bookspluslife

January 13, 2019

Book: Warriors of the Storm by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:18 pm

imageThe next installment in the Saxon Series. So far we have reviewed almost all of the earlier books in the series. Please see    The Last KingdomThe Pale Horseman , The Lords of The NorthThe Sword Song. The Burning LandThe Death of Kings  The Pagan LordThe Empty Throne and Warriors of the Storm.

 

The story continues.

 

Uhtred finally goes to reclaim Babbenburg but finds that Swedish shipmen have piled on to help his cousin’s son, the usurper of the throne that he, Uhtred,  claims as his own. He meets a Dane who swears to kill Uhtred. However, he is called back to defend his son in law’s castle from a Danish attack and reluctantly leaves.

 

Then he is cornered by Constantin his old enemy and forced to retreat. He vows to be back for revenge. He finds that Styggyr and his daughter have both gone to argue with a Saxon army that seems to have come to attack. Uhtred is puzzled because King Edward had so far not shown any inclination to attack Northumbria.

 

He goes to meet his daughter who is the Queen and wife of Styggyr. He finds that the priests are building a huge cathedral in the place and realizes that it is a trap so that King Constantin can attack from the West.

 

He guesses the trap by the Christian priest and prepares a counter surprise. It is great fun when he unravels a plot by Athelhelm to kill their own people in the guise of Styggir’s men. Uhtred protects them but then takes the enemy warriors prisoners in a remote place so that Aethelhelm does not realize what has happened. He exposes the plot and lets Athelhelm out by giving him a way out to pretend that it was treachery by his own men. When he finds out that Athelhelm is planning to support Babbenberg and this would be fully lost to him (in a highly entertaining sequence where he goes in disguise as a begger and is almost unmasked) Eldar the White arrives to destroy Aethelhelm’s fleet.

 

When he leaves back to his place he deceives everyone saying that he is going to go and settle down in a peaceful place but where he heads with his fleet is to Bebbanberg, his old dream and the land he lost to his cousin.

 

The story takes off from there. When Elnar arrives, he has to go quickly away not to get caught in the conflagration and he goes by the same boat that he went into Essex. The way the crippled, stooped old man wields the rusty sword of the shipmaster horrifies the latter until in a glorious sequence Uhtred reveals his true identity.

 

Many more surprises follow. When he goes to Bebbanberg, he guesses the intentions of the mad priest correctly and tricks him into revealing his promise of rescue the cousin from the siege of Constantin, whose ally Eldar really is. Once he knows of the plan, he gloriously tricks his cousin into opening his gates in a tense sequence where he is pursued by Athelhelms fleet and his formidable commander and also Eldar, who has been promised easy prey of the food by the same mad priest in a multiple double cross. (The aim of the mad priest is to get grants to the island to build a church no matter who won – Danes, Scots Aethelhelm or the falst Uhtred who is the cousin who usurped the throne of our real hero).

 

What follows is a stupendous battle with surprise after surprise, and where a secret member of his army that he did not suspect and did not want to carry along is revealed; there is a glorious one to one combat and a beautiful sequence that rivets you to the pages, and then the final battle and the denouement.

 

Not for nothing is Bernard such a famous author. His storytelling is lovely. A friend points out that he has now become formulaic and spins similar tales. I admit that it is true but each one is glorious. This charge can be levelled against almost any author but still it is fun to read the exploits. This story, unlike the previous ones, are nearly all fiction as the author himself admits in the epilog. I don’t think it takes away from the enjoyment of the book, unless you are after education and not simply entertainment.

 

For me, it was deeply satisfying

 

8 /  10

– – Krishna

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Book: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 5:07 pm

imageThis won the Booker prize and it shows. It is an elegantly written book. It is also the third book in a trilogy about World War I military life. As a person who read this first, out of sequence, I can tell you that the enjoyment is full without reading the first two. Of course, if you had read the first two books, you may get more out of it than I did.

 

Billy Prior is going for inspection in the army. He could have gotten a safe job through his father’s and friend’s influence but does not want it. His friend Owen and he join the army. He goes for inspection. We learn that he was discharged from army due to shell shock and was in intelligence at that time. Now he wants to go back in action before WW II ends and there is no more action. His lifelong wheezing and lactose intolerance may be an issue. We also learn that Prior has a split personality and his dual self comes out in times of stress and that no one knows it yet.

 

Dr Rivers, in the meanwhile is in a medical clinic which used to be a children’s hospital prior to the war and so has its walls filled with Alice in Wonderland scenes. We also learn that he knew Lewis Carroll personally. In addition we are treated to his patients, who are in need of mental health care. One of them, shellshocked, finds his feet unmovable until Dr Rivers puts a stocking on his leg and rolls them down slowly, “bringing” feeling back to portions of his leg. And then there is the other patient Geoffrey who killed a German prisoner with no compunction and for no other reason that he was angry with him but sees his rotting corpse standing by his bedside thereafter.

 

Dr Rivers himself has had an interesting childhood with snakes etc. Nice, lovely narration that takes you to the place and period being described. You can actually see it, and feel the ambience. Pat is a very gifted writer.

 

Like everything Pat Barker writes about, his descriptions are terse, lyrical. Wonderful descriptions. Prior thinking that ‘Murder is only killing in the wrong place’ is profound in the context of military background and war.

 

The patients of Rivers provide a lot of colour. There is one who believes that the nurse who looks after him removed his penis when he was helpless on the bed, though he has a whole one still, is interesting. Description of life in itself is lovely.

 

Billy Prior’s agony about not being able to be alone with his betrothed Sarah due to her dragon mother who watches them like a hawk at all times is amusing.

 

Prior finds many parallels with the European attitudes at the camp and the prior experience with the tribals in Africa. Some scenes like how they keep dead Ngeau upright in a chair with a pole to keep the head straight and how they leave him in the sea are fascinating. As is the custom where the wife imitates the same pose (until death?) and how they get into a disused part of a cave with a swarm of bats that they disturb. All told in a unique style by Barker.

 

When Rivers finds that his wife will be immobile in a room until they bring ‘a head’ he dismisses it as fantasy. But the group really brings a boy ‘for his head’ and he is totally astounded. The boy lives there for a while and just when you think that the ‘head’ is still attached to the body he mysteriously disappears from view.

 

He finds the boy unharmed later and realizes that the ‘head’ is a figurative thing they collect. The ending of the book is chilling and the narration is lyrical, evocative, and leaves you pondering for a while after you read the book

 

7/10

 

– – Krishna

December 29, 2018

Book: Alpine For You by Maddy Hunter

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:12 pm

imageThis is a corny-copia of corny jokes. Sorry, could not resist the silly pun.  I guess the title should have given me a big glue. Never mind.  Let us go to the storyline.

 

Emily Andrew does not want to share the hotel room with the scumbag Andrew Simon and suspects that someone confused the first name/ last name and thought they were a single family.

 

She is mortified with having to go late for dinner on the first day and segregated into a far away table next to the obnoxious Andrew. When he is found dead in front of his hotel room, discovered by Agnes to her consternation and hysteria, Nana and Emily are questioned by the police. All the time Nana wisecracks incessantly, which the author thinks provides an undercurrent of humour. Yes, but in an elementary, 1920s way.

 

When Andrew dies, the police investigate and Emily becomes the tour coordinator in his place. Dick loses his toupee in the river and Emily splashes into retrieve it, taking her new job seriously.

 

You wonder what the hell is going on? No word of the corpse or anything, just telling now all bad things happen to Emily constantly. An attractive cop tells her that Andrew was probably murdered and finally the story moves an inch.

 

Then her suitcase is lost and more blather follows. The story moves an inch when you find that Andrew was poisoned and when Shirley was found dead on the rocks overhanging a cliff. But takes a nap thereafter for a while, all the while filling the pages with painful puns and how everything goes wrong with the narrator Emily while not dealing with the flirting between her and the Swiss inspector who is investigating the case.

 

In the meanwhile, like any good detective story, everyone on the tour had had a problem with Andy. Dick Stolee’s wife because Andy refused to renew the lease for her dancing school and her relocation to a shady area causing an accident that ended her career. His wife cheating on Andy with another man who was in the tour… all kinds of things.

 

It is very funny when Dick Rasmusson dies of heart attack in Germany – to which they had gone on a day tour – and the group decides that he had to die in Switzerland because the procedure is easy. In the slapstick comedy movie style, they transport the body in a golf cart, propped up and with a hat and sunglasses, even making his dead hand ‘wave’ to colleagues who addressed him. Very obvious comedy but still cute.

 

But the banter gets a bit too much. When the eventually revealed killer and Emily stand there, while the former is trying to kill Emily, discussing mundane stuff and trading bad jokes, you want to throw the book across the room.

 

Ending is abrupt. How they found out about the killer is never revealed. The killer describes his  entire plan to Emily in the style of James Bond villains.

 

If you like corny jokes strung together in the form of a story, this is not too bad.

 

3/ 10

 

— Krishna

 

Book: A Garden of Earthly Delights by Joyce Carol Oates

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:05 pm

imageA drama of American life. Joyce is known for these stories. Let us dive straight into the storyline.

 

A farm truck hits a hog truck. Carleton Walpole and Pearl are in it. When Pearl gives birth to the child, his second, he worries about losing her. He loves her a lot. He is a casual worker, poor, trying to make a living. Many years later, he is struggling with a brood of kids, and the pretty Pearl going into a vacant eyes harridan who does nothing in the house. The explanation of how he feels betrayed and, though he loves his kids, wants to just go out and have a drink with friends because ‘the house is a hell hole and he deserves it’ are moving.

 

Carleton’s despise about wetbacks, niggers and Jew York are shocking to read. So are his descriptions of wetbacks : ‘Black like Indians but not deep black like niggers’. He has a huge chip on his shoulders. He worked hard but did not get his deserved breaks. He goes with a friend to a bar and pisses that friend off by repeatedly insulting the latter’s wife and repeatedly crushing him in a hand wrestling in front of cooing young girls who look to be eminently available.

 

It gets ugly and Carleton whips out his knife and stabs the friend in a street brawl after they fought inside a pub and got thrown out for it.

 

Carla is considered a really slow student and is grouped with the youngest kids in the class.

 

We learn of Carleton’s contempt with others in the camp. Clara is friendly with Rosalie another dull girl who shows her what shoplifting is. Rosalie’s father is lynched by the Klan and Carla learns that it is because he allegedly molested his own daughter Rosalie. Great stuff.

 

Also great is Clara’s attempt to bed a stranger (blond army man) and her being thrashed by Carleton. She runs away. He, Lowry, luckily does not exploit her and takes her to New York, finding her a job as well. Finally she makes him make love to her and then he is with her constantly.

 

When she realizes that she is pregnant, against the warnings of Lowry to take care, he runs away before she could tell him and she traps a richer man called Revere and makes him believe that the child is his. A tale of gritty survival, then.

 

He marries her when his sick wife finally dies, and Clara has enough sense to refuse when her ex lover comes back and invites her to join him to start a new life in Canada, as she realizes that he will never amount to anything anywhere.

 

She is bored with her husband and flirts with men who come to her house when he is away. Steven goes for hunting with Revere’s son Robert, hating every moment of it.  In an accident (Swan pushed him lightly) Robert falls off, shooting himself with his own gun that he had not put the safety catch on. Revere develops an aversion to hunting after that but Clara is startled and is wary with Swan thereafter.

 

He finally decides to ‘stop being good’ and ‘read so much’ and gets a girlfriend.

 

Swan completely ignores his college and even reading of books suddenly.

 

When one more son runs away and the remaining one becoming a bum, Swan (Steven) becomes the sole heir to the Revere fortune and has plans to buy out all the pesky relatives who do not share his vision for the empire he plans to build.

 

Then the book takes a confusing turn and ends tragically with a little bit of an aftermath described. The story is definitely interesting and showcases Carol Joyce Oates’s power of description but it is illogical in places, which kind of jars.

 

Overall a good read though not spectacular.

 

6/ 10

— Krishna

Book: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:18 pm

imageIt would not be an understatement to describe this book as one of the best books I read recently.

 

This is the way a story should be told. Crisp brilliant descriptions, evoking passion for the subject matter in a reader’s mind is hard to achieve but Anthony does this effortlessly.

 

Starts in an interesting way. Vignettes of bombs falling in France, a blind girl familiarizing herself with a model replica of a building, Werner Pfennig, a 17 year old private hiding in a cellar since bombs are being thrown on his building. All already knitting together in a war story with WW II in the backdrop. The bombs are falling everywhere.

 

By the way, the War stays as a pure backdrop to the story and gives colour to the story but the story is not about the war at all.

 

The story goes back to the girl, whose father makes her independent after she becomes blind. He is a curator in a museum and lives in the same building and he trains her on where is what. He is also a woodworker in his spare time and he creates a replica of the museum.

 

Werner’s childhood reveals that he is fascinated with machines. He finds an abandoned broken radio and fixes it. He grows up in an orphanage managed by Frau Elena. He listens to broadcasts in Germany where the tone subtly changes to show ‘ hooked nose villains who destroy everything due to greed’.

 

Lovely descriptions of escalating menace and how Werner and the girl cope. Girl imbibing classics in Braille. Werner trying to learn everything he could and dreaming of a life working in a scientific field. Hunger for knowledge. Also aware of the German army approaching. Beautifully said.

 

When Werner is called in to repair an expensive radio by a senior captain in Nazi army, he manages to do so and impress him. He now wants Werner to go to advanced science training because “Germany needs people like him”.

 

He goes to an elite school where his mathematical genius and expertise with mechanical things is noticed and he is chosen for special work for the Fuhrer.

 

Meanwhile Maurie and her father go to her uncle, who is a recluse. When all the radios are confiscated by the occupying German orders, he goes to pieces. The father, meanwhile is carrying a diamond that seems to be the true rare diamond. He leaves Marie to go back to the museum but is arrested and transferred to Germany.

 

The brutal training given to boys opens Werner’s eyes to the evil nature of the regime he is being asked to serve. The weak boys are flogged mercilessly.

 

Werner gets increasingly uneasy with the culture and wants his sister Jutta’s clear headed thinking desperately. He thinks he has let his friend Frankie down badly, especially when the latter gets battered and brain damaged. And finally has to leave.

Marie-Laure gets letters from her father assuring her that he is safe and is looked after extremely well. She does not know how much to belive. She discovers the sea and also a grotto where snails abound.

Werner learns to triangulate a radio transmission unerringly.

 

He is recruited into the army with false age registered, after he tells the doctor he wants to leave and is refused. He meets his friend Frank and finds him a vegetable from all the brain injury his beatings caused.

 

Werner goes to the front and gets reunited with his old friend, the gentle giant Volkheimer. In the station, when Werner sees prisoners being taken in inhuman condition and resting on the bodies of their own dead, it shocks him – and you, while reading. Excellent narration. He continues to find transmissions by triangulation and Volkheimer goes and kills them. Contrary to propaganda, Werner finds that the ‘criminals’ are poor, unprepared people trying to fight back. When a mother and a young kid are casually killed, he gets his doubts about what he is doing and realizes that Jutta, his sister, has always been right.

 

His doubts overwhelm him and he starts protecting the numbers which are causing great havoc. The Major confronts her when she is in a private grotto with snails and she tells him what he wants to know without realizing this. He is on the hunt for the Sea of Flames, the flawless diamond. He locates three replicas and finally knows where the fourth one is.

 

Marie- Laure gets stuck in the house and hides in a cupboard when the Major finally finds the house in his search for the Sea of Flames diamond. However, the Major is dying of terminal cancer. Great stuff. Great storytelling.

 

The storytelling moves forward and backwards but with devastating effect. You realize that Werner and Volkheimer are going to be trapped in the basement of a building that was destroyed by bombing with no way out. You wait for it. You realize that the major is going to trap the blind girl alone in her own house. You wait for it. Just brilliant.

 

It all ties in together very neatly. An excellent book worth reading every word. What an explosive ending. Deeply satisfying for having read it. A lesson on how to write fiction.

 

Some would consider the long epilog, after the main story ends, as a let down or a distraction but I found it fascinating.

 

9/ 10

– – Krishna

Book: Texas by James A Michener

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:08 pm

imageA doorstop of a book. Even with the small print, my copy is 1321 pages.

 

Starts with a Governor’s Task Force in the University of Texas, where the narrator, a professor Dr Travis Barlow meets the others, a rich Texan businessman Ransom Rusk, a rich rancher Lorenzo Quimper, a scion of political family Lorena Cobb who is a forceful looking woman and the diminutive Professor Efrain Garza.

 

First, the story begins with an ancestor of Garza, a boy of mixed (aboriginal  mother and Spanish father) origin called Garcilaco, who is asked to take mules to Mexico city by his master. On the way he meets four folks who wandered in unexplored regions populated by Indians and their leader is Alvar Nunez with a nickname meaning ‘Head of a Cow’. He tells of his capture by Indians, and his escape into the territory of another set of ‘kinder Indians’. There is also an ex slave, a black man who is called Esteban. The Teyas Indians gave the name to the Texas state.

 

Garcilaco is adopted by the priest Marcos as his son and he later meets the slave Esteban. Hearing of the Seven Cities paved with gold, they send Marcos and Esteban together with a large group to scout for it and Esteban claims sole leadership of the group. Marcos is left behind and when Esteban sends word that he saw the Golden city, he lies to his masters and says that he has seen it. Esteban subsequently is slain with almost all of his group by the Chief of the place he found.

 

Marcos, greedy for glory, claims to have seen the cities of Gold and they send an expedition with him. Carcilaco befriends the two top officers and is made a cavalry soldier but Marcos is exposed as a fraud and sent back.  The group sees Grand Canyon for the first time.

 

They are once more duped by an Indian slave and spend all their time in a pointless exercise, when Garcilaco gets back, the priest takes him in, gives a girl as his wife and also money to live comfortably for the rest of his life.

 

Next Simon Garcia, a young carpenter, is looking for a wife and finds it in a mixed race girl. The priest, Damien  whose help he enlists, is interested in the Spanish girl Benita who is her mistress. Though tormented by his love for her, he knows he cannot marry and his dashing army brother Alvero comes in to claim her, and Damien discovers jealousy for the first time.

 

He officiates in their marriage. He goes and sets up a monastery in Tejas with a lazy but brilliantly effective deputy. His brother Alvaro comes to head the military garrison in the same town.

 

The death of both Damian and Demingo at the hands of the Apache, at two different times, ends this part of the story.

 

Next starts the story of Trinidad, a young girl who falls in love with a Frenchman but who is killed while saving her from a savage Apache attack. She also earns the enmity of the new mean priest, who is looking for ways to bring down her and her family, which is related to Damian. Meanwhile a brash American pays court to Trinidad, mostly for her father’s wealth. The American, Marr, after literally raping Trinidad, jilts her to marry the daughter of an ever richer landlord, Amalia. To add insult to injury, her lands were removed from her and added to Amalia family, making Marr even richer.

 

Trinidad is rescued by a note she wrote to an old farmhand, and she marries him finally.

 

Next a round faced Irish priest Clooney converts the methodist family Quimpers, Jubal, Mattie and son Yancet  who are escaping the law and creditors and move to Texas, which entitles them to a large swathe of land. They are cheated out of it by the city’s mayor, a man who would do nothing but talks with a honeyed tongue and they run away, helped by the priest to where they can take the land for the asking, deeper into Texas.

 

She gets prime land and makes a living by providing food and ferrying people across the river, in addition to what grows on her land.

 

When the flood comes she survives bravely and saves her cowardly son from a rattlesnake which migrated in the flood.

 

A Protestant pastor and a Catholic Pastor (our own Clooney) have an argument about how Texas is going to turn out.

 

The son, Yancey, proceeds to disgrace himself in the battle against the Indians. But when they return, he also treacherously has a tame Indian killed, who had been great help to Mattie.

 

Jubal goes to Tennessee to claim inheritance, cashes out, resists temptation to marry a local girl and become rich and goes back to Mattie. The sideline is Sam Houston, the greatest regarded governor of Tennessee marrying a local girl called Elsie. He is even slated to contest the Presidency next. When she leaves him without explanation, he resigns all posts, turns to drink and lives among Indians in the Indian fashion. (Of course, this being an old book, it refers to the native Americans  as Indians)

 

Jubal comes back but never reaches his home, dying of cholera in the hands of the priest Harrison.

 

The next part of the book starts with the religious strifes that shaped Texas. McNab from Scotland comes to US to escape lawmen and hears of Texas. He goes there taking his son Otto, and learns of the good and the bad and the cheats and the good people. He learns that mustangs and cows run wild there and no one will buy them off him.

 

They meet the famous Mattie, and also Clooney dies in their presence after converting them to Catholicism. He marries a Mexican and gets double his allocation of land accordingly, as per his entitlement.

 

When the real wife and daughters of Finlay arrive in Texas, they are shocked to hear that he is married already and leave in bitterness.

 

The Battle of Alamo where the rebels defend the territory from the cruel and pitiless general from Mexico is well described. Then the other massacre at another city till finally Houston destroys the army of the General Santa Anna  and also captures him. Texas becomes a Republic.

 

There are stories of how the land was used by Texans to prop up the failing economy and how competing currencies were printed by companies and individuals, causing chaos.

 

Awesome account of the Comanche, the fearsome Indian gang, and how they were tricked and massacred by the white men and how they took fearsome revenge on Texas towns. (“They make the feared Apache look like schoolchildren” was the comment of one character in the story)

 

Talks of Germans flooding to Texas to escape repressions at home. Lots of vignettes about what makes Texans fiercely independent, even after John Polk finally managed to annex it to USA. How the Texans in the war against Mexico were both brave and utterly ruthless to the point of war crimes, is well told.

 

The savagery of Texas rangers in Avila is shocking and make you realize that they were as cruel as the Spanish General Santa Anna.

 

They talks of families coming in, now buying land on the cheap (no more free land) and how the population increased to remote areas of Texas. The Cobbs family has grown rich by appropriating enormous amounts of land and shoemaking and flour mill and one of the brothers decides to fight on the Confederate side in the coming civil war. Lincoln got elected, much to the chagrin of the South.

 

The siege of Vickburg following a battle where the Texans successfully resisted wave after wave of Union soldiers is well told.

 

Earnshaw Rusk, a devout preacher, is appointed to make peace with the conquered Indian tribes by President Grant. He writes about the predicament of the Indians (Comanche tribe for example) in being slowly driven away from their own homelands as well as the savagery they display in their attacks which horrifies western sensibilities. A very even handed but brutal and frank description, the likes of which have made his writing so famous.

 

The overwhelming of the Indians and banishment of them to the reservations is told well. Then they start on the casual cruelty to blacks by whites even after their emancipation. Terrible scenes like the judge killing a black lawyer because he was winning the argument in the defense of a black man and then not even being reprimanded for it.

 

The scenes where Rusk turns mercenary but almost loses his land to a banker and how the same banker joins with him to bring railroad back are well told. Rusk and Emma’s fat, hateful son and how he killed two people without provocation in a pub and how incorrigibly bad he is – nice narration. Above all, the near extinction of the Texas longhorn is well told.

 

There is a lot about football and its rise. The three enduring themes of Texas are the ranges, oil, and Friday Night Football.

 

And in case you doubted that a serious author like James Michener could do hilarity, there is quite a funny chapter on how armadillos entered Texas and the havoc they caused to the lawns of a Rusk and how it led to his divorce with his wife. There is a lot of blather about hunting, oil and money making that seems a sideline to the main story.

 

The last bit is about a conniving real estate agent who cheats everyone and gets killed by one of his victims. Interesting.

 

A classic Michener. Does not disappoint.

 

7/10

 

– – Krishna

December 15, 2018

Book: Pharoah by Wilbur Smith

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:21 pm

imageI have a quibble about the dust jacket. It claims that Stephen King said that Wilber Smith is the best historical novelist. Period.

 

Really? Don’t get me wrong, I like Wilbur Smith books, and have reviewed many here, including Assegai, Elephant Song, or the earlier Taita stories starting from the first one, River God. But the best historical novelist? Come on! He can be perhaps the best living historical novelist with the initials WS. Because if you include dead ones, even there William Shakespeare will beat him hollow with Henry VIII or King Lear. He has some history but mostly it is fluff, with no depth in it.

 

Interesting to see the book dedicated to his wife. He has dedicated all his books to his wife, but the name changes from time to time. I think this is the third name I have seen?

 

The Taita stories, though interesting, are insufferable in the all excelling God-like qualities of that man and in the first person, it looks like Wilbur is fondly imagining himself as a demi-God through Taita. If you consider the insufferable Seventh Scroll where Wilbur Smith, instead of the surrogate Taita, is the all knowing, and famous historian of the Egyptian history, you understand Wilbur’s urge to continue self praise through Taita. The pity is that the story stands by itself and is interesting in its own right without the self praise running through all Taita books. I will now get off my soap box and look at the book itself.

 

This is the next instalment in the widely popular Taita series. Two things about the story immediately stand out. One : It has a greater tie in to the original story than all the sequels so far. This brings us back to the Hyskos defeat and Pharoah Tamose, and the subsequent revenge of the Hyskos. Second: The story takes off almost from the first sentence.

 

Egypt is staring at annihilation and Tamose is old. Hyskos are kicking their butt repeatedly (my phrasing) in battles. Tamose is dying and his eldest son, Utteric Toro is to inherit the throne, such as it was. He is jealous of Taita and after sending him to defeat Hyksos, he then arrests Taita as a traitor.  The brother of the kind releases him and escapes with him to the sea. He meets up with his erstwhile friends.

 

He meets Bekhata and Tehuti from his earlier book and Tehuti’s brilliantly beautiful daughter falls in love with the younger brother who came with Taita. When a surprise attack is waged by a weasel-like  representative of Utter, Taita tries to put him to death but Serena saves him.

 

When they go hunting for a boar, King Hurotas, whose horse was gored by the beast loses consciousness, Queen Tehuti suffers a broken wrist and it is Serena who kills the mighty beast, cementing her reputation among everyone.

 

When she is kidnapped with Bekhata’s son being the victim, the story takes off again. When Taita and Rameses go to rescue her, the story takes off again, Wilbur style. The way they rescue Serena and how they free the prisoners in the dungeon are good.

 

Then Serena tries to create a rebellion right from inside Egypt. They collect an army and have Hurotas also come with an army.  There is a great reunion. They thwart an enemy attack as well as take charge of Utteric’s horses in a night raid. However a fish tile intrigues him and Taita finds part of the answer in one of the four islands at the mouth of the river.

 

When she faces a demon enemy called Terramesh who comes in a chariot drawn by unicorns (yes, don’t laugh) and with its axle adorned by sharp blades that tears through enemy army (which in this case is Taita’s) and seemingly impervious to arrows, Taita is confused. His pet goddess Inana tells him of a way to kill Terramesh. That involves stories like you would find in Brothers Grimm tales, where they travel to a concealed cave where there is one specific weapon to kill. They find it through magic and Inana’s guidance and then find another hidden and secret cave, protected by magic as well (I said, stop laughing) to lure and destroy Terramesh with some lude and raunchy display by Serena involved in the honey trap.

 

Then Taita explores the hidden passway below and finds a way to overcome Utteric, who is hidden behind three formidable walls. Also one of the people captured is a ‘good’ one and can even tell between Utteric and his myriad doubles.

 

You get the feeling that this is too easy for Taita. The last few Taita books have been totally one sided and the feeling that these are hastily crafted books to cash in on the fame of Taita deepens.

 

“One of the best historical novelists”, says Stephen King. In my opinion, Wilbur writes very well, that is undeniable, and bases it on history of both Africa and, now, Egypt specifically. But they are simply very thin backdrops to adventure stories. The research is not deep, the history is not even slightly emphasized but serves as a backdrop for gory killing and womanizing.

 

Engrossing? Yes. Historical? Even for his prior books, no. For this particular book, “Hell, no.”

 

Anyway, Taita solves the mystery of the tunnels. They go right inside the camp of Utteric, bypassing the walls. Easy, peasy, when you have the help of Goddesses like Inana to help out.

 

Typical but less complex fare from Wilbur. Entertaining but lacks his usual complexity.

 

5 /10
– – Krishna

Book: Brightness Reef by David Brin

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 3:15 pm

imageWeird in parts, interesting in parts. But overall, average or even slightly below.

This is part of a trilogy and deals with the Uplift world invented by David. There is Book Two and Three but I am unlikely to read it.  Apologies to David Brin fans, but this is not my cup of tea.

A man, half singed, escapes a fire. As he moves in the swamp, he sees a group of strangers. This is the prolog. The story itself starts next.

 

There are four friends from different species, only one of which is humanoid. They are crazy about books left by humankind eons ago. A girl with eyestalks (yup, like a snail) suggests that they go to the forbidden area to read the inscriptions on the rocks. There are even friends with wheels instead of feet and some with no feet at all.

 

Then the story goes to a race that went to Jijo, a distant planet, seemingly disjointed from the original story. There are a few folks who argue about the old ways and the new. Chimps with human intelligence (but inability to talk) and other weird stuff intervene to provide the fantasy atmosphere to the story.

 

Nelo (Don’t ask who it is. People come and go) visits his daughter Sara’s house where she has saved a stranger from death.

 

Then the story branches off into a narrative about another man who discovers that a girl was stealing his bow. Then rolls all the way back to a new ship coming to the place and they finally figure out that convicts are being dropped off a la Australia. But then it turns out that they may be scientists, interested only in exchange of knowledge.

 

Dwer takes the girl for justice for stealing his bow.  Then the story alternates between the aliens arriving and killing a spider with acid in its body for blood (yup a la Aliens movie), as well as the girl who stole the bow trying to get at a wounded mechanical bird regardless of the danger to her person and how Dwer saved her.

 

In the meanwhile human criminals who came up create divisions from the Unified Six because others (k’ger, etc) now suspect the humans among them of disloyalty. And it seems certain that the evil humans will destroy the entire planet to conceal evidence of their theft but the Six in Jijo decide to fight back an enemy with much superior technology, whatever be the odds.

 

They inform the Jijoans that they intend to take them all back and even the revered Egg was their plan to educate the Six and also that this whole thing was an experiment. Disappointment and despair arise when the Jijoans learn of this.

 

But in reality they realize that the aliens have been sowing seeds of dissention and their plot is exposed. In addition, the rebels have also destroyed the base they came in.

 

There are some vignettes worth reading but the story is too pat and too distracted to come together. All those stories do not come together at all and go their separate ways. This ends in miraculous escapes and reversals of the bad boys suddenly through deux ex machina techniques.

 

Meh.

 

3/10

 

– – Krishna

December 9, 2018

Book: Undeadly by Michele Vail

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:17 pm

imageIt is aimed at teenage girls and it shows.

 

First I thought it was total crap but found that there is a little bit of redemption as you read on. Not much, but it is there if you look for it.

 

There are four types of necromancers which is all crap and our girl studies in school while animating zombies and bringing them to life or doing all kinds of weird shit. The essay she writes for her necromancer school is total garbage and the language is very suited for the vacuous type of young things that seem to exist in a parallel universe utterly detached from any kind of curiosity or responsibility – especially to learn.

 

She knows how to raise the zombies but when a pet zombie, Mr Mortimer, tries to eat her, she seems helpless until rescued by an older man who is teaching her zombie-making. Sick. She has a crush on a boy who plays football and seems very shallow. (And says she knows she is shallow but could not care less).

 

Her uncle is zombified by her mother and used as a servant because ‘he wanted to be useful even after he was dead’. He is a ‘good zombie’ but you know what? She wishes she had known her uncle when he was really her uncle and not a zombie. Are you barfing yet?

 

Anubis, the God of necromancers, blesses her as the one who has “the gift” and horror or horrors, also talks like a teenage vapehead. She has been, like, chosen and it is, like, so awesome and so cool and so cute and…. You get the picture.

 

Rick gets to her party and she is insulted by an ex girlfriend of Rick by having punchbowl thrown in her face. But there is a non human there who kills Rick and Molly, the heroine, seems to be able to catch the pieces of soul when they are about to depart and shove them back into Rick (well, two pieces escape).

 

She meets her grandparents; she learns she could be an undead reaper and also realizes that Anubis had indeed chosen her. She finally gets to know that her dad is not her biological dad.

 

She goes to a fancy shmancy school to hone up her reaper skills. Whatevs. (The crazy style, like above, grates).  She learns that she is now a reaper and can capture souls to tie them to a SEER machine (which keeps them as slaves against her wishes). Why? Because Irina, her teacher asks her to, and their principal(?) also wants it. Irina cuts a side deal to get diamonds and let the ghost of Aunt Myra go.

 

When Rick turns up with fetid breath and faints on her room carpet, Molly is thunderstruck. Gets her friends to help.

 

She discovers that Irina is probably evil and is threatened at gunpoint. She also discovers that Rick is indeed the soul killer who is disposing of students at her school.

 

The book ends abruptly, Kill Bill style. It sucks. It is one thing to want to write a series but another to finish at a cliffhanger in the hopes that you would buy her second book. I simply imagined that the story ended at a logical point, about 3 pages earlier and am not going to buy the second one.

 

Not too bad once you get past the crazy style – goes into the ‘barely tolerable’ category.

But by no means a good read.

 

4/10

–   –   Krishna

November 26, 2018

Book: Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:38 pm

imageStephen King is one of the few authors whose books we have frequently reviewed. See 12/13/63 or Revival to name but just two.

 

In my opinion he is at the top of his game and delivers in book after book an amazingly entertaining experience. But the man can slip up too, and has his not so great moments. I am sorry to say that this book is one of those. It is not bad, even good in parts, but does not reach up to the high bar that he has set himself and that we have come to expect from him.

 

So, what is the story?

 

The narrator’s wife Johanna Arlen is killed in a freak accident. She was young. The narrator is a writer. She fell down when she went to help with an accident between a truck and a car. The old women in the car were hurt but not badly. Johanna, while she sprinted towards the accident, coincidentally suffered a brain aneurysm that instantly killed her.

 

He gets a serious case of the writer’s block. He keeps dreaming of his cottage called Sara Laughs, and in one particularly hairy dream, a dead Jo comes malevolently at him. He decides to go see the lake and live there for a while.

 

After an initial shock of hearing a child scream he settles down and saves a child Kira, who was running alone on the road and meets the mother who lives in a trailer. Her mother Mattie married a rich but diffident Lance Devore who dies and the grandpa wants her child and tries to prove that she is an unfit mother.

 

While he goes to the aid of the mother and child against a rich man, he realizes a presence. It tries first to talk in thumps (one for yes and two for no) but later switches to magnetic letters on the fridge.

 

There is some weirdness where he goes into a mesmeric world full of dead people, indiscriminate sex etc which does not happen except in his mind. Then he is dragged to court by the vindictive but rich grandfather of Kyra. He conducts himself well but knows that the danger has not passed.

 

When the vindictive Devore and his assistant almost kill him, Jo in spirit form seems to save him from drowning by pulling him onto a raft. When suddenly Devore dies and Mattie expresses her love for Mike, the author, things take a different turn in the story.  When he knows Jo has been afraid of something and was investigating the house, the story gets hotter and when he realizes that there are multiple presences in the house, one of them definitely Jo trying to help him and at least one more malevolent spirit that has also sent messages on the fridge like it (they?) does for him, the story gets downright hot.

 

So why am I saying that it is not up to par? Read on.

 

When he and Mattie hear that Devore had died through self-asphyxiation, they are relieved and Matte expresses her love to Mike. However, Mike and Kyra share a dream about a long ago fair where they meet the original occupant and singer of the house he owns and Devore and some dead folks with him almost get them .

 

The story moves on where his lawyer, their friends and Mike go to Mattie for a celebration party and suddenly are attacked by the townspeople. Mattie dies in the attack and the lawyer is wounded but Mike takes Kyra back to Sara Laughs. When he is in the zone he almost kills Kyra by drowning but Jo’s hints bring him back to sanity.

 

He understands how Sara and her son Kit were murdered by racist youths who could not stand her to be in the same neighbourhood as them. He digs her out to give her peace.

 

The ending is classic King. The story as a whole is a bit weird but there are many parts that grip you with its intensity and shake you up. Not his best, though.

 

The last 50 pages are so are spectacular, where he battles Sara, and another evil spirit with the help of Jo, and then realizes that Kyra is not where he left her. Awesome but to get this thrill, there is  too long a wait reading through slow moving story..

 

Let us say 6/10

 

–  – Krishna

 

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