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.