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Monday, September 27, 2010

Review - The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

This was a book which I skirted around. I have seen it for a very long time on several blogs and blogs which I love (so you would think I would get to it faster) but somehow the words dystopian, sci fi, fantasy put me off. I read a synopsis of the book and got put off completely. It was for me bordering on eerie, maybe for me it was something that I really am frightened that "maybe could happen".

We have seen things in our lifetime which we would have thought unimaginable years ago and I may have thought this is also too weird to be even imaginable! After reading the umpteenth paen of praise for this book it almost fell into my hands on my search for books and I thought it was almost an omen that I had to read this book.
I can only kick myself in the you know what for not getting to this earlier.

Despite the science fiction tone, the high degree of improbability (at times not so improbable also) I know this is a contradiction but it is so - it is a challenging read. It is also a book that you should not read in stages! Read it one go so that the enormity of this book hits you hard. Under an autocratic (read here dictatorship) the Gileads a fundamentalist Protestant group have taken over the world and women - women of child bearing age are forced into a sexual liaison with superior men in order to populate the world. The birth rate is almost zero mainly due to pollution and nuclear war.

Revolving around a Handmaiden one who has lived a "normal" life previously the story delves into human feelings and emotions, passion and jealousies which cannot be kept out despite all the stringent rules and regulations which abound. The story shows clearly how humans need to interact and laying down the law will not always work because people will react differently despite all the rules of how they should behave. Sexuality is a tool in this story, women are only there for child bearing (they cannot own property, they cannot write) (we have seen this happening today so it was no surprise for me here) and a creation of a superior race of children has Nazi overtones which also did happen. It was not fantasy.

After reading the book, I felt angry, sad, annoyed and fearful in turn. It could be science fiction, it could be whatever you may call it but it could happen and that is why it is disturbing. I dont think I could say I loved the book but I certainly am glad that I read it.

This is a powerful tale! Thought provoking and should be read.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mixed haul of books for my Mailbox Tuesday

This was a beautiful haul of books from my second hand bookshop yesterday. Its my version of Mailbox Monday. It happens on two Tuesdays of each month though!!! as this is when the shop is opened. I invariably get a nice pile of books and oh so reasonably priced. I do wish the ladies would stack the books in a way which would make it accessible to buyers as I am sure we would buy more if we could reach everything that is just thrown around!

The first book that I have shown is Eragon. (Incidentally this is the last picture I uploaded but for some strange reason my pictures get uploaded in a different form and order!) At least its getting uploaded so I am not complaining. This book is for my son and I have already sent it across to him through someone flying to Melbourne tonight.

Nick Hornby - a Long way down. The review said extremely funny and wise. I like that

I loved the cover of this one Dolly by Anita Brooker - a review called it "close to perfection".

The Firemaster's Daughter goes for my love of historical fiction by Christie Dickason an author I had not heard about before.

The next was an author I have avoided altogether. Margaret Atwood - for some strange
reason I have been nervous to try her books but this fell at my feet and I thought it was a sign to get on with it.

Erica James Love and Devotion is next.

Loved the cover of Wild Designs by Katie Fforde. I know its a bit cheesy to get carried away by covers, but I still do.

Another Erica James Time for a Change.
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The Irish Signorina which I thought gorgeous!

Thats my haul which will keep me going I think for a while. It cost me the equivalent of 5 dollars!!!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'd like an answer please!

All of us have blogs that we follow. We do this because we like this blog. Either for the style of writing, the subjects they cover, for whatever reason. What does one do when the writer does not blog for months on end? Do we remove the blog from the blog roll?

The reason why I am asking is this. Sometimes on a blog roll, there is an indication of when the last post went up, so at a glance you could go into or not into the blog as you wish. But, and this is very often, there is no indication of when the last post went up and after all the effort of going into this blog you find that the last post was written weeks ago and one you have gone into and commented maybe.

Is this happening to other people as well as myself. I go into lots of blogs (where I am not a follower) its the link from a link sort of thing that I like to ramble on with and I feel its such a waste of time when this happens.

Would like to have the opinion of others please.

Review - The girl with the dragon tattoo - Stieg Larsson

For the life of me I cannot imagine why I delayed to read this book. I did not even read reviews of the book so I had a hazy idea that yes the author was Swedish and for some strange reason I thought next of paranormal/fantasy etc genres which are really not my cup of tea. So I never got around to even trying to get the book.

I picked it up last week and thought I'd rather not be the last person on the planet who hasn't read it and was I hooked. I loved the book.

Set in modern Sweden a journalist is sued for libel. Simultaneously and for me right at the beginning suspiciously he is offered a fabulous offer - a job offer actually - involving a period of one year to solve a murder mystery which is now 30 years old and unsolved.

Add to the murder mystery (which is eventually solved/uncovered) a twisted, macabre family with intrigues, jealousies both petty and enormous, envy and hatred and you have a book you can't put down.

I will not be going into the explanation of why this book is a hit. The details of writing a novel is way beyond me - but this book draws you in. You are literally on the edge of your seat as you are willing Blomkvist (our journalist) to be discovered in the nick of time/to be saved/to fall in love and for everything to end happily.
It does but it is not soppy, it is not syrupily sentimental!!! The book is good.

A must read and for the princely sum of Rs 50 (half a dollar) a huge bargain.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review - Lucia Lucia by Adriana Trigiani

This is my second read of Adriana Trigiani and I really liked this book. Set in the 1950's in cosmopolitan New York in an atmosphere of much love, family and strict ethics this is a story about Lucia in particular and the Sartori family with the Italian immigrant population and the new designers of New York's fashion scene in general.

An old fashioned story of how hard work always pays, love being the secret of harmony in life and a very clever con man who gets away with jilting the heroine of our story forms the basis of the novel. The human feelings of passion, betrayal, sorrow are also portrayed so well in this story. Lucia's story is interesting from beginning to end. Starting with being the only girl in a family of four boys in a strongly protective environment of an Italian family to her becoming a career girl who has no intention of ever giving up her job, from being an obedient daughter to her parents and then going against the wishes of her father in her choice of partner are part of the story.

The story highlights contrasts and similarities. Jewish and Italian immigrants facing the same prejudices, the fact that traditions were being strictly followed not just in the matter of food but also in matters of religion, respect to elders and inheritance to property. How the ethos of hard work, of the family sticking together in times of good and bad, the extended family's importance and how each community tried to stick to their own are also interestingly shown.

I also liked to see Lucia growing up - from an obedient daughter to making up her own mind on what she wanted to do with her life, irrespective of what those around her thought of her. Her sacrifice of her career to look after her ill mother was heart breaking but this was a case of Hobson's choice as far as Lucia was concerned. How Lucia emerges not embittered at how life turned out for her was also a very nice feature of the book. In her 70s Lucia was still a light hearted, loving woman not angry at the way her life turned out to be.

This was a book which got positive reviews on both Bermudaonion as well as She is too fond of books and I am so glad I got the opportunity of reading this book.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Review - The Law of Similars - Chris Bohjalian

Leland a state prosecutor has been widowed for two years and has single handedly brought up his little daughter. He has been feeling out of sorts for well over six months and has met a homeopath Carissa, who he hopes will make him well - fast. His "cold" and fluey symptoms are dragging him down and he feels he cannot do whatever he has to properly because he never seems to shake off his illness. This forms the base of the story that evolves.

Leland is attracted to Carissa instantly and although Carissa does like him, she realizes that she should not be seeing him whilst treating him professionally. A week into their relationship a patient of Carissa's goes into a coma and Carissa and indirectly Leland are thrust into the limelight when Carissa is charged with negligence and Leland knows that as a prosecuting attorney for the State government he should not be associating with either Carissa or with the other parties to the case. Knowingly he goes about visiting the patient and befriends the patient's wife - mainly with an idea of how he could help Carissa and not seeing the danger he is putting both himself and Carissa into.

The conflict between his personal and professional duties bothers him very little as he is at the moment only conscious of how he could "save" Carissa. The book is not a sensational book - its a good read. It also brings into focus the importance of alternative medicines and the general idea that this kind of medicine is becoming popular in America.

It was my first foray into Bohjalian's books. A pleasant read.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Book review - Life of Pi by Yann Martell

I get books very late so that all my reviews are mainly of books which have been around for quite sometime. This is just my own circumstances of how I get books and it cannot be helped. I am only grateful that I get books at all.

The book is a story of a young Indian boy called Pi (short for Piscine) from Pondicherry. The first half of the book deals with Pi's life in Pondicherry in the unusual circumstance of living in a zoo - along with his own family. The book very early on also reveals an unusual characteristic of Pi - his yearning to be a Christian, a Hindu and a Muslim at the same time and somehow succeeding in this despite coming from a secular family where his parents just do not know how to deal with religious fervor! Fortunately they just let it ride, hoping it will go away (it doesnt!).

The second half of the book deals with the incredible journey of Pi. Th family decides to migrate to Canada along with an entourage of animals which they hope to exchange in Canadian and American zoos for a great deal of money. How the ship sinks leaving Pi with Richard Parker a Bengal Tiger, how the two survive the wretched, hazardous journey and how fantastically they land in Mexico is a tale that one has to pinch oneself that one is still reading the book!!!!!

Fantastic though the story is, it is riveting and I loved the book. The bottom line you do come to believe in God.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review - A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton

The premise of the story was promising. I liked the main characters very much - Howard strong, silent, supportive husband. Alice slightly different - definitely not the average Jane, two children, one highly strung Emma and the placid Claire. Upto now perfectly normal. However by the community in Prairie Center they are considered as the "hippie couple" and seem to live on the fringe with no outright antagonism but no real acceptance.

One accident - a neighbours little girl dies in Alice's care and it snowballs from there. Add to this false charges of abuse spiralling into a witch hunt. The end result disastrous.

Several times I wanted to give up on this book. The story should have been enthralling as everything was there. False accusations, how to get out of it, the endless trial and the media hounding one, the unravelling of Alice and Howard's life, the financial implications and pressures faced by them and how to just live one day at a time for the sake of the two children should have held my interest but it didnt.

I did finish the book but it felt a bit flat.

Support for children - Mannar - the beginning and now!

This is what we started with!

This is the house which is the main hub of the convent and the orphanage and the school.

These are the buildings which house the teaching area for the children. Children come from 3 pm and some of them will not go home even at 8 pm!!

Teaching areas!

Sometime ago, I mentioned that I am involved in helping to set up a center in Vattakandal in the Adampan area (North East Sri Lanka). The area was totally devastated by the war and as usual loss of life and property has been extremely high. This area was a very rich agricultural area and families are used to paddy cultivation, chillies, onion, and vegetable cultivation. Hopefully with the cessation of the war all this will also begin.

Education has been on the back burner for quite a while as survival was the more important thing at the time! Now there is a huge need for these children to catch up with the rest of Sri Lanka and boy are they keen. The medium of instruction is Tamil and fortunately books are available in plenty in this language. The problem is to get it across!!!

There are 3 nuns based in this little convent and they help out with extra classes to supplement the school programme. The classes are concentrating on English language, Tamil language, Maths and what we call Social Studies which is actually a combination of History, Geography and a bit of Civics. We are now well established with the classes and children and parents are fully supportive of this.

We have just commenced providing accommodation for 15 children who have lost either a single parent or both parents due to the war and who need help in the form of a proper home. This is just at the initial stage and we hope that this too will grow. There is no electricity from the main grid or water available but we have found people who have helped to pay for a generator as well as water pumps so that this basic need is now attended to.

This is just part of the work I do and I do hope those who read this blog will like this post! I know its different from my usual book blogging posts but something I hope that will be of interest to readers.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jaffna - now

I was away in Jaffna for three days on a short vacation. For those of you not familiar with the country, Jaffna forms the pivot of the Northern province of Sri Lanka which has suffered a three decade old civil war.

The damage to both life, property and vegetation is unimaginable. Recovering albeit slowly the problems being faced by the Northern people are still huge. Reconstruction and redevelopment will take years and the fact that certain areas are still out of bounds and that civilians have not been allowed in these areas mean that bombed out houses and trees are being slowly taken over by the tropical jungle. It also means that we still have people who want to get back home and start rebuilding their lives.

There is a lot of hustle and bustle in Jaffna - mainly because of the locals who are tourists in their own country. They are visiting areas of interest which were closed for so long, that for a younger generation Nagadeepa and Keerimalai are only names on a map. That these are now accessible to all, albeit through a tiresome journey is good.

I do hope readers will enjoy seeing these pictures courtesy of a young man who was with us on our holiday.

Review - The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

The book set in a period of British and Indian history - 1942 - where Britain was being hard pressed in India trying to maintain its precarious hold on a country which was definitely slipping from its grasp.

The colonials - the colonels, the majors and the ladies who form part of the British set are the main characters of the story. Where this story differs is one lady decides to be different and steps out of the box- just not done in society of the time. You can if you are extremely wealthy flirt with the other races of people around you, but this is a time where an Indian is not even admitted to a club because of his color. Daphne Manners does the unpardonable and falls in love with Kumar - a young Indian born and brought up in England who feels lost and forlorn in India, where he is forced to return once his father dies. The story told from a narrator's point of view is sometimes sad because we see that Kumar is torn in two - one side of him wanting Daphne and the other realizing the futiity of it all.

Descriptions of the mutinies that are beginning to arise in India, the satyagrahas or peaceful "sort of sit in protests" which Gandhi advocated, the turmoil of India at the time are beautifully described in this book.

For lovers of the colonial past of India, this book is a must read.

Review - I capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

The book is one I had long given up any hopes of ever getting. In Sri Lanka it is very unlikely that a book like this will find itself to a bookshelf in a store and my only hope was to find it tucked away in a second hand bookshop. That is exactly what happened and I just pounced!

The book set in the 1930's is Dodie Smith's first published book. Set amongst the eccentric Mortmain family and having the book written by seventeen year old Cassandra gives the book a very different perspective.Add to the background a crumbling castle, keep, moat and all and you have an intriguing story.

Cassandra though extremely young, knows the exact nuances of not just her step mother and father's characters but also those of her sister Rose and these form the backbone of the story. The family is impoverished to the point of extreme poverty but seem to be happy and life goes on without a care in the world (supposedly though underneath it all some of the family are worried) The father a writer who has had a brilliant first novel does not seem to realize the trouble the family is in and just seems to drift through life. The girls are aware of their extreme poverty and the fact that something has to be done soon, as the adults in the household are oblivious or unwilling to do anything.

The appearance of Simon and Neil from the States throws a goldmine in Rose's way and she is determined to snag the "richer" brother by any means. It appears that it is a genuine case of having fallen in love with someone who just happens to be wealthy and for a time Cassandra is appeased that things are what they seem. The problem arises when she realizes that she herself is in love with her sister's fiancee and that her sister is just in love with the wrong brother!!

The book shows the contrast between the two sisters - how a seventeen year old can be mature far beyond her years and how solving a major issue falls squarely on this young lady. It also through the journal of Cassandra describes a way of life of the period which is very evocative.

I really enjoyed the story and hope that more readers will be able to get their hands on this book.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Short review - Mourning Doves - Helen Forrester

I loved the cover and picked this up at my second hand book foray yesterday and I am so glad I did. The book set in a Liverpool suburb initially in a fine house is abruptly changed to a run down cottage in Hoylake. Louise the widow has never handled responsibilities in her life, does not know anything about finances, or how the world operates and seems to live in a little cocoon of what respectable ladies do and say and everything out of this realm is really not quite right! Looking down her nose at trade, at women working, at widows forced into employment as a result of the huge dearth of men after World War I, her attitude towards her loyal servants is to be abhorred. You get quite irritated with Louise and think she deserves all she gets. After all, she is not destitute. She has six "little"houses from which she gets a rent, she is the owner of the house in Liverpool which she can sell (which she hates to do) and is really not badly off.

The next character is Celia - the downtrodden 24 year old daughter who is considered old and a confirmed spinster. From her teenage days Celia has been made out to be ill, not good looking (plain), and only serves literally as a servant earning the same amount of money as Ethel the parlour maid. Celia realizes rather late in the day how badly she has been treated by her father who is now dead, and her mother who couldnt care less how she manages her life, as long as breakfast, lunch and dinner and hot water of course is available to her as and when she needs it!

The nioe part of the story is the rebuilding of the character of Celia with a little help from Edna (also widowed and returning from Brazil - this is the clever, pretty elder sister), and from villagers who begin to realize poor Celia's plight very early on in the day. How Celia finds love and family makes it a kind of happy ending. There is a fair amount of bereavement due to the wars - starting from WW1 and ending in the Falkland war and the futility of all the deaths is very stark. The effect it has on the lives of women left behind is seen at every turn - not just on the main characters of this story.

Bereavement and getting on with life was dealt with a more or less stiff upper lip in public. In private you could grieve as much as you wish. This is sad for me because here in Sri Lanka sadness could be expressed very freely and you wont be thought less for it. Some people may like to grieve very publicly and for some it is a very private thing. It is something for me to think on!

I enjoyed this book very much and read it through in one go. I have now started on Jewel in the Crown and as usual I love books set in India, also love books with a colonial setting.

We go to Jaffna on a three day holiday tomorow night - no internet access. So see you all on Monday.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New books for this week (my bargain shopping trip)

It has been ages since I went looking out for books. Personal matters took precedence over everything else these last three months and now I can get back
to "normal" stuff...

I visited one of my sources of second hand books and came across some very unexpected gems.

This was a surprising find. I didnt expect to find any of these books for simply ages. I dont think anyone there knew its value either!

The description says audio book but mine is just a book. A favourite author of mine whom I like to read when I just want a light read.

Yann Martel's Life of Pi has been on the blogs for quite some time and I have wanted to get my hands on it.

Ashok Ferrey's Serendipity - a much loved Sri Lankan author

Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World (pretty intriguing cover)!

Adriana Tigiani Lucia Lucia mainly because I liked the sound of the title

The prize of the lot I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith. Totally unexpected under a pile of other stuff and the lady selling it hadnt a clue as to how much I wanted this.

Chris Bohjalian's The Law of Similars - his other book got a lot of publicity but I
just take whatever comes my way.

Paul Scott - The Jewel in the Crown - The Guardian says "Dazzling". I am looking
forward to this one.

Helen Forrestr - Mourning Doves. A book set after the first World War and very reminiscent of the times. I have already started this book! I like family sagas and dramas!!!!

This whole lot of books came at the princely cost of 700 rupees which is roughly US $ 7. I think this is an absolute bargain - the center is desperately trying to clear out their stock of books and were so eager for me to buy them that they were encouraging me to go back and see whether there were any I had missed!!! The books are piled all over the place and you need time and I was rushed today. Maybe next Tuesday I should go there leisurely and pry and dig out more.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Review Travelling Light by Tove Jansson

This book was a win from Simon from Stuck in a Book and I am very glad that I won this as it introduced me to an author who was hitherto unknown to me. Once I got the book I did a bit of looking around and found out what Jansson had written and found my ignorance of her appalling. Thats another story.

The book is a collection of short stories (originally written in Swedish) and published in 1987. Most of the stories involve a journey and very often a journey alone, fraught with questions, problems and which way to go. The reader is faced with characters who have to face unusual circumstances and decisions and all these characters just go with the flow. No one fights their circumstances or questions them, they just go with what is happening around them and adapt to whatever strange circumstance they are put into.

All the stories deal with isolation - either one is by circumstance isolated or pushed into it. It also shows that however much we may want to be alone, we can never really do so. There is someone or something that happens that prevents one from being absolutely isolated! The authors skill is also shown in the description of not just people but places and whether its Finland or Spain all descriptions are very cleverly done.

An unusual book - not one I would have picked up myself but I am very glad that I won this. It opened to me a style of writing which was different.

Review - Love in a Cold Climate - Nancy Mitford

Nancy Mitford was a character in the English literature scene that I read and re read about and never got around to doing anything about it. I came across two of her books both dusty and filthy dirty in my second hand bookshop in Colombo. I have tried to get a cover picture of the one I have but have not been successful so I guess my copy is old - my copy is printed in 1957.

The story narrated mainly by Fanny (a sensible, not so rich friend of the family) sets the tone of the lives of the impossibly rich Montdores. That they were that rich became known only when they threatened to disown their only child Polly!! The aristocratic and snobbish Lady Montdore was a law unto herself. She knew everything, was the authority on everything and most of the time I really wanted to go shake her up and put her in her place. Unfortunately, no one at the time had the gumption to do so. The aristocracy was aristocratic and they got away with murder - even at this time - the book is set between the two world wars.

The story actually gets cracking with Polly who seems to not want to fall in love despite being amazingly beautiful (apart from the huge inheritance of course). The story shifts from its frothy base (almost chick lit in style and described by many as so) to despair on the part of her parents when she decides to marry her uncle on the death of her aunt. It seems almost incestuous to society at the time and the scandal that erupts at this is one that could only be faced head on by the indestructible Lord and Lady Montdore. The story proceeds at a leisurely pace from Polly's wedding to the time that she returns back from an extended overseas tour - pregnant with her first child.

I found it in the best tradition of chick lit a light story - the Mitfords themselves were supposedly colorful and I think they could write much more interesting copy!!!! It takes us into an era which is completely in the past and for those wanting to reminisce about this age, it is an ideal book.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Book Review - P D James's Innocent Blood

I have been a fan of P D James and her detective Adam Dalgleish for years. This book is one of her stand alone novels and is slightly different.

Phillipa Palfrey adopted at the age of eight imagines herself to be the daughter of aristocracy and a parlour maid. Despite being brought up in very comfortable circumstances with all advantages Phillipa hankers to know more about her past and at the age of eighteen applies and obtains the information re her parents. The startling truth is bizarre. Her father and mother are criminals - the father guilty of rape of a twelve year old girl, and the mother guilty of the actual murder of the child.

The story evolves from this base and involves the murdered girl's parents who have vowed to seek vengeance on the murderess of their only daughter. The mother of this child dies but the father plods on towards this goal, just marking time for the ten years to pass when Mrs Ducton is released from prison.

The storyline though different to her other books was for me not as tantalizing as the usual P D James's stories. Maybe I was disappointed not to find Dalgleish part of the scene and this for me "let the side down". The book was dull though the story was both complicated, and the people who filled the story ideally suited to their characters.

The ending of the story is fairly predictable and one does know where you are going, but in typical James's fashion the author has a twist in the tale and it is not quite as one would have imagined. Despite this the book for me was not as enjoyable as her other books.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wedding photos - church

A few photographs from the church!