Category Archives: Books, Films, Music

Hawaii: Favourite Fish

Ok, this took much longer to put together than I thought. There’s very little I could think to say about the fish I saw in Hawaii. It would be a pretty boring blog of “really, really, pretty!” or “ooooh, love the colours!”, or “hmmm, reminds me of so and so at work”, etc, etc. So instead, I’ve labelled the fish I have photos of, in latin AND Hawaiian AND English (brownie points for me!) and put my comments in the captions! (you have to click on them to see the comments) All photos courtesy of my uncle who wouldn’t give up his camera even thought it refused to take pictures of fish in motion….. Note that the identification would not be possible without the well worth it purchase of “The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes” by John Hoover. It really was the ultimate and I recommend it if you are even a little bit curious about what you see in the ocean. It is so ultimate that the biologists recommended it to me and the bookstore staff knew it immediately even though I couldn’t remember the title or author!

Review: Maroon 5’s Overexposed

My review: I like it! What do I know about music? Nothing authoritative let me warn you. Although if umpteen years in the Royal Conservatory system hasn’t taught me scales by now, nothing will. So, let me tell you why I like this album, because my feelings about it is all I can really stand on.

The tunes are interesting – they have a great melodic line with some cool supporting beats and harmonies. There are some nice instrumental flourishes that add the finishing touches to the songs. They definitely make me want to bop my head and tap my toes even at work in my open office layout. And there is a nice variety in the mix – unlike some albums where after the 4th song you can’t tell them apart or other albums where it sounds like the group couldn’t decide on any sort of theme and just threw everything in.  More than one song is repeatable – I can listen to it a few times in a short period of time and don’t feel like I need to change the channel.

Adam Levine’s vocals are polished – not just the technical bits which he does so well, but his delivery is solid and genuine. I can’t sing along with him (not unless and even if I end up taking those singing lessons at some point in the future), but it doesn’t matter. I was particularly impressed with his rendition of “Kiss” and “Sad”. “Kiss” because on the rare occasion I’ve heard him sing an older song, he hasn’t come across as owning it or being fully immersed in it. This time, the older versions of the song faded away and it sounds like he’s invested in it. “Sad” because his slow ballads also haven’t come across with the depth and texture to his voice that I like in a slower tempo – this time, it comes across like he really feels it and it shows. Either that or he’s a brilliant technician and he sells it. Either way, I loved it.

Last comment – the whole thing makes me smile and when art evokes a feeling, that’s enough.

Review: The Water Rat of Wanchai….2

huh. Ok, I had only meant to read a few more chapters, but I ended up finishing the book. So this will be the 2nd and last of my reviews of this book (read the first here). I left our heroine in Thailand and about to hop over to Guyana hot on the trail of the money. It’s when she gets there that it becomes apparent that she’s really out of her normal locations. She stops being the super-know-it-all-bullet-proof go to girl and starts to be a bit more human. Just enough that you think it would be cool to be her, but not too much smugness that would turn the reader off.

The book continues at a good pace – not too slow, but not so fast that you can’t keep all the details in mind. There are a few twists and turns, but nothing too radical (like you can’t tell who the bad guys that are going to double cross you from a mile away!). The characters are all quite practical as well – which is a nice change from the homicidal maniacs you general run across in books to the point where on the 3rd or 4th double cross, etc that leaves you thinking “enough already! just let it go!”.

All in all, a very satisfying read and good start to the series.

Happy reading!

Book: The Water Rat of Wanchai

Here’s something new – a book review when I’m not finished reading the book yet! It’s sort of like a travel blog as you’re travelling. I’ve been wanting to read this book forever, but it was over my price point (if I didn’t have a price point, I’d buy a LOT more books). When kobo FINALLY gave me a certificate I could use, I went crazy (just a little). If you haven’t heard about this series by Ian Hamilton yet, where the heck have you been??? First, it’s about a forensic accountant, and, yes, that’s as exciting as it sounds. However, the main character is not your usual forensic accountant – she’s more of a troublershooter-mercenary type of girl. I’m on chapter 13 (they are short chapters) and she has yet to bring her martial arts to bear, but you can just imagine her frightening competency that would send most people scurrying away. I mean, how many accountants do you know that use a rolodex to organise international sim cards and have alias at the tips of their fingers?

Another attraction for me are the settings for the story. Ava Lee lives in Toronto (as do I) and it’s always fun to read how fiction authors describe a place you know really well. She also travels to Hong Kong (been there) and then onto Bangkok (didn’t make it there) and I believe Guyana (have friends from there) is in her future. Ian Hamilton does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of the places without a lot of tedious detail.

One thing in the last couple of chapters that have emerged is that Ava Lee is a lesbian. Now, whenever sexual preference is highlighted in a book that is not a romance, I wonder if it is there for the plot or if it is a poorly constructed character development – one step up from a shopping list of the character’s physical attributes. Only the next few chapters will tell!

So far….I want to keep reading.

Book: Freedomland by Richard Price

Can you write a review about a book you didn’t finish? I guess that fact that I disliked it so much that I put it down is a review in itself, but let’s go through this exercise anyway. The book and the movie (didn’t see it either and am not inclined to at this point) have a great premise, plot and twist. The problems I had was that I couldn’t believe that the main character’s dialogue was real and that the actions and beliefs of the supporting characters was at all believable.

The two main characters are the police detective, Lorenzo, and the white woman, Brenda, whose car has been hijacked and whose son was supposed to be in the back seat. Everytime Brenda opens her mouth, it reads like a script. I never got pulled into it and caught up with it. I never felt a mother’s desperation or even her frantic-ness. I just kept wondering “really?”.

And the supporting characters were a bit too predictable – almost as if they were roles, not characters: “the opportunistic evangelists” or “the angry brother with issues”. I could imagine them as roles that were turned on or off.

In the end, I stopped reading because the book wasn’t human enough for the story. Maybe that was more the fault of whoever wrote the excellent summary on the back cover than anything else.

Book Review: The Witness

I read a lot of different types of books and I definitely enjoy those books that you can pick up, read through, have a great time and not stress. Nora Roberts excels at these. Just the right amount of plot, character development, a small twist or two and a happy ending. Her latest “The Witness” is one of her non-trilogy books (thank goodness – the trilogy format is so pat) and has all the right elements. There is tension in the plot about a woman running and hiding for her life. The main female character is a strong character – something Roberts has perfected and so nice to read.  But, the main male character is no wuss either. The “bad guy(s)” aren’t too cookie cutter and she throws in an extra one for free which is a nice sideline. She has improved so much at cutting out the formulaic fluff that just makes you want to wince and has pared it down to just the story (or her editor has, whichever, they are to be commended). While the outcome is fairly predictable, the journey to get there is quite enjoyable!

Film Review: The Island President

A lot of people may know of this documentary by now since it debuted in 2011 at TIFF. However, this was the first time I saw it and was very happy I did. First off, documentaries today aren’t what they used to be. They are definitely from a certain angle and “objectivity” is not really the main goal. So, don’t go into this hoping to get information to use in your high school paper. Go into this to hear a story; a journey of a man who was driven to act. And by acting, he changed his world, even for a little while, and tried to change ours.

If you’ve never heard of it, this is a story of how democracy came to the Maldives. How the new president thought the fight was won when he came into power only to find out that there is no point in leading a country that is disappearing and what he was going to do about it.

Some of the things the film did very well that I can personally confirm is the portrayal of the international negotiations of climate change. The long, long, frustrating hours of negotiations were captured with tired politicians continuing to discuss and discuss. The amount of work that goes into the 2 week meeting that the heads of state have every year is staggering and the film hints at that as ex-President Nasheed must talk with, convince, entreat and meet with so many other countries. And, finally, the scraps of progress that we all must be satisfied with at the end.

The film’s director spoke after the film and he said that while the film by necessity is short (less than 2 hours), he believed it was a true portrayal of ex-President Nasheed. There were no major pieces that had been edited out. So, based on that, the film portrays ex-President Nasheed as a driven, flawed human being who burns with clear vision. Tempering this is his sense of irony and humour. I wish I could quote some of the things he said, but rather than trusting my faulty memory, I will say that he had the ability to grasp the humour, even if it was black, of a situation and sum it up neatly with a bow on top.

I encourage you to see the film (comes out in the US sometime in March) if only to be entertained by the story and a terrific film, but hopefully to move your horizon so that it includes the Maldives.

Book Review: Quarter-Share

I found out about this author through a different blog (biliopirate’s page) and it sounded good enough to try especially as I was about to be travelling for business and needed something to read on the plane.  It is a very easy read and the author does a really good job of constructing a new world for the reader to dig into.

The character is interesting enough to pique the reader’s interest to see where he ends up and the cast of supporting characters are unique in their own personalities. The author leaves enough hints that there is potential of each character being explored more in the following books.

There is no huge clash like a war or saving humanity, but you don’t really miss it. You get immersed in life as a travelling space jockey and I didn’t even see the end of the book coming! Will definitely be reading the next book in the series.

Book Review: Blah, Blah, Blah

The Book is “Blah, Blah, Blah: What to do when words fail” by Dan Roam.

I love communication and hate when communication is bad. Meaning that this might not be an unbiased review. I was very disappointed in this book. And that disappointment started from about a third of the way into it.

The author promised to show the reader how to identify when they are being blathered at and then further how to use certain tools to make sure that they do not spread the blathering by using a visual way of thinking and then communicating that thinking. This was a great beginning. Anyone, anyone at all, who has sat through a power point presentation while their butt goes numb or tries to listen to a speech and finds themself hopelessly lost, would welcome this with open arms.

However, for a book that decries blather, it surely used a vast amount of words. That leads me to two hypotheses. First, it could be that the author has fallen afoul of the very problem he seeks to fix or, second, it could be that the author’s new visual thinking needs a lot of words to explain it.

In terms of readability and usefulness, the first third of the book is very good. It breaks down the types of wordiness that we run across, shows them to be what they are (intentionally misleading, too full of jargon, trying to cover too many audiences, etc) and categorises them. Excellent way of defining the problem.

The next two thirds of the book start to get so complex that no amount of cute little stick figures (which were somewhat entertaining) could make it easier to swallow. The principles that drive Mr. Roam’s technique are completely non-objectionable – clearer communication, better use of the whole of our brain, looking at things holistically – and I was thoroughly in agreement with why he thought improved communication was needed. In the end, his visual technique is probably better suited to a live seminar with the teacher drawing out the ideas rather than trying to write about it.


Book Review: White Tiger by Kylie Chan

I had one day “off” – it was my vacation day where I would do what I wanted; no chores, errands or plans. So, inevitably, I ended up in a bookstore. Mostly, I buy e-books now. They are cheaper and condos are no longer built to actually hold STUFF so I have no room. However, I still love a good paperback. You can flip though it, you can read it in the tub and it’s lighter than my iPad (yes, I’m a weakling). So, I bought 3 books and one of them was “White Tiger” by an Australian author, Kylie Chan. And, like most of my impulse buys, I liked the look of the cover. The story is set in modern hong kong and the cover has a stylised tiger (no surprise there) and an old fashioned Chinese junk (boat) and a girl in a martial arts uniform. Plus, I like tigers. And, on top of all of that, I loved the story too.

The story is in the style of Chinese story telling mixing in characters from mythology with good old-fashioned martial arts. It pulls in magic (Chinese style – energy work), endearing and lovable characters, tragedy and bad guys. The characters are ones that you wish you knew. People who you would want to hang out with just to hear their stories or listen to the type of pithy or funny comments that they might make on the current social issues of the day.

Ms Chan also did a wonderful job describing Hong Kong. I’ve travelled quite a bit and there are those places that have a distinct feel to them – something about they way they smell or how the storefronts are arranged or the commonplace things that aren’t quite the same as home. She captured Hong Kong – Kowloon, the subway lines, the island – so that I found myself nodding and thinking “oh yeah, I remember that!”.

My only complaint is that I can’t get the second trilogy from Australia fast enough!!!

White Tiger followed by Red Phoenix followed by Blue Dragon