bookspluslife

November 28, 2014

Book: Killed At The Whim of A Hat by Colin Cotterill

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:55 am

imagesI don’t know what to make of this book, so let us go straight to the story and I will try to convey the tone and texture of the book in the process. The story is set in Thailand.

 

When Old Ben hires a hand to dig for well in his backyard, the man hits a metal and when he tries to open it, he falls through into what looks like a room!

 

Now a crime reporter with a transgender brother (currently female) and another sister comes home to find the home sold by dear mother Muir against the wishes of granddad and they are expected to move deep South, which is dangerous. Her job as a reporter abruptly ends due to the move.

 

Is it the tongue in cheek reference when you put George W. Bush’s worst quotes at the start of every chapter? (‘I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully” is a sample.)

 

When the skeletons are discovered, she sees her chance to do crime reporting again.

The story is told with humour too – the part about the skeletons collapsing due to inept police handling and her reaction to it are hilarious. The Major giving her lunch believing her to be from the big city Bangkok; the uncool things she lists about her new home are all funny. Also the storyline dates itself by sentences like “No telephone line so no Internet”.

 

Jim hears of an abbot being killed in the same city and life becomes interesting. The life in Thailand is cute. (No electronic records before 1992 but old paper records lost due to poor housekeeping – is an example. He must be called Armani because the label on his shirt says so is another.)

 

The killed abbot is a visiting one from a faraway monastery, it turns out. The current abbot and a nun are in a cloud of suspicion.

 

Because the author is British, even though Jim is Thai, she thinks and acts like a westerner (Bon Jovi and the like her tastes). Now I know a lot of Thais are into Western music but there are no references to local culture (there are references only to western culture or adopted western culture like Big Brother Thailand) and that is a bit jarring. Just setting the story in Thailand is not enough, if there is absolutely no local colour in the narration.

 

Get this logic: Internet scams are not real crimes because the companies you fool are net companies and have no ‘real’ brick and mortar presence. So the police should not even bother to look at them. This is at a point where we do not know if the author is even joking, so it comes across as weird.

 

Not just Jim but  everyone behaves like a Westerner. Wild Muir, the mother of Jim Juree may be crazy, but even she would not publish naked picture of herself with her professor everywhere in the college campus. I wish the author could read a local author in translation to see how South Asian minds are supposed to work. This is totally out of character with the locale he is trying to paint.

 

My God, is the author left wing or what? Every statement drips with social concern and anti corporation. As left wing as, for example, Tom Clancy is right wing.

 

Her taciturn grandpa Jeh, an ex policeman, gives her valuable hints. Why was the monk wearing a hat? What was “missing” since the bouganvilla plants were uprooted and an empty cigarette lighter was found there? What was “not in the scene”? Based on his hints, a camera is retrieved by Jim.

 

The title of the book itself comes from a blooper of George W Bush’s statement “People are being killed at the whim of a hat”. Some of the statements quoted by W are so outlandish that you wonder if the author made it up. But apparently not. He gives published newspaper references for each! Try this one for size “I understand small business growth. I was one”.  Or “… the storm clouds on the horizon were getting nearly directly overhead.”

 

The story meanders a bit. I understand that this is the starting of a whole series of books. The idea is to solve mysteries while treating the storyline as a comedy. It has been done better by so many authors. This one in fact is a lightweight mystery.

 

The ending has a deux ex machina feel to it – not blatant, but you go ‘what? where was this person all along?’. But the twists on the kidnapping of the politician and the way the real killer is implicated for the disbelieving Bangkok detective bigwigs are interesting.

 

Then a strange thing happens, the story begins to grow on you and towards the end you really think that this is a much better story than you thought. I love how the two corpses that were found first, starting the whole excitement off and the abbot murder story, which is accidentally found, are explained in relation to each other. Very clever.

 

Just because the book gets better towards the end, let us say a 5/10

 

  • – Krishna
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November 23, 2014

Book: Push by Sapphire

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:48 am

imagesThis is the book that spawned the movie Precious. It is bleak, powerful, and in some cases also seems a bit repetitive. Overall the book comes out well.

 

Clarice Precious Jones – wild, violent, unruly, pregnant twice before fifteen – first time at twelve – and is  completely oblivious to any authority, still in elementary school. Her viewpoint of the world is warped and described in an immersive way, including the language used. Interesting. Lives in Harlem, NY. Weighs two hundred pounds. Her baby’s father is her father, who is molesting her for years against her will. Since she is also a little bit dimwitted, she finds it very hard to cope and lashes out in ill-tempered and violent behaviour towards everyone else, barely under control.

 

Many of her travails are heart wrenching. As an example, she cries because the nurse, feeling sorry that she gave birth to a Mangoloid child, holds her in compassion while she cries and no one – no one – has ever held her before, including her mom.

 

Mom is a giant, lazy, makes Clarice do all the work and also sexually abuses her! She is enrolled in an alternate school, on the recommendation of her teacher but against the wishes of her mother. Her struggles, her exploitation (sexually and monetarily – her mom gets support money for Clarice and her children from the government but totally spends it on her pleasures) by her mom, sexually and mentally (total abandonment and rape whenever he desires) by dad; her hunger and stealing, struggles to develop an impervious psychological carapace around her to deflect ridicule and criticism from the whole world, permeate the story.

 

Entering into her mind through the story is interesting and really helps understand the struggles she is going through: helpless, victimized and therefore angry and rebellious.

But it can look overdone sometimes when for the umpteenth time, that too in a small book, the author goes over the same points again and again. It may be intended to re-emphasize the feelings of Clarice aka Precious, but you get the feeling that he or she is reading the same page again.

 

When it becomes all about the same suffering and an excruciating detail on how Precious learns to spell, the book starts to flag. Interminable conversations in bad spelling with no move to the story at all. At least that is the impression I get. Actually, come to think of it, the movie was a LOT better than this book!

 

And mixing the story with extreme leftist propaganda – suddenly precious goes on an antiwar rant that has nothing to do with the story – is extremely annoying. Reads like a leftist propaganda book rather than a story. I am myself anti-war in general. It is not the sentiment that I am against but the fact that it is thrust down my throat in a story that does not even call for it.

 

She discovers she may have AIDS. Her dad died of AIDS. She finds she is HIV positive as well. Just when she was turning around her life with education, here is another setback. Ms Rain, her teacher in an alternative school,  is a godsend. As soon as the story gets moving and starts getting interesting, the preaching starts again. When she is against homosexuals, she discovers that Ms Rain is one and she is confused!

 

Now she improves her English over the pages as she learns more but degenrates into bad spelling sometimes. (Apparently when she is emotional). But she mispronounces with as wif and teeth as teef, but has no problems spelling quantum leap almost in the midst of these.

 

I know what the author is trying to do, but it is still jarring to read this.

 

Even for a ninety page book, she runs out of story for Precious and starts listing the stories of all the other abused women with her in the class she goes to, and the book ends abruptly.

 

The book is nowhere as good as the movie, and in spite of some quite good moments, has not been well executed.

 

I will say a 4/10

 

  • – Krishna

November 15, 2014

Book: The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:57 pm

imagesThis is the first book in a trilogy which are arguably the best known books of Terry Brooks. Let us get to the story first and then my impressions later. The interesting thing is that the three stories were never written as a part of trilogy but became so later, when republished as a trilogy.

The story says that there are five races, Man being only one of these. The others are Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, and Trolls).

Flick Ohmsford is travelling. He travels to far flung communities to trade with the farmers. He meets a fearsome stranger on the way in a lonely forest and, ascertaining that he was not dangerous, accompanies him to his father’s inn. On the way, the stranger saves Flick from a dangerous overhead shadow in the sky. The mystery only deepens when they discover that the stranger is the well known wizard Allanon and he has come specifically to find Flick’s brother Shea. He learns to his consternation that his brother Shea Ohmsford is of royal Elven blood and has descended from Shannara, the great Elven king who had a sword that was invincible and which was given to him by a Master Druid during the Second War of Races (As an aside we learn that no part was played by Man in this war but Elves and Dwarves on one side vs Gnomes and Trolls on the other)

Allanon has to leave in a hurry but leaves a letter for Shea and leaves him some elfstones to guide him if there is danger. Also he asks them to flee if they see the sign of skull any time. Another stranger comes to meet them, referring Allanon, later. When they site a wolf-like human sniffing around one night (with a skull pendant) they know they have to get out and fast. They enlist the help of Prince Menion who is a friend of Shea.

I find it endearing how in a magical fantasy world everyone behaves like Westerners, drinking wine etc. It is not just a comment on this one but in general, any fantasy story written in the West, especially at earlier times. In this one, all the fantasy characters act British.

They get lost on the way to the Oaks and almost caught by the winged, wolf-faced searchers but escape. Now we learn that the wolf-like creatures can fly too. The elfstones show them the way when they are desperately lost.  They cross the dismal dying forest and get to the Mist area. Pure adventure in the style of old style, reminding one of Tolkien stories. A lot of fun to read.

They are saved from a huge mist-beast with tentacles by the stones and manage to lose Menion. When the Skull bearing searcher comes next, they are helpless but saved by a doughty and irascible wizard called Hendel.

They all meet in Anar which is under protection of Balinor and Allanon brings news of a new War of the Races. Gnomes and Giants are getting restless. The Sword was captured by the Dark Lord and they make a daring plan to retrieve it in a small party raid.

The history is interesting, in that mankind, after the scientific revolution destroyed itself but the knowledge was kept with oral tradition by survivors who became druids. The druid group that split and went into sorcery was led by a very talented wizard who went to the evil side. His name was Brona and he became the Dark Lord.

They escape a trap set by Gnomes on the way. They face the serpent-like monster, the banshees and the strange things that turn them to stones. After winning through all, Shea falls off the mountain into a river and they are forced to go without him.

The story has a kind of cute tone throughout. They face a Skull Carrier and both Allanon and the evil thing fall into fire. Flick, who stayed back from the rest to “ensure” that Allanon is OK loses his way and the others get dragged into a trap where a fake Sword of Shannara lures them into a prison atop the tower. The adventure, of course ends well.

Now, what do I think about the book? The behaviour of the crowd is a bit childish. Even when Allanon has proven his power beyond any dispute umpteen times, they keep arguing with him and saying that he is making the wrong decision. You want to shout “What does he have to do before they will start believing him? “.

Back to the story. What happened to Shea? A rock troll called Keltset and a man with a spike for one arm called Panamon Creel save Shea from Gnomes who captured and bound him. When Shea destroys a Skull Bearer, Panamon becomes his friend.

A gnome called Orl Fane who was captured at the scene of a battle of Elves vs Gnomes is let go and too late they discover they let the Sword escape from their grasp, as he had it all along in his posession. Allanon collects everyone else together and goes back to stop the army and find Shea as well as the Elven king who lost the battle. The friends are shipped off to defend the army, and just Menion, Flick and Allanon remain to search for Shea and the sword.

When they find the extent of the Gnome army massed at the borders by Brona, Shea is also sent back to warn the others. Meanwhile, Balinor finds out that his brother has usurped the throne from the father and is planning to kill him when he returns. He knowingly walks into a trap with the two elves and is imprisoned in the Dungeon. In the meanwhile, Menion Leah rescues Shirl of royal blood and saves the city from Gnome attack by transporting the entire population out by boat under cover of darkness and rain.

While Hendel goes to rescue Balinor, he seems to be trapped as well. Shea, Panamon and Keltset decide to pursue the mad and evil gnome who took away the Sword. A cute tale if you do not look for depth or thinking. This is no Game of Thrones series!

Finally Menion Leah reaches Tyris and releases Palance, brother of Balinor, from the evil clutches of his advisor Stenmin but not before  Palance is fatally wounded. The old King, Balinor’s dad was also found dead, poisoned by Stenmin.

Keltset, Panamon and Shea are all captured by Trolls, and in his trial, Keltset reveals himself to be a man of very high honour who had been awarded the Black Irix. They go into the Skull Kingdom pretending to be the Dark Lord’s trolls taking the three prisoner, and Shea gets hold of the Sword of Shannara from Orl Fane, the same troll who dodged them before, and confronts not just the Dark Lord but his true self too, which is the real power of the sword.

All ends well.

A spectacular read. I will not judge it in comparison with something like the Game of Thrones, but by itself and based on what it aims to do. If you look at it from that vantage point, this book does it very well indeed.

 

I would give this one a 8/10

 

  • – Krishna

Movie : Big Hero 6 (2014)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:31 pm

imagesDisney has certainly gotten much better at storytelling since their days just before taking over Pixar, when they were briefly stumbling. This story is good too. It has all the fun elements, and you see at the end that Disney clearly wants to make this into a franchise that can keep on giving.

The story is endearing and will appeal to mass audience and geeks alike. The corny thing is the name of the city San Fransokyo? Come on! And parts of it, which are supposed to look like Tokyo end up looking like the China Towns in western cities during Chinese New Year time. But we can forgive these lapses because the story is good.

Hiro Hamada is a young boy prodigy whose brother Tadashi is also a genius. Hiro spurns the normal aspirations of success for geeks and is busy participating in robot fights (something like chicken fights, illegal but flourishing in alleyways). He gets nearly lynched when he wins big against a local mafia don but is rescued by his brother, who is in a Technical University. We learn in passing that their parents died in an accident and they live with their aunt Cass (I guess it is the San Frans part of the story).  Tadashi agrees to take Hiro to the next robot fight himself, but has to “stop by his university to pick up something”. This is a trap.

While at the university, Hiro gets to see Tadashi’s work. He hurts himself accidentally, and out comes this inflatable robot nurse called Baymax (sly reference to Betamax?) whose mission it is to heal and help people be happy. He is the one you see in all the posters. Tadashi also reveals that the entire brain of Baymax is in an insertable circuit board that goes into Baymax’s heart area (Nice touch, the choice of the area).

When Hiro sees Tadashi’s colleagues including Gogo Tomago, Honey Lemon, Wasabi and Fred (all nicknames except the last, of course) and the whole lot of cool techno gadgetry they get to play with, he realizes that his robot fighting obsession is no match for the real thing and now he wants to join the university. Mission accomplished, for Tadashi. But in order to achieve his dream, Hiro has to pass an interview, which includes demonstrating his technical prowess in a kind of a show and tell exam in the university.

He does it in flying colours, showing off an impressive nanobot technology called microbots. (Here it gets confusing for a geek. Is it nano or micro? It cannot be both. And the technology is not nanobotics as these pieces are huge from a nano scale. Never mind…. Professor Callaghan is so impressed that he offers Hiro a spot in the college. Also impressed is industrialist Allistair Cray, who offers him millions for selling his technology. Hiro rebuffs him, much to the delight of Professor Callaghan.

He gets accepted in the university (“nerd school”) and after the celebrations, they see a fire break out in the college. Knowing Professor Callaghan is in, Tadashi rushes in to save him but an explosion kills everyone in the lab. Tadashi is dead.

While mourning for his brother, Hiro discovers that Baymax was in Tadashi’s room after all. One microbot is kept by Hiro and it suddently twitches “as it’s instinct is always to join the others”. But Hiro knows every other microbot is destroyed in the explosion so this must be broken. When Baymax suggests that it is trying to go somewhere, he says ‘then why don’t you go and find out where?’ in frustration and is horrified, later, to see that Baymax is obeying his commands! He rushes after Baymax to stop him but stumbles into a factory full of microbots being made. He realizes that the fire was no accident and Cray must have engineered it to get possession of what he could not legally get his hands on. A masked man comes after him and he barely escapes alive. There is a hilarious scene where Hiro tries to lodge a police complaint with a drunk looking (battery down) and partially deflated Baymax.

Baymax sees Hiro’s distress and as he is programmed to do whatever is good for those under his care, decides to communicate with friends to come to the help of Hiro and Tadashi’s colleagues really do. They go in search of the  masked man. How they find who the masked stranger is (a twist like the ones you have now come to expect in all Disney movies) and how he enhances the powers of each one of his colleagues including Baymax and how they take on the supervillain is the rest of the story.

In the end, when Baymax sacrifices himself to save Hiro and another person, you kind of say ‘I knew it’ but it still is a poignant moment. But again, there is another cute twist to that story as well.

Nice, but if you compare this to Pixar’s superhero movie The Incredibles, I think the Pixar version is still better. Even if you compare this crew’s previous effort, Frozen is a lot better.

 

That said, this is entertaining, and fun to watch and is a really good family movie.

Let us say a 7/10

  • – Krishna

 

 

 

November 9, 2014

Book: A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:01 am

imagesInteresting book from the author of such books as The Bonfire of the Vanities, already reviewed earlier. There are some similarities between the two books but they are completely different stories. Both books talk about men who are powerful at the height of their glory and how they are brought down bit by bit by circumstances.

This book is about Charlie Croker, rich, 60, with young wife Serena and burly, very masculine, very controlling – a bull in a china shop kind of personality. He has peremptorily divorced his first wife who had stood by him while he made his millions and has gone for a younger model.

At the start of the book, we meet him drowning in a bad investment due to an overreach due to hubris in his construction industry. He hopes to rope in Inman the wealthy pharma owner and takes him quail hunting. Irritated that his wife is pally with Elizabeth the teenage daughter of Inman and not his wife and two other couples. She did not even see him win his bet on shooting only male quails.

Roger Too White, a black lawyer who is successful enough to own a Lexus in Atlanta, is going through a Freaknic, black people’s beatnik or woodstock equivalent. He gets caught up in the frenzy and almost misses his appointment.

In the meanwhile, Charlie is humiliated by the interrogator of Plannersbanc royally as he owes them several million dollars in dues. The agent who humiliated him is Raymond Peepgas, who is otherwide just a clerk doing his work, but uses power to humiliate the big and the mighty, who come to him to negotiate. Harry Zale is the Artist who humiliates people. He enjoys creating ‘saddlebags’ (the sweat stains under the armpits in the shirts) for rich people by playing hardball.

In the meanwhile, Charlie ‘reinstates’ his honour by catching a poisonous snake with bare hands. Charlie tries to impress the Jew behind the gyms to take a large rental in his building – Herb Richman. And to the shock and dismay of the guests, shows them how a stud stallion is made to perform against reluctant female horses brought in by other owners.  Herb is liberal, Jewish, and cannot stand it.

In a parallel story, Conrad dreams of an independent life, especially after marrying the daughter of a well to do girl for love against the wishes of her parents. He works in the freezer section and saves the life of Kenny a weird friend and gets fired for ruining the supplies.

Mayor Wes Jordan is the friend of Roger Too White. Roger Too Whites appointment was to meet a manager, who wants to hire him to defend his pop singer client in a case for rape charges against him. He is alleged to have date raped the daughter of Inman Armhostler, who is a big gun in Atlanta. Wes has his own axe to grind in this matter. The pop singer is barely civil to anyone and is a colossal asshole who throws his weight around, not just unrepentant but also not even aware of the consequences if he loses the case.

Great descriptions of the racial history of Atlanta. If Charlie Croker can stand to recommend the athlete against Inmon’s daughter, we have a case – says the mayor.

Conrad gets his car impounded after an unsuccessful interview and cannot get his car out. His wife will kill him now for sure. Then when his plane is impounded, he manages to sabotage it so it cannot be moved.

Conrad ends up in jail, since his car was impounded and in a frenzy he attacked the keeper of the impound yard. He refuses to admit guilt on principle and gets thrown in jail as a felon. The jail, he witnesses an insubordination and tasered for his pains. And jail life described in detail. Inman confides in Charlie Crocker

Conrad ends up in jail on principle and meets the gangs there: Five-O, the African American gang, the blond boy molested openly. When Conrad goes to defend him, he becomes the target but an earthquake saves him and let him escape to Kenni and Mai.

Ray Peepglass befriends Martha, Crocker’s ex wife.  Now he has Serena ‘a boy with breasts’ according to Martha.

Peepglass tries to make money by setting up a front company in the Caribbean and also woos Martha Croacker. Charlie is persuaged by Roger Too White to go see Fareek and if he does support Fareek, his financial troubles ‘will disappear’. Struggling with loyalty to his friend Inman, Charlie decided to just go see Fareek. And he agrees to support Fareek just to get out of his financial troubles as a return favour.

Conrad ends up in Florida and gets work at minimum wage taking care of an elderly couple.

He rescues them from a bully and becomes a ‘favourite employee’ and then gets assigned to Crocker. Crocker learns about Stoics and Zeus from Conrad.

In the end what he decides to do is interesting and the prologue fully explains what happens to major characters. A neat book with Roger Too White appearing at the beginning of the whole saga and appearing at the end too.

It deserves a 7/10

 

  • – Krishna

 

 

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