bookspluslife

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

 

July 7, 2017

Book: Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:50 pm

imageA really different story from the normal fare I read.

 

Fair Warning : The story is brutal in its details and this review also has some stark and strong descriptions. If you cannot stomach that, please do not read further.

 

China – Shanghai – during the Second World War and the world of expat Brits. Jim, a boy is caught up in it. They describe the evacuation of the expats and Chinese alike. There is a whiff of colonialism in the narration : the ‘superior’ British vs the ‘inferior’ Chinese and Japanese, without using those specific words. The Sikh police nonchalantly whips the ‘natives’ to bring order in the street. Who is he? A traffic cop!

 

But J G Ballard is known for this brutal portrayal in both his science fiction and this fiction inspired by his own childhood events.

 

Initially it is shocking. Americans and Europeans seem to go to a scene of battle and seem to stroll around as if in picnic among the dead Chinese soldiers slaughtered by the Japanese as a part of the war.

 

Jim witnesses, through his hotel window, the attack of HMS Petrel by a Japanese military ship. His father and he are separated in a hospital in different floors and his pa is arrested by Japanese military. He escapes the sweep of arrests of all Britishers by accident and is left alone to fend for himself in the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of China.

 

Jim is chased by a crazed Chinese man, who is after his watch and coat in a crowded tram and manages to elude him. He finds that his parents have been arrested by the Japanese military (his mom too) and his house is deserted.

 

The book gets better thereafter. He is partly safe because he looks like the Germans and Italians, who are safe during the Japanese occupation but looks like a vagabond because he is living off of the streets. For a while, a Japanese group of soldiers ‘adopts’ him and feeds him scraps but that too stops shortly afterwards.

 

He falls into the clutches of Frank and Bessie, two unsavoury Americans. When they are about to abandon him, failing to sell him to anyone, they get captured along with him by the Japanese military and he goes to a POW camp as a seven year old boy.  The detention camp is for the hopeless cases which will die, and Jamie is put in there when he becomes very sick but survives and fights his way “into” the POW camp. The descriptions are stark and brutal.

 

The people are forever near death with flies feasting on their wounds and with little bladder control. The scene where Jamie is taken by a truck from prison camp to prison camp only to be told to ‘go away’ because there is no space there, is touching.

 

He adopts to the life in camp so much so that he is afraid to go back to England and home. He has forgotten the names of his parents and wants Japan to win the war actually. When Japan lost the rations were cut in the camp in revenge.

 

The images are stark and revealing – I know I have said this multiple times but if you are faint of heart, this book may not be for you. The prisoners, when advised of their freedom don’t know what to do with it. Their whole world has shrunk into just a  fight for food and worldly possessions. Many of them die due to disease and workload during starvation under the uncaring eyes of Japanese soldiers. They talk of the tittering of Chinese when terrified and a man, knowing he will be executed – beaten to death with paddles by the military – bursts into a song which goes higher in pitch the more he is hit until he is dead.

 

Dr Ransome, a camp physician and Mr Matthews who chivvies James up as he gave up several time despite the former’s total exhaustion are some of the characters that populate this. There is an imperious family of Mr and Mrs Pearce, who share a room with James with partitions made of old clothes.

 

When they are taken back to Shanghai camp, many of the camp mates cannot go on and simply sit down on the way, left behind for God knows what fate. There is a faint suggestion that they were killed rather than let go, but never explained fully.

 

The imagery is stark but the descriptions are lovely, including the similes. Consider this description of the Englishmen who lay down and died while walking to the camp out of pure exhaustion in all kinds of directions “as if they were dropped from the sky in random poses”. Or another group killed in a field with spent shells shining yellow “as if they had looted a treasury in the final moments before they were killed”.  A dead body’s mouth is open ‘as if he was waiting for the last morsel of food’. Nice.

 

The description is raw and gritty. If you are queasy, do not read the book. It talks about a lot of maggots, flies, rotting corpses. More gore needed? Also in supply. A dead body is discovered with the face mashed into a pulp because after the war a Japanese soldier was killed by ex-prisoners by repeatedly beating his head with a blunt weapon. A rotting corpse’s skull is exploded by running a car over its head.  J G Ballard is a fan of the gruesome alright.

 

The imagery stays with you. If this is anything like what the author himself suffered or saw when he was a child (in China, he was a prisoner of war with his parents during the Second World War and left for England after the war, just like Jim), the conditions were pitiable indeed for those Westerners caught in the conflict.

 

It looks like death repeatedly stares Jim in the face of death but manages to wriggle out just in time, not without pain and injuries in many instances.

 

A very different novel that describes war from a totally different angle but still brutally honest in descriptions for all that.

 

7/10

–  –  Krishna

 

 

 

June 11, 2017

Book: The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

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

imageA light hearted adventure in the tone of the Shannara series (We have reviewed The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannra here before). Also, this book is very British in its outlook as the ones in the Shannara series, with people calling each other “old chap” and things. I thought in the beginning that it may be a bit childish but it grows on you. I remember having the same experience with those two books as well!  Towards the end, you even take a liking to the book as you did of those books as well.

 

This is the Pyrdain series and this is the first volume in the series. It talks about the coming of age of a young man called Taran, who is thrust into the midst of adventure when he least expected it.

 

Taran begs Coll to teach him how to make swords and also swordfight instead of making horseshoes as  there are no horses any more in their world. Their monkeying is stopped by Dalben, the wizard of the place.

 

Dalben tells of the land of the dead, Annuvin, ruled by Arawn, who has stolen mankind’s gold and jewellery for his own evil purpose. The Son of Don foiled him from becoming King. Now an evil and mysterious warlord called the Horned King – because he wears a crown of antlers –  has risen, threatening the peace that has been kept for eons.

 

Dalben wants them to stay far from all such troubles but when the animals start acting weird, he wants to get Hen Wen, the pig,  in safe custody, so that the Horned King, who is after Hen Wen cannot get it. Once the Horned King lays his hands on Hen Wen, the evil wins. (Yes, they explain why later, and the reason, when you learn of it later,  is logical if a bit lame).

 

The Book of Three is a chronicle of secrets being updated by Dalben is protected by a spell from being opened, as Taran finds to his discomfort and burning fingers. The book hardly figures further in the story, despite the whole story being titled after it. Strange, is it not?

 

Hen Wen runs away and Taran runs into the forest chasing a pig and is almost killed by the Horned King, only to be saved by a scraggy man who turns out to be Lord Gwydion. The Lord  informs him that the pig, Hen Wen, is the most important thing to defeat the Horned King and his evil master Arawn. Gwydion is on the horse Melyngyar and they go in search of Hen Wen.

 

The creature Gurgi whom they meet in their search for Hen Wen reminds you initially of Dobby of the Potter series but turns out to be a very different kind of character as the story proceeds. (Incidentally, this book was written way back in 1964 so Dobby was NOT the inspiration for this character! )

 

The gwaythaints, the winged spies of the evil enemy, reminds you of the winged messengers in the first book of the Sword of Shannara.

 

Taran and Gwydion get captured by the minions of Arawn and taken to Achren the impossibly beautiful but evil lady. Taran is stopped from being fooled by her by Gwydion, and Taran is knocked unconscious by a whip handle and wakes up in a prison cell. Alone.

 

He is rescued by a chatty little girl Eilonwy, who knows all the underground tunnels. She tells him that Gwydion and the horse Melyngyar are also rescued but Taran falls into a collapsed hole in the tunnel. Incidentally Eilonwy is a very delightful character that you grow to like from the very beginning, though she seems to be wisecracking through serious troubles.

 

The two find another way out.  But on reaching the outside, Taran finds that instead of Gwydion, the girl has rescued a bard called (No, I am not kidding) Fflewddur Fflam. They discover that he was indeed a king but likes a bard’s wandering life more. Gurgi joins them and they set out for a quest after looking ineffectually for Gwydion in a castle that seems to have collapsed when they were out. There are some cute touches like the harp strings breaking every time Fflewddur tells a lie. (Rather like Pinocchio with his nose)

 

They go in search of Hen Wen, assuming this is what Gwydion would have wanted. They are chased by the Cauldron Born, the undead minions of the witch. They escape and get lost and finally meet the famous wizard Medwyn.

 

He heals the wounded Gurgi and when they resume their journey, Taran leads them to captivity again, almost immediately. they get sucked under a pond and reach the kingdom of dwarfs of King Eiddileg. He comes across as a grouch but is really a softie (Yes, another British staple for characters) and sends them on their way with food, horses, a guide called Doli, and Hen Wen, who Gurgi discovers is with King Eiddileg.

 

On the way they meet the Horned King himself and when all seems to be lost, are saved miraculously by Gwydion whom they thought was dead.

 

The story ends on a positive and romantic note. A pleasant read. But really a fairytale story, lightweight. So, I give it a 5/10

 

–  – Krishna

May 31, 2017

Book: She Is All That by Kirstin Billerbeck

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:33 am

imageWarning : Partisan rant follows. Please do not read if you are offended by anti “conservative” views

 

Disclaimer : Nothing against religion, in fact I think it is a force for good. But when you use religion like a fashion statement, it irritates. The same rant will follow in a later book review.

 

You wonder: Is this book for fourteen year old girls written by a fourteen year old girl? Immature to the core.

 

Lilly Jacobs, single girl, nearing thirty, is a designer and is awkward at dating, living in California. In the first part of the book, it feels like the above statement is going to be the entire story! Her friend is the daughter of a super rich diamond jewellery store owner Morgan Mallard. She is the one Lilly turns to when she gets the double whammy of losing a promotion to a friend in her fashion company and also finding out that her latest boyfriend is cheating on her. Boy, talk about world-shattering problems!

 

And get this, this girl is a Stanford MBA but does not want to do a lick of business and is instead in the “fashion” industry. OK, whatever. Her friend Pollard is a Stanford medical doctor and does not want to work as a doctor because “the medical profession is selfish and the pharmaceutical industry is the devil.” So why did she take up space (not to mention expenses) studying medicine? It would have helped someone else who would actually use the skills to cure people, right? And our own Lilly does not subscribe to modern notions of beauty where ‘girls have to be thin’. But conveniently, all these girls are thin, beautiful, and are into luxury products. It is a painful caricature to read. Pretending not to value the modern surface values while slavishly following it anyway.

 

She won’t get help from a friend because she does not want to “use” her. She knows Jesus loves her but her friends in college were like Jesus clones were living in the dorm with her. Give me a barf bucket! Fast!

 

And a conservative ‘Save me Jesus!’ chatter in between all that chatter about designer fashion. Not just our heroine but the entire crowd including organic loving doctor.

 

And the funniest (I mean unintended humour) part is that this brainy Stanford MBA graduate is flummoxed by the acronyms her brainiac friend who is in IT uses. Those words are – wait for it – MIS, IT and JPEG. These “tough” words give her a headache. I wonder what they teach MBA students in Sanford. Not anything hard, it looks like.

 

And she rants that financial work is “not creative” and she “does not want to do that”. It appears that jobs are just waiting for her in the highest paid financial sector and she is desperately trying to avoid it for the sake of “creative work”. Well, to a mind easily confused by JPEG and IT, perhaps it is reasonable that financial engineering is hard to do, let alone be interested in, but draping a body with a fabric cut a certain way has exciting appeal.

 

The barf bucket is slowly getting full.

 

She carries her bible to work because she needs “all the ammunition she can get”. (Huh? I do understand the power of prayer but…come on!)

 

Well, it gets worse. Lilly is offered the CFO job because “she has a sexy finance degree from Stanford” by the CEO. Never mind she is just out of college. She refuses even though she “can do design in her spare time”. What kind of a story is this?

 

They go to a spa. She loses her job and mopes some more, hoping God would show a way. Looks for a Christian husband who has a tendency to bald. Great.

 

Fascinated by commonplace TV and movie references like how handsome Orlando Bloom is and how great looking Paris Hilton is. In fact Morgan looks like Hilton so she is a great beauty. Rich too. Did I mention rich? Like a hundred times as Kristin never tires of insisting?

And Molly? Don’t get me started. She converted a hundred people to the way of Jesus due to her ‘flaming red hair’ and ‘piercing blue eyes that seem to shoot gamma rays right through you when she looks at you’. Not kidding: these are ctual quotes from the book. Also, when Lilly is attracted to Max (and Nate at the same time but that is a different topic), she wonders if he is a Christian becuase otherwise it is a deal breaker (‘Let him please be a Christian; any other answer would be shattering’) and is relieved to hear that he found Christianity already through Jews for Jesus.

 

And the stereotyping! She goes to a queue to get a business license and she finds “immigrants” everywhere. Immigrants and Americans are classified as different people, Immigrants, of course, cannot speak a word of English beyond “yes” but you have to know that this is the American way! And the person in the queue behind her is true to character and says “I open restaurant. Here coupon. You come.” Can you get tackier than this even if you tried?

 

And notwithstanding the frequent calls to Jesus, the major preoccupation seems to be fashion houses, TV, movies and how skinny everyone is or is not, and how frizzy Lilly’s hair gets. Well, would Jesus worry about these things?

 

She goes to the Church Singles Group to find love, much as the author herself did in her life. She does find love with a man with a dreamy eyes and hair and an English accent to boot, with the same belief sets as her, down to the power of alternate medicine  (even though he sells pharmaceuticals for a living).

 

When Nate kisses her, she likes it ‘even though he lacks the faith’. What a pity, right?

 

Also, Lilly Jacobs is extremely shallow. Very impressed by trappings of luxury like Jaguar car and disgusted by public transport, even her Jesus is a shallow prop, it appears. I don’t think many people could stand her, let alone be her friend, so I think she should thank her stars that she has some friends like Polly and Morgan.

 

She takes the thief Kim back. But insults Nate and chases after the English accented Stuart.

 

She has to leave the room when Morgan is in grief and running in the rain ‘to remind herself that God still provides the rainbow of promise somewhere in this storm’. Talk about firm faith!

 

Why is Morgan heading into an unsuitable marriage? Suddenly all is revealed.

 

When she hears that the birth mother who abandoned her has come back (a cliche if there ever was one, especially when it had nothing to do with the rest of the story), a lot of questions crowd in her mind, including ‘What kind of a car does she drive?’.  Really? That is what her priority is?

 

The story can be unintentionally funny. Lily wonders about all of the friends having bad luck and wonders if this is what Christians call bad karma! Of all the things to say, does the author not know where the word karma came from?

 

And like a dutiful Christian girl who believes in all the Creationism theory lock stock and barrel, she says somewhere ‘While I am not buying into Darwin’s theories, the survival of the fittest seems to fit here’. Really? The literal word of the Bible and all that?

 

Then there are the worst kind of statements like ‘I guess my finance degree comes in useful because now I can do precise measurements for a dress’. I won’t even dignify that statement with a rant.

 

Are there no good pieces in the story? Yes there are. The comeuppance of the haughty Sara Lang is nice. The chaos at the climax ending is sweet and is really well done. But the rest is too irritating for even these to compensate.

 

A bad plot, bad narration, trivial subject matter. Did not enjoy reading it.

 

1/ 10

 

  • – Krishna

April 30, 2017

Book: Master of the Game by Sydney Sheldon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:51 pm

imageEven on a re-read, even after all these years, the story simply sparkles!

 

We have reviewed Are You Afraid Of the Dark and The Sky Is Falling by the same author earlier.

 

Starts with Kate Blackwell’s ninetieth birthday. She remembers her long life, and the story is fully in her reminiscences.

 

Awesome storytelling. What else do you expect from the master of the storytelling game? Starts with Jamie McGregor trying to strike it rich and going from famine stalking England to South Africa to make his fortune, alone, a nineteen year old boy.

He happens to somehow go to South Africa and meets Solomon Van der Marwe, his big African slave Bantu and his daughter Margaret and manages to get himself equipped with spending almost all his money (he had told Solomon how much he had). He goes and almost dies but manages to find diamonds, comes back rich, only to find that he does not own a thing. Solomon had tricked him into signing a contract that gives him everything!

 

When he protests, he is beaten up and left in the desert for dead but Bantu rescues him and they make a plan to just take the diamonds in an extremely heavily guarded island.  They go in a raft against all odds but reach the island with the raft smashed up. They collect the islands and the way they exit with no raft or an apparent  way to exit is wonderful.

 

He comes back to destroy Solomon Van der Marwe but also destroys his daughter Margaret in the process. She wins his grudging admiration with the boy and he is forced to offer her marriage to keep his son with him. He never offers her love, sadly.

In a drunken stupor, he gives Maggie a girl, Kate, and when in a mine one of his supervisors kills a native, his son is killed in revenge and Banta saves Kate from a similar fate. Jamie gets a stroke in agony and dies. Maggie runs the empire and brings up Kate with David’s assistance and Kate is determined to marry him! She is a wilful but a genius child.

 

When David falls hard for Josephine O’Neill, daughter of Tom O’Neill who has invented a way to revolutionize food industry and agrees to move to San Francisco to marry her and take care of the new company, Kate is crushed. But his plans fall apart when a major food conglomerate buys off his idea and he stays back in Kruger Brent. Did Kate have somthing to do with that reversal?

 

The twists in the story are incredible. How the young lady twists and plots and outwits them all is great to read. (Even the third time)

 

David marries Kate and discovers that they disagree on how to run the company. For instance Kate forces the company to make and sell armaments to the First World War, which David is vehemently opposed to.

 

When Kate suddenly finds she is pregnant and gets a son named Anthony, she is ecstatic but David dies in an explosion in South Africa. Her son Anthony wants to be an artist and has no interest in running the business which is Kate’s life. She manipulates him by sending Dominique to be his girlfriend to keep an eye on him and gets a master critic criticize his work to get him to give up painting and get back into running the company and his heart is simply not in it.

 

He hates his mom and how she still maneuvers him into marrying exactly the girl she wants for him is brilliant. The book reads well even the second time but it is really all fluff. The story is told straightforward, like a children’s tale and there are no subtle layers there. It is all anchored on sudden twists and surprises and it definitely works at that level. But then this can be said of all of Sydney Sheldon’s works.

 

She finds out that Marianne, the wife of Tony may die in childbirth and decides to hide it from Tony as well. All of her schemes are exposed to Tony on the same day that he learns that Marianne dies after giving birth to twins, Eve and Alexandra. He shoots his mother and goes plumb crazy and has to be lobotomized to keep him calm.

 

Eve is the evil one and tries to kill Alexandra several times from the tender age of five, and every time Alexandra narrowly escapes. Several times over.

 

When Eve goes wild with men and seduces a long time friend of Kate, her gig is up and she is cut off with a tiny allowance. She plots revenge and meets a gorgeous hunk of a man called George Mellis with a vicious temper. Perfect. She plans to “give” Alexandra to that man.

 

The scheming evil of Eve comes out well even in this fluffy narration. The plan is set in motion and Alexandra is hooked hopelessly by George Mellis. Marries him too.

 

George and Eve plot to take all the money of Kate after killing Alexandra. When Kate hears that Eve was near death and “out of concern” for her grandmother, wanted to keep it secret, she has a change of heart and takes her back in life. George knows that he may be written out of everybody’s life and wants to go ahead and kill Alexandra anyway, and the plot turns are brilliant.

 

When George Mellis takes Alex out on the boat to execute his evil plan anyway, knowing that if he did not, he himself would be sidelined by Eve, he is outwitted and outplayed completely by Eve.

 

The ending is exhilerating too. How Alexandra finds happiness, how Eve ends up, how Kate keeps planning tirelessly for the best of the company – it is all written brilliantly.

 

Sure, this is fluff. But good, absorbing, fluff.  8/10

– – Krishna

February 26, 2017

Book: Desert God by Wilbur Smith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:27 pm

imageThis is the second installment in the successful Ancient Egyptian stories from Wilbur Smith featuring the ‘I-am-so-good-at-everything’ Taita. This follows the first book, River God.

Taita is playing a bao board game with a friend and fellow strategist Aton. We learn that the Hyskos, who were vanquished in the original River God by him and Queen Lostris are regrouping and gaining strength. Taita comes up with a clever plan to break up the alliance forming between Hyskos and King Mintos. He takes an army disguised as Hyskos and plunders another king, thereby forcing him to consider Hyskos as the common enemy and enter into an alliance instead with Egypt.

 

If you have forgotten that Taita can do it all (superhuman, super intelligent, super musical and so on) he reminds you of this a million times until it becomes mildly irritating. He however finds that there are galleys with silver bars – untold wealth, being transported into a heavily fortified fort, which looks impregnable. Taita has of course an ingenious plan. He breaks the only bridge from the castle by going in a boat.

He successfully plunders not only unimaginable amount of treasure but also arms, releases some Egyptians captured and turned into slaves, and returns via the Nile, ramming into the Minoan emperor’s boat on the way. He kills the emperor too.

 

He now hatches a plan to give both his beloved girls (sisters of the Pharoah) to the womanizing Supreme Minos as a gift to get an alliance with Crete.

 

I realized while reading this that Taita is to Wilbur Smith what Odd Thomas is to Dean Koontz. The same tone of self-congratulation, the same idea that the person, though defective in some way (autism like behaviour in Odd Thomas and castration in Taita) have superhuman skills in almost all walks of life. And the mildly boastful tone that permeates all their stories – which, to me, spoils the story a bit – that results takes away from total enjoyment of the story.

 

He finds that the elder princess may have been kidnapped by an unknown intruder where they stayed. He follows and conquers Al Hawawi the Bedouin pirate but not before Zaras is grievously wounded.

 

Taita is in his element. He invents surgery, “mentally” copulates with a goddess, discovers that he is a demi god and excels in everything including self praise, all the while saying that he is embarrassed to praise himself.

 

He discovers that the Hyksos are preventing his plan to unite the kings against them and are trying to ambush him but they are of course they are no match for him. He ambushes them and takes them as slave. When a pirate ship attacks them, he reforms the pirate captain and enlists him to get him more ships for the impending war with Hyksos.

 

When he reaches Crete, he finds the king weird and the people weirder. He is attached by an Auroch and is saved by his stable boy who gives his own life to save Taita. The princesses were whisked away to be consorts of the king.

 

He meets and kills an Auroch, having his servant killed in the process. When he learns of Hyksos amassing chariots and guarding with too few people, Taita goes to surprise them in an attack but is in turn ambushed. Nakati helps him and warns of treachery that caused this.

 

They win over the Hyksos after nearly being defeated.

 

In addition, Loxias meets Taita and says strange happenings in the Supreme Minos and his harem. Forty women were sent to the king on the day of the earthquake but never seen again. We the readers can put together what happened but the suspense is revealed only much later in the book.

 

They rush back to the aid of the princesses in the midst of a roaring volcano (the wrath of Cronas) that seems to have destroyed Minoa. They reach just as the princesses are about to be sacrificed to an auroch.

 

This piece has its action pieces but overall I think this Taita book leaves a lot to be desired. Not up to his earlier standards in the first book.

 

5/10

–  – Krishna

February 25, 2017

Book: The Lords Of The North by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:33 pm

imageThe Lords of the North is the third in the Anglo Saxon series and follows The Last Kingdom, and The Pale Horseman. This continues the story via Uhtred, the central but invented character.

 

Uhtred buries his treasure because he has to leave for Babbenburg, his childhood home.  He reaches the place and goes to see the king, pretending to be another man in Alfred’s army. He is however exposed by the priest and realizes that he is among his old enemies, unmasked.

 

Based on the propaganda by priests that Saint Cuthbert himself had come to the aid of Alfred, the king of Babbenberg has the Danes slaughtered when the Danish army was away and now, fearing a massacre at the hands of the returning Danish forces, Uhtred just wants to get out of that place. When he makes a deal with a merchant to escort him and his family, he falls into the hands of his ancient enemy Sven. He covers his face and pretends to be a leper. He humiliates Sven and escapes with the merchant. In the same event, he meets Guthred, also called the Slave King, who is another Dane.

 

Guthred is crowned King of Northumbria by the priests, after a brief moment of confusion where Uhtred is confused for the king. He is captured by the men of Kartjan the Cruel who pretend that they have come to join his army and he gets saved in the last minute. He takes revenge on all of them except Kjartan’s bastard son and takes him into his fold when the latter declares an oath of fealty to Uhtred.

 

They go to expand the empire and capture the next kingdom without any resistance. However, Kjartan refuses to surrender and Guthred’s sister Gisel, who hoped to marry Uhtred, is dismayed by what she saw in the runes.

 

He finds out what it is when Guthrum sells him into slavery as a part of the deal and he is branded and manacled and made to row the oar of Trader, a slave galley. He gets saved by Ragnar and Steapa and pledges a second oath to Alfred and goes back to Guthred with Steapa as an emissary from Alfred.

 

He finds Guthred trapped and rescues him and his beloved Gisela. Then with Ragnar, he attempts an attack on Kjartan’s fortress Dunholm. How they fare in their attempt to capture Dunholm is exhilerating, with stealth, cunning plan and fortunes swinging constantly one way and then the other with stunning twists when they think all is lost… This is perhaps the best sequence so far in the series.

 

I thought that after such a climactic scene it would be time to end the story but the story continues. And keeps its tension till the very end. Brilliantly told, especially how Ivarr, the Danish king opposed to both Ragnar and Alfred, meets his end.

 

Excellent read, and I repeat: the best in this series so far.

 

8/10

– – Krishna

January 22, 2017

Book: Revival by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:29 pm

imageStephen’s ability to surprise with a totally different storyline never stops to impress. This book is unlike many others I have read from him and has its unique moments.

 

Of course, I may be biased because I have liked many of his books and reviewed many here. For a sample, see the reviews on Duma Key and Lisey’s Story in earlier entries.

 

A family of five kids, dad Richard and “Mom”. Jimmy Morton, Con(“rad”), Terry, Andy and the only sister, Claire.  Jimmy enjoys the toy army his sister gave him. He meets Charles Jacob, whose visit changes everything. Charles is the new young pastor who comes to the town to take over the duties when the older one died.

 

He shows the model town he has built with a motorized light sensor that can turn on the town’s miniature lights on and off. His wife is a bombshell and most boys in town have a crush on her and most girls on Charles, who is also good looking! His interest in science – especially electricity – and his unorthodox ways of preaching annoy the older people but young kids flock to his sermons.

 

His brother gets his voice impacted by a skiing accident and this causes a huge row between their dad and mom. Charles puts him in a contraption that passes (mild) electricity around his throat. It seems to cure him and bring his voice back!

 

A horrific accident where he loses both his wife and his little boy – involving a tractor with a vicious agricultural attachment and a driver who suffered a stroke at just the wrong time – seems to turn things for Charles. His next sermon is almost blasphemous and is forever called the Terrible Sermon and he is dismissed from his post.

 

Jamie goes to the Church basement to find out what present Charles left him and finds the mechanical Jesus. His faith shattered by then, he throws it on the wall and walks out.

 

He subsequently becomes interested in music and is chosen for a boy band. Astrid becomes his girlfriend. He drifts away from both and goes rapidly downhill, becoming a junkie fully and then meets Jacobs, who calls himself Dan Jacobs now and is a carnival artist. He offers to cure Jamie of his drug habit. When he passes electricity through Jamie (a special type) Jamie gets cured but has strange episodes of uncontrollable acts and nightmares. One of the people who participated in the act robs a jewellery shop in plain view of everyone in a state of fugue as well. There is something (“Something is happening!”) wrong with the treatment. Jacobs says goodbye and goes away and Jamie grows older by staying straight and working in a recording studio. The work was provided by introduction from Charles to a guy called Hugh and then Jamie discovers that Hugh was also one of those helped by Charles through the miracle of electricity.

 

When Jamie learns that Hugh was also one of Charlie’s clients with a side effect, they decide to go see Charles, who is now a ‘preacher man’ a televangelist. Jamie’s research with Bree, the daughter of Georgia, a coworker of theirs, turns up very disturbing rssults of Charlie’s miracle healing. He realizes that Dan Jacobs is not in it for benevolence or money but is in it for its own sake, not caring about what he does to whom.

 

He decides to stop him and travels to his hometown, where he now lives in a fabulous mansion, having made his money as a famous healer.

 

The story is interesting, but not one of the best of Stephen King’s. You wait for something serious to happen and it sort of happens now and then but the story drags a bit at times.

 

He learns that he has retired but asks Jamie to be his assistant. He refuses, goes back for a nostalgic trip to Maine and returns to Colorado, only to be emotionally blackmailed by Charles Jacobs into helping him.

 

When he returns for one last time, he learns that Jenny, a friend and lover of his Astrid, has been also roped in to help. The end is exhileratingly told, as only Stephen King can. Nice read, good book. But….

 

Yes. there is a but. I cannot but be disappointed. Stephen builds up Danny Jacobs and his lifelong obsession about secret electricity so much that when you finally find out what he is so obsessed about, you go ‘Wait… what?’. Not that it is not logical but it almost seems to be a let down compared to the build up. I don’t want to tell more in order not to spoil the story, but you tell me, after you read it, whether you agree with it or not.

 

Then there is Mother, who is like many of the Stephen King stories, is an elusive but horror inducing presence (Remember the Big Boy of Lisey’s Story?)  He is usually very good at the hinting of the horror – things left untold are scarier than clear descriptions, but here even the Mother’s description is kind of not up to his usual standards – at least in my mind. Still good story and the long epilog of what happens to Jamie Morton and all the characters we know in the book is interesting, for sure.

 

Let us give this a 6/10

 

  • – Krishna

 

Movie : Ouija: The Origin of Evil (2016)

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:14 pm

imageThis is a prequel to the popular movie called Ouija which came out in 2014.  For those of you who have seen it, this movie explains how Paulina Zander (“Lina”) who is seen in the mental asylum ends up there. Not that it is the main theme of the movie but the links are established here.

 

This movie is about a family that scams people into believing that they are talking to their dead relatives and makes money. They have elaborate rigged equipment to create ‘supernatural’ effects. The family, in addition to Lina, consists of their widowed mother Alice, and Lina’s younger sister Doris. Lina suggests that they incorporate an Ouija board in their scam to provide some variety and Alice gets one. Things, as they are wont to in horror movies, go downhill from there.  Alice makes contact with a sprit called Marcus and it begins to possess Doris, the youngest kid.

Alice, meanwhile believes she is talking to her dead husband. Even though a sceptic, she is convinced when the “husband” leads her to a place where there was money hidden so that they can escape the foreclosure notice she just received.

Doris changes weirdly, writing fluent Polish essays (she does not know Polish). Father Tom hears about it and arranges for a séance to talk to his dead wife Gloria. After several of the questions were answered by the board, he reveals that there was no wife called Gloria and that the entity was reading his thoughts and gave him exactly the answers he expected. Interesting concept, that.

There are some very truly unique and frightening moments in the movie. The one where Doris calmly describes to Lina’s boyfriend that she will kill him by asphyxiation if he did not stay away from Lina and also explaining calmly what it would feel like; her killing him when he disobeys and visits the house again.

When they finally realize the danger and get rid of the board, you can almost predict what is going to happen because that part, at least, is a cliché and a staple of horror movies.

Even though most of the cast does a credible, if not exceptional job, Lulu Wilson, who plays Doris, does an exceptional job. She has commanded critical acclaim at a tender age of 11. After seeing her performance in this movie, I think she deserves the praise she is getting.

A ton of rapid action scenes follow with most people not making it to the end. You already know that Lina makes it to the asylum so that is not something of a spoiler if I give that away.

Not a bad movie. Let us say 6/10

– – Krishna

January 1, 2017

Book: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:38 pm

image.jpgInteresting book from Steinbeck. Not what I expected.

 

A memoir-like description of a quaint Californian town depending on fisheries and the canning industry (hence the title). The story is not about the fishing or the very difficult conditions of work but about what happens after the factory closes down and the town comes into its own.

 

Populated by interesting characters like Lee Chong, a grocery shop owner to whom half the town owes money but who has a golden heart, Mack and his group of homeless folks, Dora Flood who runs the local brothel, the story is an interesting slice of American small town life.

 

The story of William who was the watchman before Alfred became the watchman and how he killed himself is interesting too. The thing about this book is that there is nothing that is earth shattering or game changing for the city. Small vignettes that could happen in any small town are strung together, almost like short stories linked to each other.

 

There is the mysterious Chinaman who does not talk to anyone and has an unvarying routine. There is Western Biologique which sells rare sea creatures. It is owned by Doc, a “half Christ half Satyr” faced man.

 

Because Doc is so nice the thugs decide to do something nice and after borrowing a broken down van from Lee Chong (against his preferences) and stealing a battery from another car, they go and find that it breaks down. When one of them goes to get some gas, he ends up in jail and does not return. They want to give Doc frogs, collect their fees and use the fees to give him a surprise party.

 

They meet a man who treats them well in his house and also shows them where they can get the frogs. In the meantime, Doc is fighting a kind of a pandemic of fever. He is not a medical doctor for humans (he is a vet) but tends to patients anyway.

 

In the well intentioned plot to give Doc a surprise party, Mack and the gang end up thrashing the entire laboratory!

 

There is good hearted brothel owner Dora, there is the town’s bouncer with a good heart really and many strange characters that populate the story. Like Mary Talbot, who likes to give parties at other people’s expense and to cats when she is alone.

 

It feels like sitting by the side of an old man from a small town and hear him listen to how it was in his city. But the problem is that there is nothing major that happened. It is a word picture of the town’s less fortunate residents in a poor town. Period.  No story beyond incidents narrated.

Perhaps a  4/10.

 

–    – Krishna

 

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