Monday, December 31, 2012

Reading Challenge 1: 2013 TBR Pile

As the New Year is ushered in, I am signing up for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Adam @ Roof Beam Reader. The goal is to read twelve books from your TBR pile that have been gathering dust for more than a year.



I am more than pleased to have successfully completed the 2012 version, so here's my list for 2013. All the books have a publication date prior to 2012 and have been on my shelves for quite a while.

1. Beloved Witch by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti
2. Bombay Rains, Bombay Girls by Anirban Bose
3. Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
4. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
5. In Matto's Realm by Friedrich Glauser
6. Kartography by Kamila Shamsie
7. Killing the Angel in the House: Seven Essays by Virginia Woolf
8. Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss
9. The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
10. Questions You always wanted to ask about English by Maxwell Nurnberg
11. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
12. Visions from the Afterlife by Sylvia Browne


The two alternates are:

1. Arogyaniketan by Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay
2. Greek Literature for the Modern Reader by H.C. Baldry

If you too want to sign-up for the challenge, please follow the link above. Remember the last date is 5th of January 2013.

Challenge Complete: Mount TBR

At the beginning of 2012, I signed up for the Mount TBR challenge, hosted by Bev @ My Reader's Block. The aim was to scale Pike's Peak, i.e read 12 books from my TBR pile. Well I was able to scale my mountain and walk a couple of steps more, ending at 16 books.



Here are the books read:


America by Franz Kafka
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
For Pepper and Christ by Keki N. Daruwalla
Inqilab by K. A. Abass
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
The King's General  by Daphne DuMaurier
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
The Paris Enigma by Pablo De Santis
The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Joseph Murphy
The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Twelve Red Herrings by Jeffrey Archer
The Vision by Dean R. Koontz
The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen (ed) by Michael Kerrigan
Wrapped in Rain by Charles Martin


I'll soon be signing up for the 2013 edition.

Challenge Complete: Merely mystery

This year a challenge that I greatly enjoyed was the one hosted by Musings of a bookish kitty.

One had to read mysteries in various categories. I went for the higher level, i.e, I read a book for each of the 12 categories.

Here are the books read


Caper Stories: The Story of Ivy by Belloc Lowndes
Whodunnit: The Slippery Staircase by E.C.R Lorac
Professional ThrillerA Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
Cozy: The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham
Historical Mystery: The Successor by Ismail Kadare
Inverted Detective: The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake
Locked Room: He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr
Psychological: Drood by Dan Simmons
Spy Novel: The Double Traitor by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Police Procedural: Black and Blue by Ian Rankin
Hard Boiled/ Noir: The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta
Spoofs & Parodies: The Curious Case of 221 B by Partha Basu


This again was fun and I hope it's hosted next year too.

Challenge Complete: Criminal Plots II

This year I've been so hard-pressed for time that at times I haven't been able to post even wrap-up posts. Here's one challenge that I completed months back but could not do this final wrap-up post. Well, better late than never.

Criminal Plots II



Here are the books read in the various categories:

1. Novel with a weapon in the title: The Eight of Swords by John Dickson Carr

2. Book published at least 10 years ago: The Story of Ivy by Belloc Lowndes (1928)

3. Book written by an author from the state/ province where you live: The Englishman's Cameo by Madhulika Liddle

(The author lives in Delhi, the city I too stay).

4. Book written by an author using a penname: The Beast must Die by Nicholas Blake

Blake's real name is Cecil Day-Lewis

5. Crime novel whose protagonist is the opposite gender of the author: The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham

Allingham's protagonist is Albert Campion



6. A stand-alone novel written by an author who writes atleast one series: The Night Exercise by John Rhode

Rhode is more known for his series of detective novels featuring the forensic scientist Dr. Priestly.

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This was an extremely interesting challenge and if Jen decides to host it again I am game for it.




Challenge Complete: A-Z (Titles)

Last year, one of the challenges I could not finish was the A-Z challenge where one had to read 26 books in all pertaining to the letters of the English alphabet. Thus it gives me great pleasure to announce that this year I've been able to finish this challenge, hosted @ babies, books, & beyond

Here are the books read:


A: America
B: Black and Blue
C: Closing the Gate
D: Drood
E: Eight of Swords
F: For Pepper and Christ
G: Geographer's Library
H: He Who Whispers
I: Inqilab
J: Jungle, The
K: Kashmir Shawl, The
L: Last Dickens, The
M: Mystery of Edwin Drood, The
N: Night Exercise
O: Orlando
P: Paris Enigma, The
Q: Quiet Twin, The
R: Room
S: Slippery Staircase, The 
T: Twelve Red Herrings
U: Umbrellas and their History
V: Vision, The
W: Wrapped in Rain
X: The Clock in the Hatbox
Y: Yellow Face
Z: Zoo in My Luggage, A

If you are interested sign-ups are open for the 2013 version.

Review: The Stroyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

Is Truth something set in stone or something shimmery seen differently in different lights? This is the question that Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya attempts in his novel: The Storyteller of Marrakesh.



A young couple - the man an Indian, the woman a westerner - are seen walking round the Jemma on a particular day. Soon afterwards the couple disappears and a man called Mustafa is arrested for it is supposed that he murdered the couple. Now ever year, Mustafa's brother Hasan, who is a storyteller, gathers people on Marrakesh's fabled city-square and recollects the events of that particular day. The audience present their version of the event as they try to make sense of what ever happened on that fateful day. No body recollects either the couple, their appearance, or their disappearance in quite the same manner. So is reality only a maze of memories, distorted by time and prejudices?

This was a novel that I was dying to read and that's why I am so disappointed after reading it.

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First Line: What matters in the end is the truth.

Title: The Storyteller of Marrakesh

Author: Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

Publication Details: Chennai: Tranquebar Press, 2011

First published: 2011

Pages: 341

Other books read of the same author: None

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The book can be purchased on the net. I borrowed it from the college library. [823.09 B469S]

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Submitted for the following challenges: Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, South Asian, Wishlist

Sherlock Holmes Deconstructed: Partha Basu's The Curious Case of 221B

In my early school-going days, Sherlock Holmes was THE DETECTIVE. My bhuaji's husband (whom as is wont in our family, we called Jijaji) told us enthusiastically about how as a young boy in Quetta, he and some of his schoolmates, who knew English, would narrate the adventures of Holmes to the village elders. So impressed were the elders by the exploits of Holmes that some young men were given the task of translating Holmes' adventures into Urdu so that who did not know English could read about the exploits themselves.

 I, though did not share Jijaji's fondness for Holmes, preferring the grey cells of Poirot. However, just suppose that all we knew about Holmes was not the entire truth, that Watson wrote down the true version of events in his diaries. And years later, these diaries come in the possession of a young man ...



Jit is your average young man in India when one fine day his parents are shot dead by certain extremists. Numb with shock, Jit goes through the ceremonies and while clearing up his parents' belongings comes across a wooden chest. Enclosed within the chest are the notebooks of Watson that he had posted to Jit's parents. Jit realises with a shock that there were many things about his parents that he did not know about as also the fact that many of the adventures of Holmes were, in truth, very different from their published version. Holmes was not that infallible, Watson was not a mere stooge, the women in the Holmesian canon had a mind of their own...so on and so forth.

In his first novel, Partha Basu, deconstructs the legend of Holmes, rewriting the adventures from the p-o-v of the women, people from the colonies, and thus makes even minor characters come alive. Mostly a reworking of stories that have a connect with the Indian sub-continent, this book is quite worth a read. I especially liked the story regarding the disappearance of James Phillimore, whom Watson mentions just in passing at the beginning of 'The Problem of Thor Bridge'.

Reading the book has made me feel like re-reading the Holmesian canon.

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First Line: It's now ninety-one days since my parents were gunned down outside the gate of their house, in the sun.

Title: The Curious Case of 221B: The Secret Notebooks of John H Watson, MD

Author: ND: Harper Collins, 2009

First published: 2009

Pages: 277

Other books read of the same author: None

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The book can be purchased online. I borrowed it from the college library.

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Submitted for the following challenges: Death by Gaslight, Merely Mystery, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, South Asian, Wishlist

Challenge Complete: 2012 TBR Pile

It is with an immense feeling of achievement and satisfaction that I write this post. I have been able to successfully complete the 2012 TBR Pile challenge hosted by the admirable Adam @ Room Beam Reader.

Since it involved reading of two books on this last day of the challenge I am feeling quite pleased with myself.

While taking up the challenge, last year, I had prepared a list of 12 books with two alternates. I was able to read 11 books from the main list and one alternate.

Here's my list:


1. America by Franz Kafka (1927)
2. For Pepper and Christ by Keki N. Daruwalla (2009)        
3. Inqilab by K.A. Abbas (1958)
4. Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
5. King's General by Daphne DuMaurier (1946)
6. Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl (2009)
7. North and South by John Jakes (1982)
8. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)
9. Paris Enigma by Pablo De Santis (2007)
10. Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Dr. Joseph Murphy (1963)
11. Vision by Dean Koontz (1986)
12. Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen (ed) by Michael Kerrigan (1996)

The 2 Alternates:

1. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (2006)
2. A Train of Powder by Rebecca West (1955)

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I enjoyed this challenge as it made me read books that had been gathering dust on shelves for too long. I also appreciated the fact that the list made us mandatory to read these books and not other books from our TBR pile.

Now to sign-up for the 2013 version.

The Secret is within the Subconscious

A few years back, Rhonda Byrne's book The Secret was the rage. Everybody (but Everybody) was raving about the book. All the dreams of yours, it was said, will come true if only you'll read the book. Finally, I too  had to read it and it was in that spirit that I bought the book along with Dr. Joseph Murphy's The Power of Your Subconscious Mind... and promptly placed them on the shelves and there they roosted...




















Till today when I had to read them for finishing a challenge. I don't know whether it was the power in the books or just the dreadful thought that they will continue to roost some more that gave me the determination to finish them in a day. But read them I did on this last day of 2012 (with active support encouragement of hubby dear) and am so glad.

Like all Self-Help books, the books focus on the energy within oneself. and the power of positive thinking. Apparently, the more we think negatively, the more things will go wrong because we will attract the negativities  present in the universe.

There are certain good points in both the books: the need to meditate, the need to let-go of corrosive memories and thoughts, the need to focus on what you really want, the need to prepare for the day in advance, the need to show gratitude, the need to convey the correct things to your sub-conscious, the need to have happy thoughts...so and so-forth.

There are a few practical tips that are worth following. Since there are quite a few areas in my life where I need to be more organised and disciplined, I'll be emulating those tips in the New Year.

Have a very Happy New Year everybody.:)

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First Line: I have seen miracles happen to men and women in all walks of life all over the world.

Title: The Power of Your Subconscious Mind

Author: Dr. Joseph Murphy (revised by Ian McMahan)

Publication Details: NY: Bantam Books, 2001.

First Published: 1963

Pages: 279

Other books read of the Same Author: None

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First Line: The Secret gives you anything you want: happiness, health, and wealth.

Title: The Secret

Author: Rhonda Byrne

Publication Details: NY: Atria Books, 2006

First Published: 2006

Pages: xv + 198


Other books read of the Same Author: None



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The books can be purchased online. I bought them from a shop at South Ex.

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Submitted for the following challenges: Mount TBR, New Authors, TBR pile, Unread Book


Sunday, December 30, 2012

U is for Umbrella



Does anyone remember those bulky black umbrellas that every Indian household used to possess before the coming of the dainty, multi-coloured umbrellas from Nepal and China? That large contraption saved us from rain and hail but was heavy to carry and was most certainly not an accessory. Folding it would require elephantine effort too and was usually a job reserved for the fathers.



If you are interested in the history of umbrellas read William Sangster's monograph which is pretty comprehensive as regards the history of the umbrella and also includes such delightful anecdotes as a lady saving herself (and her dinner) from a tiger by opening an umbrella right in his face. This so frightened the animal that he turned tail and fled. Or a Colonel, one of those you know who is on intimate terms with all the crowned heads of Europe, and proves his intimacy by always speaking of them by their Christian names. He is at once the "guide, philosopher, and friend" of every stranger who happens to form his acquaintance--a very easy task, be it remarked--and, though so great a man, is not above dining at your expense, and charming you by the terms of easy familiarity with which he imbibes your champagne or your porter, for all is alike to him, so long as he has not to pay for it: he can take any given quantity -   who had a  miraculous escape when he fell off a cliff by first using an umbrella as a parachute and later (as he fell in the sea) as a boat and sailing triumphantly into the port.

A short, humorous book, it is quite a delight to read.

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First Line: Can it be possibly believed, by the present eminently practical generation, that a busy people like the English, whose diversified occupations so continually expose them to the chances and changes of a proverbially fickle sky, had ever been ignorant of the blessings bestowed on them by that dearest and truest friend in need and indeed, the UMBRELLA?

Title: Umbrellas and their History

Author: William Sangster

First Published: 1855

Other books read of the same author: None

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The book is in the public domain and can be easily downloaded for free. I downloaded it from Manybooks.net

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Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), British Books, New Authors

Review: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

There is something intimidating about Virginia Woolf. As the High-Priestess of High Modernism, she has a reputation of being opaque and denying easy access to her texts. So, though I've read and enjoyed her texts like Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One's Own, there are a couple of her texts still languishing on my shelves. Thanks to Reading Challenges though, I've finished her Orlando.



First published in 1928, and dedicated to Woolf's friend (and lover?) Vita Sackville-West, Orlando is the story of the eponymous hero born during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Blessed (cursed?) never to age, the  novel recounts his adventures thereof which includes falling in love with a Russian princess, being betrayed by a poet, being posted as England's ambassador to Turkey, moving with the gypsies over there, returning to the literary circles of England of the 18th century, suffering the fecundity of the Victorian age. It ends on an October day in 1928. And yes, sometime in Turkey, Orlando goes into a deep sleep and when he wakes up, he is no longer a man. From then on, Lady Orlando experiences life both as a man and a woman.

Some of the passages in the book are hilarious such as the description of the conferring of the Dukedom on Orlando or the one in the ship when she accidentally shows her ankles:

Here she tossed her foot impatiently, and showed an inch or two of calf. A sailor on the mast, who happened to look down at the moment, started so violently that he missed his footing and only saved himself by the skin of his teeth. (111)

Overall, however, the book tends to drag. However, I am happy that after a decade on my shelf, I am finally done with it.

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First Line: HE - for there could be no doubt about his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it - was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.

Title: Orlando

Author: Virginia Woolf

Publication Details: London: Penguin, 1998

First Published: 1928

Pages: 232

Other books read of the same author: A Room of One's Own, Mrs. Dalloway

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The book is easily available in libraries, book shops, on the Net. It is also available for free download. After all these years I've quite forgotten where I purchased it from.

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Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), British Books, A Classic Challenge, Mount TBR, TBR Pile, Unread Book.

Challenge Complete: Color-Coded

I have finished the Color-Coded challenge hosted @ My Reader's Block by the ever so generous Bev.



I had to read 9 books that had various colours in their titles. Here are the books read:

Black: The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham
Blue: Black and Blue by Ian Rankin
Brown: Charlie Brown and Charlie Schulz by Lee Mendelson
Green: The Green Helmet and Other Poems by W.B. Yeats
Red: Twelve Red Herrings by Jeffrey Archer
White: The Window at the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Yellow: The Yellow Face by Fred M. White
Any Other Colour: The Story of Ivy by Marie Belloc Lowndes
A Word that implies Colour: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

I enjoyed the challenge and will be signing up for the 2013 edition. You too can do so over here.

Some New moon: The Green Helmet, and Other Poems by W.B. Yeats

O love is the crooked thing, 
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is int, 
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.


W.B. Yeats' The Green Helmet and Other Poems, first published in book form in the year 1910, is a strange little text. Comprising of poems that are about contemporary events,  - like the agitation by people against the staging of J.M. Synge's plays at the Abbey theatre and Yeats own reaction to this boorishness of the people - as well as deeply personal as those written in anguish after Maud Gonne's marriage to Major John MacBride in 1903. In a series of poems, he celebrates her beauty and spirit, and rues the fact that he can now only have memories of their time spent together. Comparing her to Helen, he absolves her of all blame:

Why should I blame her...
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this, Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

There is also a feeling that life has become too commercialised and the heroism of yesteryears is lost:

...horsemen for companions,
Before the merchant and the clerk
Breathed on the world with timid breath.
Sing one: somewhere at some new moon, 
We'll learn that sleeping is not death,
Hearing the whole earth change its tune,
It's flesh being wild, and it again
Crying aloud as the racecourse is,
And we find hearteners among men
That ride upon horses.

I found the poems - with some beautiful images: shadows eaten the moon, beauty like a tightened bow, some new moon, men that ride upon horses, the lying days of my youth, love comes in at the eye, a woman Homer sung, blind bitter land - much better that the eponymous farce which discusses an old Irish legend of Cuchulain, in which Conall, Laegaire, and Cuchulain himself are vying amongst themselves to see who is the bravest and thus deserves the green helmet presented by a Red-Knight who is a shape-shifter. Unable to comply with what the spirit had asked them to do, Cuchulain offers himself to be slain. The spirit rather than killing him, declares him to be the bravest and puts the green helmet on his head.

Read the for some beautiful imagery and the anguish of a jilted lover.

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First Line: I swayed upon the gaudy stern
  The butt end of a steering oar,
  And everywhere that I could turn
  Men ran upon the shore.

Title: The Green Helmet and Other Poems

First Published: 1910

Other Books read by the same author: A number of poems
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The book is in the public domain and can be downloaded from various sites. I downloaded it from gutenberg.org.

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Submitted for the following challenges: AZRC, Color Coded, E Book

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Diseased Society: Dan Vyleta's The Quiet Twin

Vienna. 1939.

The Second World War has started, Austria is part of the German Reich, and the times are full of danger.



Dr. Beer is called to examine the niece of Professor Speckstein, Zuzka. The professor is supposed to be a Nazi spy and his dog had been brutally killed a couple of days ago. Even as Beer examines Zuzka and finds nothing wrong with her, the professor asks Beer to investigate the killing of his dog. The professor has a reason to be thus alarmed. After all somebody is killing Nazi party-workers and sympathizers in the vicinity. Meanwhile Zuzka too has something alarming to impart to the doctor. In the apartment across the road lives a mimic and Zuzka who has a partial view of his apartment is convinced that he is hiding (or holding captive) someone over there. Dr. Beer who has his own secrets soon gets embroiled in the lives of the people in the apartment block.

I picked up The Quiet Twin as it was described as "Rear Window as reimagined by Anton Chekhov and reset in Vienna at the start of World War Two." It turned out to be a good read. The author skillfully captures the atmosphere of dread and foreboding in a city that is caught between guilt and dread. Here is one author I'll like to read more of.

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First Line: When Peter Kurten was but a young boy, he would watch his uncle attend to the slaughter of dogs.

Title: The Quiet Twin

Author: Dan Vyleta

Publication Details: London: Bloomsbury, 2011

First Published: 2011

Pages: 284

Other Books read of the same author: None

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The book can be bought online. I purchased it last year from a second-hand book-seller at Nehru Place.

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Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), AZRC, European Reading, Merely Mystery, Mount TBR, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Unread Book

Friday, December 28, 2012

Review: The Yellow Face by Fred M. White

There are books which you begin reading with great enthusiasm. Then slowly they start turning boring and repetitive, and finally so tedious that you just want them to come to an end so that you can be done with them. But unfortunately, the end takes lots of time in coming...

So it was with the book that I finished yesterday: Fred M. White's The Yellow Face. It is a thousand pities actually because the book began well. The whole of London is abuzz with one thing. Posters have sprung up all over the town bearing a striking looking yellow face with the word "Nostalgo" at its base.





What is the meaning of this poster and who could be behind it? If it is an advertising campaign than what is it a publicity for?

Meanwhile, a young, struggling lawyer, Jack Masefield has troubles of his own. He is in love with young, beautiful Clair and is convinced that her guardian, the noted criminologist Spencer Anstruther, is a criminal himself and is playing some deep game, and that the posters are part of some scheme of his. One day, after dinner, when Claire retires to her room and Anstruther to his study where he is heard playing the violin, Jack decides to linger on a little, captivated as he is by the music flowing out from the study. The next moment he is horrified to see Anstruther creeping about his own house like a robber even while the violin continues to play in his study. Determined to investigate, Jack places himself at a vantage position where he has a view of the study. The study is to all purpose empty! So then who is playing the violin? Suddenly two figures seem to materialise out of nowhere and communicate to each other through sign-language. Jack follows them to a party thrown by a noted banker of London and in the course of his adventures stumbles upon a corpse that has the same face as that of the Nostalgo in the posters. The next day, he is told by the police that the corpse has disappeared...

The book is gripping in the beginning but then if on page after page secrets are revealed because of overhearing conversations, hiding in the corners, and escaping by the skin of your teeth, than it puts your own teeth on the edge...

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First Line: The flickering firelight fell upon the girl's pretty, thoughtful face; her violet eyes looked like deep lakes in it.

Title: The Yellow Face

Author: Fred M. White

First Published: 1906

Other Books read of the same author: None

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The book can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg, Australia. A small part of the text is missing though.

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Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), AZRC, British Book, Color-Coded, Death by Gaslight, E-Book, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Vintage Mystery

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Forgotten Book: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle

Imagine you are the one cooking for US President, Theodore Roosevelt. Then one day as you have served him  breakfast and are humming in the kitchen, you are told that the President has thrown out the plate of sausages. What will be your reaction - a quaking in the boots, palpitations of the heart, breaking out in cold sweat? Rest assure, the President's action has nothing to do with your cooking skills (or lack thereof) but rather with his reading of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.



Sinclair's novel, serialized in 1905 and first published in a book form in 1906, hit a nerve, the nation's conscience (or at least its stomach). The depiction of the slaughterhouses of Chicago through the travails and tribulations of Jurgis Rudkus led to a massive uproar and protest that led to the passing of the Pure Food and Drug, and the Beef Inspection acts. After all who wants to be told that the sausage s/he is gobbling up might include the entrails of a rat?



Jurgis Rudkus and his extended family through marriage migrate to US from Lithuania as America is the land of opportunity and promise. At first all goes well as the family marvels at the land where one sees so much enterprise and freedom. Finding work too is not tough for the young, able-bodied members of the family. But slowly, the picture starts turning bleak. The factories and slaughterhouses are nothing but soul-killers. The workers are simply cogs in a machine with no rights. They have to work for long back-breaking hours, in inhuman conditions, and the women particularly are sexually exploited.



The family sinks deeper and deeper into the mire of debt and despair leading to death and derivation. The only salvation appears to be the Socialist Party but is it a reality or a mirage?

It is easy to see why this novel was such a favourite of the Indian Revolutionaries. Dedicated to the Workingmen of America, it gives voice to the silent, oppressed, marginalised people of the world. A novel with high emotional appeal, at times it reads more like a documentary novel and thus I could not relate to the characters the way I did in Sinclair's other novel: King Coal. However, there are lines which stay in memory for a long time, as this:

To do that would mean, not merely to be defeated, but to acknowledge defeat - and the difference between these two things is what keeps the world going. (18)
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First Line: It was four o'clock when the ceremony was over and the carriages began to arrive.

Title: The Jungle

Author: Upton Sinclair

Publication Details: NY: Signet Classics, 1990

First Published: 1906

Pages: 352

Other Books read of the same author: King Coal

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The book can be purchased on the Net and is also available in libraries. I bought it at Delhi Book Fair a couple of years ago.

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 Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), A Classics Challenge, Mount TBR, TBR Pile, Unread Book.

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Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books

His Father's Thoughts: John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas



Little Bruno's world changes when he shifts from Berlin to a place called Out-With as his Father has been posted over there. But what exactly his Father does,Bruno has little idea. All he knows is that his father was a man to watch and that the Fury had big things in mind for him and that he had a fantastic uniform too. (5)

So Bruno relocates to Out-With and finds his world upside down. The new house looks as though nobdy could laugh in there, one of the servants turns out to be a doctor, and from his window he can see a barbed fence round an enclosure. At first lonely, Bruno later makes friend with a little boy, just like him, who stays inside that enclosure.



To me the killer punch was as to what were the Father's thoughts when he re-traced Bruno's journey step-by-step.


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First Line: One afternoon, when Bruno came home from school, he was surprised to find Maria, the family's maid - who always kept her head bowed and never looked up from the carpet - standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he'd hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else's business.

Title: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Author: John Boyne

Publication Details: London: Definitions, 2007

First Published: 2006

Pages: 216

Other books read of the same author: None

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The book can be easily purchased. I bought it from Delhi Book Fair in August last year.

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Submitted for the following challenges: Color-Coded, European Reading, Mount TBR, New Authors, Unread Book

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Animal Antics: Gerald Durrell's A Zoo in My Luggage

What do you do when you are passionate about animals? Well, if you are Gerald Durrell, you set about creating your own zoo. Oh, so you first find/ construct/ renovate a zoo and then go in search of animals? No, if you are the aforesaid eccentric (or 'animal maniac' as a character calls him), you first find animals and then for a considerable time you lug them round with you, often on your person as with this mongoose whom he had imprisoned inside his shirt and who sniffed around, clawed at him, sucked his abdomen, and passed urine regularly. Thus attired, with a urine-stained shirt and a mongoose tail dangling out, he goes to meet his host who feels he has had one gin too many:

"Tell me, dear boy, " he said in a hoarse whisper, "I don't want to be too personal, but is it the gin I've drunk or does your stomach always wriggle like that?"

"No, " I said gravely. "It's not my stomach. I've got a mongoose in my shirt."

He gazed at me unblinkingly for a moment.

"Very reasonable explanation," he said at last. (22)





And then - and only then - you set to find a zoo for them and in the meantime you use your sister's back garden and even a superstore. The only hitch is the animals might escape:

As I paid off the taxi the first thing that greeted my eyes was the chaos in one of the big display windows of Allens. The window had been carefully set out to exhibit some articles of bedroom furniture. There was a large bed, made up, a tall bedside light and several eiderdowns tastefully spread over the floor. At least, that was how it had been when the window dresser had finished it. Now it looked as if a tornado had hit it. The light had been overturned and had burned a large hole in one of the eiderdowns; the bedclothes had been stripped off the bed and the pillow and sheets were covered with a tasteful pattern of paw marks. On the bed itself sat Georgina, bouncing up and down happily, and making ferocious faces at the crowd of scandalized churchgoers who had gathered on the pavement outside the window. I went into the store and found two enormous constables lying in ambush behind a barricade of turkish towelling... (172 - 173).

In short, this is a delightful book of Durrell's stay in Africa where he is the guest of the larger-than-life Fon of Bafut and goes about searching for animals and the adventures there of.


Even if you are not too enamoured of animals, you will find this a joy to read.

*

First Line: THIS is the chronicle of a six-month trip that my wife and I made to Bafut, a mountain grassland kingdom in the British Cameroons in West Africa.

Title: A Zoo in my Luggage.

Author: Gerald Durrell

Publication Details: London: Penguin, 1964.

First Published: 1960

Pages: 191

Other Books read of the same author: Certain short pieces.

*

The book can be purchased on the Net. I borrowed it from a niece.

*

Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), British Books, Wishlist

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Book for Christmas: Charles Martin's Wrapped in Rain

Since this is the season of good cheer, it seems appropriate to review a book that embodies the season's message of hope, and forgiveness.



Tucker Mason (Tuck) is a world-renowned photographer who puts all his energies in his work, staying on the road and hardly ever returning home. A chance encounter with a woman who is fleeing from a traumatised marriage, along with her child, changes the direction of Tuck's life. The woman turns out to be Katie, the childhood friend and crush of Tuck. As Katie's child becomes close to Tuck and makes him a father-figure, Tuck starts seeing himself in the young child. As a child, Tuck too had been brutally abused by his father, the business mogul, Rex Mason.

In fact, the only thing that Rex did right was to hire Miss Ella Rain as his housekeeper. The warm, matronly woman gave Tuck, and his step-brother, Matthew (Mutt), the love and time that their own father did not. The boys - both motherless- were brought up by Ella who continued to shower them with love despite being at the receiving end of Rex's wrath herself.

However, despite her best efforts, the boys grow up damaged. Tuck has become a loner who fears getting close to people while Mutt has been confined to a mental institution for the greater part of his adult life. Now with Katie re-entering Tuck's life, and Mutt's escape from the institution, Tuck has to decide whether he is ready to take on their responsibility. And the path is not easy. Katie is being chased by her enraged husband who will stop at nothing to claim her back while Mutt's mental condition is unpredictable. But there is Miss Ella's voice to guide Tuck and her advice to Tuck given to Tuck after one brutal beating too many, still rings in his ears:

"Tucker, I want to tell you a secret. Life is a battle, but you can't fight it with your fists. You got to fight it with your heart."

And then of course, there is the biggest question of them all: would Tuck be able to forgive his father, now suffering from Alzheimer, and confined to a Home for the Old?

Charles Martin's book is one of those feel-good books that renew one's hope in humanity and the power of love and redemption. There are certain points that are a little overdone: Katie's bully of a husband, and the Eucharist ceremony at the church but overall this is a lovely book. The relationship between the step-brothers with its attendant tension and dependency is endearing as is their relationship with Ella Rain. Some minor characters like Ella's brother Mose (who is the kind of doctor I'd love to find in these days) and the Judge at the Old People's Home too are memorable.

*

Curl up in a chair with a cup of tea (or warm cocoa), hear the chimes of the bell, read this book, and be grateful for all the small pleasures of life.

Merry Christmas.



*

First Line: WHEN THE ACHE WOKE ME, I POKED THE TIP OF MY NOSE out from under the covers and pulled my knees hard into my chest where my heart hung pounding like a war drum.

Title: Wrapped in Rain: A Novel of Coming Home

Author: Charles Martin

Publication Details: Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005

First Published: 2005

Pages: 317

Other Books read of the Same Author: None

*

The book can be purchased on the Net. I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary copy of it from Book Sneeze in exchange for an honest review.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 



*

Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), AZRC, Free Reads, Mount TBR, New Authors, Unread Book



Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review: Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending

What do you make of the mathematical formula that runs like a2 + v + a1 x s = b?

If you are able to decode it than you'll have solved the mystery of the universe. Okay. Okay. Nothing so grandiose; you'll have solved the mystery of Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending. Or would you?



But first the facts. The book is narrated by a middle-aged Tony Webster. Retired, on good-terms with his ex-wife, responsible father of a daughter, Tony is at peace with himself in the sunset of his life. However, a lawyer's letter arrives to ruin that equanimity. Sarah Ford, it seems, has left him with 500 pounds, a letter. and a diary. But who is Sarah Ford? It turns out that she is (or rather was) the mother of Veronica, a girl Tony was seeing in his younger days. He had spent one weekend with Veronica's family, and that was the only interaction he had with the latter's mother Sarah. Subsequently, Veronica and Tony had fallen apart and the former had become involved with Adrian, one of Tony's friends.

So why had Sarah left him this money? Her letter explains little. And the diary, which is of Adrian, never reaches him as Veronica refuses to part with it. Intrigued by all this, Tony contacts Veronica to get hold of the diary. And finds himself trapped in a labyrinth of unanswered questions.

Barnes' novel is not a mystery in the conventional sense. There is no unravelling of secrets at the end of it. There is just the sense of what a character terms as a 'fucking waste' and an awareness that human relationships cannot be scaled down to some mathematical equation.

A poetic, powerful book that will stay with you for a long time. Recommended.

*

Opening Lines: I remember in no particular order:

- a shiny inner wrist;
- steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;
- gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall louse;
- a river rushing nonsensically upstream; its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;
- another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;
- bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.

This last isn't something I actually saw, but what you end up remembering isn't always the same as what you have witnessed.

Title: The Sense of an Ending

Author: Julian Barnes

Publication Details: London: Vintage, 2012

First Published: 2011

Pages: 150

Other Books read of the same author: None

Trivia: Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2011





*

The rest of the post contains SPOILERS, so please do not read unless you have read the book.



To me it did seem as though, Veronica had kept Tony's vitriolic letter because she has cursed Adrian and Sarah in much the same manner, right down to the child. And now feels guilty about her own role in cursing the child. How far, as Adrian's letter says, does responsibility extend?





*

The book is easily available having won the Bookers for the year 2011. I borrowed it from the college library [823.09 B 262 S].

*

Submitted for the following challenges: AZRC, Back to the Classics, British Books, New Authors, Wishlist

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Review: Keki N. Daruwalla's For Pepper and Christ

As schoolchildren we have always been taught that Vasco Da Gama discovered the sea-route to India. That momentous event led to the establishment of European companies in India. The companies fought amongst themselves and with the Indian kings. Commercial establishments soon began to harbour imperialistic designs.



Prior to reading Keki N. Daruwalla's For Pepper and Christ, thus, I had no idea that the Arabs had a flourishing business relationship with India much before the coming of the Portuguese. In fact, it was an Arab sailor, Taufiq who steered Vasco's ships towards India. The book promised to be a chronicle of the voyage of Vasco but Daruwalla is more in love with Egypt under the Mamluks [and to be fair to him, it is such a fascinating place to be that I too have become enamoured of it] and thus the novel stays in that territory rather than charting unknown waters.

I know of Daruwallah primarily as a poet and his poetry imagination is on display in many a passage. Sample this:

It is through maps that oceans know where they slosh and mutter to themselves, and winds get to know their own names as they whine over the seas...it is through them that dreams come to know where they blow...and if dreams didn't blow on the seas there wouldn't be any voyages.

and this:

...the pursuit of a legend can be pretty thankless, but it catches human imagination by the forelock.

Had the Portuguese not landed in India, would Indian history be something different? Perhaps not. As Daruwall says in his concluding line:

There's something inexorable about history - also about gunpowder and gunboats.

*

First Line: Those were the good old days - time itself took ages to move its ass.

Title: For Pepper and Christ

Author: Keki N. Daruwalla

Publication Details: ND: Penguin, 2009

First Published: 2009

Pages: 354

Other books read of the same author: Some poems and short fiction

*

The book can be purchased on the Net. I bought it from a shop at South-Ex.

*

Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), Mount TBR, South Asian, TBR Pile, Unread Book.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Review: Lesser Breeds by Nayantara Sahgal

It happened during a conference. The professor was singing a paean in praise of a novel called Mistaken Identity and I was slowly getting enraged. I had read the novel a couple of years back and had found it no great shakes. In fact, to me, the writer had committed a cardinal sin. Though the novel was set in the late 1920s and was political in nature, there was hardly any mention of the event that shook both the Indian sub-continent and Westminster: the throwing of bombs in the assembly by Bhagat Singh and B.K Dutt. The subsequent trials and hangings had stirred an entire nation.





Finally, I just could not take in the eulogising anymore and asked the professor regarding this very thing. Momentarily taken aback (perhaps she had never expected to have really read that novel, high praise notwithstanding), she came back with aplomb and informed the gathering that in her next book Lesser Breeds, set during the same time the writer Nayantara Sahgal had discussed that very particular act.



Well, that was it! Lesser Breeds immediately went on my Wishlist!! I took it up eagerly. The blurb was a little disconcerting. The action begins in 1932. The Revolutionaries had been hanged in 1931. Okay, perhaps there would be flash-backs or discussion of their ideas. The novel begins with a young English teacher, Nurullah, arriving at the house of Nikhil, a man fighting for India's independence and modelled both on India's first PM (and the author's uncle) Jawahar Lal Nehru, and the firebrand Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Nikhil asks Nurullah to tutor his young daughter Shan. Inevitably, Nurullah too gets involved in the freedom struggle.

Half-way through, the narrative suddenly shifts to US as Shan has gone there for higher studies. That passage ends with the second world war. Then there is a time shift and the book ends with a plane crash. If this is too desultory a summary, it is that the book too is like that. Too many distractions without any centre makes the novel fall apart.

There are some outstanding passages, like this reflection on the final solution

No one betrayed by so much as a wink or nudge that the bomb bred for Hiroshima was the most scientific solution ever devised - the ultimate solution - for disposing of detested pigment. (330)

And the title, taken from a text of Kipling's is a clear winner:

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
wild tongues that have not Thee in awe
Such boastings as the Gentiles use, 
Or lesser breeds without the Law.

Besides the phrase,one simply has to love the use of the upper and lower cases.

*
A 369 pages long meandering saga and No mention of the Revolutionaries who had died just a year ago.

Never underestimate a professor. They have subtle ways of taking their revenge...

*

First Line: '... two hundred thousand men for the regularly army, voluntarism if possible, conscription if necessary.'

Title: Lesser Breeds

Author: Nayantara Sahgal

Publication Details: ND: Harper Collins, 2005

First Published: 2003

Pages: 369

Other Books read of the same author: Mistaken Identity

*

The book can be purchased on the Net. I borrowed it from the College Library [823.93NS S19L]

*

Submitted for the following challenges: South Asian, & Wishlist.






Thursday, December 20, 2012

Forgotten Books: Mira and the Mahatma

Sudhir Kakar's Mira and the Mahatma depicts the relationship between India's Father of the Nation M.K. Gandhi [revered as the Mahatma (or Great Soul) in India] and Madeline Slade, the daughter of a British admiral, who was so influenced by Gandhi's philosophy of life that she became one of his most ardent disciples, earning for herself the sobriquet of Mira, the legendary devotee of Lord Krishna who left her home and worldly comforts because of her devotion to the Lord.



Attracted after reading a biography of Gandhi, Madeline starts a correspondence with Gandhi and expresses a desire to join him in his ashram. Gandhi explains the difficulties in taking up such a course and asks her to first get used to an ascetic kind of living. Madeline does so with aplomb and soon is on her way to India. Living in the Sabarmati ashram with Gandhi and the other inmates is a dream come true for her but after a time her desire to serve the man turns into a need to be close to him all the time. As she comes precariously close to crossing the boundaries both have laid down for themselves, Gandhi tries to distance herself from her. Baffled by his behaviour, Mira is hurt and things get more complicated as the Revolutionary Prithvi Singh enters the ashram and her life. The powerful  Prithvi Singh saves Mira from a raging bull and awakens in her all her physical desires...

Kakar's book is an interesting read in the lesser known (and more human) traits of some of India's legendary figures but seems too hurried in the end.

*

First Line: It was in June 1968, during the hottest part of the summer when invitations to attend conferences and seminars in cooler climes are most welcome, that I flew to Vienna to attend a conference on 'Asian literature in the age of decolonizaion'.

Title: Mira and the Mahatma

Author: Sudhir Kakar

Publication Details: ND: Viking, 2004

First Published: 2004

Pages: 267

Other Books read of the same author: None

*

The book might be available in libraries. I borrowed it from the College Library.

*

Submitted for the following challenges: New Authors, South Asian, Wishlist.

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Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books