modern classics you know you will enjoy.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I still have a fairly clean slate to imagine the story. Although tainted abit by my general knowledge of the actors who played the main characters ( John and Joan Cusack, Jack Black, etc)

35 year old Rob Flemming is under going the quarter life crisis abit belatedly. Passionate about music (this novel is mainly about the influence of music , pop in particular), he runs a vintage record shop selling vinyl. It’s not exactly a thriving business but it stays. Compared to his contemporaries and men his age, Rob seems unambitious and dire in comparison. No high profile career, semi broke, single, and to top it all, freshly dumped.

He’s had his fair share of relationships and shags (as he half bakedly boasts), but its this most recent relationship with Laura that gets him spiraling down the emotional drain. He backtracks all his relationships since young, and tries to contact the women in the hopes of finding out what is ‘wrong’ with him.

It is a very charming work, as you read, it will feel like second nature to sympathize with Rob–because of his endearing quality of being honest, insecure, and unassuming. (so was this the character that molded John Cusack into the role of Hollywood’s eternal Mr Nice Guy?)

I can’t wait to watch the movie one day. I’m sure its one hell of a trip down memory lane with 80’s and 90’s music, just as the book had been.

Escape by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer

Penguin Books (Australia), 2007. 413 pages.

It was curiousity that got me picking up this book. I have to admit, I haven’t heard of Carolyn Jessop before (apparently she’s quite well known , more so after appearing in Oprah).

This is not an Oprah Book Club work, but the social awareness that it brought me is massive. Here’s the description, taken from the front cover, that explains what the book is about very well:

I was born  into a radical polygamist cult. At eighteen, I became the fourth wife of a fifty-year old man. I had eight children in fifteen years. When our leader began to preach the apocalypse, I knew I had to get them out.

The author was obviously able to successfully escape , so this novel wasn’t mainly about her escape but the life she had to endure (the only life she’d ever know prior to escaping.) I have heard of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) and other polygamous sects, but have never really explored their world this up close and personal.

It was an interesting read, as everything about their world is just unbelievable to the outside “normal” world , yet once you get past the shock, the  straught to the point narration can get quite arduous and lengthy–but all that is petty and redeemed by the dire gravity of the issue.

Here is author Carolyn Jessop’s interview :

It’s just a horrible , shocking, and disturbing world that I would never want to imagine belonging in. The author is one of the main people who have spoken out against Warren Jeffs, the extremist leader of this religion (as if the religion itself is not extremist). It’s sometimes hard to believe that right inside America lies a world/big community whose lifestyle and morals are not far off from stone age.

I read that Katherine Heigl will play Carolyn Jessop in a movie adaptation of this memoir.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Penguin Books Ltd. 1992. 658 pages

The cover of this novel is very reflective of the overall mood of the book. Intellectual , cold and dark. Narrated in the fashion of a recollection, Richard Papen , a young student from Plano, California is desperate to get out of his bleak family and surroundings. He went the completely opposite path , landed himself a scholarship in Hampden College in Vermont. There he tries to reinvent himself and drink in his intellectual pursuits. He discovers an intriguing Greek class offered by a professor infamous for his unorthodox method of selelction and lesson delivery. Richard becomes obsessed when he finds out that the professor takes only 5 students, and he becomes a close observer of this group composed of reserved and solitary elite students.

He soon manages to befriend the group and is welcomed into the class. In awe with his new found friends,  he plays along the role of someone from a well-off family.

After a long, painful and arduous path to upkeeping his facade, he discovers that his friends are behind an accidental murder, and from there on, the plot gets into a darker pool of social and psychological consequences.

The story focusing on young and well off individuals, the novel reminds me of a vamped up classier style of Christopher Pike meets “Year of Living Dangerously” kind of behavioral story.

The entire work could have done with a faster pace (but yes the unhurried pace is what it is made of), it was too drawn out in my opinion, and though I enjoyed the manner of how it ended, it was hardly engaging–too much reflection killed the climax in the end.

Fans of ancient Greek and literature will enjoy.

the author, Donna Tartt.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

2008. Pan Macmillan Australia,584 pages.

It’s been ages since my last book review, but I’ve read a handful of books since then. It’s a combination of : the books read weren’t really that memorable and I’ve just been swamped with work/social life, but I must confess that abandoning this book review site has been lingering in my mind for sometime now. I am just sometimes That busy that I cannot conjure up a comprehensive review of a book, and I am not one to go half-baked. Mind you I don’t get anything from writing these reviews. Just the sheer joy and satisfaction of getting feedback from other book lovers, (though most of the time it is from students who are searching for something (not to copy paste I hope) for their book report/review in school. I did get a helluva reaction from one author of a book I didn’t like though. I did not delete her comments to retain evidence just how spaz some people are. *snicker snicker*. Anyway, I have never gone into such personal thoughts in this site, as it has never been my intention. But I guess what I’m trying to say is — This book, has sparked that gusto in me to write these reviews again. it is THAT. GOOD.

My copy’s been lying on my bookshelf for over a year now (shame) waiting to be read. Now 3 days ago I went on a camping trip and hastily grabbed the first few books I could get my hands on. Let’s say I did more reading than getting down and dirty on that camping trip. And it left me feeling completely satisfied.

Last year, I wrote about my awe of Generation X writers. (Marisha Pessl and Jonathan Safran Foer)

I will now add Australian author Markus Zusak, and on top of the list at that.

The Book Thief is about Liesel Meminger, a young girl (the book starts with her at age 10 or 11 and mainly until she is 15) during World War II in Germany. She is literally a book thief, stealing books brought about by her love for reading. Yet times are dangerous and the novel explores her young, everyday exploits , the people around her, and how their lives are changed by the Fuhrer.

It is narrated by Death itself, which makes the whole storytelling altogether haunting, philosophical, and charming.

Most novels told in this beautifully unconventional manner have the “simple plot/beautifully worded” combination. In my humble reading experience, this has novel has to be the first of its kind that I’ve encountered: exquisite storytelling AND magnificent story.

A number of reviews say this book will be a future classic and I cannot agree more heartily. This is a quirky Anne Frank book that as you get buried further into its pages, the tighter embrace the words get into your heart.

It is magical, charming, sad, funny, and a definite page turner. This book’s storytelling and narration is such that I can see a movie version of it soon. In either a Quentin Tarantino form or ala Pan’s Labyrinth. Whichever way, I know it can be executed. That’s how extraordinary the book’s method of unfolding its story is. that I can already imagine it in the big screen. (I, who loathe most movie versions of books).

Markus Zusak has just given me more reason to be in awe of the rising impression Gen X authors are leaving. I am sure to read his other works.

Markus Zusak (b.1975)  lives in Sydney with his wife and daughter.

The Nanny Diaries by Nicola Kraus & Emma McLaughlin

nanny St.Martin’s Griffin, 2003, 320 pages.

Who doesn’t love a nanny story? Screaming, tantrum-throwing kids, impossibly demanding employers (parents)–isn’t it nice to read about horror lives that are thankfully not yours?

While I loved Mary Poppins and the chim-chiminee guys–my utmost ‘exposure’ to babysitting in literary form go way way back in the early 90’s–the Babysitter’s Club.

Now from the simple, pleasant, peanut-butter-will-fix-it-all kid of babysitting of the Babysitter’s Club in Connecticut—we jump to the semi-memoir of  “Nanny” (thats the only name the central character is known in the book) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, present day.

It’s about her struggle to juggle finishing a degree, spending time with her own family, trying to have a relationship–and most of all, trying hard to please her employer, the very annoying perfectionist haute couture and organic loving Mrs.X. To top all that, there’s Mr.X’s mistress who haunts her day in and out.

Although the novel is filled with generalizations (about people, society,etc), it is highly entertaining and witty. The fun read is worth the annoyingly pushover characrter Nanny is. Just when you begin to root for her, she lets you down with her extreme passivity. (Just give Mrs. X Bith a dose of her own medicine now, will you??)

I’m glad it didn’t have a very cliche ending. I saw an interview of the 2 authors of the book, both of whom have actually been nannies in New York in the mid 90’s–when economy was such a boom in the US, hence the rise of posh non-working mothers who hire nannies to take care of their own children.

The movie adaptation disappoints thoroughly. But I loved the fabulous Laura Linney as Mrs. X.

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Authors Nicola Kraus and Emma Mclaughlin were real life nannies for a time.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

ink The Chickenhouse UK, translated from the German by Anthea Bell, English translation copyright 2003. 543 pages.

Writing stories may be a kind of magic, but storytelling is also an entirely kind of skill and magic in itself. This is learned so by Meggie Folchart, a 12-year old booklover. Her father, Mortimer, is a book restorer, whose extraordinary talent in storytelling has involuntarily dragged out characters from the darkbook, “Inkheart” into the real world.

They soon find themselves abducted by Capricorn and his Black Jacket men–villain characters from “Inkheart” who are demanding to be read back into their ‘story world’.

But its not as simple as a group of bad guys who cannot read wanting to have their bedtime story. Capricorn (Boss BOSS of the bad guys) wants the darkest unmentionable character in the story to be brought out into the real world.

Also, if stories were not read properly, wrong characters would be drawn–that, or you get the right character, but they emerge with ‘defects’. On top of that, everytime you call out a character from a book, a person from the real world takes its place. (Which is what happened to Meggie’s mother).

With the help of an eccentric book collecter aunt, a mysterious and burly fire-eater, and a young Arab boy from ‘The Arabian Nights”, and Inkheart’s author–Meggie and Mortimer involuntarily enters an adventure–where a story within a story unfolds.

As a young adult book, “Inkheart” is very adventure packed (500+ pages of action) and has an undeniably ingenious and original concept.

I’m not entirely sure if tis a case of things being different or could be a case of things being lost in translation but the narration can sometimes be too dragging with its description and details. Also, a bit of discretion with the chapter titles could help so as not to give away the chapter plot. (for instance, a chapter titled “Meggie Disappears into the Night” takes away the exciting factor).

“Inkheart” is the first of the ‘INKWORLD’ trilogy (Inkspell and Inkdeath) and is also a major motion picture starring Brendan Fraser.

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Author Cornelia Funke, touted as the German J.K Rowling (?)

Real Women Don’t Wear Size 2 by Kelley St. John

9780446617215_388X586 Warner Books, 2003, 350 pages.

It’s fairly easy to see from the book’s statement title that the theme is all about pro-‘healthy/real size’ and boo skanko-rexic size zero.

Clarice Robinson is the typical ‘real-sized’ heroine–insecure, has a generous and amazing personality, was a wallflower in school, and more glaringly, has a younger sister who is thin, glamorous, and confident. And of course, she has a deep and long admiration for her boss and close friend, the dashing Ethan Eubanks.

But unlike all rom-com about real sized heroines, the object of her desire Does like her too–and in fact becomes her sort-of sex slave, helping her fulfill all her fantasies.

In short–no conflict in plot. 80% of the book is a ‘sex confession’ (true to the cover warning saying, “Dangerous Curves Ahead”)

So really, there’s almost no story essential like plot , conflict, or resolution. But if you are in for a hot (raunchy) read, you might like this.

And as a book that embraces sizes and cirves, it seems to do it overly and almost patronizingly. (All characters in the book, even waifish sales assistants seem to love curves and secretly hate their thin bodies. RIGHT.)

And so much for trying to have a grabbing title–are al women size 2 and below fake then?