Roar by Cora Carmack #BookReview

Roar

I’ll start with the good things about the book. The idea of sentient storms or storms with souls was original and well thought-out. The concept of storm hunters and stormlings, as well as the rest of the magic system in this book, was also interesting. In other words, the ideas are good… but the execution of them? Not so much.

The book was wordy. You know those people who can just talk for hours about every little detail in their life and will just not shut up? Reading this book felt like I was hanging out with one of those people. For hours on end. There was just SO much detail about how the main character felt, and thought, and felt and thought… SO much detail about every little tiny minuscule inner working of hers, that I was just exhausted after a while.

Also, the amout of backstory that was revealed through the narrative (through telling, not showing) was just too much. There were so many things about the world that were revealed through this mechanism. It was difficult to keep track of, at least in the beginning. That, combined with a main character that seemed would just never shut up, made for quite an annoying read.

Now for the characters. Meh. Just… meh. Aurora (or Roar) wasn’t exactly captivating. She was a teenage princess going through a bout of rebellion. Like, whatever, you know? I wasn’t exactly that interested. And Locke was a mess. He was all over the place, instantly falling in love with Roar and wanting to protect her for the rest of his life even though he barely knew her. I was over it before it even began.

The plot too just seemed to drag on. It felt like Roar’s thoughts and feelings and her internal struggle took center place in the novel, and the plot was just left on the wayside, abandoned.  And I take issue with this, because plot matters. I don’t like reading books where it’s just all about what the character feels… I want interesting stuff to happen too, you know. And it just didn’t. Like there was barely any plot here, not until the end when something finally starts to happen, and by that point it was just too little, too lat. The story was lacking, in other words.

The second book in the series is coming out next year, and I don’t know if I’ll read it or not. I actually want to just to see if there is any improvement. Some people may like this book, and that’s fine… some people like wordiness and characters’ narrative taking over plots and immature protagonists. Personally, for me, not my cup of tea.

Rating: *

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas #BookReview

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YA Fantasy

When I started reading this book, I enjoyed it very much, thinking I had finally found a new fantasy series that I could absolutely obsess over and love, like I hadn’t in a long time. And the first half of this book is very good. The writing is fast-paced, the plot is well-constructed, the characters are engaging, everything that has to work for a story to be good… works.

But then the second part of the book comes along, and things start, well, not exactly falling apart, but changing. This is supposed to be a re-telling of the beauty and the beast fairy tale, and for the first part of the book it is. But when the second part of the book comes along, something serious starts to happen. It’s the main issue I had with the book, and it is this: Character assasination.

Tamlin, who is supposed to be the love interest of the heroine and main character, Feyre, goes from being strong and protective to being weak and bland. Of course the reader could always blame the circumstances. Tamlin was kidnapped by an evil Fairy Queen and whatnot, but he did absolutely nothing to help Feyre out or to change said circumstances. He became a victim, and went from being an active character who would do anything to keep Feyre safe, to being a completely passive pawn. This change didn’t sit well with me at all, and it felt forced.

Of course the story then takes a different romantic direction by introducing a new character, Rhysand, and making him compelling and interesting in all the ways that Tamlin is now not. It felt like the author grew tired of Tamlin or something, or didn’t want to continue building on the romance and relationship between him and Feyre (the protagonist), so she decided to assasinate his character by making him passive and unresponsive just so she could introduce another romantic love interest and make that relationship strong.

So you see, it’s not at all a beauty and the beast re-telling, but something else entirely. Because the beast and the beauty had true love, while Tamlin and Feyre merely had… a fling. And this is the issue I had with the book. Why get readers (i.e., me) all excited over a relationship if you’re going to make the romantic interest a bland coward by the end of the novel, when at the beginning he was anything but? Character assasination. And I wasn’t okay with it.

Also, the tone of the novel changed throughout the book. At first it was romantic and fantastical, and then it turned gritty and very urban. It was like reading two different books in one.

But alas, I liked the fairy world the story was set in, and the new male romantic interest is compelling and engaging enough on its own, despite how he was introduced (at the expense of the other character), so I will read on. I’ve been told the second book in the series, A Court of Mist and Fury, is better than the first, and I am looking forward to see how the story develops. I just hope that the author won’t change her mind about this new guy and make Feyre fall in love with yet another character just because she grew bored or whatever.

I recommend this book to fans of fantasy with romance.

Rating: ***

 

“Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor #BookReview

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This is the first book from Laini Taylor that I read. I had high expectations because I had heard from different sources that Laini Taylor was a spectacular writer. I didn’t know what to expect from this book, but it turns out it was a fantasy, which was great because fantasy is my favorite genre. And while I liked Taylor’s writing, the hype didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

Don’t get me wrong, Taylor is by all measures a fantastic writer and story-teller. “Strange the Dreamer” was interesting and gripping, even when nothing major happened until the very end of the book. Everything that happened was propelled forward by sheer force of character, and it worked. So no complaints there, I loved the story and will read the sequel for sure.

But the thing is when people hype up a book by saying that the writing is “absolutely beautiful”, I guess I’m expecting some Gabriel García Márquez-level writing… and this was not it. By which I mean, my standards are pretty high. I get annoyed with hype, which is why I’ve gotten more skeptical through the years. People had made it sound like this was some literary masterpiece, but no. I would consider this a well-written and nice commercial read, a compelling genre book with a unique story and three-dimensional characters that are easy to love. But not literary.

The story takes place on another world, and the main character is called Lazlo Strange, an orphan raised by monks who goes on an adventure with a group of foreign warriors to a mythical land. What I liked the most was the mixture between fantasy and science-fiction that tinted the story. The “gods” that appear could actually be aliens, only that the people in this medieval-type society don’t know what aliens are, so they call them gods. It is in this land that Lazlo Strange discovers his true destiny and who he really is, but not before his life gets really, really complicated.

Along the lines of “gods” and “aliens”, I’d like to mention that there is a subtle theme that was barely mentioned throughout the story but that I really liked: the contrast between what is magical and what is scientific, a recurring theme that could be expanded upon in the second installment of this series. Possibly the most interesting theme from a philosophical standpoint. The book ends on a cliffhanger, and like I mentioned before, I would be happy to continue with this read. I recommend this book to fantasy readers.

Rating: ****

Beatriz at Dinner #MovieReview #FilmFriday

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Okay so first off, I want to say kudos to this movie for not being stereotypical like I thought it would be, and for not relying on the overused liberal vs conservative tropes. No, instead of doing that, the movie gives us something much deeper. The main character, Beatriz, played by Salma Hayek, is an inwardly tortured soul, genuinely affected by the atrocities of a rampantly capitalistic world, and has much depth of feeling.

Throughout the movie she tries, and fails, to connect with the rest of the characters, who are rich and shallow, but who honestly–and viewed from a commonplace perspective–do nothing so extravagantly evil throughout the dinner as to merit Beatriz’s increasingly incendiary reactions.  They try to humor her, but they are so stuck in their own petty worlds that they fail to understand where Beatriz is coming from, and cannot connect with her wider perspective of things at all.

Interestingly enough, the person Beatriz most connects with is Doug, the film’s antagonist, a billionaire mogul who builds hotels and contaminates the environment and displaces people from their homes and the whole nine yards. They connect because they are opposite extremes of the same pole, and thus understand each other. Doug even has some respect for Beatriz towards the end of the film, recognizing the genuine depth of feeling that she projects, or tries to project, outwards into the world, but he lives by his own selfish philosophy and will not be changed, no matter how much anybody argues against him.

Beatriz, on the contrary, hates Doug and everything he represents. He’s the embodiment of evil, in Beatriz’s eyes.

As the movie progresses Beatriz becomes increasingly aware that she does not fit in with this crowd and that they will never accept her, no matter how much she tries to connect with them. She also realizes how the lives of these people stand diametrically opposed to her own principles and beliefs, and thus her campaign to speak her mind and make them aware of a reality outside their own sheltered homes becomes more and more urgent, which lands her in trouble.

The movie is good, but it falls apart at the ending. Beatriz, instead of becoming stronger with this confrontation, becomes weaker. The ending leaves us wondering, why did she give up? She broke under the force of the perceived evil around her, something that stands in direct contrast with the first two-thirds of the movie, when she refused to be broken or silenced. It is only because of the ending that I don’t give the movie a higher score.

Rating: **

“Tender is the Night” by F. Scott Fitzgerald #BookReview #ClassicReads

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F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this book in the middle of his battle against alcoholism and his wife’s neuroses and mental deterioration. Because art forever reflects life, this book is precisely about a man and wife who each battle alcoholism and schizophrenia, respectively. One of them gets better by the end of the novel and the other one gets worse, but it’s not necessarily who you would expect.

The novel’s prose is imbued with a certain lyricism that does not pull you away from the story. The best thing about the story are the characters. Each of them is so three-dimensional and well written that they jump off the page, filled with a life of their own. Fitzgerald was a master of observing people and understanding their moods and motivations, and it really shows in this novel. I dreamed about these characters last night, actually. That’s how real they felt for me.

Dick and Nicole Diver, the protagonists of the story,  aren’t exactly relatable or even likeable. In fact, they are only likeable when seen from the point of view of Rosemary, the main secondary character, a young and self-absorbed naif who gets in between Dick and Nicole’s marriage. Rosemary sees Dick through the eyes of infatuation, when he had not yet deteriorated into bitterness and drink. In this first part of the book, Dick is seen as charming, well-mannered, and a true people-person. Nicole on the other hand is seen as strong and determined, but aloof and distant.

Rosemary’s impression of the couple may have been accurate at first glance, but when she leaves the picture for a while and we get to see Dick and Nicole up close in the second part of the book, we become familiarized with everything happening backstage in their marriage. And while Nicole, at first, seems to be the one dragging Dick down with her history of mental problems, the reader soon realizes that this is not the case, and that Dick is ruining himself and cannot blame his wife for it.

The affair with Rosemary had left Dick bitter. He started to grow bored and resent his wife and his problems, and he tried to escape this resentment through drink, but that only made things worse. And the more he drank, the more bitter he became towards everyone, until he had alienated himself from every friend he once had. Of course, towards the end of the novel we realize that Dick’s charm is so strong, that he could recover everything if he wanted to.

He could make his marriage work, he could bring his friends back to him, he could make his life better. But he chooses not to. Nicole, on the other hand, has no qualms about doing what is necessary to survive, and we see that the strength that Rosemary perceived in her was not at all imaginary, but very real, despite her perceived mental fragility.

On the whole, this novel is a story about the demise of a marriage due to the choices of one character, Dick. He decided to throw it all away because he couldn’t get out of the downward spiral that his addiction lured him into, and neither did he want to. Slowly his life turned from rosy, to cynical. And it seems that somehow, Rosemary was the inciting incident of it all, but truly she wasn’t all that important. Dick’s choice of attitude was what made all the difference in his life.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in getting to know Fitzgerald’s works a little better. Though not as good as his masterwork, “The Great Gatsby”, “Tender is the Night” shines with a melancholic light of its own and ends ambiguously, the world after all not being either black or white, but made up of different shades of grey. Like this novel.

Rating: ***

“Secrets of Southern Girls” by Haley Harrigan #BookReview

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Adult psychological thriller

Okay, so to start off… This book was supposed to be a psychological thriller but it didn’t really read like one. It felt more contemporary, not nearly gripping enough to be labeled a psychological thriller, in my opinion. The story doesn’t get its legs until halfway through the book, when things finally start to get interesting. Before that, there was just too much build-up, too many words, too many goings-on that while relevant to the plot, weren’t exactly riveting. One good thing about this book is how immersive the writing is. It’s a testament to it that I continued reading even though I wasn’t exactly hooked.

The book is about two girls, one dead girl called Reba whom we get to know through the pages of a long-lost and found diary, and another girl called Julie, the main character, who was Reba’s best friend. Julie thinks she is somehow responsible for Reba’s death, which is why she decides to go back to her hometown in the south to read this diary and figure things out for herself.

In terms of plot, that’s pretty much all that happens. Julie goes back to her hometown, reads the diary, and learns the truth about what really happened with her best friend all those years ago and how it affected the rest of the characters. That’s it. And even this didn’t feel that convincing… the diary didn’t read like a normal diary, but rather like a flashback, with dialogue quotes and all, which isn’t how people write diaries.

The use of the diary within the story felt like a plot device, like something artificial just to take the reader back in time instead of an actual diary. The fact that it didn’t read like a real diary dimished the substance of the story for me, because it served as a clutch for the writer to get things out into the open in the most direct way possible instead of a tool to make the story even more mysterious. But there was no mystery, no revelation, everything was contained in the “flashback” diary and all characters had to do was read it. Things should have gotten resolved in the present time somehow, not through the use of “flashbacks”.

The book also felt more like a lifetime movie than a psychological thriller. It was too fluffy at times, and even after the 50% mark when the story finally got grittier, it wasn’t enough to make up for everything else it lacked. Granted, I was hooked when the characters started to finally display their darkness. This was probably the best part of the book and what made it stand on its own two legs, but the other half of the book just wasn’t interesting enough and the whole artifice of the diary as a story clutch was disappointing. The cliffhanger the story ends on was also not very strong.

The good thing is that it’s such a character-centered book that I was able to power through it and finish reading it quickly.

Rating: **

Mustang #MovieReview #FilmFriday

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Mustang is a movie set in a middle-class town in the Turkey countryside, centered around five teenaged sisters and what becomes their claustrophobic, nightmarish home situation. In the beginning the sisters were all normal girls. They were a little raucous and mischevous, like some girls that age are. They went to school, they played around, and they were interested in what girls that age are mostly interested in: looks, clothes, having fun.

But everything changed when the girls are caught playing around on the beach with some boys on the last day of school. It was all pretty innocent play. A westerner, for example, would make nothing of what happened. But to the extremely conservative Turkish society, what they did represented a threat to their integrity as women and affected their chances to get married.

Their grandmother, who lives with them after the death of their parents, gets paranoid, and their uncle, who is not a good man, decides to take strict measures to safeguard the virginity and purity of his nieces. So they start marrying them off one by one, starting with the two eldest, who are only 16 and 15, respectively.

It’s a horrid situation when viewed from a modern perspective. Especially because it seems none of them are lucky in their unions, except the eldest one who married the boy she liked. But things got even worse as the home environment becomes more and more oppresive. When summer ends, the girls are not sent back to school. The grandmother’s aim is to marry them off as quickly as possible, and school serves no function in this plan.

Basically it’s like the family decided to retrograde into the middle ages. This part of the movie really shows how an ultra conservative mentality in these countries harms the education and upbringing of the woman, all to keep her subdued and chained to a patriarchal system which ends up hurting women more than helping them. What happens to some of these sisters is truly horrifying.

Without giving too much away, I’ll only say that it seems like having teenage girls with blossoming womanly bodies at home all day does not give the girl’s uncle any good ideas. And so as the two eldest sisters are married off, and the middle one’s life ends in tragic circumstances, the two youngest ones, especially Lale, the little one whom the movie is centered around, are forced to fight not only for their freedom, but also for their decency and life.

And this really is what shines throughout the movie. The Spirit of Lale, the little girl, who out of all her sisters refused to give up or become a victim of her circumstances. Because of her resourcefulness and smarts, she manages to escape the worst. The movie has a great ending. It cannot be called a happy ending, not after everything the girls went through, but it was an ending filled with relief for the two youngest sisters, who managed to escape their dire family life.

I greatly recommend this movie to anyone who likes / is interested in / is not bothered by foreign films and having to read subtitles, and who is willing to wrap their heads around the different realities of peoples around the world, specifically Turkey in this case.

Rating: *****

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi #BookReview

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YA fantasy

Where to begin! I am conflicted about this book. On one hand, it representes everything I love about fantasy: Interesting mythology, beautiful and intricate world-building, a fast and engaging plot-line… and on the other hand, the book could also be accused of being juvenile, of having an uneven pace, and at moments, of even being guilty of falling into the dreaded purple prose.

The writing is beautiful when it’s done well. The descriptions and word-usage are unique and very evocative, especially when describing the other-wordly beings of the magical lands, but the author goes overboard. She uses these descriptions in dialogues even when it’s not needed, and towards the end of the book it begins to be somewhat tiring. I don’t need an evocative description when fewer and more straight-to-the-point words would suffice. However, she does hit the nail on the head on many ocassions, and her elaborate words and descriptions did manage to make me feel almost drunk on their beauty, at times. So it’s a hit and miss situation.

The main character, Mayavati, suffers from being too YA. Her feelings are inconsistent throughout the entire first half of the book. At one moment she trusts and loves the King she married, and at other moments she distrusts and grows cold towards him, without anything necessarily having changed between them. It is an inconsistency that bothered me. Her incoherent feelings could be explained by a revelation that comes later on in the book, but this doesn’t stop from making the character seem immature in her feelings at the begginning and well on to the mid-point of the story. Her betrayal, also, felt much too impulsive, impatient and sudden, which could attributed either to a character flaw or not enough elaboration on behalf of the author to explain why she suddenly felt that way.

It comes down to me not understand where Mayavati was coming from when she started feeling all distrustful. The King specifically told her to wait until he could tell her about himself fully at a time when the magic worlds would allow him to speak, but instead she made up her mind without hearing both sides of the story or even giving him the benefit of the doubt. Her feelings felt flimsy, which annoyed me.

Either Mayavati is very immature, or she just wasn’t developed well, at least not this part of her. Either way, it resulted in me not liking her very much at all, something which is somewhat remedied by the second half of the book when she finally started acting like the heroine she was supposed to be, albeit after having made a major mess of things.

Also, the pace of the book. The first half of the book is filled with luscious descriptions of the magical worlds, of echanting riddles and a castle filled with shadows and secrets. It moves along at a nice pace, allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves in the world. The second half of the book, however, is so fast that I felt like I was left scrambling for breath. There was no pause, no down-time, no reflection, everything was go-go-go. I usually like this in books, but the character didn’t even pause to sleep, or eat, or rest, or anything… And I don’t know if  all the scenes from the second half of the book happened all in the space of a day, or a morning, or what. This contrasted greatly with the first half of the book, where the weeks were neatly spaced out and the reader could follow the character development at a more leisure pace.

Now, I’ll move on to the good things about the book.

The worldbuilding. This is probably the best, most interesting aspect of the story. The author combines elements of ancient hindu mythology with modern fairy tales, and things like reincarnation and gods and goddesses make repeated appearances throughout the story. Demons and the spiritual worlds of death, life, and the in-between are also very much commonplace, immersing the reader in the extraordinary. It was the aspect I enjoyed the most and definitely what makes this book stand out. I loved getting lost in this world, and in great part this made up for the book’s perceived flaws.

The writing, as I mentioned, is not bad and can even be very lovely at times, but too flowery at other times. I liked the fact that the main character got an unusual sidekick in the second half of the book in the form of a flesh-eating demon. It was an original twist, and the demon was funny.

I will probably read the sequel to this book, A Crown of Wishes, just to get lost in the world that was truly marvellously built and in the mythology that felt so new, fresh and unique. I recommend this book to fantasy fans who are looking for worlds that feel different. Just be aware and ready for the main character to feel slightly annoying and immature, for the pace to throw you off, and for the writing to be flowery at times, and you should be fine.

Rating: ***

The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott #BookReview

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The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott is the second book by this author that I read (I had the delight of reading Shadows on the Moon a couple of years ago), but it is her first published work. Comparing both titles, the reader can tell this is her first book. Marriott writes beautifully, and the story comes out strong, but it does suffer from a few plot and story lacks that are not evident in Marriott’s later works.

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The Swan Kingdom is set on an ancient land that for some reason reminded me of Atlantis, because the main protagonist (and her mother, the Queen) have the gift of connecting with nature and feeding the land with their magical powers, which is something that–myth has it–atlanteans were known to do.

The main character describes herself as plain, which is a YA trope that I don’t like, because it just denotes insecurity and frivolity. Especially when the character, it turns out, isn’t so plain as she believes herself to be, as is the case in this book. Less focus on the character’s looks would have been better.

The main character’s kingdom falls into a great disgrace and curse from an evil sorceress, and her three older brothers are turned into swans, stuck between the realm of the living and the dead, while the girl is sentenced to live in exile. The concept of being stuck in a realm between the living and the dead fascinated me. In fact, it kept me reading until the end of the novel because I had to find out what happened to the three brothers that had turned into these incorporeal swans. The story is loosely based on the fairy tale of the same kind.

There were a couple of scenes that didn’t make much sense to me and that I didn’t think were relevant to the plot, such as when the main character contacts her ancestors through magic. It felt like the story could have done without this, like it wasn’t all that necessary for the plot. I expected more to come from it rather than just several inane conversations.

Also, the ending didn’t quite do it for me. It felt much too gratifying, while the tone of the book was tragic throughout. I’m not saying she should have ended it on a tragic note, but the change of tone between the rest of the book and the ending was a little jarring to me.

I would recommend Zoe Marriott’s other books to readers, rather than this book. Shadows on the Moon is a beautiful work of art that I absolutely recommend. The Swan Kingdom, although delightful at times, isn’t nearly as masterful or complete.

Rating: ***

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera #BookReview

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“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” was published in the 1980’s and written by the Czech author Milan Kundera. I knew this book was considered a modern classic but still wasn’t quite ready for the impact it would have on me. Kundera’s writing is a nice flow that ranges from reflective, philosophical monologues directed to the reader and the life-spanning narrative of four major characters in the story: Tomas, Tereza, Sabina, and Franz.

What I liked best about the book was that I could relate to each character. I could understand them deeply, which is a testimony to the power of the author’s writing.  I could understand the dichotomy between Tomas’s love for Tereza and his philandering, womanizing ways. I could understand Tereza’s melancholy–her whole life, indeed, seemed like one melancholic episode after another. I could understand that sadness was at the core of her being.

I could understand Sabina’s selfishness, and Franz’s idealism. I didn’t judge these characters for their actions, judging was out of the question. I couldn’t judge them, because I knew where they were coming from. Kundera’s understanding of the humanity of these characters breathed life into the story and into their actions. Their lives were all exaggerated, of course, or at least it seemed so to me, but I could still relate in small ways to all of their perspectives and points of view.

The philosophical, reflective parts of the book are a gem. The theme of the novel is the dichotomy between heaviness and lightness– and whether life is ultimately a tragedy or a comedy. Tomas is more of a comedic character. His affairs with women are light-hearted, but his love with Tereza is tragic, because he could never give her what she wanted, which was a faithful marriage and love. Tereza is a tragic character. She had an upbringing devoid of beauty, and a marriage devoid of the fidelity that would have completed her love for Tomas.

Sabina and Franz are less defined. Sabina’s life is a tragedy because she could never commit to anything, but she refuses to acknowledge it as such and clings to the lightness her transient decisions, though it ultimately brings her nothing of value. Franz’s life is a comedy, although he views it as something grand and important. These are two characters who do not understand themselves and whose lives, therefore, seem incomplete in comparison to Tomas’s and Tereza’s lives, who–despite everything–have lived fully, and are whole.

Is life ultimately tragic, or ultimately comic? Does it mean everything, or nothing at all? Is it worth being sentimental about our personal affairs, or is it all just some grand and elaborated joke that will be erased by the inevitable passage of time?

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These questions all remain unanswered, because there is no answer. Tomas and Tereza cannot decide if they are either happy, or sad. Actually, Tereza is mostly sad and a little happy, and Tomas is mostly happy and a little sad. It is all a mixture between these two extremes, it is a contradiction which doesn’t really contradict itself in the end. It is the unbearable lightness of being.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in a tragi-comic read and who is up to reflect on these matters of the human condition.

Rating: *****