Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

4 stars for The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

I dare say with certainty that I will not have considered nor persisted beyond chapter one of this book if not for the good words put forth by two highly reliable sources. Friends who know me well are aware that I am no big fan of books written in third person narratives. So, I am seriously doing Bro Sly and Buddyson Sean a favor by reading and reviewing this book.

Jokes aside, before I plunge headlong into The Godfather, I actually worry about it being outdated. This book is, after all, first published in 1969, which makes it a what? 48-year old novel! Suffice to say, though it may belong to an era, at heart, the story is timeless.

In my opinion, a good book leaves you with many experiences, slightly exhausted at the end, and you live several lives while reading it. As it is, at halfway mark, already I feel like having lived several lives, that of Don Vito Corleone, his three sons, Sonny, Fred, Mike, his Consigliere, Tom Hagen, and his godson, Johnny Fontane, to name a few.

The beauty of this storytelling is that the characters are rich, not in the literal sense of considerable wealth, but the notion of going beyond skin deep, painted with details so rich that it brings even the worst of the characters to a different level of vibrancy. The author leaves no stone unturned in his research of the mafia families and style. With so many characters running amok, it is equally amazing that there are no loose ends; everyone and everything is accounted for right to the end. And without a doubt, my favourite character is the Godfather, Don Corleone, a man to whom everyone goes to for help and never gets turned down nor disappointed. He certainly lives up to his name.

Having finished the book, I can now understand why it hovers on the New York Times bestseller list for sixty-seven weeks and proceeds to become the number one book all over the world, transforming author Puzo from a penniless writer to an international celebrity.

..And yes! This is the first of a book that I manage to entice my significant other to buddy read with me. His take on the book? Let's just say great minds think alike.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review: Grave Ransom (Alex Craft #5) by Kalayna Price

4 stars for Grave Ransom (Alex Craft book 5) by Kalayna Price.

After having spent weeks and weeks on historical fiction, I realise I miss the urban fantasy settings. Going through my long list of to-be-read, I finally decide to settle on Grave Ransom as this is one of the series that I am rather confident of granting me the fix I need.

Mortal reality. Faerie magic. Planeweaver. Grave essence. Welcome to the world of Alex Craft where shades are just memories animated with magic and where one sees with mind more than with eyes.

Then, there is this Death or Grim Reaper or soul collector; whatever name he goes by does not matter as he just reminds me of sorrow and secrets and duty. So far, I have not yet come across another author who can turn the Grim Reaper into such an alluring character that I look forward to every scene where he makes his appearance. Death certainly melts my heart. Goodness me.. what a paradoxical statement! But in Alex Craft series, it is so real and so true.

Tongues for the dead where the grave holds no secrets, where there is suspense and mystery, horror and humour, fantasy and romance; I certainly look forward to the next instalment.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Review: Death of Kings (The Last Kingdom #6) by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars for Death of Kings (The Last Kingdom book 6) by Bernard Cornwell.

After book 5 The Burning Land, I contemplate giving The Last Kingdom series a break, but the Norns at the foot of Yggdrasil, the tree of life, obviously feel otherwise and thus, propel me ever forward to be a witness to the Death of Kings. And so here I am again at the mercy of Uhtred's sword Serpent-Breath and his dagger Wasp-Sting.

Six books in tow. I have come a long way with Uhtred of Bebbanburg. I have literally watched him grow up, from a pagan childhood to the fight in his first great shield wall, to the mistakes he makes as an arrogant, foolish and headstrong young warrior following his battle with the great Danish leader, Ubba Lothbrokson, to his return from Wessex in the South to Northumbria in the North only to discover chaos, civil war and treachery, to his return from Dunholm in the North back again to Wessex in the South where he becomes a builder, a trader, and a father, to how he leads the Saxon army and defeats the Danes as they launch a final assault on King Alfred's Wessex. And now, Uhtred is an old man of forty-five years.

In Death of Kings, Uhtred continues his story of how men feared him even though he is no great lord in terms of land or wealth or men, of how the death of a king brings uncertainty and in uncertainty lies opportunity for the enemies, and last but not least, of how the warriors scream their war songs as axes fall, spears stab, swords cut and shields block in the winter battle.

Having travelled so far alongside Uhtred, I feel as if I have majored in History all over again, only that it is Britain's history this time; for at the back of Uhtred's tales is the story of how England comes into existence.

In the winter of 898, there is no England. There is Northumbria and East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex, the first two are ruled by the Danes, Wessex is Saxon while Mercia is a mess, part Danish and part Saxon. It is Alfred the Great who lays the foundations on which his son Edward, his daughter Æthelflæd, and Edward’s son, Æthelstan, succeed in taking back the three Northern kingdoms and so, for the first time, unite the Saxon lands into one kingdom called England.

But as with most storytellers, author Cornwell imparts his knowledge to readers by peppering the history lessons with fiction and soaking them in generous doses of humour. These are what give shape to his historical fiction and breathe life into the characters such that they leap out of the pages alive.

And now that the characters have obediently returned to their rightful places inside the book, it is time for me to have a break, have a KitKat. As pointed out by book buddyson Sean who ever so politely puts it that I am reading this Saxon tales at the speed of a freight train, and that I should take a break from this long-running series. So, right now, I shall put aside the Uhtred in me. And open up a whole new world of possibilities.

Wyrd bið ful āræd

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review: The Burning Land (The Last Kingdom #5) by Bernard Cornwell

4.5 stars for The Burning Land (The Last Kingdom book 5) by Bernard Cornwell.

It has been a really long while since I read a series in succession, five books in a row. If my memory serves me right, the last was The Walk series by author Richard Paul Evans (book 1 The Walk, book 2 Miles to Go, book 3 The Road to Grace, book 4 A Step of Faith, book 5 Walking on Water), and I remember feeling deeply inspired for starting off the Year 2015 with the Walk series as it has brought along hope, faith and a sense of peace at that time.

Before I rattle off with reviews of old, let me get back to the topic at hand, the gathering of my thoughts and feelings on book 5 of The Last Kingdom series.

More years have passed and Uhtred, the pagan in service to a Christian king, is now in his mid-thirties. He longs to go North, back to his ancestral home besides the Northumbrian sea, to Bebbanburg, a home usurped by his father's brother.

As the title dictates, The Burning Land is mostly about fire and skirmishes. Burn Wessex Burn. Besides the burning, the killing and the plundering, it is interesting to note that the fights and battles are not just about men or food supplies, it is also about the hills and valleys, the rivers and marshes, as well as the places where land and water will help defeat the enemies. To this end, the author has done an impressive job propelling Uhtred to ever-greater heights as a strategist. A scheming man he is not, yet Uhtred has earned the readers' trust to have the best-laid plans.

In a time where a man is judged by his deeds, his reputation, the number of his oath-men, his generosity and his gold, to gain everything a man must risk everything. Dressed in his war-glory, mail and helmet and sword and arm rings, the Uhtred as we have come to know so well so far, is all about hopes, futures and dreams (of freedom).

Once again, the story and adventures of Uhtred, an exile and a warrior who straddles two worlds, the Danish North and the Saxon South, checked all the right boxes.

Treachery checked
Betrayal checked
Inferno checked
Chaos checked
Oath checked
Duty checked
Love checked
Devotion checked
Courage checked
Battle checked
Pride checked
Allegiance checked
Loyalty checked
Honor checked

Notwithstanding the above, I do have one grievance, and that is, I start to see the emergence of a certain pattern to the happenings and it somewhat dries up and slowdown the development of the story by this fifth instalment. Perhaps that is also the reason why I take much longer to finish this book.

Regardless of my grievance, I am still awed by author Cornwell in his choice conclusion of this tale. Indeed, I cannot help but do a double take when I reach the end of this story for the final scene of book 5 The Burning Land and the last act of book 4 Sword Song mirrors each other. How cool is that!

Book 5 The Burning Land

The long oars dipped, the river banks closed on us, and in the west the smoke of Lundene veiled the sky. As I took Æthelflæd home.

Book 4 Sword Song

The long oars dipped, the riverbanks closed on us, and in the west the smoke of Lundene smudged the summer sky. As I took Æthelflaed home.

Uhtred takes Æthelflæd home. The endings are the same but yet they are different. Why? Because the state of Æthelflæd's mind is at odds with each other in both instances. Well.. I'm not going to tell you the details. If you want to know, read this Last Kingdom series to find out for yourself.

Fate is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful āræd.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review: Sword Song (The Last Kingdom #4) by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars for Sword Song (The Last Kingdom book 4) by Bernard Cornwell.

... and so I set out to unravel the unknowns that await me in this book 4 Sword Song. Truth be told, before I start out on this perilous journey I have no inkling of what this book encompasses except that it continues to be one of Uhtred's adventures.

The previous Book 3 Lords of the North draws to a close in the Year 880 with a twenty-three-year-old warrior setting off from Dunholm in the North to Wessex in the South. Fast forward five years and this warrior, Uhtred, is now twenty-eight years old. Older and wiser, Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg, has become a builder, a trader, and a father. He still serves Alfred, King of Wessex, because he has given Alfred his oath, and not because he wishes to.

Much of Sword Song is set in Lundene (presently known as London) which stands where Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex meet. Lured by the promise of bright gold and shining silver, the Danes, the Norsemen, the Scots and the Britons, have all flocked to this city of merchants, tradesmen, and seafarers. And there, the new Viking leaders plot to hire these men, buy weapons, raise warriors, assemble armies, all with the ultimate goal to invade and conquer Wessex.

A title beautifully chosen, Sword Song is the song of the blade wanting blood. It is a story of bloodshed, of battle, of war cry, of Uhtred, a lord of war, fighting for his land, his family, his home and his country.

Once again, the battle scenes are magnificent with axe hacks, spear throws, swords thrust, shield walls, battle songs, male bonding, breaths of ale for courage (this one is contributed by buddy Sean), brute strength, sheer numbers, and a much needed dash of luck for survival. In addition to the power struggles, the author introduces something new: a disturbing yet powerful sad love story. Author Cornwell knows exactly how to tug at readers' heartstrings for I am overcome by emotions - anger, sadness, pity - so strong that I feel as if my heart is torn asunder in this new heart melting romance.

Fate is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful āræd.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: Lords of the North (The Last Kingdom #3) by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars for Lords of the North (The Last Kingdom book 3) by Bernard Cornwell.

Perhaps I am ambitious or maybe just overly enthusiastic, the truth is, I have been looking forward to reading this book way before I am even done with book 2 The Pale Horseman. The reason is simple; this is obviously a tale about the lords of the North. And Uhtred, who sways between his love of the Danes and his loyalty to the Saxons, is from the North, which means that he will very likely be returning from Wessex to Northumbria in this book for that is where Bebbanburg lies. And I am so looking forward to his return.

This third instalment of The Last Kingdom series packs a hefty punch. At twenty-one years of age (Year 878), with the belief that his swords can win him the whole world, Uhtred continues his adventure. There is certainly no lack of excitement in Uhtred's sword-path for there are ups, and there are downs, and they never fail to invoke a maelstrom of feelings that swirled within me as I read along. Courage, fear, anxiety, dread, anger, despair, relief, love, compassion, need, pride and hope all come into play, all in the name of upholding majesty and honorability in the story.

On top of the above, I have come to love the Historical Note that the author provides at the end of each book. And once again, author Cornwell promises that Uhtred's wars are far from over and that he will have need of Serpent-Breath again. So, right now, I am tingling with excitement. I am going to slowly uncover what lies in store for Uhtred in the next book, Sword Song.

Before I end off my review, I will like to give a shout-out to book buddy Sean who recommends this series to me. Speaking of which, have you started on the latest book 10 The Flame Bearer? Enjoy the read. Wyrd bið ful āræd

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: The Pale Horseman (The Last Kingdom #2) by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars for The Pale Horseman (The Last Kingdom book 2) by Bernard Cornwell.

Fate is inexorable. Wyrd bið ful āræd.

The Pale Horseman calls out to me even as I am writing and wrapping up my review of The Last Kingdom. That is when I know I am destined to read this book.

Book 2 The Pale Horseman pretty much picks up from where book 1 The Last Kingdom leaves off, with Uhtred - at the age of twenty - recounting the mistakes he makes as an arrogant, foolish and headstrong young warrior following his battle with the great Danish leader, Ubba Lothbrokson. From then on, it tells of Uhtred's plight and fight where an adversary of today may turn into an ally on the morrow and vice versa. And finally, central to the story, events that lead to the King of Wessex being reduced to the King of a few square miles of swamp and how that is expanded on subsequently.

Taken verbatim from the book "The kingdom of Wessex was now a swamp and, for a few days, it possessed a king, a bishop, four priests, two soldiers, the king’s pregnant wife, two nurses, a whore, two children, one of whom was sick, and Iseult."

The story is phenomenally well written. There are twists and there are turns, and they catch me unaware. The author does a remarkable job in developing Uhtred's character here for there is no lack of action on his part that leads to heart-stopping moments. Yes, I cannot help but worry for Uhtred. Then, there is the ever-present humour, as sharp as ever, perhaps even more so than that of Uhtred's sword, Serpent-Breath, for words have power.

Once again, I have a great time immersing myself in The Saxon Tales, so much so that I stay up the night to finish up the last chapter culminating in the great shield wall battle yet again. As I read, I am ever thankful to buddy Sean who suffers through not one but two seasons of The Last Kingdom - crappy - TV series because he feels the need to refresh his memories and not be a book spoiler for my sake. Buddy, your binge-watch is duly noted and greatly appreciated!

Destiny is everything. I believe at the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree of life, the three women spinners are at work again, and now, they are spinning me towards The Lords of the North. I know it because..

Wyrd bið ful āræd. Fate is inexorable.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review: The Last Kingdom (The Last Kingdom #1) by Bernard Cornwell

5 stars for The Last Kingdom (The Last Kingdom book 1) by Bernard Cornwell.

This series come highly recommended by a colleague without whom I doubt I will ever come across this novel, and needless to say, read it.

At the time of recommendation, I have yet to meet this newfound colleague, but our love to read and appreciation of good writing make me feel as if I have known him for years, not days. Best of all, he understands my unusual quirks on books and reading. Like it or not, everyone has their own reading quirks. They may be cultivated over time or happened overnight, but they will not go away and they are ours to keep. I am very happy indeed to have found another booklover, especially one who shares the same quirky habits as me.

I am not familiar with and have never before read stories related to the Anglo-Saxon period which lasted from 410 to 1066. I am equally clueless that by the ninth century, Anglo-Saxon England was divided into four main kingdoms - Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex. Because of my ignorance, I am not aware that the story in The Last Kingdom is in fact very much based on real events until I read the Historical note at the end of the book. Only then do I realise that the ealdormen in this historical novel whose names begin with Æ (a vanished letter, called the ash) and many of the Danes and their kings all existed at one time.

Two sentences into the prologue and I have a good feeling that I will like this story; Uhtred's story. Born an Englishman of England but brought up a Danish of the Viking way, this is his story where destiny is everything, where men are bound by duty, loyalty, pride, passion, love and land.

"My name is Uhtred. I am the son of Uhtred, who was the son of Uhtred and his father was also called Uhtred."

True to my intuition, I have a whale of a time seeing the world through the eyes of Uhtred, from a pagan childhood right up to the fight in his first great shield wall. The author has certainly done his research well and consequently, a fantastic job feathering English history with fiction and topping it off with small doses of humour every now and then.

Thank you for the recommendation. If you are reading this, you know who you are. No? Don't make me spell it out.. Okay. Yes buddy. Sean, thank you! ..And I agree. Destiny is everything. It brings you to this series and now, it is my turn.