October 13, 2018

Book: Borderline by Janette Turner Hospital

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:42 pm

imageJanet Turner Hospital was born in Australia. Even and  she spent most of her adult life in . Canada and the US. She writes about both places in her stories.


Having read and partially enjoyed Oyster earlier, I was eager to read this book. My hope was the good parts of the earlier book would be magnified here. But unfortunately again I failed to much appreciate this.


The borderline here refers to the Canadian US border.


Felicity Seymour was the wife of the artist Seymour ‘The Old Volcano’. The father was a painter who modelled Felicity and there seems to be a Jean, a child by another marriage to the artist.


She has a lot of issues, our Felicity does. She rescues a Colombian trying to smuggle herself into Canada from between hanging meat in a freezing van from US. Why is she trying to go to Canada from US? Because she has been served deportation orders in US to go back to her country. There she meets Gus and makes him a co-conspirator. Gus or Augustus is a good for nothing man, vapid, womanizing and helpless.


Then comes the complicated flashback of Felicity’s life. How his maverick father Seymour suddenly abandoned her, her affairs with the much older painter, everything. She is quite a character, vapid but charming.


The story wanders back and forth, with apparently no purpose. A far cry from her famous novel Oyster. When Felicity goes back into childhood where she saves Hector, a girl with polio only to be caught with her later one day and raped, the story takes off. But goes wandering again. There is also this confusing bits where Jean-Marc is writing this whole story and some parts where he features in it.


This spotlights the plot of immigrants: how they are desperate to get a better life and how everyone – really everyone – is against them and with two very floaty characters running through it, it all sounds vague and idealistic and not even tethered to reality. Fairly boring.


The title Borderline refers to the border line between Canada and the US. Interesting! Generally a random thing where Felicity wanders about clueless, going back to her painter lover and walking out and going back again and what not.


Gus is even more of a layabout and lazy aimless and shifty person. Wanders around having affairs and proud of himself when he does not that one time. He has no aims, and wants to live like a bum even when he has money because his wife, after interminable number of affairs decides to leave him. You feel like saying bye to the whole useless lot. Sympathy? That is the last thing you feel.


There is an interesting relationship struggle with ambiguous relationship between pairs of people:  Felicity and “the Old Volcano” painter Seymour; between Felicity and Jean-Marc, the son of Old Volcano by a previous marriage; between Gus and his obsession the immigrant lady; between Kathleen, Gus’s daughter and Jean Marc. As if all this is not enough, there are unexplained disappearances of Gus, the la Magdalena, and even Felicity with a lot of speculation on what may have happened.


Well, on the whole confusing and sometimes surreal. Difficult to keep your mind in the story. Some interesting points but you cannot invest so much time to read the full story for the sake of a few items.


So, I guess 3/ 10


– – Krishna


Book: Countdown to Zero Day by Kim Zetter

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:29 pm

imageThe book’s subject matter is interesting. This is about the Iranian clandestine program to acquire nuclear status and the covert operation by what proved to be American and Israeli intelligence to disrupt it.

We of course learn of this gradually. The book’s story started with Iranians facing a larger number of reactor failures which surprised the westerners who came to know about it. The numbers were really high, even granting the inexperience of the scientists for whom all this was new. 

.Later, they figured out the cause. The Studnext virus. It was found by a Swedish virus hunting company. Ulasen, a Swedish rootkit analyst and hacker was surprised at the sophistication of the virus infecting the Iranian machines. There is a very interesting account of how a zero day virus differs from other viruses and how it can hide inaccessible to even the most sophisticated antivirus and anti rootkit programs.

But the description may be too technical for a lay man but for an IT person, it is easily understandable, even if you are not an expert in that field. No, not that it is heavily technical and not that you need a deep understanding of computers to get it, and I am not trying to be a snob but to me, it sounds like it is filled with some techie jargon and wondered how much a person with very little computer programming knowledge would have gotten otu of it. 

It appears that the virus is using a legitimate certificate but when the owner of the certificate and Microsoft did not respond to Ulasen’s queries, he publishes the story in his security blog and it creates a storm immediately as the world braces for a new attack. When they figure that it seems to only target an obscure Siemens CNC controller, everyone relaxes. Except for some security experts who refuse to go away.

They track the spread of the virus to an unusual pattern – most in Iran, followed by India and China (the latter two of which are the biggest trading partners to Iran). The book then goes on to track Iran’s nuclear ambitions from the time of Shah.

Nice descriptions of how great code and sloppy code were both found on the virus during the analysis. They look for clues in the path names and the dates and they seem to point to Israel originated virus.

The description of legal sales by companies to governments and others of unknown software vulnerables that the clients can attack is as shocking as it is riveting. Who knew that there was a legitimate business in bugs that is not widely known? 

There is also description on control systems for machines and how they evolved. This is a very thorough description, with computer technical concepts very well explained for the sake of lay folk.

The description of how vulnerable control systems including the smart meters are is truly shocking and is a must read for all those worried about computer security. The book goes into very interesting details of the vulnerabilities and the exposure in a way that it holds the interest of both techie types and laymen, which is an astonishingly good achievement.

Good descriptions. Nice details. Good, interesting way of describing what could have been a boring geeky world of cyberhacking and spy warfare in software. Good job by Kim overall.

The intrigues of the Bush (W) administration and Obama’s subsequent decisions add additional colour to the narration and make it even more enjoyable. Frankly, when I started the book, I did not think that I would enjoy reading the details of the affair so much. I took it up for the information it would contain but the enjoyable ride along the way is a huge bonus.

The final analysis of the implications of this attack, that too from US which has the most to lose through a counterstrike, are fascinating. It is very hard to keep the book both very informative and enjoyable at the same time. It is harder to keep the tempo and pace going throughout the book once you understand the basic subject matter and the premise. Kim does both very well and proves to be a skilful writer of non fiction.




–  –  Krishna


October 7, 2018

Book: Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:24 am

imageTorturer’s apprentice Severian. They go into the graveyard by night. He encounters some grade diggers being confronted by guards and watches from a hidden place. He saves the leader Vodalus and gets a coin in return. This changes his life. He also nearly drowns but seems to have been pushed out by the water itself, enough to rise near the surface and be saved. He buries the coin. He rescues a huge dog called Triskele.


He goes with a message to the aged librarian and visits the library, a new part of the building he has not seen.


He goes to a brothel for the ‘growing up’ experience. He meets and befriends Thecla, a beautiful woman who was arrested and participates in her torture against his will. He gives her a knife to end it all, and takes the punishment for it. Instead of killing him, they banish him to a remote village.


He meets a gentle giant who makes money with a partner in shows.  He goes to buy a cloak but is challenged to a duel by a knight who gives him a golden seed as a symbol.


They go to pluck a flower “for the combat” and go to a weird place where disjointed and weird things occur. Glenn seems to go off on a very surreal tangent that confuses rather than impresses and the height of expectations raised by the unusual storyline comes crashing down.


Then they meet two others who want to cheat people through a play and further weirdness happens. When they pass through massive walls with guards that are not even human, the story abruptly ends and the second “book” The Claw of ?? begins. Begins in – by now familiar – a disjointed sequence with sudden new characters which makes you wonder if you missed a piece in between but you are still reading the same physical book!


The story wanders all over the place. For instance, when you get interested in Triskele, the dog is completely abandoned. So with other characters. It makes the whole story seem disjointed.


He gets a letter where Thecla says she is alive and he rides hard into a trap laid by the sister of the fellow he killed (a girl called Agia)  and escapes due to the power of the Claw. He is taken by Vodalus and there are disgusting scenes where he eats human flesh and drinks some weird intoxicant. He is chased by shadow creatures that are vicious and seek heat.


The author several times says ‘If you don’t want to continue this journey with me, dear reader, and want to stop here, I understand’. I wish I had listened to that sage advice from the author himself and stopped the first time he wrote it. It would have saved a lot of valuable time.


The whole thing is dropped suddenly and a substory starts. This is what irritates you. Suddenly out of nowhere the author decides to wander, and invents beasts and men with weird names but suddenly introduces them into the story with absolutely no introduction. It is like watching a film where another film suddenly is thrust into, with no clue on where you left the original film and why you should care about this new film appearing, knowing that after some time, another new film will start at random. Ridiculous.


And all that blather about the play! The book reaches heights of ridiculousness and confusion that is unmatched even by the previous blather so far. It is really hard to keep reading as the whole thing seems pointless quite often. If you persevere, then you will find that there is no improvement right until the end.


1/ 10

= = Krishna


Book: Beyond the Hanging Wall by Sara Douglass

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:16 am

imageSimplistic story. Not very complicated. Keeps your interest for the most part, but does not provide the immersive experience that all great tales provide.


Maximilian, the prince, is tricked away from his group by a gifted trained hound that leads him astray. He goes missing for years. A hunter finds his ring on human bones in a bear’s den and decides to keep it for himself.


Fifteen years later, we meet Joseph Baxter who has the gift of the feel in his hands to cure the sick and his son Garth, finding that they cannot help their friend Miriam. Garth has the strong “Sense” and will surpass his father in the future.


The King invites Joseph and he in turn takes Garth. They meet the King and see that the branding he had undertaken (as all kings do) has turned bad and that the royal medic was unable to help. Garth learns that Joseph was the king’s physician but when Maximilion disappeared, he resigned and went back.


They go underground where the prisoners are mining gloam, a dark substance used for… well, I don’t know. They don’t say what it is for!


When he finds Maximillion as one of the prisoners, Garth is devastated and is resolved to free the prince. He meets a street vendor who gives him Manteceros ring, signifying Maximillion’s house symbol. When he goes to the swamp to tend to the swamp people, he meets a beautiful woman. The hovel he goes into seems magical. She, Venetia, and her daughter Ravenna, are surprised that he has the gift to “see”.


Ravenna takes him inside the dreamworld to free Manteceros.  They meet Manteceros, who behaves like a child, disappointing you a bit. Then everybody, including the Manteceros start singing for insignificant things and your disillusion deepens.


It also sends them back saying ‘First let Maximillion claim the throne and then I will come to his help’. They are helped by a mysterious monk called Brother Vorstus, who is sworn to protect the ‘true’ royal family.  They set off to the Veins the next year but first go to see King Cavor, who suddenly turns evil on them, ordering them to move to his palace.


Everybody sings about everything. Even freeing Maximilian is through a “magic song”. It can get a bit boring.


Anyway, Maximillion is smuggled out of the place by placing him in a secret compartment first and then smuggled in disguise out of the province, despite an entire army trying to check everyone. They then go over to the forest where Maximilian was first kidnapped. From there they go to the pavilion in dreamland. How are they transported? By singing of course!


It is a very predictable story and even though the author tries to tell it at an even pace, it simply sags in many places.


On top of it the abbot Vorstus keeps calling Garth “boy” as in “Keep silent, boy… pay close attention boy…”. Reminds me of Homer calling Bart “boy” and is terribly annoying in a story like that.


The capture of Joseph and Garth by the king’s men and the judgement scene are well done. The book picks up interest at that point but your patience has been tried for so long that it seems a bit too late.  And then the Monteceros comes and behaves childishly again, spoiling the effect. All in all an OK story but does not hold your interest


4/ 10

– – Krishna

October 1, 2018

Book: The Other Side of Midnight by Sidney Sheldon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:01 pm

imageOne of the better books from the master of suspense of yesteryears, Sidney Sheldon. Ranks up there with Rage of Angels  and The Master of the Game


Armand Gautier the famous director, Dr Israel Katz the famous neurosurgeon all go to see the trial of Noelle Page. Also Philippe Sorel an actor, Auguste Launchon a weasel of a man and William Fraser hating her guts.


The story shifts focus to the other lady in the story, Catherine Alexander, wanting to be a model from a young age, and wondering if she is beautiful enough. She is considered cold or a lesbian because she does not encourage men and she did not even realize it. She has her eyes on the football star in her college and he does not even seem to know that she exists.


Noelle Page was the daughter of the owner of a fishing company in M         arseilles. Her parents were ordinary looking, ugly even, but she was an exquisite beauty – blond to boot. Daddy wants to set her up with a rich man as a mistress and is thrilled when he hears that she wants to be a model. He sets her up with Auguste Launchon , who owns a shop in Marseilles – as a shop assistant. Once she understands that she is to be a whore for him, she runs away to Paris, with money given by him to find an apartment in Marseilles and set herself up, ready for him whenever he needed her.


She meets Larry Douglas an American soldier fighting for Britain in World War II and falls in love with him heavily. She is led up the garden path until he suddenly disappears. Interesting how in all Sydney Sheldon novels the girls fall for a great man and are totally disappointed. (Remember the Rage of the Angels?). She falls sick and is taken to the hospital where she meets Dr Israel Katz.  She discovers she is pregnant and waits until the last moment and kills the child with great pleasure through a quack and nearly gets killed in the process.


She then climbs the ladder through series of liaisons, first to Pierre, a talented but not handsome actor and then moves on to a famous director , Armand Gautier, sleeping her way to the top. Since she is in Paris, and the story unfolds in the forties, there is the Nazi occupation in the backdrop. She meets ‘the cockroach’ who is Israel Katz. After saving him and getting into trouble with the German commandant who admires her, she still decides to evade her followers and help him.


Catherine in the meanwhile has fallen for Bill Fraser, her employer in Washington DC but finds the sex disappointing. She meets Bill’s parents but finds herself not fully engaged. She meets the selfsame Larry and marries him!


Exhilarating scenes where Noelle uses the German general to smuggle Israel Katz right under the noses of the Nazis.


The Larry who comes back to Katherine after WW II is not the same man she married – temperamentally. Not interested in work, fighting all the time, a savage thrust whenever he wants to make love, Katherine is confused. Fraser stays a true friend through all this.


Larry goes into a jealous rage whenever Fraser is mentioned and loses his job due to an anger issue. He loses many jobs mysteriously but goes to Greece to work for Demetris. Noelle is the puppet master in all this. She keeps insulting him. He has completely forgotten her and she wonders why.


When she pushes him too far, he violently beds her and she falls in love all over again with him and hides her affair from the mighty Demetris. When Larry asks for divorce, Katherine says ‘never’ and so Larry and Noelle plot to kill her. Larry is now remorseful and wants to take her to an island for a “vacation”. After several attempts, Catherine tries to escape him and Noelle by boat and drowns. The police arrest both and Demetris hires the best lawyer in town to save Noelle if she promises to get back to him and she does. The trial is fantastic and the final twist is breathtaking.


Another of Sheldon’s great books!


This is one of the top 3 early books from Sidney Sheldon as we said in the beginning  and I think it deserves a 8/10

– – Krishna

Book: Just After Sunset by Stephen King

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

imageYet another Stephen King book, right after the review for 12/23/63

This is a collection of short stories.

The first tale is Willa where David, an investment banker is puzzled when Willa, his bride to be, suddenly leaves a railway station where they had gathered with other survivors after a train derailment and were waiting for a special train to take them where they want to go. They originally were going to San Francisco in the train and got stuck in Wyoming. He goes in search of her, through dangerous wolf ridden territory and finds her in a bar where people are dancing. The twist in the story is good and reminds one of the best of Poe’s short stories. Nice.


The second is The Gingerbread Girl and it is told in the classic King style. He starts at the point where Emily is obsessed with running and slowly pulls back to show the death of their infant daughter Amy through a crib death, the mismatched personality of her with Harry, her husband, their fairly rich background, and the fact that Amy was born after four years of wanting to have a kid and at the point where they were contemplating fertility treatments.


She runs away from it all to a secluded house away in the seashore – the one belonging to her father – and starts running there, unobserved. When Pickering arrives, Deke, the guard warns her to stay off him because he comes with a different niece, all young ones, every time. But when she runs past his house, she glances inside and finds a blonde corpse in the trunk (which was open). Then she gets hit on the head and wakes up taped to a chair that is taped to the floor and the story really gets exciting, in the best of Stephen King’s traditions. Lovely how she plots to escape and how she nearly does not make it. Brilliant.


Next story is ‘Harvey’s Dream’ and Harvey Steven and Janet. This is as weird as the previous one is good. She gets increasingly disturbed when Harvey tries to tell her his dream with what she imagines is dangerous overtones of reality. Does not impress.


Next is a story called Rest Stop. Jack Dykstra writes as John Hardin but after a lecture in a book club, comes back home and on the way stops at a lonely rest stop. He sees Lee, an uneducated brute, abusing his wife. He steps in using his alter ego – one of his characters and subdues Lee. Nice.


Next story is about Richard Sifkitz, a commercial artwork creator, who is informed by Dr Brady that he is overweight and high in cholesterol. (Stationary Bike). The analogy he gives of construction workers inside his body trying to dispose of fat triggers a strong desire to paint.  He sees that the obsessive painting and a stationary bike in front of it gets him into a trance and is improving his health tremendously and giving him abs to boot. The trip in the trance is evening and when it becomes night, he realizes that he is in trouble when a motorcar follows him at great speed.


Next, ‘The Things They Left Behind’. The narrator, Scott Staley, helps Paula Robeson, a cute but married artist with her predicament. He is a research journalist. He suddenly finds a pair of sunglasses and a baseball bat left inside his house, that have very big significance to past events in his life. The shades were Sonja D’Amico’s and the bat was Cleve Farrell’s.  He finally figures out what he must do with them and we realize that he is a survivor of that great tragedy of Sep 11.


Graduation day tells the story of Buddy and Janice, she unable to say she loves him.  Ends abruptly and weirdly, but you have to admit that the twist is unexpected.


N is a story about a mental patient. Johnny Bonsaint is a psychiatrist who gets a patient called N. He ultimately commits suicide and his wife, Sheila sends the notes to a childhood friend of Johnny. The notes are fascinating. It is about how N. one day came across a high place where there were seven or eight stones and he saw a dark evil shape in the middle trapped. N. has full fledged OCD and it developed because of this. He finally tells how his camera will not take pictures of the place and how his disposable camera actually got fried. He becomes the ‘keeper’ of the place and has to count and touch constantly so that evil does not come into this world. Very creepy and interesting story. N. dies and the Doctor, just so not to give in to paranoia, decides to visit the place once and see for himself that it is all in the patient’s mind. Major mistake. Wonderful ending of three stages, the doctor, his sister and the childhood friend that she sends the document to. A must read.


The Cat From Hell – A weird tale. An old man hires a professional killer to kill a cat that is in the house. It is exactly half black and half white and seems harmless. The old man claims it has killed three folks in the house already and is plotting to kill him. The hired killer takes it in a thick bag in a car to have it killed outside, as per the old man’s request. That is when everything goes wrong. Nice, but weird.


The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates – When Annie’s relatives are planning her husband James’s funeral, he calls her on the phone. She picks up when she is out from the bath. Very short and interesting but bizarre story. The title makes sense in the last statement of the story. But you may decide that it is a cop out.


Mute – Monette picks up a deaf and dumb hitchhiker (poor, raggedy, homeless) and takes him in a long car ride. Since the man cannot hear, he pours out his heart how his wife in her middle age left him for a sixty year old man and has been carrying on for near two years to boot. He tells the story to the deaf and dumb man. We can guess that, given the nature of the story and the author, the person perhaps is not really deaf, but what happens after is an interesting, including how it ends.


The next story is Ayana – a weird one. When that black girl kisses the narrator’s dad, he is cured and the narrator in turn gets many others cured. A different person each time (military man multiple times for the narrator) comes and asks him to help. Weird ending too.


A Very Tight Place – Curtis Johnson lives on Turtle Island and has a feud with Grunwald, a builder trying to acquire and build on the last vacant lot in that island. He is lured by the latter into a settlement talk in a remote location. He is forced into a portacabin at gun point and realizes that Grunwald plans to kill him and commit suicide thereafter. And that Grunwald has gone stark raving mad. The struggles of Curtis are icky but strangely captivating. But for all that, the end is kind of disappointing. I know that it is a truly liberating experience and what he says to Grunwald near the end is interesting, but still I think I would have preferred something else.


As always, the short story business is tougher as there are some excellent ones but there are some really ordinary ones. I still would rate it at 6/10


– – Krishna


September 9, 2018

Book: 11/23/63 by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:50 pm

imageMy God, is there no end to the varied stories Stephen King can write and make interesting? ­­We have reviewed many of the author’s books here. See Under The Dome and Revival for but just two examples. This one is about time travel and is fascinating to read.


The narrator Jake Epping, a teacher, does not feel emotion enough to cry for anything and his wife Christy leaves him citing that reason. He reads a heartrending assignment from an ESL student called Hoptoad Harry or Harry Dunnings really, who limps (hence the nickname) and was a victim of a mass violence in his young age. He meets Harry’s graduation.


There is subtle humour, as in some of his best books, like the bar owner Al Templeton considering himself a good “Catlick” When Al Templeton uncharacteristically calls him to come and see him immediately, Jake does not know what he is getting into. Al is thinner and older than he should be, given that Jake had just seen him the previous day.


He goes into a corner room that seems to be too small for him to stand straight but when he goes in, he feels steps that are not there. After several disorienting moments, he climbs down the stairs, and finds himself in the past. He is outside in sunshine and the whole world has changed.


He goes and comes back dazed and finds that every time he goes, he goes to the same time, and no one else out there has any memory of him and the same events happen again and again like Groundhog Day (the movie) and that the only way he can change the dialog is if he asks something else the next time.


Al says that you can go and change things, and given the time he goes in, the best is to attempt to thwart the assassination of JFK.  Al talks about meeting Oswald close up where he tormented his absolutely gorgeous wife and was generally a bully.


He explains how he saved a girl from an existence in wheelchair by averting the shooting accident and also it is interesting to see how, every time you go down the portal, it is a total reset.


Jake wants to try to save Hoptoad Harry from the accident that befell his family as an experiment before he agrees to go change history. He goes down the portal with fake ID and cards and cash.


The description of the difference between 2005 America and 1958 America are really interesting. The storytelling power of Stephen King, which never ceases to amaze me, really shows here.


He goes and tracks the father Dunning, whom he finds with difficulty, befriending two youngsters dancing. He goes to the supermarket and finds that Frank is a charming man and a butcher. He follows him to his rented apartment.


When he tries to plan his attack on Frank and bivouacs outside the Dunning house on Halloween, he is surprised by Duffy who, it turns out, had his sister married to Frank and suspects him of having murdered her and covered it up. He manages to outwit him and due to this, is late to the rescue and sees the wife’s hand crushed and one of the kids dead. He manages to save the others but gets scalped in the process and rescued by Duffy.


He returns and checks the altered history. No Hoptoad Harry in the school as a janitor anymore. But when he reaches her sister after a long search, he learns that Harry was killed in Vietnam after enlisting in the army. Back he goes again, and this time takes care of Dunning by shooting him before he even gets a chance to go to his family to kill. Then he goes to save a crippled girl from accidental shooting.


He does it by having the husband teach him a card game. And then he goes to Dallas. Here, for a bit, the story sags. He gets involved in a school play and brings out the best in kids.


He falls in love with Sadie, a new teacher who is still finalizing her divorce with a bad man. When the man disfigures Sadie and is killed by him, he misses seeing Lee take a potshot at General Walker and miss. He then tells partially the truth to Sadie and takes her to a boxing match to prove his predictions. The story sags with details of who did what before Kennedy assassination but if you are bored, plough through it. It is only a small but and even there you have interesting bits like the the parallel story of Sadie, and the relationship between her and Jake. It gets better and better and towards the end, it is truly gripping.


His betting habits catch up with him when he is caught at his home alone by thugs hired by the betting Mafia. He loses his memory and as Kennedy visit nears, the tension ratchets up with his struggle to even remember what he had to do. Nice. His car breaks down and he narrowly avoids getting killed. Then a big accident in a bus and he survives.


They hijack an old car and proceed. He just manages to thwart Oswald but in the melee Sadie gets hit and dies. He goes back to reset everything when he meets the ‘green card man’.  That explanation is just amazing. That part makes up partly for all the saggy bits of the story. In fact you realize that the story is not about Kennedy at all.


From there the entire story and his struggle to do the ‘right thing’ and the sacrifice he has to make for it, and the ending are all top class. Just for the saggy bits, I am going to reduce the rating to a 7/10


  – – Krishna

Book: The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:40 pm

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

Initially, in this book, the narrator is the son Uhtred of the narrator of all the previous stories. Times have moved on and Uhtred Sr is very old so the son takes over the narration of youthful battles and adventures. You really miss the old Uhtred because you have sort of travelled with him all this way and to find a different man talking to you, even though it is the same author’s voice and style feels like something is missing.


Uhtred, from now on the Jr one, defeats the Viking Hans with a plan hatched by Aethelflad, the queen and Alfred’s daughter. It is fun to see Aethelflad described as ugly and vicious, and the Uhtred boy wondering what his father sees in her.


He brings the treasure and Haki only for the treasure to be confiscated by men of Aethelred, the ailing regent of Mercia and the husband of Aethelflad. He meets his father at the inn and the familiar Uhtred continues the story!


He is called to see a different lord (Eardwulf) marrying Aethelred’s (and Aethelflad’s) daughter. A spy, Priest Penda, tells him that he has been called here not to witness or protest but to get him out of the way while they planned to kidnap Aethelstan who was in his custody. He feigns grave illness and rushes back.


Nice scenes of a priest hitting his daughter in the mouth and how she kills him. Also nice scenes of how the Aethelhelm’s men are defeated by son Uhtred. Bernard seems to improve over the years as he narrates more tales. This one is really breathtaking. Then they all retire to a different location, fearing Aethelhelm’s revenge.


He then goes to rescue Aethelflad’s daughter whom her husband has betrothed to an evil man Eardwulf. Takes his daughter who has a plan to kidnap the girl but finds that King Edward is attending the wedding with his army. He gets the girl and runs towards Aethelflad before realizing that the enemy is outflanking him and coming at his puny army with a massive force.


When Aethelflad saves him he realizes that she also does not have enough army to stop the ambitious man Eardwulf from killing both of them, he lays a trap for the man. He succeeds in sending him to exile. He claims the loyalty of her sister, who cures him of his wound when he finds the sword that had injured him earlier. He realizes that Caester is under attack and goes back to save it.


He tricks Styggyr in a trap and takes him as hostage after making him lose an eye.  Keeping him as a hostage, he forces the Danes to depart. Then kills the great Dane, who is his enemy all along.


The story ends with a nice twist. Bernard has done it again. Beautiful narration and good, gripping, story.



–   –   Krishna

September 2, 2018

Book: Brothers to Shadows by Andre Norton

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:24 pm

imageAndre Norton, or Alice Mary Norton to give her her real name, was a legend in science fiction, having won several awards and having started writing from 1934. This is her return to fiction after several years’ absence.


A group (‘brothers’)  meets Shagga, the  priest. He announces that the Master is dead and the two chief assistants kill themselves. Shagga hates an outlander Jofre who was adopted by the Master and throws him out of the Brotherhood, after distributing all others to other Brotherhoods.  Jofre, though, ends up finding a power crystal in an abandoned place and thwarts the bird that Shagga sent after him. Next a more powerful bird (? spirit?) is sent after him.


Ras Zarn, a merchant, sends a Lady who is the best he has after a secret mission.  In the meanwhile he also enlists the help of The Lady, the most powerful assistant, but she declines and goes.


The story gets more interesting when Joffre meets Zurzal of the Zacathan race, a lizard like beings. He rescues him from an attack by unknown enemies and discovers that his arm is regrowing after being cut off. He swears an oath to him to help him.


But both are appealed to by the evil lord for help. Zurzal is experimenting with time travel and the man wants his secret. When Zurzal refuses politely they both are overwhelmed, kidnapped and thrown into a spaceship. In the same ship is a female, issha trained spy as well.


He is taken to the Holder, who seems to have usurped power illegally, as gathered by Joffre.

He attempts to demonstrate the time machine to holder and survives an assassination attempt.


When the next time Zruzal is asked to demonstrate he shows how the current Holder earned his place through assassination, which causes a riot and the rebels capture the Holder. Zurzal, Joffre and the girl all seek the protection of the Patrol. When they try to unlink Jat from the Holder, they inadvertently link it to themselves (both) thus forming a bond. Jewelbright and Joffre now share a bond and he tells her that he is no longer a recognized Brother.


They go and collect weapons from a scrap heap dealer. They are being watched and Jewelbright is given orders to watch both Zurzal and Joffre. She is conflicted. In the meanwhile, Joffre spots a tail who stands out so much that he is amazed.


They hitch a ride to a barren planet. Then things move fast but it all ends abruptly and with no particular premeditation of the plot, it would seem.


Does it read well? Maybe for a moment, maybe in parts. But a simple story, insufficiently woven into any kind of a great story.


Does not make you wonder afterwards, like for instance, the Game of Thrones series does.


Just a 4/10 I would think.

–   –  Krishna

Book: Santorini by Alistair MacLean

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:14 pm

imageAlistair MacLean writes well, has a penchant for aristocratic language which nevertheless did not seem odd even in the eighties when he was at his peak. In addition, the twists and turns keep coming and keep you turning the pages. Normally.


He himself is an interesting person. He is the son of a Scottish minister. English was learnt as a second language (after Gaelic, his mother tongue). He worked as a teacher in England. He also, suddenly, decided to stop writing and run a hotel business in England. Three years later, he returned to his writing.


Alistair can also be unpredictable. Some of his books are excellent – The Guns of Navarone or Force 10 from Navarone , for example, or Where Eagles Dare and some can be downright boring and I am not even talking about his last novels like The Way To Dusty Death which was a disaster. Even things like Ice Station Zebra seemed to drone on and on.  Where does this book stand? Let us see.


First, I will keep an open mind and will not judge it by when it was written. (This was the last book published by him).


The story starts interestingly enough.


A ship is in flames and sinking and a plane, which could be a military plane (Did it attack the ship?) or civilian, also is sinking. A British naval ship goes to investigate with O’Rourke, aristocratic Lieutenant McCafferty (who is an electronics genius), Van Gelden and the boss Talbot. They realize that the downed plane was a US plane on a secret mission.


The cat and mouse game begins with the survivors in the submarine and a mysterious death of chef and engineer in the engine room.


Experts come in a hurry from Washington and we learn that the plane that drowned was American, carrying nuclear weapons (including a Hydrogen bomb inside). I will give this much to Alistair. He knows his facts. He makes a character correctly mention that the hydrogen weapon’s fusion is started off by the fission of a normal atom bomb within it.


Lots of blather about how seismic activity can trigger a mega explosion. Then comes suspicions about the oh so clean skipper of the vessel, which is interesting. But too much conversation about technical mechanical things that get boring after a while, despite his characteristic light veined, aristocratic humour running through it.


The President of USA promises to help. Lots of fresh blather about how brave and knowledgeable and reliable everyone is and how mysterious Andropoulos is. It is funny how when Van Gelder is asked to use his charms to learn secrets from the pretty woman on board, he behaves. Unbelievably corny and unnatural in the context of the modern world.


They all learn the Andropoulos is perhaps involved in arms smuggling as well as drug smuggling.


I tried to keep an open mind but all those excruciating details about pulling up a plane by a pulley and careful measurements and markings and moves etc.. No, this is not a great story to read


The ending is full of twists, vintage Alistair McLean. However, it is too much of a travel to reach there. Thank God it is a small book.

3/ 10

–  – Krishna


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