Monday, June 30, 2014

The Wonderbox by Roman Krznaric

So this is the other book that I bought at the airport. It took quite a long time (other books got in the way), but I finally took the plunge and finished it! And it is an awesome book! I'm so glad that the cover caught my attention, and that I took a risk and bought it.

The Wonderbox purports to use history to help us live our present lives to the fullest. Well, if not the fullest then a little bit better. This book covers the topics "Nurturing Relationships", "Making a Living", "Discovering the world" and "Breaking Conventions" with three chapters to each topic for a total of twelve chapters. All twelve chapters are very well-written and I enjoyed every single one of them.

Instead of talking about all the chapters, I figured that I'll just talk about three of my favourites.

One of them has got to be "Work". This chapter looks at how work is what it is and how we can/should choose our work. One particular section asks whether it is better to be a high achiever (aka a specialist) or a wide achiever (aka a polymath). I didn't realise this, but primary school teachers like my mother are actually polymaths! They have to have a good grasps of the basics of many subjects, know how to handle people, write reports, etc. They truly have many skills.

Another chapter that I particularly enjoyed was "Travel". When we travel, is it a must to go to all the tourist venues, even if we don't have an interest in certain areas? By looking at the history of travel, I understood how things like the Grand Tour (which I've always wanted to take) ended up influencing the "must-visit" spots in Europe. So what is the purpose of travel anyway? If it's to broaden the mind, then it means we should open our minds to new experiences, to meet new people when traveling. It's something that I can apply right now, as I continue to explore Fukuoka.

The third one is "Deathstyle". This chapter argues that there is a need to talk openly about death, and that only by facing death can we fully appreciate life. I really enjoyed reading how other cultures (and how the past) treated death, and I think the book makes a very valid point. If we don't acknowledge the fact that we will die, it's hard to seize the initiative to live life to the fullest.

For me, this book was an immensely enjoyable read. I'm definitely going to re-read it in the future (this time in random, or only a section at a time). The only thing that could make it better if there was a companion book that focused on how Eastern culture (Chinese, Japanese, Korean culture) was impacted by history, and how we can use it to make our lives better.*

*Note: The book does mention Eastern culture at times, but the focus of this book is definitely on Western Civilisation.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee

Food not only nourishes the body, but sometimes the soul. We all have our "comfort food" food that we eat when we're down. I eat have "study food", food that I eat when I study (in order to concentrate). So what if, someone had the 'knowing' of which foods to give people?

That is the premise of The Glass Kitchen. Portia Cuthcart has had the knowing ever since she was a little girl. Like her grandmother, she gets urges to make foods, foods that people need even before she meets them. But when she gets married, she suppresses the knowing in an attempt to live a normal life. Unfortunately, her marriage breaks down and she moves to New York. And then the novel starts.

When Portia moves into her grandaunt's old home, she meets her neighbour Gabriel and his daughter Ariel (he also has another daughter called Miranda, but she's not that important in the story). Sparks fly between the two, but will they ever get together?

I adored this book. It's very well-written and I couldn't put it down. I loved how Portia's relationship with her sisters were written. It can be summed up in this quote:

Long ago their mother had made her daughters promise that no matter where they were or how angry they were at each other at the time, if one of them needed the other, they would be there. No questions asked.

That means Portia and her sisters are estranged and they aren't overly close and permanently happy. This bit of realism in terms of relationships makes the magical realism of the knowing even more magical for me.

Alongside Portia's point of view, the other character to get a narrative voice would be Ariel. At first, I didn't really see the point of Ariel's narration because I was so fixated on Portia's sections (and, I thought she was a bit annoying). But as the story progressed and the secondary plot involving Ariel's family began to unravel, I began to appreciate her narrative voice more, and by the end of the story, I liked Ariel as a character.

There are two multiple plot lines in this story. The first focuses on Portia as she tries to get back on her feet after her divorce. The second would be Portia and Gabriel. The third would be Ariel and her family. And then there are the minor, barely mentioned plots, involving Portia's sisters. I would have liked for everything to be fully developed, but then we'd have a behemoth of a novel. Concentrating on the first three plot lines (that slowly merged) made for a complex story.

While I wouldn't recommend this book to young teenagers and under because of mature themes (the relationship between Gabriel and Portia veers on the explicit at times), I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well-written magical realism book.

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

If you want to read another review of this book before making up your mind, check out the review by Turning The Pages! It was actually her review that got me to request this book :D 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Blog Tour: The Camellia Resistance Promo Post

Hey! I'm here with a promo post for The Camellia Resistance from Enchanted Book Promotions. Enjoy!

Title: The Camellia Resistance
Author: A.R. Williams
Genre: Dystopian, Urban Fantasy

The Camellias is a trilogy set in the New Republic of America. It all starts with Willow Carlyle, a committed employee of the Ministry of Health.When she gives into temptation in the fall of 2044, she is completely unprepared for the consequences. Unemployed and isolated, Willow struggles to make sense of her sudden downfall. An encounter with a member of the Camellias, a resistance group living outside the bounds of Ministry-approved regulation, immerses her in a world she didn't know existed.As Willow learns more about her personal history, she uncovers a secret that rocks the Ministry of Health to its core.

Author Bio
A.R. Williams is obsessed with language and myth, not just playing with words and making up stories, but with the real-world impact that the words we use have on the way we live our lives.  Words are the only things that never get boring, an endless puzzle with no right answer, and an infinite variety of ways to get wrong.  Writing is the only thing she has wanted to do consistently: other hobbies, such as sewing and photography, become alternate means to feed the writing habit. Ms. Williams feeds her obsession with curiosity: people, philosophy, technology, psychology, and culture.  Living in Washington D.C. is a good source of inspiration.  From the sublime heights of arts and achievement available for free at the Smithsonian to the bureaucratic banality of Beltway politics and scandals, it is a great city for fantasy, possibility, power, and consequence—ideal fodder for the fictional life.

As a teenager, Ms. Williams drove her parents crazy with her taste for adventure.  Her father questioned her taste in crushes once and she told him “don’t worry, it will just give me something to write about later.”  That approach eventually led to a cross-cultural marriage that failed spectacularly – not on the promise of love but on the reality of trying to negotiate contradictory assumptions about everything.  The subsequent divorce, combined with her emergence from a conservative Christian subculture, eventually evolved into the first book in the Camellia Trilogy. Ms. Williams lives in-between an ordinary external life filled with time cards, meetings, and deadlines; and an extraordinary imaginary world where anything is possible, and everything is fueled by music.  Language is our only means to bridge the distance between ourselves and others.  Imagination, the co-creation that happens between a writer and reader, is alchemy.  It is an aspiration that never gets old.
From an eclectic mix of upbringing, genetics, experience, and the best possible luck in friends and family, Ms. Williams writes with the hope of doing for others what her favorite authors did for her: provide company through difficult days and create a sense of wonder and possibility when everything seems limited by circumstances.


Author Links -Website-

Facebook - 

Twitter - @entrope

Buy Links -  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Teaser Tuesday: The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Woohoo! It's Tuesday again, which means it's time for another Teaser Tuesday. This time, my teaser is coming from a translation of The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brother's Grimm (translated by Fairy Tale Scholar Jack Zipes).

Also, how cool is a "Fairy Tale Scholar"? Is it too late for me to become one?

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

The teaser:
There is much that also carries its own meaning within itself: a mother gets her real child back in her arms after she manages to cause the changeling, which the elves had subsituted for own child, to laugh. Similarly, the life of a child begins with a smile and continues in joy, and as the child smiles in its slepp, angels talk to the baby.
Don't you just love it?

ETA: I didn't know this, but apparently June 24th is National Fairy Day. What an awesome coincidence!

Monday, June 23, 2014

All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes by Betsy St. Amant

This was a pretty cute read. Like the title indicates, this is about cupcakes and love.

Kat bakes for her aunt's cupcake shop Sweetie Pies. But while she yearns to make gourmet/"weird" cupcakes, she's restricted to chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. One day, her best friend/crush Lucas enters her in a TV show called Cupcake Combat - the grand prize? A year's internship at Bloom, a prestigious bakery. When she gets chosen, Kat drags Lucas along as her assistant. Will Kat win? And what about her relationship with Lucas?

Ok, this was a fairly cute book. Because the book has two narrators (Kat and Lucas), the romance angle was less suspense and more "I want to knock some sense into the two of them". The dual narrators also work well for the cupcake contest angle, which is arguably the main plot of the book (but looking at the characters angst over each other, it's a bit hard to tell).

Personally, I'm conflicted over this book. I liked the cupcake contest storyline, and the love story wasn't too bad (remember, I'm not a big fan of love stories), but I felt like the book handled certain aspects of the story really badly.

One aspect would be Kat's relationship with her family. Throughout the whole book, Kat is stifled and criticised by her family. Yet the problem "magically" goes away at the end of the book. Or does it? Are these relationship problems solved, or are they just postponed till a later date? The fact that there are no confrontations, no acknowledgement of previous hurts, no sense of starting afresh makes me wonder why Kat's relationship with her family was ever mentioned if this angle wasn't going to be developed.

Side note: On a related issue, I'm very unconvinced by Kat's sudden about turn about her feelings towards her hometown. After yearning to leave for so many years, her feelings should be pretty strong, yet they were changed in an instant.

Another aspect would be the presence of God in this story. I realised this was a Christian story from the start because I saw that the publisher was Zondervan, but other than that, there was no indication that this book had Christian themes. Until the end, that is. It felt as though the author crammed in a mention of God so that He would be there. Personally, it feels a bit forced to me,.

In conclusion, this is an okay book. The main plots were fairly well-written, but a few loose ends kept this book from being awesome.

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reason and Persuasion: Three Dialogues by Plato by John Holbo

If you follow me on Google+ (link leads to my Google+ page for your convenience), you might know that I take Coursera courses occasionally. One course which I took (and really really enjoyed) was Reason and Persuasion: Three Dialogues by Plato held by the National University of Singapore (NUS).

I took the course because Plato and Socrates influenced so much of Western philosophy. There's a quote by Alfred North Whitehead which states:
The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.
So obviously I had to take the course. And this was the assigned reading, provided free of charge by the lecturer John Holbo (who also wrote the book, with some help from his wife).

This book consists of a translation (which is in easy-to-read English) of Euthryphro, Meno and Republic Book I, as well as summaries and John Holbo's explanation of the different passages.

What I liked about this book (and the course) was that it was very easy to understand. Not a lot of technical terms are used, and there are many illustrations (and quite some humor) used in the explanation sections.

And this book actually came in handy. I'm currently studying a book called The Greek Ideal of Man for English class (which I'm not doing so good in, since it's basically a Japanese test for me) and the things talked about in this book - like the shadows in the cave analogy. It made the class more interesting for me, since I knew what the book was talking about and could agree/disagree with the arguments in the book.

For someone who was new to Plato and Socrates, this book was a great introduction - approachable and understandable. I highly reccomend this (and the associated Coursera course) for those who are interested in diving into Platonic and Socratic philosophy.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In the Field of Grace by Tessa Afshar

Every time I approach a re-telling of a Bible story, I feel a sense of trepidation. Will the book be faithful to the spirit of the story? Will it cross that invisible line between re-telling and making up a new story? Questions like these cross my mind all the time.

Thankfully, In The Field of Grace managed to put my doubts to rest. It's a well-written re-telling of the story of Ruth, from the point of the Ruth herself. If you've read the Bible before, you'd be familiar with the basic story of Ruth, a woman who left her homeland to follow her mother-in-law to a foreign country, cared for her and eventually married the prosperous Boaz and became an ancestor of King David. In The Field of Grace takes this story and adds more detail: What was their journey like? How did Ruth and Boaz fall in love (They did fall in love right?)? Who wrote the book of Ruth?

By the way, the author admits that the plot involving who wrote the book of Ruth is all a product of her imagination, and she is by no means trying to assert this as truth. The afterword of this book, which talks about the inspiration behind the book, and contains explanation of certain parts, should definitely be read after the story.

What I liked about this story was that throughout the whole book, there is the sense that Ruth is being called by God. It's a powerful reminder that God loves all of us, and he can use even the most unlikely "outsider" for his purposes.

The strength of this book is that it makes you feel the trials and tribulations of Ruth very deeply. Through the imagination of the author, I managed to understand how hard it must have been for Ruth to leave her country and move to Israel, where she would be ostracised as an outsider. The bitterness of Naomi was also powerfully written, and I could feel her pain when she called for her friends to call her "Mara".

All in all, this is a wonderful retelling of Ruth. While a lot of artistic license has been taken (after all, the book goes into Ruth's friendships in Israel, which is definitely not in the original book of the Bible), the book stays faithful to the spirt of the original book.

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chrono Virus by Aaron Crocco

When I was looking through the ebooks that I've downloaded (they were on sale, I got them, then I forgot about them), I found this interestingly titled book called Chrono Virus. And since the author is none other than +Aaron Crocco, I had to read it straight away.

Chrono Virus is an interesting sci-fi short story. Set on the spaceship Raven, the three crew members get attacked by a strange mist. Each time their attacked, they flashback to a life-changing moment in their past - or is it more than a flashback?

Although this story was short, it was very well-written. I was interested in the characters, and I found the idea of the Chrono Virus to be very interesting. I think that the small number of crew members was a good idea, because it allowed for properly fleshed out characters without making the book unwieldy. And the number is not so small that the book ended too soon.

Since the book does use the word "Chrono" in its name, the narrative is, of course, non-linear. It jumps back and forth with the different characters, but was never confusing to read. I actually managed to figure out how the Chrono Virus worked even before the end, where it was explained because of how the narrative worked (not going to give away any spoilers here).

I honestly wish that this book was longer. It's a great book and I really enjoyed reading it. Now, I have to go and save up more money, because my TBR list is getting longer and longer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Teaser Tuesday: The Wonder Box by Roman Krznaric

It's Tuesday, and I have another teaser, this is... Teaser Tuesday!

This week, my teaser is from a book that I bought called The Wonder Box. I'm a sucker for any sort of non-fiction book that covers a wide variety of topics. If it's well-written, it'll be something that I read over and over again.

Here's the teaser:

"Although human beings have searched for beauty in nature, an alternative has been to test themselves against it. This more confronting relationship with the natural world may be familiar to those who pursue extreme outdoor sports." (Page 212)

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of ShouldBeReading. To participate, just share two sentences of your current teaser, its title and author and voila!

What is your teaser this week?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Harry's War by Harry Stinton

Most books of war that I've read talk about World War II. That's why Harry's War was so interesting to me - it's an account of a British soldier's life during World War I.

Harry's war was written by Harry Stinton, possibly as a way of coping with the aftershocks of war. He hadn't intended to publish his memoirs, but after his death, his diaries were discovered and published. He writes in a fairly unemotional tone, as though he was just recording the facts and wasn't actually involved (although to me, that shows how much he was affected, that he needed the distance).

What I got from this book was a detailed look at how the trench war was fought, and in particular, the part bombers (of which Harry was one) played in the war. While it isn't as emotional as Dulce et Decorum Est, the level of detail in this book made it easy for me to visualise what a terrible place it must have been.

Apart from Harry's narrative, there are several pictures that Harry drew in this book. Apparently, these are the only pictures he's drawn, and they were very helpful in illustrating certain aspects of the war. While he did not draw the gorier aspects, he did show me the details of how the war was fought.

This is not the most emotional of books. For a diary, it's surprisingly matter-of-fact and for some readers, may be boring. But it gave me valuable insights into the first World War, and I think it's a good introduction to life as a solder during the war (particularly for people who are squeamish) due to its matter-of-fact nature.

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

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fright Train by Majanka Verstraete

*This is Part 3 of a three part blog tour! Click on the titles to read my reviews of the first and second books in the series: The Doll Maker and House of Horrors*

So, we've come to the end of the this blog tour! Before I review, thanks for letting me participate Majanka, it's been really fun!

Fright Train is, to me, the most original book that I've read in this series. Creepy dolls and scary carnival attractions have appeared in many horror books for kids (and for good reason), but I have yet to see one for trains. Trains, I associate with stories like The Boxcar Children (although not strictly related to trains), The Little Engine who Could and The Railway Children, as well as quite a few Enid Blyton stories. As you can see, those are all happy, non-scary books.

In this book, Charlie is heading to Weirdville, the setting of the previous two books. However, this isn't the train he's supposed to be on, and he'll soon regret boarding the train. The train hides a secret (and no, I'm not giving a way spoilers) and it'll take Charlie all his wits and his luck to make to Weirdville alive.

What I found unique about this book was that it was the book where I felt the physical danger of the protagonist the strongest. In the other two books, there was that sense that the protagonists were in trouble, but I didn't feel that their lives were threatened like I did in this book.

Although I found this to be slightly less introspective than House of Horrors (which, to be honest, is introspective due to the subject matter), it is probably the most exciting read. If you (and/or the child you know) enjoy a horror story with a little action, you should definitely pick up this book.

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

Friday, June 13, 2014

For Darkness Shows The Stars by Diana Peterfreund

I can't remember who recommended this book to me, but it was recommended as a good retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. So whoever you are, thanks!

For Darkness Shows the Stars is about Elliot, a luddite who is trying to save her family estate while her worthless father and snobbish sister continually impede her efforts. One day, after having been reduced to renting out part of the estate, she discovers that one of the renters was her childhood friend/love interest Kai, now going by the name Malakai. Of course, since this is a retelling of Persuasion, he pretends not to be interested in her, and so on.

What is unique about this book would be its premise. The premise of this book is as far as can be from Persuasion. In this world, mankind has had tinkered with DNA manipulation too much, resulting in a catastrophic accident where most of mankind were Reduced (mentally reduced). The only ones to survive were the Luddites, who had shunned DNA manipulation.

Personally, I loved this. It helped turn the book from a mere-retelling into a story of its own. It made the difference between Elliot and Kai stark from the beginning, and brought in social issues (for example, should normal functioning children of the Reduced have the same rights as Luddites?). This premise had so much potential.

And yet, the premise turned out to be its achilles heel. The book never fully dealt with the issues raised by the premise. Is slavery, seen by the Luddites as a responsibility to take care of the reduced, right? Should society start experimenting with genetic manipulation again? What are the rights of Post-Reductionists? These were all issues that I was interested in, and which the book sadly neglected in favour of the angsty love of Elliot and Kai.

And Kai wasn't even that likable a character. While I had a strong respect for Elliot, who chose duty over her heart (I can relate to that), Kai just seemed petty for most of the book. To me, the flaws of Captain Wentworth (incidentally another name that Kai goes by) was magnified in Kai and his treatment of Elliot. He seemed to be completely incapable of understanding her situation despite growing up with her. In Persuasion, his anger was somewhat excusable because Anne did share some of the blame for breaking it off (she did let herself be persuaded not to marry him after all). But in the case of Elliot, she had no such choice. To leave her family would be to doom not only them, but all those under their care. Without her, her father would have mistreated the Reduced and Posts under their care and bankrupt the family.

While I think that the premise of this story makes it a very interesting re-telling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I feel that the book failed the grab the opportunity to explore the issues raised by the premise. It's a pity, because I did enjoy reading the book and I think that it could have been a really great book. I did notice this is the first in a series, and I think I might check out the second book, to see if any of the themes raised here are developed further.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

House of Horrors by Majanka Verstraete

This is the second in a three-part blog stop of Majanka Vestraete's Weirdville series! Click on the title to read my review of Book 1: The Doll Maker. 

Tell me, do you like haunted houses?

If you do, please know that I'm definitely not with you. When I went to the Alien Panic Place at Spaceworld last year (I blame my friend for dragging me and my family there), I basically kept my eyes on the ground the whole time. And I still screamed several times.

So you can imagine that I wouldn't want to be in the situation that Jacky, Cass and Ben are in. When Jacky and Ben drag a hesitant Cass to the House of Horrors, something goes wrong and their made to face their real fears - or never leave.

The scary part about this book are the fears that the children face. Those fears aren't strange fears (for example, the fear of long words, or hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia). They're normal fears, such as the fear of being invisible to others, the fear of the weird old woman down the street, etc. Most kids will definitely identify with at least one of these fears.

In fact, this book is very instrospective. All three kids are forced to examine themselves, and through that, they come to know themselves better. It was an unexpected, but welcome element in the book.

And the ending. The ending may be the scariest part. Majanka is really proving her ability to write books with a (scary) twist at the end. I found this book to be much scarier than The Doll Maker.

Scarier than the first book, if you liked The Doll Maker, you should pick this up.

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

ETA: Read my review of the third book House of Horrors here

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Troubleshooter by Bard Constatine

I was approached by Bard Constatine to see if I would review one of his books. I chose The Troubleshooter because it sounded really interesting - private-eye in a futuristic dystopian city? Sign me up!

The Troubleshooter stars Mick Trubble, an amnesiac who makes a living solving problems. One day, he's hired by a rich person to find Tommy Tsunami, one of the most dangerous people in New Haven. If that job's not difficult enough, Mick finds out that this 'job' is at the heart of a plot that may change New Haven forever. And he is one of the key players.

What I thought was the most unique part of the novel would be its setting. It's basically a pulp-fiction story with your fast-talking private eye, but in a futuristic world where the underground is run by competing factions (or gangs. They're basically gangs with lots of powers). I thought the dichotomy between the futurist things (like synoids, which are androids but cooler) and Mick Trubble would be too much, but it works together wonderfully.

Mick Trubble is clearly the star of the book. I found the other characters interesting, but I didn't really pay them much attention - unless Mick's attention was focused on them. As the narrator, he steals the show, which may or may not be a good thing, considering that several characters, like Hunter could become major characters in future books.

Another 'star' of the book would be its language. The book uses many unique words, which necessitates a glossary even before you start reading the book (The introduction to the glossary was well-written too, I enjoyed reading the forward). For me, a once-through the glossary was enough, and I managed to pick up the meanings of the words from context. However, others may be confused by all the words, in which case the glossary will definitely come in handy.

I really enjoyed this book, and it looks like the first in a unique and enjoyable series. If you like noir, pulp fiction, private-eye novels, dystopian novels or all of the above, you should definitely pick up this book. Chances are, you won't regret it.

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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Doll Maker by Majanka Verstraete

*This is the first in a three-part blog tour for the Weirdville series! Come back on the 12th and 14th to read more reviews!*

When I was a kid, we had the Mr. Midnight books. Stories like The Demon Dentist, My Handphone is Haunted, etc all stared Singaporean kids (well, they had Singaporean names) and the familiar sounding names and environments made them scary. I was reminded of this series (minus the Singaporean aspect) when I read the Weirdville series - starting with The Doll Maker.

In The Doll Maker, Derek's sister gets a new, creepy doll. Derek can tell something's not right with the doll - or the doll shop, but none of the grown ups will listen to him. To make things worse, after a trip to the shop with his friends Martin and Jamie, Martin buys a doll and falls starts of loose his memory. So it's up to Derek and Jamie to find out what's going on and fix everything.

Although this book is rather short, since it's a kid's book, it packs a punch. The characters are well-sketched out and the doll maker is creepy. In fact, the book even contains a plot twist, which I did not see coming. I may be well-above the age of the target audience, but I was definitely scared for a little while. Thankfully, the way the ending was written helped to negate that a bit (at least, I didn't have any nightmares).

If you know a child that loves being scared, or that loves horror stories, then give them this book. It's not too long, and it will probably send chills downs your back for a little while.

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

ETA: Read my second and third reviews of House of Horrors and Fright Train respectively!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Long Reads #23

It has been ages since I did a long reads post. I haven't been reading much essays lately, and my Saturday nights (where I normally type and post this) have been taken up with various stuff. So here's a hodgepodge of long for essays that caught my eye.

Who Killed Lois Duncan's Daughter? - Louise Duncan wrote the book (turned movie) "I Know What You Did Last Summer". Sadly, her daughter was murdered, and they haven't been able to find out what happened to her.

Buzzfeed's Founder used to write Marxist theory and it explains Buzzfeed perfectly - Funnily enough, the piece above was from Buzzfeed. But, this piece is talking about those never ending lists "25 signs that...." that supposedly have link to marxism in making a collective identity.

Funworld by Kevin Moffett - The author didn't intend to end up working at a magazine targeted at amusement parks, but he did. I'm not sure if I'll ever want to read the magazine (it sounds really technical), but his description of his work was fascinating. It just goes to show that not all magazine jobs are alike (comparing his description to descriptions about fashion magazines)

Cinema Tarantino: The Making of Pulp Fiction by Mark Seal, Annie Leibovitz - I'm not sure why I picked this up, since I can't recall a single film by Tarantino that I've watched, but this article made me want to watch Pulp Fiction. It's a look at how the movie came to be, how the actors were cast, and how it was promoted when it came out.

How To Not Be The Biggest Asshole In Media by - The actual title was really long (it contains a colon followed by "4 lessons I learned from meeting Jay Mariotti and reading his awful book"), but the piece is entertaining. I don't watch ESPN, so as an outsider, I found this to be interesting. I'm not sure what ESPN fans would thing though.

Royal Bodies by Hilary Mantel - Did you read Wolfhall? I did and I quite liked it (it seems like I didn't do a review - time for a re-read!). Hilary Mantel tackles the modern day royalty in this piece, and her disapproval of what Princess Kate is like (too perfect and not human enough). I personally quite like Princess Kate, although I don't follow news about her fanatically. So hmm.... I'm not sure where I stand on this piece.

Have you been reading any long form essays lately?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Fiji Random by Justin Raimey

It's probably no secret that I love manga. Ironically, I read a lot more manga before I came to Japan, now that I'm here, I tend to read other books. So when I saw the cover of this book resembled manga, (and lured by the promise of a funny storyline), I decided to pick it up.

However, The book disappointed me.

Ok, storyline first. The book has one main storyline (will Fiji get to school?), interspersed with four panel standalone strips. That's perfectly normal, and it happens in most manga. However, this book started inserting many standalone strips before I even knew what was going on in the main story. The main problem for me was the the standalone strips presumes a familiarity with the characters - a familiarity I didn't have because I still hadn't got to the story.

And I consider myself fairly random. I once had a friend use the acronym "tfer" (time for Eustacia's randomness) whenever I said something random. And think about it, it happened enough times for an acronym to be coined. So I should be perfectly suited to this book right?

Unfortunately, no. I need to understand my characters before I can appreciate the randomness that they do.

The second part that disappointed me was the style of drawing. I'm hoping that the reason why the drawings look so rough is because this is an advance copy and that the author plans to clean it up. In fact, a quick web search shows that there are nice drawings out there. I just don't know why they weren't in this copy.

But, the fact that the author made a note about how his characters changed in appearance worries me. There is only one manga I know where the character's appearance changed and that is Detective Conan, which has been published since 1994. That's about 20 years ago, so it's natural for the characters to undergo some stylistic changes. However, Fiji random is not that old, and this is Volume 1, so there's no reason why the author can't go back and redraw all the characters to make their look uniform.

I will give this book props for trying to be funny. It succeeded occasionally, but sadly, the unfortunate placement of the standalone strips (way too early) and the rough drawing style made it hard for me to enjoy this book.

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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein

Ah, airport bookshops. Like I said in my Teaser Tuesday, I get strangely drawn to non-fiction there. And I try to make it a habit to buy at least one book while passing through an airport.

Now, the main question for this book is 'can you really understand philosophy through jokes like the subtitle claims?'. And the answer is what I learnt in Theory of Knowledge, history and just about every humanities class "Yes, to a certain extent."

Yes because this book does contain many jokes and they do explain philosophy. But, this isn't just full of jokes, they actually *gasp* explain the jokes. Or use the jokes as illustration for explanations. So no, just reading the jokes will not help you understand philosophy. You have to read the explanations too. But the jokes do help in understanding (hence the "to a certain extent".)

One of my friends has read it before and he told me that I'd be in stitches. Well, I did chuckle quite a bit, but not as much as he probably did. For example, not all jokes in the feminist section (especially the one about the woman in the plane about to crash) were funny. In fact, the one about the plane was downright sexist. But to be fair to the book, they did admit it was over the top. However, the authors never clearly stated their position, so I'm not sure whether they were trying to undermine feminism in that section (especially since they talked about the 'Politically incorrect joke' and how it can make a joke seem funnier).

Oh, and they have this bit about argument from analogy (and why it's a bad argument). One group they singled out for attention were the creationists. I can understand the need for examples, but I felt that they should have also added that atheists use arguments from analogy as well. For example, Richard Dawkins has said that
“Nobody has actually seen evolution take place over a long period but they have seen the after effects, and the after effects are massively supported. It is like a case in a court of law where nobody can actually stand up and say I saw the murder happen and yet you have got millions and millions of pieces of evidence which no reasonable person can possibly dispute.” (1)
I would think that the fair thing to do was to point out that both sides use this argument.

So basically, other than the argument from analogy section, and the feminism section (which had a joke which, in my opinion, really shouldn't have been there), this was a pretty good book. Most of the jokes work. However, I can't really say if it makes philosophy accessible to the beginner. I've had quite a lot of previous exposure to philosophy, so this was more of a refresher course than anything.

(1)The Genius of Charles Darwin, Series 1, (UK) Channel 4 TV: Sat 11 Oct 2008.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ingredients of Young Outliers by John Sufeldt

When I saw this book, I immediately thought of Outliers by Malcom Gladwell. And this book was inspired by it! However, it's targeted at a much younger audience than Outlier.

Ingredients of Young Outliers the key ingredients that make young people stand out. They include: humility, enthusiasm, composure, intuition, perspective, integrity and many others. Each chapter opens with a quote, and a short biography of someone who illustrates that ingredient (normally the person being quoted) is given before talking more about that trait. Quite often, the author uses his own experience to show us how this trait is applicable (he is equally candid about his failures as he is about his success).

What I liked about this book was that it's very readable. Although the author could easily have been condescending (he's way accomplished, I wouldn't blame him if he accidentally sounded proud), he comes across as very humble. I suppose it's because he gives the reader so many examples of other people he admires instead of bragging. Because of that, the book was readable (and not-annoying).

My favourite "ingredient" is probably the first one: humility. The one insult that gets me riled up instantaneously has got to be "you are so proud". Unfortunately, I do get called that quite often. Sometimes, it's just stating things like "Oh, in Singapore we do this is secondary school" that get that insult ^^; So I do know how easy it is to come off as proud, which makes me appreciate the virtue of humility so much more. It's something that I have to work on.

If you know a young adult, or perhaps a not-so-young adult, that could do with an inspirational book on how to stand out, you should seriously consider this book.

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

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Teaser Tuesday - The Troubleshooter by Bard Constantine

How's everyone doing! It's Tuesday again, and here I am with another teaser. This teaser is from a book that I started reading today - The Troubleshooter by Bard Constantine.

I got this book when the author asked if I would be interested in reviewing one of his books. The description of this book was pulp detective meets dystopian (and a few other genres), which immediately piqued my interest.

The teaser is:
"The smile was still on his face, the white of his teeth a striking contrast to the darkness of his presence.  
Yeah, I tend to wax poetic when facing certain death"
I like the sense of humour in this teaser. I'm looking forward to reading more of the book.

What is your teaser this week?

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of ShouldBeReading. To participate, just choose a two sentence teaser from a book along with its title and author.

Monday, June 2, 2014

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

One of the advantages of being a literature student is that you get exposed to a wide range of books, and from them, walk a mile in someone else's shoes. One of the books I read in JC (that would be highschool to most people) was I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and it was easily one of my favourite and one of the most moving books (I say "one of" because I had 16 books to study in 2 years, and many of them were good).

When I heard of Maya Angelou's passing, I realised that I never gave this book a review and decided to do a belated one now. RIP Maya Angelou, you have made an impact on me, my classmates and many others through this book.

What I remember very clearly about this book is that
This book is unique because it utilises techniques more commonly found in fiction than autobiography. 
 It's not profound, but I think it explains why I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings makes such an impact on us, and why it's commonly found in literature classes. It moves us, and it makes us think.

And this book certainly made me think. The thing is, I did not grow up marginalised, I grew up in a safe, comfortable environment where my race was the majority. To read about what Maya Angelou went through was shocking. It jolted me out of my comfort zone, and told me "you need to do something". If I had to compare this book to another book in secondary school (I believe this is middle school) that opened me eyes, then I would choose To Kill a Mockingbird, another excellent book that taught me the perspective of another.

If you live a comfortable life, it's easy to blind yourself to the sufferings of others. That's why books like these are needed - they wake you up.

Now, I only learnt recently that this book is quite frequently banned and challenged for disturbing content (I found out when I started reading Maya Angelou's wikipedia page, which lead to this book's page). Personally, I didn't find it disturbing, and I wasn't traumatised. I was shocked, yes, but I needed to be shocked. I needed to be woken up. Even if you think life should be a bed of roses, remember, roses have thorns.

Plus, for a kid that was sheltered (and I was sheltered), basically the only way that I could have found out about the darker side of life were through books. My childhood was nothing like Maya Angelou's. Is that a good thing? I would say so. But is it good for me to remain ignorant about the sufferings of others? I don't think so.

To deny a kid a chance to learn more about the parts of life that they (hopefully) won't go through is to deny that kid a chance to grow, and to be moved to make a difference.

To put it simply: this book moved me and made me think. It's for these reasons that I think it's a great book, and I'm thankful that I got to study it in school.