Rick Riordan: The Trials of Apollo – Review

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The Hidden Oracle, The Trials of Apollo, Rick Riordan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

“Zeus needed someone to blame, so of course he’d picked the handsomest, most talented, most popular god in the pantheon: me.”

– Apollo 

This might be my favourite Riordan book.

I was actually disappointed with his last one – The Sword of Summer – and I began to question in my review if it was finally time for Mr. R. to take a step back from these books about Greek, Roman and Egyptian gods. The conflicts were similar and the teen “voices” had begun to blend into one.

Magnus Chase could just as easily have been Percy Jackson.

But then RR had to throw Apollo into the mix who stands out because he is not a teenage boy. Well… technically, he is in this book. But he’s actually an age-old immortal who has been cast out of Olympus by Zeus and turned into a regular human teenager. His voice, however, not to mention his snark and humour, are that of a selfish, narcissistic, hilarious asshole.

Truly, this book is so refreshing! Apollo doesn’t even pretend he’s a do-gooder; in fact, it’s clear from the beginning that he’s out for himself and views humans as “meat sacks”. Imagine his horror when he discovers that not only is he human, but he also has acne and flab.

“Is anything sadder than the sound of a god hitting a pile of garbage bags?”

– Apollo

Of course, there’s a whole lot of godly drama going on too. You don’t get to be an old god like Apollo without making a LOT of enemies. But this mostly stood out to me as being the funniest book Riordan has written and that’s really saying something, given that all his books are defined by his trademark snarky humour. Pure entertainment.

Apollo is the Gilderoy Lockhart of this world and it is hilarious. There’s a nice bit of schadenfreude to be had when this self-obsessed god finally gets what he deserves and has to rely on Percy Jackson for help. And yet, there is something undeniably lovable about him too.

On that note, many familiar characters come in and out of this book. You don’t have to have read the other books to understand and enjoy this one, but it does contain spoilers for the main series and the characters.

This, for me, stood out amid a sea of similar stories and characters. I’m still not 100% sure I would want to read any more books that focus on teenage demigods (we’ve kind of been there and done that, in my opinion), but I will definitely see Apollo’s story through to the end.

“It warmed my heart that my children had the right priorities: their skills, their images, their views on YouTube.”

– Apollo


Novak Djokovic: The Demolition Man Who Destroyed The Tour

Watching Djokovic’s struggles now, let’s #tbt to a time when he seemed unstoppable…


Novak Djokovic with the Coupe des Mosqteraires. Credit: Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

It seemed like yesterday when Novak Djokovic, contesting his 4th Roland Garros final, lost to an on-fire Stanislas Wawrinka, who picked up his maiden French, and second Grand Slam title. For Djokovic, it was heartbreak personified. Defeating Nadal in the semis had given everyone (including himself) the belief that 2015 was the year he would clinch the one Slam that had eluded him (and to be honest everyone else, thanks to Rafael Nadal’s presence) in his career.

Alas, it was not to be.

Lesser mortals might have caved or quivered; lost confidence or competence, but not Djokovic. For him, the season had only just begun. Before his French Open title loss, Djokovic was already enjoying one of his best seasons in tennis, second only to his breakout 2011 year.

He picked up the Australian Open 2015 at Melbourne (earning him a fifth Australian Open Slam – an Open Era record,) won the Indian Wells- Miami double (for the third time in a row – also a record,) and won two out of the three clay masters in Italy in Rome, extending his masters titles to 23. His win streak, before the French Open dawned, was 22 matches, further extended to 28 matches, before that fateful final loss to Stanislas Wawrinka.

Djokovic silenced his critics, and one-upped the rest of the field by promptly winning his second Wimbledon title at SW-19, and bringing his Slam count to 9. Federer and Nadal fans had a sudden chill up their spine, and the name of that chill: Novak Djokovic, Demolition Man.

Brief respite came at the beginning of the hardcourt season, with two final losses to Murray and Federer, but the results were still ominous. Unlike the rest of the field, Djokovic’s consistent presence at tour finals was beginning to spell doom for everyone else. Djokovic picked up his second US Open, and his 10th Grand Slam title.

Bagging the French

If 2014 was seen as Djokovic’s year to win the French, 2015 was seen as Djokovic’s year to win everything – including the French. Rafael Nadal’s injury woes continued for most of the season and he failed to pick up a single clay court title. Roger Federer strained his back while doing so me household chores and sat out most of the hardcourt season.

Both of them would make no impact at Roland Garros – Federer having skipped it; Rafa having withdrawn in the third round. And yet, as luck is bound to change, just as these stalwarts retreated, leaving the field seemingly wide open for Djokovic, a resurgent Andy Murray began to pick up titles. Undeterred by his Melbourne loss to Djokovic in yet another final, Murray became a father, and in the process found his clay feet.

He beat Djokovic in Rome and suddenly, just like 2014, it seemed that this year too, the Djokovic was going to concede defeat at an increasingly familiar p lace, and this time, no one would be to blame but himself. Critics and pundits had had their say, and while they said, the Demolition Man suddenly emerge d from his trance-like cocoon to wrest back control of Roland Garros and finally conquer it, and with that win, become the only man to hold all four grand slam titles at once in the Open Era. Another quiet achievement was established: Djokovic also became the only man to win 6 Masters title in one year.

Physical and Mental Endurance

Many critics point out that Djokovic’s recent meteoric rise is due to the waning of Federer and Nadal – that he is simply a product of circumstance, facing a “weak era.” These same critics however refuse to acknowledge why Djokovic’s success has not been repeated by any other player on tour in the same duration, and these same critics fail to note the extraordinary lengths he has gone to, to ensure this complete dominance.

His gluten-free diet is legendary for being the trigger to the gluten-free craze currently gripping the food world, but little and less is spoken about his “mindfulness” techniques or the hours of military-like discipline he brings to his practice sessions.

Djokovic doesn’t possess Federer’s flair or Nadal’s brutality, but his single-minded commitment to better the various elements of his game has paid off: every single stroke of his is a weapon, so much so that even if one fails to fire (as it often does in the world of competitive sport) the others still hold him head and shoulders above the rest of the ATP tour.

The era of the “big 4″ is well over, giving way to the era of the “big 1” because not since Rod Laver has one man held all four major titles together, not Becker, Edberg or Lendl; not Sampras, Agassi or Hewitt, and certainly not Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal. This mastery of the game – and through it – the sport has left fans breathless for more and Djokovic seems intent to rise to the challenge, perhaps we will see him win eighteen grand slam titles, seventeen at the very least.

Naomi Novik: His Majesty’s Dragon – Book Review

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His Majesty’s Dragon, Temeraire Series, Naomi Novik. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I wasn’t expecting much when I picked up His Majesty’s Dragon, by Naomi Novik. To tell the truth, if I’d seen it in a bookstore, I wouldn’t have picked it up. But it was recommended to me by a reliable source as a better alternative to Eragon, and it was a historical fantasy set during the Napoleonic Wars. I figured I’d give it a try. I didn’t regret it.

I don’t love this book because Naomi Novik’s writing style is equal to that of Tolkien. I don’t love this book because it’s perfect in every way – indeed, some of the subplots were rather weak, and should have been changed or cut out altogether. Rather, I love this book because Naomi Novik took a boring, cliche idea, and put on a spin on it that’s so brilliant and yet mind-bogglingly obvious I have to wonder why in the world someone hadn’t thought of it before.

In all of the previous dragonrider books I’d read, there was always one rider. One lone human on a dragon the size of a house. And somehow, that was supposed to be special and sensible and realistic. But no – if a dragon is that large, then why is there only one rider? Why can’t there be more? Having one rider on a dragon is like putting one passenger on a plane that could potentially carry fifty.

And that’s where Naomi Novik takes the Temeraire series. Her fight scenes aren’t one-on-one affairs, they’re all-out aerial battles fought with crew members dangling precariously from leather harnesses, forced to make the best of inaccurate rifles. It’s true, the captain has a special relationship with his or her dragon, but there’s the distinct feeling of a team – that the captain would really be nowhere without the support of a crew behind him. What’s more, Novik makes the battles work – they’re clearly planned out and make sense in a historical context.

The main characters are also unusually engaging – Laurence, as a former naval captain who accidentally stumbles upon a dragon egg, is plunged into a branch of the military completely unlike the one in which he’s served, and his confusion and stiffness are only to be expected. While his stubbornness and sense of propriety are on occasion mildly irritating, his reactions to elements of the Aerial Corps are only natural given his character. And Temeraire, the dragon that hatches from the egg Laurence discovers, is more than a mere sentient ship – his naive, inquisitive personality is adorably appealing, and the political views he develops at times contrast sharply with those of Laurence.

And then there’s the matter of the main villain – there is none. There’s no evil overlord to face, no Dark Lord Napoleon who tries to foil Laurence’s and Temeraire’s plans at every turn. In fact, despite the fact that the book is from a strictly British point of view, Novik portrays Napoleon fairly, and his character only grows more sympathetic as the series goes on. Napoleon doesn’t even make an appearance during the first book – it’s just the British Aerial Corps versus the French Armee de l’Air. It’s a lovely change; as the battles grow steadily more climactic, one gets the feeling that they’re in a war against other dragon-crews just like theirs, not fighting some unseen maniac.

Like I said, His Majesty’s Dragon isn’t perfect. The subplot with Choiseul is ultimately disappointing in its resolution, and Laurence’s love interest is perilously close to a Mary-Sue and should have been cut (thankfully, there’s a lot less of her in the following books). Still, it’s a refreshingly original spin on an overused idea, and all in all a very good read.

Patrick Ness: The Ask and the Answer – Book Review

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The Ask and the Answer, Chaos Walking Trilogy, Patrick Ness. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Ask and the Answer is the second book in The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness and it is everything I hoped it would be and a million things more. I feel genuine sorrow for all those individuals who read the first book as it was released and had to wait a whole year until this was published.

Ness is the king of the cliffhanger! Honestly, he is as sublime a writer as he is a cruel a writer and the pain and anxiety and anguish I felt whilst reading this was only offset by the beauty and grace of his writing. I am so glad I had all three books to hand as I waited approximately one nanosecond between finishing the first book and taking a sneak peek at chapter one of the second.

This book is completely and utterly unputdownable and, if possible, I loved it even more than the first. Ness gives the reader everything – every breadth of emotion, beautifully crafted writing, extensive and original world building, corporeal characterization, legions of plot, and action, action, action for days! He is such a brilliant story-teller that I expected nothing less…but was still blown away!

The book opens in the midst of the action of the end of the first book, plunging you straight back into the depths of the plot. Without skipping a beat I was there, living and grieving and loving alongside my beloved main characters, Todd and Viola.

If anything, this book had a more poignant edge to it. I felt heartbreak one hundred times over in The Knife of Never Letting Go but here it was intensified. I could previously isolate Todd and Viola’s stories and remove myself from their plight when I got too involved but, with the addition of the Spackle (the indigenous species to the New World that the humans raged war with and later enslaved) it all just felt too real. The colonization of the planet and the hateful treatment and enslavement of the native Spackles felt so horribly, historically accurate that I couldn’t switch my emotions off. I felt somewhat responsible whilst reading this and almost ashamed to belong to the hate-fueled, discriminatory and domineering human species. It was heartbreaking to read, yet accurate. In short, reading this made my heart hurt. And by that I mean that the writer did a good job.

The explored themes of colonization, war, gender divides, power, coming-of-age and the good/bad binary made this a book where you got to learn whilst you read and where you got to know yourself and your stance on these issues too.

There wasn’t a pain-free moment as the lines between good and bad were continually blurred erased and altered; which made my empathy and the pain I felt equal for all. I am still not sure there even is a definite good and bad side. There are just sides. Both sides have a cause. Both sides have experienced pain and anger and heartbreak. Both sides have inflicted pain and anger and heartbreak. Both side is justified. Yet, neither side is justified. How is the reader supposed to know who to fight for if the characters don’t know their own hearts? I guess I am just going to have to continue with book three and find out.

A Monster Calls: Patrick Ness – Book Review

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A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the dark of night, when the house is still, what fears creep into your heart? For Conor O’Malley, his nightmares take the shape of a very old and very dangerous monster who visits him every night at seven minutes past midnight. He’s half-convinced that these must be dreams of his fevered mind. But how can they be, when the visits are so vivid and when he finds physical evidence of the monster’s existence the next day?

Conor’s nightmares begin shortly after his mother starts her treatments for cancer. He’s also dealing with a father who lives far away and is engrossed with his new family, a brisk and determined grandma who doesn’t understand him, and schoolmates who don’t seem to see him anymore. As readers learn more and more about Conor’s story and the terrible monster who comes to visit, it is impossible not to feel worry and fear and sadness for this boy, whose must shoulder problems that have toppled many adults before him. But even in his anger and pain, Conor’s defiant spirit shows flashes of dry humor and painful hopefulness that are difficult to witness, but make him impossibly endearing.

A Monster Calls is a middle grade children’s book, but it’s a children’s book in the way that Roald Dahl or Shel Silverstein wrote children’s books–that is, the surface stories are certainly well-written and compelling, but underneath that are the themes of confusion and loneliness and sadness that elevate them to timeless works of literature. And while A Monster Calls chooses to confront its demons more literally than some other books may, it does so with such fierce intelligence and ease that it never feels didactic or forced.

“…the fire in Conor’s chest suddenly blazed, suddenly burned like it would eat him alive. It was the truth, he knew it was. A moan started in his throat, a moan that rose into a cry and then a loud wordless yell and he opened his mouth and the fire came blazing out to consume everything, bursting over the blackness, over the yew tree, too, setting it ablaze along with the rest of the world…”

– Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

This an incredible book about the enormous burdens of responsibility and grief and loss. I read most of it with anxiety in my heart and as the story intensified, the ache in my throat got worse and worse. By the time I reached the end, hot tears were dripping onto the last two pages, and continued to fall as I immediately read those pages again, and as I read them yet again.

But more than anything else, I felt a great deal of love as I was reading this. Love for Conor, love for his mother, love for his grandmother, and love for everyone who has ever experienced a profound loss. This is such a beautiful book, such an important book, and one that I think so many children and so many adults will appreciate. I cannot imagine that there will be another children’s book written this year that will provide such a moving and emotionally truthful experience, or one that will so easily become an instant classic. In just 215 pages, A Monster Calls shatters your heart and then wraps it up tightly again so that you can go and be present in the world as an infinitely wiser, more loving human being.

About the Illustrations:

The words themselves are powerful and full of terrible beauty and latent emotion. But if you’re able, do try to get your hands on a copy of the hardcover, which is illustrated with wildly expressive artistry that complement the story perfectly and captures exactly the right feel for the book. I’ve included some of the illustrations from the book here in this review, but if you’d like to see more images, please visit Jim Kay’s website to learn more about the process the artist used.

About the Story:

The story behind this book makes it even more poignant. Siobhan Dowd, the award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, conceived this idea and the characters and the beginning–but died of breast cancer at the age of 47 before she could write the novel. Patrick Ness was asked to write the book based on her idea, and he succeeded in achieving a work of fiction that both transcends its genre and painfully wrenches your heart.

Bill Bryson: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – Review

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The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

After you’ve written about nearly everything, what do you do next? If you are Bill Bryson, author of “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” a masterly epitomizing of the entire body of natural science that spent approximately 15,000 weeks on the best-seller list (without the help of Oprah), and that cloned its own glossy illustrated edition with specially commissioned etchings by Warhol, Picasso and Raphael, your gaze turns inward, or rather downward, toward your navel.

Lucky for the reader of the resulting memoir, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid,” Bryson’s navel, like Whitman (both the poet and the sampler), contains multitudes. From that innie (or outie; oddly for such a revealing chronicle, he never specifies), Bryson has produced a book so outlandishly and improbably entertaining, you begin to doubt its veracity. When he writes, for example, that the worst customer to collect money from on his paper route when he was 11, Mrs. Vandermeister, was

“700 years old, possibly 800, and permanently attached to an aluminum walker,”

– Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

You begin to wonder if we’re entering James Frey territory. Or, even less believably:

“Most things in Des Moines in the 1950’s were the best of their type.”

– Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

At the heart of the manifold exaggerations is a much larger truth, a shocking revelation that few memoirists have been so brave to admit: he had a happy childhood.

Just because his family was happy, pace Tolstoy, doesn’t mean it wasn’t strange — that is, the “normal” strange that only 1950’s America has spawned. We got a glimpse of Bryson’s upbringing in his first book, “The Lost Continent” (1989), in which he nominally retraced family car trips while commenting on contemporary American culture and behavior — a dyspeptic “Blue Highways.” (He subsequently ascended the best-seller lists with other works in the humorous-travelogue vein, assaying the Appalachian Trail in “A Walk in the Woods” and traversing Australia for “In a Sunburned Country,” among others.) His reminiscences of his parsimonious sportswriter father and appealingly loopy mother provided some of the most convulsive sections of that first book. In fact, I remember reading it on the couch and disturbing my wife at her kitchen-table academic studies with my howls. When she asked me what was so funny, I would, in reading the passage aloud to her, inevitably be reduced to body-racking, tear-inducing, de-couching laughter.

“I can’t imagine there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive.” – Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

While the pleasures of “Thunderbolt Kid” are less frequently spasmodic, what the book does effect is a continuous wry, nostalgic smile in anyone born during the 50’s. And by “continuous” I don’t mean “continual,” a distinction that Bryson elucidates in “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words,” one of several also improbably entertaining books on language he has written, despite, if his memoir is to be believed, being a marginal student in high school and a onetime college dropout before lighting out for England in the 70’s. His baby-boomer contemporaries will no doubt recognize in “Thunderbolt Kid” the penny-pinching tendencies of parents raised during the Depression, the eroticism of Maidenform bra ads, the mayhem that was the Saturday matinee at a large downtown movie palace, little pleasures like taking the cork out of bottle caps, the “literally intoxicating” power of mimeograph paper and the unsupervised freedom children generally enjoyed:

“I knew kids who were pushed out the door at 8 in the morning and not allowed back in until 5 unless they were on fire or actively bleeding.”

– Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid 

What keeps the memoir from becoming a sentimental trip down Pleasant Street, a real Des Moines lane, is that, unlike in his schoolboy years, here Bryson has done his homework. He generously lards the personal narrative (as our cholesterol-oblivious mothers larded our food) with facts and cutting observations about the grand themes of the day, like the emergence of television and the development of the hydrogen bomb. He notes with wonder and characteristic sarcasm that Edward Teller and the Atomic Energy Commission envisioned using atomic power for vast civil engineering projects — for instance,

“to blow away irksome impediments to commerce and shipping like the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.”

– Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Also militating against potential mawkishness is his sparing use of the device promised by the title: that he has a secret superhero identity, the Thunderbolt Kid, whose powers allow him to vaporize tormentors. Save for one extended passage, it appears almost as an afterthought at the end of some chapters, and that’s just as well.

As a humorist, Bryson falls somewhere between the one-liner genius of Dave Barry and the narrative brilliance of David Sedaris. He’s not above sublime lowbrow fat and feces jokes, but at his best he spools out operatically funny vignettes of sustained absurdity that nevertheless remain grounded in universal experience. These accounts, like the description of the bumper-car ride at a run-down amusement park or the tale of a friend’s father’s descent from the high dive at a local lake, defy excerpting; when taken whole, they will leave many readers de-couched.

Occasionally in the course of his reminiscences, Bryson abandons punch lines and demonstrates a lyrical gift for the tactile and noisome nature of childhood (not “noisy” nature; see “Troublesome Words”) that elevates the work to the level of classics in the genre like Laurie Lee’s “Cider With Rosie”:

“I knew more things in the first 10 years of my life than I believe I have known at any time since…. I knew the cool feel of linoleum on bare skin and what everything smelled like at floor level. I knew pain the way you know it when it is fresh and interesting — the pain, for example, of a toasted marshmallow in your mouth when its interior is roughly the temperature and consistency of magma. I knew exactly how clouds drifted on a July afternoon, what rain tasted like, how ladybugs preened and caterpillars rippled, what it felt like to sit inside a bush.”

– Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

He then concludes with an encomium to expelled intestinal gas.

That’s an evocation of childhood that’s movingly true, no exaggeration necessary.

Jonathan Stroud: Author of the Week


Jonathan Stroud, Author. Credit: Jonathan Stroud’s Facebook Page

Jonathan Stroud Fan Club is here. Please, sign up to begin!

That’s right, Jonathan Stroud, who will also be our Author of the Week! That’s right, six days and six book reviews! Because, as we all remember, on the 7th day, the Good Lord Above (TM) said we should rest.

Now Jonathan Stroud’s been a man about town sort of author, dabbled in a little bit of every kind of writing before he really hit his stride (in my professional opinion, as a world famous published author) with the Amulet of Samarkand and its introduction into the Bartimaeus series.

Meet Nathaniel who has been adopted into a Magician’s family. Magicians are conniving, backstabbing, ruthless people who rule over the Commoners through the use of their “magic,” which is actually enslavement of magical beings (read Demons, or the politically correct term: Spirits) who are forced to reside on earth and bound to the will of their master. Aside from the obvious political and social metaphors present, Jonathan Stroud actually does do some inventive and ingenious things (unlike, say, me:)

  • A Magical System Like No Other: There’s no better way to make a magic system stand out by casually subverting all the other systems out there. The magicians don’t do much themselves and the Spirits they command have an excellent mix of specific powers (shape changing for one) and other vague ones (like Detonations, Convulsions and Fluxes??) Don’t get me wrong; there is magic in this book, just not the way you expect it to be with wavy wands or powerful swords and flashy smoke or rabbits who disappear into hats.

Actually there might have been a rabbit who did disappear into a hat. We’ll get back to that.

  • The Alternate Universe Which We Aren’t Sure of When It Happens: Harry Potter is most definitely set in the 90s, and Percy Jackson inhabits a time-wrap universe where everything happens according to one structured book timeline with everything else fixed in the real world. The Bartimaeus Series on the other hand, has a lot of real stuff (like cars,) and hints and mentions of world history that Stroud’s made up to fit the story. England, for example is still an Empire with its colonies (who might be rebelling hehe…) and Europe has a bunch of Old-World Powers who try to be rivals of the British Empire (TM.) So we’re fairly grounded about what’s happening and kinda sure about when it’s happening but we have no concrete idea of what’s already happened: except through some tidbits that one can infer from if they’re really paying attention.

As they say: show, don’t tell.

  • Characters Whom You Want to Alternatively Root For And Punch in the Face: Stroud’s made some fantastic characters before, but the Bartimaeus Series had a whole gallery who stand out with elan. Boy magician Nathaniel, his master Underwood, his soon-to-be-nemisis Simon Lovelace, and mysterious rebel leader Kitty Jones alongside perhaps the wittiest character to grace the pages of a book ever: Bartimaeus himself. Wise-cracking, permanently offended and injured by his work, and relentlessly commentative, Bartimaeus is that little voice inside our head that makes thing bearable.

Except he’s, like, funnier.

The Bartimaeus Series needs to be read. By everyone. Ever. But I’ll settle for the 13-17 that is its target audience. But hey – don’t let me convince you. I’ll let Stroud do some convincing of his own.

That did it. I’d gone through a lot in the past few days. Everyone I met seemed to want a piece of me: djinn, magicians, humans…it made no difference.I’d been summoned, manhandled, shot at, captured, constricted, bossed about and generally taken for granted. And now, to cap it all, this bloke is joining in too, when all I’d been doing was quietly trying to kill him.

— Bartimaeus, The Amulet of Samarkand (Book One of the Bartimaeus Series)

A Must Laugh – Book Review: The Goat, The Sofa And Mr. Swami

Note: The following content is not owned by this blog and is being used for college project, non commercial purposes only. The original review can be found here, by Nilanjana Bhattacharya. 

This post will be taken down shortly after completion of the project. No copyright infringement intended. 

the goat the sofa and swami

The Goat, the Sofa and Mr. Swami, R. Chandrasekhar. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Warning: be prepared to laugh!

The Goat, the Sofa and Mr. Swami is your quintessential Jeeves and Wooster story, peppered with clever references to Yes Minister. deliciously told—in a modified Indian setting, of course—with clever jibes and digs, often with no attempt at even trying to mask the intent on the part of the author. And once you learn to ignore the occasional attempts at being too clever, this book is a sheer treat for a lazy Sunday afternoon. The story of the goings on in Indian politics makes for a zany, laugh-a-minute, book.

The plot is complex and convoluted, with a million subplots and characters and conspiracy theories. Mr Motwani is the old, fat, lustful, and cunning Prime Minister of India,(*cough*Vajpayee*cough*). His personal assistant, Mr. Swami, I.A.S., lets the Prime Minister get into his own messes and, benevolently and calmly, proceeds to extricate him from the same, all the while working towards some personal advancement or the other. The tables are turned once in a while, when Mr. Swami is caught in positions that only the resourcefulness of the Prime Minister can save him from, but on the whole, the entire plot follows this Insert-X-in-Soup-let-Y-Save-the-Day pattern. The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Shah, has invited himself to an India-Pakistan cricket match series and the entire Indian administration must deal with this whole operation, fraught with suspicion and antagonism and media misinterpretations and the vested interests of all involved. The U.S.P. of the book, however, lies not the story, but in putting up a comic and intricately etched portrait of the hypocrisy and self-service that is the administration of the Republic of India.

What occasionally mars the charm of the book is an attempt to be too clever and risqué on the part of the author. The opening chapter talks about the old Prime Minister enjoying a digitally-modified naked actress dancing to a popular Bollywood number on his V.C.R. and, um, pleasuring himself. Do we really want to know that? Imagine if Wodehouse had talked about Bertie’s sex life—this is just as out-of-place and sort of makes you draw back in distaste. Then there are these convoluted sentences with failed attempts at sarcasm which could have been done away with. If someone had been there to tell the author gently that “it’s a fine piece, stop now, don’t ruin it”, the book might have been better off.

Ultimately, however, these minor glitches aside, the book is an engaging, hilarious and unputdownable read. Original? Perhaps not in content, perhaps not in style per se, but combine the two, and you get a unique blend of humour and insight. You laugh at the gags, you laugh at 15 states rioting because the cuisine of two other states have been chosen to cater to the Pakistani Prime Minister, you laugh at the Kaveri water dispute coming up when the dance of one state is chosen over the other for the cultural show, you laugh at every other ridiculous situation the Indian bureaucracy throws up—and yet, a worry and a sense of gloom eats away at the back of your mind, like a nagging headache that you just can’t wish away.

You laugh and wonder how long you will laugh at the same things, how long you can sit back and take all this and just have a few laughs as your consolation prize. You wonder how long you can laugh away the corruption that pervades every level of the administration; you wonder how long you can make cynical and clever remarks on the partisan nature of the states in the Republic; you wonder how long you can overlook the very basic lack of a national feeling that is eating away at the core of our country. If a book can give you stitches in the stomach and plant a deep sense of discomfort in your mind, I think it is an epic success.

Kei Nishikori and The Mutua Madrid Open of 2014


Kei Nishikori, for you.

Kei Nishikori

He looks rather like a fish, doesn’t he. I’m not one to talk though; on good days I look like a vampire, and on bad ones, a walrus. In fact, making a quick conclusion from today’s title, clearly, the worse someone looks, the better they’re gonna be at tennis!

For example, Roger Federer, who looks great!

Roger Federer

Or, Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

Or, aha, Martin Klizan!

Martin Klizan

… Or not.

Anyway, back to fish-face Nishikori, and why he’s the most exciting player right now.

He began the season with the Brisbane International Tournament, and was seeded 2nd, right after Roger Mothafuckin’ Federer.

Roger Federer - With Wimbledon

8 Wimbledon titles and counting…

This boy clearly chooses his tourneys well.

With 32 players jostling in the Qualifying round in the Main Draw, Nishikori sailed through into the second round, after receiving a first round BYE, courtesy his ATP ranking, and the fact that everyone else ranked higher than him (‘cept Roger Mothafuckin’ Federer) was at Doha, for the Qatar Exxon Mobil Open, (given its better prize money) or in some rare cases, Chennai, for the Aircel Chennai Open.

Stanislas Wawrinka

Hullo Stan!

All that rest, while the other guys were sweating it out, gave Nishikori quite the boost. He hammered his second round opponent, Matthew Ebden (a native ‘stralyin’)  6-2, 6-4. His quarterfinal match-up against the ever calm Marin Cilic, went well, and then it didn’t, and then it went super well, posting figures of 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.

That three setter must’ve done him a number though, because his semifinal against anotha ‘stralyin didn’t have such a happy ending. His good start failed to convert, and Lleyton Hewitt took back the next two sets with a vengeance, easing into the final against who else but Roger Mothafuckin’ Federer with his 5-7, 6-4,6-3 win over Nish.

(Who also really does happen to look like a Fish…)


The resemblance is…


Kei Nishikori - Fish expression


Hewitt went on to win the tourney 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, but that’s a story for another day.

Back to Nishikori!

Flashy Goldfish

Image not an accurate representation

Nishikori took his smarting loss to 33 year old Hewitt (practically a grandaddy in Tennis age,) and his 90 points, and headed home to cool his heels till the ‘stralyin’ Open.

He got seeded into the Top Half of the draw – which wasn’t the best place to be, really. Aside from Rafael Nadal (World No. 1) and Roger Mothafuckin’ Federer, Nish also had Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro swimming in his waters.

His first opponent, Marinko Matosevic, yet another ‘stralyin’, (he seems to have found a mating call for them really,) was a hard surfer to swamp. Fish won of course, but after a long, drawn out five-setter of: 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.

Take it from the expert, five-setters are a beast to recover from. Especially under the blazing ‘stralyin’ sun.


Desrted Australian Outback

Seriously hot…


Nish-the-Fish got his fins together though, and posted a straight sets win over Serb Dusan Lajovic, 6-1, 6-1, 7-6(3). A wobble in the last set indicates Lajovic started to fight the current, but Fish obviously pulled a Gayrados, and hyper-beamed his way into the third round to face American Donald Young. 

Young might have had hopes of flying the Stripes and Stars high in the back and beyond of the Down Under, but Fish triple whammied him in straight-sets , with a breadstick and bagel to go: 7-5, 6-1, 6-0.

Finding renewed strength from the rising sun on the hot Melbourne hardtop, Nishikori sliced his way to meet World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the latter on his way to equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam title, and make a new one of being the only player in the Open Era to win every major at least twice.

Nish wasn’t impressed by these lofty ambitions though, and his fillany ways forced Nadal into two tie-breaks, both of which, he eventually lost.


Nishikori Losing

It was a hard loss to take :((


Still, it wasn’t a bad loss, and Nishikori got a further 180 points to add to his tally.

Better than that though, was Rafael Nadal’s eventual defeat to the Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka, in the final, denying him both his 14th Slam, and new record. Nishikori must’ve given the Swiss a private high-five to make that happen.

And seven days after Melbourne, Nishikori helped his fellow fish defeat Canada 4-1 at Tokyo in the first round of the Davis Cup. The home support – and girlfriend – must’ve counted in his favour.

On Feb 10th, Nish decided to skip Rotterdam, where all the cool kids were heading, and take a Wild Card entry to the US National Indoor Tennis Championships, at Memphis, Tennessee — where the nicer Justin of pop music hails from.

Justin Timberlake

Seeded first, and defending champion, it was sink or swim time for Nish, and dear god, did the man flap his fins.

Once again receiving a BYE into the second round, Nishikori, hammered his German opponent Boris Becker, 6-4, 6-4, wobbled a little bit against Russian Alex Bogomolov Jr., 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, recovered to blast American Michael Russell out of the water, 6-3, 6-2 (despite the latter having gotten rid of pesky Lleyton Hewitt for Fish,) and went on to win the title with a fantastic win against Croat Ivo Karlovic, 6-4, 7-6(0). 

Not only did Nish successfully defend his silverware, he also saved 250 points from the previous year, phew.

Memphis would also be where the King of Rock hails from, as seen by this rather snazzy trophy.

Memphis would also be where the King of Rock hails from, as seen by this rather snazzy trophy.

A week later, Nishikori was at Delray Beach (where he won his first ATP title way back in 2008) and was seeded 3rd.

His first match against Portuguese player Gastao Elias, a qualifier, saw another wobble, but eventual recovery: 6-1, 5-7, 6-2. The back-to-back weeks of tennis got him good though, and he had to retire in the second round with a left hip injury. He subsequently withdrew from the Abierto Mexicano TelCel to give it time to heal before March Madness started.

Indian Wells brought him, once again, seeded into the Top Half – with old favourites, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray,  and once again a first round BYE. In the second, he met Santiago Giraldo, whom he dispatched with relative ease, 6-1, 6-3. 

(Nish and Giraldo would meet each other again, at the Barcelona Open, where the latter would once again lose in straight-sets.)

The third round match-up against the higher ranked Tommy Haas unfortunately didn’t go so well, and Nishikori, fell back into the pond, 6-7(3), 2-6., taking a measly 45 points back home.

‘Cept he didn’t really go back home.

Miami was just around the corner!


Fifty Shades of Grey: Inexplicably Popular


So recently, I decided to give Fifty Shades of Grey a go, since my friend dared me that I wouldn’t be able to get through it. She was wrong by challenging me, because I DID get through it, even it damn near killed me doing so.

In retrospect:


I know: there are tons and tons of bad reviews for the book out there so I decided not to really review the book but to try and deconstruct it a little bit.

The thing is, I actively encourage people to read this book. Why? Because people (especially writers) need to realize how easy it is to fall into a rut. I have no doubt that E L James thought she was being absolutely brilliant by writing a book about BDSM in Fifty Shades of Grey, and to some extent she was. She just had to screw it up by adding annoying one dimensional characters, a completely unrealistic plot and an even worse ending. Oh and then adding two more books to it.


Most people discount this book because it came out of fanfiction. Trust me, though it may seem otherwise, fanfiction does more good than harm, and Fifty Shades of Grey (even though I would prefer to call it a dirty rag) wouldn’t even be considered as good fanfiction. It would be called “fluff” which people read to make themselves feel happier about life.

Any story has two, very basic, properties which attracts an audience. First is the technique of writing. The second, is the idea. In this regard, Fifty Shades… fails miserably in both. There are authors whose technique is so mind-blowing that they can make a book about the history of Shakespeare seem fun. (Bill Bryson – my hero.)


Then, there are other authors whose technique is passable but make up for it by having good, tight, plots and believable characters- naming Rick Riordan as one. For a guy who writes kid stories, he’s held my attention from the tenth grade all the way up to college.


So how has Fifty Shades… failed in both and yet found such a huge demand?

That is what I find inexplicable. I just don’t get it. I’m sure that there is some deep psychological explanation because there sure isn’t an obvious one.

So, if you’re an aspiring writer, go ahead and read this book to see how writing can go so wrong but just don’t waste money by buying it. I only condone wasting time. Definitely not hard-earned money.

Just know what you’re getting yourself into though.