Monday, January 28, 2013

Classic Talk # 1: A Christmas Carol

Classic Talk is a new category of posts on my blog, pertaining to 'just-a-little-something' related to the classics I'd be reading this year. (One of my reading goals is to read and re-read classics!) I didn't want to make it a review. How do you even review timeless classics? No idea! Though I definitely wanted to write something about them. It had been quite a long time since I last read a classic and I don't really know how the idea to start reading them again struck me, but I'm glad it did. The first one I read this year is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I remember a time in school when I started reading these books, one after the other and I suppose, the books had a different kind of an impact back then. That's the case with all classics, actually. As much as some readers explore the books, look for meanings and themes, criticize some authors and favor others for their style of writing or character building or stories, even, I don't think I'm that kind of a reader. It might sound weird, but I tend to like almost every author for whatever they write. And God forbid if I ever dislike a classics author! The only exceptions are when I find what they write ridiculous, but that's also just my perception, based on my way of thinking.

Charles Dickens
Anyway, coming back to A Christmas Carol, it's kind of my favorite by Charles Dickens (till now. I'm yet to read/re-read the other books). It's a funny story, if you ask me, even funnier to have it as a favorite, but I just can't help it. Ebenezer Scrooge is a shrewd, miserly, unkind and selfish man, someone who'd never spend a dime on anything 'frivolous' (and he found a lot of things that fit that definition) or for anyone else. Damn, that man hasn't even smiled since years! He calls Christmas a "Humbug". He has just one living relative, his nephew Fred. This is a story of unbelievable transformation of someone so shrewd, into someone who's almost 'lovable', alongside celebrating the spirit of Christmas too, of course. The underlying theme is the celebration of Christmas in the true spirit, with cheer and happiness and love. The story begins with the day before Christmas when Scrooge returns to his quarters (home) and starts noticing strange things starting right from the door knocker at the entrance. He's visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, who was his partner in business in life and who passed away a few years previously. Jacob Marley's ghost visits him to warn him about his unpleasant, unloved possible future life (and after life), if he doesn't learn to be a better man.


Jacob warns Scrooge that he'll be visited by three ghosts at night, those that'll help him understand the extent to which his present character is not good. Scrooge is ultimately 'shaken up' towards the end of the night, when the three ghosts have made their visits one after the other (I didn't quite understand the time gap :| ). The first one is the Ghost of Christmas Past, who makes Scrooge go through his desolate past, how he was as a kid, his family, the girl he loved, the place where he worked and used to make a merry Christmas! The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him the spirit and happiness 'in-the-air', every place they went, rich or poor, all had a kind word and a smile to give. He was also shaken up by seeing how his clerk, Bob Crachit, lived with his loving family, living on the meager wage he gave him. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was the final catch! Scrooge was, by that time, on his knees, pleading forgiveness and promising to be a better person. 

As a reader, you can't help like the way the theme is projected: that even a person who seems beyond repair, can, with a dose of reality, be shaken and stirred and made to understand the power of love and kindness. That the spirit of Christmas is something so enjoyable, that it's better celebrated not just once, but throughout the year, that a kind hand and a warm smile can do you much good than any amount of money ever can. Of course I loved the inclusion of ghosts as well. I loved the writing style (even though some people call it exaggerated, I still like the way he used his words!) and I loved some of the quotable quotes from the book! I love the way this book sold like hot cakes the year it was published, and how Dickens wrote a Christmas story for years after that. I guess this is one classic I'd know a lot about! I even liked the movie! 

Have you read this book? Did you like it as much as I did? 

PS- Any views on what I can include in these Classic Talk posts? For this one I've just typed in one go!


Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Veronica Roth
Title: Insurgent
Author: Veronica Roth
Published: 2012 by Harper Collins
Pages: 525
Find it at: Flipkart / Amazon
My Rating: 4/5!

Goodreads blurb!

One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.


My thoughts!
Insurgent continues from where Divergent ended with Tris, her brother Caleb and friend-cum-lover Tobias walking away from a terrible simulation controlled war, towards what they hope is safety. Turns out it's safe nowhere. There are secrets, people hiding those secrets, people so vulnerable that they can be controlled and made to kill at the press of a button, development of new simulation technology, deaths, tears and helplessness. With the simulation controlled Dauntless killing off half of the Abnegation, there's a conflict among the different factions. The Erudite is in control, Candor and Amity do not want to get involved and Tris has changed. She's now controlled by grief, at the loss of her parents who died for Abnegation, at the loss of her faction, at seeing half the Dauntless turn into traitors and joining Erudite. More than that, she's overwhelmed with guilt at shooting and killing a friend who was simulation-controlled and a danger to her life. Later in the book, in parts where she faces danger, she's the one who'll act at the drop of a hat! Totally reckless.

As the story moves on, Tris and Tobias and the rest of Dauntless who want to stop Jeanie (who's controlling all the actions), venture from one place to another, one person to another, facing dangers and unbelievable situations. There's a growing strife between Tris and Tobias, as both of them are hiding some things from the other. Also, Tobias is frustrated with the reckless attitude Tris seems to adopt. There are many new characters in this book, all from different factions (made essential as all the factions ultimately get involved in the fight) and some old characters have been defined and stretched more than they were previously (thank you so much of action!). I wouldn't say any of them was a sore. I liked the way all of them seem real, they're flawed and behave much closer to how you or I would act. While it was good to see and read about new personalities, it did get a bit confusing, especially as the book is so long (which is good too, by the way. Too many pages of awesomeness!). Or maybe I felt this way because I read it little by little, in parts, rather than at a stretch. 

The story is great, very much capable of keeping you on tenterhooks, specially if you read it continuously. There's a lot of action and hopping around different factions, revelations after every few pages, suspense at just the right places, measured humor and sensible dialogues. Reading it is a pleasure, definitely. More than just looking at it from a simple reader's point of view, I would also appreciate the way these books (Divergent and Insurgent) have projected a possible futuristic society. I know it sounds too far fetched to be real someday, but the rate at which technology is going, I think mind-control simulations would be here someday,  and with this book, we know how, if power goes into the wrong hands, it can destroy a whole society. I like how this book goes to a deeper level, as if addressing these fears and pretending they've actually taken shape. Pretty much evident from the jump to a more serious writing style than I felt in Divergent. And oh, the ending! It's killing me. I want to know what happens next! This book has one of the most suspense-filled endings!

As always, some lines from the book I marked: 

"Do remember, though, that sometimes the people you oppress become mightier than you would like"

"People, I have discovered, are layers and layers of secrets. You believe you know them, that you understand them, but their motives are always hidden from you, buried in their own hearts. You will never know them, but sometimes you decide to trust them."

"You're insane," says Tobias, "that's not the way the world works, with everyone keeping score."
"It's not?" Peter raises his eyebrows. "I don't know what world you live in, but in mine, people only do things for you for one of two reasons. The first is if they want something in return. And second is if they feel like they owe you something."
"Those aren't the only reasons people do things for you," I say. "Sometimes they do them because they love you."

The only thing that didn't make me happy was the relevance of the word "Insurgent". It's been mentioned only once, that too towards the end when a character calls Tris Insurgent, a word he created to describe her. "Noun. A person who acts in opposition to the established authority, who is not necessarily regarded as belligerent." I mean, yes, it does define how Tris has been behaving throughout the book, and probably it's right, meant to be this way, but it didn't sit well with me. Maybe because it came towards the end. I like suspense, but suspense over what the title means? Maybe not. Divergent was better in this aspect at least. We knew what we're reading about. Just to mention, I loved Divergent much more. But then , I always love the first books in the series best. It might be a first-book-bias, for all I know! 

Recommended for: Young Adult readers, Teenagers, Science fiction and dystopian lovers! 


Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: A Gift of Hope by Danielle Steel

Danielle Steel

Title: A Gift of Hope
Genre: Non-Fiction
Published: 2012 by Bantam Press (Random House Group)
Find it at: Flipkart / Amazon
Pages: 128

From the book’s cover
In A Gift of Hope, author Danielle Steel shows us how she transformed the pain of losing her beloved son into a campaign of service that enriched her life beyond what she could imagine. For eleven years, Danielle Steel took to the streets with a small team to help the homeless of San Francisco. She worked under cover of darkness, distributing food, clothing, bedding, tools and toiletries to the city’s most vulnerable citizens. She sought no publicity for her efforts and remained anonymous throughout. Now she has chosen to tell her story to bring attention to their plight.

In this unflinchingly honest and deeply moving memoir, the famously private author speaks out publicly for the first time about her work among the most desperate members of society. She offers achingly acute portraits of the people she met along the way-and issues a heartfelt call for more effective action to aid this vast, deprived population. Determined to supply the homeless with the basic necessities to keep them alive, she ends up giving them something far more powerful: a voice.

By turns candid and inspirational, Danielle Steel’s A Gift of Hope is a true act of advocacy and love.

My thoughts
This small book that talks about the author, Danielle Steel’s experience as she went out and started helping the homeless in her city, is deeply moving and truly inspiring. It starts with how, after the loss of her much beloved son to bipolar disorder, she felt that she should do something, a little something to help others, but didn’t quite know what. It was once while she was praying that a thought occurred to her “help the homeless” and it was scary at first, because she had never felt very comfortable with the homeless. As she heard this strange, yet strong thought once or twice again in church, she decided to just do it. Nick (the son she lost) had been kind to the homeless and that fact convinced her to try it out once. One winter night, she set out with a colleague with warm jackets and sleeping bags (about 40) and socks and gloves and simply went up to the people in the streets and offered them what they had to give.

That was the first time and a deeply moving experience for Danielle. She hadn’t thought at first that she’d be doing it more than once, but that first night, the last people she met were “God’s Last Stop Curve Ball”, meaning, those who convinced her that she’d be out again, on another night, to help more people who need her. The book goes about how she gradually starts seeing more people with needs far greater than anyone with a roof over their heads, the way she learns by experience the precise things they need and what would help them to survive till the time they’re either out of the streets or till someone better comes along for help. Her aim is just to provide them with some basic necessities, usually warm clothes, so that they’re warm on cold nights. Her team gradually grows to about 11-13 adults who’re committed to the cause, going out in three vans full of supplies (now in black bags with clothing in different sizes and easy food and common stationery), finding the homeless in doorways and alleys and parks and street corners and handing out the supplies.

The best thing about the book and what this team (who call themselves “Yo! Angel”) is how they weren’t just giving out necessities to those in need, but also providing them hope. That’s what made the people they served (‘clients’) more grateful and happy. More than getting what they need, they know that someone cares for them, someone knows and want to help, that they’re not alone. Just this knowledge that you’re loved can make anyone live through a day and that’s precisely what Yo! Angels provided them. The gift of hope. The book’s full of instances, the author and her team’s doubts and decisions, struggles and helplessness in some cases, because whatever they did, they saw greater need. There never seemed to be enough. Also, it’s not easy to just go out and hand out supplies to the homeless. There are risks which the author talks about from her experience.

The book’s full of heart-warming stories of people they served, how grateful they were when they saw someone helping them get over their needs, if only little by little. It was a humbling experience to even read about it, especially how people either simply cried, or smiled or were thankful. Never in her eleven years of experience did she encounter greed. Some stories were humbling, some profound and all of them intense. There are thousands of people without a home, who shy away from shelters because of the dangers there. Even with government agencies, it’s not enough. The book ends with how, towards the end they included a teddy bear with each bag (on a whim of the author) and weird as it was, it was a gesture much loved by all! At the end, the author talks about other outreach agencies and teams that are working in different ways for the homeless and a plea for financial help, as the need now is ever more and increasing day by day.

I thought at first that I wouldn’t have much to write in a review of this book. How wrong I was! And I haven’t even included my usual comments on writing style and descriptive aspects. I guess it’s not needed. The author wrote the book because she wanted to spread information and facts about the need that’s there right in our backyards. It’s quite inspirational. This book is based in San Francisco, though and talks about the homeless situation in the States. I feel (and as the author points out) that this is one need that’s there everywhere. You can always take inspiration and start helping. Ending with some beautiful lines from the book:

“Whatever happens, I hope you’d continue to hold on to hope too. Even in our darkest moments, it is there. And in all its tenderness and beauty, even if hard to see sometimes, it is life’s greatest gift: the gift of hope. A precious gift to share.”   

Recommended for: Everyone, definitely. 

Thank you Random House publishers for this book! :)


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review: The Fault in Our Stars


Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Published: Jan 2012 by Dutton Books (Penguin)
Pages: 313
Find it at: Flipkart / Amazon
My Rating: 5/5







Goodreads Blurb!
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumors in her lungs... for now. 

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumors tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. 

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

My Thoughts!
Having heard so much about how this is absolutely a fantastic book, I couldn't resist seeing for myself. I can just say it's among the best books I've read this year. Really. :') 

It's not really your typical morose book focusing only on the cancer patients' problems and medical processes, but about them, as people and what they go through in their lives, living dependent on their parents or caretakers. The protagonist of this book is sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster, a girl who's suffering from thyroid cancer since age 13. She was taken out of school because it wasn't possible to go regularly with all that medication, but her parents do make her life as normal as possible. Hazel dislikes the Cancer kid Support Group where her mom sends her every week, but it's not so bad after she meets Augustus. His cancer is in remission and he's quite good looking and interested in Hazel. Gradually they fall in love with each other and the book's about how they go on about their lives after that.  


Alright, reasons why I love this book! One, the characters. Hazel and Augustus, especially, are just the kind of people I'd love to be with. They're literature people, love reading and the kind of 'smart' conversations they have? Totally my type! I wish I could talk like that. They're also pretty strong. It's not just that they have a medical problem so they have to suffer, their lives are shown way beyond that. Falling in love, dealing with loss, making and keeping friends, getting crazy over things they're passionate about. For instance, Hazel has a favorite book that goes by the name of 'An Imperial Affliction', which she's read a number of times and the unique thing about that book is that it ends mid-sentence, leaving the readers baffled and confused (I Googled it, it's not a real book). Even though Hazel understands that it's been that way because the main character dies and it's supposed to show how real life is, it gets over anytime, she can't help wondering what happens to the rest of them. She's written several letters to the author but never got a reply.

When she makes Augustus read the book, they spend time discussing it and eventually they get a chance to visit the author in Amsterdam and the story goes on about how they go there and what all happens. Apart from the practicality and realism in the characters, the way they converse, it's very well written, taking the reader into the psychology, the dreams and aspirations, the troubles and most often, the helplessness people have in certain situations and how they feel when they're in it. Lessons in friendship and most importantly, lessons about life: that it can end in unfathomable ways, and sometimes not the way you expect it to be, that people who love you would do whatever they can to make you feel special, even if they have less time to live, that people are just supposed to be loved. It's philosophical, to some extent and simply, a beautiful book, with a profound ending and something to be read over and over again, from time to time. It's got some really good lines, some of which I'm sharing: 


"Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books, which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and 'yours' that advertising your affection feels like betrayal."

"As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once"

"It occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again"

"You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have a say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers."

Recommended for: Every reader! 


Friday, January 4, 2013

'From the Ashes' Cover Reveal!

From the Ashes is the debut novel of Jessica K. McKendry, a sixteen year old writer and an amazing blogger! Click here to visit her blog. From the Ashes is scheduled for release in February 2013 on Amazon and this blogfest is for the Cover Release!   

Anddd.... here's the beautiful cover!


Doesn't it look so good? I've said it a million times already, that I'm such a going-by-cover book reader, that I hear covers like these announcing "Read me, read me"! 

As for the blurb on the book's back cover, here it is!

I'm not sure how it all went wrong.

The concept was simple.

The Trials were made to test us. They were made to challenge our strengths; our bravery.

We were supposed to come out better.

Winning the Trials would make us Superior citizens.

It would bring us honor and demonstrate our loyalty to the Imperial Alliance. I knew exactly what I wanted.

Until I met him.

There was something about him. Something dark. If only I had known the danger it would put us in. 

I thought I knew the risks.

But I never imagined the price we'd pay.


***


An insightful look at the good and bad that exist within us, McKendry's debut is a high-octane adventure that pushes the imagination to the limit as it lays bare the nature of self-reliance, self-confidence, and teamwork. Playing with the concepts of dark and light and how they affect our lives in multiple forms, her novel is a complex coming of age story that encapsulates the heroine's journey from student to leader. A dark tale of love and revenge, From the Ashes is a powerful reminder to think for yourself instead of blindly following what you've been taught to believe.

***

Well, I'm quite excited for this book. One, the author is a teenager and a quite talented one at that! And two, the book seems like a must-read! Check out Jessica K. McKendry's blog for more details and updates! 

All the very best for your book Jessica! :)


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Readings and Challenges!

A very Happy New Year readers! Hope everyone is having a great start to 2013 so far. I've been spending time curled up with books, under warm blankets in this chilly winter! (And yes, thank you holidays!) So far, so good. ^_^

I don't usually take up many reading challenges, specially the formal ones hosted by fellow bloggers. In fact I've taken up just the Goodreads challenge ever, that too last year. It was amazing, by the way. I've never read as many books in a year, one after the other, before. Book blogging has been the best thing for me in 2012! I love each and everything I've come to know/do because of it. :)

So, last year my Goodreads challenge was to read 50 books in 2012, which seemed like a huge thing to me back then, but hey, I ended up achieving the target gracefully, with 10 books in surplus! :D *dancing* This 'completed' badge looks so cool! In case you want to see the books' list, click here


So this year I'm going to increase the reading goal up by a notch, not much because I did a little bit of evaluation and found that I actually wouldn't be getting any summer vacations this year (hello internship). So that means all reading to be done along with college and internship and then college again! And it's going to be busy, I suppose, what with final placements towards the end of the year and stuff. Yikes! So for Goodreads Reading Challenge 2013, it's 55 books. I do hope I'm able to over-achieve it, and I think I will!


Next, I think this year I'll spend some time with the good old Classics. There was a time a few years ago when all I read was Charles Dickens and well, whatever was available in the school library. Then with the Kindle, I downloaded a few classics I had always wanted to read and this year I'm going to go and read them. To begin with, I've started with re-reading The Secret Garden by F.H. Burnett, which happens to be my favorite classic! *Awesomeness* 

Also, I'll go back and take those books out from the bookshelf that're just sitting there waiting to be read since ages! Some of them haven't been read because of review-books-preference and some that I got from thrift shops just-like-that are even further back. Hope I read them all this year! 

I'm thankful to 2012 for being an amazing year when it comes to blogging. I can't even begin to think how much it's made me learn and do stuff I never thought I would. A great, big thank you to all the lovely followers and readers too! You motivate me to keep right at it with gusto! Sure, a year definitely can do a lot to a girl! ;)

What are your reading goals and challenges for this year? :) 

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