Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Review: Simon vs The Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Why am I not surprised that I adored this book so much? Because Goodreads can't be wrong. Lately it has become my one-stop-shop for book picks and it rarely disappoints. I had been wanting to read a light, nice contemporary book and Simon vs The Homosapiens Agenda came to my book pile. The cover was intriguing, and I hadn't really read a book relating to sexual identity before.

Simon is gay, and he has been emailing Blue (identity unknown), a boy attending the same high-school. They keep their real identities hidden from each other, because neither of them has had their 'coming out' moment. Simon's not sure when he'd be ready--he knows that his family would be accepting, but with their annoying tendency to be over-enthusiastic about anything he does beyond their pre-conceived notions of him, it's a bit difficult. Then there's the whole idea of being bullied by school kids. One day, though, Simon's emails to Blue are read by his classmate, who begins to blackmail him. The story moves forward combining Simon toiling for, sometimes avoiding, Martin, fearing that he would spill his secret when he isn't ready. We meet Simon's friends and go through their lives as well, and we feel Simon's pangs to know the real Blue.

It was quite a refreshing read, actually. The writing is simple and fun, the (almost) typical contemporary narration making it a quick and easy read. However, the fact that I couldn't put it down unless I had read till the end proves that, at least for a picky reader like me, the book serves well to break any reading slump you might be facing. Also, it gives you perspective. How do you feel about being gay and unable to come out with it? Does society or the idea of bullying scare you? Do you get pissed off when straight people find it difficult to admit they like someone of the opposite gender? How do you perceive a friend or schoolmate who's gay?
Becky Albertalli




Book title: Simon vs The Homosapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli (do read. It's unique and fun!)
Pages: 320
Published: 2015 by HarperCollins (Blazer+Bray)
My rating: 4/5!




~Things I enjoyed~
1. The perfect balance of family understanding and discord. People are there for Simon, but don't exactly make it easy for him to 'come out' because of their tendency to highlight anything out of the ordinary.

2. Characters. I liked how Alice, Simon's elder sister, remained in the background for most of the book but still comes across as a supportive and fun sister. Simon is likeable enough, and he seems realistically vulnerable when he begins being blackmailed by Martin. He's a fun mix of weird and nice. I liked many more character portrayals, but what I liked more was how they were balanced throughout the book. No overdose of any single character. 

3. The school setting. This is purely personal because I hadn't read a book with a school setting since maybe Vampire Academy? Who knows. I, for one, don't keep a tab on book settings. I have a hard time remembering character names the next day. Anyway, the school setting made it 'refreshing' for me. It has also been realistically done. (I don't know how realistic it is though, to have many people who'd support gay rights when they're teenagers. I hope it is very much real!)

4. The mystery. All things apart, the constant mystery of Blue's real identity could have been the prime reason I couldn't put the book down! Minor spoiler alert: For a long time I felt I knew who he was, but then I didn't. Tch.

5. Ms. Albright, the drama teacher. Particularly towards the ending, she turned into a badass woman who won't tolerate bullying. She was quite likeable from the start, though, as a teacher who makes things funny and comfortable for the students by, say, speaking in their language. 

6. The ultimate meeting of Simon and Blue!!! The revelation of Blue. I was hugely anticipating someone as Blue, though it was also somehow unimaginable, but then it ended up being someone I had also imagined as a possible Blue but it had seemed irrelevant at that time. Looking back, the subtle foreshadowing was CUTE. I don't even know it anything in this para makes sense. Writing without spoilers is no good. *sigh* 

What my ebook copy looked like when I went to the park to read
~Things I did NOT enjoy~
1. Character development when it comes to Simon's friends. Simon's own character development isn't intense per se, but visible enough for readers to note. However, I did wonder why Abby and Nick didn't seem to be bothered about Leah. [The following text COULD be a character personality spoiler for some, so read at your own risk.] They both seemed to have been self-absorbed. I get that Leah's behaviour wasn't exactly rational, but Simon handled it way better than the other two. And if I were the choose between Leah and Abby, it would be Leah because Abby, no matter how friendly and cute, was ALWAYS oblivious to Leah and sometimes I was all, 'Doesn't this girl think before speaking stuff?' When I read some Goodreads reviews before getting to this book (not always a great idea. There's always a spoiler), some of them seemed to think Leah's behaviour as selfish. I expected it to be, but ended up feeling quite the opposite. [end of probable spoiler]

2. The play/musical taking up a huge portion of the reader's time, which made me anticipate something AMAZING during the actual play, but things seemed... normal. Sure, there were a couple of things that happened, but nothing worth the hype. What happened with the homecoming was perfectly balanced, in fact.

Overall, you should consider three things:
1. The easy and fun writing style that'll keep you hooked.
2. Your sensitivity towards people's sexual identities and their dilemmas would be greatly enhanced.
3. Your weekend wouldn't be boring if you read this book. :)

Or maybe you could consider a couple of quotes:
“People really are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows. And maybe it's a good thing, the way we never stop surprising each other.”

“The way I feel about him is like a heartbeat -- soft and persistent, underlying everything.”

Yeah? Feel warm and woozy? Good.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Review: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare
Book Title: City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments #1)
Author: Cassandra Clare
Pages: 485
Published: 2007
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
(I got it free from Kindle Unlimited!)
My Rating: 4/5!

Another book series I didn’t read while the world was going crazy about it. (I just DON’T know what’s with my aversion to reading books at the same time as others). I wish I had read it before. City of Bones introduces us to a new world—dark, mysterious and fascinating—a world that’s closely intertwined with ours, visible only to those with the Sight. There are humans, of course (called ‘mundanes’ because we can’t see the real excitement in the world, I guess) and then there are Shadowhunters, who are part human and part angel. The Mortal Cup is an instrument that was used to make the first Shadowhunters (by mixing in blood of humans and angels and getting a prospective Shadowhunter to drink it. I’d have thought a vampire would like it more). There are also the Downworlders, creatures that have demonic blood or tendencies in them (include everything else—vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc). In City of Bones, we see how all these worlds mix up in the quest to fight the feared Shadowhunter-gone-wrong called Valentine, who wants the world full of “pure blood” Shadowhunters and absolutely no demons.

That’s the background. The story is narrated in third person, but the central character of the story is Clarissa (Clary) Fray, a fifteen year old living in Brooklyn with her mother, Jocelyn. She has a best friend, Simon. One evening when Clary and Simon are visiting the popular hangout club Pandemonium, Clary witnesses a murder. The baffling thing was, the victim’s body evaporated and she was the only one who could see the killers—teenagers just like herself. Clary is drawn into a world she had no memories of, meets people she should have known but doesn’t, and realizes that what she knew about herself was barely true.


City of Bones has a compelling storyline. Though I could draw some parallels with other books (such as Harry Potter), I do think that this story stands on its own, particularly in terms of characters and their motivations. The author lays heavy emphasis on past events, relationships and emotions of characters to control their behaviour in the present. Every character has a backstory that validates their actions or thoughts, and it feels so realistic. That’s probably one of the best things about this book. Sure, there were some places where the characters seemed to be acting on sudden impulses or had changed emotions in a jiffy, which felt too rushed to me, but it wasn’t really bothersome. The characters are memorable, to say the least.

There is a good amount of action and suspense too, fairly presented and well-spaced. Because the story focuses on family dynamics too, one of the major twists pertained to familial ties, and it was indeed so surprising, I totally did NOT see it coming. Another thing I found different and “fresh” about a YA novel such as this was that it also touches upon sensitive themes such as family separation, being an outcast and homosexuality.

Some parts in the story were quite touching and sad. Needless to say, I loved the balanced mix of everything. It was appealing in a curious way… despite all the darkness, the raw discomfort of what was happening, I couldn’t put the book down. At first, it was interesting but not as gripping as I thought it would be—I had a feeling it was overrated—but it seemed to pick up pace after about 40% and then it was hard to put it down. I did read a lot of it while I should have been working. The writing style is good… pretty normal, I guess, because I didn’t observe it that much, except that some really good vocab is used in places and I was just wondering how each character has such a good repertoire of vocab.

This book came as a ‘different’ kind of story compared with the ones I’d been reading the past two years. It relates more to the YA books I read while in college, and the reading experience felt very good. I’ve begun to read City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments #2) and I’m already excited!! Any of you read these books?

(Sharing some quotes from the book below):

“The boy never cried again, and he never forgot what he'd learned: that to love is to destroy, and that to be loved is to be the one destroyed.”

“Where there is love, there is often also hate. They can exist side by side.”

“All knowledge hurts.”


 PS- I'm not much of a movie person but I just saw that there's a movie on this!!!! I don't like the feel of the characters (in the photographs) though. Books are always so much better. 


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Peril at End House and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie
A sketch of Hercule Poirot
Hercule Poirot is a Belgian detective, a short, sharp man popularised by Agatha Christie in her many novels. I hadn't read a lot of her books before. Only a couple of Miss Marple books and a handful of general ones. They were fairly enjoyable, till the time I read The Murder on the Orient Express, and getting introduced to Hercule Poirot. I began to think of it as the best Agatha Christie book I'd read! Recently I grabbed Peril at End House and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, wishing to savour some more of Poirot's adventures. I'll talk about these two books in the paras below:
 
Peril at End House: Hercule Poirot is on a holiday with his loyal friend (read sidekick) Hastings when he meets a young girl called Nick who seems to have had three escapes from death in the last three days. Poirot is intrigued, especially when a shot is attempted at Nick right in front of Poirot! Poirot convinces Nick that she is in danger and she asks him for help. Nick lives in End House, a dilapidated old house left to her by her grandfather. The story goes on to introduce Nick's relatives and friends, all of whom are suspected by Poirot. The result is an intriguing whodunnit that makes a reader's suspicions flow from one character to the next.

I enjoyed reading this book and thinking along Hercule Poirot as developments take place. Sometimes I paused to reflect on the quality of writing, which didn't seem all that great. Add to it the expressions of stereotypes on women, and it became a bit of a bother, but the story nevertheless took over. Perhaps because I had The Murder on the Orient Express to compare with, but I did not find Peril at End House as good as expected. The main character, Nick, seemed too unreal in the way she behaved. Still, I'd give it full points for the OMG factor and the unexpected ending. The minus point? You feel like you HAVE to read the book again to figure out how the crime was committed, but you usually don't have the time for it. And you know this fact.


Buy Peril at End House: Amazon / Flipkart
Pages: 287
First published: 1932

As for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I loved reading it much more than Peril at End House. Roger Ackroyd is apparently one of Christie’s masterpieces. Here, Hercule Poirot has "retired" and gone to live in a small town where he hopes to hide his identity (and ends up being thought of as a retired hairdresser, thanks to his fabulous waxy moustache!). Of course, mysteries follow detectives. Soon, there is a suicide and a murder, and Hercule Poirot is called to help.

This story was interesting right from the beginning. The narrator is one of the townspeople, a doctor, who takes the place of Poirot's friend Hastings (as much as a stranger is capable, that is). The narrator, Dr Sheppard, had been to dine with Roger Ackroyd, one of the rich men in town. Ackroyd had been tense and had wanted to share a secret with Dr Sheppard, but he is prevented from doing so. Later that night the doctor receives a phone call that Ackroyd has been murdered, and a most intriguing story follows.

What with Poirot’s methods of working and so many clues and suspects, the readers just can’t get enough of the story. It’s no wonder the book is considered wonderful. It just is. For a change, I’m quite at a loss for words to describe the book. Towards the end, I began to feel apprehensive about the ending, and I dearly wished it to not be what I thought it would be, and it was a disappointment when it turned out to be exactly what I dreaded. Again, that feeling of wanting to re-read the book!

Buy The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Amazon 
Pages: 368
First published: 1926

General comments
Poirot seemed to resemble Sherlock in the sense of arriving at the solution by thinking. However, Poirot is a proponent of utilising one's "little grey cells" (of the brain) and has the habit of arriving at the solution by taking into consideration every single truth/fact and going by "method". He is great at human psychology, which makes his problem-solving all the more alluring!

The best thing about these books is how they are so hard to put down! I have never had more than a few hours' break while reading a book by Agatha Christie. It's true even when I find some things tiresome or the writing 'basic'. The story just keeps having interesting developments, which obviously is testimony to the fact that the stories are real gold. They may seem simple on the surface, but I just love how the author plays around with it!   

I recommend these books to fans of mystery and crime novels. Now I’m going to read some more Agatha Christie.

PS—Poirot is the only fictional character to be honored with a front page obituary on The New York Times. No wonder!

PPS—The print and text quality of the books that I bought needs to be commented upon. It was so disappointing to find that the text had clearly not been proofread or looked at even once before the book was sent off for printing. Gross errors that greatly put me off while reading: sentences ending in a comma instead of a full stop, sentences with either beginning or ending quote marks missing, words spelled wrongly (weeek instead of week! The name Ursula written 'Ursual'). I'm sure the publishers wouldn't have bothered with it considering the brands--Agatha Christie and HarperCollins. Who would bother with typos? And I wasn't even surprised that the book was "For sale in the Indian subcontinent only". Who else accepts such books? 


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Dan Brown
Book title: Angels and Demons (Robert Langdon #1)
Author: Dan Brown
Published: 2000 by Corgi Books
Pages: 620
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 4/5

Angels and Demons is the first Robert Langdon thriller in the amazing series by Dan Brown. I feel silly not having read this before despite having a copy since ages! Brown's DaVinci Code and The Lost Symbol had been immensely satisfying reads, and Angels and Demons was just as enthralling. I love books that demand all your thoughts, emotions and intellect to be concentrated on it at all times. I've been guilty of reading Angels and Demons while at work and way past my bedtime. It is a book that engages one's intellectual curiosity and provides for thrills, adventure, mystery with scenes that can leave one breathless.

What's inside?
Robert Langdon is an art historian teaching at Harvard. He finds himself at CERN, the biggest scientific research organization located in Switzerland, after the Director shows him an image of a brutally-murdered CERN scientist. He had been "branded" with a mysterious symbol. Robert Langdon finds the situation impossible: he had done some research on the Illuminati and the symbol indicated their resurgence.
Religion and science have always been at loggerheads with each other. The fabled intellectual group that called themselves the Illuminati have resurfaced after decades of hiding, thought to have been extinct by the world. And they have their target in sight--Vatican City, the holiest church. Langdon and Vittoria, the murdered scientist's daughter, leave for Rome to locate the canister of antimatter--that which was stolen after the scientist's death--to prevent it from vaporizing Vatican City! 

One of the book covers
How is the book?
Fantastic. The one thing I love about Dan Brown's books is how the stories are set in such short time spans. Angels and Demons covers Langdon's day beginning at 5.30 am till a little after midnight--packed with historical information, action, suspense and a symbologist's quest towards an impossible answer that could save the world. Readers will inevitably be drawn to Rome's culture and rich art history apart from the marvellous secrets buried within the Vatican.

The story, a race against time as the antimatter countdown nears zero, is intense and quick-paced, Brown's writing style adding to the effect. No words are wasted. The words are chosen carefully. The chapters ending with cliffhangers are the best! I tried to guess the ultimate villain and failed thrice. The book isn't a literary star, but it is totally absorbing. There were some things that seemed a bit unbelievable to me, like how so much could happen within minutes, but I'm not complaining. I was hooked onto the story and felt as much in Vatican as Robert Langdon, decoding answers in popular churches and artwork, trying to stay a step ahead of the enemy and using all possible knowledge to find answers to save the Vatican from being evaporated.

The short chapters moving from one scene to the next, in different areas and different POVs add to the quick-paced nature of the book. It has also been done seamlessly with no scope for reader disorientation. I liked the background stories for all characters--they brought about more depth in the characters. Robert Langdon is a unique character, one of those whose image you can affix in your mind with just a brief introduction. He's intelligent, witty and a little bit wacky. He gets into tough situations because of his curiosity and a sense of responsibility, and it is fun to watch him deal with the new people and circumstances as they arise. 

Coming to facts, I've seen a lot of readers criticising the book because it does not include proper facts and is "anti-Christian". I'm not much aware about those facts, but I do know that it is a fictional story that uses some pre-existing facts to base itself upon. Reaching the end, I did feel that it threw a somewhat negative light on the Catholic Church, but that was because of one of the characters. The book ended with a clear message (according to the author anyway) of what religion/Church stands for and how it is to be seen as separate from blind faith or belief on the basis of fear. This is something I feel a lot of religions deal with.

Nevertheless, I would recommend Angels and Demons to fans of thrillers and to those who enjoyed DaVinci Code. Some language, scenes and gory descriptions/killings might not be suitable for younger readers. Here are a few quotes from the book:

“Nothing captures human interest more than human tragedy.”

“Faith is universal. Our specific methods for understanding it are arbitrary. Some of us pray to Jesus, some of us go to Mecca, some of us study subatomic particles. In the end we are all just searching for truth, that which is greater than ourselves.”

“Science tells me God must exist. My mind tells me I will never understand God. And my heart tells me I am not meant to.”

“Skepticism has become a virtue. Cynicism and demand for proof has become enlightened thought. Is it any wonder that humans now feel more depressed and defeated than they have at any point in human history? ” (This comes from a long speech delivered at the Vatican in the story.)

What do you think? Have you read the book or watched the movie?


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Book talk: Jurassic Park and The Lost World by Michael Crichton

This post is not exactly a review, so I haven't included even a bit of a storyline. You might find the names codswallop if you haven't read the books or seen the Jurassic Park movies.
 
What am I talking about?
Book titles: Jurassic Park and The Lost World
Published: 1991 and 1995 respectively
Find your copy at: Amazon / Flipkart
Genre: Science fiction
My rating: 5/5 (expect fangirl moments)

We're all familiar with the awesome Jurassic Park movies that generated (or rekindled, in some cases) our interest in dinosaurs--those majestic, prehistoric beasts. My favourite parts in the movies were to do with the tyrannosaurus rex. What a huge, terrifying creature! When I picked up the Michael Crichton novels on which the movies are based upon, I didn't know what to expect--could the books be better?

Verdict--The two are awesome in their own place, but if you are even a teeny weeny bit interested in dinosaurs or the science of evolution, Jurassic Park and The Lost World are a MUST to read. They're fabulous, unputdownable, and filled with science info you wouldn't really wish to miss. Some readers might find the mathematical and science theories too integrated in the books, but it really worked well for me. For one, I understood the story depicted in the movies a lot better than just watching them. Two, nothing seems unrealistic when you're reading the books (except perhaps for the dumbness of some characters). The creation of dinosaurs for the world's most fantastic theme park, the ideas behind it, the way things go wrong--I enjoyed reading every.single.word! It was impossible to put down. I've read these books through nearly everything, including work. I found Jurassic Park more exciting, and The Lost World a little slow, but they're both worth reading.



















Literary view--The writing style might not appeal to all readers. I found it a bit... 'unpolished' if that's the word. But that's just it. The mechanics of writing are in place, the text ensures you are immersed in the story and can imagine everything happening, and you wouldn't stop reading the story unless you wanted to look too closely into the writing style. I also sometimes thought that the characters don't develop very well either (except for the children maybe). The focus is all on the story. I thought about it, and... well, why not? It's not expected to be a literary genius.

The book presents a warning to the concept of genetic engineering, and bases a lot of value on its rationale using the mathematical 'chaos theory' (read it on Wikipedia here). It seemed to me that this whole concept was missing in what I knew of Jurassic Park so far.

So... what's different in the books from the movies?
The books are 2. The movies are... what? 4? Imagine a stock of information, action, descriptive scenes without the needless ooh-aahs of the movies. Quite obviously, there are changes in characters and storylines in the movies where they've deviated from the books. Examples could be: having an older girl and younger boy as children in the first movie as opposed to an older boy very much interested in dinosaurs and his six year old sister. Another example--The Jurassic Park book begins with the beach scene where a small girl is attacked by "a" compys, whereas The Lost World movie begins with that scene, with the added spice of lots of compys attacking her. These are still the minor changes. The third and fourth Jurassic Park movies use the characters and the backstory from one and two, but there are no books on which they're based.

Besides, I also thought about that mighty T-rex. Though it makes a heavy impression every time it appears on the scene, I felt the real terrors in the books were the raptors (velociraptors). They're small, they're strong, they have sharp bites, but most of all, they are intelligent and have a brain sense more than any other dino, making them truly dangerous. The raptors ruled the books. It was real fun to learn so much about dinosaurs (their traits, social behaviour, etc. even though a lot is still not known and it was based on many assumptions). I mean, I could talk about a T-rex, compys (Procompsognathus), velociraptors or sauropods without at least stumbling upon their names. I'm much more interested in not just dinosaurs now, but also about evolution (my next read is The Sixth Extinction).
Beware of the raptors!

This OMG scene was just as (if not more) scary in the book.




















Any of you read the Jurassic Park books? What are you waiting for? Life’s really short. Get going already! Here are some quotes from the books to inspire you some more:

“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.” 

“Living systems are never in equilibrium. They are inherently unstable. They may seem stable, but they’re not. Everything is moving and changing. In a sense, everything is on the edge of collapse.” 

“Because the history of evolution is that life escapes all barriers. Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”

“Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can't be given away : it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline.” 

“All your life people will tell you things. And most of the time, probably ninety-five percent of the time, what they'll tell you will be wrong.” 

“All your life, other people will try to take your accomplishments away from you. Don't you take it away from yourself.” 

“Life is wonderful. It's a gift to be alive, to see the sun and breathe the air. And there isn't really anything else.” 

Okay, I'll stop. You get the drift. Go get these books now!



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