Monday, September 25, 2017

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

I'm so glad that I started this NetGalley book on my off day, when I decided not to go out because this book was un-putdownable!

Emma in the Night starts when Cass comes back after having disappeared three years ago. But right from the start, one can tell that Cass is an unreliable narrator, because she talks about how she has to make people believe that Emma is alive.

The other narrator is Dr. Abigail Winter, a forensic psychologist working for the FBI. Cass and her sister Emma's disappearance has always haunted her because she recognises that Cass and Emma's mother is a narcissist, like hers. So when Cass reappears and claims that her sister is still being held captive, she knows that she has to get to the bottom of the case.

The book alternates between Cass and Dr. Winters and this leads to constant tension. Cass reveals a bit of the past, Dr. Abigail shows where the investigation is going, and bit by bit, the truth starts to come out.

Where this book excels is in its depiction of Cass and Emma's family and how dysfunctional they are. Cass is not the perfect character, but as I read on, I really felt for her. In most cases, I would probably dislike her because come on, her first action is her lying to her family and that is not a save the car moment, but because I saw how damaged she was, I ended up rooting for her even through her worst actions.

Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this book, I'm finding it hard to write to put this into words. It's quite hard to write details about the plot or characters without giving spoilers away, so I'm just going to end by encouraging everyone who loves thrillers to give it a go.

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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Alice in Wonderland Tea

It's a rare Sunday post from me! Well, I finally have something book-related that is not a review that I wanted to share. I suppose I could share this any day of the week but I have this "weekdays are for reviews" mentality. Anyway, I bought these today: 

Alice in Wonderland tea!! Even though I really shouldn't be buying more (because I already have way too much to drink), I just couldn't resist these!

I really love the details on the packaging, from the top of the box

To the little message on the lid.

I decided to open up one packet of Alice Grey Tea (which is basically Earl Grey Tea) and I really love the design on the packet too. Is it bad that I want to save everything?

I thought the tag at the end was cute as well.

The tea was delicious too. It was very fragrant (I could smell the oil once I opened the box), but it didn't taste too overpowering and I really enjoyed my mug of tea. Yes, I use a mug because a cup simply isn't enough. I can't wait to try the breakfast tea too(:

By the way, each box cost me about 200 yen, which I find really cheap. If you're in Japan, you can check out the nearest Kaldi - that's where I found these. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason

I can't remember how I heard of this book but it was on hold and the words "Stoker and Holmes" meant that I was definitely going to give it a shot. Oh, and it's not the Stoker and Holmes that you're thinking about.

The Clockwork Scarab stars Mina Holmes (Sherlock Holmes' niece) and Evaline Stoker (Bram Stoker's sister) who are forced to work together to find out who is behind a series of murders.

And I do mean forced. The two girls have completely different personalities and they clearly don't like each other. Most of the investigation also proceeded independently, though I do like how there was a slight thawing of their frosty relationship at the end (not quite a friendship because that would be unbelievable).

So about these murders: someone is murdering well-bred young ladies and leaving a strange Egyptian scarab near their bodies. Irene Adler (yes, the Woman) is tasked by the Crown to solve the case and she, in turn, recruits the two protagonists.

The story is told through both Mina and Evaline's point of view, which I quite enjoyed. Both their voices are very distinct and being able to get into both their heads meant that I liked both of them. I probably prefer Evaline a little bit more, as Mina has a much clearer superiority complex, but I liked both girls and I look forward to seeing how they, and their friendship, develop.

The only character I didn't quite get and basically thought was useless was Dylan. He was so obviously from the future (guess it the minute I saw him) and didn't really have a presence in the story. He did provide a key piece of information but I thought the other two male characters were more entertaining.

Since I mentioned 'the future' and that the girls are related to Holmes and Stoker, I guess it's pretty obvious this book is set in Victorian England. This society runs on steam, not electricity, and I really enjoyed the little details about how it worked. There isn't any info-dumping, but I had a pretty good sense of what it was like by the end of the book.

All in all, I enjoyed this. It's the first book in a series and I would definitely pick up the second (when I remember), because I'm curious to know how these two girls will change over time. If you like mystery, steampunk and you're a fan of Holmes and/or Stoker, you'll probably enjoy this book.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Planted by the Waters by Leslie Quahe

This book was given to me by one of my friends!  It's a collection of stories from Leslie Quah's life. The title is a reference to Psalms 1:1-3, which says:

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates Day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields it's fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers."

But to be honest the title reminds me more of the song:

"I'm gonna be like a tree, planted by the waters, trusting in the Father to keep me strong"

Which is based on the Psalm so all's good, I guess?

Like I mentioned at the start, this is a collection of Leslie Quah's experience and how the Lord has always been taking care of him. Each story is short, so you can use it as a quick method of reminding yourself about the goodness of the Lord.

The only thing I wish was different was in how the stories were connected. I think the stories are told in chronological order, but they are not connected so it's like *boom* Harley Davidson, *boom* pro golfer, and I'm like "when did you learn to ride a motorbike or play golf?"

Apart from that minor quibble, I thought this was a really good book! It's an encouraging read and Leslie's faith is something that we all can learn from.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Truthers by Geoffrey Girard

"The vastness of the internet allows people - no matter what their views - to crawl into the world's smallest teapot of those exact same views. Visiting only the websites and people that agree completely with your take, everyone spouting the same stuff."
I really don't know what to make of this book. I picked it up because the premise was interesting, but halfway through it felt like it was pro-conspiracy theorist. Then the second half had logic and it felt like the conspiracy-part was going to be proven wrong but the ending was (spoiler alert!) sort of conspiracy theory-ish, although the conspiracy was (SPOILER ALERT) not about 911.

Let me start from the beginning. Katie's father is taken away after he made threats about Dick Cheney. When she goes to visit him in a mental hospital, he reveals the 'truth' that she is actually the lone survivor of 9/11, and that 9/11 was perpetuated by the American government so it could go to war. In order to prove that her father is sane (because apparently if she can prove that sane people can be truthers it means her father is sane), Katie starts to investigate his claims. And probably because it would make the book very short to just investigate and dismiss the claims, the reader is immediately informed that there is, in fact, a shadowy group of people following her, which lends credence to her father's claims. 

I suppose that the good thing about the book is that it really goes into the conspiracy theorist culture. Katie falls for it (despite what she says by the time that the book hits the halfway mark, it's clear that she either believes it or she's very close to believing in it) and it shows that the internet age hasn't reduced information. If anything, it's spread it. 

That said, it felt like the book was pro-conspiracy theorist/truther for most of the book. In fact, I deeply considered stopping the book because it didn't feel unbiased (I know that the author tried to be objective but at that point I just wasn't feeling it). If Max (the guy that helps Katie out - obviously you know where this is going) didn't start speaking up and countering all her 'facts' with logic, I probably would have just stopped reading. 

Max, by the way, is my favourite character. He and Katie are the only two that felt real to me (I know she has friends but they didn't make much of an impression) and his level-headedness was what saved the book for me. It's a pity that his relationship with Katie was extremely predictable, although on the bright side, it wasn't insta-love.

On a completely random note, Max also speaks one line of really awkward Chinese. Luckily, they never claimed that he was fluent but just seeing it made me pause for a second. 

As for the ending, I found it a little confusing. I think I've gotten it, but I was really confused at first. Which, come to think of it, probably mirrors what Katie felt. All in all, this is a confusing book to rate. I obviously liked it enough that I finished it (and I find that I'm giving up on books more easily nowadays - perhaps I'm finally becoming more ruthless/protective of my reading time?) but it did give me a lot of sighing and 'why on earth are you buying into that' moments while I was reading it. 

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lost Classics edited by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, Linda Spalding

This book sounded interesting and I figured that I was either going to give up within 50 pages, or I'd love it so the most I'd waste is a little bit of time. Books about books tend to be polarising like that. Luckily for me, this book was under "love it" for me.

Lost Classics contains 74 recommendations from various authors (I've heard of two of them, have read maybe one). All the books recommended here are somehow lost, and some of them are just books that the authors met and was unable to read on their reading journey.

What I enjoyed about this book was the sheer variety of books that were recommended. Not every book appealed to me but plenty of them did and now I have a list of books that I'd want to read but probably won't get the chance to. And just so I've written them down somewhere, the books are:

- Too Late to Turn Back by Barbara Greene

- Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafoni

- Glimpses of World History by Jawaharla Nehru

- Classics Revisited by Kenneth Rexroth

- The Five Nations by Rudyard Kipling

- Bernadette, French Girl's Annual

- Beyond the Pawpaw Trees by Palmer Brown

- Address Unknown by Kressmann Taylor (sounds like a really powerful short story set in Nazi Germany)

- The Gate of Horn by G. R. Levy

- The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban (it sounds like a lost fairytale which is amazing)

- The Peterkin Papers by Lucretia P. Hale

- The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout (apparently this book is set in Indonesia)

- Jigsaw by Sybille Bedford (sounds like a great autobiography)

The problem with having all these books on my TBR list is that they're lost. I hope that with the advent of the ebook, most of these books will once again be available to the general public. After all, one of the advantages of ebooks is that you don't have to print hundreds of books at a time, which means that you can have books available for the proverbial "long tail."

Fingers crossed.

P.s. Anyone have their own lost book? I have quite a couple but I'm working on getting a copy of them. It's a good thing that the internet exists because I doubt I'd find the books in Singapore or Japan (and anyway I need the internet to find their titles).

Some of my "lost classics"

- The Girl With the Green Ear by Margaret Mahy: It took me forever to find this book (which was really lovely and I reviewed it here), but it was totally worth it. It makes me want to go and find more of my personal "lost classics".

- The Year of Miss Agnes: I do not remember much about the book, except that it was about a wonderful teacher and I read it while on vacation or just before a vacation (to Genting - anyone used to go there all the time too?) and I don't know, it just stuck with me. Can't even describe why. And I remember the smell of fish.

- True Blue: Read with The Year of Miss Agnes and I went back to MG and snuck into the library to search for this.

- The Search for the Lost Keystone: Actually found this in Singapore, so yay! But I loved the description of the house in this book and that stuck with me for a long time. I also forgot the title but remembered it had the word "stone" in it and eventually found it. Rereading it was pure joy.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Girl with the Green Ear by Margaret Mahy

I was intending to ration these stories and read them slowly, but I read the first one, realised that I remembered it, read the second one, awoke another memory, and then ended up finishing the book in one sitting. And you know what? This was a fantastic trip down memory lane that scratched a book itch that I've been having for years.

The Girl with the Green Ear was one of the books that I somehow had and then lost when we moved houses. But one of the stories (Thunderstorms and Rainbows) stayed with me and I so badly wanted to read it again. I couldn't remember the title for a few years and would intermittently be seized with the urge to google for it. Eventually, I found the book.

To be honest, I was afraid that I remembered the wrong book. But luckily I didn't. Thunderstorms and Rainbows is about the town of Trickle, where it always rains. As you can imagine, this is not good for the tourism industry and the townspeople got so sick of all the complaining that they made it illegal to say "Goodness, it does rain here, doesn't it?"

One day, a rare visitor comes and says the forbidden words. So obviously Policewoman Geraldine has to arrest him. But then she finds out that this visitor likes the rain.

Thunderstorms and Rainbows is a charming little story that very clearly illustrates how changing your perspective on something can bring about huge changes.

Other stories, which are all equally delightful, include:

- the titular The Girl with the Green Ear, about a musician's daughter who leaves home to find a very special calling

- Don't Cut the Lawn, a tale about how it's ok to let lawns grow wild

- The Good Wizard of the Forest, a story about a wicked but lonely wizard with amazing baking skills (this was really poignant and I was a bit surprised at how much I felt for the wizard)

And a few more. About half the stories were like old friends while I realised I'd completely forgotten about the other half, but I enjoyed reading them all.

If you know a child who likes nature and/or reading, you might want to get this for them (if you can get your hands on a copy). Or perhaps get this for yourself, because you're never too old for a good story.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Man From the Train by Bill James

I requested this from NetGalley because I find true crime fascinating and I read that the author is a baseball statistician so I was hoping that this is a book that uses data to solve the crime. Unfortunately, while the cases are extremely tragic and told in a fascinating way, the book suffers from a lack of focus.

So from around 1900 to 1912, a series of murders started to take place near railway lines. All of them were senseless, cruel murders which had a few points in common - such as an axe being a weapon, no robbery, no warning, and a few more. The authors are convinced that this is the work of one man, something that the press only seemed to realise a few years after the murders start (and by then a few people had been convicted for the murders).

While I do agree that the there was probably a serial on the loose, I'm not really satisfied with the arguments made. There are sentences like "No source says so, but the Meadows family had to have hunting dogs; I just can't see a family like this not having hunting dogs" (used when hypothesising how the crime might have taken place) which are quite scary because I would not want anyone to assume things that cannot be proven as fact.

Plus I was expecting a more mathematical look at the crime and the closest that the book came to maths was to ask how many murders would one expect there to be with the characteristics of the crime and say "the mathematical answer is 0."

I don't know if I'm remembering my stats wrong but while the answer may by very close to zero, I wouldn't have expected an answer like this. I did expect the author to calculate the probability of such a case happening and then derive the number of murders so a flat out "answer is 0" with no working made me disappointed.

Narrative-wise, the book basically goes through all related crimes and only discusses the probable murder at the end. This is probably a personal preference but I wish only the relevant cases were discussed. There are a lot of murders as it is, and to read something horrific and then see something along the lines of "but we don't think this was part of the serial killing" feels like there wasn't much thought into what should have ended up in the book.

As for the murderer, he seems to have been identified with a gut feeling because all I saw was an account of his 'first case' which was like all the others. Not much else was presented to show how he was linked to the murders, although the authors did theorise that he's behind a gruesome killing in Kaifeck a few years later.

This book also has one of the strongest authorial voices that I've read and I suppose it's so that we end up believing what the author believes. I suppose whether you like or dislike the book will also depend a lot on whether you like the authorial voice and how heavy it was. Personally, I'm not a fan of the puns and the digressions but it didn't make me want to stop reading the book.

Basically, this book introduced me to this horrific crime that I never knew existed. I do agree with the authors that this was the work of a serial killer, but I'm not a fan of how the case was made and I'm not entirely convinced that the man that they fingered is the real culprit (although he did commit a terrible murder too). It's too bad that the book didn't use much maths to make a case - that would have been interesting.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

I got sent this book as part of a book exchange and I'm so glad I got it because it was an excellent and thought provoking read.

Being Mortal is a look at aging and death from the perspective of a doctor. Atul Gawande weaves studies and facts in between the stories of his patients and at the end, the story of his father. There are several topics but I think they can be grouped into two categories:

1. How should we, as a society, handle the problem of aging?

Nursing homes tend not to make their residents happy, because of the lack of autonomy and independence. But the people who chose the nursing homes tend to be the kids, who consider the question "do I feel okay leaving my parent here?" more than the question "will my parent feel happy here?"

The book looks at nursing homes today and explores several alternatives, also while talking about the effects of aging.

2. How far should doctors go when trying to save a life?

Medicine tends to focus on the promise of time (even if it's just a little more time), which may come at the expense of quality of life. But how do doctors know what balance to strike?

This requires talking to the patient and understanding their needs and wants. Ask them things like "how much pain/how far will you accept a deteriorating quality of life in order to get some extra time?"

And the answer will differ from person to person.

One guy said "as long as I can eat chocolate ice-cream and watch sports on TV."

Atul Gawande's father needed more, and so his ideal treatment plan would be very different from the previous guy. The idea is that by understanding what the patient means by "good life", the doctors and the family making medical decisions know how far they can go.

This is, obviously, a difficult conversation to have with anyone. But it is a necessary conversation to have because the patient's point of view and their family's will differ. One study mentioned showed that perspective matters - if you feel the end is near, you focus more on your immediate relationships and environment. On the other hand, if you feel you've got time, you'll be more willing to delay gratification for a payoff in the future.

Being Mortal deals with a very uncomfortable subject, but it is a book that everyone should read. Even if we assume that old age is far away, an accident or illness may strike at any time, because death makes no distinction between the old and the young.

If you like podcasts, you may want to listen to Atul Gawande's Reith Lectures, and Episode 101 (Title: Minka) of Reply All, which deals with the topic of nursing homes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Man from the Train by Bill James

I'm back with a Teaser Tuesday after what feels like forever! I've been finishing books before Tuesday/not reading a book on Tuesday and didn't really feel the urge to share. But I'm in the middle of a book now and thought I'd just share a teaser!

The book is The Man from the Train and basically tries to unravel/prove that one man was behind a string of gruesome axe-murders. It's really interesting, but I do with that the book is more focused.

"John Zoos, a Polish immigrant, worked in a plumbago mine, got home about dusk, found his family murdered. (The world plumbago is now only used for a flowering plant. A hundred years ago, however, it was primarily used for graphite)."
The teaser sort of shows one of the problems I have with the book - there are all these inserts that I don't really think are necessary.

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! 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

I first heard about this book from someone on Dayre and I immediately wanted to read it because of:

1. The cover (quite rare for me), and

2. The rhyme, which I'm gonna quote so it can get into all of your heads.

Three dark queens
Are born in a glen
Sweet little triplets
Will never be friends

Three dark sisters
All fair to be seen
Two to devour
And one to be Queen

I was actually a bit scared to read this book because I saw that this book was really polarising and I've been giving up on books really easily lately. But as it turns out, I really loved this!

So basically the country in Three Dark Crowns believes that every queen is given triples by the goddess, and the three will grow up and one will kill the other two to become queen (until she gives birth).

In this generation, we have Katherine, the poisoner who has almost no ability to withstand poison; Arsinoe, who despite being a naturalist can't control nature; and Mirabella, who is the strongest of three and can actually control the elements she's meant to.

While it seems like Mirabella is definitely going to become Queen, each faction conspires to make their queen the Queen. For example, the poisoners have been ruling for the past few generations and they are determined that Katherine should become queen to solidify their rule. And as you can imagine, with all these secret agendas, each sister only hears misinformation about the other two.

While I normally root for the character I see first (which would be Katherine), I actually like Mirabella the best! She's the only one of the three who still cared for her sisters after all these years. The other two totally bought into the brainwashing, even if they weren't sure they could become queen. Plus she had the clearest growth arc of the three.

On the other hand, my least favourite character was Arsinoe, because she struck me as a bit whiny, didn't seem to have a lot of character growth and was way too dependent on her best friend, Jules. But I quite liked her by the end of the book so it was not like she permanently irritated me.

Quite a few of the reviews I saw mentioned that there were too many characters to remember, but I didn't have a problem with that. Everyone was pretty distinctive to me. Then again, I used to watch Ai (and all those ah ma shows which cover several generations) so maybe I'm just used to stuff like that.f

Overall, I really loved the book. It's basically the first book in a series so you should expect to see alliances formed and plots being set. (I suspect the next book will step up the pacing, though I have no problems with how it is here). I would have preferred for everything to be in one book, but that would have made it insanely long. So I'd just eagerly wait for the second book and hope the NLB gets it soon!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Only Dead on the Inside by James Breakwell

If you don't follow James Breakwell on Twitter, you should go do so. He's hilarious and I really love reading his tweets - I don't go on twitter often so I kinda "binge read" when I'm there which is often. So when I saw that he had a book on NetGalley I immediately requested it and put it on the front of my TBR list.

And luckily, it lived up to expectations!

I mean, a book is a lot longer than 140 characters. I wouldn't have been surprised if it ran out of steam halfway. But Breakwell did an excellent job of pacing the jokes and I laughed during every chapter.

Written in a pseudo-serious tone, Only Dead on the Inside is a handbook to help parents survive a zombie attack while keeping their kids alive. Illustrated with very crudely drawn Microsoft Paint-style comics (the comics were probably the weakest point of the book but I laughed at quite a few of them so it's not like they are complete failures), topics include:

- How to convince your kids to hide

- Food during a zombie apocalypse

- Why minivans are awesome (and what else you can use as a weapon against zombies)

- Why a zombie apocalypse means you never have to clean your house

- And what to do if you need to amputate your arm.

I would definitely recommend this to everyone and I would pick up a copy if I ever found it in a bookshop. It's funny and I really enjoyed reading it. If you've had experiences with kids (and everyone has, since you either were one or know one), you'll probably enjoy this. And his Twitter account. You should definitely check that out!

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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Library of Souls by Ramsom Riggs

I finished the third book in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series and now I'm a little sad that I don't have any more to read. Obviously, this review is going to contain spoilers for the second (and by extension, the first) book so don't read further if you don't want spoilers!

The second book ended with Jacob realising that not only can he see the Hollowgasts, he can control them by speaking their language. The problem is that he has no idea how he's doing it so it's not like he's mastered this skill. But the Wights and Hollowgasts are still after them, and with most of his friends captured, Jacob and Emma (plus the Peculiar dog Addison) must find a way to save them.

I mentioned in the previous review that I was looking forward to seeing more of the Peculiar Children and I'm a little disappointed that this didn't happen. They were basically kidnapped for most of the book so it's just Jacob, Emma and Addison. I really liked Addison though - he was a fairly small character in Book 2 but he's so adorable and endearing that I'm glad he got a bigger role here!

There were a few new characters too. I particularly liked Sharon, the boatman whose name reminds me of Charon, the ferryman for Hades. Given where he ferries the trio, it seems like an apt homage. Plus he was an ambiguous character until the end and I quite enjoyed having to guess which side he was on.

Speaking of ambiguous characters - there is one more character who's motives are questionable (I still can't decide if he's good but prone to evil or just super manipulative) but if I say his name I might as well spoil the ending so have fun guessing if you haven't read Book 3!

I also mentioned that I was looking forward to how Jacob and Emma's relationship problems would be resolved in the previous review. Well, I'm kinda disappointed that they never really address/resolve the issue that Emma was in love with Jacob's grandfather for a majority of his life. Perhaps because there really isn't a way to solve this. But the ending of the book did make it so that it wasn't quite so weird for them to like each other so I will have to settle for that.

Most of the book was on developing Jacob's ability to control the Hollowgasts and building up to "HOW WILL THEY DEFEAT THE ULTIMATE EVIL" so there's definitely a satisfactory plot ending (though there are a few loose ends - perhaps more books are in the making? Or is that just wishful thinking?). If that's what you're looking for you won't be disappointed.

Oh and now I really, really want to read Tales of the Peculiar! It sounds like a really good book and the references to it made me really curious to read the actual story. I wonder if the version published is the one the kids carried or one that contains stories from after the series ended.

All in all, I'm very happy I decided to buy and finish this series. It's a great read and I loved the way the photos and the narrative intermingled. It's not perfect, but definitely worthy of 5 stars!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Hollow City by Ramson Riggs

I started on Hollow City as soon as I finished Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children because I could not wait to find out what happened. Luckily the book proved that it was worth the money because it's an excellent sequel and the tension was kept high throughout. Warning: this review is going to have spoilers for the first novel (obviously).

So the first novel ended with the children running away from Hollogasts and their Wrights. They somehow managed to rescue Miss Peregrine, though she's stuck in her bird form. Desperate to find another ymbryne who can help, the children leave their island. But the Second World War is happening around them, and there are more monsters walking in this world than they know.

What I really loved about this book was that it managed to balance the world building (I learnt so much more about the Peculiars, plus Tales of the Peculiar had a fairly major role so I wanna read it now!) with the whole "monsters chasing us" plot and kept the tension high throughout. It was really danger after danger, and when there was a respite, a bit more about the world was revealed. I thought the balance was well-done and the plot did not lag.

I also really liked that each of the children had their turn to shine. The first book was dominated by Jacob, and thought the second book is also narrated by him, the children had a significantly larger role and saved the day several times. I hope that this trend continues in the third book.

The only part of the book that I was dissatisfied with was Jacob's relationship with Emma. For most of the book their relationship wasn't really questioned. While there is some development towards the end, I thought that it wasn't paced really well. Then again, the plot + most character development was really well done (Jacob grew a lot, just not in his relationship with Emma), so I guess this was just a bit too much to handle.

All in all, I thought this was an excellent sequel. Most aspects of the book were well-handled, and though the development of Jacob's relationship with Emma disappointed me, there's still the third book for them to resolve everything. I'm more excited than ever to start on Library of Souls (and the title now makes sense to me)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ramsom Riggs (Reread)

I decided to reread Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and while it turns out that I've forgotten a lot of the details (though I found myself remembering stuff as I read on), the story is as good as I remembered!

So if you've been under a rock/don't read or go to the movies, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is a book based on a series of creepy photographs (it also has an awesome book trailer and this is from someone who doesn't get book trailers in general).

Jacob's grandfather basically told him all these stories about fighting monsters when he was young. But as he grew up, Jacob stopped believing. Well, he stopped believing until he saw his grandfather dead and a monster nearby. Half convinced that he's crazy, Jacob heads to Wales - the place where his grandfather once lived - in order to find the truth. And the truth is that the world is a lot more peculiar and darker than he believes.

I really loved how Ramsom Riggs weaved the photographs that he found into the narrative, making it easier to suspend disbelief and the story a lot creepier. The writing was solid too, and I liked the way the plot developed and how it was balanced with the world building and character development.

If I had to pick one thing that I thought was weird, it would be the fact that Jacob's love interest is basically the girl that loved his grandfather and although she isn't his grandmother, it's still weird. Something that Jacob realises too, so I'm very curious about how the author is either going to resolve/explain this.

There's not really a lot to say because this is my second time reading this, but it's made me super excited to read the second and third books now!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Welsh Monsters and Mythical Beasts by Collette J Ellis

Look what my friend brought over recently!

This is the first Kickstarter I ever wanted to back, and the reason I found out that Kickstarter doesn't accept PayPal or JCB cards. So I asked Yiyin if she would help me pay first and then I'd pay her in cash, but this sweet girl bought it for me as a grad gift (':

The Kickstarter met its stretch goals so there were extra rewards like this green man bookmark:

This postcard:

And another postcard of a Llamhigyn y dŵr, which is basically a frog/toad with bat-like wings, horns and when feeling adventurous with their diet, eat chickens and ducks and geese.

And I think this is a name card? It's really beautiful and it makes me think of the final form of that deer from Princess Mononoke!

The book itself was lovely. There are 15 monsters and mythical creatures featured, plus a short introduction to Wales. Each monster/creature gets its own illustration plus a short explanation of what it is.

I do not know anything about Welsh mythology so I found this book to be fascinating. Plus the illustrations really are lovely (and suit the dark nature of many of these monsters) and I enjoyed looking at the art + reading the descriptions.

I'm not sure if this book will be sold in stores but I definitely hope that it makes it there (or on Amazon at least). Welsh mythology isn't as famous as Greek or Roman mythology, and this beautifully illustrated book is a great way to learn a little about this. I am so curious about Welsh mythology now - hopefully I remember (and can find) some books about it!

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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

I'm not sure when NetGalley decided to approve my request for this book, but I was super excited to read this because I enjoyed both Room and Slammerkin!

The Wonder is less like Room and more like Slammerkin because it's historical fiction. Inspired by the tales of the 'Fasting Girls', who were supposed to have done without food for long periods, it follows Lib, a nurse who is charged with making sure that Anna is surviving without any food.

Since Lib accepted the job without knowing what it entailed, she is shocked by the requirements. But as a nurse trained by Florence Nightingale herself, she is determined to be careful, methodical and to expose Anna as the fraud she is. But as she spends more time with Anna, she realises that the girl really does believe that she doesn't need to it.

The only problem is - her body is dying from starvation.

I'm not going to say more and reveal the ending but I thought this was an absorbing book. It's told in five long parts (really, don't start a part/chapter unless you know you have the time to finish it) and even though the events all take place in a week, it feels like forever and yet no time has passed. Through her interactions with Anna, Lib is forced to confront her own demons.

The characters here are well-written. Apart from Anna and Lib, I found that even minor characters have layers to them. Who is impartial? Who has an agenda? Well, in the end, I was so angry at many of the characters (who appeared quite innocent at the start) but the truth of who they were felt believable (if sad).

Oh and this is one of the books where the setting is practically a character. The story takes place in Ireland, with all its confusion that it gives to Lib with her modern way of thinking, and I cannot imagine the story taking place anywhere else. The Irish characters are clearly shaped by the land that they live in and their actions are influenced by their culture and heritage. Every time a character that was not Lib spoke or acted, there was the sense that this was Ireland.

I would definitely recommend this book to fans of historical fiction or people just looking for an engaging story featuring strong characters. A word of warning: the book does deal with very dark themes, especially towards the end. Do not expect this to be an easy read, although I guess the premise would have told you that already.

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales of Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World edited by Maria Tatar

Finally picked up this book, which I got aaaaalllllll the way back in June when I went back to Singapore. I've been 'saving' it for no particular reason and I can sort of see why. This was a good read and the anticipation of reading it made it even better.

(Also I just found out that NLB has an ecopy but I love that I have my own. Some books you just want to own)

Anyway, this collection of stories really is from around the world. Apart from the usual Western suspects, I saw stories from India, Japan, Ghana, Myanmar and much more. The only (to me really obvious) country that was left out was China. I mean, how can you miss Madame White Snake or any number of tales about humans and foxes? But I digress.

The stories are organised by topic, and they are:

1. Model couples from ancient times

2. Charismatic couples in the popular imagination

3. Animal grooms

4. Animal brides

The first two categories had tales that were familiar to me, but most of the stories in the latter two categories weren't. I enjoyed them all.

What makes this book stand out from other collections is the introduction! There is a very interesting introduction by Maria Tatar, covering things like classification, background to the tales and what they mean to humans. And there is a one-paragraph introduction to each tale, which provided background and a little bit of commentary without any spoilers.

If you are a fan of fairy tales, you will want a copy of this book. Apart from the introductions, there is real value in being able to read and compare tales like this from a variety of cultures. They show that we aren't as different as we might think (although obviously we aren't all identical because that would be boring)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Remarkable Faith by Shauna Letellier

I was intrigued by this book when I saw it on NetGalley because I have tried to do my own retellings of Bible stories. After reading this, I see that I still have a long way to go.

Remarkable Faith contains eight retellings of various people who encountered Christ in the New Testament. The eight are:

- the father of the demon possessed boy (Mark 9:17-27)

- the paralysed man who was let down through the roof (Mark 2: 1-12)

- the Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10)

- the hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5:21-34)

- the Samaritan Leper (Luke 17:11-19)

- the mother of the demon possessed girl (Matthew 15:21-28)

- blind Bartinaeus (Luke 18:35-42)

- the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and anointed them with perfume (Luke 7:36-50)

Each retelling starts with the Biblical account, then the author's take, followed by a short reflection and a prayer. I found that these work very well as devotions and I read one or two of them a day. This is definitely a book you want to savour in small chunks rather than read in one go.

Remarkable Faith offers a fresh way of looking at these familiar stories that we may take for granted. The emphasis is on the grace of God, and it was something that I needed to hear right now.

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Harvey Penick's Little Red Book by Harvey Penick

I read this book at the driving range and I like it enough that if the second book is still at BookOff the next time I visit, I'll probably get it (I obviously didn't learn my lesson  about having too many books when I moved).

Harvey Penick's Little Red Book is basically a collection of golfing tips and stories (and even one poem). Harvey Penick is supposed to be this really great teacher, although I haven't heard of him before. But he sounds really kind and like a good teacher.

Basically, Harvey's philosophy is that golf is a game you can spend your whole life learning (agree) and that although each person has their own style of playing, there are certain principles that can help you play a better game. So while he talks about people who are exceptions to the rules, he does give you the 'rules' that can help you improve golf.

And a lot of stories. I think there are more stories about golf than tips about golf in the book. I found most of them interesting, but I have a feeling that I'm supposed to be impressed at the people who wrote the introduction/are mentioned in the book. Then again, I like playing golf but not really watching it, so that probably explains my ignorance regarding those people.

This is definitely a book that fans of golf would like. But I don't think this is a good book for people looking to get into the game because it uses quite a lot of golf terminology (do the words "hook your putts" and "squaring the club face" mean anything to you?). In fact, I would probably understand and appreciate this a lot more when I was in MG because I was learning and using those terms regularly back then. Reading it now, I have to think hard to understand some sentences.

Still, I'm glad I got this book. It's always fun to read about golf from someone who loves it, and it serves as a good motivator for me(:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Darkening Web by Alexander Klimburg

This book feels like something that I might have been made to read in one of my tutorials, which is probably why I requested it from Netgalley.

The Darkening Web is basically a book that explains the various aspects of cyberspace and why we are all vulnerable. Seriously, if this doesn't make you paranoid and/or give up on privacy on the internet, you probably haven't read this.

This book covers the basics of cyber security, hackers, the US's history and stance on cyber security, cyber attacks by Russia and China (seriously these two countries are insane. I find China scarier but that's probably it's closer to me), and what may happen in the future. Each topic gets about three chapters of its own, with the exception of the first part.

The book does go into the basics of the internet, but I think that if you don't have a basic knowledge of the end-2-end principal (which is basically net neutrality aka all websites are treated equally) or other web fundamentals, you may find it a little hard to keep up. By the way, this is one of the scenarios that may happen:
If the free internet and the cyber-sovereignty factions cannot find a workable detente, then the best we can hope for is the splitting of the global Internet into wholly national Internets, potentially even complete with their own routing and address structure. In truth, we are already halfway there: as research by the Internet pioneer (and senior Google executive) Vin Cerf and others show, the global Internet is already largely split into different identifiable segments.
What this basically means that if we continue on the current path, with the Great Firewall, Russia stepping up its cyber-attacks and much more, we could end up in our own little silos, which is even worse than what is going on now (and it's not very good now either). And this is the not-so-bad scenario (out of the bad scenarios). Worse scenarios could involve the state using the internet to spy on citizens and change their behaviour.

If you don't think that this could happen (or is just a Chinese sci-fi story - read something similar last year), well, in 2015, there was a report saying that the Chinese government is planning to introduce a mandatory social-credit scheme in 2020. But there's only one directive now so hopefully this doesn't come to pass (and the one directive is that this is to 'foster a culture of sincerity' which sounds a lot like 'influencing behaviour' to me).

This could be worse than Stomp.

In conclusion, this is a tough read, made harder by the fact that it's topical and with no real overarching narrative that I could see. It does, however, cover an important issue that applies to all of us on the internet, and for that alone, I'd recommend everyone borrow/buy a copy and read as much as they understand.

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

After reading The Shadow of the Wind, I immediately started on The Prisoner of Heaven because it was a gift from a friend (and the reason why I read The Shadow of the Wind). I was super excited because The Shadow of the Wind was fantastic so I had unreasonably high hopes for the book. While this wasn't as good as The Shadow of the Wind, it was still fantastic.

In The Shadow of the Wind, we are introduced to Fermin, who's this really smooth-talking and super amusing character who becomes a best friend to the protagonist, Daniel. In The Prisoner of Heaven, someone from Fermin's past comes back and the story behind Fermin comes to light.

Much like the previous novel, the story toggles between past and present to give the reader a bird's eye view of how things connect to each other. The characters from the previous novel are still there, and I really, really enjoyed reading about how their lives have been since the ending of the first book.

However, I felt that the climax was not as exciting as the first book. While it was satisfying, it didn't have the same intensity of reveal that The Shadow of the Wind had. Plus the cemetery of forgotten books didn't have as big a role as I would like. But looking at Book 2 (which I didn't manage to get my hands on and skipped), it seems like reading that would have enhanced the reading experience The Prisoner of Heaven.

Did I like the book?

Of course!

Am I going to read The Prisoner of Heaven once I find it?

Definitely (and I suspect that it will, like the other two books, drag me in).

But is this as good as The Shadow of the Wind?

Nope, not really. I would still recommend it heartily and if it were any other book I suspect I would be fawning over it a lot more, but I've got the first book on my mind and it sadly does not compare.

(This is still a 5 star book, don't get me wrong. I couldn't put it down once I started but I'm still comparing it to the first book and that was way too awesome.)

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.
This is definitely one of the best books of this year!! Thank you so much Gen for sending me the third (?) book in the series and hence getting me to start with this. Now I'm half-excited and half-scared to start the book that you gave me cause I don't know if it's as good!

Unlike the previous book-themed mystery (and I'm definitely classifying this as a mystery), this was fantastic and seriously amazing. The Shadow of the Wind starts when Daniel is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father. There, he is allowed to take one book back and the book that calls to him is an unknown novel called The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax (which I also want to read)

In his quest to find out more about the author, he discovers that someone has been buying (or if unsuccessful stealing) copies of Julian Carax's novels and burning them. Plus a menacing and definitely corrupt police officer shows up. These lead to a years-long mystery that ushers Daniel into adulthood.

I'm actually not sure if the above summary does the book justice because it is a lot more complex with a whole cast of characters. Apart from Daniel, the character that made the strongest impression on me was Fermin, a homeless drunk with an amazing ability to find books. He also has a silver tongue and a past with that menacing Inspector. He becomes one of Daniel's most important allies in his quest to find out what really happened.

I feel that the cast of characters and their relationships to one another were so well-written that they helped balance the whole book. It's easy to let the mystery dominate or the growing up Daniel has to do dominate, but since the characters are involved with both and each half cannot be untangled, everyone comes together in one seamless whole, and the journey for the truth becomes Daniel's path to adulthood.

Even the romance was something I enjoyed reading. Not gonna give spoilers (I hope! I will try!) because it is something that happens pretty late in the book, but I thought the false love lost and real love found arc was really good. By the way, adult themes are in this book although it's never explicit and there is swearing so don't give this to children and maybe younger teens (depending on their maturity).

The ending is happy, although not completely. There is one character and one relationship that doesn't end well (or as well as I'd hope) but I find that the little bit of sadness makes the happiness that Daniel and the rest get feel much more real.

I would recommend pretty much everyone (who isn't a kid, like I mentioned before) read this, especially if you like books and mysteries surrounding books. I loved everything about this - the plot, the characters (except the bad guys, though there was one character redemption that was surprising but still believable) and the writing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Colt Harper: Esteemed Vampire Cat by Tyrolin Puxty

When Tyrolin, the author, asked me if I wanted to read Colt Harper: Esteemed Vampire Cat, I said yes because:

1. Her Broken Dolls books are really good
2. It had a really good blurb. I mean, almost anything with the words "vampire cat" will pique my interest but the blurb promised fun and a snarky narrator.

And it totally delivered.

Colt Harper is, as the title indicates, a vampire cat. You might think he's a monster but cats adore him (you might want to revise your opinions of cats). After all, he kills all those pesky humans that hurt or kill cats, which makes him a hero in his own twisted way. But, the Council doesn't see it that way, and since Colt has to be punished for killing another human, he has to do... community service.

The horror.

His fellow comrades (although Colt would protest at such a term being used) are Lexi, a tickle monster, and Jax, a werewolf with a deep, abiding sense of guilt. Running the place is the human Saffy, whom Colt instantly feels drawn to, although he can't figure out why. Secrets are revealed as the monsters to the monsters (humans known as Chasers) come out and start trying to kill Colt and the others.

This story is action-packed and fun. I liked the references to the author, which felt clever and were not annoying, and I liked Colt. My initial liking for Colt grew stronger after I found out that he, too, is not a fan of insta-love. That is one sensible vampire cat.

The rest of the characters were interesting too. I liked Lexi and Jax, and their relationship with Colt was definitely one of the highlights of the series. Saffy was alright, but there were sudden changes (especially towards the end) which made me not-like her so much. Plus, despite Colt's insistence to the contrary, he definitely favoured Saffy from the start so I never really got to see if she was interesting. Jax and Lexi, on the other hand, had to work for their screen time and I liked them a lot more.

This book will definitely appeal to fans of cats and/or Tyrolin. If you've read some of her other books and you're wondering if you should pick this one up, you totally should. It's a fun and interesting story with a snarky protagonist.

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

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk

I took my time reading this book and I'm glad I did, because it's a book that should be savoured in small doses. Forgotten English is a book about words that have fallen out of use. Some I actually knew/had heard about, some are the predecessors of modern words, and some flabbergasted me. The words are organised by theme, such as drink, occupation, love, etc., and each word contains the meaning and a brief history of it.

Most of the time, this history includes examples of how the word was used, with lots of quotations from old texts.

I found this to be very illuminating and enjoyable. Sure, we probably won't be using these words in our daily lives, but the history of English is a fascinating topic that I don't normally think about. It was really fun to learn something new about something that I thought I already knew.

Words that are explained include:

Mocteroof: which is used for the craft of "frubbishing" or making damaged fruits and vegetables look good (and the the entry explains how)

Mob fair: which is a job hunting fair for domestic and agricultural workers

Purl-men: 18th and 19th century beer-sellers who sold their beer on the Thames and other rivers

Lettice-cap: a medical appliance that resembles a hair net (although lettuce was probably not used)

Gorgayse: a Middle English word which means "elegant, fashionable" and is the predecessor of the word gorgeous

And much more!

You really don't have to be a wordsmith to enjoy this book. As long as you like the English language and/or history, you'll enjoy reading this.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling

This book was recommended to me from the Overdrive app/NLB ebook site, which is the main reason why my TBR is growing uncontrollably the past few days. Given that I've read very little Chinese fairytales/folklore compared to Western and even Japanese tales, I really wanted to read this book.

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio consists of 164 tales from the 17th Century (I think? Author lived during that time) that involve supernatural creatures/occurrences and 4 appendixes.

The appendixes are about:

1. The Yuli Chao Zhuan (a term that seems to appear only in this book but looks to be about the 'chamber of horrors' in Taoist temples

2. Cultural notes on ancestral worship, bi-location, dreams and much more

3. The translator, Herbert Allen Giles

4. Suggested readings.

There are also pretty comprehensive and interesting footnotes, though sadly the book isn't formatted to allow for easy toggling back and forth (pity, especially since this is an ebook).

As for the tales themselves, quite a few of them were very short and I didn't really get them. I did, however, really enjoy the longer tales, especially those about foxes (maybe because I have been writing about foxes?). Stories that I particularly enjoyed include:

The Painted Skin: about a man who 'rescues' a beautiful girl only to find that she's hiding a very dark secret

Miss Yingning; or, The Laughing Girl: a surprisingly happy story

The Virtuous Daughter-in-Law: where a nagging mother-in-law learns to appreciate her daughter in law in a very painful lesson

Danan in Search of his Father: where a family ended up being "reunited" in a way that completely changed the dynamics for the better.

And more that I forgot to bookmark. And I have no idea if I should be providing full summaries with spoilers or doing these attempts at summaries that don't give away the ending :p

While I generally enjoyed the book, it does have its flaws. It was first published in 1908 by a British national which means that the writing is a little stiff and at times uses very Western expressions like:

"You better call in Yunqi, and tell the fair Eloisa that her Aberlard is awaiting her"

Which feels very out of place given that these are Chinese stories set in China.

Still, if you're looking for Chinese folklore to read, it's worth reading this at least once. Most (if not all) of the tales were new to me and I enjoyed reading through the book.

P.s. There is one thing that I don't get. I'm not sure if it's a translation thing but in these stories, people remarry and concubines are bought and sold pretty easily and I'm wondering if this is so. It seems like the concubinage thing might be so but the remarrying thing seems odd.

Anyone familiar with ancient Chinese customs and can let me know more about this/recommend some reading material about it? I did try Googling but I couldn't find much about it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Baking Powder Wars by Linda Civitello

I admit to not knowing much about baking powder because I am not a big baker. I like to eat baked goods, but if I'm going to bake something, there's a good chance that a mix will be involved (not even a baking class helped). But, I like reading and eating so food history is something that I am interested in reading. The only thing is, I don't really find many books about this topic.

Baking Powder Wars fills a little gap in my huge chasm of ignorance about the history of food. Although it starts off as a history of baking and the troubles that women have traditionally had making bread and other baked goods, the bulk of the book focuses on the companies that made baking powder. Basically, baking powders were marketed as ways for women to successfully make bread and other things involving yeast with much less effort, and in an age where a women's abilities were (at least in part) measured by how well they baked, this must have been a lifesaver to them. But since it was so new, how could they figure out which brand to buy?

And this is how the marketing wars began. From what I understand, the big companies used different types of baking powder - phosphate and aluminium and they used every way they could to exploit the difference for their own gain.

To be honest, I found the marketing aspect a lot less interesting than the history of baking (whoops, not being a very good economics student here). I found the recipes and the snippets of how life was for women back then fascinating and if anyone knows a book that focuses on that aspect, please let me know!

I would recommend this to people who are interested in the history of brands and the (relatively) unknown history behind everyday products. If you're interested in marketing and brands trying to get favourable legislation passed, you'll love this, but even people who are just interested in the cooking will find something to like (mainly at the start of the book, but there are snippets everywhere).

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Anatomy of Murder by the Detection Club

This is my second Detection Club book and I liked it a lot more than the first one I read (while was Ask a Policeman). Unlike Ask a Policeman, which was a round robin novel, this is a collection of true crime stories written by notable crime writers. To be honest I only recognise Dorothy Sayers because I'm not that well read and tend to stick to a few authors but I really enjoyed all the stories here.

The cases covered here are:

Death of Henry Kinder, written by Helen Simpson
Constance Kent by John Rhode
The Case of Adelaide Bartlett by Margaret Cole
An Impression of the Landru Case by E. R. Punshon
The Murder of Julia Wallace by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Rattenbury Case by Francis Iles
A New Zealand Tragedy by Freeman Wills Crofts

Out of all the cases, the only one that I've heard of is the one about Constance Kent, and only because I've been wanting to read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale (round of applause for me remembering an author's name)

Each author has their own take on the story but they generally recap the case and then add their views on it. And I'm really amazed that they fit it into a few pages because they felt like really good recaps. I would have read a book about each case.

This makes me a lot more eager to continue reading more from the Detection Club and their members. I would recommend this to anyone who's a fan of mystery and/or true crime. There is also a bibliography if you want to read more.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Used and Rare by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

I haven't re-read this in ages but yesterday's book reminded me of it and luckily, it was on the the books that I brought over to Japan with me.

Used and Rare is the story of how the two authors got into book collecting. It all starts with a bet to see who can get the better birthday present within a budget. Nancy gets a lovely hardback copy of War and Peace and that not only allows her to win the bet, but sparks an interest in used books.

At first, they are content with lovely copies of hardbacks and don't care about whether it's a rare book (in fact, they avoid rare books because they think it's overpriced). But then they find a first edition of a book that's 'haunted' them for years and that gets them interested in rare books and points of issue.

Points of issue are basically the things (like typos and other mistakes) that differentiate one book from another. And apparently, you can differentiate between a first edition first printing and a second printing from it because you can't just rely on the words 'first edition'.

What makes this book interesting is the way they mix personalities and books. The dealers are interesting folk and I'd love to meet them, and the books are discussed in a way that was informative and did not interrupt the flow of the narrative. The only 'major' thing I disagree with them is that I liked Modern Book Collecting and didn't find the prose dry.

Re-reading this reminded me that this was the book that first introduced me to Josephine Tey, and contributed to the "TBR pile that may never be read" (especially books that aren't popular today). And I still want to read them - I just have to find them first. Perhaps I should go to Project Gutenberg and see if any of the books are there.

This makes me want to re-read The Yellow Lighted Bookshop and The King's English, both books about bookselling and books that I also brought over to Japan (it's amazing that I didn't go over the luggage limit). The only thing is that I have a pile of books (and ARCs from NetGalley) that I haven't read.

Still, if you're a fan of stories and books, you'll enjoy this. The author's love of books and stories shine through and it is an easy and fairly informative read.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Modern Book Collecting by Robert A. Wilson

To start with something completely unrelated to the book, I now enjoy lunch on my own. I get time to read and play phone games without being rude, and half an hour reading time is quite valuable nowadays. So the previous book I read (Once Upon a Spine), though it was not my favourite read, made me want to read more about collecting books. So I picked up Modern Book Collecting, which is actually in my NLB TBR list.

So I have always liked the idea of collecting books. And while I think this book is the most practical book I've seen on how to get started (got to go and check because I think I own a book on the experiences collecting books?), it has also convinced me that I'm not going to be a serious collected. Most of the time, I'm fine with owning an ebook. The medium doesn't matter as much as the story.

Most of the time.

In certain cases, I get emotionally attached to covers and then I must get those. Like the Graveyard Book (had to get the edition that I first read - I think on ROCS? Can't remember but for some reason I love that cover), Fahrenheit 451 (Sec 3 and 4 lit book!) and a scant few others, none of which are first editions. So I shall happily resign myself to just amassing books rather than being a collector.

That said, this was a fascinating and easy read (plus each chapter is relatively short so I picked it up whenever I had time and finished it in two days). The author clearly loves books and it shows through the numerous stories that he has about his collection. He's also no book snob, which I appreciate.

The book (now we finally get to the book!) covers topics like what to collect (by author, by topic, etc), the merits of collecting unknown authors, the best ways of buying books (dealers vs authors vs secondhand shops and thrift stores), how to identify first editions, and even if books are worth it as an investment. And there's even a look into how a book is made (not sure how accurate it is now) which I found fascinating.

One thing I picked up is that it's very rare to find an undervalued book in a second hand bookstore because the owners tend to know if stuff is valuable, but it's possible to do so in a thrift shop/garage sale, especially if the people in charge aren't familiar with the value of books. Of course, things might have changed because this book is probably more than 30(?) years old.

Oh and this book actually has illustrations about the parts of the book so I actually can follow what the author is talking about. The information on how books can get damaged and the discussion on how to store them will probably be useful to any book lover, because no one wants to see their precious books disintegrate.

The fifth appendix is a list of internet resources (not sure if it's a recent edition but yay) so I will be checking that out. Especially the one that seems to be a sort of guide - lists I'll probably skip.

This book has made me want to read more about collecting books and serious collectors, even though my own collection will only be for reading and sentimental purposes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Once Upon a Spine by Kate Carlisle

I really wanted to like this, because it's a 'bibliophile mystery' but (oh no there's a but) it was just meh. For me, the story seemed confused about which direction and the protagonist and her boyfriend were a bit too close to Mary-Sue and Gary-Stu for me.

Before I go into that, here's a brief plot summary (without spoilers). Brooklyn finds a dead body when she goes to look for her shoe repair guy. Apparently, this is quite a regular occurrence and the police let her and her fiancé Derek (who coincidentally owns a security firm so he can basically go anything needed) do their own investigation on the side. And Derek and Brooklyn's parents are meeting for the very first time.

I actually liked the parts about books and thought that the way rare copies of Alice and Wonderland were tied in with the mystery was clever. But, the Book also chose to ramble in a few directions, such as devoting a lot of time to descriptions of pie (I like food too but now I want to read about books and murders) and making the subplot of the parents meeting almost as big as the mystery. I really would have preferred it if all of that was cut down.

As for characters, Brooklyn and Derek are almost too perfect. You need them to do something and they have that exact skill. And they're both rich too so there's really no need to root for them because they already have it all. Or perhaps I'm just being overly picky because of how everything falls into place for them despite them doing some pretty ridiculous (and probably illegal) things.

(Slight spoiler alert) At one point in the book, they break into a house and take something. And keep in mind that they have a very willing inspector friend who does almost anything they ask so this is actually unnecessary, a point proved when the inspector gets said thing for them (and also there's a ridiculous amount of respect for Derek because he was a commander. It almost felt like the police worked for them).

Oh, and I did roll my eyes at a few points. Like when Derek's father asks her to call him by his first name and she gets all "I FEEL THE LOVE". I mean, it's the first meeting and unless I'm wrong there was no opposition to their relationship at all. I don't understand the reaction at all.

Last point, before I forget. There was A LOT of explaining in the book. It was so obvious that this was part of a series because of the way Brooklyn over-explained things and very explicitly referred to past mysteries. This might have worked in third but it was written in first so it felt off to me. I certainly don't greet my coworker and have my inner thought process be: "XYZ is my coworker and mentor. She has (insert description) and is (insert opinion)." That happened quite a lot at the start which annoyed me.

Ok this is a very complain-y review but it's not that bad. I mean, I finished the book (and I've been stopping things that I don't like lately so that has to count for something).

Although now that I've written the review, I don't know if I should give it two or three stars later on Goodreads and Netgalley) because of the ratio of positive to negative things. Maybe I'll give it three for the sections on books...

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