The January Reading Month….

Many moons ago, when I was still young (relatively speaking) I used to do these round up posts for the month. Then life and its complications intruded and everything including my regular blogging commitments fell apart. However, the thing about life is it passes and like I said previously, the only way to normalize things is to go back to the simpler tasks and do it again, as much as possible. So here I stand with a round up of January readings!

Personally January and I am knocking on the wood as I say and write this saw a whole lot of improvement from December. Yes, things continue to be tough, but I felt a growth and a letting go and learning of new lessons, which hereto I was not completely aware off. You would think at the advanced age of 37, I would know it all, but I did not and this month has opened up my mind to new ideas and thoughts and interesting revelations that I never thought existed and it’s all been very educational. With Dad’s health a tad improved and some brighter things on the horizon from the professional front, I can say, that January has been a good start to the year! (Knocking really hard on the wood!)

Reading in Winters
Summer morning by Robert Vonnoh, 1895

From a reading perspective, it seems like, while I have read quite a bit (GoodReads says I am 2 books ahead of my 2020 reading challenge !) it has mostly, actually, completely, been a re-read kind of a month. As I previously stated, I am picking thing’s up on a whim, reading what I feel is entertaining or enlightening and not worrying too much about what-should-be-read! Considering the kind of stress life has lately been under, the joy of reading old favorites has especially been comforting and in some cases even inspirational. I continued on my “selective” Harry Potter journey; while I have read and own the entire series, there are certain parts that I like more than the others and those I re-visit more than often. I managed to re-read The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Half Blood Prince in January. The Prisoner of Azkaban is my most favorite; and among various reasons, this is book that kicked of my Harry Potter love affair! Speaking of fantasy and inspirations, no one did it better than Sir Terence David John Pratchett aka Terry Pratchett. His Discworld series are one of those very few books that teaches all of us to be better, kinder and more generous to our fellow creatures, all the while making us laugh till we ache and also telling us a highly entertaining story in the process. (If you want more details, please read my dedicatory post to him, here!) He was a genius and his words gives many of strength and courage and in year where things were more dimmer than brighter; re-reading Maskerade and Men at Arms was a good reminder of courage, honesty and doing the right thing, even if it’s the hardest thing to do! Vi Va Sir Pratchett, gone too soon! If you have never read his work, please go ahead and buy some, not all books are great, and some are for sure better than the others, but they all teach us something! Finally with all the hype around the new Little Women film, I kind of ended up re-reading this wonderful classic again. And once again was left in awe of the quiet courage of Mrs. March and the sheer goodness of Beth who has always been the role model since I was 11 and read the abridged version. All my friends wanted to Jo, but I always aspired to be Beth, albeit wanting to lead a happy boisterous life! Beth’s death always moves me (Yes! I cry every time!) and I picked up a little know but very funny novel for variation – Kissing Toads by Jemma Harvey. While this book has very few readers and it is easy to categorize it as a chick-lit, 10 minutes into the book you realize that it is anything but one. Sure, there is romance, but it is primarily about friendships and sisterhood and friends who are family that this book really touches upon!

That was my January reading! For February, I already started on Carpe Jagulum by Terry Pratchett ( because once you start, you cannot stop!) Also, I have almost completed this wonderful selection of essays on literary woman and woman authors by Elizabet,h Chadwick called Seduction and Betrayal. Kaggsy introduced me to this brilliant collection and I am ever so grateful to have read this volume. I also have the new Jeffrey Archer novel, Nothing Ventured lined up and while my chunkster reading – The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton has hit a slump, I hope to get started again!

That is all I had for today! Happy February everyone!

P.S. Does anyone know the artist who painted the picture I have incorporated. I have done all kinds of searches but cannot find the author of this wonderful piece of art and I really really want to give the due credit and learn more about their work!

P.P.S. Kaggsy to rescue again; Painting identified and updated with due credits.

 

The Mysteries of Last Week…

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that the week after vacation will be stressful! The events at work once again proved the very obvious theory accurate and to say I was glad that the week passed is an understatement. After 16 hrs day at work, I could not summon the courage to read Daniel Deronda or The March of Folly; great books but hardly something to lessen the exhaustion! Casting around for something easy to read, which gave a break from work reality, I found GoodReads hosting The Thriller & Mysteries week and among the various activities, they had planned, they also had listed the most popular Mysteries/Thrillers per Reader ratings! Reading through I found, Book#3 was apparently sitting in my many unread collection and this seemed a good time to get started. I finished that and wanted something more and found Book # 28 which I recollect my father had really liked and was part of his collection, so naturally, my selection for the second read became Book#28!  Now at the beginning of the brand new week, I present two mini reviews of my reads of Book#2 and Book#28!

Book#3 was A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George, published in 1988 and winner of Anthony Award. The book is the first in series of now famous Inspector Lynley series and the reader is introduced to Inspector Thomas Lynley, Eton/Ozford educted Peer of the Relm, who is also one the best inspector of CID. He is drawn from the wedding of his best friend, by Sargent Barbara Havers, the infant terrible of the police department, who has finally been paired with Lanley in the last hope of having her investigative mind brought to the fore, instead of her aggressive, belligerent attitude, which got her suspended from CID and back in uniform 8 months back! Lanley and Havers make their way to Keladale, in North Yorkshire, where the body of William Teys, honorable member of the Church, devoted father and successful farmer is found, decapitated, with his daughter, the 19 year old Roberta Teys, sitting on an upturned bucket, with an aze on her lap and with the only words spoken “I did it, I am not sorry!”. It seems like an open and shut case, ezcept there are parts to tale which does not fit in, including a cousin who gets the farm on the event of William Tey’s death, a finance, a artist and the daughter of William Teys who ran away, years ago! As Lanley and Havers dig for the truth, they discover all kinds of unholy secrets, that the quiet village of Keladale holds, which not only challenges them professionally, but also confront their personal demons, to find the killer!

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Book# 28 was Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith, published in 1981. This book like the previous one is the first in the series of Arkady Renko, the Chief Investigator of Moscow’s homicide squad. The novel introduces us to Arkady Renko, one of the finest and most honest investigator’s in Moscow’s Prosecutor’s office. He is the son, of a decorated War General and grew up in the privileged circles of Moscow, attending the best schools, University and Law School. The novel opens on a cold day in April in Soviet Russia, in the northern end of Gork Park, the amusement Park of Moscovites, where the militiamen, have discovered three dead bodies, now that the snow is thawing, and Arkady has been called into investigate the corpses. Two men and one woman lay dead and  their faces have been mutilated and ends of the thumbs chopped off to ensure, there is no identification whatsoever! Arkady Renko  sets off on a trail to find the identity of his victims as well as their killers and as he slowly unravels the mysteries, he confronts, the KGB, an American Business man, a New York City Cop and happenings much closer to home, and the chase for the killer will take him to the exiled land of Shatura and then America until he finds the very truth, that lay hidden among the obvious!

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Some 100 pages into The Great Deliverance, I realized that at some point, I had read this novel and I began to vaguely recollect the end, though I hung on because of the hows and simply because it was written very well. The taut plot of the novel, is the strength of The Great Deliverance. I did not much care for the main characters – the absolutely perfect Lanley and the constantly snotty Havers (I wanted to throw a book at her), but the ensemble cast made up for the insipidity of the protagonists, who were much more life like, confronting confusion, trauma and much more, and still chalking out better lives for themselves! The ending was kind of cliched but my guess is in 1988, when such things were still not so much in the open, it must have created quite a stir and again based on the fast paced and through narration, the book must have been one  thrilling read!

Gorky Park was much more to my taste! Firstly, it is set in Russia, which predisposes me to like it. The plot, unlike The Great Deliverance was not of sensationalist nature, but ran with with an equally tight narrative, which made the reading, as interesting and kept one hooked on. In Arkady Renko, the author had created a wonderful hero, who with all his flaws, comes through as someone, you would want as a hero of a novel. Wikipedia states that Renko has been called a Bryonic Hero and he may be, but I really liked the character that was capable of great intuitive thinking but at the same time having blind spots that enables them to fall and then rise again! The book was banned in Soviet Union after its initial release and I can quite understand why; the author captures the tense, suspicious atmosphere of the last years of Socialisim beautifully. Despite the change of regime and new laws, to guarantee freedom of rights and liberty, the citizens till live in the fear of losing jobs, of suddenly being denounced as dissidents and landing up in Siberia or worse dead, for as simple case of being religious. Even if you do your job and keep your head down, you may still fall under the scanner and your promotions thwarted because, you are not an “active” party member. The dull, grey lives of the Soviet citizens is wonderfully captured which brings out the psychological as well as economic deprivation succinctly!  What really set this novel apart, from other books set in similar settings is lack of the chest thumping glory of Capitalism; Soviet Russia is bad, but the glorious land of free is no better. So called Radicals are put under surveillance, racism exists and there equal amount of incompetence in the institutions! Well crafted, with meticulous attention to detail and a believable cast ensemble, this book was a great read, through and through! I am so impressed that I went and bought Book#2 of the series, Polar Star!

To end, let just say, the both the book, not so good and very good, helped me make it to a stressful week and to that end, they fulfilled their aim of taking me away from reality!

Romancing the Regents….

I am not particularly fond of romance novels. Leaving historical romances apart….I mean that’s history at the very least. But romances as a genre make me want to barf. Even in my teens, I had serious problems with all the clichéd Mills and Boon and Silhouette romances and could not ever finish a Danielle Steel….all the sugar made me sick! (See my previous post)The only novels I was able to read through with equanimity were Judith McNaught’s Perfect and A Kingdom of Dreams. The former had a murder mystery woven into the love story and the second one was a historical romance set in the conflict years between England and Scotland of Henry VI rule.  So there…..

However during my late teen and I mean LATE teens, a friend of mine introduced me to Georgette Heyer and I fell for it…..I become a sucker for Regency Romance!

I think the process started long back when I read, yes, my bible of all sensible advice – Pride and Prejudice. The country side, the curricles, the balls and the Sprig muslin wearing Elizabeth Bennett and the dashing Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy all created such splendorous world of quiet and peace without being tedious and away from the everyday humdrum, that it was natural that  I fall in love with The Grand Sophy!

Having declared my undying love for Regency Romaces, I must point out that I am kind of choosy in this passion. Give me the traditional romance of Georgette Heyer any day. The plots are concrete, the characters believable and the repartee downright funny! The emphasis is on the plot and there is extensive research that goes into the details of the social mores and customs of 19th century England. That’s why I think Ms Heyer was absolutely marvelous – she managed all of these while making you laugh out loud and go back to her books again and again!

Then there is a whole different world of what I call “wannabe” romance writers! I mean they set their plots in the Regency times, but that’s where it ends. The characters all act/talk/conduct themselves more in 21st century fashion than those of the bygone days of Regency.  The plots are ridiculous and the conversations are anything but funny and sugary syrupy nature of affairs between the principal protagonists makes you want to lay off chocolate for the rest of your life! Case to the point – Julia Quinn’s Brighter than the Sun. I am sure Ms Quinn is very talented and erudite but I did expect more from a Harvard/Radcliffe protégé! The tale begins promisingly enough with a marriage of convenience between the Earl of Billington and Eleanor Lyndon and the sabotages that follow the marriage in the domestic affairs of the Countess and the Earl. But that is all there is to it. I read nearly 300 pages of sheer idiotism where the Earl did nothing but lust after his wife and while the Countess went in a tizzy every time the Earl kissed her, interspersed with how much the Countess was loved by her tenants and how the Earl though not expressing his feelings was gentle, kindhearted Squire, despite carrying a reputation of a rake! Yuck and a thousand times yuck!!! How very clichéd and I am an unqualified dolt for not only buying this book, but also actually reading it through! Where is my barf bag????!!!!

I know there are authors besides Ms Heyer who actually do put a more realistic spin on their regency pieces – Mary Balogh’s heroines are mostly fallen women or Carla Kelly, who explores the ravishes of the Napoleonic war on the lives of ordinary men and women. I do understand and appreciate that many readers do not prefer to read of about the more harsher and maybe real aspects of life in their fiction, after all many of us do resort to books to get away from our everyday realities! What I do have a problem is while I am all for a fairy tale romance, can we please , please include some sense and true fun into them!!! Ms Heyer, we so miss you!

Everybody needs a Television sometime……????!!!!!!

So I have this mammoth confession to make – It’s like one of those closet secret that nobody talks about and everybody knows and they give you the “look” when you walk into the room. You know what kind I am talking about ….right? Anyhow, I have to make a similar confession and I thought I might as well make it now than later …….here goes!

I DO NOT OWN A TELEVISION!

I mean I do not have a television in my apartment. Have not watched the telly for last 10 years when I moved to college and since then have never felt the need. My crazy flatmate also feels the same way, though there are times when in fit of sheer indulgence, she wants to buy a Plasma Flat screen, but sense prevails and we spend that money on books and yum food.  In the last decade, I have been blessed with the joy of not coming back from work and throwing my bag and flopping in front of “the box” and flipping mindlessly through all that madness. I do not want to change that….I do not want a telly. There I have said it……

I have lost count of the number of times, people (friends and foes alike) have looked at me as if I was sprouting carrots out of my head when I have shared this fact with them. I get loads of “What? Do you know the kind of great cool entertainment you are missing out on?” “Do you know there are some great travel and living shows?”  “They make some awesome series out of the books you read, you might as well watch them if you read em?” (I still have to figure out why I need to view something that I have read as a mandate. Watching Harry Porter on screen will convince anyone that after reading a book, one should never indulge in any visual form of the literary work unless, one ones to tear apart one’s hair and go for the “bald  look”!) But the best is “How can you live without a television? It’s all that reading that’s fried your brain!”

Well I must own I have existed peacefully on this earth for the last 10 years without a television and I honestly feel I have not missed out on real heart stooping world moments! Yes, it’s true that I do infinitely prefer reading, but that does not mean I exclude all other forms of entertainment – I love theatre and live concerts and some movies! But I absolutely refused to be chained to something which has reality show which depict anything but reality and news that discusses the merits of Beyoncé’s daughter’s name versus Tom Cruise’s daughter’s name. I do not care if I am deemed anti-social for not being up to date on such “current affairs”.  The sitcoms are hardly funny now that Friends and Seinfeld have gone off the air and let me not get started on Soaps! The television is the strongest reason to take up reading – I mean the plot lines are way better; there is only a limit to which the author will exaggerate the events and you can make the protagonist look howsoever you want in your mind’s eye without feeling bemused at the fact the so called not good looking character is more good looking than an average individual out on the street (Have you not seen all the mush stuff?) Like Groucho Marx said “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. “

Besides, there is a brilliant thing called Internet that actually keeps me updated on stuff that I really want to enjoy – movies, songs and yes even some series! The great part is I watch it whenever I want and not when HBO/PBS/NBC/BBC etc wants and I can skip parts I like and replay the parts I want. (Yes I am sure we can that with a DVD player, but I am just enumerating the reasons of my not having a television.)Besides my books, my laptop is most precious possession – I write, watch, and hear whatever and whenever, thanks to this most perfect of God’s creation.

I am truly and I do mean truly at peace with you if you love your tellys and spend hours in front of them. Different strokes for different folks and you might enjoy something which I do not and vice versa. What I refuse is to be treated like a social outcast or a weirdo, just because I do not like or feel tempted to buy a television to watch Downton Abbey (Though I do like the series and watch it online on the Net).

Thus, I will continue to thrive and exist without a television as God is my witness, so there!!!!!