bookspluslife

February 10, 2018

Book: The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 4:35 pm

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

Bernard Cornwell stories are short, packed with twists and intrigue, and enjoyable to read – he has found the sweet spot in historical fiction – how to entertain on the basis of real history without being boring, and how to keep it short so that you do not lose those readers who will not read a book that is more than 300 pages long. Nice!

This book continues the story of Uhthred, but really, the story of King Alfred and successors.

Alfred is now old and besieged on two fronts and Uhthred, much to his dismay, has not been called to defend the west. He has been sent to bribe a Dane, Haestan,  to go away and takes two hostages, who both, Uhthred suspects, are fake.

 

Alfred finally calls him for help and Uhtred is thrilled. He captures Skade, his enemy’s girl and takes her to Alfred. He gives Alfred advice on how to defeat the Danish depredator Harold.

 

Alfred asks Uhtred to give his loyalty to his son Edward, as he knows he is very ill and may not live long.

 

Though much, including the central character Uhtred is fiction, you learn a lot of history through this series. For instance, Alfred was indeed sickly and pious throughout his life.

 

Harold recovers his girl Skade by threatening to kill a string of twenty eight Saxons in front of Uhtred if she is not released.  Uhtred lures him into a trap and wounds him, perhaps fatally.

 

The priests conspire to enrage Uhtred and he kills a blind priest and his punishment is to lose all his wealth, (his wife is dead in childbirth) and have his children as hostage to Alfred and declare his fealty to Edward, Alfred’s son. He runs away to be a free viking. Back to the pillaging days? He goes to see Ragnar in the North and plans to attack and take back Northumbria, his old citadel usurped by his uncle.

 

He needs gold and he plans to get it from attacking Skade’s ex husband. He lures the Viking and kills him but Skade turns vicious and hates Uhtred. Alfred is sick and the Danes including Ragnar plan to invade Wessex.

 

Pyrlig comes and lures Uhtred away from Ragnar back to Mercia as Uhtred had given his oath to Ethelflaed, Alfred’s daughter, who was in trouble with her husband who was trying to murder her and had taken refuge in a monastery. Skade goes with Haesten but hates Uhtred and so she comes and burns the monastery when Uhtred with Ethelflaed, his entourage and with his children had left the place.

 

He goes back to Ethelred, and plans how to repel Haesten and his tribes. When he invades the fortress of Haesten, there is this fantastic scene where he attacks the Danes recklessly and is saved by Steapa’s forces arriving at the last moment to save him. He also learns that Skade is the one who is controlling the fortress and Haesten is away, plundering. He wins the fortress due more to luck than strategy but for the bigger, well defended fortress, he plans brilliantly using sails and beehives in an unconventional manner. He is the classic rebel, fighting Christianity, Alfred and his son Edward and the bevy of priests while he serves them all. Nicely done,

 

Skade’s end is poetic and is very interesting. A nice book to read.

 

8/10

– – Krishna

 

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January 26, 2018

Book: The Sky Is Falling by Sydney Sheldon

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:51 pm

imageYou can get lost in Sydney Sheldon’s books. I admit that he is an old author and is not as sophisticated in his storytelling as, say, Dan Brown (Whose Angels and Demons, just to cite one example outshines most of Sydney Sheldon’s book) but there is a raw power in Sydney’s storytelling and if you pick up The Master of the Game, for example, or The Rage of the Angels, it is really hard to put down as he takes you on an emotional roller coaster that seems to whisk you away at top speed until the book end. Unfortunately, this book is not one such. Mind you, this is also interesting and racy but does not reach to the heights of the two books named above, for example. What is the story?

 

Dana Evans is a .TV reporter who covered Sarajevo war and was traumatized by it too. She is in love with Jeff Connors, an ex-sports star who works for the same company as Dana. Matt Baker ran the department but Elliot Cromwell owns the whole organization, having bought it recently from the previous owner. Jeff’s ex-girlfriend is a gorgeous, intelligent and brilliant conversationalist, Rachel Stevens. Gary Winthrop, a billionaire who donates a magnificent amount to a university is brutally murdered and we learn that his entire family a political First Family, was wiped out in different incidents.

 

Her adopted and disabled son Kemal, lives in perennial doubt that he will be sent back and is taunted by classmates and therefore rebellious.

 

When she tries to probe the killing, she is firmly told to desist. She finds one chink in the impenetrable armour and talks to an ex-employee who had filed a suit against the father. She is stunned to see that this secretary lives in a palatial mansion like a millionaire, but refuses to talk about the lawsuit at all, looking very frightened when Dana mentions the subject suddenly in a meeting.

 

After a couple of days, in an apparent attack of conscience, Joan Sinisi, the employee calls her from a public phone in an apparent attack of conscience, and never turns up for the rendezvous. Dana is stunned to learn that she ‘accidentally’ fell from her own balcony to her death. Marcus Abrams is the detective in charge of that investigation.

 

She is tracked at every step by persons unknown. We realize that her house is bugged and her rental car is too. When she realizes that the ski accident of Julia Winthrop and the car accident of another son is also suspicious, she realizes she is in dangerous territory.

 

Meanwhile, Kemal’s new housekeeper seems to be a dream come true.

 

Overall, this is strangely tedious for a Sydney Sheldon story. Yes, the narrative style is there; the superficial descriptions of everything and the suspense building is done. But unlike his other – and better – books, this is all about a reporter following a story and someone desperately trying to thwart her efforts. Where are the stunning twists we saw in The Master of The Game or The Rage of the Angels, just to name two?

 

Well, she finds three people who describe Winthrop as a monster and have motive enough to seek revenge on the whole family. She hears of a Russian situation and heads to Moscow. Finds (purely by accident) and destroys the tracking device embedded in her pen in Moscow airport.

 

After being stonewalled in Moscow by commissar Sasha Shdanoff despite his brother Boris trying to drop hints, she is about to give up when an envelope arrives with a promise to reveal all, and asking her to come back to Moscow with little trace of this to anyone. She goes. Meets the surprising person. And has an enormous plot revealed by that person for a promise of help in smuggling the person out of Russia before that person is killed.

 

She is too late to save him  (OK it is a man) and is now openly the target of assassins.  The twist of who the evil kingpin is as well told as in other books by Sheldon.

 

The last few pages are vintage Sheldon, with everyone trying their best to kill Dana and she successively outwitting them each time.

 

But the entire action is placed in just the last few pages and a hurried ending needs to be arrived at, so this whole thing is not as exciting as his other books are.

 

5/10

 

–  – Krishna

Book: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:39 pm

imageThis is the fifth book in the Dark Tower Series, after the abominable first one,  The Gunslinger, and the much better The Drawing of the Three, The Wastelands and Wizard And Glass. And it seems to get better and better as the story goes. This one is an exception in that the story is really nice but a couple of weird things mar the otherwise excellent story. More of it later. First, let us see the story.

Tian Jefford is trying to plough his fallow and hard land called Son of a Bitch. His sister Tia is mentally deficient and Andy is a robot messenger who brings news that the Wolves will come in a month – on horseback. They typically carry off the twins of which Tian has two sets; his “singleton” son is safe. He decides to call a town meeting to explorer resistance to save the babies in town. There is a tense hold-off in the town meeting with two opposing factions until the Old Man steps in and tells them about the gunslingers coming into town who can help the villagers against the Wolves. The Wolves are “more than men” under the command of an even more evil and strong masters.

 

Then there is a tangent where the group, after eating mushroom balls, they go into a dream where Eddie, Jack and Oy go to the past New York and watch old Jack enter the bookstore on his way to the black rose. And Balazzar of Eddie’s life turns up at the bookstore. I know that this is meant to create a web of interconnectedness with the Roland’s group (ka-tet as he calls it) but seems a bit excessive, combined with the fact that the same person was trying to kill both Susanne and Jake.

 

Then there is an ever weirder dream where Mia or Detta Walker or any of the other dozen souls inside Susanna eat an invisible buffet with Roland watching her. It is explained in the book. However, going back and forth in time recalls Book Two of the series The Drawing of the Three.

 

The Old Man finally comes for a talk with the ka-tet quartet. When they meet the rest of the people, he senses that Overholsler, a rich farmer, is against the idea of going against the Wolves. There is a long series of nineteens that crop up until Eddie learns about the Directive Nineteen. Andy seems to have been shut up about the Wolves and asks for a password.

 

That night they all see the rose again in a fugue state and also see vagabond spirits or “vags”.

 

They then are received by the townspeople. Meanwhile, we learn that what grows in Susannah’s body is not Eddie’s child but probably some demon seed.

 

The priest Callahan (“the Old Man”) turns out to have a tie in with the earlier book of King, Salem’s Lot. He is a drunk, reforms, kills vampires and takes to drink again. The Low Men (Men in Yellow Jackets with the pet posters and all) figure in this story as well. So a neat tie to not only Salem’s Lot but also to Hearts in Atlantis too! (Though, to be fair, the latter story deliberately borrows from the Tower series material and thus is a kind of a branch story)

 

Roland gets a quick glimpse of the evil black ball.He rallies the town and gets to see the Titanium plate that can be thrown as a weapon. Eisenhower, a sceptic on the wisdom of resisting the Wolves has a wife Margaret who was the thrower and came from the enemy Manni tribe, forsaking everyone for her love of her husband.

Old Pere (Tian’s grandpa?) remembers how a throwing plate killed a Wolf a long time ago.

 

Eddie goes back in time to save Tower from getting a savage beating. When he is back, Jake decides to uncover the treachery of Slightman the Elder, despite his close friendship with the latter’s son. Andy the robot is the Trojan Horse.

 

Jake follows them and exposes their treachery to Roland. Then Roland learns the truth about who the wolves really are and what their vulnerability is. There is an exhilerating sequence where Andy is neutralized, Ben Slightman is exposed privately and warned, and then the entire village’s fight with the wolves with Roland first deceiving them about the location of the kids and then getting rid of them with the help of the ka tet quartet as well as several villages. Two of the townsfolks die in the battle. Beautiful.

 

The story has a second climax when Susannah’s alter ego takes her todash and the rest of the ka tet tries to follow her to save her from herself, which is really the start of the next one, as this one ends abruptly there

 

A pity that Stephen King, rather like Wilbur Smith in the Seventh Scroll, could not resist putting himself (and a book of his) inside the story. Though this is mercifully brief, it is still annoying.

 

7/10

 

–  – Krishna

 

December 28, 2017

Book: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:18 pm

imageThis is the second book in the series King Killer Chronicles, the exhilarating first book, The Name of the Wind, was reviewed earlier here. I don’t want to repeat myself but I am frustrated by the reluctance of authors like Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin to finish what they have so gloriously started but I realize I am not alone in this one!

 

This story takes off where the old one ends. The setting is the same. Kvothe tells his own story to the Chronicler, so all of this is really a reminiscence of the past by Kvothe. But apart from the breaks where we come back to the ‘present’ the story flows coherently and effortlessly from Patrick’s skilled narration. Here is the gist of the story.

 

Kote appears very tired and Bast is worried sick. When the Chronicler returns from his long sleep, Bast privately pleads with him to make Kote remember who he really is.

 

The story continues exactly from where it left off in the first book. Kvothe (the ‘real’ Kote)  now is desperate to collect enough talents to continue his studies in the university. He is unable to find a patron and plays a musical joke on the audience in his performance at the Inn.

 

Elodin takes him up as a student and also has his access to the Archives reinstated. Kvothe also discovers that the mad Master Elodin knows Auri.

 

He meets Denna again and realizes that Ambrose took a ring of sentimental value and never gave it  back. so he goes to steal it for her. Ends in a miserable failure and also realizes that he is the target of wizardry and protects himself by initially having someone watch him when he sleeps and keeping his Alar (defence) up when he is awake. He burns bridges with Devi when he suspects her of having provided his blood to someone at Ambrose’s request.

 

Finally realizes that Ambrose is to blame and tries to lure him with the stunningly beautiful Fela whom Simmon, his friend, is beginning to fall in love with.

 

He also thinks his lute is stolen until he realizes that it is returned to him with a great case as a gift by Deanna.

 

He takes revenge on Ambrose by starting a fire in his apartment and destroying the wax / clay puppet used to target himself by Ambrose.

 

Kvothe loses Denna for a while. (What is she? The book implies that she does favours to her patrons, but does not explain what those favours might be). He also demonstrates a device that will stop arrows shot at any particular target.

 

He is arrested for “sorcery” – the earlier incident of Calling the Wind – and that scene is fabulous  to read. Then he is released but it has deep ramifications on his future.

 

He is forced to take a term off from University and then goes to serve a very rich man in Vinitas, the Maer. He foils a plot to poison him by his own medic Claudicon who is also an arcanist. He then successfully helps his benefactor woo the woman the Maer wants. He goes to catch bandits. All beautifully told and really more interesting than the dry narration above. Read the book for the full effect.

 

He then  meets Denna and has a flaming row with her. Then the Maer sends him hunting for highway robbers who are threatening the tax collectors and hence his income. Kvothe learns tracking skills with Marten, one of the team mates. Tempi, the funny Adem warrior, slowly becomes a friend. All this until Kvothe realizes that the Maer has sent him deliberately to what he hoped would be his, Kvothe’s,  death.

 

When they find the bandit camp, in spite of Dedan getting almost captured, Kvothe saves the day in an unbelievable set of amazing feats which are fantastic to read. The leader of the camp seems to have escaped, indeed vanished into thin air so to speak, but before that Kvothe glimpses something familiar about him but could not put his finger on it. A wicked tree later tells him that it was the chief of Chandrian in disguise.

 

Then he meets, on his way back, Felurian, a faerie that lures men like a siren into her clutches and never lets them go. He manages to escape unhurt using all his wiles. Brilliant narration again. He gets a cloak of Shadow from her and returns. He also meets the tree that can tell the future.

 

Tempi, glad to have him back,  teaches him Adem language and also the way of the Lathani, he goes with Tempi to Adem to defend the latter. A lovely description of Adem culture, the significance of hand gestures (which Kvothe always thought of as fidgeting initially) are all very well told.

 

How he gets admitted to the Hammer, his serial humiliations and his triumph in the Test with the spinning leafs tree are all wonderfully told. Patrick seems to be able to create an entirely new culture and city and seamlessly take you through its intricacies, which is fun to read. (And increases your frustration that the third installment is nowhere to be seen, with not even a publishing date announced!)

 

Some parts are contrived, where Adem think that sex has nothing to do with babies. Kvothe’s  final farewell and leaving Ademre is interesting. He then joins an Edema group and finds out that they are not Edema Ruh at all and also rescues two girls and takes them back to their town.

 

He is back with Maer now. There is a thrilling interlude where, to your horror, the invincible Kvothe is beaten up badly by just two ordinary thugs in front of the Chronicler. You don’t realize how much you identify with Kvothe and his powers until you realize that you are in shock!

 

How he decides to leave the Maer is also very interesting. Maer’s  wife’s visceral hatred of the Edema Ruh plays a part.

 

Back at the University, he finds Simmons and Fela are together now and he catches up with Deanna again. His arrangements with the bursar makes him rich for the first time ever.

 

Exhilarating narration. At least as good as the first one . Can’t wait for the next (and the last, as this is supposed to be a trilogy) installment.

 

8/10

–  – Krishna

December 21, 2017

Book: World Without End by Ken Follet

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 11:15 pm

imageThis story happens many years after the events in the Pillars of the Earth, in the same Kinghtbridge area. You will see quite a bit of parallels – interest in architecture by some, the church hierarchy in the story etc but this is still quite a different tale in the same style and atmosphere.  What follows are the details of the story, as this preamble gives fully my impressions on the book.

Eight year old Gwenda in Knightbridge Priory with Ma and Pa and an elder brother Philemon and a baby.

Gwenda is forced to steal the coins from a merchant, who happens to be the father of Merthin. Also there is Tom Builder’s son, who is now a fairly rich merchant, and we hear about Prior Anthony who is his brother. The daughter of the merchant meets a knight who is waylaid by by queen’s men but manages to kill them and gets Merthin’s help to bury them. Gwenda’s dad steals from the dead men and gets into trouble with the guards when he tries to sell the stolen stuff. They let Gwenda and her dad  go alive after recovering the bodies.

 

Merthin and Claris are in love but Merthin, in a moment of weakness makes love to Griselda.

He is also interested in building, like Tom Builder’s son in the first novel, Pillars of The Earth

Godwyn is an ambitious monk who catches Richard, a monk, fornicating with a girl and uses it to his advantage. He also plots against Prior Anthony, who in his weakness and old age has gone soft, and allows the sexes to mingle in the church instead of banning females from entering the church.

Merthin, in the meanwhile, finds that his labour of love, the door, is destroyed by a vengeful Elfric, Griselda’s father, and learns that Griselda is pregnant.

He tells Claris, his real love, of his infidelity but at that moment, the bridge on the town breaks with tons of people, horses, carts etc on it, falling into the river.

Godwyn continues to plot, and places Thomas in place of privilege. He destabilizes Carlus the blind priest, who will not be controlled by him and makes him fall while carrying a sacred relic. In the meanwhile, Gwenda cannot attract Wulfric away from  Annette even when she tries all her wiles and uses love potion.

In the meanwhile Godwyn plots to humiliate Carlus and exclude him from the election to the prior and he wants pliable Thomas in his place. He then  brilliantly engineers his own election to the Prior.

In the meanwhile Caris and Merthin have sex and then Merthin’s design for the new bridge is pitted against Elfric’s in a town council meeting. He wins but is stopped by his own brother Roland who instigates the Earl to levy tax on the quarry and in the resulting quarrel also kills one of Merthin’s men. A judge in England rules in favour of Merthin. But when the work on the bridge starts, Caris realizes that her dad Edmund is becoming a pauper.

They patch up and Ralph becomes a lord. In order to ensure that Wulfric gets his inheritance, Gwenda agrees to have sex with Ralph but he betrays his promise nevertheless and Wulfric and Gwenda live together when Annette spurns him and goes on to marry another man.

Calris lies with Merthin, becomes pregnant but decided to abort and not marry Merthin. He is devastated but when he turns his attention to Liz, his assistant, Caris is torn.

Gwenda also becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy. When there is a recession, Caris learns that her father Edmund may become a pauper and devises a way to increase revenue by using dyes and weaving.

Meanwhile, Caris takes the battle with Godwyn. Having won the battle with Earl, he gets cocky and asks everyone to pay toll for grinding the grain and Caris loses the battle when the wily Godwyn ensures that the King’s court does not hear the case as the townspeople are in effect serfs.

Ralph rapes Annette and Wulfric is furious, only stopped from killing Ralph by Gwenda. The case goes to trial and Merthin realizes Ralph could lose his life over this. He persuades Wulfric to tamper evidence to release Ralph for a lot fo money.  He refuses and Ralph runs away when he realizes that he will surely be hanged, becoming an outlaw and a fugitive from justice.

He is captured, and pardoned by king if he joins the army. In the meanwhile, with Edmund falling ill, Caris and Elfric stand for alderman election and Godwyn plots to get Caris killed as a witch to eliminate the competition. As Caris is about to lose, she gets the help of the senior nun and escapes death by promising to join the convent and become a nun. Godwyn is furious but helpless. Merthin is crushed because now he cannot have Caris, ever.

He leaves for Florence and eight years pass.

Caris uncovers theft by prior Godwyn and his sidekick Philomen and has to go find the Bishop who has left for France.

The French are numerically superior, but to Ralph’s surprise (he is in the English army, with the king now) they fight stupidly and keep losing. Ralph, saving the crown prince’s life, finally earns his knighthood and becomes a Lord.

Merthin nearly dies in a plague but loses his wife and comes back to Knightbridge a very wealthy man, and meets Caris. He pleads with her to marry him and ‘look after his daughter’. She seems to tell him that she wants to continue in the monastery, much to his consternation!

He tries to get Wulfric pardoned but Ralph will not listen.

The plague reaches Knightsbridge and people are popping off. Godwyn will not let Merthin build a new cathedral. When the head sister dies, Caris and Elizabeth contest in the election but Godwyn plots the downfall of Caris. When she has about given up the plague strikes the sisters who refused to wear the mask calling it witchcraft and a heathen practice.

When Petronella herself succumbs to the plague, Godwyn panics and gets all monks to run away with him in the middle of the night and with bishop coming in, Caris gets anointed as prioress and also acting prior, much to Elfric’s rage. When an outlaw reveals where Godwyn is, Caris and Merthin go together to confront him, only to find all monks dead except Thomas and retrieve the hidden church treasure stolen by Godwyn. Elfric dies and Merthin is elected alderman in his place. All because of the plague, which tapers and stops finally. Merthin and Caris rekindle their passion and resume carnal relationship in secret.

The town is afraid that it has come back when Lord Edward succumbs to it and Petranella fears losing her children to it too. Ralph decided to kill Tilly so that he could marry Petranella and become the Earl in place of Edward.

Ralph executes a daring raid on the abbey, kills a nun, gets to know the treasury and steals all scrolls. He is in a mask, and also takes coins and jewellery to make it look like a robbery. In addition, he manages to kill Tilly and drop her into a burning room but Merthin recovers the body and they realize she was killed by a sword wound.

Ralph promised Gregory Longfellow, the unscrupulous royal representative, the scrolls. When he delivers them to Gregory, his step to Earldom seems almost done, provided he can convince Philippa whom he adored anyway from a young age, despite her being older than he.

Merthin and Caris guess it was Ralph who was behind the “robbery” and why but are powerless to prove any of it.

Philippa is forced to give Odilla, her daughter, in marriage to Ralph by the king’s orders “conveyed by Gregory, his lawyer” upon pain of being accused of treason if she refused to comply.  She accepts her fate and marries Ralph, thereby finally making him an earl. He is now bored with her and agrees to get Odilla, the daughter married to another earl David, in return for Philippa to go into a monastery. When she reaches there and Caris again walks away from Merthin, choosing religion over him, he walks out on her and Philippa and he fall in love.

When Philippa gets pregnant, she seduces Ralph so that he will believe the child is his and has to move back to him. Caris finally decides to renounce being a nun and takes over a second hospital being built by Merthin. She is now married to Merthin at last but Philomen wants to become the archbishop next!

Gwenda’s son Sam runs away to the next village to work illegally and when Gwenda goes to see him, she is followed and they try to catch Sam. He kills Ralph’s man and flees but is captured (due to his limited intelligence).

When Ralph realizes that Sam is his son from a talk with Gwenda, he pardons him but insists that he join Ralph as a squire. In addition, his other son is thwarted both in his attempt to plant the dye making plant mandrag and his request that he marry Annette’s daughter. Gwenda is fully crushed.

Merthin’s daughter Lolla falls into bad company and keeps running away from home. Meanwhile Caris and Merthin try to thwart Philomen’s new ambition to become Bishop and enlist Henri’s help.

When the plague comes back, the monks run away again. Gwenda is repeatedly made to submit to Ralph who seems to have a thing for her.

The end of Ralph and the final solution for Philomen are loose ends that are tied up to everyone’s satisfaction at the conclusion of the book.

Great story, absorbing reading. 8/10

    – – Krishna

November 25, 2017

Book: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:53 am

imageAfter reading the author’s Poisonwood Bible earlier, which I still consider one of the best books I have read, I could not wait to read this. As far as the story content goes, this could not be more different from that. This story happens in the wilderness of US not a tiny city in Congo. The protagonist is an independent lady Deanna, not the fanatical priest and a family under his thumb. But this book shines too. I still think that the other book is in some way crafted better but this does satisfy you when you have completed this.

 

The story starts with a girl in the woods, Deanna, living alone for years, working for the government and keeping an eye on the animals and the forest in general. She meets Eddie Bondo, a younger man, and seems to feel an instant attraction. We quickly learn that she is the ranger of the forest .

 

Lusa, another girl  is married to a farmer, but feels alienated by his entire family, near whom she lives. She is from Lexington and is constantly ridiculed for her ‘big town ways’, her education and her sympathy with wildlife. (She is an entomologist and an animal activist in her opinion). Her husband, whom she married as a rebellion against her parents, also constantly belittles her and fights her in his ideas. He dies in an accident about five years into their marriage. They expect that she will now leave and go back ‘where she came from’ but to their surprise and a little bit of chagrin, she decides to stay right there, tending to the farm alone.

 

Garrnett is a widower living alone. He is in battle with his next door organic, no-chemicals kind of neighbour Nanette. What he thinks as a heart attack is a snapping turtle attached to his leg. Parts of this relationship are very funny and part absorbing.

 

Lusa is irritated by everyone assuming that she will sell the property and move back to town where ‘she belongs’. She explains her Jewish and Muslim ancestry to a bewildered young man who is a relative.

 

In the meanwhile, Deanna discovers that Eddie is a hunter and he discovers that she is an animal lover and over twenty years his elder. The love of animals and ecology comes through in her  character and every character is true to form. This is what makes her books so readable. For example, Eddie says that hunting is definitely a part of the natural order and that if done within scientific principles, the culling of the animals in facts aids the ecological balance and helps the environment of the forest.

 

There is another  great example of this  where Nanette explains how prey multiply much faster than predators and by indiscriminately killing them both with spray, how you are actually promoting faster infestation of pests than predators! But when she uses that argument to question genetically modified food, the arguments are much weaker. Interesting view, nevertheless.

 

Lusa slowly wins over the people, even rebellious children, to her side. There are interesting viewpoints. Nanette, though subscribing to evolution, is against genetically modified foods, based on the same principle as prey and predator and the unknown effects of it.

 

She has done for the naturalist and animal world what she has done for fanatical beliefs in her earlier excellent tome, The Poisonwood Bible. Barbara proves her ability to immerse her in this world too but it is naturally not as shocking as the other onw. You learn a lot of tidbits about moths and you learn other interesting details almost as a byproduct of that story – for example, you learn  that the male turkey does not look after the young, it’s procreation being the ‘hit and run’ variety.

 

Garnette’s story  is really funny and well told. His fights with Nanette are really fun to read. Nanette cures the dizzy spells that Garnette always got into. He is offended by her (even for wearing a dress that is not age appropriate)

 

Deanna discovers that she is pregnant. Everything links up at the end. Garnette is related to Jewel (Lusa’s relative by marriage) – he is her father in law, is estranged but agrees to receive Jewel’s kids. Those kids will be adopted by Lusa due to the cancer eating at Jewel’s body. Nanette is related to Deanna who wants to come live with her. Interesting links and very well written story; very believable, and lovely to read..

 

The language is poetic and immerses you into the world of every character there is, and Barbara definitely has the knack to make you totally absorbed in a story that is not a thriller, and yet opens up a new world to you and keeps you reading, more and more absorbed in the story as you go along for the ride. You will enjoy the experience.

 

8/10

–  –  Krishna

Book: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 2:26 am

imageThe author dares in his Notice for the readers to find any moral or plot or motive for the story. The threat is well made, though intended as humour,  since I could not find any of these in the story at all.

 

Cute story though. Huckleberry joins Tom Sawyer in a gang where they want to murder and pillage and want to ransom some people without even knowing what ransom is. Mark Twain is known for his one liner humours and this story is also written in the style of his famous Tom Sawyer. Huckleberry is an orphan being raised by a woman who tries to make him “civilized”.

 

He is beset by his good-for-nothing father who accuses him of putting on airs and asks him to stop going to school forthwith, and takes the only dollar Huck had to go drinking. He gets upset and takes Huck away and locks him up in a cabin. When he tries to harm Huck, he manages to wait until his dad is away, fake his own death and go off to an isolated island where he meets Jim, Ms Watson’s slave who has run away because he hears that Ms Watson plans to sell him away.

 

When Huck finds that the town is looking to lynch Jim because they think that it was he who killed Huck, he alerts Jim and they move on in the raft down the Mississippi and they surprise a gang plotting killing of one of its own members in an abandoned ship. It all reads like a cheap two-penny Western book of old times. Which fills you with surprise because this is one of the best known classics of all times.

 

This is not the ‘adventures’ in terms of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain refers multiple times to Tom in this book, as Huck is one of his best friends.

 

But really interesting visions of life then creep in almost by stealth. Jim dreaming of freedom when he reaches Free States is touching. As is his plans to go back and buy his wife and kids who are slaves in different households. As is Huck’s guilt in helping Jim because Mrs Watson, the widow ‘had paid good money for him’.

 

To get more information, Huck goes ashore but steps into the clan feud between Grangerfords and Shepherdsons. At the height of massacre, he is taken by the house nigger to a place where Jim waits for him and Huck is overjoyed to see that Jim has not “drownded” or lost as he thought.

 

Mark Twain is not deep by any means. All of it – the story, the narration –  has a juvenile feel. There are two vagabonds who get onto the raft chased by unknown people and they pretend to be a duke and (not to be outdone, the other says he is a) king. All simpleton dialogs with wry and shallow humour, not to mention the story. You cannot plead that it was early times and old style because Dickens and Dreiser wrote eloquently well during the same period.

More descriptions of a circus and a duel follow. It all feels disjointed. Then they go and scam a town putting up a play.

 

Then they try to cheat a family out of a dead man’s bequest. The stupid thing is that a traveller whom they meet on the way tells them everything they need to know to make a successful impersonation and nobody, I mean nobody even tries to check them out. See what I mean by childish?

 

Huck simply prats on nonsensically and they all lap it up. He has a change of heart when he realizes how good everyone is and how they are about to be cheated. He buries the gold with the coffin. Then they all get exposed and all escape to the raft. Juvenile again.

 

Then the duo goes behind Huck’s back and sell Jim off to someone. When Jim finds out he has a moment of guilt. He is bad and sinned because he helped a nigger escape who was legitimately the property of poor old Miss Watson, who had done him no harm. He knows he will go to hell for that but he cannot bring himself to do the right thing and write a note to Watson telling her where Jim is. He decides to be evil as that is his nature anyway and help Jim escape from his new slavery.

 

When he reaches the house where the slave was bought, he is mistaken, of all people, for Tom Sawyer. Realizes that Tom is coming back and waylays him and gets him as an accomplice. But Tom’s plans are foolishly elaborate. He gives warning that Jim is to be saved, rousing the entire village and so a number of farmers with guns are waiting in the house.

 

In the melee Tom gets shot in the leg and goes missing too.

 

Finally, everything is sorted out in a fashion satisfactory to all, with shades of PG Wodehouse-like revelations at the very end which makes everything hunky dory.

 

4/10

– – Krishna

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

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

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