Friday, August 31, 2018

The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Fairies are always interesting. The fairies at Cottingley especially so, since the photos were taken in this world, and not a fictional one. And while most of the photos have been admitted to be a hoax, The Cottingley Secret asks the question 'what if fairies were real?'

When the book starts, Frances has arrived from South Africa to England. The weather is dreary and she misses her father, but when she finds a kindred spirit in her older cousin Elsie and the beck near their house, things start to look up. Many years in the future, in our present time, a grieving Olivia finds a memoir written by Frances. Intrigued (and definitely dreading her future marriage), Olivia decides to stay in the country, read Frances' story, and try to save her late grandfather's bookshop.

I found this book to be enchanting. Although I was initially worried that Olivia's story was nothing more than a framing device, the two narratives came together rather touchingly at the end. I even found myself invested in how Olivia's life turned out, something I didn't think would happen in the beginning, given that Frances' story had the stronger start.

Another thing that made this book magical was the slight inclusion of magic. While the four of the photos were admittedly faked, the author leaves just enough magic and wiggle room in the story to keep the question "do fairies actually exist?" alive.

And while I normally skip over these sections, I would highly recommend you read the author's notes and the bonus materials at the back. It turns out that the author consulted with Frances' daughter, Christine, and the book reflects what Christine and Frances believed. Given that this is a novelisation of the story of two real people, I thought that this was a very thoughtful and respectful move.

If you're interested in fairies and the Cottingley photographs, you should definitely pick up this book.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Icy Touch by John Shirley

I don't think I've really mentioned it here, since this blog is for books and not shows, but I really love Grimm. Enough that I've watched it twice and I introduced my brother to it. So when I (very belatedly) realised that there were novels to accompany the TV series, I decided to pick it up.

The Icy Touch is set sometime after season two of Grimm - after the Coins, after Juliette has recovered her memories and Hank is aware of the Wesen world. Captain Renard notices that the victim of the latest 'weird' murder is a Drang Zorn and gets Nick and Hank to investigate. But obviously, this is no ordinary Wesen murder and Nick and Hank quickly get pulled into a centuries-old feud and a Wesen criminal ring.

Now, I read this after finishing the whole series so I'm probably a bit biased, but this is what I liked:

First, being able to find out more about Monroe. Monroe is one of my favourite characters and I appreciated the chance to learn more of his backstory and why he's a reformed Blutbad.

Second, knowing more about the history of the Grimms. There are short interludes which take place in the past and it was cool seeing the Grimms of history.

Third, the relative absence of Juliette. Sorry, but I'm not a Juliette fan.

That said, some things were weird. Hank was actually quite irritating in the book, with his inability to understand how the Wesen world works. I mean, Renard was actually more helpful and reasonable compared to him and that's saying a lot. He's still got Nick's back, though, and I guess that's what's important.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book. It was a short and easy read, and there was enough of a cliffhanger (or perhaps it was a reference to Diana? But that would be quite off the mark) that I'm interested in reading Book 2 of the series.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Way Home by Julian Barr

I'm not familiar with the Aeneid, although I have heard of Odysseus and the Trojan war. So when I read the synopsis of The Way Home, a retelling of the Aeneid, I was intrigued and thought it would be a good way to introduce myself to this aspect of the myth.

The Way Home follows the journey of Aeneas, a Trojan prince. It starts when the Greeks are ransacking the city, having been smuggled in by the giant horse (although I don't think Aeneas ever realised this is how they got in). Unfortunately, he didn't manage to save the royal family or his wife and ends up leading a band of refugees. And thus, their journey to find their new home begins.

At the same time, we see that this is part of a fight between Hera and Zeus. Hera wants to make her preferred city dominant, while Zeus has other plans (which involve Aeneas). The other gods are pulled in as they side with one or the other, or even switch allegiances.

I absolutely enjoyed this story. Although I didn't really know of Aeneas before, I have a translation of The Odessy before so I knew the other side of the myth. It was very interesting to see how Virgil retold the story from a relatively 'minor' character's viewpoint, and how that was, in turn, retold as The Way Home. I actually paused the story quite a lot to google certain characters or events and read more about it.

By the way, is anyone else shocked at how young Aeneas was when the story began? The book introduces his son, Julos, first and I thought he was in his twenties or something but then a few paragraphs later, I find that he's only nineteen! I know that was a product of the times but wow, the kid is extremely mature for his age. And I guess the book making his age clear at the beginning was a good move because I found myself giving him a lot of latitude after that.

Since this is a YA retelling, the language is simple and direct, which makes it a good introduction to the myth. I found it easy to empathise with Aeneas and his people, even though they lived thousands of years ago and thousands of kilometers away.

However, since this is the first in a trilogy, the book ends on a sort-of cliffhanger. It's not a very big one, but it did make me impatient for the second book. Perhaps I'll find one of the accessible translations of The Aeneid and read that while waiting.

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

When Lectus reviewed The Enchanted, I was intrigued. But, my library only had The Child Finder, which she also highly recommended, so I decided to borrow that.

The Child Finder is a unique take on the story of a missing child. It's told from two perspectives - the Child Finder, Naomi, and the Snow Girl, the missing child. Despite her intuitive style of investigating (she basically takes cues from the environment and the people and goes on hunches), Naomi has a very high success rate of finding missing children, something that makes sense given that she was one herself. Tasked to find Naomi, she starts investigating and finds herself drawn back into her past.

At the same time, the Snow Girl awakens in a cabin with no memory of herself. She lives with Mr. B, who can't read, can't write, and can't speak. Her side of the story is her journey through time and was pretty haunting.

That said, I found Snow Girl unconvincing at times, despite the cold and harsh nature of her story. I get that trauma can affect people differently, but Snow Girl is oddly mature in some aspects and lyrical that she didn't seem like a five year old (or eight year old) at all. If she was a little older (say ten or so), her thinking would have sounded more natural but her being five felt like it was pushing the bounds of believability.

Naomi's half of the story was interesting, although it wandered at times. I was expecting a deeper connection between Madison's disappearance and Naomi's past, which meant that I was somewhat disappointed when that wasn't the case. Yes, Naomi remembers something, but the two cases aren't linked and they don't really feel that similar. But, I did enjoy reading about Naomi and how she investigated so this isn't a huge gripe.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty interesting story. The two halves of the story came together very well and despite some minor issues, I found myself enjoying it very much.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery

I had to read something light after The Zenith so I decided to read Anne of the Island! This is the third book in the series and follow’s Anne as she moved away from her home to go to university.

I’m going to be very upfront and say that a big part of why I read this was to find out how Anne and Gilbert’s relationship would develop. And if you’re like me, well, the first half of the book doesn’t really touch on that but the second half does.

(My heart broke a bit before I read the end though)

Something I thought interesting about the book was it’s description of university life! Well, there weren’t much details but it seems somewhat similar (if less rowdy) than university today. I almost forgot that Anne was living about a hundred years ago when I read about her house hunting, living with housemates, etc.

There are also quite a few new interesting characters. The most memorable one was Phil - this seemingly scatter-brain and indecisive girl. I actually thought she was going to be annoying when I first met her in the book, but like Anne, I realised that she has her charms and all you need to do is treat her normally.

That said, I felt the lack of Diana, Marilla, Davy, and even Mrs Lynde quite a bit. While Anne does go home for the holidays and Diana even gets married (how time flies in the books), the bulk of the action still takes place away from Avonlea. Oh, and I must say that Dora, Davy’s twin became more entertaining in this book. In the previous book, she was basically a doll but here she gets a bit more space to be herself.

To be honest, given this book’s happy ending, I’m really scared of picking up the next one. The characters are simply growing up to fast and there are so many new ones in each book! What if some of the older characters get replaced or worse, die? Two characters in book one have already passed away and I’m not sure if I want to read more. But, I have been assured that it's worth it so I'll return to this series soon.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Zenith by Duong Thu Huong

After enjoying the first two Anne of Green Gables books, I decided to try something harder - one of the books that I’ve been thinking of reading for the SEA Reading Challenge. And now that I’ve finished it, I can confidently say that if not for this challenged, I would not have picked up this book or finished it.

The Zenith is a confusing story. As far as I can make out, there are two plot lines. One follows the aging president of Vietnam as he slowly dies in isolation, supposedly loved and respected but really under house arrest, and his relationship with one of his subordinates (who has his own relationship issues). The other follows a family in the Woodcutter’s Hamlet, as the father remarries and brings strife (and lots of gossip to the village).

As it turns out, the patriarch of the family in the woodcutter’s hamlet is the guy who died in the opening of the book. I’m sure that they referenced it somewhere at the start, but I didn’t make the connection until much later.

Looking back, I guess there was some action in the story, but it just felt so long. Everyone seemed inclined to make a speech about politics or sex or sex and politics/marital relationships which dragged the story out. I think that if all the speeches were cut out, the book would be half it’s length and at least twice as interesting.

Although I’m not sure if that would help because the story about the president bored me. The characters were unsympathetic and not very interesting, and it felt like the message of “all ideals will be corrupted by power and politics” was hammered into every speech. In fact, the times where I considered giving up on this book happened mostly during the section about the president and his party officials.

I suppose that if this book was only about the family in the Woodcutter’s Hamlet and without speeches, I would have enjoyed it a lot more. There is, after all, some romance and lots of family drama inside. But as it is, this book felt like a thinly veiled political essay and that isn’t really what I wanted to read

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery

I have finished the next book in the Anne of Green Gables series! This is also a really charming book, although it probably won’t make much sense if you haven’t read the first one.

Warning: Spoilers for Book 1

Anne of Avonlea picks up directly where Anne of Green Gables ended, with Anne starting her new job as the schoolmistress of the local school. Between the challenges of getting her students to like her and the arrival of twin children to the farm, Anne definitely has her hands full.

I’ve gotta say, I really miss the presence of Matthew here. He might have been quiet, but he was a huge presence in the first book and the first person who openly showed affection towards Anne. Marilla is definitely getting better at showing her love, but I do miss seeing Matthew do this best to spoil Anne.

But then again, the Anne in this book isn’t the lonely orphan of the first book. While she still loves to use her imagination and occasionally lets her feelings get the better of her, she is, on the whole, a more level-headed and mature individual. Which follows the theme of her growing up, but I do miss child Anne (although she’s between 16 to 18 here, which I feel is super young).

Oh yeah, and if you’re a Gilbert/Anne person like me (she finally buried the hatchet with him at the end of the first book), you should know that there isn’t much relationship development here. The book even explicitly says that while Anne is maturing, she’s very much still a child in the ways of love. And I guess it’s a strong reason for me to read the third book.

Overall, this is a very charming sequel to book 1. I was actually a bit worried that I wasn’t going to like all the new characters because I tend to enjoy having the same characters go on new adventures, but I found them all growing on me and I look forward to reading more about the people Anne befriends. I’ll just end my review with a quote that I thought was lovely:
"Living so that you beautify your name, even if it wasn't beautiful to begin with . . . making it stand in people's thoughts for something so lovely and pleasant that they never think of it by itself."
There are lots of quotable lines in the book (and the first one, come to think of it), but this was the one that stood out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

For some strange reason, I never read Anne of Green Gables as a kid. Loads of Enid Blyton, yes, and even Caddie Woodlawn, but no Anne. When the Netflix series came out, I watched the first two episodes and was interested enough to pick up the book.

Now I regret not reading it sooner!

If you’re like me and haven’t read the book OR watched the Netflix show (anyone else living under a rock too?), Anne of Green Gables is the story of a little orphan girl with red hair who gets adopted by an elderly pair of siblings.

To be honest, the story doesn’t sound like much, since it’s just episodes in Anne’s life. But L. M. Montgomery has such a talent for writing that I was pulled in from the very start! Everything Anne did was charming, even though she made a lot of mistakes.

(I am basically Miss Barry)

I suppose the reason that I like Anne is that she likes reading and writing and she has a hot temper, which I also have. The difference is that I don’t have half her imagination or her skill (or red hair). Seeing Anne grow up gradually made me so happy! Like Anne mentioned, she doesn’t really change who she is, she’s just “pruned down and branches out”. All the good in Anne is still there, but her weaknesses aren’t as obvious.

By the way, the dialogue here is fantastic. I think a good majority of the book is dialogue - Anne relaying what happened and how she feels. Normally, that would make me put the book down because I like reading about things happening rather than people telling me about them, but Anne’s way of speaking is so charming and vivid that I loved all her little speeches.

And it’s not just Anne, the dialogue for all characters was marvellous and made me feel like I really got to know them - especially Marilla and Matthew.

The book ends with Anne coming to the end of her childhood and looking forward to her new life. I really hope that the second book is as good as the first because I am going to read it straight away.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu

The first time I saw this book, a stranger was reading it in Japanese. I thought it looked interesting, but didn't give it a second thought. But after enjoying The Three Body Problem (which he translated) and having loved The Grace of Kings (which he wrote), I decided to pick this up. As you can probably guess, I had high expectations for this collection.

The stories in this collection are:

- The Book Making Habits or Select Species: This is just an exploration/worldbuilding piece on how other alien species might read. There isn’t any plot but it’s still a cute piece.

- State Change: I loved this one! It’s about Rina, this girl who’s soul is an ice-cube. Her life revolves around making sure her soul doesn’t melt, until she meets an interesting guy in the office. I felt that this was such a great story because it had a good plot with twist, great characters, and a unique setting.

- The Perfect Match: Think of Google’s ledger, if it came to life. But, the story questions of the huge company running the internet is good or bad, which adds another layer of nuance to this story about preferences, algorithms, and free will. Another story that I loved.

- Good Hunting: A story about hunting hulijing and what happens when Western ‘magic’ invades. An East vs West clash kinda story but very captivating.

- Literomancer: Another East meets West story, but this time of an American girl who moves to Taiwan and meets a Literomancer, a man who divines meanings from words. It adds in politics to turn the charming story into a sad one.

- Simulacrum: Another very strong story that I really enjoyed, centered around a father and daughter, about how holograms, recording memories, and what it means to betray another.

- The Regular: Someone is killing high class prostitutes. Ruth Law is asked to find out why. I almost skipped this because the first section is pretty graphic but it turned out to be a good crime story.

- The Paper Menagerie: About a half-Chinese boy who tries to reject his Chinese half, and his mother who makes living, moving paper animals for him. It’s a good story, but somehow, it didn’t touch me.

- An Advanced Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition: I did not understand this one.

- The Waves: A story about people on the space ship and the choice between immortality and letting your kid grow up. I felt that it started strong but I lost interest halfway, probably because the ending wasn’t really related to the beginning.

- Mono no Aware: It’s the story of this sole Japanese guy on an American spaceship that managed to escape the destruction of earth. Despite the fact that parts of this took place in Kitakyushu and Kagoshima, I didn’t feel like the characters were there at all (I know this is alternate reality but on some level, it should at least feel like the Kyushu I lived in). Which means that I don’t know why he picked a Japanese main character when any other would do.

- All the Flavours, A Tale of Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War, in America: I didn’t think I would like this but I did! It’s about someone who probably is Guan Yu, moving to America to pan for gold, and the little girl he makes friends with. A good story about how different cultures can meld together.

- A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel: An alternate history story where Japan became a world power peacefully and there wasn’t WWII. This story didn’t really engage me for some reason. And I was quite puzzled by these lines:

“ “Hoka no okyakusan ga imasu yo. Nani wo chuumon shimasu ka?” Her Japanese is quite good [...] though she is not using the honorific.”

I didn’t quite understand the “she is not using the honorific” line. The Japanese was in standard Japanese, the kind that is fine for strangers and that I’ve heard in many restaurants. So I don’t get why it’s singled out. If the author is referring to “keigo”, then yeah I get it but I would think that if they were going the five-star service way, there’s no way that she would have said “hoka no okyakusan ga imasu yo”, even in the ultra-polite form.

I feel like if I said that at my former workplace, the managers would have told me off for making the customer uncomfortable because we are not to rush them.

- The Litigation Master and the Monkey King: I loved this historical fiction story. It’s based on the Yangzhou Massacre and asks the question: “is it more important to do what’s right, or to keep yourself alive?”

- The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary: The last story in this anthology, it’s about a Chinese-American and Japanese-American couple that claim they can get people to literally experience history. I’m not sure if it’s because of the narrative form, but I did not get this story and ended up tuning out halfway.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good collection! There were a few stories that I just didn’t get, but that’s more on my part than the story’s (I can see that the story is well-written, but it just did not resonate with me emotionally). I would definitely recommend it to fans of science fiction and fantasy.

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Moment on the Edge edited by Elizabeth George

I’ve been reading this over the past few days and finally finished it! The nice thing about anthologies is that it’s easy to read it in bits and pieces, which makes it really good for commute reading.

A Moment on the Edge is a collection of crime stories over the past 100 years. This book doesn’t just feature noted crime writers, but stories from a wider range of authors. All stories “share in common a desire to explore mankind in a moment on the edge”.

Each story is introduced with a brief biography of the author, but to be honest, I skipped those. My interest is solely in the stories, which were:

- A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell: Martha Hale is called to the scene of her crime. While she and the Sheriff’s wife are taken lightly by the men, the two women get to the heart of the matter and must decide - do they tell what they know? A very interesting story and a good start to the anthology.

- The Man Who Knew How by Dorothy L. Sayers: this makes me want to read more Sayers. A clever story with a twist, about a man who claims to have discovered the perfect way to kill.

- I Can Find my Way Out by Ngaio Marsh: A murder mystery set in a theatre, I found this to be a bit confusing. I think it’s because of the number of characters in the story.

- The Summer People by Shirley Jackson: This was a creepy story about whether a location is trying to kill the two main characters or if they’re just paranoid.

- St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning by Charlotte Armstrong: I thought that this was confusing at the start but it had such an excellent twist that I ended up liking it very much.

- The Purple is Everything by Dorothy Salisbury Davis: This wasn’t a murder mystery but about art theft. It’s a pretty good character study type of story.

- Money to Burn by Margery Allingham: I’ve heard of this author but I don’t remember if I’ve read her stuff! I thought this was a very tightly written story, although I had to read the ending twice to understand it. I definitely need to look for books by her!

- Nice Place to Stay by Nedra Tyre: This turned the crime story on its head by looking at things from the perspective of the criminal. I really enjoyed this one!

- Clever and Quick by Christianna Brand: There are murders in this and it’s not till the end that you get to see who comes up on top in this. Would highly recommend this too.

- Country Lovers by Nadine Gordimer: To be honest, I didn’t quite get why this was a crime story. Sounded like love gone wrong.

- The Irony of Hate by Ruth Rendell: This story is the confession of a killer and I have to say, I did not expect it. I should probably pick up another Ruth Rendell novel soon.

- Sweet Baby Jenny by Joyce Harrington: I don’t know if it’s the dialect style of this, but I found this a little hard to read. I managed to understand what was going on, but only towards the end.

- Wild Mustard by Marcia Miller: A tragic story, though like with Country Lovers, I don’t quite understand how this is a crime story.

- Jemima Shore at the Sunny Grave by Antonia Fraser: Set in the Caribbean, this story has its protagonist investigate the death of the women she came to interview. The story started off well but I did not see the denouement coming or enough clues to guess at it.

- The Case of Pietro Andromache by Sara Paterson: I really liked this one! It involves a statue during WWII, duelling doctors, an a private investigator determined to help her friend. I need to go find more from this author too!

- Afraid All the Time by Nancy Pickard: A leading up to, but stopping just before, a tragic event. I feel like although the ending stopped at the climax, it didn’t feel that way because I never did find out what happened.

- The Young Shall See Visions, and the Old Dream Dreams by Kristine Kathryn Rush: This wasn’t my cup of tea, mostly because parts of the story seemed irrelevant to the crime. (Maybe because it’s a short story?)

- A Predatory Woman by Sharyn McCrumb: You have a reporter doing anything to get her story and a murderess who’s served her time. I wonder who the predatory woman in the title is?

- Jack be Quick by Barbara Paul: I really enjoyed this historical mystery, which imagines a solution to the Jack the Ripper serial killings (and why they stopped)

- Ghost Station by Carolyn Wheat: I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this story, but it turns out I did. It looks at women in the police force, alcoholism, and family.

- New Moon and Rattlesnakes by Wendy Hornsby: Lise is both on the run and looking for revenge. I didn’t know what was happening at first, but once I did, the story grabbed me and didn’t let go.

- Death of a Snowbird by J. A. Lance: Didn’t quite get this one, to be honest.

- The River Mouth by Lia Matera: Didn’t get this one either - and it felt like the protagonist navel-gazed a fair bit.

- A Scandal in Winter by Gillian Linscott: This is a tale involving an elderly Sherlock Holmes and it’s great fun! Really enjoyed reading this.

- Murder-Two by Joyce Carol Oates: I’ve heard of Joyce Carol Oates and had high expectations of this, but the stream of consciousness style of narration just confused me.

- English Autumn - American Fall by Minette Walters: The last story in the anthology, it was unfortunately rather weak. I think this is in part because of its lack of length because I didn’t connect to the characters and had absolutely no idea what was going on (and no memory of what it was about less than an hour after I read it).

Overall, this anthology was a good one. While I felt like it faltered a little towards the end, most of the stories were varied and excellent. While I knew of some of the authors, I haven’t heard of others and I got so many author recommendations from this!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Thirst for Empire by Erika Rappaport

I first heard about this book from NPR's article "From Raucous To Ritzy: A Brief History Of Christmas Tea" (would recommend this if you want to know about more about how Christmas tea came about!). The book sounded interesting and since the NLB had it, I decided to borrow it.

Unfortunately, I didn't realise how thick and academic this would be. It took me quite a few days just to read through the whole thing once, and then I had to go through it a second time to make sure I roughly understood what it said. Or perhaps this is just an indication of how rusty my brain has gotten.

Although this book is subtitled "how tea shaped the modern world", it really is very much focused on the British empire. America, China, and India are fairly extensively discussed, but my impression is that this is only in relation to Britain and the British tea industry.

As you're probably aware, tea is from China but for some reason, it's also seen as a very British drink (in particular, black tea). This book traces the journey of tea as its status changes from foreign import to a symbol of Britishness, going into things like how the taste for tea was created, how this influenced Imperial Britain, and even the role of tea in the Great Depression and World War II.

I talked about parts of the book in more detail in my previous posts on Tea and Temperance and the history of Fake Tea, but another thing I learned from this book was how the British moved from Chinese to Indian teas. I had always thought that Robert Fortune's discovery of tea adulteration was the main cause of the shift to black, Indian teas, but this book showed me that there was also a concerted effort to promote 'Imperial' (Indian) teas. In fact, most consumers didn't like the taste of Indian teas at first, and some tea shops ended up blending Chinese and Indian teas to make them more palatable!

One more thing that I found interesting was the subtle shift in the image of tea. During the heyday of the British empire, Indian teas were sold as 'Imperial' products and that consumers would be helping the empire by buying them. However, "by the late 1930s, it was no longer clear that empire added value. Instead, health and bodily renewal became watchwords of the day, shaping advertising and many other facets of European culture." What this means is that tea was introduced as a healthy Chinese drink, and then through a series of marketing campaigns marketed as a British product, and then when that failed, went back to being a healthy drink that would revive you. In a way, it's come full circle (but then again, really not since the British public didn't go back to drinking Chinese teas).

If you're interested in the history of tea and how it relates to Britan and the British empire, I think you'd really enjoy this book. It's fairly dry in tone but it has so much information crammed into it that after reading it a couple of times, I think you'll find that your view of tea has been changed.

P.s. This review was first posted at my other blog, Eustea.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Princess by Jane Dismore

I was intrigued as soon as I saw this book on NetGalley because I don't know anything about Queen Elizabeth before she became queen (I didn't even know how she looked like when she was young!). So when I heard that this book also contained unpublished material from letters and interviews, I decided to request for it.

Princess is a sensitively written account of Queen Elizabeth's early life. It starts off with the moment she became queen (very sadly, she was one of the last people to know) and then backtracks to when she was born before going forward from there. It covers her childhood, marriage, and life as a newlywed.

I was actually pretty surprised at how normally her parents raised her. You always hear of extravagant lifestyles but it seems like Queen Elizabeth and her sister were raised to be as down to earth as possible. Part of it may have been the times where they grew up, but it seems like a part of it is also due to her parents and their personality. I felt that they had a very genuine and loving relationship, which was very touching.

Also touching was her relationship with Prince Phillip. Because she eventually marries him, the book does touch on key moments of his life before they met. There isn't anything scandalous in their love story, but it's a very sweet account.

The one thing that surprised me while reading was the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. I didn't really have any views about them because I knew nothing about them except that the King abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, so it was a shock to find out that both of them had pro-Nazi views. I’m definitely going to side-eye anyone who praises Wallis Simpson now.

Overall, this was an interesting and informative account of Queen Elizabeth’s early life. The only thing I wish it added were photos of key moments - while they are probably just one google search away, it would be nice to be able to flip to them in the book. Hopefully it’s just my advance copy that doesn’t have pictures because I think it would add a lot to have them.

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

Friday, August 3, 2018

Educated by Tara Westover

I heard so many good things about this book that as soon as I saw that the NLB had an ecopy, I placed a hold on it. And all the rave reviews were true - this did not disappoint.

Educated is the memoir of Tara Westover. She was raised by a paranoid father who saw government conspiracies and a mother who drifted into alternative healing (oddly enough, her mother never indicated that chakras and essential oils were incompatible with Mormonism).

Due to this unusual family dynamic, Tara never went to school or even socialised much with people her age. Luckily, she had an amazing voice and brothers who managed to go to university, which gave her a longing for the wider world. So although she was afraid that her actions would betray her family, she started teaching herself to read.

This book was simply absorbing and I couldn’t put it down. Tara and her brother Tyler are amazing for the way they managed to gain an education. But the ways that her family stayed trapped was heartbreaking, especially the way they let her older brother Shawn rule the family with his temper. Their emotional manipulation was really off the charts and my heart broke whenever I saw Tara doubt herself.

This book was also a hopeful one because I saw how people would come to Tara’s aid when she needed it most. People that stood out were her bishop in her ward, who gave her a space to talk it out and got her monetary support, as well as the various professors who recognised her academic talent and encouraged her.

Oh yeah, and even though Tara and her community are all Mormon, this book isn’t about really about religion. While Tara does struggle with some tenets of her faith, she never explicitly casts it off, instead impartially talking about the Mormons and non-Mormons who helped her. It’s clear that religion wasn’t the sole or even main reason for her childhood (though it did play a big part) - her dad’s mental illness probably was.

I would highly, highly recommend this book. It is an amazingly well-written read about how one woman managed to overcome her childhood with the support of people in her life. And do you know what I want to read next? Her PhD thesis. It sounds fascinating.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A Tale of Two Murders by Heather Redmond

I requested this from NetGalley because the cover was pretty and it’s a Dicken’s inspired novel! I like (and know enough) about his work that fanfic like this is interesting and something that I would like to try reading.

In A Tale of Two Murders, Charles Dickens is drawn into the role of a detective when the girl living next to his editor is murdered. Because another girl in the neighbourhood died the same way a year ago, and stricken by the lovely Kate Hogarth, his editor’s daughter, Dickens decides to find the truth of what happened.

Though he isn’t part of the upper class, the mother of the dead girl, Lady Lugoson, also suspects murder and she helps to open doors. However, Dickens soon comes across family secrets and he must decide which of the many suspects is the actual culprit.

To be honest, this book started off a little slowly for me. For some reason, I found the language a little clunky, which made immersing myself in the story and the time period harder. It was only after a few chapters that I managed to get into the rhythm of the story and start to wonder about who killed poor Miss Lugoson.

Apart from the language, one thing that made it harder for me to get into the story was that the murder plot wasn’t the most dominant. I felt that the start of the book was preoccupied with Dicken’s budding relationship with Kate Hogarth and that influenced his actions more than getting to the truth. While their romance is very sweet and I admire Kate for knowing what she wants and sticking to it, it felt like half or more the story was a romance, which wasn’t what I wanted to read.

Speaking of Kate, I really liked her character! She’s a sensible young lady, and it was refreshing to see the female lead portrayed as equally capable as the male lead. Although she couldn’t be there when Dickens made some important discoveries because they weren’t married, I like how she spoke her mind and wasn’t afraid to contradict Dickens.

I’m not too sure about how accurate the portrayal of Dickens was, though. He seems like a idealist romantic here, but I have read that his marriage didn’t go very smoothly, so I do wonder how accurately the book portrayed him.

Overall, this was a pretty enjoyable book. It took some time for me to get into the story, but I enjoyed it once I was caught up. If you’re a fan of Charles Dickens, you’ll probably want to give it a try.

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