bookspluslife

July 14, 2018

Book: The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:38 am

imageAnother book in the Saxon series from Bernard Cornwell. This follows the earlier books –   The Last KingdomThe Pale Horseman , The Lords of The NorthThe Sword Song. The Burning Land and The Death of Kings.

 

Wow. This series is getting better and better. This book is spectacular. In addition to the usual dose of the historical events and fabulously tense war scene, there are twists and turns and intrigue that gets unravelled well into the book. Bernard’s ability to tell a story has never been better.  The story continues.

 

Uhtred goes with his entourage to rescue a boy from the church and kills a head priest and a boy in the process. Uhtred the reckless, as always. All to rescue his elder son who was made a priest, just to throw him in a dung heap and disown him, and name his younger son Osbert as Uhtred.

 

Now his woman is kidnapped by Cnut and when he goes to find out why, he realizes that Cnut’s wife and kids have been kidnapped by someone who had flown Uhtred’s flag! When this misunderstanding is cleared up, they have food and wine together when Uhtred realizes that Hastaen has joined Cnut.

 

Cnut realizes that Uhtred had nothing to do with it and lets him go. Uhtred does not read the signs of treachery all around him.

 

The killing of the priest causes him to go on exile, again poor, again with just a handful of people. The scene where Ethelred comes with Finan to save him from being lynched by angry priests is classic Bernard Cornwell.

 

They then buy a ship and go towards Babbanberg, Uhtred pretending to be Ranaulf Wulfson, a Dane. They are forced to hide out until bad weather is there, which is needed.

 

When the weather finally turns bad, they go out and get a small fishing boat and erect a show for Aelfric to see of struggling sailors in a storm. He overcomes the force that came to investigate and his other part pays money to Aelfric and stays inside the fortress as ‘guests’.

 

His plans are foiled by dogs which recognized him too soon and he is surrounded by the army of the King’s son and he thinks he will certainly die that day. He ends up killing Aefric and getting the son and wife of the son Uhtred away. She, realizing that her husband hates her and that Uhtred (the ‘real’ one) is inherently a good man, opens his eyes to the plot between Cnut and Haestan to hoodwink her husband and attack Mercia. He goes to Aethelflad’s rescue. He just walks into Cnut’s fort as Cnut was away and the remaining men guarding the fort thought he was a Dane who had come to pledge allegiance. When the Danes refuse to go, he stages a killing of Cnut’s daughter to send them away

 

He captures the fort and then uses the hostages to release Ethelflaed who was besieged in another city. Then he goes pillaging and burning deep in Cnut’s territory and waits for Cnut to come back in rage.

 

The way he lures Cnut and stands against him near a ditch, in the completely hopeless situation of being outnumbered thousands vs less than a hundred of his men is fabulous. What he does to slow down the enemy is great and how, in true Bernard Cornwell fashion help arrives is told well. There is an amazing last scene when you think that the story has ended that makes this book irresistible to put down. Well done. The end is also stunning.

 

9/ 10

–  – Krishna

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Book: The King of Torts by John Grisham

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:31 am

imageWe have reviewed other books by this author before. For examples, see The Street Lawyer or The Chamber, to name just two.

 

The nice thing about John Grisham’s books is that the stories may have the same style and may have to do with legal matters, but the story is so different from each other that it is refreshing to read them. Not many other authors do this. For instance, Perry Mason novels are so close to each other that you cannot keep the story apart in your head after reading five of them. Wilbur Smith has very similar tales of the different generations of Courtneys and Ballantynes. Not so John Grisham.

 

Take this book, for instance. A very nice story of the rise and fall of a young lawyer starting full of idealist notions.

 

Tequila Watson, just 20 years old is arrested after killing Pumpkin in broad daylight with a gun and is hauled to the court. Court appoints Clay Carter to defend him, against Clay’s wishes.

 

Carter is a reluctant defence lawyer. He wanted to swim in money after law school by joining his own dad’s firm but dad went bankrupt in the last year of law school.

 

He meets Clay. Who seems to say that he killed the man because ‘he needed to shoot something’ that day.

 

He meets Talmoud X who runs the tough rehab centre where Tequila was before he committed the murder. This part reminds you of which earlier book by Grisham? (The do gooder person giving up a good life to help – probably many of them!)

 

Another common theme is the scheming parents of his love, Rebecca – the vain and name dropping Bennett Van Horne and his dutifully status conscious wife Barbara.

 

The book really comes into its own, and branches out into thankfully new territory when Carter is summoned by an anonymous lawyer and given a lot of money for settlement because there is a drug touted as cure for addiction,  which took shortcut in clinical trials that is the cause of Tequila and one other person going on a killing trip.

 

Clay is offered unbelievable amount of money to set up on his own and go after a settlement with the mysterious medical company. He accepts. He then convinces all seven of the victims to accept the settlement. Then he is offered an even bigger deal to go for tort case against a competitor’s drug called Dyloft.

 

He teams up with a mammoth lawyer called Patton French. They go after Dyloft, on a ‘throw everything in the fire’ kind of gamble for Clay. Clay goes from strength to strength and is called ‘The King of Torts’ by the media frenzy. He goes petulantly with a hired top model to Rebecca’s wedding and gets thrown out politely by the bodyguard.

 

He now goes after a new medicine with Pace all by themselves for a bigger slice of the profit and gets nailed by the press.

 

Everything starts to unravel when FBI reveal that Max Pace is a criminal and they are investigating Clay too for insider trading. And Healthy Living, a mass tort client, files for bankruptcy, ruining the millions Clay had spent in that case.

 

He find himself pilloried, and also under FBI investigation for insider trading. The papers and his former victims are ecstatic.

 

The grief piles on. His total losses could overwhelm him any moment. He may also end up in jail. Add to it his remorse when he goes to the town where the cement company which closed due to his greed and sees the impact of what he has done, not to mention a trap where he was lured with tantalizing promise of inside information and was attacked in the street, his woes are complete.

The insider trading case against him is dropped.

The ending comes fairly swiftly but it is very well told. One of his more interesting books.

8/ 10

–  –   Krishna

July 8, 2018

Book: Under the Dome by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:16 pm

imageAn epic sized door stop of a book. When it came out, there was a controversy since a central plot was similar to the one in the Simpsons the Movie which had just come out. The author had to clarify that he had written this many years before and was doing redrafting and publishing and that he had not been influenced by the movie plot.

 

For all this, the book starts so beautifully and holds your total interest almost from the first page till nearly the end. (Why nearly the end and not the end? Read on, and I will explain).

 

Also it is no secret that I like this author and therefore have reviewed many of his stories earlier. (For a sample, see Revival or Lisey’s Story).

 

Let us dive into the story right away.

 

Claudette Sanders, wife of townsman Andy, is fond of flying. After learning to fly, she wants to buy a plane. Her plane explodes suddenly and a woodchuck dies, cut in two. Why?

 

Barbie (Dale Barbara) is a chef in Sweetbriar Rose and has had it with the town when he was beat up in the parking lot. He almost makes it out of town but a girl who he asked for a lift never stops. He is the one walking on the road when he sees the plane explode. A bullying boy beats him up in the parking lot of the restaurant where he works as a chef.

 

Angie McCain, another employee in Sweetbriar Rose is in love with Frankie but Junior Rennie son of the owner of Rennie’s Used Cars, comes to her house in a rage induced by a brain tumour that was not diagnosed yet and batters her. When she gets seizure in the middle of the attack, he panics. And chokes her to death.

 

A few people get cut off by the invisible barrier as it comes down. Some died and some lost their limbs. Birds hit it and died all along the perimeter. People are beginning to realize that something truly weird is happening.

 

Billy and Wanda hit the invisible barrier while arguing and driving an old jalopy. Elsa and Nora rush to their help. Billy is dead’; Wanda injured mightily. And subsequently Nora crashes into it and dies. The Sheriff, nearing retirement goes to investigate, overruling the Second Alderman, the bumbling Rennie senior but dies when his pacemaker explodes.

 

Junior goes back to Angie’s house to cleanup but Dodee the drug addled daughter of Andy and Claudette goes to see Angie when he is in the house. She is killed too, and Junior is very afraid he will be arrested, but is made a part of the reserve police instead!

 

We learn that Barbie is Captain Barbara and was ex army, where he was great at finding hidden explosives, and he is now requested by an ex colleague to see if the source of the dome could be from within the city.

 

Meanwhile Junior and his partner rough up the town, abusing citizens. Looks like Barbie was a Captain in the army and the federal government promotes him to a Colonel and puts his in charge of Chester Mill.

 

Rory Dinsmore, a mechanical minded kid, waits until the town has congregated for a protest demonstration (near the dome) as well as a prayer meeting also near the dome. The local shopkeeper sees the chance to sell hardly moving and old weiners in hot dogs and make a killing. Joe goes in his father’s ATV and shoots at the dome, hoping to shatter it but the bullet ricochets and enters his brain through his eyes, sending him to a grossly understaffed hospital.  An old and retired doc Doctor Haskell is brought out of retirement to tend to people and after losing Rory despite a fight, he himself dies shortly after.

 

Barbie gains the trust of the Police Chief’s wife.

 

Brilliant depictions of how Big Rennie has been making money on the side and how he learns to his chagrin that Barbie is now the boss.

 

But Rennie rejects the whole notion, including the fickle President whom he did not vote for. When the priest has doubts about the illegal meth operation, Rennie kills him and is witnessed by Rennie Jr, who now has a hold on dear old dad.

 

When the missile strike totally fails to even cause a crack in the dome, Barbie realizes that he is in trouble from Big Jim. In the meanwhile he finds that Propane is disappearing and tries to see if it is stored in the city hall controlled by Big Jim.

 

The story really looks like turning supernatural when boys seem to get seizures and all of them talk about “pink stars falling”.  But you quickly realize it is the dome and smog which caused the effect.

 

Meanwhile Piper rescues a raped Shawna and is enraged to find that the rookie cops are responsible. Her (earlier life) suppressed rage takes over and in her confrontation with them, the dog gets killed by the cops.

 

They try to frame Barbie for murders to eliminate him from the scene. In the meanwhile an ill thought out plan to close the grocery store in town provokes a riot.

 

Barbara is arrested while helping Rusty tend to riot victims and Rusty is scandalized. He argues with Linda, a police officer who came to arrest him. Barbie is brutalized in the cell with mace and punches.

 

Randy is brought to the morgue secretly by Linda and Julia to examine the alleged victims of Barbie. He realizes that the reverend and Brenda have been killed by Big Rennie but is powerless to expose him.

 

Shawna kills Ginny and Frank who were part of raping her, right there at the hospital. Ginnie was there with her jaw smashed by a stone during supermarket riot and Frank had come to visit her.

 

Phil Bushey consoles a depressed Andy Sanders by introducing him to meth.

 

Finally Linda and Jackie agree to spring Barbie. Send him a message in the cereal.

 

Meanwhile Colonel has a tiff with Big Jim and he disobeys the President’s order to abdicate. Fires Jackie when he learns that she is the ‘favoured’ person to take over the city administration.

 

Rusty goes with Jeff and the boys plus the grocery shop owner and finds the instrument. He cannot destroy it, and even his aluminium padded cloak burns up on impact, leaving no traces. He realizes that this seems to be some alien technology. Swears the others to secrecy.

 

Meanwhile Rennie gets admitted to the infirmary with arrhythmia at the same time that his son gets admitted with severe red eye and apparent loss of realization of his surroundings.

Col Cox steps up the pressure by creating a media circus of relatives outside the dome meeting those inside, and requesting Rennie to attend and answer questions about the alleged meth lab and imprisonment of Barbie.

 

Rusty unwisely confronts Rennie in the hospital and gets thrown in jail, after his hand is crushed, for his pains – into the same cell as Barbie.

 

Meanwhile, Andrea gets the Big Rennie secrets in a document meant for Julia and hides it, reading it all. The good guys plot the rescue of Barbie and Rusty.

 

Rennie plans to send his minions to kill Andy and the Chef while the town is distracted with the meeting, and coincidentally, Barbie’s rescue is planned at the same time, as well as the plot by Junior to kill Barbie all thinking that they can use the distraction of the meeting for their own purposes.

 

Andi resolves to shoot Big Rennie in a meeting in front of the entire town. All of those come together wonderfully in an explosive few chapters, way before the book ends. Junior’s end and Barbie’s escape are nice to read.

 

The group slowly congregates beyond the radiation zone.

 

The Chef and Andy, when Big Rennie’s team comes to take away their propane, are killed but unleash such a terror into the Dome that in the resulting fire and lack of oxygen, almost all of the townspeople are killed.

 

Finally his deputy turns on Big Rennie with a gun. He falls for the wily Big Rennie’s prayer routine and gets killed instead. At a crucial moment, Big Jim’s heart and lack of air cleaning propane puts paid to Big Jim himself/

 

When all of the handful of survivors start dying one by one Julia gets an idea to resolve the issue.

 

The ending is sort of disappointing but I guess it is kind of logical and perhaps the only solution to the problem. Still it sounds and feels inadequate to me. Brilliantly narrated, of course.

 

Nice story, the rocket speed of the story is maintained almost until the end  – now you know the reason for the ‘almost’. Satisfying read.

 

8 / 10

– – Krishna

Book: Absolute Power by David Baldacci

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:02 pm

imageThis is my first book of the author. I did go in knowing that he writes thrillers, and it is likely to be a pure entertainer at its best and all fluff. So, at the end, I was happy and got what I wanted. This is not for the thinking man or for those who are after education with entertainment. But entertain it does, and well. Let us look at the plot.

Luther Whiteley is a high end crook who burgles rich people’s houses. He is getting ready for another job.  But just as he reaches into the house there are unexpected visitors and he is forced to hide inside the safe he had opened. The force being an one way mirror, he realizes that the lady of the house has brought a stranger who is violent to her and when she tries to attack him, the stranger’s aids come in and kill her.  The stranger turns out to be the President of USA.

 

In the meanwhile, Jack Graham dated Kate Whitney but is now with the beautiful and brainy heiress Jennifer. He is a lawyer and Kate walked out as he defended criminals and adding insult to injury, he liked her estranged father.

 

As Luther watches from the hiding place, they try to cover up the murder. But not before the secretary has sex with a President out like a light in a drunken stupor, right with the lady’s corpse lying nearby.  Hearing a regular patrol car, they clear out but not before Russell, the lady assistant, pockets the knife with the President’s fingerprints all over it.

 

But Luther gathers it and runs away with them in hot pursuit. Lovely stuff, this.

 

Jack, a lawyer, is preparing to go to a Presidential dinner. He shakes hand with the President and hates every moment of being with his fiancee who is all about power and money. He contrives to ‘bump’ into Rebecca again. In the meanwhile, the fleeing Luther is enraged that he let the President get away with murder, literally.

 

Seth Frank is assigned as a detective when a routine security patrol notices the dangling rope from the window, calls the police and they discover the body of the woman.  Seth is puzzled by many things : the alarm disabled but still the rope dangling down the window, the fact that there were two attackers, the fact that she was kneeling or lying down when she was shot, the fact that the second bullet was carefully removed, the fact that the place was professionally cleaned.

 

The grieving husband hires a professional assassin cum investigator McCarthy to find and kill the person who killed his wife.

 

While Seth tries hard to piece the evidence, seeing the President hug Walter Sullivan and ‘promising’ to get the killer who killed his wife, an enraged Luther returns. Meanwhile, the assistant lures one of the guards – Collins –  with sex but he blurts out the whole truth to the senior aide, Burton.

 

Burton befriends Seth and when he gets a fingerprint by the superb forensic expert from the police, identifies Luther. He stakes out the house and sees the daughter Kate visit the house.

 

He persuades Kate to lure his father to a rendezvous to be handed over to the police and she agrees. The plan by Burton is to ‘accidentally’ kill him so that the President is never implicated, which Frank does not suspect, nor does Kate.  When the husband hires a professional killer, the plan fails and Luther is arrested. Jack learns of Kate’s treachery from Kate herself.

 

Luther clams up and Seth, disturbed by what he finds in Luther, decides to confide in Jack who is representing Luther against the will of both his law firm and his fiancee Jennifer.  Jack is unsuccessful in getting Luther to open up and he realizes that Luther fears for Kate’s safety if he opens up.

 

With reason, it would seem. Right in plain sight of the police and agents, Luther is killed from afar by two bullets to his head. Jack is astounded – he was escorting Luther to the courthouse.

 

Walter Sullivan tries to call the President from his hideout to tell him that he knows about the President and his wife but is killed by Burton who had followed him over. Seth creates trouble for the President by refusing to let go of the case.

 

Jack realizes that he needs to break up with Jennifer and does. ‘There goes his career in flames’.

When Jack finds that a package has been deposited in his office, he goes in the middle of the night and gets it, Walter Sullivan is there with a mistress. He narrowly escapes the assassins, who kill Sullivan and the girl, destroying the career of the high and mighty lawyer in his office.

 

When Jack is framed for this, he goes to a private place to give the letter opener to Seth and he then is again confronted by the assassins. He escapes again but loses the evidence.

 

How he outwits the agents and the President is the rest of the story. Beautifully told. This story is like James Bond or Jason Bourne. You just do not question it but take it as it comes. Then you are sure to enjoy the ride.

 

I enjoyed reading this, even if this is pure fluff. I would say a 7/10

–  –  Krishna

June 10, 2018

Book: Rage Of Angels by Sydney Sheldon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:13 am

imageEqually famous as Master of the Game, this book ranks very high on Sydney Sheldon’s books. Expertly crafted with the unique style of storytelling that the author has perfected, it holds you in its thrall until the very end.

 

The first scene, where Robert Di Silva  is trying to nail Michael Moretti the mafia boss and it all rests in the hands of one mobster, Camillo Stela, who has agreed to testify against Michael. Jennifer Parker, a rookie law assistant, gives an envelope to the witness in a break – the envelope that was handed to her by Robert via an assistant to give to Stela –  and all hell breaks loose from that moment on. What she delivered was a dead canary with the neck broken and the case, along with Robert’s hopes of being elected governor on the strength of the victory in this case, both end up in smoke. Jennifer wanted to be a lawyer like her dad from a very young age and this was a devastating blow to her that her official career was over a mere four hours after it started.

 

When she tries to survive by the lowly act of issuing subpoena, she is informed that disbarment proceedings are to be launched against her by a livid Robert Di Silva. He asks a top attorney in town to personally take care of it. He gives it to Adam Werner, who is his son in law angling for the District Attorney post. After Adam checks everything out, he recommends that the proceedings to disbar her be dropped, much to the anger of Robert.

 

She devises clever ways to serve difficult subpoenas.

 

When she takes up an impossible case to defend a murderer, she finds to her horror that Robert de Silva himself comes to court as a prosecutor, to crush her once for all. She triumphs and is noticed by Michael Moretti.

 

She also has fallen for Adam Warner and has constant sex with him even after knowing that he is married already, despite her mother’s life being earlier ruined by her father’s infidelity. Meanwhile Michael is thinking of hiring a young lawyer for the Family and increasingly thinks of Jennifer.

 

She gets a paternity suit decided in her favour by undoubtedly questionable means, which may not stand up in a real court! (Was DNA evidence not available when the book was written? God, is the book that old? )

 

There are episodes obviously put there as fillers: they do have a twist but have absolutely nothing to do with the story itself. For instance, the nice woman whom the daughter and the son in law had admitted to an asylum that Jennifer is determined to release; the accident victim from a truck company – the company having almost gotten away with the crime.

 

Main story? Adam is surely in love with Jennifer but stands for the Senate and can have no blemish in the past including any affairs. Michael Moretti is intrigued and increasingly drawn to Jennifer.

Adam’s wife tricks Jennifer into believing that she is OK with Adam marrying Jennifer and when Jennifer finds herself pregnant, also reveals that she is pregnant. Now Adam is trapped into the marriage and Jen has the child in a faraway place.

 

Michael Moretti charms her in a dinner one evening. When her son is kidnapped by a vicious murderer who is enraged about her, she calls Moretti in desperation and he pulls all the stops to get him back. So starts her relationship with Michael, alienating all her friends and well wishers. One by one they leave her.

 

She connects with Adam and instantly has sex with him, throwing consequences to the winds. But Joshua’s head injury, when they return back, causes him to die, she completely loses it.

 

She then loses her son Joshua and Adam learns that she is the Mafa’s counsel as well as the fact that she has a son, both of which devastates him. This is done by the testimony of the previous lawyer of the mafia who, when he realizes that Moretti wants to kill him, goes straight to Adam Warner and spills the beans.

 

Moretti wrongly suspects and kills his loyal deputies until he realizes that Nick Vito lied to him saying he had killed the lawyer. Jennifer is arrested in Singapore.

 

The events gather frenetic pace where Michael finds out that Jennifer was the girlfriend of Adam and thinks she has been betraying him all along and his plots to kill both Adam and Jennifer and how it all exhilaratingly ends.

 

Great story. Well told. Lightweight but who cares? All Sheldon’s stories are lightweight.

 

8 / 10

–   –   Krishna

Book: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:02 am

imageThis is the final chapter in the long Dark Tower saga. The series consists of the following previous books (in the story order not the chronological order of publication :  The GunslingerThe Drawing of the ThreeThe Waste LandsThe Wizard and GlassThe Wind Through the Keyhole, Wolves of The Calla, and Song of Susannah.

 

Takes off right from page 1. Callahan, Jake and Oy enter the den of the evil low men and bird creatures, ready to die and kill, and the excitement goes up right from something like page 2.

 

When Callahan and Jake enter, Callahan mermerizes the low men with the turtle and then with the cross. Oye keeps the bugs in check – they emerged from under the table. Then the Class 1 Vampires with teeth all over their body emerge from the feasting room, where they were dining on human flesh and blood and Jake is ordered to move and leave Callahan in Roland’s voice emanating from Callahan. Callahan finally blows off a couple of them and then makes the ultimate sacrifice before they get him while Jake slips inside.

 

Roland and Eddie are hit by a wave where they witness the birth of Mia from a disembodied state. Then they go witness Callahan dying and Jake running inside the vampires’ den. Mia’s baby turns into a giant spider.

 

Beautiful tie ups. As Jake hears Roland’s voice coming  from Callahan, you hear how that happened after. As Susannah hears a word sent telepathically by Jake, we learn how that happened later. This is vintage Stephen King, beautifully written, tense sequences following one after the other.

 

Jake barely escapes the vampires and runs with Oy to find Susannah, and finds that the tunnel has suddenly turned into a forest. It is a mind trap and interestingly, he escapes by switching his mind into Oy’s body and vice versa. They almost get him before Oy and Jake escape through a door with Susannah’s help on the other side. The mind bending illusions are also great. (The jungle, the dark woods, the dinosaur and the dragon, all are fascinating. )

 

Meanwhile Eddie and Roland meet John Cullum the man they met in the beginning of their visit, again. He hears their story and believes it all.

 

They send him to Deepneau and go to find Susannah. Find her they do, with a treacherous robot very reminiscent of Andy in the previous book. The boy/ spider kills Walter (or Randall Flagg) through a mental string that immobilizes him, drinks his guts and blood and leaving his dessicated corpse, follows the ka-tet of Roland and company.

 

Meanwhile Roland and co walk through a painful (makes them vomit and dizzy) portal and meet Ted (who features in the Hearts on Atlantis book and mistakes Jake for the Garfield boy in that story) with his companions Stanley and Dinky. They explain how the breakers are kidnapped and fed by pills from the brains of the kids, and also explain how the people wasted by radioactivity wander, lost, till they die. Roland asks that one of them be brought to him.

 

Meanwhile Pimliss and his assistant (a half man half rat thing)  are surveying the place to find what the disturbance was about. They are going to investigate the disturbances in the telemetry when the ka tet is brought in by teleportation by Sheemie, the same bar servant that Roland saved in Mejlis in another earlier episode.

 

They go into the compound at the time of change of guards and there is a spectacular, chaotic war that is described brilliantly.

 

When Eddie is shot by a dying Primliss, the group is devastated. He dies and in an attempt to save Stephen King from the accident that would kill him and not let him complete the story, another member of the ka-tet is killed too. It is narrated with feeling and verve, though I still hate King placing himself into the story, however self deprecatingly.

 

Roland, Susanne and Oy go to the Crimson King’s castle where they meet an entity assuming human form (three of them come to Roland as the human Stephen King). They escape the trap, killing two of them and leaving the third to his fate with an infuriated Mordred.

 

They meet an erstwhile stand up comic who is an old man and though they like him Susanna’s antenna buzzes, and she realizes that he is lying to them.

 

More Stephen King intrusions, equally pointless and annoying. The Odd’s Lane and the funny comic and how they overcome his devious hidden plans are well told. They rescue Patrick, kept prisoner.

 

They discover the unique gift Patrick has and the clues that the author drops are brilliant, and the slow exposition of his true powers is exhilarating, in the best of King’s style. More yucky intrusions from the author himself again jars, as they meet the stand up comic and foil his evil plans. The slow break up of the ka-tet is heartbreaking but the killing of the two villains, Mordred and the Red King seems a little bit forced, in order to get the book to end. In fact, once you think about it at the end, Mordred was killed with painful effort when they had an easier way (which they employed against the main villain the Crimson King) to get rid of him as well.

 

However, after the epilog, there is another section of the book (Coda or in my parlance, epi-epilog) that surprises and stuns you.

 

All in all, you are sorry to have the series end and part with a lot of characters you have grown to love.

 

Due to the numerous and painful Stephen King intrusions into his own story, I give it a 7/10

 

–  – Krishna

May 27, 2018

Book: Sensei by David Charney

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:40 pm

imageDavid Charney is a polymath. He is a Karate champion, he is an avid fan of Japan, and on top of that, he is also a Vice President in a cosmetic company. Trying his hand at writing a book, I will have to admit that he does a decent fist of it.

 

Don’t get me wrong: he is no Stephen King. This story is fairly amateurish, but keeps your interest. The characters are shallow and stereotypical and the story does not have a depth to it. Even the great twist at the end is not surprising because you can see it coming miles away. However, it is not a bad story and at the end of it, you do not get a sense of having wasted your time reading it. Let us see the story.

 

Lady Masaka is in labour and is brought to the castle of Lord Pumio. It seems to be an unwanted child. She claims it was given by God.

 

Isao wants to flee the village with wife Shinobu and children Akika and Mutsu due to debts. They take refuge with the Buddhist priest xxx.

 

Meanwhile, Yoshi, the now adolescent son of Lady Masaka,  is getting an education and loves Nami but she seems to have got engaged to the evil Lord Chikara. Her brother Ietaki is a rebellious young man. The priest is indeed a cousin who had chosen religion. Ietaki and the priest are sympathetic to the poor while the aristocratic Uncle Fumio and the aristocrat wanna be Yoshi do not even consider them human.

 

Yoshi tries to come to the rescue of the priest (his cousin) Genkai and ends up slapping the powerful Chikara after the latter insults him too.

 

Chikara cannot let the insult go and challenges Yoshi to a duel and after Yoshi surrendered, he still tries to strike him and Genkai steps in and is killed. Yoshi is inconsolable.

 

It is interesting that the term for suicide in Japanese is Seppeku. What we know as “Hara-kiri” really means stomach splitting and is a coarse way of describing the act (at least according to this book).

 

Yoshi and Ietaka decide to leave town and go to Kyoto, where Yoshi kills a Samurai Policeman to protect Ietaka in a large crowd.

 

Yoshi then proceeds to behave like a complete idiot (or impetuously, as youth are wont to do, depending on your viewpoint) by repeatedly drawing attention to himself among searching troops and running away just in time – like kids who press the calling bell and run in suburban neighbourhoods.

 

Hanzo was a soldier who decided to stay hidden faced with a suicidal attack by his army and his lord. He was too timid to be a sumo wrestler, in spite of his huge physique and failed as a Samurai – he did not have the ruthlessness to win. He is adopted by an iron smith, learns the trade and also marries the eldest daughter of the smith, who treats him as a son (The smith has only three daughters). When his wife and the to be born son both die in childbirth, Hanzo quits and moves to another city and lives in constant reminder of his earlier shame and founds his own smithy.

 

He finds an exhausted Yoshi near death, saves him and brings him up as his own son. Yoshi gets strong, works in swordmaking and learns amazing sword fighting techniques from Hanzo.

 

The cover says that this is a story about “feudal Japan”.  What it omits to say is that it is a children’s story. The characters are all two dimensional, as if you are reading a graphic novel. Even the death of Hanzo at the hands of the evil Samurai, who are the men of the evil landlord Kichibei (who is an underling of his old enemy Chikara – is it formulaic enough for you already? ) is flat and lifeless.  Very insipid dialogs – the  “I will avenge you father” kind of thing – is so cliche. Yoshi seems so credulous that he will buy the Eiffel Tower off of you  if you chose to sell him that but is saved by a lot of people who like him. This could be titled “Sensei – A bumbling idiot saved by a series of people who like him” and you would know the entire story. As a children’s story, yes, it has some merit, but not as a serious novel.

 

He comes back just in time to see Hanzo killed and takes revenge killing all of Kichibei’s samurais and also attacking Kichibei himself, killing him. After barely escaping from pursuing troops, he then goes to the master swordsman xxx to learn the art of sword fighting.

 

Through a jealous deputy, Kichibei’s men find him at the school and a fight ensues. He is grievously wounded and is saved by Ichikei, his tutor and friend.

 

He is sent back to Uncle Fumio and learns that Chikara has lost his lands and wealth and fled the place but Nami lives with Fumio. He is still in love with her. When his teacher comes in with him and again they stupidly set themselves up for an ambush and his ex colleague, now embittered, now kills the teacher treacherously and gets killed in turn, Yoshi knows that he needs to return to the school and take over as the teacher (Sensei) to continue the tradition.

 

Meanwhile treason is brewing in the country. Kiyomori, the king’s chief advisor has a confidant called Yorisama who is really a traitor working for their opponents, the Minamoto clan. When the brother of the king, a weasely, cowardly man agrees to rebel against the king, Chikara swiftly has him captured and killed. However, Chikara’s famous assistant challenges Yoshi for a combat and loses his life. Yoshi spends a night with Nami with assassins waiting to kill him. He fights with a multitude of them and survives.

 

When a drunk lieutenant of Chikara challenges Yomi to a duel and dies, Yomi openly challenges Chikara. There is a fight that ensues with predictable results. The twist I talked of is revealed just before the fight.

 

Not bad for an author who tried his hand at it on the side. 5/ 10

 

–  –  Krishna

Book: The Elephant and The Flea by Charles Handy

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:34 pm

imageThis was touted as a business book about how to succeed in large corporations as a (tiny) consultant but it has several surprises when you read it.

 

First, the story is very personal and is told by the son of a pastor. He has humility, emotions, and talks about himself in a very personal way that makes you instantly empathize with him.

 

Second, he has a nice flow of narration and it is like sitting next to an avuncular relative reminiscing about his life with a flannel robe and a pint in his hand perhaps. Not very like most of the grim business books, and definitely not the tone adopted by so many : ‘I know what you need to do, now read and learn’. Those two make the book stand apart, but if you do not like that in a business book, then you will be definitely disappointed with this one.

 

Now about the title –  Charles Handy talks about the fleas, the independent consultants, and the elephants, giant corporations where the fleas inevitably work on contract. I thought it is just a book about how the world has changed, how there are more fleas now than elephant constituents (workers in corporate empires) and how fleas can be effective going into the unfamiliar elephant world. It is all that, but a bonus is a personal peek into the life of Charles and what forces shaped it and what it did to him in terms of style and personality. He has this confidence imparting tone that makes you think that you know him – it is a rare gift. Add to that his self deprecating tone and clear thoughts on how he is totally unqualified for certain tasks because of his background and you end up liking him almost from the beginning of the book.

 

He teaches his principles from his life experiences, growing up as a son of a priest in rural backwaters of Ireland, and being disappointed by his father’s lack of ambition. His description of his father’s funeral and how he learns that his father’s life was hugely successful  is very touching and heartwarming. He seems to have the knack so brilliantly displayed by James Herbert of touching the right notes and making you warm up to him instantly. His retelling of his issues makes him not just vulnerable in your eyes but also endearing. He has also been leading the charge on defining what education should be like and has chaired many prestigious institutions. However, I began to wonder how much of management theory I really learned while reading the book.

 

He talks about the old corporations (old elephants) which had jobs for life, a very protected environment, endless profits because of oligopoly and what not. He talks about the modern corporations where it is a very different world, and the corporates who could not adapt to it died. Well written, with a clear vision and articulation.

 

But some of his views are out there. He argues that even though technology has transformed lives, fundamentally we are the same. He talks about however good the communication and ecommerce have become the logistics remains, and drivers, cooks and others will always be

needed. Good point, until you start thinking of driverless cars. I agree that people will be retrained and survive. He also bemoans the modern fascination with gadgets and what it is doing to the society. There is also a kernel of truth in it and there is some logic in saying that losing the personal touch (the mom and pop bakery around the corner, the handwritten letters, the train conversations) have all been irrevocably lost in some cases. His reminiscences (about, for instance, how he used to ring from Malaysia to England when he was in Shell and what it sounded like) add an inimitable human touch to the stories and make them come alive.

 

But when he laments about technology and intellectual assets, you realize how old fashioned he really is. One of the gentlemen of olden times, wishing for times when you can touch, feel and look at objects and things. Charming all the way, no doubt.

 

But he makes great points about the need to change and adapt since we are forced to anyway. And good points about how, even those who consider that they are worse off than their grandfathers will not like to go back to those times to live like them. Some of his points are very interesting. Like I said, I may not agree with many of them, but his points are well made. He talks of the evil of keeping shareholder value as the single most important criteria. If it were up to him, companies will have avuncular interest of employees at heart (even, if you read between the lines, when shareholder value is threatened) but it may not be practical. Leaving aside that, he makes great points of the shareholders – most of them anyway – are not the real ‘owners’ in the traditional sense. They, for instance, did not even pay their money to the company at all, having bought the shares in a secondary market.

 

Also nice are his laments about the fear when he became independent and how he continually tries to find meaning in life. Masquerading as a corporate book, this is simply an erudite old man’s reminiscences and if you are fooled by the title into thinking it is a business book like I was, it is a bit disappointing.

 

At the end, he tries to summarize why fleadom may engender selfishness and apathy towards the rest of the society. In all, this does not feel like a corporate book – our instincts at the beginning are right. True, there are some interesting facts. But they are few and far between. You get to look at the life Charles led and what is important to him from his point of view. Is it interesting? Yes. He is a really nice, charming, caring person and it comes through clearly. But it is not a corporate or business book, though the title makes you think it is. It does not, for instance, tell you as a flea, how to influence the elephant where you are currently working. From that point of view, it is a mis-sell.

 

Also his belief that the modern world with its selfishness will lead to destruction is not borne out when you see the natural philanthropy occurring even today.

 

But the book in itself is interesting. I will say 6/10

–  –  Krishna

May 19, 2018

Book: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:34 pm

imageA classic, so let us march right into the story.

 

Miss Dorothea Brooke and her sister Celia. Celia is practical but Dorothea is religious. Orphaned, they are looked after by their uncle. Dorothea, the elder seems to be a religious zealot of the first kind. Even though the baronet desires her, she likes the withered and old Casaubon, the philosopher.

 

She agrees to marry him even over the interest shows by Sir Chetham and contrary to the wishes of her uncle and her own sister. Sir Chetham is frustrated, but advised to look closer at the other, more practical, sister Celia by the town pastor’s skinflint, but practical, wife.

 

There are the Vincys, who are rich merchants. Rosamund and Fred are his children. Rosamund is an exquisite beauty and their old and cantankerous uncle Featherstone is rich and issueless so Fred hopes for a piece of the pie. Mary Jane, who lives in the house is plain but a close friend of the fair Rosamund.

 

Rosamund deliberately contrives to meet Mr Lydgate, who is handsome and a physician to boot, and manages to fall in love with him. Lydgate only cares for medicine and he fell for an artist once and was betrayed, so he has no interest in romance. He was a poor person who wanted to do medicine, but his benefactor approved “despite the impact on family dignity by this choice’. How different were those times.

 

There is an election for the priest where Farebrother is ousted by the more dogmatic but tedius preacher.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Dorothea seems to realize that marriage to Casaubon may not be what she thought it would be. He seems to want to do his research alone and rebuffs her every attempt to contribute. When she meets the young and sunny relation of Casaubon’s, Ladislaw, the contrast is immediately apparent. Ladislaw is amazed that Dorothea, who is simple and endearing, would have chosen his uncle as a husband. He himself is financially supported by Casaubon and seems to have no fixed aim in life.

 

His friend Naumann, an artist, also persuades both Mr and Mrs Casaubon to sit for separate portraits for him and seems to angle for Dorothea’s attentions at the same time.

 

Meanwhile Fred seems to have let his extravagancy impact even Mary’s parents and is vaguely guilty. He seems to have a reckless streak with no morality and no understanding of other’s pains even caused by his own actions.

 

When Fred gets ill, the younger Lydgate shows up the family physician Mr Wrench by diagnosing Fred’s illness as Typhoid, earning the wrath of the senior physician. Lydgate gets close to Rosamund as a result. She is delighted and is in love but he thinks of it only as harmless flirtation. Finally circumstances force him to confront his feelings and he finds that he is in love with her after all.

Meanwhile Celia and Sir James are betrothed.

 

Ladislaw becomes the editor of Pioneer, a newspaper under Mr Brooks, uncle of Dorothea and seems to want to be with Dorothea alone a lot, much to the disgust of Casauban.

 

Lydgate creates enemies by openly talking about the new medicinal methods and when Bulstrode finances a new hospital, the protests against Lydgate’s “arrogance” rises to a fever pitch.

 

Ladislaw tries to meet Dorothea, much to the disgust of Casauban. After asking her to promise to fulfil his wishes after his death without specifying what they are, Casauban himself dies before she can give her promise. When they realize that the will says that she will not inherit a cent if she marries Ladislaw, everyone is scandalized.

 

Ladislaw goes away for a long time.

 

Meanwhile, Fred asks Fairbrother to plead his case to Mary. Setting aside his own attraction to Mary, Fairbrother does so. Fred decides not to pursue priesthood, and settles on business (an unpreferred profession!) as assistant to Caleb, much to the chagrin of his parents who consider his university degree “wasted”.

 

Lydgate finds himself in debt due to increased expenses after marriage to keep up with the Joneses. Now, it is cute that he is “obliged to keep two horses” like we would two cars these days. He tries to bring up the subject to Rosamund but she is bewildered.

 

Raffles, the rapscallion, comes back to haunt Bulstrode, calling him “best friend” and extorting money. We learn that Bulstrode, in his past life, married a wealthy woman hiding the fact that the daughter who had runaway had been found and keeping all the money for himself (when the woman died eventually). Raffles was in on the secret and has ever since been blackmailing Bulstrode for money. Now he tells Bulstrode that he plans to ‘come and live’ permanently in Middlemarch, close to his victim.

 

Ladislaw goes away for good.

 

Meanwhile, Rosamond and Lydgate have a rift, especially when Lydgate suggests that they live within their means, with bankruptcy staring in his face. Now we find that Bulstrode faces Garth who had realized, through Raffles, who seem to be dying, the secret and resigns his post. Bulstrode himself cares for Raffles and lends the money needed to Lydgate in a change of heart.

 

When Bulstrode’s deceit gets exposed in a public meeting, much to his chagrin, Lydgate finds himself tainted by mere association. But Rosamund is feeling more and more out of love with Lydgate and refuses even to commiserate, immersed in her own misery.

 

When Dorothea goes to comfort Rosamond, she catches her in what seems to be a compromising position with Will Ladislaw and flees the place, causing pain to both Rosamond and Ladislaw.  All is sorted out and the lovers who made up decide to marry, even at the risk of Dorothea losing most of her inheritance.

 

The ending is neat, especially the epilog which, later, like Harry Potter, follows the characters several years later and tells what happened.

 

6/10

 

–  –  Krishna

Book: Sun in A Bottle by Charles Seife

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:26 pm

imageSometimes, you just have to read a couple of pages in some books to know that this is one that you will enjoy. This seems to be such a book. This is about the quest of humankind to harness fusion as the solution for world’s energy needs. Starts from the gruesome scene of the result of fission, the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Also, the subtitle of the book explains the context better. “The Strange History of Fusion and The Science of Wishful Thinking”.

He gives a great layman’s account of what happens inside an atom bomb when the chain reaction starts and why such destructive power is unleashed, without the least bit resorting to any technical mumbo jumbo, the author provides interesting tidbits about how Enrico Fermi was the one who first showed how to control a nuclear reaction so that it does not become runaway (as in a bomb) but harnessed for power (as in a reactor).

 

Lovely portraits of the scientists themselves, reminding one of the style of that brilliant book from Bill Bryson, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’. Consider this. Oppenheimer was the most unlikely person you would pick to head the Manhattan project which was in charge of perfecting the atom bomb for the US during the forties.  He mastered more than half a dozen languages including Sanskrit. But had difficulty even soldering copper wires. He considered himself a failure in Cambridge and contemplated suicide. He became even more erratic and tried to strangle a colleague. And claimed he placed a poisoned apple on the desk of a fellow scientist. Imagine in the current world of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin – would he now be given a chance to head perhaps the most important scientific project?

 

Still not convinced? Consider this. At the time of his appointment, Oppenheimer was a security risk.  His brother and sisters in law were members of the communist party.  In addition, his ex-girlfriend was also a member!

 

It is interesting to know also that Richard Feynman and Enrico Fermi were both members of the team. Interesting stuff also about Edward Teller, the sinister scientist with an obsession on fusion and who was going his own way in the project.  Amazingly, Truman is forced to take the side of fission  bomb when it turns out that a senior scientist of the project was exposed as a Russian spy and has been handing the fusion research secrets to the Russians all along.

 

The latter humiliation of Oppenheimer by a vicious vindictive Teller is well told.

 

Fabulous backstory about how the scientific community figured out electrons, protons, and neutrons. Even radioactivity is put into perspective better than I have seen done anywhere. Great stuff to read. The chilling plans to build canals and change the shape of the earth is told well. How many of us were unaware of these plans!

 

To think that Lake Chagan in Russia was actually created by a fusion bomb is astonishing. The tests that America and Russia did, and especially the hoax which took in Juan Peron to spend tens of millions of dollars on a fusion engine by a fake scientist, all are brilliantly told.  It can be a bit too technically oriented (despite being explained in simple terms brilliantly by the author) for people looking for stories but it definitely is fascinating to read.

 

First he takes on the cold fusion fiasco bordering on fraud by two famous scientists, both with glorious pasts, and their ultimate humiliation and exile to the fringes of the scientific research and he explains it very well.

 

Again I must reiterate : I have never seen anyone explain complex concepts so well. He explains how lasers are generated. Fascinating. It is by hitting molecules with light particles in a particular way with a particular colour of light. And he describes how when another molecule of light simply passes by, the light emitted by the atom that is hit “marches in lockstep with it”

 

The fiasco of the Cold Fusion hype is well told. I knew what cold fusion even was only by reading this book. Nice. But the detailed description of failure after failure can seem a bit long and a bit of a narrow focus for some readers.  But his description of  Talayerkhan’s blind pursuit in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence and his final literary evisceration by the scientific community make fascinating reading. Then comes the fiasco of bubble fusion, where scientists seem to border on deceit or at least self deception to claim results that are not from quality experiments and sometimes bordering on fraud.

 

The next piece about the fusion research and the hidden agenda of the countries is well told.

 

The ending? Meh. A lot of proselytizing and some repetition of the older ideas. Could have been better. His explanation of complex concepts is awe inspiringly masterly. Just for that, this book should be read by anyone interested in fusion or fission.

 

In my final rating, the rate is a bit low only because of the subpar ending.

 

7/10

– – Krishna

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