Saturday, July 5, 2014

[Review] I am not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Rating: 3-stars
Genre: Horror, Paranormal Fantasy, Detective/Thriller, YA
Synopsis: John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it. He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential. He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat---and to appreciate what that difference means.

Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

I don't often read thrillers, but when I do, I like them to be with serial killers. I am not a Serial Killer is very Dexter-esque for any of you who have watched Dexter before. The protagonist, John Wayne Cleaver (get it?), is basically a high functioning sociopath who really does his best not to murder people. Do people get gold stars for not being a murderer? I guess you do if you're a sociopath. John has all these rules that limits that helps curb his homicidal intent and frequents a therapist to help him sort out his... er... urges.

A part of me still loves this book. It's short, fast-paced, and fascinating. I like that he works in a morgue with his mother and aunt, I like his morbid fascination with serial killers, and I like that he tries so very hard to not become one. John is the an anti-hero that can be sympathized with.

But then... this out of nowhere the fantasy element comes in and ruins it. Seriously. Out of nowhere.

Fantastical elements tends to put a damper on a lot of books that could've been excellent but had to settle for pretty decent to good (i.e my review of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children). WHY? WHY WHY WHY DAN WELLS? WHY COULDN'T YOU HAVE KEPT THIS STORY GROUNDED IN REALITY!?

I mean, really?

If you don't want any spoilers, stop here now.

You have been warned!

So in this small town, a bunch of murders have been taking place and John thinks it's because there's a serial killer in town. But guess what? It's really a demon. Yes, a demon! What the hell is going on? Why the hell is there a demon? What the hell is the point of making this book about serial killers when THE serial killer in this book is not even human? Is this some sort of ploy? What is this? I don't get it. Someone explain to me why this happened!

I thought this book was going to be awesome. Sociopath vs. Sociopath in a fight to the death, but noooooooo, instead it's about a demon who is has to kill people to absorb their body parts in order to keep living. And the reason he's doing it is because he fell in love with a human woman.


Just argh. Can you imagine watching Dexter one day and thinking "oh this is so exciting, I can't wait to see him catch the ice truck killer" only to find out the ice truck killer was the abominable snowman? No, I didn't think so.

*takes a deep breath*

That MESS aside, the book is pretty good. I am on the fence about recommending it because of this demon curve ball, but since I actually finished it and was interested in what happened, I think it is worth taking a look at. A lot of things don't end up being explained, but I guess that's why it's a series. I might look into getting the second book in the series, but at this point, I'm still too infuriated to continue.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

[Review] Submarine by Joe Dunthorne

Rating: 3.5 Stars
Genre: Contemporary fiction, YA
Summary: At once a self-styled social scientist, a spy in the baffling adult world, and a budding, hormone-driven emotional explorer, Oliver Tate is stealthily nosing his way forward through the murky and uniquely perilous waters of adolescence. His objectives? Uncovering the secrets behind his parents’ teetering marriage, unraveling the mystery that is his alluring and equally quirky classmate Jordana Bevan, and understanding where he fits in among the mystifying beings in his orbit. Struggling to buoy his parents’ wedded bliss, deep-six his own virginity, and sound the depths of heartache, happiness, and the business of being human, what’s a lad to do? Poised precariously on the cusp of innocence and experience, Oliver Tate aims to damn the torpedoes and take the plunge.

Definitely quirky and definitely not a book I would've picked up by normal means, but I'm glad I did. So I am a big Arctic Monkeys fan, and it is no surprise then that when I heard Alex Turner, the vocalist, also did solo work, so I quickly dug up his album Submarine, which is the soundtrack for the Submarine movie, which I watched and thought was pretty fantastic. I didn't even know there was book until I happened across it on goodreads, and when I saw it, I knew I had to read it.

Personally, I found the movie more enjoyable than the book (Is it because of the soundtrack? *cough* No way...), but the book does have its own merits. It's about a teenage boy named Oliver who is oddly--creepily obsessed with his parents, particularly their relationship to the point where he checks the dimmer switch in his parents' room to make sure that they're having enough sex every week. I have never heard of a fifteen year old teenager who worried about his or her parents' sex life to this extent. I know they are way more open about sex over in Europe (the story takes place in Wales specifically), but it still comes off as a tad bit obsessive. Seriously, he goes above and beyond to make sure that their marriage doesn't fail.

Sometimes it's funny, and then other times it's just plain messed up. For example:

"There is one option that they must avoid at all costs: a baby. Couples say this: 'We're staying together for the baby,' so, logically, the reverse is also true: 'A baby will glue us back together.' The last thing any of us wants is to go through childbirth. A placenta is terrible; it looks worse than jellied eels. A third-degree tear is a rip that may occur during labor--two holes become one. I do not trust them to take the appropriate action to fix their relationship. I will count the number of tampons my mother has left each month. There are currently eight. If she is not using them, I will intervene and suggest an abortion."

Wait what? That's not funny or quirky, that's freaky! Oliver definitely comes off as egotistical, stalkerish, obsessive, and extremely manipulative. Though you can't really help but forgive him most of the time because he means well, even if he deserves to be punched in the gut for some of the things he says or does (such as writing a short guide to the fat outcast in class on the unsaid social rules of bullying and how to not be a loser anymore, and thus not be bullied anymore). If I knew someone like him, I would avoid him at all costs. Personally, I didn't even really care if anything happened to him, but I was interested in what would happen to the other characters, which is why I didn't drop this book. Parts of it are quite smart, even if Oliver is occasionally an asshole.

I did enjoy the trivia in the book. Oliver loves memorizing words and their definitions. For example "Cotard's Syndrome is a branch of autism where people believe they are dead". I liked the odd narrative style of this novel. Parts of it are written in a diary form for his girlfriend to read, though the entries are sometimes completely fabricated for his girlfriend's entertainment so it keeps things interesting. His relationships are interesting, and I enjoyed his detached observations of his life and the life of others.

As an ending note, it's still definitely worth reading if you're into offbeat things. Also recommended is Alex Tuner's Submarine soundtrack!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

[Review] Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting

Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: Short Stories, Speculative Fiction, Bizarro Fiction, Horror
Summary: In this darkly hilarious debut collection, misfit women and girls in every strata of society are investigated through various ill-fated jobs. One is the main course of dinner, another the porn star contracted to copulate in space for a reality TV show. They become futuristic ant farms, get knocked up by the star high school quarterback and have secret abortions, use parakeets to reverse amputations, make love to garden gnomes, go into air conditioning ducts to confront their mother’s ghost, and do so in settings that range from Hell to the local white-supremacist bowling alley (from Goodreads).

This is a genre I've only discovered recently: Bizarro fiction. The closest thing I can think of that is similar is Chuck Palahniuk's stories. Two words: grotesque surrealism. The only difference between this collection and some of Chuck Palahniuk's works (don't get me wrong, I do love some of his works) is that it's not bile-inducing and actually enjoyable to read. More often than not, I would rather a book left me elevated, not nauseous. Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls is just that. It's the right amount of weird, morbid, gross, and bizarre, but without the sour aftertaste. The book is all kinds of amazing. I don't think I'm going to even write a review for it. I'll let these various quotations speak for themselves.

This is the first line of the first story: "I am boiling inside a kettle with five other people."

Intriguing. Do go on.

"Our limbs are bound and our intestines and mouths are stuffed with herbs and garlic, but we can still speak. We smell great despite the pain."

Sold. If you are a rather modest and conservative person who doesn't savor in uncleanliness, this is definitely not a book for you. For anyone else who, like me, has a rather twisted sense of humor, you will love these stories.

Here are some more quotations:

"My friend Gizmo who works at the funeral home occasionally smokes the hair of the embalmed dead. The smell does not bother him: he is used to horrible smells. He claims that after a few minutes of inhaling, moments form the corpses' lives flood his head like a movie."

From a story that takes place in Hell:

"I also found an intestine that had been suffocated with rat poison and fashioned into a noose. I decided to hang the whole thing from my chandelier. 'You're becoming more comfortable with entrails,' the devil commented. I liked the way he took notice of my growth."

Seriously, what's not to love? Aside from the bizarro shock factors, I really liked that all the female characters were all equally unique and compelling. Like the title suggests, this collection of short stories is about women, and sometimes girls, having to go through very unpleasant (to put it mildly) situations. It features women in all different walks of life and in all different types of relationship (familial, romantic, platonic, stalkerish, inhuman, symbiotic) from every setting imaginable--from falling love with the devil in the underworld to trying to find closure with a cryogenically frozen mother (frozen for being a murderous felon) in space. I can't even decide which of these stories are my favorite. Five stars hands down.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

[Review] Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Short stories, Japanese Lit, Horror, Contemporary
Synopsis: Sinister forces draw together a cast of desperate characters in this eerie and absorbing novel from Yoko Ogawa.

An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Years later, the writer’s stepson reflects upon his stepmother and the strange stories she used to tell him. Meanwhile, a surgeon’s lover vows to kill him if he does not leave his wife. Before she can follow-through on her crime of passion, though, the surgeon will cross paths with another remarkable woman, a cabaret singer whose heart beats delicately outside of her body. But when the surgeon promises to repair her condition, he sparks the jealousy of another man who would like to preserve the heart in a custom tailored bag. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in a darkly beautiful web that they are each powerless to escape.

Macabre, fiendishly clever, and with a touch of the supernatural, Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge creates a haunting tapestry of death—and the afterlife of the living.

So because I saw that they recently added it to Netflix, I rewatched Kill Bill. "Revenge is a dish best served cold" indeed. However, the book isn't really about revenge. Certainly there are characters that serve it up real cold, but the theme is really about all those dark emotions that tend to manifest in humanity: despair, resentment, cynicism, obsession with the macabre, etc, etc. The title Revenge makes it seem like some sort of action thriller Kill Bill Uma Thurman style when it's not.

I know when I finished reading the first story "Afternoon at the Bakery" (doesn't Murakami have a story titled similarly, I can't recall), I was like "Oh, this is pretty dark and awesome, but what does it have to do with revenge?" Hence, don't have your heart set out on vengeance. I don't know what's wrong with the publishers who worked on this book, but the title and the cover make no sense with the actual content and it drives me nuts. It's a huge pet peeve of mine. They did the same thing to another Japanese novel (which I will get around to reviewing soon). I'm sure the publishers did it so it would sell better, but it is completely unnecessary and actually quite distasteful.

Yoko Ogawa's writing has very little flourish. It's sparse and a little deadpan. The woman gets to the point. A game I played while reading through the short stories was trying to guess, before other characters in the story clue me in, whether the speaker is a male or a female. It's seriously not easy. Kudos Yoko Ogawa for your genderless writing style.

Each story connects to the others in some sort of way, though the stories can be read out of order or stand alone, the full creepy effect isn't achieved if you don't read the whole thing. Here's a quotation that sets the tone for the rest of the stories. From the first short "Afternoon at the Bakery" about a mother grieving over her murdered son:

"The door would not open no matter how hard you pushed, no matter how long you pounded on it. The screams no one heard. Darkness, hunger, pain. Slow suffocation. One day it occurred to me that I needed to experience the same suffering he I took a deep breath, curled myself into a ball, and slowly worked my way inside. As the door closed, all lights vanished. I could no longer tell whether my eyes were open or shut, and I realized it made no difference in here. The walls of the refrigerator were still cool. Where does death come from?"

Eerie right? There's a story about a woman who grows carrots that look like hands, a torture museum, a woman whose heart comes out of her chest, etc. It's all very unusual and a little unsettling. Overall I give it four stars. I think it is a splendid book that anyone interested in the macabre should definitely take a look at.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

[Review] To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Rating: 4 stars
Genre: YA, classics, Southern Lit
Synopsis: The story takes place during three years (1933–35) of the Great Depression in the fictional "tired old town" of Maycomb, Alabama, the seat of Maycomb County. It focuses on six-year-old Scout Finch, who lives with her older brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus, a middle-aged lawyer. Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill, who visits Maycomb to stay with his aunt each summer. The three children are terrified of, and fascinated by, their neighbor, the reclusive "Boo" Radley. The story goes on to delve deeper into the case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman whom Atticus is appointed to defend.

Another one of those books I should've already read in high school but didn't. It does live up to its reputation. The characters are memorable, and despite their flaws, relatable and likable.

So why four stars instead of five? That's a matter of personal taste. I was just sort of tired of reading these kind of stories about the negro who can't defend himself so the benevolent white man steps in, with his reputation and safety at stake, to defend him. I completely support Atticus and even admire him for being so clear-headed and wise, but I just find it distasteful that this book was so "life-changing" for people. In a way, that's a good thing right? The book teaches you about respecting others, and treating them with how you want to be treated-all that good stuff, but if this story was told from the perspective of the black man, it would be nowhere near as widely read as this. Somehow, learning about racism and equality from the white man rubs me the wrong way. Now the lesson is a good one no matter where it comes from, and I'm glad that it was able to teach people a little perspective, but personally, from where I'm coming from, it didn't move me or touch my heart the way it would others.

That's really all I have to say about this book. I'm sure most people have read it, so I don't think I need to say more about it than I already have.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

[Review] Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy, YA.
Synopsis: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
The main attraction of this book, or at least it's unique selling point, is the vintage photographs provided in the book. They are all real collector's photographs, which I found pretty cool. I'm not a huge photography person. I mean... I only know Man Ray and Richard Avedon so I'm not a photography expert, but the photos were a nice touch to the story. Some of them weren't altogether relevant to the actual plot (the creepier ones), but it doesn't bother me as much as it does for other reviewers.

There's a lot going on in this book, a lot, so much so that the dynamics gets pretty convoluted at times and you have to take a moment to really understand the laws of this particular universe. I can't really go too deep into it without spoiling the story, but it does get a little complicated without much explanation.

Otherwise, I kinda sorta actually adored this book. I liked the character's sarcastic self-deprecating teenager voice. Any book that makes me laugh gets an extra gold star. The protagonist says things like: "It seemed like my parents were always trying to get me to care about money, but I didn't, really. Then again, it's easy to say you don't care about money when you have plenty of it." Jacob isn't particularly compelling and a little on the daft side, but he's a likable guy.

I also really enjoyed the WW2 jewish refugee backstory with Jacob's grandfather and that sometimes monsters aren't just the variety that pops up underneath the bed at night. There's actually so much I like about this book that I don't even have time to list out all my reasons. So why four stars and not five? Here's where the "paranormal fantasy" part of the book failed me. If it was only a story about a young boy who on a quest to uncover his grandfather's past, it would be just another YA Jewish coming of age "Everything is Illuminated" type of story, and understandably, it wouldn't have been quite as unique, but the whole fantasy part of the story was a little weak. Click for more, but beware of spoilers.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

[Review] Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: Short-Stories, South-Asian fiction
Synopsis: Short stories about India, or being Indian living in the U.S.

I'm just going to come out and say it, I love Jhumpa Lahiri. She's such an amazing writer and has such a talent for description and nuance. Interpreter of Maladies consists of nine short stories. The book is not very long so it can be finished in a few sittings. I'll summarize and review each story separately because there's no way I can make any sweeping generalizations about the whole book.

But first off, some criticism about Jhumpa Lahiri that I want to talk about. She gets a lot of crap for only writing about Indian professors/students living in Cambridge. But so what? Leave the lady alone. Let her write what she wants to write. It's obviously working so why mess with a good thing? Whether she grows as a writer or not is nobody's business but hers. So, let's start.

"A Temporary Matter" is the first story in the collection. It's about a husband and a wife who become estranged after the death of their first child in the delivery room, but they are finally brought together by a series of blackouts in the neighborhood. They sit in the dark, and they tell each other truths they have never revealed before. Only in the dark, which is reminiscent to their life in India when electrical shortages weren't uncommon, do they open up about their feelings. The story is all about relationships and communication. Personally, it is one of my favorites in the collection.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

[Review] Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

Rating: DNF
Synopsis: Do I even need one? I'm just going to steal it from goodreads because they know how to make things sound exciting.
Twenty years ago Maximus Batten witnessed the brutal murders of his parents. Now the autocratic Duke of Wakefield, he spends his days ruling Parliament. But by night, disguised as the Ghost of St. Giles, he prowls the grim alleys of St. Giles, ever on the hunt for the murderer. One night he finds a fiery woman who meets him toe-to-toe—and won't back down . . .

Artemis Greaves toils as a lady's companion, but hiding beneath the plain brown serge of her dress is the heart of a huntress. When the Ghost of St. Giles rescues her from footpads, she recognizes a kindred spirit-and is intrigued. She's even more intrigued when she realizes who exactly the notorious Ghost is by day . . .

Artemis makes a bold move: she demands that Maximus use his influence to free her imprisoned brother-or she will expose him as the Ghost. But blackmailing a powerful duke isn't without risks. Now that she has the tiger by the tail, can she withstand his ire-or the temptation of his embrace?
My first DNF since starting the blog. Why? Because the book was pretty long and about halfway through I didn't even really care anymore if the hero and heroine got together anymore. I don't read a lot of romances, but when I do, I expect it to focus heavily on romance. This one was focused way too much on this whole murder mystery plot that I personally didn't care about. As nice as it is to see romances start out slowly, the character development wasn't really there for the amount I've read.

As to the ending, I would say it's predictable, but obviously since I didn't finish it, I wouldn't know. But given all the heavy handed clues, I think it's not that difficult to figure out what's going to happen. Here are some pros that I found, and then the cons that followed.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

[Review] Venus in Furs by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch

Rating: 3.5 Stars
Genre: Erotica, Romance, Classic
Synopsis: Foolish man gets the whip from sexy goddess clad in fur. He is cuckolded and tormented, but he can only beg for more.

Notorious book. I mean check out that last name, this was the guy who brought masochism into the vogue, all because he wrote a book about some wimpy guy who begged to be stepped on.

So I had to read this book, not buts about it. Luckily for me, it's in the free domain so I tabbed over to Gutenberg, downloaded it and polished it off in a few days.

One thing to say about the genre. I have it listed under Erotica, but there are no sex-scenes. Obviously the characters have had sex, but there is really no explicit mention of it. There is not even really any innuendos that they have had sex. I've read YA that has had more sex scenes in it, but, all in all, not a book for children or those who can't understand how anyone could get off being beaten and demeaned.

There are a lot of great things to say about Venus in Furs and then some not so great things. I think I loved everything about the concept of this book, but the execution was lacking. The book became repetitive at times, with the characters occasionally repeating themselves and using the same lines over and over again. Given how short the book was and how the plot jumped all over the place, it really shouldn't have felt like it was dragging.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

[Rant] Work

I'm really sorry about not updating more often. Currently work is kicking my behind. For those who don't know, I intern at a small independent publishing company, which probably sounds more amazing than it actually is.

Let me tell you, doing blog tours is a major drag. I applaud bloggers who host them for free. On the bright side, it is interesting? I do learn a lot and the experience is rewarding in its own right. I've also come to terms that me and Marketing don't get along so well.

  Me everyday at work tbh.

I'm currently reading Atonement, and as amazing as Ian McEwan is, it's kind of painful because I already know what's going to happen. Ugh. Maybe I should read a different McEwan book. This one is giving me so much anxiety.

I'll try to post a review asap! Sorry!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

[Review] The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Rating: 4.5-stars
Genre: Contemporary-fiction, Speculative-fiction/Fantasy
Synopsis: A middle aged man returns home for a funeral and begins to recall the fantastical events that had happened in his childhood. A very eerie and magical Gaimanesque story.

It's hard to review this book because I listened to the audiobook, but it was nice because Neil Gaiman read it and it's always nice to hear authors read their work. The story is about a middle-aged narrator returning to his childhood home and starts to remember his extraordinary childhood and his extraordinary friend Lettie Hempstock. The story is eerie and peculiar, beautiful and tragically haunting. I think I came out a little traumatized--which is a good thing in this case, because rarely do books really ever leave a mark on me.

The main character is weak and bookish, but brave in his childishly pure way. I really enjoyed the whole cast of characters, especially the Hempstock women. What I like about this book in particular is the ending. It's perfect. Rarely do books have any sort of satisfactory ending, but this one does. In fact, I think just about everything in this book is done pretty damn perfectly.

The book started off slow. Admittedly, the synopsis make it seem kind of boring, but it is Neil Gaiman after all, and I have faith that the man can deliver. And deliver he did. Gaiman really captures the consciousness of childhood, particularly its joys and anxieties. This is a story that I definitely will have to read on print before properly reviewing. If you have read other Gaiman stories, you will find yourself immersed in a familiar atmosphere. This book is targeted for more adult audiences, but it still deals mainly with childhood.

This is a story filled with magic, like actual magic. Don't be fooled by the very contemporary literary fiction-ness of the synopsis. For example, a worm hole develops in the protagonist's foot. Is that psychedelic or what?

The ocean at the end of the lane is actually a pond, or is it? I think most of us in our childhood have had these flights of fancy where our imagination gets the best of us and Gaiman is really good at utilizing our childhood experiences and then bringing them back to us as adults (though I'm sure children would enjoy this book as well). I guess if I had to use one word to describe the book it would be: nostalgic.

Friday, April 11, 2014

[Review] Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Rating: 3 Stars
Genre: Literary fiction
Synopsis: Cynical yet condescending sailor faces existential and moral dilemmas in the middle of Africa, meets crazy sociopathic nutjob, cannibals, and gets owned by mother nature.

If there was ever a book that has been so debated upon, it would be Heart of Darkness. It is the book that has plagued me through my years as an English Major--a work that I should've read a long time ago, but haven't. I've tried, God knows I've tried. I must've started this book a hundred times, but I've only just gotten around to reading it.

Is Joseph Conrad racist? (ooh look colors!) Dear God this is probably one of the most racist things I've ever read. There is the argument that Conrad isn't actually racist, his narrator is, but let's not split hairs here. Saying the depictions of Africans in this book is distasteful would be putting it mildly. Though still, there is the argument that Conrad is only being truthful, that it was not so uncommon for Europeans to view Africa as a country full of savages. Is it important to acknowledge this work? Yes, lest we forget our literary history and how it is used to subdue other cultures. It's like in the novel. Marlow's obsession with Kurtz and his eloquence. Words are his power. Use it to subdue the brutish savages.

This idea that certain cultures are superior to another is still widely prevalent today. I know, I know, some of you might gasp at such a thing, but it's usually unintentional and subtle compared to Conrad's novel. One look at the English canon and it just screams white supremacy. Culture is a tool of power that has been used to oppress others for a long time. The English Major was offered first and foremost in British colonies abroad because Shakespeare was going to civilize them. Fun fact, I'm learning how to oppress myself. Whoopie. So why did I choose English and why am I reading this racist book? Cultural capital. I might make a post on this at a later time when I'm not feeling so lazy.

So why in the world do we still study this book a hundred or so years after it's been published? Especially if it is radically racist?

Who knows. Conrad was a visionary, and scholars have nothing but praise for his style and narrative innovation, whatever that is or means.

Though, to be honest, I do think Joseph Conrad's a master of prose. I enjoy reading it even if I get lost in the plot points. The man knows how to write. The only qualm I is that I cringe whenever I read "darkness". Maybe because it's in the title, but every time he writes "heart of darkness" it feels heavy-handed and tired.

The book is not so very much about character development or plot as much as it is about the great big in your face metaphor that is "the heart of darkness", which is a euphemism for the great unknown inaccessible to humankind. There are constant references to the heart of darkness, i.e the center of Africa, as the earth's beginning. Marlow parallels traveling deeper into the the Congo with going back in time in a similar fashion to walking down a museum exhibit on history. The people are primeval, supposedly devolving early humans, and the land is untameable and has an almost sentient wildness. In other words, the heart of darkness is the dark origin of life on earth. It promises existential and very real dangers that make it compelling for explorers, but of course, the explorers all eventually get their asses handed to them by nature. The ending was okay, a little silly, but I get it.

Anyway, here's an example where Conrad really shines.
"Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is--that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic fora futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself--that comes too late--a crop of unextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable grayness with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be."
All in all, I give it 3 Stars because I really did enjoy the way he wrote. I might take a look at Conrad's other novels just for that reason.

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only."

Does the idea redeem it though? I don't know about all that. In conclusion:

Friday, April 4, 2014

[Revew] The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Rating: 3.5 Stars
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Synopsis: A town speculates on the multiple suicides of five suburban girls obsessively.

What is there to really say about this book? The title and cover recommends itself and Jeffrey Eugenides has made great strides in the literary world. There is a movie adaptation to this book, which is currently on my to-watch-list on Netflix.

Seriously, I can't think of the first thing to really say about this novel so this is going to be one of my shortest reviews so far. I haven't really made up my mind as to whether I liked it or not. Don't get me wrong, Eugenides can write. Though I couldn't help but feel that he knew a little TOO well exactly what to write. This is the kind of writing that cultural elitists really get themselves hot over. It's packed to the brim with imagery and symbolism and narrated in the rare first-person plural.

Is Eugenides exploitative? Definitely, and I think that's why he always rubs me the wrong way. When I first read Middlesex a few years ago, I thought it was a great book, but upon reflecting and reading interviews, Eugendies only used the protagonist's ambiguous gender as a literary device, and I felt like he did the same here with the Lisbon sisters in Virgin Suicides. The narrative style left little empathy for them and a great need to know why the girls committed suicide. I think with a few readings, one could try to glean over all the details and come to some conclusion, but I don't think there is a reason why, or if there is, it won't be entirely satisfying.


Suicide then, becomes a means to an artistic end. I'm not crying out in moral outrage or anything (though I can imagine some people will), but I can't help but feel that Jeffrey Eugenides is sitting in some some comfy armchair somewhere and smiling rather pretentiously to himself as he reflects on his own gifted literary abilities.

It was more enjoyable than it was off-putting, so there's that. Some people will love it, some will hate it, I am ambivalent.

There was on quotation in particular that I want to point out.
"We could never understand why the girls cared so much about being mature, or why they felt compelled to compliment each other, but sometimes, after one of us had read a long portion of the diary out loud, we had to fight back the urge to hug one another or to tell each other how pretty we were. We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together... We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them."
Like I said, this guy just rubs me the wrong way. I could talk about how exploitation is a real theme in this story, particularly in how the girl's are idolized and objectified to the point where who the girls really were didn't matter so much as the stories and fantasies the narrators as well as the rest of the town spun to suit their own fancy. Did the suicides have to be pretty teenage white girls? Yes, yes it did because pretty teenage white girls are placed upon pedestals and worshiped, and if the nation's object of desire and envy, then it is as theorized in the novel, "the Lisbon girls became symbol of what was wrong with the country". It isn't titled Virgin Suicides because the girls were all virgins (they weren't), but merely for its symbolism, just like how all the girls' deaths were commemorated, even though one of the sisters Mary, survived the attempt. Eugenides is clever, I'll give him that.

Friday, March 28, 2014

[Review] Hope's Rebellion by Jade Varden

Rating: 3 Stars
Genre: YA dystopia
Synopsis: In a world that favors light hair and discriminates dark as a means a social status, three girls growing up in three different circumstances form a friendship.

First and foremost, I am a bit torn between softening down a review for the sake of a struggling writer or just plowing through like I would for any book, popular and well-known or not. However, for the sake of the writer and the readers, I will do my best to be as honest as possible.

Let me say that this is my first time reviewing a self-published book (and one that was requested) I can say with some certainty that this book has not been professionally edited. If it has, Jade Varden you're not getting your money's worth because there are some very obvious grammar/spelling issues. There are also some transition issues. It's hard to tell how much time has passed between each scene until ages are talked about, and the scene switch itself seems to change abruptly and without notice. There definitely needs to be some indication of time passage at the beginning of each skip.

Overall, I think it that the prose itself flows pretty well, much better than some of the other YA of the same vein that I have read. I really have no complaints in that department. Also, I like that there is a focus on female friendships, which you really don't see very often for some reason. It's too bad that it feels like they're friends because of circumstance and not because they have any genuine interest in one another. They hang out, but I feel like none of them actually really knows one another until the end.

The genre is dystopia, though one wouldn't know it with soldiers walking around with breastplates and helmets. Usually dystopias are placed in the future (it took some time for me to ascertain that this story was indeed taking place in the future and not some alternate universe) and explore how the pressing issues of modern day social problems will play out if they are to continue (a.k.a global warming, materialism, genetic manipulation, government thought control etc). Somehow I don't see hair color discrimination factoring into the future since it obviously doesn't factor into the present. Personally if I was going to write about shade discrimination I would've gone for the elephant in the room, skin color, but I guess that's not some faraway future, that's reality. I mean, I guess hair color is supposed to an allegory for color discrimination, but still... something about it rubs me the wrong way.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

[Review] Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Rating: 2 Stars
Genre: YA-Fantasy
Synopsis: A teenage girl about to be executed gets a second chance at life as a poison taster.

I really thought I would love this book and get hooked onto this series. During the first few chapters, I thought I would spend the rest of the week with dark circles under my eyes trying to read everything, but unfortunately that didn't turn out to be the case.

All in all, there isn't really anything too bad about the series. The heroine is pretty awesome. The whole poison taster acrobat angle is definitely a new one for me. She has a tragic past without whining about it. She is attracted to men without throwing herself on them and wailing bitterly whenever they aren't paying attention to her. Every male in the series is not slobbering at her feet. When she's in trouble, her immediate thought is not for someone to rescue her. She does not feel entitled to anything except basic human rights, and even those, she'll bargain for.

So why did the book feel so long? Why did her character still seem flat? Is it because she actually has little to no flaws? Is it because every part of her is a good and hardworking person? Maybe it's that her extremely traumatic past doesn't actually manifest itself into her personality in the least? Okay, given, she does seem like a person who had been oppressed to such an extent that her first and foremost thought will always be in on survival, but where's her resentment and bitterness?

Isn't it normal for a sixteen year old girl whose life had been completely destroyed and then redestroyed to be a little temperamental? Everything she says and does bears no ill-will and no bad intentions. At some points, she makes Valek, the cold-hearted assassin seem emotional and petty. He literally has to push her to the point of breaking to get a reaction, and even then, she bounces back pretty quickly as if being betrayed by the only person she was beginning to trust was only worth a few day's worth of brooding.

So let's get to Valek the love interest that you don't really expect to be the love interest, which is actually pretty awesome twist. We don't even get a description of him the first time we meet him. He's deadly, smart, agile, mysterious, and can't be trusted, A+ love interest right?

But first. How old... is Valek exactly? Let's do some math. Yikes.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

[Review] Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

"The darkness and silence of the church pressed on him, cold as judgment, and the voices crying from the window might have been crying from another world. John moved forward, hearing his feet crack against the sagging wood, to where the golden cross on the red field of the altar cloth glowed like smothered fire, and switched on one weak light."
Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: Literary fiction, Modern fiction, African-American literature
Timeline: Early to mid 1900's
Synopsis: An honest portrayal of a black family living in New York. Every single member of the Grimes family struggles with their faith as they face the inhumanity of living in a violently racist world.

This book is like a work of art. You have to experience it a few times to even begin to truly appreciate the complex humanity that Baldwin has poured into his prose. Like many modernist works, there is a fragmentary cohesiveness in the way the story is told. At once broken yet fluid, I found myself startlingly aware of my own heartbeat as I was reading.

I think there is something to the rhythm of his words, which isn't surprising since Baldwin was a great enthusiast of jazz. There is a flow that carries you along even if you find yourself wavering over the subject matter. The story is foremost about John's internal struggle over his place and identity in a world that forces him to choose between being a sinner or a saint. Because he struggles with his own sexuality (Baldwin was also gay), and because he bears resentment against his abusive step-father who is revered at church, John becomes alienated from the Christ-centered community that he is brought up in. For himself, he sees no hope of redemption or salvation.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

[Review] An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments written by Ali Almossawi, illustrated by Alejandro Giraldo

Read it for free here:

Rating: 4-stars
Genre: Nonfiction-Philosophy, Nonfiction-Reference
Synopsis: An illustrated book of rhetorical arguments.
Do you know what's awesome about this book? It has pictures. How many philosophy books have cute adorable pictures? Hardly any. Did I mention that it's free? This book is a good brush up of terminology for those who have studied logic or logical fallacies.

There isn't really much to say or review about this book. It's short, the book is not really for children. If you have never studied the art of argument before, the terminology and dissection of definitions might be hard to follow. Philosophy books tend to have their own style of explaining things that is extremely concise, but not particularly friendly to the average reader. You can certainly get the book for your child, but they would probably struggle with the actual text of the book, even if the pictures are perfectly understandable. Click Read more for an example.

Friday, March 14, 2014

[Review] The Zahir by Paulo Coelho (trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

"No one should ever ask themselves that: Why am I unhappy? The question carries within it the virus that will destroy everything. If we ask that question, it means we want to find out what makes us happy. If what makes us happy is different from what we have now, then we must either change once and for all or stay as we are, feeling even more unhappy."
Rating: 2 Stars
Genre: Literary Fiction
Setting: Somewhere between Milan and Paris
Timeline: Close enough to present day
Synopsis: A successful author's life disappears. He looks for her, and along the way makes some discoveries about love and life.

The synopsis of the book is rather misleading. It appears on the surface to be a love story, but it's actually one of those inspirational stories about spirituality that doesn't make as much sense as the characters want you to believe. Yes, there is a lot of moaning and groaning from the narrator about how much he loves his wife and how much he obsesses over her for every second of his waking life (even though he is a serial adulterer), but the wife seemed more like a plot device for the narrator's self-discovery than an actual autonomous character. For one, she is missing throughout almost all of the book, only appearing in random flashbacks when it is most convenient for the narrator to make some supposedly poignant observation about humanity's many flaws.

I mean, look at the cover of this book. Beautiful right? Check out that subtitle, "a novel of obsession". HMMM, let's think about that one for a second. Who is the narrator obsessed with? His wife? Well he certainly seems to think so. He calls his wife the Zahir.

Now what in the world is a Zahir? Well, some may be familiar with the Islamic concept of zahir, but the zahir that Coelho's protagonist is obsessing over has little to nothing to do with the Quran, but with a short story with the same title by Jorge Luis Borges. How do I know this? Three reasons, the first being that he quotes Borges in the beginning of the novel; the second reason is because Coelho releases another book called Aleph, another Borges story, that is the conceptual polar opposite of the zahir. And finally, the third reason is because of the whole obsession theme (if you read the original short story you will know what I mean).

Monday, March 10, 2014

[Review] The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

"The only solution was to try to unmake the world, to make it black and silent and uninhabited again, to return to the moment before the Big Bang, in the beginning when there was the Word, and to live in that vacuous uncreated space alone with the Word."
Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: YA, Contemporary Romance
Setting: 2000's
Synopsis: Prodigious cancer teens fall in love.

I didn't want to like this book. Don't ask me why, but since the beginning I had already braced myself against for an endless stream of maudlin and sentimental drivel simply because people quoted all the sappy parts nonstop. It's that one book that people assault you with and you don't really get why. So I expected to hate it. But I didn't. Dear God I loved it. Okay, it wasn't perfect and some moments had me raising my eyebrow going what the hell John Green (why do boys expect girls to like boy movies? What the hell is that supposed to mean John Green?), but it was great because rarely do I ever laugh out loud while reading (and I even wept a little *cough* just a little).
"Mom reached up to this shelf above my bed and grabbed Bluie, the blue stuffed bear I had since I was, like one--back when it was socially acceptable to name one's friends after their hue."
It's funny okay!?. The book is riddled with all these clever phrases and turn of words. However, sometimes it got a little too clever for it's own good. The characters are intelligent, but there is a difference between intelligence and being extremely well-read. Though I expect there are many intelligent seventeen year olds, I find it rare for them to be well-read. What sort of teenager spouts out things like hamartia (this word is so uncommon that google is telling me that I've spelt Harmonia wrong, whatever that is), or quotes WCW, or appreciates the metaphorical significance of existentially fraught free throws? Okay, maybe I'm just bitter because my own high school education was shit poor (public schools...), so once I accepted that I'm only lamenting my own loss, I moved on.

Every reference in this book is pretty much lit 101 and beginner's lit theory 101. So if you're into Literature with the capital L, prepare to have your ego stroked because you'll have studied every reference alluded to. The conversations swing rapidly between colloquial to eloquent, i.e "awesomesauce" to stuff like "the Whitmanesque revelation that the definition of humanness is the opportunity to marvel at the majesty of creation". To illustrate how the characters talked, I have this handy Dilbert comic featuring Zeno's Paradox.

It might turn some people off, but I think the majority of people can suspend their belief that such amazing teenagers could possibly exist and still be likable and cool and enjoy the story.

The characters were genuine and extremely lovable. Two words: Augustus Waters. Does such a person exist in this world, even in adult form? I found him a little too perfect to be entirely relatable, but I get that his role is to give teenage girls wet dreams and to make them incredibly angry that the only guys at their high school appear like rotting stalks of celery in comparison to the glorious Augustus Waters, professional Golden Boy with the fatal harmatia. Males wanting to read this beware, you may feel threatened.

So this is by no means the best book about cancer and dying (in fact if you're reading it because you or someone you know has cancer, it is better to find a book written by someone who actually went through a similar experience), because it's mainly a book about two teens contemplating love, life, and dying, but I still found it tragically beautiful and touching. As a really random end note, I also really enjoyed the significant meta-ness of Hazel searching for an ending to her favorite book.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

[Review] Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim

"When I sprinted from the house, I saw the moon, orange, almost electric, stalled between feathery clouds like a helium balloon, ready to burst into a million splinters. Without glasses, the world melted from focus. The house and trees seemed under water. I leaned against a tree and felt its knobby trunk pressing into my skin like a column of bones."
Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, LGBTQ
Setting: U.S - Midwest
Timeline: 1980's
Official Summary: At the age of eight Brian Lackey is found bleeding under the crawl space of his house, having endured something so traumatic that he cannot remember an entire five–hour period of time. During the following years he slowly recalls details from that night, but these fragments are not enough to explain what happened to him, and he begins to believe that he may have been the victim of an alien encounter. Neil McCormick is fully aware of the events from that summer of 1981. Wise beyond his years, curious about his developing sexuality, Neil found what he perceived to be love and guidance from his baseball coach. Now, ten years later, he is a teenage hustler, a terrorist of sorts, unaware of the dangerous path his life is taking. His recklessness is governed by idealized memories of his coach, memories that unexpectedly change when Brian comes to Neil for help and, ultimately, the truth.

Two words. Soul crushing, just absolutely soul crushing. Life is tragic, it is beautiful and redemptive, yet it was hard to go through the book with any sort of optimism. Once the milk has been spilled, the stain just won't come out. Things are built up, and they fall to pieces. The characters try their best to pull the pieces back together, but in the end, one just has to keep pushing along, surviving and trying to find some joy in the fact that at least they are loved and not completely alone.

The prose is beautiful, sparse and to the point yet poetic. The characters themselves are relatable. The story features various points of views all from the different characters as they grow up in Little River or Hutchinson Kansas, but mainly focuses on the lives of Brian Lackey and Neil McCormick, both of who had suffered terrible trauma during childhood and how they deal with and then eventually come to terms with what had happened to them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

[Article] Why the mainstream media fails writers of color

The Trouble with Talking—or Not Talking—About Race
Theme Essay by Aimee Phan


In 2003, before my first book came out, friends in the literary community warned me about how dire review coverage had become.

But no one I worked with at St. Martin’s Press on We Should Never Meet, a collection of short stories that involve “Operation Babylift” in Vietnam and its aftermath, ever mentioned that my ethnicity might play a role. Even now, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the publishing industry trying to explain the political murkiness and cold marketing statistics of landing book reviews to an elated debut author like me.

Few people read literary fiction, and those who do typically turn to critics to discover which books deserve their time. But if those critics are to be believed, few writers of color make the cut. According to rough counts for 2011 to 2012 compiled by writer and teacher Roxane Gay and a graduate assistant, 90 percent of the books reviewed by the New York Times during that time period were by white writers, leaving a 10 percent sliver for writers of color.

These depressing estimates, first published in the Rumpus in 2012, confirm what many writers of color like me have always feared: that the words over which we’ve labored and sacrificed ourselves for years—the books we’ve written, revised, edited, and finally published in order to contribute to the literary landscape that’s inspired us—don’t matter to the influential gatekeepers of the reading population.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

[Review] Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

"The years inside the Forbidden City had formed a shell over her and the shell had hardened. Historians would describe her as cruel and heartless. Her iron will was said to have carried her through one crisis after another."

Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: China
Timeline: Qing Dynasty (Mid to Late 1800's) 
Summary: A compelling story about the humble beginnings of Orchid, (also known as Empress Dowager CiXi) who eventually becomes the last empress of China.

For the most part I thoroughly enjoyed reading Empress Orchid. I've been meaning to read more of works after reading her memoir Red Azalea several years ago. The first part of the novel mainly focuses upon the traditions and dangers of imperial court life and the budding romance between Orchid and the Emperor. One can't help but root for our heroine as she stumbles into her own actualized Peking Opera from her impoverished beginnings in the countryside. The story itself starts off with her being unable to pay workers to carry her father's coffin to his burial ground, already framing the story in a sort of tragedy. A rags to riches story, Orchid comes from having nothing to all to everything she could need, and then more than she can handle.