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!

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Star Trek (2009) Movie Review

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So I feel like I’ve been lacking when it comes to movie reviews. To be honest, I’m not much of a movie person. Or rather, I do watch movies, but just don’t watch them that often or watch them right when they release. Hence, when it comes to doing movie reviews, sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse because by the time my reviews come out, the movies have lost publicity and faded into the deep interior of people’s minds. But, I really do enjoy watching and writing about movies, so I continue to do it anyway.  Anywho, today’s topic is the 2009 reboot movie Star Trek.

Firstly, I’m not the biggest trekkie, but I do have a soft spot for this particular series. The original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation were shows that my grandfather really enjoyed watching. As a kid, I would sometimes join him and watch them. Now most of the stuff went over my head (I was quite young!) but I do have some good memories of the series. However, my affinity for the series mostly comes from the fact that it was something my grandfather and I did together and something that he enjoyed. So I always associate Star Trek with my grandfather and good memories. Hence when I heard about the 2009 reboot, I was fully on board. And to my absolute delight, when I saw the movie, I fell further in love with the series.

The movie plot, for those of you who’d like some refreshers, basically serves as a prequel/ origin to the eventual Star Trek series. However, it also isn’t quite a *prequel* to the actual series, as the movie sets up an alternate timeline. So while the characters remain quite similar and some plot-lines are recycled, the character origins and development are actually different. So for example, in this film, Captain Kirk actually grew up fatherless and his motivation for joining starfleet was to win a bet, vs. in the original series where he grew up with his father and joined because he was genuinely interested. Similarly Kirk and Spock don’t start out as good friends, but have a rather antagonistic beginning.

Which brings us the the general story in the movie. Since it’s been some time since the movie released, I’m not going to write out a detailed, scene-for-scene description. I’ll basically just summarize the gist. In essence, the origin stories for both Kirk and Spock are laid out (Kirk being a fatherless rebel needing direction and Spock dealing with bullying over his human mother), with the two beginning an antagonistic relationship. It’s through a dangerous situation (rogue Romulan ship from an alternative-timeline future bent on destroying the planets Vulcan and Earth), with a little help from the alternative-timeline Spock (who reveals the backstory of the dangerous situation and the subsequent alternative-timeline that has been created), that the two become friends. Their friendship, and relationship with what would become the original Star Trek crew, is what finally defeats the dangerous situation (pretty cool, climactic scene wherein everyone participates). The movie ends with their formation and Spock’s famous dialogue to venture into space “where no one has gone before.”

As you can tell (hopefully LOL), it’s a super fun movie to watch. It’s basically an adventure film in which the good guys go through some tense and bonding moments before eventually winning over the bad guys. Pretty typical in its plot-line. And yet, the cast, character development, script, and humour elevate it. It actually reminds me a bit of the later Marvel movies, where the fun quotient adds another layer to the movie. And I think this also relates back to the original essence of the Star Trek movies/ shows. From what I’ve been able to glean from observing my grandfather, watching parts of the series, and reading online, one of the biggest draws to Star Trek, has been the sense of discovery the series promotes (along with the science). In each episode, Captain Kirk and his crew discover something new and experience new adventures. It’s fun. Things are always happening. And the film does exactly that. The crew experiences a new situation/ adventure and bond over it. I think this film functioned really well as a starting point for the series. Not only could new fans get into the series, but older fans were also serviced with the idea of an alternative-timeline (giving the writers some leeway with situations, which also serve to conciliate head-strong fans who demand 100% accuracy).

On another note, I think the casting was also really great. I was initially a little hesitant over Chris Pine’s  selection, because prior to this movie, I had only seen him in The Princess Diaries 2. I wasn’t too sure as to how he’d take to Kirk. However, I was also a little scared that he would try to emulate William Shatner’s extremely over-exaggerated acting in an effort to pay homage. Shatner is a good actor (I’m guessing b/c I’ve only ever seen him in Star Trek), but my god, his Captain Kirk, while smooth with the ladies, was also ridiculously zealous in his reactions. To my thankfulness, Pine declined to follow Shatner’s acting style for Kirk and instead did his own thing, which translated wonderfully onscreen. I really enjoyed Pine’s take on Kirk, as being this rebellious kid who needed direction. He really shined in this role and captained the movie wonderfully. All the other characters were great as well, Zachary Quinto as Spock, John Cho as Hikaru Sulu, Karl Urban as Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, Zoe Saldana as Nyota Uhura, Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scotty, Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov, and even Eric Bana as Nero.

Which also brings me to another issue: diversity. Growing up in an extremely multicultural country, diversity (and to another extent representation), has always been important to me. And one of my favourite things about this movie and of Star Trek in general, was how diverse it was. You had people of different races all playing an important role. As a woman of colour, this is a message that brings me great joy. Your talents aren’t determined by your skin colour or anything; it’s who you are. And Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov really represented that for me. It doesn’t matter that you’re a person of colour, or a woman, or have an accent; as long as you can get the job done, you’re good to go. In today’s climate, as much as we’d like to celebrate our diversity and sing kumbaya while sitting in a multicultural circle, the truth is, racism is still quite rampant in our society. I mean, in the United States alone, Black Lives Matter is a glaring example. Even in other parts of the world, Islamophobia is widespread. And these issues are also represented on-screen, wherein people of colour significantly feature less in films and if they do, they are often reduced to being caricatures or reinforcing stereotypes. Yet, Star Trek goes against the grain and represents a more hopeful future/ reality. Not only are people of colour/ minorities represented on-screen, but their roles are significant, regardless of race. Of course, the diversity ratio can be improved, but considering how the series was created way back in the 1960’s and still managed to be so diverse is incredible. Especially when you compare to how we face issues with diversity today.

However, with all my positives for the film, I will say that it is not perfect. The one thing that really annoyed me, was the constant use of lens flare to make scenes dramatic (?). I mean, cinamatography on the whole was decent. The movie was lit brightly which, in my opinion, added to the light, fun feel of the movie. However, there were also constant lens flare. At some point, it just became too much. This may in fact be a critique of the director because apparently he has done it often? And from previous movie watching experiences, I know that you do not always need lens flare to display dramatic moments. There are different ways to shoot scenes, angle your camera, etc. to achieve a dramatic flare. Yet, in this film, I counted over twenty different lens flare scenes, before I stopped counting. I mean, come on. And I was also a little peeved at Uhura’s costume. I mean, not only does the mini skirt uniform she wears look uncomfortable, but it also begs the question of practicality. From prior skirt-wearing experience, I can tell you with 100% guarantee, that pants are much more versatile and facilitate movement in an easier fashion than skirts. I just, I found it ridiculous that everyone was wearing pants except her. I also wasn’t quite a big fan of the gratuitous semi-nude shot of Uhura undressing. I just, it felt so unnecessary and almost like it was servicing fan-boys. Ick. But on the whole, it was definitely an enjoyable movie and a great starting point for new fans to get sucked into!

My rating: watch it to be sucked into an awesome space-y and science-y adventure!

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!