Monday, February 29, 2016

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I think this is the type of book that you either hate or love. For me, I loved it. Seriously seriously loved it. Miss Vida Winter is my new favourite fictional although - I want to write as well as her, though I definitely don't want to have to go through all the things she has.

The Thirteenth Tale is a sort of gothic novel, where the protagonist/narrator is pulled out of her quiet life at an antique bookstore and asked to be the biographer of the nation's most famous writer, Miss Vida Winter.

At first, she doesn't want to take the offer, but once she reads Miss Winter's stories, she's hooked. Especially from one book, with a mysteriously missing thirteenth tale. And so, as she sits with Miss Winter to hear her story, the story comes together, piece by piece.

For me, I loved the tone of the story. It was extremely addictive, and I found it hard to stop at just one chapter, even if I had my accounting to study for.

The 'mystery' was also intriguing to me. Apart from the mystery of Miss Vida Winter, even the Margaret (the protagonist) has her own ghosts. But do ghosts exist? Or are they figments of imagination? Many times, it could go both ways.

But I guess, what I love most about this novel is the language. Like one of my friends said when she found out that I was reading this, it's so full of quotable lines, and I definitely highlighted many of them.

I really think this is my lucky year in books (or maybe I'm just being more open to their influence?). It's only February, and I've already found a few that can qualify as 'best books of the year'. This is definitely one of them.

And to end the review, one of the many quotes I highlighted:

Silence is not a natural environment for stories. They need words. Without them they grow pale, sicken and die. And then they haunt you.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Scribd Subscription Service Review - Is It Worth It?

I've had this title saved as a draft for goodness knows how long. In a way, I'm glad I didn't write the post when I first intended to, because Scribd underwent some major changes after that. But now that I have only one week left of my free subscription (managed to get two new months, then no more), I think it's finally time to write down my thoughts.

If you haven't heard of it, Scribd is a book subscription service. It's got it's own dedicated app, and tons and tons of books. Or at least, it used to.

Since I first heard about Scribd, it underwent two major changes.

First, it greatly reduced the number of romance novels in its catalog. Since I probably read mainly non-fiction on it, it didn't really affect me.

And now, from March onwards, Scribd will be giving each customers three full reads from a best-selling catalogue, and unlimited reads from another list of books. So it's not longer a true subscription service, but more of a hybrid.

To be honest, before I heard about the second piece of news, I was very seriously considering getting a subscription for Scribd. It has quite a few non-fiction books that my library's ebook lending service doesn't, and since I'm in Japan, English books are fairly expensive. It would have been worthwhile.

But with this new change in policy, well, I probably won't. Unless the unlimited reads catalog happens to have all the books I want to read. The reason is that in that time between my two Scribd free subscription periods, I managed to get all the books I wanted via NetGalley and the library's ebook service. Everything else, I noted down to borrow in Singapore. Occasionally, I'd find something in BookOff (a second hand bookstore in Japan) or in that one occasion, when Junkudo had a sale on foreign books.

In other words, because Scribd doesn't seem like good value for money, I'll probably just stick with the free alternatives, and delay reading the books that I'd probably read straightaway otherwise. Unless say, I have to do some research and Scribd is the only place that has the book (and the book is much more expensive to buy). That's probably the only time I can see myself getting a subscription, for a little while.

I totally get why Scribd has to change its offering. It's offering full payouts to authors, which means that voracious readers like me a bleeding it dry. But as much as I want to support Scribd, it's not cost-effective for me to do so.

To double back to the question in the title: is this worth it? Well, if you're living in a place where books are expensive and scarce and you don't read much, yes, I think Scribd would be worth it for you. But if you intend to read a lot every month, the reading limit will probably annoy you. In that case, I'd stick to my annoyance-free alternatives.

If you want to try it yourself, you can get two free months by clicking on this link (and I'll get an extra month). I think if it was free, I could live with the three books thing, but it all comes down to money... (and the lack of it)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen

Before we start, I should make something clear. I have seen Sarah's Scribbles floating around the internet, but I don't follow her. I basically requested this book because it reminded me of Hyperbole and a Half, which I absolutely adored.

Adulthood is a Myth is a short (about a hundred pages) collection of comics. I don't know how many are original and how many are previously published, but I do recall having seen one or two of them floating around.

Basically, the comics are very adorable, and quite a few of them speak to me (basically, all about books). Not all, because clearly we are two different people from two different backgrounds, but quite a few. Probably more than half.

Now, I basically went in hoping for another Hyperbole and a Half, so I should say this right out: this is not Hyperbole and a Half. For one thing, each story is one page, and for another, it doesn't go into the depth that Hyperbole and a Half did. It's a quick read, but it's not going to be one that I'll want to read over and over again. I might refer to a few comics, but I won't want to keep reading the stories, like I still do for Hyperbole and a Half (which is on Scribd).

Ok, I've spent a good paragraph talking about a different book, so back to Adulthood is a Myth. I suppose that there's not much more to say. It's an amusing book, and one that is squarely aimed at the young (and the young at heart). I certainly can identify with the feeling that I'm not grown up yet, something that pervades the book, even if I don't do the same things as the cartoonist.

All in all, this is a funny book.

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina

Ok, some of you may have watched the movie Hotel Rwanda. I did, and I cried bucketloads. If you haven't, then you should. Anyway, An Ordinary Man is the autobiography of the man whom the movie is based on. Paul Rusesabagina was the hotel manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines during the Rwanda Genocide who saved 1268 Tutsi and moderate Hutu people.

Or as he put it, 4 hours worth of lives out of a hundred days.

In his autobiography, Mr. Rusesabagina talks about how the genocide started, and what he did in order to keep his hotel running and protect the refugees. He had to make nice with some very bad people, but he did what he had to do, and he saved many lives.

To him, that's the normal thing to do. I say the guy's a hero for holding on to his humanity in such terrible days.

In fact, I basically had tears pricking the back of my eyes as I was reading this book, especially towards the end. If I wasn't in public, I probably would have cried.

What struck me the most was his reasons for why the genocide started. According to him, the division between the Hutu and the Tutsis were imposed by the colonial powers as a divide and conquer rule. And the reason why it worked so well was because it appealed to one basic aspect of people's nature:

There is something living deep within us all that welcomes, even relishes, the role of victimhood for ourselves. There is no cause in the world more righteously embraced than our own when we feel someone has wronged us.

I think that is very true. If we're the victim, it's easy enough to want to do something to stand-up for ourselves, and to translate thoughts into actions. Conversely, if someone else is the victim, it's much easier to stand by. Call it the by-stander effect, if you will.

And the way nations just stood by while the genocide happened is just chilling. Mostly because it could so easily happen today. For example, ASEANS non-interference principle, which I happen to support in most circumstances, could be used to engineer conditions for yet another genocide. It hasn't happened yet, but looking at things like the Rohingya crisis scares me into think that it's totally possible.

All in all, this is a powerful story, simply told. The author doesn't bother dressing the story up in fancy language, probably because he doesn't have to. The narrative itself is a powerful message for all of us, and because it's told so simply, its power is amplified.

This is a book everyone should read.

Note: A version of this review first appeared on my Dayre

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Today's book is one that I just started...five minutes ago. On account of finishing the previous book in the train.

Anyway, I just started The Thirteenth Tale, and apart from the blurb, I know nothing about it. It's supposed to be about a lady writing a biography about a writer?

My teaser:

"From the library she passed to the music room, where she found the same disorder she had seen elsewhere. The furniture was arranged bizarrely, as though to facilitate the playing of hide-and-seek."

I love stories about stories, so I'm really excited for this one!

What is your teaser this week?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Coloured Lands by G.K. Chesterton

I've been wanting to read this as soon as I read the title. Unfortunately, this isn't public domain, and the library didn't have it. But then Scribd did (yay for the two free months I got - if you want a two month trial, which would help me get an extra month, let me know), so I read it IMMEDIATELY.

Basically, The Coloured Lands is a posthumous work, consisting of essays, short stories, poems and drawings from his youth, if I'm right. But for some reason, I did not love it as much as I expected to - perhaps I expected too much.

Let me just clarify, there were definitely moments of beauty and genius in the book. I made quite a few highlights, such as:
"It was his home now. But it could not be his home till he had gone from it and returned to it. Now he was the Prodigal Son."
"For children are innocent and love justice; while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy."
not to mention
" 'I am the Wind', answered the Spirit. 'I fill the ears of men with a thousand voices, but never before have mortal eyes seen me. I go where I list and sing what song I please.' "
Basically, there were lots of quotable lines. Even the foreword, written by one of his friends, had quotable moments.

Yet there were times where I didn't quite connect with the book. It might be my utter inability to understand poems (I'm a Robert Frost/Wilfred Owen/Shel Silverstein kind of person, and the first two was found not through chance, but through school), but while some were beautiful, I didn't get a lot of them. I didn't get some of the stories either, and that sort of made me sad. I wanted to be continually moved and touched by this book, and when it didn't happen, it felt like a bit of a let down.

Is it a good book? Of course. There are lots of lovely moments. It just wasn't the life-impacting book that I expected. For me, those books are Orthodoxy and Tremendous Trifles.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Elegant Entrepreneur by Danielle Tate

Since I have an interest in someday starting my own company, when I see guides on "how to" set up one, I tend to request them. And when they're aimed at women, there's no way I'm not clicking that request button.

Anyway, Elegant Entrepreneur is basically geared towards women who want to set up their own companies. It basically takes you from idea (start) to selling your company (end, if you choose). The author is the founder of a business called, which is supposed to be a successful business (I'm not the target of this service (and neither are most people I know), being neither American nor married, so I can't even begin to judge if it's famous or not).

Each chapter is fairly short, with a roundup (Takeaways), a 'How it Feels' (basically action steps) and at least one quote per chapter. Plus, lots of examples of successful women entrepreneurs, which is definitely motivating. There's also a list of relevant books which you can read for more insight at the end of each chapter.

Oh, and there's a glossary of terms at the back of the book too, though I didn't need it at all. But I'm also a business/econs student so quite a lot of this (especially models like SWOT and Porter's Five Forces) are familiar to me.

Actually, I think that this book will be helpful not just to women, but to the men too. The advice is mostly basic but useful stuff, and some of it (like raising funds and seed rounds) are things that I don't really remember seeing in most introductory books. I like that it gives the reader a very concrete idea, rather than vague generalities on getting things done right.

I'd say that this is a very good book to read if you're thinking of starting a business and you're new to the whole industry. It has a lot of resources, it explains things very well, and since it starts from the idea stage, it's perfect for those just starting out. And after you narrowed down what you want to use, more specialised books like The Business Model Canvas might be easier to use.

And yes, all the examples are exclusively female, but in this (hopefully more enlightened era), I believe even guys will find this useful. Plus, if girls could use books that were male-example dominated, there's no excuse why guys can't use a book with examples taken from successful women.

Note: a version of this review first appeared on my Dayre

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter

Along with Parkinson's Law ("work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion"), the Peter Principle has got to be one of the most famous unofficial 'rules' of business. While I haven't been able to read Parkinson's Law yet, I did manage to get my hands on The Peter Principle.

Simply put, the Peter Principle is this: "In a hierarchy, every employee will rise to his (or her) level of incompetence". Or in other words, you will be promoted until you become inept at your job, and then you don't get promoted anymore. (And if you're super-incompetent or super-competent, you get fired for disrupting the hierarchy).

The Peter Principle is a general truth written under the guise of satire. The question is, is the Peter Principle, which can be summed up in one line, enough to fill a book?

The answer is... probably not.

The first few chapters were funny, and there were a few chapters at the back which made me chuckle too, but perhaps half the book felt like the author was rehashing the same old thing. True, the examples are amusing, but to be honest, after a certain number, you can more or less tell how it's going to end. Person X is great at Y, then he gets promoted to Z and starts to stink. It was only when the author went into how you can pretend to be incompetent (these are the chapters at the end that I enjoyed) that I felt like the book started talking about something new.

Overall, it's an interesting read, although I think it could have been much shorter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How to be a Brit by George Mikes

I think I've found the other Guy Browning. Or perhaps since he came first (I think), Guy Browning is the other George Mikes? At any rate, these two authors make me laugh.

How to be a Brit was an impulse purchase from a bookstore (yes, I paid full price and my wallet scolded me for it) and consists of three works: How to be an Alien, How to be Inimitable and How to be Decadent. Unfortunately, the 'Alien' in the first book isn't about little green man, but the more traditional foreigner (by the way, if you aren't British, than that's you).

Personally, I loved the book, but that's mainly because I love British humour. I used to think that was universal, but after loaning friends my Guy Browning and Terry Pratchett books and receiving them back with a "I didn't think they were funny", I've learnt that I really have to add a disclaimer. So if the following quotes make you laugh, there's a good chance you'll like the book:

"In principle, the British Civil Servant stands always at the disposal of the public. In practice, he is either in 'conference' or out for lunch, or in but having his tea, or just out. Some develop an admirable technique of going out for tea before coming back from lunch." 
"Britain - to its true glory- is the only country in the world where the phrase, 'it isn't fair', still counts as an argument." 
"Other nations need occasional outbursts of madness and violence; the English need occasional excesses of self-discipline. Other nations, under unbearable stress, shout, howl, and get into brawls, run amok; the English queue up for a cup of tea." 

By the way, I do not pretend to claim that this book is accurate about the character of the British people. Although if they really do like queuing half as much as the book says, then it explains a lot about Singaporeans and our love of queueing.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Science of Monsters by Matt Kaplan

In the darkness it came. There was no way out. Cornered and helpless, all who found themselves in this dreaded place knew their fate.
Can anyone guess which monster this opening quote is about? If you guessed the Minotaur, then congrats, you know your monsters extremely well!

I've actually been wanting to read this since I read The Science of the Magical (link leads to my review), although topically, this is a lot more similar to Monsters by David Gilmore (again, link leads to review. And I'll just italicise the title when talking about to, to prevent confusion from the actual monstrous topic). But unlike Monsters, this book is a lot more accessible. Not that Monsters wasn't readable, but it had this academic air throughout. The Science of Monsters is very casual, and has a lot of humour.

Especially the footnotes. Can I take a moment to express how much I love the footnotes here. I mean there is information, but most of it is just funny. I really looked forward to reading them, when normally I just ignore footnotes and end notes.

Although it isn't formally divided this way, I think the book can roughly be divided into two halves. The first is about how monsters came about. What inspired the Chimera? What inspired the stories of vampires? Of golems?

Most of the theories are interesting, and quite believable, although like the previous book, I think when it comes to the Bible-related stuff, his interpretation is a bit off, like for the Leviathan. But it's not a big deal or a cornerstone of the book. And anyway, it's all theories, right? Good to read something different.

The 'second half', is more on the possibilities of other monsters. Can dinosaurs be resurrected? What was going on with medicine in Frankenstein (can it happen?)? Can computers think can become like HAL? Stuff like that. Again, not agreeing with everything, but definitely food for thought.

If there's one weakness of the book, it's that it's almost exclusively Western oriented. Chinese dragon comes up briefly once, and Chinese ghosts once, but other than that, it's all about Western monsters. Compared to Monsters, it's a bit of a pity.

Actually, just to digress, why do we translate the Chinese "龙(long)" as dragon anyway? It seems to me that they're both two very separate creatures, not only in appearance, but in terms of how each culture treats the creature.

Overall, this was a good read. It was fun reading the theories of how mankind could have come up with various monsters, and the author definitely does a good job with making them all seem plausible. Totally recommended for people interested in monsters, along with his other book The Science of Magic, and Monsters by David Gilmore. I'll end with the last lines of the book, which I quite liked as well:
We can stand petrified as we gaze at the monsters we have be- come and allow worldwide nuclear and environmental destruction. Alternatively, we have the opportunity to take action, behead the beast, and claim a future where the mask of the monster safely sits somewhere else.

(A version of this review first appeared on my Dayre)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Shift by Lynda Gratton

This was recommended to me by a Japanese friend - he read the Japanese version, which is titled "Work Shift" and confused me because I could NOT find a book by that title. But eventually I found it, and woah, is it a thought provoking read.

The book goes like this. First, the author identifies what she thinks are the most important macro-trends taking place. Next, she looks at six possible aspects of the future, three positive and three negative.

The negative aspects are:
1. Fragmentation - a world where a multitude of things constantly demand our attention.

2. Isolation - a world where the reliance on virtual technology and working from home has led to a dramatic decrease (and almost elimination) of face-to-face meetings.

3. Exclusion - ok, this was a bit hard for me to swallow, because exclusion exists even now. According to the author, the difference is that
"the axis of exclusion has shifted from where you are born to your natural talents and motivations and the specifics of your personal connections." 
To be very clear, I don't think the "specifics of your personal connections" part is a good thing, because it's got a lot relying on who you are born too, which is not something anyone can choose. But the natural talents and motivations bit? It sounds like a fairer world to me. The case study involved a girl who loves World of Warcraft and spends at least four hours a day on it.

Assuming that everyone gets the same baseline education, then I see nothing wrong in a smart and ambitious kid from Vietnam or Cambodia beating out a kid from a Western nation, who prioritises games. If there was a failing in the education system, or some intentional bias in there, then yeah, I see a problem, but other than that, I'm fine with it. I don't think that "where you are born" should determine that you get a better life than someone. "Natural talents and motivations" sounds a lot more meritocratic to me.

Again, I am assuming the same baseline education (i.e. everyone who wants to learn can learn), and that even if you choose to work only part-time because you want to game, you are still able to earn a living. Not a luxurious living, with trips overseas or fancy food, but enough to buy the groceries and pay the bills. I understand the future may be a lot more nuanced, but the way the author expresses the idea means that I don't totally agree that it's a terrible thing. And obviously, the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor is a bad thing too.

The positive aspects are:

1. Co-creation - Working with many people to solve large problems

2. Social engagement - Better work life balance, increased empathy and an option for people who want to, to be able to do meaningful work/take time off from work for long stretches to do volunteer work.

3. Micro-entrepreneurship - People making a living through ecosystems.

After this, the author identifies three shifts that we need to make:

1. From shallow generalist to serial master.

2. From isolated competitor to innovative connector

3. From voracious consumer to impassioned producer.

With recent events like the rise of ISIS and the sudden drop in oil prices may affect the accuracy of the predictions (either by delaying them or changing them), what I appreciated about the book was that it was truly global in outlook. Most of the time, all these books focus on the West, which makes does not really apply to a very large segment of the world. But this book has research done in India, Singapore (our Ministry of Manpower was a sponsor too), and the futures, while do not mention Singapore, are set in Brazil, India etc. I found this very refreshing, and made the arguments more compelling to me, because they seemed more relevant.

 The other thing I liked was the use of 'case studies', where they imagine someone's life in 2025. It makes the concepts a lot easier to understand, especially since things like fragmentation can be a bit confusing.

Overall, this is a though-provoking book, and one that I would encourage everyone to read (Also, you can tell that a book is good when even some time after reading it, it makes a big enough impression that you use it in your arguments on why we do not necessarily need to fear that the future will dehumanise us, even if it is a possibility).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Waking Gods by Mike Robinson

Alright, like I said, I started on Waking Gods immediately after I finished Negative Space, and I'm done! This is the third in the series, and it is even stranger than the other two.

Waking Gods starts with a murder. There's a serial killer called The Surgeon on the loose, and apparently, only a guy called Adrian Foster can possibly stop him. The thing is, Adrian isn't normal. He's somehow attuned into some sort of network. And when The Surgeon strikes again, Adrian and the cop in charge of the case, Derek Adams, head to Twilight Falls to try and get some clues.

This is when the story just stops being a murder mystery and gets really weird. There are flashbacks back and forth, as the reader finds out more about Adrian's conception and more about Feldman, who was featured quite prominently in Negative Space. And things build to a crescendo as the Grandfather (you might remember him from the first book, Green Eyed Monster) and his enemy make their appearances.

After all the tension from the previous books, I was so glad that there was an ending! I finally found out what's going on in Twilight falls. But, I don't know if it's because my expectations were hyped, but when I found out, it was this huge, excited "OH SO THAT'S IT", but a more muted, "oh, so that's what's going on." I'm not saying it's bad, but it wasn't as dramatic as I expected. Even though, thinking about it, plenty of people died in grotesque ways in the end. I guess the actual nature of Grandfather and the Teacher was just less exciting for me (or I missed the point).

Oh, and now that I've mentioned the death, well, this book is definitely for mature audiences only. Not that I'm saying that the previous books are YA material, far from it, but there's a lot of disturbing stuff going on in here, especially towards the end where it seems everyone goes crazy. If you're sensitive about blood and gore, you might want to be careful.

Overall though, this was a creepy and compulsive series. Sure, you could technically read all three books as a standalone, but I think you should read at least two of these books in a row, and one of the books has to be the ending, to properly experience this world that the author has created.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - The Science of Monsters by Matt Kaplan

Hey everyone! Can you believe it's already Tuesday? It's also Day 2 of the Chinese New Year, so Happy Chinese New Year everyone!! Unfortunately, I'm still in the midst of exams, though my last paper is tomorrow.

Right now, I'm reading The Science of Monsters, which I've wanted to read ever since I read The Science of Magic. It's really interesting, to see the author theorise about what might be the real world cause of monsters like the Chimera, giant boars, vampires, etc. Although when it comes to Frankenstein, it's more of an explaining of the time period than an actual "what is probably cause" sort of thing.

My teaser:

"Aside from being fun for paleontologists, trying to work out how an ancient predator like Tyrannosaurus Rex functioned is a great exercise for realising just how small modern predators are. Perhaps more importantly, it is also an opportunity to recognise why dinosaurs have featured so prominently as monsters since their identification by the scientist Sir Richard Owen in 1841."

What is your teaser this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, February 8, 2016

CNY Liveblogged Review - The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Since I'm in the midst of exam season and can't go home, I decided to celebrate with a readalong on my Dayre. There were only two participants, including me though... Oh well, there's still tomorrow and maybe someone will join in!

Anyway, we read The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. Without further ado....

First thoughts: I didn't notice this was subtitled "A nightmare"! Explains quite a bit hahaha

The opening lines remind me of a poem though.

A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather, Yea, a sick cloud upon the sound when we were boys together. Science announced nonentity and art admired decay; The world was old and ended: but you and I were gay

Haha, and I just realised this is a sort of prologue?

But I think my readalong report is more quotes than feelings, because I ALREADY FOUND ANOTHER QUOTE.

And it's not even Chapter 1 yet.

This is a tale of those old fears, even if those emptied hells, and none but you shall understand the true thing that it tells

Just finished Chapter one and I was reminded once again about how much I love Chesterton's descriptions. I just want to copy that paragraph about the sunset, but I won't haha. It's too long!

Also, I managed to forget my student card in school, but thank goodness for class Line! My friend managed to retrieve it.

Anyway, quote of choice from Chapter 1, and then I'm gonna study.

He seemed like a walking blasphemy, a blend of the angel and the ape.

I studied two chapters of managerial accounting, then my hands froze a little so I took a break for lunch and read some more

I forgot to say it just now, but in the beginning, there is a line about the beauty of one great act of violence. In wake of all the terror attacks, it really hit home and I wonder, is that how terrorists see things? Do they miss the beauty of life for the terrible greatness of an explosion?

The man who throws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to everything. He sees how much more valuable is one burst of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere common bodies of a few shapeless policemen.

Of course, Chesterton follows it by having another character make the argument that it is order, not disorder, that the anarchist should embrace, because disorder is the natural state, while order isn't.

Anyway, there was also a rather true moment, I feel, when it was said that people don't tend to take those at extremes seriously. Sometimes, speaking the truth is the best way to get someone to disbelieve you.

I took his advice, and have never regretted it. I preached blood and murder to those women day and night, and--by God!--they would let me wheel their perambulators.

I am basically rewarding myself with reading. Just finished revising (will go through the practice questions next), so I read a few chapters.

We're well into the narrative now, and Syme (the protagonist) has gained entrance to the council of anarchists. My ebook is also very pink from all the highlighting.

I think I'm starting to remember what the twist was.

Anyway, if I had to pick one quote from all I saved for this section, it would be this:

For even the most dehumanised modern fantasies depend on some older and simpler figure; the adventures may be mad, but the adventurer must be sane. The dragon without St. George would not even be grotesque.

It seemed a symbol of human faith and valour that while the skies were darkening that high place of the earth was still bright. The Devils might have captured heaven, but they had not yet captured the cross.

I'm on the way to go teach, so I managed to read till the end of Chapter 9 in the train. Depending on how long the end matter is, I may be able to finish the book today, in which case I'll have to find something else for tomorrow :p

But now the story is doing the unraveling, where each character is shown for who they are. So far, Syme has unraveled two of the anarchists, and I think he'll unravel the third in Chapter 10

"Because I am afraid of him," said Syme; "and no man should leave in the universe anything of which he is afraid."

So I have followed the story to its end, and like @rideofvalkyries asked, here are my attempts at consolidating my thoughts. (By the way, if anyone is going to attempt the readalong on Day 2, please do so because I think the both of us would love to see more opinions).

To me, the meaning of the entire story is tied to two things.

One is that it is 'a nightmare'. What is a nightmare but a scary dream that one remembers imperfectly?

The other is Sunday. Who is he?

Each of you finds Sunday quite different, yet each man of you can only find one thing to compare him to - the universe itself.

But when I saw him from behind I was certain he was an animal, and when I saw him from the front I knew he was a god

For the matter, who is Gregory, the wannabe anarchist? Who is Syme? Who is Bull? Are they characters in a book or characters in a dream that was written down?

To be honest, I have no idea. I have a suspicion, but I'm no longer a lit student and can't back it up. I think the truth is hinted at in this line:

For these disguises did not disguise, but reveal.

So if this book, too, is a disguise, the question is: what does it reveal?

Is this a nightmare or a dream?

And that's the end of the liveblogged review that I did today!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Negative Space by Mike Robinson

One fine day, I got an email from the Curiosity Quills team, inviting me to read and review Negative Space and the next book, Waking Gods. Feeling curious as to what book it was, I went to look at the first book, and lo and behold, I gave it a really good rating. Five stars, in fact. So obviously I said yes and accepted the ebooks.

At first, I was a bit afraid that having more or less forgotten the first book, I wouldn't have been able to follow the second, but it was totally not the case. As far as I can tell, Negative Space is totally different from the first book, since it's about paintings while the first was about drawings. I think the only common point they had was the location, and the hinting that there is something bigger working behind the scenes. I did not see any strange invisible grandfathers though.

Basically, Negative Space revolves around a painter, Max Higgins, and his possibly half-sister Karen. Max paints faces of missing people into his paintings, which I'm sure everyone recognises as 'not normal'. After he's featured in an art magazine, one of his faces appear, claiming to be his half-sister. But before he even gets to digest the information, they go on a search for their father. Oh, and his half-sister, Karen, is being stalked by a creepy client.

I still don't quite understand how things work, but there's a third book so I'm willing to stay ignorant until the end of the trilogy, where I expect everything will be revealed. I'd say that apart from the missing faces, and the creepiness of Max and Karen's father, the book seemed... not that out of the ordinary. Yes, there were messed up people, but is that really because of some malevolent force working behind the scenes? It could be yes, it could be no. I'm not sure which.

Overall, I have to admit that this was a very compelling read. I was very interested in finding out what's really going on, and I liked Max and Karen as characters. Since I have a copy of the third books (which thankfully had one day left to be downloaded after the copy I downloaded to Overdrive became unusable thanks to Overdrive crashing every single time I started the app), I can't wait to read it.

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Monsters by David Gilmore

I've been meaning to read this book for a while, but the NLB didn't have it. Luckily I got one more free month of Scribd, so this was the first book I picked up.

Monsters is an overview of the monsters throughout the world. And this time, it really is an overview of monsters throughout the world, rather than monsters in Europe.

For the record, a monster is defined as "supernatural, mythical, or magical products of the imagination [...] monsters are imaginary, not real, embodiments of terror." The book specifically excludes humans turned bad (witches, wizards, zombies), and real things, like mass murderers, even if the label can apply.

While there is slightly more emphasis on monsters in the west - The Windigo gets its own chapter, plus another for American monsters, and two chapters for European monsters, compared to the two chapters for the East - the author does touch on Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Polynesian monsters.

Oh, and by the way, the chapter entitled "Japan and the Pacific Islands" is more about the islands than it is about Japan.

While this book is fairly academic in style, it's still readable. You shouldn't go in expecting a conversational telling of the various myths and legends, because there is none of that. It's an overview of how people react to and live with 'monsters', and what that means about us. In fact, my favourite part of the book was the discussion of what monsters may mean. Despite the various types of monsters, they all have a few things in common, like their size, their type, and such. The concluding paragraph sums up monsters pretty well, in my opinion:

"The power of monsters is their ability to fuse opposites, to merge contraries, to subvert rules, to overthrow cognitive barriers, moral distinction, and ontological categories. Monsters overcome the barrier of time itself. Uniting past and present, demonic and divine, guilt and conscience, predator and prey, parent and child, self and alien, our monsters are our innermost selves." 

If you're interested in a study of monsters, I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - How To Be A Brit by George Mikes

I'm here for Teaser Tuesday, but I might disappear for the rest of the week, because my finals have just started, and I am much less prepared than before. I spent all the time before my exams preparing for a competition (we got second place!), so exactly 0% of the time was actually spent studying.

I got this book yesterday, when I was feeling stress (I now see the point of emotional shopping). I figured that since I love Guy Browning, I should like this too. So far, it hasn't disappointed, though I haven't been able to read much.

My teaser:

"The trouble with tea is that originally, it was quite a good drink.  
So a group of the most eminent British scientists put their heads together and made complicated biological experiments to find a way of spoiling it." 
What is your teaser this week?

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!