Wednesday, August 23, 2017

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park

I saw this on @twofronteeth 's Dayre at the end of June and thought it sounded interesting so I added it to my TBR. After over a month, I finally picked it up and it is a really good (though heavy) read.

In Order to Live is a memoir of Yeonmi Park's life in North Korea and China. She was born and raised in North Korea, and for a time being, did fairly well despite her family not being part of the elites anymore.

Her father was very entrepreneurial and he managed to put food on the table. There was even a black market where they could get goods from China and DVDs of South Korean shows! But one day, he was arrested and her family suddenly struggled to survive.

The method Yeonmi and her mother took was to escape to China, which was said to have food and jobs. But even though they risked their lives to get there, China was no paradise. The women found that they would be sold to Chinese men as wives and had to live in the shadows, constantly looking over their shoulder. And yet Yeonmi managed to live on, and she eventually managed to bring her mother to South Korea, where she finally resumed her education and without intending it, ended up as the face of a movement.

This is an incredibly powerful book and I would encourage everyone to read it. North Korea is basically a boogeyman right now and Yeonmi's memoir helps to reveal what life is really like there (and let's face it, even reporters with the best intentions will not be as accurate as someone who actually grew up in North Korea). She is candid about the hardships of life and the brainwashing that goes on, but she also shows the strength that people can have even in the worst situations.

If you've ever wondered what it's like in North Korea, or why people would risk their lives to escape, or even why people haven't risen up against their Dear Leader, you have to read this book. It's not just the story of an incredible person, it's also a peek into how an entire society can be brainwashed and it gives one the hope that people can 'wake up' from the brainwashing. Trust me, you won't regret reading this.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Little Monsters by Kara Thomas

This is exactly what I needed right now. It was thrilling and suspenseful and took my mind off work and thoughts of going home immediately. Little Monsters starts with the disappearance of Bailey. Kacey, the new girl in town, considers Bailey one of her few friends and her weird behaviour before the disappearance has her worried.

And then it seems like Kacey just keeps stumbling over clues. Is it a coincidence, or is there something more to it? The more Kacey tries to hide, the more she ends up finding and the truth may not be what she wants.

What made this book stand out to me was the fact that Kacey's chapters were interspersed with Bailey's diary entries which heightened the tension.

Kacey was a good character too. She was easy to empathise with and I liked her voice. Her relationship with her step-siblings were interesting and to the end, a bit heartbreaking. (Warning: the mystery is solved but it's not a happy ending) Even though Bailey provided a completely different picture of Kacey, I never believed that version. I guess Kacey's voice was just so strong that I believed in it.

While I wouldn't recommend this to younger teens (there is some bad language and mature topics are mentioned although nothing is explicit), I'd say that this book will be perfect for people who want to be scared (in a good way). The mystery is pretty solid, I like how the characters were developed, and the twist at the end was good.

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Brandon

This was one of the books mentioned in Not Just Jane, and I was curious as to why it was the book of its time. So I decided to try and do a readalong on my dayre. Long story short, despite the fact that I thought this would take a few days to finish, I read the whole thing in one day. And because I was jotting down my thoughts as I go along, this review is going to be different from my normal style.

First impressions:

The start is a bit slow because there's so much description going on (a trait of that period, I guess), but I like that the fact there is a secret is introduced by the end of the first chapter. I also thought it was pretty interesting that Lady Audley was presented as a Mary Sue and almost immediately had that negated. Now, I might see all Mary Sues as Lady Audley — hiding some kind of secret. If it gets me to tolerate them, then I'll have a lot more books to read, which may not be a good thing, given my huge TBR list.

Also, the language is manageable for now. It actually reads really well, and I didn't feel any resistance like when I tried to read the mysteries of Uldopho (I don't think I finished the first chapter of that, although I might try again someday.)

Midway thoughts:

I don't know if it's because I've read about the book and the author but I'm pretty sure that I know what's going to happen. Still, it's quite fun to see how it happens. By the way, I found it pretty interesting that the blonds vs brunettes thing is brought up here! Looks like the rivalry is much older than just Betty and Veronica. Also, I'm feeling a lot more sympathetic to Lady Audley than I expected because she really is an interesting character. So definitely not a Mary Sue. Alicia, her stepdaughter is pretty interesting too! I'm looking forward to the big showdown I guess is going to happen!

Oh and there's this male character called Robert who reminds me of one of those young man in an Agatha Christie novel, only sexist! Mostly because of his rant.

The dialogue can be a bit stiff at times (or maybe that was what people used to sound like?) but it's still manageable. There are also some monologues that I think could definitely be cut out, but it's not too bad.

Final thoughts:
The second half was actually really absorbing and despite my plans to finish the rest of the book the next day, I ended up finishing it in one night. That's not to say it isn't without its flaws. It could definitely have been shorter (admittedly this is more of a personal preference) and I found Robert quite irritating towards the end.

Like I mentioned before, I'm a lot more sympathetic to Lady Audley than I expected so that may have played a part. And perhaps more importantly, despite the fact that this whole story is about Lady Audley, it is told almost entirely through Robert's POV. Lady Audley does have her monologue but it's basically sandwiched between Robert's opinions of her and it's not very complimentary.

And that is a shame because Lady Audley is a very unique protagonist (for her time, and maybe even now because female anti-heroes aren't that common) and it ends up being told through the eyes of a male and described in overly simplistic terms. I can't help but feel that if the story was told through Lady Audley's POV it would have been a lot more exciting (unreliable narrator woohoo) and maybe a different ending because she has quite a personality.

Lady Audley's Secret does feel a little dated in places and I'm not too thrilled with the ending, but overall it is a gripping read and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It definitely doesn't feel like a 500 page book (on my ereader) to me. It's illogical to do so because I have some complaints, but this is a 5/5 read for me.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Peranakan Chinese Home by Ronald G. Knapp

I have no idea why, but I thought this would be one of those simple introductions to an aspect of Peranakan Chinese culture, much like the books by Asiapac. But this turned out to be a more scholarly work that provided a deep inside into the houses of Peranakan Chinese.

If you haven't heard of them, Peranakans refer mainly to people who are the offspring of a local and a foreigner in South East Asia. If you've lived in Singapore a few years back, you might have seen the show "The Little Nonya" which was based on Peranakan culture. In common use (or at least how I always understood it), it most often refers to people who were the offspring of Malay and Chinese parents (often Malay mothers and Chinese fathers). The book also has a whole chapter dedicated to discussing the definition of the term "Peranakan", so it's clear that the most commonly understood definition may not be the most accurate.

And from there, the book goes on to explore in detail the Peranakan house, looking at its form, symbols, the reception hall, the courtyard, the ancestral hall, the living areas, the bedroom, and the kitchen. Every chapter is lavishly illustrated (you'll want either a print copy or an e-reader that can show coloured photographs and not just black and white text for this) which really helped me to understand what the author is talking about.

The pictures in the book draw on Peranakan Chinese homes in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, and has both breadth and depth. It was interesting to see how these houses were similar despite the fact that they were built in different countries and influenced by different cultures.

While the tone is scholarly and a little intimidating, I think that anyone interested in learning about Peranakan culture should read this book. It's very detailed and combined with the pictures, it gave me a more in-depth understanding of Peranakan culture and what it was like.