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Monday, April 30, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday What are You Reading?

Nothing came to my house this week. This meme hosted by Cindy

Sponsored by Sheila from Book Journey

I have several books I am reading (in turns!) The first is a Vera Brittain book which I have had for a long time

Set during WWI an era which fascinates me, it is one woman's testament to her will to be of service.
It took me a while to get started on this book which is quite a chunkster but now that I am almost three quarter way through, it enthralls me.

Henry James's  The Portrait of a Lady is a slow read. I like it in small doses!

These are the current half way through books but I have a pile waiting for me as well. Always a lovely feeling.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Turning of Anne Merrick by Christine Blevins

I have read very little of American History and it has never been a full novel of it. There are generally references to such history as part of some story but this was more or less the whole story - which made it different. Sri Lanka has been a colony first of the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British so that even our history has been linked much more to Europe than to anywhere else. Nice to have a change of reading.

Anne is a widow of a Tory printer joins the British army on the pretext of selling sundries in the paper and writing letters line but with the ultimate idea of spying on the army for the Patriots who are fighting the British in America.  In the rebel force is Jack whom Anne is in love with. The story evolves around Anne's methods of successfully infiltrating the camp, being very much part of the British Army whilst it moves and obtaining vital information which could be used to the detriment of the British Army.

Quite a bit of intrigue, very descriptive and lots of romance makes this a bit different to my usual reading. One I enjoyed. This book was a win for me from Joanne from Books, Belles and Beaux. Thanks Joanne.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Magic Seeds - V S Naipaul

My first read of this Nobel Prize winner in literature. Originating from Trinidad he writes about the Indian called Willie Chandran (who has been featured in another book) who is a bit of a drifter - he moves from India to  London to Africa toBerlin and then back again to  India. This man is actually looking for himself as he does not seem to know who or what he is and not even sure where he belongs. He feels for political ideals and wishes he could be one of those leaders, then he falls prey to the guerilla ideals of the have vs the have nots but everything seems transitory and at every stage he seems unsatisfied with what he is doing/what he has achieved so far.

The book is not very descriptive - never mind the surroundings, not even of the buildings or the people who inhabit them. This economy seems part of the style of the writer so that everything is sparse and bare.

I would not call this a riveting read. I wanted to read it as part of my reading authors who are considered "must reads". I am not giving up on this author however and will go on to read his other books. Hopefully something exciting is going to turn up. This book was just so-so.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Three short reviews

Nothing can bring India so much to life as Khuswant Singh. Pithy, down to earth and very basic
he brings a city to life - so much so that you feel that you are actually living wherever he describes.
A prolific writer who still continues to have a column he brings a very honest face to India and specially to its politicians which may not go down very well!

Well written but depressing. Slow and steady it was the kind of depressing read which drips slowly ever so slowly on one so that I was overwhelmed by the end of the futility of it all. I wanted to shake our young lady very badly but as I said earlier that is our fault that we want to put things right and find solutions to everything.  Jane is effacing, subservient, her aunt Dolly is grabbing and greedy. Automatically puts you on the defensive.
For me, not an enjoyable read.

A light hearted read which was good for me for a 3 hour journey!  Kate has become a mother of three without even realizing it and finds it difficult to cope in the suburbs after having a fairly fulfilled life and career. She feels abandoned by her husband who goes to work every morning and disappears from her life almost. Finding herself embroiled in a murder which she is determined to solve, she then finds she has bitten off much more than she could chew. Interesting, funny but also down to earth as it explores the eternal problem of how women can combine motherhood, marriage and life without one overwhelming the other.

Monday, April 23, 2012

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

Mailbox Monday is sponsored by Cindy's Love of Books for the month of April.

My mailbox this month was a single book which was a win from Martha. Thanks Martha.

I am hoping to catch up with the books I have before I go looking for anything new!

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Right now V S Naipaul's Magic Seeds is the book I am reading. Hope to get on to American Wife immediately after that.

At last the drought has ended and its raining - it has been sort of drizzly and grey the whole day. Love this weather.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


This was a book I have been looking for - for years and one I never thought I'd get to. It was not available in the Melbourne library and at the book shop it was 32 Aussie dollars which was huge and
then I discover it in a second hand book sale - a cloth cover which is glorious!

So much has been written about this book that there is very little for me to add. I enjoyed the trivial details, the domestic ups and downs of running a household and there were lots of things to contend with. The keeping up with the Joneses was so apparent and it seemed so necessary at the time that it was not even considered not do so. It seemed to add so much stress to the life of our lady who had to maintain and keep up appearances at any cost. To also have to kowtow to the aristocrats of her own particular little part of the world was awful. I was hoping that she would find a way of dealing with the overpowering Lady B but it was not to be.

I was impressed with the review of Thomas and I do agree that it is a 21st century thing that we need to find a solution to the problem and solve it! I also realized that you cannot do that and certainly not for our lady who is quite willing to go along with everyone

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


This is the best book I've read so far for this year a memorable biography of a starting woman of her age who is remembered unfortunately for her  love affair with Jawarhalal Nehru rather than for the immense amount of work she put into whatever she undertook.

Edwina was an heiress of the highest order. The grand daughter of one of the richest men in Europe who sought even at his death to do everything to protect his beloved grand daughter, she was related to half the crowned heads of Europe. Married into the royal family and very much part of the inner circle of Royalty of England, she should have had a life literally paved not just with gold but with rose petals. It was never smooth.

Ignored for years from the time of her birth by her mother who treated her as an adult - her letters to her daughter when she remembered that she had one were unbelievable. It was as if she was writing to one of her friends of the current events or what she was doing at the time. The fact that Edwina did not turn into a psychopath was a wonder and it was the grounding provided by her grandfather, aunt and to a lesser degree her father who adored her that made Edwina what she was.

Edwina marriage to Lord Mountbatten was a mix of the bizarre and the normal. He wanted to maintain even a facade of a marriage - specially to the outside world but he also seemed to be genuinely in love with his wife and always turned a blind eye first to her numerous love affairs in England and Europe and then ignored the deep relationship that existed between his wife and Nehru and which lasted for thirteen years until her death. On her side it seemed as if she never found the passion that she found with others and specially the almost spiritual relationship she had with Nehru,with her husband. She certainly liked him but there was friction and tension always in their marriage.

The energy and spirit which moved Edwina to tackle whatever project she was involved in with her entire being should have been what Edwina must be remembered for. In England it was the Red Cross, the nurses and so much connected with the War. In India she blossomed. From improving the state of women in the field of nursing, to the refugee camps, from education, to literacy, from the state of the troops in India to entertaining officials by the hundreds all for the furtherance of British interests and the sake of peace, from her abiding love and respect for Gandhi to her attempts in every way to prevent bloodshed between warring communities in India, Edwina worked herself to the bone.

What Edwina did in India was huge. Tackling projects which were simply gigantic and trying to move mountains against a backdrop of purdah, women who were conservative, men who were even more conservative and improving the lot of a people who were not her own against overwhelming odds of lack of communications, extremely bad weather (temperatures over 100), sectarian governments who used whatever they could to their advantage would have been an obstacle for most women who would have given up. Not so with this one. Indefatigable, pushing herself beyond endurance, falling ill constantly (never having been blessed with good health) she nevertheless did it all.  She fell in love with India and India with her. She felt herself Indian and when she returned to England she felt out of place and lived for her annual trips back to Delhi where she was more at peace than anywhere else.

This was a brilliant book for me. I very much enjoy reading about the British in India. Some of the reads make you realise what was done in the name of colonization and just empire building but then you come across a book like this and you understand that along with the bad was an immense amount of good.

Some photographs of Edwina Mountbatten for my readers.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

This was a good book for the very long weekend as it is not something that could be read the way I generally do, waiting for appointments or in between some work. This needed slow assimilation on the part of the reader, this reader anyway.

The book with its background period of 1956 deals with an ailing Minister who is the third generation of ministers in his family writing out his memoirs and letters to his seven year old son. He wants to imbue in his son the faith that has spanned his family for generations, to inculcate a spirit of forgiveness and also to express his feelings for the young woman he married for the second time and the joy and happiness she brought to his life.

The novel is slow and it is at the pace of an ailing seventy six year old man but at the same time it is filled with description - the month long journey when his father and he just ten years old set out to find his grandfather's grave. The pitfalls and dangers on the journey and their eventual joyful return home going on to his own faith and his joy in his sermons (all collected in the attic amounting to a few thousands) and the spirit that moves him to choose one particular aspect of the Bible when he needs to emphasise his point of view. Every aspect of spirituality and life is covered by Ames sermons whether it be God himself, the Sabbath, grace and forgiveness, and even on people sent by God with a message for you.

This was an unusual book - it was good because it made me also think a bit not just today but the time that is to come. When a book makes me think I generally know that it is a keeper (for me). A Pulitzer prize winner the author has written another book which I must try to find.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday What are you reading?

Mailbox Monday hosted for the month of April  by Cindy's Love of Books

Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

It was again bonanza time for me. A very good, heavy, fat mailbox!

The description on this book is lyrical. Celebrating the wildness of nature and human love set amongst the mountains of Appalachia.

A very small book involving family. I still cannot see the romance bit of the title but this is described as vintage Brookner.

Again relationships and complicated! I think I'd like this one.

I picked this one up because it has a section of it set in Venice. Could not resist it.

After Brookner this is a necessity - engrossing, suspenseful and laugh out loud funny!

This was a win from Books, Belles and Beaux! Thank you Joanne.

The other was a win from Quirky Girls Read. Thanks for the win.  This is a book I am looking forward to very much.

Right now I am reading a memoir of Edwina Mountbatten.  Halfway through and I think the best is yet to come.

After five days holiday it is going to be tough getting into the grind of work! tomorrow is going to be a hectic day, hence the early post.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Alan Titchmarsh's MR. MACGREGOR

The author himself is a gardener and presenter so he does this very easily. It is a light read on gardening amongst other things and was ideal for me after I had finished very heavy books and needed something light, humourous and easy to digest!

Rob is a gardener - one of the down to earth, no frills kind and very popular. He is co hosting a show along with Bertie - described perfectly as a fading queen - nothing could be more precise - description wise!  Bertie is unhappy with the arrangement as he feels that Rob is taking away all the limelight on account of his youth, good looks and charisma not forgetting that Bertie has now become a soak and with a complicated love life which is influencing his TV show. Viewers themselves have noted the snide remarks and Rob and the producers are in a quandary what to do next.

To this you add a complication in Rob's love life where he has a one night stand with a news presenter and this finally becomes known to his long time girlfriend. Apart from that Rob's own father is having problems with his nursery which though well established and doing reasonably well has its own share of problems.

This was ideal for me for the weekend. Lots of gardening knowledge, details of the Chelsea Flower Show which I am very unlikely ever to see, the world of British gardening described in detail and a bit of human relationships and fun thrown in.

Nice reading.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Monica Dickens's MAN OVERBOARD

Ben is a naval officer and the pride of his parents - middle class and struggling - who have put all their energies into their son's career and are so content that he has made the grade and become a naval officer. Ben is widowed (in complicated circumstances) which the parents prefer to gloss over and ignore though they do love their grand daughter.

Ben is decommissioned along with several other officers but to Ben's parents it is almost his fault and they make no bones about the fact that it need not have been so! Ben is depressed and humiliated as it is and this attitude makes it much worse. To add to his troubles he finds it very difficult to find a suitable job and after disastrous starts and ends, he ends up clearing tables in a cafe.

For Ben any job was better than no job at all but for the fickle and fashionable small time TV star who is his so called fiancee and for his parents this was degradation at its height. Ben has no knowledge of anything outside the submarines and the Navy and is not fitted for the average working life and this book is humourous and at the same time sympathetic of the thousands of service men who are ill fitted for any life other than the services and are at a loose end as to what to do usefully till they retire. Ben and the people in his own world find it so difficult to adapt to the changing world of civilian life around him.

This book got me thinking - are people in the services still like this or do they remain in the services till they retire. Do they know anything other than the military or the navy and how do they fit into civilian life once that part of their lives are over?  I have no one in my family in any of the services but this book did get me thinking - in our country we have a huge army, navy and airforce and police - not at all proportionate to our population mainly because of the 30 year civil war we had - what do they do now. We still have a huge military presence but I do know that many people took early retirement. How do they cope?

I am always glad when a book gets me thinking. This was highlighted only today in a post by Sheila from Book Journey.

The New Year celebrations have started. The New year dawned (funny description that! at 10.40 pm last night).  Today is a day for visits to the temple, visits to immediate family and much family reunions and celebrations.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA

This was not a quick read. It took me quite a while to get through it but that does not mean that it was not interesting. Though part love story, it was also quite descriptive not just of places but of people and of the time the book was set. 

The author is the one who is setting the story - the three main characters of Dr. Juvenal Urbino, his wife Fermina Daza and her very longtime admirer Florentino Ariza. The story set over 50 years may be the reason for its slow pace. You never feel that you can hurry it along and find out what is going to happen. From the first page you know this is going to be the long haul. You will get there eventually but you have to have patience. Old fashioned backgrounds may also account for the slower pace of the book.

Fermina as a very young girl had no idea of romantic love and Florentino came into her life at an opportune time when she was bored with her life. The idea of love between them was borne but it was a hopeless one as her father would never approve of this relationship. Dr Urbino called to her bedside at a time of illness, fell in love with her and she remained a faithful wife to him till his untimely death.  The creepy part was that Florentino never fell out of love with his ideal love and just waited patiently for Dr Urbino to die to claim his bride. This is exactly what he did. He had a very long wait though and the story is told from the time he met Fermina till the doctor's death and his subsequent wooing of Fermina.

Spanning decades in Colombo Fermina is a haughty, arrogant woman who forgot her past, Florentino would today be called a stalker and Dr Urbino lived in his own world where he felt he was the best in everything he did. 

Extremely descriptive but very slow this is not a book for those who want a quick read, and for events to happen quickly. Interesting but painfully slow.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jean Plaidy's Courts of Love

Set in the 12th century the story details the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine starting from the time she was with her grandparents to the very end of her days. It encompasses quite a bit of history - going from the English history of the time to the Crusades,  from the time the Church was equally powerful as the State, and the King's attempts to wrest power from the Church and make the Church submissive to the State.

Eleanor was not a lady of her time. She would have done very well in the 21st century. She was gutsy, sensual, different, she knew what she wanted from a very young age and nothing could stand in her path but to get it. She was not one who shied away from wars and her contempt for her young husband was heightened because of his spirituality which always warred with his kingship when he was forced to go to war with its resultant bloodshed and butchery. Eleanor realised very early on that Louis was not the man for her, king or no king and she was determined to get a divorce (not very easy at the time) but she was successful. She left her two daughters behind with hardly a backward glance and went on to her next relationship with a man who became King of England and whose ambitions were no less than hers.

Eleanor was at one time Queen of France and Queen of England at a time when the two countries hated each other! she was able to secure good alliances for her children all with the idea of extending her rule through here children. In this she was amply supported by Henry I whose overriding greed was his downfall.

The book was interesting in that it highlighted a very strong woman who did not allow her sex to get in the way of her ambitions. At the same time she sincerely hoped that her children would find love in their marriages though marriages were for convenience and expansion of empires. Compared to her first husband Eleanor comes out as such a strong woman that Louis just could not cope with her! With Henry I however she met her match but their relationship was one of mutual love and respect but only at the beginning. With his serial infidelities Eleanor lost all feeling she had for this man and decided to just concentrate on the welfare of her children.

On a non book note we enter the period of the New Year celebrations. Some pictures which would show what its all about!

The Singhalese New Year celebrations generally involve a whole village or community. Swings have traditionally been part of the celebrations for young women though these are now more or less non happenings other than for this particular festival. Girls dressed in traditional cloth and jacket is also now very, very rare! Everyone seems to prefer Western style attire.

Playing the rabana - a circular drum to a distinct fast beat is popular. Am glad that this is now making a comeback.

Traditionally dressed girls with trays of sweetmeats and bananas giving the traditional greeting of the palms closed together.  Below that a tray of traditional sweets. Most houses now seem to buy them from shops rather than making it at home. The white stuff in front is called milk rice, exactly what it says, rice cooked in coconut milk till it becomes firm and could be put onto a plate and cut into squares. Served at any special occasion in Sri Lanka.

I hope to get quite a bit of reading done over the next four days - no office, no going anywhere and hardly any vehicles on the roads. Very conducive to reading and the weather gods have been kind and Colombo has been blessed with rain. The tsunami warnings yesterday were dire - I was thinking please not again and Thank God it was just a warning nothing more.

Subha Aluth Avuruddak wewa - A Happy New Year to all!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review - East Lynne by Ellen Wood

East Lynne was for me a surprising story. It dealt with our Victorian heroine acting in a very un-Victorian manner (different for me from the very prudish characters I have read about).

Isabel Vane is left penniless by her father who was greatly in debt. Their lawyer who is privy to the whole story feels pity for Isabel and offers her the security of marriage much to the chagrin of Barbara who has been waiting on the sidelines for ages always in love with Carlyle and waiting for him to notice him. Isabel herself is a pretty young woman who captures the lawyer's fancy.  

At the same time on the sidelines as it were the lawyer is helping Barbara's brother who is a fugitive from justice and on the run. Barbara's father has sworn that he should not step his home and her mother is distraught at the loss of her son. Barbara herself believes implicitly that her brother has been framed and is seeking a way of proving his innocence. Barbara keeps seeing Carlyle (almost like assignations as these are kept secret even from her mother) and Isabel believes that the two - her husband and Barbara are having an affair and that he regrets his marriage to her. To add to the general mix up, a rake by the name of Levinson is also around at the same time, and he somehow convinces Isabel that her husband is having an affair. Isabel elopes with him to the Continent and a very unhappy situation develops for her. She has left her husband and her two children behind who all believe that she is dead, due to her identity papers being discovered on a train that met with a crash.

It all sounds highly improbable and the plot develops further and further. It seemed a never ending developing of one story from the next - like the 1001 tales of an Arabian fantasy - but what is clever is that the author somehow makes you feel sorry for Isabel. She always seems like the aggrieved party despite her behaviour and this is somewhat at odds with the story.

I was left feeling that it was too much to believe - one could not imagine circumstances so neatly falling into place time and time again. Once or twice would have been believable. More than that was a tad too much.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday What Are you Reading?

Hosted for April by Cindy's Love of Books.

It's Monday What Are you Reading hosted by Sheila from Book Journey.

I am going to be rather busy and away from the computer tomorrow and Monday with New Year celebrations (prior to the actual New Year) so I thought I'd get this in early. I will link up with the respective memes a bit later than usual.  I have been lucky this week as I visited the book sale run by expat Brits and where I always end up with a wonderful selection.

Roma Tearne a Sri Lankan author I was always looking out for.  Described as a rich family saga

A gardener who is incidentally a TV hearthrob. Described as warm, funny and a sexy debut novel this does not need any further recommendations.

A Pulitzer Prize Winner. Also described as being a story of fathers and sons. My kind of book.

Love the cover! Involving the White House.

Edwina Mountbatten was a controversial figure in Indian politics. I am looking forward to this book very much.

And I have kept the gem for the last!!!!!

Hardback but with a cloth lithograph. This was a wonderful, delightful find. I could have kissed the lady in charge there that day!!!! I have tried to get this book in the Melbourne libraries and failed and to find it all dusty and hidden here in Colombo was a find indeed.

Right now I am reading Courts of Love by Jean Plaidy which was from a previous Mailbox. I also have a Susan Sallis which I would like to pick up next as a change from historical fiction. No mysteries or murders to add to the mix.

Happy Easter to all.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The cover does not draw you in and I am a great one for covers. The book was however idyllic.  The book covers two generations of two distinct families across two continents and with different social, racial and political ideas behind each family.

We have the romance of Anna - prim, very English, come to Egypt for a change of scene after the tragic death of her husband. We have the handsome Arab who decides to sacrifice all for the love of Anna and surprisingly we have a very loving, supportive Egyptian family and in fact a clan who all welcome Anna into their Egyptian hearts with much love and warmth, so unlike the British in Egypt who cold shouldered her and shunned her completely.

That is only one part - a very tiny part of the story. We have the political side which was one of turmoil, unrest, rebellion and deaths. Reminds me very much of what is happening in Homs right now. The description of the way the British acted in Egypt, over riding all Egyptian interests in any field - be it education, fine arts, agriculture or industry was something totally new to me. The nation was to be kept submissive and subdued so that British interests could prevail. The absolute dictatorship of those in power has to be read about to be believed. This was a major part of the book - the struggle of the Egyptian people to be heard.

The presence of Isabel Parkman, American by birth but linked to the ancestry of Anna and Sharif is another vital part of the story.

The book draws parallels of the Egyptian State as it were in 1901 as well as again in 1997 very reminiscent of the tensions in the Middle East - the lives and love stories which are intertwined are set as just an intrinsic part of the political scene unfolding in Egypt. The love stories which are very much part of the book are moving and very romantic. Maybe a tad too romantic for some but I personally enjoyed this book very much.

Fact and fiction were both part of the story but there is a lot of history in this book so that I am going to enter it as part of my Historical Fiction Challenge for 2012. I do wish the cover could have been more appealing though.