bookspluslife

March 21, 2015

Book: Intensity by Dean Koontz

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:56 pm

imageA great book from Dean Koontz. We have reviewed a mixed bag of Dean Koontz’s other books  earlier here.

The story is tight, starts with a bang, and does not let up until the end. Just the kind of book where Dean Koontz excels but unfortunately does not do consistently. But when he gets it right, the result is a very good thrill ride, like this one is.

Laura Templeton, daughter of Thomas and Sarah, loves fast cars, dreams of flying naked, having sex in mid air and is a very close friend to a more reserved Chyna. When Chyna goes to the Templetons, she sees in the night that there is a lone killer who is bent on murdering the entire family of Templetons and hides under the bed. Finds all of them dead and finds herself in his RV while looking for her friend Laura. She discovers Laura dead in it.  She tries to escape in a gas station but fails.

The killer, Edgler Vess,  blows away two sales people in the shop with Chyna hiding in there. Chyna is enraged. She also learns that the killer has a very young girl imprisoned in his house. She now abandons her plan to run away and wants to save the girl imprisoned by him. She follows his RV in a stolen car.  She discovers the car is empty of gas and stages an accident to ride into his minivan unnoticed.

Tension escalates slowly. Very well written. When you notice that he knows she is in the RV, you feel a chill. Even the first scene of the killings is amazingly written. This is vintage Dean in the right kind of books.

Chyna  seems to be a mouse in the hands of a cat, who expertly plays with her and teases her. You feel very sorry for her all through and the tension escalates to a near breaking point.

She is easily caught and chained to a chair, for his later pleasure and killing. When he has to go to work, she, inspired by strange elk visitations, tries to free herself againt all odds. Her struggles to free herself, with the threat of the return of Vess and the killer Dobermans let loose by Edgler and  impatience outside to tear her to shreds if she against all odds manages to escape are described in vivid, tense, terrifying detail. A romp of a read, this book is.

Her battle for her life against the guard dogs is very well told indeed and is credible (Within the boundaries of thrillers of course. I do not claim that it will happen in real life).

The final twist is also very well told, with hints dropped earlier of what it could be, but then you (or at least I) do not catch on. The twist is unexpected and what is more, from the first page till almost the last, the tension is always there and is never let loose. It is as great as reading one of his ealier works. Nicely done.

I would award it a 9/10

– – Krishna

Movie: Kingsman The Secret Service (2014)

Filed under: Movies — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:40 pm

imageA great entertainer, and a different movie from everything else that has come. I can only describe it as British style mixed with half James Bond and half Mission Impossible. The James bond stuff comes in the comical angle where the characters do not seem to take themselves very seriously at all, right in the midst of doing superhuman feats. But there is no chasing of skirts in this movie, it is all prim and proper, and very “Shall we do it the right way, then, chaps?” kind of stuff. I know that the British also love double entendre moments, like in the Carry On Series but this one is a more serious British face that the story shows. Of course, you already know that this is also an adaptation from a comic book story, right?

The first surprise is Colin Firth. He has taken a wildly different role from anything else that he has done and what happens to him is shocking in its suddenness. Very interesting.

The second surprise is Samuel L Jackson. What an interesting character! Thoroughly evil with a lisp to boot. Does a wonderful job of the character he has been given and is fully entertaining. Just wonderful to watch, right until the end.

The very improbable storyline exists, a la James Bond. Moving satellites to align with people, mass hypnosis of the entire population of earth to do the evil man’s bidding (no parochial ambition here; like all of the villains of James Bond films – or like Dr Evil, if you want another example – the plan is always global). At every moment, like a Hollywood cartoon adaptation, you see everything in graphics in front of the computer (the evil man’s and also the good Kingsman team which has infiltrated the computer thanks to our young hero) without having to worry about bandwidth, reach or even camera angles of all those remote cameras. But such is the stuff of the exaggerated lore of Kingsmen.

Story? Well. Harry is part of Kingsman secret team and when the team is interrogating a terrorist they caught, he looks up, revealing a grenade in his mouth. Harry’s life is saved by another partner Lee, who covers the terrorist with his body, sacrificing himself. Harry gives Lee’s wife the sad news when he returns to England, and also gives his phone number to her asking her to call if she needs any help. He offers her Lee’s Medal of Valour, which she bitterly rejects. He gives it in the hands of the young son Gary aka “Eggsy”.

The son of Lee, Gary grows up as a bitter, wayward boy and isnearly turning into a petty criminal. His mom has a new boyfriend who is physically abusive.

In the meanwhile in a chalet in Argentina, a group of mafia like thugs have a prisoner, the scientist Professor James Arnold. An interesting tidbit is that the actor playing this scientist, a bit role here, is Mark Hamill, the same man who played Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars series!  These thugs are vanquished by a single Kingsman Lancelot (yeah?), who nurses a martini while doing it – stylish or what? At the end, there is another knock at the door. Lancelot notices that it is a girl and opens the door only to be sliced in half. (Don’t ask. Okay I will tell you. The girl has a metal leg like the Olympian running prosthetics but it can turn into deadly sharp knives). The scientist is “escorted” under force by her employer, the tech millionaire Richmond Valentine, who cannot stand to see any violence or blood and talks with a charming lisp. (Yes, our own Samuel L Jackson in a delightful role).

When Eggsy gets into trouble with the police (after a brilliant car speeding scene reminding one of Mission Impossible) he calls the number in the back of the medal and utters the catch phrase and miraculously released from custody right away. Harry meets him and also takes care of a number of thugs with just his umbrella in another delightful scene.

When home life turns ugly thanks to his mom’s new boyfriend, Eggy approaches Harry and asks to be a candidate for Kingsman. He competes with a team and loses narrowly to a girl and fails to make the cut. He loses because he refuses to shoot the puppy he had been given and trained for months whereas the girl did that.

When Harry is lost – I will not give the details; but it involves Harry stumbling into the world domination/ annihilation plan of Valentine and therefore having to pay the ultimate prize – Eggsy realizes that it is now all up to him to stop Valentine.

The rest of the movie follows predictable but hugely enjoyable plot, where ultimately the terror network is vanquished, but not before a satellite of the evil empire is disabled, and the evil empire reacts by activating Plan B, which is to take over one of NASA’s own satellite as a replacement and move on with the plan for world chaos, with a huge timer ticking conveniently to show how many minutes are left for that to happen.

Oh, and Michael Caine also appears in a brief role.

Great movie, even if in a very comic book style. Let us say a 7/10

– – Krishna

March 15, 2015

Book: Bike Snob by “Bikesnob NYC”

Filed under: Books — Tags: , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:57 pm

imagesA different kind of book. Initially, It is fascinating and the author BikesnobNYC (“Come on, really?) has a passion for bicycles that comes through loud and clear. He likes bikes how  Lynne Truss does  English Grammer in “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”: Makes you totally enthralled with their descriptions and kindles a passion (at least while you are reading) to the subject matter.

In the beginning of the book, not only the passion but also the humour is all there, and is funny. He talks about the very first bikes where you had to sit and move by pushing with your legs (He calls that ‘Fred Flintstone style’, bringing to mind vividly the Hannah- Barbara image of Fred “driving” his car). He goes on to describe other models, including the first model that became very popular: The Penny-Farthing bike with its mismatched wheels. The language keeps you glued to the pages. For instance, why was the Penny-Farthing bike such a success? In his words “because it was the first contraption that could move without the aid of wind, steam or hairy, flatulent things.” Then he says he looked it up in old newspapers. For the benefit of youngsters, he explains what a newspaper is : “It is where you went for news before the Internet was invented. They look like a giant tablecloth that you open and read”. Funny indeed.

Then the book slows down, lies low and decides to go to sleep for a while. It starts with the place where he reproduces pamphlets from that era in great detail including thanks to a million people, which could have been avoided to increase the narrative pace.

And then it all goes downhill with even more pamphlets described in great detail. The sense of disappointment is profound.

He goes through Queens hoping for a tranquil bike route he found in an ancient newspaper and seems to find only congestion and traffic.

The love of the bike comes through but the book is not very entertaining and only funny in patches if you are not fanatically in love with bikes or cycling. For instance the description pages after pages of the types of cyclists is tedious. So is his lame humour.

A blather about a Bike God walking with him in imagination and how Tom Hanks has gotten too big for his shoes are equally boring.

He rants about the drivers’ attitude to cyclists and why it is annoying. But does not seem to see the point of annoyance for the drivers. Well, this is a book for cyclists by a confirmed cyclist after all. And some of his points are valid, except sharing of the road with equal priority. I think that is valid too, as the cyclists have nowhere else to go when bike paths are not built alongside the road, but the modern roads are not built to accommodate bike riders. He seems completely oblivious to the fact that a cycle can never go as fast as a car even in a low speed zone. (A car in second gear, if you are old enough to remember stick shift)

The humour is juvenile. A twelve year old kid may enjoy this book for humour, and be interested enough in cycling to endure an entire book devoted to the rantings of a committed cyclist, but I am not sure it is for an average reader. A sample of the attempted humour – things that are real culture are Buddhist culture, Polynesian Culture and Throat Culture. (He helpfully explains the obvious in the next paragraph that the last one ‘you get from a doctor’ in case you missed the attempted humour. Get it, you ten year olds who are reading this book?)

And there is only so much you can say about cycling. So how does the author fill up the small number of pages for the book? First he counts the ‘types’ of cyclists the Contraption Captains, Lone Wolf and the Retro Grouch, to just name a few. After that topic goes on and on for a while and finally sputters to a stop, he starts counting cyclist subcultures. There are no cultures in bikes, that is stupid of course. But subcultures? Ah, that, my dear reader, is entirely different. They of course do exist. I am still scratching my head in puzzlement – not over the concept but over why the author does not see the contradictions in these statements.

Then comes some instruction manual type advice on bike maintenance.

Finally, some fun pictures and comments on the good and bad of those bikes that the author came across in his peregrinations around town.

It is all about bikes and so I should not be surprised that it goes into details of bike fashion fiascos, the right and wrong way to ride it, the accessories that make sense or that do not. Why else would you pick up a book purely on biking if not to read all about bikes? But the style is a bit juvenile as is the humour. I am not a loyal biker and many things bored me. I can only rate a book from my perspective and the basic quality. This does not get a high mark in my book.

Perhaps a 3/10

– – Krishna

March 6, 2015

Book: Congo by Michael Crichton

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:29 pm

imagesMichael Crichton, of course, is the author of numerous thrillers based on latest scientific developments. He writes them not as a science author but a thriller writer, and is famous for his Jurassic Park and its sequels. We have reviewed his The Lost World, a sequel to Jurassic Park, before.

Congo is one of his earlier works. Let us talk about the story first.

Jan Kruger, the local expert is hired as a guide to lead the geological team of US into the densest of the Congo forests, the unexplored Virunga region.

It is funny how, in this book written in 1980, Chrichton says that ‘what used to be called Congo is now Zaire’!

They are after diamonds, not for their value, as they are so impure as to be worthless, but for their electrical properties. (They are geologists after all, not entrepreneurs or adventurers). The book starts explosively, with the “bone crusher” attacking and killing them all, but what did you expect in a Michael Crichton book?

Dr Peter Elliot is trying to teach Amy, a pet female gorilla, to communicate based on previous ( and what looks like real) evidence that they can learn. She has learned a modified version of the sign language and seems to be able to communicate her thoughts and wants.  When she “views” ancient ruins in Congo in a dream, he knows he has to take her there.

He convinces Ross, the researcher and the female interest in the story, to take him and Amy. The Consortium, a multinational competitor to Ross’s client who wants to find the beryllium mines before they do, are already on the move. They may even reach the site before Ross’s team (including Peter Elliot and Amy). They bid for Captain Munro with the Consortium right there in the room!

The team finds that the Consortium has been intercepting their data and that the “gorilla” that destroyed the previous camp could be a brand new species. Consortium’s effort to kidnap Amy  fails as Ross has put tracer inside it previously and finds it fast.

They are shot at in Congo and decide to jump out of the plane, Amy and all.

The old age of the plot shows. Think about this – A highly sophisticated computer with 189K memory! Those were simple times….

They visit a pygmy village where an ERTS old team member is met. Then they go through a white water rapids to reach their destination. They find people had been killed with their skulls crushed by a gorilla-like animal with an odd grey fur.

They find bodies crushed with stone paddles and come to the realization that there is a kind of gorilla “that is not gorilla” (Amy’s definition) that lurks there.

The grey gorillas launch a ferocious attack on the camp and are foiled the first night. When Elliot goes to capture one of them to learn their ‘language’ (since they seem intelligent) he falls in their midst and is saved in the nick of time by Amy.

The satellite communication fails due to solar flairs and they are left with no power of computers in US to back them up. They are almost overpowered and killed by the trained (to be killers) gorilla troop when the artificial warning Elliot had made studying their language makes them go away. They finally find the diamonds but Ross ignores and hides warning from her own base station to abort and return.

The mountain erupts and then, from that point on, the story seems to be written only to finish it, as if suddenly the author lost all interest in the subject and was unable to wait to finish it properly. Fairly annoying.

Not a bad story but a little bit too thinly woven. The sophistication in the later works like Jurassic Park is also somehow missing. Entertaining, but just that.

5/10

– – Krishna

Movie: The Equalizer (2014)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:59 pm

imagesA story that is more up to Liam Neeson’s alley than Denzel Washingtons; but that is not to say that Denzel does not do a good job of it.

The story is well told, and this is an edge of the seat kind of thriller in its essence. So, this is not a movie where you will exercise your brains, but simply go along for the thrill ride. There are some scenes that challenge your credulity – and I am not talking about a man who is so good at combat that even a dozen men are no match for him. Yes, that stuff is there but that is a given in these movies and no one questions that aspect of it.

Even with that assumed, there are scenes that are not practical at all – for instance how he takes care of the Don of all his underworld adversaries. Makes absolutely no sense that he walks in and walks out.

But if you take the attitude of ‘anything can happen in this movie’ it is really a good, enjoyable movie.

The story is about a quiet, middle aged man called Robert McCall living alone, not making any waves at all, friendly with all his colleagues – inspires them to do better – and well liked. He works in Home Mart, a do it yourself store (Yes, you heard me correctly, It is not Home Depot or Wal-Mart; it is Home Mart)

He meets a girl daily in the deli where he goes unerringly, like a clock, to have his dinner. (The same order every day). He develops a platonic friendship. He learns that she is a hooker but it does not change the friendly talk he has with her. He learns that she is trying to be a singer, and she gives him a CD of her song recorded at home.

Slowly tension escalates for the girl (Alina). First she is forced by a hooligan pimp Slavi to get into a car with an abusive, obese, violent customer and turns up with a bruise next day. A couple of days later, when Robert and Alina are taking a walk, Slavi slaps her and takes her into the car. Robert notices a gun on Slavi’s person and also the bodyguards and does not get involved. Slavi even hands Robert his business card saying that he can provide better girls if Robert wants.

When the next day Robert learns from the restaurant that Alina is in ICU, beaten up he goes, meets her friend Mandy who also is a hooker, that Alina was beaten up and disfigured by acid by Slavi to make an example to others in the brothel of what would happen if someone wanted to leave or disobeyed, he finally decides to take action.

He goes to the address in the business card and first offers his life savings $9800, to leave Alina alone. When he is laughed off, he walks to the door, locks it, sets the timer in his watch and kills everyone there, even though they are armed and he unarmed.

The Russian mafia, to whom all of them belonged, is incensed. They send a highly intelligent mobster called Teddiy (as in bear? Really?) to work with turned cops and track down who did it and why. Teddi is impressive to see in action when he goes snooping to find out who it is that caused mayhem in his operation.

Then starts a brilliant cat and mouse game where Teddy gets close, identifies Robert and tries to trap him, every time outwitted by the wily Robert.

Finally, when the pressure gets to be too high, Robert goes for unofficial help from friends Brian and Susan. You then learn that he was in a secret service and was the best agent they ever had and has unbelievable skills.

How he goes against the entire Mafia organization and wins is the rest of the story. Brilliantly told, with tense scenes that never let up, the movie takes you along on a fast thrill ride. True, it is unbelievable, but there is that childish pleasure in seeing the avenging angel outwit an entire mafia mob of bad guys and winning.

Good entertainment. 7/10

  • Krishna

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