bookspluslife

October 31, 2014

Book: Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:51 pm

Looks like I will never understand satire by the great writers in English. The author himself describes this book as a “comic book about death” and of course it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1976. But to me, it reads like an artsy film-club-movie-experience in a book. Yawn.images

What is the story? Humbodt, a writer, is jealous of the success of his protege Charlie Citrine and tries to badmouth him constantly. He dies a mad man but strangely, leaves some money to Charlie in his will! Humboldt had a friendship with Adlai Stevenson as he claimed, and therefore should Adlai win the presidency, he will have influence in the government! US will then be utopia.

The story wanders a lot.

Charlie was married to the gorgeous Denise but was always fighting and so, after the divorce he married(?) Renata.

He befriends hoodlums and refuses to pay in cards, and for his pains, has his Mercedes smashed badly with a baseball bat. How boring! He goes to pay the hoodlum but gets humiliated, forced to watch him take a dump.

The book is all about Humbolt and how he lived. Nothing happens. More about Humboldt going slowly mad when Adlai lost to Ike Eisenhower.  He conspires to get a chair in Princeton but that falls through as well.

Kathleen leaves him, unable to take his paranoia, but he goes raving mad, attacking a young scholar who he suspects, without proof, is hiding Kathleen.

Cantabile now thinks he is the bosom buddy of Charlie and offers up pretty Polly to share.

Charlie’s  women: First love dies in a plane crash; Denise, the pretty and intellectual wife sues him for all he got; he meets Renata as a mutual friend of a friend in jury duty. He gets arrested due to his association with Cantabile and the stupidity of his friend Thaxter who takes everything he can monetarily from Citrine.

The descriptions are very good and Citrine’s musings are brilliant to read. It does not add to the story but many times but you go along for the ride, for once not caring what it has to do with the story. His musings are unconventional but interesting. Humbolt has left the outline of a plot as a ‘gift’ to Citrine during his brief lucid period before his death. When Charlie learns that the same story has also been given to Kathleen, he is amused. He next visits his businessman brother who is having an open heart surgery.

His musings can come off as ramblings, and they do annoy sometimes, and his belief in clairvoyance and other duff stuff also can irritate, coming in the middle of other interesting thoughts. This gets to be a bit too much as the book progresses.

In a nice irony, the hero Charlie is an author who had won two Pulitzer prizes!

It then  gets positively weird! Listen to this: when you sit and try to talk to dead people, you can! And the questions you ask are actually from them and the answers they give are actually from you. In spite of the ‘comedy’ quip from the author, this seems to be a serious passage.

Why have I not been harsher in this criticism? Am I impressed because the author is Saul Bellow? Not really. I give it a milder critique because his other musings are very interesting and intelligent. That still does not take away from the from the fact that some parts of the book are very weird and downright nonsensical.

Charlie comes across as a soft squeeze and a pushover but then that perhaps this is what was intended to be his character.

He loses all his money due to all his friends’ duplicities but a gangster stands by him! A mad caper written by him with Humboldt makes it big in the movie business and Cantabile helps him sue and recover money but he treats the only guy who helps him like shit.

The ending has a nice ring to it, but is abrupt.

In summary, parts of the book are interesting, even though they may have nothing to do with the main plot, but it is heavy lifting to read. Nonsensical, irritating, and sometimes downright absurd.

Let us say 4/10

  • – Krishna

October 17, 2014

Book: A Feast For Crows by George RR Martin

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:51 pm

imagesA friendly warning in the beginning: Due to the complex nature of the story, there are a lot of details presented in this review. If you do not want all the details of the story, just read the first two paragraphs and skip to the rating at the end of the review.

 

My, this is already the fourth book in the Song of Fire and Ice  series! Each book is big, with a lot of pages and when you get it in your hands, you think ‘Nice. I can have fun with it for a while yet’ and when you start to read it, the pages fly and before you know it, you are at the end of the book and worry that there are only a few books left! This happened to me in the Harry Potter series too. I know that as of the time of writing this, there are only five published books and so you are left with a bit of sadness that there is only one more book to read.

 

We have reviewed all the earlier books, starting with The Game of Thrones, The Clash of Kings, and The Storm of Swords in this forum.

 

By now you are used to the great style of storytelling, and even getting used to the fact that major characters, in whom you have invested a lot of time and therefore created a bond, are apt to die off in the middle of the books. This book continues the tradition of all of that.

 

The prologue is interesting as in all the other books. This time it is about an alchemist who wants a coin.

 

In the main story, Aeron Greyjoy, the Prophet (priest of the drowned God) hears of Balon’s death. He drowns and raises men who will then be faithful to the Drowned God. He rushes back to Gorold Goodbrother. He denies the next brother, Euron Crow’s Eye, as the king because he is not pious enough. Balon wanted Asha to succeed him and not Theon, to Aeron’s dismay. Victorian, another broker of Euron, contests the throne rights and claims it for himself. Urri, a brother, lost fingers when playing finger dance but the Maesters ruined it by trying to grow a new finger and he died. Aeron has no respect for Maesters. Aeron’s own past is unexpected. He has a boisterous youth, drinking, debauching, pissing farthest, until he was drowned and reborn as the priest. He wants Victorian to be king. Makes the people want a kingsmoot (election) to determine the rightful king.

 

Obara is the king’s daughter but a whore’s whelp. She wants revenge for her father’s slaying by the Mountain to save Tyrion, as narrated in Book Three. Look, there it is, new characters entering the story. There are more to come. So, if you are easily confused by the turns this story takes and a constant flow of new people coming in, you perhaps do not want to start reading the series.

 

. Areo Hotah, the Captain of the guards is with Doran Martell, the brother of the slain Dornish. Ser Arys and Areo are headed for a mortal conflict, Areo can feel it in his bones. Areo was sold to bearded priests when he was a boy by his own family (no ability to feed another mouth), branded with axe and trained with longaxe and then sent to guard, where he rose to be the captain.  Doran orders the sand snakes, Obarrah, Lady Nym and one other sister Lady Tyene, imprisoned to show his loyalty to Tywin. Meanwhile, Cercei tries to deal with the fallout from  the death of her father.

 

Brienne goes in search of the missing Sansa. Arya in the meanwhile reaches the isle she has been sent to but has to go into town knowing no one at all. She takes refuge among the dead in a protected place.

 

Cercei in the meanwhile finds that her uncle Kevan is unwilling to be the Hand.

Brienne gets the trail of Dontos from a dwarf in an inn.

 

In the meanwhile Asha decides to go to the kingsmoot and make it a queensmoot against the wishes of her own uncle who feels a woman will never be elected.

 

Ser Arys Oakbridge is in love with Arianne even though he is a kingsguard. She tells him not to transport Myrcella to the Water Garden as her father the king of Dorne contemplates as she is the true heir to the Iron Throne and not Tommen and he agrees.

 

Cersei plots to kill Jon Snow and disgrace Margery. Asha seems to lose the Queensmoot to Eugene who is her uncle called Crow’s Eye. Brienne tracks down Nick, who promises to take her where Ser Dontos went with Sansa. He dies in a fight but Brienne thinks that the Hound took Sansa to see her uncle.

 

Arianne of the Dorn wants to make Myrcella the queen as a rival to Tommen!  Ser Arys, who agrees to take Myrcella to Dorne is killed as the plot is discovered by the king and Hotah comes with an axe. Meanwhile, Arya is sent out of her sanctuary (a monastery for the God with Many Faces) out to learn Bravos tongue better.

 

Cersei is plotted against by Margery the upstart queen, through Tommen. Jaime and Cersei quarrel constantly. Cercei plots against Ser Bronn. Samwell is in Bravos too. Cersei goes to meet the new High Septon who seems quite mad.

 

Sparrows (religious fanatics and poor and uneducated) get arms and amass all over Lannister region.

 

Breinne learns in a monastery that she has been following the trail of the wrong Stark girl in following the Hound. Hound is dead and the monk buried him. When she meets Gendry they are attacked by a band of seven and Biter. the man with pointed teeth and tongue long like a sword, breaks her bones and tries to eat her alive. Chews on her cheeks with pointed teeth! Quite a gruesome scene there.

 

Arya becomes Cat of the Tunnels, kills the singer Donderrion and then goes blind as she drinks ‘warm milk’ as penance, given by the kindly man, an acolyte of the God With a Thousand Faces. Arianne is imprisoned in the Tower because she wanted to kidnap Myrcella and crown her king and got found out by her father the Prince who is still loyal to the Lannisters. Out of necessity but not out of love, it would seem.

 

Cersei is afraid of the Three Prophesies (Your sons will all die in front of your eyes; a younger and more beautiful queen will take everything away from you; your younger brother will kill you by choking you with his hands. ) Now, she will not let Margery’s plots unthrone her so she plots to ‘prove’ Margery’s infidelity and is preparing a case with the singer “confessing” under torture and enlisting one of the girls to turn against the other two.

Arianne is imprisoned in the tower and we learn that he was promised for Viserys, the brother of Daenerys, killed by Khal Drogo with molten gold.

 

Littlefinger is knee deep in plots again, where he plans to marry Alayne (Sansa) to the heir of the Eyrie if something should befall poor Sweetrobin Richard, and then bring her out as Sansa, uniting the armies in their favour.

 

Cersei’s plot backfires and the fanatical septon arrests her AND Margerie together. Jamie refuses to come to her aid when messaged (to be her champion in a single combat). Sam reaches OldTown and sends a maester across to Danerys, who, Master Aemon who dies on the ship is convinced, is the true heir to the Seven Kingdoms

 

Fabulous storytelling, no major death this time, but leaves you at a cliffhanger of a place. Some of the major players in the earlier books are nearly entirely absent in this. For instance, you wonder what happened to our beloved Tyrion.

 

When you start reading the next book, all is explained in a preface by the author.

 

Interesting book, maybe not quite as good as Book One or Book Three in its impact (arguably so) but still a stunning read.

 

I would award it a 8/10

– – Krishna

October 11, 2014

Book: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:34 pm

imagesThis is the second volume in the Millennium series that took the publishing world by storm. We  reviewed the first book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, earlier. The story continues in this one. It is great if you have read the first one already and this is the recommended way to read this book, but the story stands alone, and you can read this book even if you have not read the first one yet. You miss some nuances but the story does stand alone in this one.

 

A powerful prologue, as in the first book, enough to pique your curiosity right away.

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Lisbeth Salander, the near genius investigator introduced in the first book and is the protoganist named in the title of each of the books in the series, is on vacation in Grenada where a couple next door seem to have quarrels and the husband seems to beat the wife daily. When she realizes that he is planning to kill her in the midst of storm Matilda, she thwarts his plans and saves the wife.

 

In the meanwhile, advocate Bjurman is seething for revenge for the humiliation he suffered (described in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) at Salander’s hands. (This is an example of the colour you miss if you have skipped the earlier book).

 

Blomkvist is planning another explosive novel, this time about the sex trade in Sweden with the help of an author, Dag Svensson, who researched the story. In the meanwhile he is having sex with Herriet Vangar, Salander has lesbian sex with earlier friend Mimi. In fact in Swedish novels, they want to have sex with everyone they meet, older, younger, does not seem to matter.

Bjurman, meanwhile, has hired a blond giant to kill Salander.

 

Salander meets her ex boss and offers to do “interesting stuff” only.

 

You meet the Indian doctor called Sivarnandan and think ‘Here is a cliché again. Indian medic!) And a slight misspelling of the name, with an unnecessary ‘r’ in the middle, though she got the nationality (Sri Lankan) right.

 

This book is more preachy – see the plight of immigrants; how badly Sweden treats them; and so on and so forth. Then there is the show of  ‘I have inclusive employees including Karim’ (who is portrayed as a female!) etc. Gets tiresome.

 

Dag Svensson was working on an expose of human trafficking of immigrants and his girlfriend Mia Johanssen was working on her doctoral thesis on the same subject. As it happens, they are both visited by Salander, and a short time later, Blomkvist makes a visit to their house to talk about the book and the publication and finds them both dead. They have been murdered.

 

As Blomkvist exits their house, he finds Salander being attacked. Salander knows it is Bjurman’s doing.

 

When the murder weapon is also found in the stairwell with Lisbeth’s fingerprints (and Bjurman’s) and later, Bjurman found dead (head blown off ) in his own apartment, Lisbeth becomes the prime suspect. Both Armansky and Blomkvist are beyond astonishment.

Mariam Wu, the lesbian friend of Salander gets dragged into the resulting nationwide frenzy.

The back story of the Blond giant is fabulous.

 

Mariam Wu is kidnapped by a blond giant, but boxer Paolo Roberto rescues her at great cost to himself and her (broker ribs, broken nose, fractured arm and leg etc) Than Salander faces the thugs Magge Lundin (the portly ponytailed man who attacked her earlier and was unsuccessful – Blomkvist tried to come to her aid too) and Sonny Nieminen, a vicious thug, and brutalizes them both. The scene is fantastic, and shows why Stieg has such a reputation as a storyteller.

 

Meanwhile there is a lot of information coming to light on the nebulous Zala, who seems to be a mysterious central figure in all this.

 

The whole background story about Zala is explosive and I do not want to give it away because it will be a big spoiler for those of you who have not read this book and the blond giant is also involved in this.

 

All right, I will admit that it is a little bit like James Bond with super villains and giant sidekicks and what not, but the storytelling, the building of the suspense and the resolution of the tough situations are so well done that it still reads very well.

 

Tense ending. Nicely done.

 

As good as the first one, at least, and in my opinion, better, despite the brief preachy tone in the beginning.

 

I will give it a 8/10

 

  • – Krishna

 

 

October 3, 2014

Book: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:18 am

imagesThis is Installment Three in the hugely popular Hunger Games Trilogy. See our review for the first book Hunger Games, and the second book Catching Fire earlier.

 

Katniss agrees to become a symbol of the revolution after visiting her own bombed out district 12. She is taken to district 8, the hospital, where she sees the effect she has on others but witnesses ruthless bombing raids by President Snow of the Capitol. In the meanwhile, the resistance movement is headed by Coin, who seems not too friendly with Katniss when she is rescued and arrives at District 13.

 

She is relieved that Peeta, who was not rescued at the end of the previous book into District 13 is alive but wonders why he seems to be “supporting” the Capitol.

 

Peeta warns them in time of the bombing raid on thirteen itself, and they go underground in the bunkers.  Peeta is rescued but has been brainwashed with tracker jack bee venom to believe that Katniss is a mortal enemy.

 

Katniss is in District 2 after it is subdued by the rebels and is shot. She recovers, and then gets friendly with her previous enemy Johanna. Peeta is left to mingle with guards always with him.

 

Finnick marries Annie and is happy. Then they are all sent to District 2 and then to the Capitol  with Coin’s secret plan for Peeta to murder Katniss so that she will not be a threat when Snow is killed and Coin herself wants to get elected president. Nice twist.

 

In a Capitol war in chaos, Katniss leads a team to assassinate Snow, loses a lot of people to mutts and hides with a designer who has a cat face and a tail.

 

When she reaches President’s palace she finds it guarded by children and parachutes descend which the kids take for toys. The twists run till the very end, and the ending is a bit surprising.

 

Suzanne Collins likes to keep us hanging with a triangle all through – Peeta, Gale, katniss and since this is written for teeny boppers, like Archie, there is no resolution until the very end.

 

But I will tell you one thing. Many people have said that the Book Three is a lot weaker than the first two and one person even said that this is true of all of Suzanne Collin’s book series. “She does not know how to finish stories” was the verdict of this person. But I think differently, at least about this series, which is the only one I have read. I think it stands on its own and the story moves to a very logical end with ironies of power struggle in the resistance movement whose very raison d’etre  is to dismantle the autocratic power of President Snow.

 

A plausible end to the series. It is still juvenile, like the first two books and is aimed at young adults rather than serious readers, but it does what it aims to do well.

 

Let us say a 5/10

 

  • – Krishna

 

October 2, 2014

Movie: Oldboy (2013)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:53 pm

imagesInspired by the Korean cult classic, this movie is different. It starts off very badly like a C grade movie. They want to depict Josh Doucette (Josh Brolin) as a devil may care playboy, hard smoking, hard drinking, skirt chasing, wife cheating bad man. Then one day, he gets kidnapped and wakes up in a prison cell with a creepy porter’s picture on the wall.

And the movie gets a lot more interesting after that. In fact initially, even the acting by Josh sucks and the dialogs suck more. Finally, after he wakes up, he starts seeing TV (and we with him, realize that many years have passed). He decides to quit smoking and bulk up. The television is his only mode of information. In it he sees everything – politics, cartoons,  discussions, his daughter Mia growing  up, his wife dying in a home invasion gone wrong; he watches Mia participate in competitions and win prizes and cries copiously. He gets food shoved through a hole in the door and his supplies given but never meets anyone. He is watched regularly through videos and when he turns unruly in the beginning, is gassed unconscious and subject to grooming against his will. He despairs of ever leaving and thinks he is going to die in that cell. So he starts pouring his heart out to his daughter Mia in a stack of letters that grow into a pile.

 

Then you get a shock. The man who is watching him is our own Samuel L Jackson. With a ridiculous looking blond Mohawk but really it is he! He is Chaney a gangster. But why is he holding Josh prisoner? What did Josh do to him? At this point there is no clue.

 

The movie really takes off now and you are dying of curiosity to find out who did this to him and why. He finally figures out a way to escape and even makes his escape through the roof but is captured and brought back. No punishment, nothing. Back in the room, with the escape avenue closed, and with no human contact except the TV again. He struggles to keep his sanity.

 

When twenty years is past, he is suddenly freed. As mysteriously as he was taken, he is let out. He is gassed and when he comes to, he finds himself on the streets, a free man. He vows to find who held him prisoner, and decides to find out. He is obsessed with finding out who did this to him. He is left with the stack of letters he wrote to Mia, and also a cell phone with his daughter’s picture and, ominously, a count down. He is desperate to find her.

 

He meets Marie (Elizabeth Olsen) who tries to help him. By sheer perseverance and some interesting detective work involving Chinese food, he manages to track down Chaney and tortures him, only to find that Chaney is a thug for hire and has a lot of people held prisoner in the facility where he was, for money. Before he can learn the identity of kidnapper, he is overwhelmed by Chaney’s bodyguards who manage to enter and gets badly beaten up and loses consciousness. He is mysteriously restored back to the place where he stays when he comes to.

 

Chaney finds him and now kidnaps both him and Marie, and they try to rape her and torture him when a phone call comes from someone named Adrian. Adrian asks that Chaney let them go and pays a ton of money to Chaney. You wonder why and the puzzle deepens.

How it all unravels and how you find out why he was kept a prisoner and why he was released is the rest of the story. A brilliant twist at the end makes you gasp. It is very unexpected.

 

There are a few things I found in the movie that I did not like at all. First, the acting, especially in the beginning, sucks. The first few scenes even feel amateurish. It gets better and better if you have the patience to continue watching.  Second, the whole plot is explained away fairly satisfactorily at the end, and you can buy that line of argument as logical. Not realistic, mind you, but at least plausible, given this is a Hollywood movie. How it ends is also very good. But it is all told suddenly at the end. No clues from the beginning, nothing to indicate what it could even be, but suddenly everything is sprung on you.

There are even childish scenes such as “If you can figure out why I did this to you within seven (was it?) days, I will pay you a fortune and kill myself in front of you” offer to him by the man responsible for it all. What?

 

But for all that, a very entertaining movie, and a very satisfying watch at the end.

 

I will award it a 7/10

 

  • – Krishna

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