Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

When you see an erotic novel, er..a trilogy topping the bestseller charts, you naturally assume that the books have something more than, well, “kinky f**kery” as the author of the said trilogy describes it. Turns out you could be wrong. The Fifty Shades trilogy, which is made up of the books “Fifty Shades of Grey“, “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed“, offers little more than some extremely detailed and just moderately innovative sex.

E.L. James, the author of the series, used to write fanfiction. Fifty Shades, I’m told, is an adaptation of a fanfiction (If you can believe there’s such a thing) that she wrote on the Twilight Series. Now if you have read a few fanfictions, and I have, you’ll have noticed two common traits present in most of them. One, the authors always make the characters bigger and grander than in the original books, sort of a pathetic bid to outdo the original authors. Two, a lot and a lot and a lot of completely unnecessary sex. If that sounds bad in the context of Twilight, believe me, there are fan-written versions of Harry Potter that will make you gag.

Anyway, to get back to the topic at hand : Fifty Shades fits those two characteristics perfectly. Edward in Twilight was good-looking.  Christian Grey of Fifty Shades is impossibly good-looking and handsome. Edward and his family was rich. Christian of Fifty Shades earns “roughly a hundred thousand dollars an hour” and belongs to an old rich family. Bella’s mom and dad were divorced. Anastasia Steele’s mom has been through no less than four husbands. Get the picture?

As for the second characteristic that I mentioned of fanfictions, you are not going to be disappointed. In fact, you might get tired of it by the end of the first part and find yourself skipping pages in the second and the third. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I certainly did.

Just to give you an idea 🙂

Christian Grey, the rather faded xerox copy of Edward, is predictably handsome, intelligent, kind, generous, strong, muscular and ultra-rich. He’s also a f***ing psycho, which seems to be the central theme of all three novels. Rather remarkable choice of subject, don’t you think? Anyway, here’s how the story goes (Don’t worry about spoilers, you could have written this yourself) : Anastasia Steele, your average lovely young virgin, goes to interview Grey and falls in love with him. But this Grey is more than you think. He has had a troubled childhood. As a result (please don’t ask me or expect the author to explain), he has turned into a control freak and a sadist, a dominant who likes to tie up young girls and do some extremely obscene things to them. Rich guy that he is, he has an entire room devoted to his Dom-Sub activities. He doesn’t have a heart, nor any tender feelings, he doesn’t do hearts and flowers. In his own words, he f**ks, and hard. Oh by the way, before he takes any of his subs to his “Red Room of Pain”, he makes them sign a non-disclosure agreement, although he knows that sort of an agreement can never be legally binding. Like I said, don’t ask me to explain.

To continue, this paragon decides to make Ana one of his subs and make good use of all his crops and whips and clamps(don’t ask) and plugs(please don’t ask) on her delicious young body. And then of course, she turns out to be more than he gave her credit for. She, in between numerous sessions of intense physical exertion, finds herself smitten, frightened or curious about this man. Yes, they fall in love. Yes, they fight. Yes they struggle to understand each other. Yes, he is overprotective and she finds that suffocating. Yes, she takes risks and he finds that frustrating. Yes, they go through a trial separation. Yes they get married. Yes there’s the obligatory villain and vamp. Yes there’s a happy ending. And yes, they have a lot of issues which they think they will talk and argue and fight about, but both their underwears melt at the sight of each other, all issues forgotten and forgiven. And Yes, of course, they f**k roughly a hundred times a book in about fifteen different ways. See what I meant about not bothering with spoiler alerts?

In my humble opinion, these books (pick any) are good. Provided you’re not looking for anything other than some light porn to pass the time. Ana’s inner goddess speaks way too much. Christian gets mad much too often. The rest of the cast is exactly what you get in any second-rate novel. The conversations are absurd. (For Americans, they speak in too British a way.) And all that fuss about Christian getting carried away with his dominant streak and Ana getting hurt because of it, well, trust me, it’s not worth it.

The books, admittedly, have been immensely popular. That’s understandable. Most people love soft porn. Especially when then can enjoy it while pretending to do something else, i.e, reading a novel. I heard someone say that these books are awesome, because they make men and women explore their own and each other’s sexuality. Well, no offense pal, but if you need to read three novels to explore your own or your husband/wife’s sexuality, maybe medical attention is what you need even more.

Laters, baby.

The Author

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Most war or action novels have a few things in common : A handsome hero who can shoot you between the eyes with his left hand while he lights a cigar with his right, a funny sidekick who never ever tries to steal the limelight, a pretty girl who is in serious and frequent need of rescuing, and plenty of ugly, stupid bad guys. My favorite one of all time (and I assure you, I’ve read a lot), however, involves a single warship at sea. The handsome hero is missing, so are sidekicks and pretty girls. The bad guys are not ugly or stupid at all. They are menacing, ruthless and brilliant; and they manage to outfox the good guys at almost every turn.

Welcome to HMS Ulysses (1955), the first novel by the Scottish author Alistair Maclean.  Maclean, incidentally, also happens to be one of my favorite authors. The story takes place in the backdrop of World War II, and offers a barely believable and emotionally shattering picture of what used to happen in the ill-fated Russian Convoys of WWII. For those of you unfamiliar with the Russian convoys, please check out the link. Also, just to give you an idea of the conditions on those ships, here’s a glimpse of HMS Sheffield on a such a convoy sometime between 1941-45, courtesy Wikipedia :

To return to our story, it’s about an ill-fated voyage of a light cruiser of the Royal Navy. HMS Ulysses, a warship armed with all the latest technologies of her time, is used to escort the merchant ships through the Arctic Ocean, trying to protect them from German attacks as they sail to Russian ports carrying priceless supplies of war equipment.  Repeated voyages through the extreme arctic conditions, the cold, the violent sea, lack of sleep, exhaustion, hunger, and the ever-present fear of a sudden, violent death delivered by a German torpedo or bomb has pushed the crew beyond human endurance. And after a short, failed mutiny, HMS Ulysses is once again ordered North to escort FR77, a convoy sailing from America to the Russian ports of Archangel and Murmansk. Most of the crew went because they were past caring. A few others, like the Captain Vallery, chose to do the job simply because it had to be done. The captain, whom the crew actually loved, is not one of your typical heroes. He is old, sick and dying. His loathing of war is matched only by his bitterness at the futility of it. He does not give rousing speeches, he is not a one man army, he is not a genius. He is just a common man, full of compassion and understanding, whose primary concern is always his men. The voyage is a catastrophe right from the moment it begins. The convoy has to face freak accidents, an unbelievably fierce storm and relentless, determined German attacks throughout the way. Interestingly, unlike most WWII novels, the Germans are not painted as monsters. In fact, the respect the officers and especially the captain has for a brave, determined and intelligent enemy is refreshing and moving.

The beauty of the book is not in its portrayal of naval battles or assault tactics. It is in its depiction of the human elements of the war and the brilliant way Maclean builds each character, from a lowly able seaman to an admiral of the fleet. Maclean describes the sub-human conditions on those ships with a level of detail that will, frankly, torture you. This is not a happy book. Although you will find the occasional humor here and there, the book is heartbreakingly sad in many, many places. You will suffer with each member of the crew as they travel through the hell that the Russian Convoys were. You will cry with them as their beloved ones die around them, you will start praying that the sufferings of the Ulysses be over or that it has a lucky break for a change.  You will love the characters : Tyndall, the admiral with his temper and his pain, Captain Vallery –  the man who carried the ship on his back, Brooks – the good doctor, the L.T.O Ralston who lost his entire family in the war and begged his captain to stay with the ship, The Kapok Kid and Nicholls, Riley and Petersen, you’ll come to know them, you’ll love them and in the end, you’ll cry for them. As I told you before, this is not a happy book. The closest thing to this you have probably come across will the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Just like the movie, this tells you about the futility of war, about the mindless violence that takes away so many good men, and for no reason. It will tell you how ordinary men, left with no hope and no relief rise up to be heroes.

It’s  a story that will make you sad, but it’s worth knowing, because what you read is actually what happened or used to happen in the convoys in the war. In case you doubt that, please note that the author himself served during the war on HMS Royalist, a ship of the same class as Ulysses. Also, this is scarcely believable, but the story of HMS Ulysses is based loosely on the true events on Convoy PQ-17, a similar convoy which was travelling to Archangel in 1942 under similar conditions, and met a remarkably similar fate.

Alistair MacLean

Alistair MacLean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me. Once, when she specifically lumped me with those musical types, I asked her what the order was, and she replied, smiling, ‘Alphabetical.’ At the time I smiled too. But now I sit and wonder whether she was listing me by my first name — in which case I would trail Mozart — or by my last name, in which case I would edge in there between Bach and the Beatles. Either way I don’t come first, which for some stupid reason bothers hell out of me..”

It has been more than 10 years, probably more than 12, since I read those lines for the first time. I can still quote it word for word, any given day, no matter how bad the day has been. Love Story. By Erich Segal. Before I read the book, someone told me that an entire dorm in some Ivy League place had phoned Erich Segal one night, in tears, to ask why Jenny had to die. After I was finished with the book, I didn’t blame them. I wanted to do the same.

Oliver Barett IV, handsome harvard jock and campus hero, born into immense wealth and stature. His family, through generations, having donated a lot of buildings to Harvard and his father having expected nothing but the best from him all along and taking it for granted when he had succeeded in meeting those expectations consistently.

Jennifer Cavilleri, a smart, feisty and lively Radcliffe student majoring in Music. An American of Italian descent, brought up by and living with her devout catholic father Phil. Jennifer is the firecracker who lives everyday like there’s no tomorrow, the beauty with brains who never fails to come up with a devastating one liner.

The two of them meet at the Radcliffe Library one afternoon and sparks fly. Before you know it, they have been to a couple of Hockey games, fallen in love, Oliver has fought with his father and walked out of his money, the two of them have gotten married and the happy couple has shifted to New York. And again, before you can catch your breath, Jenny is dead and the story has ended. Don’t bother shouting “Spoiler! Spoiler!” The beauty of Love Story, ironically, is not in the story, but in the way the story has been told. The book does not have one single bland sentence, one that it could have managed without. Every one has an impact on you. They would make you chuckle in one instant, hold your breath in the next, and bring tears to your eyes in yet another one. The conversation between the couple is awesome, the supporting characters perfect, the main characters out of this world.

Oliver with his pride and insecurities and his grim struggle to get out of his father’s shadow, the loving, caring, doting Phil, the formidable Oliver Barrett III and his struggle to hold on to his dear son on one hand and to satisfy his ego and his pride on the other, and above all, the bewitching, beautiful, witty, smart, blunt, naughty Jenny with all her beauty  and wit and charm and her smashing one-liners.

Sample this, ”  ‘Jenny, we’re legally married!’
‘Yeah, now I can be a bitch.’ ”

It might seem pointless to write about Love Story, as it is a book that most of us have already read. However, the purpose of this article is not to be a review. Me reviewing Erich Segal would be blasphemy anyway. This is more of a tribute. I have been a fan of Segal for a long time now. In my opinion, Love Story is not even his best work or his best novel. That honor would go to The Class or Acts of Faith, two other of his creations I’ll never forget. Love Story, however, is different. While it’s probably not his best story, it has to be the best writte. You have to read it to feel it.

Most of you, I’m sure, have read it already. If you’re literate and you have not, believe me, you should.

Harvey Dent said in The Dark Knight, ” You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”  The Hunger Games trilogy, a bunch so called “Young-Adult” novels, does more justice (and on a larger magnitude) to that beautiful piece of insight than Christopher Nolan himself could do in his hard-hitting and emotionally draining masterpiece. In the series, Suzanne Collins paints a haunting picture of a post-apocalyptic North America through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who is the protagonist of the novels.

The three novels in the trilogy are “The Hunger Games“, “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay“. The story takes place in an indefinite future, in a post apocalyptic North America where there exists a country called Panem. Panem consists of a magnificently rich Capitol and twelve(once 13) poorer districts identified only by numbers which the capitol rules with an iron fist. As punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol in which a 13th district was destroyed, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected by annual lottery to participate in the “Hunger Games”. The Hunger Games is a televised event where those 24 participants from the 12 districts must fight to the death until only one of them is alive.

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, the first book follows Katniss through the 74th Hunger games as she volunteers to save her sister prim. Joining her from District 12 is Peeta, a baker’s son who predictably falls in love with her. Katniss survives the games and also forces the capitol to accept two winners instead of one to ensure that Peeta also emerges alive.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

Catching Fire, the second book starts by telling us that the capitol isn’t happy with Katniss and Peeta’s little show of defiance and is planning on retribution. We also learn that Katniss and Peeta have sparked rebellious sentiments in the other districts and the population is turning restive. To get their revenge, the Capitol forces Katniss and Peeta into the Hunger Games an unprecedented second time. This, however, doesn’t work as the Capitol intended it to.  The participants, along with some people from the Capitol itself have made a plan with the rebels of District 13 and they whisk Katniss and most of the other participants off to district 13 as Katniss destroys the arena.

Mockingjay

Mockingjay, the final novel of the trilogy begins with an all-out war raging between the Capitol and the Districts. Katniss is dubbed the Mockingjay, the rallying point of the rebels and the face of the revolution. The narrative of the war is gripping. Katniss, however, has her doubts. She is not happy with the way she is being used as a propaganda tool. The people conducting the war also seem to have their little agendas. What happens next is something you should find out from the book, not from a review. Especially if you have liked the plot so far. When you are deciding whether to read the book or not, remember two things : One, the quote I opened this article with. Two, It doesn’t have a happy ending.

Conclusion : The problem with going through a much-hyped book or movie is that your expectations are already set sky-high. And the book or the movie, most of the time through no fault of their own, fails to live up to them. The Hunger Games, in this hobo’s humble opinion, suffers the same unfair fate. When I started reading the novels, I had already read hundreds of lines of praise for the series. It features in Wikipedia’s most read books of all time. It has been called the book of the decade and so on.  As a result, I started reading it while sub-consciously expecting it to be something in the class of Harry Potter, Shantaram or Erich Segal. And when you begin with that, you are going to end up disappointed.

In all honesty, the story, or the overall plot, is very good. Although the influence of television is pretty obvious throughout, the story will be able to hold you till the last page. The main characters : Katniss, Gale, Peeta, Haymitch, Cinna, Coin, Snow… they all are endearing or loathsome, depending on which side you are on. The good thing about the series it has so many layers and faces. Poverty, luxury, family values, love, romance, war, brutality, betrayal, good guy-turned-bad,  sci-fi, a little bit of innocent sounding sexual appeal, it has them all. The not-so-good thing is that it visibly struggles balancing so many things. For example, the love triangle is pretty lame. So is often the conversation. Some ideas are, frankly, too preposterous even in a sci-fi fantasy novel. The “Muttations” for example. Also, it’s not really very scientific that when it comes to aviation, a race capable of creating force-fields and ballistic missiles can do no better than planes which can be brought down with arrows. Finally, the most absurd thing about the series is the names used. Seriously, Peeta? Muttations?? Tracker-jackers??? Worst of all, a tech-wizard named BeeTee? I mean, come on, you could have rather named him Sony or T-Mobile for crying out loud. This and other small goof-ups are what spoil the overall experience to a large extent. The narrative, I mean the quality and grip on the language too, could have been better. It is not very smooth of pleasant to read, which is why you might feel the story is progressing on short jerks instead of a smooth flow. All in all, it could have been better, and it is not as good as the publicity it has enjoyed. Having said that, it’s a good story. Definitely worth a read.

P.S : I know there’s a movie out. As a great man once said : Never judge a book by its movie. Happy Reading!

A map of the fictional nation of Panem from Su...

A map of the fictional nation of Panem from Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)