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11th-Sep-2008 02:08 pm - Twilight

Spending 2-3 hours a day on the commuter train gives me plenty of time to catch up on my reading. And I had plenty more time to do just that after being bedridden for days due to a nasty cold that just wouldn't go away. After missing two baby showers and a friend's bday, I decided to just stay in bed and succumb to my new guilty pleasure - Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Vampires and romance novels aren't exactly my thing but I've been hearing great things about it (they're calling Ms. Meyer the next JK Rowling). Next thing I knew I was hooked! I actually finished the entire series - all 4 of them! Who knew being stuck at home with a stubborn cold could be so productive.

Anyway, I really liked it. The series revolve around a love triangle between a human, werewolf and a vampire. Weird, I know. But Ms. Meyer is a wonderful storyteller. She made a farfetched story enjoyable. And it's an easy read so you'll breeze through it. I heard there's a movie version coming out in November. Hollywood tends to butcher good novels so I don't think I'll watch it.

29th-Sep-2007 09:20 pm - End of Poverty

This is written by a man who's been giving economic advice to underdeveloped countries around the world for many years. Sachs, a Harvard-trained economist, has a plan to eliminate extreme poverty by 2025. His plan requires debt cancellation, increase in foreign aid, etc. Is it achievable? Only time will tell. Is this book worth reading? You betcha. I recommend this to anyone who has interests in economics and activism, or to simply gain understanding of the issue. It's highly readable and very insightful. I have learned so much from it and so can you.

17th-Sep-2007 01:31 pm - The Other Boleyn Girl

This book is an attempt to tell the story of the life of Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, from the perspective of her sister, Mary Boleyn, one of Henry's mistresses. Although not all facts are accurately accounted, the story is beautifully told, the plot engaging and the characters very intriguing. It is a story about love, greed, ambition and sex - all of which make for a story that is hard to put down. I recommend it.

PS. The time period and subject matter really fascinate me so if you guys have any recommendations (ie. historical novels), I would appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

9th-Sep-2007 09:00 am - Paperless

People who know me well know that I can't do without my reading fix. Over the years I have collected hundreds of books, both paper and electronic, to satisfy my voracious reading habit.

I have a Sony Peg-UX50 that I carry with me where ever I go and do my reading on:

I use eReader and Microsoft Reader for my computer and pda. Other ebook reader devices I recommend are bookreader, which also works on any java-enabled cellphone, and my favourite mobipocket.

I get my ebooks mostly from powells and irc but would recommend other sites such as fictionwise, ebooks and of course gutenberg.

Here are some of my ebook collection (.lit format only). Click on thumbnails to enlarge:

1st-Sep-2007 08:10 pm - Confessions of an Economic Hitman

John Perkins, a former NSA agent and chief economist at Chas T. Main (bought by Parsons Corp, which, by the way, has won contracts worth millions of dollars to rebuild Iraq), was persuaded to stop writing this book many times by threats and bribes. His decision to begin again was influenced by the US invasion of Panama in 1980, the first Gulf War, Somalia and the rise of Osama bin Laden. He argues that the American empire, the most poweful empire in the history of the world, has been built primarily through economic manipulation, cheating, fraud, and seducing people into its way of life.

As the chief economist, Perkins' job was to arrange to give huge loans to poor countries (through IMF or the World Bank) much bigger than they could possibly repay with the condition that they would give a huge percentage of that loan to US companies to build infrastructures for them. Those companies would then go in and build highways, dams, etc, which would basically serve just a few people (ie. the wealthy ones). It's the poor people in those countries who would ultimately be stuck with this huge debt. Eventually, the US government would go in and say "you are not able to pay your loans, therefore give us your oil, etc".

Economic hit men or EHM is a tongue-in-cheek term that Perkins and his colleagues called themselves. One of the many things Perkins talked about was Iraq and how the US tried to implement a policy with Saddam Hussein that was so successful in Saudi Arabia (the deal was for the Royal House of Saud to invest its petro-dollars in US securities which interest the US Treasury then use to hire US companies to build Saudi Arabia new infrastructures. In return, the House of Saud would agree to maintain the price of oil agreeable to the US government). Saddam Hussein didn't buy this.

According to Perkins, when the EHMs fail to cut a deal with a country's leader, the US government calls in the Jackals (CIA agents) to try to foment a coup or revolution. If that fails, they try to perform assassinations. If both EHM and the Jackals fail, they send in young men and women soldiers in an invasion. Much like what's happening now in Iraq.

Another "confessions" I strongly recommend is the Nobel Prize Winner in Economics "Globalization and Its Discontents" by Joseph Stiglitz, former Senior VP and Chief Economist of the World Bank.

19th-Aug-2007 11:13 am - New books for August

After hearing how supposedly good "The Other Boleyn Girl" is, I finally decided to pick up a copy (and thought I'd better read it first before I get tempted to watch the upcoming movie).

The others were bought as a result of my current nonfiction binge.
13th-Aug-2007 09:55 am - A Conspiracy of Paper - David Liss

This is a historical novel/hard-boiled detective story set in 18th century London. Liss wrote this book while he was writing his doctoral dissertation on 18th century British literature and culture. It's fully detailed and well researched but not in a dull kinda way like most historical novels.

Benjamin Weaver, a British Jew and a former pugilist (boxer), becomes a thief-taker and returner of lost properties after an injury forced him from the ring. The story begins when Weaver is hired to investigate the death of a stockjobber, and simultaneously his own father's death and the mystery behind false stock certificates.

The book is loosely based on actual account - some characters are real historical figures like Jonathan Wild (an Al Capone of his time), and real events like the South Sea Bubble (the first stock market crash in the English-speaking world).

If you're interested in stock trading and have a taste for mystery and historical novels, then you'll likely enjoy this one.

5th-Aug-2007 10:31 am - Over the Edge of the World

"A first-rate historical page-turner..."
"...simply terrifying, edifying and wonderfully written"
"...excellent, highly readable account"
"...wealth of fascinating tidbits...amazing tale of exploration and discovery..."

When I read reviews on the cover of books I usually wonder how much the authors/publishers had to pay in order to generate a positive marketing or publicity. Often I see the words 'gripping', 'amazing', 'compelling', etc. to describe the author's work. Sadly and often times, however, the book hardly grips, amazes or compels you.

As an avid and long-time reader, I've learned not to pay too much attention to the words of people inside the world of reviewing (ie New York Times Book Review, San Francisco Chronicle). Professional reviews have become overrated. Ultimately, what matters most is my opinion.

What does it have to do with this book?

Well, seldom do I find a book that turns out exactly what the reviews on the cover say. This time, I agree with the critics. "Over the Edge of the World" is truly 'gripping', 'highly readable', 'wonderfully written' and a 'first-rate historical page-turner'. It is arguably the best historic account of the first-recorded circumnavigation of the globe. Bergreen relies mostly on primary sources which are carefully structured so that it flows beautifully through and through. He takes you on board with Magellan and his crew as they explore, battle, mutiny, suffer, and die across the seas in search of - not gold, not treasure - but spices. If you love history and adventure, you will definitely love this book. It will simply amaze you!

28th-Jul-2007 04:09 pm - Book Paradise - Part 2

[taken with a sony peg ux50, 300k pixel]

I finally found the time to visit the recently opened BMV Books, located at 471 Bloor Street West (Bloor/Spadina) in Toronto. I have to say - I absolutely loved it! With its wide variety of selections, good quality books and reasonable prices it's easy to see why BMV is now known as one of the city's best used bookstores.

Here are some of the literary treasures I found. Have you read any of these?

Links: part 1, my bookshelf

25th-Jul-2007 11:45 am - 'To Buy' List
I buy books faster than I can read them. Here's my new 'to buy' list for the month of August. As you'll notice, they're all nonfiction. Do you have anything to add? Thanks in advance.

21st-Jul-2007 10:51 pm - Are you a book junkie?
You know you're a book junkie when...

1. You keep a "to-buy" and "to-read" list
2. You think libraries and bookshops are cool places to hang out
3. You don't go anywhere without a book
4. You check out a bookstore each time you see one
5. You never leave a bookstore without buying a book(s)
6. You bought a different edition of a book you already have
7. You buy books every so often
8. You buy a bookcase every so often
9. You're always browsing for books on Amazon and other book sites
10. You're a member of several book clubs/communities like this one

I'm all of the above, and more. Are you?

I found this beautiful bound material in the mail this morning (thank you Canada Post!):

Not to forget the other books I bought this week. Have you read any of them?

And after visiting Casa Loma with my family earlier, we stopped by Ikea to pick up this bookcase (it's my 3rd Billy):

I'm a happy junkie!

20th-Jul-2007 01:05 pm - The Devil in the White City

I have been catching up on my reading and give myself a pat on the back for having already finished three books this month. For three days I found myself engrossed in Erik Larson’s “The Devil in the White City” – a real life tale about architecture and murder in 1890’s Chicago. The great thing about this non-fiction book is that Larson perused his research materials and documentations by interweaving facts into a story so compelling that you find it almost impossible to put down (it reminds me so much of Capote’s “In Cold Blood”).

The book’s main characters are Daniel Burnham, the chief architect of the White City (Chicago’s World Fair), and H.H. Holmes, the sociopath killer who preyed on women coming to see the fair. Although the two men never met, their stories work so well together and their contrast – beauty and evil - makes this book very well written. The fact that it is also informative is an added bonus, and lets not forget the cast of characters – Buffalo Bill, Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Mrs. Astor, just to name a few. I have to admit however that if it wasn't for the murder story, the book wouldn't be as intriguing.

Overall, I was mesmerized by the world Mr. Larson had recreated. A must read. I recommend it.

Other recommendation: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

19th-Jul-2007 08:58 pm - Book Cataloguing

Do you guys use a social cataloguing application to catalogue your books online?

I have been using Library Thing for quite a while now. As far as I know, it’s the biggest and most popular among such applications as it allows you to access data from Amazon as well as from libraries around the world. It’s great, save for a fee that you have to pay when you go over 200 books.

I recently switched to another popular social/book cataloguing app - Shelfari. It may not be as big as Library Thing but it looks better design-wise and is very user friendly. Most importantly, it allows for an unlimited number of books and is FREE.

Here are some other social cataloguing applications you may be interested in:

1. GuruLib - http://www.gurulib.com/
2. Good Reads - http://www.goodreads.com/
3. Revish - http://www.revish.com/
4. What’s on My Bookshelf - http://whatsonmybookshelf.com/
5. Anobii - http://www.anobii.com/anobi/anobii_home.php
6. Amazon’s Your Media Library http://www.amazon.com/gp/ays

I’m sure there’s more out there that I failed to mention. In your opinion, which is the best site?

My personal favourite remains to be the mac-designed Delicious Library. It’s simply delicious! I highly recommend it. And great news! You can now export your library to the web using this nifty tool.

[click on pictures to view my full catalogue]

16th-Jul-2007 12:42 am - The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

If you think a book about someone reading the entire volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica is dull and boring, think again. This easily became one of the funniest books I have ever read (others include "Sideways" by Rex Pickett and "Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole). The author's quest to be the smartest person in the world combines his newly retained knowledge with real life experiences. As you go through the pages, you will find yourself laughing out loud and other times sad as Jacobs reveals some of the low moments in his life, and at the same time amused by the mixes of trivia and anecdotes that he learned from the pages of Britannica.

Jacobs has a knack for making things fun and interesting (and I love his self-deprecating sense of humour!). It's not a book that should be taken seriously -- most of the things he learned from the EB are trivial at best -- but rather a book that you will enjoy because it's highly amusing.

Overall, a fun and entertaining read. I loved it!

"NEW YEAR. In India, there's the ritual boiling of rice. In Thailand, people throw water playfully at one another. Here's one of those rare times that I know more, thanks to my sister's husband Willy, a native of Cuzco: in Peru, on New Year's, women wear yellow underwear."

RECOMMENDED LINKS: Confederacy of Dunces

4th-Jul-2007 12:38 pm - Bookshopping Tips

Here are some tips that I find save time and money when shopping for books:

1. Have a to-buy list handy
2. Before paying for a book, check other editions to see if they are on sale
3. Sign up with bookstores like Chapters Indigo as they sometimes send discount coupons to members
4. Use those coupons!
5. To qualify for the CAD $39 free shipping on Amazon or Chapters, if possible, ask your friends if they also want to buy books
6. Take advantage of international currency differences and order from other countries
7. Half(dot)com has great prices for books (not sure if it offers free shipping though)
8. Before shopping at retail stores and paying retail price, go to used bookstores. Most of their books are in good condition (for Torontonians, I strongly recommend BMV at Yonge/Eglinton and Yonge/Dundas)
9. If you are not sure about a book, read an e-copy of it first (you can download some recent releases in irc)
10. I stopped doing this but still think the best way to save money on books is to go to the library.

Can you think of any more helpful tips?

I went book shopping over the weekend (both online and used bookstore). Have you read any of these books?

recommended link: my book catalogue

20th-Jun-2007 11:26 am - A Thousand Splendid Suns

This is a tale of two Afghan women struggling to survive in a notoriously Islamic-ruled Afghanistan amidst warfare, oppression and misery. Hosseini relates what it was like to live in a world where women were unappreciated, undervalued and regularly abused. A world that, despite of the neverending violence that many Afghan women experience, lies the power of love, loyalty and friendship.

"One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls."

This, in my opinion, is Khaled Hosseini's greatest work yet. It's hauntingly beautiful, deeply moving and remarkably written. Hands down, one of the best books I have ever read. It's absolutely amazing. I strongly recommend it.

28th-Apr-2007 11:59 am - The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road is a post-apocalyptic tale about a nameless father and young son in a world after an unexplained catastrophe (possibly a nuclear war). This world is smothered by thick ash, blanketed by dark skies, roamed by bands of marauding cannibals and traveled through by survivors desperate to find survival.

"He was half asleep when he heard a crashing in the woods. Then another. He sat up. The fire was down to scattered flames among the embers. He listened. The long dry crack of shearing limbs. Then another crash. He reached and shook the boy. Wake up, he said. We have to go."

The writing style is very much like that of Jose Saramago's wherein the dialogues are written without quotes. Once you get the hang of it, however, the story just simply flows.

The Road is a tale about savagery, despair and survival; but most importantly, it is a story about hope, the human spirit and a father's love for his son. It is hauntingly beautiful and profoundly moving. One of those books that stays with you long after you've put it down.

8th-Apr-2007 10:26 pm - New books for April 2007

Went book shopping this Easter weekend. Has anyone read any of these? Any comments?

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6th-Apr-2007 09:41 am - The Song of Kahunsha by Anosh Irani

This is a story about Chamdi, a 10 yr old boy who runs away from the orphanage to the streets of Bombay in the hopes of one day finding his father. Before escaping, Chamdi, who has no idea what the world looks like beyond the orphanage walls, imagines Bombay to be a place where "children play cricket in the street with a red rubber ball and even if the batsman hits the ball hard, sends it crashing into a windowpane and the glass breaks, no one gets angry. The glass mends itself in a few seconds, and the game resumes." He calls this city "Kahunsha", the city of no sadness. What Chamdi discovers instead are chaos, thievery, prostitution, poverty and violence... all of which you will find painted so vividly in each page.

Very heartwarming and poignant. It's The Fine Balance, Oliver Twist and The Kite Runner rolled into one.

18th-Mar-2007 07:46 pm - Shopaholic & Baby

i love sophie kinsella. i think she is the best chick-lit author, hands down, no doubt. (and i met her!! she's a darling). i have read and loved ALL her books and am currently reading her most recent work, shopaholic and baby. becky bloomwood (my fave chick-lit character e-ver) is preggo with her first child and is going nuts shopping for prams, nursery stuffs and whatnot. trouble ensues when becky finds out that her drop-dead gorgeous and famous obstetrician used to date her husband.

just like its predecessors, shopaholic & baby is an enjoyable breezy read that never fails to make you smile or squeeze a giggle out of you. it's a perfect book to read on the subway or on a lazy saturday afternoon.

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