bookspluslife

August 27, 2013

The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:50 pm

coverThe standard ingredients are there: there are lawyers, law firms, a person who wants to be idealistic; and yet, somehow, this feels a little different. It explores the world of the Street Lawyers, who, in spite of a degree that can help them make a lot of money, dedicate their lives to helping the poor and downtrodden with their legal troubles. Idealism? Sure. But it kind of works.

The story starts explosively enough, unlike many other Grisham novels. (Think Pelican Brief or The  Summons) The story takes off almost from the first page itself. Michael Brock, very successful lawyer in a very high paying law firm called Drake and Sweenie, with his foot firmly near the top rung of the corporate ladder (he is due for partnership shortly) at a young age, has his life turned upside down in five seconds, when a seemingly deranged man holds them all as hostages in his own law office. Luckily, he gets killed by a very sharpshooting sniper from the police.  Before that incident, he had a wife who was a surgeon but his was a troubled marriage.

Once this happens, he realizes how close he came  to death and everything he did no longer seems that important. He learns that the man who held them up was De Von Hardy,  with a mental problem and that the hostage taker was not even armed! (He threatened bombs and gun but never showed it).

When he sets out to find more, he meets the Street Lawyer Mordecai Green in Harlem, who lives and works in an impoverished, makeshift, law office, fighting for the poor who are unjustly vacated from homes they had occupied by greedy landlords. When he goes to a charity kitchen to meet some of Mordecai’s clients, he meets destitute family Lontae and her kids, one of whom, Ontario (wait, what? ) captures his mind. On his next trip, he learns that they were evacuated from their homes (in the middle of winter) and Ontario froze to death with his family.

Michael now begins to question all his beliefs in his life. His overachieving brother Robert is very disappointed and tries to ‘straighten him out from this madness’. Father and mother exude disapproval. He then joins Mordecai and Abraham, another lawyer, and Sofia, the administrator as a lawyer, resigning his six figure salary. Not only that, when he realizes that the company he belonged to had resorted to questionable means to evict poor people from a housing complex to rebuild into commercial property, decides to sue them himself!

The method he used to achieve proof is in violation of the law and so he himself gets into trouble with the law. His wife cannot understand why ‘he went to seed’ and leaves him.

The story is populated by other lovable characters, like Ruby the drug addict who is struggling to stay sober so that she can visit her daughter, the sweet tempered Megan, who helps out the poor in community kitchen, his partner Arthur who tries to get him disbarred from the profession for stealing a file related to the scam etc.

Yes, it is a preachy subject, as you can tell from the description above, but in spite of it, the story is well told and you get immersed into the story. The hallmark of a good writer, like for instance the TV series Modern Family – you almost do not recognize the sermon at the end – or even like another of Grisham’s work The Rainmaker.

A good read. Let us say a 7/10

– Krishna

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August 18, 2013

Book: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:49 am

imagesThe story is interesting indeed and the first book is really good to read until you realize that the tone is that of a children’s book or at best a teenage story section. The story is narrated by Katniss Everdeen. The story takes place in a future time where the world is ruled by a council from the Capital. The world (or the known part of it, or the surviving part of it) is divided into Twelve Districts. They are subjugated by Capital and is governed by the Mayor who rules with an iron hand. In fact, originally there were thirteen districts but they all rebelled against the imposed tyranny and were ruthlessly suppressed and District Thirteen was completely destroyed. Each district was given a speciality. District 8, where our star Katniss lives is dedicated to mining.

Also to keep the rebellion in check, there is a reaping from each district. All names are kept in a hat, and the two names drawn out of the hat (always one boy and one girl – have to be young – I think a teen) are sent to the Hunger Games, where they battle it out, literally hunting each other and the perils set by the Game Makers of the capital for all of the world’s entertainment, until only one emerges victorious. Being chosen in the reaping is equal to a fairly certain death sentence.

What makes it more interesting is that people are not given enough food and are always hungry. You can request extra food if you are at an age eligible for reaping  but every time you do so, one more instance of your name is added to the hat so you are that much more likely to be picked for the Hunger Games.

Katniss survives by her wits. Ever since her father was blown up in a mine accident, her mom sort of withdrew from the world and became incapable of managing anything so Katniss bears the burden of bringing up her younger sister Prim. Gale is her only friend and they go out of the allowed perimeter wire illegally and hunt animals to supplement their food (and money, since she can sell them at the black market).

When the reaping occurs, Kat is stunned to find Prim selected. Using a loophole, Kat volunteers to replace Prim. The other person chosen is Peeta Mellark, who is the baker’s son and who was kind to her once by giving her a bread  (illegally) and getting punished for it by his family. Since Kat was starving and near death, this makes a deep impression on Kat. Effie Trinket is the impossibly chirpy ‘selector’ for games who seems totally clueless of the cruelty in the name of the game and is thrilled to have Kat and Peeta represent the district in the games.

She goes to the Capital and meets President Snow, the cruel and evil dictator who masterminds the game. She also meets the genius designer Cinna, his makeup team, the boys and girls who transgressed the strict rules in the district and paid the price by becoming mute slaves (tongue removed) serving the competitors hand and foot.

Before she leaves for the Games, Madge, the mayor’s daughter, gives her a Mockingjay pin as a token of friendship.

She meets the other competitors, including Rue, a young girl from Sector 9. The televising of the preparations to the show and the show itself is by the incomparable Cesar Flickerman.

The trainer for Kat is the only other winner ever from Sector 8, called Haymitch, who seems drunk all the time. However, he gives good advise when needed. He warns her not to go to the weapons once the game starts, as the massacre happens there.

In the interview with the sponsors before the games, Kat gets their shocked attention when she shoots an arrow into the gallery, precisely but not hurting anyone. She is shocked when that move gets her a high rating.

In the games, Kat is stunned to see Peeta cooperate with the Sector 1 & 2 group, and apparently wants to kill Kat and others. But she outwits them by using a Trackerjacket bee nest and kills many of them.

Rue makes an alliance with Kat but is killed by Marvel from District 1 who in turn is  killed by Katniss. Kat is so sad at Rue’s death that she defies orders by not only staying with Rue for a while but also decorating her body with flowers.

Cato stays till the end and is very clever and difficult to dislodge. Others are killed slowly, and Kat, in a brilliant move, destroys their food supply in order to weaken the others.

One of the Careers, Foxface, eats some berries that Kat had collected and dies, making Kat realize that they are poisoned.

The story is told in a racy style, with a cliffhanger at the end of most chapters (a la Dan Brown) but the story itself is very different from those stories. At the end, allied with Peeta after she senses his true intentions, she realizes that only Peeta and she survive and now she has to kill Peeta to win the whole games. How she solves the problem, earning the wrath of the sponsors and their grudging capitulation, is an interesting twist at the end.

 

The story says Peeta loses a limb, but I do not remember seeing it in the story!

 

A good story but without depth in it. When you finish, you get the feeling of having finshed a good story but a teen story, told in a lightweight style, purely to entertain but not to make you think.

I would say a 6/10

 

— Krishna

Movie: Romeo Plus Juliet (1996)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:12 am

imagesThis is an interesting movie. In summary, it is a modern film where everyone talks old Shakespeare. The names are the same for people but the story pretends that it all happens in today’s America. Interesting for the first bit but the novelty wears off pretty quickly. Gun toting, car driving people talking ‘whereforest are thou going, my man?’ gets a bit cheesy soon.

Being a modern version of the play, there are many reinterpretations. The sword is the gun. The longsword is an automatic rifle. And so on. You know what? It actually works for a while. It is hilarious at first and then you tend to wonder, after the novelty wears off, whether it is all that funny after all.

The story, of course, is not new or a surprise. They clearly tell you what story they are telling from the title itself and the house names (families) are also the same – Capulet and Montague.

A touchingly young Leonardo plays Romeo. Diane Claire plays Juliet.  Also another nice surprise, seeing this after all these years is that Paul Rudd, in his pre fame days (pre Friends?) is Dave Paris, the hapless suitor of Juliet, a rich Governor’s son.  Nice to see where they all started and where they have reached.

Leonardo’s early films, where he proves that he always sought different movies. A nice link to the recent Great Gatsby release. So he was always interested in the classics, it would seem.

Capulets and Montagues are now business families but are feuding, as in the original play by Shakespeare. 

Were they gangs? Just riotous youth feuding? The line seems to be blurred. The story is true to the Shakespeare play (I think) but when you see US police coming to investigate the murder of a member of the family and then say ‘banishment’ is the punishment for the crime, that kind of jars, at least to me.  Yes, I know that in the original it is the Prince that does that. (Here the police chief is Captain Prince!). Clever, but stretches your credulity.

De Caprio lives the role – of Romeo of course – with convincing love and hate (the anger he shows when his dear friend is slain in a feud is remarkable) but Juliet? I am afraid it is not a strong portrayal by Claire Danes.

The friend of Romeo is black in the movie. His death starts the feud spewing out of control.

You wonder how true the narration is to the original movie. It seems very close even if you do not remember the details of the original play you read so long ago and the reviews say that even ignoring the modern setting as discussed above there are only minor variations (for instance Juliet sees and speaks to Romeo before he dies) and that is good enough for me.

The father of Juliet is very convincing and the father of Romeo has not a great role to play. The message sent to Romeo is through Registered Post and it misses him because he is away travelling. But then I can go on and on about the modernization of the story but you already probably get the gist of it very well.

For the novelty of it all, let us say a 5/10

 

— Krishna

August 7, 2013

Book: The Moor by Laurie R King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:17 pm

imageLaurie R King is known for writing Sherlock Holmes stories, adopting the detective and writing about the same period as Sherlock did. This is one of the books she has written with the famous fictional detective in the lead.

My first thought on that subject is that Sherlock must be an irresistible obsession for many writers. And I am not about the numerous TV and film versions of the Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories but about other writers adopting him as the central character in their modern tales.

Apart from the British Sherlock Holmes series where he lives in the modern world and uses Iphones etc but solves crimes in his inimitable way, there  is the series where Dr Watson is a female (Lucy Liu) and then this series. And don’t get me started on the James Bond like Sherlock movies played by Robert Downey Jr where his entire modus operandi is confused with Mission Impossible II or James Bond!

 

This book is also weird, in the sense that James Bond does not use his famous and amazing powers of deduction. You do not get the sense of stunning astonishment you get when you read the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. Instead, he behaves like just any other detective and even the narration in this book is by Mary Russell, who is his wife.

 

Wait, what? A wife? If you read the first book first sentence of the Arthur Conan Doyle series, you know that Sherlock has no interest in women and positively likes to live alone and does not like marriage. He, married? And even more weirdly, she seems to do all the work while he lazily contributes here and there – at least in this book!

 

The other interesting thing about this book is that it is related to the book the Hound of Baskervilles and even takes place in  the same place. Rev Sabine Baring-Gould makes an appearance and is revealed as the godfather of Holmes.

 

The story kind of takes off with Pethering, a man, mysteriously killed by an unknown assailant.  But sags immediately after!

The book is full of descriptions of Baring Gould’s books and Mary Russell’s interest in them. Then Mary goes on a pony and goes round and round the village, swamps and toher places. Holmes himself dashes here and there, full of energy as in original books but accomplishing apparently little unlike the original books. No brilliant detection to be found anywhere.

They trash talk the original books too (Dr Watson was old and feeble and was inaccurate in many places in his narration apparently)

 

Finally when the mystery is revealed, we find out that Mary resolves the issue as fast as Holmes could.  Well, there you go. It is a Mary Russell book, with Sherlock as a side character, really.

 

What passes for humour is Mary Russell being thrown into mud repeatedly by the pony in her peregrinations.

 

The story is populated by a rich American, Richard Ketteridge, who bought Baskerville Hall bought and kitted out with modern amenities like electric bulbs, and his assistant David Scheiman who falls in love with the descendent of the original Baskerville family.

 

Holmes has the trademark pipe but no mention of cap – the other trademark. But then, I have bigger problems with the portrayal of Holmes,  as I mentioned above

 

The dog and the carriage make an appearance again in this book. About the only intereting thing in this book – at least to me – is the “dog talk” with the culprit at the end by Holmes. Too little too late? Yes!

 

I will give it a 2/10

 

— Krishna

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