Sunday, October 19, 2014
There is no way an unschooled, 18-year-old orphan who works as a waiter could win the top prize on Who Will Win a Billion, Mumbai’s popular quiz show.
Ram Mohammad Thomas is such a person, and he’s won, answering all twelve questions correctly. But now, not long after the show has been taped, Ram has been arrested. The show’s producers are convinced it is impossible for him to win. He’s cheated, somehow. Only a mysterious lawyer, who Ram has never seen before, comes to his rescue. Ram tells her all about his life, how the experiences he’s had have given him the answers to the quiz’s questions. Life and a fair amount of luck have turned a penniless waiter into India’s first top prize-winner.
But will he be able to keep his winnings?
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://www.vikasswarup.net/
I have been arrested. For winning a quiz show…
Vikas Swarup’s spectacular debut novel opens in a jail cell in Mumbai, India, where Ram Mohammad Thomas is being held after correctly answering all twelve questions on India’s biggest quiz show, Who Will Win a Billion? It is hard to believe that a poor orphan who has never read a newspaper or gone to school could win such a contest. But through a series of exhilarating tales Ram explains to his lawyer how episodes in his life gave him the answer to each question.
Ram takes us on an amazing review of his own history — from the day he was found as a baby in the clothes donation box of a Delhi church to his employment by a faded Bollywood star to his adventure with a security-crazed Australian army colonel to his career as an overly creative tour guide at the Taj Mahal.
Surely we all remember Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Imagine what you could do with that money. In the wake of Millionaire, Mumbai has brought on W3B, their own show with an even larger prize, one billion rupees. It was so easy to get behind players in Millionaire, to be amazed at the random knowledge in the contestants’ heads and see if they knew enough odd facts to get them the top prize. It’s the same with W3B. The questions are random, and it doesn’t exactly take formal schooling to know some of this trivia. Following in Ram’s life in a modern world, seeing how experience is its own form of education, is an amazing journey.
I listened to Slumdog Millionaire through Audible. It’s an experience well worth the time. Swarup’s writing style is very easy to listen to and follow, and the chapter breakdown— being question by question (1,000 Rupees; 10,000 Rupees; etc.)— is perfect for how the story is told. The chapter format has Ram telling the part of his life that gave him the answer to the quiz question, but you don’t actually get a glimpse of the quiz show— or learn what the question actually was— until he’s done telling his story. This was brilliant. By the time I was up to the second question, I was pondering each story of Ram’s life, trying to guess what the trivia question might end up being based on what I was hearing. I was wrong almost every time, but it wasn’t upsetting. This, to me, was a huge bonus point to the author. I was completely drawn in, and as much as I thought the show itself would be the most intriguing part of the story for me, it wasn’t. Ram’s life was a wonder, the telling was exciting while not being overly complicated, and I was hooked. Just the style of Ram’s voice, when he’s telling his past, is straightforward and clear. Even though his life jumps around with each question, I never really lost track of the timeline itself. It was masterfully done.
Slumdog Millionaire is a quick read (the Audible recording is just over ten hours) and if I’d been actually reading it, I think it’s one that I would have been frustrated having to put down. As it was, I listened to it in its entirety in a single day at work. I usually listen at double speed, but I start at normal speed just to make sure I can follow everything well. The fact that the story is set in India, a place I’ve never been, with a culture I’m only minutely familiar with, I didn’t feel lost. I was swept away. No, I don’t think I could go there and make sense of anything, but for the time I spent there with Ram, I belonged in that world. What culture shock I had was surprisingly unimportant. I suppose you could argue that the story could happen anywhere, but I honestly think the setting was perfect for the tale Swarup was telling. I honestly cannot imagine this story set in America.
There is so much tying Ram’s past to his present life during and after the taping of the show, that I have to give great commendation to the author. Swarup left no loose ends, even wrapping up one that I hadn’t really thought of as being a loose end. He brings characters you think are somewhat inconsequential, or ones that walk into and out of Ram’s life, back into his adult life from his childhood in ways that are both surprising and satisfying. The questions for the quiz are great, and seeing the behind the scenes filming of the quiz show was enough to make me giddy while still making me hate the show’s producers for how they look down on Ram. Swarup has created an amazing character with a huge heart, one that you cannot help but sympathize with, even when he makes wrong or poor decisions. It’s easy to understand Ram without having to be dragged through his every thought process. On the whole, this is just an amazing, well thought-out novel that is pulled off well in the writing.
Would I Recommend This Book? Most definitely! It’s a highly engrossing read that will get you involved very quickly, and it is not a particularly hefty book. It’s just long enough for what it wants to say, and believe me, it has plenty to say. There’s so much fun in the book, especially when you get to the quiz questions. It’s almost like having a study guide, trying to see if you paid enough attention to Ram’s life to know the answers before he gives his answer. Or, like me, to guess what the question might be before it’s read. I give Slumdog Millionaire a rupee-winning 5 out of 5 stars.
For more on the author, visit http://www.vikasswarup.net/
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Arames Kragen is trying to use the mountain pass controlled by the Avedon family. Unfortunately, the pass has been closed due to a recent murder in the town of Avedon Hill. Arames will only be able to earn passage if the murderer is found. Most of the townspeople are convinced Greta Platt was killed by a vampire. Arames thinks differently. Will he be able to solve the murder in time to get to the conference he’s traveling to? And more importantly, will he and the other townspeople survive, or is the murderer ready to strike again?
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://podiobooks.com/title/murder-at-avedon-hill/
Lord Avedon has a problem. Generations of Avedons have watched over Avedon Hill and controlled the only pass through the Lantis Mountains. Traditions are important to the Avedon family, but one tradition has tragically come to an end. Gretta Platt, Housemistress of Avedon Manor, has been murdered. A member of the Platt family has always served the Avedons as Housemistress. until now. Only a handful of people live at Avedon Hill, and most are suspects. Arames Kragen, retired Aarronic Advisor and scholar of prophecy, arrives at the gates of Avedon Hill, hoping to gain access to the mountain pass. Lord Avedon is not in a giving mood, however.
This is the story of Arames Kragen and his attempt not only to discover who killed Gretta Platt, but also to uncover the truth about a town that apparently has more secrets than inhabitants.
The Land of Caern: It is a world where the gods, the Children of Az, can choose to be born as mortals to directly affect events in the world, and often do. It is a world where the Priests of Caern frantically search for the mortal incarnations of any of the Children, in order prevent the Prophecies of Iberian from coming to pass.
As you probably know, I’m a big fantasy fan. Murder at Avedon Hill is an amazing introduction to the land of Caern… a land filled with things I hadn’t expected. I was looking forward to a fairly standard fantasy world— European-ish, tradesmen and nobles, that sort of thing. I’ve been through a few mysteries and was eager to see how Holyfield melded the two genres.
I hadn’t expected the supernatural to come and play in Avedon Hill. But vampires and moonbeasts (lycanthrope-type creatures) make their appearances, and I was thrilled. This isn’t a simple whodunit mystery. This is a no-holds-barred mixed up alibis-and-mystic-quests, interrogate-and-question again and again novel that really brings out the best of a mystery plot. Couple that with there not always being a simple answer, thanks to the supernatural coming into play (not to mention a bunch of gods who have their own designs on the world) and you’ve got a great mix of world and wonder.
I listened to Murder at Avedon Hill through podiobooks.com. This was a wonderful way to experience the novel. I do feel like it would be just as good an experience (maybe even a better one) if just plain read in print or ebook. There are a lot of small details about this different world that I think would be easier absorbed through print rather than audio. Still, this was a great experience and a wonderful mystery. Arames and his student Arrin go through their investigation with such perfect methodology, but there is also the side quest to just get started, and other questions to be answered along the way. There’s much to chew on for the traditional fantasy fan, but the mystery reader won’t be disappointed, either.
I was pulled into Murder at Avedon Hill from word one. Holyfield’s characters are true to their own personalities and natures from start to finish. His dialogue is very real, although I do think Arames tended to say, “Just one more question,” a few too many times. But that could just be his nature, and if so, he was definitely true to that. There’s plenty to uncover in Avedon Hill, and the growth of the more prominent characters is admirable. Holyfield manages to subtly take away layers of details to reveal more and more intrigue in this little town. As a whole, it is beautifully done.
For the audio, a great cast lined up to voice the characters themselves. That definitely helped with the audio version. Even though the cast isn’t huge, the separate voices really made a difference for me in keeping track of who was who and what their stories and alibis were. I’ll admit, there was one character toward the end that came sort of out of left field for me, but I think I can chalk that up to my own overlooking him rather than it being a failing in the audio or the writing. I got a few of the very minor characters mixed up, but it didn’t really detract too much from my enjoying of the end of the novel.
Would I Recommend This Book? I absolutely would! This is a great novel for the fantasy or mystery fan. If you like either, give it a shot, and if you like both genres, well this is the book for you. The mystery is solid, the characters are a real community, and the outsiders (Arames and Arrin) definitely do not fit in, which builds some great tension. I give Murder at Avedon Hill a secretive 4 of 5 stars.
Before I go into the author’s website, I do want to make a mention. Sadly, P.G. Holyfield recently lost a battle with an aggressive and inoperable form of cancer. He is sorely missed. Please, if you read and enjoy his work, consider helping his family with a donation to help cover medical costs and provide for the children he’s left behind. Since Murder at Avedon Hill and much of his other material can be downloaded for free, this would be a wonderful way to show your appreciation. You can make donations through podiobooks.com or his GoFundMe page at http://www.gofundme.com/pgfund
For more on the author, visit http://www.pgholyfield.com/maah/
Saturday, October 4, 2014
Everyone in town knows Owen Meany. If not for his stature, then definitely for his voice. Owen’s voice is not only “broken”, but powerful. He’s highly opinionated, very present wherever he is, and he has, quite possibly, the strongest faith of anyone in New Hampshire, if not in the entire USA.
Johnny is Owen’s best friend. Johnny may be one of the most faithless people in town. But through his best friend’s unwavering belief that he is an instrument of God and his unquestioning faith that everything has a purpose, Johnny is about to find his own belief in God. And in Owen Meany.
That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://john-irving.com/
“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he was the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”
In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy’s mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn’t believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary and terrifying.
If I were to compare A Prayer for Owen Meany to any other story, it would probably be that of Forrest Gump. There’s a passage of time that just makes sense in the story, and seeing how Johnny, Owen, and the people around them pass through the years is very well done. The war in Vietnam takes a prominent role in some portions of the narrative, but it’s a world even that plays in the background of the beginning of Johnny’s adult life. As the narrative goes on, we see Johnny retelling the story as an adult in his forties, putting us in the late eighties when the story is actually being recounted. If a little before my time, it’s still a very poignant story for anyone with even the most basic sense of history. I am FAR from a history fanatic, but I gained an appreciation for at least the time Johnny and Owen grew up in that I didn’t have before. This book is not going to make me a historian. I have, as Johnny says a few times, no historical sense.
The faith is another thing entirely. I wouldn’t honestly put the word “preachy” on this book or even on Owen himself. He’s devout, yes. Opinionated, yes. Pushy at times, yes. But he doesn’t expect everyone to hold to his own beliefs the way someone who is “preachy” would. It’s hypocrisy that grates on him. False faith. And that, I think, is the real underlying issue with faith addressed here.
I’m not a memoir reader. The only thing I’ve ever read that is considered a memoir is On Writing by Stephen King. After that, the closest thing is The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. A Prayer for Owen Meany is a blend of novel and memoir that I appreciate. If memoirs are generally presented this way, I can definitely see the draw of them. There is a lot to this novel that makes it difficult to remember that it is a fictional story and not a true one. For that, I commend John Irving.
I picked up this book in part because I’m familiar with (and in fact a fan of) the movie based on it, Simon Birch.
Wow, are they two very different animals. The message is the same. Many of the key points are the same. But, as is true with nearly all book-to-screen adaptations, the book traverses a whole few extra dimensions the movie simply cannot touch on. I can’t go as far to say that Simon Birch ruined A Prayer for Owen Meany for me, or that now finally listening to the book ruined the movie for me. They are each something to be appreciated for their own merits. The differences are so drastic that it’s… not unrecognizable as the same story, but at least so different that it’s like comparing an apple to a pear. They’re very similar, yes, and one may be descended from the other, but one is so transformed that they’re just not easily compared anymore.
I love Simon Birch. I loved A Prayer for Owen Meany. They are two very different experiences, and both worth having.
Would I Recommend This Book? Very much so. Whether or not you’ve seen Simon Birch, I’d recommend this book. While sometimes a little meandering (not much, but a little) the narrative in A Prayer for Owen Meany is highly interesting, full, and damn does Irving know how to pull threads back together at the end and give everything a purpose. I give A Prayer for Owen Meany an under-3-second 5 out of 5 stars.
For more on the author, visit http://john-irving.com/