Monday, October 23, 2017

Mother Tongue by Christine Gilbert

I picked this book up because language learning is something that interests me, even if I'm not very good at it. Mother Tongue is Christine's account to achieve 'a level of fluency' of Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish by spending about 6 months in China, Lebanon, and Mexico.

Since Christine only studied Spanish before the experiment, I was quite skeptical about whether this could be done. After 6 months of intensive Japanese, I could get around and go on a holiday, but I definitely would not describe myself as having achieved 'a level of fluency'.

To spoil the book (look away now if spoilers irk you!), the effort to learn Chinese was a failure, Arabic was much more successful and Christine probably had the most success with Spanish.

Interspersed with her account of how she tried to raise trilingual kids is her research on how we learn languages. I was pleased to know that Professor Cook, who is 'one of the foremost respected second-language acquisition academics in the world' recommends immersion + formal instruction in learning a foreign language, which is how I learned Japanese.

There are also plenty of musings on language and culture in the book, as Christine learns and considers the impact of culture on learning a language, whether being bilingual means that you're automatically bicultural, and if living overseas automatically means you have to either live like a native or in an expat bubble or if you can find your own balance.

I found this to be an interesting read. Christine was very honest about her failures and this led me to celebrate her successes with her. While the reason for this experiment was to make her son bilingual, I felt that there was more focus on her language journey. I think that resonated more than me than a story on how to teach your kids a second language would, but if you're a parent looking for ways to raise bilingual kids, you may not find many ideas here.

If you're interested in learning a new language or you're learning one, you may be interested in this book. I really enjoyed reading this and it made me more determined to make sure that I don't forget my Japanese after I move back.

Quotes I liked:

"If you learn another culture, it changes you. I mean, it'll start with trivial things like words for new concepts that you didn't have before. I don't think that you start off wanting to change, you start off wanting to learn, and the learning itself changes you." 
"[Y]ou have to fall in love with the culture to learn it."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bookish Mystery - Meanderings of Memory

A week or two ago, I noticed that I was approaching 1500 posts for this blog. I thought it would be nice to do something special for that post and stumbled across this bookish mystery soon after.  Coincidence?

Yes, probably but what a happy coincidence it is.

According to the Wikipedia article on this, Meanderings of Memory is a lost book. Despite the fact that it was cited as a "first or early source for over 50 entries" in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the current OED editors (and presumably by extension, everyone else) have not been able to locate a copy.

This mystery came to light in 2013, when a staffer involved in the ongoing revision of the OED sought to verify the earliest citation of the work but couldn't find the source (Meanderings of Memory). After looking at the original archival slips, it appears that these citations were from someone called Edward Peacock, who by all accounts was a credible source.

Unable to find the book, the OED posted an open appeal for information (this was before they found out that who the contributor was). While it is possible that the book never existed, Edward Peacock's other contributions were reliable, and the book has been found in several catalogues, making it unlikely to be a hoax.

Meanderings of Memory is supposed to have been written in 1852 by someone named 'Nightlark' (which was probably a pseudonym). Veronica Hurst, the chief bibliographer hypothesizes that based on the language, Meanderings of Memory may be a "flowery" book of poetry "five to ten pages long". It's also possible that the reason why a surviving copy doesn't exist is because the book was pornographic or published through some unusual method.

Both the comments on the OED appeal page and a Reddit thread throw up some interesting theories, such as the possibility that Edward Peacock was Nightlark. Another theory I read suggests that since the Latin epigraph of the book (which we know from the catalogues) reference a Philomena, who in Greek mythology transformed into a nightingale, this could mean that Nightlark was a lady poetess. If you're interested, I would suggest reading both pages for more information and theories.

I'm not sure if this is a mystery that will ever be solved, but it's certainly one of the more interesting bookish mysteries that I've come across!

Friday, October 20, 2017

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Note, I read this a long, long time ago (in 2012) but I found new things on a second read, so here's another review (though truth be told, my first review was longer). 

I am so pleased that I managed to get this one sale (for only 300 yen!) I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth book in the Tiffany Aching books, which in turn is part of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I actually found the Discworld series through Tiffany Aching, which is why her books hold a special place in my heart.

When I Shall Wear Midnight starts, Tiffany is running herself ragged as the witch of the Chalk. But along with the advent of Roland, her former maybe-beau's impending wedding, Tiffany finds that someone - or something - is poisoning the minds of people, inciting them to hatred against wishes. With the help of the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the cause of the poison and face what may be her greatest enemy so far.

I found this book to be lots of fun, especially since Granny Weatherwax, Granny Ogg and Ankh Morpork (which means the Watch) all make an appearance. Even the King and Queen of Lancre appear (though I'm not so familiar with those books). If you're familiar with the Discworld series, you will definitely appreciate seeing all these characters together.

Plus, any book with the Nac Mac Feegle is sure to be fun. I loved reading about them and any scene with them had something that made me chuckle. They even get to find a long-lost family member in this book!

On a slightly more somber note, I thought that this book was a great exploration of how hate spreads. The hatred of witches was explained through the following saying:
"Poison goes where poison's welcome."
And I think it rings true. For hatred of something/someone to take root in someone, there must be something (maybe fear, maybe prejudice) that made the person susceptible to hatred. This is a poison that only works in the right environment.

Overall, this was a fun and surprisingly deep read. I enjoy seeing this older version of Tiffany, though in my mind she is forever that nine-year-old girl who rescued her brother from the Fairy Queen. I am tempted yet reluctant to read the last book in this series because it is also the last Discworld book. There are some things that I would prefer not to end.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Scarecrow Princess by Federico Rossi Edrig

I requested this from NetGalley because the blurb mentioned myths, a crow king and basically sounded like a modern day fairytale. The actual comic was a bit different.

The story starts when Morrigan, her mother, and her brother move to a small town. Morrigan is upset because this move was for her mother and brother's new project, and she reacts by acting like the 14-year-old girl she is. But when the crow king from the myth turns out to be true, Morrigan finds that she is the appointed scarecrow princess meant to stop him.

The first thing I didn't like was the drawing style. I realise this was on the cover and really is a personal thing, but it didn't grow on me at all. I suppose the rough style could be reminiscent of Morrigan's prickly character and the dark nature of a fairytale, but it just felt unfinished most of the time.

The second thing I didn't like was the pacing. I think this is actually the main reason why the book disappointed me. Everything was wrapped up in this one volume and that means things had to move at a quick pace. Morrigan must grow up, she must meet (and then quarrel with) friends, there must be a twist, etc. I suppose if this was spread over a few volumes, the story could have had enough room to breath, but as it is everything felt rushed.

And there is one more thing: the ending section of the story was weird. (Spoiler alert!) At the end of the book, after what felt like sexual talk from the crow king, Morrigan and the crow king have a heart-to-heart conversation (as much as two enemies can) while the two of them are completely naked.

Let me remind you that Morrigan is a 14-year-old girl and the crow king, while not explicitly given an age, appears to be an adult.

It feels like the more I think about the book, the more I dislike it. It's a real pity because the premise had a lot of promise and I think if the story was given more room to breathe (and remembered that the protagonist is a young girl), it could have been a great story. But as it, it's just disappointing.

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

(To be honest, I'm still not sure about whether I'm going to give this one or two stars on NetGalley, but the more I think about the fact that a fourteen-year-old girl was unnecessarily sexualised, the more I lean towards a one star.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The World's Most Haunted House by William J. Hall

I borrowed this because it sounded pretty interesting, although I had no idea what I was getting into. Also, I've never heard of the house on Lindley Street so this was all new to me. Basically, this is about a haunting that took place on Lindley Street in Bridgeport. The book purports to be an objective account and analysis of the affair, but it's quite clearly on the side of "this is real".

This haunted house revolved around the Goodin family - Gerald (nicknamed Jerry), Laura, and the little girl they adopted, Marcia. Jerry and Laura had a little boy, who tragically passed away. Because of that, they were overprotective of Marcia. And then one day, weird stuff started happening. Things were moved, first small, and then large. And eventually, even the couch moved in the presence of eyewitnesses. In their attempt to get help, the Goodins called in quite a few people, but after a while the case was dismissed as a hoax.

The book starts with an account of the case, and then it gives information such as witness interviews, interview transcripts with the Goodins, etc. There are also a lot of photos but the quality isn't good and they seem to be there more for atmosphere than to illustrate a point (or maybe it was just my ecopy?).

While the book repeatedly mentions that the media called this a hoax, it never really goes into detail why or gives the other side. The most I can tell is that because Marcia admitted to faking some things, they assumed everything was faked. The book takes the stance that some things (the stuff that was admitted) was faked but there were actual paranormal phenomena involved.

I thought this was a fascinating read, but I would have much preferred to see the other side of the story as well and be allowed to make up my own mind instead of being told this was an objective account and that I should believe it. And this is another personal preference, but I would prefer the research to be woven into the narrative rather than be a separate part.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tooth and Nail, Fur and Scale by Anupam Arunachalam

I clicked on this book because of the cover and I decided to borrow it because of the blurb. From the blurb, I was under the impression that this book was going to introduce creatures from Indian myths. Since I don't know much about Indian myth and legends, I was super excited to learn more.

Well, I was a little mistaken. Sure, there were quick introductions to the creatures, but this is mainly a short story anthology featuring Indian mythological creatures. Which is just as interesting as a reference book (ok maybe more).

What I really liked about all these stories is that they were set in India with Indian characters. I know it sounds obvious but for some reason, a lot of stories with Japanese mythology tend to star white people (or perhaps those just stick in my mind because I don't like them). So I appreciated that these creatures were shown in the country, culture, and tradition that they actually belonged too.

I liked all the stories but my favourites were:

Last Words, which stars the Crocotta and has courtly intrigue and betrayal in it.

Guardian of the Font, which was mostly cute and a little sad story about how mythological creatures have to adapt to modern times. (Another story, The Great Understanding, also deals with this theme and I enjoyed it a lot too)

Safe Haven, about deadly ants and had a very smart girl as the heroine.

The Writing on the Wall, about a very unique witch and how one boy learns to use her curse against her - this character probably grew up to become a lawyer.

There are a total of 15 stories in this book and you should read all of them. It's available via the NLB ereads site (or it will be once I return it) and I would recommend everyone who enjoys myths and legends to read this.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Disney Manga: Tangled by Shiori Kanaki

You all should know that I'm a huge Disney fan. I mean, it's what I watched growing up and I still love the movies. And of course I loved Tangled (listening to the Chinese version of I See the Light as I write this review). So when I saw this manga up for review on NetGalley, I immediately requested it.

The manga is pretty much what you expect. The story is very faithful to the movie, so if you've watched the movie, you know what's going to happen (and if you haven't watched the movie, then what have you been doing??)

The only thing that I found a bit off were the bits that featured songs. And that part where Rapunzel is struggling with her feelings after leaving the castle. The scenes work great in the movie, but they're a bit awkward in manga form.

And as for whether you'd like this manga version, I think most of it depends on what you think of the style. It's pretty much like what you see on the cover, but here's a screenshot:


It's pretty close to the Disney original, but the eyes are a bit bigger and the features are softer. I think it looks pretty nice on Rapunzel, but it looks a bit off on Flynn/Eugene.

There's not much that's new here, so it's really for the super fans rather than people looking to see what Rapunzel is all about (again, what have you been doing?). I would recommend this for the die hard fans who love manga.

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Some Photos from Okinawa

As you may know, I've been on a holiday in Okinawa. While I'm still going through the photos that I took using my camera, I thought I'd share a few photos that I grabbed with my phone (yes, I definitely took too many photos):


Manzamo Cape


Taking a break at a cafe - The photo looks odd because the food was originally very dark and this was my best attempt to lighten it.


My sis and I at the beach.


Photo of said beach - I am in love with the beaches at Okinawa! The water is so clear!


One of the whale sharks at Churaumi aquarium - The aquarium was really cool and it's definitely a must-visit if you're ever in Okinawa! It is a little crowded though.


This photo was taken at Shuri Castle - also another must-visit spot. Do try the tea set (310 yen for sanpin tea + 4 types of sweets!)


At the entrance of Gyokusendo caves. It's part of a larger attraction called Okinawa World so if you ever want to explore caves, experience Okinawan culture and see some snakes, this is the place to go (we did not go see the snakes because I am not a fan).


My sister and I in Okinawan kimonos! We got this taken at Okinawa world as well!

I'll be blogging about the trip in detail at my other blog once the photos are ready, so feel free to check it out.

I also got quite a bit of reading done on the trip, so the reviews will be appearing here soon!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

I'm not sure why but the book A Monster Calls keeps popping up and it sounds really interesting. But when I search for the book, I found out it was started by Siobhan Dowd and finished posthumously by another writer. And with the weird way my brain works, I figured that I needed to read a book by her before moving on to A Monster Calls.

Bog Child (which was also published posthumously, but finished before her death) is a historical novel set in Ireland. While Fergus is out with his 'uncle' Tally, he comes across a body in a bog. Soon, it's discovered that this is not a murder but an archeology and Fergus starts to dream of the bog child while navigating the exams which are an escape route, his brother on a hunger strike in prison, and falling in love.

On the whole, Bog Child is a quiet novel. There aren't a lot of explosive action scenes (although he is forced into doing something he doesn't want to), and it feels more like the journey of an 18 year old as he tries to make sense of the chaotic and confusing world around him.

Maybe quiet is the wrong word. I mean to say that despite the fact that the IRA and murdered bog children are involved, this is not a thriller.

And I'm guessing that this is also supposed to be an exploration of a complex issue, but I finished the book not liking the IRA. This was mainly because:

1. I find it incredibly selfish for Fergus' brother to cause his mom and sisters so much pain just because he doesn't get special status as a prisoner. I understand that I'm probably missing the picture but the way the book was written, I wasn't convinced that they needed this special status (perhaps there was an assumption that the reader had the requisite knowledge which I don't have).

2. Owain, the 'other side', was basically a normal dude (which I guess is what Fergus was supposed to realise) and I didn't really see any villains from his sides.

3. The ones making Fergus do things that went against his will identified with the IRA. I suppose it's more an indictment of how people will use any means to get to an end, but I can't say the book made me sympathetic towards the IRA, despite all the talk about needing a free Ireland.

The Bog Child is a character-driven novel and I really like how the character of Fergus was developed. I really liked the amount of empathy that he had for others and that the lengths that he was willing to go for his family.

All in all, this is a very beautifully novel that manages to capture how it feels to navigate a world that is falling to bits around you.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

Sidenote: I'll be heading on vacation with my sister for the next few days and I am definitely not bringing my computer with me. So, no posts for about a week(: Looking forward to reading time and then reading about what everyone read when I'm back!

This book has been on my TBR list for ages because I've heard people bring it up constantly since Trump got elected. Since I've heard both good and bad things, I figured that I had to read this myself and decide. And now that I've finished it, I've decided I'm in the "this is good, you should read it" camp of people.

Hillbilly Elegy is the memoir of J. D. Vance, a guy who grew up in Middletown (Rustbelt city) and Jackson (Appalachian town). Despite his dysfunctional background, he managed to do something that very few of his peers managed to do - go to university and then to Yale Law School. Just the words "Yale Law School" sound impressive to me, but reading about his childhood made me realise that his achievement really was amazing and something of a statistical anomaly.

While J. D. Vance does cite statistics and studies in this book, it is, at heart, a memoir and not an academic study. Its focus is on the story of a poor white family, and by telling that story, I as the reader get to understand the thinking and values of a community completely unfathomable to me. Which is pretty much the power of reading.

I think expectations are important in reading this book. This book has definitely been hyped up and I've seen things like "this helps to understand why Trump won" (spoiler: there isn't really a discussion about Trump, although there is a discussion on why people like Vance's family vote the way they do). But this book is essentially a memoir, not a discussion of a community (though it does a good job of helping one understand/start to understand the community). You also shouldn't expect a comparison between poor white communities and the African-American community, which has also been historically disadvantaged. To repeat: this is the story of a family and not an academic study.

By the way, one random thing that caught my eye is the connection this book has to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which is definitely not something I expected when I read this book. But when J. D. Vance went to Yale, one of his mentors was Amy Chua and she basically encouraged him to write the book. I checked and it's the same Amy Chua (and now I feel like re-reading her book).

If you're in the mood for a memoir, I would definitely recommend this book. If you're like me and live/grew up in Singapore, J. D's life will be completely unfamiliar to you. And that is precisely why you should read about it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

On the Spectrum by Jennifer Gold

This is a book that I couldn't resist requesting because it covers a topic that is really near and dear to me.

On the Spectrum is the story of Clara and her half-brother Alastair. Clara, the daughter of a famous ballerina mother, tries to 'eat clean' but maybe suffering from orthorexia which is an eating disorder (don't think she was ever formally diagnosed though). After a Twitter incident, she decides to finally accept her dad's offer and go to Paris for the school holidays to escape everything and meet her brother Alastair, who has autism but is high functioning (they keep saying 'on the spectrum' but it's really just high functioning autism).

The entire reason why I requested this book was because of Alastair. My brother has autism and like Alastair, he's considered high functioning. And that gives him a whole other set of problems. For example, my brother finds it very hard to make friends and gets bullied in school. So when I saw Alastair going through the same things (and through the lens of an older sister character no less!) my heart really broke for him. I love this book because it shows how hard kids like my brother and Alastair have it, and if it convinces even one person to be kinder than the world has been made slightly better.

I guess I should also talk about Clara and her relationship with food, but apart from the fact that I could sort of understand what she feels (but have no self control to give up snacks), I don't have much to say. All my feelings for this book were taken up by Alastair and the way that he and Clara were bonding.

Oh yeah and there's a romance in here but I don't have much to say about that either. I didn't particularly need it, but I wasn't annoyed by it and anyway I think we've all established that I read the book for only one reason.

I would highly recommend this book because of Alastair. That kid is adorable and reminds me of my brother and pretty much carried the book for me. Clara's own struggles were pretty well-developed too and I imagine would resonate with a lot of people.

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