bookspluslife

February 16, 2019

Book: Desperation by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:43 pm

imageWe have reviewed several books from this prolific author before : For instance, 12/13/63 or Revival as samples. This one is a good book as well and definitely absorbs you into the story.

 

Peter Jackson driving a car in Nevada when his wife Mary sees a dead cat nailed to a stop sign. Then a police car acts weirdly and flags them down and the cop is a giant. All these make them scared as there is not a soul for miles around.

 

The cop finds a pack of weed in the spare tire compartment and all hell breaks loose. Desperation is a city in Nevada desert and that is where the cop comes from.  He takes them to a jail where a girl has already died in the stairs. He throws her inside and in cold blood shoots Peter.

 

Ellie and Ralph Carver are other prisoners whose daughter Kristine was the girl who had died on the stairs.  Their story comes next, and later, you learn that this policeman has killed his two colleagues and is running wild. A famous and ageing writer is the next one brought in. The man seems to be collecting people to torment.

 

The literary lion Johnny is trapped into the deal when he goes for a motorbike ride across America in a quest to find material for a nonfiction work to revive his flagging career.

 

Steve, his assistant and a girl called Clarence go in search of him and find the motorcycle by the side of the road. They find the bike but feel that they are being watched. You want to scream when they decide to go to Desperation to get help from the cops to find the author.

 

And it turns out that David, the son of the couple who were held, has some divine powers and the cop kind of feels it, even in his crazed state. The story then goes back in time to explain how David saved the life of a friend who was dying due to a head injury by concentrating and ‘praying’ as he thinks it. Lovely.

 

Now when the cop, who now has a name Entragian – takes David’s mother, David asks God to intervene. But he takes her in his car and it is interesting to see that he seems to be losing body parts slowly and blood seems to ooze out of him slowly. So it is not just a mad cop? Is there something more going on?

 

David slips through the jail bars, evades a coyote that is standng guard and escapes out, promising the others that he will be back. He brings a gun back and also finds the keys. Shocked to find her sister (and others) hung like animal carcasses on hooks.

 

The duo of Steve and Clarence also see a similar scene but there is a statue that seems to disturb their mind and put them in a trance whenever they even touch it.  

 

David uses keys to open the bars after killing the coyote that is on guard with a gun. They all join up to try and escape on foot, after collecting an arms cache from the police station. There are weird things happening where snakes and vultures try to kill Steven  and the girl as if they are specifically targeting the pair. When a swarm of scorpions come out of the mud to attack the large truck they are in, they really get scared.

 

They realize that something is trying to keep them in the city. At that time, Dave manages to get cell signal just by handling the phone and calls Steven and asks him and the girl to join them.

 

They finally meet in a theatre after David talks to the coyotes and makes them go away by his mental power. In addition, Steve sees further evidence of other animals (spiders) being controlled to kill and ready to attack an intruder. A big rate attacks Steve who escapes. This is before they all meet, and also rescue another woman on the way. They wonder why Entragen did not kill this particular group.

 

David apes Bible and provides food for everyone out of a tiny box of crackers and some sardine cans. (They multiply endlessly). A leopard is now commanded by the other worldly thing and waits for them outside where they have taken refuge. There is a hint about how the evil may have come into town (an old mine). The leopard attack and the resulting mayhem are great and when you find that Audrey, the last member to join the group has lied about herself and is an agent of the “unformed” the evil entity, you get a shock.

 

She nearly gets David but in the meanwhile, Mary is carried off by the unformed, now in Ellen Carver’s body. There is an amazing scene where Audrey transforms into her absolutely crazy self, her hand comes off, and she dissolves into an obscene thing but not before she almost hipnotizes the novelist with a small set of stone statues, making him want to kill the boy.

 

Meanwhile the boy has a weird experience where a dream takes him around the mines and he tells the others, when he comes to, that they have to go to the mines. He then tells the amazing stories of how those small statues came to be – how the people stumbled upon them and went nuts and how they were buried alive rather than letting the evil spread through the town and how it nevertheless escaped. It is interesting that except for affecting two Oriental workers how it was contained until another miner crew blasts a hole and one person goes in alone to investigate and gets fully infected, starting the chain of that man, a black acquaintance of his, and then Collie Estragian, whom we met in the beginning of the story. Fascinating.

 

The author says goodbye and leaves in a truck. He does not want to go to the mine but they can defect the evil only if they are all together. In the meanwhile Mary comes to in an abandoned plot and realizes that she will be the next host for the ‘can tah’ or the bigger demon. She makes her escape, guided by an inner voice.

 

David senses that John Melville, instead of leaving, is attacked by a wolf and is ready to come back and goes after him, instructing the rest of his gang to go help Mary.

 

Johnny is convinced to come back after seeing the wallet from David and after killing a wolf with a lucky (or divinely guided) shot with a hammer. Mary almost gets away from the demon by outrunning it first. But the demon gets into a kite and Johnny repents and joins the group after being given a wallet by David.

 

It is really cool how one of the members of the gang realizes that it is not David who is meant to make the ultimate sacrifice and how that person steps up to it. Ending is great and logical.

 

Nice book, retains your interest.

 

7/10

        – – Krishna

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Book: Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:37 pm

imageBernard Cornwell is a familiar author to you if you have been following our reviews. We have reviewed several books in his Saxon series (So far, from The Last Kingdom to The Flame Bearer) and the excellent Arthurian Trilogy called Warlord Chronicles  (consisting of The Winter King, The Enemy of God and The Excaliber). This is also the start of a series  called ‘The Grail Quest series’). The story of Thomas who is the central character here, starts from this book.

Father Ralph is a priest in a small village called Hookton who is erudite. Meanwhile, upper class Thomas, whom his father wants to make into the noble profession of priesthood is interested instead in the lowly skill of archery and becomes legendary by stealth practice. As good as his grandfather (mother’s side) who was a skilled archer. We find that Ralph has in the church the lance that St George was supposed to have used to kill the dragon and therefore a priceless relic. Hanging in plain view in a small village in a church!

We learn that besides archery, Thomas has achieved another accomplishment, that of making pretty Jane pregnant. She is pestering him to marry her and he fears his father finding out about his peccadillos.

 

Meanwhile the French arrive for plunder. Led by Sir Guillaume d’evecque, but really driven by a nameless noble, they come specifically to Hookton, seemingly looking for something specific. Ralph is killed and the lance is taken away. Before he dies, Ralph reveals to Thomas that the man who came is the brother of Thomas and we learn that both of them are sons of Ralph himself.

 

Thomas goes on Crusade to recover the lance, as he promised his father. He becomes the trusted leutenant of Skeet and knows of a way inside a defended castle even as Skeet’s soldiers are repulsed back in an attack on the castle. Thomas suggests that there are rotting timbers at the back which can let some men in surreptitiously.

 

Meanwhile Jeanette, the Countess finds herself the object of a unwanted attention by Sir Simon, an impoverished noble. She is almost raped but rescued by Skeet and gets close to Thomas when she discovers that he, Thomas, is planning to kill Sir Simon by trickery. Thomas does this as he insults Simon and gets beaten up badly by Simon’s goons. But the hunt goes wrong and now Thomas is on the run. Will saves him and sends with the Countess who was going to her cruel uncle. He rejects her but agrees to keep her son, away from her.

 

He rapes her casually and locks her in. Escaping, she is near death raving mad and Thomas tends to her. But the moment he takes her to Edward’s son, she defects to the royal favour. They try to take Caen, a heavily fortified city. They manage to gain entrance by wading through a river and the slaughter begins.

 

When Thomas saves a young girl of fifteen, Eleanor from a British person trying to rape her, she follows him and he is attacked and hanged by Sir Thomas. He is saved by Eleanor and they fall in love. He learns that she is the bastard daughter of his enemy Sir Guilleme Levecq but he gets to admire the man. He also learns that the dreaded Hellequin got the lance and run away, as well as the fact that it was Hellequin who killed his father.

 

Then they are trapped in the country where the French pen them down first on one side of the river and then another. They manage to squeeze through, by Thomas finding a fjord and then leave with French full army in pursuit. Jeanette warns him that they will be caught and defeated by the French.

 

The French corner the English and the king decides to fight from the hill top. They are vastly outnumbered by the French and Harelequin is also there with Sir Simon, who has pledged him allegiance and wants only to avenge his excommunication by the King and the Prince of England.

The first attack is repelled by the English.

 

The battle is well told where Thomas achieves the aim of capturing the lance but not Vexille. However, he manages to lose Vexille and Sir Simon is killed. Sir Guillerme takes a very wounded Will Keaton back to his Father for cure. Thomas goes with him.

 

You recognize the author’s style and skill, but it does not embed in your mind like the Saxon series (reviewed elsewhere) or with the Arthur series. (Warlord Chronicles)

 

Nice read, nevertheless.  6/10

 

– – Krishna

 

Book: Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:15 pm

imageA dragon story with a difference in the beginning – as in explaining how the dragons came to be – with a scientific twist. How? Read on. Otherwise, an ordinary story.  

 

Ann McCaffrey is setting up the environment for a series as this is the first book in the dragon series. This is the first book in the series called ‘Dragonriders of Pern’. If you liked this book, you have many more to read after this.

 

The book ends kind of abruptly, perhaps for the seek of baiting you to read the other books. Even some trivial questions were left unanswered. Annoying, if you like your books, even those in the series, to end in a logical point.

 

Humans colonized the third planet from a G-type (whatever that means) star, because it had air and water. Then humans who colonized them fell into disrepute technologically and forgot about the people who settled there and those people forgot their ancestors. The colonized planet was named Pern. That was the entire world that those people knew about. However, there was a rogue planet that came close to Pern, and to counter the “Threads” which were a threat, these people genetically engineered an animal, called the ‘dragons’ due to their similarity with the old earth legend (Legends survived among the colony but not memories of the motherland – legends presumably carried by the colonists and propagated to the successive generations).

 

Lessa has a premonition of danger.

 

Meanwhile F’lor and F’nar go to visit Flax who is a ruler and who they suspect of one step short of rebellion. As dragonmen who ride on dragons, they are respected and powerful and seem to throw their weight around. They are there to search for the new lady (queen) among the harems of the subservient kings and Flax does not have anyone suitable.

 

They then come to Ruatha the final hold which was destroyed and subjugated by Flax. Lessa lives there and is silently sabotaging his visit and is puzzled by so many dragonmen visiting there in tandem.

 

Meanwhile Lady Gemma who is forced to attend the banquet by the evil Flax undergoes birth pangs in the ruined banquet, but not before the dragons feel a surge of power indicating a hidden Weirwoman in the Hold. In trying to save Lady Gemma, Lessa learns that she is an ally and hates Fax but Lessa dies in childbirth.

 

Lessa is discovered and taken to be the nominee for queen for all of Weyrdome. She wins the affection of the new queen dragon and bonds with it. Wins respect by her abilities but realizes that the head, Rigul is not the right leader for the dragonmen.

 

F’nor finally tells her why Rigul hesitates to take decisions and why F’lar waits patiently.

 

When the dragon queen mates, the dragon whom she mates becomes her mate for life and the humans who are riders become mates for life too. Weird. When F’lar is sent off at the right time away, someone tips him off so he comes back on time and wins Lessa too. (Who tipped him off? Even the author poses this question emphatically but does not answer at all!)

 

When the new dragon flies, it is time for Lessa to go between, a kind of teleportation to other places. Lessa also finds out that she can transport between times – by accident. They go and put out the Threads which have started falling and which are disastrous to the kingdoms with great risk to themselves.

 

Now there are some interesting but confusing stories about time travel and how they communicate both forward and backwards in time. Lessa finally makes the great leap backwards 400 years to meet her ancestors.

 

This story flows through fine but suddenly ends as if she just put the pen down (or stopped pounding the keyboard) at some arbitrary location thinking ‘Anyway I need to continue this in book 2 so this will do!’

 

6/10

– – Krishna

 

February 13, 2019

The Last Magician by Janet Turner Hospital

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:37 pm

imageWe have reviewed Borderline and Oyster, two of the books by this author, earlier. Definitely Janet Turner Hospital picks very unusual stories and characters and develops them to hold your interest. This book definitely holds your attention but does not wow you.

The central character, Lucy aka Lucia Barclay, sees a movie in England where she is stunned to recognize herself and her past associations. It is by Charlie who has been in her past life. After talking to an ageing friend Christine, she decides to go to Australia to find out about them all. She remembers how she was a call girl and Charlie brought the inn below where she also worked. Since the brother is also the previous owner’s Charlie now kind of owns her but would not want her to strip. He just clicks away in numerous poses as she goes about her room. She is intrigued about Charlie as he is with this erudite, well read, university educated hooker.

 

Gabriel joins the bar and forms an instant bond with Charlie. We learn Charlie is Asian with an original name of Hsu something. Then follows the stupidest scene where Charlie is convinced that a girl Cat (for Catherine) is destined to shake up his life, with no proof at all and goes to the quarry and its aweful space to “look for her”. Really?

 

He finally meets her when she comes to the pub with the Judge and his wife – even though she seems to be the Judge’s mistress. She realizes that she is Charlie’s school friend.

 

There are scenes where weird people (the twins and the man who is in love with a TV presenter while making love to her) with her. It boggles my mind that a woman who had everything seems to drop off and say I will be a hooker and a hobo in turns. Yeah, even if she wanted to throw the social conventions aside and live on her own terms, it is a bit much. It could not even have been enjoyable – a hooker is the most used person in the world and a homeless person? You know how it is. It looks like insanity even if cloaked in terms that Lucia became Lucy and such nonsense.

 

Gabriel remembers growing up with the lawyer (later judge) father and riding the tram as Brisbane was about to abolish trams.

 

Charlie remembers meeting Cat, a waif of a drunken man and an idiot brother, while in school. She and Catherine and Robbie (who became Gabriel) played together. Robbie’s father was not interested in the cottage and still raved when his mother, after her divorce with her father, got the cottage (bought it, actually). He was the head honcho (Robbie) but was afraid to jump into the pool like Charlie and Catherine and Cat did.

 

Meanwhile Cat is tortured by a teacher unreasonably until the latter crosses a line and is almost caught. Then she simply starts ignoring Cat. Cat teaches Charlie and Catherine to lie on the rails until almost too late and run away when the train is almost upon them. When the kids’ pranks on Cat take the life of her brother Willie, the affair turns deadly serious.

 

But before you have time to start thinking that the story is not so bad, the author descends into trivia, quoting pointless stories, describing a collage of pictures with no apparent motive at all, and also repeating herself as to how pictures can seduce. You are now lulled into the original sensation that the story is shallow, weird and a far cry from the author’s more famous Oyster.

 

Then Robbie’s son Gabriel and Charlie simply disappear, in search of Cat. Police question Catherine.

 

The last magician is both Charlie, due to his photographic skills and Sir Isaac Newton for his obsession with the occult in spite of his scientific achievements.

 

The movie ends with interesting allusions of Robbie and how he was obsessed with Cat, as well as interesting insinuations on how the trio (Cat, Gabriel and Charlie himself) disappeared.

 

But not before a lot of repetition again, about how photographs mesmerize and similar crap.

 

5/10

– – Krishna

 

Book: Enigmatic Pilot by Kris Saknussemm

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:30 pm

imageDefinitely a weird book. Has a lot of fantastic things and is half true to the first half of the subtitle “ A Tall Tale Too True”. It is a tall tale alright but too true? I doubt it.

 

In 1869 Mortingale Todd,  a cavalry officer in US is on a scouting mission in Dakota to look for Sioux presence but secretly suspecting that he is being asked to collect data for corporate interests (mining for example) and not really (fully) government work. When he finds a strange man on a donkey in the midst of a herd of wild bisons, and when a greyhawk on his shoulder gets his hat back to that man, Todd is nonplussed. When the man conjures up a herd that seems to be entirely virtual, he is completely befuddled.

 

There is this funny scene where the man throws his blanket up in the air and that becomes a cloud on Todd’s head and pours down focussed rain, following him around wherever he goes to avoid it. He is then called by the stranger to ride on the backs of animals across a deep gorge.

 

The scene again shifts to an inventor called Hephaestus. He is a genius kid who understands languages and mechanics when he was just four. He outwits a group of thugs with his ingenious inventions strung out on the forest.

 

When he insults the city with inventions, they force this enterprising family out and coincidentally, the father’s brother wants them to go to Texas and they do. On the way, he befriends St Ives, a gambler with an iron prosthetic hand, who teaches him card games.

 

He meets with the magician again and learns that his glorious assistant is one of a twin. Both sisters are mute and besides, both married to him. When his dad lost his hard earned money the boy asks for employment with the magician. He also finds a librarian who lets him read rare volumes in his second hand bookshop. The bookshop owner finds out how extraordinary the boy is and takes him to meet the oldest lady in the world living in a secluded cave on a steamboat. She interestingly is called Mother Tongue.

 

She offers Lloyd a deal: separate from his parents (who will be looked after fabulously materially speaking) and become a guardian of all knowledge which is sought to be extinguished by powerful villains. She entrusts him with what seem to be glass eyes.

 

He, however, decides to decline the offer. And finds that his father has run away and while supporting the family with his flying machines, decides to build the biggest spectacle of all.

 

“Kite flying is mentioned in the Vedas and the Ramayana” says the author. Really? Never heard of either reference before!

 

When that goes spectacularly wrong, the dwarf brothers falling when the cage disengages and the chaos triggering a slave revolt and the biggest slave catching Lloyd as he crashes down, there is an utter chaos that is good to read.

 

They are sent away by the book shop owner in a ship to Texas, as they originally wanted to. The father reforms himself temporarily and is found and joins them. On the boat he meets Hattie who is black and changes her manners from the ghetto talk to a refined talk and seems to be a stowaway there. He gets very close to her and is sorry to part from here when he has to leave the boat. She is disfigured while a slave but has the heart of gold.

 

He gets to see a lot of clocks with music in the back room of where he is staying as a guest. One of them seems to have some evil magic and then he crashes into a secret meeting of the Quists and becomes a silent ally, showing them the rune box of the Martian brothers who have similar hieroglyph-like symbols on their box as the ancient barks sacred to Quists.

 

When the Quist guards he sets out with are attacked, the eye of Mother Tongue blinds them all and thus Lloyd earns credibility. When he describes that the ‘sacred texts’ Quists risked all to protect are fakes, then there is consternation.

 

Further, when Lloyd goes to protect a seemingly defenseless woman from thugs, he learns that she is Fast Fanny, amazing with guns. He also discovers that the people who provided space for him and his family were in fact automatons.

 

The ending is abrupt and unexpected but leaves a whole pile of things unexplained. It is weird enough to be interesting to read, the language flows smoothly but for all that, it leaves an odd feeling at the end of having read a widely fluctuating tale.

 

5/10

– – Krishna

February 9, 2019

Book: Imajica by Clive Barker

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:28 pm

imageWith apologies to the legions of Clive Barker fans in advance, I did not enjoy this book at all. Let me start with the story, and tell you why.

Charlie Estabrook won Judith over vs her flame John Zacharias (aka Gentle) but when she leaves him, hires an agent Chant to take her to a contract killer to ask him to kill Judith. The man looks very different from a killer he expected but he finds himself telling the full story to this strange man.

 

Gentle goes to meet his old acquaintance Klein to whom he sells superb forgeries (paintings). (A disjointed next scene, I know). A woman he was having an affair with, and who married into a wealthy family, still pines for him.

 

Chant is pursued by killers from another dimension who unleash a flea that burrows into his body through the hand and starts rotting it from the fingertips. He flees them just in time in a taxi and goes to Gamut Street for help. Pursuers hot at his heels, he breaks glass and enters into former Satori’s residence and goes up, while his body simply withers away.

 

Esterbrook has a regret and wants to call off the killing but cannot, now that Chant is dead and he does not remember how to get to the baby faced killer. He asks Gentle to help. Meanwhile a secret society finds that Chant may not be of this Dominion and they are perturbed – enough to call Dowd,  the assistant of a missing member Gondolphin (Dowd himself, unbeknownst to them is from another dominion) to their ultra secret meeting.

 

Gentle goes to rescue Julie who is followed by a supernatural being intent, we all assume, on killing her. He chases the person away, who seems to be perplexed and bewildered to see Gentle of all people giving chase but nevertheless manages to escape. When Pie comes as Julie to couple with Gentle, Gentle is extremely surprised.

 

Meanwhile Dowd updates Gondolphin about the furore in the Society and we learn during their conversation that it was he who had Chant killed. When Gandolphin is cornered by the society he escapes by killing Dowd and showing the rest that he is an alien ‘who had come to cheat him and replace the real Dowd’.

 

Gentle goes to see Pie as his van is blown up by an otherworldly assassin killing his wife and, perhaps, his child. He meets Pie later who takes him out of the world to another Dominion by teleportation. Judt in the meanwhile gets a necklace from Easterbrook’s safe that has magic powers and we learn that Easterbrook is actually the elder brother of Oscal Gandolphin. Juse also sees Gentle and Pie go into another world.

 

Then follows some fairly meaningless scenes of people trying to kill Pie and Gentle and how they escape, but not before Gentle kills a monster like person with magic that he did not know he possesssed.

 

He releases the bodies of the people dead long time ago and is rewarded with access to a portal to the Third Dominion when they were about to freeze to death. Then they have some pointless adventures and Gentle drowns in a deadly lake but survives. Barely.

 

Julie in the meanwhile beds Oscar and wants him to take her to other Dominions. He stalls her so she goes to the Tower (the building which is a portal for the other worlds) and meets Cynthia who was one of the Tabula Rasa originals who now is a rebel. She is caught by Dowd right in the middle of the conversation.

 

We long ago conclude that both Julie and Gentle are replicas of the Queen and the Autarch in the new world. (What a stupid idea, really.) So when the Mystif goes in search of the Autarch to destroy him, Gentle follows and is surprised when the guards let him through right away with no resistance. He does not know why.

 

Here is the other thing. Everyone who can go to these magical worlds, even the Autarch who rules them all, pine for “good ol’ England”. They want tea, they draw murals of everything British (Oxford Street included) on the walls of the new world. Really?

 

The story gets interesting when Quosair, the queen, goes in search for “Jesus” who has chosen to visit that dimension, and is blinded by hooligans and mistakes Dowd for Jesus. No, I am not kidding nor have I gone mad, I am really relating what the author chose to write.  He tries to kill her using a mite from his mouth but when Dowd later threatens to kill Judith, after making her recall that she is a shadow from the ‘original Judith’ or Qusoir, the original, even blinded, kills him.

 

Gentle meets his duplicate Autarch and finds that he was cloned when he was drunk and cloning Judith (don’t ask) he slept in the circle and created a copy of himself by accident, which is the Autarch. In fact Gentle is the ‘true maestro’. Weird stuff. When Pie finds both together and is highly confused, Autarch wounds him grievously and escapes. Gentle takes pie to the border of First Dimension to heal there and meets Esterbrook who is convalescing there too.

 

Pie goes into Erasure (death) voluntarily and Esterbrook is killed in a subsequent tornado. Pie warns Gentle (when he momentarily comes back) to go see “his other” because “he knows” and having said that, disappears back into the void.

 

Juli and Gentle meet and go back to London to confront the Autarch once and for all. Then the whole story descends (further I mean – it is already in a very low position to start with) into absurdity. Judith finds that she is duped into pregnancy; she finds that the gem she has “smells of her sex” and so her lover keeps it with her; the real Gentle and the autarch (his duplicate) have endless conversations, weird confrontations;  Celestine, imprisoned for ‘thousands of years’ is released and well; she sprouts ribbons of tentacles when needed; she is indeed the mother of Gentle and conceived him due to being raped by the Unbeheld (a kind of a monster) – what the hell is this? Not even a coherent plot. It just wanders around aimlessly.

 

Don’t even get me started on the street urchin joining Gentle ‘with a box of coloured chalks’ to provide protection.

 

Talk about weirdness. Dowd is found alive yet again but he is this time “really” dying. Hm. But not before he warns Judith that the reconciliation could be a mistake. Alarmed, Judith travels to Yzodderex to find out and gets mugged while Gentle astrally (out of his body) meets the Maestros to affect the next reconciliation, unaware of these developments.

 

And the pomposity! Apparently Christos (or Jesu, take your pick as both are used interchangeably) was also a Maestro. Who tried reconciliation among all the seen and unseen worlds and failed and was crucified for his pains. You look at Gentle, who is a drunkard, smoker, womanizer and a forger to boot, and imagine the ‘Christos’ being his equal and you go ‘What? Are you even serious?”

 

Not had enough? Try this for size. Finally Gentle, as he lies dying, reaches the City of God which is the location of the supreme being (Unbeheld or Hapexamendios). What does he find there? Houses, people going about their work, colours of the stones the houses are made. Really? The ultimate city of God is no better where people live in cities and cook and toil etc?  The imagination sucks.

 

There are twists. Gentle is wounded mortally by Sartori and lies dying while Celestine goes to argue with Sartori. Judith keeps loving and hating everybody but still ‘is a goddess’ while wanting to copulate with anything resembling a man. I never figured out what motivates anybody in this story, let alone be sympathetic to them.

 

When he finally meets the evil God who is weirdly also a city and what is more destroys him, the story is still not done. They go on a chase with Judith and Hoi Polloi, her female companion (don’t laugh) all across the dominions. Gets more stupid in description when you realize that in all of the reconciled domains, England is the most fascinating thing, apparently.

 

It just descends into total nonsense all the way through to the end, and I will not bore you with the details.

 

2/10

– – Krishna

Book: Anna Karinena by Leo Tolstoy

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:15 pm

imageWe had reviewed War and Peace earlier. This is a second book by Tolstoy we are reviewing.  First a few words about the author himself. Did you know that Leo Tolstoy’s original birth name was Yanaya Polyana? His life is interesting. He had fifteen children in seventeen years (yes, with one wife).  Later in life, he turned a revolutionary (in writing and thought). It is interesting that he railed against private property on two counts. His antogonism to private property became the state theme when about a century later, Russia turned communist. Second, for all his railings, he himself was a very wealthy man and managed his vast estates for many years.

 

In addition, he also wrote against the ‘demands of the flesh’. This from a man, as we have seen, who had fifteen children! He was hounded by the state for his views and died in a railway station while fleeing from the government.

 

This book too, like War and Peace deals with Russians, their society with Counts and Princes and their privileged life juxtaposed with their ordinary emotions of love, despair etc.  However I found in this story two things very different from the other, apart from the obvious one that there is no war background in this one (though at the end, there is a mention of a small war in the Caucuses against the Turks). One is that there is a brilliant description of a woman’s slow descent into jealousy and psychological depression that reads true and almost as moving as any contemporary prose. The second is where Levin, a central character questions the meaning of life and accidentally discovers his version of it which sounds, to Indian ears at least, so close to one of the Hindi pathways to reach salvation, called Karma Yoga.

 

I hear that this appeared serialized in periodicals at that time. However, unlike modern authors, there are no cliffhangers at the end of every chapter to keep you coming back. (Unlike for example,  Dan Brown who ends every chapter with a ‘He faced a disaster’ kind of situation, only to calmly continue that ‘He forgot to pack his razor’ kind of explanation at the start of the next chapter. )

 

Now for the story: We are introduced to the Oblonsky household at a difficult time for the family. The husband, Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky or Stiva, was caught out in an affair with his former governess, Miss Roland,  by his wife Dolly. His sister Anna Karinenna is about to arrive from Moscow.

 

Levin, a friend of Oblonsky, is in love with Dolly’s sister Kitty and is afraid that she, with her aristocratic and royal bloodline, will not care for an ordinary (if rich) man like himself. True to his belief, Kitty seems to spurn his interest in her. She has Levin and a rival who is Count Vrosky for her affections. Her father prefers Levin and the mother Vrosky. In the days of arranged marriages in Russia, these things matter a great deal.

 

After spurning him, and falling in love with the Count who has no serious intentions towards her, she finds that he has fallen for the sister of Oblonsky, and now feels dejected. She pines for Vronsky.

 

Levin meets his drunkard and bum brother who lives with a rescued prostitute and dreams of communism. (What an irony, knowing what happened to Tolstoy’s own Russia in 1917, several years later). When he returns, Anna dna Vronsky meet again and he manages to invite himself to Anna’s house in front of her husband.

 

Anna Karenena cannot forget Vronsky either even after going back home and he keeps finding opportunities to run into her. In the meanwhile Oblonsky meets Levin who was spurned by Katy after she pined for Vronsky. He is grumpy to learn that he was spurned in favour of Vronsky.

 

Anna discovers that she is pregnant with Vronsky’s child. She is in a big dilemma. Karenin does not even want to acknowledge that Anna is cheating on him. In the races, Vronsky rides his new horse Frou-Frou and at the point of winning the whole thing, breaks its back “by a wrong posture while jockeying”. Really?

 

Anna finally tells her husband the truth, that she is carrying Vronsky’s child.

 

Meanwhile Kitty falls into admiration about the goody two shoes Varenka, who seems to be doing everything nice for everyone.

 

In the meanwhile Levin revels in manual work and in spite of his hurt about Kitty’s rejection, just one look when she was passing in a carriage confirms to him that his love is still there.

 

Karenin decides not to give Anna the divorce she seeks. She tells Vronsky and is very disappointed by his reaction.

 

Levin finds that he enjoys toiling with the labourers in the fields. And decides to institute worker participation in the profits, hoping to revolutionize the world. But when he meets Kitty again and patches up, the world seems brighter and his happiness overflows.

 

Meanwhile Karenin is determined to divorce Anna but when she almost dies from childbirth, he has a change of heart. He is graceful to Vronsky who feels so guilty that he tries to kill himself. Both recover. She just moves in with him later. They travel all over Europe, meet some Russian expatriates (a painter, a thinker) and then go back to Russia,

 

Levin marries Kitty. Finds out that married life is very different from what he imagined. When they visit Levin’s sick brother, Kitty takes over the dying brother’s care efficiently until he dies. She also discovers that she is pregnant.

 

Karenin meanwhile is devastated and is consoled by Countess who finds herself in love with him. When the countess refuses permission for Anna to visit Anna’s own son, she sneaks in and is discovered by Karenin in his house. The servants are in a tizzy.

 

Meanwhile Anna decides to go publicly to a play, defying custom, and the whole society is scandalized.

 

Levin goes hunting with Oblonsky and another friend of Kitty’s and initially he has no luck. Then he finds birds galore. Kitty is also now pregnant. Levin gets jelous of a new visitor who flirts with Kitty and sends him away. Dolly goes and meets Karenina and finds out how happy she is, really.

 

Dolly goes to visit Anna and Vronsky seeks her help to convince Anna to ask for a divorce so that the current daughter and future children can be properly his. But when Dolly proposes to Anna, she learns that Anna cannot have any more children and is afraid that if she gets the divorce she will never see her son Shirozha again. As she puts it, it appears that she can have only Shiroza or Vronsky but not both.

 

The book has a shocking ending (but not at the very end) which, I am told caused the publisher to refuse to publish the remaining pieces of the story!

 

Nice read. Don’t agree with some famous people who call this ‘the greatest story ever written’ but it is not a bad read at all.

 

6/10

– – Krishna

 

Book: Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:05 pm

imageGod what a pointless cast of characters! I would not like to inhabit their society. Why, you ask? Because no one thinks or acts normally.

 

Take this for example, there are two women who are barely civil to each other, openly insult each other and cause serious pain with their rude talk. Who are they? Sisters-in-law and ‘love each other’. OK. There exist another two women who cannot stand to lose to each other, always try to be the first and if one is first where ‘the other had a right to be first’ feel guilty. Also snap at each other, sure. Who are they? Sisters. There is a man who feels very reluctant to have sex with a woman because he does not like to do it in public with an audience and ‘she is the audience in this case’. Who are they? Friends with benefits? No, husband and wife, of course. Had enough?

 

No? Then try this. A lady is rich and ‘does not want to embarrass her family’ by revealing her wealth and ‘making them jealous’ so she pretends that a house she owns is ‘rented for the week’ and invites them for a party. Others have sex with everyone in sight.

 

One or two odd characters in a book may add colour to it and make it unique but if everyone who walks into the story is a weirdo, you don’t want to read any further. If you had similar feelings, stop reading after the first twenty pages. It does not stop until the end.

 

Let us go to the story.

 

The narrator Amber Hewerdine goes to Ginny Saxon, to be hypnotized out of a bad habit of hers. Ginny tries to make her relaxed but the girl does not feel this has any impact at all. She is full of sarcastic thoughts throughout the process. But then odd things happen. Ginny says that she said something she did not. She remembers words from another visitor’s diary (Kind, Cruel, Kind of Cruel) that she could not have known at all. She decides to snoop on that lady’s diary when she has left the car open. Sees that she was right, before being caught by the owner. The owner lady ‘gently’ asks Ginny  to go home ‘until they meet again’.

 

She goes to collect her children. A cop comes and says that she is wanted in the investigation of the murder of Katherine Allen.

 

The story moves abruptly to another. Jo and Neil Utting hire a big house for a Christmas party. Jo does not go to bed at the same time as Neil, which is puzzling. Then they abruptly reappear two days later, with absolutely no explanation whatsoever.

 

Scene changes again: Constable Simon Waterhouse is investigating the murder of Katharine Allan. Katherine was the woman Amber met and Amber remembers words that were not written in the note book until after Amber had seen it. Interesting.

 

Amber is interrogated by the police but she also is now obsessed with discovering where she saw the paper. She things it is in Little Orange, the villa where her sister Jo disappeared and reappeared and her husband warns her that revealing details of that will also reveal to the police about the crime they committed. Interesting? Kind of lame, especially due to the narration.

 

Then comes a confusing account of how Bond, a pub owner wanted to open the pub for extended hours and the licence was blocked by Sophie due to town’s resistance and when Sophie had a change of heart, she was murdered. Amber seems to be mixed up “coincidentally” in two murders now, as Amber is Sophie’s friend and the one who persuaded Sophie to change her mind. Nonie and Dinah, are really Sophie’s kids whom Amber is trying to adopt and is caring for.

 

Then there are confusing stories where Amber is reserntful of Jo, her insomnia kicks up and some pointless conversations happen.

 

Jo and Amber seem to have a very cruel relationship. It is one thing to be frank and forceful and another to deliberately wound each other, which both of the sisters seem to enjoy doing to the other. God, what a terrible relationship!

 

Amber desperately wants to rent Little Orchard to investigate the reasons for Jo’s disappearance all those years earlier but the owner apparently has been warned against accepting to rent to anyone of the family.  So of course, Amber tries to bluster her way into the place and has the door shut in her face by the maild.

 

We learn the bizarre truth that Jo is indeed the owner of Little Orchard and did not tell anyone ‘because she did not want to flaunt her wealth’. Really? Does everyone in the story have a really warped sense of even how to behave? Yes is the answer to that rhetorical question.

 

Amber finally realizes that the words she saw were on the paper that she herself used to write down a phone number (the back of it). Now it is out who the real murderer is sometime early, first through suspicions and then abruptly confirmed. No misdirection here that you see in mystery novels.

 

Are there no good points here? If this is what you are thinking, let me tell you that there are. The book is amazing at psychological explanations and the visits to the psychotherapists sounds authentic. There are a lot of bits and pieces that all come together beautifully at the end. The final explanation by Simon as to who the killer is, and most importantly, why the person committed multiple murders, is told fabulously. Nice ending but the story telling and the unduly harsh relationships described and other things I mentioned take a lot out of the enjoyment I could have gotten from the book.

 

4/10

 

– – Krishna

February 5, 2019

Book: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:28 pm

imageI started this book with not a mild, but a lot of skepticism. There was a buzz about this when it came out but I did not think I’d like a story about a snail and what it does. And the small size of the book suggested that it was just a quick description of a snail and (as I understood from the blurb) a sick woman. So, how good can it be?

 

It turns out that it can be astoundingly good. I am so glad that I read this book despite my initial misgivings.

 

The narrator is afflicted with a sickness that confines her to bed. While convalescing, a friend brings a garden variety snail in a flowerpot with a plant next to it. The story is lyrical, the prose is moving, and she sees wonders in everyday world that is fascinating to read. The first day she and the friend even wonder if it is alive at all because what the friend brought, on the outside is just a shell. The second day it slowly comes out and the third day, she sees that the envelope that was next to it has a tiny hole in it – as if something with tiny teeth tried to eat it. Cute.

 

She bonds with the snail which seems to explore more and more during its nocturnal waking period.

 

Nice for a while but afterwards it gets a bit boring to hear of the snail’s activities and her thought process as she sees it wander in the little moss garden she had set up for it.

 

There are a lot of interesting pieces about snails – cold blooded, how the four antennas on its head function, how they are unique to snails, how pretty and geometrically proportioned its shell is, how it is created by secretions and grows with the snail. All nice to read. If you are happy with no story in it except to watch the companionship between a human and a snail (One sided, as the snail is not feeling the companionship and goes on about its life) is something you want to read about.

 

Strangely, the lyrical prose and the enthusiastic narration makes it feel pleasant to read – contrary to what I expected when I started giving this book a try.  You learn about the snails being poikilotherms (cold blooded where the body temperature falls and rises with surroundings) as opposed to mammals which are homeotherms (regulating their temperature to a constant level). You also learn that the slime they produce is the most important. They have amazing properties (they stick to your hand even after a wash; if you stir them in a beaker of water, they have enough strength to coagulate and – get this – self siphon out of the beaker). They use slime to travel and for other purposes and they actually produce different slimes for different purposes.

All of which makes it a marvel and you are as amazed as the  biologist David Rollo who opined ‘A bag of cold water that cannot even move unless it leaks should not be able to survive outside a bog’ and yet it survives very well.

 

And you learn of microscopic snails, and many other very interesting facts about them. Nice. How an ecosystem of bacteria helped form snails (and every other being including humans).

 

I never knew about estivation of snails and how they go into a trancelike state, and how it is different from hibernation, which also the snails do, until I read this book. This tiny book is packed with fun facts like this.

 

And then comes the amazing fact : Did you know that two snails in the course of their courtship throw “tiny darts” at each other and they are amazingly fashioned?

 

The more I read this book, the more it reminds me of Bill Bryson’s amazing book A Short History of Nearly Everything. Packed with surprising facts for such a small book, it gets more and more enjoyable as you go along. No wonder this book is famous.

 

And then the fact that a snail can carry a sperm for several years until conditions are right to fertilize it, and that a snail, being a hermaphrodite, plays the male in one sexual union and the female in the next, and that it buries its eggs under soft earth are all revelations that increase your wonder about these gastropods.

 

When the terrarium is full, the author is also released from the hospital and she just takes one tiny snail, releasing the rest, including the mother into the same bog where it was first found.

 

So, a brilliant, moving, educating, interesting story about nothing but a snail and an incapacitated lady. Who would have thought this plot could produce such a lovely book?

 

8/10

– – Krishna

Book: The Robber Bride by Margaret Attwood

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:21 pm

imageAfter being fascinated by The Blind Assassin, I always wanted to read other books by Margaret Attwood and I am glad I picked up this one because it is a very satisfying story in many ways.

 

In reality, this is a simple story. Three women who were cheated by a deceitful, boyfriend stealing, lying and confidence trickster of a girl (Zenia) come together in friendship. But where the book elevates itself to the stratosphere is in the telling. What a gift Margaret has in her narrative powers! It is fascinating, and drags you in slowly. Each girl has a quirk/ trait and also a whole set of endearing vulnerabilities. Tony is interested in history, fascinated by details, has the power to think all names backwards. Nice. Charis believes in all airy fairy stuff, supernatural beliefs, excessive worry about everything and so on. Roz is a businesswoman who is rich but is very motherly.

 

First, we come to Zenia and Toni. Zenia’s story about herself changes all the time. Tony is a lecturer in a university where she studied but has a boyfriend called West whom she bubble wraps and keeps from any calamity because he is fragile.

 

When they see the ‘dead’ Zenia in flesh in the restaurant (in Toronto’s Queen Street, no less, past Queen Mother’s Cafe) they get shocked and confused.

 

Charis seems to be a very cute person believing in auras and magnetic interference, afraid to talk about war since it “invites” trouble.  Roz is a caring person but Toni is the practical one who knows historical facts.

 

Roz believes in supernatural but is very rich. Mitch gets infatuated with Zena and leaves her but she has an elder son who is sober and twins who are forever mischievous.

 

Roz is the CEO of a company and has a gay assistant who adores her as a boss and she adores him as an excellent help.

 

It is lovely how the story goes from the one moment backwards. It is like watching a movie camera focus on a tiny thing and then move “backwards” encompassing more and more in your field of vision. The story starts with the dynamite moment when the three girls discover that Zenia, far from dead, was present in the restaurant where they met for dinner. Then it goes back and tells you what they were doing immediately preceding that moment with tantalizing hints of the destruction Zenia wrought in their lives. Then they tell you how Zenia came into their lives. Nice.

 

As it happens, in the hostel where a nineteen year Toni was living, there was also Roz, one of the girls in the Common Room with whom ‘Toni had nothing in common’ as with all other girls there, and Charis was also there, vapid and where Toni did not even talk to her. One day, in the night, when Toni thought Charis was sleepwalking, she follows her to protect her and realizes that she was not asleep at all and gets too annoyed.

 

Tony reminisces about how Zenia befriended her, learnt all her secrets in that ‘long ago’ time. Zenia shocks Tony by admitting she was prostituted when she was as young as five by her mom for money. When her mom got TB, Zenia ran away but by then she was 16. She and West live together and Tony lives alone in her apartment but Zenia worms her way into her confidence easily. Tony talks about her own runaway mother who abandoned her and her father who killed himself in their own living room when she was away.

 

Finally Zenia borrows a large sum through blackmail and disappears. Tony discovers that she has taken large amounts of money from West claiming it is for Tony as well.

 

One day simply Zenia shows up at her doorstep (by now she has moved her residence and West has married her) and simply walks away with West. When she flees again leaving West devastated, he comes crawling back to Tony and she takes him back in. You want to scream in frustration.

 

Meanwhile Charis catches Zenia in an affair with the adult son of Roz.

 

Charis reminisces her old story as you slowly get absorbed in her life. She met Billy when he was handed to her as a protective place for dodge dodgers. She lets him into her bed slowly and becomes obsessed with him. Zenia comes into her yoga studio battered and bruised, and then into her apartment for refuge.

 

So beautifully told on how Zenia poisons the relationship between Charis (or Karen as she used to be called) and Miles is breathtaking. So is the childhood of Charis where she had to live with a very moody mother who did not ‘spare the rod’. The way Margaret Attwood describes this from Karen’s point of view makes your heart ache. This is why she is so famous. It gets worse. When Zenia comes into her life, bruised and battered she takes her in only to find that she lied about her ancestry (Romanian and grandmother tortured to death) about her having a cancer and being operated on and pretty much everything. When Charis discovers she is pregnant, both her boyfriend and Zenia leave, and she finds all her chickens slaughtered. Toni and Roz come to help her recover.

 

Roz found Mitch and we know that he is a user. But she does not. This is what is special about Margaret. Telling you things that the character does not seem to notice, though it is the character’s reminiscence. Mitch is a serial adulterer and she seems to put up with it all her life. Until Zenia walks in. Roz is rich and owns a medium sized business and she has everything she needs in life. Mitch gave her three kids. The elder, reserved one called Adrian and younger twin girls.

 

Roz married Mitch when he woos her in her office and marries her (even refusing sex offered by her). We see it as a ploy to get at her money but Roz seems to be blind, and marries him against the advice of her parents. We go back a bit further and see that her dad was really a smuggler who made good in the war and returned with the loot and he is ‘an immigrant’ who married well and settled down, rich.  Also that he met Roz’s mother when he was wounded in a brawl and she rescued him – even then she was running a boarding house. Now you get another story from Zenia : how she had Jewish roots in Germany and her parents were taken away by the Nazis and how her aunt who is not a Jew saved her and brought her up. And how her entire family – parents, brother and sister, perished and she alone survived.

 

Even after Roz mentions both Tony and Charis, Zenia manages to convince her of her sincerity and appeals to her mothering instincts as a homeless waif buffeted by the cruel vicissitudes of life; of course Roz takes her into her protection. Everyone has badly misjudged Zenia! Zenia really opened up only to her with her true life story. You see a train wreck coming loud and clear, as Margaret Attwood so beautifully wants you to.

 

When Mitch goes with Zenia and even tells Roz he loves them both, she is shocked. When Zenia dumps him and goes to London, he follows! When Mitch comes back defeated, and wants to just slide back into the house, Roz does what I thought was the only sensible thing she has done in that entire book, which is to refuse to let him in, especially since he seems to only want to come back to the house and not to her and is only back because he failed to find Zenia in England. But he dies (in a staged accident to spare the children’s feelings) and she goes to piece all over again and pines for the early days when he cheated continuously and she tolerated it continuously.

 

So meeting Zenia, whose coffin they had seen and whose funeral they had attended, in flesh unsettles them deeply.

 

After the meeting, Tony waits to kill Zenia and tracks her down resolutely to the hotel lobby. As Zenia tries to spin a new web of charm, Tony is on her guard and is shocked when Zenia transforms into a monster the split second after Tony refuses her request to take her in once again.

 

My complaint at this point is that the story turns formulaic. As if programmed, Zenia tries to lure every one of them in turns into her web and each one resists, sensibly. (Or even in a common sense way, as every one of them knows what type of person Zenia is). It gets a bit tiring. Zenia is unerringly cruel to all of them. She says Tony was a terrible lay for West, Karen was horrible in Miles’ opinion and he is the one who killed her chickens. To Roz she says she has been bedding her son and that he is into drugs. Asks for five thousand dollars not to lead police on to the son.

 

Then the story goes into an abrupt end in the main stream and a whole bunch of aftermaths later. Nicely written, definitely hugely enjoyable.

 

7/ 10

– – Krishna

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