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!