Read in January 2015

Wow. What a January!

I attempted to read from the Tournament of Books shortlist in January. And didn’t do too badly considering.

I’ve still got a few ToB books on hold. So I don’t have the fullest of pictures about the books yet. But so far I am rooting for Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing. Partly because I’m all for the underdog and it is a bit of an underdog, up against big ones like Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous All The Light We Cannot See, which pretty much everybody loves and raves about (don’t get me wrong, I loved it too but I just am hoping that Evie Wyld gets it!).

In January I travelled to so very many awesome places – Paris, Saint-Malo, Germany, Myanmar, Nigeria, Austin Texas, Virginia, New York, Naples Italy, the United Kingdom and outer space, Haiti, 1920s Canada and the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.

It is amazing what books can do!

And in February, it is comics month and I cannot wait to tell you all about it!

All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr (ToB shortlist)
Through the Woods – Emily Carroll
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – David Shafer (ToB longlist)
Migratory Animals – Mary Helen Specht
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (ToB shortlist)
Who ate up all the Shinga? – Park Wan-Suh (Books in Translation Reading Challenge)
Blue Lily, Lily Blue – Maggie Stiefvater
Dept. of Speculation – Jenny Offill (ToB shortlist)
The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante
Silence Once Begun – Jesse Ball (ToB shortlist)
The book of strange new things – Michel Faber (ToB shortlist)
An Untamed State – Roxane Gay (ToB shortlist)
Girl Runner  – Carrie Snyder

Reading the Tournament of Books books!


Last month was my Tournament of Books reading month! Here’s the shortlist and here are my thoughts on:

All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Reading Dept of Speculation and Silence Once Begun made me realize that I like more traditional narratives. As in, a storyline, a plot, dialogue written with apostrophes. And books that are written in a more experimental style are not exactly in my comfort zone.

But sometimes it is good to read out of one’s comfort zone.

I am glad I read Dept of Speculation. Jenny Offill has a way with words and her style is intriguing, the way she has written this story of a marriage in short paragraphs, sometimes just a few sentences. But I was left wanting more. I suppose that might be the point of this book? At any rate, I am interested enough to want to read her next book!

Jesse Ball’s Silence Once Begun is styled as a collection of transcripts. It is an interesting idea, a man who signs a confessions, admitting to having killed many. The writer interviews his family, the man himself, and an elusive woman who visits him. Thus the transcripts.

But this book was not for me. It had its moments, and a unique concept, but it wasn’t something I could appreciate. And it dragged a bit too much for me. I didn’t really want to finish it. I ended up finishing it anyway as I just wanted to tick it off the list. Luckily it wasn’t too long a book.

Well at least I got somewhere with that one. I downloaded a library e-copy of Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer. But after the first five pages I knew that I would not like this book.

Michel Faber’s Book of Strange New Things fared a lot better. It is a far more straightforward narrative – a pastor who heads to an outer space colony to minister to the natives (that is the “aliens”) there. I am quite fond of reading SF books, although I have not read many, I like exploring new worlds and all that. And this one was fun on that part. The rain, the aliens, the adaptation to life on this planet. The humans working on this planet were equally fascinating. But it did wear on a bit for me. What was happening on earth (the pastor’s wife remained on Earth) though just seemed too much. All this happening when he’s away in outer space? The messages between the two were sometimes a bit tedious and I was glad to get out of that and return to what was actually happening on the planet.

I have saved the best for last.

I am sorry to edge An Untamed State in here too. It does deserve its very own post but I find it hard to write about it. Because there was a lot of angry reading going on. It was a book full of emotions and rage. And such pain and sorrow. I couldn’t finish it fast enough because I just needed to finish it and return it so that I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. It made me feel sick. I know that’s not the way to recommend a book but such is the power of Roxane Gay’s writing, her storyline and the situation she puts her characters in, before and after, that I couldn’t not feel the rage as I read this book.

And finally, now that I have written about it, I feel like I can put it to rest now.

I’m glad I decided to read off the shortlist last month, it made me reach out for books that I might not have picked up. I tend to not read the ‘latest’ books (yes, I say latest although these were published last year), preferring to let any hype die down for a while before finally reading them, but I’ve been following the Tournament for the past few years, wishing I knew what the hell the judges are talking about. I might not be able to read all the rest of the books on the shortlist (I am still WAITING for my Station Eleven hold gaaaahhhh!! But my time will come… soon… it better!!) but at least I can read some of the commentary and yell at my tablet when they’re making the wrong decision.


All the Birds, Singing



Station Eleven.

All the Light We Cannot See.

Such strong Tournament of Book contenders. Such deserving shortlisted books.

And so often talked about online.

But what about All the Birds, Singing?

There has been less interest, less hype.

Even the ToB staff note that it wasn’t their pick. They asked an independent bookstore, The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn for one title:

“the single 2014 title that they pushed into customers’ hands most often and most passionately for inclusion on our list. To be frank, the novel they came to us with, All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld, was not even on our radar.”

Yup, it wasn’t even on their radar!

But there is something unforgettable about this book. This book at once quiet and lonely, at once fierce and determined.


Wyld has such a way with words. She is not afraid to throw us right into the ugly, the menacing, with the death of a sheep.

The book opens with:

“Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding”

Yes, this is a story in which there are sheep. And not just some sheep wandering in the background but we are reading about the life of a sheep farmer. A female sheep farmer on a little outcrop of an unnamed British island. Her name is Jake. Her dog is named Dog. Something (or is it someone?) is messing with her sheep. And she’s a bit of unusual one, being female for one thing, then more or less keeping to herself on this island.

Wyld tells us her story in two ways. One, a current version, her life on the island, sheep farming, mysterious sheep deaths, discomfort with the rest of the islanders, that kind of thing. The other, is her past, except it’s told in reverse. It is odd initially when you realize what is happening with the narrative. But Wyld is such a writer that you feel confident stepping backwards with her.

We soon realize that the big question mark that we are pursuing isn’t the sheep-killer but the reasons for Jake’s presence on this island. Why is she here? Why is she all this way across the world from her remote Australian town? And why is she alone?


All the Birds, Singing is a rocky windswept kind of read. I love how it is full of contrasts. The blustery chill of the English isle. The dry baking heat of Australia. That steady pace as we read of her life, a bit uncomfortable, on the island, alternating with that backwards step in time on the other side of the world.

Jake is fearless. And so is Evie Wyld.

I am so completely in awe of what she has done here.



Evie Wyld was born in London and grew up in Australia and South London. She studied creative writing at Bath Spa and Goldsmiths University. Her first novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers, the Commonwealth Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin literary award. In 2013 she was included on Granta Magazine’s once a decade Best of Young British Novelists list.

Her second novel All the Birds, Singing won the Miles Franklin Award, the Encore Award and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and the Sky Arts Times Breakthrough Award and longlisted for the Stella Prize and the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

She runs Review, a small independent bookshop in Peckham, south London.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer



So a title like that made me think Military.

As in no-way-am-I-going-to-read-this-Military story.

But as luck would have it very many of the books on the Tournament of Books longlist were borrowed out, in whichever version, print or e-book. Probably by other eager ToB longlist readers (you there! Read faster!!). Either that or I would have to ILL it and that would take too long.

And Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, well, it was available. Which didn’t really bode well for itself, did it?

So off it went into my Kindle, a library e-book on loan to me for three weeks. And it sat there for a bit while I read non-ToB longlisted books like I said I wouldn’t.

And when I launched myself into this book, it wasn’t where I expected. Myanmar. An NGO. A Persian-American who works in an NGO in Myanmar. Interesting. Somewhat.

But the details of Leila’s frustrated life there weren’t. How her work stalled while waiting for deliveries and what not.

Things pick up when we meet Leo Crane who works in a pricey preschool and who thinks the world is full of conspiracies and is watching his every move.

There is also Mark Devereaux. A kind of self-help star and is life coach to the CEO of a mega Internet data storage giant.

Separately their lives are varied and interesting enough. But as most contemporary fiction goes, it is when their paths intersect that something explosive happens.

And so for me the story kind of went “ok sort of intriguing” to a sudden acceleration up into the “whoa! This is exciting!” zone.

I went back and read the synopsis of the book on Goodreads after finishing the book. Please don’t read that! If I had, I would never have picked it up.

Let’s just say that it was – once it got going – rather thrilling, very modern, a fun read. Pretty darn good entertainment. Sure it may not be for everyone but it surprised the hell out of me, in a good way.

I read this book because it was on the Tournament of Books long list.

Tournament of Books 2015 shortlist

So I’m just now starting to really get into Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer, which was on the ToB long list, from which I decided I would be doing my reading this month,  when the shortlist came out (yes it was quite a few days ago. I am so not up to date this year!).

And sadly Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not on it.

Sad not because I thought it would be a strong contender but sad because I was already in it and too late to back out!

But good news! The other book I’ve just started, Evie Wyld’s fascinating All the Birds, Singing is! I’m also rather intrigued by the comma in that title…!

Anyway here’s the list. I expected quite a few of these but sure didn’t think I would see some like Silence Once Begun and Adam, which I hadn’t heard of before.

So far I’ve read three books and am currently rooting for Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See.

Which do you reckon will emerge victorious?

Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (my thoughts)
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Adam by Ariel Schrag
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


It is a relief when a book that is talked about, mentioned on blogs, shortlisted and longlisted is a good read.

So it’s even better when it lives up to all that hype, a story that sticks in your head, characters whose fates you are unable to shake from your heart, whose world you have lived in for days – days because while you are so tempted to rush through it and smush as much as you can into every nook and cranny of that reading mechanism called the brain.


All I knew when I went into this book was that it was highly lauded, it was by Anthony Doerr, whose collection of short stories Memory Wall fascinated me, that it was set in Europe during World War II. And it had something to do with radios.

So at first I was all, ho-hum, this sounds like it might be a bit of a drag. But the story quickly sucked me in with young Marie-Laure, whose father is the master of the locks at the Museum of Natural History. At age six, she loses her sight and every year on her birthday, her loving and patient father builds her a wooden puzzle box with a surprise inside. He also constructs a model of their streets so that she can learn to walk around on her own. Marie-Laure has a fondness for Jules Verne which makes me instantly like her. When war breaks out, they leave Paris for St Malo, where her reclusive uncle lives.

“Botany smells like glue and blotter paper and pressed flowers. Paleontology smells like rock dust, bone dust. Biology smells like formalin and old fruit; it is loaded with heavy cool jars in which float things she has only had described for her: the pale coiled ropes of rattlesnakes, the severed hands of gorillas. Entomology smells like mothballs and oil: a preservative that, Dr. Geffard explains, is called naphthalene. Offices smell of carbon paper, or cigar smoke, or brandy, or perfume. Or all four.”

And in another part of the continent, in Germany, Werner, an orphan, who lives in a mining town and despite his remarkable intelligence, has a bleak future, likely to be yet another miner.

“It’s steel country, anthracite country, a place full of holes. Smokestacks fume and locomotives trundle back and forth on elevated conduits and leafless trees stand atop slag heaps like skeleton hands shoved up from the underworld.”

But his talent at building and fixing radios wins him a chance to study at an elite military school, where the training is rigorous and unforgiving.

How will the two meet? Because you know that they are meant to! I just really wanted to find out!

But first, Doerr enchants us with his gorgeous evocative writing. Whether describing a town or a museum, or even the unrelenting backdrop of war.

“Four years of occupation, and the roar of oncoming bombers is the roar of what? Deliverance? Extirpation?

The clack-clack of small-arms fire. The gravelly snare drums of flak. A dozen pigeons roosting on the cathedral spire cataract down its length and wheel out over the sea.”


Doerr takes us from character to character, going back and forth before and after the German occupation of France. In less masterful hands, this would be confusing and frustrating but Doerr guides the reader assuredly through the different years.

It is beautiful and moving, a story about struggle, resilience, bravery, and all the goodness and evil that comes forth in wartime.

All The Light We Cannot See is a story of completely deserving of all its praise, shortlisting and hype! I am both thrilled and completely relieved to be able to say that!
About Grace (2004)
All the Light We Cannot See (2014)

Short story collections
The Shell Collector (2002)
Memory Wall (2010)

Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World (2007)

It’s Monday and I’m reading Whiskey Tango Foxtrot


iitsmondayIt’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly event hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney to share with others what we’ve read the past week and planning to read next.


It was kind of like a last hurrah for us, last week. The Husband was finishing up his three weeks off, preschool break was ending, so we made the most of it with a visit to Happy Hollow and the Children’s Discovery Museum! Not on the same day of course. That would have been way too much for us! Happy Hollow is all about rides (mostly for the under-5 lot) and animals. So Wee Reader got to “ride” a horse on the carousel and pat a miniature pony. We always hit the rides first so sometimes end up not seeing the animals, so it was a treat for him. Wee-er Reader wasn’t impressed with the animals.



The awesome disassembled typewriter at the Children’s Discovery Museum





And as usual, so much eating went on. For New Year’s Eve, we decided that steak and barbeque was a necessity. And so the Husband suited up and braved the cold to fire up the grill. It was also my father-in-law’s last night with us as he was leaving the night of January 1, back to Singapore. My mother-in-law is staying for a few more weeks to help out with the kids!

From top right, the always gorgeous fresh fruit tart from Douce France in Palo Alto; I tried out a new AWESOME brownie recipe from Cookie and Kate, adding, as she suggests at the bottom of the recipe, an extra egg for a slightly more cake-y brownie. PLUS! I used whole wheat flour! Ok so the flour wasn’t a big component of the recipe, but it made me feel a little bit better about eating it!!

Bottom right: Blaze Pizza, a Chipotle-like super-speedy pizza joint, is always a favourite. I tried adding goat cheese and cilantro this time. Yum!



Because I bought a gigantic bag of asparagus from Costco (cheap and looked nice). I thought, hey, bacon and asparagus risotto. Then the Husband thought, hey, scallops, bacon and asparagus risotto. Costco didn’t have scallops but our next stop was Trader Joe’s so we picked up their bag of frozen wild scallops. And they were surprisingly pretty good. Big and juicy!






Through the woods – Emily Carroll

Loving this gorgeous creepy book.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – David Shafer

For my own Tournament of Books reading in January. Not really all that into it so far….


A hodgepodge of songs, playing from various Spotify playlists!



Season Three of the Gilmore Girls. It was sad to learn that Edward Herrmann aka Richard Gilmore passed away last week (and how interesting to note that his son’s name is Rory!).


Grapes from the farmer’s market. We bought some little green grapes and Kyoho. And two types of apples.


Green tea


Wee Reader has asked for spaghetti bolognese, well he calls it spaghetti with sauce.

I might asked my mother-in-law to make some chicken curry!

Also, I bought some orange cauliflower so might roast them with potatoes and maybe cook some pork chops.

Last week…

I read:


All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

LOVED IT. I hope to write about it this week.


I posted:

My first Library Loot of 2015!     

Reading the Tournament of Books long list in January     

       Pie Charts!   

What are you reading this week?



Reading the Tournament of Books long list in January

The Morning News’ Tournament of Books long list was released sometime last month. I’ve always enjoyed following along with the tournament brackets, commentary and results, although with little idea of what most of the books are like because, well, I usually haven’t read any of the contenders.

This year, though, I’m hoping to read some of them, and I realized that somehow I’ve already read some on the long long list. Of course they’re not all going to make it to the tournament brackets but I’m going to try as best as I can to spend the month of January reading from this list.

So here’s the list, I’ve crossed out the books I’ve already read and have bolded in maroon the ones I’ve already requested from my library or its e-book catalogue. Those in green are those I hope to get to in January as well and are kind of my guesses for the shortlist. 

Which ones have you read or hope to read?

  • The Fever by Megan Abbott
  • Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya
  • The Intimidator Still Lives in Our Hearts by Gary Amdahl
  • Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball
  • Ruby by Cynthia Bond (my thoughts)
  • Women by Chloe Caldwell
  • A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor
  • Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (currently reading)
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck
  • The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
  • Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford
  • The Secret Place by Tana French
  • American Innovations by Rivka Galchen
  • Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • The Peripheral by William Gibson
  • Friendship by Emily Gould
  • Tigerman by Nick Harkaway
  • The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
  • Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyer
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
  • The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson
  • The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce
  • Euphoria by Lily King
  • Redeployment by Phil Klay
  • My Struggle: Book Three by Karl Ove Knausgård
  • Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
  • California by Edan Lepucki
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner
  • People Park by Pasha Malla
  • Bedrock Faith by Eric Charles May
  • The Children Act by Ian McEwan
  • Our Secret Life in the Movies by Michael McGriff and J.M. Tyree
  • The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
  • Alphabet by Kathy Page
  • Reunion by Hannah Pittard
  • Afternoon Men by Anthony Powell
  • Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson
  • Dan by Joanna Ruocco
  • Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Adam by Ariel Schrag
  • Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer
  • Some Luck by Jane Smiley
  • The Vacationers by Emma Straub
  • Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich
  • Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) by Jeff VanderMeer
  • The Free by Willy Vlautin (my thoughts)
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (my thoughts)
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld
  • The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink