And the list keeps growing……

romance 2I know I have not written in a while and I have a perfect excuse for that! I was too busy reading – gosh! I have been reading and reading and reading and I know you are thinking what the hell is new about that, but it’s just that I have never tried reading 7 books in one go and some of the plot lines are now overlapping each other and sometimes need revisiting! Remember I have a full-time job in a financial institution where they thrive by drinking my blood (and some more poor souls like me) with a straw and a pink cocktail umbrella (No! I do not exaggerate! Try working in a hardcore financial corporate sector with a double personality of a writer inside you!) On top of that there has been some severe personal crisis, including several verbose conversations with Mr Soulmate that left us both of ranting mad at each other! (Don’t hold your breath…we are at peace now! At least I think I am at peace can’t say about him. I have discovered we hold very different ideas of what constitute war or peace and what should or should not be a matter of war or peace!)

 
After all the moaning about my misfortunes, let me get down to the part I can be really effusive about – what all books am I reading?
1. Great Expectation by Charles Dickens. This is part of The Classic Club May Spin series. In fact I just finished reading about it today and was in too minds about whether to write about the books or generally continue with my random nonsense! As you can see, random nonsense won! However my next blog will be completely dedicated to discussing this work, so come armed!
2. Game of Throne  by George R.R. Martin – Sigh! I know! I know! HBO premiered the series 2 years back and I must have lived in dark ages; but really I seem to catch up on fads very late. I got hooked on to Harry Porter nearly 4 years after the first book was published. There is something that recoils in me from reading up anything that is cried up by a large section of the population. However I did develop an obsession for Harry Porter and now seem to be well on my way on developing similar craziness for Game of Throne
3. Citadel by Kate Mosse – I picked it up on a whim. I really liked her Labyrinth; it was fresh and original and I loved the Cather history to which I was introduced to! I hated her Sepulcher; I never understood what it stood for and what it tried to say and was quite sick of Leonie. So the third book seemed to be a decider and I decided that though Citadel is definitely better than Sepulcher, it is fails in comparison to Labyrinth. I picked it up because it was about women and World War II and France…looks like a great ingredients for a great book! But it was not a complete read – I did not warm to Sandrine Vidal and I did not and could not feel the chemistry between her and Raul and then there is all this running around for the Codex and Ghosts and what not and all of it quite unnecessary. It could have been a simple and brilliant tale of women in the French Résistance but instead it became a muddle of Ancient Rome, Ghosts and stereotypical Nazis!
4. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – I love Elizabeth Gaskell and think of her as one the most gifted authors of Victorian era.  I have just reached the part where Margaret and her family are moving to Darkshire leaving behind their beloved Helstone. The book has immense promise and I hope to finish it before soon. Hopefully, I will be able to dedicate another exclusive blog to Ms. Gaskell
5. The Other Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Ever since revisiting The Great Gatsby, I have developed a I won’t say a passion, but a certain soft corner for Fitzgerald. This was his first novel and as I wade through it, I discover the sparks of satire and prose that would mark his later works. I would do a separate review of this as well!
6. The Crisis in European Minds by Paul Hazard – I was introduced to this by Stephanie and will again be in her debt for making me read something marvelously original, intuitive and brilliant! If you have taste for history/sociology, then this book is an absolute must!
7. The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor – This is an easy read picked primarily for light reading before I crash. It’s set in 92 B.C.  and Gordianus has turned 18 and is undertaking an educational journey to the seven wonders of the ancient world and is accompanied by his tutor who is none other than Antipater of Sidon. As student and teacher travel across the ancient world, there is a murder, some witches and a lot of sleuthing. Told you, it’s light reading

That’s my reading list for the week! I must admit the books staved off some of the more frustrating moments at work and held me back when I was an inch away from throwing the fattest volume at Mr Soulmate – after all I had yet to read it and did not want to damage the volume. And yes! It’s a joke and no, neither of us indulges in violence; unless you call God of War (Yes! The bloody game that he is so bloody fond off! )  violence, which I do, but then that’s another story!

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.

Liking Jane…..

This blog is in response to the March Meme of The Classics Club. The subject is Jane Austen…now how can I ever pass out on opportunity to wax eloquently on my all-time favorite author – the very witty, the very talented and an acute observer of all the fallacies of human nature.

While Jane Austen has always been at the very top of my ladder of veneration that I reserve for my most beloved writers, it is very surprising that I never wrote about her before. But then what can I say for Ms. Austen that has not been said before – what can I say that is original and not hackneyed or trite?  However let me attempt to spell out why I resort to Jane Austen, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I am confused, when I need distraction or simply when I need to attain a Zen state of mind!

By now, the very first question of The Classic Club for this subject should be answered by now – I do not love Jane Austen; I am obsessed with her!!!!!

Now to broach why I love Jane Austen – I love reading her because she is one of the original fountain of all wisdom pertaining to relationships, especially those between a man and a woman. All those of who had been nourished on a healthy and completely untrue diet of Prince Charming carry poor little Cinders away, despite strong objections against her background got of first taste of reality through Austen’s work. Whether it is Mrs. Bennett or her relations, there can be no denying that improper behavior by the family of the protagonist will always be a hindrance in the path of true love and will always make a lover hesitate in declaring his intentions. How many times in your adult life have you heard your boyfriend say that your mother/aunt/sister is too loud and an embarrassment in public which led to an eventual showdown between the two of you, regardless of the validity of criticism? I feel this keenly and therefore try as much as possible to shield my guy from my extended family.  She was one of the first writers to put forth that while filial respect is always important and should always be of greatest import, one cannot turn away from the obvious shortcoming of the parents, which at times may lead to disastrous effect on the child. Example of the same is Mrs. Dashwood who does not try and control the imprudence of Marianne in her relations to Willoughby leading to heartbreak for one and exposing another to the censure of the world. Sir Elliot’s vanity and pride deprives his daughter Ann Elliot from happiness for seven long years. These were revolutionary concepts, especially when we look at the era that Ms. Austen was writing from.

Many claim Jane Austen had written a 18th century Mills & Boone through Pride and Prejudice. But this  in itself is a very simplistic understanding of the novel – this was one of the first books where the heroine asserts not only her own self-respect but also forces the male protagonist to respect her family through sheer force of character. Ms. Eliza Bennett is not a milk and honey  miss, like her other fictional compatriots, who faint at anything remotely stressful; nor does she give away to hysteria when ill befalls her family – instead she faces them as a strong individual, sharing burdens with her sister and keeping her own repining in check and rarelyhas moments of self-indulgence. She does not go around being pedagogic to her suitor, but speaks to him on equal terms, in mixture of humor, angst or anger as dictated by natural human tendency.  Pride and Prejudice was also one of the first writings to throw an egalitarian twist – while Mr Darcy had 10000 a year and Pemberly, he is dismissed as a gentleman by Elizabeth, who claims equality as a gentleman’s daughter and is completely unapologetic about the comparative material inequities between the two.

Ms. Austen was one of the first writers to create a flawed heroine, whether it was Elizabeth Bennett’s initial liking for Mr Wickham or Emma Woodhouse’s meddling and sometimes rude conduct towards her friends and neighbors. She makes her heroine fall to only make them rise, realize their mistake and become better human beings, woman, wife, daughter etc.

Finally many critics have condemned Jane Austen as parochial and not addressing some of the pressing concerns of her time, like the Napoleonic Wars. She does refer to the Napoleanic Wars when there is a need – Persuasion is filled with allusion to peace after the war; but mostly she wrote about the country – the kind of place she grew up and spent most of her adult life. She wrote about things that she understood and had complete command over than attempt something for which she was dependent on second-hand sources and which may have a false bearing on the tale. After all, since Ms. Austen’s celebrated examples of writing about spheres understood by the author, more than 200 years later, the apparently modern and up-to-date social networks, work on her principle of writing locally!

Jane Austen is not out dated, she is not boring and she is not parochial – she is in fact very cool, with writings that can be handed down from one generation to another, because it addresses the really never-changing mores of human interactions!

To address the last part of The Classic Club Challenge – my favorites in order of 1 to 6 are (with 1 being the best!)

  1. Pride and Prejudice (No Surprise there!)
  2. Emma
  3. Sense and Sensibility and Persuasions (I know…I cannot decide between the two!)
  4. Northanger Abbey
  5. Lady Susan
  6. Mansfield Park (Only Austen that I consider tedious and didactic!)

Do let me know what you think about Ms. Austen as well!

200 years of Pride with a sprinkling of Prejudice….

So I have been really ill for the last couple of weeks – I mean really: high fever, fatigue and no rest. Whoever heard of getting a break from gulag???? Anyway, therefore I did the disappearing act on the blog – one can only do so much – manage the never-ending expectations of a Boss, take on extra work load especially since most of your team is out with …yup you guessed it: Flu and balance needs of a sister in a mid-life crisis, a best friend who has professional issues with her workplace and a non-existent love life, who only needs your attention, when you really do not have any to give; all the while one is running a 103*C temperature almost every alternate day for last two weeks. But do I complain???? Hell no – I just neglect blogging, one of the most relaxing and joyful things in my life!

Now after digressing for some 13 mins, (Yes! I am aware I am exaggerating, but after what I have described above, everyone should humor my indulgences, which in the greater scheme of things is really minor!) let me get to the point – what I was trying to say through all this muddle is – I could not let this day go by …..after all it is the bi-centennial celebration of the greatest feminist-turned mills and boons  – turned literature-turned comedy of manners-turned brilliant critique of society-turned a dam good story!

On 28th January 1813, T. Egerton, Whitehall, published a novel, that was “written by a lady” and English Literature would never be the same: The name of the book was Pride and Prejudice.

For over 200 years, this book has shaped the understanding of the power of women and the little control that a gentle woman brought up with education and morals has over her marriage in absence of fortune, as well as shaped and honed idealistic beliefs that marriage should not be made for economic reasons. My grandmother read it and swore she was Lizzy Bennett. Might have been true in her case – she left her relatively richer perspective groom on the eve of her wedding to marry my well to do but hardly rolling in wealth grandfather. My mother too swore by the book and she herself could have made much wealthier and glittering match, for she was the belle of the town, but she settled for my brilliant and kind, albeit low-key father. As for me, well, I am not sure of the brilliant match I could potentially make – all I can say is that he is very different from what I am – chalk and cheese, library and sports bar, subtle and flash and dash…..but would not change it for the world. So my family is a living proof of the incredible debt that we all owe to this publication, two centuries ago!

What can I say that has not been said before, how can I describe the immense joy I feel, even now reading that book for like 456,452 times. I know each phase, I know each character and I know exactly what will happen next – but never for a moment, does this lessen the joy of my reading. Never for a moment do I waver in declaring this book to be one of my all-time favorites, though I know it’s very fashionable anymore. And I am always surprised (rolling eyes smiley) when I get asked such innately dumb question – you reading this book again? How can you read the same book twice? Duh!! That’s why it’s called a classic!

I know there are celebrations world over, to mark this occasion – the New Yorker ran a special column, CBC is also running some special series and all Jane Austen societies are going into overtime to honor this day. But I tumbled across this cartoon version of Pride and Prejudice, by Jen Sorensen which made me think that Ms Austen herself, had she been alive would have approved.

Do check it out!

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/27/170253360/pride-and-prejudice-turns-200

In the end – Viva Jane Austen! Viva Pride and Prejudice!

Some Books and One Wish

Book reading 2As another year draws to an end, I wonder at my last post and think what would be the most appropriate ending for the year. Should I do a scorecard again, like I did in August? Should I carry on with my usual posts on books, friends and sundry? What would be the most befitting farewell to 2012 and then suddenly I knew – for someone who loves books, I would want to list some of my best reads of the year in no order of preference – it’s hard to really always scale things you love; especially if they are tied to a place. So without any further ado, here goes –

Book reading 1

Some are just darn good tales, while others are serious body of literature, while still others are morality tales of modern kind  – no matter what they are, I enjoyed them thoroughly and my life is so much more enriched, because I met these novels and their characters!

While I signoff for the year, here’s wishing all my readers a wonderful 2013 with all the joy and laughter! Thank you for tagging along with me through this year and for sharing your thoughts, experience or simply your likes! Thank you most importantly for taking the time out through this year to read through my random musings!

Cheers to 2013!

P.S. Here’s a special wish for all the follow book maniacs – wish you all a joyous and wondrous reading in the New Year! May we all get new books and brilliant new authors to savor! Happy Reading!

Poetry and Ballets in Russian Winters

So I picked this book while browsing randomly through Goodreads listopia and am I glad I got my hands on this one!

Daphne Kalotay’s Russian Winter is beautiful, historically rich, and lyrical with one of the most unusual characters in modern fiction – Nina!  The book begins with the auction of the jewels including some famous amber’s of the world-renowned ballerina Nina Revskaya. Now extremely ill and crippled, Nina is selling the jewels she had gathered all her life in an effort to close a chapter in her life that began in Stalinist Russia more than half a century ago. However, her past cannot be buried, as her life, love and its eventual betray reverberate in modern-day Boston, where she now resides and into the life of Grigori Solodin, a professor, who believes that the jewels that Nina is selling holds the key to his own past.

russian-winterNow for the great parts of the novel – Nina Revskaya is one of the best characters that I have come across in current friction. She is a beautiful and extremely successful ballerina, whose character portrayal comes more through her actions and interactions with others than what she says. Daphne Kalotay departs from cliché by not only making her central character very human – she falls in love, has close friendships and does have petty jealousies and is capable of overcoming those jealousies to do something kind. She is not better than an average human, and like all average humans, she is capable of making a gross error and then rectifying the same. What is wonderful and completely to the credit of the author is the fact that though the principal character is completely nonpolitical and distances herself as much as possible from the going ons of Stalinist Russia, the author still manages to convey a strong sense of the life and times in that nation, at the peak of its secret police’s power.  What is really wonderful is way, the author describes the simple daily rituals of the common man in a police state – whether it’s a watery dinner in a state-run restaurant, or the state poet buying a Russian make car or the simple pleasures of a writer’s community in the Ural mountains. The book is lyrical – it gives some of the most vivid and capturing description of white Moscow and the country’s rural beauty. The tale is interspersed with some lovely poetry on love and nature and I cannot stop myself from quoting the lines that moved me the most –

Black velvet night, pinned wide and high

By pinprick stars. Faces under moonlight.

Faint echoes float atop the river.

Our reckless splashes toss them here and there.

How very young we were, one floating year ago.

Wet tresses draped our ears.

And in the air, the hum of crickets chanting

Apologies we could not, did not, hear.

Gone, gone, the forest’s past perfection:

Patchwork shade, pine needle carpet,

Ocher-resin drops of sun. The air

Hums….Unseen, the nightingale, too late,

Thrums its stubborn sing-caught somewhere

Between the deep black water and the sky.

The story initially does test your attention, but from page 70+ or so, the pace picks up and you are hooked. It blends smoothly out of 1950’s Moscow and modern-day Boston, without jarring the reader. The end is unusual and after a long time, I have read something that goes beyond the obvious and ordinary.

There are some flaws in the tale as well – the character of Drew Brooke. The only thing I can say is why? I mean why did we have to create her at all; at least as a  principal character….Cynthia could have served the purpose of bridging and there would have been less confusion in the reader’s mind about why this poor little rich girl is the way she is!!! Even the story of her grandparents kind of hangs in the air and somehow I could not find closure to that tale. Then there are the obvious clichés – the brutal and lecherous Russian Secret Police, the blessings of capitalism versus socialism etc. Having said this, the cliché’s are minimal and she does have some of the principal make some original and interesting observations about Socialist Russia.

I would strongly recommend getting a copy if you want a good yarn which can also be called literature, without going round and round in surreal literary jargon! Compliments to Daphne Kalotay for writing such a wonderful book!

World War II and such like…….

I am sure by now its apparent to all and sundry that I am sucker for historical novels. So I recently indulged myself again (Sigh! Yes! I do not know when and where to stop….actually I do! When I see the credit card bills!) and bought myself like 8 new novels of which I finished 3 –

  • The Light behind the Window by Lucinda Riley
  • Hothouse Flowers by Lucinda Rilley
  • Russian winter by Daphne Kalotay

The Light behind the Window traces the lives of The Martiniéres family, switching from present day Emilie de la Martiniéres’s life to delve back into the very heart of World War II and Sophia Martiniéres, whose tragic life is intertwined by an English SOE Constance Carruthers, who is sent to England as a spy in the German occupied France. First for the good things in the book – I love World War II history, so I was sold by the very subject of the book. The book does give a rare glimpse into an aspect of World War II that is rarely discussed or even known to the public – the SOEs. More than 100 women from all walks of lives were sent by British Intelligence into the heart of German occupied Europe to spy on the Nazi activities. Only 14 lost their lives. The book does bring this often overlooked aspect of history back into limelight. Further the author’s attempt to build a strong quiet and resilient character in Constance Carruthers is appreciable. In fact Constance Carruthers is the only character that I liked in the book. To begin with, the book is filled with cliché’s, a French girl falling in  love with a high-ranking German officer – I mean from the word go, this affair is doomed. Then there is typical Nazi general who is a sadomasochist and you know he is brutal and aggressive! Finally there is a so-called kind Nazi who wishes he could have helped save people’s lives! I mean there were people, Germans included, who risked their life and limb to save innocent lives instead of wishing for it. The cherry on the cake is Emilie de la Martiniéres’s – the poor little spoilt rich girl who could not become a lady and live up to mother’s expectation and ran away to become a vet only to throw it all up when the right man came along! Ugh ! Ugh and super ugh! I mean Emilie de la Martiniéres’s character is supposed to be strong and brave, when all she does is crawl into her bed and cry and cry, until you want to cry The history of the times hardly comes through and while I understand that the era is just a setting for the story, the book should have provided some concrete sense of the times.

Now there is no fool like an old fool, so when I finish reading The Light behind the  Window, I pick up another Lucinda Riley – yes I am an idiot. So I start Hothouse Flowers, which I believe was the first book by the author and I have to say it was an honest attempt and a much better effort that The Light behind the Window. This book is also set in the back drop of World War II and traces the lives of Olivia and Harry Crawford whose tenuous marriage is tested as the world plunges into a brutal war and the consequences of which are felt in the modern-day lives of Kit Crawford and Julia Forrester. This book is far better attempt – again like The Light, the book brings forth another aspect of World War II not always highlighted – the 3 year imprisonment of British POWs in the Changi jail. The word horrific does not even remotely capture the harrowing experience of these soldiers.  The characters are meatier and though Julia Forrester also seems to be crying a lot, at least her reasons for doing so are far more apt than that of Emilie de la Martiniéres’s. Then there is Olivia Crawford, the quintessential heroine, beautiful, kind and intelligent and in a deep departure from clichés, the author does not make everything wonderful and right for her.  The only weak character is Harry Crawford, but I do think that was a deliberate attempt and again, the author departs from clichés and does not give us a silent, strong towering character of moral rectitude, but a sensitive and a more human hero. In fact it makes one wonder why when the author showed so much promise in moving away from the stereotypes, did she falter back on the trite in her other novels. Having said all this, one cannot deny that the book is uni linear. It’s far too simplistic and though I cannot and will not call it shallow, it could have done with some more depth. However if you have to read a Lucinda Riley and prefer something light, I would definitely recommend, Hothouse Flowers.

Sigh! I think I have blabbed enough for one post and will continue with Russian Winter in the next blog.

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!

On the banks of Thames……

I want to share an amazing piece of historical fiction that I have just read (Yes! I hear you groan and I promise to write about a modern-day set novel soon….I was about to say next week, but I have the Alexander Trilogy lined up…so it will be soon and yes too much of historical fiction does not fry anybody’s brain!) Now that I have stopped digressing, let me get on to core of the matter – I have just finished reading Edward Rutherford’s London and it its MAGNIFICENT!!!Edward Rutherford was born in England in 1948 and was educated at Cambridge and Stanford Business School. He worked as a publisher for couple of years before settling down to write Sarum that traces the lives of the Wilsons, Shockleys and Porters from the time of Stonehenge to the close of War of Roses, covering 10000 years of history of the land. It became an instant bestseller and this self-confessed disciple of James Michener settled down to write a couple of more such bestsellers including Russia, The Forest, New York and London

I liked Edward Rutherford’s writing ever since, one day generally drifting through a library shelf; I picked up his The Forest. It was a pleasant surprise and a wonderful read – written in the style of James Michener’s The Source and Poland; it traced the evolution of the New Forest from the Norman Conquest to the modern-day. I was impressed by clean, simple style of writing with amazing plots and well researched material, but nothing prepared me for the brilliant work of London.

We have all read pieces of writing that become an old friend that you are loath to part with. London is one such work – it’s an epic and a mammoth work (only 1300 pages), but I rushed through the whole thing and then somewhere at about the 700 page mark, when I knew that I had read more than half of the book, I began to drag it out, because I did not want it to end. The book covers more than 2000 years of history, beginning from the very antiquity and the life around River Thames, touching upon all the key events from the coming of Romans and eventually Christianity, to the rise and fall of various royal houses of England and the establishment of such institutions/buildings that give the city her identity – the Parliament, the Lincoln Inn, St Pauls and Westminster Abbey. Rutherford’s style is simple- he creates his six fictional families and tells the stories of their descendants entwining them in and out of historical situations that gave an impetus to the development and growth of London, making them intermingle not only with each other, but also with significant historical figures like Thomas Becket, Bishop Cramer, Shakespeare, Sir Christopher Wren and of course, a whole gallery of English monarchy. The story traces the rise of one of the greatest metropolis of the world from the Celtic era to the modern-day dockyards of London through the families of Duckets, Barnikles, Flemings and Bulls as their lives and fortunes intertwine with each other and the rise of London. The most wonderful part of this book is while this work is an epic saga, he never loses his grip on the plot and with the close of each era, I was left wondering, so what happens to Lord Bocton, what will Ducket’s son do now?, especially since today’s hero’s grandson can be tommorow’s villain and a minor incident that as a reader you glossed over could have unfathomable effects as you go down another 300 years.  It’s a well-researched work, historically accurate – I especially love such small curios like how the rhyme Ringa Ringa Roses or how the term Cockney came about and many such historical nuggets.

I believe Lisa Jardine of the Times summed it up very aptly when reviewing the book – Rutherfurd’s is a marathon task… I think that he pulls it off. LONDON: the Novel could hook you on history for life.’ I so agree with that…read it…..the book will make you want to go back revisit your English History classes again!

Love and Mutiny in the times of British Raj

I think I have already mentioned in one my previous blogs that I LOVE Historical fiction. If it’s a historical romance, even better (Oh! Come on! I am a girl after all!!). So when I decided to write this post I thought I would do a quick survey of some of the top historical romances before getting down to the particulars. Unfortunately, the moment I Googled, I realized that my understanding of a historical romance and that of the world at large is very different.  To give an example of the same, Amazon list of top 25 romances consists of innumerable Judith McNaught and Jude Deveraux novels. While both the writer are very talented and I myself when I was somewhere in between the age of 15-20 have devoured all Ms McNaught ever wrote, one must admit in all honesty, that these are romances with no history. They are love stories set in a forgone period which adds all the dash and glamour of the bygone era to the story.

So what is my idea of a historical romance?…..Have you read a book perhaps little known called “Shadow of the Moon”  by MM Kaye?

Ms Kaye was born in colonial India in 1908 and spent her early childhood and much of her early married life in the same country. Born into a family that for generations had served the British Raj, her love for the country and her people was clear in her writings. Though after India’s independence, she would travel the world with her husband, Major-General Goff Hamilton of Queen Victoria‘s Own Corps of Guides and write about those places including, Cyprus, Berlin, Zanzibar, her heart would always hold a special place for her adopted nation, and from this came her most successful works – Shadow of the Moon 1957, revised in 1979 and The Far Pavilions 1978.

Shadow of the Moon is set in India during 1856-1858, tracing the rise and fall of the Indian Sepoy Mutiny. Being the daughter of the land and the great-niece of Sir John Kaye, who wrote the first standard account of the Indian Mutiny, her book is an exact and empathetic description of two races and nations striving to do what they believe is right, (though the author’s sympathies are clearly with the conquered race than the conquers!) without completely understanding the other’s view leading to one of the most horrific rebellions in the annals of British-India history. The book captures the politics, customs and economics that went into the making of the Indian mutiny, besides vividly portraying the characters of some of the greats of history who were instrumental in the event Lord Canning, Sir Henry Lawrence, Major William Hodson etc. The books gives a moving account of India with the heat, the bazaars, the winding rivers, the small hamlets, the acres and acres of cultivated land and her British India society with its balls, social rituals and moonlight picnics! At the heart of the book however is the heart warming love story of Winter de Ballesteros and Captain Alex Randall. Winter, the orphaned daughter of an English aristocratic mother and a Spanish nobleman, sets off from England to marry Conway Barton, whom she was betrothed to as a child. Alex Randall, Barton’s junior and an officer of the British Army, who is now working as an administrator in the fictional town of Lunjore, whose Commissioner is Barton, has been tasked to bring Winter to Lunjore. Winter’s journey to India, her marriage to Conway Barton, her flight during the Mutiny and finally uniting with Alex Randall makes the core of the story around which the politics, the battles and the history of India play out. While it sounds sordid, the love story is anything but so…it’s tender, moving and completely accurate in terms of social observances of the era. The country, her people and her heroes leap from the book and come alive as they grab your attention and force you to imagine an era long gone, in a land far away and love story that reverberates across time!

What so special about the book – it’s a darn good yarn. While the love story plays out, the book also has enough suspense, intrigue and thrills, to make it a good read. These along with the vivid and lyrical description of the land and her customs, makes the novel an all-round winner that would satisfy any genre of readers – romance, descriptive, thriller, historical!!!

Read it…I guarantee that you will at the least enjoy it if not love it!!