Saturday, 19 May 2018

Lucky Luke: Oklahoma Jim by Morris, Pearce et Jean Léturgie

This is a comic by Morris, Pearce et Jean Léturgie. It is about the character ‘Lucky Luke’ when he was young. He is a cowboy and he travels the American Wild West during the 19th Century.

His guardian ‘Old Timer’ puts him into a school in ‘Mushroom City’, a fictitious place in the American West. Luke hates school but is given the task of adding more students to the school by his teacher (Miss Zee) in exchange for rewards. Luke is very good with the catapult and is extremely accurate. A bandit, Oklahoma Jim arrives at Mushroom City and he shows his skill with the revolver to the students of the school. But Oklahoma Jim also robs a bank and leaves Mushroom City. Luke and an old Marshall have to find Jim.

In this comic, there are too many characters. I haven’t read the earlier editions of this series and hence, I could not understand the history between Luke and ‘Dalton Brothers’. Also, it does not have a clear theme: at first Luke is in a school, then, there is a bandit, and then there is an old Marshall who has a history with the bandit, there is also a romance sequence between the bandit and Miss Zee, etc.

The only thing good about this comic was the illustrations in it. The story as such was extremely boring.

Maybe Lucky Luke is a good series but, this is a very bad story and because of this book, I may never try another book in this series. I give a rating of three on ten for this comic.

Rating – 3/10

Have a nice day,

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Reaching new heights!

Pour lire en français,cliquez ici s’il vous plait

While I gave it a miss for a few years in between, I have restarted the habit of wishing Astute on its anniversary every Seventeenth of May last year (2017). But then, I didn’t set myself any targets to be achieved within one-year and the only target that remained was to continue writing.

On that note, 2017 was my most well-read year, surpassing the previous record holder (2016) by a significant margin. I had written over 70 book reviews and two TV series reviews. I am no longer bothered about whether my TV series review are more popular than my book reviews. There was also something I realised about my TV series reviews, my Scandinavian drama reviews are more popular because the number of people who have written full-fledged reviews for it in the English speaking world is very less which gives me the attention. However, that is not so in the case of the Netflix series Narcos, which has had lesser readership than even a lot of my obscure book reviews. But that is hardly an incentive for me to manufacture more views for my blogs.

With that said, I have finally achieved the long stated objective of expanding the blog beyond English, and thus, the new French blog is open (click here to read the blog). While I am reading books meant for kids at the moment, I shall soon expand to reading slightly more complex texts in French.

My Facebook Page finally has a logo, cover picture, etc. and thus, it looks more like a proper page for a blog. Moreover, the favicon has changed, and as of now, that shall be the logo of Astute. Talking more about my other writing, I have been awarded the ‘Top Writer’ for the year 2018 by the Q&A website Quora wherein I have been writing on politics, economics, sports and international relations and I shall add a link to my Quora profile here.

To all my readers, thank you for reading and supporting my blog, which started off as a mere hobby. There is a lot more to come in the future years and Astute shall continue to reach new heights!

So, happy birthday to the seven-year-old blog!

Have a nice day,

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Asterix and the Magic Carpet (Astérix chez Rahàzade) by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo – Book Review

Pour lire cette critique en anglais, clique ici

Note: I read the comic in French, and thus, I would be using the names of the respective characters in French. For example, I’d refer to Cacofonix as Assurancetourix, Vitalstatistix as Abraracourcix, Watziznem as Kiçàh, etc.

This is a comic by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo. I read this book in English sixteen years ago in English and now, read again in French to reminisce my memories and improve my French.

The Gaulish village is rebuilt after the previous Roman attack. The Gaulish bard, Assurancetourix’s songs are bringing rainfall. In the meantime, India suffers from drought and the river Ganga is dry. The evil vizier of the kingdom, Kiowala’s only solution is to sacrifice Princess Rahàzade to the gods. The Fakir Kiçàh (Watziznem) approaches the village for help and wants Assurancetourix to sing in their kingdom.

Asterix, Obelix and Idéfix (their pet dog) accompany Assurancetourix for protection. The fakir has a magic carpet that can fly. The four set towards India in the carpet. However, arriving in India, Assurancetourix loses his voice. They need to cure him and save the princess. For a change, this time, their enemy is not the Romans but the vizier Kiowala.

I liked the illustrations of various places they go to, Greece, Persia and India. I also liked the character of Kiçàh, who was witty and funny. I also liked the change in enemy, that this time they fought Scythians, pirates and the men of Kiowala. It is a very good adventure involving all landscape, the sea, the desert, the forest and the city.

I didn’t like that Asterix and Obelix had very little role in this book. Obelix was feeling hungry all the time. The change of font while talking to Greeks to indicate change of language was irritating (Persians and Indians also spoke different languages but font was same).

I enjoyed the story and my French is better than what it was before reading the story. I give the comic a rating of eight on ten.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,

Saturday, 28 April 2018

I Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘Riktor doesn’t like the way the policeman comes straight into the house without knocking. He doesn’t like the arrogant way he observes his home. The policeman doesn’t tell him why he’s there, and Riktor doesn’t ask. Because he knows he’s guilty of a terrible crime.

But it turns out that the policeman isn’t looking for a missing person. He is accusing Riktor of something totally unexpected. Riktor doesn’t have a clear conscience, but this is one crime he certainly didn’t commit.’

I have always enjoyed Scandinavian noirs and even though I have followed some TV dramas, I haven’t read a book till I read Karin Fossum. This is a book originally published in Norwegian and I am placing unconditional reliance on James Anderson’s translation of the book to English.

In the Norwegian town of Løkka, there is an aged nurse, probably in his mid-fifties who likes to visit the park in his locality often. Unlike the usual protagonists, he is not likeable, at all; he is extremely rude, he tends to be a recluse, is apathetic to the happenings in the surroundings and yes, deliberately sabotages the medication of his ageing patients. The book adds an element of mystery from the very first page wherein, the name of the narrator is revealed only after around 30 pages. He had a paradoxical personality, wherein, he loved his life of solitude and at the same time, was desperate for the presence of a woman in his life. Over the course of the story, he even tries to befriend an acquaintance in the park but it ends up going terribly wrong.

Before too long, the police arrive at his place, and he is charged with a murder; of one of his patients. While he has been an indirect cause of death for many of patients, this was certainly not a crime that he had committed and was desperate to prove that he was free from guilt.

Since we know the criminal in this crime novel, the author kept the interest of the reader by uncovering every element of the case gradually, giving unexpected shocks to the protagonist and his prosecutors when facts are revealed. The life of Riktor when he was in remand was also brought out well, how he was consciously trying to change himself so that he could lead a normal life once he is declared not guilty; he offers to assist kitchen work in the prison. He becomes desperate for the company of the chef at the kitchen, Margarethe, which was aspects of the book where he consciously attempts to change himself.

The book, however, introduced too many characters in the initial few pages, the people who frequent the park, his colleagues at the hospital and his patients. It turned out being quite difficult to go back and find out who the character was as, you could never judge whether someone was going to turn out significant or not. Moreover, while the author did a commendable job in building a character as complex as Riktor and helping the reader enjoy every bit of his characterisation, there were hardly such details for any of the other characters. Understandably so, Riktor is the narrator but then, it felt like I was effectively reading the character’s personal diary rather than a narration of events.

To put things to perspective, the book is a quick read, and I found the premise interesting wherein, the lead protagonist is totally not likeable. I liked how the author managed to retain the suspense elements for a long time to come and unveiled them one after the other, keeping the reader’s interest going. Considering that, I would award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

The Mexican – American War: A Divisive Expansion by in60Learning – Book Review

United States, the country whose independence is often identified back to late 18th Century although the country we know today is a result of a series of acquisitions and wars. One such war was the Mexican-American war, which resulted in the acquisition of two of the most influential and prosperous states in the United States today, being California and Texas. This is a short retelling of the events from in60Learning.

Mexico had just fought a war to gain independence from Spain. In the United States, the slave owners wanted to increase the number of states where slavery was permitted. The northern territories of Mexico, including Texas, California and New Mexico was sparsely populated and barely administrated. There was a wave of American immigration to Texas leading their eventual independence once they outnumbered Mexicans. However, that wasn’t sufficient as United States, in its want of territory, provoked Mexico for an attack for the sake of justification for going for war. It resulted in a highly one sided war, where they Mexicans had much inferior artillery and equipment. However, the American fear was that if they don’t invade Mexico, Britain will; and it was not viable to have Britain as a West Coast neighbor for United States.

The book explains the root of the conflict, the political discourse in the United States over it, wherein a lot of politicians, including some of them being future Presidents, were opposed to the war. It then goes on to explain the fragile political environment in Mexico, the repeated change of governments and stances on war. The conclusion has an interesting take, as to how US acquired large territory by means of the Mexican Cession, the US did pay a price in the end.

Since this is a more recent event from the historical perspective, there was lesser need to cite conflicting sources and the lack of availability of sources from the other end unlike the case of what I had read earlier from them, The Battle of Thermopylae. So, I like it that they are willing to change their style depending upon the circumstances or the event. The book as such was structured well and gave good insight to the whole conflict.

On that note, I would award the book a rating of eight on ten.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Asterix and the Golden Sickle (La Serpe d’or) by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo – Book Review

To read the review in French, click here

Note: I read the comic in French, and thus, I would be using the names of the respective characters in French. For example, I’d refer to Getafix as Panoramix, Vitalstatistix as Abraracourcix, etc. I’d try my best to not review this book as an adult.

This is a comic by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo. This is the second instalment in the Asterix series. I used to read Asterix when I was young. I read this book in English then and now I am reading it again in French to improve my skills in the language.

All of Gaul is under the Romans except one village. In that village live spirited and brave warriors retaining their independence despite being surrounded by four Roman camps. Panoramix (Getafix), the village druid has broken his Golden Sickle. Without the golden sickle, he cannot attend the annual conference for druids. Also, he will not be able to make the magic potion, which gives the Gauls superhuman strengths.

Asterix is a small but intelligent warrior in the village who loves adventure and has no fears. He offers to go to Lutetia and fetch a new golden sickle for Panoramix. He is joined by his best friend, Obelix, who has superhuman strengths even without the magic potion. The two decide to get the sickle from Obelix’s cousin Amerix in Luetita. The task is much more dangerous than what it seems. The duo will meet all sorts of people in their journey – thieves, Roman Soldiers, etc.

I enjoyed the conversations between Obelix and Asterix on their way to Lutetia. One was clumsy, and made stupid suggestions and got unduly emotional, adding to humour in the book. Asterix was the intelligent man who had to devise plans to help their mission. The story also had a good element of mystery, where the two had to find why Amerix was missing in Lutetia. This suspense element was kept till the end of the book. The story was also very well illustrated by Albert Uderzo, as, where I could not understand the text, I could understand with the help of his illustrations.

The only problem I found was that certain characters spoke with a lisp. To express that, the author used phonetic spellings. Since I am a learner, I found it very difficult to understand the words incorrectly spelt.

I enjoyed reading this comic and I certainly improved my French while reading this 46-page book. I would rate the book a seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

The Battle of Thermopylae by In60Learning – Book Review

Ancient Greece was hardly the Hellenic Republic that we know today. It was a collection of warring city-states and a few dominant kingdoms. However, they occasionally came together against a common enemy, and one such occasion was during the Greco-Persian wars in 400s BC. The Battle of Thermopylae was critical as the passage through the narrow tract of land would have given Persians the access to the Greek mainland. Legend has it that a meagre 300 Spartans defended the pass for long enough leading to an eventual victory for the Greeks in the war. This is a short retelling of the event from In60Learning.

The book starts off describing the societal structure Sparta, the role of soldiers, the roles of men and women, the views of King Leonidas I and their relationship with Athens. The book then talks about the battle strategies of Greece, such as the hoplite formations, known as phalanx. The book then moves on to Xerxes I’s own ambitions of taking over Greece, carrying forward the vision of his father Darius. After setting the background, the book moves into describing the battle.

What I liked was firstly, they book kept the promise of providing learning within sixty minutes, the events were well covered in a matter of around 35 pages. I also liked it as to how the author cited a variety of sources and also conceded that most sources available was Greek. As a result, the author issued a prior disclaimer on portrayals of Persians as Barbarians, Xerxes as a mad man, etc. since all these are from Greek sources.

One aspect that could have been done better is that most average readers manage to read around 50 pages in a span of one hour. The author did very well to establish the background to The Battle of Thermopylae but then, the book by itself is only 35 pages and the description of the actual battle started only 19 pages in, which means that was for less than half the book. The description of the battle could have been made slightly longer.

It is a well-structured book and is certainly worth a read for history enthusiasts. On that note, I would award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Monday, 12 March 2018

The Art of Fully Living by Tal Gur – Book Review

‘I can’t keep doing this anymore. This isn’t LIVING, this is just NOT dying!’
- from the Chapter Half-Living in The Art of Fully Living

How often have you felt frustrated at something you do every day and you have no idea as to how you ended up in that position? Like many of us, the author of the book, Tal Gur, felt the same. He had a secure job as a software engineer and had everything that the society in general believes should keep somebody happy. However, the author decided to let it all go and pursue his 100 goals and this book is about he pursued these goals.

Usually, such self-help books quote various examples from third party sources and gives a general set of instructions. However, in The Art of Fully Living, the author makes it autobiographical and includes inter alia, how he went about achieving his goals, what were the strategies he adopted, the challenges he faced, how he handled failures and embraced rejections and how he handled things on the personal front.

The book is split into ten chapters and each of them having sub-chapters within them and the author addresses most aspects that people seek in life – such as happiness, facing failure, following a passion, money, how to adapt in a completely new environment, etc. I appreciate that the author does not try to make this into a hagiography and discusses his failures in detail (things that most people face in real life) and also talks in depth about how he came out of it. I would also commend the author for the fact that one of his goals when he started the mission was to attain fluency in English and considering that as the starting point, this book is fully in English and is written very well and with points expressed lucidly.

Considering this is a self-help book, I would also talk a little about the personal aspect and how much it could help me. I understand the need for the author to use an authoritative style to express his suggestions considering he has adopted those strategies and achieved his goals. However, considering some of the goals were highly personal in nature and not generic (such as the Ironman Triathlon goal), if the reader doesn’t have a similar goal, it might be difficult to connect to his suggestions. Moreover, the author talks about achieving financial independence and at the same time, work towards achieving his goals and how he went about it. But to achieve that independence, the author had a very specified skill, that is making marketable websites from which he could passively generate ad revenue while touring the world to achieve his goals and I guess most readers aren’t bestowed with such a skill for it to be implemented verbatim in one’s own life.

Anyway, coming to the book, now I would mention the good things I found from the personal perspective. I got to know about the life of a very interesting person, who has travelled the world extensively, who is determined to not let go of his goals even when the achievement within the given timeline seems prima facie unlikely. While his idea of what ‘fully living’ doesn’t coincide with that of mine, I would certainly say that a lot of strategies he suggests in the book could well be used to fulfil my own goals. To add further a point, I have already implemented some of the strategies suggested in his book and it is working very well so far.

To conclude, I would say that this is a very interesting ‘autobiography’ (if I am allowed to use the term) and at the same time, also provides various useful strategies and changes that the reader could incorporate into their lives. On that note, I would rate the book a seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Dead Famous: Alexander the Great and His Claim to Fame by Phil Robins – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘You’ve probably heard of Alexander the Great …

He is dead famous for:

·       Marching a huge army halfway across the world

·       Conquering loads of countries

·       Just being generally great.

But have you heard that Alexander:

·       Built dozens of news cities and named them ALL after himself

·       Told everyone he was a god

·       Had a best friend with four legs and pointy ears?

Yes, even though he’s dead, Alexander’s still full of surprises. Now you can get the inside story with Alexander’s secret diary, follow Alex’s progress in The Macedonian Mail and find out why the grest man still has a claim to fame more than 2,000 years after he conked out.’

Dead Famous is a series from Scholastic which features a person who is dead and very famous. I have reviewed several books from the series before in this blog such as Spartacus, Horatio Nelson, Charles Darwin and Writers and enjoyed each one of them. Thus, it was only time that I add one more and started reading about the Macedonian king, Alexander the Great.

The book starts by establishing how Ancient Greece was not like how we know it as today. Greece had several kingdoms and city states and a dominant large kingdom among them was Macedonia. The book starts with how Alexander’s mother, has very high ambitions for Alexander and is willing to employ any means to get Alexander on to the throne. Post Alexander’s ascendancy, Alex’s adventures are described by the author as letters her is sending to his mother and his accomplishments being described in The Macedonian Mail. This follows all of Alexander’s conquests, his efforts to integrate the newly conquered Persia to his kingdom and his eventual death.

The book was very well illustrated, as always, by Clive Goddard and I really liked the personal touch they tried to add through those letters that he supposedly wrote to his mother. Alexander’s personality was brought out very well – a great orator who can motivate his soldiers under the direst circumstances, a man with extreme determination and of course, a hard-core narcissist. The book not only brings out his personality, but also that of his mother who is willing to go any extent to ensure that her son manages to consolidate his power. The book covered nearly each of the well-known conquests of Alexander, starting with Egypt, followed by Persia and finally India; supported by well-illustrated maps.

However, a conqueror’s biography with inadequate description on battles and strategies thereon makes the book incomplete. For instance, the famous Battle of Gaugamela was barely half a page long and other battles, even less, sometimes even a one liner stating that ‘the Macedonian Army secured a decisive victory’.

This is a good light read, you get to know about ancient Greek History mixed with a lot of humour and fun and on that note, I would rate the book a six, with the rating mainly cut owing to the lack of detail on battles.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Albert Einstein: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review

Often dubbed as the greatest person to have lived, Albert Einstein has made path breaking discoveries in the field of physics and led certain game changing projects. However, with any great person, there are myths and exaggerations that surround and this compilation from Hourly History could help us explore the personality in less than an hour.

It starts with Einstein’s childhood in Germany, and also dispelling the myth that Einstein was a late bloomer considering the fact that he was very proficient in mathematics even at a very early age. It then moves on to his career first as an examiner in the patent office in Switzerland. His move to Switzerland was to avoid compulsory military service in Germany. The book also focuses on his personal life, his eventual move to Prague and finally to the United States.

The book brings out Einstein’s personality of someone being too dedicated to his own work and did not bother to keep time for anything else, including his wife and children. The book also did a good job dispelling a lot of myths surrounding Einstein, such as him being a late bloomer or the Nazis chasing Einstein owing to his Jewish heritage despite the fact that Einstein had emigrated even before Hitler assumed power. It also focused on Einstein’s views beyond that of physics, be it his love for music or his views on god and afterlife.

However, I felt that his scientific work was inadequately described and those who are going to read the book expecting to know about his scientific achievements (such as the theory of relativity) have very little to read about, in this book.

On the whole, I would rate this book a six on ten, it is a reasonable read for someone who wish to know a little about Albert Einstein.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Wodehouse at the Wicket by PG Wodehouse – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘From his early days Wodehouse adored cricket, and references to the game run like a golden thread through his writings. He not only wrote about this glorious British pastime, but also played it well, appearing six times at Lord’s, where his first captain was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Illustrated with wonderful drawings and contemporary score-sheets, Wodehouse at the Wicket is the first ever compendium of Wodehouse's writings on cricket. Edited by cricket historian Murray Hedgcock, this delightful book also contains fascinating facts about Wodehouse's cricketing career and how it is reflected in his work.

This is the perfect gift for Wodehouse readers and fans of all things cricket.’

Similar to Wodehouse, I am a very great fan of test cricket. That is quite a thing considering this is an era where most prefer the limited overs entertainment rather than the artistic test cricket. However, I am not a great fan of Wodehouse and I have read a couple of Wodehouse books in the past; and I found them extremely boring and gave very bad reviews as well. Wodehouse at the Wicket is apparently the perfect reader for Wodehouse readers and fans of ‘all things cricket’. I certainly do qualify in the latter but far from the former and thus, I decided that if at all I am to ever be pleased by a Wodehouse book, it had to be this one.

This is a compilation of his various writings on cricket, short stories, columns in newspapers and his own experiences and observations. It begins with an introduction, probably the longest foreword I have ever read roughly at around 50 pages – describing Wodehouse’s own cricketing pursuits, the Authors Vs Actors match, among other things. So, the book has around 150 pages remaining and 17 stories to occupy that space, at less than ten pages per story on an average.

A cricket match has twenty-two players involved and two umpires, at least and as a result, there are a plenty of names mentioned within a very short story which gets highly confusing and difficult to follow. Most of his stories features club cricket in England and except for two stories on a certain Mike Jackson and his brother. There was absolutely nothing impressive about Jackson’s character or any unique aspect to his game which was worth reading, except for the fact that he kept accumulating runs.

A lot of humour is usually expected out of a Wodehouse novel but then, what I got out of this book was very mundane observations which he tried to pass off as jokes; which any reasonable follower would have made herself / himself.

The only story which I felt was worthy of a read was ‘How’s that Umpire?’ which too had very little to do with cricket and parts of the plot that was childlike but at least, it generated some decent amount of humour. I also liked the aspect that I was left with some interesting trivia, such as the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was passionate about cricket

This book is an attempted hagiography of Wodehouse in the foreword, followed by a lot of dull stories and some interesting match reports and galleries. I hope to read a plot on cricket in the near future, a better one and from a better author and it is unfortunate that Wodehouse at the Wicket had to be the first one.

Third time lucky is in fairly common usage but it so happens that my perception of Wodehouse has become worse after I picked up one of his titles for a third time. I would award the book a rating of two on ten, considering the one reasonable short story in the book.

Rating – 2/10

Have a nice day,

Thomas Edison: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book review

It is a trivia question asked in school – who invented the lightbulb? Thomas Alva Edison, who is often credited with inventing the lightbulb also did a lot of other great things during the course of his life and this is a short biography compiled by Hourly History.

It starts with early life and Edison’s very early interest in business, wherein, he ran a local newspaper. Post that, it moves on to some of his early inventions, his setting up of his Menlo Park lab and also busting the myth of his invention of the lightbulb (he had merely improved it and made it commercially viable for the masses). It also talks about some of his less known inventions which revolutionised our lives today, such as the motion picture camera. It also talks about his business ventures (which is today known as General Electric) and his rise and fall in that field.

This book brought about a rare feature of Edison, being, one of the previous century scientists who had the drive to invent and also the business acumen and ensuring its commercial success. It also brought about his mission to impart knowledge to people, wherein it brought about his visible dislike over the fact that people used the motion picture camera for making films whereas he intended it for educational videos. Moreover, they weren’t bent on glorifying Edison, they did bring about his relentless pursuit of trying to discredit Tesla’s AC motor, a campaign which eventually took his own business out of his management.

Yet again, my only point repeatedly with regards Hourly History books featuring scientists, inventors, engineers, etc. is that they can illustrate some of their works, such as the images of some of his inventions or the design of it made part of the book. This was especially true when they were describing the phonograph.

On the whole, this is a fine read about Edison, I got to know a few things about him which I didn’t know in the past (such as his role in revolutionising the film industry). I would award the book a rating of six on ten.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez – Book Reivew

One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favourite books and as a result, it goes without saying that I would be inclined to try out another equally famous work of Gabriel García Márquez, being The Autumn of the Patriarch. The author having lived under several dictatorial regimes himself, be it Venezuela, Spain under Franco and his own native Colombia; it was only natural for him to write a book based on a dictator.

This book is based in a fictitious Caribbean country, where a tyrannical dictator has been ruling ‘for eternity’ that people have even forgotten his age. The book is split into six chapters and similar to One Hundred Years of Solitude, the chapters are neither named nor numbered. In fact, it goes to an extent where there are even no paragraph splits in a chapter (each of which is roughly forty pages). The sentences that the author constructed is so complex, which is entirely in indirect speech and is long winding, often a single sentence extending up to four pages.

The book focused on how, despite his tyranny, his subjects held him in very high regard. He also had a lot of features true of many dictators, wherein, he had an effective propaganda machine, had a very high level of insecurity that he kept a body double for his safety, executes dissenters, provides asylum to all former dictators and disgraced leaders in his country (similar to Gaddafi), etc.

The book also talks about the loneliness he feels, his only known relative is his mother, whom he supports and eventually, bestows sainthood. It also reiterates the loneliness he feels, despite fathering many children and the concubines whose company he enjoys. More so, it deals with the devastation he faces when his wife and legitimate child is killed which makes him go on a frenzy executing generals believed to be involved in a conspiracy.

While reading the book, I could connect what the author was saying with a lot of real life dictators, the eternal president and the effective propaganda machine – something that the Kim family does very effectively in North Korea, the curbing of dissent with most dictatorial regimes, the killing of children, and of course, bestowing powerful military titles on children of influential people, including his own.

But with that said, the author could have brought all this out in a much nicer and ‘reader friendly’ manner. The start of each of the chapter has the same premise, the absolute dictator, and usually, the end is his downfall caused by the systems he created himself, which became repetitive beyond the third chapter I read. Moreover, the contents that he conveyed on several occasions was a simple one liner which extends to three pages in the author’s manner of expression. This highly discouraged me from reading the book.

I understood from the testimonials that the book had received that this is a book that is better enjoyed when it is read the second time. But till I do that, I would say that the book did not create a strong first impression and my expectations from the author is quite high considering my prior experience with his works.

So, till I read it for a second time, if ever I do, the rating that book receives is a four on ten.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,

Winston Churchill: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review

The judgements and opinions on the Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill would always be split, under most circumstances. Some would credit him for leading the Allies to victory in the Second World War and others would criticise him for his openly racist views, pro colonialist policies and his complete neglect of the situation in India leading to the Bengal Famine. This a short biography on Winston Churchill by Hourly History.

This book starts with Churchill’s family background, who was born into a family of nobles with an American mother. He then went on to serve in the army, had a mission in Cuba, followed by India and South Africa and thus, had travelled well by the time he ran for parliament at the age of 26. It then focuses on rise to 10 Downing Street, the Second World War and the legacy he left behind.

This book brought out the personality of Winston Churchill well, the astute politician, shrewd military tactician, who makes uncanny alliances for a larger cause (such as his war time coalition government with Attlee) and at the same time, a sheer opportunist wherein he conveniently shifted his party allegiance to Tories from the Liberals. The book focused on most aspects that surrounded Churchill, the time in parliament, his performance as a soldier in wars, his Premiership, and finally, his decline and resurgence.

The aspect that the book could have focused a little more on his literary prowess, both as a writer and an eloquent speaker – it merely touched upon in the conclusion and the legacy aspect of the biography.

On the whole, I felt the book was fairly balanced bringing out both the positive and negative aspects of Winston Churchill, letting the reader pass their verdict on figures in history. I would award the book a rating of six on ten.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Turkish Gambit by Boris Akunin – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘The Russo-Turkish war is at a critical juncture, and Erast Fandorin, broken-hearted and disillusioned, has gone to the front in an attempt to forget his sorrows. But Fandorin’s efforts to steer clear of trouble are thwarted when he comes to the aid of Varvara Suvorova – a ‘progressive’ Russian woman trying to make her way to the Russian headquarters to join her fiancé.

Within days, Varvara’s fiancé has been accused of treason, a Turkish victory looms on the horizon, and there are rumours of a Turkish spy hiding within their own camp. Our reluctant gentleman sleuth will need to resurrect all of his dormant powers of detection if he is to unmask the traitor, help the Russians to victory and smooth the path of young love.’

The protagonist created by Boris Akunin – Erast Fandorin, has often had comparisons with James Bond as well as Sherlock Holmes. On that note, I decided to pick this book up, to see how the author is managing to bring a mystery element into a spy thriller plot.

This is the second book where the police officer Erast Fandorin is featured. Here, he is in Serbia as a volunteer in the Russo – Turkish War in order to overcome his sorrows (I don’t know what as I haven’t read the first book but I can give my word that you don’t necessarily have to, to enjoy this book). At the same time, Varya Suvorova is on her way to Bulgaria to meet her fiancé who works as a cryptographer in the war for the Russian army. She has her luggage stolen which is when she meets Fandorin, who offers to help her and makes acquaintance of the British journalist McLaughlin and the French journalist Charles Paladin, who are covering the war.

However, soon after she reaches the Russian camp, a crucial letter to the General is edited, owing to which the Russian forces move to Nikopol while the Turks move into the strategically important Plevna unopposed. The only person who had access to the letter before it was sent was Pyotr Yablokov, Varya’s fiancé and thus, the reach the obvious conclusion accusing him of treason. The Russian troubles don’t end there, every attack led by the Russians, the Turks easily outmanoeuvre them, facing heavy losses.

In the meantime, Fandorin also talks about a certain Anwar, who is an astute Turkish official and a formidable opponent to face. He suspects that Anwar has a mole inside the Russian camp and is tasked with finding who changed the message and who is the traitor within the camp, as Russia’s fortunes depend on that, and in this, he takes Varya as his assistant who also has interest in proving her fiancé’s innocence.

This book was an amalgam of a lot of my favourite genres, to start with, historical fiction and then, there was an element of mystery, a rather interesting one. The start could have been a little difficult as the author would have introduced around 8-10 characters within the first pages, all of them with significant importance but once you could get a hang of it, there was no stopping with the book. The author did a good job in establishing the objectives of the warring factions considering the historical context, with Russia fighting for its Pan-Slavic ideals and the Ottoman Empire to defend their territories in Europe.

The author also did a good job in unfolding the mystery gradually – unlike some of the novels I have typically read wherein the culprit is found early on and the rest of the book is on chasing the person. There were sufficient red herrings to divert the attention of the reader and at the same time, without compromising on the progress of the investigation. Of course, for the satisfaction of the reader, ‘solve before the police’ is possible in this novel if careful attention was paid to every part of the novel.

Despite the novel being short, at around 266 pages, the author did a good job in building some of the characters, such as Varya herself, the progressive woman who strongly believes in suffrage – this was a frequent point of debate in the camp, where the highly conservative generals were opposed to her ideas. However, she did find support from the French journalist Charles Paladin, who had years of experience in covering events from Mesopotamia till Western Europe and thus, well-versed in the cultures of both Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

The frequent ideological conversations between Varya and the others in the camp might be viewed by some people as a compromise on pace but then, if you enjoy such conversations (I for one), you would certainly not feel bored, I had in fact found it rather insightful. There could also be disappointment on the mystery around Fandorin himself, considering till the end, I got to know very little about him barring the fact that he was a smart detective and no character talks much about him as he is in ‘sorrow’ but then, I would certainly read the first book to know more about him.

The author also used the genre to his advantage, wherein, characters make accurate predictions of the political consequences of various decisions in the future, to display the intellect of the character whereas the reader has knowledge of these events that happened in the future (such as the Russian Revolution) and know what the author is getting at.

It is not often that I have been left speechless after reading a book but that was the case with this book. It was a well-crafted historical fiction cum mystery novel and would be thoroughly enjoyed by readers of either genre. On that note, I would award the book a rating of nine on ten.

Rating – 9/10

Have a nice day,

John F. Kennedy: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review

John F. Kennedy; the charismatic President of the United States who was in office for barely two years, but is still well known even outside his own country, particularly for his speeches and the mysteries surrounding his assassination. This is a short biography of the former President from Hourly History.

The book starts off with describing Kennedy’s family background, who hails from a very wealthy Irish family with a Roman Catholic background. It is his father’s dream that one of his sons reach the highest office in the country and after the death of his eldest son, he pushes John to take up the ambition. The book then moves on to his campaigns, his time in Congress, his Presidency and his assassination.

By reading this, I didn’t have get any positive opinion on Kennedy, who is often tagged as an inspirational figure. Yes, his election meant US had transcended religious boundaries as he was the first President with a Roman Catholic background but at the same time, the book also established very clearly that he was merely living somebody else’s dream, that is, his father. There was some focus on Kennedy’s policies, especially his support for the Civil Rights Movement. There was also some focus on the Cold War as it was its peak during his tenure, with the ongoing Cuban Missile Crisis. However, when one mentions Cuban Missile Crisis, if there isn’t sufficient detail on the failure of the CIA led Bay of Pigs invasion, then the book is merely trying to glorify Kennedy’s tenure.

But for that, there was very little focus on his time in the US Navy, the famous debates between then Vice-President Nixon and Kennedy and of course, the famous speeches and quotes of Kennedy (written by Theodore Sorensen, but attributed to Kennedy, nonetheless). The focus seemed to be more on the scandals surrounding him than the more important matters in his life.

This was an Hourly History book which to keep it short, compromised on content and I was not satisfied. I would award the book a three on ten.

Rating – 3/10

Have a nice day,
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