Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Teaser Tuesday & First Chapter ~ First Paragraph - First Time

This is the first time I'm "attempting" this meme. First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile By the Sea, where each week she shares the first paragraph (or a few) of  book she is reading or wants to read. I thought it looked like a lot of fun, so here I am, trying it out. Hop over to Bibliophile By the Sea if you want to join, which you know you do!


At the moment I'm reading The Wish by D.S. Affleck, which I'm really enjoying. Here are the first couple of paragraphs of the prologue.

'In the beginning...
Acrid smoke billowed from the valley floor as a multitude of fires began to extinguish under grey skies and incessant drizzle. The remains of the town smouldered after the successful attack and nothing remained standing.A figure, clad from head to foot in black armour, his face hidden by shadow, stood high above a rocky outcrop watching with satisfaction as the prisoners were led away in chains. In his hand he held an orb which glowed fiercely, emitting an energy which seemed to envelop him. Behind him stood a young figure, close to adulthood, observing everything and learning.A frown crossed his face, as he thought about the attack. What should have been a relatively easy foray into enemy territory had nearly turned into a disaster and it had been his fault. He was distracted about something else entirely and his mind hadn't been on the attack. He hoped that his men hadn't seen his lack of enthusiasm as a sign of weakness. He'd have to watch out for some of his more ambitious lieutenants, this was just the sort of opportunity they craved.He had been disturbed of late by peculiar dreams of the future. Dreams of a time he had no connection with, but somehow felt a part of. Dreams of a boy living in a strangle and and a different time. He had connected with this boy and it had something to do with the object he held in his hand. he knew that soon he'd be making a bargain that could change his life forever.
The glass sphere he held seemed alive. Wisps of smoke swirled inside of it and sparks crackled from his fingers. He turned it over in his hand thoughtfully. It had given him great power, but for the first time in a long while all this pillaging and mayhem just wasn't as satisfying as it used to be.' p.4
I love the phrasing in these paragraphs. There are so many questions that I want to ask and at the same time I feel like I'm entranced by the imagery and the main character. But mainly, I really want to know more about this sphere or orb, I mean, it sounds absolutely fascinating!

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading and I'm also using The Wish by D.S. Affleck for this meme!
"What was it the warrior said?" She paused recalling Jamie's conversation with her the other day. "Oh yes. You'll see it in your eyes." She popped on her glasses and peered intently into Jamie's eyes.' p.61
See what in his eyes? And is this mysterious warrior the same as in the intro above?

So, what paragraph/s are you sharing?

Monday, 14 April 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

2aaaIt's Monday, which means another week has started! Yes, time really does fly, not just when you're having fun. But this means I can start up with the memes again! I seriously love visiting other blogs, even if it might take me a while to get round to them. It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila over at Book Journey. Hop over there to join in on the meme fun.

Last week I didn't manage to do a lot of reading, with University finishing and going back home and celebrating my sister's birthday.  What I did manage was:

A review for Lady Audley's Secret by Mary E. Braddon.
588747Lady Audley's Secret (1862) was one of the most widely read novels of the Victorian period. It exemplifies "sensation fiction" in featuring a beautiful criminal heroine, an amateur detective, blackmail, arson, violence, and plenty of suspenseful action. To its contemporary readers, it also offered the thrill of uncovering blackmail and criminal violence within the homes of the upper class. The novel makes trenchant critiques of Victorian gender roles and social stereotypes, and Braddon deliberately creates significant sympathy for her criminal heroine, who rebels against the "marriage market."
I had actually already read this one a couple of months ago and somehow it managed to slip my attention.

And a review of The Rilke Alphabet by Ulrich Baer.

18637283The enduring power of Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry rests with his claim that all we need for a better life on earth is already given to us, in the here and now. In twenty-six engaging and accessible essays, Ulrich Baer's The Rilke Alphabet examines this promise by one of the greatest poets in any tradition that even the smallestoverlooked word may unlock life's mysteries to us. 
Fueled by an unebbing passion and indeed love for Rilke's poetry, Baer examines twenty-six words that are not only unexpected but also problematic, controversial, and even scandalous in Rilke's work. In twenty-six mesmerizing essays that eschew jargon and teutonic learnedness for the pleasures and risks of unflinchingly engaging with a great artist's genius, Baer sheds new light on Rilke's politics, his creative process, and his deepest and enduring thoughts about life, art, politics, sexuality, love, and death.
This one was very interesting and different from what I've read lately.

However, what I'm reading this week is a lot more exciting! Here's my current reading list:

The Fifteen First Lives of Harry August by Claire North.
18295861The extraordinary journey of one unforgettable character - a story of friendship and betrayal, loyalty and redemption, love and loneliness and the inevitable march of time.
Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.
No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.
Until now.
As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. 'I nearly missed you, Doctor August,' she says. 'I need to send a message.'
This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

I'm having doubts about this one. There just seem to be massive gaps in North's idea about the reincarnation etc. and these are really messing with me enjoying this book.

20907453
The Wish by D.S. Affleck
If you could have your very own wish, what would it be? Fame, fortune, or magical powers? Everyone dreams, but for Jamie Lomax this might just be a reality. By chance he discovers a magical orb which legend states has the power to grant him anything he so desires. But there's a catch. He has to earn the wish by helping five people, and he doesn't know who or when this might be. Before he has a chance to explore this amazing opportunity, he meets with the true owner of the orb - an ancient warrior powerful beyond belief - whose appearance proves that the legend is true. However, if Jamie wants to see his wish granted, he will have only thirty days to fulfil the prophecy. And if he fails? He forfeits his soul...
So, how about you? What are you reading?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Weekly Overview

I thought I'd do another one of these, since I quite like looking back at my week to see what I managed to do. Although I write some of the meme-posts on the Sunday before the week starts, review usually either happen or they don't, depending on whether I have time or not. Sadly, this week (and last) I didn't have a lot of reading time, partially because I was finishing up university work and because I'm a lazy bum who lay on her bed for days watching Dr. Phil's show and some movies because Freedom! Anyways, here is an overview of my week:


Monday:

  • April's Mailbox Monday, in which I first presented Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. 

Tuesday:
  • Teaser Tuesday, using Howl's Moving Castle. I think you can slightly see a trend developing here. I was fascinated with the movie last week.
Wednesday:
Thursday:
Friday:

Saturday:
Sunday:
So, that was my week. Not too big on reviews and a bit reliant on Howl's Moving Castle. How was your week? If you have a similar post or want to link to some of your posts this week, by all means do so in the comments :)

Review: 'The Rilke Alphabet' by Ulrich Baer

As a German, I am sort of familiar with Rainer Maria Rilke, but mainly through what my mother has told me. Although I hadn't read a lot by him, I wanted to know more about how he thought as a poet and I thought this collection would be a good gateway into his mind and works. And I was definitely right.
The enduring power of Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry rests with his claim that all we need for a better life on earth is already given to us, in the here and now. In twenty-six engaging and accessible essays, Ulrich Baer's The Rilke Alphabet examines this promise by one of the greatest poets in any tradition that even the smallestoverlooked word may unlock life's mysteries to us.
Fueled by an unebbing passion and indeed love for Rilke's poetry, Baer examines twenty-six words that are not only unexpected but also problematic, controversial, and even scandalous in Rilke's work. In twenty-six mesmerizing essays that eschew jargon and teutonic learnedness for the pleasures and risks of unflinchingly engaging with a great artist's genius, Baer sheds new light on Rilke's politics, his creative process, and his deepest and enduring thoughts about life, art, politics, sexuality, love, and death.

The first thing I have to say is that I really like the idea of this book. According to the introduction, Rilke expressed a desire to 'transcribe the whole dictation of existence'. The idea that he wanted to create a guide for how to to approach life and the way it is expressed is, I feel, quite natural to a poet and an author, but also to every human being. We want to find a way to categorize and order our experiences and Baer does this through the alphabet, the one thing most of us know inside out. Our ABC is one of the first real things we learn and it is from these letters that our words and therefore expressions are created. As such, I loved the idea that this was used to try and familiarise the reader with some of Rilke's more abstract ideas and theories was a very good call. It also allows the reader to perhaps choose some chapters at random every once in a while, rather than force them to read all of the book at once. 

A point I do have to make is that this seems to be a book of literary criticism. What I mean by that is that it discusses a work by Rilke in each chapter and goes into the background of it, the possible intent etc. I would consider quoting it in my essays, if I was ever lucky enough to be allowed to write about Rilke. But this also means that it is no "introductory work". If you've never read Rilke and pick this book up in the hope it will tell you whether you should or not, then you have chosen the wrong book. If I hadn't read the poem the chapter was discussing I only made it 4 pages into the chapter before having to look up the poem, just so I could see whether my initial feelings agreed with what Baer was saying. This might be because my degree is teaching me form my own opinions, but it is something to bear in mind in case you aren't sure yet about whether Rilke is for you.

It is hard to review what seems, in essence, a collection of small essays relating to different poems and concepts. This collection covers everything from racism in his poem 'The Ashanti', described in 'a for Ashanti', to the confrontation with death in 'e for Entrails'. What can be discussed however, is the way Baer approaches these topics. What I have learned over the last three years is that if critics and teachers can't explain something simply, they don't understand it themselves either. Baer clearly has his own ideas about some themes and explains these very well. His writing style is easy to follow and is accessible, i.e. not full of literary terms or complicated language just to sound intelligent. The only flaw I can find is one I find in most literary criticism and even in my own papers, namely that there is not enough evidence from the text. There are, of course, quotes in each chapter, direct references to Rilke's texts, but there is hardly any real linguistic analysis that goes into the poem on a grammatical and lexical level. But on the other hand, this isn't the collection for that kind of research, but rather for allowing a reader to get a deeper understanding of Rilke's work.

I give this collection...

3 Universes.

It is difficult to categorise a collection like this, because there is no overal plot etc. to judge. As such, I don't know whether I'd reread this collection unless I was looking for some extra knowledge on Rilke, but I definitely found in interesting to read. The reason I'm giving it 3 Universes is because not every chapter was equally interesting, but that is bound to happen in any collection. Overall, Baer does very well in explaining and exploring different themes in such a way they are understandable and accessible. But most importantly, each chapter makes you want to go and search for a poem, or a novel or a letter, and a collection like this really can't wish for anything more. I definitely recommend it to those that are fans of Rilke's work, but also to those that enjoy literary criticism and want to be introduced to a new author.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Review: 'Lady Audley's Secret' by Mary E. Braddon

I can't believe I forgot to review this novel. I only read it like 5 months ago and yet somehow it completely slipped my attention to actually write a review about it! But it will all be remedied now. I had to read this book for university, which automatically puts it in the category of 'potentially overstudied and over-analysed'. However, there was something about this novel that was strangely captivating.
Lady Audley's Secret (1862) was one of the most widely read novels of the Victorian period. It exemplifies "sensation fiction" in featuring a beautiful criminal heroine, an amateur detective, blackmail, arson, violence, and plenty of suspenseful action. To its contemporary readers, it also offered the thrill of uncovering blackmail and criminal violence within the homes of the upper class. The novel makes trenchant critiques of Victorian gender roles and social stereotypes, and Braddon deliberately creates significant sympathy for her criminal heroine, who rebels against the "marriage market".

Initially I thought I would dislike this novel quite a lot. 'Sensation fiction' is called that because back in the Victorian age these novels would call upon every cliched horror that the middle and upper classes could imagine and exploit it for narrational purposes. Most of these tragedies either centered around the lower classes rising up or women not knowing their "places". Similarly to Gothic fiction, I felt that it potentially all relied too much on drama and fake suspense rather than any actual tension created by the plot. Although this novel suffers from some of those problems, e.g. the title gives away the fact that Lady Audley has a secret that has to be discovered eventually, but that is an advantage sensation fiction has. From the get go, you're expecting to be amazed and horrified and therefore there is a certain tension that never quite leaves throughout the entire novel. 

Plot-wise this novel is very interesting. Although certain aspects of it were predictable, there were definite angles and twists that I didn't see coming. An important theme, I thought, was that of the independent woman. Lady Audley has to make her own way and has her own agency. Although I dislike her character quite a lot, especially her reliance on looks and material possessions, I understand some of the choices she makes in the novel. She offsets her stereotypical femininity with an incredibly ruthless personality. What I liked is that she uses both of these as her weapons. She knows exactly how she affects those around her with how she looks and especially which roles comes with that. For that time it was quite revolutionary, but even now I feel it is quite a feat for an author to allow his female character to be so aware of herself and her own actions. The only failure of this novel is one that is simply related to its contemporary period: Lady Audley can't possibly succeed. Her trying to ascend the social ranks is not something that can be allowed because not only would it disrupt the social order but it would also change the power balance between men and women. If women have too much agency and can make men do what they want, men can impossibly keep the order. There is also an interesting homosexual undercurrent that might not have been recognized at the time or might just have been seen as strong friendship, but when looking at it from a literary point of view you can't help but notice the affection and emotion in the relationship between these two male characters. When bringing female agency into it, that makes for a very interesting read. 

Braddon's writing style is very entertaining and nice to read. She manages both description and dialogue with easy and that is partially why even the occasional plot weaknesses are no problem. She leaves little hints throughout the novel as to the development of character and plot and manages to set a mood for each location. She manages to describe both busy London and the quiet rural countryside. There is an array of side-characters, some of which are relatively stereotypical yet none of which are superfluous. 

I give this novel...

3 Universes.

Although it's a classic of its genre, I don't know whether I would recommend it to anyone. In some ways the plot halts here and there and some of the characterization is very of its time. But I liked Braddon's writing style and there are some very interesting and beautiful passages.




Friday, 11 April 2014

Follow Friday!

This week I'm using two different books for Book Beginnings (Rose City Reader) and Friday 56 (Freda's Voice). The first is Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

BB:
'In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.'
Well, this doesn't bode too well for me, considering I'm the oldest! But I love how easily Jones establishes that magic exist, because it simply does. 

For F56 I'm using Reading Joss Whedon edited by Rhonda V. Wilcox and others.
In an age when geek chic has come to define mainstream pop culture, few writers and producers inspire more admiration and response than Joss Whedon. From Buffy the Vampire Slayer toMuch Ado about Nothing, from Dr. Horrible’s SingAlong Blog toThe Avengers, the works of Whedon have been the focus of increasing academic attention. This collection of articles represents some of the best work covering a wide array of topics that clarify Whedon’s importance, including considerations of narrative and visual techniques, myth construction, symbolism, gender, heroism, and the business side of television. The editors argue that Whedon’s work is of both social and aesthetic significance; that he creates "canonical television." He is a master of his artistic medium and has managed this success on broadcast networks rather than on cable.

I really liked how this sounded and so far it is really good. Here is the F56:
'It is a good example of American Gothic work in that it presents the horrors of both physically misshapen monsters and monsters of evil intent but often located the latter among human, highly attractive (Glory), or seemingly mild (Mayor Wilkins) characters.' p.56

This is about the series Buffy, which I still haven't seen, boo me, but I agree with this on a theoretical basis. Everything I've learned about the literary Gothic genre matches the above statement, so I definitely think I will enjoy the rest of this book.

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question is:
Tell us about a book that you didn't like and why we shouldn't read it (as nicely and respectfully as possible).

Ok, this is probably not quite the answer that I should be writing but that's because I have to ask a question of my own. I started reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green because it made my sister cry and everyone is talking about it, especially now that the movie is coming out. But I started it and somehow I just couldn't get into it. Somehow the tone at the beginning was too conversational and maybe I wasn't in the right mood, but it simply didn't grab me at all.


Alison Can Read Feature & FollowThere is just such a hype around the book that I feel it almost can't really live up to. I am also getting slightly tired of the beautiful romances we see in some novels. Is a man really going to stick with me if I tell him I don't love him, is he going to quote poetry to me and remember everything I said on our first date? Probably not, because I probably won't either. Sometimes I just wish that there'd be more realistic relationships in literature because although there is love and it's passionate, it is not always so dramatic. I remember that the relationship I saw in The Fountainhead or The Master and Margarita almost made me cry, but that was because they were restrained and possible, rather than over-the-top and perfect. And this is why I'm hesitant about starting TFIOS because I'm afraid it will annoy me.

So I guess my question is actually the other way round, why should I read The Fault in Our Stars?

So, how about you? Which book do you definitely not recommend?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Harry Potter Moment of the Week - Worst Umbridge Moment


It's Thursday and it's my little sister's birthday! I can't believe she is 17...I refuse to admit she's getting older. I want her to stay little and adorable forever, although I do love her tall and sassy as well! Anyway, Thursday means it's Harry Potter time. So hop over to Uncorked Thoughts to join Harry Potter Moment of the Week. This week we're picking:

The Worst Umbridge Moment?

Oh God, there are so many! One of my favourite things about the Harry Potter fandom is that we've all agreed that we want Umbridge more dead than Voldemort because she was an absolute b*tch. Cursing aside, she is obviously an amazing character that is well-written and thoroughly corrupt. And below is the consequence of the Worst Umbridge Moment.
I absolutely loath the moment in Order of the Phoenix where Umbridge insults the centaurs. It's just such a terrible moment of racism and discrimination and always makes me angry. I do think it is important that characters like these exist in any fictional universe, because that way children learn to judge these kind of behaviours.

What I recently discovered is the rape-implications that the end of this scene suggests. I studied Classical Greek so I know most of the myths quite well and know about the myths surrounding centaurs in that culture, uet somehow I hadn't connected it to these because when I look at Firenze, for example, he is so far removed from the rest of the mythology that I expected this to be extended to the rest of the centaurs. But I guess it is one of those things that depends on the reader's interpretation rather than the author's intent.

So, what's your worst Umbridge moment? It's not like there aren't plenty to choose from!