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Friday, February 26, 2010

Books bought/quilts to be done and children in the North of Sri Lanka

I succumbed twice in one week to book buying but the cost of the books was
very reasonable so I didnt feel so very bad about it. In this country most
people would be amazed that I actually spend money and buy books - it is not
something that is commonplace!

The list of books on the first buy were A tudor tragedy - Lacey Baldwin Smith
on the life and times of Catherine Howard. My interest was piqued on this as there
was a similar book (of course published just this month) on the same subject.
This particular book was printed in 1961. Memoirs of a woman of Pleasure Fanny Hill
by John Cleland (havent heard it mentioned elsewhere), To kill a mockingbird by
Harper Lee all over the blogosphere, When will there be good news by Kate Atkinson
(these are the gems I discover as its very seldom that a recently published book
would come into the second hand bookshop but it does!) Colin Dexter's The Daughters
of Cain (again not something I have come across in a review), D H Lawrence's Women
in Love and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (the last one I cant remember whether its this week or the one before. Anyway a goodly pile.

Todays lot - a Jean Plaidy - The Courts of Love its a British Council discard and
I just loved it despite that a few pages had been torn (I have already pasted it
and mended the spine!), Carl Hiassen Sick Puppy (I liked the prologue on this one),
havent seen it mentioned elsewhere, a classic from Daphne du Maurier The Loving Spirit, (am trying to complete the entire list), Paul Theroux Jungle Lovers set in
Malawi (havent read any set in this country), and last but not least Fanny by Gaslight by Michael Sadleir published in 1947. It looked dusty and forlorn and I thought why not!

Am elated by this pile and am awaiting a box of books discarded by someone who was
going abroad. I have told my friend who is bringing the box over that please not to give books in the pile to anyone!!! till I have seen the lot that is.

Plenty to keep me going. On a sewing note, just finished the piecing of a quilt for
a six year old. Time to get the batting out and start my hand quilting on this one.
I want to give it as soon as possible.

With regard to my other work, we have at last got all the paperwork organised for the first lot of 13 children. The work in the village is being coordinated by a Principal of the school along with a doctor from a local hospital. The logistics
are very difficult to understand. The school and village are situated in an area
which is not accessible as roads are not cleared of all mines and trying to help these children is so very difficult. There is one access road but it is restricted
to local people only at the moment. I couldnt go even if I wanted to. We start our
programme on Monday which has really made my day as I despaired of ever getting it
off the ground.

I have also started another project (albeit a smaller one) in an area called Adampan.
I am working with nuns who are setting up a base there to uplift villagers or rather the life of children in a small village. Its initially starting with just books and equipment for their schooling and hopefully it will expand. We always live in hope!

Thats it for this week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review - A very private enterprise - Elizabeth Ironside - a discovery!

This book which is an award winner for a crime writers award for Best First Novel is something which I had never read about amongst the various book blogs I read. It is for this reason that I picked it up as I thought I'd like to read and then do a review on a book which I have never heard about at all.

The book centers around Hugo a diplomat of the British High Commission in Delhi and opens with his murder. The murder takes place in a protected enclave which makes it seem as if its an inside job (and the staff at the High Commission very huffed as if someone should not have had the audacity to do this in a protected place) but as investigations proceed it seems that everyone is accounted for and found correct. Investigations are conducted by Sinclair sent out from England to sort out the mess and seems to be floundering until a huge amount of gold is found in the house and with that the story unravels slowly.

The assumption when huge amounts of monies are found in Hugo's bank accounts is that he has been dealing with either currency smuggling, smuggling of artefacts or has been blackmailed over his supposed homosexual leanings or in turn has been blackmailing another comrade at the Russian embassy. By the end of the story we find that Hugo with his love of all things Tibetan has endowed all his assets back to the Tibetan people to set up a Museum in order that everything would be preserved and maintained. This very worthy end to the story is one that surprised me as assumptions are continuously being made that the money acquired by Hugo is for personal gain and personal enrichment, as everyone speaks about his love of Tibetan antiques as being almost an obsessive love.

How the entire murder investigation has to be covered up for various diplomatic reasons and to show the Embassy in a good light is also part of the story. At the end it seems that no one is interested in finding out the actual murderer and what is important is how to cover up and account for the huge amounts of money and gold discovered after the murder. It is at the very end of the book that the actual murderer reveals itself and here we see how the author has shown that Hugo was murdered not for money, gold or anything material but just because he did not know how to love someone who loved him dearly and who realized that she has no place in his scheme of things and that his artefacts were his love and that she was just a passing whim which he had already forgotton.

The author covers a fairly wide area geographically in this novel - from Delhi to Ladakh and Leh, to Kashmir and then to the mountainous regions of Kargill and beyond and this adds to the descriptive nature of the tale - all integral to the story of course. Add to this a budding romance between Sinclair and Janey a visitor to Hugo's house who also becomes involved in the whole investigation.

I was glad I picked this book up despite not having read about it at all. It proves that there are good books out there still to be discovered. After this, I may not always go on recommendations but also look for books which appeal to me as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Review - Disgrace by J M Coetzee

I had heard about Coetzee and the style of his writing all over the blogosphere but never could get my hands on one of his books. Disgrace just appeared out of the blue and I was thinking how could such a small volume (just over 200 pages) pack such a powerful punch.

Its not a book that is for everyone and it certainly is no holds barred. The story initially has Prof Lurie as the main character and evolves around him and his penchant for sexual encounters of all kinds ending with a disastrous one with his student Melanie. Throw in a jealous boyfriend and Melanie herself who is a bit like putty in anyone's hands, we have a sexual harassment charge, an inquiry, and the Professor out of a job. Lurie then visits his daughter Lucy who is upto now quite distant from him and who runs a small farm. Lucy welcomes her father but she has different ideas of how life should be lived. A violent encounter with three men where Lurie is savagely attacked and Lucy raped shows the violence in South Africa brought about by apathetic policing and the attitude seen that "they" are occupying "our" land and anything is fair game of trying to wrest it back. Lucy herself is not wanting any kind of showdown or even any kind of confrontation with the men who raped her and instead much to her father's horror sides with the protaganists and seeks the protection of her former overseer as his third wife - all for the fact that he will protect her in his own way and allow her to farm her land which she will ultimately leave to him.

The book is hard hitting, straight talking and is poignant to the point of keeping you on the edge. It is not a romantic love or an idealistic love of the land that keeps Lucy on the farm. One can understand very easily why this became a Booker prize as the style of writing is so very gripping. Everyone should read this at sometime in their life.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review - A light in the window by Jan Karon and Review - Village Secrets by Rebecca Shaw

Both A Light in the Window and Village Secrets were books I was tempted to pick
up because of their appealing covers! I know that sounds awfully childish or cheesy but whats to be done.

A Light in the Window deals with a aging rector in a very nice parish who is a bachelor and who has fallen in love with his neighbour but finds it so very hard to pop the question or even confirm he is madly in love with her due to more than lack of commitment, fear of saying the word "love". The book moves through village life in an American town very reminiscent of an English village. The book involves all the occupants of the village in some form or the other and is a very light, pleasant read.

Village Secrets is also a book set in a village in England and deals with the vagaries of so called English village life. In this book categorized by "class" the rector has one role to play, the workers have another and the former Lord and Lady of the Castle have another, presently ursurped by the nouveau riche gentleman of business who wants to take over the town. Needless to say traditions have to be maintained and no amount of throwing money around is going to win the villagers over. Add to this an unusual element of witchcraft and black magic going on in the woods and you bring in a sinister element which is difficult to dislodge. All ends happily however and it is a story of happily ever after.

Both books are part of a series of books, the former set in Mitford and the latter in the unlikely sounding village name of Turnham Malpas. If you like books of the Joanna Trollope vintage you will like both these authors.

Am hopefully getting to the bottom of my to be reviewed books and am so glad thats done. A happy week ahead.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Georgette Heyer reviews

This again will be a sort of a mini reviews on the next lot of GH books I magically found in my second hand bookshop.

Cousin Kate - an orphan who was befriended out of the blue by an Aunt who welcomes her to the family pile amidst grandeur and riches unimaginable hoping that Kate will be overwhelmed by it all and finally marry her mentally unstable son whom she has been controlling and manipulating for his entire life. The Aunt realizes that as the boy grows up he is beyond her control and hopes that a vivacious, pretty girl would be the making of him and with this in mind involves Kate in her machinations. However to throw a spanner in the works, Kate is not dazzled by the riches offered to her and prefers the plain and simple Phillip over the glamorous and handsome Torquil. What follows is a sad story of murder, suicide and finally a happily ever after for Kate and Philip. A bit of an unusual story for Georgette Heyer in the sense there was a twist in the usual tale which added to the mystery of this read.

False Colors - a story involving identical twin brothers who have throughout their life used their identical looks to hoodwink many people. Now it becomes a very serious matter where it involves hoodwinking a fiancee.Needless to say it leads to very awkward situations with the "false" twin falling in love with the intended bride and vice versa and how it has to be unravelled forms the story of this plot.
Throw into this a mother who is heavily in debt and hasnt a clue how to redeem herself. This was a nice addition. Normally in Regency novels it is always the men in the family who have put their family into great trouble because of their heedless gambling. This is a different accent! Needless to say it leads to very awkward situations with the "false" twin falling in love with the intended bride and vice versa and how it has to be unravelled forms the story of this plot.
A very pleasant story to read and unravel.

Powder and Patch - a tale in reverse. We find a plain, straight talking, simple country boy being rejected on those grounds by Miss. Cleone. Philip takes it on himself spurred on by the rejection to go to Paris and become a man about town acquiring polish and savoir faire and the admiration of not just the women folk but a following of men as well. His intention is to show Cleone just what she is missing. Just to be contrary Cleone now wishes the old Philip back but that at least on the surface seems to be a thing of the past. Philip however has not fallen out of love with Cleone but just wants to show her that he is still the same faithful Philip despite what he seems to show to the world. A story with a bi line which we should always follow. Be careful what one wishes for!!!

Beauvallet - This was the book more or less in the GH genre I felt. A handsome debonair Englishman falls in love with a Spanish lady who is taken aboard his ship by force in a fight on the high seas but is treated chivalrously and oh so carefully by him. He vows to come to Spain (in disguise) during the height of the war and carry her away to his country. This seems highly improbably - but as usual chivalry and drama wins the day. Beauvallent does succeed in disguise to come to Spain, come to the Spanish court, hoodwink all the courtiers and claim his prize in a thrilling chase. All ends well. Romance and love win the day!!! A lovely GH read.

The Talisman Ring - A love story with a dash of mystery thrown in for good measure. A murder unsolved, a banishment to the Continent as a result of a duel, and the loss of a talisman ring ancient and valuable. Add to this a bold, dashing young woman, a straight talking young man who is insistent on clearing the family name of his cousin, an impetuous excitable young woman and the story goes on. A different kind of read but extremely enjoyable.

I have two more of Georgette Heyer to read and review as well as one of the mystery series Penhallow to review. I love the lightheartedness of the books, the descriptions of not just the costumes, the food and jewellery but also the countryside. Coming myself from a tropical country, it is very soothing to read descriptions of quiet countryside, snow bound villages and old fashioned balls and receptions - the likes of which are never going to happen in my part of the world!!!

Review - The Vow on the Heron by Jean Plaidy

I have several books which I have read and which need reviewing. I thought I had better get a start on them and hence the two reviews on one day. I had read Jean Plaidy years and years ago and was quite keen to renew my reading of this author. This is the first of many by the same author I hope to review.

The book begins with the very powerful Queen Mother and her lover and a very young king Edward III whom the Queen Mother thinks she can manipulate to her will. Very early in the story the young King does realize where the Queen Mother and her lover are going, and how much they are taking for themselves from the Treasury. When the young King realizes that his father did not die of natural causes but was in fact murdered and the finger points at his own mother, the King leaves no stone unturned to discover the truth. Realizing that his mother and her lover Roger de Mortimer are behind the murder he makes sure justice is meted to all.

It also shows Edward falling deeply in love with Philipa whom he marries encouraged by his Mother who feels that giving in to his wishes will appease her son and keep him happy. Philippa is able to influence the young King in many matters which make him more appealing and in touch with the common man, showing leniency and mercy in his dealings whereas the young King is actually not so and only acts like this to please his wife. Philippa also gives Edward a large family of which the most famous is the Black Prince.

Edward also drags England into the long and costly One Hundred Years war because he believes that England has a right to the throne of France. Unfortunately after Philippa's death Edward also becomes involved with Alice Perrers whose influence on the King is immense and who makes him a laughing stock at his own court.

Like all Plaidy fiction the book makes you want to read sequels and see what happens next. The Prince comes into this story at the end of the book devastated at the state to which the English court has fallen and the widespread influence of Alice Perrers over not just the King but the entire court. The end of King Edward's III's life is pathetic and sad after the grandeur that went before.

The next sequel would make interesting reading.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review - The Mist in the Mirror - Susan Hill

My attention was first drawn to Susan Hill by reviews done on The Woman in Black and I expected something on those lines. This book is for me totally different to what I expected.

The story centers around James Monmouth who has spent his entire life in Africa and the Far East fascinated by what those lands reveal. James was born in England but orphaned at the age of five and sent to a guardian in Africa and upto the time of the guardian's death lived a carefree life in Africa. By a series of seemingly unconnected coincidences which are later seen as a link in the story, James is drawn into the life of an adventurer by the name of Vane, who is dead now for many years.

On his return to London James tries to find out more of Vane's personal life and adventures and at every turn is warned off and discouraged to pursue this story. The warnings come from the teachers at the school where Vane studied, to an absolute stranger on a train who warns him not to pursue whatever he is doing (the lady has spells which come on her where she can predict the future) and everyone else who is connected to the story is in turn jittery, nervous and fearful that James is following this path. Despite being followed by a ghostly boy throughout his sojourn in England who in turn terrifies and saddens James, James is determined to pursue his objective to the end and write a memoir of Vane's travels. The story follows James pursuit of the history of Vane and climaxes to the point where James understands the boys' part in the whole story and where he to some extent lays at peace the various ghosts in his life. James's memoirs become finally not Vane's memoirs but his own.

The book has been described as "thoroughly frightening" but I did not find it so. I was curious as to how it will end and it ended tamely enough in the death of James as an old man, at peace in some way as he had been able to narrate the story to someone else and felt that it was a burden he had had lifted from him.

Though a bit disheartened by this book, I am not giving up on Susan Hill but going on to her other books.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review - The Makioka Sisters - Junichiro Tanizaki

I hadnt read any Japanese authors upto now and was not even slightly interested till I read the Japanese literature challenge and specially the posts on chasing bawa which got me so interested that I was determined to get my hands on even one book to start with.

The book is at a pace which may seem slow to some readers - but it is so in keeping with the characters of the book, the lifestyle of the four sisters and the general pace of upper middle class Japan of the time - so much so in fact that if it was fast paced the book would have been awkward to say the least.

Characterizations of the four sisters all different in their own way though all trying to maintain the honor and style of the Makioka name which is now long over but lives in their minds as fresh as yesterday. The sisters specially Sachiko feel that they must maintain standards and even if it means as in Tsuruko's case the happiness of a younger sister be blighted, honor and standards should prevail.

As in every family (almost) there is a black sheep in the form of Taeko who tries to be a professional woman earning her own income which for the other sisters is totally abhorent. The fact that in their eyes Taeko is also immoral because she not only associates with men of a lower class but that she has actually lived with two men and probably three is something that the other sisters cannot comprehend. The freedom of spirit that Taeko has for life and living is not something understood, accepted or condoned by the other sisters. The three sisters feel that sacrifices should be made for the sake of family and honor above all else and when Taeko goes beyond these strict boundaries, she should be disowned by the family.

The saga of the Makioka sisters details each persons lives individually. The problems of the eldest sister Tsuruko trying to manage a brood of six children on a limited budget - economies of a domestic nature being looked down on by the others disdainfully. The problems of an unmarried Yukiko who at 33 is an embarassment to the family as none of the proposals have worked and the astonishment they face when for the first time, it is the man who does the turning down of the proposal and not the Makioka sisters would be something very easy to understand for an Asian mind where marriage proposals are commonplace todate. The heartache of Sachiko who has only one child and longs for another, and who is trying to keep the whole family together on an even keel without anyone being hurt, and who also tries not to annoy or anger any of the sisters is a delicate balancing act hard to follow.

The "nice" ending for Yukiko with a marriage proposal working out very well is a bit too much like a fairy story! but it is balanced by Taeko's pregnancy and the tragic loss of the baby. A sort of good will prevail over it all.

Altogether a very readable book, one I couldnt possibly put down and quite a big one at that. An extremely enjoyable introduction for me to Japanese authors. Thank you Sakura.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review - Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin

I had been looking out for this book for simply ages. It was never able in our local bookshops and my only hope was that it would appear suddenly out of the blue (like all my favourite books) in the second hand bookshop. This however came from my Mother as a gift after a short holiday in Dubai. I hinted that I did not want saris or handbags or shoes and would she mind bringing me a book!!!!

Reading this book one has got to pinch oneself (that is my cynical side) whether it is actually possible to do all what this single man has accomplished. An American in very Muslim/Taleban/anti American country setting up schools and on top of that schools for girls, vocational training centers for girls, encouraging women to set up self employment projects. Seems a fairy tale but the more you go into this book you do realize that over a decade of hald work Mortenson did what seems impossible and has even set out to do the same in Afghanistan despite fatwa's being proclaimed against his work.

The way Mortenson works with the people, with the priests, with civil society being very careful not to antagonize the culture and upbringing of the people whom he works with is admirable. Very often this does not happen. The author here adapts himself to the Pakistani lifestyle, the mindset and the work ethos and gets things done which I doubt that a Pakistani however good his leadership qualities may be cannot do.

The story is very moving because Mortenson begins from scratch - no inherited wealth, no benefactors, no training in fund raising, zero. The story moves from the initial donation for one school, the vagaries of Pakistani bureaucracy and people who try to cheat him and then the final product and its effects and benefits. It goes on to the network of schools he buildings, just one at a time aiding villages in dire straits and for whom nothing has been done. Apart from education, the improvments to village irrigation schemes, better quality of water and thus hygiene, improvements to medical facilities all help to brighten and make the life of a Pakistani villager more tolerable.

The book shows how dedication, sheer hard work and looking straight ahead at what his goals have always been has set Mortenson on the path to fulfilling his individual Nirvana. The book also indicates in a smaller way the sacrifices of a personal nature both Mortenson, his wife and children have to undertake in getting there.

A very worthwhile read and one book which I would not like to dispose of (ever).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Review - Arranged Marriage - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Books by this author have recently got a fair amount of reviews on various book blogging sites. They were all favourable and this is what made me pick up this particular book.

It is a collection of short stories - the main theme being an Indian female either already in the United States having been born or bred there, or a recent immigrant coming over to the States after marriage and the adaptation of oneself to not just the institution of marriage but to a life which may seem alien (at least for a while) The collection of stories is very realistic, absolutely down to earth and gives one an insight of what someone from a totally different culture would face in a country like America.

Trying to reconcile two cultures, two ways of life and also to make it work in an environment deprived of an extended family which is sometimes supportive and sometimes not so supportive (the difficult mother in law is someone who is understood as part of the package of marriage, hence acceptable!) is tough. There are differences in attitude, in the nuance of language, in saying something and actually meaning something else!!!! so reminiscent of what the East is really like. The importance of saving face, of family honor, of respect for elders (however difficult they may be)and in one story female infanticide which is a common enough fact in this part of the world all combine to bring about an ecletic mix of stories which will appeal to anyone from any part of the world. The stories deal with human emotions and feelings beautifully expressed so that one feels sad, happy, mixed up, joyful and uplifted in turn as the stories twist and turn. This is a book that you would want to finish all in one go as you do not want to keep it hanging on for another day.

This book was a find for me from a second hand bookshop in Colombo. Having read reviews of her other books only very, very recently the availability of this book was a pleasant surprise.

Books, quilting and children!

The title is very apt for this week as it sums up since my last post exactly what I have been upto.

On the book front I have been extremely lucky. I have got fabulous books through my second hand finds and these include Cover her Face by P D James. I try to pick up her books wherever and whenever I see them. Gallows Thief by Bernard Cromwell, The Memory Keepers Daughter, a totally new author for me Christopher Buckley Boomsday (I liked the cheery cover). I know that sounds awfully cheesy but its true. The Amber Room and I only read a review of it yesterday, an ancient Agatha Christie - They came to Baghdad, A light in the window by Jan Karon (another new one for me), Jeremy Paxman - The English (dry, dry English humor), Arranged Marriage by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and the absolute icing on the cake J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. This was a wonderful haul and I dont think I am going anywhere near the book shops again till I finish this lot. I am so happy because I have lots to read. I am one of those readers that get a little antsy unless I have at least two books which I havent read around. So having something like this is wonderful.

On the quilting side, my daughters quilt is now nearly finished. Just a bit more hand quilting to be done which gets done every evening religiously for an hour. I also hope to cut out blocks for a six year old little girl and hope to do one in shades of pink (what else). My eldest daughter also wants a quilt done so there is lots to do in that line. I was not happy with the selection of fabrics available when I went to the shops because though one fabric may have suited, I just couldnt match up others and ended up not buying anything new.

On the last subject of children, I struck lucky once again. Over this one week I was able to find 28 sponsors for the children of Pooneryn. I never expected it to get going so well because there are several hot spots in the world right now needing attention and funds, and I didnt think I would be able to attract anyone willing to sponsor these children. I am delighted with this beginning and hope that like my work with children affected by the tsunami, this too will start with small beginnings and end up as a really effective project.

Thank you everyone who visits my blog and specially to those who comment. Its really appreciated.