Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Favourite Books of 2015/Reading Challenge

My Favourite Books of 2015

Since it's New Years Eve, I thought it would be fun to see which books made the deepest impression on me this year. Basically, I went to look through my tags. I like most books I read, but very few make me stick the 'life-impacting' tag on them. This year, only four books made the cut. The title will link to my review of the book.

1. Face to Face with Jesus by Samaa Habib

This first book, I actually read at the end of 2014, but review went up on Jan 5, 2015 so 😁

Anyway, you want to see courage in action? This lady and her family have more courage than entire countries. It takes a lot to risk death just to believe in Christ. Puts my little complaints into perspective and makes me see how trivial they are.

When I say this book is powerful, I really mean it.

2. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely


This book is basically behavioural economics, but it's super interesting and easy to understand.

I love the examples in this book, and to see economics being relevant is a 👍🏼👍🏼 for me.

One teacher recommended I read Predictably Irrational ➡️ Fooled by Randomness ➡️ The Black Swan in that order. I've only got The Black Swan to go, and the copy is already in my hands.

3. The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany



From what I've heard, this book is a huge influence on the Fantasy genre, and after reading it, I can see why. The language is beautiful. Simple beautiful. It reminds me a lot of Chesterton, but for fiction.

I could quote the whole book, but I randomly pulled up one and it is still so beautiful:

And little he knew of the things that ink may do, how it can mark a dead man's thought for the wonder of later years, and tell of happening that are gone clean away, and be a voice for us out of the dark of time, and save many a fragile thing from the pounding of heavy ages; or carry to us, over the rolling centuries, even a song from lips long dead on forgotten hills.

I want to be able to write as lyrically as this one day.

If the book has a flaw, it's that it's too dream-like, and the characters never feel real. But what a beautiful dream this book is.

I should go look for his other books.

4. The King in the Window by Adam Gopnik



I actually read this once in MG, but the book stayed with me for so long that I hunted down the title, found out it was out-of-print, and bought a second hand copy from Amazon.

This is a story about how an ordinary boy, living in a strange land, can do extraordinary things with the help of his friends. He might even become the King of the Window.

This post was taken from my Dayre

2016 Reading Challenge

I hadn't thought of reading challenges for next year at all, but yesterday, I saw the non-fiction reading challenge by The Introverted Reading and was like "that is definitely my challenge for the year". 

I've decided, I want to sign up for the Master Level, which is to read 16-20 non-fiction books in 2016. If anyone has any recommendations, let me know!!

And oddly enough, I have nothing else to say. I'm just really looking forward to the challenge :D I was also looking at the translated books challenge, but I want to read more books in Japanese, not just translated, so I guess I'll pass.

See everyone next year! 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Second Chances by Lincoln Cole

A little while back, I read Ripples Through Time. Now, I managed to read Second Chances, also a literary story.

Now for the huge disclaimer because: a. I got the book for free (Thank you, Lincoln!) and b. I know the author personally, and he has helped me with my own writing. So yes, I am biased, but I believe (hope) I'm biased because he's a good author and I'm now a fan. Can one be a fan and friend at the same time? Moving on...

The opening is inspired by/extremely similar to what happened in the Normandy School district (This American Life did a great episode on it - episode 562), but then it takes a different path.

Basically, there are two main characters: Nicole, who has to take care of her siblings (with help from her older bro) after her mom goes missing, and Richard, the boss of the law firm Nicole is interning at. While Nicole has managed to hide the fact that her life is crumbling, Richard eventually finds out. And he does not react well. Then there's the well-meaning stuff he tries to do that comes across badly.

Ok, I should stop before I end up giving the whole story away.

To me, the book is fantastic because of the characters. I found that the main character for me was Richard, the well-meaning dude who unintentionally lost his soul to the corporate law world, but Nicole was cool. The two leads were sympathetic, even if Nicole did spent half the book (justifiably) angry at Richard.

And I can't believe it took me half the book to realise this, but this world is set in the same one as Second Chances!! And it kind of gave me a different perspective on some of the characters I first heard there. Mostly, it gave them more flaws, and Richard more sympathy.

In short, I loved this, even though I am super biased. I actually read the first few chapters on WriteOn, and was wishing I could get a copy until Lincoln sent me one (he's super helpful and generous to newbie writers like me) as a formatting example.

If you like stories about people, not necessarily big flashy stories, but one that digs into the characters and shows you what they're made of (and gives them a chance to grow), you'll like Second Chances.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - Nowhere Girl by Ruth Dugdall

Hello!! I hope everyone had a good Christmas :D

I'm finally on break, but I have three papers due, so it's more like a study at home session :p At least I get more time to read! I'm currently making my way through Nowhere Girl by Ruth Dugdall. It's apparently part of a series, and I have read two of the previous books, but I do not remember the protagonist at all :p

Anyway, my teaser:
"The fairground was surrounded by a metal barrier, but she could climb it. She had to climb it."

What is your teaser this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hear My Sad Song by Richard Polenberg

This book is about the history of various country songs, but it just made me feel very uneducated (song-wise), when I read it. Out of all the 27 songs, I only recognised one of them - Pearl Bryan, and that's because I heard about it on the podcast Criminal.

According to the prologue, Hear My Sad Story "traces the roots of many of these [folk songs] and describes the circumstances under which each was written and first recorded." So it's like a snapshot of history for each chapter.

The way each chaptered is structured is that each 'song' is told with the lyrics intermingled among the history lesson. It works for a few songs, but since a lot of songs undergo changes, I became confused as to whether the verses shown are the current ones, the original ones, or a mix. Plus, as someone who had no knowledge of most of the songs (which admittedly does not make me the book's ideal reader), I would have preferred to be able to read the lyrics first, at the front, than read the story. But I suspect that for someone with more knowledge than I, or for someone listening to a good audiobook version, this lyrics intermingling with the text would have a pretty good effect.

Most of the stories behind the songs were fascinating, and I managed to read about another side of America that I didn't know. Personally, I would have preferred each section to be much more detailed (it felt a bit rushed at times), but again, it's a personal preference of mine.

I'm digressing here, but I just thought of something. I'd love to read a similar book for Chinese/Japanese/ASEAN songs. Any scholars in that field working on that?

Overall, this was an interesting book. Even though I'm not a folk-music fan, I enjoyed reading about the tragic songs, and how they influenced American culture. I just wish the author had the space to go into more detail for some of the more complicated songs.

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Worst-Case Survival Handbook: Holidays by David Borgenicht and Koshua Piven

Since today is Christmas Eve, I decided to read something festive. And what says "festive" more than "how to solve holiday problems". From the blurb, which talked about rescuing people in chimneys and stopping runaway holiday balloons, I expected to read a funny, lighthearted book. Instead, this book confused me.

The thing about the book is that it starts out with how to salvage a burnt turkey, and provides what seems to be very solid advice. And in the exact same tone as 'saving turkey', the book goes on to describe what to do in various situations, from emergency decorations to stopping a one horse open sleigh. At no point in time does it change its tone, to let the reader know whether a certain tip is meant to be over the top, and when it's supposed to be helpful. The obvious cases are obvious, but there are grey areas where I wasn't sure if the authors were pulling my leg or just giving bad advice.

Perhaps this book's reader is a much more savvy and sophisticated person than I am... and can tell which parts are funny, and which are not.

While the book isn't completely terrible (the turkey advice is pretty sensible, and everything else seems to be grounded in fact). It's kinda like The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks - interesting, but the question "is this funny? Is this not supposed to be funny?" hangs over you the whole time you're reading it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Invaluable.com Dream Literary Collection

It's close to Christmas (only two days away!) so I thought it'd be fun to do something different. The folks at Invaluable.com, an auction site, contacted me about making a dream literary collection and I thought it'd be fun. Since it's almost Christmas (I'm not going to stop saying that, it took me long enough to get into the Christmas Spirit this year), it sort of ended up as a Christmas wish list of books.

By the way, I should state upfront that I'm not getting paid for this in any form. I'm participating because I want to. Making wishes never hurt.

Anyway, I started out browsing the rare books on invaluable.com and taking note of perfectly good books that I've been wanting.

Like a First Trade Edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, because my inner child said so.




And I don't know how many of you were reading this when I was still in IB, but I did write an EE (Extended Essay) comparing Shusaku Endo's Silence and Graham Greene's The Man Within. Sadly, I didn't see these two books, but I did see a first edition of The End of the Affair.



I'm always up for some Graham Greene.

And for the inner child (again), I saw a special edition of Elsie Dinsmore, which I remember reading in the primary school library (I can't remember if I was actually still a primary student at that time, because I spent a lot of time there, even during Secondary School).


This comes with another story called "Rab and his Friends". Never heard of it, but I'm always open to reading more books.

And then, things got... slightly strange. After clicking through pages of medical and legal texts (hi medical and lawyers doing research!), I found that there were Japanese and Chinese books here! You can imagine my eyes sparkling right now, if you want.

The first one I saw was this lot of four Chinese picture books



It looks unassuming, but when I clicked on a preview image...



PRETTY.

And then I saw a Japanese cloth-bound book


And you know, I'm not good at old Japanese. I know enough of standard Japanese to take all my classes in it, but old Japanese stumps me. So I clicked on the book not expecting to understand anything. And then I realised it was full of pictures.


This is when I got excited and went to search for other Japan-related books (I searched for Chinese stuff too, but nothing else caught my eye). And that's how I found the Accordion Book.


According to the description, the whole thing is made of one long piece of paper, and has a bunch of paintings, calligraphy (poetry? short stories? I have no idea) inside.


Looks like a combination of both to me. Makes me want to go learn the old Japanese, but my brain probably won't be able to handle it.

The last book I found is a ukiyo-e (woodblock) collection from the artist Utagawa Hiroshige, called "53 Stations of Tokkaido". I've always liked ukiyo-e, even if I suspect I'm not appreciating it properly, ever since I saw a ukiyo-e exhibition.


I guess I just love the lines and the colours.

This was actually pretty fun. I like looking at pictures of books, and if I had money, I'd probably be bidding on the Chinese picture book and the 53 Stations of Tokkaido, because they are beautiful. And maybe the Accordion one too.

Once again, all the listings can be found at Invaluable.com . Thanks for inviting me to do this, it was really fun :D

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Teaser Tuesday: Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

It's Tuesday, so it's time for another teaser!!

Last week, I found out that I didn't actually read one of the books in the Flavia de Luce series (apart from the latest one, which isn't in the e-library yet, so I'll have to wait), and went about remedying that immediately.

Without further ado, my teaser:

"Where was I going to find a decent lubricating oil in the bottom of a reeking tomb at two-thirty in the morning? 
The answer came to me almost as quickly as the question."
I'm just going to say, yes, it's a tomb, yes she found the oil (although you probably won't be able to guess what it is), and that Flavia is, at the time of this book, only eleven. Make of that what you will.

What is your teaser this fine week?

And may everyone have a Merry Christmas!!
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

If you've met me in real life and had an extended conversation for me, you probably know about my love for Fahrenheit 451. So when the coursera course, entitled Science Fiction and Fantasy (course is over, by the way. I made all but two assignments. Waiting for grading now), assigned The Martian Chronicles as a reading assignment, I was over the moon.

The Martian Chronicles is, according to Bradbury, a book of stories pretending to be a novel (the quote is probably paraphrased). It's basically a collection of short stories in the same world, at different times - a world in which humans have travelled to Mars and colonised it.

Not that the colonisation went smoothly. Because you see, Martians are real.

To sum up my feelings about the book, I find it beautiful and strangely sad. Most of the stories do not have happy endings, but I do feel that it was possibly the best ending there could be. Let's just say that The Martian Chronicles does not fill me with hope about humankind.

And oddly enough, the saddest story for me was the second last one, about a house. For some reason, I found a semi-sentient house who was lonely the saddest story in the whole book. Feel free to draw inferences about what that means for me.

I definitely recommend this collection to anyone who's even thinking about reading Bradbury or Science Fiction. It's a great read, and the individual stories are fairly short, so it's possible to savour this in small doses.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Secret Formula by Frederick Allen

So, are you a Coca-Cola (coke) person or a pepsi person? Personally, I prefer coke (sorry, Pepsi). I think it's because I grew up drinking it, and because Pepsi is too sweet for me.

And now that you know that I prefer coke, it should be no surprised that I requested a book about the history of the Coca Cola company from NetGalley. I wasn't expecting to find the secret formula (that other extremely famous myth about coke) inside, but I didn't expect the history of coke to be this interesting.

For some reason, I always thought coke was a family company. I think it's because of the secret formula thing - if it's taken over, then the formula might be leaked, at least, that was my thinking. But as it turns out, coke was invented by John Pemberton, and then after some business events happen, Asa Candler ended up in control of it, and then Ernest Woodruff (who didn't come across as a very likeable person to me) led a group of investors to take over it, and after that, his son Robert Woodruff. Along the way, the company was listed, World War I and II happened, and coke become a symbol of America (not in that order, obviously).

I should probably just say up front what this book is not. This book is not a business guide disguised as a biography of the company, although I supposed if you wanted, you could learn from it. This book is not a look at America through the eyes of one of its leading companies, although again, since coke did become a symbol of America, it's not surprise that some stuff (like politics, modernisation and social changes) are mentioned, but only as far as they affect coke, or coke affecting them.

This is a book about the history of coke. Everything else, like society, coke's rivals, the legal battles about copyright and drugs in food, all that is brought in as and when it affects coke. If coke was a company that grew placidly and never made mistakes, this book might have been boring. But as it is, coke was dominated by interesting personalities from the start, and the twist and turns of the business made for good read.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is about a teen who gets illegal detained and tortured by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after a terrorist attack. The nation steps up its surveillance in the name of safety, and the teen (Marcus) vows to get back at the DHS.

So he creates the xnet, which is an underground network, and before he knows it, he's the face of a movement. Well, not technically, because he operates under a pseudonym, but his pseudonym is considered a leader.

The good about this book: it can be really scary. I'm guessing most of the technology the book describes is already here, and may be in use. The detaining and stuff are here too. So this is a ramped up version of what's going on today.

The bad: the technical stuff can get a little heavy at times. It would be OK if it's for world building, but parts of it reads like a manual for kids. Which it probably is, but I'm not found of instructions/messages disguised as stories. The political message was much better handled, since I guess the whole story was inspired by it. The story is the message, so the need for preaching was reduced.

Oh, and I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but each chapter starts with a dedication to a certain bookstore. I love bookstores a lot, but when I'm in a story, I just want to read what happens next. I'm not as interested in knowing where I can buy the book - I already have places where I regularly get my book fix (plus, a lot of these bookstores aren't available in Japan/Singapore). I learnt how to ignore the dedications pretty quickly though.

Even with the technical overload and the bookstore stuff, would I read the next book?

Absolutely.

Once you finish reading the first half of the book, which is where the explanation of the TOR stuff and all that is, the book starts to pick up speed and I really started worrying for Marcus and his friends, hoping that the DHS would get their comeuppance. And they did (in a a manner that totally rocked).

By the way, the author chose to give the ebooks for free, so if you want to read it, just google and I think you can download a copy.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

It's time for another Tuesday! I've actually be MIA for most of last week, since my family was here and I was showing them around. I hope to be posting more this week though!

Anyway, I'm currently reading The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen. I really like her Rizzoli and Isles series (though I didn't like the first one), and I was kinda psyched to see a cameo from Isles in the front part.

My teaser:

"A wealthy student could pay a resurrectionist to obtain a corpse for study. But if you were poor, like Mr. Marshall, you had to go out and dig up a body yourself."
What is your teaser this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Ripples Through Time by Lincoln Cole

Before I get into the book review, I need to do a huge huge disclaimer (which I will repeat at the end of the book). Not only did I get a free copy of this book, I also know the author AND I mega respect him as an author AND he really helped me with The Nutcracker King (in terms of copy-editing). So yes, I have a bias, although I really did enjoy the story.

Ripples Through Time is literary fiction, which as far as I understand, means you spend a lot of time with the characters. In fact, not much happens in the book - One old man (Calvin) wants to kill himself, and his son-in-law's brother (Edward), in an attempt to stop him, starts a conversation and they go down memory lane. The story isn't told in chronological order, and in fact, we get only bits and pieces of their lives. But what lives they have - I want to read long, thick novels about them. Actually, I want each character to have their own book.

I think one reason why I liked the book is because Calvin is a character that is incredibly likeable. He's this grumpy old man with a kind heart. That's not to say he's a saint, because he's not and he's made a lot of mistakes (Mellie, his wife, isn't a saint either, although in the middle of the book, she's seen as something very close to one). But he's tried his whole life, and you have to admire the way he wants to go out, even if you disagree with it (as I do).

The only thing that bugged me was that in one of the later chapters, Edward gets rather...what's the word, moralistic? I'm the type that's sensitive to messages in fiction, so characters going on about why they believe certain things, or how others believe is something that pulls me out of the story. But it's only one chapter, and I think it's because Edward is the whiny philosophical type anyway. We don't get that much time in his head, but that's my impression of him. Good man, just whiny.

Overall, this was an awesome story, and I believe I would say that even if I didn't know Lincoln. It's pretty different from the stuff that I've been reading lately, and I really welcomed the chance to slow down and get into the lives of these characters.

And I still want a second book. There are still many questions about the characters that I want answered.

Disclaimer (the second): I received this book free from the author, though no review request was made. I also happen to know the author personally, but I don't benefit from anything if he gets more sales.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - Ripples Through Time by Lincoln Cole

It's Tuesday and time for another teaser!! I've been meaning to read this for a while, but uni's been getting in the way :p

It's basically literary fiction, about this guy looking back on his life as he decides whether he wants to kill himself (I'm making it sound too morbid lol).

Disclaimer time: not only did I receive a copy of this book for free, the author is also one of my writer friends, and in fact, helped me copy-edit The Nutcracker King (the novella I published just a little than a week ago), reducing it of grammatical errors.

(By the way, if you're wondering how this will affect my reviews - the short answer is that it shouldn't. I may hold back from posting reviews books in the fairytale retelling genre I don't like though, although that's a very rare occurrence. So odds are business as usual.)

My teaser:

Adam wanted her to grow up knowing who her birth mother was, and that despite everything Jenny loved her.

Beth agreed with him about everything except the timing.
What is your Teaser this week?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

I got this book on a whim from the NLB ereads drive - mystery in an exotic place is a sure pick-up for me. Plus, the blurb sounded really cool.

Bascially, the book follows Thóra Guðmundsdóttir, an attorney who is suddenly brought into a murder case by the victim's family, who isn't sure that the man the police arrested is the actual murderer. She basically works with a German called Matthew Reich, and they are some sort of awkwardly flirting via insults duo who try to solve the case. Plus, some stuff about her kids (she's a single mom) happen as well.

The biggest draw of this book was the setting and the circumstances involving the murder. It's the first time I've read a mystery from an Icelandic author, and this book does make me want to read more. It sounds like a place where a lot of fascinating mysteries can be set.

As for the murder, it involves the witch hunts that occurred a long time ago. It's not a period or an event that I have much familiarity with, so I don't know whether the information is correct, but I found it fascinating. I think most of my attention was focused on the different sites and the history behind the book, rather than the mystery itself.

Now on to the mystery itself. Sadly, it was only average. Thora and Matthew sort of work independently, but they don't really seem to progress much. The whole key to the case came through a chance observation, which seemed to make all the previous work for naught (although it could be said that the groundwork helped in the deduction). Perhaps it's because I found the 'key evidence' that cracked the case to be a bit too coincidental, and I didn't remember it being brought up earlier (it might have, but nothing indicated it was an important clue).

Overall, this is a decent mystery. I enjoyed the setting and the history involved in the case. While I was a little disappointed in the denouement, the mystery was, overall, decent.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Self-Published: The Nutcracker King

I don't really know how to announce this, so I'm just going to come right out and say it - I've self-published my first novella!

The Nutcracker King was one of the stories that I wrote for last year's NaNoWriMo rebel project, and after one year of rewriting, fiddling with the sentences, and general procrastination due to fear of embarking on the next step, I finally worked up the courage to self-publish.

Of course, this wouldn't have been possible without a lot of people. The Google+ community got me back into writing as a habit and gave me many self-publishing role models, and WriteOn gave me more author friends like M.N. Arzu and Lincoln Cole, who not only provided me with encouragement, but took away all my silly excuses not to self-publish. And the Dayre community - I just entered the community, but all of them have been lovely and supportive.

And of course, my friends, like James who did a mock-up cover that got me so excited I immediately opened D2D accounts and started formatting. And Rachel, who did the actual cover. And everyone else, who spent the time listening to me talk about how I want to publish without pouring cold water on my dreams (as well as reading my first drafts).

Now, things that most people will probably be concerned about:

How will this affect my reviews? 

The bottom line is: it doesn't. I may, however, be more picky about books in the fairytale retelling genre, and only review those that I really love. But on the whole, it should be business as usual - honest reviews about the books I read (thankfully, I love most of the books I read, so I don't foresee any problems here).

Without further ado, The Nutcracker King:


Synopsis:
What if there was no ‘Happily Ever After’? 

It has been eight years since the defeat of the Mouse King. Marie has never told the Nutcracker she loves him, and he has never broken the curse. Instead, Marie dances her nights away at Marzipan castle every night, while the Nutcracker tries to break the curse. Desperate, he uncovers a dark secret about his kingdom, and decides to use the knowledge to reverse the curse. In the end, who will get their happily ever after - Marie or the Nutcracker?

This story is a roughly 30,000 word novella.

As a new author, I'd really love some reviews (and sales. But I'm focusing on reviews first). If anyone would like a review copy, please email me at eustacia.tan[at]gmail.com, letting me know if you would like an ePub or mobi copy, and I'll send one to you straight away. Review copies are available until the 12th of December.

And to end, buy links! My novella is available on:
Amazon (link leads to the .com site)
Kobo
Scribd
Apple
Nook
Oyster
Page Foundry
Tolino (Can't find the link, sorry)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Coursera: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World (Part 6)

I'm posting this a day earlier than usual, because I'm probably going to have some news tomorrow. Anyway, for the last week, I read Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles (review to come). It's pretty good, and I really enjoyed it.

Locusts: A Close Analysis

As a "book of stories pretending to be a novel"[1], the stories in The Martian Chronicles stand alone while simultaneously fitting within a larger theme. This essay will focus on the story "Locusts", analysing it closely with an eye to how it fits within the book.

Situated within the first half of the book, this story is foretells the effect humans have on Mars. From the title alone, it is clear that the human migration to Mars is akin to a locusts plague. Like one of the ten plagues in the Bible [2], the humans will overrun Mars and strip it bare, as they do in the later stories. Within the story itself, Mars is changed "into a shape that was familiar to the eye", but markedly different from its original form. The plague of humans changes the face of the planet, like a locusts plague changes its affected area.

The story starts with the rockets, as they land on Mars. The changes they bring are instantaneous, such as transmuting "water to steam", and they permanently change the environment, through fire on the "bony meadows" and "rock to lava". This imply a lasting and large change for the planet.

In the middle section, men are building colonies on Mars. This would not be a strange sight, but the diction that Bradbury uses, by calling the men "steel-toothed carnivores" and describing their movements as "scuttled", something rather inhuman, makes the reader aware that man is the foreign, invading species here. The rockets may be described as "locusts", but the true plague on Mars are the humans.

Unfortunately, the story does not have a hopeful ending. Apart from the "ninety thousand people" who have already arrived, "more, on Earth, were packing their grips", and the locust plague will continue.

In summary, this story frames the invading humans as a destroyer of Mars, much like a plague of locusts.

Sources

[1]: Eller, Jonathan R., and William F. Touponce. Ray Bradbury: The Life of Fiction. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 2004. Print.
[2]: The plague of locust is, specifically, from Exodus 10: 1-20

All quotes not cited were taken from The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

Grade: 4

What I learnt: People will pick up on your little mistakes. Plus, a close analysis is ok, but people tend to want more complex themes.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Science of the Magical by Matt Kaplan

"Most of us only encounter magic when we want to."
That would be one of the quotes from the book, which I find that I like very much. While the book isn't one of those open a page and bam QUOTES GALORE sort of book, it's a very eye-opening book.

Science of the magical looks at things that we consider magic or mythical, to see if there can be any basis in reality. So, can superheroes really exist? What about love potions? And was Circe from The Odessy really a witch? All these, and more, are topics covered in the book.

Matt Kaplan writes in an engaging, and easy to understand style. Each chapter can stand alone, and within each chapter, he writes about his discoveries in the order that he makes it. There are tons of references, and I'm glad that he is there to break it down for the reader. I read this in two sittings, and neither time did I have to close the book because I was learning so much that my brain needed to take a break. I was learning, but it wasn't a chore.

I don't really have much to say, apart from that. If you're the sort that's inspired or curious about myths and legends (or you want to find out the possibility of becoming one of the X-Men), I think you'd enjoy this book. As for me, I'm going to try to see if I can get my hands on a copy of one of his earlier works - Science of Monsters (or something like that).

To close, I leave you with another quote that I particularly liked:

With this final point in mind, I'd argue that science and magic are not as much at odds with each other as we tend to think. I might even describe the experience of discovering the science behind our myths as magical.
Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

In The Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente

I can't remember why I decided to pick this book up, but I'm glad I did. It was this wonderfully intricate tale of story within story - storyception might be a good word for it.

The Night Garden starts with a girl who's thought to be a demon, and a young prince. They meet, and the girl offers to tell him a story that's been inked onto her eyes. And so the book begins...

Each story is strange and fantastical, and the characters inside tell each other stories too. Sometimes, those stories have stories in them. But as I read on, I realised that the stories were all connected to each other - some featured the common character, some had characters from previous stories, they all linked back into one big story. It made me wonder how all these stories would link to the little girl and the young prince.

Speaking of the two, they're mostly the vehicles for the various stories to be told. They have a little story of their own, mainly the prince trying to sneak out, but they didn't really come to life for me. I'm interested in reading the next book, though, so I'll see if their story continues to develop, or if they're nothing more than just characters on which the stories are displayed.

The stories themselves are rich and dark. The kind that I like, and I don't think there's much more I can say about it.

One note about the language: The book is written in an extremely descriptive style, and I think it's either a love-it-or-hate-it type of thing. I've been reading more streamlined stuff recently, which may be why I didn't mind taking a break and jumping into some purple prose. But if you don't want to read about how cruel hearts are like "a smoldering blade, hissing steam", you may want to give this book a miss.

Overall, I liked it. The stories themselves were enchanting, and when I get the time, I intend to borrow the next book and continue reading.

Teaser Tuesday - The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

It's Tuesday, so it's time for Teaser Tuesday! It's also the deadline for the Coursera course on Science Fiction and Fantasy, and I just handed in my paper, less than two hours before the deadline.

The Martian Chronicles is a beautiful, but strangely sad book by Ray Bradbury (at least, it is to me). Bradbury once described it as something like a set of stories that aspire to the status of a novel, and it really is.

Without further ado:

The rockets set the bony meadows afire, turned rock to lava, turned wood to charcoal, transmuted water to steam, made sand and silica into green grass which lay like shattered mirrors reflecting the invasion, all about. The rockets came like drum, beating in the night.

This quote is from the one page (on my tablet) story, The Locusts.


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • 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!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Coursera: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World (Part 5)

And... it's time for another week. I was actually rather unsure if I would submit an essay, because I totally did not enjoy A Princess of Mars. Herland, too, had a rather strong overtone of "THIS IS A MESSAGE. ACCEPT ME", which I'm not too fond of. Even if I agree with the message. But, I found a topic, so I wrote an essay.

The Manly Man in Herland and Princess of Mars

Although Herland is a feminist utopian novel and Princess of Mars is a swashbuckling space western, both of them feature protagonists that can be classified as "manly men". In Herland, this character is Terry, and in a Princess of Mars, the character is John Carter. However, the two books portray the two characters differently.

In Herland, Terry is a character who is a lady-chaser, active and always looking for something "to oppose, to struggle with, to conquer", things Jeff calls "masculine nonsense". In other words, Terry wants "Something Doing", or in other words, an adventure, which explains why "his great aim was exploration". However, in Herland, Terry is the character that cannot adapt, and after attacking his wife, is expelled from the clearly utopian Herland

On the other hand, John Carter in A Princess of Mars is the hero of the story. He has", in his own words, "always outclassed my adversary in agility and generally in strength as well", is made a chieftain although he is a prisoner, and gets the girl. He survives by being the best fighter in a planet that reveres fighting. Although Dejah Thoris can be a strong female character, her principle role is to let John Carter rescue her. This is unlike the women in Herland, who are wise rulers and can think (and stand up) for themselves.

It's clear that the two different types of environments result in the same type of character being seen in two different ways. In a world where peace and maternal wisdom rule, the manly man is unnecessary and the reader is led to see that his actions are destructive for the betterment of society. On the other hand, in a world where fighting is revered and women characters exist to support the male, the manly man is the hero of the story, revered and respected by all.

Grade: 4

Thoughts: There seemed to be a few contradictory evaluations this week, but they're all food for thought. Now to finish reading Bradbury by tomorrow (I loved F451, but I haven't read much of this other works.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Gauge War by S.C. Green

Where should I start with this book? It took me some time to get back into the groove, but once I was back in the world of the Engine Ward, I couldn't put the book down at all.

The Gauge War is the second book in the Engine Ward series, the first being The Sunken (read my review here). In fact, this book picks up where The Sunken left off, so it's probably a good thing to re-read the first book before moving on to this one. I managed to eventually remember enough of the story, but it meant that the first few pages were somewhat confusing to me.

And like I speculated in the first book, the true protagonist of this series appears to be Isambard Brunel, now the Metal Messiah, the only character without a point of view. I mentioned that the book ended with the different view points holding contradictory views, but in this book, they gradually start to converge again.

Why? Because absolute power corrupts absolutely. That's all I'm going to say. But to elaborate just a little bit more on the plot; basically, the Boilers built by Brunel are now everywhere. But the threat to England isn't over yet, and it's not just coming from the outside (France).

Can I just say that Brunel scares me to death? He's really cool and all, but I suspect that he has no heart, judging by the way that he treats his friends. Either that or the things he went in his childhood have really traumatised him. As always, Nicholas and Aaron are two awesome and likeable dudes, while James, the blind physician, was interesting until he fell.

My biggest surprise, though, was Stephenson. He's an antagonist for most of the book, but the more I see of him, the more I realise my first impression of him was wrong. Not gonna say anymore, because that would probably veer into spoiler territory.

A word of warning though - the ending is incredibly dark. But, I just re-read it, and I think S.C. Green is setting it up for a book three in a very clever way. I hope I'm right!

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Today's teaser is from a book that I picked up randomly from the library's online store. It sounded interesting, and I've never read a murder mystery set in Iceland, so here we are. I'm really enjoying it so far - it's an interesting read, although the start was a bit heavy on the information.

My teaser:
"She doubted that Matthew had threatened the lawyer, and thought it more likely he had promised a fee for arranging the interview - which would have been unethical at best. She felt better imagining they would be assisting the defense counsel."

So, what is your teaser this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Children's Home by Charles Lambert (ARC)

This book was intensely frustrating. It was an interesting read, that's for sure, but it was also really frustrating. Also, I'm not really seeing the resemblance to Neil Gaiman and Roald Dahl. Again, it's not that the book is bad, but I'm not seeing it.

The Children's Home is sort about Morgan, although it might also be about the mysterious children that he picks up. Morgan used to be handsome (his own words), but after a terrible accident that isn't really an accident, he's now disfigured. Living alone, with a housekeeper that he thinks his sister sent, he's secluded from the world. But as the children come, he starts to open up, and lets more people into his life, including his new friend, Dr. Crane. But the children are not normal, and they're looking for something.

One thing about this book that frustrated me was that I never knew what was going on. I'm used to having at least a handle on the plot, so not knowing why things were happening, and who exactly these children were was frustrating. Things are somewhat explained at the end, but not enough to feel satisfying.

By the way, if you're like me and like to jump to the end of the book and spoiler yourself so you can then relax and enjoy the journey, don't bother. You have to read this book from the start to the end if you want to understand what's going on. I guess it's good training for me - must not rush.

I guess the good thing about this book is that it's unsettling. Something is wrong, and that sense of unease is carried out throughout the whole book - is that what they meant by the comparison to Roald Dahl? To his short stories and not his longer works? But I think I understood Roald Dahl a bit more.

All in all, this is a short, strange little book. It's a bit unsettling, and after reading it, I'm still not sure what a lot of the book is about. It's not bad, per se, but it didn't wow me.

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

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Coursera: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World (Part 4)

We've finished more than half the course! This unit is unit 6, and it's about H.G. Wells. I chose to do my essay on The Island of Doctor Moreau. I also considered The Invisible Man, but couldn't find a suitable topic in time.

The Beast People: Human or Not?

One famous description of man is of him as "a little lower than the angels"[1] and made to "have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas."[2] Man is a contradictory animal, with both soul and flesh. In this essay, I would like to examine the nature of the Beast People in The Island of Dr. Moreau, and their relationship to their creator.

First, the Beast People are described as "triumphs of vivisection". They are animal, with the "soul of beasts", but with the Law, they aim to overcome their earthly nature and attain humanhood. In this respect, they are similar to humans, who struggle between the two ends of angels and beasts. In fact, H.G. Wells suggests as much at the end of the book, as Prendick sees the similarities between humans and the Beast People, and "[can] not persuade [himself] that the men and women [he meets] were not also another Beast People"[3].

Next, I would like to discuss the beast people and their relationship to Dr. Moreau. It is a twisted relationship of the traditional relationship between the Christian and God. Dr. Moreau gives them the Law, but makes no other attempt to make them human. Indeed, Dr. Moreau dismisses their "hymns", marriages, houses and calls them a "travesty of humanity." He is a creator who feels no love for his creation [4], a twisted version of the Christian God.

In conclusion, the Beast People and their relationship with Dr. Moreau can be viewed as a twisted version of the Judeo-Christian view of the relationship between humans and God. In this way, the created reflects the attitudes and character of the creator.

Grade Received: 4
What I learnt: There isn't one lesson in particular, but this week's feedback is way better than the previous few weeks. In the previous weeks, I had about half the responses left blank, this week, there was only one blank! And nice detailed comments too XD

The next unit is on Burroughs and Gilman. I've only read A Princess of Mars, but I don't think I can write about it without going into a rent. Hopefully, Herland goes better.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull

This is one of those books that, when I started, was a bit disappointing, but when I changed my mindset, turned awesome and inspiring. There were so many lines that I wanted to save as quotes, such as
Ideas though, are not singular. They are forged through tens of thousands of decisions, often made by dozens of people.
and
For all the care you put into artistry, visual polish frequently doesn't matter if you are getting the story right.

(Although maybe the second quote is only inspiring to me?)

Of course, it makes sense that the book is great for advice on telling a good story - after all, this is a memoir of Pixar, the studio that brought us Monster's Inc, Finding Nemo, etc. Lots of good stories came out from that place.

At first, I approached this book thinking this was going to be a wellspring of story advice. So when I realised it was about the birth of Pixar and what made it Pixar, I was disappointed, to say the least. So I took a break before returning to the book, this time with the mindset of "this is a business biography".

Things really changed after that. Apart from enjoying the history of Pixar, I found lots of gems, such as
When downsides coexist with upsides, as they often do, people are reluctant to explore what's bugging them, for fear of being labelled complainers.
^That is totally true. The fear of being labelled a complainer, especially in a culture that values group harmony, can end up with people getting unhappy and gradually more and more unproductive.

There's a lot of talk about company culture here. The employees are what make Pixar great, and the book talks about how they built the culture, challenges in maintaining it (especially in the face of huge changes), and how problems areas can creep up without anyone noticing - a call to be vigilant, if anything.

The book covers the founding of Pixar to its acquisition/merger with Disney, ending with a note about the author's feelings on the passing of Steve Jobs. Once I changed my expectations, I ended up really enjoying the book, and learning a lot from it. I highly recommend this to fans of Pixar.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Dead Eyed by Matt Brolly

When I was asked if I would read and review the book, my answer was (obviously) yes. I do have a soft spot for mysteries after all, and this one, with the creepy murder and latin words, sounded really interesting.

Dead Eyed follows DCI Michael Lambert, who was more than just a normal policeman (I don't mean superhero, I meant with his job) when a horrible accident brought everything to a halt. But, a murderer called the Soul Jacker starts killing again, after an 18 year pause. Since this murderer is closely linked to the past (and one of his friends got pictures of the murder), Lambert can't help but do some investigating of his own. Of course, this means he gets to cross paths with the official investigator, DCI Sarah May.

I really, really liked this mystery. For one thing, the twist completely through me for a loop. You'd think that after reading so many mysteries, I'd learn to expect that predict the twist, but I did not see this one coming.

I also liked the relationship between Lambert and May, though not as much as the mystery. The two of them had obvious chemistry from the start, but the fact that Lambert is married put quite a bit of a wrench into things. I did like that Lambert did not immediately go after May. Their relationship by the end of the book gives me hope that we can see it grow slowly and naturally over the next couple of books, instead of them being instantly established as some sort of super-couple.

As far as mysteries go, this one seemed to be fairly 'normal' for the world. I use 'normal' because the book introduces us to what Lambert's job really is, which makes me think that the next few mysteries could be a lot more ambitious than a serial killer (though it's hard to imagine a crime worse than killing and mutilating multiple people). But I can totally see the non-personal stakes getting higher and higher as Lambert pulls himself together and goes back to work.

Overall, this was a really great novel. The twist during the reveal of the mystery surprised me, and throughout the whole book, I found myself really rooting for Lambert and May (not as a couple, not yet, but as separate characters). I look forward to reading more from Matt Brolly.

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - The Gauge War by S.C. Green

Hey everyone! Can you believe it's Tuesday again? I swear, the weeks went by faster and faster this year. Anyway, right now, I'm making my way through The Gauge War by S.C. Green, the second book in the Engine Ward series. I'm enjoying it, because the setting is just so interesting - imagine a world where science is literally the religion.

My teaser:
"Far from the desolate, mud-strangled wasteland Nicholas had always envisaged, the swamps carried their own unique beauty. He followed Brunel through mist-cloaked valleys, past trees bent and twisted into eldritch shapes, through pools of warm, cloudy water."
What is your teaser this week?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sacrifice by Sharon Bolton

I heard about Sharon Bolton when the Literary Feline over at Musings of a Bookish Kitty reviewed one of her books called Little Black Lies. It sounded awesome, and I wanted to borrow it, but the library didn't have it. They did, however, have her debut novel, Sacrifice, so I borrowed that.

Sacrifice is also a mystery, with a very interesting protagonist. Tora Hamilton is an outsider in the Shetland Islands, while her husband is not. While trying to bury a dearly departed horse, she finds a woman with her heart cut out. Her curiosity causes her to team up with the outcast on the police force, Dana, and they must work out what exactly is going on.

Where this book shines is in the ways it brings a small, closed community to life. Tora and Dana are clearly outsiders, and people are hiding something from them. As Dana puts it clearly - this is an old boy's club. This turns upstart women searching for the truth into something more than detectives, it approaches social commentary.

Of course, it's also possible that I'm reading too much into this, because my paper on women managers in Japan is so depressing. Do you know how many companies I've found that have 0 women managers? Way too many.

Anyway, back to Tora. Tora is clearly a capable woman, but she's not without her flaws. She's stubborn, and she does jump to conclusions a bit too quickly. But, I thought that these flaws make her more endearing, because she becomes more human. I'm used to extremely capable detectives (for example, Dana), but it's refreshing to see one that doesn't exactly bumble along, but doesn't have a smooth path to success. Tora is no Poirot, but she's a likeable character all the same.

I will definitely be going to read more of Sharon Bolton's novels. And I hope the library gets Little Black Lies someday soon.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Coursera: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World (Part 3)

So I have somehow made it through yet another week! It's starting to look like I can complete the whole course, although I'm not sure how I'm even making the time to read the stuff...

Anyway, this week was a selection of stories from Hawthorne and Poe. I quite liked Poe, but I'm not sure if Hawthorne was for me. Still wrote on him though. Anyway, my essay:

The Mary Sue in Hawthorne

In fanfiction, the term Mary Sue pops up frequently. A Mary Sue is a female character who is unnaturally beautiful and talented, and everyone character in the story adores her. If she dies, it is in a heroic self-sacrifice that saves the entire universe, and everyone will mourn her. In this essay, I would like to consider if the female characters in Hawthorne's 'The Birthmark' and 'Rappaccini's Daughter' fit the stereotype of the Mary Sue.

In The Birthmark, Georgiana is considered perfect, except for one, superficial flaw. To me, this resembles the superficial flaw many Mary Sues often have (like clumsiness). In addition, Georgiana seems to be presented as the perfect, meek woman, which female readers might wish to aspire to. However, her ignoble death goes against the Mary Sue stereotype.

In Rappaccini's Daughter, Beatrice is blessed with beauty and the power to live among dangerous plants. She appears perfect, a trait of many Mary Sues. Yet for love, she's willing to divest herself of her powers, and eventually dies. Like Georgiana, her death is not a self-sacrifice, but is more of a total submission to the man that she has fallen in love with. In this way, her death goes against the Mary Sue stereotype.

The female characters in the above two stories are both presented as ideal women - meek and beautiful. In this aspect, they fit the Mary Sue ideal of the perfect female character. However, their ending prevents them from being classified as a Mary Sue, as their untimely and ignoble deaths negate the wish-fulfilment/self-insert function of the Mary Sue. Unless, of course, one wishes to be a tragic heroine. But that is not the norm in most fandoms.

Grade: 4

What I learnt: Someone commented I could have used more evidence in my essay, and I totally agree. Should have done that. But it seems like trying to be more focused was a good idea. Now, I'll have to find a new topic to write about - this week, we're reading stories by H.G. Wells. Still making my way through The Island of Dr. Moreau!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Heartless City by Andrea Berthot

Maybe it's because I read this alongside Broken Dolls, but while The Heartless City is a decent story, it didn't have that spark that Broken Dolls had for me.

The Heartless City follows two characters - Elliot Morrissey, the son of the city's most famous doctor and Iris Faye, a strange American. Iris was born unusual, Elliot made himself unusual (although not quite in the way he hoped). Both of them live in isolated London, which was cut off from the rest of the world when the Hyde monsters were let loose. When chance threw them together, Elliot finds himself attracted to Iris, and Iris finds a chance to get revenge. But more than that, the two of them will have to work together to find out who or what's behind the Hyde phenomenon.

First things first, I thought the concept of the Hyde monsters was unusual and well-done. I was definitely intrigued by that from the start. The story too, was decent, and flowed at a good pace. All in all, I should have been satisfied.

But, there was something missing from the book. As soon as Elliot and Iris met, I could see how their relationship would turn out. Once I was introduced to Elliot's best friends Cam and Andrew, I could see how that was going too. The philosophising by Elliot didn't really help either. The most original character of the lot had to be Philomena, who's clever and breaks all the rules.

I suppose I may have expected too much. The concept of the story was original enough that I expected the plot and the characters to be different. Unfortunately, while they were decent enough that I would have enjoyed it (had I gone into the story without any expectations), my expectations were just a bit too high, and the story didn't sparkle for me like it could have.

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin

I heard about this book when it made a small fuss for possibly not being as accurate as it claims to be. Plus, it was a gossipy look at high society, and after the tranwreck that is "Everybody Rise", I was hoping for a more sensible look at how the American rich lived. What better than a memoir written through the lens of an anthropologist?

Primates of Park Avenue is about Wednesday Martins, who moves to Upper East Side and discovers a whole new world. The women here look like they have it all, and they probably spend a ton to get the look too. Plus, the community really is a jungle, with people judging your status and adjusting your interactions accordingly. 

Let's start with the annoying thing: The 'fieldnotes' stuff was annoying. I didn't really get the short sections that acted as though the author was so separate from these people - just cut to the gossipy parts of wanting to fit in (and whether she fails or succeeds). Thankfully, this only comprised a small part of the book.

And now, the good part of this book: it is much, much less annoying than Everybody Rise. Yes, Wednesday Martin longs to fit in, just like the protagonist in Everybody Rise, but I find that she's more honest about it. Plus, she was entertaining to me. I didn't even feel that she was whiny, but then again, I did finish a book with a very whiny main character. So, your mileage may vary. 

Plus, I liked that she occasionally tried to get to the root of the situation, such as the reasons why the world is so strictly segregated by gender (although I do wonder how she met that influential Alpha dad if almost all events were segregated. I guess that was one of the rare mixed events?).

The ending was quite touching (not including the last chapter, which returns to the light-hearted tone that most of the book uses). It was actually the best part of the book, because it showed the moms of Upper East Side breaking out of the mould that the author had put them in for most of the book. If the book was like this, a more balanced view, it would have been excellent. As it is, it's a gossipy book that may or may not be accurate. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - Dead Eyed by Matt Brolly

Hello! Time for another Teaser Tuesday :D

I'm in a fairly good mood this week, because my worst assignments are over!

So right now, I'm reading Dead Eyed by Matt Brolly - totally enjoying it (if enjoying a murder mystery makes sense), and I'm really anxious to know who the killer is.

My teaser:

"Everything was a clutter, his mind a jumble of useless information. Experience told him that trying to think about other things often led to inspiration, to an insight that would otherwise elude him."

What is your teaser this week?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Broken Dolls by Tyrolin Puxty

I have no idea where I should start for this review. I love this book so, so, so much. Gak. Please bear with me as I try to write things down in a coherent and not overly fangirl sort of way.

Ok, so the story. Broken Dolls is a story about Ella, a doll who can walk and talk. She was once human, but now she's not and she can't remember why. One day, a new doll called Libby comes, and unlike Ella, she's not happy being turned into a doll. But is the professor truly evil? Or is Libby the evil one?

Basically, I loved this book for the plot twist and the concept. Ok, and because the cover was cool.

First, the plot. I had honestly started the book and immediately assumed that it was going to be like a lot of the YA dystopian that I've read. But the book proceeded in a completely different way from what I expected, and that was awesome. (POSSIBLY SLIGHT SPOILERS) I distrusted Libby from the start, but I'm not exactly normal when it comes to judging characters (sometimes), so I thought that I was just reacting weirdly to the story. Turns out I wasn't.

The ending was a little heartbreaking, but I understood it. It wasn't a conventional happy ending, but it's strangely satisfying.

Apart from the totally cool twist, the concept of this book was amazing. It's a pretty 'small' story, if you think about it. Just a doll trying to figure out if she wants to know why she's a doll. But it's set against this world where things have gone incredibly wrong, and the science is obviously a bit more advanced than ours. Or the professor is a genius. Either one. I am really incredibly curious about what's going on in the wider world, but I think the author made the right choice not to over-explain, but let us wonder about what's going on in parts of the world not directly related to the story. We do get the information necessary, but only as and when it's needed for the main plot.

The characters were pretty well-done. Ella, the professor and Gabby, the professor's daughter were very well-done, and I thought they were very human. Libby is a psychopath, and well, there are two other characters, but they didn't appear enough to feel real to me. But since they're not very major, it's not a problem for me.

In short, I loved this book. Mostly because of the twist, but also because this a world with characters that grabbed me from the start and pulled me along for the ride. I totally made the right choice to request this book for review.

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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Coursera: Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World (Part 2)

So, I was in Saga last week, but still managed to get the essay out! The blogging... not so much. But for the last two weeks, we read Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Unlike the previous two books, this was actually my first time reading these classics.

Week 3: Dracula

My essay

The Transylvanian Castle as a Twisted Garden of Eden and What it Implies

"You may go anywhere you wish in the castle, except where the doors are locked, where of course you will not wish to go." Does this ring a bell? It did to me. I was reminded of Genesis 2:16, where God instructs Adam and Eve that "you are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil". In the book, the quote is followed by a reference to the count's "knowledge". And like Adam and Eve, when Jonathan gains knowledge, his idyllic life is no more, and he, Mina and their friends are thrown into a world of suffering.

While the comparison of the Count's castle to a twisted Garden of Eden seems obvious to me, how would the original readers have seen it?

I believe so.

Christianity was a large part of Victorian English life, with the Church of England as the dominant Church. Bram Stoker himself was a member of the Church of Ireland. In addition, non-conformist Churches and challenges to Christianity had arisen. I believe that most readers, even non-religious ones, would have been exposed to various Bible stories and sermons from young, and hence would have made the connection immediately.

If the castle is a twisted Garden of Eden, then it's possible to read Dracula through the lens of the Christian Literary Theory. The story can be seen as showing the Fallen World, ruled by Satan, the Prince of the Air (Remember his powers of flight?). Bravely battling him, with symbols of Christianity, are our heroes. While Mina is not strictly a Christ-figure, she comes close with her selflessness, in taking on Dracula's 'sin' and using it to help the others, and finally being redeemed. In the end, evil is defeated and good triumphs.

What I learnt: Apparently, I am introducing too many things in one essay. Got to remember to focus only on one thing, in depth. Also, I need to make my writing more academic.

Grade: 4

Week 4: Frankenstein

My essay

"Abhorred Monster": The use of framing in the narrative to influence the reader

Throughout the novel Frankenstein, the reader is led to see the being created by Victor Frankenstein as some sort of monster. But, if an objective look is taken, this "daemon" and "abhorred monster" becomes something of a pitiful creature - created good, but committing evil deeds due to its rejection from society. It is not, at its core, an evil being.

Why then, and how, is the reader manipulated into believing the worst of Frankenstein's creation?

In the beginning of the novel, the reader is introduced to Frankenstein as a "noble" and sympathetic character. His character is elevated, and used to devalue the character of the monster. Because Frankenstein is so good, this monster that he has created and despises must therefore be bad. In this way, Captain Walton's opening primes the reader to think the worst of the monster.

The second half of the narrative is dominated by Frankenstein, and the monster first speaks only in Chapter 10. If the monster's speech is read in isolation, he is a sympathetic character, but the interjections of "fiend" and "wretched devil" prevent the reader from developing too much sympathy for it. While it is given a few chapters, the overwhelming dominance of Frankenstein's view prevents the reader from developing real sympathy for his creation.

During Captain Walton's closing narrative, he comes close feeling sympathy through the "expressions of [...] misery" from the monster. However, like the reader, he has been too influenced by Frankenstein, and seeing things through his eyes, has his indignation "rekindled". Any genuine emotion the monster may have is ignored.

In conclusion, Captain Walton plays the role of the reader, and his reactions influence and prime the reader to think the worst of Frankenstein's creation. This, coupled with the dominance of Frankenstein's narrative, turns a misunderstood being into a monster that has entered the cultural consciousness.

My grade: 4

As always, I'm interested in knowing if I made any mistakes in my analysis, or if there's anything that I could improve on.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

PSA: Going on a short break

Hey everyone, just a brief note to say that school has finally caught up to me, and I'll have to take at least a one week break. I'll be working on my third year essay, and doing some work in Saga as part of my seminar. 

In the meantime, enjoy a picture of the sunset I took today.