REVIEW A Christmas Carol: Charles Dickens [The Twelve Days of Christmas- Day 7]


IN THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

This is a book that comes out of its musty corner on the shelf every Christmas. I loved this book as a kid, and it's a Christmas tradition of sorts, to read this book.

On Christmas Eve, seven years after the death of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge's partner Jacob Marley, three Christmas ghosts visit him during the course of the night. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge his boyhood, stirring in him dormant tender emotions. The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to the home of his nephew Fred and his underpaid but overworked clerk Bob Cratchit. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him his bleak lonely future if he did not learn his lesson and become a kinder man.

I started off with reading the illustrated children's version of the story, and then progressed to the original. This book is said to have played a major role in transforming Christmas from a sombre occasion it was into the merry festival it is today. Dickens incorporates themes of generosity and goodwill into his narrative, while at the same time, showing the condition of the poor working class in those times. We get a look into the mindset of rich English gentlemen who selfishly dismiss the poorer class as fit only for a prison or a workhouse.

The character I love most in the novel is Tiny Tim. Seldom do you get to meet such an endearing character to whom your heart goes out. He symbolized hope and cheer even in the face of adversity, and you feel really happy near the end of the story when you get to know that Tiny Tim got better and Scrooge became a second father to him. I also liked Scrooge's nephew Fred, a jolly, kind man who invites his miserly uncle to Christmas every year, despite his uncle giving him the cold shoulder.

A Christmas Carol is an incredible book about the spirit of Christmas, and I think that it's message should be remembered throughout the year, not just during Christmas.

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REVIEW Anne of Green Gables: L.M. Montgomery [The Twelve Days of Christmas- Day 6]


FOREVER CHARMING

You know those books which give you a really warm fuzzy feeling. Anne of Green Gables is one such book. I first read it a couple of months back (don't be shocked, I'm quite behind on my classics), but it struck me as a very Christmassy book. It’s a book that makes you happy, and also stays with you long after you finish reading it.

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert of Green Gables in Avonlea have decided to adopt a boy, but imagine their surprise when they find a girl waiting for them. The girl is no ordinary girl; she is the imaginative eleven year-old Anne Shirley, who on the drive from the station to the Gables, talks more than Matthew did in his entire life! After some initial hesitation, the Cuthberts decide to keep her, and thus a ray of sunshine enters their lives. The ray does get into numerous scrapes, is dreamy and scatter-brained, but wins the heart of everyone she meets.

Anne is one of the best heroines I have come across in a long, long time. She is highly imaginative, a chatterbox, vivacious and cheerful. I loved her flights of imagination and her honesty. She is uncomplicated, takes life as it comes and opens her mind to a variety of experiences, both real and imagined. She sees beauty in even the most mundane of things, enjoys the little things of life with as much enthusiasm as you would enjoy the big ones. You instinctively know you’d be great friends with her if you met her. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this book, especially in a time when the other books I had at hand were irritating, to say the least. The book has an old-worldly charm to it, so different from the current whiny teen lit. I can’t say I wish we could be back in the olden times, but I dearly wish we could have some of the writers of those times back. I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the book, which captures the essence of Anne.

“ ‘The Haunted Wood! Are you crazy? What under the canopy is the Haunted Wood?’
‘The spruce wood over the brook,’ said Anne in a whisper.

‘Fiddlesticks! There is no such thing as a haunted wood anywhere. Who has been telling you such stuff?’

‘Nobody,’ confessed Anne. ‘Diana and I just imagined the wood was haunted. All the places around here are so— so—COMMONPLACE. We just got this up for our own amusement. We began it in April. A haunted wood is so very romantic, Marilla. We chose the spruce grove because it’s so gloomy. Oh, we have imagined the most harrowing things. There’s a white lady walks along the brook just about this time of the night and wrings her hands and utters wailing cries. She appears when there is to be a death in the family. And the ghost of a little murdered child haunts the corner up by Idlewild; it creeps up behind you and lays its cold fingers on your hand—so. Oh, Marilla, it gives me a shudder to think of it. And there’s a headless man stalks up and down the path and skeletons glower at you between the boughs. Oh, Marilla, I wouldn’t go through the Haunted Wood after dark now for anything. I’d be sure that white things would reach out from behind the trees and grab me.’ ”

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A Recipe [The Twelve Days of Christmas- Day 5]

I know that Christmas to many of you, means roast turkey and Christmas pudding, but usually in India, we don't really have much of that (and that's why it used to sound so delicious when I read about it in books!) At home, Christmas is usually an occasion for me to pester my mom to make her delicious Dum Biriyani. Well, I don't have the recipe for that (I'm not that good a cook...yet), but I could give you a recipe for Hyderabadi Dum Biriyani which you may want to try out.

HYDERABADI DUM BIRIYANI


Ingredients:
1 whole chicken / 2 lbs chicken,
1 kg Basmati rice / 2 lbs rice
1 cup thinly sliced onions fry,
2 tsp ginger/garlic paste,
3 tsp chilli powder,
1/2 tsp turmeric,
100 g cashew nuts,
4 or 5 bay leaves,
4 or 5 cloves,
2 cm long cinnamon sticks,
3 or 4 cardamom pods,
1 or 2 tsp shah jeera (royal cumin),
2 cups mint leaves,
1 cup coriander leaves (cilantro),
½ tsp garam masala powder(shah jeera, elachi (cardamom), dalchini (cinnamon), lavangam (cloves)),
1 lemon,
1 ½ tsp salt (according to taste),
1 cup ghee (clarified butter),
½ cup yogurt,
1 cup oil,
few strands of saffron,
2 cups finely sliced onions,

Preparation

1. Make deep incisions on the chicken flesh – deep enough for spices to get absorbed but making them too deep could render the pieces smaller. Mix turmeric, chilli powder, salt, garlic paste, yogurt, and half-lemon’s juice. Thoroughly apply this paste onto the meat flesh and let marinate for an hour.
2. Heat about 100 ml of oil. Roast cumin, cloves, cinnamon, depoded cardamom, bay leaves, ½ spoon cumin, 1 spoon coriander powder, and finally add onions(2). Wait a couple of minutes to add mint leaves. When onions turn slight brown, add marinated chicken and cook for about 20-30 min. It should NOT be fully cooked at this stage; add garam masala and coconut powder and turn off flame when about ¾ cooked. Gravy should not be much, chicken pieces should look roasted.
3. Meanwhile, while the chicken is still cooking, prepare the biryani rice. Slightly rinse 3 cups of basmati, and add water little less than the volume of the rice itself so that its only half cooked preferably in an electric cooker. Amount of water actually depends on kind of rice at hand and your experience helps to judge it. Also add 1-2 teaspoons of salt to it. Take a few semi-cooked grains of rice and colour them with diluted saffron for garnishing.
4. You will need a utensil of about 12″ (300 mm) base. Place about half of semi-cooked rice in it. Next, layer half of chicken on it again topped by a layer of rice (half of the remaining). One more layer of remaining chicken, finally with layer of rest of the rice on top ends the rice-chicken layering stage.
5. Heat oil and deep fry half the sliced onions to golden brown. Similarly fry cashew. Garnish the top layer with these two along with 100 ml ghee, coconut milk, saffron rice grains and coriander. Lid the vessel and try making it airtight (but no pressure should build up). Put on high flame for 5 min before reducing it to low flame. The flame should NOT be at the vessel’s centre, but on one side of it. Wait for 2-3 min and turn the vessel to heat other next part on its circumference. This way, keep rotating the vessel every 2-3 min for about 20 min. Every time you turn it, carefully disturb the contents by a shake/jerk so as to avoid settling of ghee at the bottom.
6. Put off the flame and wait for about 10 min before opening. Before serving, mix the medley from the bottom. Serve with Raitha.

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Monday Movies: The Grinch was Sleeping [The Twelve Days of Christmas- Day 4]


THE GRINCH
Starring: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen
Directed by: Ron Howard

The Whos of Who-ville love Christmas, but the hairy green Grinch (Jim Carrey) is bent on ruining it for them.Cindy Lou Who (Momsen) is a young Who who feels the true meaning of Christmas is lost, as she is overwhelmed by all of the commercial and materialistic commotion. She is fascinated with the Grinch and wants nothing more than to get him into the Christmas spirit again. She convinces the Grinch to participate in the Whos' Christmas festivities, but he insulted by others. He vows revenge, and it is up to Cindy to remind him and the rest of the Whos about the true spirit of Christmas.

This is one traditional Christmas watch for me, as it will definitely be shown on one movie channel or the other. When I first saw it, I was like, Whoa! That is Jim Carrey! He looks quite grotesque and pitches in a good performance. I haven't read the Dr. Seuss book (hey, don't be so shocked!), so I came with no expectations, and came away quite entertained. It is a cute movie, a nice reminder of what the Christmas spirit truly is.

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman
Directed by: Jon Turteltaub

Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is a lonely train fare collector, the highlight of whose day is selling a ticket to a handsome commuter Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher). When she saves him from an oncoming train and takes him to hospital, his family thinks that she is Peter's fiancee. Peter is in a coma, and Lucy doesn't want to break their hearts, so she plays along. But then she falls for Peter's brother Jack (Pullman), and complications arise.

This movie is set in the backdrop of Christmas, and is a sweet little romantic movie. I first watched it with my friends last Christmas, and all of us went "Oh, they are so cute!" every time Lucy and Jack talked. I especially loved the ending, the part where Lucy says "I object", immediately followed by Pullman, saying "I object" too. This was the movie that shot Sandra Bullock to fame, and I liked it very much. Bullock has a sweet innocence about her which was quite endearing. A Christmas movie I'd recommend.

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Sunday Salon: Guest Post by Nymeth [The Twelve Days of Christmas- Day 3]

I'm thrilled to have Nymeth from things mean a lot, guest post as part of the Christmas special that I've been having. Nymeth is someone everybody in the book blog world knows and loves, and I enjoy her insights into books and reading. Welcome to Advance Booking Nymeth!


I love Christmas. For some odd reason, this always seems to surprise people, who expected me to roll my eyes at the mere mention of the holiday season. Maybe it’s because I live in a very Catholic town and haven’t made a secret of the fact that I’m not, myself, a person of faith. But there’s still plenty that I do love about Christmas.

I mean, I understand why there are people who choose not to celebrate it, for religious or other reasons. And I think that the people who point out that it has become over-commercialized most definitely have a point. But to me – and as clichéd as it sounds, I have to say it – Christmas is about comfort, kindness and warmth.

My boyfriend grew up in the Southern hemisphere, so his way of experiencing Christmas has always been very different from my own. It goes without saying that both are equally valid, but personally I can’t dissociate Christmas from winter. I don’t know all that much about old-times Yule celebrations (note to self: seek a book), but from what I understand, the old Winter Solstice celebrations were in part about celebrating the fact that in the darkest, coldest time of the year, there was warmth, company and food. This might sound small now, when so many of us take comfort for granted, but I don’t think it is. Not at all.

On to what matters, which is the bookish part of this post: one of my favourite traditions is reading spooky stories during the holiday season. I actually started doing it before I learned that it was a real tradition in some parts of the world. It makes perfect sense that it is – what goes better with a warm fire, a cold and dark night outside, and a gathering of people than a spooky story?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a classic for a reason, of course. I never tire of it, or of its several movie adaptations. Last December I read M.R. James’ ghost stories, and they were absolutely perfect. And right now I’m reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s tales of mystery and the supernatural, which are definitely putting me in the mood for the holiday season.

What about you? Have you ever read spooky stories during Christmas time? Do you think they fit the holiday mood? Anything you’d recommend?

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Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas Song [The Twelve Days of Christmas- Day 2]

It's cute, it really is.


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The Twelve Days of Christmas- Day 1


To all my blog readers, I wish a very Merry Christmas. May this festival bring warmth and good cheer into all your lives. I'll be having a Christmas special for the next couple of weeks to celebrate this festival, and you are all welcome to join in.

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REVIEW The Vampire Diaries- The Fury: L.J. Smith


VIOLENT LOVE

I was left disappointed after Book 2, but this book redeemed the series. I enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to reading Book 4. Before reading this, be warned, I couldn’t talk about this book without recapping the previous one, so there are spoilers.

Elena wakes up after her car is run off the bridge, but she is not alive: she is a vampire. In a state of confusion, she attacks Stefan, who thinks that Elena doesn’t love him anymore. Damon helps Elena in her vulnerable state. But vampire Elena is not without worries, as Fell’s Church is haunted by an Other Power, to defeat which Stefan, Damon and Elena have to team up.

The Fury was written much better than the other two books; there was more depth in it. Elena emerges as a much stronger, sensible person after her transition. But the revelation is Damon. He transforms from a hateful character into one with grey shades, a bad boy with traces of good in him. I loved his devil-may-care attitude, a complete contrast to a slightly boring Stefan. The story is quite strong and moves along at a fair pace, though some of the characters are not properly fleshed out. The ending was crackling, a twist in the tale nobody could have expected. It is bittersweet story, and really intense too. There are two more books in the series, and I want to see what turns the story takes.

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REVIEW Ice Station: Matthew Reilly


NON-STOP ACTION

I needed a book that would have zero love in it, after the romance overdose that was the Twilight series, so I chose this action-packed book. The Daily Telegraph called it “supersonically paced”, and I agree.

At a remote US ice station in Antarctica, a team of U.S. scientists have made a startling discovery trapped in an ice sheet 400 million years old, that can change the face of technology. Led by the enigmatic Lieutenant Shane Schofield, a team of U.S. Marines is rushed to secure the bizarre discovery for their own nation. Meanwhile, other countries are also hot on the trail. Schofield and his team have to battle enemies both external and internal, in a fight that could extract a very high price.

Ice Station proceeds at a breakneck pace right from page 1, and that worked okay for me. But it got a little frustrating after a point; I wanted the action to just slow down for a little while. Schofield seems to have super-strength- he dodges bullets, saves children, fights sharks, nukes a station and what not. The author puts him through some impossible situations through which he always seems to come out unscathed and ready for the next. The book read more like the screenplay of some guns-blazing action movie, and I felt it should have been made into one; it would have been more fun. But as a post-Twilight book, it wasn’t a bad read.

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REVIEW The Shadow of the Wind- Carlos Ruiz Zafon


SHADOWS OF MYSTERY

I read a couple of positive reviews about Zafon’s book Angel Games on many blogs, and when my friend raved about this book to me, I thought I’d give it a try. I’m so glad I did, because this is one hell of a book; I’d definitely count it among my Top 10 reads of the year.

Ten-year old Daniel Sempere’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Barcelona, an immense library which probably contains every book published. Daniel is allowed to choose one book to keep, and he chooses Shadow of the Wind, by an obscure author, Julian Carax. Daniel is drawn by the book and its mysterious author, when he learns that some stranger has been seeking out all books of this author and burning them; a faceless fiend who has taken the name of the devil in Carax’s novel. Daniel digs into the past of this author who has gripped his imagination, but each revelation brings more questions than answers.

This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.

If anybody had told me that this was a book about a book, I might have been more energetic in my efforts to track it down. I read this book in fits and starts because of a hectic schedule, but that gave time for the story to sink in. The translator, Lucia Graves, has done a fantastic job; there was no awkwardness in language I have seen with some translations. The characters are very well-constructed, and I especially loved Fermin, the beggar that Daniel brings home, who becomes his ally in the Carax search. The writing is beautiful and evocative, and conjures up the image of Barcelona as a city of shadows, a city steeped in twilight, so to say. It’s a Gothic novel steeped deeply in history, a tale of Daniel’s obsession with a stranger whose life starts to mirror his own.

I was totally drawn into Daniel’s search and totally entranced by the setting of the story. The book has an eerie mysterious feel to it, and I got goosebumps at quite a few places. There are a lot of threads, stories within stories, some of which are left untied. Others are tangled up, leading to plot twists that kept me to the edge of my seat. Every turn the story takes is a revelation that comes crashing down on you, from Fumero’s origins to Carax’s and Penelope’s relationship. Zafon writes to an intelligent reader, one who doesn’t need the whole story spoon-fed to him, one who is capable of filling in the blanks. This liberty to the reader to give wings to his/her imagination is one characteristic of the book that I loved. To quote Winston Churchill, the story is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. The search for the key makes the book a great read. Definitely a book on my reread list.

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REVIEW Breaking Dawn: Stephenie Meyer


THE SAGA ENDS

Finally, finally, I’m done with the Twilight series. The long haul is over, and I am so glad that Bella is off my back at last.

After hemming and hawing about the marriage thing throughout Eclipse, Bella finally gets hitched to Edward, and they are off to their honeymoon somewhere in the Pacific. But all is not fun and games for the newly married couple, as Bella gets pregnant. The half-vampire, half-human child grows at an abnormally fast rate, putting fragile Bella’s life in danger. Elsewhere, a rejected and dejected Jacob fumes around, but rushes to Bella’s side once he hears about her situation, leaving his werewolf pack behind. When the baby is born, Bella thinks her life will finally be normal again, but she is so wrong. Poor self-sacrificing Bella must put herself in the line of fire (again), to save the person she loves most.

Breaking Dawn is split into three parts, the first and third narrated by Bella, and the second by Jacob. I found the third part the most interesting, as Bella changes from the wishy-washy narrator she’s been for three whole books, into a more confident person. Her voice was the least irritating in the third part, and I enjoyed her narration for a while. I thought Jacob’s narration would be decent, but it was a little fake. It was like Meyer just watched a couple of action movies to prepare for writing in a guy’s voice; she didn’t really have a grip on the character.

One thing that bugged me was the mess of contradictions associated with each character. Worst of all was Jacob: one moment he is rushing to tear Edward’s throat out, the next he ditches his pack to protect the blameless Cullens. Meyer gave everybody their happy ending: right triumphed wrong, everybody lived happily ever after. So who cares if characters did major volte-faces from one page to the next? And the ending; what an anticlimax! She built it up so much that I was really looking forward to this huge vampire war and clash of the titans, and then suddenly, everything just goes phoosh. My crackler of an ending turned out to be a damp squib. Well, I shouldn’t complain. If there had been a battle, the book probably would have been 7000 pages long, instead of 700.

I’ve been asked this question many times: if you didn’t like the books, why did you keep reading them? My answer to them is this: if I had quit midway, I would have been told that I stopped just before the truly awesome parts, that the next book would have blown my mind away. And I couldn’t have contradicted them. Now that I finished the series, I can say with conviction: there were NO truly awesome parts, not for me.

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The Rocky Road to Romance: A Guest Post by AnimeGirl

I met AnimeGirl a.k.a. Alex from AnimeGirl's Bookshelf through BBAW, as she was my interview swap partner, and it's my pleasure to have her guest post for us today. Alex is a big romance reader, and she shares with us some of her thoughts on the genre.


When Hazra was kind enough to ask me to do this guest post and talk a little about a genre I love dearly, I was very excited – few things get me talking as much as romance novels – but then I faced a bit of a writer’s block, I had too many things in my head and wasn’t sure where to start.

Romance is one of those book genres that you either love or you love to hate and I was lucky enough to read my first romance story when I was still young and hadn’t become quite too cynical about what romance meant – you know, beyond princes and princesses, frog kissing and fairy dust – and in many ways in changed my life.

In ‘Real Life’ I’m quite pragmatic, I’m not really touchy feely, and even a bit cynic about most things surrounding relationships and human nature but when it comes down to love there is this small part of me that goes that to that first story and the many I have read since, and that little part is what keeps me hopeful.

Now, Romance is a genre that houses many other genres. Within the broad scope of romance novels you can find criminal thrillers and books about lawyers and doctors or professional players of any sort of sport, fairy tale retellings, comedies, dramas and tragedies, historical, contemporary or futuristic, paranormal, fantasy or simply rooted in reality: there is something for everyone in romance.

That’s one of the things I love the most about Romance, you can find something to suit your taste. Even as a modern woman very much living in the 21st century, I still turn to romance for comfort and find stuff to relate to even in stories set in the past, in places I’ve never been to and even with lands and creatures that don’t exist.

The sad part of this though, is when you encounter what I called a Book Snob. If you ever have encountered a Book Snob you know what I’m talking about. Book Snobbiness spreads far and wide, there are Book Snobs who trash talk fantasy or sci fi, saying that such genres are for kids or geeks; there are Book Snobs that claim that Y. A. books are silly and shallow; and then there are the Book Snobs that look down on Romance Novels.

People who don’t actually follow the genre seem to have this idea that a romance novel is some trashy, pink book with Fabio on the cover and a happy ending but, and though happy endings are a bit of a requirement, that image isn’t quite how things are. As in everything, in Romance Novels you can find the type of trashy books – with bodice rippers and super alpha heroes that border on abusive and heroines that are too stupid to live –that give romance novels a bad name, but you can also find awesome books that are smartly written and compelling, books that boldly go to a familiar territory and yet make everything seem new and brilliant even if the plot is familiar – I always say that there is only so many things under the Sun, basic plot-lines repeat endlessly but it’s how each author approaches said basic plot what makes the difference – and what gets you emotionally invested in all sort of stories and pairings.

This is not to say that we romance readers think stories as they happen in the books are the norm in real life, we are very much aware that it is just a book but the emotional punch is still there. Romance novels give the idea that relationships can be fulfilling and rewarding, filled with love and respect and in most cases they affirm the idea that women are important – in today’s romance novels, even historical ones, is rare to find a hero that by the end of the book doesn’t see his heroine as his equal, as someone worthy of respect; and it’s even rarer to find an heroine who does not her own value by the time we reach the epilogue.

More than that, romance novels provide a safe heaven where everything is possible, where you can hope and dream. Sure, many of them novels will never be considered classics, and there always be book snobs that will think they aren’t even real books but I don’t think I – or anyone I know how loves this genre for that matter – will ever truly care about that. And, save for the occasional super fabiesque cover, I feel no shame whatsoever to stand tall and say: “I’m a Romance Reader”. To some it might not be as high minded as reading Nietzsche or a depressing literary novel, but hey, we all need our share of fun. Don’t we?

Now, what about you? Any romance readers out there?

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REVIEW Second Helpings: Megan McCafferty


Second Helpings sees the return of Jessica Darling, along with the motley crew that makes up Pineville High. This wasn’t as simple a read as the earlier one, but decent anyways.

After having her heart broken by Marcus “Krispy Kreme” Flutie, Jessica Darling spends her summer holidays far from Pineville High, at a creative writing program. She has a crush on her teacher, which comes to nothing. Back in school, she has to avoid Flutie while obsessing about him, decide if she really will go to Columbia, wonder about the mystery Gossip Girl, while dealing with her running-fanatic dad, obnoxious sister and the inanities of the Clueless Crew.

When I reviewed Sloppy Firsts, I wondered if all the angst wouldn’t be overkill. It was, kind of, but not as bad as I thought. The book was a little too long: angst stretched out over what seemed like a billion pages made me a little headachy. Jessica is moody and mopey, but at least she realizes that she is Persona Negativa, that she whines more than she smiles. As much as she analyses everybody else, she also analyses herself. She also does a lot of things new: she takes a stand and speaks her mind more often, instead of just searing page after page of her journal. On rare occasions that she feels happy about something (her fervent wish to get into Columbia, her niece’s arrival, her bonding with her grandmother), her lucidity is a nice read. The final couple of pages, that is Jessica’s graduation address, I really loved; it echoed my feelings exactly.

“I believe that what we get out of life is what we’ve set ourselves up to get, so there’s no such thing as an inconsequential decision. Our destinies are the culmination of all the choices we’ve made along the way, which is why it’s imperative to listen hard to your inner voice when it speaks up. Don’t let anyone else’s noise drown it out… The real world, whether we like it or not, is right here, right now. All of this, every day, is important. Everybody matters. Everything we do has an effect on others, directly or indirectly, whether we realize it or not… For better or for worse, you have helped me become the person I was always meant to be: me. Yes. Me.”

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REVIEW The Vampire Diaries- The Struggle: L.J.Smith


BLACK RAGE

Why is it that the sophomore book in a series usually falls flat compared to the first book? I was eagerly looking forward to the second book, and I was quite disappointed in it.

In The Struggle, Elena rages at the sly, cruel Damon for bringing despair into his brother, Stefan’s life. She searches for Stefan and finds him nearly half-dead, and gives him some of her own blood to revive him. Damon pursues Elena with a vengeance, wanting to steal her from Stefan. Meanwhile, Elena’s high-school nemesis Caroline is also up to something sinister.

As I said, I was really disappointed in this book. For one, the writing is kind of juvenile and unpolished; it’s as if the book was written in a terrible hurry. Also, I developed a hearty dislike for Elena. I find many similarities between her and Bella, and you know how much I dislike Bella. The strength and spunk Elena showed in the first book seems to be missing, and all she is capable of is crying or making empty threats to Damon (seriously, how does she expect to make him “pay for what he has done”?) Stefan doesn’t really have much to do, and I felt that Damon’s evil nature could have been explored some more; I couldn’t really fit Ian Somerhalder’s calculating Damon from the TV series with the book’s slightly insipid one. The book feels like a rickety bridge between the first and third books, with not much of a strong story, and a little too much of whiny love. It ends on a cliffhanger as well, and I really hope that the third book turns out to be better.

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REVIEW Artemis Fowl- The Eternity Code: Eoin Colfer


SUPER-COMPUTING SWINDLERS

Another hell of a Fowl book. I’m totally in love with this series, and Artemis is one of the smartest heroes I’ve met on paper.

Using fairy technology, Artemis builds an advanced computer, the C Cube and attempts to sell it to a shady tech billionaire Jon Spiro. But Spiro proves to be too smart for him, as he walks away with the Cube, fatally injuring Butler in the process. Artemis must now find a way to save Butler and recover the Cube, so that the fairy secrets are not revealed to the world.

The Eternity Code has as much firepower as the two previous ones, though not so much of the snappy wit. The plot is intricately laid, with twists and turns that you don’t see coming. The gadgetry is superb as always, and Colfer always has a few new tricks up his sleeve when it comes to snazzy new gizmos. I was a little disappointed that Foaly didn’t have a meaty role, and the Foaly-Root bickering that I loved so much didn’t make much of an appearance. Artemis is more mature than he was in the earlier books, though his criminal genius remains unchanged. He now considers what effect his actions will have on people around him, and that is a quality I like. I loved the book, and I really look forward to reading the rest of the series.

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REVIEW The Thirteenth Tale: Diane Setterfield


GHOSTLY SECRETS

I loved this book. Totally and absolutely. The suspense kept me at the edge of my seat and the novel captured my imagination right from the first page.

The famous reclusive author Vida Winter finally wants to tell her life’s story, the whole truth. When she contacts antique bookseller Margaret Lea about it, Margaret is naturally surprised: she has the barest of publishing credits and is more of a hobby writer. But nevertheless, Ms. Winter’s story of twins grips her, because Margaret has lost a twin as well. And of course, there is the mystery of The Thirteenth Tale, the missing story in the Ms. Winter’s most famous book. As Ms. Winter narrates the story of love and loss, of siblings Charlie and Isabelle, and of the twins Adeline and Emmeline, Margaret is drawn in, but nothing in this story is what it seems.

I liked Setterfield’s literate style of writing, it’s like reading the classics. Each scene is constructed artfully, each character described in detail. What I found most intriguing was the attachment between twins, the way in which their lives were intertwined, their pain of separation; I have never read anything like that before. The story has a gothic atmosphere and is openly influenced by Jane Eyre, but I also saw shades of Rebecca in the narrative. The atmosphere is foreboding, the Angelfield home and the characters send a chill up your spine. But this book is as much about books as it is about the mystery: the characters are surrounded by books; a library plays an integral role in the plot. I found some fantastic quotes regarding the art of writing and the experience of reading.

“All my life and all my experience, the events that have befallen me, the people I have known, all my memories, dreams, fantasies, everything I have ever read, all of that has been chucked onto the compost heap, where over time it has rotted down to a dark, rich, organic mulch…Every so often, I take an idea, plant it in the compost and wait. It feeds on that black stuff that used to be a life, takes its energy for its own. It germinates. Takes root. Produces shoots. And so on, and so forth, until one fine day, I have a story, a novel.”

“Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes-characters even- caught in the fibres of your clothes, and when you open the new book they are still with you.”


Most of the characters in the story are slightly unhinged, but their tale is anything but that. There is the clear hint of masochism, of subterfuge and of eerieness. The mystery and secrecy that the tale is steeped in gives it an aura of timelessness. And Margaret’s story is no less interesting, she goes through a sea of emotions when she listens to the twin story of attachment and separation, so mirroring her own. And the climax is like a thunderstorm, it crashes down on the reader, giving a totally new perspective to the story. I really can’t say more about the book without giving away the whole story, and I absolutely don’t want to do that, because digging out the hidden layers is an experience to enjoy.

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Author Interview: Stephanie Burgis


I'm really happy to welcome author Stephanie Burgis, whose debut novel, A Most Improper Magick, will be releasing in April 2010. Thanks so much, Stephanie, for taking the time to answer these questions!

Hazra: Can you tell us something about your debut novel, A Most Improper Magick?

Stephanie: A Most Improper Magick is set in Jane Austen’s Regency England, with glittering balls, snobby aristocrats, and highwaymen lurking in the darkness.
In this version of Regency England, magic is the greatest scandal of all - but Kat Stephenson, the twelve year-old daughter of a vicar and a witch, is ready to break all the rules of her society to win her older sisters their true loves.

Hazra: How did the idea for A Most Improper Magick come to you?

Stephanie: I was actually in the middle of chopping onions for lunch when the first two lines popped into my head, spoken very clearly in Kat’s voice:

“I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin.
“I made it almost to the end of my front garden.”

At the time, I was actually in the middle of writing another novel, one for adults which was MUCH darker and more serious, but those first lines completely hooked me. I just had to write them down for safe-keeping...and then I had to figure out what happened next...and then I ended up writing the whole of Kat’s first novel, having the time of my life with Kat and her sisters! I’ve never had so much pure fun in writing as I have with all three books in this trilogy. (I’m working on the third book right now.)

Hazra: Oh, I love the first line! Kat sounds like a great heroine: spunky and fun. Tell us something about the other characters of the book. Any favorites (excluding Kat)?

Stephanie: I love all three of Kat’s siblings so much. Kat’s brother Charles doesn’t feature much in this first book (although he will later in the trilogy!), but both of her sisters, Elissa and Angeline, are major characters in the book and I LOVED getting to write them. Elissa is very, very proper--except that she has a guilty love of Gothic romance and a secret yen to be a real Gothic heroine; Angeline is smart, sarcastic, and 100% confident in all of her crazy plans...but they don’t always work exactly as planned, to say the least. As Kat’s older sisters, both of them try to keep Kat in line, but Kat is way too strong-willed and smart to let them get away with it!

Hazra: What is the best thing about writing in the historical fantasy genre?

Stephanie: I’ve always been a big history geek - by the time I was eight or nine years old, I was devouring history books about the kings and queens of England and the American revolution. As I grew up, my focus changed (I’m now much less interested in kings and queens and more interested in ordinary people in history), but my love of history has gotten even stronger. Although I’m grateful to have been born in the modern era, I love getting to imagine myself into past eras by reading and writing historical novels. Adding fantasy to the mix is just another layer of fun! Long skirts, balls, highwaymen AND magic - how could I possibly resist? :)

Hazra: How do you incorporate writing in your daily schedule?

Stephanie: With great difficulty! ;) I have a bright & active one-year-old son and no childcare, so I write either while he’s napping or while my husband is looking after him. I don’t get very long writing sessions any more, so I’ve had to learn to be efficient with my writing time.

Hazra: Can you share one great and one not-so-great aspect of being a debut writer?

Stephanie: The best part is the sheer excitement. I can still hardly believe that my books are really going to be published! I’ve been wanting to be a professional writer since I was seven years old, and I’m 32 years old now, so this is literally a lifelong dream come true.

The not-so-great aspect is the set of nerves that comes with it. Will people like it? Will people buy it? All those worries about what people might think could eat my brain if I let them. I have to work really hard nowadays to ignore that anxious part of my mind and just focus on having fun with Book 3 of the trilogy.

Hazra: Which authors have you been inspired by?

Stephanie: Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer are definitely my two strongest inspirations for The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson (I LOVE their Regency romantic comedies!), but some of the other writers who inspired me as I grew up were Elizabeth Peters, JRR Tolkien, and Emma Bull.

Elizabeth Peters writes wonderfully quirky characters, and her Amelia Peabody historical adventures (starting with Crocodile on the Sandbank) are told in a great, fun voice that just sweeps me away.

JRR Tolkien was my first introduction to fantasy, and I can’t even count how many times I’ve re-read The Lord of the Rings.

And Emma Bull writes fabulous historical and contemporary fantasy with great romantic subplots; I read her first book, War for the Oaks, when I was 14, and immediately decided that I wanted to focus on writing fantasy rather than historical romance, which I’d been writing until then.

Hazra: Great to meet another Tolkien fan! You have a degree in historical musicology. What role does music play in your life and your writing?

Stephanie: I love music, both listening to it and playing it myself. I actually thought when I was a teen that I would be a professional musician as my non-writing dayjob, and although I changed my mind while I was in college, making music is still one of the biggest pleasures in my life. Even while writing, I find it much easier to focus when I’m listening to music that fits the characters or story.

As a historical fiction writer, I also found the years I spent studying music history enormously helpful, since I absorbed an awful lot of European history along with the wonderful music. I wrote my Master’s Degree thesis (and researched a PhD dissertation) on late 18th-century opera and society, and all of that research I did in grad school has been really useful for my short stories and novels.

Hazra: Finally, if you could organize a dinner with five of your favorite fictional characters, who would they be?
Stephanie:
• Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet (but probably not Mr Darcy, since he’s shy in company and would just sit there silently looking aloof and distinctly unimpressed, even if he didn’t mean to be unfriendly);
• Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson, my favorite literary couple;
• Georgette Heyer’s Sarah Thane (from The Talisman Ring);
• Catherine Morland from Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

Thanks so much, Stephanie, for your lovely responses. I'm waiting to read about Kat when your book is released. You can find out more about Stephanie Burgis by visiting her website.

A Most Improper Magick introduces the spunky Kat Stephenson. Kat's mother was a scandalous witch, her brother has gambled the whole family into debt, and her stepmama is determined to sell Kat's oldest sister into a positively Gothic marriage to pay it off - so what can Kat do but take matters directly into her own hands? If only her older sisters hadn’t thwarted her plan to run away to London dressed as a boy and earn a fortune!

When Kat makes a midnight foray into her mother’s cabinet of secrets, though, she finds out something she never expected. Her mother wasn’t just a witch, she was a Guardian, a member of a secret Order with staggering magical powers - and Kat is her heir.

A Most Improper Magick by Stephanie Burgis is the first in The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson trilogy. It will be published by Atheneum Books on April 20, 2010, and you can already pre-order it from Amazon.com, Borders.com, Chapters.indigo.ca, or any of the international branches of Amazon.

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REVIEW The Vampire Diaries- The Awakening: L.J. Smith

HIGH-SCHOOL BLOODINESS

After the Twilight craze, it’s time for the Vampire Diaries craze to seep into the college. Quite suddenly, everyone’s watching the series, so I thought I’d be different and… read the book.

Elena Gilbert is a popular high-school girl at Fell’s Church, but she is lonely after the death of her parents. She is intrigued by the new boy at school, Stefan Salvatore, and pursues him with some ardor, but he avoids her as much as he can. Elena is disappointed, but Stefan can’t help it; he is a vampire, and he cannot bear to hurt Elena, as she reminds him sharply of one he loved and lost.

I had a better experience reading this as compared to Twilight. The plot is alarmingly similar at first: pretty girl falls for mysterious hot guy who runs away from her. But Elena is smarter and spunkier than Bella. Honestly, I didn’t like her; I did find her quite selfish and self-absorbed, but no more than you expect a high-school queen bee to be. The romance is there, but none of the dopey, mopey, “oh, he is like perfectly chiseled marble and I’m like a sea slug” cribbing. The writing is a little amateurish, but brings out the don’t-care high-schooler’s attitude well. In this book, you get to see both sides: the hunter as well as the hunted, something Twilight sorely lacked (I kept wondering, WHAT does Edward see in Bella?). It also sets the stage for what I hope is a promising series, and takes time to introduce all the characters, without boring you with lengthy scenes. The Awakening has a nice mix of mystery and romance, and doesn’t drag much. It ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m interested in seeing how it is resolved.

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REVIEW City of Glass: Cassandra Clare


A FATHER'S FIENDISHNESS

The third instalment in the Mortal Instruments series, this one was a spellbinding read, a book that totally lived up to my expectations.

After the events in City of Ashes, Clary and Jace prepare to travel to the Shadowhunter city Alicante in Idris to meet the warlock Ragnor Fell, who can wake Clary’s mother. But the appearance of demons forces Jace to leave for Idris early, taking Simon along, who, now being a Downworlder vampire, is not welcome in Shadowhunter territory. Learning that Jace is gone, Clary opens up a Portal, which drops her into the enchanted Lake Lyn, from which she is rescued by Luke. Jace and Clary are drawn into the politicking of the Clave and the evil machinations of their father Valentine, as they fight to protect all that they love.

I had hoped City of Glass would end the series on a high note, and it did. I was satisfied with the way every thread was wrapped up neatly. The climax was a really great one, as Cassandra combined elements of varying mythologies to come up with a really interesting plot twist. Some bits of the story are predictable, but not in an oh-god-isn’t-that-so-obvious kind of way. Clary is a heroine who develops with every book, and here she is the centre of all activity. She is a little impulsive, but shines through when she is needed the most, especially in the climax. I also liked Jace as the tortured hero, one who tries to do good though his heart is sometimes not in it. He is put through the toughest hardships, and he carries the most burdens, that of his father’s and his feelings for Clary. He comes out of each fire burnt yet alive, and you root for him at every step.

I really wanted to talk about the character I liked best throughout the series: Luke. I really admired the way his character was written and fleshed out. He has a dignity and a grace which shone through the pages. And his determination to do the right thing is what I found most impressive. He always looks out for Clary and tries to work with the Clave and reason with Valentine, although the latter two treat him with contempt. On Cassandra Clare’s site, I found that Ewan McGregor was a fan choice for playing Luke, and now I can’t get Obi-wan out of my head; I see some likeness in the two characters.

I enjoyed this series a lot and I will be looking out for more by this author. Have you read any of the books? What did you think?

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REVIEW 2 States- The Story of my Marriage: Chetan Bhagat


1 BOOK-THE STORY OF MY IRRITATION

Money spent on this book is akin to losing your wallet: the cash is gone and you have nothing to show for it.

Krish, a Punjabi munda, falls in love with Ananya, a Tam Brahm he meets while studying at IIM-A. But in India, love doesn’t conquer all; it has to go through a lot of channels before culminating in marriage. Krish and Ananya have to convince their parents: the Tamil Brahmins who frown at the over-indulgent Punjabis, and the Punjabis who smirk at the sedate Madrasis.

Five tips to write a Chetan Bhagat novel:

Characters: Your narrator is a guy who is pretty much a loser. He should be no older than 30.
Plot: Switch on the TV and check out the latest soaps and/or Bollywood movies. Mix and match characters and settings.
Theme: Go to Google Trends and see the top 10 topics Indians search for. You have the background for your book. Bhagat’s four books have been about IIT, call center jobs, cricket and IIM. Wanna bet that his next book will have a Bollywood theme?
Dialogue: Use Indian English i.e. discard grammar and language to bring in the “feel” of "aam aadmi" India.
Love story: A must-have. Indians are suckers for romance, so make your love story as boo-hooey as possible.

The book is replete with clichés, tacky one-liners and ridiculous situations. The characters are mere caricatures: the parents of the two lovebirds are stereotypical Punjus and Tams, not a hair out of place. The plot meanders along in Bollywood style, complete with wooing and heart-breaking and family bonding. It’s more like a failed Yashraj movie script than a novel. Read at your own risk. Actually, you’d be much better off reading this superb article which expresses my views exactly.

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REVIEW Watchmen: Alan Moore


WHO GUARDS THE GUARDS?

Oh, what a week it was! Projects, tests, no Internet (that was bad, I couldn't blog at all!), whoa! But most of it is done, except for the monster called end-term exams which start in a week. Anyways, I watched the movie recently, and I really wanted to read the book. This is my first graphic novel, and I loved it.

The year is 1985, Russia and the U.S. are tethering on the edge of a nuclear war, and the superhero age is over. Rorschach is a renegade vigilante, who investigates the death of Edward Blake a.k.a. The Comedian, a twisted superhero who later worked for the U.S. government. Rorschach believes that someone is trying to kill off all the erstwhile superheroes, and he warns his old buddies: Adrian Veidt, the smartest man in the world, Dan Drieberg a.k.a. Nite Owl, Laurie or Silk Spectre and finally Dr. Manhattan, a god-like being whose Superman-like abilities make him very useful to the government.

“Is that what happens to us? A life of conflict with no time for friends… so that when it’s done, only our enemies leave roses?”

You expect comic books to be for kiddos, but Watchmen is definitely for an adult, mature audience. This is not your conventional superhero comic; it has a much darker feel. Your superheroes are actually human, and subject to all the shortcomings and failures that we all are. They are not your glorious heroes, who sacrifice everything to save the world; they are selfish, cowardly or simply amoral. There is the Comedian, to whom life and death is but a joke, and is more a mercenary than hero. He has no qualms in killing, and he actually shoots a woman who is bearing his child. Then there is Dr. Manhattan, endowed with godly abilities due to a nuclear accident, who is completely devoid of emotion, and actually says, “A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there's no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?”

“Why are so few of us left active, healthy and without personality disorders?”

But I think the most enigmatic person is Rorschach. He is a seriously dysfunctional guy, who has come to regard his alter ego as more real than his actual identity. He has the most cutting observations about humans, stuff that make you squirm and ponder, because you know how right he is. Rorschach is not likeable, not in the conventional sense; he is kind of psychotic. But he stays with you long after you’ve finished reading.

The story is really awesome, nothing what you’d expect from a comic. There are many layers in the story, hidden meanings and subtle taunts. There is a comic within the novel, one whose story runs parallel to the novel’s, and gives you a deeper look into the situation at hand. The dialogues are hard-hitting and totally cool, and the artwork also rocks. After reading this book, I realized that this is a genre I’ve completely overlooked, and I will try to read more of these great books.

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Monday Movies: A Walk of Happyness


A WALK TO REMEMBER
Starring: Shane West, Mandy Moore
Directed by: Adam Shankman

A prank gone wrong on a fellow high-schooler has the rebellious Landon Carter (Shane West) punished with mandatory after-school activities, where he has to interact with the quiet, bookish Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore), a girl he had known since childhood but always ignored. Landon and Jamie spend time together while practicing for the school spring play, though Landon is initially reluctant to acknowledge her in front of his friends. They gradually fall in love, but they cannot be with each other for long.

I enjoyed this movie; it was quite sweet. Shane West is especially good as the rebellious Landon, and the growth in his character from a callous teenager into a caring guy was well-shown. The movie has a lot of sweet romantic moments; I especially loved the whole bit about Jamie's wishlist and how Landon helps fulfill it. I'm not much of a romantic, but this movie leaves you with a nice feeling. There are shades of Erich Segal's Love Story in the script, but the way the whole movie is treated makes a difference. Watch it this winter; you'll feel the warmth creeping up on you.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS
Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino

Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a salesman who invests his family's entire savings in a bone density scanner which is double the price of a regular X-ray machine, but only slightly more efficient. This costly investment causes great financial headache for him, and his wife also leaves him. Chris refuses to let her take his son Christopher (Jaden Smith), because he believes that he can care better for him than his wife can. Chris applies for an unpaid six-month internship at a stockbroker with a possibility of a stable job, but acute financial troubles, including tax problems and homelessness, mean that he is not on an even footing with the other candidates.

I loved this movie. It is such an inspiring tale that you cannot fail to be moved by it. Honestly, I was amazed at Chris' resilience. He faced every problem that you could possibly face, and his luck ran out at almost every turn, but he never gave up. He also never dumped his frustrations on his son; he always tries to stay positive in front of him. I almost cried at the scene where Chris and his son have nowhere to sleep and end up in a bathroom at a station, and Chris desperately tries to keep the truth of their sorry situation from his son. The movie is based on a true story, and I immensely admire the real Chris Gardner's strength. Watching this movie, you realize that all your problems pale into insignificance in front of the numerous challenges that Chris encounters, and you are struck by how he copes with them. Will Smith pitches in an inspired performance as the dauntless Chris Gardner, and I really think that this is one of the best roles of his life. Jaden Smith is very cute as Christopher, and he complements his dad (yes, he is Will Smith's real-life son) very well. Watch this movie; you cannot fail to be inspired.

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REVIEW The Lost Symbol: Dan Brown


MASONIC MYSTERIES

Aha! Finally I manage to read a book within a couple of months of its release. A big thank you to Ani for lending me the book! There are no plot spoilers, but I have spoken a lot about how I felt about the book, so if you think that it might affect your perception of the book, just skim through the review.

Robert Langdon is invited by his old friend and prominent Freemason, Peter Solomon, to deliver a lecture at Capitol Building. But when he arrives, he finds Solomon kidnapped, the kidnapper threatening to kill him until Langdon deciphers the location of the mysterious Mason pyramid and the secret to power that it hides. Langdon is joined by Katherine, Peter’s sister and researcher of Noetic Sciences, but they also have the CIA on their tail. Time is running out, and Langdon must decipher the Masonic symbology scattered throughout Washington D.C. to save his friend.

There is a lot I have to say about Lost Symbol. I enjoy the historical references and symbolism that Dan Brown referenced in his last two books and this was no different. His revelation of the secrets and puzzles hidden in history is nice, but fell a little flat compared to the previous books. I enjoyed his previous Langdon novels for the way they blended fact and fiction together, but here, it seemed like he had run out of major historical secrets or puzzles. References to Da Vinci Code were scattered choc-a-block, and at times, it felt like a not-so-subtle self-promotion.

There is nothing extraordinary in Brown’s style of writing. The book is slightly reminiscent of National Treasure 2, and Brown sticks to a formulaic plot structure; the whole book takes place over the course of 24 hours. Every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, which is resolved in a couple of pages. But I did enjoy some of the twists in the tale and the final unmasking of the villain. He tries to awe us with his knowledge of modern science, but it sounds amateurish. In my absolutely humble opinion, Mr. Brown should stick to art and history, and not go about messing with technology.

What I found most irritating was Dan Brown’s diversions into philosophy. The whole subplot involving Noetic Sciences and the “mind over matter” philosophy was (a) boring, (b) pointless and (c) unscientific, however much Brown tries to convince you of the contrary. He espouses the cause of mysticism, but much of what he cites as supporting his philosophy are insubstantial or explained by “proper” science. His metaphysical meanderings are not worth too much, and some bits are quite ridiculous. Sample this:

“Even the crystalline structure of a newly forming solid was rendered mutable by one’s mind. Katherine had created beautifully symmetrical ice crystals by sending loving thoughts to a glass of water as it froze. Incredibly, the converse was also true; when she sent negative, polluting thoughts to the water, the ice crystals froze in chaotic, fractured forms.”

The final few pages of the book were very boring; I skimmed through them. They seemed like an appeasement to all those who had criticized his earlier books as being un-Christian or anti-religion. A bit of editing to that part would have helped.

I think that the book was just okay and not as entertaining as Angels and Demons or Da Vinci Code. Read it to find out what the hype is about, and to learn a few more factoids about ancient history.

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Monday Movies: The Watchmen's Proposal


WATCHMEN
Starring: Billy Crudup, Malin Ackerman, Jackie Earle Haley
Directed by: Zack Snyder

In the 1930s, a vigilante group called the "Minutemen" were created to do what the law couldn't. After the original group died violent deaths, another team of superheros called "Watchmen" pick up the mantle, changing many events such as the outcome of the Vietnam war and the assassination of JFK. But by the 1980s, at the height of the Cold War, anti-vigilante sentiment leads to disbanding of the Watchmen. After the Comedian is killed, renegade vigilante Rorschach (Haley) goes to visit the godlike Dr. Manhattan (Crudup) as he suspects that someone is killing the Watchmen off.

I watched the movie without having ever heard of the Watchmen graphic novel before. Initially I found it a little difficult to understand, but I was drawn into the flow of the movie. The movie is dark and Gothic, totally unlike the conventional superhero movie. I haven't read any graphic novels, but the movie was how I imagined a graphic novel would be filmed: sleek, stylish and grand. Essentially, it examines how a hero is born and made; the rise and fall of heroes. It is a little disturbing, though, quite a lot of violence and gore. Some of the movie is told in flashback, as Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan reminisce about their lives as vigilantes. The soundtrack of the movie is especially cool, with awesome songs like The Times They Are a-Changin' and Sound of Silence picturised against a medley of haunting images from the vigilantes' lives. The dialogues are sharp and cutting, especially Rorschach's thoughts as written in his journal. I will have to read the book to fully understand the deeper layers of the movie, but I did like what I watched.

THE PROPOSAL
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds
Directed by: Anne Fletcher

Margaret Tate (Bullock) is a much-hated editor-in-chief at a publishing company, who is facing deportation back to Canada as her visa had expired. She bullies her hapless assistant Andrew (Reynolds) into agreeing to a fake marriage. They have to spend a weekend at Andrew's parents' home in Alaska to sell the lie. During the weekend, Andrew and Margaret connect as Andrew discovers a softer side of Margaret.

Honestly speaking, I'm not really a fan of Sandra Bullock, but I liked her performance as the cold professional Margaret. The movie has quite a few hilarious moments, such as the one when Margaret first enters the office and also when she's trying to retrieve her cellphone from the eagle. But she looks a little old for Ryan Reynolds; their pairing reminds me of the Shahid-Rani pair from Dil Bole Hadippa. I liked Reynolds a lot, though, he was charming, and I have a little crush on him. While I found this movie okay, my friends liked it a lot, so give it a try.

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New Award....and a New Design


When I first started my blog, I thought it would be an easy thing. I read quite a lot, and I have a lot of strong opinions regarding what I read, so it would be a piece of cake to maintain a book blog, right? Wrong! First, I realized that I couldn't write down everything I think about a book; I don't want to be rude or overly negative. Second, I actually don't read as much as a lot of other bloggers do. Third, blogging can sometimes be hard. Managing a hectic schedule leaves little time for reading, blogging and commenting, and you sometimes have to put in extra effort to regularly update your blog.

I passed my 100th post sometime back, and I didn't even notice it! Well, this is a belated celebration of me passing the century mark. This award is to all those prolific bloggers, who read voraciously, blog tirelessly and have made the blogging community such a vibrant place. This award is in recognition of their achievements and their enthusiasm. They are the people who keep me going!

There are a couple of rules for this award:

1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!

2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.

3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to This Post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.

4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners.

So, to get things going, I wanted to give this award to these really prolific bloggers who I visit very often. [Drumroll please]

J.Kaye's Book Blog
Alaine-Queen of Happy Endings
things mean a lot
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Books 'N Border Collies
The Zen Leaf
The Eclectic Reader

And I have a new design for my blog. The winter season is upon us, and I wanted my blog to reflect that, and the approaching festive season. So, how do you like my blog's new look?

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Monthly Roundup- October 2009

This has been a very hectic college month, and hence a bad reading month, and a worse blogging month. I'm behind on my reviews: there are quite a few drafts languishing. I haven't also been able to visit other blogs and comment on them as much as I would have liked to. I hope things will straighten up next month.

Ok, so what's been happening on this blog? My featured author of the month was P.G. Wodehouse, one of my perennial favorites. For Banned Books Week, I didn't manage to read any book which was banned, but I did write a post about the system of banning books in India.

I had my first interview with Michelle Moran, author of Cleopatra's Daughter, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed.

I reviewed the following books:

The English Teacher- R.K. Narayan
The Remains of the Day- Kazuo Ishiguro
City of Ashes- Cassandra Clare
Hot Water- P.G. Wodehouse
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime- Mark Haddon
The Godfather- Mario Puzo

I reviewed the following movies on Monday Movies:
Becoming Jane
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
10 Things I Hate About You
The Dark Knight
Dil Bole Hadippa
Fashion

P.S.: Happy Halloween to everybody!

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REVIEW The English Teacher: R.K. Narayan


IDYLLIC BLISS

I read this book, along with Swami and Friends, and Malgudi Days, a long time back. I remember vaguely the story of Swami and Friends, but the story of The English Teacher had completely slipped my mind.

Krishnan is an English lecturer at the Albert Mission College, living in the hostel while his wife and child live with his in-laws. When they decide to move in with him, and Krishnan rents a house, where he lives with his dear wife in marital bliss. But their little heaven is short-lived, when Krishnan’s wife Susila falls ill. The events that follow shake Krishnan’s life, but slowly he attains clarity of vision and ultimately, peace.

This book has Narayan’s trademarks: simple prose and an uncomplicated storyline. But the picture it paints of the ordinary Indian family is joyful to read. Narayan’s Malgudi is a small town (Bangaloreans will recognize the amalgamation in the names of Malleswaram and Basvangudi), where people have straightforward concerns: earn money, keep wife and children in relative comfort and live happily. The idyll and routine of daily life is captured very evocatively, and the small things which we often overlook acquire new light through his words. When I read Narayan, I feel like I am seeing the events of the story unfolding around me, as if I were a part of the story too. This is the power that Narayan exerts over his readers: everybody can identify with the characters.

I’d say that The English Teacher is not among my R.K.Narayan favorites. It has a good plot, about dealing with loss, and is reportedly based on Narayan’s own experiences, but it didn’t strike a chord with me. There is nothing fundamentally wrong; it is just one of those books I didn’t like. I can’t really pinpoint what is wrong with it, because it is no different in style from his other works which I loved. Having said that, I would recommend it to anybody interested in Indian literature; Narayan is one of the best, on par with Chekov and Greene.

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Monday Movies: The Search for Jane


BECOMING JANE
Starring: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy
Directed by: Julian Jarrold

Jane Austen(Anne Hathaway) is the youngest unmarried daughter of Reverend Austen, and harbours dreams of becoming a published writer. Tom LeFroy (McAvoy) is a brash young lawyer, who Jane develops an instant dislike for. They spar occasionally, but slowly fall in love. But their love is not easily fulfilled, as Jane's family is poor and Tom has many siblings depending on him.

I like period dramas, and I enjoyed this movie. It's supposed to be a fictionalized account of the posited relationship between Jane Austen and Judge LeFroy. LeFroy is said to be the inspiration for Mr. Darcy's character, and the script shows many parallels between Pride and Prejudice and Jane's life. Jane's parents are replicas of Mr and Mrs Bennett, her sister Cassandra so like Jane Bennett. I enjoyed the performances; Anne Hathaway was refreshing as the spirited Jane, and her chemistry with McAvoy was wonderful. Right now, I have a small crush on McAvoy; I liked his portrayal of the charming "bad-boy" lawyer. I'd definitely recommend this movie.

STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
Starring: William Shatner, DeForest Kelley
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy

After Spock's death in The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise, along with Admiral James T. Kirk(Shatner) return to base. But then, Kirk learns that Spock (Leonard Nimoy) transfered his katra or living spirit to Dr. McCoy(Kelley), Kirk and crew steal the Enterprise to return Spock's katra to his body. But the Klingons are after the Genesis device for their own evil ends, and Kirk must face many battles and losses to get his friend back.

After the recent Star Trek movie, I was really looking forward into my first initiation into the Star Trek franchise. But I was a little disappointed. I thought the movie was a little dated. Maybe I'm used to the glitzy action of today, so I found the action and drama of 25 years ago a little insipid. The acting was a little over-the-top and the whole movie seemed quite theatrical. Should I have expected this? I don't know. The original Star Wars movies are nearly 30 years old, but I loved them; there was nothing melodramatic about it. A disappointment for me, but I won't give up on Star Trek.

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Sunday Salon: Jonathan Livingston Seagull: Richard Bach

The Sunday Salon.com

I loved it. I have no other word for it. I just loved this book so much that I read it thrice in two days, and I probably will reread it many more times.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a gull who loves to fly, one who is more interested in flying higher and faster than he is in mundane things such as food and shelter. But his attitude earns him a lot of brickbats from his flock, who throw him out. It is then that he meets a group of gulls similar to himself and learns the essence of flying.

This is a very short book, a hundred-page novella you will finish in an hour, at most. It is essentially self-help, but has none of the tedious morality or preaching that I usually find in self-help books. Its story is so simple yet so profound. Bach's story about a seagull who just wants to do what he loves most has inspired people around the world, and had a profound impact on me as well. Through allegory and metaphor, the story manages to make you experience the sort of diverse emotions that heavy tomes cannot inspire. It moves you and motivates you, exhilarates you and challenges you. Every line has a deep meaning which sinks into you and makes you ponder. This is definitely a book everyone should read.

And here are this week's giveaways.

Page Turner is giving away a Halloween prize pack, open till October 30
B.A.M. Book Reviews is giving away a Sarah Dressen or a Laurie Halse Anderson book, open until November 13.
The Undercover Book Lover is giving away Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick or The Exorsistah by Claudie Mair Burney till November 1.
The Eclectic Reader is giving away a choice of 6 books to celebrate her blogiversary till October 31

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REVIEW The Remains of the Day: Kazuo Ishiguro


A LIFE OF LOST OPPORTUNITIES

I picked this book up at Nymeth’s recommendation, and I’m so glad I did. This is a gem of a book, a masterpiece by a very gifted writer.

Stevens, a longtime butler of Darlington Hall, has been given some time off by his new American employer Mr. Farraday. Stevens uses this opportunity to make a cross-country motoring trip to meet Miss Kenton, a friend and former housekeeper at Darlington Hall. During his journey, he reminisces about his master and the company he used to keep and emphasizes the qualities a great butler possesses.

The first thing that strikes you about the book is the stiff, formal voice of the narrator. Indeed, for a while, you feel as if you are reading some official memo about butlering, instead of a man’s reminiscences about his life. This throws a lot of light on the sort of person Stevens is: highly controlled. The emotional restraint that Stevens shows is alarming; he’s methodical and accurate, but more mechanical than human. This restraint pervades all his relationships, that with his father and especially with Miss Kenton. For example, when his father lies dying, he doesn’t spend time by his side but goes his professional duties as if nothing was wrong. Stevens considers such restraint a symbol of dignity, something he believes is a hallmark of a “great” butler, but frankly, his emotional immaturity shocked me. He never pursues his relationship with Miss Kenton, causing her to ultimately leave in despair.

Stevens is also an unreliable narrator, and he presents events as he chooses to see them, not as they actually were. He is blind to a number of things, notably the faults of his employer. He strongly defends Lord Darlington’s policy of appeasement of Nazis, and dismisses allegations of anti-Semitism as “absurd” and “insignificant. There is a distinctly feudal air to his belief that the employer knows better than him, and it is not his position to question his actions. It is a theme repeated time and again, that it is more dignified for a person to know his place and not try to rise above it.

One is simply accepting an inescapable truth: that the likes of you and I will never be in a position to comprehend the great affairs of today's world, and our best course will always be to put our trust in an employer we judge to be wise and honourable, and to devote our energies to the task of serving him to the best of our ability.

The only butlers I’ve encountered before are Beach and Jeeves in Wodehousian literature. The Remains of the Day presented a totally different perspective. The English stiff upper lip is famous and revered, but Ishiguro shows us how restraint can prevent a person from discovering his abilities and exploring his emotions. There is certain stuffiness in the manners of the Englishmen, as much in the bourgeois as in the aristocracy. Ishiguro explores every character thoroughly, in the process, creating a picture of a decaying upper class hanging on to its illusions of grandeur, and the people who help maintain the illusion. At the end of the book, I was left feeling sorry for Stevens, when he ponders about his life and all he has missed.

I gave my best to Lord Darlington. I gave him the very best I had to give, and now - well - I find I do not have a great deal more left to give…

For a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so, much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?

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REVIEW City of Ashes: Cassandra Clare


RUNE RUNE EVERYWHERE, NEED A STELE TO INK

This is the second instalment in the Mortal Instruments series, and I enjoyed how the story was developed, though I had some complaints with the pace.

Clary and Jace are struggling with the secrets revealed to them in City of Bones. Jace is locked up by the Inquisitor on charges of conspiring with Valentine, awaiting trial with the Soul-Sword. However, Valentine pays him a surprise visit at his cell, on his way to killing the Silent Brothers and stealing the sword, the second Mortal Instrument. Meanwhile, Clary and Luke investigate the murders of Downworlder children by some unknown force, and uncover Valentine’s true intentions. This discovery has shocking repercussions for them all, as Jace has to choose between his father and his friends, Simon has a horrible accident and Clary discovers the nature of her powers.

City of Ashes was nice, with its requisite share of chills and thrills. A few new characters were introduced, and some returned with a greater share in the action. But I thought that the book dragged a little in the middle. The sarcasm and witty repartee was in short supply, something I enjoyed in the previous book. Some of the situations seemed a little contrived, especially the entire scenario at the Faerie Court, which seemed put in just to add fuel to the Jace-Clary-Simon love triangle. But I got over these hiccups as the story progressed, and the twists and turns came to light. What I liked about the book was the whole setting, of a parallel city with its hidden strife. The characters were pretty realistic, no over-the-top drama for anyone, no wishy-washiness either. Valentine was also great as the villain, cold, suave and lethal, quite reminiscent of Voldemort. The best creations, however, were the demons; from Raum to Raveners, they were well-thought out and extremely menacing, especially the fear demon, Agramon.

Looking forward to finishing this trilogy.

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