The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: A review

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

So I heard all the hoopla about Caraval and how it is very similar to the 2011 magi-realism story set in the late 19th century fantasy London.

I’m talking about ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern. Obviously, I had to read this before I got to Caraval.

The story is about this girl and boy fated to fight each other in a magical duel till there is only one of them left standing. The night circus is their arena where they perform tricks and illusions to beat the other. But things get really messy when the two fall in love and the fate of the circus and their lives are at stake.

The novel is dreamlike and whimsical. The storytelling is truly unique and for the first time in a long while made me very keen about the author’s writing style. The imagery in the chapters is also vivid for those who love descriptions and the characters are beautifully grey – moral ambiguity for the win!

I think every fantasy reader should definitely read this book because it has managed to push our imaginations to another level.

Goodreads review >> http://bit.ly/2kHdyE8

P.S. What a beautiful picture!!  Kudos to the artist! I hope an illustrated version of this book comes out soon 

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The Selection [The Selection #1] by Kiera Cass: A review

The Selection (The Selection, #1)The Selection by Kiera Cass
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
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What a complete rip-off!

I can’t even begin to tell you how much this book plagiarized The Hunger Games – the unwilling girl selected at ‘random’ from different castes; the girl doing this for the family’s sake so that they can have a little more money; the love interest back at home and the royal love interest; the love triangle; the interviews, and the attention to the dress!

I can’t even. No.

the-selection-reading-progress

All this book is a pretty cover to look at. Just as shallow as the vicera. I can truly say that the enchanting book cover is all there is to it and I would much rather look at the pretty covers for hours than read another installment of The Selection.

It was such a mistake to pick this up. It’s not at all what I like to read.
Sorry The Selection fans, I am going to pass.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith: A review

White TeethWhite Teeth by Zadie Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
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White Teeth is the story of three families – the Jones, the Iqbals and the Chalfens – in post war England. And my, what a story they each have to tell! 
Overall review:
As a reader, you have to give this book some time. It is a slow, SLOW read, but trust me, it gets better.

You see, when I was reading White Teeth, I didn’t feel like reading any other book. It felt like I was somehow cheating on this incredible book somehow, and some part of me was also afraid that Alsana was going to jump out of the pages and scold me. Yes, it was that gripping. And I was completely invested in this tale for as long as I read it.

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In-depth review:
The book starts off with the first generation Jones and the Iqbals and how they come to be good family friends. In the first few chapters, the narrative of Mr.Archie Jones is – how do I put this – quite bland. It was really boring, much like the English with their stoic faces and stiff upper lips. I can understand how many readers would fall off at this point.

white-teeth-reading-progress-1

 

Somehow, I persisted. And boy, am I glad that I did. As we read about their lives, we begin to understand the real problems of immigrants from the Iqbals’ POV. Samad Iqbal! You wacky, sonorous, proud but dirty fascist! Oh, don’t look at me like that. If you read his story, you would say the same of him too. What I loved about White Teeth is that, the entire voice of the book changed when it switched from Archie’s to Iqbal’s narrative. Suddenly, the lines were alive and animated. The parts with Alsana and Iqbal are truly rib-tickling. I could almost recite word for word what Alsana would say. This husband-wife duo were one of the most realistic couples that I’ve ever read.

Some of the laugh-worthy moments are in the beginning of Samad’s narrative. Although I appreciate the heavy dose of humor, I felt like the novel housed all possible jokes on Indians/English. Sometimes, even at the expense of the progress of the story.

Speaking of humor, it was so readily available. The setting was already there. The jokes are already there. All Zadie has to do was juxtapose of the two different worlds of the ruddy English and the grovelling Bangladeshis, to create comedy. Zadie did an excellent job. Her understanding of the many cultures and the human equations in each culture is extraordinary.

white-teeth-reading-progress-2

The story was forever branching out into distant arcs, anecdotes and facts. But it was fun. It kept me engaged. Zadie, the storyteller, also knew how to bring the reader’s focus back. So that was good.

 

The thing about White Teeth though, is that there is no real plot. It’s only an account of the lives of the two families in London. It was a fresh take on modern novels. I was growing tired of cliffhangers and villains who threatened to destroy the world. This novel is such a humble hat tip to Dickens and his like. I always love stories which have humor at their heart. In this story, there are so many complications and terrible things that happen to the characters, but Zadie found the funniest perspective in all of them. Kudos!

white-teeth-reading-progress-3

I expected more out of Irie because of the mix up in her genes. A great combination of fire and ice in the half-jamaican and half-British girl. But she was a major disappointment. Irie could’ve been much more. I wonder why Zadie didn’t do anything there. Character-wise, Samad stole the show for me. Followed by Alsana. Incredible house wife portrayal.

Overall, White Teeth feels like an unhurried story that goes into many details. A story we can sit and read for days at leisure. A languid slice-of-life tale that helped me understand fascism from the grassroots level.

white-teeth-reading-progress-4

The best part about white teeth is that there is no plot per se but you will want to keep reading chapter after chapter to find out what is happening. Kinda like what you’d have in classics like Jane Austen’s or Charles Dickens’ works. So rare to see such work in post modern times where authors use cliffhangers like condoms. Way to go Zadie! Well deserved debut novel award.


Other reviews:

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6 ways you can make Reading more fun

Q: Do you like reading?

If you answered, “Hmm…not my cup of tea”, then this post is for you.

A lot of my friends come up to me and say “Shravs, how do you read all those big books? I fall asleep as soon as I open them  But, I want to read like you, tell me na?”

This post is in response to those dear friends of mine, who have a reader inside them. But unfortunately, that ‘reader’ is unable to fight the battle of drowsiness against the mighty ‘sleeper’. This post is for both novice readers and wanna-be readers and will give you some ideas on how to make reading more fun.

Right. So, how can we make this reading-thing more enjoyable so that you can actively start reading?

Since we internet-folks are raving about listicles, here is my own listicle on this topic.

1) Find a buddy

Umm… you thought reading was a solitary-confinement punishment?  Time to rethink.

Reading can be as vibrant and bubbly as any other hangout. You go to the movies with your friends. You go to restaurants with them. You travel with your gang. You bring your posse everywhere. Why not read with your friends?

I’ll give you an instance: when my friend and I were reading the Chronicles of Narnia, we had crushes 😉  on different characters. She liked Peter and I thought Prince Caspian was way hotter. So, we would spend a lot of time discussing them, debating over how one was braver than the other, who was more likely to be King, who fights better, etc.

Reading about heroes suddenly became a lot more interesting for us. So find a buddy, who will read with you. It’s fun, I promise.

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2) Read a series

Always find a good series that can keep you hooked on till the end.

The thing with series is that, you just cannot.stop.with.one.book. Anybody who wants to find out the climax has to read through all the books and attain it.

And it’s worth it too.

Reading a series is like running a marathon. When you finish both, you have a sense of fulfillment that compares with nothing else.

Authors like Rick Riordan, Philip Pullman and J.K.Rowling, have a knack of placing a cliffhanger in the very last paragraph. A few well-crafted lines will convert even a ‘casual reader’ into  ‘avid fan’.

Although, I must warn you that if you start an unfinished series, you are in for some loooong waits. I’m warning you.

3) Read a well-designed/ illustrated book

Because, if you are not reading a well-designed book, you are making the worst of the rookie mistakes of them all.

As far as I know, the main reason many of us refuse to touch huge books is that we are not comfortable with the endless masses of paragraphs. It’s intimidating, I know. The tiny font, the tight binding and poor paper quality are all factors in a Bibliophobia.

faraway-tree

I admit it. Books that were printed in the early 90’s (the golden age for us strange and weird creatures who are at the intersection of millennials and bookworms) weren’t that pleasant to our eyes. I remember straining to read difficult font. I’d even have to bend the book backwards (gasp!) to read the tricky paragraph edges.

But, times have changed. Publishers are moving towards a better design approach. Everything including the font, height of the page, margins of the text, binding and spine, and paper quality have changed.

Throw in illustrations and BHAM! A completely new look-and-feel to your novel. Find them and make them yours. With all these operational difficulties stripped away, your job is made simpler and instantly entertaining.

Roald Dahl’s and Enid Blyton’s books are an excellent place to start.

P.S. If you think these books are for children, then I really pity you.

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When you find beautiful illustrations you be like

4) Listen, don’t read

No, Listen. Read. But, don’t read, just listen.

Let’s try that again. Listen to audiobooks. Clear?

Audiobooks are an excellent way to begin your reading journey. We’ve been tuned since childhood to listen intently. Keen listening has helped us identify our mom’s footsteps up the stairs, or an approaching teacher. An ability that we have sharpened over the years. We can put that to use.

Also, unlike our eyes, our ears never get tired.

With audiobooks we get a dramatised version of the book. Most voice over artists try to bring in variance in the modulation and intonation of different characters. It makes for very interesting ‘reading’. Audiobooks remove the logistical complications of the real thing – you can listen to them on your commute, just before dozing off, while on the phone pretending to listen to your bae – just shooting ideas here.

Plus, audiobooks are hands-free and discrete. Say, you want to read your favourite erotica. But you can’t read it in public spaces, obviously. Now, you can just plug in and listen to the rousing dialogues. Cashhhhual.

Check out

Tina Fey’s Bossypants
Amy Poehler’s Yes Please
and P.G.Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves

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5) Do what you love

If you are an artist, you can always incorporate that into your reading ritual. Draw or sing or dance a scene from the book. Make it interactive. It doesn’t always have to be the book speaking to you. You could predict the scenes, develop a sub-plot, add a dance routine to the main character’s daily grind – anything goes. Make it interactive.

It doesn’t always have to be the book speaking to you. See what you can give back to the book. 

Innumerable fan arts, fan fictions and cosplays exist. They bring fans closer. People are interpreting stories in their own way and are giving back to the (fictional) universe. Basically,  yeah, I’m asking you to geek out 😛 If you want to read, be prepared to become a geek.

6) Try an ebook

I could be the only bookworm on the internet who spreads the ebook propaganda. This is really a last ditch attempt to trick your brain into thinking you’re consuming media, a form of entertainment that you are used to. The act of reading ebooks secretes dopamine, serotonins and bullshits in your brain. (Seriously, I despise ebooks)

But, I wouldn’t discount them. If they can get your juices flowing, then hey, good for you.

Ebooks have some very real advantages. Reading difficult words isn’t cumbersome. You don’t have to stop reading to pick up a dictionary. Bye, bye bulky dictionaries. Hello, sexy technology. You can even share your favourite lines instantly on social media, tricking your friends into thinking you’re an intellectual.

Facebook got us clicking our selfies by re-introducing the simple thumbs-up. I wonder if sharing book quotes on twitter can get you the same self-love and prompt you into reading?

Those are all my tips to make reading more fun. Okay, maybe the last one was a little too much. Sorry about that.

I hope that all nascent readers out there get back into full-fledged reading soon. I know most of these apply to fiction. It’s what I like. Let me know if you guys have any way of making non-ficti-yaaawn more interesting.

Best wishes

Shravs.

Images courtesy: Uncle Google

Room by Emma Donoghue: A review

RoomRoom by Emma Donoghue
My rating: 4 of 5 stars⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
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Jack is five. He lives in a single, locked room with his Ma.

This blurb should tell you what the premise is. Note the present tense used.

In the beginning, for the first hundred pages, all we get is the frame-by-frame, second-by-second relay of things that Jack and Ma do in their time in Room.

How they brush their teeth, what they eat for breakfast, what time they eat lunch, how many teeth Jack has etc. And these things happen over and over again, and we readers are exposed to every second of it.

It gets tiresome.

Linearity without any relief like change of scenes, or change in Point-of-view is laborious. But it is in line with the theme here : holed-up one-roomedness.

It is claustrophobic for me. 

Ironically, it is the entirety of Jack’s world. 

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The Subtle Knife [His Dark Materials #2] by Philip Pullman: A review

The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
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Clearly I was misinformed. Or I chose to judge the book by its predecessor.

Do you feel otherwise? Let me know here:

I was so wrong. If you read my review on the first book of the series, The Golden Compass, you’d find me cribbing about the tiny details that were missing in the book.

Gosh, I didn’t know I’d find the answers to most of them here, in the second installment.

I picked this book up, only for filling in the answers. But I found much more than just answers. A bigger plot, a bigger concept, a bigger enemy and a bigger war.

This is what I felt while I was reading that book!

The Subtle Knife Reading Progress

So, for the gist – Lyra is joined by young Will in a third world, a world other than the two worlds each of them hails from. There are multiple worlds stitched together, existing in parallel, where time and space mean nothing. Lyra and Will have their own destinies to fulfill. They wander back and forth between the worlds and discover people of power, things of power.

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Scion of Ikshvaku (Ram Chandra series #1) by Amish Tripathi : A review

Scion of Ikshvaku (Ram Chandra Series, #1)Scion of Ikshvaku by Amish Tripathi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars⭐ ⭐
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Hmmm….Yeah, so I read this ‘Ramayana remake’.  Didn’t like it. Well okay….maybe I liked only tiny portions. Kinda-sorta okayish book I’d say.

Do you think otherwise? Let me know here: 

Ram is born on the day of Dhasharath’s first defeat against Raavan!(preposterous, and ridiculously twisted) This victimizes Ram in Dhasharath’s eye. The King blames his first defeat on the new born. How is a baby responsible for a king’s blunders in war? I don’t know. But it says a lot about how much we suck. As a community that buys into such idiotic beliefs, and as an audience who hasn’t raised riots for infantile injustice.

Okay. Maybe that was too strong.

The plot and sub-plot:

Ram, Lakshman (I’d like to call him Lakky from now) Bharat and Shatrugnan are brothers from different wombs. They grow up in a gurukul. They have different gurukul names, sorta like these fake reddit usernames. This is to protect the royal family from danger. Totally unnecessary if you ask me. Can’t remember any of those now.

The boys are trained under Saint Vashishta (or should I say Shady Vashishta?!) Because Vashista seems to have mysterious dealings with  the Nagas (deformed people according to Amish Tripathi) Why is Vashishta associated with the Nagas? And why are they interested in Ram and Co. ? A sub-plot arises.

The boys grow up, unawares of this other face of their guru. Over the course of 16 years, they are trained in fighting, archery and other life skills. They learn about vedhas, dharma and history.

Ram is especially interested in Dharma. Bharat is especially interesting in girls. Both of them are equally interested in politics and ruling the kingdom.

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The Crown of Ptolemy by Rick Riordan: A review

A quick Saturday pre-siesta-brunch read.

The Crown of PtolemyThe Crown of Ptolemy by Rick Riordan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
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Hilarious, as is Rick Riordan’s signature writing style. It seemed like he didn’t put any effort in the way of the plot. He took liberal references from the internet slang, like selfies and ‘Stahhp’ and made a funny story out of it. It was enjoyable and laugh-worthy.

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More 5 star-rated books:

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God is a Gamer by Ravi Subramanian : A review

An excellent, unparalleled plot coupled with amazing story-telling!

To be honest, I did not expect this from an Indian author. It was a pleasant surprise.

God is a GamerGod is a Gamer by Ravi Subramanian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
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A thriller that managed to make Sidney Sheldon and Dan Brown look like kiddos scribbling random stuff.

I’m not going to give anything away in the name of spoilers. Everybody who reads this book deserves to go into it without having any preconceived notions. If you think that Indian authors don’t cut it as Thriller authors – then take this! In your face ! (Yep, that’s my experience literally. I am sorry Ravi Subramanian, I should have picked up your book earlier. I was judgmental and wrong.)

The author clearly knew what he was doing. He has done his research and his home work perfectly. He is an exemplary, masterful, superlative story crafter in the Thriller genre. Continue reading

The Golden Compass [His Dark Materials #1] by Philip Pullman : A review

 

Ah! That feeling of reading a fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping adventure. 

The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1)The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
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Here’s a gist -> In Lyra’s world, Daemons are the soul-projections,in animal forms, of any human being.They are companions of the soul and the separation from their Daemon could even be fatal for that human.Lyra and her Daemon, Pan, are brought up and cared for by the Scholars in Oxford, just as any other child. But she has a bigger destiny to fulfill. Unaware of this, Lyra sets out on a journey, to look for her missing friend, who is one among the many children who were kidnapped by a secret society.The rumor is that the society intends to do horrible things to children, even murder them. Lyra is intent on bringing her friend back. Her adventure takes her to the deep North, where she meets many Supernatural and powerful beings, human and non-human. In her course, Lyra learns about bigger threats her world faces and ends up in the middle of it all. How she escapes danger and fights off evil forces is the story of The Golden Compass.

What splendid narration! Philip Pullman has a way with words, it just draws the reader in. I was instantly connected to the story from the first line. The story has a beautiful flow to it; and I wondered how it would be to hear a vocal rendition of this novel, narrated in a deep baritone. Such was the enchanting narrative of the book.

I liked the premise of the book. It’s complicated but it works as a good baseline to build on. A Destiny that Lyra has to fulfill for the saving the world-as-she-knows it, but, and here’s the complicated part, she has to do it without her own knowing. Nobody can help her, and she can’t know that she is the destined savior of the world. As for the story arc, keeping us readers in the dark for more than a hundred pages was a little unfair. Until then the story only wavers about without any ‘purpose’. The direction of the plot isn’t revealed. But not to worry, it picks up fast from there and slowly the big picture is revealed.

Each of the characters were designed so well. Lyra – what a lyrical name. I loved it! Lyra – like the mythical musical instrument lyre. Lyra is a non-fussy, mature, pragmatic child. She is sensitive to others while being equally outgoing and adventure-seeking.Lord Asriel and Mrs.Coulter and Iorek and John Faa…every character was unique.

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