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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Review -Chris Bohjalian's THE NIGHT STRANGERS

This is not a good book to be read at airports or whilst travelling by plane! I saw this on a post - I will add to this one. I was hesitant to read it (the second half) late at night when I was alone in the house as well!!! creepy but fascinating and once I closed the book without reading I was itching to get back to it as soon as possible.

The story centres around Chip an airline pilot, his attorney wife Emily and two very sweet twin daughters. The unthinkable happens - the plane which Chip is piloting crash lands on to a lake and Chip is overwhelmed with a sense of failure and depression. He does not think of the 39 survivors he only looks at the nine who died including a little girl who reminds him so much of his own daughters.

Fast forward to a scenario where they move house as Chip becomes so easily identifiable as the surviving pilot of the ill fated plane. The new house is strange and it seems to be linked to the 12 year old boy who committed suicide in this house. We have a little town in Vermont with a surfeit of greenhouses and this seems to link so many people together. Broadly described as herbalists, it is not such a peaceful occupation as the word implies. Dark secrets link the families together and they are trying very hard in involving this new family because the main attraction is the twin daughters.

I cannot say more without revealing the story but it was a fascinating one. Every page brought in a totally different scenario to what you expect and the end is so unexpected that I could not quite believe it myself. I did not like the end at all but the strangeness of it also adds to its piquancy as well as being just "different".

On a non book note I am adding pictures of cinnamon peelers at work. We have some cinnamon plantation and one of my readers was fascinated how the operation worked. Cinnamon is a shrub growing to about six to eight feet in height. The branches when mature are cut off from the main tree, the outer skin (the greenish part)is removed and then an incision is made along the length of the stem.
A knife is inserted all around and the bark is gently scooped out. It is unbelievable how the entire bark comes out in a tight roll. These rolls are air dried (our hot climate means it can be dried inside) and then the quills are sold bundled into lots of around 200.

We use cinnamon mainly in pieces though I do know most receipes call for it in powder form. The last picture is the one of it being air dried.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Two short reviews - Cynthia Harrod Eagles The Tangled Thread & The Devil's Horse

Doing two short reviews. I think this is my last of the books I have by this author. I have absolutely loved the Morland Dynasty books and though I have read and reviewed it not in any particular order, I feel that anyone who likes historical fiction would be happy with these books with its wealth of detail not just of the Morlands but also of the times the book was set.  Specially of interest is the detail of developments of its time - the railway, suffragettes, the numerous wars. The wealth of detail is immense and educates and interests you at the same time.

This deviates from its background of English history and takes us to France on the brink of Revolution. We have the bastard Henri worried and rightly so of his daughter's future in an increasingly volatile France and his alliance for the girl with a revolutionary of all people. In the ensuing bloodbath Henri like many others goes to the guillotine and Heloise flees to her Morland connections who welcome her with much warmth.

In Yorkshire Jemima wonders what she has done to deserve children who do not want to marry. She is worried for the future of the Morland dynasty. By the end of the book three of her children have married but Lucy her youngest, and her rebel seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Run away to sea, disguised as a boy and has done this very successfully.

Describing the Railway - what pandemonium it created when it was first started, the book deals with the Industrial Development of Britain, the introduction of the railways to Liverpool and Manchester and the possibility of introducing it to Yorkshire in the future. The furore it created and will create with families deeply divided on the issue is also brought into effect with the Morland family itself with Nicholas and Benedict deeply divided on this and many issues.

In Manchester Sophie's ideas of improving the lot of her workmen is met with violent opposition. No one seemed to think that improved housing with its attendent improvement in health conditions of workers would in any way benefit the manufacturers!!!! the owners of these mills seemed to be so feudal and they wanted things to remain the same. They felt that Sophie and Jasper were betraying "their class" by behaving like this.  We have Rosamund and her disastrous marriage and the consequences of that marriage which will last a generation or two.

Altogether two delightful books.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review Chevy Stevens - Never Knowing

This was another book I had been waiting for quite a while to get hold of. I liked Still Missing very much and this too did not disappoint.

Sara was adopted and with two sisters life should have been good. However unlike many adoptees, life did not turn out to be as good as it could have been. She was consistently ignored/looked over by her father and one of her sisters positively disliked her, trying to get her into trouble at every turn. Sara could understand her sister but it hurt a great deal to be treated like this by her father. Her mother was too mild and submissive to be able to protect Sara from her father's deliberate snubs and hurts.

With such a background it was only a matter of time till Sara found out who her birth mother was. This led to such a complicated background that at times I am sure she regretted having started ever on this journey.  Not only did her birth mother unequivocally reject her, she uncovered details of her father which horrified not just her but everyone around her.  It also exposed her and her young daughter and fiancee to a great deal of danger. Unknown to Sara, the information went viral edged on by media speculation as it proved to be such a hot bit of news.

For those who want fast paced action, scenarios which though fantastic are quite probable so that you could relate to them personally as well - then this is a book for you. A good example of myster/suspense this was a good book for me.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday - What are you Reading?

Mailbox Monday is hosted by Diary of an Eccentric. Thank you for hosting Anna.

It's Monday What Are You Reading hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Two books which came into my house this week. One is a  book where I went out of my usual reading comfort zone. Completely out of it and I think I am going to like it!

From the author of several best sellers - The Double Bind, Skeletons at the Feast and Secrets of Eden come this one.  Creepy and fascinating.

As an apology to Gabaldon fans - I couldn't remember the book I had picked up last week which featured in my Mailbox. This was the one and I am waiting to get to it.

I have fallen way behind on reviews since I am now in Colombo for just two or a maximum of three days a week. I have no internet connections in Rozella (though I am working on it). First to get a phone connection!

Reading is going on apace and this I thoroughly enjoy as I am able to read as much as I like as there is nothing else to do. There is a lot of cricket these days (the West Indies Australia matches have proved to be time and time again cliff hangers). Right now we have England touring Sri Lanka (matches starting today) and the men in blue (India) will always be playing somewhere and you can count on them for excitement and controversy.

On the sewing front things are also looking good. Finished a baby quilt - only the binding to be done. It should go soon to the baby who is already two months old!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Review - Jeffrey Eugenides MIDDLESEX

This was a strange book for me. It was not an easy read and it took me quite a while to finish. I generally do not read half a book and then switch to another!  Apart from the gender blender description which was rather apt and put it in a nutshell I thought, it is also a multi generation book and that is something I enjoy.

I like stories which start from one generation and end in the third - you watch the strands of history, you also see similarities and differences, the quirks which may miss one generation and then suddenly appear. It is also very intriguing as in this book to read about the cultural changes from one family's original Greek origins and then to end up as a very American family. All within the structure of just three generations.

Cal a hermaphrodite is born and accepted as a girl and grows as one but comes into her own, seeking her own fulfilment as a male. Callie is accepted by all as a girl - his parents, his friends at school, even his doctor who is albeit half blind but with puberty he does realize that something is not quite right and there is something that sets her apart from her friends.

The story is thus about Cal but it first starts with her grandparents incestuous relationship (a brother and sister who married each other) and then comes into its own in the city of Detroit. It like so many interesting stories highlights the stories of immigrants and how they adapt to their new environment like so many hundreds of thousands of people before and after. Each of these stories is always a new story because it is so individual and this one is no different.

This is a story very well told, an adult book but one which may not appeal to everyone.  It grew very slowly on me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review - Cynthia Harrod Eagles THE ABYSS

This was a slightly darker version of the usual Morland dynasty books. All of them considering they covered turbulent periods had their fair share of tragedy, death and destruction. You had the horrors of the Inquisition, the religious intolerance in England itself, the anti European feelings, the suffering of the poor and the plight of women. But, this is different. It brings a certain degree of evil right into Morland Place - which was by and large a very happy house.

Benedict has been estranged from his brother Nicky for years. That alone was due to the evil machinations of Nicky - the eldest and heir apparent. Nicky never seemed to find it enough. He hated Benedict with a vengeance and his banishment even did not make him happy. Now Nicky finds that with the development of the Railway, particularly the idea of bringing it into Yorkshire brings Benedict back into his world and his utter chagrin he finds that despite being put out without a literal penny to his name, Benedict is today a successful engineer with a good reputation and a fair amount of friends.

The animosity on the part of Nicholas spills over into the Railway business and he insidiously tries to prevent the railway ever appearing in Yorkshire. Though Nicholas hates the railways he hates his brother more and tries every unscrupulous method possible including bribery to jeopardise the project.
He succeeds at first in blocking Benedicts plans and though this should have made him happy he seems hell bent on putting an end to Benedict completely. His hatred of his brother is so intense that it borders on the mad and it is this slow sinking of Nicholas which is at the heart of this book.

Though one brother exits the scene it does not have a happy ending for the other. As I said an unsettling book and just glad to get on with the rest of the reads! The development of the Railway, its significance in economic terms was not understood by a fair part of the population which looked on the train as a destroyer - not as a simple means of conveyance.  Even after its inauguration the gentry in particular did not seem to be in favor of the railways (and in England without their support it seemed very difficult to do anything let alone build a railway!)  and it was due to the pioneering spirit of a few far thinking individuals and companies that it seemed to have developed to the extent it did.

I will be away from the blog for a few days. Back to

Monday, March 19, 2012

Review - The Burghers by J B Muller

This was a history lesson for me on a community which has been around from the time the Portuguese came into Sri Lanka - first for trade and then for conversions to the Roman Catholic faith. They were followed by the Dutch, and lastly the British. Apart from these three races there was a mixed bunch of
Poles, Russians, Germans, Swiss, French origin who all contributed to the race of Sri Lankan Burghers a very interesting bunch of people.

Distinctive in looks (most of the time) lighter color of skin, sometimes green, sometimes blue eyes, brownish hair in the past the Burghers were eminent in the police, judiciary and civil administration mainly because of their knowledge of the English language. They also contributed in no small measure to art, drama and dance. A very fun loving people they enjoyed music and dance on all occasions. Their food is wonderful and consists of all that is good and is today a sort of fusion cooking combining the best of the West and the East.

This was an interesting read. I was able to identify names and ancestors of several friends. This book is in fact winging its way to Melbourne as one of my friends would be so happy to read about her ancestors whom she never knew about before this!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday - What are you Reading?

Mailbox Monday is being hosted for March by Diary of an Eccentric.

This meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Just one book in my Mailbox and one I purchased myself. It is a Diana Gabaldon one and for the life of me I cant remember the title! I've left it behind in Rozella to read over the next weekend.

I am still in the midst of reading Middlesex - I'm half way through but finding it a bit slow going now.
I am also reading Khuswant Singh's Collection - this is a big book but half way through that as well.

On a non blogging note, we are gearing for the Singhalese and Hindu New Year which falls on April 12th/13th. Though I do not personally celebrate the whole of Sri Lanka almost shuts down for the week following the festival. Practically all the people who work for us celebrate the festival and just prior to the festival tea factories and rubber factories close as well. We also have our own litle festival prior to the actual one with gift exchanges and lots of nice food being consumed! However it involves a lot of preparatory work in getting the food rations organized so that each one gets exactly the same as everyone else and no one feels slighted!  The work in itself is not difficult just detailed and one I still enjoy after so many years. The festival also coincides every year with Easter which is also celebratory of a new life - so a busy month ahead.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review - Cynthia Harrod Eagles THE BLACK PEARL

Another one for the challenge!

Story set in 1659 covers the period of Charles II and James II. Cromwell's stranglehold over the country is coming to an end but it has left everyone in misery. Morland Place is at one of its lowest ebbs and Ralph has a gargantuan task to get the place going.

Annunciata's mother decides to send her to London in order to secure a "good match" as she feels her beauty and fortune deserve something more than Yorkshire has to offer.  For her the Court is the ideal place - Annunciata is a schemer, she is beautiful but her loyalty to her roots is absolute.

The story of Annunciata begins on a high but ends with a lot of sadness and intrigue. However at the very end there is closure for both Ralph and Annunciata when they realize what their true feelings are.

As I have said before the story of Morland Place and the Morland Dynasty in particular set against whatever period of history of the time is beautifully depicted. Not only does one get an idea of the family saga of the Morlands but one is also deeply involved in the history of that time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review - Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger

This is the ideal scenario where the "what ifs" apply. What if Ridley Jones had left her apartment two minutes earlier or later. Yes, her life would definitely have not been the same. It would have continued in its harmless meandering to what it became.

Ridley Jones jumps into traffic to save a toddler. The pictures taken by a photo journalist who happened to be in the area became a topic in all the papers. It led to surprising events - not only the discovery of a long lost daughter but also the beginning of a romance with a private investigator with a past which he does not intend disclosing to Ridley, and a trail of someone who wants Ridley out of the way.

A debut novel with a lot of promise. This kind of suspense reading has not been my favourite genre but this was a surprise. It kept me interested right to the end. Not exactly chick lit though described by some as such, a romantic suspense mystery would be more my definition!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday - What are you Reading?

Mailbox Monday is a meme sponsored for the month of March by Diary of an Eccentric.

This meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

I had three wonderful books come into the house this week. Two were purchases and one was a win.

A Pulitzer prize winner.

A psychological thriller. Also quite representative of the statement be careful of what you wish for! you may not like what you get. Nadine is so keen to look for her birth mother and what she unravels is not exactly what she was looking for.

The third was the book win. A real chunkster on Julia Child from spicelines. A delightful blog not just on cooking but so much information on everything related to food.

Reviews on my blog have been particularly slow whilst I try to balance home in Colombo and home in Rozella (where there is no internet). Book reading goes on apace though.

Right now reading Middlesex. Once I finish this one I get on to a couple of books by Sri Lankan authors - Ru Freeman's A Disobedient Girl and the hilarious, tongue in the cheek humour of a Sri Lankan author J B Muller who writes specifically about the Burgher community in Sri Lanka. The Burghers are of mixed race - either Dutch, Portuguese or British who have married into the local communities and whose numbers are declining in this country today.  They have contributed immensely not just to the civil service, but also to the development of the English language and have added greatly to our culinary traditions.

Looking forward to visiting other blogger's mailboxes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Review - Thrity Umrigar's BOMBAY TIME

I was waiting for this book for a very long time. Thrity Umrigar has been a favourite author of mine for ages and this book did not disappoint. The beauty of the story is that the doings of the families of Wadia Baug (a block of flats in Mumbai) are set amidst the wider scope of the Parsi community at large. You finally end up knowing quite a bit about Parsis in general and the residents of Wadia
Baug in particular.

The story is of Rusi a businessman whose dreams of becoming another Tata has failed. He is moderately successful but not to the extent that he wanted. We also have his embittered wife Coomi who cannot really pinpoint her animosity and anger towards her husband. She is just dissatisfied, bitter and angry at the turn of events. The story of Rusi and Coomi and their daughter Binny who has made a life for herself in England is set against the stories of Jimmy and the catalyst of the story is Jimmy's son's lavish wedding banquet.

The wedding forms the setting for the story of all who gather to celebrate the event. From Tehmi who married and who was widowed tragically after just three years of married bliss and who has almost withdrawn from the world, to Dosamai widowed with a married son who has moved as far away as possible from her, to the very happily married Bomi and Sheroo and Adi Patel who flits from one woman to another and is never satisfied we have the broad outlines of the people who inhabit the flats and how their lives have mingled from the time they were young couples and with growing children. Now the couples are middle aged and children married and they are introspective as to how their lives have changed and what their present focus in life is.

The story is representative also of the different stratas of society found in Mumbai. We have the Parsis generally considered a very educated, business minded community who are forward thinking, English educated and who consider themselves a cut above everyone else! Originally from Persia to escape persecution they sought refuge in Mumbai and ended up holding key positions in the civil service under the British. This consolidated their hold on society in Mumbai especially in the business sector. We have on the other hand the teeming poor of Mumbai waiting for the guests to finish eating so that they could partake of the remnants and for them the remnants were the feast. This seems to highlight the differences in this society which I presume remain to this day. It does not augur well for society in general when the gap between the haves and the have nots is so very wide.

I was so struck by the Parsi community that I want to do a bit of reading on this tiny community of under 80,000 (worldwide). The book gives you an insight into Parsi customs and traditions but it is a small intriguing  look only. The fascinating tradition regarding how Parsis view death and how they deal with death in their Towers of Silence is also fascinating reading.

Would highly recommend this book not just from a family story point of view, but also an insight into Mumbai and this small community still managing to survive maintaining all its traditions and customs.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review - Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle

Most of Jodi Picoult's books deals with families and often families who are troubled. This one is no exception. A simple teenager's inability to cope with love and heart break, the resultant disasters it
brings about and a father's main focus to protect his daughter at whatever cost.

Trixie is in high school when she falls in love with Jason who dumps her. This would be the normal teenage angst but for Trixie it is heartbreak because she believes that this is love of the everlasting kind. She is also willing to do anything including sleeping with other mates of Jason in order that he will get jealous and maybe realize what he is missing.  Reading even this part of the story was for me very difficult.  Trixie was able to get through her everyday life with personal crisis after crisis and her mother and father were not aware of what was happening.

Both parents were loving, considerate parents. The father had been the sole caregiver of Trixie whilst the mother went to work. At this time the mother was also involved in an affair with a student and she was in her own little world unaware that her husband was fully aware of what was happening. Maybe he too did not want to acknowledge that his whole world was changing before his eyes and not for the better and he preferred to be an ostrich and pretend that nothing was happening. When he did open his eyes it was far too late.

One night at a party with Trixie drunk and having consumed drugs, she comes home with a tale that she was raped by Jason. To everyone around her Trixie was asking for it. It also perplexed Jason himself who could not believe that she was bringing the charge against him. Jason was a popular boy and this divided everyone in college into camps. In Trixie's camp there was only herself because everyone knew that she was mad for Jason and had repeatedly told her friends she would do anything to get him back.

The story goes on from there but it is definitely controversial, and you do get sucked into the story. This is a very strong book and it will linger in your mind for a long time.

Will be away from my computer for another four days!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


The story covers a man's life for one day - the whole of Saturday. It is not an easy task to compile a book which was quite chunky into one day without getting very boring and I was doubtful at the start whether I would finish this book but it turned out to be quite different.

Henry a neurosurgeon starts out his normal day but due to a series of incidents - some violent - his whole world is turned upside down as a result. Even the minute description of his family is brought into the orbit of this ordinary day. It also points out what I just read in another book that the whole story of what if I had waited behind for one minute more to pet the dog, or water the pot plants - would my life have been totally different as I would not have faced whatever dire incident I did. Fate seems to be also part of the scenario.

The day begins with Henry witnessing an airplane crash landing at Heathrow. Envisaging a major disaster he realizes later on it is a cargo plane, the pilot has successfully landed and what he imagined as a human carnage is not to be. This early violent beginning of the day at 4 am is somehow indicative that the day is not going to go in its normal routine.

The whole of the day constitutes Henry's thoughts and actions - and the bizarre events of a demonstration in London has its own effect on Henry and his family. The effect of one action having an effect on the next - a series of consequences is the highlight of the story. At times the description of Henry's thoughts was a tad slow and you really wanted to know what was happening next because you knew that something had to happen. You always knew that the end would be explosive - you just wanted to get to that.

My first read of this author. For anyone who likes introspective literature this is a must read.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review - Cynthia Harrod Eagles - The Question

I am back to the series and each one is even better than the last! Set in 1898 there seems to be conflicts on every side. This particular author highlights how the family copes in every situation imaginable - set within the broader framework of the world outside the smaller world of the Morland clan. The continuity of the family despite hardships, deprivations and death (so many deaths due to wars, such a tragic waste) must be the identical story to so many families who may be able to identify with such families. The carnage of war, specially during this early period with the lack of hospital and medical facilities at its crudest would have accounted for casualties in equal measure as in face to face combat.

It is almost the end of the Victorian era and the mighty Queen who held it all together is not there to continue her strong hold on Britain. It is also a time of crisis for the women's movement in Britain. It is almost unimaginable for a modern woman who has the vote and who takes it almost for granted, to understand the suffering and the harassment that women faced in obtaining the vote. The fact that men could not even visualize a world where women voted, or where a woman had a career of any kind is also difficult to even read about.

The Boer War comes into focus in this book mainly because of one of the Morland's involvement in it. The futility of war is specially marked in this one - even the soldiers not knowing what they were fighting for, though everyone went into it initially in very high spirits.

On the home front Teddy Morland is doing his utmost to upgrade the family fortunes and with Henrietta's family coming into the house - the house is full of life. There is also very importantly, the introduction of the motor car which is a huge step forward in the field of transportation though the horse still remains a very important part of the Morland economy.

I love the way the Morlands become involved in every aspect of the era - one goes to fight the Boer war, one is at the bedside (almost) of the Queen when she is dying as she is one of her most faithfull Ladies in Waiting and one woman is actually imprisoned in support of the suffragette movement.
This involvement of the Morlands brings the actual events much closer to one.

Another very good book.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday - What are you Reading?

Mailbox Monday is hosted this month by Diary of an Eccentric.

Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

The books received this week are the balance loot from my friend.

V S Naipaul's Magic Seeds - a classic

Described as a class act!

Another best seller!

Shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize. Seen this on several blogs this week

Described as a most evocative writer.

The century's most explosively hilarious novel of far-out sexuality.  Looking forward to this one.

Have a good week.

Review - Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

A memoir set in a background of impoverished Ireland and America this was a harrowing tale with undertones of much sadness as well as dry wit and humour. Unimaginable difficulties faced by a toddler right up to adulthood - unimaginable to the average middle class child of today.

Set in the 1930s and 1940s this book should be made compulsory reading - not just as a lesson for more privileged children (the usual eat all your vegetables, children in third world countries are starving sort of story) but for children to know what sheer grit and determination is to overcome all this.

The story of Angela married to drunk Michael and their numerous children. One by one the children die off - due to illnesses brought on by malnutrition and neglect and Frank as the eldest becomes the man of the family even at the age of ten where he knows exactly what is happening in the world around him.  That a child has to be forced to grow up so soon, not to enjoy his childhood, even simple pleasures and then you have the contradictory condition of him enjoying his father's songs and stories despite knowing what kind of a man his father actually is.

You knew right at the beginning that Frank will overcome all the disadvantages thrown at him and somehow come up trumps but I did wish that it was not such a harrowing story to get there.

Am back from Rozella ready for the new week! have done lots of reading this last week. What I left behind....