Friday, September 22, 2017

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Planted by the Waters by Leslie Quahe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Truthers by Geoffrey Girard


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

- Too Late to Turn Back by Barbara Greene

- Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafoni

- Glimpses of World History by Jawaharla Nehru

- Classics Revisited by Kenneth Rexroth

- The Five Nations by Rudyard Kipling

- Bernadette, French Girl's Annual

- Beyond the Pawpaw Trees by Palmer Brown

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

- The Gate of Horn by G. R. Levy

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

- The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia P. Hale

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

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

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

Fingers crossed.

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

Some of my "lost classics"

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

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

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

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