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Hande Z (Singapore)
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Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye
Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye
by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

4.0 out of 5 stars No pausing, 20 Mar. 2015
Marie Mockett's mother is Japanese. Her Father, an American, died in 2009, three years before the tsunami struck Japan in March 2011. Her Japanese grandfather had died a couple of months earlier. In the aftermath of the tsunami, Mockett travelled to Japan with her eighteen-month old son and her mother to attend to the sale of her grandfather's house and the ceremony for the burial of her grandfather's bones. The journey took her not only to Japan but to several different Buddhist temples and made her appreciate her Japanese heritage which she had not fully understood or appreciated until then even though her paternal grandmother had sent her to Japan many times when she was a child. Mockett learns, at the age of forty, what it means to be Japanese, and why Buddhism has such great influence in Japan. This is a book not only of a foreigner examining the Japanese, but also of the Japanese examining a foreigner.

Mockett explains many Japanese customs and the differences between different Buddhist temples, and her book is a great illumination of the homogeneous Japanese society and why the rest of the world often do not understand Japan. Visiting Japan for the funeral ritual of Obon had an uplifting effect on the author. Not that it made her 'sadness had shrunk, or that her happiness had grown' as she explains, instead, she now sees her 'own sadness in the context of everyone's grief'.

Descending Dragon, Rising Tiger: A History of Vietnam
Descending Dragon, Rising Tiger: A History of Vietnam
by Vu Hong Lien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.10

5.0 out of 5 stars Roaring Good book, 19 Mar. 2015
This 246-page book is clear, comprehensive, and yet concise. In short, it is a wonder as far as history books go. The authors set out the narrative of their account in the context of the fact that 'Vietnam emerged as a southern extension of the great civilization of China for 1,000 years, and then went on its own way for a millennium, evolving into a distinct, cultivated and powerful East-Southeast Asian hybrid whose human and technological resources eventually led to all its neighbours to the south'.

After a thousand years of encountering its northern giant neighbour, the Vietnamese language 'is peppered with Chinese imports'. It's imperial court and Buddhist and Confucian roots are also clearly imports from China. These were accumulated gradually and peacefully, but the Ming invasion (described in chapter 7) sought to impose Chinese culture and methods by coercion. The 20-year Chinese incursion finally ended through the resistance and guile of their first modern nationalist hero - Le Loi.

After the Ming Chinese, Vietnam continued to attract invaders - the Japanese, the French, and finally, the Americans - who intervened because they feared a Vietnam that might turn communist. The Americans did not realise that one should not mistake nationalism for communism. The Viet Minh fighting the French were mainly nationalists, as were the Vietcongs who fought the Americans.

The most illuminating parts of this gripping historical account are found in the last two chapters which cover the war with the French and the continuing one with the Americans. This covered the period from 1954 to 1975. The rise of Vietnam as a 'Tiger' is covered explicitly and astonishingly in just a little over four pages after that.

Stuffocation: Living More With Less
Stuffocation: Living More With Less
by James Wallman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More or less, 2 Mar. 2015
There are many books on how to get rid of clutter in our homes, and many on how to live a minimalist life. The two are connected but distinct. One can have an organised home without living a minimalist life. An example of a good book on the former is the 2010 book by Andrew Mellon called 'Unstuff Your Life', and a good book on minimalist living is also a 2010 book by Francine Joy called 'Joy of Minimalist Living'. Last year, Marie Kondo came up with a best-selling book on organising our stuff. It is called 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up'. All this indicates that something is wrong, not just in our homes, or our lives, but in the world at large.

Wallman explains what materialism and the over-producing capitalist economies are doing to their people. We have too much goods, too many choices, and too much money. So we buy things. It is time, Wallman says, to stop. We have to stop and ask, do we need this (existing possession) and are we going to use it? If not, we should discard it. We must ask the same questions whenever we contemplate buying something.

Next, we need to reassess our philosophy of life. Instead of going on a 'retail therapy' when we are unhappy, we should plan activities. Wallman advocates experiencing life to hoarding. It might just work.

Lord of Publishing
Lord of Publishing
by Sterling Lord
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Lord of the Reams, 15 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Lord of Publishing (Paperback)
There is no doubt that one would learn many things from this book if one were interested in the literary world. Sterling Lord is full of experience and has been extremely successful. His book tells stories about the pitfalls of writing and publishing, and the arbitrariness of success and failure. The small problem I found with this book is that it is too obvious that Lord is glorifying himself a little too much. If one does not mind that, an extra star can be added for the book. Although the book is successful because of the interesting people it covers (Kerouac, Breslin, J B West, David Wise, et al), Lord could have made it more charming if he places himself a little more subtly and less 'in your face'.

The stories behind the people are also fascinating. The one I like best is about the tussle between the authors, publisher (Random House) and, of course, Sterling Lord on the one side and the CIA on the other, over the publication and sale of the book, 'The Invisible Government'. Others might prefer the stories involving the Kennedys; or Jack Kerouac; or Ken Kesey.

The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew
The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew
Price: £4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From eternity to here, 3 Jan. 2015
Lightman is a self-confessed atheist although reading his thoughts in this book, one might be forgiven for thinking him to be a This 145 page book is about a complex subject -- the universe and our place in it. It is lucid, rational, and persuasively written; a small book on a vast subject which is best enjoyed by the reader personally. In brief, Alan Lightman tells us that the current scientific view which he, as a scientist, is inclined to agree, is that our universe is the result of a random coincidence of forces and events (his first chapter explains this). He also says that current scientific opinion inclines towards the existence of not just our universe but many others. Some may similarly have randomly created conditions that lead to life. However, he accepts that these are based on scientific theories and calculations that are rational, and irrefutable for the time being, there is no way we can prove that there is life anywhere else.

Lightman is a self-confessed atheist although reading his thoughts in this book, one might be forgiven for thinking him to be a Buddhist. He certainly does not believe in the existence of any gods, and he does not believe in any life after death. He believes that we, like every living thing, grows in the time available to us in the space we are in, and gradually, we wither and are gone - like everything else that once lived but are now dead - the one billion people who were alive in the year 1800, for example.

Lightman agrees with the views of Richard Dawkins so far as biology, evolution and atheism are concerned. But he dislikes Dawkins' attitude. Lightman is amenable to people who wish to believe in a personal god or gods. He believes that the scientific people (not science) can live with religious people (not religion). He clearly does not think that science and religion are compatible, but scientists and religious people can be.

It seems, therefore, such a brilliant piece of work will probably attract criticism from Dawkins and extremist religious people.

The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry
by Gabrielle Zevin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars There is always something in a bookstore, 1 Jan. 2015
This book may be described as a 'novella' if one goes by AJ Fikry's own definition of a novel that 'can be read in one sitting'. This is a book about an unlikely romance between a bookseller and a publisher's agent. The story takes off after Fikry finds his treasured first edition of Edgar Allan Poe's 'Tamerlane' stolen, and shortly after that, an unwed mother abandons her two-year-old daughter in Fikry's bookstore.

It is also about the unlikely romance of the town (Alice Island) chief police officer Lambiase and Fikry's sister-in-law Ismay Parish. The story is exciting and fast-paced because of the mystery behind Maya's parents. We are told quite early on that her biological mother was a black woman who committed suicide. But who is Maya's biological father? And who left Maya in Fikry's store?

There is also a minor mystery about Leon Friedman, the author of 'The Late Bloomer'. He is not what he seems, and who is the mysterious woman who is at the book event in which Friedman gives his post-event interviews?

Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views
Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views
by Matteo Pericoli
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Eyes through the glass, mind on the world., 31 Dec. 2014
Reading a book in which 50 writers write more or less a page each on the subject of windows is a temptation difficult to resist. The reader will long marvel at the imagination of those writers, the clarity of their writing, and the discipline and craft in displaying in words what went on in their minds. Why does one look out a window? To Orhan Pamuk, it is a way of 'checking to see that the world is always there, always interesting, and always a challenge to write about: an assurance that a writer needs to continue to write and a reader needs to continue to read'.

One may not necessarily see different things when one looks out the window, nor does it matter that nothing changes outside. Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norwegian writer, author of 'My Struggle') says: 'I love repetition. I love doing the same thing and at the same time, and in the same place, day in and day out. I love it because something happens in repetition: sooner or later, the heap of the sameness, accumulated through all the identical days, starts to glide. That's when the writing begins. The view from my window is a constant reminder of this slow and invisible process.'

To some, like Lauri Kubuitsile, it is relaxing to watch the birds as they search for the right word; to others, like Elmor Leonard, it is to clear the mind of unnecessary words. It is amazing what looking through the window can inspire. The next time the reader looks through a window, the view will most certainly have changed. Some may be amazed that there is a view at all.

A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand's Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (Asian Arguments)
A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand's Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century (Asian Arguments)
by Andrew MacGregor Marshall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The endgame is not in sight, 28 Dec. 2014
Thailand is a deeply divided country and neither faction is likely to hold Andrew MacGregor Marshall's book in high regard. As often the case, history and politics have as many perspectives of truth as there are claimants of truth. A previous reviewer posted the review of Giles Ji Ungpakorn, who had claims that Marshall's book is misnamed because it has no relevance to Thailand's struggle for democracy. That is something the reader can figure out for himself. Ungpakorn, a British-Thai writer once in trouble himself for offending the Thai king, also claims that Marshall is a writer 'from the elite-gazing school' who has no interest in the mass movement. However, the focus of this book is clearly on the problems at the top, and even then, it is unfair to claim that the author has no interest in the mass movements.

From the neutral reader's point of view, this book presents a clear and interesting account of the modern political history of Thailand. It is an account that connects the politics of the political parties, the military, and the royalty in the narrative. It may have some accounts that might understandably appear 'tabloid-like' (as some reviewers think). One example is the author's account that King Bhumibol became king only because the truth about his brother Ananda's death was concealed from the public. Ananda was the anointed successor to the throne but on 9 June 1946, he was found dead with a bullet wound through his head. Marshall's theory that it was Bhumibol who fired the gun may sound plausible but his only source of authentication was an article written by the author himself.

The author constantly reminds the reader that King Bhumibol's death is imminent, and that in the current state of affairs, Prince Vajiralongkorn is likely to succeed to the throne; but he warns that Thai politics with its history of volatility, and the fact that the anointed successor often did not succeed, the heir is not apparent. However, it is clear from the book that whoever succeeds King Bhumibol is likely to be influential in the governing of the country.

This book was published by Zed Books under its 'Asian Arguments' series which has many publications on Asian countries tending to cover perspectives that contain material that are controversial. Marshall's book on Thailand may not have the full truth (or it may) but it is a very accessible and interesting book that provides a good (if not the full) measure of the country's political problems.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 28, 2014 2:43 PM GMT

Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank That Broke Britain
Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank That Broke Britain
by Ian Fraser
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside of the Bank it's all greed, 27 Dec. 2014
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Investment banking and investment bankers are the darlings of modern banking industry. Ian Fraser reveals in this enthralling book that there is nothing really to envy - the men at the top of the banking business do not understand investment banking; at least, not the dangers that come with poor risk management. Unfortunately, poor risk management comes with greed and ignorance. So when the bubbles are forming everyone enjoys a super high income and status. But bubbles inevitably burst.

This book focuses on the way the three men who run the Royal Bank of Scotland ('the Bank') as its CEO in succession - Fred Goodwin, Stephen Hester, and Ross McEwan. The bulk of the story concerns Goodwin who was the principal villain; a megalomaniac who spends the Bank's money to satisfy his personal idiosyncrasy. He bullies his subordinates and hides crucial truth from the investors and regulators - that the Bank was not dabbling in subprime mortgages when it was steeped in it.

Goodwin's craving for acquisitions and the men (like Larry Fish) who helped him acquire them for the Bank made no proper due diligence of the banks that they gobbled up for the Bank on both sides of the Atlantic. Essentially, they 'overpaid for rubbish'. The board was kept in the dark in many things that Goodwin did. The result was that there were no internal checks on the way he ran the Bank. Could this really happen to a major bank? The answer is clearly yes. The details in this book sound too horrendous to be true, but in the end, all eyes were opened when the bubble burst.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 28, 2015 1:03 PM GMT

Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life
Whiskey Distilled: A Populist Guide to the Water of Life
by Heather Greene
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.18

5.0 out of 5 stars Not the least bit dry, 25 Dec. 2014
This is the smallest book on my shelf of whisky books but it contains all the important information that every whisky drinker should know. The value of this book is enhanced by Greene's clear and jolly style of writing, and the book size is small enough (223 pages in quarto size). The differences between single malt and single grain; single malt and single malt scotch; blended and unblended whisky are clearly explained. The reader will find out what bourbon is and why Jack Daniel is a special kind of bourbon (using Lincoln County process).

She also explains the distillation process and the importance of water during and after distillation (some distillers do not add spring water during distillation - hence their whisky have higher alcohol content). She surveys whisky made from the main whisky countries including Scotland, Ireland, United States, Japan, and India carefully, and clearly explaining the different approaches in the process and thus the different flavours they produce.

There is a chapter with suggestions on how to build a whisky bar at home. This is useful to the novice whisky drinker. A previous distiller takes issue with a couple of her suggestions from Noah's Mill and Rowan's Creek on the ground that she wrongly classified them as 'grain to bottle distillers). She did, but she also mentioned that these distillers produce different kinds of whisky. She was probably referring to the small batch whisky (explained elsewhere in the book) here.

There are also chapters on whisky glassware, as well as whisky cocktails. Importantly nowadays when more people are drinking whisky with their food, Greene has a whisky and food pairing section. And, of course, the common question about ice and whisky is has not been left out. If there is just one book that one will have in the home, Greene's will probably be the popular choice.

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