Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Global Novel by Adam Kirsch

I requested this book as soon as I read the title. It sounded interesting, and I'm always keen on seeing what people think about novels. The Global Novel is a discussion on the subject of world literature. It starts pretty abruptly, plunging the reader straight into a discussion on the criticisms against the subject of world literature.
"The question of whether world literature can exist - in particular, whether the novel, the preeminent modern genre of exploration and explanation, can be "global" - is another way of asking whether a meaningfully global consciousness can exist."
In other words, the stakes are high. After the introductory chapter, the author goes on to discuss:

Snow, by Orhan Pamuk
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq
Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels.

I didn't quite get the sense of an overarching argument, but it was an interesting discussion. I haven't read many of the books (and I don't really feel like reading any of them other than Ferrante and Murakami after reading this), but I was able to follow the discussion along. Perhaps I didn't get as much depth as I would if I had read the books, but it did make me think. In fact, this line by Mizumura made me think:
"Bilinguals [will] start taking their own country's literature less seriously than literature written in English - especially the classics of English literature, which are evolving into the universal cannon." 
It did give me pause because I read primarily in English, even though I'm technically trilingual. I don't read in Chinese (not unless it's Chinese comics, and even that is rare and limited to my childhood) and now I'm wondering how much I've missed by neglecting one language.

This is probably aimed mainly at students of literature, but anyone curious about the world of literature might be interested in this.

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

Every time I finished a Matthew Shardlake book I'm like "I need to read more of this" but my TBR is making that very hard to do. Anyway, I decided to move this to the top of the list because I really, really wanted to read another one of the books after listening to the BBC radio adaptation of it.

The fire in Dark Fire refers to Greek Fire, which is this near weapon used by the Byzantine empire that could burn on water.

In this book, Lord Cromwell tasks Matthew Shardlake with discovering the formula to Greek Fire. In return, he gives Matthew a stay of execution for a girl that he's trying to defend. And while juggling two murder cases is not an easy feat for anyone, Matthew must do so knowing that if he fails, Cromwell falls (he doesn't like the guy but it's still going to make things worse for him).

Helping him for the first time is Barak, Cromwell's servant. I actually knew Barak as Matthew's assistant so it was a bit of a surprise to see them start on such rough footing. But the differences in their personalities made them an interesting pair and I liked seeing how their friendship (and how Barak stops judging Guy for being different) developed.

The mystery was fantastic and the historical setting even better. This may have been a really thick book, but I finished it faster than expected because each chapter was so short that I kept reading on.

I also thought the story was pretty well-balanced. Lord Cromwell's task is given precedence, but the other murder is investigated periodically, so I never felt like Matthew had forgotten about it.

If you're into historical mysteries, you need to pick up this series. If not now then yesterday because it is really good. I was actually not that enthused about the first book (although I loved the sixth, which was actually my introduction to the series), but I absolutely enjoyed this book and my expectations for the rest of the series just became higher.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

Hey everyone!

I've not been reading much - just here and there before and after work. But I have been trying to catch up on the weekends and because of that, I feel a mystery reading binge coming on! Right now, I'm reading The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham. It's a pretty fun read so far!

My teaser:
"They were getting on like a house o fire. He had begun with his nearest and dearest, and Meg Elginbrodde had been subjected to a catechism which had not only satisfied but scandalised the sergeant."
What about you? What are you reading now and how do you find it?

How to participate in Teaser Tuesday:  
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, May 22, 2017

From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell by Susan Rowland

This is one of the two books that I've managed to finish last week (at the rate I'm going, I'll have to take a hiatus from the blog/cut down on blogging dramatically because I will eventually run out of reviews :p)

Despite the unfortunate cover (sorry but I think it looks boring), I found this to be a fascinating read! It's an analysis of the works of 6 queens of crime:

Agatha Christie
Dorothy L. Sayers
Margery Allingham
Ngaio Marsh
P. D. James
Ruth Rendell (also writing as Barbara Vine)

The book opens with very short biographies of the six women and then it starts the analysis. Each chapter covers one topic and the topics are:

- Gender and the mystery genre
- Class issues
- England and its colonial legacy
- Psychoanalysis and the genre
- The influence of gothic literature
- "Spiritual detection" (actually I didn't really understand this chapter)
- Feminism and the genre (I really like the title of this chapter 'Feminism is Criminal')

I found the writing style to be a lot more accessible than the Christie book on her film adaptations (though still on the academic side) but you really should have read a majority of these women's works if you want to fully understand the book. I haven't read Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham so I couldn't appreciate a lot of the analysis of their works.

That said, this did renew my interest in reading their works because of how interesting the books sound! I feel like reading something from all of them, and the library has at least one of each lady's book in ebook format so I may go on a mystery binge after this!

I would recommend this book to fans of the mystery genre who are looking for a deeper appreciation of some of the mysteries they read! The chapters aren't connected so you can pick up the book and only read what interests you (plus the chapters are broken up into sections by authors + introduction so you don't even have to read the whole thing). If you're a fan of any one of these six authors, you should give the book a go!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Penance by Kanae Minato

I found this book on Netgalley and couldn't resist requesting it. It is a good read, but I can't quite decide which genre it belongs to.

Penance is ostensibly a mystery. Five children are playing at school when one of them ends up dead after a mysterious man takes her away. The four of them swear that they can't remember what the man looks like and Emily, the dead girl's mother, curses them to either help solve the murder or do a penance.

That said, the book isn't so much about who killed Emily but what happened to Sae, Akiko, Mae, and Yuko as the deadline for the statute of limitations draw closer. Each of them is affected by the murder in a different way, but they are all driven to tragic ends. There is a clue from each of the girls, but the denouement is more about Emily's mother than the murderer.

I guess that if I had to sum up the book, it would be that it's more about the emotions that drive people to murder and the ripple effect that it causes.

Each girl gets her own story, and it's not until the later half that things start to come together. But I was really captivated from the start, because of how the relationships were written. They're sad and oddly fascinating.

For example (please ignore this if you don't want spoilers, though I will try to avoid the biggest one): Sae feels that the murderer chose Emily as his victim because she had already started menstruating and was thus a woman. The stress from this causes her not to menstruate at all. Despite this, she manages to get married, only to find out that her husband proposed only because she looks like the doll he was fascinated with and he's thrilled to have a real life doll now.

This book is dark and twisted and it's absolutely captivating. It's not a very long read but it manages to pack a punch. I wasn't able to put it down, which explains why I have a book review 2 days after the previous one. If you're in the mood for something dark and definitely not-cheery, you need to read this.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

I decided to read this book because it was discussed by this podcast that talks about childhood classics and modern stories and I didn't want to get spoilers.

In Finding Audrey, the titular character suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Depressive Episodes. Apart from therapy, she basically stays in her house the whole day. But she meets her brother's friend Linus and starts to push her boundaries.

I have no idea how accurate the portrayal of these were but I thought it was a pretty sensitive portrayal of mental illness. Audrey is an extremely sympathetic character who isn't defined by her mental illness. Yes, she's trying to get better and that is the main thrust of the book, but I didn't think that it was the only part of her character - she felt a lot more real to me.

I also liked the fact that Audrey was seeing a proper therapist and that the therapist was the one who gave her tasks, instead of her being magically cured by love. That said, I don't really think that meeting a guy should be the reason she takes concrete steps forward. Luckily, the climax of the book took place without Linux so it felt like Audrey wasn't completely reliant on a guy to get better.

The supporting characters were well-written as well. Apart from Audrey and Linux, there is also Frank and Felix, her brothers, and her parents. Her mom, in particular, was interesting - she was an annoying 'bookworm' (using the word lightly since she only talks about Dickens) who serves as a good example of why you should not believe the Daily Mail without some critical thinking. But she clearly loves Audrey and her brother, even though the way she expresses it isn't to their liking. The family dynamics were interesting and I really enjoyed reading about it.

I thought this was an interesting and well-written book. It's not often you see someone with a mental illness as a protagonist, and without glamorising or trivialising the issue (in my uneducated opinion). Also, I liked that I finished this in two days, because work means that I don't have as much time to read.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Thread of Truth by Marie Bostwick

A Thread of Truth is about a quilting shop! I normally read knitting novels, if it's a craft novel (Debbie Macomber, anyone?) but I'm cool with anything craft-related. I first heard about it from Sandra Nachlinger and her teaser convinced me to go look for the book!

The main plot of this book centers on Ivy, who is running from her abusive husband. She finds refuge in New Bern and work in Cobbled Court (a quilt shop). However, she accidentally appears in a segment about the shop and that means that if she wants to keep this life that she's built, she'll have to learn to trust her new friends with her past and secrets.

The subplot is basically about the romance lives of the other four main characters and how Evelyn (the owner) deals with having her shop featured on television. I guess it could have been confusing since this is book two, but there was one chapter that basically summarised book one, so I don't think I missed much.

While the book can be a little heavy-handed in describing feelings or making a point about something, it is on the whole an enjoyable read. The story is engaging and I found myself rooting for Ivy from page one.

Will I want to read book one and the later books? I'm not too sure. I enjoyed it, but the mini-summary of book one means that I don't feel the need to read it, and I guess everything else depends on what the later books are about (I only picked this up because another blogger mentioned it and I thought the combination of topics was interesting).

If you're a fan of quilting, you will want to pick this up.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Hey everyone!

I'm currently juggling two books because my reading mood isn't really settled. One is From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell and it's not very quote worthy (it's on the academic side but fascinating) and the other is The Pearl Thief. The Pearl Thief is a novel so that's where my teaser is coming from:
"My grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Strathfearn, whom my brothers and I call by the French pet name Memere, had been reduced to three rooms in her late husband's ancestral mansion - four if you counted the bathroom. (Not the nursery bathroom - it gave everyone vapors to think I was lounging blissfully unclothed in that enormous bathtub, which was also used by the workmen in the easy wing.)"
The Pearl Thief started of really well, but three chapters in and I'm... starting to wonder if I'm going to finish it. Apart from my odd want-to-read-but-don't reading mood, the narrator and protagonist Julia is starting to get on my nerves. I quite like the heiress dectective/investigator as an idea, but please either own your snottiness or don't have any, because the mock-humble "I'm not vain but I am and I can mimic all languages" Mary Sue thing is starting to get a little annoying.

I'm hoping it's just a mood thing and not that the voice doesn't agree with me (I mean this is a very strong first person so you either like it or don't).

(Ok, I just went and checked Goodreads and apparently I really liked the second book in the series - which had a completely different protagonist - so I'm really, really hoping I warm up to Julia now)

How to participate in Teaser Tuesday:  
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn

About two years ago, I read A Thousand Lives, which introduced me to the horrific tragedy at the Peoples Temple (which also gave birth to the phrase "drinking the kool-aid"). The Road to Jonestown is a biography of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, but it feels a lot more detailed than A Thousand Lives. It does contain information from interviews, so that is probably a huge factor.

The first time I read about the Peoples Temple, I thought that it was a huge tragedy. This time, my feelings are a lot more complicated. Jim Jones was probably a megalomaniac and towards the end, the Peoples Temple was definitely a cult, but it did a lot of good work at the start. If the book is to be believed, Jim Jones did a lot to integrate Indianapolis (by the way, if someone like Jim Jones turns out to be one of the pioneers in integration, clearly there is an apathy problem with the city). Plus, it seems like a lot of his followers started to follow him because he offered concrete help and welcomed both black and white people.

I guess one way of summarising all the complications would be to look at Marceline, Jones' wife. He did a lot of terrible things to her (not least is the cheating) and she did consider leaving him, but in public, she was always supportive of him. And this is a woman described in her introduction as a strong Christian. It seems like she saw something in him that made her willing to ignore all the red flags and support him almost until the end.

Oh, and my feeling of how a lot of people were complicit in this was reinforced in the book. Jones was able to gain legitimacy through admission into the Disciples of Christ, despite the fact that his teachings weren't even close to theologically sound. Instead, the organisation decide to overlook the flags and his stinginess because they saw him as a model of progressive Christianity (why they didn't just encourage their existing Churches to be more active in social matters is a mystery to me).

This book is exhaustive and depressing. It seems like the Peoples Temple had great promise, and if anyone else but Jim Jones was in charge (or if he was divested of power early), if could have done a lot of good. Instead, it will forever be remembered for the tragedy that occurred.

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book was recommended to me by Wendy from Literary Feline (link to her review) and it was fantastic! I normally use my phone on the train (back when I was taking the train) because it's only 10 minutes but this was so good that I decided to use all my free time to read.

Uprooted is hard to explain. There's Agnieszka, a witch whose magic doesn't work the way it usually works, a dragon who's actually a wizard, Kasia, the best friend who was supposed to be taken but wasn't, and a sentient wood. And there are princes and battles and all the usual stuff. It sounds like a lot, but it all goes together so well! In fact, I really liked how the plot moved. Thinking back, it has enough plot for what would probably a trilogy in many books nowadays, but it doesn't feel rushed. It feels perfect in terms of pacing.

The characters are really well-written too. Agnieszka is clumsy and insecure but she has a good heart. The dragon is stern but he's actually a really nice guy. And I really liked Kasia, the best friend who played the part without going over the top. Agnieszka and Kasia are really good friends, but their friendship isn't perfect (they are jealous of each other, a little). I found that made them more believable and the fact that they chose to stick together after knowing that proof that they really were good friends.

The only complaint I have is about the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon (which, coincidentally, Wendy also has :D). I feel like they've had a mentor-student relationship the whole time, even if it's contentious, and the sudden swerve into romance was not believable at all. Like, really, it felt unnecessary.

That said, the other relationship - the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia was very well done and more prominent than the romance so my complaint is a fairly small one.

This is definitely going to be one of my top books for the year. It's a fun and well-written read, much like a fairytale, and if you're into fantasy, you HAVE to pick this up.

(It's available on NLB so there's no excuse if you're Singaporean)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

This is technically a reread, but since I read Rebecca even before I started writing reviews, I guess it could count as new? I've been meaning to read this for a while, and after reading Manderley Forever, it got moved to the top of the TBR list.

I don't think a plot introduction is needed, but if you haven't heard of the book before, Rebecca isn't the name of the protagonist. It's the name of the nameless protagonist's husband's first wife. And even though Rebecca is dead, she haunts Manderley and the protagonist's relationships as she is convinced that she is inferior to the well-loved Rebecca.

The book is also a lot more than a bizarre love triangle. Part of the reason it makes such a big impact is the atmosphere that it has. Manderley (which is based on a real house called Menabilly) is practically a character of its own, which is unusual for a house.

However, I've got to add a note of warning: if you're looking for a romance novel, this is not the book.

Sure, it's about a romantic relationship and could have what might be called a HEA (she does get the guy after all, although it's debatable if she is truly happy) but it doesn't actually hit any of the conventional tropes. The HEA might not actually be happy, and the tone of the novel is extremely dark. It is less of a romance and more of a novel about how insecurity and jealousy and take human form.

I definitely recommend this. It's fascinating and absorbing, and it will hook you from its iconic first sentence. I can definitely see why this is Daphne du Maurier's most famous book (even if she got sick about all the questions about the name of the protagonist later on).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay

I read Rebecca a long time ago and remember that I loved it, so I decided that I had to request this biography of Daphne du Maurier!

Manderley Forever is told in two parts. One is the author's own journey to various places of significance in Daphne du Maurier's life, which opens each chapter, and the other is the biography, told in the style of a novel (with third person narration).

To be honest, the author's pilgrimage didn't feel necessary, and I wouldn't have missed anything if it was cut. It just wasn't long enough and didn't enhance the story of Daphne du Maurier's life to me (and I didn't feel a connection with the author either).

Another quibble I have is that the book talks a lot about how Daphne feels at times and it does so with no room for ambiguity. It does seem very well-researched but I do wonder how accurate one can be at guessing at the emotions of someone else - were the letters and other materials that survived that comprehensive?

That being said, the book succeeds very well as a biography. The writing style was a little weird at first, but by the end of the book, I felt like I had come to know Daphne du Maurier pretty well. And even more importantly, it made me want to read all of her books (pity the NLB only has 3 of her books in ebook form). So I will. I'm going to start with Rebecca, even if she did get sick of it, and read the other two between books.

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

I'm so glad that my work is finally back to normal! I still don't have a lot of time to read (less now, since I'm driving to work and back) but I'm sneaking pockets of time to read Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom. I've been meaning to read more of the Matthew Shardlake series and I figured it was time to stop just saying it and actually read more.

My teaser:
"'Who's fault is that?' he asked roundly. 'They fought each other in the wars of York and Lancaster till they near wiped each other out.'" 
I hope everyone is having a good start to their week!

How to participate in Teaser Tuesday:  
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees

Hi everyone!! Just wanted to say hi because I haven't posted for most of last week. It was Golden Week in Japan, which means holiday for most of the country and peak season for me (I guess that's what working in the tourism industry does). I've been way busier than normal as a result and haven't had the energy to turn on my computer for most of the week. But, I'm finally back(: Ok, time for the review. 

So I saw this book and just had to borrow it. I love Jane Austen, but I'm also looking out for more authors from that time period.

Not Just Jane is a collection of seven mini-biographies of authoress's who were famous in their day yet almost completely unknown now. They aren't even studied that often in the field of literature! Which is a huge pity because they led interesting lives and wrote some groundbreaking novels at a time when women were supposed to be wives and nothing else.

The authoress's in this book are:

Charlotte Turner Smith
Helen Maria Williams
Mary Robinson
Catherine Crowe
Sara Coleridge
Dinah Mulock Craik
Mary Elizabeth Braddon

They all led different lives and wrote different things, but they all seem to be amazing women and amazing writers. Along with a biography, Shelley DeWees also provides an introduction to the period of that time, making me feel very grateful to be writing now, with much fewer barriers.

I'm not sure if the NLB has any of their books, but there's a good chance that Project Gutenberg does. I've already found Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. It was the best-seller when it came out and propelled her to stardom (and scandal). I'm really looking forward to reading that when I have the time.

This is a must-read for everyone. The biographies are short (about 20 pages on my iPad) and I managed to devour the book in two days. I'd recommend having a tab open to Project Gutenberg or Manybooks while you read, so that you can check for your next read at the same time.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Teaser Tuesday: Agatha Christie on Screen by Mark Aldridge

Guess what? Today is part of Golden Week* which is peak season for my company (since everyone else is on holiday). I did manage to finish one book yesterday, because I started a sensation novel and ended up sacrificing sleep. Today though... hasn't been that productive for reading. I started Agatha Christie on Screen and while it is interesting, it's a little bit academic which means it's easier to put down (not saying academic is bad - this just isn't a book I want to rush through).

My teaser (which is from a quote):
"Isn't it time Slack put on his thinking cap and realised that Miss Marple is one of the most dangerous serial killers since Jack the Ripper? Not content to shoot, strangle and poison her way through England, this dangerous person, simpering modestly over the teacups, always manages to frame someone else."
Most of the book is a bit dry, but I'm a huge Christie fan so I find it really interesting (though I don't think I've actually watched any of the adaptations. I just read the books)

*Golden Week is when public holidays converge to give Japanese people almost one week of rest from work (depending on how the holidays fall and if there's a weekend between them).

What about you? What are you reading?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday:  
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Scent of Rain by Anne Montgomery

This was a rather chilling read because when I got to the end of the book, I discovered that many of the details of the book "came directly from Flora Jessop, who allowed [the author] to interview at length about her experiences with the FLDS."

The Scent of Rain is about a lot of things. There's a dead body, there's a runaway boy, there are some sort of mysterious vitamins, there are missing people, and there's Rose. Not all these questions will be answered (perhaps the author is preparing for a second book?) but the most important one, about Rose's future, is.

What's so important about Rose? Well, she's different. She's a little rebellious and that's a huge no-no in the community. Her mother absolutely hates it, and even though her father loves her, even he won't go against the Prophet. And when the Prophet (just out of prison too) decides that all pets must be killed, Rose ends up running away rather than help her sister kill her beloved pet.

This story was terrifying because of the characters. The Prophet is obviously evil and a pedophile, but what's probably more frightening are the banally evil characters (to borrow a phrase). Rose's mother is a harsh woman, but would she have been so harsh if she did not listen to the Prophet? Rose's father loves her and her sisters, but would Rose have to run away if he stood up for her? These two side characters basically represent all the people in the community, because there are two ways that you can react to people and (mild spoiler alert) they both react differently.

While there are a lot of questions that are left unanswered, I thought that this had a satisfying, if almost too pat, ending. There was a lot of ground to cover, and the author even threw in a twist or two, which meant that some sections felt a bit forced. But since most of the book was really well-written, I didn't really mind. It was just something I noticed because I finished the book in two sittings (I read as much as possible when I don't have to work).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I hope that the author is planning to write a sequel because I'm really curious about all the questions that she didn't answer.

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rosé All Day by Katherine Cole (ARC)

I'm not knowledgeable about wine, but I do prefer it to beer. So when I saw this book, I thought it was a good time to learn a little bit more about rosé, which I didn't even realise was a separate category (I thought it was a little bit like champagne rather than a third category).

Basically, rosé can be made many different ways. You can use red grapes, you can use white grapes and red grapes and you can basically mix them in a bunch of different ways. And that's everything that I got out of the technical aspect. I will probably have to reread that section.

After the first chapter, which talks about the history what makes rosé, rosé, the book goes into detail on the different regions that produce the wine, as well as the recommended wines from each region. There's a helpful price guide, so if you're budget conscious, you can just look for the single $ sign wines and ignore the rest. Unfortunately, there isn't a list of all the names of wines categorised by price, but there is a list of top 5 wines for each price range, which could be helpful. The book also has a list of websites that you can buy rosé from, though I don't know which countries it sells to.

If you're interested in drinking more rosé and/or learning about it, I think this book will be a helpful guide. Even if you don't want to learn about its history, you could use the rest of the book as a guide to picking out wines.

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram

Finally finished another book for the SEAReadingChallenge! This book is from Vietnam and it's the first non-fiction book that I've read for the challenge. Last Night I Dreamed Of Peace is a diary written by a young (27 when she died, only slightly older than me!) Vietnamese doctor as she worked in the front lines during the Vietnam War.

I think this is my favourite book of the challenge so far! Dang Thuy Tram is an introspective woman and she writes extremely movingly about what she sees and experiences. It's an extremely good reminder that there are two sides to every story, and that even on the 'wrong' side (Dang Thuy Tram is from North Vietnam), there are people who truly believe in what they're fighting for.

But the thing about the book that occasionally annoyed me (and this is no fault of the translators) is how naive Dang Thuy Tram is. Apart from the fact that she doesn't ever change her view of the communist party or the other side (she comes close in the beginning but seems to double down on her beliefs after), the number of 'pure love' relationships she has is... staggering. I'm pretty sure that some of those guys are in love with her, but she basically denies everything. And while that was fine with me in the beginning, the fact that her mindset never change got a little annoying towards the end of the book. I was expecting her to grow but she didn't.

Still, I managed to suppress these feelings for the most part, and I genuinely enjoyed reading this book. If you want to see another facet of the Vietnam war, you have to pick this up.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Hey everyone! It's Tuesday again and I managed to start another book(: Although I'll be working over the weekend, I do have tomorrow off (and I'm planning to meet some friends so I may not get much reading done).

Right now, I'm reading Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which was actually a recommendation from Wendy over at Literary Feline! I read her review and just had to read the book, especially since the library has it. I'm thoroughly enjoying it, so thank you so much for the review!

My teaser:
"When we were through I slid to the floor next to my small heap of pine-needle ashes and stared at them, hollow. I almost hated them for stealing the lie from me."
What about you? What are you reading right now?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday:  
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Clockwork Murder by Steve Jackson

I managed to get the weekend off (not so much "get" as "was lucky to be given the weekend off") so I celebrated by finishing a book on Friday! Luckily for me I had a place to sit and read while my friends browsed BookOff and I tried to practice self-control(;

A Clockwork Murder is a true-crime book about the murder of Jacine Gielinski. She was brutally raped and forced to hear her killers discuss how they would kill her before she finally died. It was a slow, painful death and the worst part is that she was randomly chosen.

Thankfully, her killers were caught almost immediately and couldn't carry out any more crimes. Not thankfully, it took over 3 years before Jacine's parents got any closer because despite the fact that both of her killers confessed, their defence attorneys still tied the whole thing up in paperwork. And perhaps most despicably, tried to manipulate her parents into giving up.

Both of them were found guilty but they did not get the death penalty in the end.

And the relationship between the two killers was... really odd. Her killers were these two guys called Lucas Salmon and George Woldt and they had an extremely dysfunctional relationship. George was violent and sadistic since young, and though Lucas was his opposite and constantly humiliated by his 'friend', he still did all he could to keep in George's good graces.

Overall, this was a really good read. There was one part where I thought the book was starting to lag (we were going into a bit too much detail about the lawyers for my taste) but it soon got back on the trial and I found myself reading all the way to the end.

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Any book that is compared to Coraline is one that I will be trying. Sometimes, literary comparisons are off, but this one was great - fun and a little spooky and with cats.

The Shadows follows the journey of Olive as she and her mathematician parents move into their new house, which comes with creepy furniture. Unlike her parents, Olive isn't good at maths (I feel a connection to her already). Luckily for her, she doesn't need maths for what happens.

It turns out that this house is... not normal. Olive can enter paintings and talk to the people inside, and there are three cats that talk to her too. Unfortunately, cats will be cats and their hints were a little too cryptic. As a result, Olive accidentally unleashes evil onto the house and has to remedy it.

The book has a fantastic protagonist in Olive. She's likable and plucky, and I liked that she got herself out of the mistakes she made (also, she didn't like everyone, but still apologised when she was wrong). She made a great team with the three cats, whom I'd like to meet.

The cats are: Horatio, who's a bit cranky and cryptic, Leopold, who's very polite and I just want to cuddle him, and Harvey, who takes on different personalities and serves as comedic relief sometimes.

There's also Morton, a strange boy who isn't who he seems to be. He's also a little annoying so I don't have much to say about him. He was one of the people who introduced Olive to this odd world, though, so he is a fairly important character.

The book is apparently part of a series, but it reads well as a standalone. There is one loose end, but it doesn't make me want to read the second book immediately. (And I'm torn on whether I want to read the second book because I have no idea if it's as good as this one.)

Oh, and this isn't as scary as Coraline, although it is a bit creepy. But I do agree that fans of Coraline will like this. At least I did.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram

Hey everyone! I'm now in my actual department (second day!) and am slowly getting used to work. Which means I haven't had much time to read, although I try to make up for that on the weekend. Right now, I'm slowly reading Last Night I Dreamed of Peace as part of my SEA reading challenge. It's a diary of a doctor who worked for North Vietnam during the Vietnam war.

My teaser:
"With only a few short minutes in the middle of the crowd, I somehow comprehend and feel what those dear eyes are saying to me: We are silent, but we understand each other entirely.  
Good-bye, dearest dark eyes."
What about you? What are you reading?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday:  
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Perils of Privilege by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

I'm not very familiar with the idea of "privilege", so I decided it would be a good idea read up on it, especially since I see notions of it creeping into Singapore culture (the word "Chinese privilege" has been appearing a few times). I am normally wary of importing American social justice methods wholesale, because it seems to have led to a more divided America which makes me question its efficacy and more importantly, because Singapore is not America and we need to adjust for that.

But I am digressing. I spent one day just reading the book and writing out my thoughts on it. Normally, I'd copy the review over, but it's much, much longer than anything I've ever done, so I'll just link to it.

The Perils of Privilege is an introduction and critique of the privilege framework and the phenomenon of calling out the privilege of others (abbreviated as YPIS - Your Privilege is Showing). If I were to pick one quote to summarise the whole book, it would be:
"On this much, the privilege framework is accurate: Society has hierarchies, and some categories of people are - all things equal - luckier than others. Those who deny that "privilege" exists in those broad, sweeping areas where you need your head rather deep in the sand not to have noticed [...] need not so much a privilege check as an introduction to reality. 
The trouble is that those hierarchies don't explain all injustice, and that they don't always correspond to the hierarchies that "count" according to the privilege framework."
The book uses YPIS to discuss a wide range of things issues from the 2016 American election to cultural appropriation (like the Kimono exhibit from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts). I really liked these quotes from the discussion on the kimono controversy (if you didn't know, a few Asian-Americans were upset when a replica of a kimono worn in a painting by Monet was made for visitors to try on):
"According to news reports, Japanese observers were partly baffled, but also annoyed at having their plight, not so much appropriated, as invented by other East Asians. Can Chinese Americans by offended on behalf of Japanese people who, when consulted, are not actually offended? 
Yet a further, ignored, angle is the question of whether it's offensive (or even inaccurate) to suggest that Japanese people are somehow underdogs with respect to white Americans in the twenty-first century. 
The appropriation discussion is thus a microcosm of the privilege critique more generally. Despite being ostensibly about social justice, it ends up reinforcing and maybe even inventing hierarchies."
To continue summarising the book would make this review far too long (the link above will lead to the full summary), but in short, I think this is something that everyone should read because the concept of "privilege" is something that has left American shores and traveled around the world. The book uses many examples to explain what the privilege framework is and how it can be problematic.

As for me, I think that the privilege framework should stay in academia. It is a valid way of seeing things, but I think this victim hierarchy has a way of diverting attention from the real problem.

Let's call a spade a spade, and not by a different name. I sincerely hope that the fledgling privilege movement in Singapore (which seems to be a wholesale importation of the American framework, but with the names of the privileged change) is discarded for a method that is more accurate and less divisive than the privilege call outs.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Philosophy and Terry Pratchett by Jacob Held and James South

I read this on a long bus trip, and found out that it's not light enough to be travel reading material - I will definitely have to reread this one day to more fully absorb everything.

Anyway, Philosophy & Terry Pratchett is a collection of essays divided into four categories:
1. Self-perception, Narrative and Identity (4 essays)
2. Social and Political Philosophy (3 essays)
3. Ethics and the Good Life (4 essays)
4. Logics and metaphysics. (2 essays)

Some essays read like an essay analysing Discworld, while others read as though Discworld was added to a discussion on philosophy. On the whole, though, I found parts two and three to be the most interesting ones, although that's probably because of the topic than the writing style. In particular, essays on the Witches on Lancre and Death tended to be the most interesting ones, no matter which category they were in.

You won't need to have an understand of philosophy to read this, though it will be helpful, but you'll want to have read most (if not all) of all the Discworld books before reading this. I haven't read a few and didn't get the reference to certain plot elements.

This is review is rather short but there isn't much to say. If you're a Discworld fan and are interested in exploring the different ways that we can view the Disc, then there's a good chance that you'll be interested in it (assuming you don't mind some academic language).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

PSA: Revelation by CJ Sansom is on BBC Radio


If you're a fan of audiobook and/or a fan of historical mysteries, the BBC has done a radio adaptation of Revelation by CJ Sansom! It's one of the books in the Martin Shardlake series and both parts are now available! I haven't read the book and to be honest was quite nervous about relying on the dramatisation because I tend to put podcasts on as background noise but I found myself absolutely enraptured by this dramatisation. It's only available for another 12 more days so you should check it out ASAP. You can listen to it online or through the BBC iPlayer app.

Revelation is the fourth in the Matthew Shardlake series and in this book, there is a string of murders. Disturbingly, the murders bear a resemblance to what is written in the Book of Revelation, and in the current social climate, have to be solved ASAP. When Shardlake's friend is murdered, he finds himself drawn into the investigation, despite the fact that it's connected to royal politics.

I probably missed a few things because I was cooking while listening to this, but hopefully I can get my hands on a copy of Revelation and the other books in the series and read (reread?) them!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James

I can only theorise that the reason why this book lay unread for so long was because I wanted to save it. In its own way, the anticipation of a good book is almost as good as reading a good book. Luckily, I was not disappointed.

Talking About Detective Fiction is a discussion of the genre, from its definition and history, to famous women writers, the technical aspects, and criticism of the genre. And of course, there's a discussion of the modern day mystery (modern = 2009)

The whole book is really good, but my favourite chapters would be those on the golden age of detective fiction and of "four formidable women", the women being Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. I confess that of the four, I'm only familiar with Christie. I've read only one Sayer book, and none of Allingham and Marsh, which is something that I need to correct. In fact, those two chapters alone have given me quite a reading list.

Oh and my copy of the book had comics about mysteries here and there - I definitely chuckled at them and liked their inclusion.

While P. D. James apologises for referencing her own work at the start of the book, I think that mentions of her own work have been minimal (and largely confined to the end). In fact, the book mentions a wide variety of detective books and literature about the stories. P. D. James definitely knows her stuff, and it shows. When her work was mentioned, it was to good effect (explaining why she chose certain settings, for example), and I felt like reading her books after this (I think I've only read one or two?)

I highly recommend to this fans of mysteries. This is a readable, engaging book that will probably give fans new authors to search for.

P.s. In a discussion of the modern detective fiction, she mentions C. J. Sanson and I highly recommend his works too. They're set in Tudor England and while I haven't finished the series (since I haven't been to the local library in a while), I fully intend to finish it when I get the chance.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Shallow End by Brenda Chapman

Started and finished this book in a day because I was extremely eager to see how it turned out (and by the way, I did not manage to guess who the real killer was).

Shallow End starts with the death of Devon, a teenage boy. What makes Devon "special" is that a few years ago, he was involved in a case where his teacher was accused of sexually assaulting him. That teacher, Jane, got out of prison a month ago, so she's obviously the top suspect. But can Jane, who seems to want nothing more than to see her children, be the killer?

First things first. After I downloaded the book, I noticed that this was labeled as Stonechild and Rouleau Mystery #4. Kala Stonechild is one of the detectives in the book and Rouleau is her superior. To be honest, I didn't really feel Rouleau's presence in the book, and I felt that Kala was the more active character here. That being said, I had no problems reading this book as a standalone - there are probably a few things I missed, but the team dynamic was easy enough for a first-time reader to grasp.

What stood out to me was the sheer number of unlikeable characters in the book. Jane's ex-husband, Adam is unpleasant, as is his new girlfriend. I didn't like the parents of the dead boy. I didn't like Woodson, a cop that hates Jane and I didn't like the reporter either (and I seem to have forgotten her name). Luckily, I did like Jane and Kala, who were the main characters, as well as Gunderson's, Kala's partner at work.

The mystery was pretty well-done, but the characters were what stood out more. I didn't manage to guess the killer either, and I thought the twist at the end was pretty good too.

When I have the time, I'll probably go back and read the first few books in the series.

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

This book was recommended to me by one of my friends on Dayre, who also recommended Ekaterina, a Russian drama on Catherine the Great! Both are really good, and I'd recommend watching the drama and reading this one after the other.

So I didn't really know who Catherine the Great was, so I'm going to pretend that you don't either and give you a very brief introduction.

Catherine the Great (born Sophia Augustus Fredericka) was a noble-born German girl who ended up being married to the heir to the Russian throne (who was also German). Her mother thought herself cleverer than she was and didn't give Sophia much love, and her husband didn't love or respect her either.

Trapped in a loveless marriage in a foreign court, Sophia (who was renamed Catherine after converting to Orthodoxy) made the best of a bad situation by endearing herself to the Russians, overthrowing her husband after he became emperor and becoming Empress herself. Seriously a "when life gives you lemons" sort of person.

I have so much respect for Catherine after reading this, not only because of how she made the best of her situation but because she seemed to genuinely love Russia and ruled with its best interests in mind. She not only corresponded with great thinkers, she put what she had learnt into practice by writing Nakaz, which laid the guiding principals upon which she hoped Russia's new laws would be founded.

Sadly, she didn't get to carry out her ideas as she wanted to (because even autocrats need the support of the nobility and army), and she didn't manage to end serfdom even though she wanted to, but I was genuinely impressed by what she managed. Russia is huge and she not only governed it, she tried to better it.

Her attempts to improve the Russian healthcare system were more successful and in 1768, she was the first to be vaccinated against smallpox, to show Russians that it was safe. That put her ahead of continental Europe, which shunned it as dangerous (and considering that anti-vaxxers still exist today, this really shows how forward thinking she was).

I found this book to be easy to read, although some controversial issues (like whether she married a Potemkin) seemed to be glossed over. I'm not a scholar though, so this is purely just an impression of how disputed it might have been, because I was expecting a little bit more discussion on it.

If you're in the mood for a biography, I'd recommend this. I mentioned in my review of the three royals who ruled before WWI (George, Nicholas and Wilhelm) that they seemed to be victims of the birth (although I may not have used those exact words), but Catherine shows that you aren't trapped and that one can rule well even if they weren't brought up to do so.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Witchfinder's Sister by Beth Underdown

I heard about this book from someone's Teaser Tuesday (or was it a review?) and it sounded so good I had to check if NetGalley had it. Luckily they did and my request was approved so I got to read it!

The Witchfinder's Sister is a novel based on Matthew Hopkins, who was an actual person. The sister in question, however, is made up. Alice Hopkin's husband dies and having no other place to go, goes back to her brother, Matthew. He's just beginning to get into the groove of witch-hunting and while she doesn't know much at first, she starts to know more. At the heart of the matter is the question: why is Matthew doing this?

The book is written mainly in first-person, interspersed with a few excerpts (not sure if the book is real or not because my knowledge is woefully lacking). I mention this only because there is one passage that is suddenly transitioned into second person and it was rather jarring. I definitely preferred the main first-person point of view that was used.

The story was, as expected, captivating. Alice is a sympathetic character who does as much as she can (although it is very little). The mystery of why Matthew is so set on hunting witches - and how that relates to their past, was well-done and the information was given out in a way that made sure the tension of the book didn't flag.

The characters that stood out the most were Alice, Matthew, and Bridget, Alice's mother-in-law and their family's ex-servant. I found Bridget to be the most inexplicable because several of her actions - like her attitude to Alice after she married her son and her reluctance to tell the truth to Alice even though it would have helped - were hard to fathom. I suppose that makes her a good counterpoint to Matthew, whose motives are also a mystery.

If you're in the mood for a historical novel set in a rather dark time, I think The Witchfinder's Sister will hit the spot. It is definitely not a lighthearted read, but it is captivating and well-written (except for that one second-person passage but this is more of preference than anything).

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong

Binu and the Great Wall is a retelling of the legend of Meng Jiangnu. If you haven't heard it, her husband was forced to work building the Great Wall of China. When she delivered him winter clothes, she found out that he died and cried so hard that the wall collapsed to reveal his bones. And it occurs to me that famous Chinese love stories don't have happy endings.

I had really high hopes for this because it's a retelling of a Chinese myth by a Chinese author and obviously I'm interested in a modern take on it. Binu and the Great Wall follows the same plot as the myth it inspires (I.e. Binu goes to deliver winter clothes), but there's not enough story in this myth and the book feels much longer than it is.

The good: I thought the world that this is set in was fascinating. Clearly there is magic, with the way Binu cries and the deer boys and the rest. There were lots of interesting elements and though there never was an explanation of the world, reading about it was the most interesting part of the book.

However, the book is let down by a poor plot and absolutely no character growth. The original tale is basically her travelling and most of the book centres on that. It's the perfect way to show an internal journey as well, but Binu stays exactly the same as she was in the start of the book. As a result, things just happen to Binu and she never really engages the reader's attention because she never really takes charge.

To be honest, I'm disappointed in this book. It's got an interesting world and it's based on a famous legend, which should resonate with all Chinese people. However, the execution of this story was poor and despite my best efforts, I found myself disappointed by the story.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Story Cure by Dinty W. Moore

Hey everyone! Guess who just entered the working world?

I've worked for two days, and I'm now in the training phase. But I'll get assigned to my first department soon, so hopefully I get used to things and can read more. Not to mention write more - right now, I'm reading a book on writing as a way of continuing to learn even when I'm not actively writing.

The quote:
"Novels and memoirs that captivate readers do so because they are an experience, an escape into a new world, a voyage of sorts, allowing us to feel how it might be to briefly live a life different than the one we've been given. This experience goes back to the most primitive storytelling das, the gathering of our distant ancestors around a communal fire, the long-ago beginnings of our great myths and hero's journeys." 
I'm quite enjoying The Story Cure, because it gives both good and bad examples. The bad examples are probably more illuminating than the good ones because they show you what not to do.

What are you reading, and how are you doing?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday:  
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

This is another door stopper (but luckily in eBook format) from Elizabeth Kostova. I've read her debut work, The Historian, a couple of years back and while I don't really remember it, the Goodreads review says that I quite enjoy it (as I quite enjoyed this one).

The Shadow Land is a sort-of mystery. Alexandra Boyd has just arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria when she realises that she accidentally took an urn. Containing human ashes. The name on the box is "Stoyan Lazarov", and as she tries to return the urn (with the help of a friendly taxi driver nicknamed Bobby), she finds threats and danger lurking. And she also finds out more about Stoyan Lazarov, a gifted violinist as she tries to figure out why having his urn is so dangerous.

When I get a really, really thick book, I like to skip to the back to see how it ends (yes, I know, it's odd and I shouldn't do it). In this case, skipping to the last 50 pages didn't help because you really have to read the entire life story of Stoyan to understand what is going on, which means that I'd have to read the second half of the book in its entirety to get any spoilers.

That said, the way the information was doled out was pretty interesting, and I felt that it helped to increase the tension in the second half because I kept reading on to find out more. (The beginning was a bit slow for me)

As for the characters - sorry, Alexandra, but Bobby is the star of the show. Alexandra is likeable enough, but I basically got her entire backstory in the first few chapters, while Bobby was continually surprising me over the course of this almost 500 page book. Obviously, the surprising character is the one that made a bigger impact.

Apart from Bobby and Alexandra, there is a whole cast of supporting characters (and Stoyan), though I only really remember Stoyan, his wife, Neven and Irina. The rest just sort of blended together. The villain was pretty clear and quite menacing, though the 'twist' for one of the bad guys was difficult to understand.

If you don't mind slow starts and like long books set somewhere different, then you'll probably enjoy this book. The mystery was enough to keep me reading to the end, and I really enjoyed the way the past was revealed in the present (reminded me a little of the Night Garden series)

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Raven's Rise by Lincoln Cole

One good thing about having author friends is that if you fall in love with one of the series they write, you get early access to their books! I've been following the World on Fire series since the first book, Raven's Peak, and I'm so excited that Raven's Rise will be coming out today!!

Raven's Rise continues right after the events of Raven's Fall where (spoilers for the previous book) Haatim's father has betrayed the council which resulted in a demon killing almost all of them. Only Haatim, Dominick, Frieda, Haatim's father and one council member remain (Abigail's whereabouts are unknown and a plot point so I shall not spoil that for you).

Out of the three books, I think this is the one where Haatim really grows. In the first book, Haatim was basically scared but had potential. In the second, the focus for him was on family. In this, however, he takes a much more active role and learns a great deal more about the gift that he has.

And speaking of learning, the reader is going to learn a lot in this book. I thought I was pretty used to this world, but Lincoln Cole just proved that I knew nothing with quite a few explosive revelations about the council and Abigail's history. Even though I was surprised by it, I totally bought the new information too, so everything built on the previous books rather nicely.

If you're a fan of horror and for some reason you haven't picked up this series yet, you absolutely have to. The first two books are already out, and this third book will be out soon, which provides the perfect binge reading opportunity.

But you might want to limit it to daytime reading.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of the book from the author, who (like I mentioned above), I know.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Drive is basically about motivation and I ended up taking lots of notes while reading so here you go. Right now, motivation (called Motivation 2.0 in the book) is based on a carrot and stick approach, i.e. Rewarding something gets you more of it and punishing it gets you less. But experiments have shown that extrinsic rewards decrease intrinsic motivation and even altruistic behaviour. For example, when kids were given a reward for drawing (and that reward was made clear before they started), they were more likely to have lower levels of enjoyment of drawing, no matter how much they liked it before. Also, money makes people give less blood. That said, extrinsic rewards/carrot and stick system is useful for tasks which are linear and have a clear goal in mind.

From there, the author comes up with two personality types: Type I (intrinsic) and X (extrinsic). No one is purely one type and everyone is on the continuum, but the author believes that we are naturally Type I. And even though I is mainly intrinsic, they still need things like adequate pay, which is kind of like what Herzberg's hygiene factors were talking about.

With these two types in mind, the author goes into detail on intrinsic motivation and defining three factors:

1. Autonomy - people need autonomy but don't suddenly switch their environment, they'll struggle.

2. Mastery - Flow is essential to mastery but does not guarantee it. Mastery is also a mindset: if you believe that intelligence is fixed then... wrong mindset. If you think you can increase it, it leads to mastery. For more, read Anderson Ericsson (who was referenced).

3. Purpose - to quote the book: "Autonomous people working towards mastery perform at very high levels. But those who do so in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more." But this motivator is not recognised by Motivation 2.0

From there, the book talks about the Type I toolkit, about what individuals, companies, parents etc can do. Suggestions include giving yourself a flow test, doing an autonomy audit and such.

One thing was that the book talked about unschooling, which I have some reservations about (though if everyone was born as Type I, like the author believes, I can see why he would recommend it), but it did recommend The Teenage Liberation Handbook which I really hated so I have mixed feelings about it. Plus, even if everyone is born Type I, external factors may make unschooling totally unsuitable (for example, if the parents let kids watch as much TV as they want).

There are also book recommendations, guru recommendations, and even fitness recommendations.

I would totally recommend people to read this book with Peak by Anders Ericsson and Grit by Angela Duckworth. This is on motivation, Peak is on practice and Grit is on hanging on. Someone should package these books as a set.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Avery by Ken Kratz

Full disclosure time: I've never had the chance to watch Making a Murderer. I have heard that it exposes the injustices of the justice system, but I don't have Netflix so I never did get around to watching it. And if we're talking about true-crime, I ended Serial thinking that Adnan Syed was guilty, and after looking at the full case files, felt even more certain that he was.

So I thought this book would be interesting, to see how 'the other side' explains itself. And since I've already heard about the injustice of the system, I read with an eye out for that sort of thing.

Avery is a surprisingly gripping and readable account of the Theresa Halbach case. And if even half of what the book says it's true, then the Making a Murderer people are committing an injustice by trying to get a guilty man out.

What makes me doubt Steven Avery's innocence is the fact that his own defence (and the Making a Murderer team) has to bend over backwards to make him seem innocent.

That cat incident? Avery chased down the cat, doused it in oil and threw it into a fire. That is clearly not goofing around.

His ex-wives talks about his abusiveness, and one called him a monster (claims are corroborated by an article in The Rolling Stone)

And the show itself splices courtroom video together in a way that changes the meaning of the conversation entirely. Lines are cut, to the extent that a "yes" becomes a reply to a question that was left out, rather than the question in the video.

That, I think, is very problematic.

As for the justice system part, I am inclined to take Ken Kratz at his word because of how honest about his sexting scandal he is, and the remorse he feels.

Plus, I also agree that framing Avery requires a ridiculous amount of effort and hatred would be needed, and that the cops that were involved (who were only involved because they weren't involved in the previous case and because of a lack of manpower) had no reason to have so personal and deep a grudge.

The writing in this book is enjoyable and engaging, though overly emotional at times. And while most of the book was spent on the claims and evidence against Avery, I appreciate the fact that the book starts with a portrait of Theresa, to remind everyone just who the real victim was in this case.

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

I had really high hopes for this book, and the premise is interesting, but it turned out to be only so-so. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is Barbara Kingsolver's account of the year where she and her family tried to eat only what they raised or was grown locally (with a few exceptions).

The premise is interesting and I enjoyed reading some of her accounts, and of course I agree that we should eat seasonal (something that I learnt after coming to Japan - I appreciate the fact that even the big chain supermarkets have corners that are dedicated to local produce), but the book was off-puttingly preachy at times. I probably managed to miss the worst of it by reading only a couple of chapters at the time, but the introductory chapters and "you can't run away on harvest day" were really preachy.

(By the way, I don't know if it helps but I skipped over her husband's columns after one chapter. I persisted with her daughter's columns for a while more but eventually gave up too, since it's basically what her mother says.)

Oh yeah, and the book is basically "we should all eat local and it's totally possible and great for the earth" but doesn't really consider that this is possible only in countries like America. In Singapore, for instance, only 10% of the food consumed is produced locally. An experiment like Kingsolver's is going to be very hard, if not impossible. I even went to Google farmers markets in Singapore and it seems like for at least two, quite a lot of their stuff is imported too - unlike the farmers markets that are so highly praised in the book. A few seem to have more local stuff but they aren't held very often.

Plus, if I'm not wrong, there are studies that say that eating green would be more helpful than eating local - though I'm not too sure and I will not be giving up meat any time soon so I guess I should be choosing the less harmful of the two options.

In short, while I agree that we should try to eat seasonal and local when possible (because it is more delicious - not sure about whether it's cheaper, since Japanese mangoes and grapes are more expensive than the imported ones!), the book is incredibly preachy which makes it hard to read at times.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong

It's Tuesday again! My sister is here (yay!) and the day that I start working draws nearer too (ok, I'm a bit worried about this one). I'll have an entrance ceremony for my company this week, so I'm trying to balance preparing for the test that will happen then and bringing my sister around. As you can imagine, that doesn't leave much time for books. I just started Binu and the Great Wall today. It's supposed to be a retelling of Meng Jiang, a legend based on the fact (fact? I remember hearing that as a child) that people were buried in the Great Wall of China.

My teaser:
"At that moment, the boys were plunged into inexplicable terror, from which emerged the certainty that they must stop the woman from shouting. Her shouts were so shrill that they swirled around the forest, just as their mothers' cries had when they were calling their sick children's spirits back from the mountains."
What do you think? Would you read this?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday: 
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Crooked House by Agatha Christie

When I finished this, I thought "this is definitely one of her better books" (starting from a baseline of "awesome" so please don't think that I have a low opinion of her) even though it doesn't have Poirot or Marple.

Crooked House is about the murder of Aristide Leonides, a rich man who loved his family and his family loved him. When he's poisoned, the family feels the culprit is his second wife, but Charles Hayward, the fiancé of one of the grandchildren, is not so sure.

By the way, Charles is the son of some really important person in the Scotland Yard and I feel like I should know his name from a Poirot book, but I don't.

What I liked about this book were the characters. The dynamic between them was extremely addictive to watch, and Christie made a good choice in making Charles the narrator, since he is somewhat of an outsider (but with a bias). And it was interesting to have a family that loved each other but was still dysfunctional instead of having everyone hate one another (well, they all dislike the second wife but they were pretty united in that).

Oh, and the romance here is more plausible than the some of the Poirot ones. It starts with Charles realising he loves Sophia, and even though they don't do showy declarations of love, their relationship is very solid and quite convincing.

Slight spoiler alert: what I was not too happy with (I don't dislike it because I can't imagine an alternative but I definitely wasn't satisfied) the ending. The truth does get known and the murderer won't be killing again, but it's not done in the usual style. I suppose it's fitting for Lent, since mercy was given (though the way it was carried out is questionable), but if you want a "bad guy realises s/he's wrong and feels guilty" sort of ending then you won't get it here. There isn't a dramatic confrontation either, come to think of it. Perhaps I miss that more than the lack of old-fashioned comeuppance.

But if you're going to read an Agatha Christie novel and you haven't read this, you really have to pick it up. It's extremely well-written and I will definitely be reading it again and again and again.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Church History: Volume Two by John Woodbridge and Frank A. James III

This volume is a continuation of volume one (review here) but by two different authors. This means that the writing style is somewhat different (personally, I preferred the first volume), but the way they present the history is largely similar. This volume is from pre-reformation (1300s) to the present day.

Like in the previous volume, I appreciated the mini-explanations of the theology involved and the biographies of key figures. I also liked the fact that the book also looks at the political, societal and economic of the time (especially political), since Christianity was very closely tied to politics.

Bits of information that surprised me include:

- Martin Luther's marriage to Katie. It started out as a loveless marriage, but Luther fell in love with his wife and the fact that such a key figure in the reformation had such an unusual marriage shaped attitudes towards marriage in society.

- I didn't know that predestination "was not the wellspring of Calvin's theology", because that is what I remember most clearly (and struggle with, for that matter).

But while the book is easy to read, it does try to cram about 700+ years of history into 800 ish pages, which means some extreme simplifications are made. For example, the book says that "Catherine [Catherine the Great] did little to improve the plight of serfs during her reign".

Since I just finished a biography about her, I found this simplification a little insulting because she had a plan to free the serfs, but eventually abandoned it for practical reasons. The book also made no mention of her Nakaz, which I thought was a pity since she did consult many people about it and their reactions would have been helpful to explaining attitudes in Russia.

More importantly, I thought that this volume was too focused on Europe, specifically the British Isles and France, and later on America. Russia was given several sections, but not whole chapters, while Asia, Africa and the Middle East were largely left out (they did appear in the last one third, but I thought their presence was far too little). The persecution in Japan was almost entirely left out, and a lot of the history in India and China greatly summarised.

It is a pity, because there is a history, and in the case of Africa, the book even admits that "it [Christianity] has a continuous history on the continent of Africa of nearly two thousand years." So even if there weren't many theological debates going on, I think the development of Christianity in those regions should have been given more space.

Thankfully, things did get more globalised towards the end, and I found the discussion on the new centres of global Christianity and the modern theological trajectories to be fascinating (especially the contextual theologies, since I haven't heard of most of them). It's an area that I'd like to read more about so hopefully I can find more recommendations some day.

If you've read volume one, you'll want to read volume two. The style of the book is largely the same, and it's a good way to get an overview of the history of the Church (even if it is very European-centric). And to end, a quote I liked:
"The ultimate value of history lies not in its predictive ability or even its capacity for elucidation, but in its aptitude to teach humility."
Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Church History: Volume One by Everett Ferguson

Church History, Volume One is like what it says, about the history of the Church from the first century to the thirteenth century. I'm not even going to attempt to summarise contents, but the book basically looks at events, trends, and notable people in Church history. Each chapter also comes with a list of recommended resources, so you could (ideally) use this book as a starting point and then delve into certain issues or events.

I found this book easy to read and follow, even for someone like me, who has no formal education in Church history (apart from what I learnt in Sunday School). In fact, I was listening to one of my cousin's lectures of the Holy Spirit (she records her teachers and shares them with those interested) and I realised that it was easier to understand what the lecturer was saying, in part because I had already encountered the concepts and events mentioned in this book.

But though the book does explain the basics of certain theological issues (like the nature of Christ), because a certain level of understanding is needed to comprehend why the disputes were a big deal, I still found myself wishing for a theology textbook that I could use as a reference. So while the theology explanations are definitely adequate, they are not sufficient. Still, this is a history book so I shouldn't be quibbling.

And since Silence is still on my mind, or rather, it has been on my mind more than normal, I found myself particularly struck by the explanation of Christian persecution in Ancient Rome. In those times, religious functions were also used as expressions of political loyalty. And since Christians would not offer such sacrifices, they were seen as a threat to the Roman state. I thought that this was remarkably similar to the persecution depicted in Silence, which explains why it was controversial.

Oh, and while I'm on this topic, I also wanted to share that there was some discussion on whether Christians be persecuted on the basis of "the name" (aka being known as Christians) or for the crimes attached to the name. Christian apologists wanted it to be the latter, since they knew they were innocent, but guess which side won out?

I think that people interested in learning more about Church history should consider picking up this book. It's accessible, and I was able to follow what the author says without additional lectures - though I'm sure that lectures and discussions would have made it even better.

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Hey everyone! I hope you're all doing well(: I'm preparing for my sister to come and I just got four new books so the struggle is very real right now.

Right now, I'm reading The Shadows by Jacqueline West. I'm only seven chapters in, but I'm enjoying it very much so far - more proof that I'm still a child at heart.

My teaser:
"A normal person's skin was full of tiny details: moles and freckles, fine wrinkles and fuzzy hairs. But Morton's skin was perfectly smooth and slightly shiny. It wasn't skin at all. It was paint."
Ok, it's four sentences but I had to get to the reveal.

What about you? What are you reading?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday: 
•Grab your current read 
• Open to a random page 
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen

After Ilustrado I wanted to read something light and since I had this in the wish list section for the NLB (no idea why I chose to save it), I decided that it would be a good choice.

Bright Young Things is set in 1929 and basically follows 3 girls: Astrid, who is rich and pretty and dating Charlie. Cordelia Grey, who runs away with her best friend and turns out to be Charlie's half-sister. And finally, Letty, Cordelia's best friend who wants to be a star. Cordelia and Letty quarrel pretty quickly after they arrive in New York so the story quickly becomes Cordelia + Astrid's world and Letty's world, and the two stories are quite separate.

Out of the three girls, Astrid was my favourite. Even though she's obviously a 'poor little rich girl', I thought she was pretty well-written and I found her story to be the most interesting. Her and Charlie's relationship is probably not healthy but it is addictive to read.

The character I liked least was Cordelia because I wanted to shake her so many times. She comes all the way to New York to find her father, which she does, and then she promptly falls for this boy who's the son of the enemy of her father. You can all see where this is going. Maybe it's because I tend to be picky about romances, but I totally didn't buy the relationship between her and the guy and she seemed as a very ungrateful girl for most of the book. But she does get better towards the end.

Last and sadly least (of the three) is Letty, the most forgettable main character for me. I think it's because she has the least time and because her story is so separate from the other two, but I only became interested in what she was doing towards the end of the book. Other than that, I was more interested in how the other two were faring.

Complaints aside, this was an easy and fairly addictive read. If you want something dramatic and fun to read, this is probably something you want to read. (Also, I finally looked at the author's other books and I think I saved this book because of another one called The Luxe. But I'm not sure if I've read that or if I want to read it.)