Monday, January 27, 2014

6. Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

Culture Series is a Science Fiction series written by Iain M. Banks, famed author of The Wasp Factory, which he wrote under the name Iain Banks (less the initial of his middle name "M", which he adopts only while writing Science Fiction). Consider Phlebas, the first book of the Culture Series, however became my unlikely first encounter with Banks, now that I am reading it for the year long Culture read on LibraryThing. Among other things peculiar about this book, to which I shall return shortly, I would never have guessed, even after reading the book, the significance of the seeming random title of the book, until I actually googled for it!

In a typical first book of a 10 book series, one would expect a lot of world building, introduction to few of the key characters, and a few skirmishes. Not so in Consider Phlebas. This one is being like thrown into the deep end of a pool to figure out All of the Above, while gasping for breath. There is a protagonist, Horza, a changer, a humanoid species, about which not much is known, other than bits and pieces here and there over the course of the book. Then there are the two warring factions about whose idealogical differences we are equally clueless about, other than some vague philosophising by the protagonist when he tries to explain why he chose one side over the other. I, for one, randomly chose the side of the protagonist for most part of the book and kind of switched sides near the end. It is only while reading the epilogue that things become somewhat more clear. 

Surprisingly, for a book concerned with a super-war between two super-species, we meet not more than 3 characters each from each of those two factions, the rest of the cast being or should have been miscellaneous characters. Then there is a whole lot of action, not all pleasant, not all palatable. There are also passages where the book becomes an absolute drag, readers would be able to identify "the eaters" being one such passage. Also, there is a whole lot of idiocy and stupidity among characters, (mostly on "the planet") which can sometimes be very grating on the nerves.

For all that (and not all the characteristics in the above paragraphs are negatives, they are mostly peculiar), the book is very fast paced, reads like a standalone book, and I am not sure if this book will have any connection to the rest of the series, time will tell. I will continue with the series.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

5. Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik

Mahabharata is an epic, the longest one in the world. It forms the most important part of Indian mythology and is a cornerstone of Hindu religion. Many of its sub-sects, like the Ramayana (an abbreviated version) and Bhagwada Gita, are quite famous in their own right.

Jaya is an ambitious effort by the author in illustrating and interpreting many of the events of Mahabharata, in which he traces the ancestry and origins of the Kauravas and Pandavas, relating stories about their ancestors, illustrating how every event is the result of Karma, even if it is not immediately apparent, and that such Karma is not necessarily restricted to that birth and could be carried forward from a previous birth, or inherited (for better or worse, generally worse) from an ancestor. Funny story about Karma, not all apparent good deeds carried out with the best of intentions are necessarily good and not all apparent bad deeds carried out with the worst of intentions are necessarily bad.

While I was generally aware of many of the main stories of Mahabharata, and some side stories, a lot many more were new to me, neither had I always thought about the interpretation of those stories in such terms. I was pleasantly surprised with the illustrations and interpretations, in which the author doesn't try to moralise or create interpretations to be different or for the shock value.

Among other things, the book lists down the names of all the 100 Kauravas, the origin of patriarchy in India, the breaking of rules in the battle of Kurukshetra (Pandavas, are surprisingly the culprit of most of such breaks in Rules of War; the justification being that Kauravas, in the events leading to the war have followed Matsya Nyaya (equivalent to Law of the Jungle) and hence can no longer deserve a fair battle) and the eight ways in which a man and woman can come together. I have noted for my personal reference all the above and some more of such very interesting tit-bits, which makes this book quite a pleasure to read.
I don't know if and when will I ever be able to read the complete Mahabharata, for now, I can only hope.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

4. Cry Wolf by Wilbur Smith

This a random read, completely out of my schedule, a book not even in my TBR. This also happened to be my second experience with Wilbur Smith, the first being an entertaining read, River God, which was a very different kind of book, set in an entirely different time and space.

Cry Wolf is a war fiction based on the 1935 Italian attack on Ethiopia, a deplorable event,  a testimony to the ineffectiveness of the League of Nations (not that the current United Nations is doing such a stellar job). There seems to be a lot of errors and omissions from the actual event of attack, which may still be forgiven for this being a fictional account.  But the book isn't much otherwise either, some bravado, some romance, a pinch of humour and a lot of craziness; but it fails to make a mark, emotional or otherwise. I probably would have been more moved by a well written account of a war between Martians and Plutonians.

An average read, I doubt I will sample more of what Wilbur Smith has to offer.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

3. Second Son by Lee Child

I had been planning to try this series since the movie adaptation featuring Tom Cruise and Rosamund Pike came out in 2012. Come 2014, and I started with this short novella the first in the series, chronologically, with a teenaged Jack Reacher. I read this book, fully knowing that this short novella was written with the soul purpose to give some kind of background to Jack Reacher, his history, his roots and nothing else; there still was more action than expected. 

A satisfying read, for now I will continue with the series.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

2. Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold

As already mentioned in my last review, this year, at LibraryThing, we are doing a year long Group read of the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. I have read 3 books in the series earlier, not in the chronological order though. This group read will be a time to make amends and with this hope I started with the first book in the series, one featuring Cordelia, mother of Miles, the protagonist in the latter parts of the series. We also meet another strong and fascinating character, Aral Vorkosigan, Miles's father, but it would be fair to say the book was more about Cordelia.

It would be difficult to define her characteristics, measure her with parameters, the character is so multi-faceted. She is a military woman, but the author has steered away from the temptation of making her a Wonder Woman. She is strong willed, smart and well, as others in the book would say, honourable. And yeah, she is not a love-sick teenager, but a mature middle aged woman, so is Aral (except the woman part!). She is also the one who with her smartness, resourcefulness and no small measure of luck, turns around difficult situations on their head, and supports Aral only like she could. I quite liked Aral Vorkosigan too, in all his military might, and yeah, he actually comes across more honourable than Cordelia even!

There is a war in the background and some really unpleasant incidents, but they all seem to be the setup for the Cordelia - Aral story. The author must again be applauded for exercising her good sense and not overdoing it with the romance part.

Needless to say, I will be starting with the next instalment, Barrayar, within a week.


Monday, January 6, 2014

1. Divergent by Veronica Roth

End of Day 5 of the new year, and I finally have my first read for the year! Divergent! While I have planned most of my reads for January, this one, ironically, was the last addition to the list. January is the month when we (with folks at LibraryThing) start with the year long Group Read of the Vorkosigan Series (Bujold), AND the year long read of Culture Series (Ian Banks) AND the quarterly read of Middlemarch AND the quarterly read of Bleak House, apart from a few other books of my own, planned for this month. Luckily, I finished my RL Book Club reads for January (Sputnik Sweetheart by Murakami and Disgrace by Coetzee) in 2013 itself. I knew it to be the author's publishing debut, a Dystopian work, with a female lead character. Surprising isn't it? The surge in the number of strong female lead characters in Dystopian works lately? Or maybe not all that surprising, since most of these new authors venturing into Dystopian works are female authors AND that historically, female lead characters have been grossly under-represented in Sci-Fi / Dystopian works AND that there exists (existed) a huge (latent) demand for such work.

Getting back to the book in question, a strong plot, simplistic and executable, just like it should be - 5 factions, based on (dominant?) characteristics and traits - and while we don't get to see a lot of Amity or Candor or even Erudite, for that matter, one gets a good idea about those factions would be all about. The entire story is enacted within a city, and there is no clarity about the world outside the walls, which I am assuming will be left for the subsequent books. This is actually not a bad thing, rather, this was one of the things I liked about this novel, it didn't try to do too much, too soon. This was one of my complaints with Samantha Shannon's debut work, Bone Season.

Beatrice's is a delightful character, with all her values and contradictions, it was very well done. Unfortunately, this clarity seemed to be lacking in most of the other characters, including in that of Four, the main male character who is part scary, part brave, part mysterious and yet romantic? Clearly, this character needs some work. Many of the other characters (mostly other initiates) have been dealt very superficially, which could probably be an indication of Beatrice not being properly able to evaluate them herself, but I doubt she would know as little as we do.

The rating of 4*, is indicative of how much I still enjoyed this book, and anticipate reading the sequel.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reading Summary and Highlights - 2013

2013 proved to be an ordinary reading year, I finished the year with 77 books as against my pre-set target of 75.

Following were my top 5 reads for the year, in no particular order:-

1. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
2. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
3. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
4. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stagner
5. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The complete list of 77 books finished this year is listed below, in the order in which they were read, the average rating being 3.25:-

1. By Grace and Banners by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (***)

2. Hard Times by Charles Dickens (**1/2)
3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald (***)

4. A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson 

5. Louise de la Vallière by Alexandre Dumas (***)

6. The Listerdale Mystery by Agatha Christie (**1/2)
7. The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi (**1/2)

8. The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (***)

9. Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming (**1/2)

10. Raiders from the North by Alex Rutherford (***)

11. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (***1/2)

12. The Secret of the Nagas by Amish Tripathi (**1/2)

13. The Oath of the Vayuputras by Amish Tripathi 
14. The Clicking of Cuthbert by P. G. Wodehouse (**1/2)

15. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton 

16. Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer (***)

17. Brothers at War by Alex Rutherford 

18. The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean 
19. Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold (***)

20. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney 

21. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney 

22. The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas (***1/2)

23. Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb (***)

24. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Last Straw by Jeff Kinney 

25. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (**)

26. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney 

27. The Golden Fool by Robin Hobb (***)

28. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth by Jeff Kinney 

29. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney 

30. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (**)

31. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino 

32. Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb 

33. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (***1/2)

34. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson 

35. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (***)

36. The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne (***)

37. Beloved by Toni Morrison (*1/2)

38. Jaws by Peter Benchley 

39. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (*****)

40. The Cobra by Frederick Forsyth (**1/2)

41. Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino 
42. Blood Rites by Jim Butcher (***)

The Firm by John Grisham (***)

The Tower of Silence by Gyan Prakash (*1/2)

45. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (****)

46. Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin (***)

47. 1st to Die by James Patterson (*1/2)

48. Quantum: Einstein, Bohr, and the Great Debate about the Nature of Reality by Manjit Singh (****)

49. Stardust by Neil Gaiman (****)

50. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde 

51. Empire of the Moghul: Ruler of the World by Alex Rutherford (***1/2)

52. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (*1/2)

53. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson (****)

54. The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson 

55. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (****)

56. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey (****)

57. Blockade Billy by Stephen King 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (****)

59. Brother Thomas by Dean Koontz 

60. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (***1/2)

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (***1/2)

62. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (***1/2)

63. Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (****)

64. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (*****)

65. The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura (***)

66. Daisy Miller and other Stories by Henry James (****)

67. Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup (***)

68. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (*****)

69. The Tainted Throne: Empire of the Moghul by Alex Rutherford(***1/2)

70. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (****)

71. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (****)

72. Deadhouse Gates - Steven Erikson (****)

73. In Fed We Trust - David Wessel (****)

74. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood 

75. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (***1/2)

76. The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth (**1/2)

77. Where Eagles Dare by Alistair MacLean (***1/2)