Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Hey everyone! My mom announced a last-minute trip, so I won't have access to my computer for a while. So, I figured I'll take the chance for a blogging break till the New Year for a blogging break (unless I get time in between Christmas and New Year).

In advance,


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Time Bandit Solution by Edward G. Brown

I requested this book because I really need to manage my time well. What I got was a book that was about time management, but focused on time management in the workplace. Oops.

To summarise the Time Bandit Solution, to manage your time, get rid of distractions by time-locking. What is time locking? It's setting aside a period of time where you are not interrupted by anything. The first part of the book was basically about how you can convince your bosses, clients and colleagues how to let you organise your time so this is possible.

While it was rather repetitive at first (especially since I was convinced of the benefits early on, and didn't think the rest was applicable), the last part of the book was slightly better. The author went on to talk about decision fatigue, scheduling, and all that. While I don't think I'll be using his focusing meditation exercise, I did manage to pick up some helpful tips about how to schedule my time.

I do have a thought though. Other books I read say that for studying, it's best to vary what you do and what you revise. Same goes for practicing sports. For example, it's best to practice a random mix of irons, drivers, putters and such in golf than to spend the whole practice on iron, the next one on drivers, etc. But here, the main focus is on setting aside a block of time to do one thing. The compromise that I can find is that in this one block, you can have variation, but you have to have only one purpose. Either that or the skills for study and work are different.

Basically, this would be an excellent book for someone who wants to learn how to be more effective in the office. The author goes into detail about what you should say, what you should write to convince your boss. For the rest of us, you can just skim and pick what you need.

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer

What am I supposed to feel about this book??

Shakespeare and Co. is a really famous bookshop that even I've heard of. So of course any look into how the bookshop is run would interest me. But, it didn't really talk about anything but the inhabitants of the bookshop, and that's the part that I'm not sure I like.

Shakespeare and Co. is an unconventional bookshop in Paris. The owner's a communist, and he lets any writer sleep in the bookshop for free. As long as, you know, they help out. The author Jeremy Mercer arrives to Paris after being threatened for breaking a promise he made with a criminal. In an effort to save money, he ends up living at Shakespeare and Co., and rediscovers his dream to be a writer.

Except, not much writing seem to take place. Sure, he's required to read a book a day, and he mentions writing a few times, but the impression I have is that reading and writing take a backseat to the true stars - the eccentric characters living in the bookshop - Kurt, Nadia, Simon, George (the owner) and many others.

In fact, the cast was so 'interesting' that it drowned out everything. If I didn't know the book was set in Paris, I could easily imagine it set in a commune somewhere. The people in the book are talked about more for their eccentricities than for their writing. Whether you like this bunch depends not on whether you like their writing (because you don't see much of it), but whether you like their characters.

All in all, this was an amusing book. If you like the characters, you'll probably like it. If you want to read about a bookshop, you may be disappointed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teaser Tuesday - The Irresistible Fairy Tale by Jack Zipes

Ok, this Teaser Tuesday book is chosen for a very specific reason. I've been wanting to read it because it's about Fairy Tales, but for some reason, I've not been able to get past the first chapter.

But, I've heard it's a good read, so hopefully this teaser whets my reading appetite.

"It is well known that Little Red Riding Hood in the two classical versions by Perrault and Grimms is not a heroine. She is more of a wimp." 

What is your teaser Tuesday?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen

Sorry for the week of missed blogging! I had some personal things going on (which you can read about here), which resulted in me barely touching my computer, much less blog.

But, today, I'd like to talk about Scandals of Classic Hollywood, one of the books that I've managed to get and read from NetGalley (Hi NetGalley! If you read this, I'd really appreciate a function that sends emails to me BEFORE my books are archived. I've missed out on a load of books because I didn't log in to check every day).

Now, I have to state upfront that I have not read anything from this author before (I admit, I peeked at Goodreads, and it appears she's a popular blogger). I didn't even know what I expected from this book when I requested it. So, with that in mind, I enjoyed this book. It wasn't exactly about 'scandals', as we think of scandals nowadays, but more on how classic Hollywood used to so deftly manipulate the public and the news.

The author has grouped these scandals into six 'volumes', with themes such as "six angry men", "old loves", "twilight of the idols" and others. Each theme is meant to show one aspect of classic Hollywood, and a preface to each volume explains just what the author wants you to know.

Only the first and fourth volumes actually covered "scandals" that were incidents. Things like Bogart and Bacall's romance, Fatty Arbuckle's fall from grace and so on. The rest of the scandals felt more like mini-biographies, telling you exactly how Hollywood interfered with the lives of their stars.

If you like reading about old Hollywood stars but don't know where to start, or don't know anything about this, this would probably be a good starting book. Plus, there are pages and pages of references that you can hunt down.

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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

WriteOn vs Wattpad vs Figment

UPDATE: This post is really out of date, and I'm no longer using WriteOn, for reasons the reasons in this blogpost. I still have an account there, but I don't use it anymore.

Previously, I wrote about WriteOn, my new writing site of choice. Since I've wrote about it, WriteOn has made a few more changes, Wattpad did an update, and I've did NaNoWriMo on WriteOn, and I thought it's time for a comparison between the three writing sites (Click the link to see my previous post about Figment vs Wattpad). Of course, some of this information may become moot when WriteOn comes out of beta - I'll do another followup post then.

Creating a multi-chapter story
WriteOn: Creating a story is extremely easy. Click on the "Create" tab, and start. You can add chapters, save, move chapters around, add your cover, spend as much time making your book perfect as you want without having to post your story. I've typed, saved and exited, and come back, without any problems. Everything is in one page, and it's extremely easy to use.

Wattpad: There is a create button, but it seems to lead you to the My Works page (or is that just me?), from which I have to click on the new story button. And everything seems to be published as soon as you hit create - there's no testing here (not without deleting it anyway. And one thing about Wattpad that annoys me is that I cannot toggle between chapters very easily. I have to write, go back to the main page, and then edit. It's only one extra step, but I imagine it'll be very annoying if I'm doing major edits.

Figment: Like Wattpad, Figment's "Start writing" button on the main page leads you to the writing page, from which you create a new story. On the bright side, the organisation of the story is similar to WriteOn. You can add chapters, move them around, edit the actual contents, all on the same page.

Winner: WriteOn, followed by Figment. Wattpad is still too clumsy for me. 

In lieu of the site logo, here's a screenshot of the site. 
Cover Creator
WriteOn: I believe that the cover creator in WriteOn is the same as KDP. I'm not sure, because I've never published on KDP, but that's what I heard. Anyway, the cover creator here has many different pictures you can use (you can also search by category or enter a keyword), a few templates (6 image-based templates and 4 Non-image based templates), and font size and choice customisation. It's not as good as Canva (on which I'll base all comparisons), but for a free program, there's a decent amount of changes you can make. I don't recall a default cover.

Wattpad: Wattpad used to have the worst cover creator. Or at least, I didn't remember a cover creator, just the option between an awful default cover (still awful - it's your profile picture with the cover) or your own upload. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had a creator from March of this year (which explains a lot, I haven't tried looking for a cover creator since... quite a few years ago). There is a very limited number of pictures (I think 10, or less), and the option to change font choice and size, and I think colour. There are no template options.

Figment: Although it possibly has the nicest default template (it's clean simple, although you don't have your title or name on it), the cover creator is now tied with Wattpad (since it improved). You have a choice of certain backgrounds (I think the number of choices are about the same as Wattpad), although none of them are pictures, and I think two places where you can place the title, with very limited font choices.

Winner: Canva. Oh wait, sorry. I mean WriteOn, for sheer choice. And then Figment and Wattpad are tied.

Getting Readers
WriteOn: Since it's still in Beta, there are more writers than readers. Not the best way to build up a fan-base, especially since you need to log in just to read the stories, but who knows what will happen once it leaves beta mode?

Wattpad: I think there's very little competition for Wattpad so far. There are way more readers than authors on this site, plus a reader-friendly mobile app (my sister uses it), and if you know how to work it, you might be able to develop a following. I've never had any success, even in the days where I was actively reading other people's works, but it's worked for a lot of people. But be warned, there are some big-named writers there, so you face a lot of competition.

Figment: Figment is probably where I get the most unknown eyes on my story. Even with me doing very little, every now and then, I get a notification that someone liked my story and/or reacted to it. So something is working there. Readers can also read the story without logging in, but they can't vote or react.

Winner: Depending on the person, either Wattpad or Figment. For most, it might be Wattpad, since they have mobile apps that make it easy for people to read your stories. WriteOn isn't in the running, since it's still in beta and is closed off from all non-member readers. 

Getting Feedback
WriteOn: I've gotten the best feedback on WriteOn so far, hands down. Perhaps it's because of the site culture that they've been trying to inculcate, plus the fact that authors can customise their feedback requests (you can tick areas "e.g. characters, plot, proofread" AND include a personal message "hey, I think my MC is whiny, what do you think?"). But I don't know why, on average, my feedback received on WriteOn has been the most helpful and longest. You can request feedback in the "Ask and ye shall receive" subforum. This may change when WriteOn goes out of beta, although I'm very optimistic by the discussion about how to encourage good feedback taking place in the forums.

Wattpad: I don't actually recall getting feedback. From my impression, Wattpad is for your nice, polished stories (despite what the site says in their interview with The Verge), not for getting beta feedback. Of course, it's possible that in certain genres that I don't write in (like fanfiction), Wattpad may be good to get beta-readers.

Figment: The second-best feedback I've gotten is from Figment. Some members make it a point to leave detailed, useful feedback, while others just give general encouragement. You can also request feedback in the forums.

Winner: WriteOn, followed by Figment. This order may change when WriteOn comes out of beta, but who knows. Wattpad is trailing behind. 

WriteOn: Apart from an active forum, WriteOn has what they call Feedback Fridays, where you participate by reading someone's book, giving feedback, and having others give feedback to you. It's all managed through the weekly thread. There's also Thank You Tuesday, started by Katie Adee, who gave the best feedback ever (and she wrote pretty fantastic children's stories), where you're reminded to thank your readers and reviewers in your status. They're also getting a few authors to come in now and then to do interviews and give feedback on member stories, which is really awesome and helpful. And, they just started a bookclub to give members who have completed their novels beta readers. Ok, I started it, after getting permissions from the mods. I heard something about genre-specific clubs coming up in the future.

WriteOn mod squad/team: Oh, and I can't not mention the WriteOn team. They've been extremely receptive to feedback, with one active subforum for member complaints/bugs found. And it's not just talk, we've had changes suggested by members implemented. If they keep this up, WriteOn will really develop into an awesome community.

Wattpad: I'm not really on there, so I can't say, but they seem to have annual contests, like the Wattys. And of course, the aforementioned famous authors putting their books up (although I've not heard anything about them giving feedback). Depending on your genre, their contents might be your thing.

Figment: I know of Figment ambassadors and several contests, as well as a prompt of the day. The contests tend to generate a lot of swap requests (more for hearts than anything), but that's only natural, I think. There are also excerpts of novels there.

Winner: Depends on whether you're more of a reader or writer. Writeon's extra features are geared more to writers, while Wattpad seems geared to readers. Figment is probably closer to the writer segment, although quite a few of their contests seem to be to promote new releases. 

So, which is the site for you? It depends on whether you want readers or feedback. For feedback, I really reccomend WriteOn, especially if you do not write in YA (WriteOn has a lot more different types of writers that can give feedback). Wattpad is the established go-to site to get readers, so if you have a polished permafree, you might want to put it there. Figment is very much like Wattpad to me, only easier to create stories, so between Wattpad and Figment, I'll choose Figment. But for now, my writing site is WriteOn, for the feedback I've gotten.

Note: While I'm totally recommending WriteOn now, please keep in mind that this is my experience of WriteOn in beta. As more people join, the tone and culture of the site is going to change (I've already noticed some changes, as have a few members that joined even earlier). It might become something like Wattpad in the end, it might be like Figment, but it might (and I hope it does) remain like it is now.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis

Ok, I have to get this out of the way before I begin my review proper: I haven't read Cinder yet. Sure I've always meant to pick it up, but it's so hard to find in Japan, and my TBR was so long that I didn't get to read it while I was in Singapore. So, if you need a Cinder/Stitching Snow comparison, you're at the wrong review. I'm reviewing Stitching Snow with no prior expectations of how this style of retold fairytales is supposed to take place.

I suppose Stitching Snow is what you consider steampunk fairytale. I mean, there are robots and spaceships and high-tech mechanics (Snow/Essie "stitches" machines together), and there are the "traditional" ways that the King likes to practice.

We all know how the story goes: the King is good (or dead) and the Queen is evil. But what if both parents are evil tyrants? What if this Snow White doesn't want to go back to the palace?

The only girl on a mind in Thanda, Essie (Snow) makes money by fixing robots (the seven dwarfs) and taking part in fights. A damsel-in-distress she is not. But one day, a guy called Dane crash lands on the planet. Except, Essie's new friend turns out to be an Exile (one of the supposed bad guys that aren't) that kidnaps her to trade for some political prisoners. After a ton of things, she falls in love with him and agrees to help the rebellion against her dad and step-mom. Ok, the falling in love and decision wasn't so strongly related in the book, but it sure felt that way to me.

Can I just be upfront here and say I don't like Dane? Sure, he has a good reason to kidnap Essie, but I just can't get that negative first impression from my mine. After all, he betrayed Essie's friendship. Sure, he spends the rest of the book helping her and falling for her, but first impressions stick.

The rest of the story was good though. I enjoyed reading about Essie's return to the palace, and her attempts to follow her mother's footsteps in being a secret rebel. I just wish a greater part of the book was dedicated to that, instead of her journey back home.

So basically, the story was decent, but I don't like the love interest. I might be one of the few though, so on the whole, I will say that if you're a die-hard fan of fairytale retellings, you should give this book a go.

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

I saw this book being raved about on a few book blogs. The blurb was intriguing enough (what on earth is Melanie??) that I decided to give it a go. And as a testament to its popularity, it's extremely difficult to even get my hands on the book in the Singapore libraries (all copies loaned out, you need to reserve it, etc).

For those of you who expect me to read the book and be disappointed (I mean, it is very hyped), I'm sorry. I'm one of those reviewers that fell in love with the book and will end up praising it to high heaven.

The Girl With All The Gifts follows Melanie. All Melanie knows is that she lives on an army base with a bunch of other kids. They're also all special. What she doesn't know is that they're actually all test subjects. Even her beloved Miss Justineau is part of an experiment to test her cognitive and emotional capabilities.

And ah, I can't stand it. Let me say it right here: Melanie is a hungry (aka zombie). She and the other kids are different because they can think and feel. The only thing is that when they get close to human flesh, the hunger overtakes them. For Melanie, that is her biggest fear: that she will lose control and eat her beloved Miss Justineau.

When the Junkers (not sure what they are, but I think they are humans who are rebelling against what's left of the government) overrun the base, Melanie, Miss Justineau, the ruthless Dr. Caldwell and two soldiers (Sergeant Parks and Private Gallagher) are forced to leave and try to find help. Parks wants to kill Melanie, Dr. Caldwell wants to dissect her "number one test subject" and only Miss Justineau is trying to protect her. Melanie? She just wants to protect Miss Justineau.

This story was engrossing and tugged at my heartstrings. Melanie is really a special little girl, and I LOVE HER SO MUCH. She was my favourite character in the book. The other characters were well-written too - they all started off as one dimensional but then developed. I love character development of this sort!

If you like zombie books, and even if you don't, you should pick up this book.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Teaser Tuesday - How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Woohoo, another Teaser Tuesday! I'll not mince words and jump straight into the teaser. After all, it's from a book called "How to be a Heroine", subtitled "Or, what I learnt from reading too much." How can you say anything after that subtitle? (At least that was my reaction)

My teaser:
"If this were a novel, I wouldn't let my heroine fall tempestuously in love three times in a row. It would make her seem fickle and unserious." 
What are your teasers this Tuesday?