Friday, August 31, 2012

The Dark Faith by Jeremiah W. Montogomery

I almost declined to review this book. Almost. In the first chapter, I got very confused as to what type of book this was, was it a Christian novel? The prologue promised a very interesting story, but the True Faith was Christianity in a thinly veiled disguise. The words were too similar to the prayers and liturgy of Christianity, but I wasn't certain if the theology was sound.

But I needn't have worried. After searching the web, I found out that the author, Jeremiah W. Montogomery and settled down to read the story, happy to find out that I wouldn't have to start worrying about theological issues in a fantasy story.

And what a fantasy story. The True Faith may be Christianity in disguise, but the Dark Faith is wholly original. Well, it doesn't bring to mind any religion I know. It's blood-thirsty, but tries to disguise itself as good. It's aims are evil and it's willing to do anything to acheive them.

Plot-wise, the book is quite sparse. After reading it, I could probably summarise the whole plot into one short paragraph. But, I'm hoping that this is the first book in a series, because the world-building was awesome. While the novel is complete as a stand-alone, I would love to read more about the entrancing characters introduced in this book. And I can totally think of how some sub-plots (like the translation), can be developed into another separate story. The best way I can put it, is that I hope this becomes something like the Discworld Series (or Krista McGee's books - I'm still on a high from her latest book, Where I Belong), standalone books in the same universe with the same (and some new) characters.

Thinking about it, the plot isn't so much short, as that it's detailed. The huge arc that ties the whole story together is short, but there are lots of sub-plots that connect it together. It's not that long a read (about 350 pages), but it's incredibly satisfying.

There are probably a lot of lessons that I can draw out from this book, but the one about forgiveness left the deepest impression on me. Fairly early on in the book, Morumus is tasked with teaching Oethur, the son of the king whose people killed his father (or so he believes). Because of this, he's unfair in teaching him, and they argue. But when Morumus realises how hypocritical he's been, well, that was a very touching moment for me. I realised that forgiveness is necessary to release bitterness, and that if you don't have true forgiveness, what you have is just thinly disguised hypocritical actions.

If you're looking for a really deep and interesting Christian fantasy, this is the book for you.

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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bookstore Tourism by Larry Portzline

There is no cover so I took a screenshot
of the first page XD
I first heard of this when, well I forgot when. I just know that recently, I was googling and ended up stumbling upon the concept of Bookstore tourism. Needless to say, I was very intrigued by the concept. And thankfully, the founder of this concept Larry Portzline, has a free ebook primer about Bookstore Tourism. You can download it for free here

The book is divided into five parts - a history of the concept, an explanation, a book industry primer, a "how-to" guide and a suggestion of great towns to tour. It's a rather short book (104 pages in pdf format), but full of lots of interesting and useful information.

Simply put, Bookstore tourism is when you go around town visiting different and unique indie bookstores rather than the normal tourist destinations. It's aimed at the bibliophile (like me) and is supposed to help support the indie bookstores by bringing them customers.

One of my favourite parts of the book was the examples of successful and unique indie bookstores. It proves that the idea of selling physical books isn't outdated, and like any business, a USP (Unique Selling Point) is needed.

The book is interesting and simple. The suggestions given are also really practical and can be put into practice. Personally, I can see this happening in Singapore as we do have a few indie bookshops that should be more well-known - such as Littered With Books. But as yet, I can't think of how to use this idea in Japan. But that's because so far, I've only been shopping at BookOff and I haven't seen any unique stores yet.

For some reason, I'm very very inspired after reading this. I want to organise something like this when I grow up (or when I find some indie bookstores in Japan). From the author's personal experience, this sounds really fun, and doesn't need to be a full-time commitment. And personally, if it's going to let me buy more books, I'm all for this concept!

So, who's interested?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Enchanted Truth by Kym Petrie (ARC)

This book was subtitled - A Modern Fairy Tale for Grown Up Girls. Of course, I had to try and read it, after all, it's about fairy-tales. This book is really short (less than 50 pages) so I'll sum it up in one sentence for you - it's sweet but kind of insipid.

The whole motive of this story is that we shouldn't depend on a guy to make us happy. It's a moral that I certainly agree with, but I think you could make a more entertaining story by making this more like a chic-lit book than by writing it like a traditional fairy tale. Why? Because there's very little conflict (there's self-discovery, but it comes with little to no conflict), and that makes the book fairly boring.

In addition, the world building was confused. Is this the traditional fairy tale? But then there are elements of the modern world. Is it a mix of the two? Well, it's not very clearly said, although I suspect that it's meant to be a fairy-tale world with echos of ours, but it did confuse me a little bit.

To sum it up, I would say that this book is one you read when you really need to hammer in the message that "I don't need a guy to make me complete". If you're looking for something light to read, then well, there are other books.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - Liberator by Bryan Davis

Have you ever felt like you don't want a book to end? Well, I deal with this "problem" by putting down the book and day-dreaming about it. It's a bad bad habit and I should really stop it. So, to make myself continue reading it, I'm going to use a teaser from Liberator by Bryan Davis:

"But they couldn't feel the freedom. They didn't know what it was like to walk away from a master's cave, or a pheterone mine, or a stone-movers' raft without the burden of knowing that they had to return the next day and the next, as would their children for generations untold. Yes, the escaped children danced in the stream, but until slaves on Starlight could feel the cool water running between their own toes, the vision was no more than a dream, a tale whispered to children at bedtime to keep them from crying out at night." (page 148)

Doesn't it sound great? If you haven't heard of this series, you can read my reviews of the first three books: Starlighter, Warrior and Diviner. To enter my giveaway to win your own copy of Starlighter and Diviner, click here.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. What's your teaser this week?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Two and Twenty Dark Tales by Georgia McBride and Michelle Zink

I love fairytales and their retellings. Granted, I prefer the re-tellings with happy endings, but there's something beautiful with the sad, darker ones. This collection, Two and Twenty Dark Tales takes the familiar Mother Goose rhymes and expands each of them into a short story. The advance version from NetGalley didn't have all the stories to be published, but I want to talk about some of the stories.

As Blue As The Sky And Just As Old, a re-telling of the Taffy rhyme and Sing A Song of Six Pence (you shouldn't need me to tell you where this is from) are the first two books in this anthology. Unfortunately, they're also two of the weakest books that I read. I admit I wasn't familiar with the Taffy Rhyme, but still, I understood very little of the story. Sing A Song of Six Pence had the same problem - both stories suffered from too little information. I had this unpleasant feeling that I was missing some important information the whole time I was reading those stories.

Sea of Dew was actually really sad. The original rhyme was quite long, but the author managed to turn it into a touching story. It's rather bleak though.

I think my favourite story was Tick Tok, about the mouse that ran up the clock. Even though it was short, it had an interesting plot, strong characters and a nice twist at the end.

Little Miss Muffet was also quite interesting. It had a completely different spin on the spider. The ending however, was a bit unbelievable. I didn't expect the twist, but I should say that wasn't much warning/hints as to the twist.

Wee Willie Winkie was one of the few stories where I didn't like the narrator. She was just too stubborn, and rude the the adults (I have this bias against rude protagonists). If you ask me, she got what came to her, which made it one of the endings that I was actually pleased at.

Overall, this is a collection of interesting stories. Not all are good, and if you just read the first two, you may not think much of the book. But overall, there are a more than a few gems in this book that make it a good read.

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

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Diviner by Bryan Davis

I decided to welcome my return from camp by having the giveaway countdown move towards the the second last milestone. After this, the giveaway will end a week after my review of Liberator. If you haven't entered my giveaway yet, you can do so here.

In Diviner, Koren has gone to the dark side. She's now (unwillingly) helping Taushin. Meanwhile, Jason, Elyssa and the rest are desperately trying to bring in the army from Major Four/Darksphere and rescue the humans. The two groups are moving towards an inevietable clash.

After my review of Warrior, Bryan Davis commented that I was being too harsh on Koren. That is true. I'm not sure why, but I judge her the most harshly. I think the reason is that I see the parts of myself that I don't like in her. Koren is somtimes impulsive, sometimes proud and (the most important part to me), sometimes prone to thinking the ends justify the means. In short, if I were here, I'd probably make the same mistakes that I call stupid.

As for the other characters, well, there was an interesting (if small) step further in Jason and Elyssa's relationship. Up until this book, I honestly didn't know who Jason would end up with because it seems like all three girls (Cassabrie, Elyssa and Koren) like him. And while I totally support this pairing, I'm glad that it's a small part of the book. It feels more natural this way, and it doesn't impede the story; I really hate it when the romance hijacks a good plot.

Compared to the first book, Magmar has developed a lot, and you can understand Arxad's character a lot more. Some backstory is revealed and I think that it provides a new dimension to them. Apart from that, Orion (the "bad guy" from the first book) is also given more back-story and well, he seems less evil than confused. Really cool and believable character developement.

With regards to theme, my biggest takeaway from this book was how seductively good evil can be. I have this feeling that Taushin is bad, but sometimes, I really really want to agree with his logic. It's in the second book as well, but I felt the full force of it here for some reason. It's a timely reminder that as fallen humans, we want to agree with the logic of the world rather than the logic of God. But, one road leads to hell and the other to heaven.

If you've read and loved the first two books in this series, you definitely have to get this book. And after reading it, you'll be very impatient to continue with Liberator. These books definitely belong in a set, it's hard to make sense of the series if you jump in half-way.

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov

Everyone knows that practice makes perfect. But, practicing the correct way is as, if not more, important. That, at least, is the premise of the book and I really believe it's true.

What this book does is to distill the tenets of effective practicing into 42 rules, explaining each rule in it's own chapter. What I want to do for this review is to looking at the rules that struck me the most (and there are quite a bit) and explore why. Warning: The "why" is going to be all about Kendo <3 (On a completely unrelated note, I will be going to Kendo camp from tomorrow onwards ;) )

Rule 3: Stress learning skills all the way to automaticity so that participants can use them automatically - and before they consciously decide to.

Definitely! Even in things like piano, it's only when you have memorised things like fingering that you can work on timing and expression (not that I ever mastered expression). In kendo, it's things like practicing your footwork so you can work on your stroke. Or practicing the stroke so you can work on more advanced footwork (I cannot do fumi-komi, a kind of footstamp).

Rule 15: Use modeling to help learners replicate, and use description to help them understand.

Modeling is when you watch someone and learn from what I do. I think it's self-explanatory as to why it's effective, but really, the best way for me to see how to do the stroke correctly is if my seniors show me how to do it before making me do it.

Rule 20: Model complex skills one step at a time and repeat when necessary.

Case in point: Kiri-kaeshi, a sequence of hits. If we started with it straight away, I would not have been able to do it. But since we first practiced the feet, then the stroke, it became a matter of putting it together rather than trying to do everything at one go.

Rule 25: Speed of consequence beats strength of consequence pretty much every time. Give feedback right away, even if it's imperfect.

I get feedback right away. ^^ And if I don't, I ask for feedback.

Rule 27: Limit the amount of feedback you give; people can focus and use only a few things at a time.

I never really noticed this, but upon reflection, my seniors only tell me to work on one thing at a time. While I was worrying about my feet, they told me to focus on my stroke, and that the feet could be improved later.

Ok, I should stop here. Basically, I believe the things in this book because I can see that they are effective. As for the things that I've not tried, I really want to try. It's definitely something to keep in mind during Kendo camp at least :D

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

See you all after Kendo camp (in a week)!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Merely Mystery Reading Challenge - The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry

As you may have guessed, I've been trying to read different types of mysteries. And after searching for a long time, I finally found a caper mystery - The Ransom of Red Chief, a short story by O. Henry.

A caper mystery, if you don't know, is a mystery that features the criminals as the main story. In this story, the main characters are the two criminals Bill and Sam, who appear tough, but have their weak spot. Although in reality, I think that would be anyone's weak spot.

In this story, our two protagonists/criminals are trying to raise money to commit another crime. They do this by kidnapping the son of a prominent citizen in a small town. However, their victim proves to be more they can handle. In fact, they soon realise that most people do not want their little victime back, they're much happier with the brat out of the way.

This short story is really short. According to Readability, it takes about 16 minutes to read. It took me about five minutes to read though. Well, I suppose that if you're looking for a short but entertaining story to read, you should definitely give this a go. I do wish that this was a full length novel, but it would be way too cruel to Bill and Sam.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

So, is it racist?

So recently, I heard that both the Elsie Dinsmore series and the G.A. Henty series are racist. Frankly, I was quite surprised because I've read both books before and I've never noticed the racism. Since I had a G.A Henty I was trying to finish, I figured I should read both critically (paying particular attention to any racist overtones).

Elsie Dinsmore is a rich heiress who happens to be a devoted Christian. She also lives with her extended family, where they emotionally abuse/bully poor Elsie, who bears all things with a patient and meek spirit. Basically, she is as near to a Mary Sue as one can be, except that she cries so often she annoys everyone. Strangely, though, I found the book addictive.

As for the charge of racism, there is, in this first book, a comment by a black slave that Jesus loves her as though she is white. But on the other hand, we do have a white character treating her like a human being, saying
"How do you do, Aunt Chloe? I am very glad to know you, since Elsie tells me you are a servant of the same blessed Master whom I love and try to serve."
So, I'm quite willing to say that in the first book at least, there isn't much overt racism, and what there is, I can safely attribute to the mis-guided values of that time. At the very least, there are characters who (although they accept the concept of racism), treat the black slaves as human.

What disturbed me more was the strong patriachism in the book. To me, Elsie's father is much too overbearing, a fact that is commented on by the other characters. However, by presenting this as good, I'm uncomfortably reminded of the teachings of To Train Up A Child. But if I remember correctly, he does change in the later books. Still, quotes like this is uncomfortable:
"I love you all the better for never letting me have my own way, but always making me obey and keep to the rules."
Perhaps there's a more wholesome meaning, but in the light of the 21st century, I can't say it has a very positive message.

The main problem with Elsie is that it presents a role-model for girls, which means that it will probably appeal more to the pre-teen. However, due to some elements of racism and patriachy, I would only recommend it to older girls who have more discernment but may not want to read such saccharine books. I do wonder who would want to read the book (apart from the weird kids like me)

G.A Henty's stories, on the other hand, are aimed at boys and are super patriotic, to the point of offending those that aren't British. As a result, all his heroes are blond boys. Thankfully, this is believable in The Dragon and the Raven, unlike The Cat of Bubastes (really, a blond boy in Ancient Egypt?). Apart from being suspiciously similar to English boys, his characters also approach the Gary Sue character, being brave and heroic and .. and ... zzzz. I actually read it more for the descriptions of the period of the time than for the characters.

The Dragon and the Raven is set in the period of King Alfred, where the Saxons were fighting against the Danes (the Vikings). It's got a lot of fighting scense, which are long and to be honest, kind of boring, but is quite an interesting read nonetheless. However, early on in the book, our protagonist (not even a supporting character) speaks against equality.

There is always a romance in these books, and thankfully, the romance between Edmund (the protagonist) and his love interest is more believable because it wasn't added last minute. I actually knew it was coming, although I'd have liked it to be a bit more developed (well, at least he fought for her).
"Why father" Edmund exclaimed in astonisment, "surely you would not have all men free and equal."

"The idea seems strange to you, no doubt, Edmund, and it appears only natural that some men should be born to rule and others to labour.... their race is no doubt inferior to our own, Edmund."
But compared to the mis-understood theory of Christianity in the book, the racism is almost excusable. Although all characters claim to be Christians, they don't seem to have any real love of Christ or understanding of Christianity. There is no reference to the changing power of the Grace of Christ, but rather, the main impetus for conversions would be the "peacefulness" of Christianity. It's not the peace that surpasess understanding, but mainly the lack of war. I think this next quote sums up the author's understanding of Christianity, that it is for civilised people rather than being Truth that is for everyone:
"So long as men's lives are spent wholly in war they may worship gods like yours, but when once settled in peaceful pursuits they will assuredly recognise the beauty and holiness of the life of Christ."
Seriously, "beauty and holiness"? It should be something like "Christ died for all men, and we believe that when you experience the truth of this, you will come to love him as we do". But then again, none of the characters appears to have understood the heart of Christianity (but they definitely have the trappings of religion down pat).

For all her faults, at least Elsie does love Christ (although she verges on legalistic most of the time).

Before I forget, I won't be posting for the next 3 days because I'm going away for camp! (I have another camp shortly after that :D) So in the meantime, have fun, read books and join my giveaway!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Teaser Tuesday - Beloved by Toni Morrison

After so long, I'm back with a Teaser Tuesday! Today, my teaser is from Beloved by Toni Morrison. I've been very distracted about reading it, but hopefully, I'll hunker down and finish it in one go! (I can't believe I'm being distracted by study during the summer vacation ._.)

"Now, she is crying because she has no self. Death is a skipped meal compared to this."

Hmm.... that's quite interesting. I quite like Denver (the character that this quote is about), and this just makes here more interesting. So, what's your teaser?

On an unrelated note, I'm hosting a giveaway, open to anyone from anywhere! You can find out the details and enter here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Aldo's Fantastical Movie Palace by Jonathan Friesen

This book says it's juvenile fiction. Ignore that and read this book anyway. This isn't some shallow and/or saccharine book, it's a tightly written book suitable for everyone.

The book centers around Chloe, a girl who, due to a tragic accident, is permanently scarred. Due to her scars, she's teased. And then she meets Nick, the new boy at school, who also happens to be blind. What normally happens is that the two outcasts become friends, and then go on an adventure together where they build up their friendship and learn to accept themselves.

Well, this book is not like that.

Nick, for one thing, isn't a very pleasant character. He does undergo a character change, but it happens fairly late in the book. In fact, for the first few chapters, you don't seen any friendship developing, just a grudging tolerance of each other. In fact, if it wasn't for Nick's screenplay, Chloe and Nick wouldn't have talked as much as they did.

And when we do get into the magical world, both kids go their own way. It's clear that they have their own journey to undergo and anyway, Nick is the one who chooses to leave (due to his self-imagined superiority). Surprisingly, this works. Chloe and Nick are reunited later, but in the meantime, the reader can focus on Chloe's growth; and Chloe grows a lot.

As a main character, Chloe is wonderful. She's still hurting from the accident, and while the book is about her overcoming her hurt, it's not done in a predictable way. Chloe's journey is fascinating and endearing. I was rooting for her the whole way.

The world building is fantastic. The normal world is familiar to us, but populated with interesting characters. The magical world in this book is original, and has hidden depths to it. I would say more, but I think I gave enough of the book away.

In short, if you like fantasy, you should definitely read this book. It's suitable for all ages, but don't let it's age categorisation mislead you. It's got depths to it that didn't appear to me at first gland.

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

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Joy of X by Steven Strogatz

I will be the first to admit that I'm not good at math. Despite taking Higher Maths in IB (I just practiced so many times that I somehow knew how to solve the question), I still didn't understand a lot of concepts. And despite all the quotes about how math was beautiful in my textbooks, I still just don't get it. And I suspect that this problem isn't unique to me a lone. So, I was really intrigued by the promise of this book to be a guided (and fun) tour of math.

The Joy of X, unlike what the name suggests, doesn't start from algebra. Instead, it starts from what we all consider basic - the concept of numbers. From there, we move on to addition and subtraction, and the book gets progressively harder as we head into algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics and finally, the biggest number of them all, infinity.

If you're looking for a "how-to" guide book, then this book probably isn't for you. After reading it, I can't say that I fully understand all the basic concepts in maths, but I am much more interested in them now. Each chapter is short and sweet, and I suspect that the fact that each chapter is fairly short means that there is less time to understand each concept. So what we do get is a very interesting introduction to the concept, designed to spark your interest.

And really, with the internet (and all the math textbooks lying around. Oh, you already burned yours?), you can always study the topics that interest you in-depth by yourself. To me, the true gem of this book is how it encouraged me to regain hope that math can be fun and rewarding.

I would say, that if you're looking for a fun and interesting explanation on one particular topic, you should check out the "manga-guide" series (e.g. The Manga Guide to Statistics). But if you're looking to encourage yourself after feeling like you will never understand mathematics, or simply want to regain a spark of curiosity in maths (doesn't it too often feel like the mere memorisation of formulae?), then you should definitely pick up this book.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Long Reads #9

Woah, I've been cutting down on the number of essays I've been reading lately. Maybe it's because I don't have wifi, so I can't update.... :/ Anyway, the (relatively few) essays I've read:

My Father and Me: A Spy Story by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee - Contrary to what it's title might suggest, this isn't a work of fiction. It actually details how a Benedict turncoat got his son to betray his country as well. It's actually really sad because at it's very core, it's a tale of how petty revenge led to the destruction of another innocent life. I really have no sympathy for the father, while I find the son quite pitiable.

Vanishing Voices by Russ Rymer - I'm either unlucky or lucky to be the heir of two very widely spoken languages - English and Chinese (Mandarin and Hokkien). Which is why, I never knew that there were languages that were endangered or even about to be extinct (if not extinct). It's really a pity, because I think there are words in every language that are untranslatable, and that we should preserve languages if only to hold on to that special way of viewing the world. And speaking of language, as I start to finish books in Japanese (I need to finish them....), I will be introducing bilingual reviews (English and Japanese, not Chinese!).

Does Meritocracy Work? by Ross Douthat - To me, it's natural that I should go to university. And I dare say that it's the norm for a lot of you. But I never knew that universities could be so unfair in their admissions. (Ok, this is about US universities, but I worry on behalf of my friends). But I don't know how we can improve on their process, or to even give a critique because I'm not well-informed enough. Still, this is an article everyone should read, because it's food for thought.

Well, three articles this week. But I did write more about each article. So I guess the ideal number would be between three and seven, to strike a balance between quantity and depth.

So, what did you read this week?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Maven Fairy Godmother by Charlotte Henley Babb

Alright, it's time for part 2 of the Maven Fairy Godmother blog tour! This time, I'm reviewing Maven Fairy Godmother: Through the Veil by Charlotte Henley Babb. It's a really humourous story about fairy tales (and fairy godmothers). If you missed the first part, you can read the guest post by the Ms Charlotte Henley Babb here.

Ok, so our novel begins with our protagonist Maven, who's out-of-luck (and a job). But her day starts to get better after she sees a book about wishin. Meanwhile, Fiona, the head-honcho of fairy-godmothers looks worried and before you know it, she's hired Maven to become a fairy-godmother (in training).

Maven, being a modern women from Mudane (commonly referred to as "the world we live in"), brings a very different perspective. She causes the unlikable Cinderella character to run away from the prince (and into the arms of the caterer), encourages the girl who wishes for small feet (so the prince will fall in love with her) to work for the princess instead, and generally behaves in an unconventional manner.

The characters in this book are, on the whole, excellent. Maven is marvellously portrayed, as is Tulip the (other) fairy godmother in training. So is, for that matter, everyone involved in the castle plot - Vivienne (sp?), cook, Daisy, Henry, H.R. All of them are really amusing and on the whole sympathetic characters.

Less easy to understand characters are Belle and Fiona (although I have a sneaking suspiscion this might be on purpose). They're entertaining, but I don't quite fully understand them.

And then, there are the two who's existence I don't see the point of - Jones (a human from Mudane who keeps passing through) and the Snake (really, is it good or bad?). Well, I think they played a part in the plot, but I wasn't sure how and most of the time, I preferred to forget about them. Oh well, they weren't very key characters anyway.

Through this book, I was made to think about the role of fairy-tales. For some reason, even though I grew up on sanitised Disney versions of fairytales, I never ever wanted to wait for a Prince Charming. In fact, I went around telling everyone that girls were better than boys (and got into a lot of fights with boys bigger than me as a result). So, I've never actually considered the implications of fairy-tales. Well, leaving out the question of weather the girls in the fairytales are likable, why is it that only young beautiful girls get to make wishes (meaning I don't fufill the requirements to get a wish). And what about the guys making a wish?

Well, if you haven't thought about this, this book will get you to think, and explore with you some of the possible answers.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Warrior by Bryan Davis

Alright, the countdown is moving again! If you haven't entered to win your copy of Starlighter and Diviner, you can enter here.

This book continues from Starlighter, when Taushin, the prophesised prince from the black egg hatches. He's gotten a hold of Koren and is using chains to force her to love him. Meanwhile, Jason and Elyssa are trying to free the slaves while Randall and Tibalt have returned to Darksphere/Major Four to try and raise an army.

The tightly written storyline from Starlighter continues in Diviner, and I don't think I need to say anymore about it. What interests me are the characters and themes in the book.

As for characters, well, my favourite character is shaping up to be Elyssa. She's no Mary-Sue, but she's got a lot of admirable qualities. Koren, on the other hand, I wanted to slap at various points of time. Sometimes, that girl just wallows in self-pity. On the other hand, the other Starlighter, Cassibrie, is interesting, and I wonder what she's going to do.

On the other hand, Randall has moved from the selfish and stuck up boy first seen in Starlighter to a courageous person. Jason, having been good from the start, has been maturing through his journey. He makes not a few mistakes, but he always shows that his heart is in the right place (okok, I admit that Koren has her heart in the right place most of the time. I have to reasonable explanation as to why she sometimes irks me).

Two of the themes in this series are love and free will. Others include sacrifice and courage, but I think that the idea of love and free will is the most prominent and interesting in this book. Thanks to Taushin, we get to here his twisted version of how chains can mean love. Koren, on the other hand, has to resist Taushin's seductive logic with what she knows to be true - that you can't force love.

The problem, therefore, lies in ignorance. If let's say, someone who doesn't know better wants to play with fire, is it better to place chains on him to prevent him from hurting himself? Is this called Love? And when you expand that concept to cover placing chains on someone to teach him to love (all outcomes are supposed to be positive here), it does get really confusing.

Here's what I think. I agree that love cannot be forced. I think that one of the reasons the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was placed in the garden was to let Adam and Eve choose to love God and obey his command by giving them the choice to do otherwise. God is a God of love, but He also wants us to love Him using our own free will, not using any sort of chains.

Needless to say, a book this thought-provoking should be read. Combined with a strong plot and well-rounded characters and there isn't much of a reason why you shouldn't read this book.

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Sir Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge - Going Postal

In a strange way, I started by reading Making Money, where Moist von Lipwig. Now, I went back to the beginning by reading Going Postal, the book that introduces us to Moist.

Here, Moist starts off as a condemned criminal who's given a second chance by Lord Vetinari. The only catch is that he has to take over the role of the Postmaster General of a more-or-less dead post office. And he has a golem following him around to make sure he doesn't try to escape.

Of course, escape is the only thing on his mind. But the longer he spends in the post office, the more he grows to like his role as a postmaster (or you know, he's slowly going insane). At any rate, by the end of the book, Moist is going to be proud to be who he is.

And what's a book without conflict? In this book, the enemy is Reacher Gilt, the man in charge of the clacks (a.k.a Telegram). There's some shady sabotage, which leads to a dramatic confrontation and a rather fitting ending.

Again, I'm astounded by my lack of Discworld knowledge. Why didn't I know about Moist before? He's clearly not a one-book character (I've read Making Money and I thought he was really endearing). Going Postal is the first book Moist appears in, which means that this is where his character develops.  All you should glean from this bit of information is that he's even more endearing in this book than Making Money. Terry Pratchett has gotten the "rogue with a heart of gold" stereotype down pat.

He's even managed to include hacker's into the plot! Personally, I'm very very bad at things like coding (I know, they've tried to teach me) and lots of things computer related, but it appears that Terry Pratchett has successfully taken the hacker stereotype and twisted it to fit Discworld. They're both familiar and unfamiliar, and in the light of Anonymous and Lulz, relevant.

 I really wanted to give a Ridcully quote, but it lasts several pages due to the fact that it's a series of conversations. But even if you don't like Moist, it's worth reading this book just to see Ridcully explode in anger (for the Unseen University fans) and to marvel at Lord Vetinari's methods of running a city (for the Lord Vetinari fans. I know you guys exist).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar children by Ransom Riggs

I have this very bad habit. I'll see a book that looks great and that I want to read, then forget about it. Especially so if I see reviews of it everywhere, I just kind of tune everything out. And I'm pretty sure that this book falls under this category. It's a mistake I regret making. This is a very compelling book, and before I knew it, I'd already finished reading it.

Basically, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs uses a series of photographs to trace the mystery of the Peculiar Children. It all starts when Jacob's grandfather Abe dies, and no one but Jacob saw the monster that killed him. This being the 21st century, he is diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder and eventually, convinces to let his parents to let him visit Wales in order to find closure (or you know, find out the truth behind the monsters).

When he gets there, it doesn't take very long before he finds the Home and its inhabitants. But his arrival has put all of them in danger, and the rest of the book deals with the children and how they deal with the threat.

The pictures were fascinating and enhanced the pleasure of reading the book. They were probably all faked in some way, but while reading, I wanted to believe that the photos were real. That the interpretations of the photos were true. But then, I'd get to the monsters and think "at least this is only fiction." It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words and this book proves that pictures can enhance the pleasure of reading a book.

While the plot may be a little slow at times, the book uses that to build up suspense. There was also a plot twist that I didn't see coming. Generally, the plot was strong, although I'm not quite sure as to the purpose of inserting the family troubles of Jacob into the book. It created a secondary plot that in my opinion wasn't fully resolved.

I heard that a sequel is in the works and I can't wait to read it. While I'm sure there are those that think the ending is an unnecessary cliffhanger, I thought it was more of an open ending (in the same way Huck Finn is an open ending). I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, but I didn't pull out my hair wondering "what's happening???" at the end. In fact, I didn't even know there was a sequel until I read about it.

Don't be like me. Remember to read this book.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Starring Me by Krista McGee

I first heard of Starring Me when I received an email from Ruthie who works at Thomas Nelson. She mentioned that I might have reviewed another one of their books called "There You'll Find Me", but after searching through the my archives, I couldn't find any trace of this book. Still, I decided to read Starring Me, since it sounded like an interesting story.

It was only when I started reading that I realised I had reviewed for Thomas Nelson before. It was for First Date  and Starring Me is the second in the series.

First Date centered around Addy, a shy girl who ended up on a TV show competing for a date with the president's son. It's essentially an excellent re-telling of the story of Esther. Starring Me, on the other hand, centers around Addy's good friend Kara, a girl who loves the limelight. In order to make it as an actress, she enters another similar show in hopes of landing a spot.

Most of the characters (and all lovable ones) from First Date appear in Starring Me, which was a really nice surprise. It wasn't just a cameo, they appeared fairly often and played a big part. Still, if you haven't read first date, you don't have to worry because enough back-story is given.

Apart from conventional narration, the book also inserts the scripts that Kara acts out between the chapters. Because the audition scenes are never described in detail, these scripts allow the reader to imagine what it must have been like.

The story was excellent. Kara is a lovable girl and I was rooting for her. The book used a sub-plot from First Date (i.e. Addy praying for Kara), and showed that God wants all of us to come to know Him. Kara doesn't have a dramatic "change-around" story, but she does show how God makes a difference even in the lives of 'good' people. And while her conversion was the main part of the story, it was never preachy and came across as very natural.

So basically, if you loved First Date, you have to read Starring Me.

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

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Blog Tour: Maven Fairy Godmother - Guest Post

Hi everyone! I'm here with another blog tour! Today, I'm really pleased to give you a guest post by Charlotte Henley Babb, the author of Maven Fairy Godmother. I'm going to be posting a review of this book later this week, so I won't say too much about it (lest I end up giving a review), but you really should give it a read. So without further ado....

Wonky Knowing

Typos are very instructive. I sometimes type letters in reverse order when my ideas get ahead of my fingers. Have you ever noticed that "wonk" is the opposite of "know"?

The first time I heard the word "wonky" was in the remake of The Fugitive with Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford. One of Jones' fellow marshals said that something was "wonky" about the Kimball case, and Jones complained about the use of words he didn't know. Yet he too knew that something was wrong, and he knew it in a way that he could not explain.

That's wonk.

My main character, Maven Morrigan, calls that kind of knowing her Bump of Direction, which does not so much orient her as to north and south, but gives her wonk--the knowing that comes from nowhere. Where is the place of knowing? Know-where? There is a collective unconscious, a oneness of All That Is, of which each of us is a node, a part, a connection, a neuron. Just as our brains are networks of neurons and synapses, and our thoughts are electrical charges that make repeated patterns across these networks, we ourselves are synapses in the consciousness of the Universe. We have our educated intelligence, that which we have learned from our shared reality, and we have wonk, that backflow of information that comes, not from the space outside our skin, but from the inner connection to the Universe, the Inner Being, the Higher Power...pick the name that works for you.

Wonk is the muse. Wonk is the information from the still small voice. Wonk is the knowing that passes understanding, but is nevertheless true. The information that comes intuitively is often hard to understand and apply, yet its truth is undeniable. A collection of information seems wonky when a piece or two is missing, or where the mental image of the puzzle box does not match the picture that the puzzle pieces make.

Making use of wonk is more difficult, unless you trust yourself and are not paranoid about getting intuitive information. Following a hunch, making some space for allowing wonky information to come is a new habit I intend to pursue. Kurt Goedel proved that you can't make a closed and internally consistent mathematical model that will explain everything. Some things just don't add up...and that's where the wonk comes in. Pay attention to it, because that's how you find the corners of the puzzle.

Charlotte Henley Babb is the author of Maven Fairy Godmother, a fractured fairy tale for women "of a certain age" and their younger sisters.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Longreads #8

Even though I skipped one week, I surprisingly don't have much articles to share. I guess that during my vacation, I read more books since I had long stretches of time (such as three-and-a-half hour bus rides). There's no theme, unlike the previous weeks but rather, it's a random collection of what catched my eye.

The Fragile Teenage Brain by Jonah Lehrer - The article connects both brain injuries and football together. I've never been a fan of football (rugby to those outside America), but after this, I really really don't want anyone I know to play football. At least in America, I don't Singapore is as dangerous.

Come As You Are by Alex Jung - Clothes make the man. Specific clothes make the man and other specific clothes make the women. But what happens if you mix it up? But amusingly, the only thing that stayed in my mind was the author's comment that drop-crotch pants were unusual. Well, not in Japan at least.

Neil Gaiman: Keynote Address - I never knew that Neil Gaiman had never graduated from university. But that was one fabulous speech nonetheless. I wish I was there to hear it. If you read only one article from this list, read this one. It's inspirational.

Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell - I still like Agatha Christie the best ;)

Amy Sohn Interview: Amy Sohn talks about being a working mother with a stay at home husband - I'm in a traditional family, but I don't actually see the problem with the mother working and the dad staying at home. It really depends on what strengths each person has. For example, my dad does the laundry at home.

Katharine Birbalsingh: 'I spoke at Tory conference so I must be evil' by Decca Aitkenhead - I never knew the education system in Britain was so serious. They seem really divided and well, no one comes across particularly well in the whole story. I wonder, have they even decided on what the aims of education are supposed to be?

The Life and Death of the Chosen One by Peter Wilkinson - I haven't heard of the Children of God cult, but now, I can't believe that I've never heard of them. The life story of Ricky Roderiguez is so sad, by being born into the cult, he didn't have much of the chance. I wish someone had shown him the true love of God after he managed to walk away. Perhaps then, his life would not have had such a tragic ending.

What have you read this past (two) weeks?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Starlighter by Bryan Davis

I'm back! The trip was wonderful, thank you for asking. In fact, you can read about the first part of my trip here. So, the restart the blogging cycle, I'll start the countdown to the end of the giveaway by reviewing the first book in the Dragons of Starlight series - Starlighter.

I don't know why, but all the Bryan Davis books I read involve Dragons. But still, I'm not complaining, the series are nothing alike. Starlighter is part-fantasy, part-science fiction. It involves two worlds, one called Darksphere, where tales of kidnapping Dragons are regarded as fairytales, and Starlight, where the kidnapped humans are slaves to the dragons.

Jason, from Darkshpere, and Koren, a slave from Starlight, are being brought together with a series of events. Against the odds, Jason finds himself in Darksphere. At the same time, Koren becomes aware of strange powers developing. When they meet, they try to save the slaves on Starlight. But, things aren't as straightforwards as merely charging in.

The world-building in this book is fantastic. Although there are references to genetic locks, they don't seem out of place in a book with Dragons. There are slaves, but there is also technology. The two separate worlds are both alike but different. To me, Starlight was more well-crafted, but that is probably because most of the book takes place on Starlight.

The characters too, were well-rounded. Most of the characters were human, which is to say, they tried to be good but were somehow flawed. One or two were evil and some, well, you can't tell at the end of the book. I cheered and booed them by turns, as they makes decisions, some wise, and some rather foolish in my opinion. Apart from Jason and Koren, there are many other wonderful characters. From the humans, we have Elyssa (another girl with special gifts), Tibber (is he insane or only pretending?), Randall (the son of the governer, he isn't as annoying as his first appearance suggests). For the dragons, there is Arxad (who is loyal to his race, but also has a heart of gold), Magmar (the king, he seems ruthless) and the Black Egg (a prophesied prince, he basically screams EVIL).

I highly recommend picking this series of books up. Once I started reading it on the train, I couldn't stop. I guess I was lucky I started reading on the Hokutosei, because that gave me the time I needed to finish it(:

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