Book Reviews: September 2017

This month’s reading is almost exactly the same as August – another busy month, another double bill by the same author followed by a non-related book – except this month’s books are a bit more mediocre. But it’s actually a good thing. I’ve been so busy that a boring book would be better than a page-turner, because that means I can put it down whenever I want.

Making Money & Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett:

When it comes to my favorite Discworld characters, Moist von Lipwig is pretty far down the line (even though I quite enjoy Richard Coyle in the TV adaptation of Going Postal), but when I saw these at the used bookstore, I decided to get them to take with me on my German trip, because they would be lighter than my Kindle. Unfortunately, they’re the first Discworld books that I did not actually enjoy. They’re not as funny as the usual Discworld book, and Moist’s character arc already seems completed in Going Postal, so his “crook with a heart of gold” shtick feels kind of repetitive here.

To be fair, I did get a chuckle or two out of “Making Money”, especially from the main antagonist who’s obsessed with becoming Vetinari. “Raising Steam”, however, is just plain weird. It doesn’t even read like Terry Pratchett. It’s like a poor imitation of his writing by someone else with no understanding of the characters. For example, there is a scene in which Vetinari bangs his fist on the table in excitement, which I can’t imagine Vetinari ever doing. I understand that the book was written while Terry Pratchett was struggling with his Alzheimer’s and he wrote by dictating to his assistant, but this feels like it was written by the assistant himself.

I think another problem I had with these books is that they feature little of the usual Discworld parody. At least Going Postal has some fun with the world of postal service in the clacks (a Discworld version of telegraphy) and the invention of stamps, whereas “Making Money” (which deals with Moist taking over the world of banking and minting) and “Raising Steam” (steam train/railways) feel too close to the real world. 2.5/5 (3/5 for “Making Money” and 2/5 for “Raising Steam”).

All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka:

This is the Japanese sci-fi novel/manga that got adapted into the Tom Cruise&Emily Blunt-starring sci-fi action flick, Edge of Tomorrow. I can see why it got Hollywood’s attention – the premise is interesting: in the future, when humans are locked in a war against alien invaders called Gitai (Mimics in the movie), a rookie finds himself trapped in a mysterious time loop in which he is forced to relieve his first day of battle (and his death) over and over again. He then meets a female soldier who was once trapped in a time loop of her own, and they team up to defeat the aliens. It’s a very quick read, and despite being quite short, the characters are pretty well crafted. My only complaint is that the relationship between the two characters, which is the emotional core of the whole story, is developed too quickly, so it doesn’t leave much resonance. Still, it’s better than the movie, which completely missed the point of the ending. 3.5/5

So that’s it for this month. Hopefully next month’s books will be more enjoyable. How about you guys? What did you read?

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Book Reviews: August 2017

It’s a month of non-fictions! Non-fictions by female writers, no less. Last month’s books made me so angry that I decided to for all for non-fiction books this month, hoping they would annoy me a little less. Let’s see how they did.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers & Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach:

Originally I’d only planned on reading “Packing for Mars”, but then I saw “Stiff” and thought it looks interesting, in a morbid kind of way, so I decided to check them both out. They’re both funny and quite informative (I find “Packing for Mars” more interesting, but then again because I’m more interested in space travel than dead bodies), and the humorous approach makes them quite easy to read. Some may find Roach’s writing too cutesy for such subject matters, and some of the jokes do get a little repetitive, especially in “Stiff”, but I’d say you need that kind of humor for some of the heavier topics. One thing though: I wouldn’t recommend reading “Stiff” before a meal because there are quite a lot of graphic descriptions of body decomposition.

On a side note, when I read about the amount of bone and muscle loss the astronauts suffer in space due to zero gravity in “Packing for Mars”, I’ve actually started exercising again. I figure since I’m not in zero gravity, there’s no excuse for it. 4/5

An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England by Venetia Murray:

This is my second attempt to read a historical book about the Regency.  This one is easier to read than A Gentleman’s Daughter (at least I finished it), and there are some amusing or interesting bits here and there, but as a whole it’s not very well written and edited. The chapters are divided by topics, but the topics seem to be assigned randomly because the author didn’t bother sticking with them at all. There are a lot of overlapping and repetition. For example, the chapter about beaux, dandies, and rakes are mostly about the dandies, with some paragraphs about the rakes thrown in near the end like an afterthought. Or, in another chapter about the gentleman’s clubs, about half of it is about the food at these clubs, which is fine, but then the very next chapter is about the pursuit of pleasure and gluttony, so of course we’re reading about food again. Also, I’m not very familiar with the Regency (other than the most basic fact – the Prince Regent, the Napoleonic Wars, Jane Austen) but a quick glance at some reviews shows that there are a lot of factual errors in the book as well. It’s too bad. I’m beginning to feel I don’t have any luck with books about this particular era. 2/5

What about you guys? What have you read?

 


Book Reviews: July 2017

I actually read 5 books this month but two of them are re-read (both by Bill Bryson) so I won’t bother with reviewing them. I re-read them mostly because two of the new books I was reading annoyed me so much. You’ll see which one.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson:

This is considered a classic now, but for those of you that don’t know it, a quick summary: a group of people stay at a house rumored to be haunted, where, naturally, supernatural incidents do occur. It sounds deceptively simple and even boring, but Shirley Jackson is a master at getting us inside the character’s head and building tension from the most normal of interactions. The supernatural incidents are not actually scary, but they are really, really disturbing, mostly because they are described from the characters’ POV. My only complaint is that the ending feels a little rushed. 4/5

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs:

This is the third and final book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series (or, as I call it from the movie adaptation, Tim Burton’s X-Men). I enjoyed the first book and didn’t care much for the second, but that one ends on such a cliffhanger that I decided to check out this one anyway. I’d say it’s on about the same level as the second book. The photographs, which are so creepy and cleverly used in the first book, feel forced and gimmicky here, the plot is drawn-out, and the characters boring. The ending picks up the pace a bit, but then it gets wrapped up in a really lazy way. 1.5/5

Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi:

I admit, I picked up this book because of the pretty cover of the Vietnamese edition. Plus, it’s a murder mystery set in Giverny, the village where Claude Monet spent the last 30 years of his life, so I expected some nice scenery descriptions and a fast-paced plot. Well, the scenery is there, but not as much as I would’ve liked, and as for the story… gods, this must be the most boring murder mystery I’ve ever read. The plot moves like molasses; I cannot relate to any of the characters, and it features one of the most idiotic “twists” I have ever seen. Basically the book lied to you the whole time and then called that a twist. And then there is the writing. The POV switch is all over the place – one chapter would be in first person, one chapter in third person limited, and another in third person omnipresent. Also, almost all the dialogues end in either an ellipsis or an exclamation mark, which gives the impression that these characters have the annoying habit of not finishing their sentences or yelling them out. By the end of it, I wish they were all dead already. 1/5

Here’s hoping that the books next month will be more enjoyable.

 


Homecoming

As much as I love to spend my entire day in my pajamas, there always comes a time when I feel sick of looking like a schlub. Well, friends, this is that time. After nearly a month of working from home, I just want to dress up for no reason at all, so I did. Although, I didn’t exactly dress up for no reason – I did wear this to see Spider-Man: Homecoming. And yes, I was kinda coordinating my color scheme with the red-and-blue scheme of a Spider-Man costume. At first I was only going to wear the t-shirt, but then I noticed this lace collar and thought, Hey, that kinda looks like spider web, so I added that too. This looks like something I would wear about five years ago – I haven’t worn a Peter Pan collar in so long – but I quite like it.

I quite liked the movie as well. It’s definitely the first movie that manages to make Spider-Man seem like an actual teenager and capture his smartass humor (The Amazing Spider-Man made a stab at the humor too, but Andrew Garfield ended up more smug than smartass. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man didn’t even try.) On the flipside, it also means that the movie is more like a high school comedy and less like a superhero film, but that’s OK. At least it’s not another freaking origin story.


Book Reviews: May – June 2017

Last month I replaced my usual book review posts with a TV review post, so this time there are a few more books than usual, but I’ll try to be brief:

History of the Vietnamese Civil War from 1771 t0 1802 by Ta Chi Dai Truong:

It’s one of my ambitions to write a series of epic/historical fantasy books using the history of Vietnam in the vein of A Song of Ice and Fire, so I’ve been reading more books about Vietnamese history. This deals with a fascinating subject matter: the war between three different factions (the Le kings in the North, the Tay Son rebels in the Midland, and the Nguyen kings in the South) before Vietnam was finally united and entered its modern history. It’s well researched, but unfortunately, the writer is not a very good storyteller. This has been my problem with historical books lately – the information is interesting, but the writer doesn’t arrange or tell them in an interesting manner, so the book becomes a chore to read. A good source for references, nothing more. 2/5

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty:

I quite enjoyed the adaptation by HBO, so I decided to check out the book. I’m happy to say that the mini-series stayed pretty close to the book (for a summary of the story, check my TV review), except Reese Whitherspoon’s character is less bitchy and more sympathetic, and the book ends on a much more finite note. The suspense is still there, even though I already knew where it was going. Overall, it’s a quick and enjoyable read. 4/5

City of Thieves by David Benioff:

I really, really dislike what David Benioff has done to Game of Thrones, but I have to admit that I quite enjoyed this book. It’s sort of a buddy tragi-comedy set during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II: a teenager arrested for looting and a deserter are given the impossible mission of finding a dozen eggs for a colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. It’s funny, but can be very visceral and tense as well. Also, this is the second book I’ve read set during the Siege of Leningrad (the other is Catherine Valente’s Deathless), and to be honest, if those are fictional accounts, then I don’t want to read about the real thing. 4/5

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu:

Usually, when I want to check out a new fantasy/sci-fi author, I would start with their short stories before moving on to their novels. With Ken Liu, I did the opposite – I enjoyed his novel The Grace of King, so I wanted to see how he is in the short form. There are some interesting stories here, but just like with The Grace of King, Liu’s writing feels very flat, almost pedantic, to me. It seems he is so concerned with getting the science/history/mythology right that he forgets to use good characters and plots to make the story stand out. 3/5

Maskerade and Jingo by Terry Pratchett:

These I read during my week-long vacation. I didn’t want to slog through some book that I hate during my vacation, so I picked something I would be sure to enjoy. Unfortunately, these are probably two of the weakest Discworld books that I’ve read. “Maskerade” is a Witches novel, which finds Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg following the potential third member of their coven into the crazy world of opera, while “Jingo” is a Watch novel revolving around Sam Vimes and his ragtag Watch trying to prevent a war between Ankh-Morpork and a neighboring country. Of course, they’re still a lot of fun, but the jokes are a bit… obvious, you know what I mean? 3.5/5

So that’s it for me. What did you guys read?


Accessory Slump

On Wednesday’s post, I talked about feeling unmotivated to put together an interesting outfit. I think part of the reason is that I’m bored with my accessories (but don’t want to buy new ones) and don’t know how else to jazz up my outfits. Scarves are out of the question; light-weight, summery shirts don’t hold up brooches well, and sometimes you have to choose between necklaces and printed shirts. Occasionally, I would bring out my bracelet/cuff, but it always feels forced and doesn’t go well with the outfit at all – like here. Actually I wasn’t planning on wearing this cuff with this outfit, but then I was going to see Wonder Woman after work, and since I don’t have a tiara or lasso or invisible jet, I decided to play homage by wearing the cuff.

As for the movie… weeeeeeeeeeell, I’m going to be the unpopular opinion here and say that I wasn’t impressed. I think I got overhyped on it – everybody is gushing about how great it is – so I ended up underwhelmed. Sure, I appreciate the fact that it’s a female superhero movie, and I’m happy that it’s directed by a woman, but it’s… kind of boring, to be honest. I think the praises come from the fact that the bar for DC movies is set so low and this is the first decent female superhero movie (like, first ever), so it is just the thing that people want right now. It may be an important first step toward more diversity and equality in the genre, but it didn’t change my mind about the DC Extended Universe. I’m going to stick with Marvel, thank you every much. (I mean in terms of superhero movies in general. I know the portrayal of female characters in Marvel films is problematic. If I want an action film with good female characters, I’ll go with Mad Max: Fury Road.)


That doesn’t stop me from doing a Wonder Woman pose though…


TV Reviews: March – May 2017

As promised last month, this month I’m going to do TV reviews instead of my usual book reviews. This isn’t going to be a regular thing, it’s just that I’ve been watching a lot of amazing shows lately and I wanted to rave about them. So here goes:

Legion:

This is a superhero show, more specifically, an X-Men show (Legion is the son of Professor X), but it’s not your typical superhero show. It’s not your typical show, period. According to the comics, Legion’s mutant power is that he can absorb other personalities into his mind, and this manifests into a severe case of schizophrenia. The show took this idea and really put us inside Legion/David Haller’s mind – sometimes literally – as he tries to come to terms with his power while figuring out what is real and what is not. Because it deals so much with the idea of mind, memories, and mentality, the show’s storytelling is quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. That, combined with slightly off, retro-looking production designs (the show looks like it takes place in some trippy 1960’s alternate universe), means that it can be difficult to get into. But the cast is tremendous – especially Dan Stevens, who has a near flawless American accent (how is it that British actors are always so much better at American accent than vice versa?) and Aubrey Plaza – and after the first couple of episodes, you’ll be hooked and won’t find it so weird anymore.

Big Little Lies:

This isn’t my type of show (it’s a murder mystery about a group of women in a wealthy neighborhood of Monterey), but it’s been getting rave reviews, so I decided to check it out, and suffice to say, I spent an entire Saturday binging it. It’s not so much a mini-series as it is a 7-hour long movie, and it does such a great job of building the tension that I spent the entire time watching with my fists clenched, waiting for it to explode. I’ve also read the book, and it’s good too (I actually prefer Reese Witherspoon’s character in the book) – book review coming next month.

American Gods:

Do I have to say anything more? Neil Gaiman, Bryan Fuller, a damn near perfect cast (this and “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” have restored my faith in casting for adaptations – the only quibble I had was Emily Browning, who I think is too young to play Laura, but after the episode two weeks ago, I was convinced), of course I would be all over this. My only complaint is that it’s not streaming, so you have to wait each week for a new episode. Therefore, I would recommend reading the book first – the plotting of the show can be really slow and a bit all over the place if you don’t know where it’s going.

The Handmaid’s Tale:

Again, this is not my kind of show – I’d never read the book, and in today’s political climate, a story about women losing all of their rights and being reduced to “two-legged wombs” sounds far too real and too depressing for me. But again, I’ve heard amazing reviews of it, and I’ve liked Elizabeth Moss since “Mad Men”, so I started watching. Well, it’s terrifying – the most believable dystopian story I’ve ever seen – but that’s also what makes it so riveting. I’m not sure if I’m invested enough to keep watching, mostly because it’s so mentally exhausting, but I’ll finish this season at least.

Anne with an E:

This may come as a shock to you guys, but I’m not a fan of Anne of Green Gables. I’ve read all of the books and watched the 1985 mini-series, and I love the world of L.M. Montgomery, but to be honest, I’ve always found Anne kind of annoying (when it comes to PE Island, I prefer the TV show “Avonlea”.) So I wasn’t particularly interested in a new adaptation of the book. But, after “The Handmaid’s Tale”, I need something light and wholesome to nurse my wrecked nerves back to health, so this fits the bill perfectly. It does a great job of making Anne more sympathetic (it shows very clearly that her imagining and daydreaming is a coping mechanism for all the horrors she’s had to endure) and of course, the scenery is gorgeous (or “divinely scrumptious” or “scrumptiously divine” or whatever Anne is wont to say.)