Wholly Books for Bookaholics

A wide range of books read and recommended (or not). Basically our opinions and ideas on books we have recently read. If you have a book you want to recommend, feel free to email any of us! Doesn't have to be books that are world-acclaimed or have won prestigious prizes. So long as you feel that it's good!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Conclave of Shadows

Conclave of Shadows is a 3-part fantasy series. Raymond E. Feist again based this story's context in the fantasy world of Midkemia.

A young Orosini boy watched the massacre of his entire tribe and was saved from the brink of death by two travellers. Owing a life debt to these two men, he follows their orders and though confused, allows himself to be trained in various skills. With an obligation to kill those who had wiped out his tribe, he soon realizes these two men and he share a common enemy. The story started out as an individual's goal for revenge with a hint that there is something larger at play and which soon reveals itself - issues of war first the surrounding nations, then subsequently the whole of Midkemia and even further than Midkemia.

I loved the way Raymond E. Feist twines politics and fantasy together. He lays out politics in an old-fashioned sense - in Kings' courts and between nobles, where apple polishing, betrayal and use of relationships are all too commonplace. There is also magic involved and I enjoyed myself imagining a time where assassins roam dark alleys, in search for their prey. Conclave of Shadows strikes me as a huge piece of fabric with everything tightly woven together.

The fact that it is a 3-part series with a great elaboration on the training of the young Orosini boy allowed me to understand Midkemia from his view (which is really a stranger's point of view - and are we not all strangers to Midkemia at first?) and more importantly, how he felt through the whole process. By the time I had finished the trilogy, I felt a weird sense of belonging to Midkemia.

However, while the first two books of this trilogy are very much dependent upon each other, the third book seems set to travel down another direction, as if it is the first book of a whole new series. Ah, I suppose it just shows us how large Midkemia is and how this story is but a small part of a larger picture.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Teacher Man

Frank McCourt, writer of the Pulitzer-prize winning novel Angela's Ashes, returns to the writing scene with Teacher Man, a semi-autobiographical book describing his life as a high school teacher before he became a writer.

True to style, McCourt writes simply and directly, refusing to edit his students' comments into more comprehensible, proper English, preferring instead to simply quote them as they speak. The very title of the book stems from a common phrase used to address him: "Yo, teacher man!". He talks about the difficulties in teaching a rambunctious class of hormonally-charged teenagers, many of whom have little to no interest in a dry lesson, and the creative nature of his lessons that he employs in order to pique some enthusiasm. When he is writing about his students, the book is often hilarious, with the stories that he tells his students, and their responses, almost sure to bring a smile to the face of the reader. His simple yet vivid descriptions are almost certainly capable of illustrating simply and clearly the situations he finds himself in.

When discussing his own life as part of this semi-autobiographical book, however, the tone turns more somber. Here the themes are slightly more depressing, as he talks about problems in his personal life, and the ordeals he faces. He talks about the transitions from school to school, about the difficulties he and some of his students face. Some of the stories coming from the students are indeed heartbreaking.

The stories are both funny and sad, but most importantly, they are educational, befitting the title of the book. Much of life's lessons are contained within this text, and while some may appear to be cliched, standard life lessons (think outside the box!), the power of McCourt's pen is such that the book teaches the lessons in a seemingly new and inspired manner.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows" Covers

A little diversion from the usual book reviews.

Spotted this sign advertising for the new Harry Potter book at Raffles City with the 2 different covers:

"Children version"

"Adult version"

Adult version? Hmm, suggestive.

Friend's comment:
... adult version... "Harry whipped out his wand" or "Harry's wand fell out of his pants".

Friday, June 01, 2007

Liar's Poker

By Michael Lewis

Wall Street has always been known as a high-pressure, cutthroat environment. But until Michael Lewis came along, no one ever revealed so many tantalising secrets and stories about the nature of Wall Street in so entertaining a manner. The book focuses primarily on Salomon brothers, one of the biggest investment banks on Wall Street in the 1980s, where Michael Lewis worked. Essentially the book comprises of two halves; Following the first few chapters which details how the author came to associated with Salomon Brothers, the first half tells the story of the development of the mortgage securities market, spearheaded by the inimitable trader Lewie Ranieri. The second half of the book details the author's own exploits with Salomon Brothers in the European market where he was based, and has a much more personal feel to it, although he never loses track of the overall big picture of the firm as a whole.

With his trademark wit and eloquence, Michael Lewis succeeds in writing a book that is highly entertaining and readable even to people who have never studied finance or its related fields before. Quite a feat, considering that quite a few times he does go into detail regarding the issues he discusses such as the development/creation of the mortgage bond market. The larger than life characters are all excellently portrayed, with humorous monikers given to some, such as one person referred to simply as 'The Human Piranha', the master of 'fuckspeak', a term unique to this book.

It is not for nothing that this book propelled Michael Lewis into the limelight as a writer. Do not miss it.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Always the Sun by Neil Cross

Always the Sun reminded me of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, only that Always is a lot more interesting and easier read. By the way, if you are going to read this book, do take note that there are several covers. I got a different one. Alright, here goes.

Basically this book is about a father, Sam and his son, Jamie who have lost a wife (for Sam) and a mother (for Jamie). They move to Sam's hometown after a while and try to start life afresh. Jamie enters a new school and Sam gets a new job. Things don't turn out too well. Jamie is skipping school and Sam starts to fret.

The main theme of this book is paternal love and how a father tries desperately to protect his son as well as attempts to prove to others, Jamie and himself that he's a good father. Upon learning that Jamie might be being bullied at school, he turns to various means to ensure the safety and happiness of his son, including acts that would seem immoral, gruesome or senseless to the other characters in the book but not by him (and miraculously, probably not to us). However things don't quite turn out as planned and at the end we realize the reason for his actions, which were implicitly hinted at but never directly talked about throughout.

At the first read, the book starts out slow and boring and continues to be so for quite a while. The author uses deceptively simple language and actions. There's a kind of terror within those simple words. You know that something is going to happen or already happening but you don't understand what until the very end of the book, and when the understanding comes to you, it's really scary. Simplicity is only a veil.

It's not a happy ending for this one. However, much as the book is good, it seems to lack something though I'm not sure what.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

Susie looks down at the family from her heaven, living through them the life that she couldn't have. She watched as her family grieved and fell apart from the loss, watched as her mother left, watched her father and sister try to find her murderer, watched her siblings growing up and finding love. For seven to eight years, it was not only time for each of them attempt to grapple with the fact that Susie was gone forever, it was also for Susie herself to realize that it was time to let go. Ironically, though her death seemed to have caused her family to fall apart, it really allowed them to see the family as it was.

Susie's death did not just affect her and her family. It affected her friends, those who knew her and those in her neighbourhood, in ways not imaginable. It pulled together people who would have been nothing more than acquaintances and changed the lives of many several years down the road.

The book encompasses 8 years of grief, sorrow and happiness packed into 328 pages. It shows how even if situations may seem hopeless, it is still possible to have hopes and dreams which just might come true one day.

Click here or here for more details, reviews or to buy.

I cried my way through 5 pieces of tissue paper while reading this book. Enjoy.

Monday, August 07, 2006

All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

"The kindergarten Credo is not kid stuff. It is elemental. It is the basic foundation to what you will learn in future."

This is the 15th anniversary edition. The first edition was published 15 years ago (of course) and during this period of time it has become quite popular. There are 25 new essays in addition to the original Kindergarten. Each of these essays are written during different periods of his life over the years besides those that which he learnt in Kindergarten.

Through stories, Fulgham tells us the significance of the smallest details in life. He shares his musings on life, death, love, pain, joy, sorrow, hope. He tells us that when children ask "and then what happens next?" at the end of a story, they are right - as long as there is life, there is always something happening next. That even though you might not be a pilot but yearn to fly, you could fulfil your dream in some other way, like Larry Walters who flew 16,000 feet up in a lawn chair fitted with 45 helium-filled balloons surplus weather balloons. Or how people would travel down a street just to read the sign "dead end" at the end of it when they've already read one at the other end of the street, and then turn around and flee - life is still a dead end and we still find it difficult to believe. How about Crayolas (crayons) and the simple joy it brings?

The following is a section from the first essay in this book titled Credo:

I realized then that I already know most of what's necessary to live a meaningful life - that it isn't all that complicated. I know it. And have known it for a long, long time. Living it - well, that's another matter, yes? Here's my Credo:
ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don't hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don't take things that aren't yours.
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
and then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.
Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.
And it's still true, no matter how old you are - when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.