Monday, August 31, 2015

The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker

This is another one of those books that was deeply discounted in Popular. And since I've heard of it a few times (I'm not sure from where), I decided to give it a read.

To summarise The Gift of Fear, listening to your intuition can help save your life. That's the basic message. The other 327 pages (not including appendixes), are full of examples, as well as lists of what the author calls "Pre-Incident Indicators" or PINs. For example, he provides four general elements that can be used to predict the possibility of violence - JACA or (Perceived) Justification, (Perceived) Alternatives, (Perceived) Consequences and (Perceived) Ability. If a person feels that there is no other alternative to violence, and that he is justified and has the ability to carry it out, the odds that violence is used is much higher.

The latter half of the book deals with specific situations, such as aggressive employees, domestic violence, date stalkers, violent children and attacks against public speakers. These incidents are still remote to me, but they could be useful in the future, and in addition, it shows that even what we feel is the a scary threat can be managed.

Personally, I found the first half of the book the scariest, and the most informative. The talk about how people can used strategies such as forced teaming (using words like "us" and "we" even though I don't know them) to make me want to cooperate, plus the whole "girls must be nice" idea that's drummed into us, made me realise that in an attempt to be polite, I could be exposing myself to more danger. I like talking to people, and while I'm not going to become standoffish (it's too much a change for me), I will be more careful not to give out personal information in the future.

All in all, this was a very informative read, and I don't regret buying the book at all. When I go back to university, I will probably be leaving this book at home, for my younger siblings to read.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Black Star Canyon (The Complete First Season) by Creep Creepersin

I don't really have much experience with serials. So when I heard Creep Creepersin (CC) on a podcast, I asked him about it (I think it was something like, how do you write a serial? It sounds cool), and CC very generously offered me a copy. This was sometime ago, but because I was having school, I was a bit afraid to start, lest I couldn't stop.

Until one day, I was stuck on a plane. So I cracked open the ebook and began reading. When the first episode finished, I was a little hesitant as to whether I should continue, since the style of writing felt different to me. But then I saw the first hint and was hooked. I read on, and as the story got more and more melodramatic, the hints got harder and harder to figure out. I finished the first season not knowing anymore than when I started, but very intrigued as to what was happening.

Black Star Canyon starts with a murder, but unlike most mystery series I watch, things do not get clearer. Instead, as we get to know these over-the-top characters, things just get murkier. Who is hiding what? And then, another body is found. And the mayor's daughter is severely attacked. Who is behind all these mysterious crimes?

What I liked about this serial were the hints, which hooked me, then drove me crazy because I couldn't guess what was going on. The characters are definitely over the top, especially the mayor, and whether or not you like them is a personal preference. Personally, I like the cops, while the mayor and his family kind of grates on me.

Another thing that you'll either love or hate is the writing style. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's a very exaggerated feel. Kind of like a TV drama. It's very, very vivid, and I think because I was reading something that wrote in the opposite style (I think it was a non-fiction business book), it felt a little strange to me, at least until I got used to it.

All in all, this is a fun novel. You'll either love or hate the vivid prose and over-the-top characters, but one thing that'll probably hook you will be the serial format, with the hints at the end of every episode.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the author. I was not asked to give a review, but since I finished reading it, I figured I might as well give my honest opinion.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash by Brad Glosserman and Scott A Snyder

When I picked up this book, I was expecting a long, thoughtful discourse on how Japanese and South Koreans viewed themselves, and how that influenced their relationship. What I got, was not quite that.

The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash seems to have devoted more space to interpreting various polls on how the countries view each other and themselves. I like the fact that they have data, but I was expecting more than just a book explaining the different poll results. There might have been other aspects, but this was my main impression of the book - that it's basically poll results.

For me, the most interesting part of the book would be the last two chapters, when the author took poll findings and tried to apply them to policy. Basically, the author thinks that Japan should take steps to improve relations by getting rid of what the polls says is the biggest obstacle in their relationship. Yup, that's the Takeshima/Dokdo islands. We actually discussed this in JLC, although my main takeaway was that this video existed.

Yeah... the debate I was expecting didn't really materialise, although that wasn't the fault of the teacher. He invited the Korean students to speak repeatedly, but they were all really diplomatic about it (I'm guessing they didn't want to risk their grades, even though this teacher was one of the most relaxed teachers in the school - those kids were serious about getting into Todai).

Basically, this book is not meant for beginners to Japan-South Korea politics (so, people like me). I appreciate that there was a lot of data, and that the authors took the time to explain it, but it felt dry to me, and the policies a bit too idealistic to come true.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

So early this year, I read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, when I mentioned this to one of my teachers, she recommended that I read Fooled by Randomness next, and then The Black Swan.  It took me a long time, but I finally read Fooled by Randomness, and I'll 'tackle' The Black Swan as soon as I can get my hands on a copy.

Fooled by Randomness is written in a very conversational style, and basically makes the case that luck plays a much bigger role in our lives that we expect. We just tend to attribute it to other factors, due to things like survivors bias (but don't worry, you have to work hard if you want to take advantage when luck strikes. So don't stop working just yet).

The book talks about a variety of subjects related to risk and randomness, but the one part that stood out to me came really early in the book - Chapters 1 and 2, in fact. It's the part when Nassim Taleb compares a dentist and someone else (like a lottery winner) and concludes that on average, the dentist is richer. Why? Because the income for dentists don't change much, while only a few people win the lottery. So while the lottery winner may strike it rich (much richer than the dentist, in fact), on average, the average dentist is going to be the richer than the average lottery winner. His/her risk in life is smaller. It's kind of like what one of my teachers said, that if you want stability, you go for a job in the public service (in Japan anyway), but if you want to be rich, you start a company. The catch is that the job in the public service has very little risk, and you know how much you're going to get all the way till you retire. On the other hand, if you start your own business, you may go bankrupt, just break even, live comfortably, or strike it rich beyond your wildest dreams. Which job you choose is a matter of preference, really. There's no right or wrong.

Personally, I enjoyed the extreme conversational style of the book, although I'm not sure if I'd be able to hold myself in a conversation with the author (if I ever met him). There were lots of anecdotes, and lots of references to some guy called Popper. I should probably go read whatever the Popper guy wrote sometime too.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Librarian by M.N. Arzu

Ok, so I'm sure quite a few of you have heard me talk about WriteOn before. Today's review is of a book from a WriteOn friend. So consider yourself warned - I'm not the most unbiased reviewer here.

The Librarian is about, surprisingly, aliens. Yeah, not something I guessed from the title either. So basically, some strange activity is found, and when the US military goes to investigate, they find a man (Nick). They're pretty sure he's not human, because of said strange activity, but he isn't talking to anyone but his wife (Jane). So, desperate for contact with aliens, they get Jane. Only, Jane can't really accept what's going on (obviously). And Nick? Nick's hiding something...

Even though this story was pretty short, it being a novella, it took a twist that I didn't expect at the end. But, it made sense to me in retrospect.

Personally, I loved this novella. I actually grabbed the official copy, and no, I didn't spot any mistakes. But then again, I didn't have my feedback cap on, so don't take me at my word. I was just enjoying the story this time round.

Oh, and I was left with some questions. I want to know more about what happens after the ending, because the way the world works, I'm wondering if the happy ending is going to be happy. I'm speaking in riddles because I don't want to give up any spoilers, but let's just say the way the alien works makes me think this is just a happy ever after for now, rather than a happy ever after. I wonder if there's going to be a short story sequel dealing with that...

Generally, I really enjoyed this story. It had an interesting premise, I liked the two main characters, and the ending gave me enough information that I was intrigued. Again, I'm not the most unbiased of readers, but I'd like to believe that even if I didn't know the author, I'd write an equally positive review.

Disclaimer: Like the previous two disclaimers, I know the author. She's a friend of mine, and I generally really enjoy reading her stuff on WriteOn.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Kouga Ninja Scrolls by Futaro Yamada

So, this is the book that I read on the way to Chiran. Because I got this book on a whim, I didn't know what to expect. I mean, I haven't even watched Basilisk or Shinobi. All I knew, before I started reading, was that the body count of this book was pretty high. (Thanks Nicholas =.=)

That was an understatement. [MILD SPOILER ALERT] This book was gripping, fast-paced, and one of the most depressing books that I've ever read. The most accurate description I can give is "and everyone dies."

Ok, there's a bit more to it. The book starts with Tokugawa Ieyasu trying to decide who is going to be his heir. And instead of doing the normal thing and having said heirs compete among themselves, he decides to let two ninja clans kill each other, and the last clan standing will decide who his heir is. Yeah, I don't really get it either. But, with that decision, the war between the Kouga and Iga ninja clans resume.

But, Gennosuke (the heir to the Kouga) and Oboro (heir to the Iga) are in love and engaged to each other. Oops. Now they have to kill each other, but can they? (Meanwhile, their clansmen are ecstatic that the ban on killing is lifted)

All the ninjas here have inhuman powers. Just take the two protagonists - Gennosuke has basilisk eyes, and Oboro can pretty much stop any ninja power. So despite the book starting out as "although they [the ninja] were still human", it basically ignores that line from, I don't know, the next chapter onwards and has the power of each ninja become more and more unbelievable. (Seriously, there's a ninja who basically melts in salt. HE MELTS AND THEN REGAINS HUMAN SHAPE. He's not human, he's a human-slug hybrid).

By the way, the characters of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hattori Hanzo (basically, the normal "humans") do exist, and the Kouga and Iga were ninja clans. But I wouldn't take anything else as historically accurate. Just enjoy the book for what it is - a depressing Romeo and Juliet story.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark by Guillermo del Toro

Since I was supposed to take a night bus from Shinjuku to Aomori for the trip to Aomori a few weeks back, I figured I should bring a book. So I brought this - I have no idea why, perhaps I didn't think I needed to sleep before a presentation. But thankfully, I finished this book on the train to Shinjuku, so I didn't have to creep myself out reading in the dark.

Don't be afraid of the dark is basically a collection of scary fairies from around the world, sandwiched between an increasingly dark story staring Lord Blackwood, as he turns into a fairy-hunter, convinced that there are other beings. And not only that, these beings (or "fairies") are dangerous.

Having read the book, I can safely say that I don't think I want to watch the film that this was based on. I'm not that brave. The story started off fine, but it got scarier slowly. The ending is, as I understand based on Wikipedia, where the movie starts off, so yeah. I don't really want to see what happens next.

What I liked about the collection of fairy-types was that there was a varied collection of fairies from around the world. I was expecting it to be very European-based, but there was a section dedicated to Japanese and Chinese fairies/ghosts. There are Kappa, Yuki Onna, Huli Jing, etc.

By the way, this is a very eye-catching book (I got the hardcover). Most of my friends asked me about this, since the pages are either black (The fairy encyclopedia bit) or are edged in black (Lord Blackwood's Journal). I really like the illustrations in it too, although I won't want it hanging on a wall in my house.

I totally don't regret getting this book. I bought it on a whim, but despite my weak stomach for scary stuff, I enjoyed reading it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

No One Needs to Know by Kevin O'Brien

This was my first post-exam book that I finished, and I'm glad that I chose it. It's not light-hearted, but gripping and enough for me to forget about school (to a certain extent - since I still have assignments going on).

No One Needs to Know follows Laurie Trotter, who in my opinion, has the worst luck ever. Not only did her husband die in Afghanistan, the guy she made a mistake with has started stalking her, and his crazy brother and followers are determined to grab her baby from her. When things escalate and she has to move away, she ends up working for a Cheryl, who seems to be surrounded by death. And while my description may seem quite flippant, the book was anything but.

There are basically two plot lines here - Cheryl and her stalker situation, and the 7/7/70 murder case. The 7/7/70 murder case is something like Charles Mason, with a hippie-ish guy and his followers killing celebrities in a gruesome way. And now, a movie is being made about it. But, there's a secret behind the case, and poor Laurie is caught up in it.

While I'm not too crazy about the book having two such big storylines (one of them was a bit neglected), I can sort of see the rationale for it. One plot (the stalker one), kick started the other. But it did leave me confused as to which part of the story I should have focused on at first, until the story found its stride and the 7/7/70 case took over.

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. My thumb was basically going tap, tap, tap on the iPad as I tried to read as fast as possible because I wanted to find out what happened. I finished it in two days (I started reading it yesterday, and even had it as my Teaser Tuesday), and that was only because I had to work from 1-5, and do translation work before and after that. It would have been a day otherwise.

I liked Laurie and her little son Joey (when he appeared), and thought the characters were pretty interesting. If you can follow the two plots and multiple POVS, you'll probably enjoy this book too.

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

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Teaser Tuesday: No One Needs to Know by Kevin O'Brien

Hey everyone! Finally, I'm on summer break! But I've been working the past few days, so I haven't been reading as much as I'd like.

Right now, I'm reading No One Needs to Know and wishing I had more time to finish it. I want to find out what happens really badly!


"Laurie stopped at the mailboxes just inside the courtyard entrance. In the box marked number 3, she found her first bill to the new address - from Visa."

Ok, the teaser isn't that exciting, but the story is!

What is your teaser?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Curse of Ash and Iron by Christine Norris

I think everyone knows how much I like fairytale retellings. However, I haven't really read Steampunk retellings - I think there were some in the Once Upon a Time retelling (I hope I remembered the series name right!), but not much other than that. So when I saw A Curse of Ash and Iron, I jumped at the chance to read it.

A Curse of Ash and Iron follows Ellie, who has been under a curse for the past few years. Though she's still living in the same house she's always been in, no one recognises her. Her stepmother has the whole world convinced that she's a poor relative. That is, until one day, she bumps into her childhood friend Ben, who sees her. Really sees her. And with that, Ellie gets the hope that the curse can be broken, and she and her father saved.

For the most part, I liked this story. Ellie is plucky (though I actually prefer her stepsister), and I liked her friendship with Ben. They were childhood friends, and I liked how close they were. [MILD SPOILERS AHEAD] But, he's not a prince charming. I thought that was a pity - he was very much princely in my eyes. Instead, there's Mr. Scott, who's you know, rich and handsome. I'm not going to say more, because spoilers and what not, but yeah, this was the aspect of the book that disappointed me. I was all ready to root for a romance too.

I mentioned just now that my favouriate character wasn't Ellie, but her stepsister Rebecca. I don't know why, but I found Rebecca a lot more mysterious and interesting than Ellie. Plus, Ellie's love life annoyed me, which led to me being mildly annoyed with her. I would love it if the next book featured Rebecca.

Overall, this was an interesting book. There's a whole cast of interesting characters, and although I was mildly dissatisfied with how the romance progressed, it wasn't like the book was ruined for me. If there was a sequel, I would totally read it. Especially if Rebecca turned out to be the protagonist.

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Insanity by Cameron Jace

I picked this book up during a Bookbub sale because of the cover and blurb, and am I glad I did. I'm not the mailing list type, but after I finished the book, I went over to the author site and signed up immediately. Yes, it's that good. Now, I need money to buy the sequels.

Insanity features Alice Wonder, a girl locked away for murdering her school bus full of friends. But when other girls start turning up dead, a creepy grin sewn onto their faces (Cheshire, of course), Alice may be the one to solve the murder. Thanks to Cater Pillar the Killer, she gets to roam free during daylight hours, solving the various hints laid out by Cheshire. Proving that everyone is mad, things get stranger and stranger for Alice.

The wonderland characters appear throughout the book, most of them way darker than you would think. As for Alice, besides solving a murder, she's trying to figure out exactly what happened in the past, because she doesn't remember a thing.

Considering how many times I thought "hmmm" makes sense, and combining that with the fact that I love this book makes me wonder just how 'normal' I am. Then again, we're all mad here, aren't we?

Alice was an amazing protagonist. You have to like a protagonist who judges how sane she is by whether or not the Tiger Lily in her room talks back to her. That's a girl with her head screwed on right(;

The story flowed in such a way that even I was left wondering how much of this was real, and how much was false. Is Alice really The Alice? And more importantly, are we just insane and following her around? (Ok, probably not to the second question. But you do wonder, especially when you look at the reaction of the 'sane' people)

I noticed what seemed to be two errors in the book, but to be honest, I don't really care. I'm not even sure why I saw them, but I did, and it pulled me out of the story just that tiny bit.

On the whole though, this was an awesome book. I'm so glad I picked it up! And I see the author has written other fairy-tale inspired stories, so off to Scribd to see if any are there!

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Bones of You by Debbie Howells

Ok, this is an awesome book, but first, can we stop comparing books to Gillian Flynn? Because as soon as I saw her name, I though "Oh, it's like Gone Girl", and the twist was not as surprising as it could have been. I know Gillian Flynn wrote more than one book, but let's face it, Gone Girl is the one that's currently in the public eye.

And surprisingly, I also recognised the name Alice Sebold - The Lovely Bones, right? That wasn't too bad, because what I remember of The Lovely Bones is its narrative style rather than plot twists.

The Bones of You is a murder mystery that's split between Kate, the neighbour of the murdered girl, and Rosie, the murdered girl herself. One day, Rosie, this quiet, good girl, goes missing. Everyone worries, including Kate (because: 1. neighbours and 2. she has a daughter Rosie's age). Sadly, Rosie is found brutally murdered. Kate tries to stay away, but she can't. She gets closer to Joanna, and as things get weirder and the investigation take a different turn, Kate starts to get strange notes.

Basically, Kate is here to live through the aftermath of Rosie's death. Rosie is here to let the reader look into the past. While her family looks perfect, Rosie knows it's not true. As she brings the reader through her childhood and towards the present, just how awful and broken her family is becomes clearer and clearer.

Personally, I thought the twist was well-executed. If I hadn't read the blurb, I would have suspected the wrong person because [milld spoilers] Neal, Rosie's father, is just that horrible a person. I was hoping that he was going to get some jail time. And now, I can't say anymore. Actually, I may have said too much, because if you've read Gone Girl, or have heard about it, you'll probably know the ending.

This was a really well-written and suspenseful book. I just wish I learnt to either ignore the blurb, or to further reduce my ability to recognise author names.

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