Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Any book that is compared to Coraline is one that I will be trying. Sometimes, literary comparisons are off, but this one was great - fun and a little spooky and with cats.

The Shadows follows the journey of Olive as she and her mathematician parents move into their new house, which comes with creepy furniture. Unlike her parents, Olive isn't good at maths (I feel a connection to her already). Luckily for her, she doesn't need maths for what happens.

It turns out that this house is... not normal. Olive can enter paintings and talk to the people inside, and there are three cats that talk to her too. Unfortunately, cats will be cats and their hints were a little too cryptic. As a result, Olive accidentally unleashes evil onto the house and has to remedy it.

The book has a fantastic protagonist in Olive. She's likable and plucky, and I liked that she got herself out of the mistakes she made (also, she didn't like everyone, but still apologised when she was wrong). She made a great team with the three cats, whom I'd like to meet.

The cats are: Horatio, who's a bit cranky and cryptic, Leopold, who's very polite and I just want to cuddle him, and Harvey, who takes on different personalities and serves as comedic relief sometimes.

There's also Morton, a strange boy who isn't who he seems to be. He's also a little annoying so I don't have much to say about him. He was one of the people who introduced Olive to this odd world, though, so he is a fairly important character.

The book is apparently part of a series, but it reads well as a standalone. There is one loose end, but it doesn't make me want to read the second book immediately. (And I'm torn on whether I want to read the second book because I have no idea if it's as good as this one.)

Oh, and this isn't as scary as Coraline, although it is a bit creepy. But I do agree that fans of Coraline will like this. At least I did.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - Last Night I Dreamed of Peace by Dang Thuy Tram

Hey everyone! I'm now in my actual department (second day!) and am slowly getting used to work. Which means I haven't had much time to read, although I try to make up for that on the weekend. Right now, I'm slowly reading Last Night I Dreamed of Peace as part of my SEA reading challenge. It's a diary of a doctor who worked for North Vietnam during the Vietnam war.

My teaser:
"With only a few short minutes in the middle of the crowd, I somehow comprehend and feel what those dear eyes are saying to me: We are silent, but we understand each other entirely.  
Good-bye, dearest dark eyes."
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, April 17, 2017

The Perils of Privilege by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

I'm not very familiar with the idea of "privilege", so I decided it would be a good idea read up on it, especially since I see notions of it creeping into Singapore culture (the word "Chinese privilege" has been appearing a few times). I am normally wary of importing American social justice methods wholesale, because it seems to have led to a more divided America which makes me question its efficacy and more importantly, because Singapore is not America and we need to adjust for that.

But I am digressing. I spent one day just reading the book and writing out my thoughts on it. Normally, I'd copy the review over, but it's much, much longer than anything I've ever done, so I'll just link to it.

The Perils of Privilege is an introduction and critique of the privilege framework and the phenomenon of calling out the privilege of others (abbreviated as YPIS - Your Privilege is Showing). If I were to pick one quote to summarise the whole book, it would be:
"On this much, the privilege framework is accurate: Society has hierarchies, and some categories of people are - all things equal - luckier than others. Those who deny that "privilege" exists in those broad, sweeping areas where you need your head rather deep in the sand not to have noticed [...] need not so much a privilege check as an introduction to reality. 
The trouble is that those hierarchies don't explain all injustice, and that they don't always correspond to the hierarchies that "count" according to the privilege framework."
The book uses YPIS to discuss a wide range of things issues from the 2016 American election to cultural appropriation (like the Kimono exhibit from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts). I really liked these quotes from the discussion on the kimono controversy (if you didn't know, a few Asian-Americans were upset when a replica of a kimono worn in a painting by Monet was made for visitors to try on):
"According to news reports, Japanese observers were partly baffled, but also annoyed at having their plight, not so much appropriated, as invented by other East Asians. Can Chinese Americans by offended on behalf of Japanese people who, when consulted, are not actually offended? 
Yet a further, ignored, angle is the question of whether it's offensive (or even inaccurate) to suggest that Japanese people are somehow underdogs with respect to white Americans in the twenty-first century. 
The appropriation discussion is thus a microcosm of the privilege critique more generally. Despite being ostensibly about social justice, it ends up reinforcing and maybe even inventing hierarchies."
To continue summarising the book would make this review far too long (the link above will lead to the full summary), but in short, I think this is something that everyone should read because the concept of "privilege" is something that has left American shores and traveled around the world. The book uses many examples to explain what the privilege framework is and how it can be problematic.

As for me, I think that the privilege framework should stay in academia. It is a valid way of seeing things, but I think this victim hierarchy has a way of diverting attention from the real problem.

Let's call a spade a spade, and not by a different name. I sincerely hope that the fledgling privilege movement in Singapore (which seems to be a wholesale importation of the American framework, but with the names of the privileged change) is discarded for a method that is more accurate and less divisive than the privilege call outs.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Philosophy and Terry Pratchett by Jacob Held and James South

I read this on a long bus trip, and found out that it's not light enough to be travel reading material - I will definitely have to reread this one day to more fully absorb everything.

Anyway, Philosophy & Terry Pratchett is a collection of essays divided into four categories:
1. Self-perception, Narrative and Identity (4 essays)
2. Social and Political Philosophy (3 essays)
3. Ethics and the Good Life (4 essays)
4. Logics and metaphysics. (2 essays)

Some essays read like an essay analysing Discworld, while others read as though Discworld was added to a discussion on philosophy. On the whole, though, I found parts two and three to be the most interesting ones, although that's probably because of the topic than the writing style. In particular, essays on the Witches on Lancre and Death tended to be the most interesting ones, no matter which category they were in.

You won't need to have an understand of philosophy to read this, though it will be helpful, but you'll want to have read most (if not all) of all the Discworld books before reading this. I haven't read a few and didn't get the reference to certain plot elements.

This is review is rather short but there isn't much to say. If you're a Discworld fan and are interested in exploring the different ways that we can view the Disc, then there's a good chance that you'll be interested in it (assuming you don't mind some academic language).