Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

Mara Wilson is a name synonymous for me with a lot of childhood memories. As the cute kid in ‘Mrs Doubtfire‘, she was adorable. Then came Matilda. One of my favorite stories ever was translated on screen and Mara was there, playing Matilda!  Matilda released the year I was born-1996. I saw it much later, around 2003. Like most girls my age, I wanted to BE her. My seven year old self saw no greater joy than in getting to live Matilda’s adventures. Thus, Mara Wilson had contributed to two of my most favorite childhood movies and I considered her the luckiest girl ever.

So, imagine the flood of memories when I chanced upon this book among a selection of recommendations yesterday. I kept staring at the cover for long, and I could not believe I had forgotten about her (Blame adulthood and bad priorities.). A few hours later, I was done with the book and felt weary and uplifted, all at once. The book is a collection of Mara’s experiences in Hollywood and with the turn of very page, she sucks you in. One of the most celebrated child actors of her age and a very precocious kid, Mara found she had to deal with a lot of rejection as she grew up. Failed auditions were getting more frequent and it was not until much later that Mara realized the ‘cute kid’ was no more. Puberty had not been kind to her and she found Hollywood no longer had a place for her. OCD tendencies and panic attacks, which she had been experiencing since childhood, did not make things any better. Coupled with dealing with the loss of her mother at a very young age, Mara describes growing up with fears and insecurities abound.

It is a revealing tale of discovering yourself. Warm, funny and intensely nostalgic, Mara brings to life her experiences, the lessons she’s learnt along the way and talks about making peace with the world. My favorite part was, without a doubt, her letter to Matilda. Definitely a must-read.

Oh, after I was done with the book, I just HAD to take a trip down memory lane- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzJ7pFaEJfc

Mara Wilson also writes here- http://marawilsonwritesstuff.com/

Do take a look!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

It has been forever since I read a young adult novel. I thought I’d outgrown them but when I went back home and sat at that most loved spot by the window, I remembered countless such summer days through my teenage, completely absorbed in ‘Harry Potter’, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ and ‘The Hunger Games’. ‘Fangirl’ was the only young adult novel on my reading list and I decided to give it a try.

TLDR- I wasn’t disappointed.

The book traces Cath’s freshman year in college. Her twin, Wren, decides she wants to interact with more people and hence lives a life of her own, completely alienating Cath. Thus deserted by her ‘built-in best friend’ and with a supremely weird and unapproachable roommate (who comes with a boyfriend who forever hangs out in her room), Cath navigates the intricacies of college life. Cath’s obsession with Simon Snow, a fictional boy-wizard and her success as a fan fiction writer bear no weight in her new universe.

The premise is new. While certain sub-plots ended a bit unresolved for me, the overall experience was quite a refreshing change from the challenging books I had been setting out to read for long. Much attention is paid to character depth and this is one of the high points of the book. Rowell traverses through a range of relationships, the twins’, their relations with their dad and estranged mother, and with the variety of people Cath meets. But none of this is what the book is about.

‘Fangirl’ is a celebration of fandom and nerd power. It is a huge shout out to all the people whose souls belong in an alternate world. In more ways than one, Rowell propagates the idea of fan culture and deems fandom an important, even necessary part of life. With such an unequivocal stand, her love for fan culture permeates through the entire book and leaves you wanting more.

The structure of the book is interesting, with the narrative interspersed with extracts from the Simon Snow series and Cath’s own fan fic writings. Basically two stories for the price of one.

9/10 would recommend. A breezy narrative with no major jolts that takes you through the pain and joys of starting new and growing up.

‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson

When a friend of mine recommended this book highly, I jumped at the chance to read it, especially because it had been ever so long since I had a book-related conversation with anyone and I was dying to try out recommended books.

The premise is intriguing. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Christine loses her memory or rather, her ability to recall short term memories. She wakes up every day with no memory of who or where she is. Her husband and caretaker is her only constant source of support, who helps her remember every thing she needs to know to get her through the day. Every single day. Sounds pretty interesting, right?

But that’s where it starts and ends. While the foundation is great, enough to get you hooked on to an all-nighter, the writing falls short in more places than one. There are enough times you feel the author could have milked more out of the situation, there are a lot of times you think the terror passed away too quickly. And that is where the book starts to lose its compel. When pivotal moments keep getting proven as nothing of consequence, you start feeling disinvested in the story and wonder what’s gonna happen at all. What has the potential to be a cracker of a thriller, fizzles out and ends up as a sad reminder of what could have been.

Although, all is not lost yet. Every part of the story makes sense and ties back in to the central plot, making for a clear narrative experience. The beginning, focusing on Christine’s terror and how she copes with her memory loss, is depicted in an extremely realistic way and is sure to captivate the reader like no other.

Do try it out if you are looking for a completely new reading experience and storyline. But do not go in with high hopes, they can prove disastrous.

Reading Challenge

I’m embarking on my most ambitious project yet- Aiming to finish a ‘100 Books to Read before you die’ list before the end of the year. While previously, I scoffed at such lists, priding myself on not falling prey to such superficialities, I stand humbled and corrected now. 

While my reading habits have taken a turn for the worse during four moderately busy years in college, I never imagined I would be in a place where I found myself struggling to complete a book in a month. Exasperated at myself and with loads of free time on my hands now, I decided that the best way to regain the lost hours was to immerse myself in reading. For those interested, this is the list I’m focused on getting through. 

https://mywordlyobsessions.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/bbcs-the-big-read-top-100-books-how-many-have-you-read/

I have to say, it has already helped me remarkably. I surprised myself by completing two books in two sittings (‘Bridget Jones’s Diary‘ by Helen Fielding and ‘On the Road‘ by Jack Kerouac) and while they aren’t huge novels to get through by any means, it still represents great progress for me. 

I hope the Reading gods stay with me.

The Clifton Chronicles by Jeffrey Archer

The Clifton Chronicles is probably Archer’s most ambitious work till date, spanning seven books and a time period of close to a century. I picked up the first of these books about six years back-‘Only Time Will Tell’ proved a masterpiece and like all readers, I was anticipating the release of the next book in the series. While the subsequent two books in the series- ‘Sins of the Father’ and ‘Best Kept Secret’ didn’t prove as compelling as their illustrious predecessor, I was very much curious to know the eventual fate of Harry Clifton and so, trudged on. Around this time, the Lord Jeffrey Archer himself came to India on a book tour and it was such a huge moment when I was able to meet and talk to him in person during the book signing for ‘Best Kept Secret’. (What an enigmatic gentleman, by the way.) Well, after this encounter with him, I really couldn’t wait for Book 4 to hit the stands. I really couldn’t.

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The girl in a violet top (third row, right hand side), grinning away to glory-Yepp, that would be me! 😀

Which makes it all the more surprising why I didn’t actually buy the next book in the series soon as it came out. Anyway, I recently spied the book on my brother’s Kindle (such a handy thing!) around two years after its release and immediately set about reading it. ‘Mightier than the Sword’ is vintage Archer. The trademark cliffhanger was present at the end of Book 4, as a result of which I couldn’t get to sleep-I don’t really handle suspense well, if you must know. Which is why, at 2 AM on a cold chilly morning, I bought the penultimate book ‘Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man’ on Kindle Store and six hours later, was done with the book. ‘Cometh..’ is easily one of the best books I read this year-fine writing, good amount of intrigue and character depth.

I felt exhilarated-I hadn’t gone on a reading binge for a long time, and I fell asleep at 730 AM, grinning happily. The final installment, ‘This Was a Man‘ is also out. But I’ll be catching up on some sleep before I head there. This has been one brilliant saga.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Warm, funny and intensely nostalgic, Bill Bryson’s ‘Thunderbolt Kid’ is one of the best pieces of literature I’ve read in a while. He opens with the line, ‘I was born in Des Moines, Iowa. Somebody had to.’; setting the tone for a book that is a wild, wild ride into the inner workings of a kid who grew up in one of the best times that America has ever seen.

The ‘Thunderbolt Kid’ charmed me. The writing style, the stories, practically everything about the book screamed out to me. As a girl who grew up in India in the 2000’s, there is practically nothing for me to relate to. And it was perhaps, exactly this novelty, that drew me in. The 1950s was a heady time in America-the Great Depression was finally over and prosperity was just around the corner. Everywhere you looked, you saw signs of a big, big world waiting to emerge. Bill describes each day bringing something new- color television; the atomic toilets at Bishop’s; the Kiddie Corral at Dahl’s, the local supermarket, filled with the most comic books you could ever see in a single place; and the most wondrous of all- Disneyland. It was a heady time in America and everyone knew it.

In the midst of all these goings-on was Bill, with a keen mind of his own. This, coupled with his zest for adventure and propensity to get into trouble, combine to produce a series of endearing real-life stories from his childhood. A book that perfectly chronicles a kid’s experience of growing up in a country that was poised at the very edge of becoming an undisputed superpower, the ‘Thunderbolt Kid’ is sure to leave you in love with the times that were.

Inimitable and perfect to a fault. 

Links to buy this awesome book-

http://www.amazon.in/Life-Times-Thunderbolt-Kid-Memoir/dp/0767919378

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/life-and-times-of-the-thunderbolt-kid-bill-bryson/1102933577

‘Person of Interest’ Fandom

The one TV show that forever had my heart in my mouth has got to be ‘Person of Interest‘. Utterly different in every way from the rest of its kind, PoI set a bar as far as intelligent TV shows went. I remember being mildly interested going into the pilot episode of the series. The premise was intriguing; an all-seeing, all-pervasive machine modeled on the lines of Big Brother, saving the country, one bad guy at a time.

The episodes’ prelude goes thus-

“You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people; people like you. Crimes the government considered ‘irrelevant’. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up… we’ll find you.” If THAT didn’t pique your interest, I doubt anything will.

So yes, first season in and the show had me hooked. The scripting is really good (Credits to Jonathan Nolan), the actors are absolutely fantastic and bring much credibility to their roles. Jim Caviezel, Michael Emerson, Sarah Shahi, Taraji P Henson and Amy Acker are the force behind the show.

But never mind the brilliant storyline by Nolan, never mind the brilliant actors; what managed to hold your attention was the fact that it managed to convey perfectly a sense of urgency and paranoia that had set in among the general public post 9/11. The creators have said that they realised having tapped into a public nerve on the increasing lack of privacy in the world. And that is the success of the show: the sheer possibility that the show indeed does mirror life today.

After a couple of episodes, the format becomes familiar. The machine sends the social security number of a person in danger to Finch. Finch gathers the team and they have to determine whether the number is a threat or a victim and then take action. Sleek gadgets, plain old fashioned recon and stellar action- the episodes are a treat for action lovers. And just when you start to think that is all there is to the show, there enters Root, played to perfection by Amy Acker. The character singularly changed the foil of the show and took intellectual entertainment to a whole new level. With her introduction, we start to witness some brilliant mind games.

The 11th episode of the fourth season ‘If-Then-Else‘ is arguably my most favorite. Heart-wrenching, chilling and highly suspenseful, the episode is an example of one of the best screenplays I have ever seen. It features the machine analyzing hundreds of thousands of possible scenarios to fix on the best case scenario that will keep its human agents alive. All in the span of a nanosecond. No, even lesser than that. An episode that showcases the truly limitless power of the machine, it is one of the most fascinating episode formats you will ever get to see and shows the technical and creative mastery of the team behind PoI.

The fifth and final season’s finale ‘Return 0‘ was telecast a fortnight ago and received almost perfect ratings. A cocktail worth your time and interest, Person of Interest is a must-watch if you’re a lover of action thrillers.