Thursday, February 28, 2013

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

One day, when I was whatsapping my mom, she mentioned she was reading a book about China's last empress. For some reason, I thought of Wu Zetian instead of Cixi. This is why I regret not taking Chinese history.

But because of this, when my family came over and passed me a luggage of stuff, I found this book inside. I guess my mom thought I wanted to read it. It's a good thing too, because this is an awesome book!

Empress Orchid follows the titular Orchid as she enters the Forbidden City to be one of the Emperor's wives. She does this mainly to escape marrying her cousin, but she's soon caught up in the intrigue, and tries to win the heart of the emperor. Around her, news of the "barbarians" from the West keep arriving, and China is humiliated again and again.

Orchid (or Cixi), was admirable. She's a strong woman, who's even better at governing than her husband. I loved reading about how she learnt about governing and drafting edicts herself, turning herself from a naive country girl to a woman who could manipulate the courts. And when you see who she's against, well, I couldn't help but admire her.

Apart from Orchid, there are other characters, like the other Emperess Nuharoo (Empress Ci'an), who is more concern with Buddhism than material things. Yet, she has spies and seems to be quite adept at navigating the court herself (but she's hates anything to do with governing). There's also her son Tung Chih, the only son of the Emperor and a little boy that sounds like a brat. I wish Orchid could discipline him more, but she's overruled by the "official mother", Nuharoo.

The only thing that I didn't like was how they spelt the Chinese words. I think that not everything is Mandarin, so I can overlook it.

According to the author, she has tried her best to keep things historically accurate. This just means I now have a renewed interest in Chinese history. Someone please remind me to get books on this when I get back to Singapore.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lemonade Stand Economics by Geof White

As a university student, I'm naturally interested in books that concern my finances. I'm really lucky to be on a full scholarship, so I don't have to worry about debt that much. But I know it's a concern for a lot of people (I know I was looking pretty intently at a bunch of scholarships).

Lemonade Stand Economics plans to help you by giving you the skills/map to earn the money you need for college. And looking at tuition fees, that's quite a big goal.

Note: This book is written specifically for American students going to college in America, but you can probably take this and apply it anywhere.

The basic premise of Lemonade stand Economics is that by selling a service, you can make a lot more money than doing grunt work. The book then teaches you how to advertise yourself, how you should train, how to treat your clients (with respect folks, with respect), and what to do with the money (put it in the bank right now, and don't you dare think of splurging every single day).

I must say, the author does a really good job of convincing the reader of the problems associated with a student loan. And also how just buying a drink everyday (when you can bring a bottle, or buy it cheaper in bulk), can really eat up into your cashflow.

What I like was that the author drew on his personal experience a lot. He mentions where he went right (in how he earned money), where he went wrong (not continuing that in college and taking a loan, and also spending the money when he could have saved it), which helps you visualise the concepts in this book more accurately.

If this book affects even just ten percent of university students around the world, we're going to see a lot more smart, business-savy and respectful people around.

I highly recommend this book for university students, students a few years away from university, and their parents.

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Teaser Tuesday - The Fairest Beauty by Melanie Dickerson

You know, when I signed up for the Fairy Tales retold reading challenge, I thought I'd have a lot more problems finding the ebook versions. Yet here it is: Fairest Beauty, a retelling of Snow White. So here's my teaser:

Truthfully, he thought his presence at Hohendorf had probably hastened the duchess's deciding to kill her. But hadn't he felt a supernatural urgency to go and rescue her?

Remember, Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of ShouldbeReading. To join, all you have to do is to take two random teasers from a book you're reading, and make sure others know what the book is. I'd use an actually book, but the print books I'm reading are all in Japanese (I found Lola Rose in Japanese!) - I have a feeling that to use those books means that very few people will understand what I'm typing.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Elementals by Troy Jackson

Yes, I'm here with another book tour! (Febrauary seems to be the month of book tours doesn't it?). This time, I'm reviewing a fantasy set in Qin Dynasty China - The Elementals by Troy Jackson.

When I heard that this book was set in Qin Dynasty China, I couldn't resist requesting it. I hardly ever see good Asian literature that I jump at every chance to read more. And let me tell you, this book definitely delivers.

The Elementals is a re-working of the life of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of Qin. He's also the one that unified China (this was the dynasty that followed the warring states period). Except that they all have some sort of supernatural powers fuelled by something called a Tempest Demon.

I'm not sure if this is some translation thing, but I do not remember any of the "principles" behind how their amazing powers work. I mean, the Yin-Yang thing is there, but the rest of it (The Void, the Tempest Demon) just felt a little un-Chinese. I watched a lot of martial arts shows when I was a kid (China/Hong Kong has actually produced a lot of good ones), and I loved The Legend of the Condor Heroes (and many other like it). So when I say it feels weird, I'm guessing a lot of people like me would say that. It might be due to translation though.

But one interesting point is about how they describe a Tempest Demon

"Within every living being exists a manifestation known as the Tempest Demon. For a vast majority, it lies dormant and the individual never realizes what lives inside."

This sounds awfully like the Christian concept of a human nature. Of course, the paragraph follows by saying that "The human compulsion to act maliciously and immorally is not a natural response, but an unnatural one", which is quite contradictory if you assume that the demon is part of one's nature. But this is in line with Confucious, as echoed in the 三字经 (Three Character Classic)"人之初,性本善" (When men is born, he is good).

Ahem, back to topic. The book is the first in a series (If I'm right), which means there's a lot of world building and the introduction of the three protagonists - Cai, Jiao Ai, Shi Lin and their friends and allies. I think the courtly sections of the book was really great, because I really miss watching those kinds of drama. The plot may be a bit slow for those who need a fast-paced read, but I think it's fine (if a little long).

Overall, this is an excellent book. I may disagree with the philosophy in this book, but face it, it's set in Ancient China and Confuscianism is what they believed in back then. If you're interested in Ancient China, give this book a read!

Disclaimer: I got this book free as part of Virtualbookworm Blog tours in exchange for a free and honest review.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The new issue of An Excuse For Company is up!

Hey everyone!

Just a quick note to say that the March Issue of An Excuse For Company is published on smashwords! You can download it for free here.

This month's issue is Shakespeare, on account of the phrase "The Ides of March." At first, I wanted to do Ancient Rome, but sadly, there weren't enough feature articles.

Anyway, if you like the magazine and want to participate by submitting a blog post, review, story (it can already be published somewhere else on the web), contact me, I'm always looking for contributors!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Obtaining Lucidity by Lorelle Shorten

Obtaining Lucidity is an excellent novel you can read for free on Figment. It centers around Cassie, as she attends the first year of a compulsory schooling - away from her parents. Up until she goes to school, she has been home schooled, which makes her very different from others.

The novel focuses on Cassie finding out who she is, and learning about Lucid Dreaming. Lucid dreaming, simply put, is simply being aware of the fact that you're in a dream, allowing you to manipulate the dream. I may use the word simply, but it's very hard to do. In the novel, there are a few changes to this concept - namely machines are used to aid this.

While I'm not very clear about the purpose of the school, I really do love the setting. Lorelle has created a way to get kids separated from their parents in a believable way. And while there wasn't much of society, what is shown (especially about Cassie and her parents), is really interesting. The book was set in the future (2024), but the way they acted was quite nineteenth century (at least for the upper classes). It was way cool. If possible, I'll like to read more about it in the later books.

I think the real stars of the novel are the characters. There's Cassie, our not-quite-normal star, Porter (the guy her parents want her to marry), Kimberly (her new best friend) and Jake (the mysterious guy). There are a few other characters, but these four are the ones that stood out for me. I thought all of them were very well-rounded, and they kept me interested in the story.

And yes, there's a love triangle. I love that it's not the normal type though, the two boys are different, but not opposites. Both of them are nice in their own way. And Cassie doesn't spend the whole time trying to choose between the two - the dilemma comes about because her parents want her to be with Porter (oops, I think I'm giving away too much of the story).

For me, the only weakness was the plot. This book was mostly about Cassie trying to master lucid dreaming (which I really enjoyed reading about), but the last few chapters felt a bit too rushed for me. I was actually quite confused.

If you're looking for a read on Figment, I highly recommend this. Lorelle is planning a sequel, so keep your eyes peeled!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Why We Write by 20 Authors (Edited by Meredith Maran)

I have a confession. I'm a struggling, aspiring, fairly lousy writer (wait, you knew that already?) I did participate in NaNoWriMo, and I do have a Figment account, but I'm terrible at writing. It's one of the biggest ironies of my life - to love writing but to lack the ability to make words sing. Still, I like reading about those who can make words come to life.

Which is why I think Why We Write is not just for writers, but also for readers. It's really an account of twenty writers and their experiences with writing. They're all well-known, some more than others, and they all have one thing in common - they love to write. Other than that, their habits, their backgrounds, they're all different.

This was a really fun read because it was an insight from a bunch of writers. There is a section at the end of each 'interview' with each author, full of tips for aspiring writers, which is actually pretty helpful.

The only thing I can think that might even count against this book is that these guys (sometimes) make getting published look easy. But they all do mention that they are very lucky to be published, how hard it is nowadays, so it's not that much of a deal.

Oh dear, my review is really short isn't it. I guess this book is just too good. I really do love it, but once you realise that it's basically a book consisting of twenty interviews with famous writers, you'll either want to, or don't want to read it.

I did, however, find some sites which have more detailed reviews (and more information and quotes and stuff). Here are the links to: New York Journal of Books, The Daily Beast (excerpt) and LA Times.

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

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz

I can't remember where I heard of this book (it may be from Pages Unbound, I find a lot of stuff about fairytales there), but it has the words "retold fairytales" and that's enough for me. It's centered around Hansel and Gretel, but moves through a lot of fairytales.

Confused yet? Well, the plot (which is really just a bunch of loosely connected stories) follow Princess Gretel and Prince Hansel, as they run away from home. Along the way, they go through things that no child should ever go through - so basically, they lived through a few fairytales.

This book really resembles the original fairytales. As the narrator frequently reminds the reader, many unpleasant things happen. Yet, none of the things I can't stand (i.e. explicit scenes) are inside. I quite like this, because it means you trust the child to read a scary book (for kids like this, go ahead and read Coraline by Neil Gaiman after this).

And yes, there's the narrator. I seem to be reading more books with intrusive narrators and I love it! This narrator even pokes fun at the kids - he talks to the adults and tells them to get a babysitter. If I read this when I was younger, this would be a surefire way to get me to keep reading, if only to prove that I was able to stomach the story.

And if you're worried, I checked, and yes, this is filed/published under YA.

My favourite story was at the end, about the dragon. The reason why I like it the best is because it's the story that shows the ingenuity of children the best. The kingdom is under attack from a dragon, and it's not the adults but the Hansel and Gretel who stop it. And they're not adults, returning from a journey that matured them, they're children who found their way home. They don't resemble adults in any way.

Definitely a story for those of you who love fairy tales. If you like the original dark versions, you'll love this version too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Classic Popeye Volume 1 by Bard Sagendorf

How many of you know this children's song? It goes

"I'm Popeye the sailor man -whoot whoot-
I live in the garbage can -whoot whoot-
I open the door and I - "

Ok, maybe talking about using the toilet isn't a very good way to start a review. Anyway, the point of this whole song was to see who used to watch Popeye cartoons as a kid. I certainly did, and I probably have a few CDs still lying around (for the younger kiddies - CD's are like DVDs but with less storage space. I think. I'm not sure how it works(;)

So when I saw this on NetGalley, obviously I jumped at the chance to read it!

And it was as good as I thought. Before, I only had one Popeye comic, and that was in Chinese (well, it was half-Chinese half-English anyway). This four volumes in one book comic was a really fun read. I just stopped reading a lot of books to finish this.

I never though of Olive Oyl and Wimpy as being greedy before (especially Wimpy). Popeye also comes across as a much more idealistic/kindhearted character. I loved seeing how they were in the original. And I even got to see Sweet Pea talk! I don't think he appears much in the episodes I own.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go to youtube to look for some cartoons to watch(;

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Teaser Tuesday - Double Crossed by Ally Carter

This week's teaser is a teaser from a teaser! When I requested this book from NetGalley, I didn't know it was just an eight chapter teaser! It's ok so far, but since I haven't read the Heist Society books, so I don't feel particularly inclined to go and search out the rest of the books. I love Macey and I want to see the spies, but Kat seems ... off putting. I don't know, I feel they're kind of stuck up. Perhaps there's too much reliance on the assumption of the reader being familiar with all the previous books.

So, the teaser is:

"What's is that?" Hale asked, leaning close to the vents. "Russian?"
"Albanian," Macey said, and again, motioned for him to be quiet.
"Now I suppose you're going to tell me they teach Albanian at your school."
"Only for extra credit." Macey leaned even closer, listened harder. "It's a job for hire," she translated. "They don't know how to get past the security system. 
This is way more than two sentences, but I love this dialogue!

And I suppose this is why I don't like Kat. I was introduced to Hale and Macey first, and I thought they would be a good couple, then in comes Kat, and her relationship with Hale doesn't even seem convincing to me (then again, I've never read Heist Society).

What do you think?

And what are your teasers this week?

Disclaimer: I got a copy of this teaser from NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion. I haven't read the whole book, so above is my honest opinion for the first eight chapters.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Victoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer (Mod Podge Book Tours)

Today is the first time I've ever taken part in a book tour by Mod Podge book tours. It's a blog post from the author this time, and I think it's really interesting. 

The book is called Victoria Rebels and about the life of Queen Victoria. Sounds like a fascinating book doesn't it? (Hidden history nerd alert!)

Enjoy the guest post!

Why Did You Choose A Diary Format For Victoria Rebels? 

In fact, VICTORIA REBELS is not written as a diary; it's written in first person. That may not seem much different to the reader, but it made a huge difference in the way I conceived the story. When the story is told in the form of diary entries, the narrator, the "I" of the story, has no foreknowledge of what's going to happen down the road--years in the future or even the next day. She can only record what is happening in the present, or reflect on what has happened in the past. The challenge to the author is to set up the foreshadowing that leads the reader along. Several years ago I wrote three books for Scholastic's Royal Diaries series and discovered just how tricky that can be. In ANASTASIA: THE LAST GRAND DUCHESS, the young Russian princess enjoys her privileged life as storm clouds gather, with no inkling of the tragic end she faces. It's a much more confining storytelling format, and I struggled with it. In CLEOPATRA CONFESSES, I chose to write in present tense, which gives the narration a much different feel, and I considered doing the same with Victoria. But after experimenting with that for a while, I abandoned the idea and went back to the more conventional past tense. Somehow it seemed to suit her voice better.

In VICTORIA REBELS, Victoria is looking back at her early years as an unhappy young princess dominated by a man she hated, at the changes brought about when she became queen at the age of eighteen and was finally free of his domination, at her struggles to adjust to her new role, and at the arrival of love in her life. She tells her story from the vantage point of knowing the outcome in terms of her relationship with Sir John Conroy, her mother, and the man she marries. Chapter titles with the place and sometimes a date help to keep the reader oriented.

All the books in this post sound interesting don't they? Well, hopefully this is the start of more tours from Mod Podge stopping by here!

Also, there's a tour wide giveaway! Make sure to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lisez La Fleur by Alexandra Lanc

Hi everyone! You remember Alexandra right? My Google+ friend, who also writes for An Excuse For Company? (Short promotional insert: if you haven't, go and download this month's free copy of the magazine here) Well, she was hosting a blog tour, and well, here her's stop!

Today, I'm reviewing her book Lisez La Fleur (translation: Read the Flower), a book about vampires!

Lisez La Fleur stars Lorine, a soon-to-enter university student who's dragged to France. Her family's dysfunctional, but she won me over through her love of her little brother Josh. I have a little brother myself, so I immediately related to her. While in France, she meets the mysterious Honore, who invites her to his club. Deciding to do something for herself for once, she accepts his offer, but finds out that she's actually at a castle for blood-thirsty vampires!

What I liked was that the vampires weren't brooding mysterious young men but bloodthirsty killers closer to Dracula. Plus, through the prologue, we get the sense that what Lorine experiences (the rest of the book is in her point of view) isn't as straightforward as she thinks.

The interesting thing about this novella series is reader participation. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and then, the readers can go to Alexandra's website to take part in a poll that influences the book's progression. Now, when people talk about ebooks and self-publishing changing reading, this is what I think about. Now ebooks that look like a website with no plot (not that I can see), but something that results in greater engagement with the author and the reader.

Now, voting for this book ends on June 18th, so make sure you get this novella, read, and then vote before then! There's violence in this (well, it has vampires), so I'd recommend this for older teens and up.

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

Friday, February 15, 2013

Born To Win by Dr. Kevin Leman

I am a first born girl. And apparently, there are social clubs for people like me. Unfortunately, the First Born Girl's Social Club is only in America. (Maybe I should see if I could start a Japan charter? Nah, I have too much on my hands as it is). But this is just one of the interesting things I learnt in Born to Win by Kevin Lehman. It's a book for us firstborn kids, but if you've ever wondered why your oldest sibling was _______ (I'm sure you have many words to fill in this blank), or you are an only child (apparently, only childs are very close to firstborns in character), you should pick up this book.

This book is divided into eleven chapters, and it looks at things from "Who's on First?" (Do you know it's possible to have more than one firstborn child in the family?, "The Firstborn Personality" (The following chapter explains why). and how to use this to your advantage at home, school, work, etc. Personally, I thought the first six chapters explaining the personality of a firstborn was the most interesting.

What I like about this book is that it's extremely easy to understand. Even my senior, who admits that she normally can't understand this kind of books, found it easy and interesting. There are quizzes to make things interesting, and it really does help you understand more about yourself. The only parts where I was a little bored would be the later chapters, because it was talking to the firstborn adults.

However, I think the book is worth reading, if only for the first six chapters. I recommended it to my firstborn best friend, and it helped her realise why her sister and her were treated differently, and why they had such different personalities. That was, to the two of us, a big deal because we had grown up wondering why our younger siblings appeared to be spoilt while we got the rod.

For the record, we do get on well with our siblings, but when we were much younger (and even now), we always wondered why our younger sister (the one born a year after us), was our total opposite. For example, I'm generally un-athletic, my younger sister ends up being the team captain of different sports team (my youngest sister is a whole different topic though). I love reading, until recently, my sister didn't have much interest (thankfully, that's changing). The book helped me realise that because we were so similar in age, and were in the same school, she had to find a way to differentiate herself from me.

I think this is a wonderful book. It's a must-read for firstborn children. For the other birth-order kids, you can take a look if you want to understand your older sibling (we're touched), but if you're looking for more information about your place in the birth order, his more general book "The New Birth Order Book" might be more to your liking.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Needle's Eye by Len Bailey

The great Sherlock Holmes uncovers.... Biblical mysteries? You've got to be kidding me, this isn't canon. Oh, it's a fan work? Ok, I guess that's alright then.

That was basically my reaction when I saw this book on NetGalley (you can blame Detective Conan for the canon part). But I was glad to read it, it's actually a really awesome read!

As you can tell from my first sentence, this book has Holmes and the ever faithful Watson (and in one case, their landly) travel through time through a device called "The Needles Eye". At each time, they find a mysterious card that has a mystery, like "Why did Abithopel (check sp) betray Jesus?", "Why did David pick five stones instead of one?" and so on.

While I admit their answers are convincing, I'm not sure as to how true they are. For some, like the David and the stones mystery, the answer is deduced from other pieces on information. For some, like "What did Jesus write on the ground during the case of the woman caught in adultery?", we have no way of knowing, and their 'solution' is nothing more than an educated guess. And for some, like the question of Abithopel's betrayal, the Biblical references cited are convincing enough that I'll actually use it as an answer.

In addition to these mysteries, there is quite a lot of interaction between the characters, which I enjoyed. The author clearly loves Holmes and Watson, and you can see him writing out the scenes with glee. Plus some, like the one of Sherlock having lunch on top of a carriage are laugh-out-loud funny. Apart from humour, both characters do struggle with their faith, which is a new aspect of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

If you're interested in Biblical mysteries and you like Sherlock Holmes, you've definitely got to get this book. It's a fun read, and I like how they deduced almost all their solutions from the Bible.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fanged Princess by Elisabeth Wheatley

I don't normally read Paranomal books, but since this novella was written by a fellow teen (I'm milking my last few months of teenhood for all it's worth ok?), I really wanted to support it.

And the verdict is...



Good read! And if you love Paranormal stuff, you'll love this.

What I loved most about this book was the the main character (Hadassah) wasn't the one in love. Nope, it was her brother who was in love with a human. And since I used the term human, you should know that Hadassah and her brother Damien are not human - in fact, they're vampires.

I wasn't very enamored with the human paramour Madelyn until the later half of the book. For the first half, she seemed like a clueless girl. But then, it made what Hadasseh did even better (she didn't like the girl very much at first), and it's so obvious that the two of them are in love. All the characters developed well over the novel.

Especially Hadassah. She's really my favourite character ^^ I love how she's so protective of her younger brother. And because she lost her loved one (human) some time back too, she's willing to do anything to protect him from the same hurt.

Coming into the book later are the vampire hunters. Personally, they came off as rather unpleasant. But then again, the whole novel is told from Hadassah's point of view, and why would they be nice to a vampire? I do think, however, that we're going to see a lot more of them in the later novels.

This was a really enjoyable novella. If you're looking for a vampire love story that isn't like the others, you should check this out. This really does focus on a completely different type of love after all.

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Teaser Tuesday - The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

I'm back! And this time, I'm reading The Mysterious Benedict Society, a really fun book that (unforunately) is about 165 pages short of being included in the Tea and Books Reading Challenge. Oh well, it's a fun read and I'm already about half-way through ^^

The teaser is:

"Do not worry, the message said.
And then, after a short pause: But do hurry."
(page 244)

What is your teaser this week?

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Green Eyed Monster by Mike Robinson

Since I'm not a very big fan of horror, I rarely read books that creep me out. Well, apart from Andrew Van Wey, who's first book Forsaken kept me up all nigh (in a good way!), who is so good you should check out his books along with this. This book is so scary that I stopped reading it once it got dark.

The Green Eyed Monster revolves around two incredibly talented writers. The book jumps between the present and their childhood/past, slowly unveiling the sinister force behind their talent. The two writers were born on the same day, went to the same school, wrote similar but different works, and had an imaginary grandfather. This is already a little scary, but add in stories (from various points of view) of how people who come in contact with them and their works end up destroying other people and you'll find yourself blasting loud cheery music while knocking on a friend's door to beg for company.

I think this is one of the rare stories where I say it's not about the characters but the plot. And atmosphere. This is a scary book (I was going to say delightfully scary, but that makes it sound like a children's horror movie somehow) and you should read it if you want to scare yourself off the path of being a writer.

But then again, if you read it and continue writing, then you'll know that your need to write is stronger than any mental force that can appear.

The only thing that I was unhappy about was the ending. For some reason, when the force that drove them finally appeared, he wasn't as scary as I imagined. Perhaps it was because I disagreed with his history of time and assessment of the universe (thank you rational part of me), but I think it's because the scare of the unknown grandfather figure (with butterfly metaphor) was so well-written that anything else would have felt anti-climatic.

Perhaps, this is a book you'll buy and read almost to the end. Then, you can sleep in your bed with an open ending. Then again, you might get nightmares (or dreams, depending on how much you like horror).

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin

What do you think the purpose of school is for? Well, according to Seth Godin, it's to churn out compliant factory workers. In fact, it only feeds the children facts and doesn't teach them the skills needed to survive in the world today.

The book is talking about American education, but I bet a lot of Singaporean parents will be quick to agree with him. Singapore's education system is seen as learning by rote and having too much emphasis on marks. All true I suppose, although I find my experience to be a little different.

The book (to be exact, the manifesto), is a collection of 132 fairly short chapters. They're numbered, but a little disjointed, as he jumps from one chapter to another. It is, however, very readable. The language was really good, and I highlighted many sentences.

Interestingly, even though he criticises the education system, he isn't advocating homeschooling. He says "as a citizen, I'm not sure I want to trust a hundred million amateur teachers to do a world-class job of designing our future." Personally, I agree. Although I would have liked to be homeschooled (as I've said many times), now, I'm glad I wasn't. I think you need to have a certain type of personality to be able to teach your own kids. My aunt certainly does it very successfully. But it's not for everyone.

Apart from that, I thought the leadership chapter was kind of sad. He makes it sound as though American students don't have any chances of leadership. Personally, I had quite a lot of chances. In Secondary School, if you're a prefect, or even just a student leader, you have quite a lot of responsibility. In JC, my friends organised a triathlon by themselves (they're now starting their own charity). Now, my kendo club pretty much does everything themselves, from the training camps to practice schedules. Everywhere I look, I see opportunities to lead if you'll reach out and grab them.

And that, I think, is the crux of the matter. While there are flaws in the education system, it's not that bad. As I got older, my tests started leaning towards essays - essays that require analysis, synthesis of information and judgement. Maybe it's because I was always more in the humanities stream, but there are subjects (like social studies), which all students have to take (and has these sort of questions).

Seth Godin has this really awesome example of this boy who dedicated one hour a day to learning something new and unassigned. While I'm quite sad that reading a novel didn't count, I realised that I've already been doing stuff like that. I used to go to the library to read random books (that were out of my syllabus), normally browsing and coming back with stuff I didn't need to learn at all. I was reading my dad's reference books for fun. And even researching the background for a book led to an unrelated topic on myths and legends.

That being said, I think it'll be a good idea for me to do something like this. Apart from reading widely, I'd like to focus on re-learning how to code (I used to know, but I forgot) and re-learning Malay/Learning Indonesian. Those are skills that can't be gained simply by reading, I'll have to find practices and stuff.

And this book has introduced me to the Khan Academy and a bunch of other resources, which will help self-learning.

So while I found this book while browsing for books about unSchooling (remember the time I read John Holt?), this is really more of a call to self-directed learning, rather than being dependent on your school, your parents, or other people to feed you. You too, can get the free ebook here, where it's available in many different formats.

If you've read it, what did you think?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Model Spy by Shannon Greenland

I think the last time I read a book like this, it was "I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You" by Ally Carter (link to review). But while this book is as fun as the Ally Carter one, it's different in one significant way:

GiGi, our protagonist, is a klutz and a technological genius.

The story starts when GiGi is arresting for hacking into nine of the eighteen levels in a government system. After scaring her a bit, she's offered a choice - she can escape all this by joining The Specialists, a group of gifted teenage spies. There, she meets her new teamates: Bruiser (a sweet girl who's a fighting machine), Beaker (a goth girl who's a chemistry whiz), Parrot (a polymath), Mystic (he knows ESP), and meets a few familiar faces like David (the guy that convinced her to hack into the government system).

After a month, she's suddenly sent of her first mission - to inflitrate a modelling school. And of course she's terrified, she's a klutz!

What I liked about this story was the characters. I didn't see much of any of them except GiGi, David, Jonathon and TL (the guy in charge), but there were many characters who all stood out. GiGi was really likable as well, although I wish she wasn't one of those "I'm-ugly-wait-everyone-says-otherwise" kind of girls. Why can't she either be ugly (and honestly she think she is), or pretty and admit the fact?

The plot was a bit too short for my liking. I felt like most of the book was an introduction to the Specialists, and not enough time was spent with the actual mission. I'd actually like her to enter the modelling school too, because I'd really love to see what it was inside.

This is a first book in a series, and I'm definitely interested in the others. It's a fun, light read.

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Teaser Tuesday - The Stolen by Alex Shearer

As always, this teaser comes from a book I stumbled upon at BookOff (I highly encourage stumbling up things). I'm really loving the book so far, and there's a lot that can be quoted. So here goes my best attempt to be random and not pick one of the many quotes that I'm copying to Tumblr.

"I think everybody writes that once. Like when you do some fantastic story for your English homework, and it's the best story you've ever written, with ten out of ten looking straight back at you, if only you can work out how to end it." (page 143)

So, what do you think it is that everybody writes once?

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of ShouldBeReading. To particpate, all you need to do is to pick two random sentences from a book you're reading now. And link back to her blog to join in the fun!

So, what was your teaser this week?

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Stairway to Danger by Ben Woodard

I accidentally published this too early. Apologies if you saw this twice.

I'm not very familiar with the American South - everything I know comes from Huck Finn (This is also proof that I lack what my teachers called "cultural capital). So when I read a historically accurate book like this, I end up learning a lot.

This short book is a mystery set in the 1920s South. It centers around two cousins (Will and Tom), as well as this girl called Helen. It starts off with the two boys finding a dead body, so you can tell the book moves pretty fast.

What I liked about this book were the details put into it. It's short, but there are lot of things packed into it. An explanation at the back of the book shows that the author did a lot of research, which means that whatever I learnt about Shaketown, the Nineteenth Amendment, the 369th Regiment is true. So yay, I get to learn stuff while reading a story!

I think that the characters have a lot of potential - especially Tom. As you read the book, you'd notice that he's haunted by the death of (spoiler alert!). He's also an orphan and planning to get away to the North as soon as possible. So he has a lot of directions to develop, and it'd be interesting to see how he matures in the later books.

Will seems a bit of a bully at first, but later, his character is seen to be more of a prankster. I do think that some of the things he did at first were a bit hurtful.

Oh, and my favourite part was the nod to Huck Finn, where Tom emulates a particular section of Huck Finn. It brought a "ahhhh" moment, and along with this, there were quite a lot of references to books. I love seeing how books provide inspirations for plans.

In conclusion, this is a fun read, especially for younger kids looking for mystery and adventure.

Disclaimer: I got this book free as part of Buy The Book Tours in exchange for a free and honest review.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

New Zealand With A Hobbit Botherer by John Gisby (Enchanted Book Promotions)

I really think I found the next Neil Humphrey. Either that, or all British writers are funny when it comes to travelogues. I'm not sure which.

John Gibsy is not the Hobbit Botherer (HB). His wife, on the other hand, is. After seeing Peter Jackson in a dream, John takes his wife on a trip across New Zealand in an effort to 'cure' her. What results is a really fascinating guide to New Zealand, with an emphasis on Lord of The Rings (LOTR) locations. It's not totally a LOTR guidebook, because well, at least one half of this couple isn't that big a fan.

What I enjoyed was the tone of the piece. It's written in a conversational tone that I never got sick off, and peppered with jokes. I can't believe that he was only in New Zealand for a visit, he writes as though he stayed there for a long time, and I think he genuinely likes the people and the country.

Apart from a laugh-out-loud travelogue, this book also has quite a lot of facts about New Zealand. Somehow, John Gibsy has managed to incorporate facts about various parts of New Zealand in an interesting manner. If I was taught this way all the time, I'm sure I would have scored straight A's.

Well, maybe not. I might have just spent the whole time laughing instead of learning.

Although I have relatives living in New Zealand, I've never been there. And while I'm a LOTR fan, I haven't watched the movies yet. After reading this book though, I'm very tempted to go there. Not so much for the LOTR spots (that might be nice though), but because the country sounds fascinating in general.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book as part of the Enchanted Book Promotions blog tour.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Wild Children by Richard Roberts

How many of you have watched Pinocchio (the Disney version?). Do you remember that for a good bit of the movie Pinocchio was half donkey and half um, puppet? Well, this was the image that popped into mind when I read the descriptions of the Wild Children.

The Wild Children are part animal, part child. Sometimes, they're almost all animal, and sometimes they're almost all child. They can be many things too, such as Donkey, Wolf, Dove and even mythical ones like Unicorn. They seem to come about by different ways too - one village has a strange fountain of wild-ness, one city goes underground, and some just occur.

The book itself is split into Five "Acts" and a Denouement  Act I also has two "Scenes", which all means that there are seven chapters in total. The difference between the Acts is that each Act revolves around a different Wild Child. The only connecting thread between them is that a Donkey Girl called Hind appears in every chapter. And as you read more and more, you realise that the real star of the story is Hind.

Either her, or Bray (she also appears in more than one Act).

Now I haven't given away a spoiler(;

What I love about the book is the discussion about the Wild Children. The trials itself was ok, but I did like the discussion about whether the Wild Children were evil and a temptation, or angels (especially for dove children) or even just kids given a second chance. Almost every character has a different opinion and no definitive answer is ever given.

Apart from this, there's also a very interesting narrative of the discrimination against the Wild Children. It really makes you visualise why people who look different are often discriminated against.

The only thing I didn't like was that Bray instantly fell in love with a side character in one chapter. I wish it didn't happen, because it didn't feel like Bray. Why squeeze in a romance?

But overall, it's a good book. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for an enchanting read.

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