bookspluslife

November 12, 2017

Book: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:47 am

imageEdith Wharton’s maiden name was Edith Newbold Jones. Unlike the normal stereotype of a starving author, Edith was born into so much wealth that the term ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ was coined after her family, really. She also married a wealthy sportsman Edward Wharton (though that marriage did not last long and they got divorced. She stayed in France, even though she was an American who grew up in New York, until her death in the twentieth century.

 

The story starts with a play attended by Newland Archier. He goes to see a play by Christine Nilsson. He sees a young girl of another family in the opposite balcony. Miss Welland is one possibility of a bride and the story brims with gentle mockery of the presumed male superiority in ‘looking after and guiding a worthy woman whom one takes as a wife’.

 

We learn that the girl is Mary Welland, his betrothed, who belong to the Mingotts family. Then a girl enters and everyone gasps because, they did not think that the family had the temerity to bring ‘poor Ellen Olenska’, a cousin of Mary’s out in the public.

 

I love how Edith describes Catherine because she is different and ‘has built a home in the ‘inaccessible wilderness near Central Park’.  Yes, we are talking about New York in the old days! Inaccessible wilderness? How times have changed!

 

Ellen, the black sheep of the family, has been separated from her husband and is not even trying to get back with him and is rumoured to be living with another man. In those priggish times, this naturally creates a huge scandal. Those who knew her hear of a speculation about a divorce and, as you know in those times,  this is NOT a subject that should be discussed in the family, especially in front of the house butler. Quaint days, those.

 

When Ellen Olenska and the Mingotts are snubbed by the society Newland Archer and his mom canvass to have the bigwigs of society accept to the invitations to the party everyone else seem to have spurned.

 

Slowly Newland finds that his spectacularly gorgeous betrothed May Welland is not as lively as he thought and drawn to Olenska. But his betrothal to May makes it awkward. In the meanwhile Ellen continues to stir up trouble and eyebrows by her unconventional behaviour.

 

When she wants a “formal” divorce from her Count husband, the entire New York society is horrified at her daring. Wanting it is one thing, but openly discussing it? Simply not done!

 

He gets closer and closer to Olenska. And realizes the dullness of May in comparison. This comes out slowly in the story. However – and here is another sign of those times – he has given his word that he will marry May and he cannot go back on his word without losing face in front of the entire society.

 

He marries May and tries to put Ellen out of his mind. But May is so dull. Ellen and Archer discover that they love each other but are bound by social conventions.

 

It causes huge strain with May, who is after all innocent of any crime on her part. He even fantasizes about her being dead so that he can be with Ellen.

 

Brilliantly told, the ending is moving. This book is also an exploration of the changing social mores of the times, where Archer is constrained by much that his children are not constrained by; an amazing amount of unspoken understanding between him and May and him and Ellen; about how, after the passage of many years, he refuses to meet with someone he had not seen in over thirty years because he is afraid that the reality may never catch up with his mental image of what he would see.

 

In all, it is a movingly told story that carries you away even today, after all these years. And stays in your mind quite a while after you have finished reading it.

 

8/ 10

– – Krishna

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November 5, 2017

Book: Are you Smart Enough To Work At Google? by William Poundstone

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:50 pm

imageWhat a title! Full marks for the title that wants you to read the book at once. Unfortunately, the book itself does not live up to that hype. It would have been far better if it was the other way around – a great book with an insipid title.

 

Started with a weird interview of a candidate with Google. Then he goes into types of interview questions that are cliche and some which are oddball.

 

If you love puzzles, you would love this book. For instance, one of the questions is “What is the next number in the series 10 9 60 90 70 66?”. Try as I might, I could not guess the answer. Perhaps you can but the answer is very surprising!

 

Another question is : If you were shrunk to the size of a nickel and thrown in a blender and the blender is about to start in 10 minutes, how will you escape? The “right” answer and the science behind it are interesting indeed. As is the discussion on what to take seriously in the question (as a given, without questioning it) and what to infer!

 

The analysis of why the scene of the Incredible Shrinking Man fighting with a spider using a needle has been picturized wrong is nice indeed. (It is related to the above is the only clue I am willing to give, so as not to spoil the book for you).

 

He talks about how interviews are useless predictors of future performance. The idea that not all intelligent people are successful or creative etc. Questions on creativity “Give me all the uses you can put a brick into” are interesting.

 

He talks about a world where paucity of jobs makes the employers choosy due to applications overflowing for each job and even Walmart asks tricky questions to test your thinking prowess.

 

But the book is not about questions that make you think. I thought it would be a puzzle book, cleverly titled to draw in readership but it is actually more an analysis of the hiring practices in most companies, especially Google. Does not consistently retain your interest.

 

Some puzzles are brilliant. The 100 prisoners who wear red or blue hat and stand in a line so that everyone can see the hats in front of them but not theirs or the ones behind them. They are asked to name the colour of their own hat and will be shot dead if they get it wrong. There is a strategy that is foolproof that can help everyone (except the last one). The explanation is simply brilliant! Pieces like this save the book from being another uninteresting discussion on google’s hiring practice.

 

The puzzle about two men talking about a man’s three daughters (product of the ages is 72 and sum of their ages is “equal to the number on that house opposite” without giving you the number. The other says, “I still don’t understand” and the first one clarifies fully by saying “my eldest daughter plays the piano” and it is all clear to the second one!) is excellent as is the reasoning behind the answer.

 

Those are the best parts. There is an overwhelmingly tedious description on how everyone wants to work for the best tech companies and how you can prepare for the job.

 

But most of the book is about the quirky nature of questions in today’s interviews in the tech world and how you address them. Most of them are not logical but very esoteric and the answers are, frankly, not enough to hold your interest if you are not pining for an interview in one of these tech giants or if you are not interested in unrealistic problem solving. The book does not hold your interest for long, if you are a layman.

 

I will give it, at best, a 4 / 10

October 26, 2017

Book: A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:13 am

imageI hate overly preachy or overly fawning accounts in the name of non fiction. I mean books like Beyond the Last Blue Mountain or, perhaps surprisingly for you, The Life of Pi.  From the book’s title and the subject matter, I feared that this is perhaps one in the latter category. Thankfully, this is not the case.

 

The full title of this book is :  A Problem From Hell : America and the Age of Genocide. Sounds like a literature Ph D thesis and I would have not touched the book with a ten foot pole if it had not come with high recommendations. As it is, I am glad I did. It is a well written and gripping book and the author’s passion for the oppressed comes out as is her frustration and anger at successive US bungling of each crisis.

 

The book covers a broad canvas. Covers all mass killings, effortlessly moving from the Armenian genocide by Turkey to Pol Pot massacres to Nazi Germany and Iraq’s attempts at the eradication of their Kurd population.

 

An Armenian kills Kamal Pasha, who is living in retirement in Germany for all the atrocities the latter committed against Armenians when he was a Turkish general in the Ottoman army.

Tehrlian, the assassin, in his young days saw his whole family raped, tortured and killed by the Turkish soldiers who were accompanying them in a forced march “in order to protect them”. He himself was left for dead after a hit on his head knocked him unconscious.

 

The massacre is not condemned by Germany, which is an ally of Turkey against the Allies in World War I but the Allies themselves are too busy to win the war to make a big protest.

 

The valiant efforts of Morgenthau, the US ambassador to get US to intervene is of no avail. He asks for a transfer in disgust and is never appointed again as an ambassador by an irate President Wilson.

 

Samantha writes passionately and very well, keeping what is a rather difficult subject well.

 

Another advocate for stopping extermination of a whole ethnicity (the term ‘genocide’ was not used then) was a Polish lawyer called Lemkin. He tried to propose, in UN, that this should be made illegal, and even specifically talked about dangers such as the (future) rise of a ruler like Hitler in Germany. The motion was defeated and the UN panel said that there was no conceivable way anything like the Armenian massacre “can happen again”. Remember that Lemkin was a Polish Jew and that the year was 1939 and the irony is supreme!

 

Lemkin tries to persuade the Jews to leave as soon as Germany invades Poland but no one, not even his family, wants to leave the place where they have ‘everything’. Tragic. He immigrates to the US and his efforts to bring the plight of Jews under Hitler also fall on deaf ears. He coins the word genocide to denote attempts to exterminate a whole people.

 

Zygielbojm was so frustrated with the lack of attention to the Jewish plight and the indecision of the Allied powers that he killed himself to bring their plight to the world’s attention.

 

Lemkin makes himself a pest making people run the other way when they see him but succeeds in getting genocide outlawed by a UN charter. US turns against the vague wording of the act and refuses to ratify it. Lemkin goes nearly nuts and complains against Human Rights Act of UN! He dies a weird man to the last.

 

Proxmire takes up the cudgels for genocide law afterwards.

 

The author complains that during Khmer Rouge atrocities US did not step in and do something. I agree that a nation’s rulers should not be allowed to murder their own population or part thereof with impunity but think about it. US was just walloped in Vietnam and evacuated Combodia and were war weary. To go back in again against Khmer Rouge would not have been easy as they needed Congress approval to do that and the whole country was up against foreign adventurism due to the Vietnam war effect. Rather like the post Iraq fatigue of US in Syria, for example. The debate then (as it is now in the Middle East) is whether the suffering of a citizenry justifies a foreign power to intervene against the government’s will.

 

Excellent coverage is provided of the reasons of the Pol Pot takeover of Cambodia, including the corrupt administration of Prince Sihanouk, the womanizing gourmet who called himself god king or ‘deva raj’ (Interesting use of Sanskrit there, of all things).

 

Nixon administrations to install the totally ineffective regime of Lon Nol as the prime minister, in a coup and the author describes how it exacerbated the problem and how his army was not even furnished and how US gave 80% of the revenues in aid which went straight to the pockets of the ruling politicians. Fascinating. It is ironic how Sihanouk became the front for the Pol Pot regime when they won the civil war. The subsequent brutality was covered much more graphically in the other book we reviewed earlier – Pol Pot: A History of Nightmare by Philip Short which gave the inside view. But this one is a good outsider’s summary.

 

The Cambodian story from the perspective of US and world inaction in the face of mass atrocities by Pol Pot regime is also beautifully told. The struggles of lone Senators to get the Carter administration or the UN to do something substantial without much to show for it is also heart rending.

 

Due to cold war considerations, it is appalling to see US side with the ousted Khmer Rouge government even after the genocide is well known and not only get them a seat in the UN but also supply arms for it to recapture Cambodia from Vietnam? All because Vietnam was aligned with Russia and US was trying to curry favour with China, a Khmer supporter? It is terrible to read!

 

What a powerful indictment on the US policy! First, unreasonable reluctance to even acknowledge Hitler’s mass executions, then support for Cambodian regime (even aid and arms after they were ousted) to unseat Vietnam which had finally “liberated” the place, then overt support and blind denials of Saddam’s employment of chemical weapons against his own population of Kurds. When you read the stubborn refusal of US government to recognize overwhelming evidence from its own senators and journalists for the sake of geopolitics, you are truly horrified.

 

Samantha then turns her razor sharp analysis to the Bosnian problem. Clinton the Presidential Candidate is full of passion and outrage for the Bosnians but Clinton the President turns out to be a totally different one, not taking any action at all while Bosnians are massacred with seeming impunity by the Miloslavic regime. Ironic that an author vilified as a war monger ended up in the advisory council of one of the tamest Presidents of them all, Obama.

 

Rwandan massacres come in next and her explanation of the riot in personal terms of what individual groups did makes, again, for a powerful description of the madness that prevailed. The chilling “instructions” given to Hutus is terribly stark.

 

Samantha covers the Bosnian and Kosovo crises too, in a similar vein.

 

The last portion of the book is a rehash mostly. There are some moving vignettes. This focuses on the remedial measures taken and compares the Human Rights commissions set up in various countries (Cambodia, Rwanda with the International Court of Justice). You can safely skip most of this without any loss of information.

 

In all, a great book, better than I anticipated.  7/10

 

–  –  Krishna

October 23, 2017

Book: Fermat’s Enigma by Simon Singh

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:04 am

imageScience books are getting better all the time. There are many authors who write exhilaratingly well about science, and Simon Singh is also one of them. Some of the others we have reviewed already are A Short History of Nearly Everything and The Ancestor’s Tale.

 

This is a well written book. It is a book about how Fermat’s Thoerem/ Puzzle, a mathematical enigma so great that it defied the world’s  best mathematicians’ efforts to provide a proof for three centuries after it was stated was finally solved by an unassuming, shy, scientist Andrew Wiles.

 

But first, by way of a great introduction,  Simon Singh takes us to the ancient Greek times and starts our journey with Pythagoras, who is famous for the Pythagoras Theorem. And his style is fluid and fascinating,  which tells you why his science books are so famous in the literary world. He shows how, even though ancient Egyptians knew how to calculate hypotenuse of a triangle using the same rule as Pythagoras, how the latter proved that it is true of all triangles, thus launching the concept of a rigorous mathematical proof that changed the scientific world forever. In addition, he mixes in some personal anecdotes of the man to keep our interest high. Nicely done.

 

The surprising section about the perfect numbers and how squares also have one surprising fact about their factors is all fascinating.

 

And surprising tidbits about the life of major players keeps coming and keep you fascinated. For instance, we learn that Pythagoras was killed in a riot engineered by an applicant rejected entry to his secretive school twenty years earlier and had nursed a grudge all that time.

 

He talks about the Dark Ages putting paid to all progress in the West for hundreds of years and the destruction of that great library in the seat of Alexandria, not once, not twice but three times and how some of the volumes survived all that – though a great majority were lamentably destroyed.

 

What is nice about this book is all the tangents Simon gets into. A straight narrative of Fermat’s rule and how it was proved may have been an interesting read but when he goes into Euclid’s contributions to the solution, he also goes into other things that Euclid did, his life, his loss of sight in one eye, and even the asides – the political scene and Catherine the Great inviting “the mathematical Cyclop” back – make this a brilliant story. (He loses sight in both eyes thereafter). The female mathematicians (Hypatia, who was killed as a witch in a mob lynching, xxx who married for convenience so that she can travel, why no one would marry female mathematicians and how they stayed single all their lives) are also well covered.

 

The extent to which lady mathematicians had to go in order to gain recognition is fascinating.

 

What is interesting is the presentation. The story is told well, and flows on, and the additional mathematical details, for those interested, is moved to the Appendix and simply referenced in the main text. Nice.

 

In addition you learn about the craze created by simple puzzles of Sam Lloyd, and the game theory and Truel problem with Mr Gray, Mr Black and Mr White in a truel. (Duel with three folks). Mr Gray is the worst shot, hitting opponent once in three times; Mr Black is better, hitting once in two shots and Mr White is a perfect shot, hitting every time. Being the weakest, Mr Gray gets the first shot. Who should he aim at? The answer is very surprising.

 

The life of Galois, who is a genius in maths but a total rebel and a republican in monarchist France is touching. He gets repeatedly arrested, his contribution “lost” or rejected, and finally he dies foolishly in a duel prompted by the infidelity of a woman betrothed to be married to the best shot in town who had an affair with him and the husband challenges him to a duel and kills him.

 

Andrew Wiles’s first effort at revealing the proof which caused worldwide headlines are well narrated. When his colleagues find a flaw, he tries for months to fix it and his refusal to publish the work so far earns him scorn and enmity of the people. Finally, he gets the full proof ready, his reputation reinstated.

 

Nice work, pleasant reading on a subject that some would consider dry and pedantic. Well done. Of course, Simon now is a famous science author and has published many more books.

 

7/10

–  – Krishna

October 22, 2017

Book: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:53 pm

imageAn American author writing in a British setting in itself is unusual.

 

An shabby priest (Father Hart)  is talking to a very old but sprightly lady in the train and she silently disapproves his generous outpouring of nose fluids, spittle etc when he is very close to her.  He is traveling to London. He is going to the Scotland Yard to report a murder.

 

Wembley and Hilliar are senior detectives there. Wembley, the junior is shabby in his desk but brilliant in work.

 

Barbara Havers, a plain looking detective, is not suited to any partner, and causes trouble. She is now put on this case, which is one of a series of what looks like a serial killer’s work.

 

To her dismay, she is paired with the detective she hates most, Inspector Lynley. He is a womanizer and her being paired with him is a testimony to her ugliness (‘Even Lynley will not make a pass at her…’)

 

She grabs Lynley from a wedding reception he is attending with his current mistress. They discover that the person killed had no head and his daughter,Roberta admits to killing him. An open and shut case, right? Wrong.

 

Back story on Barbara. She lives in a squalid home with her useful mother and thieving father, and they have a “shrine” for her brother Tony who passed away.

 

They puzzle over the first murder. Why was the axe cleaned? Why was the dog killed? If Roberta did it and also admitted to it readily, none of this made sense.

 

They go to the village to be received by a beautiful innkeeper who gives them room in a castle like hotel. they go and visit the nephew who inherits everything and go see the place where the murder took place. Roberta has been confined to an asylum with no proof of insanity.

 

In the meanwhile, they discover that a sister to Roberta existed, a pretty version of their mom, and also that Roberta may have had a food stash to cheat on her diet.

 

Erza Farmington the town artist is sleeping with Danny. (who is she?)

 

Havers and LInsey find out about the verbal fight between Richard and Thomas before he died and meet Tessa, the wife who ran away. She was exposed as a bigamist and had a motive to kill Thomas, as did her husband who discovered the huge issue. She explains how she married a very older man when she was 16 and after Gillian’s birth, he got religion and was intolerable and was not allowed even to go near her own child (and near Roberta when the second kid was born after eight years) and had to leave.

 

Gillian also runs away, increasing the pain of Thomas, who obliterated all photos of Gillian.

 

Nigel Parrish, the musician who inexplicably prefers the pub far away from home and also seems to hang around where his talents are not appreciated is a strange character. Erza and he have a flaming row.

 

They get invited to a party where Lynley meets his ex love again.

 

meanwhile he hears conflicting reports of Gillian. Richard swears that she is a slut and their neighbour the old woman who was a teacher to both Gillian and her mother Tessa, swears that Gilly was an angel.

 

How Barb rails often at Lynley every time mistaking his intentions as that of a roving cowboy and how she finds Gillian in her new hiding place and how it turns to a disaster when Lynley asks her to go fetch her are very well told. A good read, even if it is pure fluff.

 

The final meeting between the sisters Gillian and Roberta and the revelations that come out are astounding. The twist is something that you probably can guess but the descriptions and how it impacted both Gillian and Roberta are told in a phenomenal way. The shock is stunning. One of the best climactic scenes in a semi light fiction, the scene in itself elevates the book several levels above other mysteries, in my opinion. Great writing. And to consider that this is a debut novel!

 

Where the book falls flat is in too many knots and the author trying to unravel them all. And there is no explanation of how many things are found out. How did he know so many things about the life of Stepha (the innkeeper) ? A lot of things are simply “revealed” by Lynley the great detective with no explanation at all. Another example is how he knew who hid the murder weapon and cleaned the axe of fingerprints. No clues, no pointers. Suddenly Lynley says “you did it” to the culprit and that person says “yes” and sobs. Give me a break!

 

Though some scenes are fantastic, the above takes much away from the book , so let us say 6/ 10

–  – Krishna

September 30, 2017

Book: Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:08 am

imageThis is the fourth book in the Saxon Series. I recommend that you read them, they are very good. The earlier books are : The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman and The Lords of The North.  Also The Warrior Chronicles trilogy of his is excellent. (Consisting of The Winter King, Enemy of God and Excalibur)

 

This book starts with a bang. Uhtred captures a pirate ship of Danes that came in and plundered a village, taking all women and children. He kills all the Danes save one, who has his sword arm cut off and set free to tell the tale of the other pirates to the Danish rulers so that they will fear to send galleys to plunder southwards to Lundene again.

 

Aethelwold, the drinking, inept nephew of Arthur (who is a true heir and considers Arthur an usurper) tells a prophecy that says that Uhtred will become king of Mercia. Alfred wants Uhtred to liberate Lundene from the Danes and then present it to his enemy and cousin\! Being under oath to Alfred, Uhtred cannot refuse!

 

In the meanwhile, a dead man speaks and prophesizes  that Uhtred will be King of Mercia. Uhtred is very tempted. He goes to meet Siegfried and Erik and discovers a few prisoners readied to be sacrificed. He tells Siegfried to battle with one priest for jest and gives the priest his Serpentbreath, knowing that the priest is well skilled in battle and is really Prylig, his old battle comrade. Uhtred learns that the dead man was a pretender and a fake.

 

When they come back, Uhtred is asked to get Lundene back to his enemy and cousin by Alfred. He is distrusted by Alfred, who sends Steapa to fight with him so that he can kill Uhtred at the first sign of treachery. The battle to take Lundene is told brilliantly, as is Siegfried and Erik’s final meeting with Uhtred where they realize that he knows he has been tricked by the corpse speaking and also realize that he in turn tricked them knowing that Pyrlig, the captive priest, was a warrior at heart.

 

His cousin Aethelred tries to corner all the glory for himself, as well as being very jealous that his wife, Alfred’s daughter, loves Uhtred.

 

Alfred seems to be constantly against Uhtred, even though the latter is the one that is saving his kingdom in almost all major events. (The fact that Uhtred himself is a fictitious character does not seem to take anything away from the narration of the story.)

 

Alfred finally appoints him military commander of Lundene but puts an obnoxious priest Eekenwald as the Bishop and in charge of civil administration, , in parallel to him. He rids the river of pirates, even though he was given only two ships (his cousin took the rest, blessed by Alfred, who did not even seem to mind the abuse of his own daughter in his hands)

 

When Aethelflad, the daughter, requests Uhtred and wife Gisela to rescue her from being sacrificed at midnight, they go incognito.

 

Then Aethred, the cousin wins a “fantastic defeat” in his quest against Guthrum and also manages to lose his wife as a captive to the Danes.

 

When Uhtred goes to negotiate a price for the ransom of the princess, there is a great description of the battle between two giants, Welland from Siegfried’s side and Steapa from Uhtred’s.

 

He also discovers that Aethelflaed has fallen in love with Erik, the brother of Siegfried. He agrees to help them elope and goes secretly to enable them to flee Siegfried but unexpectedly things go wrong. The end is exhilerating. When he goes to help Erik escape he meets treachery, burning buildings and a whole new plot from a whole new direction due to the ambition of an evil man whose life  Uhtred had saved in the past

 

Very well written.   8/10

–  – Krishna

September 4, 2017

Book: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:05 pm

imageThis is such a classic in fantasy fiction that Patrick Rothfuss is talked about in the same reverential tones as George RR Martin, the author of the superb and more famous series The Game of Thrones, which in reality is the series called The Song of Fire and Ice. (That series of books, The Game of Thrones, A Feast For Crows, A Storm of Swords, A Clash of Kings and A Dance With Dragons have all been reviewed here before)

This is also the first book in the series King Killer Chronicles.

The similarity does not end there. After making such a success of the story, both authors seem to find no time to complete their stories. After the fifth book, George RR Martin has not written any more of the series, though he published a separate story that happened 100 years earlier in the same fantasy land as the Hedge Knight. Similarly, after two superb books, Patrick has also stayed silent, now for a few years. What gives?

 

This is the first book. The story ends abruptly. If this is how the second volume ends, I can understand the readers’ frustrations in having to wait for the third installment that never seems to come.

 

The story has a beautiful start and pulls you in right away. A man seems just  to be waiting to die. No, he is not ill but he simply seems to have lived all he wants and wants to spend the rest of his life in quiet solitude. An inn where some stories are traded (that of blue fires on lamps denoting the arrival of the evil force for instance. )  A childhood friend meets a eyeless mouthless giant spider with razor legs called Scrael , kills it and brings to the inn. It is really good when you realize that Kote, the laconic bartender who watches everything impassively and seems totally a bystander is more than he seems when he is startled to see a Scrael displayed on the table. The style is infectious.

 

He goes out and saves the Chronicler from an attack of those deadly scraels but is persuaded by the latter to tell his own story to be chronicled against his own wishes. The Chronicler realizes that this unassuming bar owner Kote is really Kvothe of legendary fame. Bast is his assistant.

 

The Chronicler comes in to write Kvothe’s story. He describes his childhood with an acrobat and actor parents, his joining up with Ben who is a real alchemist. His lessons are fascinating where he learns how to bind two objects together and almost gets killed trying to bind the wind. Also the Chronicler turns out to be an arcaenist who knows the Name of Iron and traps Bast into revealing his true supernatural self. Fabulous.

 

The story continues to the point where Ben separates from them, having found a wife at one of the stops and at the next stop around, Kvothe goes to play in the woods, only to return and find his entire family and the show group all slaughtered in their camping site.

 

Then follows his struggles to survive as a homeless orphan, his struggles to find the next meal and his constant beatings in the hands of others… Very nicely narrated. The style pulls you in and totally mesmerizes you – yes, in the Game of Thrones style, even if the story is not so elaborate.

 

He then cleans up and decides to join the army. His transformation at the inn and also how he gets decent clothes etc are funny.

 

His interview at the University and admissions are told well. How he takes revenge on the arrogant Professor Master Hemme when the professor tries to humiliate him in front of the entire class makes gripping reading. He gets whipped for his trouble and makes an enemy of the Master.

 

Almost immediately in the Arcanum he makes an enemy of the rightful hair of a noble Lord, Ambrose, and gets himself banned from the library for life. He goes after a crazy teacher to learn the name of the wind but when the teacher asks him to jump, he does, breaking his ribs and is refused to be taken as a student  due to stupidity.

 

He duels other students and establishes a reputation in sympathy and binding. How he earns his pipes despite sabotage in the bar is fabulously told. This is a good story.

 

He goes, plays his lute in an elite club and wins his pipes, and money and also meets Deanna, whom he thinks of as his future wife. And cannot find her again.

 

Meanwhile, upset that Ambrose is sabotaging his future by campaigning among the nobles against him (and thereby denying him a patron) he and a friend compose the wildly popular ‘Jackass Jackass’ that makes fun of Ambrose without naming him. He gets kicked out of his inn and does not find another until he reaches an inn owner who is not afraid of Ambrose.

 

A fire in the lab is seemingly caused by Kvothe but he is a hero for saving Fela.

 

He meets Deanna again. And ditches her in the next event since he has an accident while dealing with dangerous chemicals. He then has Fela wrap a cloak and Deanna sees and misunderstands and disappears. Meanwhile, Ambrose sends hoodlums to kill Kvothe, where he narrowly escapes. When he hears that Chandrians have wreaked havoc on Trebean, he borrows more money from Devi for a horse and reaches there.

 

He hears of a survivor and goes to see that person and finds that it is Deanna. They go exploring and discover a pigherder who gives them vital information that the marriage was destroyed probably to keep an accidental find from being discovered or even spoken about. They also meet a vegetarian dragon or a draccus.

 

They realize that the draccus is addicted to a drug made from a resin. They discover the resin stash and also realize that now that the draccus is deprived of it, it will go mad and start destroying whole villages. They plan to kill it – one that is more or less made of iron and virtually apparently indestructible by most means.

 

The scene where that plan seems to fail and the draccus goes towards the city where there is a bonfire for the harvest festival and what Kvothe has to do to manage the situation is exhilerating.

 

The final interlude where a demonic man gets in and causes havoc is well told. And the ending is good too. All in all, a great book and if you liked The Song of Fire and Ice, you will love this one too.

 

8/ 10

– – Krishna

August 13, 2017

Book: Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:50 pm

imageThis book is great in showing how someone who looks at things in the past people may misconstrue the importance of people and elevate some to sainthood while, when you look at what they did from a different angle, they themselves are floundering trying to make sense of mundane things.  Interesting? Yes. Unfortunately, entertaining, it is not. That is the issue. Let us look at the story.

 

Two girls and a boy in Australia, near Queensland. One of the girls is Janet. the elder of the two. The boy is Lachlan Beattie. He surprises a savage who claims that he is a British object. They bring the savage to their village outpost. He is a gibbering idiot and the explanation given was that he got lost in the unexplored parts of Australia (the story happens when Australia was being just colonized bit by bit) and he ‘lived with the blacks’. Interesting.

 

He remembers washing ashore, lying naked, and adopted by a group of naked aboriginal people. He is adopted by the new village, especially by the three kids who take upon themselves to ‘civilize’ him.

 

He causes fear and resentment by acting black, as that was how he was brought up from boyhood, and others are suspicious that he is a spy out to betray them in an ambush at night with this erstwhile tribe while the villagers slept.

 

The teacher in Australia was sent there by his patron, who paid for his education. The school teacher, Abbot is a character that comes and goes.

 

The suspicions of the white people and the extent to which some rowdy characters go to show animosity are all well told.

 

Gemmy, the native, remembers his past story in England where he was kept by a thug for collecting rats to sell for races and kept in pitiable conditions but offered protection from destitution at the same time.

 

But then it all goes down to the deep doldrums soon thereafter with the teacher and another young man trying to impress Leona, a young girl and Gemmy’s conviction that the magic squiggles (his life story as dictated to the teacher and written down) had sucked the life out of him and his attempts to get the papers back. Then he walks away.

 

The story moves a number of years where you see where the  three children are. As far as I can see, there was no point in it. Lachlan is a government minister and Janet is Sister Monica in an abbey.

 

Meh.

 

3/ 10

–   –  Krishna

July 30, 2017

Book: A Cantile for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:10 pm

imageAn unusual book. Unusual does not mean good. Just unsual. Cannot figure out if it a science fiction or whether it is a funny book but it falls short on both counts. Story starts in a desert.

 

A novice priest, Father Francis meets a lonely girdled pilgrim in the middle of a desert. It is a world full of monsters, and he is worried that it is one.  When he notes that it is a pilgrim and when the pilgrim offers him bread, he weakens from his vow of fasting and takes it. He gets into a comical fight with the pilgrim when he drops the bread but the pilgrim inspects his shelter built out of stones for protection from the wolves and offers advice.

 

After the pilgrim left, Francis picks the stone that would be a “perfect match” for the missing piece for the shelter as the pilgrim had identified, and discovers an old room inside. We slowly discover that this is a post apocalyptic world where the survivors shun all technology, destroy all books and revert back to primitive living, turning to Latin as the common spoken language. They worship a saint called Leibowitz, who seems to be just a nuclear holocaust survivor.

 

When Francis discovers sacred documents by the great Liebowitz himself (a shopping list, and some mundane entries by the looks of it) he is overwhelmed. The abbot does not believe him and orders him back to the abbey – never mind completing the Lent silence and fasting.

 

Some parts are hilarious. Where the prior tries his utmost to get Francis to admit that the old man was a figment of the latter’s imagination and no such old man existed. Why? because the old man had simply disappeared (he went towards the abbey but never reached there), he looked and even wore clothes fitting the description of the Blessed Leibowitz himself who was dead aeons ago, and more important, the stone which he picked for Francis was carved with his initials in an arcane sign that Francis was not even aware of. Rumours and panic swirled across the abbey and the Father Abbot cannot have that, can he?

 

Francis the simpleton’s confessions and the pained experience the Prior goes through in hearing inane “sins” are very funny. He stays a novice for years because the abbot refuses to promote him into the order. Finally that happens when a representative of the Pope himself confirms that what Francis found may be very valuable and he is admitted into the order and asked to copy and illustrate (handwritten) books.

 

He seems to be copying a circuit diagram of a sort though he does not understand what it is.

 

His fame spreads and he is asked to take his illustration to the Pope and goes on an ass and is waylaid by robbers. Getting some money to pay them off, he returns with the Pope’s blessings but the story here abruptly ends and another story begins. This is of Marcus Apollo, who is convinced of the imminence of War.

 

His confidante is Brother Claret. There is Thon Taddeo, who is a scholar. The abbot now has a monk who is trying to rediscover lost science and has made a dynamo that powers a carbon bulb.

 

A scholar comes with armed men and there is intrigue and war going on – a lot of mixed up ideas like this pervade this part of the book. The old man that Francis met seems to be at least seven hundred years old and is a friend of the current abbot of the monastery, Dom Zerchi. Some parts of it are, frankly, boring.  The world seems to be repeatedly getting close to annihilation is the theme. There not one but two nuclear wars, the first one nearly wiping out all humanity and causing all knowledge to disappear, which is what we see in the beginning of the book and the latter starting down many centuries after Francis, now revered as Saint Francis of Utah, died.

 

This spans generations and has characters featured earlier referenced in a deified form or otherwise altered form later; in that this reminds you of Cloud Atlas. But then that is unfortunate because it tells you how lovely Cloud Atlas was, and how inadequate this is in comparison.

 

Father Derchi is trying to stop the doctor from recommending death to hopelessly fried victims of radiation. Understandable; but when the good doctor disobeys, he says ‘If I see you again I’m afraid of what I may do.’  I thought that was a bit odd, coming from a compassionate Father.

 

Anyway, he sends monks in an unscheduled spacecraft flight to a populated planet and then gets trapped in an explosion. A woman vendor of tomatoes has an extra head whom she calls Rachel that seems to hang uselessly by her side. There are some poignant moments but unfortunately they are few and far between and there are countless ramblings in the middle like the sample above. You get lost even trying to understand the purpose of the book.

 

2/10

–   – Krishna

July 16, 2017

Book: The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:52 pm

imageWritten later than when the whole series was finished as an e book, the story is supposed to come between Volumes 4 & 5. This happens after Wizard And Glass in the story sequence. That book and some earlier books have been reviewed here before. 

Let me tell you right upfront. This is actually a collection of stories masquerading as a story in the series. Let me also tell you something else. This is one of the best if not the best books in the series!

Jake, Oye, Susannah, Eddie and Roland, following the path of the Beam and meet Bix, who agrees to take them on his raft along the river partway. They find that there is a starkburst (storm) brewing and take shelter. How to pass time? They tell stories to each other. So this is, rather like a couple of stories set in the Tower World. In addition, these are told as stories within stories, so that you come back to the outer story when the inner story is complete.

The first one is about Roland himself, after his mother’s death. He cares for Cort who is an invalid and is berated by Roland’s father for that.

He sends him to Debaria, where a supposed skin-man, who is a shape changer, is terrorizing the city. He gives as Roland’s companion Jamie DeCurrie. Both he and the coach attendant on his way warn them of Serenity, where young women pretty and deadly as the Sirens of  Homer’s Iliad reside. But he finds the Everxxx very cordial and she even knows his mom, Roland discovers.

 

He then travels to Debaria and meets the sheriff there, an old colleague of his dad, Steven Deschain. He learns that the skin changer, who, in the form of a massive bear, massacres a whole family has a tattoo on his leg in his human form, by a boy who survived by hiding in the stable.

 

The gunslinger, on the request of the surviving boy Bill, starts a story. This is a story (Roland and co) telling a story of himself, telling an imaginary story…

 

The new story called Wind through the Keyhole is about Tim, his mother Nell and father Big Ross (Jack Ross, really). Big Ross is killed by a dragon in the Ironwood forest, leaving Nell and Tim destitute, unable to pay taxes. Nell’s childhood friend Bern Kells who loved her and lost her to Ross without rancour, offers to take her in and marry her.

 

Kells turns out to be abusive, evil. He makes Tim work in the saw mill factory.  When Kell vacates his own home to move in with Nell and Tim, he brings a trunk that is always kept locked.

 

When the Covenant man comes for taxes, he quakes and gives away Nell’s money as taxes. They lost everything and Kells continually abuses both Tim and Nell and leaves. The Covenant man, before going away, gives Tim a magic key and asks Tim to meet him in the Ironwood Forest if he dares. After a particularly brutal beating by Kell of Nell and when he is gone on his drinking binges (which makes him even more violent), Tim opens the trunk and discovers his father’s chain and the lucky coin. The dragon fire should have singed it. Why has it not?

 

He decides to find out and goes to the Covenant Man, who shows Tim that Kell had murdered his father and even shows him the body under a stream. (With nice twists like flesh eating bugs in another part of the water and a very scary pooky – which is a large snake – waiting to sink its fangs into anyone who dares come that way). And to add to the intrigue, Nell tells Tim (earlier) that the Covenant Man has never aged in all the time she saw him.

 

When Tim discovers that Kell has come back, discovered the trunk open (Tim cannot lock it as the magic dies when the key is used once), he flows into a rage and brutalizes Nell who, in a trauma to her head, has lost the sight and is near death. He flies to her assistance but not before receiving his father’s special Axe from the Covenant Man. Tim’s teacher Widow Smack, who is always veiled due to disfigurement and is a close friend of Nell, warns Tim against Covenant Man and begs Tim not to believe in that man’s lies.  When he refuses to turn back from what he set out to do, she gives him a gun for his own protection.

 

There is a Tinkerbell like glowing sighe (“fairy”) who is in the employ of the Covenant Man. She leads him into the Ironwood Forest this time. She is evil and lands him on the head of a sleeping dragon. Tim manages to jump off but only to a small island and the dragon faces him, preparing to fry him. He also realizes that he was always in danger of being eaten by flesh eating fish which always followed him.

 

When he recognizes the treachery and is faced with certain death by carrion eating strange fish, he uses the gun and gains the admiration of the swamp people. What follows is fabulous. He is looking for Maerlyn and greatest wizard, who was in the court of Arthur Eld (sound familiar?) and instead meets a life threatening situation again – a castle whose doors are locked and the key and a keycard tied to the neck of a tiger, pacing in a cage and looking very hungry. In addition, the starkblast (a freezing storm that suddenly comes and kills everything in sight) approaches.

 

How he manages from there is a pure delightful narration until the very end of the story. Then the story focuses back to the skin changer. How they identify him and how they kill him is told wonderfully as well. All in all, a very satisfying book.

 

9/10

– – Krishna

 

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