Origin [Book Review]

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Rating: 4/5

Dan Brown is back with another one of his signature history meets science thriller with his prominent central character, Robert Langdon. To be honest, I wasn’t mad about his last work, Inferno, and definitely was hugely disappointed with The Lost Symbol. Yet, I love the way he sets his story, the locations and the treasure hunt kind of plot. Origin is no different. To my relief, I enjoyed the book very much and felt Brown clicked all the boxes with this. 

Origin begins with Edmond Kirch, a prominent computer scientist, in meeting with three important religious leaders, sharing findings of his recent research. The end of the meeting leaves the leaders baffled. To their surprise and fear, Kirch announces to the world that he was about to present certain findings that will change the entire living system. Lavishly planned in an extravagant museum in Spain, Kirch invites several popular dignitaries, including Langdon, and makes full use of technology to reach every corner of the world. With specialized automated guide to every invitee, Robert meets Winston. You just can’t stop loving Winston. I wish I could have one in my life! A disastrous incident at the presentation puts Langdon, and Ambra Vidal, head of the museum in a treasure hunt to find the location of Kirch’s presentation with minimal clues. (Guess what happens to Kirch!) What is Kirch’s findings? Who wanted to sabotage the event and make sure the findings aren’t made public? Does Langdon and Vidal escape safely from the problems at the end? 

Brown’s first sixer is bringing in the most argued topic in the world – Theists Vs Agnostics Vs Atheists. I jumped in joy when this topic was touched. I was highly excited knowing Kirch’s findings revolved on this. But at the end? I was left frustrated and disappointed. For one, the findings were too scientific for my understanding. I didn’t see the point why Kirch didn’t want the leaders to completely know his findings. 

I have always loved Langdon especially when he goes into his historical mode. He is a genius. His interaction with Winston and Vidal were very nicely written. His adventures are getting interesting and dangerous over the years. I wish we could get more into his character. I feel a lot more depth, a personal case, would do great things for the book. 

One of the main reasons I loved this book more than the last two is its pace. The narration was crisper and the story moved at a good speed throughout. The historical description were really interesting and up to the point. It didn’t go beyond unnecessary. I didn’t feel like skipping pages like I did for The Lost Symbol. The number of characters were limited as well which helped in keeping track of every parallel story. But, I wasn’t greatly impressed with the parallel stories. Didn’t make any contribution to the actual story. I liked the mystery behind the anonymous tipper but nothing more.

Looking at Inferno and now Origin, Brown seems to have delved into science more than symbols and history. I really missed Langdon’s decoding and the connections with historical monuments and religion. There were no great revelation moments either. The ending was quite predictable as there weren’t many suspects to look at. I know the review might sound a lot more complaining than appreciating, especially looking at the high rating, but these are just small disappointments of mine which I wish were better executed. 

Origin is a good read- very adventurous. It has very good suspenseful moments and the connection with history and science makes it even more worth reading.

 

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W1A (Season 3 Review)

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Rating: 5/5

You may like it. You may not like it. You may understand or you may not. But the fact is, this show is a brilliant piece of writing. I haven’t reviewed the first two seasons but I remember thoroughly enjoying it. I read this season, Season 3, is the final one. Sad. So here goes my thoughts.

W1A- I still don’t know what it stands for- is a mockumentary, a satire, a parody of BBC and the insider happenings. The show follows a team of people, their meetings, discussions and outcomes on various popular incidents in the entertainment world. The show is narrated by David Tennant in a documentary tone, and the narration is as funny and hilarious as the show itself. The heart of this show is to present how ridiculous and nonsensical a corporate set up can get. There are way too many meaningless teams and a Head for each one. I mean- Head of Values, Head of Better, Head of Inclusivity, Head of Diversity- and each one wondering what their exact roles are.

I love Ian Fletcher (Hugh Bonneville), Head of Values. He is the only sane guy in this dynamic and interesting group of insanity. He is mostly unheard but the one to solve the issue at the end. Siobhan, Head of Brand from Perfect Curve and later Fun Media, has to be the most exciting character ever. She is sharp and pointless. Her ideas are bizarre in the name of creativity. I still remember her and her team’s idea to change the BBC logo to mere 3 lines and they gave a very serious explanation to support this strange idea. The competition between Anna and Lucy just gets better everytime. Neil is the underdog in the group but the one with the best one-liners. Will with his, “Yeah…cool…yeah” is adorable.

The show’s pulse is its writing. Just the way the meetings take place with everyone just muttering, “Right”, “Brilliant”, “Hurrah”, “Fabulous” without listening to a word- is probably how conferences are conducted nowadays. Just lines like the one by Anna, “This is about identifying what we do most of the best and finding fewer ways of doing more of it less.” I mean what is that! But if you actually sit and dissect the lines, it does hold some deep meaning. Initiatives like Renewal Team, More of Less, BBC Me- It’s about You- each one of the storylines better the other.

I wait for crisis in the show and how the team sits for a Damage Limitation Meeting. In Season 3, the best crisis has to be with how the new automatic subtitle software mispronounced Jules as Jews and the subsequent media roar. I couldn’t stop laughing when the software named Maggie Smith as Baggy Smith. Naming current shows like Strictly, and the stars involved makes the show even more interesting. And the Forecast App! Wonderful!

The silent discos, On my bike, uproar over cutting down BBC orchestra, the plot on the cross dressed football analyser, new roles like Head of Empowerment and Head of Purpose- each one of them has excellent moments involved. Comparing Ben and Jerry to Ant and Dec was hilarious.

Few more lines to quote.

“No one watches Television anymore, like no one. Get over it. It’s over. It’s not an overstatement. It’s an Uber statement.” -Siobhan. Reaction from others is same as yours-“WHAT?”

“Given the strong reactions provoked by Ryan’s Match of the Day appearance, and given the complex and sensitive issues involved, the problem for BBC is they don’t know what to do.” – Narrator.

“What are we actually going to do when we actually run out of time?” – Tracy

Siobhan: “We need to prioritize Plan B”.

Neil: We don’t have a Plan A, stupid.

Siobhan: “That’s why we need to focus on Plan B.”

The show also showcases on the huge number of things that had to be concentrated on for the running of the network. It’s interesting to see how brand and marketing works. The location being the actual BBC office, it adds a lot of credibility. I mean those chairs! The actors are absolutely marvelous. It’s difficult to perform in a show like this where the lines have absolutely no meaning, yet you need to deliver them with utter seriousness.

Many people might not get this show. Also, I wouldn’t say it’s a hilarious show either. It’s just BRILLIANT! I couldn’t stop admiring and being astonished by the writing by John Morton. I really wish for more seasons.

This show is a joy to watch. Don’t miss it!

Standing in Another Man’s Grave [Book Review]

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Rating: 3/5

This book is a usual police procedural. I remember having liked the TV version of this series. John Rebus, the central character, is the driving force. What I like the most is that the plot is both character driven and story driven. Standing in Another Man’s Grave works for me because it involves cold cases. I love cold cases as it’s the most difficult ones to solve. The cases would have transferred hands many times, facts distorted and the actual story blurred. 

John Rebus, now retired, haggard as ever, is part of a cold case unit. When he meets Nina Hazzlit, a mother in search of her missing daughter for 15 odd years, someone who brings to notice that few recent missing persons case could be connected to her daughter’s disappearance, Rebus contacts DI Siobhan, his ex colleague and puts forward his theories. Siobhan is initially skeptical as Rebus is someone known for his off the book handling of cases and she is ambitious to climb the career ladder. But considering the seriousness of the cases, both of them get down to working together, Rebus in a civilian consultant capacity. 

The case in itself has a very interesting background especially the fact that a photo was sent from two of the missing girl’s phone to her friends, identical photo. The best part of a police procedural is the gradual progress in solving the cases, overcoming the random obstacles thrown their way. The supporting characters are interesting, but lacked depth. Rebus being friendly with the “bad” guys, his motive behind was a little confusing. May be because I haven’t read any of the previous books, I didn’t get his character then. The Compliance committee being behind Rebus started off interesting but fizzled out at the end. 

I loved 3/4th of the book especially the part where the case gets transferred to another team and bodies being found in a field, etc. I also liked how Nina’s daughter’s case ended. But the last few chapters weren’t gritty enough. The revelation of the kidnapper/murderer wasn’t impressive, and the ending was absolutely bad. There were no big wow moments. This case deserved a better ending. On the whole, it was an engaging read but disappointing at the end.

I have the next Ian Rankin’s book ready on my TBR. I remember watching Resurrection Man and loving it. I hope the next book lives up to my expectation. 

 

Shadow Princess [Book Review]

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Rating: 5/5

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Honest to God, I felt a sad prick on my heart when this book ended. I have always been intrigued by the Mughal era for their flamboyance, architecture and trade and to read how this magnificent era ended was distressing. The first thing that comes to anyone’s mind when uttered “Mughals” is THE Taj Mahal, hands down. This epic monument has over the years become the epitome of love and a popular stature for India. This book, Shadow Princess, the third book in the series, narrates the story of Taj Mahal on one hand, and a beautiful story of Jahanaara, daughter of Mumtaz, who isn’t often remembered for her timely contributions to the running of the governance then, on the other hand.

I was taken by surprise when the author decided to skip a generation and focus on Jahanaara instead of Mumtaz. I felt it was a very risky decision as Jahanaara isn’t very well known. I didn’t know who she was, honestly. But that was what made this book really exciting. The story begins with the death of Mumtaz forcing Jahanaara, the eldest daughter, to take charge of the kingdom from behind the screens. Shah Jahan, consumed by grief is beyond any action. Jahanaara steps into her father’s shoes making important decisions and keeping her siblings under control. Dara and Aurangzeb, at 16 and 12, are already plagued by their dream to succeed their father. Jahanaara sensing this, puts an end to it by nursing her father back to normality. But the thirst to succeed endures for both the brothers.

Even though, essentially, the book is about the succession, the story is primarily focused on Jahanaara’s part in the succession. Her wish is for Dara to succeed, him being the legal heir to the Kingdom. At the same time she could see his inability to get the ministers behind him and also his frequent immature and playful actions. Aurangzeb, on the other hand, has proved his metal as a courageous young man on the battlefield. But his arrogance and impatience scares Jahanaara to support him. Meanwhile, while all her brothers are getting married and having their own family and life, Shah Jahan keeps Jahanaara close to him curbing her from having her own family life. Jahanaara secretly has an affair with one of the Amirs, producing a son at the end, a son whom she couldn’t recognise as her own publicly. The book revolves around Jahanaara’s interesting relationships with her father, sister, and her brothers. I absolutely loved her interaction with Mehrunissa. I almost forgot that Nur Jahan was alive when Shah Jahan took over the rein. I definitely felt Mehrunissa had a stronger personality than Jahanaara’s in those conversations.

We also get a glimpse into how Aurangzeb took over the kingdom, as a result of several ignores and insults, killing his own brothers, just like his father, to capture the throne. But this entire capturing the throne was covered in a matter of few pages which was a little disappointing. It was interesting to read how Jahanaara and Shah Jahan spent nearly 9 years in Aurangzeb’s captivity and those years being one of the best days for them. Even though the first half of the book was running in a continuous timeline, the second half had 8 or 10 years being skipping in between which affected the continuity of the story. I still couldn’t get why Jahanaara hated Aurangzeb in spite of him caring for her illegitimate son. Also, Roshanaara had so little to do in the story. I felt she had a very interesting personality.

Another parallel story running is the construction of the Taj Mahal. The idea behind, the immense amount of hardwork behind and Shah Jahan’s only motivating factor to live. I loved the point made how despite great achievements by Akbar and even Jahangir, Shah Jahan is the most popular Mughal king because of this magnificent monument. The same goes to Mumtaz. Even though, she didn’t live for long and had been the Queen for only a few years, she is the most popular Mughal queen.

I loved the fact that this book was both plot driven and character driven. There were moments I was lost in the world of Mughal architecture wanting to be a part of it. I wish the story hadn’t stopped with Shah Jahan’s death. Jahanaara, after Aurangzeb’s insistence for several years, becomes the head of his zenena after her father’s death. I longed to read her role during Aurangzeb’s rein, her feelings towards her new King. Hence, I felt the ending to be a little weak, left me wanting more. Also, only by reading the Afterword, you seriously get to know the parts that were facts and those that were fiction.

On the whole, it was an amazing experience to read this trilogy. A must read for all the historical fiction fans. And finally, a great book to read after a long time.

The Shadow of the Wind [Book Review]

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Rating: 5/5

Considering my very dismal streak of choosing good books to read this year, The Shadow of the Wind ended my poor reading experience. Written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon in Spanish and English translated by Lucia Graves, this book is unputdownable.

Set in Barcelona, this story is a story within a story. When young Daniel Sempere is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father, he picks The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax as his companion. Extremely intrigued by the story, Daniel sets forth to read more books from the same author but fails to find even one. He also discovers a strange man following him, very similar to one of the evil characters in The Shadow of the Wind, whose mission is to burn all of Carax’s works. Years pass but Daniel couldn’t let go of Carax. He wants to know who he was and what happened to him. Daniel, along with his friend Fermin Torress, sets out following clues and characters, putting pieces of Carax’s life together into a timeline.

It’s absolutely difficult to not give away the entire story. Through Daniel’s investigation, we are let into Carax’s life, which in a way is very similar to Daniel’s himself. Daniel realises that the underlying reason for all the happenings is the love story between Julian and Penelope. He explores Julian’s birth and childhood, his acquaintance with Penelope, his friends at school, his plan to elope with Penelope which failed, his inspiration to write books, etc. There are different versions from different people who were involved in Julian’s life in someway. Ultimately Daniel wants to find what happened to Julian and Penelope at the end. In between all this, we have the tyrannical Inspector Fumero who is behind Fermin, and also hindering their investigation. But why?

While reading, I really began to worry for the characters and that shows the success of this book.  The story is a dramatic one but who doesn’t love drama. Even though Julian Carax isn’t part of the present, the book is all about him. Every character, though there were a little too many, had a very important part to play in the story. They were like the glue which got all the pieces stuck together. You can actually see the entire story through Daniel’s eyes. The one thing which didn’t impress me much was Daniel’s personal story itself. It wasn’t as powerful or interesting as Julian’s. Daniel is adorable for what he sets out to do but he isn’t a very strong protagonist, may be that’s what the sweet part is. I absolutely loved the part where he visits the old house of Penelope’s. Very thrilling sequence. The language is really good for a translation.

The Shadow of the Wind is a wondrous work. A must read!

Gently in the New Age [Finale] (TV Show Review)

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Rating: 5/5

Fitting, satisfying but a depressing end to an absolute marvel!

Inspector George Gently has always been one of those series which I just can’t stop admiring. I don’t know if it’s because of the 1960s setting, or the blending of the then relevant social issues with intriguing crime cases, or the brilliantly picturesque setting or the fantastically amazing cast- it’s just very difficult to pick one reason. 8 series- 10 years! That’s a journey to applaud. When it was announced that this series would be the final one, I was in a way happy because ultimately the show would get a fitting closure and Wow! What a closure!

Before I get to the part which eventually turned this usual finale into an extraordinary one, a little about the case. It’s the 1970s now. We have two cases running in parallel, connected by one person, Michael Clemens, an ambitious politician and a potential winner for the next PM. George Gently, after successfully proving corruption within the police system, is approached to look into the murder investigation of Leslie, a case involving Clemens in some way. On the other side, a undercover reporter is murdered publicly at a union protest, the reporter who laid his hands on a proof concerning Clemens. John Bachchus and Rachel Coles run the latter investigation while Gently takes the cold case. We also catch a glimpse of the state of politics then and the government cover ups. But what’s interesting and better than the actual case is how every character reacts to the case.

George Gently! This show has always been about him more than the cases. An honest man with extreme integrity, at the verge of retirement after the assassination of his beloved wife Isabella, he moved down from London to lead a quiet life, to cope with his pain and loss. This finale portrays how George never really overcame his grief and come to terms with his loss. He had distracted himself with work and nurturing his protege John Bachchus, but with the changing world and his inability to adapt to it, it results in absolute frustration and opens the door of helplessness and loneliness for him. The friction between him and John doesn’t help him either. In a way, George feels like an outcast unable to compromise with his principles or accept the harsh corrupt world. At the end, the season finale ends with George finding closure over his wife’s death.

The first half hour of the episode, I felt the story was going nowhere. It didn’t feel like it was a finale. But the next 1 hour! Mind blowing! Seeing George struggle with his emotions was agonizing, especially his call to Rachel in the middle of the night and the subsequent breakdown. I was surprised how George called Rachel and not John. That scene was so endearing. It was the first and the last time we see George so vulnerable. I absolutely admired how George wasn’t ready to give up his integrity even though he was about to retire in a week. That’s Gently for you! We never got many scenes of George thinking about Isabella over the series, may be a few here and there. This episode showed how much George missed Isabella and how he just can’t live without her or how every day has been a struggle for him. Another strong point of this episode was how it was and is highly difficult for an honest cop to work in the real world. The last scene between John and Rachel showed George’s success- creating two potential and capable police officers.

A little disappointing was the very few interactions between George and John. They have been through their ups and downs over the years and in the previous episode we saw a huge clash between them. I expected them to mend their relationship or something that would mean they were at a better place. I wasn’t sure at the end if George and John were Ok. I mean, they would have definitely been, courtesy to the lovely friendship and bonding they share, but- I wish there was one scene to show their strong bonding, to show what each meant to the other.

Coming to the performances. This episode, hands down, belonged to Martin Shaw. What an actor and performer! Shaw portrayed Gently’s frustration and pain so well, it just hit me. He effortlessly lets the viewers into Gently’s personal and vulnerable side. Even though the rest of the cast and supporting cast did a great job, they didn’t have much to do in my view. It was all Gently throughout, which I actually felt was the right way to go. Kudos!

I’ll miss George Gently a lot but I am really happy that the show got a wonderful ending, which many series doesn’t get. This show had one of the best story narrations and the pace of every episode was almost equal to perfect. Appreciation to every one of those involved in the process of making this amazing series. George Gently will always hold a special palace in my heart.

The Paying Guests [Book Review]

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Rating : 2/5

Have you ever felt helpless and hopeless about a book, yet still hopeful for a turnaround? Confused? Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests falls into this category. I picked this book up because it was listed as one of the best fiction books ever. Really? This is the last I am ever going to trust a list. The back cover premise did sound interesting, I admit. It’s about a couple who move in as paying guests and their interaction with the house owners. Most importantly, this sentence, “a love story which is a crime story”, pulled my attention. Having read so many crime fiction over the years, I am at a stage to explore other genres, more like crime mixed with other genres? This seemed the perfect recipe. Was I wrong? Not entirely, but majorly.

Set in 1922, spinster Frances Wray lives with her mother and is solely responsible for managing and maintaining their massive house. With no certain income, they rent the upstairs rooms to a young couple- Lilian and Leonard. Frances is intrigued by the couples’ relationship. She gradually forms a growing interest in Lilian. They begin to spend a lot of time together, sharing intimate details of their life. Their relationship, which becomes more than just a friendship, draws rift between Lilian and Leonard. An argument among the three, consequently becoming physical, ending with Leonard’s death. Frances and Lilian covers it up, Frances doing most of the brain job. With the police arriving, do Frances and Lilian get away with murder? Or not?

The above might sound interesting, I would say very simple too. But this simple story rambles on for nearly 600 pages and that’s where I began to lose patience. I never warmed up to Frances and Lilian’s relationship, not that I am against these relationships. I somehow never got to like any of them, or felt sympathetic or empathetic towards them. I know, it’s not necessary for us to like the characters, yet, I feel it’s necessary. Confused again? This is a strange story. I feel strange writing this review, honestly. The pace of the story wasn’t bad. It smoothly shifted gears throughout. It must have been engaging enough, as I didn’t abandon it half way. But, I don’t know. I feel highly disappointed for some reason.

This book isn’t like the normal, fast-paced, racy crime story- I get that. This is more about characterization, the 1920s setting, the social problems then, etc. I quite enjoyed the beginning as well. It was written beautifully and took me in a journey. But after Frances and Lilian admit their feelings to each other, I felt it was going nowhere. The author took a good time to get to the crime story from the love story. I felt the narration became dull and there were too many thoughts description (like what one felt and thought) rather than some action. At the end, instead of feeling triumphant, I felt relieved that the book was over.

I understand writing such stories like these aren’t easy. To understand the year/age the story is set it, and to involve a love story between two females and how it was looked upon then and weaving them into a story is brave. I give that. I wish, the book was a little more shorter, perhaps?

If you like slow paced, character oriented, period story- this is the one to go for. Else, it’s not.