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since 09/06/2004


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling 22/07/2007

And so the end is nigh

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling I'll admit, when I picked up my copy of the final Harry Potter book yesterday, I was filled with apprehension. The last two books had thoroughly disappointed me, and Rowling had apparently lost the magic of the first three books somewhere in the midst of the tome that was book 4. So, understandably, I was nervous. Who will die? What will happen? Will I loathe this book? Thank goodness my fears proved unfounded. The writing style that made me fall in love with Harry, Ron, and Hermione ten years ago, at the tender age of 11 was back - sparkling, funny, drawing me into the familiar and but darker world of Hogwarts, the Burrow, and the wizarding realm in general. I laughed, found my heart racing, and alternately cheered and held my breath as the story unfolded towards its conclusion, six hundred and six pages later. The writing shone, but I will say that the plot disappointed me to a degree. It's not nearly as imaginative as I would have liked, but maybe that's the price one has to pay for the finale of such a drawn out and well-loved series. The ending is as good as one could have hoped for, though you can't help but wonder if perhaps the knowledge that this would be turned into a movie maybe played at least a tiny role in influencing Rowling (but then again, her oft-quoted remark that the last word would be scar was not too far off the mark, so maybe I'm just being cynical and she really did invent this ending years ago). Still, as far as finales go, this was a good ...

Everything that starts with B ... 16/07/2007

Books galore

Everything that starts with B ... Since I've written up and finished the films review three times and lost it three times, I ask that you bear with me while I recover the urge to plow through all of the films again and rewrite my comments. So, in the meantime, I decided I would start on my 50 books challenge. I love books. I will read anything that interests me, and as you will see from my list, the choices are extremely varied, with a tendency towards history (actual or fiction, I'm addicted). I also love swapping book suggestions with people (for those on Facebook, my favorite application EVER is the virtual bookshelf), so if you see something you think I may enjoy based on what I've already read, by all means, drop me a comment and let me know! 1) The Polish Officer - Alan Furst Set during World War II, this is a tale of intrigue, spys, murder, and war as a Polish intelligence officer tries valiantly to defend his now broken and occupied homeland. Crisp writing, decently paced, and overall a good, but not a great spy novel. Good historical detail as well. 2) The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold Everyone else I know has made a huge fuss over this book, but I really didn't see what was so special about it. It tells the tale of a little girl who is murdered and the effect her murder has on her family, all of which she witnesses from heaven. Some parts were good, but others were simply too unbelievable, no matter how sweet the original concept. I didn't find it to be particularly warm or charming, but ...

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East - Robert Fisk 16/07/2007

The Great History of the Middle East

The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East - Robert Fisk As a news correspondent covering the Middle East for the past thirty years and a long-time resident of Beirut, Robert Fisk is perhaps uniquely acquainted (at least amongst Western correspondents) with the region, its history and its issues. As someone who is known for calling a spade a spade, he has often aroused strong sentiments (which he takes pains to stress repeatedly throughout his book), particularly amongst those who strongly support Israeli. Scathing, unsparing in its criticism of folly (his own included), at times humorous and often heartbreaking, this book is a comprehensive and well-written guide to the recent history of the Middle East. Fisk's subject matter covers the first and second Afghan wars, the two Iraq wars, the Algerian civil war, the Iran-Iraq conflict, the Armenian genocide, and of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. All of these conflicts, their origins and their consequences are explored in-depth and with painstakingly detailed research (both academic and from Fisk's personal notes from interviews, articles, diaries, and his folders of background material collected over the years), and Fisk blends together history, his personal experiences, and occasionally snippets of his articles to make an eminently readable (though lengthy and heavy) work. Much of his work focuses on the nasty things we as humans do to each other, and any reader of this work should be forewarned that Fisk does not generally censor himself when describing some of ...

Everything that starts with F ... 30/06/2007

Fifty films. One year. Can I do it?

Everything that starts with F ... At the beginning of this year, I decided to enter a variety of challenges for the new year via Livejournal, my preferred blogging network. There would be none of the usual "I will be healthier" or "I will workout more," but rather, a more intellectual bent - I would challenge myself to read 50 books over the course of the year, read a total of 15,000 pages, and watch 50 films. At first this seemed like a lark, but as the year passes more quickly, I find it harder and harder to keep pace. Still, with summer around the corner, I hope I'll be able to catch up. So, in the spirit of my challenge, I figured it would be a neat idea to give mini-reviews of the films and books as I go along because already, both lists are quite interesting for variety and content. However, I recognize that putting both categories together would result in a review of near epic proportions, so this review will be dedicated to the fifty films. 1) The Family Stone I chose this movie on a night when I was in the mood for a sappy, chickflick romance, but I have to say, this did not measure up. Sarah Jessica Parker is irritating, her fiancé's family is obnoxiously and unnecessarily rude, and the partner swap that eventually happens was just a bit too creepy for my liking. One of the worst romantic comedies I've seen. 2) Science of Sleep I went to this not knowing what to expect, but fell for it in an odd sort of way. The best analogy I can think of is if a work of magical realism became a film ...

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro 06/01/2007

The remains of a life gone by

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro "Never Let Me Go" is the latest offering from British-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro, best known for his Booker Prize winning book, "The Remains of the Day." Set in a futuristic and dystopic England, "Never Let Me Go" is the story of a 30something year old woman named Kathy who is reminsicing about her past, specifically about her friends Tommy and Ruth and their experiences growing up together at a seemingly idyllic school named Hailsham. Although everything seems normal, gradually the children become aware of their purpose in life, only Kathy is spared the same fate by chance. I won't say more about the plot because I want to avoid spoilers, but I did find it interesting that Ishiguro avoided any sort of moral judgment on the society in which his characters live, choosing instead to focus on the fragile and shifting bonds between friends as they grow. His writing is poignant, bittersweet, and deeply insightful, capturing perfectly the anguish we feel as bonds that were once so tight gradually slip away from us. We watch Kathy and her friends grow, mature, and adjust to each other as new individuals, and it is this quality that makes this work so wonderful. The plot as a whole may be quite dismal, and there are no happy endings, but that makes the work all the more touching since he makes it clear that this is the case. Yet beneath the emotional quality of Ishiguro's work there is a palpable sense of tension and chill - you know that something is not quite right as ...

The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi - Jaqueline Park 13/08/2006

Should her life have been kept a secret?

The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi - Jaqueline Park The Secret Life of Grazia dei Rossi is a work ten years in the making, and represents meticulous historical research. Inspired by a two real letters between Isabella d'Este and a young Jewish girl that hinted of a romance between this girl and a Christian nobleman (the letters encourage the girl's conversion to Christianity), Park creates her own heroine, a Jewess living during the Italian Renaissance named Grazia dei Rossi, daughter of a banker. Grazia is, as many female historical literary personas are, a woman ahead of her time and in many respects stuck in the wrong era, where her love and her freedom are constrained by the faith she is born into, and the faith she ultimately chooses to continue practicing. Yet she is never too modern, which is sometimes a problem in other works. She is intelligent and feisty, but she is also a keen judge of situations, a trait that comes in handy numerous times to intervene on behalf of those she loves. The book is written in the style of a libro segreto, a traditional secret book written by fathers to pass on the secrets of their trade upon their deaths. Grazia takes her cue from these men to write her autobiography for her son, an honest recollection of her life to be read by him upon his becoming a man. What emerges from this 'autobiography ' is not just a compelling portrait of a complex woman, but an historical look at a complex historical period. We are taken into the contrasting worlds of Jew and Christian, and the ...

Love Actually (DVD) 07/08/2006

All you need is love

Love Actually (DVD) Love, Actually is one of my favorite movies. It's sappy without being too over the top, it's funny, warm-hearted, and is the perfect fix when you're looking for a chick-flick that won't make you completely dissolve, but will still give you that satisfying warm glow. And as an added bonus, it has a stellar cast who turn in some lovely performances. It's basic premise is that love is actually all around (it's working title in the UK), and it follows the love lives of various people living in London from five weeks before Christmas to Christmas Day itself. The couples are all in different places and situations, so let me give you a quick overview: Harry and Karen (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson): A long married couple, middle-aged, with two children. You get the sense that the passion has long since left this marriage, but that there is still a definite affection under the surface. Their marriage is threatened by the attentions of Harry's secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch). Daniel (Liam Neeson): A recent widower who devotes his time to helping his stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster) win the girl of his dreams, Joanna (OIivia Olson). The Prime Minister, David (Hugh Grant): Always too busy for dating, the shapely Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) catches his eye, but the problem of propriety arises, as she is one of the catering staff at Number 10. Sarah (Laura Linney): The American transplant who works in Harry's office, she has had a massive crush on Karl (Rodrigo ...

His Dark Material I: Northern Lights - Philip Pullman 07/08/2006

A golden read

His Dark Material I: Northern Lights - Philip Pullman Classic children's books have a quality about them that makes them enjoyable for all ages because they are intelligent and well written and can have several layers. I grew up reading C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, two such authors in the fantasy genre, and Phillip Pullman certainly belongs in their company for his masterful work in His Dark Materials Trilogy. Northern Lights (also known as The Golden Compass in the United States) is the first book of this trilogy, and is set in a world that closely resembles ours in some respects, but is in many others completely different. The heroine of the novel is young Lyra Belacqua, an plucky if somewhat uncouth orphan who lives at Jordan College, Oxford, accompanied by her daemon, Pantalaimon (as I said, parts of the world are similar, others are not. Daemons are companions to humans in this world, which can take any animal shape while their humans are young, but eventually settle into a permanent shape when their humans reach maturity.) Her life remains a happy mix of exploration, roaming around, and of course, fierce battles with other children in town, until one day she sees something she shouldn't have. From that instant, her life is changed, though how much she has no idea and indeed must not know if she is to succeed in the task that Fate has in mind for her. She is destined for great things, but in order for her to succeed, she must remain innocent of her purpose.... -------------- Now, since I don't want to spoil ...

Labyrinth - Kate Mosse 02/08/2006

Should Dan Brown be afraid?

Labyrinth - Kate Mosse "Eat your heart out, Dan Brown, this is the real thing!" exclaims a caption from a Val McDermid on the cover of Kate Mosse's 'Labyrinth.' - So the cover boasts, but is this really the case? Is Mosse's retelling of the Grail story better than Brown's? Will she score a multimillion dollar franchise off of this book? Read on for more information. ----- Plot overview: Set in medieval Provence, in the town of Carcassonne, 'Labyrinth' is another Grail mystery, revolving around a young girl named Alais, who must guard the precious secret of the Holy Grail from its enemies who would seek to destroy it. Fast-forward 800 years, and Alice Tanner, visiting France to sort out the affairs of a late relative, is assisting her friend Shelagh on an archaelogical dig. She stumbles upon an ancient grave, and the story begins... ------ Opinion: WARNING PLOT DETAILS REVEALED BELOW! When I saw this at a bookstore over a vacation to England awhile back, I have to confess I was intrigued by the description. After all, it promised to rival the all-infamous 'Da Vinci Code,' and it seemed as though it would have more substance to it than Brown's now well-known elaborations and truth-stretchings. So when I came home for the summer and found she'd bought it, I decided to give it a go. My initial reaction after finishing the book was that although this is not even close to how compelling the Da Vinci Code was, it is still a decent, though somewhat forgetable read. The characters ...

Marie Antoinette - Antonia Fraser 01/08/2006

A most misunderstood queen

Marie Antoinette - Antonia Fraser Marie Antoinette is a widely known historical personnage - infamous for her callousness towards the starving peasants ("Let them eat cake!") and for having her head chopped off during the French Revolution, a victim of the guillotine, yet few attempts have ever been made to go beyond the stereotypes and actually investigate the character of this celebrity queen. Noted historian Antonia Fraser aims to correct this, and has largely succeeded in a very sympathetic biography of the Queen that not only defeats the popular misconceptions surrounding the Queen's character but draws upon an extensive array of historical sources (including a dazzling number of primary sources) to create a complete picture of who this woman actually was. Fraser's second purpose is to trace the evolution of the Queen, from shy and inexperienced Princess to mature Queen to humbled victim of the French Revolution, and it is indeed remarkable to witness her transformation. By far the best aspect of this biography is the intimate portrait it gives of the Queen, a largely misunderstood person. Fraser begins with a description of Marie's life before France, in the court of her powerful mother, Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, a formidable, and as we learn, often contradictory force in her daughter's life. Throughout the book, Fraser demonstrates keen psychological analysis as she interprets the effects of an overbearing mother, an insecure and impotent husband, and the nastiness of court and public ...

Bloody Foreigners - Robert Winder 24/07/2006

The Great British Melting pot

Bloody Foreigners - Robert Winder Immigration is a hot topic these days, what with the United States and Europe seeking ways to further restrict access, to further seal off their borders from those who would try to escape and find a new life in these countries. The issue is all too often polarized, and it becomes far too easy to view the debate in simplistic terms, which is why Robert Winder's 'Bloody Foreigners' is such a refreshing change, for it addresses the issue from a humorous and compassionate standpoint. The book is described as a history of immigration to Britain, and indeed paints a vivid portrait of the role that immigration has played not only in creating, but in sustaining Britain, a history that is often overlooked, perhaps because it has not been as well publicized as the more familiar American story. The historical research that has gone into telling this story is astounding, but never weighty. Instead, Winder uses fascinating anecdotes and trivia to liven up the story (for example, did you know that the reason Britian is called "Angleterre" in French is because of a tribe known as the Angles who came to Britian early on from overseas?) and narrates how waves of immigrants, from the first wanderers from the European continent to Romans, to Vikings, Scandinavians, Gauls, Italians, Jews, Poles, Chinese and now Indians and Pakistanis have come to Britain and made the country into what it is today. More tellingly, he recounts the fears and anger that many different immigrant communities ...

Kal Ho Naa Ho (Hindi Language) (DVD) 11/06/2006

Love, dance and sing for tomorrow may never come

Kal Ho Naa Ho (Hindi Language) (DVD) Everyone knows the stereotypical Bollywood movie: glamorous foreign locations, girls in skimpy outfits, cheesy item numbers, and a ridiculous plot that is impossible to take seriously. Happily though, Kal Ho Naa Ho (KHNH) manages to stay faithful to time honored elements of the Bollywood tradition while at the same time achieving funny dialogue, a stellar soundtrack, and overall decent performances. The Bollywood musical has just gotten a makeover, and the results couldn't be more pleasing to the audience. Cast: Preity Zinta - Naina Catherine Kapur Shah Rukh Khan - Aman Mathur Saif Ali Khan - Rohit Patel Jaya Bachchan - Jennifer Kapur Lilette Dubey - Jaswinder "Jazz" Kapoor Delnaaz Paul - Jasprit "Sweetu" Kapoor (see for more details) Directed by Nikhil Advani, written by Karan Johar ----- Plot: Naina (Zinta) is a 20something living in New York City who has little joy in her life between her studies and the incessant quarreling in her household between her mother, who is Christian, and her grandmother, who is a Sikh. To add to the problems, her grandmother hates her younger sister, Gia, because she is adopted, money is tight, and everyone misses Naina's father who is dead. Life does not look happy until one day Aman breezes into the life of the Kapur family, bringing happiness and mirth with him, but he hides a tragic secret from them. Determined to make Naina's life better in any way he can, he tries to set her up with her best friend Rohit, ...

The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova 10/06/2006

Don't judge a book by its cover...

The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova Two nights ago I noticed a thick book sitting on the bookshelf in my room - 'The Historian,' I thought to myself, 'must be an historical fiction type thing, should be a good read.' I was sorely mistaken. The cover and the title of this book are entirely misleading, for far from drawing me into another historical era, the book soon had me reading into the wee hours of the morning, unable to resist the book's pull over me and being genuinely scared after I turned out the lights. Before I launch into the actual review though, I feel I must put out a warning: this book is definitely NOT for everyone. It is an extremely well crafted psychological thriller but at the same time is exceedingly creepy, so much so that imagined shadows in my room made me jump, and the creaking of my wooden dresser (perfectly normal otherwise), sent my pulse racing. So if you're the type that gets scared easily, do not read this book because it will freak out you in a big way. If, however, you relish this type of novel, like a good mystery, a thriller, and a touch of history, then this is a must-read. A friend of mine said he'd been wary about reading it because he'd heard it was the new Da Vinci Code, but to label this book as such is a discredit to its author, Elizabeth Kostova. Yes, the book contains many of the same elements that made the Da Vinci Code a success, but it is far more sophisticated than Brown's fairly generic style of writing. There is a restraint to this book that Brown's ...

Inside Man (2006) DVD 08/06/2006

The Perfect Robbery

Inside Man (2006) DVD ***WARNING: Although this review will attempt to minimize the spoilers, if you don't want any information regarding the plot of the movie, then stop here! Also, please note that I have reviewed only the film version, and as such have selected that option down below :) *** All bank robbers dream of executing the perfect bank robbery, and Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) is no exception. He has a plan, a carefully, well-defined plan to get exactly what he wants. Every conceivable angle has been thought out with masterful precision, a precision that is absolutely brilliant. The only problem? His plan includes hostages, which of course means that the situation is immediately complicated. Enter Detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington), one of New York's finest, smart, funny, and desperate to figure out the situation in time and avoid any hostage casualties. Spike Lee's latest offering is highly entertaining, there is no denying that, but it would be a mistake to write this movie off either as fluff, a thriller, or a typical bank robbery movie. There is none of the glamor of Ocean's 11 or 12, but there is a more cerebral aspect to this plot that is missing in most others. Lee highlights the mental aspect of the situation on both sides - from the robber's point of view, the meticulous detail that must go into carefully executing a plan, and from the detective's perspective, the tension that exists between those who believe the problem can be solved without force and those ...

Everything that starts with D ... 10/01/2006


Everything that starts with D ... To really know a city, you have to experience it firsthand. Explore it. Get lost and find your way back (map optional). Conquer public transportation. Wander and discover things you've never noticed before, even if you've been down this road dozens of times before with your parents. It is in this way that I can claim, even in the smallest way, knowledge of Washington, New York, London, Bombay, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Bruges, Strasbourg, and strangely enough, Benares. I have seen these places and made them my own through the sheer thrill of realizing success. But I have no claim to Delhi. On the flight from London to Delhi this Christmas, the man sitting next to me, whose name I cannot remember, asked me what I liked about Delhi. I considered his question for a moment then replied that I was still trying to figure that out. After five years, I still have no sense of ownership or belonging to Delhi because I have never made it my own by exploring for a variety of surprisingly complex reasons. When I arrived in Delhi, miserable and homesick for Washington, I had no inclination to explore. This place was a hellhole and I couldn't wait to get out. Even now, though the thought of returning no longer makes me depressed, there's always a vague sense of confinement, of limitation that holds me back. Delhi is the only place I have ever been where I am aware of being female, and in a negative way. How can you explore a city if you're acutely aware of the lecherous glances ...
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