The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf

This was the book I didn’t know I needed last night. I’m not from Malaysia but there are enough similarities between Malaysia and its neighbor Singapore for me to feel at home when I was reading this. I couldn’t sleep last night and while a ghost story wasn’t exactly what I was looking for at that moment, the library ebook was due in a couple of days. So The Girl and the Ghost it would be then

The ghost is a pelesit, a dark spirit who takes the form of a grasshopper to stay hidden. His master, a witch, dies and he has to find a new master. The witch had told him a pelesit needs a master to control his craving for destruction and chaos. As he is bound by blood, the new master has to be of the same blood. And so it is to be Suraya. Suraya is a lonely child, her father is dead and her mother withdrawn.

“Maybe that was what she was. The durian of friends. Maybe people would learn to like her one day. Maybe she just had to meet the right ones.”

So quickly she and Pink become inseparable. But Pink’s dedication to her has a dark side as he lashes out relentlessly at those who bully her, then takes an even darker turn when she makes her first real friend.

It was a dark and endearing read, full of the sights and sounds and smells of Malaysia. It was a beautiful and emotional tale of friendship and family. It made me long for home and made me tear up as I thought of my family and wished I could be there for them, especially this week, with the passing of my grandmother

The Deep by Alma Katsu #ripxv

Creepy book set on both the Titanic and the Britannica (its sister ship that also sank) that is perfect for Halloween season. Also since I’m not going any where near a cruise ship in the near future, perfectly fine to be reading about water spirits and that unsettling feeling of being on the deep sea (at least for me). I don’t know much about the history of either ships but later learned that a few characters in the book were real life passengers and that indeed there was a staff member, Violet Jessie, who served on both ships – and survived. Fascinating. Also rather disturbing… I can see how she served as inspiration for this book.

But back to The Deep. Like Katsu’s previous book, The Hunger, this is historical fiction with a supernatural twist. But it is done so very skillfully and woven into the plot and brings in both ages-old mythology and superstition as well as the spiritualism that was popular at the time. 

I loved all the detail and research that went into this book. Even the minor characters are just felt so well-rounded and believable. And while we all know the fates of these ships, I couldn’t put this book down thanks to great characters both real and imaginary, all those small historical details, and that delightful satisfying feeling about reading a well-written book.

Recent reads: There’s Someone Inside Your House; Sex and Vanity

These are just super short reviews of books that didn’t quite make it for me.

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

This reminded me of those teen slasher movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The villain has a tendency to move objects around victims’ houses (I don’t really know why – to freak people out perhaps?) and so that finding out that kitchen drawers are open or the egg timer has suddenly appeared in a different place was really creepy. I liked the main character Makani, who has recently moved from Hawaii to small town Nebraska, and she is half black and half Native Hawaiian, also there are hints at a big dark secret.

And here we have to keep in mind that Perkins is a writer of cute romances like Anna and the French Kiss, so she’s got a romance thrown in here, and that slows the plot down a bit. But when we get back on track with the murders, the pace picks up. So that part was fine with me.

However, once we got to the villain’s reveal, the story just went downhill from there for me. And then it ended so quickly after the big finish that it felt that the author got tired of writing the story. It was an ok story, some good build-up at the beginning, but a 3* read for me.

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

A fun escapist read perhaps? I enjoyed all the descriptions of the wedding in Capri but the main character was a bit boring and I found it hard to root for her. And about half way through the book, I actually thought, ok how many more pages of this do I need to get through? Admittedly, I was not fond of Crazy Rich Asians, never read the rest of that series, but thought I would give Kwan’s new book a try, so you ought to take my opinion in that light.

Dirt by Bill Buford #weekendcooking

“I pressed on. “No one in America eats food out of a pig’s bladder.”

Oh boy, it’s been ages since I’ve read a foodie book, and I was so excited to read this one. I read Buford’s previous book, Heat (published in 2006), and really enjoyed his adventures in the cooking world. In that book, he got to train in Mario Batali’s kitchen (of course, now that things have come to light about Batali, I wouldn’t know what to think of that), but at that time, I really enjoyed Buford’s writing, and his brashness in being able to jump into a professional kitchen and move from station to station.

Similarly, this happens again in Dirt, this time in Lyon, France. Why Lyon? It’s the home of Paul Bocuse, Daniel Boulud grew up near there, and some consider it the gastronomy capital of the world.

Also, Buford had come across the idea that French cuisine originated in Italian Renaissance kitchens:

“In any case, the implications were intriguing to consider: that at one point French cuisine did not exist, or at least not in a form that we would recognise today; and that then, at another point, it did, and that the Italians may have had something to do with its coming into being.”

Packing up and heading to a new country for a while is nothing new to Buford and his family. They lived in Tuscany for a year, his wife loved to travel and could easily pick up languages. And Buford had been wanting to work in a French kitchen. But they soon learned that France was not Italy. That is, while it was easy to land in Italy, figure things out as they went along, even just the process of getting to France (legally that is) was hard. All kinds of supporting documents were needed, even financial statements for each child (though they were still in diapers). And somehow needing to prove residence in France – although they were still in the process of applying to be residents??

At any rate, they made it there, with a little help from some friends.

But there, still, Buford had a hard time getting his foot into any restaurant kitchen. He does, however, work for a baker, and attends culinary school for a bit – not just any culinary school, but L’Institut Bocuse – then eventually lands up at La Mère Brazier, which first opened in 1921.

I have enjoyed eating French food, one of my favourite all-time meals is Duck Confit. But I have no clue about the food of Lyon, some of which sounds like nothing I’ve ever seen on French restaurant menus. For instance, andouillette, which sounds like the andouille sausage (common in the US), but is instead full of pigs intestines and stomach. Or the volaille à Noelle (I could only find recipes in French, so the link here is to a Youtube video of a chef making the dish), it’s essentially a deboned bird, refilled and stuffed with vegetables and meat. And then there’s the Poulet en Vessie, which is a chicken cooked in a pig’s bladder. Yup. The dish looks like a ball in which a chicken is enclosed. Fascinating!

“After twenty minutes, the vessie is transformed: No longer thick and opaque, it has the appearance of a beautifully golden, nearly translucent beach ball that some maniac is still insisting on pumping more air into. Also, you can see the chicken.”

And reading about French schools, especially their school lunches – three course meals, the food served at the table, and kids cannot get the next course if they haven’t finished.

Another fascinating part, is the principles of a French plate:
“If your dish uses colour strategically, volume (i.e. has height), and texture (mixes soft and hard, or juicy and crunchy), then it will appeal to a diner.”

This was a book I needed to read. The thought of someone travelling to a different country is such a foreign concept right now. Getting on a plane and moving your family to another part of the world, to live there for a few months – which turns into five years? What a dream! This was armchair – and foodie – travelling during a pandemic.

Here’s a tip: If you’ve ever watched the late Anthony Bourdain’s TV series Parts Unknown, Season 3 Episode 4 is the Lyon episode and it features Daniel Boulud, who is often mentioned in Dirt. The episode also brings in Buford himself. The season was aired in 2014 and so that possibly means that he was still living in Lyon when it was taped? He had moved to Lyon in 2009 and they stayed for five years. Also, the chefs cook the Poulet en Vessie, and that is quite a sight.

Weekend Cooking was started by Beth Fish Reads and is now hosted by The Intrepid Reader and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Loner by Georgina Young

This is a book my early-20-something-year-old probably would have appreciated

Lona is 20, a university dropout, she works at a skate rink and at a Coles supermarket in Melbourne. And she’s lonely. Her friend Tab is in a new relationship and Lona is infatuated with a former classmate but she doesn’t know what to do about that. She’s learning to be an adult, she’s moved out of her parents’ house and into the curtained-off living room of a house that two other friends are renting. And she feels like she’s weird, she would rather leave a party early and go home to watch TV, or just stay in with takeout and watch Buffy. She wonders why she can never say what she really wants to say, why others can, and why they don’t seem as awkward as she always feels

I appreciated the super short chapters and its cynical, humorous tone. It’s a book that would be relatable if you’ve ever felt lost or unsure about what you want to do with your life. It’s not exactly plot-driven so it was a bit hard to get into initially but I really enjoyed reading it as I felt that Young managed to capture that adult, but not quite an adult, feeling of being a 20-something. Also, that cover, which so happens to match my crocheted throw

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Rain in August and a lightning storm to boot. Also we are in the middle of a heatwave. Isn’t 2020 crazy enough already?

But this strange weather on Sunday gave me the chance to sit down and think more about this interesting book by South Korean author Cho Nam-Joo, translated by Jamie Chang, and originally published in 2016

A story that begins with a 30-something-year-old “everywoman” who’s pressured to leave her job to care for her newborn. She begins to impersonate other women, both alive and dead. And her husband sends her to a psychiatrist.


The book focuses on the gender inequality experienced by Korean women – in their families, in schools, in the workplace, in society.


It’s told in a rather cold third-person voice and this may be a little difficult to get into, but it is a fascinating portrait of the life of this Korean everywoman, following all the sexism she faces, right from a very young age – when Kim Jiyoung is born, her mother even apologizes to her mother-in-law for not having had a boy instead!

It’s a short book but the 176 pages sure pack a punch.

The Nine by Tracy Townsend #review

 

One of the best things about being part of the online book loving community of Instagram is discovering new-to-me authors! I would never have heard of Tracy Townsend if not for @basiclandcave’s posts.

And I loved every bit of The Nine, the first book in the Thieves of Fate series. This book is a complex, fascinating world that resembles our own a bit but for some very key elements. Like how science is a kind of religion and the Nine are the people (or creatures) whose actions determine the world’s fate (so say this self-scribing book that only some can decipher). There are fascinating walking tree-like beings and giant beasts with eyes on their feet (and in my mind, Komodo dragon-like but perhaps because my 7yo likes Komodo dragons and was telling me all about it over the weekend).

Similar to the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson (the last fantasy series I read before this), there is a young girl who has seen tough times working as a courier for the black market. Also, some fascinating world-building, but in a more of a steampunk variety, along with this exploration of the melding of science and religion.

I immediately jumped from this first book to The Fall, the second (is there more or is this a duology?), but am only just a couple of chapters in.

Gideon the Ninth

This book is an absolutely brilliant, soul-sucking, bloody, batshit crazy yet completely absorbing read that has you holding your breath with every insane twist and turn of this roller coaster of reading ride.

It is impossible to really describe this book accurately but I’ll try.

Gideon the Ninth is set in a very distant future (perhaps?) in which there are nine houses and all of them deal in a kind of death-related magic. 

And there is to be a tournament in which each House sends a necromancer and a cavalier who is an expert at sword fighting (although there are clearly more advanced technologies around, these Houses feel very ancient somehow, including the tournament’s preference for the cavaliers to use rapiers). 

Gideon Nav is the cavalier (well, sort of, more like a sub really) to the Ninth House, to Harrowhark, with whom she has had a mutual hatred since they were young. But she has been promised freedom if she accompanies Harrow to this tournament to become a Lyctor. Lyctors are insanely powerful and work directly for the Emperor in his war against an unknown enemy (I’m guessing it’s to be revealed in the rest of the series). And guess what, this tournament takes place on another planet. And it turns out all the Houses exist on different planets. 

So yes, let’s see, there are necromancers, there are warriors, there are skeletons and death magics and they all take place on a galactic empire. And the Ninth House is the creepiest, the weirdest House of all, the kind which has people avoiding their gaze in case they inflict a curse on them or something (and yet dying to watch every little thing they are doing).  Sounds a bit insane but it is gloriously brilliant (and also insane). 

Ok so this might sound a bit too “out there” for some but this was for me, an absolutely compelling read. The crazy world building, the heart-thumping action, the dark whimsical magic, and that Gideon, that funny, irreverent humour, that hate-not-hate relationship with Harrow, it was everything. 

 

 

Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer

It’s funny when you stumble across a book that is just right for your frame of mind. This book, in all its pastoral ramble-y ways, was that quiet I did not know I needed, in a world that is strangely quiet in ways (less traffic) but crazily loud in so many other ways (ALL THE NEWS).

This is a book about a woman and her birds, and I was startled to learn at the end of the book that Len was a real person, a woman who did live in Sussex, and who observed and wrote about the birds who lived in her garden, although her work wasn’t deemed scientific enough and are now out of print.


It’s strangely charming and yet profoundly sad, this woman’s life among her birds, especially in contrast to her younger self as a musician in London. An explanation for her reclusiveness isn’t exactly stated (at least not that I recall) but maybe the reader is meant to reflect on that and wonder

Author Eva Meijer is Dutch and has also written a non-fiction book, When Animals Speak. 

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

It can sometimes be intimidating starting a new-to-me writer, especially one with a huge collection of series and books written. And perhaps even more so for speculative fiction, where the worlds are strange and may take some time to sink into.

So admittedly the first chapter didn’t really do it for me, but as we moved on and met Vin, the young girl with a tough life and some strange power she calls Luck, it began to grow on me and I realized that I did not want to stop reading. And at the same time, I didn’t want to read it too fast because that would mean the end of the book. This was an amazing read. It was exciting and immersive and had this kind of Ocean’s Eleven kind of feel in parts – not in the smooth, Vegas way but in that great camaraderie among the crew and how they all played unique roles that came together as a whole.

And Allomancy, I mean, how clever that is. To introduce this use of metals, metals we are all familiar with, yet use them in this almost wuxia kind of way (all that leaping about especially).

And well, as you can see, I did bring myself to finish it, much as I didn’t want this story to end. But Sanderson has so many books (including more in this Mistborn series) that will make this newfound fan thrilled for many more reads to come