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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

THE NOVEL IN THE VIOLA by NATASHA SOLOMONS



This book has been on my TBR list for years. I have a notebook which is now almost over with books I should read - based on reviews and recommendations which I gather from the blogs. Sometimes you go into a book with a lot of anticipation (happens for me with Joanna Trollope, Susanna Kearsley, Diana Gabaldon, Elizabeth George the list is endless) and those never disappoint. Then you pick up a book with a strange title  "a novel in a viola????" okay this sounds strange to begin with and then you start and voila you are immersed in an English countryside just prior to the beginning of WWII and then you no longer are in your own home.

The book took me to Tyneford, it immersed me in the house itself. Solomons has a way with words - in this hot, humid and miserable weather we are having in Colombo I can almost taste the salt water rain off the coast in Tyneford, the tang that comes up from freshly ploughed soil,  the scent of bluebells (though I don't know what that is never having seen one in real life), and can imagine what moss and lichen on the walls feel like. 

The story of Elise and Margo, Anna and Julian - Jews in Austria who face their fears head on and of courageous parents who force Elise a girl waited on by cooks and maids to herself become a maid in an English household, and their newly married daughter Margot to emmigrate as quickly as possible to America, become caught in the conflict themselves. To the utter sadness and fast losing hope of both daughters who realize very soon that seeing their parents is becoming more and more of an improbability as time goes on.

How Elise makes a life for herself is a beautiful love story, despite the overtones of sadness throughout the story. Margot's story is a side line almost until the end when the two sisters are reunited. 

I liked how Solomons incorporated the war in the everyday lives of the average Englishman and how quickly the English people adapted to this strange new way of living. That the war broke down barriers and changed the social fabric of Europe was unmistakable.  Reminiscent of Downton Abbey the "upstairs downstairs" of everyday life at Tyneford House was so detailed and descriptive - I loved it!

This was an ideal read for me to get out of the rut I had drifted into with no reading done at all over weeks of non stop work!  Halfway through an Elizabeth George who is another beautiful writer!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

IT'S MONDAY! WHAT ARE YOU READING?





I am doing this meme only this week as no books have come to my house. I will be visiting the Mailboxes though!


I have had very little time for reading but  have gone back to re - reads of authors whom I love.
I read a Rosy Thornton last week which I thoroughly enjoyed - her descriptions of Cevennes the place and the people and in between the story of relationships both family and lovers kept me glued to the book!

This week I am going back to Elizabeth George. How she combines murders, mystery with so much attention to detail not only of that but of very convoluted relationships are some of the reasons why I love her books so much.

Towards the end of May I go back to Melbourne for my grand daughters christening. Something I am looking forward to very much. I was only there for the first month after her birth and now see that just within two months she has changed so much. Alongside this of course we are also in the midst of planning a wedding which is now getting complicated - my daughter is getting umpteen amounts of advice from friends and is now confused!!!! Having to keep a firm hand on arrangements here and assuring her that things are going according to plan a bit tricky!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

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





Nothing in my mailbox and the week has been hectic.



I have a couple of new books but I have gone back to re read a Rosy Thornton 


The Tapestry of Love


Right now I have far too much work on my hands! I also have a wedding to plan. My second daughter Shivanthi is getting married in September. She lives in Australia, her fiancee is in Ghana and the wedding here is in Sri Lanka. Lucky for me, she is very easy going and is perfectly willing to leave the details of picking out stuff to me. Having done this once before for my eldest daughter, I am just pulling out the notebook I have and using the same vendors for the second!  

Though the New Year is now over, things will only start today in actual work terms. So there is backlog of stuff to attend to. On top of it all, Colombo is suffering, really suffering from a heat wave which does not show any signs of breaking. We have had showers in some areas in Sri Lanka but not in Colombo. By 2 pm everyone is inert and inactive!

Getting back to books though I am inactive in that area myself, I am still visiting the blogs as I do love to see what everyone else is reading!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

THE SIGN OF THE WEEPING VIRGIN by ALANA WHITE








The Sign of the Weeping Virgin


This was a win from Enchanted by Josephine and was I glad I won! 

Set in the time of Lorenzo de Medici we have intrigue at its height. It is 1480 and Guid Antonia a career diplomat and lawyer and his nephew Amerigo Vespucci have to sort out and extricate their beloved city Florence from the excommunication meted out to its inhabitants by the Pope. We start out with the murder of Giuliano de Medici at Easter Mass - murdered on the instructions of the Pope and which is the reason why the Medicis are so much at war with Rome.

We have intrigue in the form of an abducted young woman, sending terror into the hearts of Florentines as the rumour is that she was taken away by the infamous Turks and we have a painting of the Madonna who weeps taken as a sign that God is angry with Florence and particularly Lorenzo de Medici . The people of Florence who loved the de Medicis now turn against them blaming them for their poverty and the spiritual vacuum which they have fallen into as a result of the edicts of the Pope. 

So many interesting characters - Sandro Botticelli  and Leonardo da Vinci - Renaissance Art and its development and the description of its characters all added to the interest of the story. Florentine Art alone and history are interesting enough and when you add a mystery to the mix it was even more so. I liked following Antonio's powers of deduction and logic to solve the case. In the backdrop of Florence it was a very interesting read.

Very little reading done this week as well. With the holidays behind me there is a lot of work to be done. Leaving for Rozella tomorrow morning. It is so very hot and humid here in Colombo that to just get away to a cooler clime would be a relief.

Monday, April 15, 2013

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


Hosted by Mari reads for April. 

Nothing new for me this week and very little reading done.  Four reviews went up this last week which for me is pretty good!



This meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. I already visited over eighteen blogs participating in this meme and have come up with another host of TBRs. 

Am in the middle of this one! Set in Italy with lots of intrigue and the Medicis.

The Sign of the Weeping Virgin


Sri Lanka as a whole has slowed down with today also a public holiday (Monday). Unlikely that anyone will turn up for work tomorrow as the auspicious day for going back to work is the 18th. Banks, hospitals and all government departments will work albeit with skeleton staff and nothing much getting done. I have to renew my passport and maybe its a good day tomorrow to go and check this out.  This can't be done online - you have to go in person with all your documents and photocopies and its a tedious task but our Passport Office is extremely efficient one now and you get it in one day!



Sunday, April 14, 2013

ISABELLA by ALISON WEIR





Described disparagingly as she wolf and alternately reviled and revered Isabella was a much maligned queen. The book by Alison Weir took time to read - this biography of one of England's most notorious queens was not a quick read. 

Her marriage at the age of twelve to the King of England was meant to unite two countries and to prevent war between France and England and Isabella was very mindful of the fact. She was a very astute politician and a strong political advisor throughout her life who took her role very seriously even when she was not the power behind the throne. 

Isabella apart from her political skills is remembered as one of the few women who was able to bring her husband to his knees, separate from him, keep him sequestered and then get him to give up his rights to the throne in favour of his elder son while she ruled as Regent. The rumour is that she also had him murdered. But this is not known for sure mainly because someone who was Edward II surfaces very much later in the story!  This is the thing that made her notorious as people felt it was not quite how Queens should behave irrespective of what went before!  What they did not understand were the reasons that made Isabella act like this. She initially wanted to protect the Kingdom for herself and her son. 

Scorned by her husband for various men as Edward II had strong homosexual tendencies, the King was led by his nose by those factions which led to widespread corruption and financial irregularities in the Kingdom which led the Crown to bankruptcy. Always finding in favour of his paramours and their houses the King recklessly gave away countless properties, beneficiaries from those who were their rightful owners to whoever was flavour of the month as it were. Isabella knew that the country was heading for not just financial ruin but for rebellion and revolt and it is to this end that she did what she had to do.   That she also was involved with a courtier and that the relationship was frowned upon by all is another facet to the story.

The unfortunate part of Isabella's story is that she gave her heart to one who was equally a tyrant like her husband and though he did not treat her as the King did, he certainly made use of his position as her lover to get the very best he could for himself and his family. 

The book was very detailed, with bits of information as to how much was paid for one item or another and this though at times heavy to get through, gave one a very good idea of the daily life of the royalty in a time like this. No easy task managing the estates, managing a Kingdom like this. Isabella was very conscious of the value of property and was intent on protecting anything that was hers and for this she fought long and hard. Travelling right around England almost constantly also gave one an idea of the scale of arrangements required before royalty moves!

Interesting reading.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

THE HOME MAKER by DOROTHY CANFIELD


Recently I seem to have read quite a few novels set in small towns wherever they may be and somehow the characters of those stories seem different. So many hidden facets to them which for various reasons seem to be unseen. Whether it it the fear of being different, of just wanting to go with the flow and not be conspicuous which is definitely what would happen in small town areas - I really don't know.

Here we have what would we assume is a typical family. Father hard working but then we find out that he is incapable of doing his job and they do not know how to get rid of him as quickly as possible. We have Helen the daughter timid and fearful, then Henry always ill and Stephen always angry with the world. We then have the star Eva our mother who is permanently on the go. Everything must be perfect. Children must be clean, tidy and perfect, household ditto, husband ditto. She slaves non stop and makes servants of her children and husband as she is a tyrant where method and time must not be wasted. Nothing must be out of sync and being the perfectionist she is, nothing must vary as then the whole process will be upset.

The Ladies Guild were very much in awe almost afraid of Eva because she had an answer for everyone and everything but at the same time they spoke behind her back about why so much in her family was awry. 

The whole family were turned upside down when Lester became disabled and Eva became the bread winner. Lester took over the household tasks and became very good at it. He also handled the children beautifully and all of them responded very well to his care. Helen becoming more forward and responsible, Henry getting over his allergies and Stephen becoming so much easier and amenable to all. Everyone including Eva is very happy with the change but lurking in their minds is what will happen when Lester recovers and things go back to what they earlier were. No one wants that but no one has the courage to talk about it either.

I liked the story with its gender reversal roles. Couldn't have been easy in a small town at the time having to cope with that!  I think none of us would even think of role reversal now if the situation so demands it but it must have been a tightrope in the 1920s.

Very nice read.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

ME AND YOU BY NICCOLO AMMANITI


Lorenzo is a 14 year old who realizes very early on that he is slightly different to the rest of the herd and if he is going to be socially accepted he better fit in and do so quickly. He is otherwise going to be bullied and picked on all the time (what is it with bullying in the schools. I still don't get it!). He also has to keep his parents happy. They want to see him assimilate easily, have school friends pop over, get invited for sleep overs or spend the day type of events and be in their eyes a "normal" kid. 

To please them he invents a weekend invitation away on a skiing trip with friends and instead holes up in the attic. He plans this well and provides himself with everything that he would need. His well planned    holiday alone gets blown away with the arrival of his step sister Olivia. She is the daughter from his father's first marriage, not close to anyone in the family and one who has more or less cut off links with the whole family. She is sick and needs a place to just stay. Reluctantly at first Lorenzo allows her to stay.  He has no choice because she is too sick to move away.

For me Lorenzo was quite a difficult character to analyze. He enjoyed the facade of being the kid his parents wanted him to be, he also knew that he wasn't, he also knew his survival amongst his peers depended on his fitting into what was considered "their norm". There was never any moment for Lorenzo to be Lorenzo. This situation was complicated further by Olivia and together they had to cope with situations they did not envisage.

Lots of unanswered questions in a short book. I cannot say I thoroughly enjoyed it. I generally do not like dark characters and the fact that a child of fourteen has to do so much to sublimate his own character depressed me. I think I am just too old for this kind of read!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

ABIDE WITH ME by ELIZABETH STROUT

Abide with Me


As foreigners the view that most people have of America  and Americans is totally at variance with what is actually on the ground! We see the glamour, the sex and the city type of characters or those of the Wild West or of course the harrowing murderers in the universities and schools. Very seldom is highlighted the beauty of rural America - the ranches, the mountains of Vermont, the deserts of New Mexico or just simply the little towns that seem to dot the whole of the vast American continent.

It is only through reading that one would realize that there is another facet to the American way of life. This story set in a small town in the 1950s embodies what America would have been like and would most probably be like. Not impersonal characters who wouldn't even know who their neighbour is, but very similar to a Sri Lankan village, where everybody knew everybody else's business and intimately!

A newly widowed pastor who loses his rather exuberant wife to cancer is left solely in charge of bringing up two small daughters. The infant is taken over by her grandmother and though our pastor Tyler wants desperately to bring his little daughter back he does not have the courage to over rule his overbearing mother. Tyler Caskey is a good man in every sense of the term - but he does not have the courage of his convictions to state out clearly his intentions or his way of  looking at life and this reticence brings him at loggerheads with his parishioners who do not understand his ways. Hypocrisy amongst his parishioners who want to seem as if supportive but at the same time tattling behind his back continues throughout the story and though they themselves know that they have a pastor who has their best interests at heart, they are bound by conservative ideas of propriety and strict rules guiding behavior and protocol so they cannot understand Tyler and the way he is bringing up his young daughter Katherine who is in trauma herself after the death of her mother. Tyler's belief in God is shaken after the death of his wife and he does not seem to be able to bring to his sermons or his interactions with his parishioners the spirit that moved him  before. This also alienates his people.

This is a story of ordinary times - a very day to day story in the life of a small town community. How they must pull together for the greater good, show compassion for those who fall by the wayside is the main focus of this book.

Monday, April 8, 2013

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


Mailbox Monday hosted for April at Mari Reads.

The only book in my mailbox is a win from Enchanted by Josephine. 


The Sign of the Weeping Virgin

Looking forward to reading this one.


Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.


Very intriguing. Story of a very powerful, strong character. 


This week is a particularly hectic one. Visiting our properties at the Singhalese Avurudhu time is particularly nice. It is a time of appreciation on our part of the work done throughout the year and recompense being given to all in the form of bonuses as well as gifts of clothes. It is also a time of the year when all the trees are in bloom and fruits are in plenty. Right now the shops are packed with people shopping as the exchange of gifts of clothes is a tradition here. We are also due for a nice long break which is something to look forward to.


A ehela tree in bloom!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

THE CROWN by NANCY BILYEAU



The Crown

This was a lucky find. Looking out for both the books by this author came across this one. Will have to wait for my next visit to Melbourne to get to The Chalice as its still on order.

The year is 1537 and a Dominican nun is set an almost impossible task. To find a crown a legendary one that will save the Catholic faith from the Reformation sweeping England. Our heroine is from an aristocratic family. One whose family has already displeased not just the Sovereign but also those of the Reformation specially Cromwell. 

Joanna leaves the seclusion of her priory to be present at the execution of a cousin who is burnt at the stake. For this act alone she and her father are accused of treason and sent to the Tower. She is released by the all powerful Bishop of Winchester, who holds her father as hostage only on the promise that she will find the crown supposed to be hidden in her priory. Taken back to her home she finds herself surrounded by the nuns some of whom are very antagonistic at her return. Joanna does not know who are her friends and who are her enemies even amongst her sister nuns  

One dead body after another is discovered, seemingly unrelated but as Joanna only knows definitely connected to others who are also on the search for the Crown.  With each death, Joanna feels that she herself is under threat and with that the life of her father is at stake. Secrets of the Crown reveal the implications of the death of the Black Prince, Richard the Lionheart and Katharine of Aragon's first husband Arthur. 

Threats to destroy all priories in England hang over Joanna and particularly the fate of her own priory. Most religious are now thrown out on the streets to beg or return home to their families and a whole way of religious life is under threat. 

The story also highlights the helpless position of women not just physically but also financially when it came to matters of estate and protection and how frail they were in this time.

A beautiful story of a courageous women set in a period of history which is tumultuous. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

WITHOUT RESERVATIONS - ALICE STEINBACH

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman

This book was so good that I was only sorry that I had to return it to the library and not hang on to it permanently. This is a book which I would like to read again in a years time maybe.

Lots of us would like to say we are independent women - like this Pulitzer prize winner we would pay our own way,  shovel our own driveways (or whatever the equivalent of that is) and  make our own choices, good or bad or indifferent.  This book was an insight on how Steinbach takes it one step further. To add to the interest this takes place in beautiful places - Paris where she unexpectedly find romance and more importantly companionship, Oxford for education on a rather unusual subject, and  Milan where she finds much happiness in befriending a young woman about to be married in a relationship which was so poignant - the feeling that I would extend to a daughter maybe. In Steinbach's case with two sons this was the daughter she did not have I think.

This is not a journey by Steinbach alone. It is illustrated and descriptive of the places where she visits and this was for me a wonderful read. Surprising and wonderful.

Back in Colombo once again to very hot weather. Coming from Melbourne which was chilly this is such a contrast. Coming back to preparing for the Singhalese New Year which falls on the 13th and 14th of April. Let the work begin (before the jollifications!). Too late for Mailbox Monday/It's Monday What are you reading? but following the blogs as per usual!