bookspluslife

May 19, 2018

Book: Middlemarch by George Eliot

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:34 pm

imageA classic, so let us march right into the story.

 

Miss Dorothea Brooke and her sister Celia. Celia is practical but Dorothea is religious. Orphaned, they are looked after by their uncle. Dorothea, the elder seems to be a religious zealot of the first kind. Even though the baronet desires her, she likes the withered and old Casaubon, the philosopher.

 

She agrees to marry him even over the interest shows by Sir Chetham and contrary to the wishes of her uncle and her own sister. Sir Chetham is frustrated, but advised to look closer at the other, more practical, sister Celia by the town pastor’s skinflint, but practical, wife.

 

There are the Vincys, who are rich merchants. Rosamund and Fred are his children. Rosamund is an exquisite beauty and their old and cantankerous uncle Featherstone is rich and issueless so Fred hopes for a piece of the pie. Mary Jane, who lives in the house is plain but a close friend of the fair Rosamund.

 

Rosamund deliberately contrives to meet Mr Lydgate, who is handsome and a physician to boot, and manages to fall in love with him. Lydgate only cares for medicine and he fell for an artist once and was betrayed, so he has no interest in romance. He was a poor person who wanted to do medicine, but his benefactor approved “despite the impact on family dignity by this choice’. How different were those times.

 

There is an election for the priest where Farebrother is ousted by the more dogmatic but tedius preacher.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Dorothea seems to realize that marriage to Casaubon may not be what she thought it would be. He seems to want to do his research alone and rebuffs her every attempt to contribute. When she meets the young and sunny relation of Casaubon’s, Ladislaw, the contrast is immediately apparent. Ladislaw is amazed that Dorothea, who is simple and endearing, would have chosen his uncle as a husband. He himself is financially supported by Casaubon and seems to have no fixed aim in life.

 

His friend Naumann, an artist, also persuades both Mr and Mrs Casaubon to sit for separate portraits for him and seems to angle for Dorothea’s attentions at the same time.

 

Meanwhile Fred seems to have let his extravagancy impact even Mary’s parents and is vaguely guilty. He seems to have a reckless streak with no morality and no understanding of other’s pains even caused by his own actions.

 

When Fred gets ill, the younger Lydgate shows up the family physician Mr Wrench by diagnosing Fred’s illness as Typhoid, earning the wrath of the senior physician. Lydgate gets close to Rosamund as a result. She is delighted and is in love but he thinks of it only as harmless flirtation. Finally circumstances force him to confront his feelings and he finds that he is in love with her after all.

Meanwhile Celia and Sir James are betrothed.

 

Ladislaw becomes the editor of Pioneer, a newspaper under Mr Brooks, uncle of Dorothea and seems to want to be with Dorothea alone a lot, much to the disgust of Casauban.

 

Lydgate creates enemies by openly talking about the new medicinal methods and when Bulstrode finances a new hospital, the protests against Lydgate’s “arrogance” rises to a fever pitch.

 

Ladislaw tries to meet Dorothea, much to the disgust of Casauban. After asking her to promise to fulfil his wishes after his death without specifying what they are, Casauban himself dies before she can give her promise. When they realize that the will says that she will not inherit a cent if she marries Ladislaw, everyone is scandalized.

 

Ladislaw goes away for a long time.

 

Meanwhile, Fred asks Fairbrother to plead his case to Mary. Setting aside his own attraction to Mary, Fairbrother does so. Fred decides not to pursue priesthood, and settles on business (an unpreferred profession!) as assistant to Caleb, much to the chagrin of his parents who consider his university degree “wasted”.

 

Lydgate finds himself in debt due to increased expenses after marriage to keep up with the Joneses. Now, it is cute that he is “obliged to keep two horses” like we would two cars these days. He tries to bring up the subject to Rosamund but she is bewildered.

 

Raffles, the rapscallion, comes back to haunt Bulstrode, calling him “best friend” and extorting money. We learn that Bulstrode, in his past life, married a wealthy woman hiding the fact that the daughter who had runaway had been found and keeping all the money for himself (when the woman died eventually). Raffles was in on the secret and has ever since been blackmailing Bulstrode for money. Now he tells Bulstrode that he plans to ‘come and live’ permanently in Middlemarch, close to his victim.

 

Ladislaw goes away for good.

 

Meanwhile, Rosamond and Lydgate have a rift, especially when Lydgate suggests that they live within their means, with bankruptcy staring in his face. Now we find that Bulstrode faces Garth who had realized, through Raffles, who seem to be dying, the secret and resigns his post. Bulstrode himself cares for Raffles and lends the money needed to Lydgate in a change of heart.

 

When Bulstrode’s deceit gets exposed in a public meeting, much to his chagrin, Lydgate finds himself tainted by mere association. But Rosamund is feeling more and more out of love with Lydgate and refuses even to commiserate, immersed in her own misery.

 

When Dorothea goes to comfort Rosamond, she catches her in what seems to be a compromising position with Will Ladislaw and flees the place, causing pain to both Rosamond and Ladislaw.  All is sorted out and the lovers who made up decide to marry, even at the risk of Dorothea losing most of her inheritance.

 

The ending is neat, especially the epilog which, later, like Harry Potter, follows the characters several years later and tells what happened.

 

6/10

 

–  –  Krishna

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Book: Sun in A Bottle by Charles Seife

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:26 pm

imageSometimes, you just have to read a couple of pages in some books to know that this is one that you will enjoy. This seems to be such a book. This is about the quest of humankind to harness fusion as the solution for world’s energy needs. Starts from the gruesome scene of the result of fission, the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Also, the subtitle of the book explains the context better. “The Strange History of Fusion and The Science of Wishful Thinking”.

He gives a great layman’s account of what happens inside an atom bomb when the chain reaction starts and why such destructive power is unleashed, without the least bit resorting to any technical mumbo jumbo, the author provides interesting tidbits about how Enrico Fermi was the one who first showed how to control a nuclear reaction so that it does not become runaway (as in a bomb) but harnessed for power (as in a reactor).

 

Lovely portraits of the scientists themselves, reminding one of the style of that brilliant book from Bill Bryson, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’. Consider this. Oppenheimer was the most unlikely person you would pick to head the Manhattan project which was in charge of perfecting the atom bomb for the US during the forties.  He mastered more than half a dozen languages including Sanskrit. But had difficulty even soldering copper wires. He considered himself a failure in Cambridge and contemplated suicide. He became even more erratic and tried to strangle a colleague. And claimed he placed a poisoned apple on the desk of a fellow scientist. Imagine in the current world of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin – would he now be given a chance to head perhaps the most important scientific project?

 

Still not convinced? Consider this. At the time of his appointment, Oppenheimer was a security risk.  His brother and sisters in law were members of the communist party.  In addition, his ex-girlfriend was also a member!

 

It is interesting to know also that Richard Feynman and Enrico Fermi were both members of the team. Interesting stuff also about Edward Teller, the sinister scientist with an obsession on fusion and who was going his own way in the project.  Amazingly, Truman is forced to take the side of fission  bomb when it turns out that a senior scientist of the project was exposed as a Russian spy and has been handing the fusion research secrets to the Russians all along.

 

The latter humiliation of Oppenheimer by a vicious vindictive Teller is well told.

 

Fabulous backstory about how the scientific community figured out electrons, protons, and neutrons. Even radioactivity is put into perspective better than I have seen done anywhere. Great stuff to read. The chilling plans to build canals and change the shape of the earth is told well. How many of us were unaware of these plans!

 

To think that Lake Chagan in Russia was actually created by a fusion bomb is astonishing. The tests that America and Russia did, and especially the hoax which took in Juan Peron to spend tens of millions of dollars on a fusion engine by a fake scientist, all are brilliantly told.  It can be a bit too technically oriented (despite being explained in simple terms brilliantly by the author) for people looking for stories but it definitely is fascinating to read.

 

First he takes on the cold fusion fiasco bordering on fraud by two famous scientists, both with glorious pasts, and their ultimate humiliation and exile to the fringes of the scientific research and he explains it very well.

 

Again I must reiterate : I have never seen anyone explain complex concepts so well. He explains how lasers are generated. Fascinating. It is by hitting molecules with light particles in a particular way with a particular colour of light. And he describes how when another molecule of light simply passes by, the light emitted by the atom that is hit “marches in lockstep with it”

 

The fiasco of the Cold Fusion hype is well told. I knew what cold fusion even was only by reading this book. Nice. But the detailed description of failure after failure can seem a bit long and a bit of a narrow focus for some readers.  But his description of  Talayerkhan’s blind pursuit in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence and his final literary evisceration by the scientific community make fascinating reading. Then comes the fiasco of bubble fusion, where scientists seem to border on deceit or at least self deception to claim results that are not from quality experiments and sometimes bordering on fraud.

 

The next piece about the fusion research and the hidden agenda of the countries is well told.

 

The ending? Meh. A lot of proselytizing and some repetition of the older ideas. Could have been better. His explanation of complex concepts is awe inspiringly masterly. Just for that, this book should be read by anyone interested in fusion or fission.

 

In my final rating, the rate is a bit low only because of the subpar ending.

 

7/10

– – Krishna

May 12, 2018

Book: Valley Of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:28 pm

imageThis was a cult classic and was a rage when it was published way back in 1979. Today, it reads differently, at least for me. You judge for yourself.

 

Anne is bored of her tiny city and goes to New York to be released from the predictable life of a housewife with strict obedience to a man she does not even love.  She finds a job as a secretary and works for a nice man.

 

Emily dates a man (Allan Cooper) who seems to be boring but a struggling salesman and treats her with kindness while many in the company chase her. The boy toy Lyon Burke comes back to the company making every woman swoon there.  She discovers that Allen Cooper, who she thought was a down and out salesman is really a very rich man and wants to marry her.  She, however is not in love with him, and says so to Allan’s father Gino.

 

Meanwhile she discovers the “soft” side of Lyon Burke and also discovers that Henry Bellamy is in love with her. (She, according to the story, is incredibly beautiful.) It gets interesting when Allan Cooper takes it for granted that she will marry him and she fights back to preserve her independent decision making. No one else can understand why she does not like to marry a catch like Allen Cooper.

 

She is in love with Lyon but he is a playboy and everyone feels she will be hurt by him. She befriends Helen Lawson despite everyone telling her that Helen is a bitch.

 

Helen is after Gino but he is uninterested. The story takes a big turn towards boredom with Emily sticking up for Helen despite what you can see as a spoiled brat behaviour by Helen and also about Allen finally pressing her to move the relationship forward. It is the usual confused melee and the lovely flow of the story stalls abruptly. She finds a part for Neely.

 

Then the story gets too boring with Emily and Lyon expressing love and doubt and love. The nice and easy storytelling descends into the run of the mill pulp romance.

 

Lyon one day simply disappears to ‘write his story’. Jennifer marries Tony Palar only to discover that she is a trapped wife and he is a boy in is brains and Mariam, the sister, controls everything. Neely is seeing wild success but Mel, her boyfriend feels as useless as Jennifer. Emotional ragweed blows all over the story landscape.

 

Neely becomes the most sought after star and then crashes. Everyone starts sleeping around Jennifer sleeps with a French man even though she knows he is using her and goes to Paris to be a porn star. Neely has a succession of husbands, all of whom fail her. She goes to prescription drugs and drink in desperation. Her husband sleeps around with a young thing (before being kicked out) and even her producer sleeps with a young star who he wants to supplant Neely.

 

The uptight, initially virginal Emily sleeps around with Gillian, even though she does not ‘feel the passion’. So on and so forth.. The book steadily goes downhill fast.

 

Everyone also struggles through life. Jen making it, losing it, doing porn in France, coming  back to conquer America and just when she finally found the love of her life with a Senator, everything unravelling (breast cancer) and unwilling to face mastectomy, ends her life.

 

Neely keeps wrecking her life, getting repeatedly suicidal and finally is checked into a mental correction facility.

 

When Lyon comes back Emily goes right back to have sex with him, abandoning Kevin who stuck by her all his life without a second thought. All the girls thus seem to behave in a weird and unpredictable, almost cruel way to everyone around them and this seems to be a human emotional frailty? Spare me the explanations, please. They all seem to be extremely nasty.

 

What a pessimistic book it is! It was considered a cult classic in the late seventies, like I said in my preamble but if the author is trying to explain the strengths and weaknesses of three women (Ann, Jennifer and Neely) what we get are three selfish, conniving, manipulative, vindictive women who behave like totally spoilt, ungrateful, vicious brats and kind of get what they deserve. Even the men in the book (Lyon for instance) are sleaze bags. It is all very depressing, but not in a very good way either. The ending is equally depressing and abrupt.

 

4/10

–  – Krishna

Book: Second Shadow by Aimee & David Thurlo

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

imageThis is a simple story, intended to be a thriller and too simply written to elevate this into the realm of interesting books.

Dinetsoh is wounded and is being hunted. He

 

alone knows who killed Anglo attorney Powell Atkins and is trying also to protect the briefcase he is carryi

ng.

 

Emily is being attacked by two men and James rescues her with the aid of a folding metal stick (Don’t laugh.) He has been in love with Emily and even saved here before but disappeared before she could properly thank him.

 

He promises to protect her. They discover a secret document stored inside a wall after a lot of philosophy about Navajo tribe  from James. They handle a very suspicious-acting neighbour. They are puzzled by the theft of maps from her father’s study. Behind a loose board in the house, they discover a paper that tells them that her dad was acting as a lawyer to the Tribe.

 

While the bully neighbour claims that her father had agreed to sell the entire property to him they discover proof that he had rejected the offer. Also found hidden in the safe deposit box left by her dad is a paper with what looks like coordinates on a map.

 

She goes investigating and generally flirting with James. They find and thwart an attempt to stymie her construction crew with a fake investigation for a gas leak.  Another attempt at their life is made in the street by a set up tree trunk in their path and the shoulder of the road rigged with soft sand.

 

The sabotages continue. A blond with a stunning figure seems to be involved, though no one knows who she is. Then they find out that the mastermind shooting at them repeatedly is none other than the neighbour Woods.

 

For all his expert skills Jason keeps leading Emily into trouble constantly! Woods seems to be everywhere and doing everything. If you think that it is a setup for a whopper of a twist at the end, stop thinking. This is not any complex story. A simple story not aimed at thinking minds. Just read and forget.

 

The way they overcome Woods and the way they learn of their mystery is all very sudden and simple. Nothing to work out here, folks.

 

It is entertaining after a fashion but will not stay in your mind.

 

3 /10

–  –  Krishna

May 6, 2018

Book: The Son Also Rises by Gregory Clark

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:36 pm

imageStarts well. Explores social mobility. Can birth alone determine your future social status? Is the American dream which says you can be whatever you like a myth at least partially? He does an interesting analysis by just surnames and discovers that the social mobility is very small, much smaller than you would think or want to believe. The discussions are fascinating. He argues that this is not a pessimistic view, since if you elongate the timeframe to about 300 years, the deck gets shuffled and everyone reverts to the mean. In the end, even within the dynasties, it is the ability and not the money that matters.

 

What starts promisingly thus descends into analysis of percentages that never ends and you rapidly lose interest and consider it one of the most boring books you have read. Interminable statistics about the same point over and over and you feel even more tired than watching the family videos of a distant acquaintance when forced to sit on their house and watch for half a day.

 

He moves painfully from Sweden to the US. More of the same blather. The one short piece that holds your interest is how the surnames in Medieval England originated. We of course know that Baker, Carpenter, Smith, Clark, Cook, Butler are all based on professions that became surnames (in the thirteenth century, this book tells us). But I had not thought of Chamberlain, Carter, Shepherd, Ploughman, Thresher and Wright came from the same. Some are even more obscure, the textile industry professions gave the surnames Webber and Webster (for weavers), Skinner, Tanner and even Glover (from the leather trade), Barker (from textile as well), Coward (a corruption of cowherd), Baxter (from Baker) and Dexter (from Dyer).  The elites, who moved from their native cities to the royal court took the cities as surnames and hence we have now Montgomery, Holland, Kent etc.

 

And you learn that the surname Spencer really comes from dispenser and Clark or Clarke comes from cleric.

 

After that brief illuminating discussion, it sinks back into the same analysis but with Medieval English times.

 

He also says that Old Sarum in 1831 had a population of 7 and an electorate of 4.  152 out of 406 MPs were elected by fewer than one hundred voters. (they were called the rotten boroughs). In other words, a handful of people wielded political power through representatives out of all proportion to their numbers until it was reformed shortly after 1830s.

 

Then the author says “OK I will explain why my theory works always as opposed to other studies that show a greater variation” . You sit up and say, “At last! We will get to know the theory instead of interminable examples proving the same in excruciating detail”. He then disappoints by giving an equation like y = bx + c and explaining what the constants b and c are and therefore why this rate is the same! You go ‘Serves me right for expecting something, in spite of my experience so far.’

 

More blather about how educational help to children does not seem to boost the level of change.

 

There are some interesting thoughts in the book. For instance, he describes how when we track the descendents of Charles Darwin, who expounded the theory of the survival of the fittest, we sees his own progeny dwindling from generation to generation!

 

There is also firm evidence that affirmative action or the equivalent reservation system has not produced any improvement in the plight of the disadvantaged, no matter what the government does. Well, it does, but nowhere near the effect that was sought. But you have to sit through a lot of dross that sounds like a research analytics in detail to get at these nuggets.

 

A couple of interesting facts emerge. Why are Coptic Christians, a religious minority, in elite status in Egypt? Because, all the poorer people, unable to pay the tax to practice other religions, converted to Islam, leaving the elite in place, who were richer. Given the persistent rates of social immobility, this persists to the present day. Similarly, the explanation of how a handful of Ashkenazi Jews in the earlier centuries became so populous and elite. Interesting vignettes indeed.

 

But the book is mostly dross and I cannot in all honesty, as a lay reader, give it more than 3/ 10

–  –  Krishna

Book: Some Do Not… by Ford Maddox Ford

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:31 pm

imageThere is not much to give by way of preamble so let’s jump right down to the story. This was written in 1924 but I have not heard of Ford Maddox Ford the same way I know of Dickens or others.

 

Two men are going in a luxurious train. Tietjens and McMaster, two polar opposites. McMaster fancies himself as a writer and is orderly. Tietjens is a happy go lucky fellow. They are from the University. Tietjens is of aristocratic lineage and everything came to him easily. But they are good friends. Tietjen’s father helped McMaster get a job.

 

Tietjen marries, moved to another house (while McMaster continues to stay in the original Tietjen house) and his wife runs away with a lover, leaving him stranded with two kids and then after many weeks, the wife coolly writes and asks him to take her back.

 

Some British aristocratic blather follows. How McMaster hopes to escape into the nobility through the sheer power of writing by getting books published and stuff like that.

 

Then they get into morality and religion argument that is fairly boring and seems to be frankly routine in many of the really old stories.

 

Sylvia is a colourless woman who just ‘is bored’ about everything and annoys the hell out of you whenever she appears on the pages of this book.

 

Then even the conversations become annoying. They talk about stupid stuff that has no relevance to the story at all.

 

All of them behave counter intuitively, annoying a reader like me. Tetjian hates golf but still plays anyway, for instance.

 

He meets and lets a tomboyish girl escape. They are fighting for women’s right to vote.

 

The dialogs suck. An example : “Cats and monkeys, monkeys and cats, this is the entire humanity”. You may think this is out of context but the book throws them at you without any context either. So droll, all of it.

 

It is painful to read. One vile man seems to behave totally weird and McMaster “knows” how to handle him. (Punch him in the groin is his solution.)  Tetjian falls in love with a Miss Winstrop. Her mother seems to be a great bore (to us readers, not intended by the author to be such).

 

He is a man of many talents, this Tietjens but seems very boring. While playing golf he is bored with the game but amuses himself by mathematically calculating the trajectory of the hit ball. Come on….

 

Even the twists are oh so boring. It is as Homer Simpson famously said about the Disney Park Epcot Centre “Aaah! Even flying over it is so boring!”

 

They finally realize that Tetjian is a saint and a man with almost infinite talents. Yawn…

 

But one interesting thing stands out – you learn that the proverb about ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven’ comes from the difficulty camels  had of passing through a gate in Jerusalem called ‘The Eye of the Needle’.  True? I don’t know, but if so, this is very interesting!

 

More blather about who should have an affair with whom and why they don’t. Final blather about how everyone is jealous of Tetjian.

 

The ending is equally lame. Since this is no great twist, I would like to let you know that the title stands for ‘(Outside of marriage) Some Do Fornicate and Some Do Not Fornicate’. Big whoop.

 

It is not totally boring and so let us say a 3/10

 

– Krishna

 

April 21, 2018

Book: The Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:54 pm

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

 

The story continues, and this is another gem in the series of short but nail biting thrillers from Bernard.

 

Edward was made king of Mercia “for practice” by Alfred. There are a group of wild men who try to attach Uhtred and he learns that someone paid them to kill him.

 

He goes with a few men to meet Beortsig who is on the fence between Danes and Saxons. The most powerful Danes now are Cnut and Sigurd. Looks like Beorstig was lying and may also have sent the men who tried to kill him. Uhtred and Finan figure it out by the horses’ hooves that suggested that the underling of Sigurd had taken the horses in the direction opposite to the one pointed out by Beorstig’s son.

 

Uhtred understands that though Alfred is sending him to bribe Eohric, there is a trap to kill him by Sigurd and perhaps even Eohric.

 

He realizes, by pretending to be a marauding Dane, that Eohric and Sigurd are colluding to have him killed. He decides to spring a reverse trap.  Burns the ships and meets Sigurd himself for a parley.  He defeats Sigurd’s army in spite of the “prophesy” that Uhtred will be killed that day.  There is a very good description of how he uses the banner of Alfred to devastating effect in the battle on the bridge.

 

Then he sets out to lay a trap for Silgurd himself. He goes to taunt Haestan whom he made powerless in the previous book, to taunt him to come out and meet him. Then he gives his helmet and shield to Finan asking him to pose as Uhtred and goes clandestinely to where he expects Sigurd to come riding to “crush” him.

 

However, foolishly he wanders into Cnut territory and meets a sorcerer (old lady) who tricks him and learns of his plans and also traps him to be killed. He escapes by slaughtering the priests but changes his plans because he is almost certain that he has blabbed his plans to the lady in one of his drugged stupors in the cave.

 

He changes plans and deftly burns the fleet of Sigurd deep inside Sigurd’s territory, when Sigurd had gone to capture Uhtred in Mercia. But he is arrested and interrogated by priests with no one to protect him at all. Bernard Cornwell writes the fiery resentful arguments with the priests in a fabulous way throughout the series and the books are worth reading for that alone, if not for the twists and tension that runs all the way through.

 

He is saved from the judgement of the priests by his old friend Steapa who takes him to a dying Alfred. Alfred generously makes him rich prior to dying and in gratitude, Uhtred swears allegiance to Edward. (He is shocked to see his cowardly son a Christian and singing in the choir).

 

Alfred dies and Ethelwold takes Ethelflaed, who is the love of Uhtred though married to the Earl, hostage, claiming the throne as a legitimate heir. He needs Ethelflaed’s support and hence the kidnapping. Edward, Uhtred go to rescue her, with Steapa and many soldiers.

 

He sends Steapa back to Edward and goes alone to rescue Ethelflaed by himself. He loses Ethelwold but gets the rest back.

 

He wonders why Danes are so silent and sets up an Angel Room where gullible people can see angels in semi darkness. When they are massacred then he knows a war is near and prepares himself. As even no one believes him.

 

When the trader Offa who seems to be full of gratitude gives him a big tip that Sigurd plans to attack Wessex and he sees suspicious lack of urgency in their moves, he figures that he has been duped. He takes revenge on the trader’s house (he being dead) and chases the Danes pell mell with his, Steapa’s and Aethelflad’s men.

 

He is continually puzzled by the Dane’s behaviour and finally figures out that the man who had pledged fealty to Edward is a traitor working with the Danes. He goes to war and worries that he is too late to save the kingdom. He goes and dupes the Centish force into believing that the Danes are attacking and manages to kill not just the King but also Aethelwold who is a pretender to Edward’s throne, as well as King Eofric who had also turned traitor with the Danes.

 

Excellent story, well told. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end where he explains how real history ties in with this story with a few made up events and characters. Fascinating. Bernard at the top of his trade.

 

9/10

 

–  –  Krishna

Book: Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:46 pm

imageThis was shortlisted for the Booker prize. The story is certainly a different one from the regular movies.

 

 

Luther Hollis shoots down a big bird in Magog with his trusty Springfield rifle. Eprahim Gursky come in on a sled. He calls people to reform and become religious.

 

Great, then the book abruptly shifts to the Jewish community in Canada (Montreal) and wanders around. LB, an under appreciated writer, supported loyally by wife, gets fame and lets it go to his head. Moses is his son. First it is confusing but you tend to put all the pieces together eventually and the book gets more interesting.

 

LB “sells his soul” for money by agreeing to write speeches for the rich man who gives him a yearly retainer.

 

The book goes back to Solomon Gursky. The confusing bits are because of these wild lurches in timeframe. Solomon’s father is the priest Eprahim, who now is a drunken vagabond, dragging his son into the wastes of Arctic, teaching him to build igloos, tend to the sled dogs, and alternately being affectionate and crabby.

 

Now Moses, yet another new character,  is trying to establish that there were Jews in the doomed expedition to the Arctic by a group of Irish and English explorers.

 

There is a boring episode of Moses getting a new girlfriend and a cabin up in the woods. He meets up with a layabout called Strawberry. Goes drinking constantly.

 

The story simply rambles on, with apparently no aim, lurching into a plan to bring anarchy in Canada and other prejudices of various characters.

 

Lionel, the brother of Henry, one of the Gurskys, tries to buy his (Henry’s) share of the company for himself. Henry caught religion and ran away to the Arctic to be with the Eskimos and even married an Eskimo girl called Nialie. He has a son, Isaac.

 

There is Bernard who has a phobia about almost everything and is in control of the corporation as well, much to Lionel’s discomfort.

 

More stuff about LB Gursky, who is the father of Eprahim (I think)  and dying and never got published. He is jealous of another man who got his first piece accepted by the New York Times.

 

More guff about Eprahim making his money through moonshine and marrying ladies and abandoning them all over the world.

 

Solomon comes and goes, as a vagabond, heir to the fortune, God knows what else.

 

There is the daughter Lucy who wants to be an actress but is fooled into parting with her money on false pretexts. She keeps Moses who is a drunk at her house for a while till he leaves.

 

We learn that Eprahim was predicting the end of the world among villagers and fled when his third prediction failed to come true, letting some of his assistant priests be lynched by the angry mob.

 

We learn that he worked as a cleaner at the coal mines and befriended Mr Nicholson, who turns out to be gay and seduces his rigid over-religious wife. (What? At this point you are like ‘whatever dude’.)

 

Then there is Barney who is so protective of his young wife Darlene that she feels suffocated.

 

Solomon seems to have founded the Gursky empire by a gambling win.

 

He seems to be oblivious of laws or the impact of breaking them while his brother Barney sweats through the whole thing.

 

The book has interesting vignettes about everyone but it somehow does not hold it all together. I got the feeling of reading about disparate strands of stories about various characters but somehow they did not seem to gel together into one story.

 

For instance Sir Hymin is a rascal who feeds his guests matza balls filled with blood and lies about his sexual prowess to bed women.

 

A tolerable story, even if my review suggests that is is very rambling. You get to know the characters of not only Solomon of the title but also Eprahim, Moses, Lionel, other Gurskys. Seems to wander a bit but keeps your interest, barely. Finally you wonder if it was worth all the effort you put into reading it.

 

4/ 10

–  – Krishna

April 9, 2018

Book: Arms And the Women by Reginald Hill

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:55 pm

imageI have read many mystery British authors but this is my first Reginald Hill book.

 

Confusing beginning, and the first impressions were that this is going to be ‘Oh, not another run of the mill mystery author, please!’ kind of a book.

 

There is this cave where two people meet to exchange arms for drugs but try to kill each other after executing all their subordinates.

 

Then Sibyl nee Morgan, crippled and with a ‘taint in her blood’ brooding over computer profiles of many people.

 

And a policeman Pascoe who reaches the scene of an accident (truck vs taxi) where a beautiful woman implores him to take her to the airport in order not to miss a flight but both the specific airport and the amount of luggage she is carrying arouse his suspicions.

 

Ellie is writing a – rather interesting – story when two people come to her door claiming that her daughter, who was on a school trip, was sick and asking her to accompany them. She beats them hard and they run. She explains how she knew that they were fake to the Inspector who arrives. She seems to have been an ex spy.

 

When her friend Daphne notices a stranger lurking near Ellie’s house and foolishly tries to question him, she is left on the street with a broken nose and her car stolen as a result.

 

When Peter goes to inspect a suspect, he finds him in the bathtub, dying, with his wrists slashed.

 

Daphne and Ellie go with the female cop to Nosebleed, a cottage up at the mountains with the child to be anonymous and safe from attacks for a while.

 

Meanwhile, we learn that Dalziel deliberately messes up his prosecution of the female attacker with a view to letting her escape and watching where she goes, and the MI5 is so upset by this that they warn him to desist messing with the case.

 

We learn that the mad looking lady harbours Kelly (the female attacker) due to some past associations with her and her gang.  When Pascoe realizes that his wife is in the hands of the wrong people, it is late. Novello gets shot.

 

Then comes a complicated drug lord story and how the secret service wanted to trap her and inadvertently ran into Ellie. All because Ellie as charity work chose to correspond to one of the lynchpins of the gang who was in jail.  Yawn is your response to this ‘twist’.

 

There are tense moments where a group of gunmen take Feenie and others to the tottering place, precisely where we know Kelly Cornelius has been hidden. The dogs and the child of Ellie watch from a hidden tangle of bushes.

 

She gets reunited with dad and they all come to the remote place where Ellie, Daphne, Kelly and Feenie are all held hostage by the goons but stay out of site. They learn that Kelly is really Feenie’s child.

 

One of the goons tries to kill an Irishman known to Kelly on the orders of another and in turn is killed by an accomplice. They vanish and then Dalziel and Pascoe decide to go on a rescue against the wishes of Sempernel who then joins in reluctantly. They go in a truck that was expected. In the meanwhile Kelly is in danger of being sexually assaulted  by the deranged head of the thugs (Big Ajax) and Ellie tries to stop him and gets a broken nose for her pains. We

 

In the meanwhile as Big Ajax has disappeared with Kelly into another room, Little Ajax is tackled by both Feenie and the diminutive Wendy Woolley. They get ready to face Big Ajax when he comes back, after Feenie effortlessly kills Little Ajax with her bare hands.

 

They stage a scene to distract Big Ajax when he comes back – rape, attack, etc. The fun part is there, the literary references, the erudite conversations and reminiscences in the middle of a thriller all make for a fun reading experience but you have to let it grow on you before you appreciate it. Especially the contract between the crudeness of language of Andy Delziel against the manifold literary allusions from the mind of Ellie Pascoe.

 

Even the parallel story of Odysseys and Aeneas also has a nice twist at the end. Even though Odysseus speaks like a Brit (“Summat like that” he says for example) it is still gripping and nice.

 

Literary allusions, twists, turns and a satisfactory ending – contrary to what I thought, this is a pretty good book but you have to let it grow on you.

 

7/10

–  –  Krishna

Book: Soft Selling In a Hard World by Jerry Vass

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:46 pm

imageA combination of training, and self help nonfiction work. It describes how you get to maximise your potential as a salesman, whether you are holding that formal title or not in an organization. I would consider that it is a mixed bag on the whole.

 

Interesting stuff where he defines the importance of sales and how you can sell your way to the top. It is not only salespeople who sell. Everyone who is successful and rises to the top in any profession is a salesperson.

 

He seems to think that everyone hates and disparages salesmen, which is puzzling. Yes, snake oil sellers and used car salesmen are universally despised, but others? It is an interesting book but you do not learn any great new concepts but most of what he talks about is common sense.

 

The Proof Statement? That is what I thought all salespeople did. Apparently not.

 

There are interesting tips about flanking questions that get beyond the Buyer’s Armour (and a grotesque description and picture of the buyer’s nether parts which are exposed and naked that your question can get at) and get him to both think and get him to your side.

 

The steps are interesting, but I don’t know if, as he claims, it can work in a cold call and even (as he seems to imply) with a hostile customer.

 

Nice points about being confident and always having the goal in mind. Nice points about not to use hard sell or oversell. But he says ‘never use the jargon’ which seems a bit excessive.

 

However, the techniques undeniable make sense and will sharpen the toolkit of any salesman, whether it has the near magical effect that Vass claims for them or not. A useful toolkit to have if you are selling anything.

 

The one thing that makes an even greater impact is what he says at the beginning of the book. Salesmen are not merely those whose profession is sales. Everyone is a salesman at work. In fact, very successful salespeople are executives and all executives are there because they sold themselves successfully in their career. Nice.

Nice tips. The author is convinced that this will make all the difference between success and failure. I like his confidence but do not share his conviction. What is undeniably true is that it sharpens your arsenal when you go out there to make a cold call.

 

In summary,  the author does a reasonable but not spectacular job of selling his ideas in the book to you.

 

6 / 10

– – Krishna

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