bookspluslife

January 25, 2016

Book: From Here To There by Anne Trueaux

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:00 pm

The author is so far from reality that reality cannot even be seen with a telescope!

Weird principles makes you want to shake her up and say, ‘I know what you are driving at, and it is a nice principle, but this is beyond reasonable limit’. Why? Just look at the story!

 

Helene hates marrying the Perfect Phillip. He is rich, handsome, successful, everything a girl could want except that Helene does not love him at all. She feels choked but agrees to go through the motions. But in the limo on the way to the reception, she tells Phillip that she has changed her mind!

 

Great, OK, for what? Some romantic notions of a husband she wanted who would be a rancher, not a multimillionaire successful businessman who looks terrific which is what he got. What a misfortune to hit a girl, right?

 

She leaves him on the day of the marriage and runs back to her parents, who are just dumbfounded. Uncle Amos invites Phillip to come to the ranch to “prove that he is a man” to Helene by being a humble cowboy, if he loved her. There is the perfect solution to her problem! How simple.

 

He takes up the challenge. He is in her face.

 

He tries to fence the farm with barbed wire and finds that it is not as easy as it looks, with his shirt shredded and his body bruised and bleeding. Helene attends to it and they get to know each other better.

 

Boring stuff. Conversation inane, pointing to obvious things. Weird notions of wanting to have a man who worked with his hands and be a cowboy over a millionaire businessman and a self made man. Sounds like idealistic nonsense about nothing, if you are a rational reader.

 

He? Finds it more satisfying to feed a bunch of cows and repair a fence than running a multi billion dollar organization which he had successfully been doing for decades. Wow. Anyone else see anything wrong with this picture, even as a setting for a romantic story or is it just me? You see all those businessmen (Warren Buffet and Rupert Murdoch to name just two) refusing to retire well into their old age and wonder what they see in running a business instead of buying a farm out there in the countryside and grow corn and tend to cows. Or build a barb wired fence, which seems to be the most satisfying thing for a man to do, according to this author.

 

Then there is an insipid conversation of what it means to be an insider in the West vs an outsider. No big insights there and no connection with the story either.

 

Wes Carlson is an inept rival to provide some colour. And of course Phillip is a superman, who can sing, dance, have Adonis body and Einstein mind, can deliver babies and everything else. Typical romantic fantasy story. Oh, just in case you thought he was not yet the ideal, he is vulnerable so that a woman can mother him too. Perfect.

 

Now he is torn between going back to his work and chucking it all and staying in the cabin, looking after it without modern machinery to help – this in spite of realizing how great a fence building exercise can be. Subsistence farming is the sure route to happiness, as everyone knows. (Philosophy from the same author  about ‘you cannot fight change’ notwithstanding).

 

Well, a lot of inane details about how Helene keeps house, what she makes for breakfast, how the men prepare for the storm by spreading hay everywhere for the cows to eat, and how she makes preparations for the power cut to come… come on! Is it a home journal?

 

Finally, it gets better when Amos suffers a heart attack in the midst of a blizzard and Curly and Phillip go to help him. Helene is alone and Phillip tries to come back, almost losing his life in the effort. They both realize how much they love each other and the story ends predictably, with Helen getting everything she wanted in life and Phillip realizing what is truly important to him and what is not. (Money is not). Feeding animals in the cold and doing what men had done before him is. (At least till man started keeping animals at ranches. Cavemen do not count, as that is not what man did earlier. We know where to draw the line). And Western novels is not about heroics. They were added only to make people read the books. The real story is tending to animals, and living like a cowboy (manual labour with little money to show for it, as the characters themselves admit).

 

Well, this is not an impressive story.   3/ 10

 

  • – Krishna

January 9, 2016

Book: Where Angels Rest by Kate Brady

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:44 pm

image“Angelmaker” is killing a girl and plotting the death of her brothet at the preface. Ties in later.

 

Justin, a man who deviated into bad ways,  is arrested for killing a teenage girl but his sister Erin is convinced that Justin is not a killer. When the lawyer himself who was hired to defend Justin bows out, she knows that she is in trouble.

 

What bad descriptions! The thoughts of the characters and indeed the entire story telling has a feel of a teenage story level. Initially.

 

The killer kidnaps the wrong woman and is livid with rage. The detective has a crusade against bad guys because. – wait for it –  his own wife was murdered by a lunatic.

 

The twist is weak. You can see who the Angermaker is from miles away. Nevertheless, this is a fairly interesting story, especially the back story of how Mann’s wife got killed due to his harassing the drug lords in LA prior to his move to the town and how his daughter got hurt.

 

When another girl goes missing in his new place and when he discovers that Laurence McAllister had terminated an unwanted pregnancy with John Huggins, Mann is certain that he knows who  the killer is but the Angelmaker has already trapped the suspect and is slowly killing him.  After trying to kill Erin and failing, the Angerlmaker again tries to kill Erin in Hopewell and again fails but both times arranges so that John Huggins is the suspect.

 

John Huggins himself is now suspected to be dead and Mann’s hobo brother comes to tell them why Erin is disbelieved. It is the work of a US Senator who wants Justin take the rap for a crime he did not commit.

 

The AngelMaker gets antsy about Mann looking too deeply into the murders and plans a fire at Mann’s house. In the meanwhile Mann gets an important clue: One of the missing girls, Shelly Quinn was a lesbian and so could not have had sex with Jack. By now, we already know that Jack himself has been murdered by the AngelMaker.

 

We get to know the identity of the AngelMaker and see the person kidnap Becca and prepare to kill her. The same modus operandi of having a mask made of the face. Nick Mann inches close and now focuses on Margaret when he realizes that she is a lesbian too.

 

When Calvin accidentally sees the AngelMaker in action with Becca and runs away, the AngelMaker only realizes that someone saw the whole thing and panics. The only solution is to bait Nick Mann with Erin and kill them both, as well as the other loose strings before starting a new life with a new identity. I do not want to give the suspense away even though I said it is weak and so my  descriptions here are deliberately vague.

 

The tension is there, the book is interesting, the descriptions are good. This is an entertaining book to hold in one’s hand, and you get the satisfaction of having read a good thriller.

 

The last hundred pages are tense and are on par with the best of thrillers. Kate can really ratchet up the tension and make you turn pages with no hopes of putting the book down. A nice thriller to read and it definitely does not disappoint.

 

The end where the Angelmaker traps Erin as a bait for Nick and takes him to Nick’s own cabin, the part where it slowly dawns on Nick about who the killer is what the motive is, the part Calvin plays in giving a vital information, the staged death of Maggie to make it look like she is the killer, are all done very well. Fun to read.

 

7/10. Could have been better if the dialog and descriptions were a bit deeper.

– – Krishna

January 3, 2016

Book: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P Bix

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:09 pm

imageThis is a Pulitzer prize winning book on Japan’s ruler during the Second World War. But the book starts so badly that you wonder ‘This won the Pulitzer?’ Eventually it does gets a lot better. Have patience.

 

This book describes the machinations of the emperor to take Japan on the warpath. And the whitewash that followed with American connivance after the war, albeit the emperor himself was made powerless as a constitutional and ceremonial monarch.

 

His grandfather was Musushito, called Meiji or “The Great”. Like the British Royals, he seems to have barely shown affection visibly to his grandchildren. In fact, they grew up in a courtier’s house. The crown prince was sickly all the time.

 

Hirohito was brought up to believe the supremacy of the throne and how everything in Japan owed to the monarchy. His upbringing reinforced it. It is interesting to see that he got the old Confucian world view and the modern warrior world view together as education. He gets a mixed message of the old Japanese hierarchy where the kings have to be obeyed blindly because they are descended from divinity (Sun) and, often in a conflicting way,  modern education as well.

 

One definite problem with the book is its very slow narration. You suppress a yawn constantly while ploughing through the material.

 

It is also interesting to know how, after the first World War and the collapse of monarchies everywhere in Europe, Japan also had an anti monarchic feeling and two contrasting impulses within that camp – towards democracy and towards Communism.

 

His foreign trip and the assassination of the Prime Minister by a worker are described. The material is interesting but the book is boring. A rambling and disinterested style of writing reminds one of the tone and speech of the teacher in Charlie Brown cartoons. This story could have been made so much more interesting.

 

For instance, the endless discussion on his teachers and what they said is boring as hell. The Chinese possessions of Japan and how the powers tried to carve it up after World War I is the only interesting piece in this section of the book.

 

The very detailed administrative listing of where Hirohito went, what he studied, who said what to him, how they viewed the country around them is told in a very tedious way, with not an iota of excitement in many cases. Even the War of Independence of America is told in a fabulously great style in 1776 (reviewed earlier). Imagine what this story could have been, if the author had not decided to quote chronicles in what looks like a laundry list fashion!

 

The book picks up when they show how clueless Hirohito’s father was and how they tried to whitewash him straight out of history (Meiji and then Hirohito is the preferred version) and how Korea, a colony of Japan then, reacted to the ‘divine emperor’, as presented by the government propaganda, ascending to the throne. Also the descriptions of how uncharismatic Hirohito himself was, according to the author, are interesting. The Manchurian fiasco where the army starts to defy the parliament and the emperor himself and Hirohito’s weak response to it are both interesting, in that it sets the stage to understand Japan’s increasingly militaristic attitude before the World War II time.

 

In addition, this helps understand how Japan ended up against the Allies and in the Axis group.

 

What is interesting is how Japan occupied parts of China as late as the 1930s and even considered China not as a country but an agglomeration of territories and assumed the right to reorganize the territories as Japan wished, taking unto itself any parts it deemed fit.

 

The book gets better when the war looms. The expansionist military and the emperor produced a philosophy that predicates absolute obedience of all subjects to the emperor, sacrificing their “small ego”. The emperor is divine, all knowing and benevolent and would show “all nations their proper place”. You realize that the doctrine was frighteningly close to both the fascist philosophy of world domination under a powerful ruler towards a purist goal and traces of the Pol Pot philosophy of sacrificing every need of the people and, if required, the people themselves to the cause determined by the rulers as suitable for Japan, “the nation superior to all other nations on earth”.

 

Another place where  the book gets very interesting is in the descriptions of the Japanese army’s atrocities and the rape of Nanking, and how everyone in the government were aware of it but did nothing about it. Hirohito later denied being briefed about it at all but the author presents compelling, though circumstantial evidence about how this is highly improbable.

 

In addition, we see that, after making an anti-communist pact with Japan in 1936, Nazi Germany blithely turned around and made a nonaggression pact in 1939 with Russia, completely contravening the earlier pact with Japan! And we all know what happened to that pact with Russia only a few years later.

 

An interesting tidbit : General Abe, a forefather of the current Prime Minister of Japan, was a PM at the height of the Japan’s military muscle flexing!

 

Then come the atrocities which the author lists as sanctioned by Hirohito including large scale annihilation of Chinese civilians and use of chemical and even biological weapons. It was a shocking waste of lives on a massive scale.

 

And the plans to just take over the Dutch and British colonies in Asia once the Germans won over the British in Europe make a chilling read. The circumstances where Japan pushed war with the US and England, and also treacherously planning to backstab the Soviet Union with whom they too entered a non-aggression pact are all interesting. Hirohito takes the driver’s seat, orchestrates the now infamous Pearl Harbour attack and aligns his country firmly with the Axis powers.

 

His obstinate refusal to accept the fact of certain defeat and ordering all Japanese to fight and die rather than surrender are all vividly brought out. He ignored many occasions where he could have sought peace and even after the atom bombs destroyed two cities, was engrossed with rescuing the symbols of his power (mirror, a curved jewel and a sword) by bringing them into the palace near his person.

 

The whitewashing of the Emperor’s role after the defeat is interesting, as are the efforts to preserve the racial purity of Japanese from violent attacks by the “sex starved and frenzied” Allied soldiers by offering them all the prostitutes (volunteered from Japanese women) they needed.

 

The whitewashing of Hirohito’s role in the war is beautifully explained and we understand how it suited McArthur, the general overseeing Japan’s transformations and the conservative elite of Japan themselves. The transformation of the Emperor as a figurehead despite his desire to play the absolute monarch even after the war is well told.

 

We understand the current controversy over the Yakusuni Shrine and the visits of the LDP Prime Ministers in cotext. The LDP is like the “whigs” who supported continued UK rule in USA and the DPJ are the leftist and anti-monarchist group that morphed into libertarians. The ancient custom of emperor worship did not really go away easily and the easing out of the emperor from his political role was a struggle with many politicians and a significant section of the older people being against the diminution of the emperor’s role.

 

The end of the book spells it all out for you, including Hirohito’s refusal to quietly go into the ceremonial role right up to the very end.

 

An interesting mix of boring and absorbing portions, this book gets a 6/10 from me.

 

  • – Krishna

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