All About Cooking Violets …..

Like I always say, one can never go wrong with recommendations from certain bookish blogs! Stephanie is one and the other one is Jane. Jane has introduced me to Margaret Kennedy and Hélène Gestern and now Martine Bailey. If it had not been for Jane’s review for Appetite For Violets, I would have bypassed this book and that would have been such a loss!!

I have to own up front that I was predisposed to like the book even before I began reading it! It was a historical novel, 18th century to be exact, about an under cook (me…who loves food..this veritable Mana from heaven – a historical novel where food plays a critical part!) and naturally Jane’s review was always on my mind – but nothing had prepared me for its highly unusual and very unexpected twists of the plot!

Biddy Leigh is an under-cook at the Mawton Hall. She is engaged to be married to Jem who also works at the Hall and dreams of owning an eating house after she and Jem move from Mawton Hall. However all her plans are upturned when on a faithful day Lady Carinna, lately wife of Sir Geoffrey Mawton, and 40 years his junior turns up at Mawton Hall! Lady Carinna from the beginning displays an impatience to set off to Italy and makes no bones about having had a quarrel with her husband soon after their wedding. She indulges herself in all kinds of expensive luxury and takes a liking to Biddy, whom she meets when the latter serves her dinner because her page was missing. Lady Carinna’s retinue consisted of Amelia Jasmire, her lady in waiting and Mr Loveday, a African Slave, who works as Page/handyman etc. Very soon Lady Carinna sets off for her journey to Europe along with her retinue and two more addition, Mr. Pars who is the Steward of Mawton and Biddy Leigh. Biddy is not excited at the prospect of postponing her wedding and going off on a what she considers to be a wild goose chase, but she is convinced by Jem (who hopes for the bonus that Mr. Pars offers if Biddy will come on the journey) and the head cook who tells her that it is an opportunity of life time to enlarge her culinary skills! As they journey through Europe and Biddy is exposed to a bigger and at times a grander world, she begins to understand that there is more to the matter than meets the eye and while her repertoire and skills are honed as a cook, she is engulfed into a web of deception and greed, where loyalty is a high price and nothing is as it seems!

The book is undoubtedly well researched – the life and mannerisms of 18th century Europe comes alive and the great cities of London, Paris and later Florence throb with color, life and vibrancy, that comes through the pages. I loved such details as “a dish of tea” and restaurants being considered a place of “healthy eating”. The characters are very well drawn – one warms to Biddy and her sprightly determination from the very beginning. Lady Carinna is not a particularly likeable character, but it is easy to understand and empathize with her. My favorite character in the book was Mr. Loveday – it was wonderful how the author portrayed his slavery as subjugation of the soul and how in freedom, he throws away the remnants of his slave identity including his name Loveday!! The plot is quick and like the story is constantly in motion – I did feel for a moment in the middle, the grip being lost, but it was a very minor meandering and soon the pace was back. The ending though not original, still took my breathe away, simply because, of the way the author had crafted the story, where that particular line of action never entered my thoughts because of all the other events! This in itself is an art and like I have mentioned before, while the basic idea of many novels may be the same, since mankind is hardly too varying in nature, it is the way the novel is presented, where in lies the very mastery of the craft! The presentation is original and there is certain freshness about the closure that makes this book a great read!

Therefore, I say it again, It was a wonderful read and I strongly recommend it as definitive read!!

What the Spinning Led to….

I know I have mentioned this in the past, that The Classic Club Spin has always somehow or the other forced me to read books which I had the least inclination for, but most of the time the results were excellent and I was an enriched reader for having ventured into unchartered waters.  I had  all ready-made up my mind to be open to whatever came my way!! Therefore, my surprise when the Spin spun #17 and I got Katherine by Anya Seton. This book has been in my TBR forever and is part of both my  2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and my The Lecito List. I am absolutely overwhelemed…..Yay!!! In fact last night Cleo and I were discussing the books we would want to read and I thought Wilde was a good choice from her list and she mentioned how she had heard good stuff about Katherine and it was part of her TBR as well….and troday surprise! surprise, she got Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of being Ernest and I got Katherine… how cool is that???? I am so excited that now I am scared the book will not live up to my expectation….but I march forward bravely. After all nothing ventured nothing gained!!

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!!

History and Story….

I love history and I love literature. What happens when you mix the two together – Historical novels!

To say I enjoy historical novels is a subtle understatement. I am practically fanatical about them…..A lot of people, mostly the same type about whom I referred in my previous blog, often are incredulous that I can spend so much time in reading about something that does not even denote modern times. I am often flooded with such inane questions like “History…but it’s boring!” or better yet “What’s the point of reading about things long dead?” Duh! Have you never heard that man learns from his past?????!!!!!

I live in the modern world; I am part of this reality! I do enjoy reading about novels set in this reality with all its gizmos of cell phones, internet and the works. But the past has a special charm…. It is the past, the time that has gone by, that really invigorates my mind’s eye. It’s wonderful to set yourself free and let your imagination run wild in a time of horse drawn chariots, courtly living and the Lords and Ladies and all the nine yards!  I enjoy the mannerisms, traditions, costumes and of course the sense of history so different from today’s world.

If you really want to go back in time to the very seed of historical fiction, there is Homer who wrote about the Trojan War in Iliad and the adventure of Odysseus in The Odyssey. There is of course the oral tradition of Mahabharata, though conventionally people consider Vyas the author of this epic that documents the besides many other things the war between the Pandavas and Kauravas in 10th century BCE (the time period of the war is open for debate). A lot of scholars have argued that the first modern historical novel was created by Sir Walter Scott. I can believe that as I try to rack my brains and cannot come up with any such writings prior to Rob Roy, Ivanhoe and Waverly! I am not too fond of Waverly (I know! Even I cannot believe it at times that I do not like something that such a milestone!) I enjoyed Ivanhoe, but my favourite is Rob Roy. I love the Scottish history with all its swashbuckling and angry rebellions and revenge by the subaltern. It’s a classic tale and I am enamoured of it. After Sir Scott, the flood gates are opened. We have the very famous and now slightly trite Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notra Dame” set in Middle Ages immortalizing Quasimodo’s love for Esmeralda. The mammoth work and my personal favourite Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” detailing the life and times of the Russian aristocracy on the eve of Napoleon’s attack and its aftermath. (Yes! I did read the complete book and yes I did enjoy it and yes I have read it more than once and yes I am nerd and yes I am in love with Prince Andre!) Then there is James Fennimore Copper and his “The Last of the Mohicans”. I am not particularly fond of it, but it’s considered a masterpiece by many with its immortal love story of Uncas and Cora (Yes! I know Hawkeye is more important, but I like to think of Uncas and Cora’s love as ethereal!) set during the Seven Years war. Then there is good old Mr Dickens with his more famous “A tale of two cities” (I think his other novels are far far better than this one) following the lives of Lucie Manette, Charles Darnay and Sidney Carton during the French Revolution. He also wrote Barnby Rudge, which is my personal favourite about the simple-minded Barnaby and his implicated involvement in the Gordon Riots and the parallel tale of Joe Willet and Dolly Vardens and Edward Chester and Emma Haerdales. Alexander Dumas also produced copious volumes of historical fiction, the most famous being the D’Artagnan series – The Three Musketeers,  Twenty years after, The Man in the Ironmask! I am not particularly fond of any of them, though I do feel the plot of the Ironmask is more gripping and sensational. But then Dumas’s tales are sensational! (I mean he wrote The Count of Monte Cristo….nothing is more sensational after that!)

So much for the history of historical literature. In the next blog, which will be in continuation of this one, I will list some of my all-time favourite historical novels by modern-day authors.