Friday, August 18, 2017

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Brandon

This was one of the books mentioned in Not Just Jane, and I was curious as to why it was the book of its time. So I decided to try and do a readalong on my dayre. Long story short, despite the fact that I thought this would take a few days to finish, I read the whole thing in one day. And because I was jotting down my thoughts as I go along, this review is going to be different from my normal style.

First impressions:

The start is a bit slow because there's so much description going on (a trait of that period, I guess), but I like that the fact there is a secret is introduced by the end of the first chapter. I also thought it was pretty interesting that Lady Audley was presented as a Mary Sue and almost immediately had that negated. Now, I might see all Mary Sues as Lady Audley — hiding some kind of secret. If it gets me to tolerate them, then I'll have a lot more books to read, which may not be a good thing, given my huge TBR list.

Also, the language is manageable for now. It actually reads really well, and I didn't feel any resistance like when I tried to read the mysteries of Uldopho (I don't think I finished the first chapter of that, although I might try again someday.)

Midway thoughts:

I don't know if it's because I've read about the book and the author but I'm pretty sure that I know what's going to happen. Still, it's quite fun to see how it happens. By the way, I found it pretty interesting that the blonds vs brunettes thing is brought up here! Looks like the rivalry is much older than just Betty and Veronica. Also, I'm feeling a lot more sympathetic to Lady Audley than I expected because she really is an interesting character. So definitely not a Mary Sue. Alicia, her stepdaughter is pretty interesting too! I'm looking forward to the big showdown I guess is going to happen!

Oh and there's this male character called Robert who reminds me of one of those young man in an Agatha Christie novel, only sexist! Mostly because of his rant.

The dialogue can be a bit stiff at times (or maybe that was what people used to sound like?) but it's still manageable. There are also some monologues that I think could definitely be cut out, but it's not too bad.

Final thoughts:
The second half was actually really absorbing and despite my plans to finish the rest of the book the next day, I ended up finishing it in one night. That's not to say it isn't without its flaws. It could definitely have been shorter (admittedly this is more of a personal preference) and I found Robert quite irritating towards the end.

Like I mentioned before, I'm a lot more sympathetic to Lady Audley than I expected so that may have played a part. And perhaps more importantly, despite the fact that this whole story is about Lady Audley, it is told almost entirely through Robert's POV. Lady Audley does have her monologue but it's basically sandwiched between Robert's opinions of her and it's not very complimentary.

And that is a shame because Lady Audley is a very unique protagonist (for her time, and maybe even now because female anti-heroes aren't that common) and it ends up being told through the eyes of a male and described in overly simplistic terms. I can't help but feel that if the story was told through Lady Audley's POV it would have been a lot more exciting (unreliable narrator woohoo) and maybe a different ending because she has quite a personality.

Lady Audley's Secret does feel a little dated in places and I'm not too thrilled with the ending, but overall it is a gripping read and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It definitely doesn't feel like a 500 page book (on my ereader) to me. It's illogical to do so because I have some complaints, but this is a 5/5 read for me.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Peranakan Chinese Home by Ronald G. Knapp

I have no idea why, but I thought this would be one of those simple introductions to an aspect of Peranakan Chinese culture, much like the books by Asiapac. But this turned out to be a more scholarly work that provided a deep inside into the houses of Peranakan Chinese.

If you haven't heard of them, Peranakans refer mainly to people who are the offspring of a local and a foreigner in South East Asia. If you've lived in Singapore a few years back, you might have seen the show "The Little Nonya" which was based on Peranakan culture. In common use (or at least how I always understood it), it most often refers to people who were the offspring of Malay and Chinese parents (often Malay mothers and Chinese fathers). The book also has a whole chapter dedicated to discussing the definition of the term "Peranakan", so it's clear that the most commonly understood definition may not be the most accurate.

And from there, the book goes on to explore in detail the Peranakan house, looking at its form, symbols, the reception hall, the courtyard, the ancestral hall, the living areas, the bedroom, and the kitchen. Every chapter is lavishly illustrated (you'll want either a print copy or an e-reader that can show coloured photographs and not just black and white text for this) which really helped me to understand what the author is talking about.

The pictures in the book draw on Peranakan Chinese homes in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, and has both breadth and depth. It was interesting to see how these houses were similar despite the fact that they were built in different countries and influenced by different cultures.

While the tone is scholarly and a little intimidating, I think that anyone interested in learning about Peranakan culture should read this book. It's very detailed and combined with the pictures, it gave me a more in-depth understanding of Peranakan culture and what it was like.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

I'm not sure when NetGalley decided to approve my request for this book, but I was super excited to read this because I enjoyed both Room and Slammerkin!

The Wonder is less like Room and more like Slammerkin because it's historical fiction. Inspired by the tales of the 'Fasting Girls', who were supposed to have done without food for long periods, it follows Lib, a nurse who is charged with making sure that Anna is surviving without any food.

Since Lib accepted the job without knowing what it entailed, she is shocked by the requirements. But as a nurse trained by Florence Nightingale herself, she is determined to be careful, methodical and to expose Anna as the fraud she is. But as she spends more time with Anna, she realises that the girl really does believe that she doesn't need to it.

The only problem is - her body is dying from starvation.

I'm not going to say more and reveal the ending but I thought this was an absorbing book. It's told in five long parts (really, don't start a part/chapter unless you know you have the time to finish it) and even though the events all take place in a week, it feels like forever and yet no time has passed. Through her interactions with Anna, Lib is forced to confront her own demons.

The characters here are well-written. Apart from Anna and Lib, I found that even minor characters have layers to them. Who is impartial? Who has an agenda? Well, in the end, I was so angry at many of the characters (who appeared quite innocent at the start) but the truth of who they were felt believable (if sad).

Oh and this is one of the books where the setting is practically a character. The story takes place in Ireland, with all its confusion that it gives to Lib with her modern way of thinking, and I cannot imagine the story taking place anywhere else. The Irish characters are clearly shaped by the land that they live in and their actions are influenced by their culture and heritage. Every time a character that was not Lib spoke or acted, there was the sense that this was Ireland.

I would definitely recommend this book to fans of historical fiction or people just looking for an engaging story featuring strong characters. A word of warning: the book does deal with very dark themes, especially towards the end. Do not expect this to be an easy read, although I guess the premise would have told you that already.

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales of Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World edited by Maria Tatar

Finally picked up this book, which I got aaaaalllllll the way back in June when I went back to Singapore. I've been 'saving' it for no particular reason and I can sort of see why. This was a good read and the anticipation of reading it made it even better.

(Also I just found out that NLB has an ecopy but I love that I have my own. Some books you just want to own)

Anyway, this collection of stories really is from around the world. Apart from the usual Western suspects, I saw stories from India, Japan, Ghana, Myanmar and much more. The only (to me really obvious) country that was left out was China. I mean, how can you miss Madame White Snake or any number of tales about humans and foxes? But I digress.

The stories are organised by topic, and they are:

1. Model couples from ancient times

2. Charismatic couples in the popular imagination

3. Animal grooms

4. Animal brides

The first two categories had tales that were familiar to me, but most of the stories in the latter two categories weren't. I enjoyed them all.

What makes this book stand out from other collections is the introduction! There is a very interesting introduction by Maria Tatar, covering things like classification, background to the tales and what they mean to humans. And there is a one-paragraph introduction to each tale, which provided background and a little bit of commentary without any spoilers.

If you are a fan of fairy tales, you will want a copy of this book. Apart from the introductions, there is real value in being able to read and compare tales like this from a variety of cultures. They show that we aren't as different as we might think (although obviously we aren't all identical because that would be boring)