Saturday, April 26, 2014

This Week In Books - 26th April

This was a terribly sluggish reading week. Tch tch tch. I was able to complete only Jeffrey Archer's first Clifton fare and float lazily through the second, halfway. Work enslaved me. I was cornered...I was helpless...I was...who am I kidding? This was just one of those weeks when reader's block sets in and boy did it set in big time. Check out the stats below.

1. Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer (Clifton #1)
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 388
First Published: 2011

The Clifton Chronicles is an elaborate story panning the lives of the Cliftons and the Barringtons primarily, detailing the inevitable ways in which their families are intertwined. The first book is set in England and follows young Harry Clifton as he goes through school, and becomes best friends with Giles Barrington. There are a dozen characters who pop in and out, sometimes a little too conveniently but Archer keeps confusion at bay. I liked the neat and comfortably paced narrative in the beginning but soon after it becomes completely 'tell' and not 'show' which quickly led me to boredom.

If Archer had let his characters develop in our eyes (like Kane and Abel) this series would be engaging. Instead you listen to him place characters in a square and it becomes very easy to predict outcomes. By the end of the first book, the 'pow' factor becomes merely cliché. But I decided to go ahead with the second volume.

Maybe it gets better?

2. The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer (Clifton #2)
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 352
First Published: 2012

Yes it does. I meant the cliché. It gets super strong and takes over the entire book.
So we have Harry sailing off to the United States and being arrested for murder because he assumed a different name. (I thought the reason was slim.) But fear not for he is a character in the Clifton series and he shall prosper, and quite extra-ordinarily at that, even in jail. He shall find a con-friend moments after being sentenced, the jolly good fellow giving him a 101 crash course to prison life in about one hour post which Harry gets the better of an a*hole warden and rises to the top by tricking the warden with his recollection of codes from the prison handbook. So, overnight he is a convict superhero!

If you think that's a little illogical, get this - Giles can't joint the army because he is colorblind and his crazy grandfathers judge him for it. They actually say he is just like his father, which hurts him so bad he walks into a different enlistment camp, joins the army and in a matter of a few pages, gets promoted multiple times, gets selected for special training, leads his platoon in two face-downs with the enemy, is captured as a PoW, goes to Germany, recuperates from his wounds, learns German, plots an escape plan towards which becomes a star-waiter (by recalling what his butler used to do at home), fools an entire group of officers, the leader being a dangerous, intelligent man, and escapes to Switzerland!

Yep. And I haven't even told you how the third superhero, Emma becomes a waitress...

Okay! I hear ya. I dared to wonder this morning about giving the third volume a chance but then read in the news about a scheduled fifth volume and I'm done. I don't want to read about the incredible Cliftons any longer. My guess is Archer will prolong the series until present day when it can be confirmed via DNA analysis that Harry is a Clifton and not a Barrington. So long fellas!

Anyone out there who has read till the current volume and still loving it?

3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Publication: Bloomsbury
Pages: 324
First published: 2003

I just began reading The Kite Runner. Mr. Hosseini knows exactly how to make you cry. My starting point into his modest back-list was A Thousand Splendid Suns which left me speechless.

I shed a few tears.

Gracefully like this...

  or maybe like'll never know!

The writing was grim and evocative, atleast in my opinion. The book was not without flaws, I'll admit. Anyway, my point is after reading that book, I wanted to read more Hosseini so here I am. This one is a picking up a bit slow and does have its share of 'telling' and not 'showing' but its building up nicely. Fingers crossed. Hoping to finish it in time for next week' post.

Friday, April 18, 2014

This Week In Books - 18th April '14

So this week I had the privilege of reviewing a brilliantly written novel that is coming out in the last week of April, I chucked yet another Atwood and picked up the first volume in the Clifton Chronicles once again for a re-read.

1. Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Publisher : Hogarth
Pages: 352
Expected DoP: April 29th

The plot follows the life of Ephram Jennings and his childhood love Ruby. The two are driven apart by life, circumstances and prejudices. In a roundabout arc they find their way back to each other but neither is the same as when they were young. Will Ephram let her slip away once again?

Cynthia Bond is a writing force to reckon with. She crafts her characters with such strong authenticity, they leap out of the pages at you. The differences and outright bias that they extend towards each other makes you want to grab them by the ears and knock sense into them. This is a haunting tale, gruesome at times and cruel at others, compassion and love fighting for a chance against life's overpowering bullies. The narration will make you furious and sad, anything but ignore it.

The plot is set in a time when racial prejudice against people of black ancestry was at a peak in the Americas. The language slang is perfect and rings out musical, swears and all. Aside from that there is also a supernatural element running throughout, serving as the sole motivation for certain characters actually, that to me was a sore distraction at times. You might like it. Give this book a shot when it comes out and let me know if you think the voodoo is what makes it awesome.

2. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 324
First published: 1986

I am not an Atwood fan. There, I finally admitted it out loud. Boy did I try to read her. I first failed with The Robber Bride and now this. My full-strength ploughing with the text did not help one bit.

My chief problem was the writing style. Atwood is a heavily acclaimed writer, beloved by many. It doesn't help the fact that I find her works absolutely unreadable. In a bookworm's world this makes me equivalent to the geeky nerd who steps into a new school in a new city neighbourhood, made to order bait dangling in front of all available bullies. Can't help. I still can't read her. Her sentences, especially this one Offred's make me want to pull my hair out. They sound like jumbles left out there to make whatever sense you'd like to make out of them. Perhaps in about 20years I'll have the patience to read one more page of this book and not swear the place down, but for the present, I chucked it and I chucked it hard. Too many books to read on the TBR to spend time swearing at just one.

For those adventurous souls out there, brave enough to want to give this book a shot, the plot is kinda terrific and spooky. It is about a possible future time when the government (of course the standard American government) is overthrown by religious extremists who have interpreted religion to their convenience and in general use women as child-bearing devices. Women basically get to do nothing, under fear of existence. The mere notion that Atwood made a fictional hypothesis (double negative, I know) of such a situation befalling women yet again, is super scary and if only she had chosen to write it straight, I'd have given it a shot. Check it out. Let me know if YOU like it!

Another version of this rant appears on my Goodreads page here.

3. Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer

After a double whammy of heavy reading with Ruby and my failed attempt with Atwood, I chose to turn to good 'ol Archer for some light reading. While not path-breaking Archer does write crisp, fast-paced and engaging stories. I'm re-reading the 1st instalment while the other three stare at me tauntingly from my bookshelf. This should be an easy read. Only time will tell...(see what I did there?)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Prisoner, Jailer, Prime Minister - Book Review

Prisoner, Jailor, Prime Minister is the latest thriller to hit the Indian reading market, written by Tabrik C and published by the house of Hachette. It is also one of those reads that has disappointed me greatly in recent times. The blurb makes the book sound ominous and interesting and given India's current dynamic political situation, makes you hope for a terrific reprieve that you would want to apply to reality. The book delivers nothing of that kind. It does tempt you with a terrific first chapter that introduces a maverick Prime Minister, Siddhartha Tagore who arrives to take his oath of office literally with a bang. You expect him to turn the country inside out and all enemies flying...perhaps he does in another imaginary version of the book but in this version Siddhartha lives, or should I say floats deliriously in his past while people and things continue to exist and happen without any logical reason or meaning in the present.

I'm just going to have to get down to the grading. 

As always, this review also contains spoilers so if you'd rather not know what happens, you should read the book first and then come here to compare notes.

What Did Not Work for Me
1. The plot - Er...what was the plot again? A young non-formulaic PM who wants to fight the fire of terrorism with fire and begins by openly challenging the super powers of the world...lithium...piano...Mozart, Mozart, Mozart, Night Music, Night Music, Night Music, Symphony 40, The Mozart Man, PM is in a coma, has to live in calm for the rest of his life. The End. 
I am not kidding or exaggerating. I did not find any story at all whatsover, or perhaps there were too many plotlines vying for the spotlight and the author was busy putting Siddhartha into a junkie Mozart daze to care.

2. Characterization - Siddhartha, the hero was unfortunately made into a depressed maniac as a singular excuse for his irrational behaviour in the political arena. Why? Why couldn't someone be equally irrational because of ambition, arrogance or simply anything else? 90% of the book delves into Siddhartha's past that supposedly screwed him over, things he had to run from, to be thrust into the political scene he did not want in the 1st place. None of these incidents or phases are even remotely convincing. The attempt at romanticizing Siddhartha's plight and choices failed completely in my opinion. Instead, he comes across as an utterly clueless, mannerless, brainless sheepish junkie who claims to be in love with a woman, screws her twin sister who seems to have gone to bed with him willingly, apologizes, the original twin is raving mad with him but in the next few lines they are back together again....I can't go on. This makes absolutely no sense.

None of the other characters are anything solid. Rukmini Devi, supposedly a dangerous intellectual threat to Siddhartha's political muscle is nothing but a pawn for Thor, who was Gregory back from Harvard, the one who is, with no other possible explanation raped by Sid. How did I finish reading this book?

There are a dozen other characters who come by like puppets mouthing cliched dialogues, are basically useless to the plot and fade away into oblivion. Maybe they are useful in that other imaginary version where Siddhartha is changing the world. 

3. Mozart references - Because I'd really not swear in a review, let me politely ask of you - Did Mozart write just two compositions? Night Music and Symphony 40? And isn't Night Music actually called A Little Night Music? If Siddhartha or anyone for that matter is to be called The Mozart Man, wouldn't it only be logical for that person to know every single piece of music ever written by the man by heart? Would someone be called Harry Potter man if he/she knew only the word 'Wizard?' Thanks to this book, I've developed an intense distaste for the words 'night' and 'music'. But here, Siddhartha plays 'Night Music' at every single instance and everyone melts and says stupid lines like 'Wow...I've never heard anything like it before!'. Well, you just did...five minutes ago when he played the same damn thing on the mouth organ before he went on to screw your twin sister! Sheesh!

4. Language, Narration and Editing - Poor and ineffective. 
5. Title - Prisoner - Who? Where? Why?
              Jailor - Eh? 
              Prime Minister - The bold and rash one who might actually make a difference? Oh yeah that's him there..playing that out of tune composition on the piano...ask him what it is and he'll tell you it is Night Music and then he'll sigh and utter 'Amadeus' 

No further comments.

1/5 - One star for the hope of a better democracy that Siddhartha briefly dreamed of in a lithium induced moment if clarity.

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