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.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales of Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World edited by Maria Tatar

Finally picked up this book, which I got aaaaalllllll the way back in June when I went back to Singapore. I've been 'saving' it for no particular reason and I can sort of see why. This was a good read and the anticipation of reading it made it even better.

(Also I just found out that NLB has an ecopy but I love that I have my own. Some books you just want to own)

Anyway, this collection of stories really is from around the world. Apart from the usual Western suspects, I saw stories from India, Japan, Ghana, Myanmar and much more. The only (to me really obvious) country that was left out was China. I mean, how can you miss Madame White Snake or any number of tales about humans and foxes? But I digress.

The stories are organised by topic, and they are:

1. Model couples from ancient times

2. Charismatic couples in the popular imagination

3. Animal grooms

4. Animal brides

The first two categories had tales that were familiar to me, but most of the stories in the latter two categories weren't. I enjoyed them all.

What makes this book stand out from other collections is the introduction! There is a very interesting introduction by Maria Tatar, covering things like classification, background to the tales and what they mean to humans. And there is a one-paragraph introduction to each tale, which provided background and a little bit of commentary without any spoilers.

If you are a fan of fairy tales, you will want a copy of this book. Apart from the introductions, there is real value in being able to read and compare tales like this from a variety of cultures. They show that we aren't as different as we might think (although obviously we aren't all identical because that would be boring)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Remarkable Faith by Shauna Letellier

I was intrigued by this book when I saw it on NetGalley because I have tried to do my own retellings of Bible stories. After reading this, I see that I still have a long way to go.

Remarkable Faith contains eight retellings of various people who encountered Christ in the New Testament. The eight are:

- the father of the demon possessed boy (Mark 9:17-27)

- the paralysed man who was let down through the roof (Mark 2: 1-12)

- the Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10)

- the hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5:21-34)

- the Samaritan Leper (Luke 17:11-19)

- the mother of the demon possessed girl (Matthew 15:21-28)

- blind Bartinaeus (Luke 18:35-42)

- the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and anointed them with perfume (Luke 7:36-50)

Each retelling starts with the Biblical account, then the author's take, followed by a short reflection and a prayer. I found that these work very well as devotions and I read one or two of them a day. This is definitely a book you want to savour in small chunks rather than read in one go.

Remarkable Faith offers a fresh way of looking at these familiar stories that we may take for granted. The emphasis is on the grace of God, and it was something that I needed to hear right now.

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Harvey Penick's Little Red Book by Harvey Penick

I read this book at the driving range and I like it enough that if the second book is still at BookOff the next time I visit, I'll probably get it (I obviously didn't learn my lesson  about having too many books when I moved).

Harvey Penick's Little Red Book is basically a collection of golfing tips and stories (and even one poem). Harvey Penick is supposed to be this really great teacher, although I haven't heard of him before. But he sounds really kind and like a good teacher.

Basically, Harvey's philosophy is that golf is a game you can spend your whole life learning (agree) and that although each person has their own style of playing, there are certain principles that can help you play a better game. So while he talks about people who are exceptions to the rules, he does give you the 'rules' that can help you improve golf.

And a lot of stories. I think there are more stories about golf than tips about golf in the book. I found most of them interesting, but I have a feeling that I'm supposed to be impressed at the people who wrote the introduction/are mentioned in the book. Then again, I like playing golf but not really watching it, so that probably explains my ignorance regarding those people.

This is definitely a book that fans of golf would like. But I don't think this is a good book for people looking to get into the game because it uses quite a lot of golf terminology (do the words "hook your putts" and "squaring the club face" mean anything to you?). In fact, I would probably understand and appreciate this a lot more when I was in MG because I was learning and using those terms regularly back then. Reading it now, I have to think hard to understand some sentences.

Still, I'm glad I got this book. It's always fun to read about golf from someone who loves it, and it serves as a good motivator for me(:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Darkening Web by Alexander Klimburg

This book feels like something that I might have been made to read in one of my tutorials, which is probably why I requested it from Netgalley.

The Darkening Web is basically a book that explains the various aspects of cyberspace and why we are all vulnerable. Seriously, if this doesn't make you paranoid and/or give up on privacy on the internet, you probably haven't read this.

This book covers the basics of cyber security, hackers, the US's history and stance on cyber security, cyber attacks by Russia and China (seriously these two countries are insane. I find China scarier but that's probably it's closer to me), and what may happen in the future. Each topic gets about three chapters of its own, with the exception of the first part.

The book does go into the basics of the internet, but I think that if you don't have a basic knowledge of the end-2-end principal (which is basically net neutrality aka all websites are treated equally) or other web fundamentals, you may find it a little hard to keep up. By the way, this is one of the scenarios that may happen:
If the free internet and the cyber-sovereignty factions cannot find a workable detente, then the best we can hope for is the splitting of the global Internet into wholly national Internets, potentially even complete with their own routing and address structure. In truth, we are already halfway there: as research by the Internet pioneer (and senior Google executive) Vin Cerf and others show, the global Internet is already largely split into different identifiable segments.
What this basically means that if we continue on the current path, with the Great Firewall, Russia stepping up its cyber-attacks and much more, we could end up in our own little silos, which is even worse than what is going on now (and it's not very good now either). And this is the not-so-bad scenario (out of the bad scenarios). Worse scenarios could involve the state using the internet to spy on citizens and change their behaviour.

If you don't think that this could happen (or is just a Chinese sci-fi story - read something similar last year), well, in 2015, there was a report saying that the Chinese government is planning to introduce a mandatory social-credit scheme in 2020. But there's only one directive now so hopefully this doesn't come to pass (and the one directive is that this is to 'foster a culture of sincerity' which sounds a lot like 'influencing behaviour' to me).

This could be worse than Stomp.

In conclusion, this is a tough read, made harder by the fact that it's topical and with no real overarching narrative that I could see. It does, however, cover an important issue that applies to all of us on the internet, and for that alone, I'd recommend everyone borrow/buy a copy and read as much as they understand.

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

After reading The Shadow of the Wind, I immediately started on The Prisoner of Heaven because it was a gift from a friend (and the reason why I read The Shadow of the Wind). I was super excited because The Shadow of the Wind was fantastic so I had unreasonably high hopes for the book. While this wasn't as good as The Shadow of the Wind, it was still fantastic.

In The Shadow of the Wind, we are introduced to Fermin, who's this really smooth-talking and super amusing character who becomes a best friend to the protagonist, Daniel. In The Prisoner of Heaven, someone from Fermin's past comes back and the story behind Fermin comes to light.

Much like the previous novel, the story toggles between past and present to give the reader a bird's eye view of how things connect to each other. The characters from the previous novel are still there, and I really, really enjoyed reading about how their lives have been since the ending of the first book.

However, I felt that the climax was not as exciting as the first book. While it was satisfying, it didn't have the same intensity of reveal that The Shadow of the Wind had. Plus the cemetery of forgotten books didn't have as big a role as I would like. But looking at Book 2 (which I didn't manage to get my hands on and skipped), it seems like reading that would have enhanced the reading experience The Prisoner of Heaven.

Did I like the book?

Of course!

Am I going to read The Prisoner of Heaven once I find it?

Definitely (and I suspect that it will, like the other two books, drag me in).

But is this as good as The Shadow of the Wind?

Nope, not really. I would still recommend it heartily and if it were any other book I suspect I would be fawning over it a lot more, but I've got the first book on my mind and it sadly does not compare.

(This is still a 5 star book, don't get me wrong. I couldn't put it down once I started but I'm still comparing it to the first book and that was way too awesome.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.
This is definitely one of the best books of this year!! Thank you so much Gen for sending me the third (?) book in the series and hence getting me to start with this. Now I'm half-excited and half-scared to start the book that you gave me cause I don't know if it's as good!

Unlike the previous book-themed mystery (and I'm definitely classifying this as a mystery), this was fantastic and seriously amazing. The Shadow of the Wind starts when Daniel is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father. There, he is allowed to take one book back and the book that calls to him is an unknown novel called The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax (which I also want to read)

In his quest to find out more about the author, he discovers that someone has been buying (or if unsuccessful stealing) copies of Julian Carax's novels and burning them. Plus a menacing and definitely corrupt police officer shows up. These lead to a years-long mystery that ushers Daniel into adulthood.

I'm actually not sure if the above summary does the book justice because it is a lot more complex with a whole cast of characters. Apart from Daniel, the character that made the strongest impression on me was Fermin, a homeless drunk with an amazing ability to find books. He also has a silver tongue and a past with that menacing Inspector. He becomes one of Daniel's most important allies in his quest to find out what really happened.

I feel that the cast of characters and their relationships to one another were so well-written that they helped balance the whole book. It's easy to let the mystery dominate or the growing up Daniel has to do dominate, but since the characters are involved with both and each half cannot be untangled, everyone comes together in one seamless whole, and the journey for the truth becomes Daniel's path to adulthood.

Even the romance was something I enjoyed reading. Not gonna give spoilers (I hope! I will try!) because it is something that happens pretty late in the book, but I thought the false love lost and real love found arc was really good. By the way, adult themes are in this book although it's never explicit and there is swearing so don't give this to children and maybe younger teens (depending on their maturity).

The ending is happy, although not completely. There is one character and one relationship that doesn't end well (or as well as I'd hope) but I find that the little bit of sadness makes the happiness that Daniel and the rest get feel much more real.

I would recommend pretty much everyone (who isn't a kid, like I mentioned before) read this, especially if you like books and mysteries surrounding books. I loved everything about this - the plot, the characters (except the bad guys, though there was one character redemption that was surprising but still believable) and the writing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Colt Harper: Esteemed Vampire Cat by Tyrolin Puxty

When Tyrolin, the author, asked me if I wanted to read Colt Harper: Esteemed Vampire Cat, I said yes because:

1. Her Broken Dolls books are really good
2. It had a really good blurb. I mean, almost anything with the words "vampire cat" will pique my interest but the blurb promised fun and a snarky narrator.

And it totally delivered.

Colt Harper is, as the title indicates, a vampire cat. You might think he's a monster but cats adore him (you might want to revise your opinions of cats). After all, he kills all those pesky humans that hurt or kill cats, which makes him a hero in his own twisted way. But, the Council doesn't see it that way, and since Colt has to be punished for killing another human, he has to do... community service.

The horror.

His fellow comrades (although Colt would protest at such a term being used) are Lexi, a tickle monster, and Jax, a werewolf with a deep, abiding sense of guilt. Running the place is the human Saffy, whom Colt instantly feels drawn to, although he can't figure out why. Secrets are revealed as the monsters to the monsters (humans known as Chasers) come out and start trying to kill Colt and the others.

This story is action-packed and fun. I liked the references to the author, which felt clever and were not annoying, and I liked Colt. My initial liking for Colt grew stronger after I found out that he, too, is not a fan of insta-love. That is one sensible vampire cat.

The rest of the characters were interesting too. I liked Lexi and Jax, and their relationship with Colt was definitely one of the highlights of the series. Saffy was alright, but there were sudden changes (especially towards the end) which made me not-like her so much. Plus, despite Colt's insistence to the contrary, he definitely favoured Saffy from the start so I never really got to see if she was interesting. Jax and Lexi, on the other hand, had to work for their screen time and I liked them a lot more.

This book will definitely appeal to fans of cats and/or Tyrolin. If you've read some of her other books and you're wondering if you should pick this one up, you totally should. It's a fun and interesting story with a snarky protagonist.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of the book from the author in exchange for a free and honest review.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk

I took my time reading this book and I'm glad I did, because it's a book that should be savoured in small doses. Forgotten English is a book about words that have fallen out of use. Some I actually knew/had heard about, some are the predecessors of modern words, and some flabbergasted me. The words are organised by theme, such as drink, occupation, love, etc., and each word contains the meaning and a brief history of it.

Most of the time, this history includes examples of how the word was used, with lots of quotations from old texts.

I found this to be very illuminating and enjoyable. Sure, we probably won't be using these words in our daily lives, but the history of English is a fascinating topic that I don't normally think about. It was really fun to learn something new about something that I thought I already knew.

Words that are explained include:

Mocteroof: which is used for the craft of "frubbishing" or making damaged fruits and vegetables look good (and the the entry explains how)

Mob fair: which is a job hunting fair for domestic and agricultural workers

Purl-men: 18th and 19th century beer-sellers who sold their beer on the Thames and other rivers

Lettice-cap: a medical appliance that resembles a hair net (although lettuce was probably not used)

Gorgayse: a Middle English word which means "elegant, fashionable" and is the predecessor of the word gorgeous

And much more!

You really don't have to be a wordsmith to enjoy this book. As long as you like the English language and/or history, you'll enjoy reading this.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling

This book was recommended to me from the Overdrive app/NLB ebook site, which is the main reason why my TBR is growing uncontrollably the past few days. Given that I've read very little Chinese fairytales/folklore compared to Western and even Japanese tales, I really wanted to read this book.

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio consists of 164 tales from the 17th Century (I think? Author lived during that time) that involve supernatural creatures/occurrences and 4 appendixes.

The appendixes are about:

1. The Yuli Chao Zhuan (a term that seems to appear only in this book but looks to be about the 'chamber of horrors' in Taoist temples

2. Cultural notes on ancestral worship, bi-location, dreams and much more

3. The translator, Herbert Allen Giles

4. Suggested readings.

There are also pretty comprehensive and interesting footnotes, though sadly the book isn't formatted to allow for easy toggling back and forth (pity, especially since this is an ebook).

As for the tales themselves, quite a few of them were very short and I didn't really get them. I did, however, really enjoy the longer tales, especially those about foxes (maybe because I have been writing about foxes?). Stories that I particularly enjoyed include:

The Painted Skin: about a man who 'rescues' a beautiful girl only to find that she's hiding a very dark secret

Miss Yingning; or, The Laughing Girl: a surprisingly happy story

The Virtuous Daughter-in-Law: where a nagging mother-in-law learns to appreciate her daughter in law in a very painful lesson

Danan in Search of his Father: where a family ended up being "reunited" in a way that completely changed the dynamics for the better.

And more that I forgot to bookmark. And I have no idea if I should be providing full summaries with spoilers or doing these attempts at summaries that don't give away the ending :p

While I generally enjoyed the book, it does have its flaws. It was first published in 1908 by a British national which means that the writing is a little stiff and at times uses very Western expressions like:

"You better call in Yunqi, and tell the fair Eloisa that her Aberlard is awaiting her"

Which feels very out of place given that these are Chinese stories set in China.

Still, if you're looking for Chinese folklore to read, it's worth reading this at least once. Most (if not all) of the tales were new to me and I enjoyed reading through the book.

P.s. There is one thing that I don't get. I'm not sure if it's a translation thing but in these stories, people remarry and concubines are bought and sold pretty easily and I'm wondering if this is so. It seems like the concubinage thing might be so but the remarrying thing seems odd.

Anyone familiar with ancient Chinese customs and can let me know more about this/recommend some reading material about it? I did try Googling but I couldn't find much about it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Baking Powder Wars by Linda Civitello

I admit to not knowing much about baking powder because I am not a big baker. I like to eat baked goods, but if I'm going to bake something, there's a good chance that a mix will be involved (not even a baking class helped). But, I like reading and eating so food history is something that I am interested in reading. The only thing is, I don't really find many books about this topic.

Baking Powder Wars fills a little gap in my huge chasm of ignorance about the history of food. Although it starts off as a history of baking and the troubles that women have traditionally had making bread and other baked goods, the bulk of the book focuses on the companies that made baking powder. Basically, baking powders were marketed as ways for women to successfully make bread and other things involving yeast with much less effort, and in an age where a women's abilities were (at least in part) measured by how well they baked, this must have been a lifesaver to them. But since it was so new, how could they figure out which brand to buy?

And this is how the marketing wars began. From what I understand, the big companies used different types of baking powder - phosphate and aluminium and they used every way they could to exploit the difference for their own gain.

To be honest, I found the marketing aspect a lot less interesting than the history of baking (whoops, not being a very good economics student here). I found the recipes and the snippets of how life was for women back then fascinating and if anyone knows a book that focuses on that aspect, please let me know!

I would recommend this to people who are interested in the history of brands and the (relatively) unknown history behind everyday products. If you're interested in marketing and brands trying to get favourable legislation passed, you'll love this, but even people who are just interested in the cooking will find something to like (mainly at the start of the book, but there are snippets everywhere).

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Anatomy of Murder by the Detection Club

This is my second Detection Club book and I liked it a lot more than the first one I read (while was Ask a Policeman). Unlike Ask a Policeman, which was a round robin novel, this is a collection of true crime stories written by notable crime writers. To be honest I only recognise Dorothy Sayers because I'm not that well read and tend to stick to a few authors but I really enjoyed all the stories here.

The cases covered here are:

Death of Henry Kinder, written by Helen Simpson
Constance Kent by John Rhode
The Case of Adelaide Bartlett by Margaret Cole
An Impression of the Landru Case by E. R. Punshon
The Murder of Julia Wallace by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Rattenbury Case by Francis Iles
A New Zealand Tragedy by Freeman Wills Crofts

Out of all the cases, the only one that I've heard of is the one about Constance Kent, and only because I've been wanting to read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale (round of applause for me remembering an author's name)

Each author has their own take on the story but they generally recap the case and then add their views on it. And I'm really amazed that they fit it into a few pages because they felt like really good recaps. I would have read a book about each case.

This makes me a lot more eager to continue reading more from the Detection Club and their members. I would recommend this to anyone who's a fan of mystery and/or true crime. There is also a bibliography if you want to read more.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Used and Rare by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

I haven't re-read this in ages but yesterday's book reminded me of it and luckily, it was on the the books that I brought over to Japan with me.

Used and Rare is the story of how the two authors got into book collecting. It all starts with a bet to see who can get the better birthday present within a budget. Nancy gets a lovely hardback copy of War and Peace and that not only allows her to win the bet, but sparks an interest in used books.

At first, they are content with lovely copies of hardbacks and don't care about whether it's a rare book (in fact, they avoid rare books because they think it's overpriced). But then they find a first edition of a book that's 'haunted' them for years and that gets them interested in rare books and points of issue.

Points of issue are basically the things (like typos and other mistakes) that differentiate one book from another. And apparently, you can differentiate between a first edition first printing and a second printing from it because you can't just rely on the words 'first edition'.

What makes this book interesting is the way they mix personalities and books. The dealers are interesting folk and I'd love to meet them, and the books are discussed in a way that was informative and did not interrupt the flow of the narrative. The only 'major' thing I disagree with them is that I liked Modern Book Collecting and didn't find the prose dry.

Re-reading this reminded me that this was the book that first introduced me to Josephine Tey, and contributed to the "TBR pile that may never be read" (especially books that aren't popular today). And I still want to read them - I just have to find them first. Perhaps I should go to Project Gutenberg and see if any of the books are there.

This makes me want to re-read The Yellow Lighted Bookshop and The King's English, both books about bookselling and books that I also brought over to Japan (it's amazing that I didn't go over the luggage limit). The only thing is that I have a pile of books (and ARCs from NetGalley) that I haven't read.

Still, if you're a fan of stories and books, you'll enjoy this. The author's love of books and stories shine through and it is an easy and fairly informative read.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Modern Book Collecting by Robert A. Wilson

To start with something completely unrelated to the book, I now enjoy lunch on my own. I get time to read and play phone games without being rude, and half an hour reading time is quite valuable nowadays. So the previous book I read (Once Upon a Spine), though it was not my favourite read, made me want to read more about collecting books. So I picked up Modern Book Collecting, which is actually in my NLB TBR list.

So I have always liked the idea of collecting books. And while I think this book is the most practical book I've seen on how to get started (got to go and check because I think I own a book on the experiences collecting books?), it has also convinced me that I'm not going to be a serious collected. Most of the time, I'm fine with owning an ebook. The medium doesn't matter as much as the story.

Most of the time.

In certain cases, I get emotionally attached to covers and then I must get those. Like the Graveyard Book (had to get the edition that I first read - I think on ROCS? Can't remember but for some reason I love that cover), Fahrenheit 451 (Sec 3 and 4 lit book!) and a scant few others, none of which are first editions. So I shall happily resign myself to just amassing books rather than being a collector.

That said, this was a fascinating and easy read (plus each chapter is relatively short so I picked it up whenever I had time and finished it in two days). The author clearly loves books and it shows through the numerous stories that he has about his collection. He's also no book snob, which I appreciate.

The book (now we finally get to the book!) covers topics like what to collect (by author, by topic, etc), the merits of collecting unknown authors, the best ways of buying books (dealers vs authors vs secondhand shops and thrift stores), how to identify first editions, and even if books are worth it as an investment. And there's even a look into how a book is made (not sure how accurate it is now) which I found fascinating.

One thing I picked up is that it's very rare to find an undervalued book in a second hand bookstore because the owners tend to know if stuff is valuable, but it's possible to do so in a thrift shop/garage sale, especially if the people in charge aren't familiar with the value of books. Of course, things might have changed because this book is probably more than 30(?) years old.

Oh and this book actually has illustrations about the parts of the book so I actually can follow what the author is talking about. The information on how books can get damaged and the discussion on how to store them will probably be useful to any book lover, because no one wants to see their precious books disintegrate.

The fifth appendix is a list of internet resources (not sure if it's a recent edition but yay) so I will be checking that out. Especially the one that seems to be a sort of guide - lists I'll probably skip.

This book has made me want to read more about collecting books and serious collectors, even though my own collection will only be for reading and sentimental purposes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Once Upon a Spine by Kate Carlisle

I really wanted to like this, because it's a 'bibliophile mystery' but (oh no there's a but) it was just meh. For me, the story seemed confused about which direction and the protagonist and her boyfriend were a bit too close to Mary-Sue and Gary-Stu for me.

Before I go into that, here's a brief plot summary (without spoilers). Brooklyn finds a dead body when she goes to look for her shoe repair guy. Apparently, this is quite a regular occurrence and the police let her and her fiancé Derek (who coincidentally owns a security firm so he can basically go anything needed) do their own investigation on the side. And Derek and Brooklyn's parents are meeting for the very first time.

I actually liked the parts about books and thought that the way rare copies of Alice and Wonderland were tied in with the mystery was clever. But, the Book also chose to ramble in a few directions, such as devoting a lot of time to descriptions of pie (I like food too but now I want to read about books and murders) and making the subplot of the parents meeting almost as big as the mystery. I really would have preferred it if all of that was cut down.

As for characters, Brooklyn and Derek are almost too perfect. You need them to do something and they have that exact skill. And they're both rich too so there's really no need to root for them because they already have it all. Or perhaps I'm just being overly picky because of how everything falls into place for them despite them doing some pretty ridiculous (and probably illegal) things.

(Slight spoiler alert) At one point in the book, they break into a house and take something. And keep in mind that they have a very willing inspector friend who does almost anything they ask so this is actually unnecessary, a point proved when the inspector gets said thing for them (and also there's a ridiculous amount of respect for Derek because he was a commander. It almost felt like the police worked for them).

Oh, and I did roll my eyes at a few points. Like when Derek's father asks her to call him by his first name and she gets all "I FEEL THE LOVE". I mean, it's the first meeting and unless I'm wrong there was no opposition to their relationship at all. I don't understand the reaction at all.

Last point, before I forget. There was A LOT of explaining in the book. It was so obvious that this was part of a series because of the way Brooklyn over-explained things and very explicitly referred to past mysteries. This might have worked in third but it was written in first so it felt off to me. I certainly don't greet my coworker and have my inner thought process be: "XYZ is my coworker and mentor. She has (insert description) and is (insert opinion)." That happened quite a lot at the start which annoyed me.

Ok this is a very complain-y review but it's not that bad. I mean, I finished the book (and I've been stopping things that I don't like lately so that has to count for something).

Although now that I've written the review, I don't know if I should give it two or three stars later on Goodreads and Netgalley) because of the ratio of positive to negative things. Maybe I'll give it three for the sections on books...

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

I got this book when I heard I was going to be in sales and wanted to study some of the principles of selling. Turns out this isn't directly applicable but it was still an interesting read! Like the title says, this book is all about what makes us say "yes" to salesmen. There are basically six principles:

1. Reciprocation: used most infamously by the Hare Krishna people, if someone does something for you, you feel obliged to do something in return for them. I guess if you're doing flag day, you can try giving people the sticker first then asking for donations?

2. Commitment and Consistency: we are creatures of habit and it shows. If I say "I like animal" and the next minute someone from the SPCA comes looking for donations, I am much more likely to give because 'animal lover' is now part of my identity.

3. Social Proofs: it's the lemming thing, where we feel compelled to do or buy whatever else others are doing or buying.

4. Liking: this one is pretty intuitive too. It's much harder to say no to someone you like but a lot easier to do the same to someone you don't know or perhaps don't like.

5. Authority: I think this is especially prevalent in Asian societies (whether this is good or bad really depends on context and if the laws are good for us) but we are much more likely to listen to people we think are 'the man'

6. Scarcity: also the reason why I'm gaining weight, putting the words "limited edition" on something (like Japanese sweets) triggers something that makes us want to get whatever item that is.

Apart from explaining how we are persuaded, the book also teaches us how not to fall for these methods of persuasion. A lot of it is recognising it for what it is and reframing so we don't react instinctively.

This book was really informative and the information was delivered in an entertaining and easy to understand way. Even if you're not in sales, I think this book is worth reading because we are bombarded by sales all the time and knowing how we are being sold to can help reduce the number of impulse/regret buys.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Remember the Ladies by Angela P. Dodson

I requested this from NetGalley because I thought it sounded interesting - it's a history of the suffragette movement in America. I don't know if this is the right but from the book the American version seems to be a movement largely born and bred in America, with only a little bit of inspiration of Britain.

Considering that this is a movement that started in 1848 (the book starts by going back and forth in history so I'm not entirely sure) and involves many many people, the author did an admirable job of condensing it into one book. The chapters are also pretty short and simple, which makes it a good introduction for beginners like me. (Though I think people looking for a more in-depth exploration of the subject may not be satisfied)

Apart from the history, there are also "columns" that give brief biographies of key figures. I think this would work very well as a history textbook, but since I read it in three or four sittings, those biographies and mini-essays felt a bit disruptive to the flow of the book.

I did learn a few things though! One was why there was an overlap between the Temperance movement and the suffragist movement! The book puts it this way:

"Wives of drunkards were generally unable to provide for themselves or protect themselves and their children in their homes. Hence sobriety became a primary women's rights issue."

Another thing I've noticed is that identity politics is not new. The movement for voting rights for women and African Americans (although focused more on the men) occurred roughly at the same time and when African American men began making progress, one of the leading women of the suffrage movement "began using language in speeches and written commentaries that denigrated both black men and poor immigrants who had begun pouring into the country."

I found that to be very sad and self-defeating (especially when the African Americans 'fought back' by essentially saying that women's rights were not important because they weren't in danger). Not a historian but it feels like this quarreling only serves to help people who were against these movements because it's basically dividing and self-defeating.

And this, by the way, is the reason why I'm not a fan of identity politics and the recent trend in emphasising how one is somehow part of the most oppressed good - this may be soothing to your ego but I really don't feel it's effecting in getting you the allies you need to effect real change. We should be building everyone up, not just one particular community.

The ending too was a bit odd. It sort of jumps from when women get the vote to Hilary Clinton's presidential run (about which books can and probably are being written). There are intriguing facts mentioned - like how significant numbers of white women voted for Trump, but no exploration into the reason why. Personally, I would have preferred the book to stop at the vote, especially since the beginning did talk about current affairs.

Overall, I think this book is a good introduction to the history of women's voting rights in America. I'm not a fan of the awkward ending but that's just me - others may like that fact that she brought it back to the present day.

(And I'm very torn between 3 and 4 stars but I think I'll give 4 because of the subject matter)

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Monster and the Critics by J. R. R. Tolkien

It's a good thing that this is a book of essays because it's easy to read about one a day (although it's not a light read). The Monsters and the Critics is a collection of essay/lectures given by J. R. R. Tolkien. The essays are:

Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics: I realised how rusty the 'literature' part of my brain was because this was difficult for me and it's not aimed at a scholarly audience!

On Translating Beowulf: see comments above

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: this was interesting and didn't feel as hard - perhaps because I have some knowledge of Arthurian legends?

On Fairy Stories: love, love, loved this! (see quotes below)

English and Welsh: I will never be able to pronounce Welsh words and I doubt I will learn it but it was a cool essay

A Secret Vice: Tolkien's made-up language appears here.

Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford: on his department and even though he claims to be a poor lecturer, I wish I had the chance to attend one of his lectures based on the essays here

The essays here, while not scholarly, are definitely not as easy as a TED talk. They take work while reading, but the effort is definitely worth it.

And by the way, I have tons of saved quotes from On Fairy Stories, like:

"Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold."
"The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all mannethe of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and starts uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever or sent peril; both joy and sorrow sharp as swords. "
"Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted."
And lots more. But too many quotes and I would probably just end up transcribing the entire essay. n addition, I think it's worth reading the footnotes here too, because Tolkien's footnotes feel like he's talking directly to you which makes them entertaining and unlike most footnotes.

I'm not going to say that all Tolkien fans should read this because it's not really aimed at them (I think). But if you're interested in mythology or philology, this is for you. And if you're a fan of Chesterton, or just a fan of fairy stories, On Fairy Stories is definitely a must-read.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Social Climber's Bible by Dirk Wittenborn and Jazz Johnson

Finally done with this book and... it's not as funny as I expected. That said, satire is really hard to do so props to them for making me chuckle a little here and there (although I didn't consider giving up once or twice - but I already bought this so...)

The title pretty much explains the book. It's a satirical guide on how ordinary people can end climb their way to the top, covering things like social situations and how to do social media.

The biggest problem with this book is that it doesn't go far enough. Because they're so deadpan, they really need to use ludicrous examples (at least in my case), or they'd come off sounding like they actually intend for this to work. And as you might expect, the chuckles came from the examples. The wanting to stop reading came from the stretches of deadpan prose.

I think this book would be funny/useful when describing a social climber character. Can you imagine what would happen if someone decides to follow their life using this book? I would totally read that, although I would probably cringe the whole way. So in a way I guess this could be character inspiration?

I wouldn't recommend this book. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. Unless you're planning to write a story featuring a social climber and you want ideas on how to make her fail, I think you could just skip this.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Gone Again by James Grippando

I saw this book on PD Workman's Teaser Tuesday and thought it was interesting. Then I realised this was the same book that Lectus reviewed it and went back to search for it. The first time I looked, the NLB didn't have it but the second time was a success! And when I went to Goodreads (because the author's name sounded familiar), I found out that this was recommended to me before! I totally understood why it was recommended so many times because I found it so addictive that I was willing to sacrifice sleep for it.

Jack Swyteck is now happily married to Andie and they're expecting their first child! Not all is going well, and well, Swyteck ends up taking a case where his client is scheduled to be executed the same week his baby is supposed to be born. Why would a man do such a thing? Well, the mother of the supposed victim is convinced that her daughter is alive, and if she is, then his client is not a murderer.

What complicates matters is the fact that Sashi, the girl who disappeared and is supposed to have been murdered, suffers from RAD - Reactive Attachment Disorder, which means that she doesn't behave in like a typical victim. And with everyone in the case pursuing their own agenda, Jack has a lot of lies to cut through before he can find the truth.

It's probably a testament to how addictive the book is despite the fact that almost all the supporting cast is unlikable. I liked Jack, Andie and his team, and I liked the two children in the case, but everyone else? Not so much. Even poor Debra, who might be as much as a victim as much as Sashi, made me feel uncomfortable. But, their flaws were what made the twists believable, which means the author did a fantastic job balancing plot, character, and readability.

There really is an adversarial system here (the prosecutor got on my nerves too) and every time that Jack had to appear in court, there was drama to be found. I kind of wish that more of this was explored (so did the prosecutor make a deal with the other guy for testimony?) but I can also see how that would spoil the pacing, so I guess it means I should read more of this series to find out.

I'm not going to spoil the plot of the book by continuing to talk, but if you want to read a compelling courtroom drama, you definitely have to pick this up. It doesn't have the most likable cast of characters, but the flawed characters are what give the plot the twists that it has.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Fahrenheit 451 is on the BBC!

I opened up the BBC iPlayer radio app and I found out that they are doing a series on Fahrenheit 451!!!

Source
It's only available for a month so go listen to it if you're interested!

I really love Fahrenheit 451 (perhaps because I had to study it for 2 years) and I'm totally looking toward to listening to it! I've finished the first chapter so far and I can't tell which parts have been abridged (though I wonder if it even needs to be abridged since it's so short anyway). The opening, at the very least, is how I remember it.

Each episode (so far) is 15 minutes long so it's very easy to find pockets of time to listen to an episode.

If you're interested in listening, you can check it out here or on the app (which is free! Just go to 'drama')

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I decided to read this book because my family was having a discussion on whether it's appropriate for my little brother to watch this, and my sister said "why don't you read the book?" (Or something to that effect. It's so easy to take things as invitations to read). And since I don't have time to binge watch a show, I read the book. Thanks, NLB for having the ebook!

Thirteen Reasons Why was a very hard book to read and yet I finished it in a day. If you've been living under a rock (like me most of the time) and haven't heard of it, the story is about a girl (Hannah) who kills herself and leaves behind 7 cassette tapes with 13 recordings of why she decided to do so.

The book basically jumps back and forth between Hannah's recordings and Clay's reaction to it, often paragraph by paragraph. For me, that made it a little hard to read and I basically ended up focusing on Hannah's narrative instead of Clay's day and what he was thinking (unless it was one of those stretches between tapes). I think this is a case where the story is more suited for TV - flashbacks in visual form may be less confusing.

And I don't know if it's gonna make me unpopular but I didn't really like Hannah. She came across and bitter and vindictive and it was only towards the end that I started to understand all the hurt that she felt and started to sympathise with her. I don't really have an opinion on Clay because he was basically "the one that got away" about Hannah and he never felt more than a way for the reader to learn about Hannah.

That said, I think this book dealt with some very pressing issues in a powerful way. Topics like sexual assault, victim blaming and the broken staircase were part of the book. The broken staircase one is not so explicitly stated but there is one character with the reputation (one of those on the list) that everyone seems to work around.

A friend of mine mentioned that some of her kids saw suicide as a viable alternative after watching it and I can see why. I can also see why others may see this the opposite way. Personally, I think there are three ways one can react to the book:

1. You realise that action (and inaction) has consequences and you start reaching out to those who are hurting. (SPOILER ALERT/i.e. you are Clay)

2. You realise you're not alone and that your suicide will affect others.

3. (Which is a spin on two) You think that suicide not only solves your problem, it does double duty as revenge on the people who bullied you, especially if you make that clear to them from beyond the grave.

Reason 3 is, I think, why this show has can cause a lot of harm. It's very easy to picture someone who's hurting very deeply and wants nothing more than a way out to see this and think "well, Hannah no longer has to face her problems and now everyone feels bad."

Which is why I wouldn't recommend this to kids lower secondary and below, unless they're mature for their age. I think this might be a good way to broach the topic of suicide (if a discussion is well-led), for upper sec/JC kids, but I wouldn't want younger kids to watch this, especially without any parental guidance. It's so easy to get the wrong idea from this, even though the producers have done their best by working with mental health experts.

Bottom line: this was an uncomfortable book to read, but I think it touches on some important issues. I'm also glad that I read this now and that this wasn't a thing in secondary school.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This was recommended to me by a friend on Dayre and woah it is such a powerful book! Half the Sky focuses on a section of human rights that the world is far too apathetic about - how half the world is being oppressed every single day. And this isn't just about "women's rights", it's about "human rights" because empowered women lead to a better society.

Warning: the many, many stories in this book will break your heart. So many women are being sold into sex trafficking and so many are being abused by their families (either directly or indirectly through neglect), leading to thousands of needless deaths.

But, these problems are solvable. Not by outsiders barging in, but by helping the women of each individual country help themselves. This may mean working with them, or it may mean staying behind the scenes and supporting women through the use of money. Or in other cases, pressuring governments to take things seriously. Each country requires a different solution and it's important to realise that (and not just do whatever we think is best).

Although this book is written to a Western audience, I think those of us in Asia can also learn a lot from it. After all, this is a global problem. And should this book touch on the more unsavoury aspects of your country, then you are in a place to take immediate action.

And seriously, it's a shame that things like sex slavery, FGM, fistula and maternal deaths are ignored because they are uncomfortable or because they involve poor women/do not directly involve men. Women are people too.

Things can change and they have to change. I really like this quote, that:
If we believe firmly in certain values, such as equality of all human beings regardless of colour and genders, then we should not be afraid to stand up for them; it would be feckless to defer to slavery, torture, foot-binding, honour killings, or genital cutting just because we believe in respecting other faiths or cultures. 
 Cultures can change and sometimes, they should. The last chapter is about things that you can do now, and there is a list of organisations you can donate to, like Kiva (microlending), or places you can sign up to get information from, like womensnews.org or worldpulse.com (if you belong to a Church or other faith group, you can also donate to your Church's/group's overseas programs because a lot of them do good work too).

In short, this book brings to light the very real and very serious dangers that tens of thousands of women face every day, as well as examples of programs that work (and those that don't), so you have an idea of what you can do to help. I recommend this to everyone, not just women, because this is a global problem, not a gender specific one.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Story Cure by Dinty Moore

Since I've been too tired to write or revise my stories recently, I decided to use the little free time I have to continue learning more about writing. I saw this book on Netgalley and thought it sounded interesting.

The Story Cure has two main sections: Cures (problems that occur when you're writing your first draft) and Checkups (revision and other things). Cures is the longer section and it covers topics like: getting to the heart of the story (I liked this the best because it was the most original part), starting a story, writing good scenes, dialogue and settings, and even plot. Most of the instructions about story elements can be found in other writing books, but the advice does seem very sound. The heart of the story chapter was the most interesting, and probably what ties all the story elements together because it's about hooking the reader and keeping his/her attention.

Checkups basically covers revision, habits (like writing daily) and last comments. It feels more like an afterword, but I think that if you're a new writer trying to finish a first draft, this will be helpful advice for you.

Did I get something valuable from this?

Yup. The advice is solid and I like the way examples (good and bad) were used to illustrate the points. If you're the type that needs to read it (especially bad examples) to know what to do or what to avoid, this will be helpful.

Is this THE writing book?

I don't think so. Then again, I don't think that there's a perfect writing book. If you've been writing for a while, you may find most of the advice repetitive, but if you're a new writer or want a refresher, then this book may be useful for you.

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Foreign Studies by Shusaku Endo

Foreign Studies is actually a collection of two short stories and one novel, but all of them deal with the topic of studying abroad (specifically, in France). And since it's Endo, I picked it up as soon as I saw it.

The first story is 'A Summer in Roan' and is about a Japanese student in the village of Roan. Though everyone is kind, he feels like he doesn't belong and the longer he stays, the more he feels like a coward for remaining polite and in the village.

The second story, 'Araki Thomas', has a more factual tone and talks about one of the Japanese students who went abroad in the 17th century and came back to a closed country and persecution to Christians. This is the same period that Silence takes place in, but the protagonist is a Japanese rather than a foreigner. The factual tone makes me wonder if it's a mini-biography but I haven't done any research so I can't tell.

The third and longest story (probably can be classified as a novel) is 'And You, Too'. It follows the path of Tanaka, who came to Paris to study Sade. It's more complicated than the other two, since there is a Japanese community in Paris, so Tanaka must negotiate both a foreign culture and a culture that is home-but-not-quite and which will influence his standing when he returns home.

All three stories are rather bleak and they convey a sense of discontent and distance. In the introduction by Endo (which really should be read only after you've finished the stories), he mentions that this book arose out of his struggle in trying to reconcile two seemingly different cultures.

What is interesting is how his views have changed. His younger self thought that there was no way that Japanese people could understand French culture and vice versa, but twenty years later, he became "convinced that meaningful communication between East and West is possible."

I feel that the sense of alienation that Endo describes in this story is universal to anyone who has lived overseas. We are in a totally different country after all. But, I think his characters have chosen to look at the differences with bitterness, and that leads them to a state of mental anguish. Personally, I think that to see insights, to see slights and 'microagressions' and to read malicious meanings into perfectly kind actions is the road to an unhappy life.

I would recommend this book to anyone, especially those who have lived overseas for any period of time.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin

Finally finished another book for the SEA Reading Challenge and this is probably my favourite book so far!

The Woman With Two Navels and tales of the tropical Gothic is a collection of short stories by Nick Joaquin, who is apparently very famous in Philippines but sadly unknown almost anywhere else (at least that's what I got from the introduction before I skipped it because I do not want to read literary analysis before I read the text).

These are stories that you experience rather than read. I've never been to the Philippines so I can't tell if this is an accurate picture of the country, but the stories gave me the impression of heat, of humidity that might choke you, of the chaos of life and everything I've said so far sounds universal (at least to SEA) but it also feels so specific. I would, for example, never mistake these stories for being set in Singapore or Malaysia.

Each story is a snapshot of an aspect of life, and if I'm honest I don't quite get what they're about, but they make me feel. It's intense and amazing. Even the last story, 'A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino', which is actually a play in three acts and which I was unsure if I could pay enough attention managed to pull me in and make me experience a squabbling family with a treasure that functions more like a threat.

Warning: the sentences here are really long and you will need to come up for air every now and then, but I find that the language is beautiful without being distracting. I admire it when I've closed the book but when I'm reading, it feels really immersive.

I really, really love this book. I do not understand it, probably because that requires work and I haven't analysed anything since IB (I think?) but it was such a fantastic reading experience. It's available from the NLB's ebook lending service too so as long as you have a phone you can get this too.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Death on the Air and Other Stories by Ngaio Marsh

Finally read this! Chose it because it was the only non-audiobook Book from Ngaio Marsh that the NLB had.

I skipped over the introduction (stopped when they mentioned she writes better than Agatha Christie because I do not need to have inflated expectations) and dove straight into the stories.

The first two 'stories' are Ngaio Marsh discussing two of her recurring characters - Alleyn and Troy. It was interesting but I don't know them so I wasn't emotionally engaged.

And then it was time for the short stories. On the whole, I enjoyed them, although the shorter short stories were a bit confusing. Perhaps it's because of the constraints of length (or lack of), but with the short stories, I had trouble understanding how a deduction was reached. A lot of the time, it felt like a hunch or a natural series of events rather than a deduction. But they were still enjoyable.

Two stories that I particularly liked were:

Chapter and Verse: concerning an old family Bible that hints at murders having been committed. The only problem is that the victims never existed!

The Cupid Mirror: great twist at the end, won't say anymore so I won't spoil it.

The last story is a screenplay which was actually more exciting than I thought. I'm not very fond of screenplays, but this one held my attention. It's about the trial of the murder of the dog and both the plaintiff and the defendant are unpleasant characters and the case was very ambiguous, which made for a head-scratcher.

The last entry is her advice to a young person who wants to be a writer. The parts concerning publishing companies are out of date, but the rest of the letter was really good (especially her reply to the offer to write a book together).

On the whole, I don't think that starting with a collection of short stories was a good idea, but I enjoyed the book and I definitely would read a full-length novel starring Alleyn if I had the chance.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Five Day Novel by Scott King

I heard about this book from the Rocking Self Publishing podcast (available on iTunes, Overcast and other apps, so definitely go listen to this episode/subscribe) when the author was interviewed about how he wrote Ameriguns in 5 days. This is from pre-writing (prepping for the story) to line editing.

While the podcast has the basics of the book, I decided to grab a copy because I was interested in learning more about the process.

Personally, I think first time writers/aspiring writers will benefit the most from this book. Scott King takes the reader through the entire writing process, from the preparation to the rewriting in an easy to understand and non-intimidating style. He has a list of 'assignments' for each day (each stage of writing) which can be used as stepping stones/checklists.

I found lots of gems throughout this book. From the pitch to the three act structure and how to 'fix' characters, I'm pretty sure that I'll be going back to this book as each stage of writing ends. Sure, it's not the most detailed of books, but it provides a good overview and a good starting point for authors.

And if you're wondering how useful his advice is, I checked out his book on Amazon and it has more reviews (and a good average) and a better sales rank than me so he's definitely doing something right (although to be honest it'd be pretty easy to do better than me so you have no excuse not to write and publish/submit to agents).

While I'm not going to be writing a novel in a month, it might be a fun challenge to try and squeeze his process into NaNoWriMo. It does mean that I would have to be more of a planner than I currently am, but I would have a lot of time to prepare.

If you need an encouraging, practical book to get you to start writing, I highly recommend this book. The price is reasonable too - I got it for 299 yen, which is much lower than many other writing books that I've seen. If you're unsure whether you want to get it, give the episode where he's on a listen first.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin

Hey everyone!

I'm reading a book of short stories now which is awesome because:

- I only have short bursts of reading time (during lunch break, a few minutes before I leave for work, etc) so this is perfect for reading but not being late, and
- It's by a Filipino author and I've been wanting to read more South East Asian fiction so this is perfect!

I'm really, really enjoying it, although enjoying may be a bad word because these tales are very dark. But they are very intense and make me feel a lot more than I expected from short stories.

My teaser:
"The bells continue pealing throughout the enchanted hour and break into a really glorious uproar as St. Sylvestre rises to bestow the final benediction. But when the clocks strike one o'clock, the bells instantly fall mute, the thundering music breaks off, the heavenly companies vanish - and in the cathedral, so lately glorious with lights and banners and solemn ceremonies, there is suddenly only the silence, only the chilly darkness of the empty naves; and at the alter, the single light burning before the Body of God."
What about you? What are you reading?
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! 

Friday, June 16, 2017

At Betram's Hotel by Agatha Christie

I liked the previous Miss Marple book that I read so much I immediately borrowed another!

At Bertram's Hotel takes place in London, where Miss Marple is on holiday. The main 'mystery' for most of the book is the disappearance of a clergyman, who is later found alive (but concussed). There is a murder, but it happens towards the end.

I've gotta say, the twist in this story is a lot more incredible than it is in The Body in the Library. But, it was set up well by Chief-Inspector Davy/Father and I definitely bought it.

Speaking of Chief-Inspector Davy/Father, I found him to be a very interesting character! I hope that he'll be a recurring character, a la Hastings. He's a very solid policeman, with both good instincts and thorough work. Plus the ability to listen to Miss Marple.

Miss Marple definitely played a smaller role here, since she wasn't unofficially involved in the case. But she does overhear a lot of interesting things and her and Chief-Inspector Davy joining forces is a formidable thing to see. I didn't see as much reference to her home village, though, because she spent more time wandering through memory lane.

Which brings us to Betram's Hotel, which is as much a character as anyone else. Betram's Hotel is one of those places that manage to recreate the past perfectly, from their service to their food (I am now curious as to what 'real muffins' taste like). It was fun reading about Miss Marple's stay in Betram's Hotel, and I did want to stay there.

I'm starting to regret staying away from Miss Marple for so long. The two books that I've read so far have been really fun reads, and it is with some reluctance* that I stop the series (for a while) and continue with other books on my TBR list.

*ok, I kid. I'm really enjoying this book about the Internet I'm reading and I think I can finish it soon.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

If I'm not wrong, this is my first Miss Marple (I'm more of a Poirot fan) and I found that I really enjoyed it! The Body in the Library is a version on an old mystery trope. In this case, the owners of said library (Colonel and Mrs. Bantry) don't recognise the platinum blond lying dead on the floor. Recognising the implications of this, Mrs. Bantry asks Miss Marple to help solve the case.

The police (who have allowed Miss Marple to join them, even if they aren't enthusiastic about it) quickly find out that the body belongs to Ruby, a dancer at a hotel. And then they find a second body, that of a school girl.

The mystery was easy to read and I finished it very quickly. Miss Marple's style of connecting crimes to things she's seen in her village was pretty interesting and I found that I rather enjoyed her prattling along about the various people she's met.

The twist at the end was also one that I didn't see coming, and I thought it was very clever the way that everything was connected. You don't have the pistol that subsequently gets neglected problem (can't remember the proper name for this, sorry).

I also really liked the supporting cast of characters. In particular, I really liked Mrs. Bantry. On the surface, she seems to enjoy the murder a bit too much, like a regular gossipy housewife, but she is also very considerate towards her husband and I really liked how she did her best to protect him the way she knew how.

As someone who is a Christie fan, I am so happy that I liked reading this! I've more or less finished the Poirot series, and I don't really like Tommy and Tuppence (and there aren't many books for that series anyway) so I'm looking forward to reading more Miss Marple mysteries.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Simisola by Ruth Rendell

Like I mentioned before, that book on women crime writers made me want to read more crime and so I did. Simisola was one of the books analysed, and it sounded really interesting so I picked it up. It's an Inspector Wexford mystery (to be specific it's a police procedural) but I think it can be read as a standalone. As for the plot, that's a bit harder to describe but here goes:

The daughter of Inspector Wexford's GP, Melanie Akande, has gone missing. As Wexford investigates, the body of Annette Bystock, who was probably the last person to see her. And then another body turns up.

This is a police procedural with an intricate plot and an overarching theme. Wexford is a decent man who is struggling in a world that has changed without him knowing. The change being that England is no longer 99% white.

This investigation leads him to recognise and confront his hidden prejudices while painting a bleak picture of England right now. Life isn't easy for anyone, and a lot of people clearly aren't coping well. At times, it felt like Ruth Rendell hammered in the "England is racist" message a bit too strongly and made it very obvious, but for the most part, she let the characters and the story indict themselves. For example (possible spoilers if you didn't read the blurb) when the second body is found, Inspector Wexford immediately assumed it was Melanie because the victim was black, even going as far as to break the news to her parents. When they realise it's not her, their anger is heartbreaking and a huge moment of realisation of how unconsciously racist he is for Wexford.

The only weak point of the book (apart from veering dangerously close to preachy occasionally) is that it'a really, really complicated. Perhaps my brain isn't just working but despite reading most of the book in one sitting (woohoo for free days with no plans), when the murderer was revealed my first reaction was "who?" Wexford does do a recap, which I was grateful for, but unlike most mysteries, the reveal was more confusing than de-mystifying.

If you want a mystery that makes the problem of racism a part of the story, you'll want to pick this book up. It is a grim, bleak read, but it is a worthwhile one because we always need to be confronted with our hidden prejudices.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Story Works Guide to Writing Point of View by Alida Winterheimer

I was (and am) so excited about this book! I really liked the first one, and since I still can't afford to hire Alida a second time, this is the closest that I can get to learning more from her. Like with the previous book, this is a review copy.

Like the title says, this second guide in the story works series is all about point of view (POV). This story is a very thorough guide of the basics - what is point of view (hint: it's not just the narrator), what are the types of point of view and which point of view you should choose. It sounds short when I sum it up in one sentence, but it's actually a very hefty book because Alida goes into immense detail. And at the end, she goes through some common mistakes writers make with point of view and how they can fix it. And like the previous book, this one has lots of examples and exercises so that you can use this book as a textbook of sorts.

So I won't go into too much detail but basically, POV consists of:

1. Person (Is it "I", "He/She", "You", "They","We" - the later few are very rare though)
2. Tense (past or present)
3. Number (is it a single POV or are there multiple or perhaps even an omniscient narrator?)
4. Distance (are you close to the POV character or are you a bit more distant)

What I liked about this book is that each chapter is very focused, so you can go back and focus on things that you don't quite grasp. While I normally read everything once through, for non-fiction (and especially books that I want to use as references), having the chapters be very focused makes it easier for me to go back and find information, instead of having to go through the entire book to piece together the same thing.

I would recommend this book to all authors who are looking to improve their craft. If you're a beginning writer, this is a very good and solid introduction to point of view. If you're an experienced writer, this is a good referesher with exercises that might help you work out a story problem.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from Alida in exchange for a free and honest review. I've also hired her as an editor once and was very happy with her services.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

I decided to give this a go after the book on women crime writers because I've never read Margery Allingham before. This is going to be a hard review to write because I liked it, but I was also very confused by it.

The Tiger in the Smoke starts with a potential blackmail case. Meg is about to get married, but she's getting photos featuring someone who looks suspiciously like her dead husband. Obviously this is a problem because if he's alive, she can't get married. Albert Campion is called in to solve this mystery but it quickly when people start turning up dead. And then Meg's fiancé disappears (he's got a few chapters from his POV so it's not that big a mystery).

To be honest, I was really confused for a lot of this book. I was expecting something about the return of a seemingly dead person and all these people disappearing and the wrong dead bodies turning up thing threw me for a loop.

But I have to admit that I was reading this in bits and pieces, before and after work so the confusion could just be me not processing things properly.

As things progressed, however, the fog began to clear and I started to understand how things fit. By the end, even though there's no huge denouncement a la Poirot, I knew what had happened and the mystery presented at the start was solved.

Now about the characters. I found most of the characters to be very interesting individuals and I really enjoyed reading them. That said, I wasn't really sure how this is an Albert Campion mystery when I barely felt his presence in the book. Perhaps it's because this is book 14 and the author expects the reader to know him by now, but I didn't really think of him as a good detective (or a detective, to be honest). I guess this is how people reading a Poirot book where he only appears at the end (like Cat -among the Pigeons) feel. If you don't know the main character, s/he doesn't really grab your attention.

All that being said, I would be interested in reading more from Margery Allingham. I had fun and I did enjoy reading the book, even though I was confused for most of it. Just letting the story wash over me was good enough, and I hope that if I read more, I start to root for Campion (and figure out who are the regular Hastings-like characters are)