Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre

Reading John le Carre always makes me realize that a good mystery does not need to be fast-paced. In this book, as well, le Carre takes his time introducing us to the different characters and creating an apt background for the story that is about to begin. I like the slow-ish pace, because the writing is engaging and the descriptions are very close to real. That being said, the book is certainly action-packed. The opening scene itself is a carefully arranged bombing that takes place in Berlin, which leads to the events of the book.

As with all his books, le Carre's characters are introduced and depicted with skill. I really do appreciate the kind of effort the author takes to make his settings seem not only realistic but also relatable to the common readers. The central character in this story is woman named Charlie; the little drummer girl; a mediocre English actress, a flower-child/gypsy of sorts, who is recruited by the Israeli intelligence to track down a Palestenian agent. Her role in this 'theater of real' is that of a terrorist's lover, whose brother they are trying to capture.

"Her name was actually Charmain, but she was known to everyone as "Charlie", and often as "Charlie the Red" in deference to the colour of her hair and to her somewhat crazy radical stances, which were her way of caring for the world and coming to grips with its injustices. She was the outsider of a rackety troupe of young British acting people who slept in a tumbledown farmhouse half a mile inland and descended to the shore in a shaggy, close-knit family that never broke up. How they had come by the farmhouse in the first place - how they had come to be on the island at all - was a miracle to all of them, though as actors they derived no surprise from miracles."

The writing, as you can see, is descriptive; and there's a tinge of dry humour to all of it. In what outwardly seems like just another mystery, the author talks about morality and identity; it's not a book about political conflicts; but about how these conflicts affect the people. Now I haven't read any other spy novelists, like Graham Greene or others, so I am no expert on spy stories. But, I do read a lot of mysteries and this is one of the best ones I've read.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Shadow out of Time by H. P. Lovecraft

I admit, I haven't read many of Lovecraft's works. But what I have read, I love. I have read quite a few stories from the Cthulu Mythos, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and now this fascinating little novella about time travel and mind transference and spiritual possession and such. H. P. Lovecraft was an American authors, known for his tales of madness and gory and has influenced some of my favourite writers; not to mention, was himself influenced by some of the greatest horror/weird fiction writers. Those of you who are familiar with or like Lovecraftian horror, should definitely give this one a try.

The Shadow of out Time, published in 1936, is a combination of horror, thriller and science fiction. The story takes place (sort of) in the early 1900s, when a man named Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee happens to temporarily switch bodies with a member of the Great Race of Yith; a weird species that is able to travel through time and space. And it is Nathaniel who tell us the story!

What I like about Lovecraft, is how he dives right into the crazy, gory part of a story; without a build up or even a vague idea as to how grotesque things might become. It is shocking, but it is also fascinating. It makes me realize how unnecessary the build up is. The narrator tells us what has happened at the start, even though it would normally be the suspense in a story. And then the story of how he got there, that works as the suspense. It is terribly intriguing.

It is a short, quick-paced novella, with wonderful writing and an engaging plot; so it certainly makes a nice, quick read.  Do try it, it's worth it. It was the perfect book for me to read as a part of the 24 Hour Readathon, at any rate!

(I found a short film version of the book on Youtube, here.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Favourite Literary Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at The Broke and The Bookish.

I have a feeling most of these are going to be from fantasy novels. But I would be lying, if I wrote otherwise.

1. DEATH from Discworld series by Terry Pratchett - Along with Granny Weatherwax, Susan Sto Helit, Lord Vetinari, Tiffany Aching and even Rincewind. But if I only had to choose one, it would be DEATH. HE'S FANTASTIC, PLUS HE LIKES CATS. (see how I switched to Death-speak there?)

2. Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling - While I do also like Sirius, the Weasley twins, Hagrid and others, the only other character that I come close to liking as much as Dumbledore is Tom Riddle (the smart, handsome, obsessed-with the Dark Arts wizard, before he turned into Voldemort, that is.) But Dumbledore wins. As J. K. Rowling herself put it, "Everyone would like a Dumbledore in their lives."

3. Jack Torrance from The Shining by Stephen King - Also, Dick Halloran. I don't mean the character as portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the stupid movie version, because he peeled off all the layers off the awesome character that was Jack Torrance, and chose to act like a freaky psychopath instead. I liked Torrance in the books; the guy through whose eyes you see the story and you know that he's not as bad as he appears (or, at least, he doesn't intend to be that bad) and you end up pitying him the most.

4. Konstantin Levin from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - The socially inept, kindhearted but confused landowner was probably my favourite character in the whole book; or at least, the one I could relate to the most. I now want to get a dog, just so I can name her Laska.

5. Dr. Hannibal Lecter from the Hannibal trilogy by Thomas Harris - The Silence of the Lambs is one of the few movies adapted from books that I actually like as much as the books. Anthony Hopkins is amazing as Hannibal the Cannibal, and the character is probably the worst and the most intriguing serial killer in fiction.

6. George Smiley from many novels by John le Carre - The first Smiley book I read was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, followed closely by Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I loved both the books! John le Carre really knows how to create memorable characters, and George Smiley is one of those.

7. Elijah Baley from Robots series by Isaac Asimov - Lije Baley always reminds me of Jack Carter (of Eureka) (...or maybe the other way round) though the latter doesn't constantly say 'Jehoshaphat', which is probably the funniest word ever. Teamed up with R. Daneel, Lije is one of my favourite characters from the series.

Making a list of ten is too hard, because I keep changing it. So I am going to go with the list I have so far. I might have missed a few.

These are my Top Seven Favourite Book Characters ever; which is good. As my Harry Potter obsessed sister once reminded me (in a not-so-mildly disapproving fashion) - "Have you not read Harry Potter? 7 is the most magically powerful number, hello!" So, there.

Who are your favourite literary characters?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The 24 Hour Readathon Wrap Up!

Done. Dewey's 24 hour read-a-thon is over!! 24 hours, well spent.

Number of books completed: 4

Number of pages read: 915

Books read (in order of completion) - (Click on the name for review)

1. Turn of the Screw by Henry James
4. Snuff: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett

I thoroughly enjoyed this readathon. I met some great new and old bloggers, managed to check four books off my TBR list in just one day. I would love to take part in the next 24 hour read-a-thon, only this time, more prepared and knowing what to expect.

Right now, I am too tired to post anything else; but I will post the reviews of these books along with a little something about my first 24 hour readathon experience in a short while (as soon as I stop looking like a zombie.)
Good-(whatever time of day it is where you are)!

The 24 Hour Readathon Update # 3

This will be my last update.

Currently Reading: Snuff: A Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett

Last book read: The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre

Next up to-be-read: None. Just started reading Snuff, and it will last a while!

Reading stats -
Total Number of pages read: 715

Total Number of books completed: 3

I had planned to read the second book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series at the end, so that I could enjoy myself and it would be a light, entertaining read. Still, when I finally got to that moment when I was tired and ready to read what would be my last book of the readathon, I was quite in a mood for some Discworld magic. I can read a Discworld book even in my sleep and I managed to get my hands on this one. Well, wish me happy reading. Hope you had a lot of fun!

(The next time I do this, I'll try to be more prepared with what to read, and plan my updates better!)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The 24 Hour Readathon Update # 2

Currently Reading: The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre (496 pages)

Last book read: The Shadow Out of Time by H. P. Lovecraft (70 pages)

Next up to-be-read: I'm not quite sure, anymore!

Reading stats -
Total Number of pages read: 472

Total Number of books completed: 2

The thing is, The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre, though very interesting and action-packed, is much longer than I figured it would be. The print is very small and the pages are kind of large, so I am flitting between this awesome spy novel that I've been reading for hours now and shorter reads.

I read and liked Turn of the Screw by Henry James; it reminded me vaguely of a movie I had once seen, and I realized after a quick Google search that it was actually the book that inspired the movie The Others. It's slightly dramatic and overdone and really more of a psychological horror story than the ghost story that the blurb on the back says it is. Still, a quick, good read!

And then, I just finished reading The Shadow Out of Time by H. P. Lovecraft. Ah, Lovecraft. It's a great story. I love how Lovecraft never bothers with a good introduction or slowly inching his way into the messy, weird stuff; instead he just dives right in, and pretty much shocks you to the core of your being. Amazing book; reminded me why I loved The Case of Charles Dexter Ward so much.

Now I am signing off, till the end of the readathon, to... you know, just relax, cuddle up in bed and read. I will post a sort of master update at the end of the readathon, with all my reading stats and books I read, along with, (assuming I manage to stay awake that long) mini-reviews of all the books I manage to read in the remaining time. Happy Reading!!

The 24 Hour Readathon Update # 1

Currently Reading: The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carre (496 pages)

Last book read: Turn of the Screw by Henry James (149 pages)

Next up to-be-read: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (...maybe.)

Reading stats -
Total Number of pages read: 322

Total Number of books completed: 1

I think I started reading a bit too early (the whole GMT, IST thing is very confusing.) But does it really matter if I accidentally read for a couple of extra hours? I honestly can't recall the last time I felt so incredibly comfortable and involved in a book. Maybe when I read the entire Chrestomanci series (Diana Wynne Jones) in a single day. Or when that Harry Potter book, that I had been desperately waiting for for almost a year, finally came out. It wasn't more than a couple of times. I guess you're not always able to just drop everything else from your mind, avoid all possible distractions and throw yourself into a book. This read-a-thon is helping me realize how much I love reading and how little enjoyment I usually take out of this. The fact that this seems like the best book I have ever read (which it probably isn't) proves that I am loving every second of this. Really.

I am making notes on little scraps of paper while I am reading the book, so that I can write instant reviews, something I'm not really used to. This is a library book, so writing notes in the margins is out of question... and I haven't exactly tried doing that ever. So I want to ask you, are you okay with actually writing inside books, in the margins or on that blank page at the end? Or do you just wait till the entire read-a-thon is over to write your views on the books that you read? If you're participating in this read-a-thon, I look forward to reading your updates as well.

Happy Reading!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Planning for the 24 Hour Readathon... not!

Ah, another read-a-thon. It's my first time participating in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon, and to say that I am excited would be a gross understatement. I had planned to read actual paper books, because reading e-books continuously for such a long time might actually make my eyes melt. But, as it turns out, and at the worst possible time, there is only one book left on my shelf that I haven't read yet. And I was under the impression, that the readathon is next weekend, until, right about NOW! So I rushed out to get me some books. But obviously, as fate will have it, it's too late and all the shops were closed. My last resort was second-hand books, you know, the ones at the roadside 'shops'. I stopped and looked around at a few of those, but didn't find anything that wasn't bent or torn and that did interest me. My point being this; I had to alter my reading list quite a bit. Didn't affect my excitement, though! Not in the least.

What do I plan to read?
1. A library book, the only single one left to be read on my shelf: The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carre

...and that's it. Now I've got to get me some e-books.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Literary Pet Peeves

"What are your literary pet peeves?", asks today's question on Booking Through Thursdays (a meme about reading and books, which is hosted here every week!)

I think I have ranted enough on this blog about coffee stains (worse, stains of inexplicable origins) and dog-eared pages, and bent covers and broken spines; novels with too much dialogue, plays with too many descriptions, teen-talk and slang and such things. Here are bookish habits (that people have) that I have managed not to complain about. Some of my people-related literary pet peeves:

1. Nosy librarians - I know, that they are there to help. But when that librarian tells me that that book is not for my level (which she wouldn't really know) it is sort of irritating. I don't particularly enjoy it, when a librarian tells me that I shouldn't read that book because I wouldn't like it, or that Kafka can be confusing, or gives me her opinions on the book that I have chosen, in a slightly condescending, know-it-all kind of tone. So, while I do know, that they are there to help, I do wish they'd wait for me to ask them for help before offering free advice.

2. Book bragging - "Have you read that book, because I have." (And I have also read and have an opinion - which I am going to voice - on every book that you are going to mention in the rest of the conversation) Don't you hate it when people do that? Boast. You know, I hate conversations that go "I read blah, blah and blah and now I am going to read blah and your Goodreads update says that you read blah recently, and I have read blah too and I liked it." I love books, but it's not the only thing I love in the whole world. I get it; you love reading. Guess what? I do too. Let's move on, it's not a "Who reads more?" contest. I would like a nice conversation about literature, or about something mentioned in one of your favourite books, but not how many books you read per week.
(Excuse me for that rant there.)

3. People who give out spoilers: That includes reviewers, who can't seem to write good reviews without a 'spoiler alert', if you know it might spoil the book for someone, why even write it? I am one of those people who doesn't mind knowing the rest of the story, or that twist ending, but I do mind people who actually enjoy spoiling the fun for others! Knowing how things turn out doesn't affect my reading experience, really; but it is still annoying when someone derives some sort of pleasure out of telling me what happens next in the book that I have specifically said I am reading. I mean, really, are we kids? Haven't you guessed that people might like to keep it a suspense?

4. People who misspell the book title/author's name - "The Fountain Head ROCKS!!" Really? I would have thought someone who loved that book so much, would have known it was The Fountainhead and not a book about a fountain head, whatever that is. Oh, and you love Stephanie Meyers, is it? Well, good for you.

So, do you have any bookish pet peeves (you know, people-related) or am I just too judgmental!?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

I spent a little over a month reading Anna Karenina, hoping and praying for the book not to end. It was my first Tolstoy, and I have to say, one of the best reading experiences of my life. Tolstoy is known, according to that little book analysis at the beginning of my edition (I can't seem to remember who has written it) for his ability to make fiction seem real, and the characters do almost walk right off the pages. I am certain, that Anna Karenina is one of the best works of literary realism.

Someone asked me a while ago what the book was about, and my reply, "A love affair and the social and personal disasters it leads to" just didn't seem to cut it. It is a book about an entire Society, I would now say. Religion, politics, marriage, happiness, insecurity, death, aristocracy, social obligation and everything in between. I used to think it was beautiful and amazing how writers can come up with a whole new world, a bizarre, fantastic world; which is why fantasy was my favourite genre. I think now, that it is much harder to come up with a world that so closely resembles real life. To write an (almost) nine hundred pages-long story, with not just a single one-directional plot, but a combination of the lives and concerns of about fifty characters, strung together by the fact that they live in the same society.

Tolstoy managed to keep me engaged the entire time, because it was not just a world entirely new to me, but a world that might just have been real once upon a time. Fascinating. The writing had an amazing flow to it, and I would like to believe that little was lost in translation. The book was a page-turner, but not in the sense that I wanted to find out how it ends, but because I wanted to find out just what happens next. I loved that the book wasn't only about the charming Anna Karenina and her tragic love affair with Count Vronsky. What wonderfully contrasted the story of Anna Karenina, was that of Konstantin Levin, (possibly my favourite character) the socially inept landowner, who is more or less a representation of every individual's search for some substantial meaning of life.

Ultimately, the one thing that hit me the most about the book, is what Tolstoy has to say about family. It is a book about different people, their lives intersecting by a matter of chance, coping with their everyday problems, while their fates are decided by the already defined society.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Tolstoy's ability to describe even the littlest of things in a way that you feel you're actually there is commendable. You realize so much about the characters just from the way they move, sit, talk. Throughout the book, Tolstoy has described things from the outward social view as well as given you a glimpse into the characters' minds, their thoughts, opinions, their seemingly unpredictable decisions. You also see, and this was the one thing I really appreciated, the different characters from each other's viewpoints. I think that gives the most insight into the way people think, the quick judgments we make, the small insecurities, envy, jealousy, anger. I was really amazed at how precisely the author has displayed the emotions flowing through a person at every stage, how well he has shown arguments and fights and little bursts of anger.

The story gave me so much to think about; I have been chewing my brain on the contents of this book since last night (when I finally finished reading it.) In all probability, I have yet to grasp many aspects of the book. Some things might strike me later, or when I read the book all over again. But there's one thing I am entirely sure of at this moment, (and it isn't just the post-reading excitement talking) this is the most amazing book I have ever read and I would love to re-read and re-experience it!

(I have the Back to Classics Challenge to thank for, without which I would never have taken up the daunting task of reading this enormous book!)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Favourite Words

I like to write, I love to read; that makes it fairly obvious that I like words. These aren't my favourite words, because I like what they mean or because I think they sound exactly like what they mean (which, according to me, the words laughter and mystery really do!)
It's because I like saying them; even if only in my head (I don't talk all that much.) I like the way they roll off your tongue or how they have a sort of easy flow or how they somehow simply sound funny!


These are only a few that just came to my mind. Really. What are your favourite words and why?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” asked Sam, leaning closer to her over the card table and dropping his voice.
“What’s weird?” she said, turning to him.
“That you can have this whole entire life, with all your opinions, your loves, your fears. Eventually those parts of you disappear. And then the people who could remember those parts of you disappear, and before long all that’s left is your name in some ledger. This Marcy person - she had a favorite food. She had friends and people she disliked. We don’t even know how she died.” Sam smiled sadly. “I guess that’s why I like preservation better than history. In preservation I feel like I can keep some of it from slipping away.”
As he spoke Connie noticed that his face was attractive in a wonderfully flawed sort of way; it held a sharp, straight nose peeling with sunburn, and mischievous green eyes bracketed by deep smile lines. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, a brown color bleached by the sun. Connie smiled at him.
“I can see that. But history’s not as different as you might think.” She brushed her fingers over Marcy Lamson’s name scrawled on the page. “Don’t you think Marcy would be surprised if she knew that some random people in 1991 were reading her name and thinking about her? She probably never even imagined 1991. In a way” - Connie hesitated - “it offers her a kind of immortality. At least this way she gets to be remembered. Or thought about. Noticed.”
Doesn't this sound like a charming book? It was very fascinating. The last time I read about the Salem witches was in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane was another way of looking at a terribly captivating time in history.
Connie Goodwin, a Harvard graduate, gets her hands on a bible and an ornate key in her grandmother's ancient house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. The key contains a paper with the name Deliverance Dane written on it. This seems like a perfect source for her dissertation to Connie, who decides to search for the long lost recipe book of Deliverance Dane, who appears to have been a Salem witch. Along the way, we're treated to glimpses of the past and of Deliverance's life.
I loved the first half of the book. I loved the descriptions of Deliverance's life, and what they told us about the lives of the women of her time. The rich, musty, earthy feel of the past, of history, was evident throughout the book. I also enjoyed Connie's journey to uncovering the truth. I lost much of my interest halfway through the book, though, when the story turned from all its historical goodness to fantasy. I was looking for a book that told me about the witch hunts and the victims of the witch trials and their terrifying but intriguing past. I didn't think it would turn into a "Ooh, magic exits" thing; as it did once the modern-day characters started performing magic themselves! I had hoped against this very predictable twist from the moment I started reading the book, but I was disappointed. The plot wasn't very quick paced; the author concentrated more on noticing and describing in detail the littlest things.
That being said, it was a good read. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical books, can deal a relatively slower plot and doesn't mind a dash of fantasy! I won't say I loved the book, but I am glad I read it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

How did you come up with your blog name?

Did you put a lot of thought into it? I mean all of it - the blog title, the address, the tag-line (if you have one!) It's pretty much the first thing you have to enter in there when you make your blog. So, does your blog name have a story behind it, or was it a spur-of-the-moment idea? And, if it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, have you ever wanted to change it?

My sister had been convincing me to start a blog the entire week, I think, but since I never took her seriously, I didn't really give the blog name a thought. I was online one day and I just went, "Hell. Why don't I just do it!" And I started a blog, that I didn't really plan on keeping up for so long. Looking at all the cool bookish blog titles out there, I now wish I had thought of something wittier.

Well, anyway, a few days before I started this blog, I watched one of my favourite Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes - Tabula Rasa. And the spell Willow casts was stuck in my head. It went something like, "When the fire goes out and this crystal turns black, a spell will be cast. Tabula rasa, tabula rasa." The phrase 'tabula rasa' sounded very cryptic and exotic and Latin-ey. (It means 'blank slate' in Latin and is also used to refer to the state we are born in, with a blank mind that is yet to be nurtured.) So, that's just what kept coming to my mind! I actually kind of like the name, so I never bothered trying to change it.

The blog address on the other hand, I like but regret. It's too long and confusing for those of you who are not as crazy about Harry Potter as I am. It's a spell from Harry Potter, obviously, but I only wish I had thought of something like Lumos instead of such a complicated name!!

So what about you? How did you come up with your blog title?