Friday, May 25, 2018

The Mythology of Grimm

You may know that I’ve been into Grimm for a long time (I think I’ve watched the series TWICE despite the fact I have 123456 shows on my to watch list). Well, I finally got my brother into the series, which means that it’s my third time watching the series (no complaints) and more importantly, that I can buy Grimm-related books!

This actually came about two weeks back but I had quite a few library books to finish so I only got around to it today. Like the title says, The Mythology of Grimm is about the myths behind the show, focusing mainly on the Wesen in seasons one and two.

The book starts with an introduction of the Grimm brothers, Charles Perrault, and Joseph Jacobs then moves on to the various Wesen. It focuses mainly on the European ones, although the last two chapters talk about the non-European Wesen (Mostly Native-American and Greco-Roman Wesen). Each chapter compares a Wesen with a modern retelling of the traditional fairytale, as well as some discussion. In between, there are loads of quotes from the show and interesting nuggets of information.

Obviously, I enjoyed this book very much. I love the show AND I love myths and while lots of it wasn’t new to me, it was fun to see the comparisons. But if you’re into mythology, please note that the retellings are very, very casual. Personally, I find them to be fun but if you’re looking for something a little more academic, you might want to steer clear (but if you’re looking for something academic, why are you reading something inspired by a TV show?)

In short, fans of the TV show who want to know more about the myths behind it will probably love this. The text is extremely easy to read and conversational, so even if you’re not familiar with mythology and fairy tales, I think you should be comfortable with this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thrice the Binded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley

As part of my 'I want to read more during the week' thing, I decided to read another Flavia de Luce mystery since I really enjoy this series. Thrice the Binded Cat Hath Mew’d (a quote from Shakespeare) is the eighth book in the series and has Flavia coming home to England.

After an exciting time in Canada, Flavia’s looking forward to home and expects a somewhat warm welcome. Instead, she finds out that her father is ill and in the hospital. Trying to distract herself, Flavia offers to run an errand and ends up finding a body. Talk about finding the perfect distraction for her - obviously Flavia starts investigating.

I really felt that Flavia returned to form in this book. She was a little twee in the last book, but she was purely endearing in this one. I think it’s because she’s back in familiar surroundings. She’s also struggling to make sense of all the changes and I think it makes her growth a lot more natural. Perhaps Flavia is just so British she can’t go anywhere else.

The mystery itself was decent. There were quite a few twists and turns, but the ending made sense (even though I couldn’t manage to figure out who the killer was). I also thought it balanced pretty nicely with Flavia’s home life, although I feel like a kid (with Flavia) because I have no idea what all the adults are saying.

Got to warn you, though, the ending is pretty heartbreaking. Flavia does get her moment of triumph and I’m happy for her, but the last part is just sad. No spoilers but I really wish that things turned out differently for her and I really want to read the next book now.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Track Faults and Other Glitches by Nicholas Yong

I haven’t been reading much Singapore books (or SEAsian books for that matter) but this short story collection was really great and I'm really grateful to the person who recommended this to me.

Track Faults and Other Glitches is a collection of collection of stories set in Singapore. The stories are:

- The Ministry of Zombie Advancement: A very fun, unique tale about zombies in Singapore. The zombies in Singapore concept reminded me of Land of the Meat Munchers, and I realised that it was by the same author! No wonder I liked this.

- You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly: About seeing superheroes at work. The ending was ambiguous which makes it interesting to speculate about.

- Wake Me Up When It’s 2116: Not a good idea to read this in the train because I was tearing up by the end of it! It’s about progress and human life and reminds me of some of Bradbury’s short stories (which are also referenced here). This is one of my favourite stories in the collection.

- Track Fault: Another one of my favourite stories in this book, this deals with an MRT train that goes missing. Warning: there are no answers to this mystery but the story is so good!

- Haru & Hui Ling: These are actually two stories but they are two parts of one whole. It’s about the bond between dogs and their human families but also about love and loss.

- Three Nights in Camp: an NS ghost story. Kinda ambivalent on this one, but I think it’s because I haven’t gone through NS.

- A Dream Within A Dream: this is about a guy in a coma and I actually thought it was a little confusing but it still tugged at my heartstrings. I don’t know what’s going on, but the story made me feel.

- Polling Day: One of the weaker stories in my collection, in my opinion. It follows a reporter as he finds out that the opposition has won all contest seats. Very timely, given the recent election in Malaysia but I didn’t really get the story.

- The Uncle in the Kopitiam: The last story in the collection, this is a story within a story, reaching back to the folklore of Singapore. I really enjoyed the twist and I like this story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection! It was really well-written and extremely fun to read. Each story has a message, but the message doesn’t overpower the story like some local short stories do. I am totally hoping to find more stories like this!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

I requested this book as soon as I saw it because I’m always up for a good mystery. I didn’t realise that this was part of a series, but I had no problem following along.

The Dark Angel starts in Italy when a corpse is found to have a handphone. And even weirder, Professor Angelo received a text from the corpse when he excavated it. Back in England, forensic archaeologist Ruth is struggling with her personal relationships. So when she gets an invitation from Angelo to come to Italy to consult, she brings her daughter and friend along for a holiday.

I have to admit, the mystery took a backseat to the relationships in The Dark Angel. Perhaps it’s because I’m jumping into the series midway, but I felt that the complicated relationships between the characters (particularly Ruth and Nelson) were more prominent than the mystery of the corpse. I’m not complaining since I enjoyed reading about it, but it was a bit of a surprise.

The mystery itself was pretty interesting and very much tied to the town where the corpse was found. I’ve never been to Italy (sadly) so I don’t know how accurate all the descriptions were, but I really felt the small town and it’s inhabitants very strongly.

There was only one thing that threw me off a little: the book switches between several POV characters, mostly Ruth and Nelson, although some characters get their time in the spotlight too. The switch could be a bit abrupt since it takes place within the chapter (I’m more used to having one chapter per POV) but it wasn’t a problem once I got used to the style.

Overall, I enjoyed this mystery. I enjoyed the setting and the characters in it. And perhaps because of the characters, I am interested in going back to read the first book in this series and finding out how it all started.

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

As soon as I heard about Devoted, I knew I had to read it and that I would either love it or hate it - turns out I loved it (and it's a very intense book).

Devoted revolves around Rachel, a girl “devoted to God.” She’s a member of Calvary Christian Church, which is obviously part of the Quiverfull movement (and if you know me, you know I can’t stand them). She tries to be a Godly girl, but the rules chafe at her, and one day, she makes contact with one of the girls that ran away. And suddenly, the world looks a lot wider.

First, I should mention that although I’m a Christian, I cannot stand the groups that pervert the name of God. I don’t even think they should be allowed to call themselves Christian, and the Quiverfull movement, with its legalistic and sexist theology, is one of them.

Which is why my heart broke when I read about Rachel. Rachel is curious and loves books and I hate how all the legalism almost breaks her soul. Christianity is freeing, not a jail and the ‘Church’ she went to made me rage. I absolutely rooted for her to get away and for her to re-establish her relationship with God.

Another thing I loved about this book was its portrayal of Christianity, which I found very fair. The author doesn’t paint all Christians as people who go to Calvary Christian, and even though some who left that ‘Church’ turned away from God, that wasn’t the only way that you could leave. Most of the time, religion in YA books is shown as either totally good or totally bad, so I appreciated this level of nuance, which mimics real life.

If you’re into moving books with nuance and characters that will steal your heart, you need to read this. I found this to be a deeply moving book and while parts of it broke my heart, I am glad that I had the chance to read it.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Queens of Fennbirn by Kendare Blake

I LOVED Three Dark Crowns so when I saw this in the library today, I immediately snatched it up and devoured it. Queens of Fennbirn is a collection of two novellas and it is so good!

The first story is The Young Queens and it’s about Mirabella, Arsinoe, and Katherine, the protagonists of the Three Dark Crowns series. This is really more of a prequel that explores their lives, so it doesn’t really have a plot. But it does answer some questions that the first book raised and I was so happy to be back in the world (as strange as that sounds, given that their world is violent and bloody). And the story only cemented Mirabella as my favourite because she was the only one with any loyalty. I mean, I guess I understand why the other two are like that, but I still prefer Mirabella as Crowned Queen.

The second story is The Oracle Queen and purports to tell the true story of the last Oracle Queen: Queen Elsabet. This story was heartbreaking because of its ending, and especially if you consider what her legacy is. I know it’s not a big plot point, but I would like to see justice for Elsabet. And now I really dislike the Poisoner group (sorry, Katherine but unless you grow a spine, you’re guilty by association).

Fans of Three Dark Crowns will love these two stories. I know I did, and reading this just made me more excited for One Dark Throne: now I have to find it in the library.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Death below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley

I’ve been looking for this book ever since I saw Wendy at Literary Feline mention it. Finally, the ebook version was available and I immediately borrowed it and I have absolutely no regrets.

When Kat Holloway takes a new job as cook, she doesn’t expect much to happen. But on her second day on the job, her assistant turns up dead in her cellar. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily), Kat has a friend named Daniel McAdam, and what starts as a simple investigation quickly turns into something much more high stakes.

Can I say that I absolutely loved this?

The main reason is because of the characters. Kat is a spirited woman and I enjoy how measured and quick-thinking she is. She’s a sensible person, unlike some heroines who can be as dumb as a doorbell but still solve the mystery and her backstory is fantastic. Plus, I really rooted for her relationship with the mysterious Daniel and that isn’t something I do very often.

Daniel and his son, James, were also very well-written, which contributed to my enjoyment of the book. Their father-son relationship is really adorable and they’re both memorable characters in their own right. The supporting characters were all interesting too.

Plot-wise, the book moved along at a good pace. I didn’t really expect the twists that it took, but they were believable and I couldn’t put the book down. While it stands alone, it feels like the story can continue and I am really looking forward to it!

One more thing that I also appreciated was how the characters were introduced. Maybe it’s because I just read a book where each character was given extensive backstory, but I found the amount of information given out to be just right. I still don’t know how Kat and Daniel met, but I know enough about their backgrounds that their relationship feels natural and I want to read more, and to me, that means the book has succeeded regarding backstory.

If you are a fan of historical mysteries, you’ll definitely have to read this. I’m definitely going to look for the next book, and I hope I find it a lot quicker than I did this.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Death by Darjeeling by Laura Childs

I wanted to read something lighter after the book on Austen and Social Science and a tea-themed cozy Mystery fit the bill!

Death by Darjeeling is centered around the Indigo Tea Shop, which in turn is owned by Theodosia. When a hater developer dies at her teashop and her employee’s friend loses her job over it, Theodosia starts digging into the death. But the more she learns, the more suspects she finds. And more worryingly, someone seems to be after her as well.

What I loved about this book was obviously all the tea references! The hanyu pinyin of the Chinese teas isn’t the standard one but that’s okay because there was a lot of tea talk and description of the teas. I would love to try the teas mentioned and if Indigo tea shop existed near me, I would definitely be a frequent patron.

I also liked the core group of characters. Theodosia, Drayton (the tea master), Haley (employee), and Bethany (employee’s friend turned employee) have a very nice group dynamic and I appreciated the way that Theodosia brought them into the mystery. I thought that made their friendship feel real and I really enjoyed their interactions with one another.

On the other hand, there were a few things I’m not too enthusiastic about.

One is the very long introductions of each character. Or perhaps they just felt long because I didn’t feel like I needed backstory at that moment. But since this is book one I can understand why it’s this way.

The other thing I didn’t like (and this is a bigger deal for me), was the sudden shift in one of the characters. This was done through a change in POV, which occurred a few times and always felt abrupt. More importantly, the sudden change in how one of the characters was presented felt too sudden and not very believable. Rather than a natural progression, it felt like a device used to heighten tension.

Would I read the second book? I’m not sure. I really enjoyed the tea references and I think that the long introductions should be gone by book two, but the sudden twist for one character at the end had me wary. I still have quite a number of tea-related books that I want to read (please believe that it’s work-related research) so perhaps I’ll read those first and then see if I’ll continue with the series.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Jane on the Brain by Wendy Jones

I spent the last few days slowly reading this book because it was a much harder read than I expected. I saw “exploring the science of social intelligence with Jane Austen” and thought it would be one of those easy-to-read intro book, but this is actually pretty intense.

Like the subtitle says, this is all about social science. It starts off with what the mind is and how we think (which to be honest I still don’t quite understand), and then moves on to study topics like love, empathy, and empathy disorders (Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder), ending with a detailed study of Anne from Persuasion, who has “the most developed sense of empathy” out of all the Austen characters.

Throughout the entire book, the author draws heavily on Austen’s characters to explain the various concepts, although they aren’t the exclusive source of examples. So this is definitely a book that gives Austen the spotlight.

For me, I enjoyed the ‘topical’ chapters on relationships and how childhood affects character a lot more than the opening stuff on how the mind works. I know the opening stuff is the foundation, but I found the latter half to be a lot easier to understand.

I really like the section on attachment, where she explains the three different types. There’s:

1. Preoccupied attachment, which is Marianne from Sense and Sensibility. Marianne is unable to self-regulate her emotions and her insecurity makes her distraught when Willoughby leaves and cuts her, sending her into depression and a near brush with death.

2. Secure attachment, which is Elinor from Sense and Sensibility. Although she feels things deeply, she can cope with her strong feelings and the news of Edward’s secret engagement shocks her but doesn’t devastate her.

3. Dismissive attachment, which is Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. Darcy’s classic English stiff upper lip means that he “would have developed little tolerance for excitement and therefore would have tended to overregulate in order to control his anxiety.”

I also thought that the point on Austen’s Free Indirect Discourse narrative style and how it has a lot in common with empathy to be very interesting! It’s a pity it’s just a small section in the epilogue because I would have loved to read a chapter on it.

Basically, if you’re a fan of Austen and think you can handle the science in this book, you should totally read it. It’s pretty heavy, but it’s also a really good analysis of Austen’s characters (even though this is technically not a lit book)

Monday, May 7, 2018

The American Gun Mystery by Ellery Queen

My second Ellery Queen Mystery! I’m afraid I didn’t like this as much as The Greek Coffin Mystery.

The American Mystery takes place at a Rodeo. Ellery Queen and his father take Djuna to see the first show starting Buck Horne. And at that show, with twenty thousand people watching, Buck Horne is shot dead. Ellery and his father leap into action but despite their best efforts, the gun is never found.

I thought that plot-wise, this was a pretty good mystery. Like with The Greek Coffin Mystery, the authors purposely interrupt the narrative to give the reader time to think before they reveal the truth. While I didn’t get the clues and didn’t figure out the mystery, things certainly made sense once they were explained.

The only thing that hampered my enjoyment was... well Ellery himself. I quite liked his character in the first book, and he was likable enough at the start of this (especially when he referenced Father Brown), but along the way, he became slightly irritating. While Poirot’s eccentricities come across as charming to me, Ellery’s quirks feel annoying. I really feel for his father, for having to put up with a know-it-all son who doesn’t reveal anything until the end (Although it is explained that this is because of the events in The Greek Coffin Mystery)

And since Ellery is the protagonist of the series, I’m left undecided if I want to continue reading. I was really interested in reading more of this series at first, but now, I’m not too sure. It’s definitely something to think about, especially since my TBR list is so long.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

I can’t quite remember how I heard of this book, but it was definitely related to Do You Believe in Magic, which was a fantastic look at alternative medicine. Bad Science also looks at alternative medicine, but is much broader and looks at science as whole.

The book starts off with a look at experiments and what they mean (very important because you need to be able to understand what reliable studies are before you can decide if things are being reported correctly), before going on to homeopathy and nutritionists. The last section of the book looks at how the media misrepresents science and it might make you lose trust in medical reporting.

This book was fantastic! I really liked how the author used humour to make his points because it helped me to remember them better. For example, when he’s talking about all those expensive facial creams and how the skin absorbs things, he writes that “in general, you don’t absorb things very well through the skin, because its purpose is to be relatively impermeable. When you sit in a bath of baked beans for charity, you do not get fat, nor do you start farting.”

My sense of humour is probably on the juvenile side but the mental image of someone farting uncontrollably in a tub of baked beans made me laugh.

That said, my favourite chapter was Chapter 13, Why clever people believe stupid things, where he makes the following points (among others):

- We see patterns where there is only random noise

- We see casual relationships where there are none

- We tend to be biased towards evidence we want to believe in.

All the points are made with plenty of examples to back them up. In fact, if you want a clear and convincing explanation on why vaccinations don’t cause autism, you should read the chapter on it. It’s very clear that no one should have believe the studies and that the media had a role in playing up this ‘scare’.

Anyone who enjoys science will enjoy this. The book is well-written and easy to understand. You could probably get the same information if you search long enough on the Internet, but since it’s all gathered conveniently into one place, you should just read the book.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I keep hearing about the invisible library series from Wendy at Literary Feline and every time I see her reviews, I put the book on my TBR list. After a pointlessly long time, I finally read the first book in the series and it is fantastic!

This series is about a Library and the Librarians are spies! They go into different alternate realities to steal, um I mean acquire, different rare books that help to refine the Language, which is a language that can be used to command people or things.

Irene is a Librarian who’s suddenly given someone (Kai) to mentor and the task to retrieve a book. It should be an easy task, since it’s Kai’s first mission, but Irene and Kai soon realise that there is far more than meets the eye and that an old nemesis of the Library may be behind everything.

I loved everything about this book! Firstly, there’s the world-building. I love the concept of the Library and the Language, which pulled everything together. The worldbuilding was also very well-done, with the information coming at a good pace that didn’t interfere with the plot.

The characters are also well-done. I really loved Irene, who loves books too and is a bit of a badass. She’s perhaps a bit too unquestioningly loyal to the Library, but she’s a fantastic mentor and I rooted for her from the first page. Kai, her mentee, was also really interesting and I sense a possible romance between them.

The plot was also good. The mystery of the book she has to steal was really engaging and I liked how she tied it to the larger plot. And while the main plot is wrapped up by the end, Cogman has left enough threads hanging that I can see that it’s the start of a series and I’m very eager to read the next book!

If you like books, kickass heroines, a mystery surrounding a book and lots of fun, I’m pretty sure that you’ll enjoy The Invisible Library. I know I’m looking forward to reading the next book.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Plain Secrets by Joe Mackall

A few years ago, I had this Amish fiction binge and I’ve remained curious about them ever since. When I heard that there was a book that wrote about them accurate and compassionately, I knew that I had to read it.

Plain Secrets is a fairly short book (only twelve chapters!) about Joe and his friendships with his Amish neighbours, the Shetlers. His neighbours are respected in their community and show no hint of dissatisfaction, but one of their nephews, Jonas, has left the Amish. By talking to Jonas and being a good neighbour and friend to the Shetlers, Joe shows us why people would stay Amish, and why people would leave.

I thought that this approach made the book very even-handed. Even though Joe cares dearly for his friends and values them, he also feels frustration at some of the things they do, such as continuing to drive in buggies (which are really no match for cars). I especially felt his frustration when he told me that many Amish don’t vaccinate their kids, which was also something that surprised me.

And occasionally, Joe also talks about the differences within the Amish. The way he adds the info always felt appropriate and I learnt a lot. I knew there was a difference between a Mennonite and the Amish, but I didn’t realise that there were so many differences between the Amish too. The degree to which they separate themselves from our world depends on the order that they belong to.

If you’re interested in reading about a group of people who live completely different lives from us, I think you’ll like this book. It’s not some shocking, scandalous expose, but it taught me more about the Amish. I’ll end my review with the last sentence of the book, which I really liked:
"And the beauty and truth of it is this: That to these plain people, in these times and in all others, the values that reign supreme are community, acceptance, and faith, which can, with prayer and a little luck, lead to peace."

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Staircase of Fire by Ben Woodard

When Ben Woodard asked me if I wanted to review The Staircase of Fire, I said yes because I enjoyed his first book in this series, A Stairway to Danger. It's been some time, so I don't really remember what happened in A Stairway to Danger, but The Staircase of Fire read well as a standalone novel.

The Staircase of Fire starts when Rose, an African American lady, insists on her right to vote. In the extremely racist town of Shakertown, this is something that cannot be stood for and Rose and her son, James, decide to leave. But on their way out, things go very wrong and everything is witnessed by Tom, who's still dealing with the guilt from his sisters' death. Scared to say a word, Tom resolves to find the Shake gold and leave this town for good.

While the start of the novel feels like a mystery, this is really more of a bildungsroman. Yes, Tom does hunt down clues to find the gold but this story is really about Tom coming to grips with his past and with the society he lives in. It's about him growing up and deciding what kind of man he wants to be. The search for the gold is a small part of the book compared to Tom's journey.

Like I mentioned before, Tom grows a lot in this book and I really enjoyed reading his journey. It seems like almost every white character is racist in some way (which is historically accurate) and it was refreshing to see Tom learn to break out of the narrow-minded thinking that he had and which surrounds him.

Just a note of warning: apart from some violence, there is mention of sex and sexual assault in the book. It's nothing explicit, but if you're sensitive or if you want to give this to a younger kid to read, you might want to keep it in mind.

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

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Meet Me in Atlantis by Mark Adams

I decided to borrow this book because I quite like reading about weird stuff, even if I don’t necessarily believe in it. Meet Me in Atlantis is Mark Adam’s account of his attempts to find the fabled lost city.

And I must say, I’m a bit envious of how much travel he did. He visited the proposed sites for Atlantis, such as Santorini, Morroco, and Malta. Along the way, he meets and talks with a number of Atlantologists to hear and think about their theories before presenting his theory on what happened.

What I liked about this book is that it didn’t purport to know the truth about where Atlantis was or if it even existed. While Adams respects the people he talks to and tries to understand where they come from, he also readily expresses his doubts about their theories.

Through all these conversations, I got to learn quite a bit about the theories about Atlantis. Although I must confess to being a complete noob because I didn’t even know that this whole thing originated with Plato (which is why a lot of people start with “was this a story of Plato or history”).

Oh, and I admit to being happy when I read about the cult of Pythagoras because I heard about it on Tanis. Pretty nice to see something I heard about referenced in another book - and if anyone knows a good book about Pythagoras, let me know!

Overall, I enjoyed this. I don’t think I’m going to go out and read all the books about Atlantis available, but the next time I listen to a podcast that references conspiracy theories rooted in Ancient Greek culture, I’ll actually know what they’re talking about.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Even though this book is really famous (and for good reason), I only got around to reading it today because my brother went and watched the play with his school and I wanted to be able to talk about it with him.

The Curious Incident About the Dog in the Nighttime is a book ‘written’ by Christopher. Christopher is crazy smart when it comes to math, and like my brother, doesn’t like bananas and doesn’t have much people skills.

The story begins when Christopher finds Wellington, the next door neighbour’s dog, dead and decides to investigate. His investigation brings up a revelation - namely that his mother, who he thought was dead, is actually alive and living in London. So this is slightly less of a mystery and more of a story about Christopher trying to make his way in the world.

Of course, I really, really liked Christopher because he reminded me so much of my brother! I think the characterisation of someone with relatively high-functioning autism was well done and I really felt all his pain. And the last line of the book! Seriously those lines could make me cry (look away if you don’t want spoilers):

"And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery of Who Killed Wellington? and I found my mother and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything."

Yes, Christopher, you really can do anything (‘:

And I asked my brother for his thoughts on the story and he says that he liked it very much because he could relate to Christopher but his classmates kept turning to look at him. I hope the play taught them a bit more empathy.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Gutenberg's Fingerprint by Merilyn Simonds

I chanced upon this on the library and it was an immediate borrow for me! Gutenberg’s Fingerprint is a story about how a book is made and the history of books (and ebooks).

Gutenberg’s Fingerprint starts when Marilyn teams up with Hugh, from Three Hellbox Press, to publish a limited edition run of her collection of flash fiction called The Paradise Project.

As Marilyn digs deep into the process of making a book - from making the paper to typesetting to stitching the papers together - she talks about the history of the book. At the same time, she’s preparing an ebook version of The Paradise Project, which gives her opportunities to muse about ebooks and the future of books.

Merilyn is clearly passionate about books, both as an object and for the things they mean. When she talked about picking a font, I started getting interested even though I’m normally a default font kind of person (although I admit that I like to write in Garamond).

She’s also even-handed about ebooks too. While she loves the printed word, she also talks about the advantages of ebooks as well.

That said, she’s not very accurate when it comes to self-publishing. The stats she cites are those that don’t include Amazon, although it would have been easy enough for her to go to Author Earnings (and the book was published in 2017 so the data should have been available when she wrote it).

Plus, she makes the claim that it’s harder to survive as a writer now when a quick look at people like Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn, or even the people at Kboards make a convincing case that it is, in fact, easier than ever to make a living as a writer.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. This book is basically an exploration of the book with a fellow bibliophile, making it a very fun read. I’m glad I read this in the printed form too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Down to Oath by Tyrolin Puxty


When I was invited to join the blog tour for Down to Oath, I immediately said yes because I’ve loved every single one of Tyrolin’s books so far!

Down to Oath proved to be no exception as I got sucked into Codi’s world. Codi appeared, fully formed, in Oath, a drab, boring town. But unlike the other residents, Codi wants something different. She wants colour and she wants pattern and she wants to shake things up. One day, she meets a child version of herself and realises that there are three other worlds. From there, the story really takes off as Codi and her other selves (Little Codi, Thorn) try to discover why their there and what it means to leave their worlds.

And I must say, the world building here is fantastic! I really loved the concept of the four worlds - Oath, Pledge, Bond, and Word and the idea that each world has its own distinctive characteristics.

As for Codi (Creative Codi), it was pretty interesting to see her come to terms with her selves. Little Codi could be a bit of a brat but was mostly adorable. Thorn (warrior Codi) and Creative Codi quarrelled a lot so the way their friendship developed was exciting. The last Codi, Willow, I didn’t get to see much of, which was a pity.

The story is told from Codi’s point of view. Truth be told, the beginning reminded me of the narrative style in the Broken Dolls series, but the story soon grabbed me and I stopped comparing it with [broken doll character]

If you’re a fan of weird worlds and exciting adventures, you definitely have to pick it up. I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

How to Make a Zombie by Frank Swain

My brother spotted this book in the library and asked me to borrow it because in his words, “I don’t want to attract suspicion.” But I ended up reading it first and it’s really interesting!

How to make a zombie is all about the science of the undead (or living dead). From Voodou zombies that use fugu poison to induce a state similar to death to Russian experiments reviving a decapitated dog’s head, the book takes a look at the various ways people have tried to raise the dead and the ways we may be zombies. The latter part is more on the insects and animal kingdom and there are a surprising number of insects who not only lay their eggs in a living host but who can manipulate the host to act in ways disadvantageous to its survival. Which makes my fear of insects seem a lot more rational now.

I really liked the later chapters, which were about how 'zombies' are being created today. The first part, which is on zombies created the natural way, is more on whether you can resuscitate a dead body. It's pretty interesting, but one can only read about so many failed methods. I thought the chapters on how brains can be taken over and actions influenced to be much more interesting, although they aren't really traditional zombie stuff (although I suppose if you take a traditional zombie as the "fake death than hypnotised to be a slave then it's somewhat similar).

Not a science major so I can’t speak to the accuracy of its contents, but this was an engaging read. I liked the humour mixed into the book (especially the Japanese-based pun) and chuckled more than a few times. This is definitely pop-science but it's enjoyable and that's what counts.

Definitely for aspiring mad scientists or people who like weird pop science books.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

I think that compared to other series, I finished the Southern Reach series in the shortest amount of time. But that's a good thing because if the details of Annihilation and Authority were not still fresh in my mind, I doubt that I would understand much of Acceptance. And because of that, expect spoilers for the first two books in the series.

Acceptance picks up directly from where Authority stopped, with Ghost Bird, now revealed to be a clone of the biologist, and Control wandering around Area X. The chapters from their POV are interspersed with chapters from Saul, the lighthouse keeper before Area X was Area X, and Gloria, the director and little girl that used to live in Area X, as she tried to carry out her work. Each person told a different part of the story, but they all filled in one bigger puzzle.

Ghost Bird, Control, and Saul told their stories in third person, but Gloria told hers in second. I'm not too sure what was the effect - perhaps to make us feel closer to her? - but it wasn't unpleasant and I appreciated finding out a little more about Control's mother. I did prefer the third person POV chapters though, because they were a little easier to understand. Then again, perhaps that's why Gloria told her story in second person; it's a little unnerving and she is an unnerving person.

That said, answers are still scant. We do get to find out more about the origin of Area X and why Grace was so hostile to Control, as why as why the Director went on the expedition to Area X, but we don't receive any concrete answers as to why Area X exists or why Control's family is involved. Things are hinted at and I think a second reading might prove more illuminating, but I still have a lot of questions.

If you read as far as Authority, then you need to finish the series and read Acceptance. I feel that these three books are highly dependent on each other (except perhaps the Annihilation, if you're okay with uncertainty over the fate of the Biologist) and these books need to be read in close succession to each other if you want to understand what's going on. And now, I feel like I'm ready for the Netflix movie.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett

Well, here it is. The last Discworld novel. I was both excited and sad to read this; excited because I love Discworld and found this series through the Tiffany Aching books and sad because this is the end (it's amazing that I managed to postpone my reading of it for so long). And like with the other Discworld novels, Terry Pratchett did not disappoint. There are mild spoilers for the series (especially the Witches line of books) below so be warned.

The Shepherd's Crown starts off with the death of Granny Weatherwax. Which I quite mixed up with the death of Miss Treason and got momentarily confused (despite them not being alike. But you don't expect Granny Weatherwax to die). And with the death of Granny Weatherwax comes a hole and a thinning of the barriers. As her appointed successor, acknowledged by You and the bees, Tiffany takes over Granny's steading and runs herself ragged going between Granny's place and the Chalk. But even though Tiffany is an immensely capable witch, the barrier is still thin and the elves are plotting.

I must say that this book feels so fitting in so many ways. Apart from my personal experience of having the Tiffany Aching novels be my introduction to the series (although I haven't read quite a few Rincewind books and the conman one so this isn't the end for me), this fourth book has so many echoes of the first book. There are the elves, for one, and Tiffany makes another pivotal step forward as a witch.

And as someone who was very excited about Tiffany and her relationship with Preston, I was excited to see him mentioned here. Sadly, it wasn't a happily ever after, but they both seem to be happy so I'm happy for her. And of course, I loved loved loved reading about Tiffany's journey as she learns more about who she is.

The Nac Mac Feegles also play a pretty big part in the book and it was a pleasure, as always, to read them. They even managed to get Lord Vetinari to say 'Crivens', which is something I definitely was not expected.

If you're a Discworld fan, and especially if you're a Tiffany Aching fan, you need to read this. The Tiffany Aching series might be for YA readers but Discworld fans of any age will enjoy this.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Strange Contagion by Lee Danial Kravetz

I picked this up because it sounded interesting! Strange Contagion is about how emotions and behaviours can spread, which is definitely not something that I thought about before.

Strange Contagion starts when Lee Daniel Kravetz moves to Palo Alto and a student from the local high school jumps in front of a train. That’s sad, but what’s scary is that students from that school started to jump/tried to jump after that trigger incident, prompting him to look into why this was happening.

To be honest the whole suicide being catching thing reminds me a lot of the film Suicide Club, but this book is nonfiction and makes a lot more sense. The author goes to talk with the leading experts in this field and takes us along with him, allowing us to learn that:

- We mirror people unconsciously

- We can catch both positive and negative behaviours and emotions

- Leaders matter. They will impact how people feel.

- On a related note, one toxic coworker can bring down an entire workplace

- We can get primed to do things: this basically means we can pick up the goals of someone else and we’ll end up thinking we thought of the goal ourselves

- While behaviours do spread like bacteria, it’s possible to interrupt the spread by training people to recognise and stop the behaviour. That’s how the Cure Violence model managed to reduce killings by 56% and shootings by 44% in Baltimore (among other success stories)

- When we ruminate, we continue to ‘infect’ ourselves

- Training ourselves to have a nuanced understanding of emotions can help us lead more emotionally healthier lives (like the other book I read!)

- We may be able to reach a ‘resistance point’ for negative viral emotions and behaviours, but eradication is unlikely.

- Community is both the cure and the means of spread.

All in all, I thought this was a very good read. I didn’t quite realise how much of an effect I could have on others, or that others could have on me. So now that I know, I have one more ‘tool’ I could use to make sense of my emotions when they threaten to overcome me.

The only thing I wish the book would add would be a summary chapter. We basically follow the author through his journey and pick up the information at the same time as him. That made it a little harder to put things together (things didn’t really merge into a whole until I started writing down the points I bookmarked), so a chapter summarising everything would have helped a lot.

I think you’d be interested in this book if you want to know more about human behaviour and what affects it. It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it is an interesting look into how we can ‘catch’ feelings and behaviours from the people around us.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

As you know, I love fairytales. Normally this is just about read them and about them, but now, I found a novel based Dortchen Wild! If you haven’t heard of her, Dortchen Wild was Wilhelm Grimm’s wife and one of the key contributors of fairytales.

While there is, sadly, not much material on Dortchen Grimm, Kate Forsyth has used what she could find to write the love story of Dortchen and Wilhelm, starting from their meeting when Dortchen is twelve to when they get married when Dortchen is thirty one. Woven into their love story are the fairytales that she tells Wilhelm and his brother Jakob.

And don’t think that because I said “fairytales” that this is a happy story. It’s not. If you’ve read the first edition of the Grimm’s fairy tales, you’ll know that their stories were very dark and not for kids. [MILD SPOILER ALERT] Likewise, The Wild Girl is dark because Kate Forsyth theorises that some of the changes between the first and second edition of the Grimm tales were made to protect someone they knew who suffered abuse (in this case Dortchen)

Apart from seeing how fairytales came to be (or could come to be), I thought the historical time period in this book was absolutely frightening. The Wild and Grimm families lived through Napoleon’s reign, which means that they lived through some pretty harsh times that the book does not shy away from exploring. There’s also quite a bit of information about herbs as Dortchen’s father runs a medicine shop.

The characters in this book were really well-written. I felt the pain of Dortchen, felt annoyance at her sister Gretchen, smiled at the exuberance of her best friend Lotte Grimm, and basically went through the whole emotion range while reading this. It really is a very intense read.

Fans of the history of fairytales will appreciate the afterword and short but informative section on the sources of fairytales.

If you’re in the mood for a meticulously researched and well-written novel about one of the key women behind the Grimm tales, you have to pick this up. It’s a fantastic and intense story.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Longbourn by Jo Baker

I love Pride and Prejudice so when I heard that there’s a book written about the servants at Longbourn, aka the Bennett’s house, I knew that I had to read it.

Longbourn follows the lives of the Bennett servants, focusing on Sarah, one of the housemaids. When the book starts, she’s working for the Bennett’s, washing all the muddy petticoats (something Lizzie doesn’t have to think about). But then one day, a mysterious young man called James Smith comes to work as a footman. Sarah tries to start off on the right foot with him but James just avoids her. Luckily for her, the Bingleys have a doorman that seems to be interested in her.

The events in this novel happen in parallel with Pride and Prejudice. Each chapter starts with a line from P&P, but though the events of P&P influence Longbourn, you don’t actually see much of the original book.

Although we do see Elizabeth and Jane through the eyes of Sarah and Mrs Hill, the housekeeper. They seem like their original selves, but ignorant to the world of the lower classes. I probably enjoyed reading about them the most because I really do love Lizzie Bennett.

To be honest, I didn’t expect myself to get so invested in Sarah’s story. I picked this book up for the Bennetts, but then I fell in love with the characters here. The only thing I don’t get (SPOILERS AHEAD) are Sarah’s romances. I can sort of get her and Bingley’s footman because they did talk but her and James? They avoided each other! Luckily, once their in love, their actions made a lot more sense and I ended up rooting for the two of them.

If you’d like a fresh take on Pride and Prejudice and don’t mind the original characters making just cameos (okay, they make more than just a cameo), you definitely have to read Longbourn. It’s a lovely read that hooked me and got me to finish it in one sitting.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Do You Believe in Magic? by Paul A. Offit

It would be really funny if I read this book while eating some vitamins or other alternative medicine things but I read it while eating chips (okay I only did this for the last few chapters). Which probably isn’t the healthiest thing to do, come to think of it.

Do You Believe in Magic is a book about alternative medicine. Each chapter looks at a particular cure, going into its history and the (lack of) science behind it. Areas covered are:

- Vitamins and supplements
- Hormone replacement
- Autism ‘cures’
- Chronic Lyme disease and how it isn’t real
- Curing Cancer
- Alternative medicine and children
- Homeopathy

Apart from looking at specific areas of alternative medicine (which really should be called “medicine that doesn’t work”), Offit also looks at the power of the placebo effect.

Now, the author isn’t against TCM or other herbs. He acknowledges that traditional folk medicine has contained remedies that science has verified. What the author is against is unverified/verifiably false cures that sell false hope, and in some cases, result in deaths that could have been prevented. There is a line between placebo medicine and quackery and the author is not afraid to draw it.

I found this book to be eye-opening. I already heard of some of this stuff, but I wasn’t aware as to how damaging some of the ‘alternative medicines’ can be, or how scientifically false they are. It’s particularly heartbreaking to read about how parents are harming their kids and/or depleting their lifesavings because they end up falling for these hucksters.

If you’re interested in the field of homeopathy or alternative medicine, you have to read this book. It’s a well-written explanation about how much you can trust the alternative medicine industry and its proponents and will definitely open your eyes to their practices. And if you want to read more, I recently found this blog called Naturopathic Diaries (https://www.naturopathicdiaries.com) where an ex-Naturopath pulls back the curtain on her Industry.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Floating Admiral by the Detection Club

This is my third Detection Club book and I picked it up because Christie, Chesterton, and to a smaller extent Sayers contributed to it (sorry Sayers but I love Christie and Chesterton a lot more).

Unlike Ask a Policeman, where the authors played with each other’s characters, and The Anatomy of Murder, The Floating Admiral is a straightforward round-robin novel. The body of Admiral Penistone is found in a floating boat and Inspector Rudge is called upon to investigate. As Rudge investigates, he realises that the case is far from straightforward - what does the vicar and a hasty marriage have to do with the murder? Do they have anything to do with the murder?

I definitely enjoyed this a lot more than Ask a Policeman, although not as much as The Anatomy of Murder. The styles of the various writers meshed together pretty well, except for Chesterton, who wrote a lyrical prologue that only makes sense at the end. The mystery was also interesting, although you can definitely sense that some writers just threw in things to make it more complicated.

I also found the appendix to be interesting. The writers give their solutions for the murders there and it was clear that each writer had their own way of plotting a mystery. Some were very detailed (Sayers) while some were very brief (Jepson). All were pretty convincing to me, although as the story developed some solutions became less plausible than others.

If you’re a fan of golden age mysteries and of the Detection Club, I think you would enjoy this book! It’s a fun mystery and I could tell that the writers had a lot of fun with this.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by Michael Finkel

I'm a fan of true-crime books which is why I picked this up, but True Story is a little different from most true crime books. Instead of focusing solely on the crime, the book devotes equal attention to the author and his relationship with the main suspect.

True Story starts with Michael Finkel being exposed for making up large parts of his New York Times story on child labour. At the same time, he finds out that Christian Longo, who was recently captured for the brutal murder of his entire family, had impersonated him while running from the law. Lured by the prospect of a story, Finkel reached out to Longo and eventually develops a relationship with him. The book juggles Finkel's own journalistic past with his developing friendship with Longo and an account of the murders.

Longo's acts were horrific. There's really no getting around it — he killed his wife, Mary Jane, and his three children before escaping to Mexico and having a week of fun. And even knowing that, Finkel finds himself drawn into a friendship with Longo. While he tries to convince himself that it's just to get a good story, he finds himself opening up to Longo more and more. It really hammered home the point that some of the most charming people are capable of brutal acts of murder. I spent a lot of the book sympathising with Longo as he got to tell his side of the story, and then I realised (along with Finkel) that I had been duped. Despite his protests of honesty, Longo told multiple versions of the murder, all of them making him sound like a good person.

This really isn't one of the usual true-crime books. The emphasis here is on Finkel and how he develops, and at times it feels like the Longo murders were just a backdrop for his growth. Mary Jane and the children are viewed primarily through Longo's eyes, and it's only at the end that we see what a monster he is.

And that may be the frightening part of the book: to know that if we were given only one side of the story, we might end up supporting a monster. Now, I would love to read a version of this story that focused on Mary Jane and her children, she deserves a voice too.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Judas and the Gospel of Jesus by N.T. Wright

Have a blessed Easter weekend everyone! 

My uncle managed to help me borrow this book so I finally got to read it! I heard it was a good explanation of Gnosticism vs Christianity and it didn’t disappoint.

Judas and the Gospel of Jesus focuses on the Gospel of Judas (which you can read online just by googling - it’s only 7 pages long). It’s supposed to turn Christianity upside down because in this story, Judas is the hero because Jesus told Judas to go betray him.

But before you throw out your Bible in despair, here’s what you need to know about Gnosticism. It’s very different from Christianity, as you can see by looking at the following characteristics:

- Gnosticism has what the book called a “deep and dark dualism.” It believes that this world we live in is full of wickedness and evil and if it wasn’t for an evil god that created it, wouldn’t exist at all.

- Apart from the evil god, there is a pure and wide and tue god who is different from the creator god.

- Therefore, the aim of the human is to escape from this material world and into a purer, higher spiritual existence

- And you get this ‘salvation’ from a special secret knowledge (gnosis) from a ‘revealer’

As you can see, this is not even similar to what Christianity teaches.

So while this later writing (and it is definitely written after Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) provides an interesting view of how some people back then thought, it’s not really Christian at all. Even though it’s called the gospel of Judas, it’s not really a Gospel the way Christians use the word.

Side note: some scholars have suggested that the Jesus in this gnostic Gospel is more humorous because he laughs but actually the laughter in the Gospel of Judas is mocking laughter rather than humour

The book also places the gospel of Judas and Gnosticism in the correct historical context. The Christians weren’t persecuting a valid alternative of Christianity in order to gain power. In fact, it’s the Christians who were dying for their faith while “the Gnostics were the cultural conservatives, sticking with the kind of religion that everyone already knew” and basically doing their best to avoid martyrdom. That means that the Church was merely defending their faith and following Jesus.

The last chapter of the book looks at how strains of gnostic thought has invaded society and how this has made everyone so eager for some new claim to ‘truth’. It’s a pretty sobering chapter because he shows that even Christians are subject to conspiracy theories.

If you’re interested in finding out what Gnosticism is, you definitely have to read this. It’s a pretty short book but it packs a lot of information. The language is also very clear and you definitely don’t have to be a Bible scholar to follow the arguments.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

I finished the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy and it is so good! It takes place after the first book so be warned: this review has spoilers for Annihilation.

While Annihilation took place in Area X, Authority takes place in Southern Reach, the authority that sends expeditions into Area X. Control/John (playing around with names and identity here!) has been sent to take command of Southern Reach and fix it.

But his attempts to understand the place and the biologist who returned slowly changes him, and the last part of the book honestly had me wondering how much of it was real and how much was in his head.

I really enjoyed this book! I mentioned before that book one seemed to be more of an exploration of Area X than a quest, but this book has a much stronger plot. It does center around Control and his perceptions of things, but the book also delves a little deeper into the mystery of Area X and the returnees.

That said, not everything has been answered because there’s still book three. While I do know a bit more about this odd and fascinating world, there’s still so much more I want to know! Especially about Control’s past and the secret of the Director/Psychologist.

You definitely can’t read this book as a stand-alone so I would highly recommend reading Annihilation first. And if you liked Annihilation, you have to read this.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

This book is the reason why I was grinning like a fool in public while I was reading it (I really should know better than to try and read a Discworld novel and hope to look dignified).

The Fifth Elephant is part of The Watch subseries of the Discworld novels and it has His Excellency Commander Sam Vimes going to attend a dwarf coronation as the Ankh Morpork ambassador. Naturally, he finds a crime because Sam Vimes is the Watch.

While he does leave the watch in the capable hands of Carrot, Carrot suddenly finds the urge to resign and authority of the watch falls to Colon, with side-splitting consequences (for the reader. Also, this subplot will make a lot more sense if you’re already familiar with the Watch).

And like the best of the Discworld novels, Pratchett weaves in a deeper meaning, this time looking at the meaning of tradition, living with other races, and how identity (specifically dwarfish identity) is defined.

While I love this book, I don’t think that this is a good first book for people looking to get into the Discworld series because it assumes the reader knows about pre-existing relationships. But it’s definitely a must-read for fans of the Watch. And I don’t really need to go on about the book because I will just rehash my old feelings for the characters (p.s. if you’re invested in Carrot and Angua’s relationship, you have to read this book!)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Captured Economy by Brink Lindsey and Steven M. Teles

I first heard about this book when it was mentioned on episode 829 of Planet Money. The idea that government regulations could lead to increased inequality was pretty interesting, plus the book was written by a libertarian and an American liberal, something you don't really see, so I decided to read the book to find out more.

The Captured Economy is a basically about how rent-creating policies in a variety of fields are leading to an increase in inequality in America. If you don't know what "rent" is, it's basically "the excess payment made to any factor of production (land, labor, or capital) due to scarcity. It's basically the extra money one earns for holding on to a certain factor of production. The book looks at various sectors and argues that there are policies that lead to higher rents, which in turn benefit the people with more money and lead to growing inequality. The sectors are: finance, intellectual property, occupational licensing, and land use.

Strangely enough, the first thing that struck me as very true when I read the book wasn't the rent-seeking part, but this section in the beginning:
"When people feel economically insecure, they grow more defensive, less open and generous, and more suspicious of 'the Other.' When life seems like a zero-sum struggle, gains by other groups are interpreted as losses by one's own group."
I don't think that this is the sole cause of xenophobia, but I do agree that it plays an important role, seeing as many complaints about foreigners tend to come with complaints about how they're 'stealing our jobs'.

The book makes a pretty good case that some pieces of regulation are leading to growing inequality. But, I'm not too sure where is the line to be drawn when it comes to regulation. In the podcast, they mentioned teeth-whitening as an example of excessive occupational licensing. While it may be simpler than other dental procedures, it's not without its risks - in Singapore, some home whitening kits were found to have excessively high amounts of chemicals that would result in overly-sensitive teeth. While excessive regulation is bad, no regulation seems to have the potential to harm consumers as well (especially consumers who don't understand how much of XYZ is safe and may underestimate its effect).

Overall, I thought this was an interesting and thoughtful book. The explanation of rent at the start was clear and the arguments were easy to follow. While the book focuses only on American economics, the theory behind the arguments can be applied to any economy and made me think about how much regulation is necessary in different industries.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers

I borrowed this book because I really enjoyed The 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear (my introduction to the author) and because the title has the word 'books' inside. What I didn't realise that this is part of a series and that I probably should have read The City of Dreaming Books before reading this.

The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books is set two hundred years after the events of The City of Dreaming Books. As the narrator and protagonist Optimus Yarnspinner will gladly tell you, he's grown incredibly rich and popular since the events of the previous novel. However, the 'orm' has left him and he is unable to write. Intrigued by a letter claiming that the Shadow King has returned, Optimus returns to Bookholm and discovers that much has changed since he left.

Although the start of the book promises a mystery and adventure about this Shadow King, most of the story is concerned with the ways that Bookholm has changed. In a way, this is a travel guide about a fictional place in narrative form. The reader gets to see (through illustrations) Bookholm, learn about its different inhabitants, and even enjoy some puppet shows. The novel does end with the Shadow King, but it seems like the rest of the story is being kept for another book.

Despite the lack of plot, I really enjoyed this story. Bookholm is a fascinating place and I enjoyed reading about it. And since I didn't read The City of Dreaming Books, everything felt new to me so I wasn't bored at all. The only thing I didn't like was that there was a section of the book that used a Gothic font which made it a little hard to read.

Optimus is also an entertaining narrator. He's fairly pompous, but he clearly enjoys stories and I found him to be very endearing. I also enjoyed his interactions with his old friends in the later half of the book and that made me want to read The City of Dreaming Books.

Overall, this is a book that will appeal to bibliophiles looking for their ideal fictional city. I'm not quite sure if I want to live in Bookholm, but I definitely want to pay it a visit.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

I can’t remember which article I was reading, but I heard about this book from The Straits Times. It sounded pretty interesting, so I tracked down a copy at Jurong Library and borrowed it!

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a novel that resembles a non-fiction mystery. On Valentine’s day, 1900, three girls and one teacher at a picnic at Hanging Rock disappear. The fourth girl comes back in hysterics, unable to remember a single thing.

Although the start of the story resembles a mystery, it isn’t one. There isn’t a resolution and the book is more concerned about the effects that the disappearance have on the staff and students of the school than on solving the mystery. In fact, it’s soon clear that this disappearance has sparked a chain of endings. And although it’s never made clear, the book hints that all the events after the disappearance are connected, all threads in one tapestry. And sadly, not all endings are happy.

The characters in this book are excellent. There is Mrs. Appleyard, who appears very proper but acts stranger and stranger (and more selfishly) as her school falls apart; Mademoiselle, the kindly meant French teacher who doesn’t disappear; Sara, whose only friend is Miranda, one of the girls who disappeared. There’s also Irma, the heiress who disappeared than came back, and Michael and Albert, the men who found her. All of them were well-written, with their own motivations for their actions.

I’ve read that one reason this book has endured for so long is because no one is sure if it’s fact or fiction. This is the only ‘account’ of the case, but the foreword and the factual style of writing has made many people believe that this was based on a true story.

If you’re into atmospheric novels and are fine with unresolved endings, you should definitely read this book. It’s a bit hard to find, but totally worth it.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Say Everything by Scott Rosenberg

I decided to read this book because it was recommended in Trust Me, I’m Lying, which I thought was an excellent read. Unlike Trust Me, I’m Lying, which was about media manipulation, Say Everything focuses on the history and impact of blogs, which is definitely right up my alley.

I say ‘history’, but it’s really about the first fifteen years and focuses on key people during a certain era of blogging. The book starts with Justin Hall, who intentionally revealed his life online, continues with Dave Winter, who moved from a mailing list to a blog, and continues on. It covers the period from when blogging was new to when it became mainstream and includes the invention of Blogger, the rise of political blogging, and of course, blogging for profit.

Obviously, this is a lot to take in, so I’m glad that the book focuses on specific people, branching out from them to the larger blogging environment. That made it easier to see the rise of the ‘blogosphere’ and how the word went from weblog to blog (and now the word weblog sounds so foreign and archaic!)

The last part of the book takes a look at the effects of blogs, namely journalists vs bloggers, what happens when everyone blogs (the author is actually quite positive about it) and how blogs can develop in the age of Facebook and Twitter. He isn’t as cynical as Ryan Holliday, which makes me quite positive about my compulsive habit of starting blogs.

I now want to read a book about the history of RSS. Any recommendations?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Alice by Christina Henry

I do not remember how this got on my TBR list but it is so good! Alice is a very dark sequel/spin on the Alice in Wonderland Tales, which is exactly up my alley!

Alice starts on in the asylum in Old City. After a terrifying attack that she can’t remember, Alice is locked up and given drugs to keep her quiet. But during a fire, her friend Hatcher breaks them out and they start on a quest to defeat the Jaberwocky that haunts Hatcher’s mind.

I should warn you up front that this is an extremely dark book. There is a lot of graphic violence, both the traditional kind and sexual violence against women. This is a world split into two, where the Old City is ruled by criminal underlords. And as Alice and Hatcher slowly regain their memories, they go closer and closer to the centre of power.

My favourite aspect of this book is definitely the world-building. Having both Alice and Hatcher lose their memories make it easier to have the world explained in a non-info dumping way. And although this is a dark and violent world that I would definitely not like to live in, it fits in with the tone of the book, and I love how the element of magic and the absurd was written in.

My second favourite were the characters. Hatcher is pretty interesting, and I like the conflicting nature in Alice. She’s essentially a good person, but she has to confront the darkness within her if she can defeat the evil that is stalking them.

I’m a bit conflicted on the ending, though. Overall, it’s satisfying, but it’s also slightly anti-climatic (though it does fit in with Alice’s development story, so I guess this isn’t really a valid complaint?) I also wish for more backstory on Alice, but I suppose that because this is a series, there are still opportunities to delve deeper.

Overall, this was a really dark and thrilling book. If you’re into dark and twisted takes on classic stories, you have to read this. Definitely in the running for one of my favourite books of this year, and I’m definitely reading the sequel.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

When I heard that Annihilation is similar to Tanis, I thought “hmm, I should read it.” When I heard that Annihilation is going to be a Netflix movie, I thought “okay, now I definitely have to read this.” While this is one of more unorthodox novels that I’ve read, it was a really good read!

The unorthodox part of the novel comes from the fact that there is no real plot (okay, maybe it just resembles some literary fiction). It’s basically the journal of the Biologist, part of the twelfth expedition, as she explores the mysterious and increasingly dangerous Area X.

The writing here is fantastic. Area X felt menacingly real and despite the lack of explanations at the end, I was left wanting more rather than feeling cheated (as is usually the case when there’s an open ending). I think the reason why this works for me is that the menacing aspect of Area X goes hand in hand with the breakdown of the biologist.

Okay, maybe I spoke too soon just now. As the story progresses, we get to find out more about why the Biologist came on this expedition. There is no big quest, but there is revealing of character, even while said character seems to slowly break down.

And by the way, I think it’s really cool that the author used their job titles instead of names. It might have reduced them to simple stereotypes, but all the characters felt three dimensional, which means that the generic titles gave it a ring of universality.

If you’re into weird worlds and dark edges, you have to pick up this book. I know that I will definitely be continuing this trilogy!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

China's Mobile Economy by Winston Ma

Heard about this book from someone on Dayre and it sounded interesting so I decided to borrow it!

China’s Mobile Economy is about the shape of China’s Internet Economy (which is very much shaped by the smartphone). Through ten chapters, the book explores:

- Stakeholders in this mobile economy
- Xiaomi
- Digital retailing
- Entertainment
- The O2O (online to offline) model in the movie business
- The effect of the internet on finance
- Trends, opportunities and challenges of internet and tech companies in China

Within each chapter are columns that explain more about certain cultural terms or norms that may not be immediately obvious to a foreigner.

You don’t have to be an expert on China to read this because the first chapter is on the mobile economy. It will, however, help if you know a little about things like “omnichannels” (which are basically multi-channels but with complete integration).

As you can imagine, this book covers a lot. It’s definitely something to be read a couple of times, because I think it would be very difficult to fully understand everything that this book is talking about on the first read.

Two things mentioned that I thought were interesting were:

- China’s Internet literature: it’s not something I hear a lot, but it seems like the barriers to self-publishing are pretty low and the appetite for serialised, mobile-friendly stories are high. The business model for sites like Shanda Literature is something that Wattpad could learn from (although whether Wattpad’s userbase is open to paying for subscriptions is another matter)

But the fact that online authors exist in great enough number that ranks can be made is very exciting!

- The way the finance industry is being affected. The book specifically mentions WeBank and that it innovates by providing microloans to the public, conducts all operations online, and creditworthiness is analysed by big data.

Personally, I wished for a bit more discussion on the third part because the big data part is very Black Mirror-ish (if you don’t believe me, Wired has a couple of good articles on the issue, including “In China, a three digit score could dictate your place in society”, which has a few not-so-positive first-hand accounts).

Overall, the book is very positive and a good introduction to how China is changing and has been changed by the mobile economy. It doesn’t cover the manufacturing side of things (although it’s arguable related since the infrastructure will play a pretty important role in the future) but I suppose the book would have been far too long if it didn’t have a focus! It’s a bit academic in tone but definitely worth reading if you want to find out what’s going on!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen

I first heard of this series from Wendy (link to her review) and it sounded pretty interesting so I decided to give it a go!

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is a murder mystery taking place in Edwardian England. After a successful party by Lady Montford, the corpse of her nephew is found. Afraid that the investigation might implicate her son, Lady Montford ropes in her housekeeper, Mrs Jackson and the two begin to investigate.

What I enjoyed about this book was the plot (well, the latter half) and the meticulous attention to detail. While the first fifty pages were rather slow, the book managed to pick up the pace and I couldn’t put it down for the last third of the book. There are some pretty good twists to the mystery and I was satisfied by how it ended.

The historical detail is marvelous too. It’s a time of great social change, as the suffragettes' campaign for votes and class tensions are felt more strongly than ever. Even though the mystery is set in the countryside, in a traditional household, the author still includes these tensions and details in the novel, adding a sense of realism.

I also really enjoyed the two main characters. Lady Montford and Mrs. Jackson make a good detective pair, although I think I prefer the practical Mrs. Jackson for her unflappability and ingenuity.

However, this book was let down by its overly formalised narration. There’s a sense of stiltedness and distance that, coupled with the slow start, made the book hard to get into. This got easier to ignore as the paced picked up, but it didn’t disappear entirely.

The other thing I didn’t really like about this book is that there were too many characters. Very few stood out to me and the rest were pretty much interchangeable. I think that if the author was given more room for the story, this problem would be resolved because then we wouldn’t need the constant backstory.

Overall, I think I will continue with this series. It didn’t make the best first impression, but I’ve grown used to the characters and I would assume that there would be less need to constantly explain things in the second book.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

There is something intriguing about the Romanovs. In previous history books that I read that featured them, I’ve always thought that Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar, was a man unsuited to ruling. But I’ve never read much about his family, which has since been remedied through this book.

Although The Romanov Sisters starts with their mother, the bulk of this book focused on the lives of the four Grand Duchesses - Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. While they gave themselves a collective nickname, the accounts from third parties and their letters and diaries show that they each had their own distinct personality.

Through this account of their lives, I could feel the warmth of their family very strongly. While they were very sheltered and naive children, they were also remarkably unspoilt (especially compared to accounts of previous Romanov rulers!). It’s clear that though their parents weren’t suited to the positions of Tsar and Tsarina, they were extremely loving parents who were active in bringing up their five children.

Even the fact that after the revolution, quite a few of the servants and guards that knew them best stayed loyal shows that this family had a certain goodness of character that inspires loyalty. After all, if your master is a tyrant, your only thought would be to escape as far as possible.

And out of all the people in this book, I think my opinion of Tsarina Alexandra changed the most. She definitely made a huge mistake by trusting Rasputin to the extent that she did, but she clearly did everything out of her love for her son. In fact, her efforts in the war (and her daughters’ work as nurses) show that she did the best she could. It’s a pity that she was so unsuited to the Russian court.

If you’re interested in the last Romanov family, I think this would be a good book to read. But if you’re looking for a book that talks about the various people claiming to be Grand Duchess Anastasia, you’ll have to look someplace else because this book ends with the death of the family.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander

I enjoyed the first book in this series, The Book of Three, that I made sure to borrow this book from the library! Although this book shares its name with the Disney movie, it has a lot less in common with the movie than the first book. It’s still a delightful story, though.

The Black Cauldron continues some time after The Book of Three ends. Despite his heroics in The Book of Three, Taran is back to being an assistant pig-keeper. However, one day, a council gathers at Caer Dallben - Prince Gwydion has decided that it is time to take and destroy the black cauldron, to make sure no more cauldron-born can be made. To Taran’s pleasure, he’s invited to go along on this quest. To his displeasure, one of the people he’s paired with is the proud and difficult Ellidyr.

All of the characters from the first book make a re-appearance in this one. Eilonwy is as flighty but smart as ever, Gurgi has become slightly braver, and Fflewddur is still dealing with his habit of exaggeration (but with the harp to remind him).

To these are a few new characters - the difficult Ellidyr mentioned above and Adaon, a warrior as brave as he is good a hard. Adaon takes the mentor-role to Taran in this story and I really like how he grounds Taran and helps him to grow.

Taran gets to grow a bit more in this book, as he realises that being a man is not all heroics. He also learns something about the nature of mankind, which I will refrain from stating her to avoid spoilers.

If you liked the first book, I’m pretty sure that you’ll like this one. The language is the same and the book managed to balance the quest with Taran’s growth journey wonderfully. This is definitely one for fans of high-fantasy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

I requested this book as soon as I saw it because:

1. The blurb makes it sound similar to Three Dark Crowns which was something I really loved

2. I studied King Lear in IB and heard that this was a retelling.

Anyway, this retelling of King Lear is infused with magic of both the stars and sky. King Lear is obsessed by what the stars say to him, leading him to require his daughters to publicly declare their love for him (among other things). His two older daughters, Gaelan and Reagan are one in mind, but his favourite, Elia surprises him with his answer. If you've watched or studied King Lear, you know how it goes.

Because this is a series, we don't get as far as say, the Storm Scene. Well, this book is really a set-up for the world, so it ends a little after the public declaration contest, which you may recognise as the start of the play. But I can see why this world and the new characters require so much word-space, so I don't mind waiting to see my favourite parts of this play retold.

As for characters, the three daughters of Lear definitely steal the show. Elia is my favourite because she's the kindest, but both Gaela and Reagan were very well-written and true to their inspiration. The book also introduces new characters, such as Ban the Fox and the Fool's daughter (who's also Elia's lady-in-waiting).

The only thing I wasn't too crazy about was the language. It's very deliberately lyrical, sometimes to its detriment because it distracted me from the story. Then again, if you know me, you know I put story first and feel that language should be used to enhance the story rather than placed in the limelight for its own sake.

Overall, though, this is definitely a book for fans of King Lear and those that like darker retellings. Even though I know the ending (or at least, I hope I know the ending), I cannot wait to see how the later books will interpret the rest of the play.

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Trust Me, I'm Lying by Ryan Holliday

I just finished this and this is definitely a must read! It’s super eye-opening, although it’s also very disheartening and will make you very cynical. So prepare yourselves for a long review because I’m really going to summarise this book.

Trust Me, I’m Lying is basically a book about exposing the dark side of online/modern media. It’s broken into two parts and to start, let’s go back in time to the history of newspapers.

First, there was the party press, which was to explain party policies to members. This is mainly editorial and based on a subscription model. After that came the yellow press, which fought for daily sales. Since they had to sell themselves anew every day, they relied on gossip and sensation. The third stage is the modern stable press, which went back to subscriptions. Since there was a fairly stable income, they had room for more nuance and discussion, and reputation started to matter more than notoriety. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, because the paper had to please its readers, but it was better than yellow journalism.

Right now, however, the internet/new media is in the yellow press stage. Blogs (the books generic term for everything on the internet) make money by generating pageviews (for the ads). Scoops lead to traffic which lead to money, which means that there’s a built in incentive for sensationalism. And with the thousands of blogs competing for your attention, there isn’t much incentive to take the time to fact-check, because that time could mean that you break the news second, not first.

These blogs get their news by something called ‘trading up the chain’. Holliday defines the chain as having three big stages: an entry point (small, local blogs), legacy media (sites like wired), and national news (New York times). Because they want to break the news, blogs will look downwards to the smaller sites for ‘scoops’, which means that if you can disseminate information at the entry level, it can reach the big leagues.

To add to that, the time-pressed nature of journalism (thanks to the CNN effect) means that journalists are dependent on self-interested sources, which can be easily manipulated (sites like HARO - Help A Reporter Out basically ask people to submit tips). And because they need to churn out articles, press releases and Wikipedia can be used to make news too.

In fact, this digital news environment is a product of the link economy, which “is designed to conform and support, not to question and correct.” If you think about the origins of PageRank (Google’s algorithm), which uses the number of links back to a page to judge relevance, then it’s easy to see how a vicious cycle of fake news is created.

I’m guessing you can see how all this can be manipulated - you can plant fake news at the lower levels and use the news cycle to ‘alter reality’ (he uses the example of how he defaced Tucker Max’s billboards to raise awareness of Tucker Max’s books). You can also bribe reporters, not only with free gifts, but the hope of future jobs and tips that help them with their current jobs.

Even in Singapore, you can see how it works. For example, sites like mothership often use Facebook posts and even Dayre posts as ‘news’ sources. And what about the time someone discovered that the same few people were forever being quoted in the articles by the Straits Times?

So the first part is on how the news is made and can be manipulated. A few other points that I thought were good included:

- Headlines tend to be ambiguous (and he also repeated something I’ve heard and believe: if the headline asks a question, the answer is probably ‘no’?)

- People tend to believe the news is what’s important, instead of realising that the news is content that made it past the filters

- There is a trend towards shorter, easier to read pieces which tend to take the nuance out of things.

The second part of the book names some of the worst media manipulators and looks at the effects of this new digital news environment.

People Holliday names as master manipulators include Irin Carmon, Breitbart, Steve Bannon, James O’Keefe, and Charles Johnson. He also talks a lot about how this news environment contributed to fake news and made three very interesting points:

First, the best way to get your message out is to make your critics angry. When they’re angry, they’ll respond and invariably spread your message. Your best bet is to stay quiet and let them embarrass themselves.

Two, there is something called narcotising dysfunction, where we “mistake the business of the media with real knowledge and confuse spending time consuming that with doing something.”

Third, that you can recognise snark when you realise that there is no way to reply to it because it doesn’t actually have any substance. It’s just an effective way to dismiss criticisms that one doesn’t like and enforce social norms.

So, where do we go from here? Holliday mentions a re-emergence of the subscription model, citing the New York Time’s new paywall model. He doesn’t talk about mention patreon, but I think it could also help with breaking the “need for page-views” cycle. If people trust you enough to pay for your stories, then you don’t have as much pressure to push out unverified stories.

For example, if you trust sgbudgetbabe and her investment analysis (and there is absolutely no reason to trust her), you could choose to support her patreon and get her analysis first. That support will help her to continue being able to give unbiased investment news and analysis.

He also mentions the need to draw a line in the sand, which is something that Singapore does (I suppose I should add that I never really found the rules here draconian since you’ll be fine if you tell the truth).

The appendix is also worth reading since it contains articles and interviews with people who admit manipulating the news (including the guy who convinced newspapers that chocolate would help you lose weight)

I already knew some of this, but I never knew it was that bad, so if you’re curious about how the news work, or even if you’re not, you need to read this. It’s probably going to dishearten you because you’ll see how easily the news can be manipulated (and has been manipulated) but knowledge is power and if we want to be informed citizens, we must know how to get to the truth.

Books mentioned in this book (which I’m going to read)

1. Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters by Scott Rosenberg

2. Being Wrong: Adventures in the margin of error by Katherine Schulz

3. So You’ve been publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (I’ve read this and it’s a fantastic read if you wanna look into the whole online shaming thing).

4. Not a book, but the article on how to be an Amazon Bestseller by someone in his company is a hoot! I read it a couple of years ago but didn’t connect the article with this book until he mentioned it.