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Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Jim Rogers’ A Gift to My Children: A Father’s Lessons for Life and Investing

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2011 at 5:04 pm

via Amazon

When reading non-fiction, I tend to gravitate towards those smaller and thinner like Jim Rogers’ A Gift to My Children: A Father’s Lessons for Life and Investing. After all, it’s not how big a book is that matters but how much you can actually get out of it. Thankfully, Rogers’ 2009 release is  filled with little nuggets of wisdom that will come in handy whether you are a private banker or a just a plain old private citizen. The book is two years old to date but as Rogers, using Mark Twain’s words, says, History “rhymes.” It may not repeat itself but it does have the tendency of falling back into old habits.

In the book, Rogers often addresses his daughters (Happy and Baby Bee) when he speaks of life lessons. Luckily, this writer is a girl and can easily absorb the famous investor and author’s words without missing a beat. Still, anyone can overlook being called Rogers’ daughter (even if one is defiantly male) once he gets to the point.

One of his first lessons is about independence. Never let anybody else swim your races for you, Rogers states. Advice, when asked for or even given freely, often does more harm than good. Recalling his first forays into Wall Street, Rogers shares the story of how he sought the advice of several senior investors on which stocks to pursue. It was logical, he had thought, to ask the advice of those he deemed wiser about such matters. Ironically, each of those stocks he had been recommended to go for, failed. From then on, Rogers made sure to do his own research and trust in his own instincts rather than rely on what others have to say. In fact, he even tells readers not to take his word for it when he championed Brazil and China as bull markets and shared his skepticism about India’s economy.

He goes on to show that he isn’t afraid of being laughed at and tells readers that if someone laughs at their idea, they should probably go ahead and pursue it (and yes, he does have a concrete example of an investment decision he had made a lot of money out of despite a colleague’s ribbing).

Not everything about this book is on investment. He did mean to dedicate his findings to his daughters and having traveled around the world twice, Rogers has seen and experienced quite a lot in his lifetime. He has learned never to trust politicians, learned to separate himself from the mob hysteria and learned to prepare a grocery shopping list before going to the supermarket among others. From someone who had made enough money to retire by his thirties, I say we all better get started on that grocery list!

Just for Kids

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm

via HarperCollins

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a collection of horror stories compiled by Alvin Schwartz. Although meant for children, kids who are older than 9 years old might not find the stories so scary anymore. If your children or your younger siblings often go to slumber parties or summer camps, the book might be helpful to keep boredom at bay. Contrary to my expectations, the book is not designed for personal reading. It is constructed to help kids tell the stories on their own. Some stories even have appropriate instructions for when to scream or when to pierce friends with a knowing stare.

As a grown-up, I found the Notes section of the collection to be more interesting. There are a few references in there which speak of history (i.e. Mark Twain, Indian legends) but nothing more profound. My little sister who is ten years old finished the book quite quickly. If you want to get kids interested in storytelling, this book might prove to be more useful for you than it was for our family.

Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2010 at 5:42 am

Image via Kate Mosse’s official Web site

Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre is dark, haunting and tragic, swimming alternately from one time line to another. In 1891, Leonie Vernier and her brother Anatole leave Paris for the Domaine de la Cade, a country house located near Rennes-les-Baines. Little does Leonie know, there is far more to their vacation than just a change of scenery.

The Domaine de la Cade has long been rumored to house a malicious demon which, apparently, has been terrorizing the people for centuries. While there has been little evidence to this story, their late uncle Jules Lascombe’s interest in the occult and eccentricity did not help improve matters. As Leonie discovers a set of tarot cards in her uncle’s library and an ancient sepulchre in the woods, Anatole faces a ruthless enemy– one who is intent on more than just drawing blood.

Fast forward to 2007 and Meredith Martin journeys to the same place to follow a lead for her biography on Claude Debussy as well as to find out more about her past. As if her life isn’t complicated enough, she soon finds herself helping someone dig out the truth about a murder. As she faces all three head on, danger lurks on in the Domaine de la Cade. Meredith’s only clues lie in a set of tarot cards brimming with secrets and ghosts of the past. To make things more interesting, she is the spitting image of one of cards in the major arcana– La Justice.

It’s an easy plot to fall in love with but reading through 732 pages of it is a little challenging. Sepulchre is heavier than other novels of the same genre that I’ve come across. The story is less forgiving and more despairing, painting a harsh yet beautiful picture of love and its consequences.

That aside, there are also a lot of intricate details about the fictional Bousquet cards towards the beginning. There are musical notes and a recurrence of the number eight which don’t really appear to have strong ties to the actual story. I almost wish there were illustrations in between pages. Then again, I don’t want to be haunted by the same said images at night either. The novel may be entitled Sepulchre but the story is really about the cards.

Personally, I was able to relate more to Leonie than to Meredith. Where Leonie is full of life, Meredith is more reserved. She jumps at every opportunity to explore. Young as she is, she possesses a strong will worthy of the card La Force. From the moment she comes in contact with her late uncle’s work, Leonie finds herself in a struggle to protect herself as well as her loved ones from the unknown.

Sepulchre is an interesting read, a little complex and confusing in some chapters, yes, but it eventually unravels nicely in the end.

The Lady and the Unicorn

In Uncategorized on July 12, 2010 at 5:25 pm

It is the year 1490 in Paris. Nicolas Des Innocents, a painter more renowned for his miniatures, has just been commissioned to create a set of tapestries for a man named Jean Le Viste. The nobleman wants his tapestries to depict The Battle of Nancy but his wife Genevieve de Nanterre convinces Nicolas to persuade his husband of another design—that of unicorns.

“Stay a moment,” I said when she had pulled herself up clumsily and made her way to the door. “Sit and rest your feet. I’ll tell you a story.”

The girl stopped with a jolt. “You mean the story of the unicorn?”

She was the one. I opened my mouth to answer, but the girl jumped in before me. “Does the story go on to say that the woman grows big with child and may lose her place? Is that what happens?”

There are many interpretations to the story of the unicorn. One story suggests that only a virgin can tame a creature as white and as pure as a unicorn. Another suggests a tale of seduction. Nicolas, who is far from being innocent, knows the second story well as he often tells it as a prelude to his own seductions. He is also quite the bastard, leaving a trail of pregnant women in his wake. In the middle of creating the tapestries, however, unfolds another set of stories about the unicorn—one that mirrors the lives of the women in Nicolas’ life.

Everything unravels beautifully in Tracy Chevalier’s novel The Lady and the Unicorn. Based on a real set of 15th century tapestries owned by the Le Viste family, the story revolves around the weaving of these richly-dressed women, their ladies-in-waiting, small animals, millefleurs and of course, unicorns as much as it revolves around the characters who surround it. The first five tapestries are said to represent the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. The sixth tapestry has the words À mon seul désir (my one desire) on it prompting a delicious tale spun out of in-depth research and a beautiful imagination.

Truly, Chevalier remains one of my favorite writers for she can dream up stories that are amazingly simple yet complex at the same time. The settings themselves are simple enough but the characterizations are more than your regular fare of 15th century folks. There is not a lot of mystery but there is awe and enlightenment. And the story, while told from different points of view, is not disconnected from one another. In fact, the different points of view serve to give every character more depth.

The commission of the tapestry, of course, starts with Nicolas des Innocents but the story swiftly moves to Claude Le Viste—Jean Le Viste’s daughter who catches Nicolas’ eye. She is headstrong, carefree and beautiful much to her mother’s despair.

The scene then flows to Genevieve de Nanterre who wishes nothing but to escape her life and down to Georges de la Chapelle’s interesting family of weavers in Brussels where Nicolas and Leon Le Vieux travel to have the paintings transformed into tapestries.

But whether in Paris or in Brussels, Nicolas is in the middle of it all.

“I want you to think of me as your unicorn. There are times when you’re sullied, yes, even you, beauty. Every woman is. That is Eve’s punishment. But you can be made pure again, every month, if you will only let me tend to you. “

Plow you again and again until you laugh and cry.

“Every month you will go back to Eden.”

Pretty Wicked!

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Everyone knows the story of the Wizard of Oz. While not everyone has read the classic, people generally have a good idea of how the story begins and ends. Dorothy, together with her dog Toto and the farmhouse, gets caught in a cyclone and lands in a strange, new world, inadvertently killing the Wicked Witch of the East as well (morbidly so). She inherits a pair of silver slippers and goes on a journey to the City of Emeralds to seek help from the mighty Oz. Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion among other characters. In exchange for Oz’ help, Dorothy has to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Needless to say, she succeeds.

But how sad is it that the life of the Wicked Witch of the West ends so abruptly? Thanks to Gregory Maguire, however, this infamous and perhaps gravely misunderstood green-skinned villain gets to tell her side of the story, albeit perhaps reluctantly. Funnily enough, the chapter starts off with the Wicked Witch of the West spying on Dorothy and her merry band where she hears some of the most outrageous rumors about herself!

“She was castrated at birth.”

“She was born hermaphroditic, or maybe entirely male.”

She was addicted to medicine for her skin condition.”

She’s a woman who prefers the company of other women.”

From the onset, it is evident that this is no ordinary Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. By the way, that last bit about women and women comes from the Scarecrow.

In the book, Maguire weaves an intriguing world that is both strange and familiar at the same time. People generally know about the Wizard of Oz, the silver slippers and the Munchkins. But Maguire also infuses Wicked with Talking Animal rights, Shiz University and underground guerrilla. Laden with politics, the author shows the roots of a young Elphaba and how she eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West.

Young Elphaba has never really felt at home anywhere because of her green skin. As a result, she grows up standoffish and guarded. However, her dry wit wins you over instantly, somehow even ending up friends with Galinda (Glinda) and a few notable others.

A word of caution or perhaps encouragement: Wicked is not a chick lit version of the Wicked Witch of the West. It is a little bit serious, a little bit sarcastic and a whole lot fantastic and creative. A gem of a fiction novel, it will suck you in its pages as what good books always do. It borders on dark and tragic and you’ll find yourself rooting for Elphaba more than for any other character you’ll ever come across in Maguire’s universe.

Wicked is not black and white. It is multi-dimensional and explores different depths of characters. It shows you the best and the worst of people and how one can be so misunderstood.

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