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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

REVIEW - A NOVEL BOOKSTORE BY LAURENCE COSSE



Someone who loves books will love this book - its about books and more books and only books
revolves around a wealthy Frenchwoman and a n avid book seller who decide to set up the idyllic bookshop which will only sell good novels.  Now what is a good novel and who is going to decide what is what? A committee of eight members all anonymous, all known only to the two above named members of the bookshop and all going under a pseudonym to add to the mystery. Each member gives his recommendations (six hundred if you please! my mind was boggling at this stage) and these should be ratified and agreed on by all. Sounds good upto now and the bookshop is set up in a beautiful setting which allows people not to just buy but to browse and read for hours if they wish (10 pm closing time - I wish I had one like that!).


Enter a book mafia - small insidious incidents at the beginning. Little prickles of disgruntlement by people on choices. Who is to say Dan Brown is not good or Harry Potter for example. Why the highbrow tone? Authors themselves get into the attack as they are sidelined and what about the all important book publishers who publish the said authors. From small incidents big ones and then murder, several attempted murders, character  assassination by the score and finally opening of of rival bookstores mocking the word "good" and by the way on the same street. All with one aim of ruining the reputation of the book store and pushing it to close down.

This was an intriguing book - very philosophical at times, mystery, lots of fantasy and almost a puzzle but nice. I thought the author was male but only later learnt its a she! thats just btw information.

On a non book note, I am leaving tomorrow for Mannar to my orphanage which has 11 girls right now. Taking with me Christmas pressies plus new clothes and new shoes for all the girls. It is just a short trip but I needed to get everything out early.

Just some of the children - its been over five months since my last visit so looking forward to visiting them again.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

REVIEW - ANNE PERRY'S BUCKINGHAM PALACE GARDENS


This was my second Anne Perry book and I liked it even more than the first! Set in Victorian England the murder mystery has so many ups and downs - all the while our detective pitting himself against the combined power of the aristocracy at its very height - Queen Victoria's son who seems ineffectual, puny and very aristocratic.

A prostitute is found dead with her throat slashed - in a linen cupboard of all places. But and this is the significant but - it is no ordinary linen cupboard - it is a cupboard at Buckingham Palace and the prostitute was brought in (along with another two ladies) to entertain the Prince and two others. So she was there officially and accounted for. Then she was discovered naked, murdered and wrapped in monogrammed sheets of the Queen. The only suspects are HRH The Prince and his four friends. All four influential, rich and aristocratic and all needing a kick in the ass. The men are infuriating, condescending in the extreme and all intent on fixing the blame for the murder on someone other than their exalted selves. They are also rude and crude to the detectives who are trying within very narrow parameters to solve this crime.

Fortunately we have Pitt, a man of ordinary, simple beginnings, not intimidated by any of them and determined to solve the murder. The only Royal who saves the day is the Princess - known for her humanitarian approach and kindness as against the pomposity and priggishness of the other characters.  I liked the twists and turns of the book and I admired Pitt's tenacity along with Phipps (who was a housemaid in Phipps's own house)  who became the eyes and ears of Pitt inside the palace acting as a housemaid in order to uncover any hidden agenda amongst the staff.

Another interesting facet of Anne Perry is that she herself was convicted for murder - a particularly brutal one - where she and her friend repeatedly hit her friend's mother (49 times) with a brick, so that they could kill her. Escaping the death penalty Perry whose actual name is Juliet Hulme was sentenced for five years and then released. Whether her knowledge of crime and prison and detection aided her in her prolific career is anyone's guess.

I am back in Sri Lanka after a three week stay in Melbourne. Glad to be back home returning to hubby, but very sad to leave the three children behind. Such is life!


Friday, November 25, 2011

REVIEW - GOOD TO A FAULT - MARINA ENDICOTT

This was a strange book for me. Half the time I wanted to shake Clara well and ask her to snap out of it and the balance half I was admiring her tenacity in doing what she was doing.

Totally self absorbed Clara crashes into Lorraine's car - the car is damaged badly and Clara takes on the family
lock, stock and babies and all as she feels at that moment that there is nothing else that could be done as the family was (a) homeless and (b) used the car as their sleeping/living space.

Fast forward a couple of weeks - Lorraine is ill, seriously ill in hospital and her no good husband realizes that he is on to a gold mine with Clara. He vanishes taking with him as much as he could leaving behind three children including a baby and a grumpy, grasping mother in law who only wants to take as much as she can, when she can.  Clara 43 years old living an orderly, regular life, who has  never handled children is thrown into the deep end. Knowing that Social Services would take over if she did call on them she never does. She enjoys the experience of motherhood second hand, she gets exasperated and angry like mothers all do, but she does box on.

At the end of the day Lorraine realizes that a comfortable, settled lifestyle is becoming attractive to her children and that she is going to lose them if she does not get back on her feet and claim them. This was the part that was sad, because for Lorraine there was no simple way of cutting Clara out of the children's lives. She was brutal and Clara found it a horrible loss specially the loss of the baby from her life. After everything that Clara did not just for Lorraine's children, but even tracking down the lost husband, to taking over the grasping mother in law - Lorraine just wanted out and there was a lot of resentment on her side when she saw how attached the children were to Clara.

The book showed all variations of human behaviour - love, greed, resentment, anger, animosity, anxiety, humour in fact everything that having such a mixed bunch of characters would involve. An interesting read.

Monday, November 21, 2011

REVIEW - ROOPA FAROOKI'S THE WAY THINGS LOOK TO ME


I have been lax in blogging/reviewing books as whatever free time I have I want to spend reading!!!! Returning on Sunday to Sri Lanka with a brief stop over in Singapore.

Roopa Farooki is an author I have read once before - this was a wonderful read. Asif, Lila and Yasmin three young adult children thrown together after the sudden death of both parents find themselves adrift and not knowing exactly how to cope. Asif feels responsible for Yasmin who has Aspergers Syndrome and becomes Mother. Lila absconds from home finding it impossible to cope with her sibling who has she felt taken over her entire life by focussing her mother's attention and love only on her to the exclusion of the other two children.

How a mother tries to manage single handedly with a child who has such a disability is part of the story. But, only a little part as she dies very early in the story. However, how her handling and inter-action of this one child excludes the other sibling totally and alienates her from the family is an important part of the story. The intense almost hatred that Lila develops against Yasmin who she feels is almost a parasite on the family is so very well told. Although we do know that it is "not quite right" for Lila to act like this, we also understand and accept her attitude/her feelings/her rejection almost from the family so that she does not end up as the black sheep of this family. This is the brilliance of the story.

Asif seems stifled by his responsibilities - to the exclusion of any kind of life outside going to office and returning. home to a fixed routine determined by Yasmin who decides even what is for breakfast. His selflessness even goes to the extent of not drinking coffee because the color of coffee disturbs Yasmin who wants everything just so with absolutely no changes to a fixed routine.

Lila seems promiscuous but is actually looking for someone who would love her for herself not just a quick jump into bed. Her resentment of Yasmin is so deep that you feel that this is going to be forever. Thankfully the story does not end in hatred and bitterness. Both Asif and Lila find love and with that comes healing specially for Lila and a reconciliation of some kind is on the cards.

My knowledge of this illness was zero before I read this book and my sympathies were totally with Asif and Lila not with Yasmin . Both siblings were victims of Yasmin's illness and their coping skills were wonderful (in totally differing ways).

I enjoyed this book very much and would love to recommend it as a good read.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

MAILBOX MONDAY/IT'S MONDAY WHAT ARE YOU READING?

Mailbox Monday is being hosted by Marcia.  The meme links one to what comes into other bloggers mailboxes during the week. Enormously interesting!

The first one for this week is

A family story set in England - mixed parentage children - Asperger's Syndrome and people trying to balance life and relationships. A good one I think.

Hearts & Minds by Rosy Thornton. Love her books and saw this review on The Captive Reader and was captivated!


Next was influenced by Cornflower Books. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I have been trying to get this book for simply ages and was delighted to find this during my last week in Melbourne.



The next book was influenced by a review on Savidge Reads. Catherine O'Flynn's The News where you are.

The last book for my Mailbox this week was one I picked up since I liked the last one I read by the same author.
Anne Perry's Buckingham Palace Gardens.




It's Monday - What are you Reading is hosted by Book Journey.



It is a mammoth job this last week in Melbourne to squeeze in as much reading as I can. Right now I am reading the Catherine O'Flynn book and then hope to go on to Hearts & Minds.

Leaving Melbourne on Sunday - been a short visit this time and sad to leave but nice to get back to Sri Lanka as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

REVIEW - WATERMARK BY VANITHA SANKARAN

I had been trying to get this book for a long while. When I was last in Melbourne it was on order so this time around I got lucky.

Set in 1320 in a world full of superstition Auda is set apart from others by the fact that she is mute, an albino and strange for the time - knowledgeable of the written word. In an age of inquisition, the very fact that you are different is enough to be viewed with suspicion and distrust. Violence against anything new is the order of the day and the fact that Auda is determined to not just survive but also to flourish is a testament to her strong will and mind.

The book is hugely emotional and the first scene of the birth of Auda and its horrifying sequences set the tone for the whole story. Supported strongly by her father Auda reaches womanhood safely but it is at this time that she is tested again and again for the mere fact that she is different. The sheer determination to survive against overwhelming odds puts Auda in situations which would have drowned anyone else - the fear and panic of the inquisition, coupled with the loss of her father and the very fact that she was a young woman all alone make one root for her from the beginning.

Added to this is the detailed history of papermaking as well as how paper was made, step by step details of how paper was made, watermarks, their significance  - I did not know that making paper was such a dangerous occupation till I read this book. Ignorance of the masses and how it was fostered further by those in authority was also a feature of this book. All done with ulterior motives of keeping people submissive and in their power of course.

A very heart warming read and one I was so very glad I got to (eventually)!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

REVIEW - A MEETING POINT - LUCY CALDWELL


The story starts in Ireland where Ruth who has fallen in love with Euan a minister of the church with a infant daughter. The background of Ruth's life is prosaic. Born on a dairy farm to average hard working parents Ruth has always yearned for the exotic and far flung places which were always places in a book. Now she has the chance to see the wider world out there when her husband decides to head a missionary group based in Bahrain.

Fast forward to Bahrain - a strange mix of the ancient and modern. Ancient civilization, ancient rules and trying to steer a moderate path in the face of its strong Islamic neighbours. Ruth believes their purpose in Bahrain is to look after the Catholic flock there - a mix of Indian, Bangladeshi, Filipino and the Western expatriates who are all members of the church but she is in for a rude awakening when Euan informs her that his actual purpose is to infiltrate Saudi Arabia (with its zero tolerance policy on conversion) with taking tracts of the bible hidden in pens so that those who are interested in the faith would have an opportunity of reading something about it.

Added to the mix of this story are a couple of characters - Noor who is of English and Bahraini parentage - not really fitting into either world and at odds with her father, Farid her cousin who falls in love with Ruth - and Ruth with him who is initially told by Noor's father to help Ruth with her sightseeing. (I thought this was rather unlikely - traditional families encouraging a young man to take a Western woman out for a drive - a bit unlikely scenario for me) but this is the story here.

I liked the descriptive manner which the author used to describe Bahrain, as well as Ireland - very evocative of both countries. The story in itself was a good one - whether East and West can ever meet is something that would be questionable from this book but it gets one thinking anyway - but the characters were weak. How Ruth lost her faith so very easily and whether Euan could give up all responsibility to his wife and baby daughter without any thought for their safety was something I could not fathom.

On the other hand characters like Noor's father reverting back to the traditional Muslim male as he gets older and the depiction of housemaids - was so very true to form. But then again these are just minor characters of the story whereas Ruth and Euan were the main ones and their behaviour was questionable. I expected more from this book so maybe that is why I felt a bit dejected by the end.


Monday, November 14, 2011

MAILBOX MONDAY/IT'S MONDAY WHAT ARE YOU READING?



Mailbox Monday is being hosted this month by Marcia.  It's Monday What are you Reading is hosted by Book Journey.

Both memes gives one an insight into what is best and latest in the book world.

The books that I got for this week are :



Both books came via recommendations from book bloggers - Cornflower Books and Savidge Reads.

The books that I have read (and reviews) coming up this week are :





A good week to everyone!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

REVIEW OF GILLESPIE AND I - JANE HARRIS

As usual I came to this book later than most and I must be one of the few who have not read her first - The Observations. This story starts in 1933 with spells of going backwards and then coming forward to the 1933 period. Harriet Baxter a spinster of independent means meets Ned Gillespie an artist whom she befriends - not just him but his entire family. Harriet believes in the artist and also believes that he has not reached his full potential purely due to lack of opportunity and that he is much better than the prevalent Scottish artists of the day.

The story for the first half of the book is slow - Harriet being part and parcel of the Gillespie family. Almost family one would think. The ups and downs of this family both emotional and financial - the elder girls virulent manner despite being a little girl, the parents inability to see that something is radically wrong, the mother in law not just interfering but wanting to dominate the family are all part of the story which is rather tame. Interesting but ordinary everyday stuff.

Midway tragedy strikes and the way the book turns is dramatic. Totally unexpected I personally could not have figured it out at all. Why and how it did is the second part of the book and this is what keeps the reader enthralled. How Harriet copes with the changed circumstances of her life and what she must do to save herself (though she actually does very little) and fortunately lawyers seem to do the major part of saving her life is the next part of the story. Dramatic and frightening for Harriet who was all alone now with absolutely no one to turn to not family nor friends.

The book is one of sensation (particularly the second half) with a slight Victorian flavour to it which added to my interest.
Riveting read.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

REVIEW - ANGEL WITH TWO FACES BY NICOLA UPSON

I had seen Nicola Upson's books on blogs and Two for Sorrow had got wonderful  reviews. This was the one I got to first though and what a wonderful book it turned out to be.  Inspector Archie Penrose invites Josephine Tey to visit him at his ancestral home - nothing to do with work or Scotland Yard - but of course there is a sudden death in very unusual circumstances. To add to the interest the story is set in bleak Cornwall and the description of this part of Britain is absolutely gorgeous.

Harry Pinching dies in very tragic circumstances. Death by drowning in a lake which is supposed to claim a victim every seven years. Harry's parents died in a fire sometime ago and now there is Morwenna Harry's twin left behind with the sole custody of Loveday their youngest sister.  The entire village rallies around Morwenna knowing she is going to have an uphill battle on her hands - but there are so many hidden undercurrrents even at the funeral that you know that nothing is as it seems. The village knows more than it tells and everyone closes ranks against Archie - now considered an outsider and from the Yard which further sets him apart.

Josephine is the absolute outsider and by being merely observant and friendly is able to find out secrets both within and out side the Pinching family - all relevant to not just the death of Harry but also to the deaths of his parents. Harry's death is not suicide as previously imagined but murder and this triggers off another.  The ending is superb, unbelievable and I could not for a moment think whether it was a fantasy playing itself out or whether it was a "real" ending.

The book kept me on tenterhooks throughout and I am definitely looking out for another one before I leave.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

REVIEW OF BELLFIELD HALL BY ANNA DEAN

This was the first book I picked up from the library on the day I landed as I wanted to quickly get to the books! This was also my first introduction to this author and to a series. Dido Kent is that well loved figure in families - the maiden aunt - now however sadly missing in most families and certainly not at everyone's beck and call the way Dido was. Every engagement, confinement, wedding, funeral Dido could be counted on by her brothers and sisters to come to their assistance with her mature calm responsible manner. She sounds boring but she certainly wasn't. Far from it.

Brought this time to sort out her nieces engagement or rather her niece breaking off a very profitable engagement Dido seeks out the truth behind the facade of the Montague family. A young woman murdered in the grounds and no one seeing her coming in and everyone accounted for makes the solving of the mystery even harder for Dido. Despite her being the most capable sleuth 1805 was not a time which allowed women to do whatever they wanted to do and Dido had to act with restraint.

Deducing facts from things which may have escaped a man's eye - the tucks on a gown being indicative of a girl being pregnant and a china doll which was expensive being in the possession of a gate keeper's daughter indicated much more than meets the eye. Solving the murder was one part of this very interesting story. The other was the plight of women at this time. It was not an easy time for gentlewomen of little means. Your choices were so limited as you also chose to live respectably. A time of poverty and subservience. If one did not become a governess one was dominated by your family who treated you most of the time as an unpaid servant who should be grateful that there was a roof over your head and food to eat. Women of means had it no better - a good marriage was the only way forward and not being married was an absolute disgrace.

Reiterates my belief that this present time is a wonderful time for a woman! I liked this book and will be looking out for more by this author.

Monday, November 7, 2011

REVIEW - DAUGHTERS IN LAW BY JOANNE TROLLOPE


I have always loved Joanne Trollope's books and though some reviews are rather skeptical about it, she does write from the heart and one can easily identify her characters as they are very often the people around you. When this book came out I knew it would be years before I ever got my hands on it. I checked online and even the Melbourne library had it only on order so I never thought I would have the good fortune of getting to it early.

The flight from Singapore to Melbourne is almost eight hours and lately I have found it difficult to cope with this long, long flight. This time it flew! literally..... Daughters in law was one of the audio books on offer and it was such a treat.

Rachel and Anthony have three sons - Rachel is the archetypal matriarch. She still feels that she and Anthony should have an equal place in their son's lives despite all three of them being married. She meets her match in Charlotte who is the spoiled baby of her family with a very decisive mind of her own. Charlotte knows what she wants and she does not mind in the least that Luke is inconvenienced, troubled or upset how his family is being put into second place as against Charlotte's own mother. Ralph's wife Petra has been the family pet - almost orphaned when she met him she has been adopted by his parents and much loved. She is also one of those who has gracefully given in over the years and Siegfried the eldest daughter in law has also hidden her own feelings of resentment and given in for the greater good of all. Charlotte however sets the cat amongst the pigeons and gets everyone to sit up and do their own thing.

Ralph's financial problems becomes the catalyst that involves the whole family. Edward naturally tries to help with fixing a job interview which Ralph succeeds at. The problems for all start from there with Ralph having to move to London and Petra who was expected to just move with him, digging in her heels and staying put. Added to that is that Petra finds a male friend, platonic and easy, which is not understood by the entire family as it is completely out of character for Petra to act thus. Rising from this and adding to it is Charlotte conceiving after two months of marriage and Siegfried's uncertainty about her own future. 

Rachel is not tactful or diplomatic and tends to shoot her mouth all the time. Anthony is the quiet one, favoured by the whole family as he sees things for what they are and specifically that it is not his business anymore as to how things should be done. Each son is different and each daughter in law is unique. The characters are so beautifully described and each so different that you think that in this story the entire unity of the family will be lost. It does not happen because the unit is cohesive and they realise that they should be working together not against each other. Truths will have to be spoken and it may be blunt but everyone rallies together.

A family saga that analyses relationships and how one has to live with one another, none of us are an island however much we may want to be - even for a little bit!!! I  loved the book - from a personal point of view - it did show the importance of all mothers!!!!

Am in Melbourne now and after a big shop at the local market, I sneaked in a five minute visit to the library. Have come back with four books so in between massive amounts of time spent washing and cooking,  reading is the other thing I do. Today is a gloomy day so ideal weather for a book.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

AN EARLY MAILBOX MONDAY/IT'S MONDAY WHAT ARE YOU READING?

Coming to you a bit early because I am leaving for Melbourne in a couple of hours! the last week was a good one.

The first books to come were the delightful The Postmistress and Middlemarch. Both wins from Martha.  Martha took a lot of trouble to combine two wins and give me two delightful books. I have been wanting to read The Postmistress for simply ages and this is going to tide me over the dreadful eight hour flight Singapore/Melbourne.




Middlemarch described as a view of Provincial Life set in 1830 - 1832 sounds just up my street.

All other books bought by me from a second hand bookshop and all delightful.







I have been trying to get all the Georgette Heyer novels and I think I am getting there. The Sixth Wife dealing with Katharine Parr gives another insight into the Tudor saga and specially since she is one of those "who got away".  I have already finished this one and it was quite eerie because she always knew that sooner or later she would have to go to make way for a newer model. Henry's death was her escape.

Mailbox Monday is on tour and for November it is here. The other meme is sponsored by Book Journey and highlights what you read and reading for the week.

I have done a good bit of reading this last week with several more reviews still to come. I just finished The Sixth Wife and the Catherine Cookson (Marchant) book Miss Martha Mary Crawford. I finished one of the two books by Anne Murray Birmingham Blitz. There is still Birmingham Friends in that book to finish but that will have to await my return to Sri Lanka.

The book I am hoping to start today is The Postmistress. It will then be on to the Carnegie library in Melbourne where I will be devouring books (all listed and waiting to be grabbed by me!!!!)

I do hope the weather is not extreme. Showers and scattered thunderstorms are ok by me but not the extreme heat of an Australian summer please!

Friday, November 4, 2011

WHAT WOULD MR DARCY DO - ABIGAIL REYNOLDS


I like the fan fiction of Jane Austen sequels. This was a win from Natalie. Thanks Natalie.

This story starts at the stage where Elizabeth receives Jane's letter informing her of Lydia's elopement. A tragic moment in Elizabeth's life where she thinks that Darcy will not want to have anything to do with the entire Bennet family. This does not happen. Darcy on the other hand re-affirms his feelings for Elizabeth and vows to help in whatever way he can.  To reiterate this he wants Elizabeth to continue her relationship via letters with his sister so that by proxy he will be able to both receive and obtain news from Longbourn which otherwise would be denied him. Despite all this upto this stage in the story Elizabeth has not given Darcy a definite word as to her decision and this keeping him on tenterhooks was a bit questionable for me.
A man who has stood by her and her family, declaring his feelings over and over again, she herself not in doubt about her attraction and feelings for him and still wanting to wait to give a decision because she has only had a dozen conversations with him. She was never going to have more than that anyway unless she connived and lied her way - and this was anyway not in character with her.

The blossoming relationship between Georgiana and Elizabeth is given a prominence not found in the original novel and Georgiana coming over to stay prior to Jane's wedding and getting on famously with Kitty and Maria was also different. Giddy Kitty and pedantic Maria were I thought out of place with Georgiana who was a quiet, shy girl.Not so in this book - difficult for die hard Janeites to accept but not insurmountable!!!

Lots of romance and a happy ending. Yes - a light variation of the well loved P&P.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

THE HEART OF LONDON - MONICA DICKENS

This is one book which I have had for ages. Something new turns up and the older books which I have accumulated gets pushed aside.

When I think of London I think of suave sophistication, the Royals, a stiff upper lip and horrible weather. I certainly did not find it easy to get my head around the characters of this book - earthy, tough, some of them frighteningly timid, some of them frightening aggressive. All trying to simply survive in the world of Cottingham Park in London.

The disparity amongst Londoners trying to come to grips with a new world breaking in on them, and how they are going to cope with the huge news that a new road/highway is coming through their neighbourhood tearing up everything in its path - entire neighbourhoods gone, the school torn down and children placed in the dreaded Green Lane school. How despite overwhelming odds, a few people have faith that out of the hundreds of children passing through their hand - hardly anyone being even remotely literate, there will be one success story of a boy making good - this would be the highlight of the book.

As usual the story of survival whether its in the aftermatch of WW1, the Holocast or simply a London neighbourhood all make for interesting reading. Everyday families, everyday stories told incredibly well
where one is able to identify an aunt in the story with one of your own, and maybe your parents spouting the same words to recalcitrant teenagers!

Sad to read about the race riots and especially the West Indians who came to London in their hundreds seeking a better life - and this was never realized. I did not know very much about the grinding poverty of these immigrants and how they struggled to live - the difficulties in finding work, even a place to stay would have made anyone despair. The overwhelming antagonism against the West Indians and the derogatory manner in which they were generally treated was very stark in this book. It is also obviously realistic and true.

Monica Dickens a grand daughter of Charles Dickens is obviously a Londoner - and she speaks from the heart in this book.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

RIVER OF SMOKE - AMITAV GHOSH




This book is also part of my reading challenge for Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.



I loved Sea of Poppies so when I saw this book out I knew I had to have it and this is one of the few purchases of a new book done by me. I do buy a fair amount of books but always second hand. This was an exception to the general rule.

It does not follow immediately from the end of Sea of Poppies but characters and events are referred to here and there and it gives you an idea of the people and places if you have read Ghosh's earlier book.

Set in 1838 with Bahram Modie a Parsee of very humble beginnings the story has several characters all equally important to the story so that one cannot be said to be pivotal to the story. The story of opium being brought from India to Canton forms the crux of the story and several additional characters add subsequent stories which all link inexplicably together. A storm at sea almost destroys Modie's biggest shipment of opium on the ship Anahita and also effects the Ibis - a steamer bringing a pair of lovers, indentured servants, a French girl who ends up searching for rare and exotic plants and helping to set up an exchange of plants between China and England and to top it all a host of criminals.

Giving the reader the best of Cantonese history and the intricate dealings of the Emperor and his cohorts with regard to the Opium Wars of 1839 - 1842 not only does it deal with Modie's own personal saga but draws in the colonial East India Company with its British officers who have made their fortunes out of the entrapment of millions of Chinese in the habit of taking opium. The steps taken by the Chinese Emperor to stop the trade and curtail the import of the drug forms the major part of the story.

Ghosh's book is the second part of a three book series and I will be waiting impatiently for the third. I wonder where the setting will be but no doubt Ghosh will give us detailed insights into the culture, the food, the geography and the language of a new country. The details to be found in this book - loved the pidgin English which is liberally sprinkled through this book which is very easily understood, the food in all its variety and the descriptions of everything found in Canton was overwhelming.
Coming from Sri Lanka I did know about the trade that the English evolved over the years with the East but I did not know the extent of the trade and the money involved on a scale which was even by today's standards huge.

This is a must read but preferably starting with the first book. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly not just for a history lover but to anyone who is interested in a good story.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

HIGHGATE RISE - ANNE PERRY


Set in Victorian times, the book starts with a tragic death. Clemency Shaw caught in an inexplicable fire whilst sleeping. Turns out to be murder when we discover the curtains soaked with oil. Her husband the local doctor is away delivering a baby so he is saved. Everything the couple owned is burnt to the ground. Shaw moves to his friends house to think of what he is going to do with the rest of his life. Another fire and his closest friend dies in the blaze. Shaw is again away dealing with a patient. The pattern is so suscipious that everyone including the team headed by the Metropolitan Police think that he is the main suspect.

Combining the unlikely combination of a murder along with a social conscience is never easy to pull off. It is done effortlessly in this book. The Victorian background, the mood and morals of the time, the very insular attitude towards women and what their so called "place" was in society was very strictly determined at the time. Woe to the person who stepped out of line, tried to better themselves, married either above or beneath one, or who even tried to improve his lot by education.

It seemed very cruel that there was no support for women not even from those who were supposed to love them and protect them - their own family, husbands, brothers and fathers. It seemed that the men were in a conspiracy to keep the women submissive, uneducated and downtrodden. Even to read the newspapers was forbidden though the papers came into the house, and what was surprising was that women seemed so brainwashed that very few even wanted to be different, to have an opinion or to make any choices without the husband first deciding as to what should be done.

This kind of story makes me very glad that I am living in present times. I very often wonder what I would have done in such circumstances.

A thought provoking book, descriptive of the times and the place in which it was set. A good read.