Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sovereign by C. J. Sansom

Finally, I've read another book in the Matthew Shardlake series! I decided to continue reading in chronological order (having come to the series from one of the latest books) and decided to read Sovereign, the third book in the series.

Sovereign takes place during the reign of Henry VII, during his marriage to Catherine Howard. Matthew is given an assignment to watch a political prisoner under the guise of being a lawyer for the Progress, a political tour. Together with Barak, Matthew journeys to York. But the 'old religion' (Catholicism) is still strong in the North and when someone dies, raving about the King, Matthew and Barak start to investigate.

This book introduces Tamasin, (SPOILER ALERT) who I first knew as Barak's wife. So it was pretty interesting for me to get to know her a little better and to see her relationship with Barak.

What I really like about this book (and the series) is how it has a strong plot, great characters, and a lot of historical details. I really felt that the research in this book helped to bring England to life. Perhaps it's because this book takes place out of London, but the details of daily life (of which there were plenty) stood out more than in the previous books. Despite the amount of information, I never felt like I was in a history lecture because the information was conveyed naturally.

Speaking of history, I also found the deeper dive into the Protestant/Catholic divide particularly interesting. The religious divide is present throughout all the books, but there are more characters with Catholic beliefs in this book and I felt that the book was able to go into more depth about why there was such religious opposition in this book. And if you're interested in history, you may also enjoy the author's note at the back, which clarifies just how much was based on research and which minor characters were not historical figures.

The characters are also a lot more like how I first met them (in Book 6), and I suppose a lot more settled. Matthew is no longer the idealistic lawyer that surprised me in the first book, and unlike the previous book, he and Barak are now friends. Personally, I like how the characterisation is becoming settled as that leaves me more mental energy for plot and setting. Plus I still remember the shock I had when I read the first book!

In conclusion, if you're a fan of historical novels and/or mysteries, you really need to be reading this series. Sovereign manages to balance a solid mystery plot with great characters and attention to historical detail, resulting in a captivating novel.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Although I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I read this book as part of a NaNoWriMo activity (even if I'm not challenging myself to write 50k words, I should be trying to use the time to improve my writing) and found it one of the most helpful writing books that I've read so far.

This book was impressive from the content page. It's not often you find a content page that doubles as a summary for the book and just reading it made me realise that I would enjoy this. Wired for Story starts with hooks (the beginning) and goes on to various specific aspects of writing and ends with a chapter on the revision process.

Every chapter was filled with concrete advice and I bookmarked so many pages. I liked that the author uses lots of examples, and the checkpoints at the end of each chapter do a good job of providing specific tips as well. Examples of things I thought were good reminders/enlightening are:

- conflict doesn't add drama to a story unless it's something that a protagonist must address to overcome his/her issue.

- showing isn't about showing an action, it's about showing the reader the why behind the action. For example, don't just write copious description about how a protagonist cries, show the reader how the event that led to the crying unfolds

- how and when to reveal information (too long to summarise, sadly)

- pacing is the length of time between moments of conflict (this is from Nathan Bransford)

There is only one part in the book where the author and I don't agree. The author says that: "the narrative voice is almost always neutral, meaning that as an omniscient narrator, you're invisible and just reporting the facts."

While an omniscient narrator has to be reliable because they know everything, they can have a personality and their own opinions. Death in The Book Thief is an omniscient narrator and he has an extremely strong personality. The trick is not to overdo it.

To me, this book would be useful before writing and as a guide during revision, to find out why the story isn't working. The writing is clear and there is a lot of good advice in it. I would love to get my own copy because I can see myself reading this again and again as a reminder.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Llyod Parry

This is another NetGalley book, one that I wished for and was granted to me. I'm thankful that I got to read this because it's a heartbreaking account of the effect of the March 11th tsunami. Instead of trying to show all the destruction, Ghosts of the Tsunami focuses on Okawa Elementary School, where a series of heartbreakingly wrong decisions led to the deaths of 74 out 78 students and 10 out of 11 teachers.

Desperate for some answers and frustrated by the actions of the school and the principal, a group of parents took the brave step of bringing things to court. But this is not a legal drama. The book takes an intimate look at the lives of all those involved by talking to survivors and relatives of victims to build an account of what happened and what happened after, including the court case.

There are many heartbreaking moments in this book, such as a grandfather unable to recognise the body of his granddaughter, whom he lifted out of the mid, because of the state she was in.

Or the words of this mother:
"We used to think that we were bringing up our children," said Sayomi Shinto. "But then we discovered that it was we, the parents, who were brought up by them. We thought that the children were the weakest among us, and that we protected them. But they were the keystone. All the other pieces depended on them. When they were taken away, we realised this for the first time. We thought that we were looking after them. But it was the children who supported us."
And by making sure the book isn't too narrowly focused on the court case, instead following the lives of the parents and one of the surviving children, Richard Lloyd Parry managed to convey how the community of Tohoku reacted. For example, the way the community divided into two regarding what to do with the school - preserve it or not - reflected how they chose to deal with grief; whether they wanted to face it and talk about it or to hide it away.

There was only one moment in the book that made me double take. Someone was talking about the size of the tsunami and the words "twenty feet" was quoted. I suppose that this is to make things easier for Americans to understand, despite the fact that all but three countries in the world use the metric system, but I didn't like it. If you're quoting someone, I would prefer that the translation be as accurate as possible, and yes, meters to feet is a small change but if I doubt the small things, then I might end up doubting the important things too.

Overall, though, this was a fantastic book and one of the most powerful things that I've read this year. If you're going to read one book on the 3/11 Tsunami, this is it. By the way, if you want a sneak pic, the Guardian has a good excerpt that you should read.

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

More BBC Radio Dramas to Listen to

This isn't the usual book review, but I opened the BBC iRadio app today and saw a lot of interesting radio dramas, so I thought I'd share in case you're like me and haven't opened it for some time either.

The first is Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Unfortunately, the first episode has already expired, but I started from the second and could still follow it along. Each episode is about 30 minutes which makes it easy to listen to. If you don't have the app, you can find the episodes on this page. 

I haven't listened to Sherlock Holmes but this is on my to-listen list (along with a ton of podcast episodes). If you've already listened, let me know what you think! The page is available here.

This is another series that I haven't listened to yet, but I've always enjoyed the BBC's adaptations so I'm sure I'll enjoy this too. Emma is a really fun Jane Austen novel and I look forward to listening to this too. If you're on a computer, this is the link to the page.

I'm currently listening to this and I'm enjoying it very much! Then again, I love Pride and Prejudice so it would have to be a really bad adaptation for me not to like it. If you want to listen, you should go to this page. 

Let me know if you've listened to any of these, or if you've got any recommendations! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Templars by Dan Jones

I requested this from NetGalley because it sounded interesting and I don't know anything about the Templars. If you don't know about them either, they're this Christian order that was formed to protect pilgrims to Jerusalem and ended up playing a big role in the crusades. Also, most modern portrayals of them (especially the 'Templars are still alive' thing) are inaccurate.

As a history of the organisation, this book takes a broad view, focusing not on the everyday life of a Templar but on the key events and people that made up the Templars or fought against the Templars. Since there are several countries involved this could have become very confusing but the author manages to make it one coherent narrative.

I found it pretty interesting to read about them and how they fought against the equally strong (and at times even stronger) Muslim countries. Thankfully, the author stays away from a discussion of both Islamic and Christian theology and/or which was right, instead focusing on who does what (and why), which I think helped make it an objective narrative.

Another thing I also liked that even though this is a book about a Christian organisation, Muslim sources are quoted as frequently as Christian ones (ok I didn't do a formal count but it definitely felt that way to me). Quoting both sides helped me get a fuller picture and to understand how the Templars saw themselves and how others saw them.

One thing I thought fascinating about the Templars was that their portrayal depended largely on the motives of the writer, something that holds true today. Usama ibn Minqidh portrays them as open-minded and specifically mentions that they let him use one of their Churches for his daily prayers. But another man, Imad al-Din, calls them "the worst of the infidels." The difference occurs because the former wants to talk about honour and chivalry while the later wants to praise Saladin.

I think anyone interested in history would enjoy this book. It's definitely a heavy read, but it is fascinating and after reading it, I wonder why anyone would bother making up stories about the Templars. The actual history has so much to draw on.

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is one of those books that everyone but me has read (or so it feels). It's so highly recommended that I'm actually afraid to read it, because what if it doesn't live up to expectations? Well, when I saw the book on sale (for only 300 yen!) I decided it was time to read it.

If you haven't already read it, The Book Thief is a novel set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death. Liesel (our protagonist) starts her career as the book thief when she steals a book at her brother's grave. After which, she is separated from her mother and sent to live with Hans (Papa) and Rosa (Mama). Nazi Germany is not a kind place to grow up with, even though her foster parents do love her - though Rosa has a strange way of showing it, and Liesel comes face to face with the horrors of Nazi when her family takes in a Jewish man named Max.

Ok, this summary leaves a lot to be desired because it doesn't mention Rudy (best friend and love interest), the various people that Liesel meets, or the depth of story created by the mere act of saving a human life.

I think the most unique part of this book is the narrator. The book is narrated by none other than Death, which is fitting for the grim setting. While death and Liesel don't interact directly for most of the book, he is the one telling the story and his personality shines through every line. The point of view seems to alternate between first person and third, but death is always present. There are also interludes (perhaps they are poems? or just very indented text?) with facts or definitions and a dash-dash keyword feature at the start of each part. I was not as big a fan of the interludes and the start of each part as I was of death as a narrator and actually ended skipping all the "featuring" sections.

There are also a few sections that are pages from the "books" that Max writes and I think they may be my favourite parts of the book. They are moving and the illustrations go very well with the text. I can almost see Liesel slowly making her way through the words and it helped to show the deep bond between the two of them.

Overall, I really loved this story. While not everything about the way it was written appealed to me, I thought that death as a narrator was the perfect choice and I loved the depth with which each character was written. It's a moving and horrifying tale of how life in Nazi Germany was like, for both the Jews and the non-Jews.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Russian Countess by Edith Sollohub

The Russian Countess is an autobiography of Countess Edith Sollohub, born Edith Natalie de Martens. She was born and raised in Pre-Communist Russia and was unfortunately trapped in Russia after the revolution. This autobiography focuses on her life before the revolution and how she did her best to survive and escape after.

My first surprise came when I read the introduction of the book and found that it was written in English. I had assumed that this was translated, and to be honest if I didn't know that it was written in English, I would have assumed it was a very well-done translation because the English was really natural.

The second surprise was of her experience during the revolution. I don't know what I expected, but whatever I read was a surprise. Perhaps the fact that she wasn't put in jail immediately surprised me. Or perhaps it was because of how little the spirit of communism seemed to be in everyone. I had this image that most people wanted to become communist, but the book made it seem like most people were indifferent to it, or at best using it opportunistically.

Although this book provides a fascinating look into what it was like to live through revolutionary Russia, I do think that it doesn't provide a whole picture. Edith was supported in large part by her servants, who were still faithful to her. In fact, another thing that surprised me was that even after the revolution, she managed to keep a governess for her boys and her first escape was with a few servants. Certainly not the number she used to have, but it was definitely not zero. I think life for an ordinary person or even a person of nobility who was not well-liked would have been very different.

Not that I'm saying that this book isn't worth reading. Far from it. I really enjoyed reading it and I am in awe of how talented and resourceful Edith was. I just realised that I have to be careful not to take one person's account and assume that it applies to everyone living through that event.

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Father Brown: The Essential Tales by G.K. Chesterton

Father Brown: The Essential Tales is supposed to be a "definitive collection" of fifteen of the Father Brown mysteries (short stories) by G. K. Chesterton, selected by the American Chesterton Society and with an introduction by P. D. James.

If you don't know about Father Brown, he's this little priest who uses his knowledge of human nature to solve crimes. But this being Chesterton, the writing is rich and lyrical and Father Brown is definitely not a conventional detective. He takes leaps of logic that end up making sense because it follows the human heart.

These stories are really more about the human condition as Chesterton saw it than a normal mystery. The writing is a lot more lyrical than something by say, Agatha Christie (who I also love dearly) and contains sentences like:
"A man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sons is not likely to be wholly unaware of human nature."

"Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak. 
'I know a man,' he said, 'who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And in one of those dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his rained turned also and he fancied he was God. So that though he was a good man, he committed a great crime.' "
Father Brown is the central figure in all these stories. Occasionally, someone called Flambeau will appear, first as a master thief and then as a semi-private detective (and Father Brown's friend). But there isn't a Watson or Hastings, so it's best not to expect one. Of Flambeau, he is once described (as he packs for a boat journey):
"Flambeau had stocked it with such things as his special philosophy considered necessary. They reduced themselves, apparently, to four essentials: tins of salmon, if he should want to eat; loaded revolvers, if he should want to fight, a bottle of brandy, presumably in case he should faint; and a priest, presumably in case he should die."
Which I think is a wonderful description of him. My favourite stories definitely feature him.

I think the Father Brown stories are for fans of Chesterton, for people who already like Orthodoxy or The Man Who Was Thursday. While I adore his writing, I realise it's not for everyone so you may want to try a story or two before deciding if you want to read the whole book.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

They Never Came Home by Lois Duncan

I'm not sure why this was in my in my TBR list but it still sounded good when I read the synopsis so I decided to borrow it. I checked after I finished and apparently this was written in the 1960s and it definitely shows in the writing. Still, this was a fun, quick read.

They Never Came Home starts when Dan and Larry go missing on a hiking trip and are presumed dead. Larry's family promptly falls apart, with Larry's mother falling into a delusion that her son is still alive. As Joan, Larry's sister, tries to protect her mother, she receives a phone call claiming that her brother owes this mysterious guy 50,000 dollars. As she tries her best to make up for her brother's debt (by taking on this mysterious job), she starts to discover that this disappearance may not be as simple as everyone thinks.

To be honest, I managed to guess the 'twist' in the story the first time the narrative cuts away from Joan and Frank (Dan's brother). But, I was interested in finding why and how the story was going to resolve itself, so I read all the way to the end.

As for the characters, I quite liked Joan because of the way she managed to pull herself together. I think she was a good protagonist, and I thought it was sensible of her to get help when she felt that she needed it (well, it was from her boyfriend's younger brother so it wasn't the best choice but good job for getting help and refusing to get into a stranger's car!). I also thought that the reveal of Larry's true character was quite well-done, though very predictable.

All in all, I think this is a fun, quick read. It does feel a little dated, but it's captivating enough that I read it pretty much in one go.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Friend Request by Laura Marshall

I requested this book because it's about social media and I am so about that, thanks to one of my tutorials when I was in uni. Normally I read all the non-fiction stuff so it's pretty fun to read fiction where it plays a huge role for a change.

Friend Request starts when Louise gets a request from Maria, a girl that she used to go to school with. That would be quite normal and in line with the purposes of Facebook if it wasn't for the fact that Maria died while they were at school. And truth be told, Louise bullied Maria. Sure, she was 'forced' into it because she wanted to keep her precarious position in the social order (and Louise does genuinely regret it), but as far as anyone knows, Louise was a bully.

This request sends Louise spiraling, as messages from Maria arrive and she's forced to confront the past that she's been running from. A class reunion only provides more trouble and (mild spoiler) when someone is murdered, things take a decided turn for the worse.

For the most part, the book is told in first person from Louise's point of view. It alternates between the present and the past, but most of the action takes place in the present. There are also a few sections where the narration suddenly shifts to third person - I think this was done to heighten tension but all it did for me was to break the narrative flow and I ended up skipping those sections.

Where this book shines is in the relationships between the characters. Friend Request does a good job of showing us how toxic friendships can leave lasting impact, and the hold that your school experiences can have on you. I thought Louise was a very sympathetic character and a good example of someone who did awful things but is now trying her best to overcome her past.

I think this is a pretty good mystery featuring social media. I guess it's going to feel relevant as long as Facebook is the dominant platform, but even if Facebook itself becomes passe, I think the issues of being bullied, having toxic friends, trying to overcome your past will always stay relevant.

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Land of the Meat Munchers by Nicholas Yong

Now this is the kind of stuff that I wanted to read when I started the SEAReadingChallenge . An ordinary zombie story but set in Singapore and by a Singaporean author. I started this yesterday so I guess this is why I had that zombie dream.

Slight digression: I don't know why, but when I search for ebooks (not print books - I assume the situation might be different there) set in South East Asia and by South East Asian authors, I see a lot of literary fiction and stories where the South East Asian protagonist moves to a Western country. Which is cool because we need all sorts of books, but why must SEAsian culture be so overwhelmingly written about in relation to Western culture? Can't we just have books about us without comparing us to other countries?

Or maybe the only reason why I see this phenomenon is because most of the books made into ebooks are these literary & cultural conflict type and there's a lot of other books line Land of the Meat Munchers that exist only in print (really hope this is the case).

/Digression over

Land of the Meat Munchers is a tale of zombie Singapore. A mysterious zombie virus hits Singapore, leaving Jim and other survivors alone to fend for themselves. Chased while out on a food hunt, Jim must make his way back to his group in Tiong Bahru MRT station, with only his new friends - Selina and Raj, for help.

I admit, it was initially weird to see Singapore and hear Singlish in a zombie book. Then I caught myself and realised that there is no reason for this to feel weird. If the US or the UK can be the setting for a zombie apocalypse, then Singapore (and Malaysia and Indonesia and Thailand and everywhere else) can be a setting too. It shouldn't be weird.

The setting was very Singaporean, which was great. At first, I was a bit worried that it would be like a typical zombie book, but with a few names changed. But apart from Singlish dialogue, the book also has Beng zombies, HDBs, the word "ponding" and much more, all well-woven into the story itself. This wasn't a zombie world with Singapore added to it, this was a Singaporean zombie world.

I also found myself really enjoying the fact it was set in Singapore and how Jim, Selina, and Raj were learning to work together. Each of them had their own traumatising past and seeing them learn to work together (or not) was something that I enjoyed reading. Although Jim is the main character, I felt that all three were equally fleshed-out and well-written.

I also liked the fact that the book considered the question of how a zombie outbreak would occur and why we would be isolated. Though the question was never answered because all communication lines and power lines were down, the fact that the characters wondered about this made the setting feel a bit more realistic. If there ever is a second book, I hope the question of why Singapore would be left alone would be answered (or if the zombies managed to travel the causeway)

If you're a fan of zombie books or just looking for fiction set in Singapore, I think you'll really enjoy this. A lot of thought clearly went into making this zombie story Singaporean (including a zombie all in white that continues to try to shake people's hands even in death) and I found this to be a really fun read.

P.s. There is some mature language in this book so it may not be suitable for kids.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave

I borrowed the book because the premise of "social media star falls from grace" to be really interesting. But be warned, this will be a spoiler-full review.

The 'Sunshine' in Hello, Sunshine is a social media star. Her cooking videos have earned her millions of fans, a book deal, and even a TV show. But one day (mild spoilers), someone hacks her and her whole life is revealed to be a lie: her recipes are by someone else, her entire origin story is fake, and she slept with someone who isn't her husband. As a result, her fans desert her, her husband leaves, and she loses the book and TV deal. Humiliated and friendless, Sunshine goes back to her hometown in the Hamptons, to the sister that hates her and the niece she never knew.

The story is written in the first person, from Sunshine's perspective, so if you like her voice, you'll probably like the book. I did like Sunshine, and I was rooting for her to finally acknowledge her part in what happened and to let go of the social media stuff (it took a while because Sunshine plotted to get back to Internet stardom)

Most of the book is what you expect, with Sunshine being 'forced' to face her past and attempt to reconcile with her sister, as well as decide what she really wants from life. For the most part, it's an easy and predictable read (which is good when you're stressed about packing and all you want is something light) and the only time I was blindsided was when the twist came.

And the twist really angered me so SPOILERS AHEAD.

It turns out that the person who hacked Sunshine and outed her was her husband (the one who left her when he 'found out' about her affair) and he did it because he 'loved' her.

And at the end of the book, she goes back to him.

Without him apologising (or if he did it was such a weak apology that I did not recognise it).

Can we talk about how messed up this is?

Yes, Sunshine was wrapped up in her lies at the start of the book and desperately needed to change, but the way to change someone is not to maliciously, deliberately, and publicly humiliate and destroy them. The book makes it clear the hacking isn't an amateur job - Sunshine's team changes the passwords and her husband has to get around that + build a website + schedule tweets to seem innocent to make this work. And he's supposedly the architect who's not into technology.

Which means that it was a well-thought-out plan. In all that time, he couldn't think of a better way to help Sunshine, such as getting her to therapy or TALKING TO HER ABOUT IT? (The book is clear that he was nothing but supportive outwardly while planning her downfall).

This is like if I tell you my house has cockroaches and instead of starting with cockroach traps, you take a match and burn down the house (without telling me)

What makes me angry about this is that it is presented as 'love'. No, this is not love. This is not a drastic intervention. Her husband basically destroyed her life and left her alone (apparently he called her sister a few times but to Sunshine, he was completely absent) and she still went back to him because she was pregnant and loves him.


This is not love but it's being presented as such and I worry that others will read the book and internalise the wrong message. No one should be allowed to hurt someone else in the name of love. To be clear, this is different from telling someone the painful truth or staging an intervention - that may be painful but it is like antiseptic on a wound, not burning a house down because cockroaches were found. One is necessary and the other isn't.

To be honest, I was really enjoying the book until the ending. It was a solid 4 stars and probably would have stayed that way if the ending was different, but this portrayal of 'love' has dropped it to a 1 star rating.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Social Life of Books by Abigail Williams

Note: I'm currently in the middle of moving back to Singapore and don't have access to wifi in Fukuoka. I'll be back in a few days, once I'm back home(:

I borrowed this book because... why wouldn't I? It's about books, which is one of my favourite things.

To be clear, this is not an easy read. It's about the ways people read in the 18th century and it's written in very dry, academic language. I almost stopped several times because of the language and the only reason I continued reading was because of the subject matter. To be fair, the fault is mine for assuming this would be an easy read.

The book covers 8 topics:

1. Reading aloud (the primary way people read then) and what that meant

2. How the act of reading was part of social life

3. How books were read

4. How people managed to get their hands on books

5. The pervasiveness of poetry

6. The difference between reading aloud and acting and what that meant

7. How people viewed fiction

8. How people viewed religious and scientific works.

I mentioned that the language was very academic and dry, but the subject matter is really interesting and I picked up a lot of interesting facts. For example, people used to read parts of books rather than from cover to cover, which explains the structure of older books.

And in the section on the novel, it is written that 'the novel might be seen as the antithesis of sociable reading' and so communal reading was encouraged to negate the 'isolating' effects of the novel. This second point was quite surprising to me because the novel is seen as helping to develop empathy nowadays, not encouraging people to become isolationists.

Oh, and if you're a fan of Jane Austen's Mansfield Hall, you'll enjoy the chapter on acting vs reading aloud because it helps to explain why it was so scandalous for the young people in the book to put on a play.

Overall, if you're interested in reading about reading and/or the history of reading, you should pick up this book. The style is a bit intimidating (I probably need a few more reads to properly get everything!) but the information is fascinating.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs

I was initially torn between getting my own copy of Tales of the Peculiar, since I heard that the binding was beautiful, and borrowing an ecopy from the library and eventually the cheapo in me won (though if the paperback is substantially different/1000x better please let me know).

Tales of the Peculiar is a book set in the Miss Peregrine series! If you haven't read the trilogy, it's the story of the brave and peculiar children who fight the monsters in the world. I finally finished the series a few weeks back and it was fantastic!

Anyway, this book played a pretty big part in the series, and since it is part of the trilogy, Tales of the Peculiar is supposedly authored by Millard Nullings, the invisible boy.

The book itself is a collection of ten of the tales that the peculiar children heard and supposedly contain clues to where other loops are found. One story, The Tale of Cuthbert, is actually mentioned and plays a role in the trilogy. The other nine stories were completely new to me. Each tale comes with a beautiful illustration.

I am going to be honest and say that while I enjoyed these extremely strange tales, I did not get any references to hidden worlds and such unless they were very obvious, like the story of the first Ymbryne or about the peculiar pigeons. But the stories are enjoyable (and more than a little unsettling) even without the context of the trilogy.

Millard Nullings, as editor, occasionally adds forwards and even alternate endings to the stories. I found these to be really interesting and if there was an annotated version (in those fake but legible handwriting fonts), with notes and deductions scribbled in the margins, I would probably buy my own copy.

If you are a fan of the Miss Peregrine series, you will definitely want to read this. If you haven't read this, I think you can still enjoy the stories as a short story anthology, but the concept of peculiars will not make as much sense. So you might as well start with the first book of the series.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

My Ideal Reading Space

About a month ago, Arhaus contacted me and gave me a post idea: talk about my ideal reading space. That sounded really fun and I agreed immediately. I spent some time browsing the Arhaus site (because I'm not a furniture person and didn't really know where to start) and in my ideal world, if I had unlimited funds:

My books would go in this Athens Grand Wall Unit. They have it in white too, but I thought that brown was a friendlier colour. Hopefully all my books would be able to fit into this (and if they do, then I have reason to buy more).

For lighting, I was looking at this Sylvanna chandelier.  Ideally, the room would have loads of natural light but I do read at night and I like how this chandelier looks like!

And then I got stumped about where I was actually going to read the books. After a while, I realised that I needed to divide by weather. For hotter climates like Singapore or Japan in summer/late spring/early autumn, I don't need chairs. All I want is a comfortable rug, like this Myknes rug:

As long as I can sprawl out somewhere with a book in hand, I'll be happy. And if I want to sit up, I'll just lean against the bookshelf. For winter, however, I'll want a kotatsu. A kotatsu is basically a heated table with blankets to trap the heat. It's fantastic and once you're in a kotatsu, you will never want to leave. Personally, something like the one on 99% Invisible would be perfect.

If I were in Japan during winter and I had a kotatsu and that huge bookshelf, I would probably never leave my spot (except to get tea and snacks, I suppose).

Disclaimer: I did not get paid for this post and the links in this post aren't affiliate links.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Her Last Secret by Barbara Copperthwaite

I requested Her Last Secret from NetGalley because I'm a sucker for thrillers. It was a bit slow going at the start but I felt like it paid off at the end.

Her Last Secret is about this seriously dysfunctional family and what happened that resulted in all of them seriously injured (and even one dead). The book starts with the police arriving at the house and basically jumps back and forth in time. Fulfilling Tolstoy's words that all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way:

- Dominique (Dom), the mother, just found out her husband had an affair and that has triggered her sleepwalking

- Benjamin (Ben), is in some kind of mysterious financial trouble that I will not elaborate on because it'll become a spoiler.

- Ruby, the eldest, is being bullied and feeling like no one understands her.

- Mouse (Amber), the younger daughter, is arguable the most innocent character in all this and most of her chapters are about her trying to make sense of the world

- Kendra, the mistress, wants Ben to leave Dom for her but nothing is working so far. Which means she has to take more and more drastic measures.

To be honest, I came very close to giving up on this book because all the characters (apart from Dom) were annoying. Yes, even Mouse, who is annoying in the way small kids who know nothing can be. Plus all the problems could be solved if everyone just communicated honestly and openly and that was frustrating.

But the dysfunctional dynamics eventually pulled me in and I ended up reading the second half of the book in one go because I wanted to find out what happened. It definitely gave me moments of frustration because I was like "JUST TALK WITHOUT YOUR PRIDE IN THE WAY" at all the characters but I couldn't put the book down.

If you're in the mood to read about a train wreck of a family then this is definitely the book for you. Most of the characters are unlikable to me, and while that normally means I don't finish the book, I found myself unable to put it down.

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

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Chinese Literary Canon by Yu Qiuyu

Every now and then, I feel guilty that I don't know more about Chinese literature (don't ask me why, I just do). But the problem is, I don't know where to start to learn about it. So when I saw this book while browsing through NLB's catalog, I thought it would be a good way to learn about Chinese literature.

To be honest, I almost gave up after the first chapter. The first chapter is the introduction and there were so many names referenced that I got thoroughly lost and thought I would never understand. But I decided to continue reading and the book got much, much better.

The Chinese Literary Canon is basically a series of essays exploring various aspects of Chinese literature in chronological order. The writing is expressive and elegant and it feels like a passionate teacher is standing in front of you, delivering a lecture (an interesting lecture, I should add). This isn't an unbiased account of history, this is one man's summation of his view of Chinese literature and the passion shines through every word.

There is so much of the book that is quotable, which is to say it rings true to me. For example, when talking about myth, the author writes:
"Why are myths and legends so often treated with contempt by historians? For one, they do not respect the boundaries of time and space, and because they free our imagination."
And when talking about Ruan Ji and his flouting of convention, the author notes that:
"This is a story that we have seen a thousand times throughout history: The prodigal son is often more true to the kernel of meaning than the most well-trained mommy' boy who follows every rule."
And when talking about the Tang Dynasty, the author touches on the idea of cultural purity and notes that:
"In truth, excessive purity is like a glass plate. It may be highly polished and crystal bright; but it is still small, thin, fragile. One day, some slight pressure will crack it, and it will cut your fingers. 
And in any event, isn't glass a compound? Can it really claim purity?"
There was only one chapter that struck me as slightly odd. In the chapter on Chinese archaeology, the author talks about the disruption the fall of the Qing dynasty has on the progress of Chinese archaeology, but completely neglects to talk about the effect of the cultural revolution and World War II. It may be that there is nothing worth talking about, but I found the gap to be odd.

I will not pretend that reading this has given me a grasp of the Chinese literary canon. While I feel like I understand more than I did before, large parts of the book still elude me. In the end, I read and let the words flow over me, grabbing what I could and letting go of the rest. I don't know if it's possible, but I would like to learn a bit more about Chinese literature and then reread this book, to see what a second reading would bring.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

The Goblins of Bellwater was inspired by the poem: Goblin Market. I've read the poem before and liked it, which is why I was super excited to read this retelling.

While The Goblins of Bellwater contains goblins and fruit (like the poem!) there's also something called a "Goblin liaison" in the book. The goblin liaison is Kit and his job is to basically steal gold for the goblins. In return, they give him the ability to steal and not get caught. He makes it a point to invoke protection for his cousin, Grady, when he comes, but that doesn't really help. You see, the goblins have enchanted Skye, the sister of the girl who will eventually be Kit's love interest and well, one thing leads to another.

This is supposed to be a romance, which is not a genre I read often, but I found this book to be really interesting. It's obviously not for kids or teenagers (though I can't really say how explicit the romance gets because I skimmed (basically skipped) those sections), but I thought that the world building was very well-done and I'm always up for a story involving plots and loopholes and trying to outsmart crafty creatures.

Kit, Lib, Skye and Grady were all well-developed and I really liked reading their story. I thought the romance developed naturally and made sense within the plot.

If you're into fantasy, and especially if you're a fan of romance, then you'll probably enjoy this book.

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Mother Tongue by Christine Gilbert

I picked this book up because language learning is something that interests me, even if I'm not very good at it. Mother Tongue is Christine's account to achieve 'a level of fluency' of Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish by spending about 6 months in China, Lebanon, and Mexico.

Since Christine only studied Spanish before the experiment, I was quite skeptical about whether this could be done. After 6 months of intensive Japanese, I could get around and go on a holiday, but I definitely would not describe myself as having achieved 'a level of fluency'.

To spoil the book (look away now if spoilers irk you!), the effort to learn Chinese was a failure, Arabic was much more successful and Christine probably had the most success with Spanish.

Interspersed with her account of how she tried to raise trilingual kids is her research on how we learn languages. I was pleased to know that Professor Cook, who is 'one of the foremost respected second-language acquisition academics in the world' recommends immersion + formal instruction in learning a foreign language, which is how I learned Japanese.

There are also plenty of musings on language and culture in the book, as Christine learns and considers the impact of culture on learning a language, whether being bilingual means that you're automatically bicultural, and if living overseas automatically means you have to either live like a native or in an expat bubble or if you can find your own balance.

I found this to be an interesting read. Christine was very honest about her failures and this led me to celebrate her successes with her. While the reason for this experiment was to make her son bilingual, I felt that there was more focus on her language journey. I think that resonated more than me than a story on how to teach your kids a second language would, but if you're a parent looking for ways to raise bilingual kids, you may not find many ideas here.

If you're interested in learning a new language or you're learning one, you may be interested in this book. I really enjoyed reading this and it made me more determined to make sure that I don't forget my Japanese after I move back.

Quotes I liked:

"If you learn another culture, it changes you. I mean, it'll start with trivial things like words for new concepts that you didn't have before. I don't think that you start off wanting to change, you start off wanting to learn, and the learning itself changes you." 
"[Y]ou have to fall in love with the culture to learn it."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bookish Mystery - Meanderings of Memory

A week or two ago, I noticed that I was approaching 1500 posts for this blog. I thought it would be nice to do something special for that post and stumbled across this bookish mystery soon after.  Coincidence?

Yes, probably but what a happy coincidence it is.

According to the Wikipedia article on this, Meanderings of Memory is a lost book. Despite the fact that it was cited as a "first or early source for over 50 entries" in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the current OED editors (and presumably by extension, everyone else) have not been able to locate a copy.

This mystery came to light in 2013, when a staffer involved in the ongoing revision of the OED sought to verify the earliest citation of the work but couldn't find the source (Meanderings of Memory). After looking at the original archival slips, it appears that these citations were from someone called Edward Peacock, who by all accounts was a credible source.

Unable to find the book, the OED posted an open appeal for information (this was before they found out that who the contributor was). While it is possible that the book never existed, Edward Peacock's other contributions were reliable, and the book has been found in several catalogues, making it unlikely to be a hoax.

Meanderings of Memory is supposed to have been written in 1852 by someone named 'Nightlark' (which was probably a pseudonym). Veronica Hurst, the chief bibliographer hypothesizes that based on the language, Meanderings of Memory may be a "flowery" book of poetry "five to ten pages long". It's also possible that the reason why a surviving copy doesn't exist is because the book was pornographic or published through some unusual method.

Both the comments on the OED appeal page and a Reddit thread throw up some interesting theories, such as the possibility that Edward Peacock was Nightlark. Another theory I read suggests that since the Latin epigraph of the book (which we know from the catalogues) reference a Philomena, who in Greek mythology transformed into a nightingale, this could mean that Nightlark was a lady poetess. If you're interested, I would suggest reading both pages for more information and theories.

I'm not sure if this is a mystery that will ever be solved, but it's certainly one of the more interesting bookish mysteries that I've come across!

Friday, October 20, 2017

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Note, I read this a long, long time ago (in 2012) but I found new things on a second read, so here's another review (though truth be told, my first review was longer). 

I am so pleased that I managed to get this one sale (for only 300 yen!) I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth book in the Tiffany Aching books, which in turn is part of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I actually found the Discworld series through Tiffany Aching, which is why her books hold a special place in my heart.

When I Shall Wear Midnight starts, Tiffany is running herself ragged as the witch of the Chalk. But along with the advent of Roland, her former maybe-beau's impending wedding, Tiffany finds that someone - or something - is poisoning the minds of people, inciting them to hatred against wishes. With the help of the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the cause of the poison and face what may be her greatest enemy so far.

I found this book to be lots of fun, especially since Granny Weatherwax, Granny Ogg and Ankh Morpork (which means the Watch) all make an appearance. Even the King and Queen of Lancre appear (though I'm not so familiar with those books). If you're familiar with the Discworld series, you will definitely appreciate seeing all these characters together.

Plus, any book with the Nac Mac Feegle is sure to be fun. I loved reading about them and any scene with them had something that made me chuckle. They even get to find a long-lost family member in this book!

On a slightly more somber note, I thought that this book was a great exploration of how hate spreads. The hatred of witches was explained through the following saying:
"Poison goes where poison's welcome."
And I think it rings true. For hatred of something/someone to take root in someone, there must be something (maybe fear, maybe prejudice) that made the person susceptible to hatred. This is a poison that only works in the right environment.

Overall, this was a fun and surprisingly deep read. I enjoy seeing this older version of Tiffany, though in my mind she is forever that nine-year-old girl who rescued her brother from the Fairy Queen. I am tempted yet reluctant to read the last book in this series because it is also the last Discworld book. There are some things that I would prefer not to end.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Scarecrow Princess by Federico Rossi Edrig

I requested this from NetGalley because the blurb mentioned myths, a crow king and basically sounded like a modern day fairytale. The actual comic was a bit different.

The story starts when Morrigan, her mother, and her brother move to a small town. Morrigan is upset because this move was for her mother and brother's new project, and she reacts by acting like the 14-year-old girl she is. But when the crow king from the myth turns out to be true, Morrigan finds that she is the appointed scarecrow princess meant to stop him.

The first thing I didn't like was the drawing style. I realise this was on the cover and really is a personal thing, but it didn't grow on me at all. I suppose the rough style could be reminiscent of Morrigan's prickly character and the dark nature of a fairytale, but it just felt unfinished most of the time.

The second thing I didn't like was the pacing. I think this is actually the main reason why the book disappointed me. Everything was wrapped up in this one volume and that means things had to move at a quick pace. Morrigan must grow up, she must meet (and then quarrel with) friends, there must be a twist, etc. I suppose if this was spread over a few volumes, the story could have had enough room to breath, but as it is everything felt rushed.

And there is one more thing: the ending section of the story was weird. (Spoiler alert!) At the end of the book, after what felt like sexual talk from the crow king, Morrigan and the crow king have a heart-to-heart conversation (as much as two enemies can) while the two of them are completely naked.

Let me remind you that Morrigan is a 14-year-old girl and the crow king, while not explicitly given an age, appears to be an adult.

It feels like the more I think about the book, the more I dislike it. It's a real pity because the premise had a lot of promise and I think if the story was given more room to breathe (and remembered that the protagonist is a young girl), it could have been a great story. But as it, it's just disappointing.

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

(To be honest, I'm still not sure about whether I'm going to give this one or two stars on NetGalley, but the more I think about the fact that a fourteen-year-old girl was unnecessarily sexualised, the more I lean towards a one star.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The World's Most Haunted House by William J. Hall

I borrowed this because it sounded pretty interesting, although I had no idea what I was getting into. Also, I've never heard of the house on Lindley Street so this was all new to me. Basically, this is about a haunting that took place on Lindley Street in Bridgeport. The book purports to be an objective account and analysis of the affair, but it's quite clearly on the side of "this is real".

This haunted house revolved around the Goodin family - Gerald (nicknamed Jerry), Laura, and the little girl they adopted, Marcia. Jerry and Laura had a little boy, who tragically passed away. Because of that, they were overprotective of Marcia. And then one day, weird stuff started happening. Things were moved, first small, and then large. And eventually, even the couch moved in the presence of eyewitnesses. In their attempt to get help, the Goodins called in quite a few people, but after a while the case was dismissed as a hoax.

The book starts with an account of the case, and then it gives information such as witness interviews, interview transcripts with the Goodins, etc. There are also a lot of photos but the quality isn't good and they seem to be there more for atmosphere than to illustrate a point (or maybe it was just my ecopy?).

While the book repeatedly mentions that the media called this a hoax, it never really goes into detail why or gives the other side. The most I can tell is that because Marcia admitted to faking some things, they assumed everything was faked. The book takes the stance that some things (the stuff that was admitted) was faked but there were actual paranormal phenomena involved.

I thought this was a fascinating read, but I would have much preferred to see the other side of the story as well and be allowed to make up my own mind instead of being told this was an objective account and that I should believe it. And this is another personal preference, but I would prefer the research to be woven into the narrative rather than be a separate part.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tooth and Nail, Fur and Scale by Anupam Arunachalam

I clicked on this book because of the cover and I decided to borrow it because of the blurb. From the blurb, I was under the impression that this book was going to introduce creatures from Indian myths. Since I don't know much about Indian myth and legends, I was super excited to learn more.

Well, I was a little mistaken. Sure, there were quick introductions to the creatures, but this is mainly a short story anthology featuring Indian mythological creatures. Which is just as interesting as a reference book (ok maybe more).

What I really liked about all these stories is that they were set in India with Indian characters. I know it sounds obvious but for some reason, a lot of stories with Japanese mythology tend to star white people (or perhaps those just stick in my mind because I don't like them). So I appreciated that these creatures were shown in the country, culture, and tradition that they actually belonged too.

I liked all the stories but my favourites were:

Last Words, which stars the Crocotta and has courtly intrigue and betrayal in it.

Guardian of the Font, which was mostly cute and a little sad story about how mythological creatures have to adapt to modern times. (Another story, The Great Understanding, also deals with this theme and I enjoyed it a lot too)

Safe Haven, about deadly ants and had a very smart girl as the heroine.

The Writing on the Wall, about a very unique witch and how one boy learns to use her curse against her - this character probably grew up to become a lawyer.

There are a total of 15 stories in this book and you should read all of them. It's available via the NLB ereads site (or it will be once I return it) and I would recommend everyone who enjoys myths and legends to read this.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Disney Manga: Tangled by Shiori Kanaki

You all should know that I'm a huge Disney fan. I mean, it's what I watched growing up and I still love the movies. And of course I loved Tangled (listening to the Chinese version of I See the Light as I write this review). So when I saw this manga up for review on NetGalley, I immediately requested it.

The manga is pretty much what you expect. The story is very faithful to the movie, so if you've watched the movie, you know what's going to happen (and if you haven't watched the movie, then what have you been doing??)

The only thing that I found a bit off were the bits that featured songs. And that part where Rapunzel is struggling with her feelings after leaving the castle. The scenes work great in the movie, but they're a bit awkward in manga form.

And as for whether you'd like this manga version, I think most of it depends on what you think of the style. It's pretty much like what you see on the cover, but here's a screenshot:

It's pretty close to the Disney original, but the eyes are a bit bigger and the features are softer. I think it looks pretty nice on Rapunzel, but it looks a bit off on Flynn/Eugene.

There's not much that's new here, so it's really for the super fans rather than people looking to see what Rapunzel is all about (again, what have you been doing?). I would recommend this for the die hard fans who love manga.

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Some Photos from Okinawa

As you may know, I've been on a holiday in Okinawa. While I'm still going through the photos that I took using my camera, I thought I'd share a few photos that I grabbed with my phone (yes, I definitely took too many photos):

Manzamo Cape

Taking a break at a cafe - The photo looks odd because the food was originally very dark and this was my best attempt to lighten it.

My sis and I at the beach.

Photo of said beach - I am in love with the beaches at Okinawa! The water is so clear!

One of the whale sharks at Churaumi aquarium - The aquarium was really cool and it's definitely a must-visit if you're ever in Okinawa! It is a little crowded though.

This photo was taken at Shuri Castle - also another must-visit spot. Do try the tea set (310 yen for sanpin tea + 4 types of sweets!)

At the entrance of Gyokusendo caves. It's part of a larger attraction called Okinawa World so if you ever want to explore caves, experience Okinawan culture and see some snakes, this is the place to go (we did not go see the snakes because I am not a fan).

My sister and I in Okinawan kimonos! We got this taken at Okinawa world as well!

I'll be blogging about the trip in detail at my other blog once the photos are ready, so feel free to check it out.

I also got quite a bit of reading done on the trip, so the reviews will be appearing here soon!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

I'm not sure why but the book A Monster Calls keeps popping up and it sounds really interesting. But when I search for the book, I found out it was started by Siobhan Dowd and finished posthumously by another writer. And with the weird way my brain works, I figured that I needed to read a book by her before moving on to A Monster Calls.

Bog Child (which was also published posthumously, but finished before her death) is a historical novel set in Ireland. While Fergus is out with his 'uncle' Tally, he comes across a body in a bog. Soon, it's discovered that this is not a murder but an archeology and Fergus starts to dream of the bog child while navigating the exams which are an escape route, his brother on a hunger strike in prison, and falling in love.

On the whole, Bog Child is a quiet novel. There aren't a lot of explosive action scenes (although he is forced into doing something he doesn't want to), and it feels more like the journey of an 18 year old as he tries to make sense of the chaotic and confusing world around him.

Maybe quiet is the wrong word. I mean to say that despite the fact that the IRA and murdered bog children are involved, this is not a thriller.

And I'm guessing that this is also supposed to be an exploration of a complex issue, but I finished the book not liking the IRA. This was mainly because:

1. I find it incredibly selfish for Fergus' brother to cause his mom and sisters so much pain just because he doesn't get special status as a prisoner. I understand that I'm probably missing the picture but the way the book was written, I wasn't convinced that they needed this special status (perhaps there was an assumption that the reader had the requisite knowledge which I don't have).

2. Owain, the 'other side', was basically a normal dude (which I guess is what Fergus was supposed to realise) and I didn't really see any villains from his sides.

3. The ones making Fergus do things that went against his will identified with the IRA. I suppose it's more an indictment of how people will use any means to get to an end, but I can't say the book made me sympathetic towards the IRA, despite all the talk about needing a free Ireland.

The Bog Child is a character-driven novel and I really like how the character of Fergus was developed. I really liked the amount of empathy that he had for others and that the lengths that he was willing to go for his family.

All in all, this is a very beautifully novel that manages to capture how it feels to navigate a world that is falling to bits around you.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

Sidenote: I'll be heading on vacation with my sister for the next few days and I am definitely not bringing my computer with me. So, no posts for about a week(: Looking forward to reading time and then reading about what everyone read when I'm back!

This book has been on my TBR list for ages because I've heard people bring it up constantly since Trump got elected. Since I've heard both good and bad things, I figured that I had to read this myself and decide. And now that I've finished it, I've decided I'm in the "this is good, you should read it" camp of people.

Hillbilly Elegy is the memoir of J. D. Vance, a guy who grew up in Middletown (Rustbelt city) and Jackson (Appalachian town). Despite his dysfunctional background, he managed to do something that very few of his peers managed to do - go to university and then to Yale Law School. Just the words "Yale Law School" sound impressive to me, but reading about his childhood made me realise that his achievement really was amazing and something of a statistical anomaly.

While J. D. Vance does cite statistics and studies in this book, it is, at heart, a memoir and not an academic study. Its focus is on the story of a poor white family, and by telling that story, I as the reader get to understand the thinking and values of a community completely unfathomable to me. Which is pretty much the power of reading.

I think expectations are important in reading this book. This book has definitely been hyped up and I've seen things like "this helps to understand why Trump won" (spoiler: there isn't really a discussion about Trump, although there is a discussion on why people like Vance's family vote the way they do). But this book is essentially a memoir, not a discussion of a community (though it does a good job of helping one understand/start to understand the community). You also shouldn't expect a comparison between poor white communities and the African-American community, which has also been historically disadvantaged. To repeat: this is the story of a family and not an academic study.

By the way, one random thing that caught my eye is the connection this book has to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which is definitely not something I expected when I read this book. But when J. D. Vance went to Yale, one of his mentors was Amy Chua and she basically encouraged him to write the book. I checked and it's the same Amy Chua (and now I feel like re-reading her book).

If you're in the mood for a memoir, I would definitely recommend this book. If you're like me and live/grew up in Singapore, J. D's life will be completely unfamiliar to you. And that is precisely why you should read about it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

On the Spectrum by Jennifer Gold

This is a book that I couldn't resist requesting because it covers a topic that is really near and dear to me.

On the Spectrum is the story of Clara and her half-brother Alastair. Clara, the daughter of a famous ballerina mother, tries to 'eat clean' but maybe suffering from orthorexia which is an eating disorder (don't think she was ever formally diagnosed though). After a Twitter incident, she decides to finally accept her dad's offer and go to Paris for the school holidays to escape everything and meet her brother Alastair, who has autism but is high functioning (they keep saying 'on the spectrum' but it's really just high functioning autism).

The entire reason why I requested this book was because of Alastair. My brother has autism and like Alastair, he's considered high functioning. And that gives him a whole other set of problems. For example, my brother finds it very hard to make friends and gets bullied in school. So when I saw Alastair going through the same things (and through the lens of an older sister character no less!) my heart really broke for him. I love this book because it shows how hard kids like my brother and Alastair have it, and if it convinces even one person to be kinder than the world has been made slightly better.

I guess I should also talk about Clara and her relationship with food, but apart from the fact that I could sort of understand what she feels (but have no self control to give up snacks), I don't have much to say. All my feelings for this book were taken up by Alastair and the way that he and Clara were bonding.

Oh yeah and there's a romance in here but I don't have much to say about that either. I didn't particularly need it, but I wasn't annoyed by it and anyway I think we've all established that I read the book for only one reason.

I would highly recommend this book because of Alastair. That kid is adorable and reminds me of my brother and pretty much carried the book for me. Clara's own struggles were pretty well-developed too and I imagine would resonate with a lot of people.

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

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler

I can't remember why this particular title in the Bryant and May series was in my TBR list, but it sounded like something I was in the mood for so I decided to pick it up. And guess what? A strange mystery involving our odd detectives was what I wanted to read.

Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart starts with what appears to be a zombie rising from the grave. Obviously this freaks out the poor boy and the girl he was trying to impress. But then said boy is murdered and Bryant is convinced that there is a link. The only thing is that the department has a new boss and she only speaks organisational jargon (and I really laughed when I read her first lines).

Like the previous book I read, this story takes a meandering course as Bryant goes after not only a murderer but also the person who stole the ravens at the Tower of London. It very much mimics his thought pattern and made for and interesting read. I did wonder if I would find the ending a bit too unbelievable but I realised that every conclusion Bryant reached made sense (even if he didn't follow proper investigation protocols).

I'm also started to get a better sense of the supporting characters. Bryant and May I liked from the start, but now I can picture Raymond Land (the reluctant boss without authority), Janice Longbright and Renfield (although I found Renfield's daughter to have a stronger personality), and Meera. There's still one or two that didn't leave much of an impression, but I'm sure that this will rectify itself if I continue reading about the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

If you're interested in an off-beat mystery with a cast of odd and mostly lovable characters, you'll want to pick up this book (and I suppose the whole series). I found this to be an easy and interesting read and I will definitely be reading more of this series, although I doubt I'd be reading it in order. (That might mess up some character subplots but I think the books should be able to work as standalones too)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Notes from an Even Smaller Island by Neil Humphreys

Decided to take a trip down memory lane and reread this! I remember it being side-splittingly funny and luckily my memory isn't as bad as I feared. If you haven't heard of the book before, Notes from an Even Smaller Island is basically a collection of essays by Neil Humphrey, an ang moh who moved to Singapore from Britain.

I remember the book being funny the first time round, but I didn't remember it making such good points. The book actually tackles issues like depending on filial piety to support the elderly, education in Singapore and even the kampung spirit (of course, there are many chapters on the funny people that Neil knows so this is by no means a serious book). I found that I agreed with a lot of his points and I like that he made them with humour.

On thing that I particularly liked was when he was talking about our (and expats) tendency to congregate together. In Singapore, expats tend to have their own enclaves. Overseas, Asians tend to stick together. This isn't a bad thing, but I do agree with Neil that it's a bit of a waste if you do overseas and end up replicating the life and social circle that you had back home.

Also, I did not realise that as recently as 2001 (ok that isn't so recent) there were Singaporeans who would go on tour to America and have Chinese food for almost every meal! That is seriously inconceivable to me (and I think many people now) and I'm glad that we've outgrown that (I hope).

The book does feel a little dated because he's describing a snapshot of Singapore, but there is so much warmth and humour here that I found myself enjoying this reread as much as I did the first time. In fact, I may have enjoyed it more this time round.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

I'm so glad that I started this NetGalley book on my off day, when I decided not to go out because this book was un-putdownable!

Emma in the Night starts when Cass comes back after having disappeared three years ago. But right from the start, one can tell that Cass is an unreliable narrator, because she talks about how she has to make people believe that Emma is alive.

The other narrator is Dr. Abigail Winter, a forensic psychologist working for the FBI. Cass and her sister Emma's disappearance has always haunted her because she recognises that Cass and Emma's mother is a narcissist, like hers. So when Cass reappears and claims that her sister is still being held captive, she knows that she has to get to the bottom of the case.

The book alternates between Cass and Dr. Winters and this leads to constant tension. Cass reveals a bit of the past, Dr. Abigail shows where the investigation is going, and bit by bit, the truth starts to come out.

Where this book excels is in its depiction of Cass and Emma's family and how dysfunctional they are. Cass is not the perfect character, but as I read on, I really felt for her. In most cases, I would probably dislike her because come on, her first action is her lying to her family and that is not a save the car moment, but because I saw how damaged she was, I ended up rooting for her even through her worst actions.

Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this book, I'm finding it hard to write to put this into words. It's quite hard to write details about the plot or characters without giving spoilers away, so I'm just going to end by encouraging everyone who loves thrillers to give it a go.

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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Alice in Wonderland Tea

It's a rare Sunday post from me! Well, I finally have something book-related that is not a review that I wanted to share. I suppose I could share this any day of the week but I have this "weekdays are for reviews" mentality. Anyway, I bought these today: 

Alice in Wonderland tea!! Even though I really shouldn't be buying more (because I already have way too much to drink), I just couldn't resist these!

I really love the details on the packaging, from the top of the box

To the little message on the lid.

I decided to open up one packet of Alice Grey Tea (which is basically Earl Grey Tea) and I really love the design on the packet too. Is it bad that I want to save everything?

I thought the tag at the end was cute as well.

The tea was delicious too. It was very fragrant (I could smell the oil once I opened the box), but it didn't taste too overpowering and I really enjoyed my mug of tea. Yes, I use a mug because a cup simply isn't enough. I can't wait to try the breakfast tea too(:

By the way, each box cost me about 200 yen, which I find really cheap. If you're in Japan, you can check out the nearest Kaldi - that's where I found these.