Book Reviews: February 2017

It’s been a short and busy month, so I only managed 3 books, but my reactions to them vary widely, so here goes:

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The Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Rudolf Erich Raspe:

My only knowledge of this book of tall tales comes from the adaptation by Terry Gilliam (I’ve never seen the movie, but I know of it), but it was on sale and I thought it would be a fun, quick read. Well, it’s certainly quick, but not as entertaining as I hoped. Some tales get a chuckle or two from me, others are just too random and meandering for my taste. 2/5

The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata:

This book was recommended to be by one of the editors at the publishing house I freelance for, so I thought it was worth considering. It’s about a group of children on a remote Indonesian island who defy all odds to maintain their rights to an education, so I thought it would be one of those sweet, charming, inspirational children’s book (in the vein of one of my favorite books, Totto-chan). Boy, was I wrong, on both counts. This could have been a great book, but the writing was terrible. The author keeps telling us everything instead of showing us, so the inspirational becomes preachy, the moving becomes cheesy, the funny becomes cliched. And it was supposed to be semi-autobiographical, but I didn’t buy any of the stuff that happened in it nor did I connect to any of the characters. I don’t think I’m going to take a recommendation from these editors ever again. But then, these are the people who thought a pile of garbage like The Atlantis Gene (it’s not even a best-selling pile of garbage like, say, the Twilight series) is worth translating, so what did I expect? 1/5

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer:

No, this is not a sci-fi/fantasy time-traveling story, it’s just non-fiction book about life in Elizabethan England, both the good and the bad, the glorious of a “Golden Age” and the not-so-glorious. It is incredibly detailed, but it’s written like a travelogue, with chapters devoted to what to eat, what to wear, where to stay, how to travel, what to do for entertainment, etc. so it’s really easy to read. Some may find the details tedious, but I love it. I’m going to read his other book, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, as well. 5/5

So that’s it for me this month. What books have you guys read?


Book Reviews: January 2017

It’s the last Wednesday of January, that means it’s time for the first book review post of 2017. It’s been a… pretty interesting month of reading, as you’ll see:

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Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris:

As I’ve said, my reading goal for this year is to read more mysteries and thrillers, so I started with this book, which has been on my to-read list since forever. It’s set at an English private school for boys, with alternate chapters told from the points of view of an unnamed narrator who has infiltrated the school with the intention of bringing it down, and a teacher on the brink of retirement trying to figure out who the saboteur is. I was drawn to it because of the setting and because apparently there was a mind-blowing twist at the end. Now that I have read it, I have to say that the twist is not that mind-blowing as I expected – I guessed it, about halfway through the book – but it’s a very captivating, edge-of-your-seat kind of story nevertheless. 4/5

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø:

My second attempt at a mystery novel is another Harry Hole book. I’ve read Nemesis for work a while ago and thought it was enjoyable but not particularly memorable, and I was hoping that this one – which is probably the most popular of the series, considering it’s being made into a movie – would be better. It sees the anti-hero detective Harry Hole on the trail of a serial killer, who kidnaps and kills women and always leaves a snowman at the scene of the crime. I like it better than Nemesis, and the last few chapters are super suspenseful, but my impression of it remains – it’s all very standard. Harry Hole is your standard troubled detective struggling with alcoholism and an obsessive streak; his partner is your standard loose cannon; and the serial killer is your standard psychopath. It’s fun, but not great. 3.5/5

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness:

After the two mysteries, I want to read something shorter, so I went with this, even though it’s not particularly light either – it’s a dark fantasy story about a boy, whose mother is dying of cancer, that gets visisted by an ancient tree monster and is taught some Important Lessons about truths and death. A lot of people talk about how haunting this is and how it makes them cry, but I have to be the unpopular opinion here: I don’t get what the fuss is all about. It’s not bad, exactly, I just don’t have any emotional connection to it. It feels very… predictable and formulaic, to be honest. The fact that the author didn’t come up with the original idea (another writer did, but she passed away before she could write it) probably have something to do with it. I can’t help but think that if the original author had managed to write it, or if it was picked up by someone like, say, Neil Gaiman, who did this kind of stories quite well (The Graveyard Book and Ocean at the End of the Lane, anyone?), it would’ve been amazing. Sadly, it just fell flat. 2/5

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling:

This 18th century collection of stories can best be described as a Chinese version of The Twilight Zone, as they all feature ghosts, demons, spirits and other fantastical elements. I’ve read the odd stories here and there, but didn’t get a chance to read the entire collection until now. They’re not really scary, and some can be repetitive (I’ve lost count of how many stories that are about a young man meeting a beautiful woman who turns out to be a fox demon), but they’re kinda fun too. A good “bathroom book”, because the stories are short and you can put it down anytime 😛 3/5


Braving The Rain

blue shirt gray sweater boyfriend jeans brown loafers by 14 shades of grey

We’ve been having pretty heavy rain these past few days. I’m not complaining – it’s a relief not having to water the garden every day – but it does make getting outfit photos a little bit of a hassle. I managed, though, even if I had to wrap a plastic bag around the camera to take these.

blue shirt gray sweater boyfriend jeans by 14 shades of greyboyfriend jeans brown loafers by 14 shades of grey

blue shirt gray sweater cat brooch by 14 shades of greyblue shirt gray sweater boyfriend jeans by 14 shades of grey

Shirt: local shop, Sweater: H&M, Jeans: Charlotte Russe, Loafers: Footglove, Brooch: Singapore boutique

I actually wore this to a book sale with some co-workers. Every year before the Lunar New Year, this publishing house (the same one I work for) would have a huge clearance sale to clear out their stocks, and every year I would come home laden with books. Come to think of it, book sales are the only kind of sale I enjoy. This time I ended up getting a big haul, as usual, and managed to recommend some of my own translations to my co-workers as well.

book haul

These are all in Vietnamese, of course, but from the top – City of Thieves by David Benioff (yes, the co-creator of Game of Thrones. I’m not a big fan of his screenwriting but this sounds interesting), A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (I’ve been wanting to read it), History of the Vietnamese Civil War from 1771 – 1802 (more non-fiction), Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata (recommended to me by someone who works at the publishing house, it’s not my kind of book but I’m willing to give it a try), Black Water-Lilies by Michel Bussi (I literally picked it up because of the pretty cover), and Red Rising by Pierce Brown (also something I’ve been wanting to read.) Not bad for a rainy day. I can’t wait to start on these!


Book Reviews: December 2017

I only managed two books this month. In my defense, one is long and kinda boring, while the other is shorter but really boring, so I had to reread other books (Hogfather, for one, and other favorites) in between to give myself a break. Anyway, here are the books:

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(Somehow I managed to read on a theme again – both books are about women in the 17th century, though one is fiction and set in the Netherlands, and the other is non-fiction and set in England.)

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach:

It seems I haven’t learned my lesson with The Miniaturist, because when I saw another book set in 17th century Amsterdam, about another young woman married to an older man, I decided to pick it up again. My reasons this time are “Well, at least there is no mystery in it” and “It’s made into a movie with Christoph Waltz, Alicia Vikander, and Dane DeHaan, so it must be good, right?” WRONG! The plot is simple – a painter is hired to paint the portrait of a rich merchant and his much younger wife, he falls in love with the wife, and together they hatch a risky plan to escape together. It’s a very standard romance plot, but the historical setting could have saved it and turned it into an entertaining, if not particularly deep, read. However, this book features some of the least developed characters I have ever read, and possibly the most stupid protagonists. I couldn’t care less what happens to them, and the “thrilling and tragic climax” touted in the blurb is simply the result of stupidity, not because of some great flaws in the characters’ personalities or circumstances. The writing is the same flowery prose found in this type of historical romance. It’s not as bad as The Miniaturist, but it’s not great either. 1/5

The Weaker Vessel: A Woman’s Lot in 17th century England by Antonia Fraser:

I bought this book because it was on sale, not because I have any particular interest in 17th century England. More exactly, I’m interested in history in general, so I will read any historical non-fiction books I can get my hands on. This book is certainly well-researched and touches upon all aspects of a woman’s life in the past – marriage and divorce, health (some gruesome stories about childbirth in there), education, religion, politics (it was the Civil War after all), etc. – but I can’t say it’s a super interesting read. I can’t put my finger on what’s exactly wrong with it, I just find it boring. It took me three weeks to finish! 3/5

Now, for next year, I’m approaching my reading goal a little differently. For the past three years it has all been about the numbers for me, but next year I’m not going to do that. Instead I want to read more non-fictions, try some new genres (thrillers and mysteries, perhaps? I might give the Harry Hole series another go, seeing how Michael Fassbender is playing him and all), reread some stuff (most of all American Gods, because the TV show is coming out in 2017), and finish the Sandman comics. So that may mean fewer new books to review. We’ll see.


Book Reviews: November 2016

As I said in last month’s reviews, this month was going to be all Discworld for me. I was so frustrated with all the bad writings I read in October, and since November is a busy month in script reading, that’s more bad writings I had to deal with, so I wanted something safe and fun and I know I will enjoy. I didn’t strictly read all Discworld book, but I did read all Terry Pratchett books (by a strange coincidence, in November/December last year I also read three Discworld book. There is just something about November that makes me want to reach for Terry Pratchett for comfort, I guess.)

I apologize beforehand if the reviews do not make much sense to those of you who haven’t read Discworld. Anyway, here are the books:

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A Slip of the Keyboard:

This is a collection of nonfiction writings by Terry Pratchett, including his articles from his journalist days to his speeches and anything in between. They are often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, especially toward the end when he talked about his Alzheimer’s and his quest for assisted dying. You can really feel Sir Terry’s warmth and wit and anger coming through (because you have to be angry to write such biting, sarcastic words). 4.5/5

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents:

This is labeled as a “young adult” Discworld book, but I think that’s simply because it features a talking cat and talking rats (who then team up with a “stupid-looking kid” and go from town to town to enact the Pied Piper scheme). This is some heavy stuff – I think it’s more somber than most Rincewind books! It asks some philosophical questions about the nature of being, of intelligence and religion, and there are some scary/intense moments as well. It’s not as funny as other Discworld book, but very good nonetheless. 4/5

Lords and Ladies:

I love the Tiffany Aching books, and I love Granny Weatherwax, so I always find it a little weird that I never love the Witches books as much as I should. But then I realize that it’s because I haven’t found the right Witches book, because I love this. This one sees Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat back in their hometown as Midsummer is approaching and the Queen of the Elves is getting really angry about having to stay in Faerie. This is the Granny Weatherwax that I know and love from the Tiffany Aching book, plus the reveal about her past romance with Mustrum Ridcully (one of my favorite side-characters) is just too cute – and a little sad too. 5/5

Feet of Clay:

After Death and Tiffany Aching, the Watch books are probably my third favorite in the Discworld series. I didn’t read them in order – I think I read The Fifth Elephant first – but that’s OK because the first few are just to introduce the characters anyway. With this one, the core team of the Watch is coming together, so the story is shaping up better as well. I always love a good police procedural show, and this is just like that – imagine Brooklyn 99 but with werewolves, dwarves, trolls, gargoyles, and others making up the team. It’s also a good mystery – someone, or something, is running around the city killing old men, and Lord Vetinari is being slowly poisoned, and now it is up to the beleaguered Vimes and his team of misfits to uncover the truth. 5/5

I may have been a little biased with these reviews.


Book Reviews: October 2016

It’s been a super busy month with my script reading job, so I only managed to read three books, and unfortunately they’re not very good books, so I’m feeling kinda angry. Bad writing always makes me angry. But anyway, here are what I read:

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid:

It being October and all, I wanted to read at least one spooky books to get into the spirits of Halloween, and this book was mentioned in a book forum as having a total mindf*ck of a twist. My curiosity piqued, I got the book and devoured it in one afternoon. The good: it’s a super quick read and does a good job of creating a sense of foreboding. The story starts out simply enough – the unnamed narrator and her boyfriend Jake are driving to see Jake’s parents, and the young woman is “thinking of ending things”, i.e. breaking up with Jake. Then, as the story unfolds, things begin to get weirder and spookier. But here are the bad: the twist, when it happens, is a total cop-out. I won’t spoil it, but you know those cliched “it’s all a dream/it’s all their imagination” twists in movies? This is like a bad version of that – because everything is a dream/imaginary so anything can happen and there is no logic to anything. It renders the entire plot pointless because nothing is real. Basically, the book spends all that time building things up and never paying them off. 1.5/5

Perfect Spy by Larry Berman:

This is the biography of Pham Xuan An, a Southern Vietnamese journalist who worked for Reuters and Times during the Vietnam War and corresponded with a lot of important American as well as Southern Vietnamese officials, but was, in fact, a Northern Vietnamese spy. Naturally, he was an enigma, and his story is a fascinating one. Unfortunately, the author, despite being chosen by Mr. An himself to be his US biographer (there are two other biographies written by Vietnamese authors, but I haven’t read them), is not a very good writer, in my opinion. Everything is meticulously researched, but the author has no story-telling skills, so the book ends up as little more than a pile of documents and interviews loosely strung together. It’s too bad, because in the right hand, this could’ve been captivating. 3/5 (and that’s more for the subject matter than the book itself.)

The Atlantis Gene by A. G. Riddle:

I only read this because I’m recently hired to translate this. And after finishing it, I’m telling you, I am not looking forward to the translating process. It makes The Da Vinci Code look like a masterpiece. First, there is the story. I’ve read all 450+ pages of it (and it took me a long time too; it was so bad I had to keep putting it down and reading something else to take my mind off it) and by the end, I’m still not sure what happens. There’s something about the lost city of Atlantis, a mutating gene that can make humans stronger, two secret organizations, more conspiracies than you can shake a stick at, time warp, worm holes, and a bunch of other sci-fi/thriller clichés that I didn’t even remember.  Second, it’s the characters. Every stereotype you can think of – the tough action hero with the tragic past, the beautiful damsel in distress who’s actually a brilliant scientist and a secret badass, the obsessive villain, etc. – this has them all. Finally, there’s the writing. The book is written sort of like a screenplay – each chapter is a scene/sequence, complete with a heading telling you the location of the scene. I’m used to reading scripts so I don’t mind it too much, except that there are too many storylines and too many characters to keep track off, so breaking up the story like that makes it difficult to follow (this sounds exactly like I’m criticizing a script, btw.) And it also has the annoying habit of stopping the story in the middle of the scene to tell us the backstory instead of weaving it into the actions so that the readers can discover for themselves. If I could give this 0/5 I would.

So that’s what I had to slog through in October. I think I’m going to have to do a Discworld marathon next month to calm myself down – and by a happy coincidence, The Color of Magic was first published on November 24th, 1983, so it’s fitting that I make November my unofficial Discworld month.


Book Reviews: September 2016

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It’s been kind of a frustrating month of reading for me because most of the books are mediocre, but here it goes anyway:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne:

This is the “it” book of the summer, isn’t it? (Well, it isn’t a book really; it’s a script.) I had to admit, I didn’t expect much, but from the photos of the cast, I thought it would be an interesting take on the world of Harry Potter.

The story, not to spoil it or anything, revolves around Harry’s youngest son Albus teaming up with Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius and using a Time-Turner to go back in time and try to save Cedric Diggory. Now there lies my first problem with it: the Time-Turner is one of the least thought-out magical devices in HP, and any story that deals with time travel just opens itself to all sorts of plot holes and inconsistencies (this “How HP Should Have Ended” video features the only use for a Time-Turner that makes sense, in my opinion.) My second problem is that all the characters are annoying. The kids, especially, but the adult Harry, Ron, and Hermione as well. Here’s the thing – they went with the movie version of these characters, so Harry is a tortured matyr, Ron is a bumbling idiot, and Hermione is the only one with any sense. Perhaps they would be more likable on stage. I don’t know.

So you can see, I’m not impressed. And then there’s the big “twist” reveal at the end. Oh, that reveal. To sum up, here’s how my reactions go: “Wow all those effects sound amazing! I wish I could see this in person!” Then, “This reads like fan fiction.” Then, “This reads like bad fan fiction.” And finally, “WTF?! That is so dumb!” I’d still go see the play if I could afford a plane ticket to London though. 2/5

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín:

This is one of the books I picked up from the Deventer Book Fair. I loved the movie, so I wanted to check out the book. Well, let me just say this: if I hadn’t liked the movie so much, I would’ve found this book soooooooooo boring. Not that the movie improved on the book or anything; it followed the source material quite closely in fact. It’s just that the movie did a much better job of making these characters charming and the story touching, whereas in the book, I can’t relate to any of them. Maybe it’s just not my kind of book. 3/5 (and that’s only because I like the movie!)

Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage by Hugh Brewster:

I picked this up before my Euro trip with the intention of taking it with me, but then I decided not to, because taking a book about the Titanic on a long trip doesn’t seem like a good idea. This book is, ostensibly, about the lives of the Titanic’s first class passengers, but other than a few broad sketches of their biographies, it’s a pretty standard retelling of the sinking of the Titanic. I think it has a great premise, but ultimately fails to live up to it: it doesn’t paint a very vivid picture of the rich and famous’ lifestyle in the Edwardian era and show how the sinking of the Titanic, in a way, puts an end to that way of life.

Another thing I found irritating about the book is the repetitive use of phrases like “likely”, “no doubt”, “undoubtedly”, and “must have”. It’s like the author wants to remind you that he doesn’t know any of these details for certain. I mean, we all know that a lot of it is just speculating; it’s not like this is a first-hand account, but that kind of writing is really distracting. 2.5/5

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari & Eric Klineberg:

My friend Debbi recommended this to me after one of our usual social/philosophical discussions, when I told her that I don’t know how people can date and have relationship in this day and age (because I am a robot who doesn’t understand human emotions.) This book is basically about the search for love in the digital age. I’ve read some disappointed reviews from people who expected it to be funny, since it’s written by Aziz Ansari, and found that it isn’t particularly funny. But I know it’s not a humorous book, so I wasn’t disappointed. It introduces some interesting concepts such as the idea of passionate love vs. companionate love, or the “phone self”, and also gives some insights into how smartphones and social medias are changing dating etiquettes. It doesn’t answer my question (because I am a robot who doesn’t understand human emotions) but a fun read nonetheless. 3/5