Review: A Year in the Merde

Posted 29 May, 2008 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

A Year in the Merde
By: Stephen Clarke

I’ve always seen his books in the bookstores, was always amused by their covers, but I never got around to reading his book until recently. I always thought his book was more nonfictional than fictional (then again, I noticed his book close to the travel section in Indigo’s, which didn’t mean much). But anyways, the book follows the story of Paul West, a English businessman who was invited by a French business owner to open a series of British tea room franchise in Paris. Paul figures why not and goes for it, figuring it’d be a piece of cake. Little does he know what he’s really in for: constant strikes, fellow employees whose work ethics are completely different from what he’s used to, a series of women he just can’t really understand and a boss who isn’t all that he appears to be. The book follows his adventures from Septembre to Mai, chronicling his encounters and the contrasts in French culture. It’s an amusing read, perfect if you’re taking a break from a string of hefty reads. My favourite aspect of this novel was the narrative; it’s written in Paul’s point of view, so the way in which he describes his surroundings and his experiences and his use of analogies to aid him in this are what I think makes this book as hilarious as it is.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Review: Far From the Madding Crowd

Posted 20 April, 2008 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

I won’t be doing a review on Steve Berry’s The Venetian Betrayal because quite frankly I don’t have much to say about the novel that could be placed in a separate post. It’s a good book, though it does have a bit of a slow start. Was very amused that the former central republics of the USSR were the centre of the sub-plot (as you can see, I’ve developed an eye for giving kudos to any piece of literature that gives reference to Russia in any shape or form; the results of my studies, lol).

And now back to my regular book review updates…which, by the way, I am closing in now. Hurray!

Far From the Madding Crowd
By: Thomas Hardy

I picked this book up on a whim, really; the title caught my attention and figured this would be a good time to get into Hardy. As you might’ve guessed from the title, this book is set outside of any of the town centres and set in the countryside (and away from the industrial centres). The story itself is about a young lady by the name of Bathsheba Everdene and the three men who loved her: a poor shepherd named Gabriel Oak, a rich farmowner by the name of Mr. William Boldwood and an army sergeant by the name of Frank Troy. A series of misfortunes, crazy instances and rash decisions carry on throughout the novel as Bathsheba struggles with her own decisions and the drive for independence. Many people told me what a wonderful book it was, but I did find it rather slow to get through at first. The back of the book wasn’t kidding when it said that it was in an agrarian setting—down to the everyday chores and farmer gossip (and boy do these farmers gossip!). I was glad that the novel picked up pace once the three suitors have been fully introduced and the story was underway. By no means is this an entirely light-hearted novel, there are some very dark moments running through the plot (although there were two moments that had me laughing out loud—perhaps inappropriately). I think I may need to re-visit this book sometime again to pick up the smaller details. Overall, it was a good book to get into Hardy.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Review: The Witch of Portobello

Posted 20 April, 2008 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

The Witch of Portobello
By: Paulo Coelho

I had been waiting for this book to come out on paperback for some quite time. The story basically follows the question of who Athena was, according to interviews from many of the people who knew her. The narrative is interesting that way, presented as a series of interview monologues about Athena. The theme for this novel has to do with being true to oneself even if a) one is not sure who he or she is and b) the world is telling you you cannot be this person or that. It’s an interesting premise and there are some good points that are raised throughout the novel. However, I didn’t connect to this novel as well as his previous novels. My sympathy for Athena dwindled down with each interview and despite the symbolism and her concerns, I couldn’t entirely grasp why Athena impulsively did the things that she did. For example, she impulsively decided to have a child but then at times it seemed like she didn’t care for the child. And then rising to the level of a spiritual icon…it wasn’t inspiring or thought-provoking but just downright weird. The really interesting bit about this book was at the end and the discovery of who made the compilation of interviews to begin with. Overall, I think this was not the greatest I’ve read from Paulo Coelho; it was an okay read, but his previous work are far more interesting and far more inspiring.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Review: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

Posted 18 April, 2008 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

The Lord Memoirs of Jane Austen
By: Syrie James

Being a massive Jane Austen fan, I had to go and pick up this book (well, actually I was staring at this book for how many weeks before I picked it up). There’s always been speculation as to whether Jane Austen had a great love story in her life that inspired the greatest love stories in her novels; you can see it in the various biographies available at bookstores on her life, there was the movies Becoming Jane and Miss Austen Regrets. The premise of this novel fits in with the speculation; James writes from the point of view of Jane Austen herself, transcribing her relationship with a well-off gentleman by the name of Mr. Ashford. This relationship was set between her teenage years and the time that Sense and Sensibility came out. It’s a sweet novel, drawing in incidents that would’ve influenced certain scenes later in her six novels. It’s a great read, James captures the period that Jane lived in quite nicely, although she could have expanded the ending a bit longer, it seemed a bit abrupt (though, thinking upon it further, it made sense since it would’ve been a painful memory to Jane). I strangely found myself drawing parallels with the movie Becoming Jane, but that could just be a coincidence since I had also seen the movie shortly before reading the book. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy Jane Austen’s works.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

Posted 18 April, 2008 by Li in Books / 0 Comments

Love in the Time of Cholera
By: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I bought this book back in December but never got around to reading it until February. This is the first book I’ve ever read by him (though I did hear of his other book, One Hundred Years of Solitude) and with a movie made basedon the novel, I figured to check it out. It’s a wonderul book that starts off with the main characters in their twilight years before going back and retracing the beginning of their romance and the course of their lives before returning to the moment depicted at the beginning of the novel and then its aftermath. It must have been a daunting task to retrace a half-century of the lives of Florentino Ariza, Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a task that is truly impressing. The plot itself is very simple, the case of a love triangle and the question of security, the nature of true love and steadfastness. Social issues are also mentioned in this novel, set in South America over the course of the later half of the 19th century. Marquez’s prose is wonderful, you get a sense of the environment and the times that these characters lived in. At times I found myself relatively unsympathetic towards Florentino and Fermina and their actions and behaviour and surprisingly found myself sympathetic to Urbino at times. The ending of the novel was also a bit depressing to me, a commentary on the course of life and the nature of old age. But I believe the plot was good enough to keep you going, the scope is impeccable even if the characters can be startling at times.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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