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Movie Critique 2016 – 07/26/2016: Sultan

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  5 / 5
Recommendation: A movie that thoroughly entertains and at the same time teaches the ups and downs of being fame and being human.

Sultan is a Indian Hindi language romantic sports-drama film released in July of 2016 directed by Ali Abbas Zafar and produced by Aditya Chopra under the Yash Raj Films. The main leads in the film are Salman Khan in the title role and Anushka Sharma. The movie covers the life of Sultan Ali Khan a fictional wrestler from Haryana, India who goes on to be a champion wrestler.

The plot opens with Aakash Oberoi, the founder of a private mixed-martial arts league, trying to hire a middle-aged ex-wrestling champion, Sultan Ali Khan, to salvage his league. Sultan however refuses the offer no matter how high the price is offered. Frustrated Aakash approaches Sultan's friend Govind for reasons. Govind then narrates the story of Sultan's life to stardom and thereafter. Eight years prior to the present time, Sultan, a normal man with his local cable company operator job, falls in love with Aarfa Hussain, a state-level wrestler and daughter of a local wrestling coach. To win her love he joins the wrestling club run by her father in the hopes of winning a state-level championship. With much hardships and initial reluctance from Aarfa as well as her father, Sultan however goes on to win the championship which starts his road to all kinds of championships. Together Aarfa and Sultan win quite a few tournaments during which time they fall in love and get married. When their names get announced for the Olympic games, Aarfa comes to know she is pregnant, so Sultan alone participates winning a gold and fulfilling her dream. But the win turns him into an arrogant person creating a rift between Aarfa and Sultan. The plot continues with how Aarfa and Sultan break apart, and how Sultan reluctantly joins the mixed-martial arts leagues, and eventually wins back Aarfa.

Randeep Hooda portrays the role of Sultan's coach in mixed-martial arts. He has a very short role but his presence is well noticed. The movie has quite a few beautiful songs, however my favorite is the male version of the song titled Jag Ghoomeya. Sung by Rahet Fateh Ali Khan, its Lyrics penned by Irshad Kamil and Music composed by Vishal - Shekhar.

A very beautiful movie depicting not grit, courage and determination but also the flaws of being human and how fame can destroy lives if not controlled on a leash. Salman Khan fitted the role. But Anushka seemed quite young to the role, but she was tough and stood up to the role.

It had been a long time that I had been to movies with my family, so this was definitely a worth one watching with family too. Don’t miss it if you get a chance to see it.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books in the Guild Hunter series: Go here.

Stars: 3.5 / 5
Recommendation: Definitely a pick if you like fantasy fiction involving vampires, archangels, angels and humans.

Archangel's Enigma is the eighth book in the Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh published in September of 2015. Although the plot still concerns around Raphael and his consort Elenena Parker Deveraux, this book primarily revolves around Naasir - one of Raphael's Seven and a chimera / blend of human with a white tiger - and Andromeda - scholar at the Refuge, an almost 400 yr old angel.

The plot picks up where the sixth book Archangel's Legion (My review of that book can be found here). Lijuan - Archangel of China - had been seriously twice by Raphael - Archangel of New York. Many had fear that Lijuan had turned into something more than an ancient and now Lijuan is recouping in her throne room, waiting for the "becoming" to complete. But she hasn’t forgiven Raphael - her thirst for revenge increases as each day passes. And then The Scribe comes to her with the finished analysis of The Prophecy, the origins of which trace back to Archangel Cassandra - an ancient of ancients who had been sleeping for so long that her existence has become a myth now. And according to The Prophecy a  silver winged Sleeper will wake before the time. The Scribe concludes that it is Alexander. Will Lijuan to have revenge on Raphael wake Alexander before the time? What is the hidden meaning behind the Prophecy? Is the Scribe right?

The stories in this series are set in a world where it is ruled by Archangels with Vampires, Angels and Humans with extra-ordinary powers as their team serving them. The Cadre that is the council of Archangels seats 10 powerful archangels who share the world in ten different continents and rule them, hold sway over the immortals and mortals alike. Archangels are immortals who have lived thousands and thousands of centuries. Angels are born or made but have lived centuries. Vampires are almost-immortals and are Made mostly and some have lived as long as the Archangels. They serve the Archangels and have contracts with their angelic masters that they have to live by. They use humans as cattle for feeding on blood. Guild Hunters are humans with special powers who are tasked to capture Vampires who have gone rogue. They have psychic and physical powers which are extra-ordinaire. The plots primarily revolve around Archangel Raphael, his consort - Elena, his Seven and his people while he is ruling North America from The Tower in Manhattan, New York.

Raphael gets wind of what Lijuan has plans for with The Prophecy. He sends out Naasir to find the sleeping location of Alexander. And in this search he need to go to The Refuge first, meet with Andromeda and then But Naasir has been looking for his mate since seven months and he is yet to find her. While lugging Andromeda around with him, will he find his mate? Or is Andromeda his answer too? Andromeda on the other hand, although settled as a scholar at The Refuge, is holding a huge secret that would not only forever stop her research and work at The Refuge but also get every angel and vampire there feel betrayed. Will Andromeda face the truth? Then Xi - general to Lijuan - kidnaps Andromeda from The Refuge and takes her to Lijuan's court. Naasir and Jason reach Lijuan's court to save her. They travel to Caliane's Amanat for repelenishment before moving further on to the location where Alexander might be sleeping.

Dahariel - second in command to Astaad, Archangel of the Pacific Isles - had taught Andromeda the skills with weapons and become a warrior. But he had not asked for anything in return. Why did Dahariel did this good gesture when he was fully evil? Would there be a future payment asked of Andromeda? Who is Dahariel to Andromeda? While Naasir and Andromeda are on the hunt for the location of Alexander, someone is killing the angels who are changing and getting close to become cadre as a result The Cascade. Who is killing them? And to what purpose? To eliminate competition? Or to create rift amongst the existing cadre?

As their quest for Alexander proceeds, the closeness between Naasir and Andromeda increases. Andromeda worried her days of freedom are down to numbers want to latch on every second she can get with Naasir, but she is still yet to share her biggest secret with Naasir. And she has a vow of Celibacy that can be broken only if her mate can bring her the Star Grimoire - one of the Seven Lost Angelic Treasures, an ancient book that no one has seen and that documented of all the fantastic and weird / odd things in the world. Naasir had decided that Andromeda was his mate so he is bent on finding that damned book even though it may seem impossible. But there is something about the description of the book that touches something in his memory that fades away before he catches it. Will he find that again and the book? Will he make Andromeda his before the time runs out for her?

Andromeda also has a distinct feeling that somehow Naasir is connected to the Ancient Alexander - as both the share the same silver in his eyes and in Alexander's wings. But how is that possible? Naasir has a childhood and grew up in The Refuge. He cannot be had Made as a child - that was against all the angelic laws and the biggest crime. Who is Naasir? Just as determined is Naasir to find the book to claim Andromeda, so is she to unravel his mystery.

We get to see how deep a relationship Dmitri and Naasir held together - resembling close to a father and son. We also get the history behind ho Xi comes about to be in Lijuan's court and how he ends being her General. Andromeda was very close to conclude that his wings with the patriotic colors of Lijuan had cause for Lijuan to look at Xi in the first place. Will they together find Alexander before Lijuan reaches? What plans has Lijuan for this time against the world? Will Andromeda share her deepest secret and trust Naasir enough?

For so long Dmitiri's book was my favorite (His story told in the fourth book Archangel's Blade. Check my review here), but this is becoming my fast favorite. Naasir is truly enigmatic and only as wild and as secretive as Andormeda is can understand him. Another brilliant novel in the series that Nalini Singh has spun. Four different plots running parallel, yet keeping the main plot between Naasir and Andromeda on top and along with mixing bits and pieces of previous plots to give it a continuity. Well written and thoroughly enjoyed.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Andromeda is also the granddaughter of Charisemnon – Archangel of North Africa who had caused The Falling (Occurs in the sixth book in this series Archangel's Legion - Check my review of the book here).
2) Illium - the blue-winged angel and one of Raphael's Seven - is growing fast in his power due to The Cascade and no one knows what it would mean - for good or for worse. And Illium falls from the sky with no reason and is barely managed to be saved by Aodhan and Raphael. What is happening with Illium? Is he ascending to archangel faster than his body can take?
3) Lijuan's Forbidden City was  gift from one of the ancient architects, Suyin. However it has been recorded in history that she had committed suicide in a sad and mysterious manner. Yet, Andromeda finds her in Lijuan's citadel, frequently coming out of her sleep - which is what she had chosen - to see if her aunt had survived or evolved or been destroyed, for her aunt is none other than Lijuan.
4) Michaela - Archangel of Central Europe - could be pregnant. Could Dahariel indeed have been capable of it? Or is Michaela playing out a different identity to hide her real evolving due to The Cascade? Or whatever Uram - the Archangel of Russia who had gone mad and eventually was killed by Rapahel - had done to her had left something of his in her that is surfacing now? We have to wait and see as the series proceeds.
5) Training of Izak - a fledgling angel who was hurt badly when The Falling occurred - not only to regain his strength but also to be part of Elena's Guard continues in this book. Also Janvier and Ashwini join Izak in training him. But will they be part of Elena's Guard is something one has to wait and see.
6) Raphael also develops a unique ability to fly like a bullet with his wings on fire that gives him the much needed speed to reach far distances in seconds. This is part of the evolution he is facing as a result of The Cascade.
7) There is still mystery surrounding what happened to Aodhan. I wish the author's next book would be Aodhan's story.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  5 / 5
Recommendation: A tale of survival, existence and coming out alive on all accounts that teaches one something very important in life - live and survive.

Life of Pi is a 2012 American survival drama film based on  Yann Martel's 2001 novel of the same name. The movie stars some new and some distinguished actors such as Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Adil Hussain.

The story revolves around and Indian man named "Pi" Patel who at 16 had survived a shipwreck in which he loses all hi family, but gets stranded in Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger.

The movie was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards but won for Best Original Score. It was also nominated at the Academy Awards in 11 categories and won four of them. So, I thought there must be something to this movie to get so many nominations and awards and worth watching it. I hadnt watched it when it was in theater so didn’t lose the opportunity when it aired on TV. Here's my take on the much talked about movie.

The story is told as an interview to a Canadian novelist Yanna Martel (portrayed by Rafe Spall) by Pi Patel. Pi was born in Pondicherry and was named after Piscine Molitor which he changes later to "Pi" Molitor in secondary school to be avoid called as "Pissing Molitor" due to the odd Indian pronunciation. The story of how he converts from Piscine to Pi is very interesting. He has a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker who is part of the zoo that his father and his mother start after Pondicherry was handed over to India. As Pi grows up his life moves with ups and downs of its motions. He learns the good and bad of all the three major religions and wills to follow them together much to his father's disagreement. During his teenaged years he meets Anandi, a dancer in the school he was sometimes playing the tabala. But his father announces that they have to leave to Canada since the village was taking the land back on which they had their zoo. They book a passage to travel to Canada on a Japanese freighter to themselves and their animals.

The freighter gets stuck in a storm and Pi is thrown into a lifeboat by the ship crew while he was looking for his parents. After the storm abates he sees that the freighter is long gone sunk into the Ocean and he is stranded in the Pacific Ocean aboard a lifeboat along with a Giraffe, an Orangutan, a Hyena and a Bengal Tiger. The story then continues of the struggles that Pi faces on the Ocean with these animals and how he survives.

The opening credits of the film has a song titled Pi's Lullaby which is composed by Mychael Danna and sung by Bombay Jayashri who also wrote the lyrics in Tamil. This song was nominated for Best Original Song during the Academy Awards - a first ever Tamil song to be nominated (More on the song here).

An excellently portrayed tale of a 16 year old boy surviving 227 days stranded in Atlantic Ocean with a Bengal Tiger on a lifeboat. The graphics come alive even on small screen. Cinematography is mesmerizing and the overall story itself hits you in the deep corners of your mind, heart and soul. Would definitely have loved to see what happened to the tiger after it ran away into the jungles of Mexico.

A beautiful movie to watch anytime and learn something new everytime you watch.
Spoiler Alerts behind the cut...Collapse )
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here

Stars: 3.5 / 5
Recommendation: Quick read of seven short stories going through the lives for various people with different destinies.

Ford County Stories is a short collection of novellas by John Grisham published in November 2009. This is his first collection of short stories containing of 7 of them - Blood Drive, Fetching Raymond, Fish Files, Casino, Michael's Room, Quiet Haven and Funny Boy.

The first story titled Blood Drive is literally about three men who drive down to Memphis to donate blood but end up in rather difficult circumstances. A young man named Bailey from Box Hill is injured during a construction job and admitted to a hospital in Memphis. Upon much deliberation and getting more accurate information from Memphis, Aggie, Calvin and Roger set off to Memphis to donate the much needed blood to Bailey. However their drive gets detoured in many ways than one can think of primarily due to the reckless drinking of Roger and the inability of Calvin and Aggie to stand-up for themselves and the overall selfish desire to see Memphis and much more in it. In the end all four men return home at various stages and in various intervals with various results.

The second story titled Fetching Raymond is about the Graney family - Inez Graney (the mother), Leon Graney (the older son), Butch Graney (the middle son) and Raymond Graney (the youngest son). Raymond is being held on death penalty at Parchman prison waiting for his execution. On the day of the execution, Inez, Leon and Butch drive to the prison in a van taken on loan to bring Raymond back after the deed. Raymond still had hope that there would be a last minute reversal. But with Graneys who have always been dealing with the law, more from the wrong-side, the hope of it was little to none. This was a rather hard story involving hard crimes. The characters also come across very callous and with fewer emotions that depict humanity.

The third story titled Fish Files is about a litigator Mack Stafford who gets a call one day regarding one his long forgotten case about suing a company in South Korea. This unexpected call not only leads him to his own divorce and bankruptcy but also gives him the much needed opening to move in a different direction.

The fourth story titled Casino opens up with Bobby Carl Leach - a local playboy and a person of infamous reputation - teams up with Chief Larry - who considers himself to be a Yazoo descendent to build a Casino called Lucky Jack in Ford County. But the real star of the story Sidney Lewis doesn’t show up until midway through the story. That was the element of surprise that latched me on to it to finish it without putting the book down. A story of scamming, suing and gambling that definitely needs the law to read its own law to keep with the these characters.

The fifth story Michael's Room takes us through the aftermath of what a tough litigator's case created. Stanley Wade had defended an intoxicated Dr. Trane against a lawsuit filed by Jim Cranwell and his family. Although Stanley had come out victorious, eight years later he ends up facing the aftermath that family still endured because of that lawsuit.

The sixth story Quiet Haven is about a person Gilbert Griffin posing as an orderly at the retirement home Quiet Haven in Clanton. Gil comes in as an orderly but he has a much more ulterior motive - to find the mishappenings at the home and report it back to the company he works for in exposing the evil doings of whoever owns Quiet Haven and eventually come out with a hefty settlement. However this time around he hits jackpot in the form of Lyle Spurlock - a resident who has quite a substantial asset to his name.

The seventh story Funny Boy is set in 1980s when people were scared about AIDS, mistaken for it to be contacted through touch. Isaac Keane's outcasted son Adrian Keane comes back to Canton to live his final days with his family. But his family puts him in one of their properties in the black side of the town - making a deal with one of the resident to take care of him. This was a heart-wrenching tale.

A very quick read surprisingly from an author who goes to details as much as he can. Yet not a single story bored me. Definite boo to pick if you are looking for a short-term company with books.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Ford County is in northwest Mississippi state. John Grisham had set a few of his earlier books in this place -  A Time to Kill, The Summons, The Chamber, The Last Juror, and Sycamore Row.
2) Raymond Graney in the second story "Fetching Raymond" makes a very gallant attempt to sing the Blues to his brothers and his mother. He sings a song that was an old tune by Mudcat Malone - whom I couldn’t find anything about on internet. He also sings another by Little Bennie Burke - even he is not to be found anywhere for real.
3) Grammatical errors: On Pg 105, para 4, the second line instead of "expires" it is typed as "expired".
4) Author explains in-detail what the phrase "Don't quote me on that" in the last story of this book (Pg. 266). Considering this book was published in 2009 I would think that phrase would have been commonly known. But again if the story was indeed written at the time the plot was set (sometime in mid-1980s) then it does make a lot of sense to keep this explanation. I wonder which one was it. :)
5) Author also uses the term "coloreds" for people who are non-white in descendent in the last story (Pg 268). This makes me think that this story indeed was written in 1980s. :)
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books under Murder, She Wrote series: Go here

Stars: 2.5 / 5
Recommendation: If you want an easy and quick murder mystery pick it up and you will enjoy it. But this one will put you to sleep too, sadly.

Dying To Retire is the 21st book in the Murder, She Wrote series by Donald Bain and fictional writer Jessica Fletcher based on the popular TV Show of the same name. The book was published in 2004. This time the plot is set in Florida.

Jessica Fletcher along with her friends from Cabot Cove - Dr. Seth Hazlitt, Sheriff Morton Metzger and his wife Maureen Metzger - land in Florida to attend the funeral of their dear friend Portia Shelby. She was a neighbor and dear friend to all of them while she was living in Cabot Cove, Maine. However, after reaching Portia's residence they come to know that the coroner hadn't released her body yet. Why hadn't her body been released? Her death was supposed to be of natural causes. Was her death cause of something else? Like Murder? But why would anyone want to murder Portia? While all these questions mull in their brains the four Cabot Cove's attend the wake of Portia Shelby without her body.

Seth finds some diet pills called Ephedra in Portia's medicine cabinet. But that drug was deemed dangerous after a few sports people died. So why was it in the pill box that Portia used? Who had slipped those pills into her daily routine? Jessica also finds out that Portia has been fighting quite a few broken rules by the management and later she took a stand against the real estate developer DeWitt Wainsott in stopping three high-rise buildings to erect between their condominiums and the water. Was someone offended by it and induced an early stop to her heart? As always she again butts head against the local cops. But this time the assigned detective - Detective Zach Shippee - for once thinks in similar line as Jessica and is not ready rule out Portia's death as natural causes. Yet he is still reluctant to share all the details he can.

As the investigation proceeds, Jessica meets with quite a few of Portia's friends and associates that she has cause to believe could have reason to hurt Portia - Helen Davison (Portia's neighbor) and her husband Miles Davison, Mark Rosner (Manager of the condominiums that Portia lived in), Clarence Shelby (Portia's quite infamous husband), Sam Lewis (Another neighbor of Portia and who had also played chauffer to the Cabot Cove folks) and his wife Minnie Lewis, Tony Columbo (related to the New York Mob family Columbos and owns a Pizzeria - Potofino - down the village), Earl and Burl Simmons (Twin Brothers and Maintenance people for the condominiums), Harry (the local pharmacist and runs Weinstein's Pharmacy), Monica Kotansky (another neighbor of Portia) and her sister Carrie, DeWitt Wainscott (The real estate developer), Amelia Rodriguez (Worked at Helen's beauty shop and ally to Portia Shelby), Olga Piper (Another resident and friend of Portia), Gabby (a fisherman and friend of Truman) and Dr. Truman Buckley (Friend of Seth Hazlitt).

Although the plot is interesting, the book had been a rather boring one to read for me. What with so much of description of the Foreverglades and Key West, a full chapter about Seth and Jessica's drive to Key West, the ramblings with Seth's friend Truman - tired me out just reading them. Jessica Fletcher also seems to be lost in her thoughts a lot of the times, tuning out conversations. This is so unlike any of her roles portrayed in other books.

Not a thoroughly enjoyable book as others, but something you could pick for those lazy days and if you really want to sleep (True, actually dozed off more than once while I was reading this book.)

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Jessica mentions that she knows a very good police man named Columbo and he is not related to mob when she talks to Sam Levis (Pg. 18). I am sure he is alluding to Homicide Detective Columbo at LAPD from the famous series Columbo. I always wondered why there was no cross-over episodes between both TV Shows. Would have been wonderful to see both these characters work together.
2) Jessica remembers the movie Key Largo starring Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart while she and Seth travel from Foreverglades to Key West. Havent seen that movie in a while. Might as well watch it again to post a review of it here. :)
3) Jessica tours Ernst Hemingway's home while she is in Key West. I had been twice to that place but hadnt known about his residence. She reminisces that Hemingway perhaps had written some his most famous works there - Death in the Afternoon, The Snow of Kilimanjaro. Neither books I had read and hopefully will do so in future.
4) Gabby mentions that he doesn’t remember his real name. But someone said he was an exact copy of Gabby Hayes from The Roy Rogers Show and that name stuck to him. Never seen that show either. Perhaps will check it out.
5) Grammatical errors seen - A repeat of "you" in the fifth line from the bottom (Pg. 227)
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books under Murder, She Wrote series: Go here

Stars: 4 / 5
Recommendation: If you want an easy and quick murder mystery pick it up and you will enjoy it. This time it adds more chills.

Murder In A Minor Key is the16th book in the Murder, She Wrote series by Donald Bain and fictional writer Jessica Fletcher based on the popular TV Show of the same name. The book was published in 2001. This time around the plot is set in New Orleans, LA.

Jessica Fletcher is in New Orleans promoting her latest murder mystery Murder In A Minor Key (yes, the title of this book and her book title in the plot are the same). A few weeks before Jessica arrives, a man named Elijah Williams was found murdered against the tomb of nineteenth century voodoo queen Marie Laveau in Crescent City. Eljah Williams had disappeared 15 years ago on a fishing trip with a popular politician, Virgil Franklin. Although the politician's mauled body was found, Elijah was never found until his body surfaced now. Jessica finds it interesting that the police is ruling it as accidental and nothing beyond.

She meets with her friend and music critic Wayne Copley during her stay in New Orleans. Wayne has been researching the life of Alphonse LeCoeur, known as Little Red who played trumpet around the same time as Buddy Bolden. He was also searching for the last recordings of these two folks together that he had left on wax cylinders. Jessica soon learns that there have been death threats against Wayne and he has not been taking them seriously. And then Wayne turns up dead at the exact same position and same place where Elijah Williams was found a few weeks before. Although the cops have not mentioned of any connection between the two murders and they don’t even think if Wayne was murdered, Jessica is confident that both the murders and the Virgil Franklin's death 15 years ago are all connected.

But how are they connected? Does it have anything to do with Little Red's last known recordings? Do they even exist? Why is someone trying desperately to hide those recordings? What is on them that will hurt someone now seriously?  How are all these connected to Marie Laveau's grave? What does all this have to do with Voodoo? Had Wayne practiced the rituals with the wrong kind of folks? Why was Ileana Montalvo insistent on giving gris-gris to Jessica for protection? Is Jessica's life in danger too? As always Jessica butts her head with the NOPD to get some answers, specifically with Detective Chris Steppe and his partner P.O. Teddy Bailin.

People that Jessica considers could be suspects or involved with the murders or could aide her in solving - Julian Broadbent (an investigative reporter and author of four best-selling books based on true exposes that he had investigated on), Doris Burns (a historian and author), Charlie Gable (book editor of Lagniappe - a weekend entertainment in the Times-Picayune, the city's daily newspaper - and hosts regular Book Club Breakfasts where best-sellers are reviewed), Philippe Beaudin (Mayor Maurice Amadour's top aide), David Stewart (reporter for the Tulate student newspaper), Napolean Dubois (a street performer who comes to Mrs. Fletcher's rescue on occasion), Stanley and Stella (Street vendors who were avid fans of Little Red LeCoeur), Simon West (an antique store owner), Ileana Montalvo (one of the voodoo priests that Jessica meets along), Mayor Maurice Amadour and his wife Marguerite Amadour, Arrcher Levinson (Wayne's assistant) and Clarice Copley-Cruz (Wayne's sister).

A truly chilling mystery for such easy reads that we normally get from this series. It left me with a heart heavy and satisfied at the same time. But I must say the descriptive chapters about New Orleans could have been mellowed down a bit. Murder mystery involving unsolved murder case, voodoo practice, snakes and jazz legends - all tied neatly in a bow between the two covers of this book. Another wonderful mystery from the author and the series.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Some of the places Jessica visits while in New Orleans:
a. Antoine's (More about the restaurant here) is a French quarter restaurant since the 1840s.
b. Simon West's Antiques also called as Simon of New Orleans
2) Jessica meets a couple selling hats and other wares on the streets of New Orleans who called themselves Stanley and Stella. Stella jokes about their names being similar to the lead characters in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire. I havent watch the movie based on the book or read the book. Something to add to my list.
3) Minnie Pearl was a famous country music singer-comic, who always wore hats with its price tag dangling. When she was referenced in the book I was surprised and had to lookup on her. Indeed she did that. How odd for one to do so.
4) P. D. James's first novel Cover Her Face is mentioned. Another adding to my list. :)
5) Jessica watches a movie titled Gaslight starring Ingrid Berman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotton. A classic I believe that I am adding to my list to watch. ;)
6) Grammatical Errors seen - "addiction" is spelled as "addition" on the last but one line on Pg. 117.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books in this series: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: Want a thriller? You will get one with this…not bone-deep as usual but nonetheless a good one.

I've Got You Under My Skin is a thriller by Mary Higgins Clark published in April of 2014. This is the first of her books in the series Under Suspicion continuing to follow the lives of Laurie Moran, Timmy Moran, Alex Buckley and Leo Farley in the process.

The plot opens with three-year old Timmy Moran witnessing the murder of his father Greg Moran in front of his eyes by a masked man with blue eyes who runs away with a threat "Tell your mother that she's next. Then it's your turn." The life for Timmy changed ever since although he had never voiced out. His grandfather, Leo Farley - Retired First Deputy Commissioner of the New York Police Department - took early retirement the day after Greg's (Leo's Son-in-law) funeral and has taken up the responsibility of taking care of him and his mom, Laurie Moran.

Five years later, Laurie Moran - award-winning producer at Fisher Blake Studios, Manhattan, NY - just got approval from her boss - Brett Young - to start a new reality TV show titled Under Suspicion where high-profile unsolved crimes or crimes with solved with the wrong person being sent to prison will be reenacted in the hopes of solving them. The first case that she wants to take up is the twenty year old unsolved murder of Westchester County socialite Betsy Bonner Powell. Robert Nicholas Powell had thrown what he called as a Graduation Gala to his step-daughter, Claire Bonner and her three best friends on the day they graduated, with all kinds of pomp one could imagine including fireworks. The following morning Betsy Bonner Powell was found suffocated to death in her bed. All the four girls and Robert Powell were in the house and had solid alibis. Yet, the crime never was solved and the cloak of suspicion still lies on all their heads.

Perhaps that is the reason that Robert Powell accepts when Laurie approaches him with the idea of having all of the five folks on a reality TV show and get questioned on TV. Laurie's attempt is to get some really much needed questions answered, but will she solve the case…well, if she does then it would be a very heft side-benefit for the network. The network was giving 50K for each of them who comes on the show. Robert Powell agreed to give a quarter million dollars to each of the four girls. Lauire's network hires Alex Buckley, a young and famous criminal lawyer, to be the narrator of the program and also interview all the guests coming to the show.

Who killed Betsy? What happened to her emerald necklace? Why was there only one earring on the floor? Will Laurie and Alex together find the answers? All the while Laurie is getting her reality show on, is the threat to her life and Timmy's life gone? Who wanted to kill Greg all those years ago? And who wants to kill them now? What is the reason behind these killings?

During the making of the show and when it was being aired on TV, Laurie Moran gets introduced to various people that she and her network consider as possible suspects - Regina Callari (one of the best friends of Claire and who was on the night of the murder in the house, divorced with a son and runs a real estate agency), Alison Schaefer (another friend of Claire who was in the house on the night of the murder, married to Thomas "Rod" Kimball who is on crutches due to an accident and works as a pharmacist), Nina Craig (the last of the girls who was in the house the night of the murder, divorced, is an extra in movies and lives in Hollywood), Earl and Zach (Regina's ex-husband and Son respectively). Muriel Craig (Nina's mother), George Curtis (A restaurant mogul, friends with Rob and Betsy and was also present at the Graduation Gala twenty years ago), Jane Novak (Rob Powell's long-time housekeeper and was the one who found the body of Betsy) and Josh Damiano (Robert Powell's chauffer and constant help on the side).

Any one of them could have killed Betsy? But who? Mary Higgins Clark has spun her tale masterfully again. But I did feel that the ending was a little rushed. Despite that it is a decent thriller to read and a good beginning to a new series.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Most of Mary Higgins Clark's book titles turn out to be Song Titles and so does this. When I searched for what this song could be, it turned out to be Frank Sinatra's signature song that he first sang in 1946 on a weekly radio show. However it was first performed by Virginia Brice in the 1936 musical Born To Dance. (another movie for me to blog in future. :P). Here's the Frank Sinatra's version:

2) The author mentions in this book that Rod Kimball muses about an observation his grandmother made a long time ago - In most marriages, one of the couple is more in love than the other, and it's best if it's the man. The marriage will have a better chance of going the whole away (Chk. Pg. 39).  Something similar Mary Higgins Clark has written in her 1994 book Remember Me (My review of the book here). In that book the heroine Menley Nichols thinks something similar only that her grandmother had told her this though - In most marriages, one often is more in love than the other. It's better if the woman is the one who doesn't love as deeply." (Pg. 31) Same words but differently written. I wonder if Mary Higgins Clark used her own lines again twenty years later in this book.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a TV Show review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars: 5 / 5
Recommendation: A powerful drama with an edge of insanity, vengeance, love that makes one rethink every decision one makes.

Wuthering Heights is the 2009 2-part TV adaptation of the 1847 novel by Emily Bronte. This books has been adapted into several TV movies, series and films. This is one of the many adaptations which I have watched quite a number of times and liked it. To know why, please read the review below.

I haven't watched any of the adaptations yet, but this is the one of the few that had told the story of two generations of Lintons, Earnshaw and Heathcliff - without omitting anything from the novel.

This novel had created quite a shock and sensation when it came out in 1847 as it was against the ideals of that time with respect to religion, morals, social class and gender equality. First time I read the book, I always wondered who would be the perfect one to portray the role of Heathcliff. I have to say Tom Hardy became Heathcliff when he walked into that role - every bit cruel, dangerous and yet so much in love with only one person in his life (two if we consider Mr. Earnshaw who raised Heathcliff). He has done justice to the role. And so has Charlotte Riley when she becomes Catherine Earnshaw to the core.

The story as everyone knows is a complicated plot with twisted minds of the characters with extreme emotions of love, jealousy and vengeance. So much vengeance that it almost seeps into the second generation. An anti-hero driven by sexual feelings and vengeance. A married woman running around in her night skirts and having trysts with her husband. Such a powerful drama with so much of darkness in it, I always wonder if Emily Bronte was affected by her own book. For there is not a single thing about this book that will not make your heart twitch, and the exact emotions I felt from this TV series too.

The plot however opens differently compared to the book. They show the second generation first - Heraton Earnshaw (Son of Hindley and Frances Earnshaw), Linton Heathcliff (Son of Heathcliff and Isabella Linton) and Cathy Linton (Daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine "Cathy" Earnshaw) - creating quite a lot of confusion before the actual story begins. Thirty years earlier Heathcliff was brought in as an orphan by Mr. Earnshaw to which Cathy -his daughter - openly accepts while Hindley - his son - despises. The animosity grows between the boys and so does the love between Heathcliff and Cathy. Heathcliff loves Cathy. But once their father dies Hindley takes over the estate along with his pregnant wife Frances and things change considerably leading Heathcliff to be beaten and abused often at Hindley's hands. Cathy starts doubting her love herself, Frances giving birth to a child and dying childbirth, Hindley taking to heavy drinking, Heathcliff finding about the real feelings of Cathy towards him and feeling betrayed in every way, Heathcliff running away from Wuthering Heights and Cathy getting engaged to Edgar. Heathcliff however returns rich on the day of Cathy's wedding, Heathcliff leading into taking revenge against the Earnshaws for all the betrayal they have committed, Heathcliff luring Isabella in order to hurt Catherine and in the end going crazy of losing her permanently.

Powerful dialogues also add to this drama that makes it a better version.

Catherine: How can you smile?
Heathcliff: Cause one day I shall pay back him in pain and anguish.

Heathcliff: [bending over Cathy's coffin] You said I'd killed you... Haunt me then... Be with me always... Take any form, drive me mad but don't leave me. In this abyss where I cannot find you... I cannot live without my life, I cannot live without my soul...

Heathcliff: As Hindley was flogging me, I chanted a curse you know... He has lost the only person who ever loved him.
Cathy: [aghast] You cannot welcome the death of a baby's mother!
Heathcliff: I will welcome anything that makes Hindley suffer.
Cathy: [quietly commands Heathcliff] Say you're sorry for talking like this my love...
Heathcliff: [shrugging] I am not sorry.
Cathy: [sadly] Sometimes I think your true passion is hate rather than love.

A well-made TV series for such a heavy concept and controversy tied around it. I have to watch the other ones too to see how they turned out. If you have not watched this yet, do look on Youtube for the series. It's worth the watch.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) Some of the famed adaptation of the novel are below. Certainly adding to my collection of posts to blog about. ;)
a. First adaptation of this novel was filmed in England in 1920.
b. The most famous however was the 1939 Wuthering Heights starring Lawrence Oliver and Merle Oberon.
c. In 1970 film Timothy Dalton portrayed the role of Heathcliff.
d. In 1978 BBC adapted the novel into a five-part TV series Ken Hutchinson, Kay Adshead and John Duttine.
e. In 1992 film Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche played the lead roles of Heathcliff and Catherine.
f. In 1996 the Indian Hindi film Dil Diya Dard Liya was made as an adaptation from the novel. Although it did not fare well.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  3.5 / 5
Recommendation: Missing Godfather but at the same time want only the laughs, well here is the one that will cover all the points.

Shark Tale is a 2004 America animated-comedy film produced by DreamWorks Animation. The basic plot is about a small fish who claims to have killed the son of a Shark mob so he can go up the ladder in his community.

In Reef City, a blue streak cleaning wrasse named Oscar, works as a tongue scrubber at the local Whale Wash - a job he doesn’t particularly like but follows his father's footsteps. But he dreams of becoming big, famous and rich one day - a dream that leads him into sea-horse races and him owing "five thousand clams" to his boss Sykes, a pufferfish. His best friend Angie, an angelfish, loans him her pink pearl that her grandmother had given her for pawning so he could clear off his loan. Instead he bets on a sea-horse named Lucky Day but loses the money putting him under the wrath of Sykes who orders his jellyfish enforcers Ernie and Bernie to dispose him off.

The very same place where Ernie and Bernie are taking Oscar, Frankie - a great white shark and oldest son of the crime lord Don Edward lino - takes his younger brother Lenny - a vegetarian great white shark - to train him into a killer. But Frankie gets killed by an anchor that drops from a passing ship right were Oscar is tied. In an attempt to escape Oscar kicks at the dead shark, which Ernie and Bernie mistake it for Oscar killing the great white shark. Instantly Oscar takes this opportunity to cash on that and goes back to town as a SharkSlayer. This lie gets him to the "top of the reef", Lola - a beautiful lionfish and a opportunist - as a girlfriend, Sykes as a manager and the rich and fame he was always looking for. But, he gets tied up with Lenny who after Frankie being killed didn’t want to go back, and since he is the only one who knows the secret, Oscar keeps him along. And loses his best friend Angie.

The rest of the plot continues how Oscar tries to live the lie, how Don is on the hunt to take the Shark Slayer down, how Lola is ready to show her claws while Angie suffers in pain, how Lenny learns to stand-up to his father, and finally how Oscar comes out with his truth, faces Don and finally turns his life around by quitting to dream but make his dreams come true in the right path.

The first time I watched it I was impressed by the way the film makers mimicked the human world above in the world below under water. The replica of NYC Time Square, replica of a car wash that is dubbed as a Whale Wash,

the mobs,

the horse races but performed by sea horses,

replica of The Projects in Bronx, high-end Manhattan - everything tying it so close to making you feel human even though the movie is under water. Jack Black, Renee Zellweger, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese and Robert Di Niro - A cast as such these can make no mistake in delivering of their roles. The fishes were all created around the actors' faces which made the movie all the more real. References to Godfather is not lost at all. The only negative was the loud mouth of Oscar, but perhaps that was how he needed to be - obnoxious and loud before turning out right.

A very thoroughly enjoyable movie that gives you silly laughs and at the same time hits you on the serious aspects of life.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) There is a Walk of Starfishes that resembles closely to Hollywood Walk of Fame.

2) The local news reporter, Katie Current, is mimicked after the then Today show host Katie Couric.

3) All through the movie the signature tune of the movie Jaws plays periodically. I would always get a shudder but in this movie it got me a lot of laughs. :)
4) Peter Falk plays the role of Don Ira Feinberg, an elderly leopard shark and leader of a mob of criminally-inclined leopard sharks. I fondly remember him for his role as Columbo always.

Movie Critique 2016 – 07/17/2016: Planes

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  5 / 5
Recommendation: If you want fun, laughs, and also learn about integrity and courage, this is the movie to watch for.

Planes is a 2013 American animated sports comedy film produced by Disney Toon Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It's a spin-off from Pixar's Cars franchise. A very distinguished line of actors have provided their voices to the characters in this movie, including my favorite Priyanka Chopra and Brad Garrett. The basic plot is about Dusty Crophopper, a crop duster plane, who want to be part of the Wings Across the Globe race and win it fulfilling his dream of becoming a racer.

This is one of the favorite movies of my nephews so much so that at least one of their birthdays have been themed around Planes. And they are crazy about Dusty and El Chupacabra. This is for them.

Dust Crophopper, crop duster plane dreams of becoming a racer and his fuel truck friend, Chug encourages him. With added encouragement from his forklift/mechanic friend Dottie he enters the qualifying race to be in the top 5 so he can get into the Wings Across the Globe race. Although he finishes sixth, later he is called in for the race as one of the top 5 was disqualified. Skipper Riley, a reclusive navy war plane, initially doesn’t want to, eventually helps train Dusty. But one thing that Dusty doesn’t overcome yet is his fear for heights by the training ends.

Dusty heads off to the race meeting at JFK in New York city. And the race across the world in five legs begins. First leg from New York to Iceland. Second Leg from Iceland to Germany. Third Leg from Germany to India. Fourth Leg from India to Nepal. Fifth Leg from Nepal to China. Sixth Leg from China to Mexico. The Seventh and the Final Leg from Mexico to New York City.

During the race he meets Sparky - forklift for Skipper Riley,

El Chupacabra - a royal Mexican race plane,

Rochelle - a French-Canadian racer that El Chupacabra falls in love with, Bulldog - a British Comet plane,

Rip Slinger - a custom-plane who is a three-time champion and would go to any extent to win the race the fourth time and Dusty's rival,

Ishani - a Pan-Asian champion from India on whom Dusty has a crush,

Franz aka Von Fliegenhosen- a German Aerocar who is a fan of Dusty and upon his advice Dusty removes his extra sprayer stuff that makes him a much lighter plane to fly, gets his chance to be in a carrier USS Flysenhower - named after the real carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower where Dusty learns a few truths about Skipper Riley.

The race to finish doesn’t come with easy lanes from Dusty. Despite making friends, he gets sabotaged by Ishani and Rip Slinger so his could finish last. He manages to finish first in the fourth leg even though he had been given ill-advise by Ishani. He continues with his race passing all the hurdles and finally finishing it out on the top.

A movie filled with comradeship, integrity, hard work, teamwork, trust and above all being truthful. A perfect movie for my nephews to grow up watching and learn. Another fun movie to watch any day to lift your spirits and get some laughs.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) The Tractors that were seen in Cars are shown here when the racers are in India. Nicely connecting both the films.

2) When Ishani and Dusty fly over Agra and visit Taj Mahal, the song "Dum Dara Dum Dara Mast Mast" from the 2007 Indian film Guru ( = Teacher) is played in the background.

Here is the video for the actual song.

3) iPad or a Touchpad we use is called as a SkyPad in the movie. Pretty close and pretty funny.

4) El Chupacabra romances Rochelle with this love serenade by the song "The Love Machine" by the Motown group The Miracles. The song was recorded in 1975. Although in the movie El Chupacabra takes it low and slow, the original song has much faster beats.

Here is the original one:

5) The end credits show the entire movie while the names are being displayed. Interesting concept.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here

Stars: 4 / 5
Recommendation: A chilling thriller but would have been much more if the court room drama was a little less.

Tell Me Your Dreams is a 1998 novel by Sydney Sheldon. It is a murder mystery and also involves two of the most powerful psychiatric and mental disorders. It was chilling to read for me, but here is my take on it.

The plot is written as three books in the same collection.  Book One sets the stage of the crime and criminals. Book Two gives us the courtroom drama leading us to the reason behind the murders. Book Three gives a conclusion to the killings.

Book One opens with detailed descriptions and activities of three women who work Global Computer Graphics Company in Cupertino, CA. First up is Ashley Patterson, daughter of the famous Cardiologist Dr. Steven Patterson - Father of Mini Heart Surgery - and in late twenties. Ashley fears that someone was following her but she could not put a finger on whom. She was seeing her supervisor Shane Miller socially to which her father opposes just like all the guys she was interested in starting from the first guy - Jim Cleary, a football player in high school. And Dennis Tibble, another co-worker has serious obsession with her.

Second up is twenty-two year old Toni Prescott, born and brought up London but moved to Cupertino for the sake of this job. A bit on the wild side, enjoying the night-life and an excellent singer that impressed a hit Broadway director enough to offer her a show. For some reason she declines the offer. Her favorite pastime is to talk snidely about Ashley with one of her friends at the company. Her other pastime was to chat on internet where she meets Jean-Claude Parent from Quebec.

Third up is twenty year old Alette Peters who also works in the same company and a very plain and shy girl but with a huge talent at creating beautiful paintings. She meets Richard Melton at one of the museums and gets instantly attracted to him. However she comes with a serious case of mood swings and keeps hearing negative thoughts in her mind, The only confidant she has is Toni Prescott.

One weekend Ashley goes to her high school reunion in Bedford, PA and finds out that Jim Cleary had been murdered - stabbed to death with knife and castrated - the day after their graduation - the very day when Ashley had been waiting at train station to run away with him. Shocked she returns back to Cupertino, CA. The following Friday she goes to Dennis Tibble's apartment - a ruse that Dennis sets up - and wakes up in a cheap motel in Chicago. After taking help from her father she reaches Cupertino, CA that Sunday. However the following morning she hears news that Dennis Tibble was murdered - stabbed to death and castrated, same as Jim Cleary. Who has killed Dennis Tibble? She was sure now that he was the one following her and something terrible happened to her the two days she was in Chicago without knowing a thing about it? How did she go to Chicago? Who killed Jim Cleary?

When Global Computer decides to go to the convention in Quebec, Ashley, Toni ad Alette get selected to be part of the 15-member team. Toni meets up with Jean-Claude there and spends considerable time with him But one morning Jean-Claude is found murdered - stabbed to death and castrated. Another murder with similar MO. And Toni falls under suspicion since she was the last person to see Jean-Claude. Who killed Jean-Claude? Was Toni involved in any way? After coming back from Quebec, Alette meets up with Richard Melton again. Although she has a good time, she turns down his invitation to spend a night cap. And the following morning Richard is found murdered - stabbed to death and castrated. Who murdered Richard Melton and why?

When the detectives start pooling their resources from all four locations, the common factor they zero-in on is Ashley Patterson who had visited all four places. However she had passed the polygraph. Was Ashley behind these killings? But why would Ashley want to kill them? But then someone was trying to kill Ashley too. When she called the cops the Deputy in charge of Dennis Tibble's case gives her protection by staying for that night at her apartment before a security detail could be assigned. The next day the Deputy is found murdered - stabbed to death and castrated. Who would have killed the Deputy? Was someone after Ashley and killed the deputy instead? What is going on with all these killings?

Book One concludes with Sherriff Dowling finding key piece of evidence that ties all three case and leads to the arrest of Ashley Patteerson. The plot continues in Book Two where Corporate Attorney David Singer is introduced (former Criminal Defense Attorney) and Dr. Steven Patterson enlists him to defend his daughter. David refers Ashley's case to Dr. Royce Salem - a psychiatrist who often helps in defense cases. The trial of Ashley Patterson continues trying to find who did it and why? Who is framing Ashley? The plot continues into Book Three showing the aftermath Ashley faces once the trail ended where Ashley meets Dr. Otto Lewison and Dr. Gilbert Keller who try to help her deal with the aftermath.

Who really killed all these people? Will Ashley get the right justice and right help? What is the reason behind all these crazy killings? A well written plot that certainly sends chills up your skin, making you cringe at the raw depiction of one of the most heinous of crimes anyone could commit. Yet the entire chapters of prosecutor and defense attorneys having a string of experts who either believed or did not believe in these complex psychiatric diseases, were very tiring to read. It could have been cut short to make it a little easier to read about the trial.

A very powerful concept, diseases and crimes brought to light with this plot. Not a book to read it lightly, definitely will fill all those empty pockets of time with some heavy stuff.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) This book and the plot reminded me of two things - one a movie and one a novel:
a. First up the movie. It's the 1996 American hit crime thriller Primal Fear starring Richard Gere and Edward Norton. No one could have envisioned the struggle between Roy and Aaron, and Martin Vail certainly could not have no matter how much he though he understood them.
b. Second up is the 1992 crime thriller All Around the Town by Mary Higgins Clark. Only a miracle could have saved Laurie Kenyon from the murder she is supposedto have committed.
2) Both are brilliant plots on the take on the most under explained psychiatric diseases. I have read the book and it was such a thriller. I have yet to see the movie although heard a lot about Edward Norton's performance. One more thing for my future blogs :)
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: Looking for a thriller with chills, love, history and of course a murder, this is the one to pick.

Remember Me is a 1994 suspense thriller by Mary Higgins Clark. Another of her chilling novels that always send a shiver up your back. The plot this time around is set in Cape Cod, MA.

The book opens with Vivian Carpenter goes missing when she and her husband Scott Covey were hit by a five-foot wave while scuba diving in Chatham, MA. Her body was found two weeks later washed ashore. They were newlyweds and had bought a house from Elaine Atkins - the real estate agent in Chatham - in Chatham, MA. According to the reports even though Vivian was a good swimmer she wasn’t a good diver and Scott was teaching her. They had not heard any weather warnings before they went to scuba diving right before the storm.

Vivian Carpenter comes from a family of achievers - Carpenters from Boston - but had not been successful in her own way, but came into a considerable amount of trust that her grandmother left when she turned 21. Scott Covey was assistant business manager at Cape Playhouse before he got married to Vivian. Elaine's friend Adam Nichols - a high-profile criminal defense attorney - found it very coincidental that a stranger comes from nowhere, marries a rich woman and she dies in an accident within three months of their marriage. Especially Vivian had come into five million dollars as her trust that she had left everything to Scott in her will.

Incidentally Adam and his wife Menley have been looking to rent a vacation home for themselves for a month in Chatham, MA. With help of Elaine they zero their chances on to Remember House - a captain's home that comes with a story. It is famed to be having built by Captain Andrew Freeman in 1703 for his bride but deserted her when he found she got engaged to someone else when he was at sea.

Adam and Menley have gone through a tragedy - they lose their first child Bobby in an accident - which keeps coming back to haunt Menley often leading to her anxiety attacks. They had a brief period of separation but then Hannah - a girl child - comes into their life making their bond stronger. This vacation in Chatham is supposed to give them the much needed respite, keep Menley off her anxiety attacks and finally to have a chance at becoming a family. Menley also is a successful children's book author yet she still visits her psychiatrist - Dr. Kaufman - weekly for her anxiety attacks. This vacation is also part of her prescription from Dr. Kaufman.

As Adam and Menley are settling in their vacation home, Nathaniel Coogan, a detective at the Cape's Police Department, requests to be on the case even though Vivian's death was ruled out accidental. Something about the autopsy pictures bothered him. What is it? On talking to Henry he had a distinct feeling that Henry was hiding something about Scott Covey. What could that be? Then when an inquest is put to investigate further to determine if Vivian Carpenter was murdered, Scott Covey hires Adam to defend his case. But did Scott really kill Vivian? Then Phoebe, Henry's wife, keeps talking about someone being in the Remember House and that Adam's wife Menley is in danger. What is it that Dr. Phoebe remembers at the back of the mind but the Alzheimer's is fogging it all? Whom did she see at Remember Home? Has that have any connection to what Adam and Menley are going through?

As days move by little things start happening at the Remember House for Adam and Menley. For instance, someone covering Hannah with a blanket in the night even though neither Adam nor Menley remember doing it. The cradle rocking by itself, the baby's room having a weird feeling. Not remembering to move the baby from the bed to the cradle. Waking up with weird dreams. Menley wondered if she was driving herself crazy by becoming panicky all the time. But what is happening? Why is this happening? If she is not going crazy, who is doing all these things?

During their stay in Remember House, Adam and Menley meet quite a few people around - Henry Sprague and his wife Dr. Phoebe Cummings Sprague (their neighbors and that Phoebe was being admitted to a home as her Alzheimer's was catching up pretty fast), Elaine Atkins (real estate agency owner as well as friend to Adam Nichols), Carrie Bell (cleaning services that Elaine employed for the Remember House), Nathaniel Coogan (detective in at Cape's Police Department) and his wife Debbie, Amy (Elaine's future step-daughter and baby sitter for the Nicholses), John Nelson (an insurance agency owner and fiancé of Elaine Atkins) and Jan Paley (who had owned Remember House before the Nicholses rented it).

Three parallel stories, four if you count the past story of the original residents of the Remember House way back in early 1700s, run through the book with many little side-plots weaved in. Mid-way through the book I had a distinct feeling of who was behind all that was happening with Menley in the Remember House. It was so exciting to see that my hunch was absolutely right. But my hunch for who killed Vivian Carpenter wasn’t exactly accurate - what a shame! Anyways, I liked Clark's take on that better.

A story filled with history, love, setting the wrong right and of belief and trust. A well panned out plot that did give me shivers now and then. Next time I am in an old house I am sure going to remember this tale. Clark is at her best again with this book and her tapestry of murder mystery is a perfect one.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) In the acknowledgement section, Mary Higgins Clark mentions that the basis for this book was The Narrow Land by Elizabeth Reynard that she had come across 20 years prior to this book was written. Hmm, Something to add to my reading list and future posts.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books under Murder, She Wrote series: Go here

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: If you want an easy and quick murder mystery pick it up and you will enjoy it.

The Highland Fling Murders is the 8th book in the Murder, She Wrote series by Donald Bain and fictional writer Jessica Fletcher based on the popular TV Show of the same name. The book was published in 1997. The plot is partly set in London and partly in Wick, Scotland.

Jessica Fletcher finds herself with eleven other people from Cabot Cove on a trip to London when her British publisher Archibald Semple persuaded her to come to England to promote her latest novel. When she relates her trip to her friend George Sutherland - a Scotland Detective - he insists on her staying at his castle in Wick, Scotland along with her friends after their visit in London commences. And so the troop heads to U. K. with London as their first stop.

On the very first evening of their trip in London, Jed and Alicia Richardson are held captive in The Tower of London by a demented person. He says he is a descendent of Catherine Hayes who was burned at stake in 1725 and would like to have the Parliament clear their name else he would shoot the hostages. Jessica Fletcher enlists the help of George Sutherland in doing whatever she can to get her friends Jed and Alicia Richardson rescued. Eventually Jed and Alicia are rescued with Jessica playing a huge part in it. Although shaken, the group continues the tour of London and finally land in Wick, Scotland.

Alicia Richardson however is still shaken of her episode with the kidnapper and fears that he has put a curse on them. She starts eyeing every new person with suspicion and fear. And keeps seeing orange eyes in everyone she suspects. While everyone is settling in Sutherland's Castle in Wick, George expresses to Jessica that his castle is haunted too. Per him, it is supposedly haunted by Isobel Gowdie's descendent who was a relative of George Sutherland. Isobel Gowdie however was tried for witchcraft in 1662. (More about here can be found here). This relative is seen wearing all white gown but with cross carved into her throat, sometimes blood flowing through it and has orange eyes. Jessica wonders if there is a connection between the lore and what Alicia was feeling - although Jessica doesn’t believe in ghosts. But that very evening right before dinner, Jessica sees an apparition in white gown with red stain growing along her bodice, with eyes of cooper color and utters "Gie a heize" before disappearing - much to Jessica's startle.

Apart from the 12 folks from Cabot Cove and George Sutherland there were four other guests residing at the Castle - Mr. Brock Peterman and his wife Tammy (a movie producer from Hollywood mainly featuring horror flicks), Dr. Geoffrey Symington and his wife Helen (a doctor who does research on ghosts and apparitions). One of the staff member, a young man named Malcolm, chats up with Jessica the following day about a book he was writing - based on a real murder that occurred 20 years ago in the same village, murder of Evelyn Gowdie, descendent of Isobel Gowdie and relative to George Sutherland who apparently haunted his castle. Later that day Jessica - who was taking a day off from sightseeing as opposed to her fellow travelers - while taking a walk to town's center accidentally finds the body of Daisy Wemyss murdered by a pitchfork to her chest and a cross carved into her throat - the very same fashion how Isobel Gowdie was supposedly sentenced to death and the same fashion Evelyn Gowdie was murdered 20 years earlier. Now Jessica is caught again in the middle of a murder when she all wanted to do was spend quality time with George Sutherland and enjoy the vacation with her friends from Cabot Cove.

Who had killed both Evelyn Gowdie and Daisy Wemyss? Why are they being replicated to reflect the death of Isobel Gowdie? What is this connected with orange eyes that Alice keeps seeing in everyone's eyes whom she suspects? Was the kidnapper of Jed and Alicia Richardson related to these killings and hauntings somehow? What is Dr. Geoffrey Symington researching on? Is the lore from Sutherland's family's past that is still haunting everyone behind all these killings?

Apart from this George has been facing trouble keep his Castle up to shape. Even with it converted to hotel he had been unable to keep good staff because of the sightings of ghost and now add a murder to it. Also a certain section of people in Wick are dead against George keeping the castle. They feel that if he sells then all the curse that was put on Wick will go away. Will George sell it away, his family mansion? Is someone trying to deliberately create apparitions so George will be forced to sell? How is this related to murders of all three women - one 300 hundred years old, one 20 years old and one recent? With all the curses and witches going around, will they have to look into the lores and curses to solve the mystery?

In the book A Little Yuletide Mystery (Book #11) (My review of the book here), one of the character Mary Walther mentions about Jessica saving Jed Richardson and his wife Alicia Richardson from a madman who had kidnapped them while they were are touring London and vacationing at George Sutherland's castle in Wick, Scotland. When I had read it then I assumed it was a plot-additive for the sake of that book. However, on reading this book, it turns out that incident happened in this book which was written three books earlier than A Little Yuletide Mystery. :)

The plot is a mix of fantasy and fiction albeit blended well. Although there were two full chapters about fishing that I almost fell asleep on. Perhaps the author could have cut it short and still keep the significance of the chapters in the book. Towards the end of the book, as always all questions are answered except for the murder of Evelyn Gowdie - that still remained open. I would have loved to see a closure for the same too? That said, again a very good read for the mysteries that come from this series.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Places in London that are real than fiction:
a. The Athenaeum Hotel in London that Jessica and her friends stay while visiting London is really existing.
b. Wilton's on Jermyn St in London
2) Interested English usage in the book such as - nattily (to mean someone is neat and smart), slovenliness (be messy or unkempt), gillie (a Scottish word for a fishing guide),
3) In 1732, Sarah Malcolm was sentenced to be hanged after finding guilty of murdering Lydia Duncomb. (More here) It is said that her spirit still walks roaming in the Highlands.
4) The actual story of Catherine Hayes can be found here. She is in fact a murderer than a witch. Although according to Wiki, she is burned at stake in 1726 as opposed to what this book says.
5) Although it was never recorded how Isobel Gowdie was sentenced to death, but the author did spin an interesting story here.
6) Jessica reads a book titled Black Alley by Mickey Spillane during her stay at Wick. I have never read his books, but something to consider for future blog posts. :)
7) Grammatical errors in the book:
a. On Pg. 52, around para 4, "Isobel" is spelt as "Isabell" and everywhere else her name is referred in the book.
b. On Pg. 191, in second para, there is no space between "on it" making it one word "onit" with no meaning to it.
8) In the end, Jessica alludes to a time when she was spending in San Francisco, promoting a book, spending with George Sutherland and inadvertently got involved in a case that they together solve. That tale is written in the 1995 book "Martinis & Mayhem" (My review here) - book #5, written three books earlier than this current book.
9) George finally expresses his love towards Jessica, but Jessica is unable to express back as she is more content to live with memories of her husband and just be a friend to George.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  5 / 5
Recommendation: A fun animated film that always brings a smile to one's face and yet keeping the spirit in.

When I was posting about the 2016 hit live/animated movie The Jungle Book (Link to my review on that book here), I had mentioned about the 1967 original animated movie. Finally I got around to watch that movie as well and here is my take on it.

The 1967 version is an American animated musical film produced by Walt Disney Productions. This was based on Rudyard Kipling's book of the same name and was the 19th Disney animated film. The primary plot revolves around the jungle-kid Mowgli, his friends Bagheera the panther and Bhaloo the bear who try to persuade him to leave the jungle to avoid the wrath of Shere Khan as he hates humans.

While the 2016 version delved into the dark and sinister side of the story, this original version was made into a more comical plot. The lessons that Rudyard Kipling was trying to teach were also snuffed a lot in here. The melodious songs that come as part of this version also lighten the dark shades behind the actual plot. Also in the 2016 movie Mowgli is raised by the leader of the wolf pack, Akela. However in this version, it is shown as he is raised by Rama, an Indian Wolf in the pack of Akela. Kaa is a male person too in this version as opposed to the female in the 2016 film. This version ends with Mowgli joining the humans.

All of these subtle changes make this version a lighter watch catering more to kids to add fun and humor and shield them from the drama and evil of the world. However, this kind might have worked for the way we lived in 1960s. But for the current world we are in the way the 2016 movie was depicted fits perfectly. I like both the versions.

This animated version was designed to be more fun and happy, create enjoyment to the viewer. And it has been successful immensely in delivering what it was originally destined to. And who can forget the bubbly song Bare Necessities that Bhaloo sings - so well it relates to what we really need in this world.

As much as I had enjoyed the 2016 version, I enjoyed this 1967 version as well. Both take us to two different worlds of animation films delivering the message they need to per the era and age perfectly.

If you haven't watched this movie yet, pop in that DVD, snuggle in your sofa and enjoy it with a silly grin on your face.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  4.5 / 5
Recommendation: Picture always speaks volumes and this short film certainly does so, all the while teaching you about the simple concept of Samskruthi.

My theme for this year has been to post reviews on the books, movies and TV shows I have read or watched. I had never had a thought if anyone would be reading them, but I still continued with my work. And then pop comes a request from my dear friend who wanted ME to post a review about his short film which was his debut direction. The request left me speechless. I am very much honored to provide my two cents. Well, here is my review of the film.

Samskruthi, simply put, means Culture and Tradition. That is exactly what Director Phaniendra Somraj (Phani) (www.phaniendrasomraj.com) is conveying through this short film and much more. It was released as an internet film in March of 2016.

One of my biggest pet peeve while living in India, as a matter of fact even here, has always been - people not putting their shoes, be it of any kind, back on the shoe rack. Even at places where instructions are given, plenty of space provided, people simply don’t abide by it. End result the whole floor gets littered with shoes not only creating an ugly picture to see but also a stampede to find your own footwear later. But I never took to the task to arrange others footwear either as shown in the movie. I am floored that Phani has taken this as his basis for his debut film.

The beginning of the movie has tunes from just two instruments (if I am not mistaken) - Finger Cymbals and the Temple Bell - at once enfolding you in a cloak of peace. Offering flowers and incense to even a small idol of a God, a tradition so simple and so ancient filled with belief is depicted within very first few frames - perfectly setting the stage for the viewer. The frustration on the father's face is shown through the rapid beats of the Ghungroo aka Musical Anklets (More about Ghungroo here) - no word uttered yet all the message conveyed.

In the end, a simple act of selflessness by the father not only teaches the child about the concept of pay it forward but also set an example to others in a very very positive way.

With the help of few frames, simple music and minimal words, Phani has shown us what one cannot send across by speaking volumes or writing chapters. Very cleverly done and an amazing effort for a debut film. Looking forward to see more from him.

Congratulations and Best of Luck, Phani.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) As acknowledged in the description of the video, the Sloka at the beginning of the film is incorrectly spelt. Here is the correct one (and this was the only reason for me to take away half a star. Sorry, Phani!).

Karaagre Vasate Laksshmih, Karamadhye Sarasvati |
Karamuule Tu Govindah, Prabhaate Karadarshanam ||
Translated as: (Copied from a different site)
At the Top of the Hand (i.e. Palm) Dwell Devi Lakshmi and at the Middle of the Hand Dwell Devi Saraswati,
At the Base of the Hand Dwell Sri Govinda; Therefore one should Look at one's Hands in the Early Morning and contemplate on Them.

2) Don't miss our very own Director in the film too - he is seen walking away from the temple eating the prasadam ( = Offerings to God) in a disposable bowl. If you want to know more about it, here is his website: www.phaniendrasomraj.com Feel free to stop by.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  5 / 5
Recommendation: A successful satirical comedy that will hit you in the face giving you a dose of much needed reality.

Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro ( = Let It Go, Friends) is a 1983 hit Hindi Comedy film that takes a satirical approach on the corruption in Indian politics, press, and businesses. The movie cast a myriad of characters who have had played their roles in one way or another as comedian actors or non-mainstream roles. It went on to become a super hit getting it's Director Kundan Shah Indira Gandhi Award for Best First Film of a Director that year.

The plot opens with two professional photographers, Vinod Chopra (portrayed by Naseeruddin Shah) and Sudhir Mishra (portrayed by Ravi Baswani) opening a photo studio - Beauty Photo Studio - in the prestigious Haji Ali area in Mumbai. They have a disastrous start, especially when a competitive photo studio - Super Photo Studio owned by Ashok Namboodirippad (portrayed bu Satish Kaushik) and Priya (portrayed by Neena Gupta) - opens up a few stores ahead.

After at three month struggle, assistant editor Kamdar (portrayed by Rajesh Puri) of the local newspaper Khabardar ( = Caution) comes to them with an assignment. Khabardar's main agenda is to expose the lives of rich and famous whose Editor is Shoba Sen (portrayed by Bhakti Barve). A similar secret assignment is given to them - expose the dealings of the famous and unscrupulous builder Tarneja (portrayed by Pankaj Kapoor) and the corrupt Municipal Commissioner D'Mello (portrayed by Satish Shah). Khabardar newspaper used to deal with Super Photo Studio prior to giiving assignments to Beauty Photo Studio but Ashok and Neena are Tarneja's team and they curb all the evidence that the newspaper want to gather. Hence the assignment goes to Beauty Photo Studio.

The duo start their investigation and identify a third partner in the crime, another builder Ahuja (portrayed by Om Puri). Along-side they also participate in a photography contest for a prize money of Rs. 5000. In the process they capture Tarneja killing someone. Now the movie continues with how the duo Vinod and Sudhir try to identify the one who was murdered, make every effort to collect evidence and in the process expose the three corrupt men along with their goons and henchemen / women.

Although the movie was not a successful one upon its release, the movie was made when all of these characters were either beginning their careers or have set one foot into the door of Indian film world. That may be perhaps they have given their best. The timing of the comedy is impeccable with hilarious dialogues. Every scene is memorable making this movie a cult classic. There are certain scenes that really hit you in the pit of the stomach giving you a slap of the reality. Yet the reality has not changed a bit in 33 years in fact it increased ten fold.
Spoiler Alerts behind the cut...Collapse )
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books under Murder, She Wrote series: Go here

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: If you want an easy and quick murder mystery pick it up and you will enjoy it.

A Little Yuletide Murder is the 11th book in the Murder, She Wrote series by Donald Bain and fictional writer Jessica Fletcher based on the popular TV Show of the same name. The book was published in 1998.

This time around the plot is set in Jessica's own home town Cabot Cove, Maine. When the entire town is in full-mode planning for the town's famed week of Christmas celebrations, Rory Brent - local farmer who played the role of Santa Claus every year - was found murdered in his barn. Why would Rory be walking off to his barn that was almost half a mile from home with no coat, no hat and gloves in the bitter cold? Sherriff Mort Metzger had confirmed that Rory Brent had been murdered. Who would have had motive to kill him, other than the obvious person, Jake Walther - Jake and Rory had bad blood between them for a long time.

As the Sherriff and Jessica are investigating the crime, the rumor mill of Cabot Cove with its sharp tongue is bent on convicting Jake Walther without a trial only because he had burned quite a few bridges with everyone. But, did he really kill Rory Brent? Did Rory have any other enemies? With enough probable cause, Sherriff Metzger arrests Jake on suspicion of murder. And now Mary reaches out to Jessica for help. Jessica takes it upon herself to help Jake despite her mixed feelings. Will she be able to uncover the truth? Find who really killed Rory? And what is the reason behind all of it?

As usual no matter what Sherriff Mort Metzger might say, Jessica butts her head into the investigation. And she comes up with a series of potential suspects - Robert Brent (Rory's rebellious 18-year old son), Patricia Brent (Rory Brent's wife who had taken the death of Rory rather easily causing eyebrows to rise), Jake Walther (obviously because of the bad blood between Jake and Rory), Mary Walther (Jakes's wife), Dennis Solten (Mary's slow-witted brother), Jill Walther (Jake Walther's daughter)

The plot was essentially a very good one, with lot of complexities tied in. However there are quite a few chapters that go on and on and on about the nature of Jake Walther, the reasons for him to be suspected, etc. It made me feel as though I was living through the rumor mill. It was tiring to read so much of repetitive text. All in all another easy read from this series.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Grammatical errors in the book: a. On Pg. 24, para 2, in the last line "Jos. A. Bank" is spelled as "Jos. Bank" - the "A" is missing.
2) Geographical errors in the book: a. On Pg. 101, the author speaks about Indian food that Jessica's palate was not pleased. I was surprised that the author made such a huge error. The dishes mentioned are in reality from a different origin: Hummus Ba Tahini is a Mediterranean dish, Chicken Cous Cous is a Moroccan dish while Galaktoboureko is a Swedish dish.
3) Jessica speaks about her book, The Hanging Vine (which was originally titled The Hanging Grapevine), that had a similar plot where the rumor mill had taken center stage. But this is not a book that Jessica writes in the TV series nor in this book series. Perhaps something just mentioned in this plot.
4) Jessica's chef friends Richard and Mary Jane when inviting Jessica to their home for dinner mention the names of their guests. One happen to be friends from New York (Pg. 101). But later in the book this "Friends" turn out to be Richard's Cousin and his family (Pg. 104). Wonder if author forgot about the original characters. :P
5) The author mentions about a 1664 cookbook titled "The Accomplished Cook: Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery". I did a google search and found that it was written by Robert May. Some of the pages have been reproduced in the 1980 cook book titled Maine Coastal Cooking. How interesting! 300 years old cooking recipes still are carried on.
6) The author mentions about a radio series Casey, Crime Photographer in the book. Later it has become into TV series too. More about here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casey,_Crime_Photographer_(radio). Something to read for a future blog.
7) Jessica's publisher Vaughn Buckley wants her to write a true crime novel based on the crime that happened in her home town. Although reluctant Jessica does think about the pros and cons of writing a true crime novel. I wonder if the author will ever create one in future.
8) Some other Christmas books are mentioned in the book - some only exist for this plot and some are for real. Some more adding to my list of books to read and blog about. :)
a. The Dog That Talked at Christmas by Laurie Wilson - Does not exist for real.
b. A Christmas to Remember by Eugene Bradley Coco - Does exist
c. Carl's Christmas by Alexandra Day - Does exist
d. The Nutcracker Ballet by Vladimir Vagin - Does exist
e. The Lonely Snowman - I am thinking this exists as well
f. The Littlest Christmas Elf - Also exists
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here.
For review of all books in this series: Go here

Stars: 3.5 / 5
My Recommendation: If you are an avid Nora Roberts fan like me, go for it! A light read for any day.

Bay of Sighs is the second book in the series The Guardians Trilogy by Nora Roberts published in June of 2016. I had written about the first part, Star of Fortune, earlier this year (Check my review here (http://inspirethoughts.livejournal.com/538510.html)) and had mentioned that it felt like a merge of Stars of Mithra and Circle Trilogy series - both these written by Nora herself. Although not as strong as those series, this is still a good one. Nora's style of writing, her essence is coming back with this episode in the series. Yet, waiting for her to completely bounce back to her previous self.

Three goddesses of moon create three stars, one of fire, one of ice and one of water to celebrate the rise of their new queen. To keep them from the evil goddess, they place them in the sky. But they fall down to unknown places after being cursed by the evil goddess Nerezza, putting the world in danger. Now six people – three women and three men – have to band together, earn trust, experience love, find the stars and fight the evil goddess. They are the Seer – Sasha Riggs; the Sorcerer – Bran Killian, the Werewolf – Dr. Riley Gwin, the immortal – Doyle McCleary, the Time and Space Traveler – Sawyer King and the Mermaid – Annika Waters

Now that the Fire Star had been found and well-hidden by the Six, Nerezza would be coming back at them with double the force and triple the power to stop them from acquiring the second start - The Water Star. They move to Capri - for that's where the compass of the Traveler, Sawyer and the vision of the Seer, Sasha guides them to. Settled in a home - smaller than the villa in Corfu, Greece - the Six prepare for the hunt of Fire Star and the next phase of the battle. Sasha's vision also mentions that this time along Nerezza join hands with a man as dark as her with the same thirst for blood she has and that in between the songs and sighs - of land and sea - they will battle for the next star. Annika seems to be the only one who had heard the songs and sighs while they were traveling through time and space from Corfu to Capri using Sawyer's compass and ability to time travel. What does this mean? Where are these songs and sighs?

Annika Waters, the mermaid, unbeknownst to Sawyer King, had already fallen for him. She had only three turns of moon for her to be part of this quest, before her legs will no longer be hers and the sea would be her home for ever. And she hoped that Sawyer would feel the same towards her at least for one day.

As Sasha had predicted, Nerezza meets with Andre Malmon - a thief, murderer, enforcer, kidnapper and many more and much more darker than Nerezza at time - incites him with the quest for the Stars of Fortune. With Nerezza luring him with the gift of giving all the powers of the six guardians, contract sealed with blood, tied down by her body, Andre had no chance to reject the offer - not that he want to, especially when he had old scores to settle with Riley and Sawyer. But what he doesn’t know is the hidden agenda of Nerezza. Will she achieve her goal using Andre? Or will Andre over power her with his ambition and cruel intentions? Has Nerezza find the right match on her side in the battle against the Guardians - for Andre Malmon is no ordinary killer? He has his own team of mercs that know no bounds when it comes to doing evil things towards humans and animals alike. Can the Guardians fight him?

The love between Sawyer and Annika blooms despite the trials that Nerezza throws at them, despite the fact that Annika is not of this world and that her time is short and above all despite how hard Sawyer had controlled his emotions towards her. Will Annika become an Achilles' heel for Sawyer? Or will he be like Sasha to Bran? As much as Nerezza is growing stronger and gathering a different kind of army, so are the Guardians. Sasha is becoming much stronger at holding off Nerezza in her mind and in some cases even hurting her back. With Doyle's training everyone are getting much more capable at combat fighting. With Bran's magic, Sawyer's intelligence and Riley's network they all are getting equipped with weapons both magic and machinery alike. Annika glues them all together with her sunny and positive attitude. They have come to become a family. Will Nerezza see that as a fault? Will the Guardians use that to their advantage? Where is the second start - Water Star?

Finally the true Nora Roberts flair comes out. No softening of pain or love - all described as they are, raw and much to feel at heart. Although I hurt when I read the chapters that show the cruelty Mormon and his men can induce on a fellow human or living being. Yet, the chapters set a very important stone for finding the Water Star for these six guardians.

An excellent light read, with the old way of her writing. And yes it does still remind me of two other series that Nora Roberts had written in the past – Stars of Mithra and The Circle Trilogy. Mormon's viciousness is so close to the villain in the Stars of Mithra series. While Nerezza reminds me of Lilith from the Circle Trilogy. Despite that looking forward to see the final showdown between the Guardians and Nerezza while finding the Ice Star- the third star.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Nora mentions that the stars belong to the queen who rules the Island of Glass. In the Key Trilogy (Read my reviews of those books here), she mentions the Keys belong to the souls of Daughters of Glass. So similar yet so different.
2) Surprisingly a few grammatical errors are seen - "quest" is used instead of "oath" in the third parah last line where Annika is explaining about the oath that mermaids take (pg. 93).
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here
For review of all books in this series: Go here

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: If you like easy read mystery with logic involving brain added with romance.

Naked Heat is the second book in the series of Castle books written by the fictional writer Richard Castle from the TV series Castle (portrayed by Nathan Fillion). The first book, Heat Wave, was an ok read, more so because I was comparing it to the TV Series. So this time along I decided to read the second book purely from subjective perspective. Yet, I did traverse a bit away from the path and into comparative mode once in a while. It's much better written than the first one, and of course coincides with the Season II of the TV Show.

The plot opens with a brutal murder of the gossip columnist and scandal-queen of New York - Cassidy Towne - when NYPD Detective Nikki Heat  and her team Detective Ochoa and Detective Raley arrive at the scene. Who do they find but the magazine journalist Jameson Rook. Nikki is surprised but not shocked to see him at the crime scene though. After his piece "Crime Wave Meets Heat Wave" in First Press magazine she had been recognized everywhere making her famous - much to her irritation. But what bothered her was that the article was supposed to be on her team but ended up being only on her, with her team mates barely mentioned, almost like footnotes. Neither her detective Roach (collectively called so) were pleased too, esp Raley whose nickname Sweet Tea was published in the article.

Despite their dis-interest to have Rook tag-along again, he gets assigned as a ride-along for Nikki Heat and her team - because he was following closely Cassidy Towne for his next piece in First Press magazine. Will Nikki and Rook revamp their relationship that was so short lived during their previous case? Will Rook charm his way not only into Nikki's life but also into the lives of other detectives at her precinct and redeem himself from the column he wrote? In the meanwhile, someone attacks the ME Lauren Parry and Detective Ochoa to steal Cassidy Towne's corpse? Why would anyone want to steal her body unless there was evidence on that implicated them in the murder? As the tug of war between the emotions of Rook and Heat go on, they together form a team again in the hunt for the murderer of Cassidy Towne.  What is murder to do with Esteben Padilla's - the corpse that Detective Heat and her team found a few hours prior to Cassidy Towne's?

During their investigation, Nikki Heat comes across Petar Matics - her ex-boyfriend when she was taking a semester in Venice studying opera production at the Gran Teatro La Fenice. And instantly Jameson Rook feels threatened by the torch Petar still carried for Heat. But are they really in a committed relationship to feel so? They are not really, so why does Rook feel so? What will he do about it?

Several suspects line up in the process - Chester Ludlow (a disgraced politician whose secret BDSM nights were made public by Cassidy), Holly Flanders (the illegitimate daughter of Cassidy and was abandoned by her when Holly was born), Toby Mills (pitcher to the Yankees who had an altercation with Cassidy a few days before her murder), celebrity chef Richmond Vergennes (chef who had a very bitter argument with Cassidy just a week before her murder), Soleil Gray (a washed up rock icon who was making a comeback after her rehab and loss of her ex-lover Reed Wakefield, and had a beef with Cassidy as well) and Derek Snow (the concierge at The Dragonfly that Soleil had frequented).

There is a scene written by the author in this book, that clearly connects to Season II of the Castle TV Show. Jameson Rook comments that if ever an asteroid hits, she should duck and cover inside the claw-foot bath tub she has. In the two-part story, - ran as episode #17 and #18 in the season - Kate Beckett's house gets blown towards the end of the first part - episode titled Tick, Tick, Tick… - and Castle finds her ducked under the toppled bathtub at the opening of the second part - episode titled Boom!.

A well-kinitted plot that includes gossip, murder, paparazzi, stalking and mayhem for Detective Heat and Jameson Rook. Intense plot in many ways showing a deft hand of the writer. Also it was nice to see Jameson Rook elevated to something more than just a jester at one police plaza. This is definitely coming on to those serious mystery categories like Mary Higgins Clark and the likes. However, I still would like to see Nikki Heat's character better. She is the best cop no doubt, but there is a flaw and crack in her personality that bugs me. Perhaps the future books remedy that.

Another good book for those cozy nights.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) Did you know that Stana Katic (who portrayed the role of Detective Kate Beckett in the hit TV series Castle) was in Quantum of Solace. I didn’t know either until I was looking for a picture of Simon Kassianides while posting a review on his Hallmark movie Smooch and found this pic of both of them. She portrayed the role as Corrine Veneau, a Canadian agent and Yusef's latest target in the film. I barely remember her in the movie so cant even remember the scene where she was in the movie at all. Needless to say I was hooked on to Daniel Craig all the time. :P Here is the scene from the movie:

She must have acted in many TV shows and movies in short roles but Castle's Detective Kate Beckett suited her well.

2) Rook's mother Margaret Rook is introduced again in this book. Yet there is no mention of any child or ex-wives for Jameson Rook yet unlike Richard Castle in the TV Show. Perhaps future books might have some reference.
3) The author mentions that there are only three sketch artists remaining in all of NYPD. I wonder if the art of sketching in police line has reduced now that so much use of social media and cctv is involved now.
4) Soleil Gray calls Madonna as Madge- which truly is her nickname when she was in Britain.
5) Rook mentions about Chekhov readings esp about The Lady with the Little Dog. Never read these before. Something read about it in future.
6) Interesting places from NYC mentioned in the book - Mud Coffee (a coffee shop off second - although Wiki calls it as a coffee company that sells in a converted Consolidated Edison step-van known as the Mudtruck. Check for more here), E.A.T. near 80th and Madison, Café Lalo (where You've Got Mail movie was pictured)
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  5 / 5
Recommendation: For those much needed laughs, silly antics and learning lessons of life in the process, this is another perfect movie to watch.

Monster's University is a 2013 American animated comedy film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The movie is a prequel to 2001 hit animated film Monsters, Inc. The plot basically revolves around two monsters Michael "Mike" Wazowski and James P. "Sulley" Sullivan during their time studying at college.

Michael "Mike" Wazowski as a young monster had always dreamed of going to Monsters, Inc. and become the best scarer. Chekc out his school bus and his scare card on his name that he designs.

However things turn out to be not so friendly as he imagines when he goes to Monsters University for his college education. His roomamte is Randall "Randy" Boggs.

He comes across James P. "Sulley" Sullivan, the obnoxious monster who gets through college only because of him coming from a privileged family. Mike works had to get through the semester while Sulley just relies on his abilities.

While Mike steadily succeeds in his college, Sulley starts to falter. On the day of the final exam though Mike gets into confrontation with Sulley despite his best efforts to avoid him, and Dean Hardscrabble fires them both.

Mike has only one more chance to prove himself and he enters the university's "Scare Games", challenging Dean that if he wins he gets reinstated into the university again - the games originally devised by Dean herself.  The challenge gets accepted and the games begin. Only issue for Mike is that one of his team-member is the fellow monster Sulley who was partly in responsible for being fired from the University in the first place.

The rest of the movie follows Mike and Sulley in how they become from rivals to friends, win each level of the Scare Games and reach to the finals. In the process they come across Randall "Randy" Boggs (the chameleon that has ability to become invisible), Oozma Kampa Fraternity members (who form Mike's team for the Scare Games),

Roar Omega Roar (an alpha fraternity team that originally draft Sulley as their member but end up taking up Randy towards the end),

the Snowman / Yeti and others.

Will they win the final game? Will they come out on top and get reinstated back into the University? Well no fun if I write about it all. Go pop in that video or click on Netflix or Youtube and watch it for yourself. I can promise you that the ride would be super fun.

With several new characters introduced and several of the original characters reprise, the movie weaves perfectly into the beginnings of the Monsters, Inc. movie. This film has certainly charmed one and everyone. No wonder it went to gross a lot that year.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) Nathan Fillion, who portrayed the role of Richard Castle in the TV show Castle (My link to the review is here:), portrays the role of Johnny J. Worthington III, president of Roar Omega Roar.

2) Bob Peterson as Roz, a slug-like monster with a raspy voice reminiscent of Selma Diamond's who administrates for Scarefloor F at Monsters, Inc. is introduced in this film.

3) Scarer cards at the end credits shows all the characters that graduate from Monsters University, Legends and as well as those whom we will see in the first episode Monsters Inc movie.
4) The movie when released was followed by a short film, The Blue Umbrella, in the theaters. I havent watched this but another one for my future posts.
5) An animated short film titled Party Central, which takes place shortly after the events of Monsters University, premiered in Fall 2013. Again another one for my future posts.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here.
For review of all books under Murder, She Wrote series: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: If you want an easy and quick murder mystery pick it up and you will enjoy it.

Rum & Razors is the third book in the Murder, She Wrote series by Donald Bain and fictional writer Jessica Fletcher based on the popular TV Show of the same name. The book was published in 1995.

The plot begins with Jessica Fletcher after finishing her latest book is all set for her two weeks' vacation in St. Thomas. After the bout of pneumonia and the hectic schedule to finish her book, she was very much looking forward to this vacation. More for the reason that she would be residing in Lover's Lagoon while at St, Thomas - a place that had been bought and converted to a beautiful and expensive hotel by her friends from Cabot Cove Laurie and Walter Marschalk. All seemed peace and happy when she arrived. However from the minute she met Laurie at the airport, she felt the undercurrents of tension and stress in and around her.

At dinner that night, Walter reveals to Jessica far more details about the problems he has been having with the next door resort, Diamond Reef - the problems go to such an extent as to calling Walter and Laurie to have bought the land illegally by bribing the local Senator Bobby Jensen. He also gets a death threat in mail. Jessica although didn’t want to be involved in any of this sort this time around, she cannot but help to dig a little bit more into what was happening concerning Lover's Lagoon - only because Walter and Laurie have been very good friends with her. True to her fears which though she hadnt voiced out much, she finds Walter at the edge of the lagoon bordering near her villa, with his throat slit open. But, Laurie had told her that they were going to Miami that day and weren't going to be back until next day. So what was Walter doing in St. Thomas? Who killed him? Was the scandal true? Was there a connection between Walter's murder and a murder that had happened prior to Walter buying the place?

Several suspects line up in Jessica's mind - Chris Webb (partner of Laurie and Walter in Lover's Lagoon), Owners of Diamond Reef (The next door resort that was doing everything they can to get Lover's Lagoon reputation down and eventually buy it out), Jacob (a local employed as a gardener at the Lagoon and with a chip on his shoulder), Mark Dobson (general manager of Diamond Reef), Senator Bobby Jensen (friend of Walter who helped him get the land in the first place that became Lover's Lagoon, involved in the scandal around that buy and now resigned and heading to Miami, perhaps for good!), Jennifer Fletcher (Namesake to Jessica with similar initials, but a Ms. instead of a Mrs.), Fred Capehart (a colleague of Jennifer Fletcher, followed her all the way to St. Thomas) and finally Laurie Marschalk herself (she was suing Walter for divorce).

A very strong plot for a simple murder mystery. For once this series doesn't seem as simple as it looks. Another good book for any day of the year.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) GLOTCOYB - Remember this from the 32nd book in the series, Fatal Feast? (Check my review of the book here) Well, if you havent read that book, then here is a spoiler alert. Jessica receives these anonymous envelopes with these letters cut from magazines and newspapers and of various sizes. At the end of that book, we come to know that it meant "Good Luck On The Completion Of Your Book" and her friends at Cabot Cove had been behind these envelopes. All in good meaning, however. :). Now we know that the author re-used the scene from the 3rd book in his/her 32nd book. Very interesting.
2) Interesting words are seen throughout the book - terra firma (meaning dry land), lais·sez-faire (attitude to let things take their own course), travail (laborious effort), jo-jeezly (a Maine english to be used in negatice context).
3) Few Grammatical errors are seen - Missing "to" in the second line of the third para (Pg. 31)
4) Lover's Lagoon - a special drink that the bus boy (I think that's the name for these people!), Thomas gives to Jessica on the first day she settles in at the hotel. Per his version, it is a combination of dark and light rum, coconut milk, pineapple, kahlua and few other ingredients. I searched online to see if this drink indeed exists. But didn’t find any reference there. ;)
5) Jessica mentions about Candid Microphone to Detective Calid. The was predecessor to Candid Camera and was on radio. (More about it here)
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here.
For review of all books in this series: Go here

Stars: 4 / 5
Recommendation: You believe in super powers, abilities and the good that one can do with it, then this is the series you should read.

The Shadow Rider is the first book in the new series The Shadow Series by Christine Feehan and published in June of 2016. The plot is set in Chicago, a location used second time in a series but different from her usual Carpathian Novels (Post link to my review here). The Team III (Marine Force Recon Urban Warfare Team)in her Ghostwalker Novels (Post link to my review here) are also based in Chicago. The first book - The Shadow Rider - follows the story of Stefano Ferraro - oldest Ferraro - and Francesca Cappello - who comes to Chicago to start a new life.

The Shadow Series is about the powerful Ferraro family who are revered with both admiration and fear. For they are famed to have powers and abilities that not a normal human can have.  Albeit that is only a rumor but they are more feared because of the ties to mob that they are known to have. Neither of these allegations ever could be proved. Power clung to them. But the neighborhood that the Ferraro family had hold on - Little Italy - has been crime-free, secure as well as a happy place for any of them to live. People are taken care of as their own until the line crosses where the punishment is severe and sometimes unforgivable. Everyone in the Ferraro family and the extended families are very successful, powerful, handsome/beautiful and with a hoard of abilities in them. Yet, they are not complete until they find their mate, the one that can match them in power, character and needs - for the Ferraros have high sexual appetite especially after they have used their abilities - to manipulate light and shadow to their advantage.

I had an opportunity to meet Christine Feehan in-person and was lucky enough to spend a few hours with her in April of this year. She had given me the gift of the uncorrected proof of this book. I was speechless when I received it. I do hope I give justice to all my reviews of her books. After meeting her, I have much more insight into her novels and her writing style. I will be posting about my meeting with her too pretty soon. :)

Stefano Ferraro, commanding the Ferraro family business - legal most times and illegal at times but unproven - and always gets what he wants, be it cars, women or getting the family business more successful. Nothing came above the Ferraro family business for him, and his work was very hard and very dangerous. Francesca Cappello comes to Chicago looking for a new life - with little to nothing on herself. Her friend Joanna Masci offered to help her out by getting her a job at her Uncle Pietro Masci's local deli. Stefano sees her and immediately realizes she is the one for him, in every sense of the way. He openly stakes his claim on her in the deli, making sure Pietro gives her the job at the same time. Yet Francesca couldn’t understand why he had picked her, especially when she thought he was some sort of mobster. And to top it he gives her his coat and cash, on loan, despite her refusal. Now, she is worried that she will be in limelight again - the very thing she had escaped from in the first place.

Stefano has found his mate and he is relieved that there is hope for others. Where one walks, the others follow - that has been the legend always. But, how will he convince Francesca that she is as much his as he is hers, and that there is no other. Add to that his family business, the secrets they have that they don’t share to anyone outsider, the lines that he crosses or his family - will Francesca accept all that? However, what Stefano is unaware of is the dark secret that she is hiding, a secret that could get killed everyone around her including her. Will she trust him enough to confide in him, take his aid and overcome the monster that has been haunting her? What is the big secret that Stefano has? Will he be able to bind her to himself as is the tradition? The Ferraros also seem to have a century old enmity with the Saldis - another Italian family from their home town Sicily. How will that impact for Stefano and Francesca? And then someone is out to hurt Francesca in this new place. She hardly was settled and she was worried that her past had already caught up with her. Will she take a risk and ask for Ferraros assistance? Will they believe her? Will she have to go on the run again?

A very different and unique concept Christine has picked up - I wonder how did she come up with. It is still filled with the super-human abilities, but totally different from what we have seen in her books so far. I am glad that Christine didn’t make her heroine look lean and thin almost model like. Her heroine has curves and some meat contrary to many books I have read. I didn’t like the F-bombs all through the book, but hey, that's perhaps goes with their mostly legal business. We also get introduced to a stream of Ferraro Family and their extended cousins in the book, which definitely means there will be quite a few books that would spring from this first one.

Key characters we meet (other than Stefano and Francesca) along the read - Stefano's brothers (Giovanni Ferraro, Ricco Ferraro, Vittorio Ferraro, Taviao Ferraro), his sister Emmanuelle Ferraro, Emilio Gallo and Enzo Gallo (First Cousins to the Ferraro family), their mother Eloisa and father Phillip, The Greco family (Extended cousins forming the Investigators of the family and includes Zia Rachelle, Zio Alefo, Romano, Renato, Rosina and Rigina), Lanz and Deangelo Rossi (his New York cousins), Salvatore, Geno and Lucca Ferraro (Cousins to Stefano Ferraro's family who also live in New York) and finally Tomas and Cosimo Abatangelo (cousins who play the role of Emmanuelle's bodyguards).

The plot is powerful with equally strong male and female characters. Although the male characters are very over protective and dominant bordering on scary. An understanding woman with very strong will and acceptance to everything what the Ferraros as can only survive with them. The sexual scenes are very intense and a bit rougher than I would like but still were enjoyable to read. However, there are still passages repeated again and again, although much lesser than the previous books. At least this time around they are more connecting than before.

Certainly a good book to open the series with leaving enough hints of quite a few follow-up books. The book left me craving to pick the next one immediately, but alas it is not for another year. Pick it up if you get a chance and I know you will enjoy it.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) The Ferraros - male and female - wear pin-stripe suits when in public or in mission. The stripes let them to play with light and shadow well, so they disappear without raising a suspicion. Genius idea.
2) Few scenes are shown between Emmanuelle Ferraro and Valentine Saldi (of the notorious mob family, the Saldis) that give us a reflection into a future book perhaps involving both these characters. It would be interesting to see how these two might or might not combine the two families that have been at war since a century.
3) Nicoletta Gomez a 17-year old abused teenager that Stefano rescues also shows abilities of a shadow rider although she doesn’t know yet. I am guessing she will be a mate for one of the brothers. I wonder who that would be, although my gut says it would be Taviano.
4) Grammatical errors in the book that I found in the uncorrected proof. I am hoping these are rectified in the released versions post June.
a. On pg. 195, para 4, the author writes about Francesca explaining her past with her sister. One line looks as if Francesca was sleeping with the guy but infact it was her sister. A mistake perhaps in phrasing of the words?
b. On Pg. 210, para 5, there is an extra "a" in the line "They wore their wealth….".
c. On Pg 223, para 4, there is a "you" missing in the last line.
d. On Pg. 315, para 8, in the first line, it should be "thought" instead of "though".
e. On Pg. 350, after para 3, "you" is  missing in the line.
f. On Pg. 384, para 3, the first line has an extra "one" before the word "from one portal to…". It is not required.
g. On Pg. 418, parah 4, in the third line instead of "So much" it is written as "Some much..".
h. On Pg. 434, para 2, line 5 has an extra "the" in front of "all the money…."
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  5 / 5
Recommendation: Patriotic with romance and comradeship blended in there making it a movie to watch at all times.

July fourth marks the U.S. Independence Day. On this day normally we get to see the 1996 hit movie Independence Day on repeat mode on at least four channels. Yeah well, I tend to watch it at least once every year which was my first choice to post for this day. However, after much thought I picked up another favorite of mine, although I have watched it much less times than the original choice. So, here's my take on the second choice I picked.

Top Gun is a 1986 hit American romantic military film starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Van Kilmer and Anthony Edwards in the lead roles. It was based on an article titled Top Guns published in the magazine California three year earlier to the release of this movie.

United States Naval Aviator LT Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (portrayed by Tom Cruise) and his Radar Intercept Officer  LTJG Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (portrayed by Anthony Edwards) are selected to attend the Top Gun school at NAS Miramar, despite the wild reputation of Maverick and Goose. There he meets Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood (portrayed by Kelly McGillis), an astrophysicist and civilian Top Gun instructor and also his rival LT Tom "Iceman" Kazanski (portrayed by Van Kilmer) - who was the top in the class until Maverick arrived. As his training continues, his reckless flying increases, gets him to defeat his LCDR Rick "Jester" Heatherly and inadvertently becomes a rival to Iceman. He also pursues Charlie - much against the rules. During one such training where Maverick and Iceman are chasing Jester, Maverick's aircraft catches fire on both of its engines. In the process of ejecting, Goose hits his head onto the roof of the jet and dies. The rest of the movie follows Maverick in how he copes the loss of Goose despite being cleared of the incident, how he regains his power back in air and how he gets Charlie back.

I fell in love with Tom Cruise in this movie, more in the song that made this movie famous - Take My Breath Away by Berlin. I even remember having a poster of Top Gun on my bedroom wall when this song became a hit back home. Even now I like Tom Cruise albeit only as an actor.

A very patriotic movie in every sense even though not a single war is waged or nor a soldier is shown in enemy lines except towards the end of the movie. Gives one a very deep insight into how the aviators are made. The beginning of the movie was filled with a lot of technology terms that flew above my head the first time I watched the movie. Had to watch it a second time just those scenes to catch on to what was happening. The movie captures the under dogs coming out on top, proving that there is never a "I" when it comes to team work.

Perfect movie to watch at all times and no matter what brings your spirits up.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Clarence Gilyard, Jr. portrays the role of LTJG Marcus "Sundown" Williams. He is famous for his role as Conrad McMasters - a right hand man to Ben Matlock (portrayed by Andy Griffin) - in the TV series Matlock and as James "Jimmy" Trivette in the TV series Walker, Texas Ranger. Here he is behind Tom Cruise in this scene.

2) Tim Robbins has a minor role as LTJG Sam "Merlin" Wells in his movie - perhaps one of his earlier roles before he became famous. In the second pic he is behind Tom Cruise.

3) Meg Ryan plays the role of LTJG Nick "Goose" Bradshaw's wife - Carole Bradshaw - in the movie. Again one of her earlier roles before she became famous.

4) The 1991 movie Hot Shots! Is a spoof of this movie. Another one to add to my blog.
5) The 2013 animated film Planes pays a homage to this movie. This is another movie in my upcoming list to post.
6) The end credits have the lead actors shown as their roles in the movie - giving it a nice touch. Although the clip below gives away the ending too. :P

7) The famous walk scene that is shown over and over again in the song Take My Breath Away.

8) And finally the song that made the movie much more famous. Sung by the band Berlin, written by Giorgio Moroder and Tom Whitlock for this film, the song not only won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, it went on to win the Oscar in the same category that year.

Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars: 5 / 5
Recommendation: A perfect book for opening the world of a child to fantasy and fiction.

My littlest nephew, Riaan, was born on July 3rd of this year - the day this post was supposed to be posted. What better way to welcome him to this world than with this beautiful book written by A. A. Milne and published in 1926. I would like him to grow up knowing all about this Hundred Acre Wood and get some real life-lessons from these pages - for there is always a lesson where Pooh and his friends are concerned. I do hope when he grows and reads this post, he would appreciate that I picked this book for him.

I did already post one Winnie-The-Pooh movie for Easter in my reviews this year (Check it here). Yet I still picked the first book for my nephew. Cant stop loving him or this silly bear. :)

This was the first book in the series of stories involving Winnie the Pooh and his friends. They were adapted from a collection of stories Milne had penned and published originally Punch Magazine, St. Nicholas Magazine, Vanity Fair and others before being published as a complete book. That is the reason perhaps the chapters in this book can be read as stand-alone and the plots don’t continue to the next chapter. There is a very interesting introduction in this book - about how Winnie-the-Pooh came about with this name. Definitely not to be missed.

Christopher Robin in the book calls Winnie-the-Pooh as Winnie-ther-Pooh and the author doesn’t give an explanation. I wonder what "ther" meant here in the context. The author has put in little poems here and there in the book that are very cute to hum. One in particular caught my eye and ear - Cottleston Pie. Here are the verses. Aren't they cute.

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.
A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.
A fish can't whistle and neither can I
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.
Why does a chicken, I don't know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply:
Cottleston, Cottleston, Cottleston Pie.

The whole writing style is so unique - with chapter titles mentioned as "In Which…." giving the summary of what the reader could see in the chapter. An illustration of The Hundred Acre Woods is seen in the book that spreads across the front hard cover and the first page (although my book has a sticker of Owl pasted across the first page with the name Katharine Truman Smith printed below and a "Er Sibris" under the owl - perhaps the name of the person this book originally had belonged to).

All illustrations in the book were done by Ernest H. Shepard and quite well they depict the story - characters almost come alive.

The format of the first chapter and some of the other chapters is that of a story-teller - written in the story-teller's view point, but here A. A. Milne is telling the story to his son and Edward Bear that his son calls as Winnie - the - Pooh and putting them as the characters in the plot. He also used the Sentence Case for many sentences and made the first letter upper case for many words - keeping it close to how a child would write a script perhaps. Interesting way though.

The book introduces all the characters as Pooh marches down the Hundred Acre Woods - Winnie-the-Pooh to begin with, Piglet (a Pig) (aka Henry Pootel in on chapter. :P), Rabbit, Eeyore (old grey donkey), Owl, Kanga and Baby Roo. Oh what fun it was to get to know them, be part of their adventures and live in Hundred Acres Wood - even if it was just for the time I read this book.

A beautiful book for every kid and every child in you. Teaching some much needed life's lessons about friendship, helping, living in harmony and much more; this book certainly leaves its mark in everyone's heart who reads it.

And now my littlest nephew who arrived into this world with all cheer and pomp.

Spoiler Alerts:
1. There is a sequel to this book titled The House at Pooh Corner and was published in 1928. Hadnt heard about it before so never looked for the book. Another one to add to my collection and posts.
2. Surprisingly enough the bouncy toy-tiger Tigger doesn’t appear in this first book. He is seen in the sequel. All along I assumed he was part of the first book.
3. Two other books as sequels were published to this series post-Milne time - Return to The Hundred Acre Wood written by David Benedictus and published in 2009; The Best Bear in All The World written by Paul Bright, Jeanne Willis, Kate Saunders and Brian Sibley and scheduled to release in October of 2016. Some more additions to my collections and posts, I say.
4. Interesting that Pooh was the name of a swan that A. A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin had named and Winnie was the name of a female Polar Bear in London Zoo that they ahd frequented. Quite a story it is.
5. Interesting language all through the book - Towel-horse (Rabbit used this to describe a rod to hang towels similar to a towel rack), Sustaining Book (perhaps meaning a comforting book), Woozle and Wizzle  (imaginary characters), Heffalump (ficitonal elephant), Expotition (something meaning expedition per the context),
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here.
For review of all books in this series: Go here

Stars: 3.5 / 5
Recommendation: A new twist mixing Science and Magic giving the plot an easy read at the same time. Go for it for those sunny days.

This is the third book in the Newton's Laws series published in May of 2016 by Rebecca Schwartz. The second book was a little less enthusiastic than the first considering not a lot happened with the dragons that Rachel Simons finds in the basement, although there was that incident of loss of power to bend physics for Justin Brogstrom and Dr. Peter Parker. I am hoping that was a platform being set for the grand finale in the third book.

Rachel is out in the world experiencing her adulthood, working for Dr. Jessica Parker - wife of Peter Parker, fulltime physics professor and has ability to bend physics aka magic - after completing her graduation 6 months ago. Just before college completed, Jessica had finally succumbed to Justin Borgstrom's  pursuit and now she has a sort-of boyfriend with super powers. However the walk in adulthood doesn’t start off smooth. First someone releases a pathogen called tularemia into the lab where Rachel is working.  Next the CDC and hazmat team arrived at the hospital even though Vermont isnt known for its virulent tularemia rates and that CDC shouldn’t be responding to an isolated incident in an isolated location. And then both Justin and Rachel get eviction notices from their dorm rooms. With little time to hunt and a solution to be roommates with Dinah - another superhero similar to Justin - makes Rachel feel skeptical while Justin jumps to grab it. But why is Rachel apprehensive about Justin? Why is she holding back?

Now Dante - Rachel's boss in her writing department - is similar to Justin and Peter, and for some reason is targeting Justin. And Pam - Justin's boss - is suddenly interested in what Rachel is doing and would like a exome sequence analyzed although Rachel suspects that she has no clue what she is asking for. So does Justin supsect about Pam - that she could be another plant. While Jessica is facing her own share of problems with her six- year old daughter Meredith - who is every bit like Justin and Peter only that her abilities are to make people bend against their own will. Former government agent Kurt who had caused trouble to Justin and Rachel while working with Weird Eddy previous term (story told in book 2 - post link to review here) ends up being baby sitter for Meredith now - but creates a huge question mark in Rachel's brain. Is Kurt really on their side now? Justin's sister Krystal comes to the shelter of Jessica and Peter in the hopes that they can help her in turning off her super powers - apparently she can teleport over distance and time?

There is so much going on around Rachel that she has no clue what connects to what and being inquisitive she gets deeper and deeper into it as days go by. What exactly is happening in the hospital? What are the other things that Justin and Krystal keep bringing up, that Jessica doesn’t discuss? Where is all this confusing chaos leading to? In midst of these the types of superhero powers and the people having them are also increasing in numbers - slowly making me feel like I am in an X-Men movie.

I liked the fact that the author brings up the sexual harassment issue that is seen more than often in many countries and many companies - be it corporate or government or private. (Thankfully I hadnt had to be on either end of that harassment any time in my career!!).  This is an issue that is so often ignored.

Romance had fluttered between Rachel and Justin right before they finished their graduation. However I fail to see the romance between them through the author's eyes. They are so plain about it. I wonder why the author had not elevated it a bit further. Rachel seems to be more cautious about expanding her relationship with Justin as always, but this time around she sounds rude at times. May be I am expecting her to fall in love and be romantic like any girl in love. But, the author is portraying her very practical and grounded. And when is Justin going to grow up and become an adult if he wants to date Rachel as more than just casual. I would like to see Justin more open and try not be like the person who needs a hammer to extract information as small as a nail.

All in all a much better book in the series that could bring Physics into normal man's terms.

Spoiler Alerts:
1) Justin's DNA was stolen in book II. Yet to figure out what happened to his DNA. Curious about that.
2) Justin has some kind of closure with his ex- Isaac - it shows a rather childish portrayal of a hero by the author when the hero doesn’t man-up for many things. For instance, why not get it out and let Rachel know about it? Because he is a male species and don’t share? It’s a bit confusing with the character portrayal of Justin.
3) Again there is reference to Doctor Who. I got to watch this series now.
4) Reference to Schrödinger's Cat is given in this book. I was not aware of what it was so I had to look up. Interesting thought experiment by Erwin Schrodinger (More here)
5) The author mentions about a James Bond movie where there is no Bond Girl in it. But I fail to remember any such movie. Although Skyfall could be considered. Perhaps that is what she is talking about.
6) Sue Storm and Reed Richards from Fantastic Four are also mentioned. All this reading is craving me to watch the Marvel movies again.
7) Grammatical Errors: a few seen through the book - a missing "to" in the third para last line that starts with "Meredith…" (pg 107).
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars:  3 / 5
Recommendation: A movie I would love to watch on TV sitting on my couch rather than in a theater.

Finding Dory is the 2016 American comedy-adventure drama film released by Walt Disney Pictures. This is a sequel as well as a spin-off to the 2003 hit animated film Finding Nemo - made 16 years later. The film reprises the roles of Dory - a regal blue tang - voiced by Ellen DeGeneres and Marlin - Nemo's father and a clownfish - voiced by Albert Brooks from the first part. The plot is very much similar to Finding Nemo - only in here Dory gets captured and Nemo and Marlin set to save her.

The movie was playing at the drive-in theater nearby. Havent had any experience with drive-in theaters, I set about to watch the movie. It was a very unique one and I must say something that I would like to repeat in future.

The plot opens with Dory, as a child, living with her parents but gets separated. The movie then fast forwards to year after rescuing of Nemo occurs, and Dory is playing a huge hand in raising Nemo. However during one of Nemo's class, Dory has a flashback to her childhood and remembers that she has a family. She sets out in search of her parents accompanied by Nemo and Marlin. With her short-term memory loss the only thing she remembers is that they had lived at the Jewel of Morro Bay. They reach California where Dory accidentally awakens a predatory squid who almost devours Nemo. Marlin yells at Dory for her carelessness and Dory leaves alone in search of her parents - hurt from Marlin's yelling. She gets captured by the Marine Life Institute, tagged and is sent to the quarantine section. There she meets with a seven-legged octopus named Hank. With this help she tries to get out while Nemo and Marlin try to get in to rescue her.

The rest of the film proceeds with quest of Dory finding her parents. In the process, she reconnects with her childhood friend Destiny - a near-sighted whale shark who communicates through pipes - helps Bailey - a beluga whale - regain his sense of echolocation, and helps Hank overcome his fear of living in the Ocean.

The film has set numerous records including the highest-grossing animated film opening of all time in North America. Yet I got dead-bored midway through the movie and almost quit watching the finish except that I couldn’t abandon my friends. :P Well animated ofcourse, no doubt about it. However there are several pieces to the plot that can be eliminated and still would have made a complete film. Those were the ones that bored me out.

Many who I know wonderd about the title of the movie. Should it have been called as Finding Dory's Family instead. However, for me the title still did make sense - as Dory was not only being found by Marlin and Nemo when she was captured, but she was also finding herself as she had so less of memory that she retains. Finding her family was the icing on the cake. :)

All in all a good movie for those sunny days.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars: 4.5 / 5
Recommendation: Much needed life's lessons taught through simple animals and seemingly complex twists.

Zootopia is a 2016 American animated comedy-adventure film released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 55th animated film by Walt Disney Studios. This became the third highest-grossing film in 2016. At first I had no inclination of watching the movie. However the talk about it was so much that it piqued my interest and thus my watching it and then writing this review. Zootopia is set in an alternate world where the animals are anthropomorphic. The concept of that is very close to humans that it creeped me a bit during the movie, yet I still enjoyed it well.

The plot begins in Bunnyburrow, a small rural town, with Judy Hopps - a rabbit - fulfilling her childhood dream to become the first rabbit police officer in Zootopia - an urban utopia. Judy Hopps realizes it is indeed a utopia upon reaching. The train she travels makes through three different regions of Zootopia - an outer most desert,

a middle icy snowy region

and an inner rainforest region

before reaching the central urban Zootopia.

However when she reports at the central police station, Chief Bogo puts her on parking duty.

Despite her disappointment she thrives on becoming the best parking police. In the process she meets Nick Wilde - a sly fox - and Finnick - another fennec fox - two con artists. Nick slyly escapes an arrest by quoting that he hasn’t done anything that was not within the law. The next day she Judy ends up abandoning her duty and arrests Duke Weaselton - a thief who stole plant bulbs . Instead of praising Chief Bogo reprimands her. In the midst of it, Mrs. Otterton enters his office and begs him to find her husband Emmitt who had gone missing. Despite Bogo's objeciton, Assistant Mayor Dawn Bellwether gives the assignment to Judy for which Bogo gives 48 hours to find Mrs. Otterton or else!
In her investigation she finds that Nick was the last person to see Mr. Otterton alive. She blackmails him into becoming her partner and help her find Mr. Otterton.

In their investigation, they find out a much bigger secret than what they had imagined. The so called predators that Chief Bogo has been assigned to hunt, are they in real predaotrs? What is happening in Cliffside Asylum? What is Mayor Lionheart's hand in it? Who are the "night howlers"? The duo Judy and Nick set on this path of investigation and finally expose the real culprits behind the entire scandal.
I liked the movie as it hit so close to home when we are facing so many lives being killed. Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Brown Lives Matter - so many slogans we are seeing around. But the simple thing is ALL LIVES MATTER. That was the message being sent through this movie. All lives matter as they bring balance and semblance to nature. One cannot eliminate one race, say predators, attesting to biological reasons - for not all predators come with claws or bite. Excellently depicted message and perfectly used animals for each role - so close to their nature yet so different from what they actually do.
All in all a well made animated film that leaves a distinct mark behind.
Spoilers behind the cut...Collapse )
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a movie review.
Prologue: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: A fun movie for all those angry birds lovers but not for me, I landed in the middle between hate and love.

The Angry Birds Movie is a 2016 Finnish-American animated feature film based on the video game of the same name. It took a while for me to go about and watch the movie - primarily because I never liked the game as such. Well, finally I did watch it, just to check out and see what the ruckus was all about. And here is my review.

The plot basically revolves around flightless birds living on Bird Island, who have this passionate love towards the bald eagle called The Mighty Eagle who is supposed to be their protector and the only bird that can fly, although hasn’t been seen in a long time. Red, one of the resident and reclusive, is sent to anger management classes where he meets Chuck, Bomb and Terence along with their instructor Matlida. However he doesn’t venture to make any friends with them or even resolve his anger issues.

One day a boat arrives with green-colored pigs who say they come in peace and friendship. And they show the flightless birds new technologies like slingshots and helium balloons - things that would help the birds feel the bliss of flight.

However, Red suspects a deeper motive behind all these and sets on to investigate. In the process, he finally makes friends with his anger management classmates, sets on to search for The Mighty Eagle, find the truth behind the façade the green pigs peace offerings and eventually help save the Bird Island.

A simple plot with some funny twists makes an entertaining film. However, it's every bit like the game which grated on me as well as charmed - such a mixed feeling I never felt with any movie before. The elements of the Angry Birds are so cleverly used in the plot - the slingshots, the balloons, the toppling of towers and buildings - all tying into the tapestry neatly.

I have no complaints against the movie, but I didn’t particularly felt overtly happy either. Somewhere in between I landed by the time the movie ended. All in all a fun movie for the kids to watch perhaps or for those who love the game.
More spoils behind the cut...Collapse )
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here.
For review of all books in this series: Go here.

Stars: 2.5 / 5
Recommendation: Fit for a plot to introduce a new fictional detective to the literary world, but as a Poirot book this is my least favorite.

The Monogram Murders is a new Hercule Poirot book by British poet and novelist Sophie Hannah published in 2014. This is the first time Agatha Christie's estate have permitted someone to bring back our favorite Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

Agatha Christie had brought a very fitting ending for the great detective in her 1975 novel Curtain - a fitting title too. Poirot had become so real for everyone - something how Sherlock Holmes has become - so much so that New York Times even had a real obituary in their August 6 1975 paper (Check here: http://www.nytimes.com/1975/08/06/archives/hercule-poirot-is-dead-famed-belgian-detective-hercule-poirot-the.html). But, will such a fictional character who has become a household name and your next door neighbor ever die? Just as Ian Fleming never killed James Bond nor would have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle kill Sherlock Holmes (he did rebirth Holmes in 1901 - 1902 The Hound of Baskervilles - eight years after The Final Problem in which Moriarty and Holmes were supposedly dead), one would have expected Christie's Poirot to be reborn. However, it hasn’t happened until 2014 - 39 years after Curtain.

Fleming bringing back Bond time and again or Doyle succumbing to public pressure and bringing back Holmes is different though. They were done by the authors who created the characters in the first place. However, with Poirot, the rebirth is being done by an author who was in no way connected to Christie or Poirot. Will the new Poirot live up to everyone's expectations? Has Sophie Hannah successfully mastered the recipe Agatha Christie had for her novels? Well, you see, I am already starting the book with these and so many more questions in my mind. I will try my best to keep the review as unbiased as possible, yet I can't help comparing Hannah's Poirot to Christie's Poirot. Oh well, here is my take on the new Hercule Poirot mystery.

The plot is set in London in 1929 when Hercule Poirot is taking a brief sabbatical from taking up any cases so he can rest and recharge his "little grey cells". During his rest time, Poirot is sharing a lodging house with a young Scotland Yard Detective Edward Catchpool. What kind of a last name is that for a detective, not a Christie style though. Anyways, one of his routine was to go to this tiny establishment in St. Gregory's Alley, in a part of London that perhaps Poirot would not have come normally but for the best coffee they serve. Also this place gives him the anonymity he thrived during his rest time. On one such evening while he was enjoying his coffee and waiting for dinner, a woman walks into the place, with scared eyes and looking over her shoulder. Poirot's interest piques and engages her in conversation with her - Jennie - and finds that she will be murdered soon, but doesn’t want Poirot to do help her in anyway.  In fact if she is found dead, she doesn’t want her case to be solved. Saying so she dashes out of that place leaving a puzzled Poirot frowning and his little grey cells actively working. Who is this Jennie? Why is she going to be murdered? And why doesn’t she want her murder to be solved? What is the crime she committed that warrants her to be dead?

When Poirot returns to his lodging he learns from his housemate Detective Catchpool that there murders happened in three different rooms at Bloxham Hotel, all with similar M.O. And the murderer left a calling card - similar looking monogrammed cufflinks in each of their mouths, same initials on all three "PIJ". Poirot immediately connects it to what Jennie had told to him, relates it to Catchpool, but Catchpool doesn’t find it as connected as Poirot thinks. Poirot however is very sure that a fourth murder will be committed soon - possibly of Jennie's - since cufflinks come in pairs.

Detective Catchpool comes with a dark secret from his childhood that he tries to forget as much as he can. What has that anything to do with the murders? Are the murders and his past related? Who killed the three people at Bloxham Hotel? What is it with their case that keeps Poirot at it although Detective Catchpool thinks it cut and dry.

The first chapter of the book is written in the Christie format. However starting second chapter onwards the story converts into a narrative mode - being told from a third person's perspective, in particular from Detective Edward Catchpool's mouth. This is different from Christie's approach giving it a fresh feel rather than making it look like a copying a famous author. The format of the plot again changes to author's tone like any book at the beginning of the fourth chapter then continues into a narrative mode. The book is written in chapters just like any book, but each chapter has a title to it similar to a kid's story book  - another trait different from Christie's style.

A very Christie-Poirot kind of book at first glance and grips you to the chair or sofa - if I may say - for most part of the book. However trying to personify Poirot the author has just made him look more and more in paper without life as the chapters proceeded. Of course the french words here and there, his twitches with his moustache and all the elements of Poirot are very much twined in the plot. Yet it makes me feel so much that Poirot is with no life in there. Although Poirot is portrayed to be superior and proud of his brain - which is the usual case in most of his books - here, however he comes of very condescending towards Detective Catchpool. That portrayal did not jive with me well. Also the plot while being unraveled to reveal the murderer, the motive, etc. the author included quite a few twists and spins that kept me reeling. Even at the end I was left thinking if there is more to it. This is an unsual feel for me when reading a Poirot book.

All in all a good plot with considerable twists and turns. But, I would have liked it to be a plot for any different detective who is newly introduced to a series rather than put in the mouth of Poirot. I perhaps would have liked the book better then.

Spoiler Alerts:

1. There is no Captain Hastings or Inspector Japp in this plot although Poirot does elude to them a few times.
Continuing with the critiques I started in 2015, here is the next in series – a book review.
Prologue: Go here.
For review of all books in this series: Go here.

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: All the elements of mystery, suspense and thrill that you see in any Christie's novel is seen here too. But what lacks is the chase and the chill.

After the success of the novelization of Agatha Christie's first play Black Coffee, Charles Osborne made another one of her play into a novel. The play Unexpected Guest was originally opened in 1958 and written by Agatha Christie. Charles Osborne's novelization was published in 1999. It's a straight forward novelization of the play line by line without any additions by Charles - keeping the Christie magic as is. This, however, is not your typical Miss Marple or a Poirot mystery, yet a mystery none the less right out of Christie's pen to the paper.

"The door opens and the unexpected guest comes in." - The exact saying that Laura Warwick had heard growing up and the word "unexpected guest" always chilled her. And the very night that she supposedly had shot her husband - Richard Warwick - in walks Michael Starkwedder through the French Windows of The Study, whose car gets stuck in a ditch right in front the Warwick's home. The household of Warwick's consisted of Richard and Laura Warwick, Henry Angell - Richard's valet and male nurse attendant, Richard's mother, Miss Bennet "Benny" - housekeeper, secretary and ex-hospital nurse; and finally Jan - Richard's sort of retarded half-brother. Per what Laura had told Michael, he came to a conclusion that Richard was one of the most bitter and sadistic person. For that very reason he feels a soft spot for Laura. And instead of calling for the cops, he talks her into trying to make this murder look like done by someone from Richard's distant past who had a grudge against him. Laura agrees to go along with him, for she would be better of being acquitted than convicted.

Putting his idea into motion, Michael walks away from the house while the household wakeup to a shot, find Richard's dead body, re-enter Michael again and finally call the police. Inspector Thomas and Sergeant Cadwallader are assigned to the case - a curious one that they have had in a while. Sergeant Cadwallader has his suspicions on Michael Starkwedder but Inspector Thomas thinks of other avenues in solving the case. Who actually murdered Richard Warwick? Why did Michael decide to fabricate evidence and save Laura? Why did Michael come into the house in the first place? How did he happen to be driving his car into a ditch at the same time the murder was being committed? How are the other members of the household involved - for none seem to have any love towards Richard?

As the plot proceeds, everyone  comes under suspicion and is considered as a suspect - for everyone had a motive to kill Richard. A seemingly knotty case for the Inspector and Sergeant to solve until the last the knot frees up and the murderer is revealed. A mystery typical of all the Agatha Christie elements seen but has a few flaws. Obviously the chase and thrill are missing. However, there are periods of conversations that are so lengthy adding more lines to the characters but doing nothing. All in all another quick read from Agatha Christie novelized by Charles Osborne.

Spoiler Alerts:
1. Per Wiki: The Guardian - a British newspaper (More about it here) - reported that The Queen attended a performance of the play on the evening of 16 February 1959 with Lord and Lady Mountbatten. The cast were unaware that she was in the audience.
2. The play has been made into several Indian movies in many of its languages:
a. In Hindi made as Dhund ( = Fog) in 1973
b. In Kannada made as Tarka ( = Logic) in 1988
c. In Tamil made as Puriyadha Puthir in 1990
3. Sergeant Cadwallader quotes famous poets all through the book - Keats, T. S. Elliot, John Masefield, Shakespeare, Alexander Pope.
4. The person that Laura and Michael plan on throwing suspicion on is MacGregor. Reminded me of the several novels Nora Roberts had written on the MacGregor clan.

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