It’s that time of the year again. I’ve been looking forward to the end of summer (my husband on the other hand is horrified that summer is ending), the arrival of fall and RIP. But September has just snuck up on me once again!

So here I am rushing to make that ridiculously long list of books creepy, spooky and mysterious.

(Ok here I have to admit that sometimes I join reading events so that I can make my over-ambitious reading lists! Oh and for the very lovely banners)

RIP IX begins September 1 through October 31 so better get reading some books from the following genres:

Dark Fantasy.

Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

See more details at Carl’s blog

And here’s the review site

Here’s my list:


Half a King – Joe Abercrombie

The Shadowed Sun – NK Jemisin

Niceville – Carston Shroud

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris – R.L. LaFevers

Carrie – Stephen King

The Hollow Man – Dan Simmons

Night Film – Marisha Pessl

The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey

Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2) – Ben H Winters

The Poison Eaters and other stories – Holly Black

Supernatural Enhancements – Edgar Cantero

Are you joining RIP IX too?


The Coroner’s Lunch (Dr Siri Paiboun #1)

Dr Siri Paiboun is head, actually the only, coroner of Laos. He’s been on the job for ten months, largely self-taught, unwillingly so. He had been looking forward to retirement and a pension but was pressed into service for his country , “he hadn’t expected, at seventy-two, to be learning a new career”. His predecessor having allegedly fled Laos on an inner tube. His job is complicated further by the fact that the workplace isn’t exactly state-of-the-art: “The morgue at the end of 1976 was hardly better equipped than the meatworks behind the morning market.” For instance, lacking an electric saw, a hacksaw is used to penetrate the skull. There’s no laboratory so Dr Siri ropes in a teacher with access to basic chemicals for basic tests.

He lunches often with his best friend Civilai, “a bony little man who wouldn’t have looked out of place pedaling a samlor bicycle taxi” but was actually one of the high-ups in the politburo. As they munch on their sandwiches by the river, Dr Siri and Civilai often discuss their work, although often in ways which shouldn’t be overheard. When Dr Siri laughs at the number of receptions Civilai has to attend, Civilai snorts: “That’s why it’s called the Communist ‘Party’ and not the Communist ‘sit down and get some work done’.”

Dr Siri’s detective mode kicks in with the arrival of the corpse of Senior Comrade Kham’s wife, the hasty removal of her body for cremation, and an all-too-easy explanation of her death, and the attitude of her husband. Plus there’s the missing autopsy report. Things just get stranger when a body of a dead Vietnamese arrives with signs of torture. And it turns out, there is more than one such body.

This book is set in 1976 Laos, not long after the Communist Pathet Lao have taken control of the country. It’s a tough time for the country, for its people. Dr Siri is one interesting character. A paid-up member of the Communist Party yet a “heathen of a communist”, smart, snarky and visited by spirits of the ‘customers’ he’s worked on. The occultic nature of his life is explained when he visits a Hmong village and learns that he is the reincarnation of shaman Yeh Ming. This is where things get perhaps a little too confusing and was probably the weakest moment of the book for me.

JoV of Bibliojunkie first pointed me to this book (here’s her review), and for that I’m grateful, as I’m always on the lookout for more books set in Southeast Asia. It was a different, at times funny read set in a country that I know little of and which I’d like to read more about. Plus its British author Colin Cotterill has led quite a life so far – he’s worked as a Physical Education instructor in Israel, a primary school teacher in Australia, a counselor for educationally handicapped adults in the US, and a university lecturer in Japan. He has spent several years in Laos and set up a child protection NGO in Phuket, and lives in a fishing community on the Gulf of Siam.

Colin Cotterill’s works

Dr. Siri Paiboun series

  • Disco For the Departed (August 2006)
  • Anarchy and Old Dogs (August 2007)
  • Curse of the Pogo Stick (August 2008)
  • The Merry Misogynist (August 2009)
  • Love Songs from a Shallow Grave (August 2010)
  • Slash and Burn (October 2011)

Dr. Jimm Juree series

  • Killed at the Whim of a Hat (July 2011)
  • Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach (June 2012)

Library Loot (November 16 2012)

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

Rain rain rain.

Somehow when I see the weather warnings here in Northern California, I’m half longing for torrential downpours, lightning and thunder, wind and rain, the usual tropical storms you get in Singapore (and where I cower under my umbrella as I cross the overbridge, freaking out whenever I see lightning). Or the constant whole-day drizzles that I walked around, raincoated, in Brighton, England, the bustling winds from the coast rendering any umbrella useless. But here, today at least, it is a light drizzle here a light drizzle there. It’s really gloomy though but (and you might think me weird) it is a welcome change from those brilliant blue California skies sometimes. Well at least it’s a good day to snuggle under the comforter and read a book. One of these perhaps?

My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

A new to me author, and I believe I first came across this book via Boston Bibliophile.

A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense, and generous-hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship.

The story begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

Ferrante is the author of three previous works of critically acclaimed fiction: The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, and The Lost Daughter. With this novel, the first in a trilogy, she proves herself to be one of Italy’s great storytellers. She has given her readers a masterfully plotted page-turner, abundant and generous in its narrative details and characterizations, that is also a stylish work of literary fiction destined to delight her many fans and win new readers to her fiction.

Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen

I adored Sara Wheeler’s Too Close to the Sun, which feature Blixen’s lover Denys Finch-Hatton, and wasn’t quite sure if I had ever read Out of Africa, or maybe if I did it was too long ago to remember. So I had to pick it up just to make sure. Plus I have had a soft spot for Blixen ever since I read of her story (essentially she loved a man who couldn’t love anyone). And am curious to see what she writes about him (since I now know all the juicy details).

In this book, the author of Seven Gothic Tales gives a true account of her life on her plantation in Kenya. She tells with classic simplicity of the ways of the country and the natives: of the beauty of the Ngong Hills and coffee trees in blossom: of her guests, from the Prince of Wales to Knudsen, the old charcoal burner, who visited her: of primitive festivals: of big game that were her near neighbors–lions, rhinos, elephants, zebras, buffaloes–and of Lulu, the little gazelle who came to live with her, unbelievably ladylike and beautiful.

The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain

Cain is one of those authors I’m never quite sure if I would ever read. Not knowing where to begin perhaps? Or maybe I’m just not hardboiled enough for this genre of detective/noir fiction?

An amoral young tramp. A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband. A problem that has only one grisly solution–a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve.

First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America’s bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for The Stranger.

New Moon with the Old – Dodie Smith
Seems like ages since I read I Capture the Castle. Time for a reread? But I’ve always wanted to see what else Smith was capable of.

From the author of “I Capture the Castle” and “The Hundred and One Dalmatians”, here comes an unusual adventure in which humour and more than a touch of strangeness are inextricably blended. When Jane Minton arrives at Dome House as a secretary-housekeeper, she finds herself sharing the comfortable country home of four attractive young people. Their charming widower father, Rupert Carrington is too occupied with his London business to see very much of them. Richard, the eldest, is a composer; Clare, whose true talents (if they can be called that) have not yet disclosed themselves, dreams of courtly romance; Drew is collecting material for a novel; and Merry, still at school, has her heart set on a stage career. Jane is warmly welcomed into this happy household and feels her luck is too good to be true. However, the private world of Dome House is fated to break up as Rupert flees England under threat of prosecution for fraud. He asks Jane to break the news to the children, who must now fend for themselves, and to do what she can to help them. However, the Carringtons are extremely unusual young people and the story of the eclectic choices they make next is an absorbing and unpredictable one.

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers (Graywolf Memoir) – Moritz Thomsen

I first heard of this book from Book Lust to Go, and among the quotes Nancy Pearl provides is this one: “I have become that person who is of no interest to anyone and about whom no one will have the slightest curiosity. I have become to all intents and purposes invisible.” I don’t know about you but a statement like that makes me go huh, and immediately point my browser to my library’s catalogue to see whether it’s available, and yahoo, it was.

The Saddest Pleasure is a deeply personal look at the people, poverty, beauty, art, music, literature, and passion of South America by an American who has spent most of his life there.

Moritz Thomsen was one of the early Peace Corps volunteers. Through his skill as a writer he vividly brings to life the people and landscapes he loves. The Saddest Pleasure tells the story of Thomsen’s desperate departure from Ecuador at the age of sixty-three and his soul-searching journey through Brazil and the Amazon River. Along the way the author reflects on the meaning of his own life and the world around him, his friendships, and on the distances between people and cultures.

Thomsen’s spirited observations are tinged with irascibility, as he moves from city to feudal countryside, from primitive conditions to the startlingly contemporary details of a culture in transition.

Paul Theroux’s introduction to this book is a testament to Mr. Thomsen’s remarkable life.

Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

I recently made granola (see Amateur Gourmet’s website for the recipe) for the first time – more on that in another post – and the granola recipe actually came from this book, which also has the recipe for the Baked Brownie, which America’s Test Kitchen named their favorite brownie. With such laurels, I can’t help but want to try out the recipe (in case you are dying to make the brownie right now, or you can’t get hold of a copy of this cookbook, here’s the recipe).

That blurb is trying a bit too hard but I must say that a quick flip through the book at the library just made me drool…

Hip. Cool. Fashion-forward. These aren’t adjectives you’d ordinarily think of applying to baked goods.

Think again. Not every baker wants to re-create Grandma’s pound cake or cherry pie. Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito certainly didn’t, when they left their advertising careers behind, pooled their life savings, and opened their dream bakery, Baked, in Brooklyn, New York, a few years back. The visions that danced in their heads were of other, brand-new kinds of confections . . .

Things like a Malt Ball Cake with Milk Chocolate Frosting, which captures the flavor of their favorite Whoppers candies (and ups the ante with a malted milk ball garnish). Things like spicy Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits that really wake up your taste buds at breakfast time. Things like a Sweet and Salty Cake created expressly for adults who are as salt-craving ?as they are sweet-toothed.

Which is not to say that Lewis and Poliafito sidestep tradition absolutely. Their Chocolate Pie (whose filling uses Ovaltine) pays loving homage to the classic roadside-diner dessert. Their Baked Brownies will wow even the most discriminating brownie connoisseur. And their Chocolate Chip Cookies? Words cannot describe. Whether trendsetting or tried-and-true, every idea in this book is freshly Baked.

It is now the perfect time to curl up and read, unfortunately it is also the end of wee reader’s naptime so I’ll have to save the books for later.

What did you get from the library this week?

A Tuesday round-up

Wee reader sure has a knack for detecting when I’m blogging. It’s 720am and he’s stirring, the baby monitor picking up his kicks and little noises. So I guess this will have to wait till later.

And I’m back! For a few quick mini reviews. Because these are deserving books, which deserve to be blogged about and read. And unfortunately all I can manage right now are these short bits (among other fun things, feeding an unhappy baby oral antibiotics).

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror is such a delight. It would be the ideal RIP read, but reading it in the chilly wintry nights did just fine. Enchanting and endearing in that creepy sort of way. If you like Tim Burton movies, this book’s for you.

I was definitely in a sort of seasonal/winter-y mood (perhaps because it hardly feels like winter here?) and read the latest Flavia de Luce novel,  I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, which obviously is Christmas-themed. This time, the de Luce manor is being taken over by a film crew and as usual, Flavia comes across a dead body and starts her own investigation. As always, a delight to read. Best with a mug of hot chocolate (I love Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate!).

‘Richard Castle’s’ Heat Wave was a fun read, a little silly since Castle is himself a fictional TV character. But it was odd how I could hear Castle’s (the darling Nathan Fillion) voice in my head as I read this book. Because it is really quite true to the TV series, just that it takes a lot longer to get through. Entertaining enough but I don’t think I will be continuing with this series.

Read in August 2011

I never manage to review even half of what I read. But not because they’re not worth reviewing! But just, you know, circumstances. So perhaps this end-of-the-month summaries should include a mini mini review of the ones I didn’t get to. Here’s an attempt.

Fiction (9)
Wanting – Richard Flanagan
The City of Your Final Destination – Peter Cameron
Everything beautiful began after – Simon Van Booy

On Stranger Tides – Tim Powers
An ok read. A bit rambly. Made me curious about how they adapted it for the Pirates series though.

The Longshot  – Katie Kitamura
A book about mixed martial arts? Never would have expected to pick it up let alone finish it. But there was something about it that made me want to read on. Who knows, might intrigue you too. Will be interested to read more by Kitamura.

North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
Watched the miniseries first. But loved the book a bit more (although of course Richard Armitage = Mr Thornton for me now). I now have to go read everything else by Gaskell.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick
ADORED this one. Am considering getting a copy for myself wee reader.

One Day – David Nicholls
This one gets a BAH! But then, it’s not all that bad. I just hated how it ended. And Dex. Oh I don’t know. I just know that I constantly wondered why I was reading this, and then somewhere nearish the end, I understood why I was reading it.

Helpless – Barbara Gowdy
I’ve only read two of her books but there’s always something rather disturbing and sad about them. Is it then disturbing and sad that I kind of loved this story about a kidnapping and feel the need to go read all of her books?

Non-fiction (2)
Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations – Georgina Howell
Book Lust To Go – Nancy Pearl
Oh Nancy Pearl, this is your best book yet.

There, that wasn’t so bad was it?

Total: 11

bios ‘life’ + -graphia ‘writing’

I’ve been thinking about the last two books I finished. Usually I would hardly consider a fiction and a non-fiction book together but they had something in common – aside from being featured in Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust To Go that is. The fiction: Peter Cameron’s The City of Your Final Destination and the non-fiction: Georgina Howell’s Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations.

The City of Your Final Destination is set in Uruguay, although it won’t satisfy the armchair traveler as it is mostly takes place within a big house in Uruguay

“Here I am in Uruguay, but I could be anywhere. I could be in Kansas. Although the air smelled different: there was some sort of warm, dusty scent that seemed vaguely exotic.”

That’s Omar thinking out loud. He’s a scholar trying to get authorisation to write a biography about the writer Jules Gund. Omar’s kind of a strange one, or at least his girlfriend Deirdre makes him out to be a strange one. He doesn’t seem to really push himself to do things, instead she does the pushing – she tells him to go to Uruguay to get the authorisation. And he does.

The story didn’t quite jell with me for a while, until Omar meets Caroline, Jules’ wife (who lives in the same estate as Jules’ mistress and brother – yeah it is complicated):

“She turned away from the window. ‘Of who I would seem to be if a biography were written of Jules. If, let us say, you were to write a biography of Jules. Who would I be? A mad Frenchwoman, who had been married to Jules Gund, painting in an attic.'”

And then I realised what this book was about. This biography of a man who is no longer alive would change them all, perhaps especially Omar:

“Suddenly it seemed exhausting, impossible: How do you write a biography? he wondered, when there is so much, when there is everything, an infinity, to know. It seemed impossible. It was like compiling a telephone book from scratch.”

And that then is my reason for connecting this review with that of Gertrude Bell’s biography. For indeed, how do you begin a biography? Especially with a woman who has lived such a life? A woman who once used to be more famous than T.E. Lawrence (who was a good friend actually), who travelled the Middle East, at a time when women rode side saddle (she had an apron sort of garment made to cover her pants), who climbed mountains (taking off her skirt to do so!), who was daring and brave and adventurous – at a time when women tended to keep to the home.

“Constrained and compartmentalised at home, in the East Gertrude became her own person.”

Howell does a great job piecing together her life, from letters, from other accounts of her, from the many works Bell wrote, essentially to figure out:

“By what evolution did a female descendent of Cumbrian sheep farmers become, in her time, the most influential figure in the Middle East?”

A gung-ho spirit, a fierce determination, wit and charm helps. As does knowing the right people! If you’re in the mood for a biography, may I suggest this one. Gertrude Bell, she astounds me.

Alright, to finish off this post, here’s a little music to think of biographies by (or to listen to with your favourite biography?). Richard Julian‘s A Short Biography