{Book Review} Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

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Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.*

(Yes, it’s been a while since I posted! Life, especially medical school, has proven itself to be a black hole for most of my time and energy, and I haven’t been able to read for pleasure as much as I would have liked. I still get to read books for fun, but only this one has compelled me to write a review this year so far. That, and it’s ASEAN week for us here in the Philippines, so I have no classes this week! We still have schoolwork to do, but yay, conditional freedom. Anyway, on to the review!)

Let it be known that I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it, even though I’ve heard about it for a while now. I think that’s probably an amazing feat, actually, granting that I follow a lot of book bloggers in various social media sites, but med school blinders are pretty powerful. I’m glad I read this book, though. I thought I had John Green all figured out, and therefore could brace myself from emotional onslaught, but then Turtles All The Way Down prances into the picture and I end up getting all sorts of unwarranted feelings from a book again. 

I just read the book’s final page around 40 minutes ago, and the time it took reaching to typing this sentence was mostly spent trying to figure out how I really feel about this book. I had such a hard time reading this because of Aza’s obsessive-compulsiveness (she has OCD, even though it was never explicitly mentioned), or what she calls her “invasives”, but I flew by the pages anyway because I wanted to know what would happen to her. I didn’t find Aza likable at the beginning, but accompanying her in her journey to become a better version of herself has made me quite attached to her by the end. I suppose in a way, her psychiatrist Dr. Singh was correct in saying that your thoughts are not you. The book was narrated by Aza, yes, but beyond her warring thoughts, her personality just shines through.

It’s become so typical to read about teenagers who have meaningful conversations about science, philosophy, and life in a John Green novel, but I loved this nevertheless! Some people have mentioned how unrealistic the conversations portrayed teenagers, but I will argue that as a teenager not too long ago, I loved thinking about this sort of thing. I just never had the eloquence nor the courage to express those thoughts out loud. To be quite honest, between the conversations, the main character, and other aspects of the plot, I found the missing billionaire part the most forgettable. It wasn’t as fleshed out as I expected, but eventually, even as its loose ends were tied up, it wasn’t the reason I continued reading until the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The most fascinating part for me was Aza, her relationship with herself, and how she got along with the people around her. It felt really vulnerable and personal, and learning that this is but a foggy reflection of the John Green’s own struggles with OCD made more of an impact for me, because it helped me understand mental illness a bit better. That definitely makes this book important.

My favorite quotes (the whole thing is pretty quotable, really): 

Whether it hurts is kind of irrelevant.”

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”

And the thing is, when you lose someone, you realize you’ll eventually lose everyone.”

One of the challenges with pain—physical or psychic—is that we can really only approach it through metaphor. It can’t be represented the way a table or a body can. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language.”

And we’re such language-based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify, which is why I’d ask you to frame your mental health around a word other than crazy.”

Your now is not your forever.”

Everyone always celebrates the easy attractiveness of green or blue eyes, but there was a depth to Davis’s brown eyes that you just don’t get from lighter colors, and the way he looked at me made me feel like there was something worthwhile in the brown of my eyes, too.”

It’s a weird phrase in English, in love, like it’s a sea you drown in or a town you live in. You don’t get to be in anything else—in friendship or in anger or in hope. All you can be in is love.”

Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”

Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really—just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.”

Life is a series of choices between wonders.”

In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt.”

“…the world is also the stories we tell about it.”

People always talk like there’s a bright line between imagination and memory, but there isn’t, at least not for me. I remember what I’ve imagined and imagine what I remember.”

I missed everybody. To be alive is to be missing.”

You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4.5/5

286 pages
Author: John Green
Original Language: English
Published: 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

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{Book Review} The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?*

I never realized how much of a nerd I really am until this book. You see, I’m not a very good student. I do better at standardized tests than my grades would suggest, but when you put me in a classroom for prolonged periods of time, the grades I churn out give a convincing argument that I’m a pretty average student (I was better in high school, but everyone knows that college is a different ball game altogether), so it came as a bit of a surprise that I really liked this book. It’s like a novel-length solution with pretty solid mathematical proof (I wouldn’t know, I just took Watney’s word for it that his calculations were right, haha) for the problem of how anyone can survive on Mars. Okay, Mark Watney’s obviously not anyone, as he’s a botanist and mechanical engineer on top of being a trained astronaut. He’s way ahead of majority of Earth’s population in terms of chances of survival, but you know what I mean. There is a lot of technical stuff thrown around, from the way the NASA machines work to how they get messed up (which happens several times in the book – who knew life on Mars was hard?!?). It sounds boring and cerebral, but somehow I, the person who never waxed poetic about technical subjects in college, enjoyed it. I think it really says something about a character’s likability if you’re willing to read through how oxygenators and water reclaimers work just to see if he survives at the end. It really helped that Watney is a very good-natured, funny, optimistic kind of guy, because I really wasn’t under the impression that I’d laugh at all while reading this. I totally get how his journal style sometimes can make people feel like he isn’t taking anything seriously, but I liked how it wasn’t all bleak and serious like most sci-fi books are. Maybe it’s because Watney’s log entries exhibit my type of humor, but it definitely made reading the technical parts easier.

TL;DR lots of technobabble but hero’s pretty cool so I really liked it.

I have no idea how this will be translated to the big screen, but I’m ready to see it!

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Hardcover, 369 pages
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown
Published: September 23, 2012
Language: English
Genre: Science Fiction

{Film Review} Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

“Oskar (Thomas Horn) is convinced that his father (Tom Hanks), who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has left a final message for him hidden somewhere in the city. Feeling disconnected from his grieving mother (Sandra Bullock) and driven by a relentlessly active mind that refuses to believe in things that can’t be observed, Oskar begins searching New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he found in his father’s closet. His journey through the five boroughs takes him beyond his own loss to a greater understanding of the observable world around him. — (C) Warner Bros”

When I settled into my seat in the cinema last night with three of my friends, waiting for the movie to begin, I honestly did not know what to expect. I have heard of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close as a book, and I knew all about the movie production, but I never read it and I know as much as the next person about the plot. I only knew that Rotten Tomatoes scored it as rotten, but I defiantly decided to just forget everything and just enjoy the film. 

It didn’t take long for me (or for anyone else, at that matter) to realize that Oskar, the main protagonist, is, well, different. Not only in the sense of the possibility of his having Asperger’s Syndrome (it wasn’t really clarified in the film), but apparently he’s a kid who has a temper, getting away with cursing, shouting at elders, and throwing tantrums. A lot of people found issue with that, but I don’t mind. I have a soft spot for characters who are different from normal people, since I have first-hand experience with people like them every day (my brother is autistic, and my one of my college organizations, SPEED, deals with special children). I think Thomas Horn did a good job of embodying the moody Oskar, with his quirks and mannerisms and all those really annoying things that should annoy me but doesn’t.

Despite Tom Hanks’s name being placed prominently on the poster, I think he actually had more screen time in his dying moments than any scene that could have developed his character. He’s probably just there because, well, he’s Tom Hanks. It’s a shame because his character seemed like a very interesting dad. I’m not sure if it was this way in the book, but book-to-movie adaptations are known to change several things in their productions anyway, so why not? Sandra Bullock did an incredible job as the suffering surviving parent, and her character’s scenes with Oskar were among the most touching parts of the film. Max Von Sydow was brilliant in his portrayal of the mute old man who eventually became Oskar’s companion in his search within the city. The twist regarding his character was not unexpected, though. 

There are some things I find skeptical in the plot. (Beware: SPOILERS AHEAD! Scroll down until you see another line in bold.

Oskar began his search of that single Black out of 472 Blacks in the city by knocking on Abby Black’s door. Abby Black (Viola Davis), it later turns out, is the person Oskar has been looking for all along. Really, now, movie? And the poor kid had to go through hundreds of other people before he found out. And what are the odds of that happening anyway? Okay, I’m not enraged at this, but it’s something I find really weird; it totally triggers some eye-rolling here. Anyhoo, SPOILER OVER. I’m okay.

From the beginning of the film, I can’t help but notice (as I always do) the score. I really liked it. It adds to the whole Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close meaning, in a literal sense. I didn’t really listen for it, but if I’m not mistaken, there’s music all throughout the film, with the meager silences covered by Oskar’s constantly jangling tambourine. If anything, this was the aspect I loved the most. (Edit: I just found out that it was Alexandre Desplat who composed the score. He was also the composer of the score of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by the way. I am not surprised why I love it now.)

I was stumbling as usual around the Internet and found this chart from The Whole Garden Will Bow and I am marveling at how accurate it was. 

I can see where people are getting at with the film getting emotionally manipulative. Believe me, I could practically feel the movie screen’s extended tendrils alighting on my face and dragging the tears down (it did not succeed, no matter how much I wanted to let it), and I can understand how people can feel enraged by that, but I don’t see much fault in it. I was totally ignorant of the events that occurred during the 9/11 incident when it happened, as I was only six years old then, and I could never imagine the full extent of how terrible it must have been to everyone who witnessed it, but somehow watching this movie made me understand a bit more. This movie is about moving on, a concept hard enough to grasp for people having to accept it, and for a kid with Asperger’s (still not sure if that what he has), it’s something that takes longer to understand. And I really can’t imagine how hard it must be for Oskar’s mother, either. I have experienced special children having problems and the emotional turmoil it causes their family (my brother is autistic, and it breaks my heart to see my mother crying over him when he has tantrums that won’t subside for days) and I know other people with this problem as well, and seeing it play out in the movie felt so real and raw and honest to me. So, weighing my earlier complaints against everything this movie made me feel, I’m more inclined to like this movie. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is not without flaws, but the solid acting and the score make up for it. I am not surprised that it is an Oscar nominee. There is much to be desired in the script, so many questions I want answered, and I suppose that’s the crippling aspect for me. Otherwise, I like this film. Definitely not perfect, but it is a movie that is beautiful in its portrayal of coping with one’s loss. I may be one of the minority who liked it, but give it a try and see if you do, too.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Runtime: 129 mins.
PG-13
Released: 2012
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Written by: Eric Roth (screenplay), Jonathan Safran Foer (novel)
Executive Producers: Benjamin Melniker, Sam Register, Bruce W. Timm, Michael E. Uslan
Producer: Lauren Montgomery
Co-Producer: Alan Burnett
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Spoken Language: English
Country of origin: United States of America
Genre: Animation, Action
Cast:
Oskar Schell – Thomas Horn
Linda Schell – Sandra Bullock
Thomas Schell – Tom Hanks
The Renter – Max von Sydow
Abby Black – Viola Davis
Oskar’s Grandmother – Zoe Caldwell
Stan the Doorman – John Goodman

{Review} Batman: Prey

The front cover of Batman: Year One. I love how creepy and awesome it looks!
 

“Set in the Year One time frame, Batman must confront the sinister Dr Hugo Strange, a man with a deadly secret, out to stop and, if necessary, kill the Dark Knight. Who is the bloodthirsty Night Scourge, how does he link in with the police department, and where exactly does the mysterious Catwoman fit into all this?” *

I have been meaning to follow the Batman chronology for a while now, but I’ve only really come round to doing it fairly recently (this year, in fact). I love how, with every Batman story I read, I learn something new about him! Reading chronologically really helps, but I’ve been using this as my guide. As far as I know, there are no official DC listings for a Batman chronology, despite the wealth of comics about the Dark Knight that have been around for more than seventy years (Batman was first introducted in 1939). It suggested that after Batman: Year One (review here), I read Batman: Prey, so I dutifully obeyed.

Prey is estimated to occur shortly after Year One, so it is no surprise that we still see Batman as the dark, brooding hero coming to terms with his new mission as protector of Gotham City. Despite his best efforts to prove that he is actually one of the good guys, he is still a highly targeted vigilante for many of its citizens, particularly the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD). At the moment, his only friends (and the only ones who know his real identity as Bruce Wayne) are the ever-loyal butler,  Alfred, and the detective-turned-captain James Gordon.

Prey begins with a police sting operation designed to catch a drug dealer who could reveal the syndicate behind it all. Before the GCPD could close in on the guy, though, Batman has shaken the guy and disrupted the whole operation. One of the officers, Max Cort, gets thoroughly infuriated by this and reports to an indifferent Gordon, who defends Batman by insisting that he is actually good for morale. In the next scene, Gordon is shown at a television show, being interviewed along with Gotham City Mayor Kauss and Dr. Hugo Strange, a well-known psychiatrist. Dr. Strange offers some insight against Batman, analyzing why he wears a costume, etc. The Mayor is very much impressed with him that he hires the man for his services in a newly-enforced “Task Force Vigilante” against Batman, unbeknownst to anyone in GCPD prior to Kauss’s announcement on-air. Against Gordon’s wishes, the Mayor assigns him as the head of said task force. As the story unravels, we get to see different sides of this Hugo Strange, as well as Max Cort, and even glimpses of Catwoman in between.

Even though I did not finish Prey in a day as planned, it stuck with me long enough for me to really get a kick out of it. I especially liked the latter parts, where the climax of the story is. The characters seemed very real, and were very convincing in their roles. Dr. Strange was, well, really strange, but more than that, he was downright creepy with his obsession and, to say the least, he was insane in the worst sense of the word. Max Cort proved to be as idiotic as Gordon thought he would be, all brawn with little brain, believing he could actually beat Batman! Tsk. As if. A thing that I would have liked to see more of was Catherine, the Mayor’s daughter. She was established at the beginning to be a very opinionated woman, but later on she just served as a pawn in the power play between Dr. Strange and Batman. Her faith in the Dark Knight was pleasantly unexpected, which naturally made me want to see more of her in a setting that gave her freedom to do whatever she liked. 

On the other hand, the art was, for me, exquisite. The illustrations by Paul Gulacy and Terry Austin and the coloring by Steve Oliff were brilliantly done, and the fact that it was made in the 90’s made it even more impressive. I was rereading some parts of Prey for this review earlier and I thought, ‘This is what comics should look like’. Probably part of what made me gush about the art was how I really love vintage style comics, especially from genuinely vintage comics. They just look so fine! Anyway, I really loved Prey. I was already dead set on loving Batman anyway, but reading stories like this made me remember why I love him so much. Really. 

In a nutshell…
Rating: 4/5
Writer: Doug Moench
Artist: Paul Gulacy, Terry Austin
Colorist: Steve Oliff
Letterer: John Costanza
Publisher: DC Comics
Published: 1990, New York 
Genre: Superhero, Crime
 
 

{Film Review} Batman: Year One (2011)

 

 

 

Batman: Year One is an animated film released by DC and Warner Brothers Animation last year (gosh, it still feels weird saying that). It chronicles the transition of Bruce Wayne to Batman, and how Jim Gordon’s adjustments in his newly inhabited detective position in the Gotham Police Department. The movie is based on the four-part comic book series of the same name by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli (see previous post). It was co-directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery, with the voices of Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Jon Polito, Alex Rocco, Katee Sackhoff, and Jeff Bennet as Jim Gordon, Batman/Bruce Wayne, Selina, Commissioner Loeb, Falcone, Det. Essen, and Alfred the butler, respectively.

If you have read the comics, you would be delighted to know that the movie follows it faithfully. It’s like seeing how you imagined it all this time – well, it was for me, anyway. If you haven’t, fear not. This is a brilliant way to ease into the series (if you ever plan to) while also serving as a good background primer for the esteemed Dark Knight.

The story begins with two of the main characters entering Gotham City. Bruce Wayne is returning to his hometown after twelve years of staying abroad; The media is in a frenzy about the return of their charming and undeniably rich “native son”, as they call it. Jim Gordon, on the other hand, arrives quietly by train, with only a Detective Flass to greet him. Despite the stark contrast between Bruce’s and Jim’s welcomes, the two men share one thing in common: they do not really hold Gotham in their highest esteem. As both men struggle with their new lives, they learn some things you would only learn in a messed up city like Gotham.

I really liked how the movie stayed faithful to the graphic novel. It serves as a good companion to the series, and it doesn’t really matter if you read the book or not. This is as complete and true to the story as you could expect of any film adaptation. Despite that almost panel-by-panel animation, I couldn’t help but miss David Mazzucchelli’s vintage style. Still, this is a tiny scruff on a spotless film. If you haven’t read it in a while, you could watch this instead if you’re pressed for time. Whether you are a comic veteran or not, I am sure this movie would prove to be a delight.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Runtime: 64 mins.
Released: 2011
Directors: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Writers: Bob Kane (creator), Frank Miller (original story), Tab Murphy (screenplay)
Executive Producers: Benjamin Melniker, Sam Register, Bruce W. Timm, Michael E. Uslan
Producer: Lauren Montgomery
Co-Producer: Alan Burnett
Music: Christopher Drake
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation, Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment
Spoken Language: English
Country of origin: United States of America
Genre: Animation, Action
Cast (voice):
Bryan Cranston – Jim Gordon
Ben McKenzie – Bruce Wayne/Batman
Eliza Dushku – Selina Kyle/Catwoman
Jon Polito – Commissioner Loeb
Alex Rocco – Carmine Falcone
Katee Sackhoff – Det. Sarah Essen
Jeff Bennett – Alfred the butler
Source: IMDb

{Book Review} Batman: Year One

“A young Bruce Wayne has spent his adolescence and early adulthood, traveling the world so he could hone his body and mind into the perfect fighting and investigative machine. But now as he returns to Gotham City, he must find a way to focus his passion and bring justice to his city. Retracing Batman’s first attempts to fight injustice as a costumed vigilante, we watch as he chooses a guise of a giant bat, creates an early bond with a young Lieutenant James Gordon, inadvertently plays a role in the birth of Catwoman, and helps to bring down a corrupt political system that infests Gotham.”*

I’m relatively new to comic book reading because of the scarcity of comic book stores here in the Philippines, but I got an opportunity to read this because I knew someone who had a copy and shared it with me. I really like this comic book because I always wondered how Batman started out. I mean, I knew how movie-wise, but really reading them on the actual comics they were based on is a whole other experience. There is also an animated movie of the same name released just this year. I haven’t watched it yet, but I heard it is faithful to the comic book.

You’ll find in Batman: Year One Batman at the infancy of his planning stage. Eighteen years after his parents’ death, the business empire heir thinks that he is now ready to “clean up a city that likes being dirty”, the infamous Gotham City. The city really needed a hero at this time since it was wrought with crime and danger everywhere. This book also chronicles the life of Lieutenant Gordon, a detective, after his arrival to Gotham City and his interactions with the Dark Knight.(view spoiler). I really liked the story since it provides a good, solid background for people who want to know more about Batman. This is the first comic book I’ve read that was written by Frank Miller, and I can’t wait to read more.

As I advanced through the pages, I couldn’t help but admire the graphics as well. I mean, it’s a comic book! I love the old-school feel of David Mazzucchelli’s illustrations, reminiscent of the superhero comic strips in the comic sections of newspapers that I religiously followed as a child.

Even if it’s more than two decades old, this book is a must-read for everyone, not just DC or Batman fans. It’s easy to follow for new comic book readers, and if I’m not mistaken, I think this comes first if the Batman comics were to be read chronologically. I’m seriously considering buying the physical version of this book, not the digital comics, and hopefully the 4 issues instead of the compilation. I don’t think it will come cheap though. Then again, for such a brilliant series, it deserves it. Let’s support the comics industry! Not much people buy anymore, and it would be a shame if the industry died out.

In a nutshell…
Rating: 5/5
Writer: Frank Miller
Illustrator: David Mazzucchelli
Colorist: Richmond Lewis
Letterer: Todd Klein
Publisher: DC Comics
Published: 1988, New York *originally published in single magazine form as Batman: Year One 1-4, (c) 1986-1987
Genre: Superhero