Thursday, October 31, 2013

Promote Yourself by Dan Schawbel

Happy Halloween everyone! I don't really celebrate this holiday (well, Chinese and not living in a Western Country and all that), but if you want something cute to fawn over, have a look at this Sushi Candy that I found! (Well, I said I don't celebrate, but I never object to eating food(; ). And since it's Halloween, what is scarier than a scary story? Finding a job! (Ok, this only applies to working people/people about to enter the workfore). So in its own strange way (in my own strange mind, with my own strange logic), this is an appropriate book to review.

Promote Yourself is supposed to help you against the scariest of all things - stuck in a dead-end job you hate. This book is supposed to teach you how to make sure you advance up the career ladder and cinch/create that dream job of yours. The book is going to teach you things like what managers look for when they want to promote people, how to turn your passion into a new position, starting your own business while on the job and many many other things.

What interested me the most was actually Chapter Five "Gain Visibility without Being Known as a Self-Promotional Jerk". The book makes a difference between self-promotion and bragging, with the later being the one that annoys everyone. I probably learnt the most from this chapter because it's always felt weird for me to claim attention to myself. And if you're wondering what the big idea is, it's actually quite simple - make everything how you can help others, not about what you can do and how awesome you are. Simple advice, but I think actually doing this will be challenging.

The only thing that I didn't really like was the America-centric stance of the book. Section in question:

"Remember those 300, 000-jobs-per-year gap I mentioned just a second ago - all those jobs are going overseas. The news only gets worse ... [news about how India and China are going to become huge].... By then, the U.S. will have been out of first place for thirty years."
As someone who isn't living in the US, that's good news for me (assuming that some of the jobs head my way. But I suppose that if you're living in America or want to work in America, this will be scary news for you (BOO!). But because of that, I'm not sure specific the working environment in the book is to America - but if all companies are about the same worldwide, then you have no worries.

I think most of us know that the economy is really bad right now. Well, since I'm in Japan, it's been bad for the past ten plus years, but you get the point. If you're worried about how you're going to get a job - this is probably the book for you. Even if you don't work in America.

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Splintered by A. G. Howard

Why did I take so long before I picked up this book? I'm sure I saw the fawning in the blogging world, why did I ignore it? Why, I ask, why?

Yeah, you can probably see that I really love this story. Why? I'm not quite sure. I mean, it even has a love triangle, and you know my ambivalence towards such things. Although in this case, I not only didn't mind, I actually picked a side - Morpheus and Alyssa is my OTP for this book :D (Because who dates another girl just to get the girl he likes off his mind? That's unfair to the girl he's dating - even if she is mean).

Splintered is not so much as a retelling of Alice in Wonderland as it is a sequel. But in its own way, as Alyssa makes her way through Wonderland and 'fixes' the mistakes Alice made, she's re-tracing her ancestor's journey. I don't think I need to say more about the plot, but trust me when I saw that the last part of the book is when everything goes insane. It was probably my favourite part because all those plot twists came out then!

Character-wise, I really loved Alyssa. And Morpheus (ok, I'll stop for now). I thought that considering that she had been dealing with the thought that she was going insane like her mother for the last few years, she handled things very maturely. And I love the fact that she went into Wonderland not to run away from anything, but to save her mom. Extra points for the love!

Morpheus, was an evil genius. I admit that the way he was portrayed meant that you'd either hate him or love him, but I looked at the way he took care of Alyssa when she was younger (up until the ___[Redacted due to spoiler - just assume it's a traumatising incident]____), and my heart melted. Plus, his Alyssa-crush was always obvious to me.

Jeb is the ordinary best-friend/secret crush. He's actually an all-round nice guy, which made his fights with Morpheus extremely amusing to me. The only thing I didn't quite get was why he was dating a girl that so obviously hated his best friend's guts - well, I think that relationship was very badly handled :p

I'm really really really looking forward to the next book. Unfortunately, the publishers on NetGalley turned down my request for an ARC of Unhinged, so I'll have to wait!

Note: This book was read for the fairytales retold reading challenge. Carol himself considered it a fairytale, and I will too.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This book is the reason why I didn't catch the first half of my lecture. I started reading it on the train, read it on the bus, read it all the way till class started - and then realise I had 70 more pages to go. So in a rather uncharacteristic move (unlike what many people think, I have my reading addiction habit under control now), I decided to just finish the book.

Why was the book so unputdownable? Quite frankly, it was because of the mystery. You see, Cassie is a natural profiler (she can read people very well). And after her mother was killed, well, she's never gotten over it. But after she joins the FBI's program to train other Naturals like her (natural in statistics, in detecting lies, in reading emotions, etc), a serial killer (who might have killed her mother) comes after her.

And it was to find out who the killer was that made the book so irresistible to me.

Plus, every now and then, a very short chapter is presented in the killer's point of view, and that definitely made me very very curious. I was given all these little clues, and I still didn't manage to figure out the killer!

I think that the whole aspect of the Naturals was really interesting. I know that the whole power thing is a bit worn by now, but these kids, well, I can sort of believe them. What abilities they have are really just highly developed intuition after all. I mean, think about it, most staff on crime shows seem to have the same kind of intuition.

The only thing that I didn't like about the book was the love triangle. It wasn't insta-love (thankfully), but she was stuck between: a. Mr Broody and Emotional (who has a crazy 'sister' protecting him and b. Mr Sarcastic and Troubled. Basically, two guys who gave lousy first impressions (but are apparently very nice). I would have been so much happier if the book just focused on Cassie, her past, and her trying to settle in.

Hopefully this is a series, because I'm really looking forward to the next one!

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates

This book has been called "the American Gothic novel", a title which I think is deserved. But if I had to compare the accursed to Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and James Henry's The Turning of the Screw, I'd say it's closer to the later. For most of the book, the supernatural aspect is not that strong and it could easily be the product of paranoid minds. Only in the last few chapters does the supernatural aspect come out very strongly.

Now, it took me a little while before I understood what the book was about, so here's a really quick summary. It's 1905 and Woodrow Wilson is the president of Princeton University. He's really convinced that he's rival Andrew West is out to get him. Cue scene change to the Slade Family, as a paranormal activity (one of the Slade girls gets abducted) sets a chain of paranormal events (or just highly unusual events that are ascribed to the paranormal), which is why the book then jumps around from inhabitant to inhabitant. Which makes it sound rather ghostly, as though it was possessing the different characters.

Another thing the novel reminded me of was a novel from Wilkie Collins was the style of writing. There wasn't just multiple perspectives, there were multiple narrative styles. Some, like journal entries, were harder to read than others (because they did not make sense at first).

But still, this is a riveting novel. The more I read it, the more drawn into the novel I was. I admit that I didn't really care for the characters at first, but by the end of the novel, I think that even if I didn't love them, I could understand their position. For example, Uptown Sinclair, the guy that wrote The Jungle (I should really read that too). At first, he seemed like a pompous guy who was too happy to make his wife suffer for his ideals. But as I read on, well, I didn't become a fan, but I did find him rather sympathetic - he was a complete idealist, and the real world isn't kind to idealists like him.

What helped me through this novel was actually Wikipedia. Once I got a sense of who the characters were (this may not be necessary for you if you're familiar with American history), understanding and enjoying the book became a lot easier.

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

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Antiques Magpie by Marc Allum

The Antiques Magpie is the kind of non-fiction book that I enjoy. It's about one topic (antiques), which is broad enough to go into different directions of information - which makes for a really fun reading experience.

Author Marc Allum (from Antiques Roadshow), covers many different topics, from the 1933 penny, to stolen Art to even how to take care of the priceless furniture you own (the term 'shabby chic' was used). It's probably an introduction to the world of antiques (no prior knowledge is assumed), and for an introductory book, it's really interesting. The style is conversational, though informative, and I think that even if you only a passing interest in antiques, you'll find yourself being absorbed by this book.

The only thing that might annoy you is that the book isn't very well-organised. The chapter titles are interesting (E.g. 'Mythical Objects', Ulfberhts, Chanel handbags, patents and copyright', 'Animal, vegetable or mineral?' etc), but if you're looking to refer back to a particular chapter, it might be rather difficult. But, if you're just dipping into this book for pieces of knowledge that might come in useful, I doubt that this will be much of a problem.

While most of the book is written in a conversational style, occasionally, this is broken by lists. I suppose that this is for the collector, but I wasn't very interested in it. However, they don't take up that much space, and you can happily skip the pages without any sense of guilt.

All in all, this is a very interesting book that will, I think, appeal to both the antique collector wannabe and the random reader in search of more random pieces of information.

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Frog Princess by E.D Baker

The Frog Princess is a re-telling of yes, you've guessed it, The Frog Prince. In case you don't know the story (after all, the Disney Movie Version is new, and is also a retelling), here's how it goes:

A princess loses her golden ball (which means she's probably a child), a frog promises to get her golden ball back for her if she'll take him in, let him eat from her dish and kiss him. She agrees, breaks her promise, but the frog finds her anyway (scary). And her dad makes her carry out her promise. By the end of the story, the frog turns into a handsome prince and everyone's happy (he must have taken a long time to find her, since she was probably a child when she met him).

In this retelling, the princess (Emma) turns into a frog as well (This is kinda like the Disney version, but in the Disney version, the princess isn't a royal by birth. And voodoo is involved - Oh wait, Wikipedia just told me that the Disney version is based on this book. Oops.). The two of them have to work together to find a way to get back to normal.

Personally, I loved the characters in this series. Emma is a good first-person narrator - she's engaging and brings you over to her side almost right away. Prince Eadric is an interesting character - he's annoying at first (well, we do see the book through Emma's eyes), but as Emma warms up to him, so do we.

This book is actually the first in a series of books. I think I read them a few years back (when Aunty Florence lent them to me), so I'm really interesting in finding the rest of them and re-reading them again!

Note: This book was read for the Fairy-Tales Retold reading challenge.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Trial of Dr. Kate by Michael E. Glasscock III

I don't normally take notice of authors, so imagine my surprise when I realised that The Trial of Dr. Kate is by the same author of Little Joe (link leads to my review)! To be honest, I only noticed it because the words "Little Joe" and "Joe Stout" were used. Apart from that, the two books couldn't be more different.

The Trial of Dr. Kate, like its name says, is about a trial of a doctor under the suspicion of murdering her best friend. When her friend Shenandoah, a Coleman (considered to be poor white trash), now living in Memphis hears of the news, she heads back to her hometown to see how she can help her friend Kate. As she tries to help, she realises that not only is Kate hiding a problem, she might also be falling in love.

Personally, I think this book was much much better than Little Joe. The plot moves at a steady pace, moving towards the trial itself. Along the way, there are two subplots - Shenandoah's romance and the fact someone out to kill her. I was actually more focused on the trial, and the subplots didn't interest me very much (not to mention the mystery about her being almost killed several times had a rather non-climatic ending).

And since Shenandoah is a returnee to her small town, her experiences make this whole book come alive with detail. Especially because of her family background, there's more on how people were discriminated, and as she goes around trying to help Kate, the reader learns about how hard life is for the people there. I think that the fact that the book wasn't all roses helped me feel as though I was pulled into that period of American life.

If you like historical novels, I highly recommend this book!

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jane Austen: Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe

I've been wanting to read this book for ages! Good thing I remembered to borrow it while I was at the library. Jane Austen: Game Theorist is supposed to combine two of my favourite subjects - Literature and Economics (technically, I prefer Business Administration, but close enough!)

If you have no knowledge of Jane Austen or Game Theory, you can still read this book and understand what it's talking about (since there are introductions). Still, if you don't know/have no interest in either subject, why did you pick this book up?

Well, the book, making no presumption of prior knowledge of either Austen or Game Theory, first does a brief introduction. Then it veers into folktales and how they illustrate game theory (for about a chapter or two), before finally, it starts analysing game theory in the six novels of Austen (which are considered as one body of work).

Personally, I found the book to be really interesting. I've never thought of the motivations of the different characters in terms of economics (then again, I doubt many people have). It was interesting to read the analysis, and it does make quite a lot of sense to me.

But, I should warn you guys, the writing is dry. The writing style is academic, so if you're expecting a friendly, conversational tone of voice, you may be put to sleep by this book. If you're the sort that spends all day reading non-fiction/academic journals, you may be used to a more formal style, but since I've been reading nothing but novels lately, it was a bit of a shock.

Still, I highly recommend this book, especially for Jane Austen fans. It's definitely not your typical analysis on Jane Austen, and I hope that they're be more books melding Literature and Economics/Business in the future.

Note: I borrowed this book while I was back in Singapore

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Secret Keeper by Beverly Lewis

This was one of the most interesting Amish books I've read so far. For one thing, the protagonist Jennifer Burns isn't Amish, she's 'English' and her dream is to become Amish (she feels like she was born into the wrong century). The Secret Keeper chronicles what happened within the Amish community when she tries to join.

And woah. One thing that impressed me was that the book wasn't just about her struggle to submit, it was about how the Amish community reacted to her. And let me put it this way - even before she came, they had trouble. Rebekah, her mentor, 'lost' a daughter who is being shunned by the Church. Jennifer's best friend, Marnie, is torn between her fiancee and her strict parents. So as Jennifer tries to fit in, she finds out that the Amish world isn't the technology-free paradise that she hoped for. 

But that said, I was disappointed that the book didn't explore a few issues further. The topmost one was about Amish theology. I never though about it till this book, but what do they believe? The book talks about the 'hope of salvation' (I believe that I am saved once I put my faith in Christ), and it mentions something about the Amish children being discouraged from Bible study with a non-Amish (I'm very curious as to this applies to Bible study in general or just limited to non-Amish Bible study). I'm also wondering about how they plan to be the 'salt and light' of the earth while separating themselves.

But then again, this isn't a theology book. It's a novel, and it's a good novel. I recommend that you read it if you're a fan of Amish novels. 

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Plants vs Zombies The Comic: Lawmageddon by Paul Tobin

Ok, so I requested this book partly because I like Plants vs Zombies (There was this period of time where I did nothing but play Plants vs Zombies 2), but mostly because my little brother loves Plants vs Zombies (he skypes me just to ask for advice. Actually, only to ask for advice), and I wanted to know if I should get him this book.

So you may be asking, how do you make a comic out of a game where you plant plants to defeat zombies. There's only Crazy Dave, who barely speaks English, and Penny, the talking car. And a taco (in Plants vs Zombies 2 ok?). The answer is, introduce some Original Characters - Nate and Patrice (Crazy Dave's niece, and hence, his interpreter).

The whole gist of the comic goes like this: suddenly zombies appear. Convince sentient plants created by Crazy Dave to help you and fight zombies. Include a smart zombie that wants to block out the sun.

I suppose, if you're a huge fan of the game, you'll enjoy this book. For me, it was ... actually a little boring. I suppose that's because you can't actually make a game that's all about strategic timing into an exciting comic. I didn't really get the two main characters, and the plot mostly consisted of zombie fighting, which is much more fun when you're the one fighting the zombies.

Still, I suppose my brother might like it.

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

Katrin's Chronicles by Valerie C. Woods

Do you know what book Katrin's Chronicles reminded me of? It was Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator. While the plot and setting of the books are very different, they have common elements - the protagonist is a young girl, there are mysteries involved, and yes, paranormal powers are involved.

In Katrin's Chronicles, the titular protagonist (unlike Gilda Joyce), is not the one that has the most powers. She has some, but the gifted one is clearly her older sister J. Dyanne. Combined with a keen sense of observation, it makes J. Dyanne a detective that can rival any professional detective. In fact, in the very first case - we see how that even with minimal use of her powers, she solves a kidnapping case.

And with that case solved, both sisters realise that there's more to their family that meets the eye. Under the tutelage of their Grand Anne (their grandmother), the two girls, particularly J. Dyanne) try to master their powers. Complicating things are a string of cases that draw them into the heart of what could be a huge political scandal.

What I liked about this book was, simply, the pacing. It was very well-paced and I never got bored with it. And though it includes many details from 1968 (or at least, I felt like I was really there), it doesn't get bogged down with too much detail. And since this book is targeted at Middle Schoolers (I'm guessing that's around Secondary School for Singaporeans), it's likely to catch and keep their attention.

But, there was one thing that I didn't really like - and that was the narrative style. I understand that Katrin loves words and is good at writing, but sometimes the writing felt too fake - but I think that's because it's hard to write in the voice of a young, gifted writer. But after a few chapters, I got used to it and it became a non-issue for me.

This is definitely a book that I would recommend.

Note: I received a free copy of this book as part of Enchanted Book Promotion's blog tour in exchange for a free and honest review.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired by Celia Rivenbark

I requested for this book on NetGalley because, well, an etiquette book swearing? And not just in the title, this book swears quite frequently throughout, so if you're very sensitive to swearwords, put this book down and back away slowly. The combination of etiquette advice and swearing may give you too big a shock to handle.

Basically, this book is written in a Q&A format, with a short introduction. It covers things like splitting the check, funeral behaviour, dinner party and even getting arrested. It's supposed to teach you about "modern etiquette dilemmas" so, I guess those are relevant topics for today.

Personally, I didn't like the book as much as I expect. Yes, it was fairly funny (though it wasn't funny all the time), but it wasn't useful. I just hope that the 'advice' part of this book was a gimmick because all the things the author reccomended were either things that I take for granted as basic human behavour. But maybe I'm wrong and there are people out there who really don't know basic manners.

As an etiquette book, I didn't find this book very useful. Perhaps it's because Japan is a very polite society, and even in Singapore, we're fairly polite, so whatever her advice is, it's either something that I think is natural or near the border line (for example, if I had guests, I would so pick them up from, and send them to the airport. I'd want them to have a good time. And I wouldn't expect them to help out around the house unless they offered. And if I'm a guest, I'll go out of my way to not be a nuisance - washing plates and whatnot. Most of my friends behave that way too).

On the whole, I give this book credit for being funny sometimes, but it's not very helpful, and if you're looking for funny 'how to' books, may I recommend Guy Browning (who, by the way, wrote a hilarious column on How to be Polite)?

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cover Reveal - Sworn to Conflict by Terah Edun

Hey all! If you remember, some time back, I reviewed Terah Edun's Sworn to Transfer. I really liked the book, so when I was asked to participate in the cover reveal for the next in the series, I said yes immediately! Enjoy!

Cover Reveal: Sworn To Conflict by Terah Edun + #Giveaway (International)

On Sale on Amazon, iTunes & Barnes & Noble December 6, 2013
Sworn To Conflict by Terah Edun (Book 3)
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Coming Of Age
Ciardis Weathervane fought for the living dead and won. But worse than taking on a mass murderer, was her discovery that she had been deceived by her friends. Now she needs to not only fight a war in the North and survive, but also decide where she stands in the midst of competing sides. A threat to all she holds dear lies in the North and her heart is not the only thing she might lose. A massive army awaits in the mountain pass, surging closer to the gates of the southern lands. Nothing the Algardis army has done so far has dissuaded their march forward and Ciardis finds out that her powers to enhance are needed now more than ever. As she faces her greatest fears on the battlefields and her heart is torn between her love of Sebastian and loyalty to her family, Ciardis must choose her fate carefully. For in her path, lies the destiny of the empire. This third novel continues the story of Ciardis Weathervane from Sworn To Transfer.
Other Books in the Series
Connect With Terah: Author Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
Series Order Links:
Sworn To Transfer (Book Two)

International Giveaway!

Terah is giving away 1 signed copy of Sworn To Transfer, 1 eARC of Sworn To Conflict, and 1 ebook of Sworn To Raise or Sworn To Transfer. There are 3 total winners! CLICK HERE to enter! Good Luck!
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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teaser Tuesday - The Mystery of the Darkstone by Val Rutt

I hope that you saw my review of The Race for the Lost Keystone by Val Rutt yesterday, because today's teaser is from the sequel: The Mystery of the Darkstone. It's a book I haven't read but I'm enjoying very much so far!

So on to the teaser!

"The only people who had her number were her friends and her family, and when they called their name was displayed. Kate looked at the unknown number - no doubt a wrong number - and nearly didn't answer it." (page 161)
What is your teaser this week?

Remember Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of ShouldBeReading. To participate, just share a two sentence teaser of a book you're reading along with its title and author.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Race for the Lost Keystone by Val Rutt

This is a really special book to me. It's a book that I read when I was a kid, then forgot the name and most of the plot. I just remembered that it was very good and about a 'heartstone' or something like that. Somehow, I found out that the title was called The Race for the Lost Keystone, and thus my search began.

Unfortunately, this book is out-of-print. I even emailed the author to ask her if she knew where I could lay my hands on a copy, but no luck. I thought I'd have to pay through my nose for a second hand copy on the net. But on my trip back to Singapore, I found this book and the sequel for SGD$2.90 each!

The Race for the Lost Keystone follows the sister-brother pair Kate and Phil as they discover that they're not as ordinary as they seem. Their family is actually the guardians of a bunch of magic stones called Heartstones. And if they have the Keystone (the most important of the bunch), they can even time travel. Sadly, their grandmother (the evil Lorabeth Lamptom) is evil and they team up with their Great-Aunt Elizabeth to fight evil.

What I remembered and loved most about the books were the gadgets. Great-Aunt Elizabeth's house is outfitted by a genius inventor called Harold. Can you imagine, cars which have an interior that can expand (no more squished me!), a "dried-and-dressed" (you choose an outfit and it bathes and dresses you), bedroom with a large apple tree and a waterfall - these were stuff that younger-me would love to have (present me would love it too!). The book is really enhanced by all these inventions that will appeal to any kid.

And, there's an exciting plot. It moves fairly quickly, and well, with the heartstones and the inventions, we get this mix of science and magic that made me thing "could this be real?".

Even though many many years have passed since I read this book, this is as good as I remembered it! I can't wait to read the sequel! 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Little Joe by Michael E. Glasscock III

Little Joe sounded like a heartwarming story. I love the slice-of-life stories, really, I do! But, while Little Joe was descriptive, it was like coke without bubbles - flat. (Don't get me wrong, Coke without bubbles is awesome when you're ill. Coke with ginger is.... depends on whether you like ginger)

You see, Little Joe is about Little Joe Stout, who goes to live with his grandparents after his parents die in a tragic car accident. So he makes friends, gets bullied and learns a lot of life lessons (like how much his grandparents love him), amid the backdrop of the World War II.

The problem with Little Joe is that it's just a slice of a little boy's life. I didn't feel as though I read a story, I feel as though I read a snapshot. While there are several learning events, they don't feel very well connected, so to me, something felt lacking. Which is another way of saying flat.

I think that if just one event was chosen, and that event amplified, it would have been much more engaging. For example, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are both episodic, but they each have one main adventure at the end that. In the case of Huck Finn, there's a narrative thread, which is what made the book literature.

So all in all, this is a so-so book. It's interesting, but well, I'm not that interested in finding out what happens.

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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Passion by Jude Morgan

I picked this book up because it looked interesting. Thankfully, the cover the first one I saw on Goodreads (the one that makes it look like some historical romance novel), or I would have never given it a go.

Passion is about three famous English poets - Lord Byron (is it just me, or am I the only one who tends to spell it Bryon?), Shelley (husband of the famous Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein) and Keats. But instead of focusing on these men directly, the book takes a more oblique view by looking at the women they loved/who loved them - Mary Goodwin (later Mary Shelley), Lady Caroline Lamb (first obsessed fan-stalker), Augusta Leigh (half-sister of Lord Byron) and Fanny Brawne (the fiance of Keats)

My first impression of this book was that it was rushing at me. Rushing, trying to drown me in a sea of images and styles. Perhaps it's just me, but I didn't really click with the book because of this. Instead of feeling immersed in history, I felt as though I was being inundated with images and text and people (and I still felt disconnected).

Plus, for such an ambitious book, it seemed to have problems focusing. Most of the book was about Caroline, Augusta and Byron (well, they did have a very interesting story). Mary and Shelley came in later (as they got to know Byron), and Fanny and Keats had the least amount of paper-space. That meant that there were snippets of Mary Goodwin and Fanny Brawne throughout the book, but it wasn't later til I knew how their stories fit in the whole picture. To me, the book could have cut out Keats and Fanny altogether and I wouldn't have noticed a difference - the book is more about Lord Byron and the woman around him than any other poet. Although to be fair, the latter parts (third? fourth?) of the book does focus on Shelley and Mary.

Another problem for me was the many writing styles. There seemed to be a lot of passive writing, a few dialogues as though it were a play and even an attempt at stream-of-conciousness. It would have worked if the styles were consistent, but it wasn't (I used to think *possible spoiler alert* 'crazy-stream-of-conciousness-type-voice = Lady Caroline, but then I realised it wasn't true). I would have much preferred the book if it were written in a more direct style.

I think I only finished the book because I was curious about these four women, and Wikipedia made them seem interesting. Otherwise, I might not have made it through.

Note: I'm not sure why the Goodreads page count is the way it is (different edition perhaps?) but my copy states that there are 663 pages, so I'm counting this as part of the Tea and Books reading challenge.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

History's Greatest Scandals by Ed Wright

I admit to being one of those folks for whom the "horrible" series (horrible history, horrible science) was a source of entertainment. Every time someone tries to dress up learning in a fun way, I have a need to read it (like eating a piece of medicine coated in candy). Then again, I sometimes read textbooks for fun, so....

History's Greatest Scandals is really a book full of very short biographies of people who did things considered scandalous in their time. Yes, Watergate and Bill Clinton are mentioned. So is Queen Catherine of Russia (check name). As a whole, the book is divided into six different sections - Political misconduct (most number of scandals), Murder and Mystery, False Prophets, On the Lam, Double Lives, Private Perversions. Each section has at least three scandals/biographies. Each biography is broken into three parts - why the scandal happened (aka the early years), the scandal, and the aftermath (did he/she escape unscathed?). And if you're really interested, there's a long long list of biographies that you can use as a reference for further reading.

Personally, I would have liked the book to be a lot lot longer. There's something fascinating about reading about how all these other people have screwed up, I mean done wrong. In fact, in the False Prophets section, it seems that there is a connection between two of the fake preachers - and that is something that I would have liked to read more about.

Unfortunately, there is a rather strong western emphasis. I counted, and there is exactly one Asian reference - Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. And well, this book isn't called 'Western History's Greatest Scandals'. I mean, I'm sure we have a lot more - in the past few months, Singapore has Pastor Kong, who used the Church's money to promote his wife's singing career, China has Bo Xilai (and many others, but this is the most recent one), Malaysia has Anwar, and well, just the South East Asian region alone has enough for a book.

Hey, maybe someone should write a sequel to this - History's Greatest Scandals (Asian version)

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

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted is a really famous fairy-tale retelling. But I'm sure you already knew that. So, for the fairy-tales retold reading challenge, I decided to re=read this story, to see if it still held on to its magic on the second reading. And well, it proved why it was so famous.

Ella Enchanted is a re-telling of the Cinderella story, with one twist - Ella cannot say no. She was cursed by a fairy at birth and has to obey every order. Well, now that I think about it, this story is really different from the traditional Cinderella story - she meets the Prince before the party, her father doesn't marry her stepmother until well into the story, and she gets sent off to finishing school. Oh well, there is a fairy godmother and there is a ball. And the pumpkin coach. That's enough for me.

Obviously, the star of the book was Ella. Although she has to obey every order, her contrary nature leads her to devise ways of holding back an order as long as possible. Plus, she's an awesome friend to Areida. The narration and Ella are tied together, so if you like her and her style of narration, you'll definitely like her as a character!

And I totally love how her relationship with Prince Charmont. She didn't act like an airhead, she didn't fake her personality, she didn't have to humiliate herself to get his attention, she was just her lovable self and she got him.

Definitely a book that can be re-read over and over again,

Note: The book was read for the Fairy-Tales Retold reading challenge.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Noah's Rainy Day by Sarah Brannan

Noah's rainy day is a mystery story that is unlike any that I've read so far. The protagonist is Noah, a boy with severe cerebral palsy. He can't walk, can't talk, can't do much but think. And it's really his attention to detail and his bravery that solves this case.

Backing up a little bit, this mystery concerns a missing child called Max. Despite having a billionaire for his father, he doesn't travel by private jet, he's a five year old that travels alone. And when the minder fails to properly take care of him, he disappears. Officially, it's Noah's aunt, Liv Bergen who gets called in as part of the team handling this case. But it's Noah who finds the kid first.

What I liked about this story was, quite frankly, Noah. He has so many challenges - just trying to make himself understood is a challenge, but he does manage to get his message across. And unlike those lone wolf stories, this book was about working together. Noah's mom had to figure out what he was saying, Liv Bergen played an important role, Beulah (the dog) had a role, there were so many characters working together.

Unfortunately, because this is the fourth book in the series (and I just found out when I read it on Goodreads), because of the many characters, there is also character backstory. That I didn't really get. Mostly, it was the relationship between Liv and her boyfriend and one teammate that left me wondering "what happened?". But if you follow the series, I doubt this will be a problem for you.

All in all, this was a good read. I enjoyed reading about how Noah communicates (he and his sister have a really special bond) and the book was exciting (although the mystery wasn't very mysterious).

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

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Sworn to Transfer by Terah Edun

I feel like I haven't read a fantasy novel in ages! And while I signed up for this blog tour fairly last minute, I don't regret it at all! Sworn To Transfer was a really good book that I finished in a day!

Sworn To Transfer follows Ciardis, the unofficial Companion of the Prince Heir, Sebastian. Unfortunately, ever since she saved his life and help him kill his aunt, the Princess Heir, he's been a bit cold to her. Or at least, that's how she thinks. But with a dragon coming, and her finding out more about her family (and trying to learn how to control her powers), she's got a lot to handle.

Before I start, I must say that the author made this book really readable, even for those who haven't read the first book. I'm quite curious about the details, but I think I have a rough idea about what the first book is about (the characters talk about it and pass on information that way).

What I liked was Ciardis. She's a very interesting character. Most of the book is from her point of view, but sometimes, the book switches. And what a difference. To Ciardis, whatever she does makes sense to her, but to others, she's a naive, immature girl. I couldn't help but wonder, which is correct? It's something that kept me interested in this book.

Plot-wise, it moves very fast. A new organisation is introduced (the Shadow council), and once it's introduced, the different members and how they're meddling in the court starts to appear and take an active role. And from there, the plot just keeps rolling on.

All in all, this is a good fantasy book. It's exciting, it has interesting characters, and it's an easy read. You should definitely read this book.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book as part of Enchanted Book Promotions Blog Tours in exchange for a free and honest review.

If you're really curious about the book, take a chance and enter the giveaway!
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Friday, October 4, 2013

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy Rich Asians is set in Singapore.


Although I'm definitely not going to recommend it if you want to learn about Singapore. After all, this was a Singapore that even I didn't recognise.

And before you say "oh no, it's because this is the Singapore for the rich", I should let you know that I grew up in two of the schools mentioned - MGS and ACS. If we are so full of over-the-top rich kids, I would have realised. We have facebook in this time and age after all. But honestly, we're all middle/upper-middle class. Not a bunch of spoilt, rich brats.

Crazy Rich Asians is about Rachel Chu (an American Born Chinese) as she follows her boyfriend Nicholas Young back to Singapore for the first time. This 'normal' girl (who somehow has very rich friends - seriously, even her friend who isn't in the 'inner circle' of the Singapore rich is still filthy rich) is obviously shocked, the high society of Singapore doesn't approve of her, and blah blah blah. It's a classic Chinese story (boy meets girl, boy brings back (the unsuitable girl), family and friends wage a campaign to break them up)

And I, well, I enjoyed the story, but probably for the wrong reasons. For some reason, I didn't really like Rachel Chu. I felt that rather than being a real character, she was just this conduit to showcase how the super-rich in Singapore lives. So the whole 'real-girl' thing felt a bit fake to me - she claimed to hate money, but she reconciled with her boyfriend because he spent a ton on an (admittedly) touching gesture. Which is why, I felt quite some glee whenever she felt out of place.

Plus, her drama distracts from the guilty-indulgence sort of gossipy read about high society. On the other hand, Astrid, Nicholas' cousin was my favourite character. She was funny, and although insanely rich, had her head on the right way. I was behind her every step of the way - in fact, if the book was just about her and her drama, I'd be even happier.

In short, if you'd like to read a gossipy story about high society intrigue, I'd recommend this book. But if you want to get to know Singapore, hmm... try Tais Toi or anything by Neil Humphrey. I'm really hoping that there's a sequel that focuses on Astrid though, that would be a fun read.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott

This is one of the first books I've read where I've felt sympathy for both the parent and the child. Most of the time, I'm sympathetic either to the parent (who has to deal with a child acting out) or the child (if the parent is the cause of the problem).

Heartbeat follows Emma as she has to deal with the fact that her mom is pregnant - while brain dead. She believes that her step-father is preserving her mom's body only so he can get the child he always wanted. Emma cannot stand to see her mom dead-but-alive, especially when there's no hope for her. And while she's acting out (by not studying), she meets 'bad boy' Caleb - who (of course), turns out just to be misunderstood.

Personally, I wasn't interested in the love story. The whole emotionally-hurting-girl-meets-misunderstood-bad-boy is a fairly common plot. What I was interested in was the debate over whether you should keep a woman alive just for her to give birth to her child. If she wanted this child, of course they should do whatever is necessary, but what if, like Emma, you think that your mom only wanted the child because she loved her husband? I can see why Emma reacts the way she does.

And yet, her stepdad still loves her. From the start, I thought that he was doing her best to keep her life as normal as possible and giving her space. He's also a really nice person, since Emma's rude to him most of the time. That was why I could sympathise with both of them - Emma's reasons for acting out was understandable, and the way her stepdad handled the situation was admirable too. I just wish that her relationship with her stepdad was the main focus of the book (rather than the romance). It would be interesting to see how this blended family will live, especially after the birth of her little brother.

If you're looking for a romance book that's a little different from the rest, you should give this a read.

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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Simple Song by Melody Carlson

I never knew that Melody Carlson wrote Amish-inspired stories! I know about her other series, but if it weren't for my mom and the fact that she wanted to read Melody Carlson, I'd never have known about this book.

A Simple Song is about Katrina, an Amish girl who loves singing. Unfortunately, her dad doesn't seem to approve. But he's also sick, and she finds out that if she enters a singing competition, she may be able to win enough money for his surgery. So, convincing her parents that this is part of her rumspringa, she enters the competition ... and we have the Amish-meets-English type of situation.

What I liked about this book were the songs that it introduced. One of them was One Tin Soldier, and I think it may become one of my favourite songs! I found a video on youtube, so enjoy:

I'm still trying to love Puff The Magic Dragon though. So far, I like the lyrics, but I don't feel touched by the song (then again, I couldn't make out the lyrics without subtitles).

This book isn't very fast-moving - there's no intrigue, no backstabbing and all that you'd expect from a talent competition, but it does have interesting characters. While I felt that the ending was a little contrived, I can see how it was the 'best' ending for Katrina.

While this isn't going to become one of my favourite Melody Carlson books, it's still a nicely written and sweet (if rather unexciting) book from her.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Teaser Tuesday - Race For The Lost Keystone by Val Rutt

This week's teaser is one that I didn't think I'll ever get to do. It's from a book that I thought I couldn't find but did. I'll probably tell you the whole story when I write my review because right now, I want you to be excited about the book. It may be a kids book, but it's awesome and made a huge impact on me. So without further ado, here's the teaser:

"The rain continued stronger than ever as they approached the car showroom and, by the time Gread-Aunt Elizabeth had parked the Harley and they had all clambered out, the downpour was forming a shallow lake and they had to run for the stairs.  
Inside, it was gloomy and the rain hammered noisily on the metal roof. The weather suited everyone's mood." (page 188)

Ok, so it's three sentences, but the last sentence begged to be included.

Remember, Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of ShouldBeReading. To participate, just post a two-sentence teaser from a book you're currently reading and share the title and author as well.

What have you been reading?