Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Title: 1Q84
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2011

Recommendation: A fiction immersion experience for those who like the weird and lots of character development.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Aomame is a fitness instructor in 1984 Tokyo. She takes a taxi to get to an appointment, but the traffic on the highway is blocked. The taxi driver suggests she take an emergency staircase off the highway and she does, ending up in an alternative world on 1Q84. Tengo is a math teacher who spends his spare time writing a novel. He is approached to rewrite a story by a 17-year old and becomes embroiled in the magic of the Air Chrysalis.

Reactions: I bought 1Q84 because of several reviews I've seen of it, extolling its virtues as the best book of the year. I have never read anything by this author before, so I have decided to see for myself what's the story about.

I realized rather quickly that this wasn't going to be a fast-moving story. The story switches between the two main characters each chapter and takes its time to show us the connection between the two stories. The narrative weaves and ducks and detours, but the patterns do emerge throughout the book. And despite 1Q84 not being an action-oriented book, I found myself quite engrossed in the story.

I enjoyed the fact that the book builds a certain atmosphere and immerses the reader into it. We learn everything there is to know about each character, what they think, how they live, how they grew up, and what motivates them. They are not necessarily the most sympathetic characters, but Murakami does make them feel real and quite unique as well. The supporting characters are also amazingly developed, varied and plausible. My favorite was Tamaru, but overall I felt all the characters were quite outstanding.

A lot of strange things happen in 1Q84 world. Worst fears come true. There are two moons in the sky. History changes itself and Little People inhabit the world. When introduced, many of the phenomena don't make sense, but as a book progresses, they tie more and more into a more cohesive whole and get connected in unexpected ways. Of course, not everything is explained and a lot of the events are symbolic -- but they have this special rhythm that makes the book come together.

On one hand, the book felt somewhat slow, but on the other, I enjoyed a number of the detours it takes and took even more detours myself to investigate the references it makes. For example, the book mentions Sinfonietta by Janacek and I ended up listening to the piece to understand the reference better. George Orwell's 1984, Anton Chekhov, and Proust also get more than one mention.

As I was finishing the book, I learned that 1Q84 was nominated for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. I can see where the nominators are coming from. This is not a book that would get your aroused. But somehow the style in which sex is described fits perfectly with the rest of the narrative. There's a lot of atmosphere and symbolism in it and not a whole lot of fun.

It's not always serious though, I think my favorite excerpt from the book would be the following quote:
There is no other choice -- a perfect example of the process of elimination. So perfect an example, it makes me want to print it up in a pamphlet and hand it out to people on the street. Hi, how are you? Check out the process of elimination.
Some of the passages can be tongue-in-cheek. Certain characters more so than others.

Altogether, it was one of the most interesting books I've read this year and I would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting and unique read.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Title: Austenland
Author: Shannon Hale
Genre: Romance
Published: 2007

Recommendation: A fun chick-flick with lots of Austen references.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Jane has almost given up on finding the right man when Jane's aunt buys her a vacation in England. A vacation, involving a stay at Pembroke Park for 3 weeks, immersed in Austen's world.

Reactions: I guess I'll have to confess to reading all of Austen's novels. And liking them. And having that be enough of a lure to have me buy this book, even though it's in the category of books that I consider slightly embarrassing to own. I'll have to hide it next to my copy of Twilight.

All in all, it was actually a pretty fun read. The main character is the every-woman, mostly sane, but not without her own hangups. We get to follow her stay at the vacation resort, playacting the part of an 19th century lady and flirting with actors hired to inspire romance with the residents.

It's a short book, but well-plotted with a nice little twist towards the end. And of course there's the happily ever after. Certainly recommended if you like romances.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cold Magic

Title: Cold Magic
Author: Kate Elliott
Series: The Spiritwalker Trilogy, book 1
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2010

Recommendation: A good epic fantasy intro with a strong female heroine.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: Cat Baharal is raised by her uncle's family after her parents died when she was a child. Cat and her cousin Bee lead a peaceful existence until one day a Cold Mage shows up at the door. He presents a contract her family signed many years ago to marry the eldest Baharal daughter; so married Cat is sent of to the far-away Four Moons House where she will learn new truths about herself.

Reactions: I have read some fantasy by Kate Elliott before a long while back and enjoyed it. Then this book caught my eyes with a whole bunch of positive reviews and I decided to give it a go.

After my previous read, I wanted something easy, fast-paced, and fun to read. This book is indeed pretty snappy when it comes to the plot despite being decently thick. And yet, it didn't manage to capture me as much as I had hoped it would.

The characters of the novel are a bit cliche, but with their own personality quirks. Cat is an orphan with a destiny and her cousin Bee is a seer equivalent. Cat's new husband is haughty, but good at heart, while the enemy is cold and merciless. There's a great deal of epic fantasy stamps in the book, which dampened my enthusiasm in reading it. It's not badly written, but I haven't felt like reading traditional fantasy for a while and I found I am still not all that enthusiastic about it now.

On the other hand, the world is a pretty interesting history alternative with Rome and Celts fighting over control in Europe. I found the politics part of the plot to be pretty good, an echo of industrial revolution. There is technology and magic co-habiting the world and I liked the balance that the author strikes between the two.

All in all, it's a good epic fantasy for the fans of sword & magic & politics type books, but it just didn't quite hit the spot for me. Still on the fence on whether I want to pick up the next book in the series.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

October Recap

October has been a pitiful month in terms of reading. I only finished one book, Spirits in the Wires by Charles de Lint. I am currently in the middle of reading Cold Magic by Kate Elliott, but while it's a pretty enjoyable and well-paced book, I just can't seem to concentrate on reading for long these days. Instead, I've been watching a lot of TV & movies. I just hope the reading will go better in November.