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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mailbox Monday and It's Monday what are you reading?

Mailbox Monday is a meme hosted originally by Marcia of The Printed Page. It is presently being hosted by Life in the Thumb. The meme links one to a host of blogs all giving us details of what they received in the form of books for the week. Such a lot of variety and new reads that it leads to more TBR for us. Please visit the links.

I am combining this meme of mine with Book Journey's Its Monday what are you reading. This meme shares what we read the last week and what we hope to read this week. The books I did read were The Mistress of Spices (review up and so disappointing though I did finish it) and Somerset Maugham's Volume 2 collection of short stories which I can recommend wholeheartedly. It was a wonderful read. Am presently reading Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (review hopefully up in a day).

The two books which came into my Mailbox are both purchases from my second hand store. I have several books which I have won which have not come so far and I am a bit worried as generally the post is very good! I do hope no one has nicked them.

My first is a kind of classic!
Described as a sprawling complex family history.

The second is about three black sisters in Maryland, all wishing their life was a bit different!

I like family stories - those crossing generations - the complexity of family situations and the relationships that form, break up and form again within them. Right up my street.

Now to visit the other Mailboxes! and on to those linked to Book Journey as well.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Review - Somerset Maugham Collection of Short Stories Volume 2

The book I have has a very dull cover. It was surprising I even picked it up. This one is so intriguing it would draw you in to read the book. I understand there are four volumes of short stories and I am determined now to track them down!

Volume 2 deals with the Englishman of the colonial era in full force - set in Malaysia, Borneo, South America and a couple on the Continent the stories are wonderfully told - an almost Eastern story teller ambiance of step by step stories leading to a twist in the tale, a quirky character and a sadness that the story is to end.

Dealing with relationships throughout the stories, the pressure that loneliness puts on one and how it can alter people is a recurrent theme throughout this book. Planters, administrators of the British Empire led a lonely life at the top - maintaining a stiff upper lip, maintaining standards which were difficult to maintain and for men a very lonely life of home and club. The existence of a secret life of native mistresses and half caste children was a fascinating aspect of their lives told in some of the stories.

Maugham is not critical of the culture he talks about but he is matter of fact about it - describing it and telling it as it is - no frills or furbellows attached! you take the harsh reality with the good times, the easy life of servants and being in power along with the harsh climate, antagonistic labour and insecurity for your life.

Beautifully descriptive, beautifully told you have got to read these books.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Author Interview with Olivia deBelle Byrd of MISS HILDRETH WORE BROWN

Described as Anecdotes of a Southern Belle and by one blogger as "if you do not have any Southern friends you will want some after reading this" I am delighted to interview Olivia deBelle Byrd for my blog author of Miss. Hildreth Wore Brown.

Is your knowledge of the US South due to your background or were you born in the American South?

Olivia : I was born and bred in Panama City, Florida on the beautiful azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida Panhandle. My grandfather, Wyatt Oates Byrd moved to Panama City in 1930 from Alabama so I am called Old South. I am a former elementary school teacher and was a stay-at-home mom for my two children Tommy Jnr and Elizabeth. My husband Tommy and I still reside in Panama City.

Did you write as a child? So many novelists seem to have scribbled little plays and notes as children.

Olivia : As a child I was a voracious reader and loved to write. One of my earliest memories is my grandmother, who was very instrumental in my life, teaching me to write thank you notes! I loved the art of letter writing and still write personal notes as often as possible.

Did you have a figure which inspired you to write?

Olivia : In writing this first book, Miss. Hildreth Wore Brown, I wrote what I knew - humor and the South. Since I was raised by a Southern father and grandmother of uncommon wit, the fabric of my childhood was laced with humor. I grew up surrounded by marvelous tales of Southern grande-dames and eccentric Southern gentlemen. Humor was a staple in our household. I have loved the art of storytelling as long as I can remember.

What is the best thing that happened as a result of writing Miss. Hildreth?

Olivia : I have had the huge honor of personally meeting two of my modern day literary idols Fannie Flagg and Pat Conroy. They are two of the nicest people I have ever encountered - unpretentious and kind. They are what we call in the South "down-home people".

Do you do a lot of research for your books? Is this time consuming or interesting and time consuming?

Olivia : Since these were stories that really occurred, I did not have to do a great deal of research. But, because many of them happened years ago, I did fact-check a lot of things. I find research fascinating but it is time consuming.

What are your writing plans for the future?

Olivia : Though I do have some ideas bouncing around in my head, my main goal right now is marketing Miss. Hildreth. While on blog tour this past April, I wrote several guest author posts that were a lot of fun.

Thank you Olivia for the interview. My review of this book will be up shortly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni - The Mistress of Spices

I loved Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni books. Read a few and enjoyed them tremendously. This was not only a disappointment but for me it took the fantasy too far! I did not seem to understand the story very well I think - it was very descriptive and I learned things about spices which I did not know about, but overall disappointing.

One of the few books where I watched the movie before I read the book. The movie was very disappointing as well so maybe I carried that perception to the story.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mailbox Monday and It's Monday what are you reading.

Mailbox Monday is a meme sponsored by Marcia from The Printed Page. Presently on tour it is being hosted (last week) by A Sea of Books.

The books that came into my house (all unexpectedly) are :

Picked up from a second hand store. Almost cost nothing.
A win !
The Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni book and Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis were both from my daughter. I saw the film for Mistress of Spices and was disappointed with it. That is why this book has not got read yet.
I am combining Mailbox Monday with It's Monday What are you reading , the latter being hosted by Book Journey. Both memes leads one to very interesting blogs. Please visit the links.

It has been an eventful week but despite a lot of work books did get read. Books which I had in fact put aside for "later".

Earth by Emile Zola was not even on the horizon to be read but it was one which was enthralling mainly for its depiction of French rural 19th century life. As a complete contrast was Vanished by Sheela Chari - a mix of YA and a bit of fantasy, Indian background with contemporary American feel! (out of my comfort zone) but one I enjoyed and The Alchemist - more philosophical than anything else.

I am almost at the end of Shantharam - so very enjoyable for such a big book. Definitely will finish this one soon.

Happy reading to all.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review - Mary Wesley's THE CAMOMILE LAWN

The novel set in pre WWII and then going into the War proper deals with Helena and Richard and their five nieces and nephews. It also deals with later in detail of the different love lives of both Helena and Richard and how the lives of each influence and affect the other.

Set in 1939 on a fragrant camomile lawn the innocence of the family is portrayed clearly. The gradual disintegration of this innocence with the onset of the war and how the war changes all the characters of the book - from simple youngsters, to fearful, suspicious adults. It also acts as a liberating factor both in their emotional and sexual lives. Almost a sexual revolution.

The whole story is in flashbacks when they attend Max's funeral - and snippets of past and present lives are intertwined in the story.

Some reviewers do not like the structure of the story - I looked beyond that to the period in which it was set which is a favourite of mine. It is an era long gone, unlikely ever to return and nostalgic! I like the simplicity of day to day life, the description of the rationing and deprivation which the war brought about, the rise of women in the workforce and the increase in independence for women are things which are of particular interest to me.

Liked this book.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review - Paulo Coelho THE ALCHEMIST

Santiago is a 17year old shepherd boy who has a dream and a vision and with will power to follow it. A simple boy endowed with very strong spiritual powers to do what he feels he has been "set out to do". Full of visions, symbols, (some incomprehensible to me) the story is told in simple language how he leaves his home in Spain, goes across the desert, encounters tribal warfare and almost death and finally reaches the Pyramids which was all he desired to do.

Looking for the treasure which he has had visions about, Santiago realizes that the treasures are in the journey itself, the discoveries of the world and the people about him. The story deals with the idea that all of us have a dream for our life - either in a career or to see the world or even to visit Mecca, but everyone does not know/or does not want to know the way to achieve this goal. When we do not achieve our destiny or our dream our lives are empty and without satisfaction.

For me again not an easy read - a very small book though which I finished fast - but with a lot of things to ponder over. Good book to reflect over.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Friday Book Blog Hop

The meme run by Jen where we meet every Friday to meet book bloggers in a weekly book blog hop.

This week's question is a good one.

What’s the ONE GENRE that you wish you could get into, but just can’t?

For me its the vampire, the paranormal and the fantasy ! Sorry that makes it three but invariably they re all combined!

Please visit Jen and go visit the various links.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review - EARTH by Emile Zola

I was browsing through the Paris in July challenge and idly reading the list of authors listed came across Emile Zola. I had got this book, never read it and then started reading it and the usual story of having to finish as quickly as possible.

The Earth is a perennial story of generations of people who have a love for the soil, their own soil as it were and which they would fight to the death to protect and save and with great reluctance hand over to the next generation. The characters of the book are so pronounced and earthy that although we may not see people like this anymore, you can recognize characteristics in each of them similar to those around you now.

The greed to acquire, the greed not to share, the envy of a neighbours prosperity and expansion, covetousness are all there in full measure even today - these characteristics are paramount in this book. It was sad to see the envy between siblings - not mere envy but cruelty at its peak to see to the end of one person so that the other person could rise.

I understand that the author's idea was to show the effect of division of estates in rural France in the 19th century to the detriment of agriculture. The influence of the Civil Code led to the lack of respect for elders as well as a constant attempt to limit the number of children in order that land would not be fragmented by division.

Another feature would be the problem of aging - physically as well as mentally - and the issue of how children cope with aging parents. In the story the manner in which the family treat their aging parents (once the property is handed over of course) is horrible. It leads to the murder of the father and in their greed to acquire more and more land, the murder of a sister as well.

The book was a cruel depiction of life and whether it was typical or not I couldn't say (for 19th century rural France). It was a difficult read because it hit very hard with no holds barred.
Though tough to assimilate, a very good book.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Review - VANISHED by Sheela Chari

The book was sent to me by the publisher Disney Publishing Worldwide and it is the first book I was sent for review from a publishing house.

Neela is eleven years old an American of Indian origin - trying to fit in with the American school and not in any way to be different. She accepts the bindi and the aarti (dot on forehead and blessings with camphor and fire) which her mother does but it is just an acceptance for acceptance sake. She is however fluent in Tamil (her parents mother tongue) and loves her grandmother back home and Chennai where her grandparents still live. Neela is trying to balance it all.

Her grandmother gifts her a veena - and this is where the story actually begins. The veena - a stringed instrument famous for its dulcet tones - is a family heirloom and supposedly a Guru original. It also carries with it a way of disappearing and reappearing in a particular music shop in Chennai.

When this veena disappears from Neela's possession in a church of all places, Neela's curiosity is aroused - specially when she eavesdrops and hears snippets of her parents conversation as well as bits of information from strangely, unconnected sources. The appearance of dragons in different forms - from drawings, to the dragon on the veena, to a dragon kettle, to dragon embroidery convinces Neela that there is a conspiracy afoot and that there is much more to this disappearing veena than meets the eye.

Moving from Arlington, Boston to Chennai the story is a novel story - a story of trust and Neela's perseverance to the end to solve the puzzle of her missing veena.

Very suitable for young readers - eight years and upwards will enjoy the read. I did myself!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mailbox Monday 18th July 2011/It's Monday What are you reading?

I am linking this post to both meme's Mailbox Monday being hosted by A Sea of Books and It's Monday - What are you reading hosted by Book Journey.

Just one book for review from DPW Publishing. This is the first time a publishing house has sent me a book for review so I am quite chuffed!

Sheela Chari's debut novel described as a story of coincidence and fate, trust and deceit, music and mystery.

Two short reviews! - SAD CYPRESS by Agatha Christie and REGENCY BUCK by Georgette Heyer

Books have been read but no reviews have been up. I did not realize that it is almost a week since I last posted.

An Agatha Christie is for me always a comfort read. Something with a complicated plot but you know in the end things will turn out well. Matters are sorted out - Elinor is accused of the death of not just Mary a girl whom her fiancee fell in love with but also the murder of her aunt in order to lay her hands on a substantial legacy. Sorting out the mess which seems hopeless specially since Elinor herself seems to all appearances to have deemed herself guilty is a herculean task which only Poirot could solve.

In contrast the next read was a light hearted one. Judith an heiress and her brother both country born are left to the guardianship of Lord Worth who finds it all a bore and a nuisance. Sparks fly as Judith is no country miss who is going to follow orders - she sets the ton alight both her verve and wit, her beauty and in no small measure her fortune of 80,000 pounds! All ends well and happily.

I also started on Shantharam - have got through over 600 pages just another 300 to go but that will have to be kept for next week. It is a superb book, brutal, honest, so in your face that it can be taken in small doses only but one you just want to read and read. I only wish the book was not so heavy!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review - Mark Mills's THE SAVAGE GARDEN

Adam a young art student is sent to complete a study for his thesis on a Renaissance garden. So far it seems almost prosaic! The garden completed in the mid 1500's is a normal Italian garden, statuary and all. A wife has died young and the garden was built by her husband in her memory.

However, there is more to the garden than meets the eye. Deciphering old papers Adam realizes that the garden was Docci's way of getting away with murder, with meticulously hidden clues which had escaped detection for over 400 years. Using Dante's Divine Comedy as a guide Adam deconstructs the murder, the reasons for the murder, the manner of the murder, but it still does not stop there.

Attached to the garden is the villa where the present occupants live. A seemingly elderly lady with a couple of children and a murky past. Unravelling all this takes Adam deeper and deeper into very troubled waters. What Adam does not ever realize is that he has been set up to be the "fall guy" and bring into the open what has been known for over 30 years.

A hugely interesting plot, murky family backgrounds (which I love) and it takes an "outsider" to sort it out. Very, very good read.

Review Mary McCarthy - The Group

The story of seven women from Vassar who graduated in 1933 is told in flashback as well as going forward of the transformation of their lives from college students to young women of different types and to the amazement of all, the different ways in which each person turned out to be. The surprising bit was the attitude of the women themselves towards each other despite their being friends and college mates for years.

There is a lot to be depressed about and it took me quite a while to read the book through. There is disillusionment in spades, hypocricy and what I felt was very sad " the attitude of what will people say" was paramount for almost all of them - it was very important to maintain appearances, to have the same standards of their mothers and grandmothers, to follow tradition blindly irrespective of whether good or bad and not to take informed decisions but to blindly follow the herd was horrible to read!

The women feel that their education is a drawback - that life is meant to be one of domestic bliss on the same scale as enjoyed/hated by their mothers but it is a "woman's lot" and hence has to be tolerated. I found this very difficult to imagine/accept and read about. So many difficult subjects handled here, premarital sex, birth control, the stigma attached to it if one is a single woman, motherhood, parenting skills and even whether breast or bottle is best is a battle in the book.

The book was not against the education of women but seemed to emphasize in a subtle way that 1930's was not about the emancipation of women whatever education may be offered to them. They were expected to be educated and then to get married well. This was disappointing.

An interesting book but one I had to pursue seriously to get to the authors' point of view.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mailbox Monday 11th July 2011

Mailbox Monday is a meme which originated from Marcia of The Printed Page. It is presently on tour and for this month is being hosted by Gwendolyn from A Sea of Books.

Just one book only for this last week. A win from Jane from Fleur Fisher Reads. Thank you.

My blogging took a back seat to domestics! we are moving house and that is huge. My son is returning today for a short break and much looked forward to. Internet connections in Rosella where we spent the weekend was zero and it was very disappointing as I love to just scroll through blogs over the weekend. I do hope I can get back to my normal blogging soon. Books have been read, reviews have to be done.

Hope everyone has a good week.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review - Piers Paul Read's ALICE IN EXILE

The year is 1913 and everyone is on the brink of WWI without actually knowing it. The world as people knew it will change and life will never be the same.

Alice, a rebel in her own right - a female University student, with a publisher father and a French mother - quite unique for the time meets up with the landed gentry Edward Cobb and falls in love. The feelings are mutual but politics, family and ambition get in the way. Edward is destined for a seat in Knapley - a Conservative stronghold and Alice is "not quite right wife material". Faced with this Alice gives Edward the graceful way out despite her love for him and also being pregnant at the time. The story moves to Russia and the intrigues of Russian politics when she takes up a post as governess to the two younger children of Baron Rettenberg.

The details of life on the estate of the Baron, the intrigues of life there plus the ever increasing threat of revolution and the Russian Revolution when it does happen is focal to the story. The increasing threats to the Rettenberg family - the loss of their eldest son and then the next, the loss of all property both movable and immovable and the escape from their home with Alice being the stalwart one is very beautifully told. At the same time the war has broken out and all Europe is devastated by its effects. This goes on simultaneously with the story in Russia.

How Alice meets up with Edward now serving in the Army and much decorated for several brave sorties and how Edward discovers he has a son after so many years - the story of the Rettenbergs and the Cobbs are intertwined - the end is strange and not quite satisfactory and neat, but life is like that. Very, very nicely told.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review - Tess Gerritsen's THE KEEPSAKE

Am reading a Gerritsen after quite a while and also forgot to include this in my Mailbox. Bought brand new from a second hand sale this was a bargain.

Imagine a mummy lying undiscovered in a Boston museum for years and years - and then being discovered whilst a long overdue inventory is being done. The museum has so many artifacts all undocumented! The mummy thought to be thousands of years old is the cause of a media circus - all good pr to help raise funds for the tottering Crispin Museum. To everyone's dismay during a publicly filmed unravelling of the mummy's wrappers Madam X (dramatically described by the press) is discovered to be just 25 years old of a missing girl from an archaelogical site whose body has been mummified by someone very knowledgeable in the art.

The murderer is cocky and relishes the publicity because one body and its clues leads to the next and the next. He thinks that no one is ever going to catch him. Simultaneously, we have Josephine who is working at the Museum with a highly chequered past all connected with distant strands to both the Museum and its benefactors. The murderer and Josephine are both linked though no one other than Josephine is aware of this.

Maura and Jane are the team in charge of solving the crimes. Convoluted it is, fascinating it is and a very good read. Finished it all in one go. (thats how I missed it for Mailbox).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Review - Sara Mills Miss Fortune - An Alli Fortune mystery

Set in 1947 post WWII (I like that period) with flashbacks to 1939 so that it covers a nice long period we have an unusual story. A Private Investigator and strangely enough for the time a female - still women are not quite emancipated for this to be an occasion for a raising of eyebrows if the occupation is mentioned! Allie finds herself happy in her job but hankering for a lost love, always at odds with her socialite mother who is horrified at her daughter's job and wishes she would just get married and move in the same social circles that she does.

This is just the background. We then come to the main core of the story. Helen of Troy's gold jewellery has been lost. The Soviets had initially taken them over to be shipped back to Moscow but our Clive and Mary a real Bonnie and Clyde pair just takes off with the jewellery hoping that over a long period of time the theft would be buried and forgotton.

Working alongside the FBI Allie does a deal - find David her long lost love and she will do her utmost to pass on whatever information she has so that the jewellery could be recovered and returned to whatever country it belongs to. Plots, side plots, murder, the involvement of the East Germans and the Soviets all are part of the plot.

The story in itself is not fabulous but I liked the period setting of the story. Slightly old fashioned and orthodox, it was a different scene from the usual spy/jewellery heist scenario. A pleasant read.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mailbox Monday 4th July 2011

Mailbox Monday is being sponsored by Gwendolyn from A Sea of Books.

I had a wonderful Sunday today. My husband had cousins visiting Sri Lanka after almost 30 years. They are residents now of Norway and only speak Tamil and Norwegian. I do not speak either though my knowledge of Tamil is mainly the colloquial sort. We have hundreds of people returning to our country to visit family since the war is now over, there is no embargo to travel to the North (though you still need Ministry of Defence clearance) and the check points and military presence is now greatly diminished. These two cousins have not seen their parents for 30 years and it is going to be a great reunion when they go back as they have brought some of the children along. No one can imagine unless you have gone through this experience of not being able to see family just because a war was on and travel could not happen to the region.

Getting back to books - my mailbox collection for this last week was very good. All from a two second hand book sales and all other than just two books which I picked up since I liked the sound of the read, were all recommendations from book bloggers.
Interesting read (read and review to follow) set in flashback from 1937 to 1947 a Private Eye and the FBI take on the robbery of Helen of Troy's gold jewellery. Nice as it was set in a period where I have not read of books of this nature.
Paulo Coelho's famous novel. I have read one other of his works and now to the second.
Perennial favourite. I am trying to collect them all.
I am looking for the "Alice" in books because my last read was so unexpectedly good. This is not of that genre but I am hoping for the unexpected.
This came from Simon of Savidge Reads recommendation. Follow him faithfully. Likes what he recommends as its such a nice mix of genres.

Can't remember where I saw this but I liked the cover as well.
This is a tome which is going to accompany me on my four hour journey to Rosella by bus! Recommended everywhere and long overdue on my part to read.

I also picked up two FODOR's travel books - one on Paris and one on London. I love the snippets of information in them and am reading them as and when I can. Love those travel books.

Everyone have a good week.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Review Isabelle Allende's DAUGHTER OF FORTUNE

Set in mid nineteenth century covering four continents, innumerable races and languages this book is a translation from its original Spanish.

Eliza Sommers (mysterious origins) left on the doorstep of the Sommers residence - in a crate wrapped in a cardigan - and sometimes said in a basket with a mink blanket is brought up as the daughter of the house by Rose Sommers a spinster who is English and supposedly very correct. The other influence is huge is Mama Fresias an Indian servant from whom Eliza learns everything there is to know about culinary skills and native medicines.

At sixteen Eliza falls in love with an impoverished labourer knowing fully well that this alliance will not be tolerated by the Sommers. The liaison continues and Joaquim decides to join the Californian gold rush and disappears. Eliza follows in a cunningly detailed plot which is impossible to unravel, using skills she has hitherto not known she possessed.

Apart from Eliza whose character seems to be like Gemini - all the others occupying the Sommer residence seems to be similar. We have Rose seemingly correct with a hugely colorful past and future as well with her secret writings of erotica and then we have her brother John finally shown as Eliza's father which comes as a massive shock to the more orthodox brother Jeremy.

The book then turns to history which is brought magically alive. Again, my knowledge of the gold rush and the effect it had on America was almost zero. The discovery of gold and the people who came from far and near to exploit the mines, the miners and the way it changed that part of the world is beautifully written by Allende. The development and degradation of towns, the development of steam ships and the trade which resulted as a result of the gold rush are all documented with much detail.

The pursuit of Joaquin by Eliza and the story behind her travels in her trying to locate him is the main subject of the story.Involving very interesting characters from the Chinaman Tao to prostitutes with hearts of gold, a madam of a salon masquerading as a man Eliza's travels have a touch of fantasy and magic which make you want to see a happy outcome. Half way through the story we realize that Eliza is in pursuit of a dream because this is what she set out to do, her boats are burnt and there is no going back. She however has drifted away from her initial passionate love for him. Joaquin has turned vigilante and Eliza is never sure even at the end whether the vigilante Joaquin is her lover or not.

I am definitely going to look out for Allende's other books of which there are several - all coming highly recommended. This book was magic to read.