Tuesday, December 17, 2013

REVIEW: The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

"This is the tale of the book thief, as narrated by Death. And when Death tells a story, you really have to listen.
It's a small story really, about, amongst other things:

A girl
An accordionist
Some fanatical Germans
A Jewish fist fighter
And quite a lot of thievery. "
It is a small story. But there are people in this story, quite ironically (and maybe even fittingly), brought to life by Death. Now, do not hasten and conjure up the image of the grim reaper, with a scythe - Death says that if we want to know what he look like, maybe we should look into a mirror. He says he needs a distraction to keep him sane, and he seeks this in colours. What does he need distraction from, you ask? It's the survivors. And this is the story of a "perpetual survivor-an expert at being left behind", Liesel Meminger, starring in and as The Book Thief. Someone who was seen by Death, three times before it was her turn.

For me, few books can claim to have put me in "the mood", which this book did. I think it was because of the narration. When a story is narrated by Death, it isn't wrong to expect the mood to be morbid, is it? But this is exactly what the book isn't. Liesel, with her innocence, bravery, cussing skills, and imagination breathes through the pages, and even though someone else is narrating her story in third person, we see Himmel Street through her eyes. There is humour tinged with sadness, because Death has the good sense (and kindness, did we expect that?) to tell us that this story does not have a happy ending. So we wait.

We allow this book to take us from the moment Liesel is put into the care of her foster parents, just after her first tryst with Death, just after she's stolen her first book. We're introduced to Papa (who by the way, became my favourite father figure) and Mama (who she learns her cussing skills from), Rudy ("How about that kiss, saumensch?"), and Max (with hair like feathers, who fought the F├╝hrer in a basement, whose eyes were burnt by stars, and who walked on a tightrope made of clouds to the sun with Liesel). We learn about Jesse Owens with hair the colour of lemons, about the books Liesel stole, about the most valuable pages that she ever owned, about Word Shakers, about promises that were kept and lives that were taken. And then...comes the waterworks.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

REVIEW: These Broken Stars - Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

 These Broken Stars (Amie Kaufman, Meagan Spooner) Free Ebook Download PDF, EPUB, MOBI"Titanic in space". This was what it was being touted as. No wonder I showed the least possible interest in this book when everyone was busy fangirling about it on Twitter. Marie Lu (for those of you who just got back to civilization, she's the author of the Legend series) admitted she was a fan when she devoted a blog post to it. And I ended up with this book anyway so I thought what the hell, I'll just read it. I was fully prepared to hate it. I have a thing against the romance genre. Like I explained it to a friend of mine, I dont want the lovey-dovey things to be the main dish, just an essential ingredient in the meal, without which the whole thing is a huge flop. I don't want the romance to be a book in itself. The way everyone was talking, I figured this was purely I'm-swooning-over-them material, especially after I saw the cover, so I wasn't all, like, I-NEED-THIS-NOW-TO-SURVIVE. Or anywhere close.

Boy, was I wrong.

Well, yeah, basically, it is the story of two people who fall in love when they are stranded on a partially terraformed planet after their ship (that assumes the role of Titanic) encounters a rift in hyperspace (don't know what I'm talking about? Read the book). The End. Starcrossed lovers? Check. Irresistible setting? Check. The traditional fighting-before-falling-in-love phase? Check. Again, the classic symptoms of a romance novel. But I wouldn't peg it as one anyway.

It also tells the story of a man/boy who is a decorated soldier but because he does not have the family to fit his profile, he's not good enough for the "bright lights" society. Sure, the cameras love him, but wherever he goes, he's reminded that his social status is purely temporary, not inherited. It also tells us about the girl who is the daughter of the richest man in galaxy but isn't allowed to want what she really wants. Then they get stuck on this planet and try to survive. He handles the Survival Skills department, she handles the Technical department. They come across things that scare them out of their minds, and although I'm not an expert to judge, I think the survival/post-trauma phase was really well written. And I liked the what-should-I-call-it?-epigraphs? I thought it was an interesting way to write them.

First of all, anything with physics in it makes me go weak in the knees (but I steer clear from mainstream sci-fi - go figure). The talk about inter-dimensional travel and hyperspace, upped my enthusiasm to read this book. Secondly, the character development had a pace that wasn't too fast or unbearably slow - it wasn't unrealistic. And lastly there is the that, which if I disclose it, would make you accuse me of treating you to spoilers.

Maybe it's only because it's the first book in this series, but there isn't a HUGE plot or anything. One thing though. Lilac is a total physics/electronics geek but she didn't know that 'water straight from the clouds' is hygenic. I mean, HELLO, a fifth-grader knows everything about the water cycle. And sometime after they've crashed, Tarver wakes up and says it's "a little after midnight". How would he know what time it is in a planet he's never set foot before, especially with all the faster-than-light traveling that took place? And I really don't know how they could have seen Icarus self-destruct in space. I don't think standing on a hill qualifies you to see things like that since space-time is warped. (Excuse my geeking out here.)

It's worth a read anyway.

VERDICT: 3 stars (sorry fans, please don't kill me, I'm a total bee-yatch when it comes to rating a book)

Friday, December 13, 2013

REVIEW: The God of Small Things - Arundathi Roy

"Never again will a single story be told as though it's the only one" - John Berger

This epigraph more or less sums up the way this 1997 Booker prize winner has been written. Constantly jumping back and forth in time, it tells the story of a family in Ayemenem, Kerala during a time when Marxism had a cult following, "Anglophilia" was popular among the upper-caste Christian families, families had a centuries-old reputation to safeguard, and although it was legally abolished, the caste system was still in place. It's the story of how one generation suffered because of the previous generation, how the "Love Laws that dictated who should love whom, and by how much" were violated, it's repercussions - how Small Things conspired to make way for the Big Things, and destroyed lives.

I'll tell you this. If you strip this book of the language in which it has been written (it feels like an entirely different language that's been invented), you get the storyline which isn't much. But it's a story nevertheless, and because it been written in a language that's almost poetic dredges up emotion within the reader. Written from Rahel's perspective, one of the two-egg twins (Ambassador S.Insect/Airport Fairy with a fountain in a Love-in-Tokyo), the story starts when Estha (Ambassador E. Presley/Keeper of Secrets/Stirring Wizard with a puff), her twin has been Re-returned, and they reunite after twenty-three years. And along with it comes a baggage of grief that they have carried with them from a past life, involving their mother Ammu and the man she loved by night, the man her children loved by day, Velutha, their English cousin Sophie-mol (Thimble-drinker/Coffin-Cartwheeler), who was loved from the Beginning and the Small Things that led to their deaths. You'll wonder at how those Small Things eventually manipulated things in such a way that they became Big Things. And how Small God was overthrown by Big God.

The language employed to write this makes use of the Malayalam vernacular, Capitalized words, and runningtogether words. The adjectives used, the metaphors and other powerful figures of speech are used to bring emotion in the reader. Almost poetic. The narration is also very different in the fact that it isn't written in a fully progressive or degressive time frame, rather it jumps around: in fact, we know the fates of almost every character before we come to know what led to it. The setting: the Marxists, the believers in casteism, the Anglophiles, gives us a taste of the times another society lived in. The characters have all been beautifully developed, Estha and Rahel in particular.

The only thing that put me off was Estha's and Rahel's incestuous episode, another way in which the Love Laws had been violated. The way that they had been described to fit together "as stack of spoons", or "familiar lovers' bodies" earlier on in the story, should have given me a heads-up in hindsight, but it still caught me unawares. I felt like it was completely unneccessary, just something scandalous to stun readers. If I were the kind of person that can be easily brainwashed, I would have been: Roy justifies the episode almost brilliantly enough throughout the whole book - but I'm not, so it left me disgusted, and felt like it was "desperate" on Roy's behalf.
And I also felt that maybe the narration was a tad too descriptive, a tad too unnecessary - I caught myself drifting in between.

In totality though, the narration is first-rate. Which almost-almost makes up for those things that put me off.

VERDICT: 4 stars

Monday, December 9, 2013

Allegiant - Veronica Roth

**********BEWARE OF SPOILERS**********

After finishing Insurgent (for those who live under a rock - it's the second book of the Divergent series), I was emoting this emotion called Give Me Allegiant Now  Or Else. And a book hangover obviously. So it's only understandable that my expectations were sky-high for Allegiant. Now since I live in a place where bookstores are as rare as non-scary bugs, and are as up to date as my college library (which by the way seems to be stuck in a time ripple somewhere at the turn of the century) I had to be content with reading the reviews. Which ranged from THEAWESOMESTBOOKEVER!!! to I-don't-know-whether-to-love-or-hate-you messages to Veronica Roth to I-CRIED-BUCKETS-I'M-IN-DEPRESSION. And then I read this from a review on goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/456552565

"There's this post on Veronica Roth's blog, where she says that she would have preferred it if Harry had died in the last HP book, because it would have been "by far the most powerful moment of the entire series. And beyond that, an incredible act of heroism.""

So I put the two and two together and ran to J (my buddy reader) and I SCREAMED at her that maybe the heroine gets killed off. Maybe she introduced Tobias' POV to continue the narration after Tris dies.
We had this ten seconds of silence after I propounded this theory. Then we both simultaneously shook our heads and said NO WAY ABSOLULETLY NO. Then we're like, um, maybe?
Now we both REALLY REALLY BADLY WANTED this book.

So I got the book before she did, and I kept tormenting her with the fact that she didn't and all that nonsense. And I started reading it.
These were my reactions during my reading progress:

Huh. Hm.
Hmm. *gets up for something else to do*
*sits back down* Ok.
THIS IS WHY THE BOOK EXISTED IN THE FIRST PLACE? Genetic engineering gone bad? But, that's just -.-. Expected a bigger background story. Oh yeah, maybe it gets bigger.
This is getting SLIGHTLY boring. *pursues reading*
Definitely boring.
*cares not to comment*
Ok. So Tris survives the death serum and dies of a bullet wound. How thrilling.
Now Tobias is in depression. Wow. I think this is the part where i'm supposed to cry, but nope, nothing.
The End.

This book in short was a MASSIVE DISAPPOINTMENT. The character development was a bit confusing. And the plot was completely unexpected. And I do not mean that as a compliment.

J still hasn't read this book. But i told her the story anyway. And she doesn't want to judge it yet, but she hasn't read it either.

Bottomline: Allegiant somehow doesn't come across as the fitting climax to Divergent. I mean, I haven't got closure yet. Tris and Tobias seem to be stuck in the Insurgent phase of their universe, for me.
This is injustice, Ms. Veronica. Usually when characters are killed off, you cry, because despite how much you loathe it and want to kill the writer, you know that they were supposed to die. When Tris was killed off, what I thought was "now isn't that a bummer". Because TRIS WASN'T SUPPOSED TO DIE. It defeats the purpose, if Tris' story were to have a classic Dauntless ending - getting killed. To those who say it was an Abnegation-worthy ending: *flips the bird*

I wanted Tris to be Divergent. Not always-Dauntless, sometimes-Abnegation, sometimes-Erudite. Divergent.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green and David Levithan

The backside blurb gave me enough information to understand that it's a musical that "will have readers simultaneously laughing, crying and singing". And that "even the musical-averse will cheer". Sadly, none of this happened when I  read it. But it was enough to motivate me to read it.

Two teenagers both named Will Grayson meet at a porn store in  Chicago, neither actually belonging there but brought there by circumstances whose description takes half the book. This unexpected encounter steers their life in a way neither of them could have anticipated, and force them to understand themselves, something they've always avoided. Tiny Cooper, "the world's gayest person who's really really large, and the largest person who's really really gay" is the man whose name hogs all the titles in the musical's credits. Who the musical is about. Who is the cause of the upheaval in both the Grayson's lives.

The POVs of the Will Graysons are handled separately by the two authors. They are so RADICALLY different, you know instinctively which Will is written by which writer (especially if you know Green's writing style). Levithan's Grayson is intelligently written - he's depressed and (not because he's) gay, and we get that. Especially because of the lower-cased narrative and the intermittent IM-ish conversations. Both the Will Graysons and Tiny come out of the pages. The other characters are handled effectively enough.

But it's a musical. Although it doesn't have a Disney quality to it (thank god), it's...meh. And I definitely don't want to sing it.

The way the last few pages were leading me on, I expected The Insane to happen. What happened was Unexpectedly Lame And Didn't Cry.

So here's the verdict:

Narration: 4.5 stars
Characters: 4 stars
Story: 2.5 stars (The climax sort of ruined it for me).

Watch out for the Conversation Between JG and DL, and the Acknowledgments, though.

Lastly, me the physics nerd says: Thank you John Green for introducing to the less privileged, the Schrodinger's Cat.

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