Sunday, 21 December 2014

'White Bird in a Blizzard' by Laura Kasischke: A Book/Movie Review

When Katrina Connors' mother walks out on her family, Kat is surprised but not shocked; the whole year she has been "becoming sixteen" - falling in love with the boy next door, shedding her babyfat, discovering sex - her mother has been slowly withdrawing. As Kat and her impassive father pick up the pieces of their daily lives, she finds herself curiously unaffected by her mother's absence. But in dreams that become too real to ignore, she's haunted by her mother's cries for help. Finally, she must act on her instinct that something violent and evil has occurred - a realization that brings Kat to a chilling discovery.

Sorry for the hiatus, Geeks. I've been dealing with some personal stuff lately, so I had to neglect the blog to recover in peace.
Anyway, I'm back for good!

Let's talk about White Bird in a Blizzard, a novel I had started reading a few weeks ago, as well as the movie which I watched recently after finishing the book.

The book blurb seemed interesting. It gave me a Gone Girl vibe, and since I'd enjoyed that book/movie so much, I had high hopes for this story, too. And this book had quite a few rave reviews hailing it as a 'literary masterpiece' and what not. I thought maybe this would be another dark and depressing teenage tale that would leave me wanting more (like Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, which I'm currently re-reading).


The writing! What do I say? Almost everyone who loved this novel claims that the writing is superior to anything they've ever read. But it's so exhausting to read this book! There are metaphors and similes crammed into every single sentence on every single page with so much description and so few dialogues that it drove me nuts. I like deeper meanings, I do. But this book tries to be so deep that nothing remains on the surface.

Let me show you. I'm going to skip to random pages of the ebook now and cite a few examples.

"And the darkness below her seemed to rise like dough - flour and yeast and water mixed up with night. 
We were down there in that darkness, that darkness that might rise and rise, and push everything out of its way as it rose, as it pushed its way out of the living room, swelling up the stairs. It might smother her in her sleep with its sprawling, domestic flesh."
(Page 105-106)

"Once, between Cleveland and the lake, an oil glaze on that river caught fire like some stripper's slippery negligee tossed onto the water, and it went smoking through the city - through the suburbs, where the stench and the fames and the flames were politely ignored - and it passed, then, into the country, spitting cinders into the wind, burning itself past the gawking sheep and cows, polluted, viscous, all-forgiving mouth of Lake Erie."
(Page 27)

"I could still remember dancing with him in the gym: How young we'd been! A sudsy bloodbath of energy. Fat, in my pink dress, I was a sad valentine made by a child, made of cotton balls, dime-store doilies and paste - sentimental, pathetic, a little desperate, but sincere.
And all those sweaty nights on the couch, his kisses like blurred stars all up and down my neck. I was still fat. Together we were wading into a tepid lake. Carefully. The mud was soft and as loose as flesh."
(Page 143-144)

I hope that proves my point. Yes, some parts of those quotes have actually been written very beautifully, but so much stuffed into so few pages (less than 200 pages as an ebook), it gets to your head.
Looks like John Green studied at the Kasischke school of writing.

Similar to Gone Girl, almost every character here has crossed into the moral grey area. Especially the protagonist, Katrina.

What do I say about you, Kat?
Maybe all 80s teenagers were like this, but...

No spoilers, because these things have all been revealed in the movie trailer, but she seduces a detective who's twice her age while dating her high school boyfriend without blinking an eyelid at the fact that her mother has disappeared. And yes, the mother in question is definitely not a good mother in any way, but a little concern would be nice, Kat.

The book was quite vague, because there wasn't much of a plot. A couple of scenes here and there that serve as flashbacks, Kat's sexual encounters, tons of metaphors... I didn't know how they would translate this onto the silver screen.

The movie does a good job of portraying the story, however. The director, Gregg Araki, must have a lot of talent.
Shailene Woodley stars as the promiscuous teenager unaffected by her mother's death (except in her dreams). She looks utterly ravishing in her retro clothing and dark brown hair, and plays Kat in a remarkable fashion.

Desperate, lonely and jealous of her own daughter, Eva Green convincingly plays the mother in such a way that you dislike her even more than you did in the novel.
I also loved the actors who play Kat's friends, Beth and Mickey.

One thing that bothered me, though, was that in the novel, Mickey is a female cheerleader. In the movie, Mickey turns into a stereotypic feminine gay boy with rainbow coloured hair and a wardrobe to boot.

The ending of the movie, too, has a slightly different twist. We are also given more information, whereas in the novel, the ending is a semi-cliffhanger.
I'm not sure why they made these changes.

 Anyway, the story moves at a very slow pace up until the last fifty or so pages. Then things thankfully get interesting and we start to discover what really happened to Kat's mother (no thanks to the detective).
But, unfortunately, the 'twist' is as clich├ęd as they come and it fails to leave you thinking, "Aha! So that's what happened. I should have known..."
Instead, all you think is, "I saw that coming since page one."

I'm going to go with 2.5 stars out of 5 for the book and the movie.
The writing is a little insufferable, the characters are difficult to bear, and the only redeeming quality is the suspense and the great music (for the movie, anyway).
I can't tell you to pick one over the other, and I wouldn't really recommend it to you unless you're a Shailene Woodley fan or you enjoy deeper-than-John-Green metaphors. Oh, and this movie is rated R for explicit content. Keep that in mind if you're planning to watch it with your family.

Check out the trailer below:

If you've read this book or any other works by Laura Kasischke, let me know your opinions in the comments below.
Do you have any requests for book or movie reviews? Tell me, and I'll do my best to write a post for you.

Christmas is only a few days away, and so is home! Happy holidays, Geeks. Bye-bye! :)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

People Who Annoy Me #6: Skinny-Shamers!

How many times have you heard (or maybe even used) the following line? "Real women have curves", or the more popular variation: "Real men like curves". Or maybe this one? "Only dogs like bones".
How many times have you associated the condition 'anorexia' with a skinny person for no reason other than their weight?

Today I want to talk about something that I feel very, very, very strongly about.
Everyone knows about body shaming. It's a horrible phenomenon that is being perpetuated by the media and the beauty industry, right? That's why we have 'inspirational quotes' like the ones I discussed above.

Well, let me tell you something. I am a size zero. I am not anorexic. My body is natural. And I truly hope that real men look for compatibility and a nice personality, not curves or straight lines or any geometric figures.

I can't tell you how many times people have made comments about my weight and not even realised that they were hurting my feelings. Society dictates that we cannot say things like "You're so fat. Put that sandwich down!" or "So you're obese, right?"
And I agree, we shouldn't. But that does not mean we should ask people to "eat that sandwich" because they're "so anorexic".

One time, I had had a meal only an hour prior to my lunch break, so I wasn't hungry at all. I decided to just grab a snack instead of a full meal. What did my 'friend' say, with a chuckle? "Okay, you anorexic little girl."

Or how about that other time, when I was ordering dinner with some acquaintances, and one of them repeatedly said that we had to buy dinner for 'four and a half people'? That person kept asking me again and again, with a mocking expression, whether I really wanted to eat an entire portion or not.

And I really wanted to shout back at them. I wanted to ask them why they were being so mean. But here's the problem: they didn't know they were being mean! They didn't realise that they had said anything out of the ordinary, they didn't realise that they were being bullies, and I didn't know how I could explain it to them without coming across as an overreacting bitch.

There are a few skinny people who have the appetite of an elephant. I don't. But that doesn't mean I starve myself. I provide more than enough nourishment for my body, and I eat when I'm hungry and I stop eating when I'm full, like any other person. So please, people, you can keep those 'sandwich' comments to yourself.

I am tired of people acting like I'm fragile or malnourished. I am tired of people dictating what real men should and shouldn't like, what real women should or shouldn't look like.
I am tired of not being able to find my size in stores because apparently, holding size zero clothing promotes body shaming.

Appearances do not matter, as I mentioned in a previous post. Yes, health matters. Maybe we should focus on our mind and body instead of looking at the portions on other people's plates. Maybe we should find out the meaning of 'anorexic' before using it to describe someone. Maybe we should stop skinny-shaming and fat-shaming and start giving importance to intellect, and humour, and kindness, and fitness, and other things that actually matter!

And then maybe the world would be a much happier place. Maybe.
Rant over. I'm out.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

'The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike #1)' by Robert Galbraith: A Book Review

After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.
Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
You may think you know detectives, but you've never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you've never seen them under an investigation like this.

Hello, people!

Today I'm reviewing a murder mystery novel by our very own Queen, JK Rowling. She actually wrote The Cuckoo's Calling under a pseudonym (Robert Galbraith), and the novel actually did become a success before people found out the truth. After that, of course, everybody and their mother decided to read this book. Including...

Let me be upfront and tell you that I had tried to read Rowling's other book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, and I hadn't even been able to get through it. I don't know what it was about the writing or the story (or lack thereof) or the innumerable characters, but after that, I'd assumed that Rowling just couldn't write books that weren't about Harry Potter.

Well, this one proved my hypothesis wrong.

The Cuckoo's Calling is a little different from all the other murder mysteries I've read. First of all, the novel is written in third person with two perspectives: those of Cormoran Strike (the detective) and his assistant, Robin.
Instead of focusing on the crime itself, this novel takes a step back and chooses to examine the more human aspects of life. There are quite a few chapters that don't do much for the murder mystery, but are important to understand Strike's past and present. I suppose this way of writing was chosen because this book is part of a series, but at some point, it did bother me that the story was moving at such a slow pace.

But though the first fifty or so pages might be slow, the rest of the pages are very engaging. I found myself staying up nights to read this book, and finally, when I'd finished the book at 3:30 am a few days ago, I felt like I'd been part of that investigation all along.

Cormoran Strike is described as a tall and large, beefy man, and in my mind's eye, I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman as this protagonist (rest in peace, sir). I know he doesn't fit the character very well, but... the mind sees what the mind sees.
Strike isn't as fascinating a detective as, say, Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. This murder isn't as scandalous as you'd assume it to be. Strike's method of investigating isn't that incredible, either. Most of his interactions with the characters are in the form of interrogations. And those interrogations seemed to lead nowhere. When I'd only had around a hundred pages left to read, I had started to wonder how on earth Cormoran Strike was going to solve the mystery of Lula Landry's death without any clues or leads.

And then, suddenly, the ending sprang upon me, and it turned out that Strike was quite an intelligent man, after all. I'd had a hunch that I knew who the killer was (well, I kept jumping from one suspect to another, to be honest, but it still counts!), but I hadn't any idea about the motive or the means, and Strike explained it all very nicely.

One character I really appreciated was his assistant, Robin. A beauty with brains, I imagined Emma Watson with her quick wit and British accent as Robin throughout the novel. There isn't any romantic angle between them in this novel, but I'm wondering if that might change in the sequel.

So with the somewhat slow-paced storyline, a plethora of supporting characters you might just mix up, and the old-fashioned style of interrogation, what saves this novel at the end of the day is the writing.
Harry Potter might have been a children's book, but the way it was written would never have let you in on that little fact. JK Rowling can write, incredibly well at that, and that's exactly how she makes Cormoran Strike's investigations linger in your thoughts.

With that in mind, here are some quotes that stood out:

How easy it was to capitalize on a person’s own bent for self-destruction; how simple to nudge them into non-being, then to stand back and shrug and agree that it had been the inevitable result of a chaotic, catastrophic life.

It was nearly eight before he returned to the office. This was the hour when he found London most lovable; the working day over, her pub windows were warm and jewel-like, her streets thrummed with life, and the indefatigable permanence of her aged buildings, softened by the street lights, became strangely reassuring. We have seen plenty like you, they seemed to murmur soothingly, as he limped along Oxford Street carrying a boxed-up camp bed. Seven and a half million hearts were beating in close proximity in this heaving old city, and many, after all, would be aching far worse than his.

People liked to talk; there were very few exceptions, the question was how you made them do it. Some were amenable to alcohol; others liked a spotlight; and then there were those who merely needed proximity to another conscious human being. A subsection of humanity would become loquacious only on one favorite subject; it might be their own innocence, or somebody else's guilt.

Rowling has already demonstrated her talent for writing mysteries through the Harry Potter series (especially The Chamber of Secrets, The Goblet of Fire and The Deathly Hallows), and she weaves a believable murder mystery with her words in this book, too.
Sure, it may take some time for the novel to appeal to you, but give it a few chapters' worth of time, and it may surprise you.

I'm going to go with 3.5 stars out of 5 for The Cuckoo's Calling.
Once I'm done with the books I'm currently reading, I definitely will check out the sequel (The Silkworm), which sounds even more interesting than this one.

Have you read The Cuckoo's Calling? What did you think of this mystery? Had you guessed the murderer before the ending? Let me know all about your thoughts in the comments below.

Bye for now, Geeks!

Friday, 28 November 2014

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Movie Review (Spoiler-Free)

In District 13, after she literally shatters the games forever, Katniss Everdeen works to save Peeta and a nation moved by her courage under the leadership of President Coin and the advice of her trusted friends.

Finally, it's Mocking-Day! On a scale of 0 to 10, I've been... well... this excited for Mockingjay Part 1.

And now, here comes my review for the penultimate THG movie. 

The movie starts off a little slowly, with Katniss recovering from the events of the Quarter Quell in District 13, as Plutarch Heavensbee and President Coin attempt to convince her to take on the role of the face of the rebellion: the Mockingjay.

But then the movie picks up some pace, and you see a lot of crucial moments from the book come to life: Katniss' visit to the ruins of District 12, how she finds herself struggling to keep the rebellion and Peeta Mellark alive at the same time, and how she inspires the district rebels in ways she could have never imagined.

Some of my favourite scenes include the famous "If we burn, you burn with us!" sequence, Katniss' rendition of The Hanging Tree (this hauntingly beautiful song is still stuck in my head, by the way), and any scene involving Haymitch and Effie (or as the fans like to call them, Hayffie!).
I also loved the interactions between Katniss and Prim. This is, of course, one of the most important relationships in the series, and with every movie, this sisterly bond only gets stronger.

James Newton Howard's background score will give you chills and may bring you close to tears. I certainly found myself getting emotional a few times throughout the movie (especially towards the end), and the credit for that must go not just to the music but also to the actors on-screen.

Jennifer Lawrence continues to embody the character of Katniss with such finesse that sometimes you wonder if she really is just acting. Julianne Moore wasn't how I'd imagined President Coin to be like, but she pulls off the character - and the hair - very well.
A special mention to Elizabeth Banks as Effie - her character actually doesn't appear until the very end of the book, but I'm glad they gave her a bigger role. She provides quite a lot of comedic relief, and who doesn't love movie Effie, after all?

And Josh Hutcherson as Peeta... oh, I'm not supposed to give any spoilers, but even with so little screen time (he probably appears for not more than ten minutes), he delivers a very... memorable performance. I'm really looking forward to his role in the finale, where there's going to be a lot of scope for character development for the boy with the bread.

I'm not very fond of Liam Hemsworth or his character Gale, so he didn't make much of an impression on me, but I suppose the average movie goer wouldn't have anything bad to say about him in this movie.

In short, Francis Lawrence has done it again. With Catching Fire, he had had a lot to work with - interesting turn of events, the Quarter Quell, exciting new characters - but in this movie, by adding a few powerful scenes and cutting down on the slower moments, he commands your attention for every second of those 123 minutes. Well done, Francis, buddy. Can't wait to see what you have in store for us next time.

I'm going to go with 4.25 stars out of 5 for this one. 
A great movie adaptation for a somewhat drawn-out book, Mockingjay Part 1 is equal parts action, emotion and tragedy.
If you're a fan of the books or the movies, you wouldn't want to miss this one. So go to your nearest theatre, grab your tub of popcorn, and get ready for the movie of the year, because this one is simply...

Have you already seen Mockingjay Part 1? Let me know what you thought of the movie. Where had you expected the movie to end?
And if you've been living under a rock and haven't seen the trailer yet, check it out below:

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 hits theatres on 20th November, 2015. I definitely will be waiting for that one with bated breath.

Meanwhile, I think I'll finish that Harry Potter movie marathon. This IS the Ultimate Geek Week, after all!
Next blog post will probably be a book review for The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (it's actually JK Rowling, but shhhh! That's a secret!), which I'm halfway done with.

Until then, bye-bye, my dear Mockingjays!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Just a Random Update #3

This semester is OVER!


How's it going, Geeks? This is going to be a brief update, but I felt it was necessary to make one to mark the day my first semester in college ends.

What? One-sixth of my undergraduate college life is over already? Feels just like yesterday when I was new to Mumbai, whining about the heat and the difficult-to-understand North Indian Hindi and all the strange people.

Although, to be fair, I still complain about those things. November is almost over and it's still so hot in the day! The nights are fairly pleasant, yes, but the humidity never ends. I NEED my winter so I can wear sweaters and hoodies and cardigans and those cute boots that my sister got me.
Please, Mumbai. Please.

The strange people don't seem that annoying anymore, though. I'm actually talking to my classmates willingly these days. It's a weird feeling to be... socializing.

But I kind of like it. Still, my alone time is precious and I cherish every wonderful minute of it.

My exams were so-so. Three were good, three were bad. I don't think I'm going to be known as the class nerd anymore. Still, it's too soon to say anything.
Anyway, we have a week off before the new semester begins, and I'm actually not going home. I'll be staying in Mumbai, spending my days being geekie. Lots of books to read (review of The Cuckoo's Calling coming up in a couple of days), movies to rewatch, TV show marathons to catch up to, and workouts to do. This week is going to be...

Plus, Mockingjay Part 1 comes out in less than two days! I've already accepted the fact that I'll be crying my eyes out. I mean... the scene where *spoiler* talks about his days as a *spoiler*! And when *spoiler* tries to *spoiler* *spoiler* after the *spoiler*!!!!!
I really can't wait to watch this one and see if it's better than the book. It probably will be, because I personally didn't like the last book that much.

Well, I've got my hummus, pickled cucumber and carrot tahini in a grilled signature multi-grain bagel waiting for me to eat it (it's much tastier than it sounds... and healthy, too! And HUMMUS! So good!), and I think I'll do a movie marathon of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.
Let the Games (and the feels) begin.

I'll see you on Friday, with my review of Mockingjay. Bye-bye! :)