A Knightly Tale…

I finally finished reading “Katherine” by Anya Seton as part of the Classic Club Spin #7. It took me a while to finish this book as different matters of great importance intruded and I can’t quite believe how much my life has changed between the time I began the book and now when I have finished it! But enough about remembrance of the past, onward to the book!

“Katherine” is a historical novel based on the true life of Lady Katherine Swynford and her love for John of Gaunt which spanned nearly 40 decades. I had resisted reading up on Wikipedia because I did not want my novel to be colored by historical details, at least until I actually finished the book and then went in search of the “real story’ (Do you ever read up on the real events that surrounds the historical novel…I always do!!!) The book begins with a penniless 15-year-old Katherine finally returning to her sister, who is one of the waiting women for Queen of England and it is on the behest of the Queen herself, that she returns to London from the Convent of Sheppey. Her unique beauty soon rouses the interest among the Lords and Knights of the Court; Hugh Swynford one of the landed knights falls in love with her immediately; however his lack of ability to express his feelings leads him to practically molest Katherine until she is rescued by Duke of Lancaster, the magnificent John of Gaunt. Hugh confesses his feelings for Katherine and proposes marriage to her which is looked on favorably by all including her sister Philippa who herself is engaged to Geoffrey Chaucer. John of Gaunt is at this 26-year-old and one of the popular Princes of the kingdom and his marriage the Blanche , the beautiful and generous daughter of Duke of Lancaster has made him the richest man in England, even richer than his own father, the King. Hugh Swynford is one his knight and through this relation springs forth the kindness that Blanche shows to Katherine and of whom she is truly fond off, that the latter’s years of marriage is made bearable to her. However the Plague epidemic soon sweeps through England again and Katherine on her way to visit Blanche discovers that the Duchess herself had caught the dreaded illness and is left alone. Katherine nurses her through her last days and sees to the Duchess religious comfort before she dies. The Duke slowly recovering from his Duchess’s death begins to realize his feelings for Katherine and when in France where Hugh is wounded, has Katherine called to have Hugh nursed. Despite the Duke open declaration of love for Katherine, who returns his love, she refuses to become his mistress as she cannot bring shame to her husband. However Hugh would soon die and John and Katherine are united and continue to live together despite John marrying the Infanta Constance of Castile for political reasons. Their life together is wonderful but soon like all good things, it comes to end, by a secret of the past , pulling the two lives apart leading to an almost tragic end.

The story begins a bit slowly, but soon picks up the pace and practically never lets up. Ms. Seton did not spend too many words to describe her characters; instead she got on with her story, which brought out the depth and the beauty of all her actors. The character of Katherine never flags – she is beautiful and she is noble and she is generous. Her only flaw is her blind love for John which makes her oblivious to everyone and everything especially the bumbling, but absolutely sincere and equally heartfelt love of Hugh. John of Gaunt is , well John of Gaunt, Prince of the Kingdom, the foremost knight of a chivalric era, loyal, kind with a tinge of vulnerability that makes him well, stereotypical hero. You love him, but then he is exactly like heroes especially Dukes and Earls are in books. Just wrong enough to be very right. It’s the minor characters that shine – Hugh, the wonderful Blanche, the ever loyal friend Hawsie, Richard III and other such historical persona like John Wycliffe, John Ball and Wat Taylor. In writing these historical figures, Ms. Seaton showed her true potential – they are all wonderful, colorful and like I have said so many times, like humans, carry an equal measure of good and bad. It is these characters that bring this story to life and add depth in what would otherwise have been a linear and very simple even maudlin love story. The book meanders a bit in terms of religion and spirituality, but one must remember that 14th century England was as religious as it was political and both these factors made it a buzzing bubbling melting pot. The historical battles and civil strives though described minimalistically, make a strong impression of the disturbance that surrounded the life and times of John of Gaunt that make this book a page turner. Finally the book’s descriptions of palaces, churches and the land is beautiful and dazzling– there was enough research done, especially considering the author was no historian and writing in 1950, when information was not easily accessible;  to assure the reader of authenticity of 1300s with those brushes of realism – the squalor and smell among the awe-inspiring splendors of 14th century England, that makes this book a living, breathing, vibrating tale!

Definitely, most definitely a book that should be read at least once; now it makes perfect sense why its part of BBC’s 100 Big Reads!

Finally Something Lovely…..

It’s been a tiresome troublesome two weeks – I have besieged with challenges, both tangential and non-tangential – Just after my laptop was fixed and I could resume my normal blogging activities, WordPress for some reason decided to send all comments I made to the SPAM folder!! My phone after being fixed went caput again and just when my phone goes on a blinker the entire world has to call me!!!!But my phone could not go caput before I had a rather “distressing” conversation with one of my lesser liked aunts!!! I listened to a long and extremely offending lecture on my life style including what she deemed as important matters of life to which apparently I had an “immature” approach!!! AGRH!!!!! I am so glad I live 2300 kms from her and more of her kind!! Whoever said family is important never met my extended maternal family!! All of this followed by two instances of working for 24 hrs straight…I had heard of working for 24 hrs, and I have done 18 hrs but working for straight 24 hrs not once but twice in one week was just something else….needless to say, it’s not been very good lately!!

Anyway the only bright spot and this one is a considerably big bright spot, in fact it was so bright that I deem it as a bright sun, was to be nominated for a One Lovely Blog Award/Very Inspiring Blogger. While the honor is great and I am absolutely thrilled about it, what makes it even more special was that this came from Stephanie – a person I admire, whose tastes I have the firmest reliance one, whose opinions are always sensitive, a person who inspires me every day to read more, especially things I would have never explored and whose blogging discipline makes me write a post diligently and keep at it!! An awesome person, a wonderful friend and a great mentor all rolled into one!! What could be more joyous than to be recognized by somebody you look up to – there cannot be a greater accolade than this!!

Per the rules, I have to share with the greater world 7 facts about me and nominate 15 other bloggers –

About the 7 facts –

  1. I am extremely short-tempered and I have a TEMPER!! Over the years I have learnt and tried to control it, but there is no getting away that I have a short fuse and it takes very little to light the mental dynamite.
  2. I am FOODIE!!! I mean it…I love food!! The first thing I think off when I wake up is what will I have for breakfast??? Last thought before my close is where we can have dinner tomorrow. I love cooking and besides reading and writing, that is one activity, I spend a lot of time on!!
  3. I am a perfectionist – ask my team at work!!! Even the smallest mistake are highlighted and sent back with a not so nice email. For all my bouncy, optimistic, cheery personality, I am perfectionist and a hard, very hard task master…I drive myself over the edge and so does my team. I am very blessed to have a team which takes all my “perfection driven” idiosyncrasies with good humor and I am truly truly proud to lead them. But they do have to put up with comments like “the right hand margin of the slide 2 of the PPT is 1/4th inch less than the left hand margin”!!
  4. My first true love was when as 7 year olds, my best friend and I discovered a movie released nearly 5 years earlier, called “Top Gun”…No I did not fall in love with Tom Cruise, though my best friend did…instead I lost my heart and never quite gained it back to Val Kilmer . (I know he looks like a whale these days, but true love is beyond the obvious and such shallow things like good looks – though at the age of 7 I doubt I thought in such depths!! But I still hold a candle for that man!!!)
  5. I love and need my morning tea….nothing and no one comes in-between that…otherwise I am one grumpy creature. My other favorite drink is water and I consumer at least 6 liters a day – it’s never a task as I am always thirsty and I always have a bottle of water around me. I also LOVE white wines!!
  6. I am not particularly a movie person. I do watch an odd film now and then, but for me movie watching has to be an event – I do not go to the theater every week (more like once in 5 months) and I consider it a waste of time. However I do get bitten by a bug now and then and I watch back to backs non-stop for days on end, maybe because I like the time period the film was set in (I saw Band of Brothers 7 times, all 10 episodes) or the actor (like when I do my Val Kilmer fests) or country (recently went through Spanish film thingy!!)
  7. I love dancing – I went to a dancing school for more than 14 years and till date love to dance around my house. For some reason or the other, I have developed a strong disinclination for dancing in parties/clubs etc…cannot seem to quite enjoy that!!

Okay!! Glad that the 7 things are over…now for the 15 nominations –

Fleur in her World : Jane is my biggest bookish/bloggish inspiration along with Stephanie. Her reads are always wide ranged and her reviews succinct. I have never gone wrong with her recommendations and she is one of those very few people who have managed to introduce some great authors in my repertoire. If she has liked the book, rest assured, it will go in my TBD. Briar’s posts are absolutely marvelous and comes as an added plus when visiting her blog!!

Eggton : is another of my favorites. Katherine is not only an ex-New York mover shaker lawyer turned cook, but she is also someone with a wonderful sense of humor and with funniest laugh out loud takes on life. You read her blog, when you are down, and I guarantee 100% upliftment of spirits!! The fact that she always posts some awesome recipes that completely blows away the foodie in me, just adds to the brilliance of her posts!!

Flowers and Breezes – Sheen Mam’s take on life, her simple observations that bring home the truths which we forget in our daily lives and her generous nature makes her writing a refreshing read. If you had a bad day, read her posts, before you call it night, they act as a soothing, peaceful and comforting salve to your cumbersome challenging day.

Women, Words, and Wisdom -Dr. Joan Bouza Koster is a scholar, feminist, humanist, historian, author and a connoisseur par excellence of great literature. Her blog brings together all these items and more. Her posts deal with well researched nuggets from women writers from the past, on subjects as wide-ranging as daily working conditions, to memories of childhood to writing etc.

CogitoFilm – I don’t like films too much, but this blog has awesome reviews on both Hollywood and Bollywood film with some really clever observations and wonderful imagery of descriptions.

jaynesbooks : If you love books, you HAVE to love this blog. Her reviews are clever and absolutely in your face. I love her like it-do not like it approach and I tend to find myself almost always in alignment with her thoughts!! Her Top Tens are a treat!!

Brona’s Books : If anyone, anywhere loved books, then Brona is their ideal. Like me she reads practically everything, like me she has an opinion and unlike me her opinions are always well-informed, judicious and sensitive. If she likes an author, I will like it!! Her readings have opened me up to a whole range of authors and I love the bantering we share on every book we read via the Classics Club

The Odd Pantry – humor and good food and some wonderful insights; what more could one ask. Her recipes are as creative as it can get and her musings on life mostly hilarious, but at times extremely thought-provoking.

A Great Book Study : Ruth is again I met someone via the Classic Club. Though she claims that she is no expert and her posts are really her first cut take on classics, her writings and opinions always brings out nuances of books which I have read and though understood completely and her review is always considered and subtle

Breadcrumb Read – Risa has a post graduate degree in English literature and one quick review of her blog will convince you that her education is well utilized every day and though she does not accept awards for her blog, I am nominating her because I want more people to enjoy what I really really enjoy – her bookish talks, her love for classics and all her bookish adventures!!

Biblioglobal : I have only just started following her blog and I lament that I lost out on so much for so long. Reading one book about one country across our globe, she has in a very short span of time really broadened my understanding of literature. She also does some amazing and quirky research that gives you a lot of insight into reading and books related demographics around the world.

A Striped Armchair – Though she replaced her armchair with a lovely couch, her blogs keep up the standards of great review and a thorough and uniform understanding of the context of the book. She is one of the few fellow readers who reads loads of stuff about international relations, ethnicity, religion and identity that is outside of academic requirements.

12 Novels – 12 novels in 12 months, actually 13 novels in 12 months. What could be more inspirational than a struggling writer than to be motivated by this one diligent, fun and honest writer who takes on a new challenge every month, with no other expectation than becoming better in her craft!

A year of reading the world – Similar to Biblioglobal, Ann, a blogger based in London decided when 2012 Olympics came visiting her city, she would celebrate the occasion by reading literature from the 196 nations participating at the games. While Olympics has come and gone, she is still reading some great stuff and writing about them.

Mister G’s Kids – Hilarious, funny and a great take on teaching today filled with irony and rib-tickling laughter and all the highs and lows of being a teacher!!

It’s up to you if you choose to carry this award further, but thank you all for sharing your lives and interests with me and for picking me (virtually!!) especially when the chips are down!!

Book Reading in June and Other Bookish Musings

June is here and the heat will not go away….not in the near future!! Oh! How I hate summers!! Sigh!! Winter!! Oh! Lovely winter…Come Soon!! I just realized that I have used more exclamation marks in the last couple of sentences, that I have used words! See..there I go again! I have to stop! Ok….really need to start a new paragraph and subject!!

First of all Reading plans for June – among other sundry and random reading, the following I will complete because of Classic Club reasons or others like I had already begun them –

  1. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – This is a part of my The Classic Club Spin#6. I did have some reservation about this one, but so far and it’s not far, since I have only proceeded to chapter 4, it’s holding up!!
  2. The Good Soilder by Ford Maddox Ford and Dubliners by James Joyce – While I began reading both in my sudden obsession for the Lost Generation, (Hence the Katherine Mansfield post!), it very nicely coincides with The Classic Club event of the month which they published today was to be on World War 1/The Lost Generation literature
  3. The Tin Drum by Gunther Grasse – This modern classic is well different. It’s not an easy read and it’s a lot like solving mental math problems except you are kind of solving world problems to really delve into this book about a family surviving World War II and Nazi occupation. This one takes time and I really do not think I will be able to finish it in June
  4. Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell – I love Gaskell….love every work of hers; whether it’s a novel with social message like North and South or a comedy of manners like Cranford; but this is the first time I will be reading any of her “gothic” stuff; but I have high hopes….
  5. The Elixir of Immortality by Gabi Gleichann – This is light reading! At least hope so; the few pages that I have so far ventured does not so far seem like that can be read through a night; but I could be wrong. Reasons for picking this one – Jewish History in medieval Spain and Portugal. I think that just about sums it up!!

Speaking of light reading, here is something I have been mulling over since last night…the last week at work was extremely stressful and all most all the five evenings were spent socializing, leaving me with very little “me” time! The little “me” time I had was spent in reading The Tin Drum or Dubliners, while great books, can hardly be called uplifting, cheery books. By the time Saturday night came, I was tired, sore and completely not interested in meeting anyone or doing anything! I wanted some comfort food (Pizza with all kinds of cheesy stuff! Yes! I know the health hazards, but it was a choice between physical health or sanity and I thought, sanity was kind of more important for the moment!) and some nonsensical book where I have to exercise my brain in very very limited capacity – so I read through two Georgette Heyer – The Grand Sophy and A Civil Contract and two Lisa Kleypas (Yes!! I was reading ‘romance’ novels – how shall I ever hold up my head again!!!)

But now more to the point, I have been wondering, if after all the fine reading, sometimes our minds want to play hooky and just tramp about aimlessly. But then to me reading is playing hookey or rather it is the only way of living and letting my mind wander….then why the high fields or the low fields? Why when I am reading some intense literature for a while, suddenly, I need something absolutely frivolous and nonsensical – I mean like last night, I was so exhausted, I did not even to go to my comfort books like Jane Austen, Agatha Christies or Harry Potters! I needed something completely that was a no brainer and while I LOVE Georgette Heyer, her irony and sense of fun is just brilliant; I can say very little about the Lisa Kleypas novels and even while I was reading them, I knew, there was absolutely nothing in them vis-à-vis intellectual nourishment and though I know many people enjoy her works and I cannot say they are bad (remember I devoured two of them in one go)…they are not me! Yet the only thing my mind could have processed last night were such novels!! Why do you think that happens? Do you have such “interesting” read days?

Turf Wars and more in Victorian England

I am still very ill so I will make this post short and sweet. While I have some pending reviews,  let me review what I have just finished reading and fresh in my mind so that I do not labor myself too much (Yes! I am reduced to dithering hypochondriac except I really cannot seem to take on too many tasks!)

Therefore without further ado, I present to you Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope. I had bought this one way back but for some reason or other I did not get around to it; recently this book came back into view and seemed like a perfect staple for my Century in Books project.

Framley Parsonage is the fourth instalment in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire and was published in 1861. I do not know why I took so long in getting round to this book, because I had so far read three of the Chronicles and loved them – The Warden, Barchester Towers and my personal favorite Dr. Thorne.

Framley Parsonage continues the saga of the Cathedral Town of Barchester and follows the life of Mark Roberts – a young Vicar who is blessed in every possible way when our story opens.  Mark Roberts is a son of country physician who had done well and had sent his son to a private tutor; as luck would have it the only other pupil at that time was the young Ludovic, Lord Lufton. The dowager Lady Lufton impressed by young Mark Roberts and encourages the friendship with her son as a fitting companion including convincing Dr. Roberts to send his son to Harrows and then Oxford and upon graduation, presenting Mark Roberts with a valuable living in the rectory of Framley Parsonage. Furthermore, Lady Lufton also finds him a suitable wife in Fanny Mosell who is the closest friend of her daughter Lady Justinia Meredith. Fortune smiles on Mark Roberts and things are looking up when Mark decides to increase his hold and place in Church of England by interacting with such Nathaniel Sowerby a Member of Parliament in serious financial trouble and Duke of Omnium, an unprincipled libertine and a staunch Whig supporter and an opponent of Lady Lufton. As Mark is taken away from his home and rectory and is implicated in Nathaniel Sowerby’s debt, he also incurs Lady Lufton’s displeasure by consorting with a worldy group whom she violently opposes. In the meanwhile, Dr Roberts dies, and his youngest daughter Lucy Roberts comes to stay with Mark and Fanny. It is here that the young Lord Lufton meets and falls in love with her and though she also feels the same way, she refuses to marry him unless Lady Lufton consents, which everybody agrees will not happen, since she has decided to make a match of her son with the beautiful and wealthy Griselda Grantly, the only daughter of daughter of Archdeacon Grantly. What ruin does Mark’s future hold and what happens to the star-crossed lovers is the core of the novel. Other staple characters of Barchester intermingle with these new entrants including the Proudies, Dr .Thorne, Miss Dunstable and the Arabins.

I am told by Wikipedia, that Anthony Trollope said that Framley Parsonage is a “thoroughly English”. I think this is the perfect description of the novel with only a footnote – thoroughly Victorian English! This novel is Victorian at its best – there are church wars and there are wars raging in the Parliament on India policies and French diplomacy. There is as Mr. Trollope rightly points out fox-hunting and I add seasons in London. It is a beautiful vibrant picture of the golden age of the British Empire in all its grandeur and all its folly. There is never any pedantic voice on the follies but a gentle mocking humor underlining the need that is clear even today of a great nations that stops itself from greater glory because of the pettiness’s of its people. The narration is linear and very straightforward and the plot line though simple touches upon some of the everyday facts of life and the challenges we all face ins resolving them. There is a lot of humor and a subtle irony.

The real show stealers of this novel are its characters. They are wonderfully drawn as usual and like life there are really no black and no real white characters. Mark Roberts is not the hero, though he shows heroic tendencies in the end nor is Lord Lufton the hero, though there is much virtue in his conduct. The heroines and I do say the heroines because that’s what they are; and are an absolute pleasure to read. Fanny Roberts is intelligent bright and sensitive and though not blind to her husband’s faults, defends his character with as much gusto as possible.  She has thoroughly developed sense of propriety and can see the rightness of Lady Lufton’s actions, even if they are against her husband and is a complete champion to Lucy Roberts. Lucy Roberts is one those remarkably fine characters – though to world in general and in terms of Lady Lufton seems insignificant; she had depth, principles and courage of the bravest kind – the courage that requires you live knowing you have sacrificed every happiness of your life for the sake of another. She is a marvelous character and her episodes are a joy to read; I especially enjoyed her interactions with the Crawleys.  Lady Lufton while masterful  is a wonderful woman, capable of great love and it is love in the end that always steers her actions in the right directions despite her pride and her constant urge to take charge. Nathaniel Sowerby though he comes through as dyed in the wool villain is also shown to be capable of honor and even sensitivity. The Arbins, Dr. Thorne and Miss Dunstable are as always delightful to be reacquainted with; with their sense of integrity, delicacy of mind and in Miss Dunstable‘s case a brilliant sense of fun!

I know I promised this to be short and sweet, but remember this is Victorian novel and it is long. Judging by current standards, this novel could have been a 100 pages less; but I am not complaining. This is one of those books that you read and immerse yourself slowly and bit by bit.

I had mentioned earlier that Dr. Thorne is my favorite among the Barchester Chronicles – here’s the postscript – it’s just been replaced by Framley Parsonage. Like a fine wine, Mr. Trollope keeps getting better and better!

A Stormy Night Adventure!

It was late in the day and I had not yet decided the book I was going to read for The Classic Club Readathon 2014. I had specifically declined all social engagement and had cooked enough food to last the entire weekend on Friday, so I could devote January 4th for the Readathon. I had piled up enough coffee/tea/wine and nuts to see me through the day and I was all set – except for the book. I just could not decide on what book to read! I wavered between re-reading Daphne Du Maurer‘s “Rebecca” which I had not re-read in a long time. I also mulled over reading Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” and Wilkie Collin’s “The Moonstone” or I could try something new like Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” or Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Other Side of Paradise”. While I wavered and thought and re-read the synopsis of all the books and discarded one in favor of the other, only to return to the original again, Fate or God or could be both, I think disgusted with my indecision, decided to take matter in their own hand and raged such a storm that all wires went down and the valley where I stay was plunged in darkness. Inquires reveled that we would be stuck in this powerless/internet less world for next couple of hours to come! Oh! Joy!

Considering the situations, Du Maurer, Chopin and Fitzgerald were out as they were all in my Kindle and the battery was low and would not last me through the night. I could go for Dicken’s  but the print was too small for reading in candle light and I have enough Myopia to last me a lifetime without tempting it more. So it was Wilkie Collin’s “The Moonstone”. As I hovered at my bookshelf to draw out the Volume in a la Lady with a Lamp style, I noticed a slim volume, right next to “The Moonstone”. I drew it out and realized it was H. Rider Haggard’s “King Solmon’s Mines”. Now shocking as this may sound, I had not read this book. I had read “She” by Ridder Haggard and I had read “The Lost World” by Author Conan Doyle, and Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness” but I somehow had missed reading the very first of the lost settlement writing. The original Africa adventure tale! So without further debate, I settled down to read this much neglected and overlooked book, discarding all the original thought through options! Ah! Such is life – man proposes and God/Fate disposes!

Anyway, enough philosophy, here goes the tale of reading the tale –

Allan Quatermain, a nearing 60 Elephant hunter is the narrator of the tale and he describes of an adventure that began about 18 months ago when aboard a ship that was sailing to Durban, he met Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good. They are in a quest to find Sir Curtis’s brother, who was last seen by Allan Quatermain couple of months ago, heading for the mysterious mountains across the desert in search of the fabled Solmon’s diamond mine. It was said that no man survived the journey and no one returned alive from the mountain. Sir Curtis and Captain Good solicit Allan Quatermain’s expertise in the journey; along the way a Zulu named Umbopa who though acts as a servant and general man Friday joins their journey. It is clear that Umbopa has some mysterious questof his own that he seeks to fulfill through this journey.  Travelling through the desert and after various adventures and desperate condition, they reach the Kukanaland; through some glib talking and the magic of modern science including the set of false teeth and use of a gun, the three white men convince the Kukanaland people of being godly creatures from “the stars”. Kukuanaland though extremely organized and well maintained is ruled by the cruel King Twala with the help of the witch Gogool. Twala gained the throne after murdering his brother and running out his brother’s widow and young son out of Kukuanaland into desert where they both are presumed death. After many blood shedding ceremonies which were apparently in honor of the “white men from the stars”, Umbopa reveals his identity and order is restored in Kukuanaland by killing of Tawala. The original three then continue their quest for the mines and the consequences there off forms the climax of the story.

Needless to say this is one thrilling adventure tale, more so when read through a stormy dark night, especially when cut of s from modern civilized amenity like electricity and internet. However, taking away the ‘atmospheric’ element of the story, there is no getting away from the fact that this is wonderful yarn. I am not generally in favor of hunting Treasure Islandy tales, but this book is so much more than that. To say the King Solmon’s Mines is an adventure tale, is over simplification of the worst kind.

Though written in simple direct everyday language (it is the everyday language of 1880s), the tale grips the reader by the collar and does not let go, with its turbulent highs and lows. There is enough humor to break the tension and it is woven through the tale in such finesse that its breaks the tension just when the reader is about to bite off his fingers (by now you have chewed through your nails!) with some laugh out loud moments. It also raises some very interesting questions that have more than a shade of political and social commentary in it. For instances, right at the beginning Allan Quatermain describing himself, asks “What is a gentleman?” and then debates through this question in some way or form through the tale. Then when talking about African, he writes the word “nigger” and then scratches it out saying that he will never use such a term to describe African race. There is also the question of equality when Allan Quatermain upbraids Umbopa for use of imprudent speech when talking to Sir Curtis and Umbopa replies that how does Allan Quatermain know that Umbopa is not of equal rank as Sir Curtis in his own land and may be enen a superior? Though there is stereotypical barbarism of the Africa in the blood rites and cruelty displayed by Tawala and Googol, it far limited and written from the 19th century perspective hardly any commentary is passed on the superiority of the Europeans over Africans. In fact, there is much to admire that comes through Ridder’s description of the level of organization of Kukanaland Army or the noble conduct of many of its inhabitants. He even includes an inter-racial romance between Foulata a girl from Kukuanaland and Captain Good; but is candid enough to question how it will survive in a conservative 19th century England society, though he is full of admiration for Foulata. There is enough questions raised on the relationship between Europeans and Africans at economic, political and social levels and goes beyond the pale of the standard cliche of superior white race showing civilization to backward communities.

As a predecessor to many such tales and adventure stories, I cannot help but say, it rightly stands out the original masterpiece. I am just very sorry to have read this so late in my life!

Onwards Towards Backwards Glory…..

It was one lazy sunny vacation afternoon when I searching the World Wide Web for some potential additions to my TBR pile. I am aware that my TBR pile does not need any more additions, but that’s the whole point – the never-ending list makes us all feel so good; so much to read and so little time and all that! Somehow or the other at some indefinite point of time trawling from one bookish blog to another and clicking through some historical and some fiction and some historical fiction sites, I tumbled on to this – Historical Tapestry!! It a blogging site about historical fiction and till yesterday, I had no idea it existed! From the pages and lists, I can see the site is popular and it talks so many lovely and innumerable nuances of historical fiction and I had no idea the site existed – some historical fiction fan I turned out to be! Jeez!

One however cannot continue crying over spilt milk and an error like this needs immediate correction; so I subscribe now to the blog and to complete my devotions to all things holy in the genre of historical fiction, I participate in the 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge! Woohoo and drum roll please!

The rules of Challenge are pretty simple (Or so I thought; the concept of look before you leap alien me!) – (I quote verbatim from the blog)
• Everyone can participate, even those who don’t have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section if you wish)
• Add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide us directly to your review)
• Any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,…)
• During the following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels:
– 20th century reader – 2 books
– Victorian reader – 5 books
– Renaissance Reader – 10 books
– Medieval – 15 books
– Ancient History – 25 books
– Prehistoric – 50+

So I who never settle for anything mediocre should have straightway signed up for the Prehistoric levels; but I have learnt from my Historical FictionNovember sojourn and I take due care – only so much! I instead sign up for the Medieval levels – 15 Historical Fiction books should be a cake walk (Or so I think!) If I end up reading more, well so much the better and if I do not, at least I will not fall into a complete looser category; though going over my 2013 reading list, seriously, 15 should be easy.

I do not stop here but sally forth with a potential reading list that includes some books I have been trying to get around to reading for some time and this challenge may be a good time as any to try to strike out some of these –
1. Katherine by Anya Seton
2. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
3. War of Roses by Conn Iggulden
4. The Falcons of Montabard by Elizabeth Chadwick
5. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset
6. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wife by Sigrid Undset
7. Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross by Sigrid Undset
8. Sacrilege by S J Parris
9. Wine of Violence by Priscilla Royal
10. The Devil’s Disciples: The Fourteenth Chronicle Of Matthew Bartholomew by Susana Gregory
11. A Maze of Murders by Paul Doherty
12. The Fallen Princess by Sarah Woodbury
13. Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson
14. Tales of Alhambra by Washington Irving
15. Affinity by Sarah Waters
16. Possessions by A.S. Byatt
17. The Dark Lantern by Gerri Brightwell
18. The Great Stink by Clare Clark
19. Angelica by Arthur Phillips
20. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
21. The Midwife’s Tale by Sam Thomas
22. The Book of Madness and Cure by Regina Melveny
23. The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden
24. The Death of Kings by Conn Iggulden
25. The Field of Swords by Conn Iggulden
26. The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden
27. The Blood of Gods by Conn Iggulden
28. Penmarric by Susan Howatch
29. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
30. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

I know I said 15, but having double the number of options is so much more fun; besides there will be some books which I will pick up and never finish and others that are not included in the list. Anyway as I sail forth, I wonder how I will fare at the end of 2014; for now I sail away with War of Roses by Conn Iggulden and Wine of Violence by Priscilla Royal! Bon Voyage, I say!!

The End….

I know I was away yet again and I did contemplate a lot before writing this post – but since I have shared all almost all the highs and lows of my life – this one seems proper, though as God be my witness, the idea is not to wash dirty laundry in public or seek sympathy, but to explain that while I will try to be my bouncy, bright, chirpy self – but there might be some days when I falter and I ask you all to bear with me!
I have so often read about such things, heard it happen to other and knew that stuff like this was part of life, but the reality and the fact that it has happened to you or can happen to you, does not really occur until it actually does happen! Then you go from disbelief, to rage to complete numbness! (And yes! Insomnia and writing random blogs in the middle of the night!)
So what has happened, so cataclysmic in nature to make me spew all this bizarre thoughts – oh! the oft repeated, tried and tested sordid ending of a relationship – I have been left at the altar, not practically but metaphorically for another woman. Mr Soulmate has decided that he found another soul better suited to him and was apparently with her for the last couple of months. He told me last week Monday, at work – calling me and saying lets meet for coffee and then “Well I want you to know – yada yada yada!”
I think I spent the next 48 hrs thinking it’s a bad joke that he will come and laugh it off or a bad dream that my flatmate will wake me up from. Apparently it’s not – it’s a reality and he is marrying her in December!
We worked together and that’s how the whole thing started – but I cannot seem to understand the hows/whats/when! He was promoted about 10 days ago and within 3 days after that, it was goodbye to me and hello to someone else! I am still grappling with what hit me/us?
I can’t seem to rant or rage and I do not wish for any scenes or any drama – I just feel very tired and numb and the only thing that keeps playing on my mind is –

How do I live without you
I want to know
How do I breathe without you
If you ever go
How do I ever, ever survive
How do I, how do I, Oh how do I live

If you ever leave
Baby you would take away everything
Need you with me
Baby ’cause you know
That you’re everything good in my life
And tell me now
Ms.Twain really hit the nail there! But I will be back, sooner than you think, but bear with me until then!

Once upon a time and everytime…..

So the Classic Club’s September Meme is contributed by Brona from Brona’s Books –

Rereading a favorite classic at different stages of your life gives you different insights with each reading. Is there one classic you’ve read several times that also tells a story about you?

Please be forewarned, this is going to be a loooooonnnngggg post!

Like a lot of people I began my formative years reading a lot of classics and like many I always thought of myself, especially in my teens as (Yup! You guessed it!) Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by the greatest of all, Jane Austin  – I wanted to believe I was clear-headed, was quick  and witty and above all could give it back with all due decorum and politeness! Of course, there was always the sneaky feeling that if I became a Lizzy Bennett, I will find a Fitzwilliam Darcy – I already had a bit crazy and extremely hyper mother and a very laconic and sarcastic, albeit thoroughly sensible father. But life has different plans in place and as I grew older and read all of Jane Austin’s work more closely, I began to realize that I am actually a Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, again by Jane Austin – I was an intellectual and cultural snob, who would turn her nose at anything low brow. I was extremely passionate about everything, still am, the only difference is at that point and this is the University years, I was passionate to the point of fanaticism. I also believed that there is only and only one true love and no secondary attachment could be that passionate. I had even found a semi – Willoughby! (Yikes!!! Super Yikes! Let’s not even get into that!) But now in my more respectable and mature 30 years of age, I know despite every plans and intentions, I have settled down to being a Jane Bennett (from Pride and Prejudice, the elder sister to the much aspired, Ms Elizabeth Bennett)  – how colorless can one get????? But facts are facts – though I do not have the legendary beauty of the eldest Ms Bennett, there can be no denying that I am a fool and do not see faults in anyone unless I am run over by avarice and selfishness of the other.  I am so busy, ensuring everybody else is happy, that no matter how unhappy I am, I keep up the demeanor, without realizing that those that are close to me can never be truly happy unless I am happy! The only thing lacking is Mr Bingley ( Mr Soulmate is nothing like Bingley – he is nothing like any of Jane Austin’s heroes!) and a sanguine temper – I am short fused and this is a carry-over from my Marianne Dashwood days!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is another book, whose re-reading has made me identify more and more with her. As a teenager, when I read the book, I was not particularly impressed by the namby pamby Jane Eyre and her stiff upper lip stance. I wanted fire and courage in my heroines and Jane was a calm stream of water. But re-reading the book during an interesting phase of my life (The Willoughby phase!), I realized how much of strength it takes for an ordinary governess to stand up to a Mr Rochester – to demand to be treated as an equal and what’s more to seek respectability and honesty in a relationship, even when your heart is breaking and you are completely in love with the person. Jane Eyre clearly was one of few books to take such a strong equality stance between men and women, with the subtle underlining of a simple message that took me years to learn, vis-à-vis, matters of the heart, that something simply cannot be compromised on – no matter how high the cost!

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand was another novel which I read during my teens and could not really relate too. It took me good 9 years in a corporate environment to understand what it is to be not only very good, but absolutely excel at your job and how the larger crowd with mediocre talents will try to pull you down. Though I am blessed to be working for a great company that actually has very limited if any Corporate politics, but there can be no getting away from the truth – the mediocre crowd would always find flaws with you if you are really good. They would rather you confirm to their average standards, that stand up alone and raise the bar! Individuality is good and having a mind of your own is even better – it’s difficult to stand alone holding the reins of success, but I rather hold the reins than become a blind horse treading the known path!

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is yet another book that made me realize a lot of home truths very early. In my Marianne Daswood phase, I could not fathom anyone making big mistakes in life and living on – the concept of forgiving and moving on was alien to me and therefore for a very long time I could not relate to Caleb’s actions in igniting Aron’s mind against their father Adam Trask. It was only much later as I became closer to my sister who was 14 years my senior and always the golden child of the family; therefore for a long time in my eyes taking the place of Aron (though she is undoubtedly more kind to the parents!) that I learnt about making mistakes, accepting them and moving on to make a better life. The day I accepted that I transitioned from a Marianne to a Jane!

Finally and I know I have already written a blog on this but no book at any point of time made me what I am and whose re-reading over the years has just made me appreciate a little more about such non tangential things like courage, honor and integrity – about standing up for one‘s beliefs no matter what and about strength that comes in all forms – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. My basic principle of life came from this book and has only become stronger over the years – unless I can look myself in the eye, nothing is worth it!

And for the August path….

So I did the disappearing act again but I was travelling on business for 4 whole weeks and the project implementation kind of sucked all life force out of me, leaving me with no time for anything I hold remotely close to my heart – eating, travelling, writing; the only indulgence I had been reading and that too with limited timeframes. I keep promising myself that I will not let the Project Manager me take over the writer me and time and again I fail. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do and there is after all a mountain of bills to be paid! Nevertheless, not to be deterred by temporary setbacks, we march on boldly and I present to you my August reading list (Yes! I know, I never got back to all of you with my July plan, but there is still time and I will get back!)

Reading classics1. Bleak House by Charles Dickens – Great Expectations had me hooked! Since I SO LOVED the book as an adult, I decided to be brave and venture forth with what many scholars have termed as the most ambitious of Charles Dickens’s work. At 800+ pages, it’s definitely voluminous even by Mr. Dickens’s standards; but so far I am loving Esther, Ada, Robert, Caddy and Mr. Jardynce ; I am overawed with the sarcasm and the sensitive detailing without indulging into crass sentimentalism on the state of poverty and hope that the ending will hold as good!
2. The Blood Letter’s Daughter by Linda Lafferty – Based on the true historical account of Don Julius, the illegitimate son of Rudolph II, the Holy Roman Emperor, circa. 1600 and his mental illness, the book captures his dynamics with Marketa, the daughter of the local blood letter/barber, whose help is secured to treat the Prince. Rich in details, shedding light on one of the lesser discussed aspect of European history, I am completely hooked on to this book; will definitely post a review when done
3. Daughters by Consuelo Saah Baehr – I picked this up on a whim since it had some very strong parallels to Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang and since I loved it, I am hoping Daughters would be interesting too! (Yes! I know it’s unfair to have such expectations from two completely different genres of authors, but I am only taking of the subject!) I have not read the book as yet but the synopsis on Kindle which promoted me to buy the book states that it’s a family saga of three generations of Christian Palestinian women from 19th century to modern-day. I love everything Middle Eastern and here’s a historical fiction about woman in the Middle East; I mean how could I let this one go??

4. Embers by Sandor Marai – I have heard a lot of great reviews about Sandor Marai though have never read him. On recommendation of my sister, I picked this one up and so far, it’s very unusual and keeps you gripped. In a secluded Castle in Bavaria, a General prepares to entertain an old comrade, and the meeting will lead to some secrets being unfolded of betrayal and friendship and the memory of the long dead wife of the General.
5. The Great Transformation: The Beginning of our Religious Tolerance by Kate Armstrong – Kate Armstrong is one my favorite writers and I loved her History of God and Holy Wars. I had picked this one up some time ago, but just did not find any time to complete the same. The author reviews how some of the most popular religions of the world, Hinduism, Daoism, Monotheism all evolved from violent times in an effort to create order among increased chaos. Hope to post a review soon.

That’s my list for this month! Considering half the month is past; but I am still looking forward to all these readings and I promise to come back with details

Where has all the romance gone?

I am not particularly fond of reading romances – I mean Elizabeth Bennett – Mr Darcy, Winter de Ballesteros and Alex Randall or Hermione Granger and Ron Weasely (Yes! I know this was a sub plot of a sub plot but there is romance and once cannot deny it!) romances apart, I have not read like a really good love story.  And no, I do not consider Eric Segal’s Love Story as immortal, in fact far from it.

romanceWhile I growing up, I had devoured, Judith McNaughts (Sigh! Yes! I know the errors of youth!), but I cannot  seem to find any more charm in them, though I know there are millions of readers who swear by her books! May be its growing up – maybe it’s just cheesy, maybe it’s too much of Champaign and caviar dreams and too little of reality, but the heroes over whom I drooled over as a young girl – you know Zachary Benedict (Perfect) Stephen Westmoreland (Until You) or even Royce Westmoreland (Kingdom of Dreams), can no longer please me – and the heroines, let me not get started. Julie who has worked so very hard for her Perfect life and is so fond of her adoptive family, is ready to give all up to run away to Mexico with a convict. She is strong woman who faints (I mean who faints in this day and age) when Feds take away Zachary Benedict and mouths such inanities like “Oh! Please don’t hurt him!” – I mean what? You turned him over because you became convinced that he was a criminal and then what do you expect Feds to do – give him a Presidential treatment????? Sherry, who is supposed to be soul of sensibility and which is why she was hired as a chaperone anyway, runs away at the first moment of recovering her memory instead of explaining things to Stephen Westmoreland who knew and in fact had rescued her after the accident. Also one cannot help but wonder at how liberal was Regency England in accepting a daughter of rancher as the Duchess of the most powerful houses of Great Britain. If you ask me, it’s stretching the Cinderella story a wee bit too much. I am not even getting into the cutesy scene of Sherry making the entire servant quarter sing carols because she needed hot chocolate or the cook’s boy was upset or both!  (Yuck! Where is my barf bag?) And finally Jennifer , the strong red-headed Scot who needs acceptance from her family so badly, that she is willing to get Royce Westmoreland killed by her promise not to harm them, though he himself practically gets killed in the process.  Having said all of this – Kingdom of Dreams is perhaps the best of all McNaughts, though Royce Westmoreland behaves like a boor and a jerk (like all McNaught heroes), he at least tries to redeem himself by even dying for the sake of the woman he loves. Also for once, there is some history and the author does try to put in some history like the conflict between England and Scotland!

romance 2Or it could simply be the timing – when I first read these books in my YA days, maybe I had lot more hope or at the very least fantasy about how love should be. These days I take up sloppy romances when things have taken a downturn with Mr Soulmate and that in itself puts me a cynical framework of mind, so I really cannot be all that tolerant towards mush! (Yes! I know the big question is why I read books only after horrifying fights with him needs psychological intervention!) Though I still believe in that one true all-consuming love, (I know I am naïve and I am proud of it!), I guess I also know life does not always work out in neat little packages which you can tie up with a bright-colored strings and one has to kiss of lot more than one toad to finally reach Prince Charming. Even when you reach Prince Charming, it’s not always necessary that it will go exactly as you plan – career, commitment issues etc etc. will act as villains and you do not need and wicked fathers or the Feds to spice up your love story!

So what is the point of all this rambling – can somebody please take pity on a struggling writer/ Project Manager with her God-only-knows-what-status-of-relationship-I-have-issues and passion for reading and suggest some good romances –not googy slop, but all time abiding love storys!

P.S. I do not want suggestions like Barbra Cartland or Nicholas Spark. These all qualify as slops, in fact the latter is so excessively sweet that anyone with even one dose of Spark, runs the risk of diabetes for live.