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.