Magic, Dragons and More! [A Review]

Eragon, Inheritance Cycle Book 1 by Christopher Paolini

christopher paolini - eragon

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I read Eragon many years back, and because I started the series when it first came out, I had to wait a while to read the next book, Eldest. By then, I had forgotten quite a bit of the earlier narration, and I eventually gave up on the series.

I’m not saying that it’s poorly written though. In fact, I remember enjoying Eragon when I first read it. The series was concluded a few years back, and I’ve finally found my way back to it. 

I have a vague memory of the gist of the story, but I’ve forgotten most of the details, so this second read of the book is almost akin to reading it for the first time. And I’m enjoying it all over again.

The book is written in the traditional style of most epic fantasy series, and the names created by Paolini for the characters and places give it a Lord of the Rings “feel”. The story line is also a common one about a boy coming of age, discovering he’s meant to be the hero who saves the world, and eventually doing so (or so I predict). It reminds me of the Belgariad series by David Eddings. Nevertheless, the story is well-paced enough to keep me turning the pages until I reach my destinations (I read mostly on the move these days). 

There’re no novel magical systems in here, but what caught my attention back then was the fact that Paolini wrote Eragon when he was only in his teens, and he was only nineteen when the book became a bestseller in 2003. My curiosity paid off, because it is actually quite an entertaining read.

I’m on to the next book, and I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

VERDICT: If you like conventional epic fantasy series filled with magic, dragons, elves and dwarves, and don’t like to think too much about how the magical system works, this series will be a fairly entertaining one.

For those who want to know a little about the story line, here’s an overview from bookdepository.com:

Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy–until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save–or destroy–the Empire.

Life’s Complicated for a Grownup [A Review]

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

gillian flynn - the grownup

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This is a novella that I finished in one (very short) seating. 

I’ve never been a big fan of short stories (maybe except for those that Roald Dahl wrote), partly because the story’s usually over before I could grow to like or hate the characters.

Ironically, a third of this story was dedicated to the protagonist’s history and background, and I didn’t like it. I’m not sure why, but I think I was expecting Flynn to get to the story more quickly, given that there were not many pages to the book. What saved the book was probably the fact that Flynn wrote it in a highly readable and engaging style that tended to keep the reader turning the page.

I’m glad I didn’t abandon the book before I reached the mid-way point though, because that was when the story finally got interesting, and I was rewarded with a Gillian Flynn twist that I wasn’t expecting. 

VERDICT: Don’t compare this with Gone Girl, and don’t expect to have a conclusive ending to this story. I can’t tell you more than that without betraying what such a short story can offer.

For those who want to know a little about the story line, here’s an overview from bookdepository.com:

A young woman is making a living faking it as a cut-price psychic (with some illegal soft-core sex work on the side). She makes a decent wage mostly by telling people what they want to hear. But then she meets Susan Burke. Susan moved to the city one year ago with her husband and 15-year-old stepson Miles. They live in a Victorian house called Carterhook Manor. Susan has become convinced that some malevolent spirit is inhabiting their home. The young woman doesn’t believe in exorcism or the supernatural. However when she enters the house for the first time, she begins to feel it too, as if the very house is watching her, waiting, biding its time …The Grownup, which originally appeared as ‘What Do You Do?’ in George R. R. Martin’s Rogues anthology, proves once again that Gillian Flynn is one of the world’s most original and skilled voices in fiction.

This Should Be How Science Is Taught In School! [A Review]

The Martian by Andy Weir

andy weir - the martian

   [Image courtesy of bookdepository.com]

I’ve not watched the movie, despite how my friends have raved about it, because I was holding out till after I had read the book. I didn’t want the movie to ruin my reaction to and experience with the book. The movie was, after all, based on the book, so the book comes first.

And now I can’t wait to watch the movie. (And I like Matt Damon.)

Yes, I’m totally wowed by the book. Of course, it helps that I had engineering training (but that was many many years ago… no, it actually feels like hundreds of ‘sols’ ago), because Weir spent a significant part of his book explaining the science needed for the protagonist’s survival. Yet, he was able to explain the science in such simple terms that I bet any kid will be able to understand it too. Plus, he was able to make the narration so entertaining and humorous (despite the dire predicaments that Mars always managed to throw the astronaut into) that I couldn’t put the book down. I often found myself laughing while reading the book on the train, before realizing I was probably freaking out the passengers around me.

The closing paragraphs were a little corny though, but that doesn’t stop me from loving the book, and I strongly encourage anyone who’s trying to get young people interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects to consider using books (and maybe movies) like The Martian to win them over. I mean, reading about how Mark Watney uses his knowledge in botany and mechanical engineering to survive one and a half years on Mars, sprinkled with generous helpings of humor, beats memorizing equations that don’t seem to have any practical applications right? And considering how savvy kids these days are, they can google the answers when they don’t understand anything in the story. Self-motivated discovery – wala! 

VERDICT: If you hate science and math, read this book – it will change your perspectives. If you like science and math, oh my god, go grab a copy NOW!

For those who want to know a little about the story line, here’s an overview from bookdepository.com:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he s alive and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

I Still Can’t Decide About Murakami [A Review]

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

haruki murakami - south of the border west of the sun

   [Image courtesy of bookdepository.com]

 

 

I found this book during one of those books warehouse sales, and I have to admit, I was hesitant in buying it in the first place. This was, after all, Murakami. You either hate his books, or you love them. And up till then, I had not been able to decide yet, despite having read a few of his mega-hits.

Even now, as I am writing this post, I remain undecided, just as I’m not sure if my reaction to the book should be a “huh?” or a “hmmm…”. 

I won’t write about the story, partly because you can read the overview below, but mainly because I don’t know where to begin. Sure enough, the story starts with the protagonist’s childhood and progresses to a tipping point in his late thirties, but I’m not sure the story line was the main point. This is one of those books that make me wonder what exactly was the writer trying to say with the story.

For now, all I know is that I will need a long break before I will pick up Murakami’s novels again.

VERDICT: You will hate this book if you like your stories to be clear in what the writer’s trying to say, and to have conclusive endings, with all your questions answered. This is a book that leaves more questions than answers, so steer clear of it if you don’t want to feel disturbed. On the other hand, if you need some mental stimulation and are tired of the usual story lines, this might be worth a try, especially since it’s a relatively thin book.

For those who want to know a little about the story line, here’s an overview from bookdepository.com:

Born in 1951 in an affluent Tokyo suburb, Hajime “beginning” in Japanese has arrived at middle age wanting for almost nothing. The postwar years have brought him a fine marriage, two daughters, and an enviable career as the proprietor of two jazz clubs. Yet a nagging sense of inauthenticity about his success threatens Hajime s happiness. And a boyhood memory of a wise, lonely girl named Shimamoto clouds his heart. In “South of the Border, West of the Sun,” the simple arc of a man s life with its attendant rhythms of success and disappointment becomes the exquisite literary terrain of Haruki Murakami s most haunting work. When Shimamoto shows up one rainy night, now a breathtaking beauty with a secret from which she is unable to escape, the fault lines of doubt in Hajime s quotidian existence begin to give way. And the details of stolen moments past and present a Nat King Cole melody, a face pressed against a window, a handful of ashes drifting downriver to the sea threaten to undo him completely. Rich, mysterious, quietly dazzling, “South of the Border, West of the Sun” is Haruki Murakami s wisest and most compelling work.”