Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Any book that is compared to Coraline is one that I will be trying. Sometimes, literary comparisons are off, but this one was great - fun and a little spooky and with cats.

The Shadows follows the journey of Olive as she and her mathematician parents move into their new house, which comes with creepy furniture. Unlike her parents, Olive isn't good at maths (I feel a connection to her already). Luckily for her, she doesn't need maths for what happens.

It turns out that this house is... not normal. Olive can enter paintings and talk to the people inside, and there are three cats that talk to her too. Unfortunately, cats will be cats and their hints were a little too cryptic. As a result, Olive accidentally unleashes evil onto the house and has to remedy it.

The book has a fantastic protagonist in Olive. She's likable and plucky, and I liked that she got herself out of the mistakes she made (also, she didn't like everyone, but still apologised when she was wrong). She made a great team with the three cats, whom I'd like to meet.

The cats are: Horatio, who's a bit cranky and cryptic, Leopold, who's very polite and I just want to cuddle him, and Harvey, who takes on different personalities and serves as comedic relief sometimes.

There's also Morton, a strange boy who isn't who he seems to be. He's also a little annoying so I don't have much to say about him. He was one of the people who introduced Olive to this odd world, though, so he is a fairly important character.

The book is apparently part of a series, but it reads well as a standalone. There is one loose end, but it doesn't make me want to read the second book immediately. (And I'm torn on whether I want to read the second book because I have no idea if it's as good as this one.)

Oh, and this isn't as scary as Coraline, although it is a bit creepy. But I do agree that fans of Coraline will like this. At least I did.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram

Hey everyone! I'm now in my actual department (second day!) and am slowly getting used to work. Which means I haven't had much time to read, although I try to make up for that on the weekend. Right now, I'm slowly reading Last Night I Dreamed of Peace as part of my SEA reading challenge. It's a diary of a doctor who worked for North Vietnam during the Vietnam war.

My teaser:
"With only a few short minutes in the middle of the crowd, I somehow comprehend and feel what those dear eyes are saying to me: We are silent, but we understand each other entirely.  
Good-bye, dearest dark eyes."
What about you? What are you reading?
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, April 17, 2017

The Perils of Privilege by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

I'm not very familiar with the idea of "privilege", so I decided it would be a good idea read up on it, especially since I see notions of it creeping into Singapore culture (the word "Chinese privilege" has been appearing a few times). I am normally wary of importing American social justice methods wholesale, because it seems to have led to a more divided America which makes me question its efficacy and more importantly, because Singapore is not America and we need to adjust for that.

But I am digressing. I spent one day just reading the book and writing out my thoughts on it. Normally, I'd copy the review over, but it's much, much longer than anything I've ever done, so I'll just link to it.

The Perils of Privilege is an introduction and critique of the privilege framework and the phenomenon of calling out the privilege of others (abbreviated as YPIS - Your Privilege is Showing). If I were to pick one quote to summarise the whole book, it would be:
"On this much, the privilege framework is accurate: Society has hierarchies, and some categories of people are - all things equal - luckier than others. Those who deny that "privilege" exists in those broad, sweeping areas where you need your head rather deep in the sand not to have noticed [...] need not so much a privilege check as an introduction to reality. 
The trouble is that those hierarchies don't explain all injustice, and that they don't always correspond to the hierarchies that "count" according to the privilege framework."
The book uses YPIS to discuss a wide range of things issues from the 2016 American election to cultural appropriation (like the Kimono exhibit from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts). I really liked these quotes from the discussion on the kimono controversy (if you didn't know, a few Asian-Americans were upset when a replica of a kimono worn in a painting by Monet was made for visitors to try on):
"According to news reports, Japanese observers were partly baffled, but also annoyed at having their plight, not so much appropriated, as invented by other East Asians. Can Chinese Americans by offended on behalf of Japanese people who, when consulted, are not actually offended? 
Yet a further, ignored, angle is the question of whether it's offensive (or even inaccurate) to suggest that Japanese people are somehow underdogs with respect to white Americans in the twenty-first century. 
The appropriation discussion is thus a microcosm of the privilege critique more generally. Despite being ostensibly about social justice, it ends up reinforcing and maybe even inventing hierarchies."
To continue summarising the book would make this review far too long (the link above will lead to the full summary), but in short, I think this is something that everyone should read because the concept of "privilege" is something that has left American shores and traveled around the world. The book uses many examples to explain what the privilege framework is and how it can be problematic.

As for me, I think that the privilege framework should stay in academia. It is a valid way of seeing things, but I think this victim hierarchy has a way of diverting attention from the real problem.

Let's call a spade a spade, and not by a different name. I sincerely hope that the fledgling privilege movement in Singapore (which seems to be a wholesale importation of the American framework, but with the names of the privileged change) is discarded for a method that is more accurate and less divisive than the privilege call outs.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Philosophy and Terry Pratchett by Jacob Held and James South

I read this on a long bus trip, and found out that it's not light enough to be travel reading material - I will definitely have to reread this one day to more fully absorb everything.

Anyway, Philosophy & Terry Pratchett is a collection of essays divided into four categories:
1. Self-perception, Narrative and Identity (4 essays)
2. Social and Political Philosophy (3 essays)
3. Ethics and the Good Life (4 essays)
4. Logics and metaphysics. (2 essays)

Some essays read like an essay analysing Discworld, while others read as though Discworld was added to a discussion on philosophy. On the whole, though, I found parts two and three to be the most interesting ones, although that's probably because of the topic than the writing style. In particular, essays on the Witches on Lancre and Death tended to be the most interesting ones, no matter which category they were in.

You won't need to have an understand of philosophy to read this, though it will be helpful, but you'll want to have read most (if not all) of all the Discworld books before reading this. I haven't read a few and didn't get the reference to certain plot elements.

This is review is rather short but there isn't much to say. If you're a Discworld fan and are interested in exploring the different ways that we can view the Disc, then there's a good chance that you'll be interested in it (assuming you don't mind some academic language).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

PSA: Revelation by CJ Sansom is on BBC Radio

If you're a fan of audiobook and/or a fan of historical mysteries, the BBC has done a radio adaptation of Revelation by CJ Sansom! It's one of the books in the Martin Shardlake series and both parts are now available! I haven't read the book and to be honest was quite nervous about relying on the dramatisation because I tend to put podcasts on as background noise but I found myself absolutely enraptured by this dramatisation. It's only available for another 12 more days so you should check it out ASAP. You can listen to it online or through the BBC iPlayer app.

Revelation is the fourth in the Matthew Shardlake series and in this book, there is a string of murders. Disturbingly, the murders bear a resemblance to what is written in the Book of Revelation, and in the current social climate, have to be solved ASAP. When Shardlake's friend is murdered, he finds himself drawn into the investigation, despite the fact that it's connected to royal politics.

I probably missed a few things because I was cooking while listening to this, but hopefully I can get my hands on a copy of Revelation and the other books in the series and read (reread?) them!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James

I can only theorise that the reason why this book lay unread for so long was because I wanted to save it. In its own way, the anticipation of a good book is almost as good as reading a good book. Luckily, I was not disappointed.

Talking About Detective Fiction is a discussion of the genre, from its definition and history, to famous women writers, the technical aspects, and criticism of the genre. And of course, there's a discussion of the modern day mystery (modern = 2009)

The whole book is really good, but my favourite chapters would be those on the golden age of detective fiction and of "four formidable women", the women being Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. I confess that of the four, I'm only familiar with Christie. I've read only one Sayer book, and none of Allingham and Marsh, which is something that I need to correct. In fact, those two chapters alone have given me quite a reading list.

Oh and my copy of the book had comics about mysteries here and there - I definitely chuckled at them and liked their inclusion.

While P. D. James apologises for referencing her own work at the start of the book, I think that mentions of her own work have been minimal (and largely confined to the end). In fact, the book mentions a wide variety of detective books and literature about the stories. P. D. James definitely knows her stuff, and it shows. When her work was mentioned, it was to good effect (explaining why she chose certain settings, for example), and I felt like reading her books after this (I think I've only read one or two?)

I highly recommend to this fans of mysteries. This is a readable, engaging book that will probably give fans new authors to search for.

P.s. In a discussion of the modern detective fiction, she mentions C. J. Sanson and I highly recommend his works too. They're set in Tudor England and while I haven't finished the series (since I haven't been to the local library in a while), I fully intend to finish it when I get the chance.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Shallow End by Brenda Chapman

Started and finished this book in a day because I was extremely eager to see how it turned out (and by the way, I did not manage to guess who the real killer was).

Shallow End starts with the death of Devon, a teenage boy. What makes Devon "special" is that a few years ago, he was involved in a case where his teacher was accused of sexually assaulting him. That teacher, Jane, got out of prison a month ago, so she's obviously the top suspect. But can Jane, who seems to want nothing more than to see her children, be the killer?

First things first. After I downloaded the book, I noticed that this was labeled as Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery #4. Kala Stonechild is one of the detectives in the book and Rouleau is her superior. To be honest, I didn't really feel Rouleau's presence in the book, and I felt that Kala was the more active character here. That being said, I had no problems reading this book as a standalone - there are probably a few things I missed, but the team dynamic was easy enough for a first-time reader to grasp.

What stood out to me was the sheer number of unlikeable characters in the book. Jane's ex-husband, Adam is unpleasant, as is his new girlfriend. I didn't like the parents of the dead boy. I didn't like Woodson, a cop that hates Jane and I didn't like the reporter either (and I seem to have forgotten her name). Luckily, I did like Jane and Kala, who were the main characters, as well as Gunderson's, Kala's partner at work.

The mystery was pretty well-done, but the characters were what stood out more. I didn't manage to guess the killer either, and I thought the twist at the end was pretty good too.

When I have the time, I'll probably go back and read the first few books in the series.

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

This book was recommended to me by one of my friends on Dayre, who also recommended Ekaterina, a Russian drama on Catherine the Great! Both are really good, and I'd recommend watching the drama and reading this one after the other.

So I didn't really know who Catherine the Great was, so I'm going to pretend that you don't either and give you a very brief introduction.

Catherine the Great (born Sophia Augustus Fredericka) was a noble-born German girl who ended up being married to the heir to the Russian throne (who was also German). Her mother thought herself cleverer than she was and didn't give Sophia much love, and her husband didn't love or respect her either.

Trapped in a loveless marriage in a foreign court, Sophia (who was renamed Catherine after converting to Orthodoxy) made the best of a bad situation by endearing herself to the Russians, overthrowing her husband after he became emperor and becoming Empress herself. Seriously a "when life gives you lemons" sort of person.

I have so much respect for Catherine after reading this, not only because of how she made the best of her situation but because she seemed to genuinely love Russia and ruled with its best interests in mind. She not only corresponded with great thinkers, she put what she had learnt into practice by writing Nakaz, which laid the guiding principals upon which she hoped Russia's new laws would be founded.

Sadly, she didn't get to carry out her ideas as she wanted to (because even autocrats need the support of the nobility and army), and she didn't manage to end serfdom even though she wanted to, but I was genuinely impressed by what she managed. Russia is huge and she not only governed it, she tried to better it.

Her attempts to improve the Russian healthcare system were more successful and in 1768, she was the first to be vaccinated against smallpox, to show Russians that it was safe. That put her ahead of continental Europe, which shunned it as dangerous (and considering that anti-vaxxers still exist today, this really shows how forward thinking she was).

I found this book to be easy to read, although some controversial issues (like whether she married a Potemkin) seemed to be glossed over. I'm not a scholar though, so this is purely just an impression of how disputed it might have been, because I was expecting a little bit more discussion on it.

If you're in the mood for a biography, I'd recommend this. I mentioned in my review of the three royals who ruled before WWI (George, Nicholas and Wilhelm) that they seemed to be victims of the birth (although I may not have used those exact words), but Catherine shows that you aren't trapped and that one can rule well even if they weren't brought up to do so.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

I heard about this book from someone's Teaser Tuesday (or was it a review?) and it sounded so good I had to check if NetGalley had it. Luckily they did and my request was approved so I got to read it!

The Witchfinder's Sister is a novel based on Matthew Hopkins, who was an actual person. The sister in question, however, is made up. Alice Hopkin's husband dies and having no other place to go, goes back to her brother, Matthew. He's just beginning to get into the groove of witch-hunting and while she doesn't know much at first, she starts to know more. At the heart of the matter is the question: why is Matthew doing this?

The book is written mainly in first-person, interspersed with a few excerpts (not sure if the book is real or not because my knowledge is woefully lacking). I mention this only because there is one passage that is suddenly transitioned into second person and it was rather jarring. I definitely preferred the main first-person point of view that was used.

The story was, as expected, captivating. Alice is a sympathetic character who does as much as she can (although it is very little). The mystery of why Matthew is so set on hunting witches - and how that relates to their past, was well-done and the information was given out in a way that made sure the tension of the book didn't flag.

The characters that stood out the most were Alice, Matthew, and Bridget, Alice's mother-in-law and their family's ex-servant. I found Bridget to be the most inexplicable because several of her actions - like her attitude to Alice after she married her son and her reluctance to tell the truth to Alice even though it would have helped - were hard to fathom. I suppose that makes her a good counterpoint to Matthew, whose motives are also a mystery.

If you're in the mood for a historical novel set in a rather dark time, I think The Witchfinder's Sister will hit the spot. It is definitely not a lighthearted read, but it is captivating and well-written (except for that one second-person passage but this is more of preference than anything).

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong

Binu and the Great Wall is a retelling of the legend of Meng Jiangnu. If you haven't heard it, her husband was forced to work building the Great Wall of China. When she delivered him winter clothes, she found out that he died and cried so hard that the wall collapsed to reveal his bones. And it occurs to me that famous Chinese love stories don't have happy endings.

I had really high hopes for this because it's a retelling of a Chinese myth by a Chinese author and obviously I'm interested in a modern take on it. Binu and the Great Wall follows the same plot as the myth it inspires (I.e. Binu goes to deliver winter clothes), but there's not enough story in this myth and the book feels much longer than it is.

The good: I thought the world that this is set in was fascinating. Clearly there is magic, with the way Binu cries and the deer boys and the rest. There were lots of interesting elements and though there never was an explanation of the world, reading about it was the most interesting part of the book.

However, the book is let down by a poor plot and absolutely no character growth. The original tale is basically her travelling and most of the book centres on that. It's the perfect way to show an internal journey as well, but Binu stays exactly the same as she was in the start of the book. As a result, things just happen to Binu and she never really engages the reader's attention because she never really takes charge.

To be honest, I'm disappointed in this book. It's got an interesting world and it's based on a famous legend, which should resonate with all Chinese people. However, the execution of this story was poor and despite my best efforts, I found myself disappointed by the story.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Story Cure by Dinty W. Moore

Hey everyone! Guess who just entered the working world?

I've worked for two days, and I'm now in the training phase. But I'll get assigned to my first department soon, so hopefully I get used to things and can read more. Not to mention write more - right now, I'm reading a book on writing as a way of continuing to learn even when I'm not actively writing.

The quote:
"Novels and memoirs that captivate readers do so because they are an experience, an escape into a new world, a voyage of sorts, allowing us to feel how it might be to briefly live a life different than the one we've been given. This experience goes back to the most primitive storytelling das, the gathering of our distant ancestors around a communal fire, the long-ago beginnings of our great myths and hero's journeys." 
I'm quite enjoying The Story Cure, because it gives both good and bad examples. The bad examples are probably more illuminating than the good ones because they show you what not to do.

What are you reading, and how are you doing?
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, April 3, 2017

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

This is another door stopper (but luckily in eBook format) from Elizabeth Kostova. I've read her debut work, The Historian, a couple of years back and while I don't really remember it, the Goodreads review says that I quite enjoy it (as I quite enjoyed this one).

The Shadow Land is a sort-of mystery. Alexandra Boyd has just arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria when she realises that she accidentally took an urn. Containing human ashes. The name on the box is "Stoyan Lazarov", and as she tries to return the urn (with the help of a friendly taxi driver nicknamed Bobby), she finds threats and danger lurking. And she also finds out more about Stoyan Lazarov, a gifted violinist as she tries to figure out why having his urn is so dangerous.

When I get a really, really thick book, I like to skip to the back to see how it ends (yes, I know, it's odd and I shouldn't do it). In this case, skipping to the last 50 pages didn't help because you really have to read the entire life story of Stoyan to understand what is going on, which means that I'd have to read the second half of the book in its entirety to get any spoilers.

That said, the way the information was doled out was pretty interesting, and I felt that it helped to increase the tension in the second half because I kept reading on to find out more. (The beginning was a bit slow for me)

As for the characters - sorry, Alexandra, but Bobby is the star of the show. Alexandra is likeable enough, but I basically got her entire backstory in the first few chapters, while Bobby was continually surprising me over the course of this almost 500 page book. Obviously, the surprising character is the one that made a bigger impact.

Apart from Bobby and Alexandra, there is a whole cast of supporting characters (and Stoyan), though I only really remember Stoyan, his wife, Neven and Irina. The rest just sort of blended together. The villain was pretty clear and quite menacing, though the 'twist' for one of the bad guys was difficult to understand.

If you don't mind slow starts and like long books set somewhere different, then you'll probably enjoy this book. The mystery was enough to keep me reading to the end, and I really enjoyed the way the past was revealed in the present (reminded me a little of the Night Garden series)

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Raven's Rise by Lincoln Cole

One good thing about having author friends is that if you fall in love with one of the series they write, you get early access to their books! I've been following the World on Fire series since the first book, Raven's Peak, and I'm so excited that Raven's Rise will be coming out today!!

Raven's Rise continues right after the events of Raven's Fall where (spoilers for the previous book) Haatim's father has betrayed the council which resulted in a demon killing almost all of them. Only Haatim, Dominick, Frieda, Haatim's father and one council member remain (Abigail's whereabouts are unknown and a plot point so I shall not spoil that for you).

Out of the three books, I think this is the one where Haatim really grows. In the first book, Haatim was basically scared but had potential. In the second, the focus for him was on family. In this, however, he takes a much more active role and learns a great deal more about the gift that he has.

And speaking of learning, the reader is going to learn a lot in this book. I thought I was pretty used to this world, but Lincoln Cole just proved that I knew nothing with quite a few explosive revelations about the council and Abigail's history. Even though I was surprised by it, I totally bought the new information too, so everything built on the previous books rather nicely.

If you're a fan of horror and for some reason you haven't picked up this series yet, you absolutely have to. The first two books are already out, and this third book will be out soon, which provides the perfect binge reading opportunity.

But you might want to limit it to daytime reading.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of the book from the author, who (like I mentioned above), I know.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Drive is basically about motivation and I ended up taking lots of notes while reading so here you go. Right now, motivation (called Motivation 2.0 in the book) is based on a carrot and stick approach, i.e. Rewarding something gets you more of it and punishing it gets you less. But experiments have shown that extrinsic rewards decrease intrinsic motivation and even altruistic behaviour. For example, when kids were given a reward for drawing (and that reward was made clear before they started), they were more likely to have lower levels of enjoyment of drawing, no matter how much they liked it before. Also, money makes people give less blood. That said, extrinsic rewards/carrot and stick system is useful for tasks which are linear and have a clear goal in mind.

From there, the author comes up with two personality types: Type I (intrinsic) and X (extrinsic). No one is purely one type and everyone is on the continuum, but the author believes that we are naturally Type I. And even though I is mainly intrinsic, they still need things like adequate pay, which is kind of like what Herzberg's hygiene factors were talking about.

With these two types in mind, the author goes into detail on intrinsic motivation and defining three factors:

1. Autonomy - people need autonomy but don't suddenly switch their environment, they'll struggle.

2. Mastery - Flow is essential to mastery but does not guarantee it. Mastery is also a mindset: if you believe that intelligence is fixed then... wrong mindset. If you think you can increase it, it leads to mastery. For more, read Anderson Ericsson (who was referenced).

3. Purpose - to quote the book: "Autonomous people working towards mastery perform at very high levels. But those who do so in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more." But this motivator is not recognised by Motivation 2.0

From there, the book talks about the Type I toolkit, about what individuals, companies, parents etc can do. Suggestions include giving yourself a flow test, doing an autonomy audit and such.

One thing was that the book talked about unschooling, which I have some reservations about (though if everyone was born as Type I, like the author believes, I can see why he would recommend it), but it did recommend The Teenage Liberation Handbook which I really hated so I have mixed feelings about it. Plus, even if everyone is born Type I, external factors may make unschooling totally unsuitable (for example, if the parents let kids watch as much TV as they want).

There are also book recommendations, guru recommendations, and even fitness recommendations.

I would totally recommend people to read this book with Peak by Anders Ericsson and Grit by Angela Duckworth. This is on motivation, Peak is on practice and Grit is on hanging on. Someone should package these books as a set.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Avery by Ken Kratz

Full disclosure time: I've never had the chance to watch Making a Murderer. I have heard that it exposes the injustices of the justice system, but I don't have Netflix so I never did get around to watching it. And if we're talking about true-crime, I ended Serial thinking that Adnan Syed was guilty, and after looking at the full case files, felt even more certain that he was.

So I thought this book would be interesting, to see how 'the other side' explains itself. And since I've already heard about the injustice of the system, I read with an eye out for that sort of thing.

Avery is a surprisingly gripping and readable account of the Theresa Halbach case. And if even half of what the book says it's true, then the Making a Murderer people are committing an injustice by trying to get a guilty man out.

What makes me doubt Steven Avery's innocence is the fact that his own defence (and the Making a Murderer team) has to bend over backwards to make him seem innocent.

That cat incident? Avery chased down the cat, doused it in oil and threw it into a fire. That is clearly not goofing around.

His ex-wives talks about his abusiveness, and one called him a monster (claims are corroborated by an article in The Rolling Stone)

And the show itself splices courtroom video together in a way that changes the meaning of the conversation entirely. Lines are cut, to the extent that a "yes" becomes a reply to a question that was left out, rather than the question in the video.

That, I think, is very problematic.

As for the justice system part, I am inclined to take Ken Kratz at his word because of how honest about his sexting scandal he is, and the remorse he feels.

Plus, I also agree that framing Avery requires a ridiculous amount of effort and hatred would be needed, and that the cops that were involved (who were only involved because they weren't involved in the previous case and because of a lack of manpower) had no reason to have so personal and deep a grudge.

The writing in this book is enjoyable and engaging, though overly emotional at times. And while most of the book was spent on the claims and evidence against Avery, I appreciate the fact that the book starts with a portrait of Theresa, to remind everyone just who the real victim was in this case.

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

I had really high hopes for this book, and the premise is interesting, but it turned out to be only so-so. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is Barbara Kingsolver's account of the year where she and her family tried to eat only what they raised or was grown locally (with a few exceptions).

The premise is interesting and I enjoyed reading some of her accounts, and of course I agree that we should eat seasonal (something that I learnt after coming to Japan - I appreciate the fact that even the big chain supermarkets have corners that are dedicated to local produce), but the book was off-puttingly preachy at times. I probably managed to miss the worst of it by reading only a couple of chapters at the time, but the introductory chapters and "you can't run away on harvest day" were really preachy.

(By the way, I don't know if it helps but I skipped over her husband's columns after one chapter. I persisted with her daughter's columns for a while more but eventually gave up too, since it's basically what her mother says.)

Oh yeah, and the book is basically "we should all eat local and it's totally possible and great for the earth" but doesn't really consider that this is possible only in countries like America. In Singapore, for instance, only 10% of the food consumed is produced locally. An experiment like Kingsolver's is going to be very hard, if not impossible. I even went to Google farmers markets in Singapore and it seems like for at least two, quite a lot of their stuff is imported too - unlike the farmers markets that are so highly praised in the book. A few seem to have more local stuff but they aren't held very often.

Plus, if I'm not wrong, there are studies that say that eating green would be more helpful than eating local - though I'm not too sure and I will not be giving up meat any time soon so I guess I should be choosing the less harmful of the two options.

In short, while I agree that we should try to eat seasonal and local when possible (because it is more delicious - not sure about whether it's cheaper, since Japanese mangoes and grapes are more expensive than the imported ones!), the book is incredibly preachy which makes it hard to read at times.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong

It's Tuesday again! My sister is here (yay!) and the day that I start working draws nearer too (ok, I'm a bit worried about this one). I'll have an entrance ceremony for my company this week, so I'm trying to balance preparing for the test that will happen then and bringing my sister around. As you can imagine, that doesn't leave much time for books. I just started Binu and the Great Wall today. It's supposed to be a retelling of Meng Jiang, a legend based on the fact (fact? I remember hearing that as a child) that people were buried in the Great Wall of China.

My teaser:
"At that moment, the boys were plunged into inexplicable terror, from which emerged the certainty that they must stop the woman from shouting. Her shouts were so shrill that they swirled around the forest, just as their mothers' cries had when they were calling their sick children's spirits back from the mountains."
What do you think? Would you read this?
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, March 13, 2017

Crooked House by Agatha Christie

When I finished this, I thought "this is definitely one of her better books" (starting from a baseline of "awesome" so please don't think that I have a low opinion of her) even though it doesn't have Poirot or Marple.

Crooked House is about the murder of Aristide Leonides, a rich man who loved his family and his family loved him. When he's poisoned, the family feels the culprit is his second wife, but Charles Hayward, the fiancé of one of the grandchildren, is not so sure.

By the way, Charles is the son of some really important person in the Scotland Yard and I feel like I should know his name from a Poirot book, but I don't.

What I liked about this book were the characters. The dynamic between them was extremely addictive to watch, and Christie made a good choice in making Charles the narrator, since he is somewhat of an outsider (but with a bias). And it was interesting to have a family that loved each other but was still dysfunctional instead of having everyone hate one another (well, they all dislike the second wife but they were pretty united in that).

Oh, and the romance here is more plausible than the some of the Poirot ones. It starts with Charles realising he loves Sophia, and even though they don't do showy declarations of love, their relationship is very solid and quite convincing.

Slight spoiler alert: what I was not too happy with (I don't dislike it because I can't imagine an alternative but I definitely wasn't satisfied) the ending. The truth does get known and the murderer won't be killing again, but it's not done in the usual style. I suppose it's fitting for Lent, since mercy was given (though the way it was carried out is questionable), but if you want a "bad guy realises s/he's wrong and feels guilty" sort of ending then you won't get it here. There isn't a dramatic confrontation either, come to think of it. Perhaps I miss that more than the lack of old-fashioned comeuppance.

But if you're going to read an Agatha Christie novel and you haven't read this, you really have to pick it up. It's extremely well-written and I will definitely be reading it again and again and again.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Church History: Volume Two by John Woodbridge and Frank A. James III

This volume is a continuation of volume one (review here) but by two different authors. This means that the writing style is somewhat different (personally, I preferred the first volume), but the way they present the history is largely similar. This volume is from pre-reformation (1300s) to the present day.

Like in the previous volume, I appreciated the mini-explanations of the theology involved and the biographies of key figures. I also liked the fact that the book also looks at the political, societal and economic of the time (especially political), since Christianity was very closely tied to politics.

Bits of information that surprised me include:

- Martin Luther's marriage to Katie. It started out as a loveless marriage, but Luther fell in love with his wife and the fact that such a key figure in the reformation had such an unusual marriage shaped attitudes towards marriage in society.

- I didn't know that predestination "was not the wellspring of Calvin's theology", because that is what I remember most clearly (and struggle with, for that matter).

But while the book is easy to read, it does try to cram about 700+ years of history into 800 ish pages, which means some extreme simplifications are made. For example, the book says that "Catherine [Catherine the Great] did little to improve the plight of serfs during her reign".

Since I just finished a biography about her, I found this simplification a little insulting because she had a plan to free the serfs, but eventually abandoned it for practical reasons. The book also made no mention of her Nakaz, which I thought was a pity since she did consult many people about it and their reactions would have been helpful to explaining attitudes in Russia.

More importantly, I thought that this volume was too focused on Europe, specifically the British Isles and France, and later on America. Russia was given several sections, but not whole chapters, while Asia, Africa and the Middle East were largely left out (they did appear in the last one third, but I thought their presence was far too little). The persecution in Japan was almost entirely left out, and a lot of the history in India and China greatly summarised.

It is a pity, because there is a history, and in the case of Africa, the book even admits that "it [Christianity] has a continuous history on the continent of Africa of nearly two thousand years." So even if there weren't many theological debates going on, I think the development of Christianity in those regions should have been given more space.

Thankfully, things did get more globalised towards the end, and I found the discussion on the new centres of global Christianity and the modern theological trajectories to be fascinating (especially the contextual theologies, since I haven't heard of most of them). It's an area that I'd like to read more about so hopefully I can find more recommendations some day.

If you've read volume one, you'll want to read volume two. The style of the book is largely the same, and it's a good way to get an overview of the history of the Church (even if it is very European-centric). And to end, a quote I liked:
"The ultimate value of history lies not in its predictive ability or even its capacity for elucidation, but in its aptitude to teach humility."
Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Church History: Volume One by Everett Ferguson

Church History, Volume One is like what it says, about the history of the Church from the first century to the thirteenth century. I'm not even going to attempt to summarise contents, but the book basically looks at events, trends, and notable people in Church history. Each chapter also comes with a list of recommended resources, so you could (ideally) use this book as a starting point and then delve into certain issues or events.

I found this book easy to read and follow, even for someone like me, who has no formal education in Church history (apart from what I learnt in Sunday School). In fact, I was listening to one of my cousin's lectures of the Holy Spirit (she records her teachers and shares them with those interested) and I realised that it was easier to understand what the lecturer was saying, in part because I had already encountered the concepts and events mentioned in this book.

But though the book does explain the basics of certain theological issues (like the nature of Christ), because a certain level of understanding is needed to comprehend why the disputes were a big deal, I still found myself wishing for a theology textbook that I could use as a reference. So while the theology explanations are definitely adequate, they are not sufficient. Still, this is a history book so I shouldn't be quibbling.

And since Silence is still on my mind, or rather, it has been on my mind more than normal, I found myself particularly struck by the explanation of Christian persecution in Ancient Rome. In those times, religious functions were also used as expressions of political loyalty. And since Christians would not offer such sacrifices, they were seen as a threat to the Roman state. I thought that this was remarkably similar to the persecution depicted in Silence, which explains why it was controversial.

Oh, and while I'm on this topic, I also wanted to share that there was some discussion on whether Christians be persecuted on the basis of "the name" (aka being known as Christians) or for the crimes attached to the name. Christian apologists wanted it to be the latter, since they knew they were innocent, but guess which side won out?

I think that people interested in learning more about Church history should consider picking up this book. It's accessible, and I was able to follow what the author says without additional lectures - though I'm sure that lectures and discussions would have made it even better.

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Hey everyone! I hope you're all doing well(: I'm preparing for my sister to come and I just got four new books so the struggle is very real right now.

Right now, I'm reading The Shadows by Jacqueline West. I'm only seven chapters in, but I'm enjoying it very much so far - more proof that I'm still a child at heart.

My teaser:
"A normal person's skin was full of tiny details: moles and freckles, fine wrinkles and fuzzy hairs. But Morton's skin was perfectly smooth and slightly shiny. It wasn't skin at all. It was paint."
Ok, it's four sentences but I had to get to the reveal.

What about you? What are you reading?
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, March 6, 2017

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

After Ilustrado I wanted to read something light and since I had this in the wish list section for the NLB (no idea why I chose to save it), I decided that it would be a good choice.

Bright Young Things is set in 1929 and basically follows 3 girls: Astrid, who is rich and pretty and dating Charlie. Cordelia Grey, who runs away with her best friend and turns out to be Charlie's half-sister. And finally, Letty, Cordelia's best friend who wants to be a star. Cordelia and Letty quarrel pretty quickly after they arrive in New York so the story quickly becomes Cordelia + Astrid's world and Letty's world, and the two stories are quite separate.

Out of the three girls, Astrid was my favourite. Even though she's obviously a 'poor little rich girl', I thought she was pretty well-written and I found her story to be the most interesting. Her and Charlie's relationship is probably not healthy but it is addictive to read.

The character I liked least was Cordelia because I wanted to shake her so many times. She comes all the way to New York to find her father, which she does, and then she promptly falls for this boy who's the son of the enemy of her father. You can all see where this is going. Maybe it's because I tend to be picky about romances, but I totally didn't buy the relationship between her and the guy and she seemed as a very ungrateful girl for most of the book. But she does get better towards the end.

Last and sadly least (of the three) is Letty, the most forgettable main character for me. I think it's because she has the least time and because her story is so separate from the other two, but I only became interested in what she was doing towards the end of the book. Other than that, I was more interested in how the other two were faring.

Complaints aside, this was an easy and fairly addictive read. If you want something dramatic and fun to read, this is probably something you want to read. (Also, I finally looked at the author's other books and I think I saved this book because of another one called The Luxe. But I'm not sure if I've read that or if I want to read it.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017


I thought that I've shared this here, but it seems like I totally forgot since it was around the time of the move (if you want to see where I've moved to, I just blogged about my apartment here). Anyway, I'm holding a giveaway!

I'll be giving away paperback copies of The Nutcracker King and Beauty's Daughter, which are my (fairly dark) takes on what happens after the fairytale ends.

The giveaway is being hosted on my other blog, so just click on this link to get there. The giveaway is on until March 23rd, so there's still plenty of time to enter. If fairy tales are your thing, you have nothing to lose(:

All the best!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco

I have finished my second book for the SEA Reading Challenge! Ilustrado is written by Miguel Syjuco, a Pinoy writer. It's got tons of good reviews from prestigious places, and I decided to read it because it sounded interesting - a writer commits suicide and his magnum opus disappears. His friend goes back to the Philippines to find out about him and what happened to the manuscript.

Sounds like an interesting mystery, right?

Well, it was extremely hard work.

The story is told through: blog posts and comments, excerpts from the dead writer's work, excerpts from a biography of the dead writer, narration from the protagonist (first and third person) and probably a few more that I've forgotten. It's a tricky form of narration and unfortunately, it doesn't quite work for me. Apart from the fact that the story was hard to find, everything sounded the same.

There was some good stuff in there - I particularly like the observations about writers living overseas and writing in a language non-native to their country yet receiving acclaim as a representative voice. The frustration (and envy) of the local writers was understandable and I wish this was explored in more detail in the book.

The seedy world of the rich and powerful was also intriguing, though it reminded me of Crazy Rich Asians. I suppose some things don't change.

I didn't quite get the connection between the [SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT] political unrest/riots at the end of the story and the story itself. It seems like there is a connection, but I can't see the point.

If I had read this in IB, I supposed I would have enjoyed the book a little more. The author has clearly put a lot of work into this: the protagonist is named after him, and the start of the book reads like non-fiction, which I think is to blur the lines between fiction and reality. But, I'm in the stage where a book has to be first and foremost entertaining, and any literary message a plus (not impossible: see Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird, and tons of other classics).

Finally, I wonder who this is aimed for. For Filipinos? For the literary elite of the country? Or is it for the literary elite in the West?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente

After I finished this book, I realised that I definitely waited too long after reading "In the Night Garden" (the first book), because  In the Cities of Coin and Spice continues the tale etched on the eyelids of the girl in the garden. It's the same framing device, but it feels much more fleshed out this time. And a good thing too, because the 'framing device' turns out to be important (not gonna give any spoilers, so don't worry).

Like the previous book, each tale the girl tells is a tale within a tale within a tale and all tales are linked. It's extremely layered and the writing is as beautiful and descriptive as the previous book. I really enjoyed the fact that myths and fairytales from all around the world were referenced too.

The only weakness of the book is that because the story is so interconnected, one weak story can throw disrupt the book for a good period of time. Thankfully, this only happened once but that was more than enough. Plus, if I put the book down, I ended up being confused when I restarted, because of how complicated it was (so I guess you should just read the book in one sitting).

Oh yeah, and you're going to want to read both books one after the other because if not, you will get confused. I was like "who is this Zmeya person?" (Wait, she appeared in book one, right? I can't remember), which slightly marred the ending.

If you're a fan of lyrical writing, intricate stories and have a lot of time, you should definitely pick up these books.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco

Hi everyone! Long time no see :D I had to take a really, really long break when I moved and found out that my internet would come much later than what I was originally told. So I was without wifi for slightly more than a week, but I'm back now and happily reading away.

Right now, I'm reading Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco, as part of my SEA Reading Challenge, where I'm challenging myself to read more books by and about people in South East Asia. If you've got a recommendation, let me know! So far, Ilustrado is a...challenging read, but I hope it will be rewarding in the end. I mean, the summary sounded good, which is why I'm pressing on.

My teaser:
"The President's speech yesterday to members of the Combined Military Forces at Fort Bonifacio was disrupted when twenty-six hecklers were arrested and charged with "scandal" and "alarm". They were mauled by crowds as they were brought into the precinct office, though none suffered significant injuries."
This is supposed to be from a blogpost. The entire book is basically excerpts from an 'unpublished' work, emails, blogposts, and the occasional conventional narrative. It should be interesting, but it's not make much sense yet (I'm still in the first third of the book, though, so I haven't given up hope yet).

What about you? What are you reading and how have you been?
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, February 27, 2017

Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus by Charles Morris & Craig Borlase

I took some time to read this book and it is so powerful! Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus follows Charles as he travels around the Middle East to meet with the persecuted Christians. Most of the book consists of their testimonies and reading them reminded me of how terrible things are there, and how God is working in them and through them.

Some of the believers were from a long line of Christians and lost everything when ISIS took over. It was painful to read of how many of them trusted their Muslim neighbours to take care of their houses and possessions, only to find out that their neighbours had taken their things as theirs. But it was uplifting to see that despite all this, they still forgive and love them.

Some of the believers were Muslims who came to Christ and experienced terrible persecution. But for them, no price is too high for the peace they receive and their words and actions reflect the love of Christ as well.

These people truly are heroes and there is a lot that I have to learn from them.

And this is a little bit of a sidetrack, but a bit of what someone said reminded me of the hidden Christians in Silence:
"I look at the West and wonder if Satan uses our affluence to limit the growth of the Church. [...] So we give God a Sunday morning but love the other six days of the week for ourselves. Where real persecution happens, you're not afforded that. You have to call on God multiple times a day."
From the testimonies of these brothers and sisters in Christ, we see that God is always present, even in the toughest circumstances. So God wasn't silent like Rodriguez assumed. He was always with the Christians of Japan like He is with the Christians in the Middle East.

This book isn't a comfortable read - my heart kept breaking when I read about the suffering that those in the Middle East are going through. But it is a book that we have to read, because we need to open our eyes, and we need to keep working for the persecuted and those that are suffering right now.

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

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler

I first came by the Bryant and May series when I read London's Glory, which was a collection of short stories starring the duo. I enjoyed it enough that I looked for more books, and since the NLB didn't have book 1, decided to read Book 9.

The Memory of Blood is a series of murders that involve Punch and Judy. I've never seen that puppet show, but it sounds quite scary. The murders start with the murder of baby Kramer, during a party for the start of a play. The baby was strangled and then thrown off a building, but the strange thing is that it seems like the Punch doll (who apparently starts the show by killing his baby) did it. As Bryan and May and the rest of the Peculiar Crimes Unit investigate, more and more people start to die, accompanied by dolls.

The star of the show is clearly Arthur Bryant. He's a cantankerous, strange old man who verges on caricature at times. But he is balanced out by his partner, John May, who smoothes out his rough edges. The two of them definitely make an endearing pair.

The mystery had many twists and turns, and it seems like Bryant is the one that holds all the cards. The rest of the unit is doing proper police legwork, but it's Bryant's haphazard method that gets to the bottom of the case.

Apart from the main mystery, there's a subplot about Bryant's memoirs, which contain information that violates the Official Secrets Act. And since his editor just turned up dead, it's clear that someone wants to stop Bryant from releasing his memoirs. This mystery isn't really resolved at the end, and it made me want to read more.

It's kind of disappointing that the NLB has books 9 and 11 but not book 10. The mystery sounds equally interesting, but I wonder how the subplot would have progressed. Still, I may just bite the bullet and skip a book.

If you're looking for a mystery chock full of eccentric characters and odd deaths, you'll enjoy this. I also enjoyed the bits of information about Punch and Judy sprinkled throughout the book, and I wish there was a reading list attached.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

I will be moving...

... and will not have internet for a few days. I'm hoping to be able to get internet within a week, but the company is sending me a notification that they're coming one week later than when I requested, so it may be some time before I can update again.

Fingers crossed.

And to end, here's a picture of a cute little doll.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Devil's Daughter by Katee Robert

When I read this, I totally missed the fact that it was romantic suspense and basically only focused on the mystery portion of it. Because when you have an ex-cult member coming back to investigate a murder that said cult (which was started and is run by her mother) may be involved in, you basically have me hooked.

In The Devil's Daughter, Eden is the ex-cult member I mentioned. She was brought back when someone mysteriously emailed her the photo of a recently found corpse - a corpse which has tattoos very much like hers. The sheriff of this town happens to be Zach Owens, who just wants to solve the case. The two have an instant attraction to one another but I wasn't that interested in it. Mostly, I was interested in the mystery.

And luckily for me, the book totally delivered. There were a few chapters on how their relationship progressed - which I admittedly skimmed - but most of the book is focused on the cult and the murder. And of course, Eden's relationship with her mother, Martha. The mother-daughter relationship is the one that fascinated me, because I can't tell whether Martha is manipulative but loves her daughter or just manipulative. And of course, Eden's need to break free from her mother's hold had me rooting for her from the start.

The case progressed at quite a fast pace, although sometimes it seemed like things were being propelled forward by the culprits rather than the two solving things. But then again, I think the star of this book is the cult, how it operates, and the mother-daughter relationship going on, so I'm not that concerned about whether this is a traditional whodunnit that the reader can solve.

This is a fairly quick, thrilling read that features a fascinating cast of characters.

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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Silence: Movie Review

On January 21, Silence was released in Japan! It's directed by Martin Scorsese and has spent 26 years in the making! As a big fan of the book (to the point where my Extended Essay was a comparison analysis of Silence and The Man Within), I was at the first showing at Hakata's T-Joy theatre on the first day.

Also, I discovered Snow! 
The film was amazing and I definitely recommend everyone to watch it (and read the book) once it's out in a theatre near you. So obvious, to try and get you to do that, I'm going to share my thoughts on the film.

Warning: this is going to be all rambly, possibly incoherent and very likely spoiler-ish. You've been warned.

First things first: between Silence the novel and Silence the film, the novel will always win. It has a greater complexity to it (at least for me), and it was what got me interested in Japan. That being said, the movie was fantastic. I've been waiting for this since last March when I heard that it was being filmed. So you can imagine my excitement.

Silence, if you've never heard of it, is a novel by Endo Shusaku, a Japanese who happened to be Catholic. He wrote lots of great novels, but Silence happens to be considered his masterpiece. The story is about two Jesuit priests who have arrived in Nagasaki. It's the Tokugawa era, and Christians are severely persecuted. The two priests have heard rumours that their teacher, Ferreira, has apostatized and came to find out the truth, plus minister to the faithful.

As you can imagine, this is not a happy movie. The scenes of torture are many and varied, and music is largely absent. The atmosphere of the book was carried over pretty well, and I love the movie for that.

So anyway, one of the priests is Rodrigues and it is his story that we follow. He's played by Andrew Garfield, but I managed not to see Spider-Man after five minutes. Rodrigues meets Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), a complex guy who repeatedly apostatizes and then returns. And if you're interested, Kichijiro was one of the main characters I analysed for my EE. Sorry, forgot to say that I loved this so much I dissected it for my EE. (When I found this was going to be a movie, I emailed my EE teacher immediately)
Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.
I'm not doing a very good job of it, but the story explores the themes of faith and love - whether one can apostatise and still be a Christian, and whether it is better to apostatise to save a few or to remain firm and to bring about more martyrs.

And I think the book does a better job of exploring this moral dilemma. In the film, it is more obvious (to me, anyway), that these men are making the selfish choice when they commit apostasy. I should note that when I was talking about this film to my friend, she thought that the moral dilemma was very well-conveyed, so it may just be me, because I've been thinking about it ever since I read the book. So anyway, my thoughts:

Despite the protests of love and of the inability for the Japanese to truly understand Christianity (something I don't agree with), it feels to me that these men apostatized for the sake of their minds rather than for others. The scene where Ferreira first meets Rodrigues, and the look of unease when he is called "at peace", shows that this was done for their sakes, not for others.

These are men who have understood the glory and reward of martyrdom but not its suffering. They have remembered the words "suffer unto me" but not the words "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword". In short, they have only a one-sided understanding of Christianity. But that is something a lot of us have, especially with the rise of things like the Prosperity Gospel.

And like Kichijiro says, persecution is trying. In times of ease, it's easy to be a good Christian, but when it's your life on the line, can you do the same?

I do believe Kichijiro when he says that in another time, he would have lived and died a good Christian. In fact, I think the fact that he repeatedly tries to overcome his weak nature shows great courage - something that Rodrigues and Ferreira don't really show.
"[B]ut our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of Him."
The ending definitely has more complexity than the middle portion, and I enjoyed the fact that the state of Rodrigue's faith was left unanswered, and invites the reader to draw her own conclusions.

Plus, even though I was just all "this wasn't as complex as the book", I do realise that there are limitations to what the visual medium can do, even with voiceovers, and I think this is as complex as it could have been.

I heard that Silence is going to be released in Singapore, so please spend some time watching it. It won't be a comfortable film - and I mean for everyone, even Christians - but it is thought-provoking and beautifully shot. I haven't spent much time on that, but really, the film was gorgeous.

And to end, another Endo quote, though it isn't from Silence:
True religion should be able to respond to the dark melodies, the faulty and hideous sounds that echo from the heart of men. (From Scandal)
Now, I feel like re-reading Silence, Scandal and the other works of Shusaku Endo (and the works that I haven't read before).

Friday, February 10, 2017

Turing's Imitation Game by Kevin Warwick and Huma Shah

As part of the Industry 4.0 research two years ago, we studied a little bit about Artificial Intelligence. And that, of course, includes the Turing Test, a very interesting experiment where a machine tries to convince a judge that it's human via conversation. So when I saw this book, I jumped at the chance to read it and learn more.

Turing's Imitation Game starts with an introduction of Turing the man. That short introduction is actually really readable. And then it's Part 1, which is about AI and the Turing Test. The first few chapters are pretty easy, but once it gets into the controversies, the book starts to turn technical and theories are very quickly mentioned rather than carefully explained (although it's still possible to follow along). Part 3 is about the experiments that the writers did - the 2008, 2012 and 2014 tests, with an interview of several elite machine developers. This was the driest section of them all, though I found the interviews to be interesting.

And luckily for me, I did learn a lot from the book. One thing I thought was worth remembering is that:
A key feature of the Turing imitation game is not whether a machine gives a correct or incorrect response or indeed a truthful or untruthful one, but rather if it gives the sort of response that a human might give, so that an interrogator cannot tell the difference.
So this isn't really about artificial intelligence, but more of whether machines can imitate human behaviour. So this does lead to all sorts of interesting questions, such as "when machines can imitate humans perfectly, are they conscious?" Or "what is human consciousness anyway?" And "didn't that movie about the guy falling in love with the computer voice talk about this?" (Oh wait, the last one is just me?)

If you're interesting in how machines work and if we'll ever be replaced or ruled by robots, you might want to read this. Turing's imitation game provides a nice starting point for one to consider what the nature of thinking and consciousness involves, and this book gives a realistic picture of how close computers are to fooling humans (as of 2014, at the very least).

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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender

This book was recommended to me by a Dayre friend, and I am so glad she did because it was amazing! The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall starts off with one of the worst beginnings possible - the protagonist, Delia, dies (or perhaps killed, like she suspects). While that would normally be the end of the story, Delia has died at Hysteria Hall, which dooms her to be a ghost.

Why? Probably because Hysteria Hall was an insane asylum for women, and in the past, insane women were just strong-willed women (at least a good portion of them were). And since Delia is a strong-willed girl as well, the house decided to keep her.

Which begets the bigger question: how do houses gain sentience in the first place?

So just to make it clear: Delia won't be coming back to life. Any happy end won't include a reunion with her family. Which is a pity because she so clearly wanted to be reunited with them.

Anyway, I felt for Delia so strongly that I was surprised. I think it's because her grieving process was so well-written. (Mild spoilers ahead) When she got angry at her best friend for getting together with her ex-boyfriend, I totally understood and empathised with that anger.

Apart from her having to deal with her grief, Delia also has (or rather wants to) figure out why the house traps the girls that dies that. And just exactly why did she die? Did she jump, like everyone says, or was she pushed, like she thought? I thought that Delia's grief story and the mystery of the house were very well written and merged together seamlessly at the climax.

This is a really great story filled with very real, very sympathetic characters. I really enjoyed reading it, and I'm totally checking out more of the author's books when I have the time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

At the End of the World by Lawrence Millman

This was, sadly, a disappointing read.

At The End of the World covers the little-known Belcher Island Murders, where nine people were killed in the winter of 1941. The reason?

An Inuit named Charley Ouyerack believed himself to be Jesus Christ, and revealed another man - Peter Sala - to he God. More than a few believed, and those who didn't were killed because they were 'Satan'.

Sadly, the book doesn't do a good job of writing about the murders. There are a few problems, such as the choppy writing. The author mentioned that this was once all notes, and it certainly reads like a collection of notes. Many chapters didn't seem to have a point (why devote so much space to his dislike of the Internet and other technology?) and even within chapters, he tends to jump from one topic to the other.

I think it took about ten or so chapters before I realised this was about the Belcher Island Murders. Luckily, the chapters are short.

Another problem the book has is that the link between the present and the past is not clearly established. The author mentions that the present was necessary for him to write the book, but personally, I didn't get it. How do his reflections on technology, on 9/11 relate to what happened in 1941?

There were parts of the book that I liked - the chapters on the murders, and the trial, which I wish was explored in more detail. However, those parts were rather scarce, and a good portion of the book was confusing and disappointing.

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James

Hey everyone! How are things going?

I'm more or less done with school (last tutorial was yesterday) and almost done with packing my books! I've just got a few more that I want to read, which means that I haven't decided if they're going into the box or the handcarry that I'll be bringing alone :p And of course, that means I still have all my clothes (and kimonos, which will be a whole other beast) to pack.

Right now, I'm reading Talking about Detective Fiction. I think I got the book quite some time ago, but I just didn't get around to reading it. I can't really imagine why, because I'm enjoying it very much. My teaser:
"It is not really possible to kill someone by injecting air into a vein, at least not with a normal-sized syringe. I am advised that the syringe would have to be so large that the patient would be more likely to die of shock on beholding it than from any effects of the injected air!" (page 109)
What about you? What are you reading this 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, February 6, 2017

Alone by GCM

I wasn't quite sure what I expected from Alone. It's about Yuuta, a boy from Ishikawa who moves to Kyoto for high school. It starts off promisingly, with him making a new friend, but then he gets hits by a car driven by a man named Kurokami.

And what is with the strange girl that he sees everywhere?

It was pretty hard to do a summary of this book (as seen by the terrible attempt above) because this book is centered on Yuuta and his state of mind. The plot itself is pretty simple: Yuuta is in a hospital for most of the book. To describe more would be to give the story away.

What I liked about this book was its atmosphere. The sense that something is wrong is very heavy, and the oddness of the things that Yuuta goes through is contrasted with the mundane hospital life where he does nothing but sleep and meet with few visitors. Nothing is what it seems, and I was left wondering how unreliable a narrator Yuuta was.

I can't say that I fully understand the ending of the book, but I have a rough idea. Plus, it was creepy and fit in perfectly with the atmosphere that the entire story had. To be honest, I'm hoping for a sequel which explores this version of Japan a little bit more because I have so many questions that are left unanswered.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Chibok Girls by Helon Habila

I confess that even though I knew about the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, I never really looked at the subject in depth. It was another tragedy in a world full of tragedies. So when I saw this book, I decided that it was time to educate myself a little more on this subject.

The Chibok Girls is an account not only of the kidnapping, but also a clear explanation of the past and the current situation in Nigeria, and how the Boko Haram ended up carrying up such a thing. It's a large even to examine, and the author ties it together through a personal account of his trips to investigate more about this. And in order to understand the significance of the tragedy, the author goes into detail about the history and current situation of the area.

This is done through three parts. Part 1 contains an introduction to the area, the incident, and a brief history lesson. Part 2 is about the religious tensions in the area and Part 3 is more about the incident and contains an interview with one of the girls who have escaped.

At 112 pages, the book isn't very detailed, but it is a sufficient introduction to the Chibok Girls' Kidnapping and the meaning of it. And to a complete newcomer like me, the book has just enough details - not too much (which would be overwhelming) or not too little (which would have left me confused). I'm not sure what someone already familiar with the subject would think about it, though.

If you're looking to understand more about this tragedy, I think this book would be a good start. It's an easy to read book and does its intended purpose well.

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

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Soy Sauce Towkay by Alfred Yeo

My mom passed me this book quite some time ago, but I didn't get around to reading it till now. It's a biography of Yeo Thian In, and by extension Yeo Hiap Seng, the company that he founded.

The Soy Sauce Towkay focuses on Yeo Thian In (the "towkay" in question) and his Christian faith. And the fact that my Church is mentioned probably explains why my mom knew about this book. And if you're not Singaporean or Malaysian, "towkay" means "boss" in English.

The book is divided into four parts: the background, as in what happened before the company was founded, the founding of the company and how it grew (I didn't know that Yeos started out with Soy Sauce! I only know it for the drink), the Yeo family, and more background, this time on Christianity in China, Chinese business practices, etc. The appendix is a discussion on what makes a business Christian.

And I think in the second part, on the business, they have a chapter about how soy sauce is made, so there's more background there.

I don't know if it's because the book is fairly short, but Yeo Thian In remained a distant historical figure throughout. Unlike some biographies which can resemble novels in style, this read more like a history book.

In addition, I wish that the book went into more detail. For example, it was mentioned that the Yeo family didn't join the Hokkien Association because of religious beliefs, but I would have liked a lot more detail on how that might make doing business more difficult (or not, but it seems like a disadvantage).

That being said, I'm still glad that I read the book, because it's a part of Singapore history that I didn't know, and that I think it's worth knowing. We tend to focus on the same few individuals (like Tan Tock Seng) in our history classes and museums, so it's nice to read about someone else.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Road to Enchantment by Kaya McLaren

I can't quite remember why I requested this book (perhaps it's because of the cover), but I found myself enjoying it despite the fact that nothing happens.

The Road to Enchantment starts when Willow receives word that her mother has died, breaks up with her boyfriend, and then finds out she's pregnant (in said order). Having moved back to the home she and her mother lived in, Willow must find a way to pay off her mother's debts and decide what to do with the baby.

The solutions to these problems are actually very simple. Willow sells the wine her mom has been making, and the animals on the farm, and solves the debt problem (more-or-less). The community rallies around her and manages to dissolve her already hesitant decision to abort the baby. The biggest question is whether she will go back to where she was, or stay in New Mexico (and it's pretty obvious to the reader which it is, even if it's not to Willow).

To me, the beauty in this book are the characters and the gradually merging of past and present. First, the characters. The place in New Mexico where Willow grew up borders an Apache reservation and the community is almost all Apache. I really loved how that became part of the story - how the customs and language and people became a part of her life, even if she didn't initially feel like she belonged.

And speaking of characters, both Willow's mom and dad were flawed people. I probably sympathised more with her dad than mom, despite the fact that it would normally be the other way round because I so acutely felt the embarrassment that Willow's mom caused her. Her dad, on the other hand, was largely absent (because her mom moved her to New Mexico) so my impression of him wasn't so bad.

The second: Willow's acceptance of her past. The book alternates between the present day and Willow's memories, and it quickly begins to be clear that how Willow saw and experienced the world back then still affects her. So when she can finally accept her past, her present can start moving into the future.

The only thing that I didn't like about the ending (mild spoilers ahead! Although to be honest there isn't much plot to spoil) is that Willow still ends up with a man in her life. A better man, to be granted, but for a good portion of the book, I thought this would be about the non-romantic type of love and how it can support people. To end with Willow in a relationship seemed to say that in the end, women need a man to be happy.

Apart from that one (fairly large to me) point, I enjoyed this book. Willow's journey isn't dramatic, but she does make a journey and I dare say that she's happier at the end of it.

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente

Hey everyone! It's Tuesday which means that it's time for another teaser. And if you were here last week - well, I decided to stop reading that book. I just wasn't enjoying it and there were so many more books to read, so I decided to read those.

Right now, I'm reading In the Cities of Coin and Spice, and I'm really enjoying it. The language is beautiful, and I like that the stories are all connected. I do get a bit confused at times, however. My teaser:
"I shall not dance until my bones crack," she said. "I shall dance every morning until my heart catches on the sun, and I fill up with gold like a crystal cup!"
What about you? What are you reading this 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, January 30, 2017

Where Seagulls Fly by Mitta

I have to admit that I am extremely biased about this book. I read the book before it was published, and gave loads of comments, so yeah, not exactly the most impartial reader here.

Where Seagulls Fly is a romance set in South Korea. When Su Bin, a doctor-in-training, reluctantly agrees to be acknowledged as her father's heir (and her father is way, way rich), she has no idea what she just entered. Su Bin was raised as a normal person and entering the world of the Chaebols means entering a completely different world. The only person she knows, apart from her father, is Lee Min Jun, the handsome guy that she saved before all this occurred.

Lee Min Jun's, Su Bin's father's right-hand man, just got his heart broken when he caught his fiancee cheating. Suddenly pressed for money (for a family emergency), he agrees to enter into a marriage with Su Bin, in order to try and give her family an heir. Unknown to him, however, Su Bin has been in love with him ever since she saved his life.

What this story has in spades is heart. From the first time I saw it in its raw, unpolished state, I found myself caring about these two characters and wishing that they would hurry up and fall in love, so that they could have their happily ever after. Both Su Bin and Lee Min Jun are fantastic characters, and I was very emotionally invested in their journey (and romance isn't even a genre that I read very often!)

My favourite character, though, is Yeo Bin Joon, one of the Chaebol natives who turns out to be Su Bin's knight in shining armour (even though her heart belongs to another). I really enjoyed all the scenes that he was in, and I hope that he gets his own happily ever after soon.

While the writing still stumbles occasionally (and really, it's very occasionally), the story is absorbing. If you're a sucker for romances and happy endings, you'll like this. And if you're a fan of KDramas, then you definitely have to give this a shot.

Disclaimer: I know the author and got this book while it was a freebie, but my review was voluntarily done.