19 Followers
37 Following
veeral

veeral

Currently reading

A Feast for Crows
George R.R. Martin
Japan at War: An Oral History
Haruko Taya Cook, Theodore F. Cook
Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin
Leon Uris
Falling Free (Vorkosigan Saga, #4)
Lois McMaster Bujold
Century Rain
Alastair Reynolds
The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty
Caroline Alexander
Rite of Passage
Alexei Panshin
Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe
Laurence Bergreen
The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad
Harrison E. Salisbury
The Forsaken: From The Great Depression To The Gulags: Hope And Betrayal In Stalin's Russia
Tim Tzouliadis
Reblogged from veeral:
The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch

The essence of 'The Republic of Thieves' could be derived from one name:

Sabetha.

Yes, finally Sabetha Belacoros is here! And as expected, Sabetha’s and Locke’s relationship is central to the whole plot of ‘The Republic Of Thieves'.

The book is divided into two parts. The first one deals with the backstory of Locke and Sabetha - at Camorr (where they grew up) and at Espara, where the Gentleman Bastards are sent to perform on stage by Chains. The second plot starts right from where 'Red Seas Under Red Skies' left off – with Locke dying due to the poison.

To be honest, I am not a dedicated series reader. In fact, I am the worst kind of a series reader you will ever find. I generally start with a first installment and even if I like it, I don’t usually continue with the series for a long time, if ever. My theory is that that there are a lot of books still to be read, each with their own unique worlds. So, why trudge some known grounds with the same characters in similar settings if I can lose myself in yet another different and fantastic fantasy universe? But, if... if the prose is filled with witty and sarcastic characters, I am compelled to continue with a series.

That’s what Tyrion Lannister did to me with ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’. And Locke Lamora did the same with ‘Gentleman Bastards’. I don’t like characters that lack sense of humor. But that really is not a character’s fault, is it? The fault lies with the author. So why read an author’s work who doesn’t know how to develop interesting characters? This theory has driven my reading preferences right from the start and I must say, has served me well.

Locke Lamora is one of those very few characters whose dry witticism never leaves him in any situation. And that’s what makes ‘Gentlemen Bastards’ a series worth reading.

One good thing about Scott Lynch’s series is that that each installment of ‘Gentleman Bastards’ is set in a different location, so it never seems while reading that one is prodding through well-known grounds. 'The Lies of Locke Lamora' was set in Camorr and ‘Red Seas Under Red Skies’ was set at sea and in the city of Tal Verrar. In the same style, ‘The Republic of Thieves’ takes us to Espara (for the backstory) and to Karthain. Yes, Karthain. The city of the Bondsmagi! No less. Locke is offered to be cured by the Magi, but on one condition. Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are to act as experts to help win the elections for a political faction supported by Magi. The catch is, there are two political parties in Karthain, and each is backed by a different group of Magi to win the elections. So, the other faction is sure to “appoint” their own expert against Locke and Jean in order to win the elections. You know where this is going, don’t you? If not, you’ll find out soon enough when you read the book.

‘The Republic Of Thieves’ is more serious than the previous two books, and at times, more intelligent. The prose is good, as is usually the case with Scott Lynch’s books. While not better than ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’, this book is definitely better than ‘Red Seas Under Red Skies’.

The backstory has its own benefits as well, as we are again entertained by characters like Calo, Galdo and Chains along with some new and interesting ones. It was interesting to see Locke’s transformation from an awkward kid in Camorr into a wisecrack interloper in Karthain.

But as I said earlier, the central theme of the book is Locke’s and Sabetha’s relationship. Everything else takes a backseat here. So, while most of the times the romance angle is endearing and interesting, sometimes it does feel a bit drawn out, especially in the latter half of the book.

But make no mistake, it is still good. And most of the times, I liked the romance angle of the book. And this is a big surprise for me, as generally I don’t prefer to read books where romance is the central theme. And the book is also filled with Lynch’s trademark twists and turns, and ends with an intriguing cliffhanger.

So, even after three books, I am still asking the same question with anticipation which I asked myself when I completed the first book,” What will Locke do next?”

***Disclosure: I requested and received an ARC from Netgalley for an honest review.***

The Accidental Time Machine - Joe Haldeman

**Review may contain some minor spoilers**

'The Accidental Time Machine' came at a right time in my life. No, I am not having any “pre” mid-life crisis (not yet, at least); it’s just that that for the past dozen or so days, I was experiencing some serious reading withdrawal. I would pick up a book thinking that finally I have found the right one, read a couple of chapters, and then with a big sigh, put it back on the shelf. I couldn’t continue even if I found a book interesting. This happened at least 10 times until I picked up 'The Accidental Time Machine'.

And let me tell you, the only thing that is “accidental” here is that that the book’s hero, Matthew, "invents" the time machine accidentally (How else?). Apart from that, nothing that he does from then on could be considered inadvertent. He knew exactly where he was going and when. The machine only travelled into the future. But the time frame increased exponentially with each use, hence providing an intriguing set-up for the novel.

One thing that annoys me whenever I read a time-travel story (no, the paradoxes don't deter me, or I shouldn't be reading this sort of book in the first place) is that that the characters generally behave rashly without contemplating whether they would survive time travelling. Just jump in and press the button! It’s surprising that none of them ever end up with their heads in the present and torso in the past or future. The author’s “science” exempts them from this very probable fate. And that bugs me. Every time.

Thankfully, here Matthew does a lot of experiments and calculations (which are very interesting to read) before concluding that he could use the machine to transport himself to the future. In his journey, he comes across a religious dystopia from where a girl named Martha accompanies him on his further journeys. They travel much farther into the future to a utopia maintained by an AI. Understandably, the AI is bored of the utopia (utopias are always boring) and wants to accompany them on their future exploits, but not without its own ulterior motives.

Matthew and Martha want to go back to their own respective times, but in order to do that, they have to travel to a future earth which might have made enough technological advances which might help them to travel to their original pasts (as I said earlier, his machine only travelled into the future).

I won’t tell what exactly happens and ruin it for you, but I could at least say that this book is well-written, extremely funny at times, and raises a lot of questions about humanity living in various (advanced or backward) stages of civilization.

The reviews for this book here are all over the place and the average rating is a bit lower than other well loved time-travel books, but in my opinion, that does not reflect the true difference of quality between “The Accidental Time Machine” and other more popular books like 'To Say Nothing of the Dog', 'Time and Again' and 'The Anubis Gates'. This book deserves as much appreciation as the other well-known books of the genre are getting. Even more, in some cases.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars - Charlie Adlard, Robert Kirkman Much better than Volume-2. The story is developing now. It would be interesting to see where they go from here as this volume ended with a major cliffhanger.
The Walking Dead, Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us - Simon Pegg, Charlie Adlard, Robert Kirkman This was not as good as the first volume, 'Days Gone Bye', but the ending was interesting nonetheless.

I also think that the sketchwork in this volume lacked the detailing of the 1st one.
The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye - Tony Moore, Robert Kirkman I prefer to read the source material before I watch a series or a movie. That way I can enjoy watching the characters, that I already know from the book, come alive on the A/V medium.

I have not watched a single episode of 'The Walking Dead' series yet, but I am planning to, before the year ends, so I decided this was a good time as any to get all of the source material out of the way first.

The hospital scene reminded me of the opening scene from "28 Days Later".

The artwork of the book is very good. The decision to do it all in black and white is I think, the masterstroke. While the colorful representation of all the gory scenes would have made zombie fans drool, it might not have appealed that much to someone who is not a big fan of the genre.

Apart from the excellent artwork, the rest is pretty standard zombie-genre stuff. But that's not always a bad thing for a book in PA Zombie genre.

Now onto Volume 2.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon - David Grann That obnoxious Amazon. It likes to monopolize and dominate the jungle. Although one might be led to believe that there would be an abundance of everything where such a mighty force exists, the truth is exactly the opposite. As David Grann puts it himself: It’s the great “counterfeit paradise”. I couldn’t agree more. Amazon will starve you. Amazon will desiccate you. And finally, Amazon will obliterate you. Because, simply put, Amazon doesn’t care for you. It’s a green desert. Unfit for human civilization.

Take the example of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett. He wanted to make “the great discovery of the century” by finding the cryptic lost City of Z but instead, the uncaring Amazon rainforest consumed him, his son (Jack) and his son’s friend (Raleigh Rimell). So, “the great discovery of the century” became infamous as what has often been described as “the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century”— that is, the mystery of the fate of Percy Fawcett and the whereabouts of the lost City of Z.

Many have tried to solve the mystery over the years, but failed.

No one could find exactly what happened to Fawcett and certainly no one could find any clues that Z ever existed.

But why should it exist? It was really pointless of us to assume right from the start that a civilization could prosper under something as brutal and vainglorious as Amazon.

Sure, Grann did made some flimsy attempts by the end of the book by hinting that a civilized colony might have existed in the Amazon in the past, but that didn’t half-convince me.

So, one thing I would definitely take away from this book is the fact that, Amazon is the bane of civilization.
The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch The essence of [b:The Republic of Thieves|2890090|The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastards, #3)|Scott Lynch|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348233235s/2890090.jpg|2916344] could be derived from one name:

Sabetha.

Yes, finally Sabetha Belacoros is here! And as expected, Sabetha’s and Locke’s relationship is central to the whole plot of ‘The Republic Of Thieves'.

The book is divided into two parts. The first one deals with the backstory of Locke and Sabetha - at Camorr (where they grew up) and at Espara, where the Gentleman Bastards are sent to perform on stage by Chains. The second plot starts right from where [b:Red Seas Under Red Skies|887877|Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastards, #2)|Scott Lynch|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1291336119s/887877.jpg|856785] left off – with Locke dying due to the poison.

To be honest, I am not a dedicated series reader. In fact, I am the worst kind of a series reader you will ever find. I generally start with a first installment and even if I like it, I don’t usually continue with the series for a long time, if ever. My theory is that that there are a lot of books still to be read, each with their own unique worlds. So, why trudge some known grounds with the same characters in similar settings if I can lose myself in yet another different and fantastic fantasy universe? But, if... if the prose is filled with witty and sarcastic characters, I am compelled to continue with a series.

That’s what Tyrion Lannister did to me with ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’. And Locke Lamora did the same with ‘Gentleman Bastards’. I don’t like characters that lack sense of humor. But that really is not a character’s fault, is it? The fault lies with the author. So why read an author’s work who doesn’t know how to develop interesting characters? This theory has driven my reading preferences right from the start and I must say, has served me well.

Locke Lamora is one of those very few characters whose dry witticism never leaves him in any situation. And that’s what makes ‘Gentlemen Bastards’ a series worth reading.

One good thing about Scott Lynch’s series is that that each installment of ‘Gentleman Bastards’ is set in a different location, so it never seems while reading that one is prodding through well-known grounds. [b:The Lies of Locke Lamora|127455|The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastards, #1)|Scott Lynch|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320532483s/127455.jpg|2116675] was set in Camorr and ‘Red Seas Under Red Skies’ was set at sea and in the city of Tal Verrar. In the same style, ‘The Republic of Thieves’ takes us to Espara (for the backstory) and to Karthain. Yes, Karthain. The city of the Bondsmagi! No less. Locke is offered to be cured by the Magi, but on one condition. Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are to act as experts to help win the elections for a political faction supported by Magi. The catch is, there are two political parties in Karthain, and each is backed by a different group of Magi to win the elections. So, the other faction is sure to “appoint” their own expert against Locke and Jean in order to win the elections. You know where this is going, don’t you? If not, you’ll find out soon enough when you read the book.

‘The Republic Of Thieves’ is more serious than the previous two books, and at times, more intelligent. The prose is good, as is usually the case with Scott Lynch’s books. While not better than ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’, this book is definitely better than ‘Red Seas Under Red Skies’.

The backstory has its own benefits as well, as we are again entertained by characters like Calo, Galdo and Chains along with some new and interesting ones. It was interesting to see Locke’s transformation from an awkward kid in Camorr into a wisecrack interloper in Karthain.

But as I said earlier, the central theme of the book is Locke’s and Sabetha’s relationship. Everything else takes a backseat here. So, while most of the times the romance angle is endearing and interesting, sometimes it does feel a bit drawn out, especially in the latter half of the book.

But make no mistake, it is still good. And most of the times, I liked the romance angle of the book. And this is a big surprise for me, as generally I don’t prefer to read books where romance is the central theme. And the book is also filled with Lynch’s trademark twists and turns, and ends with an intriguing cliffhanger.

So, even after three books, I am still asking the same question with anticipation which I asked myself when I completed the first book,” What will Locke do next?”

***Disclosure: I requested and received an ARC from Netgalley for an honest review.***
Immobility - Brian Evenson Every once in a while you stumble across a book which surpasses all your expectations. 'Immobility' is one such book.

I mean, here you have, the much used trope of a post-apocalyptic scenario (although, I must admit that PA is one of my favorite sub-genres and I would read even a mediocre book if it's classified as PA fiction) with your usual wastelands, radiation and the always present hunger for food and all other things which are common in a book of such type.

But the “commonness” ends there. What we have here is an amnesiac lead character, Josef Horkai, who is woken from his cryogenic sleep after 30 years to perform a vital task for a surviving community under whose care he was stored. He cannot walk as he is paralyzed from waist down, so he is to be carried by two “mules”, Qatik and Qanik (who are human, maybe)to the place where he is to accomplish his mission of retrieving a canister whose contents are vital for the survival of the community.

In spite of the desolate surroundings, the book is filled with excellent dark humor, in fact one of the best kinds I have come across in quite a while. And the “mules”, despite being interchangeable right until very later in the novel, come across as very resolute of characters, and also one of the many characters you’ll really care about as the book progresses.

The book defies the major trope of post-apocalyptic fiction that is selfishness, and the characters portray an unflinching quality of selflessness (especially the “mules”), and of course to an extent Horkai himself, despite his own reservations, tries to remain obedient to the cause.

By the end I asked myself, what would I do in such circumstances? And I found myself agreeing with all of the characters, good or bad, because when I mulled over the story in my head, I concluded that each character did his best under such trying circumstances and I would have done exactly the same, more or less.

You can’t say that about many books, can you?
The Drive-In (A B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas) - Joe R. Lansdale Cheap fun, like a B-horror movie. Lots of gore and cussing with an insensible plot with some funny observations thrown in by the narrator in a detached way. In one word - Bizarro.

Good for killing-off an hour or so if you are in the mood to read something with an over-the-top plot like this.
Castles of Steel - Robert K. Massie One of Robert Massie’s books concludes with the line “When the last stroke fell, Great Britain was at war with Germany.”

Another one of his books ends with the sentence “The Great War was over.”

What lies between these two lines is an unparalleled work (more than 800 pages long) of history about the war at sea between Britain and Germany in the Great War. That book is [b:Castles of Steel|209881|Castles of Steel|Robert K. Massie|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1172707687s/209881.jpg|203146].

“Castles of Steel” is the sequel to Robert Massie’s 1000 page mammoth [b:Dreadnought|209889|Dreadnought|Robert K. Massie|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320477300s/209889.jpg|1415747] which chronicles the national rivalries (between Britain and Germany) that led to the first great arms race and eventually to the First World War. “Dreadnought” ends with Britain’s declaration of war on Germany.

I started with “Dreadnought” and when I was about 100 pages in; I stopped and started reading “Castles of Steel” instead. Don’t get me wrong, “Dreadnought” is not bad. In fact, it’s a great work; and its greatness is what led me to stop reading it and start “Castles of Steel”. I just couldn’t stop myself.

But that’s one of the many benefits of reading history. You can either read it in chronological order, or if you want, you can read it in any damn order you like. Sure, reading in chronological order helps to understand the events more clearly, but even cursory knowledge of previous events would be enough to take you through the rest. That’s why I decided to read “Castles of Steel” before “Dreadnought”.

At the start of The Great War, fleet strategies still revolved around the three “Mahanian dogmas” - the cult of the big gun battleship, the iron rule of concentration, and the annihilation of the enemy fleet in a single decisive battle. It was put forth by [a:Alfred Thayer Mahan|4090051|Alfred Thayer Mahan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1327933038p2/4090051.jpg], the American naval officer–turned–historian in his first major work, [b:The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660-1805|117154|The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660-1805|Alfred Thayer Mahan|/assets/nocover/60x80.png|1095220] which was published in 1890-1892.

In addition to this, the British public was still infatuated with the dream that the feat of Admiral Lord Nelson and his heroic victory in the Battle of Trafalgar would be repeated, where the British sunk 22 French and Spanish ships without losing a single battleship. The press and public alike were waiting for their next Trafalgar in The Great War. But it never came. The technology had improved leaps and bounds since that legendary battle and had changed all the rules of engagement. The transition from old tactics to the newer ones was gradual, which did come eventually, but not even at the end of The Great War. (Only with the sinking of “Repulse” and “Prince of Wales” in World War-II by Japanese airplanes, the era of battleship came to an end.)

The German navy began the war with three principal codes. The decisive advantage that the British had over their German counterparts was that that they were in possession of all three within four months of the war. By the end of the war, Room 40 (code-breaking unit) at the British Admiralty had eventually decoded 20,000 German naval wireless messages.

Without breaking the German codes, the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland would not have been fought. Nor, later, would the U-boats have been defeated as the British had no other way of knowing to be at the right place at the right time. Curiously enough, the Germans never doubted that their codes were compromised even though the ships of British Grand Fleet suspiciously arrived every time with greater forces whenever the ships of German High Seas Fleet went on a raiding mission.

Massie does a great job of describing all the major players of the war and among those, he does not spare Winston Churchill (who was First Lord of the British Navy in World War-I for some time) whom he describes as overzealous and often arrogant and who did not have the first-hand knowledge of naval tactics (as he was a politician, not a seaman) compared to the likes of Lord Fischer, Jellicoe and Beatty but who repeatedly put forth his own battle plans and tactics for the Grand Fleet, which often wrought disastrous results.

Churchill confiscated two Turkish battleships (which were being constructed in Britain for Turkey at the start of the war) by saying, “We could not afford to do without these two fine ships.” But when the Turkish acquired the German battle cruiser ‘Goeben’ which found a safe haven in Turkish waters while being chased by the British ships through the Mediterranean Sea, Churchill rumbled that Turkey’s behavior in the acquisition of the ‘Goeben’ (and ‘Breslau’) was “insolent,” “defiant,” and “openly fraudulent.”

Churchill’s war as The First Lord came to an end with the debacle at Dardanelles where he proposed to destroy the Turkish shore guns with the British fleet. Effective shore bombardment from the ships was considered impossible at that time. And with good reasons. The gunners of the ship could not correct their aim while firing on land for the lack of water spray which sprouts whenever a shell hits the sea water which could be used as a reference point.

So, even though Fischer opposed the attack on Dardanelles, it was proposed to land an army on Gallipoli. Hence, the front was stalemated yet again in a trench war. The Allies could not seize the ridges; the Turks could not hurl their enemies back into the sea; and the killing ground of the Western Front was reproduced at Gallipoli. The offensive eventually ended, along with Churchill’s and Fisher’s posts.

While Massie makes fun of Churchill, he praises Jellicoe as a consummate professional, calm, deliberate, and meticulous, with a thorough mastery of his ships and guns, acquired over a long career afloat and ashore.

On the other hand, Massie describes Beatty as brave, but high-strung and impatient for action. Beatty’s career had advanced in fits and starts. Brilliant performance under fire had led to rapid promotions, leapfrogging him over his contemporaries—but then he had held himself back by his own unorthodox and arrogant behavior. Moreover, Beatty had a troubled married life and also an extra marital affair, some details of which Massie describes shamelessly.

While his extra marital affair was in full swing, Beatty wrote and send some poetry to his lover, which Massie did not fail (with some glee, I suppose) to include in his book.

Here’s to you and here’s to Blighty,
I’m in pajamas, you in a nighty,
If we are feeling extra flighty,
Why in pajamas and Why the nighty?


Well, whether Beatty was the hero of Jutland or not is still debatable (Massie thinks he was not); everyone could agree that he was no poet.

The Great War was peculiar in many ways. New technology was often ridiculed. But nothing seemed more contemptible and hilarious to the oldies of Royal Navy than the submarines.

Submarines were still referred as “playthings” at the start of The Great War and some considered it “ungentlemanly” to sink a ship with a submarine as it remained hidden until the very last moment (The submarines in World War-I had to resurface in order to fire their torpedoes).

No one at the start took submarines seriously. Some of the “tactics” (I am not going to call it ASW) that Royal Navy strategists came up with to “fight” German submarines were extremely ridiculous.

Tactic 1: A few motor launches carried two swimmers, one armed with a black bag, the other with a hammer. If a periscope was sighted, the launch was to come as close as possible. The swimmers were to dive in and one man would attempt to place his black bag over the periscope; if he failed, the other would try to smash the glass with his hammer.

Tactic 2: Attempting to teach seagulls to defecate on periscopes.


My only gripe with this book is that Massie failed to mention the name of the genius who came up with the idea of teaching seagulls to defecate on periscopes.

But ridiculed as they were, U-boats did have a major impact on the war. During fifty-one months of war, German submarines sunk a total of 5,282 British, Allied, and neutral merchant ships totaling 11,153,000 tons at the cost of 178 U-boats and 511 officers and 4,576 men. Three hundred and ninety-two submarines had been built before and during the war; therefore, the loss rate was almost 50 percent. At the time of the armistice, the German navy still possessed 194 U-boats, with a further 149 under construction.

The surface boats never had such an impact on the war, although one early major victory for the British came at the Battle of the Falkland Islands where they sunk all the German ships. But that feat was never repeated.

But as this was the first war after major technological innovations, there were numerous accounts of “firsts” which might seem routine and boring to us today.

For example, The Cuxhaven Raid was history’s first aircraft-carrier-based air strike. It was also the first naval battle in which, on both sides, the striking forces were made up exclusively of aerial machines.

In Cuxhaven Raid, 150 British warships were to be employed to deliver to the German mainland exactly 81.50 pounds (weight, not the currency) of explosives. This was the combined weight of the bursting charges in the 27 bombs to be carried by the seaplanes.

As expected, hilarity ensued.

Almost simultaneously, ten miles nearer the coast, another seaplane had landed alongside the destroyer Lurcher, from which Keyes was supervising his submarines. The pilot taxied up to the destroyer, shouted that he had only five minutes’ worth of fuel remaining, and asked the direction to the carriers. Realizing that the rendezvous was too far off, Keyes invited the pilot to come on board and took the seaplane in tow.

Here’s another one.

Casting off the towline, he maneuvered so close to one of the newly arrived seaplanes that the pilot and observer were able to step directly onto the submarine’s deck; he told the two airmen in the other plane to swim to his boat.

Yes, you read that right. They actually stepped off an airplane directly onto a submarine, without even wetting their shoes. The other two were wussies, they had to swim for it.

One of the other major naval engagements of the Great War was the Battle of Dogger Bank. But as Room 40 already had the codes, the British knew Admiral Hipper was coming even before his ships left harbor. The result was that as Hipper’s ships departed, British warships were weighing anchor and heading for the Dogger Bank. Germany lost her battle cruiser ‘Blücher’ while the rest made it to port with more or less damage.

Although all these flavorless poking battles were followed enthusiastically by the people in both countries, the British were still waiting for their Nelson, whether he arrived in the form of Jellicoe or Beatty. On 31st May 1916, it seemed that the British’s Trafalgar had finally arrived at Jutland.

150 British ships were pitted against 99 of the Germans. Once again, Room 40 made it possible.

After much poking and thrusting, Britain lost 14 ships (3 battle cruisers, 3 armored cruisers, and 8 destroyers), while the German navy lost 11 (1 battle cruiser, 1 predreadnought battleship, 4 light cruisers, and 5 destroyers). British casualties were much heavier: 6,768 men were killed or wounded, while the Imperial Navy lost 3,058.

Battleships lost on either side: 0.

But the fact remained that the superior British fleet still ruled the North Sea and that was enough to cripple Germany’s international trade in the Great War.

So, although one can surmise from the figures that the Germans had an upper hand at Jutland, the status quo remained unchanged.

It was put aptly by a New York City newspaper: “The German fleet has assaulted its jailor, but it is still in jail.”

Finally the Great War ended, leaving the British relieved, the Germans chagrined but content, and the French furious.

The Germans scuttled their fleet at Scapa Flow so as not to let the victors enjoy their spoils of victory. The British were relieved as they didn't need any additional firepower and at last the second best navy in the world was totally destroyed. The Germans were content as they denied the victors their spoils. The French, on the other hand, were furious, as they were eagerly waiting to seize some excellent German ships for their own navy, but the scuttling spoiled their plans. No wonder the Versailles treaty came into being.
A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3) - George R.R. Martin Valar morghulis.

All men must die.

And if you are not a caveman (if you are and still reading this, that means you have wi-fi and that'll do), you already know that many characters die in this book, even if you haven’t read it yet.

[b:A Storm of Swords|62291|A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)|George R.R. Martin|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328414586s/62291.jpg|1164465] is hailed universally as the best book in the series (yet) and I concur. The first 500 pages of the book are slow (really slow) but nevertheless necessary as they are used to fortify the rest of the book. And that rest is awesome!

But as always, there are some boring characters in Martin’s book along with some really awesome characters that carry the whole book through.

So let us talk about the boring characters first:

Catelyn
Heh! No surprises here! You couldn’t talk about being bored while reading Westeros books and not mention “Her Boringness”, Catelyn Stark.

And tell you what, apart from being boring, she is the epitome of hypocrisy as on one hand she talks about righteousness (with being as boring as ever) while on the other, she hates Jon Snow with all her boring (naturally) heart. Yes, one could understand her reservations towards Jon with him being a bastard and all but I mean, for the sake of all that’s boring, why?! Jon has never ever wronged her! I guess she hates him just for being far more interesting than her.

And she isn’t dead yet! Make way for the most bori…. *YAWN*
Moving on…

Brandon
Oh look, I am a boy! No, I am a direwolf! I am Summer! Summer is me! I am a skinchanger! Are you bored yet?

Okay, to be fair, his later chapters are far more interesting than the ones at the start. But boy, the opening chapters took some real effort to get into.

Sansa
Sansa, you are still an annoying twerp.
“If you say so, my lord.”
Get over your whining already!
“If it please my lord.”
Nevermind.
“If you say so—

*runs away*

Arya
Okay, I am back and let me say this upfront that I like Arya. But her chapters are becoming repetitive. She is captured by someone, and then she runs away and then gets captured again and then travels with someone else then again and again and again… I would like to see some variety in her chapters now.

Samwell Tarly
Meet Samwise Gamgee umm… Samwell Tarly. The fact that he has his own chapters baffles me. I am still waiting for him to call Jon “Mr. Frodo”. Come on, do it. Do it! Just once will do.

Brienne
O this annoying birdbrain! What can I say; she has her own chapters in the next book. Yay?

Okay now let’s move towards the awesome ones:

Daenerys
Her chapters give the feel of true epicness in this book. The one where she goes to buy the Unsullied is really funny where the slave sellers don’t know that she speaks Valyrian. And the remaining chapters were pure joy to read. Daenerys for the Iron Throne!

Tyrion
O poor poor Tyrion! It’s a good thing that his crazy little nephew was poisoned. How I wish that Tyrion had done it himself. But I must admit, while I knew that Joffrey was a goner (because of Melisandre’s prediction), it came as a surprise when Tyrion killed Tywin Lannister. I am really excited to see where he goes from here.

Jaime
Tyrion has got some serious competition, at last! Kingthlayer ith a thuper character. At least, we have got something to look forward to in the next installment as Jaime Lannister is there, unlike some other interesting ones who have taken a hiatus in [b:A Feast for Crows|13497|A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)|George R.R. Martin|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1358261107s/13497.jpg|1019062].

Jon Snow
Well, all the majority of action is where Jon Snow is. So there is no need to elaborate.

Cersei
At least Cersei does not hide her feelings – be they good or evil, but mostly evil – from anyone. That’s what I like about her. I would read about Cersei anytime over Catelyn.

Davos
Davos is the most dedicated character without any ulterior motives (yet) in this series whose fate is still undecided by the end of the book. I was not sure about him in the previous book, but now I am starting to like his character.

Petyr Baelish
“Oh, Petyr, Petyr, sweet Petyr, oh oh oh. There, Petyr, there. Oh, Petyr, my precious, my precious, PEEEEEETYR!”

Littlefinger does not seem so little now, does he? With a Shyamalanesque twist (but a good one), Martin has turned the tables in the series with the character of Petyr Baelish.

All in all, an epic book. Probably the best in the series. But for me, [b:A Game of Thrones|13496|A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)|George R.R. Martin|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1369520317s/13496.jpg|1466917] will always remain special as it introduced me to the world of Westeros.

4 stars.
The Player of Games  - Iain M. Banks When someone who rarely reads science-fiction says that a particular book is light on the SF aspect which could be read by anybody (even those who don’t like SF) I always groan inwardly (Only if some of my dependable Goodreads friends who read SF regularly tell me that even though a particular SF book is light on the science aspect but it's good, I give it a try). Because for me, the "light" often means that the author is trying to hide his/her own weaker grasp of science from his/her readers.

In fact, I am currently reading one such book whose author claims that his main aim was to create memorable characters rather than concentrating on world-building. Liking his characters must be an acquired taste as I am finding his characters absolutely dull, one-dimensional and criminally forgettable, to say the least. And given the length of that particular book (more than 500 pages), the time that I have already invested in it (more than halfway through), means that I can’t really abandon it now. If I am ever going to regret my decision of reading one book in my lifetime while I am on my deathbed, that book is definitely going to be the one.

The reason why I am saying all this is because more often than not I avoid reading books which claim that although they are SF, they are more about the characters rather than the world they are set in. I believe that one needs to balance everything in order to write good SF. You cannot write good (read interesting) books by sacrificing one of their essential props for the sake of some other.

So, I am not going to say that [b:The Player of Games|18630|The Player of Games (Culture, #2)|Iain M. Banks|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1166984450s/18630.jpg|1494157] is more about its characters than other things. I would rather say that it’s a perfectly balanced work of a genius who knew what he was doing. And if it seems to us readers that despite being spare on the SF aspect, this novel is tasteful, it is because Banks prepared this dish with the right amount of ingredients.

The book follows a game player, Chiark-Gevantsa Jernau Morat Gurgeh dam Hassease (let’s just call him Jernau Gurgeh from now on) who is bored by his perfect life in the utopian Culture universe. Let’s face it, even reading about utopias isn’t exactly that exciting, so we can really sympathize with Jernau Gurgeh on that point. Even Banks realized that, so our game player is sent to contest in a game called ‘Azad’ in an imperialist world outside the Culture universe.

Hence begins an allegory which compares the two polarizing ideologies – imperialism and anarchist-socialism – with coherent arguments. Most people agree that socialism is the next step in the evolution of human civilization. But that time seems very far away (if it ever comes, that is). I have always believed that for socialism to work, first there should be an abundance of everything; from technology to basic needs such as food and shelter, which could be provided to each and every human being with proper management and without any rationing (Yes it's wishful thinking, but we are talking about utopias here). And we also need to weed-out the stringent controlling factors that socialism places on its people.

Enter anarchist-socialism. In other words, enter the Culture Universe!

Many have said that [b:The Player of Games|18630|The Player of Games (Culture, #2)|Iain M. Banks|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1166984450s/18630.jpg|1494157] is the grown-up’s version of [b:Ender's Game|375802|Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)|Orson Scott Card|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1364033163s/375802.jpg|2422333]. It’s not. It’s not about games at all. It’s about how we should be living and more than anything, it’s about how we are living right now. It’s about human empathy. Or the lack thereof, in today’s world. It’s about what we have already missed as a civilization and are going to miss in the times to come if we don’t expand our cognizance in the right direction.

This is my first [a:Iain M. Banks|5807106|Iain M. Banks|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1352410520p2/5807106.jpg] novel (surprise!), and while I am cursing myself for not reading him earlier, I do have the consolation that I won’t run out of his books to read for some foreseeable future.

It’s sad that such a genius is no longer amongst us. But I like to think that he is lounging somewhere in the real version of the Culture Universe now, despairing for our pathetic world while sipping martinis.
The Descent - Jeff Long Last month I watched two movies with my wife. 'Sanctum' and 'The Descent' (which has no relation with this book). Sure, the casting and dialogues left a lot to be desired, but in retrospection it dawned on me that it didn’t really matter in the end as the real Hero-antagonist of these movies was The Darkness itself. The Claustrophobic Depths. The Subterranean Hell.

After watching those movies, my wife told me that she would never go on a cave "exploration" adventure even if it was in reality a tourist spot with all the safety features and she would never let me go anyplace like that either. I agreed wholeheartedly and promised that the only type of caves that I would ever go “exploring” would be like Ajanta and Ellora where, you know, I wouldn’t be more than a minute away from the open skies and sunlight. 30 seconds at the most, if I ran quick enough.

I wouldn’t go in a vertical cave, never. Thank you very much. And I will bet you a trillion Zimbabwean Dollars that you wouldn’t go either. No, I am not claustrophobic. At least I am not when I am above the surface of the earth. And no, I am not unadventurous either. You want me to climb Mt. Everest with you? I am ready. Let’s go tomorrow. Maybe I will lose my toes at 2000 metres and my nose at 2001 metres and maybe I will die at 2010 metres. But at least, I will die in the open. Above surface. In the sunlight. And if it is overcast (as in England), I can at least die looking at the grey clouds. Not the bloody darkness. (Real Fact: Ever wondered why the British don’t worship the Sun? It is because it is a relatively new discovery for them. They saw it the first time when the East India Company came to India. Only after 1947 when the sun began to shine for 10 minutes once in a week in the UK, they left.)

Okay then. Now about this book. It really lives up to its name. I have to give it that much. The Descent. The first chapter is excellent. But then the quality keeps descending unflaggingly right till the end. But my extreme fear of all things subterranean kept me going. Jeff Long’s writing style is choppy at the best. So much so that I had to read certain sentences twice just to comprehend what the hell was happening and who was talking to whom. The book started off as science fiction (much to my delight), but by the middle it drifted off towards science-fantasy and by the end it became pure fantasy. It clearly didn't know where it wanted to go. But who am I to blame it? Because in the deep, one can't possibly see.

Anywho, I had high hopes. And while it didn’t totally disappoint, it didn’t impress tremendously either.

So, an in-between 3 stars.
The Secret Speech - Tom Rob Smith No sophomore slump for [a:Tom Rob Smith|981834|Tom Rob Smith|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1254868572p2/981834.jpg]. [b:The Secret Speech|6045456|The Secret Speech (Leo Demidov, #2)|Tom Rob Smith|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344268628s/6045456.jpg|6221043] is better than [b:Child 44|2161733|Child 44 (Leo Demidov, #1)|Tom Rob Smith|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1326549060s/2161733.jpg|2167258].

“The Secret Speech” continues from where “Child 44” left off. Leo and Raisa are living with their two adopted girls, Zoya and Elena. But Zoya hates Leo for killing her parents and is seeking revenge. Meanwhile, Leo and Raisa are desperately trying to hold their family together.

While the troubles are brewing in the mismatched family, a new character, Fraera, yet another ghost from Leo’s guilt laden past comes back to haunt him. Her retaliatory actions would compel Leo to face the hardships of a transit ship (the infamous Gulag death ships), freezing hells of the Siberian Gulags and finally would plunge him and Raisa into the centre of a people’s uprising against their oppressive Communist rulers.

While “Child 44” suffered from the want of a more tightly woven plot, “The Secret Speech” more than delivers on that front. Initially, the plot seemed a bit far-fetched and unconvincing to me, but Smith wraps it all up quiet nicely in the end. Although this book is written in the same style as “Child 44”, the prose seems much refined here than in the previous book.

It’s a good sign that Tom Rob Smith seems to be improving as an author but I am not sure if a third book was required in the series as even the sub-plots from the first book are nicely wrapped up by the end of “The Secret Speech”. So, even though I liked the first two books, I am not sure whether I would read [b:Agent 6|8501590|Agent 6 (Leo Demidov, #3)|Tom Rob Smith|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1344266248s/8501590.jpg|13367518] or not. Maybe it’s time for Smith to write a new book with different characters now. Leave Leo alone.

But as far as “The Secret Speech” is concerned, I highly recommend that you read it.
Lucifer's Hammer - Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle


























The White Mountains - John Christopher After being immensely impressed by [b:The Death of Grass|941731|The Death of Grass|John Christopher|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309962069s/941731.jpg|797220] by [a:John Christopher|2001324|John Christopher|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1223822566p2/2001324.jpg], I decided to start his "Tripods" series right away.

Although the primary target for this series are the readers in the young-adult category, it is so unlike today's young-adult books where the post-apocalyptic/dystopian scenario just serves as an inconsequential and poorly developed background for a cheesy romance between hormonally charged teens.

[b:The White Mountains|64316|The White Mountains (The Tripods, #1)|John Christopher|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1369086102s/64316.jpg|197262] introduces us to the thirteen year old teen protagonist, Will, and we follow him on his journey towards the White Mountains which is considered the only safe haven as well as the only resistance against the Tripods.

The book is short, dedicated to its plot and leaves the reader with a promise of something even more exciting, action-packed and grand in the succeeding books of the series.

I would definitely read the remaining two books - [b:The City of Gold and Lead|64338|The City of Gold and Lead (The Tripods, #2)|John Christopher|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327902243s/64338.jpg|62458] and [b:The Pool of Fire|80491|The Pool of Fire (The Tripods, #3)|John Christopher|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1326326563s/80491.jpg|1042354] - as well as the prequel [b:When the Tripods Came|80493|When the Tripods Came (The Tripods, #0)|John Christopher|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1346502919s/80493.jpg|98287] in near future.