Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bookshops In Penang, Malaysia

Having arrived in Malaysia nearly three weeks ago, I have been eager to check out the different chains of bookshops on the island of Penang as well as looking out for second-hand or antiquarian bookshops.

I read somewhere that a city which is truly great and cultured is judged not by its museums or ancient monuments or heritage or mounting tourism incomes or its rising GDP figures but by the number of second-hand bookshops in the city itself!  I have yet to understand the significance of this piece of nugget.

I had barely warmed up my seat on the Malaysian Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur when the plane touched down on Penang soil.  I thought it was the shortest flight I had ever been on and was pretty tickled by it.  I could do this more often.

Here they are:

1)  mph bookstore at the Gurney Plaza

2)  Popular bookstore at the Gurney Plaza, the Queensbay Mall, Komtar and Tesco Penang.

3)  Borders at the Queensbay Mall

You have just got to visit the Chowrasta Market second-hand bookstall if you are in Penang.  Stacked from floor to ceiling in every crook and cranny are books, books and more books.  There is only enough space in between the thousands of books to walk single-file.  My, what a wonderful sight to behold.  

Whatever you are looking for, the Indian owners can find it for you.  They are very savvy about books.  Even though I do not see any signs of new book releases but their stock is pretty much up-to-date and they know where most books are located.  They buy.  They sell.  Their prices are usually RM10 cheaper than chain bookshops and most of their books are in good condition.  Do haggle with them if you are there.  Do not ever take their selling price at face value.

The bookstall is open daily from 12 noon to 8pm.

5)  Leo Books at Island Plaza, Jalan Tanjong Tokong

"Cheap Books for the Hungry Minds" is Leo Books' business focus.  Founded on 1 December 2009, this independent bookshop sells used, bargain as well as new books.  They can be found on the first floor and are opened daily except Mondays.  For more information and updates, you can click on the above link to go onto their website or you can like their Facebook page.

                                                   *   *   *

The first three are the ubiquitous bookshops in Malaysia.  All of them stock the same books, local and foreign, and the prices are similar (from RM35.90) so where you buy your books from is a matter of personal preference, proximity and accessibility.

Popular Bookstore has a Mystery section as opposed to the Crime and Thriller section but in my opinion, there is no need for one because the selection on the bookcase is pitiful and most of the crime mysteries are stacked in alphabetical order in the fiction section anyway.  I wonder why that is so.

The bigger bookstores have a cafe area so if you feel like a deserving cuppa, do look out for those.  Personally, my favourite bookstore in Penang is the mph bookstore.  Second choice is Borders.  And I have the deepest respect for the last two.

If you are in Penang, happy browsing, booking and reading.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Murder In The Ashram by Kathleen McCaul

Welcome to the dark side of Delhi.

Ruby Jones has moved to Delhi to pursue her dreams of becoming an international news journalist.  But when the body of Stephen Newby, her flatmate and best friend, is pulled from the Yamuna River - and the circumstances surrounding his death become more and more mysterious - she puts her investigative instincts to good use as she tries to uncover who's responsible.

Ruby's questions take her deep into the world of Indian policing - and into the heart of a yoga ashram.  She discovers that the yoga world isn't the calm spiritual place she imagined, and beneath the breathing exercises and dog poses lies something sinister - something that she's certain points to dark, hidden secrets that could have huge repercussions for all involved if discovered...

About the author:  Kathleen McCaul was born in 1981 in London.  She read English at Oxford University before travelling to Baghdad in 2003 to help begin Iraq's first post-war English language newspaper.

As a journalist she has lived and worked in Kashmir, Iraq, Qatar, Finland, the UK and India - where she freelanced as a radio reporter for the BBC World Service and wrote the occasional article.  She most recently worked as a news producer for Al Jazeera English, before leaving to write her second novel called Whispers from a Goan Grave out in 2012.

My take:  Kathleen McCaul's gripping debut novel catapults the reader into a world of corruption - beat out a guilty confession, fix the evidence - in India's capital.  Easy to read with plenty on Indian culture and its festivals and spirituality but not so heavy on the crime.  The protagonist is like a modern day Nancy Drew sleuthing in the slums of India.  Has great potential for a debut and I would recommend it for a light crime read and will certainly look out for its sequel next year.

Rating:  4/5

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Back blurb:  At first the prisoner scratches at the walls until her fingers bleed.  But there is no escaping the room.  With no way of measuring time, her days, weeks, months to unrecorded.  She vows not to go mad.  She will not give her captors the satisfaction.  She will die first.

Copenhagen detective Carl Morck has been taken off homicide to run a newly created department for unsolved crimes.  His first case concerns Merete Lynggaard, who vanished five years ago.  Everyone says she's dead.  Everyone says it's a waste of time.  He thinks they're right.

The voice in the dark is distorted, harsh and without mercy.  It says the prisoner's torture will only end when she answers one simple question.  It is one she has asked herself a million times:  WHY is this happening?

About the author:  Jussi Adler-Olsen was born in Copenhagen and worked as a magazine editor and publisher before starting to write fiction.  Mercy (The Woman in the Cage) is the first of four novels in the Department Q series.  He holds the prestigious Glass Key Award, given annually for a crime novel by a Scandinavian author, and in 2011 also won the Golden Laurels, Denmark's highest literary accolade, awarded by the Danish book trade.  Mercy was released on the English, Australian and Indian market on 13 May 2011 to become a No 1 International Bestseller and is translated from the Danish by Lisa Hartford.

Visit Jussi Adler-Olser's website at

Below, in three parts, the author talks about how his book came to be published, the characters in his book and the research entailed to write this book:

The book trailer for Mercy:

This interview of the author from merits a read.

Excellent and funny.  Gripping plot.  Interesting characters.  That says it all.

Mark my works, Adler-Olsen is an author to watch out for in 2011.

I look forward to the next book in the series named Disgrace, out in January 2012.

Rating:  5/5

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Live Wire (The Myron Bolitar series, Book 10) by Harlan Coben

What a poignant story.  It jerks my heart to read Live Wire because I can relate to some of the characters' grief, their loss, their hurt and at times their joys and their humour.  You think you see a happy family walking in the street who on outward appearance are happy and put-together but what do they hide?  Because everyone has secrets, everyone has  hurt and everyone has unresolved problems in their lives.  But, everyone tries their best to make the best of their lives too.

Live Wire is more about Myron Bolitar's family problems than a crime thriller.  As with any family, Bolitar's has secrets.  Secrets which begin when someone is hurt and wants to hurt back.  Does that sound familiar?  This action then causes a ripple which results in another ripple and another and another until one day it all ends in sadness and loss.  Why not happiness?  Because hurt is always a more powerful emotion than the need to forgive.  Sometimes, tragically, death happens and it is too late.  Sometimes, there is no resolution and it brings back all the hurt again.  Amongst the ripples, there may be a glimpse or two of happiness but more often that not, it is so much easier to carry the hurt than to let it go.

Live Wire is a very well-written story reminiscent of Coben - he wouldn't let you read on in silence and there are some laugh-out and ah-ha! moments - which can stir up a lot of emotions for any reader because we have all been through some of the problems that Bolitar faces in the book.  What makes it a satisfying read is that it reads more fact than fiction in some parts.  I am unsure whether this is the last book in the Myron Bolitar series but if it is, it is a good 'un and I do not mean it lightly.

In his acknowledgments, Coben writes that for those who enjoyed reading about one of the characters in Live Wire, he will be extending it in a new young adult novel called Shelter, out in the autumn of 2011.

Live Wire is a funny and witty book and carries a lot of soul searching for his main character.  Do visit for more information.

Synopsis:  Over the years, Myron Bolitar has walked a tightrope between sports agent, friend, problem solver and private eye, his big heart quick to defend his clients' interests so fiercely that he can't help but jump in to save them, no matter the cost to his own happiness.

So when former tennis star Suzze T and her rock star husband, Lex, encounter an anonymous Facebook post questioning the paternity of their unborn child, Lex runs off, and Suzze - at eight months pregnant - asks Myron to save her marriage, and perhaps her husband's life.  But when he finds Lex, he also finds two people he wasn't looking for: his sister-in-law, Kitty, wife of Myron's estranged brother, and her teenage son, Mickey, who is achingly familiar.  But this boy that he has never met blames Myron for everything that has happened to his parents...

As Myron races to locate his missing brother while their father clings to life after a savage heart-attack, he must face the lies that led to the estrangement long ago - including the ones told by Myron himself.  He must also answer the questions that Mickey's arrival has thrown up.  Who is Myron Bolitar really?  And can he heal the damage of the past?

We thought we knew Myron, but Harlan Coben now shows us we never did.  An electric, stay-up-all-night thriller that unfolds at a breakneck pace, Live Wire proves that Coben still has the ability to shock us anew.

Harlan Coben and his views on marketing books and other things:

And here is the author chatting about his latest book on on 8 April 2011:

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 4 July 2011

Vanished by Joseph Finder

This book is the first in a new series by author Joseph Finder introducing a new character in the crime fiction world - Nick Heller, an intelligence investigator.  His brother, Roger Heller, disappeared without trace one rainy evening in Washington DC.  He and his wife, Lauren, were out on a rare date at his favourite Japanese restaurant and he had seemed preoccupied about something but no more than usual.  When they were walking back to their car after the meal, they were attacked.  There was no blood on the ground and no signs of a struggle.  Twenty four hours later, Lauren woke up in a hospital.  Roger was missing.

With the police investigation stalled, Lauren turns to Nick for help.  Nick is also ex-Army Special Forces.  A man who doesn't take orders from anyone and is relentless when pursuing a lead.  A man who knows where the bodies are buried.  Most importantly, a man who always puts his family first.

If Nick is to find his brother, he is going to have to call on all his skills for it appears that Roger may have a powerful enemy - an enemy that will do whatever it takes to stop Nick finding him.

Watch this interview of Joseph Finder talking about his instant international bestseller Vanished (published 2009), the main character in his book and also how he got started writing :

It would be worth your time to check out Finder's official website because there is a wealth of information on the site including his blog.  He has previously published eight stand-alone novels where one became the basis for a movie and another was awarded the International Thriller Writers' Association's Best Novel of the Year in 2007.  This has been an outstanding read and I am pleased to find out that the sequel to Vanished came out last month (21 June 2011) entitled Buried Secrets.  If you like corporate espionage and high-end technology, then this is the book for you.

Happy reading!

Rating:  5/5