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The 2012 Reading List Part-II June 2, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Fantasy Fiction, Mumbo Jumbo.
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The last 5 months have been an adventurous journey across a palette of landscapes and colours. I have wandered the landscapes of ancient India while reading Amish Tripathy’s Shiva Trilogy, witnessed the horrors of death in the Hunger Games Arena and scouted the far corners of the Universe in Douglas Adams’ whacky Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And while this was a guided tour (Yes, I had made my list of to-read Books at the beginning of the year!), I did stray out of the plan in some places (reading random books here and there).

Nevertheless, going on with that spirit – here is my list for this quarter again.. Please don’t groan. I know this should have come more than a month ago, but like all appraisals and salary hikes; this one is running late too! 😉

The Song of Ice and Fire:

Starting with the one I am reading now. The Song of Ice and Fire is a series on on-going epic Fantasy novels by George R R Martin. There are 6 novels in the series; the last one has not been released yet.  The saga of epic proportions takes place in 2 fictional continents, spanning thousands of years. It has more than 100 major protagonists, and the books slowly interlink the lives of these characters, weaving a massive tale which has many elements of J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. That’s what got me interested in the series in the first place.

Two days ago, I was randomly flipping through “The Game of Thrones”.  I read the first page and then I tread on; it was so alluring that I just couldn’t stop after that, reading 150 pages in one sitting itself!  And the weird part is that the content was neither very cheerful or “feel good”.  It reeked of violence and death right from the start; eerie scenes of murder, prisoners getting beheaded, recollections of a violent past. Everything about the book spooked me, and yet I was so irresistibly drawn towards it; like the moth to a flame!

What amazed me most about the book (from what I have read till now) is how GRRM preys on the human psychology, arousing curiosity in the most macabre sort of way. I mean, I have a fairly low tolerance for violence in movies (I avoid the ones with bloodshed like the plague), and yet the pages repelled and intrigued me in equal measure. A writer has to be a real wizard for that!

Love in the times of Cholera:

 Having read raving reviews about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works, this book got added in my to-read list. And since one of my friends had a hard copy, I borrowed it and began right away. Almost halfway through the book, I made a huge mistake – I put it down to do something else. And when I came back, it was like the pages had banished me for my fickleness – I just couldn’t follow the story again! It’s not that the book was not interesting (I was hooked to the tale from the beginning) but the descriptions are so long winding that you actual get lost in them! Like a stream winding through copious Amazon forests with no idea how long it will take to get to the sea!

And so, I have a renewed resolve to start reading it again. Without any breaks, ofcourse. 🙂

Gone with the Wind:   

Okay. This might seem strange, but “Gone with the Wind” had been on my reading list since the last 7 years. And the queer thing is, a copy of it has been sitting on my bookshelf all these years too!. I had borrowed this book from a friend of mine, but couldn’t return it for some reason. Had been meaning to read it all this while but never got around to doing it. Perhaps for the forbidding size (it has 700+ pages in size 8 font) which is odd because lengthy books never deterred me before. Maybe it was because of the time this book was set in; some queer Victorian era which I could not relate to. Nevertheless, nothing is as powerful as a book whose time has come to be read. So “Gone with the Wind” it is!

The Book Thief:

I have heard rave reviews about this one from my friends, and that’s what inspires me to read it. Set in the war ravaged times in Nazi Germany, the story is narrated by Death as it travels around the world. And the main protagonist is this little girl he calls “the Book thief”.

History always fascinates me, and I was appalled when I read details of Nazi Fundamentalism and the Holocaust. Just reading the Wikipedia entries was so harrowing, and it painted my imagination with such morbid details. I know this book is not of the gruesome types (thankfully!), but am curious to know how the author Markus Zusak has captured the psyche of the common man trapped in a confrontation of such catastrophic proportions!

So this completes my reading list for this Quarter. It’s a small list, considering I have only 1 month more to go.Will try to post reviews when I can!.

See you around then.. Adios!

The Hunger Games Trilogy April 29, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Fantasy Fiction, Sci-Fi.
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So now that I am on a book reading spree, the theme of this week was the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. Frankly, I would have never stumbled on these books if it was not for the  recently released movie with the same name. And, when there is an option for watching the movie or reading the book, I usually go for the latter because the movie somehow never seems capable of capturing the depth of emotions that a book usually does!..

Set in the fictional world of Panem, the hunger games is a twisted tale of struggle, war, love and government control; spanning across 3 books “The Hunger Games”, “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay”. Panem is a post-apocalyptic war ravaged world where the districts are impoverished; food is scarce and the Capitol, a seat of power rules the 12 districts with a firm hand. Every year, the Capitol conducts the Hunger games as a show of its power and superiority. One boy and girl will be chosen in a reaping ceremony from every district, for a fight unto death in the Hunger Games Arena. There can only be one survivor0, and the rewards for his/ her victory will be shared by the whole district. The Games are the Capitol’s way of entertaining its residents, and showcasing it’s superiority over the districts. An unabashed parade to remind the districts how powerless they are if they ever revolt against the Capitol!.

The story revolves around Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in the reaping ceremony of District 12. It is a chronicle of her anger, defiance, fears and apprehensions. A tale of how she incites a revolution in the repressed country of Panem. How she eventually brings it out of the shackles of mindless dictatorship. It has all the elements of teenage heroism which is characteristic of this genre.- a barefaced disregard for authority, a low self-esteem, a fierce loyalty towards loved ones, the self-sacrificing spirit. Katniss Everdeen is all that!

There is bit of a love triangle in the story, but that is overshadowed by much bigger themes. Though a bit too dark for this genre; nevertheless an interesting book. The story is sometimes too simplistic and naive for grown up readers, but makes up for it with its fast moving plot and the ability to capture the attention of readers throughout the 3 books of the series. It is an easy read, and a good way to wind up on your weekend.

I think I’ve read a bit too many of these dystopic world books. Need something cheerful for the next weekend. Any suggestions?

1984 April 23, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Classics, Fantasy Fiction, Sci-Fi.
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I am writing the review for this book 1984 I read a while ago and the words that ring in my head are: “Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.” I know this is totally incongruous to the subject, but no amount of shooing drives these words out of my head. They keep buzzing around like flies on a hot summer afternoon, and I console myself with the thought; perhaps there is a link somewhere, which will eventually dawn upon me!.

Now coming back to the Novel… When you think of dystopian worlds, George Orwell’s book is a classic. I had always seen this name in the list of top books of all times; and it lingered in the back of my mind, gnawing at my to-read list for a long time now. For what reason – I am not exactly sure; maybe because it has this power, a captivating aura around it.  Made famous by allusions to “Big Brother” and “Room 101” in countless articles and publications.. And of course, the iconic 1984 Apple commercial that heralded the release of the first Mac!

Before beginning the book, I already had these subliminal negative vibes about it.. This book is about power, about total loss of individualism, about an nightmarish world where everything has gone wrong.. A universe of totalitarian oligarchic control.. A book about the madness which dwells in humanity…suppression of justice.. About the mutation of happiness.. war crimes and rants against a changing common enemy.. A book about humans pushed to their worst. And how hell can be raised purely from the potency of our thoughts!

Okay, 1984 is definitely not a happy book. It is not a sad book. It isn’t even a scary book. I felt it to be a very thoughtful book, showing what depraved limits we can push mankind to, and man’s vulnerability to thought control.. Exposing the chinks in the fabric of our psychology. Baring our worst nightmares….. It warns us against this extreme form of civilization…and that a dystopic world like this is no impossibility because “Nothing is so unbelievable that oratory cannot make it acceptable”!

And I have to admit, this totally zapped me…

You know, what’s most impressive about 1984 is the completeness with which its dystopian world has been portrayed. Thoughts, words, language, expressions- everything is government controlled.. It is scary, but fascinating – the depth to which the author has explored the psyche of the totalitarian state. It also makes you wonder.. What is it that defines who we are? Our ability to think?.. The language that allows us to express ourselves.. Our family ties?

This book also made me understand the importance of knowing history. If you think of it now, the past is what defines you. You are moulded into a certain structure, you have certain beliefs. It is by looking at your past that you gain assurance about your identity. Now imagine a world where you have no past. Or no definite past. The past is fluid, malleable, modified by what the ruling powers believe in. You are expected to blindly believe in the state. Even thinking against the state is a “thoughtcrime”. When powers beyond your control try to redefine everything that you have always known and believed:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

How is that kind of a world going to be??

The ideas portrayed in this book are mind-boggling. And the importance of individualism is so starkly expressed in a world totally devoid of it. One of my favourite lines from this book poignantly expresses this – “Being in a minority, even a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad”.

This one is a must read book if you are curious about History, Politics, Economics and Human Psychology. Not all the ideas are radical or unique – we have learnt lots of it in history lessons and newspaper columns. But then – the best books, are those that tell you what you know already!..

The 2012 Reading List Part-I January 8, 2012

Posted by Afrozy Ara in Book Reviews, Classics, Fantasy Fiction, Mumbo Jumbo, Sci-Fi.
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2012 is in. It is a unique year; heralded by doomsday predictions and bucket-list resolutions.

Well, I am not the usual new-year-resolutions maker. But a one week vacation from office on New Years Eve gave me a lot of free time to dabble with. And, I managed to scribble my TO-DO list for this year.

The resolution topping the list was; Read… Read.. READ!

So, I’ve prepared my reading list for this Quarter ( In line with another resolution of mine! ). No specific preferences, but a mishmash of genres which I had been hoping to experiment with, but had never really got down to.

I have chosen the series form of books because it has always impressed me. IMO, this is one of the most challenging forms of writing. Being able to capture the attention of a reader through thousand and thousands of book pages, and a delicate web of entwined plots is a commendable (and tough) job!

A Disclaimer:

I haven’t read all these books yet, so don’t blame me if you don’t like them. But they have this quality of beckoning you, like some sort of literary seduction, making you want to read them. I am not sure how they will turn out to be, but here is my list.

So without wasting any more time, lets go..

Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting the definitive “Reading List Q1 2012.”!!

The Millennium Trilogy:

There are some books that catch your imagination – simply by an intriguing name or the imagery of a character which flashes before your eyes. When I first heard of the name – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, my first reaction was – “What?”

The trilogy is a series of the books with the most riveting names -“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, “The Girl who kicked a Hornet’s Nest” and “The Girl who played with Fire”. It is written by Stieg Larsson, a journalist who came from nowhere and attained iconic status in the crime fiction world with this series of books.

I have not read much of Crime fiction earlier. The most I had read were the Agatha Christie novels, and the occasional classics like “The God Father” . And of late, had been bit too preoccupied with Wizards and Vampires.

So this is my first detour into crime fiction in a long long time.

I have just orders a Box set of the trilogy from Flipkart, and the books seem to be pretty long (600+ pages each ). Yet, every review I have read has called these books a page turner, so it is No 1 on my reading list.

And the biggest motivation of course is the character of Lisbeth Salander. Weird, enigmatic, brilliant, dangerous security specialist; she simply cannot be missed!.

The Shiva Trilogy:

This is a series of books by an Indian author Amish Tripathi. The first 2 books – “The Immortals of Meluha” and “The Secret of the Nagas” are bestsellers. The third book of the series has not been released yet.

It is an unusual genre – Mythology, and I don’t remember having read any books of that genre yet.

OK, you may count Lord of the Rings as Mythology, but Indian mythology is unique – it is such a dense and spiritual subject. And taking a culturally sensitive subject like mythology and converting it to believable fiction is an awesome feat !.

I have spent most of my childhood reading books by great English authors. The characters in my mind, the novel settings.. Everything is foreign. The last great book that I read set in Indian settings was the “White tiger” by Arvind Adiga. So I am really looking forward to how the author has pulled it off.

Another thing that attracted me to this book is this haunting quote from “The Secret of the Nagas” – “The opposite of love is not hate, its apathy”.

Well..Age old thoughts spun into a tale relevant in the modern context. This is a must-read book!.

The Hitch hiker’s guide to the Galaxy Series:

The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy is a crazy book.

It tickles you out of your senses. Gives the absurdist, stupidest, most bizarre ideas in the most matter of fact way, expecting it to be funny and it actually is!!

This is the first in a series of 5 books by Douglas Adams. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” , “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, “Life, the Universe and Everything” ,”So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish “, “Mostly Harmless” and “And Another Thing…”. The last book was written by 2 other authors after Doulas Adams’ death.

The author’s line of thinking, the way the arguments are constructed, the anecdotes will make you ROFL, BWL, LMFAO.. ( OK, I am running out of expressions now! )

Wickedly funny and geeky, it is an absolute must read for any SF or Humor enthusiast. Douglas Adams actually has a cult status among Science Fiction enthusiasts – Just Google “Meaning of life 42”

Taking the most ordinary mundane daily happenings, and spinning it into the weirdest anecdotes, this book has intellectual gems thrown in the most the most unassuming way!..

Want a peek? Well, this is one of my favorite passages (out of the countless others) in the first book.

“People of Earth, your attention, please. This is Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Planning Council. As you will no doubt be aware, the plans for development of the outlying regions of the Galaxy require the building of a hyperspatial express route through your star system. And regrettably, your planet is one of those scheduled for demolition. The process will take slightly less than two of your Earth minutes. Thank you.

There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for 50 of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now. … What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs, that’s your own lookout. Energize the demolition beams.

I don’t know, apathetic bloody planet, I’ve no sympathy at all.

There was a terribly ghastly silence.
There was a terribly ghastly noise.
There was a terribly ghastly silence.”

The Bourne Trilogy:

Oh, I know. Don’t give me that pitiful look. I know this series is ancient. I should have read it like 10 years ago! But then, it’s better late than never. And what best way to start a New Year than make up for all the good things you missed in the past!. So, the Bourne series makes it to my list.

There are 9 books in the series; out of which the first 3 are “The Bourne Identity”, “the Bourne Ultimatum” and the “The Bourne Supremacy” written by Robert Ludlum. The rest 6 have been written by some other author. Don’t know how long the series will be able to hold my attention, but at least the first 3 are a must!

There is something very touching about a man who is constantly trying to understand who he is. And, when he is painfully deducting his past by analyzing his instant reactions to situations and things. It is sort of scary yet tragic in a very poignant way.

The book is an absolute edge of the seat thriller. I have read the first one halfway through and it is quite promising. Am determined to make the rest this Quarter.

Let’s see!

The Vampire Diaries:

What is life without any romance?. So here is my last entry – a dash of romance to the reading list. And what is the best form of romance other than Vampire love stories – it’s the hot flavor of the day!

I have read the first 2 books of the series – The Awakening, and The Struggle, and there are 7 more to read. Since the novels are only 100+ pages each, it isn’t much of a challenge really..

The books are not much of a literary genius (is sort of Mills and Boons sometimes), but the plot somehow got me hooked. It has all the elements which will make you want to read it more – romance, suspense, drama.

Actually the motivation for me to read this book came from the Vampire Diaries TV series. The series is awesome, with impossibly handsome vampires and equally ravishing vampire-victims stuck in a world with witches and werewolves. Gosh!

I don’t know, but there is something very enticing about these Vampire love stories . Perhaps it is the idea of an impossible romance – a relationship so volatile that it cannot exist naturally.. Hunter loves the hunted.. Guy thirsting for the blood of the woman he loves. The conflict between extreme emotions.. Lion falling in love with the lamb.

But then, writers are crazy people – the readers even more!

So, here is my list for Q1 of 2012.

Hope I’ll be able to keep up my New Year resolution and post my reviews as I read along!

See you later, Alligator! 😛

Twilight May 25, 2009

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twilight book cover

Many of us have ideas and imaginations, but being able to transform your illusions and dreams into believable fantasy is a rare gift. With her very first book , Stephenie Meyer has brilliantly captured her fantasies to create an enchanting saga of the Twilight series,through the character of seventeen year old Isabella “Bella” Swan.Twilight” is a unique book with a mesmerizing charm – it makes you turn the pages with expectant wonder, and reminds you of the sparkle and fascination in teenage love!.

Bella has just moved into the dull sunless town of Forks, Washington to stay with her father and continue her education. Right from her first day at the new school, she is unconditionally and irrevocably drawn to the excruciatingly handsome Edward Cullen. His perfection and beauty dazzle her, to the point that she begins to wonder if he is really human. And thus begins an unusual love story – made all the more unusual because Edward is actually a vampire!!

You get to see ingenuous high school chit chat, with many boys falling for Bella’s attractive looks – much to Edward’s vexation. Instinctively attracted to her, he courts Bella –  confused by his feelings for her, and whether his affection for her will really fit into the whole scheme of things. You actually end up feeling charmed by her vulnerability, and his fiercely protective attitude towards her. The idea of love transcending all borders is appealing, and of course – don’t we all love “love stories”?!

The romance is neither torrid nor sensual, but retains a sensitive and dream like hypnotic quality. It goes on like a fairy tale, until things suddenly take a sharp turn – changing this engaging romance to an exciting thriller. There are many breathtaking moments, and the author has been able to masterfully blend romance, adventure and suspense in one irresistible package.

The character of Edward as a forever-seventeen picture of perfection is designed to make hearts flutter, and the realization that he subconsciously thirsts for the blood of the girl he loves is an interesting theme for psychoanalysis. 😉

It sort of reminds me of something I read somewhere –

“It is impossible to love and be wise” – FRANCIS BACON

A link to the author’s website is here:  www.stepheniemeyer.co.uk