About 1976 ….

As always I am slow and late in posting about an event and now pick up the pen ( the laptop ) to write about it, well after it’s over! I hope Karen & Simon find it in their heart to forgive me and overlook my constant delinquency! I am of course talking about the 1976 Club Event where we read and post about books published in 1976. I did manage to read well in time, but blogging is a whole different matter! I guess I will stick to the over used cliché of better late than never!

1976 was a pretty momentous year; a lot and I mean a lot of things happened besides the literary milestones. Apple Company was formed. Concorde started its first commercial flight. United States landed Viking 1 on Mars. Nadia Comaneci won 3 gold medals at the Montreal Olympics with seven perfect scores, something that never happened before and Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Needless to say it was an epoch making year and there were several famous literary works published that year.

For this event, I thought of reading The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin but due to delay in arrival of the book, I went with Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie. It was a re -read, a perfect book for my chemo addled brain and one can always trust Dame Christie for good entertainment, if nothing else.

Sleeping Murder is the last of Miss Marple books, released posthumously, and was the last Christie novel to be published. However in chronological order, Sleeping Murder, belongs to an earlier era, set in 1930s. The book was written by Ms. Christie during the World War 2 to be published if she did not survive the war.

Gwenda Reed is traveling from New Zealand to England for the first time with the aim of buying a house where she and her husband, Giles could settled down and start their married life together. While house hunting , Gwenda comes across a house in South England and she immediately buys it and sets about making alteration to suit her tastes and needs. She soon discovers that the garden steps should have been mapped in a different way and is convinced that the nursery should have a certain wallpaper and there should be a door connecting the living and dinning room. Things turn strange, when there is a door discovered between the two rooms as Gwenda had wanted a sealed door opens to a wallpaper with the exact design she has in mind. Unnerved and worried, she seeks a few days refuge with her husband’s cousins, Raymond West, the novelist and his wife, the artist Joyce. She also meets, Raymond’s aunt, Miss Marple. Raymond and his wife plan a host of entertainments for the young bride from New Zealand and one of them includes an evening at the theater watching The Duchess of Malfi; when the line “Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young” is spoken, Gwenda screams and rushes out of the theater, as she recollects an image of herself looking down from the stairs and seeing a man saying those words while strangling a blonde-haired woman named Helen. The next day, Miss Marple visits Gwenda in her room and gently starts discussing what happened the previous night, the discoveries that Gwenda had made in her new home and starts off an investigation into the house that Gwenda bought and her own family history, leading to some interesting revelations.

The book is a must read for all Christie and whodunit fans. The plot as always is skillfully created with enough depth without taking on a pedantic stand. There are questions about letting the past be for a better future versus letting someone get away with a crime that adds a distinct thought provoking layer to a good murder mystery yarn. The pace of the book is just right; it is not too slow or monotonous nor does it feel like a ride on the fast lane. The characters are all really well sketched out and Gwenda and Giles Reed especially standing apart as good, intelligent and courageous individuals who also make perfect partners. Usually in a Marple/Poirot mystery the other characters are outshone by them; however in this book, they stand independently and add a richness to the narrative. Miss Marple herself is at her best, doing what she is good at – a gossipy old lady who through her chattiness brings forth important information that will be key to solving the case. She is also resourceful and loyal and kind and everything that we love her for! Ultimately the book is what a good murder mystery should be – suspenseful, dramatic, intriguing with a hint of life and its complexities!

It was a great 1976 club read and I now look forward to the 1954 Club read in 6 months time!

The 1956 Affair…

My reading is mostly restricted to everything published till 1950’s with a few exceptions here and there. I realize that this makes my reading restrictive in many ways but it is one of those personal prejudice type of thing and while I try very hard to overcome them, 9 out 10 times I would rather be in 19th or early 20th century when reading fiction. However, I recently read a post by Karen where she shares that she and Simon over at Stuck in a Book will be hosting a 1956 book club for week of October 4th. She mentioned that it was a bumper year vis-à-vis books published and intrigued I began to explore. And as always, Karen was right! This was an amazing year with all kinds of authors publishing from James Baldwin to MM Kaye to Georgette Heyer to C.S. Lewis to Elie Wiesel to Allen Ginsburg to just name very very few.

This was just too much of a great reading opportunity to pass up and I joined in. The principles are really very simple, read a book and discuss it on your blog. Reading the book and posting the book was the easy part, but considering this extraordinary literary year, the hardest part was choosing which books to read. After much deliberation I settled on the following –

  1. Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie – Once can say I am in a bit of murder mystery spin and considering RIPXV is also on, this book seemed a great choice to cover for both events.
  2. Detective in Togas by Henry Winterfeld – This history mystery for adolescents seemed very interesting, especially the art work Charlotte Kleinert.
  3. Imperial Woman by Pearl S Buck – There is a change of pace necessary in everything and this modern classic by Pearl S Buck retelling the story is a fictionalized biography of Empress Dowager Cixi seems just the thing to move away from mysteries and whodunits.

That is my list for the reading this week for the 1956 club. I am not fully sure if I will be able to finish all of them, especially Imperial Woman which is a 500+ page book, but I am going to try for sure.

So what are you reading for The 1956 Club event?

The R.I.Ping Reads…..

When I had first started blogging so many moons ago, Stefanie, had introduced me to R.I.P (Readers Imbibing Peril; originally started by Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings) that was hosted every year during the Fall season. Over the years, R.I.P events introduced me to such classics like We have Always Lived in a Castle. But the last few years, like everything else life was became kind of crazy nightmare and though this year is hardly better bringing in it’s own surreal qualities, I atleast have the time and energy to look around and read! So when I saw the posts coming up about the 15th R.I.P. event, I knew it’s time again to pick up those things that I had to let go and start again!r.i.p.-xv

The rules this year are extremely simple and the only expectation is to read books from the following genre during the September-October

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.

I am *******trying****** to not buy more books after the splurging of the last few months and instead am digging up from my current TBR. I m not sure if in the end I will stick to this list, but for now this seems to be the plan of action –

  1. The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie – This is one of those few Christie books not to feature her regular detective quad of Poirot,  Miss Marple, Parker Pyne etc. There is a dead body and strange neighbors, set in the Cornish Moors and a young woman who is out to prove her finance’s innocence.
  2. The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne – The mathematical genius not only created the famous Winne the Pooh but was apparently wrote some very good mysteries. The Red House is one of them and set in over a weekend in the typical English country house where the host disappears suddenly, after some mysterious shorts being heard.
  3. Dead Man’s Quarry by Ianthe Jerrold – I was introduced to this book by Jane when she wrote a wonderful review of a cycling holiday gone wrong with one of the members being found dead at a quarry.

  4. The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo –  A brilliant review by Helen got me to buy the book. Set in 1937 Japan, a newly wed couple’s wedding night is marred with a gruesome death
  5. The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – I have tried reading Horowitz a few time but it never quite works for me. But again a wonderful review by Helen made me pick this mystery within a mystery novel

This then is my plan; I am sure I will deviate and pick something else along the way, but as a starting point, this is what it looks to be!

Are you participating in R.I.P ? Do you have some good recommendations especially in the Gothic/Horror genre?

#ripxv

The July Round Up

I know I am kind of late by a few days on this post, but then atleast I have a round up post. For last 2 odd years, life had become so challenging that let alone blogging even reading was a difficult and round up posts were not even on the bench in the line up things to do. Strange that in these crazy times of a pandemic, I am able to do things that are more akin to my normal life, than the recent past when things were considered normal! Anyhow, the most important thing is I am reading and reading a lot and hopefully what is varied range of subjects and I just hope nothing happens to jinx this again!

La-Lecture by Berthe Morisot, 1873

So what all did I read in July?

Direct Hit by Mike Hollow – This was an impulse request to the publishers on Netgalley and turned out to be a very good detective story story set in 1940 as a former WW1 veteran, now Chief Inspector investigates the death of a local Justice of Peace, which may be a suicide or a murder. Extremely satisfying read for those lazy weekends.

The Romanovs 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore – An engaging and insightful history on the rise of the Romanov dynasty in Russia in 17th century from obscurity to building an empire spanning Europe and Asia to the ultimate downfall with the 1917 Revolution. A very detailed history which Mr. Montefiore manages to keep interesting by adding a lot of personal details about the Tsars and their family, adding personality, color and even poignancy to this narrative.

Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondey – This book had been lying in my TBR for literally years. Then a wonderful review by Ali made me want to read it and post reading it, I have only one question – why did I wait so long?? First published in 1899, it follows the lives of two young women, Rachel West and her friend Hester Gresley as they navigate love of an imperfect man and a writing career amidst people who do not appreciate her talent respectively. Narrated with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, the book speaks of the time it was written in where woman were awakening to their aspirations and rights!

Not at Home by Doris Langley Moore – Again this came via a wonderful recommendation by Ali. Set in 1945 post war England, Elinor MacFarren, middle aged, unmarried, horticulturist, is forced to rent a portion of her house with its exquisite interiors to ensure financial independence. The tenant, recommended by one of Ms. MacFarren’s friends, seems to agree to all her requirements; however, the reality turns out to be very different and it takes the combined effort of Ms. MacFarren, her nephew, his actor friend Miss Maxine Albert, Dr. Wilmot who was her competitor, but became a good friend to oust the troublesome tenet. The book was a lot of fun and the well drawn out characters added a whole enriching layer to what can be thought as simple plot.

Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell – I fell in love with Ms. Thirkell after reading High Rising and the Headmistress and Pomfret Tower gave me more reasons than ever to continue my obsession with her Barsetshire Series. In this book, the very shy Alice Barton is forced by her mother to spend the weekend with her brother at a party at the majestic Pomfret Tower, home to the local lord of the Manor Lord and Lady Pomfret. Soon there are new friends to be made, dances to attend and even get attached to someone as the other guests, including the heir, the cousins and the friends all sort their lives out. This was literally laugh out loud fun and the comedy of manners beautifully plays out in a world that was soon to disappear.

High Rising by Angela Thirkell – Now that I had started with reading Ms Thirkell’s works, it made perfect sense, to re-read the novel, which got started me off on this journey. Laura Moorland, a successful, happily widowed middle aged woman comes back for the summer to High Rising with her ever enthusiastic,railway obsessed son Tony as is her routine. She hopes to catch up with her old friends like Ms. Todd and the Knoxs, George the father, who is a famous author of historical biographies and his daughter Sybil who is almost Laura’s adopted child. However this time around, things are not all that smooth, for George Knox has a new secretary Miss Grey and she has aspirations that may destroy the peace of everybody concerned. Written as always with gentle humor and wonderful characters, this book is treat when you just want something fun, but insightful and just a perfect setting of a small English village.

The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp – This is one of my all time favorite Margery Sharp and the dynamics between Laura and Tony made me want to read about another such story and this was it! Lesley Frenwen is an independent young woman, socializing and living the high live in London, until some minor incidents, come togther, and she ends up adopting an orphan boy, the son of her now dead companion to her aunts. Lesley is no way prepared for the changes that are needed to bring up a little boy and she struggles into the role, which she considered temporary ( until the boy starts school at 8) , she discovers a life that breaks away every stereotype helping her discover herself! This is such a wonderfully written, sensitive and beautiful book, that destroys all the cliches props of a plot to build a unique and emotional.

That then was my reading for July! It was after many many months a much more fulfilling reading month and like I said before, I hope to continue this stint through August; fingers crossed!

So how was your July reading?

The Murder during the Blitz

JB Priestley in a wonderful book called Delight said that “there are times when we do not want anybody’s social criticism or deep psycho-logical insight or prose poetry or vision of the world: we want a narrative, an artfully contrived tale.” And such narratives he believed were only available in a good detective story! I have never heard of a better description of this genre and my recent read, The Blitz Detective, checked all the boxes to be considered a a good detective story by the maestro himself!

The Blitz Detective by Mike Hollow was first published in 2015 and is the first in the series of 3 books. The novel is set in 1940’s England, West Ham to be exact, just as Germany starts its Blitz, the bombing of London and her suburbs, every night. Detective Inspector John Jago, a veteran of the First War and a tenured detective, who has worked his way from a beat cop, is summoned along with the newly inducted Constable Cradock to investigate a body found lying one of the streets. Though there is no identification on the body, the Detective Inspector recognizes the man, as the local Justice of Peace, Charles Villers and what befuddles the policemen is the fact that it looks like a murder and suicide at the same time. As Jago and Cradock start to dig through the matters, stories emerge and suddenly, it seemed that there was more that met the eye in the case of this particular JP.

This book is published in 2015 but no one, can fault with the atmosphere, the language and the everyday scenes of a nation and her people at war. London in 1940s came alive through the pages, with her bombed out buildings, rationing and politics of rich and poor. Mr. Hollow does a brilliant job of resurrecting the past with in-depth research and small subtleties that makes the novel feel grounded and real. In the creation of character of John Jago, he follows the same grounded approach and tries to create an every man hero. Jago is irritable and is traumatized by the bombs, living through the nightmare of the past, where he survived and many did not. At the same time he is considerate and patient with Cradock, understanding of the follies of people stuck between devil and the deep blue sea and honest enough to apologies for his mistakes. He does not have flash dash style or astounding intelligence, what he is a plodder, who keeps at it until he finds the truth. Craddock is a perfect foil to the senior Jago, looking up to his superior, enthusiastic, and smart enough to not lose temper, when people try to bring him down. The other characters are also deeply etched out and stand on their own merit; my favorites were Charles Viller’s brother and Son. The murder mystery is linear but not boring, there are very few complexities and by the middle, you clearly know that of the few, one should be the murderer so, you are not completely surprised. However the plot is well arched to pull it off and you keep turning the pages; and if the culprit does not take you by surprise, the motives and the fall out does. The only flaw that I found in the book was the introduction of American journalist and I found that angle unnecessary and distracting from the main plot of the book; though it did provide an interesting back story to Jago’s war. However, this is just one strand in this extremely rich attempt to provide a good yarn while being historically accurate, and this success of this remarkable feet makes this book a must read, for those times when you want an artfully contrived tale!

Many Thanks to NetGalley and  Allison & Busby Publishers for providing me a copy of this book!

The End of March….

Time is flying, sometime I feel too fast and at other times not fast enough. I assume it is dependent on the objective; when we want something badly that is meant to substantiate in future, time cannot move fast enough; on the other hand when we dread something, well, time just seems to fly, until, we are at the eventual collision course! At this point in time, I cannot decide, what I like the most, the fast moving pace or the slow crawl; either way, life is just far too busy and reading and writing, despite best of intentions is slow. But I keep the reading going, in the hope that one day, I will find the precious equilibrium between, reading, writing, socializing and of course working!

In the meanwhile, this is what I read for the month of March –

Enchanter’s Nightshade by Anne Bridges

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I think beautiful mother’s are just a trifle vexed, generally, to have daughters who are not. Mama would have liked me more if I had been something of a beauty! 

Time Pieces: A Whistle-stop Tour of Ancient India by Nayanjot Lahiri

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This great enthusiasm for sarcastic verse in which no one, from the divine to the human, is spared, has a lesson for India today where poking fun at anyone in the public domain, especially gods and goddesses, ruffles all kinds of feathers

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

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I’d benefit too, I thought vaguely; a dog would keep me fit and allow me to meet other dog-walkers. Much better than a book club where there was always the danger that someone would suggest The Girl on the Train!

The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield

Garden Party

Isn’t life,’ she stammered, ‘isn’t life–‘ But what life was she couldn’t explain. No matter. He quite understood.
‘Isn’t it, darling?’ said Laurie

This then was my reading for March; I wonder what April shall bring? I am only sure that I am reading A Vindication of Rights of a Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft as part of a brilliant read along hosted by Ruth. For everything else, at this point, I can only say “Que Sera Sera”

The 7 Views of the Death

Mary Robert Rienhart defined the genre of detective/mystery novels as  two stories, saying – “The mystery story is two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen.” As I read through the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, over the Christmas weekend, I could feel all the truism of this statement and more. It seemed to be a regular whodunnit from the era of Golden age of mystery; the very usual setting of several guests, visiting over the weekend, in a English Country House in the initial decades of 20th century where a murder happens and there are the usual suspects, with a plausible back story, linking each guest to the victim in one way or another, until the protagonist finds the actual murder. Usual stuff, except Mr. Turton, takes all of these ingredients, and turns everything on its head an to write, what I can unequivocally say is one of the best mystery novels of modern times!

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Lord and Lady Hardcastle, the owners of Blackheath, an estate, in England, have invited several guests, over a weekend, to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn Hardcastle, to England after her 19 years stay in Paris. The guests are all friends of the family and the only unusual fact of the celebrations is it’s dated on the 19th anniversary of the death of Lord and Lady Hardcastle’s elder son, who was killed as a boy of 7, by the then gamekeeper of the Estate, after he was fired by Lord Hardcastle. The other strange fact, is that all the guests invited are the one who were present 19 years ago, on that fated day and while the then children have now become adults, and the adults, now senior citizen, in essence most seem to stay the same. There is also one uninvited guest at the gathering, unrelated wholly from the family who, is also seeking a closure on an injustice. Then there are maids, butlers, gamekeepers and host of other who live in the premises and who all are in some way connected to the murder that is going to happen.This then is the background of the event, which will see the death of Evelyn Hardcastle, and the quest to find the killer.

My friend Helen, when reviewing this book, wrote that she could not even begin imagine how much time and effort must have gone in writing this book! I not only agree with her, but add that as an aspiring writer, I cannot even begin to fathom, how I will keep track of the times, the threads and the characters. Very often, we find novels, with great style but no real plot or a great plot, but a dull narrative, that it simply does not come together! It is a testimony of the incredible brilliance of the author, that not only could he manage to create a narrative, that is absolutely unique and totally untested until now, but somehow hold on and make all the voices come together, all the while, sticking to the basic ethos of writing a cracking good thriller! At the core, there is a murder, but whose murder and how do we find the killer and the journey with author through the eyes of several characters and their own histories, makes for a fast paced read, where, each page gradually unfolds and adds anew new layer to the story. This plot as it evolves is anything but normal, and makes the mind do all kinds of gymnastics, without slowing for even a minute, and each chapter closes with one shocker after another, each exceeding and heightening the excitement from the previous chapter! In fact, the reader from the very beginning joins the journey in the middle of the events and therefore is able to join in the narrator’s confusion and agony, as they try to piece together, the full picture. The scope of the novel, the richness in the details and how the details, integrated further and further to become one new whole, is simply scintillating. Even in mapping out the characters, nothing was left to the chance. They are all full flesh and blood creatures, who while not being all good, have their own redeeming qualities and despite not liking them, you cannot help but feel empathy and even respect for many of their qualities. This ability of the author to be able to build a connection with not wholly positive characters with the readers, in yet another point, in praise of this work! There is so much, simply so much I can write about this book, but one must read it, to actually understand what I am talking about. It seems like a chunkster, but once you start, there is no way, you cannot finish it in the earliest possible manner, in the way it draws you in!

I had read somewhere, that all stories are the same after a point; on on surface, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle does seem like that,  but with it’s narrative style, the fine tuning the nuances of the usual Golden Age mysteries and a wholly innovative perspective, Mr Turton has taken a “same story” and made it into a masterful, ingenious, novel.

Tis That Time of the Year…..

Here we are, on the very last day of 2018 and it’s time to reflect and wonder, where did the year go? Of course, you may have already done this and that shows you are more practical, attuned to the demands as well value of time and over all circumspect in your approach. If that is so, then I hold you in admiration, if not, well, you have my company in the last minute reflections!

I cannot quite say I will miss 2018; I have always held the belief that even years are better for me, however 2014 and 2018, seem to really challenge this hypothesis. 2018, was in every possible way a horrid year, filled with all kinds of disagreeable happenings. In fact it was so bad, I went headlong and rushed an event, just so I can get it over and done with it this year, rather than let it fester in what I would like thinks is a brand new page. With an exception of one desperately sought professional movement, this year been blackest of black, with not even a tinge of grey to break the blackness. Thankfully, there were friends and books to see me through, yet again!

And this brings me to what is actually at the heart of this post, the 18 best books that I have read in the year! As is my tradition, based of the year number, I select that many books from my reading repertoire, in what can only be termed as one of the bestest reflections of the year. Therefore without further ado, here we go, in no particular order-

  1. Kathasaritasagar by Somadeva – This 11th century collection of Indian short stories was a significant departure from the traditional scholarly/spiritual texts of Sanskrit. In this earthly collections of tales, Kings and Courtiers, Queens and Maids, Priests and Merchants, Lions and Jackals, all battle it out for material gains of love, money, power, without managing to sound didactic or moralizing
  2. East of Eden by John Steinbeck – I cannot, simply cannot enumerate the brilliance of John Steinbeck or how wonderfully he translated it all in this book – the saga of the Hamilton and Task families in the turn of the century Salinas Valley, where the most vile is redeemed, by the sheer power of choice.
  3. The Diary of Nobody by George Grossmith – My second re-read and what is there not to love about this middle aged bumbling man in his new house and old wife and friends, as he meanders through his own life, while trying to steer the lives of his loved ones, in a most hilarious, uproariously funny writing ever!
  4. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – In this now celebrated and seminal writing, Ms. Woolf put down the very basic needs that remain unfulfilled for women, making them economically dependent and thus weaker, among the sexes.
  5. Scenes of Clerical Life by George Elliot – I have never been a fan of Ms. Elliot and though her novel, Middlemarch is considered by many the best possible English Novel; she is one author, I just could not get through and constantly struggled with. Until on a whim, I picked up The Scenes of Clerical Life and fell in love with the three short novellas that constitute this novel. The prose, the plot and the characters, all wove together, to create one of my best reads of the year. This book was powerful enough to goad me to try another Elliot – Daniel Deronda, through which I am still plodding!
  6. The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield – This funny, ironic and downright crazy narrative of a Lady living in Provincial England in between the two wars, is an absolute delight! While our narrator battles the various requirements of the Lady of the house, to various persons, including her laconic but practical Land Agent husband,the Cook who rules the household and itinerant round of parlor maids/menservants, not to mention her demands at the Woman’s Institute, as a reader, your are swept away by the  everyday life  and challenges which are as real now, as they were in 1930s and cannot help but appreciate Ms. Delafield’s ability to them on their head, and make it all look like one gigantic joyride. This was such a wonderful read that I ended up reading this twice in the year! 

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  7. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith – I discovered Arkady Renko very late in my life but having discovered him, I wasted no time in falling in love with this fictional hero. Set in 1980’s Soviet Union, the story follows the investigation by Renko, an investigator in Moscow’s Prosecutor’s office as he hunts for the identity of the three murdered victims, whose bodies are found in a cold April afternoon in Gorky Part and their killer, taking him across USSR and US, and changing the very complexion of his life so far!
  8. February by Boris Pasternak; Translated by Andrey Kneller – Boris Pasternak was another non favorite. I could not, simply could not make myself like Dr. Zhivago or his unending whining about Lara. But while reading Gorky Park, I realized that Pasternak was appreciated in Russia more as poet than a novelist and that prompted me to try and read some of his poetry. This turned out to be one the best literary decisions of my life as I can now understand, why Russians love Pasternak. I quote directly from my post on this collection, as I simply have no other way to describe the sheer power of these poems – “Pasternak in this collection of 27 poems brought the Russia that he knew, with all its beauty and tragedy to life, painting on a vast canvass, touching upon the key notes of everything that constitutes mankind. And while I am wary of all translated works, simply because one does not know exactly what is lost is translation, even in essence, there is enough in this work to enrich your soul and your mind!”
  9. Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. PearceHelen has introduced me to great many books and Dear Mrs. Bird is one such book for which I will be eternally indebted to her. This novel about a plucky, funny and sometimes clumsy heroine, who dreams of a job as a Lady War Correspondent only to end up working for a woman’s self help column, that brings her success, challenges and one of the ultimate tests of life, is one the best new books of the year, according to yours truly.
  10. The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull – This little gem is something I stumbled upon sheer chance and what a find it was! The author in a reverse narrative, actually let’s the reader on who is going to murder whom and then leads us on a merry ride of adventure, fun and a unique take on English life and times in early part of 20th century! An absolute marvel.
  11. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittian – If I had to pick one book which elevated me, made me cry and enriched me as a human being, teaching me some important lessons, it would be this absolutely scintillating memoir by Ms. Brittian tracing her youth, her struggle for education and finally the heartbreak of war. This book is a lesson of things we must NOT do as people and as responsible adults, who should bequeath a better world to the younger generation. This book forces one to think and challenge one’s belief system and then no matter how hard, work to better the world, in whatever small way we can!
  12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – Another book which came very close to Testament of Youth and enriched me as a being! This story of coming of age of Francine Nolan, her struggle for education, the constant challenges of poverty and an incapable, albeit bright father and a fierce mother, to her final tryst to college on the eve of US joining the Second World War, is more than a story of young adult. It is about determination, it is about dreaming and of never letting go what you truly want, no matter how daunting the obstacles.
  13. I, Claudius by Robert Graves – Yet another author I was wary of reading, but I finally managed to read and of course love. I, Claudius traces the early years of Claudius, the future Emperor of Rome, nephew to one Ceaser and brother to another is hardly a typical hero but Robert Graves with his deep research and brilliant writing, makes him a memorable character, with kindness and intellect, who could be a straight arrow or a diplomat as the situation demanded and whose these very skills, and not one of physical poweress will make him survive one of the most difficult and suspicious history of Roman History, to become one of the longest ruling Ceasers.
  14. The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp – There are books, that really do not have a nail biting plot or a sensational character or an epoch making historical event to serve as a background. Yet, in the setting, the characters and in the narrative, things come to together so well, that they are just right and tug at your heartstrings! The Flowering Thorn is one such book.  Lesley , the young woman about town, has everything that she wants, but is somehow unhappy. On a whim, she adopts an orphan and begins life in the country with all the challenges of keeping a cook, managing a house, not becoming and then becoming friends with the Vicar’s wife and of course taking care of young being, leading to a life that comes in an enriched full circle. Beautiful, poignant, and just lovely, I will forever be grateful to Jane for introducing me to this book!
  15. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – One of those highly cried up books of 2017, that I meant to read, but did not want to, because mostly such books are such disappointments. However I am glad I sloughed on this one.This story of Count Rostov an unrepentant aristocrat, who is punished by the Socialist Government in 1917 Russia to be confided in an attic room of the Grand Hotel overlooking Kremlin as the most volatile era of modern Russia evolve, is more than just another historical fiction. It is a deep insight into the Russian society, the changing of the guards and love that comes from the heart, without any blood bonds. I do not have enough words to describe this intellectually and emotionally illuminating book. You have to read to experience it!
  16. Final Meeting by Anna Akhmatova; translated by Andrey Kneller – Yet another book of poetry picked from the reading of Arkady Renko series. Anna Akhmatova’s poetry shines and glitters through the desolation and heartbreak, both at what happens to her personally and to her beloved Russia. It is often said, that the best poets experience pain, to write the very best poetry. I cannot even begin to fathom, the amount of pain, Ms. Akhmatova must have gone through, for such amazing works like Final Meeting, Epilogue etc. Mr. Kneller’s translation as always is appreciable in keeping the integrity and the essence of these poems very close to the originals in Russian
  17. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Torton – All stories after a point are more or less similar, and there can only be so much one can do with a murder mystery….right? Wrong. You need to read this absolutely shocker for I have no other word to describe this completely mind blowing work of Mr. Torton’s. Innovative, twisted, with a punch at the end of each chapter, only a book as this roller coaster could have helped keep me doom and gloom at bay, and help me get perspective back. Very rarely do I use this sentiment, but this book definitely calls out – Vi Va Mr. Torton!
  18. High Rising by Angela Thirkell  – I usually love most of the woman authors and their works who published some of the best pieces of fictions between 1870-1950 and am greatly indebted to many of my blogging friends for introducing me to their work. But Angela Thirkell despite all the commendations, I held back, because of what appears to be slight class consciousness in her writings. However on seeing this book listed by Cleo as a Christmas read, I decided to take the plunge. And am I glad that I did. Laura Moorland is a successful author of paperbacks for woman readers which has enabled her to raise her 4 sons, the youngest of whom, Tony is now the only one in school. Her work has also enabled her to get a flat in London and a cottage in the country, where she is headed with her son, this Christmas, to get some rest, write her book and meet old friends in High Rising. But there is a newcomer who is upsetting the serene settings of this countryside and Ms. Moorland must gather her wits, to ensure, peace continues to reign. In this she is ablely aided by many of her friends, including the village doctor, her publisher, her secretary and her formidable housekeeper Mrs. Stokes.  Unique character, uproariously funny dialogues and a plot that without being outstandingly different, neverthless holds your attention and flows smoothly! Great book to end the year with.

These then are my 18 favorites of 2018. A special shout out to Adam whose challenge,  The Official 2018 TBR Challenge, helped me read a lot of books that have been lying in my TBR forever, but from one reason or another, I did not venture forth. While I was not able to finish the entire planned 12 books, 5 of the 18 books listed stem from this challenge, which goes to show you need a friend to give you a push, always!

I cannot think of better ending for this long post and and even longer year than this piece by Ian Frazier, published a couple of years back in New Yorker  –

Dear friends, this year was not real great.
There’s no need to enumerate
Just how gloomy it’s appearing.
But Ever-better days are nearing!
Though dark nightmares be distinguished,
Still the light is not extinguished
By the darkness crowding ’round it.
Find hope’s advent by the sound it
Makes somewhere out in the distance:
Bells that ring with soft insistence,
Hoofbeats, voices singing faintly,
Hymns unearthly, almost saintly,
Mailmen’s footsteps, babies’ crying,
Wings of angels quickly flying,
News worth calling from the steeple, “Peace on earth, good will to people.” 

A peaceful, happy and bookish or whatever ish makes you happy 2019 to everyone!

The Attempt ……

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction is considered to be the interwar periods, when such stalwarts as GK Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Josephine Tey, Micheal Innes and many more, who wrote, what can be termed as “whodunnit’; murder mysteries, with a cast of characters, a certain Upper Middle Class English setting, most likely in a English Country House. These novels were mainly written from an entertainment value and were kept simple, direct and without too much complexity or depth. Despite it’s decline in popularity, especially with the on set of World War II and criticism by many including Edmund Wilson, as non intellectual reading, this genre, for many remains a go-to, that helps them escape the real life and provides much needed amusement!

The Murder of my Aunt by Richard Hull is one such piece from this era. Published in 1934, it soon was celebrated as something special in the genre and hailed by  authors and newspapers alike including Dorothy L Sayers, Times Literary Supplement and New York Times. Yet today, this novel, remains virtually unknown with  only 120 ratings and 29 reviews on GoodReads. I myself stumbled on this book by chance, too lazy on a Saturday afternoon for any heavy reading, I found this little novel in Kindle Unlimited, with a very interesting premises and began reading it on a whim!

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The book begins with the narrator, Edward Powell, describing his life in a small village town, Llwll, in Wales,  where he lives with his Aunt, Mildred, on whom he is financially dependent. Early into the novel, it unravels that Edward is a weak, pompous individual who looks down on everybody and everything. His aunt, however comes across as an excellent woman, who is kind to her neighbors, popular in the society, a just and considerate human, who goes out of her way to take care of her orphaned nephew, though he seems little deserving of the same! The two personalities naturally come into conflict with each other, and often, with Edward constantly feeling that his aunt, was stifling him, because she holds the purse, despite Edward’s overall superiority. One such clash over delivery of some novels for Edward from the post office soon escalates, leading Edward to formulate a plan, which will once and for all take care of all his concerns and ensure he is never held in contempt by his aunt!

The book blurb says, that  “this classic mystery is considered a masterpiece of the inverted detective story, in which it is known “whodunit.”  I could not have described it better; turning the whole concept of “whodunit”, Mr. Hull, from the beginning keeps the reader is in confidence of the who, but is left wondering on how and what finally did happen. In what I consider a most innovative narrative of such genre, the author manages, what is often deemed impossible, a mystery, with dollops of humor. In Edward, we find a reprehensible, good for nothing and not to bright, but thinks he is bright character. While the readers, cannot help but dislike him, at some level, he manages to create a connection, nevertheless, where one is left wondering, what does happen to him. In the character of the the Aunt, we have a portrait of all that is solid, responsible and good. She endears, because she does not always know the answer but she tries to the best of her abilities! The supporting cast is equally magnificent, with all drawn true to life and many who must have resided in the 1930s small village towns, doing their bit and leading good lives. The plot is tightly drawn and though at times, the details of the planning may get tedious, they do not essentially take anything away from the narrative and the story flows along wonderfully! Quirky, witty and intelligent, this is one of those lost gems of the genre, that need to be read, if nothing, for its sheer originality!

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!