I only managed three books this month because two of them are pretty long, and unfortunately, none of them is really enjoyable. It’s so frustrating when you put all the time and effort into a book and it doesn’t pay off, isn’t it? I guess I’m going back to Discworld next month…
Anyway, here are the books:
Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King:
This book revolves around the life of Marcus Gavius Apicius, a famous Roman gourmand dreaming of becoming Caesar’s gastronomical advisor, as told by Thrasius, a slave who is Apicius’s chef and close confidant. I’ve heard of Apicius before (in “The Supersizers“, of all places, a BBC show with Sue Perkins and Giles Coren in which they explore culinary history), so I picked this up hoping for some description of food and life in Ancient Rome. In this sense, the book does not disappoint – the meals that Thrasius makes for Apicius and his guests are lovingly described in mouth-watering details. The thing is, it’s not just a book on food history, but also a novel, and here is where it stumbles. Thrasius is the narrator, but he has little if any stake at all in Apicius’s story, so everything just happens without having anything to do with him. Plus, it seems the author tries so hard to cram all the historical facts into a novel that it ends up feeling forced. Great food, not-so-great story. 3/5
The Anomaly by Michael Rutger:
Imagine The X-Files meets Ghost Hunters, and you’ll have this book – it follows a web series crew that specifies in historical/supernatural mysteries. Usually, their investigation turns up empty, but while doing an episode on a cavern deep in the Grand Canyon, they stumble upon something very real – frighteningly so. This is a pretty quick read, and if you’re claustrophobic like me, it can be scary to read at times – after all, it is about a group of characters being trapped in a dark cave. But the final explanation is a bit too Ancient Aliens and to me, does not live up to the mystery in the previous pages. 3/5
The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay:
Three different storylines, each taking place in a different Venice, in a different time – Venice, Italy in 1591, Venice Beach, California, in 1953, and the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas in 2003 – and each revolving around a man with a secret searching for somebody – now, this sounds interesting, doesn’t it? I certainly thought so and was expecting something in the vein of The Shadow of the Wind – a richly detailed, multi-layered, multi-generational mystery. But boy was I disappointed. This is bloated, pretentious, and full of inane little quirks like no quotation marks around dialogue and invented compound words (like “endtables” and “pistolshots”), which just looks like the editor didn’t do their job. And the three storylines? They never quite come together at all. I almost gave up a few times – and I’ve only ever given up one book before – but in the end, I managed to finish this due to sheer stubbornness. The only good thing I can say about this book is that it’s a cure for insomnia – it’s so tedious that I dropped right off to sleep every time I read it! 1/5
So what did you read?
I missed Book Reviews last week because of SIA, so here’s the make-up. I read four books this month, but I’m reaching that slump now of the year when I don’t feel like reading anything new, which I usually cure by reaching for a Discworld book (since I know I’m going to enjoy it.) The thing is, my stack of unread Discworld books is dwindling so I want to save them. Or, maybe, I should just finish them all and reread them, starting with the Watch books, to prepare for the upcoming adaptation…
Anyway, onto this month’s books:
Damsel in Distress by Carola Dunn:
This is a book in the Daisy Dalrymple series, the first of which I’ve read last year and quite enjoyed. I saw this at the used book store and decided it would be an easy book to take on my trip to Malaysia, so I picked it up. Revolving around our socialite amateur investigator dealing with the kidnapping of an American heiress, it’s a fun and quick read, but the stakes are a little low. Well, lower than usual, I mean, since these books are never meant to be suspenseful thriller mysteries in the first place. 2.5/5
Queen Victoria – 24 Days That Change Her Life by Lucy Worsley:
As the title implies, this book focuses on 24 important events in Queen Victoria’s life, from the marriage of her parents to her own wedding, the coronation, the birth of her first child, Prince Albert’s death, etc. In many ways, this is a standard biography, but by focusing on these days, it gives us a good overview of Queen Victoria’s life without overwhelming us with too much information. I’ve read many non-fiction books, especially biographies, that keep jumping from one fact to the next without a good system of organization, so I appreciate this here. It’s not going to change how you see Queen Victoria, but it’s entertaining to read nonetheless. 4/5
If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley:
This is actually a book to accompany a TV series of the same name (and hosted by the author) about the history of the house and domestic life. Again, it’s not the most groundbreaking book or even the most entertaining (Bill Bryson’s At Home and Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveler’s Guide series are vastly superior, IMO), but it’s easy to read and, if you’re a sucker for nonfictions about historical sociology like me, you’ll enjoy it. 3/5
The Owl Service by Alan Garner:
I’ve heard of this book as a YA fantasy classic, so when I saw it on sale at the used book store, I picked it up immediately. The story, as far as I can tell, is set in a Welsh valley and revolves around three teenagers – a girl, her stepbrother, and their housekeeper’s son – that become trapped in an ancient tragic love triangle and are now forced to act out the three roles in it. I say “as far as I can tell” because I’m not quite sure what really happens in it. It consists mostly of snippets of dialogue, and it can be difficult to pick the story out from those snippets. “Show, don’t tell” may be a good thing, but not when showing is used as excessively as this. You can never be sure what a character is feeling or what they are doing or why they are doing a certain thing. I will say this for it, though: the writing manages to conjure up a threatening and oppressive but still magical atmosphere. Too bad the story doesn’t come through. 2/5
Kuala Lumpur, or KL as most Malaysians call it, is often overlooked despite being the capital – usually, people view it as a stopover to get to other destinations or just a place for shopping. However, for the city traveler like me on this trip, it can have a lot of great stuff if you know where to look.
I arrived in KL from Melaka in the afternoon. After checking in at the Melange Boutique Hotel, I headed out to visit the famous Petronas Twin Towers. You can buy a ticket to go up on the walkway between the towers, but the very thought of it made me break out in a cold sweat, so I was quite happy snapping photos from the ground. I also popped into the huge shopping mall underneath – Suria KLCC – to buy a nice watch for myself. Know what you’re looking for and where it is, or you’ll waste hours inside (unless you’re into window shopping!)
Watch-buying mission accomplished, I continued to Thean Hou Temple, a Chinese temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy (the name is literally translated into “Heaven’s Queen”). It’s located outside of the city – you can walk there from KL Sentral, the main hub of transportation, but it’s a bit long (about 2 miles), and there are some scary parts where you have to cross the road with no traffic light or pavement. I find KL not a very walkable city, unlike, say, Singapore, for example. While most of the attractions are free, their locations are not convenient, so you end up paying for transport anyway.
I opted to walk because the road leads through Brickfields, KL’s Little India. It’s just one main street, but because of its small size, it feels much more… concentrated. The sights, sounds, and smells make it feel like a street plucked straight from New Delhi.
Finally, after an uphill trudge, I made my way to the temple. It looked quite impressive, with five storeys rising up on the hillside under the setting sun, and the intricate decorations on the roofs and ceilings are simply gorgeous. Another plus is that it wasn’t very crowded, which makes it a nice place to relax and watch the sunset.
As it was getting dark, I booked a Grab (SE Asian version of Uber) back into town and headed to Jalan Alor for dinner. This famous pedestrian street is a giant food court, and there were so many choices that I got overwhelmed. I’ve said before that I’m not much of a foodie while I’m traveling – to me, food is just fuel. But if you love food, then Jalan Alor is the place to be.
Afterward, I walked to KLCC Park to watch the light show at the fountains in front of the Twin Towers. However, I got the time wrong – I thought the show started at 10 PM, but it actually starts at 9:45 PM – so I only caught the tail end of it. It looked great though.
The next morning, I headed out early to go to the Batu Caves, the site of a famous Hindu shrine. Most guides say to get there early, but unfortunately, my train got delayed, so by the time I arrived, it was super crowded and super hot. So after climbing the 272 steps up the hill, wandering around the main cave for a bit, and taking some photos of the cheeky monkeys there, I returned to KL Sentral. It would’ve been nice to spend more time at the Caves and take in all the colorful architecture of the temples, but the crowd was stressing me out.
I ended up seeking refuge from both the crowd and the sun at the Botanic Garden.
From there, I walked to Merdeka (Freedom) Square and Central Market for some souvenir shopping (my niece’s initial is KL too, so it was great fun looking for KL-themed things for her.) I briefly considered going back to KLCC Park to see the light show properly, but I was exhausted after a full day of walking, plus I had to pack, so it was back to the hotel for me.
The next day, I had some time before my flight, so I went out hunting for street art. My hotel is located in the hipster area of the town (Bukit Bintang) and there is plenty of street art just around the corner. It’s a great way to pass the time; plus as it was early in the morning, I practically had the streets to myself!
And that concludes my travel in Malaysia. If I had more time, I would’ve checked out some other destinations (like the Cameron Highlands), but I’ve had a good taste of the country too. And frankly, the experience of seeing Snow Patrol live is so wonderful already that this is really just the icing on the cake.
As mentioned in my post about the Snow Patrol concert, I chose to go to Malaysia because I wanted to combine seeing the show with some traveling, and Malaysia makes the most sense with the short time that I had (4 days).
So, the morning after the show, I set out for the city of Melaka (or Malacca), which is 1.5 hours away from Kuala Lumpur by bus (I booked the ticket online; you don’t have to as there is a bus once every 30 minutes, but as it was the holiday weekend in Malaysia, I thought it was better to be prepared.) Arriving in Melaka Central Bus Station, I was picked up by a driver from my hotel, Tripod – it is located outside of the Old Town, but it provides free transport to all the touristy areas, which is a big draw for me.
After checking in, I got dropped off at the Red Square in the center of the Old Town, so called because of the red colors of its Christ Church and the Stadhuys (town hall.) The Old Town of Melaka reminds me a lot of Hoi An, with its rows of traditional shop houses lining the river, but in a way, it reminds me of the Netherlands as well, with a river instead of a canal – not surprising, considering Melaka was under Dutch rule for over 100 years.
I had lunch at a riverside café and spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering around, turning down any alley or side street that caught my eyes.
I also had a great time searching for street art – it appears to be a Malaysian specialty, with every town and city having its own famous pieces:
When it got too hot for walking, I took a river cruise (30 RM, which is about $7, for 40 minutes), which is a good way to cool off, rest your legs, and see the town.
You can also get a ride in one of the decked-out trishaws gathered on the Red Square, but they’re more expensive (about 25 RM/15 minutes) and a bit too touristy for me. Yes, the river cruise is touristy too, but I’d feel like a wimp riding around in a Hello Kitty or Minion-themed trishaw blasting “Gangnam Style” or “Let It Go” or whatever (but if that’s your thing, feel free!)
Later in the afternoon, I got picked up by the hotel’s driver again to go to the Masjid Selat Melaka, or Melaka Straits Mosque, a mosque built on a manmade island on the Melaka Straits. It is almost prosaic compared to the outrageous mosques of Iran, but it’s cool in a modern kind of way. Besides, the best view is from the outside, at sunset and all lit up at nightfall. You’re not allowed to go out on the rocks to take photos, but everyone does anyway.
Afterward, the driver dropped me and a few other guests off at the Old Town again for the Jonker Walk night market, which sells everything from housewares to souvenirs and snack food. This is when the Old Town really comes to life. Everywhere there was a riot of colors, sounds, and smells. Even the river got lit up.
I went through Jonker Walk twice, nibbling on a few snacks in lieu of dinner, but eventually, the crowd got too much for me (though according to the driver, it was nothing yet!) so I retreated to the river and just sat there taking in the colors until it was time to go back to the hotel.
The next day (August 31) was the National Day of Malaysia and there was a big parade in town, but I’m not keen on crowds, so I just had a lazy morning at the hotel before heading to the bus station and back to Kuala Lumpur. If you’re a foodie, you may want another day in Melaka, but for me, one full day is just enough to see all that this small but lovely town has to offer.
Last weekend I just went on a 4-day trip to Malaysia. It was partly a holiday because I didn’t get to travel this summer, but the main reason was to see a Snow Patrol show (hence the post title, which is a line from their song Heal Me.) Now, if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that they are my favorite band ever, so when I found out they were doing an acoustic tour in SE Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore – I jumped at it.
After some consideration, I settled on Malaysia. I’ve never been there before, so it would be nice to combine the show with some traveling. My plane landed in Kuala Lumpur early in the afternoon – the show was at 8, and I figured I would have plenty of time to settle in. However, between waiting in the longest line ever at immigration, navigating two trains, and my exquisite sense of direction, I didn’t get to the hotel until 5. Luckily, the venue is literally next door, so after checking in and a quick wash, I popped over. The venue looked so unassuming that I wasn’t even sure it was the right place, but as soon as I arrived, I heard the sound of Run floating down – they were doing sound check – and my heart skipped a beat. There were a few people in line already, so I decided to just grab a quick bite and queue up. The line wasn’t too long, certainly nowhere as ridiculous as when I went to see them in LA (though that line was mostly Ed Sheeran fans) but I didn’t want to take any chances.
After 2 hours of waiting, we were let in and the place soon filled up. Then it was more waiting, first for the opening act, Ryan McMullan (who was filling in on piano for an injured Johnny McDaid), and then for Gary and Nathan to join him. Still, Ryan McMullan was good, and I had fun chatting with some people in the front row and we got a kick out of watching the roadies setting up – they were all big guys, yet they had to stand on tiptoes to check Gary’s mic because he is so tall.
Finally, it was time for Snow Patrol. And though it wasn’t my first SP concert, it still felt like the first, so amazing it was. No, “amazing” wasn’t the right word. It was magical. I read in an article or an interview that Gary has this ability to make a stadium feel intimate and a small venue feel like a stadium, and it was absolutely true in this case. Though I missed the rest of the band, their absence didn’t affect the show in any way. And all this when Gary had a throat and chest infection. Despite his voice cracking a few times, he said he didn’t want to cancel the show and soldiered on.
And that’s what made everything so special. The music is great, but it was Gary’s charms and his bantering with the crowd and the rest of the band that brought a fun, unique touch to the show (there was a moment when they were tuning up and Gary asked Nathan “Are you all right there, sweetheart?” that melted all our hearts.)
My crappy phone photos couldn’t do the show justice, so here are a couple of videos – we were quite happy to sing along and give Gary’s voice a rest 🙂
And here’s What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get for the encore, because Gary is adorable in it:
As it turned out, they did have to cancel the last two shows in Indonesia and Singapore. I was so glad that I decided on Malaysia and felt incredibly lucky that I got to see them. Hopefully I will get to see another show with the entire band one of these days (and it won’t take another seven freaking years.) Thank you, Snow Patrol, and get better soon, Gary!
Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham:
Growing up, the only thing I know about the Chernobyl Disaster is that when it happened, my mom was in Russia, 5 months pregnant with me (but she was quite a safe distance away in Siberia.) However, I just finished the HBO mini-series Chernobyl, and it was so brilliant (very hard to watch sometimes, but brilliant nonetheless) that I knew I had to read more about it. This book is a very well-researched, very detailed exploration of the disaster – from the construction of the power plant to the night of the explosion itself and the long, ongoing cleanup process that follows. It helps that I’ve watched the mini-series though, because there are a lot of characters and a lot of scientific information that it can be a bit overwhelming at times – thankfully, it’s told in chronological order so it’s never difficult to follow. 5/5
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller:
It’s hard to believe, but I haven’t read any new sci-fi book this year, so when I saw this book being praised for its unique world-building, I decided to check it out. The story certainly sounds interesting – it takes place in a post-apocalyptic floating city, controlled by landlords and crime bosses, where its inhabitants struggle to eke out a living while facing the threat of a contagious neurological disease. Into this setting, a mysterious woman appears, atop an orca with a polar bear by her side, rumored to be the last surviving member of a group of people that had their minds bonded with animals. As various characters react to her appearance, we slowly find out why she is there and what connects them all. From that synopsis, you can probably tell that the book is a bit much, right? And it is. All the elements are good, and the characters are interesting, but as the book keeps jumping from one POV to another, it never really comes together. The first 2/3 of it drags, while the last 1/3 of it is really rushed. Disappointing. 2/5
I just finished translating these two books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, and while they are still good, they’re not as enjoyable as the previous three. “So Long” is slightly better in terms of tone, while “Mostly Harmless” is better in terms of plot (then again, you don’t read Douglas Adams for the plot, which is why I’m not going to include any summary), but it’s kind of depressing, and, as the final book in the series, it leaves you feeling so bad for Arthur Dent. The poor guy just wants to be left alone and have a cup of tea, dammit! Still, I’m very proud to say that I’ve translated three out of the five Hitchhiker’s Guide books. It’s a major boost to my nerd cred. 3/5
What did you guys read this month?
Summer vacation is ending, so here are the last few casual outfits before school starts again. I wore this to see Spider-Man: Far from Home last week (hence the title, it’s a terrible pun on “Spidey-sense”, see?) Yes, yes, I know, another pair of culottes, but these are so comfy and I just can’t get enough of them.
Anyway, I really enjoyed the movie, which did a great job of exploring the MCU post-Endgame. However, a friend then pointed out that in both MCU Spider-Man movies, the villains are just normal people whose lives were ruined by the Avengers (or more specifically Iron Man, in the case of Far from Home). It makes them more compelling and it makes sense for the scope of these movies, but it’s kind of messed up that the “little guys” are portrayed as the bad guys. I know the idea of superheroes being accountable for their actions has been touched upon in Civil War, but I still want the MCU to really address it. In Phase 4, maybe?