Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

I could have sworn that I've read this in the past few years but I have absolutely no reviews of it and that throws my memory into doubt. At any rate, I wanted to read this series and decided to start with the first book so that could (re?)familiarise myself with the characters.

The School for Good and Evil is a fairy-tale story with a twist. In a village called Gavaldon, children are being stolen, no matter the precautions taken. Only two are stolen at a time, and eventually, the village realises that these children end up as fairy tale characters. Sophie is the most beautiful girl in the village and unlike the others, actually wants to be taken away to live her life as a princess. But to outcast Agatha, Sophie is her only friend and she knows that they belong home.

Both girls get an unpleasant surprise when they're kidnapped and dropped at the schools - Sophie at the School for Evil and Agatha at the School for Good. Both are sure that a mistake has been made and Agatha is determined to get them home. Sophie, on the other hand, is determined to prove herself Good and get herself a prince.

I absolutely adored this story! Although Sophie and Agatha butt heads for a good part of the book because of their different personalities, I could really see their friendship and I loved that it took center stage. Yes, there was some romance but through it all (and especially in the ending), it was the love between friends that was the most important, not the love between a prince and a princess.

I also liked how complex these characters are. Take Tedros - Prince Arthur's son, for example. When I first saw him, I thought he was just another buffoon, kind of like Daring Charming from Ever After High (at least in the first season). But as I read further, I realised that Tedros had his own hurt that he was hiding and that motivated his actions, changing him into a more complex character in my eyes.

All in all, I would highly recommend this story to any fairy-tale fans. It's fun, charming, and has more depth to it than meets the eye.

Monday, May 28, 2018

One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

I have finally finished this and OH MY HEART I NEED THE NEXT BOOK NOW!! One Dark Throne takes place right after Three Dark Crowns ends, so it’s a good thing I read Queens of Fennbirn recently and was still familiar with the world.

Ascension Year has started after the ending of Three Dark Crowns. And because of the ending, the futures of the three queens aren’t as assured - Mirabella, the strongest Queen, has lost a lot of standing, while her two weaker sisters are faring better. But the Queen can only be crowned after she’s killed both her sisters, which means that all three of them still have a chance...

I don’t really want to talk too much about the plot because I’ll end up giving away the ending of the previous book (and if you haven’t started the series it’s best not to know) but I was really taken for a ride in this one! I loved Three Dark Crowns but it did spend quite a lot of time laying the groundwork and as a result, the plot of One Dark Throne moved at a good pace. I really couldn’t wait to finish the book because I was desperate to find out who won.

Character-wise, Mirabella is still my favourite character because she really has the best heart. Sometimes to her detriment, but I really liked her and she was my favourite candidate. That said, Arsinoe’s development surprised me. I wasn’t really a fan or her or her best friend Jules, but by the end of the book, I was also rooting for both of them to have a happy ending. I think that the author did a good job in showing their growth and motivations which helped me sympathise with them.

Katherine, on the other hand, I disliked. She was just nasty and since she was just weak in the previous book, didn’t endear herself to me. But I did find out why she changed to become like that towards the end, so while I still don’t like her, her character motivation is real to me.

As for the supporting characters, I would end up with a way too long review if I talked about them all. So let’s just say that there were many of them and if you can keep track of who’s who, their personal motivations and feelings start to become clearer and they become people rather than filler characters.

Overall, I really, really loved this book. It definitely helped that I read the novellas before this because I would be lost without a refresher, but this book gripped me from the start and now I cannot wait for the next book because I need to see how things end!

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Mythology of Grimm by Nathan Robert Brown

You may know that I’ve been into Grimm for a long time (I think I’ve watched the series TWICE despite the fact I have 123456 shows on my to watch list). Well, I finally got my brother into the series, which means that it’s my third time watching the series (no complaints) and more importantly, that I can buy Grimm-related books!

This actually came about two weeks back but I had quite a few library books to finish so I only got around to it today. Like the title says, The Mythology of Grimm is about the myths behind the show, focusing mainly on the Wesen in seasons one and two.

The book starts with an introduction of the Grimm brothers, Charles Perrault, and Joseph Jacobs then moves on to the various Wesen. It focuses mainly on the European ones, although the last two chapters talk about the non-European Wesen (Mostly Native-American and Greco-Roman Wesen). Each chapter compares a Wesen with a modern retelling of the traditional fairytale, as well as some discussion. In between, there are loads of quotes from the show and interesting nuggets of information.

Obviously, I enjoyed this book very much. I love the show AND I love myths and while lots of it wasn’t new to me, it was fun to see the comparisons. But if you’re into mythology, please note that the retellings are very, very casual. Personally, I find them to be fun but if you’re looking for something a little more academic, you might want to steer clear (but if you’re looking for something academic, why are you reading something inspired by a TV show?)

In short, fans of the TV show who want to know more about the myths behind it will probably love this. The text is extremely easy to read and conversational, so even if you’re not familiar with mythology and fairy tales, I think you should be comfortable with this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thrice the Binded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley

As part of my 'I want to read more during the week' thing, I decided to read another Flavia de Luce mystery since I really enjoy this series. Thrice the Binded Cat Hath Mew’d (a quote from Shakespeare) is the eighth book in the series and has Flavia coming home to England.

After an exciting time in Canada, Flavia’s looking forward to home and expects a somewhat warm welcome. Instead, she finds out that her father is ill and in the hospital. Trying to distract herself, Flavia offers to run an errand and ends up finding a body. Talk about finding the perfect distraction for her - obviously Flavia starts investigating.

I really felt that Flavia returned to form in this book. She was a little twee in the last book, but she was purely endearing in this one. I think it’s because she’s back in familiar surroundings. She’s also struggling to make sense of all the changes and I think it makes her growth a lot more natural. Perhaps Flavia is just so British she can’t go anywhere else.

The mystery itself was decent. There were quite a few twists and turns, but the ending made sense (even though I couldn’t manage to figure out who the killer was). I also thought it balanced pretty nicely with Flavia’s home life, although I feel like a kid (with Flavia) because I have no idea what all the adults are saying.

Got to warn you, though, the ending is pretty heartbreaking. Flavia does get her moment of triumph and I’m happy for her, but the last part is just sad. No spoilers but I really wish that things turned out differently for her and I really want to read the next book now.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Track Faults and Other Glitches by Nicholas Yong

I haven’t been reading much Singapore books (or SEAsian books for that matter) but this short story collection was really great and I'm really grateful to the person who recommended this to me.

Track Faults and Other Glitches is a collection of collection of stories set in Singapore. The stories are:

- The Ministry of Zombie Advancement: A very fun, unique tale about zombies in Singapore. The zombies in Singapore concept reminded me of Land of the Meat Munchers, and I realised that it was by the same author! No wonder I liked this.

- You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly: About seeing superheroes at work. The ending was ambiguous which makes it interesting to speculate about.

- Wake Me Up When It’s 2116: Not a good idea to read this in the train because I was tearing up by the end of it! It’s about progress and human life and reminds me of some of Bradbury’s short stories (which are also referenced here). This is one of my favourite stories in the collection.

- Track Fault: Another one of my favourite stories in this book, this deals with an MRT train that goes missing. Warning: there are no answers to this mystery but the story is so good!

- Haru & Hui Ling: These are actually two stories but they are two parts of one whole. It’s about the bond between dogs and their human families but also about love and loss.

- Three Nights in Camp: an NS ghost story. Kinda ambivalent on this one, but I think it’s because I haven’t gone through NS.

- A Dream Within A Dream: this is about a guy in a coma and I actually thought it was a little confusing but it still tugged at my heartstrings. I don’t know what’s going on, but the story made me feel.

- Polling Day: One of the weaker stories in my collection, in my opinion. It follows a reporter as he finds out that the opposition has won all contest seats. Very timely, given the recent election in Malaysia but I didn’t really get the story.

- The Uncle in the Kopitiam: The last story in the collection, this is a story within a story, reaching back to the folklore of Singapore. I really enjoyed the twist and I like this story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection! It was really well-written and extremely fun to read. Each story has a message, but the message doesn’t overpower the story like some local short stories do. I am totally hoping to find more stories like this!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

I requested this book as soon as I saw it because I’m always up for a good mystery. I didn’t realise that this was part of a series, but I had no problem following along.

The Dark Angel starts in Italy when a corpse is found to have a handphone. And even weirder, Professor Angelo received a text from the corpse when he excavated it. Back in England, forensic archaeologist Ruth is struggling with her personal relationships. So when she gets an invitation from Angelo to come to Italy to consult, she brings her daughter and friend along for a holiday.

I have to admit, the mystery took a backseat to the relationships in The Dark Angel. Perhaps it’s because I’m jumping into the series midway, but I felt that the complicated relationships between the characters (particularly Ruth and Nelson) were more prominent than the mystery of the corpse. I’m not complaining since I enjoyed reading about it, but it was a bit of a surprise.

The mystery itself was pretty interesting and very much tied to the town where the corpse was found. I’ve never been to Italy (sadly) so I don’t know how accurate all the descriptions were, but I really felt the small town and it’s inhabitants very strongly.

There was only one thing that threw me off a little: the book switches between several POV characters, mostly Ruth and Nelson, although some characters get their time in the spotlight too. The switch could be a bit abrupt since it takes place within the chapter (I’m more used to having one chapter per POV) but it wasn’t a problem once I got used to the style.

Overall, I enjoyed this mystery. I enjoyed the setting and the characters in it. And perhaps because of the characters, I am interested in going back to read the first book in this series and finding out how it all started.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

As soon as I heard about Devoted, I knew I had to read it and that I would either love it or hate it - turns out I loved it (and it's a very intense book).

Devoted revolves around Rachel, a girl “devoted to God.” She’s a member of Calvary Christian Church, which is obviously part of the Quiverfull movement (and if you know me, you know I can’t stand them). She tries to be a Godly girl, but the rules chafe at her, and one day, she makes contact with one of the girls that ran away. And suddenly, the world looks a lot wider.

First, I should mention that although I’m a Christian, I cannot stand the groups that pervert the name of God. I don’t even think they should be allowed to call themselves Christian, and the Quiverfull movement, with its legalistic and sexist theology, is one of them.

Which is why my heart broke when I read about Rachel. Rachel is curious and loves books and I hate how all the legalism almost breaks her soul. Christianity is freeing, not a jail and the ‘Church’ she went to made me rage. I absolutely rooted for her to get away and for her to re-establish her relationship with God.

Another thing I loved about this book was its portrayal of Christianity, which I found very fair. The author doesn’t paint all Christians as people who go to Calvary Christian, and even though some who left that ‘Church’ turned away from God, that wasn’t the only way that you could leave. Most of the time, religion in YA books is shown as either totally good or totally bad, so I appreciated this level of nuance, which mimics real life.

If you’re into moving books with nuance and characters that will steal your heart, you need to read this. I found this to be a deeply moving book and while parts of it broke my heart, I am glad that I had the chance to read it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Queens of Fennbirn by Kendare Blake

I LOVED Three Dark Crowns so when I saw this in the library today, I immediately snatched it up and devoured it. Queens of Fennbirn is a collection of two novellas and it is so good!

The first story is The Young Queens and it’s about Mirabella, Arsinoe, and Katherine, the protagonists of the Three Dark Crowns series. This is really more of a prequel that explores their lives, so it doesn’t really have a plot. But it does answer some questions that the first book raised and I was so happy to be back in the world (as strange as that sounds, given that their world is violent and bloody). And the story only cemented Mirabella as my favourite because she was the only one with any loyalty. I mean, I guess I understand why the other two are like that, but I still prefer Mirabella as Crowned Queen.

The second story is The Oracle Queen and purports to tell the true story of the last Oracle Queen: Queen Elsabet. This story was heartbreaking because of its ending, and especially if you consider what her legacy is. I know it’s not a big plot point, but I would like to see justice for Elsabet. And now I really dislike the Poisoner group (sorry, Katherine but unless you grow a spine, you’re guilty by association).

Fans of Three Dark Crowns will love these two stories. I know I did, and reading this just made me more excited for One Dark Throne: now I have to find it in the library.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Death below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

I’ve been looking for this book ever since I saw Wendy at Literary Feline mention it. Finally, the ebook version was available and I immediately borrowed it and I have absolutely no regrets.

When Kat Holloway takes a new job as cook, she doesn’t expect much to happen. But on her second day on the job, her assistant turns up dead in her cellar. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily), Kat has a friend named Daniel McAdam, and what starts as a simple investigation quickly turns into something much more high stakes.

Can I say that I absolutely loved this?

The main reason is because of the characters. Kat is a spirited woman and I enjoy how measured and quick-thinking she is. She’s a sensible person, unlike some heroines who can be as dumb as a doorbell but still solve the mystery and her backstory is fantastic. Plus, I really rooted for her relationship with the mysterious Daniel and that isn’t something I do very often.

Daniel and his son, James, were also very well-written, which contributed to my enjoyment of the book. Their father-son relationship is really adorable and they’re both memorable characters in their own right. The supporting characters were all interesting too.

Plot-wise, the book moved along at a good pace. I didn’t really expect the twists that it took, but they were believable and I couldn’t put the book down. While it stands alone, it feels like the story can continue and I am really looking forward to it!

One more thing that I also appreciated was how the characters were introduced. Maybe it’s because I just read a book where each character was given extensive backstory, but I found the amount of information given out to be just right. I still don’t know how Kat and Daniel met, but I know enough about their backgrounds that their relationship feels natural and I want to read more, and to me, that means the book has succeeded regarding backstory.

If you are a fan of historical mysteries, you’ll definitely have to read this. I’m definitely going to look for the next book, and I hope I find it a lot quicker than I did this.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs

I wanted to read something lighter after the book on Austen and Social Science and a tea-themed cozy Mystery fit the bill!

Death by Darjeeling is centered around the Indigo Tea Shop, which in turn is owned by Theodosia. When a hater developer dies at her teashop and her employee’s friend loses her job over it, Theodosia starts digging into the death. But the more she learns, the more suspects she finds. And more worryingly, someone seems to be after her as well.

What I loved about this book was obviously all the tea references! The hanyu pinyin of the Chinese teas isn’t the standard one but that’s okay because there was a lot of tea talk and description of the teas. I would love to try the teas mentioned and if Indigo tea shop existed near me, I would definitely be a frequent patron.

I also liked the core group of characters. Theodosia, Drayton (the tea master), Haley (employee), and Bethany (employee’s friend turned employee) have a very nice group dynamic and I appreciated the way that Theodosia brought them into the mystery. I thought that made their friendship feel real and I really enjoyed their interactions with one another.

On the other hand, there were a few things I’m not too enthusiastic about.

One is the very long introductions of each character. Or perhaps they just felt long because I didn’t feel like I needed backstory at that moment. But since this is book one I can understand why it’s this way.

The other thing I didn’t like (and this is a bigger deal for me), was the sudden shift in one of the characters. This was done through a change in POV, which occurred a few times and always felt abrupt. More importantly, the sudden change in how one of the characters was presented felt too sudden and not very believable. Rather than a natural progression, it felt like a device used to heighten tension.

Would I read the second book? I’m not sure. I really enjoyed the tea references and I think that the long introductions should be gone by book two, but the sudden twist for one character at the end had me wary. I still have quite a number of tea-related books that I want to read (please believe that it’s work-related research) so perhaps I’ll read those first and then see if I’ll continue with the series.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Jane on the Brain by Wendy Jones

I spent the last few days slowly reading this book because it was a much harder read than I expected. I saw “exploring the science of social intelligence with Jane Austen” and thought it would be one of those easy-to-read intro book, but this is actually pretty intense.

Like the subtitle says, this is all about social science. It starts off with what the mind is and how we think (which to be honest I still don’t quite understand), and then moves on to study topics like love, empathy, and empathy disorders (Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder), ending with a detailed study of Anne from Persuasion, who has “the most developed sense of empathy” out of all the Austen characters.

Throughout the entire book, the author draws heavily on Austen’s characters to explain the various concepts, although they aren’t the exclusive source of examples. So this is definitely a book that gives Austen the spotlight.

For me, I enjoyed the ‘topical’ chapters on relationships and how childhood affects character a lot more than the opening stuff on how the mind works. I know the opening stuff is the foundation, but I found the latter half to be a lot easier to understand.

I really like the section on attachment, where she explains the three different types. There’s:

1. Preoccupied attachment, which is Marianne from Sense and Sensibility. Marianne is unable to self-regulate her emotions and her insecurity makes her distraught when Willoughby leaves and cuts her, sending her into depression and a near brush with death.

2. Secure attachment, which is Elinor from Sense and Sensibility. Although she feels things deeply, she can cope with her strong feelings and the news of Edward’s secret engagement shocks her but doesn’t devastate her.

3. Dismissive attachment, which is Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Darcy’s classic English stiff upper lip means that he “would have developed little tolerance for excitement and therefore would have tended to overregulate in order to control his anxiety.”

I also thought that the point on Austen’s Free Indirect Discourse narrative style and how it has a lot in common with empathy to be very interesting! It’s a pity it’s just a small section in the epilogue because I would have loved to read a chapter on it.

Basically, if you’re a fan of Austen and think you can handle the science in this book, you should totally read it. It’s pretty heavy, but it’s also a really good analysis of Austen’s characters (even though this is technically not a lit book)

Monday, May 7, 2018

The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen

My second Ellery Queen Mystery! I’m afraid I didn’t like this as much as The Greek Coffin Mystery.

The American Mystery takes place at a Rodeo. Ellery Queen and his father take Djuna to see the first show starting Buck Horne. And at that show, with twenty thousand people watching, Buck Horne is shot dead. Ellery and his father leap into action but despite their best efforts, the gun is never found.

I thought that plot-wise, this was a pretty good mystery. Like with The Greek Coffin Mystery, the authors purposely interrupt the narrative to give the reader time to think before they reveal the truth. While I didn’t get the clues and didn’t figure out the mystery, things certainly made sense once they were explained.

The only thing that hampered my enjoyment was... well Ellery himself. I quite liked his character in the first book, and he was likable enough at the start of this (especially when he referenced Father Brown), but along the way, he became slightly irritating. While Poirot’s eccentricities come across as charming to me, Ellery’s quirks feel annoying. I really feel for his father, for having to put up with a know-it-all son who doesn’t reveal anything until the end (Although it is explained that this is because of the events in The Greek Coffin Mystery)

And since Ellery is the protagonist of the series, I’m left undecided if I want to continue reading. I was really interested in reading more of this series at first, but now, I’m not too sure. It’s definitely something to think about, especially since my TBR list is so long.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

I can’t quite remember how I heard of this book, but it was definitely related to Do You Believe in Magic, which was a fantastic look at alternative medicine. Bad Science also looks at alternative medicine, but is much broader and looks at science as whole.

The book starts off with a look at experiments and what they mean (very important because you need to be able to understand what reliable studies are before you can decide if things are being reported correctly), before going on to homeopathy and nutritionists. The last section of the book looks at how the media misrepresents science and it might make you lose trust in medical reporting.

This book was fantastic! I really liked how the author used humour to make his points because it helped me to remember them better. For example, when he’s talking about all those expensive facial creams and how the skin absorbs things, he writes that “in general, you don’t absorb things very well through the skin, because its purpose is to be relatively impermeable. When you sit in a bath of baked beans for charity, you do not get fat, nor do you start farting.”

My sense of humour is probably on the juvenile side but the mental image of someone farting uncontrollably in a tub of baked beans made me laugh.

That said, my favourite chapter was Chapter 13, Why clever people believe stupid things, where he makes the following points (among others):

- We see patterns where there is only random noise

- We see casual relationships where there are none

- We tend to be biased towards evidence we want to believe in.

All the points are made with plenty of examples to back them up. In fact, if you want a clear and convincing explanation on why vaccinations don’t cause autism, you should read the chapter on it. It’s very clear that no one should have believe the studies and that the media had a role in playing up this ‘scare’.

Anyone who enjoys science will enjoy this. The book is well-written and easy to understand. You could probably get the same information if you search long enough on the Internet, but since it’s all gathered conveniently into one place, you should just read the book.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I keep hearing about the invisible library series from Wendy at Literary Feline and every time I see her reviews, I put the book on my TBR list. After a pointlessly long time, I finally read the first book in the series and it is fantastic!

This series is about a Library and the Librarians are spies! They go into different alternate realities to steal, um I mean acquire, different rare books that help to refine the Language, which is a language that can be used to command people or things.

Irene is a Librarian who’s suddenly given someone (Kai) to mentor and the task to retrieve a book. It should be an easy task, since it’s Kai’s first mission, but Irene and Kai soon realise that there is far more than meets the eye and that an old nemesis of the Library may be behind everything.

I loved everything about this book! Firstly, there’s the world-building. I love the concept of the Library and the Language, which pulled everything together. The worldbuilding was also very well-done, with the information coming at a good pace that didn’t interfere with the plot.

The characters are also well-done. I really loved Irene, who loves books too and is a bit of a badass. She’s perhaps a bit too unquestioningly loyal to the Library, but she’s a fantastic mentor and I rooted for her from the first page. Kai, her mentee, was also really interesting and I sense a possible romance between them.

The plot was also good. The mystery of the book she has to steal was really engaging and I liked how she tied it to the larger plot. And while the main plot is wrapped up by the end, Cogman has left enough threads hanging that I can see that it’s the start of a series and I’m very eager to read the next book!

If you like books, kickass heroines, a mystery surrounding a book and lots of fun, I’m pretty sure that you’ll enjoy The Invisible Library. I know I’m looking forward to reading the next book.