Last weekend, I finished the second half of Flowers for Algernon in two sittings, just in time to have a week to ponder the book and gather my thoughtLast weekend, I finished the second half of Flowers for Algernon in two sittings, just in time to have a week to ponder the book and gather my thoughts about it. By the end of the book, I felt as ambivalent about Charlie as I did initially, though I did empathize with him a lot more in the second half.
Daniel Keyes narrates a very compelling story by addressing the age-old question - what happens when you get something you always wanted but never prepared yourself to live with it? You may want riches but if you came into it suddenly one day, would you know what to do with it - squander it away or invest it or save it? In Charlie's case, it was intelligence. He wanted to be smart but it is not that he was incapable of enhancing his smartness, rather he was born mentally challenged.
I knew what to expect in the second half of the book, thanks to a spoiler in the Introduction. For much of the book, I was bummed out that I knew about it, but now, thinking back, I agree with Care that it helped to know what was coming. I was already looking for signs of that eventuality and it helped me appreciate some of the elements of Keyes' writing and hints that he dropped all over. It also made a few chapters very memorable to read.
I was quite bummed out that women weren't portrayed well in this book. Sure, it's the 60s and women in literature around this time were mostly sex objects or fluff characters or pawns intended to move men's stories forward. But still, they had personalities and a mind of their own, and all that was missing from this book.
But even the men in the book don't leave a big footprint behind. They certainly have more important roles but they were flat and mostly one-dimensional. That's the trouble with first-person stories, especially when they are from the perspective of someone who is mentally challenged or overly selfish.
This book is usually filed in the science fiction aisle, something I strongly disagree with. Sure, the idea of a magic pill to make you the smartest person in the world is the stuff of futuristic science fiction. But not when it dwells only on the effect it had on the recipient of that pill, as is the case in the book.
In the end, I was glad to have read this one. There is one chapter towards the end that makes reading the book so very worthwhile. It was powerful, sad, and incredibly moving. Up until that chapter, I wasn't that connected with the book, but that one chapter was super memorable....more
If you told me that I could potentially love a book that featured vampires, werewolves, and other paranormal characters, I would have smiled politelyIf you told me that I could potentially love a book that featured vampires, werewolves, and other paranormal characters, I would have smiled politely and promptly forgotten the book you were trying to recommend. (I do love Bram Stoker's Dracula though - one of the most original books I've ever read.) If I had spent any amount of time on Sunbolt's Goodreads page and saw that it was categorized under Paranormal Fantasy, I would probably not have given it even a few pages. But Jenny's review couple of months ago and my general lack of awareness regarding what the book was about worked in Sunbolt's favor. And boy, am I glad I read it!
Before you turn away, let me emphasize that although I did mention vampires and werewolves in the above paragraph, Sunbolt is less about them than it is about this magical world where many of these kinds of charactes co-exist. (Plus, no one is dating a vampire or proclaiming the many eye candy benefits of being with one.) Intisar Khanani is now on my list of of authors to watch out her. She writes a beautiful hand and a compelling tale.
Hitomi is a Promise, an untrained magician who is generally viewed with suspicion by most of the people of Karolene, where Hitomi lives. Not being native to Karolene, she tends to get picked on by people trying to cause trouble. Hitomi is also a part of the Shadow League, an underground movement whose main goal is to overthrow the corrupt and villainish Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame. When they get wind of a ploy by Blackflame to assassinate a leading politician, they try to save the latter and his family. But a lot of things go wrong and Hitomi finds herself captured with no chance of escape.
That, in a nutshell, is what Sunbolt is about. When I started reading the book, I found the writing very easy to get lost in and the book an addicting one to come back to every time. I wasn't quite sold on the plot initially but when I finished it, I couldn't quite stop believing that I loved it. That's a strange way to feel about a plot-oriented book that's more a novella than a full-length novel.
In Sunbolt, Khanani creates a world that feels very natural. She doesn't waste her time in world-building or introducing complex characters. She lets the plot do that at its own pace without making the reader feel lost. To me, that was one of the selling points of this book because the author takes you right into the heart of the book without running the risk of starting the book with a slow introduction.
Yes, there are supernatural characters and if you are like me, maybe you will prefer not having them in your books. To me though, these characters felt more substantial and relatable than the ones in a typical paranormal fantasy book. (Not that I have a problem with those characters - I do love the Vampire Diaries TV show, but this book is as far away from that brand of paranormalcy (paranormalism? paranormality? paranormaltion?) as possible.
Sunbolt is also super-diverse. It had a feel of being set in the Middle East and the character map could have easily spanned across the spectrum. It felt super good to read a fantasy set in a non-European, non-American locale. I'll be watching out for the next book in this series (trilogy?)....more
The House at the End of Hope Street got on my radar only recently, when Wendy mentioned the book as one of her top favorites. The premise of the bookThe House at the End of Hope Street got on my radar only recently, when Wendy mentioned the book as one of her top favorites. The premise of the book sounded fabulous and my library had a copy as well. I started reading this book shortly before leaving for my Canada trip and what I thought would be a fast read ended up taking about 2-3 weeks total. Not because the book was hard to read or boring. On the contrary, it was quite entertaining, but it was not a book I could race through.
Distraught from a tragic experience, Alba was walking through her hometown when she comes across a house she had never seen before. The owner of the house, Peggy, invites her in but tells her that she can only stay for 99 days and has to turn her life around before then. Alba is glad for the offer - she didn't think she could face her family just yet. Over the next few days, Alba finds that this is no ordinary house. Indeed, the house seems capable of sending messages to its inhabitants, hiding or revealing things depending on whether anyone in the house needed extra motivation to get their life sorted out.
Along with Alba, there are two other inhabitants who discovered the house just like she did - Greer, an actress whose acting career never really took off, and Carmen, who seems to have run away from something terrible, away from her husband. As these three women try to find out what they really need in their lives, Peggy is dealing with matters of her own. Apparently, the house wants her to retire and find a successor. Retirement usually meant death for the owner of the house but Peggy loved a man and wasn't sure how to live the rest of her life with death looming in front of her.
I picked up The House at the End of Hope Street mainly because it sounded charming. And it sure did live up to its charm. The plot is mostly predictable, at least towards the ending, and that could be part of the reason why I couldn't read more pages in a sitting. It also took a long time for the plot to develop and the frequent change of narrators didn't help it much. But, my reading experience did not suffer despite those issues. There is something to love about a house that was magical - a house that suddenly revealed a whole wardrobe full of gowns, a house that gave plenty of inspiration when the going gets tough, a house where past inhabitants lived in its pictures and often talked to Alba, a house that had its own ghosts - a cat named Mog and a woman named Stella who was bent on helping Alba. Alba had a secret ability that made her extra sensitive to the house's secrets. Although Greer and Carmen were privy to some of these secrets, they didn't really know the full gamut of the house's powers.
There is much I loved in this book - it's one of those feel-good books that leaves you with a deep contentment. The house revealed itself only to women who needed a pick-me-up, and anyone else who walked through its doors were invited by the inhabitants. The past clientele includes several incredible women - great thinkers, writers, and poets. Chief among them were Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Parker, and Beatrix Potter. Books also play a huge role in this book. I can see how you could want to read every book and writer mentioned in this book - that would make for a great women's fiction reading project. Overall, definitely charming, though predictable - this is something to read when you are looking for a whimsical read....more
Last weekend, I was browsing through my bookstore, when I came across a copy of Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library - all shrink-wrapped and lookingLast weekend, I was browsing through my bookstore, when I came across a copy of Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library - all shrink-wrapped and looking like a book-lover's toy. Seriously, how do you resist a book like that? Even if I didn't like Murakami, I would probably walk out of the store with that book.
I love books (and food) that are interactive. It feels almost four-dimensional to me. There's the mental pleasure of being lost in the book and there's the physical pleasure of just wrapping that treasure open and wading in with excitement. The front of the book has two flaps that snap together, very much like your typical cereal box. And then you flip the pages to read.
As for the plot, The Strange Library was... well, strange. A boy goes to a library to borrow some books, instead he is sent to the mysterious basement where he had never set foot in. There he meets a strange man who have some twisted devilish motivation for running that place. The boy is trapped in his evil scheme and comes across a sheep-man and a mysterious girl who sort of help him.
There is more to the story but I don't want to go too much into it because this book is a nice little gem to read. There is some strangeness to the book, and it feels more like being lost in a nightmare. But it is nowhere near strange as some of his other books. It reminded me more of Neil Gaiman's Coraline than a Murakami book. If you have been unsure about reading Murakami, this is probably the good one to start with. It has a lot of his tell-tale narrative style and some of the strange stuff he is famous for, but it is not a full-fledged Murakami book, both in size and content, so you'll probably not feel too dazed.
That said, this is a short book, more a short story than a novel. His novels have felt more complete, if you know what I mean, despite any amount of fantastical themes. This is more like a fable, so if you do want to sample a full Murakami, I would try one of his novels, maybe Kafka on the Shore, which I enjoyed a lot....more
I first started listening to The Martian on a road trip with the husband in May last year. The audiobook was around 8 hours long, and our road trip waI first started listening to The Martian on a road trip with the husband in May last year. The audiobook was around 8 hours long, and our road trip was 16 hours total. We figured we will be able to finish this book, even though we were going to have extra company on the return drive. But we only managed 4 hours of audio - blame it on the traffic, the many directions by the GPS lady, and the horrible rainy weather for a good part of the drive. We loved the book thus far but never got time to go back to the audiobook. Finally, in December, I borrowed the ebook version from my library and raced through it.
By now, everyone should know what The Martian is about - an astronaut, Mark Watney, is presumed dead and left behind on Mars after a freak storm sends the rest of the crew packing away. Eulogies are being sung everywhere in Earth and the remaining crew is distraught, but Mark is neither dead nor dying. How does a man, left for dead, on a planet that's not our home Earth, let the universe know that he is alive and kicking? Especially, when his communications systems won't work since the spaceship they all came in has left Mars boundary. More importantly, how will he survive on the planet long enough to establish contact or wait for the next crew to arrive years from then?
I loved The Martian. Mostly. If you love science, there is a lot to enjoy here. Even if you do love science, some of those facts could still be flying over your head, because there is A LOT of that. I admit to reading past them occasionally, but I appreciated that the author had all that information in there, because even if you don't understand any of it, you will 1) be wowed by how well this guy uses his brains (and just his own brains) to apply science to the Mark Watney survival project, and 2) be impressed that much of the science he applies are really basic high school science that we could also apply if only we had paid more attention in class. I don't think I would have been that impressed by Watney's daily routines, if some of those oh-so-dreary facts weren't paraded around.
The book is also very visual. I could picture most of the details in the book, and for that reason, I am super excited about the movie coming out later this year. Sure, Hollywood is going to spin it even further to make it feel more dramatic and heroic, but I can live with that after having read the book. The only problem I had with the book was the ending. Don't get me wrong - I couldn't imagine any other ending either, but it was a typical Hollywood-style ending - over-dramatic, 11th hour nail-biting moments, several edge-of-the-seat minutes. I wish the author had written the ending less like a scene from a movie, and more like a scene from a sensible book. After all the good scientific stuff in the rest of the book, the last part just felt more driven by luck and a Hollywood director than whatever set the tone in the book until then.
Despite that awkward ending, this is still a book I will strongly recommend. I didn't even mention the best part yet - Mark Watney is a seriously hilarious guy. The kind of guy you want to hang out with all day. The humor could, however, rub you the wrong way, because most of the time it is of the sarcastic kind, but hey, the guy is stuck on Mars alone, let's cut him some slack, shall we? It's amazing how despite the heavy odds stacked against his survival and all the dangerous things he does on the planet, he still manages to keep his humor hat on and say something funny....more
When he was a young child, our nameless narrator's family was pretty well-off and had a big house that he lived in with his parents and sister. But whWhen he was a young child, our nameless narrator's family was pretty well-off and had a big house that he lived in with his parents and sister. But when they hit against slightly hard times, the boy had to give up his bedroom with its perfect-sized washbasin, as tall as him, so that boarders could stay there. One such boarder was an opal miner, who fatally hits the boy's cat on the day he arrives and commits suicide the next day. This death sets in motion a very strange sequence of events - his neighbors suddenly seem to receive a lot of money, leading to a lot of ill-will, a strange family at the end of the lane seems to know everything there is to know about everything, and a malicious housekeeper-cum-babysitter arrives at the boy's house. His troubles are only beginning - he doesn't like his housekeeper, whereas the rest of his family are enamored with her; strange unsettling things happen around him (for instance, he once dislodged a worm from a hole in his feet) and his housekeeper just seems out to get him, and maybe even kill him.
Even though this book is shelved as Horror in Goodreads, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is so far away from being anything remotely horror. This short book is such a little gem that transported me to the magical world that Gaiman has built. It's one thing to enjoy such a vivid atmosphere, it's another to feel a part of it, as Gaiman manages to do.
I had read another Gaiman book previously, Coraline, which I didn't enjoy much, though I thought it very clever. Usually, that's the end of my new-author exploration, but Gaiman's books come with such strong testimonials that I very desperately wanted to read something else by him - something that, maybe, an older audience would appreciate more.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane has fantasy at its best. There are all sorts of inexplicable things happening - worms lodged in the feet? three people who seem to have been around since time immemorial, literally? a pond that may as well be an ocean? memories that can be easily wiped or modified? The best part is that you can read this book without questioning even one of those fantastical elements. I often moan in reviews of fantasies that the magical aspects of the books weren't explained well enough or weren't convincing enough. With this book, there is no explanation offered at all. You can ask ten questions for every strange thing mentioned, but the odds are that you won't think to ask - as a reader, I felt the same willingness to accept anything that children are bestowed with.
The family that lives at the end of the lane in the Hempstock farm, Lottie, her mother (Ginnie Hempstock or Mrs Hempstock) and Lottie's grandmother (Old Mrs. Hempstock), adds their own layer of charm to the story. This is a family that has purportedly been around for many years, even though Lottie is just eleven in the story. Our narrator knows enough to ask Lottie for how long she has been eleven. When the strange money-related events start happening, Lottie steps ahead to stop the "monster" responsible for it. She is confident that nothing will go wrong, except a lot of things do go wrong, some badly.
By the end of the book, my only complaint was that this book was too short. I know that I loved a book when I struggle to read anything for the next couple of days. I love how this book is written about children but is not for children. At the same time, Gaiman writes in such a way that he makes me willing to believe everything he writes. Definitely a strong storyteller....more
Set somewhere in the land of Aladdin and Sinbad, Haroun lives in a city so sad that it had forgotten its own name. The people had forgotten how to lauSet somewhere in the land of Aladdin and Sinbad, Haroun lives in a city so sad that it had forgotten its own name. The people had forgotten how to laugh or smile, and even the fish that lived in the nearby sea were called glumfish. In this land of the sad, Haroun's father, Rashid, was the cheerful storyteller, whose never-ending stream of tales made people either very happy or very jealous. One day, Rashid's wife runs away with the neighbor, leaving Rashid heart-broken and incapable of making new stories, and Haroun unable to concentrate on anything for longer than eleven minutes. On the eve of a possible career- and life-destroying performance at a political rally, Rashid and Haroun fret about their bad luck when a genie appears in Haroun's bathroom.
I had a feeling that I will not be able to even grasp the Rushdieness of this book, however innocent the title sounded. Funnily, if I were told to read the book and guess the author later, Rushdie would have been nowhere in the list of possible candidates, as this book was as different as possible from what I remember of my attempt at reading .
Haroun and the Sea of Stories felt like a whiff of lively breeze. Reading this book made me remember the joy of reading magical books like Harry Potter and The Night Circus. While not as long or as atmospheric, Haroun and the Sea of Stories deserves its own place on that shelf of fascinating fantasy books. Although the fantasy in this book does have symbolic meanings and a few "moral of the stories", one could read this book for pure pleasure and nothing more.
I loved the magical world within this book, even though I felt it a touch overdone at points. Occasionally, Haroun comes across people or things in the fantasy world that reminds him of someone or something in his real world - I loved the implication that the two worlds need not be disparate. You need stories in the real world, just as you need reality in stories. The writing slips once in a while into an awkward childish tone, but for the most part, I found it engaging. Children and adults alike could enjoy this book....more
Jack and Zoe, a young married couple are enjoying a beautiful day skiing along the French Pyrenees when they are buried under a flash avalanche. SomehJack and Zoe, a young married couple are enjoying a beautiful day skiing along the French Pyrenees when they are buried under a flash avalanche. Somehow, they both manage to crawl their way out of the snow and decide to return to the hotel to help in any rescue efforts. They arrive back at the town to discover that there are no people about - it looks as if the entire town was evacuated. They decide to wait a while before trying to leave town. While they wait, they notice that they are not able to use their cell phones or land lines, that cuts of meat appear to remain fresh for much longer than is usual, they do not bleed. When they try to leave, they keep getting back to where they started. Almost as if the town doesn't want to let them go.
It's been a while since I read The Silent Land, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to review this book. But, I remember that I had enjoyed it a lot, so I find it difficult to let it go without even trying to recommend it to you, however briefly or inarticulately. I picked The Silent Land impulsively after seeing it listed in the ebooks catalog at my library. Since I knew next to nothing about this book, I decided to read it.
The Silent Land is not a supernatural or paranormal story. It is a regular literary fiction with elements of the unknown and the unimaginable woven in, in a very realistic manner. It's hard to say more about this book without giving away the core element of this book - the whole mystery of what happened to the town post-avalanche. I had a ton of guesses as to what could be the matter, but as the story progressed on, and I read of more strange happenings, I began to have a strong suspicion of what might have happened. Still, when the climax rolled along, I felt very sad for Jack and Zoe.
I wasn't particularly impressed by the writing, however. Some of the dialogues felt way too cheesy and immature, and there were times I felt the characters were acting too childish to suit the circumstance. I was able to look past these however because the story held intrigue. There were times I thought that some stuff were too weird, but when all is explained and done, everything begins to make sense. This is however not a book I'd like to see adapted to screen, mainly because this idea has been exploited a lot on screen and I tend to scoff whenever I come across it. For some reason, reading about it made the premise more possible and realistic, probably because it's a while before the truth is revealed. Overall, I enjoyed this read a lot....more
The Night Circus is not your usual circus. For one, it arrives without any kind of announcement or hype. One day it is not there, and the next day itThe Night Circus is not your usual circus. For one, it arrives without any kind of announcement or hype. One day it is not there, and the next day it suddenly is. On the other hand, it is open only at sunset, and closes at dawn. And thirdly, the tents are all black-and-white striped, and not the usual colorful ruckus you would expect to see in a circus. Against this mysterious setting are two young magicians, Celia and Marco, battling out a challenge made by their guardians, years ago. A battle that brings them closer, sends their imaginations wild with possibilities and may or may not end the way they expect it to.
There. That synopsis probably reveals nothing much about a book that everyone knows enough about and that went viral in the book world sometime last year. I wanted to review this book soon after I read it last year, but initially I blamed it on lack of time, then on a possibly vague recollection, and finally on the fact that it was shortlisted in the Indie Lit Awards. If the Awards had a "Book I am Most Likely to Reread" award, The Night Circus would have been my incontestable choice. In fact, I had half a mind to start rereading it right now when I was writing this review, before I remembered that my copy was with my brother.
I'm not sure what it was about The Night Circus that I loved. I started reading it on the train at 7 am in the morning, when I was going to New York, planning to read a couple of pages and then nap a bit. But instead, I bought a cup of coffee and spent the next couple of days reading the book at all possible opportunities. I usually hate reading books about the circus, but this was more a book of magic than a book of circus tricks.
Celia, a magician by birth, and Marco, a magician by learning were bound by magic to battle out their skills until a clear winner emerged. Unfortunately, the two end up falling for each other, and as they find out, the challenge cannot be broken, nor was a future between them really possible. While part of the story followed their endeavors, another part followed a boy named Bailey in a different time period. Bailey wanted nothing more than to be a part of the circus. He befriends twins Poppet and Widget during his exploration of the circus, and while the friends have fun for as long as the circus is in town, there is something strange brewing - something that will need Bailey's intervention.
The Night Circus slips to and fro between the two time periods. It is necessary to be aware of the dates as you read - I know it has bothered some, but for some reason it didn't bother me in any way. I loved the characters that made up this book - there were so many of them with their own independent minds and thoughts, so much so that I did feel disappointed that some of them didn't have bigger roles. There were a few like the contortionist, Tsukiko, and the tarot reader, Isobel, who intrigued me enough to make me want for their own stories. Unfortunately, this is where the book failed - the characters become a pawn to the plot. In trying to the move the story to the conclusion, the characters that don't matter to the story anymore get sidelined.
When I finished reading this book, one of my first reactions amidst all the thrill and excitement and wonder, was disappointment that there was no explanation of the "theory of magic". For me, one of the pull of Harry Potter was the feeling that it was possible for a world like Hogwarts to exist, if someone developed a means to made a wand that can do spells. To me, that was the only impediment to a world of magic - such was the amount of details J.K. Rowling put into world-building. The Night Circus didn't do that. It was understood that there was magic, but not how. Marco spent a lot of time learning magic, but it was never revealed what he was learning. This disappointed me at first, because I like to look at the theory of anything. But later, I realized that it was all part of the mystery of the book. Even the characters didn't fully understand magic, but their every action echoed magic. In keeping with the theme of the book, some of the actions were deliberately and understandably skated superficially, as if mysterious.
My favorite aspect of the book had to do with the tents themselves. Each tent had something magical about it - there was a tent where the genuine illusionist made you see things, another tent where you got your future told (remarkably accurately), yet another one which was a maze, and another one which was made entirely of ice, and so on. Moreover, keeping with the mysterious setting of the book, even several plot elements of the book take on that air of suspense. This is one of those books you have to read twice if you want to solve all the mysteries within. You know, like one of those rereads, where you go "aha, so that's why she did so-and-so". I haven't read it twice, so I still have a few questions that I don't know the answers to yet. I just know that I will read it twice, soon as I see some breathing space in my review list and I get my hands on a copy.
That's been a long review, and I haven't even talked about the groupies, who wear a red scarf and keep track of where the circus is, each time!...more
The final book of the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld finally released a few weeks back and I was glad to receive my book right away from the liThe final book of the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld finally released a few weeks back and I was glad to receive my book right away from the library. I'm not going to provide a plot summary here because it will be spoiler-ish for anyone who hasn't read the first two books and also because if you have read the first two books, I suppose you will be reading the third book as well, with or without synopsis. So I'll just talk about this book and the series in general and hope that if you haven't read this series yet, you will get to it soon.
This book starts off where we left the characters at the end of the second book - Behemoth. Although it took me a while to remember some of the events that happened in the previous book, the author helped me along on the way by providing a few strategically placed recaps. The recaps weren't completely rehashed, but were just minimal enough for me to remember the fainter aspects of the previous books. In that sense, I felt that Goliath could have stood on its own as a single book, although of course, you should read the previous two books to completely appreciate some of the references.
One aspect I like of Scott Westerfeld's books is his very strong female characters. They aren't strong in the sense that they do superhero stuff or are perfect people, but rather in the sense that these characters could be any girl, going through all the normal challenges of being a teenager and having all the normal desires for a good life. They are fallible, and thus very human. And yet, they go a small step ahead in pursuing their dreams or correcting a mistake or just plain doing the right thing. One of Leviathan's protagonist - Deryn - is a character I would love to meet. She pretends to be a boy in WW1 England, just so that she can serve on an airship. If her country finds out about it, no matter how many sticky situations Deryn has saved her airship from, or how many dangerous events she has participated in, they will court-martial her. I imagined there would be a very unpractical yet very happily-ever-after and manipulative ending. The kind of ending I would call cheesy. So, when I actually reached the ending, where Deryn/Dylan's gender is finally to be addressed, I was surprised by the turn it took. I have to say that the author stayed true to the custom of the times, didn't try to change history overnight, and although it was still an HEA ending, it was also a more practical one than I imagined.
The other thing I loved about this series is the liberty the author takes with creating steampunk stuff, be it machine-based or biological. There are all kinds of funky gadgets and animals that I would love to see in today's world. Sure, many of them are meant to be used as war weapons but I loved their sophistication. The amount of detail he gives to these creations lends a huge amount of genuineness to the steampunk world he has created. To add to it, Keith Thompson's illustrations are wonderful. If ever you decide to read this book, please read it in paper - the illustrations are truly eye-catching.
What I most loved about this book is the amount of actual truths in it. One of the main characters in this book - Nikola Tesla - was an actual physicist who lived through the WW1. The fictional Tesla is as eccentric as the real Tesla was known to be. There are also some true historical events cited in this book - a meteoric impact in Siberia in 1908, Tesla's research, an electric tower in New York and many others. Of course, in the afterword, Scott distinguishes between what was fact and what was fiction, but as I was reading, I tried to make my own guesses as well. And some of those were good examples of truth being stranger than fiction.
Although there are a few coincidences scattered through the book, I was willing to overlook those. For the most part, this book was very entertaining - I liked it better than Behemoth, though Leviathan still remains my favorite book of this trilogy. If you still haven't read it, you should. This book is a fabulous example of the steampunk genre....more
In Huxley's utopian (or dystopian, depending on how you look at it) future, a capitalist civilization has been carefully constructed on the principlesIn Huxley's utopian (or dystopian, depending on how you look at it) future, a capitalist civilization has been carefully constructed on the principles of stability. New life is literally manufactured in an assembly line process where the fertilized eggs of to-be-top citizens (called Alphas and Betas) are cultured without much treatment, while those of to-be-the-dregs-of-the-society (such as Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons) go through a lot of processing to make them stunted and intellectually challenged. A lot of these low-class citizens are twins. As in, one fertilized egg made to divide so many times, that you have 40-80 identical people staring at you. Creepy? Through the growing years, all the citizens are conditioned (or brainwashed in their sleep) to believe a bunch of tenets that the government has drawn up. Nobody questions their existence or revolts against what they do. Everyone grows up knowing what they will become when they are old enough. They are trained not to fall in love or have any sort of emotional connection with anyone. Since no one is conceived in the traditional manner, the idea of a mother or father is repulsive. Worse, people have sex on a regular basis with different people and even encourage their friends to "have" this woman that they slept with last night, because she is fabulous in bed.
Repulsive? I nearly puked my way through the pages.
In trying to create a utopia that has no violence, no negative sentiments, no conflicts, no individual above a group, no poverty, no famine, and no dearth of anything, Huxley invents a world that has no humanity either. The ideas for his utopia are derived from the world as he knew it in the 1930s - the increasing dependence on machines, the industrial revolution, the wars, the arrival of capitalism. Of course, there are no computers in his book, because computers weren't invented then.
Most of the characters in the book are conditioned into the new world way of thinking - "Dating" the same person for long was considered improper, the act of birthing a child is a very obscene act that when they have their controlled "history" lessons, people cringe at the mention of the words "mother" or "father", and when people wanted a break, they took a drug called "soma" to get them high and take them on a dream-holiday. You can say that soma is something like pot, except the government encourages its citizens to have it, but in limited quantities. However, a man named Bernard isn't entirely in agreement with the system, but only because even though he is an Alpha, he doesn't look like one, probably because something messed up his cells during his fabrication, as I like to call it. When he goes with his current "girlfriend" to a Savage reservation, which houses the few natives who aren't yet civilized, he comes across a boy named John born of a once-civilized-woman. Bernard then proceeds to bring John to the civilization.
I thought Huxley did a fabulous job of creating a world that stood on its own, all just for stability. All through the book, I had my arguments against a lot of things that are done, but they are all from the humane perspective. In one chapter, the World Controller (something like a President) manages to dismiss all my questions. Despite what I thought about the book having been written well, I didn't really like Brave New World. In creating a world as different as possible from the one we live in, Huxley spends a big part of the book talking about sex and his characters' fascination with it. Young kids were even encouraged to play erotic games - all part of their conditioning. All of it makes the reader uncomfortable - that is definitely his intention, but there were a lot of other aspects of the world that he could focus on than just on individual characters recommending their date of last night to their best friend because she is "pneumatic" or having curves, and how the kids playing those games kept popping up on every other scene.
Then there is the fact that a lot of the low-status citizens are Negros or Senegalese or Dravidians - again meant to make the reader uncomfortable, but I couldn't see the point of explicitly mentioning certain races, especially races that are traditionally biased against. I also found this book a mashup of a Shakespearean novel and the arrival of capitalism. The ending is almost entirely inspired by Shakespeare, and I found it very comic rather than tragic. I went in expecting something huge and moving to happen at the end - I wanted to feel inspired to not let the world we live in get to that end, but I only felt disappointed by what happened. Of course, I should note that this book was written in 1932, and the themes were probably more relevant then - with all the uncertainty about where the world was heading, still the ending felt to be from a totally different book, and not fitting in with the rest of the story. I found the writing very hard to get through occasionally - that meant I had to read past the first page before I could get myself invested in the story. Sometimes, he stated the same thing so often that I wanted to say, alright, let's move on, please. But there were also times when the book made for wonderful reading.
So that's a lot of whines, but I was disappointed. I did expect a lot, and while I enjoyed the book at some level, I found more issues with it than things to praise. I do not however think that this book should be kept away from young adults, because there are a lot of things to learn from this book, most importantly whether stability is more important than humanity. I know many of you have read this (and loved it), so I would love to hear what you thought of it!...more
Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore primarily follows fifteen-year old solitary Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home because he can no longer standHaruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore primarily follows fifteen-year old solitary Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home because he can no longer stand the presence of his malevolent father. His father had prophesied that Kafka would fulfill the Oedipal curse - that he would murder his father, and sleep with his mother and sister. His mother had run away with his sister when he was four, so he had no memory of how they looked. To escape the curse, he leaves Tokyo and travels down to Takamatsu, where he whiles away his time at a private library and the local gym. In alternate chapters, we follow an elderly Tokyo man named Satoru Nakata, who suffered a strange episode when he was nine, causing him to lose all memory and his ability to read or write, but giving him the ability to talk to cats. One day, he decides to travel down to a place where there's a big bridge. He has no idea what to do once he gets there or why he needs to go there, but decides to worry about that later. And so, across 430-odd pages, the two characters run away and towards forces beyond their control, increasingly intertwining their lives, but never crossing paths once.
Kafka on the Shore took me close to a month to finish. It isn't even that huge, but there's so much intrigue in here, that occasionally I spent a few days digesting what I had just read. Had I known beforehand what this book had - magical realism, people who can talk to cats, people who can cross the invisible barrier between life and death - I may never have read this book. Interestingly, I never read much about Murakami's works before - these are apparently standard elements in his books. And despite my usual reluctance to read anything that's not grounded in reality, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were times, I emerged from the book as if in a trance. The writing is deceptively simple - I loved it that Murakami didn't bother with flowery sentences, rather relying on simple straightforward language to drive home his point.
Kafka on the Shore also follows other wonderful characters - Oshima, the person in charge of the library, who loves music and shares stories about musicians with Kafka; Hoshino, the truck driver who leaves everything and decides to accompany Nakata on his strange journey; Miss Saeki, the fifty-year old patron of the library whose tragic past clings to her even thirty years later, and who Kafka imagines to be his long-lost mother. These characters are as well-created as the two protagonists. When I started reading, I was more interested in Kafka's story, but as the pages kept turning, Nakata's strange mission intrigued me more.
Like I said, there is strange stuff happening in this book, and not even in the paranormal realm, but in a very metaphysical sense. Although my first brush with surrealism made me a bit worried, soon as I accepted it, I found I didn't have problem with anything else that the book offered. What I loved most about this book is that it definitely challenged me. It questioned my ability to accept the impossible or see beyond. It challenged me to accept the idea of people who can talk to cats and stones, people who can live as their present 50-year old self and their own 20-year old self, at the same time (though in different spaces). It challenged me to accept the idea of a world where you can meet dead people to get answers to your most pressing questions. This isn't your usual fantasy - think of it as Neil Gaiman's Coraline, who could go through a door in her home to the other side only to see an identical world, but much crueler. Like they say, once you accepted the impossible, the possibilities are endless. Mostly, Kafka on the Shore challenged me to construct my own barriers between reality and otherworld, and keep moving the barrier further as he put forth an idea.
Reading Kafka on the Shore made me remember why I loved the TV show, LOST. LOST wasn't a show you could take at face value. There was nothing superficial about LOST. For everything that happened in the show, there were layers and layers of hidden meanings underneath it. Two of the most common complaints I have heard of this show are that unbelievable stuff happen, and that no answers are given. And that's exactly how I would classify Kafka on the Shore. Unbelievable stuff happens on the outside, but underneath those, there are meanings. The book is written at such a metaphysical level that it's easier to grasp the threads once you understand that the world in this book runs on a different dimension. For that reason, this is a book that has to be reread - it's almost impossible to get all the threads at one go. And if this weren't a huge book, I would have reread it, but I think I'll revisit it next year. I'm pretty much astounded at Murakami's ingenuity at writing this book. How he managed to hold this story together with all that happens is pretty much incredible.
A note about the translation: The edition I read is a translation done by Philip Gabriel, and while it was a good piece for the most part, occasionally I felt as if the book was Americanized at places. I was especially disappointed to see the American currency used instead of the Japanese one, and in some places, the phrases are almost entirely American....more
The decade of the 2040s are here and life on earth is even more abysmal and depressing than ever. There are a lot of wars being fought and the energyThe decade of the 2040s are here and life on earth is even more abysmal and depressing than ever. There are a lot of wars being fought and the energy crisis is at an all-time high. Public safety has deteriorated and people are trying to move to the cities for better living conditions. Amidst all the gloom, the one silver lining is the OASIS, the massive virtual world created by James Halliday, initially as a game and which later evolved as something very similar to real life in a much more optimistic setting. As more and more people shut themselves inside OASIS to escape the harsh reality outside, they become more socially inept than ever. And then, as if to make things worse, the day James Halliday died, his will was released to the whole world. This heir-less rich man had created an Easter Egg or a hidden message inside OASIS for which he has left a series of clues. The first person to find the Easter Egg wins James' estate. When Wade Watts hears of this, he also decides to become one of the egg hunters, or gunters in short. But five years go by and no one has found anything, until Wade finally cracks the first clue and has suddenly catapulted himself into fame. But now there is a corporation trying to stop his progress (and that of a few others who have managed to crack the clue finally), not just within the game, but also by killing his real world self.
If you guys read my Sunday Salon post, you would have caught me raving about this title. Ready Player One celebrates geekdom like very few other books. Even now, two days later, I'm itching for a similar read. That's not to say that this book was perfect, because it did bug me at some level, but the thrill I derived from reading it far outweighs any niggles. Besides, I had never read cyberpunk before although I live and work in the digital world. I never imagined that maybe a fiction about cyberworlds would be so intriguing, so I think I've found a new genre that I would enjoy. (If only I had listened to my brother long ago!)
Ready Player One was an interesting exploration of life in a virtual world. Already, we spend a lot of our time online and we can no longer imagine the life "before". Games have changed in dimension - today's games are a far cry from the two-dimensional, unattractive graphics-powered games of the 80s. We all already have a virtual persona, and the author exploits that knowledge to create a full-fledged, fully-functioning, real-life mirroring virtual world that feels like utopia compared to the outside world. Cline's virtual world can also do everything that the real world can - students attend school on the OASIS, keep jobs and earn money (or credits) and also gain experience points. There's magic and technology on OASIS. Also, people can win/steal all kinds of fancy gadgets that they would love to covet. And did I mention playing games? But there were no rules of life in OASIS. One can kill whoever they wish to eliminate and move on to another adventure. There's no police and that facilitates the bad guys to try and eliminate competition. Occasionally, Ready Player One felt like a mockery of how the online world operates now. When Wade explains, "Back when Halliday was still running the company, GSS had won the right to keep every OASIS user's identity private in a landmark Supreme Court ruling," I was thinking of Facebook and Google and how privacy is such a joke today.
I loved the way the virtual worlds were described. It wasn't technical - it was certainly geeky and something wonderful to read for technology-lovers, but the explanation was straightforward, so that it didn't sound strange. The author certainly goes full board in building his setting, with every possible futuristic tool that can ever be imagined. It was a complete sci-fi utopia. This did make it easy to explain away certain plot events, sometimes I did feel that the story was at the surrender of the technology and not the other way around. There are a ton of 80s references in here, but they are mostly games or pop culture references. Still many are names we would recognize. (Okay, I didn't grow up in the 80s culture, more like the 90s, but they were still not lost on me.) There are a lot of stereotypes in this book - socially-inept geeks, money-hungry aunts, a withdrawn game creator and an outgoing best friend, two guys in love with the same woman, the woman being the reason for friendship issues, the power-hungry corporate company, companies illegally spying on people, and many more. Although I typically frown on any stereotyping, I think that is what made the book work. You couldn't take any offense for the formulaic happenings because they weren't offensive.
Ready Player One is a very fast-paced gaming thriller that delivered during every minute of my read. In addition to Wade, there are a few other well-developed characters I was rooting for. Since the story is told from Wade's perspective, we get to learn about Wade's real-life and virtual personas. The friends he make are all virtual though, so Wade goes through the tricky situation of trusting people he doesn't really know. The author makes a great case of how people can be different on and off line, and yet how they can still be similar. Moreover, although the people are very addicted to OASIS, and initially it is being talked about as the best thing that ever happened to humanity, some people do come to accept the pitfalls of such a life. I also liked the appearance of the omnipresent bad corporation guys who want to take control of James' estate and completely transform the way it works.
Towards the end, however, Ready Player One loses some of the steam that it built initially. A lot of what happens in the ending was very predictable, with everything tying up a little too neatly. The ending would fit a movie but on the print pages, they appeared lackluster. I know Ernest Cline is a screenwriter and much of the book's pacing fit a movie (incidentally this book is being made into a movie) but I would have still loved to see something more innovative in here. Also, I did feel that some parts of the book were somewhat cheesy such as when Wade and his friend have a geeky argument with a guy they don't like. It sounded very cliched and superhero-like where the good guy never breaks his rhythm and manages to win the barrel. But maybe that's appropriate too, because a lot of geek references are cliched, like the blonde jokes.
Even with the minor distractions, I enjoyed reading this book. It's been a long time since I woke up early or slept late or most importantly, stayed off the net, just to read a book (incidentally one about a networked world). And I strongly recommend this read to you, especially if you love reading about the cyberworld, about futuristic life, about the issues of misusing or overusing technology, about a game with mega consequences (like in Oceans 11/12/13), or if you plain like fast-paced thrillers....more
I've never read a Neil Gaiman book before this, though I'd had plenty of opportunity for it. I picked a couple of his books from the library a few weeI've never read a Neil Gaiman book before this, though I'd had plenty of opportunity for it. I picked a couple of his books from the library a few weeks back and this was the first one I decided to read. Possibly because it's reeeaally small? Which it is, and it reads real fast too. Coraline finds a locked door in her new home which leads to nowhere. There's just a blank wall behind it. But one day when her parents were away, she opened the door and what do you know, there's a whole passageway behind. So off she goes and discovers that the place looks just like her real home and that there are people there. People who are not really people but people-like people with button eyes. They also happen to have the same appearance as her mother, her father and her neighbors. There is even a talking cat that looks just like the cat back in the real world. She calls them other people (other-mother, other-father, etc). When she comes back to the real world, her parents are gone and she knows that the other people in the other world have hidden her real parents.
Coraline was a cute read and I know why Neil Gaiman's books sell. He writes about a magical world in a very intriguing way. There is some darkness but there is some innocence too. But, it didn't really hold my attention much - I guess because I always knew it was going to be a happy ending and the magical world didn't attract me much. Still, I do plan to read on more of Gaiman's works, because I quite enjoyed his witty writing....more
Dana had just moved to a new apartment with her husband, Kevin, and was helping him set up his bookshelf, when she started feeling very dizzy. The senDana had just moved to a new apartment with her husband, Kevin, and was helping him set up his bookshelf, when she started feeling very dizzy. The sensation was immediate and unexpected, and when she opened her eyes, she found herself in a strange place. The apartment and the books had vanished; Kevin was also nowhere near her. Instead she found herself at a riverside, staring at someone struggling in the river. Keeping her worries and questions aside, she jumped into the river and carried the nearly drowning boy to the shore. A woman came to her, wailing that her son was dead. Dana simply kept her cool, yelled at the woman to be quiet, gave the boy CPR and announced to the mother that the boy will live. The woman's husband arrived on the scene with a gun pointed at Dana's face. Terrified for her life, Dana felt the same dizziness overwhelm her and within seconds, she had arrived back at her apartment floor, muddy and not at all calm.
It took Dana one more such incident to realize that not only was she space-traveling, but she was also time-traveling - to the slavery-ridden South of the 1800s in Baltimore.
I know Kindred is a very popular book in the book blogging community. I must have seen it double-digit times, ever since I started blogging but historical fiction isn't something I enjoy reading by default. It takes a lot more for me to start reading a book shelved in that section. Still, when I saw Kindred on sale in Amazon, and having just bought my new Kindle, I bought it. I did plan to read it eventually. On the plane ride to Miami, I picked up Kindred to kick off the vacation.
I loved this book from the first page. It was very readable, very engrossing and the plot is very interesting. Dana is a black woman used to the luxuries and the liberties of the 1970s. Her husband Kevin is white. The south of the 1800s is however, not a safe place for Dana. A black woman walking about is in plenty of danger, so Dana has to keep her wits around her as she navigated the treacherous terrain of the south. Initially, it is a mystery how she can ever get back but later she discovers the displeasing trigger.
All her time travels seem to be when a particular white boy and later man, Rufus, is in life-threatening danger. Rufus happens to be one of her ancestors and Dana understands the importance of keeping him alive. But there are several unexplained mysteries, such as why the time travel is even happening, how is she able to travel in time and space, how does it affect her aging seeing as she could have spend days and months in the past and not more than a few hours have passed in the present.
There is so much to like in Kindred and not enough space in this blog to talk about. Butler's writing is very engaging. It's descriptive, thoughtful and lyrical. I liked how Butler kept the plot focused on the story itself and not on the mechanics of the time travel. I love reading time travel for its hows and whys and whens, but for Kindred, it made perfect sense not to delve into all that. The ending also doesn't tie up all the loose ends - we are just like Dana, we see what she sees, we hear what she hears. But at the end, we are just as stymied as she is - why did all this happen? What happened to some of the people she bonded with. In the end, Kindred isn't about what happened to whom. It is about slavery itself and how it was never good for anyone. How it left you a changed person, and we do find out in the end that slavery did leave a very physical mark on Dana.
Kindred also gives a great insight into life as a slave, and what better way to see it than through the eyes of someone coming from the future. Even though she knew enough about how her ancestors lived, experiencing it first hand calls for more than just knowledge - when she gets beaten, she needed to stop herself from fighting. When Rufus' mother takes great pleasure in verbally abusing her, she had to rein back in all the vehement retorts piling at the tip of her tongue.
If you haven't given this book a chance yet, you absolutely should. I know I wanted to gush more about this book and share a lot more thoughts that I bookmarked in my head but right now, I can only think that this book was super amazing and I wish I was just going to read it again for the first time. Dana's time travel would have really come in handy now....more
(If you haven't read Leviathan but plan to, or if you wish not to be exposed to spoilers, skip the following paragraph. The rest of the review is just(If you haven't read Leviathan but plan to, or if you wish not to be exposed to spoilers, skip the following paragraph. The rest of the review is just a plain write-what-I-felt review.)
Deryn and Alek are finally aboard the Leviathan. Alek is the heir to the Austria-Hungary kingdom, while Deryn is actually posing as a boy so that she can serve as a midshipman on the Leviathan airship. No one knows that Deryn is a girl, but one person eventually suspects. Those aboard the ship hope to bring the war to an end, but it's not that simple. The Ottomans haven't yet joined the war, but recent actions by the British (Darwinist) have tipped the Ottomans towards the Germans (Clankers). To prevent that, the Leviathan is making its way towards the Ottoman empire, so that they can make a gift to the Ottoman king and thus win his favor. (Potential spoilers over)
The Leviathan series is set against the World War I. Except, this is alternate reality. Although most of the fundamentals of the WW1 are retained, the author has changed enough facts about the WW1 to make this a fictional event in its own right. I've said this before - I'm not a fan of alternate reality. Buuuuuut, I'll swallow my words just for this series. There's something about the way this series is written that makes me want to read more. I stopped making comparisons halfway into the first book. Leviathan shared a lot of similarities with actual WW1 events, Behemoth even less. One thing I truly admired is how well Scott Westerfeld has mapped events in this trilogy to real events without making them appear contrived or duplicated.
Deryn continues to remain my favorite character in this series. Scott writes his female heroines really well. I noticed this in the Uglies series also. Deryn poses as a boy, Dylan, because girls weren't allowed to fight. She's content being a boy and doesn't like any girly traits or behavior. On the other hand, just like any girl, she has deep yearnings that she struggles against. For instance, she's falling in love with a certain someone, and wants him to notice her. A moment later, she remembers he doesn't even know she's a girl, and that fact makes her sad. Yet another moment later, she's chiding herself for thinking like a maiden in distress who needs help, and shakes herself back to the boy she is pretending to be. If this was a real movie, she would have received accolades for her brilliant acting!
Even with all the Clanker and Darwinist jargon, I was looking forward to more "technological innovations" of that period. While I didn't want to support the Clankers (obviously), I could relate more to them than the Darwinists, with their "godless" (as the Clankers love to say) fabricated animals. My favorite highlight of this book is the fabricated loris, that can perceive your emotions so well, warn you about approaching sounds of people/other creatures/machines. That's a pet I would love to have!
Did I mention the awesome artwork inside the book done by Keith Thompson? It would have been so hard to imagine a lot of the creatures and machines otherwise!...more