My August TBR

So, it’s already August. This month does become hectic with many holidays but I have set myself a treat of 3 books. I know too little! But then, I also wanted to set aside time for reading short stories. I guess we always undermine short stories as we slant towards the longer, juicier story telling medium.  

Now coming to my TBR for August. Day one of the month was good as I started with ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns. I cannot believe I bought this book last year, as soon as the news of it winning the Booker Prize was announced and left it lying on my book shelf. Seriously?! The little that I have read today, I find it promising. I really hope the story doesn’t get stuck midway.

Second is ‘The Lost Symbol’ by Dan Brown. I cannot believe I did not go back to Dan Brown after ‘Da Vinci Code’ and that was way back in college. Well, I watched ‘Angels and Demons’ and ‘Inferno’ and then lost interest in actually reading these books. Though I am sure the book version would be far more deep and detailed. So finally, I am looking forward to following Robert Langdon (that now I only imagine as Tom Hanks) as he unearths some symbology.

Third up is ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman. I was really late to explore Neil Gaiman, especially because I don’t understand his genre well. I read ‘Neverwhere’ in April this year. Surely, I was fascinated by what the author did, building a fantasy world living under London city.  

Apart from reading, I have set aside the goal to buy two books to add to my TBR for next month. Ever since ‘Gun Island’ by Amitav Ghosh came out, I am dying to get a copy. Though my last book ‘The Calcutta Chromosome’ by Amitav Ghosh was a little disappointing so still dilly-dallying with the idea. What if ‘Gun Island’ shatters my treasured memory of ‘The Hungry Tide’?  

And, now that I am through with Odyssey and dawned a bit on Circe, the Goddess with the power to turn men into pigs; it seems perfect to get my copy of Circe by Madeline Miller. This is one book that has been recommended by almost every book lover. Though I wasn’t sure of picking it up without a background on Greek mythology but I guess it is high time, I actually find out.

Another thing that I am still in midair with is whether to switch my book blogging site to WordPress or continue as it is at present. I put up book reviews on my blogger platform and reviews on children’s books and movies on WordPress. Would love to know what you would suggest.

Also do share your TBRs and send me your book recommendations.  

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The Lion King: the remake and the gushing animation

In the ‘Circle of Life’, movies especially the favourite ones are bound to get a remake. ‘The Lion King’ is one such attempt at recreating the magic of 1994 blockbuster ‘The Lion King’ in the ambit of modern animation. The trailers had the feel of ‘The Jungle Book’, the earlier remake by Jon Favreau. I think ‘The Lion King’ has inculcated the same loopholes that were present in ‘The Jungle Book’. You find the great story (that worked in the past) in an improved realistic landscape sans emotions.

Chronologically, we all know the story. It is about the little lion cub ‘Simba’, the next to throne after his father Mufasa but wrongly banished through trickery by his evil Uncle Scar. We wait for Simba to grow up, learn the meaning of a true King and free the ‘Pride’ rocks. And, this remake is true to almost every dialogue and location. Musically also, you get the ‘Hakuna Matata’ song and the other iconic songs from the original.

The Lion KingWhat’s good? The Lion King offers the best peep into the animal kingdom; like you are watching Discovery Wild but with an entertainment channel’s plotline. It is mesmerizing to watch the pride of lions, clan of hyenas, jumping antelopes and beautiful waterfalls with green mountains. It is a visual treat to watch this one big screen in 3D. The wildebeest stampede in the gorge scene and the climax where Simba and Scar fight are some of the great recreations. It is like your childhood fascination to see the animated version in the real jungle setting coming alive.

The pace of the movie can be understood from the beginning where the camera follows a rat till it reaches Scar. Simply put, it takes a while for the scene to end. Talking of Scar, I felt the only character that really worked for me was him, in the voice of Chiwetel Ejiofor (remember the man from 2012, Salt, The Martian, etc etc). This one villainous Lion Uncle was the reason why I continued to watch the already known story. Technically, it should have been Simba but somehow, it is too difficult to get a connect with him, even when he is with Mufasa or Nala. And, Nala happens to be Beyonce. Ofcourse, I understand the technical difficulty of getting realistic looking animals to emote but then emotions were the soul of the original version. You felt like standing up for Simba to fight Scar.

Then ofcourse, Timon and Pumba, the most adorable characters created in the original ‘The Lion King’. I remember as a kid watching the ‘Timon and Pumba’ series bounty in humour. What happens here is, firstly, a meerkat and a warthog in animation is different and the realistic animation reduces the adorability factor. Though Timon survives with his present looks but Pumba is the casualty. Some of their jokes from the original are edited out. And, then simple variations like nobody calls Pumba a pig to nobody calls him chubby are done. The laughs are reduced substantially.

I think the remakes are a form of keeping the legend alive and passing it on to our coming generations. How else could the present young lot understand our love for Mufasa and Simba or the crazy duo of Timon and Pumba. Or, maybe we could have moved beyond Simba’s daughter Kiara whom we followed in ‘The Lion King II’. But wait, it didn’t work quite well and then the series ‘The Lion Guard’ isn’t that great either.

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Spiderman: Far From Home – A Fun ‘Mysterio’ ride worth taking

One has only heard good things about Spiderman: Far From Home and it is absolutely true. There is so much upgrade from the last time – better script, great locations, amazing VFX and an awesome villain. Also, a Spiderman in several Spider Suits which in the coming days are sure to queue up in toy stores to finally reach our homes!

As they say, you can always judge a movie by its trailer and Spiderman: Far From Home trailer was buzzing with all the right notes. The trailer did not let out the entire story or reveal the best stunts. The best was indeed saved for the movie goers.

Tom Holland is back as Peter Parker aka Spiderman in Spiderman: Far From Home, reprising his act from the debut ‘Spiderman: Homecoming’. Frankly, I had not liked Spiderman-Homecoming and believed that nobody could replace Tobey McGuire as the ultimate Spiderman. And, that movie felt as if they made it for the teens. Continue reading “Spiderman: Far From Home – A Fun ‘Mysterio’ ride worth taking”

My Best Reads of first six months of 2019

And, here comes 30th June and this is half of 2019…already. In my head, I feel as if I am just two months into this New Year.

My goodreads account tells me that I have read 28 books in these six months. So, based on this tiny little collection of my books, comes my list of favourite five readings.

In January, my TBR was prim and precise but then I kept discovering new books to make me wander. I cannot believe I have ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns and ‘The Lost Symbol’ by Dan Brown lying on my book shelf for more than six months now, and I have kept bumping into other books. The most unlikely of me was reading ‘Neverwhere’ by Neil Gaiman. Urban Fantasy seriously is out of my zone but this book kind of sapped me in.

  1. Soul Mountain by Gao Xinjiang

I can continue to hoot for this book for the rest of my life and still not be satisfied. I stumbled upon this book while on a search for a book to write under alphabet ‘X’ for the AtoZ challenge.

Soul Mountain is written by the Chinese Author, Gao Xinjiang which was published in 1990. The book was translated to English by Mabel Lee in 2000. Xinjiang won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2000.

The pure eccentricity of narrating flow will definitely capture you. The book is divided into two stories of ‘I’ and ‘You’ that you read in alternate chapters. Both are on a journey to the interiors of China, an unforeseen landscape in English literature. The book is philosophical quest, historical fiction, an account of mythology and folklore. There is bit of romance when ‘You’ meets ‘She’. Stories are spun within the story and you get such an enriching experience reading this book.   

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  • The Trial by Franz Kafka

Kafka’s world can never fail to put you in awe. This unfinished book by Kafka is a pure delight as we follow the protagonist ‘K’ through his judicial trial. One day, K wakes up to find that he is under trial but within a realm that is incomprehensible. You understand the corruption within the investigative authorities, Judiciary and the people who pose to help but only increase your problems.

For a book, published in 1925, the concepts and the narrative turf remains so relatable. Something on lines of ‘Metamorphosis’ by Kafka, ‘The Trial’ also concentrates on K and his deteriorating state within the ambit of proceedings beyond his control.

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  • Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively

I discovered Penelope Lively while getting hold of ‘A House Unlocked’ at a book sale. And, I knew I had to read all her writings. ‘A House Unlocked’ is the author’s memoir and ‘Moon Tiger’ is the book that won her the Booker Prize.

Moon Tiger is the story of Claudia Hampton, a 76-year-old woman in the hospital reminiscing her past and getting in and out of an unconscious state. Within this past is the substantial portion of her presence as a war correspondent during the Second World War in Egypt.

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  • Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes

Yeah, I should probably hide behind the curtains for not knowing the legend of ‘Don Quixote’ up until 2018. And, then I finally read this feat in 2019.

Don Quixote is a Spanish novel by Miguel De Cervantes, published in two parts in 1605 and 1615. The English translation was published in 1612 and 1620. The book at best can be called a satire on romantic chivalry.

This is the story of a man called Alonso Quixada who believes he is the Knight-errant Don Quixote after reading too many books on chivalry. And, as any Knight-errant, he deploys a local, Sancho Panza as his side kick and finds a damsel in distress in girl from the neighbourhood. Now, it isn’t as simple as Don Quixote and Sancho head out in the real world to pursue adventures. The book goes on for about 1500 pages with stories within this story and many pursuits of chivalry entwined together.

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  • Pastoralia by George Saunders

I thought whether I should mention another book or this short story by George Saunders. But, I think if I clearly remember any story to have such a profound impact on me then it was this. I should admit when I read ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ about a year back, I was not happy with it. And, then what a book couldn’t achieve was done by this short story.

It is an award winning story, the prestigious O’Henry Award for short stories in 2001.

‘Pastoralia’ is a theme park modeled on primitive man’s living. So, our modern day protagonists are pretending to live in a cave without amenities to earn money. It is a sarcastic take on privileged people’s perspective on labour and poverty and the employer’s treatment of the employees. I think the more you try to interpret, the story yields you more.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: A mesmerizing world of urban fantasy

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is the realization of a child’s dream to enter a chocolate factory and gulp down all that is possible. This iconic book written by Roald Dahl was published in 1964.

My first impression on the book was from Johnny Depp’s version of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ that was released in 2005. I am not sure why but every time I tried to watch it, I could not get past the first few minutes. The silly haircut, puking scenes and many other eccentricities added to my reluctance to continue.

Finally I picked up the book for my son and started to read. And, I couldn’t stop. I sat on the corner and read it all by myself when the little one’s patience ran out.

I think ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is so important in the present day and time, introducing children to the concepts of poverty, longing and family values. The heart breaking image of Charlie and his family huddled together in the chilly cold, surviving on minimal meals of boiled potatoes and cabbage soups is profound. 

The eccentricities of the story in text are consumable compared to a certain revulsion that the movie produces. The four grandparents lying on a single bed for warmth in the cold and without any other space in the house is not comic; it is pure tragedy. And, the book transpires that situation.

Charlie lives with his parents – Mr and Mrs Bucket and four grandparents. Charlie’s father works at the toothpaste factory and barely makes both ends meet. The eleven-year-old Charlie is entitled to one bar of chocolate once a year on his birthday.

There is a chocolate factory in the town that Charlie crosses on his way home from School. He stands for a few minutes to soak in its chocolate smell to quench his hunger. Grandpa Joe tells Charlie that for last ten years, no one has entered this chocolate factory run by Willy Wonka. It was closed for outsiders after Willy Wonka found his competitors sending spies disguised as employees and visitors to steal his wonderful recipes.

The next day, newspapers carry a notice –

I, Willy Wonka, have decided to allow five children – just five, mind you, and no more – to visit my factory this year.

These five children and their family members will be accompanied around the factory personally by Willy Wonka showing the secrets of the amazing chocolates and candies made at the factory.

World over, parents and children get excited and buy Wonka chocolates. The rich, wealthy children have the highest chances of finding the ‘Golden Ticket’ in the chocolate bars but what about Charlie (or rather the chances of poor children like Charlie)? And, as Roald Dahl writes, ‘that however small the chance might be of striking lucky the chance was there.

The luck favour Charlie and he gets the Golden Ticket to enter the chocolate factory along with four other children. The other four are the rich and spoiled. Each of these four children has one bad quality in excess – gluttony, stubbornness, gum addiction and television obsession. Charlie stands in contrast but not asking for our sympathy, rather earning our respect. The boy who holds his Grandpa’s hand to excitedly watch the factory gates open and not to be intimidated by the behaviour of other children and their parents.

Willy Wonka, ofcourse is eccentric in his attire, language and mannerism but you accept him. He is relatable in this universe of magical chocolate factory with ‘Oompa-Lompas’, chocolate streams and mint meadows. The tiny mysterious creatures churning the best quality chocolates are called ‘Oompa-Lompas’. It is inside the factory in its magical setting that puts the character of five children at test in an adventurous and comic manner.

The writing is so beautiful perhaps I should re-read it every night. The singing Oompa-Lompas bring out such endearing lines:

‘There’s no earthly way of knowing

Which direction they are going!

There’s no knowing where they’re rowing,

Or which way the river’s flowing!

Not a speck of light is showing,

So the danger must be growing,

For the rowers keep on rowing,

And they’re certainly not showing

Any sign that they are slowing….’

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is perhaps an urban fairytale where the poor boy gets to be rich and lives happily ever after. A story where honesty and hardwork is rewarded. The evil faces the consequences and is corrected in the process. It can be a book on parenting or a book for children or a book on learning the art of writing beautiful prose and creating unimaginable characters; it can many things and most of all, an endearing read.

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Toy Story 4: there’s a snake in my boot and should I run to watch this one?

To me, Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending to the beautiful relationship we had with Andy, Woody, Buzz and Jessie. The toys are passed on to the shy little Bonnie as Andy leaves for college. And, you are sure the toys are in good hands, bidding farewell to you and Andy.

Come June 2019, and we get to know the story of what happens to the toys at Bonnie’s house in Toy Story 4.

The little girl isn’t as fond of the cowboy sheriff Woody who is left out for considerable amount of time inside the cupboard.

On her day to Kindergarten, Bonnie is reluctant and Woody decides to jump into her bag to accompany her. Well he had been there for Andy on his first day of Kindergarten. At School, Bonnie makes a toy out of waste – fork, wool and some dough and names it Forky. Forky thinks he is trash and Andy takes upon him to let Forky realize his true value as Bonnie’s most loved toy at the moment.

Bonnie’s parents have decided to take a road trip after the orientation day at School. The RV is from where the movie takes off to its thrilling ride.

What slows down the movie is Woody’s exaggerated dialogues and the constant reminder of how Bonnie is different from Andy. We understand Forky’s importance at the first instance but it is reiterated innumerable times.

The trailers had made me believe in the story to be set in a carnival. But, (sorry for the spoiler) anticipate ‘Second Chance Antique Shop’ as the major setting for all the adventure with the toys. This is from where Bo Peep ran away, after she was handed over to some antique collector from Andy’s home, nine years ago.  

Then comes Benson, I think it is Annabelle (the movie) that has vitiated my mind against those porcelain dolls. The unloved doll Gabby Gabby is trying to get the vocal box of Woody with the help of these 4-5 Bensons. But, Gabby Gabby isn’t like Prospector or Lotso from the earlier movies. She is not completely bad, so for children who love the good and the bad in clear tones, this is bit disappointing. The emotional, philosophical angle did not fit properly with the possibilities of a toy wrecking cat and the evil Bensons at the antique shop.

We have a slant here towards the existing pattern of Disney movies – Frozen and Tangled. So, presenting the new version of Bo Peep. She is the toy without a kid who has learnt to deal with the world on her own. After her appearance, it is Woody and Bo partnering to rescue Forky. Oh, and I think she takes the cake. I absolutely loved Bo’s character and her companions especially the tiny little Giggles and the Canadian bike stuntman.

The best find has to be Bunny and Ducky and their camaraderie. As if they make up for the lost onscreen time between Woody and Buzz.

I cannot believe the first Toy Story had come out way back in 1995 (24 years back, really that long and Tom Hanks continues to be the charming Cowboy toy Woody!). Toy Story had explored the unknown world of toys – the imagination to bring toys to life. The three Toy Story movies reiterated what parents have kept telling their children generation after generation –  take care of your toys, toys loved to be played with, they feel bad to be thrown away or destroyed and in such a super cute, adventurous, fun way. 

Toy Story 4 detracts from its original setting in many ways. Trying hard to include DIY toys, toys at the carnival game stalls, in antique shops and the tale of a lost toy in Bo Peep’s adventurous happy life without a kid. But, my heart yearns to see the story with Woody and Buzz together ‘to infinity and beyond’.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

When I saw Spiderman-Homecoming, I was extremely bored to follow the clichéd story yet another time in a new package. Tom Holland and ‘Tony Stark’, all that jazz with the new spidersuit but not many sparks in the movie. I never wanted to watch another Spiderman movie ever. But, ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ resurrected that dormant love for this Superhero.

It has been a year since its release but I found the movie so good that I couldn’t resist myself from writing this post.

First up, it is completely an animated movie.

There has only been one Spiderman or is what you think. But, there are parallel dimensions in which there exists Spiderman Noir, Peter Porker, Peni Parker, Spider Gwen and Peter Parker. This movie brings them together in one dimension for some time.

The Spiderman in the latest version or the present dimension is a young high school boy named Miles Morales. And, as we have been told an umpteen times of the basic premise, this boy is also bitten by a radioactive spider and has gained the supernatural powers.

The villain in this dimension is Wilson Fisk, who is making the ‘Super-Collider’ which will bring back his deceased wife and son. The two died in a car accident while running away from a scene where Fisk was killing the Peter Parker version of Spiderman. The Chief Scientist at the lab creating ‘Super-Collider’ is Dr.Olivia Octavius or Dok Ock as she says. It is interesting to see the female version of the sinister Doctor Octavius from the second Spiderman movie. We also meet the Green Goblin and Prowler fighting with the older Peter Parker and Miles.

Miles has acquired additional powers of turning invisible and a poisonous sting that has an after reaction. However, he cannot control any of his powers. The older Peter Parker engages in training Miles on his way of becoming Spiderman and stopping the collider.

The moments that steal your heart are the introduction of Aunt May and the hidden chamber of gadgets and spider-suits in the storeroom of her house, Miles father as the honest police officer and Gwen fighting it out with her funky hairstyle. And, I loved knowing that Peter and MJ story after their marriage. The paunchy Peter Parker is surely a delight.

The pure camaraderie between Peter, Gwen and Miles works beautifully for the pace of the movie. The existence of all Spiderman versions traced to their origin in comic strips and shows was a revelation to me. Except Gwen, whose existence is tweaked a bit to give more flesh to the character introduced to us in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ series. The historical relevance of this Superhero is endearing.

But in the end, ‘Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask.

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