Ankur Shukla

books, coffee and occasional rants...

Lets talk about The Threshold series again....

Alright, as I talked about Peter Cline's The Threshold series last year, I am still very much in love with the series. I did diss Book #3 Dead Moon last time and wished/wondered if Clines would ever bring back the glory days of 14 and The Fold to his reader. Well, we are all in for a treat! His latest book in the series Terminus brings back the story home, in the present day multiverse and its damn good! I loved each and every moment of the book and devoured it as fast as I could. For readers and followers of the Threshold universe, Clines does a lot with multiple fan services, a gripping story and most importantly, answering more questions! There was a constant grin on my face the whole time I listened to the book.

While 14 and The Fold, are now canonical books #1 and #2, they were fairly independent back in 2015-2017 with no particular order to read. With Terminus, it is officially #4 (if you still want to give Dead Moon a #3) and needs the readers to be caught up with #1 and #2. If you haven't still started the series, this is probably "the" series I would recommend anyone looking for a great mystery to read.

So what have I been reading lately?

So for this year, I have decide to read more comics and books about comics culture (and counter culture). This sounds like a pipe dream to me as I have always been a comic book nerd. To kick off this year, I am currently reading (a) Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human by the legendary comics book artist/writer Grant Morrision, (b) Watchmen by Alan Moore which is rightfully the best graphic novel of all time, and (c) Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection Vol. 1: Great Power By Stan Lee, Steve Dikto and Jack Kirby, chronicling the earliest adventured of the web-slinger!

My current reading list can always be looked up at my Goodreads page.

until later...

Where have I been?

Admittedly I have been absent from this space for a while now, This of course doesn't mean that I have stopped reading. I am still going strong with my reading lists and 2019 challenge with 45 books under my belt. But there has been some distractions, namely in form of my renewed interest for Nintendo video games. I have spent so many hours in the past months on old and new Nintendo video games as well as traveling more than usual. In my deference I did read 5 books on video gaming industry...so there's that! I do have some observations on things I have observed, learned and liked from my indulgence in the industry and the world of video gaming. That is a post for near future though, I promise!

More later....

The Threshold Series by Peter Clines - A Review

Today I want to talk about the Threshold Series by Peter Clines. This has three books todate v.i.z. 14, The Fold , and Dead Moon. Clines has built not only an amazing universe in the first two books but also created a set of very likeable and relatable characters in these 2 books. Without giving away any plot spoilers 14 can be best described as a weird mystery, to the likes of thebTV series Lost while The Fold is a solid sci-fi story with interdimenstional travels et al. In short both the books are very great reads. Its the third books in the series, that landed last week, Dead Moon that spolis the good taste.

I was pumped about the universe Clines built since book one and have spent almost 2 years waiting for the third book to land in anticipation of another great story. As intrguing and captivating the story and characters in the first two books are, the third one unfortunatley falls flat on the build up. Honestly if Peter Clines had failed to mention that this is the third in the series, there would be no way or inklings that linked this book to the bigger universe, Better so, the interim book he wrote between The Fold and Dead Moon (called Paradox Bound) actually dropped some easter eggs to the threashold universe that better qualifies it to be the part of this series than his latest official entry. Maybe there is a hope that it will somehow tie-in a better way in the coming installments.

This however is no reason at all to skip the first two books of the series. I strongly stand by those two books and can say its one of the best books I have ever read. There are a lot, but these would definetely be in the list.

What am I reading this year...

Its been a while since my last time here, and definetely the first of this year. As any aptly first of the year post goes. I thought lets talk a little about what I plan to read this year, I know its one months too late, but hey it's better than not doing this at all ( I think).

So I completed last year on a high note, with 68 books under my belt. This year, again, I have signed up for finishing 60 books at Goodreads and hope to surpass the goal again. In the hindsight, I think I should also create a shelf called left midway or something, for all those books that I just can't get to complete.
Last year, I took upon myself to read atleast 10 books on econimcs and politics combined and I think I achieved it I(if we count the political biographies as well), Keeping on the same theme, this year I plan to read atleast 10 books that are usually reccomened for high school reading list across US, Why am I doing this? because I feel that since I now live in US, I should try to retroactively read books that are generally reccomended during the schooling years. I think this might help me someway when my kid goes through the same.

Also, I also am going to be standardizing my book ratings on Goodreads with simple and easy scoring,

  • 1 Star: Bad Book! Did not like at all.
  • 2 Star: Meh book. Could have missed it without a second look.
  • 3 Star: Good book! Definetely worth the read.
  • 4 Star: Awesome book. Highly reccomeded.
  • 5 Star: Books so good that it made me think and/or changed my prepective and/or thoroughly enjoyed at a different level.

With this scale, hopefully I will not fall into the dilemma and frustations of Goodread rating scale where they don't allow point five ratings!

Book Review: Bad Blood

I recently finished reading Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Cerreyrou. The book details the inner workings of the (once a unicorn) startup Theranos and how the its founder Elizabeth Holmes tried to dream, build and eventually brought a disgraceful end to Therenos. Holmes, along with her #2 Sunny Balwani created an elaborate smoke and mirrors dream, misleading the investors and business partners as well as playing with the health of actual patients! The book also exposes the caustic culture within Theranos that was cultivated by Holmes and Balwani, focused on the doctrine of Holmes and her impractical beliefs! Holmes, with her evangilcal views on changing the health care industry her own way, fueled by the shrewd, thin-skinned, and overbearing Balwani, together created one of the biggest vaporware in the health-tech industry and did not stopped before taking it to actual people.

John Cerreyrou does an excelllent job with exhaustivly detailing all the aspects of the story. The book gripped me from the begining and kept me wanting more and more. Apart from a well constructed narrative, John remians very objective theoughout. This is one of the few books that can be used as a case study for what not to do in corporate governance! John's investigative peice on Theranos in Octorber 2015 in WSJ caused the first dominoe to fall for Theranos! After completing the book I was compelled to go back and read all his reporting on this from October 2015 all the way to Spetember 2018, by which Therenos was completly dissolved with Holmes and Balwani were under federal investigations. This is a facinating read and I would highly reccomend! Easily in one of the top 5 new books I read this year.

This is how I like my horror stories

To set the context, I like reading horror novels and its not because they scare me. On the contrary, horror stories usually do not scare me. There are very few horror novels where I have genuinely felt scared. Stephen King's The Shinning is one such books where it got me at some parts. There are some wildly acclaimed scary books, to the likes of Salem's Lot (King) or The Woman in Black (Susan Hill) or The Heart Shaped Box (Joe Hill) et al, where I was promised a good scare and it didn't! I also do not usually like post apocalyptic stories plainly due to the the fact that most are left open ended (which I call as lazy landings). Blake Crouch's Wayward Pines trilogy was a huge disappointment for me for the same reason even after people vouching for it over reddit!

This bring me to Josh Malerman's Bird Box. It is a horror novel set in a post apocalyptic world! I heard a lot of praise for the book and now Netflix is releasing a live action adaptation in December, so I reluctantly picked it up over the Thanksgiving break and started listening. I was instantly hooked! It is a well crafted, stunningly portrayed and eerily written book. I have a habit of listening to my book at wee hours of the night with lights off. This is perhaps the second book ever, where I stopped listening at a point, scared! Malerman creates amazing handful of characters and peels the story in layers like an onion. It is a short read (< 9 hrs at 1X speed) but very very effective! Also it has some parallels to this year's hit A Quite Place. Set around two vastly different setups , a claustrophobic house with 5 people, and navigating wild without sight, the author excels in creating panic and paranoia that anyone reading can relate to! If you are looking for a good story with genuine scares and gut wrenching moments, Bird Box is the book to pick up!

btw, I do not watch horror movies because I hate jump scares!!

My list: 10 fictional bad-ass woman characters

In no particular order:

  • Mikasa Ackerman (from Attack on Titan)
  • Black Widow (from MCU)
  • The Wasp (from MCU)
  • Lara Croft (from the 2013 rebooted video game universe)
  • Ginny Potter (from the books)
  • Frances Neagley (from Jack Reacher books)
  • Trinity (from Matrix)
  • Ilsa Faust (from Mission Impossible)
  • Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Edge of Tomorrow)
  • Rita Vrataski (All you need is Kill)

Lets talk about the Crazy Rich Asians (Book Series)

So I finally finished reading the third (and the last book) in the Crazy Rich Asians series over the weekend. There are three books in the series viz. Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems. These books are written by Kevin Kwan, with the movie adaption of the first one, took America on a cultural storm making it one of the top box office grossers this summer.

While the movie markets the story as a romantic comedy, the books (all three of them) are far from it. At the core of it, the story is a family drama. Kwan has managed to create characters with textbook superficial traits as well as tinge of heart! I picked up the first book, after the twitter uproar the movie created in the last days before its release, and was instantly hooked. The story is very daytime soap like but with brilliantly created characters. I am not sure how much it echoes the actual ultra elite society of super rich Asians of Singapore, Hong Kong, Mainland China and the Malays, but the story is very compelling! What I loved the most of the books was that each book has its own set of central characters which differ in each book. There are off course some central storylines that progress throughout the books but Kwan manages to create different intrigue in each books.

I loved the last book the most in the series as it brings the stories and characters to a more realistic conclusions rather than doing any fan service. These books might not for everyone, but then which book is?? Although, anyone looking for a fun, light and soap opera-esque drama, this is a great series to pick. I don't know about others but reading these books tickled my noodle-loving palate and made me hungry! I know that's weird but I am known to mix food and leisure!

Book series recommendation: Special Agent Pendergast

If you are a fan of mystery/crime books, I would highly reccomend you books in the Agent Pendergast series. These are very skillfully written by the duo of Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston. Special Agent Aloysius Xingu Leng Pendergast is the modern day take on Sherlock Holmes. while he works for FBI, has very intersting background and almost always takes up grusome murder mysteries. There are clear inspirations drawn from Sir Conan Doyle's Holmes universe with a strong loyal sidekick, mysterious women, sibling rivarly and a Moriarty-esque arc nemisis.

The first two books in the series Relic and Reliquery features Pendergast as not the main character, but Preston & Lee soon discovered that they have created a very complex and superbly interesting character with Pendergast to have its own series. The only caveat is that the first couple of books needs to be read in that order atleast as it sets up all the important characters in the Pendergast universe with back stories that keeps on evolving throughout. I ploughed through 6 books so far this year and loved every single one of them!

Get registered to vote!

Today is National Voter Registration Day! While I do not follow the fad of everyday is national something day, I feel any day that explicitly calls out people to exercise their fundamental right as the citizen of their country, is worth mentioning. And in today's political climate of polarized viewpoints, where often Idealogy trumps concience and humanity, making your voice count in a democratic system is the least you can do!

If you are in the United States, today is more important than anyother as the midterm elections are right around the corner. Be a part of the referendum, do the needful, head over to headcount.org and get registered today!

What are you reading?

Since 2017 I have been participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I pledged for 40 books last year and finished 2017 with 43 books and am currently at 45 books (and going strong). Am I selling myself short?

I am also trying to incorporate the notion of digital wellbeing to my life and reading, via listining to audiobooks, is extreamly theraputic in that sense. Its not only something that I enjoy a lot but also keeps me off news cycles these days (that has a tendency to often put me in a downward spiral of more and more screentime! ).

So...what are you reading these days??