bookspluslife

August 28, 2015

Book: The Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:43 pm

imageThis is the second book in the Shannara trilogy. We have already reviewed the first book The Sword of Shannara earlier. Now we turn to the second book in the series.

The interesting thing is that it is not a continuation of the first story where it left off, which seems to be the case for many books. (The most well known of these aret the Lord of the Rings series by Tolkien or the Game of Thrones series by George R R Martin).

The second story in this book stands alone and takes place many years after the time when the first story takes place. There is Allanon in this movie as a central figure but one or two of the others are either mentioned in passing or are related to some of the central protagonists in this story but are much older in this book, living peacefully.

Most are new characters, though. Let us look into the story.

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The Chosen are the keepers of Ellcrys, the wonderous tree in the Gardens. Lauren, the youngest and the most conscientious of them all notices a wilt. There is a girl Amberle, for the first time selected as one of the Chosen.  But we learn quickly that she left, preferring not to be the Chosen, which angers everyone.

The tree is dying and can no longer hold Forbigging, the force field that holds Dagda Mor, the demon lord and other evil demons prisoners for eons. Dagda More is angry and feels the power of hatred sweeping through his veins. He takes a gamble and succeeds in coming out to the world, bringing with him the Changeling and Reaper, two of his evil cohorts with special powers of their own.

Ander Elessedil is a prince and younger brother of the crown prince Arion. Arion is the preferred son of the father in all things and is considered to be properly royal. Ander is confronted by Lauren, one of the Chosen and takes him to the King. Arion is away on a campaign. Lauren announces that Elcrys is dying and the King goes into a pensive mood.

Ander and Lauren try to find how to take the seed of the Elcrys and take it to Safehold, where it all originated. to regenerate it. This is the only way to keep the Force intact and the evil imprisoned in the prison created by the good folks with the help of Elcrys.

Ander discovers that the Chosen have all been murdered.

Allanan (from the first book) appears to give counsel to the King that the only remaining Chosen is Amberle, who, we are reminded again,  refused to live the life of the Chosen and disgraced the royal family and went into self imposed exile.

Allanon goes to consult the Druid library to find the location of Safehold. But he walks right into a trap set by Dagda Mor and the Furies. Manages to escape.

Allanan goes to Wil Ohmsford, the grandson of the Ohmsford of the earlier series, for help. Wil decides to go, against the advice of his uncle Flick, who was a young man in the earlier adventure The Sword of Shannara. They travel to where Amberle is hidden and Allanon asks her to return as the only person who can save the world. When she reluctantly agrees, they are pursued by demon-wolves with catlike bodies and women’s faces with sharp fangs for teeth.

Allanon disappears and having lost Allanon, Wil is too late to use the stones but is saved by a legendary King. He then leaves for the Elcrys with Amberle but has his horse, Artaq stolen by the Rovers (they are bandits of a sort). He tracks them down and travels with them. The Rover chief takes him in but is suspicious of him. His daughter Eretria falls for Will and wants him to take her when he leaves. When a demon attacks the group, Wil stands up to it with his Elfstones. They have to flee, pursued by wolf creatures and scarier flying dragonlike things with evil riders and meet with Allanon in a safe place. He takes them to Alborion, her birthplace. An elven council is called and she is allowed to go before Elcrys. She gets the seed from Elcrys but is closely followed by the demons including Dagda Mor.

When the demons waylay her and kill many of the Elven guards they escape only to lose more men to the swamp monster that they run into. This has all the weird monsters of the first book, the drama with people being upset with Allanon and everything. Nice.

They have further adventures of the same sort, for instance involving a giant bird owned by a group of ‘flying elves’.

The story escalates slowly. For instance, the Elves try to stop the Demons pouring out of the broken Wall. They foil them and return only to find that there is a larger army that is coming for them. All seems lost. They hold off desperately.

Amberle and Wil are ambushed in the village but are saved by Eritrea. When Eritrea asks him to take her with him, Wil refuses. Then he finds that  his gems are stolen. Leaving Amberle at the edge of the Hollows, he returns only to find Eritrea saving him once again and Cephalo dead.

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There are stick figures (wooden men) who capture Amberle. There is a  witch Melllenroch who converts  Wil and Eritrea into wooden figures and jails Wil,  Eritrea and Amberle.

You get the idea. An old fashioned fairy tale/ fantasy story but it works with interesting characters in it and an easy narration style and a plot running smoothly throughout the story.

The ends of the evil ones are very satisfying.

For instance, Reaper finds the three of them in their weakest moment and in a desperate battle to survive, Wil overcomes it in spite of almost being killed.

They return but almost too late. Allanon is weakened beyond words in his final battle with Dagda Mor, whom he just managed to slay. The demons overpowered all defenses of Arborlon and the Elves faced great loss. Even the intrepid force of Rock Trolls and Stree Jans are decimated.

How Elcrys gets restored has a very nice twist, and the last few battles are exhileratingly good. An excellent story, and I rate it as being better than the first book in the series in its plot and narration. .

It deserves a 7/10

– – Krishna

Movie: Minions (2015)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:37 pm

imageIt is definitely hard to hate the minions right? No matter what they do, the movie is going to be really huge, correct? Can a minion movie ever go wrong?

The answers to the questions above turn out to be No, Yes, and Yes. This movie unfortunately does not live up to the enormous expectations raised by the first two movies where they feature (The Despicable Me series). Why? Is it because Gru is not there? Is Gru the real power behind those successes alone? Not necessarily. The disappointment is mainly because they did not go anywhere with this movie at all.

The first two movies had a lovely plot running through it, and I just do not mean Gru’s compassion in the first and his love life in the second. Even minions were a big part of the plot that set to tell a wonderful story. The self-deprecation that ran through the plot was very endearing. Even the title ‘Despicable Me’ is adorable. The myriad minions of the “evil lord” were called… well… simply ‘minions’. Beautiful. And then Gru in the first is dragged kicking and screaming to give the kids a place in his heart, against all his “natural” instincts. In the Despicable Me 2, the way the Gremlins turn evil with a purple body and a gremlin like transformation was phenomenal! Even the first scene where an entire camp is taken away with a giant magnet was great, tongue in cheek it may be. It worked as a whole, and made for a good movie.

This movie lacks most of the glue that made the first two movies work. The endearing minions are there, and in fact, the premise is great: How did the minions get to work for Gru? Where did they come from? What did they do before they met and joined Gru?

The execution of the plot leaves a lot to be desired. There is that attempt at self-deprecation, true. The evil lady is called Scarlet Overkill. But it does not really work. The beginnings of minions is a cop out and the humour felt stitched together. I wondered why and then it struck me. The story seems to be a series of gags stitched together with no coherent theme running through the movie. Yes, they make fun of celebrities (including the Queen, her exaggerated accent and her forward teeth?) but it feels phony.

In the 1950s it (I mean the storyline, not the animation, which is top class) would have worked. Come to think of it, it feels like one of the Warner Brother movies which is simply capers of a character (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E Coyote) and each gag forgotten after it is delivered. These days, even these folks have delivered too much in the past movies for me to be satisfied with a cartoon strip like story.

The answers to fundamental questions like ‘How did the Minions come to be?’ and ‘How did they get to wear the trademark jeans?’  are all cop outs. (I don’t want to describe these because, though these are not central to the plot – such as it may be – they may be spoilers. If you see the movie, please let me know if you agree or disagree.

Are there no good parts in the movie? Yes there are. Their search for the Ultimate Evil Lord to become minions to is amusing (I mean the concept and not the disjointed episodes which form part of their search), and for some time they really think they have it in the form of the Overkill lady.

How they find her is also kind of Meh…

It ends with their finally finding the Master Villain – a young Gru of course!

All in all, does not live up to the expectations. A victim of its own (previous) success?

Let us say 4/ 10

– – Krishna

August 19, 2015

Book: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:44 pm

imageThough I know the story is about Wales, seeing that there were John, Richard and Arthur in it, early in the game, I expected a Robin Hood type of story or an Arthurian story. But Richard dies, elevating John to the throne (he did not usurp it as in Robin Hood tales) and Arthur is imprisoned as a lad and dies in prison! Oh well, this is a different set of characters, I guess. Later, you realize that this is the story of King John of the Magna Carta fame.

It is an interesting book in certain respects and is based on true history, but it has, in my mind at least, one great flaw. More of that later, after we have taken a peak at the story itself.

Llewelyn, a Welsh boy with royal blood, is forced to leave Wales when his dad dies in a family feud and his mom Marared (“a variation of  Margaret”) marries Hugh Corbet, a British nobleman. His coterie includes his brother Robert, Morgan who is a friend, teacher, and priest rolled into one. It also includes Rhys and Ednyved – his childhood friends. Llewelyn, even as a young boy,  announces plans to stay back and fight his uncles for the freedom of his beloved Wales.

Meanwhile, Henry of Plantaganet is dying, and his son Richard is allied with French king Phillip to take over his kingdom, against Henry’s will. John the youngest, most ignored and darker son, deserts Henry for Richard, and plots against Richard with Phillip the French king, and when Richard returns,  cravenly goes to ask for forgiveness.

Joanna, the bastard child of John, is reunited with him after his mother commits suicide. Arthur waits for the throne when Richard is grievously wounded but discovers that it has passed it on to John by Richard, despite the latter’s earlier treachery.

John is deep into intrigues and Arthur tries for the kingdom, winning some, losing some. At this point, the story goes into a boring series of wins and setbacks for all the major characters and you wonder if there is really a coherent story the author is trying to tell.

Arthur lays siege to a weak fortress, trapping both Eleanor, John’s mother, and Johanna. John arrives in time and in a great victory, captures both Arthur and his sister Eleanor, and also his other rival de Lusignans.

Then he is losing (see what I mean?), and Elenor dies without even a ‘goodbye John’ message and he is devastated.

Joanna is married for political reasons to Llewellyn by John, her dad, and finds him kinder than she expected. She falls in love with him but thinks he hates her. Goes back rushing to him but finds that he is in bed with a mistress and burns the bed!

Meanwhile John marries Isabelle for politics as well but to his surprise finds her a gorgeous, blond beauty who stuns all who look at her. She is, mentally, non political and happy to be a housewife (Ok, queenly housewife) with no interest in affairs of the state and a blind devotion to John.

Joanna reconciles with Llewellyn, and Isabelle gives John a son while Joanna gives a daughter. Interesting characterization of both Isabelle and Joanna in the book, more than John and Llewellyn. Joanna gives him a son, Davydd after an earlier daughter (Yes, Davydd is David).

Joanna is intensely political, aware of the intrigues etc.

John humiliates his enemies and turns against Lewellyn but is thwarted by the ingenious ways of the Welsh chief. Llewelyns stature and the kingdom grows with each of his victories.

But John is not to be underestimated. He surrounds Llewellyn’s land, occupying land, building forts and castles to make it permanent and also having some Welsh kings switch loyalty to him. Utterly defeated, Llewelyn goes to surrender to John and leave his son, Gruffydd as hostage. His son, of course, believes it is all Joanna’s doing and feels betrayed by his own father. (Gruffydd is a son to Llewelyn by an earlier marriage and never ever reconciled to Joanna in the first place)

Llewelyn makes alliances with his feuding Welsh fellow princes and also with the French king, and John goes berserk with anger. A mystic predict’s John’s death ere two years from now.

Joanna warns John of treachery by his own men, thereby stopping the Wales invasion and saving either his or Llewelyn’s life. But when John kills all hostages except Gruffyd, her world comes crashing down. She has to separate from Lewellyn and goes to Richard, her brother, with Ellen the daughter, leaving Davydd with Llewellyn.

She comes back to reunite with Llewellyn and realizes the evil in John finally. And as if the story is not confusing enough already, it now goes in disjointed jerks of John’s triumphs and weaknesses and Llewellyns highs and lows and so on, ad infinitum.

The intrigues singly are interesting but there seems to be no pattern to them. Yes, history is chaotic and random but do you want to read these in a story? Then the ploy for any twist in the story is a messenger arriving or a relative arriving with terrible news! The storytelling could have been tight and coherent. The only time when things improve a bit is when John falls very sick and valiantly tries to close political matters before he dies.

John’s son Henry is nice but weak and powerless to stop others taking advantage of him. Llewelyn marries Joanna’s daughter off for political convenience against the wishes of his daughter. Llwwelyn rides an unbroken horse given by Gryffydd and falls.

When Davydd confronts Gryffyd, he is almost beaten, and Joanna, afraid for Davydd’s life, manipulates Gruffyd into an outburst and has him imprisoned. When Llewellyn learns of her part in it, he is furious and shuns her.

She starts an affair with Will. Breaks it off but is caught with Will in her bedchamber later by Lewellyn. She is exiled to a castle far away.  The story finally ends in a kind of resolution for Joanna.

My other main complaint is that this book does not read like a historical. It reads like a chick flick dressed up in history. Nowhere near the historical stories like the Warlord Chronicles of Bernard Cornwell, for example. It’s all about emotions, pain, love, betrayal with history simply being a backdrop of the drama. If you expect, like me, a historical, you will also be very disappointed.

More about the feelings and emotions (not central to the story) and with people asking each other whether the one really loves them, it does take away the edge in the story and reduce the potency.

Let us say 3/10

– – Krishna

August 10, 2015

Book: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:39 pm

imageThis is the second book in the  Dark Tower Series. The first one, The Gunslinger, was a disaster of a book. This book cannot be any more different. Stephen King wrote it a few years later and seems to have pulled himself up by the bootstraps to do a credible job.

The story continues where the first one left off.

Roland Deschain – the gunslinger -faces a lobster like creature that seems to be eating him body part by body part. He manages to kill it but not before losing two of his fingers and being infected. Moves on. He then meets a door while exhausted and near death. Turns out to be a portal to the Prisoner, the first of the Three that he will “draw”. He steps in and becomes Eddie Dean. Eddie, brother of Harry, is a junkie trying to quit the cocaine habit.

This book feels more like the King we know, the descriptions pithy, absorbing and the whole thing makes sense from an experience point of view for the reader. The description of the door, the fact that it seems to be two dimensional and yet show the entire earth from a distance initially before zooming in for a view from the eyes of the Prisoner, is absorbing and good writing. It is almost as if King remembered why he was writing this, and got involved.

He gets into the Prisoner, but can take over whenever he likes but the eye colour changes from the original brown to deep blue. A stewardess Jane Dorning is suspicious. He knows that he can take a sandwich back to the dying Roland! He seems to be not able to take things from his other world into the world on the plane.

The already good story now gets better. He ropes in Eddie, the prisoner to the world with the drugs just before he was to disembark and get arrested (from a bathroom). Thus Eddie is saved. Meets Balthazar who is quite a character. They check out (Eddie is “drawn” for good into the other world, literally in a blaze of gunfire and with Henry dead in the process). Then Eddie recovers from his addiction the hard way and the gunslinger is saved by the miracle antibiotics from our world brought by Eddie. Aspirin among them, which Roland always pronounces as Astin.

They then enter the body of Odetta, a rich, black kelptomaniac. She is a cripple, having  lost her legs in an accident – someone pushed her into the path of an oncoming train. The time is the sixties, when racial discrimination was high in the US. She also turns out to be a person with dual personality disorder. She joins them, Detta and Odetta in one body, Detta the screaming, vulgur, uneducated, barely controllable thing and Odetta, refined, polished, pretty and endearing – both in one body, alternately taking over the crippled body.

When Eddie gives her unwittingly a loaded gun against Roland’s advice and when Roland has to go and get The Pusher, he seems to have doomed both of the men to die at the hands of the deranged Detta. In a nice twist, the Pusher is the guy who threw a brick at Odetta that almost killed her and, many years later, pushed her in the path of an oncoming train that crippled her.

He gets into the mind of Mort, the Pusher, and steals a lot of Winchester bullets. He goes to a drugstore and gets the drugs he needs. There is a brilliant shoot out scene and he suddenly understands that he is not drawing Mort but will go back alone. What did he draw as the third person? Read the book to find out. Very beautifully told story.

A world different from the first book. This one gets a 7/10

– – Krishna

August 1, 2015

Book: The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:01 pm

imageThis book is definitely weird. I will tell you why.

Mr Ryder reaches a nondescript hotel where the manager was expecting him. The elderly porter is Gustav, who is trying to keep up the standards of the porter profession. His daughter Sophie is going through a rough patch and he looks after his grandson Boris occasionally.

It seems to float merrily and when Ryder meets Sophie, he seems to ‘remember’ a relationship with her!  Remember? Frustration sets in and you remember why you don’t like to read very artsy novels in the first place. None of the people even seem remotely resolute! Ryder hesitates to tell the convener of an event that he has not even got the agenda for the event! Fudges his answers. Why?? He is not Mr Bean, is he?  You know what takes the cake? He suddenly remembers that Sophie is his wife and that Boris is his son!

It is worse. They also sound a wee bit demented as well. They all go to Sophie’s house but get lost. Even the boy does not know the way to his own house and keeps muttering about a ‘Number 9’ a player in foosball board. You feel like screaming, ‘focus’ so that he can get on with showing Ryder the directions to his home.

A college hero childhood friend of Ryder is a failed bum later in life. All soooo boringly told.

Geoffrey Saunders, an old friend who tidied up the house so that Ryder can visit him, is another bizarre character.

Ryder loses Sophie, wanders all over town with the boy, goes back to the hotel only because the manager’s son comes by a car, and when she calls, he is angry with her! If you can see any sense in it, let me know. I cannot.

Then the porter decided to stop talking to his eight year old daughter ‘for three days’ for no apparent reason! It is excruciatingly illogical all the way.

The charlatan Christoff (a cellist) and his pretty wife Rosa have now been exposed for the frauds that they are and the town is aghast that they were taken in for so long! They also want to reinstate Brodsky, who was unjustly sidelined because of that fraud, Christoff.

My God, everything is so unnatural.

Everyone thinks Mr Ryder is a genius, including the hotel manager, and seem ready to toady up to him no matter what he wants. The manager of the hotel is almost a slavish fan. His son did not live up to the expectation of his parents and son prepares to redeem himself by playing a piece by La Roche right in front of Mr Ryder, in a welcome ceremony.

The mother and father do not talk to each other (don’t even get me started on that one) but the mother hates it and wants the son to play Kazan. How does she tell him? She does not! She hints to father by reading a book on Kazan? (This is also a guess). The father? He tells nothing to the son until it is too late but tells him anyway when it is too late. Come on! Is there anyone who behaves normally in this crapshoot of a town?

According to some other reviewers, this is all heavily surreal and symbolic and some claim that this is the best book Murakami has written. I, though, agree with another critic who said ‘As you read more and more, the urge increases to take the heavy tome and bash someone on the head with it’.

Ryder comes across as a sucker who lets everyone talk him into anything, breaks appointments and promises all the time, never even remembers appointments… is this great story writing or portrayal of  ultimate incompetence? And since the story is told in the first person from Ryder’s viewpoint, it looks like this highly incompetent person is surgically attached to you, and you are unable to escape and forced to watch him climb to greater heights of incompetence.

Believe it or not: It just gets worse. He apparently forgot that his own aged parents were coming to the town and he was supposed to meet them! It is like introducing random stuff in the story by the narrator, Ryder, and then saying that it slipped his mind. First he forgets the purpose of the visit, then he forgets who his wife and son  are, third he does not recognize his father in law. Fourth he does not recognize the way to the house of his wife, fifth, he forgets to make a speech, sixth, he forgets his parents are expecting to meet him, seventh, he forgot he accepted an invitation from the dissenters! For God’s sake… a five year old child could manage his or her affairs better.

Then he is hijacked (no, wait, another previous commitment that Ryder forgot!) by the discredited musician Christoff and he, Christoff, in turn makes a fool of himself. Weird town, populated fully by imbeciles.

When at one point Mr Ryder, the narrator, leans dangerously from a balcony high up, you kind of are hoping he will fall so that he can stop narrating!

He continues to make a mess of everything, even his own introduction by a childhood friend to two snobbish women. Why? He was so worn out and did not like how his face looked in the mirror that he was struck speechless – unable to say ‘Hi I am Mr Ryder”

He goes blundering on, insulting his wife and kids on the only day they wanted with him, raging on other guests in a dinner he attended and so on.

More rubbish about a Mrs Collins and Mr Blosky – the blather continues. Descriptions about nothing in particular. Cannot feel empathy with anyone. Everyone behaves like an idiot. Then we see the first principles of first person narration violated. Mr Ryder tells the story but at least twice, when Mr Brodsky and Ms Collins walk away for a quiet walk in the park, we know what they spoke. Then, when Brodsky is waiting surreptitiously outside as Mr Ryder plays the piano, he seems to know all the thoughts of Brodsky just by listening to some digging like sounds emanating from the outside. Oh, well; at this point, you stop being surprised by anything.

You might as well hear the rest.

He makes a fool of himself at a funeral to which he was uninvited. He bumbles on…Given all this evidence, I expected him to bungle his primary purpose of piano recital in a huge conference and of course he did not disappoint.

As if it is not enough, people keep repeating their sentences at least ten times as if talking to another idiot who cannot understand what they are saying the first time. Where does it occur you ask? Throughout the book, everywhere with everyone!

To cap it all off, Mr Brodsky reveals that he has lost his leg long ago and – get this – he does not remember how or when because it was “such a long time ago”. Can you believe this crap?

At the end Brodsky goofs up, but the hotelkeeper’s own son redeems himself, even though the parents leave before he can even start, thinking he will be no good.

Then the book really gets into surreal crap (as if everything so far was not surreal). Ending is aweful. If it is meant as a reference to the state of the world or telling a story through a main character who does not see it at all but you infer the hidden meaning of everything through the reaction of others, I don’t get it at all.

Who can understand a man who, when his father in law is dead, thinks of piling his plate with food and eating merrily, with “steadily improving spirits”?

All in all, a disaster of a book – Let us say 1/10

– – Krishna

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