Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

This week, I briefly contemplated not doing a Teaser Tuesday. I finished a book on the train, and I was like "should I write a review? Should I do a teaser from a book I already finished?" and was in two minds about the whole thing. Then I saw Wendy's post at Literary Feline and she recommended quite a few amazing sounding books that I've never read (I'm continually reminded that as much as I think I've read, it's still not that much).

I went to the library's ebook app to search for it, and I found two of them! So I borrowed one immediately and favourited the other. And tada, I have something to share. My teaser is from the first two lines of Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: 
"They say in the old tales that the first night after a child is born, the Bidhata Purush comes down to earth himself to decide what its fortune is to be. That is why they bathe babies in sandalwood water and wrap them in soft red malmal, color of luck."
The author's name looked familiar, so I looked her up on Goodreads and I found out that she wrote Before We Visit the Goddess, which I loved. So I have really high hopes for this book!

What about you? What are you reading this week?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. 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, November 28, 2016

A World of Curiosities by John Oldale

A World of Curiosities sums up each nation covered at least one page (with Hong Kong/Macau and Taiwan getting their own pages), though which countries get an in-depth report seems to be arbitrarily decided. While I have no idea if this really covered every country on the planet, it did cover a lot of them. And it was a fact book, so it took me some time to finish (never mind how interesting the facts were).

Of course, Singapore is mentioned:



(First country I turned to too).

The Singapore section was a little disappointing, though. I mean, the 'Disneyland with the Death Penalty' quote is just so overused. (At least be creative and rephrase as USS with the death penalty or something). Besides, it sort of uses the same old stereotype. Then again, Cambodia's quote wasn't very flattering either. It seems like some of the entries focus too much on one aspect of a country and don't provide a balanced picture (countries that get more than one page don't tend to suffer from this).

And while some of the entries were interesting, I can't believe not a single thing about food was mentioned. Our Bak Kwa is famous, at least in Asia.

My disgruntlement arising from my own admittedly strong bias towards my home country aside, this book was pretty fun to read. I chuckled a few times (especially at the footnotes) and learnt a lot. If you have to get this book, I'd say buy a paperback copy because you want to be able to flip through it, and you won't want to have to rush through it, like a library book.



By the way, I found this in the section on Austria (page 19). It took me a while to realise eye = mata and then it all made sense.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Instafreebie Group Giveaway



Happy Thanksgiving everyone! (If you celebrate)

Guess what? I'm participating in my first ever group giveaway! Please forgive the two three exclamation marks in a row because I'm just so excited!

The giveaway is for Horror and Urban Fantasy books. There are 45 books in total, and you get get most of them free from Instafreebie! (And if it's not a free copy, it'll be a free sample)

In particular, I really recommend The Ninth Circle by Lincoln Cole (link leads to my review) and Underneath by M.N. Arzu (again, link leads to review, if you want to read more). I read and enjoyed both of them very much, and if you think they sound good from my review, then definitely go pick them up - The Ninth Circle is free and Underneath is a free sample.

Again, hope you have a great weekend!

Get your free books here

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Nightmare Before Christmas Manga

It would be impossible to look at this and not request a review copy. Luckily, my request was granted, so I didn't have to wonder what the manga version of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas looks like.


And double luckily, it's a really good adaptation! Most of the original character design had been kept (I like the way manga looks, but big sparkly manga eyes would not have been good for this). And it does have that manga-vibe, due to the font and the panelling plus backgrounds.



If you liked the movie, you'll probably like this manga adaptation. It's faithful but does have the vibe of manga to it.

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - A Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

Hey everyone! So today, I woke up to hear that a huge earthquake struck Fukushima again >< Luckily, the tsunami warnings have been rescinded and everything seems find out, though the JMA (Japan Meteorological Agency) still wants people to be careful. Since Fukushima and Fukuoka start with the same letters, my mom actually got a few messages from people about this.

Going back to books, I'm reading The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu right now. I read A Grace of Kings in April, but it has clearly been too long because when I started it I was like "who are these people? Where is Kuni Garu?" (I forgot his name got changed) I had to go back and read the blurb for The Wall of Storms and my review for A Grace of Kings before I remembered where the story left off.

Also, I can't believe I read it in April! I thought I read it last year, that's how long ago it felt.

My teaser:


"A sword leaned against the dresser to the side - though no one other than a member of the Imperial family or a palace guard was allowed to carry weapons in the palace, Queen Gin had been given this singular honor by Emperor Ragin. She as the commander of all the empire's armed forces, perhaps the most powerful noble in all Dara, yet now she was being pestered by children to play a dangerous game - breaching the security of the Grand Examination."

What about you? What are you reading this week?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. 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, November 21, 2016

Graveyard of Empires by Lincoln Cole

I just finished this book and it's like woah. Like the title says, this is about an empire. So, expect lots and lots of people.

Graveyard of Empires follows quite a few people. There's Argus, who discovers a very special little boy (Traq) and hands it to his trusted co-worker Vivian for safe keeping. If discovered, it could mean death for the three of them. But because Argus has a heart, he's also hatching a plot to keep his daughter safe and away from the Ministry that he works for. At the same time, there's Kristi, the new captain of her ship. She's new but likes to play 'mind games', which includes accepting Argus's offer to make his daughter her Envoy onboard the ship (an Envoy has a lot of power).

On the other side, there's Darius, leader of the rebels in the Ministry. He doesn't get much page space, but his two right hand women - Maven and Alyssa are sisters who seem to hate each other. Both are really powerful too. There's also Jayson, who's training for something, though he doesn't really know what. All he knows that if he can't make it through the training, he's dead.

And there might be a few more characters but I've forgotten them. I was, to be honest, a bit worried about whether I could keep up with all the characters, but I've found that the main players stuck in my mind so there are no worries there.

This book is really just setting the stage for a (hopefully) long series. People move into places and positions and by the end of this book, it seems like one little spark could turn into a huge flame. Plus, I still haven't quite figured out who is the "bad guy" of this book, since it seems that both Darius and the Ministry (and First Citizen, who's also very powerful) are...not good. Let's leave it at that.

Personally, my favourite characters are Captain Kristi, Alyssa and Maven. Captain Kristi because I'm very interested in seeing how she's going to command her ship, and whether she can get Abi (Argus's daughter) to help her in her plans. Plus, she has Jamar, who seems to know everything but yet we don't know anything about him. Alyssa and Maven, I liked because of their hate-hate dynamic. I look forward to seeing how that develops, and to seeing the reason why they defected with Darius.

If you're a Science-Fiction fan, you'll want to check this out.

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

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fantastic Creatures: An Anthology by Fellowship of Fantasy

The Fantastic Creatures anthology is by the Fellowship of Fantasy, a group created to provide a diverse range of fantasy stories, but without graphic scenes or swearing. So it's something that you can let kids read, though it can get pretty dark at times.

There are 21 stories in this anthology, and on the whole, they are really well-written. Generally, I preferred the stories set in a more traditional setting instead of modern day earth, but that's more because of personal preference than story quality. A few that I particularly liked were:

Snapdragon by Lea Doue: It's the princess and the frog, only that the princess is the cursed daughter of a witch (with thorns growing out of her) and the frog is a tiny dragon. I loved it.

Seekers by Intisar Khanani: I am biased because I loved Intisar's stories. This intriguing tale in selkies was short but bittersweet. I would not like to be the father in the tale, but I'm glad things worked out for Maggie.

Skin by Morgan Smith: Resembling a traditional fairytale in tone and plot, this story has an interesting female protagonist (Katya) who ends up gambling with a monstrous prince. And to think it started with a demand for a bride.

Destiny's Flight by Frank Luke: Fantastic Christian fantasy with knights and griffins! If this was a full-length series, I'll buy the book immediately (but it doesn't seem like that). I also liked that the romance was unconventional and that even though the two characters who obviously liked each other didn't end up together, we were left with the promise that they would be happy.

This is turning out to be a too-short review of every other story so I'll stop after Talori and the Shark by Jessica L. Elliot. It reminds me of that myth about Cupid where he got married but his wife wasn't allowed to see his face, only this takes place underwater and with mermaids! Intrigued, right?

ETA: I've been told that this issue has been corrected, but since it's a whole paragraph of the review, I'm just leaving it here. The only story that made me stop and go "oh no" in dismay was The Kappa by Leila Rose Foreman. It's not a bad story, but every time Hanako calls her mother "mama-san", I just wince. And nope, there's no indication that her mother actually is a mama-san. Considering how basic knowledge of this word is (Wikipedia has a page on this - in English!), the mistake shouldn't have been made. I don't know if the author will see this review but hopefully, it gets corrected soon.

Overall, this is a strong and diverse collection of fantasy short stories. There's enough variety in setting and tone and plot that there should be something for everyone.

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

Thursday, November 17, 2016

100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings by Sarah Cooper

A fun, short book that does what the title says. Some of the tricks include:

#39: When someone asks a question, look at the person who you think has the answer.

#57: Say "That's a great question" before you avoid each question.

#82: To get out of a conversation, say you have some people waiting on you.

Each trick comes with an explanation on exactly how it's going to go down, plus an illustration. There are also sections like "famous meetings throughout history" (I found this very funny), "Advanced meeting power moves to get you promoted (or fired)" as well as what to do at business dinners (those are the last ten tips). And of course, the book also 'teaches' you what to do after a meeting to appear smart.

I think it would be better to read this a little at a time, because reading it all at one go will probably make the jokes at the end seem unfunny. After all, it's just variants on the theme of "how to pretend to look productive without actually doing anything."

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

As a general rule, I love Kristin Hannah's books and The Nightingale is no exception.

The Nightingale is set in Nazi Occupied France and follows two sisters - Isabelle, who wishes desperately to help the war effort and Vianne, who just wants her husband to come home and to keep her daughter safe. Both of them do very different things, but both of them were strong and brave in their own way.

To be honest, I didn't like Isabelle for the first half or so of the book (even after she started doing heroic things). I know that what she did was incredible, but her inability to see anyone's point of view but hers and her preoccupation on her feelings was annoying. But luckily she did grow up, and by the end of the book, I quite liked her as a character.

Vianne was a character I liked from the start, probably because she had her flaws, but was also focused on keeping things as normal (and safe) as possible for her daughter. She was a real lady, because it's easy to let your anger show but hard to keep it in. Although she was not honoured as much as Isabelle by the end of the book, I think her achievements were equal to her sister's.

The story is loosely framed as a flashback, but that only matters towards the end, because many years are needed for closure for the characters. For the most part, I was firmly in the horrifying past.

I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a moving story of love and bravery during war.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - Fantastic Creatures by Fellowship of Fantasy

Hey everyone!! I hope you're having a good start to the week. Right now, I'm enjoying a short story anthology from the Fellowship of Fantasy, which basically tries to have stories without explicit violence, sex or swearing (doesn't mean everything is happy and light though. Some stories are quite dark).

And I'm really enjoying the stories so I'm having a good start to the week.

My teaser:
"To arms! To arms! Wake the citizenry and seal the city! The King's body has been stolen!" 
One of the black-clad figures pulled off his gag. "So much for the mannequin." 
"I really thought that would fool them until morning, another replied. "Maybe it shouldn't have been smiling."
I know this isn't two sentences, but if you don't have them all, the joke loses its punch.

And now, I should get back to preparing for my graduation thesis. I'm a little bit behind :p

What are you reading this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. 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, November 14, 2016

Invisible Planets Translated and Edited by Ken Liu

If you read fantasy/steampunk, you may have heard of The Grace of Kings. If you read sci-fi, you may know The Three Body Problem. Ken Liu is related to both these works - he is the author of the former and the translator of the latter. So when I heard that he has translated and edited a collection of Chinese Sci-Fi, I knew I had to read it.

The anthology had stories from Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Ma Boyong, Hao Jingfang (who contributed the story that gives the collection its name), Tang Fei, Cheng Jingbo and the man of the hour, Liu Cixin. The authors, while all writing Sci-Fi, all have write in the different subgenres, which makes this a pleasure to read.

I'm not going to review each story individually, but I will say that if you're read The Three Body Problem, Liu Cixin's The Circle will feel familiar to you.

My favourite story has got to be A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight, which is about robots, ghosts and even talks about tourism! Actually, I think Xia Jia (the author of this story) is my favourite author of them all because I enjoyed all three stories that were contributed.

Liu Cixin's stuff was good too, though that may be because I already have a very good impression of him. But in general, all the authors wrote enjoyable stories (though I didn't completely understand a few of them).

At the end of the collection, there are three essays: "The world of all possible universes and the best of all possible earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction", "The Torn Generation: Chinese Science Fiction in a Culture of Transition" and "What makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?" All three are pretty interesting and definitely worth reading too.

The only part of the book I didn't really agree with was the request not to view the works through Western lens. While I think it's an interesting exercise if the reader wants to, Reader-Response Criticism is a valid way of reading texts. And in its most extreme form (if I'm remembering correctly), the author's intentions don't even factor into the interpretation. I'm all for reading stories the way you want to read them, so asking people to avoid a particular way of reading isn't really something I can get behind. Basically, if you want to read and digest it naturally, go ahead. If you want to try and read without preconceived notions, then go ahead and do that.

Plus, if you have a story about censorship that was censored to pass the Chinese censors, I think it's not a wild/extremely unorthodox thing to read it as being about the censorship by the Chinese government.

If you're looking to widen your reading horizon but still want to stick to the English language, definitely get this collection. It's a good look (though as Ken Liu admits, not comprehensive) at Chinese Sci-Fi.

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

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer

This could have been a great book. I mean, look at the title. Doesn't that make you want to read it immediately? However, while the title promises a fun time, the book itself proves to be rather dull.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is supposed to be about Abdel Kader Haidara, who saved thousands of incredibly rare manuscripts from Al Qaeda militants. And you know, all the parts of the book that concerned him were fantastic. I really loved reading about him and how he collected the books then protected them. This would be the first half of the book, which I found very enjoyable.

However, the book spends too much time on backstory. And not the kind that I was looking for. I thought the history of the scribes in Timbuktu was important and well written, but the history of Al Qaeda and Islamic purists in the region? Not what I wanted to read. Quite a few chapters could have been summarised into a page or less, because while the background is important, I didn't pick up the book to learn about that.

So while I started out very positive and liking this book, by the time I finished, I was rather disappointed. The story of how priceless manuscripts were preserved was completely overwhelmed by history and detailed explanation of how Islamic militants were taking over and operating in Timbuktu and the region.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Promise of Things by Ruth Quibell

The Promise of Things is a collection of essays exploring our relationship to inanimate objects. Why do we treasure some of them? How do objects affect the way we live, the way we think about things? I particularly like this quote as a representation of the book:
"[T]he object is always transforming or mediating our relationships to the world in some way. A car, for instance, transforms our relationships to space and time. A mirror changes our relationship to light and, more of than not, our own appearance." 
Most of the chapters start off with some personal anecdote or the other, so it's easy to think that this is a personal exploration of things and how the author relates to them. But, it has a surprising amount of outside sources woven into the text, making this a scholarly work as much as it is a personal one.

My favourite chapters in this book would be Chapter 5 "The Velvet Jacket" and Chapter 7 "The Singer Sewing Machine". The Velvet Jacket is a look at aspiration items, things that we imagine that once we own, will change our lives. But this isn't quite true. As the book puts it:
"The intriguing, the beautiful, and the coveted object can suggest this future and give it an aspect of tangible reality, but it is only us who can do the difficult practical, emotional and psychological work to bridge the gap between optimistic hopes and reality[.]"
The Singer Sewing Machine looks at "handmade objects" and why they have been so popular in recent times. Handmade vs store-bought is more than just value for money versus convenience, it represents a set of ideals and is a way we react to our current world.

Oh, and the last 'chapter', "Foucault's Toolbox" is really the references she used when writing the book. It gave me a surprise when I read it, so I thought I'd mention it here.

All in all, this is a beautifully written little book that takes a deep look at the things around us, and hopefully, can spark its reader to consider how they react to their things.

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

Hey everyone! How's your week going? I was in Saga for the Saga International Balloon Fiesta (pictures below) for the past five days so I almost forgot that today was Tuesday :p

Right now, I'm reading The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, but there isn't really enough librarian superhero stuff going on for me.

Anyway, my teaser:
"On Friday morning, January 25, 2013, fifteen jihadis entered the restoration and conservation rooms on the ground floor of the Ahmed Baba Institute in Sankore, the government library that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb had taken over the previous April. For nearly a year, thousands of manuscripts left behind by Ahmed Baba staff had been sitting in the open, stacked on shelves and lying on restoration tables, while the jihadis prayed, trained, ate, and slept around them." 
What is your teaser this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. 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!
Here are two photos from my trip!


Monday, November 7, 2016

The Murderer's Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

I heard about The Murder's Daughter from Colline's Teaser Tuesday and it intrigued me so much that I immediately borrowed a copy.

The Murderer's Daughter follows Grace, whose mom killed her (Grace's) father and then herself when Grace was nine years old. A prodigy, Grace managed to have a good childhood and now works as a pyschologists for those related to victims of terrible crimes. As a way to unwind, she likes to sleep with random guys. One day, a new client comes to her office - and he's the guy she picked up the night before. When he's found dead, Grace starts to feel a sense of danger and decides to investigate his murder.

To be honest, the first eight chapters did not grab my attention. But I remembered that I wanted to read it and pushed through and was, luckily, rewarded. Once Grace starts hunting down the murderer and why, things start to get interesting. Coupled with the flashbacks to her childhood (there's this past/present narrative) structure, I was sufficiently engrossed till the end. The ending, on the other hand, was a let down because we never got the confirmation for Grace's theories. They are convincing theories, but it would be nice to get proof, if you know what I mean.

I thought about why the first eight chapers felt slow, and I think it's because the style was rather "literary" when it came out. There was a lot of describing and telling me things which I frankly was not interested in. But as the action increased, the style sort of disappeared and I started to enjoy the book.

Surprisingly, this book's strongest point is the middle section. The starting and ending, however, were let downs for me. As a character, Grace is alright, though I can't say I was brought into her head, probably because of the narrative style.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Note: I'll be headed to Saga to volunteer in the Saga International Balloon Fiesta tomorrow, so I may not be able to post for the rest of the week. 

I bought Grit because I couldn't find it in the library AND IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT.

Grit is really about the power of perseverance and should definitely be read with Peak by Anders Ericsson (there's actually a chapter dedicated to deliberate practice, but Peak goes into much more detail).

This book is divided into three parts:

Part 1: Why is Grit and Why it Matters

Basically, Grit is this combination of passion and perseverance for long term goals and it is found in a lot of high achievers. So while talent does play a role in how successful you are, grit plays a huge role too. Angela Duckworth represents it using the formula:

Talent x effort = skill ⇨ skill x effort = achievement.

So to repeat:

Talent is not the be-all and end-all (though it may give you that initial advantage)

And by the way, there is a grit scale (you can find it on her site) and I'm only about 3.7/5, which according to her means I'm grittier than about 50% of Americans.

Clearly I'm not an exceptionally gritty person. My longest runny "passion" has probably been stories (reading, and then reading and writing them) and "business" (but which area of business changes pretty often). Plus my 123456 thousand interests at any one time (knitting, sewing, cooking, etc)

Luckily, there's hope:

Part 2: Growing Grit from the Inside Out

Luckily for me, you can grow grit. You need your interest (or passion), then you need to stick with it and practice it (that was the chapter on deliberate practice), and one way to keep at it is if your passion has a purpose (does it help others? E.g. The sommelier who wants everyone to enjoy wine). And of course, have a positive growth mindset (aka hope) and don't get too negative about things.

But no man is an island, so

Part 3: Growing Grit from the Outside In

This last part is about how we can cultivate grit in others, and the author admits that this is the part with the least amount of research. But she feels that authoritative/wise parenting (being loving and demanding), which is not to be confused with authoritarian parenting (being demanding but not loving) may be the way to go.

And of course, since we're all slightly lemming-like, seeking out a culture of grittiness does help. If everyone around us is pushing their limits and never giving up, then it's easier for us to push ourselves to the limit too.

Conclusion:

You really, really need to read this book. It takes one topic and focuses on it, which means that by the end of the book one gets a much deeper understanding of what grit is and how we can cultivate it.

This went way beyond what I heard in the Freakonomics podcast, though the podcast did cover the basics. If you think the podcast is enough, then you don't need to read the book, but if you found that you wanted more, then get the book.

The book itself is very easy to read, with lots of anecdotes to back up the studies that the author did at West Point, or the other studies that are related. There is a recommended reading, which I totally intend to read (and I see I've read at least two of the books on that list, and I loved those two so it's a good sign).