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Friday, August 31, 2012

AT SEA by LAURIE GRAHAM



Most of the books I pick up are from recommendations of book bloggers. I faithfully write them out and when I come to Carnegie I try to find as many as possible from the library. Very often the very latest best sellers are always on order and I have to wait for my next time around to get to them. Some of the more "old fashioned" reads are never purchased by the libraries but that still gives me a lot of choice.

This book was a real tongue in the cheek humour. You never knew whether Enid was poking fun at her husband in an understated manner or whether she was downright annoyed. She did seem to have a lot of tolerance and forbearance definitely. I would have thrown something at him definitely!!!

Lady Enid (the title not strictly correct but she was from aristocracy) marries the very ordinary Bernard Finch who always aspires to the aristocracy himself and to anything other than the hoi polloi. He firmly believes that he is a cut above the "ordinary" and unfortunately does not keep this to himself but displays it to all and sundry making him obviously the most unpopular and disliked man around. People seem to be courteous in this book and do not cut him dead which would be what would have happened in normal life as he is obnoxious to a fault. Maybe Enid was such a nice person that they overlooked him!

Enid and Bernard embark on a cruise - he as a lecturer on this Aegean cruise. Bernard is knowledgeable in his subject and unknown to everyone else dependent on the income he earns from this line of work. On the cruise they encounter someone from Bernard's childhood and the whole episode blows Bernard's life apart as his carefully maintained facade starts crumbling. His nervousness and agitation at the discovery of his roots
sets off a train of events which were surprising. How Enid handles the whole situation is marvellous and does make for a very good book.

I liked the way the author handled Enid - how she developed through the story into becoming more confident and facing upto a sort of bullying husband. She was graceful and kind to all and came into her own very well. The description of life on a cruise with its bits of history was also very good reading.

Thoroughly enjoyed the book.

It is still chilly in Melbourne and rather strange. You will have a morning of bright sunshine with absolutely no warmth - I can never get this. For me the sun means hot, here the sun is out in full force but its cold!!!!     

Thursday, August 30, 2012

MARIANA BY SUSANNA KEARSLEY


I had  been looking forward for months to get my hands on any of Ms Kearsley's books and this was the first one I could get to.

The story starts in a manner that you the reader knows that there is definitely much more to this than meets the eye. A house is at the bottom of it and Julia and the house are inextricably linked. The first stop by the house was when Julia was just five years old but even at that age she knows she has some kind of bond with the house. Repeat this twice more and you know you are getting somewhere.  You do know you are going to come back to this house as it is fate that Julia has to have this house.  Proceed a couple of pages and Julia does buy this house and comes down to live in this idyllic village and settle down to her profession as a children's book illustrator.

Once resident, Julia has flashbacks to 300 years ago to a girl called Mariana who lived in the house. Trying to find out more and more she is drawn back more into the past than the present to the point where those who do know what is happening are frightened for her safety. The past was violent and eventful and her brother Tom is nervous as to what she may have to face physically and mentally because each episode of her flashbacks seem to be taking more and more out of his vibrant sister.

I liked the feeling of not just going back in time but the very real link in this story to reincarnation. Not a topic dealt with very much in fiction -something very real in Buddhist and Hindu philosophy and a subject which is quite commonplace in Sri Lanka.

Everything about this book was good. The descriptiveness of the serenity of this countryside village made me want to uproot myself and go there, the dialect of 300 years ago, the historical content of times past, and very importantly the relationships that Mariana had with everyone around her not just her lover was just beautiful.

Telling you more would be spoilers but this is a must read. You have to get your hands on this amazing story. I loved the fact that I read it in large print so was able to read till 2 am and finish the book.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

MYSTERY IN THE MINSTER by SUSANNA GREGORY




Set in 1358 this was for me a different take on Christianity as it existed in Britain - in York precisely. The surprise for me was the emphasis put on Purgatory - and all the means you had at your disposal (after your death!) to put things right and get yourself elevated to Heaven. That some of this was slightly ludicrous considering the lifestyle that some of these men led on earth is neither here nor there.

The story starts with Michaelhouse - a humble college with a paucity of funds. Having information that a legacy in the form of a church is due to them from the Archbishop of York the men from Michaelhouse set out to claim their legacy. Faced with severe opposition from another college who as executors of the will say that there is no codicil giving this chapel to Michaelhouse, begins a series of murder, attempted murder, mayhem, convent capers and what not leading to the eventual discovery of who is behind the gradual murders of all the executors to the will of the late Archbishop.

Bartholomew our sleuth in this book is a physician of repute in Cambridge and he is most interested in the workings of the hospital in York, their emphasis on cleanliness and washing of hands (still not accepted amongst physicians of the time) but this time around he is more involved in the intricacy and intrigue in which the hierarchy of the church in York is so involved in. Add to this the fact that one also discovers on the way the absolutely unhygienic, dirty way of living of the average person and we do realise how far we have come in a couple of centuries!

The book brought 14th century Britain to life - difficult I think for all and I just envisioned how much harder it must have been for the poorer folk if clergy had a tough time of it. I found the book slow in parts though it did hot up over the last 150 pages - only for those who like their history mixed up with a good deal of murder. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY by DEANNA RAYBOURN


Deanna Raybourn is a favourite author of mine. This time the book surpassed everything else I've read before.

Lady Julia and her two brothers are happy in Italy. After a disastrous episode Julia is just recovering both mentally and physically. Summarily summoned by their autocratic father to return at once to the family home Julia, Plum and Lysander along with his very new wife Violante start the journey home to be in time for a family Christmas.

The Christmas as described by the author was idyllic. It was a huge family Christmas with generations of the family all in one place, traditional food and very much a time of togetherness. Such a large circle will naturally include eccentrics and annoyances of all kinds and the March family are known for this. The murder of the curate of all people is puzzling but being snowbound helps when no one can either enter the house or leave.

Julia and her former love Brisbane along with the Earl have to find the reasons for this killing within their house - to also stave off the un-necessary publicity and  notoriety that will definitely follow when Lucy their soon to be married cousin takes full responsibility for the killing. Trying to find out who was behind the killing is the crux of the story but what I loved a bit more was the descriptiveness found in this story.

From the domestic details of an aristocratic house of the era, to the surroundings, from the description of the countryside and even the journey from Italy to England was definitely something I could have lingered on for much more. It brought all the characters to life - as you felt you were actually present wherever the story was being set.

The romance between Julia and Brisbane remains unresolved though you do know that this has to have a happy ending in some other story. Another book maybe to look forward to.

For readers of not just murder and mystery but also those who like coming to life descriptiveness this one is for you.

Melbourne gave me wonderful crispy cold weather on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday here is a bit gloomy so I am going to stay in and read!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

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


Mailbox Monday for this week (for the next three weeks actually) is coming not from Sri Lanka but from Melbourne specifically courtesy of Carnegie library! I got hold of two books and have put a hold on another two.  The only reason I came away with two was that I was overloaded with groceries. This meme is being hosted for August by 5 Minutes for Books



Deanna Raybourn is a favourite of mine.


The other is a new author for me Described as the seventeenth chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew. I have a weakness for anything set in churches or to do with convents and churches. Thats' the convent upbringing coming out.



It's Monday! What are you Reading is hosted by Sheila from Book Journey.



I think I shall start this week with the Deanna Raybourn book and take it from there. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

ELIZABETH GEORGE - THIS BODY OF DEATH



I read somewhere that mysteries are considered brain teasers. Well this goes right to the top of the pile because till the end you are wondering where you are going, with whom you are going, and with whom are you going to end up with. I was wrong on every count and this added to the enjoyment of this story.

The book is a huge tome of a book and made for uncomfortable reading in bed. This is my only grouse but how does one get around that.

The story starts also in a very confused manner. We have a horrible account of an abduction and murder of a toddler by three very young boys. His seemingly absolutely reason-less abduction and his horrific death made you want to scream with anger at our entire social system that would bring up three boys to this stance of absolute inhumanity, cruelty and the worst of all absolute indifference.

We then have running parallel to this story the murder of a young woman in a lonely cemetery. We have clues, we have blood stained clothes, the actual implement used to kill the woman, we have suspects and I still could not get the connection with the two murders (toddler's murder had taken place so many years before).

We have the dapper Inspector Lynley who is tentatively returning to active duty after the senseless murder of his wife and who is finding it difficult to come to grips with police life and how everyone seems to be tip toeing around him. We have the aggressive new Inspector who is on trial Isabelle Ardery trying to cope with a drinking problem, an ex husband and custody issues and the entire police force who look at her with disdain firstly as a woman Inspector and secondly as one who is not able to even come close to the likes of Inspector Lynley. That Lynley has to work under her is also a point that is not very popular with the police force and our Isabelle likes to make sure that everyone knows who is the boss.

That Isabelle steamrolls everyone in her path in her pursuit of the truth, of the murderer without thinking of the reputation of the Met which is something of paramount importance to her superiors puts her in the line of fire constantly. Apart from the murder, the story of Isabelle was very interesting reading. It formed for me an integral part of the story because it brings Lynley and Isabelle together as not just professional partners and this was a surprise as it seemed so out of character for Lynley! a bit disappointed I was in him.......  To get back to the series I wonder how Isabelle Ardery is going to feature in the next book?????

Getting back to the actual murder (!) we have Barbara Havers our very rough and top cop battling it out, not following orders from the top and generally acting true to form but coming out tops with the goods. 

I was sorry this book ended but now I must find out what are the sequels for this one. I am sure it will be available in Melbourne as this author is very popular in Australia.  Last minute shopping of stuff to take with me. It is always food - it would seem my children are starving in Australia!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

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



This month the meme is being hosted by 5 Minutes for Books.

I had a lovely mailbox  - first is a perennial favourite author of mine. Elizabeth George


I've already started on this one and its fabulous!

This author is new to me and I liked the story.



A different genre altogether in Michelle Moran's Nefertiti



This is a win from The Blue Bookcase. Thank you so much for the win which came in just a few days courtesy DHL!





This meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

I am reading Elizabeth George's This Body of Death which is absolutely amazing. Have read and reviewed quite a few books this past week. I have a good stock of books now in hand for the coming weeks.

Next weekend I will be flying to Melbourne to visit the children and haunt the Carnegie library. I think the fascination I have for Melbourne is partly the books! the variety and the choices available are so good and my lists are all ready to go.

REVENGE OF THE MIDDLE AGED WOMAN BY ELIZABETH BUCHAN


A storyline which is somewhat common - a middle aged lady thinks her marriage is somewhat perfect, loving husband, grown up children and a good job, nice house, nice lifestyle everything seems just good. A bombshell in the form of a surprise confession from her husband as to a love affair which he is serious about and horrors with her own assistant Minty really sets the cat amongst the pigeons.

Rose has to take stock of her life, look at it very carefully and now decide how and where she is going. She loses her job as well to the aforesaid Minty, is in the process of losing her house as well to the said Minty  and seems to be left penniless as well as husbandless. To top it all, her daughter Poppy emails from Thailand to say she has got married, her son is unhappy with his choice of girlfriend and Rose wonders where she went wrong. The loss of her house is a bitter blow as she put hours into making it the perfect home for her and her family and she cannot bear the thought of Nathan and Minty living in it and making it their own.

Going into a deep well of self pity and isolation the story of how Rose fights back with the support of two old friends - a visit to Paris, purchase of some new, sexy clothes and the realization that there is life after Nathan,  a meet up with her long lost first lover and finally the unexpected turn up that Nathan finds himself somewhat at a loss with his new love Minty makes Rose face upto a life of being alone again.

With this story we would hope that the best days for Rose are yet to come. Funny, satirical and whimsical all at the same time a good read for everyone.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

BURNING BRIGHT by TRACY CHEVALIER.


Set in the late 18th century with William Blake also part of the foreground to the story, this gives you a brutally honest picture of what life was like in Britain for the working class. Anyone slightly middle class is on the periphery of the story as it deals with working class men and women and how very early in life children were forced to become adults, take on the responsibility and cares of adults and how they managed as well.

Tracy Chevalier brings together a rural Dorsetshire boy Jem and a street smart Londoner Maggie together in a very tender story - not the romance that was expected of the encounters but more of something deeper and unusual for the age of our two youngsters. 

Thomas Kellaway moves from rural Dorsetshire with his family after his son dies in a tragic accident, hoping that the move will help them with their grief. He comes to London and joins the Astley's who run a very successful circus. The Kellaways are makers of chairs but they take on carpentry jobs with the circus which is financially better but does not bring them the satisfaction of a craft. Anne Kellaway is distrustful of Londoners, the circus and the Astleys but she does seem to mellow by the end of the story, but it is the story of Jem and Maisie the two Kellaway children which are at the heart of the story.

How Maisie is seduced by the wily John Astley. A simple village girl she was ripe for the plucking and Jem has to cope with the wily way of Londoners who realize he is just a simpleton who can be taken for a ride. Maggie is the one who comes to their rescue on more than one occasion because Maggie realizes that there is an innocence in both the Kellaway youngsters which she feels must be safeguarded as they are unaware of their own gullibility. How Maggie risks her own family's wrath to do this is also part of the story.

The backdrop of a revolution pending in France - seemingly very remote to the hard life of a working class family - it also brings its effect to them all despite the feeling that it is something very far away. The Blake poetry of  Innocence as against Experience is always a highlight of the story sometimes just as a nuance of a character and sometimes very much part of the story.

Though critics say the story is nothing much, I did enjoy this book very much both the story and the detailed descriptiveness of life in Britain at this period.

This book was a win from a Rebecca - thank you Rebecca

Sunday, August 12, 2012

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


Mailbox Monday is on tour. Host for August is 5 Minutes for books.

A friend of mine came over from Australia for a short visit. I am delighted that now with the war firmly behind us, more and more friends and family are constantly visiting. It is also good for our
local economy to have tourists back in this country. She brought me two delightful books.





I like books set in colonial India and now I have a mix of the best. Old and the very new. I have read Chetan Bhagat and I found his insights into the new India of the call centers very interesting so I am looking forward to this one.


This meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Right now I am reading Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright.



Thank you Rebecca for this win.

My daughter is home for just three weeks and it is always hectic when she is around. Reading however is going on apace but reviews are coming up slowly!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

BEYOND THE BLUE MOUNTAINS by PENELOPE LIVELY



This was the last of the Penelope Lively's I picked up from the library and this was the best. A collection of short stories which were feisty, spicy and couldn't put downable.

The one about the action, reaction theory was fantastic in its imaginative way the story spiralled from a spilled pot of paint to what eventually happened.  The stories are succint and to the point and it will all appeal to those who appreciate a dry sense of British humour! The stories themselves deal with the middle class of Britain and the characters some of them unimaginative and dull but it is that very dullness that sparks the interest of the reader.

Brilliant short read.

On a sad note our dog Dottie died yesterday. Just one and a half years old she will be very sadly missed by us.



Friday, August 10, 2012

BEL CANTO BY ANN PATCHETT



A poor South American country un-named even by the end of the story is the focus of a group of terrorists who have held hostage for many months a group of people from many countries. The group had gathered to hear opera being sung at the birthday party of a Japanese financier and those who came for the show were all the wealthy of the land including the Vice President.

The Vice President was the let down as it was the President who was supposed to attend. To make matters even more farcical the President was not willing to miss his TV programme as he wanted to know what happened to Maria next so the entire onus of the hostage crisis fell on the VP who rose the occasion majestically.

The story centers around the opera singer Roxanne who entrances all who are around her including the terrorist guards who fall under her spell. How the group both the hostages and the guards are people with detailed, intricate, complicated lives and how these lives enmesh during these months are the base of the story.

The story is slightly surreal and you are reading it as if viewing from a distance. At the same time some of  the characters are homespun and down to earth, while some of them whom one may think of as very high falutin are actually beginning to realize that for all their wealth they are mortal and an end could be in sight.

A brilliant story. A bit quiet in certain places and I did take more than a couple of days to finish the story but a good read.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

GOOD EVENING MRS CRAVEN - THE WARTIME STORIES OF MOLLY PANTER-DOWNES


My first Persephone book and what a fabulous book it was. This is one of those books that you want to keep on your bedside and look at it once in a while! for me the feeling was one of Jane Austen and Delafield and a bit of Downton Abbey combined!

Set during the 1939 to 1944 period twenty one stories depicting wartime Britain in its very essence (I presume). The quirky characteristics of the retired military now air raid wardens, the Cockney Londoners sent down to the countryside for the duration of the war and now finding their feet in a new country almost, the difficulty of country people trying very hard to accept the new visitors to their homes and hearths, the heartbreak of young love,  the newly married, and the not so newly married gentry who are desperately trying to keep a stiff upper lip and maintain immaculate homes and gardens sans gardeners and maids.

WWI and WWII were horrific and introduced Europe to a brutality that they had almost forgotton. These stories show the other side of the coin. How those at home were forced to cope with circumstances beyond their control and in the case of WWII which seemed to go on forever.
I loved how it showed British spirit - the way of making do, not complaining and just getting on with it. A lesson somewhere for everyone.

A book everyone should read. Thanks to Ali for this win.





Tuesday, August 7, 2012

IN PURSUIT OF THE PROPER SINNER BY ELIZABETH GEORGE


Elizabeth George did not disappoint (again). The fabulously suave, handsome Inspector Lynley along with the frumpy, dumpy DC Barbara Havers and the impish Nkata do it again.

Set amongst beautifully descriptive scenery of the moors - for someone who has never been, unlikely to go it brings every nuance of the moors home to me. We have two horrendous murders and complicated as they come.

Nicola Maiden and Terry Cole found gruesomely murdered. Suspects galore and tell tale bits and pieces all over, it is a kind of a maze where you have to logically deduce to find out who the murderers are.

A fabulous read. Recommended not just to mystery/murder fans. This is a book for all.

Monday, August 6, 2012

THE TEA ROSE BY JENNIFER DONNELLY

For the last two days I was not able to access any blog on blogspot.com and that included opening my own blog. Did anyone else have this problem? I missed out on Mailbox Monday/It's Monday What Are you Reading? as well.

I have been keeping an eye out for the Rose series of Jennifer Donnelly and at last got to this one.
Set in East London in 1888 I was very interested initially as it involved the tea trade (one that I am involved in as well) but this became a fascinating rags to riches story apart from moving from the poverty of London to the richly paved streets of America where our Fiona finds her pot of gold - albeit after a harrowing tale of death, destruction, bone chilling poverty and hearbreak.

I enjoyed the description of how the East London markets operated - from its barrows and costers to the bigger shops and then to Manhattan's more cosmopolitan markets and how trade developed to the fine art of shops like Harrods today.  The behind the scenes activity of the market trade made for a fascinating read and mixed with our absolutely dynamic heroine who you knew from the very beginning had to come out tops.

An enjoyable read.

Friday, August 3, 2012

THE PHOTOGRAPH BY PENELOPE LIVELY



The plot is around four characters who are living set lives - not staid but just routine when the emergence of a photograph from a very long time ago sets the cat amongst the pigeons and the disruption of what was routine and peaceful to a somewhat agitated time.

Glyn discovers a photograph of his dead wife Kath in a rather compromising pose with Nick.  Glyn is the type who is not happy until he knows every little bit of what went on and it is the fact that he did not know rather than his wife's infidelity is what bugs him. Was this just one affair, were there many? and he does not stop there but tries to unravel through friends and friends of friends what his wife did month by month at times when he was involved (unfaithful? not interested?) elsewhere. Not just the discovery of the photograph but the fact that he makes it known to Elaine for whom this is the last straw with the feckless Nick whom she turfs out immediately.

Elaine is the strong silent type and her husband Nick who all along has been able to cajole his way in life now finds himself bewildered as to what has happened to him. He cannot believe or understand why Elaine should throw him out over a fling because for him it seems such a minor mistake! also it took place 15 years ago and he cannot understand why after all this time she should be inconveniencing him. For Elaine who is frustrated and and fed up this is the ideal chance to get rid of Nick and get her own life in order. It unsettles her though (this getting rid of Nick) if truth be told as can be seen by the end of the story.

That life is not what it seems and that characters sometimes also act out their part, that  life can throw some strange stuff at one and at the most unexpected times,  how the past influences the present and that we somehow can never get away from our past are all features of her stories.

I have one more book of hers and this is a collection of short stories that I am really looking forward to.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

SPIDERWEB BY PENELOPE LIVELY


Today is a holiday - it is a full moon day called a Poya Day here - and we have twelve for the year. It is such a nice thing to have an additional day off doing almost nothing. I don't count being on the computer as work as this is something I really enjoy.

My first read of Penelope Lively and I've got three books lined up. Finished two already. The books are small ones, easy to read and finish which make it welcome after my last book which was a 1000 pages and difficult to handle.

Stella is in her sixties, retired from anthropological studies where she was pretty successful and now feels that the peace and quiet of an English village is just up her street. Self sufficient to a fault, she chooses this village set in the area of Somerset purely on a picture post card sent by a friend. She has no ties to the place and is determined to settle in and become part of a rural community.

The other characters in the story move parallel with Stella's life. There is Richard (her friend Nadine's widower), there is Molly an archaelogist and her partner Linda - Molly apparently wanting to break free and not knowing how to do it, and then we get the disruptive, aggressive Hilcox family. No one knows where they've come from, no one gets on with them and they keep pretty much to themselves. The sons of the family are people one really does not want to have as neighbours and Stella fails to see that her overtures of being just neighbourly are not very well received by these two awful young men.

Like most things in life, nothing is what it seems. On the surface everything seems very normal but there is a lot of darkness specially the ominous Hilcox family. I always felt that violence was going to happen any minute and the author did keep me on edge because I thought Stella was going to bumble and fumble her way into disaster on the Hilcox side. Then we get Richard trying to also inveigle his way amorously into Stella's path. Stella with her head in the clouds totally unaware of Richard's thoughts almost till the very end when she has to decide how to handle and end the matter gracefully!

Eccentric or quirky characters - I think a mix of both. Down to earth and at the same time not really aware of what is happening around. This forms the characterization of the people in the story.  I felt the title Spiderweb was very apt, but this I realized only at the end!

Very up and down reading for this first read but an author I am going to look for.