Wednesday, November 27, 2013

63. Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Halloween 2013#7

Night Watch series figures among the best (Urban) fantasy series I have read. I have been reading, savouring, the Night Watch series one book a year, every Halloween. The fulfilling feeling one gets from a book so well conceptualised and written can only be matched by the wait and the expectations built up over a year.

There is the supernatural, then the philosophising about good and evil, and finally some serious action and mind games to top it off. This has been a regular feature with both the books. The world is quite simple and easy to understand, a lesson there for young writers like Samantha Shannon. There are the usual vampires and werewolves, shape-shifters, doing totally unusual things and some very unlikely witches and magicians as well - all categorised under "Others". There is no triumph of good over evil, the entire series is based over the concept of balance of light and dark; note the choice of words "light and dark" in place of "good and evil", a point of differentiation which will become much clearer once one reads the book.

Having read the masters like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Gogol, I was always aware of the depth of concepts in Russian literature. This remains, however, my only modern read from a Russian author and I wasn't disappointed in the least. Everything was well thought, even the choice of Russian songs quoted in the book, at various places, under various settings.

A book out of the mould; a book to read in leisure; a book to remember.

Monday, November 25, 2013

62. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Halloween 2013#5

I am not yet sure what made me pick this book up as one of my Halloween reads, maybe it was the genre listed as "Paranormal" and "Dystopian". I do admit to being curious to read this book in general, with the young author already being hailed as the next Rowling. The declaration being a bit premature, in hindsight, maybe.

There is no denying the fact that Samantha Shannon has a lot potential as a writer, her imagination good, and the execution not too shabby. However, in her debut novel, I think she tried to do a bit too much, a bit too soon. In a novel of this size, she created a new Dystopian world, added a couple of alien races, not-so-ordinary human beings (and tonnes of categories of them, no less!) and strung along far too many ideas for a reader to keep track of, or make associations and connections with.

Then there was the fact that the protagonist was not likeable, not one bit. Indeed, she was annoying for the most part, and mule-headed for the other. And she didn't even have the benefit of a traumatic past like Katniss Everdeen or Lisbeth Salander to explain her behaviour. The biggest shock she seemed to have undergone is the fact that her first crush is gay! Boo hoo! Cry me a river and see if I care!

Having said all of the above, the effort for a debut novel was fantastic, I hope and believe she will only improve from here. The theme and ideas in the novel were quite original, the concepts and powers quite fresh and the writing satisfactory.

I am reasonably certain that I will try the sequel as well - but will I continue to read the series (the series is intended to have 7 books from what I have read), is a question for another time.

In this review, I have obviously dwelt more on the negative and done little to justify my 3.5 star rating. That however, was the intention, to highlight why this book didn't get a 4 or 4.5 from me, rather than the other way around.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

61. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

This book marks the beginning of my November reads. I am behind by nearly 3 weeks with my reviews, hopefully, I will soon catch up.

This book was one of my most impulsive reads. This one wasn't in my TBR, in any of the lists I sometime follow (that I know of), was not part of any Book Club reads, real life ones or otherwise, nor was it a recommendation. Long story short, I got around to reading it and well, it was quite interesting for a grim subject - the French Revolution.

This was my second book (after A Tale of Two Cities, but while The Tale of Two Cities went right into the heart of the matter, this one flirted and skirted around the issue, which is probably also the reason for it be the more cheerful of the two.

There is mystique (even if quite predictable), drama, and a sense of anticipation in the entire book. The length was just right, any longer and it would have been a drag. So was the general tone, tenor and characters - the good guys were really good, the bad really evil and the good guys with bad deeds, repentant, which made for some easy, uncomplicated reading.

While I am not really tempted as of now to read the sequels, for a standalone book, it worked out quite well.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

60. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

A tale of unrequited loves, at the surface, Sputnik Sweetheart tracks the disappearance of a young girl from a remote Greek island. This being a Murakami book, the use of adjectives like mysterious, before disappearance would be superfluous - in the world of Murakami, an action as mundane as climbing stairs can be mystifying and an event as big as the disappearance of a cat or a human being, full of possibilities, all of them uncanny if not paranormal.

In this world, overnight changes like, appearance of a blue-black mark on the face, or losing the ability to speak, or all the hair turning white, are taken in stride - we would know that each of such changes have an implication, most of the times, a supernatural one. We learn to appreciate the shape of an ear and in the background of everything else, infidelity holds no shock value or indeed gossip value.

In the undercurrent are, several small pieces woven together, stories in their own, discoveries, characterisations, all neatly bundling into Sputnik Sweetheart, one of his shorter works. And if you were still looking for more, this book will also give you a lesson or two in classical music and wine tasting.

And yet, with the high standards and expectations, I hold Murakami to, this book somewhere fell short of delivering the satisfaction that ordinarily comes from reading a Murakami. This would seem to be an easy way out, but the works of Murakami are too exotic and my skills too rudimentary to even attempt a dissection to establish my lack of satisfaction with the book. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

59. Brother Odd by Dean Koontz

Halloween 2013#4

This was my 3rd consecutive year reading one of the books in the Odd Thomas series. I have been subjected to many series which get progressively worse with each sequel, and I am afraid, this one is no exception. The novelty, that was Odd Thomas, has worn off by now, replaced by a sense of predictability to his actions and the plot of the book.

While the characters in the opening book were all too human, and wonderful for that, the subsequent books have featured characters off a stage performance, delivering well-rehearsed lines with ease and the protagonist follows the pattern all too often. Needless to say, I could not sympathise or relate to any of the characters in this installment.

The plot which used to be good vs. evil has gradually and finally taken a leap into the world of the fantastic, and I can only wish I could have used that expression in a positive sense.

The overall effect being – the book reads like a cross between a Sci-Fi and a paranormal – with some intended dose of philosophy and morality perhaps. The overall effect, to use one of the words referred to in the book, being grotesque. A modern day perversion of Frankenstein perhaps, or it could simply be a badly written book with little lasting value – I have not yet been able to make up my mind about that. 


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

58. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Halloween 2013#3

So, I am lagging by a couple of weeks or so in my reviews, and I am only in my second month of starting this blog, troubling signs indeed.

Less troubling was The Graveyard Book, which read like a walk in a park, or rather, a graveyard. It was just the perfect combination of warm and weird, spooky and funny, a supernatural tale of vendetta like no other. Gaiman possesses the gift of taking out the sting off the grisliest of situations and putting you in that dreamlike haze where everything is possible and the horrible is as fascinating as the fantastic.

The book starts with a triple murder and revolves around the sole survivor in the family, a toddler, over the course of the book, turned young boy, named Nobody Owens (a little Dean Koontzie in the naming convention, aren't we?) who lives, you guessed it, in a Graveyard. With the ghostie people no less. And a lot many more interesting dead and undead species. And then, there is the tale of the revenge, as odd as it can get, against a whole tribe of people, all named Jack (now I am picking A Tale of Two Cities reference). I am quite sure there would be multiple such references which I have missed, and the whole book could have been a spoof, it it weren't so brilliant and coherent. There are plenty of cool characters, and to balance it out, the most cool headed actions in the book end up being despised.

To be honest, after reading two of his books, I am still undecided if Gaiman's works are a spoof or ordinary stories looked through a funny glass, whatever they maybe, they are so damn entertaining.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

57. Blockade Billy by Stephen King

Halloween 2013#2

The second book this Halloween Season happens to be a novella by Stephen King, whose another work, Doctor Sleep in on my list for this Halloween.

This baseball story is based in the 50s and focusses on the magnificent, but short career of the Catcher, Billy. Sounds pretty routine, right? Well, there is quite a bit of build up to the story, the details, always the details, closet skeletons, and some darkness, but it is a summer breeze compared to a typical King work. I know this is not much of a review, but then, this was not much of a book.