Monday, January 31, 2011

The City Watch Trilogy

I've actually read a "light" book for fun, namely, the City Watch Trilogy (containing "Guards!Guards!", "Men at Arms" and "Feet of Clay") by Terry Pratchet. As usual, it's a really really fun read.

These books are the first few in the Night Watch series, and as usual, is done with a lot of humour. One of my favourite parts of the novels are the characterisations. For example:

"The only reason you couldn't say Nobby was close to the animal kingdom was that the animal kingdom would get up and walk away"

I am, of course, approximating the quote. But most of the characterisations have to do with Nobby and whether he is human. Of course, in Feet of Clay, one of the funniest episodes with Nobby is that he discovers that he is the Earl of Ankh. And when he is offered the crown (because the 'nobs' or nobles think that he'll be easier to manipulate than the Patrician), he turns it down immediately. On the grounds that there is always a catch when someone offers something good to him.

The books are mostly funny, although every now and then, Terry Pratchet veers into seriousness. For example, in the Patrician's discourse about good and evil to Vimes. And especially in the last book, when the Patrician was close to death that the most serious sections I've seen so far appear. But even though they incongruent with the general tone of the book, they are done extremely well and it doesn't feel like the author is suddenly imposing his view/his voice on others.

And from reading these three books (and others), I've actually decided on my favourite character. Weirdly enough, it's the Patrician. I think it's because it's really cool the way he runs the city, and he has a good sense of humour.

Alright, I'm going to the library tomorrow, and I've got some books to read, so I hope February will have more posts than this month!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

I am so absent minded

At first, I thought that I did post a review of A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russel, but apparently I didn't. Although in my defence rationalisation justification, I was really swamped with work and stuff. For example, English Tests, Maths Tests, and the ever present essays. Although, this doesn't really lessen the guilt (because rationalisation is never the answer).

But anyway, just a quick post to talk about the book before I go back to work.

A History of Western Philosophy really is interesting, although most of my friends find it really really weird that I'm reading it. I think it's because I don't take history, we all have so much work due and I couldn't give a satisfactory answer as to why I'm reading it.

But one thing that sticks into my mind (probably because I've shown to to everyone else so many times), is about Pythagoras, whom I've learnt so far this year, that I can and should be blaming for (almost) everything I don't understand in maths.

Anyway, Pythagoras invented a religion, whose main tenets were the transmigration of souls (basically, souls can inhabit other bodies) and (get ready for it), the sinfulness of eating beans (I more of less memorised that sentence, expect for whatever is in parenthesis, that is actually my own words). Everyone I showed it to went O.o when they saw it, and it more or less confirmed in our minds that some mathematicians are insane weird.

But apart from learning obscure but interesting facts such as these, the book really is a good introduction to Western Philosophy, although I feel that it would had been better if the author had managed to put aside his anti-Christian feelings when it came to Christianity (he treated the OT as myth).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why I should've taken History

I've talked about history books I've read, and why it's good that I don't formally study history, but I've realised, with the books that (for some reason), I read, I might as well take history. This was basically prompted by the fact that even my English (aka Literature) EE is using New Historicism as a framework. Because of this, I've been looking for, and borrowed from Tim two books: Aspects of European History 1789 - 1980 by Stephen J. Lee and The History of Western Philosophy by B. Russel.

I haven't finished the philosophy history book (which is interesting but really thick), but I did read the European History one. It's actually quite interesting, and a re-cap (well, some what) of the history I studied in Secondary School.

The book is broken up into easy-to-read sections, and each section focuses on one particular period of time, E.g. Hitler's rise to power within the years......... (I'm sorry, I can't remember). But the book, though thin, provides a good summary of the different opinions of historians, and if I remember correctly, even admits that historians disagree on a few point, once again bringing up the subjective nature of history.

But from all this, it's easy (although it may not be true), to generalise the 20th century as a turbulent time. While this is probably because of the two World Wars, it's hard to say how the average person (and the authors) in England and Japan were affected by it.

But I'm guessing that since both England and Japan were major players in the war (or at the very least, WWII), it should've had a significant impact on the worldviews of the citizens there.

Yay! I've managed to consolidate the random strands of though into something intelligible and coherent(:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What I've been reading..... on my iPad(:

As you can see, my fascination with the novelty of my iPad has not worn off(: And get reading ready for a deluge of books, this time ebooks(:

I've been really biased towards my iBooks app, such that I read practically only on that one, and neglect my Kobo and other apps (although the Wattpad app gets quite a lot of use). So, the following books will all be from the iBooks app..... *tadada...attemptedbutfaileddrumroll*

The first "set" of books (since I want to use classifications), are all related to Jane Austen, and they're either her works or works that she read; and yes, Jane Austen is one of my favourite authors, and I don't care what Mark Twain thinks. In particular, her works, are Lady Susan and Love and Freindship (typo intended). Love and Freindship is her "Juvenilia" and even though she wrote it at a young age, is really surprisingly good. (Although, with the advent of so many good writers from and Wattpad, it should be expected). Her writing style is a bit different, but in no way inferior and there's lots of humor in it. Lady Susan, is her first work (if I remember correctly), and it's basically about a sociopath (at least, that's the consensus from people), and I have to admit, she (Lady Susan), is really feeling-less.

The works that Jane Austen (and now I) read, are Pamela, Pamela II, Shamela (anyone see a pattern?). In cause you're wondering, I did read somewhere that it's normal for the books to be named after the titular character. But while Pamela and Pamela II are a series, Shamela is a parody of the series (does that make it the ancestor of fanfiction?). The two Pamela works are about a servant protecting her Virtue from her Master, whom she eventually marries, and the second volume is about their life after marriage. While Pamela can seem like a Mary Sue at times, she's surprisingly likeable. But be warned, both works are very long, while Shamela is much shorter.

What's interesting about all these works is that they are Epistolary Works, which basically mean that they are all written in the form of letters from different characters to other characters. It's actually really hard to do, since you need to be able to "write" the voice of each character, and it's also a part of characterisation. (:

The next "set" of works are by G.K Chesterton. I think I've mentioned them before, so I'll be brief. The two works are Heretics and Orthodoxy and they are meant to be 'companions' to one another. And again, I can't stress enough what a wonderful writer he is, and urge people to read his works.

The third "set" are related to making the most out of life, and the two books (that I recall reading) are How to Study and How to live on 24 hours a day. Even though those two books were written really really long ago, they are still, surprisingly applicable, and readable (since they're both short). I actually recommend everyone to read them both, since the How To Study guide is general enough for any subject, but the methodology is specific, and the one about 24 hours (sorry! Lazy!) is quite good on helping managing time. They provide the methodology, but they don't give a schedule (see the difference?)

The last "set" is the random set, and consists of all sorts of books, mostly related to school. The first one (which is also the first book I finished) is called Farmers of Forty Centuries, and is about organic farming. But I really like the descriptions of life in past Japan, China and Korea, so it's a decent 'history/travel' guide (And it's link to school is that it was recommended during an enrichment programme). The next book is Plays by Anton Chekhov and basically, I just read/annotated Three Sisters, which is one of the books I'm doing for my World Literature Essay 1. (:

Whew! You've just survived this very long winded and TMI account. Hurray for you!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I *heart* my iPad(:

I haven't posted for the last 3 days partly because I didn't read anything "new" (as in, an actual, physical book), but partly also because I've been reading the ebooks on my iPad(: Which I really love, now that I've gotten the chance to play with it.

Before, I wanted to get a "proper" e-reader, preferably the kindle. But unfortunately, doesn't ship to Singapore (and so alienates a viable customer market). And after a lot of searching for e-readers, my dad just told me to get an ipad. Which, as you can tell, I did.

At first, I was supposed to get my ipad before Christmas, but due to unforeseen delays, it only landed in my hands last week. But still, better late than never(:

The ipad is very handy, because I can check my email, listen to songs, watch videos and look at photos (I've downloaded all my photos from Japan^^)

So far, I've been using two apps mainly for using: iBooks (which is created by Apple for the iPad) and Kobo (which I think has much prettier covers than the plain one of the iBooks). I am now so thankful for public domain (which means all the lapsed copyrights) books which allows me to get books free (mostly from Project Gutenberg). And because both applications (I think, although I've only tried it on iBooks), can read PDF files, I have an even greater choice of books to read; and, I can download Mr Azmi's notes onto iBooks.

I'd talk about the books I've read later (So far, I've finished 4- Heretics, Orthodoxy, Pamela and Pamela II, and I'm now reading Shamela) because today, I want to focus on the iPad itself. (after that, it becomes inconsequential because the main focus will be on the ebooks).

Apart from the two "book" apps, I've also got quite a lot of reading apps, for example, about 5 Bible apps, which allow me to highlight passages and take notes during sermons (all of which can also be done on iBooks and Kobo). Other apps are the various comics that I've downloaded (like Archie, Garfield and Hetalia). And for my brother, lots of books, especially the read aloud ones, like Read Me Stories. And now, I've downloaded more and more Chinese apps/books for my brother, to entice him into learning Chinese.

And the iPad also introduced another reading-related app, called WattPad/Wattpad (I'm not sure where to capitalise). Wattpad calls itself the "youtube for books" and lets readers (all sorts) to post their stories there. I've set up an account (because I've always like writing, even though I'm not good at it, so I'm treating this as a chance to get criticism and improve) and so far, I've also managed to get Rachel to join! However, Wattpad was first set up on the web (no surprise) so you can't actually post stories using the app, which is only for reading, but you can do so on the website.

So you can see, the iPad has many functions which to me, distinguishes it above the average e-reader. I'm so glad I got it instead of something else(:

P.S If anyone is on Wattpad, my user name is EustaciaTan93. Please read the stories and tell me what you think(:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

When authors change writing styles

I think I'm very lucky. The day I run out of physical books (ebooks are another matter), Aunty Florence lent me two(: A Joy Fielding that was extremely interesting (although the values aren't good, so I'm not going to talk about that book), and another book called Rainwater by Sarah Brown.

If the name rings a bell, it's probably because I reviewed a book of hers once, called Tough Customer. Tough Customer, in a sense, is typical of her writing style/genre, which is a Police-Thriller-Mystery, that kind of genre (which I totally enjoy).

But this time, Rainwater is different. It's essentially a love story at it's core, about sacrifice. It's set in America, during the Great Depression, and it concerns the landlady of a boarding house and her (new) tenant. There's a very nice theme about not being racist, which is (not really) surprisingly, an integral part of the plot. The ending, while sad, is satisfactory. And I suppose you can say it's one of those Happy-And-Sad endings that are very hard to do, but so good when well done.

And another aspect that was scarily coincidental is that her son has autism, which isn't diagnosed til the end of the book; although I kinda suspected it from her description of his growing up (normal til 2 or 3 then rapidly deteriorating, which is typical of kids with ASD - Autism Spectrum Disorder). The way that the they (the mom and the new tenant - David) interact with her son (Solly, aka Solomon), is very touching and sweet, and it's marvellous the way she describes the breakthrough of Solly. (:

Talking about this reminds me of another book that is written in a style/plot atypical of it's author(ess), I don't know if you've heard of it, but it's called Big Sister by Danielle Steel. Danielle Steel (I wonder if I got her name wrong) typically writes romance novels with Happy Endings, like Amazing Grace (good book). But this book detailed the relationship between a pretty skinny sister and her ("Fatter") older sister (who is the protagonist). There're elements of child abuse (by that, I mean mental abuse), and a love plot (although it's a secondary issue here).

All in all, I think it's a good thing when authors change from their usual books. I think because they have already honed their writing style, they can change styles without sounding stilted. >.< Now, I want to re-read Bird By Bird (which I reviewed previously, so I shall now hold my peace), but I should be re-reading my Literature texts (like The God of Small Things, which I read today, and was extremely confusing for me; and even more, like my World Lit Texts, plus The Sound of Waves which is my World Lit Assignment 2 text (: ) and of course, my ebooks, which I'm downloading faster than I read.

But these are, of course, happy problems (:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Disturbing things I read

NOTE: I'm so sorry this is short, but I have piano and I didn't want to leave it till later, since I'd most likely forget to post again ):

I did mean to post a nice long post, about a few books I read, but then, I got my ipad, and everything flew out of the window OTL..... But on the bright side, it did let me filter out everything but that which made the strongest impression, and for some reason, the ones that I do remember, are fairly disturbing in nature.

The first one, is a book (you'll see why I add the obvious later). It's called The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. It's about a boy in the World War (I think it's WWII), but the war's a small part. The main premise is that his mom (who loves books - smart mum(: ) dies, and his father gets a girlfriend, whom he marries, and who gives birth to a tiny step-brother. Meanwhile, David (that's the boy's name), starts hearing the whisper's of books, and sees a "crooked man" who tells him "Welcome you majesty, all hail the new king", or something to that effect.

Soon after, David goes into a world, which is full of really twisted fairytales, which makes the book so disturbing. Although, it's an interesting form of disturbing, since there's the subversion of the Adam and Eve story in one of the 'mini-tales' (which are the re-written fairy tales). And of course, that brillant insight (no sacarsm at all), is by my friend, who saw it as soon as he read it.

All, in all, it's a brilliantly disturbing book. (And the Amazon link is as follows:

The next disturbing thing I read isn't a book, but an article. It's called Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, and while I normally herald the championing of Chinese (I am Chinese after all, only that I'm Singaporen Chinese), this article, by an American-Chinese, disturbs me, in the way she raises her daughters. My own opinion is that if my mom raised me that way, I'd have therapy for the rest of my life (although her daughters seem very very accomplished).

And if you don't belive me, here's the link to the article:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Two Crime Novels

I've managed to read two books, mostly because it takes me very little time to read Agatha Christie. Although the two books were both crime, they were very different in nature.

The first one is The mystery of The Blue Train, which is a murder mystery featuring Poiret, the Belgian detective. It's not as hard to guess as the Oriental Express mystery, but it's still decent. The book centres around the murder of the daughter of a millionaire, and the theft of her rubies. Needless to say, book comes to a very complete conclusion. However, it's not as "good" as some of the others, because of one unrelated ending. Because Agatha Christie's novels seem to have a love story somewhere, this was no different. The main female protagonist is first chased after two guys, but in the end, she's still single =.=  And the girl who ends up with the good guy is her cousin (who's not mentioned a lot, although she's given credit for giving an accidental "key" to solving the whole mystery).

The other book, on the other hand, can't be criticised for plot, because it's non-fiction. It's called Baby X and is about an officer on the Child Protection Team,  and some of the cases he's handled. It's really shocking and at times, disturbing. It's actually quite relevant, in light of the (not so recent) news that an Ex-Hwa Chong guy, and a scholar, was arrested for possesion of child porn. After reading some of the cases in the book, you'll really start advocating tougher punishments for these offenders, which makes me glad Singapore still has the death penalty. (I wonder if anyone will find offence at that?).

Well... the second book is a little harsh (in the opinions it generates from me), but I suppose, we do need to know about the darker side of life.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A nice mix of books(:

I managed to go to the library of Saturday (Yay! The first Library Visit of the year!), partly to 'stock up' on books and partly to find books/research for school (basically my BM IA and my EE). While I had a fairly fruitful time borrowing books, it didn't go so well with the school-related stuff (although I did manage to borrow 14+1 books in the end; the plus one is for the book I renewed, since I still haven't been able to buy my new EE book).

So far, I've managed to read one book a day(: So, since all of them are good, I'll do quick mini-reviews here(:

One book I really enjoyed was Maximum Ride the Manga. It's drawn by a Korean, so the art is well-drawn, not at all like the "wanna-be" style that characterises (at least to me), so many manga adaptations. And the book also follows the plot pretty closely, leaving on a nice cliff-hanger. It's a good thing I've already read the series. The good news is that Lil'est sis enjoyed the book, which means that there is an unlikely chance that she might read the book too~

Another light fiction I read was The Reluctant Heiress by Eva Ibbotson. I really like Eva Ibbotson's books, and I wasn't disappointed by this one too. It's about a Republican Austrian Princess, and her unlikely romance with a Self-made English Millionaire. I really enjoyed the 'reveal' scene, where everyone (except the nobility), finds out that she's the princess; her descent down the stairs was very well written.

After reading such light fiction, I went on to read The Last Jihad, by Joel Rosenberg (who also, if you can remember, wrote Epicentre). It's a really interesting read, since it 'predicted' 9/11 before 9/11. The story is taut and very suspenseful, and like the reviews said, it's totally believable. I think it's a better 'end times' (not really though) story than others like the Left Behind series.

But since I can't always read for fun, I decided to read one of the EE research books I borrowed, about Graham Greene. I just found out today that my school has a Graham Greene room(: But, I also realised that in the National Library (at least the Jurong East Branch), I can probably do an EE on Terry Pratchet's Discworld and find more material than Graham Greene and Shusaku Endo put together. Anyway, the book was Graham Greene, A Life in Letters, and compiles some of his (numerous) letters into one very thick volume to give the reader an idea of Graham Greene, who although was Catholic, had a fairly lot of lovers. But the book did help me understand a little more about his book that I'm analysing (and even talked, for a little bit, about Shusaku Endo), and gave me some quotes I can probably use in my EE. (:

Last (so far), I read The Lake Of Dreams by Kim Edwards, who also wrote The Memory Keepers Daughter, another really enjoyable read. I read it mainly because I helped Aunty Florence collect it on Sunday, and I wanted to finish it before I went for the next lesson(: Sometimes, when a writer has a really good first novel (see the totally random change in topic?), the second novel doesn't compare; but gladly, this isn't the case. The book is sensitive and well written, with a very believable twist/reveal at the end (you can see that having believable twists is important for me). And although the author mentioned Japan (the protagonist lived there), it was done quite believably (except for the part where the Lucy, the protagonist, has stayed in Japan for a long time with Yoshi but doesn't know much about the language except 'I've turned off the gas', and the frequency of earthquakes, although I'm probably wrong about this). But overall, the book, although thick, was very engrossing.

I'm so glad the books I've read so far are good, I can't wait for the others ^_^

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I realise that I've been lazy

I just checked my blog, and found that my last two posts were all about fiction (=.=), yet I spent part of the last post talking about the non-fiction books that I read. And then I realised that I was too lazy to post the reviews of the books I read. So I figured that I'll mention them in passing here and now (rather than defer them to the next day).

Alright, so the two books are Mathematics: Is God Silent? Which is an excellent book about whether it is possible to find God and to use a Biblical-based framework when teaching maths. It actually has a concise (but still fairly detailed) version of the history of Mathematics (Did you know that there was a Maths cult???), before going on to discuss (in a fairly ToK style), whether it's possible to understand the meaning of maths without God.

And surprisingly enough, most people in Church had a "recoil from fear" reflex when they saw the book. Although it's probably because the word Mathematics was most prominent and the subtitle "Is God Silent?" was less prominent. Well, all except Uncle Bernard, Aunty Lorraine and Pastor Boey. Then again, as soon as Ryan opened the book, he turned to the sine curves, while Noelle had to flip to find it. Which probably means that Ryan has a greater affinity with Maths (which should be natural, since he takes/took HL Math).

The next book is China: A New History, and is a rather concise history of China, from ancient China to just after post-Mao. And it's actually a hefty 470+ pages, but I say concise relative to the 6000ish(?) years of written history the Chinese have, so to cram it into one volume is an achievement.

But I do wonder, why am I (and I'm not even a history student) reading these types of books (and by that, I mean China History)?

The Calling of the Grave (Simon Beckett)

It's been so long since I've read a fiction book (ok, maybe a week or so, but it feels longer since I've been reading so much non-fiction lately). And while non-fiction is fun too, I miss reading fiction too much. And ever since my writing tuition teacher (Mrs Chua) told me I was reading too much fantasy, which apparently affects my writing, I switched to Thriller/Crime novels. A really big leap, but it's so fun too!

The latest fiction I got (and I just remembered, I read Undressing the Moon only a few days back.... how books like China: A new History can wipe your memory), is (again), borrowed from Aunty Florence. I have no idea where I'm going to get books after I stop piano lessons ):

Anyway, the book is The Calling of the Grave, and is the latest David Hunter by Simon Beckett. The story is (like expected), engrossing, suspenseful and with a really good and believable ending. It gives more background on David Hunter, since the case refers back to 8 years ago, before the setting of the first book. And thankfully, there are no confusing flashbacks, the past is in one section and the present is in another section.

Surprisingly enough, I really disliked the female protagonist, and I was really relieved when he doesn't end up with her (like he does with the last few books). But I guess she's a well crafted character, since she can make me actively dislike her, and she does seem very "human", since she does have some virtues and (many) weaknesses. Too bad, her weaknesses outweigh the virtues, but I suppose it's necessary to drive the plot forward.

So far, Simon Beckett doesn't seem to falter in the quality of his writing and his novels. And while the opening of each book is predictable (in the sense that each book opens with a fact about the decomposition of the human body), the openings are all unique in their own way, and serve to create a "context" or a "prologue" of sorts for the rest of the novel.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Undressing the Moon (T. Greenwood)

It's a whole new year, so it's a new begining(: (although personally, I'm rather afraid of this year, since I have my IB exams). Anyway, I was really racking my brain about what to review (because I was rereading an old not so recent book), and then, I found a book that I'd borrowed from Aunty Florence and forgot to read, which is great, because I wanted to start the first post of this year with a new book.

Anyway, Undressing the Moon is about a 30 year old women struggling with breast cancer, and her reflection on the "fateful summer" when she was fourteen. That summer (which is interspersed with details of her present life) was when her mom left, afterwhich her dad was in a physically abusive relationship with someone else, and she got into a relationship with her teacher. Complicated stuff.

I don't really see the connection between the title and the content, since one of the reccurent ideas is that of her mom and her finding pieces of broken glass. I suppose it's possible to say that one of the themes would be brokeness and repairing (although that really doesn't sound literary). But there are always titles that don't connect with the plot, although my sneaking suspicion is that it's because I just can't see the connection well enough.

Another thing I found interesting about the book would be closure, or the lack of it. The protagonist never really re-connects with her dad, or her mom, or even her teacher (even though she toyed with that idea). So in this sense, the book is atypical to me, since I'd have expected that she would be re-united with her family. But in the end, she does find a sense of peace (from, I suppose, the reflection about that summer that she did), even though she's going to die.

I found this book very thoughtful, and there was a good twist at the end, believable and interesting. It's a good reflection on life, and what it means to be family.