Thursday, January 30, 2014

Failure and the American Writer by Gavin Jones

When I requested this book, I thought it was going to be a historical book - how American writers struggled with failure. But, it's actually a literary book - how American writers treat failure and how some of their "failed" works are actually not that much of a failure. Oops, that was a huge mistake in the assumption I made.

The authors and their (failed) works that are examined are Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, Sarah Orne Jewett and Henry James. Personally, I wish there was a better gender balance, especially since the Sarah Orne chapter talked about Edith Wharton as well, and it seemed like examining The House of Mirth as a treatment of failure would result in some interesting analysis.

What this book is mostly concerned is getting meaning out of the "failed" works of authors. For example, for Mark Twain, the text examined is Pudd'nhead Wilson. It's a text that Mark Twain admits starts as one story but became another - and the changes were so huge they weren't changed well. But instead of this simply being Mark Twain being careless in writing, the analysis is that "the text of Pudd'nhead Wilson replicates this ontological insecurity, just as its characters are unable to stand alone as integral and consistent units."

Personally, I'm not entirely convinced by the book. It does make some interesting arguments, especially Sarah Orne Jewett, that her failure (through the lack of plot) is a deliberate Resistance to plot. But for most cases, I do wonder if it's simply the case that the author just failed to use his talents to the full.

The book is quite dense, but it's a rewarding read. While I won't say that it's very readable, if you have an interest in this subject, you'll probably enjoy reading what this author has to say. Now, if you want to test whether you'll understand and enjoy the book, take a look at the following sentence:

"Contradictions in narrative authority mean that there is no way for the novel to manage or transcend a collapse of psychological integrity that is wired into the normative self."

If you understood everything and it piques your interest, then this book is for you! And don't worry, the book does have the occasional moment of humour. For example, the chapter on Sarah Orne Jewett and her sketches is called "Sarah Orne Jewett Falling Short." In fact, now that I look at the chapter titles, all of them are puns.

So if you have an interest in the literary analysis of failure, especially of the six authors mentioned, you should pick up this book. If you're just a literature buff, this is a good book to use when you want to stretch your brain muscles.

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

After I read The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, I decided that I needed to go back and read the previous books. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first book in the series and I found it really interesting.

Flavia de Luce is 11 and annoying adorable. I find her adorable, but her older sisters find her annoying and they bully her quite often. But with her interest in Chemistry, Flavia has her own unique ways of getting her own back.

Wait, that's not the plot of the book (though it does start out that way - with Flavia bound and shoved into a cupboard by her as sisters. The actual plot though, is concerned with Flavia trying to figure out who killed the mysterious man who died in her garden. But since she's an 11 year old girl, the police force isn't too keen on her 'help'. That doesn't stop her though.

Hint: It has something to do with stamps. And history.

I must say though, Flavia's sisters are much meaner that I ever was. At least, I don't think I was that mean to my younger sisters, but that may be a matter of perception. Ok, at the very least, I've never bounded and locked my sisters in a cupboard.

My favourite part of the book has to be the narrative voice. Flavia is such a precocious child, which actually allowed for fairly difficult ideas to be expressed by a naive voice. The contrast was well-done, although at times, it veered towards being over-the-top. But it is a difficult voice to handle, so props for doing it well most of the time.

A wide variety of characters were introduced, and I can see that many of them are going to be recurring characters. Well, I know because I've read the latest book, and it was fun to see how those characters were introduced.

I can't wait to read more of this series!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tesla's Attic by Neil Shusterman and Eric Elfman

Halfway through this book, I had this sneaking suspicion that the author is a fan of Cracked (the science section anyway), if not a contribute. Why? Because
a) Tesla
b) [SPOILER ALERT] Einstein is the founder of the evil organisation (aka the Accelerati)

But, since this book is targeted at middle-schoolers (so I'm guessing upper primary to lower secondary?), there are no f-bombs or such swear words. Instead, what you get is a fun and exciting read.

Tesla's Attic follows Nick, a new kid that moves to Colorado Springs after a fire destroys his house and takes his mom away. His dad is an ex-professional basketball player, which means that's the main breadwinner of the family was mom. Soon after he moves in, he discovers an attic full of stuff and decides to host a garage sale. His garage sale is almost a failure, until he switches on a lamp that attracts people to his sale.

Later, Nick realises that the objects that he's sold are more than they appear. So together with Mitch (he looks like a loser, but there's a bit more to his family), Vincent (the emo kid) and Caitlin (the popular cheerleader who's not satisfied with her life. Also, she makes weird smash-art). At the same time, he's being stalked by Petula, a creepy girl that loves anything new, and has to deal with Theo, Caitlin's boyfriend.

In this sense, the book is normal. The cast of characters interact in ways that you'll expect. They're all well-written characters and even if the book was just about how Nick tries to fit in, I would have liked it.

But, the book goes beyond that. It has an awesome premise - protecting Tesla's inventions. For most of this book, Nick and friends are busy trying to get back the items he sold, figuring out what to do with them, what they do, and of course, trying to figure out why the Acclerati wants them so badly.

So in this way, this book is mainly about introducing the key players and establishing the larger narrative, and it ends in a way that very clearly tells you: THERE IS ANOTHER BOOK COMING. And yes, I'm looking forward to the next book very very much.

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

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hijack in Abstract by Larissa Reinhart (Spotlight and Review)

I'm not sure what to call this book. It's supposed to be a cozy mystery, but the words "cozy mystery" remind me of Agatha Christie or "The Cat Who..." series. This book, while not grim, is a bit more grown-up.

Sherry Tucker, our protagonist, is pulled into a mystery when the Sheriff (who also happens to be her uncle) calls her in to make a profile sketch. But soon, the witness is killed and well, she starts poking her nose in.

To me, this book isn't so much a mystery as a really exhilarating ride as Sherry gets pulled into one situation after another. Her "solving" the mystery had more to do with coincidence than actual deduction (at least to me). But, when there's so much drama to be had, I'm not complaining.

Now, Sherry's life has so much drama that if I even start to describe them, this review will never end. But the one thing that caught my attention would be the love triangle. There's Sherry, and there's Todd (ex-husband, but she got the marriage annulled) and there's Luke (ex-boyfriend, cop) and I don't even know if Max (shady rich foreigner that she's trying to get arrested - but he helps her out) is in the picture. Personally, I'm rooting for Todd, seems he seems really sweet and supportive. But then again, I haven't read the earlier books in the series (I really have to fix that).

I'm actually amazed that this book isn't longer. It packs a lot of punch with all the drama going on. If you're in need of entertainment, you should check out this book.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book in exchange for a free and honest review as part of Buy The Book Blog Tours.

Humor, Hijackings and a Handful of Hunks . . . 
With a classical series sold and a portrait commissioned, Cherry Tucker’s art career is in Georgia overdrive. But when the sheriff asks Cherry to draw a composite sketch of a hijacker, her life takes a hairpin as the composite leads to a related murder, her local card-sharking buddy Max Avtaikin becomes bear bait and her nemesis labels the classical series “pervert art.”
Cherry’s jamming gears between trailer parks, Atlanta mansions, and trucker bars searching for the hijacker who left a widow and orphan destitute. While she seeks to help the misfortunate and save her local reputation, Cherry’s hammer down attitude has her facing the headlights of an oncoming killer.
“The fast-paced plot careens through small-town politics and deadly rivalries, with zany side trips through art-world shenanigans and romantic hijinx. Like front-porch lemonade, Reinhart’s cast of characters offers a perfect balance of tart and sweet.” – Sophie Littlefield, Bestselling Author of A Bad Day for Sorry
“Reinhart manages to braid a complicated plot into a tight and funny tale…Cozy fans will love this latest Cherry Tucker mystery.” – Mary Marks, New York Journal of Books
“I love this series! Cheeky, clever, and compelling—keeps me reading way too late. This book has one of the most original—and fun—love triangles you’ll ever come across.” – Kaye George, Agatha Award-Nominated Author of the Imogene Duckworthy Mysteries
“Cherry Tucker is back – tart-tongued and full of sass. With her paint-stained fingers in every pie, she’s in for a truckload of trouble.” – J.J. Murphy, Author of the Algonquin Round Table Mysteries
“Witty, fast paced dialogue sandwiched between vivid descriptions and interesting characters made Hijack in Abstract come to life before my eyes. Larissa Reinhart and Cherry Tucker have a lifelong fan. My recommendation—don’t miss this one!” – Christine Warner, Author of Bachelor’s Special
“Artist Cherry Tucker just can’t help chasing after justice, even when it lands her up to her eyeballs in Russian gangsters, sexy exes, and treacherous truckers. A rambunctious mystery as Southern as chess pie and every bit as delectable.” – Jane Sevier, Author of the Psychic Socialite 1930s Memphis Mysteries
“A true work of art…I didn’t want this book to end! I was so caught up in Cherry’s crazy life, I wanted to just keep reading. You will, too.” – Gayle Trent, Author of Battered to Death
“Cherry Tucker’s got an artist’s palette of problems, but she handles them better than da Vinci on a deadline. Bust out your gesso and get primed for humor, hijackings, and a handful of hunks!” – Diane Vallere, Author of the Style & Error and Mad for Mod Mystery Series
“Reinhart took me on a fun rollercoaster ride…I haven’t had this much fun trying to solve a mystery in a while and it sure beats playing a game of Clue any day!Four out of five stars.” – Literary, etc.

There are many places you don’t want to be at zero dark thirty, but I’ve got a personal top three. One is the ER. Second is a police station. The third is your ex-boyfriend’s bedroom.
Thank God Almighty I was not in number three. Stupid does catch me occasionally, but not this night. I was nowhere near an ex-boyfriend’s bedroom.
At two forty-five in the morning, I found myself in number two. The Forks County Sheriff’s Office to be accurate. My cornflower blues were a bit bloodshot and blurry, but my grin matched Shep Peterson’s, who also found himself in a similar location. However, Shep had a drunk tank grin. Mine was more of a self-congratulatory grin, born from knowing that finally someone in Forks County had recognized my accomplishments in the art world. Never mind the phone call that woke me from a dead sleep and near gave me a heart attack.
Or that I had to drive my sister’s Firebird because her vehicle was blocking my driveway. Or that I now sat in the junior officers’ room with a cold cup of coffee and had just realized I had forgotten to comb my bed-head designed blonde cowlicks in my bleary-eyed haste.
And to put on a bra.
The Forks County Sheriff, Uncle Will, needed my expertise. That’s all that mattered. And I was going to get paid.
Needed me for what was still a bit vague. I hoped nothing needing brushed hair and a bra.
* * * * *
With my messenger bag bumping my back, I hugged my chest, figuring it best not to give an extra show to Shep and the boys. I followed Uncle Will down the hallway, waiting while he unlocked a door. The door opened and two faces turned to look at us. One I didn’t recognize, but judging by his despondent expression, I figured he was probably in a mess of trouble. The other person, another deputy, I identified immediately. Hard not to recognize those brown ochre curls with the highlights I had decided were transparent oxide-red lake. Or the lean, muscled body, much like Michelangelo’s David. Or by the strong jaw buttressing two adorable dimples that made a rare showing.
Unfortunately, I knew Deputy Luke Harper a little too well.
He gave me a scant nod and turned back to the perp.
My hand snuck back to my hair and yanked on a particularly tall cowlick in back. I gritted my teeth and gave myself a quick lecture not to make a scene. We had aired our irreconcilable differences behind the local roadhouse, Red’s County Line Tap, a few months ago and I had not quite recovered.
“That’s Tyrone Coderre,” said Uncle Will. “He’s going to give you a description to draw. We need a composite sketch.”
Uncle Will stopped me before I entered the room and pulled me to the side. “Can I leave Deputy Harper in there with you or do I need to call in another officer? Harper’s the one who picked up Coderre, so this is his investigation.”
“I’m quite capable of separating my personal and professional life,” I said, tilting my chin so I could eyeball Uncle Will. “You might want to ask the same of him.”
“I trust Luke not to screw up his job. You are another story.”
I gave him a “why, I never” gasp.
“I’m going to be watching through the two-way.” He tapped my messenger bag. “Lucky for you, I don’t know other artists to call during the middle of the night. Wouldn’t want to be accused of nepotism. But I want a sketch while the memory is still fresh in Coderre’s mind. Don’t disappoint me, Cherry.”
“So, this is an important investigation?” Excitement zipped through my veins and made my fingers tingle. “I won’t let you down. You can even deputize me if you want.”
Uncle Will chuckled. “Just draw us a good picture. That’s plenty helpful.”
“Yes, sir,” I said and snuck by him to enter the room. I nodded to the man in the black sweat suit behind the table and held out my hand. “Hello, Mr. Coderre. I’m Cherry Tucker, a local artist.”
“Don’t shake his hand,” barked Luke. “Are you crazy?”
Tyrone Coderre’s cuffed hands retreated below the table, and I blew out a hard breath.
Looked like it was going to be a long night. At least the criminal had manners.
Couldn’t say the same for the cop.
About Larissa
Growing up in a small town, Larissa Reinhart couldn’t wait to move to an exotic city far from corn fields. After moving around the US and Japan, now she loves to write about rough hewn characters that live near corn fields, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble.
HIJACK IN ABSTRACT is the third in the Cherry Tucker Mystery Series from Henery Press, following STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW (May 2013) and PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist. QUICK SKETCH, a Cherry Tucker prequel to PORTRAIT, is in the mystery anthology THE HEARTACHE MOTEL (December 2013).
Larissa lives near Atlanta with her minions and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit. Visit her website or find her chatting with the Little Read Hens on Facebook.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

I regret not reading this book earlier. It's more than an autobiography, it also traces South Africa's journey to racial equality.

Like the title says, this is about the road to freedom. The very very long walk to freedom. Mandela spent about two decades in prison for this. Think about it, two decades. I'm only two decades old. Or should I use the world "already"? But anyway, what I'm trying to say is that he made a great sacrifice for his country.

But what I find most admirable about Mandela isn't his imprisonment - it's how he has no bitterness towards the Afrikaners. The Afrikaners, if you're as ignorant as I was and didn't know, are the descendants of Dutch Settlers. They were also the group responsible for legalising apartheid. And life under apartheid was terrible. Really really terrible. And yet, Mandela worked with these people and saw them as part of his country.

It's really a testament to how amazing Mandela is that he found the good even in his jailers. Yet at the same time, he's not naive. He was the one that initiated an armed struggle when he realised that non-violent protest weren't working. And he was the one who reached out to the government that imprisoned him in order to try and heal this country.

While this is a long book, it's a book that everyone needs to read. The writing is clear and easy to follow along, and trust me, you'll walk away from the book understanding the need for racial equality. It's a message that hit hard, since Singapore is a multi-racial country, and especially since we had that riot at the end of last year. Singapore as a country was founded on the principles of meritocracy (it was why we got kicked out of Malaysia after all), and I really hope that we continue to aim to be a meritocratic country.

And on a personal note, if it wasn't for Mandela and the ANC, I never would have met one of my closest friends. So thank you Mandela and all your comrades in the ANC.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

American Crucifixion by Alex Beam

I saw this book on NetGalley and thought it looked interesting. It's supposed to be about how the murder of Joseph Smith led to a change in the Mormon Church and made it what it is today. It turned out to be a bit larger than that, with an introduction of how Mormonism came about up to the aftermath of the Church.

And it was a very gripping read.

This book explains how Joseph Smith became an outcast, and how his vocal enemies finally killed him, vigilante style. And with his sudden death, the Mormon Church was lost and there was a brief leadership struggle. There were those who support polygamy, and those that didn't. And it didn't help that Joseph Smith publicly condemned polygamy, but then secretly went around marrying his many wives and even trying to seduce a few of the elder's wives.

It seems to me that it's in the later years of Joseph Smith's life that he radically departs from mainstream Christianity. True, the whole Angel Moroni visitation is a direct contradiction of the words in the book of Revelation, but it's not till his later years that his theology veers off into a completely different direction and ends up becoming a whole new religion.

Personally, the one that I sympathise with the most is his wife Emma, who stuck with him his whole life, and ended up fooling herself into believing that he never strayed from their marital bed. She obviously loved her husband a lot.

This is a very interesting and readable account of the history of the Mormon Church. If you have any interest in Mormonism, you might want to pick this book up.

Disclaimer: I got a free galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

All Things Considered by G.K. Chesterton

Every time I read a book by Chesterton, I come away with a ton of quotes that I just want to memorise. This book is no exception.

All Things Considered is a collection of Chesterton's essays for London Daily News and covers a wide variety of topics. Some of the topics are light-hearted (for example, when he talks about canvassing for votes), while others are a bit more serious (basically when he starts talking about religion or science). But even when he's serious, he's not ponderous. Then again, he does say in the second paragraph of the book:

Their [the essays] chief vice is that so many of them are very serious; because I had no time to make them flippant. It is so easy to be solemn; it is hard to be frivolous.
It's ok Chesterton, I think you weren't that serious.

There's even a chapter on fairy-tales (and I love reading Chesterton when he talks about fairy-tales), and of course, I loved it. He compared journalists to fairies, which is something you definitely don't read about every day. But my favourite quote doesn't talk about journalists, it talks about the nature of fairyland. If you've read Orthodoxy or anything that involves fairy-tales, you'll notice that Chesterton is sort of like C.S. Lewis. Lewis believed that all myths foreshadow Christianity (see The Weight of Glory). So does Chesterton. It's a really long quote, but I don't feel I can cut anything out!

If you really read the fairy-tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other - the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales. The whole happiness of fairyland hangs upon a thread, upon one thread. Cinderella may have a dress woven on supernatural looms and blazing with unearthly brilliance, but she must be back when the clock strikes twelve. The king may invite fairies to the christening, but he must invite all the fairies or frightful results will follow. Bluebeard's wife may open all doors but one. A promise is broken to a cat and the whole world goes wrong. A promise is broken to a yellow dwarf an the whole world goes wrong. A girl may be the bride of the God of Love himself if she never tries to see him; she sees him, and he vanishes away. A girl is given a box on condition she does not open it; she opens it, and all the evils of the world rush out at her. A man and woman are put in a garden on condition they do no eat one fruit: the eat it, and lose their joy in all the fruits of the earth. 
I love how Chesterton goes from the traditional fairy-tales, to the myths and finally, to the Bible. I think that by using fairy-tales and myths, he makes one see the Bible in a fresh light.

I don't agree with his viewpoint on a lot of things (what he says about Asia, for example, feels a lot like a White Man's Burden mentality), but he's just so entertaining that I wasn't even offended.

This is definitely a book that you should read. It's entertaining and will give you food for thought.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Odyssey by Homer (Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

Ok, so I cheated and read it in English. I guess I couldn't wait long enough for my Greek to be good enough. And really, I don't think I've enjoyed a poem this much is a long long time.

The Odysseus is essentially a narrative about how Odysseus makes his way back home. The poem actually starts sometime near the end, but as Odysseus makes his way back, he explains about his journey and we hear what happened before. At the same time, his son Telemachus, who was a baby when he left 20 years ago, is despairing of his mother's suitors and receives a message from Athena to go and find his father.

I don't know if it's a characteristic of this translation but the poem was extremely easy to read and very absorbing. All the characters are well-drawn and the story is exciting. Odysseus is a fallible human, but he's charming and you can't help but root for him (even though I already knew how the story ended). The chapters (or 'books' as they're called) just flew by once I started reading.

Before the book even starts, there's an introduction explaining what The Odysseus is about. I appreciated the author's note explaining how he chose the meter for the poem and how he translated it.

There's a lot of stuff I could say, but most of it has probably been said by scholars and people way more knowledgeable than me. The only thing I have to say is, if the thought of reading something "classic" scares you because you think it'll be difficult and hard to understand/get into, don't worry. I had some reservations at first - I'm not much of a poetry girl, but it melted away from the first lines.

My favourite lines though, come from Penelope. She says

"Our lives are so short, and when a man is hard-hearted

and acts in a hard-hearted way, then everyone hopes
that he suffers endless misfortunes while he is alive
and they curse him when he is dead - whereas with a kind man, 
his guests spread the fame of his generosity far
and wide, all over the world, and distant men praise him."

Sounds like words we can all live by.

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer by Demelza Carlton

This book was dark, was a bit disturbing, and by all rights I should be too scared to read it. Yet, I just signed up for the next book tour. Why? Because the subject matter was, well, entrancing makes it sound too happy, and so does captivating, but let's just say it grabs on to you.

Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer is about Nathan, who finds this girl called Caitlin and saves her from a murderer. She was brutally gang-raped and tortured, and somehow, she developed a bond with Nathan, who's also working for some sort of secret agency (I didn't recognise the agency, so I have no idea if it's real or false). The book deals with the aftermath, as Caitlin tries to regain a sense of normalcy and Nathan tries to find out what happened.

So, let's start with the stuff I didn't like. For one thing, I didn't like the swearing. I understand using swearing for emotional impact, but I felt that there was too much unnecessary swearing. If I wasn't so interested in the story, I wouldn't have finished it. So if you're particularly sensitive to this sort of thing, well, be prepared.

The second thing was the ending. I got a bit confused, but then again, I was confused about who Nathan really was from the start. So I suppose the confusion carried over, and I suddenly started doubting whether he did rescue Caitlin. I'm not giving you any spoilers!

That said, the book is moving and Caitlin is the sort of heroine you'll want to meet in real-life. She doesn't give up even when she's hurt beyond belief. As a character, she has my total respect, and she's the reason why I continued reading the book. I thought the fact that her chapters were written in poems were quite interesting too.

I actually can't wait to begin reading the next book! I'd like to see what happens to Caitlin and how she continues to deal with the blow after blow she receives.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from the author as part of Book Tours blog tours.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Out of Mormonism by Judy Robertson

A while ago, I reviewed My Name Used To Be Muhammad and mentioned that I didn't agree with Mormon theology. A while later, I found this book. It's a personal account of one woman's conversion to (and away) from Mormonism, and I found it fascinating.

Of course, like the title indicates, the author left Mormonism after a while. You see, Judy and her husband were initially attracted to the Mormon lifestyle. They thought that these were Christ-fearing folk, and they admired the way they lived.

But, as they got more involved with Mormonism, Judy started to feel like things weren't right. She was striving to be right with God, while the past Sunday School lessons were saying that something wasn't right. Even a trip to the temple, considered to be one of the most spiritual experiences, just reinforced the sense that something was wrong.

And so, after carefully studying the Bible, she and her husband came to realise that Mormonism is not Christianity and left the Church. Now, she and her husband run a ministry helping Mormons who wish to leave the Church. In fact, the later part of the book is filled with stories of people who have left.

What I like about this book is that the author tells her story simply. I understood how she felt, and why she made her decisions, and at the end of the story, I felt like I was with her through the whole thing.

If you're looking for a personal account about Mormonism, I'd recommend this book.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Diamonds and Deceit by Leila Rasheed

I have not read the first in the series, I have not watched Downtown Abbey (I can't even keep up with Japanese dramas) so I can say with absolute certainty that I started reading this book with no expectations. And I loved it.

Diamonds and Deceit follows Rose, an ex-lady's maid turned real lady when her aristocratic father (Lord Averly) decides to acknowledge her and take her in as a member of her family. Unfortunately, her stepmother and step-sister don't like her, she feels out of place in the snobbish society, and her best friend/sister Ada is too distracted trying to convince herself she loves her fiance. When she meets Alexander Ross, a young duke whom her other step-sister is after, she falls in love.

And that would be the main cast. There are other supporting characters, but they didn't hold my attention as much as the plights of Rose and Ada. I think it's because their plights had to do with class conflict, which naturally made it more exciting (or perhaps it's just me). Rose is hindered by the fact that she's an illegitimate daughter that used to be a maid. Ada is in love with an Indian student. But these are also two sisters that love each other, so they do support each other in their own way.

I really liked this book because of this. By having Rose as the protagonist, the cynicism and critique of high society becomes natural.

But, there's a hint of the "white man's burden", especially towards the end. The attitude of the upper classes needing to take care of their servants (with the servants 'rewarding' this with loyalty) is a bit too colonial for me (but I am from a country with a colonial hangover so....).

All in all, excellent book and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a novel about the upper class English.

Disclaimer: I got a free galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a free and honest review.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

I saw this book at the rainbow plaza library and had to pick it up. After all, it looked funny. But while this book was entertaining, it wasn't as funny as I expected.

Like the title says, this is a survival guide, teaching you about the type of weapons, how to run, how to choose a fortress, etc when the undead come to attack us. Interweaved is the narrative of how there's a cover-up of a zombie invasion (or rather, official sources still don't acknowledge the existence of zombies). At the end of the book, there's a short 'history' of zombie attacks.

For me, this book was surprisingly serious. The book doesn't laugh at itself at all, which dampened the whole "light read" idea I had. There was even a 'scientific' explanation of why zombies came about, and well, the lack of self-referential humour made the book more like an actual guide than a parody of a guide.

But, I enjoyed reading about the history of attacks. It's an interesting alternate history, and wasn't too long.

I guess this book is a companion to World War Z, which I haven't read but sounds interesting (there's an excerpt at the end of the book). I suppose if that's the case, it makes sense for the book to be so serious - it's keeping in nature with the alternate reality after all.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Flexible Golf Swing by Roger Fredericks

I asked for this book because I'm in golf. I'm not a very good golfer though (like most of the things I do) - I can't seem to hit very far or very straight. This book says that the problem is that I'm not flexible enough.

The Flexible Golf Swing is structured like a handbook. There is a forward from Arnold Palmer, a personal account from the author and then the book delves into the fundamentals of a golf swing, what the muscles do, a few tests you can take, exercises you can do and so on.

When I did the test, I found out I have tight calves, but other than that I was fine. I could not try hip flexor test though - I didn't have enough space.

Personally, I think this book is more suited for golf coaches rather than amateur golfers like me. I would have really liked to have gone through this book with my coach but sadly, he's in Malaysia. I didn't quite understand some of the explanations, even though they came with pictures. This however, could be due to the fact that I'm not very familiar with golf.

All in all, this book looks interesting, but I'm not sure how effective it is. If you're thinking of picking up golf, just go out and start playing, don't read a book! If you're looking to improve your game, it's worth asking your coach to go through the book and help you apply the drills.

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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cinderella ate my Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

Personally, I love all things Disney, although considering that my favourite 'princess' was Mulan, I don't think it made me girlier in some way. After all, when I was a child, I was known for loudly and frequently stating that girls were better than boys. But needless to say, Disney tends to stand for everything girly.

Which is why Peggy Orenstein, the author of this book, was worried that Disney was just part of a culture that teaches girls that their source of empowerment comes from their looks. And when give empowerment to something to arbitrary (seriously, looks?), well, you can image how it's may wreck havoc on little girls' (and not-so-little girls') self-esteem.

So this book, which explores this question, was really fascinating. Peggy Orenstein interviews many people, and she's clearly invested in getting an answer. She has a little girl she's trying to raise into a confident young woman after all.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It brought up a lot of subjects that I haven't even considered. I mean, I like pink, but I never wondered if it was due to marketing. And I've never really thought about the messages of the Disney stories. I loved to watch them but I never had a "I want to be a princess phase". After all, I cried when I was put in a barbie dress (it itched) and most of my play-acting with my sisters and cousins consisted of war games (I suppose I needed an excuse to read, and a bunker during the war was a good enough reason).

This is definitely a book that I'll be revisiting in the future. I hope I can find other books by this author soon - if they're like this one, they'll be an interesting, thoughtful read.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

Ok, I need to get my hands on the earlier series of this book (I didn't know it was a series, and I regret that). I'm not sure how the previous books were like, but this book strike the perfect balance between silly and serious for me.

The book is about Flavia de Luce, a precocious twin girl, as she deals with her mother coming home. Her long absent mother. Who is unfortunately coming home dead. And at the station, a man who tries to get a message to her father ends up dead. So Flavia decides to investigate, and at the same time, see if she can bring her mother back to life.

Flavia is amazingly precocious. She's smart, she's curious and she's also naive. It's from a naivety that the book gets its lightness. Her way of trying to manipulate her older sisters, how she finds younger (but perhaps more precocious) cousins annoying, that all makes her feel her age and not quite an old soul. Her observations about people are spot on, and both funny and true in the way that many children's comments are. It makes her endearing and it makes the book lighter.

And the book needs to be lighter, or the subject matter would be too grim for a tween to handle. Flavia goes through a lot, and no matter how experienced a young girl is in death, she can't expect to be cheery all the time. Personally, the times where her emotions overwhelm her were some of the most touching parts of the novel for me.

The mystery itself is quite dark and tied to the family in a rather clever way. Although this mystery is a stand-alone, I have a feeling that it'll becoming the plot of an arc. If this sounds confusing, let me try to explain. For example, in Detective Conan, one of my favourite series, the overarching plot would be about the Black Organisation. Each arc is one plot point. But in each ark, there are many, sometimes unrelated, mysteries. This book feels like it might become something like that - a series of mysteries that may or may not be related to the main arc.

Seeing that this is set after World War II, I thought that the setting was well done, and I really enjoyed the references to Singapore. The annoying cousin used to live there, and she speaks in a mix of Malay and English (the only Malay word I recognised was ibu [which means 'mother'], but then again, my Malay is atrocious).

All in all, a wonderful book. I look forward to catching up on the series and then waiting for the next book to come out.

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

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stealth by Alexis Duong

Steath is a free, yes free, novel that you can read on Figment. Now that I have your attention, here's what it's about.

Stealth is about 16 year old Anya Nakamura, who's suddenly recruited to stealth. Stealthing is basically stealing someone's soul, so I guess she's a demon in some way. But that's irrelevant to the story. The story is about how she has a lot of natural talent and becomes a team leader. There, she meets Caleb, this guy that has "issues". 

What I loved about Stealth were the characters. Anya and Caleb (not to mention the rest of her team) were were well-crafted characters. It was easy to rally behind Anya and hope that she finally found a place where she could excel and more importantly, belong. Caleb was, to be honest, a bit of a jerk at first, but once his point of view was introduced, I totally understood why he acted like that. 

But although I really liked Anya and Caleb, I thought that their relationship changed a bit too abruptly. They started out constantly bickering, and yes, there's Caleb picking fights so that he doesn't get too attracted to her, but once they're in a relationship, they're all lovey-dovey. Personally, I would have liked this part to be taken a bit slower, since going from almost-enemis to inseperable was a bit too abrupt a change for me. 

While I enjoyed the concept of Stealth, I felt that there were some problems with the plot. I had expected the plot to be about what Stealthing was. I had assumed that since very little information about It (the guy/thing behind Stealth) was given, the story would be about what the organisation truly was. But it suddenly changed tracks and then ended abruptly. I think it would have been better if the last half (after the plot twist) was developed more and the main focus on the book. 

All in all, I like Stealth because of the characteristaion. The plot started off well, but the twist at the end completely changed the direction of the plot and was a bit too abrupt to me. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Words Wound by Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja

I think we can all agree that cyberbullying is a terrible thing. And that is why we need books like this - we need to teach children/teenagers/everybody what to do when they're cyberbullied.

For example, you may know of the phrase "Don't feed the trolls". But, when you're the target, it's natural to try to retaliate. Which is why I was glad that in chapter two, one of the advice given would be to "never retaliate". Another piece of advice, which I really agree with, would be to document everything.

And those two pieces of advice are just some of the things mentioned in this book. The book is divided into three parts: for the bullied, for the bully and for everyone. The first part talks about what cyberbullying is and what to do if you're being cyberbullied. The second part reminds us that standing by is condoning bullying, and gets readers to realise that rash words can be hurtful and seen as bullying. The third part is about building a positive culture of kindness and gives ideas on how to spread the word. Each part comes with a quiz so you can think about how you're doing.

So all these information make this book a very good handbook. The book is readable and I can totally see it being used in a classroom setting.

The only quibble I have is that this book is very North-America orientated, particularly when it comes to legal affairs. But I suppose a quick google search of your country's laws will do the trick.

All in all, I think this is an excellent book. While it's not the most exciting of books, it's something that everyone using the internet needs to read.

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

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien

Wow. I can only say wow. This book was totally different from what I expected. The Children of Hurin is one of the prequels to Lord of The Rings, and it's a very rich, dark tale.

Even though it's called The Children of Hurin, it's really about Turin, son of Hurin. Turin is the protagonist, although I'm not sure if you can call him a hero. Even as a young child, he is prideful, and it's really a foreshadowing of how things will end. Even though he is cursed, he's still the one who chooses to be foolhardy, who chooses to let his pride over-rule wise counsel. And in the end, that's what brings his family to ruin.

It's a pity, really, because Turin is a great leader. At different points of the book, he was leading different groups, and he was a good leader. He was also beloved by the Elves and a whole lot of other people. All this just makes his ending so much sadder.

And even though the ending is dark, the book wasn't dark the whole time. There were times where I honestly thought that Turin would prevail and that Sauron would not win. I mean, we all know that Sauron didn't win in Lord of The Rings, so he shouldn't win here too right? Well, I was wrong. If anything, this book showed me very clearly how formidable a foe Sauron and his minions were.

This book isn't very long (it's much shorter than Lord of The Rings), but it packs a punch. I don't think this can be called an epic, but it's definitely one part of a long long history. I really hope that I can get my hands on a copy of The Silmarillion soon.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Wall Street West by Dr. Cristina Guarneri

So much wasted potential. That's all I can say for the book.

I was invited to read this book, which was described as a "multi-layered story that follows a Goldman Sachs equities trader, who leaves the comforts and success of the financial world for a journey into the unknown." And then, he ends up running for mayor and fighting corruption and stuff. Sadly, the ARC I got from NetGalley can only be called an outline.


For one, it was really short. 97 pages on my iPad, using the Bluefire reader app. And trust me, the time-span is quite long - there's at least one election, there's an anti-corruption drive, there's some political intrigue in the capital, the amount of info was enough for a three or four hundred page novel.

And because it was so short, the book was lacking in characterisation and details. It's basically a bunch of conversations. It's a pity too, because if the characterisation was done right, this could have been a powerful story about an underdog fighting for justice in a corrupt world.

Basically, the only thing I can say is that it's a pity. I liked the premise and plot of this story, but it's nothing more than an outline now. If it's rewritten and expanded, I'll definitely pick it up, in hopes that it develops into the story it deserves to be.

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

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales by A.C. Birdsong

This book is really hard for me to rate. It's not bad, but I didn't love it. I took quite a few chapters to get into the book, and I think it's because I had very different expectations of it.

Since the title is called Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales, I was expecting more interaction with the characters in said book of tales. And of course, it was when the characters appeared that I started to get an interest in the book. The characters are pretty unique (Merlin, Queen Gwen are some characters that I did not expect), and their conflict with the bookworm was my favourite part of the book. Sadly, they're limited to the subplot, and don't really affect the main plot of Jacob and Lucy trying to get out.

Jacob and Lucy are the two main characters, and at first, I thought it was going to be a cute old-man and small-girl team. But, through some magic, they both became roughly the same age. At the start of the story, Jacob is the caretaker of magic, and he's trapped in the book by his greedy assistant Palmer. Lucy was sent there because she went to visit Jacob and got a bit too nosy.

Palmer. Oh Palmer. I don't know what to make of him. Apprentices are supposed to be chosen carefully, but from the start, I could see that he was the wrong choice. And for someone who's inept at magic, I'm amazed that he managed to trap Jacob and Lucy at all.

All in all, this is a decent book, and if I didn't expect more interaction with a fictional world (bookception!) I would have been a lot happier. Since the focus is on Jacob and Lucy getting out of the book, I was a little disappointed, but if I didn't expect that, I would probably have enjoyed the book a lot more.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book as part of Enchanted Book Promotions Blog Tours