Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, Reviews, Steampunk

Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

When my parents and I visited my cousin in Switzerland last year, she bought us these made-to-order truffles that came in a gorgeous gold box with a blue ribbon around it. At first it looked and tasted like your ordinary run-of-the mill chocolate, and then you kept chewing and chewing and chewing, and suddenly all sorts of flavours explode in your mouth, and its like you discover everything that’s good about the world in that one piece of chocolate truffle.

I know it sounds random, but that is the closest metaphor I could find to describe what it felt like to read this book. 

First of all, I don’t know what Steampunk means, okay? As a blogger and wannabe book reviewer, I should be able to provide a definition for that genre on request but I can’t. This book apparently falls under the genre, and as far as I can tell steampunk is a general term for something that’s set in the Victorian era but contains futuristic (and even fantastical) elements.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I don’t know what steampunk means, because I have never read any novel as hard to categorise and put into a box as this one. It defies genres, it defies explanations, and, at different times while reading it, I thought it defined all common sense in the best way possible.

At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a simple story about a clerk who works for the Home Office in Whitehall during the Victorian era who was  saved by – of all things – a pocket watch from becoming a victim of a terrible bombing. He traces the origins of this watch back to a mysterious and enigmatic watchmaker on Filigree street, and from there, all sorts of mayhem ensues.

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WARNING: HEADING INTO SPOILER TERRITORY HERE. 

I didn’t quite know what to make of this book at first. By the time I thought to wonder what the hell I was reading, I was already halfway through the book. And that is a testament to the author’s talent as a writer. She can make even the most mundane of things seem interesting. 

And let me tell you, its very easy to judge this book as – as one reviewer on Goodreads so eloquently put it – a one-way ticket to Snoozeville. Those looking for heart-stopping action or a fully-formed plot would find it difficult to get through this book. On the surface, nothing really seems to be happening. Or at least, nothing important anyway.

I think this is one of those books that is more character-driven than plot-driven. The strength of the book lies not in its narrative but rather in the developing relationships between the characters, particularly that of Thaniel (said clerk) and Keita Mori (watchmaker).

There was a very clear chemistry between these two men, a kind of alchemical attraction that is evident in every interaction, even when they’re just sitting around sipping green tea. Their conversations were rapid fire and rife with secret glances and inside jokes; it felt like we, as readers, were being treated to a glimpse of something so unbearably intimate.

It was all so very subtly done that I didn’t even realise I was actually reading a love story until I REALISED I WAS READING A LOVE STORY.

Confession Time: I reread this book last night because it was one of those books that I sort of whizzed through because I was just so impatient to get to the ending. I was never really quite sure that I wasn’t just losing my mind and literally reading too much into things, such that I was seeing and feeling sexual tension where there was none.

But nope. No two ways about it, this book is a bloody romance novel, albeit a really subtle and well-crafted one.

Finding the romance amidst everything that was going on plot-wise was like, I don’t know, that first bite of chocolate truffle, or as Katy Perry once wrote in one of her songs, like eating hard candy with a surprise centre. I didn’t expect it, and it somehow felt more magical to find it because it was so unexpected (kind of like love itself, I suppose).

And the romance was just one of the many pleasant surprises in this book. There were endearing touches of whimsy everywhere, especially in Keita Mori’s clockwork inventions. Everything about the house on Filigree Street feels enchanting, amazing and well ahead of its time.

In fact, my third favourite character (and Thaniel and Mori win by a very narrow margin only by virtue of the fact that they’re ACTUAL human beings) is a mischievous sock-loving clockwork octopus named Katsu.

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Photo credits to Brian Callahan (https://www.artstation.com/artwork/rNDra)

That’s not to say that the book didn’t have its darker moments. It calls to question everything we know about time and the future, specifically our ability to predict it.

Don’t you guys find it mind-bending sometimes how one simple decision can alter our lives forever? Like how, if we decide to take the later train instead of the one we usually catch because we were running late because we decided to party on a weeknight the night before, we end up missing the chance to meet our future husband and therefore all our future children end up being unborn?

Doesn’t it freak you out sometimes how life seems to be made up of all these infinitesimal moments of chance and missed opportunities? 

It sure as hell freaks me out.

Anyway, I’ve gone on and on as usual when all I really wanted to say was that you all should give this book a chance. The reviews have been hit-or-miss so far, and I suppose its all a matter of taste, but I personally would vouch for it. And also, the cover is TO DIE FOR.

Keep an open mind dear readers and fellow bookworms. Open your heart to a lonely Japanese man with a mechanical pet octopus, and you will find yourself wanting to journey to Filigree street, and just like Thaniel, want to stay there forever,

FIVE STARS.

Posted in Books, Classic Literature, Reviews

A Tale of Two Cities: A Book Review and Some Melancholy Musings

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times

My love affair with Dickens started when I read Great Expectations five years ago. It was the first piece of classic literature I’ve read that was not written by Jane Austen. I’m almost ashamed to say that I was only driven to read it after watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars where a character was quoting a line from the book.

Up until that point I’ve only ever associated Dickens with Scrooge and A Christmas Carol. So I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading his extensive catalog of works to find that Mr. Dickens is not only observant, witty and blessed with a superb sense of comedic timing, he is also – in my opinion – the most underrated romance writer ever known to man.

Every book of his, including the one I’m reviewing now, is a love story in one form or another. First of all, his book is very clearly a love letter for the city of London – he describes the city so faithfully and evocatively that you can almost see the fog over St Paul, feel the spattering of rain, and smell the odours coming from both the river Thames and the sea of London’s inhabitants.

Every book is a story of a loving family: in this one, the history of the French Revolution is distilled to its most basic component as Dickens tells it through the eyes of the Manette family. With them we feel the dangers of the Reign of Terror and the ominous presence of La Guillotine, and through their experiences, we see the effects of years and years of oppression and how it can bring out the worst in people.

The best thing about a Dickens book, though, is that always, ALWAYS, it is a celebratory tale of unrequited love, two words that I never thought I would ever put together in one sentence. There is no reason to celebrate loving someone knowing all the while that that love can never be returned. But in every book, Dickens manages to turn something so utterly pathetic into something so triumphant, and never is that more true than in the character of Sydney Carlton.

Almost like a foreshadowing of future events, Dickens made Sydney Carlton an almost inconspicuous character for most of the book, weaving in and out of scenes like a side note, like a bit player waiting in the wings before he has to take center stage in life’s pivotal scene.

His love for the married Lucie is so all-encompassing that he willingly makes the ultimate sacrifice for her sake. In doing so, he takes the meaning of the words friend zone to a whole new level. HONESTLY.

He is a dissolute character who’s never done anything useful in his life but I promise you, you will find yourself cherishing this character long after you read the last couple of lines in this book, which comprises the most haunting words I’ve ever read in my life.

Finally, I just want to say this. I struggled all this week to find a reason for doing the things that I do. I’ve felt discouraged about people in general to the point where I ask myself why I should even bother. In a weird way, finishing this book gave me the answers I so badly needed.

It is not a failing to care too much for other people, to want to help them out to the best of your ability: it is a STRENGTH. And you do these things knowing they won’t always be appreciated and nor can you expect they’ll do the same for you; the point is to do them anyway.

A Tale of Two Cities is proof positive that even in the worst of times, there are still people capable of the best of things. And therein lies the hope.

4 out of 5 stars!

Posted in Books, Classic Literature, Reviews, Uncategorized

Blast From The Past: Book Review – And Then There Were None 

People use the term “classic” to refer to something that transcends generations, a piece of work that remains relevant no matter what decade it is.

 This crime novel from Dame Agatha Christie is a classic in every sense of the word.
The plot is simple. 10 strangers are lured into a secluded island off the coast of Devon by the myseterious U.N. Owen. They started off thinking that it’ll be a nice weekend getaway. Then things take a more sinister turn when, after dinner, a pre-recorded gramophone thingy (I have no idea how a gramophone works) accused them all of being guilty of murder.

All of them denied it of course. There was a plausible explanation behind each accusation. They thought someone was just playing a practical joke…until one of them dies. And then one after the other each member of the party is killed, and the murder method is based on an old nursery rhyme called “Ten Little Soldier Boys.” 

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late; one overslept himself and then there were eight.

The remaining guests soon figured out that because of the seclusion of the island and the inability of the boats from the mainland to come across, the murderer could only be one of them. The author did such a great job of creating the atmosphere; one can almost feel the paranoia mounting. Who can you turn to? Who can you trust?

I was amazed that Agatha Christie was able to cram this much action in so few pages. One would think that the characters wouldn’t be as fleshed out because its such a short novel but this actually proves that you don’t need to waste chapters and chapters just to provide someone’s backstory. And this author had 10 characters to contend with! 10 characters represented by 10 figurines of soldier boys in a mantelpiece, each figurine disappearing after one dies. 

Its clear early on that the motive for the murders is related to some form of justice being metted out. But justice for whom? Is the murderer related to one of the purported victims? Is there a common thread to all the victims that would eventually lead to the identity of the killer? These were some of the thoughts running through my head. It felt a little bit like watching the tv show Lost, which tells you how far ahead of its time this novel was. 

My boss told me that the stage adaptation of this book is also quite good. I can see how this would be great as a play; I sometimes felt while reading it that it comes across as a screenplay more than an actual novel. It still doesn’t take away from the genius of it. I was left completely confounded and guessing until the very end. I went so far as to postulate the theory that these people were really all one person, like they were part of “UN Owen”‘s dissociative personality just like in that film with John Cusack called Identity (spoiler alert: they’re not. There really is a murderer!)

I would recommend this book to all lovers of mystery, especially for those who want to have a good read but get bored with long, drawn-out stories. This is for you!