No Big Surprise Here [A Review]

Little Emperors and Material Girls by Jemimah Steinfeld

jemimah steinfeld

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This is a book about China’s youth today, and it claims to change the way you see China. Well, it didn’t change mine, because I didn’t find any big surprise in there.

But maybe it’s because I already have a good sense of the Chinese culture, history and the country’s recent developments, be it through literature, the media, my own heritage or my interactions with young Chinese. So my view about the accuracy of that sub-title’s claim may not be entirely fair, if it had indeed been intended for an audience unfamiliar with the Chinese society. Perhaps what I can say is that the book’s portrayal of the youth in China today seems to corroborate with some of what I have seen, heard or read about.

VERDICT: This book offers a few insights into the lifestyle and mindset of youths in China today, if you have only been following the country’s economic development and neglected the social aspects. If you are already familiar with what’s happening in the Chinese society, the book will not do much for you. Regardless of which end you’re inclined towards, I’d caution that Steinfeld has highlighted but a few personal stories which she thinks are representative of the segment she has researched on. Therein lies the danger of one adopting a generalized view of Chinese youths based on Steinfeld’s interview anecdotes, because reliable public data is sorely missing – something which I do not blame the author for.



Cormoran Strikes Again! [A Review]

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

robert galbraith - career of evil

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I’m not sure where to start with this review, because I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since the beginning, and am now a Cormoran Strike fan, and J K Rowling’s latest book has created mixed feelings in me. So, I’ve decided to write this review in sentences that describe what I like and dislike about the book.

I like this better than The Silkworm, much to my relief, but I think The Cuckoo’s Calling is still better. 

I don’t like the parts written from the killer’s perspective, although it kept me guessing and trying to match his descriptions with the profiles of the four suspects. I’m not sure why I don’t like those parts – they just didn’t feel right.

I like the British wry humour Rowling has been able to insert in the story consistently through Cormoran Strike.

I don’t like the extra layer of emotional baggage Robin Ellacott has been given in this story, and I certainly don’t like her personal decision at the end! (I’m not going to spoil this for you though.)

I like the entertaining style and suspense that Rowling never fails to inject into her stories.

I don’t like the abrupt ending – the story had gone on for too long for it to have ended in such a flash.

VERDICT: If you are a Cormoran Strike fan like me (and especially if you had not liked The Silkworm as much), you won’t be disappointed with the pace of this book, barring the emotional bits on the part of Robin. 

For those who want to know a little about the story line, here’s an overview from Goodreads:

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Career of Evil is the third in the series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A mystery and also a story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.

Where is the Speculation? [A Review]

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

erika swyler - the book of speculation

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Frankly, I’m not sure how to categorize this book. There’s mystery, folklore and family drama all mixed up in it, and yet it wasn’t what I had expected when I picked up the book. 

The flow of the events was somewhat too slow for my liking, and the story was narrated in a melancholic tone that I didn’t take to. The mystery lasted for about half the book, because I had already guessed what was causing the family’s drowning problem by then, although I must say there was one confession that came as a surprise (this is part of the family drama bit and which I will not spoil for folks who are still going to read the novel). The folklore bit consisted mostly of mermaids and tarot cards (I guess that’s the reason for the allusion to “speculation”, in addition to the mystery bit). 

It’s a miracle I finished the book. I think what kept me going was my own curiosity about whether Swyler would be able to save the story by giving it an unexpected twist at the end, plus maybe the fact that I didn’t have a book that I really wanted to read on hand. Unfortunately, there was no unexpected twist to be had.

VERDICT: This book is definitely not for me but if you like a mix of mystery, folklore and drama, and don’t mind reading through 300-odd pages of melancholic narration, you might want to give it a chance. The bonus is a handful of illustrations (from Swyler herself I think) sprinkled throughout the book.

Here’s an overview of the story line (from Goodreads) for those who are still interested despite my short rant above:

Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a cliff that is slowly crumbling into the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks.

One day, Simon receives a mysterious book from an antiquarian bookseller; it has been sent to him because it is inscribed with the name Verona Bonn, Simon’s grandmother. Simon must unlock the mysteries of the book, and decode his family history, before fate deals its next deadly hand.



How to be an Original [A Review]

Originals by Adam Grant

adam grant - originals

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I’ve learnt a few interesting things from this book, and they sort of debunk the assumptions I’ve always had about non-conformists and how to be different.

First, successful non-conformists are not necessarily risk-takers. In fact, they are more likely to hedge and spread out their risks, so that they have a higher chance of success. 

Second, procrastination may be a good thing because it allows one to continually refine one’s ideas and solutions.

Third, your enemies may be more valuable as potential candidates for coalition than your frenemies – folks who sometimes agree with you, but oppose you at other times.

Fourth, devil’s advocates don’t work unless they are the real thing.

Fifth, venting your emotions will not help to calm you down but serves to fuel the emotions further.

But I think my biggest takeaway from the book was the chapter on how to nurture an original, and how we should teach children by linking their behaviours to the right values, instead of just setting rules.

These are but a few of the key points the author has attempted to highlight in eight chapters.

VERDICT: This books offers a few new insights (through examples) on how we can learn to be more of an original, and is written in a manner that’s easy to read and follow. Plus the author has included a section at the end of the book that summarizes what individuals, organizations and parents can do to create an environment that is more conducive for nurturing originals. If you’re looking for some ideas on how to do so, this book might help. Just be aware that like most books of this nature, the insights and tips will remain as insights and tips until you’re able to internalize them and practise them in life.


Covers make the book

Meet any serious reader and ask what she likes about a book. Her answer will inevitably be something about the content. Seldom will you get a response related to the design of the book’s cover, because no serious reader wants to be seen as being superficial (What? You mean you have nothing to say about the book’s content?).

Yet, more often than not, it is the cover that usually prompts me (and probably most people) to pick up a book to find out what it has to offer within its freshly minted pages. I’m human after all, and humans are known to be visual creatures, like it or not. An apt cover, whether because it is beautifully designed, eye-catching or simply representative of the book’s content, does not come by easily, and I salute the designers behind each great piece of art. Their work is one of the reasons why I still love physical books over digital ones.

Here are some book covers that I like. What are some of yours?

book covers - yellow-lighted bookshop book covers - colorless tsukuru tazaki book covers - ocean at the end of the lane

book covers - quiet   book covers - david and goliath  book covers - the solitude of prime numbers

book covers - the wonder box book covers - the bfg book covers - we're going on a bear hunt


10 reasons why a physical book is better than a digital one

top 10 reasons physical books

I’ve been reading reports about slowing (and in some places, dropping) ebook sales and that the physical book is making a comeback. I’m hardly surprised, because given a choice, I would prefer to hold a physical book in my hands. And yet I was actually one of those who welcomed the arrival of ebooks because they mean more choices and less storage space.

I still read books in both formats today, but here are 10 reasons why I’d choose a physical book over a digital one if I can:

  1. A physical book won’t run out of battery. It’s very frustrating when you only have two more chapters to go and your tablet is screaming for a recharge.
  2. I can share a physical book with a friend any time. With an ebook, I either have to pass her my tablet too, or pay to buy her another digital copy.
  3. I can read my physical book anywhere, even during take-off. I hate it when I’m asked to switch off my tablet during a plane take-off or landing, because that’s when I most need a book to distract me from the thumb-tweedling wait.
  4. It’s ok to drop a physical book. Just pick it up, dust off and continue from where you stopped. With a tablet, pray that the drop only caused a dent on the casing, not the circuit board.
  5. I can splurge on pretty bookmarks (and other book accessories). Physical books give me one more reason to shop. Digital books only give me the option of a bigger or smaller font size.
  6. I can read print for hours without feeling tired. Ebooks make my eyes tear after just one hour.
  7. I can collect autographs for my physical books. Do authors give digital autographs yet?
  8. I love the smell of new books. I can’t smell my ebooks, and it somehow takes the thrill out of a new purchase.
  9. I know how far into the book I am, without having to look at the page number. With ebooks, I lose my mental map of the book’s content.
  10. I love the book cover! It’s a joy to own a book for both its beautiful cover design and intelligent content, and the joy is amplified when I can see my favourite book everyday on my bookshelf.