bookspluslife

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

January 22, 2017

Book: Revival by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:29 pm

imageStephen’s ability to surprise with a totally different storyline never stops to impress. This book is unlike many others I have read from him and has its unique moments.

 

Of course, I may be biased because I have liked many of his books and reviewed many here. For a sample, see the reviews on Duma Key and Lisey’s Story in earlier entries.

 

A family of five kids, dad Richard and “Mom”. Jimmy Morton, Con(“rad”), Terry, Andy and the only sister, Claire.  Jimmy enjoys the toy army his sister gave him. He meets Charles Jacob, whose visit changes everything. Charles is the new young pastor who comes to the town to take over the duties when the older one died.

 

He shows the model town he has built with a motorized light sensor that can turn on the town’s miniature lights on and off. His wife is a bombshell and most boys in town have a crush on her and most girls on Charles, who is also good looking! His interest in science – especially electricity – and his unorthodox ways of preaching annoy the older people but young kids flock to his sermons.

 

His brother gets his voice impacted by a skiing accident and this causes a huge row between their dad and mom. Charles puts him in a contraption that passes (mild) electricity around his throat. It seems to cure him and bring his voice back!

 

A horrific accident where he loses both his wife and his little boy – involving a tractor with a vicious agricultural attachment and a driver who suffered a stroke at just the wrong time – seems to turn things for Charles. His next sermon is almost blasphemous and is forever called the Terrible Sermon and he is dismissed from his post.

 

Jamie goes to the Church basement to find out what present Charles left him and finds the mechanical Jesus. His faith shattered by then, he throws it on the wall and walks out.

 

He subsequently becomes interested in music and is chosen for a boy band. Astrid becomes his girlfriend. He drifts away from both and goes rapidly downhill, becoming a junkie fully and then meets Jacobs, who calls himself Dan Jacobs now and is a carnival artist. He offers to cure Jamie of his drug habit. When he passes electricity through Jamie (a special type) Jamie gets cured but has strange episodes of uncontrollable acts and nightmares. One of the people who participated in the act robs a jewellery shop in plain view of everyone in a state of fugue as well. There is something (“Something is happening!”) wrong with the treatment. Jacobs says goodbye and goes away and Jamie grows older by staying straight and working in a recording studio. The work was provided by introduction from Charles to a guy called Hugh and then Jamie discovers that Hugh was also one of those helped by Charles through the miracle of electricity.

 

When Jamie learns that Hugh was also one of Charlie’s clients with a side effect, they decide to go see Charles, who is now a ‘preacher man’ a televangelist. Jamie’s research with Bree, the daughter of Georgia, a coworker of theirs, turns up very disturbing rssults of Charlie’s miracle healing. He realizes that Dan Jacobs is not in it for benevolence or money but is in it for its own sake, not caring about what he does to whom.

 

He decides to stop him and travels to his hometown, where he now lives in a fabulous mansion, having made his money as a famous healer.

 

The story is interesting, but not one of the best of Stephen King’s. You wait for something serious to happen and it sort of happens now and then but the story drags a bit at times.

 

He learns that he has retired but asks Jamie to be his assistant. He refuses, goes back for a nostalgic trip to Maine and returns to Colorado, only to be emotionally blackmailed by Charles Jacobs into helping him.

 

When he returns for one last time, he learns that Jenny, a friend and lover of his Astrid, has been also roped in to help. The end is exhileratingly told, as only Stephen King can. Nice read, good book. But….

 

Yes. there is a but. I cannot but be disappointed. Stephen builds up Danny Jacobs and his lifelong obsession about secret electricity so much that when you finally find out what he is so obsessed about, you go ‘Wait… what?’. Not that it is not logical but it almost seems to be a let down compared to the build up. I don’t want to tell more in order not to spoil the story, but you tell me, after you read it, whether you agree with it or not.

 

Then there is Mother, who is like many of the Stephen King stories, is an elusive but horror inducing presence (Remember the Big Boy of Lisey’s Story?)  He is usually very good at the hinting of the horror – things left untold are scarier than clear descriptions, but here even the Mother’s description is kind of not up to his usual standards – at least in my mind. Still good story and the long epilog of what happens to Jamie Morton and all the characters we know in the book is interesting, for sure.

 

Let us give this a 6/10

 

  • – Krishna

 

January 1, 2017

Book: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:38 pm

image.jpgInteresting book from Steinbeck. Not what I expected.

 

A memoir-like description of a quaint Californian town depending on fisheries and the canning industry (hence the title). The story is not about the fishing or the very difficult conditions of work but about what happens after the factory closes down and the town comes into its own.

 

Populated by interesting characters like Lee Chong, a grocery shop owner to whom half the town owes money but who has a golden heart, Mack and his group of homeless folks, Dora Flood who runs the local brothel, the story is an interesting slice of American small town life.

 

The story of William who was the watchman before Alfred became the watchman and how he killed himself is interesting too. The thing about this book is that there is nothing that is earth shattering or game changing for the city. Small vignettes that could happen in any small town are strung together, almost like short stories linked to each other.

 

There is the mysterious Chinaman who does not talk to anyone and has an unvarying routine. There is Western Biologique which sells rare sea creatures. It is owned by Doc, a “half Christ half Satyr” faced man.

 

Because Doc is so nice the thugs decide to do something nice and after borrowing a broken down van from Lee Chong (against his preferences) and stealing a battery from another car, they go and find that it breaks down. When one of them goes to get some gas, he ends up in jail and does not return. They want to give Doc frogs, collect their fees and use the fees to give him a surprise party.

 

They meet a man who treats them well in his house and also shows them where they can get the frogs. In the meantime, Doc is fighting a kind of a pandemic of fever. He is not a medical doctor for humans (he is a vet) but tends to patients anyway.

 

In the well intentioned plot to give Doc a surprise party, Mack and the gang end up thrashing the entire laboratory!

 

There is good hearted brothel owner Dora, there is the town’s bouncer with a good heart really and many strange characters that populate the story. Like Mary Talbot, who likes to give parties at other people’s expense and to cats when she is alone.

 

It feels like sitting by the side of an old man from a small town and hear him listen to how it was in his city. But the problem is that there is nothing major that happened. It is a word picture of the town’s less fortunate residents in a poor town. Period.  No story beyond incidents narrated.

Perhaps a  4/10.

 

–    – Krishna

 

August 6, 2016

Book: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:41 pm

imageThis is the fourth  book in the Dark Tower series.

 

This continues the story of the Black Tower or the Gunslinger series. The earlier books are The Gulslinger and  The Drawing of the Three, which have been reviewed here earlier and The Wastelands.

 

The story continues where the previous book left off, and starts with a riddling contest between Blaine the evil train and the quartet of travellers (Roland, Eddie, Susanne and Jake) plus Oy. They seem to be losing badly as Blaine’s memory banks seem invincible. In between they are treated to a desolate view outside (Blaine can make the carriage they are sitting in transparent) with the weird animals and even weirder natural wonders – a huge waterfall. Blaine recharges himself on the Beam’s force fields. When everything almost seems lost, Eddie comes into his own and flummoxes Blaine in a spectacular fashion.

 

They move on and find USA destroyed by a contagious superflu that has wiped out the entire population. Walk on in a lonely path and hear “thinnies”, which contain a warble that can drive your mind insane unless you stuff the old Roland world’s bullets in your ears.

 

Roland tells his past story which starts with Susan Delgado being betrothed to an old rich man who will lift her family out of poverty and she is checked out for ‘purity’ by an old evil witch. On the way back she meets Roland, who is young and introduces himself with a false name of Will Dearborn.

 

She falls hopelessly in love with him and the witch sees it in a crystal ball.

 

In the meanwhile Roland, Cuthbert and Alain stop the town bullies with coffins tattooed on their arms and win the enmity and suspicion of the whole town. An underdog finds that one of them is really the son of a gunslinger.

 

Susan has been promised to Mayor Thorin as his gilly in return for money, land, and riches for her family. Falling in love with Roland was not supposed to be part of the plan. She helps him discover massive hoard of oil to be given to the enemies of his land.

 

They succumb to temptation and do the beast with two backs and they cannot seem to stop. In the meanwhile, the thugs with the coffin tattoo get very suspicious about them and are surprised at their facility with weaponry.

 

The witch tries to spoil their plot and send a note through Seemus to Cordelia but Cuthbert intercepts him. He and Roland come to blows before Roland realizes his error.

 

They plan to blow up the oil tanks and lead the entire village into the thinny and they learn of the Wizard’s pink crystal ball with the witch, buried under her bed.

 

But Jonas catches the boys unawares, and Susan and Seemie, a dull witted but loyal friend of the boys, plan to rescue them, realizing that they may die in the attempt. They get the boys out killing Dave the deputy and the fat Sheriff Avery who were guiding them and then blow up the oil rigs as planned.

 

The boys ambush the party of Jonas and get them all, and unhurt too. But Susan is captured, with Jonas warned by the witch Rhea through the Pink Ball (which is one of the Wizard’s rainbow crystals) as to where she is. Sheemie was out relieving himself but doggedly follows Reynolds and Susan to the Mayor’s house and seems to find help in Olive Thorin, the Mayor’s long suffering wife. But they are captured. While Roland kills Jonas, recovers the ball and destroys all the party by leading them into the thinny, Rhea gets Susan and kills her.

 

When an unconscious Roland is taken back to Gilead, Rhea uses her magic to have Roland kill his own mother. This stuff is better than the previous story of the four people so far.

At the end they revert back to their world where Roland tells the story and there is a piece where he goes back and finishes the ending. All in all, a very good read.

 

7/10

– – Krishna

 

August 1, 2016

Book: The Whistling Woman by A S Byatt

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:44 am

imageA S Byatt is known for writing offbeat stories and it was with very great interest that I read this book. The interest and expectations did not last long. Let us see why. First, a bit about the story.

 

Francesca is in an illicit affair with John Ottomer of the Ottomer twins. John is Leo’s  father. In the meanwhile, Luk, a snail researcher is in vain in love with Jacqueline, a fellow researcher, who seems to be pining for Marcus Potter, who is mild and ineffective. .

 

Well, this is like watching a plant grow.

 

Sir Wijnnoble is a dean of the university and is contemplating a Mind and Body seminar.

Meanwhile, Francesca lands herself a TV spot after resigning from her teaching job in protest of a new philosophy of teaching being adopted in the school, about how you learn as you live, and not through any structured format. If you thought this was boring, just wait.

 

Then follows a really boring letter exchange between two doctors about a lot of patients and a lot of incomprehensible philosophy and you recognize some of the ones having issues and attending a kind of informal Quaker psychotherapy sessions are the Ottomar twins. There is also the crazy person in the asylum that you have briefly met before.

 

Gunner and Lucy quarrel and she slashes him with a rake and he battered her. Jacquiline, Marcus and Luk come upon them and Luk and Marcus go with Lucy and Jacquiline stays with Gunner. They rescue the children, who have scalp wounds and wait until the police come and take charge of the case. Lucy goes to the asylum with the other inmates. Josh Lamb, another inmates hallucinates and knows it. He sees blood oozing from body part of people he is talking to.

 

His back story is about the only interesting thing so far. His dad murders his mother and his sister and runs away. He escapes only because unknown to his strict father but with the permission of his mother, he had, for the first time in his life, had gone for a sleepover with his friend and came home only the next morning, to find his mother’s and sister’s corpses.

 

The struggles of Josh Lamb (or Joshua Ramsey as he used to be known) are very well told and the language held me enough to read this book till the end.

 

Josephine and Frederica come alternately and you are confused as to who is who sometimes. They seem to feel and act like the same person, which is one of the main reasons for the confusion.

 

Marcus is a mathematical genius who sees numbers everywhere and Hodgkins is fascinated.

 

A whole lot of letters reveal that among the ‘inmates’ of an asylum with therapy sessions is a scientist masquerading as an insane person who wants to study the others in situ, so to speak.

 

The group sessions, which you think of therapy for insane turns weird when Joshua becomes leader of a cult group and they all move to a farm owned and now donated by the so far catatonic but now animated Lucy. They go into a kind of a weird Manichean religious philosophy which, while being part pagan, also reinterprets Christianity with Jesus representing Light which is imprisoned in people and fruits etc and darkness in the earth and the beasts.

 

We realize that Hodgekiss is homosexual and loves Marcus.

 

There is a riot in the university by the anti-university nuts, and even the Principal’s wife participates in the destruction of university property. They release all the lab animals to free them from cruelty. No, I am not saying all this in a disjointed way. The entire story is narrated in this disjointed way. I don’t think that there is a person alive who would be animated and waiting to read if you reach up to this point. It may be a good thing. Why, you ask?

 

The cult goes from bad to worse when a girl gets pregnant (with no one knowing who is the father) and delivers without outside help. Another girl died and is quietly buried.

 

Lots of weird stuff. People seem to have sex with no thought and then wonder if they love the person they had sex with. Frederica talks about women’s freedom to have sex and discovers she is pregnant.

 

Book ends in a kind of a cinematic abruptness and a lot of deep thought with little substance in it.

 

Also, on a side note : every man in the story seems to have a beard. Interesting.

 

Overall, a disappointment, very odd story.

 

Well, who the hell is the whistling woman? Who knows, even at the end of the book? Your guess is as good as mine.

 

3/ 10

 

–  – Krishna

July 1, 2016

Book: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 1:02 pm

imageThis is the author’s second book in this name. The first one, Cuckoo Is Calling, introduces these characters.

 

The story is told in the inimitable style you have come to expect from Robert based on his (her? After all, this is JK Rowling, really) first novel The Cuckoo Is Calling. There is also the undercurrent of romance between Robin and Strike, which continues. Well done. You are left wondering, however, whether the author plans to keep Robin hanging a la Della Street in Perry Mason novels all those years ago. Let us see what the story is.

 

Strike is approached by Mrs Leanora Quinn. Her author husband Owen has disappeared and she is distraught. His agent Liz, after talking it up, rejected his latest book.

 

The publisher Christian Fisher wants to meet Strike. Strike learns that his latest book is about a real life personality thinly veiled and is explosive stuff. He also learns that the publisher did not know where Owen is, and what is more, despises him with a passion. He also reveals that the latest book has references – very thinly veiled – to real life people who are impugned. It is a slander lawsuit waiting to happen!

 

Leanora then directs him to Liz, his ex agent and he finds that they were friends but fell out. Leanora put her career in jeopardy by not reading the latest book (called Bombyx Mori, the Latin name for silkworm) because she was sick and sent it to two publishers before her assistant told her that it is totally inappropriate. When she told Owen that, he shouted at her, upturned the chair (they met at a restaurant) stormed out, and disappeared.

 

We learn that another publisher Kathryn Kent (a self published author of erotica who slams the door in Strike’s face) had an affair with Owen but now cannot stand him and does not know where he went.

 

Robin arranges for Matthew and Cormoran Strike to meet in a restaurant with disasterous results.

 

Strike manages to get himself invited to a party with a girl called Lillian and meets Jerry Weldegrove, who is drunk and is one of the people maligned by Owen. The other is the CEO, Daniel Chard. Michael Fancourt, a famous author, is also impugned. When his wife writes a bad novel, a vicious parody appears in a magazine and she kills herself. Everyone suspects Owen is behind it but in his book, he implies that Michael himself is the author.

 

When Strike goes to a house that Owen and Daniel owned, he discovers the house sprayed with acid and Own found disembowelled and gruesomely murdered. When Strike discovers that it is exactly the way described in his latest novel, things get a lot hotter.

 

Elizabeth Tassell meets him in a restaurant and reveals that the parody was indeed written by Own and she herself (in addition to the wife of Own who had the key, motive and opportunity) is under a cloud of suspicion from the police as she regularly loaned Owen money. Lots of it.

 

Daniel Chard meets Strike and also later, Fancourt. He figures out the killer three quarters of the way through the book but in true Agatha Christie fashion, the author does not reveal the answers to us.

 

His shots in the dark to recover evidence (a typewriter) his guess about where the removed body parts of Owen were disposed of and his brilliant cornering of the killer in a club party even though the police keep ignoring his leads are fabulously told. As good as the first one, by Robert (aka JK Rowling)

 

7/10

  • –  Krishna

May 5, 2016

Book: A Time to Die by Wilbur Smith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:40 pm

imageWe have reviewed many Wilbur Smith books earlier, including Those In Peril, Assegai, and The Quest, in addition to many others. This is another of the typically swashbuckling tale by Wilbur. And this is yet another Courtney story.

 

Claudia is hiding with her father Col Riccardo Monterro and his men in a hideout trying to hunt. Attracted to Sean Courtney, papa’s guide. They are lion hunting which goes horribly wrong due to ‘female stupidity’ and Sean, of course, saves Claudia’s life. Then they go elephant hunting. His right wing views of why hunting is good for the environment is interesting indeed.

They get the lion in the end while simultaneously hunting elephants but because of the serial stupidity of Claudia, a man is mauled before they get the lion truly killed.  Sean’s license is in danger.

 

They hunt the big elephant next.  Oh, I know Wilbur is good with the hunting scenes but hardly have I seen a book where the hunting scenes are stacked back to back like this one.

 

He foils a group of poachers but loses the elephant Tutekala. It is funny how he rues an institution like the great elephant is almost lost when his own plans were to shoot it down. This contradiction is very obvious in many of the Wilbur Smith’s novels and he argues the hunter’s case that without the money from hunting, the wildlife will not be preserved by the natives. But even taking this argument at face value, justifying killing the most majestic elephant for trophy with no compunction about the loss of tourism due to its absence is taking this argument to the extreme.

 

The elephant goes into Mozambique and Sean, realizing that his license was anyway going to be revoked by his spiteful boss, decides to chuck it all and pursue it across the border for an offer of half a million dollars from Riccardo.

 

They follow the elephant. Riccardo almost gives up due to cancer and Sean is sent by Claudia with Riccardo to complete the job when he twists her ankle.  Ricardo meets a fitting end right with Tutekela and Sean leaves them there and returns, only to find Claudia kidnapped by the fighters. He pursues them but is dismayed to find an army surrounding her.

 

He has sent away his faithful servants, but gets captured by his archenemy Captain China (Now General China). His attempts to escape and his recapture are told in vivid detail as only Wilbur can.

He commissions Courtney, using Claudia as a bargaining chip, to retrieve some ammunition from the Frelimo enemy, dressed as a Western captain and going into Zimbabwe incognito.

They get the guns and bust out of there in a plane, no less.

 

When China drags his feet, Sean burns all manuals and makes sure that China cannot get by without him. China again blackmails him to agree to destroy the Hinds and he takes Claudia along with him for this trip.

 

Job gets really wounded. Since he refused to leave with what he already earned when Sean offered it to him, and since he has been at Sean’s side all his life, it devastates Sean.

 

He learns of China’s treachery by Alphonso’s change of heart but is betrayed by their own troops who elect to desert him and go back to China, warning him of their escape.

 

Their near capture in a forest (saved by Frelimo attack), China’s growing anger and obsession to take him on and a final confrontation atop a hill where they are fully surrounded by China’s forces when China comes back with an inadequately refurbished plane are all well told. The story is typical Wilbur, with all its mix of hunting, sex, revenge and gore.

 

Also typical of Wilbur is how little Claudia mourns the loss of her father and gets totally involved with Sean with just a token commiseration of her father’s recent death.

 

Satisfying to a fan of Wilbur. Typical, but racy story in the formulaic framework of Wilbur.
6/10

–  –  Krishna

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