Monday, October 23, 2017

Mother Tongue by Christine Gilbert

I picked this book up because language learning is something that interests me, even if I'm not very good at it. Mother Tongue is Christine's account to achieve 'a level of fluency' of Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish by spending about 6 months in China, Lebanon, and Mexico.

Since Christine only studied Spanish before the experiment, I was quite skeptical about whether this could be done. After 6 months of intensive Japanese, I could get around and go on a holiday, but I definitely would not describe myself as having achieved 'a level of fluency'.

To spoil the book (look away now if spoilers irk you!), the effort to learn Chinese was a failure, Arabic was much more successful and Christine probably had the most success with Spanish.

Interspersed with her account of how she tried to raise trilingual kids is her research on how we learn languages. I was pleased to know that Professor Cook, who is 'one of the foremost respected second-language acquisition academics in the world' recommends immersion + formal instruction in learning a foreign language, which is how I learned Japanese.

There are also plenty of musings on language and culture in the book, as Christine learns and considers the impact of culture on learning a language, whether being bilingual means that you're automatically bicultural, and if living overseas automatically means you have to either live like a native or in an expat bubble or if you can find your own balance.

I found this to be an interesting read. Christine was very honest about her failures and this led me to celebrate her successes with her. While the reason for this experiment was to make her son bilingual, I felt that there was more focus on her language journey. I think that resonated more than me than a story on how to teach your kids a second language would, but if you're a parent looking for ways to raise bilingual kids, you may not find many ideas here.

If you're interested in learning a new language or you're learning one, you may be interested in this book. I really enjoyed reading this and it made me more determined to make sure that I don't forget my Japanese after I move back.

Quotes I liked:

"If you learn another culture, it changes you. I mean, it'll start with trivial things like words for new concepts that you didn't have before. I don't think that you start off wanting to change, you start off wanting to learn, and the learning itself changes you." 
"[Y]ou have to fall in love with the culture to learn it."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bookish Mystery - Meanderings of Memory

A week or two ago, I noticed that I was approaching 1500 posts for this blog. I thought it would be nice to do something special for that post and stumbled across this bookish mystery soon after.  Coincidence?

Yes, probably but what a happy coincidence it is.

According to the Wikipedia article on this, Meanderings of Memory is a lost book. Despite the fact that it was cited as a "first or early source for over 50 entries" in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the current OED editors (and presumably by extension, everyone else) have not been able to locate a copy.

This mystery came to light in 2013, when a staffer involved in the ongoing revision of the OED sought to verify the earliest citation of the work but couldn't find the source (Meanderings of Memory). After looking at the original archival slips, it appears that these citations were from someone called Edward Peacock, who by all accounts was a credible source.

Unable to find the book, the OED posted an open appeal for information (this was before they found out that who the contributor was). While it is possible that the book never existed, Edward Peacock's other contributions were reliable, and the book has been found in several catalogues, making it unlikely to be a hoax.

Meanderings of Memory is supposed to have been written in 1852 by someone named 'Nightlark' (which was probably a pseudonym). Veronica Hurst, the chief bibliographer hypothesizes that based on the language, Meanderings of Memory may be a "flowery" book of poetry "five to ten pages long". It's also possible that the reason why a surviving copy doesn't exist is because the book was pornographic or published through some unusual method.

Both the comments on the OED appeal page and a Reddit thread throw up some interesting theories, such as the possibility that Edward Peacock was Nightlark. Another theory I read suggests that since the Latin epigraph of the book (which we know from the catalogues) reference a Philomena, who in Greek mythology transformed into a nightingale, this could mean that Nightlark was a lady poetess. If you're interested, I would suggest reading both pages for more information and theories.

I'm not sure if this is a mystery that will ever be solved, but it's certainly one of the more interesting bookish mysteries that I've come across!

Friday, October 20, 2017

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Note, I read this a long, long time ago (in 2012) but I found new things on a second read, so here's another review (though truth be told, my first review was longer). 

I am so pleased that I managed to get this one sale (for only 300 yen!) I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth book in the Tiffany Aching books, which in turn is part of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I actually found the Discworld series through Tiffany Aching, which is why her books hold a special place in my heart.

When I Shall Wear Midnight starts, Tiffany is running herself ragged as the witch of the Chalk. But along with the advent of Roland, her former maybe-beau's impending wedding, Tiffany finds that someone - or something - is poisoning the minds of people, inciting them to hatred against wishes. With the help of the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the cause of the poison and face what may be her greatest enemy so far.

I found this book to be lots of fun, especially since Granny Weatherwax, Granny Ogg and Ankh Morpork (which means the Watch) all make an appearance. Even the King and Queen of Lancre appear (though I'm not so familiar with those books). If you're familiar with the Discworld series, you will definitely appreciate seeing all these characters together.

Plus, any book with the Nac Mac Feegle is sure to be fun. I loved reading about them and any scene with them had something that made me chuckle. They even get to find a long-lost family member in this book!

On a slightly more somber note, I thought that this book was a great exploration of how hate spreads. The hatred of witches was explained through the following saying:
"Poison goes where poison's welcome."
And I think it rings true. For hatred of something/someone to take root in someone, there must be something (maybe fear, maybe prejudice) that made the person susceptible to hatred. This is a poison that only works in the right environment.

Overall, this was a fun and surprisingly deep read. I enjoy seeing this older version of Tiffany, though in my mind she is forever that nine-year-old girl who rescued her brother from the Fairy Queen. I am tempted yet reluctant to read the last book in this series because it is also the last Discworld book. There are some things that I would prefer not to end.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Scarecrow Princess by Federico Rossi Edrig

I requested this from NetGalley because the blurb mentioned myths, a crow king and basically sounded like a modern day fairytale. The actual comic was a bit different.

The story starts when Morrigan, her mother, and her brother move to a small town. Morrigan is upset because this move was for her mother and brother's new project, and she reacts by acting like the 14-year-old girl she is. But when the crow king from the myth turns out to be true, Morrigan finds that she is the appointed scarecrow princess meant to stop him.

The first thing I didn't like was the drawing style. I realise this was on the cover and really is a personal thing, but it didn't grow on me at all. I suppose the rough style could be reminiscent of Morrigan's prickly character and the dark nature of a fairytale, but it just felt unfinished most of the time.

The second thing I didn't like was the pacing. I think this is actually the main reason why the book disappointed me. Everything was wrapped up in this one volume and that means things had to move at a quick pace. Morrigan must grow up, she must meet (and then quarrel with) friends, there must be a twist, etc. I suppose if this was spread over a few volumes, the story could have had enough room to breath, but as it is everything felt rushed.

And there is one more thing: the ending section of the story was weird. (Spoiler alert!) At the end of the book, after what felt like sexual talk from the crow king, Morrigan and the crow king have a heart-to-heart conversation (as much as two enemies can) while the two of them are completely naked.

Let me remind you that Morrigan is a 14-year-old girl and the crow king, while not explicitly given an age, appears to be an adult.

It feels like the more I think about the book, the more I dislike it. It's a real pity because the premise had a lot of promise and I think if the story was given more room to breathe (and remembered that the protagonist is a young girl), it could have been a great story. But as it, it's just disappointing.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

(To be honest, I'm still not sure about whether I'm going to give this one or two stars on NetGalley, but the more I think about the fact that a fourteen-year-old girl was unnecessarily sexualised, the more I lean towards a one star.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The World's Most Haunted House by William J. Hall

I borrowed this because it sounded pretty interesting, although I had no idea what I was getting into. Also, I've never heard of the house on Lindley Street so this was all new to me. Basically, this is about a haunting that took place on Lindley Street in Bridgeport. The book purports to be an objective account and analysis of the affair, but it's quite clearly on the side of "this is real".

This haunted house revolved around the Goodin family - Gerald (nicknamed Jerry), Laura, and the little girl they adopted, Marcia. Jerry and Laura had a little boy, who tragically passed away. Because of that, they were overprotective of Marcia. And then one day, weird stuff started happening. Things were moved, first small, and then large. And eventually, even the couch moved in the presence of eyewitnesses. In their attempt to get help, the Goodins called in quite a few people, but after a while the case was dismissed as a hoax.

The book starts with an account of the case, and then it gives information such as witness interviews, interview transcripts with the Goodins, etc. There are also a lot of photos but the quality isn't good and they seem to be there more for atmosphere than to illustrate a point (or maybe it was just my ecopy?).

While the book repeatedly mentions that the media called this a hoax, it never really goes into detail why or gives the other side. The most I can tell is that because Marcia admitted to faking some things, they assumed everything was faked. The book takes the stance that some things (the stuff that was admitted) was faked but there were actual paranormal phenomena involved.

I thought this was a fascinating read, but I would have much preferred to see the other side of the story as well and be allowed to make up my own mind instead of being told this was an objective account and that I should believe it. And this is another personal preference, but I would prefer the research to be woven into the narrative rather than be a separate part.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tooth and Nail, Fur and Scale by Anupam Arunachalam

I clicked on this book because of the cover and I decided to borrow it because of the blurb. From the blurb, I was under the impression that this book was going to introduce creatures from Indian myths. Since I don't know much about Indian myth and legends, I was super excited to learn more.

Well, I was a little mistaken. Sure, there were quick introductions to the creatures, but this is mainly a short story anthology featuring Indian mythological creatures. Which is just as interesting as a reference book (ok maybe more).

What I really liked about all these stories is that they were set in India with Indian characters. I know it sounds obvious but for some reason, a lot of stories with Japanese mythology tend to star white people (or perhaps those just stick in my mind because I don't like them). So I appreciated that these creatures were shown in the country, culture, and tradition that they actually belonged too.

I liked all the stories but my favourites were:

Last Words, which stars the Crocotta and has courtly intrigue and betrayal in it.

Guardian of the Font, which was mostly cute and a little sad story about how mythological creatures have to adapt to modern times. (Another story, The Great Understanding, also deals with this theme and I enjoyed it a lot too)

Safe Haven, about deadly ants and had a very smart girl as the heroine.

The Writing on the Wall, about a very unique witch and how one boy learns to use her curse against her - this character probably grew up to become a lawyer.

There are a total of 15 stories in this book and you should read all of them. It's available via the NLB ereads site (or it will be once I return it) and I would recommend everyone who enjoys myths and legends to read this.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Disney Manga: Tangled by Shiori Kanaki

You all should know that I'm a huge Disney fan. I mean, it's what I watched growing up and I still love the movies. And of course I loved Tangled (listening to the Chinese version of I See the Light as I write this review). So when I saw this manga up for review on NetGalley, I immediately requested it.

The manga is pretty much what you expect. The story is very faithful to the movie, so if you've watched the movie, you know what's going to happen (and if you haven't watched the movie, then what have you been doing??)

The only thing that I found a bit off were the bits that featured songs. And that part where Rapunzel is struggling with her feelings after leaving the castle. The scenes work great in the movie, but they're a bit awkward in manga form.

And as for whether you'd like this manga version, I think most of it depends on what you think of the style. It's pretty much like what you see on the cover, but here's a screenshot:

It's pretty close to the Disney original, but the eyes are a bit bigger and the features are softer. I think it looks pretty nice on Rapunzel, but it looks a bit off on Flynn/Eugene.

There's not much that's new here, so it's really for the super fans rather than people looking to see what Rapunzel is all about (again, what have you been doing?). I would recommend this for the die hard fans who love manga.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Some Photos from Okinawa

As you may know, I've been on a holiday in Okinawa. While I'm still going through the photos that I took using my camera, I thought I'd share a few photos that I grabbed with my phone (yes, I definitely took too many photos):

Manzamo Cape

Taking a break at a cafe - The photo looks odd because the food was originally very dark and this was my best attempt to lighten it.

My sis and I at the beach.

Photo of said beach - I am in love with the beaches at Okinawa! The water is so clear!

One of the whale sharks at Churaumi aquarium - The aquarium was really cool and it's definitely a must-visit if you're ever in Okinawa! It is a little crowded though.

This photo was taken at Shuri Castle - also another must-visit spot. Do try the tea set (310 yen for sanpin tea + 4 types of sweets!)

At the entrance of Gyokusendo caves. It's part of a larger attraction called Okinawa World so if you ever want to explore caves, experience Okinawan culture and see some snakes, this is the place to go (we did not go see the snakes because I am not a fan).

My sister and I in Okinawan kimonos! We got this taken at Okinawa world as well!

I'll be blogging about the trip in detail at my other blog once the photos are ready, so feel free to check it out.

I also got quite a bit of reading done on the trip, so the reviews will be appearing here soon!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

I'm not sure why but the book A Monster Calls keeps popping up and it sounds really interesting. But when I search for the book, I found out it was started by Siobhan Dowd and finished posthumously by another writer. And with the weird way my brain works, I figured that I needed to read a book by her before moving on to A Monster Calls.

Bog Child (which was also published posthumously, but finished before her death) is a historical novel set in Ireland. While Fergus is out with his 'uncle' Tally, he comes across a body in a bog. Soon, it's discovered that this is not a murder but an archeology and Fergus starts to dream of the bog child while navigating the exams which are an escape route, his brother on a hunger strike in prison, and falling in love.

On the whole, Bog Child is a quiet novel. There aren't a lot of explosive action scenes (although he is forced into doing something he doesn't want to), and it feels more like the journey of an 18 year old as he tries to make sense of the chaotic and confusing world around him.

Maybe quiet is the wrong word. I mean to say that despite the fact that the IRA and murdered bog children are involved, this is not a thriller.

And I'm guessing that this is also supposed to be an exploration of a complex issue, but I finished the book not liking the IRA. This was mainly because:

1. I find it incredibly selfish for Fergus' brother to cause his mom and sisters so much pain just because he doesn't get special status as a prisoner. I understand that I'm probably missing the picture but the way the book was written, I wasn't convinced that they needed this special status (perhaps there was an assumption that the reader had the requisite knowledge which I don't have).

2. Owain, the 'other side', was basically a normal dude (which I guess is what Fergus was supposed to realise) and I didn't really see any villains from his sides.

3. The ones making Fergus do things that went against his will identified with the IRA. I suppose it's more an indictment of how people will use any means to get to an end, but I can't say the book made me sympathetic towards the IRA, despite all the talk about needing a free Ireland.

The Bog Child is a character-driven novel and I really like how the character of Fergus was developed. I really liked the amount of empathy that he had for others and that the lengths that he was willing to go for his family.

All in all, this is a very beautifully novel that manages to capture how it feels to navigate a world that is falling to bits around you.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

Sidenote: I'll be heading on vacation with my sister for the next few days and I am definitely not bringing my computer with me. So, no posts for about a week(: Looking forward to reading time and then reading about what everyone read when I'm back!

This book has been on my TBR list for ages because I've heard people bring it up constantly since Trump got elected. Since I've heard both good and bad things, I figured that I had to read this myself and decide. And now that I've finished it, I've decided I'm in the "this is good, you should read it" camp of people.

Hillbilly Elegy is the memoir of J. D. Vance, a guy who grew up in Middletown (Rustbelt city) and Jackson (Appalachian town). Despite his dysfunctional background, he managed to do something that very few of his peers managed to do - go to university and then to Yale Law School. Just the words "Yale Law School" sound impressive to me, but reading about his childhood made me realise that his achievement really was amazing and something of a statistical anomaly.

While J. D. Vance does cite statistics and studies in this book, it is, at heart, a memoir and not an academic study. Its focus is on the story of a poor white family, and by telling that story, I as the reader get to understand the thinking and values of a community completely unfathomable to me. Which is pretty much the power of reading.

I think expectations are important in reading this book. This book has definitely been hyped up and I've seen things like "this helps to understand why Trump won" (spoiler: there isn't really a discussion about Trump, although there is a discussion on why people like Vance's family vote the way they do). But this book is essentially a memoir, not a discussion of a community (though it does a good job of helping one understand/start to understand the community). You also shouldn't expect a comparison between poor white communities and the African-American community, which has also been historically disadvantaged. To repeat: this is the story of a family and not an academic study.

By the way, one random thing that caught my eye is the connection this book has to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which is definitely not something I expected when I read this book. But when J. D. Vance went to Yale, one of his mentors was Amy Chua and she basically encouraged him to write the book. I checked and it's the same Amy Chua (and now I feel like re-reading her book).

If you're in the mood for a memoir, I would definitely recommend this book. If you're like me and live/grew up in Singapore, J. D's life will be completely unfamiliar to you. And that is precisely why you should read about it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

On the Spectrum by Jennifer Gold

This is a book that I couldn't resist requesting because it covers a topic that is really near and dear to me.

On the Spectrum is the story of Clara and her half-brother Alastair. Clara, the daughter of a famous ballerina mother, tries to 'eat clean' but maybe suffering from orthorexia which is an eating disorder (don't think she was ever formally diagnosed though). After a Twitter incident, she decides to finally accept her dad's offer and go to Paris for the school holidays to escape everything and meet her brother Alastair, who has autism but is high functioning (they keep saying 'on the spectrum' but it's really just high functioning autism).

The entire reason why I requested this book was because of Alastair. My brother has autism and like Alastair, he's considered high functioning. And that gives him a whole other set of problems. For example, my brother finds it very hard to make friends and gets bullied in school. So when I saw Alastair going through the same things (and through the lens of an older sister character no less!) my heart really broke for him. I love this book because it shows how hard kids like my brother and Alastair have it, and if it convinces even one person to be kinder than the world has been made slightly better.

I guess I should also talk about Clara and her relationship with food, but apart from the fact that I could sort of understand what she feels (but have no self control to give up snacks), I don't have much to say. All my feelings for this book were taken up by Alastair and the way that he and Clara were bonding.

Oh yeah and there's a romance in here but I don't have much to say about that either. I didn't particularly need it, but I wasn't annoyed by it and anyway I think we've all established that I read the book for only one reason.

I would highly recommend this book because of Alastair. That kid is adorable and reminds me of my brother and pretty much carried the book for me. Clara's own struggles were pretty well-developed too and I imagine would resonate with a lot of people.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler

I can't remember why this particular title in the Bryant and May series was in my TBR list, but it sounded like something I was in the mood for so I decided to pick it up. And guess what? A strange mystery involving our odd detectives was what I wanted to read.

Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart starts with what appears to be a zombie rising from the grave. Obviously this freaks out the poor boy and the girl he was trying to impress. But then said boy is murdered and Bryant is convinced that there is a link. The only thing is that the department has a new boss and she only speaks organisational jargon (and I really laughed when I read her first lines).

Like the previous book I read, this story takes a meandering course as Bryant goes after not only a murderer but also the person who stole the ravens at the Tower of London. It very much mimics his thought pattern and made for and interesting read. I did wonder if I would find the ending a bit too unbelievable but I realised that every conclusion Bryant reached made sense (even if he didn't follow proper investigation protocols).

I'm also started to get a better sense of the supporting characters. Bryant and May I liked from the start, but now I can picture Raymond Land (the reluctant boss without authority), Janice Longbright and Renfield (although I found Renfield's daughter to have a stronger personality), and Meera. There's still one or two that didn't leave much of an impression, but I'm sure that this will rectify itself if I continue reading about the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

If you're interested in an off-beat mystery with a cast of odd and mostly lovable characters, you'll want to pick up this book (and I suppose the whole series). I found this to be an easy and interesting read and I will definitely be reading more of this series, although I doubt I'd be reading it in order. (That might mess up some character subplots but I think the books should be able to work as standalones too)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Notes from an Even Smaller Island by Neil Humphreys

Decided to take a trip down memory lane and reread this! I remember it being side-splittingly funny and luckily my memory isn't as bad as I feared. If you haven't heard of the book before, Notes from an Even Smaller Island is basically a collection of essays by Neil Humphrey, an ang moh who moved to Singapore from Britain.

I remember the book being funny the first time round, but I didn't remember it making such good points. The book actually tackles issues like depending on filial piety to support the elderly, education in Singapore and even the kampung spirit (of course, there are many chapters on the funny people that Neil knows so this is by no means a serious book). I found that I agreed with a lot of his points and I like that he made them with humour.

On thing that I particularly liked was when he was talking about our (and expats) tendency to congregate together. In Singapore, expats tend to have their own enclaves. Overseas, Asians tend to stick together. This isn't a bad thing, but I do agree with Neil that it's a bit of a waste if you do overseas and end up replicating the life and social circle that you had back home.

Also, I did not realise that as recently as 2001 (ok that isn't so recent) there were Singaporeans who would go on tour to America and have Chinese food for almost every meal! That is seriously inconceivable to me (and I think many people now) and I'm glad that we've outgrown that (I hope).

The book does feel a little dated because he's describing a snapshot of Singapore, but there is so much warmth and humour here that I found myself enjoying this reread as much as I did the first time. In fact, I may have enjoyed it more this time round.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

I'm so glad that I started this NetGalley book on my off day, when I decided not to go out because this book was un-putdownable!

Emma in the Night starts when Cass comes back after having disappeared three years ago. But right from the start, one can tell that Cass is an unreliable narrator, because she talks about how she has to make people believe that Emma is alive.

The other narrator is Dr. Abigail Winter, a forensic psychologist working for the FBI. Cass and her sister Emma's disappearance has always haunted her because she recognises that Cass and Emma's mother is a narcissist, like hers. So when Cass reappears and claims that her sister is still being held captive, she knows that she has to get to the bottom of the case.

The book alternates between Cass and Dr. Winters and this leads to constant tension. Cass reveals a bit of the past, Dr. Abigail shows where the investigation is going, and bit by bit, the truth starts to come out.

Where this book excels is in its depiction of Cass and Emma's family and how dysfunctional they are. Cass is not the perfect character, but as I read on, I really felt for her. In most cases, I would probably dislike her because come on, her first action is her lying to her family and that is not a save the car moment, but because I saw how damaged she was, I ended up rooting for her even through her worst actions.

Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this book, I'm finding it hard to write to put this into words. It's quite hard to write details about the plot or characters without giving spoilers away, so I'm just going to end by encouraging everyone who loves thrillers to give it a go.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Alice in Wonderland Tea

It's a rare Sunday post from me! Well, I finally have something book-related that is not a review that I wanted to share. I suppose I could share this any day of the week but I have this "weekdays are for reviews" mentality. Anyway, I bought these today: 

Alice in Wonderland tea!! Even though I really shouldn't be buying more (because I already have way too much to drink), I just couldn't resist these!

I really love the details on the packaging, from the top of the box

To the little message on the lid.

I decided to open up one packet of Alice Grey Tea (which is basically Earl Grey Tea) and I really love the design on the packet too. Is it bad that I want to save everything?

I thought the tag at the end was cute as well.

The tea was delicious too. It was very fragrant (I could smell the oil once I opened the box), but it didn't taste too overpowering and I really enjoyed my mug of tea. Yes, I use a mug because a cup simply isn't enough. I can't wait to try the breakfast tea too(:

By the way, each box cost me about 200 yen, which I find really cheap. If you're in Japan, you can check out the nearest Kaldi - that's where I found these. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

I can't remember how I heard of this book but it was on hold and the words "Stoker and Holmes" meant that I was definitely going to give it a shot. Oh, and it's not the Stoker and Holmes that you're thinking about.

The Clockwork Scarab stars Mina Holmes (Sherlock Holmes' niece) and Evaline Stoker (Bram Stoker's sister) who are forced to work together to find out who is behind a series of murders.

And I do mean forced. The two girls have completely different personalities and they clearly don't like each other. Most of the investigation also proceeded independently, though I do like how there was a slight thawing of their frosty relationship at the end (not quite a friendship because that would be unbelievable).

So about these murders: someone is murdering well-bred young ladies and leaving a strange Egyptian scarab near their bodies. Irene Adler (yes, the Woman) is tasked by the Crown to solve the case and she, in turn, recruits the two protagonists.

The story is told through both Mina and Evaline's point of view, which I quite enjoyed. Both their voices are very distinct and being able to get into both their heads meant that I liked both of them. I probably prefer Evaline a little bit more, as Mina has a much clearer superiority complex, but I liked both girls and I look forward to seeing how they, and their friendship, develop.

The only character I didn't quite get and basically thought was useless was Dylan. He was so obviously from the future (guess it the minute I saw him) and didn't really have a presence in the story. He did provide a key piece of information but I thought the other two male characters were more entertaining.

Since I mentioned 'the future' and that the girls are related to Holmes and Stoker, I guess it's pretty obvious this book is set in Victorian England. This society runs on steam, not electricity, and I really enjoyed the little details about how it worked. There isn't any info-dumping, but I had a pretty good sense of what it was like by the end of the book.

All in all, I enjoyed this. It's the first book in a series and I would definitely pick up the second (when I remember), because I'm curious to know how these two girls will change over time. If you like mystery, steampunk and you're a fan of Holmes and/or Stoker, you'll probably enjoy this book.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Planted by the Waters by Leslie Quahe

This book was given to me by one of my friends!  It's a collection of stories from Leslie Quah's life. The title is a reference to Psalms 1:1-3, which says:

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates Day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields it's fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers."

But to be honest the title reminds me more of the song:

"I'm gonna be like a tree, planted by the waters, trusting in the Father to keep me strong"

Which is based on the Psalm so all's good, I guess?

Like I mentioned at the start, this is a collection of Leslie Quah's experience and how the Lord has always been taking care of him. Each story is short, so you can use it as a quick method of reminding yourself about the goodness of the Lord.

The only thing I wish was different was in how the stories were connected. I think the stories are told in chronological order, but they are not connected so it's like *boom* Harley Davidson, *boom* pro golfer, and I'm like "when did you learn to ride a motorbike or play golf?"

Apart from that minor quibble, I thought this was a really good book! It's an encouraging read and Leslie's faith is something that we all can learn from.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Truthers by Geoffrey Girard

"The vastness of the internet allows people - no matter what their views - to crawl into the world's smallest teapot of those exact same views. Visiting only the websites and people that agree completely with your take, everyone spouting the same stuff."
I really don't know what to make of this book. I picked it up because the premise was interesting, but halfway through it felt like it was pro-conspiracy theorist. Then the second half had logic and it felt like the conspiracy-part was going to be proven wrong but the ending was (spoiler alert!) sort of conspiracy theory-ish, although the conspiracy was (SPOILER ALERT) not about 911.

Let me start from the beginning. Katie's father is taken away after he made threats about Dick Cheney. When she goes to visit him in a mental hospital, he reveals the 'truth' that she is actually the lone survivor of 9/11, and that 9/11 was perpetuated by the American government so it could go to war. In order to prove that her father is sane (because apparently if she can prove that sane people can be truthers it means her father is sane), Katie starts to investigate his claims. And probably because it would make the book very short to just investigate and dismiss the claims, the reader is immediately informed that there is, in fact, a shadowy group of people following her, which lends credence to her father's claims. 

I suppose that the good thing about the book is that it really goes into the conspiracy theorist culture. Katie falls for it (despite what she says by the time that the book hits the halfway mark, it's clear that she either believes it or she's very close to believing in it) and it shows that the internet age hasn't reduced information. If anything, it's spread it. 

That said, it felt like the book was pro-conspiracy theorist/truther for most of the book. In fact, I deeply considered stopping the book because it didn't feel unbiased (I know that the author tried to be objective but at that point I just wasn't feeling it). If Max (the guy that helps Katie out - obviously you know where this is going) didn't start speaking up and countering all her 'facts' with logic, I probably would have just stopped reading. 

Max, by the way, is my favourite character. He and Katie are the only two that felt real to me (I know she has friends but they didn't make much of an impression) and his level-headedness was what saved the book for me. It's a pity that his relationship with Katie was extremely predictable, although on the bright side, it wasn't insta-love.

On a completely random note, Max also speaks one line of really awkward Chinese. Luckily, they never claimed that he was fluent but just seeing it made me pause for a second. 

As for the ending, I found it a little confusing. I think I've gotten it, but I was really confused at first. Which, come to think of it, probably mirrors what Katie felt. All in all, this is a confusing book to rate. I obviously liked it enough that I finished it (and I find that I'm giving up on books more easily nowadays - perhaps I'm finally becoming more ruthless/protective of my reading time?) but it did give me a lot of sighing and 'why on earth are you buying into that' moments while I was reading it. 

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lost Classics edited by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, Linda Spalding

This book sounded interesting and I figured that I was either going to give up within 50 pages, or I'd love it so the most I'd waste is a little bit of time. Books about books tend to be polarising like that. Luckily for me, this book was under "love it" for me.

Lost Classics contains 74 recommendations from various authors (I've heard of two of them, have read maybe one). All the books recommended here are somehow lost, and some of them are just books that the authors met and was unable to read on their reading journey.

What I enjoyed about this book was the sheer variety of books that were recommended. Not every book appealed to me but plenty of them did and now I have a list of books that I'd want to read but probably won't get the chance to. And just so I've written them down somewhere, the books are:

- Too Late to Turn Back by Barbara Greene

- Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafoni

- Glimpses of World History by Jawaharla Nehru

- Classics Revisited by Kenneth Rexroth

- The Five Nations by Rudyard Kipling

- Bernadette, French Girl's Annual

- Beyond the Pawpaw Trees by Palmer Brown

- Address Unknown by Kressmann Taylor (sounds like a really powerful short story set in Nazi Germany)

- The Gate of Horn by G. R. Levy

- The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban (it sounds like a lost fairytale which is amazing)

- The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia P. Hale

- The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout (apparently this book is set in Indonesia)

- Jigsaw by Sybille Bedford (sounds like a great autobiography)

The problem with having all these books on my TBR list is that they're lost. I hope that with the advent of the ebook, most of these books will once again be available to the general public. After all, one of the advantages of ebooks is that you don't have to print hundreds of books at a time, which means that you can have books available for the proverbial "long tail."

Fingers crossed.

P.s. Anyone have their own lost book? I have quite a couple but I'm working on getting a copy of them. It's a good thing that the internet exists because I doubt I'd find the books in Singapore or Japan (and anyway I need the internet to find their titles).

Some of my "lost classics"

- The Girl With the Green Ear by Margaret Mahy: It took me forever to find this book (which was really lovely and I reviewed it here), but it was totally worth it. It makes me want to go and find more of my personal "lost classics".

- The Year of Miss Agnes: I do not remember much about the book, except that it was about a wonderful teacher and I read it while on vacation or just before a vacation (to Genting - anyone used to go there all the time too?) and I don't know, it just stuck with me. Can't even describe why. And I remember the smell of fish.

- True Blue: Read with The Year of Miss Agnes and I went back to MG and snuck into the library to search for this.

- The Search for the Lost Keystone: Actually found this in Singapore, so yay! But I loved the description of the house in this book and that stuck with me for a long time. I also forgot the title but remembered it had the word "stone" in it and eventually found it. Rereading it was pure joy.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Girl with the Green Ear by Margaret Mahy

I was intending to ration these stories and read them slowly, but I read the first one, realised that I remembered it, read the second one, awoke another memory, and then ended up finishing the book in one sitting. And you know what? This was a fantastic trip down memory lane that scratched a book itch that I've been having for years.

The Girl with the Green Ear was one of the books that I somehow had and then lost when we moved houses. But one of the stories (Thunderstorms and Rainbows) stayed with me and I so badly wanted to read it again. I couldn't remember the title for a few years and would intermittently be seized with the urge to google for it. Eventually, I found the book.

To be honest, I was afraid that I remembered the wrong book. But luckily I didn't. Thunderstorms and Rainbows is about the town of Trickle, where it always rains. As you can imagine, this is not good for the tourism industry and the townspeople got so sick of all the complaining that they made it illegal to say "Goodness, it does rain here, doesn't it?"

One day, a rare visitor comes and says the forbidden words. So obviously Policewoman Geraldine has to arrest him. But then she finds out that this visitor likes the rain.

Thunderstorms and Rainbows is a charming little story that very clearly illustrates how changing your perspective on something can bring about huge changes.

Other stories, which are all equally delightful, include:

- the titular The Girl with the Green Ear, about a musician's daughter who leaves home to find a very special calling

- Don't Cut the Lawn, a tale about how it's ok to let lawns grow wild

- The Good Wizard of the Forest, a story about a wicked but lonely wizard with amazing baking skills (this was really poignant and I was a bit surprised at how much I felt for the wizard)

And a few more. About half the stories were like old friends while I realised I'd completely forgotten about the other half, but I enjoyed reading them all.

If you know a child who likes nature and/or reading, you might want to get this for them (if you can get your hands on a copy). Or perhaps get this for yourself, because you're never too old for a good story.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Man From the Train by Bill James

I requested this from NetGalley because I find true crime fascinating and I read that the author is a baseball statistician so I was hoping that this is a book that uses data to solve the crime. Unfortunately, while the cases are extremely tragic and told in a fascinating way, the book suffers from a lack of focus.

So from around 1900 to 1912, a series of murders started to take place near railway lines. All of them were senseless, cruel murders which had a few points in common - such as an axe being a weapon, no robbery, no warning, and a few more. The authors are convinced that this is the work of one man, something that the press only seemed to realise a few years after the murders start (and by then a few people had been convicted for the murders).

While I do agree that the there was probably a serial on the loose, I'm not really satisfied with the arguments made. There are sentences like "No source says so, but the Meadows family had to have hunting dogs; I just can't see a family like this not having hunting dogs" (used when hypothesising how the crime might have taken place) which are quite scary because I would not want anyone to assume things that cannot be proven as fact.

Plus I was expecting a more mathematical look at the crime and the closest that the book came to maths was to ask how many murders would one expect there to be with the characteristics of the crime and say "the mathematical answer is 0."

I don't know if I'm remembering my stats wrong but while the answer may by very close to zero, I wouldn't have expected an answer like this. I did expect the author to calculate the probability of such a case happening and then derive the number of murders so a flat out "answer is 0" with no working made me disappointed.

Narrative-wise, the book basically goes through all related crimes and only discusses the probable murder at the end. This is probably a personal preference but I wish only the relevant cases were discussed. There are a lot of murders as it is, and to read something horrific and then see something along the lines of "but we don't think this was part of the serial killing" feels like there wasn't much thought into what should have ended up in the book.

As for the murderer, he seems to have been identified with a gut feeling because all I saw was an account of his 'first case' which was like all the others. Not much else was presented to show how he was linked to the murders, although the authors did theorise that he's behind a gruesome killing in Kaifeck a few years later.

This book also has one of the strongest authorial voices that I've read and I suppose it's so that we end up believing what the author believes. I suppose whether you like or dislike the book will also depend a lot on whether you like the authorial voice and how heavy it was. Personally, I'm not a fan of the puns and the digressions but it didn't make me want to stop reading the book.

Basically, this book introduced me to this horrific crime that I never knew existed. I do agree with the authors that this was the work of a serial killer, but I'm not a fan of how the case was made and I'm not entirely convinced that the man that they fingered is the real culprit (although he did commit a terrible murder too). It's too bad that the book didn't use much maths to make a case - that would have been interesting.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

I got sent this book as part of a book exchange and I'm so glad I got it because it was an excellent and thought provoking read.

Being Mortal is a look at aging and death from the perspective of a doctor. Atul Gawande weaves studies and facts in between the stories of his patients and at the end, the story of his father. There are several topics but I think they can be grouped into two categories:

1. How should we, as a society, handle the problem of aging?

Nursing homes tend not to make their residents happy, because of the lack of autonomy and independence. But the people who chose the nursing homes tend to be the kids, who consider the question "do I feel okay leaving my parent here?" more than the question "will my parent feel happy here?"

The book looks at nursing homes today and explores several alternatives, also while talking about the effects of aging.

2. How far should doctors go when trying to save a life?

Medicine tends to focus on the promise of time (even if it's just a little more time), which may come at the expense of quality of life. But how do doctors know what balance to strike?

This requires talking to the patient and understanding their needs and wants. Ask them things like "how much pain/how far will you accept a deteriorating quality of life in order to get some extra time?"

And the answer will differ from person to person.

One guy said "as long as I can eat chocolate ice-cream and watch sports on TV."

Atul Gawande's father needed more, and so his ideal treatment plan would be very different from the previous guy. The idea is that by understanding what the patient means by "good life", the doctors and the family making medical decisions know how far they can go.

This is, obviously, a difficult conversation to have with anyone. But it is a necessary conversation to have because the patient's point of view and their family's will differ. One study mentioned showed that perspective matters - if you feel the end is near, you focus more on your immediate relationships and environment. On the other hand, if you feel you've got time, you'll be more willing to delay gratification for a payoff in the future.

Being Mortal deals with a very uncomfortable subject, but it is a book that everyone should read. Even if we assume that old age is far away, an accident or illness may strike at any time, because death makes no distinction between the old and the young.

If you like podcasts, you may want to listen to Atul Gawande's Reith Lectures, and Episode 101 (Title: Minka) of Reply All, which deals with the topic of nursing homes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Man from the Train by Bill James

I'm back with a Teaser Tuesday after what feels like forever! I've been finishing books before Tuesday/not reading a book on Tuesday and didn't really feel the urge to share. But I'm in the middle of a book now and thought I'd just share a teaser!

The book is The Man from the Train and basically tries to unravel/prove that one man was behind a string of gruesome axe-murders. It's really interesting, but I do with that the book is more focused.

"John Zoos, a Polish immigrant, worked in a plumbago mine, got home about dusk, found his family murdered. (The world plumbago is now only used for a flowering plant. A hundred years ago, however, it was primarily used for graphite)."
The teaser sort of shows one of the problems I have with the book - there are all these inserts that I don't really think are necessary.

What about you? What are you reading this week?

How to participate in Teaser Tuesday:  
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

I first heard about this book from someone on Dayre and I immediately wanted to read it because of:

1. The cover (quite rare for me), and

2. The rhyme, which I'm gonna quote so it can get into all of your heads.

Three dark queens
Are born in a glen
Sweet little triplets
Will never be friends

Three dark sisters
All fair to be seen
Two to devour
And one to be Queen

I was actually a bit scared to read this book because I saw that this book was really polarising and I've been giving up on books really easily lately. But as it turns out, I really loved this!

So basically the country in Three Dark Crowns believes that every queen is given triples by the goddess, and the three will grow up and one will kill the other two to become queen (until she gives birth).

In this generation, we have Katherine, the poisoner who has almost no ability to withstand poison; Arsinoe, who despite being a naturalist can't control nature; and Mirabella, who is the strongest of three and can actually control the elements she's meant to.

While it seems like Mirabella is definitely going to become Queen, each faction conspires to make their queen the Queen. For example, the poisoners have been ruling for the past few generations and they are determined that Katherine should become queen to solidify their rule. And as you can imagine, with all these secret agendas, each sister only hears misinformation about the other two.

While I normally root for the character I see first (which would be Katherine), I actually like Mirabella the best! She's the only one of the three who still cared for her sisters after all these years. The other two totally bought into the brainwashing, even if they weren't sure they could become queen. Plus she had the clearest growth arc of the three.

On the other hand, my least favourite character was Arsinoe, because she struck me as a bit whiny, didn't seem to have a lot of character growth and was way too dependent on her best friend, Jules. But I quite liked her by the end of the book so it was not like she permanently irritated me.

Quite a few of the reviews I saw mentioned that there were too many characters to remember, but I didn't have a problem with that. Everyone was pretty distinctive to me. Then again, I used to watch Ai (and all those ah ma shows which cover several generations) so maybe I'm just used to stuff like that.f

Overall, I really loved the book. It's basically the first book in a series so you should expect to see alliances formed and plots being set. (I suspect the next book will step up the pacing, though I have no problems with how it is here). I would have preferred for everything to be in one book, but that would have made it insanely long. So I'd just eagerly wait for the second book and hope the NLB gets it soon!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Only Dead on the Inside by James Breakwell

If you don't follow James Breakwell on Twitter, you should go do so. He's hilarious and I really love reading his tweets - I don't go on twitter often so I kinda "binge read" when I'm there which is often. So when I saw that he had a book on NetGalley I immediately requested it and put it on the front of my TBR list.

And luckily, it lived up to expectations!

I mean, a book is a lot longer than 140 characters. I wouldn't have been surprised if it ran out of steam halfway. But Breakwell did an excellent job of pacing the jokes and I laughed during every chapter.

Written in a pseudo-serious tone, Only Dead on the Inside is a handbook to help parents survive a zombie attack while keeping their kids alive. Illustrated with very crudely drawn Microsoft Paint-style comics (the comics were probably the weakest point of the book but I laughed at quite a few of them so it's not like they are complete failures), topics include:

- How to convince your kids to hide

- Food during a zombie apocalypse

- Why minivans are awesome (and what else you can use as a weapon against zombies)

- Why a zombie apocalypse means you never have to clean your house

- And what to do if you need to amputate your arm.

I would definitely recommend this to everyone and I would pick up a copy if I ever found it in a bookshop. It's funny and I really enjoyed reading it. If you've had experiences with kids (and everyone has, since you either were one or know one), you'll probably enjoy this. And his Twitter account. You should definitely check that out!

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Library of Souls by Ramsom Riggs

I finished the third book in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series and now I'm a little sad that I don't have any more to read. Obviously, this review is going to contain spoilers for the second (and by extension, the first) book so don't read further if you don't want spoilers!

The second book ended with Jacob realising that not only can he see the Hollowgasts, he can control them by speaking their language. The problem is that he has no idea how he's doing it so it's not like he's mastered this skill. But the Wights and Hollowgasts are still after them, and with most of his friends captured, Jacob and Emma (plus the Peculiar dog Addison) must find a way to save them.

I mentioned in the previous review that I was looking forward to seeing more of the Peculiar Children and I'm a little disappointed that this didn't happen. They were basically kidnapped for most of the book so it's just Jacob, Emma and Addison. I really liked Addison though - he was a fairly small character in Book 2 but he's so adorable and endearing that I'm glad he got a bigger role here!

There were a few new characters too. I particularly liked Sharon, the boatman whose name reminds me of Charon, the ferryman for Hades. Given where he ferries the trio, it seems like an apt homage. Plus he was an ambiguous character until the end and I quite enjoyed having to guess which side he was on.

Speaking of ambiguous characters - there is one more character who's motives are questionable (I still can't decide if he's good but prone to evil or just super manipulative) but if I say his name I might as well spoil the ending so have fun guessing if you haven't read Book 3!

I also mentioned that I was looking forward to how Jacob and Emma's relationship problems would be resolved in the previous review. Well, I'm kinda disappointed that they never really address/resolve the issue that Emma was in love with Jacob's grandfather for a majority of his life. Perhaps because there really isn't a way to solve this. But the ending of the book did make it so that it wasn't quite so weird for them to like each other so I will have to settle for that.

Most of the book was on developing Jacob's ability to control the Hollowgasts and building up to "HOW WILL THEY DEFEAT THE ULTIMATE EVIL" so there's definitely a satisfactory plot ending (though there are a few loose ends - perhaps more books are in the making? Or is that just wishful thinking?). If that's what you're looking for you won't be disappointed.

Oh and now I really, really want to read Tales of the Peculiar! It sounds like a really good book and the references to it made me really curious to read the actual story. I wonder if the version published is the one the kids carried or one that contains stories from after the series ended.

All in all, I'm very happy I decided to buy and finish this series. It's a great read and I loved the way the photos and the narrative intermingled. It's not perfect, but definitely worthy of 5 stars!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Hollow City by Ramson Riggs

I started on Hollow City as soon as I finished Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children because I could not wait to find out what happened. Luckily the book proved that it was worth the money because it's an excellent sequel and the tension was kept high throughout. Warning: this review is going to have spoilers for the first novel (obviously).

So the first novel ended with the children running away from Hollogasts and their Wrights. They somehow managed to rescue Miss Peregrine, though she's stuck in her bird form. Desperate to find another ymbryne who can help, the children leave their island. But the Second World War is happening around them, and there are more monsters walking in this world than they know.

What I really loved about this book was that it managed to balance the world building (I learnt so much more about the Peculiars, plus Tales of the Peculiar had a fairly major role so I wanna read it now!) with the whole "monsters chasing us" plot and kept the tension high throughout. It was really danger after danger, and when there was a respite, a bit more about the world was revealed. I thought the balance was well-done and the plot did not lag.

I also really liked that each of the children had their turn to shine. The first book was dominated by Jacob, and thought the second book is also narrated by him, the children had a significantly larger role and saved the day several times. I hope that this trend continues in the third book.

The only part of the book that I was dissatisfied with was Jacob's relationship with Emma. For most of the book their relationship wasn't really questioned. While there is some development towards the end, I thought that it wasn't paced really well. Then again, the plot + most character development was really well done (Jacob grew a lot, just not in his relationship with Emma), so I guess this was just a bit too much to handle.

All in all, I thought this was an excellent sequel. Most aspects of the book were well-handled, and though the development of Jacob's relationship with Emma disappointed me, there's still the third book for them to resolve everything. I'm more excited than ever to start on Library of Souls (and the title now makes sense to me)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ramsom Riggs (Reread)

I decided to reread Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and while it turns out that I've forgotten a lot of the details (though I found myself remembering stuff as I read on), the story is as good as I remembered!

So if you've been under a rock/don't read or go to the movies, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a book based on a series of creepy photographs (it also has an awesome book trailer and this is from someone who doesn't get book trailers in general).

Jacob's grandfather basically told him all these stories about fighting monsters when he was young. But as he grew up, Jacob stopped believing. Well, he stopped believing until he saw his grandfather dead and a monster nearby. Half convinced that he's crazy, Jacob heads to Wales - the place where his grandfather once lived - in order to find the truth. And the truth is that the world is a lot more peculiar and darker than he believes.

I really loved how Ramsom Riggs weaved the photographs that he found into the narrative, making it easier to suspend disbelief and the story a lot creepier. The writing was solid too, and I liked the way the plot developed and how it was balanced with the world building and character development.

If I had to pick one thing that I thought was weird, it would be the fact that Jacob's love interest is basically the girl that loved his grandfather and although she isn't his grandmother, it's still weird. Something that Jacob realises too, so I'm very curious about how the author is either going to resolve/explain this.

There's not really a lot to say because this is my second time reading this, but it's made me super excited to read the second and third books now!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Welsh Monsters and Mythical Beasts by Collette J Ellis

Look what my friend brought over recently!

This is the first Kickstarter I ever wanted to back, and the reason I found out that Kickstarter doesn't accept PayPal or JCB cards. So I asked Yiyin if she would help me pay first and then I'd pay her in cash, but this sweet girl bought it for me as a grad gift (':

The Kickstarter met its stretch goals so there were extra rewards like this green man bookmark:

This postcard:

And another postcard of a Llamhigyn y dŵr, which is basically a frog/toad with bat-like wings, horns and when feeling adventurous with their diet, eat chickens and ducks and geese.

And I think this is a name card? It's really beautiful and it makes me think of the final form of that deer from Princess Mononoke!

The book itself was lovely. There are 15 monsters and mythical creatures featured, plus a short introduction to Wales. Each monster/creature gets its own illustration plus a short explanation of what it is.

I do not know anything about Welsh mythology so I found this book to be fascinating. Plus the illustrations really are lovely (and suit the dark nature of many of these monsters) and I enjoyed looking at the art + reading the descriptions.

I'm not sure if this book will be sold in stores but I definitely hope that it makes it there (or on Amazon at least). Welsh mythology isn't as famous as Greek or Roman mythology, and this beautifully illustrated book is a great way to learn a little about this. I am so curious about Welsh mythology now - hopefully I remember (and can find) some books about it!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

I saw this on @twofronteeth 's Dayre at the end of June and thought it sounded interesting so I added it to my TBR. After over a month, I finally picked it up and it is a really good (though heavy) read.

In Order to Live is a memoir of Yeonmi Park's life in North Korea and China. She was born and raised in North Korea, and for a time being, did fairly well despite her family not being part of the elites anymore.

Her father was very entrepreneurial and he managed to put food on the table. There was even a black market where they could get goods from China and DVDs of South Korean shows! But one day, he was arrested and her family suddenly struggled to survive.

The method Yeonmi and her mother took was to escape to China, which was said to have food and jobs. But even though they risked their lives to get there, China was no paradise. The women found that they would be sold to Chinese men as wives and had to live in the shadows, constantly looking over their shoulder. And yet Yeonmi managed to live on, and she eventually managed to bring her mother to South Korea, where she finally resumed her education and without intending it, ended up as the face of a movement.

This is an incredibly powerful book and I would encourage everyone to read it. North Korea is basically a boogeyman right now and Yeonmi's memoir helps to reveal what life is really like there (and let's face it, even reporters with the best intentions will not be as accurate as someone who actually grew up in North Korea). She is candid about the hardships of life and the brainwashing that goes on, but she also shows the strength that people can have even in the worst situations.

If you've ever wondered what it's like in North Korea, or why people would risk their lives to escape, or even why people haven't risen up against their Dear Leader, you have to read this book. It's not just the story of an incredible person, it's also a peek into how an entire society can be brainwashed and it gives one the hope that people can 'wake up' from the brainwashing. Trust me, you won't regret reading this.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas

This is exactly what I needed right now. It was thrilling and suspenseful and took my mind off work and thoughts of going home immediately. Little Monsters starts with the disappearance of Bailey. Kacey, the new girl in town, considers Bailey one of her few friends and her weird behaviour before the disappearance has her worried.

And then it seems like Kacey just keeps stumbling over clues. Is it a coincidence, or is there something more to it? The more Kacey tries to hide, the more she ends up finding and the truth may not be what she wants.

What made this book stand out to me was the fact that Kacey's chapters were interspersed with Bailey's diary entries which heightened the tension.

Kacey was a good character too. She was easy to empathise with and I liked her voice. Her relationship with her step-siblings were interesting and to the end, a bit heartbreaking. (Warning: the mystery is solved but it's not a happy ending) Even though Bailey provided a completely different picture of Kacey, I never believed that version. I guess Kacey's voice was just so strong that I believed in it.

While I wouldn't recommend this to younger teens (there is some bad language and mature topics are mentioned although nothing is explicit), I'd say that this book will be perfect for people who want to be scared (in a good way). The mystery is pretty solid, I like how the characters were developed, and the twist at the end was good.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Brandon

This was one of the books mentioned in Not Just Jane, and I was curious as to why it was the book of its time. So I decided to try and do a readalong on my dayre. Long story short, despite the fact that I thought this would take a few days to finish, I read the whole thing in one day. And because I was jotting down my thoughts as I go along, this review is going to be different from my normal style.

First impressions:

The start is a bit slow because there's so much description going on (a trait of that period, I guess), but I like that the fact there is a secret is introduced by the end of the first chapter. I also thought it was pretty interesting that Lady Audley was presented as a Mary Sue and almost immediately had that negated. Now, I might see all Mary Sues as Lady Audley — hiding some kind of secret. If it gets me to tolerate them, then I'll have a lot more books to read, which may not be a good thing, given my huge TBR list.

Also, the language is manageable for now. It actually reads really well, and I didn't feel any resistance like when I tried to read the mysteries of Uldopho (I don't think I finished the first chapter of that, although I might try again someday.)

Midway thoughts:

I don't know if it's because I've read about the book and the author but I'm pretty sure that I know what's going to happen. Still, it's quite fun to see how it happens. By the way, I found it pretty interesting that the blonds vs brunettes thing is brought up here! Looks like the rivalry is much older than just Betty and Veronica. Also, I'm feeling a lot more sympathetic to Lady Audley than I expected because she really is an interesting character. So definitely not a Mary Sue. Alicia, her stepdaughter is pretty interesting too! I'm looking forward to the big showdown I guess is going to happen!

Oh and there's this male character called Robert who reminds me of one of those young man in an Agatha Christie novel, only sexist! Mostly because of his rant.

The dialogue can be a bit stiff at times (or maybe that was what people used to sound like?) but it's still manageable. There are also some monologues that I think could definitely be cut out, but it's not too bad.

Final thoughts:
The second half was actually really absorbing and despite my plans to finish the rest of the book the next day, I ended up finishing it in one night. That's not to say it isn't without its flaws. It could definitely have been shorter (admittedly this is more of a personal preference) and I found Robert quite irritating towards the end.

Like I mentioned before, I'm a lot more sympathetic to Lady Audley than I expected so that may have played a part. And perhaps more importantly, despite the fact that this whole story is about Lady Audley, it is told almost entirely through Robert's POV. Lady Audley does have her monologue but it's basically sandwiched between Robert's opinions of her and it's not very complimentary.

And that is a shame because Lady Audley is a very unique protagonist (for her time, and maybe even now because female anti-heroes aren't that common) and it ends up being told through the eyes of a male and described in overly simplistic terms. I can't help but feel that if the story was told through Lady Audley's POV it would have been a lot more exciting (unreliable narrator woohoo) and maybe a different ending because she has quite a personality.

Lady Audley's Secret does feel a little dated in places and I'm not too thrilled with the ending, but overall it is a gripping read and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It definitely doesn't feel like a 500 page book (on my ereader) to me. It's illogical to do so because I have some complaints, but this is a 5/5 read for me.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Peranakan Chinese Home by Ronald G. Knapp

I have no idea why, but I thought this would be one of those simple introductions to an aspect of Peranakan Chinese culture, much like the books by Asiapac. But this turned out to be a more scholarly work that provided a deep inside into the houses of Peranakan Chinese.

If you haven't heard of them, Peranakans refer mainly to people who are the offspring of a local and a foreigner in South East Asia. If you've lived in Singapore a few years back, you might have seen the show "The Little Nonya" which was based on Peranakan culture. In common use (or at least how I always understood it), it most often refers to people who were the offspring of Malay and Chinese parents (often Malay mothers and Chinese fathers). The book also has a whole chapter dedicated to discussing the definition of the term "Peranakan", so it's clear that the most commonly understood definition may not be the most accurate.

And from there, the book goes on to explore in detail the Peranakan house, looking at its form, symbols, the reception hall, the courtyard, the ancestral hall, the living areas, the bedroom, and the kitchen. Every chapter is lavishly illustrated (you'll want either a print copy or an e-reader that can show coloured photographs and not just black and white text for this) which really helped me to understand what the author is talking about.

The pictures in the book draw on Peranakan Chinese homes in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, and has both breadth and depth. It was interesting to see how these houses were similar despite the fact that they were built in different countries and influenced by different cultures.

While the tone is scholarly and a little intimidating, I think that anyone interested in learning about Peranakan culture should read this book. It's very detailed and combined with the pictures, it gave me a more in-depth understanding of Peranakan culture and what it was like.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

I'm not sure when NetGalley decided to approve my request for this book, but I was super excited to read this because I enjoyed both Room and Slammerkin!

The Wonder is less like Room and more like Slammerkin because it's historical fiction. Inspired by the tales of the 'Fasting Girls', who were supposed to have done without food for long periods, it follows Lib, a nurse who is charged with making sure that Anna is surviving without any food.

Since Lib accepted the job without knowing what it entailed, she is shocked by the requirements. But as a nurse trained by Florence Nightingale herself, she is determined to be careful, methodical and to expose Anna as the fraud she is. But as she spends more time with Anna, she realises that the girl really does believe that she doesn't need to it.

The only problem is - her body is dying from starvation.

I'm not going to say more and reveal the ending but I thought this was an absorbing book. It's told in five long parts (really, don't start a part/chapter unless you know you have the time to finish it) and even though the events all take place in a week, it feels like forever and yet no time has passed. Through her interactions with Anna, Lib is forced to confront her own demons.

The characters here are well-written. Apart from Anna and Lib, I found that even minor characters have layers to them. Who is impartial? Who has an agenda? Well, in the end, I was so angry at many of the characters (who appeared quite innocent at the start) but the truth of who they were felt believable (if sad).

Oh and this is one of the books where the setting is practically a character. The story takes place in Ireland, with all its confusion that it gives to Lib with her modern way of thinking, and I cannot imagine the story taking place anywhere else. The Irish characters are clearly shaped by the land that they live in and their actions are influenced by their culture and heritage. Every time a character that was not Lib spoke or acted, there was the sense that this was Ireland.

I would definitely recommend this book to fans of historical fiction or people just looking for an engaging story featuring strong characters. A word of warning: the book does deal with very dark themes, especially towards the end. Do not expect this to be an easy read, although I guess the premise would have told you that already.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.