Monday, August 26, 2013

Dragon Fire by Dina von Lowenkraft

I think the last time I read a dragon-themed book would be the Starlighter series (link leads to the first book in the series). While Dragon Fire is nothing alike Starlighter, it's a very interesting first book to what seems to be an interesting series.

To me, the main characters of this book are Pemba/Rakan (the dragon) and his love interest Anna (a human who's isn't that ordinary). Pemba is on earth to kill a dragon named Paliaq (check sp), who may or may not be Anna's good friend June. So half the story revolves around that, and the other half revolves around Anna and Pemba.

Since I'm not a very big fan of instalove, I'm not a huge Anna/Pemba fan. Their love seems to happen too fast, and comes on too strong, and is a bit too perfect (except for one quarrel). Actually, I think I just don't believe in insta-love. But if you do like this type of romance, you'll probably enjoy this part.

What I liked was the dragon world. They're really hierarchical, and I enjoyed reading about the inter-cairn (cairn is like a clan) relations. It seems very interesting and complex. In fact, my only complaint about this part was that too many new words were introduced without explanation. I know too much explanation drags a story, but in this case, I wasn't sure what was going on because of too many unknown words (for example, I didn't know what a Roc was for quite some time).

Oh, and a word of caution - while there is nothing explicit in the book, it does veer towards the sexual side sometimes. I'm not sure how I feel about this since Anna is only 17 years old (and *spoiler alert* mentions that she wants Pemba's baby). I have a feeling that it might get more explicit in future books.

So in conclusion, this book has a wonderfully intricate world with a fast-paced romance. It's probably more suited towards older readers too.

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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Break Time~

You may or may not know this, but I'm currently on my summer vacation! I'll be heading for Tokyo for a camp on Tuesday (and then heading home to Singapore), so I'll be on a break for about a week! I will post a review on Monday, but after that things will get quiet around here. I'll try to resume posting once I've reached back to Singapore.

And it's been quite some time, but I finally found a good picture/quote combination! Hope you like it (photo is mine, words belong to Chesterton)

You can read my review of Tremendous Trifles here.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Benjamin McTish and the door through the Grandfather Tree by June M. Pace

NOTE: Today's blog post is much longer than usual because it contains a review, an excerpt and a guest post! Hope you enjoy it!

Doesn't this title sound like something from Enid Blyton? Like a spinoff to The Faraway Tree series or something? But it's not. It's really the first in a fantasy series aimed at children.

Benjamin McTish follows the titular protagonist and his two best friends Mathilda and Annabel. They find out that they're the three of a prophecy and must save the forest from the evil Queen Tar Vigon.

The story itself is interesting. I like the world, and the backstory (there are characters with a backstory). The only part of the story that felt weird was the bit where two characters (grown ups) are told they are in love (ok, one character is told), since there were no hints to the reader otherwise.

In addition, while I liked the three main characters, it seem at first, that things came to them too easily. One understands the script of the fairies all-too-easily, another figures out the puzzles quickly. But as the book went on and they came to trials that were at last too great for them to solve in an instant, I began to like Benjamin, Mathilda and Annabel a lot more.

My biggest complaint about the book would be about the narrative style. The book seems to be mixing simple English with the fantastical language of the fantasy. Me having read G.K. Chesterton recently, and the fact that this book is aimed at kids makes me feel that the language should have been a lot simpler. Take out all those fancy highblown prose and make it simple. It would be an excellent contrast to the intricate world and characters and make them stand out even more.

The other thing I noticed about this book is that it's a little heavy handed. Sentences like "He had witnessed the power of Loyalty, Love and Trust generated from three tiny beings from another world" is not only telling instead of showing, it's making sure we don't miss the point. But since the entire book is about the power of friendship (I think that's it anyway), all these was unnecessary. There are quite a few of these instances (enough that I started getting annoyed before I was even halfway done), and I think the book would have been better if the story was just spun instead of telling the reader how to interpret it as well.

In conclusion, this book is interesting, and if the style and language were improved, it would be a really gripping book for both children and adults. I see that there's a sequel, so I'm looking forward to how this series develops.

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

About June M. Pace

June Pace - Author PictureJune lives with her soon to be husband and best friend Ray, his youngest son and their two dogs, seven chickens and two ducks, in Santa Cruz Ca. Ray’s two older kids live respectively in LA and San Francisco.
June spends her days writing and sometimes painting her well known series of Rock n Roll icons.This series of work, the McTish characters, are a part of June in every sense of the word. “This work brings a deep sense of joy and passion for me in a very profound way, like nothing else that I do.”

About Benjamin McTish and the Door Through the Grandfather Tree

Benjamin McTish CoverIt’s Harry Potter meets the Celestine Prophecy in this magical and thrilling ride! The McTish Series is an explosive adventure through a dimensional Gateway into another world, a world of beauty and magic, Coranim…a land of insight, thought and possibilities, that sits beneath the enchanted Gilley Forest.
There is local legend in the small town of Grandlochcheshire that has been passed down for a 100 years about the mysterious disappearance of the Chickering family, that trails on the coat tails of the equally shocking abduction of the Skeffington Union Rails heirs, Connor and Shelbe. The circumstances that follow this notorious tale enter into the modern world of Benjamin and his two best mates.
One day Benjamin watches from behind the Rhododendron as a mysterious little woman steps out of a taxi in front of the cream colored house with the forest green trim next door and in one synchronistic moment their eyes lock and a series of visual snippets of unfamiliar events unfold in his mind’s vision. His razor sharp sixth sense allows him the freedom to explore the extrasensory messages coming at him in a frenzied speed, like a derailed freight train.
And when Benjamin finds a peculiar old relic of a key in his grandmother’s garden shed, he could never know his world was about to change forever.
Annabel and Mathilda, two sisters who have moved to Grandlochcheshire from America, have become more than mere friends to Benjamin, they have all become the three Muskydeers (Mathilda’s mispronounced version of Musketeers, which was a huge laugh and of course it stuck), as they are plunged head first into this curious journey.
In the Gilley Forest they discover that the path they have chosen is inundated with many obstacles as well as intrigue. Alliances are made with the Forest clan of Gnomes known as the Set, and with the aid of the Vila sisters, Sethina and Morel, as well as some surprising and unexpected allegiances, the three friends take on the test that is the Grandfather Tree. They must stay on the pre ordained Path of prophecy, portended by the ancient seer Pajah Set, whose ancestry comes from the home of the oldest living beings on the planet, the Elves of the Darmon However, this is no easy task for the Muskydeers as they have the foulest of sorcery hunting their every move, the powerful dark beauty known to all as Tar Vigorn.
This ruthless Queen is not without humor however, and loves a good game of cat and mouse, as long as she’s the cat. With her biting sense of sarcasm and calculated taunting, she knows just how to unnerve the young Benjamin. Her phantom army known as the Blunt are searching for a way into the Grand Tree and will stop at nothing to infiltrate the pristine world beneath his giant roots.
Once in Coranim the children make the acquaintance of the greatest Medicine Elder alive, Esmerelda Fet. A most powerful Light Sorceress with a brazen in your face attitude and a thick Irish brogue, who guides the trio on their Path of destiny. “All tings be possible ya wee chil’ren, if’en ya put yer mind to it! Thar be nothin ya can’t accomplish. Ya just need ta be placin all yer carage inta tha middle of yer core whar yer Spirit shines…an ya can do anythin! Ha!”
Filled with many wonders, and home to the Fet clan of Gnomes, Coranim is a magical world of art, sound, thought, invention and discovery….and home to the World Library of Identity, with none other than Dunston Tibbitts at the helm.
Every being on the planet has a book dedicated to the entirety of their lives. Dunston reports to Benjamin, “according to what I see here now, this very minute, whatever it is that you are seeking will show itself today and change your Path immediately. It will put you into a whole new dynamic as they say.”
What could alter the overpowering trajectory Benjamin has followed to Coranim? How will it change his life?
Find out as our three heroes delve into the mystic, as well as their own inner character, as you watch from the edge of your seat.
Book Two, Benjamin Mctish and the Wizards of Coranim, coming 2013

The Excerpt

He looked back at the Queen and calmly said, “You know you never answered my question about the prophecy. You HAVE heard the portend…am I correct?”
Tar Vigorn tilted her head in interest and her smile never wavered.
“Ahh, the prophecy of Pajah Set. Please tell me they don’t actually have you believing you are… THAT boy? You couldn’t possibly believe that. You are aware they’ve found others before you, are you not? Other boys they swore were going to save the world and put an end to all my beautiful darkness. Can you guess where those young lads are now, Benjamin?”
Suddenly Tar Vigorn disappeared from site, Benjamin looked up totally stupefied. However, before he could take another breath, she instantly reappeared on the other side of the Travel Chamber behind him and whispered, “Boo!”
Benjamin let the surprise grab him, “Ahh!”
“A little jumpy are we?” hissed the Queen.
Benjamin turned to look at her, his face filled with anger and question. She continued with her masterful web of unnerving him.
“Let me give you a bit of advice, dear boy. You’d be a fool to trust these imbeciles with your life. They’ll recruit anyone they can use to gain information. The last boy who followed the directive of Cottie Set….well let’s just say, he’s no longer following anyone. After all, how gullible does one have to be to believe in fairy tales…a prophecy, ridiculous! I thought you were much wiser than that young, sweet Benjamin. I mean honestly, do you really see yourself winning anything against the likes of me? You’re just a normal boy after all.”
Benjamin contained his anger, but the questions started to arise in his heart.
She’s right, how could I be the One? Why am I any different from the other boys who were told they were the ones? But before he had a chance to delve further into his impending doubt, the voice of Tannis appeared in his mind.
“Master Benjamin, the two boys that perished were always a question, she is not divulging all the information. There is much more than you have heard. You must not falter in the belief that the three of you are the children of truth, or she will gain advantage…..You are the prophecy, I put my life into your hands in trust and certainty. Search your heart young Benjamin and you will know the truth. You can not hide from your Path.”
Benjamin thought a moment, and once again a slow smile began to fill his face, disarming the Queen. Benjamin looked over at his friends, locking eyes with Annabel until she began to smile with him. Then Mathilda wiped her wet face with the back of her hand and followed suit. The girls walked over toBenjamin, standing on either side of him, and held his hands. They all looked up at the now boggled Queen.
“What you don’t know,” began the boy ever so cooly, “is that the prophecy was never about just one…it is about three friends. It also says that these three friends have a very powerful magic, the likes of which has never been wielded in the Gilley Forest before…a magic that stems from Love. But you wouldn’t know anything about that would you..Love? It also talks about a boy who has the ability to make things happen…just by THINK-ing them.”
The Queen flinched, her smile gone. Benjamin continued with his own Cheshire Cat grin.
“Can you guess what I am thinking right now Tar Vigorn?”
Then in an attempt to get even with the Queen and take back her power, Mathilda stepped closer to the Chamber wall, leaning forward as close as she could get, she locked eyes with the Queen.
“Better watch out, someone might drop a house on you,” she giggled.
The Queen went pale as the thought occurred to her in that instant, thatBenjamin McTish may very well be the boy of the ancient prediction. But before she had a chance to change her mind, a chestnut mare with a rider on his back was leaping high over the Travel Chamber and right over her head! The Queen swung around and looked as Tannis and Bits landed on the Forest floor a few feet away from her. A sly smile came back to her face.
“Well, if it isn’t my old friend Tannis. I should have know you would be involved in this. And how are things in the Darmon these days?”
Tannis smiled back at Tar Vigorn.
“You know perfectly well that I have not seen my home in many long years. But all this is about to change.”
And with this the battle commenced.
The children huddled together kneeling down on their heals, as Tar Vigorn unleashed a bounty of rapid fire lightening bolts straight for the Elf.
Tannis deflected the spikes of energy while jumping over the Chamber on the back of the stallion. The Queen instantly joined Tannis on the other side, and the exchange of red tinged electrifying currents flowed out of the two Forest dwellers. Bursts of exploding trees and stumps resounded like canon fire. The trio in the Travel Chamber were shell shocked at the intensity and force of the magic flying between the Elf and the Queen.
Errant lighting was ricochetting off the sides of the Travel Chamber causing the children to cover their ears from the booming sound it made inside. The entire Chamber shook with upheaval. Small trees that were unfortunate enough to be caught in the line of rage pouring out of Tar Vigorn, burned to char in seconds. The Travel Chamber was creaking and moaning, sounding like a wounded animal. It swayed and pulsed with every outcry of explosive energy thrown it’s way.
The Elf of the Darmon and the Queen of Darkness fought relentlessly. The Fairy clan dove in between the bursts of lightening to blind the Queen with their bright wall of color light. But the Queen would not be swayed.
Then, unexpectedly, Tar Vigorn halted her tirade and spoke the magic she needed to surrounded herself in a misty haze of smoke, thick, dark and ominous.
Everyone watched in astonishment as she appeared to be completely enveloped in the self propelled murk. Then she magically emerged from the cloud of spinning grey fog, in what appeared to be a large halo of light surrounding her body. It looked to the children as if she were in a small version of her own chamber, like an elliptical force field. Her own personal vibrating shield surrounding her entire body. And suddenly Tannis’s magic was senseless. Instead the powerful force of battle energy being heaved at her from all directions was bouncing back off of the protective barrier she now resided.
The Travel Chamber began to sound off an alarming vibration. It shimmied and shook with dramatic force. It felt as if the whole tunnel of light would collapse any moment. The sound engulfed the children and threatened to take their sanity with it. Mathilda was screaming at the top of her lungs. Annabel was holding onto her little sister as she grabbed Benjamin’s forearm and yelled with all of her might.
“Benjamin, I think the Travel Chamber is falling apart or something! We can’t just sit here!”
Benjamin’s mind was a whirling dervish of confusion. He could not keep up with the tremendous acceleration of events. He felt an immensely deep disappointment in himself for bringing this amazing journey to this final outcome. He looked up at the girls and just when he was willing to admit defeat, they all turned to look up as something flashed above them.
They had entered the eye of the storm.
The tightly nestled trio watched the activity around them in the syrupy silence of slow motion. First they witnessed, amidst the clouds of smoke and singed sky, as the belly of the chestnut stallion carrying the Elf of the Darmon, leapt over the slowly disintegrating Travel Chamber. They moved their gaze over to the backside of the Chamber where the steed landed with precision. The children looked up at Tannis.
Tannis looked calm and resolute, he smiled at Benjamin. In that quick momentBenjamin realized the intention of the Elf, and raised to his knees shouting, “NO TANNIS! DON’T DO IT!” But it was too late. The Elf was leaping on the back of his faithful stallion right into the center of the Travel Chamber.
Tannis turned Bits around to face the bewildered children. They all looked over at the Queen who was now standing solo amid her enraged destruction. The look on her face was worth every bit of fear the children had lived in the past evening. Her eyes were wide with incredulous disbelief. She was steaming with a rage strong enough to fell the tallest of fir trees. Then she let out a scream the likes of which had never been heard in the existence of the Gilley Forest.
She flew like a lightening bolt of deep dark magic at the Travel Chamber and it shook with a husky primal resonance that alarmed the inhabitants. When the Queen realized that her torture was beginning to wax heavily on the object of her anger, she reloaded and pulled the trigger again. She reigned a full force attack on the side of the Travel Chamber.
The walls were showing signs of dismantling. The glowing light of the Chamber began to flicker and the children could see that it would only be a matter of a short time before she would penetrate the protection shield. She would have them in her hands and at her unwavering mercy.
They all knew no one would survive.
Tannis jumped off of his steed and closed his eyes. He stretched his arms out beside him and touched the sides of the Travel Chamber with his hands. Within moments the watery energy of the Travel Chamber started to become more solidified. And without warning or thought…the lights went out.
After a moment the children, still in the darkness, realized there were no more sounds around them.
“Benjamin, where are we?” asked Annabel.
“I can’t see a bloody thing. But it doesn’t feel like we’re with the Queen anymore. Maybe…” and before he could say another word the small orb of light, generated by the Elf, was in the middle of everyone.
“Wow!” said Mathilda. “Where are we Tannis?”
“We are in between.”


The making of an evil Queen. Tar Vigorn.

Now this is fun.

Picking out a name was the toughest part. I wanted a name that had some poetry to it and stood for something. When I first began pulling names together for characters I dug around for some traditional British names and made a list of possibilities. As the occasion arose I might choose from the list or simply use a name I found through happen chance. Like Dunston husband was relating a story to me about a friend of his with the last name Tibbitts and I rushed to my desk to put it down as Dunston’s last name. Great name.

And when it came to cities and places, well, that was much more of a challenge. Like Coranim. This is derived from the Latin, Corazon, meaning heart...and anima, which represents the feminine psyche and stands for soul for Spirit, esoterically speaking. So I put them together to make Coranim, the magical world beneath the Grandfather stands for Heart of the Planet. A lot of my city names come from people I know...such as Tay’lor. It is pronounced as two words..tay, then lor...however, in truth, Taylor is our son’s girlfriend. I’m really enjoying putting names of friends and family into the story...and they’re getting a huge kick out of it as well. I actually just spoke to a gal on the phone who was taking an order from me and her name was just staring up at me from my note pad and I finally said, “You know what, I think I’m going to use your name for a character in my book, it’s just so interesting.” She was thrilled. (Her name is Morlyn by the keep an eye out).

Tar Vigorn came from playing around with sounds and ideas with someone and we ended up putting Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn together...don’t ask me why, I couldn’t tell you now...but back then I had a reason! So now which direction to head into as far as characteristics and personality, looks, etc....this was the fun part.

My main inspiration came from the White/Ice witch in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe....the most dynamic and perfect evil queen ever for me, (although I gotta say, Cerlize Theron in the Sleeping Beauty movie was right on up there with perfection)...she was stunning in her manipulations and she was gorgeous. I really liked the idea of a magnificently beautiful Queen...they don’t all have to be green and ugly..or wear only black. No, not my Queen, she is striking and calculated. She is fierce, intelligent, creative and most importantly, flawed. Although there is nothing lacking in her magical powers..and there is where the rub lies. She’s not going to be so easy to defeat...if ever she truly is...(not going to give that one away).

So I began by picturing her as Anjelina Jolie, you know, that combo of beauty and bitch, but knows how to work her way around any obstacle...then I started thinking that was too obvious, so I shifted my mental image over to Jennifer there’s some serious brains added into the mix of sexy and masterful at her I had my evil Queen.

Her voice is syrupy smooth, slowly annunciating every syllable of her acid tongued pontifications. She toys with her audience, she winds them up into an emotional frenzy while keeping ever so cool and calculated. She doesn’t fluster easily...and what ever you do, don’t show her up...her wrath is paralyzing and terror filled. However, she is not without humor and loves a good game of long as she stays on top.

She wears daisies in her hair and has a propensity for horticulture...even if it is mostly magically induced, as her conservatory would imply. Her home is impeccably designed with ornate fireplaces of lapis and gold filigree framed art covering her damask walls, with black and ivory striped drapery, lined in gold silk, puddled onto the inky black onyx marble floors. Chandeliers dripping in crystals, giant urns filled with flowers, and a very special alabaster statue fountain in the main courtyard of a woman walking among swans and roses....I believe I’ll stop here, I simply cannot give anything away...however, when you come to the end of our story, I mean the entire end of the last book in the series...think back to this post and you’ll see that I gave you a very big insight into something very’re welcome!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem is kind of like the antithesis (check meaning of word) to Overextended and Loving Most Of It. At least it seems like this to me (Suddenly, I found books that take two different viewpoints, which is really fun for me to read!).

This book takes a look at why we are so busy, and how we can handle it. It doesn't say that all busyness is bad, but rather, it encourages us to take a look to see if our busyness is Godly. The reasons he gave for busyness was pride, a sense of obligation and lack of priorities. Of the three, pride and obligation made a lot of sense to me - how many times do we accept just one more task because we think we're the only people who can handle it? How many times do we take on more work because 'we have to'? And when it came to the sense of total obligation, I thought the following passage was very apt:

Surely there are many Christians who are terribly busy because they sincerely want to be obedient to God. We hear sermons that convict us for not praying more. We read books that convince us to do more for global hunger. We talk to friends who inspire us to give more and read more and witness more. The needs seem to urgent. The workers seem so few. If we don't do something, who will? We want to be involved. We want to make a difference. We want to do what's expected of us. But there just doesn't seem to be the time. 

All in all, this book makes the case for making sure that we don't let our crazy schedules drown out the voice of God. It's something that I need to work on, which makes this a very timely wake-up call for me.

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

I've always known Jane Austen had lots to teach. And this book sets it out very clearly. Not only is Austen a master of the literary form, she also has very interesting things to teach us about life.

A Jane Austen education takes a look at Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility and how they impacted the author's life. And since he was doing a PhD in literature, Jane Austen is one of the authors that he writes about in his dissertation. It's not one of those fluffy "power of friendships" type of Jane Austen education - this book uses literary analysis to show us how Jane Austen provoked a specific reaction in us and how she wanted us to learn from that.

Surprisingly, the book gave me a new perspective on several books, especially Mansfield Park. I never though of how Jane Austen used the contrast of Fanny and Mary to make us think about which is more important - charm or a good heart. I've always liked Fanny (hence my displeasure at re-writes that cast Mary as the good, main character), so it's something I never considered. Another contrast that I never considered before would be Marianne and Elinor and their respective romances.

Plus, the impact that Jane Austen had on the author was really meaningful. It wasn't a drastic "changed my life 180 degrees" thing, rather, she taught him how to see what was wrong, and gave him ideas on how to improve his life.

I'm actually not quite sure if this book is a literary analysis or a semi-autobiography of how Jane Austen impacted one person's life. What I do know is this - I would really like to read the author's dissertation, it sounds really interesting!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Overextended and Loving Most Of It by Lisa Harper

When I first saw this book, I was intrigued. While I try to go outside my comfort zone, I try my best not to overextend myself, lest I get a nervous breakdown.

What this book is about would be how the author almost adopted one child, failed, then adopted another. She uses this story to talk about how to stretch yourself in order to live a God-filled life. The tone of this book is breathless and you can seriously feel how excited the author is. Personally, the tone tired me after a while, the author sounds like a fun, energetic person and I feel like the old one for not being able to keep up!

As I've said before (probably), I'm not much of an extrovert. I'm not sure if I grew into introvertness, or if I'm some mix of both, but face it, I cannot do the "over-extendedness" that this book describes. To me, it seems like overextending yourself is the same as being an extrovert - an overextended extrovert. While I can function perfectly while with large groups of people, I do tend to get tired, and if you ask me to do the same thing day after day after day, I'm going to end up crying day after day after day.

Even the idea of burning out scares me. The author suggests that to tackle burnout, one bust breathe, listen, ask, smile and take the next step. I'm in agreement with the first four steps, but the last step - really? I believe if you're suffering from burnout, it may be God telling you to take it easy. After, the Bible does say "be still and know that I am God". Sometimes, the answer is not to push through, but to sit down, rest and gather your strength.

All in all, this book is not that bad. It does push you to take steps outside your comfort zone, but I wonder, how far outside your comfort zone do you go before it's too far?

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

I've been on a bit of a reading slump lately, but Fall of Giants was so absorbing I devoured it in two days (and read a few other books concurrently as well). And in the end, it gave me back my appetite for reading!

For some reason, Fall of Giants reminds me a little of Anna Karenina. It's not the prose, it's not the characters, it's the lack of plot. In which case, it also reminds me of those long 600 plus episode Taiwanese soap operas that ahem, older ladies (and me and some of my guy classmates) like to watch.

Basically, Fall of Giants follows the Williams family (Ethel and Billy), the English aristocrats Fitzherberts (Maud, her brother Fitz and his wife the Russian princess Bea), Walter von Ulrich (German), Gus Dewar (American) and the Russian brothers Grigori and Lev. If you look at the characters, you'll notice that most of the countries involved in World War One (and World War Two) are represented here. And that's really what the novel is about - how these different characters interact as war approaches, during war and finally, when the war ends.

I don't think this novel is a class struggle sort of novel. I mean sure, Fritz and Bea are terrible examples of aristocrats. But there's Maud and Walter and Gus (who's upper-class American) - those three are characters that I really liked. And yeah sure, there are the admirable working class, but what about Ethel and Billy's dad, who, to be frank, I did not admire at all. Or Lev, who's a cad (actually, he's like Fritz, but not noble). Bottom line, I don't think that a certain class is stereotyped (for example, all working class people are to be admired) based on the characters themselves.

There's also no obvious villain here. That's because there's no obvious hero and no obvious plot. I mean, Fritz and Lev are my two least favourite characters (and yes, I hoped that they came to a bad end), but they aren't evil. At least, they don't scheme to ruin the lives of others - they're just extraordinarily self-centred. But if I had to point out a 'villian', then I'm going to have to go with the whole concept of war. And the stupidity associated with the concept of "winner take all".

What I really liked were how all these characters were woven together. At first, I didn't see how certain characters could connect with others, but as the novel went on, everything came together. I doubt most of the characters knew how their lives intersected (for example, I doubt that the Russian brothers were aware of Fritz or Ethel or Billy, etc), but as a reader, the lines of connection were quite clear. And the multitude of nationalities served to provide a look at how different countries viewed things.

Lastly, the ending. The ending isn't happy. Sure, the war ended, but we are introduced to Hitler, see the begining of the tragedy that will be Communist Russia and well, if you know anything about modern history, you'll know that the next few years will be brutal and even the hope that the League of Nations brought will be snuffed out really soon.

All in all, I really reccomend this book! Also, special thanks to my friend Nic for buying the book to me and getting it all the way from Singapore to Japan ^^

Note: I read this book as part of the Tea and Books reading challenge.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Tristis Manor by J.R. Wagner

Tristis Manor is a novella, but it packs a punch. It starts off with Margaret, the protagonist as she hides in a larder. It's the place that she considers safe, and unfortunately, she scratches the floor so hard that her fingernails come off.

And that sets of a chain of events that end up with her almost dying of an infection. But just as she's about to die, she has a weird dream - and then she gets better.

I have a feeling that this dream is important - and that this novella is part of a greater series. Let me go check it out.


*foot tapping*

I'm back! Looks like this is part of a series called The Never Chronicles. I've never heard of it, but Margaret is such an intriguing character that I would love to read more. Plus, if this novella is any exception, the series will deal with some pretty deep issues.

My summary above totally ignores the heart of the book, so to speak. After all, why is Margaret harming herself? The why is the most important, and well, the reason was darker than I expected. It is hinted in the novel (up to the reveal), but it's not too obvious. The trauma that Margaret suffers makes it so that not that much information is revealed.

This is a wonderful novella. It covers a bunch of difficult issues well, and now I'm looking forward to reading the series (I really have to get to a library once I get back to Singapore)

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

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

There are books that bring me to tears. There are books that bring me close to tears. This book is either one of the two (I definitely teared up, but I was also chatting to my friend at the same time, so the emotional impact may have been lessened).

Please Look After Mom is a close look at how three members of a family react when the mom of the family goes missing. It is quite strange that two of the children are ignored completely, but if they are added, well, it doesn't seem as though anything will be enriched.

To be honest, this book reminds me of the (also Korean) movie The Way Home. Specifically, it reminds me of the scene where the spoilt grandson wants KFC and the grandmother, not understanding, exchanges her melons for a chicken and prepares boiled chicken. I was crying and I really wanted to shake some sense into that little boy.

What this book is, is a look at a Korean family. Actually, I dare say a look at an Asian family (Chinese/Korean/Japanese to be very specific - because of the influence of Confucianism on these cultures). The disappearance of the mom prompts soul searching and it leads this family to realise the mom they have taken for granted is so much more than the role she was pigeon-holed into.

One interesting characteristic of the book is that it's told mostly in the second-person point of view. At first, I thought it was because first-person was too immediate (and harder to be convincing emotionally), while third person was too distant. But the author managed to pull together the narrative technique with the storyline to provide a sense of closure. It's a very neat trick and the second-person narrative was well-done.

All in all, I really liked this book. It's a touching story, and well, I suppose because it's somehow inherently Asian, I relate to it better than to other books about dysfunctional families/families finding out more about themselves that I read.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Anomaly by Krista McGee

Anomaly is Krista McGee's first foray into Sci-Fic/Dystopian fiction. Before that, she wrote books like First Date, Starring Me and Right Where I Belong (And I loved them all)! So while I was sad that her latest book isn't in that same world, I was also pretty excited to see how she would tackle this new genre.

Anomaly follows Thalli, the titular character who experiences emotion, making her an anomaly. In the world that Thalli lives in, humans have destroyed their own world, and so the Scientists have started re-creating mankind to be without emotions, born to fufill their role. Thalli is her pod's musician, and for some reason, she feels too much.

The book is told from Thalli's point of view, which I think severely limits things. I didn't really get a sense of how the world functioned - I knew a bit of the history, a bit of how it worked, but it never really came to life for me.

Likewise for the characters and their relationships. I think writing about a world where most characters don't feel is tough. So the challenge is to show Thalli as different. But, she has Bert (check name), her romantic interest, so she never feels that isolated. I think that at least for this book (this seems like a series), their relationship should have been put on hold.

Honestly, my favourite part was the ending, because it brought a tiny twist to the whole plot and made in more interesting. Up till then, it felt fairly standard. I could more or less guess what was going to happen.

Well, the bottom line is, it's decent. Not as good as her previous books, and not as good as some other books in this genre, but it's a nice read. I wish I could muster more enthusiasm, but it seems like Sci-Fi/Dystopian is not really her forte.

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Teaser Tuesday - Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Now that my exams are over, I finally have time to dig in to a huge huge book. And well, since my awesome friend Nic sent me Fall of Giants, it was the book I've been looking forward to! So here's the teaser:

"It was a Carnegie library, built with a donation from the American philanthropist, according to a plaque in the lobby. Lev could read, but he did not really understand people who thought of it as a pleasure" (page 344)
I don't think I like Lev :p I know that there are people who don't like reading, but as one of those who do, well, I suppose it's hard for me to imagine thinking like him.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of ShouldBeReading. To participate, all you have to do is to take a two sentence teaser from a book you're currently reading and share it.

What are your teasers this week?

Monday, August 12, 2013

J. Robert Oppenheimer, For Example by Frederic Raphael

The blurb of the book says that "J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER, FOR EXAMPLE: the Drama of the Eternal Outsider, is an ironic polemic inspired by the story of Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb. Drawing on a detail in Oppenheimer’s childhood, Frederic Raphael (screenwriter EYES WIDE SHUT) not explores this strange, chilly and haughty scientist, but takes off into a dazzling exploration of exceptional men throughout history."

Well actually, this book is about the Jews and how they have been outcasted. J. Robert Oppenheimer isn't discussed until chapter 10, and even then, he is talked about only in relation to how the Jews have been marginalised. If you wanted to learn more about J. R. Oppenheimer, this is not the right book. The author is here to talk about how the Jews have been marginalised through history and how that has affected how they react to the world.

I'm not a history student, so I can't comment on how accurate the history and its interpretation are, but I do disagree with the author's portrayal of Christianity. The theology consists of the same old things, such as the claim that Jesus never claimed to be divine (not true). But as for Church history, I'm no expert and its possible that the author is right and that the Church has continually mis-intepreted the Bible to encourage anti-semitism. (I was, however, skeptical from the moment that he wrote 'how many Christian initiates would learn that Jesus never preached to anyone but Jews?' Most of them actually, considering that they were commanded to preach the Gospel first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles). The book also ignores the East (Japan taking in Jewish refugees for one thing), although since this book focuses on the displacement of Jewish people, I suppose the emphasis on the West is understandable.

This is an interesting book and the author does show how anti-semitism is carried on even to the present day. Just a word of warning, don't be mislead by the title - the focus is definitely not on the father of the atomic bomb,

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

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Language Of Sparrows by Rachel Phifer

I'm going to start with "THIS BOOK IS BEAUTIFUL!" I love the story, I love the characters, I love the language, I love everything about it!

Then again, this book has a polyglot for a protagonist. I wish I was a polyglot (I can only speak 3.5 languages, sadly). Well, even though she picks up languages at an astonishing pace, Sierra is this quiet withdrawn girl. One day, she makes friends with a cranky old man with a past and launches the whole book into motion.

Sierra's mom, April is the forever-cheerful, optimistic sort of person who is desperately trying to hold it together. Her cheerfulness just masks how tenuously everything is holding together, and well, she needs to let her sadness show.

The cranky old man is called Luca, and he was imprisoned in Romania. By a stroke of coincidence, his son, Nick/Nicu is a teacher at Sierra's school. And he's not just a teacher, he is one of those teachers that believe in his students and uses unconventional methods to get them back on track. Unfortunately, that puts him at war with the school's new principal.

From this four characters comes multiple plots (Sierra and Luca, April and Luca, April and Nick, Nick and Luca, etc). The interaction of two characters forms a different plots, with everything coming together to one lovely conclusion. Actually, I didn't notice how many plots there were until I tried to count them, then I realised that each interaction was its own story.

All in all, a lovely book. I recommend it to everybody!

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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sun Tze for Success by Gerald Michaelson

My parents got me this book because they know that I'm interested in things like that (although my Chinese is terrible). And it took some time, but I finally read this book!

Well, this book has two parts - Part One is the translation of The Art of War in English. Part Two is how you can apply The Art Of War to your life. Each chapter is pretty short, and there's an even shorter summary at the end of each chapter. For Part Two, it's subdivided into five sections - Personal Characteristics for Success, Strategies for Success, Tactics for Success, Competitive Success, and Examples for Success.

So that is what the book is about. And from the blurb, it says that this book is "following up on the bestselling success of Sun Tzu: The Art of War for Managers". That gave me a huge "aha" moment. This book felt so much like reading a business book, although it's supposed to be a general self-help type of book. I'm not sure if it's the language or just a weird sense that comes from reading too many business-related books, but I kept thinking I was reading a managing handbook. So if you're the type that drops off at the hint of "business", you might want to hold back on this book.

All in all, this is a pretty interesting book. Apart from the sense that I was reading something business-related (which I didn't actually mind that much), this is an easy-to-read book about how Sun Tzu could apply to our lives.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Teaser Tuesday - The Language of Sparrows by Rachel Phifer

Today is the last day of exams so it means that I can start reading and reading and reading again! (Well, once I finish three reports that is). So here's my teaser, from a book I started reading today:

"But to live without the wonder of childhood is distressing. You must believe me, it is not the sort of life one wants to live."

I really love quotes like this! The book is called The Language of Sparrows and it's by Rachel Phiffer. It's reading really beautifully right now - the language is awesome!

Teaser Tuesday is a meme hosted by MizB of Shouldbereading. To participate, all you have to do is to post a two sentence teaser of a book you're currently reading and share the title and author.

What is your teaser tuesday?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Tremendous Trifles by G.K. Chesterton

A while back, my friend and I were trying to find out the who said this quote

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten"

To me, this sounds like G.K. Chesterton (He is seriously one of my favourite authors!), but the internet was saying Neil Gaiman. My friend was saying that Neil Gaiman was quoting G.K. Chesterton. So after some searching, I found that this this quote is an approximation of the following quote from G.K. Chesterton's Tremendous Trifles:

"Fairy tales. then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child  his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear  idea of the possible defeat of bogey."

Sorry, it was too good not to quote in full.

Anyway, Tremendous Trifles is a collection of Chesterton's columns in The Daily Mail. The language is beautiful (I cannot stop highlight/marking passages in my iPad) and humourous. The content is what Chesterton himself calls "a sort of sporadic diary", where he talks about about things that happen to catch his eye.

What Chesterton does best is to make the mundane magical. It's something that I can identify with more than ever, as I vacillate between the feeling that Japan is my home and the wonder of the tourist.

Another thing that caught my eye was the chapter on travelling. He says that

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land it is to at least set food on one's own country as a foreign land."
I'm going home to Singapore in a month, and I wonder if this is true. It is definitely something to make me think.

Chesterton may be called the master without a masterpiece, but I think his talent lay in taking a small, everyday occurrence and for those few precious pages, spun it into a brilliant gem.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Bag of Marbles by Joseph Joffo

It's kind of weird, but my main impression of World War II in Europe comes from Anne Frank. I did study about it in history, but to be honest, the war in the Asia-Pacific arena always felt more personal somehow. I mean, my country was invaded after all.

But having said that, I do want to learn more. I have heard so many stories about the atrocities in Asia, but what of Europe? That's why I requested A Bag Of Marbles, a comic that tells the true story of Joseph Joffo and his brother, Jews who was running from the Nazis.

The story was not as powerful as I expected. But I think that's due to the e-Galley copy I received. Despite the fact that this is a comic, the images were heavily pixelated and some panels didn't even have words that I could read. So I was really reliant on just dialogue and some inner thoughts, which I think limited the impact of the book. After all, a lot of the impact of a comic comes from the images.

Pacing wise, I wasn't very impressed. I didn't have a very good sense of which part of the war the boys were in (was the war already starting? ending? in between?), which again, could be due to the missing panels and blur pictures.

I really would like to read the actual biography though. From what I've seen in the comic, this sounds like a story that's not just about two young boys, but includes a wider community/parts of a community that connects them.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. Unfortunately, my review is impaired by blur pictures and some missing text.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ready to Die by Lisa Jackson

This is one of the first crime novels I read where my favourite character was the one who was in a coma for the entire book. Well actually, I did like a few of the non-comatose characters, but not as much (I suppose when the comatose character is the well-liked sheriff you can't help but root for him).

Ready To Die starts with the death of an un-named women, whom we later find out is a judge. Then, the book jumps to the local police station and we get a feel of how things work. And then someone tries to kill the sheriff Dan (and almost succeeds). The rest of the book is about trying to find the murderer.

What I liked in the book was the complexity of the characters. There aren't any 'good' characters, except perhaps Dan. And to be honest, I don't particularly like many of these characters, but that may be due to another issue. Let's just say for now, that these characters are wonderfully human and flawed.

But, and this is a big but, this book was confusing. While there's nothing wrong with writing from multiple perspective, but the book switched between them too fast. It took me a long to differentiate between the characters. Granted, that may be a e-galley problem, because there was no "-------" or "*****" that normally separates too different sections. Without those visual cues, I was quite disoriented, and I didn't really know which character was which for a while (Which is probably why I didn't like them as much as I should have).

I'm hoping that the formatting issues will be resolved when the book is officially published - if not for it, I would have enjoyed this book a lot more.

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