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Book Nook - 09-01-2017

Monday, January 09, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com.

Fight Or Die
Never having read Matthew Riley book before, one did not know what to expect. The Four Legenday Kingdoms is a Jack West thriller after The Seven Ancient Wonders, The Six Sacred Stones and The Five Greatest Warriors. As the titles suggest the books are a mix of action and mythology.

Jack West is one of the world’s five greatest warriors, along with Moses, Genghis Khan, Napoleon and Christ—seriously!—so he is well nigh invincible. In every book, he saves the world from increasingly outlandish threats, in which his fighting skills help as much as his knowledge of the classical texts. You know he will vanquish his foes and get out of the worst crises alive, it’s the how that is thrilling for his fans who turn his books into bestsellers.

This time, the world a threat of extinction from a collision with the superior Hydra Galaxy, unless mere mortals of Earth can prove that they are worthy of living. The four kingdoms of the title are Land, Sea, Sky and The Underworld, which are ruled by immensely powerful kings. Interestingly, the Underworld is India, which is where our hero is headed—unwillingly this time.

The rulers of the four kingdoms organize a set of deadly challenges, and pit the best warriors against one another and perform the rituals that would deflect the fast approaching Hydra Galaxy. West is kidnapped and forced to compete in these ‘Games’ or his family and friends—also kidnapped along with him—will be killed.

There are sixteen well trained and fully prepared contestants, and every time one is eliminated, their families held hostage are slaughtered too.

The challenges are tough and so bizarre that the book has drawings explaining them, to enable the reader to visualize them too.  While the Games are on, there are other sub-plots involving Minotaurs enslaved by Hades, the King of the Underworld, and the danger to West’s adopted daughter Lily, who is a prize catch for the nasty son of Hades.

Readers of Reilly’s thrillers obviously go for pacy action, and very simple dialogue. So the book goes on a breathless ride to see how West survives. As an ally here is the hero of another Reilly series—Captain Shane Schofield of the US Marines, better known as Scarecrow. The scene in which they have to fight each other to the death is truly chilling.

The book is aimed at young readers and has a comic-book core, but grown-ups who do pick it up, will be absorbed enough to go to the very end. And yes, Jack West’s mother Mae Merriweather (she threatens serious bodily harm to anyone who calls her Mae West), is quite a character too!

The Four Legendary Kingdoms
By Matthew Reilly
Publisher: Orion/Hachette
Pages: 430



Excerpt of The Four Legendary Kingdoms
Jack West woke with a lurch, startled and gasping for air. He was alone and in darkness.

He didn’t know where he was, how he’d got here or how long he’d been here.

The air was cool and moist, like in a deep cave. The floor was dusty. The wall against his back was solid stone.

He was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, but no shoes.

His head was sore. He touched it . . . only to pull his hand away in shock. His hair had been shaved off— With a piercing shriek, the rusty iron door of his cell swung open and light flooded in.

A horrifying silhouette filled the doorway.

The outline of a bull-headed man.

A minotaur. Or at least a man wearing a bull-shaped helmet. He was well muscled, with knotty biceps and a stocky chest.

While his upper body—save for the bull mask—was bare, on his lower half he wore modern black army-issue cargo pants and black combat boots.

I must be dreaming, Jack thought.

He didn’t have time for a second thought because right then, with a roar, the ‘minotaur’ charged at him.

A serrated hunting knife appeared in the masked man’s right hand and it came slashing down at Jack.

Instinct kicked in.

Half rising, Jack grabbed the minotaur’s knife-hand, twisted it and threw the man to the side, springing to his own feet as he did so.

The minotaur tackled him, and they rolled, struggling, wrestling, ending up on the ground with the masked man on top, straddling Jack and pressing down with the knife.

Clenching his teeth and using all his strength, Jack gripped the hilt of the knife, keeping its blade at bay, two inches from his own throat.

The blade edged closer to his Adam’s apple, and in a faraway corner of his brain, Jack recalled that if you died in a dream, you woke up. He wondered if that would happen here.

Only what if it’s not a dream, Jack . . . ? His opponent pushed harder and from behind the black bull mask, Jack heard the man inside grunting with exertion.

It’s just a man! his mind screamed. It’s just a man! And every man can be beaten.

Energised, Jack shifted his weight and reverse-rolled, sending the minotaur smashing head-first into the stone wall. It was a sickening blow. A dull crack echoed out—the sound of the minotaur’s neck breaking—and the masked man slumped to the dusty floor and lay still.

Jack heaved for breath. What a way to wake up. Regaining his composure a little, he took in his cell for the first time. The door was still open a little, letting in light.

The cell looked exceedingly old: the walls were made of sandstone; the heavy rusted door sat on ancient iron hinges. As for what lay beyond the open doorway, God only knew.

On one wall of Jack’s cell were two images carved deep into the stone.

The first one Jack knew: it was the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph ankh, meaning ‘life’.

As for the second symbol, it looked like a swirling fourarmed octopus. It was a variant of a rare and ancient symbol found in Hindu, Buddhist and Neolithic cultures called a tetragammadion.

As he looked at it, Jack had the distinct feeling he had seen this symbol only recently, but he couldn’t recall where.

He blinked, trying to remember. But it was no use. His mind was still too groggy.

Instead he tried to recall the last place he had been before he had lost consciousness and woken up here.

Pine Gap, he thought. The top-secret base deep in the Australian desert. He’d gone there to attend a meeting, a high-level meeting. Something about the SKA Array . . .
 

ALSO RECEIVED
The best thing about Miranda Dickinson’s Searching for a Silver Lining is the built-in playlist of Fifties rock. Everybody is clued in to the post Elvis music scene, this book introduces the reader to a fresh bout of nostalgia.

Mattie Bell fell out with her beloved grandfather Joe and is shattered when he dies without contacting her. She promises to make amends somehow, and her way of doing it is befriending a retired singer Reenie Silver from a band Joe loved.

Mattie runs a vintage shop in a English village and accidentally runs into the feisty octogenarian Reenie when she visits the home for senior citizens where she lives. Mattie’s idea of pleasing her dead grandpa is taking Reenie in a road trip to connect with her former bandmates.  Reenie had abandoned her group, The Silver Five, just before their big gig at London’s iconic night club, the Palm Grove, and has lived with the regret for sixty years.

Mattie and Reenie convince the new owners of the club, grandsons of the Palm Grove, to back the reunion.  One of them, Gil, comes along for the ride with the two women. It’s not quite clear why they go on a road trip in a vintage car that the acerbic Reenie calls a rustbucket, instead of flying to their destinations, but then the book would have been much shorter.

The novel is not high on style, occasionally too melodramatic, but its consistently sunny disposition carries the reader along. Reenie is an interesting, if self-absorbed character, who would make a great poster girl for geriatrics with her boundless energy and undiminished talent. When Mattie and Gil are ready to crash after a long drive, Reenie totters over to a nearby pub to belt out songs on the karaoke system. Her bitchy battle of wits with a former bandmate is hilarious.  Mattie comes across as a wimp compared to Reenie.  Of course, it’s no spoiler that Mattie and Gil fall in love. At least in books two attractive thrown together by circumstance, always turn out to be single!

Searching For A Silver Lining
By Miranda Dickinson
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Pages: 448


Cambridge Company is the third in a trilogy of Farrukh Dhondy’s semi-autobiographical books. According to the synopsis: “ This was egalitarian England. I would neither need nor have servants here. Everyone I met in India mentioned this fact as if it were the most significant feature of Western civilization and modernity.

When young Farrukh arrives at Cambridge from small-town Poona, he’s resigned to having no servants to wait on him, wearing tweed and studying hard, but what he encounters is an England that no one has prepared him for. This is the sixties, when Britain is in the throes of the Mods and the Rockers – and the sexual revolution, along with endless protest demonstrations, is in full swing. Farrukh quickly realizes that he has a lot to learn: from figuring out how to load the washing machine to coming to terms with a long-distance relationship; from expounding on religion and sexuality to discovering his love for theatre. Told in a series of vividly detailed vignettes, Cambridge Company is a witty and charming account of collegiate life that captures the exuberance and the idealism of youth.”

Cambridge Company
By Farrukh Dhondy
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 191

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