bookspluslife

November 12, 2017

Book: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 12:47 am

imageEdith Wharton’s maiden name was Edith Newbold Jones. Unlike the normal stereotype of a starving author, Edith was born into so much wealth that the term ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ was coined after her family, really. She also married a wealthy sportsman Edward Wharton (though that marriage did not last long and they got divorced. She stayed in France, even though she was an American who grew up in New York, until her death in the twentieth century.

 

The story starts with a play attended by Newland Archier. He goes to see a play by Christine Nilsson. He sees a young girl of another family in the opposite balcony. Miss Welland is one possibility of a bride and the story brims with gentle mockery of the presumed male superiority in ‘looking after and guiding a worthy woman whom one takes as a wife’.

 

We learn that the girl is Mary Welland, his betrothed, who belong to the Mingotts family. Then a girl enters and everyone gasps because, they did not think that the family had the temerity to bring ‘poor Ellen Olenska’, a cousin of Mary’s out in the public.

 

I love how Edith describes Catherine because she is different and ‘has built a home in the ‘inaccessible wilderness near Central Park’.  Yes, we are talking about New York in the old days! Inaccessible wilderness? How times have changed!

 

Ellen, the black sheep of the family, has been separated from her husband and is not even trying to get back with him and is rumoured to be living with another man. In those priggish times, this naturally creates a huge scandal. Those who knew her hear of a speculation about a divorce and, as you know in those times,  this is NOT a subject that should be discussed in the family, especially in front of the house butler. Quaint days, those.

 

When Ellen Olenska and the Mingotts are snubbed by the society Newland Archer and his mom canvass to have the bigwigs of society accept to the invitations to the party everyone else seem to have spurned.

 

Slowly Newland finds that his spectacularly gorgeous betrothed May Welland is not as lively as he thought and drawn to Olenska. But his betrothal to May makes it awkward. In the meanwhile Ellen continues to stir up trouble and eyebrows by her unconventional behaviour.

 

When she wants a “formal” divorce from her Count husband, the entire New York society is horrified at her daring. Wanting it is one thing, but openly discussing it? Simply not done!

 

He gets closer and closer to Olenska. And realizes the dullness of May in comparison. This comes out slowly in the story. However – and here is another sign of those times – he has given his word that he will marry May and he cannot go back on his word without losing face in front of the entire society.

 

He marries May and tries to put Ellen out of his mind. But May is so dull. Ellen and Archer discover that they love each other but are bound by social conventions.

 

It causes huge strain with May, who is after all innocent of any crime on her part. He even fantasizes about her being dead so that he can be with Ellen.

 

Brilliantly told, the ending is moving. This book is also an exploration of the changing social mores of the times, where Archer is constrained by much that his children are not constrained by; an amazing amount of unspoken understanding between him and May and him and Ellen; about how, after the passage of many years, he refuses to meet with someone he had not seen in over thirty years because he is afraid that the reality may never catch up with his mental image of what he would see.

 

In all, it is a movingly told story that carries you away even today, after all these years. And stays in your mind quite a while after you have finished reading it.

 

8/ 10

– – Krishna

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October 22, 2017

Book: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:53 pm

imageAn American author writing in a British setting in itself is unusual.

 

An shabby priest (Father Hart)  is talking to a very old but sprightly lady in the train and she silently disapproves his generous outpouring of nose fluids, spittle etc when he is very close to her.  He is traveling to London. He is going to the Scotland Yard to report a murder.

 

Wembley and Hilliar are senior detectives there. Wembley, the junior is shabby in his desk but brilliant in work.

 

Barbara Havers, a plain looking detective, is not suited to any partner, and causes trouble. She is now put on this case, which is one of a series of what looks like a serial killer’s work.

 

To her dismay, she is paired with the detective she hates most, Inspector Lynley. He is a womanizer and her being paired with him is a testimony to her ugliness (‘Even Lynley will not make a pass at her…’)

 

She grabs Lynley from a wedding reception he is attending with his current mistress. They discover that the person killed had no head and his daughter,Roberta admits to killing him. An open and shut case, right? Wrong.

 

Back story on Barbara. She lives in a squalid home with her useful mother and thieving father, and they have a “shrine” for her brother Tony who passed away.

 

They puzzle over the first murder. Why was the axe cleaned? Why was the dog killed? If Roberta did it and also admitted to it readily, none of this made sense.

 

They go to the village to be received by a beautiful innkeeper who gives them room in a castle like hotel. they go and visit the nephew who inherits everything and go see the place where the murder took place. Roberta has been confined to an asylum with no proof of insanity.

 

In the meanwhile, they discover that a sister to Roberta existed, a pretty version of their mom, and also that Roberta may have had a food stash to cheat on her diet.

 

Erza Farmington the town artist is sleeping with Danny. (who is she?)

 

Havers and LInsey find out about the verbal fight between Richard and Thomas before he died and meet Tessa, the wife who ran away. She was exposed as a bigamist and had a motive to kill Thomas, as did her husband who discovered the huge issue. She explains how she married a very older man when she was 16 and after Gillian’s birth, he got religion and was intolerable and was not allowed even to go near her own child (and near Roberta when the second kid was born after eight years) and had to leave.

 

Gillian also runs away, increasing the pain of Thomas, who obliterated all photos of Gillian.

 

Nigel Parrish, the musician who inexplicably prefers the pub far away from home and also seems to hang around where his talents are not appreciated is a strange character. Erza and he have a flaming row.

 

They get invited to a party where Lynley meets his ex love again.

 

meanwhile he hears conflicting reports of Gillian. Richard swears that she is a slut and their neighbour the old woman who was a teacher to both Gillian and her mother Tessa, swears that Gilly was an angel.

 

How Barb rails often at Lynley every time mistaking his intentions as that of a roving cowboy and how she finds Gillian in her new hiding place and how it turns to a disaster when Lynley asks her to go fetch her are very well told. A good read, even if it is pure fluff.

 

The final meeting between the sisters Gillian and Roberta and the revelations that come out are astounding. The twist is something that you probably can guess but the descriptions and how it impacted both Gillian and Roberta are told in a phenomenal way. The shock is stunning. One of the best climactic scenes in a semi light fiction, the scene in itself elevates the book several levels above other mysteries, in my opinion. Great writing. And to consider that this is a debut novel!

 

Where the book falls flat is in too many knots and the author trying to unravel them all. And there is no explanation of how many things are found out. How did he know so many things about the life of Stepha (the innkeeper) ? A lot of things are simply “revealed” by Lynley the great detective with no explanation at all. Another example is how he knew who hid the murder weapon and cleaned the axe of fingerprints. No clues, no pointers. Suddenly Lynley says “you did it” to the culprit and that person says “yes” and sobs. Give me a break!

 

Though some scenes are fantastic, the above takes much away from the book , so let us say 6/ 10

–  – Krishna

September 30, 2017

Book: Sword Song by Bernard Cornwell

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

imageThis is the fourth book in the Saxon Series. I recommend that you read them, they are very good. The earlier books are : The Last Kingdom, The Pale Horseman and The Lords of The North.  Also The Warrior Chronicles trilogy of his is excellent. (Consisting of The Winter King, Enemy of God and Excalibur)

 

This book starts with a bang. Uhtred captures a pirate ship of Danes that came in and plundered a village, taking all women and children. He kills all the Danes save one, who has his sword arm cut off and set free to tell the tale of the other pirates to the Danish rulers so that they will fear to send galleys to plunder southwards to Lundene again.

 

Aethelwold, the drinking, inept nephew of Arthur (who is a true heir and considers Arthur an usurper) tells a prophecy that says that Uhtred will become king of Mercia. Alfred wants Uhtred to liberate Lundene from the Danes and then present it to his enemy and cousin\! Being under oath to Alfred, Uhtred cannot refuse!

 

In the meanwhile, a dead man speaks and prophesizes  that Uhtred will be King of Mercia. Uhtred is very tempted. He goes to meet Siegfried and Erik and discovers a few prisoners readied to be sacrificed. He tells Siegfried to battle with one priest for jest and gives the priest his Serpentbreath, knowing that the priest is well skilled in battle and is really Prylig, his old battle comrade. Uhtred learns that the dead man was a pretender and a fake.

 

When they come back, Uhtred is asked to get Lundene back to his enemy and cousin by Alfred. He is distrusted by Alfred, who sends Steapa to fight with him so that he can kill Uhtred at the first sign of treachery. The battle to take Lundene is told brilliantly, as is Siegfried and Erik’s final meeting with Uhtred where they realize that he knows he has been tricked by the corpse speaking and also realize that he in turn tricked them knowing that Pyrlig, the captive priest, was a warrior at heart.

 

His cousin Aethelred tries to corner all the glory for himself, as well as being very jealous that his wife, Alfred’s daughter, loves Uhtred.

 

Alfred seems to be constantly against Uhtred, even though the latter is the one that is saving his kingdom in almost all major events. (The fact that Uhtred himself is a fictitious character does not seem to take anything away from the narration of the story.)

 

Alfred finally appoints him military commander of Lundene but puts an obnoxious priest Eekenwald as the Bishop and in charge of civil administration, , in parallel to him. He rids the river of pirates, even though he was given only two ships (his cousin took the rest, blessed by Alfred, who did not even seem to mind the abuse of his own daughter in his hands)

 

When Aethelflad, the daughter, requests Uhtred and wife Gisela to rescue her from being sacrificed at midnight, they go incognito.

 

Then Aethred, the cousin wins a “fantastic defeat” in his quest against Guthrum and also manages to lose his wife as a captive to the Danes.

 

When Uhtred goes to negotiate a price for the ransom of the princess, there is a great description of the battle between two giants, Welland from Siegfried’s side and Steapa from Uhtred’s.

 

He also discovers that Aethelflaed has fallen in love with Erik, the brother of Siegfried. He agrees to help them elope and goes secretly to enable them to flee Siegfried but unexpectedly things go wrong. The end is exhilerating. When he goes to help Erik escape he meets treachery, burning buildings and a whole new plot from a whole new direction due to the ambition of an evil man whose life  Uhtred had saved in the past

 

Very well written.   8/10

–  – Krishna

September 4, 2017

Book: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:05 pm

imageThis is such a classic in fantasy fiction that Patrick Rothfuss is talked about in the same reverential tones as George RR Martin, the author of the superb and more famous series The Game of Thrones, which in reality is the series called The Song of Fire and Ice. (That series of books, The Game of Thrones, A Feast For Crows, A Storm of Swords, A Clash of Kings and A Dance With Dragons have all been reviewed here before)

This is also the first book in the series King Killer Chronicles.

The similarity does not end there. After making such a success of the story, both authors seem to find no time to complete their stories. After the fifth book, George RR Martin has not written any more of the series, though he published a separate story that happened 100 years earlier in the same fantasy land as the Hedge Knight. Similarly, after two superb books, Patrick has also stayed silent, now for a few years. What gives?

 

This is the first book. The story ends abruptly. If this is how the second volume ends, I can understand the readers’ frustrations in having to wait for the third installment that never seems to come.

 

The story has a beautiful start and pulls you in right away. A man seems just  to be waiting to die. No, he is not ill but he simply seems to have lived all he wants and wants to spend the rest of his life in quiet solitude. An inn where some stories are traded (that of blue fires on lamps denoting the arrival of the evil force for instance. )  A childhood friend meets a eyeless mouthless giant spider with razor legs called Scrael , kills it and brings to the inn. It is really good when you realize that Kote, the laconic bartender who watches everything impassively and seems totally a bystander is more than he seems when he is startled to see a Scrael displayed on the table. The style is infectious.

 

He goes out and saves the Chronicler from an attack of those deadly scraels but is persuaded by the latter to tell his own story to be chronicled against his own wishes. The Chronicler realizes that this unassuming bar owner Kote is really Kvothe of legendary fame. Bast is his assistant.

 

The Chronicler comes in to write Kvothe’s story. He describes his childhood with an acrobat and actor parents, his joining up with Ben who is a real alchemist. His lessons are fascinating where he learns how to bind two objects together and almost gets killed trying to bind the wind. Also the Chronicler turns out to be an arcaenist who knows the Name of Iron and traps Bast into revealing his true supernatural self. Fabulous.

 

The story continues to the point where Ben separates from them, having found a wife at one of the stops and at the next stop around, Kvothe goes to play in the woods, only to return and find his entire family and the show group all slaughtered in their camping site.

 

Then follows his struggles to survive as a homeless orphan, his struggles to find the next meal and his constant beatings in the hands of others… Very nicely narrated. The style pulls you in and totally mesmerizes you – yes, in the Game of Thrones style, even if the story is not so elaborate.

 

He then cleans up and decides to join the army. His transformation at the inn and also how he gets decent clothes etc are funny.

 

His interview at the University and admissions are told well. How he takes revenge on the arrogant Professor Master Hemme when the professor tries to humiliate him in front of the entire class makes gripping reading. He gets whipped for his trouble and makes an enemy of the Master.

 

Almost immediately in the Arcanum he makes an enemy of the rightful hair of a noble Lord, Ambrose, and gets himself banned from the library for life. He goes after a crazy teacher to learn the name of the wind but when the teacher asks him to jump, he does, breaking his ribs and is refused to be taken as a student  due to stupidity.

 

He duels other students and establishes a reputation in sympathy and binding. How he earns his pipes despite sabotage in the bar is fabulously told. This is a good story.

 

He goes, plays his lute in an elite club and wins his pipes, and money and also meets Deanna, whom he thinks of as his future wife. And cannot find her again.

 

Meanwhile, upset that Ambrose is sabotaging his future by campaigning among the nobles against him (and thereby denying him a patron) he and a friend compose the wildly popular ‘Jackass Jackass’ that makes fun of Ambrose without naming him. He gets kicked out of his inn and does not find another until he reaches an inn owner who is not afraid of Ambrose.

 

A fire in the lab is seemingly caused by Kvothe but he is a hero for saving Fela.

 

He meets Deanna again. And ditches her in the next event since he has an accident while dealing with dangerous chemicals. He then has Fela wrap a cloak and Deanna sees and misunderstands and disappears. Meanwhile, Ambrose sends hoodlums to kill Kvothe, where he narrowly escapes. When he hears that Chandrians have wreaked havoc on Trebean, he borrows more money from Devi for a horse and reaches there.

 

He hears of a survivor and goes to see that person and finds that it is Deanna. They go exploring and discover a pigherder who gives them vital information that the marriage was destroyed probably to keep an accidental find from being discovered or even spoken about. They also meet a vegetarian dragon or a draccus.

 

They realize that the draccus is addicted to a drug made from a resin. They discover the resin stash and also realize that now that the draccus is deprived of it, it will go mad and start destroying whole villages. They plan to kill it – one that is more or less made of iron and virtually apparently indestructible by most means.

 

The scene where that plan seems to fail and the draccus goes towards the city where there is a bonfire for the harvest festival and what Kvothe has to do to manage the situation is exhilerating.

 

The final interlude where a demonic man gets in and causes havoc is well told. And the ending is good too. All in all, a great book and if you liked The Song of Fire and Ice, you will love this one too.

 

8/ 10

– – Krishna

August 13, 2017

Book: Remembering Babylon by David Malouf

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:50 pm

imageThis book is great in showing how someone who looks at things in the past people may misconstrue the importance of people and elevate some to sainthood while, when you look at what they did from a different angle, they themselves are floundering trying to make sense of mundane things.  Interesting? Yes. Unfortunately, entertaining, it is not. That is the issue. Let us look at the story.

 

Two girls and a boy in Australia, near Queensland. One of the girls is Janet. the elder of the two. The boy is Lachlan Beattie. He surprises a savage who claims that he is a British object. They bring the savage to their village outpost. He is a gibbering idiot and the explanation given was that he got lost in the unexplored parts of Australia (the story happens when Australia was being just colonized bit by bit) and he ‘lived with the blacks’. Interesting.

 

He remembers washing ashore, lying naked, and adopted by a group of naked aboriginal people. He is adopted by the new village, especially by the three kids who take upon themselves to ‘civilize’ him.

 

He causes fear and resentment by acting black, as that was how he was brought up from boyhood, and others are suspicious that he is a spy out to betray them in an ambush at night with this erstwhile tribe while the villagers slept.

 

The teacher in Australia was sent there by his patron, who paid for his education. The school teacher, Abbot is a character that comes and goes.

 

The suspicions of the white people and the extent to which some rowdy characters go to show animosity are all well told.

 

Gemmy, the native, remembers his past story in England where he was kept by a thug for collecting rats to sell for races and kept in pitiable conditions but offered protection from destitution at the same time.

 

But then it all goes down to the deep doldrums soon thereafter with the teacher and another young man trying to impress Leona, a young girl and Gemmy’s conviction that the magic squiggles (his life story as dictated to the teacher and written down) had sucked the life out of him and his attempts to get the papers back. Then he walks away.

 

The story moves a number of years where you see where the  three children are. As far as I can see, there was no point in it. Lachlan is a government minister and Janet is Sister Monica in an abbey.

 

Meh.

 

3/ 10

–   –  Krishna

July 30, 2017

Book: A Cantile for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 6:10 pm

imageAn unusual book. Unusual does not mean good. Just unsual. Cannot figure out if it a science fiction or whether it is a funny book but it falls short on both counts. Story starts in a desert.

 

A novice priest, Father Francis meets a lonely girdled pilgrim in the middle of a desert. It is a world full of monsters, and he is worried that it is one.  When he notes that it is a pilgrim and when the pilgrim offers him bread, he weakens from his vow of fasting and takes it. He gets into a comical fight with the pilgrim when he drops the bread but the pilgrim inspects his shelter built out of stones for protection from the wolves and offers advice.

 

After the pilgrim left, Francis picks the stone that would be a “perfect match” for the missing piece for the shelter as the pilgrim had identified, and discovers an old room inside. We slowly discover that this is a post apocalyptic world where the survivors shun all technology, destroy all books and revert back to primitive living, turning to Latin as the common spoken language. They worship a saint called Leibowitz, who seems to be just a nuclear holocaust survivor.

 

When Francis discovers sacred documents by the great Liebowitz himself (a shopping list, and some mundane entries by the looks of it) he is overwhelmed. The abbot does not believe him and orders him back to the abbey – never mind completing the Lent silence and fasting.

 

Some parts are hilarious. Where the prior tries his utmost to get Francis to admit that the old man was a figment of the latter’s imagination and no such old man existed. Why? because the old man had simply disappeared (he went towards the abbey but never reached there), he looked and even wore clothes fitting the description of the Blessed Leibowitz himself who was dead aeons ago, and more important, the stone which he picked for Francis was carved with his initials in an arcane sign that Francis was not even aware of. Rumours and panic swirled across the abbey and the Father Abbot cannot have that, can he?

 

Francis the simpleton’s confessions and the pained experience the Prior goes through in hearing inane “sins” are very funny. He stays a novice for years because the abbot refuses to promote him into the order. Finally that happens when a representative of the Pope himself confirms that what Francis found may be very valuable and he is admitted into the order and asked to copy and illustrate (handwritten) books.

 

He seems to be copying a circuit diagram of a sort though he does not understand what it is.

 

His fame spreads and he is asked to take his illustration to the Pope and goes on an ass and is waylaid by robbers. Getting some money to pay them off, he returns with the Pope’s blessings but the story here abruptly ends and another story begins. This is of Marcus Apollo, who is convinced of the imminence of War.

 

His confidante is Brother Claret. There is Thon Taddeo, who is a scholar. The abbot now has a monk who is trying to rediscover lost science and has made a dynamo that powers a carbon bulb.

 

A scholar comes with armed men and there is intrigue and war going on – a lot of mixed up ideas like this pervade this part of the book. The old man that Francis met seems to be at least seven hundred years old and is a friend of the current abbot of the monastery, Dom Zerchi. Some parts of it are, frankly, boring.  The world seems to be repeatedly getting close to annihilation is the theme. There not one but two nuclear wars, the first one nearly wiping out all humanity and causing all knowledge to disappear, which is what we see in the beginning of the book and the latter starting down many centuries after Francis, now revered as Saint Francis of Utah, died.

 

This spans generations and has characters featured earlier referenced in a deified form or otherwise altered form later; in that this reminds you of Cloud Atlas. But then that is unfortunate because it tells you how lovely Cloud Atlas was, and how inadequate this is in comparison.

 

Father Derchi is trying to stop the doctor from recommending death to hopelessly fried victims of radiation. Understandable; but when the good doctor disobeys, he says ‘If I see you again I’m afraid of what I may do.’  I thought that was a bit odd, coming from a compassionate Father.

 

Anyway, he sends monks in an unscheduled spacecraft flight to a populated planet and then gets trapped in an explosion. A woman vendor of tomatoes has an extra head whom she calls Rachel that seems to hang uselessly by her side. There are some poignant moments but unfortunately they are few and far between and there are countless ramblings in the middle like the sample above. You get lost even trying to understand the purpose of the book.

 

2/10

–   – Krishna

July 7, 2017

Book: Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard

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

imageA really different story from the normal fare I read.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

7/10

–  –  Krishna

 

 

 

May 31, 2017

Book: She Is All That by Kirstin Billerbeck

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The barf bucket is slowly getting full.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

1/ 10

 

  • – Krishna

April 30, 2017

Book: Master of the Game by Sydney Sheldon

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

– – Krishna

February 25, 2017

Book: The Lords Of The North by Bernard Cornwell

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

8/10

– – Krishna

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