Wednesday, April 20, 2016

People's Friend Annual 2011

This is probably going to mark me as extremely uncool, but I ordered this annual over the holidays! If you like Chicken Soup and short stories like that, and you like the UK, you'll probably like this. This annual is basically a collection of stories + paintings + columns about books + poems.

For some reason, I had a 2002 annual at home, and it was a book that I read repeatedly over the years. So when I saw that the 2011 annual was part of Amazon Prime, I decided to just order it. I don't actually own many of these, because I don't seem to see this in Singapore or Japan (only in King's bookshop in Vivocity, but it's closed now. Unless anyone from Singapore knows where it went?).

Which leads back to the question - how did the first annual even get into my home?

All the stories are about love, and I think there's quite a nice balance between the different types of love. My favourite stories are the family stories though - like A Grand Night In which is about a grandma and her grandkids who come to stay; Hokey-Cokey Weather, about a grandma who is learning to try something new; and A Patchwork of Memories which follows a recently widowed father and his daughter as they get over their grief by learning how to make a patchwork quilt.

All the stories are heartwarming, and possibly very corny/cliched. But I find them very comforting to read. To me, they're sweet but not saccharine.

The columns this year are on children's classics.  Enid Blyton also gets a column, as does Black Beauty, the book that makes me cry every time I read it. I've probably read most of the books (Little Women, anyone?), but I haven't read The Water Babies yet, so that's going to go on the ever lengthening TBR list.

I have absolutely no regrets buying this. Job hunting has been pretty stressful, and the stories here made me smile.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

I'm a little earlier than usual in posting this, but I've got a cooking class later, so better early than never, right?

Right now, I'm reading The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. I first heard about it on Wendy's blog, and it sounded so interesting that I put it on my TBR list and finally got around to reading it. I'm about halfway through and so far, it's got me hooked.

My teaser:
"She expected to be asked to leave the room after dinner so that her husband and his guest could talk about their secret. She got used to the left-out feeling but sometimes she wondered sadly whether she would ever be in her husband [sic] confidence again." 

So, what is your teaser this week?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Ctrl + Z by Meg Leta Jones

The right to be forgotten is a tough issue to decide. I mean, I was trying to decide where I stood on it, and for every different case study, I came up with a different verdict.

A victim of a crime who wants to stop being defined as a victim? Definitely for the right.

A pedophile applying to teach at a pre-school and wants his criminal record hidden? No way. Even if he has managed to reform himself, I think the school has the right to know his past and then decide if they want to trust him.

For every case where I think "yeah, it's a sensible right", I can think of another where I think "Nah, people deserve to know this".

Basically, this is a complicated issue. And Ctrl+Z tries to make sense of the mess. The American position is basically framed as "the public has a right to know" and the European position is "you have a right to be forgotten". This is a generalisation, but that's how I saw the two positions. After introducing the two polar views, the book looks at the "theoretical and conceptual muddles surrounding to be the right to be forgotten", and then criticises the way this issue has been presented before reframing it. The last chapter looks at the US system as a case study and "discusses how to construct digital redemption within existing legal systems". The last chapter says "International Community", but it's really about the US and the EU.

This book is a tough read, but I managed to understand it. It's probably not for the general audience - I have the sneaking suspicion that I understood it basically because I've studied this issue in class before. The text can be dry at times, and I had to reread certain pages to make sure I understood what it's about.

If you're somewhat familiar with the Right to be Forgotten and want a deeper look into it, this is probably the book for you. If you want an accessible introduction, then you might want to look somewhere else.

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

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Folklore of Discworld by Terry Pratchett and Jacqueline Simpson

Hello folks! I basically bought this book, read it, wrote my review... and then discovered that I've already reviewed it (four years ago)! So, this is now a re-read review XD And it's funny to see how much more gushing and fangirly I am. The heart grows fonder with time and all that. 

I basically found this book because I needed to read something Folklore-ish for the Once Upon a Time reading challenge. Since I didn't really know the difference between folklore and fairy tales, I just put "folklore" in the NLB ebook search engine and waited to see what came out. Once I saw Discworld, I knew what my choice would be.

The Folklore of Discworld is basically a mini-summary of all the folklore around the world, with a heavier emphasis on English and European folklore, using Discworld as a starting point. My verdict?

Terry Pratchett was insanely knowledgable.

I don't know how he does it, but he connects all sorts of folklore to that of his books. Either that or all folklore is somehow connected. But either way, this was a surprisingly educational book.

But, and this is a big but, I'm not sure how accurate it is. In the beginning of the book, they write:

"Chinese mythology also knows of an immense cosmic turtle, but with a difference. According to the Chinese, our world is not balanced upon the the creature's back (with or without elephants), but is sloshing about inside it."

I know about Pan Gu hatching from an egg and creating the world, with the four animals helping.

And because I'm not very good with Chinese mythology, I had to Google to find out about Nuwa cutting off a turtle's legs to prop up the sky.

But nowhere can I find that Chinese mythology says we're living in the giant turtle. Am I missing something here? Anyone more knowledgable than me able to fill in the blanks?

Everything else I read that I know about I've heard before, so I'm pretty sure about its accuracy, but this one thing has me doubting all the new (to me) information in the book.

Overall, though, this is a hugely entertaining and probably very educational book. Not to mention that my respect for Terry Pratchett just went up again. I just wish I had the chance to meet him once in real life.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Taste as Experience by Nicola Perullo

I had really, really high hopes for this book. It's basically about exploring what food means to us, and how we can approach it. It is subtitled "The Philosophy and Aesthetics of Food" after all. But, it turned out to be hard to read, which was disappointing.

Basically, Taste as Experience looks as taste from these perspectives:

1. Pleasure: Eating is enjoyable.

2. Knowledge: How does knowing more about the food we eat affect our experience of eating?

3. Indifference: Indifference here means eating without being conscious of the food. Basically, just stuffing it in your mouth.

And finally, "The Wisdom of Taste, The Taste of Wisdom", which is a sort of summary. It did have the most accessible part of the book, which were suggestions on how we can approach food. Among them, "do not have absolute preferences and inclinations" and "only talk about the things you know or experiences you have actually had". To be honest, I'm not too sure how all the suggestions relate to the first three chapters, but that's because I found the book difficult to understand.

Taste as Experience is definitely aimed at an academic audience, and for some reason, I could not understand it. I wish I did, but I didn't. Can anyone give me an easy-to-understand summary?

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

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Have you ever read a book that pulled you in so deeply that when you resurfaced in the normal world everything seemed just a little off kilter? That's what reading The Grace of Kings was like for me. I started it in a McDonalds, over lunch, and when I finally had to leave, it took me a while to realise I was back in Japan, not in Dara.

I basically picked up The Grace of Kings because I heard it was Chinese-inspired steampunk fantasy. The keyword here is Chinese. How many big fantasy novels (in English) have you seen that are inspired by Chinese history? This is my first. But if you know of others, TELL ME.

About the actual story: the lands of Dara have been united under the rule of Mapidere, but the people are discontented. In the uprising, two rebels come to prominence - Mata Zyndu, the son of a disposed duke, and Kuni Garu, a loafer turned bandit. They start of as close friends, almost brothers, but as the rebellion succeeds, they end up pitted against each other. Oh, and there are gods squabbling about some pack too. It's like an alternative version of 三国演义 (the romance of the three kingdoms), although I don't remember the gods being there.

When I first heard that this was based on Chinese history, I was a bit scared to read it because, hello, I'm the girl who barely made it through higher Chinese. What I know comes from my grandma's stories, TV dramas and the occasional book my school made me read.

But I'm very proud to say that I recognised quite a few of the incidents! True, I had to look some up to confirm it, but I remembered them! The book rang true to me in a way that most Western-myth based books didn't (even Lord of The Rings and Narnia, which I love very much).

And that is why I loved the book. It brought me to another world that felt sort of, but not quite, like my childhood, watching the Condor Heros and other Chinese dramas. Yes, the world building was gorgeous and the cast of characters was varied, but I love this most for giving me a link back to my past (even if I wasn't the best Chinese student).

Now, let's talk about characters. I suspect everyone will have their own favourite but mine is Kuni Garu, not Mata Zyndur.

Why? Because Kuni wants to make the world into a better place, while Mata wants to make the world into his ideal place. Plus, Kuni has that streak of kindness that Mata lacks. Other characters I liked were Jia, Kuni's wife, Soto, Jia's housekeeper with a secret, and the kickass Gin Mazoti.

I know that this is the start to a series, but honestly, to me the book is complete the way it is. I want to imagine the characters moving to a future with uncertainty and doubt, but to believe that they will move towards the best future. I don't want to read a sequel and see that my hopes were dashed.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Reading Throwback: Enid Blyton

So recently, I was thinking about the books I read as a kid, and Enid Blyton was one of the first few that popped to mind. So I started listing the books that I loved (more than the others) and...

it turned out to be a long, long list. So if you're an Enid Blyton fan, take a trip down memory lane with me!

Tales of Long Ago is actually a collection of Greek Myths! So yeah, I have Enid Blyton to thank for introducing me to the greek myths. There's the story of Pandora's box, Echo and Narcissus, Midas, Cupid and Psyche, etc.

I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading this book, getting to know the myths!

Tales of Brave Adventure is about Robin Hood and King Arthur!! How Robin Hood and the Merry Men came to be, the enchanted sword, the adventures of Balin, etc. I remember that the death of Robin Hood and the passing of King Arthur always made me sad.

Wow, haven't thought of these books in a long time! I only remembered them today, when I was trying to recall what Enid Blyton books I've read.

And now you know - she's also the one who introduced these myths and legends to me.

I think a lot of people will remember/love The Naughtiest Girl series!

By the way, most of the covers here are the same as the ones on the books I own. I don't quite like the newest ones because they look so cartoonish, when the books are anything but. I think the older covers are better.

Digression aside, I used to wish I could go to Whyteleafe! I mean, I wanted to go to ALL her school, but quite possible Whyteleafe the most, because the students govern themselves! So cool, right?

And I just realised that I don't know the piano piece that Elizabeth liked! (I'm looking at the Enid Blyton society page, cause they have the covers I want). Anyone have any idea what it is?

Oh, and Enid Blyton only wrote the first three books, which I loved. I think I read the later books by the other author, but they absolutely didn't leave an impression in my mind AT ALL.

Enid Blyton originals are the best, I think.

The Secret Series!

The first book, The Secret Island introduced me to Jack, Peggy, Mike and Nora, and make me want to live on an island! Of course in real life, I'd probably die because I need proper toilets (Japanese toilets, preferably), but whenever I reread the book, I want to stay on the island with them!

The second book introduced Prince Paul of Baronia, who is in the rest of the books too.

I know I've read (and own) the first four books, but as for the fifth and last book, The Secret of Moon Castle, I cannot remember if I read it!! Parts of it sound super familiar, but parts don't. And I don't recognise a single cover either >< I have to go home and check, and reread this series too!

I think the Famous Five series is Enid Blyton's most famous series. I saw this cover (Ok, this style of cover) all the time when I was younger.

I think everyone has their own favourite character, but mine was probably George. Second was Anne hahahaha.

Oddly enough, I don't have a favourite book in the series. Actually, I probably prefer The Secret Series, but the Famous Five is also fun, and there are a lot of books.

More to read = good, in my opinion

Oh, there's one book that I remember more clearly than the others - Five on Finniston Farm. But this is probably because I found a super old copy of the book at the MG carnival rather than anything special about the story. I do really like stories set on farms though.

And I remember watching a film (not in English, I think?) adaption of the Famous Five a few years back. But when I went to Google, I found a TV series and even a cartoon so... Can't remember what I watched!

Of course, I can't forget about the Faraway Tree!

Basically, I used to spend my holidays in Malaysia, so I have a lot of books there. Among them would be this Faraway Tree collection, and I'd bring thing huge hardback up to my room and put it near my bed, so that once I woke up, I could read without having to leave the bed. Those were the good old days of sleeping until 12! Now I feel guilty is I sleep until 10.

I guess one big appeal of The Faraway Tree (apart from the slide down - no wonder I was so excited at the Changi slide!) was that these kids could travel to all sorts of exciting lands without having to leave home! Best of both worlds, for sure!

Plus, the worlds were those that, as a kid, I always wanted to go to! Land of Goodies, for one!

And the other books I used to read a lot would be the Wishing Chair collection! Considering where I put the books, it's a wonder that none of them fell on my head!

The wishing chair is another way to travel - actually, I want the chair now, so I can go home, visit friends in London, Australia, Edinburgh, etc.

I sort of remember there being a wishing-chair/faraway tree crossover story, but I can't remember the particulars! More reasons to go home and do an Enid Blyton readathon!

This book is another favourite of mine! Although I have so many favourites the word is starting to lose its meaning.

Anyway, the Family at Red Roofs is like what the title says. At first, they seem to be a super happy family, but then tragedy strikes, and they're in danger of losing their house.

I guess the reason why I love this book is that though the characters (especially the two oldest children), seem too good to be true sometimes, they all make sacrifices. Real sacrifices that involve them giving up things that they love. Which I guess is why they don't count as Mary Sue/Gary Stu-type characters to me.

And I guess one of the good things about Enid Blyton is that her characters are very proactive and practical. They don't wait to be rescued, they do things to help. Sometimes they make the wrong decisions, but they're kids, so it's expected. Their heart is always in the right place.

I guess it's a good thing they were role models for me.

And this is the reason why I wanted to live on a farm. I mean, Enid Blyton managed to make farm work, which I'm guessing is back-breaking and smelly, sound attractive.

Definitely a genius, if you ask me.

And here's another animal book from here:

The Children at Green Meadows is about an animal loving family at the edge of financial ruin. But despite their financial constraints, the kids find a way to take in animals in need from the people who just moved into the "no animals" housing estate.

And this is the book that made me want to live in a houseboat! The first book in this series is The Caravan family, which I remember reading, but I own a copy of The Saucy-Jane family, so obviously I know this better.

It's basically about a family taking a holiday. Nothing much happens, except for the fact that every time I read this, I want to live on a houseboat! Too bad my parents will probably get seasick.

And I think I shall stop here. There are still a lot of books I haven't talked about, like Mallory Towers and St. Clare's, or Mr. Pink-Whistle or the Three Golliwogs, but if I keep going on, I'll never stop, so here's an arbitrarily drawn line.

I have so many books I want to re-read now! How about you? Did you read Enid Blyton when you were growing up? If you did, what was your favourite book?

Friday, April 8, 2016

Layered by Tessa Huff

Despite the fact that I don't have an oven in my current apartment, I still requested this book. Because the cover is so pretty, and I always tell myself that one day, I'll learn how to bake.

And when I do, I have a feeling that this is going to be one of the first books I buy (note to self).

Layered is a gorgeous book that teaches you how to bake and put together layered cakes.  It starts with an explanation of the basics, and I have a feeling that this is what I'll be staring at the most if I ever bake a layered cake. After that, it's recipe after recipe, organised into categories. I can't possibly list all the cakes, but the categories are:

- Classic Cakes
- Chocolate Cakes
- Casual Cakes
- Whimsical Cakes
- Adventurous Cakes
- Holiday Cakes

With a total of 60 cakes, including a bonus three-tiered wedding cake (this assumes I didn't count wrongly). There are tons of cakes I'd love to try and make, and not all of them come from the Chocolate Cakes section (though I admit, I want to make most of the cakes in that section).

Each recipe is given its own introduction and there are hints on how to put it together. And of course, plenty of beautiful pictures to make you drool.

I haven't tested any of these, so I can't say if the recipes are any good, or if they're easy to follow (things always look easy to follow, but putting them into practice is different). I do, however, really want my own copy of the book.

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

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Writing is my Drink by Theo Pauline Nestor

If something is blurbed as "the new Bird by Bird", you can be sure that I'm going to read it. I remember Bird by Bird, and though I'm not sure if I actually learnt anything from it, I remember being inspired by it, and I was hoping that Writing is my Drink would do the same.

This is basically a memoir of the author, with each chapter supposed to illustrate a point of writing. At the end of each chapter, there are exercises that you can do.

To be honest, I could have done without the exercises at the end. Most of the book is memoir, about how the author writes, so to suddenly come to a "checklist/to-do list" was a bit of a shock. And I'll admit that thinking of Bird by Bird made any concrete writing exercises a bit of a surprise.

Speaking of writing exercises - I actually did one! I wasn't going to, at first, but I loved the concept of the 21 minute memoir, so I decided to give it a go. And it was pretty fun (link), although what I wrote bore absolutely no resemblance to the others in her website. I did, however, manage to get a few people on Dayre to do it, and it was amazing reading their stories.

All in all, this was a decent read. I think it would have been more powerful without the exercises, since most of the book feels more inspirational than craft-focused, but since I actually did do one of the exercises, I can't say they were all totally distracting. Perhaps they would have been better served at the end of the book?

Speaking of writing inspiration, I should really go and re-read Bird by Bird when I get the chance.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Big Brush-Off by Michael Murphy

A writer and a mystery? Yes please!

The Big Brush-Off is billed as a "Jake and Laura mystery". It's also book four in the series, which explains how some things about the relationship between Jake and Laura felt like there was previous history the reader was expected to know. However, the plot itself can definitely stand alone.

Basically, Jake has had his latest manuscript rejected, and has to deliver a completely new, fantastic couple of first chapters before he can think about getting another contract. So, he and Laura (Hollywood star) head over to Hanover, a small town which holds an unsolved murder that Jake regrets. Despite telling himself that he's here to write a novel and attend a memorial service, he still ends up investigating the case.

This was a fun and easy read. The chapters pretty much flew by, and I finished this book in a day (probably because it's not very long - about 200 pages on my kindle). Jake and Laura are fun characters, and the town of Hanover is pleasingly complicated - there's the sheriff, who Jake remembers as a good law enforcement officer, but some have pegged as the murderer, and there were the three prime suspects, all of whom seemingly want him to solve the murder.

At one point in time, I even wondered if this was going to be a Murder of Roger Ackroyd scenario, with Jake as the real murder (hence the unsolved case). But, this wasn't the case.

Sadly, the denouement lacked a bit of punch. The actual arrest scene was exciting, but the way Jake realised who the murderer was lacked excitement. I think it's because Jake came to this mostly through a hunch, rather than by discovering any new evidence, or finding inconsistencies in something someone said. Perhaps I'm too used to the mysteries of Ace Attorney and Agatha Christie.

Overall, this was a fun read. Jake and Laura are a charming couple, and I loved reading their adventure. Plus, it's fun to have a writer as a character - I just wish I could churn out chapters like he did (and not just during NaNoWriMo)!

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Teaser Tuesday - The Road to Character by David Brooks

It's Tuesday aaaaand April. Where did March go? Where did my spring break go? (Oh wait, it went to the job hunting season).

Anyway, I'm currently reading The Road to Character by David Brooks and I'm totally loving it. It's like a collection of mini-biographies, with analysis of what we can learn from it.

My teaser:

A personality is a product of cultivation. The true self is what you have built from your nature, not just what your nature started out with.
So, what is your teaser today? And how did your March go?
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Jenn of Books and a Beat. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read 
  • Open to a random page 
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page 
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) 
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Sabriel by Garth Nix

My first book for the Once Upon a Time X Reading Challenge is done! My first is a fantasy book, and for that, I've chosen Sabriel by Garth Nix, which I think is practically a classic. I've actually read bits of this book before, I think. The cover is really striking, which is why I remembered it. I was in the NLB and flipped through it, though for some reason, I put it back. After all these years, I've finally picked it up and read it.

It. Is. Amazing!!!!

Can't believe I didn't read this earlier!

Anyway, Sabriel is the titular character, and the next Abhorsen. The Abhorsen is basically someone that puts the dead to rest, although Sabriel doesn't really know it's an inherited name. But one day, she finds out that her father is in death, which means she has to assume his role. Rather confused (as is natural), she travels into the Old Kingdom, finds her home, and then goes to rescue her father with Mogget, a free magic construct, and later, Touchstone. Of course, things are never as easy as 'rescuing your not-quite-dead father from death', and Sabriel finds herself being chased by something serious. Something that she may not be able to handle.

I don't know why, but my favourite part of the book, apart from Sabriel, are the bells! I guess it's because each bell has their own character. And the idea of sound working magic is cool too.

Speaking of Sabriel, she was a perfect protagonist. Not perfect-perfect, as in Mary Sue character, but perfect as in "I love her why did the book end?" kind of perfect. She starts of as a smart young lady, but with only theoretical knowledge about what she has to do. The book is basically her gaining the experience, and how that's going to shape the Abhorsen she becomes. I just loved seeing her journey, and I was rooting for her from the start.

I would totally recommend this book to any fans of fantasy. I'm so glad that I took up this challenge, because it got me to finally read this book. And when I have time, I shall hunt down and read the others in the series. And a quote to end:
Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely

I read this book while queuing up for some limited edition chocolate cheese tarts (I ended up queueing for two and a half hours, so I actually ended without enough to read). I really loved Predictably Irrational, so I had high hopes for this one. Thankfully, it lived up to my expectations.

Like the title says, the book explores the reasons why people are dishonest. Basically, the Simple Model of Rational Crime (SMORC) doesn't work. If it does, we should be seeing a lot more cheating and crime taking place. So, what propels us to cheat? In a series of experiments, Dan Ariely shows that the truth is slightly more complex.

Basically, there are four forces that decrease dishonest: Pledges, Signatures, Moral Reminders and Supervision. Use these and people will reduce the amount of cheating they do (though it might not be completely eliminated, and can probably be cancelled out).

There are two neutral forces: Amount of money to be gained and the probability of being caught. Although you'd think that people would only cheat if it's worth it or if they wouldn't get caught, apparently, this doesn't make much of a difference.

And there's a long, long list of factors that will actually increase dishonesty:

1. If you can rationalise it
2. If there's a conflict of interest (even if you think you're being impartial, the conflict will influence how you behave)
3. How creative you are (more creative people cheat more, apparently)
4. One immoral act (it's like breaking a diet. One small break can lead to binging on junk food)
5. Being tired/having no energy = no energy to resist temptation
6. If someone else will benefit (so we're being... nice?)
7. Watching others behave dishonestly
8. Culture that gives examples of dishonesty

The book is super readable and extremely easy to understand. If Dan Ariely was my econs teacher, and he teaches like the book, I would probably have chosen to major in behavioural economics. But he isn't, so I ended up doing corporate finance + Industry 4.0/Industrial Internet (technically "Economics of the Telecom industry, but somehow my research for the year was this).

I don't actually have much else to say about the book. It was interesting and informative, and I have no regrets reading it. If you're interested in human behaviour, and what affects it, you should definitely give this book a read. Plus his other book - Predictable Irrational; both books are really excellent. Please don't mistake my lack of things to say as lack of enthusiasm.