September 2017 Reads

Wow, I think I made a reading record last month. 6 books! I’m notorious for being a slow reader, but I don’t know what I happened… I blew through 4 large books and 2 smaller ones.

7908762Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn

This book got me out of my reading slump. It’s about a noble girl who lived most of her life in exile, until her father died and she was brought back to court life. As someone who is an elemental mage, she holds a lot of power and soon she finds herself embroiled in intrigue.

I love how character-centric this was. Even though much of the plot isn’t action-oriented, I was always wondering what’s going to happen to Zoe next. Zoe was a likeable character, though I think for a character-oriented book, it kind of lacked a character arc. I don’t think Zoe became a better person in any way, even though people warned her that her power might harm others. She was always reckless with it, and there was a distinct lack of repercussions after her destructiveness in the climax. If anything, her self-assuredness and her time away from court enabled her to not care about things some people have to just to survive in a place crawling with intrigue. And then she shames them for caring. I mean, they weren’t very nice people either, so maybe they deserve it, but this is definitely one of “those” books where an outsider girl is not like those “other” girls, you know what I mean?

Also, one of the plot twists that I was afraid of happening happened in the last 5 pages of the book, which was… erm, a let down. So overall, I enjoyed this book lots except for a few parts, and thank it very much for pulling me out of my reading slump.

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Brown Skin, White Minds by E.J.R. David

This is another research book I read to help me with my original project. It’s a highly recommended item for Filipino research, but I didn’t pick it up for the longest time because my focus is on precolonial Philippines, whereas this looks at postcolonial. Anyway, here’s my review from Goodreads:

I decided to pick up this book because I thought that although my project is on precolonial peoples, my audience is not. It’s important for me to know what issues are relevant in today’s postcolonial society, so that I can at least be sensitive about it in my project.

This book gave me a lot of reassurance that my experience is not by any means a singularity. Apparently they’re very prevalent. I think this is where the book shines: it shows psychological studies on colonial mentality and also paves a way on how to deal with it. I especially liked the chapter where the empirical studies were shown. Unfortunately there was a chapter or two on theoretical postulation that I think would have benefited greatly from some empirical data; as it is, those chapters had a lot of “may cause” or “might influence” wordings that don’t have a lot of data to back the theories. This book also frequently reads like a school paper, which might be understandable, seeing that the author is a scholar. But the wordings tend to be repetitive and paragraphs seem to say the same things over and over. I think the author was overly cautious that something might be taken out of context.

18270942Why We Fail by Victor Lombardi

Okay, this one is for school. We were asked to review a business book, and this was one of the few books that caught my interest in the pre-selected list.

This book looks at products that failed due to terrible user experience. Overall, I found the book to be quite bloggish. Each of the case studies was interesting in and of itself, but I was expecting a little more from a book compilation. I was hoping for some cohesive and unified lesson that could be applied to the next business venture, but there wasn’t really anything like that. Some things that caused the failure of one product would be the cause of success for another. So it doesn’t really leave you with any kind of applicable knowledge. The only thing I liked was the suggestion of using the scientific method.

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The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

I rarely ever read romance, and this is one of the few times that I did. Here’s my review from Goodreads:

This is one of the rare times I make a foray into the romance genre. While I’ve read a few romance books before, I’ve mostly stayed away for two, perhaps petty, reasons. A) I don’t like large age gaps, which seems to be the staple of the genre, and B) to say that I dislike rakes is a gross understatement. I picked up this book because miraculously it has neither. I actually saw the book recommended on a Tumblr post about romance unicorns.

And what a book it was! I can only compare to the handful of romance books I’ve read previously, but this one is a lot more nuanced and complex than the others. Now don’t get me wrong. I love escapism and brain candy as much as any other person — my favourite genre does happen to be fantasy, after all. But there are only so many impossibilities that an illusion can uphold before the entire thing loses its magic, even moreso when it’s not supposed to be fantasy.

This book has so many threads in it that were all equally fascinating. Even the romance seemed to take a step back to other themes like family, wealth and ambition. The story of Minnie’s past was honestly so unique and creative, now I’m wanting an adventure book based on a twelve-year-old prodigy.

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Ah, I love fantasy books like this! I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now but I’ve just been swarmed with books on my TBR.

Kell Maresh is an Antari, a person who can travel between different worlds. One day he was framed to smuggle in a powerful object into his world. Piggybacking on his travels is petty thief Lila Bard. Together, they try to prevent the destruction that the smuggled object will cause.

This is a fun adventure book, and I love the two main protagonists. I’m still not too keen on the perfect prince, but we’ll see if I get to know him better in the following books. The only thing I didn’t like about this book was that it was too short! Good thing there’s 2 more books in the series, which I’m looking forward to reading.

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Ah, this is one of those books that everybody has been talking about but I wasn’t really interested in picking up until two of my friends told me it is really good. Needless to say it deserves all the hype it got, because man, this is a stellar example of great fantasy writing.

Kaz and his band of thieves are hired to retrieve a prisoner from one of the toughest prisons for a hefty price. However, everyone’s got baggage, and they just might kill each other. Heh. Bad plot summary, because the plot itself is too smart for a summary.

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

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I know it might come as a surprise to many people when I confess that this is the first time I’m reading Harry Potter. HP is such a staple in children’s fantasy, which is one of my favourite genres (probably the most). But the way circumstances would have it, I only picked up the series a couple of weeks ago.

I’ll keep this review brief, because I think everyone by now is familiar with the series.

Rating: 5/5

Needless to say, I enjoyed it. It was a lot more whimsical that I thought it would be. I did see 6 out of 8 movies, and I had the impression the books would be as dark and mysterious as the movies made the story seem to be. But I think it’s a lot more like Diana Wynne Jones’s books than anything. It’s got a very endearing quality to it, and I’m not surprised at all why so many people fell in love with the book.

I found the characters to be slightly different in the book than they were in the movies. I felt as if the movie got one dimension of their characterization right, but the book gave such great nuances that the movies didn’t have time to show off. Harry, for example, was a lot sassier than he was in the movies. Ron was a lot funnier, although I do remember Rupert Grint making me laugh hysterically when I watched the films as a kid. Hermione was so intense; she was really milking the smarty-pants stereotype so hard, I couldn’t even find her annoying for it. And Neville! Whoa, I was surprised how much screen time Neville got. He was always that outlying character in the movies, but here, the gang really seemed more like a quad than a trio. I have a feeling I’m going to really love Neville even more in the following books.

Overall, I feel like I understood the story better now. As a kid, I never quite knew what was going on — only that there were things going on with Harry and he needed to fix them, hehe.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

19385917Hey everyone! I’m back with another book review. This time, I will be reviewing an adult fantasy that one of my favourite series, The Legend of Eli Monpress by Rachel Aaron, has frequently been compared to: The Lies of Locke Lamora.

Overview

Locke Lamora and his band of thieves, called The Gentlemen Bastards, launch a complex plot to steal half the fortune of one of the barons in the City of Camorri. However, they become embroiled in the bigger, more dangerous plots of a mysterious man named the Grey King.

Rating: 4.5 / 5
Warnings: cursing (high), gore (high), sexual content (medium)

My Thoughts

I think this is the first book I’ve read that didn’t get a full score because some things were lacking, but because they were excessive. So it’s safe to say that this book has everything I like in books: dynamic, empathetic characters; complex plots; and interesting world-building. It really does have everything. Continue reading “The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch”

Gap Books

I saw this today over at Shannon Hale’s twitter:

Please read the entire thread! It touches upon some important issues I feel strongly about in the children and YA publishing industry.

Moribito: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi

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Okay, I am so excited to review this book. This is the sequel to Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, which is also the the basis of the anime, Seirei no Moribito. I read the book and I watched the anime back in 2015, and I fell completely in love with both. I got distracted since then, which was why it took me so long to pick this book up even though I bought both books at the same time. I really regret it, because… you guys… this book is beyond amazing!

Overview

After the events of Guardian of the Spirit, Balsa decides to return to her homeland of Kanbal, from which she and her foster-father were forced to escape due to a cruel conspiracy by the late King Rogsam. She wishes to find closure from her past and believes that returning to her homeland to find it is the best idea. However, upon her return, she finds herself once again entangled in another conspiracy, possibly still a continuation of the one that had led to her flee in the first place.

Rating: 5/5

My Thoughts

Oh my gosh, you guys. I really want to applaud this book for not shying away from really tough situations. I’m not talking about X-rated, cover-your-eyes type of situations, but complicated themes like death, revenge, shame and honour. I know that these themes already often occur in books that are geared for older audiences, but it seems that because they occur so often, they are rarely relegated sufficient thought and exploration. However in this book, you really get to see how these themes affect a person’s humanity.

What I love about this book first and foremost is the clever political intrigue. There was political intrigue in the first book as well, but this took it to an entire level altogether. Everyone was so smart, and you can feel the motivations of the characters, even those who had been corrupted by the first conspiracy.

The second thing I love about this book is the emotions. It might use simple, middle-grade level vocabulary to communicate, but oh man, that does not at all prevent the emotions from coming through. I was sitting on the train yesterday to work and trying not to cry during the climax because of that heart-breaking plot twist.

Ah yes, the plot twist. The plot twist that was foreshadowed from the very first chapter and yet I still completely MISSED until I was reading it. I could feel my heart stop. And I just want to bawl my eyes out. Oh Balsa. Poor, poor Balsa and poor, poor Jiguro.

Just like in the first book, the magic in this book does not really follow a system. It’s based on tradition and what “experts” in the magic tell you, and you must take it at face value. As someone who loves magic systems, this kind of magic is a little underwhelming, but you can tell that the story isn’t *about* the magic. It’s about the people who are just trying to make the best of their circumstances, and if those circumstances happen to deal with magic, so be it.

This book follows the same bittersweet ending that the first book did. Balsa may have accomplished her goal, but sometimes she needs to leave good friends behind and go on to a different adventure. She is such a lonesome soul, I really want to know if she can find a place she can comfortably call home.

The only thing I really, really missed in this book was Tanda, her friend from the first book. Tanda was my favourite in the first book. However, that said, it was very heartwarming to see Balsa think of Tanda whenever she needed hope and warmth. It broke my heart when she thought of visiting him as a spirit in case she dies. I just… these two just need to get together already!

June 2017 Reads

I wasn’t able to read a lot this month, and most of the things I read were for school. For some reason, I was just really tired most of the time, and even during my morning commute to work, I just didn’t feel like reading. I think it mostly has to do with my reading slump after finishing Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner. I’m hoping to hop out of this slump this month.

In any case, here’s what I read for school. These books are for my technical entrepreneurship class.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

My professor claims that The Lean Startup was a real game-changer several years ago. I can tell it was, because a lot of the principles mentioned in this book are things that are being actively practiced in the industry, at least in the companies I’ve worked for. Things like A/B testing and MVPs that seem like very reasonable things were surprisingly not very ubiquitous some years ago.

The main thing I didn’t like about this book was how disorganized it was. I think there was an attempt to organize the book into sections, but it didn’t work, because a whole lot of the things mentioned in the first few chapters were incessantly repeated throughout the entire book. Not only were the concepts repeated across chapters, but the author has one of those high-school essayist syndrome where they try to repeat the thesis ten times in a paragraph. It just gets very redundant. Don’t get me wrong, the ideas are extremely helpful and important. I just did not like the way they were written.

Business Model Generation

The coolest thing about this book is its format. I ended up buying a physical copy, and I would recommend to anyone who wants to read this book to also buy a physical copy. Its strengths are really in how the message is conveyed. The design is spectacular, very sleek and almost magazine-like.

The most important parts of this book is in the first quarter. After you finish reading the different sections of a business model and the different types of business models in existence, the content gets a little uninteresting after that. The chapters on storytelling and visualization were pretty much common-sense. And you can tell that they’re common-sense, because there were basically three main ideas surrounding them that were repeated over and over again throughout the pages.

Well, here’s to hoping I’ll get more interesting things to read this month.

 

2017 May Reads

Alright, in an effort to liven up this blog from my incessant writing woes posts, I’m going to take a moment to talk about some of the books I’ve read this month so far. I think if I read really quickly, I might be able to read one more book before the month is up.

27833542 Story Genius by Lisa Cron

I’ve been having a lot of difficulty writing the first draft of my story, mostly because I had a hard time really writing from any of my characters’ perspectives. This book was recommended to me in response to that.

I think the most valuable lesson I learned in this book is how every story that captivates readers sufficiently is ultimately a character-driven story. I’ve read many writing books before, and some of them distinguish between “plot-driven” and “character-driven” stories. In Story Genius, Lisa Cron explains why any kind of meaningful story is actually character-driven, no matter if the plot has tons of exciting things going on.

I know, it’s not a ground-breaking concept. Even in my own reading experience, I tend to gravitate towards books where I sympathized with characters the most. And I think her explanation brings home why this is so: an event in a story (in other words, the actual plot) has very little meaning unless the character gives us a context in which to make sense of that event. So really, even your most plot-driven story, if it’s good, is actually anchored by the protagonist.

Other than that, I feel like this book doesn’t offer anything else that is truly unique that sets it apart from other writing books. I think if you’ve read other writing books before, the bulk of the book after the first several chapters would feel achingly familiar. I’ve also seen other reviewers point out that they would have liked to see actual neuroscience explored in this book. I have to agree that the title and subtitle give off a more scientific vibe than what I got. Most of the time, the author would only say things like, “it’s brain science!” or “our brains are wired to look for this and that.” Now, while that was sufficient for me, because all I wanted was to learn writing techniques, I can understand why others might be frustrated about it.

The Queen’s Thief Books 4 & 5 by Megan Whalen Turner

It’s difficult for me to review these books, because there’s just so much to say. I feel like I’m not going to say anything that haven’t been said before, which is unfortunate, because this series is my absolute favourite, and I feel as if I should be able to say something more personal about it. But I can’t, not succinctly anyway.

In A Conspiracy of Kings, we follow Sophos, the heir to the throne of Sounis, as he is sold into slavery by rebels. This book is my 2nd most frequently reread book in the entire series (yes, even more so than The Queen of Attolia, which I know is the favourite of many many fans of the series). But there’s something about Sophos’s character that just calls to me. I mean, Eugenides is impressive and amazing and I love reading about his tricks and cleverness. But Sophos feels so much more human in comparison, and more relatable in that aspect. His earnestness and even his naivety made me root for him throughout his entire journey. And I feel that because he doesn’t begin as this awe-inspiring figure in the same way Eugenides had always been, Sophos’s character arc then becomes more pronounced. The climax of this book is one of the best things I’ve ever seen, and I almost keeled over seeing how Sophos maneuvered the difficulties of his situation.

Thick As Thieves is the much awaited fifth book of the Queen’s Thief series. Similar to the two previous books, we have a brand new protagonist in this book: Kamet. Many people would remember Kamet from his little stint in The Queen of Attolia as the slave and secretary of the antagonist, Nahuseresh. Thick as Thieves follow Kamet’s adventure as his life as a slave is turned upside-down when he finds himself fleeing for his life from the Mede Empire. This book echoes The Thief moreso than the other three books in narration style and the types of plot twists present in the story. Much of the book is about the adventure, and there is very little political intrigue, unlike in QoA, KoA and ACoK. Since this is just my first time reading this book (and I’m sure that like the other books in the series, this one can only get better in rereads), I have to say I’m a little underwhelmed by Kamet as a protagonist. I think I say this, because I read TaT almost as soon as I finished ACoK. And like I said above, Sophos is so, so dear to my heart, and Kamet just had very big shoes to fill. I found myself reading more for the sake of Kamet’s companion (I believe it’s a spoiler if I reveal who it is), than I did for Kamet’s sake. That said, I believe that eventually I’d warm up to Kamet like I did to Costis in KoA.