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Quick Notes: The Hound of Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A book titled The Hound of Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on a table with a cup of coffee

Genre: Mystery/Crime/Detective
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Quick Notes: The Hound of Baskervilles is the third of four novels in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon of Sherlock Holmes. I won’t write how superb this book is for I know I will just be repeating what most people have already said. Instead, let me just point out two aspects which made this particular story unique to me.

1. Dr. John H. Watson – Sherlock Holmes’ best friend and confidant. The romantic and often sentimental medical doctor that perfectly complements the emotionally-detached and analytical consulting detective. The ordinary against the brilliant.

Despite being wrongly perceived (and portrayed) as being a fool in most tv/film adaptations, Watson’s role is undoubtedly crucial to every Sherlock Holmes adventure. He serves as both a storyteller and a shock absorber of Holmes’ uncanny deductive flair for the reader. I personally find the few stories in which Watson plays a minor role (or none at all) a little lacking and dry. This is one reason why I enjoyed The Hound of Baskervilles.

In this novel, we get to see a little more of Watson in action. He sets out to solve (try) a crime ─ on his own ─ even just for a short period of time. We follow him as he simultaneously employs Sherlock’s methods and his own in search for clues. And although, Sherlock gets to hammer down the mystery in the end, this book made it apparent that there is more to Watson than meets the eye.

2. The setting – The Hound of Baskervilles is one of the few stories that uproots readers away from 221B Baker Street. Instead of a warm, comfortable sitting room, it takes you to the cold, wet English moor with nothing but fogs, bogs and fire-breathing hounds. With an added Victorian air and a touch of supernatural, this book stands out from the rest of Doyle’s detective stories.

I have mentioned in Book Talk: Books or movies? A reader’s dilemma. that I prefer watching the adaptation first over reading the book. And I’m glad I did so because a lot of the scenes were changed in the films that I wouldn’t have enjoyed had I known the original plot. Of the three versions I have seen ─ 1939, 1959 (unfinished) and 2012 ─ the latter took a complete turnaround. It was enjoyable nonetheless, thank you Benedict Cumberbatch, but definitely not the movie you’d want to see if you’re looking for Doyle’s original plotline.

Overall, The Hound of Baskervilles gets two thumbs up from me! A great read after a month of craving for Sherlock Holmes. 😀

Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Genre: Fiction
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Short Synopsis: Humbert Humbert — scholar, aesthete and romantic — has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady’s gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.

What I liked:

1. The plot. The ingenious way Nabokov toys with the reader’s mind. You get a self-confessed madman — a scheming pedophile who has a taste for young girls. And not just any other younglings at that. Humbert Humbert did not find Lolita sexually attractive because of her beauty and wit (which are almost non-existent), but because she is a nymphet. An ideal combination of childishness and preadolescence.

As Humbert presents the story of his affair with Lolita in first person, this is where Nabokov’s brilliance as a writer shows. Humbert comes across as an intellectual and romantic, detached and fixated. He is both ashamed and proud of the steps he takes to gratify his passion (or obsession). The moral and emotional conflicts that Humbert goes through are so human that he could trick you into thinking that, perhaps, what he has done is excusable. While I personally was wary of Humbert most of the time, there was one instant that I had to rethink ─ is this really love in a very weird form? But then, when you see through his manipulation, you get pentapod monster (his own words) not a man.

2. No pornographic sex. I know Lolita has been frequently described as an erotica but some people tend to overlook its beautiful prose. Nabokov writes about sex in the language of metaphors and figures of speech. While contemporary novels are filled with explicit descriptions of sexual acts, Lolita introduces a one-of-a-kind orgasm through Humbert.

“I entered a plane of being where nothing mattered, save the infusion of joy brewed within my body. What had begun as a delicious distension of my innermost roots became a glowing tingle which now had reached that state of absolute security, confidence and reliance not found elsewhere in conscious life.”

3. It gives you glimpse of a predator’s mind. If we look at the sexualization of women then and now, not much has changed. Lolita shows a clear picture of the schemes that are often used by abusers. When those accused of sexual crime defend themselves, they often say “she wanted it” or “she started it.” They consciously or unconsciously misinterpret a laughter, soft voice or tensed hands as gestures of consent.

Reading the book is a tough journey (for me especially as an ISFP) but a good one. It’s the kind of read where I had to constantly remind myself not to draw hasty conclusions because of my principles, politics, personal reservations and emotions. I had to look beyond the romanticism and be critical at how the characters are portrayed. At how pedophilia is being normalized. At how women are being objectified.

What I didn’t like: Nabokov did a splendid job. Too good that his work still reflects the plight women continue to face up to this day. There are still many who romanticize Humbert’s depravity and many who blame Lolita for being naïve. The world is still filled with enablers and complicit to the crime.

Favorite quotes:

“Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece”

“We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless.”

“We loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives.”

“Life is just one small piece of light between two eternal darknesses.”

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”

“I shall be dumped where the weed decays, And the rest is rust and stardust”

“We all have such fateful objects — it may be a recurrent landscape in one case, a number in another — carefully chosen by the gods to attract events of specific significance for us: here shall John always stumble; there shall Jane’s heart always break.”

Final Thoughts: If age is just a number, what makes Humbert and Lolita’s relationship seem wrong? Would you see through lust if it was clothed in love? How would you draw the line between the two? There were a lot of irony and moral conflict to digest in this book. Kudos to Nabokov (again) for a thought-provoking read. But like what I said when I finished it last May, I don’t agree with the featured comment on the cover from Vanity Fair. It was far from being convincing or a love story to begin with. No, no. It was calculated rape.

Quick Notes: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Genre: Modern Classic/Dystopia
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌖

Quick Notes: “Are there any questions?”

To some, this might just be an ordinary statement of inquiry. But to those who have read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, these four words carry too much weight.

Originally published in 1985, Atwood’s dystopian novel takes readers to the fictional Republic of Gilead. It follows Offred, a Handmaid assigned to a high-ranking commander and his wife. In an age of declining births, Handmaids are valued only for their capability to procreate. They are held prisoners — stripped off their past and future. They are forbidden to read, write, or interact with the outside world. They are meant only to bear children for their assigned commander and failure to do so warrants death.

The story ends with Professor Pieixoto’s final line, “Are there any questions?” To me this seems like a rhetorical question asked not to get an answer but instead to emphasize a point. It forces us to question our role as witnesses — both of Offred’s tale and of our own history of oppression.

Do we forget and stay silent? Do we remain neutral and indifferent? Do we stand up and fight?

The Handmaid’s Tale, told in simplistic prose, is a clarion call for upholding women’s rights to take control over our own bodies, choices and lives. With the current political climate, this book is definitely a must-read.


This post first appeared in Writers Quote Wednesday: Are there any questions?

Quick Notes: The Poet by Michael Connelly

Genre: Mystery/Crime/Thriller
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Quick Notes: Stephen King was on point when he said that the ending was unexpected. The succession of plot twists. The revelations. The truths — and lies. It was all carefully weaved into a story that played like a movie in my mind.

Like Dean Koontz, Michael Connelly’s novels are often seen in Booksale. For years, I have been curious about his works but it took a pandemic for me to pick his book. I initially bought this one for four reasons: 1) the title, 2) the lure of Edgar Allan Poe, 3) i’m a sucker for crime thrillers, 4) it’s cheap. After the first 100 pages, I knew then that there are far more better reasons why anyone should read this book.

The Poet is unique in a sense that the main POV is seen through the eyes of a journalist whose beat is death. Not a police investigator like Montanari’s or a forensic pathologist like Cornwell’s who directly deals with murders. This book gives you a glimpse of how reporters, the local police and the FBI work together (or not) in solving a case. I like how Connelly takes time to build the thrill and explain the curiosities surrounding the scenes without dragging the story. The killer’s life is gradually revealed in bits and pieces BUT just when you’ve settled with catching a pedophile, Connelly delivers a series of unexpected twists. I was Jack turning to see a gun pointed at my head. I did not see that coming.

Would I read more of Michael Connelly in the future? Definitely yes. Would I read the sequel (yes, there is)? Probably. Because after all the guessing and profiling characters on my own, there is one thing I got right: The Poet got away!

Quick Notes: Congo by Michael Crichton

Genre: Science fiction/Thriller
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌖

Quick Notes: My first foray into the written world of Michael Crichton was Congo. James, who loves the man as much as Dan Brown, never missed to mention his works whenever we talk about books. So I guess this is where curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back comes in.

The 1980 sci-fi novel centers on an expedition searching for rare blue diamonds and investigating the mysterious deaths of a previous expedition in the dense tropical rainforest of the Congo. At first I was worried that I’d be stuck in the complicated science and technical jargon but as it turns out, Crichton is a great de-jargonizer. I found myself immediately engaged in the story that capsulized science, history, and geography in each and every page.

Congo left me emotionally, mentally and morally disturbed. In a simple story, it raised provocative questions that I found hard to answer.

To what extent is animal cruelty? Is it limited to performing experiments/animal research? How about throwing lobsters on a boiling pot? Sticking pigs on bamboo poles? Exterminating rats? Do ALL animals have rights or just a selected few? Does man get to give them the reason to stay alive as a species?

These questions led me to reflect on our deeply ingrained habit of meat eating, on the equality among animals, and man’s idea of speciesism. I know there are multiple sides to these multifaceted issues, but what do you think?


This post first appeared in Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Iron and Ironies

Book Review: By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho

Genre: Romance/Philosophy/Spirituality
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌖

Short Synopsis: Rarely does adolescent love reach its full potential, but what happens when two young lovers reunite after eleven years? Time has transformed Pilar into a strong and independent woman, while her devoted childhood friend has grown into a handsome and charismatic spiritual leader. She has learned well how to bury her feelings… and he has turned to religion as a refuge from his raging inner conflicts.

Now they are together once again, embarking on a journey fraught with difficulties, as long-buried demons of blame and resentment resurface after more than a decade. But in a small village in the French Pyrenees, by the waters of the River Piedra, a most special relationship will be reexamined in the dazzling light of some of life’s biggest questions.

What I Liked:

  1. Coelho delivers a love story with added depth. On the surface, it is about two childhood sweethearts reunited. But as the story unfolds, it becomes an intricate weave of life and love, faith and spirituality, fear and trust, mistakes and forgiveness, fighting for one’s dream and surrendering to one’s destiny — all these and so much more. The book is a retelling from Pilar of how she ended up weeping for this nameless man, but I love how it didn’t have to go way far back to establish the story. There were no unnecessary backstory of their early lives or past loves. You just have to be in the moment and watch how these two characters navigate through uncertainties.
  2. It’s a character-driven book that brims with food for the thought and for the soul. Like the rest of Coelho’s works, this one leaves points to ponder on each page. It raises questions that require self-examination and at the end, you not only discover something about the characters but also about yourself.
  3. I love how the story includes two of the subjects that I am fond of: stories of apparitions and mountain climbing. I am not a very religious person but I grew up in religious family and community. During my childhood days, we used to have a collection of postcards of several saints. I would read their stories at the back, stare at their young photos and wonder if one day, an angel or the Virgin Mary herself would appear before me. The stories of Francisco, Jacinta and their cousin Lucia particularly stuck with me for a long time, and it feels good to be reminded of them again. As for mountain climbing, I love how Coelho relates finding our purpose in life to it. Most of the times, we have no idea what lies ahead and the path we are treading can be lonely and cruel. To the common spectator, every step is ordinary and the same. But to the mountain climber, it means courage and braving the unknown.

What I didn’t like: None. Only the fact that I did not get to read Pilar’s letters by the river. I would have loved be spoon-fed more of Coelho’s wisdom and beautiful words. Yes, no doubt!

Favorite quotes:

“You have to take risks, he said. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.

“Joy is sometimes a blessing, but it is often a conquest. Our magic moment help us to change and sends us off in search of our dreams. Yes, we are going to suffer, we will have difficult times, and we will experience many disappointments — but all of this is transitory it leaves no permanent mark. And one day we will look back with pride and faith at the journey we have taken.”

“And happiness is something that multiplies when divided.”

“Pitiful is the person who is afraid of taking risks. Perhaps this person will never be disappointed or disillusioned; perhaps she won’t suffer the way people do when they have a dream to follow.”

“Our universe require that we avoid getting glasses fall to the floor. But when we break them by accident, we realize that it’s not very serious.”

“It’s one thing to think that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”

“Go and get your things,” he said. “Dreams mean work.”

Final Thoughts: By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept is the first book of Coelho’s And On the Seventh Day trilogy. It’s a series that is linked by concept rather than characters, wherein human frailty and strength are explored in a span of one week. This novel is about distinguishing who we are, who we want to be and who we are destined to be. It’s about carving own path and accepting the challenges that come with it. It tells a story that is worth every second of your time. I promise.

Have you read By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept? Did you like it as much as I did?

Quick Notes: The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

Genre: Horror/Paranormal fiction
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌓

Quick Notes: After three days dawns, I have finally “completed” my goal which is to read a paranormal fiction.

The Orphan Choir is a very easy read. I don’t have issues with unlikable characters like those of Gillian Flynn’s, but Sophie Hannah’s Louise takes some getting used to. She complains a lot and whines about everything which is borderline irritating. And her husband is… nah, never mind him.

As for the book, I think it was more of a psychological suspense rather than a horror story. More than half of the pages were spent to build a tension that was lost in the end. Although I intentionally picked The Orphan Choir knowing that it is not a hardcore horror novel, I would have like to experience a little more horror and less of Louise. The paranormal encounter (if you consider them ghosts and not hallucinations of a deluded woman) only happened in the last few pages.

Plot-wise, there were inconsistencies and gaps. I believe it’s an OK introduction to the genre — not too creepy for scaredy cats like me. However, I think I still need to try other horror books to confidently say that I have read out of my comfort zone.

Got any book recommendations? 🙂

Book Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Genre: Nonfiction/Autobiography/Essays
Copy: Online (LINK HERE)
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌕

Synopsis: The memoir of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

Born a Crime is the story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother — his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life.

Continue reading “Book Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah”

Book Review: The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore

Genre: Fictional autobiography
Copy: Paperback
Rating: 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌖

Short Synopsis: Set on a Bengali noble’s estate in 1908, this is both a love story and a novel of political awakening. The central character, Bimala, is torn between the duties owed to her husband, Nikhil, and the demands made on her by the radical leader, Sandip. Her attempts to resolve the irreconcilable pressures of the home and world reflect the conflict in India itself, and the tragic outcome foreshadows the unrest that accompanied Partition in 1947.

What I liked:

1. The characters. Each POV from the three central characters brought me to their shoes. I struggled with Nikhil in keeping his morals, I lost my way to sensationalism and terror with Bimala, and I breathed in Sandip’s clouded fanaticism. These internal turmoil that each character go through make the story relatable.

2.The depth in this slim volume. It talks about infatuation — one that goes beyond the physical attraction. It weights the pros and cons of being infatuated with an idea. It tackles the concepts of freedom and bondage, pitting rationalism, nationalism and humanism against each other, backdropped by the political scenario of the Swadesi movement.

3. Tagore’s poetic power. I know people did not miss the faulty translations but that did not hamper Tagore’s beautiful prose.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore”

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