Saturday, 24 September 2016

Artemis Fowl and The Last Guardian - Book Review



Publisher's write-up:

'Opal Koboi, power-crazed pixie, is plotting to exterminate mankind and become fairy queen.

If she succeeds, the spirits of long-dead fairy warriors will rise from the earth, inhabit the nearest available bodies and wreak mass destruction. But what happens if those nearest bodies include crows, or deer, or badgers - or two curious little boys by the names of Myles and Beckett Fowl?

Yes, it's true. Criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl's four-year-old brothers could be involved in destroying the human race. Can Artemis and Captain Holly Short of the Lower Elements Police stop Opal and prevent the end of the world?'

The Last Guardian is the final instalment of the Artemis Fowl Octet. In case you haven't read the earlier books, I have posted the reviews of all the previous books. As for this review, I shall try my best to not evaluate it as a 22 year old but as the 13 year old who was enthralled by The Eternity Code nine years ago.

The book continues the pattern, wherein, the odd numbers in the octet can pretty much be a stand alone and has a different antagonist (Holly Short (Artemis Fowl), Jon Spiro (The Eternity Code), Leon Abbot (The Lost Colony), Turnball Root (Atlantis Complex)) and the antagonist of every even numbered book is Opal Koboi, the power hungry pixie.

Opal being the core antagonist, she has come up with yet another plan, to become all powerful, end the human race and proclaim herself fairy queen and in this mission, she takes the support of the long dead fairy warriors who possess human bodies (Myles and Beckett Fowl, Juliet Butler). Similar to the other even numbered books, Artemis and his friends try and stop Opal's plan, against all odds.

I would appreciate that the author has maintained the pattern and yes, the fact that he has finally decided to end it. I liked the way in which Artemis' character evolved, from being someone who wasn't much different from Opal Koboi in terms of personality where the primary aim for both was to seek ultimate power; but then, Artemis has changed, and for the better where he actually begins to show concern for others and is even willing to sacrifice himself in order to stop Opal. After all, the author has stated on numerous occasions that this is a story of a boy growing up and to that extent, I would say that he has grown up into a fairly mature young adult. For the fans of the series, the usual humour was maintained in this book as well; Holly with her sarcastic responses and Mulch with his mannerisms.

However, the greatest drawback of the book is the fact that it was the eighth book. Despite being one of those original Artemis Fowl fans, considering the time he took to complete the series, I was already out of the target age. I bought this book immediately after its release in 2012 and I could never really get beyond the first few pages owing to a combination of two reasons; the beginning was poor, I was no longer interested or impressed by Artemis' extreme condescending attitude but that was the first 30 pages about and of course, beyond a point, I found it a little too childish. Barring that, I wasn't too happy about this cliche stuff of bringing out the undead, we have enough zombie novels, the author has already created a wonderful fantasy world, there was no need for him to add yet another element into that world. And last, some of the characters such as Foaly, were severely underused and to all those who expected a romantic touch to the book following his misadventure in The Atlantis Complex, they'd be disappointed, there was absolutely none and of course, the much awaited return of Minerva Paradizo never happens.

I said the start was poor but it would be a little unfair on the book if I miss out on this detail, it is true that I read the first 100 pages over four years (losing interest after a few pages each time I pick it up) but then, when I started reading it this time, I managed to complete it and thus, I would say that the plot improved as the story progressed. Being the last book, I would also opine on the ending that the book did have a fitting end (note: it is no spoiler, I have just said fitting) and a long time fan of the series can close the book with a sense of satisfaction that there was a proper closure to the series.

To conclude the review, I would say that this was a reasonable finale and could possibly be enjoyed more by a 15 year old fan of the series. I am glad that there are no further sequels or supplements and I hope there wouldn't be.

I would rate this book a six on ten; it was a reasonable read, definitely, but certainly not as brilliant as The Eternity Code or The Opal Deception.

Curtains!!

Rating - 6/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Black Book by Ian Rankin – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘When a close colleague is brutally attacked, Inspector John Rebus is drawn into a case involving a hotel fire, an unidentified body, and a long forgotten night of terror and murder. Pursued by dangerous ghosts and tormented by the coded secrets of his colleague’s notebook, Rebus must piece together a jigsaw no one – perhaps not even he – wants completed.’

The Black Book is the 5th instalment in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. Rebus is troubled; to start with, he gets thrown out of the house by his girlfriend. Added to that, his brother Michael, ex-con (read Knots and Crosses) returns to stay with him till he gets his things in order.  His close colleague, Brian Holmes is severely attacked and is in coma and Holmes’ girlfriend hands him a black book that he used to maintain to Rebus, contents of which she believes to be the cause of the attack. On the other hand, his superiors put him in Operation Moneybags, intended to put one of Cafferty’s (a notorious Crime Boss) but Rebus is more interested in an incident that took place five years back, where a murder took place at the Central Hotel (identity of the victim yet to be identified) and there was a subsequent fire destroying the hotel. Rebus believes that Cafferty is linked in some way and also believes that the incident is also connected to the attack on his colleague.

I liked it how the author initially focused more on the personal life of Rebus, considering it was totally missing in the last two novels of the series and also the fact that the book didn’t begin with a murder, rather, the investigation was on a murder Rebus’ superiors weren’t interested in. Moreover, this was the first time in the series that I found elements of a police procedural being put to use, where, Rebus was working on a case which his seniors didn’t want him to spend any time on and a series of events also leads to his eventual suspension. I liked it how Rebus’ bossy traits are beginning to be brought out, with the joining of a new DC, Siobhan Clarke, a recurring character in future novels (I have read one of them). Added to that, considering the book came out in 1993, I liked the author’s progressive attitude towards the gay community and their positive portrayal in the book (there is an Elvis-themed restaurant in the book). For someone accustomed to the series, it was good to see certain characters like Matthew Vanderhyde (from Hide and Seek) and Cafferty (from Tooth and Nail) return in this book.

However, the book was very slow and there were too many characters and simultaneous investigations being carried out by Rebus and Clarke that I found it too difficult to follow beyond a point and in fact, this aspect of it didn’t allow me to enjoy Rankin’s writing and Rebus’ cynicism, which I otherwise are some of the favourite elements of mine in Rebus novels. It took till the end of the book for Rebus to connect the dots and I am unsure whether certain readers would be willing to have that much patience.

I have read Rebus’ books off-sequence in the past but to those who are going to read his book for the first time, this is not a great book to start with. However, for someone who is accustomed to the series, I really enjoyed Rebus’ character develop further and I am certainly looking forward to more. This was a decent read but if I compare it with its two immediate predecessors (Tooth and Nail and Strip Jack), not so great. I would award this book a rating of six on ten.

Have a nice day,

Andy

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Horribly Famous: Darwin and other Seriously Super Scientists - Book Review



Publisher's write-up:

'Everybody knows about Darwin's theory of evolution and that an apple fell on Isaac Newton's head.

But did you know that Galileo went to prison just for saying the earth moves, and that Marie Curie hated being horribly famous?

Everything you ever wanted to know about Darwin and other seriously super scientists.'

This book is an instalment to the Dead Famous series now re branded as Horribly Famous on the life of nine well known scientists whose contributions have shaped the world as we know it today. These include Aristotle, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Gregor Johann Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Marie Curie and Albert Einstein. Despite the title of the book, Darwin is given only as much importance as the other eight scientists in the book and the book is not substantially about him, rather, just about twenty pages.

This book met the expectations that I usually have in a Horrible Histories book, good illustrations, pulling out unknown facts about the subject they're dealing with, the imaginary personal diary, among others. I am someone fascinated by science but not someone who loves science as I was never able to get a hang of it but then, I have an admiration for those who did, be it Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein. So, I could get a broad idea of how these scientists arrived at their path breaking discoveries and at the same time, their path to doing it, college life, personal life, was also covered. I also loved those boxes - Secrets of Science inserted at regular intervals during the course of the book presenting certain interesting facts. I also felt the author chose well known scientists, ideal for a children's book and yes, one problem with this series is that it hardly moves out of the UK and hence, I appreciate the fact that the author has chosen great scientists also from places other than the UK. At times I wondered as to why the author chose Charles Darwin as the flagship scientist for the book but as I analysed what he was conveying, he very clearly seemed against the religious establishment and it was Darwin who shook the very foundations of their reasoning and perhaps, the respect is out of that.

This book is going to disappoint a kid highly enthusiastic about science and wishes to know the deeper aspects about the research about the scientists whom they adore. However, if they just want to decide on whom their role model is, this book could still serve the purpose. Apart from this, I don't have anything significantly negative to say about the book; maybe the author could have added a relatively obscure scientist which could have made the book interesting but that is more than a suggestion than a flaw.

On the whole, I felt it was an excellent reading experience and I award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Have a nice day,
Andy 

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Last Frontier by Alistair MacLean - Book review



Publisher's write-up:

'Doctor Jennings, a noted scientist in possession of a precious secret, has gone over to Soviet Union: it's Michael Reynolds' mission to get him back.

Jennings' visit to a scientific congress in Budapest, gives Reynolds a unique opportunity: a chance to contact Jennings and offer him a motive to return.

To penetrate behind the Iron Curtain and reach his quarry is difficult enough; but to bring out a man uncertain, elderly and too well known is impossible. Until Reynolds discovers, within that terrifying organisation there are men ready and able to help.

These dedicated Hungarian patriots - high minded, resourceful and, when necessary, as ruthless as their enemies could be the key to Jennings' success in this deadliest missions.'

The Last Frontier is a novel by the popular writer Alistair MacLean; with a story that takes place in the east of the Iron Curtain and not his usual World War II novel. In this Michael Reynolds, a British secret agent, is given the task of bringing a nuclear scientist, Dr. Jennings back to the UK. The task is not that simple, as Jennings is based in Soviet Union and is visiting Hungary for a conference and Reynolds, is to carry out the task in Hungary; beating all odds, including the brutal secret police of Hungary, the AVO. In this mission, he has the help of certain locals; mainly a former Soviet military general named Jansci and an insider within the AVO, known as The Count.

The novel follows the standard template MacLean uses; a near impossible mission, a romantic sub-plot, and an absolute hate rant against those whom the protagonist is against. For starters, the novel maintained a good pace and got straight to the point and in the very first chapter, Reynolds crosses the border into Hungary. I also appreciate the fact that the author chose Hungary as the place for setting the novel considering, there is a lot of literature available on oppression in Communist regimes, mainly by Soviet Union and I have even read one, in Romania (The Land of Green Plums) but there is very little available on Hungary. I loved the way the author built the character of The Count, in particular, shrouded in mystery with a lot of untold past and the author brought it out little by little as the story progressed. Jansci was yet another beautifully built character with many similar characteristics, such as a troubled past and his determination to bring freedom to the peoples under Communist regimes.

But then, while I praised the way the author built the sidekicks, my main problem was with the protagonist, Michael Reynolds. He is possibly the lousiest secret agent I have ever read about; walks into obvious traps, has no original ideas and ultimately, is completely dependent on The Count and Jansci. There wasn't a single instance where he accomplished something on his own and if ever he tried, he had to be bailed out either by The Count or Jansci. Moreover, the romantic sub-plot between Reynolds and Jansci's daughter was ... lifeless; could have rather not had it at all and last, the author told very little about Reynolds himself and as a reader, I was never able to connect with him as much as I was able to, with the other two characters. Moreover, Alistair MacLean was on his hate rant again, against all the Communists; though I commend him for the fact that he tried to defend them a little, through the Count or Jansci while the Japanese or the Germans in his earlier books did not have any such lawyers. It was all the more annoying with Reynolds snatching every opportunity to say the same naive thing; the fall of Communism would bring peace and is a solution to all problems. While I am not a Communist sympathiser myself, I still found his book too one sided and yes, to be honest, a lot of modern readers might not even be able to connect with the hate campaign considering, it is nearly three decades since the fall of Communism but then, I wouldn't exactly blame the author for the problems faced by readers in future.

My expectations on this book was rather high, considering this book was said to be among the best works of Alistair MacLean but then, it disappointed me, considering that it was a very ordinary thriller and yes, if it had an extraordinary protagonist like it did in The South by Java Head, I perhaps might have enjoyed it more but the biggest drawback of this book was Michael Reynolds. I would say that this book would perhaps appeal only to hardcore Alistair MacLean readers or those who are merely enthused by blind anti-Communist literature (PS: Once again, I am not a Communist sympathiser myself but MacLean went too far).

Coming to the question of rating the book, I would say that this book is a reasonable thriller, with a lot of flaws but then, a flaw in the protagonist is a very basic flaw and thus, I would not be able to deem the book as a good read with a rating of six and hence, my rating for this book would be a five.

Rating - 5/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman - Book Review


To be frank, I had not heard of this book till yesterday, notwithstanding the fact that it was released in 1996; thanks to an endorsement to the book from John Oliver during his show Last Week Tonight. The book is about a twelve year old kid from Wisconsin, Judson Moon, who decides to run for president following persuasion from his friend Lane. While Moon himself does not have any bright ideas nor is he aware of any of the issues faced by the country, Lane decides to be his spin doctor and manage his campaign, to make him attractive to the electorate; by selecting Moon's elderly neighbour, an African American woman as his running mate, selecting an attractive girl to be the First Lady (First Babe, as he had put it) and yes, push for the Constitutional Amendment removing age restrictions to become president.

The book is very relevant today considering Donald Trump's campaign that has been going on. The author had very beautifully brought out how one could appealing to the electorate just by telling things they wish to hear, regardless of whether it is practical or not (I shall share some of the quotes from the book below). Moreover, I feel this book is a very good read for children across the world considering, kids love to see one of them outsmart the grown-ups (the theme of most Japanese anime) and particularly a good read for young Americans as it does broadly explain how the complex US electoral system works. An excellent thing the author has done is that he revised the book in 2012, to make it more relevant for today (removing references to archaic technology, for instance); I wondered at first as to how there were references to Barack Obama and also the 2000 election where George Bush became president despite Al Gore securing more votes but then, it was a good move to update the book with these incidents (especially, the 2000 election is an excellent example for explaining the electoral college system).

'It's more important for you to look as if you know what you're talking about than it is for you to know what you're talking about.' - Page 27

'To win this election I became everything I always hated. I turned into a liar, a fake, a fraud. The saddest part is, it worked.' - Judson Moon

'Your candidacy is a joke! Your running mate is a grown-up, you hypocrite! You don't know anything about anything. You're going to make all kids look bad!' A group of boys jumped on Krantz and started punching him. - This is exactly what happens at a Trump rally when you criticise him or in social media; where any constructive criticism is met with abuse by pro-Trump people. Those who backed the leave campaign in the EU membership referendum in UK behaved pretty much the same way.

Anyway, I would get back to the book rather than digressing (for my recent piece on Trump on Astute: Thoughts, click here). The biggest problem I had with the book was the character of Lane. While every other kid in the book actually behaved like a kid, Lane had the maturity to understand voters' psychology and in fact, would have made a proper spin doctor for a serious politician. It could have been much better if this character had been an adult, after all, this book wasn't devoid of adults, the running-mate was an adult, this character could've been an acquaintance too, like his father's friend or so. While I understand the whole story is satirical, I can't help but ignore, what kind of a school principal allows a student to make anti-homework statements in school and be proud of the student?

Considering today's context, with Trump's joke of a campaign as background, this book has been thoroughly enjoyable, although I am unsure as to whether this book would be as enjoyable once this charade by Trump is over.

Coming to rating the book, it was a light read (took me just ninety minutes to read) with a decent story livened up by the 2016 US election. I would award the book a rating of seven on ten. Thank you, John Oliver, for the suggestion.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,
Andy
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