Book Review – The Coma by Alex Garland

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror / Suspense
Publication Date: July 7th, 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber

“When we wake, we die.”

Give The Coma a second chance, if at first it seems unclear or confusing. This novel is one of the moody, enigmatic types that likes to be shy with its details on your initial read-through, which gain an eerier significance on a revisit. It’s like an abstract painting in every sense, building up its steady storm of colours with intentions both sinister and serene.

Told through the deterioration of a man, Carl’s, psyche, after he is beaten to the point of unconsciousness on the subway, it’s less a linear story than it is a dreamlike exploration. In the aftermath of supposedly waking up, the pieces of reality that were once there don’t fit cleanly together anymore.

Maybe I’ve made it sound pretentious (a bad habit of mine when it comes to poetic books) but surprisingly, it’s not. Not even remotely. It’s just difficult to put into words. I read this a few years ago and wasn’t quite sure if I enjoyed it or not. I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time, and remember thinking it was ambitious, but perplexing. I didn’t get it, but it haunted me. Now I think it’s actually a brilliant psychological novella. A philosophy of dream to aspire to, that leaves you with a ravenous need to know, while allowing the reader freedom to come to their own conclusions about what happens.

The Coma kind of hooks you in without your say-so, Garland’s abstract writing always skirting the bare edge of creepiness, like there’s some cosmic, horrifying realization budding under the surface that you know you’re going to have to face.

“I do all this alone. Everything I achieve, I achieve alone, because it’s my head I’m locked into, and I share this space with nobody but myself.”

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Psychological Novels You Should Read

Psychological thriller and its fraternal twin, psychological horror, are hands-down, my favourite genres. It’s the genre I strive to carve my name in, and it’s the one I get the most excited about when seeking new books and movies.
While few and far-between, compared to other genres, the spectrum of dark psychological fiction consistently churns out works of pretty high quality. There are exceptions, of course, but of all the psychological media I’ve watched, read and played, I can’t name ten that were any worse than “mediocre”.

That being said, I believe that the key reason for this, unfortunately, is that the genre is somewhat alienating. You have to be passionate about it to make it, and creating a good psychological work involves an exploration of dark places in the human psyche. Not exactly a fun weekend trip, that. Discovering new works in the genre can be difficult. So, I thought I’d share a handful of diamonds in the rough that I’ve discovered, and loved, in my eternal quest to scour everything the psychological duo have to offer.

The Coma by Alex Garland
Genre: Psychological Suspense
The Coma is like a softer, more sinister Inception, taking place in the mind of a man after he is assaulted on a subway, and wakes in the hospital to find he can no longer hold a grasp on what is real and what isn’t. Everything that was once normal in his life seems out-of-place and has a surreal, stilted tone to it.
I finished this novel over a weekend, and at first wasn’t sure what to make of it, or even if I enjoyed it, but in retrospect, I think it’s excellent. Garland conveys a transfinite reality that can be broken and morphed at will by one person’s subconscious.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi
Genre: Psychological Horror
Though its place on the roster shifts now and then, Perfect Blue is one of my favourite novels of all time and will likely remain one forever. It is, as you might have guessed, the basis for the cult horror anime Perfect Blue, but despite that and sharing a title, the film and the book aren’t incredibly similar other than the basic premise, and the creators’ shared disgust with the pop idol industry in Japan, and how those idols are (mis)treated by media and fans alike.
The master of creeps, the unnamed “Darling Rose”, who stalks and attempts to murder the pop singer heroine throughout the novel, is one of my favourite book villains. He is borderline inhuman, yet with an uncanny basis in reality, mirroring the crimes and motives of many real-life celebrity stalkers. Perfect Blue is not for everyone – some may be turned off by the blunt violence and abstract style, but I personally think it’s phenomenal both as a social satire and as a piece of horror. Continue reading “Psychological Novels You Should Read”

Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)

I recently pieced together a rough selection of books that, for the time being, are the most likely to make it onto my “Best Books of 2019” list at the end of the year, so figured I may as well tackle the opposite end of the spectrum, while I’m at it. These are the current contenders for the most disappointing books I’ve read in 2019. If you want to keep up with my books, feel free to follow or friend me on Goodreads, too. Goodreads feels dead as a cemetery lately, so I wouldn’t mind more interaction.

Keep in mind for this list that a novel being disappointing does not necessarily make it “bad”, so if one of these happens to be your favourite, that’s totally fine. Varying opinions are what make people interesting. If they made it on this list, it simply means I didn’t enjoy them, expected much more from them, or expected something different than what I got.

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Romance
Books about bullying and how it differs between say, a lower-income public school and a prestigious prep school, carry a lot of psychological baggage for their writer to convey. Or, they should, if they want to remain in good taste. Gossip Girl was too self-indulgent and easy to take unironically for me to even find it a guilty pleasure, like I do the similar series, The Clique by Lisi Harrison. Neither I feel are especially good influences, not for their intended audience.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Humor
What I expected to be one of the best books, since I loved the film so much, turned out to be one of the worst. Starts strongly enough, but is ultimately made pointless by its ending and comes off as shockingly racist. I usually like to begin reviews with a quote and couldn’t find a suitable one in the actual meat of the text, so ended up having to use an unrelated quote that the novel used as a chapter header. That should tell you something. Skip the book and just watch the movie adaptation, you will have a much more fulfilling experience that way. Continue reading “Most Disappointing Books of 2019 (So Far)”

Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Mystery
Series: Blue Ant
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2003
Publisher: Penguin

“We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.”

Pattern Recognition is a capsule from which paranoia gradually blossoms. Earth is a microcosm, really, in the great span of things, but the rapid onset of technology and connection have had the ironic downside of making it feel as small as it is, tightly webbed yet somehow immensely lonely.

Predictable as it might be for me to say it, this novel feels eerily prescient and knowing in a way that goes beyond the author’s imagination. It seems to have anticipated that strange lonely closeness creeping in through our screens. There exists a paradox of clarity and riddle, or perhaps reality and falsehood, in its pages that makes it feel like something you’ve actually just watched unfold.

Gibson’s phenomenal writing does outclass the actual plot, I suppose, but it’s a pretty lofty height the story would have to reach in order to match the way it’s told. The writing in itself is a network of intricacy, the edges of deep, impenetrable mystery just visible as it develops the variables of its equation. Gibson uses the raw delicacy of poetry and yet keeps it secretive, an outstretched hand seeming to offer everything upfront but hiding a labyrinth of tiny microbes you’ll never see working against you.
There are stretches, especially in the beginning, that could easy have been boring if it’d been written by anybody else, but instead feel rather like a brief reprise before the catastrophe sets in. Continue reading “Book Review – Pattern Recognition by William Gibson”

The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)

On this day, more of this year is now dead than alive. Normally I cling to time like a miser clings to pocket change, but I will be happy when this year’s over. Not merely happy, but elated. 2019 has worked its way into the official hall of shame in my memories, slightly higher than middle school but slightly lower than the entirety of 2016. And there’s still five long months to suffer through!

One of the few upsides, however, is that I’ve discovered some truly wonderful books. Most of my reading this year has been average, as usual, with only a handful of ones I would call “bad” reads, and a surprising amount that really stood out. So far, these are the best contenders, in no particular order, for the final countdown I’ll be doing around the end of the year. Be sure to check them out if you can. These are books and authors definitely worth their salt!

The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Every now and then, the stars align and produce the exact book you desire at the exact moment you want to read it. This is one of those rare occurrences. The Mad and the Bad is an older, and comparatively obscure piece of noir fiction that is at the same time, far different from any noir fiction I’ve ever read – quirky and outlandish yet with an insanely dark sense of humor and irony. I plan on doing a review of this one eventually, so won’t spoil too much. You should just go out and read it, it shouldn’t take more than a few days to finish it.

Stain by A.G. Howard
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Young adult fiction needs more writers like A.G. Howard. Her writing style is unabashed and intelligent, and wickedly contorts the over-used tropes of fairytales into something brilliant. While I thought Howard’s more famous series, Splintered, was phenomenal, Stain shows a stronger sense of mischievous, calculating cunning and maturity in its development that ultimately made for a deeper story.

Smashed by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Short Stories
I am a hardcore Junji Ito fanatic, so pretty much any new work of his, even if it’s a stylish reprint of older stories, will automatically make the Top 10 for that year. Smashed got mixed reviews for being, I suppose, more haphazard in tone than his last two horror omnibuses, but as far as enjoyment of the stories goes, I actually liked this one more than both Shiver and Frankenstein. Continue reading “The Best Books of 2019 (So Far)”

Writing Progress – Seven Sins Heptalogy

My book blogging unrelated to my own work is going on a soft hiatus throughout the summer. Reviews won’t halt, just slow to a crawl because this project will and is starting to eat up my already scarce reading time. Due to recent unforeseen upheavals in my life and this heptalogy, I won’t have as much opportunity to curtail the reviews, and would rather not update than risk posting something that was notably low-quality. Not a huge deal, this is just so you won’t be surprised when there’s more list reviews and re-reviews than previously unexplored books.

Anyway, what the seven sins heptalogy is, is not exactly a “series”. It is seven books that are tenuously related at best – I think some might be set in the same universe but with little-to-no overlap in settings and characters – but are labelled by their general theme. Project Envy, Project Gluttony, etcetera.

I have a lot of difficulty focusing on specific projects to finish, so decided to pull ten major ones that I cared about most from my list and complete them all before I allow myself to start anything new. I figure that if I can finish these works of fiction, I will be able to consider myself a true success as a writer, even if they don’t come out immediately after they’re done. Future works will flow out with far less distress. Continue reading “Writing Progress – Seven Sins Heptalogy”

Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

★ 1.5 Stars

Genre: Romance / Erotica
Publication Date: May 25th, 2011
Publisher: Vintage

Volunteering to read Fifty Shades of Grey is like volunteering to be waterboarded, except with poor writing in lieu of water. Just when you think the torture might be over, another faceful of metaphor slurry and childish dialogue floods into your lungs. You knew what you were in for, and you knew exactly how fun it would be, and yet some irrational seed nudged you into doing it anyway.
In a way, Fifty Shades does succeed at being the ultimate act of sadomasochism. It actively hurts to continue and yet you remain compelled to. This is not so much out of intrigue, as trying to figure out what value anyone could possibly see in the experience. Why was there such a mysticism and phenomena surrounding this chunk of fanfiction? That’s all it is, really, and reading the entire series I imagine would be something akin to spiritual suicide.

At the height of Fifty Shades of Infamy, I saw what I’m pretty sure were middle-schoolers toting copies of this stupid book. Which, by the way, the physical design shocks me. The cover is as aggressively uninteresting as its innards, and looks like an early vanity press churn-out. It has that same plastic, filmy feel and cheap JPEG texture to the design. I couldn’t believe Vintage published this! Their books are typically beautiful. It’s like they were subtly trying to inspire you to avoid it, but were stuck promoting it at the same time.

Fifty Shades of Grey, as you likely already know, revolves around a closet serial killer, Patrick Bate– I mean, Christian Grey, who, in his spare time between being a pompous entrepreneur and being a Criminal Minds villain, seduces a blushing idiot named Anastasia. They get into a relationship that borders on abusive and a series of embarrassing euphemisms ensues. What is supposed to be steamy deflates quickly as it begins to come off as creepy.
The more mundane scenes aren’t much better, full of nonsensical pseudo-economics and a general dull lack of realism I shan’t bother going into, because you might fall asleep on your keyboard. On the other hand, you might accidentally type out a better book than this if you do, so maybe I will…

I am a survivor of Victorian in-joke Irene Iddlesleigh, so in fairness, Fifty Shades is hardly the worst book I’ve ever read. Sure, it’s tedious and insulting, and romance readers deserve better, but it is at least a functional book that humans can read easily using their eyestalks. But that’s a bare essential, not a compliment.
Everything about this novel is boring. “Boring” is the deadliest of the seven book sins. Rarely, the amateurish writing has the good grace to be amusing, especially with the “sex scenes”, which are almost the exact antithesis of sexy, coming off as peculiar, awkward and strangely prudish, despite trying their maximum try-hard level of hardest to be edgy. But mostly, Fifty Shades of Grey is more like Fifty Shades of Brown, because it’s about like watching molasses drip. It’s not even fun to parody, as you’ll notice if you look through the plethora of equally boring parodies that were churned out in its wake. Continue reading “Book Review – Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James”

Book Review – Perfect by Natasha Friend

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: September 16th, 2004
Publisher: Milkweed Editions

You are never alone in anything, no matter how it feels. Everyone must face their own tragedy, and deal with their own disorder. Some are just better at seeming composed.

I could read this book about a thousand times and find scarce to dislike. I believe this is one of the absolute best young adult books, especially for girls. Friend, I’ve noticed, takes care to challenge the conventional concept of perfection, and if it’s even necessary. Which it isn’t, spoiler alert. Coming from a staunch perfectionist who’s struggled with abandoning society’s expectations, you know I’m serious about that. At the end of the day, if the goal you’ve reached is the desire of someone who isn’t you, and came at the cost of important facets of your personality, it wasn’t worth it, and will be replaced with a new one to covet tomorrow.

Perfect is about the cycle of unhappiness that spawns eating disorders, though there are a lot of small and traumatic events that usually factor into it. Friend writes in a way that’s easy to approach and never preachy or contrived, letting you come to your own conclusion about Isabelle’s path.
The death of her father led into a depression, and the only influence outside of that is a girl she befriends at school, who despite all appearances as “the perfect girl”, has an extremely damaged self-image and forces herself to throw up so often that she starts bleeding from the mouth. Isabelle sees in her a mirror of her own bulimia, and their relationship becomes a paradox of enabling each other’s disorder and offering a genuine bond based around it. Continue reading “Book Review – Perfect by Natasha Friend”

The Book Genres I Don’t Like

At the risk of coming across as one with that title, I am not exactly a literature snob. I don’t care what it is, who wrote it, whether it came out as a mainstream title, indie, or had to be etched on a tome of warlock flesh. I do not care as long as it’s decently written and has visible effort put into it, even if marginal amounts. Transgressive or clean, unorthodox or classic, I like certain things about most types of books.

That being said, there are genres I won’t read and don’t like. There are a handful of exceptions in these genres that I’ve picked up, and I don’t think that they are “worthless” genres. Somebody loves them, or they wouldn’t be written and continuing to sell copies. I just have not acquired the taste for them. There are my opinions, I don’t fault anyone for finding something they love in these genres that I don’t see in them. To each his own.

Splatterpunk
This one pains me on a heartstring level. I adore horror. All of its subgenres, too… except splatterpunk. Splatterpunk is the black sheep (or bloodstained sheep?) of horror to me, I cannot force myself to like it no matter what. If anyone can point me to a quality splatterpunk book, please do! I want to like this subgenre so badly.

I’ve concluded that what I don’t enjoy about it is not the relentless violence, although that is admittedly pretty boring after so much exposure, but the ones I’ve stumbled upon have not been well-written. They read like edgy high-school essays sprinkled copiously with the thesaurus choices for “viscera” and “blood”. One exception is Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, which are decidedly more dark fantasy but have a distinct splatterpunk element and are a good read. In fact, Barker is cited as one of the fathers of the splatterpunk movement, but I suspect this is more for his Hellraiser works. (I liked the first movie, never read the novels.) I think splatterpunk can work when moderated with something else. Like, just describing gore is not going to evoke fear automatically, even in the very sensitive.

Body horror I find unsettling because it creates an “uncanny” effect – it seems human or animal, but it’s neither and your eyes and mind register that. Gore on the other hand is not fundamentally scary, not even in real life. In real life, it’s only scary because you want to get the person whose guts are hanging out to a freaking hospital. What could make that situation horror is if the hospital was an American one and turned them away, intestines in hand, because they didn’t bring their wallet.

Contemporary Romance and Harlequins
I know, I know. True lit snobs always bear an avid hatred for the romance genre. I don’t dislike romance, though. As is the case with splatterpunk, I feel like diluting the genre with some other genre or factor makes it better. As a pure chemical, it ain’t digestible. Like sodium and chloride. Individually, they are dangerous, together they are delicious table salt. Continue reading “The Book Genres I Don’t Like”

Writing Process – When to Describe Characters in Detail

From personal experience and discussing this with other readers, it used to kind of bemuse me how much people hate detailed physical descriptions of characters. I’ve not been able to pinpoint why, but upon taking this into consideration, I’ve noticed many (but not all) of the best novels I’ve read don’t rely heavily on what a character looks like. It’s usually kept to simple descriptions or notable features, say for instance if they have piercing blue eyes or are unusually thin, but their every freckle and hair won’t be described in detail. It’s just enough to fuel an image for the reader, who will make what they will of what the author’s given them. Not all readers, but many readers, will feel a bit stripped of the chance to stretch their imagination if you describe literally everything about a characters and leave nothing to be visualized on their own. Continue reading “Writing Process – When to Describe Characters in Detail”

Book Review – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: March 7th, 2005
Publisher: Vintage Books

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation of the mind.” -Dhammapada

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those rare cases in which the movie is far, far better than the book. Originally titled These Foolish Things when it was first published, then renamed to coincide with the film adaptation, in the end, I found myself unable to remember much about it, at least that was positive. Promised to me was a fluffy, heart-warming read, not whatever it was I got, this chunky mix of decent bits and excruciating, offensive bits.
There is a pretty notable amount of differences between the two, even the essential plot changes – from two cousins beginning a retirement scheme for English expats in India in the novel to a son trying to rebuild his father’s hotel in the film.

It makes sense to me now why they would rename the book to match the film. The film stands out so well because, besides the amazing sets and soundtrack, it’s written much more sensitively, so that you’ll care about the characters despite their sometimes aggravating quirks. Most of the cast, save for Jean Ainslie, grow as people and shed any hesitations they might’ve had about living in India. The novel begins engagingly, then throws out its character growth as soon as it shows signs of blossom. At first I’d given it three stars, but the more I thought about this, the less I can say I enjoyed it. Continue reading “Book Review – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach”

Writing Process – Comparisons

One of my much-abused quotes, because of how appropriate it is for about anything, is the Theodore Roosevelt quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Not only does it describe the culture of social media with the accuracy of a five-inch syringe, it also describes the nature of writing with an equal lack of mercy.

I mostly write these for those just getting on their legs, as I’ve been. Anyone who’s authored for awhile will know, too, that to actively compare yourself with the work of others while you’re in the midst of a project is the worst idea you can get. It often can’t be helped if you’re a reader, but you must try to, even if that entails taking a hiatus from books. This kind of comparison is responsible for things like the time one writes and re-writes the same paragraph multiple times, while not getting any more of the book done at all, besides that one piece.

Technical comparisons, on the other hand, can be an excellent tool and a way to better habituate writing every day. What do I mean by that?
Well, breaking up your writing into fragments and measuring them is one example. Quantity over quality, despite what you’ll hear, is best for a first draft. This is not the case with revisions, but if you give yourself plenty of material to work with, you can gradually prune away the garbage and poor metaphors for a tighter, polished draft. Best not to worry about that bridge until you get there, though. For the beginning, just concentrate on the journey and getting it all down on paper. Continue reading “Writing Process – Comparisons”

Book Review – The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

★★★★ 4 Stars

Series: Louise Rick
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

I’d never heard of this series or author before, and what really coerced me into reading The Forgotten Girls was its setting – the eerie, ethereal rural woodlands of Denmark. How a story can be so enticing when the subject grows so horrifying is a mystery in itself. Blaedel’s writing is meticulous but unsparing in realism. The style is fittingly stark, like a tree stripped of bark to reveal bloodstains.

The plot revolves around a detective, Louise Rick, and her partner investigating the death of a mentally disabled woman thought to have died over a decade ago, and her link to a series of violent assaults in the area. The Forgotten Girls pulses by so fast, I feel like going into more detail about the plot would unintentionally spoil something. It becomes a subtle but hard commentary on a topic that’s often buried, in how the woman and her sister were treated by the asylum they used to live in. It’s especially cruel in the ways which these “mishaps” were covered up, the underbelly of a system that continues to fail people in need.

I appreciate that Blaedel chose not to exploit the abuse and violence in this novel for shock value, considering what it’s about, but also didn’t pull any punches about the reality of it. That’s a hard medium to hit. I didn’t know when I began that The Forgotten Girls was in the middle of an ongoing series, but I never found myself getting confused. The plot about Camilla, I didn’t care about that much. It was sort of ordinary and dragged down the flow, up until when Camilla tries to “infiltrate” the asylum as one of the staff’s relatives. It gets a little more interesting then.

A mystery where the culprit and plot are difficult to guess tend to be the best kind. The unspoken coldness and bitterness between the suspects and victims, which turns out to have more of an overlap than Louise originally thought, lends to a constant doubt. The Forgotten Girls is steeped in a tense chill and haunting melancholy, with an unforgettable ending.

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7 Hardest Types of Books to Review

I like to read pretty much anything that looks remotely interesting, I don’t care what genre, who wrote it, or the hows and whys of them pulling it out of their brain onto paper. As long as it’s decently-written and valuable in some way, that’s all that matters. That being said, when it comes down to reviewing it, that’s another matter entirely. Some reviews I absolutely hate writing, but still feel compelled to just because I took the time to read it. Comprehensive reviews even written for fun aren’t always easy. These are the categories that I still have difficulty reviewing after three years of practice. Have one of your own? Feel free to leave a comment below!

7. Poetry and Art

I adore reviewing poetry, as you’ll know. I’m actually a little proud of the fact that my most frequented review genre is one that’s considered among the most complicated to review. ARC reviewers often won’t accept poetry because it’s just that hard to articulate. Especially if it’s good or middling. Poetry isn’t visual exactly, but it’s an abstract, psychological feeling than a novel can’t provide in the same way.
Art and graphic novels are also difficult because they are more visual than writing. The review ends up being a lot of descriptive words, and reviewing several at one time makes it clear how same-y it can be. I don’t typically review every volume of a graphic novel or manga series for this reason, when it can be summed up in a few of its entries.

6. Indie Books, Especially Bad Ones

If you ever review indie books, the author will read it eventually. I find this kind of nerve-wracking, even though I value indie books and am lenient on their faults, if they have any. It’s awkward even to have an author “like” your gushing, positive review of their work, and I try to evade being trapped into writing negative ones if at all possible.
I enjoy neither dishonesty nor ripping on someone’s personal work, and those who do enjoy tearing apart indie ARCs ought to re-examine their relationship with books. You have to consider it’s one person doing a team’s job. If the book is genuinely bad and you’re still stuck with reviewing it, it’s better to be critical in a helpful way than critical for laughs. Continue reading “7 Hardest Types of Books to Review”

Book Review – A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Poetry
Publication Date: May 12th, 2015
Publisher: Speak

“I’m a lone palm tree towering over grassy fronds of rice in a paddy field, yearning to touch the sky although I get lonelier the higher I go.”

A Time to Dance has a simple but absolute beauty. It is a captivating portrait of the rise, fall and spiritual rebirth of a young dancer, Veda, who loses her leg to an accident, yet is more determined than ever to dance. Veda’s dance is so valuable to her, so demanding of her body and spirit, that any pride that held her back before is no longer worth losing it.

I pretty much devoured this book in a night. I love the way this story is captured in loose but flowing prose that blossoms as naturally as flowers. The relationship with Veda and her grandmother was especially beautiful, always an offset to the strained feelings Veda seems to grow with everyone else.

The character development is well-executed, showing whose heart is shallow and whose is true when they treat her differently after her accident. Veda feels as if she is re-enacting in her own life, a smaller and more human version of the epic poetry she portrays on stage. The intertwining parallels between the narrative and Hindu mythology are creative, I have to say, and I also appreciate that the romance was not written at the forefront of Veda’s achievements.

“The strangers’ presence feels warm as a blanket, but not warm enough to thaw the sea of unshed tears frozen inside me.”

I don’t like to compare this novel with one of my most loathed, because I enjoyed A Time to Dance quite a lot, but it reminds me of a more sensitive, good version of Izzy Willy Nilly. They’re both about a promising athlete losing her leg and having to prove herself capable. I realize what I hated so much about Izzy Willy Nilly is that the protagonist never does overcome her struggle. That book was uncomfortably focused on blaming her for her misfortune. So much victim-blaming. There was nothing meaningful but reliving someone’s pain, with no hope nor retribution towards the one actually responsible for the accident.

Venkatraman’s poem avoids all of that to tell a personal saga, and is so much better for it. The characters are well-rounded, realistic, and importantly, it accepts that sometimes misfortune can just happen. That it’s something we all have to triumph at some point in one way or another, and it tells so beautifully. You definitely should read this, if it interests you in any way. It’s very difficult to find much to dislike about, and is one of the better free verse novels I’ve picked up.

“Mukam karothi vachalam; pangum langayathe girim. – God’s grace moves the mute to eloquence and inspires the lame to climb mountains.”

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Some Underrated Classics

Rummaging through vintage books and the public domain, I feel a lot like the hoarder goblin from Labyrinth, wanting to just keep all of them and somehow read them all simultaneously. I mean, you’ve got the quintessentials – Poe, Austen, Tolstoy, etc. but I kind of favour the lesser-loved. They haven’t been talked about to the extent that you already know the spoilers long before you’ve read it. These are a few pretty solid, varying shades of obscure books that I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently. Maybe they’ll get a full review one day (if they’re lucky).

Darkness Visible by William Golding

Golding is one of my favourite authors, but the bane of high schoolers. I think why so many of his other novels get overlooked is because of people who hated reading Lord of the Flies while they were pretty much living it out in school. That’s fair, but I think in some aspects, his later novels are better. A little more polished, if also much darker. Darkness Visible is about a man who was severely burned as a child during the Blitz, and becomes this sort of bizarre messianic figure. It’s written as a dreamlike occurrence, and is overall a very difficult book to describe, but I would recommend it for those with the stomach.

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Maybe not super obscure, but so many people are traumatized by forcing themselves through Atlas Shrugged that they forget Anthem. I’m teasing, but I don’t know that I’d ever be brave enough to attempt Atlas. I really did enjoy Anthem, as a dystopian work. It’s a strange story about thought police defeating the individual personality – a world where everyone is a hive mind who have never seen their own faces. An interesting fact about why it’s now in the public domain is that whoever owned the copyright kind of… forgot about it, apparently, and it never got renewed. Continue reading “Some Underrated Classics”

Book Review – Last Stop by Peter Lerangis

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Series: Watchers
Genre: Mystery / Science Fiction
Publication Date: November 1st, 1998
Publisher: Scholastic

Trains have mysteriously always had this reputation for being passages into the unknown, whether it be into death, time or another dimension entirely. The metaphor has remained really persistent, and I like a story that utilizes it well.

Last Stop started off alright, with a teenager, David Moore, having visions of his dad while riding the subrail, waiting for him at a station that’s not even there anymore, much less active as he sees it in the vision. This wouldn’t be too strange except that his father’s believed to be dead or insane, and in the vision he seems to be neither.
This is an interesting setup, and midway through the book becomes very engaging, with a conspiracy of alternate versions of the same city linked together. It’s kind of short, so the characterization given is surprisingly developed for how little time there is, especially David and Heather.
I mean, it’s passable but not great. There’s not anyone who strikes me as memorable, it’s more the concept that stands out.

There’s a dreamlike feeling to the gross, dingy urban settings that I liked a lot. The twist ending is crazy and actually catches you off-guard, which is something I appreciate in the day of the predictable cliffhanger. Last Stop feels extremely short, and there’s much more that could be done with all that this idea offers, but for what’s present it’s not bad. There’s apparently a lot of entries in this series, so it could improve.

(Okay. Something I found hilarious that I just have to mention – the father’s name is Alan Moore. In a series called Watchers. Alan Moore… and the Watchers. Hmm. This sounds unintentionally like an off-brand now. Who watches the watchers? I don’t think this was on purpose? But running across it was awesome.)

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Book Review – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Genre: Suspense / Mystery
Publication Date: August 1938 / December 2007
Publisher: Virago Press

“I believe there is a theory that men and women emerge finer and stronger after suffering, and that to advance in this or any world, you must endure ordeal by fire.”

Rebecca and her mansion of Manderley crawl with unease – unspoken secrets threatening to burst into something horrible. The tension here is thick enough to form its own phantom, a frost blooming on the spine that dares to expose itself. Drawing from the destructive powers of envy and doubt, Rebecca is a testament to atmos, haunting our mind even 80 years after its initial publication.

The protagonist is a young woman who marries a wealthy heir a decade or so older than herself, Maxim de Winter, on something of a whim and goes to live with him at his house of Manderley. Manderley is haunted by not only the memory of his dead wife, Rebecca, but also the living – the disturbed housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who has a poisonous animosity towards the new Mrs. de Winter simply because she is not Rebecca. Rebecca was glamorous, ordered, and the polar opposite of the protagonist in any aspect you can name.
Mrs. Danvers’ twisted, almost romantic obsession with Rebecca becomes an increasing distress the more it breaks into the open. In private, Mrs. Danvers doesn’t bother to hide that she hates the protagonist and even tries to coerce her into suicide at one point.
Everyone at Manderley refuses to confront or discuss anything regarding Rebecca, her “ghost”, in a sense holding them in her vice even after her death. Maxim gets angry with his new wife for trying to connect in some way with Rebecca, and needless to say Mrs. Danvers torments her for failing to be more like Rebecca.

The protagonist famously remains nameless. I was struck off-guard once during the ball scene where someone refers to her costume as being like Caroline, one of the de Winter ancestors’ names, which is about as close as she gets to ever being called a name besides “Mrs. de Winter”. Even her title is a cruel reminder of a woman she feels she will never live up to. The worst is that it’s hinted as the riddle starts to make more sense to the protagonist that maybe Rebecca isn’t someone she should try to be, and was not the angel that Mrs. Danvers and the others saw her as.

Atmosphere is the shadowed soul of horror, and I do hesitate to call this a “horror” novel, but in a sense it truly is more frightening than any entity or demon. For one, it is painfully real and relatable for me. I cringed with… severity during quite a few scenes in this book, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. They are just incredibly unnerving and mirror almost to a T things I have gone through. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. I think anyone who reads it would feel the same dread and start to remember their own.
They say that the inexperienced are at an advantage because of youth, but anyone who’s tried to get their bearings in the world knows this isn’t true. One feels like they have missed out on something that is irretrievable, and I think that despite any appearances, what a person has done is always valued above who they were born or what they seem. This is a double-edged sword. Continue reading “Book Review – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier”

Book Review – Bird by Angela Johnson

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: January 19th, 2006
Publisher: Puffin Books

How do you use the gift of a heart which isn’t yours? How does one beg the most important question when they couldn’t stand to hear the answer either way?

Bird is a leisurely-paced novella that centers around three teens who all are still coping with tragedies faded but still visible – divorce, the death of a sibling, and a new life gained from the end of someone else’s. The heroine Bird ran away from home to try to convince her stepfather, Cecil, to come back to her and her mother. As it turns out, Cecil is the uncle of a boy she befriends along the way, who had been bedridden for many years of his life and just recently is able to run and really live thanks to a heart transplant. Cecil kind of ties the story together despite only ever appearing in the peripheral.
Cecil is a distant and chilly figure who seems to be haunted by something he himself is trying to run from, but it’s never exactly clear what. The ending just amplifies this.

I wish the characters had been given more time for development. Cecil doesn’t show his face a lot and the third protagonist Jay never reveals a whole lot about himself, other than he misses his dead brother. An emotionally-charged book does suffer from knowing too little about somebody to really feel those emotions from them. Bird is a good casual, summery sort of read.

Johnson chose to make a situation that could’ve reached absolute bleakness more optimistic and subdued, so while the pacing is slower it never feels like you’re being dragged through a puddle of tar like some books of a similar sort can. I do appreciate that, as it’s all too easy to stumble into the pitfall of heaping tragedy upon tragedy in contemporary books, and it’s not always necessary to do that.
Trying to insert realism through only pain, ironically, can end up making something unrealistically dark. I feel that for a few faults which are small, Bird is a realistic story. If someone told you it in a letter you’d believe them.

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Book Review – Doll Vol. 1 by Mitsukazu Mihara

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Drama
Manga Demographic: Josei
Publication Date: August 10th, 2004
Publisher: TokyoPop

What are the consequences of creating a person who cannot bleed? Who has no natural will, someone to do your dirty work or the things biologic humans wouldn’t dare? Doll, the lacy, angsty brainchild of artist Mitsukazu Mihara, attempts to answer such a question.
Doll is a prime example of a good mature graphic novel – it’s discomfiting and can be deeply off-putting with its dichotomy of feminine, soft artwork while probing into brutal, cruel themes. It’s a somewhat obscure gem with sharp observations about what makes something sentient “human”, but has some issues which detract from its good qualities pretty strongly. At least enough to make it more difficult to like than it should be.

I get that it’s the whole point that you’re supposed to be sympathetic to the Dolls, who are more or less android slaves with limited human senses and emotion. The consequences of synthetic life do feel real and overwhelming, but did the human characters have to be so insufferable?
The born-of-flesh humans in this series are vile, pampered, bundles of dysfunction waiting to get even worse and are just miserable to read about. They cause most of their own problems and leave their androids or in some cases, other real people to take the blame.

The only exceptions are the heiress in the first story, and the strict mother. Those two women have some of the strongest scenes and their narratives showcase how destructive society can be to women and assault victims, not helped at all by the introduction of what is essentially a new sub-type of human that anyone can destroy and abuse without consequence.
The most memorable part of Doll was “Maria” by far, though. A callous businessman falls in love with his Doll, so much that he has her illegally transplanted with human skin, nerves and parts to seem more real. Suspecting that she is a robot, even after the transplant, his jealous employees have no problem attacking their boss’s new “girlfriend”.

“Maria” alone is worth reading it for, even if a lot of this series’ characters so far are hideous people. I feel “Maria” says it all.
When something sentient, something living in every sense, is that close to a human eventually the differences will blur. Doll portrays a dystopia and a miracle of science at once.

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