Friday, February 28, 2014

Feature Follow Friday: Change the Plot

Feature Follow Friday is a blog hop hosted by Parajunkee & Alison Can Read. It's a way for bloggers and readers alike to make some new friends and gain some new followers as well. The point of this hop is to follow other bloggers. I follow you, you follow me.

Also, this week's featured bloggers are Gizzimomo's Book Shelf and Tash Brilliant Book Blog, so make sure you check them out too.

While I do prefer GFC follows, if you would like to follow me via bloglovin/email/twitter etc, that's great too! Also, please leave a comment so I can follow you back!

Question of the week: Change the plot

If you could, what book would you change the ending or a plot thread? Go ahead and do it... change it.
For this, I would have to pick Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. I loved The Hunger Games and then, Catching Fire just took it up one more notch. So I had really high expectations for what Collins would do with Mockingjay. And I was left bitterly disappointed.

[Warning: potential spoilers ahead]

For starters, the whole book just felt so defeated. Katniss did pretty much nothing but mope around in District Thirteen and occasionally go out to be their poster girl. Then, in the end, the whole ending just felt rushed and I couldn't help but come away with the feeling that there was minimal change to Panem. I didn't necessarily need a happy ending yet at the same time, I wanted to know that the whole saga, all the sacrifices, all the war came to mean something. But I didn't get that feeling so I felt disappointed.

Let me know if you agree or disagree with my pick. Also, which book did you pick to change the plot? Leave a comment/link below and I'll be sure to check it out!
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday Rewind! Favourite Book(ish) Quotes

TTT is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish

I'm going to cheat a little bit and do my favourite quotes from some authors instead. I have a scrapbook that contains all these random quotes from books, TV shows, movies, and famous people that I use as a motivational tool whenever I feel down. So here are some quotes from some very famous authors!

"I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acute miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing." ~ Agatha Christie

"If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it. If you don't ask, the answer is always no. If you don't step forward, you're always in the same place." ~ Nora Roberts

"You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default." ~ J.K. Rowling

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes... then you are doing something." ~ Neil Gaiman

"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." ~ EL Doctorow

"You can fix a bad page, but you can't fix a blank one." ~ Nora Roberts

"So given a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualification, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuses the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone's total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes." ~ JK Rowling

"Every book you pick up has its own lesson or lessons, and quite often the bad books have more to teach than the good ones." ~ Stephen King

"Everything is possible. The impossible just takes longer." ~ Dan Brown

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." ~ JRR Tolkien

What are some of your favourite quotes from authors? Or did you perhaps pick another topic for this Top Ten Tuesday Rewind? In either case, let me know in the comments below or leave a blog link and I'll be sure to check it out! :)
Thursday, February 20, 2014

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Source: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Standalone book
Publisher: St Martin's Griffin
Release date: 10th September 2013
Tagged under: 2014 read, contemporary, chick lit, YA-fiction, romance, 2014 favourites
Pages: 438
Buy at: Amazon

Fanfiction, College, Family and First Love

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. 
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan... But for Cath, being a fan is her life - and she's really good at it. She and her twin, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it's what got them through their mother leaving. 

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. 
Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let go. She doesn't want to. 

Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend; a fiction-writing professor who thinks fanfiction is the end of the civilized world; a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words...and she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Review [Spoiler-free]

I've heard so much good things about this book that I've been dying to read it for ages. But with so many books on my currently-reading & TBR lists, I didn't get around to it until now. And oh my goodness, it's amazing. 

There are some contemporary young adult books that I read because they are light and fun. There are some I read so that I can live vicariously through the characters, knowing that my university days weren't like that but wouldn't it have been fun if they were. And then there's this book - which just gets me on so many levels that while reading it, I felt like I have been literally living a life similar to Cath's. 

Like Cath, I had to make some pretty big changes in order to attend university. I was 17 and alone in the country with my parents halfway around the other side of the world. Like Cath, I literally spent most of my high school spare times reading fiction and then, whenever the mood struck, reading and writing fanfiction. The move to university seemed daunting and there were days where all I wanted to do was go back to my room in my shared house, curl up with a good book and just ignore the rest of the world for awhile.

Cath Avery, for me, is a soul sister I never knew I had. She just feels so real. Everything she thinks and do are just so relatable. If you've ever had an awkward moment or incident in your life or if, like me, you're just socially awkward in general, then you would definitely feel like you share a kindred spirit with her too. Cath is not perfect - she freaks out sometimes, she makes bad decisions sometimes and she lets people walk over her or degrade her and her interests without retaliation. If you tell me that you've never done any of those things in your life, there is no way I would believe you. 

As I progress through this book, I literally get sucked into Cath's world and it almost feels like I'm living her every step. This is not a book filled with tension and drama yet its simplicity is part of its charm. In Fangirl, obstacles and bumps are thrown in at random - just as how life works. Things happen to Cath along the way and you observe her deal with it in her own manner. Sometimes it isn't the right way. Sometimes her decisions aren't exactly the smart ones. But then again, Cath isn't going to change magically overnight and neither are any of us. Through examining her and her life, I can't help but identify some of those similar quirks and tendencies in myself.

And the romance! I won't spoil you regarding the who, the when, the how etc. because I think this is a really good example of how good romance can be set up without a) being the entire focus of the story and b) without being insta-love that it feels like it would only happen in books. I think possibly the best word I can use to sum up Fangirl is that everything about it is just so real. You read this and bask in the feels and you know that this could happen in real life.

However, there are a couple of minor issues I did have with the book that prevented me from giving it a perfect score. While I do enjoy reading and writing fanfiction (perhaps not to the same degree of success as Cath but at times, certainly to similar degrees of enthusiasm), Cath's particular love of Simon and Baz (the two guys in her thought bubble on the front cover) is one aspect of fandoms that I still struggle to get into/comprehend. I don't have issues with it or homosexuality, but just like in Harry Potter how I fail to identify a romantic link between Sirius & Remus or Harry & Draco, I come across such fanfiction works and I just can't see how these pairings would fit into the canon universe. So when Cath went gushing about Simon and Baz, those are the only moments I felt like she was talking in a foreign language to me. But then again, that's fandom for you - you can move the characters around and play with them however you like.

While on the subject of fandom, I'm not sure I'm 100% comfortable with Rowell's depiction of what being a fangirl is. Cath's comment about how, sometimes, in some ways, she writes better than the actual author. That comment, no matter how padded it was with Cath's admiration for the author of the original work, just grates me a little bit. Another aspect was something that happened in the book with her professor who, as you can tell in the book summary, isn't a supporter of fanfiction. Without going into it in too much detail, I just can't see any professors being as lenient as Cath's.

However, these issues are such minor aspects and didn't detract from my enjoyment of this book at all.

And the ending! Everything came neatly together without being fairy tale perfect. It was absolutely heartwarming, seeing how Cath has progressed through her freshman year and grown in the process. The subtlety with which Rowell summed up everything is something I really admired about this book.

Overall: 4/5

I absolutely love this book. As soon as I finished the last page, I knew this will very likely become one of my 2014 favourites. I highly recommend this to pretty much everyone.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top Ten Reasons I Love Being a Blogger/Reader

TTT is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I'm going to split this topic up and do 5 reasons each.

Top 5 Reasons I Love Being a Reader

Ever since I was little, my parents fostered a love of reading in me. I remember I had a collection of 25 fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella etc (all in Chinese of course) and my parents read them to me so many times that I memorized it all. My aunts and uncles were all really impressed with me sitting there with the books in my lap, reading out loud, never realizing I was reciting from memory and couldn't actually recognise all the characters. :D

English is my second language. Back in primary school, about 6 months after I moved to Australia, my grade 4 teacher was reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to the class and I had no idea what was going on. I can still remember how bored I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening to the teacher droning on and on in a foreign language. Curious, I went and borrowed The Chamber of Secrets and read the first five chapters or so - it made absolutely no sense to me. It was just a jumble of words on a page that I got through rather painfully. But yes, that was my first foray into reading. But afterwards, I just kept reading and never looked back.

1. Escapism

Books are such a great gateway to other countries, planets or universes. While you are immersed in between those covers, you could literally end up anywhere, in anybody's shoes and experience their lives. For those few hours, you get to escape from the problems and issues of your own lives and live vicariously through others.

2. Basking in the feels

There's nothing better than sinking into a good book and feeling all warm and fuzzy from the romance blooming in front of your eyes, or share in the triumph of the protagonists as they overcome obstacles.

3. De-stress

Now that I've commenced work this year, I often come home exhausted and still mentally going over whatever happened during work. So grabbing a book and reading on the train for 20 minutes has been a great de-stress therapy for me.

4. Knowledge is power

I've picked up a lot of knowledge from the various books I've read over the years. Sure, most of them are probably only applicable in the universe from which they originate, but you never know when you might need to know something. For instance, the Thoroughbred series is one I followed avidly as a child and now, whenever I watch the Melbourne Cup, I actually know vaguely what's going on.

5. Sharing is caring

When discussing the books we've read, I can actually have a decent meaningful conversation with friends rather than just talk meaninglessly about the weather or some brainless celebrity.

Top 5 Reasons I Love Being a Blogger

This blog is still very much in its infancy. But I have internally debated about whether or not I should start a book blog for quite a long time now. Now that I have, I must admit it was a good idea and these are the top 5 reasons why.

1. Meet people with similar loves and interests

There's nothing better than meeting people from all around the world who share similar reading interests as I do. All these wonderful people are from all walks of life with all different experiences. We can have an exchange of book recommendations and learn from each other.

2. Share my reading experience

Not all my friends share the same intensity of love for books as I do. And whenever I gush about a book I've read or compare a book to the movie, they all stare at me blankly or admit they've only watched the movie. So shouting out to the world wide web allows me to share my reading experiences with people who actually gets what I'm on about.

3. Broaden my horizon

I've been living in a literary hole for the last six years or so while I was slaving away in university. Thus, without the web and all the bloggers/booktubers I follow, I would never have stumbled across some fantastic works and/or authors. Can you believe I've never heard from John Green or Neil Gaiman until this year?!

4. Challenge myself

Without my blog holding me accountable, I would probably sink into a nice comfortable groove where I only read the books that I know I will enjoy. While there's nothing wrong with that, it also means I would never challenge myself to read outside of my comfort zone and discover great new works and/or authors.

5. De-stress

Again, blogging is a good therapeutic experience for me. For instance, I just had a really long day at the hospital today and am about to go to my volunteer organization in about 10 minutes from now. However, even as I sit here typing these words, I find myself calm and relaxed.

So there you go, those are the top ten reasons I love being a blogger and reader. I'd love to hear about your reasons too. Leave a comment or a link below! 
Friday, February 14, 2014

Book Review: The Luxe (Book #1) by Anna Godbersen

Source: The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

The Luxe by Anna Godbersen

Series: Luxe (Book #1)
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release date: 23 September 2009
Tagged under: 2014 read, YA-fiction, historical, romance, guilty pleasure, soap opera, why did I read this
Pages: 464
Buy at: Amazon

This is Manhattan, 1899

Pretty girls in pretty dresses, partying until dawn.
Irresistible boys with mischievous smiles and dangerous intentions.
White lies, dark secrets, and scandalous hookups.
This is Manhattan, 1899.

Beautiful sisters Elizabeth and Diana Holland rule Manhattan's social scene. Or so it appears. When the girls discover their status among New York City's elite is far from secure, suddenly everyone - from the backstabbing socialite Penelope Hayes, to the debonair bachelor Henry Schoonmaker, to the spiteful maid Lina Broud - threatens Elizabeth's and Diana's golden future.
With the fate of the Hollands resting on her shoulders, Elizabeth must choose between family duty and true love. But when her carriage overturns near the East River, the girl whose glittering life lit up the city's gossip pages is swallowed by the rough current. As all of New York grieves, some begin to wonder whether life at the top proved too much for this ethereal beauty, or if, perhaps, someone wanted to see Manhattan's most celebrated daughter disappear...
In a world of luxury and deception, where appearance matters above everything and breaking the social code means running the risk of being ostracized forever, five teenagers lead dangerously scandalous lives. This thrilling trip to the age of innocence is anything but innocent.

Review [May Contain Spoilers]

I was really looking forward to this series. I heard a lot of good things about it from booktubers and everything from the cover to the summary just made the book sound so appealing. If I actually cared at all by the time I reached the end of this book, I would have been devastated over how badly my expectations were dashed.

In short, this is Gossip Girls set in the late 19th century. 

The fact that Cecily von Ziegesar wrote the endorsement on the back cover is an obvious indication where the inspiration for this book came from.

The premise of this book is actually not that bad and I have read some historical romance novels that holds a similar plot. The beautiful Holland sisters, Elizabeth and Diana, are the darling of Manhattan's social scene. Unfortunately, not everything is as glittering and beautiful as they appear on the surface. The Holland is a prestigious old family of Manhattan but now, following the death of the head of the family, they are facing financial ruins unless Elizabeth marries into a wealthy family. While she is secretly in love with Will Keller, who works for the Holland family, her mother is already planning on marrying her to the wealth Henry Schoonmaker.

Henry Schoonmaker is basically blackmailed into this whole arrangement - either marry the beautiful demure Elizabeth or face being kicked out, penniless, by his father. Yet unexpectedly, while visiting the Holland household, he comes across the lively Diana and the two begins a secret love affair. Meanwhile, not everyone loves the Holland sisters. Lina, Elizabeth's maid who's secretly in love with Will, is growing more bitter by the day. And there's also Penelope Hayes, who has grand plans of marrying Henry herself. 

Did all that confuse you? Yeah, me too, buddy. It is complicated and convoluted yet at the same, so predictable that I stuck the "soap opera" tag on this series.

But what makes the whole plot completely unbelievable is the fact that while this is set in the late 19th century, all the characters behave with the decorum of modern Gossip Girls. Everything is just too unrealistic and outrageous for me to get into the story. Yes, secret midnight trysts and scheming behind everyone's backs are a part of historical romance fiction. But blatant pre-marital sex, sneaking out of the house to be romanced, sneaking off to reveal blackmail-material secrets - it is simply too much of an imbalance between the naughty and the proper for this to be believably set in the 19th century. 

I also struggled a lot to relate to the protagonist Elizabeth. Yes, she is meant to be quiet, obedient and demure but that doesn't mean she has to be bland. For the whole duration of this book, she is mulling over the fact that she has her true love and has no wish to marry Henry Schoonmaker but on the other hand, if she marries into the Schoonmaker's family, wouldn't all her family's financial problems be solved. Back and forth. Back and forth. Try reading that for over 400 pages.

The only characters I've grown attached to are Diana, Henry, and to a minor extent, Lina. The chemistry between Diana and Henry is amazing. They are literally the only thing that made this read worthwhile. Lina, while angry and hurtful, at least has reasons for her spitefulness and while I don't agree with what she did in the novel, at least I can see why she did those things and that makes her a more three-dimensional character than Elizabeth.

Overall: 1.5/5

I really didn't like this book. The plot was too theatrical. The characters too bland. The actions of the characters a bit too unbelievable for this to be set in the 19th century. If this was a contemporary Gossip Girls 2.0 then yes, I would have simply labelled this a guilty pleasure read. But if you're going to go historical, at least make it realistic. 

Like what I did with the TV show Gossip Girls, I'll most likely end up reading the online summaries of the next three volumes to satisfy my own curiosity regarding the ending rather than force my way through the books. [Spoilers!!!!!] Had Diana and Henry finally reunite in the finale like they deserved to be, I might have been coaxed into reading the series just to get my happy ending. But apparently, it is not meant to be and even avid fans of the Luxe series said the ending of volume 4 is simply too rushed and out-of-character to be enjoyable. So there you go, I'm not going to read the rest of this series.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Top Ten Books That Will Make You Swoon

TTT is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

When I saw this topic, I was a bit stumped. Even though I have read a lot of romance novels, the word "swoon" makes me think of those romance novels that are really really special. And for a moment, I really had to think about this list. This, by the way, is not ordered by any means. It's just the order in which these books and authors came to my mind.

I limited my list to one book per author but rest assured, for the authors below, I loved almost all of their books so definitely check out their other novels too.

1. The MacGregor Grooms by Nora Roberts

When it comes to romance, you can't go past Nora Roberts. She has over 200 romance works to her name and is the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame - that is how good she is! There are a lot of books by her that I love but for a quick lighthearted read, I always gravitate towards the MacGregor series. All 11 of them are really good but my personal favourite would have to be The MacGregor Grooms, which is a collection of three novellas. 

2. The Playboy by Carly Phillips

The Playboy is the second book in the Chandler brothers series, which starts with The Bachelor and finishes with The Heartbreaker. All three are really good reads, but I love The Playboy the most if only for the comedic factor. Imagine a town where all the single ladies are throwing themselves at this single cop. Toss in a meddling mother who's faking sick so that her boys will settle down, start a family and give her grandchildren before she dies. Then finish it off with a bride in a wedding dress stuck just outside of town needing police assistance. It's definitely a fun read and I absolutely adore the main characters.

3. The Paid Companion by Amanda Quick

Amanda Quick is my go-to author for historical romance (well, her and Julia Quinn) and The Paid Companion is the novel I regularly refer to when I feel like doing a quick re-read. Elenora Lodge lost her family inheritance when her stepfather squandered the whole lot, forcing her to go into employment as a paid companion for income. Unfortunately, she's a bit too brash and opinionated to be suitable as a demure obedient servant. Arthur Lancaster, the Earl of St. Merryn, is looking for someone to pretend to be his fiance so that he could wander around London's social scene without getting interrupted while he's hunting for a murderer. The two of them are constantly at odds with each other and sparks almost always flies. Amanda Quick, in this novel, I think balanced Elenora well so that she is independent and inquisitive without being too pigheaded. 

4. Dream Man by Linda Howard

Some of Linda Howard's novels always makes me want to fan myself and this one is definitely one of them, which is quite a difficult feat considering this book is about murders. Marlie Keen is content to lead a quiet normal life. She thought her clairvoyance had disappeared after the nightmare in her past so she was shocked when one night, all of a sudden, it came back with a vengeance. Meanwhile, Detective Dane Hollister is busy trying to track down a serial killer and has no patience for the psychic Marlie. But at the same time, he can't help feeling attracted to her. Watching Dane turn between 

5. Remember Me by Sharon Sala

This book doesn't make me swoon as much as it makes me sigh contentedly. I find some of Sharon Sala's works to be a bit too cheesy at times but sometimes, you need some cheese in your life. Life was beautiful for Clay LeGrand until one day, his wife suddenly disappears from their home and he is being grilled like a criminal. Two years later, he returns to work to find his wife, Frankie, sleeping in bed and acting as if the last two years never happened. Where has she been for the last two years? And why can't she remember any of it?

6. Brighter than the Sun by Julia Quinn

This book got me right at the beginning, as Charles Wycombe, the Earl of Billington, crashed out of a tree and landed at the feet of Eleanor Lyndon. Upon learning that she was single, he immediately proposed marriage as he needed to marry before his 30th birthday in order to retain his inheritance. This book had me giggling right from the beginning. Charles and Eleanor are so adorable together, I loved their interactions and the way the story unfolded.

7. Only Mine by Elizabeth Lowell

To be honest, I enjoyed every single book in Elizabeth Lowell's Only series. This one sort of just pipped the other ones to the post. Every single one of Elizabeth Lowell's regency novels are moving in their own right and this one is no exception. It's interesting to follow the journey of how a rugged nature-hardened Wolfe Lonetree slowly and reluctantly falls for the pampered, innocent Lady Jessica. Meanwhile, Jessica has to adapt to a married life in the harsh landscape of America. You can't not feel the emotions written on the pages and when the two of them finally admitted their feelings to each other - it's amazing.

8. September Morning by Diana Palmer

I have a love-hate relationship with Diana Palmer. Her books are very emotional and moving yet almost all of her books depict strong dominant men and submissive women who love those men regardless of how much verbal/psychological abuse they dish out to them. It makes a tumultuous read but sometimes, the happy ending is worth all the emotional turmoil us readers go through. September Morning, I'm happy to report, is one of those books. You feel torn and heartbroken right alongside Kate and then, when everything comes together at the end, you bask in her joy too.

9. Dark Prince by Christine Feehan

There is something very addictive about Christine Feehan's The Carpathians series. Call it guilty pleasure if you want to but I simply adore reading these books and finding out how the couple found each other. Dark Prince is the first one in the series and it's still the one I enjoy the most. The plots of these books might be a bit weaker than those of other paranormal novels but the chemistry between the Life Mates makes it an enjoyable read nonetheless.

10. Vampire, Interrupted by Lynsay Sands

My favourite of the Argeneau Vampires series, a bit surprising since when it comes to a series, I tend to enjoy the younger generations more. But Marguerite and Julius Notte - their history is just so interesting and heartbreaking when you realize exactly what they lost in the years they have been apart. Their chemistry is palpable on the pages and I think I gobbled this book up all in one sitting.

So there you have it, these are my picks. Let me know if the comments below what are yours, or post a link to your list - I'd love to check them out! I'm always on the hunt for more romance! ^_~
Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Carrie by Stephen King

Source: Carrie by Stephen King

Carrie by Stephen King

Standalone book
Publisher: Anchor
Release date: 5th April 1974
Tagged under: adult fiction, horror, paranormal, 2014 read
Pages: 304
Buy at: Amazon

Stephen King's Legendary Debut...

Carrie White may have been unfashionable and unpopular, but she had a gift. Carrie could make things move by concentrating on them. A candle would fall. A door would lock. This was her power and her sin. Then, an act of kindness, as spontaneous as the vicious taunts of her classmates, offered Carrie a chance to be normal and go to her senior prom. But another act - of ferocious cruelty - turned her gift into a weapon of horror and destruction that her classmates would never forget.

Review [May contain spoilers]

When I think of Stephen King, I think horror and then, as a sort of automatic self-defense mechanism, my brain immediately turns to a lighter subject like rainbows or unicorns. For those who don't know me, I don't do horror. Period. A mildly scary TV show episode that won't even bother any normal person would leave me with nightmares for weeks. Once, on a roadtrip, my friends decided it would be fun to watch a Japanese horror film. According to them, it wasn't even a scary one. All my friends were making fun of how bad it was the whole way through. I think I watched half, cowered behind a couch pillow for the second half and then, for the next few hours, was as high-strung as a horse that refused to settle down. I simply couldn't sleep that night and because I couldn't sleep, no one ended up sleeping. Suffice to say, that was the last time my friends ever suggested a horror film to me. Even after the road trip, I had difficulty sleeping for the next two months or so.

So it was really for my own self-preservation that I steered clear from Stephen King for such a long time. I have read his On Writing memoir so I knew and was charmed by the story surrounding the creation of Carrie. I also knew vaguely that Carrie was about a girl having her first menstrual period in the girls' bathroom at school. But beyond that, I didn't know much. And frankly, given how Stephen King is often dubbed the king of horror, I didn't want to know much.

But last week, when I was in the local library, I stumbled across the book and I thought if I were really to broad my reading horizons, I should try a little bit of everything, shouldn't I? It's okay. I'll just read the book in broad daylight while in the presence of other people and hopefully, that'll dampen my level of fear.

And now, 304 pages later, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Not sure if it's my lack of experience in the horror genre speaking or what, but my impression of the horror genre, be it books, TV shows or movies, is that the whole thing is just scary. The whole point of the experience is to scare the audience as much as you can for as long as you can. Everything else is secondary to the scare factor. So to my surprise, Carrie is more than just a scary book, it has a lot of character and plot development and I was really drawn into the lives of the residents of Chamberlain.

Stephen King gets the ball rolling right from the beginning. The entire novel is a combination of prose and excerpts from various articles and books on the Carrie Incident. So even if you come into the book completely blind with no idea what Stephen King writes or what this book is about, you knew something terrible was going to happen soon. There is a heavy sense of foreshadowing. Even simple phrases such as "one of her surviving classmates..." makes you wonder exactly how many people are going to end up dead by the end of the book and then, the nature of their death.

But beyond the escalating sense of impending horror, I can't help but be drawn into the characters' lives. Right from the start, I sympathized with Carrie the protagonist who will end up wielding powers of mass destruction. Carrie is really a victim of circumstances. She is raised up by a religiously fanatical mother who forces her to wear frumpy clothes, pray frequently every day and kept her in the dark about most things in life. The fact that when Carrie had her first menstrual period in the school gym, she thought she was bleeding to death is a prime example of how restricted her knowledge is. To make matters worse, when she goes home and confronts her mother about not telling her, her mother browbeats Carrie into praying because menstruation is a sign she sinned and drags Carrie into the closet for more praying. One of Carrie's poems in class summarises the situation perfectly:
Jesus watches from the wall.
But his face is cold as stone.
And if he loves me - As she tells me
Why do I feel so all alone?
But beyond Carrie, I am also drawn into the lives of all the other players in this book. Susan Snell with her guilt about what she did in the bathroom and her need to atone for her actions. Miss Desjardin with her initial exasperation at Carrie's behavior and then later, her stout defense of Carrie and fitting punishment of the students who started it all. When the principal snaps back at Christine Hargensen's father regarding lawsuits, I felt a moment of triumph. I even got involved in the scholarly articles and the White Commission as they speculate what exactly happened and who was to blame. Their miscast of blame and attempt to find a scapegoat really did get on my nerves but I guess that's what happens after a tragic accident. The dead can't talk.

Overall: 4/5

I really did enjoy this book, more than I had expected to. Stephen King frequently mentions this book as sort of "raw" but I can see how this book catapulted him onto the bookshelves of millions and how even today, it's being read and heralded as a classic. But does this mean I'll read more of his works? Probably not. Like I said before, I have my own self-preservation to consider first. 
Sunday, February 9, 2014

Book Review: Ruby Read (Book #1) by Kerstin Gier

Source: Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Series: The Precious Stone Trilogy (Book #1)
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release Date: 10th May 2011
Tagged under: YA-fiction, fantasy, historical, 2014 read, trilogy marathon
Pages: 337
Buy at: Amazon

It wasn't meant to be her...

Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for travelling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era! 
Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon - the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.

Review [may contains spoilers]

Now this is what I'm talking about! By the time I picked up the Ruby Red trilogy this year, I had already read and finished several YA series, most of them from the dystopian genre. I had almost become a bit numb to the whole reading experience. So when I started Ruby Red, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this book. I simply couldn't put it down and I ended up finishing this book all in one night.

Living in modern-day London, our protagonist Gwyneth Shepherd was content with her life. She had her best friend Lesley. She lived with her mother in their grandmother's house along with her two aunts and her cousin Charlotte. The beautiful Charlotte had, since birth, been preparing for travelling through time. She was one of the lucky few in the family who was a gene carrier and now that she was past her sixteenth birthday, everyone in the family (along with those in the associated organization) were waiting with bated xbreath for Charlotte to start developing symptoms such as a headache and take her first journey back in time - also known as the initiation journey.

So when Gwyneth developed a headache in the middle of the day with no apparent trigger, she was surprised and then quickly brushed it away. After all, Charlotte was the one who carried the gene. Charlotte was the one who has been training her whole life with piano lessons, fencing practice and history lessons for this. Charlotte was the one whose headaches meant she was about to travel back any day now.

So to say Gwyneth was shocked when she jumped back in time instead would have been an understatement.

Thus began Gwyneth's rushed initiation into the world of time travel, chronographs and their quest to fill the chronograph with the blood of all gene carriers so that they will be able to fulfill the prophecy. She was the last gene carrier in the prophecy - the Ruby - and she is to be partnered up on her quests with Gideon de Villiers, whose family also carries the time travel gene but in the male line. Gwyneth feels like a stranger who's been thrown into an organization which always appears to be keeping things from her. Together, both Gideon and Gwyneth must discover who exactly they can trust to tell them the truth of their quest.

The book has a very fast pace. Gwyneth's POV is actually a very energetic read and reminds me of some of Meg Cabot's protagonists - all gutsy and not afraid to speak her mind. Gwen is young, impulsive and curious. Despite her lack of knowledge when it comes to the world of time travel, it is obvious she is quite a strong character who won't simply take things as they are just because someone told her to. 

Gideon de Villiers is also quite an interesting character and I really enjoyed reading their interactions, especially since on Gwyneth's third travel, she went back to a time where she saw herself kissing Gideon in an attempt to distract him from finding out the younger version of Gwyneth hiding behind the curtains. So the anticipation to see the pair go from Gideon belittling Gwyneth and seeming to be in a sort of relationship with Charlotte to the pair of them kissing each other - I want to see that right now!!!!!

Also, a big shout out to Anthea Bell for doing such a fantastic job is translating this from German into English. 

However, the book does has its fair share of flaws. The biggest of which is that the whole concept of time travel seemed a bit too hastily put together and not very well thought out. Gwyneth is meant to be the last gene carrier. So what happens after that? Does that mean no one will ever have the ability to travel back in time ever again? So then what's the whole point of time travel if there's only meant to be 13 people who can do it (12 spots with one set of twins so 13 people)? That whole thing felt a bit too small to warrant a whole secret organization that supposedly encompassed all the famous people in history including Isaac Newton.

There were several plot twists that were carefully seeded throughout the book by Gier but unfortunately, they were a bit too obvious for my liking. I spotted almost all of them, some which were left unrevealed by the end of the first book so I suppose they will be brought out into the open in subsequent books. 

Overall: 4/5

Overall, Ruby Red is a solid book. While this book is not perfect by any means, it was a really fast-paced enjoyable read and as soon as I reached the end, I was immediately reaching for its sequel Sapphire Blue
Saturday, February 8, 2014

Library Haul: I lack self-control

Yesterday, I went to my local library for the first time in a very very long time. The last two and a half years, I was busy with university clinical placements and never had the time to read novels let alone go to a library. But today, on a whim, I decided to go and see what I can find.

And I came home with 14 books.

I clearly need to exercise more willpower!!!

In my defense, however, I could have easily walked home with more than that. Once I got a pile from waist to chin (the most I can hold in a single pile), I determinedly walked past shelves that I would have otherwise browsed. Also, I think I ended up putting 4 or 5 books back on the shelves. But yes, it was difficult carrying the whole pile from library to my car. 

Click below to find out what books I got!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: Divergent (Book #1) by Veronica Roth

Source: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Series: Divergent (Book #1)
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: 28th February 2012
Tagged under: YA-fiction, dystopian, 2014 read, trilogy marathon
Pages: 487
Buy at: Amazon

One choice can transform you...

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue - Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is - she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are - and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves... or it might destroy her. 

Review [may contain spoilers]

Divergent is the first book I picked up this year. I chose it for a lot of reasons. It has received overwhelmingly rave reviews both from Goodreads as well as booktubers that I follow. It is a complete series, which means I could marathon it in the remaining days of my vacation. It is dystopian and I wanted to try out this genre a bit more. 

In Divergent's dystopian Chicago, there are five separate factions, each identifiable by the defining characteristic of their members. The Dauntless, being fearless, acts as the security forces of the city. Amity, being the peaceful ones, cultivates the earth to supply the city with its resources. The Candor, ever so honest, govern the laws of society. The Erudite, with their thirst for knowledge, pursues research and teaching. The Abnegation, being absolutely selfless in every regard, are the politicians as they are the least likely of all five factions to be corrupt and take advantage of their powers.

Beatrice Prior, the protagonist of this series, has a very difficult decision ahead of her. She grew up in Abnegation with her parents and older brother Caleb but she has always known that she does not sui Abnegation's way of life. She did not have the selflessness, the patience or the serenity that her brother and parents all exhibit. But on the other hand, if she were to choose a different faction, she would be essentially saying goodbye to her family forever. After all, in Divergent, faction comes before blood. Always. 

As the book blurb states, 
One choice determines your loyalties - forever.
Every year, all sixteen-year-olds sit an aptitude test that will give them some guidance as to which faction is ideal for them. The result is confidential and does not dictate which faction you must join. However, given that you need to survive an initiation process before becoming a fully-fledged member, it is always advisable to stick to your aptitude test result.

Unfortunately for Beatrice, her aptitude results only made her indecisiveness worse. Her results were inconclusive and she could belong either Abnegation, Dauntless or Erudite. She was what society called a Divergent - something unique, something to be feared, something to be stamped out. She was advised to pick a faction, hide her abilities and never let anyone discover her secret. Because being labelled a Divergent meant more than an inconclusive test result, and Beatrice had to discover for herself exactly what and from whom she was hiding. 

On the day of choosing, Beatrice, or Tris as she renamed herself, chose Dauntless and must embrace her inner bravery and ignore her Abnegation trait of compassion for those around her and her Erudite trait of questioning everything she saw. While she was busy dealing with her identity and the initiation tests, something bigger is brewing in the world outside...

Overall, Divergent contained an intricate plot with a very strong heroine. The strength of the novel, for me, is the voice of the main character. Tris is strong, opinionated and not afraid to question what she observes around her. She is not afraid to take action to do what she thinks is needed and she was always quick to suspect that there may be something bigger going on. What's more, Tris is clearly human. She had her strength but also her weaknesses. There are moments where she showed compassion like an Abnegation and curiosity like an Erudite yet there are also other moments where she was quick to judge and cold or oblivious to the danger she was in. All of this made her a very relatable main character.

And it is through her voice, that I began to question what I was reading, sensing that something was brewing in the horizon but unsure as to what it was. Divergent, in my opinion, held a much more intricate plot than The Hunger Games. While on the surface, there are the rounds of initiation tests that Tris had to deal with, and the friends and enemies she made along the way; underneath it, there is another layer of mystery as the reader journeys with Tris to discover exactly what being a Divergent meant. But what really impressed me was the surprise at the end. Just when everything calmed down and I was near the end of the novel, Veronica Roth reveals her cards and turns everything you thought you knew about Divergent on its head.

Divergent, however, is not without its faults. While the emphasis on the initiation trials was exciting and full of twists and turns, I did feel it took up perhaps too much of the book. When I was reading it, I actually thought that was all the book was about and it wasn't until right at the end, did the true plot of the series rear its head. In addition, the world-building of this novel was a bit on the fantastical side. For the most part, I struggled to see how society could possibly function with just these five factions. And the cracks behind Erudite's perfect image I saw coming from a mile away. However, the voice of the protagonist really did cover up these flaws and make this a very enjoyable read.

Overall: 4.5/5

This is my second venture into the dystopian genre and for the most part, I really enjoyed this novel. The ending is definitely what bumped this book up from a 4 to a 4.5. As far as book ending goes, this one went off with an explosive bang and really leaves the reader eager for the next book.

What were your thoughts on this book? Comment in the box down below :)
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My 5 Reading Goals for 2014

I'm planning on (re)starting my reading journey by defining a few goals for myself. As I have mentioned in my last post, I did sign up to Goodreads' 100 books challenge but reaching that goal is not the problem. I simply felt I was reading books of similar genres and that I wasn't really expanding my horizons. I'm still keeping the 100 books challenge but I'm going to further expand on it below.

1. Goodreads 100 books challenge

So far this year, I have already finished 33 books (and that is not including rereads). I will put up my 2014-read list up on a separate page up the top soon so you can keep track along with me all the books I have read. But as you will probably find out, a lot of my books fit into the YA-fiction fantasy/dystopian series genre (it'll make more sense once you see my book list). But in addition to what I will usually read, I plan on tackling the following challenges below.

2. Read 10 classics

I am not a classics fan. Sure, my favourite book of all times is J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings but beyond that, there are not a lot of classics that I like. Even Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, which has the adoration of all my female friends, wasn't more than simply a semi-pleasant read for me. So I want to see if I can change my opinions on this genre (as I know there are a lot of awesome books in here). My goal is to read 10 classics and since we're already in February, it's sort of roughly 1 classic a month with 1 month as a back-up just in case. If I find this experience enjoyable, I would definitely like to expand my classics goal next year.

3. Read 10 books from the genres Science Fiction, Crime/Mystery, Memoir & Historical Fiction

Again, these are genres I don't usually read from at all so I would like to expand my horizons. There are a couple of books I already have in mind such as Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series, Frank Herbert's Dune (I couldn't finish this one back in high school) and Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling. The one genre I did not include here is "Horror" and that is because I have a very low fear threshold. I have only watched one Japanese horror film and that was on a roadtrip with my university friends. Boy did they regret forcing me to watch it. I was so terrified I couldn't sleep and if I couldn't sleep, no one in the entire household was going to get any sleep either. I remained terrified for about two months after the incident too. I have read one of Stephen King's short stories and even that gave me a mild fright. So yeah, I'm not too keen on branching in the horror genre. But everything else is fair game.

4. Read at least 1 play and 1 book of poetry

Believe it or not, I really enjoyed my English classes back in high school. Poetry analysis really made me appreciate something that initially just didn't make sense to me. And poring over Shakespeare's plays line by line really made me enjoy them a lot more than I would normally have. So yeah, I would like to at least read another play and a book of poetry by the end of the year.

5. Write reviews for at least half of the books I read

I find sometimes when I go on a reading spree, I tend to just consume a lot of books without much thought, which I think defeats the whole purpose of reading books in the first place. So by forcing myself to sit down and actually write out my thoughts on the books I've read, I think I'll be able to gain a better appreciation of the books and also learn from them a little.

So yeah, that's all my reading goals for this year. They don't seem like a lot but given what I've been reading for the past month, it might take a lot of willpower to change my ways and try something new. I'll keep you guys posted.

Until next time!
Tuesday, February 4, 2014

OCR: It's not a disease, it's a way of life

Hi, my name is Witless Fool (yeah, don't ask, that's a blog post in itself) and I am an obsessive compulsive reader (hence the name of this blog). I love books. I love reading them. I love the endless potentials they contain. I love being able to pick one up and escape into the world that exists between the covers.

In short, I love books.

I think I fell in love with reading way back in the later years of primary school. That was roughly when I managed to have enough of a grasp of the English language to truly enjoy the process of reading. Some of my favourite childhood books are Brian Jacques' Redwall series, Joanna Campbell's Thoroughbred series, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events to name just a few.

Then high school came around and I continued to read during my spare times, even during the busy final years. Isobelle Carmody, Jennifer Fallon, Juliet Marillier, J.R.R Tolkien, Nora Roberts, Linda Howard are just some of the standouts that come to mind as I type this post. I was in the midst of developing my taste and personal preferences so I was eager to try my hands on everything, including a brief foray into science fiction before I decided nope, I'm definitely more of a fantasy and romance type of gal.

Sadly, in the past few years of my life, I have done very little reading. Real life, and in my case, university, got in the way of my reading. It wasn't until at the end of last year, when I finally finished university that I have had the time to sit down and finally start reading again. And boy, did I miss reading.

I joined GoodReads' 100 books challenge this year and already, I'm sitting at 32 books and counting. The more I read, the more I realize how much I've missed out on over the past 6 years. But looking back on what I've read so far this year, I've realized I have been sticking predominantly to YA-fiction that's either fantasy or dystopian. I want to broaden my horizons again as well as catching up on the good books that have come out in the past that I haven't read.

So here's the goal of this blog: to keep track of all my reads, my thoughts on them, and plans for future reads. I'm also quite keen to tackle some classics (as I am genuinely not a classics fan) as well as revisit some genres such as science fiction that I abandoned a long time ago. I'm still sticking to my 100 books challenge plus also do some rereads of some old-time favourites.

In my next post, I think I'll do my 2014 reading goals.

So yeah, welcome to my blog, thanks for dropping by and wish me luck! :)