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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review - Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South

I am ashamed that I did not know of Elizabeth Gaskell's writings till fairly recently. I was fortunate to pick up this book a while ago.

Margaret Hale's father who is a Vicar has a personal crisis of his faith and removes his family from the idyllic village of Heston to smoky, industrial fumes soaked Milton. Here Mrs Hale who never took to the move sickens and dies.

In Milton Mr. Hale takes in students and one of them is a mill owner the enigmatic, different Mr. Thornton. Margaret finds it difficult to reconcile herself to manufacture and trade and thinks for a long time that these people are below her dignity and she should not associate with them very much. At the same time Mr. Thornton falls in love with Margaret and after a strike of workers where Margaret protects him, he declares himself but is spurned.

Margaret takes on domestic duties after her mother's death particularly realising the financial depths they have come down to. Despite this, she maintains her gentrified ways, spurning the harsh ways of the industrial town she is now living in. Prejudices exist on all sides - the North more blunt and cards on the table than the smoother South and this forms the crux of the story.
Thornton however is not going to let go easily - he is not one who is going to step aside and let some other man take Margaret from him. "Faint heart never won fair lady" could be tailor made for him. In a very subtle way he ensures that he knows what is happening in Margaret's life, particularly after the sudden death of her father which means that she moves away to Harley Street and away from him. Despite the obvious antagonism of his mother, Mr. Thornton strives to win Margaret's affection and her hand.

Likened to Pride and Prejudice it is darker than that with no light relief at all in the form of a Mr. Collins. Here death is everywhere and this gives a heavy note to the book. There is poverty in its harshest form as well. It all ends well though for the lovers and this was the lighter part of the book which I enjoyed. The descriptiveness of both village as well as industrial Milton was also very much part of the story.

A very interesting read.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Review - The Inscrutable Americans - Anurag Mathur

This is my second book done for my First Challenge entered into! The challenge is linked to the South Asian Challenge 2011 - S Krishna's books.

Gopal a boy from a small time village in India ends up in Eversville to study in an American university. His world has been a little one and he has been sent to America with strictures on behavior, eating patterns, American girls and to avoid anything Western at any cost!!!! Add to this a mentor - Randy - a typical young man whose main purpose in life is to enjoy life at university (not to study!).

Though the book attempts to be comical, I found it to be forced. I cannot believe in this day and age people behaving the way Gopal did. I could believe this if it was a typical villager but Gopal is a boy who speaks English, reads English and we presume read about America before he arrived. That Gopal was so unaware of life in America is too much to be believed and I felt the author was poking fun constantly at Gopal.

Gopal comes to America believing it is the land of milk and honey (overflowing). He discovers poverty. He also discovers the ethics of hard work and how this would help him to prosper. That it is not what your father did, or what your caste is that determines how you would succeed in life. These are the good parts of the book.

Maybe being Asian myself I did not see the funny part of Gopal's life in America. I found it ludicrous and slightly condescending. However, this is a book that has got positive reviews and is also being made into a film.

I have loved Asian authors who write stories with both an Asian and a Western background. This book was for me a disappointment.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 25/2 to 28/2

This meme sponsored by has enabled me to meet so many new bloggers and most importantly to diversify my reading interests. I was getting into a rut and now I find I have even tried to read books out of my comfort zone. For me this is huge.

Please follow the links and enjoy the reading.

This week's question comes from Jen B. who blogs at I Read Banned Books:

"Do you ever wish you would have named your blog something different?"

No. I am quite happy with my blog name!

See you at the blog hop!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review - Salman Rushdie's SHAME

First released in 1983, the book covers a period in Pakistan history where tensions between the West and Pakistan were very high. The families of two men - one a warrior, the other a playboy get woven inextricably together which eventually affects the politics of the country. Set in the fictitious city of Q Rushdie weaves a tale of fact, fiction and high passion that is amazing though for me sometimes the story seems to leap too far into the future too soon and then takes a step back.

The book seems to highlight the oppression of women in Pakistan along with the sense of inequality that exists. At the same time the women portrayed in the book cannot be said to be the average Jane! None of the women are average. They either seem to be bigger than life or fade into the background completely so that they do not give us the view of being a typical Pakistani woman.

The young woman Sufiya Zenobia who embodies the perception of Shame, is from birth different. First expected as the son to replace the stillborn son her birth is not accepted by her father who insists that she is a boy. An illness whilst a child gives her the mental age of a seven year old throughout her life but at the same time empowers her with magical powers of brute force and strength. Imagined and supernatural both intermix in the telling of the story which also keeps you turning the page expecting something more from each page you turn. You never know how this story is going to turn out and that is Rushdie's cleverness.

When this book first came out it was considered ground breaking. It is used as a text for Advanced Level English literature in Sri Lanka and I am glad of this. Female inequality and oppression have not existed fortunately in our country for decades and though some minor form of discrimination may still exist it is minimal. It is good that students are able to learn that such inequalities exist specially in the region itself and are aware of how lucky we are!!!

I would consider this a must read for all.

Review - A room with a view by E M Forster

The story starts simply - Lucy accompanied by her cousin/chaperone Charlotte are on tour in Florence and the rooms with a view which they were promised has not materialised much to their disappointment and chagrin. A light at the end of the tunnel - an old gentleman by the name of Emerson hearing of their plight offers his rooms (with the view) in exchange.
Charlotte is extremely annoyed at the forwardness or "vulgarity" of the old man whereas Lucy simply looks on it as an act of kindness. This is the first of many instances in the book where during the Edwardian times of the period, ladies should behave just so and Lucy somehow finds herself at variance with the unwritten rules.

The story for me is a coming of age book. Lucy all these years governed by rules and regulations of a strict society learns that she can even in small instances break free and have a mind and will of her own. Lucy is a character one would very easily like, the Emersons unfortunately portrayed as vulgar when they are not, Cecil seems different as he wants to be so, the stultifying Charlotte and Mrs. Honeychurch are all characters who add life to the story. How Lucy changes from someone who does not know her own mind, and can be influenced by others to a girl who realizes the strength of her feelings, and is willing to go against general opinion to break off an engagement which is considered beneficial to all.

This was my first foray into Forster and I enjoyed the read very much. I am reading more of the older books simply because those are readily available here. I am only hoping that whilst digging these out I will find more gems.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review - George du Maurier 's Trilby

I found this difficult going and was almost going to give up half way. The story is based on the author's own life as a student in Paris and his experiences at the end of the 19th century. Little Billee is the chief character with the Laird and Taffy as his associates. They all occupy lodgings in the Latin Quarter and get on amicably together. This group makes the acquaintance of Trilby an orphan of mixed Irish and French parents who supports herself and her brother by modelling. Add to the mix a German Polish singer by the name of Svengali.

Little Billee falls in love with Trilby and intends to marry her. On getting to know this his mother appeals to Trilby that marriage to her son would ruin him for ever. In true self sacrificing spirit Trilby disappears leaving Billee saddened and distraught.

Years later a singer of repute appears on the scene - La Svengali . Though technically superb it is felt that she moves stiltedly and almost like a puppet. To everyone's amazement it is the old Trilby. Very early on in the story the fact that Svengali could hypnotize Trilby was apparent but it is only with Svengali's death that Trilby is able to break free from this strange mesmerism.

For me it was a tough read but I did want to read something of this du Maurier to see whether it was in any way related to his daughter. For me it wasn't anything close to Daphne du Maurier's classics.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book Blogger Hop - Happy Weekend

This meme sponsored by Crazy for Books is one that I have been following for sometime now and I thought it would be fun to join. Apart from getting to know several new bloggers and reading about stuff I had never even heard of before it is also very important because it is taking me completely out of my comfort zone and not allowing me to get into a rut over my reading patterns!

This week's question comes from Jessica who blogs at a GREAT Read:
"What book(s) would you like to see turned into a movie?"

My answer would be Still Missing by Chevy Stevens.

I read and reviewed this book some time ago. I was amazed at the survival instincts of the human being. The story alone is a simple abduction and rape and imprisonment. But how Annie survives and her resourcefulness and ability not to give in to her helpless state forms the crux of this story for me.

Please do visit other lists in the Linky list. Have fun blog hopping and I do hope all of you find new friends.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Review - Mary Higgins Clark - Three separate stories

I am on a light reading streak at the moment and loving it. Overwhelmed with work and trying to fit in a million things into the day - this was an ideal read.

One stunning story after another the stories are chilling, very real and happen to the people next door. This is what brings them so very close to you. It is so lifelike and realistic - you think you know everyone of the characters of the stories.

I liked this collection and felt I got an absolute bargain when I got the three in one deal.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Short Review - STOLEN by Tess Gerritsen

I wanted a bit of a light hearted easy read after the rather heavy books I had read and this fitted the bill perfectly.

She was a cat burglar and he was an English gentleman to his fingertips. A most unlikely romance ever but stranger things have happened. Both of them meet under the most unlikely circumstances - he is also a thief searching for some indiscreet letters written by a friend to a man who is now trying to blackmail her and she is looking for an antique dagger that would prove a point and indict a man for murder. Add to this an international arms dealer, a bit of drugs on the side, murder of an entire crew, stowaways, a family of burglars and and a family of English aristocrats and what more could one ask for.

An interesting story, very quick paced and nicely put together. It was a very easy read for me
for today whilst I sat and waited between appointments!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review - The Garrick Year by Margaret Drabble

The story from the perspective of young feisty Emma married to another egocentric actor David with two children under the age of two sets the tone of the story.

Both Emma and David centred in their own worlds, selfish to other people's needs only see the world from the angle they want. They both only see it from their own needs, ambitions and desires. Despite being one of a kind both Emma and David clash - both being selfish each only considers the needs of themselves and not the other - though Emma mostly goes along with what David wants at the end. Even their respective dips into adultery seem almost as if it was without thinking of consequences, almost like a picnic or a trip to a shopping mall!

In 1964 when this book was published Emma like most young women of the time were just beginning to find their independent wings. They were an educated, articulate, bright generation who were also beginning to realize that married life, domesticity and children also brought with it its attendant responsibilities and ties (which would not allow them to fly the way they really wanted to). They wanted the best of both worlds and when they found it lacking - that was when the gaps began to appear as they did in Emma's case. David is able to shrug everything off very easily and comes across as being very slick. One does get annoyed with Emma, particularly being an intelligent young woman, that she could resignedly accept David's shortcomings without a murmur.

Though a very small book just 172 pages this was not an easy read for me. I felt it was a bit dated in its outlook but then one must look beyond that to the way it was at the time and this was what made me doggedly pursue it to the end.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review - A Perfect Woman L P Hartley

I have been able to dig out some old books from my second hand store and these are very interesting reading. It shows me very specifically how glad I am to live in the present times!!
As a woman I would have found it very difficult to conform to what was expected and not to create waves. On the other hand who knows - most probably I would have simply complied.

Harold - a conservative Chartered Accountant has very set ideas of how things should be - from the position of his wife, to what and what not his wife should even know about his business, his income, his clients. Isabel on the other hand feels she is defined by the term "wife" and that there is a somewhat job description for this role and you should not step out of it. But Isabel is a bit of a rebel who has lived life on her own in London for a time and knows what independence is about.

The cat is set amongst the pigeons when Harold meets Alec the writer on a train (in a first class compartment with a third class ticket). This in itself is a blow to Harold's sensibilities - one should know one's place and situation in life. The arrival of Alec upsets the proverbial applecart. Harold's tidy little world is turned upside down by Alec's request to try to procure the gentle barmaid for himself - and Isabel invites Irma to a Woman's Institute meeting to welcome her into the community. When Harold eventually falls in love with Irma and Isabel falls in love with Alec the entire story is changed and what was a fairly staid marriage becomes one of deceit, lies and subterfuge.

The story is a good one - describing human relationships, the twists and turns and how emotions do rule us despite one trying to stick to what one is supposed to do. How a conservative couple who on the surface are pillars of society can come undone due to boredom and sameness in their marriage are very vividly shown here. A situation common today as it was in 1956 when the book was published.

Interesting read.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mailbox Monday - 14th February 2011

I had a mid week Mailbox Monday (I couldn't wait) so there are quite a few books pending from that lot but I do have another lot of books which I picked up from another second hand store.

I picked up a few hardcovers( the first four shown below) which are also quite old. I just liked the sound of the titles - I have not read any reviews of these books before so am not sure how they are going to turn out!

Dinner at Antoine's - Frances Parkinson Keyes

In my path - Halliday Sutherland

Shannon's Way by A J Cronin

The Small Woman by Alan Burgess

The next four are smaller books - after the Swan Thieves I got tired of huge tomes!
Margaret Drabble (my second book from this author) The Garrick Year

Good Wives - Louisa May Alcott
A room with a view - E.M. Forster

George du Maurier - Trilby
That is my Mailbox. Would really appreciate your views on this lot of books.

Review - Half in Love by Maile Meloy

I was taken by not just the title of the book but also the name of the author. I found the name intriguing!

This was a collection of short stories very "tightly" told. They are to the point and precise, but at the same time full of unexpected drama. Practically all of them are set in ranches, horse country, and stuff of a related nature (all totally alien to me!). This was not an easy collection of stories to love but since the stories themselves are short, it was easy to finish the book fast.

The stories have a loner quality to them. The protaganists in the stories are all more or less one of a kind - they are also able to face the harsh realities of life particularly in the frame of their circumstances and specially the locality in which they are based. The weather is very much part of the stories - harsh, unrelenting weather in every form.

This was not an easy read by any means but its very harshness is the thing that draws you to the story. You do want to know how each story is going to end and this is the cleverness of Meloy.

Review - The Swan Thieves - Elizabeth Kostova

Most of the reviews of this book are over a year old - I get to my books late due to several reasons - I did read The Historian quite a while back though this book eluded me.

Andrew Marlow - a quiet, retiring psychiatrist takes on an unusual case - Robert Olivier who was caught trying to stab a painting in the National Gallery. The extent to which Marlow goes to unravel the mystery of how and why this artist should do this, forms the crux of the story.

What is unravelled goes back to the 19th century - a story of a love affair between two artists and the obsession and love and passion that Robert a century later develops for someone who is dead and gone. A painter himself, Marlow tries to discover who the woman in the painting is - the one which Robert is obsessed by and what drove Robert to the destruction of the painting.

To discover the reasons why Robert behaved in the manner he did, Marlow interviews Kate the ex wife and Mary the ex lover. Getting to grips with the beginning of the story and seemingly unconnected threads - the story starts coming together with a packet of letters dated mid 19th century which speaks of the relationship between Beatrice and Olivier and the beginning of Beatrice's paintings. Marlow goes way beyond duty to try to find out why Robert behaved the way he did, mainly so that he could understand the artist's feelings and to set him up in the path to recovery. The story gives us a peek into the world of artists - the characters in the book are for the most part artists - their passion for their art, the descriptiveness is very evocative. Spanning a few countries we are given details of European art which adds to the interest of this story.

The story holds you firmly in its grip for almost the whole way through and you are still trying to find a way out of the maze - but towards the end it almost comes together too quickly. This was a big book and for me the ending was far too quick. I liked the story, the characters and the settings very much - the author has done a lot of research for this book and that is something I really appreciate. I will be looking out for Kostova again without a doubt.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Two short book reviews - one a mystery the other family with a WWI background

This was the second book given to me by Sakura from Chasing Bawa. It is a mystery so slightly different to the usual Regency style of writing of Heyer's. Peter, Margaret and Celia along with her husband Charles have inherited an old ramshackle house - and find that the whole village is scared of its resident ghost The Monk. Appearing cowled and without any facial features visible he seems to have put off the entire neighbourhood. The family though believe that this is just a tall tale and try to solve once and for all the mystery of the Monk.

Though the final identity of the Monk was a surprise - the book itself is an easy read and a nice comforting one for a wet day (of which we have had several).

Set in 1929 and going right upto to the end of WWI this period in history is one I like to read about. I seem to be coming up with more and more books covering this period each one dealing with families and how they deal with the huge trauma of war.

The wild card here is Liam - who is the housekeeper's son and who from the word go, does not "know his place" and has no intention of knowing it either. Add to the mix the children of the Clough household growing up with a helpless, weak kneed mother and a dictator father who wants to rule his children with a rod of iron. The ups and downs of family, the relationships that develop between this family and the Parkers (another family whom the Cloughs have been friends with), the devastation and destruction of the war, the deprivation faced by all,the breakdown of class and social barriers is very apparent, and how human beings try to survive despite over riding odds form the major part of this story.

An extremely interesting, descriptive book which had me engrossed from beginning to end.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book Loot! Mailbox Monday days in advance!

I could not wait to do my next Mailbox Monday because this collection of books from my second hand shop were so good. I am annoyed because the entire post got deleted almost at the end of the editing and now I have to start over. Mixed up with the books which are well known are some unknown books (to me). I have started reading mid Victorian and WWI and WWII period books and hopefully these will be good too.

Considered the New York Times No. 1 best seller - I thought this pick of three complete stories was a good find.

Having read Tess Gerritsen before I picked this one up. This one sounds scary as well.

I have read Kostova before with The Historian - this is a book which I had been trying to get for ages. I sometimes despair that I will ever get all what I want to read but I should have more faith as generally they all eventually turn up somehow!

The Lacuna and Poisonwood Bible have been on my TBR for ages! One down, one more to go!!!

I was looking for books for my South Asian challenge and this turned up. I expected more but this was it.

Always with rave reviews all over the blogs, this I had to pick up. A rather small book!

A new author for me. Looking forward to this one. Also a small book of short stories.

I have been wanting to go back to some of the classics. This was a good choice I feel.

The last two are the really old books! A Perfect Woman by L P Hartley published in 1956
and the other is Jumping Jupiter by Ernestine Gilbreth Carey published in 1953.

The last two books - totally unknown are the ones I am hoping would be good. If anyone has
read or heard anything of them please let me know.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Review - Good Evening Mrs. Craven - The Wartime Stories by Mollie Paynter Brown

This delightful book was a gift from Sakura of Chasing Bawa and this is one book I will want to go back to again. Published by the Persephone Press and something I would never have been able to get in Sri Lanka, this collection of short stories commencing with one dated 3rd September 1939 and ending with the one dated 11th June 1944, describes in intimate style the hopes, fears, aspirations and dreams of wartime Britons.

All the stories are down to earth, practical and seem to be earthed in a no nonsense practicality. There is nothing dramatic or flamboyant with any of the stories. We are dealing with an absolutely upstairs/downstairs personalities (the aristocracy and the working class) and what in my opinion is the humor for which Britishers are famous for - dry, understated and hilarious in turns.

All the women in the stories are dealing with the trauma of war - husbands going or coming, husbands not going as a result of desk jobs, the problems of finding domestic help, the rearing of children, the evacuation of children, the serious food shortages, the coupon system - all situations hitherto not faced by the average British woman and one which all of them took in their stride.

The book is fascinating reading for anyone who wants to know about the English way of life. The matter of fact way of facing adversity, the stiff upper lip, the dry humor - all things we associate with England are very apparent in these stories.

I loved the book and only hope that I will get an opportunity of reading more of the same.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mailbox Monday for the week starting 7th February 2011

Mailbox Monday was started by Marcia from The Printed Page. It has gone on a very successful blog tour and is being hosted for February by Library of Clean Reads.

This week I received two books as gifts. For the first time I was able to meet a fellow blogger who had come over for the Galle Literary Festival. Sakura blogs at Chasing Bawa and she was my main inspiration to start a blog of my own.

The first book was Mollie Paynter-Downes's Good Evening Mrs Craven - TheWartime Stories. I never thought I would ever get an opportunity of reading a Persephone publication as the books would never, ever come to Sri Lanka but miracles do happen and here I am with my first book from this publishing house. It is a delightful read and my review will be up shortly.

Rather than giving you a image of the cover of the book which is in its usual elegant grey, I thought I'd show you the fabulous endpaper and a small explanation as to what it means.
Coupons', 1941, shows women's clothes against a repeat of '66', the number of clothes coupons allowed a year during the war, with the number needed per item.

The next book is from one of my all time favourite authors - Georgette Heyer. Her book Footsteps in the Dark described as a perfect blend of mystery and humour sounds delightful.

Those are the two books which were in my Mailbox. I do hope you enjoy yours as well.

On a non book blogging note, Friday being a holiday we decided to go visit the orphanage in Mannar. Unfortunately halfway through the journey, rising flood waters, breaching of tank bunds and general mayhem forced us to retreat back to Colombo. I am very disappointed as I cannot see when I can find another long weekend like this to do the very long trip out there. All the stuff I had collected also has to just wait - the chocolates and cake I distributed to the Negombo home on my way back home. It certainly got eaten in record time. The flood situation in my country is bad - over a million people displaced again and some 13 deaths. What has happened to the weather patterns? February is generally a dry month - harvesting of paddy fields are done in this month and the entire rice harvest is ruined with these heavy rains.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Review - By Fire, By Water Mitchell James Kaplan

This was a book sent to me by the author. This was the second time this has happened and I was delighted as I do not get books sent to me by publishing houses or by authors. The cost of postage from the United States to Sri Lanka is exhorbitant and I don't blame anyone for not thinking of overseas reviewers when they send out their books.

Luis de Santangel is a converso - he has come to the very pinnacle of his career as Chancellor to the Spanish King. He has everything within his grasp and knows it. Until the arrival of the dread Inquisition and Luis's personal achilles heel is going to be revealed. Torquemada has made it his life's mission to bring Santangel down and this he endeavors to do - turning his only son against him, imprisoning and torturing his brother and in the process Luis begins to lose the power and the glory that surrounded him.

As time goes on Luis longs for his Jewish roots and this was for me a fascinating part of the story. The Jews lived alongside the Moors in Granada and in Castile and in Aragon in peace. They were not tortured or forced to give up their faith. The inquisition changed all that. They became a hunted people chased from their homes, forced to leave with nothing of value and set up home again wherever they could find safe abode. The tyranny in the name of the Christian religion was an eye opener for me. I had known of the Inquisition but not to the extent it went to change people and circumstances to suit their own twisted way of thinking. In the name of religion how much evil presided at the time is very evident from this book.

Alongside Luis - the other character of note is Judith. A strong Jewish woman who takes to a professional career of being a silversmith - which was for the time marked her as being different. The attraction between Luis and Judith which develops very slowly culminating in her bearing his son is very poignant. He never sees Judith who was pregnant with his child ever again once she is forced to flee her home.

Another interesting feature of the book was the character of Christopher Colombus. His ambition of finding the Indias, of circumnavigating the globe, his search for funding all mark him as an ambitious, fearless adventurer. Bringing Colombus into this story also marked the era in which the story is set.

As a story the book was so good that I finished it almost in one go. For lovers of historical fiction and specially for those whose knowledge of the Spanish era of the time and more particularly the role of the Inquisition, this would be a must read.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Quilt finished!

Bad picture - good quilt I believe. A disappearing nine patch quilt for my very very cute seven year old nephew Anushka! I am now in the middle of doing one for my other nephew a more grown up 13 year old!!

The quilting took a back seat whilst I was in Australia - but hopefully it will now restart despite the huge backlog of work in office, work at the orphanages and general work!!! I don't seem to be able to get over it completely despite being almost a month back.

I have won at two fabric giveaways and am eagerly awaiting this as well. I have said we don't have jelly rolls, charm squares and layer cakes in Sri Lanka so winning these is a double delight.

Mailbox Monday commencing 31st January 2011

Mailbox Monday presently on a tour is being hosted by Rose City Reader for January.

My mailbox has been sparse as I have not gone out looking out for books! I got one from the author itself Mitchell James Kaplan - By Fire By Water and am delighted with this.

The book being described as a complex web of personal relationships, religious zeal and political fervor sounds so intriguing, that I can't wait to get to it.