Sophie Kinsella’s I Owe You One – Her Best of Late

After my return from the UK, I have picked up Sophie Kinsella’s new standalone novel I Owe You One from a local library in Singapore. The book is almost perfect. Except for the color of the book – um pink? – which even with my metrosexually thickskin personality, I do find it a little bit uncomfortable reading a pink covered supersized book in public. I read it in public nonetheless.

Sophie Kinsella is famous for the Shopaholic series, which kind of lost me lately. She is also very good at standalone novels like this one. She wrote under the pen name of Madeleine Wickham in the past as well. Yes, I am a fan. I don’t particularly think I dig the chick-lit genre per se. But I have read almost all her books.

Most of her books start with a flawed female character. And through character development, readers get to fall in love and relate to the main character. Her books come with tons of humor. I Owe You One is funny. Yet, I don’t think the main character Fixie is flawed, which is refreshing. She just loves to fix things. Compulsively so.

A pageturner. There are bits that moved me deeply and there are bits that make me laugh. A high recommendation from me.

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmons – A Brief Book Review

As a sci-fi fan, I love anything to do with time travel. There are not many authors that tackle the topic of time travel. And for those who do, not many tackle it well. The paradox of time travel makes it a difficult topic. It is so easy to screw it up badly as readers are smart to spot any loopholes. Amy Harmons’s What the Wind Knows is a joyful read despite areas that I wish could have been better.

The location is Ireland. The story may well serve as a historical novel. A modern Irish woman who lives in America returned to Ireland upon the death of her grandfather found herself time traveled back in time when she becomes the mother of her grandfather. There are lots of tight references in the present date and in the old date that makes the plot believable.

Has history been altered? Perhaps just a little bit. I wish the main character could have made more impact and to have more of that heroic moments as someone who is gifted to have seen the future. That perhaps is my own feedback on the story, which otherwise is a very good time travel novel.

Murakami’s Killing Commendatore – A Brief Book Review

I am a huge fan of Haruki Murakami . When I spotted his latest book in our local book store BooksActually – actually it was my wife who first spotted it – I bought it in a heartbeat. I don’t collect books these days as my wife prefers a ‘minimalist’ home. But when it comes to Murakami, my wife knows that it is a sacred space of mine that needs to be left alone. For as long as Murakami keeps on writing, I shall keep on buying. At times, I collect both the English translated version as well as the Chinese translated version.

If you are new to Murakami, I would imagine how daunting it may be to pick a book to start. His classic books tend to have that rawness that can have more impact in terms of plot twists and emotion but the journey could be more irregular. That is to say, some parts could drag on and the plot could become pretty bizarre. His recent books tend to be more refined, more believable, and with a more predictable pace. Killing Commendatore belongs to the latter category.

It is a story of a male artist whose marriage is falling apart and he paints portraits to pay the bills but it is not necessarily something he is passionate about doing. Killing Commendatore is a journey of this artist rediscovering his passion and in the midst of it, rediscovers himself. Through this journey, this artist encounters different characters – real and surreal – including one that spawns from a painting. There are different threads of stories running in parallel interacting with one and other – which is typical of Murakami’s writing style.

Killing Commendatore is a fascinating read. I would recommend this book to readers who are new to Murakami as well as to those who are familiar with him.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier – A Must-Read for Passionate Gamers

As an avid video gamer, this book has been an incredible read from start to finish. It is a collection of stories behind how videos games are made. The author – also the news editor at Kotaku.com where I visit on a daily basis – has interviewed hundreds of people. Some officially. Others unofficially. Some games are triumphant. Others not.

While each video games are created under very different circumstances, there are common themes within. It is art meets science where the scope, timeline, and cost is just as fluid. How much detail should be put into a video game? How large and how many maps should that be? How many times the storyline has to be rewritten? Is the game fun? Can the game afford another delay knowing that the extra time would help with the bug fixing but the company would miss the fiscal year financial target? And etc. Above all, I can feel the passion of the game developers within each game title. The various challenges they face.

This book features 10 games. Some are big-budget titles. One is very much a one-man show. Each has its own distinct ending. It is true blood, sweat, and pixels.

  1. Pillars of Eternity – I have recently discovered that I have a copy in my Steam account!
  2. Unchartered 4 – Heard about it. But I don’t have a next-gen console.
  3. Stardew Valley – Never heard of before reading this game. I have added this to my Steam wishlist.
  4. Diablo III – One of my favorite games of all time. I am still playing it. I have read this chapter twice.
  5. Halo Wars – Heard about it. But I don’t have a XBox.
  6. Dragon Age: Inquisition – I have played Dragon Age: Origin. Love it. But I read that Dragon Age 2 is a disappointment. So I have avoided Inquisition. Or BioWare in general.
  7. Shovel Knight – I have seen it featured in Steam often. Still not really into its concept.
  8. Destiny – Very interesting read. Mainly because I have planned to pre-purchase Destiny 2 (PC).
  9. The Witcher 3 – Also a very interesting read. I have purchased the first two installments but still yet to find the time to play. Who knows? One day I may play The Witcher 3.
  10. Star Wars 1313 – Never heard of. Because it was meant for consoles.

The Devil In The Flesh by Raymond Radiguet

French title is called Le diable au corps and I have read this several times over very recently. This book is rather thin. That helps. But mainly, because it is a good read. The book and the author has an extraordinary background. The book is an extraordinary read. If I could only bring 10 books into an island of isolation, The Devil in the Flesh would be one in my collection of solace.

Devil in the Flesh by Raymond Radiguet

In the line of creativity work, what have I done when I was 16 to 18? I did not even start writing my first song. Raymond Radiguet wrote this book inspired by his affair with a married woman when he was 16. The author died in 1923 of typhoid fever at the age of 20. The Devil in the Flesh is a work of a genius (borrowing my French friend Yvan’s exact words and I agree). I could only ponder upon the what-if.

The main character – a 16 years old boy – is having an affair with Martha Lacombe, a young woman whose husband is fighting the WW I. The emotional journey as well as its details within and the immaturity displayed is so real that I reckon for those who have been in love or have a crush with someone in the younger days should be able to relate. I can relate every bit of it.

The context is important. Back in the era of WW I, affair of such nature I would think could be frown upon. Even being condemned. The opening page sets out how the story would unfold in a lighthearted manner – which dominates the entire novel despite the tragic end.

We lived at F., on the banks of the Marne.

My parent disapproved of friendships between the sexes. But our sensuality, which is born with us, though for a time it remains dormant, was aroused rather than quelled by their disapproval.

I have never been a dreamer. What appears dream to others more credulous than I seems to me to be as real as cheese to cat – in spite of the glass that covers it. Yet the glass does exist.

If the glass breaks, the cat takes advantage, even if it is his master who breaks it and cuts his hand in the process.

One day, Marthe took the narrator for a furniture shopping trip for her future home as her fiance is still at the front line fighting a war. Naturally, Marthe would want to pick what her fiance wants. But influenced by the narrator – out of jealousy no less – Marthe begins to doubt her decisions and instead, sides with the narrator’s rationale, and picks what the narrator wants.

At the end of this exhausting day I could justifiably congratulate myself on my achievements. Item by item, I had succeeded in transforming this marriage of love, or rather of infatuation, into a marriage of reason, and a strange marriage of reason at that, since reason had no part in it, each finding in the other only the advantages provided by a marriage of love.

As she left me that evening, far from seeking to avoid further advice, she had asked me if I would help her during the next few days to choose the rest of her furniture. I said that I would, but only if she swore that she would never tell her fiance, since the only chance of his coming in the end to accept this furniture was for him to think that it was entirely her own choice. Then, if he really loved Marthe, what gave her pleasure would also please him.

Inevitably, a book with such topic, I would want to see how the author explores intimacy.  In this scene, the narrator is with Marthe, inside an apartment with only the two of them. A fireplace is set with a special fragrant from the wood pieces that are sent from Marthe’s fiance’s family. At times I wonder if the book title was born from this scene.

As she slept, her head on my arm, I leaned over to look at her face, which was surrounded with flames. I was playing with fire. One day, as I approached too close, though our faces were not touching, I was suddenly like the needle which, having once moved a fraction of an inch beyond the mark, is in the magnet’s power. Is it the fault of the magnet or the needle? I became aware that my lips were on hers. Her eyes were still closed, but she was quite obviously not asleep. I kissed her, amazed at my boldness, whereas in fact, it was she who had drawn my head towards her mouth. Her hands clung to my neck; they would not have held me so fast in a shipwreck. And I did not understand whether she wanted me to save her or to drown with her.

What I also like about this book is the playfulness of this love affair, which makes the story all the better to relate. No doubt, the author (and the narrator of the story) was mature beyond his age. But time and time again, as the narrator throws tantrums and does things out of sort, all these remind me of their young age. I have been there done that. And I am certain many readers too.

Love wishes to share its happiness. A woman who is cool by nature becomes demonstrative, kisses you in the nape of the neck and invents innumerable tricks to distract you if you happen to be writing a letter. I never wanted to kiss Marthe so much as when her attention was taken up by something else; or to touch her hair and undo it as when she was pinning it up. In the boat I would throw myself upon her and smother her with kisses to make her let go of the oars and let the boat lose its way among the herbs and the white and yellow water-lilies. She saw this as a sign of uncontrollable passion, whereas I was really in the grip of this powerful urge to disturb her. We would then moor the boat behind some tall tufts of grass. The danger of being seen or of capsizing the boat made our sport all the more pleasurable.

In one particular scene, while Marthe was away from town, the narrator took a young girl Seva into Marthe’s apartment. He gets Seva drunk, wanting her not out of lust, but out of greed. Also, the narrator is fully aware that it is rape that he is about to commit.

Soon, words get to Marthe as the landlord has made a complaint that the house is not a brothel. While our narrator manages to yet again talk himself out of the situation which is not unexpected of, it is the way he internally justifies his act that intrigues me. I would say, the author was well ahead of his age.

Just as a bee plunders in order to enrich the hive, a lover enriches his love with every passing desire that besets him in the street. It is his mistress who benefits from this accumulation. I had not yet discovered this discipline that gives fidelity to unfaithful natures. When a man, lusting after a girl, transfers this ardour to the woman he loves, his desire is the stronger for being unsatisfied, and will lead the woman to believe that no one has ever loved her so much. It is a form of infidelity, though in most people’s opinion morality has triumphed. Such duplicity leads to profligacy. One should not condemn too readily therefore men who are capable of infidelity at the very height of their love; they should not be accused of frivolity. They reject this easy subterfuge and refuse to confuse their happiness with their pleasure.

After reading this book a couple of times, I ponder upon the title. Who is the devil? And why is he or she the devil? Presented with a similar situation, I probably would have done the same. But that was 1923 when the tradition and value may be different from today’s modern standard.

If I go along with the interpretation that to lie is a sin. To seduce and to fornicate with a married woman is a sin (a mortal one no less). To have caused one’s death would also be a sin. And since Diablo is the Father of Lie and more, it would not be wrong to interpret the narrative himself as the devil in the flesh. Harsh though, I must say. Almost like a self-punishment for the narrator’s regret, for perhaps the author’s regret.