My Year of Books 2015


We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo

Ghostwritten – David Mitchell (Similar in style to Cloud Atlas, but written before it. Like I said previously about Cloud Atlas, while reading it I had so many varying emotions towards the book, wild frustration because the stories didn’t fully come to resolutions, but also awe at how well David can write. I think I preferred this to CA, a bit, but not fully sure about how I feel about either of them! Love them, and also didn’t get on with them. Hmm.)
The Safe Word – Karen Long
Rock Your Plot – Cathy Yardley
The Golem and the Djinni – Helene Wecker

Monsoon Midnights – Bangkok Women Writers
Stardust – Neil Gaiman
Mindfullness in plain English – Bhante Gunaratana
Jigs and Reels – Joanne Harris (I fell in love with Joanne Harris when I first read Chocolat. This book is full of short stories, and is seriously good. The stories all have a slightly different feel to them. Reading this showed me that she’s an even better writer than I thought she was.)

Shooting an Elephant – George Orwell (A book everyone should read. Essays about his opinions and anecdotes from Burma.)
Runestones – Joanne Harris (I wasn’t in love with this, but it was pretty good. I really like the concept – she brings alive Norse legends.)

And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hossini (The first book of his I’d read, and…. wow. He’s shot right up to one of my favourite authors. I really liked this book. It’s set between Afghanistan, America and France.)
Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay (Jews in France in the second world war. Heartbreaking.)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Mary Angelou
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Helen Fielding (I can’t help but really like the movies as well as the books. I indulged myself :D)

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson-Burnett
The Art of Letting Go – Chloe Banks (A nicely well-rounded first novel.)

I Am a Cat – Soseki Natsume – started then postponed
The Wind up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami (Waaa… frustrating. Started out ok and then characters that he introduced in the beginning were never mentioned again, but other ones who fulfilled the same purpose of the previous characters were introduced instead. And the story kind of petered out to nowhere and I’m not sure where it finished up, or even what it was really about. I like Murakami, I’ve read almost all of his books, but he can definitely hit or miss for me. This one felt like the kind of book I write during NaNoWriMo with no planning whatsoever. I know he writes magical realism, and I enjoy that, but I feel like this time he ran out of steam half way through and then just wrote whatever and gets away with it because it’s ‘magical realism’. Yeah. Not my favourite of his.)

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler (Ahh you need to read this one. Completely changed my way of thinking. A genius story, and well written. Up there as one of my favourite books.)
Life of Pi – Yann Martel (Wonderful too, as is the film.)

Sophie’s World – Jostein Gaarder (Wasn’t 100% sure about this book. It’s good, and interesting, but took a lot of effort to read it. It’s quite long. I’ve seen people rave about this book, I wasn’t so convinced.)

Nothing – I was writing my NaNoWriMo!

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini (Fantastic.)
The Time Machine – HG Wells
Sycamore Row – John Grisham (Law fiction. Good but I preferred the first in the series. This was the second.)


My Year of Books 2014

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Nothing to Envy – Barbara Demick (Stories from people she’s interviewed who defected from North Korea.)
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (Frustrated me, and also wowed me. Reading it was full of ups and downs as I tried to decide if I was enjoying it or not. In any case, David Mitchell is pretty amazing at writing with different voices.)
A Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Les Misérables – Victor Hugo (Brilliant, long but brilliant. The historical chapters are tough going and I have to admit I didn’t always read them in much detail.)

Better Than Fiction – Various Authors

Elephant Moon – John Sweeney (I loved this book!)
War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
Bangkok in the Balance – Tatsuya Hata

Monsoon County – Pira Sudham (My first book by this Thai author, who spent his higher education in Australia and has only written books in English. The story was alright; I would read another of his novels.. but I wasn’t amazed by this book. It’s loosely about a boy who hails from a poor village in Isaan in Thailand who manages to go to university in London.)
Trains and Lovers – Alexander McCall-Smith
The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde (I love this play :))

Good Omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (I really really like the way Sylvia Plath writes prose.)
The Solitaire Mystery – Jostein Gaarder
A Time to Kill – John Grisham (Gripping!)

Backstory – David Mitchell (Comedian)
Goodbye Tsugumi – Banana Yoshimoto (I love Banana Yoshimoto. Her books are not always particularly long, but lovely.)

I am a Cat (Volume 1) – Soseki Natsume (So pleased I found this in the library in the International Centre in Nagoya. I will get around to reading the other 2 volumes at some point. It’s a satirical look at Japanese customs/culture of the early 1900s from the point of view of a cat. Classic Japanese literature.)

Deathnote 1-12 (Shonen Jump) – Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Lizard – Banana Yoshimoto
The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht (I’m very interested to read more of her work.)

I’d love to know if anyone else read any of these books and what they thought! Also book recommendations are always appreciated :)

Reading and Writing Thai – Somsonge Burusphat

DrawingCowsinBrugesI highly recommend this book for anyone starting out to read the Thai language. The main thing I like about it is that it introduces everything slowly and builds it up gradually. I can string letters together to make the right sounds, but the tones, up until now, have been mystifying to me. I did a simple Google for ‘Thai tone rules’ and was completely overwhelmed by the explanations and the charts! I read a few posts on blogs from people who reckon they have ‘cracked’ the rules and found a way to simplify everything and just got more and more confused. What works for some people doesn’t work for others.

I took a deep sigh and a break from the computer and re-scanned my bookshelf. I noticed this book, which I had bought nearly a year ago and not properly looked at. I had been plowing headfirst into children’s books without much guidance or really understanding what I was doing, and was at much the same level as I had been months ago. I needed some drastic action, and realised that this might be the answer to actually improving.

The author starts by introducing mid and low class consonants and long vowels, then high class consonants and long vowels. Then she looks at the final sound of the syllable and how it affects tone. There are lots of repetitive exercises to help drill everything into the memory. After that, she moves on to talking about  short vowels and how the first and last consonant affect the tone. And so it goes on, gradually building up the rules that you have to remember. I really like the fact that she explains everything, but the majority of the book is reading exercises, which is what it should be. I believe that rather than knowing and being able to recite the tone rule chart off by heart, with enough practice I will be able to see a word and recognise it’s tone from looking at it, which of course, is what I’m aiming for. I already feel confident reading words with the tone rules that I have studied so far, and I’ve only been studying it for a few weeks. I feel like I’m getting somewhere!

There is maybe one con for me, that is that I don’t really understand the transliteration that is used. I also don’t really want to spend time learning it as I want to spend that time learning Thai. It’s used to explain what kind of sound the letters make. There’s no CD, so I think that if you don’t know what sounds the letters and vowels make already, it would be difficult to make any sense of it at first. Having said that, there are plenty of videos on YouTube of people showing the Thai letters and making the sounds, so there’s no excuse not to be able to learn it quite fast, if you haven’t got access to a native speak who will go through it with you. The transliteration is also used to for a few exercises that help you spell in Thai for example – ‘write ‘dEEn’ (walk) in Thai. If you don’t understand the transliteration then you can’t do the exercises.

Other than that I think it’s a great book in which the process of learning and remembering has been clearly thought out. Yay :D

How have you found learning the tone rules? What resources have you used when learning to read Thai?



During the past month I have:

– Started teaching at a new job where the classes are rather large,

– Bought a sofa,

– Bought 2 orchids, one with flowers that look like octopuses,

– Bought a fridge,

– Celebrated 1 year with my gorgeous girl,

– Written 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month!

(See my posts about NaNo last year here and here.)

It was my third attempt, and my second time at winning. Big thanks go out to the group of writers in Asia who I met with on Skype for word races :)

To explain: NaNoWriMo is a challenge to those people who say they could write a novel, or a book, or something but say they never have time, or keep putting it off, or whatever. Or for people who are slightly barmy and just want to see if they can do it or not (aka me). The challenge is to write 50k words of fiction (though I suppose you could write anything) in November, so that’s 1667 words a day average. If you reach the end you get a certificate, and a lot of personal satisfaction. It doesn’t have to be 50k of good writing, no, that’s not the challenge. Just words that form some sort of coherent something. Editing comes later.

For me, this works so well. If I were to write 50k of good stuff straight off the bat, it would take me f o r e v e r. I get disheartened when I have, what at Nano is called, an ‘inner editor’, constantly telling me that every word I write isn’t good enough, or doesn’t really fit, or doesn’t make sense or is just plain awful. And so I don’t write. I write a bit and then I delete it or I give up because I don’t give myself a chance to just write.

Not only that, but I fail to get excited about a plot that is just scrappy bits of information and nothing real.

Writing nearly 2000 words a day, means I don’t have time to let the bad stuff in. So what if there is a gaping plot hole, if the character isn’t really rounded, if I’ve jumped about and missed out a connecting link, if I change my mind about something half way through. My story is a living breathing real thing. I get inspired, I get excited, and I create.

There are days when I get annoyed too, of course. Days when I wish I had never taken up the challenge. But it gets remarkably easier the third time around. The first time I got about half way and gave up. Second time I finished and third time I felt like I could have written more – my story is no where near finished.

I am not a writer either. What I mean is that, Nano is the first real go at writing something fictional I’ve ever had. I believe that this turns off some people who do deem themselves writers. They see it’s just for amateurs as a way to say they can write, and as a way to dumb down the art of storytelling. I don’t see this at all. Writing takes time and patience, and being good at writing really takes learning, and more patience. But most of all, of course, writing takes writing. Nano is just a starting point. What you choose to do with your words afterwards is up to you.

And… never mind adults like me, but Nano is inspiring lots of children to write and want to write more in the future. This can only be a good thing!

This year for me, it was like a puzzle, where I was creating the shapes of the pieces and the picture on them, but I had no idea of the overall picture. I had a lot of fun trying to tie everything together. I also learnt that I find it really hard to write dialogue, decide on character names, and that even when I think I don’t have anything to write, I do.

I’m taking a break at the moment, I will be continuing to write it… I can’t have an unfinished story! Then the editing will begin later. Ahhh!

For anyone considering taking part next year, do it, I urge you. It feels really good to accomplish something, even if it’s just for yourself. :)

Tone Deaf in Bangkok (and other places)

I want to share a book recommendation…

Tone Deaf in Bangkok (and other places) – by Janet Brown

It’s just brilliant. While I have been feeling a little uninspired by Bangkok recently for various reasons, Janet’s writing seems to open it up and make me realise how awesome a city it is again.

Her stories are anecdotes of her periods of living in Bangkok and travelling in Thailand, as a single farang woman. I greatly appreciated this, as having scoured shelves previously for books on Bangkok, a lot of them seem to be written by men, which I find a little harder to relate to, being a single farang woman myself.

She reinforced for me, the idea that nothing ever just comes to you – just because you go and visit a country doesn’t mean it is obliged to pamper you and show you a good time. To enjoy Bangkok (or anywhere) you have to get out there and do things, and learn the language, and talk to people, and get stuck in. Sometimes it might go right, and sometimes, of course, it might go wrong.

But the most important thing is you’ll have a multitude of stories to tell at the end of it…..