Saturday, August 31, 2013

No more borrowing from the library?

We had to re-do our basement flooring. That means, I had to move all my books out from the basement.

(Exercise time! That's about 30 boxes of books! Well We have the Ikea Expedit 5x5 bookcase, and some shelves are 2 books deep. And you know books aren't light, especially the hardcover textbooks!)

Which reminded me that t I still have so many un-read books! I really need to stop borrowing more books from the library, so that I can read what I have first (and usually after I read them, I give them away, unless it is something I really love).

Sigh. Not visiting other blogs mean I borrow less books from the library already since I don't know what is new out there, but I do miss visiting your blogs.

Maybe after reading what I'd borrowed from the library (and what I have on reserve), I will stop borrowing from the library until the end of the year, to see how many books I can go through. I can't buy more bookcases!

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review - The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Ghost Bride

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

From Goodreads:

"One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride..."

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim's handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

Such a beautiful cover! I was curious about this story since I am Chinese, and I have heard of the "ghost bride" practice. I didn't know much about it though, so was excited to learn more.

I am sorry to say that I did not finish this book... even though I was eager to read it. It started off interestingly enough, but I just couldn't get engaged. [SPOILER]  I mean, I should feel for Li Lan - she was asked to be a ghost bride after all! Her family was falling apart! But I just didn't really care one way or the other... And there just wasn't much development between her and the boy she fancied - one second they were strangers, then the next she wanted to marry him already (and if it really was love at first sight, I didn't feel the attraction). And the she was had the out-of-body experience, it just because too much of a self-of-consciousness type of story and I just couldn't read anymore... [/SPOILER]

I generally do like having a strong female protagonist, but in this case, she annoyed me instead... maybe I am just getting old and the protagonist seemed kinda young. Some other reviews said this reads more like a YA - maybe that's it... YA is really not my genre apart from a selected few.

I did like that the author included a few pages of notes in the end of the book, explaining the different traditions/folktales regarding ghost marriage. I just wish they were incorporated more into the story itself. I don't have any concrete examples (too lazy to go find some), but the impression I got from reading this book was that it was more "tell" than "show"... so maybe the author's writing style and my reading style just don't jell?! I am really thinking it is just me though, since if you read other reviews on the TLC tour, there are many, many positive reviews and I am the rare exception... so never mind me, as the lack of time/energy/brain power had made me extremely picky into what I'd read nowadays...

0 Star - Did Not Finish

Yangsze’s Tour Stops

Wednesday, August 7th: Bibliophilia, Please!
Monday, August 12th: The Reader’s Hollow
Tuesday, August 13th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, August 15th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Monday, August 19th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, August 20th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, August 20th: BoundByWords
Wednesday, August 21st: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, August 22nd: Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, August 26th: Mental Foodie
Tuesday, August 27th: Excellent Library

Note - An advanced copy was given in exchange for an unbiased review.

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review - Awakened Leadership: Beyond Self-Mastery by Alan E. Shelton

Awakened Leadership: Beyond Self-Mastery by Alan E. Shelton

Transformational leadership books and processes have delivered us to the era of self-mastery. But how do we move from being effective leaders to being awakened leaders? By situating leadership in the nest of the seeker's journey toward truth, you can now stand on the shoulders of the visionaries who have come before, and become conscious of your own position within Source.

Leaving behind charts, maps, and graphs, “Awakened Leadership” is a portal to direct experience via pointers and personal stories that will help you recognize the gift of being who you really are. Then your leadership essence will effortlessly manifest not only in the boardroom, but in all facets of your life.

While I am not in a leadership role (as in, I don't have any direct reports) in my job, I do have to lead projects so I am often interested in learning about how to be a better leader. So when I was contacted to see if I was interested in reviewing this book, I said yes. 

I really enjoyed the beginning of the book when the author talked about his childhood, his mission trip to Peru, and building his business. However, he lost me when he went to India to become a Seeker to "seek the truth"... there were many talks of the ego... I was a psych major in college so the concept of the ego is not new to me. When I was reading about this journey, it reminded me a bit of the "Pray" part in Eat, Pray Love... I have no doubt that this was a significant journey in the author's experience, but perhaps to be enlightened, one really needs to experience it, and just can't read about it? Or maybe I am just not ready for this journey yet (my ego is in the way :) ) 

I do really admire the author's drive and passion - when he was my age, he was already a very successful business owner. So my review is NOT to say his thoughts of leadership is wrong, but that I didn't quite get as much out of it as I thought I would. Though now that I am a mother myself, I do agree wholeheartedly about this - "I realized that being a full-time father again meant that interests higher than my own needed to be served" - I definitely have to put myself aside and think for my son first. Maybe it is something I need to keep in mind when I lead others.

2.5 Stars. 

Author Bio:
Alan Shelton is a leader who colors outside the lines, a corporate executive
mentor with an entrepreneurial spirit and a gripping speaker who engages his audiences. 

With a reputation like that, it is no wonder that his book, “Awakened  Leadership: Beyond Self-Mastery,” has become so successful. Shelton graduated from Brigham Young  University (BYU) in Utah after completing missionary work in Peru. By 1977, Shelton had landed his first big gig in the corporate  world at PricewaterhouseCoopers, now PwC, where his clients included IBM, Sunkist, Beckman Instruments and Toyota Motor Sales. His journey continued through 1990  when he sold his CPA firm, Shelton, Smith and Townsend, and turned to leadership training. Since then, his client list has grown to include the University of San Diego,  Wrangler, VF Corp., The North Face, Celgene and many others.

“Awakened Leadership,” published by Red Hatchet Press in May 2012, has taken the 
leadership world by storm. The book is the winner of a 2013 National Indie Excellence 
Book Award as well as a 2012 USA Best Book Award.

Shelton advises and facilitates workshops for international businesses in Oceanside, 
Calif., where he lives in a refurbished fire station with his loving wife, Justine. He has 
two children, Kristin and Michael, who earned business degrees from the University of 
Southern California and the University of Arizona, respectively.

Indie Excellence Winner 2013
USA Best Book Awards WInner

Book Information:
Hardcover $24.95
ISBN: 978-0984712502
Motivational, 220 pages
Red Hatchet Press, May 2012

Author Links:
Author Website:
Twitter: @AlanEShelton

Note - A free copy was given to me from in exchange for an unbiased review

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review - How to Fix Your Novel by Steve Alcorn

How to Fix Your Novel

How to Fix Your Novel by Steve Alcorn

From Goodreads:

Have you started a novel, only to get part way into the manuscript and find yourself stuck? Or do you have an idea for a novel, but aren't sure where to begin? Have you completed a first draft, but feel it doesn't quite have the luster of professional writing? 

In this lively and fun-to-read guide, Steve Alcorn shows you the remedies you need to achieve success. Step by step, you'll breathe life into old manuscripts, create new novels that read like bestsellers, and put the spark back into your writing life. 

Topics include: 

Story Structure 
Character Building 
Writing Big 
Beginnings and Endings 
Getting Published 

Whether you're a first time novelist still planning your story, or an experienced author looking for ways to bring your fiction to life, How to Fix Your Novel is the ideal prescription.

Not too long ago, I reviewed another novel writing book - The Mashall Plan (see review here) - I was curious to read other novel writing books just to see what other approaches there are. I know there are no right or wrong ways, but I merely just want to know how others formulate their novels. 

This is an easy read, and I learned much from it! If there is one big take away, is it the difference between STORY and PLOT:

Plot = the physical journey / action
Story = the emotional journey / reaction

As simple as that! What a lightbulb moment! Now I know why I prefer some novels over another - for the ones that I love or have staying power, it really has to have a good balance or both. A lot of the murder/mystery that I read - they have great plot, but hardly a story, hence I had fun reading it (action packed!) but hardly remembered it afterward. I don't care much for character-driven novels, because it so focuses on the emotional side of the story that it doesn't have enough action! 

It also uses examples from other books/movies to illustrate the different aspect of a novel. I also like that, when it comes to writing from different voices, the author wrote the passages 3 times using 3 different voices to show the differences (e.g. the protagonist as an adult, the protagonist as a child, a 3rd person narrator), which in turn, will help the writing to decide which view point is the strongest. 

The author also listed the steps that worked for him to finish a novel. So it provided a great guide, with some easy steps to follow! The methodology used in this book is more flexible, less structured, than that from the Marshall Plan. I can't say one is better than the other, but both give me some great ideas. Maybe this year I would be able to do NaNoWriMo?!

4 Stars - a few chapters didn't quite give me the lightbulb moments than the rest. But I am definitely glad I read this - even if I don't end up writing, this sheds some lights for me when I read.  I wish I had taken a novel writing class back in college! Not that it was offered... 

Note - The book was borrowed from the library.

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


July had been an extremely busy month, especially with work! So much so that I totally forgot I had a blog tour on 8/6! This hadn't happened before... but luckily the tour organizer was very understanding, and let me finish the tour later this month instead... so now I'll have 2 blog tours at the end of August, and then 2 in Sept!

I used to read all the time, but now, I usually on read when I am on the bus to/from work... when I get home I am usually so tired that I'd been fallen asleep at my desk while checking facebook etc. I suppose I could read more instead of spending time online... but so far I haven't really found many books that made me want to do that you know?!

And, if you could believe it or not, my boy turned one recently. ONE!!!

I hope he'd enjoy reading - he does like me reading to him, but he still is only interested in very short books with very few words, so I can't wait when he actually understands the stories and wants to lose himself in the magical world of books.

I have also hardly visited any of your blogs! Also not up to date with all the new releases. Tell me what I have missed! Any books I must read? Any of your posts I should read?!

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Book Review - The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

From Goodreads:

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

I have always meant to read Neil Gaiman, and came across this one recently. I love the cover of this book!

This is a thin book, with less than 200 pages. But I regret to say, I read only about 1/5 of it... I may have finished if (1) I didn't have to return to the library - couldn't renew as there was another hold; (2) I didn't have other books I need to read for blog tours; or (3) I am not so busy I hardly have time to read so must be picky with what I read.

I was excited to read this book, and it was off to a good start... but then, it just didn't hold my interest... I didn't really care about the characters, or the plot. 

If you have read this book though, is it worth giving it a try again? Or trying another Neil Gaiman book - if so, what should I start? (I haven't watched Coraline... )

Did Not Finish.

Note - The book was borrowed from the library.

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.

Book Review - The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

From Goodreads:

An inventive and witty debut about a young man’s quest to become a writer and the misadventures in life and love that take him around the globe

From as early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable—yet hopelessly earnest—narrator of this ambitious debut novel has wanted to become a writer.

From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of his greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian’s enchanting friend, Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma’s narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies.

As much a story about a young man and his friends trying to make their way in the world as a profoundly affecting exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards will appeal to readers of Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists and Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize–winning A Visit from the Goon Squad with its elegantly constructed exploration of the stories we tell to find out who we really are.

I picked this based on another blog review I believe. Not my usual genre, but I was intrigued since the protagonist was a writer.

It is difficult to talk about this book without revealing some details - so read at your own risk!


I like that this is a story-within-a-story-within-a-story-within-a-story- kinda book. It's a interesting plot, especially since it is a debut novel! However, the story got a bit repetitive in the later part of the book. And then you just really don't know who the protagonist really is anymore.

I do appreciate the ending which closes the loop and brings us back to the beginning.

If there is one take away from this book, it's that fiction authors need to be great liars - they need to make the readers believe in what the authors create, be it part truth or part slant. I guess I never really think about it this way before, though we do talk about whether a book/character is believable or not, but I didn't equate that to being lied to :) Interesting concept.

3 Stars. Great premise, though get a bit repetitive. I like the plot, but don't really care for the characters.

Note - The book was borrowed from the library.

All reviews and posts are copyrighted by Christa @ Mental Foodie. Please do not use or reprint them without written permission.