Shutter Island

So, we watched Shutter Island yesterday. Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Dennis Lehane's story (of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone fame) and a psychological thriller ... sounds great, right??? Wrong!

I HAD to post to warn people from spending 10 bucks of their hard-earned money on this big bore. The reviewer at the New York Times accurately described it

I just wish I had read it myself before heading out.

And you know what takes the cake! I fell ASLEEP!!!! In the theatre!!! A first for me, even Gamer didnt earn that dubious honor. Actually awfulness I can forgive, not pretentiousness, and this movie was all that ...

So yeah, if you worship at Scorsese's altar, I'd say wait for the DVD. Otherwise, don't say you weren't warned!

School Blues!

Last night as I was taking an inventory of my closet, I spied a crazy pattern. Crazy because unusually for me, my closet is being slowly taken over by the color blue.

To understand why it's so crazy, you have to understand 15 years of trauma of the dreaded school uniform. Ours was worse than usual, the color being what I not-so-fondly termed as Detergent Blue. Detergent as in the color of all the detergents at the time - Surf, Rin, Robin blue. The primary school frock had the added attraction of being edged with the kind of lace you see on the elastic of cheap undies. Ladies, I'm sure you know what I mean. The school was quite anal about it too, no other lace was allowed.

In high school, the uniform changed to a pinafore (jumper) with tie and belt. In the ugly blue. I know you are thinking it doesnt sound half bad, but try imagining this outfit on a vertically challenged, festively plump, short-torsoed body. I've burned every school picture I could get my hands on and which my parents have not squirrelled away.

And the color used to fade quite spectacularly to a dull dish-water blue by the time the end of the year rolled around. So, you see my aversion to the color. It appears that it took another 15 years for the automatic 'no blue clothing' instinct to be wiped from my mind. And for me to be convinced there are other prettier shades of the color around. Recently, I even bought kurtis in various shades of the color, so the Indian wardrobe doesnt feel left out.

The outfit set below contains some of the clothes presently on my lust list. I own 3 of them already (can anyone guess which?) but the others will soon, soon, soon be mine!!!! Maybe not the colored tights. I love and am instantly attracted to them, but have yet to figure out how to work them into my outfits ....
the blues
Similarly, this year my list for shoes contains another banned-due-to-school trend, shoes with buckles. For the longest time, I avoided them because they reminded me of the dreaded Bata black shoes (similar here) which were mandatory. However, this year I find myself hopelessly attracted to and browsing only the mary jane styles. The set below are some of the ones I've been tempted by. I finally sprung for the black and purple trim pair below, I do hope they will look as cute as I think they are, otherwise back to no-buckles for me. Sadface.
mary janes
And if you thought the blue lusting was limited to clothes, take a peek at the lovelies below.
the blues 2
The last set also contains the blue t-straps, which in theory might have been my ideal shoe, combining my love for all things blue+leather with the mary jane style. Two things against them. They're sold out at the store and being sold for exorbitant prices on ebay, no way will I pay even half of what is being quoted. And they're a bit too cutesy, not really my style. I think. I have not tried them so I cannot make up my mind. Though can anything be too cute?

I just thought it was funny that my fashion choices have taken such a childhood spiral - maybe it proves the fashion cycles bit, but I wonder if it's a deeply buried subconscious anti-ageing instinct. Oh well, this blog is not known for deep introspection (actually it's not known at all :) so we wont go there.

Anyways, what were your school uniforms like? Hideous, cute or not worth remembering?

Review: The Hunger Games

Rating: 5/ 5

I generally like to review books in a series all at once but I just cannot get this book out of my head.

Marketed as young adult fiction, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins occurs in post apocalyptic North America. Known as Panem, it is ruled by a Capitol with 13 districts which provide the center with various resources - jewellery, agriculture, coal etc. The districts are poverty ridden, subject to starvation and disease. The 13 districts took part in a rebellion which the Capitol ruthlessly suppressed, and in which the 13th district was completely annihilated. As a reminder to the remaining 12 districts of where their loyalties should lie the Capitol has come up with a yearly punishment for the population - The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games is a contest for the children from the districts. All children between the ages of 12 - 18 are entered into a lottery, and two names are drawn, two tributes - one boy and one girl from each district. These 24 contestants are then imprisoned in a vast game arena over the course of several weeks, where they must kill each other until the last tribute alive is the victor. The Games are televised live to audiences of the districts and the Capitol and are almost compulsory viewing.

16 year old Katniss Everdeen is of the 12th district- the coal mining district, the poorest and weakest district and the one with only two survivors in the 72 year old history of the Games. As sole provider for her mother and beloved little sister Prim, after her father died 5 years ago, Katniss has been illegally hunting and gathering food in the forests around the District with her friend, 18 year old Gale.

Katniss is extremely protective of her younger sister, and as Prim has turned 12 it will be the first time she's taking part in a reaping day (the day when the tributes are chosen). The lottery for the Games is weighted so that as the children get older they have more entries in their names, and Katniss and Gale are prepared for either of their names to be called out.

But, the name drawn for the girl tribute is Prim. Prim is a gentle soul, who cries when her sister kills animals for food and Katniss knows that Prim has no chance of survival at the Games. As the world threatens to collapse around Katniss she finds herself volunteering in Prim's stead. And another shock, the boy tribute drawn with her is 16 year old Peeta Mellark. Katniss feels she owes a debt to Peeta for a kindness he did for her when her father died, and her pride will not allow her to forget it. And now she must kill him in order to survive.

The tributes are whisked off to the Capitol before the actual Games begin. Here they are assigned a team of stylists and mentors who will help them sell themselves to the sponsors via their pre-game interviews. A rich sponsor has the capability of providing gifts which can help in survival during the Games. All too soon, Katniss finds herself propelled into a terrifying ordeal, a game where there are no rules and the only stakes are life and death. And where she has to be doubly wary of the contradictory Peeta, whose motives she cannot trust.

The Hunger Games starts with an introduction to it's complex world and is fast-paced and action packed through out. I must mention that the level of violence is quite high too. Katniss is a very plucky character, smart and resourceful. As a character she is very well-written, motivated by the love of her sister and by staying alive, she's a survivor in every way. Peeta is the gentler character, albeit strong due to working in his father's bakery. Peeta's own mother thinks that Katniss has a better chance at the Games. But, Peeta has his own agenda and Katniss doesn't know what to make of him.

In middle-school I read William Golding's Lord of the Flies and while I do not remember the story I remember every heart-wrenching emotion I went through. The Hunger Games evoked the same roller coaster of emotions, except while the Lord of the Flies did not have any alleviating emotions I'm happy to say this one does. Well, in a mild way. I know this book strung all my emotions at the diabolical way the Capitol kept the population suppressed by threatening their very hearts, their children.

The author mentions in her blurb that she likes to explore the effects of war and violence on young, impressionable minds and I would say she's succeeded very well. At the very least, it raises questions about morality and conscience- to what extent would you go if your life is at stake? And can you come out of the experience with your humanity intact? Katniss and Peeta's mentor, Haymitch, is an alcoholic and a district laughing stock but very soon Katniss comes to a better understanding of his hidden pain- how does one remain sane watching the children you mentor go to their deaths year after year?

Also, while I was first shocked at the concept of the Games themselves, there are more messages in store for readers. There's political subversion for one. Then, once the children move to the Capitol (whose people are exempt from the Games), the reality-tv like experience the children are put through rang true on so many levels. It's easy to dismiss the people of the Capitol as callous, cruel and self-centered, but I had a few moments of discomfort at one point when I recognized they were just extreme forms of what most of us experience today- namely if something doesnt affect us closely, it doesnt concern us.

Certainly an uncomfortable and unforgettable book. And very well worth the read. The second in the series has better reviews than this one, and while I am anxious to read it I will wait because I can take only so much raw emotional intensity at a time.


Series Order
1. The Hunger Games
2. Catching Fire
3. Mockingjay (to be released Aug 2010)

Review: The Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne Mystery Series

Rating: 3 / 5

Series Order
1. In the Bleak Midwinter
2. A Fountain Filled with Blood
3. Out of the deep I Cry
4. To Darkness and to Death
5. All Mortal Flesh
6. I Shall Not Want

WARNING: SPOILERS below. I will mark them clearly but be careful if you have not read All Mortal Flesh.

When I started Julia Spencer-Fleming's Russ Van Alstyne/Clare Fergusson mystery series it seemed that on the surface everything included should work for me. At each book's heart there is a decent mystery and some well plotted characterizations. And Ms. Fleming is an absolute master of creating atmosphere.

Set in the fictional town of Millers Kill in upstate New York, the protagonist Reverend Clare Fergusson is an Episcopal priest new to her parish and is still coming to terms with the harsh winters that occur just south of the border. As someone who hates and loathes snow, ice, wind, hail, sleet, I quickly empathized with Clare whose misery is sketched beautifully in the first couple books.

Here's an example of the kind of writing you can expect ..

There are moments in life that are between: between the blow and the pain, between the phone ringing and the answer, between the misstep and the fall. One that comes to everyone is a moment, or three, or five, between sleeping and waking, when the past has not yet been re-created out of memory and the present has made no impression. It is a moment of great mercy; disorienting, like all brushes with grace, but a gift nonetheless.
Russ Van Allstyne is the Chief of Police of Millers Kill and he often finds Clare barging into his investigations out of impulsiveness and a single-minded desire to help- the victim, the accused, it doesn't matter. (As an aside, what is it with fictional heroines named Clare and a misguided sense of responsibility due to their professions, nurse/doctor and priest?).

As soon as they meet in the first book they recognize each other as kindred spirits. Or as is romantically put in one of the later books - the missing part of their souls. Clare was in the army for ten years trained as a helicopter pilot before she got her calling and was ordained. She is also trying to deal with the loss of a beloved younger sister. Russ was in the Military Police until he resigned and returned to the town he grew up in. Because of the nature of his work, past and present, he is a recovering alcoholic, but tries very hard not to bring the brutality of his work home to his family.

I enjoyed that the topics covered in the mysteries are wide and varied. From conservation and it's effect on small business, to gay rights, immunization, sociopathy, religion, adoption, immigration and migrant workers.

Initially I was skeptical about the small town setting. How many crimes can there possibly be? But, what I didn't expect was that the setting gives so much scope for elaborating on the lives of the characters, and I enjoyed this aspect too. Russ and Clare have to be doubly careful of their actions, since something as trivial as having lunch together every Wednesday is much remarked and speculated on.

As I read, it quickly became apparent that there were two problems here. And it isn't the religion which I was wary about, going in. The first, you see the little by-line tacked onto all the titles of these books 'A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery' which implies that both Clare and Russ have something to do with solving the mystery at hand. A priest and a cop.

In order to get this scenario to work, Clare should obviously have data about the police investigation and with this plot device Russ comes across looking like an incompetent fool. Because he carries out interrogations with Clare present, or tells Clare details about ongoing investigations, or even discusses suspects with her. Russ would say I've been watching too much Law and Order and he'd be right. Clare also stumbles on the perpetrators (haha more L&O terminology) through a combination of luck, nosiness and by withholding critical information from the police. Anyway, I was willing to let this bit slide, sometimes you just have to have faith in the author's vision and the other good points more than made up for it.

But then we come to the second bigger problem. See, how I slid in that bit about Russ's family before. Family, when I was dying to say wife. Russ is actually happily married for the last 25 years to a beautiful, dynamic woman but over the course of the first book Clare and he fall in love. Now, I love romance in my mystery series and I love the subject of forbidden romance, but I cannot stomach infidelity.

Clare and Russ never let the relationship get physical, she because she is opposed to casual relationships (the priesthood does not require celibacy) and is morally opposed to one with a married man, while he is faithful and does love his wife. As if it makes a difference. I think emotional infidelity is the more difficult of the two to overcome and more of a betrayal to the spouse.

Not having an inkling it was going to occur, I was gobsmacked when this angle turned up in the first book. And what I found more disturbing is that Russ's wife Linda is offline until around the 4th book. We see everything from Clare's or Russ's view, almost making Linda 'the other woman' because as a reader it's obvious you are expected to sympathize a bit with Clare.

~~~~~ SPOILER ALERT ~~~~~~~~~

So, there I was reading each book with a lot of mental cringing, but not able to stop because it's a series and I'm a bit OC after I've started one.

Until the 5th book, 'All Mortal Flesh' where Linda dies. And I was left with a sense of severe disappointment, because at that moment I realized what I actually wanted to read about was something that would get these people out of the mess they were in.

As I mentioned before, Linda's character (the conflict in the first 4 books) never gets her own voice, we are only given impressions from the people around her. Russ tells Clare that his wife doesn't understand him. At social occasions where Russ and Clare are present, she's missing due to a number of reasons, one of them being conveniently that she never goes anywhere where her mother-in-law is also invited. Here's another broad hint to the reader that they shouldn't like the wife too much, since Russ's mother is presented sympathetically and she likes Clare.

Linda has one significant scene in the 4th book and she's offed in the next one. The manner in which she dies is guaranteed to add a source of conflict (guilt) to the protagonists' relationship since the original conflict has been removed.

So, basically Linda's character is just a manipulative plot device and is the reason I was so disappointed by the events of the 5th book. And as I write this I realize how much I disliked both Russ and Clare and the entire infidelity sub-plot. At least this book accomplished one thing, I'm finally done with this series.

~~~~~ END SPOILERS ~~~~~~~~~

I would give the series an overall 3 rating because of the problems I mentioned above. If they do not bother you, then I think it should work for you. If it does, do comment here, I'd love to read a different viewpoint :)

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