Category Archives: Reviews

The Magicians By Lev Grossman (Book Review)


(Hi, my bookish friends. This is a guest review by Mr. A)

The theme of today’s review is subversion. Tropes are tropes for a reason. Little literary shortcuts are useful for telling stories because of pattern recognition. It’s why certain character archetypes and plots show up across all forms of media. Great stories add their own little twists to established formulas. The Magicians is a subversive novel that takes your expectations for a ride.

 On the surface, The Magicians is your standard post Harry Potter urban fantasy. A youth (Quentin Coldwater) discovers that magic is real and is invited into a Hogwarts-esque establishment (Brakebills). Quentin learns magic at Brakebills and meets a band of supporting characters including his friends Eliot, Josh, and Janet, and his love interest Alice. This is a fairly common plot that goes back to CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series and that is prevalent in fantasy even to this day.

 What really sets The Magicians apart from other novels of it’s ilk is in the way Grossman approaches the characters and the subject of magic. Magic is portrayed like any other area of study. The study of which is tedious and repetitive. It’s almost a language unto itself, with its own grammar and exceptions. The characters are likewise people that are obsessed with success. Intellectuals and high achievers. You’d have to be to even want to attempt to learn magic. Thus, magic is used as a means to explore these character’s personalities.

 Whereas many other stories take voyeuristic joy in the impossible, this novel makes the marvelous rather mundane. Despite his many gifts and powers, Quentin is perpetually seeking greener fields. He’s anxious and unhappy, constantly longing for an imaginary perfect happy place. He doesn’t really appreciate what he has in the present and he constantly sabotages his own emotional wellbeing in the pursuit of greater satisfaction.

 The Magicians is very much an anti-fantasy. It’s subversive and cynical, poking fun at the genre it belongs to. It borrows from and references other well known works and is an unusual amalgamation of its predecessors. Kind of like if you mixed Harry Potter with The Chronicles of Narnia and tossed in a dash of American Psycho. Is it worth reading? Sure, though I can’t speak to your enjoyment of the book.


The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson (Review)


⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

“This is Lancashire. This is Pendle. This is witch country.”

I wouldn’t have known about this book if I hadn’t randomly stumbled across it in my library. The sinister, brooding cover called to me! I have read one book by Jeanette Winterson before: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. I was very impressed with her writing. After reading The Daylight Gate, it safe to say I can’t wait to read more from her.

The Daylight Gate is a historical fiction novel about the Pendle Witch trials that took place in 1612. Its cast of characters are borrowed from history but of course, they are fictionalised and reinvented for the sake of entertainment. It should also be mentioned that the writing is not for the faint of heart or young. I was surprised how nsfw and triggering some of the content is but overall it didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story.

Our main character is Alice Nutter, a suspected witch. She is known for her wealth, land and eternal youth. The local magistrate Roger Nowell is determined to bring her and the women she helps down. Coupled with this, he suspects Alice is hiding a conspirator of the Gunpowder Plot. Jeanette Winterson accurately demonstrates the mass superstition and hysteria against witchcraft and Catholicism during the reign of James I, a Protestant king. Just under 200 pages, this was a super fast and intriguingly dark read.

Politics by David Runciman (Review)



Rating a non-fiction book about politics doesn’t feel right but let’s go with 4 stars. The title is mighty dull but don’t let that dissuade you. Politics is about the importance of political systems, why we need them, and why they’re here to stay. I heard David Runciman (and Francis Fukuyama) on an Intelligence Squared debate on YouTube because, yes I’m that person. The talk was about how even the best political system (aka democracy) can fail. And this was in 2014… those were rosy, rosy times indeed!

I guess this review will be a little pessimistic. If I had read Politics in 2014, my review would be a little different. It’s safe to say democracy went through two formative stages – the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the bloody mess that was the 20th century. David Runciman’s main idea is that democracy in today’s world is fractured and not what we all imagine it to be.

China is a technocracy. Russia has a federal presidential system but is basically highly centralised and autocratic. Runciman doesn’t mention this but liberal democracies have been dying since 2016. Protectionism and populism are on the rise – just look at the U.S and the U.K. Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 thesis (The End of History) is about the success of Western liberal democracy. He believed that democracy had perfected itself, that there couldn’t be a more ideal political system. Of course it isn’t always that easy.

It can’t be predicted but I’m pretty sure all political systems will undergo changes at some point in the future as there are always alternatives. Runciman points out that democracy hasn’t completed it’s work: there is rampant inequality around the world, states are inherently insular and concerned with their own problems. Unless huge disasters occur – the Great Depression, the 2008 financial crisis, 9/11 – democracies are complacent.

Politics got us out of those ruts. Politics causes wars, and politics is the thing that influences everything around us even if we can’t feel it. Because the world is so intertwined, failure on one end can be felt all the way on the other end. Runciman’s outlook is a depressing one, no doubt, but it’s pragmatic. If any big catastrophe occurs, it’ll be because of politics and only politics can solve that catastrophe. Give this a read. It’s well-written and has illustrations!

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor (Review)



(Mild spoilers)

1. a quiet, gentle song sung to send a child to sleep.

Lullaby is one of the most creepiest novel I’ve ever read. “The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.” After this banging beginning, the novel takes a detour and sets up the lives of our main characters who live in Paris. Myriam, a French-Morrocan woman, and her husband Paul have two young kids: lively Mila and baby Adam. Myriam loses her sense of self after motherhood and yearns for her dreams of being a successful lawyer to come true. Paul is a musician and is very busy. Myriam runs into her old friend from law school who offers her a job to work with him.

Enter: the nanny. I knew how this story was going to end, but I couldn’t stop reading. Leïla Slimani doesn’t offer a concrete plot but a series of incidents and scenes that are gradually more unsettling and disturbing. Louise seems to be the “perfect” nanny. She is friendly with the children, caring, and is content to cook and clean for the busy couple every day. As Louise’s personal life is slowly revealed, we catch a glimpse of who she is and what her intentions are. The novel subtly conveys themes relevant to us now:

The world of nannies who are predominantly a group of immigrants, legal or otherwise. They make the lives of white families easier.

The sense of fear in motherhood. Of having to choose between home and work.

The children who die everyday from neglect or violence.

Lullaby isn’t a mystery in the strictest sense, nor is it a thriller. We, the readers, know where the story is going exactly. And that’s the scariest part of it all.

Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas (Review)


⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I went into this thriller with low expectations, and that at the very least I sought to be entertained even if the story was rubbish. But I was PLEASANTLY taken aback. Local Girl Missing is approved. A few months ago (or could’ve been last year) I started reading The Sisters – same author but her debut – and DNF’d it since the plot was going nowhere. I don’t remember much else. I think debuts are tricky, it’s either a hit or miss in any genre. Although I find that authors who write mystery or crime dole out books like it’s nobody’s business 📚 There’s more where that came from, so to speak.


Local Girl Missing is about Frankie, a Londoner, who goes back to the seaside town she grew up in. What pulls her back to the town is a phone call from her best friend’s brother and news that parts of Sophie have been found. Sophie went missing 18 years ago and is believed to have been murdered. If you know anything about my reading tastes, I (capital l) Love mysteries set in small towns brimming with secrets. The story is divided between Frankie’s POV and Sophie’s diary and is thoroughly creepy as it leads up to the day when Sophie goes missing.

I enjoyed the novel a lot and flew through it. Not gonna lie, Frankie was a little annoying and immature at times. The ending was truly wtf, I didn’t see it coming at all. I’m now curious about Claire Douglas’ latest novel ‘Last Seen Alive,’ and I see it has amazing reviews on goodreads. Yay! I highly recommend Local Girl Alive if you’re going through a reading slump or just want to read a quick-paced thriller with a satisfying ending! 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (Review)


⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (3. 5 stars) 

This was my first Agatha Christie novel! ❤️ My brother has been recommending Agatha Christie to me since a decade – no kidding. I really wanted to watch the movie which motivated me to pick up Murder on the Orient Express.

The novel is set entirely on a train travelling from Istanbul to London. Hercule Poirot, “the world’s most famous detective,” is aboard and as expected crime and mystery follows at his footsteps. On a snowy night, a man is found stabbed 12 times. There are a dozen travellers (now suspects) in the coach. What I loved about the novel was Poirot’s witticisms, the interrogation scenes, the backstory, and the final reveal. Agatha Christie’s writing is precise and to the point. So is the structure of the book.

My preference is towards seedier crime novels with modern settings, and Agatha Christie leans towards respectable or classic crime. I’ll definitely be picking her novels up in the future when I want a cozy read. After I finished reading Murder on the Orient Express I went to watch the movie a few hours later. It was lovely! I was from riveted start to finish and even though I knew what the suspense was I was still invested and entertained. Kenneth Branagh did an excellent job at directing and playing Poirot. I have no idea why the reviews online aren’t that favourable… I was not disappointed at all, this was a clean-cut mystery with a fantastic ending.

I’d highly recommend Murder on the Orient Express, both the novel and the film adaptation.

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The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (Review)


⭐ ⭐

Well, this was a load of crap.

I haven’t changed my mind even after sleeping on it. After reading the last page, all I could think was how unfinished the story felt. Also, plot… hello? Nada. The Book of Strange New Things is a “science fiction” novel that is about Peter Leigh, a Christian pastor, who leaves his wife Bea behind on Earth and goes on an intergalactic mission with a company named USIC. He reaches planet Oasis and is ready to spread the word of God to the native population.

There is some semblance of direction and plot in the first 180 pages but after that, it’s boring. It’s annoying. The love story between Peter and Bea falls apart quickly once they’ve separated. The emails they write one another are fucking tragic. Bea whines about earthquakes in (I don’t even remember) Nepal and tsunamis and how people are dying and there’s no chocolate in Tesco’s. Boo hoo. Peter couldn’t give any fucks either and writes back infrequently, angering his wife. At one point I wanted Bea’s character to die so the emails would stop.

Peter on the other hand is loving Oasis. To be honest, I did enjoy Michel Faber’s world building and descriptions of the new & alien planet: the days are long, the air seems ‘alive’ and moves differently, the rain travels in swirly dots, and the Oasan’s are strange looking creatures who can speak a little English. I thought Faber’s attempts to demonstrate the Oasan’s language was juvenile and stupid. The s’s and t’s were represented by weird symbols. Peter is the Oasan’s third pastor, the first two having gone ‘fully native’ and run away. I thought the story would have an element of mystery and maybe  have some sinister aspects. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Coming to the writing, it’s not bad. Michel Faber can certainly write. He explores ideas and aspects of humanity but that couldn’t hold the plot together, which is a complete and utter mess. From what I read online, this might be Faber’s last fiction novel. He wrote The Book of Strange New Things as a way of dealing with the passing of his wife to cancer. He felt distant and alienated, because during the time his wife was suffering he enjoyed a lot of success in his career when his novels were turned into a tv show and movie. I still haven’t changed by mind though, this was an insanely boring novel. You might want to skip this one.