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.