Apr 30, 2017

Vindolanda - Book Review

While browsing Net galley for historical fiction books, first I skipped "Vindolanda" second time the name of the author Adrian Goldsworthy made me to stop and requested for a copy. Some of his works include The Complete Roman Army, Caesar: The Life of a Colossus, In the Name of Rome: The Men who won the Roman Empire and Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor, which are in my reading list.

Image ownership: Photograph D.Woolliscroft, © Vindolanda Trust

Tablet for the birthday invitation (From www.csad.ox.ac.uk)

The author has mentioned in the end of the story that a wooden tablet, a birthday invitation written by Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina is the inspiration for the novel.

I provide the image and the translation of the wooden tablet from vindolanda.csad.ox.ac.uk website.

"Claudia Severa to her Lepidina greetings. On 11 September, sister, for the day of the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure that you come to us, to make the day more enjoyable for me by your arrival, if you are present (?). Give my greetings to your Cerialis. My Aelius and my little son send him (?) their greetings. (2nd hand) I shall expect you, sister. Farewell, sister, my dearest soul, as I hope to prosper, and hail. (Back, 1st hand) To Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of Cerialis, from Severa." 

The story takes place in AD 98, Britain under the rule of Rome. The place Vindolanda, modern name Chesterholm. Vindex, a noble warrior of the Carvetti and the leader of their scouts informs Titus Flavius Ferox, centurio regionarius, seconded from Legio II Augusta (Prince of Silures) about the warring tribes plundering forts. Ferox with a small army reaches in time and saves a woman named Sulpicia Lepidina wife of Prefect Flavius Cerialis the new commander of the Ninth Batavians.  Subsequently they safely takes her to Cerialis and Tribune Crispinus. Though the attack appears to be a cattle raid by the tribes Ferox had doubts.

Tribune Crispinus and Ferox undertakes journey to meet the tribes and get their goodwill and support for their new emperor Trajan. Most of the tribes showed their loyalty but Ferox was not sure about Tincommius – Land of the High King who is an intelligent leader. During the feast arranged by Tincommius one priest Stallion attends lately and criticizes the Romans. With rage Stallion tries to kill the Romans and Tincommius interferes.

Ferox and Vindex leave early and reaches Vindolanda and comes to know that Stallion and his men have kidnapped and killed a lady who they taught of royal birth. While Tribune and their army reaches Vindolanda the rebel tribes under Stallion's speech have taken their weapon to fight against the Romans. Thousands of men against 100s of Roman army.

Did Ferox  plan worked? Who is behind Stallion? Did Tincommius who had collected vast amount of weapons sided with Rome or Stallion? all of these questions are answered in last chapter.

The author has mentioned that he took more freedom and did his best to reconstruct the story for the purposes in a way that the story never conflicts with any hard evidence found in the excavation of Vindolanda. Adrian has given a detailed account of the equipments of the Roman army, its organisation, its command structures, the tactics it employed, the ranks and routines involved.

All these days while reading the book I was with Ferox and Vindex traveling through the mountains of northern frontier of Britannia, the description of the land, the weather, the people and their customs made me feel as I was transported back to 1st century AD.

With vivid description of battle scenes like men yelling, swords striking the mail armour, hacking and stabbing, shields pounding on shields, sounds of swords striking over the flesh and bone, I felt I was actually taking part in the battle and looking at the horrors. I think the author narration has filled around 50 or so pages on the battle alone.

Those who like Roman history and historical fiction should never miss this book.

I like to quote some lines from the novel:

Do not waste rage. Nurture it, cherish it and use the strength it gives. Hot anger gets a man killed. Cold anger will put the other man in the earth.

Augustus described, fighting a needless war is like a man fishing with a golden hook, where no possible gain justified the risk.

A prophet cannot survive when his miracle fails.

Apr 20, 2017

Continuity of the Parks - Review

It is a short story written by Julio Cortázar Descotte, an Argentine Author. The story has three characters one is the reader, second is the man and third the woman. 
A man (the reader) picks up the novel he had started reading couple of days back. As he is a busy, he finishes all his business matters and settles in his favourite green armchair which faces an oak tree park and he immerse in the novel. The story in the novel, a woman arrives first then a man who is passionate and also emotional comes next to meet her, his face cut by the backlash of a branch. She kisses the blood stained face but he rebuff her caresses and they have lustful panting dialogues. They part ways, the woman going north and the man with a knife going south, he traces the avenue of trees and comes to the house of the woman's husband. As planned he crosses the hall, gets up the stairs, he enters the first room and second room which are empty and finds a door to the salon, he sees her husband reading the novel sitting in the green armchair. The story ends. 

Representation of the short story in image

Above image of uroboros, a snake eating itself, having no beginning and no end, Julio Cortázar has a vivid imagination and wonderful use of words, he masterfully blends the reality and fiction. The reality is the reader, the story in the novel which he reads is fiction and inside the story two fictional characters the man and the woman who plans to kills her husband who is sitting in the green armchair. Amazing talent in using words, the author makes us to miss the significant part of changing the track from reality to fiction. 

We imagine that the fictional tale and the reader who is reading the novel are connected as the author has used the green armchair and oak tree park with fictional man possessing a knife coming to murder the person sitting in the green armchair which is overlooking trees.

So beautifully written, on the first read I cannot understand and little bit confused after reading for the second and third time I was able to comprehend the tale.

Apr 18, 2017

Passenger 19 - Book Review

I received a copy from Ocean View Publishing via Net galley and I have to thank them for giving me an opportunity to read and review such a wonderful piece of work of Ward Larsen.

A small regional jet, an ARJ-35, with registration number HK-55H  carrying 21 passengers and 3 crew members disappears over Southern Colombia, Jammer Davis an aircraft accident investigator was sent in by NTSB, with information that her daughter Jen Davis was also on board. 

Initially no wreckage was found and through satellite search they were able to pinpoint the debris. The passengers and crew members were all dead except two girls from the manifest. Though the accident looked like a hijack something was missing for Davis, his conclusion that the plane is not hijacked is ridiculed by the team. 

Did Davis finds out what is the reason behind the hijack drama? Who is Passenger 19 and why it is kept secret? What it has to do with his daughter? The duration of the story is 5 days of search by a desperate father to find his only daughter, Passenger 19 is breathtaking, page turner, suspense thriller with lot of twists. 

Apr 15, 2017

Superman: Action Comics, Volume 2: Welcome to the Planet - Review

“Look--down there on the ground! It's a guy, he's kinda ordinary...it's--Clark Kent?! As Metropolis recovers from the devastating attack of Doomsday, the mysterious figure claiming to be Clark Kent takes the spotlight to clear his name and prove once and for all that Clark Kent is not Superman!”

I have to thank Netgalley and DC Entertainment for giving me an opportunity to read this graphic novel.

In Volume 2, the story takes place after the epic battle of Superman with Doomsday. Superman is killed, before that the world comes to know that Clark Kent and Superman are same person. Now Clark Kent with fractured left hand comes to Daily Planet to finish his investigation on Geneticron, later Clark was thrown out of the building and Superman! saves him. Both know they are not who they are. Superman takes Clark to Fortress of Solitude and tests him, the result was unexpected and the mystery deepens.


Superman is seen married to Lois and having a kid named Jon, trying their best to adapt to their new world.

This graphic novel revolves around the lives of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Lois been dead! and another Lois taking her place and trying to finish the book on Superman.


The story is not conclusive but it has its fair share of mystery and twists which will surely engage us. The art work is good, written by Dan Jurgens and pencils by Tom Grummett for That which you manifest is before you, Patch Zircher for Superman meets Clark Kent Part I & II, Stephen Segovia in Lois Lane Back at the Planet Part I & II. Especillay I liked the face of Superman been peeled which I have uploaded above.

Apr 11, 2017

Semmaari - Book Review

I had won the "Siliconpuram" book giveaway of this author previously and I had reviewed it in goodreads.com. In March I received a message from Samura the author, that I have been sent one paperback copy of Semmaari. I thanked him for his generosity.

One week back I received the copy before its launch date. The cover has the image of a sheep with the title "Semmaari" and a tag line Sheep with sixth sense. I cannot grasp, what connection it holds with a historical fictional story? That was my fault.

The book is 294 pages which can be read in one sitting but it took me 3 days to complete and was awestruck by the plot used by the author. Never before I had come across such a story in Tamil.

The story starts with an old guide Desigar narrating the story to the author and his family. There are two countries one is Suriyanadu and another is Chandranadu. The later is a small kingdom ruled by Puthirasekaran and like his father he is obsessed with architecture, he wanted to create a beauty in stones. He arranges Sadayuthar the chief stone architect and his assistant Nagalan to commence the work. The progress was fast, Sadayuthar men force is supervised by Kodari (Axe) from the name y0u can guess he is one of the adversary of the story. Then comes the hero of the novel "Semmaari" a Shepard and a simpleton from a downtrodden community.

While the architects are free they use to play "Aadu Puli Aatam" (Tiger & Sheep/Lambs and Tigers game) Semmaari wants to learn the game but was ignored due to his community status. He observes the game hiding from a tree. One such day Nagalan feeling lonely and bored asks Semmaari to play with him. He teaches the basics of the game to Semmaari. The game is dominated when played with Tiger piece but Semmaari was most talented when he plays with sheep pieces. Subsequently he meets his love Nathiyazh (Nathi – River, Yazh – stringed musical instrument) (what a lovely name)

As Semmaari is from a nomadic tribe they plan to shift but destiny has another plan. The Tiger and Sheep game becomes a contest between a stranger Guhan and Nagalan. While the contest goes on Nagalan playing with sheep pieces was nearing defeat and he asks someone to fetch Semmaari for assistance. Without the knowledge of the contest Semmaari helps Nagalan to win the game after the game as per the contest rule Guhan's right hand was severed by Kodari. This is the twist of the story as Guhan is none other than the Commander of Suriyanadu.

The next day Sadayuthar congratulates on Semmaari's victory while they were celebrating, Guhan comes back with a mighty army and kills everyone even the sheeps of Semmaari is not spared. Somehow Semmaari and his remaining family members, Nathiyazh and Nagalan escapes from the attack.

When Guhan's plan to arrest Nagalan the architect and his plan to avenge Kodari (for loss of his limb) and Semmaari (defeated in the game and as well his dignity)  fails miserably he asks the King Puthirasekaran to kill Kodari and Semmaari for him. Kodari who stays in a remote cave with his friends, hints upon a plan to kill Semmaari and thereby he might get mercy from his king and Guhan.

Semmaari comes to know that he has been targeted by three opponents King Puthirasekaran, Guhan and Kodari. He was running in despair along with his family and sheeps. He has no weapon to defend suddenly he understands that he is literally playing the Tiger and Sheep game and he uses the game techniques to outwit the three adversaries (3 tigers). How it is done? That shows the unique and intelligent story telling talent of Samura.

The characters are not complex they are simple and very much engaging and we can relate them to our day to day life. Each character has a unique feature and the author has blended them perfectly. Everything he narrates in the story are all related in one way or another.

After the climax the author goes into subtlety like the three different techniques Semmaari uses, the people involved in every plan, the use of five elements etc. are worth mentioning.

I very much enjoyed reading the book and I could have lifted the author if he was present before me.

Apr 8, 2017

Trained To Kill - Book Review

"Antonio Carlos Veciana Blanch is an accountant by training, a banker and a businessman by trade. Some call him a patriot, some call him a terrorist. Only one knew that he is a spy, with a single mission to destroy Castro."

Thanks to Net galley and
Skyhorse Publishing for giving me an opportunity to read and review this fantastic book.

The book is an account of an 88 year old Cuban exile Antonio Veciana with his CIA handler Maurice Bishop. During the Cuban revolution he was working as an accountant to a wealthy man, Julio Lobo, and Veciana was also the head of the Accountant Association. Like others he also hated the reign of Fulgencio Batista. On 1st January 1959 Batista was replaced by the revolutionist Fidel Castro. But Veciana hated Fidel as he will rule as a dictator.

Later his assumptions of Fidel does not falter and he voiced against him. A CIA, Maurice Bishop also known as David Atlee Phillips comes to his office and gives an opportunity to work for anti Fidel Castro activities. Maurice trains him and makes him his covert field operative.
The author

Under Maurice direction Veciana destructs public confidence on Castro by spreading rumours and leaking fake government drafts such as Monetary control and parental right laws. He used men with incendiary bombs to destroy many tobacco fields and industries there by crippling Cuba's economy. 

David Atlee Phillips (Maurice Bishop) the CIA handler of Antonio Veciana

After failure of Bay of Pigs invasion, Maurice gives a solution to kill Castro. Veciana with his Mother-in-law takes up an apartment opposite government plaza where Castro and Dorticos will meet. His choice of weapon to kill Castro is a bazooka, its 3.5 inch warhead could pierce a three inch armour plate. Before the mission is accomplished as planned he has to take his mother in law and land in US. He reaches the US coast and was waiting for the news of Castro's death but the mission was a failure.

Then he stays in US, he finds Alpha 66 and becomes the Chief and principal fund raiser, Alpha 66 turned out to be most active group which became a headache to Castro's reign.

Under Maurice instructions he takes up the job of banking advisor to Central Bank of Bolivia, he lived with his family and rubbed shoulders with high ranking members. This time his task is to kill the legend of Che. He tried his best by making arrangements to hand Congo Diary of Che to Castro for publication, he thought that the book will give the feeling that Che's chronicles are a debacle. But the legend continued to grow and inspired many. From Veciana's view point apart from Che's daring, simple and disciplined life, he saw confirmation of Che's failure.

During 1971 Veciana got another big opportunity to assassinate Castro, as he had planned to pay a visit to Chile which is under the rule of Salvador Allende. The weapon of choice had to be small enough to fit inside a fully operational television camera, to remain hidden until the assassins were close enough, and to fire one or more shots, point blank, into Fidel's throat and head. He selects three persons for the job but luck favoured Fidel. When this attempt failed he returned to US and fell from the patronage of Maurice Bishop, and he was paid $230,000 for his service on anti Castro activities.

Some years later he was thrown into prison on the charges of supplying narcotics which he denied. Later he told the United States House Selection committee on Assassination that he met Maurice with Lee Harvey Oswald couple of weeks before assassination of JFK. He was ambushed on the way back to home but he survived a bullet wound. He was sure Bishop is David Atlee Phillips. Veciana says that he regretted his political life.

The book gives much information on how CIA recruits people, different kind of code language and how secret meetings takes place.

Apr 3, 2017

The Murdered Messiah Book Review

The Murdered Messiah is an alternate history on the life of Jesus Christ, written by Len Lamensdorf, who undertook 30 years of research to produce this fast paced, fantastic historical novel.

The author throws several questions to us before we venture into the novel.
1. Did Jesus think he was a Messiah?
2. Must the Messiah be a king?
3. A warrior? A priest? A prophet? All of the above?
4. Who did Jesus believe himself to be and how did he conceive his earthly mission?
5. Why would a man whose entry into Jerusalem at Passover was a triumph be suddenly and mysteriously murdered by the Romans?

The novel starts in the present day, Yossi comes to know that the secret scroll is stolen from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and later he finds out that his ex-wife Leila is behind it. He goes to her house to get hold of the scrolls before it is sold. But Leila gives him the translated work on the scroll which he completes it in 3 days.

A story within a story, the scrolls tells us about the birth of Joshua Ben Joseph (Jesus) the mystery behind the immaculate conception of Miriam, a centurion and later deputy to the cruelest man Pontius Pilate, Gaius Fabricius his relation to Joshua. The story deviates from the scriptures which I have read in the Bible, starting from the conception, his siblings Jacob, Judith, marriage life of Joshua with Rebecca their children David and Rachel,Joshua's life in Qumran, his preparation and understanding the meaning of Messiah, his teachings in Capernaum, Chorazin, Bethsaida, crucifixion and resurrection.

The author has given many instances on Joshua's intelligence and the life of Judas his thoughts about Joshua and his betrayal during Passover etc. Len Lamensdorf has given an alternate down to earth hypotheses on the miracles performed by Jesus. It looks acceptable but he failed to explain how Jesus or Joshua healed the sick and how he raised men from dead.

Superb narration and thrilling climax to the novel. As mentioned earlier this 700 plus pages book is fast paced and some might find uncomfortable with the story line.

I like to quote some inspirational lines:

A man who throws water into the river is not likely to drown the river, but a man who spits into the wind may find it blown back into his eyes.

King Messiah would be a righteous king who would not… put his trust in horse and rider and bow, nor shall he multiply unto himself gold and silver for war… For he shall smite the earth with the word of his mouth.

Messiah would be free from sin and would be powerful not because he led a great army but because he "leaned upon his God"

Come, let us return to the Lord, for he has torn, that he may heal us, he has stricken, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.

The Messiah would be abused, tormented, viciously tortured, perhaps even killed. But God would give him triumph over death. That was the Baptizer consolation.

Joshua said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.