November 15, 2015

Book: The Twisted Root by Anne Perry

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:24 am

imageWe have reviewed many of Anne Perry’s books earlier in this forum. You may remember that she writes mystery stories but set in Victorian era.

Let us look at the story.  In these kind of books, the only way to review is to look at the plot minus the ‘who did it?’ ending. That is what we will now do. This features one of her routine detectives, Monk.

Lucius Stourbridge comes to see Monk. Monk is back from a honeymoon with Hester.

In many of the earlier books, Hester was caught in a love triangle between Monk and Oliver Rathbone, a brilliant and compassionate lawyer, and finally, in a previous book, she chose Monk and agreed to marry him. Also as I have already pointed out, the stories move the life of Monk and other characters through a series of books, which is nice if you read them all, hopefully in sequence!

Lucius was betrothed to Miriam, the lovely lady (She was Mrs Gardiner, so you guess that she has been widowed before deciding to marry Lucius) and she has disappeared. Hester in the meanwhile is fighting to improve conditions in a hospital (she realizes that training of nurses is required to improve care and install sanitary procedures, but faces resistance at every turn). On top of everything, she finds that medicines are being stolen too. Callanda Divot, the rich aristocrat with a benevolent nature and is a friend of Hester and Monk,  is also with her there.

Monk  finds that the coachman, who also disappeared with Miriam,  was found murdered in a different police precinct and the coach and horses were not stolen. Why was he murdered if not for money? And where is Miriam?

Robb, the superintendent in that precinct is young but seems extremely able.

In his enquiries, Monk learns that Miriam was adopted as a child, wandering in the streets and that the adoptive mother lives close to where the coachman was murdered and Miriam disappeared.

He finally tracks Miriam down before Robb and learns nothing from her, except a statement that she cannot tell him anything. He also notices her visual great distress. Mariam is arrested by Robb.

In the meanwhile, Robb’s very sick dad and Hester form a bond.

Miriam refuses to help in her own defence and keeps a fierce silence, resigned to her fate.

When the case is closed, Lucius comes to Monk again to find the truth. When they discover that Mariam’s mother (who adopted Mariam) was dispensing medicines to the poor from the hospital (a kindly act but a crime) they conclude that the coachman was blackmailing her and then arrest the mother. Mariam is released into the custody of Stourbridges but seems strangely petrified to go with them.

Hester decides to continue the crime of smuggling drugs to patients who need them, even at a danger to her of going to jail, and one of them is Robb’s own father! She also confirms from Mariam’s adopted mother, who is now in jail for the murder, that the coachman was indeed blackmailing her. Seems an open and shut case, especially she is not interested even in defending herself against the charges or even explain what she knows.

But when Verona Stourbridge, the mother of Lucius is murdered in her own house by what seems to be a family member in exact same way as the coach driver while the nurse was still in prison, the case takes a bizarre turn and Robb invites Monk to help him.

When Miriam is also arrested, Monk and Hester reach out to Oliver Rathbone for legal help.

He tries to talk to both Miriam and her mother with no avail.

Monk and Robb are puzzled : How did the coachman know about the theft of the medicines to blackmail Miriam’s mother??

Finally, to save Miriam, Cora decides to tell how she found Miriam all those years ago, in court. She reveals the bombshell about Miriam, how she arrived and her precise condition of arrival.

When they claim that there was a woman murdered all those years ago by the killer, who is revealed at this point, Hester goes with Robb to find the body and does find it, based on the descriptions of the place given.

From there the mystery unravels quickly and the ending is a bit sudden in my view, where everything becomes known together and there is a sense of hurried completion but still a fairly good book to read.


– – Krishna


November 6, 2015

Book: In Search of the Multiverse by John Gribbin

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:38 pm

imageThe subject matter is at once fascinating and difficult to explain but this book does a great job of it. I would even go so far to say that this is probably one of the best science books I have read.

The book seems to go effortlessly into Quantum physics and describes fabulously what it is.

The uncertainty principle is explained well, with the aid of the electron or light beams through two slits in the card. When he explains the weird phenomenon where the electrons behave one way when observed and quite another when unobserved, you are astounded.

Also beautifully told are: what is the big bang (which is not the bang at all) the expansion of the universe (the stars are not moving away at all) and how Einstein won the Nobel prize for not his Theory of Relativity but for proving that light behaves like a particle sometimes.

Schrodinger, of the cat fame, is considered the father of Quantum Theory and even won a Nobel Prize for it. His opinion of the subject that gave him fame and fortune? “I don’t like it and wish I had nothing to do with it”. Even his famous cat – the thought process – was to demonstrate how absurd the quantum theory can be. Fascinating factoids like this abound in this book.

Gribbin does a remarkable job of explaining the complex phenomena of the Quantum Theory before moving on to the Multiverse.

If you thought what you read so far is bizarre and totally contrary to any normal expectations, wait until you read about the main subject of the book – Multiverse. What you read would seem tame by comparison.

The serious facts sound so bizarre that it feels like a joke played by scientists on unsuspecting lay public.

The concept is this: You know the Schrodinger’s Cat thought problem where a cat could be either dead or alive when the box is opened, right? It postulates that, when you open the box (and this applies to every decision branch in each person’s life – presumably each animal’s life) the entire universe splits into two identical pieces. In one, you find the cat alive and in another, you find the cat dead. No, I am not kidding. And there is no way you can contact anything/ anyone in the other universe, and by extension, there are hundreds of thousands of you in each universe with a different life pattern. Each one is as real as any other; there is no “real” universe. Sounds like any supernatural story right?

Does it not sound similar to other unprovable facts? Ghosts exists but I cannot conclusively prove it; Big Foot exists but never been captured; Loch Ness Monster was sighted… you get the idea.

If science behaves like the weirdest stuff you have ever heard of in all its dead earnest, what is the proof for such an idea? Simply the same as anything else in quantum physics. The equations predict it and it neatly solves all the unsolved puzzles of quantum mechanics! That’s it. For instance, the fact that life exists is dependent on so many coincidental things going exactly right (the exact force of gravity, the exact amount of the weak and strong gravitational forces, the exact speed of the universe expanding etc) that to some scientists, this universe “looks like a put up job”. The multiverse theory neatly solves the puzzle neatly and logically. In all possible combinations, there are multiverses and only in those where these conditions are just right is life possible, and exists.  Interesting idea, right? It is the same theory as evolution, where random mutations go on all the time and beneficial mutations survive to form new life forms and species and harmful mutations die out.

Then there is the even more bizarre concept that these worlds can in fact interact with each other and they do all the time. That is the principle behind the efforts to build a quantum computer, it seems. At this point you check to make sure that this is really a science book and not a practical joke played by someone on you.

A fantastic explanation of why the old thermodynamic equations ignore gravity and how the stars and galaxies form in the primordial soup in the first place. I will let you read the book to get a full gist of it.

When he goes into how multiverse is not “parallel” and gives the example of jumbled pages in a library full of book pieces, your mind goes into further numbing shock. This is the modern theory of science? Wow!

He covers a theory that talks about all life being a simulation inside a computer a la Matrix. In addition, he talks about string theory, which is very nice. For the first time, I understood all this talk about strings and how they come into the picture, about Branes and about the 11 dimensions that you so often hear of. (Explains why can we not see the fifth and sixth dimension etc.)

The whole thing ends with a summation of the theories back to Multiverse and Schrodinger’s Cat. Even though this is the most simplified explanation of current thinking meant for laymen like you and me, it does get heavy in some places, and gets confusing in some places simply due to the nature of the discussions involved.

Also the earlier theories of Multiverse and splitting of the worlds is quietly replaced with more probable theories; however, it is not explicitly renounced and so you finally sit back and wonder ‘How do the theories described at the end of the book tally with the ones in the beginning?’.

I guess some subjects can be made as simple as possible but no simpler, and even at the simplest version such as this one, some readers do not get the full import of the theory.

What you do understand is the surprising new theory of the Black Holes and also of the possibility of designer universes.

I would say 9/10

– – Krishna

Movie: The Visit (2015)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:17 pm

imageAccording to some reviewers, M Night Shyamalan could never live up to his debut film The Sixth Sense ever again. He had a brand of movies that seem to have a tremendous twist at the end, in every one of those movies but the magic was, to hear some say, gone. In fact, a Simpsons episode lampooned him as going the other way, making “increasingly crappy” movies.

This movie definitely does not equal the magic of his first movie, but I would claim that it is a lot better than some of his earlier movies. The twist at (near) the end is there, but this one is much more believable than, say, the story of The Lady in the Water, just to name one of his earlier disappointments.

The story is cleverly constructed to make way for the improbable situations. The story is about two kids, Becca and Tyler, two very cute kids. In many cases their conversation is funny and the banter between them is close and easy, almost reminding you of the brother and sister in the Jeepers Creepers movie. (I mean the first, and in my view, the only good one).

The story is about their grandparents, who have been estranged from their mother Paula. Paula made a really bad choice for a husband, and they never wanted to speak to her again. Her choice ended in a disaster and a divorce and now she is dating someone else, and wants to take a cruise with him. Coincidentally, the grandparents relented and asked her to visit. She decides to send the kids there.

Well scene set for two kids in their grandparents’ house for the first time. They seem very nice, and loving, and then strange things start to happen. And on top of that, there are strange rules like, ‘No matter what you hear, do not come out of your room after 9 PM’.

Well, the grandparents seem to have really odd habits sometime bordering on the bizarre. They seem to have no control over the limits of making fun, the grandmother walking around projectile vomiting in the night (which they were not supposed to see but sneaked out to see anyway).

There are very nice touches and hints that you do not pick up until the end – in this regard, this is closer to The Sixth Sense than other movies. For instance, a doctor comes in to see the grandparents when they were out for a walk and mentions interesting happenings in the local asylum which he wants to discuss with them.

There are some interesting scenes where the mother talks to them on Skype (or what looks like Skype) but due to the bad connection, could not have a full conversation.

The kids are increasingly puzzled and each time something weird happens, the grandparents give a plausible explanation – plausible but not normal.

The weirdness escalates, and some of the scenes specifically are over the top. For instance, why grandpa sneaks into the outhouse (which is always locked) and what the kids find out about it. The explanation for that is also bizarre.

The final twist, if you were really paying attention, is not really hard to guess and, like I said earlier, is a believable thing.

All in all, not a bad effort. Not spectacular, but not bad at all.


– – Krishna

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