Get Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code & A Sneak Peek into Inferno For Free

Dan Brown DaVinci Code Book Cover

I just noticed that Dan Brown’s most famous book The Da Vinci Code, which is still banned in Lebanon, is available for free until March 24th as an e-book from all major retailers online.

So if you have never read the book and are in the possession of an iOS or Kindle-enabled device, this is your chance. The offer is valid for U.S. and Canada but if you have a U.S. iTunes store or Amazon account, you’re good to go.

If you don’t have a U.S. iTunes account, here are the steps to do one:

  1. Sign out of your current iTunes account,
  2. Go to the U.S. iTunes store and try to buy a free app.
  3. Set up a new account using a different email from the one you already have and choose payment as none. Billing address and phone numbers can be anything.
  4. Verify your account.

Amazon has a similar approach. Just go to Amazon.com and set up an account.

This will allow you to buy free stuff, including books and music, that are available on the U.S. iTunes store only.

You can find the book on iTunes here and on Amazon here.

This free version of the book also contains an exclusive sneak peek into Dan Brown’s upcoming book Inferno. It includes the prologue as well as the first chapter. It seems the book will be centered around an organization called “The Consortium.”

Inferno will be released on May 14th and I’ll read it and review it then.

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Les Misérables [2012] – Movie Review

les-miserables-movie-poster

As a person who grew up and went through a French curriculum with Victor Hugo’s novel as its centerpiece at many points, I’ve grown attached to the essence of the novel. I’ve also grown to understand it, know what it contains, understand the message that Hugo wanted to pass on. I’d even joke and say the novel’s impressive spine is a byproduct of Hugo being French – a lot of blabbing for nothing. I’ve taken some of that, as is evident by my wordy blogposts at times. This review will surely turn into one so just skip to the last paragraph if you don’t feel like reading.

My knowledge of Victor Hugo’s most famous 1500-pages novel has led me to conclude that it’s very difficult to turn it into a motion picture. If the previous attempts at this novel weren’t enough proof, Tom Hooper’s take on Les Misérables adds to the growing list of not-nearly-there trials.

The story is known for everyone by now. Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is a French man living around the time of the French revolution and is forced to steal a loaf of bread to save a relative’s life. He is subsequently thrown in jail for 19 years at the end of which he’s released on parole. Valjean, however, breaks his parole and ends up making a decent life for himself as the mayor of a small French town in Northern France called Montreuil-sur-Mer. But Javert (Russell Crowe), the prison warden who was in charge of Valjean, appears back in his life during a visit to the factory run by Valjean, now working under a new name. In that factory works a single mother called Fantine (Anne Hathaway) who gets sacked from her job when her secret of having had a child out of wedlock, Cosette (eventually played by Amanda Seyfried), is discovered. Fantine eventually succumbs to becoming a prostitute and is saved by Valjean who promises to take care of her daughter as he runs away from Javert who’d do anything to catch him, to the backdrop of a growing revolution in the streets of the French youth.

Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is a full-blown musical. No, it’s not a musical in the sense of a talking movie with a few songs interspersed here and there. It’s a musical in the sense of three hours non-stop singing where even “thank you”s are sung, where reading letters becomes melodic and where, if you’re not a fan of musicals to begin with or not entirely sure what you’re getting yourself into, you’d end up wanting to pull your own hair out. Yes, this version of Les Misérables is definitely not for everyone. Even if you love – scratch that – adore music, Les Misérables might prove a very tough pill to swallow. And at times it really, really is.

Hugh Jackman, who can sing, ends up grating around the 120th minute mark. Russell Crowe on the other hand entirely sheds his Gladiator image for a singing Javert and with his not-so-pleasant singing voice ends up entirely intolerable a few minutes in. Russell Crowe even looks entirely uncomfortable to be there and it reflects on his character, making Javert – a central figure to the story – comical at times. Hugh Jackman has to be commanded for a job well done as Valjean. Few actors can say they can deliver performances as he did with the close-ups he got throughout the movie.

In fact, the actors and actresses in Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables all performed their songs in the movie live. While a piano played in the background to guide them, they acted their songs instead of recording them months in advance and eventually lip-synching them to film.

The single acting performance in the movie that will absolutely blow your socks off is Anne Hathaway, who’s probably aided by the fact that her character isn’t there for long. Hathaway, as Fantine, is brilliant. She deserves all the praise she’s been getting. Her performance of the Susan-Boyle-made-famous song “I Dreamed A Dream” is gut-wrenchingly stunning. She brings the life into her character and gives Fantine a richness which other actors in this movie with more running time couldn’t bestow upon theirs. Hathaway steals every scene she’s in and ends up being the only reason you might walk out of this movie feeling like you hadn’t wasted three hours of your live. Just to watch her do what she does so beautifully. No one is raining on Hathaway’s parade come Award-season time.

Interesting casting choice include Samantha Barks as Eponine, the daughter of the Thénardiers, played by Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen whose only purpose was to add some comic relief to some tense moments. Barks sings her songs really well and gets you to relate to her character, despite the background. She delivers a nice rendition of “On My Own.”

Les Misérables does have its strong moments, notably the opening scene, Hathaway’s minutes and the ending, but the movie accumulates a lot of off-moments as well that make the result very lopsided. The movie is also extremely long. Thirty minutes (of wailing – singing) could have easily been cut with the story not be affected because few of those songs tell us more about the character and its story, an example being I Dreamed A Dream in which Fantine tells the story of how she reached the misery she was in. The overall result is a movie that feels very in limbo: okay, not great, this is awesome, this is horrible, goosebumps, kill me now. These are all things you will feel while watching Les Misérables.

3.5/5 – – new rating system.

Lebanon Described in 1982

I’m currently reading the book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” by Thomas Friedman, in which he tells parts of his stay in Beirut between 1979 and 1984, as our civil war raged on.
While some parts so far are not entirely correct or too autobiographical to be generalized, the read is very interesting to say the least.

The excerpt I’m quoting is the most interesting part of the book so far. What rang true in 1982 still resonates today – and Friedman has to be commended for having the mind to see it, especially as an American Jewish outsider whose stay in Beirut was nothing more than an experiment.

“The real problem with the Lebanese today is that they have gotten too good at this adapting game—so good that their cure and their disease have become one and the same. The Lebanese individual traditionally derived his social identity and psychological support from his primordial affiliations—family, neighborhood, or religious community, but rarely from the nation as a whole. He was always a Druse, a Maronite, or a Sunni before he was a Lebanese; and he was always a member of the Arslan or Jumblat Druse clans before he was a Druse, or a member of the Gemayel or Franjieh Maronite clans before he was a Maronite. The civil war and the Israeli invasion only reinforced this trend, dividing Lebanese into tighter-knit micro-families, or village and religious communities, but pulling them farther apart as a nation”

This goes well with a previous description from over 140 years ago. Some things look like they’ll never change.

The Casual Vacancy (Book Review) – J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, is the negative film of her previous work: the Harry Potter series. It is set firmly in Muggle land. It is as disenchanted and grim and dark as it goes. And worst of all? It is gut-wrenchingly real.

Set in a small English town called Pagford, The Casual Vacancy opens with the death of Barry Fairbrother, a fair-tempered man on the town’s Parish council and a role model for many, especially Krystal Weedon, a deeply troubled teenager living in the poorest part of Pagford: the Fields.

For many, Barry’s death due to an aneurysm is a sad event that wouldn’t cause a ripple. But for some citizens of Pagford, Barry’s death represents the opportunity to change: to get the Fields off of Pagford’s back and onto that of the bigger town nearby and to shut down the rehabilitation clinic that has become an economic burden on them.

The deeply divided Parish council members represent their deeply divided families. Parminder Jawanda, a general practitioner coping with the death of closest ally, requires much more from her youngest daughter than she’s willing to give. The pressure from her parents, coupled with ridicule from her peers, lead Sukhinder to cut herself to seek relief, in the corner of her bedroom where no eyes can see her self-mutilation.

Collin Walls, a deputy headmaster with a serious case of paranoia and Barry’s best friend, is horrified at everything that goes on and immediately comes up with the most cataclysmic scenarios of which he is front and center. He wants to fill Barry’s shoes and continue his work but he knows deep down that he’s beyond unfit for the job. His son, Fats, doesn’t help in easing things for his dad. On the contrary, his eerie approach to life makes things harder for everyone around him. Honesty was his currency – he believed it frightened people when you were honest because most of them are filled with embarrassment and pretense.

Andrew Pierce can respond to his father’s blows very aptly – but only mentally. He has to endure mental and physical abuse from his father, a corrupt man, day in day out against his young brother, Paul, his mother, Ruth, and himself. His bloody cheeks and swollen eyes are always caused by his clumsiness as he falls off his bike. Always.

Howard Mollison, a beyond overweight snobby man, wants to get his son Miles to replace Barry on the council and finally secure the majority vote he needs to go through with his plans. He sees in Pagford as the elite place in the entire country. And he considers himself to be the first citizen of Pagford, a belief that is shared by his wife Shirley. Samantha, Miles’ wife, is unhappy with the slum that her life has become. She seeks relief in fantasies about her daughter’s favorite boy band and finds refuge in the idea of her beyond the confines of the small town she has become to hate as her husband pursues goals that would further cement him on the cobbled streets she despises walking on.

And Krystal Weedon, living in a toxic environment of drug use and prostitution and child abuse, has to cope the best she can to give her three year old brother, Robbie, the life that he deserves and which her mother, Terri, cannot begin to provide with her relapsing to shooting up needles into her arm whenever she faces the simplest difficulties and bringing men to have sex with right in front of her son as a form of payment for the crack her veins crave.

The Casual Vacancy is black comedy. It is a book that will feel humorous – a sort of satire of all our communities – until it really sinks in when you delve into the misery of it all and once it goes deeper into breaking the facade that people give to others in order to keep their image poised. Even the villains of the book, the Mollisons, have people with whom you can sympathize and who, after a gin or two, will get you to laugh even in the book’s bleakest moments.  The Casual Vacancy turns into a comic tragedy – one that feels so real that the reading becomes riveting and you unable to put the book down. The pages keep on turning and your mind keeps on consuming this suburban life, this lack of magic, this reality of it all.

The Casual Vacancy is the story of small community, one that most of us hail from. A community where you know who the “town whore” is and you still see people smile out of courtesy, as if they are clueless, when she passes by. A community where you know who the poor people are and you feel disgusted when they pass by, despite you preaching about moral responsibilities for ears that would listen. A community where drug addicts are ostracized and where those who are the worst possible candidates for a certain position end up winning and where mothers and fathers treat their children badly without them even knowing.

It is the injustice of it all – one that even culminates in the not happy ending – that makes The Casual Vacancy so believable. There isn’t a moment on those pages that feels odd. If anything, some of what happens there may be too morbid. But it still beats against you like the pulse of blood behind a wound. The Casual Vacancy is a brave book by an author who was brave enough to leave her home turf into uncharted territory. And she excels at it. It is a joy to read how many parallel plots can be unleashed simultaneously without them even getting remotely tangled – except when J.K. Rowling wants them to.

The Casual Vacancy is a deeply moving novel and morality, mortality and the importance of responsibility by an author that understands these elements very well. But where Harry can apparate to wherever he wants (except Hogwarts of course because you should have read Hogwarts, A History by now) and flick his wand to solve some impeding problem, the well-developped characters of The Casual Vacancy have to settle for the mundane to get by in their densely-imagined, well-crafted and exquisitely written world, not very unlike ours. It is the story of all the casual vacancies in the hearts and souls of these people as they strive for normality and for acceptance.

9/10

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) – Book Review

I started reading this book this morning. I am reviewing it in the afternoon. If this isn’t a testament to exactly how “captivating” it is as a read, I don’t know what is.

It’s 1991. Charlie is a fifteen year old boy about to start his freshman year of high school. And he’s terrified. Especially after one of his friends commits suicide a few months earlier. The only way he manages to cope with the looming idea of what awaits him is to write letters to a “friend” who doesn’t really know him, with no return address and no way to trace back the letters.

The letters he sends are, more or less, diary-like entries: elements from his every day life that he feels are important to share, events that he feels are shaping his life, changing him and making him grow up. During his freshman year, he meets Sam and Patrick, two seniors, who accept him in and show him the life that they’ve been living. Be it driving in Sam’s truck through a tunnel with her standing in the back feeling in the fresh air to experimenting with LSD and pot at parties to opening up to sexual experiences.

Sam and Patrick, and later on their other friends, open Charlie’s eyes to a wide range of opportunities in life that he’s unfamiliar with. They call him a wallflower: a person who listens, observes, doesn’t talk about things and understands them. They make him feel included. They make him accepted. His advanced English teacher, Bill, realizing Charlie’s brilliance, starts giving him extra readings to do, shaping up this young man’s life. And in doing so, the new additions to Charlie’s life help him cope with the dark past that he is oblivious to and which lurks under his skin, ready to surface at any moment.

Published in 1999, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a much deeper book than it seems to be. It is easy to categorize it as a simply a teenage trashy book simply because of its general mood. But when you know that this book is one of the most challenged by parents in the United States, you are forced to reconsider. Why do parents feel The Perks of Being a Wallflower is “dangerous” to their children? Because the themes the book deals with are gut-wrenchingly real and they are dealt with in such a brilliantly realistic manner. Drugs, pregnancy, abuse, sexuality – all of these topics that matter to teenagers are approached in the book in a way that isn’t complex. The writing is very simplistic, approachable and easily comprehensible. At the same time, the book runs deeper than the easy language it boasts.

It is a coming of age book, like the story of its protagonists, that is candid. Charlie shares his stories with remarkable honesty, pulling you into whatever emotional state he conveys in his letters. When he’s happy, you can’t but smile. And when he goes into dark phases of depression, you can’t but empathize. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a collection of Charlie’s most important moments and his realization of the need to live those moments as much as you can, be it a shortcoming or a victory.

As Charlie discovers that he likes girls that are unconventionally beautiful to books that require him to be a filter not a sponge to the realization that truly loving someone is about wanting to see not hurt at all, even if it means being apart, you see him grow on the pages in front of you and transform from an insecure kid to a growing young adult. And as he comes to the realization that in order to reach his full potential in life he needs to stop being a wallflower, you can’t but share his infamous sentence and say it out loud: “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”

Teenagers should read more of this and less of Justin Bieber related things.

8/10

Harry Potter e-books Now Available


Rejoice Harry Potter fans. Your favorite book series is now available for your reading pleasure as e-books, which work on any device you own: iPad, iPhone, Kindle, etc….

The news was announced via Pottermore after many surveys for the website’s users asking them about their opinion regarding Harry Potter e-books.
The first three Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets & Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are priced at $7.96 each. The subsequent four installments: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince & Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows are priced at $11.15 each.

The whole collection can be purchased at a 10% introductory discount for $61.65 from the Pottermore shop.

You can also get the books from Amazon for $7.99 for the first three and $9.99 for the rest, but not from Apple’s iBookstore. They probably couldn’t reach a deal with J.K. Rowling regarding shares.

Why is buying the series as soft copies a good idea?
I was the most skeptical about e-books. But when I started reading on my iPad, I found out the experience to be as engaging, if not more, than reading on paper. You can highlight sentences you like, bookmark pages and passages – you can really make the book your own, which is something that I don’t like to do with a paper copy, wanting to keep it in a pristine condition.

At a time when e-books are on the rise, Harry Potter is now catering to the growing market: he future of reading is in soft copies that can be downloaded to your personal device in less than a minute. Those who haven’t read the books, this is your chance to hop on the bandwagon of this cultural phenomenon. You won’t be disappointed.
For those who have read the books, perhaps coughing up $60 for the books is a little unnecessary at this time, but if you feel like you need to own a soft copy of them, then why not, I guess?

The Hunger Games (Book Review) – Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games is the first book in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It is already a top seller and will soon be released as a motion picture, being one of 2012’s most anticipated releases.

The Hunger Games takes place in the nation of Panem, in a post-apocalyptic United States. The state is divided into twelve districts, each of which is specialized in a trade, all centered around the Capitol. Each year, the Capitol holds The Hunger Games, an event to remind all twelve districts of their submission to the power of the Capitol. Why? A few years prior, there were thirteen districts with District 13 starting an uprising against the Capitol. The revolution failed and District 13 was eradicated and so arose The Hunger Games, whose is quite simple: a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected as tributes through a lottery to represent their respective district in The Hunger Games. The  total of 24 candidates will then battle each other to the death, as all 12 districts are forced to watch their sons and daughters getting killed and killing. The winner gets a life of ease, which in the harsh world of Panem is almost tempting enough to enter the games. Some districts actually train their youngsters for the games.

Katniss Everdeen and Gale Hawthorn are best friends from District 12. They also have their names in the lottery more than once as a way to get food to their hungry families. Their chances for getting selected are rather high. But both their names are not drawn. Instead, Katniss’ sister, Primrose, is selected – with her name being in the lottery once. In a burst of courage, Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place. Gale is also not selected and instead Peeta Mellark is chosen as the male representative of District 12. Together, Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol where they will try their best to build an image that will help them while inside the games, not knowing that there’s way more going on behind the scenes than they know and that the slightest “wrong” move on their part will cost them dearly.

The Hunger Games is probably one of the most riveting books you might read. The action goes on at breakneck pace, not leaving any dull moment for you to take in what has passed or think about what might happen. You cannot let the book down before finishing it. I had to learn this the hard way with a major exam coming up and finding myself reading this book instead of my anatomy textbook.

Don’t let the fast pace undermine the book’s value, however. The book is perfectly paced. It doesn’t linger on sequences more than it should and, seeing as it’s a book about life and death, it doesn’t dwell on details that are irrelevant to the ultimate goal of its characters: survival. The text may become violent at points, but it remains hypnotizing and chilling.

Simply put,  it is one of those books, which are immensely suspenseful, that will get glued to the palm of your hand and refuse to let go until you turn the last page, only finding out that the story has not been fully resolved and you’ll have to read the second book, Catching Fire, to know what happens next. And before you know it, you have that book in your hands and you’re at it again. The Hunger Games takes you aboard its cycle and doesn’t let you go. Even the love triangle, which the author tries to set up, becomes irrelevant to you as a reader with everything else going on in the book.

At the end of the day, The Hunger Games, despite being totally rooted in fiction, has strands of real-life intertwined in it. There’s humor, there’s treason, there’s death, there’s love, there’s life, there’s loss, there’s pain. All in a couple hundred pages. A must-read, definitely.

9/10