Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Raven's Rise by Lincoln Cole

One good thing about having author friends is that if you fall in love with one of the series they write, you get early access to their books! I've been following the World on Fire series since the first book, Raven's Peak, and I'm so excited that Raven's Rise will be coming out today!!

Raven's Rise continues right after the events of Raven's Fall where (spoilers for the previous book) Haatim's father has betrayed the council which resulted in a demon killing almost all of them. Only Haatim, Dominick, Frieda, Haatim's father and one council member remain (Abigail's whereabouts are unknown and a plot point so I shall not spoil that for you).

Out of the three books, I think this is the one where Haatim really grows. In the first book, Haatim was basically scared but had potential. In the second, the focus for him was on family. In this, however, he takes a much more active role and learns a great deal more about the gift that he has.

And speaking of learning, the reader is going to learn a lot in this book. I thought I was pretty used to this world, but Lincoln Cole just proved that I knew nothing with quite a few explosive revelations about the council and Abigail's history. Even though I was surprised by it, I totally bought the new information too, so everything built on the previous books rather nicely.

If you're a fan of horror and for some reason you haven't picked up this series yet, you absolutely have to. The first two books are already out, and this third book will be out soon, which provides the perfect binge reading opportunity.

But you might want to limit it to daytime reading.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of the book from the author, who (like I mentioned above), I know.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Drive is basically about motivation and I ended up taking lots of notes while reading so here you go. Right now, motivation (called Motivation 2.0 in the book) is based on a carrot and stick approach, i.e. Rewarding something gets you more of it and punishing it gets you less. But experiments have shown that extrinsic rewards decrease intrinsic motivation and even altruistic behaviour. For example, when kids were given a reward for drawing (and that reward was made clear before they started), they were more likely to have lower levels of enjoyment of drawing, no matter how much they liked it before. Also, money makes people give less blood. That said, extrinsic rewards/carrot and stick system is useful for tasks which are linear and have a clear goal in mind.

From there, the author comes up with two personality types: Type I (intrinsic) and X (extrinsic). No one is purely one type and everyone is on the continuum, but the author believes that we are naturally Type I. And even though I is mainly intrinsic, they still need things like adequate pay, which is kind of like what Herzberg's hygiene factors were talking about.

With these two types in mind, the author goes into detail on intrinsic motivation and defining three factors:

1. Autonomy - people need autonomy but don't suddenly switch their environment, they'll struggle.

2. Mastery - Flow is essential to mastery but does not guarantee it. Mastery is also a mindset: if you believe that intelligence is fixed then... wrong mindset. If you think you can increase it, it leads to mastery. For more, read Anderson Ericsson (who was referenced).

3. Purpose - to quote the book: "Autonomous people working towards mastery perform at very high levels. But those who do so in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more." But this motivator is not recognised by Motivation 2.0

From there, the book talks about the Type I toolkit, about what individuals, companies, parents etc can do. Suggestions include giving yourself a flow test, doing an autonomy audit and such.

One thing was that the book talked about unschooling, which I have some reservations about (though if everyone was born as Type I, like the author believes, I can see why he would recommend it), but it did recommend The Teenage Liberation Handbook which I really hated so I have mixed feelings about it. Plus, even if everyone is born Type I, external factors may make unschooling totally unsuitable (for example, if the parents let kids watch as much TV as they want).

There are also book recommendations, guru recommendations, and even fitness recommendations.

I would totally recommend people to read this book with Peak by Anders Ericsson and Grit by Angela Duckworth. This is on motivation, Peak is on practice and Grit is on hanging on. Someone should package these books as a set.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Avery by Ken Kratz

Full disclosure time: I've never had the chance to watch Making a Murderer. I have heard that it exposes the injustices of the justice system, but I don't have Netflix so I never did get around to watching it. And if we're talking about true-crime, I ended Serial thinking that Adnan Syed was guilty, and after looking at the full case files, felt even more certain that he was.

So I thought this book would be interesting, to see how 'the other side' explains itself. And since I've already heard about the injustice of the system, I read with an eye out for that sort of thing.

Avery is a surprisingly gripping and readable account of the Theresa Halbach case. And if even half of what the book says it's true, then the Making a Murderer people are committing an injustice by trying to get a guilty man out.

What makes me doubt Steven Avery's innocence is the fact that his own defence (and the Making a Murderer team) has to bend over backwards to make him seem innocent.

That cat incident? Avery chased down the cat, doused it in oil and threw it into a fire. That is clearly not goofing around.

His ex-wives talks about his abusiveness, and one called him a monster (claims are corroborated by an article in The Rolling Stone)

And the show itself splices courtroom video together in a way that changes the meaning of the conversation entirely. Lines are cut, to the extent that a "yes" becomes a reply to a question that was left out, rather than the question in the video.

That, I think, is very problematic.

As for the justice system part, I am inclined to take Ken Kratz at his word because of how honest about his sexting scandal he is, and the remorse he feels.

Plus, I also agree that framing Avery requires a ridiculous amount of effort and hatred would be needed, and that the cops that were involved (who were only involved because they weren't involved in the previous case and because of a lack of manpower) had no reason to have so personal and deep a grudge.

The writing in this book is enjoyable and engaging, though overly emotional at times. And while most of the book was spent on the claims and evidence against Avery, I appreciate the fact that the book starts with a portrait of Theresa, to remind everyone just who the real victim was in this case.

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

I had really high hopes for this book, and the premise is interesting, but it turned out to be only so-so. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is Barbara Kingsolver's account of the year where she and her family tried to eat only what they raised or was grown locally (with a few exceptions).

The premise is interesting and I enjoyed reading some of her accounts, and of course I agree that we should eat seasonal (something that I learnt after coming to Japan - I appreciate the fact that even the big chain supermarkets have corners that are dedicated to local produce), but the book was off-puttingly preachy at times. I probably managed to miss the worst of it by reading only a couple of chapters at the time, but the introductory chapters and "you can't run away on harvest day" were really preachy.

(By the way, I don't know if it helps but I skipped over her husband's columns after one chapter. I persisted with her daughter's columns for a while more but eventually gave up too, since it's basically what her mother says.)

Oh yeah, and the book is basically "we should all eat local and it's totally possible and great for the earth" but doesn't really consider that this is possible only in countries like America. In Singapore, for instance, only 10% of the food consumed is produced locally. An experiment like Kingsolver's is going to be very hard, if not impossible. I even went to Google farmers markets in Singapore and it seems like for at least two, quite a lot of their stuff is imported too - unlike the farmers markets that are so highly praised in the book. A few seem to have more local stuff but they aren't held very often.

Plus, if I'm not wrong, there are studies that say that eating green would be more helpful than eating local - though I'm not too sure and I will not be giving up meat any time soon so I guess I should be choosing the less harmful of the two options.

In short, while I agree that we should try to eat seasonal and local when possible (because it is more delicious - not sure about whether it's cheaper, since Japanese mangoes and grapes are more expensive than the imported ones!), the book is incredibly preachy which makes it hard to read at times.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong

It's Tuesday again! My sister is here (yay!) and the day that I start working draws nearer too (ok, I'm a bit worried about this one). I'll have an entrance ceremony for my company this week, so I'm trying to balance preparing for the test that will happen then and bringing my sister around. As you can imagine, that doesn't leave much time for books. I just started Binu and the Great Wall today. It's supposed to be a retelling of Meng Jiang, a legend based on the fact (fact? I remember hearing that as a child) that people were buried in the Great Wall of China.

My teaser:
"At that moment, the boys were plunged into inexplicable terror, from which emerged the certainty that they must stop the woman from shouting. Her shouts were so shrill that they swirled around the forest, just as their mothers' cries had when they were calling their sick children's spirits back from the mountains."
What do you think? Would you read this?
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! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Crooked House by Agatha Christie

When I finished this, I thought "this is definitely one of her better books" (starting from a baseline of "awesome" so please don't think that I have a low opinion of her) even though it doesn't have Poirot or Marple.

Crooked House is about the murder of Aristide Leonides, a rich man who loved his family and his family loved him. When he's poisoned, the family feels the culprit is his second wife, but Charles Hayward, the fiancé of one of the grandchildren, is not so sure.

By the way, Charles is the son of some really important person in the Scotland Yard and I feel like I should know his name from a Poirot book, but I don't.

What I liked about this book were the characters. The dynamic between them was extremely addictive to watch, and Christie made a good choice in making Charles the narrator, since he is somewhat of an outsider (but with a bias). And it was interesting to have a family that loved each other but was still dysfunctional instead of having everyone hate one another (well, they all dislike the second wife but they were pretty united in that).

Oh, and the romance here is more plausible than the some of the Poirot ones. It starts with Charles realising he loves Sophia, and even though they don't do showy declarations of love, their relationship is very solid and quite convincing.

Slight spoiler alert: what I was not too happy with (I don't dislike it because I can't imagine an alternative but I definitely wasn't satisfied) the ending. The truth does get known and the murderer won't be killing again, but it's not done in the usual style. I suppose it's fitting for Lent, since mercy was given (though the way it was carried out is questionable), but if you want a "bad guy realises s/he's wrong and feels guilty" sort of ending then you won't get it here. There isn't a dramatic confrontation either, come to think of it. Perhaps I miss that more than the lack of old-fashioned comeuppance.

But if you're going to read an Agatha Christie novel and you haven't read this, you really have to pick it up. It's extremely well-written and I will definitely be reading it again and again and again.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Church History: Volume Two by John Woodbridge and Frank A. James III

This volume is a continuation of volume one (review here) but by two different authors. This means that the writing style is somewhat different (personally, I preferred the first volume), but the way they present the history is largely similar. This volume is from pre-reformation (1300s) to the present day.

Like in the previous volume, I appreciated the mini-explanations of the theology involved and the biographies of key figures. I also liked the fact that the book also looks at the political, societal and economic of the time (especially political), since Christianity was very closely tied to politics.

Bits of information that surprised me include:

- Martin Luther's marriage to Katie. It started out as a loveless marriage, but Luther fell in love with his wife and the fact that such a key figure in the reformation had such an unusual marriage shaped attitudes towards marriage in society.

- I didn't know that predestination "was not the wellspring of Calvin's theology", because that is what I remember most clearly (and struggle with, for that matter).

But while the book is easy to read, it does try to cram about 700+ years of history into 800 ish pages, which means some extreme simplifications are made. For example, the book says that "Catherine [Catherine the Great] did little to improve the plight of serfs during her reign".

Since I just finished a biography about her, I found this simplification a little insulting because she had a plan to free the serfs, but eventually abandoned it for practical reasons. The book also made no mention of her Nakaz, which I thought was a pity since she did consult many people about it and their reactions would have been helpful to explaining attitudes in Russia.

More importantly, I thought that this volume was too focused on Europe, specifically the British Isles and France, and later on America. Russia was given several sections, but not whole chapters, while Asia, Africa and the Middle East were largely left out (they did appear in the last one third, but I thought their presence was far too little). The persecution in Japan was almost entirely left out, and a lot of the history in India and China greatly summarised.

It is a pity, because there is a history, and in the case of Africa, the book even admits that "it [Christianity] has a continuous history on the continent of Africa of nearly two thousand years." So even if there weren't many theological debates going on, I think the development of Christianity in those regions should have been given more space.

Thankfully, things did get more globalised towards the end, and I found the discussion on the new centres of global Christianity and the modern theological trajectories to be fascinating (especially the contextual theologies, since I haven't heard of most of them). It's an area that I'd like to read more about so hopefully I can find more recommendations some day.

If you've read volume one, you'll want to read volume two. The style of the book is largely the same, and it's a good way to get an overview of the history of the Church (even if it is very European-centric). And to end, a quote I liked:
"The ultimate value of history lies not in its predictive ability or even its capacity for elucidation, but in its aptitude to teach humility."
Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Church History: Volume One by Everett Ferguson

Church History, Volume One is like what it says, about the history of the Church from the first century to the thirteenth century. I'm not even going to attempt to summarise contents, but the book basically looks at events, trends, and notable people in Church history. Each chapter also comes with a list of recommended resources, so you could (ideally) use this book as a starting point and then delve into certain issues or events.

I found this book easy to read and follow, even for someone like me, who has no formal education in Church history (apart from what I learnt in Sunday School). In fact, I was listening to one of my cousin's lectures of the Holy Spirit (she records her teachers and shares them with those interested) and I realised that it was easier to understand what the lecturer was saying, in part because I had already encountered the concepts and events mentioned in this book.

But though the book does explain the basics of certain theological issues (like the nature of Christ), because a certain level of understanding is needed to comprehend why the disputes were a big deal, I still found myself wishing for a theology textbook that I could use as a reference. So while the theology explanations are definitely adequate, they are not sufficient. Still, this is a history book so I shouldn't be quibbling.

And since Silence is still on my mind, or rather, it has been on my mind more than normal, I found myself particularly struck by the explanation of Christian persecution in Ancient Rome. In those times, religious functions were also used as expressions of political loyalty. And since Christians would not offer such sacrifices, they were seen as a threat to the Roman state. I thought that this was remarkably similar to the persecution depicted in Silence, which explains why it was controversial.

Oh, and while I'm on this topic, I also wanted to share that there was some discussion on whether Christians be persecuted on the basis of "the name" (aka being known as Christians) or for the crimes attached to the name. Christian apologists wanted it to be the latter, since they knew they were innocent, but guess which side won out?

I think that people interested in learning more about Church history should consider picking up this book. It's accessible, and I was able to follow what the author says without additional lectures - though I'm sure that lectures and discussions would have made it even better.

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Hey everyone! I hope you're all doing well(: I'm preparing for my sister to come and I just got four new books so the struggle is very real right now.

Right now, I'm reading The Shadows by Jacqueline West. I'm only seven chapters in, but I'm enjoying it very much so far - more proof that I'm still a child at heart.

My teaser:
"A normal person's skin was full of tiny details: moles and freckles, fine wrinkles and fuzzy hairs. But Morton's skin was perfectly smooth and slightly shiny. It wasn't skin at all. It was paint."
Ok, it's four sentences but I had to get to the reveal.

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! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

After Ilustrado I wanted to read something light and since I had this in the wish list section for the NLB (no idea why I chose to save it), I decided that it would be a good choice.

Bright Young Things is set in 1929 and basically follows 3 girls: Astrid, who is rich and pretty and dating Charlie. Cordelia Grey, who runs away with her best friend and turns out to be Charlie's half-sister. And finally, Letty, Cordelia's best friend who wants to be a star. Cordelia and Letty quarrel pretty quickly after they arrive in New York so the story quickly becomes Cordelia + Astrid's world and Letty's world, and the two stories are quite separate.

Out of the three girls, Astrid was my favourite. Even though she's obviously a 'poor little rich girl', I thought she was pretty well-written and I found her story to be the most interesting. Her and Charlie's relationship is probably not healthy but it is addictive to read.

The character I liked least was Cordelia because I wanted to shake her so many times. She comes all the way to New York to find her father, which she does, and then she promptly falls for this boy who's the son of the enemy of her father. You can all see where this is going. Maybe it's because I tend to be picky about romances, but I totally didn't buy the relationship between her and the guy and she seemed as a very ungrateful girl for most of the book. But she does get better towards the end.

Last and sadly least (of the three) is Letty, the most forgettable main character for me. I think it's because she has the least time and because her story is so separate from the other two, but I only became interested in what she was doing towards the end of the book. Other than that, I was more interested in how the other two were faring.

Complaints aside, this was an easy and fairly addictive read. If you want something dramatic and fun to read, this is probably something you want to read. (Also, I finally looked at the author's other books and I think I saved this book because of another one called The Luxe. But I'm not sure if I've read that or if I want to read it.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017


I thought that I've shared this here, but it seems like I totally forgot since it was around the time of the move (if you want to see where I've moved to, I just blogged about my apartment here). Anyway, I'm holding a giveaway!

I'll be giving away paperback copies of The Nutcracker King and Beauty's Daughter, which are my (fairly dark) takes on what happens after the fairytale ends.

The giveaway is being hosted on my other blog, so just click on this link to get there. The giveaway is on until March 23rd, so there's still plenty of time to enter. If fairy tales are your thing, you have nothing to lose(:

All the best!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco

I have finished my second book for the SEA Reading Challenge! Ilustrado is written by Miguel Syjuco, a Pinoy writer. It's got tons of good reviews from prestigious places, and I decided to read it because it sounded interesting - a writer commits suicide and his magnum opus disappears. His friend goes back to the Philippines to find out about him and what happened to the manuscript.

Sounds like an interesting mystery, right?

Well, it was extremely hard work.

The story is told through: blog posts and comments, excerpts from the dead writer's work, excerpts from a biography of the dead writer, narration from the protagonist (first and third person) and probably a few more that I've forgotten. It's a tricky form of narration and unfortunately, it doesn't quite work for me. Apart from the fact that the story was hard to find, everything sounded the same.

There was some good stuff in there - I particularly like the observations about writers living overseas and writing in a language non-native to their country yet receiving acclaim as a representative voice. The frustration (and envy) of the local writers was understandable and I wish this was explored in more detail in the book.

The seedy world of the rich and powerful was also intriguing, though it reminded me of Crazy Rich Asians. I suppose some things don't change.

I didn't quite get the connection between the [SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT] political unrest/riots at the end of the story and the story itself. It seems like there is a connection, but I can't see the point.

If I had read this in IB, I supposed I would have enjoyed the book a little more. The author has clearly put a lot of work into this: the protagonist is named after him, and the start of the book reads like non-fiction, which I think is to blur the lines between fiction and reality. But, I'm in the stage where a book has to be first and foremost entertaining, and any literary message a plus (not impossible: see Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird, and tons of other classics).

Finally, I wonder who this is aimed for. For Filipinos? For the literary elite of the country? Or is it for the literary elite in the West?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente

After I finished this book, I realised that I definitely waited too long after reading "In the Night Garden" (the first book), because  In the Cities of Coin and Spice continues the tale etched on the eyelids of the girl in the garden. It's the same framing device, but it feels much more fleshed out this time. And a good thing too, because the 'framing device' turns out to be important (not gonna give any spoilers, so don't worry).

Like the previous book, each tale the girl tells is a tale within a tale within a tale and all tales are linked. It's extremely layered and the writing is as beautiful and descriptive as the previous book. I really enjoyed the fact that myths and fairytales from all around the world were referenced too.

The only weakness of the book is that because the story is so interconnected, one weak story can throw disrupt the book for a good period of time. Thankfully, this only happened once but that was more than enough. Plus, if I put the book down, I ended up being confused when I restarted, because of how complicated it was (so I guess you should just read the book in one sitting).

Oh yeah, and you're going to want to read both books one after the other because if not, you will get confused. I was like "who is this Zmeya person?" (Wait, she appeared in book one, right? I can't remember), which slightly marred the ending.

If you're a fan of lyrical writing, intricate stories and have a lot of time, you should definitely pick up these books.