The Oath of the Vayuputras Book Review

the_oath_of_the_vayuputrasI was incredibly excited to get my hands on this book. After having read The Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas, I felt like I was ready to finish off this series and discover how the legends of the Indian Gods came to be. As a refresher for those of you unaware: The Oath of the Vayuputras is the final instalment in the Shiva Trilogy (other books listed earlier), and attempts to tell the story of Indian God Shiva and his companions as if they were humans rather than Gods (who eventually became Gods through their stories/ actions). The Immortals of Meluha (TIoM) introduced us to Shiva and the strange new world he discovered. The Secret of the Nagas (TSotN) fleshed out the world and narrowed down on a specific plot. And The Oath of the Vayuputras attempted to consolidate everything together with one giant battle.

Therefore, much like the previous book, The Oath of the Vayuputras picks up where the last book ended. Along with finding out the secret of the Nagas, we also finally discover what the purpose of the Neelkanth is: to destroy evil. However, as we learned throughout the first and second book, there wasn’t quite a clear consensus on what the evil exactly was. At first, Shiva thought it meant he had to conquer the Chandravanshi’s and then he thought it meant that he had to unite India. In this book, the true evil is revealed. I’m refraining from posting the actual spoiler, but like in the other books, this discussion on evil takes on quite a philosophical character. And like always, I found it quite enjoyable to read it.

Anyways, after the evil is revealed, it turns out that people are not quite convinced by Shiva’s definition of evil. As such, a war begins between, with those supporting Shiva (many of the side characters we were introduced too in earlier books) and those against him (the rulers of Meluha, Swadeep, and some priests). This war actually forms the crux, and numerous pages are devoted to describing the various battle formations, actual battle scenes, and the aftermath of such battles. Along with the war, the book also begins touching about the entire Neelkanth myth.

In TIoM, we were told that Lord Ram established a system of living which was replicated, down to the minute details in Meluha, and greatly respected by other kingdoms. It turns out, that the Vasudevs who communicated with Shiva in TSoN, were actually devotees of Ram who encompassed his teachings and were tasked with ensuring that they were followed (?). However, despite this connection, the Neelkanth wasn’t really a manifestation of Ram or even directly related to him. Lord Ram’s duty (and the duty of his later reincarnations (?)) was to pave a way of life, to ensure that the good was revealed and used. The Neelkanth, on the other hand, was to analyze when the balance between good and evil tilted toward evil, and then eradicate that evil. Fittingly then, the Neelkanth was a manifestation (reincarnation?) of Lord Rudra instead. Lord Rudra, as implied, was a fierce and just God who existed to ensure that good prevailed over evil and destroy the evil. Just as the Vasudevas were devotees of Ram, the Vayuputras (in the title of the book), were accordingly devotees of Rudra. As such, it was their duty to monitor the world and decide when the need for the Neelkanth arose and then accordingly raise the fabled One. However, as TIoM showcased, the Neelkanth wasn’t really chosen or declared by them. Instead, to everyone’s shock, Shiva’s blue neck exposed him as the Neelkanth. Hence, there also existed some confusion over whether Shiva was really the fabled the Neelkanth, or just some impostor who happened to coincidentally have a blue neck.

To this end, the book delves, albeit a little, into Shiva’s background and how he turned out the be the Neelkanth. Turns out, his uncle was a former Vayuputra. He recognized that the good was slowly turning evil and advocated for the declaration of the Neelkanth. However, the other vayuputras refused to listen to him. Hence, the uncle, Manobhu, stole the ingredients necessary to “create” the Neelkanth (blue neck), and secretly administered them to Shiva as he was convinced that Shiva was indeed the fabled Neelkanth, sent by the universe/ God. What was also interesting, was that apparently, Shiva’s mother was the sister of the Vayuputra leader (who also secretly defected and helped make Shiva the Neelkanth), while his father was Manobhu’s brother, aka also related to vayuputras.

Anyways, pretty interesting book. In general, I thought the book did a decent enough job of closing Shiva’s story. I particularly enjoyed how almost anti-climactic the end was. The end destruction commences amid sadness, without much fanfare or dispute. It was unexpected and created a melancholic tone that I think worked quite well for the book. It was enjoyable to read. That said, I definitely had a few complaints.

Firstly, I don’t quite understand why this book was named The Oath of the Vayuputras. To be more precise, through the title, I expected the book would deal with the Vayuputras at length. As mentioned earlier, we do get their backstory and there are actually quite a few chapters upon this. However, when it comes to the Vayuputras themselves, we’re only really given a few chapters (maybe 3?) where we actually get to see them. I just, it felt very misleading. Actually, I also found myself curious about the Vayuputras, about their way of life, their engineering, their own individual stories. Alas, we don’t get much on that.

Secondly, I was quite unsatisfied by the whole how-Shiva-became-Neelkanth story. We were given the basics of what happened, but not really why it happened. How was Manobhu sure that Shiva was the fabled One?  To this end, there is a tiny discussion on Shiva’s third eye (?) but even that isn’t explicitly explained. For someone quite new to Indian mythology, I would’ve much preferred a more in-depth explanation. On this note, I also found myself quite interested in the lives of those before Shiva, namely his parents and relatives (like Manobhu). I mean, we got more hints into the background of Sati and her father Daksha, than we did Shiva. It would’ve been nice to have the same focus on Shiva’s background.

Thirdly, there was also a lot, A LOT of unnecessary detailing. There were times where Amish just went on and on in describing places, things, people, etc. I mean, I understand the need for detail, but there’s also something to be said for being efficient with words. The overly detailed passages also led to the book to be quite long in its length, with over 500 pages of words. It was annoying and in my opinion, majorly detracted from the book/ reading experience. I found myself skimming through a few passages and/or pages as I got so bored with the overly verbose descriptions.

All in all, a decent enough conclusion. It could’ve definitely been improved upon (seriously, where were the editors?) but it was decent enough.

My rating: read it to finish the Shiva adventure and learn some more about Indian Mythology, but skip it if you aren’t interested in either.

A Series of Unfortunate Events TV Series Review

q9jqvvnrA Series of Unfortunate Events is a book series written by Daniel Handler under the pen-name of Lemony Snicket. However, unlike most pseudonyms, Lemony Snicket actually interacts with the book series and features as a part of the book’s universe. The book chronicles the lives of the rich Baudelaire orphans after their parent’s deaths. Lemony Snicket serves as a narrator and possess a personal connection to the Baudelaire’s. It turns out, he loved the Baudelaire mother, Beatrice, back when the two were still young. However, Beatrice ended up marrying Betrand, the Baudelaire father, rather than Lemony. Nonetheless, after hearing of her death, Lemony feels compelled to discover what happened to the Baudelaire children afterwards and hence the novel commences with him frequently remarking upon the terrible circumstances. Are you still with me?

The Baudelaire’s are made up of three children. Violet, the oldest at 14, is a genius inventor and often takes the leadership role in the various situations the children find themselves in. Klaus, the middle child at 12, is a voracious reader and has the ability to remember everything he’s read, the point where he can recite random quotations from random authors at verbatim. And finally, Sunny, is the youngest at 2(?). Although she can’t properly speak by the time the books begin, she is incredibly intelligent, possess the ability to understand complex situations and communicates with ‘babbles’ only her siblings understand. The trio lived happily with their well-off parents until a mysterious fire destroyed their house, presumably also killing their parents although no bodies were found. A local banker, Mr. Poe, is tasked with executing their parent’s will, which includes the huge inheritance the trio are to inherit once Violet comes to age. Despite being foolish and self-absorbed, Poe is also responsible for finding a new residence for the Baudelaire’s, as the parent’s will specified that the Baudelaire’s were to live with their closest living relative. And herein enters Count Olaf, the main antagonist, an actor with circus henchmen who is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune by any means possible, including murder.

There are 13 books in the series and each book deals with the children adapting to their new living situations, trying to get away from Count Olaf and his schemes to take over their fortune, and attempting to figure out their parent’s past/ present. The parents, it turns out, were spies (?) of some sort for the VFD (volunteer firefighters department?), a secret organization. Apparently, there was a schism in the organization wherein people split and took sides. The Baudelaire parents were obviously on the good side while Count Olaf was on the bad (yes, Count Olaf knew the parents from long ago). A lot of the people the Baudelaire’s encounter in the book are/were a part of the VFD, but despite their occurrence, the Baudelaire’s never do find out the full truth of their parent’s participation in the VFD. In fact, readers themselves never fully find out what the VFD is/for/does/did. Every new piece of information is given incomplete, through small vague clues, leading to eventual diversions to other topics/ parts of the truth.

I read somewhere that this elusive, purposeful holding of the full truth, was actually one of the themes of the book (i.e. the incomplete nature of the full truth). While I guess that explanation would help to solve the question of why the books remain so vague in its answers, I don’t really care. I just found it incredibly frustrating. I read this series way back, around the time the first book was published (early 2000s). Immediately, the dark comedic tone and mysterious story caught my attention and enthralled me. I faithfully read the books until the 10th book, after which I realized that the full truths of the story would never be revealed. The series contains 13 books, and while I normally don’t like reviewing or writing about things upon which I only have incomplete knowledge, I’m willing to make an exception in this case. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to reach the 10th book because most people I know who’ve read the story have not finished it either, or even reached the 10th book. Despite the wonderful story and great suspense, the story is too frustrating and unfulfilling to follow, as the full truth is NEVER revealed. It’s just annoying to read a story only to realize that you’ll never actually know what happened.

Anyway, after that long recap, this post isn’t really about the books but about the tv series. This year, an original NetFlix production of the series was created and aired. Currently, only season 1 has aired and it has covered 4 books. Although I was quite frustrated by the books inability to answer its mysteries, I was still incredibly excited at the prospect of the show about them. The books are written well and do have engaging characters. The books had been attempted to be adapted for the big screen with a movie in 2004. But personally, I wasn’t a fan of it as I felt it rushed too many things. Hence, when I heard about the tv adaptation, I was excited because I felt a tv format would allow for greater detail and accuracy. To be happiness, that is exactly what happened.  The sets, stories, scenes, larger VFD mystery are all well done and plotted and remain fantastic. I honestly had not expected it to be as great as it was. That said, I do want to address a few things.

Firstly, I heard that there was some criticism over Neil Patrick Harris’s Count Olaf, with most people saying that he wasn’t scary enough. But to be honest, I don’t think that criticism holds. Yes sure Harris plays Count Olaf with more humour than his book counterpart, but that doesn’t detract from the scariness. His Olaf is still terrifying. There’s a menacing undercurrent to Olaf’s humour that comes through with Harris’s acting which prevents Olaf from coming across as too comedic. If anything, I think it enhances the character. Olaf fancies himself a great actor and Harris’s Olaf embodies that delusional identification with crazy costumes, weird voices, and general oddness. But he still manages to imbue Olaf with a scariness because his Olaf is also absolutely ruthless with his violent tendencies, devious tricks, and general horribleness. It’s more of a low-key threat, which I quite appreciate because I think it helps keep the tone of the show/ books.

Secondly, despite my earlier claim of accuracy in the show, I want to iterate that this doesn’t mean that everything is 100% accurate. If anything, it’s about 80% accurate, which is still quite accurate in the grand scheme of things. However, some characterizations are definitely off. Violet, played by Malina Weissman, is one of the few that come to mind. In the books, she functions as the fierce leader of the Baudelaire trio and often comes up with plans to save them. In the tv series however, her fierceness is quite downplayed and she comes across as more complacent than active. Instead, her role of leader is given to Klaus, played by Louis Hynes. On a similar note, Aunt Josephine’s character, is given more of a saint-washing, as in the books, she much more selfish and horrible.

Thirdly, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in casting. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the cast was still white. But there were a few other people of colour in significant roles that I quite enjoyed. In particular, the Baudelaire’s guardians, Uncle Monty, a herpetologist, and Aunt Josephine, a formerly fierce but now cowardly woman, were played by Aasif Mandvi and Alfre Woodard respectively. Not to mention that Mr. Poe was played by K. Todd Freeman. Similarly, one of Olaf’s henchman, The Hook-handed Man, was played by Usman Ally. It’s always really nice to see diversity and although it could 100% be better, I felt that it was still a nice effort (although on a more introspective note, it’s sad how happy I get when there’s more than one POC because there should be more and standards should be higher).

Fourthly, I quite liked the way Lemony Snicket and his commentary were employed throughout show (through the use of Patrick Walburton as Lemony). It brought a uniqueness I did not expect and definitely helped to capture the dark humour of the books. Similarly, I enjoyed the red herring put by the show (deliberately being vague because it really is great LOL).

That said, I also read somewhere that this is a show to be savoured rather than binged and I completely agree. The books themselves are quite dark, but are prevented from being too depressing by Lemony Snicket’s commentary. The tv series doesn’t quite have that advantage at the same level. While Patrick Warburton is good at diffusing certain tense and dark scenes, they still leave the viewer unsettled and focused on the dark scene. If you watch too much of it, there’s chances that you’ll become very sad at the Baudelaire’s plight. However, if you savour each episode and take breaks, I think it would be more enjoyable because you wouldn’t be overtaken by sadness. I did the latter and quite enjoyed the series despite its macabre gothic tone.

My ratingWatch it if you’re a fan of the book series or if you’d like to watch a hopeless show with a sense of misplaced hopefulness.

The Masked City Book Review

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If you can recall, I reviewed the first book in this series, The Invisible Library, with great enthusiasm and expressed my fervent desire to read the sequels. This week, I finally got my hands on it! And to my delight, this book did not disappoint and instead left me with an even larger cliff-hanger/ desire to read further than the previous instalment!

If you’ve read my previous review, you probably know that one of my great attractions to this series, alongside its general plot (sign me up to become a library spy!), was the character of Irene. Irene is everything you’d want in a protagonist. She’s cool, smart, quick-witted, loyal, and even humble. There’s a few scenes in the book where other characters are visibly scared of her and she is always taken off guard and surprised (although this doesn’t stop her from manipulating the situation and scaring them more LOL). I usually don’t like it when characters are overly naive or modest, but Irene doesn’t come across like that. She’s genuinely unaware. Due to her position as a junior in the Librarian hierarchy, she believes that she still has miles to go before she can even consider herself to be a real, genuine, huge threat to others. So when characters do remark on her achievements or are terrified by her, she is taken off guard. That said, as I also mentioned earlier, this does not mean that she’s completely insecure or unsure of her capabilities. Irene is quite self-aware. She knows her abilities and she does have confidence in herself. I just, I really like her as a protagonist and this instalment just furthered my like. In this book, she goes beyond and demonstrated, not only how supremely talented and capable of a spy she is, but also how responsible, determined and loyal she is.

On that note, this book also goes further into Kai’s background. In the book’s plot, Kai is kidnapped and his kidnapping has the potential of beginning a war between his kind and the opposite of his kind (deliberately being vague, but hopefully for the benefit of new readers!). So, in terms of action, he actually doesn’t feature that much. He only really enters the scene near the end of the book. However, as the book is focused on him and his background, we do learn a little bit about him. And through learning more about his background, we’re also given more information on the world-building this series hinges upon.

We already knew that the Library existed in this timeless dimension with doors to other realities and we finally learn about some of the rules that govern how the other realities function. I had mentioned earlier how some worlds were “chaos-infested” where magic overtook natural order and in this book, we find out that this is because of fae (or fairy folk as I privately refer to them). Fae are described to be these powerful creatures who can create glamours and false realities (i.e. make you believe certain things through their words alone). When too many Fae inhabit a world, they make it chaos-infested because Fae tend to see everyone else as characters in their story. In an ironical twist, Fae see themselves as the protagonists of their story and everyone around them plays a supporting role. Apparently, this means that other humans are manipulated by the Fae so that situations can occur according to the Fae’s chosen story. Hence the term “chaos-infested” because too many Fae = too many competing Fae’s all crafting their own individual stories = humans manipulated and having basically no agency. Of course the degree of chaos- infestation also differs with the level. So while the previous novel was set in a mildly chaos infected London, this book takes place mainly in an extremely chaos-infested Venice (aka different reality). Hopefully, you’re still around after that complicated explanation.

Like my previous review, I don’t want to get too much into the plot of the novel because I think I’d like readers to experience it for themselves. However, I would like to discuss some other things I disliked and enjoyed.

Firstly, I was taken a little off guard by the relationship/ interactions between Detective Vale and Irene. As our lens through the story is Irene, it’s obvious that my observations are undoubtedly influenced by her emotions and POV. Hence, although perhaps it is arguable that Vale’s tone/ words were fine, when Irene found them to be quite harsh, I also found them to be harsh. And personally, I also found Vale’s behaviour with Irene to be quite rude. I understood that he was worried for Kai but at the same time, a little politeness wouldn’t hurt you know. Also, I was also quite peeved at the way Vale seemed to treat Irene’s job/ power. From my perspective, he was almost disdainful of her profession and dismissive of the amount of effort her powers took to be used. He was so callous in his remarks to her that I felt hurt on her behalf. Maybe Vale acts like this because he’s supposed to represent the archetype snobby, know-it-all detective. Whatever the reasons, I was not a fan, although his determination and abilities are indeed amazing.

Secondly, I also found this book to be more…tongue-in-cheek? I’m not quite sure what the exact word is, but throughout the book, Irene and other characters talked at length about stories, story-telling, plot cohesion/ creation, the role of characters, etc. As this is a book based upon books/ a library, I thought it was pretty humorous and ingenious of Cogman to include such discussions in her book. Although perhaps I interpreted it wrongly and perhaps the discussions on books were not meant to be ironic but rather educational? Either way, I thought it was quite interesting and subversive.

Thirdly, related to the second point, there was a whole bit in the book where Irene learns of the story of a horse-and-knight and it’s through that medium quite a bit of the latter discussion on books/ characters/ motivations takes place. However, it just really confused me. I didn’t quite understand the purpose? In my interpretation, the entire discussion was really just a means to an end, rather than being an end in itself. Which isn’t bad I suppose, but not something I’m a big fan of either (i.e. spending too much time on something that isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things). Or maybe I just interpreted it wrong. Whatever.

That said, I personally found the previous book to have more of a thrilling adventure. Don’t get me wrong, this book was definitely a roller coaster of a ride. Yet, as engrossing as it was, I don’t think it lived up to the original novel. I think it fell a tad, very very tiny bit, short of the original. There were a few mentions made of Alberich in this book and I found myself repeatedly more curious about his story/ unfinished business with Irene then the general plot of this book. However, perhaps this is not so much a critique on this book as it is of my own preferences. I suppose I am just more into the general personal plot of the book, centred on Irene specifically, than I am into general world of the book. And that’s actually what a lot of the book focuses upon: fleshing out the general world building of this series. Again, it’s not a bad thing and it’s definitely really interesting.

So the book is still definitely rated pretty highly in my opinion. I’m SUPER excited to get my hands on the final instalment and hopefully have all the little mysterious hints dropped about Irene and her past/ future to be resolved!

My rating: read it for fun and to continue The Invisible Library adventure!

The Winter Palace Book Review

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The Winter Palace, for those of you unaware, used to be the official winter residence of Russian monarchs. Of course when the monarchy was abolished in 1917, it stopped being used as a royal residence and instead became a tourist attraction. Nonetheless, when I saw this book titled The Winter Palace, I was intrigued. And when the book claimed to be about Catherine the Great, I was further intrigued and hence picked up the book to read. While the description of the book isn’t explicitly accurate, it was still an enjoyable read and I intend on reviewing it. So let’s get into it.

The Winter Palace is written by Eva Stachniak and claims to tell the story of Catherine the Great’s rise to power, beginning from when she was just Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst. However, our lens for this story is not Princess Sophie, rather it is a Polish royal maidservant, Barbara (or Varvara as she’s known in Russia). And so the story actually begins with a history of Barbara’s life and how she came to be so close to the monarchs.

Barbara has a semi-uninteresting beginning. She was originally the daughter of a bookbinder who managed to repair a book for Empress Elizabeth of Russia and impress her in the process. He manages to ensure that Barbara is taken in by the royal court after his death. In other words, Elizabeth used to take in young orphan girls and have them work as her servants. Hence Barbara initially begins as a seamstress in the court, but finds the work tedious (she sucks at it) and hence begins covertly listening to others instead. Her ability catches the eye of Elizabeth’s chancellor, Bestuzhev, who then becomes a mentor of sorts for he and teaches her advanced spying methods. From his teachings, she comes a ‘tongue’ for him and Elizabeth. She spies on all servants and reports on their sayings/ activities to them. Eventually, she advances to the point of becoming a ‘reader’ for the next-in-line for the Russian Throne, Prince Peter (eventually Peter III of Russia).

It is through this line of work that she first meets the young Princess Sophie and becomes familiar with her. Despite being told to be suspicious of Sophie and given the duty of spying on her (Bestuzhev severely disliked Sophie), Barbara finds herself taken with the young Sophie. Sophie gifts Barbara an amber necklace and forges a pact with her, based on the fact that the two of them are ‘foreigners’ in the court (Sophie was German/ Prussian). Barbara then switches sides and covertly becomes Sophie’s tongue, protecting her and warning her about potential conspiracies.Barbara is eventually found out by Bestuzhev and he persuades Elizabeth to get Barbara married off and thus forced out of the palace.

During this time, a lot of stuff happens in Barbara’s life. And through bits and pieces, we’re also given some happenings with Sophie. Turns out, she suffers from a horrible marriage as her husband dislikes her and doesn’t like consummating with her. Desperate for an heir, Elizabeth sends one of her Romanov cousins, Sergei Saltykov, to seduce and impregnate Sophie. Unfortunately, once Sophie becomes pregnant, Sergei is ordered to leave her (Sophie loves him by this time) and once she gives birth, her son is snatched from her womb by Elizabeth. Elizabeth takes the newborn, future Paul I of Russia, and raises him on her own, refusing Sophie even a glimpse of her son.

By this time, Barbara is able to come back to the palace and support Sophie. She also becomes Elizabeth’s main room-servant. Sophie, meanwhile, hardens herself and continues to live life. During this time, she also grows braver, sneaking out to meet friends in the middle of the night dressed as men, having her lovers come into her room without bothering to hide the signs, etc. Barbara continually does her best to protect Sophie from Elizabeth (who really dislikes both Peter and Sophie and only loves Paul) and lies to her. Alongside Sophie’s life, Barbara’s life also changes as her husband eventually dies in war. She is left alone with their seven year old daughter and a loyal female servant. It is at this point that Barbara realizes how badly she treated her husband and how she had happiness within her grasp as a young newly married woman/mother but failed to see it.

Eventually, the book talks of how Elizabeth’s health fails, how Peter’s reign is disliked, and how Sophie gains the support of the soldiers. Once Sophie becomes Catherine the Great, Barbara becomes Chief Steward and her friendship with Catherine is at an all time high. Things are running smoothly and everything is going as it should. However, through certain circumstances, Barbara discovers that Catherine employs other ‘tongues’ beside her and also uses her daughter to keep tabs on Barbara’s life. She is furious, seeing these things as a betrayal and unwilling to have her daughter involved in court life. She confronts Catherine who looks at her with pity and tell her that it’s no big deal. Barbara is still really angry, so she decides to take some time off and takes her daughter and servant travelling with her. They first visit Paris and then go to Poland, Barbara’s homeland. The novel ends with her deciding to stay in Poland and leaving the court behind.

As you can tell from the review, the book doesn’t really talk about Catherine the Great that much, it’s more about Barbara and her life and how it relates to the royal court. And actually, that’s one of my critiques of the book. It’s misleading in its title and cover blurb. It doesn’t really tell the story of Sophie’s rise to becoming Catherine the Great. We’re only given side hints as to what type of character Sophie possesses. Hence, our view of Sophie/ Catherine depends on our own individual interpretation. However, even then, it’s difficult to feel too connected to Sophie, because she just doesn’t feature predominantly. If anything, I felt like we got more of a glimpse into Empress Elizabeth and her court. We learn more about Elizabeth’s lifestyle and feelings and motivations, then we do about Sophie. And more than that, we learn extensively about Barbara. At times, it felt like this book was about Barbara who accidentally fell into the royal court and her life that followed, vs. Barbara as a proxy for readers to experience Sophie’s rise to power. On that note, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, because on her own, Barbara is a decent character. She’s definitely flawed and does unlikeable things at times, but she’s also quite engaging, or at least I thought so. I enjoyed reading about her life outside the palace and her various thought processes. I just wish that the author/ publishers had been more honest in their descriptions about this book.

Which brings me to my second point, I actually quite enjoyed the writing in the novel. It was clear and understandable. I also found the descriptions of the Russian Royal court to be quite apt and well done. It didn’t feel too overly-descriptive and I quite enjoyed the little touches Ms. Stachniak added, like when talking about how the characters would drink kvass vs just using the english translation of the word (beer-like drink). They helped the book have an authentic, historical feel. All in all, a pretty enjoyable historical fiction read. Albeit more geared toward a specific era in time vs. a specific person in history.

My rating: read this if you’re curious about what the Russian Royal Court was like, but you can skip it if you want to read about Catherine the Great and her rise to power.

Siddhartha Book Review

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So there’s two main reasons as to why I picked up this book. Firstly, it was placed in the ‘classics’ section in my library and as someone who has made it a goal to read as many classics she can, I felt compelled to read it. Secondly, it talked about Siddhartha and Buddha. I’m not particularly religious, but I find myself really digging Buddhism a lot of the time so I figured this book was a safe bet. So basically, it was a book that I assumed I would probably enjoy because I enjoy classics and Buddhism. Unfortunately, my logic did not turn out as I’d assumed it would.

Siddhartha purports to tell the story of a Brahim named Siddhartha. As a young boy, in an effort to discover atman (enlightenment), he leaves home. He ends up joining some ascetics and begins to adapt to their lifestyle, believing that once you strip away everything, you’ll be able to finally find enlightenment. Once he realizes that he won’t find nirvana with the ascetics, he gets drawn to one who has been assumed to already been enlightened, Gautama Buddha. He meets Buddha and is taken aback by his holiness. However, he discovers that Buddha’s teachings don’t exactly gel with him, so he declines to serve him and be a part of his group. Siddhartha believes in the unity of the world, which contrasts with Buddha’s teachings to transcend the world. Similarly, Siddhartha argues that teachings of any nature, including those of Buddha’s, while worthwhile, cannot really take the place of individual experience. Teachings can only teach you, they do not lead you to the experiences that really *change/ broaden your understanding/ enlighten* you. And those experiences are necessary in order for one to achieve enlightenment.

At this point, he comes to a stand still, not sure of what to do. He decides to go across a river to meet people on the other side/ see what life is like there. In his journey, he meets a curious ferryman who prophesies that Siddhartha will return to him and repay him in some way. Anyways, Siddhartha comes to the other side of the river. It’s a city filled with merchants, barbers, courtesans, etc. As he went to one extreme to find enlightenment and failed to find it, he decides to go to the other extreme. Hence, he meets a courtesan, named Kamala, and learns how to love (i.e. sex/ seduction techniques). On her insistence, he also becomes involved with a local merchant becomes a merchant himself. He remains in the city for a long time, continually taking part in life’s pleasures and slowly forgetting his teachings from the ascetics. Instead of stripping himself of everything, he gives in to everything. However, through time, he realizes that despite going to the other extreme, he still hasn’t obtained enlightenment. The guilty, materialistic, lustful life was a farce, a game, to cover the emptiness inside.

Taken aback and overwhelmed, Siddhartha leaves the city and contemplates committing suicide. However, after a spiritual moment with the word “om” and a chance meeting with an old friend, he decides to live and instead devote himself to the river. So he reunites with the ferryman and attempt to learn from the river’s spirituality. He and the ferryman become quite famous as sages as the two are content to detach themselves from the world and just listen to people and convey the messages of the river.

A few years later, it turns out that Kamala had given birth to Siddhartha’s son after he left the city, and had become Buddha’s devotee. She comes to the river to ferry across to meet the Buddha and chances upon Siddhartha. However, this reunion is short-lived as she is fatally bitten by a snake and dies. Siddhartha then assumes responsibility for his young son, who is himself bitterly opposed to this. The son refuses to listen to Siddhartha and adapt to his simplistic ways. Siddhartha tries to kill him with kindness (figuratively!) because he loves him so much, but the boy refuses and runs away after stealing all his money. Siddhartha attempts to go after his son but is persuaded by the ferryman to let his son find his own path; just like how Siddhartha found his own as a young boy. Peering into to the river with the ferryman, Siddhartha realizes that all things are connected in unity and that time is immaterial. So happiness and sadness, sufferings and pleasure, good and evil, are all together and part of the oneness of the world. In other words, he attains enlightenment.

Many years later, his friend having heard of a great enlightened man living near the river (Siddhartha) comes to meet him. When he recognizes Siddhartha, he asks Siddhartha to teach him or at least impart some of his wisdom. Siddhartha initially refuses but then relents, telling his friend of how time doesn’t exist and how for each true statement there is an equally opposite true one. His friend thinks of Siddhartha as a mad man and gets ready to leave. Before he leaves, he kisses Siddartha’s forehead, on Siddhartha’s request, and immediately experiences the same timelessness Siddhartha had seen in the river. Hence, the book ends.

To be completely honest, I did not find the book to be as enlightening (LOL) as I hoped it would be. I just, I felt bored. A lot of the ideas and themes discussed in this book were things that I had already looked into/ heard about. So there wasn’t anything extremely new in it for me to learn about. I think I expected too much.

That said, this doesn’t mean that the book is a bad book. I mean, I could see how this book has attained its ‘classic’ status. It does grapple with some really interesting themes and the final idea about how everything is connected and how each experiences matters is a really great one. One that I actually believe in as well. So in terms of message, it’s really solid. In terms of presentation, it’s pretty solid as well. The idea of someone going from one extreme to another in an attempt to find something is one that has been done before but always remains enjoyable to read. Siddhartha’s journey was indeed nice to read about. And there were some incredibly insightful sentences and paragraphs in the book that I really, really enjoyed. To illustrate my point, I’m going to actually copy down a portion of the book:

Siddhartha said: “What could I say to you, Venerable One? Perhaps that you are seeking too hard? That you seek so hard that you do not find?

“What do you mean?” asked Govinda. 

“When someone seeks,” said Siddhartha, “then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing, to take in nothing because he always thinks only about the thing he is seeking, because he has one goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal. You, Venerable One, may truly be a seeker, for in striving toward your goal, you fail to see certain thing that are right under your nose.”              p 121-122 

Like I said, it is pretty insightful and quite profound. The passage also illustrates another feature of the book, it’s simple writing style. I think that’s actually the one thing that made me struggle with the book the most. I just, I was not a big fan of the writing, or perhaps I should say translation. It was written in german and then translated into english. I think I would’ve probably enjoyed the german version more, if I could read german. I enjoyed what was being said but my enjoyment was often brought down by the writing style. I found it difficult to keep up and found myself just reading over passages rather than reading through them. Perhaps I’m quite challenged when it comes to reading philosophical content. In sum, I think it’s a good book and worthwhile, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations and left me a little puzzled in my feelings about it. Good message, but not quite delivered the way I hoped it would be.

My rating read it to learn about what enlightenment could be, but don’t expect to have your life changed by it.

Empress Book Review

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To be honest, I’m not completely sure what I think about this novel. I have a lot of conflicting ideas and thoughts and so it’s difficult to form a general consensus about it. But since writing always helps me organize my thoughts (well somewhat organize), I’m going to write about it and review it.

Published in 2006, Empress is a fictional biographical novel about the only ever woman Chinese emperor, Empress Wu, written by French-Chinese authoress Shan Sa. Empress Wu was a ruler who officially ruled as Emperor during the Tang Dynasty, or rather her self-created Zhou Dynasty. She was actually the reason I picked up this book — I had heard of her earlier and thought her achievements to be exemplary. However, despite my broad admiration for her, I hadn’t really studied her or her history in depth. I had heard of some of the slander against her but I always figured that the criticisms were false and bourn out of jealousy for such a powerful figure. The fact that she was a woman who managed to reach such heights during such a male dominated era and culture was phenomenal to me. I was curious to see how exactly she reached her position, and the book claimed to reveal just that. Written in first person perspective, the Empress is our lens. As this is a fictional account (because no first-person account of her reign from her perspective endures I believe), I knew some things would be fabricated. However, I also found myself quite taken aback and just how accurate this novel was as well in terms of events. That said, I’m certain that there were more than a few liberties taken as well.

Anyways, from a purely reviewer perspective, the book is quite engaging, especially story-wise. It purports to tell the story of Empress Wu and her rise to power and does so by detailing numerous situations and her decisions. For example, there’s quite a few passages where the reader is actually able to read the politics surrounding government and how Wu negotiates and manipulates other around her. And since the politics surrounding situations have actually been kept in annals, they are quite accurate. Empress Wu’s life is indeed fascinating. Writing-wise, the book is decent as well. I heard that this book was originally written in French and then translated to English. I could kinda see that and also not. Whoever translated it, did a really good job because the writing flowed beautifully in english. But there were definitely a few creative grammar liberties taken. I found a few techniques of hers to be quite beautiful and effective. But I also eventually grew tired of the amount of description in the book. It just felt like too much. Yet, at the same time, I also feel like I cannot really hold this against Ms. Sa because 7th Century China was indeed beautiful and only copious amounts of description could probably do it justice. Plus, at least initially, her descriptions contribute to the grandeur of Empress Wu’s surroundings and rise. So I’m mixed on that.

What I’m also mixed upon I suppose, is the character of Empress Wu herself. Or rather, her activities. I suppose I am quite naive because the lifestyle Empress Wu experiences is something I would not have expected or suspected. For example, the book makes mentions of threesomes, incest, and demons. I had expected murders, conspiracies, and political intrigue because that is what history has generally been comprised off, but not the above mentioned things. Which brought me to another query, just how accurate was this book? The problem I have such literature (this has happened before btw, I just never learn LOL), is that I get frustrated at how difficult it is to verify the accuracy of things. I end up enjoying or disliking real-life characters based upon fictional accounts, which themselves manipulate readers by refashioning events, and can never figure out if my feelings are based upon the right information or not. Part of me enjoys this exercise because it functions as a two-way mirror, especially if I have prior knowledge of events. For example, contemporary history says that Empress Wu poisoned her own child in an effort to pin the blame on her husband’s previous wife so she could get rid of them and usurp power. The book, on the other hand, implies that the daughter was poisoned by someone else and that the poisoning became the catalyst for her husband to give her more power. It’s really a matter of perspective. On the other hand, part of me also hates this exercise because its so inherently manipulative and its so difficult to ascertain if the reader’s interpretation of the characters can be considered historically accurate or not. But I also hesitate to completely dislike this book just because of how detailed it is in regards to Imperial China’s architects, fashion, and lifestyle. In conclusion, I have mixed feelings.

My rating: read it to learn more about Imperial China and Empress Wu, but keep an open mind about her character.

The Invisible Library Book Review

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Although this book was published in 2015, my library only acquired it in, or at least displayed it, in the middle of 2016. Right away, the beautiful navy and gold cover caught my eye. However, it was actually the small blurb on the back cover that convinced me that this was a book I had to read, at all costs. In essence, the book is about a young woman named Irene, who is actually “a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all the different realities.” I don’t know about you all, but growing up, there were two careers I was really drawn towards: being a spy (hey Charlie’s Angels) and being a librarian (a dream almost every book lover has had — like forreal). Although I recognize that there’s no hope of me achieving either of those careers, it’s been difficult to discard that dream. And then comes along this book, that literally speaks to me in my soul (AKA gets my dream). Unfortunately, my need to read this book had to wait a while because other people were faster than me and borrowed it from the library before I could. Anywho, I finally got my hands on it this week and I’m super ready and excited to review it.

The book starts with an introduction to Irene. We see her on a book retrieving mission and get to understand what it is that she does, i.e. understand what her job entails. We’re also introduced to the Library; albeit this introduction is short and shallow. The book then moves onto the real adventure, i.e. another book retrieving adventure. After finishing her initial book job, Irene arrives back to the Library only to find out that she’s been given a new mission and a new protege, Kai. As the book is mainly from her POV, we don’t really know too much about Kai, aside from what Irene knows, which itself isn’t that much. Kai claims to be from an alternate reality and has been studying to become a Librarian (Irene’s official position is junior Librarian) for five years. He’s been itching to go on real fieldwork but he’s also quite mysterious when it comes to his past and behaviours. Regardless, Irene and Kai travel to another reality to retrieve the book they were assigned. However, when they get to the alternate dimension, it turns out that the book has already been stolen and that there’s also a lot of other people out to get it. So the two have their work cut out for them. That’s the basic, very, very basic gist of the story. Of course a lot of shit happens, but I’m refraining from writing it all down because I’d like it to be a nice surprise for readers when they read the book. That said, I will discuss some of the other aspects of the book, namely the characters and story.

Irene, as I’ve already mentioned, is the main character in this book. She’s actually pretty awesome. She’s very smart, witty, cool, nice, and an all around chill person. Basically, she’s everything you’d want your protagonist to be. But I’d also argue that she’s far more complex and quite relatable. For one thing, while she’s not completely confident about her abilities, she does in fact have confidence in them. She knows what she can do and she works hard on maintaining her abilities and acquiring new ones. She’s not a passive character at all. I also quite enjoyed her thought processes. In one passage, she remarks upon the trying position of being a leader. Usually, (even in books), people assume that being a leader means that you are in control of the situation, that you are confident in your abilities and those of your team, that you have an idea or two of what you’re doing, that you believe in your decisions and have knowledge to back them up. But in reality, it’s often the opposite. Having been in leadership positions, I have first hand felt the insecurity and fear that crops up when you have to make decisions or lead a group of people. Often times, you’re not even sure if the decision you’re taking is the right one. And there’s also the difficulty of trying to pretend like you know everything will be alright. Plus, whenever something goes wrong (something always does LOL), it’s on your head alone. It’s not the easiest job in the world. Or as Irene puts it, “A leader’s job was a crock of shit” (129). As the sentence also implies, Irene’s way of thinking is both fresh and relatable. Another characteristic of hers I really liked, was her way of dealing with her former commander, Bradamant. Bradamant is not the nicest of characters and when on missions with younger students, she tended to take all the credit and blame the students for any mistakes. Irene experienced this first hand so obviously she had some resentment toward Bradamant. But, as some of you can probably relate, resentment doesn’t necessarily mean hatred or indifference. And this is exactly what Irene experiences and remarks upon. When Brandamant is in danger, Irene cares, even if she doesn’t understand why she does. After all, the woman basically tried to ruin Irene’s career and yet Irene tries to help her even if she doesn’t want to (heart vs. mind). I found that instance just so understandable and relatable, having gone through such conundrums myself. Human emotions are so complex and being able to see them and understand them through the lens of fictional characters, is just something else. For me, it really helps me appreciate the complexity and the absurdity of our feelings. Irene was a really well thought-out character.

What I also quite enjoyed, was that despite being the main character, Irene was not always the one solving the entire mystery or noticing strange things. Okay well, disclaimer: she does end up solving the end of the mystery, but the blanks and other parts of it are filled in by others. One character who played such a role, was detective Vale. Unlike Irene and Kai, Vale was actually a resident of the alternative reality the two characters journeyed to. He gets entangled into their affairs as the story goes on and actually does quite a bet of deductive work. The author’s biography stated that the author was into Sherlock Holmes as a child, and I think Vale’s character is a reflection of that. He’s very perceptive and notices minute details. If anything, I’d have to say that at times, he was actually a better investigator than Irene as she had the tendency to get lost in her thoughts and forget to surveil her surroundings. Vale’s character also sort of functioned as proxy for readers as he often posed questions about the Library and the general book world to Irene. It is through his questions and reasoning that we get a glimpse into the workings of the library (along with Irene’s thoughts). While I did appreciate that, for me, Vale also sort of fell short as a character. I’m not quite sure if this was Genevieve Cogman’s goal, but Vale came across as your stock, oldish/middle aged English detective. He came from a reasonably well-off family but pursued detective-hood (?), has a nice house with lots of books, is friends with the police, is very knowledgeable about the seedy underbelly of his alternative dimension, and is often on guard. Maybe I’ve been reading too many Hercule Poirot (Agatha Christie) books or watching too much Elementary (hello Sherlock Holmes), but Vale just came across as so stereotypical. Mind you, it’s not a terrible thing. It’s just sort of predictable. But part of me wonders if this was done purposefully. I mean, this is a book about libraries and books and it would be pretty much in character (LOL) to introduce and use the trope of the typical detective. I mean, Irene even remarks upon her affinity for detective novels and characters when thinking about Vale. So maybe it was just Genevieve Cogman being ironic? Not sure but just something to think about I guess.

On the topic of predictable, we also have Kai functioning as the arch-type sidekick to Irene. Whenever she needs help, he’s there to lend a hand. She bounces ideas off him. He challenges her with his ideas (though they aren’t always right LOL). He’s referred to as her assistant in the back book blurb and he just functions as that. Although he’s also sort of mysterious (actually, it’s not that mysterious because Irene, being a sharp little cookie she is, manages to uncover his secret pretty quickly so when the truth does come out, she’s not that shocked and nor is the reader), he’s also quite predictable. But again, just like there was nothing wrong with Vale being predictable, there’s nothing wrong with Kai being predictable. And to be honest, I quite enjoyed having Kai around. A lot of the times, at least with mystery, adventure novels (at least some of the more popular ones), the main character is usually a boy who is a dynamic hero with some other sidekicks, or the main character is a girl who transforms from a damsel in distress to a warrior through the help of some other characters. But here, the main character is a woman, who is self assured, confident, and smart. She’s able to figure out things on her own and can save herself. Instead, the male protagonist functions as a side kick, who learns from her and even gets saved by her. He respects her and her mind and understands her authority. I just, I found it a nice change and quite inspiring as well. We need more women protagonists like Irene; smart, complex, and flawed.

Now coming to the story. If you haven’t been able to glean from my review, the world building in this novel is complicated. Briefly put, the Library exists in this timeless (?) dimension with doors leading to other alternate realities. These other alternative realities are all different realities of Earth, but they have different laws governing them. For example, there were worlds that combined magic and technology (aka Cyborgs and other machinery). There were worlds that focused strictly on magics like necromancy, spells, and gargoyles. There were worlds without any magic (aka our version of Earth). And then among the various possibilities that existed, there were worlds that were “chaos-infested” which meant that the balance between magic and natural order tipped toward magic resulting in the creation and sustenance of supernatural beings (vampires, fairy folk, werewolves) and magic alongside other non-magical humans. Sometimes, these parallel dimensions also had different histories, resulting in different historical events. So for example, in the alternative London Irene and Kai travel to, India functions as a trader partner to the British rather than being colonized by them. So basically, a very complicated premise, well depending on how you see it. Personally, I quite enjoyed the world building as I’m a huge fan of fantasy. But at the same time, I was definitely a little confused at times when it came to trying to understand this new world/ dimension idea. Maybe I just need things to be a little bit more spelled out for me.

However, despite the complicated world, I really enjoyed the sense of adventure that the novel presented. As mentioned earlier, the novel, in essence, is about the adventure Irene and Kai go on in order to complete their mission of retrieving the book they were assigned. I had a lot of fun reading the book (and imagining myself as a professional book spy LOL). And it also helps that Genevieve Cogman is a pretty good writer. I was able to imagine quite a few scenes very easily and I very much enjoyed how her writing steered clear of overly complicated descriptions (it was already complicated enough LOL!) and stuck to describing things in an easy-to-imagine manner. Particularly, I quite enjoyed how she didn’t really ascribe her characters to a specific race (or maybe that might just be my ignorance?). It really helped me imagine the characters any way I wanted and helped me get into the skin of Irene (although the fact that she was described as being 5’9 kinda made me sad haha). And finally, I’m a huge fact of the fan that Genevieve Cogman plans on making this a series and continue fleshing out the characters she introduced in this book (or at least I hope for the latter!). I’m really excited to see how she gets back to this world and what new adventures await the two/ trio, along with how the other mysteries posed near the end of the book get solved!

My rating: definitely read it if you love books, like adventure, enjoy mystery novels, and want to be inspired by  a cool female protagonist!

Views on Twilight series

So my blog tag-line states that I’ll be posting my views and reviews here. While I’ve definitely posted quite a few reviews (and even some quotes), I haven’t really posted any views. So without further ado, let’s begin. Word of caution, these ‘views’ I’ll be posting will vary in format and topic. On that note, today’s topic is the Twilight book series, written by Stephenie Meyer (again — super spoilery so beware) and will take the form of a view with a review.

When Twilight first came out in 2005, I didn’t really know about it. I know it apparently made The New York Times Bestseller List, but since I don’t follow it religiously, I had no idea the book existed. My introduction to Twilight only began after the movies had begun filming and the hysteria that would soon overwhelm was just starting. It was literally by sheer chance that I picked up the book in Chapters. And to be honest, I’m not ashamed (at least not anymore LOL) to admit that I really, really enjoyed the book. I was an impressionable teenager and Bella’s story seemed so romantic and Edward seemed so lovely. Together, their love story was exactly what made my angst-y teenage heart melt. My like of the series was further fuelled when my best friend also read them and got into it. There’s nothing like having a friend to share in your obsessions and so Twilight became ours. She fuelled my adoration for the book, while I fuelled hers. And then the movie came out.

I remember being so incredibly angry when the first movie came out in 2008. I felt like I was ripped off. The movie, for those of you that have seen it, was just something else. It was filmed by this indie filmmaker who was obsessed with random moving camera angles (there’s literally a scene where the camera is pointed toward some trees at an upward angle and it’s just spinning LOL), cool blue tones (there wasn’t a single warm tone in the entire movie tbh), random musical intervals (scenes with just music and nothing else), and of course, those crazy close-up face shots (where the actors try painfully hard to act LOL). If you can’t tell by my tone, the movie was a mess. Sidenote – I actually re-watched the movie recently and found that I didn’t mind it as much (of course this experience was also made better by my siblings joining me and making snide remarks and witty comments during each scene and thus fashioning the movie into some sort of satirical piece rather than the angst-filled, serious love story it was supposed to be LOL). Not only was the direction weird, but the acting, my god the acting was just atrocious. I’ve written about Kristen Stewart and her lack of acting chops on this site before, so I’ll skip her here. But it wasn’t just her acting that was off, Robert Pattinson was hilariously bad too. All he did was grimace like he was in pain, or at least try to make it look like he was grimacing in pain LOL. The two leads were so incredibly one dimensional and flat in their acting, my teenage self was mortified. The side characters were 100x more engaging, and it’s actually telling that Anna Kendrick, who was on screen for maybe 20 mins max, made such an impact, that it led to her getting more movies and critical acclaim. But even if you take acting aside, the casting itself, in terms of looks was so weird too.

The Cullens are described as being these perfect, too-beautiful-to-be-real sort of people and so when it came to the movie, I was really excited to see who was who. The only people who I felt sort of embodied their characters, were Kellan Lutz as Emmett and Ashley Greene as Alice (although her tallness was really distracting; Alice is supposed to be barely 5 ft and Ashley Greene was almost as tall as her co-stars, and the hair was pretty bad too). Okay, if I want to be kind, I can maybe also justify casting Jackson Rathbone as Jasper, but that’s it. Peter Facinelli as Carlisle and Elizabeth Reaser as Esme did not work. They both tried to make it work with their acting, for which I will give them props, but looks-wise, they didn’t fit, especially not in the way their characters were described in the books. The worst casting of all though, was Nikki Reed as Rosalie. Let me put it this way, in the books, Rosalie was described as being as pale as ice with super icy blonde hair and a tall, imposing height and presence. Nikki Reed, is tan with brown hair and is super, super tiny. I mean, she’s actually really pretty, but the way she was made up in the movie, with makeup to make her look lighter, her hair dyed blonde, and wearing triple times the platform heel to look taller, was just bad and wrong. They did her so dirty. I mean, how difficult was it to just cast some tall looking blonde, or at least any sort of tall person? Alas, it’s useless to talk about these things now because the movies have finished. However, as the author of Twilight is still alive and could potentially write more books (remember JKR always said she’d never visit HP again but she did!), I think it’s still worthwhile to talk about the books.

I already mentioned how I enjoyed the initial love story between Bella and Edward. I think what also facilitated my quick positive reaction to Twilight was the writing. Many people have commented on this before, saying that Stephenie Meyer isn’t the most brilliant or original writer. And to be honest, maybe she’s not. But I think it kinda works for her in Twilight. Because the books are written in such a simplistic manner, it makes them very easy to understand. Sure you don’t get the pleasure that derives from reading beautiful, poetic, flowery language, but at the same time, it also doesn’t necessarily take away from the reading experience. Not all books have to be very touching or beautiful to read. Sometimes, even fluff books can be enjoyable; and a fluff book is exactly what I consider Twilight. It’s simple with a relatively uncomplicated plot. And like I said earlier, it works for Twilight. But I think it was also this very thing that ended up making the other books in the series less enjoyable. Because the writing was so simplistic, when Stephenie Meyer attempted to increase the drama and add more angst and complications to the plot, it kinda fell flat. A lot of times, writers can make certain scenes or situations sound a lot more emotional/ excitable than they really are. I think Cynthia Ozick’s book, Heir to a Glimmering World, is a good example of that. Those of you who have read my review on her book probably know that I wasn’t a big fan of the book at all. But, since she’s such a good writer, she was able to infuse depth and create a rich reading experience in quite a few scenes that were drab otherwise. However, within the Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer didn’t possess that talent, or if she did, she didn’t display it. As a result, once the reader stepped back from the book and stopped to think about it, the two main characters and their love story actually got really annoying and stale eventually. As the Twilight series continued on, that’s exactly what happened to my friend and I. We grew really annoyed with Bella and Edward and ended up discarding our adoration for the series.

That said, I still cannot bring myself to say that the series was trash or bad or whatever. Despite her lackluster characters, I think Stephanie Meyer really did create some interesting side characters with fascinating back stories. I mean, take the Cullens for example (since I was discussing them earlier anyway). Carlisle is a vampire who has no problems being near humans with blood and has never drank it. Just in terms of like logical application (LOL okay bending the rules a little), how would one even go about accomplishing that? How much personal development would someone like Carlisle, who spent his human life thinking of vampires as evil and trying to kill them, need to go through in order to become what he is now? Or, if you prefer action to mental trauma, think of Jasper and his experience in fighting through Vampire wars. That’s a story just begging to be told (think of the logistics of having to train newborns and then direct them in battle and improvise battle strategies). Think of Alice and her experience as being psychic in the early 1900s, being imprisoned in an insane asylum and befriending a vampire. And finally, think of Rosalie and her backstory. I actually found Rosalie’s story to be really cool and even though her acting bit in the Eclipse movie was really short, I think it was one of the best parts of the entire movie. She literally choreographed the murder of her rapists and did it in the most dramatic and theatrical way ever. That’s literally brilliant LOL. And on that topic, imagine hearing their stories from their own mouths, aka through their mental narration. How incredibly interesting would that be? I bet Rosalie’s narration would be a hoot and Emmett’s narration would be just downright hilarious. Jasper’s would probably be both, bitingly sarcastic with humour thrown in.

And the interesting side characters aren’t just limited to the Cullens. Despite its mixed reception, Breaking Dawn is actually one of my favourite books in the series just because of the numerous side characters it introduces. I had so much fun imagining each distinct character and fashioning out little backstories for them. There’s Nahuel and his vampire father and life as a vampire hybrid. There’s the Amazonian coven and their exclusive lifestyle. There’s Leah and her experience as the first ever female werewolf. There’s Benjamin with the ability to actually manipulate his physical surroundings. There’s Vladimir and Stefan with their vendetta and past with the Volturi. There’s the Volturi’s themselves and their rise to power. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s so many wonderful hints to the amazing backstories of the compelling side characters. I find them all so creative, with so much more potential and vitality than Edward and Bella (and even Jacob). And that’s why I can’t label the series as being trashy or just horrible (although I will say that the series has some real critiques), because there’s so much potential. My hope is that one day, Stephenie Meyer will go back and visit her Twilight universe again. But instead of sticking with her main trio, she’ll bring forth a new perspective and expand on some of the characters she introduced. And even if she doesn’t do that, it’s okay because there’s so many talented fanfiction writers who have taken her hints about the side characters, recognized their potential, and have crafted wonderfully beautiful stories about them.

In sum: Despite its simplistic writing style and horrible movie adaptations, the Twilight series has an incredibly interesting world with some fascinating characters whose amazing backstories just waiting to be told.

Murder on the Orient Express Book Review

Firstly, I’d like to apologize for being so awol these past couple of days/ weeks. Turns out, I no longer have as much free time on my hands and as a result, my reading and writing hobbies have really taken a back seat. Hence, this entry itself will probably read quite choppily and awkwardly as it’s definitely been some time since I wrote something. As such, I’d like to offer my apologies in the beginning of this post and just say that I will not begrudge any of you if you comment on how horrible this review it. With that out of the way, let’s begin is super spoiler-y review (hint – I actually give away everything LOL).

As some of you may know, I have a friend who adores Agatha Christie, so I’ve been slowly going through some of Agatha Christie’s books on the insistence of my friend. While I have found some books of hers to be absolutely wonderfully charming (recommend Endless Night to EVERYONE), there are some that I do not like quite as much. This book falls in the middle of that spectrum, but I suppose that actually also might be my fault. As one of her more well known and celebrated books, I had expected Murder on the Orient Express to blow my mind and leave me amazed. And when I didn’t get that reaction, I was left a little confused and humdrum.

Briefly put, the book revolves around a murder committed on the Orient Express (surprise, surprise LOL). Midway through the journey, the train gets stuck in snow, and amid the stalling, the dead body of a passenger is found. Luckily, famous detective Hercule Poirot in also on the train, and he spends the book trying to and successfully finding out who murdered the victim. Spoiler alert – it was a joint effort by all 12-13 people on the train coach. It turns out that the dead passenger, Cassetti/ Ratchet, was a horrible man who had kidnapped a young heiress, Daisy Armstrong, in exchange for money. After receiving the money, it was discovered that he had actually killed Daisy and never meant to exchange her back in the first place. However, he managed to evade justice and left the country (USA) with the money and changed his name. As he was a horrible man, most people who came into contact with him weren’t big fans of him and some could even sense the evil coming from him, like Poirot. On his second (?) day on the train, Cassetti approaches Poirot and offeres him a job. Apparently, Cassetti had been receiving threats and felt his life was in danger, so he asked Poirot to figure out who was after him. However, due to the evil vibe Poirot could sense from Cassetti, Poirot declines to take on the case. The next day, Cassetti is found dead and the director of the train, M. Bouc, also a friend of Poirot, enlists in Poirot’s help to find the murderer aboard the train (remember the train had gotten stuck in snow). The rest of the book is about how Poirot comes to the the conclusion of who the murderer was.

In terms of the mystery, the book is actually pretty solid. Agatha Christie leaves quite a few red herrings around and makes it incredibly difficult to guess who the murderer could be. I myself felt like I went around in more than a few circles trying to figure out who murdered Cassetti. So I’d definitely rate the book highly when it came to the suspense. Similarly, the characters are actually quite enjoyable to read as well. I know I’ve ragged on Poirot in the past, severely disliking his pompous personality, but I gotta say, I actually didn’t mind him in this book so much. Maybe it’s because he was with friends so he was on good behaviour or because there was no Hastings around to focus Poirot’s rudeness, but I actually found Poirot to be very well behaved and likeable. Now don’t get me wrong, he was still pompous, but that pomposity was toned down here. Instead of getting a prideful vibe from him, I got more of an fascinated vibe. In other words, in the previous books, I always got the feeling that Poirot was incredibly proud of his ability to solve cases and that pride was what kept him going. In this book however, I got the feeling that Poirot was instead being fuelled by his curiosity rather than his pride; he genuinely liked the puzzle of trying to find a murderer on a stalled train. Either way, I really quite enjoyed reading the book. Similarly, when it came to the technical details, the book performed very well. The writing was easy to read as always and the plot was laid out in a manner that felt organic and yet still produced more mystery as the book went on.

Some of you might be wondering why after all these praises, I did not find the book to be an absolutely wonderful reading experience. And that, my friends, is due to the focus in the book. I know the book revolved around Poirot as he is Agatha Christie’s main character and hence resolved around the murder that was committed, but somehow, after the conclusion was revealed, I found myself increasingly drawn to the murderers themselves. How did they all manage to meet and plan the murder? Who came up with each idea? How did they all come into contact with each other after so many years? Why wait so many years to commit the murder in the first place? What were their discussions like after Poirot took on the case? I just found myself really into the planning and strategizing of the murderers rather than the case. I mean, the entire case is so damn interesting. The way Poirot solved it was amazing in itself, but the way it all came together, albeit behind the scenes, also seems incredible to me. I really wish Agatha Christie had focused on explaining the murderers planning and processes. I think I would’ve been more engrossed in the book then.

My ratingread it for the Agatha Christie style and to experience an interesting mystery that you have no hopes of solving before Poirot (LOL).

Family Planning Book Review

Unlike my previous rant about book covers, I wasn’t really attracted to the cover for this book. What caught my attention, was the fact that the author of Family Planning, Karan Mahajan, was apparently only 24 when he wrote the book and the reviews on the back of the book claimed that it was amazing that the author managed to write such a well-written and humorous book, considering his age. As a 20-something who is still wondering where her life is going, the fact that a 24 year old had his life so put together and had managed to write a best-selling book, was simultaneously awe-inspiring and bitter. Feeling a bit down and depressed, I attempted to walk past the book and shrug off the feelings it inspired, but I couldn’t and succumbed to the temptation to read. And as always, here’s the spoilery review.

The book is about the Ahuja family, situated in New Delhi, India. It runs through the life of three main characters and features only their POV’s. The father, Rakesh Ahuja, is the Minister of Urban Development and has over 13 kids with his wife. The mother, Sangita Ahuja is the perpetually pregnant, tv-obssessed, placid wife. And the oldest son, Arjun Ahuja is a 16 year old with a lot of feelings. Simply put, the book captures a slice of their normal life, between some monumental moments.

While the book goes through each POV in an alternating manner, for the purposes of this review, I’ve decided to separate the alternating POV and instead focus upon the individual stories of the characters. Hence, the book begins with Arjun walking-in on his parents having sex and begins fantasizing about having sex with his crush, a girl who rides the same bus as him, Aarti. In order to impress Aarti, he lies and says he has a band. He then quickly forms a band with his friends. After a particularly uninspiring band practise, his friends decide to find a new place to practise and accidentally hit a girl with their car. The boys are scared but Arjun’s father comes to the rescue and uses his clout as Minister to make sure that no charges are laid and that the girl is taken care of. Arjun tries to act out in attempts that his parents will notice him, but things don’t go exactly as he hoped. He finds out about his parent’s past and begins training under his father, presumably to enter politics (despite his young age). In other words, the typical sort of boyhood story mixed in with some different elements.

Rakesh’s story is a bit different. In addition to worrying about Arjun, Rakesh has to contend with idiotic Indian politics. It turns out that despite his civil engineering degree, his idea of constructing flyovers to deal with Delhi’s traffic backfired and the city’s traffic is worser than before. Within his political party itself, he has to deal with increasing isolation from of his party members along with an enmity with a fellow Minister, Yogiraj. Rakesh attempts to double-cross his party members and party leader (the two are at logger heads) and ends up resigning and ending his political career. Along the way, we’re also introduced to his past. Turns out, Arjun was bourn from his first wife, Rashmi, who died while the small family was living in America. Unable to handle her death alone, he moved back to India with his son and began his descent into the world of Indian politics. Feeling he needed a wife for his political career and wanting to exasperate his parents, he meets a beautiful, busty woman and decides to marry her. On the marriage day however, he ends up marrying a more plainer bride and decides to stay with her, in an attempt to spite his parents and rebel against their expectations. The catch is, he is only attracted to his wife when she’s pregnant, hence the 13 kids.

Coming to the wife Sangita. Unlike what Rakesh believed, Sangita herself was seeming ‘tricked’ into the marriage. Growing up with a mother who abhorred her skin colour/ looks, Sangita always wanted to impress her/ gain unconditional love from someone. Rakesh was always wrapped up in the memories of his previous wife and so in her sort of ‘revenge-ish/ placid’ manner, Sangita decides to become an impassive statue. She remains calm to all of Rakesh’s outbursts and refuses to react (aside from when giving birth). She adores Arjun but fears that he’ll separate from her once he learns that he isn’t her biological son. In addition to that, she also spends large amounts of time watching television and having her kids help her with the younger kids. The book ends with her giving birth.

From the summaries, it’s pretty evidential that there isn’t anything sort of ground-breaking in the story. I mean, you could totally imagine some boy lying to impress a girl. A father trying to keep it together/ failing and saying the wrong words instead. Or even a tv-obsessed mother who bottles things up and never mentions how she feels. The three are stories that are easily imaginable and seem quite typical. But I think that’s actually where the ingenuity of the book lies. Despite its seemingly simplistic content, it actually provides a really interesting look into the psyche of India and it’s citizens and highlights the contradictions that make it up.

For example, for a country where talking about sex and being a sexual being are abhorred, the characters spend a lot of time talking and thinking about it. In fact, the whole Mr. Ahuja having 13 kids also seeming calls attention to the insane population boom India is going through. Of course that issue also has to do with lack of available birth control, but sexual desire is still a huge factor. Similarly, politics is also made into a joke through the mixing of money and entertainment. In the book, one famous tv character dies and people begin rioting in the streets. In fact, the reason Mr. Ahuja’s party (at least one reason why) is feuding with their party leader is due to the tv character’s death. The MP’s, people elected into government in hopes that they would improve the lives of ordinary Indians, focus their time and efforts into reviving a stupid soap opera character. This apparent mixing of entertainment and politics also signals to how many Indian bollywood actors use the entertainment industry as a stepping stone for politics. In an ironic twist, the killed tv character (in the book) actor actually ends up becoming the a new Minister in the government. And going back to politics, it also signals to what a joke politics can be in general. Of course, a lot of this is hyperbole and satire, but it still works very well. And finally, I thought the bit about the traffic problems was pretty spot on too. Despite the city being plagued with traffic problems, the people remain content because they believe their suffering will end with traffic efficiency, despite evidence proclaiming the opposite. Again, the story is actually quite riveting for what it reveals about its motherland than its characters.

Diverging from the deeper analysis, technically speaking, the book is also written in an alright manner. The writing is simple and easy enough to read. That said, I actually didn’t find the book to be as comical as other writers did. I read a few reviews online and a lot of people stated that they found specific lines in the book funny. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the same. I think the book is funny in its satire and ironical content, but I didn’t find specific words or phrases funny. I don’t know, maybe I have a different sense of humour but I found a few of the jokes to be more gross than funny. However, I think its still important to point out, that this doesn’t mean that the book was bad. As far as things go, the book was decent. Not laugh-out-funny, but still light-hearted and enjoyable.

My ratingRead it if you’d like to learn a little bit about India and its people in a more simplistic, light-hearted manner and/or if would you’d like to take a break from reading heavy (literally and metaphorically) material.