December 6, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo - Steig Larsson

This story has it all: suspense, thrills, espionage, romance and a murder mystery. Steig Larsson has writes a brilliant story about the duo Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Mikael is a disgraced journalist who is trying to get back at an industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. He is employed by Henrik Vanger, the ex-CEO of the Vanger empire, to solve a 36 year old murder of his neice Harriet Vanger.

The story twists and turns around the many members of the Vanger familu such as Martin, Cecelia, Gottfried, Isabela, Anita and Harald, among others. The mystery is on the island of Hedeby where most of the Vanger family live. Lisbeth is an extremly gifted girl and Mikael is a investigative journalist with unconventional problem-solving skills. Lisbeth and Mikael join forces to unravel the myster that surrounds Harriet. The story starts off slow, but it picks pace very quickly. Pretty soon it ends up being a page-turner.

The original title was in Swedish and we see some Swedish words such as Glögg
(a type of wine), Kronor (Swedish currency) etc. This gives it a nice international feel to it.

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Life of Pi won the 2002 Booker Prize. This is a simple book with a very interesting story about Piscine Patel, a.k.a Pi. The book starts of with Pi's childhood in Pondicherry, India. His father is the owner of a zoo and Pi describes the exotic animals. He draws a lot of similarities between animal and human behavior. Pi discusses a lot of philosophical points. For example, he argues that the animals in a zoo are content with their private spaces and regular food as opposes to fending for themselves in the jungle.

The story becomes really interesting when the family decides to emigrate to Canada. Around this time the story takes a turn in such a way that he ends up on a lifeboat with a tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He manages to survive and live harmoniously with the tiger. Its a story of despair, hope, survival and triumph. In the end we realize that the human mind works in strange ways.

October 18, 2010

The Big Short - Michael Lewis

The subprime crisis of 2008 through the eyes of successful hedge fund managers. This books has a timeline of about 2005 - 2010. It weaves through the origin of the subprime mortgages and the events that lead to the eventual financial collapse. The author does a great job of conveying the events in the form of a fast-paced novel.

The author explains financial terms in a very simple manner and shows how major banks and Wall Street manipulate them. It gives a glimpse into the system from the eyes of hedge fund managers such as Steve Eisman, Michael Burry and others. The author points out that some financial instruments can be made so complex, that even the best minds would not be able to perceive the actual risks. He points out the basic flaws in assumptions by many firms. He describes how major banks, rating agencies and the government acted and reacted to the unprecedented events.

October 17, 2010

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

Dan Brown takes us on another trip with lessons on Symbols and Architecture. He does a good job of combining facts and fiction as in his earlier books such as Angels & Demons (Illuminati). He discusses groups such as the Priori of Scion and the Knights Templar in The Da Vinci Code. In this book he focuses on Freemasons and their secrets.

In typical Dan Brown style, the book is fast paced with conspiracy theories. He discusses Noetic Science and its implications. One of his characters, Katherine Solomon, is a scientist in this field with research on human thought affecting the physical world around us. 

The book starts with Peter Solomon, a Freemason and friend, being kidnapped. The protagonist, Robert Langdon, is faced with symbols and puzzles that he needs to solve. The story progresses with a lot of twists and turns. While some of the things turn out anti-climatic, others have unexpected twists. Either way it keeps you glued to the book.

This time he is accompanied by Inoue Sato to stop Mal'akh, the antagonist, from doing harm. 

October 3, 2010

Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

These are the Fairy Tales and Short Stories by the author of 'The Emperor's New Clothes'.

'The Angel' is a moving story of a young child who is carried to God in the arms of a angel. On the way to heaven they visit the places the child loves and carries the flowers he likes. There is a special flower that had kept the company of a sick little boy. That flower is taken to heaven and the Almighty kisses it and gives it  a voice.

'A Story' is a nice philosophical story which describes God's mercy. It changes the views of a pastor who thinks that all men are wicked and that they will suffer.

These and the other stories are available for free courtesy of Project Gutenberg :

The Firelight Fairy Book - Henry Beston

This book has very imaginative and charming short Fairy Tales. Prince Sneeze is the story of a price who has a curse that something bad will happen every time he sneezes. Marianna is the story of the magical adventures of a young girl. The Enchanted Elm is the story of a prince who is turned into a tree. This story reminds you of the walking and talking trees in the Lorg Of the Rings.

'The Lost Half-hour' is the story of a simpleton who goes in search of a lost half hour. Along the way he also looks for a Knight's lost temper and an old man's lost reputation. He ends up working for Father time and his sons: the hours of the day.

These and the other stories are available for free courtesy of Project Gutenberg :

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

Saleem Sinai is the protagonist with supernatural powers. He was born at the stroke of midnight of India's independence. In this story they are hundreds of children born at this magical hour. Each with a gift. The children born closer to the stroke of midnight have more powerful gifts. Shiva is Saleem's nemesis who was also born at the stroke of midnight.

Saleem has the power to read peoples thoughts and smell peoples emotions. Shiva has the gift of War. Parvati had this gift of sorcery. In all there are 420 of these Midnight's Children with spectacular gifts.

The story starts with Saleem's grandfather Adam Aziz and weaves through the history of India during that time. The author takes a very unique look at peoples thoughts through a 'child's eye'. He gives a stunning lesson of the history of India's formative years. He gives a picture of how Mumbai was created, how India came together as a country. He describes the partition eloquently and gives a perspective from both sides of the Border.

He intertwines the magical gifts with the actions of Indira and Sanjay Gandhi. He gives a beautiful description of various location such as the mangrove forest of Sundarbans.

Ironically his son is born at the stroke of Midnight when Emergency is proclaimed in India. His son is born with large ears and implied to have supernatural hearing. Towards the end Saleem predicts 1001 generations of such children.

This is a very unique book that mixes magic and history. Be patient with this book as it is long and divided into three books. Saleem and the band of Midnight's Children do not come till much later in the book. This book will reward your patience with a rich picture of human emotions and the emotions of Nations.