Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Storm Warning by Jack Higgins - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'It's 1944 and Germany is facing defeat. Across the wild Atlantic, dominated by Allied navies, twenty-seven passengers aboard the barquentine Deutschland are battling home.

Waiting for them are a U-boat ace captured in a desperate raid on Falmouth, a female American doctor caught in the nightmare of flying bombs, a gunboat commander who's fought from the Solomon's to the Channel and a rear admiral determined to get back into action. Allies and enemies, men and women, the hunters and the haunted all drawn inescapably into the eye of the storm.'

The Storm Warning is an adventure story with the Second World War as the background. A German merchant ship leaves from Brazil for Kiel, with a crew of desperate German sailors and five nuns who intent to return home at all costs. On the other end, Paul Gericke, a commander in the German navy is sent on a near suicide mission in Falmouth and ends up being captured by the British. Both these are disconnected stories till they meet at a particular point heading for an interesting climax.

Before getting too deep, I wish to clarify that this is not a thriller novel or a standard Second World War novel, it so happens that the main characters are military personnel and that the story takes place during the war; but for that, this is a standard adventure story than a thriller novel. Jack Higgins tries to reiterate in this book as well, that soldiers on both sides are compassionate humans first, which is more powerful than their hatred for the enemy (similar to The Eagle has Landedand eventually, they come together for a common cause, beyond the lines of the war. In a way, I find that Jack Higgins is one of the very few authors who writes war novels without taking a 'black or white' approach to the enemy and identifies them as normal people with various dimensions to their character. The book was also reasonably paced and wasn't too long, making it easier to read.

However, I felt that the two plots were totally disconnected, and the book was in fact two separate stories till the last hundred pages where these two merge for an interesting climax. Owing to the fact that the book had two different stories, the author could not focus much on building the individual characters, including the principal protagonist Paul Gericke (who incidentally gets introduced only after 100 pages) and I even found his over-confident attitude a little annoying. The other side, the ship story had nothing particularly interesting either, considering they reached till Hebrides without any major hindrances and for the sake of it, there was a pointless romantic sub-plot between a sailor and a young nun (who is yet to take the pledge).

This is neither a great adventure story nor an amazing story based on the Second World War barring the climax and I don't think it is worth reading the whole book for the sake of a reasonably built climax which otherwise simply goes back and forth with too many characters that I was unable to keep track of more than five (on both the plots) beyond a point.

To conclude, I would rate this book a four on ten, which could have been lower had it not been for the last hundred pages.

Rating - 4/10

Have a nice day,

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Incredible Banker by Ravi Subramanian - Book Review

The Incredible Banker is a book in Ravi Subramanian's banking chronicles series. Incidentally, I have read its sequel, The Bankster (may access the review by clicking the link) in the past and was certainly one of the books from modern Indian writers which I have enjoyed.

The plot of this novel jumps across timelines, starts with the CEO of Greater Boston Global Bank (GB2) receiving a show cause notice from the RBI which the CEO perceives to be a witch-hunt against foreign banks following the 2008 financial crisis. The story immediately shifts back by two years to the mundane work environment at GB2, with Karan Panjabi, despearately trying to meet his monthly targets and Deepak Sarup, head of internal audit division and his rival, trying to sabotage the performance of Karan's department. In the mean time, there is also a romantic sub-plot between Deepak, a married man and Savitha, a widowed woman and a staff of GB2 in Karan's team. In the mean time, the plot also moves to rural Odisha and West Bengal focusing on Naxals (communist insurgents) mobilising their resources and weapons. The best of all is the fact that all these events are connected in some way and the author manages to keep the reader in suspense till the last page.

Usually the characters are the assets of an author in any story but here, the author didn't have them as there were too many characters across four sub-plots and even though Deepak would have probably been the most prominent, would certainly not fit being the lead. Thus, the only asset the author had remaining, to exploit was a strong plot and to be fair, he used it very well. The plot did move across different timelines but the author managed to maintain the suspense element essential for a thriller novel by doing that. Moreover, the crab mentality in the corporate world was portrayed fairly well by the author, as to how, more often than not, in a large decentralised organisation, individual interests often supersede that off the organisation.

Added to all these, I also managed to finish the book much quicker than I expected myself to, considering it took me less than 24 hours to cover a 300 pages book. As a corollary, I would thus say that this book is pretty much a page turner which is also essential for a thriller novel.

However, I cannot ignore the fact that I could not connect with any of the characters in the book and efforts could have been put into the same, even if it meant that the book would have been longer by around 50 pages. Since the author had put in no such effort into building the character, I found it really strange that towards the end of the novel, a 'girlfriend' of Karan is introduced who also happens to work at GB2 and provides him with vital information. Moreover, although this is something that I should be saying in the review of the sequel but since I posted its review way before, I'd have to say the same here - the structure that the author seems to follow seems too similar in both the books, various unrelated sub-plots and during the course of the plot, the author connects the dots.

To conclude, I would say that The Incredible Banker is a good thriller novel, and it was quite commendable that the author managed to maintain the element of suspense till the very end. I also enjoyed this a little more than The Bankster despite the fact that the sequel had a stronger plot; because of the fact that I read the sequel before I entered the corporate world and reading The Incredible Banker now, I could appreciate the corporate politics much better in this book and I am sure this book could be enjoyed by those working in corporates who have a love for thrillers. I would award the book a rating of seven.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Thursday, 13 October 2016

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:


Pipes and kettledrums herald the arrival of gypsies on their annual visit to Macondo, the newly founded village where José Arcadio Buendía and his strong-willed wife, Úrsula, have started their new life. As the mysterious Melquíades excites Aureliano Buendía and his father with new inventions and tales of adventure, neither can know the significance of the indecipherable manuscript that the old gypsy passes into their hands.

Through plagues of insomia, civil war, hauntings and vendettas, the many tribulations of the Buendía household push memories of the manuscript aside. Few remember its existence and only one will discover the hidden message that it holds... '

One Hundred Years of Solitude by the Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez is a story about a small village called Macondo and its founding family, the Buendías. Years ago, when José Arcadio Buendía marries his cousin Úrsula, she is scared that her children would be born with pig tails owing to the couple committing a 'sin'. However, their non-consummation of the marriage became a subject matter of ridicule that in a fit of rage, José Arcadio Buendía kills the man and moves out of the town, to start a new life in the new village of Macondo founded by the family, with their children.

This story goes through the ups and downs of Macondo, and the first half of the book has its focus on the second generation of Buendías. Macondo had very little contact with outsiders except the gypsies who occasionally visit them but eventually, they get in contact with the outsiders and subsequently, a Conservative Mayor is installed in the village by the government. Aureliano Buendía in opposition, leads the Liberal Revolution and the village is eventually ravaged by a civil war. However, the Buendía family has in its possession a set of parchments from the gypsy Melquíades and each generation of the family tries to decode the parchments.

To say the least, the author has created an impeccable story about the village, and how its founding family evolved along with it. I liked the way how the author took it forward, first the isolation, then the contact with outsiders leading to prosperity, subsequently leading to a strange plague and eventually, leading to a bloody civil war and then it was back to peaceful times and the eventual decline of the village. I also felt the author used this as an excellent platform to make a case for his socialist, anti-war ideas, brilliantly bringing out how Aureliano, though, initially fought for an ideology, eventually, the purpose was lost and he was merely fighting for pride. It also had elements of corporate exploitation in the village and how, if the corporates collude with the government, they could easily manipulate the events in their favour and erase their misdeeds from history. Additionally, the author, used the element of magic realism really well, to depict the adverse effects of each of these changes, and I found it very different from the way Rushdie uses the same, considering that in this book, magic realism was a lot more subtle whereas it is a quintessential element in Rushdie's book (incidentally, Rushdie claims this book is The greatest novel in any language of the last fifty years.)

While I felt the reader could connect more with the village than an individual character considering that the plot kept moving across timelines and generations, one character who is noteworthy is Aureliano Buendía, who has a strong sense of right and wrong initially, while joining the liberals but eventually becomes a commander who would do anything to serve his interests and finally, once the war is over, retires into obscurity, denying any sort of recognition from the government upon signing the peace deal.

I am unsure whether any of the events in this book actually allude to events in Latin America's history or more contemporary events but if they do, I believe the book could certainly be enjoyed more by someone who is familiar with the history of Latin America.

However, despite all these, this certainly is not a book for every reader, it requires a lot of patience. For starters, just taking the Buendía family, the patriarch is named José Arcadio Buendía who has two sons and a daughter, Colonel Aureliano Buendía married to Remedios, José Arcadio and Amaranta. José Arcadio (second) has a son named Arcadio who eventually has a daughter named Remedios and two sons named José Arcadio Segundo and Aureliano Segundo. José Arcadio goes on to have a daughter named Renata Remedios who goes on to have a son named Aureliano.

The least that the author could have done is to have given slightly different names for each generation (but then, to be fair to him, he does use this element subsequently) for this led to a lot of confusion especially when repeated references were made to the previous generations during the course of the story.

Moreover, the book dragged on a little, especially after the civil war and the establishment of the Banana Company (the last 100 pages) which is probably a reason why most readers have this complaint that they're unable to finish this book. Since I don't understand Spanish and had to rely on Jonathan Cape's translation, I really can't comment on the ingenious usage of language by the author (incidentally, that is the aspect I enjoy the most in Rushdie's novels).

To conclude, I really enjoyed reading this book, one of those heavy reads over which I was satisfied once I was done with the book. My only regret is perhaps the fact that the I bought this book when the author was alive and in my book it states, 'He lives in Mexico City.' Alas, I couldn't complete it when he was alive but then, reading is definitely a great manner in which you could remember the Nobel winning author, the first ever from Colombia.

I would award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating - 7/10
Have a nice day,

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.


Rating - 6/10

Have a nice day,
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