The Graveyard Book

imageThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a well-written and chilling tale of a boy named Nobody “Bod” Owens who grows up at a cemetery and protected by its ghostly residents from a mysterious man bent on killing him.

Bod is naive but intelligent and seeks a friend, a living one. He also wants to explore the world but the constant threat on his life interrupts his pursuit to be normal and his dreams.

It was hard to put the book down thanks to Gaiman’s vivid imagination, the intense but upbeat writing, and the absence of boredom. Each chapter was important and kept the plot at a high stake. And was I hit by feels and did I cry? Yes and yes.

After finishing the book, I felt haunted by its ghost. In a comforting way that is :)

The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

3385the_immortal_rules_julie_kagawa_coverThe frenzy over vampire books have died but that didn’t stop me from picking up The Immortal Rules. It’s no Twilight and most cliches about vamps or in vampire fiction are absent – oh and love triangles too (though it has some dystopian cliches). The book carries a similar tone to True Blood. With a dystopian setting, the book follows Allison Sekemoto who struggles to live a life in poverty while keeping an eye out on vamps who rule the world. But one night, she and her friends are ambushed on their hunt for supplies. They’re attacked by rabids, a monstrous vampire type, and a dying Allison encounters a master vamp Kanin and is given the opportunity of second chance. Despite her hatred towards vamps, she accepts to become one of them because she wants to live…and so she can kill vamps from the inside out.

Allison eventually separates from Kanin and wanders through the wilderness to protect herself from dangerous vamps who don’t hesitate to kill their own. With enough training to be a true vamp and a katana-wielder, Allison passes herself off as a human when she encounters and joins a human group on their way to “Eden”, a sanctuary that promises safety for humans – which is too good to be real.

It was great retreating to another world where vamps don’t sparkle and watch humans sleep (I still like Twilight by the way). Instead humans can take care of themselves and a non-white protagonist’s life doesn’t revolve around a problematic guy. The Immortal Rules is a shining example of a vamp choosing to be human and struggles to control the monster in them. Vampire politics and the mental condition of humans in a vampire-led world are also explored, giving a dynamic plot and characterisation.

Can’t wait to read the next two books :)

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

51+TmUq2MDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A well-written and heart-wrenching fictionalised account on Marilyn Monroe, Blonde focuses on her life, starting from her bad childhood that eventually seals her fate. The book also focuses on her mental health, scarred by her messy upbringing and longing to meet her father, and interestingly Monroe is portrayed to be repulsed by her alter ego “the Blond Actress” – the real self is Norma Jean Baker/Mortenson who is still a child, a lost child, searching for companionship/love but at the same time, she wants to prove to everyone that she’s more than a “sex pot”, that she’s a serious actress – something that the real Monroe did too.

I liked that the book played with the theories surrounding Monroe’s death, using murder and drugs as the cause. Though I felt that the pieces of fiction were a stretch (especially Monroe having sexual relationship with so many men including some members of The Studio and JFK) and made me think “No, that didn’t happen, stop screwing her story up”, I appreciate the possibilities that could’ve happened to her, but was she that vain? Worrying about age? She was self-possessed and way too confident about her body to think that, based on her autobiography.

Anyway, Monroe, Norma Jeane is the only character who is complex (something I applaud Oates for) while the others are given initials or nicknames, e.g Arthur Miller is “the Playwright”, and are just…one-dimensional, perhaps to reflect Monroe’s tendency to be distracted by daydreaming or slightly detached from relationships. As you probably figured, much of her childhood influences her adult life to the point that she uses it to develop her roles but sometimes she confuses her characters with real life and the past. She also makes up little details about her early life to fit in, though some details like the forgotten actors and actresses who were close to her during childhood leave her listeners doubtful and cause them to stay away from her.

Norma tends to call her lovers “Daddy” which annoyed me and I wished that someone would snap at her, telling her to stop using that term (because it’s gross). Her childish behaviour also annoyed me but she does struggle to grow out of it. The problem is: she’s surrounded by idiots and manipulative assholes (excluding the Playwright, the only character who understands her and genuinely cares for her). It made me feel sorry for her despite her childish personality and I wished for an alternative, happier ending.

The Virgin Suicides

Picture via whitecrow4545, deviantart.

Picture via whitecrow4545, deviantart.

One of the most intense books I’ve ever read, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides follows a non-linear structure, mimicking the process of research. This research is conducted by a group of mostly unnamed men who have been fixated with the Lisbon sisters since their teenagehood.

These sisters (Lux, Mary, Therese, Cecilia and Bonnie) fell to suicide within a year. The group of admirers want to know why, but after about 20 years, they end up with nothing despite their thorough investigation – interviews, even with the mysterious, strict and religious Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon, and artifacts including evidence from the suicide scenes.

The reason behind the suicides remains unsolved, why they wanted to die alone, and we also don’t know much about the girls. It plays with the book’s themes gossip (several interpretations/theories are made in regards to the suicides and the girls’ lives), observation, suicide associated with stigma and adults’ blindness to teen struggles (I wanted to smack Mr. and Mrs. Lisbon for being unable to understand their daughters on any level). The group of admirers/men/investigators only interact with the sisters in person once. Besides that, they only observe them from across the street or communicate from afar. Therefore, we have an unreliable narrator but the mystery and inconsistency are what intrigue me.

There are a lot of motiffs in the book including religious symbols/references, light/dark and in particular the Lisbon house. The Lisbon house serves as the medium between the family and the rest of the neighbourhood. The house deteriorates due to, well, we assume that the family has neglected household chores and obviously something wrong has been going on (but we don’t find out what). The decaying house and the description of its rotting smell and growing isolation reflects the breaking of the family unit, the unforgiving entity that is Time, and a disturbance to the American dream portrayed here which consists of happiness and consumerism but remain frozen in time. The neighbourhood is so concerned with happiness and consumerism that they get over the suicides, supposedly a blow to the perfect neighbourhood, quickly as if nothing happened. Ignorance and indulgences are bliss. However, the neighbourhood does lose its happiness and decays with people moving and changes according to time.

We can assume that since Cecilia is the first to commit suicide and it has a profound effect on her family, her sisters can’t live without her and also due to the frustration with living under a strict regime. There’s something about their suicides that’s disturbing. There’s a sense of gothic-ness to them. We know from the start they killed themselves and we wait for those moments but the deaths still shock us and it’s hard to forget how they died because of the grotesqueness and mundane-ness. The ordinary can turn into the unreal and it can hurt us.

I found it interesting and a little unnerving that the first and last sisters (Mary) to die have previously attempted suicide. Their deaths receive contrasting responses from the neighbourhood, giving the sense of a beginning and an end. More sympathy and shock with Cecilia, but indifference to Mary’s like they knew that she would meet her fate soon and thought there was no point in worrying OR the first suicide was shocking and after more suicides…the audience is bored – reflecting sensationalism of violent acts (the narrator makes a point that the people rely heavily on TV/news).

Even though the boys call the suicides selfish acts, the blame is mainly pinned on society for creating an unstable environment, for not listening to or treating teenagers as people, and the decline of that society is the consequence. It eerily reminds me of common responses to teen suicide in reality.

One last thing. The book is conscious of time. The narrator mentions that the group and him had difficulty remembering the Lisbon sisters’ appearances and voices after a long period of silence/isolation before their deaths – they needed contact or see them to remember. Back to the present, the artifacts used for the investigation are also aging and some are close to becoming dust but the group won’t forget the sisters. Because they witnessed their departure from the world.

Marilyn Monroe Meeting Queen Elizabeth II

I still can’t believe that these two met (both were the same age at the time).

A Footage of Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s Daughter

I’ve always been fascinated with Queen Victoria and her family. Princess Louise was her rebellious daughter who had a talent for art and having a mind of her own. She was unconventional by Victorian standards and a strong supporter of feminism, much to the queen’s annoyance.

An Inspiring Quote

“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath

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