I learned about Battle Royale many years ago, but was in a sense put off by the premise of having schoolchildren kidnapped and isolated on an island somewhere, and forced to kill each other to survive. Sounded interesting, but didn’t really like the idea of bloodbaths with children.

A quick exchange elsewhere in a book forum made me turn my eye on the work again, and decided I will take the plunge after all, although I cheated in a sense. Instead of turning to the novel, I turned to the manga adaptation. I was intrigued, and it was literally a quick series of taps away on my iPad.

The story is set in an alternative timeline where a totalitarian regime gripped Japan. As a means to control the population, and as an outlet of entertainment, the military conceived what is known as the Program, where every season a group of 42 kids are kidnapped at random, placed in an island, and whatever, I said it already at the top. And it’s broadcasted nationally on a state-sponsored TV channel. It’s kinda reminds me of the gladiator battles in ancient Rome – violent spectator sport.

The story follows the current season’s group of kids, and we watch as the dynamic of the different individuals play out in a violent fashion. The violence you’d expect are present, but what surprised me is the detailed backgrounds for some of the kids, and you get a sense of their motivation when faced with such odds and situation. There’s a kid though whose idealism started to grate after the first 20 pages, The word tinderbox was playing on my mind as the story developed, especially in scenes where groups of students who’ve taken to an alliance, and that was well done.The diverse cast and the genuinely different outlooks that each of the characters brought to the table showed the many facets of the human condition, not just in the immediacy of the situation but a reflection of the totalitarian society as a whole. Fight the system and face the potential consequences in the face of overwhelming odds, or fly high and reap the rewards of conforming and playing to the rules of the game? Not a completely mindless bloodbath, this.

Overall it was enjoyable.

There’s this series of books by Suzanne Collins called the Hunger Games which is apparently quite popular nowadays. I don’t know much about it, but the plot involves young children being isolated and they have to fight each other to survive. And apparently Collins denies ever knowing about the Battle Royale until after she submitted her manuscript. Uh.

read more

Just watched the first season of Sherlock (all of 3 episodes, albeit they are 1.5 hours long each).

As a fan, I’m always wary of remakes or retcons, and the most visible recent effort is the Downey Jr/Guy Ritchie movies. I have to say I was not impressed.

However, Sherlock, the 2010 TV series from BBC was not what I expected at all. In that it was actually good. Hah.

Sherlock is set in modern day London, and our eponymous hero is a 30-something, blackberry-toting consulting detective, and trusty Watson is a medical doctor/soldier most recently returned from Afghanistan. Holmes is characteristically arrogant, acerbic but technically more savvy – often doing searches on his mobile while analysing the crime scenes. John is loyal and trusty, able companion, as he should be.

The stories has its roots in the canonical stories from Doyle, but of course the writers put twists and mashes things up. Those familiar with the original stories, though, will find plenty of references and cheeky little nods to the original material. There are also fine touches which highlight the contrast of the solving cases in the 1890s with the modern era. So if you’ve always wondered how Holmes would solve a case in the world of instantaneous communications, camera phones and wildly liberal social norms, instead of telegrams and gender stereotypes, your prayers have been answered.

The main problem I have with the show is somehow making me believe Sherlock has all the understanding of the criminal world, be able to establish a
network of contacts among the urban homeless, on-the-fly access to medical labs/mortuaries, able to hold up in a fight, have innate understanding of the human condition, all while being what appears to be a mere 30-something year old man, seems a little bit of stretch.

Putting that aside, however, I find the stories fascinating, the acting well done (mostly), and funny. Way better than Downey Jr.

Conclusion: Watch it.

Trivia: I was reading up on the upcoming The Hobbit, and found that the actor who plays Watson here is the Bilbo Baggins (lead!), and Holmes is Smaug. What a coincidence.

read more

My word, this book is dull. I had high hopes for this one, seeing that it appears in so many best-of lists. Even a Jeremy Irons performance on the audiobook (who was pretty awesome, I must say) could not detract from the extremely plodding storyline.

In summary, there’s this chap, Charles Ryder, who whilst studying in Oxford, befriended Sebastian Flyte, and then spends the novel basking in his friendship with Sebastian, meeting Sebastian’s rich, upperclass and staunchly Roman Catholic family and the goings in and out of the Flyte family mansion, Brideshead. The novel recounts Charles life as it revolves around Sebastian’s family, a story of reflection on family ties, expectations, religion and memories. In fact, the whole book is a retrospection of Ryder’s earlier life, as the novel starts with him, a middle-aged military man who in the course of his duties with his tour came across Brideshead almost inadvertently.

The writing is crisp, and the dialogue can be pretty funny in parts. The best part I have to say is the dry wit of Charles’s father, who spends some effort in tormenting Charles when he returns home to stay with father when he exhausted his funds during his study break.

Of course I’m simplifying the novel. There are parts of the novel that are complex, the relationships that are explored are complex, the sentimentality that’s evident throughout the book and the motivations of the characters, particularly between Charles and Sebastian’s sister Julia, are complex. But the story doesn’t move me in a way that generates excitement or urgency. This reminds me of a sequence in Robin Hobbs’s Farseer Trilogy, where in the second book, Royal Assassin, the bloody book seemed to roll along *but nothing bloody hell happens*!

(There, try to find another review that compares Waugh with a fantasy trilogy!)

If I’m pressed to find something to say about the book that’s intriguing, it’s the ambiguity in the exact nature of the relations between the main characters, Charles and Sebastian. This isn’t something that I considered while reading the book – in fact this because interesting after I was looking at reviews of the novels after I finished it. There were some odd (misplaced, I thought) passages where I raised an eyebrow, but nothing that explicitly said they were more than platonic. There was a scene where Charles was spending the summer in Brideshead with Sebastian, but their frolicking involved some stage of undress. At one point Sebastian calls out to Cordelia, his younger sister, to refrain from entering the area of the house where they were apparently lazing about without their shirts on. Like I said, I did not think much about this during the reading, but I was surprised and fascinated that this was so much in the front and centre in discussions of the book.

I considered for a time whether knowing if they really were physically getting it on affected my feelings about the book, and I decided in the end that this does not change anything at all. The book was still dull, the story did not burst forth in new understanding for me. The physical relationship between them, even if it were true, evidently wasn’t something Waugh wanted to dwell on, since Sebastian pretty much all but disappears from the story somewhere in the middle of the novel, and flitting in and out as Charles began to be described and defined by his relationship with first his wife, then with Julia.

Here’s another perspective from an Asian reader – the name Evelyn normally has been more associated with the fairer sex for the longest time. I’ve heard of Waugh for a long time, of course, but I’ve only within the last few years realized that Waugh was actually a man. I was just watching an episode of Downton Abbey where the love interest of the eldest daughter of the patriarch in the drama is named Evelyn, and I thought ‘how very English this name is’.

read more

Ok, so here’s what I got at the Big Bad Wolf Books sale today (click image for a larger view):

  • Air, Geoff Ryman
  • Money, Martin Amis
  • Kraken, China Mieville
  • The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
  • Chronicles of the Black Company, Glen Cook
  • Market Forces, Richard Morgan
  • The World Inside, Robert Silverberg
  • Lowboy, John Wray
  • Manhood for Amateurs, Michael Chabon
  • All The King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
  • Grey, Jon Armstrong
  • Neuropath, R. Scott Bakker
  • The Great Book of Amber: The Complete Amber Chronicles 1-10, Roger Zelazny


read more

Today was a preview-pass access only, and while I expected a lot of people, I did not expect quite so many. Only those who won the passes through the contests via their website (and perhaps some generous handouts to lucky, privileged people) were allowed to enter today. The actual day is tomorrow, and if today was any indication, tomorrow onwards would be insane.

The selection was good, and more varied that your usual warehouse sales. Some warehouse book sales were varied, but the selection was thin. Boasting 1.5 million books, I suppose you couldn’t accuse it of lacking.

I like these sales (and BBW’s in particular) because of the kind of gems you can uncover – the kinds that were either too expensive in normal bookstores, or you just couldn’t find elsewhere. It’s kinda like a treasure hunt.

This year there weren’t any gasps of astonishment or whoops of joy at finding a gem, but there were a few that I didn’t mind having. I suppose I did find one that I’m pretty pleased with – John Wray’s highly regarded Lowboy. I had the privilege of talking to him in Bookbabble last year (at least for a short while), and from all accounts his books come highly recommended. Looking forward to it.

My haul’s in the next post, so go check there for what I got. Here are some pics I took of the event. I have to say it’s incredibly poor representation of what’s there (I stood just a little back from the half-way line of the showfloor). I was busy browsing, and with Max on my arms and the clock ticking down I sort of took these as a quick snapshot of the moment.

read more


The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume III: Century #2 1969

All I can say right now is: What the @#*&$ did I just read?? It’s almost as if Alan Moore is secretly laughing at all the suckers who bought this. I need to process this.

read more

I have long loved the Sherlock Holmes stories, since I was introduced to them when I was pretty young. I was so enamoured by the stories that it played a big part in my deciding to go to UK for my tertiary studies, just so I can steal a trip down to London to visit 221B Baker Street (I was a little bit of a let-down, looking back after so many years, but it was a dream come true nonetheless).

As big a fan as I was, however, I have never yet managed to completely read the canon of stories from Doyle, despite owning multiple editions of the stories, including my absolute treasure: The Original Illustrated ‘Strand’ Sherlock Holmes, which is a compendium of all of the Sherlock Holmes stories by Doyle, reproduced with all the original illustrations from the pages of the Strand magazine as they first appeared!

I was pleased to find not to long ago that Audible held a sale and I saw The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, Volumes 1 and 2 being sold at a very tempting price, and seeing that I’m getting a lot of reading done on the road, and relishing the chance to rekindle my love for the detective, I got them both.

Volume 1 consists of two novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, followed by a collection of short stories entitled The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

What can I say, aside from the fact that if you haven’t yet sampled Sherlock Holmes, what the heck are you doing reading my silly reviews than to head down to your nearest bookstore (or online store), buy the darn books and start reading? The short stories are in an easily digestible format, and leads you on to a great adventure in detection. Delightful stories that will have you thinking long after you’ve finished them. Classics such as A Scandal in Bohemia, The Adventure of the Red-Headed League, The Adventure of the Speckled Band are all here.

What struck me was the quality of the stories of those that aren’t so famous in this collection, and I’ve always wondered about the fact that some of these stories must be of variable quality to be excluded from the general mindset (unlike say Speckled Band, which I think most English readers would have heard of at one time or another being associated with Sherlock Holmes). On a whole, however, I found the stories to be more or less pretty good.

Because I’m listening to them one after another in a continuous fashion, and maybe due to a most excellent reader in Charlton Griffin, I’m picking up some very distinctive Doyle mannerisms in the stories. Sherlock Holmes has a tendency to say ‘pray continue your most interesting statement’, or some variation of this when a client starts to tell their conundrums. And the word ‘singular’ comes up in almost every story – a most ‘singular occurrence’ or most ‘singular event’. And the deductions – sometimes to my jaded mind that some of the deductions seem far fetched. But not nearly as much as the ones from the latter stories.

In all, my favourite stories from this collection include:

  • The Boscombe Valley Mystery
  • The Adventure of the Speckled Band (this is a classic, and rightly so!)
  • The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
  • The Adventure of the Red-Headed League

More from the succeeding collections, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and The Return of Sherlock Holmes.

read more