December 16th, 2016


Book Critique 2016 – 08/08/2016: Lucky Charms (Night Shight #3)

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

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: An interesting short story involving psychics, changelings and humans - definitely setting a path for other books to be explored.

Night Shift is a collection of four novellas by four authors who have mastered the art of spinning stories in urban fantasy and paranormal romance - Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Milla Vane and Lisa Shearin - published in November of 2014. Here is the review of the third novella.

Lucky Charms is the third novella in the book written by Lisa Shearin and is the SPI Files #1 in the same series. The plot revolves around Makenna Frazier - working for Supernatural Protection and Investigations aka SPI - and her partner Ian Byrne - highly accomplished agent at the SPI. It is set in a world where humans and mythical creatures - ogres, leprechauns, elves, vampires, etc. - co-exist.

On her first night working for New York SPI office, Makenna Frazier - a seer - was assigned to Ian Byrne. And her first assignment was to locate five horny leprechauns who had vanished from a strip-club. Ian Byrne was not happy of the task and of having Makenna as a partner either. A bachelor party for the soon-to-be married Leprechaun Prince of the Seelie Court constituted the five who disappeared. The most important reason to bring back these Leprechauns because if the Prince is caught he has no choice but to grant three wishes for his release which might alter the world of power and dominance. Added to that they carry bags of money tied to their belts that reaches directly to their personal pot of gold.

The hunt for the lost Leprechauns continue while Makenna bonds with the team and gets closer to Ian than needed. Will they find the Leprechauns? Will they both have something more? Where will this all lead to? A simple and mundane task it seemed for Ian and Makenna but it doesn’t seem as so. How does this pan out is an interesting read.

This plot is also written in first-person context. There are shades of humor, sensuality, rage, cunningness and a dash of danger lurking along. I thoroughly enjoyed the novella. And given time in future I will perhaps pick the series from the beginning to read, especially since the ending hung in a cliffhanger.

An easy read and a definite pick that you can finish in a few hours.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Grammatical Errors: On Pg. 250, fourth para from the bottom, "to" should be replaced with "do" in the line "The file we have on you…"

Book Critique 2016 – 08/09/2016: The Beast Of Blackmoor (Night Shft #4)

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

Stars: 3 / 5
Recommendation: An interesting short story involving psychics, changelings and humans - definitely setting a path for other books to be explored.

Night Shift is a collection of four novellas by four authors who have mastered the art of spinning stories in urban fantasy and paranormal romance - Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Milla Vane and Lisa Shearin - published in November of 2014. Here is the review of the fourth novella.

The Beast Of Blackmoor is the fourth novella in the book written by Milla Vane and is the Barbarian #1 in the same series. The plot revolves around a warrior princess and the taming of The Beast of Blackmoor. This is her first story as Milla Vane, but she has written other paranormal and steampunk romances as Meljean Brook.

The book opens with Kavik of Blackmoor after enjoying ale to his hearty fill - celebrating the victory, his first victory in a battle - walks off the inn only to be drawn to a temple to moon Goddess, Vela. Frustrated with the fights, unable to kill the warlord Barin or the demon freed by the Destroyer, asks for a quest to the priestess to finish Barin. But the priestess refuses to give which puts an already intoxicated and frustrated Kavik in fury and insults the Goddess. The priestess flings him out of the temple with a curse - do whatever he may to save his people, at the moment when he loses everything she will come again to twist the knife and that he should watch for a woman in red, for she would be the one to bring him down.

Then plot heads into sometime in future where a woman named Mala is riding her horse, Shim to Blackmoor - where she is sent to tame a beast - wearing a red hood marking her that she was on another quest from Vela, the moon goddess. The land of Blackmoor was as dry as dust despite the drizzle of rains and her path lead through Vela's Labyrinth - a maze of canyons supposedly dug by the Goddesses finger nails while she was in labor giving birth to the twins Justice and Law. Her travel had been lonely until she came upon a caravan coming out of the crevice of the canyon. But before they could cross the barren land and reach the bridge over the river, a swarm of revenants attack them  - wraiths who have been made from living beings but drained of everything in them. She aids the caravan and along with the warrior who was accompanying the caravan kill all the revenants. Only to find herself the target of the warrior who was determined to have her, and called her as "little dragon" as though he knew her.

Who was this warrior? Why does he think he knows her? It was all a confusion for Mala and puts her defenses up to fight him through. But the need to help the caravan after the fight took over and while she pursued that task she comes to know the warrior was Kavik who traveled with the caravan till the bridge to protect them from the revenants and returned back to Blackmoor to repeat the task again with other travelers. Without understanding why her body sings to him and he seems to know her. More questions for Mala without any answers as she continues into Blackmoor to pursue her quest while Kavik proceeds with the caravan to the bridge.

Has the curse placed on Kavik come true, now that he met the woman in red? Who is the demon that Mala has to tame? And why would the goddess want her to tame the beast rather than kill him? Will warlord Barin cause her trouble?

The plot picked-off really good making me remember Game of Thrones books. Setting in a medieval kind of time somewhere on the planet with all the elements of kings, warlords and demons along-side humans and magic. What I didn’t like was a very public sexual scene between the two lead characters. Mala so defiantly objects for the warlord and his army to treat humans as playtoys and mis-use them, when she herself puts as a toy in front of Kavik in a public display. That whole scene disturbed me a lot. Perhaps it was to make Kavik realize more about her, but isn't their public sexual activity same as what the warlord does? Of course it was only just between the two of them, still that whole scene couldn’t sit well for me. Also I was left confused as to who was The Destroyer as the author kept mentioning it. Was it Warlord Barin? Or the Demon Tusk? Or was there a third villain?

Other than that it has been an excellent read. Will I pick her books again sometime? I am not sure. The jury is still out. :) All in all a good novella to enjoy and a quick read.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Language is so different and old-world, for instance - eyetooth is used to mean a canine tooth on the upper jaw; brocs (perhaps means pants or boxers based on the usage but couldn’t find the meaning), cuirass (a piece of armor)
2) On Pg 314, the first para - the entre four lines of the text are so familiar, reminds me of some other book that I read the exact same text, but am unable to put a finger on the name. This is the first time I am reading a book by Milla Vane though. So I wonder why I feel that particular para so familiar.

Movie Critique 2016 – 08/10/2016: Mahal

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

Stars:  5 / 5
Recommendation: With elements of reincarnations, ghost and mystery the movie is a classic that is not to be missed.

Mahal ( = The Mansion) is a 1949 Indian Hindi film starring Ashok Kumar and Madhubala. This the first film based on reincarnation and horror - thriller plot. This directorial-debut film by Kamal Amrohi formed a platform for both Madhubala - leading lady - and Lata Mangeshkar - female playback singer for her iconic song Aayega Aayega Aanewala - to be shot into instant stardom. The film also set stage for gothic genre in Indian film going on to become one of the biggest blockbuster hit in 1949.

This particular day that I am posting this movie for, I was listening to a program on the music director Khemchand Prakash who sadly had passed away two months after this hit film was released. That gave me an inspiration to post about his last film and the iconic song.

The plot as mentioned is about reincarnation and a ghost. It begins with Hari Shankar (portrayed by Ashok Kumar) buys a beautiful but abandoned building titled "Sangam Bhavan" in Allahabad and comes to live in it. The caretaker tells him about an incomplete love between the previous owners of the home - some 40 years ago. No one has since occupied the palace. The story goes that 40 years ago the palace was built by a man for his lover Kamini (portrayed by Madhubala). The man always came to Kamini during the night and left at the crack of dawn. But one day his ship sank and he drowned and he vows to Kamini that their love never fails. A few days later Kamini dies. No one knows who these folks were and what were their names.

The night that Hari Shankar moves into the palace he comes across a portrait of a man hung on the wall, and he is stunned to see that it has an uncanny resemblance to him.

Later that night he hears a girl singing and then sees her in one of the bedrooms. But when he goes into the room, she disappears. Shankar's friend Shrinath (portrayed by Kanu Roy) comes to meet him at the same time. Unnerved by what all has been happening since his arrival, Shankar tells the tale to Shrinath and listening to which Shrinath thinks that it is a scam an expresses suspicion on everything. However the girl reappears and when the men follow, she jumps from the terrace and disappears. Who is this ghost? Why is there a picture of his is in the palace? Is he really the one 40 years ago who built that palace? With some force from his friend, Shankar heads back to Kanpur But the palace keeps drawing him back he jumps the train mid-way at Naini and travels back to Allahabad to the palace. Enraged by his return the next time they see the girl, Shrinath tries to shoot her but she disappears again. Why is Shankar being drawn so much towards this ghost? Who is she? Will Shrinath get Shankar out of this ghost mess? How will the story unravel? Trying to know answers to all these questions grips us to our seats and thoroughly entertain one.

The iconic song comes at the very beginning of the movie giving the viewers no more wait for it. It is said that the opening lines of the song were written by Kamal Amrohi and the rest of the song was completed by Naqshab - the Lyricist. This song has become immortal and voted as the best song of the millennium. However it is very sad to note that Khemchand's wife had let the last years of her life in poverty (which had been the case with many artists of the yesteryears who weren't smart enough to create a nice nest egg for themselves like the later generation has been doing till date.) Someone has taken a lot of pains to gather all the details about the song and the history behind it here. An excellent read and gives a lot of insight into that beautiful song.

The role of Kamini was written with keeping in mind the then reigning star Suraiya. But instead Madhubala, a newbie in the film world, was chosen. Perhaps that is why her costumes and the way she looks at certain angles all resemble Suraiya. The play of light and shadow creating the gothic effects and the element of ghost in them. The cinematography is German-born Josef Wirsching gets you drunk on the gorgeous and equally frightening shots, each and every one unique in its own self. The screenplay by Kamal Amrohi is excellent. Some of the dialogues are really really good. The element of the gong of the grandfather clock only adds more chills. Madhubala gave a performance that even today if released today would become immortal once again - two roles both in contrast to each other.

Is it reincarnation? Is it ghost? Or is it plain old feeling of love in human heart that is twisted in more than one way and an innocent gets sacrificed. As much as I loved the plot, it irked me at the portrayal of one particular character. Can one go to such an extent to get someone? To an extent that goes beyond the lines of moral code? Even when the façade need to be uncovered and truth be told, the ghost keeps the plot going to attain its selfish heart's desire. Can one be so cruel in the name of love? In the name of heart? That was the biggest question I was left with at the end. Another element that adds chills up your spine. Of course this doesn’t mean that I don’t consider this an iconic movie, I do very much. Yet, that little nag I am left with too.

A movie that stands as a classic for many reasons that if you have not watched it I would say a must to watch on any day. Well-made and thoroughly enjoyable one even though it gives shivers at times.
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