Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Book Review: Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #10)

Movies, almost everyone likes movies. Movies are powerful ideas that can shape realities if people believe in it. Here is an excellent example showcasing how a movie can direct people's lives. In 1986, Top Gun hit the cinema. Starring Tom Cruise, this action movie depicted the life of a fighter pilot as something dashing and romantic. Top Gun smashed the box office, it was a massive success and it entranced legions of young men with high flying dreams. After the movie's release, US Navy reported a 500 percentage increase in the number of young men joining US Navy to become aviators!

Indeed, movies are ideas with real powers. Movies can tell us how to behave, what to say, and how to dress. I think movies have more profound influences in our lives than we are aware of. Yet, the question is, how do we know ideas from movies are truthful?

In Moving Pictures (the 10th Dsicworld novel), Sir Terry Pratchett explored the movie industry via a satirical fantasy story. This is a very interesting book. After I finished reading this book, I went away and thought about it for a few days. Today, I offer to share my opinions about this book in a brief review.


In the century of Fruitbat, 3 alchemists from Ankk Morpork blew up the hall of their building for the nth time. They finally decided the business of turning lead into gold just doesn't work. Instead, they accidentally invented an alternative way to make gold. What have they invented? Something new has appeared under the sun. Motion pictures has come to Discworld, and it paved a highway to Holy Wood, a highway glittering with gold and alive with dreams of fame.

Holy Wood called for all to dwell in the magic of the silverscreen.

Victor Tugelbend, a reluctant, would-be wizard answered the call of Holy Wood and decided to have a career change. Victor wanted to be a star, just like thousands of would-be actors/actresses like him, chasing Holy Wood dreams.

In a few months, Holy Wood transformed from a no-man's land into a buzzing town. Moving pictures got made, spellbound Ankh Morpork audiences both young and old. The magic of Holy Wood stirred everywhere, spilling over the limits of the universe into realities; the could-have-beens, the-might-bes, the never-weres, and raging ideas of all sorts and kinds. It blended these ideas into a soup of chaos, ready to drown Discworld into oblivion. However, a spark of hope remained alight with two unlikely heroes and a heroine. Our heoric trio is made up of Victor, Gaspode the Wonder Dog, and Ginger. Together, they must bring order back to Discworld before Holy Wood's magical tentacle reaches from the Great Beyond into reality, destroying all...

My thoughts on this book:

Moving Pictures marks the beginning of the Industrial Revolution series in Discworld. This is a true “stand-alone” novel in Discworld library. This also means, Moving Pictures may be a good entry point for new comers to Discworld. In Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett wrote an excellent parody that is both funny and entertaining. The theme of this book, however, grabbed my attention the most. Before I talk about the theme in this book, let me first talk about what I liked and disliked about the book itself.

On the surface, Moving Pictures appears to be a parody for the conventional fantasy genre. This book made tons of references to pop culture icons; from famous cinematic sequences to memorable movie quotes, all the way to Lovecraftian literature (if you are a Lovecraft fan, then laughter will surely visit you from the first page to the last). I had a lot of fun spotting Easter Eggs while reading this book. I think this book will appeal to lovers of movies.

In terms of characterization, Moving Pictures follows the hallmark of Discworld, featuring a cast of eccentric, comedic characters who are bound to impress readers with their colorful personalities, characters who were brought to life by Terry Pratchett's vivid writings. Victor Tugelbend, a student wizard, played the role of main protagonist in this book. While Victor is a likable character, but Gaspode the Wonder Dog (arguably the second protagonist) is the true star in this book, who stole the spotlight from Victor. Meanwhile, Moving Pictures' third protagonist, Ginger (AKA Theda Withel the actress), provided an interesting reflection about the nature of fame. This book also enlisted a cast of supporting characters to tell its story, most of them are returning characters from other Discworld books. A few of these supporting characters played pivotal roles in this book, one such character being Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, who appeared in various Discworld novels but never had a major role. In Moving Pictures, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler is a centrepiece to the story, providing readers an opportunity to explore this well known Discworld personality.

Having said this, there are a few drawbacks in Moving Pictures. I found the story in Moving Pictures disjointed at certain places. Especially in the first 70 pages, where Terry Pratchett constantly switched from one scene to another, and these scenes have no obvious connection to the main story. As a result, I found the early parts in this book slow-paced. However, once the main story began to take shape, it snow-balled at a very fast pace, gathering momentum and building up to a spectacular finale.

As I mentioned earlier, the themes in Moving Pictures captured my interest the most. I think this book, like Small Gods, tells a story set in a strong philosophical backdrop. In this review, I do not wish to spoil the story. Most importantly, I encourage would-be readers to read and think about the book for themselves. This is because after all, the gold of a Discworld book resides in its ability to get people thinking about important issues for themselves. So here I will just briefly offer my personal interpretation for this book. I think Moving Pictures is not just about movies, or the movie industry. After I read this book, I think Terry Pratchett was critiquing the post modern take on ideas and realities. In my opinion, Terry Pratchett seemed to be asking this question: “How do we keep ideas accountable and responsible?” But like I said, this is my personal take on the book. I encourage would-be readers to think about this book and Terry Pratchett's insightful critiques for themselves.

Discworld is a long-running series. It is beloved by millions of readers across the world. These books appeared as parodies of the fantasy genre on the surface, but often explored important issues in our society. In other words, Discworld novels can be seen as social commentaries and they are very, very fun to read. Moving Pictures is a fine example of an excellent Discoworld novel. Sure, this book is not perfect, the story was a bit disjointed at several places and the beginning was a bit slow. But the strengths in this book easily outweighs its weaknesses. Moving Pictures is a stand-alone novel, so this is an excellent entry point for new comers to Discworld. For the veterans of the Disc, Moving Pictures is a must read. I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Book Review: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R Martin

Drawing inspirations from War of the Roses, A Song of Ice and Fire currently holds the title “rock star” of the fantasy genre. This series attracted a wide readership, telling an epic tale set in a rich, expansive world alive with colorful, vividly portrayed characters. Characters who engaged in power struggles triggered by political storms and court intrigues. Up to date, this series' author, George R.R. Martin, has released 5 books. According to rumors, this series will conclude at book 7.

Four years has gone by since book 5 was released. Yet, the coming of book 6 is no where in sight. While readers around the world eagerly awaits for Mr. Martin to finish writing book 6, in the black of night, a new book has trodden into the stables of our local bookstores. This new book serves as a prequel to A Song of Ice and Fire. This is a tale about chivalry, a tale in three parts. This gorgeous book, is called A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.


Songs and poems in Westeros remember Tales of Dunk and Egg. Standing 7 feet tall, Dunk was a naive but chivalrous hedge knight known as Ser Duncan the Tall. What Dunk lacked in skills and finesse was compensated by his towering height and brute strength. Riding along Dunk was his squire, Egg, a peculiar looking boy of 10 with a shaved head, whose true origin, if revealed, was bound to attract white hot attention as luminous as the light reflecting off his bald head.

Riding on the backs of their steely mounts, this knight-squire duo tread the seven kingdoms of Westeros. They journeyed from the searing deserts of Dorne up to the frozen Wall in Winterfell, where extra-oridnary encounters prepared them for an extra-orindary destiny.

My thoughts on this book:

Firstly, I wish to draw people's attention to the artworks in this book. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a beautiful book. Publishers don't usually make beautiful books like this one anymore. 160 illustrations, drawn by award-winning artist Gary Gianni, accompany the texts in this book. I think book illustration is a dying art. These days, when you buy an “illustrated book”, you will be lucky to see 3 or 4 black and white illustrations in it. A Knight of the Seven Kindgoms, however, is lush with beautiful illustrations. Even if you have already read Tales of Dunk and Egg, I would still recommend getting this book for its artistic values. ( In my review article, I attached a few illustrations from the book as examples)

In terms of its contents, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms collects three novellas; The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, and The Mystery Knight. These novellas follow the adventures of Dunk and Egg in the chronological order. Each novella measures approximately 120 pages in length, so naturally they do not feel as epic as A Song of Ice and Fire novels. However, these novellas do have charms of their own, and George R.R. Martin wrote briskly and powerfully in this book.

The most valuable and interesting aspect in this book, in my opinion, is that we are finally getting the perspectives from the common people in Westeros. Let me explain; A Song of Ice and Fire novels narrate the story from the perspectives of high lords and ladies in Westeros, who were major players in the power struggle for the Iron Throne. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, on the other hand, narrates the story from the perspectives of common people. In this book, readers explored the bleak and violent world of Westeros, and its ongoing, political-military conflicts through the eyes of Dunk, an orphan who crawled out of Flea Bottom to become a humble hedge knight. Dunk reminded me of Brienne of Tarth, who is one of my favorite characters from A Song of Ice and Fire series. 

Furthermore, Dunk has an interesting, and at times, heart-warming relationship with his squire, Egg (whose true identity I will not reveal here). I really enjoyed reading their adventures. Meanwhile, the stories also featured a cast of supporting characters; varying from farmers, village merchants to lowly soldiers, these character gave readers insights into how “normal folks” in Westeros viewed the ongoing power struggles waged by their rulers.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is meant to serve as a prequel to A Song of Ice and Fire series. Without spoiling the story, let me just say this book shed light into the background history of some major houses in Westeros. If you are a fan for A Song of Ice and Fire, then A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a must read for you.

I really liked A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, the 3 stories from this book are ripping yarns. George R.R. Martin portrayed both Dunk and Egg so vividly that they struck me as two of the most memorable characters in the saga of Westeros. Those who are fond of A Song of Ice and Fire novels will definitely like this book. If you have yet to read A Song of Ice and Fire novels, then this is probably a good entry point to start reading the series. I also think this book deserves a spot on a fantasy lover's bookshelf. It is worth owning for Gary Gianni's beautiful artworks alone, and the price for this book is quite reasonable considering its good quality. Until that day when Mr. Martin finally unleashes The Winds of Winter upon us, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms will quench your thirst for adventures in Westeros.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Book Review: Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin

Roman Polanski's cinematic masterpiece, Rosemary's Baby, ranks number two on my list of "favorite horror movies of all time". Interestingly, the movie is based on a horror novel of the same name, written by Ira Levin, an American novelist, playwright, and songwriter.

I have always wanted to read Rosemary's Baby the novel, but I never had the chance. For some reason, my local library does not collect Rosemary's Baby, despite it being a horror novel of the same caliber as Stephen King's Carrie and The Shining. My chance to read Rosemary's Baby finally arrived, when I scooped a copy of it from a bargain sale at a bookshop. I bore this book home, and read it in a gusto.

How does Rosemary's Baby the novel compare to Roman Polanski's movie adaptation? Today, I would like to review this novel. Firstly, let me provide a synopsis for this book.


New York, 1965.

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse were just like any other young couple. Dreams and aspirations decorated the wall of their bright future. Guy was an ambitious actor, searching for a breakthrough role so he could kick start a fruitful career in acting. While Rosemary was a young housewife dreaming of having children and building a beautiful family. Together, Rosemary and Guy moved into Bramford, an old New York apartment building, styled after the fashion of Gothic Revival.

After Rosemary and Guy settled into their stylish apartment, they received special attention from an elderly couple living next door, Minnie and Roman Castevet, who showered Rosemary and Guy with overwhelming cares and hospitality.

“It's almost too good to be true”, thought Rosemary. Or perhaps, things were really too good in Bramford to be true? What dark, sinister motives could be lurking behind the warm and smiling faces of their friendly neighbors?

My thoughts on this book:

I like Rosemary's Baby (the novel) as much as the movie adaptation. Now that I have read the novel, I must say the movie stayed very faithful to the book, there aren't many differences between these two versions. Having said this, reading this book is still valuable. This is because the book shed light into Rosemary's personal thoughts and emotions that could not be easily depicted in the motion picture. In other words, while Roman Polkanski's movie adaptation is a visually striking, cinematic masterpiece, but reading the novel warrants a deep insight into the mind of the character. In fact, this probably applies to all movies adapted from novels, they are two mediums for telling the same story, each has its own merits, so they should be appreciated from different perspectives, and evaluated on its own term.

As for the novel itself, it is very short. Counting to 230 pages, Rosemary's Baby is a quick read. This atmospheric story moves at a very fast pace, and the writings will surely immerse readers in an ocean of suspense. Rosemary's Baby is simply one of the most unconventional horror stories ever told. The horror in Rosemary's Baby is not build on spooks or scares. Instead, this book sends waves of terror down your spine in the wake of paranoia. A paranoia that not only drives the plot forward but is also rich in symbolism.

Indeed, other than being an entertaining novel. The greatest value of this book is perhaps, it's symbolism, allegorizing the theme about “control”. Under this theme, the book explored the challenging topic about women's health in our contemporary world. This is a book about cultural progress, not only did the theme reflect the social-politcal clime in 1960s, but it is still relevant to our 21th century world. Here I leave would-be readers to explore the interesting symbolism in Rosemary's Baby. However, I would like to say, this is the kind of book that deserves multiple readings, where a reader may discover new things upon a second, or the third reading.

Overall, I think Rosemary's Baby is an excellent novel. This book is still worth reading even if you have already seen the movie. If you have not seen the movie or read the book, then I highly recommend both versions to you. Rosemary's Baby is the most unique tale of horror ever told in the genre, and this book will intrigue you with thought-provoking allegories, exploring topics that are still relevant for our world today.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Book Review: Abhorsen by Garth Nix (Old Kingdom #3)

Abhorsen is the 3rd, and the final book in Old Kingdom trilogy, a series of award-winning, YA fantasy novels. This trilogy's author, Garth Nix, is an Australian novelist who resides in Sydney. In the past two decades, Old Kingdom trilogy attracted readers of all ages, from the young and the old. I began reading this trilogy upon the recommendation from Goodreads, and I enjoyed the first two books. Therefore, with great anticipations and excitement, I journeyed into Abhorsen, the concluding chapter in this trilogy. Here are my thoughts about this book.


A terrible legend in Old Kingdom sings a song about a turbulent time in history, a time when Orannis, also known as The Destroyer, fought The Seven at the beginning of time and lost. The Seven bound Orannis, broke him in two, and buried him deep in the bowel of the earth. There, Orannis and his lust for destruction was to be imprisoned for eternity.

However, this Old Kingdom legend is about have a new chapter. Hedge, a loyal servant of Orannis has been hard at work to free him from his subterranean prison, and Hedge is on the verge of success. Should Orannis be restored, unprecedented destruction will visit the world.

The burden of stopping Orannis falls on Lirael, the new Abhorsen-in-waiting, who must figure out a way to prevent Orannis from being restored to his full power. The problem is, Lirael has no idea how to begin this quest. Together with her faithful friends, Lirael sets out on a mission, racing against time to stop Orannis before all life is destroyed.

My thoughts on this book:

Abhorsen brought Old Kingdom trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. The characters are very well developed in this book. Furthermore, this book, like both of its predecessors, knits its chapters together closely and tells a fast paced story. Suspense and actions populate this book, and readers will encounter many nail-biting moments. Yet, what separates Abhorsen from a “conventional and entertaining” novel, is its overarching theme about death, which is captured in a quote that appeared several times in this trilogy:

“Everyone and everything has a time to die”

In Abhorsen, Lirael and Sam, both protagonists in this book, had to constantly deal with losses and deaths of both innocent people as well as their loved ones. However, unlike conventional fantasy novels, Abhorsen (and this trilogy overall) does not treat death as a bad thing. Rather, the overarching theme in this trilogy argues that loss builds one's character, and that through dealing with losses and making sacrifices we grow and mature. Abhorsen fleshed out this theme when its concluding chapter brought the story to a touching end. I do not want to spoil the story, so let me just say, the ending of this book was solemn yet joyous. Abhorsen imprinted a bitter sweet memory on my mind long after I closed this book.

The second recurring theme in this trilogy explores the idea of destiny. Ok, at this point, you are probably thinking, “oh, so it's the cheesy plot device about a chosen one with a great destiny again?” If this is your concern, then I tell you there is no need to worry, because Old Kingdom trilogy uses the plot device of “destiny” in a refreshing way that is believable and meaningful. The theme about destiny is captured in this quote, which recurred throughout the trilogy:

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”

What a thought-provoking quote, right? I do not think there is a “simple and correct” answer to this question. However, here I offer to share my take on this quote based on the context of the story. This book's two protagonists, Lirael and Sam, were adolescents entering a phase, a stage where they were trying to find personal identities and figuring out their places in the world. However, life forced them to take up responsibilities, leaving them with one option; making the best out of the circumstances they were given. Then by doing that, in turn, they found their identities and places in the world. Personally, I think the theme in this book is particularly relevant and meaningful for young adult readers.

There are so many things in this book I can talk about, but I think my review should have provided sufficient information, giving you some insights about this book (and the trilogy in general). Overall, I recommend Abhorsen to those who have already read the first two books in Old Kingdom trilogy. Meanwhile, I also recommend Old Kingdom trilogy to those readers who are lovers of fantasy fictions. I enjoyed reading Old Kingdom trilogy, should you venture into this trilogy, then I wish you will discover the magics in these novels and enjoy them as much as I did.

Until the next time, happy reading!

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Book Review: Lirael by Garth Nix (Old Kingdom #2)

Between 1995 to 2003, Australian novelist Garth Nix published Old Kingdom trilogy. This is a series of critically acclaimed, YA fantasy novels. This trilogy began with Sabriel, a stand-alone novel. I liked Sabriel and the story did leave rooms for a sequel. Therefore, my next stop in Old Kingdom was Lirael, which is the 2nd book in this trilogy. The story in Lirael took place 18 years after the events in Sabriel, and this book introduces a new protagonist. If you haven't guessed from the title of the book already, the new protagonist is a girl called Lirael.

Is this sequel any good? Or is it suffering from the sequel syndrome? Allow me to share my opinions about Lirael in a book review.


Almost everyone wants to belong to somewhere or be a part of something. This is especially true for the case for Lirael, who never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Why? To begin with, Lirael's physical appearance differs to all other daughters of the Clayr. But more importantly, the gift of Sight, which is the Clayr's birthright, never blossomed in Lirael even though she was well into her adolescence.

Lirael felt as if she was a stranger among her own people. Feeling abandoned and alone, Lirael seek refuge in the Clayr's library, using solitude as a sanctuary to shelter her heart from an overwhelming sense of alienation. In her self-exile, Lirael traversed the library's dark passages until she encountered and befriended the Disreputable Dog, a magical creature of mysterious origin.

Day after day, this friendily duo adventured in the library, unpacking millenmia old secrets and sharing a peaceful life together until the day arrived, when a dangerous mission of paramount importance was suddenly bestowed upon Lirael. The outcome of the mission would shape the fate of Old Kingdom.

Together with her faithful friend, the Disreputable Dog, Lirael set out on a quest to save Old Kingdom from the claws of a growing, evil force.

My thoughts about this book:

I think most readers will be charmed by the richness of the story in Lirael. Garth Nix packed a lot of story into this book. He also injected a good dose of suspense into the story, keeping the book interesting while surprising readers with major plot twists. The story in Lirael moves at a slower pace when compared against the story in Sabriel. However, this does not mean Lirael is a chore to read. In fact, I think Lirael tells a well-paced story. A pace that allowed the story to explore the characters in depth.

The narrative in Lirael has two POV characters; Lirael and Sameth. Both characters were adolescents who wrestled with personal struggles as they came to age. “Coming of age” is the hallmark of YA fiction, and Lirael tells a classical tale about “coming of age”. It has characters that adolescents can relate to, characters who wrestled with a range of issues such as acceptance, expectations and finding a personal identity. Lirael explores these themes through the lens of adolescent characters in the book.

In this story, Lirael was depressed because she did not have the Sight and couldn't become a true daughter of the Clayrs. While Sameth, being the prince of Old Kingdom and the son of Abhorsen, was constantly pressured to meeting this expectation to be a future Abhorsen despite his heart wished to follow a different path. I do not wish to spoil the story, so let me just say both characters eventually found their places in the world. However, I think younger readers may identify and resonate with the themes in the book, and the message behind this story here may even be useful to them. I mean, if I was 15 years younger, I would have found the story in Lirael relevant to me as well (oops, spilling the secret of my age here...).

Having said this, those who have read Sabriel may need some time to adjust to Lirael. This is because the protagonist in this book, Lirael, has an introspective personality, making her a a very different character to Sabriel. However, I liked Lirael's character. As a (hopefully) mature adult, I empathized with Lirael's personal struggles because I was after all, an young adult once upon a time. This also means I believe young adult readers may easily identify with Lirael and finding her a likable character.

Lirael's faithful friend, the Disreputable Dog, also captured my attention in this book. I like the Disreputable Dog. Her friendship with Lirael is heart-warming, and she is a very interesting character since much of her origin is shrouded in mystery. Without showing any spoilers, let me just say the end of the book hints at a sequel where the Disreputable Dog may play a major role.

I enjoyed reading Lirael, this is a very good book and a worthy sequel for Sabriel. In fact, I would actually say I enjoyed reading Lirael more than Sabriel because the story in this book is very rich in character developments. Therefore, if you liked Sabriel, then make sure you to check out Lirael. On the other hand, if like me, you don't usually read YA fictions but enjoy reading fantasy novels, then don't let the label, “YA fantasy”, stop you from checking out Old Kingdom trilogy.