Helen Rena

Author of The Coldest Heart, a YA paranormal romance about a girl who loves her boyfriend very much, but when the two of them get in trouble with the all-powerful Queen of New York, she wonders if he has her best interests at heart. 

A Book to Read Should You Ever Feel Too Happy

The Last Man - Mary Shelley

For a while I hesitated if I should turn on the spoiler alert marker for this post. But then again, the plot is given away in the title, right?


What surprises me, though, is that The Last Man is not more popular in this era of the post-apocalyptic, everybody-dies-of-something-or-other-in-the-nick-of-time narrative revival.


But back to the plot. The Last Man is about a guy named Verney. His father lost his position at the royal court of England, then died in obscurity, leaving behind a son, Lionel Verney, and a daughter, Perdita Verney, penniless and hopeless. However, due to some luck and a bromance between Lionel and the king’s son Adrian, Verneys get financial help and a high social status in England. Lionel Verney also gets to marry Adrian’s sister Idris. Then an outbreak of plague happens, and everyone starts dying in graphic and troubling ways.


It’s a great book. Lionel Verney is a narrator in the vein of Victor Frankenstein. Very eloquent and sophisticated, he tells us the truth. Yes, he hurt Perdita, which ultimately led to her death, but he did it for her own good. Yes, he indirectly killed Idris, but it wasn’t his fault she froze in a blizzard after he told her to stay in a cold carriage. I mean who would have imagined people freeze to death like this?


One detail about The Last Man charms me in particular, though. Other texts about humankind’s extinction-type woes that were available to Mary Shelley like for example, Lord Byron’s poem “Darkness,” Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, or Boccaccio’s The Decameron either do not mention what becomes of animals in those tough time (The Decameron) or show animals dying alongside the people. In fact, A Journal of the Plague Year particularly mentions pigs as carriers of the disease. But in The Last Man, animals are fine. People are dying in droves, and animals are like “Good riddance.” And of course, Mary Shelley being Mary Shelley gives the most brilliant explanation for this at the end of the novel.

Magic and Bras in Dorothy Must Die

Dorothy Must Die - Danielle  Paige

Very enjoyable so far. But one thing just cracked me up. So supposedly, the air in the Land of Oz is imbued with magic—literally—sort of like humidity—and yet all this magic fails to support women’s boobs because when the protagonist needs clothes, she gets this magical garment: “The top was clingy and it had some sort of bra built in that made my flat chest look a little less flat. Say what you will about these witches, but they valued style.” :)

Beautiful Library

Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris duplex

Frankenstein and the Domestic Ideal

Frankenstein - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

I love Frankenstein. It’s such a polyvalent book. But the interpretation that I like the most is that it represents the failure of the 19th-century domestic ideal. It’s a middle-class ideal, and it goes as follows: a woman gets married, gives up all power to her husband, stays at home, and raises children. In exchange, her husband supports and protects her. Well, Mary Shelley, along with many other people, saw how severely flawed this ideal was, but only Shelley, in her brilliance, came up with Frankenstein.


In Shelley’s novel, a middle-class dude, Victor Frankenstein, promises to marry his childhood sweetheart Elizabeth Lavenza. However, before getting hitched, he goes off to Ingolstadt to receive an education befitting his gender and social status. And oh, the fun to be had. Fascinating classes, engrossing experiments, good-looking professors. All in all, after four or so years of this fun, Victor really does not want to go home to fulfill his role of a husband and protector. But Elizabeth is aging, and since a woman’s shelf-life is so short at that time, Victor’s dad writes him a strong-worded letter, saying that Victor ought to come home or there’ll be consequences.


That’s when Victor makes his monster.


Then he makes the monster angry.


Then the monster goes to Victor’s hometown of Geneva and kills Elizabeth, so Victor does not have to marry anymore. A celebration, I mean an oath of a life-long vengeance while staying single ensues.


So, yes, between men not wanting to get married and women not knowing what their future spouses might bring home from the outside world (STDs? Crippling debts? Monsters?), the 19th-century domestic ideal was of questionable value to men and deadly for women.


What do you like about Frankenstein?


Would You Rather Be a Dog or a Bird?

Hey, Al - Arthur Yorinks, Richard Egielski

Hey, Al is one of the weirdest kid books I’ve ever read. The plot goes as follows: a man named Al lives in NYC with his trusty dog Eddie. Al works as a janitor, but is not happy because being a janitor is a difficult, underpaid, and cheerless job. So when a gigantic bird flies into his window and offers to carry him to a paradise island, Al grabs Eddie, and off they go to sunny beaches, loads of tropical fruit, and incessant parades of colorful birds. Yes, they love it on the island. Unfortunately, in the tradition of Pinocchio, Al and Eddie start turning into birds. So they cut and run back to NYC, where instead of hating their dreary life, they try to enjoy it because at least they are not birds. Also, Al paints his apartment a more cheerful color. The end.


Now, the book is clearly a cautionary tale/allegory about taking drugs. You take them—you lose yourself and become someone or something else. And that’s all good, but how much would a kid understand? For him/her, it would be just a story about a dude not wanting to be a bird on a paradise island. And okay, perhaps even for a small child, being a human has its value, but what about Al’s dog? The dog literally does not want to turn into a bird because…I don’t know…it’s better to be a dog? Would that make sense to a kid?


Also, not to go all PETA on Arthur Yorinks, but how did Eddie get into drugs?



Would You Sleep with Someone Just Because Your Boyfriend Asked You To?

The Book of Blood and Shadow - Robin Wasserman

I liked this book. It’s about a teenage girl who through a twist of fate gets involved in hunting for an ancient treasure and fighting off crazy religious cults. Yes, more than one. :) In spirit, it’s a lot like The Da Vinci Code except that it has teenagers for main characters instead of adults. And so yes, I liked the book. The treasure hunt was solid, and I loved Wasserman’s writing, and I was enjoying everything about the book until I made it almost to the end where a few sudden revelations were made. One of them baffled me beyond measure.


Like way beyond measure.


So it goes like this: the book’s protagonist, Nora, has a boyfriend named Max and a friend named Adriane, who is also in a relationship with a boy named Chris. Nora is very much in love with Max, but near the end of the book, we learn that Max is actually in love with Adriane, but since he is a villain and has been hiding it from Nora, he asked Adriane not to reveal their love and keep on staying in a relationship with Chris. Which is a sexual relationship, by the way. And this completely confused me. Would a seventeen-year-old girl really agree to have sex with the boyfriend she no longer loves because the guy she loves now asks her to? Would anyone agree to that? The book/Robin Wasserman says, “Yes, it’s no biggie,” but I somehow can’t buy it.


In my mind, the whole exchange, which is not shown in the book, but only implied, kind of goes like this:


Max: “Hey, Adriane, I work for Lord Voldermort, so we can’t tell Nora that I don’t love her. So can you please go on as usual with Chris, sex and all?”


Adriane: “Sure, no problem. I’m really good at pretending to enjoy having sex with someone I don’t love.”


Does this plot twist sound believable to you?

Dog Number F



Vera was two days late. After she parked her car in the driveway, she threw the door open and scrambled out to face a small dingy house half-sunk into a balding lawn. A gnarly tree in front of the porch was thickly hung with tiny birdhouses, all of them empty and mossy and time-weathered. A vacant dog kennel leaned against the tree.


Praying to all the gods that nothing bad had happened here, Vera ran onto the porch, briefly noticing a large planter with a desiccated geranium in it. Several large bones were piled next to the planter.


Vera knocked on the door. No answer. She knocked again. “Aunt Lisa! It’s me, Vera.”

The door creaked open, revealing a small brown dog standing just inside the hallway. No Aunt Lisa anywhere.


Vera made another attempt: “Aunt Lisa-a-a-a!” Silence. Just the dog in the hallway. Vera looked at it more closely. It was as tall as a milk carton and sort of longish…sort of like a dachshund, but not a dachshund because this was the only breed Lisa could tell apart, and this dog was not it.


The dog looked at Vera too. It was neither friendly nor hostile. It seemed profoundly content with standing in the hallway and facing Vera.


Vera cautiously carried her foot over the threshold. The dog did nothing—neither moved nor growled. Just watched.


Once Vera was inside, the dog pushed the door closed with its nose. Then it walked over to a credenza by the wall. Vera followed. There was a note there, atop of some keys, crumpled receipts, and a piece of opened, but unchewed gum: “Sweet pea, I’m so glad you made it. Dog Number F will take care of you. Love, Aunt L.” There was a thin layer of dust on the note.


Vera swallowed. This was not good. Vera and her three sisters had been taking turns watching their kooky aunt, and the last turn had been Mabel’s, and Mabel had said everything went just fine. She and Lisa played games; for fun, instead of talking to each other, they exchanged the most droll notes; and every day, Lisa spoke to Vera’s mother on the phone in that quavering, breathy voice of hers, you know. Well, that was then, and now it was all screwed up. Because it was Vera’s turn, and Vera had been screwing up everything.


Just to be sure, Vera checked all the rooms, and yes, they were completely devoid of her aunt. Vera returned to the hallway and looked at the dog again. The bones outside seemed too big to have been Dog Number F’s meal. Did they belong to Dog Number E?


The phone, an ivory-colored, vintage-looking affair with an actual rotary dial, rang like it was paid to make as much noise as possible. Vera picked the receiver. “Hello.”


“Lisa?” said the receiver in Vera’s mother’s voice. “Lisa?”


Vera had to place her hand on the credenza not to fall down. If Mother learned about Lisa’s disappearance, she might not survive the shock. The doctors had said so. Vera closed her eyes. Well…maybe…maybe…Lisa would show up. Yes, that was it—an eighty-year-old woman couldn’t be gone for long—and in the mean time Vera would just pretend to be Lisa…for just a bit. It wouldn’t really harm anyone, would it?


“Lisa?” the receiver pleaded.


Vera put her sleeve over the speaker and said in a quavering, breathy voice of her aunt, “Speaking.”


Dog Number F smiled.

The Book of Blood and Shadow: I've read 75%

The Book of Blood and Shadow - Robin Wasserman

It's about a treasure hunt. And who doesn't love a treasure hunt? :)


Lots of lists, though.


Example: "There were store selling colored crystal; stores selling knockoff watches, knockoff handbags, knockoff shoes; stores selling presumably bootleg CDs; stores selling matryoshka dolls painted with the faces of presidents, soccer players, movie stars, and, most prevalently, Michael Jackson; stores selling cheap jewelry; stores selling thick Bavarian pretzels and sugared dough roasting on a spit; and most of all, stores selling puppets, their blank wooden faces staring dully through the glass, their limbs contorted by tangled strings, their lips painted into smiles or roars, tears or freckles dotting their apple cheeks - rows and rows of puppet girls and puppet boys, menaced by puppet dragons, wooed by puppet princes, tempted by puppet devils."


I had to surface for air a couple of times while reading this, but fun. :) 

Is This Really a Castle in the Air?

Castle in the Air - Diana Wynne Jones

Since this is the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, I really wanted to like this book. But I just couldn’t get into it. So the plot goes as follows: a young guy named Abdullah lives in the Sultanates of Rashpuht and sells carpets for living, but dreams of being a prince. By an odd chance, he comes into possession of a magic carpet that flies and that later takes him to a sultan’s daughter, who falls in love with him and is ready to marry him after meeting him only two or three times. Unfortunately, just before the young couple can elope, the princess is stolen by a djinn, and for the rest of the book Abdullah is trying to rescue her.


My problems with the book:


1. Where are Sophie and Howl? I bought the book so I could read more about them. Well, they do come up closer to the end, but the book is not about them, and that was a disappointment.


2. How is this different from other formulaic boy-battles-evil books? It isn’t. And I guess I expected more from Jones after Howl’s Moving Castle.


3. Is this feminism? Jones does address inequalities between men and women here and there, like for example, when Abdullah tells the sultan’s daughter, who is extremely ignorant, that men can marry more than one woman, but women can’t, the girl says, “Oh, that’s unfair.” Then the topic is promptly dropped, and when at the end of the book, a guy—another guy, not Abdullah—marries two women, it is treated as totally okay. O_O


4. Could this book be racist? So, to find the sultan’s daughter, Abdullah travels from the Sultanates of Rashpuht, a southern country where he lives, to Ingary, which is a northern country in the book. And so we get to hear about both places, and the South is shown as a barbaric place ruled by a barbaric sultan while the North has flowers and wizards, and women are not as oppressed, so it’s a really good place.


5. Is the plot logical? So, a sultan’s daughter meets a stranger in her garden who tells her he is a prince, and she falls in love with him and decides to elope with him after seeing him only two or three times. I don’t know—I’m not a sultan’s daughter—but I can’t imagine any princess deciding to just run off with a stranger. I know that’s how usually fairytales go, but isn’t this book the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle that was built on questioning and undermining fairytale tropes?


But apart from these problems, it was a good book. :)

What Big Teeth You Have :)

Bathroom Library

I had planned on keeping my blog quiet for few days and do something more productive but in all honesty, how could I not share this one?


Would you decorate your house with this? :)
Would you decorate your house with this? :)

A book cover that judges readers...

What I don't get is why that book wouldn't unlock for excited readers.

Fifty Pieces of Grey



Sarah Jane never read Fifty Shades of Grey—the medication she had to take for her psychotic attacks made letters look like small, black, wiggling worms—but she bought all the books in the series and kept them by her bed. She believed they were the most truthful books ever written. Women wanted to be submissive. Sarah Jane wanted to be submissive. She just couldn’t find anyone to be submissive to.


After she was released from the mental ward, she kept on looking, but sadistic billionaires proved hard to find. Perhaps they were all sadists, but Sarah Jane couldn’t get herself employed by a plain billionaire either. She wrote to E. L. James for advice and maybe even some tips on submissiveness, but her email never got a response.


That’s when she remembered what her roommate in the psychiatric ward had said about BDSM forums—they existed. And so Sarah searched them. In no time she found a guy who worked at JC Penney, and he was a sadist all right. He spanked her; he beat her with a paddle and took away her minimum wages from her fast food job. Sarah loved it. But soon Derek started neglecting the spanking. He wanted to drink beer with his friends instead. Shocked, Sarah reasoned with him—what kind of a sadist was he if he wasn’t beating his submissive? Derek started avoiding her.


And this Sarah couldn’t take.


So one day when Derek came from work, she hit him on the head with a hammer, cut him into small pieces, wrapped them in saran wrap, and put them in the freezer. Then she started looking for her next sadist.


Reblogged from Chris' Fish Place:


Seriously, I now want to return my Vermont Teddy Bear. 


Please, make it stop.

Is Heart of Darkness Racist?

Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

My synopsis: a white middle-class dude tells other white middle-class dudes about his trip up the Congo river to extract yet another white middle-class dude because the latter went nuts and, instead of just robbing the native population, proclaimed himself a god there. Because it’s easier to rob them that way. This story-telling event takes place on a luxury yacht on the Thames river, near London, as the dudes wait for the turn of the tide. Which is of course very symbolic.


My thoughts: I love Heart of Darkness, or at least loved it. It’s such a rich, nuanced, brilliant book. The dude who tells us about his journey is Charles Marlow, a racist and sexist man who also happens to be charming and intelligent. So as readers go on a journey to the Congo with him, they must guard themselves against liking him. That’s how I used to think about the book.


Until recently.


Until Ferguson.


Then I started thinking about Heart of Darkness again. Yes, Joseph Conrad does show that Marlow is a racist, but he does not punish him. One can argue that no, Marlow is punished because as he sits and tells his story, he is alienated from the other men. They—or at least the man who retells Marlow’s story to us later—see him as Buddha with yellow skin. In other words, Marlow is no longer seen as a white man, and he is compared to a foreign god. He lost his Britishness. The horror. But is it enough?


The Europeans killed the native population of Africa in staggering numbers, so is it enough that Marlow has yellow skin now (jaundice? malaria?)? Is it enough that nobody on that yacht might be listening to his story? They might be all asleep. Or should have the natives got together with the Intended* and killed Marlow?


True, this murder would not have been realistic, but realism in books is a murky concept, and if, let’s say, Tolstoy kills off Anna Karenina because she’s an adulteress, then Conrad could have made Marlow commit suicide because, let’s say, Marlow is haunted by his Congo trip. Which he really is. So what is just? What is enough?


*That’s how Kurtz refers to his fiancée. Marlow deceives her about Kurtz’s last words because…well, it’s a huge debate why, but one of the reasons is definitely because she is not a dude. Because Marlow tells the truth to the white dudes on that yacht, Kurtz’s last words and all.