Friday, January 30, 2015

Unicorn Western by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

I first heard about Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant when I read their book, Write, Publish, Repeat. It was really good (and a lot of things applies to artists in general, so the bestie got like 20 screenshots of quotes while I was reading it), and it made me curious about their other books. Unicorn Western seemed like the sort of random that I'd enjoy, and it was on Scribd.

Unicorn Western is a hilarious take on the movie High Noon. It follows, Clint, the marshal who's really the "tough guy with heart of gold/some sort of heart" guy, and my favourite character, the sarcastic, turkey-pie loving unicorn Edward. On the day that Clint is about to get hitched to the love of his life, Mai, he gets word that Hassle Stone is coming back for revenge - with a unicorn of a different colour.

As background knowledge, you should know that unicorns are white. A differently coloured unicorn is an abomination against nature.

Clint and Edward are the perfect pair. Clint is a cynic, but he has a sense of duty. Edward is just sarcastic and likes to eat and throw bags of oats at people.

This book was fairly short, but a really fun read. The only character I didn't like would be Teddy, because he's whiny and useless. Then again, I am seeing him through Clint's eyes, which are admittedly biased.

I am so totally going to carry on reading this series.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay

Warning: Spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.

I like fairytale retellings. I also like fairytale sequels. And kick-ass princesses. So by all rights, I should have enjoyed Princess of Thorns. I started the book feeling really excited. But, by the halfway point, I was really annoyed, and by the end of the book, I couldn't muster up any good feelings towards the two main protagonists.


Because their relationship is messed up.

First, background stuff. Princess of Thorns follows Aurora, daughter of Sleeping Beauty as she fights against the evil Ogre Queen who has her younger brother. She disguises herself as a boy, and runs into Niklaas, a pretty-boy (literally. Aurora describes him as pretty many, many, way too many times) who wants to marry the Princess Aurora to break the curse. Of course, it's hate at first site, until Aurora sees Niklaas unclothes, starts to drool over him and bam, you have love. Oh, and Aurora can't kiss any man she loves. Just a note because this is important.

So, that's the background knowledge. And now, this is why I think their relationship is messed up, summarised in this one quote from the book: (Note, the first person who speaks is Aurora. The "I" is Niklaas)

"And perhaps, if men were brought up to be gentler people, women wouldn't have need of protectors. Have you ever thought of that?"
I shake my head. "Men aren't going to change, Ror. Men are what they are."
"And women are more than you allow them to be. Women can be strong, Niklaas. If given the chance, they can handle the world, maybe even handle it better than a man."
"All right." I snort. "If you say so, Ror."
"I do say so."
I look straight at him before I roll my eyes, wanting to make sure my opinion of his opinion is abundantly clear. "Maybe you've met girls like that in your many travels around your enchanted fairy island, but that's not the way it is in the real world." 
And just so you know, Niklass never admits that he's changed his way of thinking. The first half of the book was him boasting about how he's seduced so many girls, and how he'd easily seduce Princess Aurora, and protect her by, among other things, lying to her.

Of course, he's pissed (and humiliated/embarrassed when he finds out Ror is Aurora).

Here's the spoiler part: For Aurora to save the world and get her guy, she has to give up her powers and become weak. Actually, weaker than most women, in her own words. Whee, Niklass gets the girl he can protect. Do you feel my lack of excitement?

In fact, the way the ending felt to me was that he only accepted Aurora because she had lost his powers. She had proposed to him before, but he refused to marry her because he didn't want her to be the one saving him.

It's a pity, because Stacey Jay can write good characters. The Ogre Queen, for instance. She's the villain, but she's so compelling, and may be my favourite characters. Her sections were easily the best in the book. And there was Crimsim, who I thought was going to Ror's lady-in-waiting/fighter-in-waiting, but disappeared after a few chapters and was never heard from again.

I've heard that this book is like Mulan. Nope, nope, nope. Mulan doesn't fawn over Shang (even though he is a pretty boy), and their relationship seems pretty healthy to me. Now I feel like watching Mulan again. And Sleeping Beauty.

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

WWW Wednesdays Part 2

It took me almost a year (and the fact that I have exams) to do my second WWW Wednesday. I guess I'm just not the meme kind :/


What am I currently reading?

Well, I'm currently reading a bunch of books, but the two main ones are First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen and Dark Sun, Bright Moon by Oliver Sparrow. They're two really different books, but I'm enjoying both of them so far.

What Did I Just Finish Reading?

Oh, this is a tough one. I think it was a re-read of Hyperbole and a Half. I saw it in Scribd, I was stressed, and the rest is history (it's hilarious, you should check it out for a laugh).

What will I read next? 

Hmm... not sure. I may go re-read some Sarah Rayne.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Exams are coming, exams are coming! Book reading is slow, but thankfully, Teaser Tuesday isn't dependent on reading speed. Right now, I'm reading First Frost by Sarah Allen Addison.

My teaser:

"First frost was always an unpredictable time, but this year it felt more... desperate than others.
Something was about to happen." 

What is your Teaser Tuesday?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Doable by Deborah Reber

New year, new resolutions, fresh start. Although I haven't been doing a very good job blogging - exams seem to come much sooner than last year, and I fell sick :/ I spent the weekend drinking cup after cup of warm water to try and reduce a cough.

But you know, the whole fresh start sentiment counts. Which is why Doable seemed like a good book to read. Subtitled: The Girl's Guide to Accomplishing Just About Anything, I was hoping for a dose of inspiration and practical advice. And yes, I was curious about what kind of special methods girls use to do stuff.

For most of the book, nothing should come as a shock, especially if you've read self-help books before or attended goal setting lessons before (I had them many, many times over the course of my school years). The book goes through 8 steps to achieving your goals, starting with goal setting (remember SMART goals and you're fine), and then going into breaking up the goals into manageable sub-goals, making sure you actually start, getting others to support you, and so on and so forth. Every chapter ends with a quick recap.

Everything is really solid, practical advice that applies to both genders. The only "girly" thing about this book is that all the examples are that of successful girls. If you think about it, that's sad - does it imply that most books focus on boys and therefore girls need their own niche of self-help for what is essentially the same things? I don't think I want to continue down this path - this is the way to ranting.

Out of all the chapters, the one that I learnt from the most (and liked the most) was Chapter 6, "Do the Work". The author goes through a variety of ways people do things, from the short spurters, who can only focus for short periods of time, to the easily distracted (me!) and cliff divers and so on. Each section has a description of how said category-person does work, along with hints on how to use that style productively. I thought it was useful, and I don't think I saw this before.

I think that this book would be useful for people who want to start, but don't know how. There's nothing earth-shaking in here, but then again, there aren't really any earth-shaking secrets to getting things done. All you need to do is to take it one step at a time. Like Lao Tzu says, "千里之行,始於足下" (A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step).

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

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Grimm Memories by Janna Jennings

Last year, I reviewed A Grimm Legacy (click to read review) and really liked it. Soon after, the author offered me a review copy of the sequel, which I naturally accepted. But, because it was in PDF and iBooks, I totally forgot about it until today. So embarrassing, or as we say in Singlish, so paiseh. Since I had to go and teach today (part time job), I managed to finish the book while making my way there and back!

So, Grimm Memories, being the sequel, takes place about half a year later. The four are reunited, and because Andi and Dylan are having strange dreams, they sneak back to Elorium, aka fairy-tale world. Only this time, Quinn's brother manages to come along (he was sent to make sure she didn't go back to Elorium. I guess he failed pretty badly). But the Elorium they go back to is in turmoil. What is happening? That's what the four has to find out. Characters from the first book make their appearance, as do new characters, and the plot twists and turns in very unexpected ways.

I must say, I don't quite understand the ending - how did they figure out things so neatly? Then again, I should add that I was rushing through the book in order to find out what happened, so I may have missed some pertinent detail.

Apart from that, I really don't have any complaints about the book. If you've read the first book, you'll adore how the characters and their relationships with each other continue to grow. I hope that if there are future books, we get to see him in normal earth a little more - I'd like to know how this experience has changed how they interact with others. There are hints here, and if they're developed, it could be a really interesting story.

To be honest, I'm not sure which book I like better. The first book referenced many, many fairy-tales, while this book has more original ideas. It really all goes down to personal preference, but if you enjoyed the first book, you'll probably enjoy this one too.

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

This is actually a two book review in one. I saw this book and the book that inspired it (Betty Cornell's Teenage Guide to Popularity), and figured that since they were both there, I should just read them both.

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is a memoir by Maya. She's at the lowest rank of the school hierarchy. So when she finds Betty Cornell's Teenage Guide to Popularity, she decides to spend one month per chapter in a bid to be popular (as defined by her at the start of the book).

Betty Cornell's Teenage Guide to Popularity is exactly what the title says. Covering topics like health, dressing, skin care, make-up, how to behave and more, it's reminds me of finishing school, but in a book.

So what happens when you put an (admittedly dated) guide book with a geek living in a less-than conventional place (this ain't the suburbs after all)?

Well, something approximating what I expected. Maya does make more friends, but it's not because she suddenly becomes popular, like a teen movie. No, she starts to make friends because she starts reaching out to people. And in the process, she realises that how you treat people that's more important than how you look (although how you look can influence your self-esteem, so that's no excuse to slack off).

Despite the fact that Maya and I come from very different backgrounds, I really empathise with her. I know what it's like to not belong to one group, but I think how Maya ends up - friends with everyone, is the best way to end up. You get to meet a lot more people that way.

Popular actually contains enough excerpts from Betty Cornell's Guide that you don't have to read both of them. You can just reading one. But, I found it interesting to read the guide (even though I won't follow anything). After all, it's always fun to peek into the mindset of another age.

When I get back to Singapore, I should go hang around the used bookstores a little more. I might find something cool like this.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Business Adventures by John Brooks

When I requested this book from NetGalley, I had no idea that it was recommended by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. I just thought that the title was interesting, and I really like reading case studies, so I thought it was a book I might enjoy.

Then I actually started reading it. The first four chapters (which is the first third of the book) was so dry I really didn't want to finish it. I was about to give up, when I heard and realised that this book was highly recommended by Warren Buffet, so I decided to take it slow.

Once I got to the fifth chapter, about Xerox, things started to pick up. Perhaps it's just that the first four topics didn't catch my interesting, but the writing style finally stopped bothering me. I no longer felt like I was reading a dry textbook (Then again, my textbooks are in Japanese, so that means my knowledge of textbook styles are 3 years out of date D:). After that, the book improved, although it was a bit of a hit-and-miss. I found that I like that reading the stories where people were the main character (Like Piggly Wiggly, Goodrich vs Latex and the like), and less when it was looking at a phenomenon (like Tax, or Stockholders).  At times, the prose was even entertaining, in a dry sort of way.

I'm not sure what to say about this book. I enjoyed parts of it, but other parts bored me. So I can't say "don't read this" or "read this", especially since a large part of the reason why I was bored was because of the narrative style. That's a really subjective thing. (And also, I'm loath to admit that Warren Buffet can pick a boring book).

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Irresistible Fairy Tale by Jack Zipes

I almost didn't finish this book. The first two chapters, "The Cultural Evolution of Storytelling" and "The Meaning of Fairy Tale within the Evolution of Culture", bored me. I really, really wanted to read this because it's about fairy tales, but the academic-speak made me put down the book after a few paragraphs.

So I did something that I hardly ever do. I skipped the first two chapters and went straight to "Remaking Bluebeard", or Good-bye to Perrault. The book caught my attention from there. Remaking Bluebeard is as the chapter title says. Using a French film that retold the story, the author looked at the meaning of the Bluebeard fairy tale. I thought it interesting, though I wasn't sure if I agreed with all of the author's opinion, especially since I haven't seen the film.

Then, he went on to "Witch as Fairy/Fairy as With: Unfathomable Baba Yagas" and the book drew me in completely. Jack Zipes is at his best when he's introducing fairy tales to you and talking about them. He clearly knows a lot, and he has excellent examples in there - the Brothers Grimm and Perrault can just step aside, because there are many more voices to be heard. The next three chapters are the same, exploring the idea of a Heroine (possibly my favourite chapter in the book), a few great, but not very well-known fairy-tale collectors, and then coming back to this modern age to look at how fairy tales are being reinterpreted by artists.

You would think that with that, you read the end of the book, but according to Scribd, I was only 64% done. There are still two appendixes, "Sensationalist Scholarship: a 'New' History of Fairy Tales', where he basically tells you why he disagrees with the author of "A New History of Fairy Tales", and "Reductionist Scholarship: A "new" definition of the fairy tale", which again, he disagrees with. You can just consider them two book reviews.  

If you're interested in a serious study of Fairy-Tales, you may want to check this book out. Feel free to skip chapters if it bores you.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Night Garden by Lisa van Allen

This book has a recommendation from Debbie Macomber and was compared to Sarah Addison Allen (whose books, I just realised, I didn't really review here, so I'll have to rectify that). There is no way I can not request this book.

And perhaps, it's because of such high hopes that I was slightly let down. Yes, the book was interesting, and yes, I was absorbed, but it wasn't magical enough. Plus, at points in time, it felt like the writer was just playing with language for language's sake.

The Night Garden is about Olivia, the caretaker of a mysterious garden maze that's supposed to help you solve your problems. She's an enigma in her community, and that's because she hides a secret. Her world is dull, but safe and she is content, until Sam comes back into her life. Sam, who is struggling to live up to his family reputation, was Olivia's childhood love, or at least, he was until she ended things with them. This time, he's back, and he's not about to give up so easily.

Throw into that a meddling woman called Gloria, who really wishes to impose her will on the valley, a pregnant drifter called Mei, and a town that doesn't fully understand Olivia and her family, and you have your story.

For some reason, I never really understood Gloria. I knew her role in the story, but her redemption arc was very weak to me, and quite unconvincing. The same goes for Mei. I can't help but think that so much care went into the two main characters that these two were just left to the side.

And for disclaimer's sake, while this is a really tame romance, there is one fairly explicit scene.

This wasn't a bad book. The prose felt a bit too much at times, and I didn't care for two of its supporting characters, but at its core, it's a book about rediscovering love and second chances. It's just too bad it wasn't magic to me.

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Alligators, Old Mink and New Money by Allison Houtte

I'm not sure why I picked up this book. But, it was in Scribd, and I do have a subscription, so I thought I'd take a chance on it.

At first, I thought this book was going to be about Allison's modelling career, but turns out, it's about running a vintage shop. Allison's shop Hooti Couture sounds fun, even though I don't generally have luck with vintage and/or second hand clothes. I look awful in them. Must be my lack of fashion sense.

Each chapter of this book starts with a small vignette, and then it enters the real topic. It could be about the shop, about a certain aspect of vintage selling, a great find, anything. It's roughly chronologically arranged, but it feels more like a series of snapshots rather than an autobiography of a store.

I quite enjoyed this book. The author sounds like a really fun person, and I'd love to meet her someday. The only thing I wish the book has is more photos. She describes all these outfits, and it makes me want to see them.

Hmm... this review is short even by my standards. I suppose it does sum up this book - it's a light and fluffy read. You won't learn any deep business or fashion principles, but it is a good distraction if you need one.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

It seems like the busier I get, the more books I read at one time. Right now, one of the books I'm reading is The Night Garden, by Lisa Van Allen.

My teaser:
"By the time dawn managed to drill its way through the haze of morning clouds, Sam had stopped by the pool shack to investigate a possible shoplifting, had visited Hobo Jim just to make sure he was still alive, and had dropped by the Green Valley Bank to make a deposit and chat with the owner about his fund-raising for veterans with PTSD. Sam had also done his best not to make too much of a fool of himself when he'd gone on his first call."
The book is told in alternating viewpoints, mainly between Sam and Olivia (these are the two main protagonist), with a few chapters being narrated by a minor character.

What was your teaser this week?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Botticelli's Bastard by Stephen Maitland-Lewis

If your painting started talking to you, would you think you're crazy? Most people would. Giovanni Fabrizzi, on the other hand, is still sane. As sane as anyone can be when a talking painting comes into his life anyway.

Calling himself the Count, the painting insists that he's an unsigned word by the great Botticelli. He drives Giovanni crazy, exposing his wife's affair, causing his son to think he's insane and sending Giovanni on a trip round Europe to find out exactly who owns this painting. As he searches, he learns about the history of this painting and uncovers a family secret.

What I really like about the book is that although it introduces a lot of information about art history, it never feels like a textbook. Or at least, I never felt like I was being force-fed information. Plus, since it's about art in World War II, I found it pretty interesting and would have probably read a non-fiction book about it anyway. Having it in a story is like a bones.

As for characters, well, I liked Giovanni and the Count. Giovanni was a sympathetic protagonist, and the Count was amusing. Giovanni's son Mau was a nice, if unremarkable side character. But, I never actually understood his new wife Arabella. She has an affair with another man, and Giovanni is understandably angry, but the way they reconciled was... muted to say the least. Arabella seems to treat it more like a business than anything else.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book, and managed to finish it in a day. I thought it was interesting, and I enjoyed the magical talking portrait (who's reason for existence isn't really explained. The portrait isn't sure why he exists either, although he has a hypothesis, and there is no other signs of magic). Plus, I learnt something, assuming the history portrayed in this book was accurate.

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

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Hollow by Agatha Christie

It's been so long before I read an Agatha Christie mystery. I actually finished so many of them in Secondary school that I get nervous whenever I open a new one, because it means that I have one less mystery to read (although I suppose there are always re-reads).

Hercule Poirot is conveniently next to a murder (doesn't he always?) This time, the family involved is the Angkatells, including the very random but perceptive Lucy, the poor cousin Midge, the talented artist Henrietta, the shy cousin Edward and the guests brilliant John Christow and his slow wife Gerda. The weekend is abruptly interrupted when John Christow is found shot, and Gerda is holding the gun. It looks like an open and shut case, but the clues seem to lead to everyone and yet no-one.

The interesting part of the case is, of course, the different relationships. Gerda worships John, but John is annoyed by her. Instead, he loves, or thinks he loves, Henrietta. There's also Veronica, his selfish first love that's back. Edward has been crushing on Henrietta for a long long time, and Lucy is just callous enough to be able to do it (although she has no motive).

I love Lucy (Yay, I got to use that line!) She's the sort of random that I aspire to. She says the most nonsensical things, and does the most outrageous things, but yet she's never in trouble. Plus, she figured out what was happening before Poirot did. As another character (her long-suffering husband, who for the sake of a good night's sleep, locks the doors to his loving wife) says:
"I always think Lucy has a brilliant mind that expresses itself like a missing word competition. To mix metaphors - the hammer jumps from nail to nail and never fails to hit each one squarely on the head."
This was a fun mystery to read. It's got an enjoyable cast of characters, and the final solution was unexpected, but yet made sense.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - Dark Sun, Bright Moon by Oliver Sparrow

Guess what? This week, I received a very rare print book for review! Since I live in Japan, most books I get are ebooks, because, really, shipping costs. Sigh.

All together now. OOOOOOOOOOH
So, as soon as I got my hands on Dark Sun, Bright Moon, I started reading it. Both happily and sadly, it's a really thick book, which means lots to read, but not outside. I don't think this will fit into any of my bags. Not without straining a shoulder or something.

Anyway, my teaser from roughly the middle of the book:

"The yachaq' of Nauta and Apurimac had not at all taken to each other at their first meeting. In addition, it became clear that the village yachaq' deeply resented treatment that Q'ilyasisa had started to offer the sick." (page 353)

Now, what is your Teaser Tuesday this week?

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of Shouldbereading. To participate, simply share two sentences from a book you're currently reading.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Face to Face with Jesus by Samaa Habib

Happy 2015 everyone! I hope your New Year has been enjoyable :D I managed to travel a lot. Well, now school has started and I'm starting to come down to earth, so here's my review of the last book I read for 2014.

Face to Face with Jesus is the testimony of Samaa Habib, a Christian who was born a Muslim in a predominantly Muslim country. She tells her story of her childhood, how she came to Christ, and her life after accepting Christ. And one day, two terrorists bombed her Church, temporarily killing her. It was then that she came 'Face to Face with Jesus'. But to me, the meat of the book started long before her near-death experience, and while this experience is wonderful, it's not the centre of the story.

Nope, the centre of the story is how God is everywhere, even in the places where we least expect it. Consider this, Samaa's birth nearly killed her mother. She grew up during a civil war between Sunni and Shia muslims. But one day, during a free Taekwondo class, she hears the word of God. Something sparks within her that previous experiences haven't (she had attended an Orthodox Church before at the invitation of her friend). She begins to go to Church, and finally accepts Christ. And through her living testimony, she manages to bring her mother, her sisters and most of her family to Christ. And in turn, they are powerful testimony as they model God's love in a country that persecutes Christians, especially Muslim-turned-Christian believers, who are apostates in their eyes.

Samaa's story was a good end-of-2014 book for me because it was a wake-up call. It is so easy to keep quiet when you're the minority, even if unlike Samaa, you don't face the threat of death for your faith. God has reminded me to be a loud and loving witness wherever I am.

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