Friday, March 30, 2012

Good Thinking by Denise Cummins

How do we think? Or to ask a slightly different question, how do we know? If you take the IB/TOK jokes literally, the answer will be "we don't". But apart from deconstructing the various ways of thinking, I'm still not quite sure how our minds work. So tada! Good Thinking to the rescue. It's suppose to integrate the various types of thinking taught across the different disciplines - rational choice, game theory, morality, logic, causality and hypothesis testing.

Looking at the bibliography at the back, I get the sense that I'm reading the condensed version of many many studies. And being the lazy person I am, that makes me very happy. Plus, when I read official stuff (like annual reports), I have a tendency to zone out. But, this book is written in an engaging and easy to understand style, so there are no problems.

Now that I've mentioned the good things, there are some problems I have. One is the inherent evolutionist view that the book contains. In one section, the book discusses why we cooperate and goes into this explanation about kin selection. But I think it'd be because we are created, which kind of nullifies the "evolution-teaches-us-to-look-out-for-ourselves-only" problem.

The other problem was when they talked about Copernicus and "the Biblical view of the position and status of the earth as the centre of the universe."Um, no. Galileo was "fighting against" the contemporary views of the earth which was influenced by Aristotelian philosophy, not the Bible (there's a really good article here). You could say that it was the position of the Church, but it's not a Biblical view at all.

But overall, the book is excellent. Let me end by listing some of funniest analogies from high school students (incidentally, the book ends with this too):

"17. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

18. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35mph"

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Conversational Evangelism by Norman and David Geisler

I don't know if I can say this is a habit, but the handful of times that I've been to the Embassy of Japan normally ends with a visit to my aunt and uncle. That's actually because their house is within walking distance but nonetheless, most visits normally end with me borrowing books like Hard Truths, G.A. Henty, etc. The last and latest visit ended with me borrowing Conversational Evangelism.

Conversational Evangelism focuses on "pre-evangelism". And that is sorely needed. I noticed that people tend to jump into sharing the gospel, and following that, chasing after people/arguing over apologetics. Pre-evangelism is focused on understanding the other party and their worldviews, getting them to be receptive to the Word of Christ.

And a lot of what they say makes sense. What's the point of shoving down the gospel at someone who doesn't understand where you're coming from? What may make perfect sense to us may be complete nonsense to someone with a different worldview.

The book divides the conversational evangelist into 4 persona's - the musician, the artist, the archaeologist and the builder. The musician hears the "sour notes" or discrepancies in what people are telling us, the artists gets a clearer picture of the worldview, the archaeologist finds the reason why and finally, the builder builds common ground.

Although the book sounds serious (and it is!), the book is easy to read. It has a lot of examples, taken from conversations the authors had with others, which makes the points very clear and easy to understand. The book is helpful in pointing the way, such as the appendixes which recommend good books for the beginner, intermediate and advanced (depending on how much you know of apologetics, doctrine, etc)

In conclusion, this book is a must read. If you're a Christian, you really need to read this to find out how to spread the Gospel. And, it may show you that it's not as scary as you once thought!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

I'm not sure where I heard of this book, but it a moving, disturbing read. I'm glad I chose to wait till day to read it (as opposed to reading it before bed) because I didn't want to put the book down. Plus, I might have gotten nightmares.

Living Dead Girl is written in a way that reminds me of the flow of conciousness (only in coherent sentences as opposed to fragments and made up words). Alice, the protagonist, is a defeated teenager. Ever since she was kidnapped by Ray five years ago, she has been broken and re-formed into the perfect doll. Her whole life is on survival mode, and she is so badly broken that you'd think she has forgotten her conscience.

While it would have been interesting, albeit disturbing, to simply just read about her attempts at surviving, Little Dead Girl creates conflict. You see, now that Alice is 15, Ray is getting tired of her and he wants her help to find a new Alice. And the scariest part is that Alice will help, because it means that she won't get hurt anymore - and she knows she will probably be killed after that.

I think that the fact that the book doesn't have a happy ending, unlike Room (which is also very good) makes it more impactful. And I suppose that the fact that Alice was very realistic (almost morbid) about her future was, I don't know, unsettling yet oddly real.

Basically, although this book is fairly short, you should give it a read. The subject matter is dark but deep.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - Conversational Evangelism

I managed to find a book! My aunt and uncle lent it to me, and it's called Conversational Evangelism by Norman and David Geisler :D

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of Should be Reading~

And on to the teaser:

"Love is a more persuasive force than fear, and though many people are seemingly untouched by reason and argumentation, they are truly moved by our love for them. Jesus Himself confirmed that loving others was the second greatest commandment." (page 99)

See you next week! (hopefully)

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

Despite reading about the genre, I've never actually read a steampunk novel. Until now that is. I picked up The Girl in the Clockwork Collar not knowing that it was the second in a series, but after reading it, I must admit that this is a genre I should try to read more often.

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar follows Finley and her friends as they travel from England to America to help their friend - Jasper. Jasper, on the other hand, is being forced into helping the villian Dalton as his love Mei Xing has a clockwork collar on her neck that threatens her life.

Despite not knowing the characters or their history, I found the story a really good clean read. From the book, I knew enough about most of the characters that I could read the story without being confused. The characters were well-written, and I enjoyed the fact that the author had the characters come from a different countries and social classes, which resulted in different characters and speaking styles.

Although there is some violence in the story, e.g. Finley is repeatedly described as very strong and she does snap a man's wrist at one point, it is not graphic. Likewise is the romance angle. The romance between the different pairs were very sweet and there was nothing explicit at all.
However, the aether does give me some course for concern. Even though it's described as a form of energy, it's also mentioned that the energy ghosts have is the same type. In addition, it's mentioned that only organic matter (i.e. humans) can manipulate large amounts of it. But on the whole, it's treated simply as another invention or tool to be used.

The only thing that annoys me was how people pronounced Mei Xing's name. She's Chinese, but it's mentioned several times that it's sounds like a-MAZING. Of all the possible ways to pronounce her name, I would not have likened it to that sound, particularly the "Zing" part. But that is just me being nitpicky.

In conclusion, this is a really enjoyable read. I'd like to read the first book and more of the steampunk genre.

Disclaimer: I got this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The God Box by Mary Lou Quinlan

Ever feel like you have a problem so huge you don't know what to do? Well, give it up to God. To be specific, put in in your "God Box". The whole aim of this rather short book (around 120 pages in ebook format) is to explain about the God Box.

The God Box is simply the box that the author's mother uses to place her prayers for people in it. It sounds like a simple concept, but by exploring her mother's God Box, the author discovers how the box helps her to express things like Faith, Love, Compassion, etc.

How the God Box works is that you have a simple box (or any box you like), and you place your prayers in it. In this way, it's an action to show that you're not going to worry about it anymore and you're giving it up to God.

I don't actually know what else to say about this book. The concept of the God Box is used to draw out the relationship between the mom and everyone else (but especially the mother and the daughter). It really is a very sweet book.

Disclaimer: I got this book from NetGalley in return for a free and honest review.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Yesterday, I blogged about how it makes a lot of sense to read books in a series sequentially. Today, when I finished Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead, I also realised why it's not a good idea to leave a series alone for too long.
Normally, it doesn't matter about how long I take between each book, since they aren't connected (except for the characters). But in this case, a good portion of Bury Your Dead was taken up with disproving the previous case. In order words, the previous novel's conclusion was void, which for some reason made me feel cheated out of a book.

But honestly, this latest installment of Louise Penny's mysteries is the most confusing one. Mostly because there are three separate plots. There is the murder that Gamache is investigating, the old case that Beauvoir is told to re-open secretly, and what happened between the span of two novels. For me, it felt like the novel didn't make a clear distinction between the flashbacks and the present, and made it much more complicated. One moment, they're on the case and suddenly, we're back in time. I'd have appreciated a line break to indicate something had happened.

And, I felt that three plots were too much. The book should have stuck with two. Although Three Pines (or it's surroundings) have been the site of the book for most if not all of the past books, I didn't see a need to revisit the old murder case. I did enjoy the case set in Quebec City, so I didn't particularly miss Three Pines. If the book had been kept to just two plots (what happened and what is happening now), it would have been so much easier to read.

After all these "complaints", I'm not saying the book shouldn't be read. Quite the opposite, the book is quite enjoyable. The book explores the differences/tension between the French and English communities in Quebec, and the mythology of history (sorry for the phrase, I don't know how else to describe it). The whole three plot thing is a little confusing (and to me, unnecessary), but after a while, I managed to get the hang of it.

Considering that I didn't even know that a new Louise Penny book was out, this was a really enjoyable surprise read(:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Sir Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge: A Hat Full of Sky

After I read The Wee Free Men, I couldn't help but continue on and read book two of the Tiffany Aching series: A Hat Full of Sky.

In A Hat Full of Sky, Tiffany is around 11 I think and finally goes to train with a witch (Miss Level, who has two bodies). But unfortunately, her mind is taken over by the Hiver, a monster that apparently can't be destroyed. Along with the help from the Nac Mac Feegle, she has to defeat the Hiver, away from the Chalk.

It's actually really fun reading things in sequence(: Although it is briefly explained, the relationship/Tiffany teasing Roland makes much more sense when you've actually read the first book and know the backstory. And if you like Granny Weatherwax, you're in luck. She plays a much bigger role in this book than she did in the first.

But there were characters I didn't really like. Like Jeanie, the new Kelda of the Nac Mac Feegle. But honestly, it's only because she doesn't like Tiffany. The way she bosses Rob Anybody and the other Feegles around is really funny. And she has quite a few touching moments, most notably when she identifies with the loneliness Tiffany is going through.

The book is about finding yourself, so it's a topic most kids (and adults) will identify with.

Of course, I can't resist quoting parts of the book. There are actually many parts (so many, you should just read the whole book), but I like the bath scene. Here, Miss Level has forced the Feegles to take a bath (they think too many baths are bad), and for the first time, it's in a tub instead of a cold sheep pond:

There was nothing to hear at first but the gentle splash of water, and then:

"This is no' as bad as I thought!

"Aye, very pleasin'."

"Hey, there's a big yellow duck here. Who're ye pointin' that beak at, yer scunner -"

There was a wet quack and some bubbling noises as the rubber duck sank.

"Rob, we oughta get one o' these put in the back of the mound. Verra warmin' in the wintertime."

"Aye, it's no' that good for the ship, havin' tae drink oout o' that pond after we've been bathin'. It's terrible, hearin' a ship try tae spit."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - Bury Your Dead

I'm back for Teaser Tuesday! I was in Malaysia last week and had to miss it but I'm here now! Teaser Tuesday is a meme by MizB of Should Be Reading and today's book is Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. It's an Inspector Gamache mystery, but unlike the others, it's not set in/around Three Pines. So, today's quote will be about murder:

"The theory is that women almost never kill. It takes a great deal to get a women to murder, but once she decides to, se won't stop until it's done." (page 240)

For some reason, my quote function isn't working... sigh. But anyways, what do you think of the quote? It's quite interesting and I'll like to see some statistics about it (maths student in me talking).

UPDATE: Typo corrected(: Thanks Sandy for pointing it out ^^

Monday, March 19, 2012

Halflings by Heather Burch

"What if following your heart meant losing your soul?"

This is the tagline for Halflings by Heather Burch and it is an interesting thought. Plus, the book itself is gorgeous. I was reading it in Church and quite a lot of people (many of them adults, not just those my age), commented on it.

The whole supernatural genre may be overdone, but since I didn't read many of these kinds of books, the book felt original to me, but that may be because I haven't read many angel books. But basically, the book centres around Nikki, who is for some reason being hunted down by the powers of hell. So it's a good thing that she has three hot guys protecting her right? But of course, she falls in love with two of them.

I really wish that the love-triangle plot wasn't used. Nikki's romance with Mace was sweet (and tragic) enough that she didn't need to have feelings for Raven. But I supposed it would have been weird if she wasn't attracted to him, since he's portrayed as looking (and acting) like a girl magnet.

To me, the second most interesting part of the book was the characters. The plot seemed to be more of a lead-in for the next book, because I was left with quite a lot of questions at the end. As for the characters... hmm, Nikki was annoying at first, but so was Raven. Nikki seemed to be a Mary-Sue, since she's an artist and a black-belt and supposed to be really pretty to boot (although she doesn't recognise this fact). Plus, she whined a lot. Raven... he has an attitude problem. But what was really great was that as the book progressed, both characters became more likable, maybe because I felt like I understood them better.

Mace was just darling. Despite the descriptions of him, I keep picturing him as this little boy, looking for love but so afraid to break the rules.

As for the other characters, well, I'd really like to see more of Vine and Will in the next few books.

The most interesting part of the book would be the topic of the half-angels. Mace, Raven and Vine are all halflings/lost boys, who are half-human, half-angel. The book talks about how their existence was a plot to corrupt the seed of mankind, which is what some commentators think happened in the days of Noah, where the "sons of God" took the "daughters of man" and had as children "mighty man who were of old, the men of renown" (Genesis 6:1-4).

I was actually quite curious as to how the matter of their salvation would be dealt with, since the Bible says that salvation is for mankind, which would exclude them. Which is why I thought it was really appropriate that most of the angst in the book comes from the fact that as progeny of the both species, they don't have a home (or even a certain future) And small details like how each choice they make turns them towards the path of God or the path of Satan was reasonable and enriched the 'world-building' with regards to the halflings. Through the book (especially the latter half), there was an emphasis on choices. In fact, one of my favourite quotes is about it:
"I felt... wild... with him. Like I could defy every law and it wouldn't matter. What was that?"

"Nikki, Raven offered you the seed of rebellion. It may seem small and seductive, but when it grows, its a difficult giant to kill. It's the same sin that cause Lucifer to fall."

But for some reason, Nikki either doesn't understand the explanation or forgets/ignores it because about 30 pages later, she is told that "you can change your destiny to suit your own needs" and although she has doubts, she admits that it sounds good.

Still, the book deals with the topic with respect, treating it as the complicated topic that it is (you cannot just write about supernatural love interests and not think about the consequences), which is why in the end, I recommend this book. It goes beyond the normal shallow love-triangle plot and actually considers the consequences of decisions made.

Disclaimer: I got a free review copy for Zondervan but all the opinions in this post are mine.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Sir Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge: The Wee Free Men

Surprisingly, I didn't have any interest in Terry Pratchett when I was young. The only book I did read was Wintersmith, the third book in the Tiffany Aching 'series'. I use the word 'series' loosely because they're all part of the Discworld novels, albeit written for kids. The Wee Free Men happen to be the first book in the Tiffany Aching series; thankfully, the books can be read in any order, since the plots are standalone.

In The Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching is nine years old and has to take care of her younger brother Wentworth, who by all accounts sounds like a little brat continually crying for 'sweeties'. But strange things happen and suddenly, Wentworth has be taken away by the Queen of Fairies and Tiffany has only the help of the Nac Mac Feegles, a group of unruly pictsies thrown out of fairyland for being drunk and disorderly (but according to them, it was because they rebelled against the royal rule).

Although Tiffany is the protagonist of the book and is very likeable, my favourite characters are the Nac Mac Feegle. Granted, if they really existed I'd probably spend all time in contact yelling at them to behave/stop stealing; but since they are purely fictional, they're so endearing. They claim to have "Nae King! Nae quin! Nae Laird! Nae master! We willna be fooled again!" (translation: no king, no queen, no lord, no master. We will not be fooled again) and spend most of their time fighting and stealing but have a mortal fear of lawyers. I'm just going to quote my favourite passage (it's quite long), it takes place when the Fairy Queen conjures up some lawyers to deal with the Nac Mac Feegle:

"Oh, ye are a harrrrrd wuman, Quin," said William the gonnagle, "to set the lawyers ontae us.

"See the one of the left there," whimpered a pictsie. "See, he's got a briefcase! It's a briefcase! Oh, waily, wail, a briefcase, waily..."

Reluctantly, a step at a time, presssing together in terror, the Nac Mac Feegle began to back away.
"Oh, waily waily, he's snapping the clasps," groaned Daft Wullie. "Oh waily waily waily, 'ts the sound o' Doom when a lawyer does that!"

"Mister Rob Anybody Feegle and sundry others?" said one of the figures in a dreadful voice.

"There's naebody here o' that name" shouted Rob Anybody. "We dinna know anything'!"

...interlude to the riposte....

"They've got oour names!" sobbed Daft Wulie. "They've got oour names! It's the pris'n oose for us!"

"Objection! I move for a write of habeas corpus," said a small voice. "And ener a plea of vis-ne faciem capite repletam, without prejudice."

...and they discover defense lawyers....

"Hey, they're sweatin'," said Roby Anybody. "You mean we can have lawyers on oour side as well?"

"Yes, of course," said the toad. "You can have defense lawyers."

And although the book is this funny all the time, it also deals with serious topics in a subtle manner, such as the death of a loved one, spare the rod and spoil the child, and of course, growing up. Plus, it serves as a good introduction to the Discworld, especially for younger kids.

Friday, March 16, 2012

World Sleep Day

Today is World Sleep Day, a day intended to be a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving. It's by the World Sleep Day Committee from the World Association of Sleep Medicine. (taken from

I heard of this day last year, ironically on the day that our math portfolios were in, which meant no one in my cohort got a good nights rest. In fact, the word "ha!" was used a lot. This year, all of us can finally get some sleep (apart from those in NS).

And in honour of World Sleep Day, here's an infographic from FrugalDad on why sleep is important.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Witches by Roald Dahl

Today, I finished reading another book with my brother. Or to be very accurate, I finished reading another book to my brother - The Witches by Roald Dahl. I've realised that quite unlike me, my brother has no interest in the world of Enid Blyton (then again, I haven't tried to Famous Five series, just her short stories); instead, he likes Roald Dahl, perhaps because his world is darker and more exciting. So, here's the story of the time I read The Witches to my brother.
At first, it was really tough getting him to listen to The Witches. I have a feeling it's because of the television, although he pretended it was because he was afraid. But after we reached the chapter where you learn to spot a witch, he became much more interested.

And for the next few weeks, kept checking everybody to "make sure their not a witch". I kept showing him my toes :D

After this, things started going well. There were quite a few occasions where he would turn off the television and go "Two words. The. Witches." And of course, I was so happy whenever that occurred. It's getting very hard to get my brother away from the television and I don't know how to to that remotely from Japan.

Ok, so now I'm going to pause and digress a little bit. Did you know that chapter titles are very useful? Because I can't read more than a few chapters at one go (at one point, we had time for one chapter a day), telling him the next chapter titles is an easy way to get him interested. Asking him things like what happened in "Mr and Mrs Jenkins meet Bruno" can really get him speculating on what happens. Plus, whenever he was bored with the book, telling him the next chapter and closing the book sparks some anticipation, which means he didn't lose that much interest.

Today was the last day. I'm actually really glad because I wanted to finish one more book with him before I leave. When I finished the book, I asked him what he thought and he said he loved it and that it was scary in a good way ^^

I really should introduce a few more titles to him before I leave. That way, he has books that he'll want to read. Now, I should either get him to read by himself or find some kind person to read to him(:

Btw, Quentin Blake is a genius. My brother and I love his illustrations and one way of keeping his attention on the page is to tell him "the next page has pictures."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Short Trip to Malaysia

The reason why I haven't posted since Saturday is that I've been at my Malaysia home since Sunday and I only got back last night. Despite the lack of Internet there (and now, I don't have my laptop for a week), it was an extremely productive trip in terms of reading. I finished 5 books!

Two of those books are G. A. Henty books. G. A. Henty wrote a lot of books (99 in total). And, my aunt has all of them. So I borrowed two - When London Burned and The Cat of Bubastes: A Tale of Ancient Egypt. Both stories follow blond haired blue eyed boys (in The Cat of Bubastes, the protagonist is a Rebu prince who was made a slave), who are typically brave, moral, humble and all other good qualities.

In terms of plot, the stories follow the boys life more than they do any plot. This is why in When London Burned, the fire was at the end of the book, and even then, only an incident in Cyril (the protagonist's) very eventful life thus far. This is also why the cat in The Cat of Bubastes is killed near the half-way mark rather than the beginning of the story.

But what you should do is enjoy the details in each book. As far as I know, each book is meant to be historically accurate. which is why for some homeschooling programmes (like the Robinson curriculum), it's used as part of unit studies. Plus, the books really are enjoyable to read, although it might take some time getting used to the pace of the book.

The best part of this is that the books are now in public domain, so you can get an ebook for free from Project Gutenberg or ManyBooks (I like ManyBooks cause the covers are nicer, but that's all). I'm going to set myself the personal challenge of reading all 99 books(: oh, and without a time limit.

I also read Lee Kuan Yew's latest book: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore going. I admire Mr Lee for what he has done for Singapore (this does not mean I agree with everything he does), and it was interesting reading about his thoughts on various subjects. If he speaks as how the book reports, I can see why he's a very persuasive leader. And it's really cool that he doesn't take bullshit from anyone else, and by extension, that he speaks his mind (astonishingly frankly for the age of political correctness we live in). I disagree with his stance on intelligence and homosexuality and a few others, but it's still, there's much to admire in him.

For some reason, I read another 'old' book: The Lais of Marie De France. At first, I didn't think I would find it, but yay! It was on Project Guternberg! The book is basically a collection of medieval love stories. Although it's explain in the preface why all of them feature adultery in a positive light, I don't understand how they can see the Church condoning this. There is a very clear stance in the Bible, which makes me think that the characters in the book were only nominal Christians.

Finally, I re-read one of the books I have there: Different Dragons by Jean Little. It's a very simple story, for kids younger than me, but I still love it. The book spans 2 days and in those two days, Ben (the protagonist) grows. He doesn't go on any heart-stopping adventures, he just makes friends with a dog (he hated doges previously) and gets trapped in an attic for about 2 hours. It may sound boring, and I don't know why, but I really enjoy reading it. I suppose it's the way it's told, letting you sympathize with Ben and cheering him on to make friends with the dog. Or maybe it's because I like animals but never had a pet (fish don't count, and mine committed suicide after a day...)

And that, in a very long post, is what I read in Malaysia.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lord of the Rings and Philosophy

Despite being a bookworm, I only read Lord of The Rings after the hype passed, when I was 16/17 (and the movie came out when I was, what? 12?) And the only reason I read it was because my friend assured me that once you get past the hobbits, it's not boring any longer. And I really have to thank her, because the book was amazing. So, I'll naturally read any book related to it, such as this one: LOTR and Philosophy.

The book is divided into 5 parts: The Ring, The Quest for Happiness, Good and Evil in Middle-Earth, Time and Mortality and Ends and Endings. The five parts are quite comprehensive for a book this short, it covers things like the environmental themes, the pursuit of happiness, modernism, etc.

One thing I learnt was about Gyges ring, which Tolkien might have based The One Ring on. This ring was used in Plato's "Republic" as a reason why there's no need to live a moral life. It's actually quite interesting when you think about it; throughout the book, the Ring tempts all with the promise of power (like how the Gyges ring gave the shepherd the kingdom in the end). But perhaps extrapolating from the story, we see that the power from the ring doesn't bring happiness. Gollum is a wretched creature and I don't think many people will want to be Sauron.

So, I could go through each chapter (that was from chapter one) and talk about all the things that I learnt. But then, it'll be way too long and I'm sure you'd rather read the book. But the only other chapter I want to mention is Chapter 14 - Talking Trees and Walking Mountains: Buddhist and Taoist Themes in The Lord of the Rings.

Why in the end, the author does admit the the similarities are superficial, I still don't understand how people would interpret LOTR in a Buddhist way. Tolkien was, by all accounts, a devout Roman Catholic so I would presume that any religious influence would be Christianity. Plus, he was a scholar of Western Mythology so I would think that the Eastern religions are very unlikely to influence his writings. Plus, if you take the whole talking trees and stuff, it actually ties in with Christianity. Like the chapter says, Tolkien emphasises stewardship, a Christian concept that originated when God gave Adam dominion over the earth. And the whole Ents thing, well, is it possible that he was influenced by Luke 19:40 which says " 'I tell you,' he replied, 'if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.' "? If you've read anything that could shed light, please tell me, I'm actually quite interested in finding out.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Next Target by Nikki Arana (ARC)

Poor Sabira. She appears in the first chapter and dies there by the hands of an extremist. Later, her ESL teacher and the woman that brought her to Christ (Austia) is hunted down by Muslim extremists. And that, in a nutshell, is the plot of The Next Target.

Despite the whole action-packed part of the book (she's trying to escape the extremists after all), the book is primarily about Love. The love of Austia for the Muslim women, that she would willingly teach (and in some cases hide) them after her husband was killed by extremists, the love of the Rahman's her Muslim friends who risk their lives to help her and many others. This book isn't about taking sides, it's about using love to breach the gap.

Throughout the book, a distinction is made between the extremists, who are plotting to turn America Muslim by force, and the moderate Muslims, who are good, kind people. Though there are characters who exhibit intolerance, the book clearly shows that this is wrong and that we should seek to live in peace with one another. And that is one of the central messages of the book (I say one of because the other central message is freedom of religion).

Not only is the plot exciting, the characters are pretty well-thought out too. Austia is full of love, but she's also full of fear. At times, she doubts God/fears for her safety, but in the end, she is always reminded of his love and so, finds strength to press forward. Poor Fatima, married to an abusive man, is in her own way full of strength, trying to protect her baby Sami. Zaki, the double agent (I say this freely because it's revealed in the first few chapters of the book) is torn between his desire to take down the cell and to protect Austia no matter what.

The only "..." moment came about in the first few chapters, when it was revealed (by Zaki himself) that he was a double agent. I suppose that it's implausible to have him to narrate a substantial part of the story and keep deceiving the reader but having such a "twist" early in the story was a bit of a let down. But then again, without Zaki's narrative, we would have missed quite a lot of what goes on inside the cell (Fatima, being a woman, is excluded from what's going on).

All in all, I think this is an excellent book. It's different from most of the other thrillers out there (think about it, how many times can you read about secret conspiracies/ancient treasures without getting bored?) and within its action packed narrative is the timeless tale of the power of Love and the God who Loves.

Disclaimer: I got this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Looking for Jake by China Mieville

After reading Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, I went to the library to search for more books by him. Bearing in mind that I'm leaving soon and can't make many (if any) more trips to the library, I decided to get a book of his short stories. I think it's because of the variety, but other than that, maybe it's because I couldn't decide on a novel.

After reading it, one thing sticks in my mind: the prose is fantastic. Especially the Teaser Tuesday quote that I shared with you. Throughout the book, the prose is understated and beautiful. In fact, the whole book feels understated. The plot is intriguing, but we are overloaded with details. We get the bare minimum (and sometimes it feels less than that), and then we're left to draw our own conclusions. All these result in stories that feel "alive" with the possibilities of what had/will happen/is happening.

Oh, and if you've read The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, his entry "Buscard's Murrain" is inside. And I don't know if it's a sly reference to the book, but in one of the stories, called "The Ball Room", one character hallucinates that there is always one more child in the ball room than there really is, which is a bit like "Worsley's Supplement" in the book.

I think the most interesting story in the whole book would be " 'Tis the Season", where Christmas has become commercialised to the extent that things like mistletoe and eggnog (what is eggnog?) and Christmas trees have been trademarked/copyrighted. Of course, this implies that society has fallen to such a state that they've forgotten the true meaning of Christmas but only focus on the rampant commercialisation. Hmm... how familiar does this sound?

A word of warning though, the language in this book can become very explicit, with a lot of swear words (this happens most in a few stories). I cringed a few times when I had to read expletives every two or three sentences and I will never understand why it's so necessary. So, I'd recommend that only older (by older I mean late teens) readers (that hopefully won't be influenced to emulate them) read this. Plus, the stories are somehow scary, which is why a. for older readers and b. not so smart to read it before bed (I know, I tried it).

First Physical Book Review Copy

Guess who's over-the-moon with happiness? Yes, it's me! Less than an hour ago (less than half-an-hour ago in fact), the DHL person came to my door with a package. It looks like this:

And the close up shows that Zondervan is the one who sent it to me~
This is the first time that I got a physical review copy. For most, Singapore is too far to mail something to, which is why I'm so happy. While ebook copies are good too, my heart lies with the printed word. I'm sure you're wondering about the book (why look at the package? Show us the goods!). Well, it's a really lovely hardback copy:
I haven't read the book yet so I can't tell you the synopsis, but after reading the leaflet/insert, I found a book trailer, so you can watch that instead of reading a synopsis. But if you don't want to, my sister summed up the synopsis she read with ""half angel half human got love story. I like."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Merely Mystery Reading Challenge - Death and the Maiden by Frank Tallis

It's 1903, which means for those of use living in the "future", WWI will start soon. But in Vienna, Dr Max Liebermann sees the anti-Semitic tension rising, and dismisses the uprising in Serbia. But all these big picture events don't matter, what this book is concerned with is to find the murderer of the famous opera diva Ida Rosenkrantz.

If you've read this series before, you'll know that this series uses psychology, or psychology as it was understood then to solve crimes. Dr Liebermann is a musical psychologist, who offers consultation to his friend Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt. He (Dr Liebermann), is also a big fan of Freud, which is why most of the interpretations regarding the character of the victim/suspects go through a Freudian analysis. And for some reason, I felt that Dr Freud appeared the most in this book (but then again, I haven't read the whole series).

This series was very interesting, especially with the ending. I won't give spoilers (please please please don't let what I write be a spoiler), but suffice to say, this is one time where justice as we understand it is made to metaphorically bow down to a higher power. Rheinhardt is made to make a tough choice in this case, and I'm actually happy to see that he chooses his family ahead of his work.

And if you're a Dr Liebermann/Amelia fan, just prepare yourself for good news. And what I can say is "at last!".

Apart from all that, the other thing I found interesting was the appearance of religion. Dr Liebermann is a Jew, but claims not to believe in a God, yet I have this persistent feeling that he hungers for God. Of course, Freudian theories will never allow him to say that. Apart from this internal conflict that may exist only because I over-analyse, I thought that the anti-Semetism was very well portrayed. I'm not sure how it was in that era, but it felt real, the slow but sure rise in anti-Jewish sentiments.

Of course, the descriptions of music, food and the general evocation of the place was excellent. I don't really need to talk about it.

Since I'm using this as part of the Merely Mystery Reading Challenge, I could classify this under either the Historical or the Psychological Suspense. Can I use both?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire by H. W. Crocker III

Since I was at the Embassy of Japan to do my visa on Monday, I decided to stop by my aunt's house. And then came back with 4 books (and I have to return them before I leave). One of them is this one - The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire.

Now, Singapore was once a British Colony, and then WWII happened, after which, most people decided that they didn't want to work for the British anymore and the struggle for Independence began. Right now, with all our colonial hang-ups, we tend to have two ways of looking at the ang mohs (a slang that includes all white people): as infallible people or as, well, it's not so nice to articulate. But generally, the British Empire isn't seen as such a good thing, and we do value our independence dearly.

Hence, the political incorrectness of this book. I don't know how many people realise this (it took me a few years), but most history books are biased. And no, I'm not just talking about the Japanese history textbook case. Most historians write from a certain perspective (e.g. revisionist, the only term I can remember), and they have different ways of interpreting certain historical events. So in this book, expect an overwhelmingly positive interpretation of the events that occurred during the British Empire.

It's not very easy to separate your emotional bias from your writing. Adjectives or other descriptive words are bound to exist and they will colour the interpretation of events. I suppose the only possible way to be objective is to just study dates and numbers. But really, history is more interesting when you consider things like "so who was right? Was this good for ____?" and so on and so forth. I suppose that the advantage of the title is that it prepares the reader for the bias of the book. And one of the things I can't stand in non-fiction is if a book that has a strong bias tries to masquerade itself as objective (hypocrisy never wins respect).

The book is entertaining and well-written. It's divided into eight sections according to the different territories. Each section begins with an overview of the territory and then subsequent chapter examines some key/significant people (essentially, mini-biographies), complete with quotes and sidebars.

You may feel that the book is selective in facts (well, it has too, or it'll be too long) or that it shouldn't support the colonialists so ardently. In that case, since it disagrees with your sensibilities, don't bother reading it, why anger yourself on purpose? But if you're looking for a book that prevents a rather different view of the empire, perhaps to get a more objective view, you really should give this book a try.

Teaser Tuesday - Looking for Jake

As per my friend's suggestion, I'm reading more China Mieville. I don't know if I can read more, because I hear English books are very hard to find in Japan... Anyway, I'm now reading his short story collection, Looking for Jake. Today's teaser comes from the first story in the book:

"In Bhopal, Union Carbide vomited up a torturing, killing bile. In Chernobyl the fallout was a more insidious cellular terrorism.

And now, Kilburn errupts with vague entropy." (Page 11)
I know it's 3 sentences, but I didn't know which one to cut! I'm loving the writing in this book~

Monday, March 5, 2012

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

If I remember correctly, this was one of the books recommended by Goodreads. And woah, were they accurate! I loved this book.

Wildwood Dancing takes place in Romania, as Jena (Jenica) and her four sisters are left alone for the winter while their father goes out to heal. During this time, a tragedy happens and their cousin Cezar, starts to exert his control over both his land and theirs.

That short summary may sound boring, but it's not. Especially if you love fairy tales like me. The book is based mainly on the 12 Dancing Princesses (but with 5 girls - maybe it's because they don't want a huge age gap? Or the O.o-ness of giving birth 12 times?) but there are pieces of other fairy tales inside. I saw a little bit of The Frog Prince, a little bit of the beginning of Beauty and the Beast (in the final meeting of Cezar, Costi and Jena) and of course, there is the Other World, full of dwarf's and fairies and vampires.

I loved the main character- Jena. She likes to think herself as practical (which she is), but she's also a bit of a romantic at heart. She cares for her siblings, and I really admire the way she took care of them the whole time. Honestly, she behaved way more like a firstborn child than the actual first born (Tati).

I didn't like Tati so much. In fact, she was my least favourite character. What kind of girl falls in love at first sight and then spends the rest of the book wasting away? (Ok, but name me one other girl within the book) The whole love-at-first-sight thing would have actually been sweet if it weren't for the fact that Tati ended up neglecting her role as the oldest sister to pine over Sorrow (her true love). Hello, your family is in the midst of a crisis, pull yourself together and help out! I was really annoyed when I found out that because of her "love", she ended up not teaching her younger sisters, leading them to think that they had done something wrong. This may be the older-sis in me talking, but really, don't be such a wimp. She almost doesn't deserve the happy ending that she gets.

Speaking of happy endings, Jena does get hers. While it's a bit unrealistic for a 15 year old girl to find a happily ever after without invoking some "..." this book manages to overcome it. That's mainly because unlike a lot of books, Jena and her love (not giving names in order to avoid spoilers) were best friends first, which would explain why their love was real. It wasn't some whirlwind romance -coughTatiandSorrowcough- it was based on friendship. Yup, you can go "awww" now.

When all's said and done, this book is fantastic. I loved (most of) the characters (and the one I didn't, well, it's just me) and the plot was fantastic. If you like fairy tales, you really need to read this book.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Grave Mercy R. L. LaFevers (ARC)

The only reason why I have a copy of this book to read is because there was a 2 day special on NetGalley. And in an interesting coincidence, I finished reading this book exactly one month before it comes out (April 3 2012).

And in a nutshell, this book was excellent! Although it was fairly long for a short story (more than 500 pages), the pages flew by quickly. The story centers around Ismae, who was rescued from what would have been (to say the least) a terrible marriage and brought to the convent of St. Mortain, the god/saint of death, and taught how to be an assassin. After about 3 years, she gets sent to court to protect the Duchess (who's slightly less than 13) and finds that the convent may not be totally correct in all matters after all.

Of course, she also falls in love with Duval. I realised that most romance plots can be divided into two main categories (there may be others, but they don't appear that often). The first one, which is infamously characterised in Twilight, is the insta-love. This also appears in other stories like Die For Me and can get cliched at times. The second one is what Ismae and Duval fall under: hate-at-first sight then love. One similar example is Interrupted (Allie spends her time arguing/insulting Sam and then they fall in love). Like the first type, it can be cliched. While Grave Mercy went perilously close to this line (into cliched territory), especially with the amount of argueing they did at first, but generally, it was a very sweet romance.

But what I liked best was the intrigued. The Duchess (to be) Anne was wonderfully portrayed. I did some reading up, and while she eventually married two French Kings, this book gave her a happier ending. She's the kind of person that has an "old soul". She's mature, but still has the vulnerability of youth, and is an extremely likable character. In fact, she's my favourite character.

Judging from the fact that his is "His Fair Assassins #1", I'm guessing that there is going to be 3 books (has this been said already?). The next one is Sybella, but I think the third book would be about Annith. But sadly, I'm going to have to wait a year for the second book and more for the third. I'm just happy that at least each story can stand as a separate novel or the wait would be unbearable.

Disclaimer: I got this book from NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! 生日快乐!誕生日おめでとう!

In honor of his birthday, here's one of my favourite quotes (I hope I haven't used it). Unfortunately, I can't quote the whole poem because that would be the whole book. Which I'm sure is somehow copyright infringement. So, here's a small quote:

"You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guarantted)"
This is from Oh, The Places You'll Go. Although, having been looking through past photos, this is the place where I want to go now:

This pretty little spot is called Huis Ten Bosch in Japan, and it reminds me of my Secondary 3 trip, which in turn inspires feelings of sehnsucht (a German word which according to Lewis is the "inconsolable longing" in the human heart for "we know what not")
But anyway, if you do not own a copy of Oh, The Places You'll Go, I suggest you go and buy one right now. It's a wonderful poem and has way more meaning that just a kid's poem. It was actually recited at my school prom night in honour of our graduation (and this is when I was 18), so it's really for both grown-ups and kids.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Promise Me Eternity by Ian Fox

What a difference a chapter makes. Chapter 2 of Promise Me Eternity is a normal blah introduction to the main character. Thankfully, the feeling of drama and suspense from Chapter 1 is carried over, making the book a really exciting read.

When the author Ian Fox emailed me to ask if I wanted a copy for review, I was intrigued by the promise of a gripping storyline.

The book may sound boring at first: unfulfilled neurosurgeon meets devastatingly beautiful woman, both parties are married, of course. But add in a Mafia connection and it suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting.

Initially, Dr Patterson has the typical life of a neurosurgeon, except for the fact that he's obsessed with his research and his wife is getting impatient with their lack of money. Until one day, he saves the lives of businessman/gangster Carlo, who, out of gratefulness, invited him to his house for dinner.

The book is engaging, and I finished it relatively quickly. What I liked most were the characters. Dr Patterson is human, and that makes the events of the book plausible. That being said, most of the characters, while captivating, were really annoying people I wouldn't want to meet in real life. E.g. Helen his wife, Anita the anaesthesiologist, Jerry the assistant surgeon

Plus, there were some characters whose existence I didn't understand. What was the use of Dr Miner? He didn't have much relevancy to the main plot.... But I suppose he was needed to the twist at the end. And yes, the twist was good.

Speaking of the ending, it was good. Not a perfectly happy ending, but in the circumstances, that would have been unrealistic. But there were several characters that I thought deserved a harsher consequence :p

All in all, I like this book. It has a very strong start that created excitement and was sustained throughout the book.

Disclaimer: If you didn't read paragraph 2, then you should know that I got this book for free. The review is my own opinion though.