Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Global Novel by Adam Kirsch

I requested this book as soon as I read the title. It sounded interesting, and I'm always keen on seeing what people think about novels. The Global Novel is a discussion on the subject of world literature. It starts pretty abruptly, plunging the reader straight into a discussion on the criticisms against the subject of world literature.
"The question of whether world literature can exist - in particular, whether the novel, the preeminent modern genre of exploration and explanation, can be "global" - is another way of asking whether a meaningfully global consciousness can exist."
In other words, the stakes are high. After the introductory chapter, the author goes on to discuss:

Snow, by Orhan Pamuk
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq
Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels.

I didn't quite get the sense of an overarching argument, but it was an interesting discussion. I haven't read many of the books (and I don't really feel like reading any of them other than Ferrante and Murakami after reading this), but I was able to follow the discussion along. Perhaps I didn't get as much depth as I would if I had read the books, but it did make me think. In fact, this line by Mizumura made me think:
"Bilinguals [will] start taking their own country's literature less seriously than literature written in English - especially the classics of English literature, which are evolving into the universal cannon." 
It did give me pause because I read primarily in English, even though I'm technically trilingual. I don't read in Chinese (not unless it's Chinese comics, and even that is rare and limited to my childhood) and now I'm wondering how much I've missed by neglecting one language.

This is probably aimed mainly at students of literature, but anyone curious about the world of literature might be interested in this.

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

Every time I finished a Matthew Shardlake book I'm like "I need to read more of this" but my TBR is making that very hard to do. Anyway, I decided to move this to the top of the list because I really, really wanted to read another one of the books after listening to the BBC radio adaptation of it.

The fire in Dark Fire refers to Greek Fire, which is this near weapon used by the Byzantine empire that could burn on water.

In this book, Lord Cromwell tasks Matthew Shardlake with discovering the formula to Greek Fire. In return, he gives Matthew a stay of execution for a girl that he's trying to defend. And while juggling two murder cases is not an easy feat for anyone, Matthew must do so knowing that if he fails, Cromwell falls (he doesn't like the guy but it's still going to make things worse for him).

Helping him for the first time is Barak, Cromwell's servant. I actually knew Barak as Matthew's assistant so it was a bit of a surprise to see them start on such rough footing. But the differences in their personalities made them an interesting pair and I liked seeing how their friendship (and how Barak stops judging Guy for being different) developed.

The mystery was fantastic and the historical setting even better. This may have been a really thick book, but I finished it faster than expected because each chapter was so short that I kept reading on.

I also thought the story was pretty well-balanced. Lord Cromwell's task is given precedence, but the other murder is investigated periodically, so I never felt like Matthew had forgotten about it.

If you're into historical mysteries, you need to pick up this series. If not now then yesterday because it is really good. I was actually not that enthused about the first book (although I loved the sixth, which was actually my introduction to the series), but I absolutely enjoyed this book and my expectations for the rest of the series just became higher.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

Hey everyone!

I've not been reading much - just here and there before and after work. But I have been trying to catch up on the weekends and because of that, I feel a mystery reading binge coming on! Right now, I'm reading The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham. It's a pretty fun read so far!

My teaser:
"They were getting on like a house o fire. He had begun with his nearest and dearest, and Meg Elginbrodde had been subjected to a catechism which had not only satisfied but scandalised the sergeant."
What about you? What are you reading now and how do you find it?

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, May 22, 2017

From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell by Susan Rowland

This is one of the two books that I've managed to finish last week (at the rate I'm going, I'll have to take a hiatus from the blog/cut down on blogging dramatically because I will eventually run out of reviews :p)

Despite the unfortunate cover (sorry but I think it looks boring), I found this to be a fascinating read! It's an analysis of the works of 6 queens of crime:

Agatha Christie
Dorothy L. Sayers
Margery Allingham
Ngaio Marsh
P. D. James
Ruth Rendell (also writing as Barbara Vine)

The book opens with very short biographies of the six women and then it starts the analysis. Each chapter covers one topic and the topics are:

- Gender and the mystery genre
- Class issues
- England and its colonial legacy
- Psychoanalysis and the genre
- The influence of gothic literature
- "Spiritual detection" (actually I didn't really understand this chapter)
- Feminism and the genre (I really like the title of this chapter 'Feminism is Criminal')

I found the writing style to be a lot more accessible than the Christie book on her film adaptations (though still on the academic side) but you really should have read a majority of these women's works if you want to fully understand the book. I haven't read Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham so I couldn't appreciate a lot of the analysis of their works.

That said, this did renew my interest in reading their works because of how interesting the books sound! I feel like reading something from all of them, and the library has at least one of each lady's book in ebook format so I may go on a mystery binge after this!

I would recommend this book to fans of the mystery genre who are looking for a deeper appreciation of some of the mysteries they read! The chapters aren't connected so you can pick up the book and only read what interests you (plus the chapters are broken up into sections by authors + introduction so you don't even have to read the whole thing). If you're a fan of any one of these six authors, you should give the book a go!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Penance by Kanae Minato

I found this book on Netgalley and couldn't resist requesting it. It is a good read, but I can't quite decide which genre it belongs to.

Penance is ostensibly a mystery. Five children are playing at school when one of them ends up dead after a mysterious man takes her away. The four of them swear that they can't remember what the man looks like and Emily, the dead girl's mother, curses them to either help solve the murder or do a penance.

That said, the book isn't so much about who killed Emily but what happened to Sae, Akiko, Mae, and Yuko as the deadline for the statute of limitations draw closer. Each of them is affected by the murder in a different way, but they are all driven to tragic ends. There is a clue from each of the girls, but the denouement is more about Emily's mother than the murderer.

I guess that if I had to sum up the book, it would be that it's more about the emotions that drive people to murder and the ripple effect that it causes.

Each girl gets her own story, and it's not until the later half that things start to come together. But I was really captivated from the start, because of how the relationships were written. They're sad and oddly fascinating.

For example (please ignore this if you don't want spoilers, though I will try to avoid the biggest one): Sae feels that the murderer chose Emily as his victim because she had already started menstruating and was thus a woman. The stress from this causes her not to menstruate at all. Despite this, she manages to get married, only to find out that her husband proposed only because she looks like the doll he was fascinated with and he's thrilled to have a real life doll now.

This book is dark and twisted and it's absolutely captivating. It's not a very long read but it manages to pack a punch. I wasn't able to put it down, which explains why I have a book review 2 days after the previous one. If you're in the mood for something dark and definitely not-cheery, you need to read this.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

I decided to read this book because it was discussed by this podcast that talks about childhood classics and modern stories and I didn't want to get spoilers.

In Finding Audrey, the titular character suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Depressive Episodes. Apart from therapy, she basically stays in her house the whole day. But she meets her brother's friend Linus and starts to push her boundaries.

I have no idea how accurate the portrayal of these were but I thought it was a pretty sensitive portrayal of mental illness. Audrey is an extremely sympathetic character who isn't defined by her mental illness. Yes, she's trying to get better and that is the main thrust of the book, but I didn't think that it was the only part of her character - she felt a lot more real to me.

I also liked the fact that Audrey was seeing a proper therapist and that the therapist was the one who gave her tasks, instead of her being magically cured by love. That said, I don't really think that meeting a guy should be the reason she takes concrete steps forward. Luckily, the climax of the book took place without Linux so it felt like Audrey wasn't completely reliant on a guy to get better.

The supporting characters were well-written as well. Apart from Audrey and Linux, there is also Frank and Felix, her brothers, and her parents. Her mom, in particular, was interesting - she was an annoying 'bookworm' (using the word lightly since she only talks about Dickens) who serves as a good example of why you should not believe the Daily Mail without some critical thinking. But she clearly loves Audrey and her brother, even though the way she expresses it isn't to their liking. The family dynamics were interesting and I really enjoyed reading about it.

I thought this was an interesting and well-written book. It's not often you see someone with a mental illness as a protagonist, and without glamorising or trivialising the issue (in my uneducated opinion). Also, I liked that I finished this in two days, because work means that I don't have as much time to read.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Thread of Truth by Marie Bostwick

A Thread of Truth is about a quilting shop! I normally read knitting novels, if it's a craft novel (Debbie Macomber, anyone?) but I'm cool with anything craft-related. I first heard about it from Sandra Nachlinger and her teaser convinced me to go look for the book!

The main plot of this book centers on Ivy, who is running from her abusive husband. She finds refuge in New Bern and work in Cobbled Court (a quilt shop). However, she accidentally appears in a segment about the shop and that means that if she wants to keep this life that she's built, she'll have to learn to trust her new friends with her past and secrets.

The subplot is basically about the romance lives of the other four main characters and how Evelyn (the owner) deals with having her shop featured on television. I guess it could have been confusing since this is book two, but there was one chapter that basically summarised book one, so I don't think I missed much.

While the book can be a little heavy-handed in describing feelings or making a point about something, it is on the whole an enjoyable read. The story is engaging and I found myself rooting for Ivy from page one.

Will I want to read book one and the later books? I'm not too sure. I enjoyed it, but the mini-summary of book one means that I don't feel the need to read it, and I guess everything else depends on what the later books are about (I only picked this up because another blogger mentioned it and I thought the combination of topics was interesting).

If you're a fan of quilting, you will want to pick this up.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Hey everyone!

I'm currently juggling two books because my reading mood isn't really settled. One is From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell and it's not very quote worthy (it's on the academic side but fascinating) and the other is The Pearl Thief. The Pearl Thief is a novel so that's where my teaser is coming from:
"My grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Strathfearn, whom my brothers and I call by the French pet name Memere, had been reduced to three rooms in her late husband's ancestral mansion - four if you counted the bathroom. (Not the nursery bathroom - it gave everyone vapors to think I was lounging blissfully unclothed in that enormous bathtub, which was also used by the workmen in the easy wing.)"
The Pearl Thief started of really well, but three chapters in and I'm... starting to wonder if I'm going to finish it. Apart from my odd want-to-read-but-don't reading mood, the narrator and protagonist Julia is starting to get on my nerves. I quite like the heiress dectective/investigator as an idea, but please either own your snottiness or don't have any, because the mock-humble "I'm not vain but I am and I can mimic all languages" Mary Sue thing is starting to get a little annoying.

I'm hoping it's just a mood thing and not that the voice doesn't agree with me (I mean this is a very strong first person so you either like it or don't).

(Ok, I just went and checked Goodreads and apparently I really liked the second book in the series - which had a completely different protagonist - so I'm really, really hoping I warm up to Julia now)

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, May 15, 2017

The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn

About two years ago, I read A Thousand Lives, which introduced me to the horrific tragedy at the Peoples Temple (which also gave birth to the phrase "drinking the kool-aid"). The Road to Jonestown is a biography of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, but it feels a lot more detailed than A Thousand Lives. It does contain information from interviews, so that is probably a huge factor.

The first time I read about the Peoples Temple, I thought that it was a huge tragedy. This time, my feelings are a lot more complicated. Jim Jones was probably a megalomaniac and towards the end, the Peoples Temple was definitely a cult, but it did a lot of good work at the start. If the book is to be believed, Jim Jones did a lot to integrate Indianapolis (by the way, if someone like Jim Jones turns out to be one of the pioneers in integration, clearly there is an apathy problem with the city). Plus, it seems like a lot of his followers started to follow him because he offered concrete help and welcomed both black and white people.

I guess one way of summarising all the complications would be to look at Marceline, Jones' wife. He did a lot of terrible things to her (not least is the cheating) and she did consider leaving him, but in public, she was always supportive of him. And this is a woman described in her introduction as a strong Christian. It seems like she saw something in him that made her willing to ignore all the red flags and support him almost until the end.

Oh, and my feeling of how a lot of people were complicit in this was reinforced in the book. Jones was able to gain legitimacy through admission into the Disciples of Christ, despite the fact that his teachings weren't even close to theologically sound. Instead, the organisation decide to overlook the flags and his stinginess because they saw him as a model of progressive Christianity (why they didn't just encourage their existing Churches to be more active in social matters is a mystery to me).

This book is exhaustive and depressing. It seems like the Peoples Temple had great promise, and if anyone else but Jim Jones was in charge (or if he was divested of power early), if could have done a lot of good. Instead, it will forever be remembered for the tragedy that occurred.

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book was recommended to me by Wendy from Literary Feline (link to her review) and it was fantastic! I normally use my phone on the train (back when I was taking the train) because it's only 10 minutes but this was so good that I decided to use all my free time to read.

Uprooted is hard to explain. There's Agnieszka, a witch whose magic doesn't work the way it usually works, a dragon who's actually a wizard, Kasia, the best friend who was supposed to be taken but wasn't, and a sentient wood. And there are princes and battles and all the usual stuff. It sounds like a lot, but it all goes together so well! In fact, I really liked how the plot moved. Thinking back, it has enough plot for what would probably a trilogy in many books nowadays, but it doesn't feel rushed. It feels perfect in terms of pacing.

The characters are really well-written too. Agnieszka is clumsy and insecure but she has a good heart. The dragon is stern but he's actually a really nice guy. And I really liked Kasia, the best friend who played the part without going over the top. Agnieszka and Kasia are really good friends, but their friendship isn't perfect (they are jealous of each other, a little). I found that made them more believable and the fact that they chose to stick together after knowing that proof that they really were good friends.

The only complaint I have is about the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon (which, coincidentally, Wendy also has :D). I feel like they've had a mentor-student relationship the whole time, even if it's contentious, and the sudden swerve into romance was not believable at all. Like, really, it felt unnecessary.

That said, the other relationship - the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia was very well done and more prominent than the romance so my complaint is a fairly small one.

This is definitely going to be one of my top books for the year. It's a fun and well-written read, much like a fairytale, and if you're into fantasy, you HAVE to pick this up.

(It's available on NLB so there's no excuse if you're Singaporean)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

This is technically a reread, but since I read Rebecca even before I started writing reviews, I guess it could count as new? I've been meaning to read this for a while, and after reading Manderley Forever, it got moved to the top of the TBR list.

I don't think a plot introduction is needed, but if you haven't heard of the book before, Rebecca isn't the name of the protagonist. It's the name of the nameless protagonist's husband's first wife. And even though Rebecca is dead, she haunts Manderley and the protagonist's relationships as she is convinced that she is inferior to the well-loved Rebecca.

The book is also a lot more than a bizarre love triangle. Part of the reason it makes such a big impact is the atmosphere that it has. Manderley (which is based on a real house called Menabilly) is practically a character of its own, which is unusual for a house.

However, I've got to add a note of warning: if you're looking for a romance novel, this is not the book.

Sure, it's about a romantic relationship and could have what might be called a HEA (she does get the guy after all, although it's debatable if she is truly happy) but it doesn't actually hit any of the conventional tropes. The HEA might not actually be happy, and the tone of the novel is extremely dark. It is less of a romance and more of a novel about how insecurity and jealousy and take human form.

I definitely recommend this. It's fascinating and absorbing, and it will hook you from its iconic first sentence. I can definitely see why this is Daphne du Maurier's most famous book (even if she got sick about all the questions about the name of the protagonist later on).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay

I read Rebecca a long time ago and remember that I loved it, so I decided that I had to request this biography of Daphne du Maurier!

Manderley Forever is told in two parts. One is the author's own journey to various places of significance in Daphne du Maurier's life, which opens each chapter, and the other is the biography, told in the style of a novel (with third person narration).

To be honest, the author's pilgrimage didn't feel necessary, and I wouldn't have missed anything if it was cut. It just wasn't long enough and didn't enhance the story of Daphne du Maurier's life to me (and I didn't feel a connection with the author either).

Another quibble I have is that the book talks a lot about how Daphne feels at times and it does so with no room for ambiguity. It does seem very well-researched but I do wonder how accurate one can be at guessing at the emotions of someone else - were the letters and other materials that survived that comprehensive?

That being said, the book succeeds very well as a biography. The writing style was a little weird at first, but by the end of the book, I felt like I had come to know Daphne du Maurier pretty well. And even more importantly, it made me want to read all of her books (pity the NLB only has 3 of her books in ebook form). So I will. I'm going to start with Rebecca, even if she did get sick of it, and read the other two between books.

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

I'm so glad that my work is finally back to normal! I still don't have a lot of time to read (less now, since I'm driving to work and back) but I'm sneaking pockets of time to read Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom. I've been meaning to read more of the Matthew Shardlake series and I figured it was time to stop just saying it and actually read more.

My teaser:
"'Who's fault is that?' he asked roundly. 'They fought each other in the wars of York and Lancaster till they near wiped each other out.'" 
I hope everyone is having a good start to their 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, May 8, 2017

Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees

Hi everyone!! Just wanted to say hi because I haven't posted for most of last week. It was Golden Week in Japan, which means holiday for most of the country and peak season for me (I guess that's what working in the tourism industry does). I've been way busier than normal as a result and haven't had the energy to turn on my computer for most of the week. But, I'm finally back(: Ok, time for the review. 

So I saw this book and just had to borrow it. I love Jane Austen, but I'm also looking out for more authors from that time period.

Not Just Jane is a collection of seven mini-biographies of authoress's who were famous in their day yet almost completely unknown now. They aren't even studied that often in the field of literature! Which is a huge pity because they led interesting lives and wrote some groundbreaking novels at a time when women were supposed to be wives and nothing else.

The authoress's in this book are:

Charlotte Turner Smith
Helen Maria Williams
Mary Robinson
Catherine Crowe
Sara Coleridge
Dinah Mulock Craik
Mary Elizabeth Braddon

They all led different lives and wrote different things, but they all seem to be amazing women and amazing writers. Along with a biography, Shelley DeWees also provides an introduction to the period of that time, making me feel very grateful to be writing now, with much fewer barriers.

I'm not sure if the NLB has any of their books, but there's a good chance that Project Gutenberg does. I've already found Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It was the best-seller when it came out and propelled her to stardom (and scandal). I'm really looking forward to reading that when I have the time.

This is a must-read for everyone. The biographies are short (about 20 pages on my iPad) and I managed to devour the book in two days. I'd recommend having a tab open to Project Gutenberg or Manybooks while you read, so that you can check for your next read at the same time.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Teaser Tuesday: Agatha Christie on Screen by Mark Aldridge

Guess what? Today is part of Golden Week* which is peak season for my company (since everyone else is on holiday). I did manage to finish one book yesterday, because I started a sensation novel and ended up sacrificing sleep. Today though... hasn't been that productive for reading. I started Agatha Christie on Screen and while it is interesting, it's a little bit academic which means it's easier to put down (not saying academic is bad - this just isn't a book I want to rush through).

My teaser (which is from a quote):
"Isn't it time Slack put on his thinking cap and realised that Miss Marple is one of the most dangerous serial killers since Jack the Ripper? Not content to shoot, strangle and poison her way through England, this dangerous person, simpering modestly over the teacups, always manages to frame someone else."
Most of the book is a bit dry, but I'm a huge Christie fan so I find it really interesting (though I don't think I've actually watched any of the adaptations. I just read the books)

*Golden Week is when public holidays converge to give Japanese people almost one week of rest from work (depending on how the holidays fall and if there's a weekend between them).

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, May 1, 2017

The Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery

This was a rather chilling read because when I got to the end of the book, I discovered that many of the details of the book "came directly from Flora Jessop, who allowed [the author] to interview at length about her experiences with the FLDS."

The Scent of Rain is about a lot of things. There's a dead body, there's a runaway boy, there are some sort of mysterious vitamins, there are missing people, and there's Rose. Not all these questions will be answered (perhaps the author is preparing for a second book?) but the most important one, about Rose's future, is.

What's so important about Rose? Well, she's different. She's a little rebellious and that's a huge no-no in the community. Her mother absolutely hates it, and even though her father loves her, even he won't go against the Prophet. And when the Prophet (just out of prison too) decides that all pets must be killed, Rose ends up running away rather than help her sister kill her beloved pet.

This story was terrifying because of the characters. The Prophet is obviously evil and a pedophile, but what's probably more frightening are the banally evil characters (to borrow a phrase). Rose's mother is a harsh woman, but would she have been so harsh if she did not listen to the Prophet? Rose's father loves her and her sisters, but would Rose have to run away if he stood up for her? These two side characters basically represent all the people in the community, because there are two ways that you can react to people and (mild spoiler alert) they both react differently.

While there are a lot of questions that are left unanswered, I thought that this had a satisfying, if almost too pat, ending. There was a lot of ground to cover, and the author even threw in a twist or two, which meant that some sections felt a bit forced. But since most of the book was really well-written, I didn't really mind. It was just something I noticed because I finished the book in two sittings (I read as much as possible when I don't have to work).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I hope that the author is planning to write a sequel because I'm really curious about all the questions that she didn't answer.

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