bookspluslife

February 17, 2018

Book: A Lucky Child by Thomas Bluergenthal

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:09 pm

imageThis is a very different book.

 

It describes the experience of a small boy who survived a holocaust concentration camp. He was born in Czechoslovakia, in what is currently Slovakia.

 

He talks about his father’s birth in Poland and successive moves to Germany and then Czechoslovakia. It is well told, with his mother saving them from being collected in Czech territory when the father is away and they being shuttled between Czech and Poland borders many times. They manage to get into Poland but still are not out of danger.

 

They are heart-achingly close to escape with UK almost granting them a visa and they go to Poland, and then try Russia, give up, and try to cross Poland with no success. His childhood torments in the hands of other, orthodox jews and his belief in the supernatural elements of the religion come out well, providing a different strand from the grimness of the main tale. Initially.

 

It had a vague Anne Frank kind of vibe, not just because both are experiences of the Holocaust but also because there are the daily living trivia amidst menacing background and how a boy (as against a girl in the other one) copes with the odds and where they find the strength needed to move on and endure. But as you read on, you realize this is a very different narration. The author, since he reminisces many years as an adult, is aware of what is going on in grim detail while Anne Frank wrote her diary as an ordinary girl in hiding, without (apparently) a full realization of her precarious situation.

 

This one tells the story straight from memory and feels like the life of a real boy in a concentration camp. The details are fascinating. For instance, how he slipped away every time after the roll call and before the ‘selection’ of prisoners to the gas chamber, how he got separated from his mother immediately and his father after a few months, how his father protected him by getting him gainful employment from friends who were barrack bosses. Also how friends in his city turned squealers when he and his family tried to slip away one day to freedom. All amazingly and simply told. It has a feel of sitting in front of him and listening to him reminisce about the old days. Nice.

 

The brief glimpse of his mother and the forced march where if you could walk no more, you were shot, are all told simply but with devastating effect.

 

His memories at the orphanage and comparative “luxury” are well told, as are his minor mischieves in getting a discounted ticket and blowing the money given on candy etc.

 

He gets a note from his mother through the orphanage and is thrilled. After he is reunited with his mom, the story reads like an ordinary boy’s but there are flashes of his extraordinary life and how he became famous in Norway due to the write-up of Nansen, a Norwegian Red Cross person who had helped him in the camp and wrote about him when he returned to Norway.

 

The book could have ended earlier, when he was reunited with his mother after his travails but it would have been even shorter, so I guess the story needed to be elongated beyond the subject matter that is core subject matter intended. .This takes away from the book only because it tackled such a serious subject with verve only to meander a little bit at the end.

 

7/ 10

 

— Krishna

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Book: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:59 pm

imageStarted nicely, comparing Chris Columbus aims to find India by sea and what the modern equivalent of business travel to India is like.

 

The book is good in many respects but there are a ton of annoying parts, over generalizations and blithe preachy tone that puts off a reader. This is unfortunate because there is a lot in the book that is both good to know and is fascinating to read.

 

Then he goes into a eulogistic rhapsody about “these dynamic young Indians” and quoting Indian tech executives verbatim. When the plot meanders into mundane territory about how the call centre employees are unfailingly patient, and have the western names and accents to ‘give comfort to the clients’ it gets fairly boring. Especially now that the call centres are moving to Philippines from India with greater success. No, I am not knocking India, but only the eulogistic portrayal of what India has achieved, with what seems to be little balanced analysis.

 

There is a long list of how Indian young things handle calls and even more condescending blather about how the call centre jobs, which are the lowest paid in the West are sought after and fought after in India.

 

It gets even more annoying with generalizations. The city of Dajian has plans to outdo India as a software outsourcing centre. Even though the Chinese “are not as good in English as the Indians”, they plan to “select the best Chinese” to outcompete “because there are more Chinese than Indians by population”. Can you believe the string of generalizatons in this?

 

The story sometimes wanders into areas where you struggle to see how this is world going flat. They talk about a person conducting interviews with a MP3 player that doubles as a recorder and his phone camera and publishing it in a blog. Well, so what is the lesson there? The concept of freelancing is not new, despite the gadgets on display, is it?

 

Except for the annoying trivia, the message is interesting. The connection between the fall of the Berlin Wall (and the Iron Curtain) and the globalization of the world is very persuasively argued.

 

There is a whole lot of explanation about what is a web server, and how a browser works that are simply redundant for those techies (like me) who read the book. It may not even interest a lay reader.

 

He talks about colloboration through Wikis, the Open Source movement, and, though it is old hat for people in IT who watched it all happen, maybe new for lay persons interested, but at times he seems to get a bit more technical than what they can take. But apart from a few slips, this is an admirable attempt to de-jargonize the concepts for everyone.

 

A mixture of trivia and complicated descriptions is the one fault I can find. But generally the narration is just right and everyone, whether versed in technology or not,  gets the sense of the major upheavals that produced a ‘flat world’ as the author calls it.

 

He talks of the rise of India and the fortuitous coincidences that helped it along the way.

Some of it is a stretch like “in-forming” etc, but in general, he makes good points. The piece about how UPS manages even their customer’s businesses for them is interesting (repairing laptops for HP and managing logistics for Ford etc.)

 

But there are lots of repetitions and the same idea is presented multiple ways and sometimes the same idea the same way. It is as if you skipped back and reading an earlier chapter again, which was very frustrating. The argument about cheap and profitable aka WalMart but expensive (and more humane) and less profitable like Costco is repeated at least in the same detail in two different places that you feel like saying to the author ‘Oh, so sad. Do you have a short term memory loss? You just told me this a few pages ago!’.

 

The argument he makes for why free trade and globalization are good forces for all countries, even the ones who are outsourcing, is an old one, but he makes it with compelling arguments. (And to be fair, the book is old too. It talks of Palm Pilots and smartphones in the same breath).

 

That the argument is old and familiar does not take away the interest in reading it, because it is a very persuasive argument about the globalization and how US is not living up to it. I do not agree that progress in India and China counts as innovation yet, and his lament that these emerging nations are stealing tomorrow’s leadership from US In innovation, but his argument about how US is not focusing on the right things to protect its leadership and prosperity seems spot on.

 

The slight snobbery bothers me as a reader. He talks of US having to go to “broken down piece of the Soviet Union, Russia, where the only thing that works is science and engineering education” – wait for this – “though we won the Cold War”.  Wait, what did he just say?

 

Many of the arguments are valid and well made but it is interesting that a liberal leaning, conservative-ideology-hating author comes out with solutions for the current flat world (aka globalized world where the competition is across national boundaries) and comes out with prescriptions that are sure to infuriate the unions – portable skills, easy layoff and hiring etc.

 

And sweeping generalization is another problem. Leave aside blanket statements like “North Korea is 200 km away” (yeah? the entire country?)  he also says blithe things like “A handful of leaders in countries like China, Russia, Mexico, Brazil and India…. relied on the leverage of authoritarian political systems to push through reforms”. Really? India? Authoritarian?  A high school geography text book could have told him otherwise. A pity, since the fundamental points he makes are sound, even if already well known.

 

Don’t get me wrong, not everything he says, even about India is wrong. He is on the dot about the awful infrastructure and abominable power situation that is holding the country back.

 

Again, coming to India, he lauds Indian Congress party for choosing Manmohan Singh, the reformer, as Prime Minister “because they realized that Indians were craving the benefits of prosperity to be distributed evenly to rural areas as well”. This is as widely off the mark as can be. The internal politics of how Sonia Gandhi could not herself become Prime Minister due to her origin of birth (and crazy objections from others resulting from that very fact) and his subsequent powerlessness to impose any reform and his ignominious exit due to scandals that he could not control and even came close to tainting him are all events that follow the publication of this book but nevertheless prove how wrong this argument is.

 

And I for one do not fully buy the argument that rural, illiterate Indians voted out the ruling party in 2004 despite its liberalization success “because they wanted to be involved in the prosperity engendered by globalization”. Yes, there was some of that. But the argument ignores the entire complex machinations by people misled by politicians and also voting on the basis of anger against fat cat capitalists, and all pervasive corruption or voting on narrow caste interests.

 

What is also hard to accept is his argument that the Arabs are resorting to suicide bombing violence primarily due to frustrations against their authoritarian governments.

 

But his arguments on the anti globalization movement, its motivation and origins and its effect of undermining the prosperity of the very poor that they seem to champion are all exactly right and also narrated brilliantly.

 

The book ends thought provokingly and in my view the last few chapters are the most interesting.

 

5/10

— Krishna

February 10, 2018

Book: The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:35 pm

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

Bernard Cornwell stories are short, packed with twists and intrigue, and enjoyable to read – he has found the sweet spot in historical fiction – how to entertain on the basis of real history without being boring, and how to keep it short so that you do not lose those readers who will not read a book that is more than 300 pages long. Nice!

This book continues the story of Uhthred, but really, the story of King Alfred and successors.

Alfred is now old and besieged on two fronts and Uhthred, much to his dismay, has not been called to defend the west. He has been sent to bribe a Dane, Haestan,  to go away and takes two hostages, who both, Uhthred suspects, are fake.

 

Alfred finally calls him for help and Uhtred is thrilled. He captures Skade, his enemy’s girl and takes her to Alfred. He gives Alfred advice on how to defeat the Danish depredator Harold.

 

Alfred asks Uhtred to give his loyalty to his son Edward, as he knows he is very ill and may not live long.

 

Though much, including the central character Uhtred is fiction, you learn a lot of history through this series. For instance, Alfred was indeed sickly and pious throughout his life.

 

Harold recovers his girl Skade by threatening to kill a string of twenty eight Saxons in front of Uhtred if she is not released.  Uhtred lures him into a trap and wounds him, perhaps fatally.

 

The priests conspire to enrage Uhtred and he kills a blind priest and his punishment is to lose all his wealth, (his wife is dead in childbirth) and have his children as hostage to Alfred and declare his fealty to Edward, Alfred’s son. He runs away to be a free viking. Back to the pillaging days? He goes to see Ragnar in the North and plans to attack and take back Northumbria, his old citadel usurped by his uncle.

 

He needs gold and he plans to get it from attacking Skade’s ex husband. He lures the Viking and kills him but Skade turns vicious and hates Uhtred. Alfred is sick and the Danes including Ragnar plan to invade Wessex.

 

Pyrlig comes and lures Uhtred away from Ragnar back to Mercia as Uhtred had given his oath to Ethelflaed, Alfred’s daughter, who was in trouble with her husband who was trying to murder her and had taken refuge in a monastery. Skade goes with Haesten but hates Uhtred and so she comes and burns the monastery when Uhtred with Ethelflaed, his entourage and with his children had left the place.

 

He goes back to Ethelred, and plans how to repel Haesten and his tribes. When he invades the fortress of Haesten, there is this fantastic scene where he attacks the Danes recklessly and is saved by Steapa’s forces arriving at the last moment to save him. He also learns that Skade is the one who is controlling the fortress and Haesten is away, plundering. He wins the fortress due more to luck than strategy but for the bigger, well defended fortress, he plans brilliantly using sails and beehives in an unconventional manner. He is the classic rebel, fighting Christianity, Alfred and his son Edward and the bevy of priests while he serves them all. Nicely done,

 

Skade’s end is poetic and is very interesting. A nice book to read.

 

8/10

– – Krishna

 

Book: This Will Make You Smarter by John Brockman

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:17 pm

imageThis is one of the books that are off the beaten track and make you both think and (due to parts of it) be bored.

 

This is a collection of thought provoking articles culled from the Edge  which is a British magazine that seems like the printed version of scientific op-ed pieces.

 

It is also a Creationist’s or even a deeply religious person’s nightmare.  The first essay is about time that still remains in the universe as opposed to the limited time (“limited” is relative, as in 13.6 billion years) the universe has been in place.These are very short essays, and some are thought provoking as in “Everything you hold dear is a cosmic accident. There is no specific purpose in your existence; earth is not the centre of the Universe; the sun is a smallish, insignificant star in the scheme of things” etc. Well, most of it you knew already before picking up this book, but this gives another perspective to look at these.

 

Another article is about the microbes ruling the world. Makes you think. There are articles about instilling scientific thinking as a general principle of the public awareness and how it would change the world for the better. For instance, there is a piece about controlled experimentation in everyday life, not just in scientific labs.

 

The article about innate bias in everything including the supposedly neutral agencies like the media (really? The author thought they are supposed to be neutral?) is very interesting.

 

An article talks of why the term “scientifically proven” is an oxymoron. Fascinating to read why and then you finally tend to agree with the argument! A similar argument about how uncertainty is the real fact of life is interesting.

 

Again, you are struck by the rationalist tone. If there was a group against a decisive and omnipotent God and not just Creationism, this is it.

 

The piece about how people underestimate risk and overestimate their ability is nice.

 

It is not possible to review the pieces individually but most are thought provoking and almost all of them make you think – justifying the title. If you are of the anti Darwin persuasion, these will probably also uniformly make you seethe with anger.

 

There are interesting essays about the powers of ten, and others, such as the one about memes or about cumulative error, are boring.

 

Some are plain silly, a couple are difficult to understand, but they all make you pause and think ‘Hm, I never thought of it in this way’ most of the time.

 

There is one in particular about SHA (Short hand Abstraction) that borders on the bizarre.

 

A mixed bag, worth, on an average, 4/10

– – Krishna

January 26, 2018

Book: The Sky Is Falling by Sydney Sheldon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:51 pm

imageYou can get lost in Sydney Sheldon’s books. I admit that he is an old author and is not as sophisticated in his storytelling as, say, Dan Brown (Whose Angels and Demons, just to cite one example outshines most of Sydney Sheldon’s book) but there is a raw power in Sydney’s storytelling and if you pick up The Master of the Game, for example, or The Rage of the Angels, it is really hard to put down as he takes you on an emotional roller coaster that seems to whisk you away at top speed until the book end. Unfortunately, this book is not one such. Mind you, this is also interesting and racy but does not reach to the heights of the two books named above, for example. What is the story?

 

Dana Evans is a .TV reporter who covered Sarajevo war and was traumatized by it too. She is in love with Jeff Connors, an ex-sports star who works for the same company as Dana. Matt Baker ran the department but Elliot Cromwell owns the whole organization, having bought it recently from the previous owner. Jeff’s ex-girlfriend is a gorgeous, intelligent and brilliant conversationalist, Rachel Stevens. Gary Winthrop, a billionaire who donates a magnificent amount to a university is brutally murdered and we learn that his entire family a political First Family, was wiped out in different incidents.

 

Her adopted and disabled son Kemal, lives in perennial doubt that he will be sent back and is taunted by classmates and therefore rebellious.

 

When she tries to probe the killing, she is firmly told to desist. She finds one chink in the impenetrable armour and talks to an ex-employee who had filed a suit against the father. She is stunned to see that this secretary lives in a palatial mansion like a millionaire, but refuses to talk about the lawsuit at all, looking very frightened when Dana mentions the subject suddenly in a meeting.

 

After a couple of days, in an apparent attack of conscience, Joan Sinisi, the employee calls her from a public phone in an apparent attack of conscience, and never turns up for the rendezvous. Dana is stunned to learn that she ‘accidentally’ fell from her own balcony to her death. Marcus Abrams is the detective in charge of that investigation.

 

She is tracked at every step by persons unknown. We realize that her house is bugged and her rental car is too. When she realizes that the ski accident of Julia Winthrop and the car accident of another son is also suspicious, she realizes she is in dangerous territory.

 

Meanwhile, Kemal’s new housekeeper seems to be a dream come true.

 

Overall, this is strangely tedious for a Sydney Sheldon story. Yes, the narrative style is there; the superficial descriptions of everything and the suspense building is done. But unlike his other – and better – books, this is all about a reporter following a story and someone desperately trying to thwart her efforts. Where are the stunning twists we saw in The Master of The Game or The Rage of the Angels, just to name two?

 

Well, she finds three people who describe Winthrop as a monster and have motive enough to seek revenge on the whole family. She hears of a Russian situation and heads to Moscow. Finds (purely by accident) and destroys the tracking device embedded in her pen in Moscow airport.

 

After being stonewalled in Moscow by commissar Sasha Shdanoff despite his brother Boris trying to drop hints, she is about to give up when an envelope arrives with a promise to reveal all, and asking her to come back to Moscow with little trace of this to anyone. She goes. Meets the surprising person. And has an enormous plot revealed by that person for a promise of help in smuggling the person out of Russia before that person is killed.

 

She is too late to save him  (OK it is a man) and is now openly the target of assassins.  The twist of who the evil kingpin is as well told as in other books by Sheldon.

 

The last few pages are vintage Sheldon, with everyone trying their best to kill Dana and she successively outwitting them each time.

 

But the entire action is placed in just the last few pages and a hurried ending needs to be arrived at, so this whole thing is not as exciting as his other books are.

 

5/10

 

–  – Krishna

Book: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:39 pm

imageThis is the fifth book in the Dark Tower Series, after the abominable first one,  The Gunslinger, and the much better The Drawing of the Three, The Wastelands and Wizard And Glass. And it seems to get better and better as the story goes. This one is an exception in that the story is really nice but a couple of weird things mar the otherwise excellent story. More of it later. First, let us see the story.

Tian Jefford is trying to plough his fallow and hard land called Son of a Bitch. His sister Tia is mentally deficient and Andy is a robot messenger who brings news that the Wolves will come in a month – on horseback. They typically carry off the twins of which Tian has two sets; his “singleton” son is safe. He decides to call a town meeting to explorer resistance to save the babies in town. There is a tense hold-off in the town meeting with two opposing factions until the Old Man steps in and tells them about the gunslingers coming into town who can help the villagers against the Wolves. The Wolves are “more than men” under the command of an even more evil and strong masters.

 

Then there is a tangent where the group, after eating mushroom balls, they go into a dream where Eddie, Jack and Oy go to the past New York and watch old Jack enter the bookstore on his way to the black rose. And Balazzar of Eddie’s life turns up at the bookstore. I know that this is meant to create a web of interconnectedness with the Roland’s group (ka-tet as he calls it) but seems a bit excessive, combined with the fact that the same person was trying to kill both Susanne and Jake.

 

Then there is an ever weirder dream where Mia or Detta Walker or any of the other dozen souls inside Susanna eat an invisible buffet with Roland watching her. It is explained in the book. However, going back and forth in time recalls Book Two of the series The Drawing of the Three.

 

The Old Man finally comes for a talk with the ka-tet quartet. When they meet the rest of the people, he senses that Overholsler, a rich farmer, is against the idea of going against the Wolves. There is a long series of nineteens that crop up until Eddie learns about the Directive Nineteen. Andy seems to have been shut up about the Wolves and asks for a password.

 

That night they all see the rose again in a fugue state and also see vagabond spirits or “vags”.

 

They then are received by the townspeople. Meanwhile, we learn that what grows in Susannah’s body is not Eddie’s child but probably some demon seed.

 

The priest Callahan (“the Old Man”) turns out to have a tie in with the earlier book of King, Salem’s Lot. He is a drunk, reforms, kills vampires and takes to drink again. The Low Men (Men in Yellow Jackets with the pet posters and all) figure in this story as well. So a neat tie to not only Salem’s Lot but also to Hearts in Atlantis too! (Though, to be fair, the latter story deliberately borrows from the Tower series material and thus is a kind of a branch story)

 

Roland gets a quick glimpse of the evil black ball.He rallies the town and gets to see the Titanium plate that can be thrown as a weapon. Eisenhower, a sceptic on the wisdom of resisting the Wolves has a wife Margaret who was the thrower and came from the enemy Manni tribe, forsaking everyone for her love of her husband.

Old Pere (Tian’s grandpa?) remembers how a throwing plate killed a Wolf a long time ago.

 

Eddie goes back in time to save Tower from getting a savage beating. When he is back, Jake decides to uncover the treachery of Slightman the Elder, despite his close friendship with the latter’s son. Andy the robot is the Trojan Horse.

 

Jake follows them and exposes their treachery to Roland. Then Roland learns the truth about who the wolves really are and what their vulnerability is. There is an exhilerating sequence where Andy is neutralized, Ben Slightman is exposed privately and warned, and then the entire village’s fight with the wolves with Roland first deceiving them about the location of the kids and then getting rid of them with the help of the ka tet quartet as well as several villages. Two of the townsfolks die in the battle. Beautiful.

 

The story has a second climax when Susannah’s alter ego takes her todash and the rest of the ka tet tries to follow her to save her from herself, which is really the start of the next one, as this one ends abruptly there

 

A pity that Stephen King, rather like Wilbur Smith in the Seventh Scroll, could not resist putting himself (and a book of his) inside the story. Though this is mercifully brief, it is still annoying.

 

7/10

 

–  – Krishna

 

January 6, 2018

Book: Right From the Start by Dan Ciampa & Michael Watkins

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:33 pm

Note: This book is reviewed from the point of usefulness of the subject matter. It is a non fictional managerial aid book, and is reviewed as such.

Taking over as second in command under a departing CEO

image

 from an external company is hard. You battle with three issues : promises you made to the board to get the job, unfamiliarity of the new turf and antagonism from senior executives who hope you fail so they in turn can become CEO

The case studies to illustrate the points are excellent. For instance, Andy, who is brought in as Number Two to uplift a floundering company, goes gung ho and rough shod over everyone and gets fired for his pains on what looks like the third week. Others describe being hijacked by vested interests and people who try to push their own, sometimes tired, agenda onto the new boss.

They outline multiple principles – the need to focus on specific goals, show early wins and build momentum while not losing focus on where we go, the need to learn and adjust the plan based on the company’s capabilities and unique circumstances, to effect change at the top to build a team both by inspiring and replacing executives. None of these is surprising but it is well told.

Example of Matt who did not keep his subordinates behind him while he curried favours with the superiors, example of how people successfully listened and modified their initial vision to account for the company’s limitations are all very useful and nicely narrated.

The examples in all the steps (Personal Vision, Early successes, and how to influence the department, how to build a support network) are very useful and give this book a less pedantic and more practical feel.

The principles to follow – making change only to the extent that the organization can take, listening in, making people changes positively but quickly, being accessible but not too accessible – are interesting to read.

The authors talk about creating a personal vision, and how to formulate the vision – all to the point and very interesting. The formation of the vision, whether to share it widely and whether to share it with the CEO (whose work you are essentially dismantling in a way) are well told. Again, examples bring home the point more forcefully than a dozen pages of dry discourse and also keeps this interesting to read.

There are chapters devoted to self management, and an especially interesting one about seeking counsel. They talk about the various types of counsels you need and how to get them. They also talk about how someone else’s ideal counsellors will not be the right one for you.

Nice book and gives you insight about an unusual subject well. Not gripping, not told in a racy style (which it is possible to do even in this topic) but good arguments made in a serious tone. If you are not interested in this topic, though, you may find the material boring and may want to skip it.

7/ 10

– – Krishna

December 28, 2017

Book: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:18 pm

imageThis is the second book in the series King Killer Chronicles, the exhilarating first book, The Name of the Wind, was reviewed earlier here. I don’t want to repeat myself but I am frustrated by the reluctance of authors like Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin to finish what they have so gloriously started but I realize I am not alone in this one!

 

This story takes off where the old one ends. The setting is the same. Kvothe tells his own story to the Chronicler, so all of this is really a reminiscence of the past by Kvothe. But apart from the breaks where we come back to the ‘present’ the story flows coherently and effortlessly from Patrick’s skilled narration. Here is the gist of the story.

 

Kote appears very tired and Bast is worried sick. When the Chronicler returns from his long sleep, Bast privately pleads with him to make Kote remember who he really is.

 

The story continues exactly from where it left off in the first book. Kvothe (the ‘real’ Kote)  now is desperate to collect enough talents to continue his studies in the university. He is unable to find a patron and plays a musical joke on the audience in his performance at the Inn.

 

Elodin takes him up as a student and also has his access to the Archives reinstated. Kvothe also discovers that the mad Master Elodin knows Auri.

 

He meets Denna again and realizes that Ambrose took a ring of sentimental value and never gave it  back. so he goes to steal it for her. Ends in a miserable failure and also realizes that he is the target of wizardry and protects himself by initially having someone watch him when he sleeps and keeping his Alar (defence) up when he is awake. He burns bridges with Devi when he suspects her of having provided his blood to someone at Ambrose’s request.

 

Finally realizes that Ambrose is to blame and tries to lure him with the stunningly beautiful Fela whom Simmon, his friend, is beginning to fall in love with.

 

He also thinks his lute is stolen until he realizes that it is returned to him with a great case as a gift by Deanna.

 

He takes revenge on Ambrose by starting a fire in his apartment and destroying the wax / clay puppet used to target himself by Ambrose.

 

Kvothe loses Denna for a while. (What is she? The book implies that she does favours to her patrons, but does not explain what those favours might be). He also demonstrates a device that will stop arrows shot at any particular target.

 

He is arrested for “sorcery” – the earlier incident of Calling the Wind – and that scene is fabulous  to read. Then he is released but it has deep ramifications on his future.

 

He is forced to take a term off from University and then goes to serve a very rich man in Vinitas, the Maer. He foils a plot to poison him by his own medic Claudicon who is also an arcanist. He then successfully helps his benefactor woo the woman the Maer wants. He goes to catch bandits. All beautifully told and really more interesting than the dry narration above. Read the book for the full effect.

 

He then  meets Denna and has a flaming row with her. Then the Maer sends him hunting for highway robbers who are threatening the tax collectors and hence his income. Kvothe learns tracking skills with Marten, one of the team mates. Tempi, the funny Adem warrior, slowly becomes a friend. All this until Kvothe realizes that the Maer has sent him deliberately to what he hoped would be his, Kvothe’s,  death.

 

When they find the bandit camp, in spite of Dedan getting almost captured, Kvothe saves the day in an unbelievable set of amazing feats which are fantastic to read. The leader of the camp seems to have escaped, indeed vanished into thin air so to speak, but before that Kvothe glimpses something familiar about him but could not put his finger on it. A wicked tree later tells him that it was the chief of Chandrian in disguise.

 

Then he meets, on his way back, Felurian, a faerie that lures men like a siren into her clutches and never lets them go. He manages to escape unhurt using all his wiles. Brilliant narration again. He gets a cloak of Shadow from her and returns. He also meets the tree that can tell the future.

 

Tempi, glad to have him back,  teaches him Adem language and also the way of the Lathani, he goes with Tempi to Adem to defend the latter. A lovely description of Adem culture, the significance of hand gestures (which Kvothe always thought of as fidgeting initially) are all very well told.

 

How he gets admitted to the Hammer, his serial humiliations and his triumph in the Test with the spinning leafs tree are all wonderfully told. Patrick seems to be able to create an entirely new culture and city and seamlessly take you through its intricacies, which is fun to read. (And increases your frustration that the third installment is nowhere to be seen, with not even a publishing date announced!)

 

Some parts are contrived, where Adem think that sex has nothing to do with babies. Kvothe’s  final farewell and leaving Ademre is interesting. He then joins an Edema group and finds out that they are not Edema Ruh at all and also rescues two girls and takes them back to their town.

 

He is back with Maer now. There is a thrilling interlude where, to your horror, the invincible Kvothe is beaten up badly by just two ordinary thugs in front of the Chronicler. You don’t realize how much you identify with Kvothe and his powers until you realize that you are in shock!

 

How he decides to leave the Maer is also very interesting. Maer’s  wife’s visceral hatred of the Edema Ruh plays a part.

 

Back at the University, he finds Simmons and Fela are together now and he catches up with Deanna again. His arrangements with the bursar makes him rich for the first time ever.

 

Exhilarating narration. At least as good as the first one . Can’t wait for the next (and the last, as this is supposed to be a trilogy) installment.

 

8/10

–  – Krishna

December 21, 2017

Book: World Without End by Ken Follet

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:15 pm

imageThis story happens many years after the events in the Pillars of the Earth, in the same Kinghtbridge area. You will see quite a bit of parallels – interest in architecture by some, the church hierarchy in the story etc but this is still quite a different tale in the same style and atmosphere.  What follows are the details of the story, as this preamble gives fully my impressions on the book.

Eight year old Gwenda in Knightbridge Priory with Ma and Pa and an elder brother Philemon and a baby.

Gwenda is forced to steal the coins from a merchant, who happens to be the father of Merthin. Also there is Tom Builder’s son, who is now a fairly rich merchant, and we hear about Prior Anthony who is his brother. The daughter of the merchant meets a knight who is waylaid by by queen’s men but manages to kill them and gets Merthin’s help to bury them. Gwenda’s dad steals from the dead men and gets into trouble with the guards when he tries to sell the stolen stuff. They let Gwenda and her dad  go alive after recovering the bodies.

 

Merthin and Claris are in love but Merthin, in a moment of weakness makes love to Griselda.

He is also interested in building, like Tom Builder’s son in the first novel, Pillars of The Earth

Godwyn is an ambitious monk who catches Richard, a monk, fornicating with a girl and uses it to his advantage. He also plots against Prior Anthony, who in his weakness and old age has gone soft, and allows the sexes to mingle in the church instead of banning females from entering the church.

Merthin, in the meanwhile, finds that his labour of love, the door, is destroyed by a vengeful Elfric, Griselda’s father, and learns that Griselda is pregnant.

He tells Claris, his real love, of his infidelity but at that moment, the bridge on the town breaks with tons of people, horses, carts etc on it, falling into the river.

Godwyn continues to plot, and places Thomas in place of privilege. He destabilizes Carlus the blind priest, who will not be controlled by him and makes him fall while carrying a sacred relic. In the meanwhile, Gwenda cannot attract Wulfric away from  Annette even when she tries all her wiles and uses love potion.

In the meanwhile Godwyn plots to humiliate Carlus and exclude him from the election to the prior and he wants pliable Thomas in his place. He then  brilliantly engineers his own election to the Prior.

In the meanwhile Caris and Merthin have sex and then Merthin’s design for the new bridge is pitted against Elfric’s in a town council meeting. He wins but is stopped by his own brother Roland who instigates the Earl to levy tax on the quarry and in the resulting quarrel also kills one of Merthin’s men. A judge in England rules in favour of Merthin. But when the work on the bridge starts, Caris realizes that her dad Edmund is becoming a pauper.

They patch up and Ralph becomes a lord. In order to ensure that Wulfric gets his inheritance, Gwenda agrees to have sex with Ralph but he betrays his promise nevertheless and Wulfric and Gwenda live together when Annette spurns him and goes on to marry another man.

Calris lies with Merthin, becomes pregnant but decided to abort and not marry Merthin. He is devastated but when he turns his attention to Liz, his assistant, Caris is torn.

Gwenda also becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy. When there is a recession, Caris learns that her father Edmund may become a pauper and devises a way to increase revenue by using dyes and weaving.

Meanwhile, Caris takes the battle with Godwyn. Having won the battle with Earl, he gets cocky and asks everyone to pay toll for grinding the grain and Caris loses the battle when the wily Godwyn ensures that the King’s court does not hear the case as the townspeople are in effect serfs.

Ralph rapes Annette and Wulfric is furious, only stopped from killing Ralph by Gwenda. The case goes to trial and Merthin realizes Ralph could lose his life over this. He persuades Wulfric to tamper evidence to release Ralph for a lot fo money.  He refuses and Ralph runs away when he realizes that he will surely be hanged, becoming an outlaw and a fugitive from justice.

He is captured, and pardoned by king if he joins the army. In the meanwhile, with Edmund falling ill, Caris and Elfric stand for alderman election and Godwyn plots to get Caris killed as a witch to eliminate the competition. As Caris is about to lose, she gets the help of the senior nun and escapes death by promising to join the convent and become a nun. Godwyn is furious but helpless. Merthin is crushed because now he cannot have Caris, ever.

He leaves for Florence and eight years pass.

Caris uncovers theft by prior Godwyn and his sidekick Philomen and has to go find the Bishop who has left for France.

The French are numerically superior, but to Ralph’s surprise (he is in the English army, with the king now) they fight stupidly and keep losing. Ralph, saving the crown prince’s life, finally earns his knighthood and becomes a Lord.

Merthin nearly dies in a plague but loses his wife and comes back to Knightbridge a very wealthy man, and meets Caris. He pleads with her to marry him and ‘look after his daughter’. She seems to tell him that she wants to continue in the monastery, much to his consternation!

He tries to get Wulfric pardoned but Ralph will not listen.

The plague reaches Knightsbridge and people are popping off. Godwyn will not let Merthin build a new cathedral. When the head sister dies, Caris and Elizabeth contest in the election but Godwyn plots the downfall of Caris. When she has about given up the plague strikes the sisters who refused to wear the mask calling it witchcraft and a heathen practice.

When Petronella herself succumbs to the plague, Godwyn panics and gets all monks to run away with him in the middle of the night and with bishop coming in, Caris gets anointed as prioress and also acting prior, much to Elfric’s rage. When an outlaw reveals where Godwyn is, Caris and Merthin go together to confront him, only to find all monks dead except Thomas and retrieve the hidden church treasure stolen by Godwyn. Elfric dies and Merthin is elected alderman in his place. All because of the plague, which tapers and stops finally. Merthin and Caris rekindle their passion and resume carnal relationship in secret.

The town is afraid that it has come back when Lord Edward succumbs to it and Petranella fears losing her children to it too. Ralph decided to kill Tilly so that he could marry Petranella and become the Earl in place of Edward.

Ralph executes a daring raid on the abbey, kills a nun, gets to know the treasury and steals all scrolls. He is in a mask, and also takes coins and jewellery to make it look like a robbery. In addition, he manages to kill Tilly and drop her into a burning room but Merthin recovers the body and they realize she was killed by a sword wound.

Ralph promised Gregory Longfellow, the unscrupulous royal representative, the scrolls. When he delivers them to Gregory, his step to Earldom seems almost done, provided he can convince Philippa whom he adored anyway from a young age, despite her being older than he.

Merthin and Caris guess it was Ralph who was behind the “robbery” and why but are powerless to prove any of it.

Philippa is forced to give Odilla, her daughter, in marriage to Ralph by the king’s orders “conveyed by Gregory, his lawyer” upon pain of being accused of treason if she refused to comply.  She accepts her fate and marries Ralph, thereby finally making him an earl. He is now bored with her and agrees to get Odilla, the daughter married to another earl David, in return for Philippa to go into a monastery. When she reaches there and Caris again walks away from Merthin, choosing religion over him, he walks out on her and Philippa and he fall in love.

When Philippa gets pregnant, she seduces Ralph so that he will believe the child is his and has to move back to him. Caris finally decides to renounce being a nun and takes over a second hospital being built by Merthin. She is now married to Merthin at last but Philomen wants to become the archbishop next!

Gwenda’s son Sam runs away to the next village to work illegally and when Gwenda goes to see him, she is followed and they try to catch Sam. He kills Ralph’s man and flees but is captured (due to his limited intelligence).

When Ralph realizes that Sam is his son from a talk with Gwenda, he pardons him but insists that he join Ralph as a squire. In addition, his other son is thwarted both in his attempt to plant the dye making plant mandrag and his request that he marry Annette’s daughter. Gwenda is fully crushed.

Merthin’s daughter Lolla falls into bad company and keeps running away from home. Meanwhile Caris and Merthin try to thwart Philomen’s new ambition to become Bishop and enlist Henri’s help.

When the plague comes back, the monks run away again. Gwenda is repeatedly made to submit to Ralph who seems to have a thing for her.

The end of Ralph and the final solution for Philomen are loose ends that are tied up to everyone’s satisfaction at the conclusion of the book.

Great story, absorbing reading. 8/10

    – – Krishna

November 25, 2017

Book: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:53 am

imageAfter reading the author’s Poisonwood Bible earlier, which I still consider one of the best books I have read, I could not wait to read this. As far as the story content goes, this could not be more different from that. This story happens in the wilderness of US not a tiny city in Congo. The protagonist is an independent lady Deanna, not the fanatical priest and a family under his thumb. But this book shines too. I still think that the other book is in some way crafted better but this does satisfy you when you have completed this.

 

The story starts with a girl in the woods, Deanna, living alone for years, working for the government and keeping an eye on the animals and the forest in general. She meets Eddie Bondo, a younger man, and seems to feel an instant attraction. We quickly learn that she is the ranger of the forest .

 

Lusa, another girl  is married to a farmer, but feels alienated by his entire family, near whom she lives. She is from Lexington and is constantly ridiculed for her ‘big town ways’, her education and her sympathy with wildlife. (She is an entomologist and an animal activist in her opinion). Her husband, whom she married as a rebellion against her parents, also constantly belittles her and fights her in his ideas. He dies in an accident about five years into their marriage. They expect that she will now leave and go back ‘where she came from’ but to their surprise and a little bit of chagrin, she decides to stay right there, tending to the farm alone.

 

Garrnett is a widower living alone. He is in battle with his next door organic, no-chemicals kind of neighbour Nanette. What he thinks as a heart attack is a snapping turtle attached to his leg. Parts of this relationship are very funny and part absorbing.

 

Lusa is irritated by everyone assuming that she will sell the property and move back to town where ‘she belongs’. She explains her Jewish and Muslim ancestry to a bewildered young man who is a relative.

 

In the meanwhile, Deanna discovers that Eddie is a hunter and he discovers that she is an animal lover and over twenty years his elder. The love of animals and ecology comes through in her  character and every character is true to form. This is what makes her books so readable. For example, Eddie says that hunting is definitely a part of the natural order and that if done within scientific principles, the culling of the animals in facts aids the ecological balance and helps the environment of the forest.

 

There is another  great example of this  where Nanette explains how prey multiply much faster than predators and by indiscriminately killing them both with spray, how you are actually promoting faster infestation of pests than predators! But when she uses that argument to question genetically modified food, the arguments are much weaker. Interesting view, nevertheless.

 

Lusa slowly wins over the people, even rebellious children, to her side. There are interesting viewpoints. Nanette, though subscribing to evolution, is against genetically modified foods, based on the same principle as prey and predator and the unknown effects of it.

 

She has done for the naturalist and animal world what she has done for fanatical beliefs in her earlier excellent tome, The Poisonwood Bible. Barbara proves her ability to immerse her in this world too but it is naturally not as shocking as the other onw. You learn a lot of tidbits about moths and you learn other interesting details almost as a byproduct of that story – for example, you learn  that the male turkey does not look after the young, it’s procreation being the ‘hit and run’ variety.

 

Garnette’s story  is really funny and well told. His fights with Nanette are really fun to read. Nanette cures the dizzy spells that Garnette always got into. He is offended by her (even for wearing a dress that is not age appropriate)

 

Deanna discovers that she is pregnant. Everything links up at the end. Garnette is related to Jewel (Lusa’s relative by marriage) – he is her father in law, is estranged but agrees to receive Jewel’s kids. Those kids will be adopted by Lusa due to the cancer eating at Jewel’s body. Nanette is related to Deanna who wants to come live with her. Interesting links and very well written story; very believable, and lovely to read..

 

The language is poetic and immerses you into the world of every character there is, and Barbara definitely has the knack to make you totally absorbed in a story that is not a thriller, and yet opens up a new world to you and keeps you reading, more and more absorbed in the story as you go along for the ride. You will enjoy the experience.

 

8/10

–  –  Krishna

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