books

My 2015 in Books

It’s that time of the year again! Here’s a brief review of all the books I read in 2015:

1. Crazy Rich series by Kevin Kwan
It consists of “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Crazy Rich Girlfriend”. It talks about these super duper rich Asian families that compete with each other, who’s richer than who. I don’t know if I should call this a guilty pleasure, because it’s just pleasure, living vicariously through these Richie Riches. The characters are a bit flat, but I don’t mind, because in the end what matters is the extravaganza and the lavish way they spend money. It’s pretty much a mild social commentary on rich Singaporeans and Chinese. The most interesting part is, Kevin Kwan actually visited the expensive places for research. I hope the royalty pays him well.

2. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
I was looking for a light and simple novel to read, so why not a teen romance? This book was referred a lot in pop sites, it was a natural choice. I guess the story is not bad. How Park and Eleanor came to fall in love with each other is not convincing enough though.

3. Delirium series by Lauren Oliver
It consists of “Delirium”, “Pandemonium”, and “Requiem”. Again, I was missing some good YA action and desperate to read a good one. I’d been seeing this series in a lot of places, so I decided to read it. It has everything a YA story usually has, but the whole fighting-for-love thing falls a bit cheesy for me. It’s not as epic as I hoped it would be.

4. How Google Works by Eric Schmidt
I love this book to bits, not only because I’m a Google fangirl, but it also offers new perspective on how to run a company effectively. Of course, they only could get away with it, because they have a lot of resources in Google, but we still can learn a thing or two from them, especially on breakthrough recruitment method.

5. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Overall, it’s an ok book. It’s sweet, because on the surface it’s about books and bookstores, but not much so. There’s also a touch of technology (ie. Google) on their quest to decipher centuries old codes hidden in books.

6. Koala Kumal (Dirty Koala) by Raditya Dika
I’ve always read his book. I used to think he had interesting insights. But this latest release of his is a disappointing one. It’s loaded with heteronormativity and homophobia, and there’s even one line straight out of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” without any credit or mention. I wonder if his books have always been this way, but I wasn’t critical enough to notice them. Too lazy to reread his old books now.

7. Malay Sketches by Alfian Sa’at
Have I told you that I collect local books from every country I visit? This one is from Singapore. It’s written by a Malay Singaporean, and it’s basically a whole book of social commentary on the sistemic racism experienced by the Malays in Singapore. It’s sharp, but not vulgar. I became an instant fan.

8. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
It took me a long time to finish this book. I don’t get what the story is. I understand the plot, but I can’t comprehend what it’s trying to say.

9. Please Look After Mom by Kyungsook Shin
Another addition in my books-around-the-world collection. This one is from South Korea. It’s about this Korean family whose mother suddenly went missing. They went all over Seoul to look for her. From this book, I got to peek how a child is raised in Korea and what’s expected of them. There’s some similarities to family values in Indonesia.

10. Ayah (Father) by Andrea Hirata
The book I waited for so long. It’s still about residents of Gantong, Belitong. It’s still very much in the style of Hirata’s, but the overall story didn’t touch me the way his previous books did. Is it because it’s not about Ikal? Hirata talked about new characters this time, and what it means to be a father. But somehow, it feels like a Belitong version of Forrest Gump, only it’s more poetic.

11. Pines by Blake Crouch
I watched Wayward Pines because M. Night Shyamalan was producing it. The series itself was draggy, but the concept intrigued me enough to look for the book. It’s definitely a mindboggling one. When you start reading, you’re not sure if it’s a mystery, horror, crime, scifi, or other. It’s definitely a chilling one. At least once or twice it’ll scare you a bit.

12. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
This one is a teenage romance with substance. It mainly talks about depression, without the sugarcoating. Niven wrote it like is, that depression is not romantic, it’s an illness, and it needs medication. I guess it’s a depressing story. I had a lot of things to wonder about when I finished the book.

13. Bumi (Earth) series by Tere Liye
It consists of “Bumi (Earth)” and “Bulan (Moon)”. The next sequel is not out yet. I had no idea who Tere Liye was, but a lot of his books were displayed in Gramedia. Bumi got my eye because the cover looked like a proper fantasy novel, and the synopsis was great. The main character is a girl called Raib who can disappear. The witty part is, ‘raib’ means ‘disappear’ in Indonesian. Of course I bought it immediately. I’m always ready to appreciate Indonesian fantasy novels. As it turns out, Tere Liye is not that good of a storyteller. His writing is not bad, good command of Indonesian, but his story has plotholes played by flat characters. It’s obvious he doesn’t read that many good books.

14. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
I read this because it won Best Novel in all prestigious science fiction awards. It was that hard to believe. As soon as I finished it, I no longer questioned why it was Best Novel everywhere. Russell Letson wrote in in Locus that this is not an entry level science fiction. I can’t help but agree with him. I think I only understood what’s going on in the middle of the book. Reading it took quite a concentration, but it paid off.

15. The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
It consists of “City of Bones”, “City of Ashes”, “City of Glass”, “City of Fallen Angels”, “City of Lost Souls”, “City of Heavenly Fire”. I became a fan of this series quickly. Quickly. After browsing titles after titles, I finally found a great YA series. It’s pure YA: romance, adventure, epic worldbuilding, and magic. Cassandra Clare did her research extremely well, and it shows in her worldbuilding. Everything is solid. Clary is also a strong and smart female heroine, whose priority is not only about boys. Too bad the movie was bad. But good lord Godfrey Gao is HOT. They’re now making a TV series out of it called “Shadowhunters” and I can’t wait for it. Harry Shum, Jr.’s in it as Magnus!

16. Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
This is the prequel to The Mortal Instruments, set in the Victorian era. I’m not a fan of the era. I find it not colorful enough. Needles to say, the book bored me, even though it was filled with familiar characters. I haven’t been interested to read the sequel yet.

17. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. It’s a psychological thriller all right, but in a deeper kind of way, because it’s essentially about marriage.

18. #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso
Business books are much better than self-help ones. Amoruso’s journey until she became a billionaire is an inspiring one. She did everything, hands on, neck deep in her own business. Her value is clear. She could see what she wanted and she made sure that her employees see it too.

19. Eve: Memoirs of An International Sex Worker by Annika Cleeve
I thought this memoir would be steamy, but it’s not. It actually talks about sex as a commodity. I found it to be quite humbling. Especially when Cleeve compared herself (a prostitute) with girls who flirt with guys to get free drinks. She called that kind of girls ‘gin & tonic hooker’.

20. Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
The last installment of the Peculiar Children series! We got to know more about the universe and why their talents are different. I’m satisfied with the ending, and of course, the collection of vintage pictures. I can’t wait to see Asa Butterfield starring in the film, made by Tim Burton!

21. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Amy, my hero! This memoir of hers is so fun, I wonder why I found Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” not as entertaining. I got to learn a thing or two from Amy’s writing. But the biggest service this book did me was encouraging me to watch Parks & Recreation. Yup, I’ve finished all 7 seasons of the series and I LOVE IT. Ugh some people are just so talented and write really well. ;;

22. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
This memoir pissed me off a bit. She’s only older than me by a few years and I don’t like her telling me what to do, acting like she’s figured it out, when we’re all still in this together. Besides, if you read closely, there aren’t that many experiences in this book. She wrote the same stories over and over again, but from different angles with different names. If you watch Girls, it’s basically the live action of this book. There’s a lot of her in that series. And nope, I really don’t like Hannah Horvath. She’s an ungrateful, spoiled brat.

23. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
I read the first 2 books, “The Eye of the World” and “The Great Hunt”. I finally got to read it! It’s a must read classic in the SFF genre, but I never had the energy to order the book online. Suddenly, I found the first book on sale, and it was only $3! After reading the first book, I found the second book at the same place for the same price! I think I was meant to read this epic adventure. Each book is at least 600 pages long and I finished both in a heartbeat. It’s that good! There’s a lot of magic and worldbuilding here, carried by many, distinct characters. There are 14 books in this series by the way. An endless adventure!

24. Bencana di Planet Poa (Disaster in Planet of Poa) by Djokolelono
It’s the first book in “Penjelajah Antariksa (Space Explorers)” series. I was so excited when I found the books in Gramedia. I didn’t know we have a scifi series here? And it was written in the 80s too! They reprinted the series and the book design is amazing. They put a lot of thought in it, and it shows on each chapter’s title illustration. The story itself has a lot of plotholes though, as many Indonesian books do, but I appreciate the scifi spirit.

The list above does not include all the mangas and graphic novels I read in 2015 though. I read a lot of them, Sandman, Ender’s Game, Master Keaton, etc. I also reread Orson Scott Card’s Shadow series, which I already discussed in last year’s review. And somehow the books did not appear on my Goodreads’ 2015 reading list. Is it because it’s a reread? And finally, time for my personal award!

– Best Book of the Year: How Google Works by Eric Schmidt
– Worst Book of the Year: Bulan by Tere Liye
– Best Fantasy Book of the Year: The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
– Worst Fantasy Book of the Year: Bulan by Tere Liye
– Most Recommended Book: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
– Most Recommended Collection: The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
– Most Overrated: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
– Most Underrated: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
– Most Favorite: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

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I’m reading a new book now, “Bumi (Earth)” by Tere Liye. Fantasy and Indonesian. The back cover says nothing much about the story other than our main character can disappear. Tere Liye chose a witty name for her: Raib (disappear). I didn’t even care if it was going to be a bad read. If it’s Indonesian and fantasy, I’ll read it. SF/F is a genre Indonesian writers rarely explore. It’s funny, because our folklore could have been a huge source of inspiration. We have our own myth, creatures, and magic system. Harry Potter who?

So far Bumi is draggy but I’m invested in knowing the whole story. I have a feeling it’s going to be an epic one. Tere Liye’s Indonesian skill is also good, so at least the passages are not annoying me. I’m planning to read it on my flight tomorrow, but it looks like I’ll finish it tonight.

The minute they told me I’d be going to Singapore, I knew I’d return to Books Actually. I can’t wait to get my hands on later editions of Lontar (I only have the first one). Perhaps I’ll take some Alfian Sa’at’s too. There’s also a lot of speculative stories there, so my visit would be a feast.

Have you checked out the new updates of WordPress app? It’s pretty neat, huh?

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The Absolute Formula

Call me juvenile, but I really like books from the young adult genre. And that’s the kind of books I want to write. That’s also the kind of readers I want to have. I’ve never grown out of it. Young adult books are where the magic still exists. It consists of everything I like to read in a book: adventure, epic movement, action, romance, fantasy (mostly), and most of all: the characters thinking for themselves. Compared to more mature books (aka adult books), YA books are uplifting, optimistic, as well as entertaining. Adult books are so depressing. I took a look at the adult books I’ve read so far and most of them discuss the lethargy of living a seasoned life. IKR #depressing

I’ve been desperate for a good YA book though. I started reading the Delirium trilogy, and it’s not bad. The first book is boring, but the second one is ok. Reading the third one now.

Here, have a GIF of Sam Weber’s process in drawing an ebook cover of my favorite YA book.

Magic.

Magic.

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My 2014 in Books

The list of books I read in 2014! My Goodreads Reading Challengen was set to 12 books, but I read 42 books instead. Here they are, along with a short review.

1. Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
Review here.

2. Struck by Lightning by Chris Colfer
Review here.

3. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
Review here.

4. Why I Left Goldman Sachs by Greg Smith
Review here.

5. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
This is why I have to read outside of my comfort zone. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have read this book! I like how she incorporated her Indian roots in such an American novel. It gives me hope that other writers of color can go global too. Not to mention the story itself is good.

6. After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Review here.

7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Review here.

8. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
I’m not a fan of this book. All that I remember is it’s about a smart, virgin girl with an obsession of giving a guy a blowjob.

9. Under the Dome by Stephen King
I read a critic somewhere that King’s best craft is in depicting human nature, but not in resolutions. Under the Dome releases the monsters inside us as we crumble under pressure. A small town is trapped under a mysterious dome and everyone goes bananas. I love getting to know the characters and how they deal with the situation. The ending is not as epic as I’d like it to be, but the story is good, so I don’t really care.

10. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
It’s about a war veteran with PTSD. To be honest, I didn’t really get it. I have to read it again.

11. Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography by Lemony Snicket
Another puzzle in the mysterious life of Lemony Snicket. I love catching glimpses of his whole self in all of his books.

12. School of Fear #1 by Gitty Daneshvari
This book is too young for me. Maybe if I read it in elementary school, I would have liked it.

13. Entertainment Law in A Nutshell by Sherri L. Burr
Best introduction to entertainment law I’ve ever read so far. Very useful for students and entertainers who want to know more about the subject.

14. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Now I know why this book was recommended everywhere in 2013. It’s that good and such a mindblown. I didn’t know that we could write a novel this way.

15. The Circle by Dave Eggers
This book is definitely talking about Google and its good & evil potential in the society. I like it best because it’s not quite a dystopia story. The story tells a period when people is getting to the peak of making the world a better place, but they don’t see that once they reach that peak, they’ll decline into a dystopia.

16. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Nah, not my Gaiman favorite.

17. Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome by John Scalzi
I love it. It’s so interesting reading a history of how a certain disease has changed the face the world. It’s funny too!

18. Airframe by Michael Crichton
Crichton never disappoints. Airframe makes a fun and fresh leisure leading. It’s light but still mindboggling.

19. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Nope. Nope. Nope. I honestly don’t understand what the hype is all about other than it captured the hedonism of the roaring 20s.

20. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Scalzi, funny as always. I like the point of view too, sending our senior citizens to war and defend humanity. I rarely see stories like this.

21. Earth Awakens by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
EPIC. The resolution of the first Formic Wars. The characters that were indifferent to each other in the first two books set aside their differences to save the world. I love it. ♥

22. Gloriously Bright by Orson Scott Card
It’s practically a rereading of Xenocide. Not bad as its own story.

23. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I LOVE IT. And jealous at the same time. How could a man weave words so beautifully?

24. The Jacatra Secret by Rizky Ridyasmara
Please don’t waste your time reading this book.

25. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Basically the same as the movie, but with more elaboration on the characters’ state of minds leading up to their deaths.

26. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
I like it best for its tribute to great SF/F works that have contributed in making SF/F a more popular genre ♥ and yes, Joe Hill is such a good writer.

27. Rahasia Menulis Kreatif by Raditya Dika
So far, the most useful writing advice book I’ve ever read. Raditya Dika is simple, systematic, and straight to the point. He tells you what you can do and why you should do it.

28. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
I still don’t know what to make of JK Rowling’s detective series. She’s really good with characters, and this book is all about character development. The case itself is not so interesting.

29. World War Z by Max Brooks
For a portion of 2014 I was obsessed with zombies. This book is good. I love the report style it uses to tell the story. It’s not really about zombies either, but it’s how people rally in the face of a common enemy, and I love the book for it.

30. Lock In by John Scalzi
The worldbuilding is interesting and the story is funny. But it’s kind of predictable and the case is not that hard to solve either. I think it’ll make a good series though.

31. Schroder by Amity Gaige
It hit me straight in the chest at some parts, but other times, it’s meh.

32. How to Set Up and Run A Fashion Label by Toby Meadows
The title is self-explanatory. Very useful for beginners.

33. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
I fell in love with Hadfield because of this book. It’s like he’s lending me his eyes to see space and what we can do out there. Of course, I, the astronaut wanna-be, totally fell for it.

34. Gelombang by Dewi Lestari
Review here.

35. The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner (3 books)
Nope. I know that the movie is praised, but the books are typical young adult, and it’s not that epic either. The resolution is so disappointing. In the end, this trilogy talks about nothing.

36. Shouldn’t You Be In School by Lemony Snicket
It’s in this book that I finally appreciated how great a writer Daniel Handler is. He knows his words and what he’s doing with them. I’m jealous.

37. Attack on Titan #13 by Hajime Isayama
I only keep reading cos I want to know the ending. It’s so draggy up to this point.

38. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
The blurbs all say it’s funny, but I’m afraid my Indonesian humor doesn’t really get Semple’s American humor. It’s still a fun reading. I can relate to Bernadette and her anti social tendency.

39. Hidden Agenda by Jacob Julian
Along with The Jacatra Secret above, this book is proof of how poor our publishing is. I’ve seen so many poor Indonesian books, I can’t even blame the writers anymore. It’s because of the poor editing. We should raise our standard and actually demand our writers to be fluent in written Indonesian.

40. This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
It raises immigrant issues in the USA, so no, I can’t really relate to it. The protagonist sounds whiny too. I don’t like him that much.

I don’t have a picture of the books I purchased in 2014 cos there are so many of them. But I always post my new purchase on Instagram under the tag #utislibrary. Credit card will be the death of me, you know.

Last but not least, my personal awards for my 2014 reading list.
– Best Book of the Year: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
– Worst Book of the Year: The Jacatra Secret by Rizky Ridyasmara
– Best Fantasy Book of the Year: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
– Worst Fantasy Book of the Year: The Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner
– Most Recommended Book: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
– Most Recommended Collection: Lemony Snicket books
– Most Overrated: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
– Most Underrated: Struck by Lightning by Chris Colfer
– Most Favorite: Rahasia Menulis Kreatif by Raditya Dika

I set my reading goal to 20 books this year. I’m not going to make a new wishlist cos I still haven’t fulfilled my 2014 one. I should really count how much I spend for books. This will dig a hole in my pocket.

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Gelombang and (My) Supernova Journey

I just have to write this down while it’s still fresh. I just finished reading Gelombang and I have so many feelings right now.

I read the first book of the Supernova series, Ksatria, Putri, dan Bintang Jatuh (Knight, Princess, and Falling Star) when I was in junior high. The smart words fascinated me, even though I had no idea what they meant. I felt like reading the book made me feel and look smarter. It was when I reread it after my first heartbreak it finally made sense. Ah, so this is what the smart words mean beyond its metaphysical packaging. I remember the epic hype Supernova made when it first came out. It’s one of the most intelligent Indonesian fiction at the time, and the line between intelligent and pretentious is thin.

Then Supernova: Akar (Root) came out and I fell in love. I fell in love with Bodhi. I fell in love with Kell. This is the book I read numerous times and it never fails to make me shed tears in the end. Bodhi’s helplessness in identifying himself felt like my own journey into adulthood back then. Maybe that’s why I related to it so much. The language is much, much simpler than the first book, without losing its meaning and message. The mystery felt more exciting, because the character also meant more to me.

Supernova: Petir (Lightning), by far, is the simplest one of all. This is where I realized that Dee is a master of characters. She knows her characters very well. They are very distinct and in full flesh, and it shows from the way they talk, think, and make a decision. Etra is simple and borderline innocent. It makes Petir a refreshing one to read, because Etra is often funny in all her naivety. But in the end, her simplicity is the thing that makes her not memorable to me.

Supernova-bintang-jatuh-akar-petir-partikel

Partikel (Particle) is outrageous. I was so angry reading it. It never occurred to me that Dee would touch the realm of mysticism (klenik), complete with its paranormal sightings and experience. And such sighting is substance-induced too. I’ve always been one of those people who think that paranormal should not be a sub-genre of SF/F. As you can see, I don’t like it very much. Horror and ghosts are just not my stuff. But I persevered. I had to know how it related to the previous two books. I was rewarded by a small hint of Etra meeting Bodhi, even though it’s very short, but okay. You can’t have everything.

If there’s one thing I find redeemable about Partikel is the subtle debate of religious fanaticism we can find a lot in Indonesia. Zara is a bright kid with a sound logic, who asks the right questions not because she doesn’t believe, but because she’s curious. It’s sad to see her mother cannot see that.

And finally. FINALLY. We have the long-awaited Gelombang (Wave) and I had mixed feeling opening the first page, because Partikel disappointed me so much. Would I be served with another paranormal activity? But no. Oh dear no. This is it. This is the book where everything finally falls into context. Yes!

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There’s so many things I want to talk about this book. Let’s start with the technical part. I think this is the best book Dee has ever written. It truly shows how she has grown as a writer. The structure is neat. The language is clear. The information dump is not overwhelming. And the character is actually speaking to the reader. The distance between Alfa and me is almost non-existent. And it’s really, really funny. I’d give all my money if Dee would write a comedy book. In this book, I can finally put a finger on where Dee’s brilliance actually lies. She can write about people’s prejudice without being hateful nor condemning. Dee has written about minorities: Buddhism, being a Chinese-Indonesian, being a non-Muslim or a non-believer, prostitution, marriage affairs, to name a few, in such a (almost) sitcom-esque manner, there’s no room for righteous bigotry on the reader’s part. We laugh reading it, which makes it ironic in a sense.

Story-wise, placing Gelombang in the whole concept of the Supernova series, I finally have a much better idea of where Dee is going. And suddenly Partikel is not so bad after all. The metaphysics and mysticism have entered the classic fantasy battle between good and evil, and this I understand. This revelation in no way belittles the whole series that Dee has made and is making. On the opposite, I find her to be even more brilliant. Supernova is a fantasy story at best, speculative at worst. Both are not popular genres in Indonesia’s fiction. I have to thank her for introducing it and making it a big hit. She’s written an SF/F series so intricately and cleverly that makes people read not because of the genre, but because of the characters. This gives SF/F a chance here.

Now that I know all of this, I’ll lay down my detective cap and trust everything to Dee. I don’t have to guess or worry of where the next book will head for. Whatever comes out of it, I know now that it’s all a journey worth going through.

Man, this calls for a rereading of the whole series.

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