Character Spotlight: Ox-headed Demon
I had a lot of fun writing this book, based as it is on the blurred borderline between spirits and humans. In fact, there's strong Chinese literary tradition of strange tales set in the shadowy, elaborate Chinese ghost world, where nothing is as it seems and beautiful women turn out to be foxes. I enjoyed reading a lot of these stories when I was young, and I also heard many odd stories about ghosts while I was growing up in Malaysia.
When I was writing the second half of THE GHOST BRIDE, when the main character Li Lan ventures into the world of the dead, it seemed natural to populate it with all the colourful and peculiar creatures of Chinese folk beliefs. The animal-headed demons, along with the withered hungry ghosts of those who died with no funeral offerings, tree and plant spirits, dragons, and women with backwards pointing feet. It is a world filled with spirits and ghosts, where the horses, houses, and servants are all made of burned paper funeral offerings.
Structurally, the Chinese Afterlife is often conceived as a bureaucratic version of Imperial China, complete with bribable officials and various Hells where souls are tormented before being reincarnated. In all these stories, there were often references to 牛头马面 - the ox-headed and horse-faced demons of Hell. These were almost exactly as their names describe - animal-headed demons whose jobs were to escort the dead and also act as jailers. You see them also in Japanese depictions of the underworld. Growing up, I often thought it was such a bizarre, yet strangely frightening idea. In real life, oxen and horses are herbivores and to think of them wielding cutlasses and saws was quite disturbing!
In my book, the ox-headed demons appear as general foot soldiers. I debated whether to add the horse-faced demons, but decided that one type of animal was enough. If I ever write a sequel, however, I might have to feature them too. :)
Thank you so much for having me - it’s been a pleasure!
“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”
Li Lan, a young Chinese woman, lives in 1890s colonial Malaya with her quietly ruined father, who returns one evening with a proposition — the fabulously wealthy Lim family want Li Lan to marry their dead son. After a fateful visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets, before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.
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Tuesday, 5 August 2014
Wednesday, 30 July 2014
Book Summary : The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut.
Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen's inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden...
Laline Paull's chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, The Bees is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.
My Rating : 2 of 5 stars
My Thoughts : I really don't have much words to summarize my thoughts.
Once in a while a book comes along that is so original and so inventive that it completely blows you away. But there are some books like The Bees that tried to be unique, but its uniqueness is what causes its downfall. In this book, the bees communicate with one another and honestly, the all too humanization of bees bothered me enough, and when they said ‘amen’—actually said ‘amen’, I knew I was done.
It’s the story of Flora 717, a sanitation bee in a bee hive. She has many talents not normally seen in a sanitation bee and this special snowflake of a bee tells us her life story among the hive. When Flora was born, instead of killing her, she was saved and rose to a higher level, where she learnt she had a role to play in the ploy for power. The politics, the religious power play in its complexity in a bee hive seemed too human to me. Now torn between her One Truuueee Wuuv (Yes, our bee MC fell for a certain Sir) and her sacrifice, which side she will choose? With she fight for her fierce love that will that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, and her society—or she will chose the destiny she was meant for.
The plot was decent, and nothing happened much until the end, however the characterization of bees made it difficult for me to push on. The Bees has received comparisons with The Hunger Games and The Handmaiden’s Tale, and I honestly have no idea how. Both are great books in their genre and of history and I don’t see any valid reason behind these comparisons. Sadly, such innovative idea and its imaginative implementation didn't just work for me.
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Tuesday, 22 July 2014
Book Summary : One girl could change four lives forever…
Mysterious Leila, who is on the road trip of a lifetime, has a habit of crashing into people’s worlds at the moment they need someone the most.
There’s Hudson, who is willing to throw away his dreams for love. And Bree, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. Elliot who believes in happy endings…until his own goes off-script. And Sonia who worries that she’s lost her ability to love.
Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. But Leila’s trip could help her discover something bigger — that sometimes, the only way to find what you’re looking for is to get lost along the way…
My Rating : 3.5 of 5 stars
My Thoughts : These days, when contemporary are all the rage after the grand success of The Fault in Our Stars, Let's Get Lost didn't deliver me the satisfaction. The writing itself was good, in not great.
The book was a union of four separate stories, every one of them has one character in common—Leila, and her impact on four other characters. While two of the stories kept me upright, the other two bored me to tears. Especially Bree’s story.
For Hudson’s story, it was so-so. It didn't pull me in, neither compelled me to stop reading. I understood his situation perfectly—a moment’s indulgence that tore him between his interview for bright future and the girl he just met. Their encounter might give you sense of an insta-love, however, it didn't bother me, because such happens. In fact, I've seen my own friend falling in love like that, at the first sight. Blessedly, the feeling sticks to likeness rather than love, and slowly develops through the entire night they spent together.
The next was Bree’s story. For me it was the most boring one, uninteresting. I couldn't connect with Bree or her reasons to leave her sister, a sister who, despite her own distraught, loved her so much. And Bree just rubbed it all on her face and run away. How selfish.
The next is optimistic and enthusiastic Elliot, whose story I just luuurrrved. I loved his idea about friendship and love and happy endings, I loved that his utter devotion to his best friend he was secretly in love with, and strongly believes she’ll someday return his love. And his belief was shattered into shards when his story goes off-script. Here, I can’t say anymore, ‘cause that’ll spoil the readers.
The story I most loved Sonia’s. She was a mutli-layered character, her inner turmoil and conflict with herself was presented is a way that touched my heart. Mostly because I've closely experienced something her character had. When she lost her love, she worried she had lost her ability to love too, until she encountered someone else. It was story of self-growth, overcoming her fear, and moving on with life.
All the characters and their stories were bound by a thread called Leila, a carefree spirit who is hiding her own sadness behind a happy façade. I kept reading the book to see her ending—if it was a tragic or happy one. And trust me, I’m super pleased.
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Monday, 14 July 2014
Book Summary : Quentin has always loved Margo Roth Spiegelman, for Margo (and her adventures) are the stuff of legend at their high school. So when she one day climbs through his window and summons him on an all-night road trip of revenge he cannot help but follow.
But the next day Margo doesn’t come to school and a week later she is still missing. Q soon learns that there are clues in her disappearance . . . and they are for him. But as he gets deeper into the mystery – culminating in another awesome road trip across America – he becomes less sure of who and what he is looking for.
Masterfully written by John Green, this is a thoughtful, insightful and hilarious coming-of-age story.
My Rating : 4 of 5 stars
My Thoughts : John Green's books are like sugar candies. Sweet and fluffy and addictive. With John Green’s classy prose, the plot was definitely engaging enough to engulf any reader, but having read The Fault in Our Stars first, I found it little let-down in comparison to TFIOS.
Margo Roth Spiegelman and Quentin Jacobson are neighbors since childhood. While Margo is cheerful and full of live, a bluff-master and a maverick, Quentin is just the opposite. Their friendship remained into category of ‘just-friends’ until one night Margo suddenly shows up in Q’s window and persuades him to become her official driver-cum-partner-in-crime in eleven mischievous (some revengeful) acts that needs to be accomplished on the same night. Those impish acts range from exposing a lecherous relationship between her ex-boyfriend Jase and her best friend Becca, to breaking into the highly secured SunTrust building.
Though the whole night Q enacted the role of a fearsome guy, but still those were the hours when he could actually anticipate what Margo is all about. Not to mention, his likeness for her starts morphing into something more than that. And, as expected, after the night he expected their friendship to grow. However, he is proven wrong. The next day Margo is gone and a week later she is still missing. Unlike the previous times she eloped leaving everyone clueless with her strange clues, Q leans this time she left clues only for him.
For she is Margo-the-maverick, her clues lead Q to nowhere.
The story then accelerates its engage-charm when Q becomes desperate to find Margo, accompanied by his three friends Ben, Rader and Lacey in this search mission. And here is John Green’s wizardry. He made the story to be told from a wannabe graduate Q’s perspective unfolding many thought elements which are so much accurate and primitive for existence.
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Tuesday, 1 July 2014
Book Summary : Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava—in all other ways a normal girl—is born with the wings of a bird.
In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naïve to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the Summer Solstice celebration.
That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo.
First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.
My Rating : 5 of 5 stars
My Thoughts : “Love makes us such fools.”
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is the kind of book that stabs you right in the gut with its earnestness and insight.
Time, when we dwell on memories, helps us see scattered fragments of the past in a clearer light. Some moments are brighter and some darker—strange and beautiful that haunts you forever.
Like The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.
A story of an entire family. A hypnotic generational saga of their love like curse and losses they faced, the pain and passion and obsession of tragic youth. Heart-wrenching and leaves the reader depleted, disintegrate into infinite shards.
“To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth — deep down, I always did.
I was just a girl.”
No doubt Leslye Walton’s writing deserves a huge round of applauds because of its romanticism, lyrical prose and bittersweet view towards harsh realities. The writing was simply haunting and compelling, layered with so many inexplicable emotions I’m still struggling to grasp at. It wasn't exaggerated when Walton’s prose was compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s. The author’s depiction of Pinnacle Lane the most atmospheric I have ever come across, her portrait of the lives, their hopes and dreams and disappointments were vivid, melding together in wave the comes crashing upon the readers.
When I finished the book, all did was to clutch it, and lay in my bed, with tears rolling down my cheeks. I never felt so broken since I read The Storyteller two years ago, which, not to mention, craved my heart out of my chest.
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is probably—no, most definitely the best read of this year so far.
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