Book review – The Fault in our Stars

It’s Sunday! And that means Book review day! 🙂 Once again, I’m going to review a book that I read because I succumbed to fad reading. As you can see.. I’ve succumbed to the fad reading trend a tad too often lately. But I strongly believe that you must read a book yourself to decide whether you like it or not, popular or otherwise. But before I actively discourage you any further from reading my book reviews, let’s get further into the post. This week, I am going to review ‘The Fault in our Stars’ by John Green.

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I’m not a fan of the cancer genre (as I call it), at all! If you ask me about one book that I like, where cancer played an important role, I would say ‘Love Story’ by Erich Segal. I’m used to reading books and watching shows where two people are in love, and then cancer suddenly rears its ugly head. This is the first time I’ve come across a story where two people, teenagers at that, are already cancer-ridden, know that they’re never going to be “home-free” (they’d die sooner rather than later, and are technically going to be sick for the rest of their lives), meet at a support group, and fall in love anyway!

Hazel Lancaster is suffering from lung cancer; Augustus Waters is recuperating from Osteosarcoma. They share an acerbic wit and a sarcastic vein that bring them together. Hazel considers a book titled “An Imperial Affliction” her bible (curiously, a cancer-based book); however, the author deliberately left the book unfinished, and Hazel wants to meet him to find out how it ends, to get closure. Augustus has a wish left (from the ‘Make a wish foundation’), and he uses it to take her to Holland to meet the author.

And throughout all this, they fall in love, romance in a quaint, cancer-full way, lose their virginity to each other, and so on. Nevertheless, there is a twist – they keep expecting Hazel to get worse (because she is being medically managed on meds), whereas Augustus has already got the all-clear. As it turns out, it is Augustus who gets worse quickly and leaves Hazel with an Augustus-shaped hole in the world.

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It gives you an idea of how cancer affects people, and the people around. That is absolutely the only part of the book that evokes an emotional response. However, you can skip this if you watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ or ‘House M.D’ and already have a reasonable knowledge about how cancer works, and how it destroys people. This book isn’t exactly morbid; but it does give you a pretty clear idea of what cancer-ridden people go through, and how that affects the loved ones around them.

Hazel and Augustus’ relationship is almost believable. However, you root for them because you want cancer-ridden people to get a happy ending; not because you believe they are perfect for each other. You like the simple things in life – like how they share a passion about an obscure book, but you find it impossible to imagine the bigger picture or a perfect happy ending to their relationship, because something is off – like jarring notes in a familiar song.

The biggest problem with this book is that you find it impossible to really like, and identify with the characters – and no, not because they have cancer and you don’t. They are teenagers, but they speak like much-older adults who have seen the best and worst of life. Despite a terminal disease that matures people faster than they would like to, these teenagers’ lines don’t show maturity per se – they just sound freakishly strange. Sample this:

“How did scrambled eggs get stuck with breakfast exclusivity? You can put bacon on a sandwich without anyone freaking out. But the moment your sandwich has an egg, boom, it’s a breakfast sandwich… I want to have scrambled eggs for dinner without this ridiculous construction that a scrambled egg-inclusive meal is breakfast even when it occurs at dinner time.” – Hazel.

Now who talks like that? Really?! This book tries to introduce a world where the children understand life more than adults do. It portrays the teenagers as people who talk like 35-year old adults who have a deep understanding of human nature, and treat adults like they’re the ones who are shallow and irresponsible and need to be ashamed of it. So yes, the author gives teenagers what they want to hear; you can almost understand why this book became so popular.

Well, truth be told, I didn’t cry at the end; I glazed over half the book. Like I said, I’m not a big fan of the cancer genre. But that’s just me. I do know a lot of people who got floored by the idea of two cancer-ridden teenagers finding love. So you know whether you would like this book or not! 🙂

With love,

Writer on the rocks.

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Book review – Half-girlfriend

This is the start of my new book review feature, that I said I’d start here. I know I said I’ll start it on November 9, because I thought I won’t be in town this weekend. But it turns out that I am, and I just finished reading a book – so why not today?! Plus, it is helping me with additional posts for NaBloPoMo! 😀

So I recently gave in to the fad-reading trend (where you read a book just because it is popular, even though it didn’t really develop any curiosity in you.) One such book that I read was the recently released ‘Half Girlfriend’ by Indian author Chetan Bhagat.

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This book has been reviewed left right and centre in social media; hence, I know this review is a little late, but this is just my two cents! 🙂

Chetan Bhagat is a very popular author in India, primarily because of two reasons – his first book ‘Five point someone’ was very poignant.. and he writes in very simple English that any lay person can understand (even someone who isn’t an avid reader of books, or who isn’t very comfortable with the English language). I believe he has released around 6 books now, and I’ve read everything except ‘Revolution 2020’.

In my humble and mostly irrelevant opinion, his books aren’t masterpieces, or prize-worthy literature; however, nevertheless, some of them do resonate with you. ‘Five point someone’ for instance dealt with the very relevant issue of forcing youngsters to study Engineering or MBA just because that is the fad, without allowing them to pursue their passions. ‘2 states’ on the other hand dealt with youngsters who inter-marry with other girls/guys from other castes, and the resultant pressure that involves their families.

Whereas Half Girlfriend does none of those things. It is a simple story about a low-class boy falling in love with a high class girl – a girl who is confused, can’t decide whether she is in love with the boy or not, agrees to be his “Half Girlfriend”, thus further increasing the ambiguity in their relationship. Then she stupidly enters a marriage of convenience, realises it is a mistake, comes back to the low-class boy, but still can’t decide whether she is in love with him or not, fakes lung cancer etc etc..

Sounds weak. flimsy, filmy and convoluted? It is! Worse, the guy stays deeply in love with her during all those years. I’m not saying that is a bad thing per se, I just personally expect to see more practical characters. The final search that Madhav (the guy) does for Riya (the girl) in New York is long-drawn out and entirely unbelievable.

The best thing about this book is the way the guy channels his time and energy into developing a rural school. That at least, is invigorating! There isn’t even much to write about this book. If you’re really bored on a train or a plane-ride, you can read it and finish it by the time you reach your destination. One more good thing about this book is that it goes fast – you won’t be bored and put it down.

But if you don’t read it, you aren’t really missing anything!

Blogging 101 – Update, and a new feature! :)

Hola! So I’ve been successfully working on the Blogging 101 challenge this past week – and I’ve completed most of the exercises! Hurray! Just a couple more left.. and I fully intend finishing them this week. I love it when we can work at our own pace – I believe it makes us commit better to our goals. Okay, maybe not always.. sometimes it is difficult to commit to, and achieve a goal without a specific timeline. But thankfully, this time it worked for me! 🙂

So although I haven’t posted anything in a week, I’ve got so much done behind the scenes! I created a couple of pages – my blogroll and my new challenges page. Correspondingly, I’ve taken up a new book-reading event/challenge, since Blogging 101 is now officially over. I missed the start of Blogging 201, since I was still eons behind in 101; but somehow, strangely, I don’t regret it. I need to take up something different for a while, and then maybe I’ll get back and do the #201 challenge.

I publicized my blog, and also created a Blavatar, which I’m in love with! 😀 Last but not the least, I’m starting a new feature on my blog next week – The Book Review feature!

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I’m happiest when I’m reading a book. Although I’ve sporadically written book reviews, I’ve never been fully comfortable posting my opinion on a book for all the world to see. So this feature is designed to push me a little out of my comfort zone, but not so much that I’m stumped! 🙂 Also, I’ve recently renewed the habit, and I’ve been reading books very regularly during the past 3 months. I’ve also just taken up an African-book-reading challenge; so there should be no dearth of books to write reviews on. 😛

Details of the feature: One book review.

Date and time: Every other Sunday (because 15 days is approximately the time I take to finish a book.)

Feature starts on: November 9

Unless I lose access to my laptop or the internet (which unfortunately seems to happen surprisingly often), I will make this a regular feature – I swear I’ll post unswervingly, every Sunday! 🙂

Be sure to keep visiting this space and give me all the love,

Writer on the rocks.

Astonishing discoveries!

So like I said a couple of months back, I’ve been on a book-reading spree. Nothing fancy, nothing new. Just catching up on good old classics.

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Right from my childhood, I’ve abhorred Classics. I’ve always loved books which are fast-paced, cover multiple countries across the globe, use at least 3 different languages, and don’t let me put them down. Which explains why Sidney Sheldon is my favourite author!

All the same, I couldn’t just keep reading Sidney Sheldon forever. I used to have this mindless desire to read all the “famous” books – Pride and Prejudice, Gone with the Wind, Catcher in the rye.. you name it, I wanted to read it! And so I did read them all.

However, I hated the slow-paced writing style, the obscure words and sentences that made no sense to me whatsoever. Well, I read them when I was in middle school, when my vocabularly was far less developed, and my knowledge of people and the world was extremely limited. Bad idea. I ended up not understanding a word, and hating Classics without knowing what they were about! 😦

However, persistent as I am, I tried reading Emma 5 times.. but never got past the first 30 pages! As I grew up, that mind-block against Classics continued, until I slowly stopped reading them altogether. New authors were waiting to be discovered, new “famous” books waiting to be read and reviewed – The Shiva trilogy, Ashwin Sanghi’s books, Chetan Bhagat and the like.

Until suddenly one day, I downloaded the Kindle app on to my phone.. the Kindle Store offers Classics free of cost – and I wanted to try out the Kindle experience without spending any money *classic Indian mindset* 😛 I picked ‘Three men in a boat’, having heard that it is a very funny book, and if nothing else, I may have a few laughs after all…

Boy, was I wrong! I enjoyed reading the book immensely! 🙂 True, there were still parts that made my eyes glassy and vacant, but there were also many more parts that made me laugh, some that made profound sense that I wanted to incorporate as life lessons, and no lack of understanding whatsoever. Towards the end of the book, I realised that I may have just grown up enough after all!

And so I decided that I wanted to try my hand at one more, just to see how far I can push myself. So I re-read Pride and Prejudice, enjoying it a lot more this time around, and empathising a lot more with Elizabeth Bennett (the first time around, I thought she was a bit of an arrogant idiot :P). And then I re-read Little Women, was transported to a magical old-world American society and immersed in it joyfully.

And here comes the cherry on top – I bravely downloaded Emma. I started reading it, and with every page, my mind kept threatening to give up, because the story just wasn’t going anywhere. But I decided to power through the book, and somehow I did. And then came the best surprise – as I progressed, there came a point in the book after which I wasn’t able to put it down! 😀

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And then realisation hit me like a lightning bolt (excuse the cliche).. Jane Austen is never going to write like Sidney Sheldon, and she shouldn’t! She most definitely has an extremely boring style of writing:

1. The setting is very small – the entire story takes place in a single small village consisting of probably 5 families in total.

2. So it is just the people who carry the story forward. There are no interesting places/descriptions to entice you.

3. She writes in chronological order of events – like this: “Once upon a time there was a girl called Mary who lived with her father…”. There is nothing in this sentence that would make you want to read the next sentence. At least the first 100 pages of Austen’s books are usually like this.

4. Hers are novels of manners – describing the manners of upper-class English folk in the early 19th century Georgian era. Who can relate to that? Seriously?!

However, despite a good many flaws, the one strong point of Austen’s writing is the strength of the depiction of her characters. Only when I got really hooked to Emma, of all books, did I realise that what was making me religiously read the book inspite of the insipid writing style, was the characters.

I am not saying I like Emma Woodhouse, but the way her flaws were portrayed and her character depicted got me hooked to know how life was going to turn out for her after all. Ditto with Elizabeth Bennet.

I’m not going to presume to be arrogant enough to decode Jane Austen, but this was just my humble discovery of myself – what works for me in a book, and how I should never ever trash a book or an author based on reading a gist or a single page. Each book has a million wisdoms to impart, and at the very least, all I can do is endeavour to read them. 

Anyway, this post wasn’t meant to be about Jane Austen. It was supposed to be about me rediscovering Classics. So next on my list is Sense and Sensibility. And then PG Wodehouse. And then Atlas Shrugged. And then we’ll see.

But even I got a little tired of 19th century English, and had to take respite in a modern-day vampire fantasy novel full of fangs and thrills. Once again, #lessonlearnt – I, who usually don’t try new authors unless someone recommends them very strongly, tried reading Richelle Mead, and fell in love with her writing style in the very first chapter!

So yeah, life has been full of such surprises of late – just that they’re all happy surprises! 🙂 Even the fact that I’ve managed to write such a lengthy post is a huge surprise!

On that bookish note, toodles! 🙂

Head over high heels – A review…

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It has been a while since I picked up a book.. and didn’t put it down until I finished reading it. ‘Head Over High Heels” by author Marley Gibson is one such book – although not from start to finish. The book starts with a relatively slow pace, defining the characters and their lives, and then picks up a whirlwind pace somewhere around the middle, keeping you completely hooked!

Let me warn you right at the beginning – this is pure chick literature. Admittedly, one of my favourite genres. Also, apparently I’ve reached that dangerously awesome level of freedom where I don’t care what people think of Chick-lit being my favourite genre! 🙂 Anyway, getting back to the book..

The storyline goes thus – small town girl (Irina Jeffries) has an ordinary job, a perfect best friend (Fernanda Lopez), a gorgeous guy walks into her life and sweeps her off her feet. But she herself is gorgeous too, and is spotted by a fashion agent to do some big-time modelling. She wants to give it a shot, make some quick bucks and get back to her life.. and man. But a tad predictably, she gets caught up in the fantasy. Her attitude changes. Sounds familiar? It most definitely will.. if you’ve watched the Hindi movie “Fashion” that released in 2008 and starred Priyanka Chopra. Because they’re basically one and the same 😛 If you’ve read/watched ‘The Devil wears Prada’, this will sound familiar too…

I would say the movie was copied from the book – but the book seems to have been released sometime around 2013.. so that is impossible. However, since I’ve already watched the movie, the book became far too predictable for me. I do realize that if I hadn’t watched the movie earlier, I would be even more ignorant about the fashion world than I already am, and hence, the book might have been even more interesting.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of good things about the book. What I liked was:

1. The Hero – Pablo Andrews – Spanish hunk. Too perfect a guy. ‘Nuff said 😀

2. Although the story is predictable, the characters and their reactions still keep you hooked. They’ve been defined well.

3. Marley knows how to keep you on tenterhooks by finishing each chapter in such a way that you want to continue on to the next immediately.

4. Glamour. The clothes and the heels.. New York and Paris. My favourite indulgences and cities all clubbed into one book.

5. All the Spanish – The story is basically set in Miami, Florida + the best friend and the heroine’s boyfriend are Cuban/Spanish. So the book naturally contains a bit of Spanish here and there for authenticity. I loved reading them without needing translation 😀

What I didn’t like were few and far in between:

1. The book doesn’t build up gradually – has a conflict – and flows towards a logical ending, like most books and movies do. The characters are built up slowly, then suddenly you’re in New York, then Paris.. and before you know it, the book is already over.

2. The climax was a bit hurried, like the author got tired of the characters and just wanted to get it over with.

3. Adding on to Point number 1 in “What I liked”, the hero was too perfect. He simply continues to be in love with the protagonist, despite how out of control she gets. That simply doesn’t happen in real life! I personally would have loved to see Ira go through a bit of sacrifice and struggle to realise the true meaning of love and get her guy back.

4. The Spanish sounded oh-so-forced! ‘Primo/Prima” means “cousin”. But you just don’t go about calling your cousin “Primo..!” You call people by their names right?

Anyway, so I gave the book 4 stars in Amazon. I bought it when it was free, and read it on Kindle. If you would like to read either the paperback or Kindle edition, you can get them here: http://www.amazon.in/dp/B00GSRFCNE

For all the pluses and minuses above, I would certainly read more books by Marley Gibson. No doubt there! And I’ve already downloaded more books on Kindle, and now am off to read the next one! 🙂 But more on that later..

Ciao! 🙂