March 2009


Author        :  James Rollins

Date of  First Publication : April 26, 2005  (Hardcover)

Publisher    :  William Morrow


Date of  This Edition’s Publication :  May 2006

This Edition’s Publisher  :  Avon Books

ISBN-13:  978-0-06-076524-8

ISBN-10:  0-06-076524-0

No. of pages :   540


The Story :

The story opens with a crash into the year 1152.  Men of the exiled, legitimate  Pope desperately try to defend a holy relic from falling into the hands of the false pope ensconced in Rome.  They succeed.

Fast forward to the present in Cologne :  cold-blooded terrorists garbed in monk’s robes walk into a Catholic mass after the Eucharistic rites, steal the Church’s relic — the bones of the very Magi who had paid homage to the infant Christ at his birth — and leaves behind an entire congregation, dead from electrocution by Communion wafers.

The sacrilegious carnage and theft forces the Vatican to work alongside the Sigma force, an  elite unit of highly educated and specially trained soldiers for organized crime of this magnitude.  Commander Grayson Pierce , three other agents,  a caribinieri lieutenant Rachel Verona, and the Vatican’s own, Monsignor Vigor Verona, form a team to race against time and danger to solve the mystery of the Dragon Court’s deadly interest in the Magi’s bones.

The bones become the first clue which lead the team through an international hunt for clues to a treasure, far greater than anyone had ever known.  To solve the riddles, they must piece historical, religious and scientific knowledge together to unlock ancient secrets, before their adversaries gain the knowledge and purported power of the prize.

The Review :

Whoa!  What a ride!  Shock value and originality in the first few chapters make a strong start with a novel idea for mass murder:  grand scale killing of a Catholic congregation through electrocution with contaminated communion hosts.  A seemingly improbable event but as a beginning, it does grip you to stay with the book and run along with a series of marvelous historical, religious and techno tidbits which the author insists are facts, in his preface.  Such interesting details like Mithraism (an old Roman military religion that has parallels with Christian rites);  existence of the monoatomic state (m-state) of metals;  liquid body armor being developed by the military;  and the Mandylion (the purported true burial shroud of Christ that predates the Shroud of Turin) to name a few,  are dropped like crumbs on a trail for me, the reader, to eagerly lap up and broaden my knowledge on many esoteric matters,  after the story.

In fact,  the book is chock-full of trivia.  The bulging amount is quite distracting and adds more complexity to an already complicated mystery.  On occasion,  I’d wonder how matters came to be from Points A to C.  My attention probably wandered on some detail at point B.  But then, Rollins’ way of incorporating all these factual details keeps one riveted enough to stay on their reading course.

The book is highly driven like one on speed.  The author loves big bangs and surprises and uses these often;  so expect lots of jarring moments from beginning to end.  The hunt’s conclusion, though, seems both rather outrageous and a tad anti-climactic; but since this is escapism, it might do you well to just ride along.

To Read Or Not To Read?

Packing a lot of action, this book may be a good choice to pass the time. Score another for it if you do like books that inform as well as entertain. This is my first Rollins book and it just whetted my appetite for more. It’s quite a rollicking good read, one of those that holds up its end well against books of its type — hunt for ancient artifact adventure / mystery kind of novel.

Oh, there is a bit of romance involved. A weak injection by the author to…? …add more spice?…humanize the lead characters…?… touch on as much elements as he can?…whatever. Although this may annoy some , it doesn’t detract much from the excitement which this book is about.

In A Nutshell :

Map of Bones is quite the speedy suspense slash thriller slash adventure slash mystery it should be, melding the elements of history, religion, and technology, a genre mix that surely must be a James Rollins’ signature.

My Mark : Very Good

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I have just been awarded the Splash! Award, my second honor in five months of blogging life,  by sumthinblue of Bookmarked! This just makes  my dracula-like eyes (mostly from reading) and my growing middle (reading and snacking go so well together) all so worthwhile!

The Splash! Award is an honor given by fellow bloggers to blogs which either “allure, amuse, bewitch, impress or inspire”.  For my blog to be one of these is just whew! … super!  Can you say cool, as well?  😀  😉  And, to receive it from someone in the blogging community really flatters me pink!

This blog was born out of my need to take up simple writing once more and a compulsion to share my books with those who love reading as well.

Blogging takes a lot of time, especially for me.  Writing does not come as easily as it used to.  I haven’t been penning much of anything nor getting acquainted with  much books  for years; so,  I’m still wobbly on the writer’s bicycle.

The Rules:

1) Put the logo on your blog/post.
2) Nominate up to 9 blogs which allure, amuse, bewitch, impress or inspire you.
3) Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4) Let them know that they have been splashed by commenting on their blog.
5) Remember to link to the person from whom your received your Splash award.

My Awardees :

I would love to have nine awardees; however, I haven’t been visiting many blogs for me to able to come up with a list.  Also, those blogs I wish to give it to have also been awarded by sumthinblue.  To name them:  Coffeespoons and KyusiReader,  both well-written blogs worth your time perusing.

So, I’m left with a micro list of my awardees :

Sumthinblue of Bookmarked!, as you have linked back to you awarder, so shall I with you.  For great feature and review writing  and a drool-worthy collection of books I can only be envious of,  you certainly deserve being Splashed!

Verby of Verbivore, my first cyber friend in the blogging community, for your informative and sometimes amusing articles on life in Bangalore, I Splash! you!

Grammar Pulis, for your hilarious posts on grammatical sins and for authoring a blog so useful to those who have forgotten a lot of the rules (guilty, as charged), I Splash! you!

Nicki of Fyrefly’s Book Blog, for your meticulous blog  and well-written reviews.  Nowhere have I encountered a book blog which has everything it should have.  Features like a vocabulary list for each book reviewed, the opening lines of each book,  a reading calendar,  author interviews, a monthly wrap-up, and even (wow!)  a reading tracking spreadsheet and graph!   You’ve got it all covered, and for this, I Splash! you!

Lightstaff , the newest addition to my blogroll,  for marvelous, artistic  photos I have been enviously gazing at  for a few months now,  here’s a Splash! for you!



Geisha Of Gion” just whetted my appetite for more books on the geiko world. Luckily, I had this book to momentarily satisfy my craving.

Author:  Arthur Golden

First Published:  1997  (Hardcover)

Publisher:  Alfred A. Knopf Inc.


This Edition Published:  1999 ( Mass Paperback)

Publisher:  Vintage Books

No. Pages:  502

The Story :

In the poor village of Yoroida, a little girl with startling blue-gray eyes, is plucked from her parents and sold to an okiya, a geisha house, in Gion.  Chiyo’s eyes are a rarity in Japan, so her potential as a stunning geisha earns the greedy regard of Mother, the okiya’s proprietress and the spiteful jealousy of the house’s star geisha, Hatsumomo.  Together, they bear down on Chiyo’s confusion and homesickness which drive her to escape the okiya’s oppressive life.  Her attempt, however, fails with a fall from a roof  and a broken arm.  For this she becomes a disappointment and a bad investment and so doomed by the okiya to be an abused, overworked maid instead.

Chiyo pours out her misery one day, as life seems to stretch out bleakly before her.  A kind, well-dressed stranger, in the company of a geisha, spies her and gives her comfort with his handkerchief and a coin for a snowcone.  This innocent encounter marks a turning point in Chiyo’s life.  His kindness sparks a childish crush so that Chiyo begins to perceive a clear goal for life —  becoming a geisha, this being the only possible way she sees for someone of her station to meet him again.

As luck would have it,  another of Gion’s star geishas, Mameha,  seems enthralled by Chiyo’s eyes so that she negotiates with Mother to bring Chiyo under her tutelage.  With Mameha’s lessons,  Chiyo transforms into Sayuri and becomes the most sought- after maiko (apprentice geisha) and inevitably comes into contact with the kind stranger known as the Chairman.  Sayuri, by now has fallen in love with him.  However, the Chairman’s business partner, Nobu, becomes attracted to her instead.

What follows is a beautiful story of suppressed passion and love that spans time and circumstance.

The Review :

Few books have thoroughly captivated me as much as “Memoirs of A Geisha“.  The first few chapters hint at serving one with a sumptuous literary feast of exquisite prose, mesmerizing details of the exotic and secretive “flower and willow” world, and an uncommon emotional depth, all of which seem to flow so effortlessly from Golden’s pen.

Golden’s writing has a very lyrical quality to it and the book is rife with creatively crafted descriptions and charming little asides from the main character’s point of view.  It is quite astonishing how Arthur Golden,  being a man, could write so intimately and convincingly about a young  girl’s psyche.

The novel is full of analogies, metaphors, and descriptive phraseologies; yet, strangely, it isn’t burdened by them.  On the contrary, words flow so naturally and combine so beautifully to paint a lovely, poignant story that has touched the hearts of readers everywhere; hence, its international bestseller status.

Aside from a romantic, sensitively written story, one experiences the obsequious, community-dependent, perfection-driven, and heavily nuanced geisha culture whose exotically mysterious nature provides the book with a wonderfully different romantic flavor.


As An Aside :

Indeed, geisha depiction here is quite different from what Mineko Iwasaki (Japan’s foremost geisha in the 70’s) wanted to  project in her memoirs, Geisha of Gion“.   After she was thanked by Golden as his major source, Mineko was believed to be the real-life basis of Golden’s character, Sayuri; hence, the reported falling out between these two authors.

Golden renders the geisha more  as a courtesan, whose sole purpose is to entertain men — entertainment, here,  meaning one catering to all:  from the highest  artistic forms  down to more baser  pleasures.  Mineko Iwasaki, on the other hand, insists that real geishas are artists, trained in artistic customary perfection from a very young age, to carry on the tradition in Japanese entertainment.

Perhaps, both are right.  I’m surmising that there must be social hierarchies in the geisha community, with the existence of high-class and low-class geishas.  Mineko Iwasaki was perhaps telling her story from her viewpoint atop the community’s pinnacle while Golden was trying to tell his from the viewpoint of those at the base.

However it is,  Japanese culture has never been more interesting after these two books, and I hope to lay my hands on more on the same subject.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Memoirs of A Geisha” is certainly a must-read not just for lovers of romance, but also for those who want a well written story that informs as well as pleasures the reader with its intelligence, sensitivity, and femininely graceful style.

Conclusion :

This is a book worth keeping on your shelf to be re-read as a treat,  years after you’ve done with it.  Its tale is as timeless as enduring love.

My Mark :  Excellent

 

 


This novel is Mineko Iwasaki’s memoirs of her life as one of Japan’s finest and most popular geisha of her time.

Author :  Mineko Iwasaki with Rande Brown

Publised:  2003

Publisher :  Pocket Books (Simon & Schuster UK, Ltd.)

ISBN: 0-7434-6900-3

No. of  pages :  334

Her Story :

Madam Oima, the proprietress of the Iwasaki okiya, a highly successful geisha house in Gion Kobu,  was happy to find her successor in the pretty, captivating face of five-year-old Mineko.  She petitioned little Mineko from her parents and thus started the career of one of the most foremost geishas in Japan.

At a very early age, Mineko Iwasaki was trained in Japanese dance, music and the arts  in preparation for an illustrous career as a geiko (geisha) and as an honored successor to Madam Oima.  As Japanese art is obsessed with perfection,  Mineko embraced this cultural virtue as her personal creed so that her beauty and relentless mastery of the arts brought great honor and fortune to the house of Iwasaki.

Although Mineko was always surrounded by beauty and privilege,  her life was a life of  self-imposed hard work to be the best — constant training, rigid self-discipline, and grueling schedules.

Mineko Iwasaki

In her memoirs, the author takes care to point out that real geishas are artists, exceptional in the art of traditional Japanese entertainment, which include the highly ritualistic tea ceremony,  traditional dance forms, and the art of conversation, to name a few.  Perceptions of geishas as stylized prostitutes are Western misconceptions which are rooted in the confusion between courtesans (an entirely different group) and geishas.  Being a geisha is to embody the Japanese art form–bringing Japanese artistic perfection to life.   So a geisha is an artistic entertainer par excellance, nothing more.

Mineko’s memoirs chronicles her years as a geisha until her shocking retirement from the business at age 29.

At present, the author is in her fifties and lives with her husband and daughter in Kyoto,  Japan.

The Review :

Through one geisha’s story, we get to take a good look at the mesmerizing and quite secretive “flower and willow” world.  This is a wonderfully descriptive account of the geiko community that upholds and celebrates the perfect feminine.  This is quite an eye-opener, actually, and casts huge doubts on the credibility of works that portray geishas as women of ill-repute.

Overall, it really isn’t a very compelling read but the author has many little stories that keep one’s  interest up — like the time when Prince Charles autographed her favorite fan, uninvited or when she decided to subtly flirt with the Duke of Edinburgh in full view of Queen Elizabeth II, as a little revenge for the Queen’s refusal to eat even a little of a meal which was meticulously planned for the royal visit (Mineko saw this as an unforgivable breach of etiquette).

As informative and interesting these accounts are, one is left with a feeling, though, that the author never allowed the reader to know her very well.  Perhaps, the author is a naturally private person; and also perhaps Ms. Iwasaki  does not possess the expressive skills of a writer.   Rande Brown, who is named as co-author must simply be a translator and not a real writer as well.  This is quite evident in the way the book is written—simple, sometimes bland and amateurish; but, its simplicity is what makes the book very readable and friendly to those who usually shun memoirs.

On The Side :

A little research into Mineko Iwasaki reveals that the author was the major inspiration for Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha“.  However,  she sued Mr. Golden for libel and defamation of character in 2001.  Mineko claims that Golden’s book twisted her accounts, betrayed her confidentiality and that his acknowledgement of her being his primary source, has earned her the contempt of the present geisha community.  It is Golden’s depiction of the geisha as a highly cultured prostitute that has earned Mineko a lot of flack, even to the point of receiving several death threats for violating the traditional code of silence.  The suit was settled out of court in 2003.

The New York Times and The Independent have better accounts of this dispute.    An interview granted to The Boston Phoenix talks about Mineko Iwasaki’s decision to publish her memoirs, her corrections on the common misconceptions of geishas,  and her early retirement.

In A Nutshell :

Geisha of Gion” has given me the impetus to select  “Memoirs of a Geisha” as my next read.   Despite having been disparaged by Ms. Iwasaki as an inaccurate depiction of geishas, it nevertheless must have been a result of research into geisha culture and interviews of other geisha.

From the pen of a genuine geisha, and not just any geisha but from the best there was, Geisha of Gion“, though, is the work to take seriously.  I consider myself privileged to have learned about this secretive world from someone who had lived in it and is actually in its roster of  legendary characters.

My Mark  :   Very  Good

Since I’ve been on a voracious path of discovering authors,  Lisa Jackson has been on my list of authors to try.  Her name just  kept popping at me on bookstore shelves;  so finally,  I relented and included her in my growing books-to-read pile.

Author: Lisa Jackson
First Published : 1998
Publisher : Zebra Books
ISBN : 0-8217-7944-3
No. of pages : 451

Synopsis :

Mary Theresa – Marquise – a spoiled, egotistical, only slightly famous actress, suddenly disappears. Maggie McCrae, her identical twin but her total personal opposite, receives a telepathic message from her missing sister, begging for help and warning about Thane Walker.

Thane Walker is one hunky, ruggedly sexy, manly man that Marquise and Maggie have had the hots for, since their teens. The more flamboyant, daring Marquise, predictably,  had snagged the man and had left her twin’s heart in smithereens.

Now, Thane suddenly appears again in Maggie’s life and insists on helping her find Marquise, his ex-wife. Maggie desperately needs to find her twin, who could be in mortal danger. Should Maggie trust the man who had broken her heart?

Finding Marquise will open Maggie up to old hurts and will reveal new secrets about her twin that she’s never known. On top of this she has Thane Walker to deal with…

The Review :

And so goes this suspense-romance that actually reads like a B-movie. And so like one, don’t expect writing that takes pains to develop its characters or convey some dawning life realizations.

The author aims to titillate and she does a very good job with this delectable confection of a romance wrapped in a whodunit-mystery-thriller— the kind of guilty pleasure you don’t want your book-snobbish friends to know you indulge in. 😉

A great companion for the coming summer margaritas and bikinis, Lisa Jackson is another author I wouldn’t mind picking up now and then.

My Mark :  Good; Enjoyable

Years ago, my sister and I read and enjoyed “Pillars of the Earth” immensely (see review dated Feb. 3, 2009), a wonderful epic by Ken Follet.

World Without End“, its much-touted sequel , was therefore a must-have for me;  so I was so happy when my sister gave me this book for my birthday.

Author :  Ken Follet

Published Date : October 7, 2008

Publisher :  NAL Trade

ISBN-10: 045122499X

ISBN-13: 978-0451224996

No.  of pages :    1, 024

The Story :

It is 200 years after the story of the Kingsbridge Cathedral in Pillars of the Earth“.   Fourteenth century England is recovering from the Great Famine, under a new king, Edward III. The Roman Catholic religion has reached its peak of power and influence in medieval life so that the priory of Kingsbridge is now a major political, commercial and social factor in the huge, bustling town. It is against this backdrop that the story begins.

Four children witness a desperate struggle and death in the forest. In their terror, all four make a pact to keep it a secret. Merthin, especially, is entrusted by the surviving knight of the whereabouts of a dangerous letter, the contents of which can mean anyone’s life if he is discovered knowledgeable of it.

These four children grow up to be a nun, a knight, a master builder, and a serf’s wife. The story chronicles the paths of these four characters and how they each figure in each other’s lives, throughout a dark century fraught with the Black Plague, the Hundred Years War, the absolute control of religion, and the strong power of social and gender hierarchy at that time.

The Review :

The Good :

The book starts out very strongly with the first few chapters in Follet’s descriptive and thrilling writing style that promises this to be another brilliant epic, in the footsteps of Pillars.

One’s interest is piqued by the the author’s indugence in his characters,  pitting them against a gamut of conflicts arising from political maneuvering, medical ignorance, religious mores, male superiority, etc. Most of the time, it was interesting to see how these characters faced the roadblocks life gave and how compromises and choices were made to make one’s way.

This obstacle-compromise technique actually drives the plot and Follet keeps the pace relentlessly,  so that one can’t help but turn page after page to find out what happens—-what will the character do?

The Bad :

Unfortunately, though, Follet overdoes this obstacle-compromise formula, and this is where the book’s downfall begins.

Three-fourths into the book (about 800 plus pages in), the pace still does not let up.  By this time, the reader’s satiety for drama and conflict has been reached.  The cup hath runneth over. Tedium starts to set in.  By now, you may be weary of the constant barrage of situations the characters have to hurdle.   You may even start to wonder whether the author is as weary as well, having to dish out drama after drama.  It begins to feel as if Follet is trying too hard now and the story starts to take on the qualities of a huge soap opera.

Moreover, you may now come to realize that none of the characters have been well developed at all. Pretty much cardboard cut-outs of bad and good figures, they remain the same all throughout. If they are bad, they are thoroughly bad; if good, they are always good. They are entirely predictable and almost devoid of dimensions. This gets pretty annoying, by the way, when you’re way into the book and the characters cease to be endearing or even interesting anymore.

The Ugly :

Finally, towards the last few pages, you may start rolling your eyes at the incredulity of more problems surfacing out of nowhere and needlessly, I may add, so that there isn’t any slack (ex.  Merthin’s daughter Lolla having a huge teen-age tantrum and running away).   You might say, “Huh?…another one? But it’s almost over!”

I’m beginning to think of the inappropriateness of the book’s title, “World Without End.” It should have been “Woes Without End”.

You may also start cringing at how the author chose to resolve some conflicts for the conclusion (ex. Gwenda and Annet – terribly corny; Lolla and Caris – equally cheesy).  Actually, Follet tied up individual story endings with neat fairy-tale bows, that you can’t help but roll your eyes again.

Another thing:  The secret that was supposed to tie the characters together (as per the blurb at the back of the book)  never adequately functions as a bonding agent and is hardly a major factor in the story.  It actually seems like an aside and so loses its impact in the end when the author pulls it out to function as one of his spectacular closures.

What happened to Follet? His endings here are so unlike him. Seems like he himself was fed up with his own great big tome and he just couldn’t care less how he ended it, as long as he ended it.

The worst part of this book is really its conclusion.

To Read or Not To Read? :

Although touted as a sequel,  this story is very independent of  Pillars and can be read on its own.

It’s quite an entertaining page-turner most of the way but it does go downhill drastically a quarter of the way toward the end, which is so frustrating after you’ve spent your time reading more than 800 pages.   However, if you like TV soap or unending drama, then you’ll love this book.  The story is in keeping with major historical facts. Follet’s vivid descriptions bring up the sights, sounds, and smells of the 14th century and in this, he does not disappoint.

However, if you abhor one-dimensional characters or as I have mentioned,  long drawn out dramas, keep away from this novel.   Your money and time will be well spent on something else.

The Bottom Line :

I believe I am in the minority here with my dismal review of this bestseller.  To me, it was a story that began and progressed very well through most of the way, then suddenly fell flat on its face and came up disappointingly mediocre on the last quarter leg toward the finish line.

The sudden downturn in quality left me with a contemptuous feeling for the book and  I walked away sorry that what could have been another great effort of  Follet had gone to waste with thoughtless and tacky plot turns and additions in the last several pages.

I’m rather ambivalent about how I should rate this book.   To have enjoyed it more than half of the way and to dislike it only near its conclusion should prompt me to give this novel a better score.  However, I think I should rate it according to the lingering feeling that it has left me with…and that is disappointment.

My Mark :  Mediocre