Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Interview with J.E. Fishman, author of The Dark Pool

I've the author of The Dark Pool, J.E. Fishman as my interviewee; Astute's first. I've enjoyed several thriller novels, and The Dark Pool too was one of them - a book which I particularly loved for its characters, the plot, the writing style and the financial element in the book and inevitably, ended up with a high rating in my review.

I hope you enjoy going through the interview! 

Andy Anderson: Before going into the specific questions, I’d like to ask you what sort of books you like to read – just to see whether there is any correlation between your interests and your creations.

J.E. Fishman: I read pretty widely. Although, of course, I read mysteries and thrillers, I don’t stick to one genre. I’m more of a grazer. Recently I’ve been reading a bit of science fiction and historical fiction, for example. I’m sure there’s some kind of correlation between my interests and my creations, but it’s not based upon what I read, per se. It’s more based upon my interest in the human condition, the challenges regular people face or can be made to face.

AA: The Dark Pool is your third novel and from what I understand, it is not the first thriller that you’re crafted but, it seemingly is the first novel of yours centered on investments, securities and some dark elements of the financial markets largely unknown to the outside world. What inspired you to write a novel based on this theme?

JEF: A few things. First, like so many people, I was appalled at the way the financial meltdown happened, beginning with financial machinations and ending with so many regular folks feeling pain. Second, I’ve followed the stock market for a long time as an investor, and it intrigues me. Finally, for two decades I lived in the Hudson Valley in an area that was rife with Wall Street traders and hedge fund managers. I saw some of these people around socially, and I got to know a bit about what makes them tick. All these things came together to pique my interest in the subject.

AA: The Dark Pool cartel and the Q scores formed a significant part of the novel – did it also take an equally large amount of time for you to research deeply on the same to put into a novel?

JEF: I should emphasize that putting dark pools and Q scores together is my own fictional conceit, but each of these elements is quite real in its own right. The research wasn’t hard. These things are out there. What a storyteller does is use real-life elements as a point of departure to explore larger truths.

AA: The main protagonists of the novel, Shoog Clay and the young running back, Antwon Meeps, both are involved in American football, and it is more than just a hobby for both of them. But the sport hardly had any role in the novel but for Clay’s analogies, though it serendipitously turned out to be an advantage for someone who doesn’t follow the sport, nevertheless, I’d like to ask you, was it a part of the original script or was it merely a conscious decision to ignore it?

JEF: The book isn’t about football. It’s about two guys who are having their lives manipulated by powers that are unknown to them and initially beyond their comprehension. I had to give Shoog a profession that held the prospects of future fame, so I made him a successful coach at a level where there were great prospects in front of him – if only he would take them. Once I made him a football coach, however, he had to think as a football coach. So that’s how he interacts with his player and that’s the frame of reference he uses sometimes in trying to communicate.

AA: I’ve heard many say that character building is what makes a novel and it also happens to be the most difficult part of it. The characters of The Mean, Clay, Meeps, Sark or Jagus, how did you go about creating them – an allusion to your own acquaintances, plain imagination or is it a combination of both?

JEF: Character is not the color of someone’s hair or even his or her personality quirks. It’s the choices we make as people. Once I establish basic characterizations, the character comes from the actions those characters must take in a given situation. The key to that is creating conflict that tests them. They must react to that conflict in a way that is unique to them. This is what novelists mean by the character taking over the story. Once you get into the narrative, you can tell if a decision that occurs to you will ring true or not, because of the decisions that character made up to that point.

AA: The antagonist, Jagus dies in the end of the novel and Antwon’s dreams are realised, but coming to the other end, Shoog lost his godchild, Antwon lost his friend and teammate (the previous and the current case, both being Romero), Shoog also happens to be the only surviving Clay sibling now – would you consider the ending of your novel to be a happy ending? 

JEF: A happy ending doesn’t require that every character has a happy outcome. What makes it a happy ending is that a measure of justice prevails and order is restored in the world. So, yes, it’s a happy ending.

AA: Many authors try and bring about social issues through their stories – such as Ian Rankin, a crime novelist whom I like, says that he brings out all the social problems in Edinburgh through his John Rebus novels. The issue you’ve chosen too, is very relevant, with financial markets playing a significant role in anybody’s lives today, did you also have a motive of throwing some light on social issues through The Dark Pool?

JEF: Ian Rankin’s novels probably do it with a lighter touch than I did in this novel. I definitely was looking for a way to dramatize the fact that in the modern financial system the actions of traders have consequences for regular people – people that the traders may not ever meet and almost certainly don’t really care about. The trader is focused on his trade, not on outcomes for society.

AA: To conclude the interview, I’d like to ask you, what sort of advice would you like give to the aspiring authors (includes myself), particularly the genre which is your forte, the thriller genre?

JEF: The advice is the same for thrillers or any other genre. Distinguish between the style of writers whom you admire – which is unique to them – and the techniques they use, which are universal and available to us all. In other words, seek to write fresh but learn the craft.

Thanks a lot, J.E. Fishman, for sparing time and helping Astute get its first author interview.

More about the author - click here

Have a nice day,

Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘Artemis is no stranger to trouble. In fact, he is a magnet for it. Man-eating trolls, armed and dangerous (not to mention high-tech) fairies, flame-throwing goblins – he’s seen the lot. He had decided to forego criminal activity of the magical kind. However …

Now his mother is gravely ill. Artemis Fowl must travel back through time to steal the cure from the clutches of the young criminal mastermind … Artemis Fowl.

That’s right. With fairy ally Captain Holly Short by his side, Artemis is going back in time to do battle with himself.

Let the misadventure begin.’

Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox is the sixth novel in the Artemis Fowl octet. This review might contain spoilers to the previous books and in case you haven’t read them, the reviews of Books: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 are available in this blog.

Artemis is back from the limbo, the world has moved on, by three years, but there is no change in Artemis. He is now the elder brother of the twins; Myles and Beckett Fowl. But, his mother is suffering from a disease with severe symptoms, and Artemis makes her condition worse, by using his stolen magic on her. It is found out that she is affected by spelltropy, as fairy plague and for obtaining the cure; he had to travel back in time. Eight years ago, when the Fowl finances were struggling, he sold the last silky sifaka lemur to a group of extincitionists to fund his Arctic expedition and Artemis has to go eight years back in time, to retrieve the lemur from … Artemis! His younger self. Artemis who has considered only himself to be a worthy opponent for him, now has a chance to battle it out, with the younger one fighting for money and the elder one fighting for his mother.

The book’s plot, as such was good, especially having Artemis’ schemes working both ways is a highlight in this novel. Moreover, the gradual transformation in Artemis’ character is seen quite clearly in this novel, with Artemis willing to undertake something which doesn’t involve any monetary profits. I loved the way in which Colfer described Morocco; and living in a developing country, I could easily relate to the strange scenario where a shepherd wears a Manchester United shirt. The author could also be appreciated for maintaining his witty writing style and brining in strange elements to the plot of the novel, as always.

However, I felt that it is getting repetitive, for one, going back in time is no new idea and there is absolutely nothing unusual to expect innovation from Colfer, making it somewhat disappointing. Moreover, this is the second time Colfer is playing with time, considering that The Lost Colony, the prequel, was also in a way related to time, being static in the demon island. Similar to The Lost Colony, the author has yet again, ruined a good story in an attempt to just elongate the story, making it far more confusing (to be frank, I didn’t have much idea on what happened after the three hundredth page after my first read and this being my second time, now I do have some clarity) and sometimes boring.

On the whole, the Artemis vs Artemis clash was interesting, and like other books, here also, the digressions were minimal, but for the second chapter, as always, which deals only with a fairy situation. But coming to the rating, the repetitive nature of the whole thing pulls the rating down a little, from eight to seven.

Rating: 7/10

Have a nice day,

My top 10 for Eurovision Song Contest 2013 – Malmö

I’m no expert when it comes to music and all I do is determining whether I like a song or not and I don’t even have the skills to identify a song’s genre but most of those songs which I happen to like are categorised under pop. Moreover, I've never even been a bathroom singer nor have I ever wielded a musical instrument.  I’ve never bothered about the language of a song and in fact, prefer songs of a language which I don’t speak and even in case of English songs, I’ve never bothered too much about the lyrics. 

This happens to be the fourth Eurovision Song Contest I’m following and despite the fact that I’ve no power to influence the contest in any way whatsoever since I live in a place miles away, even from the nearest eligible country, which I guess is Lebanon. But I’ve still had the interest in the competition, owing to such enthusiastic performances and also, most songs sung in this contest happen to suit my interests

A blog post may not be the best way to put up a top 10 list, especially when this is a not a music blog (nor shall it ever be) but I don’t happen to have the ‘technical know-how’ to personally compile a video with excerpts from each song. The list has got nothing to with public opinion or trends, it is solely based on my liking and nobody shall dictate which song I should like and which one I shouldn’t.

So, here it begins: -

10. Greece – Alcohol is Free by Koza Mostra feat. Agathon Iakovidis

The pace, at which the song goes, is not usually something that represents my liking but for the strangest of reasons, I liked it. Their voice, their attire in particular and by the way they go about it, I guess the song’s lyrics are funny. I felt it deserved a mention, and hence, I gave it the last slot in my list.

09. Malta – Tomorrow by Gianluca Bezzina

I liked the voice of Bezzina, sounded like some young boy singing. Was one of my initial favourites but as more and more countries declared their songs, they just happened to gazump the Maltese entry.

08. Slovenia – Straight into Love by Hannah Mancini

Sung by the ‘American girl popular in Slovenia’, which happens to be what Mancini says about herself, has created a standard pop song with her team. Good song, which immediately got into my ‘Best in the Library’ playlist.

07. Sweden – You by Robin Stjernberg

The hosts, the incumbent, many tip Sweden to win the contest again but I think this is the proper place for the song in my list. When I first heard it, I didn’t particularly like it, but this song went the opposite way, in comparison with the Maltese entry, gradually rising up the ranks in my list. Certainly not my choice for a victory but is an excellent song and if I give it some more time, it might well go into till the fourth rank in my list.

06. Austria – Shine by Natália Kelly

Loved the song, when I first heard it, I thought that this was going to be my favourite in the contest but, unfortunately, there are better entries.

05. Denmark – Only Teardrops by Emmelie de Forest

I wanted Denmark to finish in the top three in the last two years, that is, the songs New Tomorrow by A Friend in London in 2011 and Should’ve Known Better by Soluna Samay for 2012. But I don’t think neither of them even came close but this time, public opinion seems to be strongly in favour of de Forest, especially when she is performing at Malmo, which is effectively a home advantage considering Copenhagen being the nearest big city. Moreover, even the Nordic voting bloc might be in her favour.

The song was good, I especially loved the flute (or however THAT particular instrument is known as) but the live performance should be a little better.

04. United Kingdom – Believe in me by Bonnie Tyler

UK grabs the fourth position. When I came to know that Tyler was going to be the representative and considering her age, I thought it was going to be yet another horror of a performance, like Humperdinck’s performance at Baku. But, this was more suited for the present day, and I’m surprised that she has maintained her voice even at 60+. Great song!

03. Azerbaijan – Hold me by Farid Mammadov

Another brilliant entry from Azerbaijan! A wonderful ballad and though, is not very highly rated video in Youtube’s various ranking videos, but I often contemplated giving it the first spot in my list. Can Azerbaijan have their second win in three years?

02. Russia – What if by Dina Garipova

Russia finished second last year with Buranovskiye Babushki’s Part for Everybody but I was disappointed with that song. Didn’t suit my interests at all, but this one from Dina is appropriately soft, slow and although I’ve never bothered about it much, I liked the lyrics of the song – going with the motto of this year’s contest, We Are One.

01. Iceland - Ég á líf by Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson

My favourite, by a significant distance from Dina’s What If. When I first looked Eyþór Ingi Gunnlaugsson’s picture, his hairstyle indicated that he was another one of those Nordic cacophonic heavy metal musicians but his song turned out to be a pleasant surprise – soft and melodious. Incidentally, this happens to be my only other foreign language song in the list, other than that of Greece, which is quite unusual.

I’ve missed out on three highly rated songs, that is German, Norwegian and Dutch entry but I consciously left them out as I didn’t like any of them much, and at most, Germany could’ve made it into my top 15 list. But as always, my ratings are always a way off from the reality: 2010, my favourite entry was Slovakia’s Horehronie sung by Kristina Peláková but it didn’t even qualify for the final; the next year, 2011, at Dusseldorf was a little better, with my favourite entry, Paradise Oskar’s Da Da Dam representing Finland coming at least to the final, but was ranked beyond 20; and 2012 wasn’t any different, with Hungary’s representative, Compact Disco whose song Sound of Our Hearts also ending up with a rank beyond 20 and I believe even Iceland would only suffer the same fate.

Looking forward to the event, and luckily, it is one day after my exams get over!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

The 20th Century by Terry Deary – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘The 20th Century takes you from the last days of the vile Victorian Queen right up to the nostalgic Nineties, with all the amazing changes and incredible inventions that happened in between … and it’s not even over yet!

Want to know:
·         Who shocked the world by showing her knickers?
·         How two monkeys and a dog became astronauts?
·         Why a posh London restaurant served stewed car?

From the suffering Suffragettes to Bill and Ben, from Charlie Chaplin to Margaret Thatcher, this is horrible history as you’ve never seen it before – because you’re part of it! History has never been so horrible!’

The 20th Century is a part of the Horrible Histories series written by Terry Deary, with this book being a special edition. It contains a summary of the entire 20th Century, covering one decade in each chapter.

This book contained elements of a typical Horrible Histories book, with a timeline, interesting illustrations, diary entries and also some excellent handpicked events – making history rather interesting. My expectation on Horrible Histories novels have always been high, as I’ve learnt more about World War II or Egyptian history from the Horrible Histories novels than any history textbook and with that said, I’d have to say that this supposed ‘special edition’ was rather disappointing.

First, it is not very wise to cover the entire 20th Century in 176 pages and thus, the content was inevitably less, very less, in fact. The author did bring out the gradual transition in the way of life, pretty well, but it was mainly, only the British way of life. Moreover, the author’s primary aim was only to make this book interesting than informative – there were several interesting incidents narrated by the author such as the story of Adrian Carton de Wiart or that of Lucky Lord Lucan but they are not of much historical significance, in my opinion, especially, the latter. Out of 176 pages, I guess a chunk of it was occupied by the stories on the South Pole explorer Robert Scott and the next generation Scotts (though I liked the anagram in Loch Ness’ scientific name Nessiteras rhombopteryx).

To sum it up, I would have liked this book, had there been a little change in the title of the book – ‘Britain during the 20th Century’. The Author mainly concentrated only on British inventions, British achievements and British glories but it hardly went beyond Britain (probably the cover story is the only aberration) and is best suited for Brits who are interested in learning about their recent history. What I understood after reading this is that Horrible Histories is more suited when it is particular about something and not generic, like in the case of this book. This is the first horrible histories book that I’m reviewing but it certainly is not the first book of the series that I’ve read and after the expectations those books had set, this disappointed me.

I’d give it a rating of 4/10.

Rating: 4/10

Have a nice day,

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Oath of the Vayuputras by Amish Tripathi – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘Shiva is gathering his forces. He reaches the Naga capital, Panchavati, and Evil is finally revealed. The Neelkanth prepares for a holy war against his true enemy, a man whose name instils dread in the fiercest warriors.

India convulses under the onslaught of a series of brutal battles. It’s a war for the very soul of the nation. Many will die. But Shiva must not fail, no matter what the cost. In his desperation, he reaches out to the ones who have never offered any help to him: the Vayuputras.

Will he succeed? And what will be the real cost of battling Evil? To India? And to Shiva’s soul?’

The Oath of the Vayuputras is the final book in Amish Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy. This book too, like The Secret of the Nagas, starts exactly where the prequel stops. So, don’t read this as a stand-alone before reading The Immortals of Meluha or The Secret of the Nagas, the reviews of which are available in this blog.

In this, Shiva’s quest for evil is complete after the reunion with his friend Brahaspati. The reasons for the plague in Branga, the birth of Nagas, had all been brought to light – and the reason is what is said to be the greatest invention – the Somras – the potion which extends the lifespan of a person (I’m not spoiling anything here, it is revealed within the first 40 pages). Shiva decides that Somras is evil and it has to be removed from the world. However, he has obstacles in his way – the actual beneficiary of the potion, the Meluha, doesn’t accept Shiva’s position, and Shiva himself is seen as he was never nominated by the Vayuputras, a tribe who were supposed to choose the Neelkanth. War is inevitable, and it has to be won.

The first thing I could notice in this novel immediately was that Amish’s writing has improved, A LOT. While the language in the first was rather amateurish, and in an attempt to make it better, the second book was highly laboured but the final instalment of the trilogy is natural and the author has largely stopped using modern slang but I’d reiterate that this is only a case of improvement and doesn’t necessarily mean that the language and presentation is noteworthy. Another interesting aspect of it was the global element of it – if you take a present day political map, the story revolves around in India, Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh and Egypt. Coming to the story as such, the important part of it, the war strategies of both the sides was brought out well. The characters had become complete now and now the reader can easily judge the reaction of a character based on her/his personality, which was one of my major complaints with the first book. I loved the character of Kali in particular, which was somewhere close to my own line of thought, such as her open criticism of paramatma (supreme being / god) owing to the unnecessary suffering of the Nagas for the mistakes of certain Meluhans; I was immediately reminded of Austin Dacey’s fifth argument in favour of atheism and against god, that is, ‘The existence of gratuitous / pointless evil and suffering’. The story got into the crux of the plot, immediately, and that page was well maintained throughout and the only complaint that people could have regarding this is that there was no element of mystery involved, unlike the first two books, nevertheless, it wasn’t devoid of twists and turns. The allusions that the author makes to the Zoroastrians and the Buddhists was also quite interesting, something which most could easily relate to.

This book also had its flaws, starting with Kartik. The kid, I guess, was a six or seven year old at the beginning of this novel and although it is said that he is a prodigy when it comes to wielding the sword, no prodigy could even thinking of leading an army of hundred thousand against a ferocious force. So, his intellectual thoughts and his role are highly inconsistent with his age. Like in all the other books, the excessive usage of the ‘respect pronouns’ such as your highness, my lord/lady, etcetera was quite annoying. The sudden patriotism of Amish was also quite strange, considering how he had started referring to the land as ‘India’ and similar to how the author only referred to west Asia as Mesopotamia and not Iran / Iraq is because these name didn’t exist back then and the same applies for the name, India as well. While I liked the strategies that were formulated for the war, I was disappointed with the actual wars, as each of them, were highly one sided, either in favour of one or the other. Moreover, while the ending was good, but I don’t think any sensible person would regard Shiva as a great person, considering what the means he had employed to attain his ends. The author did a commendable job in covering up most of the loose ends but I found one significant loose end, that is, the murder of Sati’s deceased husband Chandhadwaj. The reasons for the same could be presumed by the reader but, Daksha, while thinking about it personally, comes to a conclusion that he was party to it, but it happened because of an act of omission on his part although the reader is kept in the dark as to what was that omission.

Overall, I enjoyed the novel very much, much more than the previous ones. I don’t consider the Shiva trilogy to be a series per se, rather, the same book broken into three parts and hence, I’d also consider working on a review and a concluding summary of the novel, soon, and the latter would definitely contain spoilers.

The author did suggest his next work towards the end of the novel – a similar genre, based on Mahabharat. If it happens, it would not add versatility to his name, but I do understand that it has the potential to generate a lot more money and I hope he does a good job in writing that book.

Coming to the rating of this book, although this is much better than The Secret of the Nagas, the book still doesn’t deserve a rating of nine. I’d award this an eight on ten.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Dark Pool by J.E Fishman – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘Three men's lives on a knife's edge...

Shoog Clay: The nation's winningest inner-city high school football coach resists pressure to move up to the college level because his kids in the Bronx mean everything to him. But more powerful people won't take no for an answer.

Antwon Meeps: One day Harriet Tubman High School's star running back is a shoe-in for a college scholarship. The next day he's accused of a rape he didn't commit, his life begins unraveling, and he doesn't know how to stop it.

The Mean: This incognito Greenwich hedge fund manager is so rich he keeps a giant sea creature as his pet. But a risky investment threatens to ruin him, and a stubborn high school football coach holds the key to his redemption.

Soon a tragic hanging in the school gymnasium will lay bare a secret force that none of these men understands. In a "dark pool" marketplace, insatiable Wall Street players have wagered everything on certain real-world outcomes. When fortunes hang in the balance, financiers cloaked in anonymity won't hesitate to pay off their claims with the blood of others.’

The Dark Pool is a thriller novel written by J.E Fishman featuring a young sportsman, his coach and an anonymous hedge fund manager. The young sportsman, Antwon Meeps, a student at Harriet Tubman School in Bronx, NY, at the start of the story is at Somerset Lake, Georgia, spending his Christmas Holidays with his aunt and cousin. Along with his cousin’s friends, Antwon too, is accused of rape, something to which he was merely an eyewitness and he is bailed out of Georgia by a lawyer – for a consideration that Antwon would help him on his demand and he has no idea what he is getting into. On the other side, there is Jonathan ‘Shoog’ Clay, an American football coach at Harriet Tubman School and he sees his pupils as his own children. But, he is offered a job to coach a college team, and the ones who have made the job offer are not willing to appreciate his perseverance. Things turn upside down, when a student, a member of Clay’s team, is found hanging causing serious problems for both, Antwon and Shoog. And the hedge fund manager, The Mean, is somehow connected to all these events is facing the risk of losing his fortune.

I liked the diversity in the plot, involving a kid, whose dreams are shattered, a coach who’d do anything to save the kid and the investors in the Dark Pool, who are concerned only about one end, that is, an increase in their wealth and for which, they’re willing to take any dire step. The pace was another aspect for which it ought to be appreciated, with the author getting to the crux of the plot from the very first page, till the end, without any sub-plot. The author also did an excellent job in character building, and how, each one of it undergoes a significant change, as the events unfold. Initially, I was worried a little, for a reason that I had no idea about American Football and if this had been based on the sport, I’d have surely close the book halfway but here, it is only a story on events surrounding the two who are involved in the sport. The only thing one would probably miss is the ability to understand the sport analogies of Shoog Clay, and someone who follows the sport might enjoy it (or might not, I’m not sure).

The only problem I had with this book was that I found Antwon’s escape from the prison in Georgia was flawed – however influential the lawyer who came to his rescue might have been, this case was supposedly reported in the papers and how, one of the accused assailants could just walk out, scot free. Moreover, those characters were completely ignored after Antwon’s escape – the author could have added a line in the epilogue on what happened to that case. One could also have a contrary opinion that the entire Georgian episode was just meant to destroy Antwon’s dreams of becoming the first person in his family to go to a college, although, I personally don’t subscribe to this view.

To conclude the review, I enjoyed the mix of this novel, where lives of two ordinary people are turned upside down in a matter of weeks in a matter of weeks, by rich and influential people in the financial circle. Being a student of finance myself, I particularly enjoyed the financial aspect of it. The most important aspect of any thriller novel, in my opinion is the end, and I felt it was satisfactory, except where the Georgian episode didn’t have a proper closure. Considering the plot, pace, the characters and the end, I’d award this book a rating of eight.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,
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