bookspluslife

February 21, 2016

Book: The Last Kingdom by Bernanrd Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:24 pm

imageThis is the First  book in the Saxon Series by Bernard Cornwell.

Bernard is the author of many novels, and is famous for his Sharpe series. He has also written the Warlord Chronicles trilogy, consisting of the books The Winter King, The Enemy of God and Excaliber were all reviewed earlier here.

 

Just like Derfel, the central character there, we have Uhtred of Babbenberg, the central character here, narrating the story. The technique of placing a central character to reveal what happened in the history is a very powerful one, if supported by good research, and is employed to devastating effect by many authors, including James Michener, whose books have also been reviewed here before (For just a sample, see Alaska or Poland) . Bernard does it very well. The only difference between the Warlord Chronicles and the current Saxon series is that the narrator here, Uhtred, is an invented character.

 

This is the story of how one man, a physically weak, sickly and pious man who seems to pray more than fight repels Danish attack and preserves England single handedly and makes fascinating reading overall.

 

Let us get on with the story. The narrator is a boy, called Osbert. His father, Uhtred of Babberburg, is the King there, and he is the second son of his father. Every elder son who inherits the kingdom is also called Uhtred, and so he has an elder brother called Uhtred. They see some Viking ships one day at sea and the father sends the eldest son just to investigate. What they do not expect is that a Dane warrior comes back with the head of the brother, which he flings outside the fort while the shocked family watches from the ramparts and goes away. Now, Osbert assumes the name Uhtred. His father goes in revenge and attacks the Dane but walks right into an ambush.

 

He watches as his entire family is slaughtered by the Danes and he himself is captured by them. Their earl is Earl Ragnar the elder, and he is impressed by the fearlessness of the boy who tries to attack him even when held prisoner. He is brought up among the Danes, considering the elder as a father and his son, Rorik as a brother. Thyra, Ragnar’s daughter is sexually taunted by Kjartan’s son Sven, and Uhtred saves her. Ragnar is even more gratified by Uhtred. He banishes Sven and Kjartan to exile.

 

Uhtred learns to fight as a Viking, learning about shield walls and participating in battles in Mercia and Wessex.

 

When the priest of his father kidnaps Uhtred and takes him to a young man called Alfred with kingly pretensions, he escapes back to Ragnar but soon finds that Kjartan returns from exile in the dead of the night and murdered Ragnar. The children escape. Uhtred goes back to Alfred and pledges allegiance.

 

Alfred has priests to teach him to read and write, and gives him command of 12 ships. He battles and kills the fearsome Dane called Ubba

 

Nice, brings to life the belief of Danes and the Saxons, brings to life the harassment of Scots, the uncertain life, and the gently mocking tone of Christianity from Uhtred who believes in the pagan (Danish) gods provides humour as well as an interesting perspective.

 

Beautifully written, this is a good start to the series.

 

8 / 10

– – Krishna

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Movie : GroundHog Day (1993)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies, Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:49 pm

imageThis is a cult classic. It came out in 1993, wow, more than 20 years ago now. Seeing it again today gives you a different set of emotions after all these years. It was a great comedy when it came and with the world having moved on, even today it resonates to some extent. Nicely done, it still is interesting. But definitely appears old fashioned in both the scenes and the dialogs.

In addition, you realize that The Edge of Tomorrow, which came out but two years ago, cleverly reuses the same kind of ploy but this time in a science fiction setting. Interesting!

Now the movie stars with Phil Connors (one of Bill Murray’s most famous roles), a TV commentator, going with his crew, consisting of Rita (played by Andie McDowell) and cameraman Larry (Chris Elliot, who played in Everybody Loves Raymond much later). He is supposed to be self-centred and cynical but comes across as childish and whiny. He is so bored that he is asked to go cover the Groundhog Willie in Punxutawny in Pennsylvania.  He wants to get it done and gone and there is a storm that is predicted to strike the city, which he confidently predicts will miss the town.

Everything goes according to the plan except that the storm does hit the town and they are forced to stay there for the night. Everything goes haywire from then on. He wakes up the next day to find that he is reliving the previous day – literally. It is Groundhog Day again and everything gets repeated. He is first incredulous, then astonished and finally, goes plumb crazy – desperate to get on with his life.

How he comes to realize that each moment is precious and how he should learn to enjoy life as every moment unfolds is the rest of the story.

The story has interesting moments, as you watch Phil slowly transforms from a self-centred (or whiny, depending on your point of view) person to a nice man who does nice things for others.

Well, lot of holes to pick. The story is riddled like Swiss cheese. He seems to become something of a superstar, helping the entire town in one day – and every day. He uses the infinite time to learn many things that he did not know (ice sculptures, piano, just to name two). He also wins the heart of Rita, the requisite twist in a romantic comedy like this – to justify the ‘romantic’ tag.

He also experiments with suicide multiple ways and also with crime and goes to jail.

The holes? First, who made this happen? Who decided that he should relive the day over and over again?  It is never explained. There is a mysterious barkeeper who seems to knowingly look at him at several points but is that enough? If so, who is the bar tender?

Second, though Phil knows that whatever he does, he will wake up at 6 AM the next day the same way he does every repeating day, I am sure that he feels all the pains during the day. So killing himself repeatedly every day does not make any sense. Committing suicide is painful even when you know that you will never have to do it again but knowing that it is futile? Come on.

I on the other hand, like the way how the day is subtly different – even though largely repetitive – based on what he does. He helps people with flat tire for instance.

Bill Murray does a fairly decent job in the movie, but Andie just exists to provide romantic interest. Even Bill is no Tom Hanks, sometimes his heavy emotional depictions fall a bit flat.

The story is unusual and interesting. It is light, does not take itself seriously, and has several enjoyable scenes where Phil surprises strangers with facts he learnt about them the previous day.

 

It is still worth watching, and still gets a 6/10

–  – Krishna

 

February 15, 2016

Book: Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:15 pm

imageNot just the title, but the story has a nice beautiful ring to it.

 

The narrator Cory is a milkman’s boy who grows up with his dad and his dad has visions of his going to college and making something out of himself. The idyllic existence is roughly shaken when a car almost collides with their van during one of the deliveries and goes off into the lake and when dad goes to rescue the person, he sees that he had been dead long ago and someone had strapped him to the seat and faked an accident.

 

It impacts the father tremendously.

 

Cory describes life as a small boy in a small town in the forties. Nice to read how the boys freak out after seeing an Alien-Invasion themed movie! When the real life horror of Ben’s father’s drunkenness is juxtaposed against the make believe horror, it is stark and interesting.

 

And there is that scene where wasps invade a church Easter sermon that is described in hilarious detail.

 

Vignettes like the death of Cory’s bike and the colourful characters like the rich Vernon Thaxter who goes buck naked around town from spring to fall populate the story. But does the story itself go anywhere? Is there a central plot that the author is trying to expand on, apart from life in a small town? Perhaps not. It has a sound more like Roddy Doyle’s books on childhood but in the US small town, but you do not expect this story from Robert who is more known for action packed gore, and so it is very surprising to read this kind of book from this author.

 

There is a flood in the town where the shantytowns exist and the townspeople, after an argument help out to build sandbags to contain the water. When he gets stranded with a black boy Gavin on a table waiting for his mom to come back and rescue him the tale turns gory; the dog he tries to rescue gets cut in half in front of his own eyes. When you realize who did it and the boy’s visit to the Lady, it gets interesting. Well, more like the other McGammon books, but only a little.

 

The first day after school where the boys grow wings and fly, and the dogs with them, is nice! The narration is cute. You realize how this “happens” but enjoy it just the same.

 

Owen Cathcoate, who swore he saved the life of the famous Wyatt Earp’s life at OK Corrall makes up another interesting character in the story.

 

Cory gets a new bike as a gift and names it Rocket. He meets a new boy called Nemo Curliss who has a wonderful throwing arm belying his puny frame and young age.

 

Reverend Blessett railing against the Beach Boys song  (“I get around”) as the devil’s work and trying to get a monkey named Lucifer dance to it is described in funny detail. The difference with people like Roddy Doyle is this : all these incidents in this book could not have happened in the life of one boy – too rich to be credible whereas Roddy is credible as hell.   You say ‘Hmph’.

 

This story even gets weird many times. The bike called Rocket takes a life of its own and takes the owner cleverly to foil one of the bullies. A ghost car comes to save Cory in a sticky situation involving mafia. In addition, even when he is trouble with the mafia and they know he knows a secret, he goes on with life as if nothing will happen and suddenly the enemies (mafia or bullies) catch up with them. How the mafia gets their comeuppance is well told but has a lot of supernatural in it, courtesy the Lady, another interesting character in the book.

 

The story about dinner with Vernon is very good. Then there is a carnival visit where they see an ill treated monster that seems to be Triceratops, and it gets very murky.

 

One thing though: If it is hard for a writer to write about the evils of change and modernity – big box stores killing off the poor milkman’s wages for example, without seeming preachy or take sides overtly, but this author pulls it off very well.  The point is made forcefully and with effect, without the aftertaste of ideological preaching coming in at all.

 

Cory faces the death of his friend Davy Ray in a hunting accident by going wild, hitting a teacher and running away on a freight train. My God, it is very artificial and too  pat. When Cory runs away, he meets three tramps in the train and they give him a readymade tour of the evil big city with all its problems. A kind of a “walk in and see the summary” kind of exhibition within two blocks. And what do you know? It is all a dream! Well, that makes it all OK, then.

 

Then you start thinking the whole story is too pat. Old Moses comes for Cory at the right time, the bicycle is a miracle one with a Golden Eye, the ghost driver and the car appear only to Cory, and you realize it is one of those Forrest Gump kind of movies where all exciting things happen to our child Cory and he behaves better than most adults (until he rebels in order to get a lesson on how ugly big city life can be plus a bonus lesson on how to have faith).

 

He untangles the mystery of the murder partly – all armchair reasoning and pesky questioning of elders without giving any reason – this kind of ‘detective work’ would not work in the real world at all.

 

Mr Lightfoot, the glacially slow repairman is an interesting caricature. That stands out.

 

The mystery of the green feather is unravelled simultaneously by the father and son independently. Nice touch.

 

The ending is a nostalgic visit many years later.

 

Parts of it are interesting but the author seems confused about the kind of story he wants to tell.  I would give it a 5/10

 

– – Krishna

Movie : Star Wars Episode VII : The Force Awakens (2015)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies, Movies — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:51 pm

imageWell, this movie created so much expectations and was such a success that anything I say about this, if the least bit uncomplimentary may seem like blasphemy.  But I write my views and therefore will say what I felt when I saw the movie. The movie is not bad, but there are bits there that make no sense. Read on.

 

** Warning: There are mild spoilers in this review so if you would rather not know about some central points, please do not read further **

 

First the good stuff. I love the way how the main protagonist is a woman, and the main lead (more of that later) seems to be the real successor to the Jedi world but it is revealed at the end that the girl, Rey, is the “real” Jedi.  What a difference from the original series (especially the first three, confusingly named IV, V and VI because of chronology) where Princess Leah is just decoration and all the work is done by Luke and Hans Solo!  In the next three movies our Natalie Portman at least tries to do some of the work, but even she is no match for Rey. Nice.

 

And then everybody is talking about the lead, Finn (derived from his original number FN2187) is not a white boy as expected. Also it is doubly nice that he is a stromtrouper with a conscience. Good twists all, and very gratifying.

Another thing is the new robot they have introduced, BB88 whose cuteness factor is right up there with that of Olaf of Frozen.

And to tally up the ‘good’ side of the movie, they have been true to the spirit of the series, with the evil side rising from the ashes of the destruction of the Empire. This time, they call it First Order. Plus there is that trademark of Star Wars, where in the background or in a pub, there are tons of random alien characters moving or talking who have no central connection to the theme or the story of the movie.

So, why the warning about uncomplimentary things? There are some things that rankle. First of all, I’d go ahead and say that they have not been optimal about the cast. This was my problem in the first movie all those years ago where Luke and, to an extent, Lia, did not impress. Here Rey and Finn could have been cast better.  I admit that my criteria is simply what I imagined them to talk and emote like, and not any objective criteria, but it still does not seem somehow right. Given that this is the series, this is going to continue in the next episodes. The chief villain, Kylo Ren, also fails to impress, stood up against the likes of Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker of the earlier movies, and definitely falls short compared to the Obi Wan Kanobi of the previous series as well.

 

And tell me why Kylo Ren is wearing a mask? His face is not disfigured, he has no reason that is explained why he needs it, and halfway through the movie, he seems to discard it. Yes, I know that he is a fan of the original Darth Vader, but come on: that is not enough reason to wear a mask all the time.

 

And the twist is that he is the son of Hans Solo and Leah. Well, this has been done, many time in the same series. It may have been impressive for many of you, but evoked a ‘ho hum’ response from me.

 

If it were not for the BB88 and a couple of redeeming features (including Hans Solo in a cameo) this movie would have been a bit more unimpressive.

 

Weighing both the good and the bad, I would say this deserves a 6/10

– – Krishna

February 2, 2016

Book: Crazy On You by Rachel Gibson

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:49 pm

imageA short book, and an even thinner story, so there is not a whole lot to write about. I think that this review will be fairly short.

 

What is the book about?

 

Crazy Lily Darlington was wild and, frankly, a little bit crazy in her youth but she has mellowed, trying to run a Spa business and be a mom to her son without a husband. An attractive police officer comes and settles in the town.

 

She sees him coaching his son Pippin about basketball and tells him off.

 

Then they get to know each other and like what they see. His childhood from foster home to foster home (do all men in romantic novels do that? It seems to be the best training ground to become a desirable man for women) and her experiences with a deadbeat husband who would not give the time of the day to their own son help in shared experiences of childhood difficulties.

 

You read on and realize after a considerable amount of reading that nothing much happens at all in the story.

 

Tucker hears about how crazy Lily Arlinton can be and then comes on strong right in the second encounter. His flirting too looks crude and forced, as if the author ran plumb out of ideas on how to move this forward.

 

He wants “all of her”. She is torn and confused because she is not used to giving ‘all of her’. Does this sound lame already to you?

 

When he comes to her spa she resists no more. She then backs out of a marriage and has a lot of doubts but when he storms out, realizes that she loves him and says yes.

 

A very standard story, with nothing more major as a twist.

 

 

4/10

– – Krishna

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