Wednesday, December 28, 2016

SEA Reading Challenge + 2016 Roundup!

So I've been thinking about the kind of reading challenge that I want to do in 2017. I looked at a few, but couldn't decide on one. Then I realised... there's something that I want to do. I want to read more books from South East Asian (SEA) authors. This year, I managed to read a few Chinese and Japanese authors and I'm glad I did, but I would really like to read more from SEA. Not just stories set in SEA, but stories by people from SEA.

Which is why I decided to create my own challenge, the SEA Reading Challenge. 

If you didn't know, SEA is an area that consists of:
- Vietnam
- Laos
- Cambodia
- Thailand
- Myanmar
- Malaysia
- Indonesia
- Philippines
- Brunei
- Singapore
- East Timor

The challenge: To read books from SEA authors, not just books set in South East Asia. The purpose for this is because I want to read what the authors of these countries have to say, rather than read how other people see these countries. Books can be fiction or non-fiction

And I have no idea if anyone else apart from me will be doing this, but I set up levels because I have no idea how many books that I can find and read. The levels go like this:

- Domestic: 1-2 books
- Weekend Traveller: 3-4 books
- Exchange Student: 5-6 books
- Scholar: 7-8 Books
- ASEAN: 9 or more books

If you have recommendations or would like to join, please comment below!

2016 Reading Challenge Update

Non-fiction Reading Challenge 2016

Hosted by the Introverted Reader, I aimed for the master level and suceeded! To be honest, I lost track after a while, but I read at least 31 books. Here's a partial list:

Targeted and Trolled by Rosayln Warren
Of Sugar and Snow by Jeri Quinzo
The Zero Marginal Cost Society by Jeremy Rifkin
Lawyer Games by Dep Kirkland
Monsters by David Gilmore
The Shift by Lynda Gratton
The Science of Monsters by Matt Kaplan
How to be a Brit by George Mikes
The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter
An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabinga
Elegant Entrepreneur by Danielle Tate 
The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter 
Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World by Tristan Donovan
Candyfreak by Steve Almond
Tea: The Drink that Changed the World by Laura C. Martin
The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
Ctrl+Z by Meg Leta Jones
The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser
The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan
Blur by Bill Kovach
Women Talk More Than Men by Abby Kaplan
Sushi & Beyond by Michael Booth
The Road to Character by David Brooks
The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale
Natural Curiosity by Lisa Carne
Give and Take by Adam Grant
Forgiving my Daughter's Killer by Kate Grosmaire 
The Tank Man's Son by Mark Bouman
Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman
Linked by Albert Lazlo Babarasi

Once Upon a Time X

Another impulse challenge, I'm really glad that I managed to do this. All in all, I finished three quests: Quest the First, Quest the Second, and Quest on Screen

The Complete Alice in Wonderland by C.S. Lewis, adapted by Leah Moore, John Reppion, Erica Awano (Fairytale)
Memories of Ash by Instisar Khanani (Fantasy)
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (Mythology)
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George (Fairytale)
Sabriel by Garth Nix (Fantasy)
The Folklore of Discworld (Folklore)

Best Books of 2017

There are only 7 books on the list this year, and out of the seven, only 2 are fiction! I think it's because I like most stories, but for it to become a 'top' book, it has to really, really stand out. By comparison, it's easier for nonfiction to stand out because it's their content that matters most.

In no particular order, we have:

The Shift by Lynda Gratton

A friend recommended this to me, and now I'll recommend it to all of you. It's on the future of work and all the predictions are based on macro-trends happening now. Of course, things change (2016 has been a huge year of change), but quite a lot of the changes she mentioned are permanent, at least in my opinion.

And while I disagree with a few things, I really like that this book is very global in outlook, and that it uses case studies to illustrate her points. It makes it a lot easier to understand what the author wants to say.

This was one of my top books because of how thought provoking it was, and because it's something that will concern all of us.

Full review

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina

I think quite a few people would have seen the film Hotel Rwanda, or have heard of the Rwandan genocide. At least, I learnt about it and watched the movie during secondary school.

Even if you have, and even if you haven't, you should read this autobiography. Paul Rusesabagina is an extraordinary man who put his life at risk to save 1268 Tutsi and moderate Hutus. And the even more amazing thing is that he thinks that this is the normal thing to do.

Mr. Rusesabagina has come under some criticism, and he admits that he had to be friendly to some evil people at times in order to call in favours, but I think that he has done great work.

His story is powerful and inspiring, and we should all learn from his example.

Full Review

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

This is one of the two fiction novels on the list and looking back, I want to read it again!

It's the biography of a very talented author named Miss Vida Winters (I want her talent) as she tells it to the protagonist. The story is told piece by piece, and in extremely beautiful language.

It does seem to inspire either great love or loathing, so while I recommend it, I understand that it's a risky recommendation.

Full Review

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Loved loved loved this book because how often do you see Chinese-inspired steampunk? (Although it feels a lot more like Epic Fantasy to me) If you're familiar with Chinese history, then a lot of things will resonate with you. I mean, quite a lot resonated with me and I only know the basics.

I also managed to read the sequel, The Wall of Storms this year and while I found that captivating as well, it totally broke my heart and I'm not sure if I can continue the series.

But yeah, read The Grace of Kings. Totally worth it.

Full Review

The Road to Character by David Brooks

How do people live full, contented lives?

While people in the past didn't live perfect lives, it's possible to look at some notable figures and learn from them. So through 8 biographies of people like Augustine, Frances Perkins, Philip Randolph and many more, David Brooks considers the elements that make up a contented life and how we can balance two contradicting aspects of our personalities.

Full Review

Peak by Anders Ericsson

From the guy that brought us the 10,000 hour rule comes Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise.

Anders Ericsson explains what is purposeful practice is and how that can make us 'experts'. It's useful if there's a particular skill that you want to become good at.

I borrowed this from the library but I totally intend to buy my own copy some day.

Full Review

Grit by Angela Duckworth

I think this should be read with Peak. It's basically on grit - what it is, why it's important and how you can cultivate it.

While the focus is very narrow, I think it's worth reading because this is something that we will use (or not use) in almost everything we do. And if we intend to stick with something, then it makes sense to learn as much as possible so that you can follow through.

Full Review

Friday, December 23, 2016

Dayre Book Recommendations

Merry Christmas in advance!! I don't intend to blog over the Christmas to New Year season (except for a round up post), but that's mostly because I really need to finish my graduation thesis during the winter break.

Anyway, I've been using a blogging/social media site called Dayre. It's smartphone based, and you basically update your day in 500 character posts. Everything posted within one day gets collected into one long post. I use it mostly to blog about my daily life, but I do ocassionally talk about books and got to know a few other bookworms! A few days ago, I asked them for book recommendations, and I figured that since it's the season of giving, I should share them here too!

Dayre uses usernames, which I wrote as @username. And after each recommendation, I wrote my thoughts (basically whatever is after the colon is by me, just so I don't cause more confusion).

From @samanthatya

- Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender: Available from NLB so I have this bookmarked! The blurb indicates it's about the secrets of an asylum (ok the title indicates this too)

- The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison (hopefully I have the right book): Haven't found this yet, but it looks so fascinating! About girls who have been kidnapped and tattooed to be 'butterflies' by a madman.

Samantha wrote a post on why she loves reading and gave some awesome recommendations! It's focused on fairytale retellings (especially the darker ones), so you should click on the link if you're interested.

From @enigg

- The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien: I have this on my bookshelf! But I think it's best appreciated if you've already read LOTR, because it's basically the myths of the world

- Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin (also recommended by @crystalhzf ): I've read the first book, and while I quite liked it, it reminded me of an extremely violent Taiwanese drama (think 'Ai'). Perhaps I'll read the second book sometime.

From @happygo_lucky

- Chicken Soup for the Soul: I loved this series when I was younger too! It's so heartwarming and an easy read.

- The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: Funnily enough, I think I've actually read the first chapter, and then for some reason stopped. I wonder why, since I rarely give up so early.

From @kyaro

- Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof: the blurb shows that this is about women's rights, and it has a lot of good reviews too! Will have to check this out.

- As a Man Thinketh by James Allen: This sounds like a self-help on how your mind affects your actions. Hope I didn't misread the blurb :p

From @sarahfied

- Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews: she's currently reading this one, and I think I read it a long time ago, but I can't remember if I liked it or not. And since it was before I started blogging about books (I think? Definitely before I started Goodreads), I have no review to reference.

From @puffyjoy

- The Black Isle by Sandi Tan: A friend's review says this is an alternate imagining of Singapore, which is definitely intriguing. Gotta look for this next time I want to read some local fiction (though another review says China but I suppose if you're not familiar with Singapore...)

From @vanduhlism

- Divided Minds by Pamela Spiro Wagner and Carolyn S. Spiro: This is on schizophrenia, which is something that I know next to nothing about. Another non-fiction book for the TBR list (I feel like I might go on a non-fiction binge soon, but so many fiction books to read too!!)

From @mulanthesecond

Historical fiction recommendations:

- Books by Anchee Min, especially Empress Orchid: I have the book, but I can't recall if I read it or not :p Guess I'll have to reread to find out.

- Books by Yip Mingmei: I took a quick look at Goodreads and Secret of a Thousand Beauties caught my eye. It looks to be about Ghost Brides, which should be interesting.

- Books by Lisa See: I have Shanghai Girls on my TBR but I haven't gotten round to reading it. I really should!

Political Science Recommendations:

- From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp

- Democracy Kills by Humphrey Hawksley

Both books sound interesting but Democracy Kills especially so! Sounds thought provoking.

About North Korea:

- The Invitation-Only Zone by Robert S. Boynton: this is on the North Korean abduction project. I haven't read anything about this so it sounds fascinating!

From @panthera

Most of the books are animal-related nonfiction! I haven't read any of them, and they look pretty interesting so I'll have to check them out sooner or later. They were written in a post hashtagged #Claudiareads, and I don't have the link at hand, which means I can't link it now ><

- The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

- Part of the Pride by Kevin Richardson

- American Zoo by David Grazian

- The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

- In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall (yeah, that Jane Goodall!)

- Jame Herriot's trilogy: All Creatures Great and Small and the rest (I saw these in the MG library and always thought about reading them but never really picked them up)

- The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell

From @alwaysmore

- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: Sounds like a very powerful character driven novel about 4 classmates. And coincidentally, I heard good things about it today, so I hope to get to read it in the future.

Every time I start to think that I read a lot, something comes along to remind me that there are tons of books that I haven't read yet. All I know that is in 2017, I'll have lots of books to look out for!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Sisters of Fortune by Jehanne Wake

Sisters of Fortune is the biography of the Canton sisters, the four granddaughters of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. As this implies, the girls came from an extremely privileged (and wealthy) background.

Perhaps unusually, all four of them were raised to be smart, independent women. They could discuss politics, knew why they thought and believed the way they did, were money savvy (and even invested!), and they even chose who they were going to marry (OK, this was the Regency era so I'm not sure if that's normal or not).

The bulk of the book is about when three of the four sisters went to England. They were: Marianne, Elizabeth (Bess), and Louisa. The one who stayed behind was Emily. And in the end, all three of those who went ended up married to British aristocracy and assimilated into British society, well before the age of the American 'Dollar Princess'.

This book is fascinating and detailed. It's a little formal, as are most biographies, but still very readable. If you're interested in how the upper class of that time lived, then you're in for a treat.

And by the way, I don't think that I have a favourite sister. I think all four of them are amazing and admirable women. They all chose different paths, but they had their own agency throughout, which is the most important thing (not gonna make any judgements on who has the happy ending).

If you're into biographies, then you should definitely get this. I really enjoyed reading it, and not only is it pretty rare to see how women acted in history (at least in history books), and I think transatlantic incidences are even rarer. (Of course, this is based on my limited history knowledge, since I didn't take formal lessons past O Levels).

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Teaser Tuesday: The Grand Tour by Agatha Christie

IT'S CHRISTMAS WEEK!

Doesn't feel much like Christmas though, since I was at school today (and had a test). Plus my family went back yesterday so...

But on to happier topics, I'm currently reading The Grand Tour by Agatha Christie. It's about the 10 month tour she did and apparently it's told through her letters and photos. I'm pretty excited about reading it - I started today and only finished the preface so far.

My teaser:
"He gave me something which 'might quieten things down,' he said, but as it came up as soon as it got inside my stomach it was unable to do me much good. I continued to groan and feel like death, and indeed look like death; for a woman in a cabin not far from mine, having caught a few glimpses of me through the open door, asked the stewardess with great interest: 'Is the lady in the cabin opposite dead yet?'."
That was Christie talking about seasickness. I'm glad that I never had it!

I hope everyone has a great Christmas week!
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday: 
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, December 19, 2016

How Change Happens by Duncan Green

How Change Happens is an ambitious book that not only aims to explain the mechanisms behind change, but also to provide change-makers a blueprint they can use to effect change. I'm going to be honest and say that this book impressed me from the introduction, so I'm probably pretty biased. The author starts out by admitting that:
"[I]n the end, this is a book written by a white, Western (and rapidly aging) male, and it inevitably echoes my experiences, networks, culture, assumptions, and prejudices. Please don't forget that, while you're reading it. "
Consider how rare it is for people to admit their bias, I was immediately impressed by this, and had a pretty good feeling of this book. Because while a lot of people like to call on others to "check your privilege", they rarely check their own privileges (unless it's to brag/make a point, which is also not that common)

The book basically introduces and explains what the author calls a "power and systems approach". Basically, a PSA works two ways: looking backwards at past stories of change to see what kind of questions should be ask, and to avoid "the tendency to think that whatever changed was 100 per cent down to the activists concerned", and looking forwards, because "a PSA acknowledges we can't anticipate those critical junctures, so it is essential to 'expect the unexpected' by putting good feedback and response systems in place."

Part one is an introduction, looking at system thinking, how power lies at the heart of change (and the different types of power and changes that can happen) as well as looking at how shifts in social norms often underpin change. The case study was on the Chiquitanos of Bolivia. I had lots of highlights, but I wanted to share this:
"Unfortunately, the way we commonly think about change projects onto the future the neat narratives we draw from the past. Many of the mental models we use are linear plans - "if A, then B"- with profound consequences in terms of failure, frustration, and missed opportunities. "
Part 2 is on the how states evolve, how laws can be very effective in getting real change happening, how media and politics work, and to what extent the international system shapes change. And a chapter on transnational corporations and how they affect change. The case study for this is on the December 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Part 3 focuses on activists, leaders, and advocacy, and I was surprised to see Lee Kuan Yew mentioned, though not really discussed. But out of the three chapters in this section, I really liked this section in the chapter on leadership, because it sums up the different between feminine and feminist approaches to leadership very well:
"A feminine approach to leadership recognises that women often bring a greater attention to collaboration, collective decision making, and building relationships, characteristics that fall well within the traditional gendered roles of women. In contrast, a feminist approach seeks to transform relations of power, paying close attention to 'power within' and 'power with', as well as hidden and invisible power."
The last section is basically a summary of the whole thing.

The narrative style reminds me of an interesting lecture. It's formal, but readable and occasional moments of humour. Plus, the author manages to work in the phrase 'conscious uncoupling' which made me laugh. The author also draws on his experiences too, which I found very illuminating.

"Western campaigners tend to dumb down the complex realities of messy conflicts into simple narratives of good and bad to be remedied by simple solutions (preferably delivered by the West). Such narratives squeeze out the more nuanced views of local people and the deeper, underlying causes of conflict, and end up promoting superficial victories rather than real change. "

In conclusion, if you are interested in learning how change works, or if you're interested in effecting some change yourself, then you should definitely read this book. While it's not a step-by-step manual, it does explain things in a way that shows you the path you should be taking.

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

Friday, December 16, 2016

Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I found this book via Wendy @ Literary Feline, when she talked about books she planned to give as gifts. The book sounded amazing and the library has a copy, so why not? I've read Before We Visit the Goddess, which is by the same author, and loved it so I had very high hopes. And luckily this did not disappoint!

Sister of My Heart follows Sudha and Anju, two cousins who are more like sisters. They have an incredibly tight bond, but one day, Sudha discovers something about her past that calls everything she knows about their relationship into doubt. And even though she is madly in love with someone, she agrees to her arranged marriage because it will make Anju happy.

While Anju loves the man her mother has picked for her, she discovers on her wedding day that he has fallen in love with Sudha (who has done absolutely nothing except be beautiful). But she is moving to America with him, and so sort of manages an escape.

And then the rest of the book happens, but I don't want to spoil it for you so let's live it as that.

What I really loved about this book is the language. The language is absolutely beautiful, and so extremely lyrical. It brings you into the mind of Sudha and Anju, and I found that I really sympathised and was rooting for both of them to be able to find their own happiness.

Where the book falters is when it comes to the male characters. With the exception of Singhji, the chauffeur, the male characters never really come to live. I didn't really mind, but it seems like it would be important in the second book.

And yes, there is a second book. I'm sort of hesitant to read it because it promises heartbreak. I might just borrow it (if it's available) and just read the ending or something.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

Even though it was extremely addictive (super hard to put down when reading), I'm in two minds as to whether I want to continue the series or not.

The Wall of Storms is the sequel to The Grace of Kings, which I absolutely loved when I read it. But, I also read a volume of Romance of the Three Kingdoms between the two so when I first started this, I was very confused as to what happened in The Grace of Kings because it drew pretty heavily on Chinese history.

But luckily most of the main characters here are new, so I got used to it after a few chapters. The "main characters" from The Grace of Kings are: Kuni Garu and his wives (Jia and Risana), Gin, and Luan. The new characters are: Kuni's kids (Thera, Phyro, Timu and Fara) and Zomi.

To be honest, out of the four kids, only Thera made a strong and positive impression. Fara seemed to be more of a prop, Phyro was unmemorable and I wanted to punch Timu at the end of the book.

But it's a large cast of characters and I suppose I can't expect to love and remember all of them. Oh, and even though I didn't mention their names, plenty of characters from the previous book do appear, they just don't play as big a role.

The Wall of Storms can roughly be divided into two halves: How an Empire keeps its peace and The Foreigners Invade. I liked the first half better, but that's because despite having their history, I couldn't stand the invaders (Lyucu people).

And while I liked how the plot moved for most of the book, there was a series of chapters (that was essentially all flashbacks) during the invasion that I skimmed. I suppose important information might have been there and I might have missed some (hence my inability to sympathise with the invaders), but I wanted to read about how the fighting would turn out, not about the past. I wish those chapters could have been moved somewhere else.

Oh yes, the 'Greek chorus' using the Gods of Dara felt about the same as before. I liked it, especially when they meddled, and I thought their changes based on how the invading people thought about them pretty interesting.

And now for why I'm in two minds about continuing the series. While the writing was gripping, Jia is making me seriously reconsider reading on. I much preferred her to Risana, Kuni's other wife (although I don't think I mentioned it in my first review - just that I liked her) and the path that she is taking is just breaking my heart. I'm quite afraid that her end will not be what I hope for her, which is why I'm considering stopping here.

In a way, I guess I should have listened to myself in my first review (that I checked to refresh my memory about the book) and not have read on, because the ending of the first book was much more hopeful than this one. Plus, even though this isn't really a cliffhanger ending, it's so obviously leading to a third book so it doesn't feel as 'complete' as the first was.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Shakespeare on Page and Stage by Stanley Wells

When I read the introduction, the idea that jumped out at me was "readable academic essays." Which seems like a paradox in itself, but as the introduction promised, this is an enjoyable collection of academic analysis on Shakespeare.

The essays are divided into four sections: Shakespearian Influences, Essays on Particular Works, Shakespeare in the Theatre, and Shakespeare's text. It's going to be impossible to summarise all twenty nine essays, but rest assured that this work will give people who are studying Shakespeare plenty to chew upon.

And though this is a readable work, it is still very dense with ideas and analysis and I found that my reading speed slowed considerably while reading it. Which is a good sign, because if it's an academic work, then I expect to read slowly in order to understand what the author is trying to say.

While this isn't the best book for a reader looking to get into the analysis of Shakespeare, readers with a working knowledge of Shakespearian criticism (in this case, I'm defining it as 'if you've studied Shakespeare in school') will probably be able to understand most of what this book says. And I'm sure the academic audience will be delighted to read it.

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

Monday, December 12, 2016

Winter Solstice: Short Stories from the Worlds of KP Novels

I wonder if you've heard of Kindle Scout before. It's this program where you can read an exerpt of a book and then vote for it (up to 3 books at a time). At the end of the campaign, the Kindle Scout staff will review the book and decide whether to publish it or not. I've actually voted for a few, then I realised that my Amazon account wouldn't let me download them because I was voting with a non-Japan store (same email though, so that's weird). Finally, though, I managed to read it using the cloud reader and that brings me to this novel - short stories from various Kindle Scout winners. All the stories are related to the world, and hopefully I'll find a few that I like and that I voted for (and thus received a free copy.

There are several categories involved in this, so let me go through them one by one:

Romance - I'm not really on a romance kick now, but I thought they were pretty good. Out of the three stories, I liked "Coconutty Christmas: Holiday in Hawaii", which was a fun look at what happens when a staff member of a Hawaiian resort gets attracted to one of the guests (and vice versa)

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Horror - I thought the stories here were really strong, but that's probably because I've always like these genres. I liked all three, but my vote for this category would be for Awash in Christmas Spirit, which is about Beth, a 15 year old who can heal people. Kind of sadly, I didn't vote for this so I don't have a copy to read.

Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense - This was the most uneven category for me (and the one with 6 stories, twice the number of the previous two). Some stories were great, while I just wasn't feeling a few of the stories - there were some passages where I felt like information was being recapped. I really liked Killing Anna, which had a really great twist that left me questioning who the real killer was. The book it's related to is Random Acts of Unkindness, which I actually voted for and have! Quite excited to read that! All I Want for Christmas was pretty good too, and I liked how the story moved (and the fact that it had a happy ending! If it's a Christmas story or has Christmas in the title, I kinda want it to have a happy ending).

Literary Fiction - There was only one story here, and I wasn't really feeling it, but I'm picky when it comes to literary fiction anyway.

Overall, this is a pretty good collection to get if you've got a bunch of books and you don't know what to read first. The stories should be pretty representative of the author, and I'm hoping that if I like the short story, I'll enjoy the novel too. After all, I did like the first few chapters enough to vote for it.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a free and honest review.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura

This week has been rather hectic, so here's another short review. I read The Book of Tea and it's only 74 'pages' on my iPad, so a really quick read.

The Book of Tea is what its title says. It's a discussion of the Japanese perspective on tea. It has 7 chapters:

- The Cup of Humanity
- The Schools of Tea
- Taoism and Zennism
- The Tea-room
- Art Appreciation
- Flowers
- Tea-masters.

There's also a mini-biography of the author, which helps explain why he wrote the book.

The author's love of tea comes across very clearly in this book - as does his disdain for the West (although his life seemed to tell a different story). I really enjoyed the whole book and learnt a lot from it. Plus, I really love the language in it, like this passage:

Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade - all the threads are there, but not the subtlety of colour or design.

And by the way, this was originally written in English. So you can be sure that you're getting the original, not a translation without subtlety or colour.

If you like tea, you should take a look at this. I borrowed it from the NLB e-reads app, so if you have an account, you can get it straight away (if you don't, you can make one if you're an NLB member).

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Battlestar Galatica: Six by JT Krul

The reason why I requested this was rather odd. I rode the Battlestar Galatica ride at Universal Studios Singapore, and while in line, I looked the story up. From what I saw, Six seemed like an interesting character and when I saw this origin story on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it.

Battlestar Galatica: Six uses a flashback/present day narrative for Six/Eve as she tries to figure out who she is. I daren't say more, because any more and I'll probably give away quite a few spoilers.

I believe that this contains all the issues from this series, but it was pretty short. I suppose I was expecting something longer (and a lot more character development - perhaps I'm too used to novels), and the comic seemed to have ended before it begun.

Still, it was a pretty interesting origin story.

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

Monday, December 5, 2016

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

All of us have biases. We use it to look at the world and interpret the different things. That's the reason why two people can look at exactly the same thing and have two differing interpretations. And because these biases are so crucial in how we see the world, it's hard to hold them up and examine them. And it's even harder to reject them - especially when rejecting them means rejecting your entire support system as well.

And yet, that is what Nabeel Qureshi has done. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is his extremely moving testimony of how he was raised in a loving Muslim home, and how after investigating both Christianity and Islam, he ended up converting to Christianity. (Also, I just want to say - I was super surprised and happy to see that he did TOK (Theory of Knowledge). If it's the same TOK that I did, then he's a fellow IB alumni!)

This book is part testimony, part introduction to a comparison between Islam and Christianity. Of course, it's not as complete as No God but One (the later book that takes a much more in-depth view of the similarities and differences between the two religions), but it's a very good introduction to the whole thing.

There's not much more I can say. I have no regrets about buying this book, and I thought it was a very engaging, encouraging and enlightening book. Definitely a must-read, especially in the multi-religious world that we live in.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Collision of Worlds by Lincoln Cole

Just finished this second book in the Graveyard of Empires series! I'm happy that I read it soon after I finished the first book, because I suspect that if I left too much time between the two books, I would have another "The Grace of Kings" and "The Wall of Storms" problem where I couldn't remember the main characters for the first few chapters.

Collision of Worlds continues the saga, with a few more pieces moving into place for a huge, explosive ending (which will probably be in a later book). Traq, the kid that we meet in the previous book (the boy that Argus discovers) exhibits more powers. Argus doesn't get as much airtime in this book, but his co-worker, Vivian, does and I really find her character interesting! She has no idea how to raise a child, reading tons of books to compensate, and it leads to her doing some very unorthodox things. Moms may not approve of her.

Maven and Alyssa, the twins in a never-ending battle move their rivalry one step up by betting the lives of Jayson and his teammates. Darius doesn't really appear much, but from Maven's section, I got a much better sense of how the Union operates. And they really, really don't seem much better than the Republic, like I suspected in the first book.

And for the Kristi and her ship - sadly, Kristi and Abigail do not appear as much. Instead, more airtime is given to develop Abdullah, her second in command. And while Abdullah didn't really make that big an impression on me in the first book, (sorry, but Kristi totally overshadowed him) I did remember him and so his enlarged role wasn't as big as a surprise to me.

Two "new" characters are Jim and Oliver. They basically first appeared at the end of the first book, and I totally didn't expect them to start playing a big role. But I find that I quite like their storyline too - Jim's struggles to fit in with the upper class, and his tenuous friendship with Oliver was oddly captivating. And for the record, I find Jim a lot more sympathetic than Oliver, who's more practical and money-minded.

If you liked the first book, you will probably enjoy the second. The cast of characters largely stay the same, with the difference being the amount of page space given to each individual character. I still haven't decided if there's a side that I want to root for, and I look forward to finding out more and more about this world.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

This week, I briefly contemplated not doing a Teaser Tuesday. I finished a book on the train, and I was like "should I write a review? Should I do a teaser from a book I already finished?" and was in two minds about the whole thing. Then I saw Wendy's post at Literary Feline and she recommended quite a few amazing sounding books that I've never read (I'm continually reminded that as much as I think I've read, it's still not that much).

I went to the library's ebook app to search for it, and I found two of them! So I borrowed one immediately and favourited the other. And tada, I have something to share. My teaser is from the first two lines of Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: 
"They say in the old tales that the first night after a child is born, the Bidhata Purush comes down to earth himself to decide what its fortune is to be. That is why they bathe babies in sandalwood water and wrap them in soft red malmal, color of luck."
The author's name looked familiar, so I looked her up on Goodreads and I found out that she wrote Before We Visit the Goddess, which I loved. So I have really high hopes for this book!

What about you? What are you reading this week?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. 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 28, 2016

A World of Curiosities by John Oldale

A World of Curiosities sums up each nation covered at least one page (with Hong Kong/Macau and Taiwan getting their own pages), though which countries get an in-depth report seems to be arbitrarily decided. While I have no idea if this really covered every country on the planet, it did cover a lot of them. And it was a fact book, so it took me some time to finish (never mind how interesting the facts were).

Of course, Singapore is mentioned:



(First country I turned to too).

The Singapore section was a little disappointing, though. I mean, the 'Disneyland with the Death Penalty' quote is just so overused. (At least be creative and rephrase as USS with the death penalty or something). Besides, it sort of uses the same old stereotype. Then again, Cambodia's quote wasn't very flattering either. It seems like some of the entries focus too much on one aspect of a country and don't provide a balanced picture (countries that get more than one page don't tend to suffer from this).

And while some of the entries were interesting, I can't believe not a single thing about food was mentioned. Our Bak Kwa is famous, at least in Asia.

My disgruntlement arising from my own admittedly strong bias towards my home country aside, this book was pretty fun to read. I chuckled a few times (especially at the footnotes) and learnt a lot. If you have to get this book, I'd say buy a paperback copy because you want to be able to flip through it, and you won't want to have to rush through it, like a library book.



By the way, I found this in the section on Austria (page 19). It took me a while to realise eye = mata and then it all made sense.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Instafreebie Group Giveaway



Happy Thanksgiving everyone! (If you celebrate)

Guess what? I'm participating in my first ever group giveaway! Please forgive the two three exclamation marks in a row because I'm just so excited!

The giveaway is for Horror and Urban Fantasy books. There are 45 books in total, and you get get most of them free from Instafreebie! (And if it's not a free copy, it'll be a free sample)

In particular, I really recommend The Ninth Circle by Lincoln Cole (link leads to my review) and Underneath by M.N. Arzu (again, link leads to review, if you want to read more). I read and enjoyed both of them very much, and if you think they sound good from my review, then definitely go pick them up - The Ninth Circle is free and Underneath is a free sample.

Again, hope you have a great weekend!

Get your free books here

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Nightmare Before Christmas Manga

It would be impossible to look at this and not request a review copy. Luckily, my request was granted, so I didn't have to wonder what the manga version of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas looks like.


And double luckily, it's a really good adaptation! Most of the original character design had been kept (I like the way manga looks, but big sparkly manga eyes would not have been good for this). And it does have that manga-vibe, due to the font and the panelling plus backgrounds.



If you liked the movie, you'll probably like this manga adaptation. It's faithful but does have the vibe of manga to it.

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - A Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

Hey everyone! So today, I woke up to hear that a huge earthquake struck Fukushima again >< Luckily, the tsunami warnings have been rescinded and everything seems find out, though the JMA (Japan Meteorological Agency) still wants people to be careful. Since Fukushima and Fukuoka start with the same letters, my mom actually got a few messages from people about this.

Going back to books, I'm reading The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu right now. I read A Grace of Kings in April, but it has clearly been too long because when I started it I was like "who are these people? Where is Kuni Garu?" (I forgot his name got changed) I had to go back and read the blurb for The Wall of Storms and my review for A Grace of Kings before I remembered where the story left off.

Also, I can't believe I read it in April! I thought I read it last year, that's how long ago it felt.

My teaser:


"A sword leaned against the dresser to the side - though no one other than a member of the Imperial family or a palace guard was allowed to carry weapons in the palace, Queen Gin had been given this singular honor by Emperor Ragin. She as the commander of all the empire's armed forces, perhaps the most powerful noble in all Dara, yet now she was being pestered by children to play a dangerous game - breaching the security of the Grand Examination."

What about you? What are you reading this week?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. 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 21, 2016

Graveyard of Empires by Lincoln Cole

I just finished this book and it's like woah. Like the title says, this is about an empire. So, expect lots and lots of people.

Graveyard of Empires follows quite a few people. There's Argus, who discovers a very special little boy (Traq) and hands it to his trusted co-worker Vivian for safe keeping. If discovered, it could mean death for the three of them. But because Argus has a heart, he's also hatching a plot to keep his daughter safe and away from the Ministry that he works for. At the same time, there's Kristi, the new captain of her ship. She's new but likes to play 'mind games', which includes accepting Argus's offer to make his daughter her Envoy onboard the ship (an Envoy has a lot of power).

On the other side, there's Darius, leader of the rebels in the Ministry. He doesn't get much page space, but his two right hand women - Maven and Alyssa are sisters who seem to hate each other. Both are really powerful too. There's also Jayson, who's training for something, though he doesn't really know what. All he knows that if he can't make it through the training, he's dead.

And there might be a few more characters but I've forgotten them. I was, to be honest, a bit worried about whether I could keep up with all the characters, but I've found that the main players stuck in my mind so there are no worries there.

This book is really just setting the stage for a (hopefully) long series. People move into places and positions and by the end of this book, it seems like one little spark could turn into a huge flame. Plus, I still haven't quite figured out who is the "bad guy" of this book, since it seems that both Darius and the Ministry (and First Citizen, who's also very powerful) are...not good. Let's leave it at that.

Personally, my favourite characters are Captain Kristi, Alyssa and Maven. Captain Kristi because I'm very interested in seeing how she's going to command her ship, and whether she can get Abi (Argus's daughter) to help her in her plans. Plus, she has Jamar, who seems to know everything but yet we don't know anything about him. Alyssa and Maven, I liked because of their hate-hate dynamic. I look forward to seeing how that develops, and to seeing the reason why they defected with Darius.

If you're a Science-Fiction fan, you'll want to check this out.

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

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fantastic Creatures: An Anthology by Fellowship of Fantasy

The Fantastic Creatures anthology is by the Fellowship of Fantasy, a group created to provide a diverse range of fantasy stories, but without graphic scenes or swearing. So it's something that you can let kids read, though it can get pretty dark at times.

There are 21 stories in this anthology, and on the whole, they are really well-written. Generally, I preferred the stories set in a more traditional setting instead of modern day earth, but that's more because of personal preference than story quality. A few that I particularly liked were:

Snapdragon by Lea Doue: It's the princess and the frog, only that the princess is the cursed daughter of a witch (with thorns growing out of her) and the frog is a tiny dragon. I loved it.

Seekers by Intisar Khanani: I am biased because I loved Intisar's stories. This intriguing tale in selkies was short but bittersweet. I would not like to be the father in the tale, but I'm glad things worked out for Maggie.

Skin by Morgan Smith: Resembling a traditional fairytale in tone and plot, this story has an interesting female protagonist (Katya) who ends up gambling with a monstrous prince. And to think it started with a demand for a bride.

Destiny's Flight by Frank Luke: Fantastic Christian fantasy with knights and griffins! If this was a full-length series, I'll buy the book immediately (but it doesn't seem like that). I also liked that the romance was unconventional and that even though the two characters who obviously liked each other didn't end up together, we were left with the promise that they would be happy.

This is turning out to be a too-short review of every other story so I'll stop after Talori and the Shark by Jessica L. Elliot. It reminds me of that myth about Cupid where he got married but his wife wasn't allowed to see his face, only this takes place underwater and with mermaids! Intrigued, right?

ETA: I've been told that this issue has been corrected, but since it's a whole paragraph of the review, I'm just leaving it here. The only story that made me stop and go "oh no" in dismay was The Kappa by Leila Rose Foreman. It's not a bad story, but every time Hanako calls her mother "mama-san", I just wince. And nope, there's no indication that her mother actually is a mama-san. Considering how basic knowledge of this word is (Wikipedia has a page on this - in English!), the mistake shouldn't have been made. I don't know if the author will see this review but hopefully, it gets corrected soon.

Overall, this is a strong and diverse collection of fantasy short stories. There's enough variety in setting and tone and plot that there should be something for everyone.

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

Thursday, November 17, 2016

100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings by Sarah Cooper

A fun, short book that does what the title says. Some of the tricks include:

#39: When someone asks a question, look at the person who you think has the answer.

#57: Say "That's a great question" before you avoid each question.

#82: To get out of a conversation, say you have some people waiting on you.

Each trick comes with an explanation on exactly how it's going to go down, plus an illustration. There are also sections like "famous meetings throughout history" (I found this very funny), "Advanced meeting power moves to get you promoted (or fired)" as well as what to do at business dinners (those are the last ten tips). And of course, the book also 'teaches' you what to do after a meeting to appear smart.

I think it would be better to read this a little at a time, because reading it all at one go will probably make the jokes at the end seem unfunny. After all, it's just variants on the theme of "how to pretend to look productive without actually doing anything."

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

As a general rule, I love Kristin Hannah's books and The Nightingale is no exception.

The Nightingale is set in Nazi Occupied France and follows two sisters - Isabelle, who wishes desperately to help the war effort and Vianne, who just wants her husband to come home and to keep her daughter safe. Both of them do very different things, but both of them were strong and brave in their own way.

To be honest, I didn't like Isabelle for the first half or so of the book (even after she started doing heroic things). I know that what she did was incredible, but her inability to see anyone's point of view but hers and her preoccupation on her feelings was annoying. But luckily she did grow up, and by the end of the book, I quite liked her as a character.

Vianne was a character I liked from the start, probably because she had her flaws, but was also focused on keeping things as normal (and safe) as possible for her daughter. She was a real lady, because it's easy to let your anger show but hard to keep it in. Although she was not honoured as much as Isabelle by the end of the book, I think her achievements were equal to her sister's.

The story is loosely framed as a flashback, but that only matters towards the end, because many years are needed for closure for the characters. For the most part, I was firmly in the horrifying past.

I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a moving story of love and bravery during war.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - Fantastic Creatures by Fellowship of Fantasy

Hey everyone!! I hope you're having a good start to the week. Right now, I'm enjoying a short story anthology from the Fellowship of Fantasy, which basically tries to have stories without explicit violence, sex or swearing (doesn't mean everything is happy and light though. Some stories are quite dark).

And I'm really enjoying the stories so I'm having a good start to the week.

My teaser:
"To arms! To arms! Wake the citizenry and seal the city! The King's body has been stolen!" 
One of the black-clad figures pulled off his gag. "So much for the mannequin." 
"I really thought that would fool them until morning, another replied. "Maybe it shouldn't have been smiling."
I know this isn't two sentences, but if you don't have them all, the joke loses its punch.

And now, I should get back to preparing for my graduation thesis. I'm a little bit behind :p

What are you reading this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. 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 14, 2016

Invisible Planets Translated and Edited by Ken Liu

If you read fantasy/steampunk, you may have heard of The Grace of Kings. If you read sci-fi, you may know The Three Body Problem. Ken Liu is related to both these works - he is the author of the former and the translator of the latter. So when I heard that he has translated and edited a collection of Chinese Sci-Fi, I knew I had to read it.

The anthology had stories from Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Ma Boyong, Hao Jingfang (who contributed the story that gives the collection its name), Tang Fei, Cheng Jingbo and the man of the hour, Liu Cixin. The authors, while all writing Sci-Fi, all have write in the different subgenres, which makes this a pleasure to read.

I'm not going to review each story individually, but I will say that if you're read The Three Body Problem, Liu Cixin's The Circle will feel familiar to you.

My favourite story has got to be A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight, which is about robots, ghosts and even talks about tourism! Actually, I think Xia Jia (the author of this story) is my favourite author of them all because I enjoyed all three stories that were contributed.

Liu Cixin's stuff was good too, though that may be because I already have a very good impression of him. But in general, all the authors wrote enjoyable stories (though I didn't completely understand a few of them).

At the end of the collection, there are three essays: "The world of all possible universes and the best of all possible earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction", "The Torn Generation: Chinese Science Fiction in a Culture of Transition" and "What makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?" All three are pretty interesting and definitely worth reading too.

The only part of the book I didn't really agree with was the request not to view the works through Western lens. While I think it's an interesting exercise if the reader wants to, Reader-Response Criticism is a valid way of reading texts. And in its most extreme form (if I'm remembering correctly), the author's intentions don't even factor into the interpretation. I'm all for reading stories the way you want to read them, so asking people to avoid a particular way of reading isn't really something I can get behind. Basically, if you want to read and digest it naturally, go ahead. If you want to try and read without preconceived notions, then go ahead and do that.

Plus, if you have a story about censorship that was censored to pass the Chinese censors, I think it's not a wild/extremely unorthodox thing to read it as being about the censorship by the Chinese government.

If you're looking to widen your reading horizon but still want to stick to the English language, definitely get this collection. It's a good look (though as Ken Liu admits, not comprehensive) at Chinese Sci-Fi.

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

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

This could have been a great book. I mean, look at the title. Doesn't that make you want to read it immediately? However, while the title promises a fun time, the book itself proves to be rather dull.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is supposed to be about Abdel Kader Haidara, who saved thousands of incredibly rare manuscripts from Al Qaeda militants. And you know, all the parts of the book that concerned him were fantastic. I really loved reading about him and how he collected the books then protected them. This would be the first half of the book, which I found very enjoyable.

However, the book spends too much time on backstory. And not the kind that I was looking for. I thought the history of the scribes in Timbuktu was important and well written, but the history of Al Qaeda and Islamic purists in the region? Not what I wanted to read. Quite a few chapters could have been summarised into a page or less, because while the background is important, I didn't pick up the book to learn about that.

So while I started out very positive and liking this book, by the time I finished, I was rather disappointed. The story of how priceless manuscripts were preserved was completely overwhelmed by history and detailed explanation of how Islamic militants were taking over and operating in Timbuktu and the region.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Promise of Things by Ruth Quibell

The Promise of Things is a collection of essays exploring our relationship to inanimate objects. Why do we treasure some of them? How do objects affect the way we live, the way we think about things? I particularly like this quote as a representation of the book:
"[T]he object is always transforming or mediating our relationships to the world in some way. A car, for instance, transforms our relationships to space and time. A mirror changes our relationship to light and, more of than not, our own appearance." 
Most of the chapters start off with some personal anecdote or the other, so it's easy to think that this is a personal exploration of things and how the author relates to them. But, it has a surprising amount of outside sources woven into the text, making this a scholarly work as much as it is a personal one.

My favourite chapters in this book would be Chapter 5 "The Velvet Jacket" and Chapter 7 "The Singer Sewing Machine". The Velvet Jacket is a look at aspiration items, things that we imagine that once we own, will change our lives. But this isn't quite true. As the book puts it:
"The intriguing, the beautiful, and the coveted object can suggest this future and give it an aspect of tangible reality, but it is only us who can do the difficult practical, emotional and psychological work to bridge the gap between optimistic hopes and reality[.]"
The Singer Sewing Machine looks at "handmade objects" and why they have been so popular in recent times. Handmade vs store-bought is more than just value for money versus convenience, it represents a set of ideals and is a way we react to our current world.

Oh, and the last 'chapter', "Foucault's Toolbox" is really the references she used when writing the book. It gave me a surprise when I read it, so I thought I'd mention it here.

All in all, this is a beautifully written little book that takes a deep look at the things around us, and hopefully, can spark its reader to consider how they react to their things.

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

Hey everyone! How's your week going? I was in Saga for the Saga International Balloon Fiesta (pictures below) for the past five days so I almost forgot that today was Tuesday :p

Right now, I'm reading The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, but there isn't really enough librarian superhero stuff going on for me.

Anyway, my teaser:
"On Friday morning, January 25, 2013, fifteen jihadis entered the restoration and conservation rooms on the ground floor of the Ahmed Baba Institute in Sankore, the government library that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had taken over the previous April. For nearly a year, thousands of manuscripts left behind by Ahmed Baba staff had been sitting in the open, stacked on shelves and lying on restoration tables, while the jihadis prayed, trained, ate, and slept around them." 
What is your teaser this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. 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!
Here are two photos from my trip!


Monday, November 7, 2016

The Murderer's Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

I heard about The Murder's Daughter from Colline's Teaser Tuesday and it intrigued me so much that I immediately borrowed a copy.

The Murderer's Daughter follows Grace, whose mom killed her (Grace's) father and then herself when Grace was nine years old. A prodigy, Grace managed to have a good childhood and now works as a pyschologists for those related to victims of terrible crimes. As a way to unwind, she likes to sleep with random guys. One day, a new client comes to her office - and he's the guy she picked up the night before. When he's found dead, Grace starts to feel a sense of danger and decides to investigate his murder.

To be honest, the first eight chapters did not grab my attention. But I remembered that I wanted to read it and pushed through and was, luckily, rewarded. Once Grace starts hunting down the murderer and why, things start to get interesting. Coupled with the flashbacks to her childhood (there's this past/present narrative) structure, I was sufficiently engrossed till the end. The ending, on the other hand, was a let down because we never got the confirmation for Grace's theories. They are convincing theories, but it would be nice to get proof, if you know what I mean.

I thought about why the first eight chapers felt slow, and I think it's because the style was rather "literary" when it came out. There was a lot of describing and telling me things which I frankly was not interested in. But as the action increased, the style sort of disappeared and I started to enjoy the book.

Surprisingly, this book's strongest point is the middle section. The starting and ending, however, were let downs for me. As a character, Grace is alright, though I can't say I was brought into her head, probably because of the narrative style.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Note: I'll be headed to Saga to volunteer in the Saga International Balloon Fiesta tomorrow, so I may not be able to post for the rest of the week. 

I bought Grit because I couldn't find it in the library AND IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT.

Grit is really about the power of perseverance and should definitely be read with Peak by Anders Ericsson (there's actually a chapter dedicated to deliberate practice, but Peak goes into much more detail).

This book is divided into three parts:

Part 1: Why is Grit and Why it Matters

Basically, Grit is this combination of passion and perseverance for long term goals and it is found in a lot of high achievers. So while talent does play a role in how successful you are, grit plays a huge role too. Angela Duckworth represents it using the formula:

Talent x effort = skill ⇨ skill x effort = achievement.

So to repeat:

Talent is not the be-all and end-all (though it may give you that initial advantage)

And by the way, there is a grit scale (you can find it on her site) and I'm only about 3.7/5, which according to her means I'm grittier than about 50% of Americans.

Clearly I'm not an exceptionally gritty person. My longest runny "passion" has probably been stories (reading, and then reading and writing them) and "business" (but which area of business changes pretty often). Plus my 123456 thousand interests at any one time (knitting, sewing, cooking, etc)

Luckily, there's hope:

Part 2: Growing Grit from the Inside Out

Luckily for me, you can grow grit. You need your interest (or passion), then you need to stick with it and practice it (that was the chapter on deliberate practice), and one way to keep at it is if your passion has a purpose (does it help others? E.g. The sommelier who wants everyone to enjoy wine). And of course, have a positive growth mindset (aka hope) and don't get too negative about things.

But no man is an island, so

Part 3: Growing Grit from the Outside In

This last part is about how we can cultivate grit in others, and the author admits that this is the part with the least amount of research. But she feels that authoritative/wise parenting (being loving and demanding), which is not to be confused with authoritarian parenting (being demanding but not loving) may be the way to go.

And of course, since we're all slightly lemming-like, seeking out a culture of grittiness does help. If everyone around us is pushing their limits and never giving up, then it's easier for us to push ourselves to the limit too.

Conclusion:

You really, really need to read this book. It takes one topic and focuses on it, which means that by the end of the book one gets a much deeper understanding of what grit is and how we can cultivate it.

This went way beyond what I heard in the Freakonomics podcast, though the podcast did cover the basics. If you think the podcast is enough, then you don't need to read the book, but if you found that you wanted more, then get the book.

The book itself is very easy to read, with lots of anecdotes to back up the studies that the author did at West Point, or the other studies that are related. There is a recommended reading, which I totally intend to read (and I see I've read at least two of the books on that list, and I loved those two so it's a good sign).

Monday, October 31, 2016

A Feast of Sorrows by Angela Slatter

This book is really dark, really twisted, and all around amazing. A Feast of Sorrows is a collection of short stories. Some are based on the fairytales we know, such as 'Bluebeard's Daughter'. Others are original but contain elements of fairytales. Many of them are twisted and quite adult (even if there are no explicit scenes). Do expect coarse language too, which is a roundabout way of saying that all of these tales feel more like the original Grimm fairytales than the Disney version, or darker so please don't give them to your kids or younger teenagers to read.

All the stories take place in the same world, and while there is no direct continuity, the stories in the second half reference each other fairly frequently. A few of the same characters pop up, though the first such story (St Dymphna's School for Poison Girls) didn't captivate me because I had no idea what was going on. I like a little mystery in the backstory, but too much and I just get lost.

The last part of the book would be the author talking briefly about how each story came about. I wasn't particularly interested in this, but I'm generally not interested in backstories.

I don't particularly have a favourite story because I like almost all of them equally.

If you're a lover of the darker and more twisted fairytales, you'll enjoy this book.

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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Out of Our Minds by Ken Robinson

I was really excited to read this book because it's on creativity by Sir Ken Robinson, you know, that guy who gave the TED talk? But it was slightly different from my expectations, even though it was pretty interesting.

Rather than a treatise on how to be creative (like how Peak discussed not only how people develop their talents but gave concrete strategies), this book is a general discussion on creativity in schools, and how the current system of education, which was developed for a different time and purpose, is no longer sufficient or adequate. Towards the end, there are nine principals they recommend, but they aren't really actionable, in my opinion.

On the whole, I generally liked the book, but I noted two things that gave me pause:

One, the focus on the West. Even though the first chapter talks about how his work takes him all over the world, and that governments are all struggling with this problem (which made me think this would be a global discussion), the East barely appears. I see a few examples related to China, but I don't recall a country in Southeast Asia or any other country. The history of education is wholly focused on the West, and so are the people discussed. That was a little disappointing.

Two, a few mistaken anecdotes. I don't remember all of them, but I do remember the ones relating to Chinese culture. One was how steamed fish was still regarded as a "foreign" cuisine - that's not true, at least not in Singapore. Gang-zhen style steamed garoupa/other fish is considered Chinese (specifically: Cantonese). Perhaps the waiter was just explaining the origins? And in the next anecdote, Sir Ken Robinson talks about Zhou Enlai's famous statement on how in 1972, it was too soon to form an opinion about the French revolution 200 years. That's not true - Zhou Enlai was actually thinking of the May 1986 events. This isn't new, and it's a bit annoying to have the story perpetuated again and again.

If you're looking on a treatise about education that focuses on creativity, then this book is for you. It's very readable and full of small jokes. If you're looking for ways to be creative, though, you're out of luck.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Kierkegaard: A Single Life by Stephen Backhouse

Funnily enough, I've never read any of Søren Kierkegaard's works, even though I've heard of his theories before. And before reading this, I wanted to read something, but I couldn't really find it in public domain or in the library. So I decided to just go ahead and read it.

Kierkegaard is aimed at the general reader and is meant to be accessible. Happily, it delivers on the promise.

The book starts when Kierkegaard dies. And then it looks back towards his life, from when he was a student to when he started getting notoriety. Each chapter tends to focus on one aspect or one stage of life, such as his doomed love affair, his period of supposed dormancy, etc. Søren Kierkegaard comes across as a flawed human being - irritating, but with a purpose that came to dominate his life. I thought that this was summed up very well by his two wills:

One was to his ex-fiance, whom he never stopped loving, even though he purposely rejected her and made her give up on him. This is the part of him that the book calls "the champion of individuality"

One included instructions for the following to be put on his headstone:
"In a little while
I shall have won,
Then the entire battle
Will disappear at once.
Then I may rest
In halls of roses
And unceasingly,
And unceasingly
Speak with my Jesus"
The second half of the book is an overview of his works, which is helpful now that I'm looking for one of his works to start with (but when I can actually find it).

The book truly lives up to its promise - it is an accessible introduction to the man and his works.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Endless Night by Agatha Christie

I really have to start writing down reasons why I want to read certain books. I mean, I occasionally write down the bloggers whose book reviews have fed the TBR list, but on the whole, I tend to jot down only the titles and/or author names. Which is why I had no recollection why I wanted to read this.

After reading the book, though, I think it's because this book is like [SPOILER, SORTA, MAYBE?] The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and I wanted to read another Christie book like that. Obviously, I enjoyed this one very much, though it's one of the few books where I regret having read the synopsis before reaching the climax.

So here's my attempt at a spoiler-free summary: Michael Rogers (our narrator and protagonist) is a listless young man, going from job to job. One day, he meets the beautiful and rich Ellie and they fall in love instantly. They marry (secretly, of course) and build the home of their dreams. However, one day, Ellie dies while out riding, and then two more deaths follow.

That's all that I dare to say. Too much and I might end up revealing the twist. While I think some readers would feel like the book "cheated" them (especially compared to "fair-play books" like Ellery Queen, another author I read recently - here's another possibly spoiler-ish moment), I think there were quite a few clues in the first half that a reader, familiar with Christie's work, would be able to pick up on. Or at least, there were enough moments where after I knew the twist, I ended up seeing them in a completely different light.

I'm a fan of Agatha Christie, so obviously I'm going to recommend this book. Even if Poirot or Miss Marple isn't in it.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Decades of Doubt by Eric Wilson

Despite the fact that this was written by the defense attorney (unless the author is a different person with the same name), I walked away thinking that Mike/Michael Ferreira (one of the two defendants) was one of the killers of John McCabe. Of course, the case is complicated, and there is no doubt that the defense attorney did his best, but I just had this feeling of guilt throughout the whole book.

Decades of Doubt covers the murder of John McCabe. The fifteen-year-old (FIFTEEN!) was found dead one night and despite the police chasing down every available lead, the case went cold. Forty years later, though, one of the killers finally confessed, bringing some closure to the family (until one of them walked).

I might have been more sympathetic to Michael Ferreira during the trail segment, but halfway through, the defense attorney suddenly got half a chapter (every chapter), where he gave his side of things. I thought that it was unnecessarily disruptive to the flow of the narrative and ended up skipping those sections, which could explain why I think guilty (although this is in terms of "he did it" and not whether he's legally guilty and how much and all that).

Apart from that, there were a few things that struck me as slightly odd. For example, the first half is very much written like a novel, with the thoughts of the detectives and all that. I can't remember if most true-crime books do that, but somehow, it was rather jarring to me.

Overall: the John McCabe murder is a tragic one, and there's no doubt that the trial was complicated and worth writing about. However, the bias was too strong and I ended up leaning in the opposite direction.

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

Underneath by M.N. Arzu

I am so excited and happy that this book is out! I first read it when it was a NaNoWriMo draft, and even in its first-draft state, it was a captivating story. Now that it's been properly edited, it's even better!

Underneath is going to appeal to people who like mermaids (sorry, merfolk) but don't really want to read romance. Or is that just me? I hope not. Anyway, Underneath starts when a mermaid is found on the beach. Obviously, this leads to all sorts of craziness because it's the social media age and no one knew that merfolk lived among us.

Caring for the merman (dubbed 'Ray') is Dr. Gwen and her colleagues. I liked them enough. And trying to get the merman (real name: Chris) back is his family - Dad (Julian) and brothers (Matthew and Alex). I adore the family, because of their strong bonds and because the dynamics are just adorable!

Trying to make a big mess - er, get to the truth - is Kate, a news reporter. Her, I didn't like but that is because she's interfering with the rescue attempts and putting all the merfolk in danger!

What I really liked about this book were the characters. I either loved or hated all the characters (there are some baddies that I haven't mentioned). There were no "meh" characters - I was fully engaged in the story, and that helped to make the stakes feel even higher to me.

The ending resolves the problem of Ray/Chris in captivity but it raises a lot more questions. Questions that I really hope will be answered in a future book. Oh, and there's a sort of bonus section where M.N. shares drabbles set in the world of Underneath. Totally worth reading (and totally worth signing up to her mailing list to get more)

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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cannibalism by Bill Schutt

I started this book before a 1am flight because, I don't know, I subconsciously never want to eat or sleep again (just joking. I did both the whole day).

Cannibalism is a history and an explanation of the act. But don't worry, the author doesn't start with the stomach churning human eating human stuff right away. He starts with the 'lighter' stuff - cannibalism by non-humans.

The book starts by defining the various types of cannibalism - of which I remember two: eating your family members and eating people of your species who aren't related to you. Then it gets defined even further, to things like filial cannibalism (parents eating children or vice versa), cannibalism during mating (turns out the Black Widow Spider has been maligned.

After going through all these decidedly non-humans, the author slowly makes his way back to us.

If I were to generalise, I'd say that the book says that cannibalism tends to be a response to specific conditions (overcrowding, lack of nutrition, etc). Although in humans, there are ritual cannibals. Oh, and grey areas like breastfeeding (if skin cells come off) and I can't remember what else. (For the record, I am in no way justifying cannibalism in the whole 'eat literal human flesh' form)

Although I was really surprised about the fact that ritual cannibalism existed in Chinese culture, especially as an act of filial piety. Then I remembered stories about sons cutting their thighs to feed their parents (though I can't remember from where) and I realised that IS cannibalism 😱

And of course in Western history they had the whole mummies and medicine thing too, which if you think about it is also cannibalism.

And in modern times, there is that while placenta eating trend which if you think about it, can be considered cannibalism too.

So yeah, this book shows that cannibalism does have a lot of grey areas. It's a pretty fascinating look into the history and science behind it.

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

P.s. I just remembered one thing that gave me pause while reading. When discussing Holy Communion, the author casually says that "the last supper is one of those seemingly rare instances where even evangelical Christians appear to bend their own rules regarding translation". I found that really ignorant because any thinking person can recognise that the Bible consists of history, poetry (Psalms, Song of Solomon), prophecy, etc and it would be foolish to read everything the same way.