Another Short Weekly Update | June 28, 2020

Hello everyone! I’m back!!! First off, thank you all for your supportive comments in my last short weekly update, and I’d like to thank Melanie @ Grab the Lapels for even reaching out to check up on me. We made it work despite me being 12 hours in the future, lol. And also, our conversation made me consider getting back on the blogosphere. Thanks, Melanie!

Second, I’d also like to apologize for not responding to comments in my absence. I wasn’t thinking due to the anxiety and I realize I’ve come off as rude and like I ghosted everyone, and I’m sorry for that. I’ve truly come to cherish this online community and the friends I’ve made here, and I’m afraid I’ve become too absorbed in my own drama! Bleh. Anyway, I hope to catch up with everyone’s posts in the following week.

In the meantime, a few quick updates:

🔹 Things are still going downhill, politically. The founder of another prominent news site was convicted for “cyber libel”, a number of LGBT activists were illegally arrested by the police during Pride, and the terror bill is likely to be passed now. At this point, I’m resorted to daydreaming of migrating to New Zealand. They have a fantastic prime minister, no current COVID cases, and more cows than people. Not that I’m particularly fond of cows, but at least they won’t be electing incompetent leaders into office…

🔹 My mom and I accompanied my brother to the hospital this week and last week due to a medical (but non-COVID!) concern. We thought it was serious, but we’ve just received the last of his ultrasound results this week, and the doctor told us there was nothing to worry about. So, yay!

🔹 I might have mentioned Cat on this blog (yes, that’s really his name) but I realize I’ve never posted pics of him, so here are some Cat pics! He’s been burrowing into random paper bags around the house lately because it’s rainy season here, and more windy than usual. I don’t know if this is normal cat behavior of if it’s just Cat, but I find it very amusing.

What I’m Reading

This week a friend of mine invited me to read Butler’s Parable of the Sower with her. I haven’t been able to concentrate on much lately, but this book is so timely that it’s been holding my attention.

Parable of the Sower

How are you guys?! Are you easing your way back to work and keeping safe? Have you been able to participate in any protests, whether in person or online? Read any books this week? Let me know in the comments!


Weekly Wrap-up | June 7, 2020

Happy Sunday everyone! Or at least I hope it is where you are. The news has been so distressing lately that I’m finding it hard to concentrate again, either on studying or reading. For one, I’m saddened and angered by news of the Floyd protests. While we here at the Philippines can never truly grasp the extent of systemic racism and violence committed against African Americans, I am still firmly against police brutality. I hope to support the protests in spirit by reading more works by black authors this month.

In other news, our congress has just passed an Anti-Terrorism Bill. This bill is alarming because it employs an overly broad and imprecise definition of terrorism, under which people who voice dissent against the government can be detained without a warrant for up to 24 days. The government can also essentially spy on suspected terrorists under this bill. When people started protesting this, a number of fake accounts of the protestors against the bill suddenly appeared on Facebook. These accounts may be used to spread misinformation and cause harm to the protestors, some of whom are my friends.

We’re all petitioning to junk the bill and pleading with the government to prioritize more urgent issues like mass testing instead. Still, many of us are shaken by this news. This bill, along with the shutdown of one of our major news companies, is reminiscent of the martial law declared by the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s. During Martial Law, free speech was curtailed and thousands of activists were incarcerated and killed for voicing dissent against the Marcos administration. Hopefully it doesn’t get to that point, but the government’s actions are awakening collective feelings of fear and anger right now.

So it’s been a rather heavy week. I hope you’ll keep us in your thoughts.

Anyway, on to some bookish updates. While I haven’t been able to read much, reading (and playing the piano) really helped keep me sane this week.

Continue reading “Weekly Wrap-up | June 7, 2020”

Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal PeopleNORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney
First published by Hogarth on August 28, 2018 

My Rating: ★★★★★

Argh! This is already my third attempt at this review and I still can’t find the right words to express what I felt about Normal People. I always find it harder to write about books I really love, because I either shamelessly gush about them or analyze them to death, and I can’t seem to find a proper middle ground. In this case, my first draft of this was rather fangirl-y and embarrassing, and my second sounded too cold and critical for a five-star review, so… here’s to hoping that third time’s the charm.

Continue reading “Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney”

May 2020 Wrap-up

Welcome to my May wrap-up! May still sucked for the world, but it did suck a little less for me, mainly because school has picked up again. I mentioned before that I’m unlikely to feel productive unless people expect things of me, so having obligations to fulfil this May has been a relief.

The downside, though, is that I’m way behind on blogging, because it takes me awhile to adjust to change and re-establish routines, but also, much to my surprise I haven’t done so poorly in terms of reading! I was able to read 17 books this May, which isn’t bad at all.

Here’s what I read this month:

2020-05 Wrap-up

Continue reading “May 2020 Wrap-up”

Book Review: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Heart's Invisible FuriesTHE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES by John Boyne
First Published by Hogarth Press on February 9, 2017

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

I started reading The Heart’s Invisible Furies back in January, put it away for awhile, and then finally picked it up again in a buddy read with Emily @ Literary Elephant. (Thanks for agreeing to read it with me, Emily!) This novel is a huge favourite among readers of both commercial and literary fiction (it has a rating of 4.47 on Goodreads), and based on its synopsis it sounds like the kind of book I’d enjoy. Plus, it has a fantastic opening line:

Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.

Unfortunately, despite the strong first chapter, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. Emily commented that this would have been called “women’s fiction” if Boyne had been a woman, and that made a lot of sense to me. The Heart’s Invisible Furies felt formulaic and melodramatic, with many scenes designed to “pull on a reader’s heartstrings”. This is not meant to belittle women’s fiction—I actually enjoy women’s fiction, and you all know I read all sorts of excellent ‘trash’ books—but I was led to believe that The Heart’s Invisible Furies was more… well, literary, and it just wasn’t.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies follows Cyril as he takes us through the events of his life, starting from his birth in 1945 to a few days before his death in 2015. Throughout the first half of his life, Cyril struggles with coming to terms with his being gay, especially being gay in a deeply conservative and repressed Ireland in the mid-1900s. Once he has made peace with who his queer identity in the second half of his life, he then struggles with finding a home for himself.

I’ll start with what I liked about this novel. Boyne is skilled at depicting the sociocultural milieu of Ireland during Cyril’s formative years, including how the rigid, moralistic attitudes of the Church towards sexuality. Because of this, people like Cyril’s mother, who bore him out of wedlock, and Cyril himself were subjected to both physical and social forms of punishment, like being beaten up in bars by other patrons, or being refused for a job. Of his boyhood years, Cyril says wryly:

It was 1959, after all. I knew almost nothing of homosexuality, except for the fact that to act on such urges was a criminal act in Ireland that could result in a jail sentence, unless of course you were a priest, in which case it was just a perk of the job. I had a crush [on Julian], but . . . I thought I was just a slow developer; the notion that I could have what was then considered a mental disorder was one that would have horrified me.

Boyne also illustrates this attitude at work years later, when Cyril is in New York in the 1980s during the first wave of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Since I’m reading this during the time of COVID, I was struck by the similarities between the deaths of the early waves of AIDS patients and the COVID patients now—these patients often died alone, in isolation. However, in the case of the HIV/AIDS patients, Boyne depicted how much more painful this isolation was, because once the patients’ loved ones found out they had the “gay disease”, they completely cut off ties with them. It wasn’t only a medical illness, it was also considered a moral one, and it was the stigma often made it unbearable to its sufferers.

However, aside from its historical accuracy and the injustices committed towards the queer community, I found the rest of the novel sloppy in execution. The first thing that tipped me off was the highly unrealistic dialogue between the children in the novel. This is a conversation between Cyril and Julian, his childhood crush, when they were just seven years old:

“Do you have any dirty magazines?” he asked me then.

“No,” I said, shaking my head.

“I have. I found one in my father’s study. It was full of naked girls. It was an American magazine, of course, because naked girls are still illegal in Ireland.”

“Are they?” I asked, wondering how they bathed if that was the case.

“Yes, the Church doesn’t let girls be naked until they’re married. But the Americans do and they take off their clothes all the time and let their pictures go into magazines and then men go into shops and buy them with copies of History Today or Stamps Monthly so they don’t look like perverts.”

While I’m not a parent and I don’t work with children, I don’t think this is something seven-year-old boys talk about. Plus, the syntax and the vocabulary are too adult-sounding to me. I have a ten-year-old nephew and even he doesn’t sound this sophisticated yet.

Aside from the unrealistic dialogue, I had difficulty suspending disbelief for most of the plot. By the end of the first half, Emily and I were joking that Boyne probably wouldn’t end each part without getting one of his characters jailed, killed, or maimed, and we weren’t so far off the mark. As a reader, this made me feel like Boyne was manipulating me into caring for the characters because of the tragic situations he puts them in.

There were also too many coincidences that happen in the characters’ lives, and they were so heavy-handed that I couldn’t take their ‘chance’ meetings seriously. At one point I wondered if The Heart’s Invisible Furies could have been a sitcom instead, because of how comically absurd the dialogue, the coincidences, and melodramatic tragedies are.

The biggest disappointment for me, though, was the characters. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is often touted as a character-driven novel, but I found most of the characters one-dimensional. For example, the only thing that Julian seems to be is blatantly heterosexual. His adoptive parents repeatedly insist to a seven-year-old Cyril that he’s just adopted, and that he’s not “a real Avery”. What sort of parent does that? Plus, Cyril himself was a passive figure in his life. He just allows things to happen to him, and when he finally does take action for something, he’s reluctant to take responsibility for his mistakes. For a first-person narrator, I also found nothing memorable about his voice—he sounded just like everyone else in the novel.

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about The Heart’s Invisible Furies. On one hand, it was entertaining to read in a soap-opera way, and there were parts that were genuinely moving. But on the other hand, I wasn’t sold on the plot or dialogue, and the arbitrary seven-year gaps made it difficult for me to become fully invested in any of the characters. So… three stars it is. I’m very much the minority here, though, so I’d still recommend this to fans of historical fiction. Maybe if you went into it not expecting something poignant or too literary, you’d like it better than I did.

Have you read this book, or any book by Boyne’s? What do you think of his works? Let me know in the comments!

Find me on Goodreads! | Read from May 11-22, 2020

Weekly Wrap-up | May 24, 2020

Happy Sunday everyone! This week has been unexpectedly full for me, so I’m behind on reading, reviewing, and blog-hopping—sorry for that! I didn’t want to miss a week without posting, though, and the very minimum I can do is a weekly wrap-up, so this will be just another short post.

I’ve started studying in earnest this week for my comprehensive exams, which is in early August, and I spent a lot of time earlier this week just getting used to the idea that I have to study again. Luckily, my fellow graduate students created an online review group, and the accountability (or peer pressure) helped me get started. I’m currently about 30% finished with my first subject out of eight subjects, which is… not ideal, but since I’m just getting used to studying again, I’m cutting myself some slack.

On to some bookish updates!

Continue reading “Weekly Wrap-up | May 24, 2020”

Weekly Wrap-up | May 17, 2020

Happy Sunday everyone! This will be a short update—I’ve been feeling under the weather this week, mainly because it’s that time of the month and the cramps and anxiety are hitting hard. It isn’t usually this bad, but my body thought to remind me again why it sucks being a girl—I’m emotional and hangry all the time, I have this intense craving for carrot cake in the middle of the night, and my concentration is shot. It SUCKS, especially on top of COVID and exam preps.

Bleh. Oh well, it will pass.

Anyway, on to my bookish updates!

Continue reading “Weekly Wrap-up | May 17, 2020”

Book Review: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We're Briefly GorgeousON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS by Ocean Vuong
Published by Penguin Press on June 4, 2019

My Rating: ★★★★

Everyone who’s read this book always remarks on the language first, and now I know why. Vuong’s command of language is simply astounding; I’ve never read anything like it before. Written in the form of a letter to his mother who can’t read, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous follows its narrator, known only as Little Dog, over three significant developmental periods in his life: his childhood, where he grapples with the aftermath of the Vietnam War on his family and his fraught relationship with his mother; his late teenage years, where he explores his sexuality with Trevor, the “redneck” son of the tobacco plantation owner; and his young adulthood, during which he comes into his own as a writer.

Continue reading “Book Review: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong”

Mysteries/Thrillers | Darling Rose Gold, The Keeper, & Force of Nature

Aside from romance, I also find myself reaching for the occasional crime novel or fast-paced thriller as my comfort reads. It sounds strange if I put it that way, but what I consider to be ‘comfort reads’ are books that can quickly transport or distract me, and thrillers can be very absorbing.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been very lucky with the genre lately. Here are my reviews of Stephanie Wrobel’s Darling Rose Gold (2020) and Jessica Moor’s The Keeper (2020), two of my most anticipated thrillers this year which turned out to be disappointments. Thankfully, I just finished Jane Harper’s Force of Nature (2017) this week, which turned out to be very satisfying.

Continue reading “Mysteries/Thrillers | Darling Rose Gold, The Keeper, & Force of Nature”

Weekly Wrap-up | May 10, 2020

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms out there! This week was a little more ‘eventful’ than my normal quarantine week—we celebrated my brother’s birthday last May 7 by ordering some of his favourite food, and then we celebrated Mother’s Day also by ordering out. My brother and I (half-)joke that our interactions with the people who deliver our food are the only things we look forward to now, lol. Still, the food was pretty great, and we spent a lot of time reminiscing, which was nice.

I’m not sure if our overall situation is improving, though. Just this week, one of our country’s major media and broadcasting companies, ABS-CBN, ceased operations because of the failure of the Congress to renew its franchise permit. Many (me included) suspect this is intentional, because ABS-CBN has been vocal in its criticism of President Duterte (whose populist appeal is very similar to that of Trump’s). Aside from the implications of this on democracy and free speech, a more practical concern is that 11,000+ employees have just lost their jobs, which extremely concerning given the COVID situation. Please keep us in your thoughts—there’s a lot of collective fear and outrage again here.

In other news, things are also slowly beginning to pick up with school. We now have a revised calendar for the next academic year, and I’m just waiting for the final dates for our Comprehensive Exams (we have those on the MA level, for some reason). I’m not looking forward to studying for those but having some certainty and getting back to making plans will definitely be a relief.

Continue reading “Weekly Wrap-up | May 10, 2020”