Thursday, December 31, 2015

Challenge Complete: Hard Core Re-Reading

Wrap-Up: Back to the Classics 2015



Out of the 12 Categories mentioned in the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted @ Books and Chocolate, I have been able to complete 10. Here are the books read:

1.  A 19th Century Classic -- any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2.  A 20th Century Classic -- The Old Dark House by J.B. Priestley

3.  A Classic by a Woman Author: Inside India by Halide Edib

4.  A Classic in Translation.. Mother by  Maxim Gorky

5.  A Very Long Classic Novel --  Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

6.  A Classic Novella -- The Two Sisters by H.E. Bates

7.  A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title.  Ayesha: The Return of She by H. Rider Haggard

8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic. Patrick Butler for the Defence by J.D. Carr 

9.  A Forgotten Classic.  The Strange Boarders of Palace Crescent by E.P. Oppenheim

10.  A Nonfiction Classic. That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan

11.  A Classic Children's Book.  A book for your inner child!  Pick a children's classic that you never got around to reading.



12.  A Classic Play.  The Cradle Song by G. Martinez Sierra

Wrap-Up and Sign-Up: Full House Challenge

For the second year running, I have successfully completed the Full House Challenge hosted @ The Book Date.


Here are the books read:

D1

1. Library Book: The Motor Rally Mystery by John Rhode
2. Novella: Shootout at the Rocks by Ibn-e-Safi
3. Author outside your own country: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (France)
4. Won or Borrowed: The Old Dark House by J.B. Priestley (Won in a Sherlock Holmes Quiz)
5. 2nd book in a series: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino (2nd in the Inspector Galileo series)

D2


1. A Top Book of 2015: The Things They Carried by Tim O' Brien
2. Setting that you want to visit: Paris in That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan
3. Book by Author you really like: The Crooked Hinge by J.D. Carr
4. Book set in the Northern Hemisphere: Mother by Maxim Gorky
5. Been on your TBR Forever: Deshdrohi by Yashpal (Since 1998)


D3

1. Heard about the Book Online: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
2. Award Winning: Sansmritiyan by Shiv Verma (Winner of the Soviet Land Lenin Award)
3. Free Choice: The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar (Set in India)
4. Debut Novel by Author: The Two Sisters by H.E. Bates
5. Published in 2014: The Setting Sun by Brian Moore


D4

1. Set in the Southern Hemisphere: The Vintage Book of Latin American Stories
2. First in a Series: Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter (First in the Inspector Morse series)
3. Published 2000-2013: The Lessons by Naomi Alderman (2010)
4. Published Pre 2000: The Face in the Night by Edgar Wallace (1924)
5. Book I Rarely Read: Along Came a Spider by James Patterson (Kidnapping of Children)

D5

1. Published in 2015: Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins
2. A Keeper: Amar Shaheed Chandrashekhar Azad by Vaishayampayan
3. Outstanding Hero or Heroine: Radheya by Ranjit Desai
4. Author New to You: Fearless Jones by Walter Mosley
5. You Love the Cover:In at the Kill by Elizabeth Ferrars

*

There's another edition of The Full House Reading Challenge in 2016 and I am so signing up for it. Here are the details and sign-up.





Challenge Complete: Birthday Month



Happy to state that I have successfully completed the Birthday Month Reading Challenge hosted @ You, Me and a Cup of Tea. Here are the authors read for the challenge:


January: Issac Asimov (Authorised Murder)
February: Andrew Garve (Counterstroke)
March: Philip Mason (Call the Next Witness)
April: Rajshekhar Vyas (Inqilab)
May: G.Martinez Sierra, & Ruskin Bond (The Cradle Song & A Face in the Dark)
June: H. Rider Haggard (Ayesha: The Return of She)
July: Caroline Graham (The Killings at Badger's Drift)
August: H.P. Lovecraft (The Thing on the Doorstep & Other Weird Stories)
September: David Davidhar (The House of Blue Mangoes)
October: Tim O'Brien (The Things They Carried)
November: Timothy Knatchbull (From a Clear Blue Sky)
Decenber: William Irish /Cornell Woolrich (Phantom Lady)

2016: Reading Assignment Challenge

One of the challenges that I enjoyed greatly - though unfortunately could not finish -was the 2015 Reading Assignment Challenge. I am however determined to have another go at it and so am joining the 2016 Reading Assignment Challenge. Hosted by Michelle and Berls this involves making a list of books that you are determined to read in the upcoming year. Books can be from your shelves or can be borrowed from the library. There are various levels to choose from. I am choosing level no.1 which means that I commit myself to reading one book from the list of 12 books each month.



Here are the books that I'll be reading in 2016:

1. Bhagat Singh and His Legend (Ed) by J.S. Grewal  (May)

2. Bhai and Bhabi of Bhagat Singh: A Biography of Bhagwati Charan Vohra and Durga Bhabi by Malwinderjit Singh Waraich   (April)

3. The Boat by L.P. Hartley

4. Jaya: An Illustrated Re-Telling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Patnaik  (February)

5. Krantiveer Bhagat Singh: Abhyudhaya and Bhavishya Ed. Chaman Lal

6. Making History: An Introduction to the History and Practice of a Discipline

7. Outlaws by Javier Cercas  (January)

8.  Satyanveshi Byomkesh by Shartendu Bandopadhyaya

9. Terror and the PostColonial Ed. Elleke Boehmer

10. The Trial of Bhagat Singh : Complete Tribunal Proceedings (With Sukhdev's Remarks) Ed. Malwinderjit Singh Waraich

11. Transnational History by Pierre-yves Sannier  (June)

12. Understanding Bhagat Singh by Chaman Lal  (March)

*

Interested? Make a list and join over here.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Books on the Mahabharat

The Mahabharat is not only the longest epic of this world, it is also the fifth Veda, and my all-time favourite book. This year I read three book based on it. All of them deserve a detailed review and I might do that next year but as of now, I am only summarising them in a couple of lines:

AFTER KURUKSHETRA by MAHASWETA DEVI



Three short stories that look at the aftermath of the great war.

RADHEYA by RANJIT DESAI




Radheya or Karn as he is more popularly known is the tragic hero of the Mahabharat. This book did not charm me at first but thinking about it, I realised what a critical look at Mahabharat it is. Must read for all fond of Karn.



URUBHANGAM: THE SHATTERED THIGH AND OTHER PLAYS by BHASA





Sanskrit used to give me nightmares when I studied it in school and I was very glad when I didn't have to study it any further. But re-reading these plays by playwright Bhasa made me regret and rue the fact that I couldn't read them in the Sanskrit original. The title play describing the anguish of Kuru prince Duryodhan as he is unfairly defeated in that fatal mace fight is a marvel. 

Other Books

Brief description of some other books read this year:



CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD by GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ



Read this once again this year and fell in love once again with the book described by a reviewer as a 'metaphysical murder mystery'.


THE FREEDOM MOVEMENT IN INDIAN FICTION IN ENGLISH by PRAMILA GARG

A descriptive but not too-analytical look at how the Indian English authors have described the freedom struggle in their novels.


HISTORY: WHAT AND WHY? by BEVERLEY SOUTHGATE





Again a re-read. Interesting look at how the idea of history and historical narration has evolved from the Classical to the Post-Modern time.

KRANTIKARI BHAI PARMANAND by DHARAMVEER

Bhai Parmanand was the teacher of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and others at the National College in Lahore. An adequate but not especially impressive biography.


LES MISERABLES by VICTOR HUGO




Mammoth book running to more than a thousand page with pages upon pages that take you away from the story (Imagine at a crucial moment: a 50 page description of Paris sewers!!!!). But what a story! What a cast of characters, esp my favourite Chief-Inspector Javert. What a creation!


MOTHER by MAXIM GORKY




Often described as the first 'Revolutionary' novel, this book about a woman who grows strong and determined as she interacts with her son and his other revolutionary friends in Czarist Russia, was as mesmerizing a read as when I read it for the first time around a decade back.


REVOLUTION AND COUNTER-REVOLUTION by PETER CALVERT



A look at what constitutes a revolution. Had problems with the author's description of what should be seen as a revolution.


THAT SUMMER IN PARIS by MORLEY CALLAGHAN



There is something about Paris and something about Scott Fitzgerald and something about The Lost Generation that is so compelling, so when I saw this book with its sub-title 'Memories of Tangled Friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Some Others', I had to pick it up. It doesn't disappoint and it reiterates my view that Hemingway was a great writer but as a man he always wanted to win. And my poor Scott Fitzgerald was self-destructive. Such talent and such waste....


THE VINTAGE BOOK OF LATIN AMERICAN STORIES




Barring a Marquez or two, I have little idea about Latin American literature, so when I saw this book, I immediately borrowed it. Must say, Latin American literature is hard to understand. A few of the stories made a profound impression but a majority of them were beyond me.


A WREATH FOR THE ENEMY by PAMELA FRANKAU




The book is described as a-coming-of-age novel on the web. What did I understand after reading the novel? To be disciplined curtails one freedom. Freedom means you can have your food anytime you like and sleep whenever you want to, set-timings are binding. If you do not try to steal your brothers girlfriend; or allow your wheel-chair bound brother free run of the estate; or help your estranged wife get out of troubles than you are a 'Giver' and sooner or later people will leave you, bored of your decency. God! I must be living in a different world altogether.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

5 OTHER MYSTERIES

Very brief description of a few other mysteries read this year:

ALONG CAME A SPIDER by JAMES PATTERSON: My first James Patterson which deals with something that actually gives me nightmares: the kidnapping of children. Alex Cross is an interesting protagonist though the mystery is just about okay as I had guessed the identity of the spider early on.



FEARLESS JONES by WALTER MOSLEY: Set in 1950s LA, the story is narrated by bookshop owner Paris Minton whose store is burnt to ashes one fine day. Determined to bring the culprits to justice, he enlists the help of his friend Jones. The novel began well but than got lost in Jews and Nazi atrocities. But the incident describing how a boy was denied to use the library because of the colour of his skin was extremely powerful.





THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by PAULA HAWKINS: Oh God! The buzz about this book. It seemed as though here was a classic mystery. And then to read it and find three hysterical women who seemed to speak in the same manner and a mystery that was paper-thin. Last time (I hope) I am taken in by those glowing reviews, bestsellers list, and screaming headlines.






IN AT THE KILL by ELIZABETH FERRARS: A young woman rents a cottage during the holidays but when she goes to meet the landlord, she finds him dead. Is there a reason why she rented the cottage and what about the man who was her co-passenger in the train? Interesting mystery by the Scottish writer.





LAST BUS TO WOODSTOCK by COLIN DEXTER: Finally after years of collecting his novels, I read the first Inspector Morse mystery. The mystery was okay (but not that made me want to pick up his second one immediately) but the line that stuck in my mind was the description of TV ariels being uprooted because of a wind storm. That brought to my mind the TV scenario in India during the eighties when often someone would be perched on the roof righting the TV antenna. Children growing up in the age of Dish and Cable will not understand what it was to have an antenna on the top.







Monday, December 28, 2015

Challenge Complete: Horror Reading

There was a time when I read a lot of books in the Horror genre but not anymore, so it was really a challenge to take up the Horror Reading challenge hosted by the extremely energetic Tracy @
Cornerfolds.



My level was Running Scared which means that I had to read 1-5 books. Well, I have found a perfect mean of 3. Here are the books read:

The Face in the Dark & Other Hauntings by Ruskin Bond
The Ghost of Flight 401 by John  G. Fuller
The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft




Women's Fiction: Wrap-Up and Sign-up



Happy to state that I have finished the Women's Fiction Reading Challenge 2015 hosted @ Book Date. I had selected the level Motivated which means I had to read 1-5 book and I am glad to have read 5 books.

Here are the books read:


1. The Two Sisters by H.E. Bates
2.  Murder at the Black Crook by Cecile Hulse Matschat
3. After the Funeral by Agatha Christie
4. Port of Seven Strangers by Kathleen Moore
5. Ayesha: Return of She by H. Rider Haggard




The challenge is being hosted in 2016 and I am signing up for it once again at  the same level .i.e. Motivated (1-5 books). If you want to do it, you can sign up for it here.

Eleven Vintage Mysteries


Here are very brief notes on the vintage mysteries read this year but not reviewed:

AFTER THE FUNERAL by AGATHA CHRISTIE






It was a discussion on underrated Christies that led me to a re-read of this. Found it wonderful to read how skillfully Christie manipulates the reader. Must read for all Christie fans.

CROOKED HINGE and PATRICK BUTLER FOR THE DEFENCE by J.D. CARR

























Since the time I read THE BURNING COURT, I have been searching desperately for a Carr that can completely knock me off my feet the way COURT did. GREEN CAPSULE, THIRD BULLET and now these two....nothing, nothing...not even close.... The search continues... Any suggestions?


DEATH IN FLAMES by GORDON ASHE 




Patrick Dawlish is at the Carlion Club with his friends Neil Cousins and Andy Cunningham when a bunch of Arum lillies are delivered to him with this message: "I could not help thinking of you, Capt. Dawlish, when I saw these. So fortunate that they are not yet made into a wreath, don't you think?'

A surprisingly good mystery that made me change my earlier opinion of writer John Creasey. Now if only the Germans had not been shown as this diabolical...


THE HOUSE OF FEAR and SHOOTOUT AT THE ROCKS by IBN-E-SAFI




It shames me that before these books were translated into English from Urdu, I had not even heard of Safi who is one of the Subcontinent's most prominent writers of mystery. Even Agatha Christie, it seems, had heard of him. These two are from his Imran series. Fun to read though the humour can be a little OTT at times.


THE MYSTERY OF THE GREEN BOTTLE  by SAX ROHMER


Before reading this book, I knew of Sexton Blake the way I know of Charlie Chan, Dr. Fu Munchu, Bulldog Drummond....characters heard of but never read. It is only when I read this book that I realised that Blake was the 'Other Baker Street Detective' living on the same street as the more famous Sherlock. This is a thrilling mystery set in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).


THE OLD DARK HOUSE by J.B. PRIESTLEY




Mesmerizing mystery or a comment on human life? Human hand or supernatural agency? This book - about a handful of people trapped inside an old, dark house even as an apocryphal storm rages outside - was amongst the best reads of this year. Gifted as a prize by John @ Pretty Sinister Books. His riveting review can be read over here. Thank you so much Mr. Norris.


PHANTOM LADY by WILLIAM IRISH




A mystery that could have been interesting but for a character constantly referred to as "The Girl", "Your Girl", "My Girl". Totally, totally put my teeth on edge.



PORT OF SEVEN STRANGERS by KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT




A group of disparate strangers find themselves stranded in a hotel in Mexico. The mystery begins well with a murder and then traces its way back to Occupied France. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring finds a mention. But the end leaves too many loopholes. Oh yes! There is romance too.



THE 'Z' MURDERS by J. JEFFERSON FARJEON




Once upon a time, Ted Diggs had had a dog. It had died an unnatural death on the road, and he had always wanted another. In his opinion, a dog was better company than a woman. Just say, "Shut Up,"and it did. 146

Unforgettable lines from an author discovered this year. Absolutely love them:)

*











Sunday, November 29, 2015

Reaction to Reading: FROM A CLEAR BLUE SKY: SURVIVING THE MOUNTBATTEN BOMB by TIMOTHY KNATCHBULL

The great events of world history are at bottom profoundly unimportant. In the last analysis the essential thing is the life of the individual. This alone makes history, here alone do the great transformations first take place, and the whole future, the whole hist. of the world ultimately spring as a gigantic summation from these hidden sources in individuals. In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age, and its sufferers, but also its makers. - C.G. Jung



 Lord Louis Mountbatten was the last British viceroy of India, the one who oversaw India not only winning her freedom from two centuries of colonial rule but also being dismembered and bathed in blood. I wouldn't say that the viceroy was an Emperor Nero who fiddled while India burnt but there can be no denying that there was an abandonment practised by the colonial masters.

So, the thing that stuck me most forcefully while reading his grandson Timothy Knatchbull's account of the bomb that killed Mountbatten was this line:

Among those willing to comment afterwards was the family's Sligo soicitor, Charlie Browne, who said that it was ironic that people looking for freedom for Ireland should assassinate a man who gave India her freedom..201

WHO GAVE INDIA HER FREEDOM? Excuse me sir, but our freedom was not given to us as an act of charity. Thousands of our men and women died, went mad, suffered atrocities and hardships, were incarcenated, hanged, ridiculed, even died for the British in the wars that our colonial masters dragged us in. Our freedom was won by our own blood, tears, and sweat.

This one-line was so off-putting that it quite spoilt the book for me which otherwise contains a poignant account of Timothy coming to grips with the death of his twin, Nicholas, in that same bomb-blast.

Perhaps I am over-reacting but somehow the line gor stuck in my brain and just refused to let go.

First Line: On the morning of Monday 27 August 1979, Paul Maxwell asked me the time.
Pub. Details: Arrow Books, 2010
FP: 2009
Pages: 418
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Other books read of the same author: None



Thursday, October 29, 2015

Forgotten Book: The Face in the Night by Edgar Wallace (1924)

I had heard of Edgar Wallace even before I started blogging but have been able to read him only this month. Steve @ Stuck in a Book launched the 1924 Club and keen to read a mystery published in that year, I found to my delight that there was a Wallace written in that year. Considering, his output though, this is nothing to be amazed of. He seems to have been a most prolific writer. In fact, in 1924 itself he published more than one book. I picked this up because it was a crime club publication.





The novel opens on a foggy, winter night when a man from South Africa, named Laker, makes his way towards the home of his boss, a certain Mr. Malpas. Laker is in a belligerent mood, he thinks that while agents like him rough it out, Malpas sits in luxury. Desirous of a showdown, he enters House No. 551 and is immediately confounded by the house with doors that open on their own, lights that go off and on, and walls that suddenly turn into doors and vice-versa. His threats result in his being found floating down the river a couple of days later.

Meanwhile, a party is progressing at the American Embassy where the Queen of Finland is present with her fabulous jewels. Colonel Bothwell enters the embassy, only to be accosted by Captain Dick Shannon of the Scotland Yard and told in no uncertain terms that his cover was blown and that he (Bothwell, that is) was none other than Slick Smith, a smooth operator from the US. Shannon decides to see him off. But Smith is not the only person interested in the jewels, there is soon the entry of Dora Elton latched on to the arms of Lacy (Do big-boned men have such names?!) Marshalt, an MP from South Africa and incidentally the neighbour of that old man Malpas whom we met earlier on. Laker had expressed his surprise at Malpas taking a house next to Marshalt since the former was actually robbing the latter. But these are things that minions do not understand.

Anyway,Marshalt's companion that night, Dora Elton and her husband Martin Elton too are interested in the jewels. And it only surprises our hero Shannon that before the night is quite over, the queen's jewels are taken away from her at gun -point.

Meanwhile a girl wraps up her life at a chicken farm in a village and sets out for London, desirous of meeting her sister, Dora. What Audrey Bedford doesn't know is that this decision of hers would not only change her life but the lives of many others as secret from the past tumble out.



So, what did I think of my first Wallace? It was good in parts but there being so many things interwined together both in the past and the present that it needed a more detailed exposition in the end rather than a hurried closure which it unfortunately has. However, one twist had me completely bowled over and for that I am keen to read more of Wallace.

*


First Line: The fog, which was later to descend upon London, blotting out every landmark, was as yet a grey, misty threat.

Publication Details: E. Book
First Published: 1924
Pages: n.pag
Source: Project Gutenberg Australia
Other books read of the same author: None

*

Entry for FFB @ Pattinase

Selected Reading for the 1924 Club @ Stuck in a Book



Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lest We Forget: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Though it is one of the defining moments of the twentieth century, I have little idea about the war in Vietnam. What I know are the broadest of details: Vietnam (then called IndoChina) was a French colony. Sometime in the mid-twentieth century, the Vietnamese people under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh rose against their colonial masters. As is wont, the imperial masters never leave without a bitter parting kick and thus Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam with an agreement that the partition would terminate soon. However, the elections were never held and instead the North and South went to war. The US entered the war, helping the government of the South against that of the North, which it suspected of being helped by the Communist regimes of the world. The ensuing conflict was brutal and bloody. It is a depressing summary and too reminiscent of the way history has played itself out in many post-colonial countries.

I know there are many facets to the war. And if I want, I can just press a button and google will take me to many informative sites detailing the nuances of the war but I resist doing that, more interested in reading how the war plays itself out in the imaginative consciousness of the people. Whether it be as beautiful as Graham Greene's The Quiet American or as banal as the Star Trek episode A Private Little War.

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried belongs to the first category. Beautiful, evocative, poetic, gut-wrenching, part memoir, part fiction, part fact, part imagination, it is difficult to pigeonhole the book in one genre.



The narrator, now a middle-aged veteran of the war, looks back at his younger confused self who did not want to be part of the war. He was young and the world was promising. But then came the draft notice and though he tried to run away from it - both literally and figuratively - in the end he found himself enlisting in the army because he could not go against the public opinion which saw it as its patriotic duty to stop the communists. Part of the Alpha Company where the average age was nineteen, he grew close to his comrades-in-arms Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Kiowa, Azar, Henry Sanders. The book belongs as much to him as to them: those who died, those who lived, and those who only partly-lived...



At one point, the narrator states that a true war story is one that is gut-wrenching and gives an example of one in which a soldier takes out his anger at the killing of a friend at a baby buffalo. The painful death meted out to the baby (not calf, mind you) is truly gut wrenching and you do not know whom to blame for this terrible state of affairs.

But my favourite was 'Speaking of Courage' about Norman Bowker who returns from the battle-fields but cannot forgive himself for not being able to save a friend. Round and round, the town he goes but cannot connect with anything. It is as though he was the one who died in that stinking mud.




In the end, here are some beautiful passages from the book:


Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased when there is nothing to remember except the story. 36

He was a witness, like God, or like the gods, who look on in absolute silence a we live our lives, as we make our choices or fail to make them. 57

What happened to her, Rat said, was what happened to all of them. You come over clean and you get dirty and then afterward it's never the same. A question of degree. Some make it intact, some don't make it at all. 109

That high elegant voice. Someday, when the war was over, I'd go to London and ask Mary Hopkin to marry me. That's another hing Nam does to you. It turns you sentimental; it makes you want to hook up with girls like Mary Hopkin. You learn, finally. that you'll die, and so you  try to hang on to your life, that gentle, naive kid you used to be, but then after a while the sentiment takes over, because you know for a fact that you can't ever bring any of it back again. You just can't. Those were the days, she sang.


*

Go, get yourself a copy now.Very highly recommended.



*

First Line: First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in Nw Jersey.

Publication Details: NY: Houghton Muffin, 2010.
First Published: 1990
Pages: 233
Source: CRL [0111,3N46,TT NO]
Other books read of the same author: None
Trivia: A New York Times Book of the Century
Winner of the Prix Du Meilleur Livre Etranger (France)
Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize




Friday, October 9, 2015

Forgotten Book: An English Murder by Cyril Hare

Cyril Hare is the pseudonym of  Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark, an English judge and writer of mysteries. I had heard of Hare but had not read him before reading his most popular book: An English Murder. First published in 1951, this is a Country House mystery in which the merry season of Christmas turns into one of ill-will and murder.




The War is over. England may have won the war but she has lost her empire and in the new Welfare State, the old grand houses are dying, the lower classes are upwardly mobile, and even fascism is not quite dead.





Lord Warbeck invites a few family members and friends to his home, Warbeck Hall, realising that this might be his last Christmas. Among the invitees are his son, Robert who heads a fledgling fascist party called the League of Liberty and Justice; Lady Camilla Prendergast, a distant relative, another woman, Mrs. Carstairs wife of an upcoming politician Alan Carstairs; Sir Julius Warbeck, an MP and cousin of Lord Warbeck; and Dr. Bottwink, a professor from Prague who has suffered the concentration camps of the Third Reich.

It is an odd assorted group and there is trouble right from the beginning. Robert hates the professor and Julius, because one is a Jew and the other is somebody whom he holds responsible for bringing in all the legislative laws that are ending the privileges of the aristocrats. He is further troubled by his own personal commitments. The Professor and the MP, in their turn, dislike Robert intensely. Julius, further, doesn't have much regard for Mrs. Carstairs who he thinks is a little too ambitious as regards her husband. Camilla has her own personal problems, all of which revolve around Robert and Mrs. Carstairs has only praise for her husband, Alan, while belittling everybody else. The servants, too are put off since Sir Julius arrived with a detective and they are not prepared to serve him as a guest. Meanwhile the butler, Briggs has his own troubles while and his ambitious daughter, Susan, harbours a secret.

With so much of animosity, it is no wonder that soon cruel words are being exchanged and then the murderer strikes. One death follows another and another. Now it is for the remaining guests and servants, to survive the snow storm and each other,




I enjoyed the mystery because of its depiction of Post-War England, because of the explanation provided to Bottwink regarding English customs, and for the fact that despite there being only a handful of suspects, the author kept me guessing. Much recommended.



*
First Line: Warbeck Hall is reputed to be the oldest inhabited house in Markshire.
Publishing Details: London: Faber & Faber, 1951
First Published: 1951
Pages: 235
Source: Downloaded from here
Other books read of the same author: None

*

Submitted for FFB, today @ Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom

Challenging Myself: An Update and a Change

On 15th September, I challenged myself to read three books that had long been on my wishlist: Victor Hugo's Les Miserable, and Ninety Three, and Upton Sinclair's The Cry for Justice. Now while I have finished the first one (review coming soon) and am reading the third one, I find myself at a loss regarding Ninety Three. Of late, things being pretty hectic, I have been unable to go to the library to borrow it. So I am changing it with another book that again has been on my wishlist for long: Fredric Jameson's Marxism and Form. Hopefully, I'd have read and reviewed all three by 15th October.






Thursday, October 8, 2015

The October 8th Challenge

Last year, Mystery aficionado, Noah Stewart @ Noah's Archives, launched the October 8th challenge, a bingo-style challenge that challenged one not merely to read but to reflect and write upon mysteries written during the golden period of detection. I had a look at it but wasn't too sure whether I was up to it. But this year, determined to write more, I asked Noah whether he had plans to host the challenge for another year and he kindly consented to extend it for a year.

So, if you want to sign-up for the challenge too, you can do it this year.

Here's the colourful Bingo card:

And here is where you can get all the details.

Mount TBR: Check-In

It is time for the third check-in of the year at the Mount TBR challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.


Well, my progress has been painfully slow this year. I have reviewed only four books from my shelves till date which means I have climbed just one more mile since my last check-in.

Here are the books read:

Ajey Krantikari Rajguru
Amar Shahid Chandrashekhar Azad
Bhagat Singh: Liberation's Blazing Star
Deshdrohi 

Bev has also asked us a few questions:

Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

Deshdrohi (The Traitor) by Yashpal had been on my TBR mountain the longest - since 1998. the best part of the novel was its locales: From The North-West Frontier in British India, to Afghanistan, to Soviet Russia, to Bombay, to Delhi... it was interesting to read about these places and the changes in society during the war years of the forties. So, all in all, I am glad to have read the book.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Forgotten Book:THE GHOST OF FLIGHT 401 by JOHN G. FULLER


On the night of 29 December, 1972, Eastern flight No. 401, took off from the JFK airport at New York to fly towards Miami. It carried 163 passengers and 13 crew members. Its pilot was the 55 year Robert Loft who had a vast experience of flying before him. The flight went-off smoothly but just as they were preparing for landing at Miami, the cockpit crew discovered that the landing gear indicator did not glow green. That meant that the nose gear wasn't properly locked in the down-position. The problem was conveyed to the tower at Miami and then putting the plane on auto-pilot, the cock-pit crew - Pilot Loft, Co-Pilot Albert Stockstill, Flight-Engineer Don Repo, and technical officer, Angelo Donadeo got busy ascertaining whether the landing gear was down. Meanwhile, the auto-pilot got disconnected and the plane started losing altitude The controller at Miami tower too did not have the plane in view and in those split-seconds in which the pilots discovered the descent, the plane crashed into the swamps of Florida Everglades. Stockstill died instantly, Loft soon after, Repo survived two days in the hospital before succumbing to his injuries. All in all 102 (97 passengers and 5 crew members) people died in the crash - one of the deadliest in the history of aviation.



But the story does not end over here. Eastern used the reusable parts of the plane in its fleet. And then the visitations began. Captain Loft, Don Repo, Pat Ghyssels and Stephanie Stanich, the twoflight attendants who too had perished in the crash, started making appearances in other flights, warning the crew of any difficulty or danger ahead. Eastern, of course, denied all such reports but there are unconfirmed reports that it not only removed the parts of the ill-fated flight from its other planes but also got them exorcised.



I had no clue about all this before I read John G Fuller's book on the subject. It is a well-researched book, with the author meeting the survivors; the bereaved family members; those who saw the ghosts appearing; those who would not open their mouth because of the pressure by the company bosses but nevertheless helped the author; the records that Eastern destroyed...all of them tell the story. A ghost story, that according to the author did not happen in a castle or an abandoned house but in the most modern of settings: a jumbo jet-liner.



And what about the indicator that would not glow and thus was the cause of the tragedy Later investigations found out that it was because of a fused bulb. The landing gear was in its place but the bulb was fused. A fused bulb!

*

First Line: I have been conditioned all my life to think that there are no such things as ghosts.
Publishing Details: NY: Berkley Medallion, 1978
First Published: 1976
Pages: 272
Source: H.M.L [F.F. 93]
Other books read of the same author: None

*

Submitted for FFB @ Pattinase


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Literature of India: The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar

More than any other kind of novel, I expect the Historical novel to have memorable characters. The past already provides events of great interest which the writer weaves into the plot but it is really the characters that make us care about their life and times.

And this is where David Davidar's debut novel The House of Blue Mangoes fails.




The story which begins in the last year of the nineteenth century and ends almost fifty years later in 1947, with an India free but brutally cleaved, and which chronicles the rise-and-fall of three generations of the Dorai family, does not provide a single character whose fate interested me or with whom I could find any connect.

The novel has its moments as when an aimless and bitter Aaron Dorai joins a fledgling revolutionary group and then realises that he will have to shoot a man:

How do you kill a man? In cold blood? If you're a man like any other, a thinking, feeling, insecure man trying to lead a reasonable life, a man who is not in the grip of a great rage, a normal man, how do you kill a man who has done you no harm? Do you think of him as a disgusting envelope of shit and piss and dirty thoughts, whom it'd be a blessing to erase from the pitiful piece of earth he occupies? Or do you paint him as a monster that you can eliminate him with ease? The realization dawned on them that no amount of prevarication could conceal the awful truth - that their target was a man not very different from themselves, who lived and breathed, who could be so wearied by living that on occasion he could think how blissful it would be to live no more, but yet went on, day after day, getting on with the business of living, trying to keep his wife and children fed. Was it possible, through some extraordinary sleight of mind, to see this poor ineffectual functionary of the state as the ENEMY? Could they? Could they?

...Madhavan's voice came to him. 'The stomach. Fill your mind with your frustrated contempt for me, you spineless fool, fill it with your desperate desire to make some sense of your wasted life and put a bullet in this good man's stomach.'



The passages describing the horrendous treatment merited out to the revolutionaries in prisons by the British superintendent are gut-wrenching and some passages at the end are evocative as the last thoughts of a dying man:

...Mostly, I regretted the things I hadn't done, I thought about quarrels that hadn't been resolved, I thought about matters left incomplete. It's one of the paradoxes of life, and is something that each one of you will discover, that your achievements, your successes, your crowning glories do not matter to you at the end of your life. No, no, no, if I leave you with nothing else, I leave you with this piece of wisdom - it's your regrets that stay with you till you die.

And this brilliant piece about the passage of time:

A statue fleshed in stone would rise in Meenakshikoil; three streets would be named after him. Doraipuram would remember Daniel for at least a generation. And those who knew him would remember him too for a while. Barely two decades later, sun, sand and water would begin eroding the statue. His name would survive a couple of decades longer and then he would become just a landmark with no resonance - turn right at the Dorai statue roundabout and go straight to get to the Madras Ulundu Vadai Cafe.




At times, tilted towards a Western readership, the book is okay for a one-time read.

*

First Line: SPRING 1899
Publication Details: ND: Viking, 2002
First Published: 2002
Pages: 421
Source: CL [823 D28H]
Other books read of the same author: None