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Monday, September 7, 2015

A Book I Would Wish on My Worst Enemy

Book: Soulless (Parasol Protectorate Series #1)
Author: Gail Carriger
Rating: Terrible

Gail Carriger's Soulless follows heroine Alexia Tarabotti, a part-Italian, literally soulless spinster living in Victorian London, a society in this book that has fully integrated supernatural beings, such as werewolves and vampires. Being soulless, Alexia has the ability to neutralize supernatural powers by mere touch. The story starts out with Alexia accidentally killing a vampire with her parasol, which sets in motion an investigation of conspiracy. In the meantime, Alexia has Lord Maccon to deal with, a handsome werewolf who can cause quite a scandal...



You could say this book is a combination of Pride and Prejudice and Twilight, if Pride and Prejudice had no substance or wit to it. I didn't have high expectations for this book. I went in for a light, fun read; so, my expectations were actually pretty low. Somehow, Soulless failed to surpass my already low expectations. The premise seemed interesting enough, but the book was so poorly executed. This book is way, way too long, and as a result, it's slow and boring. The author was so obviously trying to copy Jane Austen's writing style, but it just didn't work. Her writing style was inconsistent, which distracted from the actual plot. Carriger forgoes a more detailed look at the complicated society she has dreamed up and instead spends over half the novel on Alexia and Lord Maccon's romance, filling pages upon pages with insipid and cliched dialogue. We get it; they have chemistry.  

The dialogue and romance was cheesy and boring, and the humor not-so-humorous. The characters were more like caricatures, with none of Carriger's depictions scraping beneath the surface. Each character could be described by a handful of words. This is especially seen in her gross characterization of Lord Akeldama, a flamboyant gossipy vampire who is best friends with Alexia. 


The author  relies on cringe-worthy tropes: Heroine is convinced she is unnattractive, despite being beautiful and having a great body. She and her love interest (who happens to be a well-sought after, handsome, wild man - well, werewolf, in power) bicker with each other like an old, married couple and assert their dislike for each other, despite being in love with each other. Both heroine and love interest are stubborn and assertive.


Make it stop. 


I am not a fan of paranormal romance, but I believe that any book, no matter what genre, should be thoughtfully and carefully written and should say something of value. Soulless is neither well-written nor  well-developed enough to contribute anything to its genre. I do not believe Carriger spent enough time developing her characters, plot, or world. Had she done so, the book would have been more concise, less repetitive, and more developed. It could even have been an enjoyable read. 


Despite struggling to finish this book, I did learn something about myself while reading it: I have the potential to be very vindictive. This book was painful to read, but I endured it just so I could write this review. I also couldn't help but think this book would be a good way to torture someone, someone I really, really disliked. 


The Art of Superficiality: Helter-Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki

"A laugh and a scream are very similar." 
Rating: Amazing!


Look at the woman above. Something is just not quite right. And it isn't the smudged mascara under her eye (or is that a bruise?).

Kyoko Okazaki's Helter-Skelter follows Liliko, a beautiful, high-profile model who becomes jaded emotionally disturbed when faced with competition from a younger model and with the deterioration of her own body.

This is my second time reading this manga, and I love it even more. This manga expertly tells the story of Liliko's gradual descent into depression, apathy, and madness. To say the artwork is stunning would be inaccurate and reductive. The artwork can be unpolished, disgusting, terrifying, and erotic, embodying the manga's haunting opening sentence: "A laugh and a scream can sound the same." Kyoko Okazaki captures the shallow world in which Liliko lives, focusing in on celebrity culture and the pressure to be "beautiful," that is, slender and proportional. Pressures to be "beautiful" and popular are omnipresent in Helter-Skelter, in the end taking a toll on Liliko's mental and emotional stability and making her shallow, selfish, sadistic, sad, and lonely. Basically, an awful human being. But one must consider how everyone contributes to her deterioration. Those who built her - "Mama" who manages her career and her plastic surgeons who literally build her a new body - and those who consumed her image. The word "image" here is very important as everything Liliko presents to the world is fake - her face, body, and emotions. Apathy, jealousy, and weariness, gnaw at Liliko until she decides to simply "give the people what they want," becoming a vacant shell - all exterior, all meaningless. This manga is haunting.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Brosh's Absurdity, Crude Drawings, and Silly Stories Make for a Side-Splitting Book

Book: Hyperbole and a Half
Author: Allie Brosh
Website: Hyperbole and a Half
Rating: Amazing!

Hilarity and chaos ensue in Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed coping mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. Allie Brosh uses absurd humor and intentionally crude drawings to dramatize stories ranging from her uncooperative dogs, an unruly goose, the mischief she caused as a child, to depression. To get a sense of the type of humor in this book, one need only look at the back cover, in which Brosh writes how she is not "sneaky" enough to write a synopsis and praise of the book in third-person ("...some might say the book is full of stories...").
       I was hesitant to read this book, even after reading all of the praise and there is a lot of praise (alas, Alot is absent in this book). But that praise is well-founded; Brosh's stories shine with absurdity, hilarity, insight, and self-awareness. I didn't think I would be impressed with such childish drawings, but its that very characteristic that makes the drawings so hilarious! Her intentionally immature drawings enhance the written narrative, making the story sillier and more absurd. Just look at drawings of herself, with her pony tail sticking up like a shark fin, makes me burst me into laughter! Her drawings also make her comedy more whimsical and, of course, childlike, allowing us to make sense of the thought processes of the simple dog, the helper dog, her five-year-old self, and her brain on depression.

This book had me laughing out loud! I don't often do this with books I borrow from the library, but I'm going to have to buy this book. I know I'll be reading it again. If you love absurd humor, read this book!
       
Don't forget to check out Allie Brosh's blog!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Favorite Books of 2014

The books listed below are the ones that impacted me the most. They are not in any particular order.



Poetry


-The Wild Iris by Louis Gluck – This is a collection of poetry and was the first collection of poetry by Louis Gluck that I read. As the title might suggest, this poetry collection used a lot of flower imagery. Stunning and beautiful. 

-Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton – At this point, I think I’ve read all of Lucille Clifton’s published poems. Her writing style is deceivingly simple: not that many words on the page, but a lot of depth to those words. Through her poems, she explores themes of her black heritage, being a black woman, the inner city, motherhood, among others. My favorite poem by her is “come celebrate with me,” which I’ll leave a link to below. I think that’s a pretty good place to start with her poetry.

-Blue Horses by Mary Oliver – Mary Oliver is my favorite poet. Her poetry features a lot of nature imagery, and it just exudes joy and wisdom. For me, it is very calming and uplifting to read.

Other Poetry books:

-Incarnadine by Mary Szybist
-Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart


Novels

-Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes - Hands down my favorite book read in 2014! This story follows a man - Charlie - with a very low IQ who is scouted by scientists to participate in a research project. He, along with the lab rat Algernon, undergo brain surgery, and his IQ increases exponentially, making him become a genius. The novel is cleverly written in diary entries by Charlie, who has to document everything for the scientists. In this way, Keyes allows us to see Charlie's intellectual development - from a man who writes run-sentences laden with spelling mistakes and who is unaware of his co-workers' less-than-innocent teasing to a man who writes beautiful, poetic, and grammatically-correct prose and who understands mockery. In his diary entries, Charlie explores the effect the surgery has had on him and on other people, and how he even comes to be a little arrogant and feel contempt for those with lower IQs. And, as the story has it, how he feels when Algernon starts deteriorating. Poetic and arresting, Charlie's story will make you think about your relationships and how you treat other people. This is a beautiful novel. 

-The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe - I was looking for something weird and philosophical when I picked up this book, and it did not disappoint. A man who collects bugs one day decides he needs to get away. So, he takes a day off from work and goes to the desert to look for rare bugs - what's more relaxing than that? However, his day trip goes awry when night falls and he meets a few villagers, who persuade him to go down the sand cliff and stay the night at a (THE) woman's house. The catch: the villagers will never let him leave. Incredibly claustrophobic, the plot (however bare it may be) takes place within this small village in the dunes - mostly within and around the woman's house. Further adding to the confined atmosphere is the all-permeating and invasive sand, which seeps into and eats away at the houses and sticks to the body like superglue. Destructive and pernicious, the sand poses a dangerous and immediate threat to the villagers, who every night must dig at the side of the sand cliff to deter an avalanche of sand that would drown the village. The main character is tormented, both by his unlawful detainment and by what he considers a meaningless existence; why live only to avoid death? Accordingly, this book follows his plots to escape and often meanders into long, philosophical tangents that are worth considering. A book that will make you think.

-Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka - I read this around the same time as I read The Woman in the Dunes; so, I was still in the weird, philosophical mood. Gregor Samsa, a traveling businessman who is the sole provider for his parents and sister, one day wakes up to find himself turned into a cockroach. I read this as a satire of how sick people are treated. Gregor, the sick person, who, along with his family and co-workers, is slow to accept his state, even trying to make it to work as a giant cockroach! In a saddening but absurdly funny tale, we see how Gregor becomes isolated and dehumanized by his family and himself.


Other novels:
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides


Plays

-King Lear by Shakespeare - An old, foolish man (the titular character) forgets the value of love and relationships and casts out his sincere and loving daughter, Cordelia, leaving his land and power to his selfish and deceitful daughters, Goneril and Regan, who cast him away after they are rewarded for their false speeches. Lear, now left with nothing, descends into madness, eventually becoming  "unaccommodated man" and reuniting with Cordelia. This was a powerful play that made me rethink the value of my relationships and also see death in a different light. As discussed in my Shakespeare class last semester, death can be a means to a fully realized life. I will elaborate more on this in a future post.

-Twelfth Night by Shakespeare - In the holiday world of Illyria, Viola pretends to be a man and chaos from love and mistaken identity ensues. Hilarious and thought-provoking, this play made me consider how a lack of understanding of one's own appetites can be detrimental to one's personal growth. More to come on this as well.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fresh Start

Hi, I'm Cat! 

I recently decided to start working on this blog again. So, I deleted all previous posts, most of which were music videos and the rest of which were poorly written book reviews. 

Now that I have a blank slate, I'll be posting hopefully more thoughtful and better written book reviews.