Friday, January 29, 2010

The Best Reads of 2009

Posted by lea at 11:35 AM 5 comments Links to this post
Due to overwhelming demand (one request left in the comments of this blog), I've decided to review my best reads of 2009.

Top 5 reads of 2009

Maus, by Art Spiegelman
A deeply affecting graphic novel about the Holocaust experience of the artist/author's father, and their rocky father-son relationship. The immigrant English is charming and the use of animal faces for characters really work, in the strangest and most touching way.

Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
This is a difficult read in many ways, but so worth the effort. It's ridiculous and sublime, dark, funny and has the potential to send you mad.

Cooking with Fernet Branca, by James Hamilton-Paterson
This was an unexpected delight that I laughed my way through. Set in the beautiful Tuscan countryside, the novel focuses on two independently hilarious and wittily depicted characters: very English Gerald Samper and his Voynovian neighbour Marta. Well worth reading.

One Day, David Nicholls
One Day is a big book that spans two decades in a relationship between two people who will become your best friends by the time you finish the book. It's an unconventional love story that's in turns satisfying, funny, sad and wistful... much like real life.

Persuasion, Jane Austen
I had to sneak her in there somehow, and since it was still too soon for a re-read of Pride and Prejudice, I read Persuasion instead. It used to be my third favourite Austen novel after P&P and Emma, but it's quickly rising to take second place. It's a gorgeous story of lost love that is found again, and so deliciously satisfying in the end. I defy you not to fall in love with it.

Honorary Mentions

Best series: The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall-Smith
I've been reading this series for a few years now and it never gets old. The story of Precious Ramotswe, who opens up the first ladies' detective agency in Botswana, her assistant Mma Makutsi and fiancee-to-husband Mr JLB Matekoni is delightful in every way: tender, big-hearted and touching.

Best non-fiction: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain
Okay, I'm not a big reader of non-fiction so there wasn't a lot to choose from, but this book was an enjoyable read regardless of genre. Anthony Bourdain, a drug-addict-turned-successful-chef, reveals the underbelly of fine dining, and in doing so gives real insight and appreciation for the craft that takes place before the perfectly turned plate lands on our table.

Biggest disappointment: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz
This Pulitzer Prize winner was a dud in my books, and certainly didn't live up to the wonderful title. There were pages-long footnotes, quotes in Spanish that weren't translated for our benefit, and the characters were not particularly endearing - particularly the title's namesake.

Best movie: District 9
Since I reviewed movies as well throughout 2009, I thought I might throw this one in here. District 9 was a brilliant movie with great visual effects, impeccable acting (especially by first-time actor Sharlto Copley in the lead role), moving character development and a fantastic storyline. It's almost too much to ask of one movie these days, but Neill Blomkamp manages to deliver it all in his directorial debut.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Badly cobbled fiction

Posted by lea at 11:16 AM 2 comments Links to this post
Badly written fiction is so disappointing. Yes I'm looking at you, Alyson Noel. I recently read her chicklit book Fly Me to the Moon, and I'd be hard pressed to think of 2 more painful hours passed in recent history. The characters were stereotyped, the narrative amateurish and the climax LAME LAME LAME.

So why did I keep reading? If the whole thing was crappy I would've trashed it faster than last year's ballet flats, but it was just humorous enough, just romantic enough, just interesting enough that I read it through. In my defence, I speed read it. And I didn't have any other books on hand, having just finished my two most recent purchases. And I bought it for $3.95 at a discount book store. But I wish to God I'd just bought myself another Easy Way bubble tea with the money instead.

Enough excuses. Back to badly written fiction. It's disappointing because we expect publishers and editors to weed out the trash for us, but we should know from experience that publishers aren't always known for their literary taste, but their shark-like ability to smell money in the water. That leads me to the chicklit genre. Where there is demand, there will always be a scramble to supply, and I think this is how something like Fly Me to the Moon gets published. It has a hook (the heroine is a flight attendant so we get a sneak peek behind the matronly hair and polyester uniforms), it ostensibly has a plot (she finds her soon-to-be fiance in bed with another man and now has to rebuild her life), it has sex (modest scenes but at least we know the heroine has a libido) and most importantly in chicklit, the heroine is the underdog - the type of girl who trips over and embarrasses herself, who is attracted to but simultaneously hates the obvious hero for some perceived slight, and who has a sense of humour. Someone we might all relate to.

In short, it ticks all the right boxes. But it still sucks. Despite adhering to formula, despite falling into a popular genre and being possibly no worse than other crappy books (and there are a LOT in chicklit), this book fails because it's badly cobbled together. The heroine might travel to romantic faraway places but ultimately, it's like the teenage romance in which the guy brings his sister to the dance but the girl mistakes it as a date and throws punch in his face. Only worse and even more lame because this heroine is meant to be an adult.

The troubling thing is, Alyson Noel can write. No doubt if she wrote short stories and articles they would be a good read, but sustaining a whole novel proved too much for her with this storyline. This could have been a much better book with a better editor. Someone to tell her that the crux of the plot is lame, to give depth to her characters and cut out the more meandering parts of the novel.

Perhaps it's only in my romantic imagination that editors still do that sort of work? Refiners, so to speak, of published works. Because not all good writers make good novelists. And bad novelists write bad fiction. And bad fiction = cranky readers. Like me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's Hot & What's Not Wednesday

Posted by lea at 1:09 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I like these posts - it reminds me to be grateful for the things I like.

What's Hot

#1. Sydney in the summertime - I'm so lucky to live in this gorgeous city. Summer in Sydney is loaded with stuff to enjoy, from the free and paid events of the annual Sydney Festival, to outdoor cinemas (Moonlight Cinema at Centennial Park, OpenAir and Lady Macquarie's Chair, Bondi Open Air, Movies in the Overflow at Olympic Park), cheap deals at great restaurants around town and celebrations from dawn to dusk. Oh, and don't forget the beaches - seriously some of the best in the world.

#2. Lomography, which pretty much seems to be the art of taking gorgeous photos using crappy cameras. Cheap plastic cameras like Lomo and Holga have made a huge hit in the photography scene, and perhaps it's the backlash against humanity's strive for perfection that has seen their popularity rise. It's the very flaws in the cameras (light streaks, lack of focus, dark edging) that make the images beautiful. Flaws = beauty. Works for me!

#3. Holidays!! I'm going to Bali on Friday and I'm super-excited. After having worked through the Christmas-New Year period, I think I'm entitled to a few (actually 10) days off. I'm looking forward to:
  • staying at the luxurious Laguna Resort and Spa
  • fun in the sun with around 15 other friends all staying at the same hotel
  • body boarding! And maybe even taking some surf lessons... if I'm feeling adventurous enough
  • eating and shopping on the cheap

#4. Arrested Development the movie is finally going to be made (see post below) more than 4 years after the show was cancelled. It's been a long wait but hopefully it'll be worth it. Yay!!!!

What's Not

#1. A dating website that only supposedly 'beautiful' people are allowed to join. Apparently some of their members got a bit too jolly over the holiday period around 5,000 of them got kicked off for having excess holiday flab. What's staggering is that there are 5,000 people out there who would want to join a website like this.

#2. Fame-cravers with no discernible talent. Tila Tequila anyone? Paris Hilton? Lindsay Lohan, who actually does (or at least did) have some talent (The Parent Trap) also falls into this category for being famous for nothing more than the trainwreck of her life. Is it condescending of me to feel genuinely sorry for them?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

YAY - Arrested Development movie in production

Posted by lea at 1:33 PM 3 comments Links to this post
It's been on again/off again, but according to the NY Daily News today, the Arrested Development movie project is on again, and this time hopefully for good. The hilarious, way-too-short, 3 season long comedy series has been a favourite of mine for years, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it in movie length. The antics of the ridiculous and sublime Bluth family is a real treat:

Gob and his segway, George Michael's secret crush on his cousin Maeby Funke, Tobias the 'analrapist' (analyst/therapist) ... I'm cracking up as I type. Tightly written and brilliantly acted, this is definitely one of my all-time favourite shows, and straddles the podium next to Seinfeld.

Looks like someone finally listened to this protester.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What's Hot and What's Not

Posted by lea at 10:02 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Welcome to my first What's Hot and What's Not Wednesday... well it's actually Tuesday so it's either a day early or a week late, depending on how you look at it. Anyhoo, here's my list of hots and nots.


#1 The Polaroid camera I got for Christmas from hubby. It's awesome, and in honour of it, I'm recommending the Poladroid application - just download and you can turn any photo into a polaroid (like the one here). So much fun!

#2 Bodyboarding, which I picked up this Saturday at Freshwater Beach - we're so blessed with beautiful beaches in Australia. I learnt by stealth from two young kids next to me - when they jumped on their boards, I jumped on my board, when they started paddling, I started paddling. And it was GREAT!!! Can't wait to go to Bali next week and try it again.

#3 Graduation for our students in Cambodia at Bloom Training Centre. It's incredible that these beautiful girls who had been victims of a vicious cycle of human trafficking are now able to start a new life with valuable skills to put them in good stead in the workforce. Check out one of the exam pieces!

#4 My mother-in-law, Eugenia. She's an amazing cook (kept the whole family fed to bursting throughout the entire Christmas period), a great mum (all her FIVE kids are friendly, intelligent, attractive and well-adjusted. Amazing.), a supportive wife and a strong, independent woman. Someone to look up to for sure.


#1 Having to redo my passport application TWICE for the tiniest things. Remember to write in black pen and don't use whiteout.

What's hot and what's not is inspired by loobylu. Join in the fun!

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