Saturday, July 14, 2018

Review: The Blood Alchemist (The Final Formula #2) by Becca Andre

4.5 stars for The Blood Alchemist (The Final Formula book 2) by Becca Andre.

How do you right a wrong? To Addie, the most brilliant alchemical mind of our time, the answer lies with The Final Formula. With that, much of this story still revolves around The Final formula and its unique properties.

I will not say that I enjoy this book through and through seeing that certain characters that get on my nerves - such as the three Huntsman brothers - keep making their appearances, so much so that I am prepared to down my rating of this book to 4 or even 3 stars.

However, in the end, the Lich King, Ian, convinces me to change my mind. Yes, I like the character of Ian Mallory much more than that of the Flame Lord, Rowan. There is absolutely no doubt about it. For this reason, I am really pleased to find, at the end of The Blood Alchemist, an entire short story dedicated to Ian and Addie.

In fact, this book is a steal because it comes with not one but two bonus short story, The Lich's Lab and A Christmas Formula, both of which are very well written and leave me wanting for more at the end of it all.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Review: The Element of Death (The Final Formula #1.5) by Becca Andre

3 stars for The Element of Death (The Final Formula book 1.5) by Becca Andre.

This novella is cleverly written to spin off a story from where James and Rowan wander off towards the end of book 1 The Final Formula. The story focuses on James and provides a good introduction to the start of an unique relationship between him and Rowan.

To tell the truth, I am somewhat disappointed that this short story is not about our little alchemist, Addie, but all about James and a little walk down memory lane. But I suppose, as Addie's sidekick, James does deserves some attention too.

Overall, an okay read for me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Review: The Final Formula (The Final Formula #1) by Becca Andre

5 stars for The Final Formula (The Final Formula book 1) by Becca Andre.

I have been reading at a snail's pace of late. It has nothing to do with the writing of the book on hand but everything to do with - for lack of a better word - distractions. For a start, there is the beta reading, then ten days of vacationing in Hokkaido, Japan and finally, my watching of the 2018 FIFA World Cup matches.

I have always wanted to read this book but somehow or other, I never get down to it until my recent flight to Hokkaido. Even then, I did not achieve much reading of this urban fantasy novel in the air as my focus is on completing the beta read.

Come to think of it, I should really have made the effort to read this book earlier. It is good. Very good in fact. It has a beginning that appeals to me, an ending that tugs at my heartstrings, and in between these two, there is alchemy, necromancy, magic and elementary forces (fire, air, water, earth), all of which serve to bring out the best mix of science, fantasy, romance, mystery, suspense, and action to produce the very formula in The Final Formula.

So, what is this Final Formula exactly? Well, go grab a copy of this e-book now while it is still available for free download, and unravel the greatest mystery of all time.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

4 stars for Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.

It is my belief that at some point in time during one's lifetime, one will question the purpose of life and thus begins the quest to search for its meaning. If you are reading this for the same reason as I do.. Welcome to the club!

This is a book about survival.

The first half offers personal experiences of an inside story from the Auschwitz concentration camp, told by the author himself as one of the survivors. He conveys to readers by way of concrete examples, such as situations in a concentration camp, that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. His account is not so much about what he has suffered and lost, but more so about the sources of his strength to survive.

The second half is about logotherapy, a theory developed by the author who is a neurologist as well as psychiatrist, based on the belief that the human person is motivated by an inner pull to find a meaning in life. And by identifying that purpose in life, logotherapy can help to overcome all struggles.

Dr. Frankl's theories are heavily influenced by his personal experiences of suffering and loss in Nazi concentration camps. He believes that we may not be able to control what happens to us in life but we can always control what we will feel and do about what happens to us; as long as we retain the freedom to choose how we will respond, we are never left with nothing.

I like and enjoy reading the first half of this book where psychological lessons can be learnt from the author's Auschwitz experience. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the latter half. The in-depth studies, discussions and explanatons on logotherapy is just too philosophical for me.

Having reached the end of the book, when all is said and done, it all boils down to "having a Why to live for will enable us to bear the How". The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life.

Man's Search for Meaning. Have you started yours? If you have not, this book is as good a place as any to start.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Review: Wave: A Memoir of Life After the Tsunami by Sonali Deraniyagala

3 stars for Wave: A Memoir of Life After the Tsunami by Sonali Deraniyagala.

I feel somewhat guilty for giving this book a 3-star rating granted that it is an emotionally honest and heartfelt portrayal of incomprehensible grief on life after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. But if I am to be honest as well, this is where it fails.

While I appreciate that the writing is frank - to a fault - and stripped of all window-dressing, and I understand that the author has never, will never and can never get over her unbelievable loss, there is just too much anger and negativity in her narratives that I find the story extremely heavy and laborious to read after a while. More often than not, the author gets so carried away by the past that she goes on and on about things that simply do not interest me. So, on top of the anger, the story becomes long and slow-moving and well, boring after the first few chapters.

But then again, who am I to fault or criticise? This is after all, her book, her memoir, possibly even an outlet for her to vent her frustrations for the cruel blow that life has dealt her with.

Through her book, Wave, it is clear that the author goes through the different stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and perhaps, acceptance - though not necessarily in that order. Grieving takes time; dealing with grief after losing loved ones takes a long time. I am not sure if the author has come to terms with the reality of it all and find her peace by the end of her memoir. Or will she ever?

If you are looking for a story that centers on healing and moving on after a natural disaster (a tsunami; a tidal wave), then this is not the book for you. However, if you are interested to look into the mind of a woman who is still raw with grief and anger after the passing of close to 10 years of the catastrophe, then this is the book to read.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Review: The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore

5 stars for The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore.

I read this book because of the word "Radium" in the title. I first read and learn about radium in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. For the reason that radium is mentioned only in passing for its application to treat cancer in Skloot's book, I find myself drawn to this book which is all about radium and the girls who pay with their lives, and their fight for recompense, for recognition and for justice.

So what is radium?

Radium is a chemical element with symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It is a rare radioactive metal of the alkaline earth series and can be extremely dangerous.

Radium is formed when uranium and thorium break down in the environment. Uranium and thorium are found in small amounts in most rocks and soil.

Radium has a half-life of about 1600 years. As it undergoes radioactive decay, it divides into two parts - one part is called radiation and the other part is called a daughter. The daughter, like radium, is not stable, and it also divides into radiation and another daughter. The dividing of daughters continues until a stable, nonradioactive daughter is formed.

During the decay process, alpha, beta, and gamma radiation are released. Alpha ray can travel only a short distance and cannot travel through your skin. Beta ray can penetrate through your skin, but they cannot go all the way through your body. Gamma radiation can go all the way through your body; this gives radium its medicinal value, being able to travel through the body and be directed at a tumour.

Until the 1960s, radium was a component of the luminous paints used for clock dials, intrument panels in airplanes, military instruments and compasses, and even in many everyday products, including wristwatches, toothpaste and energy drinks. It was thought to have curative properties until its intense radioactivity was found to cause adverse health effects.

It is extremely sad and disturbing to know that the events in the book are real and did happen in the 1920s in Newark and Orange in New Jersey, Ottawa in Illinois and Waterbury in Connecticut, United States of America.

The girls work in a radium dial painting factory that make the first watches with illuminated dials. Following the instructions to keep their paintbrushes well pointed, the all-female dial-painters use the ‘lip, dip, paint routine’ where they put the brush to their lips, dip it in the radium, and painted the dials.

Eventually, the introduction of minute quantities of radioactive substance build up in the bodies of these girls and nearly all died of radium poisoning. The book describes in horrendous details the pains and sufferings these women have to endure as their bodies slowly disintegrate and make them the living dead. Due to industrial occupational hazards, none of them are able to lead normal lives.

There is also the riveting courtroom drama that keeps me at the edge of my seat as I read on how these young innocent women stand up for what is right, even as their world fall apart, how they fight on when all hope seems gone, how they inspire one another to defend against attack or criticism, and finally, how they lead other dial-painters to come forward through their friendship networks.

On top of the hopeless situation of radium poisoning due to no cure, there is also plenty of anger to go around as I read about the notoriously dishonest United States Radium Corporation (USRC). The USRC is a vivid example of the ways of an inconceivably selfish capitalist system which cares nothing about the lives of its workers, but seeks only to guard its profits and interests.

The story of The Radium Girls has now been told, their voices heard. If you have yet to read this book, it is never too late to pick one up and be transported to the Roaring Twenties to understand what it means to be a dial-painter, to be one of the glowing girls who leave behind an extraordinary legacy.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Review: D is for Deadbeat (Kinsey Millhone #4) by Sue Grafton

4 stars for D is for Deadbeat (Kinsey Millhone book 4) by Sue Grafton.

I decide to revisit this tried and tested Alphabet series after my miserable attempt at not one, nor two, but four books where the plots fail to hatch into something more that entice me to read beyond the initial 20%.

C is for Corpse. This is the last Kinsey Millhone book that I read way back in November 2016. At that time, I wonder what author Grafton will do when she runs out of alphabets to grace her book covers. Will the series then draw to a close? Sadly, my concerns are addressed in an article released after the author passed away in Dec 2017. With the publication of her latest book in August 2017, the alphabets series has reached “Y is for Yesterday" and will now end at Y, forever.

D is for Deadbeat is about private investigator Kinsey Millhone being caught up in the loop of a man with the desire to make restitution. The writing is good. The plot is not bad. And there is this unexpected twist towards the end.

It is good to know that, when all else fails, I can always fall back on a good, old, down-to-earth mystery story.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris

Did Not Finish Behind Closed Doors by B. A. Paris.

I have finally read the book that everyone seems to be raving about since its 2016 debut. A story about the wife of a brilliant lawyer, a perfect example of a woman who has it all — the perfect house, the perfect husband, the perfect life. Or so she says...

I read and read and read. At 30% into the story, there is still nothing about the plot or the characters that fascinates me. I am bored to tears and I wonder if I should struggle on or give up reading. So, I start a thread asking for opinions from readers alike, and I am shocked at the overwhelming response of so many who not only share the exact same sentiments as myself, but go a step further to dislike this story to the core.

Yes, the plot turns from moderately interesting to a bit far-fetched to the point of absurd. How is it even possible that the protagonist, a woman who is independent, resourceful and capable of earning her keep for the past thirteen years, suddenly turns into a doormat at the drop of a hat? Sorry to say, it is just so ridiculously unbelievable.

To the peeps from FB book group "What Should I Read Next", thank you for the vote of confidence in helping me with the decision to stop reading before my dislike for this story turns into something worse for the time invested.

Hmm.. so what's next? What should I read next?