Sunday, December 28, 2014

REVIEW: Endgame: The Calling - James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton


I’ll deal with the controversy first; get it out of the way, and then deal with the actual book. My Twitter feed was inundated with Endgame links (which appeared to be a treasure hunt) and the promotion was crazy. In order to understand what the ballyhoo was all about (as I tend to do when wary of hype surrounding anything), I googled extensively and came across the phenomenon that was James Frey. And his Full Fathom Five. And other book packaging companies. And the faux-memoir A Million Little Pieces. I was also surprised to discover that he was one half of Pittacus Lore of The Loren Legacies fame. But more than that, I guess I was shocked (and I admit, felt a little betrayed) when I realized how much the book industry is considered a business.

I am not that person who thinks that the end justifies the means. But I am also not that person who is incapable of separating the creator from that which (s)he has created. (If I didn’t, I would not have tried The Host by Stephanie Meyer and The Mediator by Meg Cabot; both of which are reasons why I am proud of myself). Once a book has been born, it’s got a life of its own – it lives simply because it has to – needs to. The creator no longer owns it – that’s my stance anyways (that’s what Walt Whitman said too). So I made up my mind to judge this book for itself and not who and how it was written – despite my opinions on either of them.   

So, yes, we’re now getting to the book. Once I finished it and scrolled through the Goodreads reviews, I realized I wasn’t the only one who felt like the concept was a la Hunger Games deja-vu. And for good reason. The blurb sure felt like one, and ultimately that is the whole plot. Twelve tribes send in their Players (who have to satisfy the age eligibility criteria) from among which, one will emerge the winner after the bloodbath. The prize is different though. Instead of nice food and a warm hearth, you get to survive the apocalypse.

I can’t remember the last time it took me this long (a week, to be exact) to finish a book. Hell, I finished the 800-something pages of HP Book 5 within 36 hours. It wasn’t that the pace was slow, there were too many characters who were fighting for page-space. Too many to keep track of. I had over-ambitious plans for this book – I’d even registered for Endgame, because I like meself a good puzzle, but it was a chore reading this one. For each sitting, there was the initial starting trouble; there always seemed to be something better to do than read the book. I thought I was going to have to mark it a DNF. It’s not very professional of me to admit this, but I can’t guess at the reason why – too many characters and the personal drama that ensued – maybe, yes – but that’s not good enough a reason. The narration written in the present tense (especially An’s distinctive POV) had the appropriate dramatic flair to it, which makes me wish for the movie version of it. I also unconsciously worked out some “clues” before the Players did and the victorious feeling that followed the epiphany is pretty nice. But I’m too high on the holiday cake and wine, and I can’t find it in me to figure the rest out, I just wanted to move on as quickly as possible. The book failed in its primary mission as far as I am concerned.
So I did what I do best. I took out my critic eyeglass and looked through it, treating The Calling as a book and not some treasure map. I should now mention that I didn’t like any of the characters, so there was no point in asking who I rooted for. And maybe that was intentional, I mean hello, they had been trained to kill since they were born. So a more valid question would be who I hated the least. The one character that I sympathised with dies in the end, and another one that I thought kicked some butt also kicked the bucket. The mortality rate is worrying, but only predictably so. I also detested the Christopher-Sarah-Jago dramaction going on. It was pretty hard to not judge them.
Then the author inaccuracies turned up. I have lived in Dubai for close to two decades and I didn’t realize that sandstorms were this popular here. I mean, wherever did Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol get that idea too, eh? Dubai also doesn't allow boyfriends and girlfriends to share a hotel room, someone please tell that to Kala and Christopher. Also, the Harappan, Shari Chopra (who is seventeen years old), already has a kid named Alice (which sounds pretty Christian to me) with her husband Jamal (which is a popular Muslim name). The circumstances that could have led to such a family are remote – especially if she was trained in the family – which is obviously upper caste –  who would have married her off only after she was at least 18, and that too, to another Hindu boy. She couldn’t have eloped; not if she was a Player.

But let me put this right. This is a good read. I have a feeling that maybe it was supposed to be as good and un-put-downable as a Dan Brown thriller and for reasons inexpressible, it didn’t make that cut, but comes close enough. There has evidently been a lot of research done and sleep sacrificed and I acknowledge that. And the talent required to handle these many characters simultaneously, giving them individual voices, is laudable.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Confessions of a K-Dramaholic

Hold your judgements, people. Before you snort in disgust at my apparent two-facedness (since I seemingly can’t stand romantic literature but you’re still seeing this post), allow me to explain.

You might have noticed the disturbing gap between my last post and this one when I promised you in November that my winter break was going to up this space’s tempo. That didn’t happen, because, er, sometimes even after you’ve finished off a TV series marathon, you can’t get closure, so you fast forward through it again – probably by using hostages to explain to your parental authorities that you’re merely stuck in front of your laptop because your hostage made you watch it with her. Definitely not the other way round. Naturally, my TBR pile got bigger (because, I can’t resist buying books with BUY 2 GET 1 FREE stickers) and my e-ARCs are pushing themselves to their expiry date. My roommates were disgusted by what they saw; my parents let their jaws drop when they caught me making soppy eyes at the screen when the actors touched lips for a long time with music playing in the background (HOW IS THAT CALLED KISSING I WANT TO KNOW) and I decided I needed to explain WHY. (To myself, first and foremost.) And I also, uh, needed a post ASAP.


  • Okay. So the dialogues are cheesy. Extremely. But I am fully prepared to accept that it might be because of the translation problems. In order to fully understand this issue, I thought of translating popular Hindi and Malayalam songs (which are pure poetry) into English in my head and that exercise killed me. Because poetry in Malayalam = Cheesiness in English. Same problems, maybe? But there all lots of little phrases of wisdom peppered throughout and some one-liners that made me roll around laughing, clutching my belly.
  • And the drama is extravagantly so. Yes, that’s there. I felt like pulling out my hair every time a new iceberg kept cropping up to drive my ship apart. The money-driven mother, the obsessed fiancé, the random admirer, the jealousy and self-sacrifice involved in all of the above, was just too much on my nerves. I know it’s going to be a happy ending, so can you get there already?


(Insert a heartbreakingly huge sigh here) I mean. Just look at them. Even the supporting actors. And the villains. They do look … not as manly as I would have liked, but they’re still so. I mean. Uh. Um.

  • The Badass Heroines
I don’t care if they use stunt-doubles. I really don’t. It’s the character they portray that matters. All of Geum Jan Di’s roundhouse kicks made my eyes bulge out in envy. Her sarcasm and yelling. Who knew walking, talking death threats could be so cute too?

Cha Eun Sang’s altruistic talents. Her penchant for issuing empty threats.

Park Gae In: Weirdness. Obtuseness. Fierce Friend Protector. And her enviable ability to eat anything, anywhere, anytime.

Kim Na Na’s jealousy. Her taking responsibility for her own feelings. Her survival skills, both emotionally and otherwise. And man, can she shoot an outlaw.

The hero and the heroine have a theme song to themselves. The anti-hero or the third corner of the love triangle has one for every time he looks at the girl. One for the girl lost in thought. One for every time the male corners of the triangle fight. One when something ominous is going to happen. And they are all so good, man.
  • The Direction and The Camera
Just like how the writing style of a book determines whether or not I like the plot, the director’s abilities clinches it for me. The very strategically inserted flashbacks (yes, sometimes, they do go overboard with it). The nightmares whenever the hero is stuck at a crossroads. How they include the weather elements like the sun, snow and wind for the emotional scenes. The STUNTS, man. And I simply can’t resist making wallpapers out of my screenshots every time.
  • The Bloopers
Okay. Yes, I’m cheating with this absolutely unnecessary plus point. It doesn’t hurt at all to watch them, though.

Lee Min Ho weird dancing
I just needed to use this GIF somewhere

Saturday, December 13, 2014

When The Authors Get It Wrong

That is one damn scary thought. I really don’t have any statistical proof when I say this; just making a naïve observation, but I think that the majority of bookworms lead extraordinarily ordinary lives. As in not terminally ill, not a psychopath, not an assassin, have never been raped, don’t have Asperger’s, don’t have LGBT related acceptance issues, are not Holocaust victims, don’t have dead parents, lovers, or best friends. And that one line just described the themes explored in about the majority of realistic YA novels.

So why are they written? If I had cancer (God forbid), I really don’t think I would have like to read The Fault In Our Stars ­– would you? Would you like to read about how a girl in remission meets her one true love at a support group who in the end dies? Or My Sister’s Keeper where Kate’s cancer felt like some deux ex machina tool to find a boyfriend who also dies? I’d most probably read some chick-lit day in and out and celebrate Meg Ryan and Katherine Heigl movies and lots of K-drama. And maybe some of those inspirational books people in my life feel obligated to buy me.

So these stories are written for the sake of the ones with extraordinarily ordinary lives. So that we can empathize – like Atticus advises Scott to climb into someone’s skin and walk around it if she wanted to understand a person. All this bigotry and hate in this world bubbles up from the fear of the unknown – maybe gays are mistakes of God and they are just a blemish on this world, right? Thus marks the entry of anti-LGBT activists.

Speaking for myself, I would have to say that books made me a better person. It is with some shame that I admit this, but I’ve been brought up in a society that is extremely prejudiced. Where mentally-challenged kids are openly referred to as “retards” – I haven’t heard a more polite term in my mother-tongue. Where gays are freak shows. Where cancer patients are regarded as sorry sights. (Please don’t judge us – we’re growing).

So that now we’ve answered the question of Why These Books, let’s move on to the title of this post. How thorough is your book? It’s shit-scary even contemplating about writing a book that features these issues – I mean, damn it, how do you do justice to your character? Fine, so you have a way with words and you feel like there’s a story waiting to be told. But your character’s voice. His agony. Her strength. How do you put it into words if you’ve never been through it, personally?

Research. Lots of it. Interviews with people like your character, their loved ones, doctors, psychologists, reading memoirs, war-accounts – the whole shebang. Katherine Stockett wrote about her fears of not being able to write in the voice of a wronged black maid in the South in the Author’s Note in her The Help. And I totally understand her. I don’t know much the book came under fire for political incorrectness but I do know that it affected me in some way. And GOD – Jodi Picoult. See for an idea of the research involved in her books. Just reading it made me tired and awed at these superheroes. And maybe you should also read Patricia McCormick’s Sold and Never Fall Down and Cut to expand your list of brave authors.

But what if they are still wrong? Murphy’s Law, being what it is, is bound to turn up author inaccuracies. The idea of this post came when I was scrolling through the reviews on GR after I had finished reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls. While I was reading the book, the thought that kept popping was why the hell she was known as the Author of Speak when Wintergirls was this good. If you aren’t a cutter (like me), don’t have an eating disorder (like me), don’t know what it feels like to hear that your best friend committed suicide (like me), then like me, you will feel short of breath at the magic Anderson wields with mere words. I mean. That Book. Is. Just. And I provided those conditional clauses in my judgement because I really don’t know how you would feel about it if you were Lia. It’s not a book you read curled up with a coffee in hand; it’s a book you clutch to firmly trying shit-hard not to fucking cry, and pray for girls like Lia and Cassie. So once I had recommended my GR friends how they should really read it, I happened to see some other reviews. That left me confused. So what was LHA doing? Merely showing off her writing skills and shamming us?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know if Jacob in Jodi Picoult’s House Rules is who a kid with Asperger’s actually is. I don’t know if Gabe in Beautiful Music For Ugly Children represents the trapped individual living in a body of the opposite sex. I don’t know if closure is as elusive as it was for Oskar Schell in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. But I do know that these books needed to be written because else we would continue thinking that we were “normal” or "okay" and they weren’t. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

REVIEW: After The End - Bonnie Dee


I have defined myself a reading comfort zone, much like any bookworm I know. And I have put up NO ENTRY TRESPASSERS BEWARE OF SCATHING REVIEWS signs all over its perimeter for any genre that doesn’t meet the eligibility specifications.

I have a “thing” against contemporary horror, be it movies or books – I hated Goosebumps when I was younger and the last horror movie that I saw till the credits rolled in was The Ring (it was not even in English and that shitty movie still managed to scare the pants of the poor seventh grader me). Even now when people ask me my favourite horror movie, I scoff and snort and say it’s against My Principle. Only people who know me best know it’s because even my fourth grader cousin can still manage to make me scream when she says BOO out of nowhere.

And we’re back to the main story after that bit of prerequisite knowledge.

I wasn’t blind. I did read the blurb before I started reading this book and I knew it was all about a zombie apocalypse. ZOMBIES. And somehow I also knew that this was going to be different from Warm Bodies (which I loved – YOU GO R) and I thought –

I needed to take risks. I needed to get out of my comfort zone. SO SHOULD YOU (if you haven’t done already).

Again. Back to the main story. (SERIOUSLY. GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF, A)

This book is a How To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse For Dummies reference book for your survival kit in preparation for Doomsday. It had a methodical style of narration, treating the plot as a case study for some zombie apocalypse drills, in case you wanted to try it. And I actually didn’t have a problem with that – I even admired it for not over-dramatizing it. And there were plenty of rational observations here and there – like ‘how people have a tendency to cling to something while the world fell apart’, how people automatically look for authority when they are in shock and don’t know how to deal with it, and how the possibility for sexual tensions developing between two people is still an inconvenient reality to be reckoned with – after all “A person would cling to any flotsam after a shipwreck”.
It was evident that every detail had been taken care of – whenever the suspicious critic reared its ugly head, that point would be justified quickly. For example, I was beginning to seethe about how the impromptu band of survivors had quickly divided themselves into the stay-at-home-females cooking and home-making, while the men went out for the hunting and raiding and Lila observed how the “gender roles reared their ugly heads in a crisis” and I was happy again, because it was a conscious plot development rather than a prejudiced one, and the most important – dealing with Survivor’s Guilt.

Of course, there were a lot of “Bleargh” personal moments in response to some cliché dialogues and cheesy love declarations, and they were soon followed by another character’s observation that I was indeed right.

But then, the third-person POV really pissed me off at times – whenever it cast a certain character in a negative light. If it was first-person, it wouldn’t have been a problem since the judgement of a character could be chalked up to his judgemental charcter. But when third-person is used, the judgement reads like a fact, and then it feels like the reader isn’t allowed to have an alternate opinion of that character.
Which sucks. Because as far as I know, even “bitchy sluts” care about someone.

VERDICT: 3.5 stars

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

End of November (AKA The Month I Died A Slow Death And Also Killed A Dragon In The Process)

If you noticed my last post (with an addendum) in which I announced my intention to wilfully die by my own hand, you might understand what this post is all about. My Whatsapp and Gmail statuses were all about slow agonizing deaths (they still are, I’m too lazy to update them). This post deals with the pros and cons of the month that was November.

Yes, I realize that November officially ended three days back, but for me, it got over only yesterday when I finished the one paper that I was supposed to be done with on Nov 26 but was postponed. And I didn’t even complete the requisite hours of sleep that was overdue the last month, because I wanted to re-watch 2005 Pride and Prejudice, for reasons that will be clarified shortly.

First of all, my exams sucked and that it not a point I want to glorify. Long story short: ginormous textbooks + 24 hours a day + me=no sleep + shitty answer paper.
Then, as you know, I decided to become a Wrimo for the first time ever, even after I had considered the following facts:
  1. I have never written a novel before my entire life (please, no judgement)
  2. I did not spend October doing the necessary chapter-outlining and the other such exercises to ensure that I emerge a winner (heck, I didn’t even know I was going to be a Wrimo then)
  3. I had semester end exams
  4. I live in a hostel so while I’m tapping away a novel, I also have to see people pull all-nighters, muttering formulae to themselves, read PPT printouts at the dinner table and be at peace with myself.

So I started with zero expectations about meeting the purple finish line and only the love for the written word sustaining my fuel tank up to 1:30 a.m. Then I somehow mustered up the courage to tell people and THE RESPONSE.

Me: But I have exams, you’re supposed to discourage me.

Me: Why?
Friends: Because you’re going to be a famous writer and we need to produce proof to our children that their mamas were chuddi-buddies with the famous writer.

(At breakfast)
Them: How many?
Me: 12.5k
Them: *offer congratulations*
(At dinner)
Them: How many?
Me: 14k
Them: *offer congratulations*
(Next day, at breakfast)
Them: How many?
Me: 17k
Them: YAY *offer congratulations*

(On the eve of an exam)
Them: You can do this. YOU CAN DO THIS.

You know how when you read the acknowledgments page, you see writers say about how it takes a village to write a book?
I get it now.  If it were not for them – who always wanted the latest updates on the status of Siddharth and Aishwarya, brainstormed with me for ideas about how to make them fall for each other (because I’m highly experienced in that area and I didn’t need any of that) while sacrificing precious study-hours; and extracted promises from me to send them all PDFs of my novel once I’m done – this would have been another coffin in the dreaded graveyard of unfulfilled dreams.

I hereby share the joyous news that I reached my target on November 24th and by the end of the month I had 58.2k and MY BOOK STILL ISN’T DONE (because climaxes are slippery minxes and they are always ugly irrespective of the one you manage to get hold of).

Of Mothers, Matrimony and Other Maladies is a Malayalee retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with an emphasis on the overall plot, not just the love story (that’s the basic idea, at least). It’s completely a character-driven novel with at least FIFTEEN characters that appear regularly throughout the book. It was hard enough for me to keep track of all of them.

  2. I felt god-like – being in control of the universe I created
  3. I put my words into that void in the status-quo
  4. And there’s the winner goodies, of course

  1. Excessive hairfall
  2. Acne outbursts (apparently so much tension isn’t good for your hair and skin)
  3. Had to do with five hours of sleep everyday (My body can’t run satisfyingly with only that much sleep, ok?)
  4. I realized that I hated the writer I actually was. This one was the severest blow. Like Veronica Roth said in her NaNo peptalk, I had to throw away all my preconceptions of the writer I thought I would be.
  5. I hate my book (but LOVE my characters, how weird is that)
  6. Made me reconsider my judgment criteria for books in general now that I know first-hand HOW DAMN DIFFICULT IT IS TO WRITE ONE
  7. I don’t have the courage to let people read it (I’d much rather walk naked out on streets, tbh)

Anyone would think December is just the perfect climax for this tired human who watches nights melting into days. Unfortunately, although it’s officially semester break, I have plenty of curricular undertakings to be fulfilled and so far it looks like I’m going to be suffocating up until the Christmas week.

I’m done. With my exams, NaNoWriMo 2014, and this ridiculously long post. 
Add your graffiti here before you leave; this wall needs all the colour it can get. And check back, I always reply as promptly as the wifi allows me to. ;)