book reviews

Book Review: M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

I am a sucker for short stories, with my ever-dwindling attention span, and I’m also a bigger sucker for Neil Gaiman for his wild and imaginative stories. So for me, another short story book is a perfect summer read.

Like most other short story books by any author, you get a mixed bag of good and not-so-good stories, but the positive side of things is that you can always skip the ones you do not like. With M is for Magic, unfortunately, I did skip many stories – many were already included in previous collections I have read, and others did not trigger my interest.

However, there were three notable stories I particularly liked. The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds is quite an interesting take on Humpty Dumpty, turning the whole story into an in-depth criminal investigation. The second story I liked was Troll Bridge, which tells a tale of the relationship between a kid and a troll. At face value it is a decent enough story, but with a little bit of a creative effort on your part you can project the scenario into your adult life.

The piece I particularly loved the most was Sunbird, primarily due to its nature: food. It is the story about a group of very rich friends who have eaten everything possibly edible (with over zealous descriptions), except the elusive Sunbird. I found the story particularly fascinating. Again, I was probably hungry.

Overall, M is for Magic is a good book, however, if you want a better collection of short stories I would recommend Fragile Things by the very same Neil Gaiman,

Book Review: The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

A warm summer afternoon in Damascus demands no less than losing oneself to the pages of a book. I stretched out on the balcony, amidst a light breeze and under the golden glow of the sun, to read The Angel’s Game, the new masterpiece by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, author of Shadow of the Wind, a book that held me captive to its timeless tale a few years back.

The sound of car horns and traffic gradually faded away as I was absorbed into the world of David Martín, a writer amidst the turbulent and gothic 1920′s Barcelona, the mysterious circumstances, his house, and the sinister and playful characters around him.

Like Shadow of the Wind, the centerpiece puzzle of the story is in a book that has been retrieved from The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a hidden, secret library that is home to a labyrinth of books that would have otherwise been destroyed and forgotten. Unlike Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game is a far more sinister and mysteriously interesting read.

The cleverly written plot, told in the first person from David’s perspective, crosses the lines between what is real and what is perceptually feasible, and even metaphysically impossible. The encounters with Andreas Corelli, the unusual antagonist – for the lack of a better term – are peculiarly intense, often filled with philosophical and theological arguments that would further change the course of the story, and David’s psyche, which, I believe, is the main antagonist. These chilling, schizophrenic stretches of narration are split by a troubled (and frightening) love story, interesting well-developed relationships with other characters, and a very endearing friendship between David and Isabella, his apprentice, which form the bulk of the much needed comedy.

As the story progresses, it becomes impossible to put down – I had to finish the book in three sittings, across three days, out of fear of forgetting the minute details that make the story’s convoluted plot. Relationships, people, events, and even Shadow of the Wind (though no prior reading is required, the final puzzle piece snaps in if you did) all seemingly irrelevant and scattered, become intertwined, either in David’s mind or in reality – one could not tell until the very last paragraph of the book – all set against a beautiful yet morbidly dark Barcelona.

It’s a book that’s certainly should not be missed.

Book Review: Tell Me Why, Mummy by David Thomas

Ten Word Summary: A sexually abused kid stuggles to survive and find forgiveness.

Wow.

The only time I felt breathless while reading a book was when I read The Life of Pi, which I still consider to be one of the best books of the century. Though this time I was not short on breath from the suspence, but rather from the heartache as I read word after word. It’s definitely not a summer read, then.

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The story is an autobiography, about David’s sexually abused childhood by his mother – a raging alcoholic – and physical abuse from his stepfather. The story starts at his tender age of 4 and the book chronicles his struggle to survive well into his late 20′s and 30s.

The story in itself is a human achievement, with a very happy and overwhlemingly emotional ending. The majority of the story is a morbid moral and social struggle for David, written throught he psyche of each year of his age – from the innocence of a 4 year old, till he becomes sexually aware and understands what’s going on. His struggle with his demons transforms him from an abused child to a convicted criminal and later on, sex addict, to a Guiness holder of memory reciter (he recited up to 22,500 digits of mathematical Pi), a great family person with a successful relationship and a motivational speaker (if you’re interested in hearing the author briefly talk about his book, go here).

Bottom Line: It’s a bit difficult to read through as the topic itself is depressing, but the sense of achievement, and personal closure, towards the end of the book makes it worth picking up.

Book Review: I am America (and so can you) by Stephen Colbert

Ten Word Summary: The megalomaniac title says it all – this ain’t for you.

There is a reason why comedy shows are short and varied: Jokes wear thin. Imagine instead of attending a comedy show, you’re given the script and you’re expected to comprehend, appreciate, and laugh at it. It doesn’t work, unfortunately, most of the time.

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Sure, the book has its moments, and the approach is fun and intuitive. But just like a fresh paint of coat that makes the room brighter (or in a book’s case, different), sooner than later the paint’s gonna stink and you’d be on your way to the nearest exit. This pretty much summarizes how you should go on about reading the book if you’re not planning to set your eyes on fire: Read it in short bursts. Just like a TV show, you can only handle so much before you find yourself flipping through other channels.

The issues “discussed” in the book are neither new issues nor tackled with any purpose but to extort any potential humor out of them. Which is great and is funny when done right. My favorite parts are the bits on religion and the vocab listing at the end. This of course makes pretty solid material for a 30 minute show, but the humor often fails to translate well, making the ones that do (in comparison) stand out are laugh-out-loud funny.

Bottom Line: You’re probably going to worship this book if you’re a fan of the guy, but the book’s content isn’t fit for the print media. Except for the cool stickers.

Book Review: Blankets by Craig Thompson

Ten Word Summary: An empathetic story of love, faith and their ultimate loss.

First, I have to get this thing out of the way: If you’re the person who flips open a book, find it’s full of pictures, and shove it away, you need to give this book a chance. This is not a superhero comic. This is a mature graphic novel, deep in symbology, but mostly, deeply emotional.

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Blankets is a graphic novel that tells the timeless tale of the first love, and not any love for that matter – the author’s/illustrator’s own first love. The story is a highly charged personal affair, blending many issues that everyone deals with – most certainly the bloggers I have been following – namely love, parents, obligations towards them and society, expectations, religious faith and devotion, self-loathing, and, between all of this: You.

Reading this graphic novel is like reading your own life, right in front of you. It’s beautiful not necessarily because of the story itself, but rather for the humanity of it; we all sport different personalities, different interests, and different cultures, yet emotions are what unite us all, and this book is painfully honest with them. Honest enough to remind you of the mental guilt trips and meshed thoughts that precede fornication, and the warmth of sleeping next to a loved one. It’s honest enough to show you how it feels like at the other end of the phone’s *click*. It’s honest enough to portray the internal struggle of shame vs honor vs expectations vs wants vs have-to’s. It’s honest to show the pain of divorce, the difficulty of having handicapped siblings, and parents who like to adulterate your childhood by forcing you to grow up. It’s just honest.

What fleshes out the story, though, is the art. I’ve read my share of comics and graphic novels – some of which were also mature – but the artwork here is wrapped around the emotions of the scenes. The creativity that comes with the symbology is beautiful. Juxtapositions in a frame between past and present, what’s being thought and what’s being spoken, and what is isn’t make the art inseperable from the text and emotions that flow out of both.

The book is thick at 580 pages, but I finished it in three sittings in one day. It’s immersive enough to warrant a reread of certain sections or chapters as well.

Bottom Line: It’s a rare gem you ought to have in your library. Recommended by giants such as Jules Feiffer and Neil Gaiman, what’s stopping you from picking this up?

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