Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Yes, Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay: Season 1 (2013) – Review

Yes, Prime Minister was a popular British sitcom of the 1980s written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. Now, after all these years, it has been revived and finally, the Yes Prime Minister fans get to see Hacker, Sir Humphrey and Bernard again.

In this: Prime Minister James Hacker is portrayed by David Haig; the Cabinet secretary, the sly Sir Humphrey Appleby is portrayed by Henry Goodman and the Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Bernard Woolley is portrayed by Chris Larkin. The character of Dorothy Wainwright, the Prime Minister’s political adviser in the earlier series, has a higher role in this revival, under the name Claire Sutton, played by Zoe Telford.

From left to right: Claire Sutton (Zoe Telford), Sir Humphrey Appleby (Henry Goodman), James Hacker (David Haig) and Bernard Woolley (Chris Larkin)

Jim Hacker is facing the biggest challenge as Prime Minister – a divided coalition, a plunging European economy and is also heading an EU meeting which is going nowhere. Hacker is desperate to arrive at some compromise in the EU conference and win public confidence. A former Soviet state, Kumranistan (fictitious) comes to their rescue, offering a $10 trillion loan secured against future oil purchases but, there are a lot of negotiations to be done before the deal could be arrived at and this is what the first season is about.

I’m a BIG fan of the Yes Minister/ Yes Prime Minister series that was shown in the 80s and when there was news of an attempted revival, it got me very excited. It was good to see Hacker, Humphrey and Bernard back in the screen, although done by different actors and it was initially difficult to even accept the new actors in the old roles. There was good comedy in throughout the show, but it was nowhere close to what the previous show had and some of the dialogues were even repeated, from the earlier show. The issues that Hacker was dealing with, was also contemporary, such as the EU debt crisis, Scottish independence referendum, the debate of Britain joining the Euro, etc.  One thing that I particularly liked about the revived series is that it had continuity and had the flow of a story, something that was lacking in the erstwhile series (in fact, I had started watching that from season 2).

That said, I’d also have to say that I was thoroughly disappointed with this, where I doubt whether there is any scope for a Season 2. While Humphrey and Bernard retained their respective personalities, it was terrible of them to change Hacker’s attitude and behaviour where he very frequently blows the top whereas in the earlier series, despite Humphrey stalling policies and avoiding answers, Hacker never got angry at him or screamed. Then, I found the TV interviews highly unprofessional and artificial –they hardly gave an impression that Hacker was actually doing a formal interview for a television channel. Then, the season was short, with just six episodes – while it is true that the original series too had only seven episodes per season, it lacked continuity but when you’re trying to create a story of this sort with six episodes of half an hour each and every episode connected to each other, it would inevitably lead to an abrupt end this was no exception.

As a purely individual series, without drawing any comparisons with its predecessor, the series wasn’t bad per se and it had its good moments and if anyone who has watched the new series after having watched the previous one – one suggestion – treat this is an independent series and that the names are a mere coincidence because when you are going to set standards based on its predecessor, you’d end up being disappointed.

I’m looking forward to the second season, if there is one and I hope there is an improvement. Despite my suggestion viewers who are planning to watch based on this review, I did the exact mistake of comparing this with its predecessor and because of that, I’d only award it a four on ten.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Doctor Bob by Lodewyk H.S. Van Mierop – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘This is the true story of “Doctor Bob”, who was born in Java from Dutch parents, and grew up fascinated by nature and science. As a teenager during the Pacific War, he and his family – and all Dutch nationals – were interned in concentration camps for over two years by the Japanese, suffering beatings, starvation, and other physical deprivations. He was not allowed to continue his education, except for a requirement to learn Japanese, which none of the internees had any interest in and thus sabotaged. After the war he was able to complete high school and medical school in Holland and spent the next seven years on a visitor’s visa in Albany, New York, having been accepted for a surgical residency.

From there, Doctor Bob faced a bureaucratic nightmare. With a Dutch passport, blond hair, and green eyes – and no visa – he was considered Asian under US law, and the US had no immigration quotas for Asians. Despite a series of immigration hurdles, which included emigrating to Canada, he was finally able to settle in the United States, where he became a researcher in cardiovascular embryology and the pathology of congenital heart disease. As a board-certified pediatric cardiologist, Doctor Bob witnessed the birth and growth of cardiac surgery in children’.

Doctor Bob is an autobiography written by the world-renowned physician Lodewyk H.S. van Mierop. I don’t usually read autobiographies but this person had an interesting and inspiring story to tell – a life that has revolved around Japanese concentration camps in the Far East, college in Europe and fame and career in the US.

The author begins by describing his place of birth and where he spent his early days – the erstwhile Netherlands East Indies (present day Indonesia). That was one good thing about this book – before going deep into a place, the author gave a full introduction about the place – its history and culture (be it Indonesia or Japan) making it much easier for the reader to understand and visualise.

Being in India, I’ve read countless accounts from natives of former colonies but this is the first time, I’m hearing something from a settler, something that I found really interesting – giving me a different perspective into the whole thing. Another equally interesting aspect of is that you get a first-hand account of the World War II and concentration camps rather than the partially fabricated articles you’ve from journalists. Moreover, the author too has other interests which he describes in detail – on collecting butterflies, breeding fish, maintaining snakes as pets – one can learn a lot about each one of them. I liked the occasional reference to politics – it reminded of the time the author was talking about.

Then comes the difficulty for a person whose knowledge on the author’s profession is next to nothing. Till the 330th page (approximately), it was mostly about the events surrounding his life but then, it completely shifted focus to his profession. Surely, the author’s inputs on thoracic surgery or paediatric cardiology would’ve been informative to any medical students or doctors, I could hardly understand a word of it (something for which the author could hardly be blamed) and hence, couldn’t notice the gradual changes in practices and the technological inputs in the medical profession.

On the whole, I’d say that reading this book was a good experience – I came to know about a very interesting person, the author that is and; I’ve a lot more information now than what I had before I had read the book. This book would be particularly enjoyed by people who are related to the profession (not excluding others) and if they also happen to be interested in history, it would be a delightful reading experience.

I wouldn’t rate a book describing real life incidents but I’ve this to say – it is well presented and the author has compiled his life events very well.

Have a nice day,

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Interview with Charles L. Fields, the author of The Molina Curse

I got the chance to interview Charles L. Fields, the author of The Molina Curse - the fifth book in the Charles Stone mystery / thriller / travel series. This is the conversation we had and I hope you enjoy going through the interview.

Andy Anderson: Before going into the interview, can you tell us about yourself, for our readers?

Charles L. Fields: I am 77 years young. My wife and I have an ocean front home in the the fishing community of Gloucester, Massachusessts and winter in Sun City West, Arizona. My careers have been varied,bizarre to say the least, and include being a Marine Engineer.Lobster Dealer,Sculptor and Author as well as a World Traveler. This has provided a deep well of experiences.

AA: What inspired you to create Charles Stone thriller series?

CLF: After writing my memoirs, Many Lands Many Hearts I realized much was left out,so I created an alter-ego in Charles Stone. Through this protagonist I can fill the voids and create fictional excitement.

AA: What was your basis for creating the characters in the series – pure imagination or based on people you’ve met or was it a combination of both?

CLF: They are a combination, but mainly pure imagination.

AA: What do you think separates the Charles Stone series from the rest of the novels in this genre?

CLF: It is obvious to the reader this series is multi-genre in that it incorporates Mystery/Thrills/Suspense/Travel and Dining experiences.  

AA: Do we get to meet Charles Stone again, or, in other words, are you planning a sequel? If yes, would it also involve Charles’ legal profession? 

CLF: Yes. Charles Stone will be retained again by the Franklin Life Insurance Company. This time it will involve encounters with extreme survialists and terrorists in the Northwest area of the Unites States.

AA: What is the advice that you’d like to give to aspiring authors (including myself)?

CLF: Be free and loose. Tap into your self consciencious and let the creative juices flow. Write about people and places you know. Avoid long descriptive passages.

Thanks a lot for sparing your time and doing an interview with Astute!

Have a nice day,

The Molina Curse by Charles L. Fields – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

The Molina Curse is the sequel to Tainted Dish and the fifth book in the Charles Stone Travel / Mystery / Thriller series. The protagonist faces several assassination attempts and a life threatening encounter in Australia’s Outback. His dog, Daisy is reintroduced along with characters from previous stories. The reader will be reminded of our country’s history through walks on Boston’s Freedom Trail. The Molina Curse provides tantalizing moments “Down Under”, as well as aboard a cruise ship from Sydney to New Zealand, Tahiti, Fiji and Hawaii. A love affair is tested and Charles Stone’s life is in peril throughout until the curse is lifted by complying with mysterious forces within the Vatican. Stone’s final act of involvement with the dark side of the Papacy is one of the most bizarre in all works of fiction. Unfortunately The Molina Curse ends on a sad tragic note.’

The Molina Curse is the fifth novel in Charles L. Fields’ Charles Stone series. It is not ideal when you choose a book off the shelf, and it happens to be the sequel to some book, especially if it is as far as five. Unfortunately, that is exactly what I did, falling for the global and historical elements in the publisher’s write-up without paying attention to the fact that it was the fifth in a series.

Nevertheless, I can assure you, that this could pretty much be a stand-alone and I enjoyed the challenge of imagining a prologue, which I believe isn’t too difficult. Coming to the plot, Charles Stone, an advocate who has had several adventures across the world in the past, is finally beginning to put it all behind him and concentrating on his love affair with Janice – with whom he has planned a trip to Australia and New Zealand. But, he lures trouble again – with Charles having a role in Frank Molina’s assassination, the latter’s associates are desperate for revenge and chase him to ensure that his trip Down Under would be his last.

As a history enthusiast, I loved conversations during the walk in Boston’s Freedom Trail – highly informative, especially for a foreigner like myself. This book could also be intriguing for travellers – as the story goes across several picturesque locations in the world such as the Ayers Rock, Great Barrier Reef, and Tahiti among various others. And for those who’ve already read the series, you may enjoy Daisy’s return. The food lovers too, might enjoy the description of the various cuisines that is described in this book (unfortunately, I happen to be a vegetarian). The last, it had the thriller element too, with a good cat and mouse game between the deceased Frank Molina’s associates and Charles Stone.

The pace of the novel might be the only demotivating factor for those who are reading this as a stand-alone because till page 100, the story was going nowhere and was only concentrating on characters from the previous books. The other issue is not the story but the publisher’s write-up which effectively is a short summary of the whole story and if you plan to read this book, don’t read too much into that write-up.

From what I could understand, I guess there is still room for a sequel and it’d be interesting to see Charles Stone again.

For its thriller plot mixed with other diverse elements such as history / travel, I’d award this book a seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

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