Dear John

I thought that I am too old for romantic love stories of young adults until the day I started reading Dear John by Nicholas Sparks. I finished the first 120 pages in one sitting (while getting my hair cut) and read on right until the end within one week. Now, that is satisfying, considering that I had been going through a bout of book drought for the past four months.

I usually do not buy books by authors who have published a string of books, for example, Jodi Picoult, Nicholas Sparks, Danielle Steele, Stephen King. I have nothing against them and the fact that they have written and published so many books must attest to their capability as a story-teller. It is just a personal preference when I choose not to buy these books. Anyway, Dear John is the first Nicholas Sparks book that I read and I got it from the local community book exchange programme. I am so glad that I picked it, because it rekindled my joy in reading.

As someone who has passed her prime in terms of falling head over heels in love and all the drama of having long-distance relationship, I found Dear John believable and readable. I didn’t smirk at Savannah’s naivety towards love. I didn’t roll my eyes in disbelief when I read about John’s feelings and thoughts towards Savannah. The only part I found a teeny weeny bit annoying is towards the end when John returned to look for the now-married Savannah. But then, it is just how the story develops, and it is just how people are not perfect and even the most perfect romantic love story should have some flaws.

If you are looking for a book to read, and are not at the stage to try something too heavy, try Dear John. Unless you are a skeptic about love, this book should be something to look forward to after a long day at work.


The Elusive Miniaturist

I haven’t been reading well (to be interpreted as not reading as much as I would like to) this year. I set a goal of reading 20 books this year, but as of today I only managed to finish a miserable amount of 2 books. It has been four months since I last posted, which means it has been four months since I last sat down and properly finish a book.

I started reading The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton quite a few months back, but I got distracted along the way. I was attracted to this book mainly because of my love for Amsterdam, a city which I visited six years ago during winter. The Miniaturist is set in seventeenth century Amsterdam and tells the story about seventeen-year-old Petronella from the countryside who was arranged to marry  the rich middle-age merchant Johannes Brandt in Amsterdam. Partly a mystery, partly a social commentary, this book revolves around the secrets that the Brandt household keeps and how Petronella grows from a naive helpless child-bride into a woman forced to be in charge of the household that she marries into.IMG_1486

Although highly-acclaimed, I find that there are not much depth to the characters although their stories appear to suggest otherwise. The main question is left unanswered (I shall not say more to avoid spoilers). There are plots and twists, but overall the read is bumpy. I do enjoy the book, otherwise I would not have been able to finish it at all. But I do not intend to keep the book; it shall go to the pile of books to be exchanged at the neighbourhood book exchange programme.

Room, with a capital R

I have a feeling that I might not have enjoyed Room by Emma Donoghue so much if I am not a mother of a four-year-old boy. More often than not, I found myself wondering what is going on in the mind of my boy who laughs at a cartoon joke, cries when his defiant younger sister grabs his toy away and gets upset over a his own carelessness. The way he perceives the big bad world is obviously different from mine, and sometimes I wish that I could go back to the time when I still think like he does.

The main character in Room is a five-year-old boy Jack who has never gone out of the Room in which he was born in. The narration in Room is actually what goes inside Jack’s mind. What he sees, and how he perceives them. Everything in Room is the world to Jack. The only person whom he has contact with is his mother, whom he calls Ma. Ma was abducted and being involuntarily confined by her abductor Old Nick. Jack’s only access to the “outside world” is from what he sees on the television so he is not even very sure if this other world truly exists.

To me, Room could pass as a parenting book. Ma did her best to raise Jack up despite the circumstances. The description of their daily routine could seem to be mundane, but it was actually a portrayal of how Ma spent every moment to provide for Jack when they were held captive. It is not surprising, and a food for thought, that when they managed to escape, Jack found Ma to become distant and not being available for him as much as she used to.

There are critics who have written about the originality of the whole story line. When I started reading the book, I wasn’t aware of the cases which inspired Donoghue to write Room. I went into the reading without knowing what to expect, and found myself finishing the book within two weeks. A movie has been made but I am not too certain if it could capture the essence of the story — perception.


The Collected Works

When I first saw the title “The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry“, I thought that this is a book about all the writings by this obscure author A.J. Fikry, compiled by this person Gabrielle Zevin. Then I read its review, and it turned out that this book is about a bookseller and the reviewer highly recommended it. I picked it up at the bookstore last month without looking at the price tag because I was just so excited to have found it. And it was on the “Recommended” shelf. When I reached home, took the newly purchased book out of the paper bag and turned it over, I was shocked. The hardcover costs me RM94.95, making it one of the most expensive books that I have ever bought. I vowed that I must make my money worth it – I shall read it as soon as possible because if I wait until the paperback comes out at less than half this price I am going to cry.

After finishing the book, I am glad that I bought the hardcover at this point in my life because then I was determined to read it.

A.J. Fikry runs Island Books, an independent bookstore in a place called Alice Island. At the beginning of the book, he was grieving at the sudden passing away of his wife and was in his way trying to waste his life away. Due to twists of events, he came to find a new purpose in life, and from there on new love. I like the way story unfolds, and how the bookstore is the centre of all that happened in the book yet it doesn’t steal the limelight away from the characters. There was even a chapter on e-reader which made me chuckle at every paragraph, because it describes exactly what I think about the electronic device yet narrated so humorously.

I enjoyed the book so much that I finished it within one week, a feat which I seldom accomplish with two young children to take care of. And as I said, I am glad I did. In the book, there was reviews by A. J. Fikry on books which he read and touched on something about his life. So I am left with this thought: what would my “collected works” be?

I intend to re-read this gem after I read all of Fikry’s collected works. That shall be one of my reading projects.

The Duplo on top of the book belongs to my son. That's his current toy.
The Duplo on top of the book belongs to my son. That’s his current toy.

Tiptoeing Into The Fantasy Genre

I’ll be very, very honest here. The world of the fantasy genre has definitely not been my cup of tea. As much as I love books, I guess I have been too institutionalized to be able to appreciate the Middle-earth, the White Witch and the great powerful ring. I bought the Lord of the Rings trilogy simply because I enjoyed watching the movie and thought that I should read the books. However, I only managed to go as far as page 17, and that’s it. I gave up, ten years ago. I plowed through the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia but couldn’t bring myself to finish the rest. So they are all sitting prettily on my shelf.

That is going to change.

I just found out that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Christian faith was revealed in his writings. I know that C. S. Lewis is Christian and The Chronicles of Narnia has always been associated with Christianity, but I am surprised that The Hobbit carries message about hope and courage to believers as well. As such, I will be adding this category to my 2015 Reading Challenge: A Book by A Christian Author. Now, which one should I pick? Or should I be ambitious and choose all the three books mentioned in this post?

The Storied Life of…

It’s been some time since I read a novel for hours on end. I started reading The Storied Life of AJ Fikry a couple of weeks ago but I took a break from it as I was occupied with my research work and the kids were not feeling well. This afternoon, both of my children were taking their afternoon naps but my daughter did not sleep very soundly. Hence while keeping an eye on her I picked up The Storied Life and continued where I left. And I couldn’t put it down.

I always have a weakness for people who speak eloquently, for characters who could tell book-ish, intelligent, witty jokes (e.g. Lorelai Gilmore of Gilmore Girls). Therefore, I am absolutely smitten by Amelia and AJ. I just love, love this bookstore which AJ owns and runs. It sounds just exactly like one which I would like to have; surrounded by books, live above a bookstore, and getting to read all those new titles just sound too good to be true. Reading about people who love books makes me feel like I am in the company of good, old friends. I am mildly surprised that it is also a love story, nothing corny or cheesy and I like the way that Amelia only pops in for a while in the beginning but she marries AJ towards the middle of the story.

I have yet to finish the book but I am looking forward to bury my nose in it again.

By the way, I am going to pick a day this month to stay up all night just to finish a book – just something random which I would like to do before the end of the year. I have always read about books which made people stay up just to finish them, so I am going to look for one and do just that.

Read: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Rob Fleming listed his top five most memorable split-ups after his latest (now) ex-girlfriend Laura walks out on him. Reading on I found out that he makes lists a lot – top five dream jobs, top five records of all time, etc etc. He was not a dream guy material; he had an affair when his girlfriend was pregnant, his record shop was not that successful and the only thing he seems to consistently care about was music. Nevertheless, Rob is endearing.

High Fidelity was told in first-person narrative, so I got a lot of insight into what was going on in his mind. It was funny, observant and real. He was honest and unpretentious, and I couldn’t help but to fall for this character who claimed that Laura wasn’t even on the most memorable split up list yet he just couldn’t let go of her.

After finishing the book, I did a Google search and found that there is a movie made based on this book, starring John Cusack as Rob. And whoa, Jack Black was cast as Barry and it is exactly how I pictured Barry in my head when I was reading it.

This is one of the few books which I would like to re-visit, and when I do, I would take down all the songs mentioned in the book and look them up. High Fidelity is not just about a guy who couldn’t move on; it reminds me what a relationship is really about, it reflects the culture at the time when it was written and it nudges me to re-examine my own passions.

There is also a review about this book in The Guardian.