Thursday, December 20, 2012

7 DAYS AND COUNTING by Suvi Lampila


Two strangers meet, possibly for the first time. Then the countdown begins.


7 Days and Counting is my friend Suvi Lampila's debut novel. I wrote about her book launch last month, and this week she officially released the e-book edition. Her novel features an experimental structure and a thought-provoking ending. The events of the seven days are told first from the perspective of the woman, backwards, and then from the perspective of the man, forwards. The structure plays with one's perceptions and twists traditional plot conventions. Suvi proves that a story can have a satisfying climax and plenty of tension, even when you more or less know what happens "next". She goes far beyond the common practice of putting a scene from the end of the story at the beginning, and reveals surprises with each day.

There's always a danger when reviewing a friend's book that you will be too kind. However, I can honestly say that 7 Days and Counting is an extraordinarily clever piece of writing. It's short, not much longer than a novella, but it packs quite a punch. I finished reading it several weeks ago, but I'm still going over the final scenes in my mind and trying to decide how to interpret the ending. It's a book that forces you to think, and you could easily read it a second time and view it a totally different way. Part of Suvi's inspiration comes from pictures, like the one featured on the cover, that look like completely different things to different people.

Suvi's writing is precise and intelligent. She uses clean descriptions and clever dialogue to slowly reveal the lives of her characters. You get the sense that she always knows what her characters, even the  minor ones, are doing when they are not in the scene. She plays with the idea that there is usually more to people's actions than meets the eye, and human relationships are never simple. This is a book that's worth at least one read, and probably two.


Suvi Lampila's website


$4.50 for the Kindle edition


What other books with a non-traditional structure have you read? Did they work?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bookspotting and Movie Reviews

This is a snowy mountain and ski lift inside a Hong Kong shopping mall.

Compared to last week, I didn't spot very many books this week. I've had my nose in Hugh Howey's Wool, so I just haven't been paying as much attention to the readers around me. I saw a woman with a Hong Kong guidebook standing at the top of the Pottinger Steps. A woman on the train had a hefty mathematics textbook in her hand. I spotted three Chinese books and two comic books this week, mostly on the train, and one man was carrying a thick English paperback with a swirly cursive title through Central Station.

This weekend I also went to see two movie adaptations of books I've read and enjoyed. I tend not to get too worked up about movies not staying "true to the book" and judge the films mostly on whether I was entertained and whether they matched the spirit of the books.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
This story truly doesn't need three films. The Hobbit is a sweet, self-contained novel and this is a rare case of the movie actually adding stuff to fill time rather than cutting it. They even brought in bits from The Silmarilion! However, I enjoyed the story and there were some exquisite visuals. It felt like a director's cut where the filmmakers had time to explore some of the interesting side stories and background vignettes. I liked getting to see more LOTR scenes, even if the film had a meandering pace at times. There were a few duds, most notably the goblin king's final line and Radagast's rabbit sled, but there were plenty of memorable moments too. Martin Freeman gave a splendid performance as Bilbo Baggins and Andy Serkis's Gollum is pure genius.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2
This one is old news for my US readers, but the final Twilight installment actually doesn't come out in Hong Kong until December 20th. I went to see an advance screening on Saturday and I've got to say I think this is the best of the Twilight movies. The ensemble cast of vampires from around the world was a lot of fun. Bella Swan's character really does come into her own, and most of the awkwardness of the first films is gone. This is a story about family rather than romance, and that really sets it apart from the other films. The build-up to the climax was great and I totally bought the surprise ending. I don't want to spoil it if you haven't seen the movie yet! My one complaint is that they didn't have a scene with Alice's back story. I think it would have fit well about a third of the way into the film, and it's one of the saddest and most interesting parts of the books.

Have you seen any good book-to-movie adaptations lately? Spotted any books?

Friday, December 14, 2012

A TIGER IN THE KITCHEN by Cheryl Lu-lien Tan

This is Vietnamese food, not Singaporean, but it's what I had for lunch after Cheryl Tan and Fuchsia Dunlop's Lit Fest talks about food writing left me absolutely starving.


A New York City writer returns to her home, Singapore, to learn how to cook from her extended family.


Cheryl Tan spent her childhood in Singapore, but she has since become a thoroughly Americanized fashion journalist. She doesn't usually cook, and she resents any implications that, as a woman, she should have to. However, like any good Singaporean girl, she loves food, and she dreams of the dishes that made her grandmother a legend in their neighborhood. In this memoir, Cheryl decides to return to Singapore and collect the recipes and wisdom of the women in her family before she misses her chance.

This memoir takes place over one year during which Cheryl makes numerous visits to her family in Singapore. She shares their stories over boiling pots of curry and armfuls of doughs. The women in her family have taken vastly different paths, and it is interesting to see how Cheryl, as a liberated, modern woman, relates to them. Her efforts are clumsy at first, but she begins to understand the cooking processes and the women's choices better throughout the course of the year. She explores her own attitudes and prejudices towards family, motherhood and women's roles as she trails after her aunts and grandmother in the kitchen.

The writing style is very chatty and sometimes sarcastic. There are some very warm scenes between the family members, and it is interesting to see how the author teases out the stories of the family she didn't know as well as she thought. Her enthusiasm for eating is evident, and of course she includes recipes at the end of the narrative. The stories of Singaporean cooking are interspersed with Cheryl's attempts to make bread in her New York apartment as part of a blog challenge, which I found distracting, but it did provide a counterpoint to the whirl of dumplings, pineapple tarts, moon cakes and curries. I'm going to Singapore next week for the Christmas holiday, and this book definitely whet my appetite for some great food.


Cheryl Tan's blog
My reflections from Cheryl Tan's writing workshop at the HK Literary Festival


I bought the paperback at Cheryl's HKILF event. The Kindle edition is $8.


What special dish do you associate with your own extended family? For me it's a type of chicken curry, a recipe that actually came from Singapore originally.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Bookspotting on Trains

Last week I spotted a young man on the MTR reading one of the Hunger Games books. An older man nearby was reading on an iPad. I saw something about the science of acupuncture when I took a peek at the screen. I spotted a woman in Mong Kok station holding In the Sight of History while she waited for the train and a man with a John Connolly book in FAB, our new favorite restaurant. On my way home from work on Friday, a young guy standing at the same pole as me on the train had a Chinese/English phrasebook. When I got on the train, he was reading silently, but after I'd been standing next to him for a few minutes (an English paperback in hand) he started saying the English phrases aloud, almost in my ear. Later, when I was taking the escalator out of the station, I spotted someone reading on a Kindle in Chinese! I think it's the first time I've seen Chinese characters displayed on a Kindle screen.

And of course, the big news of this week is that my new Kindle arrived! My mom sent it along with a bag of my favorite Reese's Pieces, which I can't get here. I've already eaten half of the bag and read the first installment of Wool by Hugh Howey (highly recommend it). The K3 is sleek and light and I'm in love with it already. It was definitely the right decision to skip the touchscreen and go for the keyboard model.

What are people reading in your town this week?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi


A young boy works on a salvaging crew on a post-apocalyptic Gulf Coast until he discovers an unusual shipwreck.


Ship Breaker, a young adult post-apocalyptic adventure novel, was part of my self-imposed homework reading during Nanowrimo. Set in a futuristic wasteland, Ship Breaker is the tale of a boy named Nailer who crawls through the wreckage of old tankers looking for scrap metal, wire and oil to sell. He lives on a beach full of territorial ship-breaking crews and desperate, impoverished people. Nailer discovers a wrecked yacht that introduces him to a class of wealthy, warring merchants and a world outside his rough beach home.

Nailer's adventures take him beyond the beach to a drowned New Orleans and onto the high seas. His world is gritty and dangerous. There is no clear explanation for why the country has become the way it is, or if the country as an institution still exists. The story deals with issues of class and inequality through the eyes of a boy who is the lowest of the low, showing mere glimpses of the powerful. Friendship, family and loyalty are what is most important to these characters, and they do whatever they can to help each other survive in a difficult world.

It was refreshing to read a YA book that focuses on friendships rather than romance. There is plenty of action, and the plot clips along at a quick pace, though it founders a bit in the end. Ship Breaker is worth reading just for the world-building in the opening scenes. Bacigalupi's use of metallic, dirty language to create the right atmosphere for the blasted beach is seriously impressive. The reader can feel the grit and danger through the vocabulary. The vivid scenes and stylish dialogue make this a quick, memorable read.


Paolo Bacigalupi's website


$8 for the Kindle edition


A Clockwork Orange is a famous example of a book that uses a unique, stylish vocabulary to create the setting. Can you think of any others that do this?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bookspotting and Kindle-appreciating

It has now been two weeks since my mom sent my new Kindle and it still hasn't arrived yet. In the grand scheme of things, two weeks isn't very long, but it feels like forever. It's making me realize just how reliant I've become on my e-reader, primarily because I can get any book I want instantaneously. There are plenty of English bookstores here, but they usually only stock frontlist titles. Additionally, the imported paperbacks are often twice the price I'd pay for a hardback at home. I've definitely been spoiled by my Kindle, and I can't wait for the new one to get here.

This weekend I spent more time out and about than I have in a while (thank you, Nanowrimo). Even though it was cold and rainy, I spotted three different Hong Kong guidebooks in the hands of various tourists. During the week, a woman sitting next to me on my commute was reading No Man's Land (I looked over her shoulder to confirm the title). The dapper gentleman who always wears nice shoes had a book with the word Food in large letters on the back. LaterI saw a man on the train reading a Chinese book with a big, red 100 on the front. It looked familiar and could have been related to any number of 100th anniversary-type publications. This afternoon, a woman rushing through Central station had a hardback copy of Thinking Fast and Slow in her hand.

What are people reading in your town this week?
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