Tuesday, January 31, 2017

In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente

Hey everyone! It's Tuesday which means that it's time for another teaser. And if you were here last week - well, I decided to stop reading that book. I just wasn't enjoying it and there were so many more books to read, so I decided to read those.

Right now, I'm reading In the Cities of Coin and Spice, and I'm really enjoying it. The language is beautiful, and I like that the stories are all connected. I do get a bit confused at times, however. My teaser:
"I shall not dance until my bones crack," she said. "I shall dance every morning until my heart catches on the sun, and I fill up with gold like a crystal cup!"
What about you? What are you reading this week?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday: 
•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! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Where Seagulls Fly by Mitta

I have to admit that I am extremely biased about this book. I read the book before it was published, and gave loads of comments, so yeah, not exactly the most impartial reader here.

Where Seagulls Fly is a romance set in South Korea. When Su Bin, a doctor-in-training, reluctantly agrees to be acknowledged as her father's heir (and her father is way, way rich), she has no idea what she just entered. Su Bin was raised as a normal person and entering the world of the Chaebols means entering a completely different world. The only person she knows, apart from her father, is Lee Min Jun, the handsome guy that she saved before all this occurred.

Lee Min Jun's, Su Bin's father's right-hand man, just got his heart broken when he caught his fiancee cheating. Suddenly pressed for money (for a family emergency), he agrees to enter into a marriage with Su Bin, in order to try and give her family an heir. Unknown to him, however, Su Bin has been in love with him ever since she saved his life.

What this story has in spades is heart. From the first time I saw it in its raw, unpolished state, I found myself caring about these two characters and wishing that they would hurry up and fall in love, so that they could have their happily ever after. Both Su Bin and Lee Min Jun are fantastic characters, and I was very emotionally invested in their journey (and romance isn't even a genre that I read very often!)

My favourite character, though, is Yeo Bin Joon, one of the Chaebol natives who turns out to be Su Bin's knight in shining armour (even though her heart belongs to another). I really enjoyed all the scenes that he was in, and I hope that he gets his own happily ever after soon.

While the writing still stumbles occasionally (and really, it's very occasionally), the story is absorbing. If you're a sucker for romances and happy endings, you'll like this. And if you're a fan of KDramas, then you definitely have to give this a shot.

Disclaimer: I know the author and got this book while it was a freebie, but my review was voluntarily done.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Happy Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year!


Totally missing the celebrations back home, so I really, really hope that everyone is having a great 初一 :D My cousin also drew this for Chinese New Year, and she gave me permission to share it, so I hope you enjoy:

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Finished my first book for the #SEAreadingchallenge . The Gift of Rain is a WWII novel set in Penang, by Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng.

The Gift of Rain follows Phillip Hutton, a Eurasian boy who doesn't feel like he belong. One day, he meets a Japanese named Hayato Endo and begins studying the art of Aikijutsu (Aikido) as well as Japanese culture. However, when WWII comes, Phillip has to make a difficult choice about which choice to support.

I had really high hopes for this, but ended up talking a long time to warm up to the book. In fact, I wanted to stop reading a few times, but decided to continue for the challenge. I have a few complaints about the book, such as:

First, Penang never really comes alive. There is some description, largely in the latter half, but I never felt like I was in Malaysia, unlike when I was reading The Ghost Bride. In fact, I felt the presence of China more strongly than Malaysia, despite the fact that it only has one chapter dedicated to it.

Second, I never felt Phillips exclusion. True, he complained a lot about feeling like he didn't belong, but all I saw was him holding himself apart, rather than society rejecting him.

Finally, the use of non-English words felt very grating. Despite the fact that the book is loosely framed as a reminiscence of the past to a Japanese lady, every time a Japanese word appears for the first time, a translation always follows. If you're telling a story to a Japanese person, I highly doubt you need to translate the Japanese words. Perhaps the author should have chosen a different listener. But really, the translations were unnecessary, because the words were either going to be used enough times that a reader could infer their meaning, or could be omitted entirely.

Luckily, the book got better in the second half, when the Japanese occupied Penang. I thought the moral question that the book brought out was interesting - is it better to work with the enemy and try to save lives, or is it better to resist and risk the killing of innocents? The addition of this dilemma made the second half a lot more enjoyable and way more gripping than the first half. So while the first half felt very slow, the second half sped by.

Overall, this is a decent WWII novel, though I wouldn't read it to get a feel of Malaysia (it feels like it could take place anywhere in Asia). It's got a slow start, but if you're willing to persevere, the second half is much stronger and raises some interesting questions.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Madness so Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

I heard about this author when Lectus reviewed one of her other books - The Female of the Species - last December. I really wanted to read that, but the NLB doesn't have the eBook so I decided to read this title instead.

A Madness So Discreet starts when Grace (who's the daughter of a senator) gets sent to an asylum because she's pregnant. While there, she gets treated so cruelly that she eventually loses the baby and gets sent to solitary confinement. That, however, proves to be a good thing because she meets Dr. Thornfellow, who gets her out and makes her his protege. She lives in a way kinder asylum while actually making friends and being useful.

And then comes a series of murders she and the doctor can't solve and a return of the person who got her in the asylum.

The most horrific part of the book is probably how easily women were committed to asylums. Mostly, they just need to anger or be inconvenient to one man, who can then use the slightest reason to imprison them for goodness knows how long. By comparison, the murders weren't so frightening.

Oh and very surprisingly, this book didn't have any romance (even though Grace had suitors/people who liked her). And even more surprisingly, I was hoping for Grace and Dr. Thornfellow to end up together. They just seemed like such a good team! That didn't happen but I did like how most of the relationships in the book were written.

The ending was... a little grey but poetic. Grace isn't a total Saint, but after what she went through, I can understand why she'd use underhand methods to get what she wants.

My only complaint is that the pacing wasn't super even and the book lagged a bit between the asylum section and the mystery section. But the latter half of the book was fine.

But on the whole, I thought it was a good read and I would recommend it to people looking for a historical mystery with an unconventional setting. Plus, this made me more eager to get a chance to read The Female of the Species - gotta look for it when I finally go back to Singapore.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard

Good Tuesday everyone! I hope you're having a good start to the week. I'm almost done with my driving classes, I've hired a moving company for next month, and I've submitted my final paper (although I have a presentation to go) so things are rapidly moving forward.

Right now, I'm reading Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard, but I'm considering stopping it. Even about 50 pages in, I'm not feeling the draw of the book. I think it may be because it's in present third person. I'm alright with third person most of the time, but for some reason, I'm very conscious of the present tense in the story, and instead of a sense of immediacy, I'm just feeling detached from the story.

My teaser:
"In the end, she decides to call the police and delay going to the house until at least the next day. Knowing there's no way she'd want to go with her, Lisa urges her to make the call straight away." 
Would you continue reading? Has anyone read this? What did you think about it?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday: 
•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! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas

With a subtitle like "How Social Media is Driving a Generation To Appear Perfect At Any Cost", how could I not request this book from NetGalley?

Based on interviews with many students across campuses in America, The Happiness Effect looks at social media and topics like:

- The importance of being 'Liked'

- The Professionalisation of Facebook

- Selfies

- Religion on (and Off) social media

- Anonymity (like Yik Yak)

- Bullying

- Facebook official

- Smartphones

- Taking a Timeout

and so on. It's mostly a collection of interviews, so the voices of the students really shine through.

For me, I really loved this book. A lot of what it says rings true. It is, however, very country-specific. For example, most of my Singaporean friends on 'Facebook' don't seem to do the 'Professionalism' thing, while it's the total opposite in Japan. In Japan, Facebook is like LinkedIn. It seems to be the same in America, where Facebook and Twitter are considered 'Professional'. On the other hand, it seems like Twitter is to Japan what Snapchat is to America.

So the book may not be very relevant once you're out of America. Still, it is fairly relevant, because we are getting more and more dependent on smartphones. And the chapter of anonymity and how people start refraining from giving the unpopular opinion reminded me why some people use apps Dayre - because it provides a greater level of anonymity than Facebook (though of course, it is not totally anonymous. But that is probably related to a discussion of Networked Privacy).
"Our devices and our compulsive posting and checking are helping us flee ourselves."
I actually agree a lot with this quote. I've been very restless lately, and I realise that I pick up my smartphone whenever my brain doesn't want to engage. While I don't post much, I do lurk a lot, and that's not a good thing. It is time for me to add a bit more of intentional stillness into my life.

Ok, this is a rather disjointed review, but I wanted to end with this quote:
"What I have called the happiness effect throughout his book - the requirement to appear happy on social media regardless of what a person actually feels - is an effect of our own making. We are the ones who have created this problem. Young adults have internalised the lesson that if you want say anything happy, you shouldn't say anything at all, even if you feel despair, dismay, anger, or any number of other emotions common to human experience, from us."
This book isn't out yet, but I think that if you're at all interested in thinking about social media, you should definitely get it once it's published.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

What (Nonfiction) Do Singaporeans Read?

Singapore's Nonfiction Bestseller List

Last Saturday, an article titled "Can Singaporeans Read?" appeared in The Straits Times. I have loads of things to say about it, but these two passages caught my eye:
"One clue to what Singaporeans read is provided by The Sunday Times' bestseller list. The list of non-fiction books should be seen as a national wall of shame. Instead of looking at the world and trying to understand how it is changing, Singaporeans indulge in self-help books. 
Even the titles are embarrassing. They include Money: Master The Game And Jumpstart Your Priorities. Week after week, Singaporeans drown themselves in self-help books. The underlying assumption of many Singaporeans seems to be that if I take care of my individual self, I will be fine."
There are basically two claims here:

1. Singaporeans indulge in self-help books.

2. Singaporeans read embarrassing self-help books.

I don't know why, but I was intrigued by the statement, so I went to verify it. Basically, I decided to take about one year and one week's worth (so 2016 and the first week of 2017) best selling titles and see how many weeks they spent on the chart, and what their genre was.

I determined genre by going to Goodreads and reading the book description and seeing which "shelves" the book has been assigned. Normally, there's one that stands out and I took that as the genre (ignoring the "nonfiction" shelves). In certain cases, like Elon Musk, a book could be shelved as Technology or Biography, so I put the main genre as whatever was more and listed the second "genre" in a separate column

By the way, something is off with the Strait's Times site so I only ended up with 50 weeks worth of bestsellers, but I think 500 data points should be enough.

First up, let's look at the most popular books. In this case, I defined popular books in terms of staying power (i.e. How many weeks they stayed on the Best Seller list). These are books that have been in high demand for a long time.

The complete list:

The image may be a little hard to read, but the top 10 books are:

1. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (46 weeks)

2. Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance (45 weeks)

3. Connectography by Parag Khanna (36 weeks)

4. A Hakka Woman's Singapore Stories by Lee Wei Ling (35 weeks)

5. Never Give Up: Jack Ma In His Own Words by Suk Lee and Bob Song (23 weeks)

6. Winning With Honour by Lim Siong Guan and Joanne Lim (21 weeks)

7. Warren Buffett's Ground Rules by Jeremy C Miller (20 weeks)

8. The 21 Most Powerful Minutes In A Leader's Day by John C Maxwell (20 weeks)

9. Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change The World by Pagan Kennedy (18 weeks)

10. Primary Greatness by Stephen R Covey (17 weeks)

Out of these 10 books, 4 are biographies/autobiographies, 3 are on business/economics and only 3 are on self-help. Self-help doesn't even make the top 5.

Clearly, Singaporeans are not drowning themselves in self-help books. But I was on a roll at this stage, so here's the breakdown of books by genre (I included both the main and secondary genre because you never know why someone reads a book):

Business/economics related books are the largest genre at 33%. Self-help is the second at 17%, but it wins only by 1 percentage point to biography/autobiography which is 16% of the list. And as the top 10 books showed, biography/autobiography has a lot more staying power.

Looking at this and the rankings, I am reasonable confident in saying that no, Singaporeans do not indulge in self-help books. In fact, they have an interest learning from others (as seen by the biographies) and learning about the outside world (as seen by books like Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilisation, which spent 36 weeks on the bestseller list).

Incidentally, the books mentioned in the article - Jumpstart your Priorities (the author seems pretty popular too) and The Money: Master Your Game - spent 10 and 4 weeks respectively on the best seller list. Jumpstart your Priorities is number 20, and The Money is much lower.

Limitations of the data

The bestsellers list is a "compilation of lists from Books Kinokuniya, MPH, Times and Popular Bookstores". In order words, it doesn't factor in library loans or the ebook market. I don't know how big each of these left-out segments are, but it's possible that adding them in could switch the top books quite drastically.

Still, if the purchasing trends offline are the same online, and are similar to books being borrowed, then I'm reasonable confident that the conclusions I made will hold.

Thoughts on 'Can Singaporeans Read by Kishore Mahbubani'

My criticisms start with the title, which may not be very fair if the author didn't choose it. But it's one of the rare question-style questions where answering "no" would be a mistake.

Can Singaporeans read?

Obviously. I think our education has given us at least rudimentary reading and writing skills.

The title might be better phrased as 'Do Singaporeans read?' but since the author is accusing us of reading too much of one genre, that isn't really appropriate either.

Perhaps the most accurate (but spoiler-y) title would be "Do Singaporeans read too much self-help books?"

The first section of the article is on the changes in the world. Not much to comment on here. It then segues into 'some people were surprised about these changes but not me' sort of thing, plus a mention of the author's book. Personally, I don't think surprise = did not know. They could have read the predictions and just didn't believe it but whatever.

And then it goes into the section that raised my eyebrows, the 'Wall of shame' that is our nonfiction bestseller list (although it seems that he and I are looking at two very different lists).

To be honest, what is the problem with reading self-help? If self-help is what gets someone to start something new, to face a problem, to move to a better place, then bravo for self-help books.

Sometimes, you need to help yourself before you can help the world.

And besides, what is the definition of self-help? There are corny titles, but what about books like Grit by Angela Duckworth (also on the list) and Peak by Anders Ericsson (didn't see it on the list but you should read it). Both books could be classified as self-help, but they are based on research and could be used to create programmes that help others.

The author also says that
"(As an aside, I'd like to point out that the New York Times has created a sensible precedent of separating self-help books from the serious books, and I think other papers, including The Sunday Times, should emulate this practice.)"
Personally, I think that the New York Times Bestseller list, while famous, has its own problems and it's a bit disingenuous to invoke it without acknowledging that. After all, this is the list that created the Children's section in response to Harry Potter, the list that at one time could be bought, the list whose controversies include the specific exclusion of books it doesn't like (like Ted Cruz). The rules are constantly changed (no more multi-author box sets, and too bad for you if most of your fans like to buy from Amazon) and it's not an unreasonable conclusion that the NYT bestsellers list is not as impartial as one might think.

I mean sure, we could separate the list into thousands of sub genres, but then what's the point? Like I said before, what's so bad about self-help?

People read books for different purposes, and maybe people read self-help because they find something valuable in it that 'serious' books don't have. Besides, how do we know that these people aren't reading the latest articles instead of books? Books, especially those published by traditional publishers, have a fairly long lead time.

For example, a book on Industry 4.0 may become obsolete one month after it comes out because of how rapidly the industry is changing. At least in my personal experience, articles and conversations at trade fairs were far more relevant and easier to get my hands on.

In summary, I have three problems with this article:

1. Casting self-help books as a problem

2. Ignoring the possibility that Singaporeans are getting their information about the outside world from sources other than books.

3. Inaccurately describing the reading habits of Singaporeans.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

I know we're still in January but this is definitely going to be one of my favourite books of the year. I mean, it's gonna be pretty hard for any other fairytale-inspired book (or any book, really) to top this.

The Bear and the Nightingale is inspired by a host of Russian fairytales and stars Vasya (I hope I'm spelling her name right because everyone seems to have 12345 different nicknames). Vasya is special not just because her mother died after giving birth to her, but because the enchantment that was in her grandmother and mother seems to be passed down to her. She can see the magical creatures living around the house/estate and they, in turn, teach her.

Unfortunately, Vasya's idyllic childhood ends after her father brings back her stepmother, Anna. Anna is actually her mother's niece (so her cousin?!), but since her father is the Grand Prince of Rus', her father couldn't exactly say no to the marriage.

Where Vasya sees magic, Anna sees demons.

Soon after, a haughty priest named Konstantin is assigned to their village, and everything goes downhill.

What I loved about this book: EVERYTHING.

First up, world building. I'm not familiar with Russia, but I seriously felt drawn into the world (and the world of the magical creatures too). There's an author's note in front that indicates that she's done a lot of research for this, so I'm guessing that those familiar with Russian culture and history would like this too.

Second, the characters. Apart from Vasya, there are also her siblings (Sasha, the brother that became a warrior monk stands out) and Dunya, their nurse. All were very well-written and I would happily read books about them.

The villains too, were much better than I had expected. Anna is the 'evil stepmother', and certainly played the part well, but I never expected to sympathise with her that much. She was a victim of her gift and character and could have had a peaceful life if not for chance. Konstantin, too, started off as a proud but devout man. His gradual obsession with Vasya and him being duped by the main 'villain' of the book was well-written and I kept hoping he could be redeemed till he was past the point. Other notable characters: the frost king, the horses, and the various magical creatures. I loved them all (especially the horses!).

Finally, the plot. The book is split into three parts: her childhood, the threat and the battle. Not gonna give any spoilers, but I thought it was very well-paced and couldn't put the book down.

If you're into fairytales, you have to read this book. It's magical and amazing and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

While the Light Lasts by Agatha Christie

This is another one of the books I bought during the new year! Being an Agatha Christie fan, I couldn't pass up a chance to read a collection of her short stories. There are nine in this collection, each with an afterward that talks a little about them. The stories are:

The House of Dreams: about a guy that dreams about a beautiful house, and then meets a girl that refuses to marry him. Very sad and a bit creepy.

The Actress: I really enjoyed this one, which is about how a girl decides to outsmart her blackmailer. She remade herself into an actress, and nothing will make her fall. Normally, she'll be the villain but in this case, she's the hero.

The Edge: I've either read this before or Agatha Christie's used it for one of her novels. A woman discovers that the wife of the man she loves is having an affair. But she has to do the moral thing, which is to...

Christmas Adventure: the BBC made this into a radio drama under one of its other names "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding". I'm not sure if this is the rewritten version since the structure is different (but the resolution and case the same), but it stars Hercule Poirot which makes it enjoyable (even if Christie wanted to kill him).

The Lonely God: this is a very strange romance, because while it has a Happily Ever After, it doesn't have a lot of what I associate with the romance genre. It could very well lead to a murder mystery, that's the kind of atmosphere the story had.

Manx Gold: I dare say that if I was alive when this was part of a treasure hunt I would have loved it, but reading it now, I just felt confused. Plus I wasn't a fan of the protagonists, who were modelled after Tommy and Tuppence.

With a Wall: Possibly my favourite story of the collection, even with (or perhaps because) of its ambiguous ending. About the relationship between artist, his wife, and the muse he doesn't realise is his muse.

The Mystery of the Baghdad Chest: I feel like I've read it, but I guess it's because it's a Poirot and I've read quite a lot of stories featuring him. It's an entertaining mystery where me trying to summarise it will only spoil it, so I shan't.

While the Light Lasts: Apparently this was inspiration for her Mary Westmacott books, which I'm very interested in reading now. A wife discovers that the love of her life wasn't killed in war. But can she give up her creature comforts for love? (Not a mystery though)

Overall, I really enjoyed this and I'd recommend it to anyone who's a fan of Agatha Christie. It shows that she doesn't just write mysteries.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm by Miranda Carter

I'm not sure why, but when I saw this book in the "free books" box, I decided to pick it up. Like the title says, George, Nicholas and Wilhelm is about King George, Tsar Nicholas II and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Well, actually King George only appeared towards the end - his grandmother Queen Victoria and his uncle King Edward VII ruled for way more pages than him. But these three dudes were cousins so his name goes on the title too.

This is a biography so it is fairly heavy reading. But I found it captivating enough that it was easy to read several chapters a day and not have your head spin because there are way too many people in this (I basically only remembered the three cousins and their wives, King Edward and Queen Victoria).

After reading this, I felt quite a lot of sympathy for them, especially Nicholas. Wilhelm was not very likeable, but it was very clear that all three of them were in over their heads. In fact, a big reason why George was still King at the end of the war was that by that time, the monarchy in England was largely ceremonial (though not without its influence, as Queen Victoria showed). Like someone in the book said, if Nicholas was King of England, he probably would have been well-liked.

The three were let down by the fact that they didn't have an adequate education and that they were surrounded by sycophants for most of their lives and weren't used to taking criticism. This was probably most disastrous for Nicholas and Wilhelm, since they actually had to run their country. Although in the case of Nicholas, the fact that Russia is so huge and not doing so well then meant that the odds were stacked against him from the start.

If you're interested in European history, you'll probably enjoy this book. It's a big book, but I found it fairly easy to read (as long as you have enough time because the individual chapters were pretty long as well).

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Happy Tuesday everyone! How's the year starting out for you? I'm slowly getting into the "moving" gear, since my uni-related stuff will be winding down and I'll be moving to a different prefecture next month. I've still got some time, but the thought of packing (especially all my books! I think I've double - maybe tripled - the number I own since I arrived) fills me with fear.

I finished The Bear and the Nightingale yesterday, and it was fantastic. Right now, I've just started The Gift of Rain, which is also very highly acclaimed (or at least so I've heard). I'm just hoping that the high from The Bear and the Nightingale doesn't influence how I feel about The Gift of Rain.

My teaser:
"On the day I was born, my father planted a casuarina tree. 
It was a tradition begun by his grandfather."
What about you? What are you reading?

How to participate in Teaser Tuesday: 
•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! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth

Finally finished reading this book! I thought it was pretty good so I took lots of notes - which I've shared here. The book is based on Design Thinking and the principles are (according to the guy who's one of the founders): empathise, define the problem, generate a possible solution, prototype, test and get feedback. And the order is flexible.
The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. - Carol Dweck
So the first point that was made is that we give things their meaning. The second was that reasons are "just excuses prettied up." Which does make sense - we find time to do the things we want to do, and we make reasons for why we didn't do others. True, there might be extenuating circumstances, but that plays a much smaller role than you might think.

For example, I could have kept up my NaNo word count at the Balloon Fiesta. I just didn't because I didn't want to (and told myself I was tired).

The other point in chapter 2 that I liked was that making decisions is important. It's like what the conversation between the Cheshire Cat and Alice, where he tells her that if you don't care where you want to go, "it doesn't matter which way you do."

Chapter 3 was on reframing problems, trying to get to the route of it. Ask yourself "what would it do for me if I solved this problem" and see what the real problem is.

Chapter 4 I summed up as "We can learn from others - emulate their positive attributes and be careful not to copy their negative ones."

The next chapter was on doing. The book says that "small steps with accompanying successes lead to major life transformations", and to be careful of making decisions based on research because researchers have biases too. But the quote I liked best from this chapter was:

Doing takes intention and attention.

Chapter 6 was on language and I thought it was very illuminating. I didn't think of how small changes can have a big impact. For example "I want to finish this report and I'm tired" is more conducive to finding a solution to the problem than "I want to finish this report but I'm tired." which is more like an excuse. Other words include can't (helpless) and won't (volition).

The book's guidelines for conversations are:

1. Speak from your own experience and feelings as much as possible
2. One of the most difficult things to do is to listen to someone's story and not interrupt
3. The next most difficult thing if you're a listener is not to follow immediately with one of your own stories

The next part is on Group Habits and I think it applies mainly if you don't really know your group mates? I don't know but if it's people I know, I feel like I can be a lot blunter with them.

And then it's Chapter 8, which is on 'Self-Image by Design'. The thing to realise is that we carry traits from our parents, even if we don't want to. So what we have to do is to figure out our basic intentions and figure out how to achieve them, either by affirmation or changing something.

The book recommends this series of questions to find your self-image:

1. Who am I in terms of what I have?
2. Who am I in terms of what I do?
3. Who am I in terms of my being?

And remember, your self-image does not have to stay stagnant.

The second last chapter is on the big picture. Remember that life isn't always linear. And that if you mess up, 'fess up. Lying about your mistakes always makes things worse.

Problem: "any situation we want to change"
Life: "consists of solving a series of problems."

I thought this book was really good (and my summary only scratched the surface so go borrow it! It's on the NLB eRead's thing!). It's full of practical tips, and a lot of what it says makes sense. I'd recommend it to people who need something to motivate them to change/start taking action.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Daughter's Deadly Deception by Jeremy Grimaldi

This alliteratively titled book is about the Jennifer Pan case, where an outwardly 'perfect' daughter plotted to have her parents killed by hitmen. Luckily, they messed up, her dad survived and her plans were uncovered (and she was found guilty).

The first half of the book covers the aftermath of the crime, the investigation and the trial. The second half is an analysis of why Jennifer might have been pushed to falsify her high school results, university results and ultimately, plot to kill her parents after they found out part of the truth.

While a big part of the book hypothesises that Jennifer was driven to do what she did because of her strict Asian parents, I'm more inclined to agree with the psychologist that says that "Jennifer's behaviour is more consistent with that of a sociopath than someone who is suicidal, depressed, or struggling through the symptoms that lead to cutting" and her other behaviours.

The fact that she spent a significant stretch of time plotting to kill her parents and escape being caught basically tells me that this wasn't desperation, this was a premeditated act. She could have taken the ultimatum to leave her family, but she wanted the comforts of home without the rules that it had and decided that killing was the right choice.

I mean, I'm raised in an Asian home too (though my parents weren't as strict), so by all accounts, I should have been able to empathise and sympathise with her. But I couldn't because she was just so selfish. It really seemed like she thought the world revolved around her.

And while I found the analysis to be deeply interesting, I also find it weird that so much time was devoted to the parenting method (especially the Tiger Parents thing). If this was a non-Asian person, I think a lot more attention would be paid to "warning signs" rather than the way she was raised as a cause of her actions. Think about it: the Tiger Parenting method produces both successes and failures, like every other parenting method. So why is so much attention paid to this when it ordinarily isn't? Not to mention the fact that it wasn't a household entirely devoid of love - while her father may have found it difficult to express love, it seems like her mother did make the effort.

In conclusion, this is a well-written presentation of an extremely tragic case. I found the analysis interesting, though the emphasis on the 'Asian Parenting style' was a little odd to me (but only because I think more blame should be ascribed to Jennifer rather than her family).

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

I heard about Catherine McKenzie when Wendy at Literary Feline reviewed Fractured. But the library only had Arranged, so I decided to read that instead. When the blurb mentioned that "X is not who he seems" and stuff like that, my mind immediately jumped to SERIAL KILLER THIS MUST BE A THRILLER.

Well, this was definitely not a thriller.

The "arranged" in the title refers to arranged marriages. Basically, after breaking up with a boyfriend and then having everyone around her have a happy relationship, Anne Blythe gets fed up and decides to take things into her own hands. She contacts an arranged marriage company (well, she thought it was a dating company at first). There, she ends up being matched with Jack, who she ends up marrying.

But while the company is very legit, Jack is there under false pretences (but not evil nefarious ones, even if Anne thinks so after she finds out the truth).

After I got over my shock that this wasn't a thriller (I suppose I should pay more attention to covers), I found that I really enjoyed the book. Anne was a little whiny, especially at the start, but I can understand why she was so whiny and desperate, so it wasn't too off-putting.

Plus, I really liked the relationships in the book. Not just Anne and Jack, but Gilbert (her brother) and Cathy, and Sarah (her best friend) and Mike. I wish that these couples were given more room on the page, because they were sweet but not sickeningly so.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and I would totally read more from the author. I really hope that the library gets Fractured soon!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Road to Enchantment

Happy Tuesday everyone! I hope January has been treating you well(:

I'm going full-out with my driving lessons this week - I've finally decided when I'm moving, and I need to get my license before then! So, full steam ahead it is!

On the reading side of life, I'm currently reading The Road to Enchantment. I can't remember why I requested it, but I'm enjoying it quite a lot. Managed to read about half on the train to school and back today, so hopefully I can finish it soon. My teaser (it's a bit longer than usual, but I just couldn't fit it into two sentences):
"What a thing it must be, I thought, to know what door you wanted to walk through, to know behind which door your heart resided. I thought about the door to the apartment Ian and I used to have. Nope. Home is a time every bit as much as it is a place."
What about you? What are you reading this week?

"George's letters home were Eeyore-ishly self-pitying. "The amount one is expected and has to do is simply awful," he grumbled."  (page 247)

What about you? What are you reading for the new year?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday: 
•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! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, January 9, 2017

2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron

I've heard nothing about good things about this book, and since I spent 2015 building a daily writing habit, I wanted to use 2016 to improve the habit itself - more words, and better words, if possible. I heard nothing but good things about 2k to 10k, so when I managed to get one more month on Scribd, I took the chance to read it. And then I spent 2016 trying to put it into practice which is why this review is only coming out now, in 2017.

The book itself is pretty short, but a really useful read. It's broken into two parts: How to actually write more, and tips for plotting and editing. The how to write more section, which was the main draw, basically boils down to this:

1. Prewriting is very important. Even just sketching out the scene can make a huge difference.

2. Find out your optimal writing time. This may involve writing at different times, tracking the output and quality of the words before you find out.

3. Muster up enthusiasm for the writing. If you're not interested, the words aren't going to flow.

As for the plotting/editing tips - well, I'm not much of a plotter, so the plotting thing wasn't very useful for me. I mean, I do try, and I liked Libbie Hawker's Take Off Your Pants (which I found useful for reworking drafts), but no matter how much prep I do, most of the things I discover about the world invariably take place while I'm writing. So the most I do is to plot a few chapters, then plot more/adjust as I write.

But the editing tips, the editing tips were awesome! I never felt so inspired to edit after reading that section. Basically, Rachel Aaron suggests writing out a scene list (bullet point your novel) and using that to make a timeline. From there, it should be easier to spot the problems, so make a to-do list and tackle the problems from the largest to the smallest, not back to front.

Personally, I haven't noticed a big change when writing (certainly not a five-time increase), but I think I have become slightly more efficient at writing. Plus during on NaNoWriMo, it was easier to hit my daily word count. I really like the tip about prewriting, because it does help make the writing easier. I've actually managed to work that into my everyday writing scene and I can normally get to the end of the chapter without writer's block (how long that chapter is, though, I still can't really control).

Oh, and despite tracking my writing, I haven't really found my optimal writing time. Though I notice that I do tend to write at night, after all my schoolwork for the day has been done.

I would definitely recommend this book. It's pretty useful, and I think that if I was a bit more strict with myself on following her advice, I would have a much greater improvement. Still, the tips are solid and I will probably buy a copy for myself in the future.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Good of Giving Up by Aaron Damiani

Even though we're not yet in the Lenten season (it starts 1st March for 2017), I thought it would be a good idea to read this. The Good of Giving Up is a book on what Lent is, why one should practice it, how to practice it, as well as how you can lead others in Lent.

The author is Anglican, but the precepts are applicable to all denominations, even if the applications may differ from Church to Church. Since I'm Methodist, I do know what Lent is. My Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We also encourage each other to do a partial fast, but I don't recall having an in-depth lesson on the meaning of Lent and it's relation to the Church.

If I were to summarise part 1, the explanation of Lent and why we should practice it, it would go like this: Lent is a way for us to prepare ourselves for the feasting and rejoicing of Easter: as the book puts it:
We are so full on the junk food of our culture that we cannot metabolise the feast on our Easter plates.
When we learn to focus our attention on our Heavenly Father and not on the issues of this world, the meaning of Easter becomes stronger. The author paraphrases Lord of the Rings when he says that on Easter:
[E]verything sad was coming untrue. Death itself had been turned on itself. Satan and his demons had run into the mousetrap of the cross, forfeiting their treats. And our Hero was making good on all His promises, sending His Spirit to renew the face of the earth, giving gifts as He ascended to His rightful throne.
Part 2 is on how we can practice Lent. Lent is practiced through fasting, prayer and generosity (also almsgiving). The fast can be a partial or a whole fast, and there is concrete advice for the prayer and almsgiving sessions as well.

The last part, part 3, is for pastors, parents and Church leaders, and deals with how one can lead others through Lent.

I am really thankful that I read this book. I've never really practiced Lent (apart from celebrating the different days), and I realise that this is leading me further away from God. The purpose of Lent isn't to be good only for that 40 days (as the book says, we can make every Friday a 'little Lent' and every Sunday a 'little Easter'), but to help us reorientate ourselves towards God, which carries over to the next year.

I suppose it's good that I read this way before the Lenten season. It will give me time to digest all the information here and prepare myself to practice Lent next year.

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Freeks by Amanda Hocking

I don't think I've read any of Amanda Hocking's other books, but the cover for Freeks was beautiful and the blurb intrigued me enough that I decided to join this blog tour.

Freeks starts when Mara, her mother and the rest of the circus that they belong to arrive in the tiny town of Caudry. There, Mara experiences an instant attraction to Gabe, one of the local boys there, an attraction that he returns. But the budding romance is interrupted by the fact that someone is stalking and killing (or at least severely injuring) the circus workers with otherworldly abilities.

I believe that anyone who has read a few of my reviews will know my feelings toward instalove. This is something that Mara and Gabe have in droves, so I won't really comment on that. I'll just say that it wasn't "stop the book" annoying, but I really could have done with a more natural romance.

The mystery part of the book was fairly interesting. It was pretty obvious that whatever was hunting them wasn't human, but I had no clue what it was. I did appreciate that the solution seemed somewhat obvious in retrospect, and the plot twist wasn't unbelievable at all.

Oh, and I didn't notice this, but I saw that the author mis-used a Hindi term or something like that. But it seemed to be more of a googling error than outright malice, and I did receive an ARC, so hopefully that has been fixed before publication.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the book (even with the instaromance), and I think that if I had the time, I might pick up one of her earlier books.

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Grand Tour by Agatha Christie

This is definitely a book for Agatha Christie fans. I think it'd make a good companion to Agatha Christie's autobiography (which I really liked).

The Grand Tour is basically Agatha Christie's account of an 11-month vacation she took with then-husband Archie. They visited South Africa, Australian, New Zealand, Honolulu and Canada. Most of the book are her letters to family, with the preface and epilogue written by her grandson.

The book is supposed to be letters + pictures, but for some reason, most of the pictures wouldn't load on my iPad. So I really can't comment on that.

The letters, though, reminded me of blogs! She basically wrote a summary of all that was noteworthy (often by day - except in Hawaii where their days were alike, and perhaps a few other places). So it's all about where she meant and who she met rather than a memoir of what she learnt/experienced during the journey.

And you really shouldn't expect character portraits either. The only major 'character' is Belcher, a sometimes charming, often pompous and annoying man who was leading the group. Apparently he was also one of the few that made it into her novels as a character too!

I wouldn't go into this book expecting an overarching narrative, or something to explain the reasons (or hint at reasons) why some time after this trip, Agatha Christie would disappear for some time. Instead, enjoy the record of her journey, and if you've been to any of the same places, see how it's changed since she visited.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - George, Nicholas and Wilhelm by Miranda Carter

It's the first Teaser Tuesday of 2017! Woohoo! Happy New Year everyone!

I'm starting the year with a non-fiction book - George, Nicholas and Wilhelm. It's the story of three royal cousins and how they (plus their grandmother, the Queen Victoria) ended up on the road to World War I. Talk about family conflict. It's not a very quotable book, but I am enjoying it.

My teaser:
"George's letters home were Eeyore-ishly self-pitying. "The amount one is expected and has to do is simply awful," he grumbled."  (page 247)

What about you? What are you reading for the new year?
How to participate in Teaser Tuesday: 
•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! Everyone loves Teaser Tuesday.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Geography of Madness by Frank Bures

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you're having a great start to 2017! My first book for this year is one that I totally misjudged but still turned out to be amazing. From the cover and title, I thought that this was going to about different strange illnesses around the world, but it turned out to be about culture in general.

The author's journey started when he went on a year-long exchange to Italy and came back, experiencing what most of us will realise is culture shock. For the author, this culture shock, this realisation that other people have different ideas of what is cool and normal set him on a long quest to understand koro (or suo yang in Chinese), the disease that makes men believe that their penises are retracting into their bodies and that this will cause them to die. To try and understand this, he travels all around the world, from Nigeria to Singapore to China.

By the way, Singapore was a destination because we had a koro epidemic in 1967, where 469 men reported their penises were shrinking (these are reported cases, so the actual number may actually be higher).

And through this journey, the book starts to give us a sense of how culture, the stories we tell ourselves and each other, can affect our body and mind. As the book puts it:
Which is exactly how stories work: First, they make things possible. Then they make them familiar. Then they make them real.
Despite this book not being what I thought it was, I really enjoyed it. It articulated the feeling of living overseas, and of coming back and realising that no matter how hard you try, things have changed. Home has moved in a slightly different direction from you. And when I go back, I will have to decide how many of the habits I pick up in Japan I will keep, what I will modify, and what I will have to leave behind.

I would definitely recommend this book to others, especially to those who have lived overseas for a period of time. It is a surprisingly thoughtful book that has an original take on a feeling that is often very hard to put in words.