Monday, July 24, 2017

The Anatomy of Murder by the Detection Club

This is my second Detection Club book and I liked it a lot more than the first one I read (while was Ask a Policeman). Unlike Ask a Policeman, which was a round robin novel, this is a collection of true crime stories written by notable crime writers. To be honest I only recognise Dorothy Sayers because I'm not that well read and tend to stick to a few authors but I really enjoyed all the stories here.

The cases covered here are:

Death of Henry Kinder, written by Helen Simpson
Constance Kent by John Rhode
The Case of Adelaide Bartlett by Margaret Cole
An Impression of the Landru Case by E. R. Punshon
The Murder of Julia Wallace by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Rattenbury Case by Francis Iles
A New Zealand Tragedy by Freeman Wills Crofts

Out of all the cases, the only one that I've heard of is the one about Constance Kent, and only because I've been wanting to read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale (round of applause for me remembering an author's name)

Each author has their own take on the story but they generally recap the case and then add their views on it. And I'm really amazed that they fit it into a few pages because they felt like really good recaps. I would have read a book about each case.

This makes me a lot more eager to continue reading more from the Detection Club and their members. I would recommend this to anyone who's a fan of mystery and/or true crime. There is also a bibliography if you want to read more.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Used and Rare by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

I haven't re-read this in ages but yesterday's book reminded me of it and luckily, it was on the the books that I brought over to Japan with me.

Used and Rare is the story of how the two authors got into book collecting. It all starts with a bet to see who can get the better birthday present within a budget. Nancy gets a lovely hardback copy of War and Peace and that not only allows her to win the bet, but sparks an interest in used books.

At first, they are content with lovely copies of hardbacks and don't care about whether it's a rare book (in fact, they avoid rare books because they think it's overpriced). But then they find a first edition of a book that's 'haunted' them for years and that gets them interested in rare books and points of issue.

Points of issue are basically the things (like typos and other mistakes) that differentiate one book from another. And apparently, you can differentiate between a first edition first printing and a second printing from it because you can't just rely on the words 'first edition'.

What makes this book interesting is the way they mix personalities and books. The dealers are interesting folk and I'd love to meet them, and the books are discussed in a way that was informative and did not interrupt the flow of the narrative. The only 'major' thing I disagree with them is that I liked Modern Book Collecting and didn't find the prose dry.

Re-reading this reminded me that this was the book that first introduced me to Josephine Tey, and contributed to the "TBR pile that may never be read" (especially books that aren't popular today). And I still want to read them - I just have to find them first. Perhaps I should go to Project Gutenberg and see if any of the books are there.

This makes me want to re-read The Yellow Lighted Bookshop and The King's English, both books about bookselling and books that I also brought over to Japan (it's amazing that I didn't go over the luggage limit). The only thing is that I have a pile of books (and ARCs from NetGalley) that I haven't read.

Still, if you're a fan of stories and books, you'll enjoy this. The author's love of books and stories shine through and it is an easy and fairly informative read.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Modern Book Collecting by Robert A. Wilson

To start with something completely unrelated to the book, I now enjoy lunch on my own. I get time to read and play phone games without being rude, and half an hour reading time is quite valuable nowadays. So the previous book I read (Once Upon a Spine), though it was not my favourite read, made me want to read more about collecting books. So I picked up Modern Book Collecting, which is actually in my NLB TBR list.

So I have always liked the idea of collecting books. And while I think this book is the most practical book I've seen on how to get started (got to go and check because I think I own a book on the experiences collecting books?), it has also convinced me that I'm not going to be a serious collected. Most of the time, I'm fine with owning an ebook. The medium doesn't matter as much as the story.

Most of the time.

In certain cases, I get emotionally attached to covers and then I must get those. Like the Graveyard Book (had to get the edition that I first read - I think on ROCS? Can't remember but for some reason I love that cover), Fahrenheit 451 (Sec 3 and 4 lit book!) and a scant few others, none of which are first editions. So I shall happily resign myself to just amassing books rather than being a collector.

That said, this was a fascinating and easy read (plus each chapter is relatively short so I picked it up whenever I had time and finished it in two days). The author clearly loves books and it shows through the numerous stories that he has about his collection. He's also no book snob, which I appreciate.

The book (now we finally get to the book!) covers topics like what to collect (by author, by topic, etc), the merits of collecting unknown authors, the best ways of buying books (dealers vs authors vs secondhand shops and thrift stores), how to identify first editions, and even if books are worth it as an investment. And there's even a look into how a book is made (not sure how accurate it is now) which I found fascinating.

One thing I picked up is that it's very rare to find an undervalued book in a second hand bookstore because the owners tend to know if stuff is valuable, but it's possible to do so in a thrift shop/garage sale, especially if the people in charge aren't familiar with the value of books. Of course, things might have changed because this book is probably more than 30(?) years old.

Oh and this book actually has illustrations about the parts of the book so I actually can follow what the author is talking about. The information on how books can get damaged and the discussion on how to store them will probably be useful to any book lover, because no one wants to see their precious books disintegrate.

The fifth appendix is a list of internet resources (not sure if it's a recent edition but yay) so I will be checking that out. Especially the one that seems to be a sort of guide - lists I'll probably skip.

This book has made me want to read more about collecting books and serious collectors, even though my own collection will only be for reading and sentimental purposes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Once Upon a Spine by Kate Carlisle

I really wanted to like this, because it's a 'bibliophile mystery' but (oh no there's a but) it was just meh. For me, the story seemed confused about which direction and the protagonist and her boyfriend were a bit too close to Mary-Sue and Gary-Stu for me.

Before I go into that, here's a brief plot summary (without spoilers). Brooklyn finds a dead body when she goes to look for her shoe repair guy. Apparently, this is quite a regular occurrence and the police let her and her fiancé Derek (who coincidentally owns a security firm so he can basically go anything needed) do their own investigation on the side. And Derek and Brooklyn's parents are meeting for the very first time.

I actually liked the parts about books and thought that the way rare copies of Alice and Wonderland were tied in with the mystery was clever. But, the Book also chose to ramble in a few directions, such as devoting a lot of time to descriptions of pie (I like food too but now I want to read about books and murders) and making the subplot of the parents meeting almost as big as the mystery. I really would have preferred it if all of that was cut down.

As for characters, Brooklyn and Derek are almost too perfect. You need them to do something and they have that exact skill. And they're both rich too so there's really no need to root for them because they already have it all. Or perhaps I'm just being overly picky because of how everything falls into place for them despite them doing some pretty ridiculous (and probably illegal) things.

(Slight spoiler alert) At one point in the book, they break into a house and take something. And keep in mind that they have a very willing inspector friend who does almost anything they ask so this is actually unnecessary, a point proved when the inspector gets said thing for them (and also there's a ridiculous amount of respect for Derek because he was a commander. It almost felt like the police worked for them).

Oh, and I did roll my eyes at a few points. Like when Derek's father asks her to call him by his first name and she gets all "I FEEL THE LOVE". I mean, it's the first meeting and unless I'm wrong there was no opposition to their relationship at all. I don't understand the reaction at all.

Last point, before I forget. There was A LOT of explaining in the book. It was so obvious that this was part of a series because of the way Brooklyn over-explained things and very explicitly referred to past mysteries. This might have worked in third but it was written in first so it felt off to me. I certainly don't greet my coworker and have my inner thought process be: "XYZ is my coworker and mentor. She has (insert description) and is (insert opinion)." That happened quite a lot at the start which annoyed me.

Ok this is a very complain-y review but it's not that bad. I mean, I finished the book (and I've been stopping things that I don't like lately so that has to count for something).

Although now that I've written the review, I don't know if I should give it two or three stars later on Goodreads and Netgalley) because of the ratio of positive to negative things. Maybe I'll give it three for the sections on books...

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

I got this book when I heard I was going to be in sales and wanted to study some of the principles of selling. Turns out this isn't directly applicable but it was still an interesting read! Like the title says, this book is all about what makes us say "yes" to salesmen. There are basically six principles:

1. Reciprocation: used most infamously by the Hare Krishna people, if someone does something for you, you feel obliged to do something in return for them. I guess if you're doing flag day, you can try giving people the sticker first then asking for donations?

2. Commitment and Consistency: we are creatures of habit and it shows. If I say "I like animal" and the next minute someone from the SPCA comes looking for donations, I am much more likely to give because 'animal lover' is now part of my identity.

3. Social Proofs: it's the lemming thing, where we feel compelled to do or buy whatever else others are doing or buying.

4. Liking: this one is pretty intuitive too. It's much harder to say no to someone you like but a lot easier to do the same to someone you don't know or perhaps don't like.

5. Authority: I think this is especially prevalent in Asian societies (whether this is good or bad really depends on context and if the laws are good for us) but we are much more likely to listen to people we think are 'the man'

6. Scarcity: also the reason why I'm gaining weight, putting the words "limited edition" on something (like Japanese sweets) triggers something that makes us want to get whatever item that is.

Apart from explaining how we are persuaded, the book also teaches us how not to fall for these methods of persuasion. A lot of it is recognising it for what it is and reframing so we don't react instinctively.

This book was really informative and the information was delivered in an entertaining and easy to understand way. Even if you're not in sales, I think this book is worth reading because we are bombarded by sales all the time and knowing how we are being sold to can help reduce the number of impulse/regret buys.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Remember the Ladies by Angela P. Dodson

I requested this from NetGalley because I thought it sounded interesting - it's a history of the suffragette movement in America. I don't know if this is the right but from the book the American version seems to be a movement largely born and bred in America, with only a little bit of inspiration of Britain.

Considering that this is a movement that started in 1848 (the book starts by going back and forth in history so I'm not entirely sure) and involves many many people, the author did an admirable job of condensing it into one book. The chapters are also pretty short and simple, which makes it a good introduction for beginners like me. (Though I think people looking for a more in-depth exploration of the subject may not be satisfied)

Apart from the history, there are also "columns" that give brief biographies of key figures. I think this would work very well as a history textbook, but since I read it in three or four sittings, those biographies and mini-essays felt a bit disruptive to the flow of the book.

I did learn a few things though! One was why there was an overlap between the Temperance movement and the suffragist movement! The book puts it this way:

"Wives of drunkards were generally unable to provide for themselves or protect themselves and their children in their homes. Hence sobriety became a primary women's rights issue."

Another thing I've noticed is that identity politics is not new. The movement for voting rights for women and African Americans (although focused more on the men) occurred roughly at the same time and when African American men began making progress, one of the leading women of the suffrage movement "began using language in speeches and written commentaries that denigrated both black men and poor immigrants who had begun pouring into the country."

I found that to be very sad and self-defeating (especially when the African Americans 'fought back' by essentially saying that women's rights were not important because they weren't in danger). Not a historian but it feels like this quarreling only serves to help people who were against these movements because it's basically dividing and self-defeating.

And this, by the way, is the reason why I'm not a fan of identity politics and the recent trend in emphasising how one is somehow part of the most oppressed good - this may be soothing to your ego but I really don't feel it's effecting in getting you the allies you need to effect real change. We should be building everyone up, not just one particular community.

The ending too was a bit odd. It sort of jumps from when women get the vote to Hilary Clinton's presidential run (about which books can and probably are being written). There are intriguing facts mentioned - like how significant numbers of white women voted for Trump, but no exploration into the reason why. Personally, I would have preferred the book to stop at the vote, especially since the beginning did talk about current affairs.

Overall, I think this book is a good introduction to the history of women's voting rights in America. I'm not a fan of the awkward ending but that's just me - others may like that fact that she brought it back to the present day.

(And I'm very torn between 3 and 4 stars but I think I'll give 4 because of the subject matter)

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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Monster and the Critics by J. R. R. Tolkien

It's a good thing that this is a book of essays because it's easy to read about one a day (although it's not a light read). The Monsters and the Critics is a collection of essay/lectures given by J. R. R. Tolkien. The essays are:

Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics: I realised how rusty the 'literature' part of my brain was because this was difficult for me and it's not aimed at a scholarly audience!

On Translating Beowulf: see comments above

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: this was interesting and didn't feel as hard - perhaps because I have some knowledge of Arthurian legends?

On Fairy Stories: love, love, loved this! (see quotes below)

English and Welsh: I will never be able to pronounce Welsh words and I doubt I will learn it but it was a cool essay

A Secret Vice: Tolkien's made-up language appears here.

Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford: on his department and even though he claims to be a poor lecturer, I wish I had the chance to attend one of his lectures based on the essays here

The essays here, while not scholarly, are definitely not as easy as a TED talk. They take work while reading, but the effort is definitely worth it.

And by the way, I have tons of saved quotes from On Fairy Stories, like:

"Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold."
"The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all mannethe of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and starts uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever or sent peril; both joy and sorrow sharp as swords. "
"Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted."
And lots more. But too many quotes and I would probably just end up transcribing the entire essay. n addition, I think it's worth reading the footnotes here too, because Tolkien's footnotes feel like he's talking directly to you which makes them entertaining and unlike most footnotes.

I'm not going to say that all Tolkien fans should read this because it's not really aimed at them (I think). But if you're interested in mythology or philology, this is for you. And if you're a fan of Chesterton, or just a fan of fairy stories, On Fairy Stories is definitely a must-read.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Social Climber's Bible by Dirk Wittenborn and Jazz Johnson

Finally done with this book and... it's not as funny as I expected. That said, satire is really hard to do so props to them for making me chuckle a little here and there (although I didn't consider giving up once or twice - but I already bought this so...)

The title pretty much explains the book. It's a satirical guide on how ordinary people can end climb their way to the top, covering things like social situations and how to do social media.

The biggest problem with this book is that it doesn't go far enough. Because they're so deadpan, they really need to use ludicrous examples (at least in my case), or they'd come off sounding like they actually intend for this to work. And as you might expect, the chuckles came from the examples. The wanting to stop reading came from the stretches of deadpan prose.

I think this book would be funny/useful when describing a social climber character. Can you imagine what would happen if someone decides to follow their life using this book? I would totally read that, although I would probably cringe the whole way. So in a way I guess this could be character inspiration?

I wouldn't recommend this book. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't great either. Unless you're planning to write a story featuring a social climber and you want ideas on how to make her fail, I think you could just skip this.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Gone Again by James Grippando

I saw this book on PD Workman's Teaser Tuesday and thought it was interesting. Then I realised this was the same book that Lectus reviewed it and went back to search for it. The first time I looked, the NLB didn't have it but the second time was a success! And when I went to Goodreads (because the author's name sounded familiar), I found out that this was recommended to me before! I totally understood why it was recommended so many times because I found it so addictive that I was willing to sacrifice sleep for it.

Jack Swyteck is now happily married to Andie and they're expecting their first child! Not all is going well, and well, Swyteck ends up taking a case where his client is scheduled to be executed the same week his baby is supposed to be born. Why would a man do such a thing? Well, the mother of the supposed victim is convinced that her daughter is alive, and if she is, then his client is not a murderer.

What complicates matters is the fact that Sashi, the girl who disappeared and is supposed to have been murdered, suffers from RAD - Reactive Attachment Disorder, which means that she doesn't behave in like a typical victim. And with everyone in the case pursuing their own agenda, Jack has a lot of lies to cut through before he can find the truth.

It's probably a testament to how addictive the book is despite the fact that almost all the supporting cast is unlikable. I liked Jack, Andie and his team, and I liked the two children in the case, but everyone else? Not so much. Even poor Debra, who might be as much as a victim as much as Sashi, made me feel uncomfortable. But, their flaws were what made the twists believable, which means the author did a fantastic job balancing plot, character, and readability.

There really is an adversarial system here (the prosecutor got on my nerves too) and every time that Jack had to appear in court, there was drama to be found. I kind of wish that more of this was explored (so did the prosecutor make a deal with the other guy for testimony?) but I can also see how that would spoil the pacing, so I guess it means I should read more of this series to find out.

I'm not going to spoil the plot of the book by continuing to talk, but if you want to read a compelling courtroom drama, you definitely have to pick this up. It doesn't have the most likable cast of characters, but the flawed characters are what give the plot the twists that it has.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Fahrenheit 451 is on the BBC!

I opened up the BBC iPlayer radio app and I found out that they are doing a series on Fahrenheit 451!!!

It's only available for a month so go listen to it if you're interested!

I really love Fahrenheit 451 (perhaps because I had to study it for 2 years) and I'm totally looking toward to listening to it! I've finished the first chapter so far and I can't tell which parts have been abridged (though I wonder if it even needs to be abridged since it's so short anyway). The opening, at the very least, is how I remember it.

Each episode (so far) is 15 minutes long so it's very easy to find pockets of time to listen to an episode.

If you're interested in listening, you can check it out here or on the app (which is free! Just go to 'drama')

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I decided to read this book because my family was having a discussion on whether it's appropriate for my little brother to watch this, and my sister said "why don't you read the book?" (Or something to that effect. It's so easy to take things as invitations to read). And since I don't have time to binge watch a show, I read the book. Thanks, NLB for having the ebook!

Thirteen Reasons Why was a very hard book to read and yet I finished it in a day. If you've been living under a rock (like me most of the time) and haven't heard of it, the story is about a girl (Hannah) who kills herself and leaves behind 7 cassette tapes with 13 recordings of why she decided to do so.

The book basically jumps back and forth between Hannah's recordings and Clay's reaction to it, often paragraph by paragraph. For me, that made it a little hard to read and I basically ended up focusing on Hannah's narrative instead of Clay's day and what he was thinking (unless it was one of those stretches between tapes). I think this is a case where the story is more suited for TV - flashbacks in visual form may be less confusing.

And I don't know if it's gonna make me unpopular but I didn't really like Hannah. She came across and bitter and vindictive and it was only towards the end that I started to understand all the hurt that she felt and started to sympathise with her. I don't really have an opinion on Clay because he was basically "the one that got away" about Hannah and he never felt more than a way for the reader to learn about Hannah.

That said, I think this book dealt with some very pressing issues in a powerful way. Topics like sexual assault, victim blaming and the broken staircase were part of the book. The broken staircase one is not so explicitly stated but there is one character with the reputation (one of those on the list) that everyone seems to work around.

A friend of mine mentioned that some of her kids saw suicide as a viable alternative after watching it and I can see why. I can also see why others may see this the opposite way. Personally, I think there are three ways one can react to the book:

1. You realise that action (and inaction) has consequences and you start reaching out to those who are hurting. (SPOILER ALERT/i.e. you are Clay)

2. You realise you're not alone and that your suicide will affect others.

3. (Which is a spin on two) You think that suicide not only solves your problem, it does double duty as revenge on the people who bullied you, especially if you make that clear to them from beyond the grave.

Reason 3 is, I think, why this show has can cause a lot of harm. It's very easy to picture someone who's hurting very deeply and wants nothing more than a way out to see this and think "well, Hannah no longer has to face her problems and now everyone feels bad."

Which is why I wouldn't recommend this to kids lower secondary and below, unless they're mature for their age. I think this might be a good way to broach the topic of suicide (if a discussion is well-led), for upper sec/JC kids, but I wouldn't want younger kids to watch this, especially without any parental guidance. It's so easy to get the wrong idea from this, even though the producers have done their best by working with mental health experts.

Bottom line: this was an uncomfortable book to read, but I think it touches on some important issues. I'm also glad that I read this now and that this wasn't a thing in secondary school.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This was recommended to me by a friend on Dayre and woah it is such a powerful book! Half the Sky focuses on a section of human rights that the world is far too apathetic about - how half the world is being oppressed every single day. And this isn't just about "women's rights", it's about "human rights" because empowered women lead to a better society.

Warning: the many, many stories in this book will break your heart. So many women are being sold into sex trafficking and so many are being abused by their families (either directly or indirectly through neglect), leading to thousands of needless deaths.

But, these problems are solvable. Not by outsiders barging in, but by helping the women of each individual country help themselves. This may mean working with them, or it may mean staying behind the scenes and supporting women through the use of money. Or in other cases, pressuring governments to take things seriously. Each country requires a different solution and it's important to realise that (and not just do whatever we think is best).

Although this book is written to a Western audience, I think those of us in Asia can also learn a lot from it. After all, this is a global problem. And should this book touch on the more unsavoury aspects of your country, then you are in a place to take immediate action.

And seriously, it's a shame that things like sex slavery, FGM, fistula and maternal deaths are ignored because they are uncomfortable or because they involve poor women/do not directly involve men. Women are people too.

Things can change and they have to change. I really like this quote, that:
If we believe firmly in certain values, such as equality of all human beings regardless of colour and genders, then we should not be afraid to stand up for them; it would be feckless to defer to slavery, torture, foot-binding, honour killings, or genital cutting just because we believe in respecting other faiths or cultures. 
 Cultures can change and sometimes, they should. The last chapter is about things that you can do now, and there is a list of organisations you can donate to, like Kiva (microlending), or places you can sign up to get information from, like or (if you belong to a Church or other faith group, you can also donate to your Church's/group's overseas programs because a lot of them do good work too).

In short, this book brings to light the very real and very serious dangers that tens of thousands of women face every day, as well as examples of programs that work (and those that don't), so you have an idea of what you can do to help. I recommend this to everyone, not just women, because this is a global problem, not a gender specific one.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Story Cure by Dinty Moore

Since I've been too tired to write or revise my stories recently, I decided to use the little free time I have to continue learning more about writing. I saw this book on Netgalley and thought it sounded interesting.

The Story Cure has two main sections: Cures (problems that occur when you're writing your first draft) and Checkups (revision and other things). Cures is the longer section and it covers topics like: getting to the heart of the story (I liked this the best because it was the most original part), starting a story, writing good scenes, dialogue and settings, and even plot. Most of the instructions about story elements can be found in other writing books, but the advice does seem very sound. The heart of the story chapter was the most interesting, and probably what ties all the story elements together because it's about hooking the reader and keeping his/her attention.

Checkups basically covers revision, habits (like writing daily) and last comments. It feels more like an afterword, but I think that if you're a new writer trying to finish a first draft, this will be helpful advice for you.

Did I get something valuable from this?

Yup. The advice is solid and I like the way examples (good and bad) were used to illustrate the points. If you're the type that needs to read it (especially bad examples) to know what to do or what to avoid, this will be helpful.

Is this THE writing book?

I don't think so. Then again, I don't think that there's a perfect writing book. If you've been writing for a while, you may find most of the advice repetitive, but if you're a new writer or want a refresher, then this book may be useful for you.

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

Friday, June 30, 2017

Foreign Studies by Shusaku Endo

Foreign Studies is actually a collection of two short stories and one novel, but all of them deal with the topic of studying abroad (specifically, in France). And since it's Endo, I picked it up as soon as I saw it.

The first story is 'A Summer in Roan' and is about a Japanese student in the village of Roan. Though everyone is kind, he feels like he doesn't belong and the longer he stays, the more he feels like a coward for remaining polite and in the village.

The second story, 'Araki Thomas', has a more factual tone and talks about one of the Japanese students who went abroad in the 17th century and came back to a closed country and persecution to Christians. This is the same period that Silence takes place in, but the protagonist is a Japanese rather than a foreigner. The factual tone makes me wonder if it's a mini-biography but I haven't done any research so I can't tell.

The third and longest story (probably can be classified as a novel) is 'And You, Too'. It follows the path of Tanaka, who came to Paris to study Sade. It's more complicated than the other two, since there is a Japanese community in Paris, so Tanaka must negotiate both a foreign culture and a culture that is home-but-not-quite and which will influence his standing when he returns home.

All three stories are rather bleak and they convey a sense of discontent and distance. In the introduction by Endo (which really should be read only after you've finished the stories), he mentions that this book arose out of his struggle in trying to reconcile two seemingly different cultures.

What is interesting is how his views have changed. His younger self thought that there was no way that Japanese people could understand French culture and vice versa, but twenty years later, he became "convinced that meaningful communication between East and West is possible."

I feel that the sense of alienation that Endo describes in this story is universal to anyone who has lived overseas. We are in a totally different country after all. But, I think his characters have chosen to look at the differences with bitterness, and that leads them to a state of mental anguish. Personally, I think that to see insights, to see slights and 'microagressions' and to read malicious meanings into perfectly kind actions is the road to an unhappy life.

I would recommend this book to anyone, especially those who have lived overseas for any period of time.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin

Finally finished another book for the SEA Reading Challenge and this is probably my favourite book so far!

The Woman With Two Navels and tales of the tropical Gothic is a collection of short stories by Nick Joaquin, who is apparently very famous in Philippines but sadly unknown almost anywhere else (at least that's what I got from the introduction before I skipped it because I do not want to read literary analysis before I read the text).

These are stories that you experience rather than read. I've never been to the Philippines so I can't tell if this is an accurate picture of the country, but the stories gave me the impression of heat, of humidity that might choke you, of the chaos of life and everything I've said so far sounds universal (at least to SEA) but it also feels so specific. I would, for example, never mistake these stories for being set in Singapore or Malaysia.

Each story is a snapshot of an aspect of life, and if I'm honest I don't quite get what they're about, but they make me feel. It's intense and amazing. Even the last story, 'A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino', which is actually a play in three acts and which I was unsure if I could pay enough attention managed to pull me in and make me experience a squabbling family with a treasure that functions more like a threat.

Warning: the sentences here are really long and you will need to come up for air every now and then, but I find that the language is beautiful without being distracting. I admire it when I've closed the book but when I'm reading, it feels really immersive.

I really, really love this book. I do not understand it, probably because that requires work and I haven't analysed anything since IB (I think?) but it was such a fantastic reading experience. It's available from the NLB's ebook lending service too so as long as you have a phone you can get this too.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Death on the Air and Other Stories by Ngaio Marsh

Finally read this! Chose it because it was the only non-audiobook Book from Ngaio Marsh that the NLB had.

I skipped over the introduction (stopped when they mentioned she writes better than Agatha Christie because I do not need to have inflated expectations) and dove straight into the stories.

The first two 'stories' are Ngaio Marsh discussing two of her recurring characters - Alleyn and Troy. It was interesting but I don't know them so I wasn't emotionally engaged.

And then it was time for the short stories. On the whole, I enjoyed them, although the shorter short stories were a bit confusing. Perhaps it's because of the constraints of length (or lack of), but with the short stories, I had trouble understanding how a deduction was reached. A lot of the time, it felt like a hunch or a natural series of events rather than a deduction. But they were still enjoyable.

Two stories that I particularly liked were:

Chapter and Verse: concerning an old family Bible that hints at murders having been committed. The only problem is that the victims never existed!

The Cupid Mirror: great twist at the end, won't say anymore so I won't spoil it.

The last story is a screenplay which was actually more exciting than I thought. I'm not very fond of screenplays, but this one held my attention. It's about the trial of the murder of the dog and both the plaintiff and the defendant are unpleasant characters and the case was very ambiguous, which made for a head-scratcher.

The last entry is her advice to a young person who wants to be a writer. The parts concerning publishing companies are out of date, but the rest of the letter was really good (especially her reply to the offer to write a book together).

On the whole, I don't think that starting with a collection of short stories was a good idea, but I enjoyed the book and I definitely would read a full-length novel starring Alleyn if I had the chance.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Five Day Novel by Scott King

I heard about this book from the Rocking Self Publishing podcast (available on iTunes, Overcast and other apps, so definitely go listen to this episode/subscribe) when the author was interviewed about how he wrote Ameriguns in 5 days. This is from pre-writing (prepping for the story) to line editing.

While the podcast has the basics of the book, I decided to grab a copy because I was interested in learning more about the process.

Personally, I think first time writers/aspiring writers will benefit the most from this book. Scott King takes the reader through the entire writing process, from the preparation to the rewriting in an easy to understand and non-intimidating style. He has a list of 'assignments' for each day (each stage of writing) which can be used as stepping stones/checklists.

I found lots of gems throughout this book. From the pitch to the three act structure and how to 'fix' characters, I'm pretty sure that I'll be going back to this book as each stage of writing ends. Sure, it's not the most detailed of books, but it provides a good overview and a good starting point for authors.

And if you're wondering how useful his advice is, I checked out his book on Amazon and it has more reviews (and a good average) and a better sales rank than me so he's definitely doing something right (although to be honest it'd be pretty easy to do better than me so you have no excuse not to write and publish/submit to agents).

While I'm not going to be writing a novel in a month, it might be a fun challenge to try and squeeze his process into NaNoWriMo. It does mean that I would have to be more of a planner than I currently am, but I would have a lot of time to prepare.

If you need an encouraging, practical book to get you to start writing, I highly recommend this book. The price is reasonable too - I got it for 299 yen, which is much lower than many other writing books that I've seen. If you're unsure whether you want to get it, give the episode where he's on a listen first.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Woman Who Had Two Navels and Tales of the Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin

Hey everyone!

I'm reading a book of short stories now which is awesome because:

- I only have short bursts of reading time (during lunch break, a few minutes before I leave for work, etc) so this is perfect for reading but not being late, and
- It's by a Filipino author and I've been wanting to read more South East Asian fiction so this is perfect!

I'm really, really enjoying it, although enjoying may be a bad word because these tales are very dark. But they are very intense and make me feel a lot more than I expected from short stories.

My teaser:
"The bells continue pealing throughout the enchanted hour and break into a really glorious uproar as St. Sylvestre rises to bestow the final benediction. But when the clocks strike one o'clock, the bells instantly fall mute, the thundering music breaks off, the heavenly companies vanish - and in the cathedral, so lately glorious with lights and banners and solemn ceremonies, there is suddenly only the silence, only the chilly darkness of the empty naves; and at the alter, the single light burning before the Body of God."
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! 

Friday, June 16, 2017

At Betram's Hotel by Agatha Christie

I liked the previous Miss Marple book that I read so much I immediately borrowed another!

At Bertram's Hotel takes place in London, where Miss Marple is on holiday. The main 'mystery' for most of the book is the disappearance of a clergyman, who is later found alive (but concussed). There is a murder, but it happens towards the end.

I've gotta say, the twist in this story is a lot more incredible than it is in The Body in the Library. But, it was set up well by Chief-Inspector Davy/Father and I definitely bought it.

Speaking of Chief-Inspector Davy/Father, I found him to be a very interesting character! I hope that he'll be a recurring character, a la Hastings. He's a very solid policeman, with both good instincts and thorough work. Plus the ability to listen to Miss Marple.

Miss Marple definitely played a smaller role here, since she wasn't unofficially involved in the case. But she does overhear a lot of interesting things and her and Chief-Inspector Davy joining forces is a formidable thing to see. I didn't see as much reference to her home village, though, because she spent more time wandering through memory lane.

Which brings us to Betram's Hotel, which is as much a character as anyone else. Betram's Hotel is one of those places that manage to recreate the past perfectly, from their service to their food (I am now curious as to what 'real muffins' taste like). It was fun reading about Miss Marple's stay in Betram's Hotel, and I did want to stay there.

I'm starting to regret staying away from Miss Marple for so long. The two books that I've read so far have been really fun reads, and it is with some reluctance* that I stop the series (for a while) and continue with other books on my TBR list.

*ok, I kid. I'm really enjoying this book about the Internet I'm reading and I think I can finish it soon.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

If I'm not wrong, this is my first Miss Marple (I'm more of a Poirot fan) and I found that I really enjoyed it! The Body in the Library is a version on an old mystery trope. In this case, the owners of said library (Colonel and Mrs. Bantry) don't recognise the platinum blond lying dead on the floor. Recognising the implications of this, Mrs. Bantry asks Miss Marple to help solve the case.

The police (who have allowed Miss Marple to join them, even if they aren't enthusiastic about it) quickly find out that the body belongs to Ruby, a dancer at a hotel. And then they find a second body, that of a school girl.

The mystery was easy to read and I finished it very quickly. Miss Marple's style of connecting crimes to things she's seen in her village was pretty interesting and I found that I rather enjoyed her prattling along about the various people she's met.

The twist at the end was also one that I didn't see coming, and I thought it was very clever the way that everything was connected. You don't have the pistol that subsequently gets neglected problem (can't remember the proper name for this, sorry).

I also really liked the supporting cast of characters. In particular, I really liked Mrs. Bantry. On the surface, she seems to enjoy the murder a bit too much, like a regular gossipy housewife, but she is also very considerate towards her husband and I really liked how she did her best to protect him the way she knew how.

As someone who is a Christie fan, I am so happy that I liked reading this! I've more or less finished the Poirot series, and I don't really like Tommy and Tuppence (and there aren't many books for that series anyway) so I'm looking forward to reading more Miss Marple mysteries.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Simisola by Ruth Rendell

Like I mentioned before, that book on women crime writers made me want to read more crime and so I did. Simisola was one of the books analysed, and it sounded really interesting so I picked it up. It's an Inspector Wexford mystery (to be specific it's a police procedural) but I think it can be read as a standalone. As for the plot, that's a bit harder to describe but here goes:

The daughter of Inspector Wexford's GP, Melanie Akande, has gone missing. As Wexford investigates, the body of Annette Bystock, who was probably the last person to see her. And then another body turns up.

This is a police procedural with an intricate plot and an overarching theme. Wexford is a decent man who is struggling in a world that has changed without him knowing. The change being that England is no longer 99% white.

This investigation leads him to recognise and confront his hidden prejudices while painting a bleak picture of England right now. Life isn't easy for anyone, and a lot of people clearly aren't coping well. At times, it felt like Ruth Rendell hammered in the "England is racist" message a bit too strongly and made it very obvious, but for the most part, she let the characters and the story indict themselves. For example (possible spoilers if you didn't read the blurb) when the second body is found, Inspector Wexford immediately assumed it was Melanie because the victim was black, even going as far as to break the news to her parents. When they realise it's not her, their anger is heartbreaking and a huge moment of realisation of how unconsciously racist he is for Wexford.

The only weak point of the book (apart from veering dangerously close to preachy occasionally) is that it'a really, really complicated. Perhaps my brain isn't just working but despite reading most of the book in one sitting (woohoo for free days with no plans), when the murderer was revealed my first reaction was "who?" Wexford does do a recap, which I was grateful for, but unlike most mysteries, the reveal was more confusing than de-mystifying.

If you want a mystery that makes the problem of racism a part of the story, you'll want to pick this book up. It is a grim, bleak read, but it is a worthwhile one because we always need to be confronted with our hidden prejudices.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Story Works Guide to Writing Point of View by Alida Winterheimer

I was (and am) so excited about this book! I really liked the first one, and since I still can't afford to hire Alida a second time, this is the closest that I can get to learning more from her. Like with the previous book, this is a review copy.

Like the title says, this second guide in the story works series is all about point of view (POV). This story is a very thorough guide of the basics - what is point of view (hint: it's not just the narrator), what are the types of point of view and which point of view you should choose. It sounds short when I sum it up in one sentence, but it's actually a very hefty book because Alida goes into immense detail. And at the end, she goes through some common mistakes writers make with point of view and how they can fix it. And like the previous book, this one has lots of examples and exercises so that you can use this book as a textbook of sorts.

So I won't go into too much detail but basically, POV consists of:

1. Person (Is it "I", "He/She", "You", "They","We" - the later few are very rare though)
2. Tense (past or present)
3. Number (is it a single POV or are there multiple or perhaps even an omniscient narrator?)
4. Distance (are you close to the POV character or are you a bit more distant)

What I liked about this book is that each chapter is very focused, so you can go back and focus on things that you don't quite grasp. While I normally read everything once through, for non-fiction (and especially books that I want to use as references), having the chapters be very focused makes it easier for me to go back and find information, instead of having to go through the entire book to piece together the same thing.

I would recommend this book to all authors who are looking to improve their craft. If you're a beginning writer, this is a very good and solid introduction to point of view. If you're an experienced writer, this is a good referesher with exercises that might help you work out a story problem.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from Alida in exchange for a free and honest review. I've also hired her as an editor once and was very happy with her services.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

I decided to give this a go after the book on women crime writers because I've never read Margery Allingham before. This is going to be a hard review to write because I liked it, but I was also very confused by it.

The Tiger in the Smoke starts with a potential blackmail case. Meg is about to get married, but she's getting photos featuring someone who looks suspiciously like her dead husband. Obviously this is a problem because if he's alive, she can't get married. Albert Campion is called in to solve this mystery but it quickly when people start turning up dead. And then Meg's fiancé disappears (he's got a few chapters from his POV so it's not that big a mystery).

To be honest, I was really confused for a lot of this book. I was expecting something about the return of a seemingly dead person and all these people disappearing and the wrong dead bodies turning up thing threw me for a loop.

But I have to admit that I was reading this in bits and pieces, before and after work so the confusion could just be me not processing things properly.

As things progressed, however, the fog began to clear and I started to understand how things fit. By the end, even though there's no huge denouncement a la Poirot, I knew what had happened and the mystery presented at the start was solved.

Now about the characters. I found most of the characters to be very interesting individuals and I really enjoyed reading them. That said, I wasn't really sure how this is an Albert Campion mystery when I barely felt his presence in the book. Perhaps it's because this is book 14 and the author expects the reader to know him by now, but I didn't really think of him as a good detective (or a detective, to be honest). I guess this is how people reading a Poirot book where he only appears at the end (like Cat -among the Pigeons) feel. If you don't know the main character, s/he doesn't really grab your attention.

All that being said, I would be interested in reading more from Margery Allingham. I had fun and I did enjoy reading the book, even though I was confused for most of it. Just letting the story wash over me was good enough, and I hope that if I read more, I start to root for Campion (and figure out who are the regular Hastings-like characters are)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore by Kate Moore

I managed to finish this book in one of my off days because it was absolutely gripping and once again, I'm shocked by how little I know (everyone should know about this!)

During WWI, there were radium companies that employed girls (often teenagers or just out of their teens!) to paint dials with radium. The pay was by piece, which meant that the very skilled could take home quite a lot, and the girls quickly grew to be very close. Plus, America was in the midst of a radium craze where anything radium was considered to be healthy. So the fact that this girls were in contact with so much radium they glowed in the dark was an added bonus, right?


Radium is a radioactive substance and prolonged exposure to it killed many of these girls. The deaths were slow and painful, as their bones crumbled and they developed cancer (many of the girls' jawbones broke and their wounds wouldn't heal). The radium poisoning was made worse by the fact that these women used their mouths to help shape the brushes that were dipped in radium. So not only were they covered in radium, they were ingesting it! And because radium was so new and there was so little research, the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with them at first. When they did, however, the company that employed them denied all responsibility and did their best not to pay them compensation.

But these women were brave and tenacious, despite all the pain they were in, and they fought the companies in the courts and basically helped change safety standards, laws, and raised awareness of the dangers of radium. Oh, and their work helped saved the lives of soldiers during the war so they were basically heroes many times over.

The radium girls is an engrossing, well-written book that focuses on the girls and their stories. The author has clearly done a lot of research, and she has managed to tell the story of the individual girls without losing sight of the broader picture. Although the book is fairly long, it felt short and I just couldn't put it down. I'd recommend this to EVERYONE because it is a story that needs to be heard.

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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

Someone was giving this away so of course I snatched this up! Cat Among the Pigeons is Poirot mystery and although it takes place in a boarding school, the action is international.

The book opens with a middle-eastern prince getting killed. But before he dies, he passes a packet of incredibly valuable jewels to be smuggled out of the country. Over in England, a teacher has been killed at Meadowbank, a well-regarded boarding school. And since the cousin of the late prince is staying there, there are a lot of important people interested in this. Poirot doesn't really appear until late into the story, but I really enjoy the part where he appeared.

As usual, I really enjoyed this. Most of the mysteries tend to be local, but this one has international implications, which I found to be a refreshing change. The start was a bit confusing because it cut from school to the Middle East and back but I wasn't too confused.

With regards to characters, there are a whole host of interesting people in these books. In particular, I liked Miss Bulstrode, the headmistresses with a forceful personality (there was a subplot on who would succeed her), Adam, an undercover agent, and Julia, a student at the school. Julia, in particular, was lovely to read about because she's brave and sensible but didn't come across as a Mary-Sue.

The one complaint I have is that the portrayal of Middle-Eastern people is very stereotypical. Prince Ali (the prince I mentioned at the beginning) basically dies in a revolution because he's too democratic. In fact, another character basically says that what Middle Eastern people want are tyrants for rulers which was an eye-rolling moment for me. But luckily this was only at the start of the book so it's still something that could be ignored.

Overall, this is an enjoyable story. The beginning is a bit rough but the story gets into its stride once the murders start and I ended up really enjoying the book.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Teasr Tuesday - The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Hey everyone! So we're at the last teaser Tuesday for May, which is a bit of a shock for me because I thought the month just started. Today's teaser is from The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy and I was super excited about this because I studied The God of Small Things for literature a long, long time ago. My teaser:
"True, it was only a routine bit of humiliation for Hijras, nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing at all compared to the tribulations others endured during those horrible months. 
It was nothing, but still, it was something."
I'm actually really conflicted about the book right now because well... the language. There's a lot more swearing than I expected and I don't think I can handle it right now. The writing is lovely and what I've read so far is really captivating and heartbreaking at the same time but the language is making me not want to turn the page (It's not every other word, but it's crude and frequent enough to be too much for me). I may give this a rest and hopefully come back to it before my NetGalley copy expires and decide that I loved it or something like that.

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! 
What would you do? Would you read on?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Agatha Christie on Screen by Mark Aldridge

Like the title says, Agatha Christie on Screen is about the movie and TV adaptations of her work. The focus is mainly on the American and British productions, but there is a small discussion of the other European and Asian countries as well towards the end. It's also an academic work, so the language is rather formal (though not as formal as some papers that I've read).

The book is structured chronologically, starting with the first films (which were silent films). It shows how good her timing was because her books were perfect for TV/movies (or so the book says multiple times). The discussion is mainly a recap of the movie and a review of its merits which is another way of saying that there are lots of spoilers here. But if you're a Christie fan, you'll probably have read most of this.

I actually haven't watched any of the dramas, movies or the anime inspired by Agatha Christie, but the anime does sound pretty good. Most of the other adaptions seem to veer more on the comedic side, which isn't really what I'm looking for.

By the way, the multiple discussions on Marple and Poirot make me feel like I should try reading the Marple series (I'm mainly a Poirot fan). I never knew she was this popular and perhaps it's time for me to try and understand why.

This was an interesting read and definitely for big fans of Agatha Christie. It may be more on the academic side (and hence a bit dry at times), but it was fun to read about how people have interpreted her work and how it has been received.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Global Novel by Adam Kirsch

I requested this book as soon as I read the title. It sounded interesting, and I'm always keen on seeing what people think about novels. The Global Novel is a discussion on the subject of world literature. It starts pretty abruptly, plunging the reader straight into a discussion on the criticisms against the subject of world literature.
"The question of whether world literature can exist - in particular, whether the novel, the preeminent modern genre of exploration and explanation, can be "global" - is another way of asking whether a meaningfully global consciousness can exist."
In other words, the stakes are high. After the introductory chapter, the author goes on to discuss:

Snow, by Orhan Pamuk
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Americanah by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood and The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq
Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels.

I didn't quite get the sense of an overarching argument, but it was an interesting discussion. I haven't read many of the books (and I don't really feel like reading any of them other than Ferrante and Murakami after reading this), but I was able to follow the discussion along. Perhaps I didn't get as much depth as I would if I had read the books, but it did make me think. In fact, this line by Mizumura made me think:
"Bilinguals [will] start taking their own country's literature less seriously than literature written in English - especially the classics of English literature, which are evolving into the universal cannon." 
It did give me pause because I read primarily in English, even though I'm technically trilingual. I don't read in Chinese (not unless it's Chinese comics, and even that is rare and limited to my childhood) and now I'm wondering how much I've missed by neglecting one language.

This is probably aimed mainly at students of literature, but anyone curious about the world of literature might be interested in this.

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom

Every time I finished a Matthew Shardlake book I'm like "I need to read more of this" but my TBR is making that very hard to do. Anyway, I decided to move this to the top of the list because I really, really wanted to read another one of the books after listening to the BBC radio adaptation of it.

The fire in Dark Fire refers to Greek Fire, which is this near weapon used by the Byzantine empire that could burn on water.

In this book, Lord Cromwell tasks Matthew Shardlake with discovering the formula to Greek Fire. In return, he gives Matthew a stay of execution for a girl that he's trying to defend. And while juggling two murder cases is not an easy feat for anyone, Matthew must do so knowing that if he fails, Cromwell falls (he doesn't like the guy but it's still going to make things worse for him).

Helping him for the first time is Barak, Cromwell's servant. I actually knew Barak as Matthew's assistant so it was a bit of a surprise to see them start on such rough footing. But the differences in their personalities made them an interesting pair and I liked seeing how their friendship (and how Barak stops judging Guy for being different) developed.

The mystery was fantastic and the historical setting even better. This may have been a really thick book, but I finished it faster than expected because each chapter was so short that I kept reading on.

I also thought the story was pretty well-balanced. Lord Cromwell's task is given precedence, but the other murder is investigated periodically, so I never felt like Matthew had forgotten about it.

If you're into historical mysteries, you need to pick up this series. If not now then yesterday because it is really good. I was actually not that enthused about the first book (although I loved the sixth, which was actually my introduction to the series), but I absolutely enjoyed this book and my expectations for the rest of the series just became higher.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

Hey everyone!

I've not been reading much - just here and there before and after work. But I have been trying to catch up on the weekends and because of that, I feel a mystery reading binge coming on! Right now, I'm reading The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham. It's a pretty fun read so far!

My teaser:
"They were getting on like a house o fire. He had begun with his nearest and dearest, and Meg Elginbrodde had been subjected to a catechism which had not only satisfied but scandalised the sergeant."
What about you? What are you reading now and how do you find 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, May 22, 2017

From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell by Susan Rowland

This is one of the two books that I've managed to finish last week (at the rate I'm going, I'll have to take a hiatus from the blog/cut down on blogging dramatically because I will eventually run out of reviews :p)

Despite the unfortunate cover (sorry but I think it looks boring), I found this to be a fascinating read! It's an analysis of the works of 6 queens of crime:

Agatha Christie
Dorothy L. Sayers
Margery Allingham
Ngaio Marsh
P. D. James
Ruth Rendell (also writing as Barbara Vine)

The book opens with very short biographies of the six women and then it starts the analysis. Each chapter covers one topic and the topics are:

- Gender and the mystery genre
- Class issues
- England and its colonial legacy
- Psychoanalysis and the genre
- The influence of gothic literature
- "Spiritual detection" (actually I didn't really understand this chapter)
- Feminism and the genre (I really like the title of this chapter 'Feminism is Criminal')

I found the writing style to be a lot more accessible than the Christie book on her film adaptations (though still on the academic side) but you really should have read a majority of these women's works if you want to fully understand the book. I haven't read Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham so I couldn't appreciate a lot of the analysis of their works.

That said, this did renew my interest in reading their works because of how interesting the books sound! I feel like reading something from all of them, and the library has at least one of each lady's book in ebook format so I may go on a mystery binge after this!

I would recommend this book to fans of the mystery genre who are looking for a deeper appreciation of some of the mysteries they read! The chapters aren't connected so you can pick up the book and only read what interests you (plus the chapters are broken up into sections by authors + introduction so you don't even have to read the whole thing). If you're a fan of any one of these six authors, you should give the book a go!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Penance by Kanae Minato

I found this book on Netgalley and couldn't resist requesting it. It is a good read, but I can't quite decide which genre it belongs to.

Penance is ostensibly a mystery. Five children are playing at school when one of them ends up dead after a mysterious man takes her away. The four of them swear that they can't remember what the man looks like and Emily, the dead girl's mother, curses them to either help solve the murder or do a penance.

That said, the book isn't so much about who killed Emily but what happened to Sae, Akiko, Mae, and Yuko as the deadline for the statute of limitations draw closer. Each of them is affected by the murder in a different way, but they are all driven to tragic ends. There is a clue from each of the girls, but the denouement is more about Emily's mother than the murderer.

I guess that if I had to sum up the book, it would be that it's more about the emotions that drive people to murder and the ripple effect that it causes.

Each girl gets her own story, and it's not until the later half that things start to come together. But I was really captivated from the start, because of how the relationships were written. They're sad and oddly fascinating.

For example (please ignore this if you don't want spoilers, though I will try to avoid the biggest one): Sae feels that the murderer chose Emily as his victim because she had already started menstruating and was thus a woman. The stress from this causes her not to menstruate at all. Despite this, she manages to get married, only to find out that her husband proposed only because she looks like the doll he was fascinated with and he's thrilled to have a real life doll now.

This book is dark and twisted and it's absolutely captivating. It's not a very long read but it manages to pack a punch. I wasn't able to put it down, which explains why I have a book review 2 days after the previous one. If you're in the mood for something dark and definitely not-cheery, you need to read this.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

I decided to read this book because it was discussed by this podcast that talks about childhood classics and modern stories and I didn't want to get spoilers.

In Finding Audrey, the titular character suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Depressive Episodes. Apart from therapy, she basically stays in her house the whole day. But she meets her brother's friend Linus and starts to push her boundaries.

I have no idea how accurate the portrayal of these were but I thought it was a pretty sensitive portrayal of mental illness. Audrey is an extremely sympathetic character who isn't defined by her mental illness. Yes, she's trying to get better and that is the main thrust of the book, but I didn't think that it was the only part of her character - she felt a lot more real to me.

I also liked the fact that Audrey was seeing a proper therapist and that the therapist was the one who gave her tasks, instead of her being magically cured by love. That said, I don't really think that meeting a guy should be the reason she takes concrete steps forward. Luckily, the climax of the book took place without Linux so it felt like Audrey wasn't completely reliant on a guy to get better.

The supporting characters were well-written as well. Apart from Audrey and Linux, there is also Frank and Felix, her brothers, and her parents. Her mom, in particular, was interesting - she was an annoying 'bookworm' (using the word lightly since she only talks about Dickens) who serves as a good example of why you should not believe the Daily Mail without some critical thinking. But she clearly loves Audrey and her brother, even though the way she expresses it isn't to their liking. The family dynamics were interesting and I really enjoyed reading about it.

I thought this was an interesting and well-written book. It's not often you see someone with a mental illness as a protagonist, and without glamorising or trivialising the issue (in my uneducated opinion). Also, I liked that I finished this in two days, because work means that I don't have as much time to read.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Thread of Truth by Marie Bostwick

A Thread of Truth is about a quilting shop! I normally read knitting novels, if it's a craft novel (Debbie Macomber, anyone?) but I'm cool with anything craft-related. I first heard about it from Sandra Nachlinger and her teaser convinced me to go look for the book!

The main plot of this book centers on Ivy, who is running from her abusive husband. She finds refuge in New Bern and work in Cobbled Court (a quilt shop). However, she accidentally appears in a segment about the shop and that means that if she wants to keep this life that she's built, she'll have to learn to trust her new friends with her past and secrets.

The subplot is basically about the romance lives of the other four main characters and how Evelyn (the owner) deals with having her shop featured on television. I guess it could have been confusing since this is book two, but there was one chapter that basically summarised book one, so I don't think I missed much.

While the book can be a little heavy-handed in describing feelings or making a point about something, it is on the whole an enjoyable read. The story is engaging and I found myself rooting for Ivy from page one.

Will I want to read book one and the later books? I'm not too sure. I enjoyed it, but the mini-summary of book one means that I don't feel the need to read it, and I guess everything else depends on what the later books are about (I only picked this up because another blogger mentioned it and I thought the combination of topics was interesting).

If you're a fan of quilting, you will want to pick this up.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Teaser Tuesday - The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Hey everyone!

I'm currently juggling two books because my reading mood isn't really settled. One is From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell and it's not very quote worthy (it's on the academic side but fascinating) and the other is The Pearl Thief. The Pearl Thief is a novel so that's where my teaser is coming from:
"My grandmother, the Dowager Countess of Strathfearn, whom my brothers and I call by the French pet name Memere, had been reduced to three rooms in her late husband's ancestral mansion - four if you counted the bathroom. (Not the nursery bathroom - it gave everyone vapors to think I was lounging blissfully unclothed in that enormous bathtub, which was also used by the workmen in the easy wing.)"
The Pearl Thief started of really well, but three chapters in and I'm... starting to wonder if I'm going to finish it. Apart from my odd want-to-read-but-don't reading mood, the narrator and protagonist Julia is starting to get on my nerves. I quite like the heiress dectective/investigator as an idea, but please either own your snottiness or don't have any, because the mock-humble "I'm not vain but I am and I can mimic all languages" Mary Sue thing is starting to get a little annoying.

I'm hoping it's just a mood thing and not that the voice doesn't agree with me (I mean this is a very strong first person so you either like it or don't).

(Ok, I just went and checked Goodreads and apparently I really liked the second book in the series - which had a completely different protagonist - so I'm really, really hoping I warm up to Julia now)

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, May 15, 2017

The Road to Jonestown by Jeff Guinn

About two years ago, I read A Thousand Lives, which introduced me to the horrific tragedy at the Peoples Temple (which also gave birth to the phrase "drinking the kool-aid"). The Road to Jonestown is a biography of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, but it feels a lot more detailed than A Thousand Lives. It does contain information from interviews, so that is probably a huge factor.

The first time I read about the Peoples Temple, I thought that it was a huge tragedy. This time, my feelings are a lot more complicated. Jim Jones was probably a megalomaniac and towards the end, the Peoples Temple was definitely a cult, but it did a lot of good work at the start. If the book is to be believed, Jim Jones did a lot to integrate Indianapolis (by the way, if someone like Jim Jones turns out to be one of the pioneers in integration, clearly there is an apathy problem with the city). Plus, it seems like a lot of his followers started to follow him because he offered concrete help and welcomed both black and white people.

I guess one way of summarising all the complications would be to look at Marceline, Jones' wife. He did a lot of terrible things to her (not least is the cheating) and she did consider leaving him, but in public, she was always supportive of him. And this is a woman described in her introduction as a strong Christian. It seems like she saw something in him that made her willing to ignore all the red flags and support him almost until the end.

Oh, and my feeling of how a lot of people were complicit in this was reinforced in the book. Jones was able to gain legitimacy through admission into the Disciples of Christ, despite the fact that his teachings weren't even close to theologically sound. Instead, the organisation decide to overlook the flags and his stinginess because they saw him as a model of progressive Christianity (why they didn't just encourage their existing Churches to be more active in social matters is a mystery to me).

This book is exhaustive and depressing. It seems like the Peoples Temple had great promise, and if anyone else but Jim Jones was in charge (or if he was divested of power early), if could have done a lot of good. Instead, it will forever be remembered for the tragedy that occurred.

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book was recommended to me by Wendy from Literary Feline (link to her review) and it was fantastic! I normally use my phone on the train (back when I was taking the train) because it's only 10 minutes but this was so good that I decided to use all my free time to read.

Uprooted is hard to explain. There's Agnieszka, a witch whose magic doesn't work the way it usually works, a dragon who's actually a wizard, Kasia, the best friend who was supposed to be taken but wasn't, and a sentient wood. And there are princes and battles and all the usual stuff. It sounds like a lot, but it all goes together so well! In fact, I really liked how the plot moved. Thinking back, it has enough plot for what would probably a trilogy in many books nowadays, but it doesn't feel rushed. It feels perfect in terms of pacing.

The characters are really well-written too. Agnieszka is clumsy and insecure but she has a good heart. The dragon is stern but he's actually a really nice guy. And I really liked Kasia, the best friend who played the part without going over the top. Agnieszka and Kasia are really good friends, but their friendship isn't perfect (they are jealous of each other, a little). I found that made them more believable and the fact that they chose to stick together after knowing that proof that they really were good friends.

The only complaint I have is about the relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon (which, coincidentally, Wendy also has :D). I feel like they've had a mentor-student relationship the whole time, even if it's contentious, and the sudden swerve into romance was not believable at all. Like, really, it felt unnecessary.

That said, the other relationship - the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia was very well done and more prominent than the romance so my complaint is a fairly small one.

This is definitely going to be one of my top books for the year. It's a fun and well-written read, much like a fairytale, and if you're into fantasy, you HAVE to pick this up.

(It's available on NLB so there's no excuse if you're Singaporean)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

This is technically a reread, but since I read Rebecca even before I started writing reviews, I guess it could count as new? I've been meaning to read this for a while, and after reading Manderley Forever, it got moved to the top of the TBR list.

I don't think a plot introduction is needed, but if you haven't heard of the book before, Rebecca isn't the name of the protagonist. It's the name of the nameless protagonist's husband's first wife. And even though Rebecca is dead, she haunts Manderley and the protagonist's relationships as she is convinced that she is inferior to the well-loved Rebecca.

The book is also a lot more than a bizarre love triangle. Part of the reason it makes such a big impact is the atmosphere that it has. Manderley (which is based on a real house called Menabilly) is practically a character of its own, which is unusual for a house.

However, I've got to add a note of warning: if you're looking for a romance novel, this is not the book.

Sure, it's about a romantic relationship and could have what might be called a HEA (she does get the guy after all, although it's debatable if she is truly happy) but it doesn't actually hit any of the conventional tropes. The HEA might not actually be happy, and the tone of the novel is extremely dark. It is less of a romance and more of a novel about how insecurity and jealousy and take human form.

I definitely recommend this. It's fascinating and absorbing, and it will hook you from its iconic first sentence. I can definitely see why this is Daphne du Maurier's most famous book (even if she got sick about all the questions about the name of the protagonist later on).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay

I read Rebecca a long time ago and remember that I loved it, so I decided that I had to request this biography of Daphne du Maurier!

Manderley Forever is told in two parts. One is the author's own journey to various places of significance in Daphne du Maurier's life, which opens each chapter, and the other is the biography, told in the style of a novel (with third person narration).

To be honest, the author's pilgrimage didn't feel necessary, and I wouldn't have missed anything if it was cut. It just wasn't long enough and didn't enhance the story of Daphne du Maurier's life to me (and I didn't feel a connection with the author either).

Another quibble I have is that the book talks a lot about how Daphne feels at times and it does so with no room for ambiguity. It does seem very well-researched but I do wonder how accurate one can be at guessing at the emotions of someone else - were the letters and other materials that survived that comprehensive?

That being said, the book succeeds very well as a biography. The writing style was a little weird at first, but by the end of the book, I felt like I had come to know Daphne du Maurier pretty well. And even more importantly, it made me want to read all of her books (pity the NLB only has 3 of her books in ebook form). So I will. I'm going to start with Rebecca, even if she did get sick of it, and read the other two between books.

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