Friday, June 22, 2018

Oishinbo: Sake by Tetsu Kariya

Every time I read Oishinbo, I wish that it was translated and published in English in chronological order like most manga. Having them published by subject means that the overarching plot becomes jumbled and impossible to follow. That said, having them published by subject means that it’s possible to quickly and easily learn about one aspect of Japanese cuisine.

Like the title says, Oishinbo: Sake is all about sake. Sake is actually a generic word for alcohol, what this book focuses on is mostly nihonshu (Japanese alcohol), with one story on champagne. There are six stories in this book and they basically focus on how a lot of sake in Japan is fake sake (diluted with alcohol and additives) which tastes completely different from real sake. And that real sake pairs wonderfully with food and can hold its own against the finest wines.

While most of the stories are short, there is one six-part story called “The Power of Sake” that goes into detail on how sake is made, how to differentiate between the different types of sake, and the sake scene in Japan (at the time it was written - this manga is really old so things probably have changed a lot by now). There is an abundance of information here and I wish that I read this earlier.

As someone who wasn’t fond of nihonshu when I lived in Japan, I wonder if my dislike of the strong alcohol taste was because I wasn’t drinking the real stuff. As a student, our class parties would take place at restaurants with all-you-can-drink options, which I guess makes it natural that they would only serve the cheaper nihonshu.

I would definitely recommend this book (and entire series) to anyone who loves Japanese food! The style of drawing is slightly different from the regular shoujo and shounen manga around today, but the stories are interesting and information-packed. I only managed to read the first few volumes in Japanese, so if I see other English translations, I’m gonna borrow them even though the big storyline won’t make sense.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton by Jeremy Clay

I have to admit, I requested this book based on the title - you don't really hear about weird Victorian news these days (or I suppose any day since most people don't read the Victorian newspapers).

The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton is basically a collection of weird Victorian news stories that may be exaggerated or made up (or perhaps reality really is that strange). The topics covered range from animals (lots of wild animals in Britain, apparently), to health and medicine, and even wagers. Some of the weirder stories include monkeys committing suicide a large, headless turkey ghost. The latter half of the book is quite sad, though, since it covers tragic incidents rather than the ludicrous. The last section is a brief follow up on some of the stories.

While the stories are definitely strange and unbelievable, they aren't told in a very interesting way. It seems like the newspapers like to report things rather drily, so this isn't really a book that I wanted to binge. It was, however, pleasant to read it over several sittings, to take in the strangeness that managed to pass as news back then.

By the way, the titular burglar caught by a skeleton is really what it says. A burglar was in the house of a doctor, got his hand caught by a skeleton while fumbling in the dark, and then promptly fainted and was found by the doctor whose house he was in.

Looks like skeletons may be better than guard dogs.

Overall, this was an interesting collection of stories that will appeal to people who like weird and obscure history.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Shining Like Stars by Lindsay Brown

My sister brought this book home and recommended I read it and it is so good! Shining Like Stars is about the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) and what they do.

I’ve got to admit, I’m not familiar with the IFES. And from what I read, they’re a non-denominational movement dedicated to training and raising up Christian student leaders and missionaries. The book talks about why they do this and shares lots of stories about their students.

Reading this makes me feel a bit guilty that I didn’t do much Church things during my university days. I always thought that because there were so few Christians in my uni (and in Japan in general) that there wasn’t much I could do. But the students here put me to shame because they’ve achieved amazing things in harder situations with much less. I’ve learnt that:

- Evangelism starts with personal friendships. You can do big events, but if you have not yet laid the groundwork by showing the love of Christ, it’s not going to work.

- All of us must be able to give a defence of our faith at any time (echoing Matthew 22:37). Reason does not replace faith but it provides the basis for our faith - and if we cannot explain why we believe, there is no reason for others to listen to us.

- Students (everyone) can do great things through Christ. It was amazing to read the testimonies of how God used these students to spread the Word while helping their community and standing against things like corruption and other social ills.

- Christians should be concerned with social issues, but we must remember that they are not the end goal.

This was a really fantastic book. I would recommend it to everyone - students and non-students alike, because although it’s centered on IFES and the work it does, the principles for Christianity and evangelism hold true for everyone.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Pandora's Lab by Paul A. Offit

After reading Do You Believe in Magic by the same author, I wanted to read more from him and decided to read Pandora’s Lab, which is about stories of science gone wrong. If you know the story of Pandora, she was given a box from the Greek Gods with explicit instructions not to open it. But open it she did, and she released all sorts of evil into the world.

Likewise, this book is about the ‘evil’ that science has unleashed into the world. While most scientists work towards the betterment of mankind, the law of unintended consequences mean that some of these ‘wonderful’ discoveries end up killing tens of thousands of people. The stories in this book are:

- How the quest for a non-addictive form of opium led to the creation of heroin and OxyContin

- How a misunderstanding of saturated and unsaturated fats led to a move towards margarine and heart disease

- How the invention of creating nitrogen from air helped us feed more people, but also created deadliest weapons

- The story of eugenics. This was chilling but it was also strange how while he rightly called out people like Margaret Sanger for her support of eugenics and saying that it was time for “human weeds to be exterminated” the author glossed over Darwin’s influence on his half cousin Francis Galton, the father of eugenics.

- The story of the lobotomy and how people thought there was an easy fix for mental illness.

- How Rachel Carson rightly pointed out man’s impact on the environment, but by ignoring evidence and unfairly targeting DTT, led to its ban and as a result, many needless deaths by malaria.

- How Linus Pauling, a novel prize winner, managed to fall off the intellectual cliff and recommend excessive amounts of vitamin C, sparking the vitamin craze.

Every chapter of the book ends with a lesson we can learn from that particular example of science gone wrong, and the last chapter recaps it all while adding even more examples.

If you’ve read Do You Believe in Magic, you should also Pandora’s Lab for more information on how we can apply lessons from the past to the issues of today.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

I had to borrow this as soon as I saw it because it’s supposed to be a new Hercule Poirot and I wanted to know if it could live up to the original (spoiler: not really, but it’s still quite fun).

Closed Casket starts when Lady Playford, a wealthy and famous author, changes her will to disinherit her children and give all to her sick secretary. As invited guests, Poirot and his friend Catchpool see all the drama, and when a murder takes place shortly after, they investigate.

I guess the main question is: is this as good as something Agatha Christie wrote?

The answer for me is: not really. There’s a layer of artifice, of trying a bit too hard, that never really leaves the book. Christie has Poirot and the interesting side characters, but it seems like everyone in this book is A Character. Their foibles are so exaggerated that it’s hard to decide who to focus on.

Even the romance, which I normally don’t understand in Christie’s novels, seem even more unfathomable. It’s almost as though the author saw one of the bickering couples that Christie wrote and decided to take it to extremes.

That said, the book is pretty fun. The plot had a lot of twists and turns and Poirot seemed decent (and a bit more humble than normal). And once the book hit its stride - or I got used to this not being Christie - I found myself enjoying it. I guess the only problem with this book is that Agatha Christie didn’t write it.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Tree and Leaf by J. R. R. Tolkien

I wanted to try challenging my mind a little so I picked up Tree and Leaf, a collection by Tolkien! It made me miss my literature days because I felt like I missed a lot. This collection consists of;

- On Fairy-Stories: I’ve actually read this essay before but I found it so hard to read the first time round! Shows you how much my mind has rusted. It was much better the second time round and I managed to appreciate it.

This essay explores the definitions and origin of fairy tales in a fairly academic but lyrical style (as odd as that description is). Personally, I prefer Chesterton’s chapter (The Ethics of Elfland) in Orthodoxy even though it looks at fairy tales in a very different (and less academic) way.

- Mythopoeia: This was a lovely poem although I didn’t completely understand it.

- Leaf by Niggle: I really enjoyed this short story about a man named Niggle, who neglects preparing for his eventual journey to paint a leaf. But his painting is always interrupted by his neighbour and though Niggle doesn’t like it, he more often than not helps him out. Apparently Niggle might have been a stand-in for Tolkien himself, which is something interesting to consider!

- The Homecoming of Beorthnoth Beorthelm’s Son: this is apparently a play inspired by a myth and I would normally be into this sort of stuff but I:

a. Tend to be very inept at understanding plays
b. Didn’t really get the three part structure of this

So it was kinda wasted on me.

Like I said at the start, this book made me wish I was still actively studying literature because I think I would have understood it a lot better if I was still using those muscles. Still, it was a good change from what I’ve been reading.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The High King by Lloyd Alexander

This is the last book in the Chronicles of Prydain and it is AMAZING! I really loved it and it’s definitely something you should read straight after Taran Wanderer because it’s tied very closely to it and the other books.

In The High King, the story comes full circle and Taran and his friends must once again face Arawn and his Cauldron-born. While the first book dealt with Arawn’s servant, the Horned King, this book deals with the evil lord directly.

In The Book of Three, Taran dreams of being a hero. Now, many adventures and wanderings later, Taran knows more about what being a hero entails and he feels the weight of the quest a lot more acutely. In many ways, this quest is similar to the one in The Book of Three, but the difference lies primarily within Taran. He’s grown from an assistant pig-keeper into a leader, although he won’t admit it out loud.

For a YA fantasy, this series really doesn’t shy away from death. While important characters have died in previous books, the body count for characters I remember and like is probably the highest here. This is where Taran fully suffers the loss that war brings, and that’s where he learns a valuable lesson:
"A grower of turnips or shaper of clay, a Commot farmer or a king - every man is a hero if he strives more for others than for himself alone."
Wise words from Taran.

I really loved this series! It is everything a fantasy series should be - filled with related characters, magical, giving us hope, but at the same time not shying away from the darker side of life. It’s a pity that I didn’t read this earlier, but I am glad that I’ve finally finished it!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Like I mentioned in my review of The Castle of Llyr, I borrowed the remaining books of the Prydain series as soon as I could. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get The Foundling and other Tales of Prydain, but at least I got the last two books of the series!

In Taran Wanderer, Taran decides to leave Caer Dallben and search for this true parentage. Well, the truth is that he’s hoping to find out he’s of noble parentage so that he can ask Eilonwy for her hand in marriage. And so, Taran and Gurgi wander through the land, meeting people and having adventures.

Truth be told, I thought that this was the weakest book in the Chronicles of Prydain series so far. While Taran does have a quest to find out his parentage, much of the book reads like a series of loosely connected adventures rather than a story with an overarching focus.

That said, there are plenty of great moments in the book, especially in the second half of the story. Taran starts to learn about the true value of things and he starts to see that his original goal of hoping for noble blood isn’t what he thought he was. And as he wanders through the land and tries his hand at different skills, he also learns more about who he isn’t - an important lesson for everyone as they try to figure out who they are.

For me, the character that really shone in this book (even more than Taran) was Gurgi. Gurgi was introduced as an odd creature who is cowardly. And though Gurgi retains his old manner of speaking, I’ve noticed that he has really grown in courage and loyalty - it is no small feat to keep following Taran around. I find that this is the book where I really start to appreciate Gurgi as a character.

Overall, while this wasn’t as strong as the other books in the series, it still has a lot to offer. Taran’s journey of trying out different things mimics what a lot of us will do, and I think the lesson of learning to try things that may not work out is a valuable one for everyone reading it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Efficiency Paradox by Edward Tenner

I knew I had to read this book once I saw it because the title is too good to resist. Plus everyone is generally so positive about big data I was quite interested to see some criticism of it.

First, a definition of efficiency. The author defines it as “producing goods, providing services or information, or processing transactions with a minimum of waste”. The book basically goes through the history of the idea of efficiency and then goes on to discuss specific examples: the internet and democratisation of information, teaching, GPS, and medicine.

The way I see it, the entire argument can be summed into: automating things can be inefficient because innovation requires serendipity (which algorithms cannot provide). In other words, innovation requires inefficiency, i.e. ‘wasted’ or failed ideas.

To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced by some of the arguments. I can see how innovation may require ‘waste’, but for specific examples like GPS, it may be that we don’t have enough information to for the algorithms to be useful. Same for teaching - the bigger the database, the easier it is for lessons to be customised for the student.

And for some things, like medicine, I feel that the argument took the wrong direction: the author argues that automated note-taking doesn’t make things more efficient as doctors still spend a lot of time on the computer, but the author doesn’t discuss how the shared information may make the process more efficient if the patient moves between departments. So I felt this was more of a misdirected argument (and not that relevant to the central premise).

Another example would be the argument about ‘waylosing’ (finding something unexpected when you get lost). I agree that it does have benefits, but I don’t think that ‘the inefficient wanderer, on the other hand, will be using his or her time more efficiently by discovering what is less documented, or even undocumented.’ That really depends on your aim in travelling - to learn something new or to get from point A to point B.

Overall, I thought that the book was interesting, but it didn’t really fulfil the ‘promise’ of telling me the limitations of big data. Instead, the arguments in the book talk more about how we’re misusing the platform innovations, which is interesting but not quite the point. Perhaps these are the ‘limitations’ that the subtitle was talking about, but there really should be a clearer line between the limitations and the purpose of each technology.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Lost Princess by George MacDonald

Recently, my Church did a spring clean and decided to let go of two tables full of books. As I was browsing through, I found this book and the title entranced me enough that I decided to bring it home. I am so glad I did because this book is just too lovely!

The Lost Princess is a fairytale about two spoiled little girls who were both raised to think that they were Somebody rather than themselves. And as a result, they had terrible tempers and were ungovernable. But there is also a Wise Woman, who loves the girls and takes them away that they might learn to be better.

I loved, loved, loved this book! It is so enchanting and even though it's very much about our world, George Macdonald has succeeded in making this feel like a fairytale. The language very much reminds me of G.K. Chesterton, which means that it may not be for everyone but it's definitely for me. And while the idea of not indulging every emotion and passion that arises may not be popular nowadays, The Lost Princess shows just how clearly giving in to our baser natures will twist us into an ugly human being.

The edition I read was illustrated really beautifully as well - look for the illustrations by Bernhard Oberdieck if you're curious!

I would definitely encourage everyone who loves fairytales to read this. It's a fantastic book and I want to end my review by sharing two of my favourite quotes from it:
"Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing not to be afraid depends on what the fearlessness is founded upon. Some know no fear because they have no knowledge of danger; there is nothing fine in that. Some are too stupid to be afraid; there is nothing fine in that. Some who are not easily frightened would yet turn their backs and run the moment they were frightened; such never had more courage than fear. eBut the person who will do his or her work in spite of his or her fear is a person of true courage."
and
"Nobody can be a princess, do not imagine you have yet been anything more than a mock one - until she is a princess over herself, that is, until, when she finds herself unwilling to do the thing that is right, she makes herself do it. So long as any mood she is in makes her do the thing she will be sorry for when the mood is over, she is a slave and not a princess."

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander

Finally continuing with the Chronicles of Prydain series! The Castle of Llyr is the third book in the series and continues the story of Taran.

At the start of this book, Eilonwy is sent to the Isle of Mona to learn how to be a lady. As a kindness, Dallhen allows Taran and Gurgi to accompany her to Mona before returning. However, shortly after they reach Mona, Eilonwy is kidnapped (by Achren) and Taran must go with the incompetent Prince Rhun of Mona and rescue her.

Despite the fact that this story is centered around (and ends with) Eilonwy, she doesn’t really appear because she’s kidnapped for most of the book. It’s a pity because the more I se or Eilonwy, the more I like her. She’s a feisty outspoken girl who’s the complete opposite of the “damsel in distress”.

Instead, the story is about Taran and his feelings for Eilonwy. To be honest, I (and probably all the other characters) could tell that they liked each other in the previous book (The Black Cauldron), but Taran only starts to realise it in this book. And since Taran learns that Eilonwy is supposed to be betrothed to Prince Rhun at the start of this quest, the book is really about Taran trying to come to terms with his jealousy.

What I really liked about this book is that I can see that Taran has learnt from the previous books. He’s not the noble perfect hero yet, but he has come along way from the impatient boy in The Book of Three. It’s been awesome seeing him grow and it’s good to know that this growth isn’t temporary.

With each book of the series, I regret not reading it earlier. This is classic fun fantasy and I’m really enjoying it! I’ve got a couple of other books checked out, but once I’m done with them I’m very tempted to just get the last two books plus short stories to binge read.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

I requested this book because murders + hidden childhood secrets always interest me and luckily for me, I was not disappointed.

Jar of Hearts opens with Geo being sentenced to five years of jail for the involvement in the murder of her best friend, Angela. And to be honest, I almost gave up during the section on her years in jail because there was a lot of violence - both sexual and non-sexual.

But if you can get through the prison section to when she gets out, things start to get interesting. Because just before Geo gets out, two bodies turn up near Geo’s home - a mother and child murdered the way Angela was. Kaiser, Angela and Geo’s childhood best friend, is investigating and he quickly confirms that this case is connected to their shared past. I shan’t say anything more about the plot because I might give too much away. But it was really well-paced and I liked how the past informed the present.

Geo was a good protagonist. Even though she did a horrible horrible thing (and didn’t ‘fess up for 14 years), she clearly regrets it. And the more I read about her and Angela’s relationship, the more I saw how complicated it was and even though it doesn’t excuse what she did at all, it did help me to understand her.

On the other hand, I was a bit meh about Kaiser. I thought he had a pretty strong start, but he soon faded away and it felt like his purpose was more for plot than for character. I know him not really changing is his schtick in the book, but he felt a little two-dimensional at times, which is a pity because I thought he was an interesting foil to Geo at first (and would be the childhood friend who’d keep her accountable).

The ending was pretty good. Not something that could be deduced from hints in the book (except for the few chapters before) but everything flowed nicely and it was pretty satisfying. Overall, if you like darker thrillers, you should check this book out. Despite the slightly rough start, I got hooked and flew through the second half because I wanted to find out what happened.

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

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies

As part of my “falling further in love with all things tea” phase, I’ve decided to try and read tea-centered novels as well! My first read didn’t go so well so I decided to switch genres to historical fiction.

The Tea Planter’s Wife is set in 1920s Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). Gwen, a young British girl, has arrived in Sri Lanka as the wife of the much older Lawrence. Her husband runs a tea plantation and as Gwen tries to get used to life in Sri Lanka and her over-bearing sister-in-law, she finds that there are a few more skeletons in the closet than she expected.

To be honest, I thought this was going to be a very gothic novel in terms of Lawrence’s character, but that turned out not to be the case. The book focuses more on Gwen’s struggle to adapt as the mistress of the house (not surprising since she’s only nineteen) and her insecurities in her relationship with Lawrence. And since she’s a generally likeable character, although she almost becomes a Mary Sue at times, so I was mostly rooting for her.

I really liked how the book brought in the historical tensions of that time. It was a time of unrest and there was a lot of racism and I’m glad that the author didn’t shield away or whitewash that aspect of history. Although it is a pity that none of the Sri Lankans (Sinhalese or Tamils) are given major roles - there is one character who’s quite important but he spends most of the book with his character thrown into doubt.

On the tea aspect, there wasn’t as much tea talk as I liked. One thing I enjoyed about Death by Darjeeling was that the love of tea shone through. Although the tea plantation is crucial to Gwen and Lawrence and she does see how tea is made, tea isn’t really a dominating presence in the book. It’s more of something in the background.

Overall, this was an interesting, if quiet, book. There aren’t many ‘action’ scenes even though there was a lot of tension throughout the book, but I thought the setting was well-written and the characters likeable.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Contested Will by James Shapiro

Contested Will is basically non-fiction literary mystery which looks into the question: who wrote the plays attributed to Shakespeare?

If you haven’t heard, there’s some debate into the authorship of the Shakespeare plays. The first section of the book deals with how this debate even arose. To sum, by the time people grew interested in the life of Shakespeare, the people who knew him were dead. And thanks to a man name Malone, they started thinking that details of Shakespeare’s plays revealed details about Shakespeare’s life. And because people can be snobs, they started thinking that a glover’s son couldn’t possibly have written all these wonderful plays. In fact, his plays must have been written about someone worthy and two of the strongest contenders are Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Parts two and three of the book look at how the theories of Bacon and Oxford as Shakespeare came about by tracing the history of the arguments through the people who advocated for them. For Bacon, he covers Delia Bacon (very sympathetically) and Mark Twain. The Bacon theory is very much connected to ciphers. For the Oxford theory, he talks about Freud and Looney and this theory is very conspiracy-theory and based on supposed similarities in life events. Perhaps it’s because Shapiro is a Shakespearean scholar and hence skeptical of the Bacon and Oxford theory, but I didn’t find the proponents for the alternative candidates very convincing.

In the last section, Shapiro uses early Shakespearean texts and what contemporary writers said to argue (more convincingly, in my opinion) that William Shakespeare did indeed write his own plays.

The Shakespearean authorship question isn’t very well-known, but if you like literature and mysteries, I think you’ll enjoy this book. It’s not only well-written, it’s well-researched (he doesn’t have a bibliography, he has a bibliographic essay!)

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

I could have sworn that I've read this in the past few years but I have absolutely no reviews of it and that throws my memory into doubt. At any rate, I wanted to read this series and decided to start with the first book so that could (re?)familiarise myself with the characters.

The School for Good and Evil is a fairy-tale story with a twist. In a village called Gavaldon, children are being stolen, no matter the precautions taken. Only two are stolen at a time, and eventually, the village realises that these children end up as fairy tale characters. Sophie is the most beautiful girl in the village and unlike the others, actually wants to be taken away to live her life as a princess. But to outcast Agatha, Sophie is her only friend and she knows that they belong home.

Both girls get an unpleasant surprise when they're kidnapped and dropped at the schools - Sophie at the School for Evil and Agatha at the School for Good. Both are sure that a mistake has been made and Agatha is determined to get them home. Sophie, on the other hand, is determined to prove herself Good and get herself a prince.

I absolutely adored this story! Although Sophie and Agatha butt heads for a good part of the book because of their different personalities, I could really see their friendship and I loved that it took center stage. Yes, there was some romance but through it all (and especially in the ending), it was the love between friends that was the most important, not the love between a prince and a princess.

I also liked how complex these characters are. Take Tedros - Prince Arthur's son, for example. When I first saw him, I thought he was just another buffoon, kind of like Daring Charming from Ever After High (at least in the first season). But as I read further, I realised that Tedros had his own hurt that he was hiding and that motivated his actions, changing him into a more complex character in my eyes.

All in all, I would highly recommend this story to any fairy-tale fans. It's fun, charming, and has more depth to it than meets the eye.

Monday, May 28, 2018

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

I have finally finished this and OH MY HEART I NEED THE NEXT BOOK NOW!! One Dark Throne takes place right after Three Dark Crowns ends, so it’s a good thing I read Queens of Fennbirn recently and was still familiar with the world.

Ascension Year has started after the ending of Three Dark Crowns. And because of the ending, the futures of the three queens aren’t as assured - Mirabella, the strongest Queen, has lost a lot of standing, while her two weaker sisters are faring better. But the Queen can only be crowned after she’s killed both her sisters, which means that all three of them still have a chance...

I don’t really want to talk too much about the plot because I’ll end up giving away the ending of the previous book (and if you haven’t started the series it’s best not to know) but I was really taken for a ride in this one! I loved Three Dark Crowns but it did spend quite a lot of time laying the groundwork and as a result, the plot of One Dark Throne moved at a good pace. I really couldn’t wait to finish the book because I was desperate to find out who won.

Character-wise, Mirabella is still my favourite character because she really has the best heart. Sometimes to her detriment, but I really liked her and she was my favourite candidate. That said, Arsinoe’s development surprised me. I wasn’t really a fan or her or her best friend Jules, but by the end of the book, I was also rooting for both of them to have a happy ending. I think that the author did a good job in showing their growth and motivations which helped me sympathise with them.

Katherine, on the other hand, I disliked. She was just nasty and since she was just weak in the previous book, didn’t endear herself to me. But I did find out why she changed to become like that towards the end, so while I still don’t like her, her character motivation is real to me.

As for the supporting characters, I would end up with a way too long review if I talked about them all. So let’s just say that there were many of them and if you can keep track of who’s who, their personal motivations and feelings start to become clearer and they become people rather than filler characters.

Overall, I really, really loved this book. It definitely helped that I read the novellas before this because I would be lost without a refresher, but this book gripped me from the start and now I cannot wait for the next book because I need to see how things end!

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Mythology of Grimm by Nathan Robert Brown

You may know that I’ve been into Grimm for a long time (I think I’ve watched the series TWICE despite the fact I have 123456 shows on my to watch list). Well, I finally got my brother into the series, which means that it’s my third time watching the series (no complaints) and more importantly, that I can buy Grimm-related books!

This actually came about two weeks back but I had quite a few library books to finish so I only got around to it today. Like the title says, The Mythology of Grimm is about the myths behind the show, focusing mainly on the Wesen in seasons one and two.

The book starts with an introduction of the Grimm brothers, Charles Perrault, and Joseph Jacobs then moves on to the various Wesen. It focuses mainly on the European ones, although the last two chapters talk about the non-European Wesen (Mostly Native-American and Greco-Roman Wesen). Each chapter compares a Wesen with a modern retelling of the traditional fairytale, as well as some discussion. In between, there are loads of quotes from the show and interesting nuggets of information.

Obviously, I enjoyed this book very much. I love the show AND I love myths and while lots of it wasn’t new to me, it was fun to see the comparisons. But if you’re into mythology, please note that the retellings are very, very casual. Personally, I find them to be fun but if you’re looking for something a little more academic, you might want to steer clear (but if you’re looking for something academic, why are you reading something inspired by a TV show?)

In short, fans of the TV show who want to know more about the myths behind it will probably love this. The text is extremely easy to read and conversational, so even if you’re not familiar with mythology and fairy tales, I think you should be comfortable with this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thrice the Binded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley

As part of my 'I want to read more during the week' thing, I decided to read another Flavia de Luce mystery since I really enjoy this series. Thrice the Binded Cat Hath Mew’d (a quote from Shakespeare) is the eighth book in the series and has Flavia coming home to England.

After an exciting time in Canada, Flavia’s looking forward to home and expects a somewhat warm welcome. Instead, she finds out that her father is ill and in the hospital. Trying to distract herself, Flavia offers to run an errand and ends up finding a body. Talk about finding the perfect distraction for her - obviously Flavia starts investigating.

I really felt that Flavia returned to form in this book. She was a little twee in the last book, but she was purely endearing in this one. I think it’s because she’s back in familiar surroundings. She’s also struggling to make sense of all the changes and I think it makes her growth a lot more natural. Perhaps Flavia is just so British she can’t go anywhere else.

The mystery itself was decent. There were quite a few twists and turns, but the ending made sense (even though I couldn’t manage to figure out who the killer was). I also thought it balanced pretty nicely with Flavia’s home life, although I feel like a kid (with Flavia) because I have no idea what all the adults are saying.

Got to warn you, though, the ending is pretty heartbreaking. Flavia does get her moment of triumph and I’m happy for her, but the last part is just sad. No spoilers but I really wish that things turned out differently for her and I really want to read the next book now.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Track Faults and Other Glitches by Nicholas Yong

I haven’t been reading much Singapore books (or SEAsian books for that matter) but this short story collection was really great and I'm really grateful to the person who recommended this to me.

Track Faults and Other Glitches is a collection of collection of stories set in Singapore. The stories are:

- The Ministry of Zombie Advancement: A very fun, unique tale about zombies in Singapore. The zombies in Singapore concept reminded me of Land of the Meat Munchers, and I realised that it was by the same author! No wonder I liked this.

- You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly: About seeing superheroes at work. The ending was ambiguous which makes it interesting to speculate about.

- Wake Me Up When It’s 2116: Not a good idea to read this in the train because I was tearing up by the end of it! It’s about progress and human life and reminds me of some of Bradbury’s short stories (which are also referenced here). This is one of my favourite stories in the collection.

- Track Fault: Another one of my favourite stories in this book, this deals with an MRT train that goes missing. Warning: there are no answers to this mystery but the story is so good!

- Haru & Hui Ling: These are actually two stories but they are two parts of one whole. It’s about the bond between dogs and their human families but also about love and loss.

- Three Nights in Camp: an NS ghost story. Kinda ambivalent on this one, but I think it’s because I haven’t gone through NS.

- A Dream Within A Dream: this is about a guy in a coma and I actually thought it was a little confusing but it still tugged at my heartstrings. I don’t know what’s going on, but the story made me feel.

- Polling Day: One of the weaker stories in my collection, in my opinion. It follows a reporter as he finds out that the opposition has won all contest seats. Very timely, given the recent election in Malaysia but I didn’t really get the story.

- The Uncle in the Kopitiam: The last story in the collection, this is a story within a story, reaching back to the folklore of Singapore. I really enjoyed the twist and I like this story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection! It was really well-written and extremely fun to read. Each story has a message, but the message doesn’t overpower the story like some local short stories do. I am totally hoping to find more stories like this!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

I requested this book as soon as I saw it because I’m always up for a good mystery. I didn’t realise that this was part of a series, but I had no problem following along.

The Dark Angel starts in Italy when a corpse is found to have a handphone. And even weirder, Professor Angelo received a text from the corpse when he excavated it. Back in England, forensic archaeologist Ruth is struggling with her personal relationships. So when she gets an invitation from Angelo to come to Italy to consult, she brings her daughter and friend along for a holiday.

I have to admit, the mystery took a backseat to the relationships in The Dark Angel. Perhaps it’s because I’m jumping into the series midway, but I felt that the complicated relationships between the characters (particularly Ruth and Nelson) were more prominent than the mystery of the corpse. I’m not complaining since I enjoyed reading about it, but it was a bit of a surprise.

The mystery itself was pretty interesting and very much tied to the town where the corpse was found. I’ve never been to Italy (sadly) so I don’t know how accurate all the descriptions were, but I really felt the small town and it’s inhabitants very strongly.

There was only one thing that threw me off a little: the book switches between several POV characters, mostly Ruth and Nelson, although some characters get their time in the spotlight too. The switch could be a bit abrupt since it takes place within the chapter (I’m more used to having one chapter per POV) but it wasn’t a problem once I got used to the style.

Overall, I enjoyed this mystery. I enjoyed the setting and the characters in it. And perhaps because of the characters, I am interested in going back to read the first book in this series and finding out how it all started.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

As soon as I heard about Devoted, I knew I had to read it and that I would either love it or hate it - turns out I loved it (and it's a very intense book).

Devoted revolves around Rachel, a girl “devoted to God.” She’s a member of Calvary Christian Church, which is obviously part of the Quiverfull movement (and if you know me, you know I can’t stand them). She tries to be a Godly girl, but the rules chafe at her, and one day, she makes contact with one of the girls that ran away. And suddenly, the world looks a lot wider.

First, I should mention that although I’m a Christian, I cannot stand the groups that pervert the name of God. I don’t even think they should be allowed to call themselves Christian, and the Quiverfull movement, with its legalistic and sexist theology, is one of them.

Which is why my heart broke when I read about Rachel. Rachel is curious and loves books and I hate how all the legalism almost breaks her soul. Christianity is freeing, not a jail and the ‘Church’ she went to made me rage. I absolutely rooted for her to get away and for her to re-establish her relationship with God.

Another thing I loved about this book was its portrayal of Christianity, which I found very fair. The author doesn’t paint all Christians as people who go to Calvary Christian, and even though some who left that ‘Church’ turned away from God, that wasn’t the only way that you could leave. Most of the time, religion in YA books is shown as either totally good or totally bad, so I appreciated this level of nuance, which mimics real life.

If you’re into moving books with nuance and characters that will steal your heart, you need to read this. I found this to be a deeply moving book and while parts of it broke my heart, I am glad that I had the chance to read it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Queens of Fennbirn by Kendare Blake

I LOVED Three Dark Crowns so when I saw this in the library today, I immediately snatched it up and devoured it. Queens of Fennbirn is a collection of two novellas and it is so good!

The first story is The Young Queens and it’s about Mirabella, Arsinoe, and Katherine, the protagonists of the Three Dark Crowns series. This is really more of a prequel that explores their lives, so it doesn’t really have a plot. But it does answer some questions that the first book raised and I was so happy to be back in the world (as strange as that sounds, given that their world is violent and bloody). And the story only cemented Mirabella as my favourite because she was the only one with any loyalty. I mean, I guess I understand why the other two are like that, but I still prefer Mirabella as Crowned Queen.

The second story is The Oracle Queen and purports to tell the true story of the last Oracle Queen: Queen Elsabet. This story was heartbreaking because of its ending, and especially if you consider what her legacy is. I know it’s not a big plot point, but I would like to see justice for Elsabet. And now I really dislike the Poisoner group (sorry, Katherine but unless you grow a spine, you’re guilty by association).

Fans of Three Dark Crowns will love these two stories. I know I did, and reading this just made me more excited for One Dark Throne: now I have to find it in the library.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Death below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

I’ve been looking for this book ever since I saw Wendy at Literary Feline mention it. Finally, the ebook version was available and I immediately borrowed it and I have absolutely no regrets.

When Kat Holloway takes a new job as cook, she doesn’t expect much to happen. But on her second day on the job, her assistant turns up dead in her cellar. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily), Kat has a friend named Daniel McAdam, and what starts as a simple investigation quickly turns into something much more high stakes.

Can I say that I absolutely loved this?

The main reason is because of the characters. Kat is a spirited woman and I enjoy how measured and quick-thinking she is. She’s a sensible person, unlike some heroines who can be as dumb as a doorbell but still solve the mystery and her backstory is fantastic. Plus, I really rooted for her relationship with the mysterious Daniel and that isn’t something I do very often.

Daniel and his son, James, were also very well-written, which contributed to my enjoyment of the book. Their father-son relationship is really adorable and they’re both memorable characters in their own right. The supporting characters were all interesting too.

Plot-wise, the book moved along at a good pace. I didn’t really expect the twists that it took, but they were believable and I couldn’t put the book down. While it stands alone, it feels like the story can continue and I am really looking forward to it!

One more thing that I also appreciated was how the characters were introduced. Maybe it’s because I just read a book where each character was given extensive backstory, but I found the amount of information given out to be just right. I still don’t know how Kat and Daniel met, but I know enough about their backgrounds that their relationship feels natural and I want to read more, and to me, that means the book has succeeded regarding backstory.

If you are a fan of historical mysteries, you’ll definitely have to read this. I’m definitely going to look for the next book, and I hope I find it a lot quicker than I did this.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs

I wanted to read something lighter after the book on Austen and Social Science and a tea-themed cozy Mystery fit the bill!

Death by Darjeeling is centered around the Indigo Tea Shop, which in turn is owned by Theodosia. When a hater developer dies at her teashop and her employee’s friend loses her job over it, Theodosia starts digging into the death. But the more she learns, the more suspects she finds. And more worryingly, someone seems to be after her as well.

What I loved about this book was obviously all the tea references! The hanyu pinyin of the Chinese teas isn’t the standard one but that’s okay because there was a lot of tea talk and description of the teas. I would love to try the teas mentioned and if Indigo tea shop existed near me, I would definitely be a frequent patron.

I also liked the core group of characters. Theodosia, Drayton (the tea master), Haley (employee), and Bethany (employee’s friend turned employee) have a very nice group dynamic and I appreciated the way that Theodosia brought them into the mystery. I thought that made their friendship feel real and I really enjoyed their interactions with one another.

On the other hand, there were a few things I’m not too enthusiastic about.

One is the very long introductions of each character. Or perhaps they just felt long because I didn’t feel like I needed backstory at that moment. But since this is book one I can understand why it’s this way.

The other thing I didn’t like (and this is a bigger deal for me), was the sudden shift in one of the characters. This was done through a change in POV, which occurred a few times and always felt abrupt. More importantly, the sudden change in how one of the characters was presented felt too sudden and not very believable. Rather than a natural progression, it felt like a device used to heighten tension.

Would I read the second book? I’m not sure. I really enjoyed the tea references and I think that the long introductions should be gone by book two, but the sudden twist for one character at the end had me wary. I still have quite a number of tea-related books that I want to read (please believe that it’s work-related research) so perhaps I’ll read those first and then see if I’ll continue with the series.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Jane on the Brain by Wendy Jones

I spent the last few days slowly reading this book because it was a much harder read than I expected. I saw “exploring the science of social intelligence with Jane Austen” and thought it would be one of those easy-to-read intro book, but this is actually pretty intense.

Like the subtitle says, this is all about social science. It starts off with what the mind is and how we think (which to be honest I still don’t quite understand), and then moves on to study topics like love, empathy, and empathy disorders (Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder), ending with a detailed study of Anne from Persuasion, who has “the most developed sense of empathy” out of all the Austen characters.

Throughout the entire book, the author draws heavily on Austen’s characters to explain the various concepts, although they aren’t the exclusive source of examples. So this is definitely a book that gives Austen the spotlight.

For me, I enjoyed the ‘topical’ chapters on relationships and how childhood affects character a lot more than the opening stuff on how the mind works. I know the opening stuff is the foundation, but I found the latter half to be a lot easier to understand.

I really like the section on attachment, where she explains the three different types. There’s:

1. Preoccupied attachment, which is Marianne from Sense and Sensibility. Marianne is unable to self-regulate her emotions and her insecurity makes her distraught when Willoughby leaves and cuts her, sending her into depression and a near brush with death.

2. Secure attachment, which is Elinor from Sense and Sensibility. Although she feels things deeply, she can cope with her strong feelings and the news of Edward’s secret engagement shocks her but doesn’t devastate her.

3. Dismissive attachment, which is Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Darcy’s classic English stiff upper lip means that he “would have developed little tolerance for excitement and therefore would have tended to overregulate in order to control his anxiety.”

I also thought that the point on Austen’s Free Indirect Discourse narrative style and how it has a lot in common with empathy to be very interesting! It’s a pity it’s just a small section in the epilogue because I would have loved to read a chapter on it.

Basically, if you’re a fan of Austen and think you can handle the science in this book, you should totally read it. It’s pretty heavy, but it’s also a really good analysis of Austen’s characters (even though this is technically not a lit book)

Monday, May 7, 2018

The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen

My second Ellery Queen Mystery! I’m afraid I didn’t like this as much as The Greek Coffin Mystery.

The American Mystery takes place at a Rodeo. Ellery Queen and his father take Djuna to see the first show starting Buck Horne. And at that show, with twenty thousand people watching, Buck Horne is shot dead. Ellery and his father leap into action but despite their best efforts, the gun is never found.

I thought that plot-wise, this was a pretty good mystery. Like with The Greek Coffin Mystery, the authors purposely interrupt the narrative to give the reader time to think before they reveal the truth. While I didn’t get the clues and didn’t figure out the mystery, things certainly made sense once they were explained.

The only thing that hampered my enjoyment was... well Ellery himself. I quite liked his character in the first book, and he was likable enough at the start of this (especially when he referenced Father Brown), but along the way, he became slightly irritating. While Poirot’s eccentricities come across as charming to me, Ellery’s quirks feel annoying. I really feel for his father, for having to put up with a know-it-all son who doesn’t reveal anything until the end (Although it is explained that this is because of the events in The Greek Coffin Mystery)

And since Ellery is the protagonist of the series, I’m left undecided if I want to continue reading. I was really interested in reading more of this series at first, but now, I’m not too sure. It’s definitely something to think about, especially since my TBR list is so long.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

I can’t quite remember how I heard of this book, but it was definitely related to Do You Believe in Magic, which was a fantastic look at alternative medicine. Bad Science also looks at alternative medicine, but is much broader and looks at science as whole.

The book starts off with a look at experiments and what they mean (very important because you need to be able to understand what reliable studies are before you can decide if things are being reported correctly), before going on to homeopathy and nutritionists. The last section of the book looks at how the media misrepresents science and it might make you lose trust in medical reporting.

This book was fantastic! I really liked how the author used humour to make his points because it helped me to remember them better. For example, when he’s talking about all those expensive facial creams and how the skin absorbs things, he writes that “in general, you don’t absorb things very well through the skin, because its purpose is to be relatively impermeable. When you sit in a bath of baked beans for charity, you do not get fat, nor do you start farting.”

My sense of humour is probably on the juvenile side but the mental image of someone farting uncontrollably in a tub of baked beans made me laugh.

That said, my favourite chapter was Chapter 13, Why clever people believe stupid things, where he makes the following points (among others):

- We see patterns where there is only random noise

- We see casual relationships where there are none

- We tend to be biased towards evidence we want to believe in.

All the points are made with plenty of examples to back them up. In fact, if you want a clear and convincing explanation on why vaccinations don’t cause autism, you should read the chapter on it. It’s very clear that no one should have believe the studies and that the media had a role in playing up this ‘scare’.

Anyone who enjoys science will enjoy this. The book is well-written and easy to understand. You could probably get the same information if you search long enough on the Internet, but since it’s all gathered conveniently into one place, you should just read the book.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I keep hearing about the invisible library series from Wendy at Literary Feline and every time I see her reviews, I put the book on my TBR list. After a pointlessly long time, I finally read the first book in the series and it is fantastic!

This series is about a Library and the Librarians are spies! They go into different alternate realities to steal, um I mean acquire, different rare books that help to refine the Language, which is a language that can be used to command people or things.

Irene is a Librarian who’s suddenly given someone (Kai) to mentor and the task to retrieve a book. It should be an easy task, since it’s Kai’s first mission, but Irene and Kai soon realise that there is far more than meets the eye and that an old nemesis of the Library may be behind everything.

I loved everything about this book! Firstly, there’s the world-building. I love the concept of the Library and the Language, which pulled everything together. The worldbuilding was also very well-done, with the information coming at a good pace that didn’t interfere with the plot.

The characters are also well-done. I really loved Irene, who loves books too and is a bit of a badass. She’s perhaps a bit too unquestioningly loyal to the Library, but she’s a fantastic mentor and I rooted for her from the first page. Kai, her mentee, was also really interesting and I sense a possible romance between them.

The plot was also good. The mystery of the book she has to steal was really engaging and I liked how she tied it to the larger plot. And while the main plot is wrapped up by the end, Cogman has left enough threads hanging that I can see that it’s the start of a series and I’m very eager to read the next book!

If you like books, kickass heroines, a mystery surrounding a book and lots of fun, I’m pretty sure that you’ll enjoy The Invisible Library. I know I’m looking forward to reading the next book.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Plain Secrets by Joe Mackall

A few years ago, I had this Amish fiction binge and I’ve remained curious about them ever since. When I heard that there was a book that wrote about them accurate and compassionately, I knew that I had to read it.

Plain Secrets is a fairly short book (only twelve chapters!) about Joe and his friendships with his Amish neighbours, the Shetlers. His neighbours are respected in their community and show no hint of dissatisfaction, but one of their nephews, Jonas, has left the Amish. By talking to Jonas and being a good neighbour and friend to the Shetlers, Joe shows us why people would stay Amish, and why people would leave.

I thought that this approach made the book very even-handed. Even though Joe cares dearly for his friends and values them, he also feels frustration at some of the things they do, such as continuing to drive in buggies (which are really no match for cars). I especially felt his frustration when he told me that many Amish don’t vaccinate their kids, which was also something that surprised me.

And occasionally, Joe also talks about the differences within the Amish. The way he adds the info always felt appropriate and I learnt a lot. I knew there was a difference between a Mennonite and the Amish, but I didn’t realise that there were so many differences between the Amish too. The degree to which they separate themselves from our world depends on the order that they belong to.

If you’re interested in reading about a group of people who live completely different lives from us, I think you’ll like this book. It’s not some shocking, scandalous expose, but it taught me more about the Amish. I’ll end my review with the last sentence of the book, which I really liked:
"And the beauty and truth of it is this: That to these plain people, in these times and in all others, the values that reign supreme are community, acceptance, and faith, which can, with prayer and a little luck, lead to peace."

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Staircase of Fire by Ben Woodard

When Ben Woodard asked me if I wanted to review The Staircase of Fire, I said yes because I enjoyed his first book in this series, A Stairway to Danger. It's been some time, so I don't really remember what happened in A Stairway to Danger, but The Staircase of Fire read well as a standalone novel.

The Staircase of Fire starts when Rose, an African American lady, insists on her right to vote. In the extremely racist town of Shakertown, this is something that cannot be stood for and Rose and her son, James, decide to leave. But on their way out, things go very wrong and everything is witnessed by Tom, who's still dealing with the guilt from his sisters' death. Scared to say a word, Tom resolves to find the Shake gold and leave this town for good.

While the start of the novel feels like a mystery, this is really more of a bildungsroman. Yes, Tom does hunt down clues to find the gold but this story is really about Tom coming to grips with his past and with the society he lives in. It's about him growing up and deciding what kind of man he wants to be. The search for the gold is a small part of the book compared to Tom's journey.

Like I mentioned before, Tom grows a lot in this book and I really enjoyed reading his journey. It seems like almost every white character is racist in some way (which is historically accurate) and it was refreshing to see Tom learn to break out of the narrow-minded thinking that he had and which surrounds him.

Just a note of warning: apart from some violence, there is mention of sex and sexual assault in the book. It's nothing explicit, but if you're sensitive or if you want to give this to a younger kid to read, you might want to keep it in mind.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Meet Me in Atlantis by Mark Adams

I decided to borrow this book because I quite like reading about weird stuff, even if I don’t necessarily believe in it. Meet Me in Atlantis is Mark Adam’s account of his attempts to find the fabled lost city.

And I must say, I’m a bit envious of how much travel he did. He visited the proposed sites for Atlantis, such as Santorini, Morroco, and Malta. Along the way, he meets and talks with a number of Atlantologists to hear and think about their theories before presenting his theory on what happened.

What I liked about this book is that it didn’t purport to know the truth about where Atlantis was or if it even existed. While Adams respects the people he talks to and tries to understand where they come from, he also readily expresses his doubts about their theories.

Through all these conversations, I got to learn quite a bit about the theories about Atlantis. Although I must confess to being a complete noob because I didn’t even know that this whole thing originated with Plato (which is why a lot of people start with “was this a story of Plato or history”).

Oh, and I admit to being happy when I read about the cult of Pythagoras because I heard about it on Tanis. Pretty nice to see something I heard about referenced in another book - and if anyone knows a good book about Pythagoras, let me know!

Overall, I enjoyed this. I don’t think I’m going to go out and read all the books about Atlantis available, but the next time I listen to a podcast that references conspiracy theories rooted in Ancient Greek culture, I’ll actually know what they’re talking about.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Even though this book is really famous (and for good reason), I only got around to reading it today because my brother went and watched the play with his school and I wanted to be able to talk about it with him.

The Curious Incident About the Dog in the Nighttime is a book ‘written’ by Christopher. Christopher is crazy smart when it comes to math, and like my brother, doesn’t like bananas and doesn’t have much people skills.

The story begins when Christopher finds Wellington, the next door neighbour’s dog, dead and decides to investigate. His investigation brings up a revelation - namely that his mother, who he thought was dead, is actually alive and living in London. So this is slightly less of a mystery and more of a story about Christopher trying to make his way in the world.

Of course, I really, really liked Christopher because he reminded me so much of my brother! I think the characterisation of someone with relatively high-functioning autism was well done and I really felt all his pain. And the last line of the book! Seriously those lines could make me cry (look away if you don’t want spoilers):

"And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? and I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything."

Yes, Christopher, you really can do anything (‘:

And I asked my brother for his thoughts on the story and he says that he liked it very much because he could relate to Christopher but his classmates kept turning to look at him. I hope the play taught them a bit more empathy.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Gutenberg's Fingerprint by Merilyn Simonds

I chanced upon this on the library and it was an immediate borrow for me! Gutenberg’s Fingerprint is a story about how a book is made and the history of books (and ebooks).

Gutenberg’s Fingerprint starts when Marilyn teams up with Hugh, from Three Hellbox Press, to publish a limited edition run of her collection of flash fiction called The Paradise Project.

As Marilyn digs deep into the process of making a book - from making the paper to typesetting to stitching the papers together - she talks about the history of the book. At the same time, she’s preparing an ebook version of The Paradise Project, which gives her opportunities to muse about ebooks and the future of books.

Merilyn is clearly passionate about books, both as an object and for the things they mean. When she talked about picking a font, I started getting interested even though I’m normally a default font kind of person (although I admit that I like to write in Garamond).

She’s also even-handed about ebooks too. While she loves the printed word, she also talks about the advantages of ebooks as well.

That said, she’s not very accurate when it comes to self-publishing. The stats she cites are those that don’t include Amazon, although it would have been easy enough for her to go to Author Earnings (and the book was published in 2017 so the data should have been available when she wrote it).

Plus, she makes the claim that it’s harder to survive as a writer now when a quick look at people like Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn, or even the people at Kboards make a convincing case that it is, in fact, easier than ever to make a living as a writer.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. This book is basically an exploration of the book with a fellow bibliophile, making it a very fun read. I’m glad I read this in the printed form too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Down to Oath by Tyrolin Puxty


When I was invited to join the blog tour for Down to Oath, I immediately said yes because I’ve loved every single one of Tyrolin’s books so far!

Down to Oath proved to be no exception as I got sucked into Codi’s world. Codi appeared, fully formed, in Oath, a drab, boring town. But unlike the other residents, Codi wants something different. She wants colour and she wants pattern and she wants to shake things up. One day, she meets a child version of herself and realises that there are three other worlds. From there, the story really takes off as Codi and her other selves (Little Codi, Thorn) try to discover why their there and what it means to leave their worlds.

And I must say, the world building here is fantastic! I really loved the concept of the four worlds - Oath, Pledge, Bond, and Word and the idea that each world has its own distinctive characteristics.

As for Codi (Creative Codi), it was pretty interesting to see her come to terms with her selves. Little Codi could be a bit of a brat but was mostly adorable. Thorn (warrior Codi) and Creative Codi quarrelled a lot so the way their friendship developed was exciting. The last Codi, Willow, I didn’t get to see much of, which was a pity.

The story is told from Codi’s point of view. Truth be told, the beginning reminded me of the narrative style in the Broken Dolls series, but the story soon grabbed me and I stopped comparing it with [broken doll character]

If you’re a fan of weird worlds and exciting adventures, you definitely have to pick it up. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

How to Make a Zombie by Frank Swain

My brother spotted this book in the library and asked me to borrow it because in his words, “I don’t want to attract suspicion.” But I ended up reading it first and it’s really interesting!

How to make a zombie is all about the science of the undead (or living dead). From Voodou zombies that use fugu poison to induce a state similar to death to Russian experiments reviving a decapitated dog’s head, the book takes a look at the various ways people have tried to raise the dead and the ways we may be zombies. The latter part is more on the insects and animal kingdom and there are a surprising number of insects who not only lay their eggs in a living host but who can manipulate the host to act in ways disadvantageous to its survival. Which makes my fear of insects seem a lot more rational now.

I really liked the later chapters, which were about how 'zombies' are being created today. The first part, which is on zombies created the natural way, is more on whether you can resuscitate a dead body. It's pretty interesting, but one can only read about so many failed methods. I thought the chapters on how brains can be taken over and actions influenced to be much more interesting, although they aren't really traditional zombie stuff (although I suppose if you take a traditional zombie as the "fake death than hypnotised to be a slave then it's somewhat similar).

Not a science major so I can’t speak to the accuracy of its contents, but this was an engaging read. I liked the humour mixed into the book (especially the Japanese-based pun) and chuckled more than a few times. This is definitely pop-science but it's enjoyable and that's what counts.

Definitely for aspiring mad scientists or people who like weird pop science books.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

I think that compared to other series, I finished the Southern Reach series in the shortest amount of time. But that's a good thing because if the details of Annihilation and Authority were not still fresh in my mind, I doubt that I would understand much of Acceptance. And because of that, expect spoilers for the first two books in the series.

Acceptance picks up directly from where Authority stopped, with Ghost Bird, now revealed to be a clone of the biologist, and Control wandering around Area X. The chapters from their POV are interspersed with chapters from Saul, the lighthouse keeper before Area X was Area X, and Gloria, the director and little girl that used to live in Area X, as she tried to carry out her work. Each person told a different part of the story, but they all filled in one bigger puzzle.

Ghost Bird, Control, and Saul told their stories in third person, but Gloria told hers in second. I'm not too sure what was the effect - perhaps to make us feel closer to her? - but it wasn't unpleasant and I appreciated finding out a little more about Control's mother. I did prefer the third person POV chapters though, because they were a little easier to understand. Then again, perhaps that's why Gloria told her story in second person; it's a little unnerving and she is an unnerving person.

That said, answers are still scant. We do get to find out more about the origin of Area X and why Grace was so hostile to Control, as why as why the Director went on the expedition to Area X, but we don't receive any concrete answers as to why Area X exists or why Control's family is involved. Things are hinted at and I think a second reading might prove more illuminating, but I still have a lot of questions.

If you read as far as Authority, then you need to finish the series and read Acceptance. I feel that these three books are highly dependent on each other (except perhaps the Annihilation, if you're okay with uncertainty over the fate of the Biologist) and these books need to be read in close succession to each other if you want to understand what's going on. And now, I feel like I'm ready for the Netflix movie.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

Well, here it is. The last Discworld novel. I was both excited and sad to read this; excited because I love Discworld and found this series through the Tiffany Aching books and sad because this is the end (it's amazing that I managed to postpone my reading of it for so long). And like with the other Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett did not disappoint. There are mild spoilers for the series (especially the Witches line of books) below so be warned.

The Shepherd's Crown starts off with the death of Granny Weatherwax. Which I quite mixed up with the death of Miss Treason and got momentarily confused (despite them not being alike. But you don't expect Granny Weatherwax to die). And with the death of Granny Weatherwax comes a hole and a thinning of the barriers. As her appointed successor, acknowledged by You and the bees, Tiffany takes over Granny's steading and runs herself ragged going between Granny's place and the Chalk. But even though Tiffany is an immensely capable witch, the barrier is still thin and the elves are plotting.

I must say that this book feels so fitting in so many ways. Apart from my personal experience of having the Tiffany Aching novels be my introduction to the series (although I haven't read quite a few Rincewind books and the conman one so this isn't the end for me), this fourth book has so many echoes of the first book. There are the elves, for one, and Tiffany makes another pivotal step forward as a witch.

And as someone who was very excited about Tiffany and her relationship with Preston, I was excited to see him mentioned here. Sadly, it wasn't a happily ever after, but they both seem to be happy so I'm happy for her. And of course, I loved loved loved reading about Tiffany's journey as she learns more about who she is.

The Nac Mac Feegles also play a pretty big part in the book and it was a pleasure, as always, to read them. They even managed to get Lord Vetinari to say 'Crivens', which is something I definitely was not expected.

If you're a Discworld fan, and especially if you're a Tiffany Aching fan, you need to read this. The Tiffany Aching series might be for YA readers but Discworld fans of any age will enjoy this.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Strange Contagion by Lee Danial Kravetz

I picked this up because it sounded interesting! Strange Contagion is about how emotions and behaviours can spread, which is definitely not something that I thought about before.

Strange Contagion starts when Lee Daniel Kravetz moves to Palo Alto and a student from the local high school jumps in front of a train. That’s sad, but what’s scary is that students from that school started to jump/tried to jump after that trigger incident, prompting him to look into why this was happening.

To be honest the whole suicide being catching thing reminds me a lot of the film Suicide Club, but this book is nonfiction and makes a lot more sense. The author goes to talk with the leading experts in this field and takes us along with him, allowing us to learn that:

- We mirror people unconsciously

- We can catch both positive and negative behaviours and emotions

- Leaders matter. They will impact how people feel.

- On a related note, one toxic coworker can bring down an entire workplace

- We can get primed to do things: this basically means we can pick up the goals of someone else and we’ll end up thinking we thought of the goal ourselves

- While behaviours do spread like bacteria, it’s possible to interrupt the spread by training people to recognise and stop the behaviour. That’s how the Cure Violence model managed to reduce killings by 56% and shootings by 44% in Baltimore (among other success stories)

- When we ruminate, we continue to ‘infect’ ourselves

- Training ourselves to have a nuanced understanding of emotions can help us lead more emotionally healthier lives (like the other book I read!)

- We may be able to reach a ‘resistance point’ for negative viral emotions and behaviours, but eradication is unlikely.

- Community is both the cure and the means of spread.

All in all, I thought this was a very good read. I didn’t quite realise how much of an effect I could have on others, or that others could have on me. So now that I know, I have one more ‘tool’ I could use to make sense of my emotions when they threaten to overcome me.

The only thing I wish the book would add would be a summary chapter. We basically follow the author through his journey and pick up the information at the same time as him. That made it a little harder to put things together (things didn’t really merge into a whole until I started writing down the points I bookmarked), so a chapter summarising everything would have helped a lot.

I think you’d be interested in this book if you want to know more about human behaviour and what affects it. It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it is an interesting look into how we can ‘catch’ feelings and behaviours from the people around us.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

As you know, I love fairytales. Normally this is just about read them and about them, but now, I found a novel based Dortchen Wild! If you haven’t heard of her, Dortchen Wild was Wilhelm Grimm’s wife and one of the key contributors of fairytales.

While there is, sadly, not much material on Dortchen Grimm, Kate Forsyth has used what she could find to write the love story of Dortchen and Wilhelm, starting from their meeting when Dortchen is twelve to when they get married when Dortchen is thirty one. Woven into their love story are the fairytales that she tells Wilhelm and his brother Jakob.

And don’t think that because I said “fairytales” that this is a happy story. It’s not. If you’ve read the first edition of the Grimm’s fairy tales, you’ll know that their stories were very dark and not for kids. [MILD SPOILER ALERT] Likewise, The Wild Girl is dark because Kate Forsyth theorises that some of the changes between the first and second edition of the Grimm tales were made to protect someone they knew who suffered abuse (in this case Dortchen)

Apart from seeing how fairytales came to be (or could come to be), I thought the historical time period in this book was absolutely frightening. The Wild and Grimm families lived through Napoleon’s reign, which means that they lived through some pretty harsh times that the book does not shy away from exploring. There’s also quite a bit of information about herbs as Dortchen’s father runs a medicine shop.

The characters in this book were really well-written. I felt the pain of Dortchen, felt annoyance at her sister Gretchen, smiled at the exuberance of her best friend Lotte Grimm, and basically went through the whole emotion range while reading this. It really is a very intense read.

Fans of the history of fairytales will appreciate the afterword and short but informative section on the sources of fairytales.

If you’re in the mood for a meticulously researched and well-written novel about one of the key women behind the Grimm tales, you have to pick this up. It’s a fantastic and intense story.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Longbourn by Jo Baker

I love Pride and Prejudice so when I heard that there’s a book written about the servants at Longbourn, aka the Bennett’s house, I knew that I had to read it.

Longbourn follows the lives of the Bennett servants, focusing on Sarah, one of the housemaids. When the book starts, she’s working for the Bennett’s, washing all the muddy petticoats (something Lizzie doesn’t have to think about). But then one day, a mysterious young man called James Smith comes to work as a footman. Sarah tries to start off on the right foot with him but James just avoids her. Luckily for her, the Bingleys have a doorman that seems to be interested in her.

The events in this novel happen in parallel with Pride and Prejudice. Each chapter starts with a line from P&P, but though the events of P&P influence Longbourn, you don’t actually see much of the original book.

Although we do see Elizabeth and Jane through the eyes of Sarah and Mrs Hill, the housekeeper. They seem like their original selves, but ignorant to the world of the lower classes. I probably enjoyed reading about them the most because I really do love Lizzie Bennett.

To be honest, I didn’t expect myself to get so invested in Sarah’s story. I picked this book up for the Bennetts, but then I fell in love with the characters here. The only thing I don’t get (SPOILERS AHEAD) are Sarah’s romances. I can sort of get her and Bingley’s footman because they did talk but her and James? They avoided each other! Luckily, once their in love, their actions made a lot more sense and I ended up rooting for the two of them.

If you’d like a fresh take on Pride and Prejudice and don’t mind the original characters making just cameos (okay, they make more than just a cameo), you definitely have to read Longbourn. It’s a lovely read that hooked me and got me to finish it in one sitting.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Do You Believe in Magic? by Paul A. Offit

It would be really funny if I read this book while eating some vitamins or other alternative medicine things but I read it while eating chips (okay I only did this for the last few chapters). Which probably isn’t the healthiest thing to do, come to think of it.

Do You Believe in Magic is a book about alternative medicine. Each chapter looks at a particular cure, going into its history and the (lack of) science behind it. Areas covered are:

- Vitamins and supplements
- Hormone replacement
- Autism ‘cures’
- Chronic Lyme disease and how it isn’t real
- Curing Cancer
- Alternative medicine and children
- Homeopathy

Apart from looking at specific areas of alternative medicine (which really should be called “medicine that doesn’t work”), Offit also looks at the power of the placebo effect.

Now, the author isn’t against TCM or other herbs. He acknowledges that traditional folk medicine has contained remedies that science has verified. What the author is against is unverified/verifiably false cures that sell false hope, and in some cases, result in deaths that could have been prevented. There is a line between placebo medicine and quackery and the author is not afraid to draw it.

I found this book to be eye-opening. I already heard of some of this stuff, but I wasn’t aware as to how damaging some of the ‘alternative medicines’ can be, or how scientifically false they are. It’s particularly heartbreaking to read about how parents are harming their kids and/or depleting their lifesavings because they end up falling for these hucksters.

If you’re interested in the field of homeopathy or alternative medicine, you have to read this book. It’s a well-written explanation about how much you can trust the alternative medicine industry and its proponents and will definitely open your eyes to their practices. And if you want to read more, I recently found this blog called Naturopathic Diaries (https://www.naturopathicdiaries.com) where an ex-Naturopath pulls back the curtain on her Industry.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Floating Admiral by the Detection Club

This is my third Detection Club book and I picked it up because Christie, Chesterton, and to a smaller extent Sayers contributed to it (sorry Sayers but I love Christie and Chesterton a lot more).

Unlike Ask a Policeman, where the authors played with each other’s characters, and The Anatomy of Murder, The Floating Admiral is a straightforward round-robin novel. The body of Admiral Penistone is found in a floating boat and Inspector Rudge is called upon to investigate. As Rudge investigates, he realises that the case is far from straightforward - what does the vicar and a hasty marriage have to do with the murder? Do they have anything to do with the murder?

I definitely enjoyed this a lot more than Ask a Policeman, although not as much as The Anatomy of Murder. The styles of the various writers meshed together pretty well, except for Chesterton, who wrote a lyrical prologue that only makes sense at the end. The mystery was also interesting, although you can definitely sense that some writers just threw in things to make it more complicated.

I also found the appendix to be interesting. The writers give their solutions for the murders there and it was clear that each writer had their own way of plotting a mystery. Some were very detailed (Sayers) while some were very brief (Jepson). All were pretty convincing to me, although as the story developed some solutions became less plausible than others.

If you’re a fan of golden age mysteries and of the Detection Club, I think you would enjoy this book! It’s a fun mystery and I could tell that the writers had a lot of fun with this.