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Sunday, May 30, 2010

2 Mini Reviews of old favourites and a review of a new book!

Two of the books I am reviewing have been done over and over again and in a much better style than I ever could do so I will just leave it at mini reviews for those two.

The Finishing School - Muriel Spark. My first read of Muriel Spark after all the blogging comments I have read re this author. I was very disappointed at the beginning as the book was not available at the library and would become available long after I had left. However, by some
miracle three of her books were returned and I took all three.

The Finishing School deals with a little school in Switzerland run by a husband a wife duo. The interest lies in a student Chris who is writing a novel and at the same time a novel is being written (or rather being desperately tried to be written ) by Rowland the husband of the college running duo. The story deals with the very human failings of envy and jealousy which can eat into one when one party is suceessful and where the future looks so bright and promising and whereas the other party is on a slippery slope. Dealing with such emotions the book will appeal to most people as these are common traits which I think none of us are proud of!

The second Muriel Spark was The Drivers Seat - I was and still am a bit fuddled by what the writer is trying to tell me in this story. I never could get quite to grips with what was happening. Lise after sixteen years of work in the same office leaves everything and seems to be so distracted that she is driven to destruction of herself mainly whilst disrupting everything around her. A rather confusing book for me that is.

The book I really liked and which I have not read about amongst all our book bloggers was
Family Reunion by Carol Smith. Encompassing four generations of a widespread clan covering America, England and France it showed the similarity and disparity in families - the book covers the importance of family ties, and the saying blood is thicker than water is amply shown in the book. It also shows family secrets hidden for two generations and how the ultimate betrayal at the very end brings out the secret so well hidden but also shows how strong the family is on the whole and also how clannish we can be when put against the wall. A very interesting, chatty style of writing, appealing and natural. I am glad I picked this book up from the library.

Today I am visiting the Titanic Exhibition at the Melbourne museum. I am looking forward to this very much as this kind of exhibition will be very unlikely to come to my own country. I was glad that I also visited the National Gallery of Victoria where a Renaissance exhibition of mainly Flemish and a couple of English painters was on. It was a real treat and I am so glad that my brother insisted that I should visit. I still maintain that those who have these opportunities never seem to realize what they have.!

Still chilly here!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


I have been meticulous this time around whilst in Melbourne to write down recommendations from book blogs I follow and like about what books are good and what would interest me. Sadly though many of these books are not available in the local library but what I have found are that books by the same author printed earlier on are available. This is what I have been reading and have found these books really good.

I could not get Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon (which I really, really want to read) but was able to get Goodbye and Amen - slightly tongue in the cheek humor. Parents suddenly die and all their worldly goods are being divided between their offspring. I also could not get The Weed that strings the Hangmans Bag (review on Savidge Reads inspired me) by Alan Bradley but was able to get The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie which I havent read as yet. Looking forward to that one.

I just finished Garden Spells (will not do a full review as this has been reviewed over and over again!). I loved the book for its differentness... slightly magical, not overtly so, down to earth and so very good.

I also finished Manna from Hades by Carola Dunn. Set in Cornwall which I always like for some strange reason (must be the early influence of Daphne du Maurier) its a mystery murder a very cozy one with an easy pace, and very descriptive. I would say slightly old fashioned with an Agatha Christie type of book which I very much enjoy.

In the list of finished books was Jeffrey Archer's very different Paths of Glory - I found this very different to his other books but nevertheless enjoyed it. A story of Geoffrey, son a very middle class background who aspires and reaches the very height of mountain climbing ending with his tragic death in the Himalayas. A slower paced book but one that was interesting as well.

Have just over a week now in Melbourne so back to my TBR.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Books Read

Very short post today

Books read

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford
When the Emperor was Divine - Julie Otsuko

Absolute coincidence when I picked the books not knowing very similar themes/period
in American history etc. Both were sad, nostalgic and extremely good in turn! I loved them

Eating for England - Nigel Slater

Loved the book as I love good food. The book explained all that was English from sweets to biscuits to cakes to savoury dishes, both present and in the past. In great detail and with snippets of attitudes of people towards food which was very vivid and most interesting.

A measure of a Lady - Deeanne Gist

The Californian gold rush - a family seeking their fortune like thousands of others and how their
lives are effected by this. Thrown headlong without any anchor at all how the family survive and prosper was the theme of this book. Good reading for me as a first on this part of American history once again.

Heaps of books to come but am sad that Helen Simonson, Dodie Smith, Shirley Jackson and some of Thrity Umrigar not available at this library.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Followers ! New Books! Op shops!

I have been delighted that over the last two weeks I have got several new followers and would love to welcome them to this blog. I do hope the books as well as the trivia interests you as I sometimes tend to ramble on a bit.

The weather in Melbourne is for me still freezing though my daughters assure me that its lovely weather and "not so cold". The strange thing that I cannot seem to get reconciled to is that the sun is shining brightly, but it is not warm, not even a teeny weeny bit and putting clothes out to dry is a bit superfluous! (no dryers in this house).

On a book note I read The Weight of Heaven - Thrity Umrigar and since enough has been said on this book I wont add my bit. The book was excellent, for me sad almost throughout and I dont generally like sad books, but wonderful reading. The style was so very good and the language used through the book was just precisely so very apt at all times. The ending was a surprise for me - an excellent read.

I also read Fern Michaels Vanishing Act - I was absolutely disappointed. Maybe I expected something more than a mystery and a romance in one. She is a prolific writer so maybe I will go on to something else. Didnt do anything for me.

Right now reading a book set in the gold rush of California (absolutely new area for me) so will come back on that as soon as I finish. Also picked up two P D James from the local op shop but that is my treat for me when I get back to Sri Lanka. Right now I am only reading what Carnegie library can offer me!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Review - The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters

This is going to be a mini review as the book has been out for sometime though I got my hands on it just this week only.

The book is what I would call a Gothic novel - the characters of Caroline, Rod and Mrs. Ayres are the mainstay of this book but I would also say that the house Hundreds is its chief actor. The story starts simply with a gentrified family falling on really, really bad times and finding it rather difficult to cope with no money, no servants and a totally different lifestyle to which they were born to. Difficult enough to cope with normally. Add to the mix a ghost, a rather venomous one in the form of a sister who had died who is not happy, very restless and seeks revenge from those who are living in the house at present.

The story emphasises right along almost to the end the class differences that exist between the story teller (Dr Farraday) whose mother was a maid at the house, and the family who was always considered gentry right upto their sorry end. The story is slow but vibrant and you always feel that the pace will pick up on the next page - you wish and hope that it would end happily for Caroline but you are thwarted always.

The book was a very enjoyable read and my first of Sarah Waters books. I will definitely be reading the rest.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Review - A Dead Hand by Paul Theroux

The blurb reads A Crime in Calcutta and this is what made me pick this book as it combined the best of what I like - travel and crime and apart from that Paul Theroux is a favourite author of mine.

Like what another review said I did not know whether this book was a story about a crime, whether it was a travelogue, whether it was a story on the philosophy of life - I am a bit confused at the end.

The story involves a travel "hack" residing in Calcutta temporarily for the purpose of getting a story. He gets involved with Mrs. Unger who is an absolute "goddess" working initially for the Missionaries of Charity and then going on her own doing innumerable good deeds mainly with abandoned, orphaned and destitute children. So far so very good. The story becomes a crime story when she contacts our hero to get his insight into a so called crime and then when he unravels the story the whole ugly story of Mrs. Unger slowly unravels.

I dont want to give the full story here as it will then be a spoiler for anyone wanting to read this book - but one thing the story definitely shows is that not everyone who comes to the third world wanting to do good, actually does it. There is a lot of ulterior motives including of course financial gain to the detriment of the community which they are supposed to be helping. Theroux brings this out very clearly in this book and he is only reiterating something that happens all over the world - we saw it very clearly post tsunami in Sri Lanka itself.

The book was interesting from that point as it was a well written, a well thought out story showing how people try to benefit from the sufferings and calamities of others, but it was not a story of a crime at all.

This book is one I picked up from the Library here in Carnegie. I am restricting myself to picking up just two books at a time from the library as otherwise I will go nuts trying to decide which one to read first when I bring it back home! Like letting a child off in a candy store.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review Lady Vernon and her Daughter by Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

I had been very keen to get my hands on this book but knew that whilst in Sri Lanka that would have been almost impossible. At the library yesterday the first book I saw on their best sellers panel was this and I just grabbed it - and finished it this morning!!! Thank you Carnegie library.

The book an original Austen (Lady Susan) which was too short was adapted by the authors from the end of the story - that of Susan and Frederica's marriages and then worked backwards and thats how the stories started. The book captures the essence of Austen - the world of women of this period, how they lived, loved and how ill equipped they were in the face of their men having a very tight hold on purses, family and the way of the world. The book shows how in the face of adversity, of being cheated by the men in their life - mainly their uncle - both Susan and Frederica rise above him to cheat him at the end of what he has so avariciously planned to hold on to.

The story shows how Susan widowed suddenly and with a property entailed (shades of Pride and Prejudice!) and with no proper clear instructions regarding his will the late Lord Frederick throws his wife Susan and daughter Frederica to the wolves in the form of his brother Charles. Charles hounded by debt and shadowed by greed and jealousy seeks to cut out his late brother's wife and daughter from what they are legally entitled to - leaving them with almost nothing.

The story continues how due to Lady Susan's attractive manner and Frederica's quiet intelligence (both not considered quite right for the society of the time) provokes so much innuendo and backstabbing that they are labelled as being flirts and a blue stocking respectively. How Lady Susan and Frederica overcome this forms a major part of the story.

The story will be of interest to Austen fans who like sequels. The characters of the two main women players are strong (like Lizzie) - the book is an interesting read and a fun read as well. I liked the book very much though Pride and Prejudice will remain my favourite.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two mini reviews - Sister of my Heart - Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni and Staying on by Paul Scott

Both books (sheer coincidence) are with an Indian theme. I have been trying to get Sister of my Heart for sometime now having heard so many great things about it. The night I landed in Australia I just couldnt sleep and was browsing my daughter's bookshelf and there it was. I read it all in one go and went to bed the next day!!!

Sister of my Heart deals with the life of two girls brought up in one conservative household - the unusual part is that the household consists of only women - three ladies - all widowed suddenly and whilst very young and this fact moulds not just the young women's lives but also the lives of the two infants in their care. The story evolves further into the two girls growing up - and one making a marriage in America and finding a life for herself so very different to what she had before, whilst the other girl goes in for a traditional marriage in India itself and how the marriage starting precariously as it is, goes on to disintegrate completely. Unusual subjects in a conservative environment but I think particularly relevant today are a spin off in this book. Divorce, infidelity, infanticide, and the usual overbearing in laws are all dealt with and add to the interest of this story.

A definite must read for those who would like to know a little more on how life in the 21st century goes on - one foot in the past and one foot definitely in the future.

Staying on - was a story of a British couple who well after the days of pomp and ceremony of the British in India have decided to stay on and make Pankor their permanent home. Not having being Home for over 40 years since retirement Tusker and Lucy are the sole survivors of the British Raj and who cling to their memories of time and glories gone by. Lucy a mild, submissive woman however realises that times are a changing and adaptation is paramount. Tusker seems to be a typical mcp but deep down maintains just this facade whilst knowing that time and money is running out for both of them. Having to maintain certain standards so as "not to let the side down" whilst holding on to a dwindling income is hard for them both.

The story is nostalgic and would be of particular interest to those who are interested in the colonial past - where Britain ruled so much of the Eastern world. The book was also a Booker prize winner in 1977. Paul Scott was a new author to me and he has written several other books as well. I will have to go and dig them out!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Australia here I come!

Am leaving for Australia tomorrow and will be away for just a month. However I will not be
absent from the blogging world and hopefully will be reading and reviewing depending on what
I pick up whilst in Melbourne.

It will be nice to see my three children and spend some time with them - my husband and I
miss them dreadfully and are still trying to get used to the empty nest syndrome.

I love Melbourne despite it being very cold right now (cold for tropical me that is) because I
am going straight to the op shops which will have lots and lots of books for me! The concept of
library sales is a new one for me so shall be going to check on this as well at the local library
but my main source of good books is Vinnies and Salvos and I am so looking forward to this. On my last visit to Melbourne I ended up with over 42 books - am not really interested in anything
else so that is something to look forward to - specially with all the wonderful book reviews available on all the book blogs.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Review - The King's General by Daphne du Maurier

I picked up this classic alongst several others - all ancient and dusty in a corner of my second han
bookstore. I am so glad I did pick this one up.

I have read practically all of du Maurier's books whilst still schooling but had missed this one out. Like her other books, this too is set in Cornwall and is evocative of a Cornwall past which I will always associate with smugglers, pirates, brandy, pieces of silver, dashing heroes, equally dashing heroines and bleak castles!!! Tell me someone from Cornwall that this hasnt changed please!

The story both historical and romantic is passionate and emphasises the feeling of belonging to a
family or a clan and the importance that this played in people's lives at the time. Honor the chief female star of the story whose life the story evolves around from the time she was a headstrong little girl to the 18 year old who turns a general's head, and who continues to do so till the end of his days. How the story turns from normal to tragic and our heroine now becomes a cripple whilst still being a teenager and despite this - where everything indicates that her life is almost over (considering the period the story is set in) still manages to turn the general's head and lead what would be considered a most indiscreet, "fast" life whilst living with her family has to be actually read to be understood.

I found the story telling as fascinating as the history of the period which involved a long troubled period in British history - where Parliament and King were divided and how a war not just decimated its people but also successfully ruined the economy of the country.

Although not a traditional happily ever after story, (we are dealing here with people who are most untraditional of the times!), this story was beautiful and you should really read this book. I have liked Daphne du Maurier all this time, but now I have fallen in love!!! A simply unputdownable book.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review - Who Killed Bianca? by Emma Darcy

This book was a win in a giveaway from Cozy Book Nook. The book is part of a series and I was lucky to get this as I had not read anything from the series or even heard of it before.

The setting is a train journey of two days on the famous Ghan which travels across Australia and the people who form the story are a group of high flyers with a murky hidden past. Include a nosy papparazzi who apart from sniffing out scandal is vicious and mean and you have the elements of the story, the eventual murders and the secrets that will be blown sky high.

There is a detective (something like Miss Marples) a K C Gordon who is a romance writer on the train who simply "just" gets involved in murder and a very quiet/disgruntled detective Peter Turnbull on the side who never will get it quite right unless Ms. Gordon steps in.

The book was a nice pleasant read, story line was not predictable, the train journey was descriptive and the murderer was not apparent for quite some time! I enjoyed this book.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Wedding registration picture

I am crossing my fingers and hoping this goes ok as its the first time I have added photos from anywhere to the blog (by myself). I am not techno savvy or even remotely able to understand what goes where and hopefully this one picture will get posted.

My daughter Shehara and her husband Jegan just after the registration service.

Book reviews - Laura Esquivel Like Water for Chocolate and Rosamund Pilcher - Under Gemini

Like Water for Chocolate - Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate has been around for quite some time apart from being made into a film (which I have not seen). For me this was a bit of an odd book! The story revolves around a family of three girls and a matriarch for a mother who is a tyrant
as well. The story is set in Mexico and the background is conservative and traditional.

Tita being the youngest daughter is forbidden to marry as she would have to look after her mother in her old age. With all the strictures in place Tita falls in love with Pedro who is destined to marry her older sister. He does get married to her and continues to be in love with Tita till the end. There is also a younger sister who runs away, ends up in a brothel but lives happily ever after! Found that a bit improbable but anyway.... There is also a lot of cooking and receipes which are family traditions which add to the general mix.

I read the book in one go so I suppose I found it interesting but my response to this book was lukewarm. I guess I couldnt go for so many improbabilities and accept them for what they were.

Under Gemini - Rosamund Pilcher

This seems to have been a week for improbable happenings in books. Identical twins
separated at birth meet up through an absolute freakish coincidence in London. The story actually takes off from there and this is 70 pages into the story.

The story revolves around Flora and Rose and how Flora impersonates Rose through one weekend and one week of a supposed engagement. The story also covers a close knit, warm family in Scotland and is descriptive of a part of Scotland which made me want to run away from hot humid Sri Lanka to the misty, rain swept world in which Tuppy and her family live.

I loved the settings of the book, both in Cornwall where Flora lived with her father and stepmother and then on to Edinburgh and finally to Fernrigg.

The plot was simple and straightforward and the story ends with a happy ever after theme which was satisfying for this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book - its very readable.