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? 


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