Monday, March 31, 2014

March Wrap-Up

Another month flashes past and we're now 25% of the way into this year. What on earth happened? 

Work-wise, I've finished my first rotation and now am up in the rural region, working in a secondment, though still doing emergency medicine. It is definitely very different from the hustle and bustle of the city and all those lessons back in med school about rural having barriers in terms of access to health care - boy do I see it now. But all in all, I'm enjoying myself.

March Recap

Book-wise, this month I only read a total of 10 books, which are listed below. My speed definitely dropped down compared to last month - mostly because as work ramps up, I'm finding myself with less and less time to actually sit down and read. (Links are to the reviews I wrote)
Next month, I have a feeling my reading will be roughly the same speed as this month or even slower. Now that I'm living away from home in this rural town. I'll probably have even less time than usual. But there are some really good books that are sitting in my TBR pile so I'll be sure to make time for reading!

Here's to hoping everyone has a good reading month!
Sunday, March 30, 2014

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Source: Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Series: Anna and the French Kiss (Book #1) - all can be read as standalones
Publisher: Dutton Jevenile
Release date: December 2 2010
Tagged under: 2014 read, 2014 favourites, contemporary, YA-fiction, romance, 4.5
Buy at: Amazon, The Book Depository

Paris was not where she wanted to be...

Anna was looking forward to her senior year in Atlanta, where she has a great job, a loyal best friend, and a crush on the verge of becoming more. So she's less than thrilled about being shipped off to boarding school in Paris - until she meets Etienne St. Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Etienne has it all... including a serious girlfriend. 
But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with their long-awaited French kiss?

Book Review [Spoiler-Free]

This book, and Stephanie Perkins in general, have been recommended to me so many times that I finally bowed down to temptation and picked it up. Once I started the book, it was so hard to put it back down. I think I eventually read the book in the span of a day, finishing well into the early mornings (and knowing full well I had to get up early for work).

Yes, it is just that good.

When Anna's father told her he is packing her off to complete her senior year in Paris, she is not pleased. Everything that she knows and loves about her life - her little brother, her mother, her best friend, her potential boyfriend, her job - is back home is Atlanta whereas she is stuck in a foreign country where she doesn't even speak the language. Yet somehow, through her trials and tribulations, Anna manages to pick herself up, make some new friends and meet a seemingly perfect prince charming Etienne St. Clair who has everything - looks, charms, intelligence, and a serious girlfriend. Join Anna as she journeys through a turbulent year of highs and lows and find herself in a completely new country.

In short, this book is simply adorable. The story is incredibly easy to slip into and you feel as Anna does as she battles with the feeling of being utterly alone in a foreign city. She is a well-developed character and everything she does, including going to the bread table instead of facing the French chef, is so plausible - it feels like just the kind of thing a new expatriate would do. (I still remember the day I snuck out of primary school in my first year in Australia and walked all the way to my dad's workplace instead of facing the potential wrath of my teacher because I forgot my pencil case - I didn't realize at that time Australian teachers are not that strict)

And Etienne St. Clair. *sigh* What can I say about him? He's the perfect boy everybody wants to be stuck overseas with. He's friendly, charming and so helpful when you feel lost. I really appreciated the way Stephanie Perkins established the relationship between Etienne and Anna. There is no instant click or love at first sight. The pair spend a good portion of the book as really good friends, each with their own problems. Stephanie Perkins manages the perfect balance between chemistry and that dangerous zone of "unrealistic romance." There are countless beautiful yet understated moments in this book and I won't spoil them - you'll have to read the book to enjoy the experience yourself!

And perhaps that is one of the best features of this book - the ever changing shift of circumstances as the characters all continue to grow and the dynamics of their relationships change. Nothing is straight forward in this book and that's the way it should be - life is rarely easy and march on in a straight line. Despite the fact that yes, this is a very familiar premise, Stephanie Perkins manages to keep everything real and at the same time, interesting.

Overall: 4.5/5

This book definitely lives up to the hype. I think Maureen Johnson, who wrote the praise at the back of the book summarised it perfectly when she stated:
"Very sly. Very funny. Very romantic. You should date this book." 
Friday, March 28, 2014

Feature Follow Friday: Take a Picture

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 NJ Kinny and Mo Books, so make sure you check them out too.

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

Activity of the Week: Take a Pic

This is a picture of my city that I took during my grad dinner at the end of last year. Three guesses which city I'm in! :D

Which picture did you pick for this Feature Follow Friday? Leave a comment and/or link below and I'll be sure to check it out!
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Review: The Temptation of Lila and Ethan by Jessica Sorensen

The Temptation of Lila and Ethan by Jessica Sorensen

Series: The Secret (#3) - all can be read as standalones
Publisher: Sphere / Hachette Australia
Release Date: May 13 2014 (Already released in US on October 22 2013)
Tagged Under: 2014 read, contemporary, new adult, romance, review copy, 3.5
Pages: 320

He's everything she never expected

Ella's best friend Lila has always been a good girl who likes pretty clothes and preppy boys. But ever since the first day she met Micha's best friend Ethan, she hasn't been able to stop thinking about him. 
Girls have always flocked to Ethan - but never princesses like Lila. And until Lila came into his life he never wanted them to. From the outside  the two couldn't seem more different, but somehow they have a connection deeper and more intense than anyone could have imagined. 
Can two people from such dramatically different worlds really have a love that lasts?

Book Review [Spoiler-Free]

The Temptation of Lila and Ethan started off the expected route. Girl from a privileged yet unloved background. Boy from the other side of the town with no real plan in life. Yet somehow, their worlds collide and they realize they have discovered something in each other that they have never expected.

But then Jessica Sorensen took the reader on a journey that was unexpected but magical just the same.
Beauty. Vanity. Perfection. Three words my mother adores. They mean more to her than her husband, her daughters, and life. Without these attributes, she thinks she'd be better off dead.
Lila appears like the perfect spoilt princess on the outside: designer clothes and accessories, perfect complexion with platinum blonde hair. Underneath it all, however, she is hiding some terrible scars. She is under constant pressure from her parents to pick up her game and walk down a path that they deem suitable. With no support from them, and her best friend out of town to pursue her own happiness, Lila is slowly spiraling out of control with her previously hidden habits.
I feel stuck. Trapped in the same place, unable to move. In a life I'm not sure I want, yet I can't seem to figure out how to change it.
Ethan, on the other hand, has his own demons to deal with. Having uprooted himself from his previous life in order to escape the hurt and regret, he still faces reminders from his past. He never thought he would consider a serious relationship - let alone one with someone like Lila. They were friends - some might even consider them best friends - why change the dynamics?

This is very much an emotionally driven story about two broken people from different walks of life meeting and finding solace in each other. Jessica Sorensen delivers very well-developed characters, each with more than their fair share of baggage. As the events slowly unfold and the characters reveal their story piece by piece, you as the reader do become engrossed in their lives and perhaps understand a bit better how they turned out the way they did.

A big theme in this book is about letting go of the burden of the past in order to grab onto the opportunities of the future. And it is clear how these characters' past have shaped their present and why it might be difficult for them to let go. While some readers may roll their eyes and find Lila's problems all first-world, I really did relate with her character and appreciate how psychological neglect and abuse have affected the decisions she made. Yes, some of them are pretty stupid bordering on unrealistic, yet we see or hear on the news people like her in real life all the time. 

Ethan, as well, is such a sweet well thought-out character and I know more than a few hearts will melt as the story progresses. And trust me, there are plenty of romantic scenes to keep readers happy and their hearts aflutter. Warning though, there are some pretty explicit scenes in here that may not be suitable for younger YA-readers. 

Also there are certain adult themes in this story that may upset or bother some readers if they are not forewarned. I felt that is the real letdown of this entire story is that although the issue of sexual assault and rape is repeatedly mentioned in the book, it is never dealt with in the appropriate manner. Maybe Sorensen is trying to raise awareness by showing how poor the general public's perception of this issue is. But nevertheless, this may strike a nerve with some readers.

Overall: 3.5/5

It is a very enjoyable read and I really did relate to the characters. And I really did enjoy Sorensen's style of writing. I think the reason I'm not bumping this story any higher is because while enjoyable, nothing particularly stood out to me to make this an extremely memorable book. I enjoyed it, I'll probably go on and complete the Secret series and I'll recommend it to friends looking for contemporary new adult romance. But it didn't have that wow factor to make it a solid read or make it onto my favourites shelf.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of the ebook was provided to me by the author and publisher in exchange of an honest review. The views expressed above are entirely my own and are in, no way, affected by the source of this book.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top Ten Things on My Bookish Bucket List

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

This week, the topic is for us to list the top ten things on our bucket list book-wise. It can be blogging-related, book-related or writing-related. So here are the 10 things that came to mind :)

1. Own a personal library collection

Now this doesn't have to be as impressive as Jay Walker's personal library collection (now that one is a masterpiece - google image "world's greatest personal library"). But someday maybe, when I get my own place, I'd like to have a room dedicated to the library with floor to ceiling bookshelves lining all the walls (ideally with one of those rolling ladders too).

2. Read all the books on Time 100 list of the 100 best novels

I think I went through the list recently and discovered I've only read a handful of the books on that list, so I'm hoping to rectify that!

3. Meet more authors and attend book signings

I think the only book of mine that is signed was by Isobelle Carmody and that was only because she came to my high school for a talk. But hopefully, once I get more free time under my belt, I'll be able to indulge in my bookish hobbies.

4. Be part of a book club

I'm not very good at joining things and regularly participating. But I'd love to join a book club one day (again, when I'm more free) and participate with other people - I don't mind if this is in person or online.

5. To build a well-established book blog

I don't have a certain figure as to how many followers I would like to have or how many unique visitors. Since I'm just starting out, I guess I just hope my blog is here to stay and that it'll continue to grow.

6. Have a better online presence

Going hand in hand with the previous goal, I think I'm still at the learning process when it comes to building my online presence, using social media and interacting with fellow book lovers out here on the world wide web.

7. Write and (hopefully) publish a novel

Clearly, a lot of us book bloggers (and even non-bloggers) have this goal. But *shrug* it's just something I'm very interested in and maybe, one day, it'll happen.

8. Get a better grasp of the English grammar

Grammar has always been the thing that has eluded my grasp. Even during high school, I would get excellent grades but grammar would always be the thing that drags my average English grade down to an Asian F (A- for those wondering what an Asian F is).

9. Get into new genres that I'm not too familiar with

This is similar to the 2014 book goals I had about expanding into new genres and trying books that I normally wouldn't try. I still haven't read a classic yet (I don't think) so I still need to do that.

10. Get to the point where publishers will send me ARC copies :D

Well, that's the dream, isn't it? :P

Anyway, what were your top ten bookish bucket list goals? Leave a comment or link below and I'll be sure to check it out!
Friday, March 21, 2014

Feature Follow Friday: My Reading Habits

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 My Midnight Fantasies and Fathomless Reveries, so make sure you check them out too.

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

Question of the week: my reading habits

How have your reading habits changed in the past few years? Did you get interested in a new genre? Do you read more? Less? Why do you think your habits changed, if they did.
1. Primary school
I was really mostly into children's books, duh. I was obsessed with horses back then and The Saddle Club, Thoroughbred, the Silver Brumby series, were part of my staple reading regimen. But I also read other series too like the Redwall series, a Series of Unfortunate Events and of course, Harry Potter.

2. Secondary school
High school was when I really fell in love with reading and tried a variety of different genres. I was initially a big romance fan and consumed pretty much every thing that was written by Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Diana Palmer and Elizabeth Lowell. I then discovered my love for fantasy with The Lord of the Rings remaining my favourite book of all times. This was when I also discovered some amazing fantasy authors like Jennifer Fallon, Sara Douglas and Juliet Marillier. I read plenty of contemporary YA novels like Saving Francesca and Tomorrow, when the War began. I briefly dabbled in science fiction and classics but didn't really fall in love with either.

3. University
This was when I really fell off the band wagon and pretty much stopped reading for six years! In my defence, I was still actively reading, even though it was all medical textbooks.

4. The Present
Now that university is over, I'm hopping back on the band wagon and am catching up on all the great reads I've been missing out on. I'm finding myself reading a lot of YA and fantasy lately but I hope to branch out once more.

What are your reading habits and how have they changed in the past few years? Leave me a comment/link below and I'll be sure to check it out!
Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Source: Don't Even Think About It
by Sarah Mlynowski

Don't Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

Series: Don't Even Think About It (Book #1)
Publisher: Orchard Books
Release Date: May 1 2014 [Already released in US on March 11 2014]
Tagged under: 2014 read, review copy, YA-fiction, contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, 3
Pages: 338

This is the story of how we became freaks...

When Class 10B got their flu shots, they expected some side effects. Maybe a sore arm. Maybe a headache. 
They definitely didn't expect to get telepathy. 
But suddenly they could hear what everyone was thinking. Their friends. Their teachers. Their parents. Now they all know that Tess has a crush on her best friend, Teddy. That Mackenzie cheated on Cooper. That Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper. Some of them will thrive. Some of them will break. None of them will ever be the same.

Book Review [Relatively Spoiler-Free]

The premise of this book is what immediately grabbed my attention. A whole class of students who are suddenly privy to every thought that comes into your head - it gives a whole new meaning to thinking out loud. Secrets lose their definition. Skeletons in the closet come tumbling out. I was interested to find out how these kids would react to and utilise their telepathic powers. 

It is something we all do without much thought. Every year, with the flu season looming over the horizon, we all line up to get our vaccination. The students in Class 10B did so - some with less enthusiasm than others - but once the needle is in and a band-aid is slapped over the site, they all trickled away from the nurse's office thinking that's the end of it.

Except it wasn't.

Slowly, over the next couple of days, the kids started hearing thoughts from everyone around them. Whether they were benign comments like the tacos might look like cat barf, but they taste really good to serious bombshells such as spilling out the fact that you cheated on your boyfriend over the summer.

This book is a fairly easy read and is obviously targeting the younger end of the YA-market. The narration can be a bit odd but if you read with an open mind, you might find yourself actually enjoying it. For me, I found the we-narration of the book very interesting and potentially one of the highlights of this book. My favourite section is still the opening chapter where as a reader, you're trying to pin-point who's the narrator and then the author hits you with this -
Maybe you think Olivia is telling this story. Or Mackenzie, or Cooper, or someone else in our home-room you haven't met. It could be any of us. But it's not. It's all of us. We're telling you the story together. It is the only way we know how. This is the story of how we became freaks. 
It's how a group of Is became a we.
The book starts out strong and it's highly entertaining journeying with the characters as they all, one at a time, come into their powers. Their reactions are humorous (and juvenile at times, which is why I think the book is geared towards younger readers) and they realize straight away that they must come up with a plan of some sort in order to deal with this. The fact that they come together and discuss things and make decisions as a group makes it feel like a collective effort. 

Amongst all the collective thoughts, the reader never loses sight of the fact that these characters are all individuals that have their own problems to deal with. Mackenzie has to deal with the fact that now every mind-reader in her class knows that she cheated on her boyfriend. Tess is desperate to figure out if Teddy, her best friend who she has been crushing on for ages, likes her or not. 

What prevented me from enjoying the book more is the fact that as the story progresses, the majority of the characters stayed where they are. Apart from a couple of individuals who matured and grew from the experience, the rest were too busy caught up in their own issues. Pi, the ring leader, is sick of being number two in the school and used her abilities to her advantage on a test, yet she gets disgruntled when other telepaths used the same ability on her. There is a lot of how can this help me, revealing an ugly and petty side to having telepathy. In addition, the ending is a bit abrupt, leaving the story open for a sequel. 

Overall 3/5

Overall, it's still a fun easy story. It is not what I expected it to be when I initially started but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I definitely think it's more for an younger audience. 

Disclaimer: A complimentary advanced copy of the ebook was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The views expressed above are entirely my own and are, in no way, affected by the source of this book.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Top Ten Books on My Autumn TBR list

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

I know everyone in the northern hemisphere is doing their spring TBR list which sounds cooler, but here in Australia, we're heading into the cooler seasons so I had to adjust my title accordingly. Once again, I feel like this is going to be my shelf of shame as some of these books were also featured in a previous post - top ten popular authors I've never read. Anyhow, let's just get this list up and out.

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

Yes, I know, what is wrong with me? Why haven't I read this book yet?! I don't know the answer to that either. But I'm definitely aiming to get this read in Autumn.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

You don't need to say anything. I feel the shame already. I've made a start earlier this month and I will finish this, I promise.

3. A Game of Thrones series by G.R.R. Martin

I need more high fantasy saga in my life and everyone has been raving about this series. I know there's going to be a lot of deaths in this series but hopefully, I'll be prepared.

4. Pivot Point & Split Second by Kasie West

I have heard such good things about this series. The premise sounds really interesting, and the excerpts I've heard book bloggers and booktubers quote just makes me really excited. I can't wait to get started on these.

5. Prodigy and Champion by Marie Lu

I read Legend at the beginning of the year and I absolutely loved it. The only reason I didn't move immediately was because I wanted to give the dystopian genre a rest and chose to read The Silver Linings Playbook. I really want to get back to this world.

6. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

At the time of typing this post (which is a few days before Tuesday), I am in the middle of Anna and the French Kiss and so far, I'm really enjoying it. I think the people on the train all think I'm a bit crazy whenever I giggle or visibly cringe as I read on the commute to and from work.

7. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

I got this book awhile ago and I've been meaning to make a start on it. I just got distracted ... by other shining books. But I'll come back to this soon, I promise!

8. Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver

Another series I've heard amazing things about and that I want to get into. I think it's dystopian? But from the book summary, it seems some of fantasy as well. I guess I'll find out when I read the books!

9. Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Another book I've heard a lot of good things about. I genuinely don't know much about this series but I want to give it a try.

10. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

I've ready to fill the Sarah Dessen hole in my reading experience. I heard this is one of her best works and comes highly recommended.

So that's my top ten books on my autumn TBR list. Clearly, I cheated as there's actually more than ten books mentioned on this list but I reckon those belonging to a series can be grouped under one. :P

What's on your spring/autumn TBR list? Leave a comment/link down below and I'll be sure to check it out!
Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Series Review: The Rift Runners series by Jennifer Fallon

The Rift Runners series by Jennifer Fallon

Comprising of #1 The Undivided, #2 The Dark Divide & #3 Reunion

Publisher: HarperVoyager
Tagged under: fantasy, 2014 read, 2014 favourites, trilogy marathon
Buy at: Amazon

The Undivided are divided...

Psychic twin, Ronan and Darragh, have been separated by the traitor Druid, Amergin, who has kidnapped Ronan and thrown him through a rift into another reality. Now time is running out for Darrah. If Ronan isn't found soon, they will booth die. But his twin brother is lost in a reality where Druids are legend, and there is no magic. Somehow, before the Autumn Equinox, they must find one young man in a world of six billion people... 
Meanwhile, Ren Kavanagh has no notion of where he comes from. He is plagued by strange injuries that appear from nowhere and everyone is convinced he is deliberately harming himself for attention. Then he meets the enticing and mysterious Trasa, and before he can figure out how it happened, he is in serious trouble - arrested for arson and possibly murder. 
Rescue will come from a completely unexpected direction. Ren is about to discover more about his origins than he bargained for, meet the twin brother he never knew he had, and discover nobody is what they seem, especially his new friend, the half-faerie, half-human Trasa... Amergin's daughter.

Book Review [Spoiler-Free]

In recent weeks, it feels like I have not stopped talking about Jennifer Fallon. Of course, she is one of my favourite authors and when I stumbled across this trilogy in the library, I was super excited and grabbed them at once. They are quite thick volumes, each numbering over 500 pages, but once I started, I simply had to keep going. I finished all three books in succession over the span of roughly 48 hours.

Jennifer Fallon is known for her high fantasy sagas encompassing multiple characters, each with their own story line which weaves and intersects with one another, culminating in a climax with a hint of something more to come. There is a lot of politics thrown into the mix too, ensuring there is battle of wits as well as of the brawn. Her Hythrun chronicles, both the Demon Child trilogy and the Wolfblade trilogy, are some of my favourite high fantasy sagas to reread.

With the Rift Runners trilogy, Jennifer Fallon is taking a bold step away from high fantasy and has produced a work that is probably more suitably classified as urban fantasy. Or a mix, I'm not quite sure. Ronan and Darragh, the psychic twins currently designated as the Undivided, have been separated into different realities - with one stuck as a young man in a world of six billion people. From that number alone, it doesn't take a genius to work out that Fallon is writing about our reality. Darragh, on the other hand, is in a world filled with druid magic and an uneasy treaty between the magical folks and humans. Everyone has their own agenda and beneath the courteous smiles on the surface, schemes are brewing - for the Autumn Equinox is not that far away.

I really enjoyed this series. Although I'm a huge fan of high fantasy, I found myself enjoying the chapters set in our world a bit more. The characters, across all realities, are engaging and easy to relate to - even those that you dislike. It is interesting to see the struggle between the two camps, one keen on keeping Ronan locked away in a world without magic and another desperate to find him in time and bring him home. Both sides have their reasons for their goal. It is not a straight case of black versus white.

The Rift Runners series is probably targeted more towards a YA crowd. The style of writing is not as dense as her high fantasy sagas, which makes it easy for the reader to fly across the pages. The characters themselves, too, are a bit younger than some of Fallon's previous works, with most of the main characters teenagers or just above the legal age. The themes and plot lines, as well, are not as complicated and intricately set-up as the Tide Lord quartet or the Demon Child trilogy, but for a younger audience seeking to try out Jennifer Fallon, this is probably a great series to start with.

The ending, in typical Jennifer Fallon style, ties up things yet leaves the reader with questions about what happens next. Since Fallon's next project is apparently to revisit the Hythrun chronicles, I'm not sure if there will be a sequel in the future.

Conclusion: 4.5/5 as a series [Book #1 5/5] Book #2 4.5/5 [Book #3 4.5/5]

The Rift Runners series is probably going to be one of my favourite reads this year. It is entertaining, engaging and once I started, it was difficult for me to put the books down. While this series is probably more geared towards the YA market and more urban fantasy than high fantasy, it's still a really well-written trilogy with lots of actions and intricate story-lines. For YA-readers who don't mind the multiple characters and interwoven storylines that are key feature of Fallon's works, I'd highly recommend you to at least give this series a go.
Friday, March 14, 2014

Feature Follow Friday: Favourite Outdoor Reading Spot

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 Sarcasm & Lemons and Sylvia Hubbard, 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: Favourite Outdoors Reading Spot

Spring is in the air! Show off your favourite outdoors reading spot. If you don't go outside... well where else do you read that isn't inside your house? We want pics!
Unfortunately, work plays a huge role in my life at the moment. So whenever I am not at work, I'm usually curled up at home, resting after a long day (by lying comatose on the couch). Whenever I do get the chance to read, it's almost always at home.

Out of necessity, the outside spot that I frequently find myself reading is on the commute to and from work. So yup, I'm talking about train stations, the trains and then the trams. Is that a bit sad?

Anyway, enough about me! What is your favourite outdoor reading spot? Leave a comment or link below and I'll be sure to check it out. Perhaps it'll give me some inspiration to find a better outdoor reading spot :D
Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book Review: Oracle of Philadelphia by Elizabeth Corrigan

Source: Oracle of Philadelphia
by Elizabeth Corrigan

Oracle of Philadelphia by Elizabeth Corrigan

Series: Earthbound Angels (Book #1)
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Release Date: 20th March 2013
Tagged under: 2014 read, YA-fiction, mythology, fantasy, 4, review copy
Pages: 222
Buy at: Amazon

How much is one good soul worth?

Carrie works at a diner in South Philadelphia, dispensing advice to humans and angels wise enough to seek her counsel. But there are some problems that even the best advance can't solve. 
Her latest supplicant, Sebastian, is unique among those who have sought her aid. He sold his soul to a demon in exchange for his sister's life, but his heart remains pure. 
Carrie has lived for millennia with the knowledge that her immortality is due to the suffering of others, and she cannot bear to see another good man damned when it is within her power to prevent it. 
In order to renegotiate his contract, Carrie must travel into the depths of hell and parley with the demons that control its pathways. As the cost of her journey rises, Carrie must determine how much she is willing to sacrifice to save one good soul. 

Book Review [Spoiler-Free]

Reading from an author for the first time is always a refreshing experience. There is always that element of surprise because I'm never quite sure what I'm in for. There is little expectation yet at the same time, there is no guarantee of a good time either. It's really 50/50. 

I found that I strangely enjoyed this novel.

Carrie, as the title of the book suggests, is the Oracle - the one from whom all the legends in the various cultures and religions originated. She has been roaming the earth for the past eight thousand years or so, settling in different spots for a while before moving on again. In modern times, she finds herself running a diner in South Philadelphia, with only her two friends, the angel Gabriel and the demon Bedlam to keep her company. That is all about to change when Sebastian, a seemingly ordinary human, walks into her diner and changes her resolve about not interfering in demonic trades of souls.

To begin with, this is an easy read. I really didn't have any struggle in getting the hang of the world or the state of balance between the angels and demons. Carrie's narrative throughout the book is soothing and calm. I found the transitions between the past and the present quite smooth and nicely done. Information came when you needed and they never interrupted with the flow of the story. The characters were all very well developed.

The story itself is interesting to say the least. While there is never any high-powered action that is common in some of the other urban fantasy works of late, the whole premise of the story is entertaining and uncovering Carrie's past as well as her relationships with the individual angels and demons kept me engaged for the majority of the novel. That, along with the soothing narrative, is why I said this is an easy light read.

I guess the reason I found my own enjoyment of this novel puzzling is because as I was reading, while I can find facets of the novel that made the novel enjoyable, I could also spot inconsistencies or faults that could just as easily make it not so enjoyable for others.

The main one being: you really do have to read this book with an open mind.

Not being religious myself, I didn't really have any qualms with Corrigan's twists on ancient history and the way she portrayed the angels and demons. In fact, I quite liked most of the twists she threw in there, especially the big one at the end. However, I'm not quite sure if that can be said about every reader out there. While I don't think this will raise the hackles of Christians the way The Da Vinci Code does, I still think some people may find the world in the Oracle of Philadelphia wanting.

Secondly, Corrigan wrote some beautiful passages in the book, with this one being my favourite:
I had spent millennium after millennium standing on the sidelines, doing nothing with my powers for fear of making the world a worse place or fear of losing my own comfort. I needed to know that I believed in something, that I stood for anything other than being some kind of cosmic doormat. And maybe I needed to risk losing everything in order to discover what I had.
And some of her descriptions in the world about the settings are amazingly detailed. Yet that didn't carry across to everything. Some of the angels and demons didn't get any description beyond their hair and eye colour, making it hard for me to visualise them. But that didn't detract too much from the overall experience.

Overall: 4/5

I really enjoyed this book. The writing for the majority is beautiful and Corrigan's twist on things interesting. I would recommend it to readers who are looking for urban fantasy and who won't be too fussed by the lack of fast-paced drama or action.

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of the ebook was provided to me by the author and publisher in exchange of an honest review. The views expressed above are entirely my own and are in, no way, affected by the source of this book. 
Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Source: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Series: Robert Langdon (Book #3) - all can be read as standalones
Publisher: Bantam Press
Release date: September 15 2009
Tagged under: 2014 read, mystery or thriller, adult fiction, 3
Pages: 509
Buy at: Amazon

What was lost will be found...

Washington DC: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned at the last minute to deliver an evening lecture in the Capitol Building. Within moments of his arrival, however, a disturbing object - gruesomely encoded with five symbols - is discovered at the epicentre of the Rotunda. It is, he recognises, an ancient invitation, meant to beckon its recipient towards a long-lost world of hidden esoteric wisdom. 
When Langdon's revered mentor, Peter Solomon - philanthropist and prominent mason - is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes that his only hope of saving his friend's life is to accept this mysterious summons and follow wherever it leads him 
Langdon finds himself quickly swept behind the facade of America's most powerful city into the unseen chambers, temples and tunnels which exist there. All that was familiar is transformed into a shadowy, clandestine world of an artfully concealed past in which Masonic secrets and never-before-seen revelations seem to be leading him to a single impossible and inconceivable truth.

Book Review [Spoiler-Free]

I'm not a die-hard fan of Dan Brown's works nor am I someone who disdains his novels and reads them for the sole purpose of mocking them. I'm sort of in between. I know roughly what I'm in for when I reach for one of his books - an entertaining thriller ride with lots of cryptic puzzles. I'm not looking for anything more or anything less. If I gain some knowledge regarding lost cultures or historical events, then that's the extra icing on the cake.

Like the previous two books in the series, the story hits the ground running. The protagonist of the series, Robert Langdon is lured into a mad chase for a hidden secret by a seemingly all-knowing well-prepared antagonist. There are multiple forces against him: time, cryptic puzzles that when deciphered reveals another puzzle, the legal forces - in this case, the CIA - who seem to have their own agenda as they demand answers from Langdon and of course, the antagonist who seems to be always one step ahead of everyone else. This time, the story is located in the famous buildings of America's capital city and the Masonic secret that the bad guy is trying to get his hands on? It's buried out there somewhere.

At just over 500 pages, The Lost Symbol is a big book. And that isn't much of an issue as the novel is fast-paced with lots of action and short sentences, alternating quickly between various points of views as the reader races through the short chapters. The whole story takes place in the span of just under a day, with the majority of it occurring between 7PM and midnight so you can just imagine how much drama Dan Brown managed to pack into this thick volume of text.

In amongst all the action, Brown peppers the story with bits and pieces of information. Historical facts that make your eyes (along with the characters') widen as you discover what he is saying actually is true in real life. Brown is able to weave together a web of facts into an elaborate fictional set-up that beckons the reader to question what s/he knows and turn the American history, or at least the one I know, on its head.

It is, at the end of the day, a Dan Brown novel. I got what I wanted so I'm satisfied. Yet at the same time, I felt this book is not up to the standards of his previous works.

When I said in the paragraph above that the characters' eyes widen, I really wasn't kidding. I've lost count how many times someone in the book, mainly Langdon, points out something and the other characters either widen their eyes, gasp incredulously or feel their stomach drop as they realize the implications. And this always seems to happen at the end of a chapter. Also, the explanations, while useful, significantly slowed the pace of the story down and in a book this big, you can only do it so many times before it becomes a bit of an issue.

But these aren't even my main issues with this book. The problem I felt was the book read like a screenplay. Every chapter is short, like scenes out of a film. The plot reveals itself a little bit at a time, always with the foreshadowing that there's something much much bigger on the horizon that us the readers don't know about yet. It really felt at times Dan Brown enjoyed not telling us what's going on - perhaps a bit too much. In addition, the plot, like an action film, is the driving force behind this story. The characters, their backgrounds, personality and motivations, are secondary. And some of the characters and their actions really got on my nerves at times. You really didn't get to know their motivations until the last hundred pages, if at all.

Overall: 3/5

However, that is all what you get when you pick up a Dan Brown novel. He writes mystery thrillers for a reason - to entertain. And with this book, I think he did a mighty fine job of it. He accomplished what he has set out to do - entertain the masses with a mixture of facts and speculations. Plot aside, the rest of the book just didn't feel as strong as Angels and Demons or The Da Vinci Code, which is why this book didn't get a higher rating.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top Ten All Time Favourite Books in YA-genre

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

I hemmed and hummed over which genre I should pick for this week and I think in the end, the YA-genre triumphed over the fantasy genre. Mostly because I read extensively back in high school and I really needed this meme to remind me of some of my old-time favourites. It's been a while so I had to resort skimming through GoodReads to remind me of the books I read back in high school. So without further ado, here are my top ten all time favourite novels from the Young Adult section.

10. Letters from the Inside by John Marsden

Most people know John Marsden for his series Tomorrow When the War Began, which I think got made into a movie adaptation a few years back too. And yes, I really enjoyed that series too. Never got around to finishing it because towards the end, the volumes all seemed a bit repetitive to hold the attention span of a teenage girl in the midst of her final year exams. So I decided to pick another one of his works that I really enjoyed, Letters from the Inside. It is a weird format as it consists entirely of letters written back and forth between two pen pals but despite that, the story unfolds smoothly.

9. Jacko Moran Sniper by Ken Catran

This is sadly a relatively unknown novel that I picked up on a whim from the library back when I was in high school. I think it's out of print at the moment as well, which is a real shame as I really enjoyed this novel. It  isn't the type of thing I'd normally read but something about the story just stuck with me, even years after I read it. There's a quote that even now I remember, perhaps not the exact wording, but it goes something like this:
War didn't kill me. But peace did.
I'd really like to get my hands on a copy of this now but sadly, as I mentioned before, I can't seem to find it anywhere :(

8. Holes by Louis Sachar

I read this in class in primary school, I think, back before the movie adaptation came out. I remember being really frustrated as I didn't quite grasp the concept of the alternating between the present and the past. But then when the plot was revealed and everything clicked together, I was like, wow, this is awesome.

A few years later, our high school class went to watch a movie together. I initially started off thinking this plot seems strangely familiar and it wasn't until halfway through the film I realized this was a movie adaptation of a book I'd forgotten I'd read long ago.

7. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

I absolutely adored this book. Just thinking about it brings back fond memories. While admittedly, I initially picked up this book due to my obsession with horses, this story is really timeless and it is much more than just a story about a horse. Through the eyes of Black Beauty as he weather various jobs and lives, the reader was given a beautiful clear imagery of turn-of-the-century London.

6. The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques

No one does epic fantasy sagas for children better than Brian Jacques. I grew up with the Redwall series. While some outshine the others a little bit (Salamandastron, Triss, Lord Brocktree to name just a few), each one of them holds a special place in my heart. Admittedly, they are not for everyone and the beginning tends to be quite slow in terms of pacing, but for anyone looking for a good story to chase out the winter chill, these are fabulous.

5. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

I think Looking for Alibrandi may be Melina Marchetta's better known novel as that was made into a film back in 2000 (wow, that long ago?!) but I always enjoyed Saving Francesca just that little bit more. In this story, Francesca is attending a high school that has recently just turned co-ed (by that, it meant the school put in a female bathroom and that's it). If that wasn't enough for her to deal with, her mother has had a breakdown and spends most of the day curled up in her bed. This is just a really good empowering coming-of-age book.

4. His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

Consisting of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. Oh man, stumbling onto this on GoodReads makes me wonder how on earth I could have forgotten about this series. If you haven't heard of this series, please, whatever you do, do not watch the movie! The books are much better.

3. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

I picked up this series purely because a friend of mine mentioned the beginnings are funny. And she was right. I have yet to come across another series of books which start by trying to dissuade readers from continuing on with the book. These tales are funny, engaging and just an overall enjoyable read. I must admit I did fall off the band wagon at volume 9 and have yet to complete the series. But the earlier volumes remain some of my favourites and one day, when I get the chance, I'll definitely come back and finish this series.

2. Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

I only started reading Rick Riordan this year and already, his works are some of my all-time favourites. I loved the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series and again, you should avoid watching the movie adaptations. They took everything that was good out of the books and threw it all onto the ground. I feel like the only thing they took was Percy Jackson's name and uhm... that's about it.

I'm part way through The Heroes of Olympus series and I can't wait for the final volume to come out this year.

1. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

I don't think any YA-fiction list can be complete without J.K. Rowling's magical Harry Potter series. These books literally were the bookends my childhood. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was one of the first that was read out aloud in class by my primary school teacher, back when I was still a recent migrant from China and had no idea what she was reading. And the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out in the middle of my final year in high school. It was a stressful year but we all made time to read the book (I ended up reading till 4AM to avoid getting spoiled by anyone).

So there you go, these are my 10 picks from the YA-genre. What are some of your favourites? Or perhaps you picked a different genre to highlight this week. Either way, leave a comment/link down below and I'll be sure to check it out!
Sunday, March 9, 2014

Book Review: Seer of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

Source: Seer of Sevenwaters
by Juliet Marillier

Seer of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

Series: The Sevenwaters Novels (Book #5) - all can be read as standalones
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release date: December 1 2010
Tagged under: adult fiction, fantasy, mythology, 2014 read
Pages: 402
Buy at: Amazon

One last summer before her awaited destiny...

Sibeal has always known that she is destined for a spiritual life, and is committed to it with all her heart. The only thing left for her to do before she enters the nemetons is to spend the summer visiting her sisters, Muirrin and Clodagh, on the northern island of Inis Eala. 
But Sibeal has barely set foot on the island before a freak storm out at sea sinks a ship before her eyes. In spite of frantic efforts, only three survivors are fished alive from the water, and one of them, a man Sibeal names Ardal, clings to life by the merest thread. 
Life continues on the island, as it must, and Sibeal befriends Ardal as he begins to regain his health. But it becomes clear there is something unusual about the three shipwrecked strangers. Why won't the beautiful Svala speak? And what is it that the gravely ill Ardal can't remember - or won't tell? When a visiting warrior is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, and an attempt is made on Ardal's life, Sibeal finds herself a pawn in a deadly game. The truth will be far more astonishing than she could ever have believed - and the consequences for Sibeal unimaginable.

Book Review [Spoiler-Free]

After a long week at work, I had been all set to sit down and catch up on my backlog of books to review. I had even narrowed my selection down to either The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick or The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. But then, before I started, I decided to continue on reading Seer of Sevenwaters, which I started a couple of days ago, and suddenly found myself unable to put the book down. And once I was done, I went and devoured the next book in the series, Flame of Sevenwaters. Now I can't think of anything but the Sevenwaters novels so here's the review.

I first came across Juliet Marillier's work in high school when the cover of the first book in the series, Daughter of the Forest, caught my eyes. On a whim, I borrowed it, consumed it over the span of a couple of days and fell in love with Marillier's style of writing. In fact, as I type this, I couldn't help but think I should have mentioned her works in the Feature Follow Friday post as well. Some of her novels are retellings of old familiar fairy tales and others might be as well, though I'm not too familiar with the stories. Every single one is beautifully woven together as a series yet each one is a standalone, which is awesome and completely ruins me for waiting around for new releases in an unfinished series.

Back then, there were only three novels in the Sevenwaters Trilogy: Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows and Child of the Prophecy. Then, when I went to the library recently, I discovered that there are now three new books in the series. Seer of Sevenwaters is book #5 and it follows the story of Sibeal as she spends one summer before her sisters in Inis Eala before she returns home to lead a spiritual life. 

Wow, Juliet Marillier has not lost her magic.

The story, though seemingly simple on the surface, just continues to unfold and develop as you turn the pages. It is a slow but steady read and some readers may have issues with its pacing. Even myself, familiar with Marillier's style of writing, often find myself bouncing in my seat like a little child impatient for the storyteller to continue on with the tale. And Marillier does feel like one of those wise woman who sits by the fireplace and regales children both young and old with her stories. The language is stunningly beautiful, the imageries she create vivid and the characters are all strong and well-crafted. And when everything all comes to a head, as it does towards the last third of the novel, I was practically chewing on my fingernails as I willed my eyes to read faster so I can find out what happens. The ending is beautiful and justified, leaving me perhaps a little bit stunned as I did not see it coming at all. 

Plus, one of the best thing about Marillier's works are that they are all standalones so you can be assured of a decisive conclusion at the end of each novel. While they are all linked up to each other as part of the Sevenwaters series and characters from previous and future works feature in each other, you don't need to have read the previous ones in order to understand what's going on. These books never end in a cliffhanger nor do they give you the sense that it's one plot stretched thinly over several volumes because the publisher wants to make more money. Each novel has its own protagonists, its own obstacles, and its own unique set of adventures to tell.

All in all, I really did enjoy reading it and the book certainly does have Juliet Marillier's magical touch stamped all over its pages. However, I can't help but feel this volume is perhaps the weakest of all six novels in this series (only by a slight margin though). Sibeal, being a trainee for the spiritual life, is not a woman of headstrong action with a thirst for adventure, though she is nevertheless brave and fearless in the face of danger. And for a major part of this novel, I was afraid there wasn't going to be any adventures like the ones in the previous novels. Perhaps this is all due to the fact that this story did not take place in the familiar forests that us readers have come to know and love.

Also, I should note that these novels are not for everyone. I've already mentioned the issue of pacing and for those readers who love fast-action style of novels or are pressed for time when they read, I probably wouldn't recommend these. These works really do have that idyllic story-telling pace to them, which really needs patience and time for the reader to truly enjoy and love them. In addition, Juliet Marillier is unapologetic in her depiction of certain adult issues such as abuse and rape so if you aren't fans of those being in the books you read, I'd recommend you to steer clear. I still remember feeling semi-traumatized after my first read of Daughter of the Forest. (But not all of her works contain these themes, but I thought I should mention it just in case)

Overall: 4/5

It's a solid read and I always enjoy Juliet Marillier's works. However, I do accept that they are not to everyone's taste nor is Seer of Sevenwaters perhaps the best one to showcase. For those who are interested in trying some of her novels, I'd strongly recommend the original Sevenwaters Trilogy or even her other works such as the Bridei Chronicles. For the YA-fiction readers out there, try her YA works such as Wildwood Dancing or its sequel Cybele's Secret