Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Leopard Stratagem by T.A. Uner

And, we're now at book two of the Leopard King series - The Leopard Stratagem. I'm going to come clean and tell you right from the start, I liked this book a lot better than the first one. Why?

Well mainly because there's a lot more magic. I mean, I like reading about political intrigue and all that, but magical creatures and humans? I'm just waiting for the Griffins in book three now. They have to show up, right? On the good-guy side, we have Tullus and Celestra, who are learning how to use their powers. Well, Tullus is learning. On the bad-guy side, we have the Serpentus. While you won't recognise his name, but he's one of the villains from book one.

And as you can guess from the above description, this is a good vs bad story. There are people who practice evil magic (Serpentus and his demon), trying to call up demons to this world. Then, there are people like Tullus and the circus troupe, who are trying to stop them. Tullus is training, and the circus troupe are trying to destroy the door to Katoika (check sp), the demon world, under the guidance of a new character, a potion mistress. The two groups meet in the end as Serpentus makes his move and forcus Tullus and Celestra to go back and fight.

You might be wondering, where is Eliana in all of this? Well, she's in Caligula's palace, trying to overthrow the crazy king. To be very honest, I found her even more annoying than in the first book. But, I was very diverted by the magical parts of the story that it seemed to me that she played a very small role.

I would say that book two of the series is different from book one. Book one reminded me a lot of Game of Thrones, a lot of political intrigue and scheming. Book two is much more like a traditional fantasy novel, with magic and battles and werewolves. Yes, werewolves are in this novel. And talking snakes. And a few other magical creatures.

Definitely recommended to fans of fantasy.

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Leopard Vanguard by T.A. Uner

This book, where do I start? There was a lot that I liked, a little that I was disappointed with, and one issue that irked me. Although on the whole, I liked it and I'll definitely keep reading though (mostly because I want to see what happens).

The Leopard Vanguard takes place in an alternate version of Ancient Rome, where magic happens. I was really excited during the first part of the book, because GRIFFINS. That's a really major reason why I want to read more (and a tiny reason why I was a bit disappointed) - there's not nearly enough magic in this book for me. The beginning promised a lot of magic, but then the book started turning to political intrigue.

In this book, we follow Tullus, a gifted Roman centurion. For the sake of love, he quits his job, but then his lady love dumps him (despite the fact that's unconventional in every other aspect, she refuses to go off with the man she loves). Heartbroken, he's found by a troupe of circus performers and bonds with a Leopardess named Celestra, becoming the Leopard King. When the troupe master is killed, he swears revenge on him.

At the same time, his lady love is being pursued by Tullus's perverted ex-boss, who despite his political inclinations has no qualms about abusing his future wife. The lady love (her name's Eliana), is more concerned with helping the merchants, who are being terrorised by a criminal overlord who is, you might have guessed, in league with the her fiance.

Behind all this is the story of emperor Caligula and his rise to power (as well as the people who want him dead).

Most of the time, I enjoyed the story (apart from the explicit scenes and swearing, but that's my personal preference), but I really don't like how Gansu, the Chinese troupe member was portrayed. The troupe is made up of many people, not all of them Romans, and yet every single character apart from the one Chinese guy talks normally. The way he talks reminds me of the stereotypes people use for Chinese people:
"You westerners, too much hurry. Come back tomorrow; I teach you more"
And yes, he's teaching meditation. What else? And that was not my point. What I want to make is that this speaking style is not only unnecessary it's inaccurate as well.

Let's just use the final point: "I teach you more." In Chinese, I would say "我会教你更多。“ 我 - I, 会 - will, 教你 - teach you, 更多 - even more (Typo fixed, thank you!). I was going to pull out my Latin textbook and do another translation, but that would be pointless. This book is written in English anyway, and there's very little Latin. Besides, according to the way you conjugate the verb in Latin, you can probably make it express future-intention (will do something), so basically, you can have the same sentence in English, Chinese and Latin. There's no need to fall on stereotypes, since all the other characters, who presumably did not have Latin as a first language, speak very naturally.

Thankfully, weird English is about the extent of how things are for Gansu. I'm willing to overlook it for this book, but I'm really hoping the second book gets better (or eliminate Gansu's role. Really. I'd rather not see this).

Basically, apart from the Chingrish stuff, which irked me because I am Chinese, and the swearing and explicit scenes because I am a prude, I quite liked the book. It's like Game of Thrones, but set in Ancient Rome. So if you like Game of Thrones, you'll probably enjoy this book.

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I have no idea why I requested this book from NetGalley, but I'm really glad I did. It's an eye-opening book and I think everyone should read it.

Just Mercy is an account of how the justice system in America is broken. It's grounded through the story of Walter McMillian, a man who spent 6 years on the death row for a murder he didn't commit. Interspersed are the different cases that Bryan Stevenson was also taking at that time, from young children locked up in jail with adults to adults with mental disabilities being ignored and untreated.

Since Walter McMillian's case is what anchors the book (I think it's one of the first cases the author undertook), I want to talk about a bit more. In Alabama in the 1980s, a young woman was killed. That's terrible, but what's worse is that the law enforcement officials ignored evidence and pressured people to lie in order to put Walter McMillian in jail. Why? Because they wanted him as a suspect. He already had a bad rap from having an affair with a white woman (Walter McMillian is African American), and he was the easiest target. So instead of doing police work, they framed an innocent guy, then spent a lot of time and money making sure he stayed in jail. If only they spent that much effort on actually finding the murderer.

Adding to the irony is that Alabama was trying to use To Kill a Mockingbird to drum up some tourism money. I think everyone is aware, but To Kill a Mockingbird very specifically address the issue of racial bias. And yet, while they were promoting themselves using the book, no one realised that they were doing as much to keep an innocent guy in jail because they didn't like the fact he had an inter-racial relationship.

The other cases in this book, from a 13 year old who was sentenced to life in prison, to a mother who was convicted of murdering a stillborn child will break your heart as well. In fact, if you don't get angry while reading this book, I'd suspect that something is very wrong with you.

Everyone should read this book. Even if you're not an American, I think it works as a cautionary tale. Look at your own country, is there any group being discriminated in the justice system? Are rehabilitation efforts working? And what can be done.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review. I got emotional on my own accord.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Release Day Party: Winter Wolf by R.J. Blain

Friends! Remember when I reviewed Inquisitor by R.J. Blain? And how I gushed about it? Well, I'm participating in her Winter Wolf release day party today, so prepare for more gushing!

Winter Wolf is the second in the Witch and Wolf series (the first book being Inquisitor). It features a whole new set of characters, but it's just as gripping and entertaining as the first.

The protagonist of Winter Wolf is Nicole, who's hiding a secret - she's a wizard. That means she can control electricity, and that if the Inquisition finds out who she is, she'll be executed. As a struggling actress without a voice, she's surprised when one day, she's picked for a major role. At the same time, a young man dies next to her, and several attempts were made on her life. Oh, and did I mention that her family is fenerec (werewolf) and that she wants to help to cure the plague that's killing them slowly? And let's not forget the serial killer!

Woah, that's a lot of stuff in one book. You might think that the pacing would be affected, but everything ties together in one seamless read. One event leads to another, and the consequences carry over.

Oh, and if you're like me, the name Winter Wolf is going to nag at you. Nag at you until you figure out the connection between this book and Inquisitor. So make sure you have both books handy!

I really enjoyed this book. There was a cast of smart characters, a world that's alike ours but with magic, and a great storyline. If you liked Inquisitor, you'd definitely like this book. I want to read more about this world - R.J. Blain has created two wonderful protagonists and supporting casts, and I would love to read a sequel where they meet!

Note: I received a free copy of this book as part of the Enchanted Book Promotion Blog Tours in exchange for a free and honest review.

Not convinced yet? Read this excerpt:

I slammed my car’s door, spun on a heel, and swore I would have a perfectly normal visit to the mall. All I needed was one little book. Even I could walk into a bookstore, pick up a novel, and leave without causing any trouble.

This time, I wouldn’t blow out the lights. There wouldn’t be a single power surge. I wouldn’t turn on every unplugged device in the electronics store on my way across the mall. In the ten minutes it would take me to get in and out, the only thing anyone would notice about me was the fact that I wore a high-collared sweater in late summer. I had a mission, and I would complete it without fail. The novel my agent insisted I read would be mine.

For a long moment, I considered turning around and getting back into my car. Dominic would forgive me if I didn’t start reading the book until tomorrow. I could call in a favor and ask someone to pick up a copy for me. Then I definitely wouldn’t run any risk of blowing anything up. If I had been smart, I would’ve just ordered the damned thing on the internet, but I had waited too long.

Fishing my cell out of my pocket, I unlocked the screen with a swipe of my finger. The charging icon mocked me. Despite running every battery-draining app I could find, the battery held a full charge. I opened another app, a devilish program capable of killing the battery in ten minutes. It wouldn't, not with me around, but if I was too busy keeping my phone topped up, maybe my mall shopping trip would prove to be mundane.

I shook my head, laughing at my foolishness.

No one would notice my phone. No one would notice me for more than a second. They'd notice my clothes, and then they'd file me away as yet another weirdo wearing something strange to catch attention. L.A. was full of people like that.

I had no reason to worry. Even if I managed to embarrass myself yet again by losing control of my powers, no one would know I was the cause of unplugged electronics turning on or unusual power surges.

Straightening my shoulders, I fixed my eyes on the line of glass doors and marched my way across the parking lot.

In and out. No blown lights. No power surges. No feeding power to unplugged electrical devices. No charging batteries for strangers. I was in control, and I would charge only my phone.

Making my way to the entry, I paused long enough to hold the door for a little old lady who insisted on making her way through the regular doors despite her walker. I couldn’t blame her. If I lived to be her age, I wouldn’t want to rely on automatic doors either.

She thanked me with a pat on the arm. Flashing her my best smile, I slipped inside.

Nothing happened.


I could handle ten minutes in the crowded corridors. Maybe if I told myself that enough times, I’d believe it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Teaser Tuesday - The Land of Stories by Christ Colfer

Woohoo! It's Tuesday! That means that my relatives are coming tomorrow! So you won't see me until I come back on the 24th with R.J Blain's Winter Wolf Release Day Party!

Right now, I'm reading The Land of Stories. I got this from BookOff a while back but had no time to read it. But since I'm a sucker for fairy-tales retold, I had to buy it. Well, no more procrastinating, I'm reading it now.

My teaser:
"The world will always choose convenience over reality," the Evil Queen said. "It's easier to hate, blame, and fear than it is to understand." (Page 380)
What is your Teaser Tuesday?

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Consolation of Economics by Gerard Lyons

Randomly picked this book up at the National Library because *ECONOMICS*. I really wonder what people think of my borrowing history, it's like 9 comics (me and my bro), then one "Consolation of Economics".

Anyway, this book is supposed to be a "lucid and accessible expert's attempt to look objectively at the changing global economy." So my review will focus on how "accessible" and "lucid" it is, not on how sound the economics is (I shall leave that to the experts, because I can't find any obvious problems here).

I must say, the book is surprisingly readable. I would think that as long as you've taken an introductory economics course, you will be able to understand what the author is talking about. Terms like "nominal" and "inflation" do appear, hence the "introductory knowledge needed" thing I just said. The author does a good job of explaining new terms too, like when he talks about soft power (he uses a slightly different definition than the norm).

As for how international the book is - well, it's complicated. The book clearly looks at the global economy - China and India (particularly China) are discussed in depth, and Japan is talked about many times as well. Even Singapore made its fair share of appearances (way more than I was expecting). But, since this book is orientated towards readers in the Western economies (it is about how the shift of power to the East isn't necessarily detrimental to the West after all), there is slightly more focus on the UK, EU and the US.

The book itself is divided into 9 parts, and includes: a brief history of economics, China's economy, the 2008 Financial crisis, the Ukraine crisis, the G7 and the G20, and lots more. You'd notice that the book is very very current, since it was published this year. I dare say that in a year or two, when some of the current crisis have played out, the book might not be as relevant, but for now, this is one of the most accessible books on modern economics that I've read.

My favourite part of the book was, surprisingly, the last chapter, which looks at the future of economics. It references something that I learnt last semester, that younger economics prefer Game Theory, but older economists look at things like unemployment, fiscal policy, etc. So to read about Mr. Lyons' opinion was really interesting to me.

All in all, this is an excellent and accessible book. Read it now (in 2014), because it contains information about current events. A year or two down the line, and a new edition might be in order, so get your hands on it quick.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mademoiselle by Rhonda K. Garelick

Even though I don't own any Chanel, and barely understand fashion, for some reason, I'm always fascinated by Chanel. I suppose that's how far the Chanel mystique extends.

This book aims to be a fair and comprehensive biography of Chanel, no small feat since Chanel had no qualms about lying (and changing her lies) about where she came from. What impressed me was that the book acknowledged Chanel's mystique right from the start. It's as though it says "I'm trying my best to be impartial, but Chanel is really charming, so remember that."

I can't quite remember what the other Chanel biographies I read contained (and I left the book in Singapore/lent it to my teacher), but I'm pretty sure that I learnt a few things that I didn't know before. For example, Chanel's connection to the Nazi's and her very strong anti-Semitic views are unflinchingly described, and there is no attempt made to excuse her for what she said. The author notes the mode of thinking of the set Chanel mingled with, but that doesn't become a convenient excuse for why Chanel held those views. After all, Chanel was an intelligent and savvy businesswoman.

Another thing that I liked was the amount of detail in the book. For every lover or close friend of Chanel, there is a short biography. It might seem like a digression or too much to some people, but I enjoyed reading about it as it helped me build up a more complete picture of the times Chanel lived in.

Finally, the book ends with a short description of Chanel's legacy and her impact on fashion. And in my ebook ARC from Netgalley, there's about 100 pages of footnotes, so those wanting to go deeper into the story will have a lot of sources they can start chasing.

I won't turn into a Chanel convert just because of a well-written biography, but my fascination with her still continues.

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

An Alphabetical Life by Wendy Harris

I picked this book up at the library because, let's face it, it's about books. About a life working with books. Sadly, I didn't like the narrator of the book, which meant that I didn't like the book much.

An Alphabetical Life is Wendy Werris's memoir of how she started a career in books, first in a bookshop, then as a publisher's representative. I'm pretty sure this is also supposed to be about how it's like working in a male-dominated profession, and how she works to overcome various obstacles. Unfortunately, I never really connected with her, or felt that there was a larger story than whatever anecdote she was currently relating.

Even after reading the book, I'm not how being a woman publishing rep between then and now has changed. I don't see any clear changes, and it might as well be as chauvinistic as when Ms Werris first started out. And yes, her surviving that long is a really great thing, but it's really because she decided to conform, not because she made waves and changed the industry or something. So lesson here: if you're in a male-dominated world, act like what they expect, and they'll let you survive.

Plus, Ms Werris comes across as very self-centered. She has siblings, but I didn't see any evidence of her living a life with them until she mentions things like having to borrow money from one of them. Well, actually, this is pretty admirable, if the siblings don't want to be in a book. But then again, she does blame her parents for her screwed up family dynamics (of which, she appears to play a central role), so it doesn't particularly seem as though she's censoring for the sake of her family. In fact, what made me think she was self-centered isn't the lack of family in her book, but the way she treats others and her job. She got fired quite a few times, and each time, I couldn't help but think that she deserved to get fired for acting like a child. And of course, she wanted to get fired at that time. Not very responsible, in my opinion.

The book wasn't all bad though. I have a feeling that if I had the same character as Ms. Werris, I would have enjoyed it very much. She's not a bad writer, because her account of her rape was well-written, and I really felt for her then. I thought she was very brave in the way she handled it.

So overall, the one part of the book that made me feel for the author wasn't related to books. I would say that as an account of a life with books, it doesn't work out.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Teaser Tuesday - The Indie Author Power Pack

Happy Teaser Tuesday! I'm happily caught up in NaNoWriMo, and in the spirit of things, I bought this 3-book pack. It's only 99 yen (on Amazon), so I figured that even if I don't use it, it'd be a good read.

I'm currently making my way through Write, Publish, Repeat, and it is way more inspiring that I thought. Totally worth the money.

My teaser:
"The truth is seldom glamorous. Nobody wants to hear that, but it's a fact." 
What is your teaser this week? And if you're doing NaNoWriMo too, how is your progress?

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Copyright Wars by Peter Baldwin

This was a hard book to read. Hard is in, technically difficult, dense and rather dry. But, I think if you have an academic interest in copyright law, you may want to use this as a textbook.

It's hard to describe the book without giving a summary of what it's about, but I'll try. Basically, it's a historically look at how the Continent (Europe), Britain and America dealt with copyright law at various points in time. Generally, Europe has been all about the author and his/her rights, while the Anglophone countries have been more about the public. However, the Berne convention brought America more in line with Europe. The book ends with a look at how the internet is changing the way people view copyright today.

And hey look, it appears that I learnt something. So even though the book was very difficult for me to understand, it looks like enough got in for me to actually do a summary.

Oh, and to answer a class question. I was in a just-started class when my teacher asked me something that roughly translates to "So why didn't England join?". Unfortunately, I misheard and thought the question was "So why didn't you go to England" and made a reply. So, to salvage whatever dignity I had, the "actual" answer had to be decent. Thankfully, parts of this book was stuck in my head and I managed to give a good enough reason that didn't make the teacher sigh or shake his head.

I wouldn't really recommend this if you're new to copyright law. It's a bit dense, and if you have no idea about what it's about, this might scare you. But, if you're looking to dig deeper into copyright law, then you'd be interested in this book. It's tough, but it does contain a lot of information.

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Curse of the blue tattoo by L.A. Meyer

It's the second book of the Bloody Jack series! This is really shaping up to be one of my new favourite series! I actually read the book before I left for Singapore (so three months ago?), but somehow forgot to post my review. My bad ><
Anyway, if you want to read my review of the first book, click here.

After the ending of the first book, where [SPOILER ALERT] Jacky's true identity as a girl was revealed, she was sent to the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, where she is to learn to be a "lady". But, the strict rules and mean girls prove too much, and Jacky's yearning to be free leads her into a host of adventures, which include her getting thrown into jail, and disguising herself as a boy (again) to ride a horse in a race.

One other thread running through the book would be Jacky and Jaimy's romance. The two of them were separated at the start of the book, and they attempt to keep in contact through letters. The key word is attempt, because somehow, their letters don't reach each other. Jacky's suspicion is that Jaimy's mother, who disapproves of her, and there's a fair chance that Jaimy's letters are being kept from Jacky by Mistress Pimm, the strict schoolmistress.

Lots of things happen in this book, and if I summarise them all, you might think it terribly unbelievable and far fetched. But the way Jacky tells it, it seems very natural to me. Jacky is just doing what she thinks is best, she can't help it if she has all sorts of crazy adventures.

Oh, and Jacky is way more charming than she thinks. I'm pretty sure she won the admiration of all the servants, and her new friend Amy's brother Randalph (although Randalph is a connundrum, since you're never sure why he's nice to Jacky).

Speaking of Amy, I thought she was an interesting character. As a girl who chose to be an outcast (she refuses to sit with the popular girls because one of them owns slaves), her friendship with Jacky was one of the high points in this book.

Another interesting character was Mistress Pimm. I had thought her to be the sort of headmistress that would be partial to the rich, but she's actually quite fair. As long as you break her school's rules, you will get punished, no matter who your father is. She wasn't as shallow a character as I had thought her to be.

Lastly, there's a reference to the first book here, as Jacky quotes the opening of the first book when she tells her lifestory to her friend Amy. Honestly, it sounds a bit weird, because if Jacky were to recite the entire first book, it would be way too long. But, in another way, it does make sense, because Jacky is the narrator of the first book as well, and she's telling her story to a friend.

In conclusion, this is a wonderful second book. I can't wait to get my hands on the third book and read it!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

So You Want to Work in Fashion? by Patricia Wooster

I requested this book because... because... I'm not sure why. I guess I requested this book because I'm reaching the stage in my life where I need to start thinking about my future goals, and I figured I should learn as much about different industries as possible.

Personally, I'm rather impressed with this book. It covers many areas of the fashion business, from the "obvious" jobs like blogging and modeling to things like stylist, production, photographer etc. At the end, there's a guide as to what you can choose to study, and how to take your first steps (there are activities scattered throughout the book as well), alongside a glossary of terms. Interspersed with the descriptions are interviews with various people working in the industry.

For some reason, a few of the interviews made me feel as though you need connections (or a lot of luck) to make it in the fashion business - especially if you intend to be a designer. I'm not quite sure if that's what they're trying to convey, but I got that impression. Also, I should probably note that I skipped over quite a few of the interviews because they bored me, and because I found the "introduction" font hard to read. But, I think if you're interested in the fashion business, you'll find the interviews to contain a lot of useful information.

Overall though, I think this provides a level-headed view into the fashion business. I like how they covered all the different aspects equally, and seem to provide good advice to people who want to be in the business.

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Teaser Tuesday - Mademoiselle by Rhonda K. Garelick

Hey everyone! It's the first Tuesday of NaNoWriMo! I mean, November. Anyway, I'm participating as a Rebel this year (resisting the urge to place a Ever After Video here), so my blog posts might taper off after a while. For this month at least.

But, I'm still reading, and right now, I'm working my way through a biography of Chanel. I don't actually own anything from the brand, but Coco Chanel is so fascinating that I can't help but pick up books about her.

My teaser:

"And so, instead of embossing her initials on her personal, household goods, Chanel figured out a grander plan: she would imprint her initials on the entire world. The double-C logo crystallizes the paradoxical brilliance at the heart of Chanel's empire: it granted prestige through uniformity, through mass identification with one idealized individual."

What are your teasers this week? And to all those doing NaNoWriMo, all the best!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas

Aaaand, blogger blackout is over. Let's restart with some positively. Here's a review from a book I really enjoyed :D 

How did it take me so long to know about Veronica Mars? I first saw the (start) of the movie on my flight to Singapore, and then started watching the series. I saw the movie on the flight back to Japan, and it was awesome! I'm still watching the series, so I can say that I started from the end of the series.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line takes place after the series and movie, so you might not want to read it if you hate spoilers. Skip this review too, because I need to start setting the scene in the next paragraph.

So, Veronica has officially given up her big city lawyer's job to take over Mars Investigations. Keith Mars, still hurting from that accident that killed Sachs (He was one of the better police officers), disapproves heavily but has no choice. However, business is slow until one day, she gets a job. Despite it really being a case for the police, the commercial powers that run Neptune recognise that she's a better detective than the lackey they have in the sheriff's office. So with the help of Wallace and Mac, Veronica does some good ol' investigative work.

By the way, this book (actually this series) is canon compliant, fanfiction writers, you should really be reading this to get up to speed. While this series features a grown-up Veronica (well, the series started of grown up compared to Nancy Drew or Tracy Belden), the format is very much the same as how the series runs in terms of solving the mystery.

Definitely for fans of Veronica Mars. And, if you're a fan of darker mysteries (and don't mind missing the numerous series references), you'll probably enjoy this mystery as well.