Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Humber Boy B by Ruth Dugdall

This was such a hard book for me to read. It's powerful, but it is painful. Not because of the writing or the plot, but painful because of the plot.

You see, Humber Boy B looks at child killers and forgiveness. Humber Boy B is a 18 year old that is now called Ben. When he was 10, he was convicted of killing another little boy, with his older brother as an accomplice (his family also threw him under the bus, so he had to carry all the guilt). Now that he's out, the mother of the victim is determined to find him and put him in jail. And of course, all is not as it seems, as probation officer Cate finds out.

So, first things first. This book deals with some very weighty themes well, in my opinion. I'm definitely going to be looking at similar cases (I hope there aren't any!) in the future very, very differently.

Plot-wise, the book was fine. The secret wasn't as deep and as dark as I expected; I guessed Ben's true role quickly after reading his narrative and seeing his brother's appearance. But, because of that, I almost couldn't finish the book. I couldn't bear to see what would happen to Ben. I made myself finish the book, and yeah, that's not a plus point in my books.

The ending made me so, so sad. It's a tragic ending for Ben, which is the most I can say. It's also very unsatisfying, because nothing really changes, and there's no hope. Or if the author tried to add in hope, I missed it because of what happened to Ben. I'm the classic "I want a happy or semi-happy ending with justice" type of girl, so yeah, from my reaction you might be able to guess the kind of ending it has.

Poor, poor Ben. I felt for him very strongly throughout the book, and all the other characters just paled in comparison for him. His portrayal was very well done, and I was really rooting for him from the start.

I don't know if I recommend this book to others. On one hand, it has well written, and it's obviously moving/affects people strongly. But on the other hand, I almost didn't finish it because the doom in the story was almost too much to me. Basically, If you're reading to be uplifted, this is not the book for you.

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Good to Great by Jim Collins

I'm not sure where I heard that this was a business classic, but I heard it somewhere, so obviously, I was going to read it when I saw it. The edition I read was published in 2001, so it's a little outdated (For example, Fannie Mae, one of the "great" companies, has been taken over by the US federal government in 2008 due to the subprime mortgage crisis), but I think the principles hold true.

In essence, the book says that "great" companies has, as far as I can see, two key traits:

One, a level 5 leader. A level 5 leader is one who is humble and unassuming, but has a will of iron.

Two, the company is disciplined enough to carry out the "hedgehog concept", which is basically to identify the thing you can be best in, and that you're passionate about and can make you money, and then pursue it with a single-minded focus.

And that's it. Surprisingly, things like CEO pay methods (stock options vs a standard pay, etc) don't really matter. What matters is that you have the right CEO who can put the right people in place, and who doesn't care about leaving a great legacy (i.e. the next guy crashes, and people go "oh, only that guy can run the company"), leading to a company that can be great.

The last chapter of the book looks at his previous book "Built to Last", which I actually want to read now, and after that are the FAQs, Appendices, and Notes for each chapter. So the book was actually much shorter and much simpler to read than I expected.

I can definitely see why this book was heavily recommended by a person or book I no longer recall. It's very accessible, and the findings make sense. I'll probably be sharing this with Amberbrook, the charity that my friends set up.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres

I was actually looking for Under the Banner of Heaven in the library when I came across this book. I think I've also seen it mentioned in Longreads, so I decided to pick it up. After all, I've heard of the phrase "drink the kool-aid", but have no idea what's the story behind it.

And the story is... really heartbreaking.

Jim Jones, the founder and pastor of People's Temple Full Gospel Church ("Temple" for short), started out with a message of racial equality. But in the end, he let almost 1000 people, about 300 of them children/infants to their deaths in a mass murder-suicide. Why? This book charts the degeneration of Temple, and the deception of the congregation, who honestly believed that by following Jim Jones, they would be working towards a fairer, better America. But in the end, through fear and persuasion, they all drank poison and died agonising deaths, with very few survivors.

What I noticed, was that the more Jones twisted the Bible, the more he started to use fear, threats, and intimidation to rule his congregation. In the end, Jones declared himself God, but instead of performing miracles, used tricks to keep people in line.

Another thing that struck me is the number of people who are complicit in this crime. Jones grows increasingly deranged and fanatical as time goes by, but if it weren't for the lawyers or members of government (both in the US [at the start] and Gunyana), the press who allowed themselves to be bought and all the members and accomplices that helped him carry out his tricks. True, some defected, but until they defected, they carried out a lot of serious damage. This tragedy wasn't the work of one deranged man, it's the result of a lot of misguided people unknowingly working together to help a madman.

This book is eye-opening. I had not heard of Jonestown and this tragedy before, and I wonder why it has been forgotten. It's a reminder that tragedies are around the corner, and that things with the best intentions can be twisted, and people with the best of intentions can be deceived.

My thought when I finished this book was "what a waste". If Jim Jones had kept his grasp on sanity, and a firm grasp on Scripture, we could be now reading about how the Temple was a driving force for equality and racial integration in America. Instead, we're now reading about how a madman managed to kill so many people.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This Is Not A Writing Manual by Kerri Majors

Due to NaNoWriMo, the NLB's eBooks program was recommending me a bunch of writing books. It took me some time after Nano, but I decided to take a look at their selection. I've heard of this book before (I think), so I decided to give it a go. After all, I'm still on my NaNoWriMo high.

This is Not a Writing Manual is catered towards young writers (for some reason, I think young female writers instead of people like my brother. I don't know why, it's just a feeling I got), and it's divided into three parts:

Part 1: The writing process. This was pretty interesting, and since it covers things like drafting, feedback (how to take feedback), revision, what you can learn from soap operas, and much more. I really like the advice of leaving your ego at the door. This was probably the most useful section to me.

Part 2: The Writing Life. Here, she talks about workshops, writing groups, and classes. She strongly strongly recommends writing classes. Sadly, I don't think there is a writing class in my uni. I do agree with the writing circles thing though, she praises Figment, and I'd like to add in WriteOn as a way to get good feedback (My review of Figment vs WriteOn vs Wattpad here).

Part 3: Looking ahead - Supporting yourself, Getting Published and not Getting Published. This part... I didn't like so much. Perhaps it's because we got off on the wrong foot, when she started by debating whether writing was a hobby or a job. I agree it can be a job (there are plenty of self-publishing authors who make a full-time living at this). But she calls her writing "work" but her friend Phils attempts at triatholons and photography a "hobby". But wait, Julia Child's writing is a job. And her conclusion is "writing is not a hobby because it's too much work." Uh well, yes, it is work, but it's also fun. Every hobby is going to involve work (except perhaps doing TV drama marathons. Although I suppose the work needed to get back to normal will be tremendous). So yes, I disagree with her here - I think writing can be a hobby or a job, depending on what you want.

The second thing is about self-publishing. She talks about it briefly, basically saying that it's a lot more work than traditional publishing, but you know, it's gaining respectability. So far so good, but then she says "You will also have to swallow Amazon's (or Barnes and Noble's, or Apple's) standard profit-sharing rate for e-publishing." Because my latest reading-up topic is self-publishing (one of the not-so-weird topics, I used to google the weirdest stuff), I really wish she actually gave figures. For Amazon, it's 35% or 70%. That's still more than traditional publishing, where it's between 8%-15% based on type of paper book and volume, and 25% of ebooks. (And don't forget, agents get 15% of your cut) So even the highest tradpub royalty rate is lower than Amazon's lowest rate. When you think about it this way, paying Amazon 30% to sell your books is really cheap.

Woah, that deviated quickly. Ok, back to topic - The craft section of this book will be inspiring to a young author. Part 2 may or may not be helpful depending on where you live, but Part 3 is meh. I would say this is for the author-to-be's, those that need a dose of encouragement.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

Teaser Tuesday time! Today, I started Sleeping Murder, which I didn't know was Miss Marple's Last Case because the library tag obscured most of the title. All I saw was "Agatha Christie" and since I didn't recognise the blurb, I decided to borrow it.

I just started, so Miss Marple hasn't appeared yet. I wonder when she will....

"I went through her clothes because the doctor asked me to. And there's a suitcase gone and enough to fill it - but they're the wrong things." (Page 125)
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. To participate, just share two sentences from a book you're reading and share it.

What is your teaser this week?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham

I first heard of Harry Bingham when I came across his "Big Publishing and Me" series of blogposts, which is a really fascinating read. I wanted to read "The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths", apparently his latest, but since it's a series, I thought I should pick up the first book before I picked up the latest, if only to familiarise myself with the characters.

Talking to the Dead introduces Fiona Griffiths, a relatively new rookie cop who's also kind of strange. She has to remind herself to feel emotion (she takes her cues from her physical reactions to things), and she's not really a rule-follower. For some reason, the latest case, about the deaths of a prostitute and her six year old daughter dig into her skin, and D.C. Griffiths begins to investigate. The more she learns, the more connections she finds between this murder and another, seemingly mundane embezzling case she's also investigating.

Fiona Griffiths is really a unique character. She's very intense, and very detached. She does, however, want to live on "planet normal" as she calls it. In a way, she reminds me of Bones, from the TV show, although Fiona's detachment stems from something else. The two aren't that alike, when I compare them, but for some reason, as I was reading the book, I kept thinking of Bones. Fans of the TV show, you might want to give this a go.

There's also a huge supporting cast of characters, including a love interest, that I hope make a second appearance, because I have trouble keeping track of them. I recognise Fiona's boss, her love interest (though I got very confused sometimes), and her co-worker, but the rest were just background noise. The victims actually stood out more than the living officers, but that may be because of how Fiona ticks.

Overall, I really liked this mystery. The ending explained a lot about Fiona, without giving much away - I wanted to read more so badly! The case was solved, yes, and we know a bit more about Fiona than at the start of the book, but after putting this down, all I wanted to do is go straight back to the library and borrow the next book. Sadly, I probably only have one more library trip left, so I'll have to do my best to spend time reading.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Mesh by Lisa Gansky

When I saw this book, the subtitle "Why the future of business is sharing" intrigued me. And since it was very heavily discounted, I decided to pick it up.

Basically, The Mesh introduces the concept of, well, the mesh. A "mesh" is basically a business/ecosystem that uses the internet and data to share high-value but (perhaps not very frequently used) things with others. For example, you won't be sharing your old toothbrushes (too low value, too frequently used). But, you may want to swap an old book for a new one (Fairly high value, compared to the toothbrush, at least, and unless you're a serial rereader, you don't read it that many times either). The book introduces the reader to the concept of the Mesh, its advantages, and how businesses can implement it.

About 20% of the book is a "Mesh Directory", which was a bit surprising (I was not expecting the book to end so fast). The value of the directory, for me, was in the little explanations about how you can use the concept of the mesh for different industries.

While the book is interesting, it's published in 2010 and a bit dated. For example, Kickstarter is described as this new and exciting thing, while it's not - I'd actually like more detail on whether it stuck to its mesh roots, or if it deviated. Singapore is mentioned as being a test-bed for Electronic Vehicles, but I don't see them making up a significant proportion of vehicles in 2015 (Google tells me that the first phase of testing is over, but without the infrastructure, they're just going to be doing phase two of testing. So, not really rolled out to consumers yet?)

But, the concept of this book is very alluring. I like the idea of a future where we share things - instead of buying a car, which costs so much in both Japan and Singapore (actually more in Singapore, what with our COE and all), you rent it for the few hours you need, in a location convenient to you. I've been with my seniors when they tried it with Hertz in Japan, but to get to the car was rather inconvenient, in my opinion. Still, I can see how it's useful. And as a bookworm, the idea of swapping books is interesting, though I've had exactly one experience releasing books in BookCrossing, and none finding a book.

I think that this book is due for an update. There's been articles in the papers (Singapore papers, at any rate) about the rise of swapping sites. I'd like to know how mesh networks are doing four years on. For example, I searched for the author's company, Ofoto, but didn't find much. In fact, I've only heard of Flickr and 500px, and Google+ for photos. Ofoto? Not so much.

If I'd read this book when it came out, I'd probably be raving over it. As it is, I like the idea of the book, but quite a few examples feel dated. If the author had an updated edition though, I'd be very interested in reading that.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Turnip Princess by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth

The title is really getting too long as it is, but to be clear, the full title of this book is, The Turnip Princess and other newly discovered fairy tales edited by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth, Edited with a Foreword by Erika Eichenseer, Translated with an Introduction and Commentary by Maria Tatar and Illustrated by Engelbert Suss.

As you probably know, I really love fairy tales. So how can I resist requesting a book that has the subtitle "and other newly discovered fairy tales"? What I found out from the introduction was that these fairytales are collected by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth, and are basically tales from the region of Upper Palatinate, or the easter part of Bavaria. The fairy tales in this book are categorised into five categories - "Tales of Magic", "Enchanted Animals", "Otherworldly creatures", "Legends", "Tall tales and Anecdotes", and "Tales about Nature."

To be honest, while I was reading the first section of the book ("Tales of Magic"), I did not feel that these fairytales were very original. Perhaps it was because of the first few stories, which were basically fairly well-known stories, but with boys as the protagonists/heroes instead of girls. Can't say I was impressed with that, but to be fair, I grew up reading the girl heroines and probably have been identifying with them in some way, so to turn the gender roles around was a shock.

From the second part ("Enchanted Animals") onwards though, I started noticing more stories that I haven't discovered before, and a lot more interesting girl heroines. I particularly like the section "Otherworldy creatures", especially the tales of mermaids, because apart from The Little Mermaid, I don't remember reading much mermaid tales. I wasn't very fond of the second last section though ("Tall Tales and Anecdotes") though, but that's because one story, Orferla, is about a schoolteacher who kills an old woman and becomes rich from it, with no apparent punishment. It would be fun to imagine an ending for him though (that murder and desecration of the body of someone you knew has to weigh on a normal person's conscience, right?). The last section, about nature, reminded me of Aesop's Fables, but without an overt moral. But then again, it's safe to say that many, if not most, of these stories do not have an overt moral.

At the end of the book, there is a short explanation/analysis of each fairy tale. It's about thirty pages long in total, so don't expect in-depth things. It's a good jumping point to thinking about the stories that interest you though.

Overall, this is an interesting book. While there are parts that I did not quite enjoy, I can see myself re-reading this again to compare it with the other fairy-tales (I'd like to compare it with Jack Zipe's new translation of the 1st Edition of the Brothers Grimm, which is also fairy dark, to see how it stands).

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

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rest in Peace, Sir Terry Pratchett

I think by now, everyone has heard of the terrible news. Of course, Terry Pratchett's twitter puts it so sadly yet wonderfully.

I love Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, and they have made a huge influence on me. They've been my travel companions many times as well.

To misquote the emperor from Mulan, "You don't find a writer like that every dynasty."

R.I.P. Sir Terry Pratchett

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Under the Jolly Roger by L.A. Meyer

After a long hiatus, I finally got my hands on the next book of the Bloody Jack series! If you forgot what it's about, you can read my reviews of book one and book two here.

Before I even talk about the book, can I just say that's it's getting tough to figure out the order of the books? "The adventures of..." was clearly the first, and "The further adventures" is clearly the second, but it gets confusing from this book onwards. I basically had to search for the list of books page (which didn't even give numbers) to try to guess that this was the third book. Thank goodness for the Internet, which will have things like "Bloody Jack #1/2/3/4/etc"

In the third book, Jacky has been kicked out of the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, and goes back to London to find Jaimy. Unfortunately, due a series of unfortunate coincidences, she gets the impression that Jaimy is faithless and runs away, getting press-ganged and embarking on a new adventure, eventually leading into our dear Jacky becoming a Privateer. Don't worry, I didn't give away any spoilers.

Under the Jolly Roger is as wacky as the first two, and probably has more drama than the rest. At times, Jacky comes close to being a Mary Sue, what with how perfect a sailor she can be, but thankfully she messes up on a regular basis. This book has a lot of great supporting characters too - Jacky's 'father' from the first book returns, and then there's Higgins, who is like the perfect butler, and who I hope will appear in many many more books.

My only complaint about the book is that I'm starting to get sick of the Jacky/Jaimy romance thing. Jaimy is a nice boy, but they haven't met in ages! They don't even get the letters they send each other! And in this book, Jacky has what can be called romances, with another boy, and I was really rooting for them. Sometimes, I feel like Jaimy only exists to let the reader know how other people apart from Jacky are doing - sometimes, Jacky leaves people behind, and Jaimy's letters let us know what happens (and what is going to happen to Jacky, sometimes).

I'm still enjoying this series. I can't say it's the perfect series (see the paragraph above), but I'm having a lot of fun reading it, and I'll definitely continue reading.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Undead Obsessed by Jessica Robinson

From the title of this book, I expected this to be a mainly literary exploration of the portrayal of zombies in various mediums (film, books, etc). However, as the first chapter defines it, using "film, literature, and interview with experts, this book examines how zombies portray real-world fears such as epidemics, mind control, what may or may not exist in space, the repercussions of playing God, and the science behind the fears."

The chapters in Undead Obsessed can be roughly grouped into three types - what I call "science" chapters, which look at the possibility of certain types of outbreaks/ways of becoming zombies, how we react to zombies, and the types of zombies.

For me, I had this impression that this book focuses more on film than literature (although Frankenstein makes its fair share of appearances). I'm not familiar with a lot of the films, but the author manages to provide quick summaries, so I managed to follow along.

Out of all the chapters, I liked "Haitian Zombies" (or should it be "Zombis") the best, as it dealt with the history of a particular type of zombi, and how it was seen in the community it was. Following that, I liked the chapters which analysed movies according to a certain theme, like "power", because I used to be a literature student.

What I didn't quite like were the science chapters, which made up the first part of the book. It may be my natural tendency to science, but apart from showing me just how possible a zombie attack was, it didn't tell me anything about human nature. I would have been interested if there was a chapter on the false science/rumours behind the possibilities of zombies, since that would talk about the fears of mankind, and our limitation to understand science/our tendency to misinterpret scientific news.

Two additional notes from my readings:

First, on jiangshi, or Chinese zombies. Apart from what the author mentions (throw rice on the ground), apparently, if you hold your breath, they won't be able to notice you either. I was hoping for more about Asian zombies, but apart from a mention in chapter 2, they were neglected in the book.

Second, about spreading zombie-making diseases through water: I wonder what the author thinks of Newater? Newater basically uses things like reverse osmosis and UV disinfection to turn used water into drinkable, super clean water. I'd be interested to know how that stands up to diseases, because Singapore is so small that we'll probably be quickly overrun by a zombie invasion.

Overall, this book will probably appeal to the person who's interested in a serious study of zombies. So, enthusiasts and writers looking to do research.

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - The Turnip Princess by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth

This week, I'm reading "The Turnip Princess and other newly discovered fairy tales". Although the title uses the word princess, the introduction makes it very clear that in a lot of the fairy tales, the heroes are boys. That's all fine and good, but there are some stories so far that made me want to tear my hair out, because women are uniformly evil or are made to love the heroes. Or maybe I'm just reading this while cranky, because as I read on, more girl heroines are appearing.

"Everyone was planning to come to his wedding, but there was no bride in sight when they arrived. The church bells were ringing, and the groom was standing at the altar when a toad appeared and slipped into the wedding dress." (The Toad Bride)
What is your teaser this week?

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of ShouldBeReading. Simply share a two sentence teaser, and the title and author of a book you're currently reading to participate!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Chinese Ghost Stories by Lafcadio Hearn

I borrowed this book thinking it was going to be scary (from the cover, and experience reading True Singapore Ghost Stories), and Chinese, but it turned out to be decidedly non-scary, and not that Chinese after all. This is what I get for not looking at the author name when picking stories.

Chinese Ghost Stories is actually Lafcadio Hearn's version of certain Chinese legends (which according to him are actually Chinese), written before he came to Asia. I think. That's what the introduction said anyway. And since it's written in 1886, according to the preface, the language is very flowery, and does not remind me of Chinese in any way.

There are six stories in this book, and I think my favourites were the first few. The last few books, especially the last two - The Tradition of the Tea Plant and The Tale of the Porcelain God, were rather confusing and uninteresting to me. Anyway, a short rundown of each book:

The Soul of the Great Bell: I liked this story. It's about filial piety, and rather sad, thought completely not scary. It's about sacrifice and making a huge bell with metals that don't mix; if I say anymore, I'll give away the entire story.

The Story of Ming Yi and The Story of Zhi Nu: These are both love stories of humans with the not-quite human. It's a bit like Madam White Snake, but short and perhaps not as famous in Chinese lore.

The Return of Yan Zhenjing: This is about loyalty to country. Actually a ghost story (the others just involved death or non-humans, and not actually ghosts), but again, not scary.

The Tradition of the Tea Plant: This is a retelling of the legend of how tea came to be, which is a monk cutting his eyelids off and throwing them to the ground, from which the tea leaf appears. There's a love story in here, which I don't get, and where is the ghost?

The Tale of the Porcelain God: I did not get this. It's a bit like the The Soul of the Great Bell, but less clearly written. I kinda skipped the first three or four pages, which were lists of porcelains.

The glossary too, is suspect. I skimmed through it, but I saw an entry which said:
"JIA - "House"; but especially the house of the dead - a tomb"
Now, I'm just guessing, but the character is probably 家 (jia). It just means house, and I've never heard it being used as a house of the dead, much less "especially" used as the house of the dead. I asked my family, and the closest we got was that according to my grandma, people in Singapore in the past (when she was young) didn't really have places to live, so some people lived above the cemeteries and used tombstones as tables. But the definition after the semi-colon seems to be very off.

In the author's defence, this was written before he went to Asia. He did eventually make it to Japan, marry a Japanese girl and write a lot of famous ghost stories. I will probably give them a go, if I come across them, though after this experience,  I can't say that I'll intentionally seek them out.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Madame Alexandra's Rule of Business by Claude Roessiger

I requested this book from NetGalley based on the title alone. I was like "a lady businesswomen shares her secrets? Yes please!"

When I got the book, I realised this is supposed to be from the journals of Madame Alexandra, apparently the proprietress of a famous brothel in Paris. I saw "apparently" because I found this interesting, but Google isn't showing me anything but the book. So I have no idea if this is true or just a clever story.

This is, though, a very interesting little book. It alternates between normal paragraphs and italics, with italics representing a certain example. I'm not sure if the whole thing is supposed to be from Madame Alexandra's journals, or if only the italics are, but whatever it is, it's easy to read and understand.

The principles of business are simple: treat your clients right, make sure you hire only the best, provide the best service (at a price that's seen as reasonable), and try to keep things in cash as much of possible. I think the accounting section, about credit and cash will probably be the one that generates the most debate - people tend to feel very strongly about capital financing and all that. But, the rest of the book is probably something that you'll nod along with and agree.

This is a very short book, but interesting and informative. It's definitely worth a read, although I'm not sure if it's going to be required reading anytime soon.

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

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

This is the blog's 1000th post! WHEEEE. Totally did not notice until I saw the stats in blogger. So, I decided to review this book, because I really enjoyed it (I've been reading about two books a day, so I've always got a backup now :p)

My first thought, when I finished this fairly short book was beautiful. This book is beautiful, although I do not know why. It's a bit creepy at time, and a bit scary (thought not as scary as Coraline, which kept me up at night), but something about it strikes me as poetic, or beautiful. Perhaps it's the ending (which I shall not spoiler).

The Ocean at the end of the Lane is about the narrator (what is his name? I just realised I don't know his name, yet I feel like I know him) as he remembers his childhood. He's an unremarkable boy, but he meets the very remarkable Lettie Hempstock, who, along with her mother and grandmother, isn't quite what he seems. From this chance encounter, the narrator meets the things that shouldn't be here in the world, and quite accidentally unleashes on of them on his home.

One interesting thing about this book is memory. It's a theme that's only explored towards the end of the book, but it made me wonder about how unique this remembrance is. Did the narrator come back after a long time, or had he simply forgotten his previous visits, in order to remain normal. After all, there are some things that may be better off unremembered, especially things like friends who are gone.

I want this book to be so much longer. It's really short, at 178 pages in paperback, and so much more could be said. What is this Old Country? What exactly are the fleas and the varmin? Who are the Hempstocks? But I suppose, part of the magic is that Neil Gaiman leaves a lot of space, for the things unsaid to settle in your imagination.

I do not know what else you can say about this book. When I finished reading, I thought that I had a lot to say, but now that my hands are on the keyboard, I find that I cannot find the words to express my feelings. Neil Gaiman has written a wonderful book, and I loved it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is one of those books that makes you feel bad if you haven't read it. Must be the fame and praise for it. Anyway, I finally saw a copy I could borrow and got down to reading it.

My verdict? I liked it, although I won't say it's life-changing.

So basically, The Night Circus is about a competition, and how the two competitors fall in love. Since the competition is the kind where only one can win, this is a bit of a problem. Plus, Marco (the guy competitor)'s girlfriend Isobel works in the circus where Celia (the lady competitor) works. I expected this to be a bigger detail, but it wasn't. It was mostly about them falling in love and not wanting to compete and not knowing what the competition was about.

Despite my terrible attempt at a summary, the book was actually pretty good. I liked the fact that there was a very varied cast of supporting characters, from the uncaring father/mentor to the dreamy farm-boy who has an intense interest in the circus. Most of the characters that are mentioned are actually fairly important to the plot, so you don't have to worry about too many characters that make one appearance and then disappear forever.

My only complaint is that the novel seems to have no sense of time. Of course, this is probably intentional (going by what one of the characters say), but it was confusing. One moment the kids are little, the next their teenagers. In the blink of an eye, a year has passed. The characters that you think are kids are suddenly grown up and running the show.

Speaking of the kids, Poppet and Widget, who grew up in the circus, I wonder why their parents are almost never mentioned. The two kids are important and fleshed out, but all I know about their parents is their job description. I don't think I even know their names.

Overall, this was an interesting book. I can't say that it's in my favourites or that I'll read it over and over and over again, but I did enjoy the language (I thought the present tense worked very well), and the plot and characters was interesting.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - The Ocean at The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It's Tuesday again, and I made it to the library today! So I've got a huge stack of books to read. Happily, I managed to find a lot of the books that I've been wanting to read. And one of them is The Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (I love Neil Gaiman's books! Well, his children's books).

My teaser:
" "What... what did you do to them?" I was unsure whether or not I ought to be upset.  
Ginnie Hempstock said, "they're fine. Just a little snipping, then a little sewing and it'll all be good as gold." (Page 97)

What is your teaser this week?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sacrificed: The Last Oracle by Emily Wibberley

Since Emily very kindly sent me a print copy for review, I decided to do a little test. I handed the book to my dad and asked him if he could find anything different about this. He looked at the front, he looked at the back, he flipped through the pages, and finally told me there was nothing different about it. He was so surprised when I told him this was a POD book from Createspace - it looked that professional. And that was my general impression of the book - if I didn't see the Createspace slip of paper, I would have thought it was a normal book.

Sacrified: The Last Oracle, is about Clio, the youngest daughter of the Oracle of Sheehan. Her mother is cold and distant, and her sisters turn that way once they become Vessels. Because of that, she's always hated the Oracle, and believe that it's nothing more than a bag of tricks. Unfortunately, her family is murdered by Mannix, the mysterious advisor to the King, and Clio is forced to be the next Oracle. Everything she thought false, she has to re-examine. But she's fleeing for her life, so while she's still in shock, she joins the slave girls heading to Morek, the city that hates Oracles. And of course, she runs into Riece, a commander of Morek, and also a hater of Oracles. How will she survive?

I really enjoyed this book. Clio was a very sympathetic character, and I was rooting for her from the start. She really struggles, and she grows through the book. At the start, she was whiny and basically rebelling for the sake of wanting to be different, but at the end, she learns to see past herself, even though she still has a long way to go. Well, the ending change was a bit heavy-handed for me(Clio reflecting a lot on it), but this is a debut novel, and I'll close an eye to it.

Plus, the twist at the end of the book - woah, you need to read it. Ok, no spoilers, promise.

Even the 'love triangle' (which was more like one relationship and one one-sided love) wasn't annoying to me. I normally dislike this aspect of the book, but I'm really happy that Clio wasn't torn between the two guys. She liked one of the them, and the other was like a brother to her (I was under a mistaken impression at the start though, which meant that I spent a good bit of the book rooting for a character that had no chance).

Overall, this is a really well-written novel. Clio is a sympathetic protagonist, the plot is solid, and despite that there's a romance, it didn't annoy me.

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