Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows – VE Schwab

Harry Potter meets A Knight’s Tale meets Pirates of the Caribbean in this swashbuckling second instalment of the Shades of Magic trilogy.

In fact, its quite unfair to describe this book in terms of pop culture references because it is so much more than the sum of all its parts, but I do it only to emphasise how truly magnificent this book is.

As with all good things it starts as a slow burn, with the author setting the stage and taking the time to reintroduce us to our favourite characters several months after the events of book one. The first quarter of the book was intent on showing how their brush with dark magic impacted Lila, Kell and Prince Rhy. At first glance, they seem to have weathered the storm well but appearances can be deceiving.

Rhy and Kell are struggling with the implications of the spell that keeps Rhy’s life tethered to Kell’s, and how this changes the dynamics of their relationship. Rhy in particular is tortured with guilt at what his actions have brought and a sense of being unworthy of the second chance at life he’s been given.

Kell meanwhile is haunted by dreams of Red London burning, by a growing recklessness and by an increasing need to use his powers. He also faces the fallout of his past activities as the kingdom continues to regard him with suspicion, and the king and queen increasingly treat him like a prisoner under guard rather than a beloved adopted son. Most of all, he struggles with the responsibility of knowing he holds his brother’s life in his hands and that any pain inflicted on him will also be inflicted on Rhy.

As for our favourite Grey London thief, to no one’s surprise, she’s nimbly landed on her feet and finds herself being part of the crew of the Night Spire, a privateer (ahem, pirate) vessel under the leadership of the enigmatic, mysterious and dashing Captain Alucard Emery. She spent the last 3 months on an adventure, establishing a reputation on the high seas as the Sparow, a thief in the night who will rob you blind and you’ll never even see him (or her, in this case) coming.

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Woven through all of this is the stunning background of the Essen Tasch or The Elemental Games, where the strongest magicians from the neigbouring empires of Faro and Vesk compete against the pride of the Arnesian empire for the pride of being champion. All of this is set in elaborate arenas built at the heart of Red London, the capital of Arnes.

The world building is stunning. The way the author describes the setting and the scenes just begs for a cinematic adaptation. Reading the book one can almost feel the buildup to the climactic and pivotal moments of the narrative, one can almost taste the anticipation in the air and touch the pulse beat of the excitement as we wait with bated breath for the next twist, for the bend in the road, for the wrench that throws off even the best laid plans.

The thing that is most impressive is that even with so many things going on, VE Schwab never loses sight of the fact that the real strength of this book is the relationship between her central characters. As Master Tieren (the blessed priest) said, magic is not the unknown in the equation because at its core it is and always will be pure. Its the human hands that wield the magic that causes it to appear in different forms. Similarly, in this book its the characters rather than the events that shape the story.

Rhy becomes more of a central figure in this book and we learn a little bit more of his backstory, as well as gaining insight into his hopes, thoughts and fears. I love reading about strong relationships, especially between brothers, so I particularly loved how this book highlighted the bond between Rhy and Kell; its a rope that is damaged and frayed by uncertainty at the moment but its the kind that will hold.

I think Kell for me never quite settles into his role as the main protagonist of this book. Sure, he enters the tournament by stealth and has the chance to flex a bit of muscle in this installment but he still feels like a secondary character. But I don’t think that’s a testament to weak character development; rather its a by-product of the fact that VE Schwab has created such a strong character in the delightful Lila Bard that everyone else just pales in comparison.

I love Lila. Relentless, uncompromising, fearless to the point of having a death wish, she is the real star of this show. Whether dressed in a demon mask, a suit of armor or disarming Kell in that awesome first meeting by donning an actual dress, she burns through the pages and just comes alive in every scene she’s in. I love that she’s an atypical heroine, and she’s a breath of fresh air in this day and age when the fantasy genre is full of so many vapid female characters.

Reading this book will give you an appreciation for the author’s broad imagination. There is something for everyone, even a Cinderella moment for Disney fanatics like me. Overall, its an exquisite blend of intrigue, adventure, magic and romance that will leave readers breathless, that is, breathless from running to the nearest bookstore to read the next book because its just that darn good. A Gathering of Shadows is a delicious romp across this world that VE Schwab has built, and you will be glad you came along for the ride.

Rating: 5 stars

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

Originally posted sometime last year but had to be taken off the site because of my stupidity. Lol. I’ve decided to repost my review of VE Schwab’s books because I’m about to finish another one of her weird, interesting, quirky and altogether original books. Enjoy re-reading this guys! 

 

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Fantasy is a genre that relies on an author having an original idea, unparalleled imagination and the ability to create worlds that take us away from our own lives for the 5 hours or so that it takes to finish the book. V.E. Schwab succeeds with all that and more in the first book of her Shades of Magic Trilogy.

In this book. she introduces us to three different worlds, their only common thread being that in all these worlds there is always a city named London. The main character, Kell, is an antari – a group of people who are “blessed” with magic and whose blood enables them to travel through those worlds as long as they have a “token”, usually an object that belongs to that world.

Kell differentiates the three Londons by assigning colours to them: Red London, the city where magic is alive and thriving; Grey London, where no one believes that magic really exists;  and White London, where magic used to exist but has long gone, leaving its people starving for just the taste of it (and starving for food as well, most likely). There was a fourth London where magic existed in its purest, strongest form, ultimately leading to that city’s destruction; Kell calls this city of legends Black London.

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I am utterly enamoured of the concept of this book. It goes without saying that I will automatically love a book that’s set in London, but Ms Schwab takes it further by giving us three (for now) different version of this city. The world building in this book is amazing in its descriptiveness. I feel like its almost itching for a movie adaptation, and let’s be honest, that is the dream isn’t it? I, for one, would love to see Red London – with its  castle floating on the river Thames itself, and a bustling and vibrant market on the banks – up on the big screen.

Apart from the world-building, this book also introduces the delightful, though sometimes annoying, Delilah Bard. Although Kell is meant to be the main protagonist of this book, Lila steals the show every time she appears. Unapologetically brash and driven by self-gratification and selfish purposes, she is the perfect foil to Kell’s strong sense of duty. A common thief originally from Grey London, she’s the kind of woman who marches to the beat of her own drum and doesn’t let society dictate her actions. She is determined to make her mark on the world, to have adventures and to see what else is out there. She refuses to be a victim of her own narrative: just because she was born poor doesn’t mean she’ll stay poor.

Lila is a character whose arc is sure to be explored in the next books and I’m quite excited to learn the secrets of her past, some of which are already hinted at in this book. As for Kell, I feel like his character wasn’t as well-developed as Lila’s. Either that or I haven’t really paid attention because he’s carved from the same mould as many other male protagonists in other fantasy series. VE Schwab is yet to add something to his character that will make readers stand up and take notice, but there is potential there.

The real winner in this book is the writing. It flows so seamlessly that you will find yourself turning page after page and not noticing that you’re halfway through the book. VE Schwab keeps its simple. This book doesn’t attempt to be literary or wordy, it embraces and celebrates the fact that its a fantasy novel. Ms Schwab simply tells the story in the best way she knows how and somehow it just works.

As the lead runner in this trilogy, this book picks up the baton with aplomb and sets the scene for passing it to the next book in the series. It takes readers through a delightful pub crawl-like romp through the worlds the author has created. It ends on a high note and with enough hints of what more there is to come to quickly send readers to the nearest bookstore to buy the next instalment, which is exactly what I will be doing today.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Posted in Books, Movies, Reviews

Book Versus Movie: Murder On The Orient Express

Murder on The Orient Express is currently showing in many major London cinemas and my sister and I decided to watch it on Sunday afternoon at Odeon Leicester Square. Being me, I hate watching a movie based on a book that is considered a masterpiece without reading the book first so I decided to give Dame Agatha Christie’s novel a go before going to the cinema. It’s a short book, you can finish it in a day (mere hours in my case).

853510As always, I am amazed at how Agatha Christie managed to squeeze a really compelling mystery in so few pages when lesser authors struggle to form a coherent story with more. Although I did not quite like the writing style in this one as much as I liked the other novels – I found it to be too disjointed and abrupt at times – one cannot deny that the story takes you to a journey, and as always, I found myself not even trying to figure out whodunit (because I knew I’d be proven wrong anyway) and just settled in for a good read.

I really liked the idea of twelve strangers in a train and Hercule Poirot having to figure out who the killer is amongst them. She’s done this before on ‘And Then There Were None’,  and I think she’s really fascinated by the idea of people coming  from different walks of life, with their individual histories and background, being put in a situation where they have to temporarily interact with each other. In this case, because the Orient Express is stuck in a snow drift somewhere in freakin’ Yugoslavia, Hercule Poirot has no other means with which to investigate and find the killer out apart from his own powers of deduction.

What can he find in these people’s pasts that can point to the identity of the killer? What is the motive? Is there a connection between some of the passengers that could mean that this is the work of more than one killer? Slowly, Hercule uncovers their secrets and separate the lies and half-truths from the truth. The twist, when it inevitably came, really surprised me even though I could see how we, as readers, were being led to this conclusion. I was also surprised that I wasn’t spoiled because apparently the real identity of the killer is some kind of cultural thing: EVERYONE knows it. Overall, it was a very satisfying read.

Now, the movie.

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I have to admit, I slept through the first 10 -15 minutes of the movie because I got bored. There were a lot of unnecessary scenes and I was helped on to my path to dreamland by the knowledge that I already knew how this story goes. However, I’m glad that I managed to be more awake when the Orient Express finally started on its journey. I thought that Kenneth Branagh had a slightly more…eccentric and egotistical interpretation of Hercule Poirot. And I suppose in this day and age, you have to add a few action sequences because a movie where they all sat around talking about the murder won’t wash with today’s audience.

But I thought that even without the added action sequences, the story and the really strong acting performances by most of the cast would have carried the movie through. That dramatic ending, when we finally find out who the killer is, gave me chills and had me shedding a few tears. Patrick Doyle’s fantastic score, which I’m listening to as I write this blog, really added to the emotional weight of that scene. The flashback of the night of the murder…reading the book, you never realised the full extent of how tragic that was, and how much impact one event can have on so many lives.

I hear that this movie has been getting negative reviews, but I thought it was brilliant. Michelle Pfiefer in particular did such a good job as the annoying Mrs. Hubbard and of course I’ve always loved Dame Judi Dench. I think that the second half of the movie was stronger than the first, and I also think that audiences would find that the motive for the murder will really resonate with many of us. What is justice after all? Who gets to decide whether one should live or die or how one should be punished for their sins?

Can I just say though, that for me, the real winner of this movie is that damn score of Patrick Doyle’s. I would totally watch this movie again for that.

Check out both the book and the movie if you haven’t already. I’m also planning to watch the original one that was done in the 70s if I can find a copy of it. Happy reading and watching bookworms! x

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance, Young Adult

Book Review – Turtles All The Way Down

So there’s this saying about books that we’ve all heard that says we’re not to judge it by its cover. Yes, I get that its not meant to be taken literally, as in we’re not really talking about books when we spout that overused statement. But because I’m actually reviewing a book and finding myself unusually unsure about where to start, I’ll start with that. We don’t judge a book by its cover; we judge a book based on how much it makes us think and how it makes us feel.

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John Green’s latest offering has me baffled, to be honest. On one hand, there are bits about it that I really really like and which I’ll get to later. On the other hand, a part of me found it really difficult to get through the book especially towards the end when things start to spiral out of control for our main character.

Aza Holmes is a teenager who is trying, really trying, to co-exist with the thoughts that live in her head. She tries to lead a normal life with her fearless best friend Daisy and even finds the time to dabble in a little mystery: the mystery of where billionaire Russell Pickett has hidden himself to avoid getting arrested for corruption. She also makes a connection with said billionaire’s son, Davis, whom she met at “sad camp” years ago and this connection slowly leads to – what else – the sweet sweet bloom of first love.

First of all, I think John Green did a really good job of not just describing what mental illness feels like but really getting the readers as close to the real experience as one can get while reading a fictional novel. The scenes where Aza becomes a helpless victim to her thoughts, to the point where she can’t even kiss a guy she likes without freaking out, were really painful for me to read. In that moment, I was as fully invested as Aza to the outcome of that situation and that speaks to John Green’s talent as an author.

I mentioned that I found it difficult to get through the book. I think what I meant to say is that it hit a little too close to home. Aza gets anxious about her health, specifically about getting an infection. I’ve already admitted in a previous post that I’ve always been a little bit of a hypochondriac. At one point in my life, I was so convinced that I had brain tumour because I found a lump at the back of my head. I remember crying in the dark in my room, crying in church and thinking about all the things that I will never get to do because I was going to die of brain tumour. I think I must have been about 12 or 13.

After a week, I managed to rid myself of these irrational thoughts and correctly concluded that I did not have brain tumour. Studying Nursing made my anxiety about my health both better and worse. Better because I can usually reason myself out of my worries by reciting the signs and symptoms of my imagined illness – signs and symptoms that I didn’t have – and worse because whenever I do have symptoms, my brain goes to the worst possible scenario there is.

I can usually laugh it off and make a joke about it. But reading this book makes me realise that its not a laughing matter when these thoughts start to take over your life; when you can’t even kiss a guy without worrying that his microbes will forever be a part of you; when you actually ingest a dangerous substance just to make yourself clean; and when you find yourself pleading for someone to just take you out of yourself so that you can stop having these thoughts. Yes, in some respects this book is really really dark.

The moments of levity come from Aza’s friendship with Daisy and of course, the romantic connection with David. I think that the friendship between the two girls is one of the strongest points of the novel. In fact, the novel can be mostly summed up by this line that Daisy tells Aza:

You know I love you right? My whole life I thought I was the star of an overly earnest romance movie, and it turns out I was in a goddamned buddy comedy all along.

The friendship takes a little bit of a back burner to the romance but I’m glad that it was made clear towards the end that it was one of the constants that helps Aza get through life.

And what about the romance you ask? Come on, this is John Green. You can bet your ass that there will be instagrammable and quotable quotes that the more emo half of the population will just devour. There is also the ever-present, ever-so-deep (and slightly pretentious) existential conversations that makes me ask whether teenagers really talk that way these days.

However, I think John Green made the right call by not making this seem like another book where love cures all but rather, the romance almost seems like a bittersweet postscript, a small but significant ode to the magic of first love:

You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.

If I could make a small criticism, I thought that bit with the mysterious disappearance of the billionaire was not only irrelevant and useless, it was also weird. Honestly, it did not add to the story except as a plot device for the MCs to re-connect with each other again. And also, who leaves all their money when they die to their pet lizard? It was just ridiculous and the reason why I only gave this book 3-stars on Goodreads. Apart from that, really good book for both fans of the YA genre and just readers in general.

 

 

Posted in Books, Horror, Reviews

Seven Reasons Why I Should Never Have Read The Shining

Remember that scene in F.R.I.E.N.D.S when viewers found out that Joey got so scared while reading The Shining that he placed the book in the freezer?

Yep. I now totally get why he did that.

Because I didn’t feel like dressing up for Halloween, I thought I’d celebrate in my own way by finally reading what some people call “the scariest book in the world”: The Shining by Stephen King. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, I will forever regret that decision because this book is scary as hell. I don’t know how I even got through it, except to say that my electricity bill must have gone up because I slept with the lights on for the entire week that I was reading this book. Here’s why I NEVER should have done it:

 

  1. The setting. I have always loved hotels; there’s something about it that fulfils my need to have someone at my beck and call (read: room service), and they always seem to have the comfiest pillows. However, after reading this book, I will never quite look at hotels in the same way again.
  2. The isolation. Jack Torrance, the main character, is asked to be a caretaker of The Overlook Hotel while it closes for the winter season (I didn’t even know this was a thing). He brings his wife and son Danny with him and because of the weather, the roads leading to the hotel are completely blocked. I am a city girl; I’ve chosen to live in one of the busiest areas of London because I like the noise and the hustle and bustle. I cannot spend months cooped up in a massive, creepy hotel with only two other people for company. I understand a little bit why Jack slowly starts to lose it.
  3. The haunting. The Overlook Hotel has been around for more than 60 years and its witnessed some pretty horrible stuff: crimes of passion, crimes of greed and others. So its probably only natural that some of those ghosts will linger in the confines of the hotel. Seriously, in the future every time I enter a hotel room I will now be thinking about the person/s who have been in that room before me and what their life was like. Jeepers.
  4. The slow deterioration of Jack Torrance’s sanity. Poor Jack. Abused as a kid, always down on his luck, never quite catching a break…I think life had set him up to fail. It would have taken a man of extraordinary character to overcome his less-than-ideal beginnings and be able to turn his life around. Jack does not have that character. He let his history defeat him and he could never quite take full responsibility for his part in the destruction of his career, marriage and his life in general. It’s understandable why he, out of the three people in that hotel, is most susceptible to possession by malignant spirits.
  5. The moments of clarity. I think that this is where the book will always have an advantage over the movie adaptation. The movie is apparently scary, but the book makes more of an impact because we get a glimpse into Jack’s thought process. And he has these moments of lucidity where his love for his son comes through and it just breaks my heart. It makes the other scenes, when he goes stark raving mad, all the more horrible because we know that this man, given half a chance, would have been a good man and a good father.
  6. Danny Torrance. Danny has psychic abilities, what the characters in the book call ‘the shining’ and he’s able to read people’s minds, look into the future and other weird things. The kid is creepy as hell; he has these weird dreams where his imaginary friend ‘Tony’ shows him visions. He dreamt about the happenings in the hotel long before they ever moved there. Later we find out who Tony really is and we understand these visions better, and I have no words for how incredibly creepy it is. Sorry, I keep repeating that word but it was just sooooo creepy.
  7. REDRUM. When the reader finally finds out what REDRUM means (and I smacked myself for not getting it sooner!), you just know that the book is about to reach its inevitable conclusion and it ain’t gonna be pretty. I can almost hear a horror movie score in the background when the climax of the book played out and I swear the hair on my arms stood on end. It was very well written!

 

Stephen King is a master storyteller. I can’t say I’m a big fan of his writing style, I sometimes find it a bit disjointed and jarring but I can’t deny that he knows how to write a freakin’ page turner that will have you up at night hearing a voice saying ‘HEEEEEREEEEE’S JOHNNNNYYYY!’

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Damn you, Stephen King. Lol

 

 

Posted in Careers, friendship, relationships

How To Face “Challenging Behaviours”

In my 30 years of existence, I have inevitably come across people who are mental – excuse me – I mean, challenging. Before I moved to the UK, I used to be what is popularly called a doormat. It seemed my personal goal in life is to please people, no matter how many times I’ve been told that its impossible to please everyone. I had an intrinsic fear of authority figures and my first instinct when I’m told to do something is to say yes. Whenever I’d get shouted at or told off, even by my one of my personal friends, I would be the first to back down, give in and/or apologise.

As the line from Wicked says, we are “led to those who helps us most to grow, if we let them“, so I suppose there’s a reason why October has been absolutely  rubbish for me in terms of my interactions with other people. I have had enough confrontations in October to last me a lifetime. It has not been particularly pleasant, BUT, looking back its been a real learning experience. I think I can now write the following tips with some authority. I’m hoping to avoid any conflicts this month (and for the foreseeable future, obviously) but hey, if more conflicts come my way I’ll soon be a subject matter expert. Anyway, here’s some of the things that I’ve learned to do when coming across bullies. 


1. Present Reality
I am of the opinion that most bullies are delusional, in the sense that they think its all about them. This whole “me, me, me” attitude is what makes them bullies in the first place and they are unable to look beyond their own narrow perspective to the bigger picture. 
I find that when facing people with this attitude it works to bring them back to reality and make them aware of everything and everyone else that’s involved in the situation. 


2. Acknowledge Their Feelings (as well as your own)
Look, we all have bad days. And when someone you normally get on with becomes confrontational, there’s usually a good reason. Also, they usually have a point even if that point has been communicated in less than desirable ways.

It always pays to be humble enough to acknowledge your part in the conflict, or to acknowledge that the other person is entitled to be mad or upset while still making the point that there is no call for rude behaviour. 


3. Don’t Make It About You
I think sometimes the issue is bigger than the both of you (or how many other people there are involved in a confrontation) so after you’ve acknowledged your feelings, move on to the bigger picture. Yes, your feelings have been hurt but don’t let that overshadow any bigger issues at hand. If you make it all about you, you’re no different from the bullies whose behaviours you’re trying to challenge. 


4.  Make Use of A Mediator
Its rather presumptuous of me to make this list because I have been known to make confrontations worse by saying the wrong things or just plain giving in. So if you’re like me, the obvious thing to do would be to phone a friend and have someone there who’s not involved and who can remain calm and who can defuse a situation when the shouting (inevitably) commences. Make sure this someone has a level head on their shoulder and maybe a good right hook in case physical violence ensues. Lol


6. Remain Calm

Again, I am so bad at this. As most of my followers know, I tend to be dramatic (understatement). I hate the fact that I also tend to tear up when I’m really angry. 

However, most of my friends are men. I work in a speciality that’s about 80% male and men do not respond well to tears. They’re either afraid or contemptuous of it. I feel like I lose all their respect when I cry because they think I’m using the sympathy card. So no, getting emotional helps no one. Remain calm and get through a difficult conversation with your composure – and dignity – relatively intact. You can find a nice toilet stall to bawl your eyes out later, after all is said and done.


7. Don’t Burn Your Bridges
Look, no one likes to lose friends. Most of the time you get into fights with people that you actually give a shit for, and their friendship is worth saving. I think its why you’ve fought in the first place, because you actually give a toss about each other. 

Its the same with work colleagues. I’m not saying you want to remain friends with them but like it or not, you’ll have to work with them at some point in the future in a professional capacity. So if issues can be resolved without completely damaging the relationship, that’s the best outcome to aim for. 


8. Speak up. Stand Up For Yourself. 
All of the preceding points don’t matter if you don’t speak up when you feel you’re being wronged. Its difficult to be the one to rock the boat, but like I said these past couple of weeks, sometimes one must show that one is not pleased. I’m a pretty easygoing person, I don’t have a lot of pride and I have a pretty strong tolerance for bullshit BUT when I do lose my patience…it ain’t gonna be pretty.

You’ll never change things if you keep quiet. You’re not gonna get the help you need if you don’t tell someone that something’s wrong or that you’re not happy. So if you’re faced with challenging behaviours, challenge them. Confront them. Do not suffer abuse – or bullies – gladly. You (and I) deserve better. 

Happy weekend everyone! X