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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Review - Hardly Knew Her - Laura Lippman

I had read several reveiws of her books and picked this one up not realizing its a collection of short stories. I wanted a meatier book but this was fine - it dealt with different kinds of stories all with a very human touch and showing the vagaries of human nature and how what is apparent on the surface from the smooth talking soccer mom, to the shy wife may not be all what is actually there!

Here we are dealing with mystery and murder and how mainly women get away with it,
with cunning and being helpless and clever. A collection of short stories which are varied and interesting.

17 stories 292 pages a quick read. 3 out of 5 for me.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Orphanage in Mannar

I am doing another post today but one of a non book nature. Readers of my blog may be aware that I help out with two orphanages in Sri Lanka. One is close to Colombo but the other one is quite a distance away in the North West in an area called Mannar. The area was very badly affected by the war and even after coming close to 2 years progress in development is extremely slow. Demining is going on apace and this
has helped tremendously because nothing can be done until this is over. Life for many
children will not be the same - ever. There are thousands orphaned, many thousands who have lost one parent or a sibling and trauma untreated as led to many mental health issues.

Whilst I am in Melbourne my husband over a long holiday weekend visited the orphanage with stuff for the children as well as the nuns who run the place. I help with material support from friends of mine and co ordinate supplies as best as we can.

Just a small post on what I do apart from the reading!!

Review - The Widows Season by Laura Brodie

Pages : 320
Genre : Women's Fiction/Mystery

This book was released in June 2009 and having read snippets and reviews about it I knew I had to get it somehow. Well it did and it did not prove to be a disappointment at all.

Sarah is widowed at the age of 39 and childless. David dies in a kayaking accident. Those are the bare bones of the story or rather from where it starts. 3 months after his death Sarah sees David at a grocery store. For several pages I wondered whether it was a manifestation of Sarah's sorrow and disturbance at his sudden death, a ghost story being proven or what as David's appearance is not a one off. The unknowing feeling continues with the reader as Sarah on discussing it with several widows realizes her feelings are not unique. All of them have seen and talked to their husbands several times over a number of years. One is left nonplussed at this point.

The novel dealing with the feeling of loss and specially for Sarah of being all alone and having to come to terms with being alone are very descriptively dealt with by Brodie. The feelings of uncertainity for the reader continue to the very end because one is never ever going to see how this story is going to turn out. Brodie successfully keeps the suspence going to the end. It is only in the last ten pages
that you do realize how and where the story is going. The story delves into relationships particularly marital and how miscommunication can doom a good marriage very easily.

I have not rated my reviews before this but on a scale of 5 this would be 4.5! A very very good read.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review - Penelope Lively's Consequences

This is not just one of those tomes (actually not a tome but a manageable 258 pages) of a family saga spanning three generations which deal with the usual gamut of births, marriages and deaths. That is commonplace - interesting but still fairly commonplace.

Consequences goes far beyond that. Starting in 1935 we are dealing with a woman who is a quiet rebel - not someone who is going to tie herself to railings to get the vote or march in support of the suffragettes but someone who is "different" to the
other members of her upper crust family. Lorna realizes very early on that this is going to cause stress and havoc in her family but she quietly goes about doing exactly as she wants and follows her heart in every decision. Fast forward to marriage with Matt - parents recoil - an artist (engraver in wood) and the idyll should continue. The specter of war intrudes, Matt is one of the casualties and Lorna's life is never the same. A young widow with a little girl - very common in Britain at the time.

Add to this a second marriage for Lorna and her sudden death in childbirth - with the baby boy surviving and her second husband being a wonderful though absolutely disorganized father to both children. Molly growing up in the 1960's, like her mother different to other girls of her age, having a relationship with an older man, having a baby and not getting married to him and life goes on.

The story goes on with Molly's daughter Ruth growing up in a single parent home but with lots of love and care from a step grandfather and a grand uncle who dote on her. The story comes full circle with Ruth who has grown up rather alone with only Molly to guide her and tell her the stories of her ancestors.

Penelope Lively writes more than a story. It is about life and what we in Asia call karma or fate - that somethings are just not possible to divert or even change. What will be will be. A twist in circumstances or timings have such far reaching consequences spread over not just one persons life but over several and the effects are like the ripples in a pool - always widening and continuing. Lively also shows that what one does in this life could also effect the next person who follows us. Something to ponder about!

This was my first read of Penelope Lively. I will definitely be looking for her books now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review - Roopa Farooki's Half Life

The first thought that struck me was that Farooki's writing reflected her cultural or rather multi cultural roots.

Aruna Ahmed an academic a Singaporean of Bengali origin is living in London married to a dependable English doctor. In a very little while we see Aruna leaving her husband, just walking out on him and flying back to Singapore where she has unfinished business with the love of her life Jazz.

There are intricate family mysteries to unravel (almost unbelievable eventually), tragic family marriages to despair over, the absolute lack of communication in some Asian families where children are not admitted to family secrets and so they grow up bewildered and burdened throughout their life, Aruna's own illness of having being diagnosed as bipolar, her erratic use of medicines and constant use of drugs and liquor to bolster herself all add to the nuances of the story.

Aruna is our chief character and she is not likeable. But it is her story and we are left wanting to know how Aruna is coping, and how the story is going to end. It is a delicate and fragile story and Farooki's skill is in bringing together totally different pieces together into a perfect whole.

A very intriguing read.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Review - Mr. Rosenblum dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

I had read so many reviews for this book and I did so want to get it. I was quite surprised that the library had it as i understand it was published in June of this year.

The book deals with Sadie and Jack and their baby daughter who escape Germany miraculously (being Jews) and come to England. Jack's entire mind is how to be assimilated and to be as English as possible based on a pamphlet handed out to him on arrival "how to be like the English". Sadie on the other hand retains her personality, her ideas and language and is rather disdainful of Jack who will not speak German (unless he curses when he is angry!), and seems to want to forget his origins as quickly as possible.

Jack begins business in England and is very successful in the carpet line. However his one aim in life is to own a golf course having been refused admission to any golf club he applies to based on the fact of his Jewishness. The fact that he is originally German also does not help in post war England. Not being one to be deterred easily Jack pursues his dream, mortgages his property to the hilt and buys an expanse of land only with the idea of making his golf course. In the pursuit of his dreams he is mocked, laughed at, cheated but Jack seems to be oblivious to all this whilst Sadie becomes sadder and sadder at the deterioration of their relationship and the loss of everything that is important to her. Sadie becomes very aware of her roots, does not want to lose her identity or her beliefs specially when Jack tries to become more and more of an Englishman. Sadie also lives out in the book the life she lived with her parents and grandparents and this also adds much interest to the story.

The book was interesting as it dealt with human emotions mainly - the feelings of being a stranger and alone for Sadie, for Jack his determination to integrate into the new country (based on his fear that he will be sent back otherwise) and also his determination to succeed and to bring up his daughter as true Englishwoman. His naivety for me was unbelievable and it was sad that he could be ridiculed to this extent purely on his origins but that is the way of the world unfortunately even todate.

The book is not one to be read quickly. In fact I read it in stages as I found it sometimes too sweet to handle in one go. The description of the English landscape is outstanding and it would make one want to run to England even in winter or spring - both descriptions equally gorgeous!

I liked this book and am glad I got the chance to read it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review - Fludd by Hilary Mantel

I was determined to get to Hilary Mantel eventually - and after Wolf Hall which was for me personally so disappointing I thought there was something wrong with me that I could not like a book which eveyrone was ga-ga about. I then came across Fludd a very small book in comparison to Wolf Hall by the way, just 186 pages so I was able to finish it overnight!

The story set in a bleak, superstitious, drab village of Featherhoughton and surrounds the curate Fludd who has been sent to help Father Angwin - and very soon we wonder is he what he is. At first Father Angwin thinks he is sent by the bishop to spy on him, once that notion is set aside Fludd joins in parish activities, pastoral visits (as best as he could in a rather unfriendly, unwelcoming neighbourhood), drinking whisky with Father Angwin till the wee hours and justgets on with it.

Add to the story a convent of suffering nuns under an autocratic, cruel Sister Superior - nuns who surreptitiously hate her guts but are too frightened by dogma and doctrine to do anything about it. Nuns who are supposed to "educate" youngsters and who seem to do it with a fierceness bordering on sheer cruelty.

The book appears to highlight the cruelty and the insular position of the Catholic church (at this particular point in time) and the vagaries of its higher officers who seemed to be completely out of it as far as village parishioners were concerned. Fludd at the end seems like a knight in shining armour who with one fell sweep is able to influence Father Angwin to do what he wants to do, deal with Sister Philomena and bring some light to some people's lives.

I was confused by the book though I did enjoy the reading of the story. I liked the descriptive way Mantel deals with the villagers, their way of life, even the loutishness of its inhabitants. However it confused me with what the plot was - an interesting, confusing book.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review Aimee Bender - The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

When one has no access to getting books and when you love books as I do, reading about delicious books is a tough thing to live with!!! With avery luscious cake on the cover (lemon chocolate to be precise) and even more delicious reviews pouring in on lots of blogs this was a book I was very keen to read.

Food can be tough for lots of people (I know!) I wish I didnt like it as much as I did then half my problems would be sorted out. In this case however food actually imperils 8 year old Rose - a carefree, normal spirited girl with a "nice family" who thought the world was normal and her family even more so. On her 8th birthday when her mother made her a cake - the lemon chocolate cake mentioned before - she for the first time realized a magical gift she possessed. The ability to taste emotions in the food she ate - the feelings of the person who made the food. In this case it was desperation and despair. From that moment on for Rose food was something to be avoided at all costs, particularly home cooked food.

As time progresses it becomes for Rose a curse - her mother's extra marital affair, her father's curious detachment and the fact that her brother Joseph is not quite right but not something you can put a finger on precisely. More of the magic there as well?

As a child Rose is someone who was born old - she knows it is falling on her shoulders to keep the family together as much as she could. Despite tasting her mother's dilemma Rose keeps it a secret from anyone else. Despite all the care and love Rose showers on her mother, her mother's first love is her son Joseph and her mother has no hesitation in openly showing this. Rose shows no resentment but is sad because her mother she knows is destined for more sorrow where Joseph is concerned. When Joseph starts disappearing the family disintegrates.

The story ends with Rose in her early twenties trying to use her talent in a way that could help others. Rose is finally happier than she ever was and I was glad for it. The girl had to face far too much responsibility on her own. Everyone in her family was in their little coccoon and no one cared how Rose was faring because she put a good face on everything.

The story was a bit peculiar but I liked it!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Review - Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

I think I am one of the last to read this book (in the book reading planet that is) and if I hadn't got it I really would have kicked myself. For my good luck the sister library to what I use had it and they got it down for me. I finished the book in one go - grudgingly taking time out to cook dinner for my brother who came to visit and hoping he would go soon so that I could get back to my book!!!

The book was for me un putdownable. Annie a realtor is 32 and her career is just beginning to take off really well. She has a wonderful dog called Emma and a boyfriend Luke. She has her own house which she loves, a job she loves and is content with her life.

During an open house day her life changes when a psychotic man abducts her and decides that she is the woman for him.

This was the easy part of the book to understand. The harrowing part follows. One
can imagine after reading the blurb what is going to follow. Repeated rape, brutality, force, the mind games that a psychotic would play. Yes that was par for the course.

The story narrated in the first person was perfectly done. It was as if you were actually present in the psychiatrist's room or in the police interrogation room where Annie was relating her story. Simple language, simply spoken.

The media hype, the insensitiveness of the media and the glorifying of gory and potentially harmful stories by the media is another highlight of this book. The media obviously acts this way because this is what sells. It also highlights dysfunctional families and shows the hidden depths of depravity that people would go to, to satisfy greed - both of the ego and of finance. In both these instances Annie is a victim.

The book was appalling, fascinating, gory, and beautiful all in one go. A must read for anyone wanting a fast paced thriller/mystery rolled into one. It did not scare me but it may scare some.

I loved this book!!! Thank you Carnegie library for getting this down for me so soon.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Review - The Uncommon Reader Alan Bennett

Since being back in Melbourne, the library will now give me all the books I have been dying to read and not being able to get whilst I am in Colombo. This book was a small one of just 124 pages and I thoroughly enjoyed this light read.

The Queen turns into quite a "commoner", developing a taste for reading (in real life she doesn't read much), the thrills and vagaries of palace politics, the quirky part of British life and a lot of books read in between. It is said that Bennett is fascinated by the monarchy and this seems to come out in this book. It is written in a very nice style which endears you to read a bit more and a bit more and therein lies the success of this story.

The book also makes one reflect as we all should do on how time passes us by and the time we waste doing something which on reflection is not something substantial at all. That we could have done something better with our time and that yes at times its never too late to change. We also can follow our dreams - the Queen here is a doer and this she does - reading, then making little notes as she reads, and eventually writing down her thoughts.

The book was very interesting to read and very charmingly presented. I enjoyed it tremendously.

Melbourne is in a cold, chilly spell. Who said this was spring weather was joking...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review of DOLLY by Anita Brookner

The story begins with the visit to an uncle who is ailing in Belgium. Jane the narrator of this story is just a little girl but one with who is super sensitive.
Having grown up in a very closed circle of just her mother and father who seemed to need no other at all, even Jane (feeling excluded at times) has a distaste not knowing really why for her Aunt Dolly.

The main character Dolly is intense and superficial, seemingly close to those around her but always with an eye to the main chance and judges people solely out of what she can get out of them. She cultivates Henrietta (Jane's mother) playing on her simplicity almost naivety to get a monthly stipend and continues to do so with Jane after her mother's death.

The book for me was strange - Dolly was the main character it is true but at the same time so many others - Jane, Henrietta, Miss Lawlor the housekeeper, and Hugo in turns become very important to the story and become at that stage of the book a leading character while Dolly recedes into the background. However, like a bad penny she always pops up again leaving a sense of uneasiness behind. You know when she does come in that an unhappy scene is about to played about you - Dolly cannot help this. Her character is so flawed that she does not show well.

Jane on the other hand seems so resigned to everything that happens around her - apathy at its height almost that you want to shake her. You want to ask her whether at eighteen she does not want to do anything with some fervor. Whether she could let
everyone make decisions for her, walk over her and she just seems to fade into the background as it were. This is what makes Dolly look so powerful and intriguing.

The book was a good read, beautifully written at all times but not one which I liked!!! I sound contradictory and I know it but there is no other way to put it.
This was my first read of Anita Brookner - it certainly would not be my last.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review - Ordinary Families - E. Arnot Robertson

This was one of the books I rummaged out of the dust and grime of my second hand store in Colombo. A Penguin published in 1939. I am going back to shorter stories to read specially when I don't have much time to sit with a longer book.

I know its not really correct to say this but I was surprised to find that this is a book written by a woman. I know I sound irrational here but it had very masculine overtones!!!

The book written about an absolutely "not" ordinary family is a saga about an entire family who is very matter of fact about everything in their lives. The lack of money, the lack of beauty or brains or assertiveness - everything is just so matter of fact that you wish you could take some of that extra ordinary commonsense into your own life.

If you enjoy sailing and more sailing this is the book for you. Even though I have absolutely no clue as to what end of a boat is known as what, I liked the book. The children of the story - actually young teenagers - refreshingly simple, straight forward and innocent. Maybe reminiscent of the times. A father figure who dictates albeit in a not really autocratic way but definitely his way of doing things. A clash of personalities which is very sad between the father and his son, the father not realizing at any time that the son is a replica of himself all add to the story.

The story set in the 1930's is also very good for someone who is interested in birds and bird watching. It is a coming of age book of all the children in the story - the realization of sibling rivalry, awakening of sexuality, the realization that parents are not demi gods (yeah!) all that come together in this small book of 280 pages.

I had not read a book detailing such a lot of information about the birds of England or sailing before. I enjoyed this one.

PS I could not find a cover print to show you!

Review Susan Hill's Air and Angels

My first foray into Susan Hill was disappointing. I was more disappointed in myself for not liking her book after all the hype. This time around things were different.

The book set in classical English style in Cambridge mainly with a side dish of the Fens with the main character of Thomas - reclusive, erudite scholar. The unusual part for me was that the other characters were not subservient to the main - Kitty, Florence, Georgiana, Mrs Gray, Mrs. Loveday and even Alice (the maid) were flesh and blood people who were in your face all the time so that Thomas's character was often overshadowed by one or the other.

Thomas falls irrationally in love with Kitty - 15 year old innocent girl just returned from India. He is at turns appalled, and rejuvenated but he also knows how society would look at him - a 55 year old Master in his college turning to a 15 year old girl for love. Then there is Florence widowed young, rich and in search of a husband she could be proud of, Georgiana Thomas's sister who does not know what she wants, tries to push him into a relationship with Florence and fails and is miserable throughout the book (almost throughout the book actually).

The writing is beautiful, the actors in this little book are brilliant. Emotions in all its forms are depicted very well. Human passions both good and bad - love in its purest form, envy, misery, greed are all thrown into the book. The story draws you in. Its a simple story of love and tragedy told the Susan Hill way.

Leaving for Melbourne!

I am going back to Melbourne to visit my children who live there. I hadn't planned this trip at this time of the year and was hoping to go out in January but things don't always go as planned so Sunday sees me flying back.

On a bookish note I have picked Simon of Savidge Reads's idea of reading shorter books - am in the middle of a Susan Hill which I really am enjoying. I did read another of her books and did not like it at all. This one Air and Angels is good. I hope I can finish this one as well as another short book before I leave. I also hope I will be able to put up the reviews as well.

On a quilty note, the piecing of the quilt I started is finished but the basting and actual quilting will have to wait my return.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review - The Witch of Exmoor by Margaret Drabble

This book has been around for simply ages. I just happen to get books rather late in the day, that is why I sometimes wonder whether anyone would be interested in this review at all!

The book revolves around an eccentric, wealthy matriarch Frieda who for reasons best known to her withdraws from her family of three greedy children (all grown up and with families of their own) and takes up residence in a remote, far off corner of the West County. The decrepit, falling down castle is on the edge of a mountain overlooking the sea and seems ready to slide into the sea at any moment.

The children are avaricious - despite being independently well off and well established in their respective careers. The emotions of greed and avarice are very clearly demarcated by their individual silent wonderings as to whether their mother is dead or alive and what is going to happen to her estate. The children are not aware of the extent of wealth their mother possesses but each of them do not want the other child or even a grandchild to benefit from the old lady's largesse.

I had high hopes for this story as the story itself is so "real" and one which is commonplace as well! However it bored me. I do not know whether it is the style of writing or the pace of it but it lagged and I did find it difficult to finish the book. The cover is nice though!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Four mini mini reviews and quilting news!

Solo by Jill Mansell is not one of her better books. A one night stand which turns the life of Tessa upside down - the straightforward, careful Tess gets pregnant and you have the playboy Ross who normally couldn't care less about his conquests - here in a tizz over why Tessa is not accepting his offer of marriage, refuses his money of which there is plenty and generally does not want to have anything to do with him.

The book was a bit silly at times, winding off track but after an Atwood it was a light read! I needed something light.

I also finished Wild Designs by Katie Fforde. I actually chose it on the cover alone which I know is a rather cheesy decision. Can't be helped. I love nice covers. I liked Althea mother of three muddling through life but somehow achieving what she wants to do despite a bossy sister and an interfering ex-husband! The book also a light read was a fun read and was ideal for the gloomy weather we are experiencing right now in Colombo.

Two Erica James's books. One was Time for a change - a perennial question of what does one do when one's very very comfortable life is turned upside down. Turn a blind eye and continue regardless or take a stance. A choice which always throws one into a quandary. It also threw Hilary our heroine of this book.

The last one was Love and Devotion - quite a chunky book of 536 pages. Harriet's life is turned upside down, and inside out with the sudden death of her sister and her husband. This leaves Harriet a single, career conscious woman in her 30's with the sole responsibility of two little kids who do not know what has hit them. Add to this a grandmother who suffers from ME and a grandfather who cannot come to terms with the loss of his eldest daughter and also his retirement and we have an interesting family story which is different.

I wanted to read "light" reads for a while as it is sometime since I read anything like this.

I have also got back to my quilting and am in the middle of doing a quilt for my youngest nephew. Its a disappearing nine patch quilt (one of the simpler designs) in bright colors suitable for a six year old. I hope he likes it.