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.

 


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?


Book Reviews: April 2017

I briefly considered doing a TV review instead of book reviews for April because I’ve watched some amazing shows (Legion and Big Little Lies), but more amazing shows are coming out at the end of the month (The Handmaid’s Tale, American Gods) so maybe I’ll wait until May. In the meantime, here are the books that I read this month:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman:

This has been hailed as Harry Potter for adults, though I’d say it’s more Harry Potter meets Narnia meets Catcher in the Rye – a young man gets accepted into a magical college in upstate New York and together with his friends, explores a magical kingdom while musing about the big questions of life, universe, and everything. If you think it sounds derivative and pretentious, then you’re absolutely right. The worldbuilding is nothing new, the characters are some of the worst I have ever seen – whiny, entitled, and self-absorbed – and the story feels both rushed and dragging. I was mildly curious about the TV adaptation, of which I’ve heard good things, but after reading this, I don’t think I want to check it out anymore. 1/5

The Spring Tone by Kazumi Yumoto: (“Spring Organ” in the Vietnamese edition)

I’ve loved the first two book by Kazumi Yumoto, Summer Garden (“The Friend” in English) and Autumn of the Poplar (“The Letters” in English), so I decided to check this out as well. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with this. It explores the same coming-of-age theme as the other two books, but the characters are not as memorable and the conflict feels weak. 1/5

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo:

I’m putting these two together because they’re really one story split into two books. Out of all the YA series I’ve read over the years, the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo is one of my favorites, so I was quite excited to check out these books. They’re set in the same world as the Grisha trilogy, but while the trilogy is kind of standard YA fare – a “chosen one”, a grand good vs. evil battle, that sort of thing – these two books are on a refreshingly smaller scale.

They’re about a group of young criminals in a city (clearly based on Amsterdam) with the impossible task of breaking into a maximum security prison and rescue a scientist with an important secret (“Six of Crows”) and what happens after that (I can’t reveal the plot of “Crooked Kingdom” without spoiling the first one, so you just have to bear with me.) Basically, it’s a crime thriller/heist story with magical elements. It’s what The Bone Season series could have been. I really enjoyed these. They’re fast-paced, the world is well crafted, and the characters are colorful and sympathetic. I like Six of Crows a bit more, but then again the first one is always better, isn’t it? 4.5/5


Book Reviews: March 2017

It was kind of a mediocre month of reading, but I was so busy that I didn’t really care. Anyway, here goes:

Charlotte by Kathryn Shevelow:

I always saw this languishing on the shelf at my favorite used bookstore, so when it went on sale, I finally picked it up. The subject matter is certainly interesting – it’s a biography of Charlotte Charke, an 18th-century actress famous for her cross-dressing on and off the stage. Well, after reading it, I have to say I can understand why it was on the shelf for so long. It contains some interesting descriptions of the theatrical world of England in that time, but Charlotte herself is not a very engaging protagonist. I find it very hard to sympathize with her – she seems fickle, feckless, and lacking in common sense. Her circumstances are unfortunate, but they don’t justify some of her questionable choices in life. 2/5

The Gentleman’s Daughter by Amanda Vickery:

I’m going to start this review with a disclaimer – I never quit a book in the middle. I may skim, but I always read a book cover to cover. Heck, I read Twilight cover-to-cover! But this, this I had to give up. It was recommended by a Jane Austen fansite as a good source for information about genteel women’s lives during Austen’s time. Since I’ve read a book on women’s lives in the 17th century, I thought I would enjoy a book on the same subject but focusing on the next century. But gods, this is possibly the driest book I have ever read. It reads like a thesis. I tried and tried, but after 17%, I had to give up. I’m sure it’s very well-researched and would be a good source if you want some authentic information about the era, but it doesn’t make for very good reading. 0.5/5

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman:

After giving up on a difficult book, I turned to something easier to read and I knew I would be more likely to enjoy – Neil Gaiman’s retelling of the stories from the Norse mythology. Now, I only have the most basic knowledge of Norse mythology (Odin, Thor, Loki, etc.) and a fair bit of that comes from Marvel, so I was quite excited to read this. In the end, though, I was a bit disappointed. Sure, it’s a very quick read and Gaiman did a good job of humanizing these mythological figures, but he didn’t rewrite the story enough to make them more interesting. Basically, after reading it, I had to wonder, what’s the point of this book at all? Not the response you would want. 3/5

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen:

Now this is a truly easy read. It’s the true story of James Bowen, a recovering drug addict and former homeless man who turned his life around after he befriended a stray cat. Bowen himself wrote this with the help of a ghost writer, so don’t expect a literary masterpiece, but it’s a very sweet and touching story, and a must-read for any cat person. I also recommend the movie adaptation, in which Bob plays himself 🙂 3/5


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 me 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. I expected it to be one of those sweet, charming, inspirational children’s books (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!