bookspluslife

April 21, 2018

Book: The Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:54 pm

imageThis book continues the Saxon Stories – This comes after the previous books, all of which we have reviewed before :  The Last KingdomThe Pale Horseman , The Lords of The North. The Sword Song.and The Burning Land

 

The story continues, and this is another gem in the series of short but nail biting thrillers from Bernard.

 

Edward was made king of Mercia “for practice” by Alfred. There are a group of wild men who try to attach Uhtred and he learns that someone paid them to kill him.

 

He goes with a few men to meet Beortsig who is on the fence between Danes and Saxons. The most powerful Danes now are Cnut and Sigurd. Looks like Beorstig was lying and may also have sent the men who tried to kill him. Uhtred and Finan figure it out by the horses’ hooves that suggested that the underling of Sigurd had taken the horses in the direction opposite to the one pointed out by Beorstig’s son.

 

Uhtred understands that though Alfred is sending him to bribe Eohric, there is a trap to kill him by Sigurd and perhaps even Eohric.

 

He realizes, by pretending to be a marauding Dane, that Eohric and Sigurd are colluding to have him killed. He decides to spring a reverse trap.  Burns the ships and meets Sigurd himself for a parley.  He defeats Sigurd’s army in spite of the “prophesy” that Uhtred will be killed that day.  There is a very good description of how he uses the banner of Alfred to devastating effect in the battle on the bridge.

 

Then he sets out to lay a trap for Silgurd himself. He goes to taunt Haestan whom he made powerless in the previous book, to taunt him to come out and meet him. Then he gives his helmet and shield to Finan asking him to pose as Uhtred and goes clandestinely to where he expects Sigurd to come riding to “crush” him.

 

However, foolishly he wanders into Cnut territory and meets a sorcerer (old lady) who tricks him and learns of his plans and also traps him to be killed. He escapes by slaughtering the priests but changes his plans because he is almost certain that he has blabbed his plans to the lady in one of his drugged stupors in the cave.

 

He changes plans and deftly burns the fleet of Sigurd deep inside Sigurd’s territory, when Sigurd had gone to capture Uhtred in Mercia. But he is arrested and interrogated by priests with no one to protect him at all. Bernard Cornwell writes the fiery resentful arguments with the priests in a fabulous way throughout the series and the books are worth reading for that alone, if not for the twists and tension that runs all the way through.

 

He is saved from the judgement of the priests by his old friend Steapa who takes him to a dying Alfred. Alfred generously makes him rich prior to dying and in gratitude, Uhtred swears allegiance to Edward. (He is shocked to see his cowardly son a Christian and singing in the choir).

 

Alfred dies and Ethelwold takes Ethelflaed, who is the love of Uhtred though married to the Earl, hostage, claiming the throne as a legitimate heir. He needs Ethelflaed’s support and hence the kidnapping. Edward, Uhtred go to rescue her, with Steapa and many soldiers.

 

He sends Steapa back to Edward and goes alone to rescue Ethelflaed by himself. He loses Ethelwold but gets the rest back.

 

He wonders why Danes are so silent and sets up an Angel Room where gullible people can see angels in semi darkness. When they are massacred then he knows a war is near and prepares himself. As even no one believes him.

 

When the trader Offa who seems to be full of gratitude gives him a big tip that Sigurd plans to attack Wessex and he sees suspicious lack of urgency in their moves, he figures that he has been duped. He takes revenge on the trader’s house (he being dead) and chases the Danes pell mell with his, Steapa’s and Aethelflad’s men.

 

He is continually puzzled by the Dane’s behaviour and finally figures out that the man who had pledged fealty to Edward is a traitor working with the Danes. He goes to war and worries that he is too late to save the kingdom. He goes and dupes the Centish force into believing that the Danes are attacking and manages to kill not just the King but also Aethelwold who is a pretender to Edward’s throne, as well as King Eofric who had also turned traitor with the Danes.

 

Excellent story, well told. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end where he explains how real history ties in with this story with a few made up events and characters. Fascinating. Bernard at the top of his trade.

 

9/10

 

–  –  Krishna

Advertisements

Book: Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:46 pm

imageThis was shortlisted for the Booker prize. The story is certainly a different one from the regular movies.

 

 

Luther Hollis shoots down a big bird in Magog with his trusty Springfield rifle. Eprahim Gursky come in on a sled. He calls people to reform and become religious.

 

Great, then the book abruptly shifts to the Jewish community in Canada (Montreal) and wanders around. LB, an under appreciated writer, supported loyally by wife, gets fame and lets it go to his head. Moses is his son. First it is confusing but you tend to put all the pieces together eventually and the book gets more interesting.

 

LB “sells his soul” for money by agreeing to write speeches for the rich man who gives him a yearly retainer.

 

The book goes back to Solomon Gursky. The confusing bits are because of these wild lurches in timeframe. Solomon’s father is the priest Eprahim, who now is a drunken vagabond, dragging his son into the wastes of Arctic, teaching him to build igloos, tend to the sled dogs, and alternately being affectionate and crabby.

 

Now Moses, yet another new character,  is trying to establish that there were Jews in the doomed expedition to the Arctic by a group of Irish and English explorers.

 

There is a boring episode of Moses getting a new girlfriend and a cabin up in the woods. He meets up with a layabout called Strawberry. Goes drinking constantly.

 

The story simply rambles on, with apparently no aim, lurching into a plan to bring anarchy in Canada and other prejudices of various characters.

 

Lionel, the brother of Henry, one of the Gurskys, tries to buy his (Henry’s) share of the company for himself. Henry caught religion and ran away to the Arctic to be with the Eskimos and even married an Eskimo girl called Nialie. He has a son, Isaac.

 

There is Bernard who has a phobia about almost everything and is in control of the corporation as well, much to Lionel’s discomfort.

 

More stuff about LB Gursky, who is the father of Eprahim (I think)  and dying and never got published. He is jealous of another man who got his first piece accepted by the New York Times.

 

More guff about Eprahim making his money through moonshine and marrying ladies and abandoning them all over the world.

 

Solomon comes and goes, as a vagabond, heir to the fortune, God knows what else.

 

There is the daughter Lucy who wants to be an actress but is fooled into parting with her money on false pretexts. She keeps Moses who is a drunk at her house for a while till he leaves.

 

We learn that Eprahim was predicting the end of the world among villagers and fled when his third prediction failed to come true, letting some of his assistant priests be lynched by the angry mob.

 

We learn that he worked as a cleaner at the coal mines and befriended Mr Nicholson, who turns out to be gay and seduces his rigid over-religious wife. (What? At this point you are like ‘whatever dude’.)

 

Then there is Barney who is so protective of his young wife Darlene that she feels suffocated.

 

Solomon seems to have founded the Gursky empire by a gambling win.

 

He seems to be oblivious of laws or the impact of breaking them while his brother Barney sweats through the whole thing.

 

The book has interesting vignettes about everyone but it somehow does not hold it all together. I got the feeling of reading about disparate strands of stories about various characters but somehow they did not seem to gel together into one story.

 

For instance Sir Hymin is a rascal who feeds his guests matza balls filled with blood and lies about his sexual prowess to bed women.

 

A tolerable story, even if my review suggests that is is very rambling. You get to know the characters of not only Solomon of the title but also Eprahim, Moses, Lionel, other Gurskys. Seems to wander a bit but keeps your interest, barely. Finally you wonder if it was worth all the effort you put into reading it.

 

4/ 10

–  – Krishna

April 9, 2018

Book: Arms And the Women by Reginald Hill

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:55 pm

imageI have read many mystery British authors but this is my first Reginald Hill book.

 

Confusing beginning, and the first impressions were that this is going to be ‘Oh, not another run of the mill mystery author, please!’ kind of a book.

 

There is this cave where two people meet to exchange arms for drugs but try to kill each other after executing all their subordinates.

 

Then Sibyl nee Morgan, crippled and with a ‘taint in her blood’ brooding over computer profiles of many people.

 

And a policeman Pascoe who reaches the scene of an accident (truck vs taxi) where a beautiful woman implores him to take her to the airport in order not to miss a flight but both the specific airport and the amount of luggage she is carrying arouse his suspicions.

 

Ellie is writing a – rather interesting – story when two people come to her door claiming that her daughter, who was on a school trip, was sick and asking her to accompany them. She beats them hard and they run. She explains how she knew that they were fake to the Inspector who arrives. She seems to have been an ex spy.

 

When her friend Daphne notices a stranger lurking near Ellie’s house and foolishly tries to question him, she is left on the street with a broken nose and her car stolen as a result.

 

When Peter goes to inspect a suspect, he finds him in the bathtub, dying, with his wrists slashed.

 

Daphne and Ellie go with the female cop to Nosebleed, a cottage up at the mountains with the child to be anonymous and safe from attacks for a while.

 

Meanwhile, we learn that Dalziel deliberately messes up his prosecution of the female attacker with a view to letting her escape and watching where she goes, and the MI5 is so upset by this that they warn him to desist messing with the case.

 

We learn that the mad looking lady harbours Kelly (the female attacker) due to some past associations with her and her gang.  When Pascoe realizes that his wife is in the hands of the wrong people, it is late. Novello gets shot.

 

Then comes a complicated drug lord story and how the secret service wanted to trap her and inadvertently ran into Ellie. All because Ellie as charity work chose to correspond to one of the lynchpins of the gang who was in jail.  Yawn is your response to this ‘twist’.

 

There are tense moments where a group of gunmen take Feenie and others to the tottering place, precisely where we know Kelly Cornelius has been hidden. The dogs and the child of Ellie watch from a hidden tangle of bushes.

 

She gets reunited with dad and they all come to the remote place where Ellie, Daphne, Kelly and Feenie are all held hostage by the goons but stay out of site. They learn that Kelly is really Feenie’s child.

 

One of the goons tries to kill an Irishman known to Kelly on the orders of another and in turn is killed by an accomplice. They vanish and then Dalziel and Pascoe decide to go on a rescue against the wishes of Sempernel who then joins in reluctantly. They go in a truck that was expected. In the meanwhile Kelly is in danger of being sexually assaulted  by the deranged head of the thugs (Big Ajax) and Ellie tries to stop him and gets a broken nose for her pains. We

 

In the meanwhile as Big Ajax has disappeared with Kelly into another room, Little Ajax is tackled by both Feenie and the diminutive Wendy Woolley. They get ready to face Big Ajax when he comes back, after Feenie effortlessly kills Little Ajax with her bare hands.

 

They stage a scene to distract Big Ajax when he comes back – rape, attack, etc. The fun part is there, the literary references, the erudite conversations and reminiscences in the middle of a thriller all make for a fun reading experience but you have to let it grow on you before you appreciate it. Especially the contract between the crudeness of language of Andy Delziel against the manifold literary allusions from the mind of Ellie Pascoe.

 

Even the parallel story of Odysseys and Aeneas also has a nice twist at the end. Even though Odysseus speaks like a Brit (“Summat like that” he says for example) it is still gripping and nice.

 

Literary allusions, twists, turns and a satisfactory ending – contrary to what I thought, this is a pretty good book but you have to let it grow on you.

 

7/10

–  –  Krishna

Book: Soft Selling In a Hard World by Jerry Vass

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:46 pm

imageA combination of training, and self help nonfiction work. It describes how you get to maximise your potential as a salesman, whether you are holding that formal title or not in an organization. I would consider that it is a mixed bag on the whole.

 

Interesting stuff where he defines the importance of sales and how you can sell your way to the top. It is not only salespeople who sell. Everyone who is successful and rises to the top in any profession is a salesperson.

 

He seems to think that everyone hates and disparages salesmen, which is puzzling. Yes, snake oil sellers and used car salesmen are universally despised, but others? It is an interesting book but you do not learn any great new concepts but most of what he talks about is common sense.

 

The Proof Statement? That is what I thought all salespeople did. Apparently not.

 

There are interesting tips about flanking questions that get beyond the Buyer’s Armour (and a grotesque description and picture of the buyer’s nether parts which are exposed and naked that your question can get at) and get him to both think and get him to your side.

 

The steps are interesting, but I don’t know if, as he claims, it can work in a cold call and even (as he seems to imply) with a hostile customer.

 

Nice points about being confident and always having the goal in mind. Nice points about not to use hard sell or oversell. But he says ‘never use the jargon’ which seems a bit excessive.

 

However, the techniques undeniable make sense and will sharpen the toolkit of any salesman, whether it has the near magical effect that Vass claims for them or not. A useful toolkit to have if you are selling anything.

 

The one thing that makes an even greater impact is what he says at the beginning of the book. Salesmen are not merely those whose profession is sales. Everyone is a salesman at work. In fact, very successful salespeople are executives and all executives are there because they sold themselves successfully in their career. Nice.

Nice tips. The author is convinced that this will make all the difference between success and failure. I like his confidence but do not share his conviction. What is undeniably true is that it sharpens your arsenal when you go out there to make a cold call.

 

In summary,  the author does a reasonable but not spectacular job of selling his ideas in the book to you.

 

6 / 10

– – Krishna

April 8, 2018

Movie: Coco (2017)

Filed under: Hollywood Movies — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:18 pm

imageI generally do not like movies about dead people and skeletons and even movies admired by people like The Corpse Bride or The Nightmare Before Christmas leave me cold. I am aware that many people loved and love these movies, but I am only talking about my personal preferences here. So it is with reluctance and not much of an expectation about my enjoying this movie did I go see this movie.

 

What also motivated me is that, when the plot is right, what an amazing work Pixar does with its characters. Who can be not moved by their best –  Up which both moves and delights you, the Invincibles which creates an entire new look on superheroes, Monster’s Inc which is such a classic and many more? Even if some of their movies were not really up there (Inside Out comes to mind in the latter category).

 

I was pleasantly surprised. Not only is this movie a thoroughly enjoyable ‘dead people’ movie but in fact one of the best animated movies of recent times, period. Brilliantly animated, brilliantly narrated, woven together with a nice surprise near the middle of the tale, it is purely scintillating and keeps you absorbed all the way through. Lovely, wonderful work.

 

Let us look at the story. Imelda Rivera’s wife is distraught when her husband leaves her and her three year old daughter Coco to pursue a music career. He promises to be back soon and take them when he has found his feet. When he never returns, her anxiety turns to burning fury and she banishes all of his memorabilia from the house. She even cuts out his head from the photo of their family with little Coco in the hand.  All ancestors (including the headless husband – since Imelda’s only photo is the one where she is there) are present in the annual ancestor’s day so that they may be remembered. Another banishment from the house is any kind of music in the house, so bitter is she.

 

Ninety six years pass (and the story really begins here). Coco now is an old lady who is frail and is nearly at the end of her life. Her grandson Miguel, who is now twelve, finds himself loving music which attracts him irresistibly and is desperate to hide it from his own family. He idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, the singing sensation a long time ago (during Coco’s time).

 

One day, out of curiosity, he tries to take the photo of his headless father and breaks the frame. Terrified, he gets rid of the frame and pulls out the photo. He discovers the photo is folded to fit to the frame. When he opens it he sees that even in the family photo, his dad was holding a guitar.

 

When he later goes to visit Ernesto’s museum, he discovers to his amazement that the unique pattern on the guitar was the same as the one hanging in Ernesto’s museum and realizes with a shock that he must be Ernesto’s great grandson!

 

Miguel is now determined to enter the talent show on the Day of the Dead, a Mexican celebration of the ancestors. He has no guitar, though. He decided to steal Ernesto’s guitar for the ceremony but falls down in the attempt. When he finally retrieves it, and goes to the ceremony, no one there can see him! The only people who can are dead ancestors who visit the place (as they are allowed to, only on the Day of the Dead). He realizes that he is now partly in that place. He is being punished for stealing Ernesto’s guitar. He finds himself slowly turning into a skeleton. Before sunrise, if he does not get the blessing from one of the dead ancestors of his, he will fully turn into a skeleton and cannot ever go back home.

 

What is a dog doing in the posters? It is the only one who can see him in this altered state and also follow him wherever he goes.

 

His great grandmother Imelda finds him there (glorious, mind boggling animation to the Land of the Dead and beyond; Pixar really knows how to amp it way, way up!) and offers to give him pardon on one condition: He should give up music forever. He refuses and runs away, in hot pursuit by his own family to catch and convince him. He makes an ally of a down on his luck dead skeleton Hector, who promises to take him to Ernesto, if he takes Hector’s picture to his daughter when Miguel goes back: Only those who are remembered in earth can go there on the Day of the Dead and Hector is afraid that the only person alive will forget him and he will fade away. Flashes of such fading already are occurring and he is completely frazzled. Miguel agrees and they both go in search of Ernesto.

 

When Hector attempts to double cross Miguel and send him back to Miguel’s (dead) family, Miguel escapes him and meets Ernesto who accepts him as his great grandson. But Hector appears there, and accuses him of stealing everything from Hector – his songs, his tunes, and also of poisoning Hector. Ernesto captures and jails them both, and also takes the only hope of Hector, his picture, away from Hector.

 

The twist in the story and how Miguel wins the affections of his father and also reunites the family is the rest of the story. It may be obvious to some of you but there is a massive twist in the story that makes you gasp and you realize that the entire plot is cleverly constructed to aid the misdirection that they intend you to make.

 

Lovely, lovely. Amazing dialogues, heartwarming scenes – all characters ring true and you can identify with every one of them. Imelda, Miguel, Coco, everyone really.

 

One of the brilliant movies from Pixar, on par with some of their best. Well done!

 

 

9/ 10

 

– – Krishna

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: