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Book Nook - 19-06-2017

Monday, June 19, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to

Bone Wars In The Wild West
Michael Crichton, best-selling writer, producer, director will always be remembered for his Jurassic Park books, turned into hit movies and TV series. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 66, but his latest book Dragon Teeth is just out. His wife, Sherri, discovered the  manuscript among his papers—the research notes that went into his fictional work on dinosaurs.

Dragon Teeth is a page-turner, a fictional account, set in 1876, of true events involving rival paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh of Yale University and Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia. The protagonist, however, is William Johnson, the spoilt son of a shipping magnate, who takes on a bet to go to the untamed West, instead of a cushy holiday in Europe. So, along with being a thriller about the scientists, Red Indians, armymen and outlaws, it is also a coming of age story.

Crichton makes digging fossil bones seem adventurous and exciting, despite the heat, dust, hostile Indians and great discomfort. Johnson puts aside his usual languid state of mind to learn photography (which was not the aim and shoot affair it is now, but a cumbersome process involving glass plates and chemicals) so that he can join Marsh’s expedition to look for fossil bones in the West, where the American Army is getting a drubbing by angry Red Indians protecting their territory.

As a backdrop to the adventure is the gold rush, the debate between Darwin’s theory of evolution and the religious leaders trying to debunk it.

Marsh is so paranoid about Cope’s non-existent spies that he abandons Johnson in a fleabag hotel, where he meets Cope. The easygoing Cope takes him into his team and they proceed on their way, ignoring warnings of Indians scalping white men.

Facing storms, arrows, bullets, stampeding buffaloes and all manner of peril, Johnson does grow from a milksop to a man; and also helps make an important discovery.

One can only admire Crichton for his meticulous research; legendary names like General Custer, Wyatt and Morgan Earp, Robert Louis Stevenson make ‘guest’ appearances. Only a master storyteller could make historical fiction so entertaining and suspenseful.

Dragon Teeth
By Michael Crichton
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages 286


Excerpt of Dragon Teeth
Philadelphia was the busiest city in America that May, nearly bursting with the vast crowds that flocked to attend the Centennial Exposition of 1876. The excitement that surrounded this celebration of the nation's hundredth anniversary was nearly palpable. Wandering the soaring exhibition halls, Johnson saw the wonders that astonished all the world — the great Corliss steam engine, the exhibits of plant and agriculture from the states and territories of America, and the new inventions that were all the rage.

The prospect of harnessing the power of electricity was the newest subject: there was even talk of making electrical light, to illuminate city streets at night; everyone said Edison would have a solution within a year. Meanwhile there were other electrical wonders to puzzle over, particularly the curious device of the tele-phone.

Everyone who attended the exposition saw this oddity, although few considered it of any value. Johnson was among the majority when he noted in his journal, "We already have the telegraph, providing communications for all who desire it. The added virtues of voice communication at a distance are unclear. Perhaps in the future, some people will wish to hear the voice of another far away, but there cannot be many. For myself, I think Mr. Bell's tele-phone is a doomed curiosity with no real purpose."

Despite the splendid buildings and enormous crowds, all was not entirely well in the nation. This was an election year, with much talk of politics. President Ulysses S. Grant had opened the Centennial Exposition, but the little general was no longer popular; scandal and corruption characterized his administration, and the excesses of financial speculators had finally plunged the nation into one of the most severe depressions in its history. Thousands of investors had been ruined on Wall Street; Western farmers were destroyed by the sharp decline in prices, as well as by harsh winters and plagues of grasshoppers; the resurgent Indian Wars in the Montana, Dakota, and Wyoming Territories provided an unsavory aspect, at least to the Eastern press, and both Democratic and Republican parties promised in this year's campaign to focus on reform.

But to a young man, particularly a rich one, all this news — both good and bad — merely formed an exciting backdrop on the eve of his great adventure. "I relished the wonders of this Exhibition," Johnson wrote, "but in truth I found it wearingly civilized. My eyes looked to the future, and to the Great Plains that would soon be my destination. If my family agreed to let me go."

The Johnsons resided in one of the ornate mansions that fronted Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. It was the only home William had ever known — lavish furnishings, mannered elegance, and servants behind every door. He decided to tell his family one morning at breakfast. In retrospect, he found their reactions absolutely predictable.

"Oh darling!  Why ever would you want to go out there?" asked his mother, buttering her toast.

"I think it's a capital idea," said his father. "Excellent."

"But do you think it's wise, William?" asked his mother. "There's all that trouble with the Indians, you know."

"It's good that he's going, maybe they'll scalp him," announced his younger brother Edward, who was fourteen. He said things like that all the time and no one paid any attention.

"I don't understand the appeal," his mother said again, an edge of worry in her voice. "Why do you want to go? It doesn't make any sense. Why not go to Europe instead? Someplace culturally stimulating and safe."

"I'm sure he'll be safe," his father said. "Only today the Inquirer reports on the Sioux uprising in the Dakotas. They've sent Custer himself to put it down. He'll make short work of them."

"I hate to think of you eaten," said his mother.

"Scalped, Mother," Edward corrected her. "They cut off all the hair right around the head, after they club you to death, of course. Except sometimes you're not completely dead and you can feel the knife cutting off the skin and hair right down to the eyebrows — "

"Not at breakfast, Edward."

"You're disgusting, Edward," said his sister Eliza, who was ten. "You make me puke."


"Well, he does, Mother. He is a revolting creature."

"Where exactly will you go with Professor Marsh, son?" his father asked.

"To Colorado."

"Isn't that near the Dakotas?" asked his mother.

"Not very."

"Oh, Mother, don't you know anything?" said Edward.

"Are there Indians in Colorado?"

"There are Indians everywhere, Mother."

"I wasn't asking you, Edward."

"I believe no hostile Indians reside in Colorado," his father said. "They say it's a lovely place. Very dry."

"They say it's a desert," said his mother. "And dreadfully inhospitable. What sort of hotel will you stay in?"

"We'll be camping, mostly."

"Good," his father said. "Plenty of fresh air and exertion. Invigorating."

"You sleep on the ground with all the snakes and animals and insects? It sounds horrific," his mother said.

"Summer in the out-of-doors, good for a young man," his father said. "After all, many sickly boys go for the 'camp cure' nowadays."

"I suppose . . ." said his mother. "But William isn't sickly. Why do you want to go, William?"

"I think it's time I made something of myself," William told her, surprised by his own honesty.

"Well said!" said his father, pounding the table.

In the end his mother gave her consent, although she continued to look genuinely worried. He thought she was being maternal and foolish; the fears she expressed only made him feel all the more puffed-up, brave, and determined to go.

He might have felt differently, had he known that by mid-summer, she would be informed that her eldest son was dead.

Leigh Bardugo’s YA series of Grisha books were best sellers; with Six Of Crows, she commences a new series, starring Kaz Brekker, a fearless seventeen-year-old gangster, that has nonstop action and a lot of magic. According to the synopsis, “Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

“A convict with a thirst for revenge.

“A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

“A runaway with a privileged past.

“A spy known as the Wraith.

“A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

“A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

“Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.”

Six Of Crows
By Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 496

Excerpt of Six Of Crows
Kaz Brekker didn't need a reason. Those were the words whispered on the streets of Ketterdam, in the taverns and coffeehouses, in the dark and bleeding alleys of the pleasure district known as the Barrel. The boy they called Dirtyhands didn't need a reason any more than he needed permission - to break a leg, sever an alliance, or change a man's fortunes with the turn of a card.

Of course they were wrong, Inej considered as she crossed the bridge over the black waters of the Beurscanal to the deserted main square that fronted the Exchange. Every act of violence was deliberate, and every favour came with enough strings attached to stage a puppet show. Kaz always had his reasons. Inej could just never be sure they were good ones. Especially tonight.

She saw Kaz and the others gathered near the great stone arch that marked the eastern entrance to the Exchange. Three words had been carved into the rock above them: Enjent, Voorhent, Almhent.

Industry, Integrity, Prosperity.

She kept close to the shuttered shop fronts that lined the square, avoiding the pockets of flickering gaslight cast by the streetlamps. As she moved, she inventoried the crew Kaz had brought with him: Dirix, Rotty, Muzzen and Keeg, Anika and Pim, and his chosen seconds for tonight's parley, Jesper and Big Bolliger. They jostled and bumped each other, laughing, stamping their feet against the cold snap that had surprised the city this week, the last gasp of winter before spring began in earnest. They were all bruisers and brawlers, culled from the younger members of the Dregs, the people Kaz trusted most. Inej noted the glint of knives tucked into their belts, lead pipes, weighted chains, axe handles studded with rusty nails, and here and there, the oily gleam of a gun barrel. She slipped silently into their ranks, scanning the shadows near the Exchange for signs of Black Tip spies.

"Three ships!" Jesper was saying. "The Shu sent them. They were just sitting in First Harbour, cannons out, red flags flying, stuffed to the sails with gold."

Big Bolliger gave a low whistle. "Would have liked to see that."

"Would have liked to steal that," replied Jesper. "Half the Merchant Council was down there flapping and squawking, trying to figure out what to do."

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