lexlingua: (Brightness)

2016 saw me reaching out for many books and abandoning them midway. Even TV shows and movies were fewer in number than I had hoped. However, out of the few media and moments that I did explore, here are the most memorable ones for me:

#1# And Then There Were None (BBC 2015). I find this to be Christie's darkest story (well, maybe besides Curtain and Five Little Pigs). A group of eight strangers with sordid pasts are invited for dinner, and slowly, each one of them is murdered. Suspenseful, with a great star cast. And may I add here, that I finally understand why Aidan Turner has such a big fan following in Poldark? Watch him in this fan-made trailer.

#2# Veronica Mars. Who knew a 2003 TV show about a teenage girl detective could be so cracktastic? The first season was a series of sleuthing assignments for Veronica (and her PI father), overlayed by a grimmer, more urgent plotline of the mysterious death of Veronica's best friend last year. All the characters are well-drawn, with a lot of backstory and depth, and the relationships are well-knit too. But best of all is Veronica's snark. *smirk*

#3# The Visit. Got this 1956 play by Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt from the local library. I wish I'd found this book when I'd been searching for plays to direct at my school talent show. Claire Zachanassian, now a multi-millionnaire widow, re-visits her dying hometown, and is willing to offer financial help. Except she has a condition -- they must kill the man next in line for Mayor. A cynical, comical and dramatic take on human hypocrisy and how greed can be and often is paraded as righteous piety.

#4# Star Wars: Rogue One. Aka, Episode 3.5. While Episode VII had left me grinning like a loon, this one left me feeling nostalgic. The plot was predictable, the speeches were not so inspiring. Special effects were great as always, though also sorta I've-seen-this-before. But if you have been a Star Wars fan all your life, you simply CANNOT miss this movie.

#5# Oh Drakon, or He's a Dragon. The title is not very inspired, but the movie is a feast for the eyes. Based on a Russian folk tale about a dragon who demands a human bride sacrifice to leave the villagers in peace, the story sucks you in. The soundtrack is as beguiling as the cinematography. If you like folk tales retold, then this one's a must watch. You can find the English-subtitled trailer here.

#6# Arrival. Any "First Contact" movie out there, I gotta see it. In this one, a linguist is called on to interpret the language of the alien Hexapods who land on earth in their eerie egg-shaped spaceships, with incredible consequences. The first part of the movie is especially tense and nerve-wracking, and Amy Adams' look of absolute awe mixed with fear makes for superb acting. Though I did find loopholes in the ending and some hidden geographical biases, Arrival was possibly the most thought-provoking movie I saw all year.

#7# Dark Universe. I saw this short documentary-cum-movie at the Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History on New Year's Eve. And before you think only kids go there, let me tell you -- NOT. It was an amazing hair-raising experience, with the whole archdome of the theatre a giant 3D screen immersing you right amidst the stars. Here's a brief clip:



#8# Thank You. Well, the year's best-of-list is never complete without a Korean drama strewn in. Thank You is a 2007 production, starring my favorite actors Jang Hyuk and Gong Hyo-Jin. The story centers around a single mother raising an HIV-positive child and a grandfather suffering from Alzheimer's in a backwaters village, with no respite in sight. Then one day, a jaded, almost maniacal, doctor walks in, and from there onwards, the show is a story about redemption, new beginnings and the joys of simple living. Each of the 16 episodes was so well-crafted, my heart ached afterwards. Thank you 2016, for letting me watch this show. You can watch it on Youtube.

#9. A Year Full of Music. I discovered a lot of great music this year, thanks to Apple Music, including: the creepy Dollhouse by Melanie Martinez, the haunting Can You Hear Me? by Fleurie, the strangely restful Ethiopian prayer music, and the epic instrumental music by Thomas Bergersen (great for writing, by the way). I also attended the Norah Jones musical concert, which was three hours of therapy for the soul.

#10# First Snow. So I have never seen real snow before. Or held it in the palm of my hand. Brr. You know about all those first snow theories? That if you make a wish on first snow, it turns true? Well, here's hoping it comes true for me this 2017.
lexlingua: (Macabre)
What are some traits of the villains we all love to hate? Here’s my count-down of some of the worst villains I have encountered in my reading life, and what makes them tick:

#1/ They were born with the silver tongue.
Well, first there was the serpent in Eden. Then there were the witches in Macbeth, who led a brave man into a mess of his own-making with their self-fulfilling prophecies, and the priest Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Iago in Othello who make the heroes turn against their own beloveds. Oh, these wily abettors, with all their slippery lies and their crafty gift of the gab. Let’s also not forget those serial killers in literature and on screen, who keep us on the edge of our seats as they persuade many a victim into their parlour and there onwards to an early grave.

#2/ Their motives remain hidden, and therefore, more ominous.
Sunday is not the name of a week. In The Man Who Was Thursday, Sunday is the head of a shady organization bent upon anarchy. Thursday is the under-cover police officer who has a mad-paced race to stop Sunday’s nefarious plans and prove that Order will always wins over Chaos. Except… Sunday turns out to be something else.

#3/ They are omniscient.
Like Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis, these villains are everywhere. They have spies in the elitist and most secretive organizations, in the underground, in the police, in the government. There is nothing hidden from them, and this only makes them more difficult to defeat. Imagine what a master criminal mind they make, and if only they could have put it to good use.

#4/ They are deluded they are doing Good.
There is rarely a villain worse than the one who thinks his evil actions are intended for the Good of the people, or even their loved ones. Kilgrave from Jessica Jones is one such character; right till the end, he thinks his coercive, intrusive mind-raping actions are justified because Jessica is his true love and all’s well that ends well. And if you've read Jane Eyre, you will remember St. John Rivers, the missionary who was so very noble, but his sternness, sense of importance and inhuman emotional control made him completely unbearable.

#5/ They could have been redeemed, and sometimes, you want to pity them.
The villain from the Korean drama, Liar Game, is twisted. He is conducting a psychological experiment on reality TV, and as the manipulative, must-be-insane evil genius TV host, this villain is truly matchless. When his real motives come to light in the climax of the drama, you are disturbed, you grieve for the reasons he turned out this way, you pity him. You wonder if he can redeem himself in the next season of the TV show.

#6/ They can be unpredictable, and two-faced. Literally.
Sometimes, they have to make a choice between a an evil act and a good one. They’ll keep you on your toes, wondering what they’ll do next or whose side they’ll take. Loki is one example that comes to mind. Another’s Coyote, in Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series. And then there is that whole dissociative identity/ multiple personality disorder shenanigans, with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Gollum from Lord of the Rings, and Norman Bates from Psycho leading the parade. Which choice will finally be made? Which personality will finally take over?

#7/ Sometimes, their presence speaks louder than words.
They may not have raised a finger at the hero, yet their mere presence in the room is like a dark cloud. You are more terrified of their silence and their stillness than any action that any other character may decide to take. You know who I’m speaking about. That Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, you just know her knitting is weaving trouble all around. Or the Raven King from Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, who has disappeared from England and taken all the magic out with him, yet his legend persists, and it’s downright hair-raising.

#8/ They really just want to survive.
They’ll say, I only wanted to survive. And in a weird sad way, it sort of makes sense. Ask Sher Khan from The Jungle Book, who wants food, and who better than a hate human cub. Or even Count Vlad, Dracula, who is stuck permanently in this human realm and needs blood to live on – so obviously, he needs to crawl down walls and bite human women (why only human women?) to death.

#9/ They crave world domination.
This one’s a no-brainer. We all know Voldemort. We have seen his dark but fascinating evolution from Tom Marvolo Riddle to the Dark Lord in the Harry Potter series. From what I have read about J.K. Rowling, Voldemort’s mission for pureblood supremacy is mirrored against Hitler’s agenda of genocide. And then there’s Sauron from Lord of the Rings, and Darth Vader. If ever there was ambition, these villains have it.

#10/ They thrive on torture.
Er, have you seen Game of Thrones? Have you seen Ramsay Bolton torturing Reek? Or Nils Bjurman in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo? Phew. Enough said.

So, which villains have been most loathsome for you?
lexlingua: (WHAT!?)
Clerihew: a type of light, humorous biographical four-line poem (i.e. a "quartrain"), in rhyming style AABB. The clerihew was named after its inventor, Edmund Clerihew Bentley (also, one of G.K. Chesterton's close friends). The first line of the clerihew is the name of the poem's subject, usually a famous person "put in an absurd light".

A few funniest samples here:


After dinner, Erasmus
Told Colet not to be “blas’mous”
Which Colet, with some heat
Requested him to repeat.
~
The people of Spain think Cervantes
Equal to half-a-dozen Dantes:
An opinion resented most bitterly
By the people of Italy.
~
Sir Humphrey Davy
Detested gravy.
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered sodium.
~
George the Third
Ought never to have occurred.
One can only wonder
At so grotesque a blunder.
~
Sir Christopher Wren
Said, "I'm going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls,
Say I'm designing St. Paul's."
lexlingua: (Reading)

"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first."

~ Mark Twain
lexlingua: (Reading)

Come to the edge, he said.

They said: We are afraid.

Come to the edge, he said.

They came. He pushed them...

... And they flew.
"

~ Guillaume Apollinaire.
lexlingua: (Books)

Top Ten Gateway Books is a meme at Top 10 Tuesday that's recently become quite popular. Here's a round-up of the ten books that introduced me to new genres and new ways of thinking:


1. Gateway into Historical FictionLes Meserables by Victor Hugo -- I loved my old English teacher, and she once read to us, The Bishop's Candlesticks, in school. Eager to know whether Jean Valjean reformed himself and stopped stealing after all, I raced to buy an abridged version of Les Meserables. I devoured the book in one night, wailed buckets into my pillow and bunked school the next day -- a first for me.

2. Gateway to Literary FictionAtlas Shrugged by  Ayn Rand was possibly my first serious contemporary read. Prior to this, my life had been Harry Potter and Jane Austen. Suddenly, capitalism was thrust at me in the form of a fat book about a legendary guy gathering all the heroes of the world and leaving the loser moochers behind in the dust. I stole the book from my elder brother's bookshelf and never even understood the half of it. But I still loved Dagny Taggart and wanted to be like her. Who is John Galt? My favourite question ever.

3. Gateway into Non-FictionRusska: The Novel of Russia by Edward Rutherfurd -- I grew up on Russian/ Ukrainian folk tales (and if you have never tried them, you really, really must). So my enchantment with Russia, its history and architecture, and yes, even its politics, has been a long standing one. Then one day, I found Russka in a book store; someone had placed it in the wrong side of the shelves. Non-fiction suddenly became very intriguing.

4. Gateway into Detective FictionThe Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie is by no means my favorite but it's memorable because it started me off on a binge-read of Christie's books. The man in question was cynical, brooding, glowering (at our chirpy heroine), and possibly a murderer. Favorite qualities in a hero for a teenage girl, don't you know. The villain was so likeable, he put the said hero to shame. For someone whose idea of mystery books and detective fiction had so far been Nancy Drew, Hitchcok's Three Investigators and Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outers, Christie's The Man in the Brown Suit was a gateway to a whole new world out there.

5. Gateway into Science FictionCordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold -- I have reviewed this book before. Science fiction was a thing of worry, till someone rightly pointed out you don't have to a nuclear physicist to understand science. Well, Cordelia's Honor is less about science and more about integrity, but it still was a wonderful entry into the world of space opera. It also gave me one of my favorite authors. For any newbie, my recommended primer would always be Cordelia's Honor.

Read more... )
lexlingua: (Books)
If I were to sum up 2015, it would be less reading, more watching. I took several shortcuts this year, opting to watch the movie/ TV versions instead of reading the book. But some of those shortcuts proved to be quite wonderful. With that as a caveat, here’s a summary round-up -- in no particular order -- of all the most memorable events of 2015 for me:


1. Jessica Jones
Binge-watching Jessica Jones was no hard feat; it was the most automatic “play next” in the world (link to trailer). I had read so many reviews about this show: the “neo-Noir” tones, a Marvel Comics hero who is grappling with a painful past slash disability, great relationships (especially female friendships), 3D characterizations, awesome acting and kickass women. All true, boyo. (Note: If you like Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, you will find Jessica Jones remarkably similar, as the self-deprecating, smart PI with supernatural powers.) Krysten Ritter acting as Jessica and David Tennant acting as the evil Kilgrave were jawdroppingly good. Kilgrave, Kilgrave, it is a mark to Melissa Rosenberg’s screenwriting that even for a villain like that, you hope for reformation.

Read more... )
lexlingua: (fanfiction)
I went on a mystery marathon this 2015, pulling out old mystery books which had been made into movies or TV shows. So, in a way I cheated, but I blame it all on The Silkworm, which was my first mystery book in ages and which made me want to read again about the human propensity for murder and mayhem. Here’s the brief run-up:


Every Secret Thing (2014)
This mystery movie is more of a psychological intrigue, and is based on Laura Lippmann’s book of the same name. Two school girls were convicted of killing an African American baby girl, now they have been released. But the same murder happens again – did they or did they not do the second murder as well? Actually, were they guilty of the first murder, in the first place? Everyone’s hiding a secret here, and you don’t know whether you should applaud or berate them for keeping such secrets. Detective Nancy Porter comes across as a mild-mannered and soft-spoken investigator, an unusual characterization for a crime detective. Not sure if its true to the book though. All-in-all, a disturbing but brilliant plot. Rating: 9.5/10

Read more... )
lexlingua: (Random)
Today I'm off to see the latest movie. Yeah, a bit late, but it only just released here.

For those of you who have not watched or who don't remember the series, but want to catch up, here's how you can rehash:

lexlingua: (WHAT!?)

Horoscopes, how much do you believe in them?

Yesterday, a popular astologer in a magazine said I would lose something. I spent the whole of that day worrying that I was forgetting something, maybe my prized iPad would get stolen, my important office docs would go missing due to a technical snag, maybe I would lose contact with an old friend. The possibilities of loss are as endless as that of gain. Guess what, I spent the whole day -- not by choice, though, I must clarify -- cooped in worry at my desk in the office (and it was a particularly long day too). So what did I really lose? My peace of mind, what else? Like one of Macbeth's witches, my horoscope became a self- prophesying disaster.

Its not a new question, really. How much should you or can you rely on horoscopes, answers ranging from never at all to frequently, even on a daily basis. To all of that, a cautionary disclaimer is added by horoscope authors that a lot depends on your "natal" or birth charts. As an Indian, astrology is particularly relevant to me, since so many of our parents rely on the "kundali" for marriages (marriages are made in heaven), and those, from what I understand, rely heavily on natal charts and rising stars and what not. But for popular ("pop") horoscopes -- i.e. the horoscopes that are generally published in newspapers and magazines -- how does one measure their unpredictability or reliability? How precise is the science of astrology? It is a "science" after all. Right?

Read more... )

lexlingua: (Reading)

“Temperament does not predestine one man to sanctity and another to reprobation. All temperaments can serve as the material for ruin or for salvation…It does not matter how poor or how difficult a temperament we may be endowed with. If we make good use of what we have, if we make it serve our good desires, we can do better than another who merely serves his temperament instead of making it serve him.”

-Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
lexlingua: (Disney)

Book Blurb:

The stunning conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award-winning Ancillary Justice.

For a moment, things seemed to be under control for Breq, the soldier who used to be a warship. Then a search of Athoek Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist, and a messenger from the mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai - ruler of an empire at war with itself.

Breq refuses to flee with her ship and crew, because that would leave the people of Athoek in terrible danger. The odds aren't good, but that's never stopped her before.


I began this book with a lot of trepidation. I remembered the basic plot and loved the characters from Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword (my review), but didn't remember the specifics. I simply didn’t have enough time to re-read the previous books, and I was also very afraid that Breq would sacrifice herself for the Greater Good.

These particular qualms were soon sorted out -- but there were other issues. Perhaps the only biggest fault of Ancillary Mercy is that it’s not the first book. The same world building that hits you like lightning in the first book is old hat by now. For the first 25% of the book, I felt I was reading about the same situation again: a kind of ceasefire at the Athoek Station, where Fleet Captain Breq’s ship is stationed, and her crew is waiting for something ominous to come out of the neighbouring ghost gate.

Read more... )
lexlingua: (UserPic)




“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

I am not a fan of dragons, so I have not tried Novik’s more popular Temeraire series (also to be filmed soon by Peter Jackson of LoTR fame). A decision I need to change, obviously, if the series is anything like Uprooted. Because this book. This. Book. It is written like a fairytale, it has a juicy mystery that keeps you on tenterhooks, it speaks of relationships that are realistic and beautiful, and it has cover art which is glorious. What's not to love?
Read more... )
lexlingua: (poetry)

The night is darkening round me,

The wild winds coldly blow;

But a tyrant spell has bound me,

And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending

Their bare boughs weighed with snow;

The storm is fast descending,

And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,

Wastes beyond wastes below;

But nothing drear can move me;

I will not, cannot go.

lexlingua: (Books)
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
Publisher: Hachette Audio (2014)
Narrated by: Robert Glenister

Private investigator Cormoran Strike returns in a new mystery from Robert Galbraith, author of the #1 international bestseller The Cuckoo's Calling. When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days--as he has done before--and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home. But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine's disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives--meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced. When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before.

To be honest, I don’t think I would have read this book if I’d not known that Robert Galbraith was J.K. Rowling. That’s not an aspersion on the quality of the book itself; however, several mystery books come out every year, how many of them actually get pulled into the light? But The Silkworm did, because, well, it’s the second book in the new mystery series by Rowling.

The blurb does a good job of explaining the plot and Glenister narrates the audiobook well, especially the character of Cormoran Strike. It’s clear from the audio version that Cormoran is a gruff and large man, a good employer and a kind man. I personally think that women always make better audiobook narrators because they have a broader range of voice modulation for both male and female characters. Most male audio narrators make women sound as if they are screeching, whispering, or flat-out childish. Glenister doesn't do that, so that's to his credit.

There is a lot of focus on the actual process of detective work, even the smaller daily rituals (sometimes more than the focus on the dangerous side of a detective’s work). Inevitably, therefore, the book is not very fast-paced and despite the dark tenor of the premise, there wasn’t really a time when I was on tenterhooks as to what would happen next. Well, The Silkworm is definitely not a “thriller”. But the whodunit reveal towards the end was quite unexpected, and for that, The Silkworm gets brownie points. I haven't read the first book in the series, so I can also tell you that The Silkworm can be read as a standalone, which is something that Rowling aka Galbraith has always managed exceptionally well.

Read more... )
lexlingua: (Macabre)


My earliest memory of apocalyptic references is from the movies The Omen and The Seventh Sign *rolls eyes* and I remember a heated discussion at the locker rooms/ near the water cooler about the grave signals that apocalypse is imminent. Unlike Buffy, however, I could not shrug it off with an irreverent: "If the apocalypse comes, beep me." Ten years later, I saw the book "Picturing the Apocalypse" on Net Galley, and as I am interested in art, especially books which dissect art, I requested an ARC.
Read more... )
lexlingua: (Reading)

"... The strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time — filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured."


~ John Koenig, about his work, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
lexlingua: (Contemplation)



The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend . . . and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne-or his life.


I picked up this book last year, only to shelve it again within the first few pages itself. This cycle repeated again and again; the only reason I didn't give up on it entirely is because I felt too bad about dismissing a book as DNF without giving it even twenty odd pages, especially when everyone I knew was positively raving about it. Finally, I took up the audiobook -- and lo and behold, I finally realized why The Goblin Emperor makes for such a great read.

Simply put, this is the tale of how the underdog became emperor, and who doesn't love the underdog winning?

Read more... )
lexlingua: (Beauty)
From the song "Anthem" by Leonard Cohen
The birds they sang at the break of day...
"Start again," I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah, the wars they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again
Bought and sold, and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
lexlingua: (Books)
We are all completely beside ourselves. With rage. With grief. With helplessness. That’s what the narrator of the book, Rosemary Cooke, tells us, how seemingly innocuous little decisions and innocent accidents can snowball into something disastrous. Rosemary is the daughter of a psychologist – and that in itself, is a major plot giveaway, because when you see a psychologist in the midst of the first few pages, you know something’s going to go very wrong.

Something’s gone wrong in Rosemary’s life – she used to be a bubbling chatterbox as a kid, but now she’s a quiet girl, looking for ways to become invisible. Her sister’s missing, her brother’s run off and joined an activist group, and her parents won’t talk about either of them. The first half of the book is a glimpse into Rosemary’s character, and a witty but sad thing is that glimpse. The second part— now that’s the part that throws everything for a toss.

Stop here, if you are afraid of spoilers.
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