Thursday, January 31, 2013

FFB: The Case of Lucy Bending by Lawrence Sanders

I remember reading Lawrence Sanders' The Fourth Deadly Sin in college. We were a group of four and all of us were impressed by it. Somehow or the other though I did not read a Sanders after that. Last year however, I found Sanders' The Case of Lucy Bending being offered at a book sale and picked it up.



Either my memory is faulty or I have outgrown Sanders because the book is nothing but smut. The Bendings, Grace and Ronald, come to child psychiatrist Doctor Theodore Levin (spelled Levin, but pronounced Levine - as we are informed on the first page itself) because they are worried about the sexually deviant behaviour of their eight year old daughter Lucy. The Bendings are part of a high-flying set living on the gold-coast of Florida, where drinks, drugs, sex are all a way of life. Chapter after chapter is devoted to people getting drunk, jumping into each others bed, and generally being disloyal to their spouses. There is also a sub-plot involving the porn industry.

During the therapy, Levin becomes convinced that the root of Lucy's behaviour might lie in an event in the past involving her parents. The problem is that the particular incident has been suppressed not only by Lucy but also by her family and so it's not easy bringing it to light. Moreover, unknown to Levin, things are reaching a boiling point. Would he be able to uncover the secret before it is too late? .

The book comes with screaming recommendations. THE GIANT NEW BESTSELLER reads the top of the cover. Selected by the BOOK - OF - THE - MONTH CLUB reads the bottom. I am not surprised by it being a bestseller - excuse me, GIANT Bestseller - but which is this club that selected it?

*

First Line: The office was half-nursery.

Title: The Case of Lucy Bending

Author: Lawrence Sanders

Publication Details: New York: Berkley Books, 1983

First Published: 1982

Pages: 410

Other Books read of the same author: The Fourth Deadly Sin

*

The book might be available in libraries and second-hand book stores. I bought it at Delhi Book Fair, last year.

*

Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Genre Variety, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, Let Me Count the Ways.

*

Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books





Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Challenge Complete: 2013 Witches and Witchcraft



With the reading and reviewing of acclaimed Wiccan Ipsita Roy Chakraverti's bestselling autobiography - Beloved Witch, I have successfully completed the 2013 Witches and Witchcraft Challenge. Since I had to read just one book for the challenge, I was keen to do it in the first month of the new year itself. This was an engaging read, shedding light on a much misunderstood philosophy of life.

If you want to participate in the challenge, please follow the link above.

To be a Wiccan: Beloved Witch by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti

Have you ever wondered why witches are shown as riding atop brooms? It is because a broom symbolises hearth and home to which a woman was tied by male domination. As she 'flew' away on it, it meant that she was breaking the bonds. It symbolized her freedom (263).



This and more such interesting views are provided by Ipsita Roy Chakraverti in her absorbing autobiography, Beloved Witch. Born into a family of academicians and diplomats, Ipsita's initiation into the mysterious and powerful world of the Wiccans began when she was invited to join the Society for the Study of Ancient Cultures and Civlisations in Montreal, Canada where her father was posted at the time. There, in a chalet in the Lurentian mountains, Ipsita, in the company of like-minded women, made a study of the female principle as manifested in the various cultures of yore. Making rapid progress, Ipsita chose to study Wicca as she was determined to find out what exactly it was and why it had been branded 'witchcraft'. And exactly why had the Mother Goddess, known by various names: Isis, Kali, Arinna, Ishtar, Tara, Ix Chel, Yemaya, Amaterasu Omikami, Kuan Yin, Inanna, Baba Yaga, Sheela Na Gig, Brigit, Medusa, Coatlicue, Hecate - turned into a witch?

One of the threads that runs strongly in the book is thus the ill-treatment meted out to strong, independent women over the centuries and at all places. In one of the most evocative passages of the book, Ipsita reasons that strong, independent women were branded witches as they refused to accept the patriarchal norms and sought to create their own space rather than meekly accepting the space laid down to them by society:

This abuse, mostly of women, - sadistic, gruesome and sexual started in the eleventh century in Europe. But it peaked during the bloody fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. That was the time when men dressed in the garb of the holy and the religious swooped down upon women they lusted after but hated because they could not have. Women, strong, beautiful, or independent minded were called witches so that they could be eliminated. Male bastions, however inadequate and impotent must be protected. Perversion and hypocrisy took shelter behind self-righteous piety and religious zeal.Witches were the consorts of the Devil, these men shouted, even as they probed and prodded the bodies of these wretched women with salacious saliva dripping from their lips.

During these four centuries in Europe alone an estimated eight million women were executed for witchcraft. It was said that they flew through the airs on brooms to attend Sabbats and had intercourse with the Devil and his kin. It was also said that if a woman was too beautiful, look no further. It was the Devil's handiwork. If she spoke well, it was a satanic tongue which prompted her. If she showed a desire to expand her mind - it was with an evil purpose. (78)

And the abuse of women has not stopped till date, Ipsita continues. History somehow always repeats itself - or perhaps it is that the basest in human nature lives on. The men who tortured and burnt innocent women in medieval Europe, live on in other places, in different guises. Witch-hunting never stopped. It just took on a more deceptive mask... It prevails everywhere in the world where women stand up for themselves and what they believe in. It is there whenever women refuse to be the pawns or playthings of a callous society. (222-223)

For Ipsita, thus, Wicca is not merely a worship of the Goddess or being one with the Elements, it is also a form of revolt against an unjust and hypocritical order.

Besides women's fight against oppression, the book also chronicles some fascinating details like the beliefs of the Red Indians, the legend of the thirteen crystal skulls, and the tragic story of Luciana. The tone of the book is narcissistic but it is nevertheless an engaging narrative of a stigmatised philosophy.

*

First Line: You know what reminds me of myself?

Title: Beloved Witch: An Autobiography

Author: Ipsita Roy Chakraverti

Publication Details: ND: Harper Collins, 2003

First Published: 2000

Pages: 283

Other books read of the same author: None

*

A few new and used copies of the book are available @ Amazon. I was given this book by a cousin.

*

Submitted for the 2013 Witches and Witchcraft Reading Challenge



Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Genre Variety, 2013 TBR Pile, 2013 Women, Let Me Count the Ways, Mount TBR, Nerdy Non-Fiction, Out of the Box, What Countries have I Visited

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Night was thick and heavy as Velvet: Knut Hamsun's Mysteries


When you have a book titled Mysteries, the author is the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, and critics say that the whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Knut Hamsun, than of course, it is going to be on your wishlist.



And the beginning does seem to fulfilling your expectations. A man, Johan Nilsen Nagel, arrives in a small coastal town. The day is festive as the town's beauty Miss Dagny Kielland's engagement to a handsome naval officer has been announced on the day and the flags are flying in honour. However, there is something else that interests Nagel and that is the death of a young man by the name of Karlsen who might have killed himself in despair after his love was rejected by Dagny. Soon Nagel too falls for the beauty of Dagny. However, she reminds him repeatedly not to act in an improper way towards her as she is engaged to be married to somebody else. Yet, she continues to lead him and when he proposes to another girl Martha is insanely jealous.

Meanwhile, Nagel also shocks the cloistered community by his views and rips the masks of many a face and doesn't hesitate to bare his soul too. Some of his views are worth treasuring:

I think I can detect undertones in the voice of the person I'm speaking with... When I am talking to someone, I don't have to look at him to follow his thinking. I can sense immediately if he is lying or trying to put something over on me. The voice is a dangerous instrument. I don't mean the timbre of the voice, which may be high or low, melodious or grating. I am not talking about the sound but about the inner world from which it springs - the underlying mysteries. (145)

What do people really know about life? We fall in line, follow the pattern established by our mentors. Everything is based on assumptions: even time, space, motion, matter are nothing but supposition. The world has no new knowledge to impart; it merely accepts what is there. (277)

Some beautiful imagery:

There were about a hundred passengers on board - a choral group from Sardania. Since I couldn't join in, I sat and listened to their voices floating on the sultry night air. I quietly closed the doors to the saloon, and that made the voices sound as if they were coming from the bottom of the sea; as if the ship were sailing into eternity to the strains of ethereal music. Try to imagine a sea filled with song - a subterranean choir! (71)

In fact, there are many passages detailing the evocative power of music which resonated with me since to me music is a universal language which makes an impact on the soul and brings forth all the happiness and sadness of the ages past and present.

Again I lay down and listened, and this time I heard sounds that seemed to come from a distance; marvelous music - a choir of a thousand voices, somewhere outside me, perhaps from the sky, singing softly. The music kept coming closer and closer, until finally it was just above me, over the tower. Again I raised myself on my elbow, and I experienced something which fills me with supernatural rapture whenever I think of it: a myriad of tiny, luminous figures, dazzlingly white, appeared. Angels in countless numbers seemed to be descending on a diagonal beam of light. There were perhaps a million of them, floating about in waves from floor to roof as they sang, naked and white. I held my breath and listened. They brushed my eyelids, touched my hair, and the whole vault seemed to be filled with the fragrant breath from their tiny open mouths.

I put out my hand to them; a few of them wafted down and settled on it. It was like having the twinkling Pleiades on my hand. I bent over, looked into their eyes, and realised that those eyes were unseeing. I released the seven blind ones and caught seven others, but they were also blind. They were all blind - the whole tower was filled with blind angels singing.

I lay there motionless; this vision left me breathless and my soul was in torment over those blind eyes.

After a moment or so, I heard a muted, metallic sound from afar which reverberated with cruel distinctness for a long time; it was the town clock again - this time striking the hour of one.

Suddenly the angels stopped singing. I saw them arrange themselves in formation and fly off. They soared up to the roof, swarming round the opening, eager to get out, riding on a broad beam of light, turning toward me as they floated away. The last one turned once more, gazing at me with its blind eyes before it departed. (114-115)

Or later:

Then, as everyone was moving toward the exit amidst loud talk and laughter, he suddenly began to play.Gradually, the noise subsided. The short, broad-shouldered man in his loud yellow suit, standing in the middle of the hall, was a startling sight. What was he playing? It seemed to be a potpourri of a lied, a barcarole, and one of Brahms's Hungarian dances. His playing was sentimental but a bit scratchy; the piercing strains filled the hall. He inclined his head to one side and took on a melancholy, soulful look. The sudden unscheduled performance in the middle of the emptying auditorium, the man's odd appearance, and his histrionic finger movements dazzled the audience, giving them the feeling that a magician was performing. He played for several minutes and they listened without a murmur. Then he played a piece that sounded like a solemn trumpet fanfare. He was standing perfectly still except for his arm, and his head was bent to one side. Because it was all so unexpected, surprising even the bazaar committee, it took the townspeople and the peasants by storm. They were overwhelmed; his playing seemed far better than it was though it was off-key and emotional. And then he played a few strokes that sounded like a desperate howl, a lament so plaintive, so heart-rending, that the audience was stunned (250- 251)

Like his creator who had his own opinion on matters (Hamsun presented his Nobel medal to Joseph Goebbels), Nagel too has an opinion (usually disparaging) on everyone from Tolstoy to Goldstone which makes for interesting reading but it is the images that Hamsun conjures up that stay in the mind. What can match the beauty of such a line: The night was thick and heavy as velvet? (113)

My mistake was to read Mysteries in the spirit of one reading a conventional whodunnit. One day, I'd like to read the book again - slowly.

*

First Line: In the middle of the summer of 1891 the most extraordinary things began happening in a small Norwegian coastal town.

Title: Mysteries

Original Title: Mysterier

Original Language: Norwegian

Author: Knut Hamsun

Translator: Gerry Bothmer

Publication Details: ND: Rupa, 2006

First Published: 1892

Pages: 340

Other Books read of the same author: None

New words learnt:

Barcarole: Song of gondolier, music in imitation of it

Juniper:Evergreen shrub or tree with prickly leaves and dark purple berry like cones yielding oil

Lied (leet) German Song esp. of the Romantic period

mise en scene: Scenery and properties of acted play; surroundings of an event


*

The book is available for free download. I borrowed it from the Morning College library [839 H189M C-1]

*

Submitted for the 2013 Translation Challenge



Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Genre Variety, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, The Classics, European Reading, Historical Fiction, Let Me Count the Ways, New Authors, Outside the Box, What Countries have I visited?, Wishlist.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Challenge Complete: Birth Year 2012 - Honors

With the reading and reviewing of Mildred Wirt's Behind the Green Door, I have successfully completed the Birth Year 2012 - Honors Reading Challenge hosted @ Hotchpot Cafe. I was committed to reading two books each from the years 1940 and 1946.



Here are the books read:

Behind the Green Door by Mildred A. Wirt (1940)
The Holocaust House by Norbert Davis (1940)
He Who Whispers by J.D. Carr (1946)
The King's General by Daphne du Maurier (1946)

This is one of my favourite challenges and if Jane hosts it again, I'll be participating in it.

Review: Behind the Green Door by Mildred Wirt

I had heard of Penny Parker but hadn't read any of her books. Thought of her as something of a precursor of Nancy Drew. I had no idea that the creator of Penny, Mildred A. Wirt, also wrote many Nancy Drew books under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene.




Penny is the motherless daughter of Anthony Parker, editor and publisher of the Riverview Star. Full of spirits, Penny goes around sniffing for mysteries, much to her father's discomfort as he worries about the safety of his daughter. In Behind the Green Door, father and daughter have planned a Christmas trip to Pine Top when trouble strikes. A ruthless business man, Harvey Maxwell, slaps a suit of libel against Parker's newspaper. Result, Penny travels to Pine Top alone. She doesn't know it but Maxwell too travels via the same plane to Pine Top. Also among her co-passengers is Francine Sellberg , a reporter with the rival newspaper, Riverview Reporter. At Pine Top, Penny learns that their family friend, Mrs, Downey, is slowly losing out to the gleaming Fergus Hotel as the owner Ralph Fergus uses underhand methods to undermine Mrs. Downey's lodge.

Convinced that something is cooking between Maxwell and Fergus and determined to uncover it before Francine, Penny learns about a mysterious Green Room at the Fergus hotel. All troubles, she surmises, will disappear if she was only to gain access to the room but her entry into it is thwarted every time she tries. Racing against time, Penny has to take some drastic steps...

With the divide between the good and the bad guys crystal clear in the book, the mystery is not so much about the identity of the culprits but rather about what really goes on behind the green door. Nothing memorable about the book, just a plain, simple read with one or two exciting passages.

*

First Line: "Watch me coming down the mountain, Mrs. Weems! This one is a honey! An open christiana turn with no brakes dragging!"

Title: Behind the Green Door

Author: Mildred A. Wirt

First Published: 1940.

Pages: 112

Other Books read of the same author: None

*

The book can be downloaded for free from many sites. I downloaded it from Manybooks.net

*

Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Ebook, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, 2013 Women, Birth Year 2012 - Honors, Color Coded, Criminal Plots III, Let Me Count the Ways, New Authors, Outside the Box,

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Forgotten Books: Holocaust House by Norbert Davis

A man wakes up after a night of drunkenness.

"Carstairs!" He calls out. "Carstairs."

The aforementioned Carstairs comes in and looks at the man with a wearily resigned disgust. The man apologises for his regrettable condition. Carstair's expression of weary disgust doesn't go away. After looking at the man for a few moments, he lumbers out of the room in silent dignity, head held high and tail held stiff.

I see.

No...Wait! What was that?! Tail!!!

Yes, because Carstairs is a Great Dane. So big, in fact, that his master Doan thinks he ought to be another species altogether. And above all, he is a champion, and he had a long and imposing list of very high-class ancestors. He was fond of Doan in a well-bred way, but he had never been able to reconcile himself to having such a low person for a master. Whenever they went out for a stroll together,Carstairs always walked either far behind or ahead, so no one would suspect his relationship with Doan. (1)

Carstairs and Doan are the creation of American crime writer, Norbert Davis. Doan himslef is employed by the Severn Detective Agency Agency in Bay City :  He was a short, round man with a round pinkly innocent face and impossibly bland blue eyes. He had corn-yellow hair and dimples in his cheeks. At first glance--and at the second and third for that matter--he looked like the epitome of all the suckers that had ever come down the pike. He looked so harmless it was pitiful. It wasn't until you considered him for some time that you began to see that there was something wrong with the picture. He looked just a little too innocent. (1)

This delightful pair (or jodi as we say in Hindustani) first appeared in the 1940 novella Holocaust House, published in two parts in the November 16th and 23rd issues of Argosy.



Doan is asked by his employer (the long-suffering J.S. Toggery) to safe-guard an heiress by the name of Sheila Alden. Her father had left an immense fortune for her. As she is about to turn 21, and her case has acquired immense negative publicity, the girl has retreated to a small lodge on a barren mountain site.

Doan reaches the place only to stumble at once upon a corpse. If that wasn't bad enough, the lodge too is thick with tension. There is Brill, a nervous young man from the bank that is acting as Sheila's guardian, there is Sheila who seems smitten with a handsome young man Crwoely who ostensibly lost his way in the storm and landed up at the lodge, and Joan Greg, Sheila's secretary who threatens to kill her mistress. To further complicate matters, there are Kokomo, the mean caretaker,and Jannen the station-master who harbours a grudge against Sheila's father.

All in all, the stage is set for murder. And murder does happen. But who among the small circle of suspects is the murderer?

I enjoyed this breezy read and will love to read more of Doan and Carstairs.

*

Opening Lines: WHEN DOAN WOKE up he was lying flat on his back on top of a bed with his hat pulled down over his eyes. He lay quite still for some time, listening cautiously, and then he tipped the hat up and looked around. He found to his relief that he was in his own apartment and that it was his bed he was lying on.

Title: Holocaust House

Author: Norbert Davis

First Published: 1940

Pages: 43

Other Books read of the same author: None

Trivia: Norbert Davis was a favourite of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

*

Kindle edition of the book can be purchased on the Net. It can also be downloaded for free from Manybooks.net.

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Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Ebooks, Birth Year- Honors, Let Me count the Ways, Vintage Mystery (Dynamic Duos), and What Countries Have I Visited.

*

Entry for Fridays Forgotten Books.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

They Too Fought: Manini Chatterjee's Do and Die

Sitting in his solitary cell, waiting for the day when the noose would be put round his neck, Indian Revolutionary, Sukhdev wrote an open letter to Gandhi, questioning him about the fate of his fellow-revolutionaries who - unlike those in the Congress -  had not been released under the Gandhi-Irwin pact:


More than half a dozen conspiracy trials are going on at Lahore, Delhi, Chittagong, Bombay, Calcutta and elsewhere. Dozens of revolutionaries are absconding and amongst them are many females. More than half a dozen prisoners are actually waiting for their executions. What about all of these people? The three Lahore Conspiracy Case condemned prisoners, who have luckily come into prominence and who have acquired enormous public sympathy, do not form the bulk of the revolutionary party. Their fate is not the only consideration before the party. As a matter of fact their executions are expected to do greater good than the commutation of their sentences.

Almost a century later, the question still abounds in the air: What about all of these people? Forgotten, sidelined, neglected... a nation in a hurry has no time for them.



That's why reading Manini Chatterjee's Do and Die is like stepping into another world: when people were ready to follow the clarion call of freedom, when Freedom was something to die for and not to be abused,  when Chittagong was part of India, when one laid down one's life in the hope that the others would carry on the struggle....



It is a tragedy indeed that the valour of the young men is hardly known to anybody. {Two recent Bollywood movies notwithstanding}. Surjya Sen and his band of revolutionaries attempted what had never been attempted before: attack, capture, and hold the armouries of the police and Auxiliary Force in a district.

Styling themselves on the Irish Republican Army, the Indian Republican Army's growing disillusionment with the Congress party reached a turning point when in its Calcutta session of 1928, the party did not take up the goal for Total Independence and instead of immediately launching a non-cooperation movement decided to give another year to the British to fulfill their promises. The death of Jatin Das at Lahore after an epic hunger strike that lasted for 63 days was the last straw for the Chittagong Revolutionaries.

Inspired by the Easter rebellion of Ireland, on 18th April 1930, a group of young men most of them still in their teens, decided to take on the might of the Raj by attacking the armouries of the police and Auxiliary forces in Chittagong. That was the beginning of a long saga of struggle, valour, and sacrifice that ended with the brutal execution of the leader, Master da Surjya Sen.

Manini Chatterjee's book is a well-researched text on this long-forgotten event and often reads like a thriller which one is unable to put down. However, to me the best part of the book was the small personal anecdotes about the Revolutionaries like that involving Kalpana Dutt.




The young woman who belonged to an affluent family was influenced by Revolutionary martyr Khudi Ram and subsequently became a part of the Indian Republican Army. As her participation in the activities of the group increased, she came close to fellow Revolutionary Tarakeshwar. One day, after their arrest, trial, and judgement Tarakeshwar asked her whether she would wait for him. The young Kalpana gave him her word and 10 years later when another man proposed to her, she refused as she was still waiting for Tarakeshwar. His body had never been released by the British and there was just the slight chance that he might be alive. It was only when she was convinced of Tarakeshwar's death that she reluctantly said yes to the proposal.

Today, as we celebrate the birth anniversary of another son of India, the firebrand Subhas Chandra Bose, perhaps it is time to salute those who laid down their lives so that we could be free.


A soldier's life is the life for me
A soldier's death; so India's free.

*

Opening Lines: Telegram P. No. Nil, dated (and received) 19 April 1930

From: Bengal, Calcutta
To: Home Department, Simla

CLEAR THE LINE

FOLLOWING TELEGRAM HAS BEEN RECEIVED FROM DISTRICT MAGISTRATE CHITTAGONG BY WIRELESS TELEGRAM THROUGH FORT WILLIAM FROM STEAMSHIP 'HALIZONES'. BEGINS: SERIOUS ARMED RISING AT CHITTAGONG STOP ARMOURIES HAVE BEEN RAIDED AND TELEGRAPH CUT STOP SEND AT ONCE AT LEAST TWO COMPANIES TROOPS AND MACHIENE GUNS STOP POSITION CRITICAL STOP DISTRATE CHITTAGONG ANCHORAGE CHITTAGONG STOP ENDS.

Title: Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34

Author: Manini Chatterjee

Publication Details: ND: Picador, 2010

First Published: 1999

Pages: 386

Other Books read of the same author: None

*

The book can be easily purchased on the Net. I borrowed it from the college library.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Wolf! Wolf!: Anthony Gilbert's Lady-Killer

Anthony Gilbert was one of the finds of last year. It is thus appropriate that the first mystery read this year be of hers. Anthony Gilbert was the pseudonym of  Lucy Beatrice Malleson and she was born almost at the fag end of the 19th century, in 1899. Her first published novel was The Man who was London in 1925 under the name of J. Kilmeny Keith. As Anthony Gilbert, her first published work was The Tragedy at Freyne (1927). Her protagonist was Scot Egerton, who went on to solve crimes in 10 more novels. But in 1936, appeared Arthur Crook, a lawyer with a penchant for wearing loud clothes and quite unlike the aristocrat detectives of those days. Murder by Experts (1936) was so well-liked that he appeared in 50 more books.




Lady-Killer is the 25th book of Crook's. Unlike the other two that I have read of Gilbert's, Lady-Killer is more in the mould of a thriller than a mystery. We know right from the beginning who the criminal is, the question is whether Crook will be able to apprehend the man before he is able to do another dastardly deed.

Henry's vocation is being a husband. Like the famous English king with whom he shares his first name, Henry  first woos, then weds, and then kills his wives (after taking away their property, of course). Unknown to him though is the fact that a London lawyer Arthur Crook has taken note of the fact that many women whose husbands have the initial H. G. have died in unfortunate circumstances.

And then Henry falls in love with an orphan Sarah. She is impish, energetic, and liable to act without thinking of the consequences. Henry takes her to a lonely cottage and initially she is just happy to have Henry but slowly uncomfortable questions rise in her mind. But cut off as she is from the rest of the world, would any help reach her before Henry decides that she has become a little too inquisitive for her own good?

This being a post WW II novel, it was interesting to see how the position of women had changed as regards their venturing out and taking up jobs. Here is Sarah describing her job at a firm:

"An architects firm and as dull as ditchwater....When I first went into an office about five years ago my aunt...warned me to be careful about men, all in capitals, if you know what I mean. Some of these scaremongers should work in offices themselves. They'd soon lose some of their illusions. They get their ideas from the magazines or the lending libraries, where the employer's middle name is always wolf, and he's always dying to seduce the latest recruit. Mr. Rimington is the dullest of bachelors and his partner about as exciting as a pudding when the water's got in. ...If you want to ensure your daughter or niece achieving a blameless old age, put her into an office." (67-68).

On a more bleak side, there are many orphans or people left without family members. Gilbert, in fact, mentions Germans being killed in British air-raids:

"Oh well, she doesn't know anyone, and she doesn't seem to have any relations. As a matter of fact, I believe they were all wiped out by a bomb, one of ours, I'm afraid, in 1944" (9).

All in all, this was a good thriller with the tension becoming unbearable at times.However, I did miss the knock-out punch in the end that a Gilbert mystery has.


*

First Line: IN THE SUMMER OF 1948 a young woman called Greta Mannheim, who was employed as a housekeeper by a Mrs. Derry, of London, S.W. 7 went for a fortnight's holiday, ostensibly to Torquay, and did not return.

Title: Lady-Killer

Author: Anthony Gilbert

Publication Details: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1951.

First Published: 1951

Pages: 252

Other books read of the same author: The Clock in the Hatbox, Death Knocks Three Times

*

The book might be available in libraries or second-hand book shops. I borrowed it from a library [F.G.A 17A]

*

Submitted for the Vintage Mystery Challenge. (Malicious Men)



Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Genre Variety, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, 2013 Women, British Books, European Reading, Let Me Count the Ways, Library Books, What countries have I visited.





Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Forgotten War: Easterine Kire's Mari

When you go home
tell them of us
and say for your tomorrow
we gave our today


Inscription on the war memorial of the 2nd Division at the Kohima War Cemetery






The Battle of Kohima was called the "Stalingrad of the East", so vital was it that the British wrest the land back from the Japanese who had conquered it. The Japanese had already overrun Singapore; had closed down the Burma Road, thus isolating China; and now having conquered Burma had forced the British and the British Indian armies westwards. It was imperative that the Japanese be forced back.




Yet, this battle finds little mention in the annals of war history. Let alone the world at large, even in India, people have little knowledge about this momentous event. The author, Easterine Kire, has done a laudable job in bringing a forgotten fact to life.  Mari is the story of a young girl whose happy life is jeopardized as she turns seventeen. Living in the lap of nature with her loving family, Aviu's  life changes in her seventeenth year when a British soldier, Victor, falls in love with her and proposes marriage. However, before they can take the vows, the Japanese offensive begins and Victor is forced to go to the front. In fact, Kohima becomes the front even as Mari (as Victor calls Aviu lovingly) and her family migrate towards other villages. The only person not to leave the village is Mari's mother who decides to stay back and look after her aged parents who refuse to leave their birth-place. Scattered in all directions, staying at times in make-shift refugee camps and even jungles (with tigers prowling by!), Mari's family undergoes the hardships associated with the war.Sick with fear about the fate of Victor, Mari also discovers that she is carrying Victor's child. When the battle ends, Mari is no longer the callow, innocent girl of yore but a woman who has faced some of life's blackest moments. Yet, life has more tests in store for her...

Based on the life of the author's aunt, Mari is a forgotten story told in a simple way:

For Mari and the others of her generations, WW II and the Japanese invasion of our lands was the most momentous period of their lives. Everything happened at the same time. Growing up, falling in love, war, homelessness, separation, death and parting and, finally, peace. All my oral narrators told me this about the war: 'It altered our lives completely' (viii).




There were certain things that surprised me immensely. One is the respect shown to a woman's decision. An unwed girl's pregnancy would lead to havoc and bloodshed in many parts of India, yet Mari's family is supportive of her decision. There were some questions too that I wanted to ask. Did the issue of racism never raise its ugly head as White men fell in love with Mari? Did no one in Kohima support the Japanese against the British who were the colonial masters of India at that time? Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had after all launched a millitary offensive against the British in India with the help of the Japanese. How was it living in Ludhiana (part of the Punjab that had been butchered during partition) in the 1950s? And what about that appalling decision that allowed Reverend Supplee to re-open the school after the war but did not allow the traders to open their shop? The plea (if it can be called that!) was that the traders had left Kohima during the war but then Rev. Supplee had left with his family even before that. As usual, there are different laws for the white and the black men.

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Opening Lines: Kohima. It is dusk now.

Title: Mari

Author: Easterine Kire

Publication Details: ND: Harper Collins, 2010

First Published: 2010

Pages: xiii + 171

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Submitted for the Guilty Readings Challenge.




I am aiming for a guilt free year. This book was lent to me by a friend who praised it immensely. I showed an immediate interest in it since I am interested in the history of forgotten events. Yet this book remained on my shelves for months and every time I'd see the friend I would hope desperately that she not mention the book.



Also submitted for the following challenges: 52 books in 52 weeks,  2013 Genre Variety,  Outdo Yourself, 2013 Women, Historical Fiction, Let Me Count the Ways, New Authors.

Also submitted for the Literature and War Readalong.



Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Beginnings...



Book Beginnings on Friday @ Rose City Reader is a weekly meme where you share the opening sentence of the book that you are currently reading.

Here's mine from Mysteries by Knut Hamsun.

In the middle of the summer of 1891 the most extraordinary things began happening in a small Norwegian coastal town.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Blog of the Year 2012

A Blog Of The Year Award For Me!

And naturally I am over the moon.

Bev @ My Reader's Block is one of the most generous bloggers I know. And now she has selected me as one of those deserving The Blog of the Year award. Thanks a lot, Bev.



Here are the rules:

1 Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award
2 Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.
3 Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award at The Thought Palette. and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
4 Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them
5 You can now also join the Facebook group – click ‘like’ on this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience
6 As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars…


I am presenting the award to the following blogs (in no particular order):

Caroline @ Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

Caroline is one of the most gracious bloggers I know of. Comments on her posts never go unanswered. She hosts an event called Literature and War Readalong, and co-hosts The German Literature Month every year.  A prolific reader, the best thing about Caroline is that she doesn't confine herself to merely English literature but reads across a wide variety of literature in other languages.

Sergio @ Tipping my Fedora

Sergio is again a very gracious blogger, commenting on your post and responding to your comments. His extensive knowledge about mysteries of yore make his blog a terrific read.

Rob @ ... the slightly eccentric diary of Rob Z. Tobor

I am so glad to have discovered Rob's blog. His family: Dad, Mom, (not to forget) the Dog, will have you in splits. How does he come across these mad ideas, I have no clue.

Prashant @ Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema

The title of Prashant's blog is quite a mouthful.:) But then these are his favourite things and he writes about them beautifully, always adding something to your knowledge.

Yvette @ in so many words...

I learnt so much about blogging from Yvette. She was the first follower of my blog and I can't explain how tremendous a boost it was to know that somebody was interested to know what you were babbling about. Thank You, Yvette.

Bev @ My Reader's Block

Bev is addicted to Reading Challenges and also a very generous and encouraging host of three Reading Challenges (including my all-time favourite: Vintage Mystery). Her reading and reviewing speed leaves me out of breath!

Jane @ Hotchpot Cafe

Jane, like Bev, is a very generous blogger. She makes even the hunt for a house sound exciting. Jane also hosts an interesting Reading Challenge: Birth Year Honors.

Deb @ The Book Stop

Deb's blog makes me reflect on my reading and my responses to the texts read.

John @ Pretty Sinister Books

How can I not mention John's iconic blog?

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There are many more deserving of this award but I am sticking to number 9 which I have always considered mine.


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23/1/2013

A second star from Sergio @ Tipping my Fedora. Thanks a lot Sergio. It is very kind of you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reading Challenge Addict



Last year I had signed up for more than 30 challenges. This year I thought I'll be more circumspect  Apparently, it is not to be so because I have already signed up for more than 25 Reading Challenges. That makes me a Reading Challenge Addict. And that too is a new challenge!!!

Signing-up for the Out of this World: 16+ Reading Challenges.

Here is a link to all the challenges I have joined for the year 2013.

2013 Reading Challenges

Are you addicted to Reading Challenges too? Sign up over here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reading Challenge 25: Criminal Plots III


One of the challenges that I enjoyed last year was the Criminal Plots Reading Challenge II @ Jen's Book Thoughts. I have accepted the challenge, this year too. One has to read crime fiction in six different categories (and to me they seem a lot tougher this year). It is going to be fun searching for books to fit in those particular categories.

Details and Sign-Up, over here.


Reading Challenge 24: 2013 Translation Challenge



I love reading books in translation and am signing up for the 2013 Translation Challenge @ Curiosity killed the bookworm. For this challenge, I'll be reading at least 7-12 books that have been translated into English.

Details and Sign-up, over here.

Reading Challenge 23: European Reading

After successfully completing the 2012 European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader, I am signing up for the 2013 edition. Once again I am aiming for the highest level: Five-Star which means I'll be reading at least 5 books set in 5 different European countries and/ or written by 5 different European authors.



You want to take a tour of Europe too? Start from here.

Challenge Complete: European Reading



I had signed up for the European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader last year. The aim was to read at least 5 books set in 5 different European countries (or written by 5 different writers from various European countries). I have successfully completed the challenge.

Here are the countries I visited:





Albania: The Successor by Ismail Kadare
Austria: The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta
Czechoslovakia: Amerika by Franz Kafka
England: A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler
France: The Paris Enigma by Pablo De Santis
Germany: The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkels
Ireland: Room by Emma Donoghues
Northern Ireland: Sir John Macgill's Last Journey by Freeman Wills Crofts
Poland: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Russia: The Geographer's Library by Jon Fasman
Scotland: Black and Blue by Ian Rankin
Spain: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafan
Turkey: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

It was fun doing the challenge and I am signing up for it this year too.



Reading Challenge 22: 2013 Witches & Witchcraft

Can just one book count for an entire challenge? Yes! If it is  Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf's 2013 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge!! I have one book related to Witches on my TBR pile and am signing up for the challenge. Who knows this might prompt me to read more on witches and witchcraft?

Sign up over here.

Reading Challenge 21: 2013 Genre Variety

This year, I aim to diversify my reading. So I am signing up for the  2013 Genre Variety Reading Challenge hosted @ a daydreamer's thoughts. But as I have already signed up for a number of challenges, I am going to attempt the Cautious level which means I'll be attempting 12 books in 12 different genres.



Interested? Sign-up here.

Reading Challenge 20: The Classics



The Classics Reading Challenge hosted @ Thoughts at One in the Morning is a totally stress-free Reading Challenge where you decide the number of classics you'd love to read. I have a couple of classics that I want to read, so I am signing up for the challenge. If you too want to include a few classics in your reading list, sign-up over here.

Reading Challenge 19: What Countries Have I Visited


My travelling is generally done vicariously through books so I am signing up for the What Countries Have I Visited 2013 Reading Challenge hosted @ Christian Novels. There are various levels to choose from and I am signing up for the Vacationer level which means I'll be visiting at least 10 countries.

Want to be a world-traveller too? Sign-up here.

Review: Shaheed aur Shohade by Manmath Nath Gupt

Good intentions do not always translate into good novels. Manmath Nath Gupt's Shaheed Aur Shohade is a good example of that. The writer, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the Kakori Train Case has written a number of books related to India's struggle for Independence. In this novel, he examines the attitude of the Indian members of the ICS. Jagdeesh Prasad, Devi Charan, and Shankar Dayal are three officers who meet regularly in Lucknow to discuss the political situation of the country. As the Second World War draws to a close and the demand for India's freedom gets shriller, they are more than concerned about their jobs and well-being. What does the future entail for them once the British leave the shores of India? And then there are the provisional ministries of the Congress too. In order to show their loyalty to the British, they had acted with unprecedented brutality during the Quit India Movement. Kidnapping, abduction, arresting people without any charge, loot, humiliation...now they are worried that these very things would boomerang on them.

But the Congress is a house divided too. There were people who went to jail and were given first class treatment and then there were people who suffered the brutality of the police. And yet, the former want to be in charge of the movement. All this could have made fro a good novel, unfortunately it does not.

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First Line: Lucknow ke ek club mein teen mitr aapas mein baaten karte jaate the, aur beech-beech mein apne saamne pade do aakar ke glasson se chuskiyan lete jaate the.

Title: Shaheed aur Shohade

Author: Manmath Nath Gupt

Publication Details: Delhi: Rajpal and Sons, 1970

First Published: 1970

Pages: 176

Other Books read by the Author: Bhagat Singh and his Times

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The book might be available in libraries. I borrowed it from a library too.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Reading Challenge 18: Outside the Box



Outside the Box Reading Challenge hosted @ ... Musings of a Book Lover is a fun challenge that challenges you to get out of your groove and read books in 13 different categories. I am opting for It's Not So Bad Out Here which means I'll be reading books in 5-7 categories. Do you want to get out of the box too? Try here.

Reading Challenge 17: Mystery/ Crime

Mysteries are my favourite reads. This time round there is a lack of reading challenges that involve the reading of mysteries. Therefore I am very happy to have discovered the Mystery/ Crime Reading challenge hosted by Amy @ The Crafty Book Nerd.

I am going the whole hog, i.e. signing up for the highest level: Sherlock Holmes which means I'll be reading 30+  crime/ mystery books.

Interested? Sign-up over here.

Reading Challenge 16: 2013 Women

I have never deliberately sought to read women authors (or male authors for that matter). To me all depends upon the book rather than the sex of the author. But the 2013 Women challenge hosted @ Peek-a-Book is a fun challenge to keep a track of how many women authors I read this particular year. I am going in for level 3: Super Girl which means I'll be reading 11-15 books written by women.


Details and Sign-Up: Here.

Reading Challenge 15: Library Books

I love borrowing books from the library and it saddens me that libraries all over the world are dying a slow death. Till date, I have always been able to successfully complete the reading challenges that involved the reading of books borrowed from libraries. This year I am again signing up for one such challenge: Library Books Reading Challenge hosted by Book Dragon's Lair.


I am signing up for the Middle Grades level which means I'll be reading 18 books borrowed from libraries. If you too want to sign-up, do so over here.

Reading Challenge 14: British Books

One of the challenges that I finished successfully last year was the British Books challenge. I am signing up for the 2013 edition of the challenge now hosted by Feeling Fictional. The challenge involves reading books by British authors.



Details and Sign-up over here.

Reading Challenge 13: Guilty Readings

Are there books that make you feel guilty? Books gifted by loved ones which you have never read? Books lent by family/ friends and who are waiting for you to read them so that they can be discussed? Books that you have started a number of times, only to abandon them mid-way? Books that you picked up with a lot of enthusiasm, hoping to read them first thing when you reached home, but which are simply gathering dust on the shelves? Books which... you get the gist.



Bla Bla Bla books is hosting an interesting Reading Challenge, titled Guilty Reading challenge. The aim is to read those books which make you feel guilty. I have quite a few which make me feel that way so I am signing up for the mid-level, i.e, Eager for Challenge which means I'll be reading 4-6 books which for one reason or the other make me feel guilty.

Details and sign-up, over here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Paean to the Sun



The Sun
The eternal sun, shines
Giving us its warmth
Its love -
Its radiation
Its power
Bright is its heavenly light
That throws light on our path
The giver of life
Right from the time of creation
Keeps shining on, on and on
On every good or bad,
On happy, sulky, and indifferent
Indifferent to the reactions,
Of the various kinds of people
Just doing its duty
And shining on, on, and on...

(Premnath: The Sun)

As the Sun starts on his northward journey, here's wishing everybody a happy Sakrant/ Sankrant/ Pongal.

Have a very happy 2013.

Celebration Time @ My Reader's Block

Bev Hankins @ MyReader'sBlock is celebrating her 500 follower celebration giveaway.



 Bev is a Reading Challenges addict (and incidentally the new host of the eponymous blog) and herself hosts three challenges: Vintage Mystery, Mount TBR, and Color-Coded. If you haven't, till date, have a look at Bev's blog,do so NOW.

A Baker's Dozen: Top 13 Reads (Mystery) of 2012

Last year, I had decided to do a feature called Twelve Best. The idea was to post a list of my favourite reads. However, due to a lack of time and commitment, I could not do it more than once. This year, I am determined to make it a regular feature, though now titled: A Baker's Dozen.

On the joyous occasion of Lohri, here's my first post. A list of my favourite (mystery) reads of the year 2012.

So here goes, in ascending order (clicking on the titles will take you to the reviews of the books):


13. THE ENGLISHMAN'S CAMEO by MADHULIKKA LIDDLE (2009)



Tired of reading mysteries set in the modern times, try the medieval period. Liddle's book is selected because of its unusual setting: The Mughal period in India. Even as Shah Jahan grows old, and the battle of inheritance intensifies between his two sons: Aurangazeb and Dara Shikoh, Muzaffar Jung finds himself investigating a case of murder that involves his friend.


12. THE MOTHER HUNT by REX STOUT (1963)


My first Stout had Nero Wolfe involved in finding the mother of a child abandoned at a door-step. Archie's narration is top-class, if only the motive for murder had been more convincing.


11. THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD by CHARLES DICKENS (1870)



Dickens' last, unfinished novel is not so much a mystery as the fascinating study of a man beset by demons: John Jasper. The opening scene in the opium den scores for being one of the most brilliant openings ever.


10. THE WHISPERING HOUSE by MARGARET ERSKINE (1947)



Inspector Finch loses his way and finds himself in a house driven apart by hate, secrecy, and murder. Erskine is not considered quite top-drawer but I her far better than some of the others who are considered more accomplished.


9. THE MURDER FARM by ANDREA MARIA SCHENKEL (2006)



Not so much a conventional whodunnit as a study of sin and crime. Just who is a culprit? One who wields the murder weapon? What about those whose crimes are ignored by the society at large? Winner of a number of crime prizes round Europe, Schenkel's book is also a look at Germany's self-destructive Nazi past.


8. THE SLIPPERY STAIRCASE by E.C.R LORAC (1938)



An old woman is found dead at the bottom of the stairs. Did she slip or was she pushed? One of those old police-procedurals that I love: not so much forensics as archival research and hunting for clues.


7. THE EIGHT OF SWORDS by JOHN DICKSON CARR (1952)



A mad-cap of a mystery starring bishops who slide down bannisters, vicars who are visited by poltergeists, detectives who judge beauty-pageants, and murderers who eat the dinner of their victims.


6. THE QUIET TWIN by DAN VYLETA (2011)



"I can make no claim that I understand National Socialism. That would mean that I understand how a society could have produced camps designed to exterminate those who used to be neighbours, colleagues, teachers, doctors, plumbers, violinists." Author Dan Vyleta might not understand the phenomenon of Nazism (National Socialism, indeed!) but his book set in an appartment complex in Vienna at the start of WW II is an absorbing look at a society caught between terror and guilt.


5. DEATH KNOCKS THREE TIMES by ANTHONY GILBERT (1949)



Anthony Gilbert has been the find of last year and this book has a knock-out punch in the end that takes one's breath away.


4. A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS by ERIC AMBLER (1939)



A writer decides to investigate the life and times of a noted criminal Dimitrios. Following in the latter's footsteps, he travels all over Europe. But was there a Dimitrios in the first place?


3. THE SUCCESSOR by Ismail Kadare (2003)



Can murder be committed by switching lights on and off? Ismail Kadare's Man-Booker award winning novel is an investigation into the real life murder of Mehmet Shehuu, the second most powerful man in Hoxha's fiefdom, Albania. A brilliant look at power-hierarchies.


2. THE STORY OF IVY by MARIE BELLOC LOWNDES (1927)



Marie Belloc Lowndes, like Anthony Gilbert, was the find of 2012. Ostensibly, there is nothing different in this story of a woman who plots her husband's death. But there are books in which the sub-text is so terrifying that you fear reading the next line or turning the next page. This is one of those.




And now, ladies and gentlemen, please put your hand together as I unveil my top-most favourite mystery read of the year. At number 1, we have

1. THE CLOCK IN THE HATBOX by ANTHONY GILBERT (1939)


There are books which involve the world reeling on its axis. Remember when Poirot announces the name of the murderer in Roger Ackroyd? When you look up after reading that particular line, the world is not what it was earlier. So it is in this book. When the name of the murderer was revealed, the earth shifted on its axis, so that nothing seemed to be what it was a few minutes ago.

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So these are my favourite reads of the year 2012. Have you read them too? What do you feel about them? What have been your favourite reads?

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Submitted for the best crime reads @ Mysteries in Paradise.