That Day, Way Back…..

Life as usual continues to play hide seek with some sunshine and a lot of rain! Therefore this post which should have been up 10 days ago, finally goes live NOW! One late night, 8 years ago, absolutely frustrated with the commercial and maudlin sentimentality around , I took to the blogosphere to share my unprecedented, and complete abhorrence for the celebration of Valentine’s Day. It was a rant, and I did not think much about it, but somewhere the rant, became a habit, the habit led to opening of mind, the opening of mind, led to new books and interesting discussions and those discussions led to friendships all the way round the world, with men and women I have never met, but whose affections and support has helped me navigate through losses and reach out for the triumphs! All I can say, I am so darn glad, I started this blog, 8 years ago, I did not see how far this journey would go, I did not know if I would still be writing 8 years later, and I had no ideas, I would become part of tribe – wonderful, warm and mine!

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8 years seems a long time and what at the age of 29 I disdained, I can now look back with tolerant amusement, if not humor! Therefore in honor of the eventful day that started off this journey, I thought I would do a fun post on what I consider 8 most endearing romances in the world of Fiction. It seemed like a wiser and indulgent commemorative to the scathing blog journey that I began so many years ago –

  1. Sir Samuel Vimes and Lady Sybil from the Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett – As many of you know I am a die hard, completely committed to the alter of Sir Terry Pratchett and his brilliant Discworld type of a fan. While, Captain Carrot and Sargent Angua are a razzle -dazzle couple of Ankh-Morpork (the greatest city in Discworld) in terms of relationship goals, I cannot but feel that Sir Samuel Vimes and Lady Sybil set a new heights. They come from the opposite sides of the world, he grew up at Shades and she is aristocracy, he is cynical, she is wise, he does not marry her for money and she does not care that at the start of series he is only a Captain Vimes. They support each other, care for each other and often do things they do not want to do, because, I guess that is what being together is!
  2. Ron and Hermoine from Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – I do not care what could have been and what was intended, to me the relationship between Ron and Hermoine is just what it ought to be. The Smart girl, does not go with the Boy Prince, but rather with the friend, who opened his home, his heart and even his corn beef sandwiches when Harry was alone and orphaned. Sure, he acts like a Dork and sure he makes mistakes, but he realises and goes out of his way to correct them and that is the essence of any relationship – not that we do not make mistakes, but we correct them!
  3. Ann Elliot and Fredrick Wentworth from Persuasions by Jane Austen – In  Ann Elliot and Fredrick Wentworth, the incomparable Ms. Austen, created a couple whose maturity of age and love sustains, separation, misunderstanding, rise and fall of fortunes and still endures. Away from the more light hearted approach of her usual novels, in this Austen classic,  Second chances do not happen, but rather come together, when you have you have loved none but one, through every single obstacle and doubt.
  4. Princess Julie and Captain Ashton Pelham Akbar Martin from The Far Pavillions by MM Kaye – Among the revolutions, the Afghan wars and the varied history of British India, is the love story of an Indian Princess and a British Army Officer. Brought up together, and separated by social, economic and cultural requirements, their love endures, in the most heart rendering sacrifice to duty and honor when hope was all over and until, fates brought them together again. In Princess Julie, the author had created a character like any other, whose only strength in the darkest despair is her belief that she did her duty and her love, which she sacrificed for the duty. Ash Martin was of course a revolutionary hero sketched by Ms. Kaye, brought as a Hindu until the age of 8, he is an Indian soul in British body and his rootlessness only finds home with a Princess among the distant mountains of Himalayas
  5.  Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from The Green Gables series by LM Montgomery– They start with sibling like arguments, to companions in adult years, to falling in love and setting up a home together. It is one of the most simplest, naturalist and beautifully moving romances, rooted in love, respect and the realities of the world that surround us!
  6. Cal Trask and Abra Bacon from East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I believe this is one of the most underestimated couples of Literature and I have no idea why. Cal is a flawed character whose choices lead to disastrous results. Abra is hardly perfect, she is after all the girlfriend of his brother Aron, though it evident that they are growing apart and is the daughter of man implicated in financial crimes. Yet, it is Abra who gives hope to Cal, she makes him return home, and along with Lee, helps him seek the forgiveness of his father.  If this is not the perfect partnership, where we elevate each other, I do not know what is!
  7. Royce Westmoorland and Jennifer Merrick from A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught – As a teenager, I read a lot of romances by Judith McNaught; they were all a typical romances of strong silent rich heroes and heroines who are poor but proud and there is a lot passion. Yes we all make mistakes, even in books. However this historical romance stands out; yes Royce Westmoorland is hardly a noble or gallant man and Jennifer Merrick needs to use her head more, but set in 14th century as England and Scotland wage brutal wars, suddenly, there is rich and complex history making the tension in the romance very understandable and the love, betrayal and finally forgiveness,  all very as comprehensible country and nation and love forces people till date to make unimaginable choices!
  8. Elizabeth Bennett and Fritzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Yes I know cliche, yes, I know everyone knows everything there is to know about these two iconic characters and yes, I will still put them on the list because they redefine romance and equality couple goals!

That’s my list, and I am curious to know what you all consider as exemplary fictional couples! Do let me know!

To end, a big shout out to all my tribe for all their love and support over the years, that made 8 years seems like yesterday and a big thank you to all my readers, who patiently, and kindly not only read my posts, but comment and like and have done that for years! This blog still continues despite storms, because of all of you!

The End of January

The first month of the now not so new year is over and with it, some of newness of 2019. One month into the year, work is as crazy as ever, like I never went away and the usual cycle of Dad in the hospital made me realize the more things change, the more the remain the same! But the key is not to give into the doom-gloom but believe and hang on and with some good friends and great books, life is not all that unmanageable!

So what did I read this first month of 2019?

Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys (Thank You Cleo for the great recommendation!)

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How happy we were, and how little we realized how nice it was to be lazy and happy, without fear and anxiety and horror knocking at the back of one’s brain like a little gnome with a hammer.

Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise

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I’m gonna have to get my eyes checked. I can’t see crap until it’s right in front of me

The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’ Neil

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“I am as flawed as any” he said

“I know, I see you, you know!”

Early Indians by Tony Joseph

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When the first group of modern humans walked into India, perhaps no more than a few hundred people in groups of twenty or twenty-five, trekking all the way from the Arabian peninsula over hundreds of years or perhaps even a thousand or more years, did they have a cosmology of their own that tried to explain the inexplicable? And did they have any inkling that they were entering a special place that more than a billion of their descendants would one day call their home

So I read, one classic, two popular fiction and one non fiction! I can unequivocally state, of all the 4, Joyce Dunning’s book was the best and maybe for the month of February, I should stick to tried and tested, aka, Classics.

Speaking of Classics, I am reading, Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope as part of and Jane and Cleo have joined me for a read along! This book was a personal favorite of Trollope himself and is considered to be one of the best introductions to his work! It is a chunkster at 700 pages, but we take it slow and easy through February and if need be March! So join us for this Victorian sojourn and together, we can enrich our minds and have some fun while doing it!

 

 

The 20 Questions….

I know these posts are taking longer than expected and at this point I am averaging one post a month, which like really really sucks! But things are rather more complicated than resolved and though I am coping better, and it is more minor random things than real big time life changers that seem to be consuming my time, they do consume a LOT of my time and a moment of breathing space is hard won! Be that as it may, I did again want to drop in and drop a note and perhaps do a fun post! Fortunately, I found this very interesting 20 questions post over at wherethereisinkthereispaper and I decided, to follow suit, just for some laughs and bookish memories!

1. How many books are too many books in a book series?

Honestly it depends on the book and the writing. Harry Potter sustained me through all 7 books maybe not with equal intensity but enough interest through each book; Conn Iggulden’s 4 part The Conquer Series based on Genghiz Khan’s life and times is another of my favorites and one of my go to every time I need a book on audacity and courage. Percy Jackson lost me after book 2 as did Deborah Harkness’s All Soul’s Trilogy (Vampire – Witch) Trilogy and I did not even get past page 40 of Twilight! Its story and the writing and no book in a series is one too many for me if it is good!

2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?

Again I think it depends on the writing. I could not really believe that Sirius Black was really dead after Book 5 in the Harry Potter series and kept imagining it as a “cliffhanger” for some reason or the other. Similarly I was left angsty after almost every turn of fortune in Conn Iggulden’s War of Roses series and just when I decided for York, something of the Lancaster House got me and I spent the entire seies being anxious which was not particularly fun! To end, I do understand the need to keep the reader “hooked on” but as a reader I am not very sure I like it! It depends on the book and the type of cliffhanger that it ends on.

3. Hardback or Paperback?

I love the quiet elegance and majesty of a hardback; but economics makes paperback so much for viable , so paperbacks it is!

4. Favourite Book?

I cannot even begin to attempt to answer this one…..the list is too long and I am fortunate to have read books which have enriched my mind and my life. If you are still curious, please visit my GoodReads shelf.

5. Least Favourite Book?

Again I cannot even attempt to list this one. With the good comes the bad and you have to wade through many horrific works to find a book that sears your soul or even remotely makes sense. Again please visit my GoodReads shelf if you are curious!

6. Love Triangle, Yes or No?

No! Nix! Never! Don’t like them in life and don’t like reading them in books. Have not read the Outlander Series because, it smells of Love Triangle!

7. The most recent book you couldn’t finish?

Ms. Treadway and The Field of Stars by Miranda Emmerson….it started as something and ended up as something and I gave up almost at the end….just did not have the enthusiasm to carry on! I

8. A book you’re currently reading?

Lack of time is limiting my reading abilities, but still current under Reading, the following –

· Belonging – The Story of Jews (1492-1900) by Simon Schama

· New Forest by Edward Rutherford

· The First Firangis: Remarkable Stories of Heroes, Healers, Charlatans, Courtesans & other Foreigners who Became Indian by Jonathan Harris Gill

· The Kings Justice by E.M. Powell

9. Last book you recommended to someone?

I have read some great stuff this year, especially in the first half which was way more prolific than my second half where I practically gave up on all literary activities. However, there are three books which come to my mind, which I feel very strongly about and have practically developed an Evangelical zeal of getting new converts –

· Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

· February: Selected Poetry by Boris Pasternak; Translated by Andrew Kneller

· The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

10. Oldest book you’ve read? *publication date*

I think it’s from the top of my head and skimming superficially through the top layer shelves, it’s a toss up between Mahabharata (circa. 9th Century BCE) and The Metamorphosis by Ovid (circa.8 AD)

11. Newest book you’ve read? *publication date*

Dear Mrs Bird by A.J.Pearce

12. Favourite Author?

Oh! Man! Another question I cannot answer; but in interest of sustaining the reader’s interest, here are a couple

· Jane Austen

· Rabindranath Tagore

· Boris Pasternak – Poetry Only

· John Steinbeck

· JK Rowling

· Conn Iggulden

· Harper lee

· Charles Dickens

· LM Montgomery

· Fyodor Dostoyevsky

· Author Conan Doyle

· Bakim Chandra

Well….you did ASK!!

13. Buying books or Borrowing books?

Buying! I like to own the books I read….it’s a relationship!

14. A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love?

I am going to get brickbats for this one, but I have two infact whose fasciantion does not makes sense –

· Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Mad, Obsessive Man and Class Conscious Chick….why is this thing so popular???!!!!)

· Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurer ( Scardy mouse heroine who is forever wandering around in what can only be called ridiculous circumstance moaning about a husband who is older and quieter than her! Go Figure!)

15. Bookmarks or Dog-ears?

Bookmarks only! Thou shall not speak of something as ghastly as Dog-Ears!

16. A book you can always re-read?

Again, sigh! Too many too list!

17. Can you read while hearing music?

Totally – Mostly Western Classical or Jazz instrumental!.

18. One POV or Multiple POV?

Again depends on the writing, but I do feel more than 3 becomes a bit too taxing to follow!

19. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?

I know this is repetitive but depends on the book. Some I finish over one sitting, some take days and diligence to finish, some start off as a one sitting and then linger of multiple days and then some I linger on, because I do not want to finish!

20. A book you’ve read because of the cover?

Many but most recently Jerusalem Simon Sebag Montfort; I am still making up my mind about that book!

There you have it, my twenty questions! This was super fun! Let me know what your bookish quirks are and maybe we can compare more notes!

The Cook Investigates

Couple of weeks back, as part of Penguin’s First To Read program, I had the good luck to get a copy of Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley. The book is expected to come out next year and I was glad to get a copy of what seemed like a good, old fashioned crime thriller to take my mind off the unnecessary and pointless events happening around me!

The novel is set in Victorian England, and opens with Cook Kat Holloway, starting her first day as the cook at the Rankin household at Mayfair, London. Lord Rankin is in some kind of stock brokering business, through which he has resurrected the family’s tottering fortune. He is married to Lady Emily, and resides in the Mayfair house, with her and her elder sister, Lady Cynthia. Lady Cynthia and Lady Emily are the daughter’s of the colorful Lord Clifford, who has done away with most of his inherited fortune, by a wild living and has no money for his surviving daughters. Lady Cynthia, is a bit of an eccentric, dressing up in gentleman’s clothes and doing all kinds of activities, considered to be the domain of men! The household servants are under the tutelage of Mr. Davis, a sleek but kind, efficient and gossipy butler, Mrs, Bowen, reticent but effective housekeeper, several other maids and footman and Ellen who is the assistant cook to Kat. Kat’s first day turns out to be way more than she bargained for; first she has to help Lady Cynthia take care of an injured man, whom she accidentally hurt with her carriage. Then she decides to take up the coffee to Lord Rankin, when the latter asks for the same to be sent up by Ellen, after realizing that Lord Rankin is in a habit of getting sexually free with the maids. Deciding to put a stop to such activities with the servants under her purview, Kat takes up the coffee to Lord Rankin’s library, only to discover an angry master and his guest – the mysterious Daniel McAdams. Daniel McAdams, is a friend of Kat’s who has helped her out in past from sticky situations and is a mystery man , associated in some capacity with the Legal arm of the government, and who usually moves around the city of the London, under the guise of a delivery man and man on hire.  Seeing Daniel at Lord Rankin in formal attire, surprises Kat though, she does not give away her knowledge of Daniel to her employer and makes her suspect, that there is more to things in the household than meets the eyes. Things come to a head next morning, when going to the larder, Kat finds the dead body of poor Ellen. It is now up to her and Daniel to figure who is involved and why, before more violence is committed!

The premises of the books of course intrigued me from the go – Victorian England, a Cook and a murder mystery; what is there not to like. The characters developed by the author are quite enjoyable. Kat is an exceptionally kind, but firm and efficient heroine, who lays no tuck with nonsense or sentimentality. She does good work and takes care of people she loves and cares. The Lord and Lady Rankin are typical of their position, rich and bored and with  minimal interest in the lives whose very livelihood and existence depends on them and whose safety and security are their responsibility! In Lady Cynthia, we find a character who must have seemed at odd with the norms of the then prudish Victorian Society and she seemed capable of understanding and empathizing with the lesser fortunate, despite the difficult situation that life had placed her in. I wish Ms. Ashley had focused a little more into this very interesting character and evolved her a bit more! Daniel McAdam was ….well, Daniel McAdam. Much later in the series I realized why I was not finding much to root for the hero; Ms. Ashley is a RITA Award winning author of several best selling historical romance, and Daniel McAdam seems to have come out of those novels. He is good looking, brave, smart with smoldering attraction for Kat and yet seems to hold back some mystery and yada yada yada! Nope, he seemed to be there to add romance and I would have much preferred a tobacco chewing, fat, married Inspector with a paternal interest or something like that helping Kat out, instead of a hero out of one of Harlequin Romances! This brings me to the part of the novel that I did not like – the writing! Kat’s heart throbs or beats wildly or some such boring cliche. I could not glean any originality of thought or emotions from the novel, and once again I felt, the romantic themes of a historical romance were transplanted into this book, making some of writing, just plain, incongruous with the plot and the setting. The plot however is good and Ms. Ashley had done extensive research to get the finer details right!  One of few books, where the protagonist not only investigates, but also does his/her day job; Kat plans and cooks meals for the Upstairs and we get a very interesting insight into the food and eating habits of the Victorian England. The politics and social structure while not explored in detail, however came across as accurate and adds a fine layer, to the novel setting! The ending seemed a tad bit improbable, but I must confess, this was one of the very few modern whodunit variety, where I could not guess, who actually did it, till the very end!

Finally, to end, I would only say, it a good read, for those nights, when you need a blanket, a bowl of soup/mug of coffee or any other beverage of your choice and curl up with a book, where you do not stress your intellect, and are simply looking for entertainment and an temporary exit from the real world!

 

The Welsh Prince & The English King

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman had been lying dormant in my Kindle for more than 3 years. I would start and stop, barely making it beyond the first 20 odd pages over 900 days, never really finding it gripping enough to pursue further; despite it being a work of Historical Fictions, which as all know is my especial weakness. Somehow, the work did not seem to settle with me  and it lay abandoned for years! However recently,  as work pressure kept increasing, I looked about for an easy but not particularly frivolous read, and Here Be Dragons again came up as I dug through my collection. An ever optimist, I thought I will give the novel yet another try, my umpteenth plus one attempt! And this time, surprise, surprise, I succeeded!

The novel is set in 13th century Wales and England, tracing the life of the foremost Prince of Wales, Llewelyn and his work in uniting the split kingdom of Wales into one united nation. The story begins with 10 year old Llewelyn who is trying adjust to the counties of England, homesick for the wildness of his native Wales and angry at the murder of his father by his uncles, in a bid to conquer Northern Wales, which was ruled by the  former. His mother had now remarried into the powerful Corbet clan and while he had a kindly step father, Llewelyn yearned for his homeland. Opportunity finally come by way of the death of his mother’s brother and which brings the family back to Wales and it is at this point the 14 year old Llewelyn begins his bid for his inheritance in Northern Wales with sights much higher of uniting and ruling one undivided Wales! Across the border, trouble is brewing in England. Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s sons are at conflict with each other, in the pursuit of the English crown. Death and wars, eliminate all Princes, until the contest is down to only two – the legendary Richard and John. John, the errant  young Prince knows he can never match up to the military genius of his brother, and instead intrigues and plots for the crown he desperately wants, often failing and seeking intervention of Eleanor’s for a pardon from his powerful brother. Among such changing political dynamics, John discovers he has an illegitimate daughter from a  Norman nobelwoman who is now dead and whose family refuses to take any accountability of the child. John brings this 5 year old girl, Joanne to his establishment and brings her up as his daughter, showering her with love and care, through his marriage to Isabelle, a girl barely two years older to Joanne and through his ascendancy to the throne of England when Richard dies during yet another battle for the Holy Crusade. Joanne, often neglected and berated by her mother, thrives in the affection that she now receives and her heart and loyalty to John brooks no hindrances to her father’s wishes even when the she receives the alarming news of her father having betrothed her to the Llewelyn, at the age of 14, exiling her to a land she does not know and a language she does not understand. As she ventures into this new life and land, she discovers, an extraordinary land and an extraordinary man, who now claims her affections and loyalty, by the sheer kindness and goodness as he helps her navigate through the intricacies of the Welsh court and culture. However as tension, increases between John and Llewelyn, Joanne will be forced to take sides, and make choices between the two men, who form the very pillars of her life!

I am so glad that I finally managed to read this novel. While the whole tagging of “historical romance” initially put me off, I realized as I read through the pages, that not only was this tagging incorrect but misleading! Ok, so there is romance between Llewelyn and Joanne, but it is just one of the many other elements of the book. Somewhere around page 200 or so, they get married and there is brief romance, but after that, the book is about the life they built together, the children and the dynamics between Joanne and Llewelyn’s step son and of course, the extremely volatile and constant changing politics in England, including the epoch making signing of Magna Carta and the recognition of Wales as a independent kingdom. Ms. Penman provides deep insight into history with details on who, what, where and why. She wonderfully crafts out the characters . with much sympathy and understanding. Her King John is both a wonderful father/husband and  a kind hearted liege lord and at the same time  he is also an intriguing distrustful autocratic ruler. The central character of Llewelyn is of course absolutely magnificent – a brilliant military leader, a great political mind, with incredible maturity and patience, whose of love of life sweeps away not only the fictional characters, but also the reader. The other supporting characters, including Isabella, Richard, the other illegitimate son of John, Rhys and Catherine are very well drawn out and support the main cast brilliantly. The only person I could not really understand was Joanne – while I sympathized with the orphan and I understood the divided loyalties of a 15 year old, her later actions, which I understand are actually a historical fact, left me completely cold. Ms. Penmen made much effort to do away such blemishes from her character and she succeeds to a great extent , but I guess I have a closed mind and some things to me are beyond understanding. The language is easy to read and the highlighting events of the era are all captured, wonderfully capsuled and presented in wonderful background. Often historical novels, become history books instead of works of fiction, because of the in-depth history, that the authors get into. Ms. Penman manages to find a happy balance between serious history and creative fiction, making this novel a wonderful read!

Its a 800 page chunkster, but I seriously recommend sticking to it till the end!

New Month, One Rant & Some Old Books

The first month of 2017 is now over and to think 2017 had started! Time flies when you especially need more time! Don’t ask me why!

Anyhow February is here and I always have mixed feelings about this month. I get my annual bonus which is GREAT! Winter is still around, albeit to a lesser degree! Then this month, marks the celebration of Hindu Festival where we worship the Goddess of Knowledge, Saraswati – my personal favorite goddess, especially since the Goddess of Wealth, Lakhshmi is determine NEVER to look at me! But this month also brings on all the yucks and ughs related to the much hyped and completely commercialized Valentine’s day! I mean why the HELL do you need a special day to declare your love; I mean if you are in love with someone, why do you need to wait for bloody Feb 14th to express the same! Even the most sane and rational creatures become ridiculous to the point I do not want to know them. For instance, one of the most rational individuals that I know with brains of a genius and a heart of gold has suddenly taken to social network posting love coated honey dripped messages for his fiance which makes me want to take out my Kate Middleton barf bag!! Ugh! I mean do not get me wrong, I am a die hard romantic and I love this couple who are two of most wonderful people I know and have the good fortune to call friends, but WHY the HELL does the 500+ friends on FB have to sit by and listen to your undying and unending declarations of love, considering they will be attending you wedding in less than a month and witness it live anyway??? I am not being Groucho Marx but this day is beyond ridiculous! The other day I went to buy a dress for some social event I need to attend and all I could see was red and purple….I mean really? The half brained sales assistant infact tried to see me a red velvet monstrosity saying it was perfect for Valentines’s assuming naturally if I am buying a dress in this season, well duh! it has to for the stupid Valentine’s day!!!! What the hell is wrong with you people? Ok…deep breaths! Rant over! February also means Spring which is like two weeks in this geography will follow and then….shudder!horror! Summers are here! Oh! I need to migrate to some colder climate, I CANNOT take this heat any longer!

Atleast there are books to tide me over! Unfortunately I am as I had foreseen at the beginning of the year, very limited time of reading and when I do find time to read, I have very little energy to tackle a classic as much as I love reading it! My brain aches for some light reading and I am constantly worried that I will lose all my intellect if I keep perusing, you know light weight material! So I march forward, trying to complete The Histories with Herodutus. I am also trying to get a move on Captivity by György-Spiró, though like The Histories, my progress is beyond slow! My consolation – well, slow and steady, the tortoise did win the race! I am also loving Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus; this alternate historic telling of India’s past is very interesting, though I seem to disagree with her at several junctures. I also continue with The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, the only reading event I seem not to be lagging behind. As of now I am simply sticking to calling out these three books since I am sure, I will be randomly reading up other books per my time and mood and what I see on other’s blog! Besides the fact that this month has less days, means more work at work to meet those deadlines!! Can I simply fast-forward the next 1o months and reach December??? I guess not! Oh! Well! Onward Christian Solider and all that!

After my rant, it is only fair that I leave you with some laughs –

The Body in The Cellar

Ok..so this post really belonged to the month of March. But like I keep saying March was a brilliant glittering vacation and lot of unexpected readings, so this kind of went in the back burner! But Dorothy Sayers is Dorothy Sayers and her talent cannot lie hidden for long and I was soon hooked till I reached the finishing line! Busman’s Honeymoon (Lord Peter Wimsy #13 by Dorothy Sayers was my  third Reading England Book for the year, focusing on Hertfordshire and my first ever Dorothy Sayers! Yes! I know! I know! I have spent all my adult years without reading a Dorothy Sayers mystery and you have no idea on which planet I was living in and all that! But what can I say? I just never got around to it! Anyhow lets get on with the book!

Busman’s Honeymoon begins with the wedding of Lord Peter Wimsy to his long standing inamorata Miss Harriet Vane and departing for his honeymoon accompanied by his faithful valet Bunter to a farmhouse in Hertfordshire, a long cherished place of Harriets. However on arriving to the farmhouse, they find the scene quite chaotic, the owner, Noakes, from whom the farmhouse had been bought, is missing and no one, including his niece are even aware that the farmhouse had been sold. As the Wimsy’s try an settle in, they discover creditors looking for Noakes for money that he has not returned and other less savory sides to his character like his borrowing and never returning sums of money from his niece and the gardener and his miser like behavior towards everyone including the upkeep of the farmhouse! Soon all these discoveries are held in suspension, when the body of Noakes is found in the cellar and an investigation is launched to find the killer! The Wimsy’s are unwillingly drawn into the search for the criminal, all the while realizing that the murdered man was a blackmailer, miser and a crook himself and there is more than one person with reasons for hating the former owner of the farmhouse!

Dorothy Sayers in the very introduction of the book says that this is not a murder mystery but a romance, where a murder just happens! Well, it is true, it is a romance, but it also a mystery and it a well knit plot that caters to readers of both genre’s without the mush or the gore, respectively.  Her character’s drawn from a small village hamlet are created to perfection, with a scholarly kindly Vicar, a Superintend of Police trying to do what is best and the gossiping servant. Without playing to the cliche’s Ms. Sayer’s puts together an ensemble that is as brilliant as its life like! The plot is exciting with new twists and turns at every page and an absolutely ingenuous solution in the end!But more than the usual play of great characters and a wonderful plot line, there are some unique factors to this novel, that made it a outstanding read! The book is filled with literary allusions, from Shakespeare to Marlowe to Arnold, all of the greats of English Literature come into play and a marvelously knitted into the dialogues of the book. There are so many authors and poets I recognized and then so many I did not. This literary guessing game, added a whole new layer to the book! Even the title of the book is a colloquial assertion to a bus driver’s holiday – it refers to a  busman, to go off on a holiday, would take an excursion by bus, thereby engaging in a similar activity to his work. I quote directly from my trusty source Wikipedia. We do not rush into the mystery, but are treated to a long prologue of how the marriage happened, how did the relatives react and how the press was decoyed! Similarly, we do not rush out of the book after the culprit is caught, but rather, we are exposed to a human and moving experience of how Wimsey deals with the post investigative time, with allusions to his World War I trauma. The ending especially makes the book sensitive and absolutely unlike any other detective novel series!

In the end, I loved the book and have bought a couple of more Dorothy Sayer’s already. If you are looking for a hard boiled crime whodunit, this may not be the book for you. But if you are looking for a crime fiction, which looks at many other things and has relationships, and literature and fun, this IS the book for you!

Piracy in Restoration England

After much wringing of hand and utter confusion and mental distress, I plodded forth to read Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier as part of my Reading England project, focusing on Cornwall. As many are already aware, I had no patience with Rebecca and completely lost my sanity with Jamaica Inn, why then would I venture to another Du Maurier? What can I say, except I was hoping for third time lucky??!! Not the best logic, but considering there is a huge reading population that swear by Du Maurier, I really really wanted to give her another chance before I shut the door completely, hence the Frenchman’s Creek adventure.

The book is set in Restoration England, and at the very onset, we are introduced to Dona, Lady St. Columb, who has made a hasty departure from the decadent London Court of Charles II and is heading for her husband’s Cornish country estate of Navron with her children. Dona who has been married for six years, has adapted to the life of Charles II court of being vacuousness and frivolity without really ever belonging to it. After an attempted practical joke on a old Countess, that jars Dona to reality, she heads to Navron, seeking peace and trying to find her true self, away from the bustle of London and her clumsy husband Harry. In Navron, she soon discovers, that the county has been pillaged  by attacks from a French pirate and Dona soon learns that Navron which overlooks the creek that flows into the ocean is used by the French pirate as a hideaway. Her exploration of the creek soon brings her in contact with the great Pirate himself and Dona seeking adventure, soon becoming friends and then falls in love with him. She finally agrees to go on piracy expedition with him against one of her neighbor’s vessels. The attack is a success and Dona promises to return to the pirate after she has met her children; however once she is back in Navron, she discovers that Harry and his detestable friend, Rockingham are back with some serious designs of harming the pirate and Dona has very little time to decide on actions that will determine the pirate’s as well as her fate!

Restoration England, Cornwall and Pirates, how bad can the book be? Guess again! It was TERRIBLE! No third time lucky for me. The characters are all ridiculous and unbelievable.Lets start with Dona, she is beautiful and she is bold. That’s the beginning and end of her. She married a man of her choice and them she found him clumsy, though through the novel I could figure out that Harry, albeit clumsy was devoted to Dona. She finds the life of London shallow., after indulging in all manners of shenanigans for six years. She finds Rockingham impertinent, after she allowed him to flirt with her and kiss her. I mean this woman does everything she wants, without thought or deliberation and when the results are not to her liking, she claims boredom and dissatisfaction. The way she treats Harry is disgraceful; she orders him about, never giving him any explanation of her conduct, behaving in a illogical autocratic manner through the novel. In my opinion, Harry should have left her to begin with. Then we have our Frenchman, who is a rich, aristocrat who indulges in  Piracy because of boredom. Arrrrgggghhhh! What is it with this boredom??? Is there no better way to kill it than doing something criminal.The justification Ms. Maurier is quick to point out is that the Frenchman only robbed the rich. I may have lost my common sense here, but being rich is not a crime for which you have to pay through the actions of a Robin Hoodsque character. However stealing last I checked was a crime, regardless whom you steel from! The remaining cast and crew are nothing to write about, there is the cliched loyal servant and the classic evil villain and the goofy nobleman. At least in Jamaica Inn, there was some brilliant and torrid description of the land and climate, that set the stage for the adventure; the language in this book is just placid; it hardly changes or moves, except for one reddening storm, which came and went! There is no originality in the plot nor is there any real thrill and  I kept going simply because I wanted to finish what I had started, as a form a self torture for picking up another Du Maurier.

I know I have sworn this before, but I am truly never ever reading any Du Maurier again! She is completely unbearable. A complete waste of time!

P.S. As I look back on my review of Jamaica Inn, O had warned me that this was a bad book and I had said I would not even venture near it and then I clean FORGOT!! Next time as an act of kindness if you see me attempting another Du Maurier, just point me towards Jamaica Inn review and then this one!

The Girl and The Inn Keeper and Cornwall

Jamaica Inn” was part of my December reading event for Goodreads Women’s Classic Literature Enthusiasts. I already was extremely disappointed with “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier and I had hoped that since my opinion of her work was based on only one book, I should keep an open mind and re-read this one.

The book is set in 1820 in Cornwall around a pub house that apparently still exists or at least used to when Daphne Du Maurier wrote the novel. Mary Yellan has recently been orphaned and her mother’s dying wish is that she sells the farm and goes and stays with her aunt Patience who lives with her husband Joss Merlyn, an Inn Keeper at Jamaica Inn. Mary sells her farm at Helford and travels to reside with her uncle and aunt. She soon discovers that her happy once happy aunt has become a dithering, scared and silly fool under the constant treat and bullying from her husband Joss Merlyn. Mary soon discovers that under the guise of Inn keeping Joss Merlyn actually does illegal smuggling by wrecking ships of Cornish cost. She realizes that her uncle is completely ruthless when one night she over hears him giving order of a murder of one his team members who disagreed with him. Worried about her aunt’s safety and eager to get out of her uncle’s clutches, she concocts various plans to escape from Jamaica Inn; but these go awry as she discovers kinship with Jem Merlyn, the younger brother of her uncle. Confused as to whether to trust Jem or not, she turns for advise to Francis Davey,Vicar of Altarum, an Albino gentleman with all kinds of unforeseen results!

Where do I begin??!! The cast in itself is really bad and clichéd. Mary Yellan enters Jamaica Inn for the first time and is immediately scared of her uncle, then before you can blink your eye, she is defending her aunt? Where does this courage come from and if it was there, why was she so scared in the beginning? She is constantly confused – like Jem/don’t like Jem!! Ye Gods!! Joss Merlyn is the arch-typical villain who has more strength than brains – no prize there for any originality; nor is there any real charm in Jem Merlyn except he is a crook of lower order – his brother kills people( heinous of course!) and Jem steals horses ( a much less horrific crime), but a lesser crime is no excuse for committing it none the less! The worst was characterization was Francis Davey – nonsensical, clichéd and without any foundation. The plot drags and drags and at one point you just want Mary to die or something instead of sitting through another chapter of her traipsing through Cornwall moors. The only redeeming feature of the book is the description of Cornwall and the dark mood that Ms. Du Maurier is able to create through inclement weather and the planning and execution of horrific crimes. That alone provides relief in an otherwise very ordinary work.

Daphne Du Maurier just does not improve on closer acquaintance. I am glad this re-read is over and I am NOT touching a Du Maurier for some time!

The Ripping Reads….

I finally finished two of my RIP IX reads and considering both are masterpieces and everything that could be said has been said about them. Therefore I thought of doing a short combined post on both the books and instead of doing the usual reviews, I thought I will just share some observations that have now stuck me, after my re-readings!

The precedence as always goes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, featuring the greatest of all fictional detectives, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. The book begins with Dr. Watson trying to convince Holmes to give up his use of cocaine and other such substances with Holmes replying that these are the only stimulants that keep his brain active, in the absence of work. This conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Miss Mary Morstan , a young genteel woman, who has been employed in the capacity of a governess and whose regular life has been disturbed by a note which asks her to meet a certain person that evening at six, along with two of her trusted friends, so that a great wrong that has been done to her can be righted. Miss Morstan also reveals that her father had been a Captain in the British India army and posted at Andaman Islands, from where he returned about ten years ago. He then wrote a letter to his daughter, who at time was in a boarding school, asking her to join him in London; that was the last she ever heard of him and he had since disappeared. Finally she states that for the last 6 years, she has received an expensive pearl anonymously. She then requests Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to accompany her in the evening to meet the man who wrote to her. Thus begins, the adventure of the Sign of Four, taking the reader from the fogs of London, to Cumberland, to Agra and the Andamans, in search of treasure, truth and in a very non Conan Doyle style, love. It’s a great mystery and the art of scientific deduction is wonderful to read – it makes one wistful and wish that if only one could think logically and deductively as a habit and at all the times. The narrative style is as always in a memoir of Dr. Watson and for once, some of the ending is given away, with allusions to what happened in future. However this does no harm to story in itself and it is a thrilling and nail biting narrative to read (especially the steam boat chase chapter) which has not lost even a tenth of its shine, since being published in 1890. Like I said, I can say nothing more about the novel than what has not already been said and shared; but this time two items stuck me as, well, a bit non-palatable. One was the portrayal of Mary Morstan, sweet, gentle, supportive, fragile, disdaining treasure for the sake of love – I mean Ye!! Gods!! Help me from such virtuous role models; for that’s exactly what she is – a model of ideal womanhood from Conan’s point of view. I know allowances need to be made for that particular time and the social-political rules that governed the society; but Victorian era produced a number of strong women who would disdain any namby pamby portrayal of their characters – these were women of blood, sweat, substance and strength, and while possessing a lot of compassion, they also were practical and sensible. I mean, England was ruled by such a woman at that time, not to mention, other wonderful women like Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Fry. This concept of the ‘household angel’ was enough to throw me off the book, and I cannot believe that I had been so oblivious to this angle during my earlier reads! Sir Conan Doyle wrote of a much better woman, at least vis-à-vis character in Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia“– who is intelligent, loyal and practical to a T! Hard to believe the same man wrote about Mary Morstan. The other item that hit me was the portrayal of non-whites – whether it is Mohmet Khan planning a cold-blooded murder or Tonga the indigenous tribal from Andaman, the natives can kill with no conscience, the only redeeming characteristic being their loyalty! Thank Heavens for that!! I mean as it is the brown man/woman are “savages” but imagine the greatness and generosity of Englishmen, in inspiring loyalty among this unworthy people!! Kipling was a unaplogetic and unashamed imperialist, but to think Sir Conan Doyle also sang a similar tune, is kind of unsettling; as I mentioned before allowance have to be made for the age and I do, but with Kiplings, and Doyles and Haggards, at times, it becomes difficult not to be prejudiced! Everything apart though, it is a great book and Sir Doyle does what does the best, proving time and again he is the master of “detective fiction”.

The second book that I read for RIP IX is “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier. I had originally read this novel when I was 15, through the night, when I was racked with fever and could not sleep. I had deep impressions from that read – all very gothic and creepy. The story is too well-known from me to write in detail – Maxim De Winters, the owner of the Manderley, an estate on the Cornish Cost, brings home a young wife after the accidental death of his first wife Rebecca, in a boating accident, a year ago. The second Mrs De Winter, is a young, shy woman who has great hopes of her future, that come to standstill, as she grapples with the presence of Rebecca in Manderley, whose presence is overwhelming and who continues to run the house from her grave! It could be that fever had induced my brain to be more sensitive, because, when I had read this book the first time I had felt the terrifying presence of Rebecca, I was afraid of Mrs. Danvers and I felt all the apprehensions and illogical fears of the second Mrs. De Winters. I should have waited for another bout of fever, before re-reading this book! I know people rant and rave about this book and I may be offending half a million readers if not more, but only a teenager, with really low self-esteem can like this book! My whole problem with the book is the second Mrs. De Winters – I can understand being shy and I can empathize with the feeling of being left out and not belonging, but Mrs. De Winters made me want to throw up and throw the book at her. She does not even try; for heavens’s sake, she is not even willing to try. She goes around the house like a mouse, when she has no reason to, and is perpetually afraid of Mrs. Danver who is just a big ol’ bully who should be set in her place. She does not even try to manage the house or stake her claim as the mistress – had she tried and then failed, that would have added a complex layer to the narrative, besides adding on to her oh-i-am-so-scared characterization. She is embarrassed in the presence of Mrs. Van Hopper, she is embarrassed with Maxim and she is embarrassed when Mrs. Danver finds her in East Wing! Mrs. Van Hopper is embarrassing and it could be that the second Mrs. De Winters’s initial life may have been a trial, but as Jane Austen had showed us, that one can still act sensible in presence of distressing environs; case to point, Elizabeth Bingley with Mrs. Bingley as a painful dimwitted loud mother or Jane Fairfax with her poor, silly aunt. But of course, no understanding of self-worth, enters the poor little Mrs. De Winters’s head until her lord and master, declares his undying love her and confesses that he never loved Rebecca – I mean what value do we women have unless, it is to be made worthy by the acceptance of the man. Also let’s not forget, that the Lord and the Master is a great man of courage and forbearance, who can murder to save his family name from infamy but cannot divorce for the fear of scandal. Such wonderful choice makes this declaration of love, even more touching; after all who can resist the love of a cowardly soul, who cannot face the truth; no matter how far he would have to go hide it. Only by such love, can one make herself a complete woman!!! By such standards, I should really consider myself an absolute failure and consider becoming a nun!!!! The redeeming feature of the novel, really are the last 100 pages as the body of Rebecca is discovered, and the mystery unfolds to an unexpected and unbelievable climax. This is where Ms. Du Maurier revealed her exceptional brilliance and expertise of her craft and as a reader; you are left breathless and shocked by the sudden twist of the tale!! It is this end, which makes the book in my view a classic and preserves it from the morbid and irritating presence of Mrs De Winter, the second! I never realized how disgusted I was with this novel, until I wrote this piece! Writing I guess is therapeutic!

I know this is one of my longest posts, but I cannot end, without once again urging all of your help in the Indiegogo Crowdfunding project which I am managing. We are not doing that well and your help would really make a difference. Again, there are a couple of ways to support this cause –

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