Tuesday, January 31, 2012

With Love from Japan, Eustacia

Since I have some time between reviews (can't seem to finish a book), I figured I can use this time to tell you about my new blog: With Love from Japan, Eustacia.

You see, when I found out about my scholarship, I wanted a way to record down what I was going to go through for 5 years (I'm quite unreliable when it comes to actual diaries, although I'm going to try). So, I thought that blogging might help. It's quite simple, I'm just going to chronicle what happens and anything I learnt along the way. There are currently two blog posts up, and they will be quite infrequent since I'm not there yet, but come April, they'll start getting more regular, and be like letters home (yup, this is another way I'm keeping in touch with my family)

Right now, the site is very simple, with just the "Home" page and a free ebook page. I'll be customising more as time goes by, but right now, it's super basic. I do wonder though, how fancy a blog should be. I'm old enough to remember when blogs were for those technologically inclined, and how my first "blog" was a piczo site! Now, I've realised that for someone who reads all the time, I've come quite far in terms of internet skills. And soon, I'll be going to one of the most wired countries in the world!

If you're interested in studying in Japan (especially if you're looking at the Monbukagakusho or MEXT undergraduate scholarship), you might like the posts I have now, since they're basically dealing with MEXT. I couldn't find much information on the undergraduate scholarship, so I hope that the blog posts help those who do. And if you're not interested, then I'll be really happy if you just keep my blog in mind for when you want to read about Japan. If you don't like Japan, then daijyoubu (it's ok), the blog won't make you happy, but thanks for reading my post anyways(:

Teaser Tuesday - Living Abroad in Japan

You might have heard that I've gotten a scholarship to Japan, and yesterday, handed in the Pledge, which makes it even more official. Which is why, I'm currently reading "Living Abroad in Japan" by Ruth Kanagy, one of the few books that talk about moving and living there. So, here's my teaser:

'When you poke your head through the agency door, the real estate agent may take one look and shoo you away wordlessly, or cross his or her forearms in the shape of an X and say something that means "Terrible sorry, but the landlord doesn't rent to gaijin (foreigners)." If this happens, nothing you say or do will make any difference. ' (page 122)
Oh dear, this makes Japan sound like a terrible place to leave in. Anyway, you can come back in a few days to see my review of the book(:

UPDATE: You can find the review here

See you next week!

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Life of Joy by Amy Clipston

Normally, I like reading books about the Amish. We don't have anyone/any community like that in Singapore, and I think it's interesting to read about my brothers and sisters in Christ. A Life of Joy was supposed to be like this - a sweet young girl choosing if she wants to be Amish. Instead, I found myself unaccountably annoyed with the protagonist.

Lindsay grew up 'English', a term that encompasses anyone that isn't Amish. But when her parents died, her sister (Jessica) and her was moved to Bird-in-Hand. Jessica couldn't take the Amish way of life and fled to college, but Lindsay loves it, although now with Baptism class coming up, she's starting to feel uncertain. And in order for her to compare, an opportunity arises for her to live with the 'English' a little while.

For some weird reason, I found Lindsay annoying and egoistical. She seems to be convinced that people won't be able to function without her. To quote:

Lindsay gestured toward Rebecca. "But you need me too. You're my family, my real, blood family."
"I'll be just fine if you want to go to Virginia" Rebecca said.
"What about the bakery? Elizabeth depends on me."
If you don't know, she's considering whether to go and help her Aunt Trisha, who broke her leg badly and has no one to help. If I were her, I'll go right away, because that's where I'm needed. But instead, she angst's over it.

Perhaps it's because I identify more with Jessica. She's very driven, especially with regards to college and she wants Lindsay to go to college to (something that won't happen if she joins the Amish). But of course, Lindsay resents this interference. I probably would, but as the older sister, I'm prone to be more like Jessica than Lindsay. What I wanted to see more of in the book was the interactions between Jessica and Jake. The implications of an 'English' girl falling in love with a Mennonite boy would be really interesting, although I don't like Jake that much.

The only other problem I have with the book is with regards to characterisation. Everyone is almost too nice, except, of course, the 'English' teenagers who are try to grope Lindsay and drink all the time. To clarify: these are only the non-Christian teenagers. What I would have liked was to see a little more complex characters, why can't there be nice non-Christians (I want to see more Vicki and Heather) and unpleasant Amish/Christians (more on Katie's mom!). Then, it would seem more like real life. Because we Christians are also flawed. Perhaps that's why Jessica is my favourite character - she's flawed yes, but also has good intentions.

All these negatives aside, the book is a good read. I kept reading on, hoping against hope that the ending wasn't what I thought it would be (it was), but I enjoyed reading it. I actually have a feeling that I would like to read more about Bird-In-Hand, so perhaps it was the choice of protagonist that prevented me from liking the book as much as I should have. If you're new to reading Amish stories, I would recommend reading Beverly Lewis's books first, before going on to read this.

Disclaimer: I got a free copy of this book from NetGalley. I was requested to write a review, but all opinions here are mine.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Budgeting Smarts by Sandy Donovan (ARC)

Since I'll be living overseas for my university (for the first time in my life! The living independently I mean), I figured that it'll be good to brush up on financial knowledge such as budgeting. I may (currently) be spending the least in the family, but my book purchases are starting to add up, and I heard that the cost of living in Japan is much higher than Singapore.

Budgeting Smarts is aimed at the teenager (my demographic) and covers the topics on why we should budget, banking, spending wisely and a brief overview of credit and debit cards. The book is actually really easy to read, with interesting real-life stories and easy to understand explanations. They show you how it's so easy to spend all your allowance in an instant, and to prepare a simple but adequeat budget, and of course, how to identify needs and wants.

All this being said, the book is very elementart, an introduction into the world of budgeting if you will. It's probably because I studied budgeting a little, so I expect terms like "variance" to pop up now and then, and these are terms probably not found much in personal finance. Plus, a lot of the information can be gleaned if you regularly read the personal finance blogs (thank you Zite!) or any book that tries to teach you how to live on less money (like Chick Living: Frugal and Fabulous and Savvy Chic - although I haven't read Savvy Chic yet).

But since the books I mentioned aren't really read by teens, because, well, it's kind of awkward to have around. I think that to some extent, being money-smart isn't looked upon very well. I'm the kind that always thinks twice before making purchases (except, perhaps, for books), and almost never impulse purchase and all that means that my mom and sis call me "miserly", and joke about how much cash I have (It's not that much, because I keep everything in the bank).

Which is why, I would think that if you want to introduce a teen or someone slightly older or younger to the concept of money-management and get them to be responsible with their money, this is a pretty good book. The graphics/layout should appeal to them, and the language is simple to understand. The content? After they read this, they'll probably be wondering why they didn't think of it before.

Disclaimer: I got this book free from NetGalley. I was asked to write a review in exchange, but all opinions here are mine.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hadassah by Tommy Tenney

One of my favourite books in the Bible is the story of Esther. I mean, it's a classic Cinderella-type tale. Poor girl who becomes a queen. Plus, the fact that she saves her people means that she's way better than most of the Disney princesses (i.e. all except Mulan). And my favourite re-telling of the Esther story is Hadassah by Tommy Tenney (not that I've read that many retellings).

Hadassah is written in the form of a letter from the elderly Queen Esther to a young Queen hopeful, full of advice and her life story. While there is some creative license (like what she was thinking and details of palace life), the book stays true to the actual Bible story. Using a metaphor, this book's treatment of the Esther story is like the movie Prince of Egypt's treatment of the Exodus story.

My favourite part of story is Esther's journey. She doesn't start of as a young women full of faith; she actually has a lot of doubts and anger towards God, especially about the death of her families. But as the book progresses, she experiences His love, which changes her. And like a normal human, there are times when she forgets, but that adds to the charm of reading about her journey of faith.

For some reason, the most touching paragraph in the whole book is a single sentence of six words. You see, the early part of the book recounts how Esther watched her whole family die (on her birthday!) and how that resulted in many years of bitterness. In the triumphant ending, Esther not only saves her people, but manages to wipe out the Agagites, fufilling the commands of God centuries before. And then the chapter ends with these six words:

"And a little girl's grief avenged."
That is so poignant. You can see that she's been hurt so much by the death of her family, that she feels trapped in time. Yet, she's managed to come through it all as the winner, not the victim.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Unfurl by Cidney Swanson

After I reviewed both Rippler and Chameleon here, Cidney Swanson was so kind as to give me a copy of the last book, Unfurl. THANK YOU SO MUCH!! Needless to say, I love Unfurl as much as I love the previous two books.

One way of looking at the series is that Rippler and Chameleon were the 'scene-setting' books, where we're introduced to the characters and really get to know them (and see Will and Samantha (Sam) fall in love). Unfurl on the other hand, will be the action book, because that's where the fight against Helmann is out in the open (no more need for background information.

The book begins with Sam and Will apart - Sam in Las Abs and Will in France. They pine over each other, as people in love are supposed to do, but thankfully, the book is so much more than an "I Miss You" refrain. Sam's rippling abilities are getting stronger, and now, she can hear the thoughts of those with Rippler's Syndrome and Will is rippling faster. Both of them undergo separate but related paths in the struggle against Geneses and Helmann that come together for a satisfying resolution.

The pacing of the book was great. Despite the alternating viewpoints, there wasn't an information overload and it was easy to remember what was going on. It made sense that events moved so quickly, because the first two books had set the stage, so to speak, for the war. Plot-wise, this is the most important book of the series, although to just read this book alone means you'll miss all the lovely character developement in the other two books.

This isn't to say that the book relies on plot alone, or that Rippler and Chameleon are character-based along, but I'm just saying that this is what seems to be emphasised to me. And that's what I like about it. I don't like series that are overly long and draggy (this is one story, unlike those multi-story series, which are different) or too fast paced and try to cram in every conceivable action scene. The Rippler series strikes a satisfying balance between plot and character.

Plus, it seems that in Unfurl, there is a greater emphasis on Catholicism. Now, Cidney isn't a Catholic (it's there in the book), but it's quite necessary when you have characters from 14th century France. The treatment of the religion was very sensitively handled, and treated with the respect due.

I do wonder, if the book can be considered pro-life in a way. Now, there are no teenage pregnancies (or any pregnancy in the book), but the topic of cloning and eugenics appear. Come to think of it, it's actually a really good series to use to introduce these two topics to others. But I just want to quote the three paragraphs that impacted me:

"I knew what he meant to do. Hans would accomplish the task I'd come here to perform. But the task felt completely different now that I'd seen that possible - Sam: the one who could grow to maturity free from my pain. I'd seen her, and there was no way to pretend I hadn't.

As I watched him destroy the tiny organism, felt his horrible delight, I was glad I hadn't had to do it myself. It was the difference between obseving a kill and pulling the trigger. I didn't know what the law said about week old bastocysts, but I knew Hans intent was murderous.

It put my step-mother's annual heartache about a misarriage in a completely different light. I hadn't understood why she felt sad about someone she'd never met. But I got it now. She grieved for someone she had seen, if only in her imagination."
At the risk of giving some major spoilers, I have to set the scene in context. Sam travels back to a Geneses lab to get her egg back before it's fertilised with Helmann's sperm. Unfortunately, it's already been fertilised but Hans has decided to betray his Father's wishes. But the passage speaks to me about the importance of life, and that's what Eugenics and Cloning cover - who has the right to give life (cloning) or take it away (eugenics)?

All in all, this series is a must-read. I may have taken a fairly long time to even start reading the books, but once I started, there was no way to stop. Rippler has realistic characters, a suitably evil villian and a great storyline. Basically, it has all the elements to make me happy.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Protection for Hire by Camy Tang

A short while ago, I stumbled across Camy Tang’s books. They’re unique because she writes with Asian characters as the protagonists. Needless to say, her latest book Protection for Hire has a lot of unique things about it. What I find most remarkable about this book is the fact that it melds the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and Christian fiction so well. In fact, I don’t remember ever reading a book quite like it.
Protection for Hire stars Tessa, the niece of the Yakuza head (or oyabun) in LA. A few years ago, while working for her uncle, she took the blame for a murder by her cousin and was sent to jail, where she found Christ. Now, she’s out of jail and trying to make a clean break from her past, when she lands a job as a bodyguard to Elizabeth St. Amant and her son.
To put things simply: I loved this book. It’s easy to read and more than captivating. Tessa is a very likeable character, and I could really identify with her struggles. One of her main problems is trying to get along with her mother and sister, who feel that she has shamed them by going to prison (and working for her uncle). This is something that I can completely identify with (but for different reasons). The way they push her buttons, is so similar to how my family can push my buttons that it’s eerie.
Another thing that I found interesting was how Tessa was compared to Paul. Although this was mentioned only in passing, I still think it’s a very valid reference. Like Paul, Tessa did a lot of harm in her previous life, and when she became a Christian, she also faced a lot of suspicion. Throughout the book, there’re many examples of how she’s discriminated against: from the disbelief of her family to gossip by those she tries to help and the inability to find a proper job. It’s a good reminder of how being a Christian hasn’t changed from the beginning till now, and that there are no excuses to expect to have an easy life.
In short, I highly recommend this book. It funny and action-packed and most importantly, it shows us that no matter what a background, God can create in us a new beginning.

Disclaimer: I got this book free from NetGalley. I was asked to write a review, but all opinions written here are mine.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I was at the zoo the whole day today, so I didn't get any reading done. But, I have good news to share! A very special letter came for me today:
To read more, please go to this post here

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Annihilation of Foreverland by Tony Bertauski

When I was first given a copy of The Annihilation of Foreverland, I thought it might be something like Is by Joan Aiken. Well, it's not really like that. But still, it is so good.

At first, I thought it would be a fantasy sort of book. I think it was the word "Foreverland". It brings to mind Peter Pan's "Neverland" and I think I was imagining one of those magic-y books. But it's not. If anything, it's more like science fiction.

The Annihilation of Foreverland takes place on a deserted island. Danny wakes up to find a tracking device implanted in him, and he's mysteriously gained a hole in his skull. He finds himself in what seems to be paradise: games, excercise, freedom, but with a catch. Every so often, the boys go into what they call "The Haystack" and there, they go into the needle, into a place they term Foreverland.

To be brutally honest, it took me a while to get my bearings while reading this book. The newspaper articles were confusing, and Danny's confused state of mind didn't really help. But there was something entrancing about this world that sounded too good to be true. And why were they torturing Reed (he's another character)? But as I read on and things slowly began to make sense, I couldn't bear to put down the ebook.

I think that using Danny as the lead character was brilliant. Danny is smart enough to figure things out, but not too quickly. The pace at which he learns what's going on was good, like Baby Bear's porridge, it was just right. Reed is, for me anyway, less understandable, and to use his point of view as the dominant one meant that there would be overly long descriptions of pain and not enough figuring things out. After all, since Danny actually takes the treatment, he can provide a description of Foreverland. And Zin, well, Zin was a dark horse character. I didn't really expect him to play such a big role in the climax and conclusion of the story.

Plotwise, the book was good. While I began having an inkling of what the boys were there for after I read about half the book, the twist at the end was completely unexpected. Not to give any spoilers, but the twist was more character-related than puzzle-related. It actually felt right that this happened, because it made the ending much more believable, and allowed it to be happy.

In conclusion, this book is good, really good. While I'm not normally a science-fiction person (and I think this is science-fiction), I really enjoyed this book. The use of technology was an essential part of the book, but not so that you need to be part of the computer club to understand it (well, I was part of the computer club and robotics team, but I still don't understand a lot about computers, so this I suppose the bar I just set is quite low).

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for review purposes. I wasn't told what to write, and all opinions here are my own.

Teaser Tuesday - First light by Bodie and Brock Thoene

I'm currently reading this book, which is one of the books bought on the Logos Hope. I think I will review it over at IntoTheBook. But currently, I'm just enjoying the book!

"She, who had never walked unescorted through the filth of the street, smelled like sheep dung and wet wool. There was freedom in that." (Page 294)
I think that's a really good paradox/oxymoron. It kinda challenges my perception of freedom.

Update: You can find my review at IntoTheBook here

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

新年快乐! 愿上帝祝福你!


Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Today is one of those rare days that isn't for reading, instead, it's for visiting relatives, stuffing yourself with lots of delicious food and starting the new year on the right foot.

It's traditional to do a thanksgiving (at least for my family), so I'll like to share what I'm grateful for this past year:

My blog. It's corney but true. I'm really grateful that I have the opportunity to write this.

School. Despite a very busy last year with many non-study related things (e.g. a competition/trip to Florida!), I still got decent grades (41 points, slightly below average but not too bad), and a scholarship to Japan. Yes, I'm very grateful for the scholarship.

And of course, God. He's the one that gave me all these blessings, most of which I didn't even mention, so all honour and glory is His. Thank you God. You've been so good to me, even when I haven't been faithful in obeying your voice.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Secret of Happy Ever After by Lucy Dillon

I choose to borrow slightly less books this week, in order to catch up with my other books. I'm so glad that I picked this one.

The Secret of Happy Ever After revolves around a bookstore. Anna is given the chance at her dream job and run a bookstore leased by her friend Michelle. In the course of the year, many events happen, and they both (predictably) come out better for it.

I think what made this book really great was Michelle. It's easy to write a book that's full of book lovers, so the inclusion of an extremely business minded person like Michelle made for a great contrast. I can actually understand her arguments, and I quite admire some of her tactics - like selling reading accessories (e.g. blankets) along with books in order to boost the profit margin.

But even though this book has a bookstore at the centre, it doesn't actually revolve around it. The main focus are the lives of Anna and Michelle. Anna wants children. Very badly. Instead, she has three (not-so) lovely stepchildren, and her husband intends to break his promise to let her try for a baby. On the other hand, Michelle is running away from her husband, who abused her emotionally.

What I liked about the book was the melding of the two things - the bookstore (which is quite clearly the catalyst for change) and the two ladies. It seems that as the bookshop flourishes (in terms of customers coming in, not sales), the two ladies lives are changed more and more. This isn't a purely bookshop book, there are books about that (I think. I haven't had the chance to read many of them), but the bookshop is prominent. Basically, I like how the bookshop is a large feature of the book.

While I have to return this book, I think I'll be keeping an eye out for it in the future, because I want a copy. After all, one of my dreams is to have my own bookshop. (My other dreams are/were to be a CEO and/or a stockbroker. Yes, I had weird dreams).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Place Where You Belong

Now that I've finally finished most of the physical books that need to be read (i.e. I don't own them), I have time to read the books I actually bought, and catch up with some ebooks. In fact, I finished two books, and I noticed this really similar feature in them. It's not a theme, but just a similarity, like the use of song in The House of Bernarda Alba and Three Sisters, or the use of clothes (in the same two plays) or the use of birds in Miss Julie and .... -insert endless rant-. But in this case, the similarity is about the use of clans in Divergent by Veronica Roth and Talon of the Unnamed Goddess by J. R. Tomlin.

In Divergent, there's this whole Faction thing. I'm quite sure that I'm already behind most people in reading, but just to let you know (if you didn't), that there are different factions (or clans) in Divergent. The two most that are talked about are Abnegation and Dauntless. In their world, which I think is really screwed up, the motto is "Faction before Blood". 

Well, basically the world in Divergent is supposed to an Utopian society, although the theory is quite flawed. I mean, common sense tells you the best leaders are not just selfless, but also smart, and brave, and well, Divergent. To even separate people like this is.... I don't know how it happened. But that isn't the point of the book. The whole novel is about Tris, from Abnegation but is Divergent, and how she chose Dauntless.

To be honest, the plot of the novel is quite similar to some I read before (I need to get my hands on Plotto), but it's still a very well-written book. I wish I waited to read this book, because now, I want to read Insurgent, to see what will happen next(:

The other book, Talon of the Unnamed Goddess is really cool. The plot is quite original, with the concept of the Talons, and especially the whole Sigils thing. There's no need to worry, the 'Unnamed Goddess' is mentioned just once (for plot purposes), then ignored.

What I really enjoyed reading was about the Clan. It's like how Aisha is very rational, some might say too rational, but with the Talon background, it totally works. She's also not totally unemotional, but she displays exemplary self-control. I actually really enjoyed reading about Aisha and Rhiannon, as they grow closer and watching Aisha become fond of her charge was extremely endearing. I think beyond the whole fighting plot, this book is all about relationships. The Talons are all extremely loyal, and in a good way. They think of their clan first, but there's no sign of any unhealthy relationships. In fact, Aisha's unconventional way of thinking is rewarded (and I would think that if she was punished, it would be a pretty clear sign that someone wants power).

The book is also not without humour. One of my favourite quotes is this:

"You are a hard bargainer, hi'Lady. Did you learn from your father?"
"No, from my advisor [Aisha]. She usually proposes first death as a negotiating position. I thought I'd try first exhaustion."
"It worked."
While I'd be hard pressed to choose between the two books, I'm leaning towards Talon of the Unnamed Goddess. It's original, and I enjoy reading about their clan. While I am fascinated by the world of Divergent, Talon of the Unnamed Goddess is more enjoyable if I want an escape into a fantasy world. I wouldn't want to be in the world of Divergent, at least, not in my present mood.

Featured Friday with Random and Booky

I'm not sure if Sadiya has managed to place her Featured Friday with me, but here's mine, slightly late(:

The second meme I’m participating is all due to Sara-Sadiya from Random and Booky! Yay! If you haven’t been to her blog yet (and it’s one of the first few blogs in the “Fellow Bibliophiles” section), you should. It’s a really pretty, really positive blog that lifts my spirits whenever I read it.
She also created quite a few meme’s, which are really well known. And Featured Friday is another brilliant idea, since it allows two bloggers to get to know each other better, as well as readers to know more about the people behind the blog. So here’s my interview with her:
Me: I'll start with a very old/overused question: why did you start a book blog?
R&B: I started blogging back in July because I thought it was an excellent way of sharing books and because of the already out there amazing blogs. Another reason I started a blog was because since I was muslim I faced some discrimination from certain people and thought it'd be a good way of showing people that just because I'm muslim doesn't mean I'm going to blow something up. Overtime though I realized that people who discriminated me were not worth my time and are just really immature.
Me: Some bloggers I know are secretly (or not so secretly) writers, and use their blog to polish their writing skills. I know your blogging style is really casual, but I do want to know, do you have any ambition to be a writer? 
R&B: Not really. I can write, I just don't really write for fun or consider it a career possibility. Though without noticing my blog has improved my writing skills, which is a very useful skill in life. Though I consider myself a reader, not writer. =)
Me: Here's a blog specific question for you: What is the inspiration/meaning behind your tag "Dream! Live! Discover!" ?
R&B: Yeah I like to make the blog me as an extension of myself. =) It makes all blogs more unique and fun! =D
Good question! Well DLD is my personal saying about life that I thought of myself one day. I can't remember exactly how/when I thought of it but about a month ago I was on a quote frenzy. So I think after reading a few inspirational ones I just thought of it.  But I just made it up because that's what life is about: dreaming, living your dreams and discovering new things. And everyone needs a bit of that in life. It's just a small positive message I like to spread to people.=)
Me: Well, DLD was really unique, and I think it's great to spread the positivity around ^^ Does the cover of the book matter when you're deciding if you want to read it?
R&B: Thanks!Not really. I usually judge a book by it's title. But sometimes a cover will catch my eye at the library or book store and I may pick it up. Like recently the cover for Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon caught my eye and the title and summery sounded good so I decided to read it, turned out to be extremly cliche and I put it down. But sometimes if the cover is very 'romancy' ((i don't know how else to describe it)) like a book called Chemical Romance(?) I won't read it.
Me: What kind of character do you think is the hardest to accurately portray in stories?
R&B: Hmmm, I've never really thought about that. Well I think maybe a character that has suffered a lot. Like someone who has gone through abuse, is depressed, lost a loved one etc etc. I mean we know they are feeling extremely upset and traumitized but we never really know what is going on inside their head unless we've been where they have
Me: What blogs do you like to read/is an inspiration to you? (doesn't have to be a book blog)
R&B: Ummm, well actually all the blogs I read, which are all actually book blogs, give me inspiration. Sometimes I'll see these ideas from blogs, all different and it makes me think of one big idea. Like FF, I saw a lot of blogger interviews and I thought 'wouldn't it be great to interview the person back? and actually interact with them?' So yeah, FF was made
Me: What are your thoughts about ebooks and ereaders? I personally prefer paper books but they are useful to bring on holidays...
R&B: I personally do not like e-readers. I mean they're cool and useful but I just like the hard copy of the book better. Something about actually having the book is just . . . I don't know how to describe it. But having the book is a lot better than on a tiny screen, digitally. Not to mention how much better it looks to have the books on your bookshelf. =)
-End Interview-
And like all good conversations, Sara’s questions to me were completely different from the ones I asked her. So hop over to her blog here to see what her interview with me was like

Friday, January 20, 2012

Four Years, Eleven Pages

Four years ago, I came back from Japan full of ideas. But due to my short-term memory and general inertia, most ideas fizzled out, save one - to type out Keiko-san's story. Let's have a little flashback: at the time of the trip, most of us were concerned mainly with anime, JPop and the typical teenage stuff. But we grew serious at times. Once at the Nagasaki Peace Memorial, and the other, at the Minamata Disease Municipal Museum.

What we saw there was, to be frank, deeply disturbing. They had footage from the past, and watching the cats writhing in pain hurt even the non-animal lover. And most of us loved animals. But what made almost all of us cry was listening to the tale of Keiko-san: a woman who survived the Minamata Disease.

When I got back, I was full of starry, albeit vague, ambitions about making a difference in the lives of the sufferers. But the most I got was to circulate the story I typed/transcribed among our small group. Nothing concrete came out of it.

But now, four years later, thanks to the power of Smashwords, I managed to get the story out. Yup, the story is basically what I heard those years ago, transcribed onto the computer and now, out in the internet. And since I played no part in this story, this is naturally free. You can find it under the title Keiko-san's Story: An Account of the Minamata Tragedy.

This is the cover of the ebook. It's my first time doing a cover,
so I hope you'll understand if it's not very good (or to put it bluntly,
terrible). And of course, there's no need to worry about
copyright. I took this photo myself(: 

And you know what? This may be one of the best times to read her story. I (and I hope I'm not the only one, because that would mean I'm hallucinating), have been hearing reports and rumors of tainted food. E.g. the Melamine scandal in China. But I think the postscript to the story, which isn't in the book, is quite hopeful.

You see, we visited a Chisso plant (R.B.S Co. Ltd) the next day, Chisso being the company responsible for the Minamata Disease. This waste processing factory, affectionately christened by my friends and I as "The Shit Factory", is one of the greenest places I have ever seen. They use a Reactor-Bio-System (the R.B.S) or microbe processing to treat the waste, resulting in a absolutely no smells at all. And you know what? They turn the waste into fertiliser and the water that comes out is supposed to be clean enough to swim in (the ducks in the canals looked happy). So you see, there's hope for everyone.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ripple Series by Cidney Swanson

I got these two ebooks almost two months ago (I could make it sound longer by saying "last year"), but only started reading it about two or three days ago. And yet, I finished both books last night, that's how good they were. Currently, the Ripple Series consists of two books: Rippler and Chameleon. But for the sake of cohesiveness, I'm just going to talk about them as a whole.

The series revolves around Samantha, as she discovers that she can Ripple (i.e. turn invisible). And as she learns more about what's going on with her, she and Will (her friend that progresses to love interest) discover that they are being targetted (strictly speaking, Will already knew, Sam discovered).

First up: the universe creation. The Ripple series is in America, but since there is this whole mutation thing, it kind of throws stuff out of balance. But, the whole ability to Ripple, how it works, and why she only gains awareness now is very well down, without sounding like people spewing information for the sake of the reader. I thought that the release of information was well-timed, because I didn't feel like I was left out in the dark, yet each new revelation about the Ripple syndrome brought (mostly pleasant) surprises.

Another thing I really love are the characters. Mickie, Sam, Gwyn and Will (and later, Sir Walter), are all wonderfully written. The brother-sister dynamic between Mickie and Will was, I felt, really authentic. I have a little brother myself, and I can see echoes of how we intereact in the interactions between Mickie and Will. Sam and Gwyn's friendship was also realistic. They (small spoiler alert!) have a small falling out, but I understood Gwyn's reactions, and could empathise with both of their actions and reasonings.

But very importantly, Will is a very good male lead. I grow sick of reading books where the girl is fairly well-characterised but the guy is the male version of a Mary-Sue (i.e. he's too perfect). Funnily enough, the opposite is true for most shonen manga. Will is obviously kind and caring, but, I don't know exactly how to say it, but he felt authentic somehow. Well, I think the way he treats Sam was the main reason. The pace of the relationship between them was really great, there wasn't any of those "eyes-meet-and-wham!" kind of romances, which to be honest, is way too common nowadays. I like how they are first and foremost friends before actually entering a relationship. And this isn't the kind of plot where Sam has another boyfriend then they break-up and she finds Will type of plot (second-most common scenario). The simplicity (and naturalness) is so refreshing.

The pace of the book was good. The plot wasn't overly quick and I like how there was time for her to explore how to Ripple and get to know Will and Mickie better.

Basically, I have no problems with this series, and I'm really looking forward to the third book.

Disclaimer: I got these two books free from the librarything member giveaway. I was asked to write a review, but it didn't have to be positive/as positive as the one I just gave.

Marketing 3.0 by Philip Kotler

After reading fiction for so long, I (strangely) craved some non-fiction to read. I guess it's all those rom-com novels finally affecting my brain. But no matter, my friend's dad (books now gravitate towards me ^^) lent me this really interesting book: marketing 3.0

Marketing 3.0 is divided into three simple parts - trends, strategy and application. The essence of marketing 3.0 is that now, customer's are involved and they want more - like environmental considerations. So, the marketer must learn to engage the customers, and well, basically show how they're product is value-added.

I think the tag line sums it up best: "From Products to Customers to the Human Spirit". What I've learnt in Business and Management (the Marketing component anyway), is that there are 7 P's of Marketing - Product, Price, Place, Promotion, People, Physical Evidence and Process. It's still pretty much centered around the product, although the rise of e-commerce has changed things. But I think most significantly, the change in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) attitudes drives this whole process. A few decades ago, (for at least, Singapore) most people were still struggling just to get the basic necessities on the table. But now, a good majority of us are what can be termed as "middle-class" and social media like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest now connects us and raises our awareness of social issues. E.g. SOPA, Occupy Wallstreet (the Singaporean version, by the way, failed miserably), Arab Spring, etc.

It's really interesting, actually, to think about how things will move on from here. I've always wanted to work in a bookstore, yet cries of Amazon.com are all around. But yet, this book suggests that it is possible for physical bookstores to survive, if they can provide an added dimension. And looking at stores like Littered With Books, it's certainly possible. I have absolutely no idea what they do in the area of CSR, but I like chatting with the employees about books and their willingness to order in books that they don't have makes it very convenient to shop there (not much location wise).

So to sum it all up, here are the 10 credos for Marketing 3.0: it's time to make a change
1.Love your customers, Respect your competitors.
2. Be sensitive to change, be ready to transform.
3. Guard your name, be clear about who you are.
4. Customers are diverse, go first to those who can benefit from you
5. Always offer a good package at a fair price.
6. Always make yourself available, spread the good news.
7. Get your customers, keep and grow them
8. Whatever your business, it's a service business.
9. Always refine your business process in terms of quality, cost and delivery.
10. Gather relevant information, but use wisdom in making your final decision.

And of course, in your application process, you should be delivering socio-cultural transformation (chapter 7), creating emerging market entrepreneurs (chapter 8) and striving for environmental sustainability (chapter 9).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Whiff of Scandal by Carole Matthews

Now, who knows anything about aromatherapy? What do you think it entails? For me, there was this one time where my aunt keep scenting her house, and gave me a very long lasting migraine >.< So, yeah, I know zilch about it. And it's this type of ignorance that greets Rose in A Whiff of Scandal by Carole Matthews. Except for the fact that one of her neighbours think that aromatherapy is a euphemism for prostitution.

Most books are based on mistaken ____ (identity, assumptions, etc) and this is no different. And because I have never lived in the English countryside (I highly doubt a year in Birmingham counts), I can't really say if the characters are true to type. But this book is genuinely interesting to read. And really easy to finish.

The only minor quibble I have is regarding Frank (Melissa's husband). I won't tell you the exact details of what happen, save that a normal person will be very angry, but I felt that Frank got over it way way too fast to be human. Well, he did express anger later on, but he forgave her really quickly. I thought that it would have been much more realistic, and added an extra dimension if Carole Matthews took a little longer to resolve that issue.

Other than that, well, most of the characters were very likeable, although I would have liked to get to know one or two of them in greater detail (they are the always mentioned but never engaged in conversation type).

And I realised I have nothing more to say. O.O On the bright side, I've finished 1, and am pages away from finishing another 2 books so do expect at least two longer posts tomorrow. And yeah, I'm working on a new project (hopefully I finish it), so watch this space.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Paradox Special Edition by Patti Roberts

I first got to know Patti on Goodreads, because she is one of the first (if not the first), to take part in the Fellow Bibliophiles page. She also very generously gave me a ebook special edition, containing the first two books of her series - The Angels are Here and The Progeny of Innocence.

Initially, I was rather confused about the series. Who are these Grigorians? Are they fallen angels? And who are these Bulguardian? Who are the Wafes? I suspect there aren't any clear answers because Patti wants the reader to learn alongside Grace. The book is compelling because of the mystery.

The Paradox series is basically a metanarrative about the conflict between good and evil. In the macrocosm of things, there are the Grigorians and the Bulgarians, and the snippets of their battle (especially through the portrayal of Therria and the rest of the Grigorians) emphasize the magnitude of the war, and the risk of losing. The Grigorians aren't the typical Twilight-esque magic creatures. They might be beautiful, but they're also evil. There isn't any of the wishy-washy, tortured evil villian here.

Grace, the main protagonist, is a Wafe. I'm not sure what that means, but I know that she's important. And that's enough to carry the story. Her interactions with her best friend Angela, her friends Josh, Zach and of course her love interest, is true to real life. She sounds like a typcial teenager, not angst-ing over everything, but well, normal.

And it's the juxtaposition of the everyday life and the cosmic war that makes the series really unique. It might have taken me quite a long time to finish the two books, but that's only because I'm slow when it comes to ebooks. A word to the wise though: when portraying the evilness of the Grigorians, it's invariable that what can be termed as "advisory" content appears. It's not explicit, but still, I recommend making sure that whoever reads this is mature enough to handle it.

Teaser Tuesdays - Marketing 3.0

Teaser Tuesdays is a meme hosted by MizB of Should be Reading. And for the first time, I'm posting a teaser from a non-fiction book: Marketing 3.0 by Philip Kotler

"However, we do not see foreign aid as a sustainable solution. It is like feeding the imporverished people fist but not teaching them how to fish." (Page 139)
Check back next week!

Update: My review of Marketing 3.0 is up and and be found here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Merely Mystery Reading Challenge - A Carribbean Mystery

I know, I know, I've been focusing a lot on my reading challenges and chick-lit. In my defense, most of my books are lent to me by others, so I don't really have a wide choice. Still, my brain is starting to cry out for some non-fiction. But enough of that, today, I want to talk/write about A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie, since I'm going to continue my (already finished) challenge.

A Caribbean Mystery is one of the Miss Marple mysteries. Although Agatha Christie herself preferred Miss Marple to Poirot, I, like many of her readers, prefer Monsieur Poirot. Why? I have no idea. I certainly started reading his mysteries first, and I think it's also because he amuses me more than Miss Marple. But then again, I've only read, what, two books involving her.

Basically, the plot involves Miss Marple coming across as suspicious death, which starts to escalate. After reading this book, I'm actually really interested in reading the other books involving her. Miss Marple is on smart lady. Her weapon of choice is her conversational talents and that is something she has in spades. While there aren't any direct interrogations, the winding, conversational style is charming.

Well, there isn't much to say about this book. It's fairly short and a really quick read. And of course, being written by Agatha Christie, classifies as a cozy. But in an ironical fashion, the book also talks about the very things a cozy is supposed to avoid. Miss Marple muses on how the she is expected to be ignorant about things, because her nephew considers her old. But she remembers show even in small villages, the underside of life can be seen, and some are things that even the most modern authors haven't written about (or thought off). And it's ironic how she, as a first-rate detective, is considered to be doubly sheltered because she is a. a woman and b. from the older class. It seems that Christie was having a little subtle laugh at the societal norms of her time. And here are two quotes to sum up what I've been saying:

" 'I don't really feel that I've got sufficient experience to judge. I'm afraid I've led a rather sheltered life'.
'And so you should, dear lady, so you should,' cried Major Palgrave gallantly."

"Though really rural life was far from idyllic. People like Raymond were so ignorant. In the course of her duties at the country parish, Jane Marple had acquired quite a comprehensive knowledge of the facts of rural life. She had no urge to talk about them, far less to write about them - but she knew them. Plenty of sex, natural and unnatural. Rape, incest, perversion of all kinds. (Some kinds, indeed, that even the clever young men from Oxford who wrote books didn't seem to have heard about."

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Sir Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge (January) - Soul Music

Due to the dearth of Terry Pratchett in the house (I own 3 books :/), I kinda put off this reading challenge until my cousin went to the library. Because any excuse to go to the library always results in a Terry Pratchett book being borrowed.

Soul Music has a lot of things going. First, it's in Ankh-Morpork, at least most of the time. Second, it has Death, my favourite Anthropomorphic Personification WHO ALWAYS SPEAKS IN CAPS. Third, the Unseen Academy is involved. All this promises to be a humorous story, and doesn't disappoint.

Basically, the book is about the creation of Rock-and-Roll, or as they call it, Music-With-Rocks-In-It. That, and it's the introduction of Susan, the grand-daughter of Death who is unexpectedly called in to take over the family business.

I haven't read another book that has Susan in it, although I did read Mort, so it was really fun getting to know another Discworld character. Susan is so, so human. She likes to think of herself as very rational, but she's also an idealist (the opposite of idealist: Lord Vetinari) and rather than doing the Duty of Death, she tries to make things right.

I can really identify with her.

I like to think of myself as rational (the major reason why the SDP failed to impress me in their door-to-door visit. I want answers, not handshakes!) and I'm quite sure I'm idealistic (I have this impression that everyone is meant to be friends and life should have happy endings). Of course, I'm also irrational for a good part of the time (which means my average is normal) and can be really cynical. What a jumble of oxymoron's and paradoxes I am.

Of course, there are many many quotes that I simple loved (or laughed (at) ) in this book, most of them from Archchancellor Ridcully about the students (and what a nuisance they are, and what a pity that a university had to contain students). But most of all, I have this quote stuck in my mind:

"Unseen University was used to eccentricity amoung the faculty. After all, humans derive their notions of what it means to be a normal human being by constant reference to the humans around them, and when those humans are other wizards, the spiral can only wiggle downwards."

Friday, January 13, 2012

I (Finally) Finish the Blanket

My knitting project, which has taken up a lot of my reading time, was finally finshed yesterday. If you don't know, it's a baby blanket for Baby Caitlyn, my Sunday School Teacher's adorable little child. This is what it looks like:

It was supposed to be a bricklike pattern but I messed up the purl stitch and it was a new way of doing the knit stich. Hence, the pattern didn't turn out as planned.  Here's the close-up:

And the even close-up photo, which is so close as to be indecipherable. It's true what they say about about tunnel vision, it obscures the pattern. This is when the ability to take a broader view is essential.
Here's the underside or "wrong side" of the knitting. It just looks like squiggly lines(: The bumps you see are the cut of yarn that I've weaved it. Yes, I changed yarn every two rows and it's tiring.
After this experience, I'm starting to think that real magic is in these sorts of arts and crafts. Can you believe that two different strings (which is what yarn essentially is - a long piece of string) and two thin metal sticks can make a blanket appear? Almost out of thin air. This is probably more magical than any spell that could be cast.

Draykon by Charlotte E. English

Draykon is a fantasy novel. For some reason, I've slowly started reading more fantasy, which I guess is because fantasy is an indulgence for me. To cut what could be a potentially long-winded flashback short: I was told by my writing teacher that I was reading too much fantasy and it was affecting my writing. But now that I've (temporarily) finished school and no longer have to write dreary reports, I can read as much fantasy as I want.

But for some reason, absence doesn't make the heart grow founder. On the bright side, Draykon may have started to rekindle my love of fantasy. I'm going to give a sort-of-spoiler in saying that it took me to read nearly to the end of the novel to realise that Draykon is another spelling of the huge mythological creature that breathes fire. I noticed that it's getting common to intentionally mis-spell words to make them seem cooler, e.g. Vampyre, Faerie, Trylle. I don't know about you, but it's not very effective.

Draykon is also part mystery. The mysterious Istore (I hope this name has nothing to do with Apple!), is causing deaths and Eva has to find out the cause. But it's really more a fantasy novel, with a world very different from ours, and the mystery was more of a chase than a deduction from clues.

I'm also hoping that Draykon is part one of a series. Otherwise, the ending is seriously disappointing, because some mysteries (my lips are sealed) are not explained, but only hinted at. The true nature of the Draykon is never explained properly, and I felt very puzzled at the explanations (or lack of).

I got this novel free from the librarything giveaway. I was asked to write a review, but was not asked to write a positive review. I will be positive, however, and recommend you to read this book, because it's an enjoyable read.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Merely Mystery Reading Challenge - Death Comes to Pemberly

Death Comes to Pemberly is a pretty good sequel to Pride and Prejudice. Despite all the complaints about the (somewhat minor, I feel) plot inaccuracies and historical detail, it's still a very good novel that carries on the tone and style of the orignal quite well.

Those expecting a fast-paced mystery plot will be disappointed. Pride and Prejudice is a genteel novel, and Death Comes to Pemberly is, invariably, genteel. There are no dramatic denouments, no high-speed horse chases or even dramatic conflict. The murder itself takes place off-stage and the climax occurs at the trial, but without the dramatic lawyers in Ace Attorney or other books.

I write all the bad things not to make the book seem boring, but to prepare the prospective readers. This book is slow but satisfying. In fact, the plot seems to be merely a vehicle to flesh out the beloved characters and give them another layer of depth - something, which I may add, is done very well.

I finished the book feeling as though I knew the characters better. Darcy's Pride vs Love conflict was interesting to read, and his perspective added to the book. In fact, I think the dominant POV was his, rather than Elizabeth's, which I didn't really mind because the original novel fleshes out her character pretty well.

The only thing I didn't like? Why didn't Wickham die? Hmm.... I wonder if this is a spoiler. But anyways, yes, contrary to the impression given by the blurb, Wickham is not murdered. It's a pity really, I was hoping that the villian gets killed off. But I supposed it's because if he really does die, then who would be cast in a negative light? Lady Catherine? It's possible but quite unlikely she would soil her hands to murder Wickham. I highly doubt she'd even condescend to spit on his dead body.

I really recommend all Pride and Prejudice friends to read this book. It's well-written and I really enjoyed reading it. It also holds true to the Jane Austen spirit, staying firmly within the created universe, unlike some other fan-works like Murder at Mansfield Park (I think it's terrible because it twists the characters. I still don't see the use of re-writing the nature of each character, because they are then no longer the characters you know and love)

As part of the reading challenge, I would place this as a historical murder mystery. Theoretically, it could also be a cozy, since there's no violence or explicit scenes, but I would prefer to use that for an Agatha Christie novel.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Ok this is a really late review. While most people have already read and raved over Graceling (and indeed, have moved on the Fire and Bitterblue), I've just finished the first novel. And you know what? This novel gives me internal conflict :/

Let's just say that I wanted to like this novel, and I did. To an extent (Ah, the dreaded words). I loved the idea of being Graced (it's alot like the parable of the servant and his TALENTS), and the whole AU (Alternate Universe) was quite well crafted, with the idea of the different kings and what not. And Katsa, Po and Bitterblue were well written characters.

What I had a tiny quibble with but can live with was the two plots in the book. There is: a. Katsa leaving the grip of Randa (the bildunsroman is a journey worthy of a separate novel) and b. Katsa and Po rescuing Bitterblue and the fight against Leck. I must say though, I like how the book ended. Even though it is a series, I never liked books with such obvious cliffhangers that you feel blackmailed/forced to buy the second book. And -spoiler alert!- I was pleased to see that they found Po alive before the book ended ^^

My biggest issue with the book was its portrayal of the different relationships. I don't really care about how we're now a modern civilisation and all that, I think pre-marital sex is bad. Plus, this is a YA novel, so I don't think it's very appropriate to have Katsa and Po sleeping together, and then plan not to marry (here's another spoiler: by the end of the book, they decide to stay together but not get married. I don't know if it changes in the later books).

So yes, my biggest issue with the book is a moral issue. Call me small-minded or whatever, but I don't think that it's appropriate, especially when this is not one of the major issues discussed. This isn't like, say War and Peace, which is over a thousand pages long and like a long running Taiwanese serial I will not name, discusses more or less everything under the sun. Graceling is a YA novel about a girl who is Graced and her journey; so this sort of thing has really, no context to be there.

All this being said, Graceling is still an enjoyable book. But, I can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone who's going through a confused stage of life. I think this book should be for older and more mature people, who will not be affected by the portrayal of the relationships in this book.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I've made it to 200 posts! Yay! And instead of doing something normal like, I don't know, reviewing Graceling like I should, I decided to review Pinterest, which has very little to do with books. I have to admit though, I only managed to get an invite yesterday, so I have less than 24 hours of experience (I have been playing with it a lot though).

Pinterest, if you don't know, is a social-bookmarking site. Instead of merely taking note of certain sites and pages, here, you can "re-pin" (it's like reblogging in tumblr) and "like" the different pins, as well as follow people and specific boards.

What I love about Pinterest is how gorgeous everything looks. I like to think that I'm a words person, rather than just a pictures person (both a visual, but in a different way), but I love seeing pictures of the sites that I save. It's actually a really good way to 'capture' the essence of the sites.

The ability to organise things into different boards is another big plus. Once I add the Pinterest button, it's really very simple to save pages. Because I tend to save either book reviews, business stuff (like Havard Business Review articles) and photography things, the ability to organise into categories makes it very easy to find the link that I was looking for. And with this, I've started boards like 'Clothes' (I can't rely on my sis forever) and 'DIY - Crafts and Recipes'. And with the ability to follow specific boards, it means that the updates on the main page are catered to what I like, and I won't need to hesitate over following someone just because I don't like one of their boards.

I'm not used to trawling the net, but the opportunity to use Pinterest makes me want to go outside google reader (I tend to just pick sites I really love and stick with them). Plus, looking at the different pins by other users is like surfing the net, especially since they visit sites I don't even know about!

If you have a Pinterest account, tell me so I can take a look! And if you don't, but want to join, just drop me a note as well, and I'll send you an invite(:

Teaser Tuesdays - Death Comes to Pemberly

Has it already been a week? Woah, for this week at least, time really flew by. And without further ado, here's this week's teaser, from P.D James' Death Comes to Pemberly (A Christmas present I got :D)

"Darcy trudged behind the colonel in a desolation of spirit in which a dozen different fears and anxieties jostled in his mind making rational though impossible. He had never let himself wonder how close Elizabeth and Wickham had been in the days of their friendship at Longbourn, but now jealous doubts, which he recognised as unjustified and ignoble, crowded his mind." (pg. 73)
Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB of Should be Reading(: See you next week!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Good and Bad (Why does it feel like I've used this before?)

I managed, on a one hour train ride, to finish a good amount of books, and curiously, I noted that two of the fluff books were by Holly McQueen. Strangely, I liked one and hated the other.

Let's start with the negative:

The Fabulously Fashionable Life of Isable Bookbinder was terrible. Really awful. I only finished it because I wanted to be fair to the book and because I had nothing else to read (made myself bring only one book). It's not because the book is mindless fluff; I like reading such stuff too ok? It's because the titular character - Isabel Bookbinder is so annoying. She starts off by trying to get into a fashion graduate course without a portfolio, experience or even filling up the application forms. I don't know if it's because I'm a semi-anal Asian or something, but that attitude seriously annoys me. How do people expect to be likable and succeed by not doing anything? And why should I dislike the admissions officer for rejecting her?

Although this book is clearly modelled after the Shopaholic series, it somehow misses the humour inherent in the series and just annoys me. Becky Bloomwood nee Brandon might be ditzy and spend time hiding her purchases, but at least she's serious about what she likes and I don't know, in some way, I would like to spend time with her as a character. Maybe it's because Isabel keeps changing her career (apparently she wanted to be a novelist previously), yet feels "upset" when others doubt her choices, but somehow, I have little respect and liking for her.

So to recap: This novel annoys me. I don't want to recommend it, unless you feel that despite all my negative words, it's worth reading. In that case, since this IS fiction, I can't really disapprove or anything (and why would you care anyway?) because this is really all quite subjective.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed reading There Goes the Bride. All the characters are likable, even though they don't like each other. The plot of Polly calling off her wedding is really not that important, because I feel the main characters are Bella (her older sis) and Grace (her best friend) and their respective lives. It's a very clear romance-feel good kind of book, but it is entertaining.

Actually, my favourite character has got to be Grace. Her description of the Miranda's (the ever competitive mom's) were really entertaining, and she has such a good heart. But I suppose I empathised with Bella more, because I'm like her. And that's what I really like about the book - it has likeable characters(:

So weirdly, the negative review is longer than the positive review. I don't know why though.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jane Austen January!

The Literary Shack has created a Jane Austen January Blogfest. Well, I currently have a lot of books to read, so instead of re-reading Austen and properly participating, I'll just be doing one post on Jane Austen, or to be very specific, the Jane Austen Spin-offs/Sequels.

Now, Jane Austen is one of my favourite authoresses, especially for her wit and humour (I'm sorry Mr Mark Twain, but YOU are the one that bore me). One of my favourite books are Pride and Prejudice, which has numerous sequels, and a very interesting retelling - Pride and Prejudice And Zombies, with its sequel Dreadfully Ever After.

Despite being almost heresy to some Jane Austen purists (One of my friend's mom was visibly disturbed), I think that Pride and Pejudice And Zombies is a really interesting book. In the first book, the writing blends well together, and the additions of Zombies hasn't dulled the wit in the story. One of my favourite quotations comes from the Mr Collins Proposal (by Mr Bennet):

"I will not have my best warrior resigned to the sercie of a man who is fatter than Buddha and duller than the edge of a learning sword."
The sequel: Dreadfully Ever After, is equally entertaining, although I think the style of writing has somewhat deviated from Austen's original style. But what I enjoyed the most is the characterisation of Kitty (and of course, Mary). She has been said in the ending of Pride and Prejudice to be less silly without the influence of Lydia, and this is wonderfully continued in the sequel, especially when she starts to deals with her feelings. Of course, having substantial parts of the narrative in her point of view helps a lot.

Another interesting Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons. At first, I was a little unsure about the level of sacarsm in the text, especially the footnotes, which is why I went back and re-read the original. Now, I'm convinced that most of the text is keeping in tone, as long as you avoid the footnotes. Somehow, I feel patronised whenever I read the footnotes, which is why in the end, I ignored them (It's a shame really, because after I was introduced to Terry Pratchet, I love reading footnotes).

My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park on the other hand, was not as good as I expected. I'll probably be keeping the book but only because I bought it on a trip to the US and I have memories linked to it. This book has the least to do with Jane Austen, instead descending (for too much of the time) into a pity party for the protagonist, Lily. Plus, the mention of, how to put this delicately, looser morals (she slept with the guy. Who had a girlfriend) makes this hero fairly unlike Austen's hero. I found very little, if any resemblence to Mansfield Park, or even Austen in general, except for the fact that the whole story took place at a Jane Austen re-enactment.

The last Jane Austen book that I have is not fiction, in fact, it's Jane Austen for Dummies. Now, I normally avoid the Dummies series like the plague, but this one is actually really really good. What I like is it's comprehensiveness, especially with regards to the culture and social mores of that time. It also has information on Jane Austen's background, the books (even the books she read) and so one. I suppose for the extremely dedicated, this is nothing, but if you're just starting the Jane Austen fever, then this is an excellent introduction to the world around her, and I think it really enhances the reading experience if you know about the time period in which she wrote. Plus, if you subscribe to literary theories like New Historicism, cultural studies or really any literary theory that tries to look at the text in a specific way (such as by gender studies), this book is a really useful introduction. Although I'm not sure how impressive it'll look if your bibliography cites the Dummies book.

NB: Due to the many books, I decided to start bolding the titles to make it easier.

Footnote one: What does NB mean anyway? And why am I using it if I don't know (you'd think I have enough sense not to use it in case of misuse)?

Friday, January 6, 2012

IB Results Out Today!

ACS (Independent)
In my over-achieveing school, the average IB score is 41.36 points. If this doesn't seem remarkable, consider this two other facts: one, the highest possible score in IB is 45 points; and two, my cohort has 454 candidates.

To add to more good news, we managed to do the impossible (Addidas: Impossible is Nothing) and not only maintain the number of perfect scorers (29) but increase our average points. We also increased the number of students who scored above 40 from 71.4% to 78.2%, which is to say (not really), we now have over 70 students with 44 points. That's one less the full score!

All this makes my 41 points, which would be great in any other school, feel like I'm below average. But I'm doing my best to remember that I did my best already, and that it really is a wonderful score. I know God has a plan for my life, and no matter how hard it is, or how easy it is to feel disgruntled when those that do less work score better than me, I will, and must remain grateful.

We are all special, even when we don't feel like it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Minor Indescretion by Carole Matthews

I said before that I wanted to read more of Carole Matthews and my wish was granted. A Minor Indiscretion is the second book of hers that I read, and although I didn't like/love it nearly as much as The Only Way is Up, I still enjoyed it a lot.

A Minor Indiscretion occurs when Ali decides to pon a day at work to meet a new admirer. Events compound and she's quickly turned out by her husband (who in a very strange sense of logic, refers to this as Ali having "left him" - please, the dude threw her out) and goes into a full-time relationship with her new, younger boyfriend while her husband simultaneously has two young women after him.

Basically, it's a romance novel with relationships so confusing it may rival A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Although, truth be told, this book does contain more substance than a normal fluffy book. It at least explores/looks at a few topics, such as the possibility of love between an older women and a younger man.

But to me, the main strength about the book are its characters. Christian is charming, although I didn't like him at times, and I quite liked Ali most of the time. Ed (Ali's husband), on the other hand, was very irritating. Maybe he wasn't given enough word count to explain himself, but I found him extremely selfish and someone who says one thing and does another. But at the very least, he 'redeemed' himself at the end by changing for the better.

The only issue I have with this book is one of it's endings (there is at least one sub-plot so there needs to be more than one ending). -Spoiler Alert- Neil (Ed's brother), ends up with Orla (Ed slept with her a few times during the novel). I thought Orla wasn't a likable character and their manner of meeting and getting together was highly implausible. It rang false even within the fictional domain of the novel. And (I think), because of this, two other characters are denied resolution (or simply forgotten about).

Apart from that, this is a really enjoyable novel. Despite the subject matter, it's not graphic, but rather, deals with the day-to-day life of a couple in crisis. Still, this is probably only for slightly older/more mature readers, because of the rather complex issue that is being dealt with.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Candles on the Sand by Katie Stephens

I don't know why, but the cover
looks extremely pixelated, here
and in real life.
Candles on the Sand by Katie Stephens has a really interesting premise: Anna, discovering that her fiancee is cheating on her, impulsively walks out on their wedding and head to Italy, and predictably, finds happiness and belonging by the end of the novel.

I liked the plot of the novel, but for some reason, the conversations felt very stilted to me. I'm not sure if it was the pacing of the conversations, but it seems like, well, something that I write. The conversations can turn into two-sided rants and made me generally uncomfortable with the novel. Because this impression was made very early in the novel I(before the Italian English appears), I fully suspend my disbelief and remained distant to the characters.

Now, it's not that I cannot take long (paragraph-long), monologues when two people speak and have that called a conversation. I have read Huck Finn and Siddhartha too many times to count and they have very very long conversations monologues (have you heard Siddhartha expound his theories to Govinda/Kamala/etc? Or listened to the Duke and the King? Actually, the whole of Huck Finn can be said to be a monologue, since it's a recount. But the thing is that it's a conversational and believable recount). Yet, it doesn't feel as stilted as Candles on the Sand does.

The ending of the novel also felt a little rushed, especially the reconciliation section. Plus, there seemed to be no resolution with regards to her fiancee, especially since she seemed to just ignore the problem.

But all this being said, the novel was very effective in evoking Italy, and now, I really feel like going there. I'm not much of a Europe kind of traveller (mostly because I have no funds, but partly because I'm still trying to visit the different places in Asia (Taiwan, Japan and Korea mostly).

Bottom line: this is a pretty good first-novel. Not excellent but more than satisfactory, especially in terms of plot. But it could have done with much better editing (I saw some grammar and maybe spelling mistakes), as well as a not insubstantial dialogue re-write to make it much more believable.