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.