Thursday, 12 July 2018

Pawan the Flying Accountant by Sorabh Pant – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘Arjun Singh is an accountant by day and a demigod by night, though he cares more about GST than about his own superpowers – and even lesser about life itself.

Arjun is indestructible. It is a power he would gladly trade for some bananas and rum. But now some people know exactly what Arjun is capable of.

They force him to work for their ‘unofficial’ army, assassinate terrorists and fall into life-and-death battles with a Chinese dragon. Worse still, they’ve not cleared his taxes.

Combining dark humour with a whirlwind plot, Pawan is the story of a reluctant superhero, the futility of war and a whole lot of rum.’

This is a novel from the Indian stand-up comic, Sorabh Pant. I enjoy his live shows – his ability to create jokes out of a wide range of topics from politics to everyday activities, etc. The very story of my getting this book was when I attended his live show in Chennai and post his show, he offered the book at a concessional rate, an autograph and a selfie, an offer which I didn’t want to turn down.

Coming to this very book, there was probably going to be more personal connect with this book considering the lead character of this book Arjun Singh and I are of the same profession, that is, a Chartered Accountant. I found the premise of the book extremely interesting and I got to reading this book immediately after buying it.

This book starts off with a bunch of disclaimers and rightfully so, considering he touched some of the most sensitive topics in the country. However, the disclaimer also said ‘however, if you still choose to be offended by these jokes, just remember that the gods have a better sense of humour than you’.

On that note, Arjun Singh, a reclusive Chartered Accountant working as an auditor in a firm with a lot of suicidal tendencies. His job is his only passion. He is invincible because he is from the same race as the Hindu god Hanuman; had superpowers but didn’t care about using them. He eventually comes in contact with India’s secret army who are meant to protect the country. It is revealed that Arjun is a Pawan, people from his race who emerge in every era to protect the country, starting from Hanuman to now, Arjun.

The trouble faced by India was that China had its own covert plans to take over a town in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and the secret army had to overcome the Chinese plan.

There is no other book that I have read so far, which I felt had so many phases and my levels of enthusiasm varied in each of the phases. This book mocked some of the topics very well, such as politics, Indo-China relationship, the current exploits of top corporates in India, certain Indian stereotypes where it goes to the extent of hostages refusing to be rescued by a woman, etc. The author was also bold in places, wherein, there are certain perceptions about the country from a lot of Indians but would dare not say the same in public, the author astutely combined all of those and projected that as the speech of a Chinese diplomat in the book. The book had an interesting start, wherein there were cases where it was shown as to how the country was more obsessed with symbols than actual practice – such as Arjun befriending a gang called The Secular Gang with each member belonging to a different religion.

Those were the phases that kept me going in the book. But at the same time, it needs to be said that the author was confused as to where he was taking the book. He tried to craft it the way in which he conducts his live shows – that is smartly connecting dissimilar topics and presenting a diverse show but that’s now how a book works. The fact as to whether Arjun was a Chartered Accountant or not made very little difference to the plot and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) related innuendos were so less that you could have very much ignored them. The book initially had a humorous feel to it, and then on, it had a bit of humour and seriousness but in the final third, it ended up being a lesson on philosophy, a serious story going on between the Indians and the Chinese, though, I do agree that he did have his one liners deftly placed throughout the book.

Coming to character building, Arjun was one character where some effort was put into – hedonist, has strong views on countries and the very need for them, being rational in situations, etc. and as a reader, one could predict Arjun’s behaviour as the tale progressed. However, this was lacking in other characters of the book, including Kelly, a fellow member of the secret army; the lack of which made the romantic sub-plot somewhat drab. The author has put in a good amount of research into the situation at Arunachal.

This is a book filled with highs and lows for me, and when it was in the latter phase, I wouldn’t even feel like resuming the book and when it was going good, I read 70-100 pages at a stretch. This book had the promise and could certainly have been better, but it is worth a read for those who are familiar his shows as they could connect with the type of humour better. For those who haven’t been exposed to his programmes, it could still be enjoyed if the person really is aware of what is happening in India at present and the situation surrounding it (for those who read subsequently, by at present, I mean 2017-18).

On that note, I would award the book a rating of six on ten, I hope for a lot better books from the author in the forthcoming years.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

The Ottomans: Europe’s Muslim Emperors by BBC – Documentary Review



Producer’s write-up:

‘Rageh Omaar traces the history of the Ottoman empire. A super-power of a million square miles, it matched the glories of Ancient Rome and collapsed less than a hundred years ago.’

This is a documentary produced by the BBC in 2013 – presented by the British journalist Rageh Omaar. Ottoman Empire was in existence for nearly seven centuries and its height, stretched from Budapest to Baghdad – this covers the rise of the Ottoman Empire and also its eventual fall over three hours split into three different episodes.

The documentary starts with Rageh Omaar exploring Istanbul and introduce us to the empire founded by a group of nomadic horsemen that stretched three continents for nearly 700 years. An emphasis was also placed on the fact that regions that were historically seen as Christian strongholds such as Constantinople (present day Istanbul), Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary, etc. fell under Muslim rule and that there was a Muslim empire right at the doorstep of Central Europe – being Austria. So, how did the empire begin? How did they a Muslim dynasty manage an empire whose majority population was not from a religion of their own? How are they going to establish their authority to rule? All these questions are explored as Omaar interviews historians and an Eastern Orthodox Church priest, the latter who puts forth the views of the Christians who lived in the Ottoman Empire.

The producers certainly got their visuals right, be it the Hagia Sophia, the Bosphorus Bridge, Topkapi Palace, Semiliye Mosque – all of them were captured brilliantly. However, this focus on visuals occasionally digressed from the theme, wherein, clips of modern day Turkey made it seem more like a travelogue. The architectural aspects that were being talked about for each of these monuments was interesting, especially the Semiliye Mosque – where the architect was in fact said to be a conscripted Orthodox Christian who was converted to Islam. The Janissaries are quite known to even those who are not Ottoman aficionados – wherein the Turks took Christian boys when they were young and were converted and trained to be powerful soldiers, government officials, etc. How the Ottomans ran that system and how it ensured the stability of the kingdom was explained well and both perspectives were presented, the historians as well as the priest’s.

However, it is to be said that it lacked detail in how administration was carried out in the kingdom. I do agree that they covered how the empire managed to balance the religious laws and civil laws and how they had a parallel court system. It was certainly not the case where the Sultan ruled the entire empire residing at Istanbul – even Machiavelli in his book The Prince had explained how Ottomans split their empire into Sanjaks and how the Ottomans established a system different from the European hereditary feudalism, ensuring stability in the kingdom. None of it was even mentioned here and was focused entirely on the glory of the empire.

The fall was covered extremely well, starting with their defeat at Vienna and how from being feared, they ended up being ridiculed in Europe as the sick man. The final half an hour was entirely about modern day Turkey and the aggressive reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk which brought about the recovery of the country post the First World War. Atatürk’s aggressive secular stance, pro-Western stance drew supporters and dissidents alike. However, this is where the series missed out – wherein, what was presented was a highly one sided picture of Atatürk. With regards Atatürk, I myself stand for every value that he stood for but with that said, I am sure that there would have been a lot of residents who would have been against the aggressive reforms, such as completely removing religion from public life, banning traditions they have been following for centuries, changing the script of the language, banning every Ottoman symbol, etc. They could have taken the views of people who were against Atatürk as well. If everyone were so pro-Atatürk even today as they project (this documentary is from 2013), we would never have seen the rise of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) who are hard-line Islamists who strongly believe that the empire was glory days; AKP have been holding power for nearly 15 years now.

Overall, I would say that this is a good watch – in a totally unintended manner, this documentary has created an interest in a Turkish soap opera - Muhteşem Yüzyıl – a story where a lot of modern Turks feel the empire was unnecessarily glorified but still, is one of the most watched shows in Turkey.

This show has tried to appeal to all audiences – the history enthusiasts, the travel enthusiasts and in that attempt to please everyone, this show missed out on a few important details for which I would pull down the rating to six on ten.

Rating – 6/ 10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Total Zone by Martina Navratilova and Liz Nickles – Book Review




Publisher’s write-up:

‘Sixteen-year-old Audrey Armat is a combination of sugar and steel: Grand Slam contender with a scorched-earth serve and hub of the nine-million-dollar business that is Audrey Armat Enterprises. She rarely loses. Luckily.

Professional tennis: high pressure, high profile. But what is the impact on young players? What happens when the line between privacy and the public is crossed?

No one knows better than Jordan Myles, former tennis champion and sports therapist, who works with the top players and aspiring champions, all drawn to the Desert Springs Sport Science Training Center. Their goal: achieving the Total Zone, when the mind and body are in perfect harmony and winning is inevitable.

Audrey Armat comes looking for it but disappears. And in launching a hunt for her, Jordan uncovers a startling story of abuse, suicide and murder.’

I bought this book after looking at the person who wrote it, a person who has lifted a trophy in Grand Slam tournaments 59 times, Martina Navratilova. For starters, I didn’t even know that she was also had a crack at writing, that too fiction – based in the world of tennis. There is a co-author, Liz Nickles, but I am unsure about the extent of her involvement.

The novel’s central theme is the life of a sixteen-year-old teenage sensation, Audrey Armat. The parents of Audrey have absolute control over her life – where she goes, who she meets, her endorsements, her style of play, her diet; and has been coached by her father since six. Lately, she has been experiencing a lot of health problems and that is when she is brought to Jordan Myles, a former tennis champion (including grand slam tournaments) who now works as a physiotherapist post a career ending injury. Things don’t go on well between Jordan and Audrey’s mother, especially when Audrey goes missing and she places the blame on Jordan and her organisation.

Jordan suspects extreme abuse on Audrey at the hands of her parents and decides to uncover the mystery behind her going missing. It was a reasonable premise that the author had and yes, she is someone who knows entirely as to how the system works – who are the persons involved, to what extent sponsors and endorsements have a role, the role of administrators and the games that they play. Jordan had quite the adventure, stretching from New York to California to Florida and then on to the UK (for Wimbledon) with public perception going increasingly against her following the lawsuit from Audrey’s mother.

However, the author’s only effort had been to try and build the character of Jordan Myles – as to who she was, her past, her planned future and what she believes in and what drives her. Barring her, no other character was built with such care – be it her colleague Gus, or the detective who helped her – Fish, her journalist friend Cas or even that of Audrey. Very often, reading her book felt like reading a tennis’ players journal – when she described how to play a particular shot or about achieving the ‘total zone’ – that is perfect mind and body harmony while playing.

The plot was loose, and begins to unfold very late, after a very slow introduction. I felt a lot of pages in this whole book was unnecessary, such as the entire Wimbledon saga. However, I did like the part that the author did not try to make herself the protagonist even though she brought a character similar to her into the book – a character named Mariska from Eastern Europe who had defected to the United States. I am sure that the author is more qualified to comment on the situation at Wimbledon than I am but I would say this that by reading this book, one might come to the conclusion that being a tennis player at Wimbledon is possibly one of the most dangerous things that a person could do.

This was a thriller novel which had a reasonable premise from an author who could very much put herself in the shoes of the characters but the narration was totally botched up, with uninspiring writing and while she thought of writing a rather gross climax, it just turned out weird and creepy.

I did not enjoy reading this book and in fact, took quite some time to complete it and on that note, I award this book a rating of three on ten.

Rating – 3/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Let it Bleed by Ian Rankin – Book Review


Publisher’s write-up:
‘In another bleak Edinburgh winter Rebus finds himself drawn into a web of intrigue that throws up more questions than answers. Was the Lord Provost’s daughter kidnapped? Why is a city councillor shredding documents that should have been waste-paper years ago? And why is Rebus invited to a clay pigeon shoot at the home of the Scottish Office’s Permanent Secretary? Sucked into the machine that is modern Scotland, Rebus confronts the fact that some of his enemies may be beyond justice.’
Let it Bleed is the seventh instalment in the John Rebus police procedurals from Ian Rankin. Rebus has broken up with his girlfriend Dr Patience Aitken and his daughter Sammy now has a job of her own that he has now entered into the ‘nothing to lose in life’ phase.
It starts with a car chase by Rebus and his superior, Frank Lauderdale, going behind the alleged kidnappers of the daughter of the Lord Provost. However, things turn as the police end up in a terrible car crash with Lauderdale being severely injured and Rebus escaping with a few bruises but the two alleged kidnappers committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. Add to that, while Rebus was recovering, there was one more suicide, with a man shooting himself in front of councillor Tom Gillespie during the surgery. Rebus is to prepare a report on the suicides but he isn’t entirely convinced that it was a mere suicide – he had a fundamental question – why did he need the councillor for a witness for his suicide? Everyone, including Rebus’ superiors were keen that he just closes the case with a simple suicide report, just that he refuses to budge.
Rebus substantially acts alone in this book, considering the trouble that he brings about in investigating powerful politicians, his superiors force him to go on a leave. He takes the occasional help from the two detectives under him, being Siobhan Clarke and Brian Holmes. He takes on the most powerful people in Scotland in this book, while uncovering the mystery behind these suicides, these include politicians and corporates and the nexus between them. Rebus, strangely is also on the opposite positions as against his daughter – who now has a job which involves interacting and rehabilitating prisoners and is often in contact with felons whom her father investigates.
This was also the book where I could see Rebus the most. He has always been the tour guide for the readers for Edinburgh. Here, in his ‘nothing to lose’ attitude, he was being equally snide and sarcastic with his superiors – Gill Templer and ‘Farmer’ Watson as well as the top politicians of the country. Moreover, Rebus’ moral convictions were brought out the most in this book wherein, he decided to go till the very end for what he believed was right but was also in dilemma as to proceed with his investigation as it could happen that if he did, a lot of ordinary people might be affected.
The author also managed to bring a lot of aspects into the plot involving characters from all sections of the society, the working class, the corporate, the politicians and the civil servants. This was also one of the Rebus novels where there was no distinct sub-plot and every page of the page-turner was connected to the main plot. In fact, there was no murder in the novel for a substantial part of the novel and was in fact, a mere suicide investigation, another point of difference between the usual books and the current book.
True to any other book of this genre though, this book was not entirely free from loose ends but I am willing to ignore those innocuous gaps considering the overall plot.
On the whole, one could say that this is the book where we could witness and experience Rebus’ evolution as character the most, the author’s witty dialogue crafting augmenting the brilliance of the plot, this certainly is one of the best books of the genre I have read so far and the best book from the author that I have read thus far.
Considering all of the above, I award this book a rating of nine on ten.
Rating – 9/10
Have a nice day,
Andy

Spanish Civil War by Hourly History – Book Review



When spoken about fascist dictators of Europe, two names that come to mind are Hitler and Mussolini. However, General Francisco Franco of Spain held power for a significantly more number of years and still, is not talked about as much. Franco was involved in a 3-year long power struggle against the ruling Spanish Republicans and in the civil war with estimated casualty starting from a minimum of 200,000 up to 2,000,000 people. This almost acted as a prelude to the Second World War and this is a short retelling of the history by Hourly History.

Spain had a liberal centre-left republican government in 1930s and they had just had a transition of power from military back to a civilian government post the Great Depression. Before too long, Spain plunged into another crisis and a large section of public felt once again that the military needs to be in power to resolve the same. However, even the military was divided, half of them supported the Republican Government and the other half supported the rebellion led by the trio – General Mola, General Sanjurjo and General Franco. Post the ‘mysterious’ deaths of two of the Generals, General Franco became the sole leader of the rebellion. The book focused on the manner in which the two factions organised themselves, the brutalities committed by both sides, the reasons for the failure of the Republicans and the foreign interests in the civil war.

The book was balanced in bringing out the perspectives of both sides of the war. It also explained an interesting fact that this is more documented than most civil wars especially because of Spain’s extremely cautious efforts to forget the event and I read in the book that children in Spain are not taught about the civil war. The book focused a lot on bringing out the various factions on the Republicans whereas, the Nationalists had united under a common cause. The aspect as to how the Germans, Soviets (for the Republican side) and the Italians used the Civil War as means to test their military power before the Second World War was also brought out well.

One could however point to the fact that the book perhaps over simplified the fall of the Republicans and ignored the fact that while the Nationalists were supported by surrounding fascist governments with similar ideologies to that of Franco (being Germany, Portugal and Italy), the Republicans were not supported by the neighbouring liberal powers such as France or the United Kingdom.

This is a very good compilation on the Spanish Civil War and should you want to know more than what is stated in this book, you can always research more starting with this as the base to establish your interest. I award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Luka and the Fire of Life by Sir Salman Rushdie – Book Review




‘IMAGINE

you are Luka, a twelve-year-old boy who has to save the life of the storyteller father you adore.

IMAGINE

you have two loyal companions by your side: a bear called Dog who can sing and dog called Bear who can dance.

IMAGINE

you must now embark on a journey through the Magic World to steal the Fire of Life, a seemingly impossible and exceedingly dangerous task …’

Luka and the Fire of Life is effectively a sequel to the Haroun and the Sea of Stories written by Sir Salman Rushdie. This is also a novel targeted at younger readers and is dedicated to his younger son Milan, whose middle name is Luka.

Thus, it can be seen that this follows a model very similar to that of the author’s earlier aforementioned book. Similar to that, there is a young boy Luka who enjoys his father, Rashid’s stories. However, on a fine day, Rashid is struck by a coma and has his life threatened by a genie named Nobodaddy. To bring Rashid back to life, Luka must bring The Fire of Life from the world created by his own father through his stories. Nobodaddy, his two pets – a dog named Bear and a bear named Dog would be companions in Luka’s journey.

Unlike the author’s previous book with a similar theme, this time it was made a lot more personal, wherein, here Rashid could possibly die whereas the last time around, he was just unable to tell stories. It started very well, when it went inside Rashid’s world – filled with witty riddles to cross various paths, interesting enemies on the way – elephants, a group of abusing otters, etc.

However, midway through the book, I felt the author lost the plot, he tried to make it into some kind of a game wherein Luka had to save his ‘progress’ in the mission. His writing was not as simple for a younger reader to understand nor were some of the themes within and at the same time, the plot was not too interesting to keep other readers engaged. The rules of the adventure were highly malleable and were constantly changing as and when Luka goes into a dire situation. While I certainly liked the way in which he described the setting, there was nothing else that was noteworthy about the novel.

My expectations on the author are always quite high and while I understand that this was targeted at younger readers, I used a similar book as yardstick to set my expectations (Haroun and the Sea of Stories) and as compared to that, this book is a terrible disappointment.

On that note, I would award this book a rating of four on ten.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

French Revolution by Hourly History – Book Review



One of the most iconic revolutions that has shaped the Modern World is the French Revolution. People keep talking about it all the time, references are made, but with all that said, how much do we actually know about the revolution? This is a short history about the 18th century event from Hourly History.

The book starts mentioning the class system in France and how it is designed in a manner in which the Clergy and Aristocracy would always be in a position to oppress the working class. Moreover, the lavish lifestyles of the royalty and their decision to live in the far off Versailles rather than the city kept them even further away from the reality of the lives of ordinary people. Added to that, with the renaissance in Europe augmented by philosophers such as Rousseau, Marat and Robespierre, a revolution to overthrow the regime was just beginning.

The book covered all the aspects that were necessary for the reader to understand a gist of the French Revolution – starting with the events leading to the revolution, the alienation of the king, the success of the revolutionaries, the brutalities of the succeeding government and the eventual takeover by Napoleon. This book also covered the reaction from the other kingdoms of Europe. I also liked it as to how the book did not try to absolutely glorify the revolution and brought out the misdeeds of the revolutionaries as well.

However, they could have been a little more elaborate about the philosophies that inspired the rebellion. This book was in fact a few pages shorter than the normal length of books that comes from Hourly History.

Overall, it is a good read for those who want a glimpse of the French Revolution and I award the book a seven on ten.

Rating – 7 / 10

Have a nice day,
Andy

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,
Andy

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,
Andy

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,
Andy

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,
Andy

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,
Andy

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,
Andy

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,
Andy

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,
Andy

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,
Andy

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,
Andy
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