Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mysticism & Myths Anthology

After a long, long time, I'm finally participating in another blog tour! I poked my head out because the subject matter sounded really interesting! (Also, I was hoping to see if any Asian ghosts made their way in). Since it's a collection of short stories, I thought I'd quickly review each story in the collection.

First up, Bound by Blood by Margo Bond Collins. It actually features a Filipino monster (a aswang), which made me really really happy. It did veer into a direction which I didn't completely expect, but I found it to be an interesting read, and it raised my expectations for the rest of the collection.

Second, Isa: Gift of the Baloma by Perri Forrest. I have to admit, I skipped this story. The first scene was rather explicit, and not something that I'd normally read. If you like steamy stories though, you should like it.

Third, Mico, Anguta's Reign by Dormaine G. I liked this one! It involved were-wolves, and a murder mystery. Personally, I would have loved it to be more in-depth, but that would make it a full-length novel instead. I sorta-but-not-really saw the twist coming (I'm not sure. I felt surprised yet not surprised), so yes, it's a pretty good story.

Fourth, Cursed: A Yorkshire Ghost Story by Karen Perkins. A pretty spooky ghost story for me with a vengeful ghost - if this was a movie, I'd avoid it because I'm a scaredy cat. The ending is pretty open, and like Mico, it has the potential to be a full length novel that made me stay up all night. The only small niggle I have is that for one character, the "thou" and "thees" seem to be rather mixed up with "you" arbitrarily. Either that, or the author was using it in the Shakespearean sense ("thou" being the more intimate form of expression), but it didn't really seem that way either.

Fifth, Carnem Levare by Jaxx Summers. I liked the descriptions of Venice in this city, but the story dragged a little. I think it was two different POVs (this involves another vengeful ghost - this time, that of a jilted lover), because I was pretty comfortable in one, and switching to another was a bit of a shock.

Last, but not least, The Life Keeper by Abby L. Vandiver. This was a really strong story to end the collection with. It looks at life in a small Romanian town, and the legend of the strigoi, a sort of vampire. I must say, the ending totally threw me, I did not expect it. But, the dynamics of an outsider coming into the family was interesting, and I enjoyed the narrative voice.

Overall, most of the stories are pretty solid. I wouldn't say that you can give this to any kid you know who likes mythologies, but if you know an older teen or adult that likes reading about different monsters, but doesn't have time to go through a whole novel, this collection would be a pretty good fit.

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag

HEY EVERYONE! I don't normally do this, but I found out that Cindercast: A Tale of Tides (Volume 1) by Michael BlackBourn, which is a book I've been wanting to get, is free for Thursday and Friday (I believe US time? So anyway, go get it! The link I included is to the Amazon US store, but I managed to get it on my Amazon Japan store for free too!


I really, really wanted to like this book. It's got a pretty cover, comparisons to authors I like and an interesting sounding story. But, I didn't. Not really. It's really sad, because everyone else seems to really love it.

The Dress Shop of Dreams is about Cora, the scientist who doesn't open her heart, Walt, the guy who's always loved her with the radio-perfect voice, Etta, Cora's grandmother, Milly, the woman who listens to Walt's voice on the radio and fell in love and Dylan, Walt's boss. Those are a lot of people, and they all have their separate stories. Oh wait, there's also Henry, the policeman.

One problem I have is that all the separate stories never feel like they're tied together. If it weren't for the fact that Cora and Etty are related by blood, and that Henry has been in love with Cora (although he promptly got in a relationship with Milly at the start of the book), there are no links. Cora suddenly embarks on a quest to find out what really happened to her parents at the mysterious fire (that was an unexpected turn), and Henry just gives up after one attempt at the start of the book. Meanwhile, Etta just interferes and then has her own thing going on.

I suppose I could see connections and all that if I cared for the characters. But I always felt this gulf, as though they were distant figures across a huge, fast-flowing river, and I only see what's going on. It may be the present tense narrative, which works wonderfully in many novels (like the book I reviewed yesterday, Broken Monsters), but not this. I just kept feeling like the author was telling, not showing the whole way, and it made me feel detached (also, I checked my notes and there were a few sudden jumps from the head of one character to another, which was a bit dizzying).

For me, this book just lacked the magic spark. Plenty of others love it, so if you're curious, it's worth borrowing the book or reading a sample to see whether you like it. It just didn't quite make the cut for me.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Halfway through this book, I realised that it really, really reminded me of the film The Snow White Murder Case (click the link to read my review, on another blog). Both the book and the film are about a murder (although the murder in the book is much, much, much more gruesome than the movie), but they take a look at modern technology, and how they affect the murder investigation. The main difference, is that one of the main characters of Broken Monsters would be the cop.

Broken Monsters features a whole cast of characters, from the lead detective, to her daughter, to the murderer and the journalist. They each take a turn narrating the story, and their lives eventually tie into the larger narrative - that someone is murdering people and mutilating the bodies. For some POVs, like the daughters and a random character, the connection wasn't immediately obvious. At the end, however, all of them will tie together. Not all the characters will be likeable, and it's possible the character you root for is the one I despise, but that's the great thing about this book.

To me, the book explores the question "Is murder/insanity catching, and can it spread through social media?" This question surfaces in the second half of the book, so I can't talk about it without giving away major spoilers, but it definitely gave me food for thought.

The only downside that I see is that print isn't the best medium to convey social media. Text messages come across fine, but the reddit threads were a bit confusing, especially without the lines to show nesting comments properly (there are indentations, but it's not very clear to me). It may be that the movie spoiled this for me, because the way they showed twitter was very easy to understand, and really added to the film. For the book, the social media sections (calls, reddit pages) were mostly on their own, the exception being text messages, which I think defeats the purpose of most of these sites, which is to connect people.

Overall, this is a fantastic book. It's very dark, so I would only recommend it to mature readers. But, it does raise a host of interesting questions, and the present tense narrative really adds a sense of immediacy, which kept me turning the pages, because I wanted to find out how everything would turn out.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Unfortunately, this is not a manual on how to be a heroine. Instead, it's the author's reflection on how the heroines of the various books she's read has influenced her, as she goes through a re-reading spree inspired by the realisation that Cathy may not be the ideal heroine after all.

To go back and give you some background, the inspiration for this re-read came from the fear of the author that she had to give up her heroines. I think most of us would never consider something like that, but having been so deeply inspired by Cathy, and then realising she wasn't the best role-model, the author got a shock and decided to revisit all the heroines to see if they were best left alone. Her resulting experience would be this book.

I think, to enjoy the book, two things are needed.

One, you have to be well-read. Like really. The author goes through tons of books, and I find myself quite embarrassed at the number of books that I've not read. It also made me think that perhaps I should try reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights again. I received them when my siblings were born (we have the practice of giving the existing children presents, and my parents know I like to read so....), but I didn't finish either book. Perhaps now that I'm older, it's time to go through it. After all, one of the things that this book showed me is that the same book can speak to you differently at different points in your life.

The other thing that you need is to remember that this is one person's experience. I disagree with the author's opinion on Little Women, Esther, Pollyanna, and I think most of her opinions. But, she and I have very different worldviews and upbringing, so I think it's only natural. If I had gotten annoyed every time I disagreed with the author, I bet I wouldn't even have finished the book.

Oh, but I really agreed with this line:
"And maybe it's by appropriating our heroines that we become heroines ourselves." 
Apart from that, I think there's not much I can say. This is basically a very personal book, about the author's experience and thinking. I find it well-written and interesting.

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Hey! Chinese New Year is over, so I'm back to blogging!

This week, my teaser is from The King of Elfland's Daughter. I hear that it's a huge influence in the fantasy genre, so I'm really happy my library has a copy!

My teaser:

"They stopped and gazed and shaded their eyes and stroked their beards and wondered. And still it was a white unicorn galloping wearily." (Page 116)

What is your teaser this week?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

To enjoy this book, you need to be able to do one thing: dissociate the book from the TV show Bones. Better yet, if you don't know the show, you don't need to forget about it.


Ok, Deja Dead is about Dr. Temperance Brennan, an American working in Quebec. One day, she gets sent a set of bones, and she's convinced its the work of a serial killer. As she struggles against the police to get them to investigate and take her seriously (ok, it's just this one guy, but he spoilt the cooperative police image), the killer starts coming after her.

I liked this book. I found the mystery interesting, and the setting managed to take me away from Japan.

And this Brennan. This Brennan is so human. She's not a perfect person who knows karate and speaks multiple languages and is a best-selling author even though she's only in her thirties (TV Brennan is awesome, but let's face it, she's not human. No human can do what she does). This Brennan is older, divorced, a friend, though not a good one, and a mother. She struggles with trying to be a good mother to a daughter in America, she struggles trying to be a good friend, she struggles to help victims find justice. She's not perfect, and I'm glad she's not.

I would definitely read more of this when I have the time. For some reason, I don't really associate this Brennan with Bones from the show, so I wasn't disillusioned by the book. Instead, I thought it was an interesting mystery, with a fallible yet smart main character.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Tag: Would You Rather?

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! I could do another book review, but I saw this on open invitation on The Written Word and thought it would be fun!

So.... Would you rather...

1. Read Only Trilogies or stand-a-lones? 

Stand-a-lones, definitely. I like series, but I'm terrible at following up.

2. Read Only Female or Male Authors?

Uh, I don't really look at the names. Female? Maybe? I can live with just reading Sarah Dessen and Hilary Mantel and the like.

No wait. That means I have to give up Chesterton and C.S. Lewis and Tolkien.

On second thought, I'll pick male authors.

3. Show at Barnes-n-Noble or Amazon?

Amazon. I've never been to a Barnes-n-Noble, because I don't live in the the States.

4. All books become movies or TV shows?

I always thought TV shows are for series and movies for standalones. Um, I have to pick? Movies, I guess. I mean, like Question 1, I'm terrible at following up, and I'll quickly get swamped with things I want to watch.

5. Read 5 pages per day or 5 books per week?

Five books a day! Ok, week, but I think I already do that...

6. Be a professional reviewer or author?

Weird as it may sound, author! But ideally, both! And a superhero-businesswoman! (I was the weird kid)

7. Only read your top 20 favourite books over and over or always read new ones you haven't read before?

I'll be doing the re-read, although deciding on the top 20 favourite books will be really hard.

8. Be a librarian or a bookseller?

Bookseller! (One of my many dreams) There'll be a lot more freedom to decide what to stock, how to decorate the store seasonally, and install a snack corner/cafe.

9. Only read your favourite genre, or every genre except your favourite?

I'm not sure if I have a favourite genre. Uh, but I guess I'll stick to just that one if I have to choose. It'll be interesting to see what I like to read.

10. Only read physical books or e-books?

I know we're in the midst of the ebook revolution, and I have way too many physical books as it is, but physical books all the way!

End! Feel free to join in if this catches your eye!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Teaser Tuesdday - Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson

I came back to Singapore on Saturday, so obviously, I've already been to the library! I managed to borrow quite a few books that I've had my eye on - Pennyroyal Academy being one of them. Another fairy-tale inspired book, how could I not?

My teaser is:
"According to legend, Saudade was looked upon with disfavor by the Fates, who sought to destroy it at every opportunity. When finally they succeeded, the kingdom burst apart into the Great Tide that washed the world clean, ushering in the Age of Kings. It's yet another fairy's flight of fancy." (Page 214)
Ok, this is three sentences instead of two, but I really wanted to include the last sentence!

Happy Chinese New Year to all Chinese!

What is your teaser Tuesday today?

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Mickey Mouse Reader edited by Garry Apgar

I love Mickey Mouse, which I don't think is a wildly unconventional position. In fact, liking Disney is basically a way to bond with random strangers. So obviously, I wanted to read this reader.

The Mickey Mouse Reader is basically a collection of news stories and articles about Mickey Mouse and Disney. It starts off with the birth of Disney, and people catching on to the fact that a star was born, and ends with a series of analysis articles about the famous mouse, and musings about its future. Occasionally, there are notes about the articles at the end, and in the appendix are the original versions of certain translated pieces.

For me, the first part was a bit boring at times. Some of the articles were basically announcements about events, which I didn't find interesting. Others, like Nazi Germany's reaction to Disney was interesting. I basically preferred the Op-Ed pieces and interviews to things that were simply announcing facts. Trivia fans may find that interesting though.

Overall, though, you get an idea of how Mickey Mouse came to be. He grew from a lovable scamp to an icon of the twentieth century, at the same time, growing from a mischievous mouse to the embodiment of respectability, which makes it difficult to play pranks. Hence, the development of Donald Duck, who can get away with things that Mickey can't. While Walt Disney was alive, this seemed to be a good thing, but now, some people think that it's holding the company back. The last few essays think about the future of The Mouse - how can the company reinvent the mouse while keeping to tradition?

Although a bit repetitive at times, this book gives you a good feel of how Mickey Mouse (and by extension, Disney as it is) came to be.

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dark Sun, Bright Moon by Oliver Sparrow

Once in a blue moon, an author/publisher is kind enough to send me an actual print book. So, imagine that I'm doing a happy dance, and that is totally my reaction to this book coming.

And for once, I was really glad that I had the print book to review. This book is a huge epic, and I needed to flip to the appendix first to get an overview of this world halfway through the book.

Wait, is the book that confusing?

Yes. You see, the book uses the belief system of the Andes as a core element in the book, and it's so different from what I know. I was thoroughly confused by it at first, and the appendix was a huge help in understanding it. If you're not a history student, or you're just like me and don't know anything, it's worth starting this book at the end, to find out what this worldview is going on, then start reading the story. It'll help a lot.

As for story, it's basically the life story of Q'ilyasisa. The first part is like a prologue, which talks about the significant events before Q'ilyasisa's story even starts. And because of reasons (in the first part), Q'ilyasisa has a very significant part to play in the Andes, as she's tasked to fight with what they call a contagion that affects the fabric of the empire.

There are two things in this book that make it quite different from the others. The first is that it's very lavishly illustrated with black and white photos. I liked it, but I know that's a personal preference. The second is that the dialogue looks like this:
- "I'm talking right now" says I, typing away on my keyboard
- "Oh, yes you are." Says you. 
It's a bit weird, but I figure that since the worldview is so strange, perhaps this is also something that the author does intentionally. And I quickly got over it.

My only "major" complaint is that I can't help but feel that this would be awesome as a trilogy. There is so much that I'd like to see more off, and a lot more minor characters that I'd like to get to know. If they were given a book or two to develop, I could see this work being even richer and detailed than it already is.

Apart from this, I see a few grammatical errors (Like "But. However." as two one word sentence fragments in a row), but it only appeared occasionally; certainly not enough for me to put the book down. (But enough that I made a mental note of it)

Overall: This is a really interesting book. There are a few small things, like the occasional grammar mistake, that pulled me out of the story, but overall, I enjoyed it. It showed me a group of people that I've never even thought about before, and made them real to me.

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

This Little Piggy by Bea Davenport

I almost didn't get to read this book. Before I downloaded it, it got (mistakenly) archived on NetGalley. Thankfully, that was fixed and I managed to read it!

This Little Piggy, well, I wouldn't call it a mystery, even though at the centre is the unexplained death of little baby Jamie. Instead, it's about Clare and her journey. Clare isn't related to the poor baby that died, instead, she's a journalist that covers this case. As the murder happened to the baby of a strike breaker, tensions around the estate are high, and this has the potential to be one explosive story. So of course, the "head reporter" tries to muscle in on the story (although he never got really far). And as you read, you wonder, if Clare is so competent, why didn't she get the top job? What happened that prevented her from going to the interview? That is the real mystery of the book.

The other character that plays a significant role is Amy, a nine year old girl living near baby Jamie. She used to babysit baby Jamie, which is how she meets Clare. Amy quickly latches on to Clare, who cannot bear to shake her off because she seems neglected. And of course, Amy's propensity to tell tales is because of her upbringing - right?

And then there's Finn, the newly appointed head of the miner's union. I'm just going to say that I didn't like Finn from the start, and I didn't like the way his relationship developed with Clare. In fact, I thought that the romance aspect of the book was... strange. I was never convinced by any relationship, and I wonder why it's even in there. If we're talking in terms of stars, this aspect would be what keeps the book at four stars for me, not five.

But, overall, this is an excellent read. Even though this isn't really a mystery, I must admit that I was wrong about who the killer is. Still, don't read this for the mystery. Read this for the characters and for the portrayal of a town rocked in half over a strike - and the poor victims of it.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Exams ended today! I can finally go on a reading binge, so right now, I'm reading The Night Circus! I've heard good things about it, but I never really thought to read it until I found a copy in Rainbow Plaza.


"My father calls it debauched juxtaposition, he must have worked for days to come up with a worthy insult. He sees something tawdry in the combining of skills, I have never understood why."(page 283)

Have you read The Night Circus? Did you like it? And what is your teaser today? ^_^

Monday, February 9, 2015

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

I picked this book up at Changi Airport and I'm so glad I did. This is fast turning into one of the most useful, entertaining and informative books that I've read (while in Japan)!

One of the assumptions on which economics is built is that people are perfectly rational and seek to maximise their own benefit. However, through a series of experiments (many of them you might have heard before), Dan Ariely shows that this isn't true. Our past, our beliefs all conspire to influence our decisions. Like it or not, we make a lot of decisions with our emotions.

You might recognise this as a description of behavioural economics. I'm not too familiar with the subject (my introduction to microeconomics teacher didn't manage to get to that part), but I really prefer this form of economics to Classical/Keynesian economics. Sorry fans of the Phillips curve (the Phillips curve is cool. But not as cool as this).

I don't think I can tell you "my favourite chapter" of this book, like I normally do, but I can tell you what I used in my essays so far. So far, I've used "the cost of social norms" and "the fallacy of supply and demand". Now that I've arbitrarily picked out two chapters, I can go into a little bit more detail so you can see if the contents of the book is something that interests you.

"The cost of social norms" can be summed up in one question: When you have dinner at a friend's house, why is it ok to bring a gift of chocolates (or wine), but not ok to pull out 50 dollars to pay for the bill (assuming you didn't agree before hand to split the costs)? The answer lies in the fact that there is something called "social norms" and something called "market norms". Social norms look at relationships - it's give and take. Market norms look at getting what you paid for. That's why, you're much more likely to flag down waiter because your food is slow in coming, but less likely to go into the kitchen to pester your friend about why dinner isn't ready yet (at least for the first hour or so. And even then, there's a good chance that if you're like me, you'll go in to say "Hey, can I help?")

"The fallacy of supply and demand" talks about something called price anchors. Basically, although the theory of supply and demand assumes that we choose our optimal price independently, the truth is, we're affected by substitute products and our past experience. A case used in the book (that I used in an essay) was about Starbucks. Starbucks is expensive, but why are people still buying the coffee? The book theorizes that it's because Starbucks manages to be different enough that we don't compare it to other coffee shops, it becomes a category of its own. This is done through things as small as the names of coffee sizes. You might not thing you're influenced, but try comparing a "small" coffee to a "short". For some reason, your brain is more inclined to see those as two separate categories.

I like this book because it's incredibly easy to understand, and because there are a lot of examples. You could probably summarise each chapter into one paragraph (like I did), but if you want to walk away with many cool examples you can use in conversation or in essays, you should just read the book. The author doesn't use many technical terms, in fact, it feels like the author is just talking to you, which makes the book completely un-intimidating.

In short, I can't recommend this book highly enough. I found it a pleasure to read and I learnt a lot from it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

I can't remember where or when I first read Garden Spells, but I remember that I really liked it. So when I saw that First Frost was available for review on NetGalley, I immediately requested it. Thankfully, and I mean thankfully because I had a slightly bad reading streak, this book lived up to expectations.

First Frost is set quite some time after after Garden Spells, with Bay all grown up and one of the main characters in her own right. This time, it's the week leading up to First Frost, and the Waverly women are anxious. Claire's candy business is booming, but no one knows her secret - she's stopped using ingredients from the garden. Sydney wants a child really, really badly, but no luck. Bay found the boy she belongs with, but he doesn't like her. This is tough enough for them, but then, a mysterious man comes to town, and he's after Claire.

The magic, for me, was in the little things. Claire's gift is cooking, Sydney's is in hairdressing, and Bay is in figuring out where things belong. Those may seem like tiny gifts, but they have huge effects on the people around them. A dish cooked in a bad mood can make others cry. Hair cut with spite brings bad luck. And so on. I really liked the magic in here.

While the focus is very much on the Waverly women, there's a healthy cast of supporting characters. For some reason, the one that stuck in my head was Violet, who's a lazy worker and a fairly terrible mother who basically wants to get out of the town. Needless to say, I didn't like her, although I appreciated the role she played in the book. There was also Anne, who exists only for the subplot of the mysterious man. Yup, the unknown entity gets his own backstory, and another character gets her own character growth too.

To be honest, I was quite surprised to see that this is the second book in the Waverly family series. For some reason, reading this book felt like coming back to a really long series. I do hope that there's a third book coming soon.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - A Mickey Mouse Reader edited by Garry Apgar

Woohoo, another Tuesday. One exam down, another uh, three or four more to go? I know I have two this week, but I only end next Tuesday. Hmm....

Anyway, my teaser is from A Mickey Mouse Reader, which sounds sooooo lighthearted. It's basically a scrapbook of articles about Mickey Mouse.

My teaser:

"But those who profit by cash have less to thank Mickey Mouse for than those who profit by the escape he provided. For the peoples of the earth, Mickey is a miracle."

That little guy is the best :D

What's your Teaser Tuesday?

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Cold, Cold Sea by Linda Huber

Every now and then, I decide to eat lunch out because I want time to read. If I stayed home, I'd feel compelled to study, especially during the exam season. The Cold, Cold Sea was one of those books that made me leave the house and eat lunch somewhere else, just so I could finish what I started on the train.

The Cold, Cold Sea starts with a little girl being caught by waves. Then it switches to Maggie, who's daughter Olivia has gone missing at the beach. We see the beginning of the aftermath, and then we cut to Jennifer and her daughter Hailey. I had thought the book was going to toggle between Maggie and Jennifer's chapters, but most of the book is actually between Jennifer and Katie, Hailey's new teacher.

Well, Jennifer is certainly not normal. I actually guessed what was going on from the start, because there is no way that she's a normal mom. I was actually prepared to read a story of Maggie vs Jennifer, but after a strong first impression, Maggie sort of faded away, and we missed most of the aftermath. For example, Maggie's husband was really mad at her at first, but the next time we see her, he's gotten over the anger. That's a huge, huge gap.

Instead, most of the story is about Katie trying to convince herself that everything is normal, but unable to do so. The thing that kept me reading would be the thought "when is everyone going to realise what's going on?" In fact, now that I think about it, no one character actually actively interferes. The story just sorta happens, until an act of random coincidence brings it to a close.

This book excels in its portrayal of an ever-increasingly unstable personality. Jennifer is one of those villains that'll make you push the book on people and go "isn't she terrible? Read the book and tell me how terrible she is!" Her characterisation was actually fantastic, and the main reason why the work captivated me.

I guess this book is really about how people can, for whatever reasons they have, just stand passively by as a crime is being committed. Katie isn't this apathetic character - she does care about Hailey. But she doesn't really want to poke her head in, and she accepts the easy/convenient explanation straight away. How many of us do that too?

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