Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down by Nicey and Wifey

To be honest, I bought this book because some guy that I've never heard of wrote "I love this book" on the cover. But, since the style of the book reminds me so much of Guy Browning, it seems like the cover testimonial was spot on. I read it on the subway home, and while I managed to control myself and not laugh out loud, I probably made a few ridiculous faces. I say so because when I looked up, the person sitting opposite me was giving me a strange face.

This book is about tea, biscuits and the British practice of having an nice cup of tea and a sit down. It's supposed to be about biscuit reviews and how to make tea, but it's just too entertaining. I may have learnt something too, but don't ask me what. I just feel slightly more knowledgable about biscuits now. There are some science bits inside as well, so I suppose you can try to persuade yourself this is educational somehow.



Edu-Nah, it's just entertaining.

And now, I have a rather strong craving for biscuits. And a bunch of other childhood snacks.

I'm actually not really sure who to recommend it to, so I'm going go with "if you like Guy Browning's sort of humour, you'll like this book." And of course, if you're a fan of tea (like me!) and biscuits (like me!) and even a bit of cake (me! Wait, here's a moment where I'm thankful for my metabolism), you'll probably enjoy this book.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab by David Sean Kaye

Do you know that Hermit Crabs can do all sorts of things? Yes they can. Well, probably not the things in this book though.

I requested this book from NetGalley because it sounded cute. And it is, it's full of whimsical pictures with not much of a plot, just random descriptive sentences of hermit crabs. It appeals to the child in me.

Was this book cute? Yes.

Was this book funny? Most of the time.

I believe that to a younger child/the target audience, this book will be entertaining. But if you're a child-at-heart looking for a cute children's book that adults/older folk can read (see Dr. Seuss, especially Oh The Places You'll Go), you may find this a bit too simplistic. If the pictures and/or comments were much more exaggerated, I would have been more amused. As it stands now, hermit crabs just seem like people in crab form.

But this is really my fault for wrongly guessing the kind of book it'll be. It's a charming book and if I was back in Singapore/had child ESL students, I'll definitely be reading this book to them.

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

Despite the fact that Einstein is in the title, the book isn't actually about Einstein. It's about memory and how even an average person can train himself to be the US memory champion.

Joshua Foer is an online journalist, and after attending a few memory training competitions as a reporter, he decided to undergo a year of memory training in order to try his luck at the US Memory Champion. He uses his journey as an exploration about how memory works.

And it turns out, you can have an average memory and still become a US memory champion. Memorisation can be improved with tricks that make use of spatial memory and such.

What I found interesting were all the historical parts. Like how memory was "invented" by the Simonides of Ceos, who, after narrowly escaping being killed by a falling building, found that he could remember exactly where all his companions were sitting and invented the memory palace technique.

I didn't actually read this book to learn about how to improve my memory, and what I found is that the memory "tricks" are stuff that I have read before (Tony Buzan, for instance). That just means that there's no great "secret", if you use your memory (and those tricks), you will improve your memory.

Read this book if you're interested in how one guy made it a quest to improve his memory. It's not so much as a guide book on how "you too, can do it", but it's more of a journey that the author is sharing with you.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Do Your Laundry or You'll Die Alone by Becky Blades

Lately, if I answer a phone call/video call from my mom with a sore throat or a blocked nose, she automatically thinks I'm crying. This is due to my sister, who during her 6 month stay in China, would call at 2am and cry. So while my mother never wrote a bunch of witty advice and published it, I know she cares and worries.

So I suppose, this book could be how she expressed her care and worry, if she knew about it and bought me the book. The motherly love in this book is really evident anyway.

This is one of those books that you'll pick up time and time again. It's full of advice, some witty, some heartfelt, all of them full of love. Plus, I find the book very pretty:

I actually want to use this as my home screen. 
This book is really hard to summarise, since it's a collection of advice, so here's another screenshot for you:

I will wear that dress to Paris!
If you're in university, or you know someone in university, buy this book for them. There's even a few empty pages at the back for you to write your advice down, making it a personalised gift.

I think I'll buy myself a copy.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. I was not required to gush over the book like this.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller by Demelza Carlton

I should note up front, this is not the type of book I usually read. But after reading Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer, I just had to know what happened next. This book pulled me in and would not let go until I got some resolution.

If you've read, Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer, you'll have the gist of the plot. Caitlin is the victim of a horrific rape and torture case. Nathan's the stranger that saves her. While Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer was mostly from Nathan's point of view, The Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller told the same story from Caitlin's point of view.

But, if you're thinking that this means the stories are roughly the same, you're wrong. Not only is there more (horrifying) backstory here, the plot opens up to new dimensions. Caitlin isn't a frightened little girl, she's bent on getting revenge, and in the process, she finds out a lot more than Nathan ever knew.

Caitlin is really the strongest character in this book. She may be physically and emotionally hurt, but she still finds the strength to negotiate to get what she wants. It may not sound like much, but when you read her memories of what happened, you'll see how much it takes just to hold it together.

Mind you, I'm still confused over the true role of Nathan. I'm not sure what role he played while Caitlin was still captured. What I know is that he's a good guy that did his best to protect his sister, and later, Caitlin.

Oh, and I finally learnt the name of this secret agency. It's the ASIO, which for some reason, I just realised means the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation. They play a much, much bigger role than just Nathan's employer this time.

This is a sequel that is probably better than the original. I'd recommend this for mature teens and up, since there's a lot of dark material and profanity involved.

Disclaimer: I got this book free as part of Book Tours blog tours. I was not obliged to give a positive review and all opinions expressed here are my own.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

One day, I received an email from Warren Fretwell, recommending that I read this book. Warren, thank you so much. It took me some effort to get a hold of this book, but it's really worth it.

For those who have never heard of this book, here's a short summary. Edward Glyver has just killed a man. Why? Because he wanted to make sure that he had the guts to kill, so that he wouldn't falter when he kills his arch-enemy Phoebus Daunt. Why does he want to kill Phoebus? Well, that would be the plot of the book.

In Edward, there is a clever protagonist whose flaw is the beautiful Emily. While I was rooting for him throughout the whole book, after reading and reflecting, I realised that the means he uses to try and achieves his goals are as bad as Phoebus. And yet I still wish that he had a complete triumph over Phoebus, which just goes to show that his narrative voice was very well written.

This book, although really thick, is gripping. It's Victorian in its setting and influences, except for one thing - the ending. While I'm not an expert on Victorian literature, most of the books that I've read (like those by Charles Dickens) have, more or less, a happy ending. This book has what I can only call an incomplete ending. Sure, the villain dies, but the protagonist is never restored to his rightful place. It's unsatisfactory, which is why I'm really glad there's a sequel to this book. I need the sequel so badly now.

While this book is supposed to be a mystery driven book, I think the real driving force are really the characters and how they interact with one another. Trust the wrong person, and success can suddenly fall away. Plot twists don't appear due to a clever trick in a murder or a mystery, they appear because the characters are irrational emotional humans and hide their emotions. And because this is told exclusively from Edward's point of view, all other characters are seen through his eyes. That means that while one character may seem innocent on first reading, on the second reading, knowing the true characters of the character, hints of their true allegiance comes out.

I'm pretty sure that a re-reading of this book would bring more things to light, but right now, I really really need to go and find the sequel.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

You Are The Music by Victoria Williamson

Here's the thing, while I've been taking piano lessons since kindergarten (although I stopped for about 3 years from age 12-15), I'm a lousy piano player. Very very lousy. So, I've always wondered, did these music lessons even help? Well, the answer is, probably. But not that much.

You Are The Music is supposed to explain music to the layman. Or rather, "to read this book requires no expert knowledge of or training in music, psychology, brain science, or any other kind of academic discipline." And that's mostly true. There were some (brain science) parts that I didn't quite understand, but for the most part, the book was easy to understand.

The book is divided into three sections. The first looks at the impact of music on childhood development, the second looks at how music affects the brain, what it's like to struggle with music, and how it impacts working life. The third section looks at music memory and how music can be used to support health and well-being at all life-stages.

Without a doubt, my favourite section was the first section, followed by the second section. For some reason, I had some trouble understanding the third section.

One of the things that I took from this book was the discussion about music and work (in my case, studying). I've always found it difficult to study without music. The only thing is that the music should be (preferably) in a language different from the one that I'm studying in (i.e. it becomes background music).

If you're looking to study more about music, I think this is a good introduction book because the author helpfully summarises different research studies and explains what they mean. And it's interesting, so if you have an interest in music, you should consider reading this.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

This is the second book in the Flavia de Luce series and I found it as enjoyable as the first book.

The Week That Strings the Hangman's Bag follows Flavia as she investigates/sticks her nose into the murder of the famous puppeteer Rupert Porson. And although Flavia is only a child, the book deals with dark subjects like adultery and (possible) abuse.

Despite the dark issues covered in the book, it maintains a light-hearted tone for most of the story because it's narrated in Flavia's voice. My favourite passage comes from her meeting with Antigone, the wife of Inspector Hewitt. It's such a cute passage because it shows how an instant adoration of a older role model can occur, expressed in Flavia's unique voice.

"Antigone," he told the dark-haired woman, "I'd like you to meet Flavia de Luce."  
I knew for a fact that she was going to say, "Oh, yes, my husband has mentioned you," and she would say it with that little smirk that tells so much about the amused conversation that had followed. 
"I'm so pleased to meet you, Flavia," she said, putting out the most beautiful hand in the world and giving me a good solid shake, "and to find that you share my love of marionettes." 
If she'd told me to "fetch" I would have done it.  
"I love your name," I managed.  
"Do you? My father was Greek and my mother Italian. She was a ballet teacher and he was a fish-monger, so I grew up dancing in the streets of Billingsgate."  
With her dark hair and sea green eyes, she was the image of Botticelli's Flora, whos feature adorned the back of a hand mirror at Buckshaw that Father had once given to Harriet.  
I wanted to ask "In what far isle is your shrine that I might worship there," but I settled for shuffling my feet and a mumbled "nice to meet you, Mrs Hewitt. I hope you and Inspector Hewitt enjoy the show."
I love the contrast between her thoughts and her actual responses.

For me, the mystery in this book wasn't as interesting as the first, but it wasn't too boring. The real value of the book lies in giving the reader another glimpse into the mind of Flavia de Luce.

Monday, February 17, 2014

How To Be A Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott

Apparently, there's something called "productivity porn", which is an addiction to articles about improving your productivity. I wonder if this book falls under this category, since I procrastinated for a few days after reading the book. But to be fair with the book, it does come with exercises (which I did not do) that is supposed to have you start working on your productivity right here and now.

This book can be split into roughly two sections: An analysis on what a productivity ninja is and why we aren't productive and then a method that you can use to increase your productivity.

My biggest takeaway from this book was actually the section on attention management. The book talks about three types of attention: Proactive Attention (where you are fully alert), Active Attention (doing ok, but not at your peak) and Inactive Attention (which most students go into once a lecture starts, um, I mean, which seems to occur frequently during boring classes. For example, in this state, I can do my best to take notes, but I end up with a bunch of notes and not much recollection of what happened. I have to revise the notes later to fully understand the topic).

Thinking about it, it is true that there are certain (and fairly consistent) times of day where I feel in the zone and accomplish a lot. And then there are times where I tend to stare at the computer after checking my email. Of course, this changes during exam season, where my concentration shoots up for the whole day.

The main method of being productive that this book teaches is called the CORD model. Capture and Collect, Organise, Review and Do. Basically, you collect all the information you get, organise and review it to find out what needs to be done, then do it. Organising means questioning what really needs to be done, and Reviewing is another way of saying "to do list." It actually sounds like what I do, although there are gaps in my Capture and Collect stage.

A nice touch to this book were the paperclip ninjas, made from office supplies. I found them really adorable.

I think this is an interesting and practical book on how to become more productive. It's worth reading, but only if you're sure that you will actually practice the CORD method instead of going on to read more articles about productivity and get into a time-suck.

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

If you're looking to start a business, this is one of the books you should be reading. I find that this book helps immensely when you're trying to figure out what exactly your business is doing.

For example, I'm helping out at a charity called Amberbrook (the reason why I read this book). We know what we want to achieve - helping youths achieve their full potential, but the details, such as how we're going to advertise ourselves, how we're going to get enough donations to be sustainable, these are details that we're still working out. With the Business Model Canvas, it'll force us to think about all these details.

The book describes itself as a "handbook for visionaries, game changers, and challengers striving to defy outmoded business models and design tomorrow's enterprises." The number of people who contributed to this book is mind-boggling (you could say this book was crowd-sourced), and I think it shows that the things in the book are tried-and-tested methods. The book uses real examples to illustrate the various business models, and explains them in an easy-to-understand fashion.

I have only one gripe about the book. It's a pretty book, but some of the text were not presented in the best way. For example, writing out a business model canvas by hand, then adding notes with the computer. For me at least, I ended up reading the notes and ignoring the hand-written stuff. Perhaps my brain wrongly interpreted it as a background decoration, but I would have liked for the hand-written parts to be done on a computer as well, instead of having things typed onto what looks like a photograph.

All in all though, this book is good. It boils down various strategies into one book, and if you're trying to figure out which business model is the one for you (freemium, bait & hook, etc), this book will help you decide.

P.s. This book is also available in Japanese (I actually first read it in Japanese), so if English isn't your first language, you could check to see if its been translated into whatever language you're more comfortable with).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall

This book was creepy. It reminded me of "We Need To Talk About Kevin" - a slow build-up before you find out what actually happened.

The Woman Before Me is about Rose, who to be honest, is an unlikeable protagonist. She was accused of killing baby Joel, her friend Emma's son after her own son died. Now, she's served half of her sentence and they're considering letting her out for parole - this is where Cate, her parole officer, comes in. The book is essentially about Rose trying to get parole, and Cate trying to find out what happened.

What was interesting about this book was the juxtaposition of first person narration (in the form of Rose's diaries) and third person narration (Cate's section). The first person narration created intimacy, and although Rose was creepy at times, it did serve to humanise her. Her life is so hard that her state-of-mind is understandable (although still unacceptable). The third person narration feels more objective, like Cate is supposed to be.

To be honest, none of the characters in this book were likable. Not even Cate, who has her own subplot of being trapped in a sexist world. If it weren't for the fact that the story was so well-written that I wanted to find out what happened, I might have put the book down.

A few issues were raised in the book - such as crime and punishment, and the prison system, and sexism. What I found interesting were the dysfunctional relationships in the book. Rose loves Jason, Jason only loves his son and Emma, his ex-wife, Emma supposedly loves her husband, but is sleeping with Jason, these are messed up people. It's this web of tangled relationships that drive the book forward.

For me, the strength of the book was in its writing style. The plot was interesting, but the characters weren't likable. It's a bleak book, but it does present a few interesting issues for the reader to consider.

Disclaimer: This book was provided free of charge via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

After I read Diamonds and Deceit (link leads to my review), I was so impressed that I went to hunt down the first book in this series. Unfortunately, although the book was a fun read, it lacked the depth of its sequel. Since I did read the sequel first (oops), I'll be comparing the two books for most of my review.

Diamonds and Deceit deals with Ada and her sister as they return from India. And of course, her father quickly marries Mrs Templeton, who can be seen to be very pleased at becoming "Lady" Averly. With her come her children, including the irritating Charlotte.

Cinders and Sapphires, in its way, sets everything very nicely up for the second book. The characters are well-written, and it's clear that the family dynamics that were created in this book was sustained all the through to the second book. This was the part of the book I enjoyed the most. In fact, one of the huge tragedies of the second book is set up very nicely here - I won't say what, but it involves Priya, the Indian nursemaid.

Rose and Ada's characters were also well-written. The second book alludes the Rose's love of music, but it doesn't show how talented she is like this book does. The same goes for Ada and her love for learning, as well as her desire to go to university.

But, what I didn't like were the love relationships. Especially Ada's. Michael and Priya and a sadly non-eventful start (if there even was a start), but Ada's love triangle, well, it was very disappointing. While I admired her star-crossed romance with Ravi in Diamonds and Deceit, Ada was just a love-struck girl here. She fell in love instantly and she fell hard. The fact that I don't like insta-love made me very hard to root for her relationship, and it was sad to see an intelligent girl lose her mind like that. And as for her relationship with Lord Fintan, well, I still don't get why he proposed. I would have liked them to have more of an interaction. Compared to the interesting love shared by Rose and Lord Alexander, the romances here were silly and over dramatic.

If you didn't read this book, well, I don't think you missed that much. I find that the sequel has much more depth and is way more interesting than this. Taken alone though, it's an interesting novel in its own melodramatic way.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Collect All The Editions

My friend sent me a link about a new edition of Fahrenheit 451

My first reaction was to create my first ever meme photo.

Yes, I have a problem when it comes to Fahrenheit 451. I'm still hunting for the worn, written in copy from Literature class that mysteriously disappeared (I even made one of those "MISSING" posters). 

In other news, I'm taking a one-week break to focus on my exams.