Camp NaNoWriMo! (and Non-fictions)

So April is here. And so is Camp NaNoWriMo.

And I am all pumped-up. One, because it is NaNo, of course. But more importantly… because it has been a while since I have done some serious writing. I mean I am a copywriter so major part of my days are spent writing, but it is not the same as writing a fiction. So this Camp, I am attempting to write under a super-tight schedule for the first time.

It has also been a while since I have reviewed a book. That’s because I’m currently reading three non-fictions at once and I really have no clue how to review a non-fiction. So, I also wanted to write about these books. Not a review, just a simple… idea sharing?

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book is about human thinking process. The basic premise of the book is about the two styles in which the human brain functions. Although traditionally termed as “left side” and “right side”, Kahneman begs to differ. He states that mind thinks in two ways: System 1 and System 2. 

According to him, System 1 is responsible for carrying out the intuitive thinking, whilst System 2 does all the analytic thinking. Based on this idea, Kahneman describes our thinking process and various illusions that befell upon it due to the functional differences between these functions.

So far, this book has taught me a great deal of practical solutions for everyday problems. Most of those are concerned simply changing the way you think.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Anyone even remotely interested in Behavioral Economics knows Dan Ariely and his Predictably Irrational well enough. In this book Ariely talks about the irrationality of human beings. He states, and goes on to prove, that no matter how much we would like to think that we are well-functioning, rational thinkers… we actually are not.

He also suggests that human beings are prone to repeat the same sorts of mistakes over and over, with almost predictable accuracy. That is to say that they are “predictably irrational”. His researches teach us how we can remain cautious of such irrationality and enrich our life.

Influence (The Psycology of…) by Robert Cialdini

Influence warns us about the psychological triggers that compel us subconsciously to react in a particular way. Robert Cialdini gives accounts of how a human mind is trained to react to certain events in a particular, predictable way and explains that those who know these triggers can have a dangerous influence over us. His book is both a way that explains the art of influencing, but it also is about knowing these triggers and staying safe, in case someone decides to use the similar triggers on us.

Besides these, I’ve also been reading (too slowly, in fact) Feast for the Crows (Book 4 of ASOIAF). Want to finish that up before its 5th season begins this April 13 on HBO.

So, yeah. Busy April. Just the way I love it.

Movie Review: Kingsman The Secret Service

Based on The Secret Service (Comics) by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar

Screenplay: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn

Directed by: Matthew Vaugh

Cast:  Colin FirthTaron EgertonSamuel L. Jackson

Most of the times you could almost hazard a guess from the trailer just how awesome (or dull) a movie is going to be.

I predicted Kingsman: The Secret Service to be a no-nonsense entertainer that would give me a good value for money.

Turns out, Kingsman is one of those movies that even surpasses your wildest expectations. (And I definitely got more than just the value for money!)

It was an entertainer, all right — but not just a clueless, bang-bang flick. It was an amalgam of a great story, a unique execution, and a genuine tension builder, that keeps you at the edge of your seat all the way.

Synopsis (Very tentative, no spoilers!)

Kingsman, an International super-secret service just has a hit on the disappearance of VIPs from different countries across the globe.

In a solo mission to save one of such VIP, Lancelot, one of Kingsman’s top spies, dies in the line of duty.

The secret service now must quickly replace him.

This replacement is assigned through a contest between few young boys and girls, chosen by various senior spies that includes (code names): Arthur (Michael Caine), Galahad (Collin Firth), and Merlin (Mark Strong). The winner of the contest becomes the next Lancelot.

Enters Eggsy (Taron Egerton), an everyday Brit street kid, who is full of potential. He is chosen for the contest by Galahad, who also becomes his godfather to repay an old debt he owed the boy’s father.

Now, as a global terror lurks in the form of Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a tech genius looking to “save” the planet, the young man Eggsy must struggle to prove his worth to his mentor, to the Kingsman, and most importantly, to himself.

Afterthoughts

“It’s not that kind of spy movie.”

It’s a famous line in the movie, that comes up quite often. And, ironically, it stands to be true.

Think of irreverent movies. Think of Quentin Tarantino. Think of Kick-ass (also by Matthew Vaughn).

Kingsman is in the same line. Yes, including the violence. (Awesome violence, I might add. Shhh!)

Matthew Vaughn, after establishing his impertinent mark with Kick-ass, has now taken on the realm of spies. And he does it ever so brilliantly.

The movie has all the gadgets and the techs one would expect (poison-point pens, shoes with knife, grenade-lighters, bulletproof umbrella… you name it), and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. For me, that was the best part about this movie. Ever the funny, it builds with great pace and takes the audience into the world of gentlemen spies, who are the “new knights with suits as their present day armor.”

The plot is good and story even better. The conflict is genuine and gets you hooked from the first few scenes itself. Of course, that is only true if you can digest a little violence… like, say, someone being vertically sliced into two?

If a global-warming frenzied psycho trying to save the planet by wiping out the population isn’t enough conflict for you, the movie also has a young street kid having to prove his worth. Then you have the mentor (Galahad) himself trying to right few mistakes of the past.

Major Characters

The brilliance of Samuel L. Jackson cannot be praised enough. As Richmond Valentine, he portrays a superfreak villain, who keeps us smirking with his dialogs and then scares the shit out of us with his actions. Keeping a fine balance between comedy and terror, Jackson shows us exactly why he’s so much in demand these days.

Collin Firth is equally exceptional in his role as Galahad. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine anyone more apt for this role. He has taken on from his subtle and classy performance in The King’s Speech and added a lot more style and action to it.

Taron Egerton is a surprise package in this movie. He is excellent in delivering the emotion that his role requires, and when he puts on the suit, he does seem a little Bond-ish. He looks more than believable… he is perfect as Eggsy.

All in all

Kingsman is an all-round entertainer. From action scenes to stunning visual effects, acting mastery to well-developed characters, great storytelling to a well-balanced pacing, from belly-tickling humor to jaw-dropping tension… the movie, like a real good spy, has successfully got all its grounds covered.

Book Review: Low Town by Daniel Polansky

Book: Low Town (First of its Name and the First in the Series of the Same Name!)

Author: Daniel Polansky

Genre: Noir/Fantasy (i’m told)

First thing’s first. (For those who’ve read the book; if not, kindly skip to next para) Low Town is a flawless, smooth read. But I can’t shake off this feeling that how closely it reads out like a game console. You know what I mean. Just think about it. The Earl is the place where the game is saved (where Warden returns every night to rest). We get information/messages from Adolphus (while Warden happily chomps at his food) and we set out on various mission for the day according to that. We meet various people who interact with us and help up gather up bits and pieces of the whole story. We solve one mystery at a time and learn something new about the world with every small mission and by the end of the game we are so confident of our abilities that we are ready to take on the main boss. Only, the main boss turns out to be someone else — and someone very close.

Just a feeling. Whatever.

Low Town is one quirky read. You’d think after reading the likes of Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie you’d get the hang of the grimdark side of things.

Nay, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Low Town.

Low Town is a thrilling detective story done in a fantasy setting. It is a tale of disgraced hero (who only wants to peacefully sell his drugs) against the cruel law enforcers, selfish crime lords, immoral sorcerers, and useless nobles.

Firstly, I must take time to talk about the protagonist. Because he. Is. Simply. Awesome!

Meet Warden, ex-army and intelligence agent, who has fallen from grace and now is an infamous narcotics dealer. That in itself is one hell of a character trait to not get intrigued into. Add that to his charisma and you have a gem of a read. He takes the story to the whole new level. He’s funny. He’s quirky, smug, snappy, realist… and just plain smart. He reminds me of Mark Lawrence’s Jorg! Hell, I daresay that they are somewhat at par.

The story takes flight when a child is found murdered in the street, severely abused. One way or another, our poor hero gets thrown into the midst of things and before you know it he must now either solve the case of this children-kidnapping/killing or be prepared to be blamed for it. Luckily, he had been one hell of an agent before his fall from the ranks. His contacts as a drug dealer didn’t hurt either.

With every page, Polansky takes us an inch deeper into the secrets of the Low Town (and what a marvelous Worldbuilding this is!) and of our hero. Each page grips us more than the last. It only gets juicier when other-worldly creatures and sorcerers start playing their part and the whole story unfolds as an exhilarating adventure.

I have given it a solid five stars with only pitfall being that I could easily second-guess the culprit of the whole crime. Nevertheless, a rewarding journey!

Book Review: “Control Point” by Myke Cole

Book: Control Point

Author: Myke Cole

Genre: Urban/Military Fantasy

Talk about a powerful internal conflict!

From the very first page, Myke Cole feasts us with a gripping internal conflict that makes us care about the protagonist, Oscar Britton.

Should he kill the innocent Latents? Should he run away from the army? Is Army the bad guy? Are Probes the bad guys? Is SOC doing some bad for greater good? Or does its madness outweigh the goodness!

Oscar Britton juggles between these internal opinions and struggles to come up with a morally gratifying way of doing things. This is what makes him so interesting… so… real?

Magical action.

The magic system is simply awesome. And the action sequences, very Hollywood-esque. I say that in a good way. It’s very fantastical and at the same time very much believable. Myke’s military background definitely helps the cause.

I felt like I was playing a Delta Force console but instead of guns I had sorcery.

A time well spent.

To confess, I’m not much into (modern-day) military/war stories. But a (perfect) blend of military story and sorcery was a real treat and Control Point hooked me up from the very first page. Okay, may be not from the first page… but from the page where Britton goes latent.

So, all in all, Control Point is a time well spent.