11.28.2014

The Sultan’s Harem by Colin Falconer

I had this friend in high school who vented his problems out to me almost every week—usually Mondays. And 98% of the time the problem is his girlfriend or something involving her. After the umpteenth time of him complaining, I just had to ask him the obvious question: “Why are you still with her?” His reply was very obvious for a hormone raging teenage guy: “because she’s hot!” So because she is “hot” she bears no responsibility to the degradation of their relationship. Congratulations Mother Nature, eons of evolution brought us thumbs but not enough common sense. I’m not sure if my friend was a glutton for punishment or simply was not very bright.

In my previous post on the book Scarlet in the Snow, I said love can make you do stupid things. In this post, I would like to amend that statement. True, love can make you do stupid things but lust can make you do unspeakable—even psychotic, crazy things. I imagine this book to be a real conversation starter in many academic circles or a very spirited book club; The Sultan’s Harem, as I imagine, would make Hefner’s playboy mansion look like a Holiday Inn. The Harem itself contains the many beautiful women of the Ottoman Empire and it is here where secret liaisons are made and broken, conspiracies and bodily fluids are exchanged—just like a terrible rerun episode of MTV’s Real World, only with a lot of decapitations, and less tanning. 

The author does a very good job of describing the settings in the story. It almost made me wish it was possible to be transported back into 16th century Constantinople. But then again, I would hate to live with a man who never had anyone say “no” to him and keep their head. Also there’s something disturbing about living in fear for your life everyday; where everything you do must please the Sultan or, as you will find out in the book, the women living in his harem.

11.28.2014

Scarlet in the Snow by Sophie Masson

It is a tale as old as time—and this book is a remix…or pre-mix? Scarlet in the Snow is a retelling of “The Beauty and the Beast”. Although it is not new for classic fairy tales to be rewritten, they are generally horrible or pale in comparison to the “original”. It is safe to assume that people, in general, tend to stick or like is or are familiar to them. It’s like the movie versus book debate. Some people like the movie, some like the book depending on which medium they are accustomed to. In this case — call off the mob – Scarlet in the Snow is a fairy tale—retold, that can stand on its own.

Our heroine Natasha was taken into what I perceived to be an enchanted forest—not exactly an original concept but I like that it’s occupied by others instead of the usual trolls, elves, talking animals etc. It is here is where she meets the Beast wallowing in his sorrow and anger. She was able to infer who he was before his misfortune credited by her inquisitive nature and curious mind. She quickly deduced that he was someone of social and financial affluence; but it was her empathy that made her connection to the beast apparent.

Natasha had two sisters who adored the life at the city. The city had nightly balls that afforded her sisters the chance to dress in beautiful gowns and jewelry; and it also gave an opportunity to mingle with handsome and rich suitors. Such opulence only repulsed Natasha and for good reason. Natasha had other, much more pressing matters to attend to. For one thing, she needs to solve the mystery shrouding the beast: his past, his curse, his name! Her journey takes her through different kingdoms, speak different languages, and take on different identities. She didn’t exact had gone to hell and back for true love but far enough to make us believe: that love makes us do stupid—in this case, dangerous—things.

11.21.2014

Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

A very interesting book. Loved how the cover drew me in, but the plot kept me within the covers. I loved the book to bird (Sir Bird) character. Sir Bird added in a interesting concept to the plot. White did a great job at creating the plot along with creating an ending, realistic with the characters. One I would always recommend.

 

11.21.2014

Poison by Bridget Zinn

Awesome book. Zinn did a great job at making the story line cute, funny and very interesting. Has a great plot twist, and a great set of characters.

11.20.2014

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

The Japanese Geisha: Most westerners believe that geishas are generally prostitutes—culturally accepted prostitutes. They sing; they dance; they make you feel welcome into the country or at least in the tea house. However, Arthur Golden’s tale of Chiyo transforming into the fascinating maiden Sayuri goes in depth to describe geishas as true artists who live their lives as artworks while simultaneously carrying a burden that many in the world cannot.

They are artists; a figment of every man’s fantasy manufactured and brought to life in a harsh and unforgiving world. They make great party hostesses. They entertain their guests, especially the men, and dazzle the eyes of the rest with their intricate hairstyles and beautiful kimonos. It seems they are more objects than human—perhaps an object of every man’s desires? Seeing this story unfold through the eyes of Sayuri one may begin to wonder if being an object to someone is better than being who you truly are.

Sayuri’s story isn’t exactly a Cinderella tale; but it is a coming of age story about a young girl with deep, beautiful blue eyes who overcame so much cruelty in order to blossom into a woman worth more than the silk that make up her fabulous kimonos. It’s sweet to view the work through Sayuri’s eyes as a child—or Chiyo the pre-Sayuri—where life, no matter how dreary it was at the end of the day it was her life. It was familiar and relatively safe. Then came the unfortunate day she lost all certainty and her family, only to be ushered into the less hospitable ‘okiya of Mother Nitta; where she was groomed into becoming a Geisha. She resisted at first but her run-in with the Chairman gave her a new purpose in life; which was all that was lacking when you’ve lost everything and everyone.

All she needed was a purpose and she found it through the Chairman’s generosity and through Gion’s famous Geisha, Mameha’s tutelage. It’s safe to assume Sayuri in the end surpassed her mentor; although in the book she remained humble and believes otherwise…classic geisha response. Of course every Eden has a snake and her name was Hatsumomo. She was that “mean girl” every American high school is bound to have. But in the end she suffered a much worse fate than being knocked up by the quarterback.

All in all, when does your job end and love begins? It’s rare for a geisha to retire into a life of bliss filled with love and joy. Unlike prostitutes, Geisha’s have to be educated in traditional Japanese arts of calligraphy, dancing, tea ceremonies and the theatre; but my favorite is learning the art of conversation. Despite her choices, or lack thereof, Sayuri makes the best of what life has dealt her. She knew, and to an extent us the readers knew, the Chairman was her best chance at survival and happiness. We may never fully understand why some people attach the possibility of achieving happiness onto others. But in the end, it is only making the best decision on the available choices we have. Let’s just be thankful we live in a much, somewhat improved society—but I’ll be honest, I kinda like the idea of being a living-breathing artwork.

11.20.2014

The Altarpiece by Sarah Kennedy: Book 1 of the Cross and Crown Series.

Whenever we learn of a story involving monumental changes to the status quo, we often learn about those imposing change and those resisting it. But we seldom learn about the rest who are caught in the middle of the struggle. When King Henry VIII divorced Katherine of Aragon and installed Anne Boleyn as the new Queen; he unilaterally (and arbitrarily) caused a rift in the European Christendom and pitted fellow Englishmen against one another. This book tells of a microcosmic effect of the social disruption while also shedding light on the chaos that ensnared Medieval England.

Sister Catherine and her sisters of the Mr. Grace convent are an example of the most vulnerable during the tumultuous years of King Henry VIII’s rule. They were a) women b) catholic c) single. These women, like most of the “common” folks, did not have anything or anyone to protect them from the King’s soldiers and his royal subjects who seemed all too excited to act out their king’s decrees. Sister Catherine had her sisters, her faith, her wits, and knowledge in the healing arts. But it was her youth and beauty that made her much more vulnerable in Mr. Grace. (Nothing much more enticing to a man than a virgin who was originally bound to another.) Many around her believed her only salvation is to renounce the Catholic faith and seek refuge in the all too holy institution of marriage.

Perhaps Sister Catherine’s dilemma would not be one if the right gentleman comes in to the rescue. However, she is no damsel in distress. Let us hope she can come out on the other side unscathed or she will be just become another victim of another cruel era of man.

11.20.2014

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Recently I have been trying to read more “fiction” books. Personally, I prefer nonfiction books; usually I read books that sound like something I’d be required to read for a class. But, to avoid being a dried-up, spinster-like individual I thought I would try and expand my horizons and show people that I am a well-rounded, capable of creative thinking individual.

Ranger’s Apprentice-the all-encompassing title of the series—was introduced to me by a colleague at work. I went in with an open mind and came out a tad underwhelmed. I expressed my concern to the same colleague who recommended the book series to me and she reminded me that the series were for preteens. So I thought: “Ok, that makes sense.” –no blood, not enough gore, and enough angst for the usually moody and drama-filled American preteen. The book wasn’t terrible, I just was expecting more especially with the overarching plot focusing on a young man finally achieving a sense of belonging on to be confronted with dangers beyond his wildest imagination.

The authored structured her “faraway land” similar to that of medieval Europe. (You know, the era of Kings, Knights, and no indoor-plumbing.) Of course, you have your royals, villains, your mythical/magical creatures; but the backbone of the story’s plot was the guilds or the craft organizations that make up the fiefdoms in the Kingdom of Araluen.

The kingdom of Araluen awaits you. Whether you’re a child or not, I believe we can all relate to the characters in the series. We all have had grand expectations from ourselves but more than likely destiny has other plans for us.

11.20.2014

The Pirate Lord by Sabrina Jeffries

I usually do not read paperback romance novels; mostly because I think of them as the sappy, corny, and predictable soap operas my mother obsesses over every weekday afternoon. But I willed myself to read this book, against my instincts, because I like pirates in general and I always root for the cliché “villain” in literature. As cynical as I am I have always been known to have sympathy for the devil or the outsiders. Princes, Kings, Knights, and all the usual “good” guys were, to me, very boring, predictable, and definitely pretentious. Besides, there’s something alluring about any villain acting out of character.

Anyways, the book is not some corny smut—a dainty woman in the arms of Fabio—rather it is somewhat a historical account (albeit it’s fictional nature) of a world when the golden age of piracy was gradually fading into oblivion. Lady Sara is held hostage—well not really—on the Pirate Lord’s ship and soon she will be a hostage on his island. Let’s see: two individuals experiencing the salty air, the beautiful sunset, and no television—yeah, draw your own conclusion. What I generally look for in romance novels is the banter between the lovers. Rose petals and doves are great and all but heated arguments over trivial things is what true love should look like. Right before passionate savagery ensues—draw the blinds and lock the door please.

Yes, the Pirate Lord is arrogant, scary, and irresistible according to Sara. And she’s a stubborn, moody, and desirable goddess according to our pirate. Thank goodness the book is not too heavily into drama. There are moments of laughter and intrigue—and don’t forget there are definitely moments of heated, clutch-your-pearls…interactions. I recommend you read this book in a cold environment just in case you burst into flames—fabulous, adulterated, corrupted flames.

11.13.2014

Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch

A very intruding read. Seeing how this world is divided, and how items will fall to work when moving over a simple line marking two different places was quite interesting. I didn’t like how Hirsch ended this book. I didn’t see it as a solution to any problem that was created/presented within the plot.

10.20.2014

Breath of Iron By Kate Cross

An awesome steampunk novel. It is the third book in this series (Clockwork Agents). I love how the suspense is built up over the course of the book and how neatly Cross wraps up. She  leaves room for more novels; however there doesn’t have to be anymore. Cross does an excellent job at describing a life on a airship could be when two special agency collide for some top secret information.

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