Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Rating : 10/10

There are several times when I've wished I could do a Thursday Next and get inside a book and live with the characters. I desperately wanted my letter from Hogwarts to arrive, so that I could be part of that wonderful magical world of witches and wizards. I longed to rush to Derbyshire and lounge in the library at Pemberley. And now, I want to take the first plane to Guernsey and be part of the marvellous Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. 

I have nothing but praise for this epistolary novel which is definitely among the best books I've read this year. It is everything I'd want a good book to be: engaging, heart-warming, emotional, well-written and ultimately, unforgettable. The only complaint I have about the book is that it ended. 

Author Juliet Ashton, while in search of an idea for her next book, receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, about a book that she once owned which is now in his possession. That chance correspondence leads to stories being exchanged about each other and soon, other members of the literary society write to Juliet, sharing their experiences about life during the German Occupation of Guernsey. 

Mary Ann Shaffer wrote the majority of this magnificent book, before illness forced her niece Annie Barrows to take over and rewrite some parts. The first thing that struck me about this book was how personal the writing seemed, as you find yourself reading letters to and from different people who you grow to care about infinitely. The subtle wit, humour and realism of this very quotable book is amazing. In addition to being exquisitely charming, there is just so much talk about books in general. People talk about the books they've read that impacted their lives, kept them sane and busy when they faced all kinds of trauma. People talk of their favourite writers and recommend books to each other. People reference literary characters and try to be like them. That was all I needed. It felt like home. See this, for example:

'I remember lying in our hay-loft reading The Secret Garden with a cowbell beside me. I'd read for an hour and then ring the bell for a glass of lemonade to be brought to me. Mrs. Hutchins, the cook, eventually grew weary of this arrangement and told my mother, and that was the end of my cowbell, but not my reading in the hay.'

I believe that sometimes, the simplest tales are the ones that touch your heart and that is definitely the case with this book. I adored how nothing was pretentious about the book! Something as tragic and painful as the occupation of Guernsey by Germans who subjected the people to great problems, is told from the point of view of a commoner. It's brutally simple and so very real. Though this is a center point of the book, never is the book depressing. On the contrary, it is heart-warming, inspirational and filled with hope.  

This book has some of the most memorable characters I've ever read. Juliet Ashton is delightfully witty and definitely the girl you would love to be friends with! The members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society are about as different as the society's name itself and they pull you into their world. I felt like I should take a walk with the strong, silent Dawsey, have tea with kindhearted Amelia and try out Will Thisbee's potato peel pie, discuss Pride and Prejudice with the wild and vivid Isola (my favourite), play with  little Kit and learn more about her amazing mother Elizabeth McKenna.

You see what I mean? This book will make you want to be part of it. It will make you smile. It will make you hope for your favourite characters to get together. It will make you think about things that went wrong in the world but will more than compensate your feeling of sadness by reminding you of some of the most exciting bunch of characters. 

Mary Ann Shaffer with co-author Annie Barrows  ( Photo Credit )

Reading this book is like sipping a warm cup of tea and watching through your window while it rains. It's comforting and I definitely recommend you read it. It saddens me that Mary Ann Shaffer is not alive to see the impact and reach of this book. I can't thank her enough for hours of reading pleasure. I'm so glad I bought this book and look forward to rereading it soon! This one is a keeper.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The White Queen - Philippa Gregory

Rating: 7/10

I'm not Philippa Gregory's biggest fan, but I have enjoyed some of her books like The Constant Princess and The Boleyn Inheritance, while I thought books such as The Other Boleyn Girl were overrated. Gregory's talent of weaving history into a racy, thrilling plot is definitely the main reason I keep going back to her books, even if I don't think they are the best books ever. 

The White Queen is proof again of why Gregory is definitely a master at her field. The story of Elizabeth Woodwille, a Lancastrian widow who marries King Edward IV of York and lives through the War of the Roses, is narrated at a swift pace that makes it a great page-turner. The ingredient that makes for most of her novels is  in place here too: a strong, feisty heroine fighting to keep herself and her children victorious. 

Elizabeth Woodwille is a ruthless, ambitious, often unforgiving woman with many a grudge to hold. She cares about nobody except herself, her family and her husband. She is often not at all easy to like. Yet, I found myself sympathising with her several times for being a lone woman, standing strong and fighting for herself and her children. For all her cunning, wicked and sly behaviour, when it comes to her children, Elizabeth is remarkably  loving and emotional:

'I am not nursing him for the sake of York, I am nursing him for love. I do not want him to thrive to be a prince. I want him to thrive to be a strong boy. This is my baby boy. I cannot bear to lose him as I lost his sister.'

This book is set in a period strewn with wars, which can make the tale boring if not portrayed in the right doses, which Gregory does here. The characters in the book are scheming all the time with one often looking for just the opportunity to overthrow the other. This is of course a scenario that gets tedious at times, especially if you can't really sympathise with one 'side' or the other. The fable of Melusina, the water goddess, is also woven into this book in a way that adds to the mystique element of the story without seeming too pointless.

I went into this book knowing next to nothing about the Wars of the Roses or indeed even the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, both of which are skilfully narrated in the story. Gregory brings history to life and spices it up with witty exchanges and interesting dialogues. By the time I finished the book, I was looking forward to reading more about the Plantagenets and the House of York. Gregory, in her author's note, explains clearly the factual and fictional portions of her book which is helpful for the reader who is a novice in this period of history. 

I definitely enjoyed reading The White Queen and would certainly recommend it to fans of historical fiction. The Plantagenets are just as interesting as the Tudors and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of Gregory's books about them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Austen-tatious Indian - My Guest Post!

When the lovely Priya who blogs at Uniquely Priya asked me to write a guest post, I was incredibly flattered and honoured and equally nervous about writing a good post. The topic was obvious to me the moment she asked me though. Of course I had to write about Austen. Thank you so much Priya for asking me to write this!

The Austen-tatious Indian 
"I must have been 11 when I chanced upon an abridged version of a novel that would go on to be one of my most favourite books. It had a horribly illustrated pink and orange cover which put me off the book for a long time.

In 2005, after having read some excellent reviews, I decided to watch Pride and Prejudice. It was love at second sight. Proof again of what Austen says in the book: first impressions might be terribly wrong. I adored the movie. Matthew Macfadyen was dreamy, brooding and passionate. And yes, I had never heard of a Mr. Colin Firth. I decided reading the book would be a good idea. And the rest is history. "

Read the rest here at Priya's blog and be sure to tell me how you like it! :)

Image: Etsy

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

All Jane Austen, All The Time.....

I've NEVER managed to resist Austen. And I doubt that shall change any soon. When I saw that the Everything Austen Challenge, which made me a serious blogger and helped me meet some wonderful fellow Janeites, was back, I just couldn't say no. Thanks again to Stephanie of Stephanie's Written Word for keeping us Austen-fans occupied! :)

Here's a list of 6 Austen-themed things, of which I have decided only one:

1. Reread Pride and Prejudice  -  I never stick to routines but reading Pride and Prejudice once a year at least is a routine I've never broken in the last four years :)

I'm interested to see more choices and hopefully new books/ movies related to Austen which I can use for Everything Austen II. Hope you join in with the fun too!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Two Lovely Awards

I love passing around awards as much as I love receiving them. So here goes:

The wonderful Priya Parmar whose delightful blog The Plum Bean Project is a must-read on my blog list gave me the Premio Dardos award.Vaishnavi whose blog The Dust Jacket is an elegant, great read also passed this award to me. I'm honoured to receive this award from both of you :)

"The PrĂªmio Dardos is a way to acknowledge the importance of bloggers committed with spreading cultural, ethical, literary and personal values, showing their thoughts are alive through their letters and words."

I need to pass this award to 15 blogs. Here are the brilliant blogs I can think of right now to pass the award:
1. Alyce at At Home With Books
2. Rebecca Schinsky at The Book Lady's Blog
3. JoAnn at Lakeside Musing
4. Priya at Uniquely Priya
7. Velvet at vvb32reads
8. Claire at Paperback Reader

Kate at Kate's Library, whose blog is one of the best new blogs I'm following, made my day today by passing the Versatile Blogger award to me. Thank you Kate! :)

I have to share seven things about myself as part of receiving this award:

1. I love musicals. My favourite musicals are Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and recently, Enchanted.
2. Playing scrabble is one of my favourite pastimes.
3. I wrote embarrassingly lame poems when I was young. Especially one written in a birthday card to my Dad, in which I seem to have assumed I need to rhyme every single word possible. 
4. Green is my favourite colour. One of the reasons I love this award image!
5. Tea is love. Iced tea, lemon tea, peach flavoured tea are especially great.
6. According to this Jane Austen Heroine quiz, I'm Elizabeth Bennet.
7. I spend most of my pocket money on books.

I'm passing this award to the following versatile blogs that I've newly discovered and loved :)

1. Jillian at Random Ramblings
2. Birdie at Birdie's Nest
3. Lady Scribbles at Lady Scribbles' Book Lounge
4. Stella at Ex Libris 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe - Fannie Flagg

Rating: 6/10

Believe me, I wanted to adore this book so very much and I would have loved to give it a perfect score. But to be honest, Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe stops from being an epic, heart-warming novel because of its wayward narrative and too many characters. Old Mrs.Ninny Threadgoode tells the story of her life to Evelyn Couch, a middle-aged woman with her own problems, taking both Evelyn and the reader to the unforgettable town of Whistle Stop, Alabama.

One of the best things about the book is definitely how Flagg makes Whistle Stop and the variety of people who inhabited it during the Depression, come to life. Much like Evelyn, by the time you're done reading the book, you feel you know Whistle Stop, its folk, and its popular cafe run by two women Ruth and Idgie, so very well. Flagg writes with great humour, intense emotion and is very quotable. But I had problems with the structuring of the story. It jumps from present to the past way too often, which becomes tedious and drawn-out. The narration of past and present is interspersed with newspaper clippings that add to the tale. 

I entirely adored the newspaper clippings. Dot Weems, who writes for The Weems Weekly, is a joy to read and she's my new absolutely favourite character. Sample this bit from her hilarious, personalized, to-the-point articles that reflected the closeness of the society she wrote for:

'Yes, my other half is the same one who went for a ride when we had that hailstorm with hail as big as baseballs and it took us three weeks to get the windshield replaced. He's the same one that got struck by the lightning, fishing down on the river in a rowboat. So the next time you see bad weather coming and you see Wilbur, send him home and I'm gonna put him in the closet and lock him up. I'm afraid a tornado is liable to pick him up and take him on off somewhere...then who would I have to fight with?'

Much like Dot Weems, there are some excellent characters like the feisty Idgy Threadgoode, the adorable Ninny Threadgoode etc. But the major problem that made this book less enjoyable to me was the numerous characters that just kept turning up. There were just too many names and too many people, that I was in no mood to care for them much, because I kept forgetting who was who! 

The relationship between Igdie and Ruth was interesting to read, as was the friendship between Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode. The novel also tackles themes like lesbianism, racism, feminism. As the novel went on, it was easy to notice that there was no one main plot, but numerous sub plots. Some characters just involve the reader emotionally and there are a couple of absolutely heartwarming scenes that brought me close to tears. But those scenes, sadly, were not too many. 

I've heard that the movie has fewer characters and a more streamlined plot in place. Which is a huge relief because the one thing that troubled the book for me was the fact that it took up too much more than it could handle. I've also heard that this is one of those rare instances when the movie is better than the book, and I'm looking forward to watching it!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thursdays With Tagore - A New Version

For the last few months, every Thursday, I've been posting Tagore's poems as translated in this book (which I've finished reading) or as found online. I've absolutely enjoyed sharing my love for Tagore with some absolutely wonderful people across the world here. From today onwards, Thursdays With Tagore will feature specific poems.

Last week, I went to a bookstore and bought myself the collection of poems that Tagore won the Nobel Prize for:  Gitanjali (Song Offerings). This book, which has some wonderful, historic photographs as well as the text of Tagore's amazing Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech is the one from which I shall be sharing the poems. 

Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.

     This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales, and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.

     At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.

     Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.

This is so gorgeous and divine. There's no point in picking my favourite lines because they all fit in so well, flow with great beauty and a wonderful meaning for every reader.  

Monday, June 7, 2010

Miss Austen Regrets

Rating: 10/10

To put it simply, this is the best cinematic tribute to Jane Austen that I've seen. Tracing the later years of Jane Austen's life, as she puts up with the norms of society at that time while helping her niece Fanny find her Mr. Darcy, this fictionalized account of Austen's life is so emotional, moving and unforgettable. I was in tears by the end of this great film and I would recommend BBC's Miss Austen Regrets to just about every single Janeite. 

The most fascinating thing about this film is the fact that it showcases the personality and character of Jane Austen very close to how I imagined her to be, judging from her books. Olivia Williams' Austen is feisty, sarcastic, witty, mischievous, with a great flair for life and independence. Williams is unforgettable in the lead role as our favourite author. I doubt I can read the books without an image of Olivia Williams as Austen gleaming in my mind. The film is worth watching just for her alone.

But indeed, that's not the case! The dialogues are very quotable (though I didn't really like Austen saying "The only way to get a man like Mr. Darcy is to make him up" ;) ), the references to Austen's great novels are naturally and seamlessly done and the cast is as close to perfection as I can hope for. Greta Scacchi as Cassandra Austen is a delight, even more so because of her resemblance to Williams which makes them both indeed look like sisters! Imogen Poots definitely deserves a word of praise for being refreshing in her role as Austen's niece Fanny.

The cinematography is a visual delight; taking in the gorgeous greenery of the English countryside, subtly played around with sunsets and sunrises, is an absolute pleasure. The music is apt, pleasing, while the costumes are beautiful and elegant. 

But what makes this film so amazing is the inherent sincerity with which it has been made; sincerity towards weaving a story line and characterising Austen in such a way that it seems so realistic. The movie takes you on a journey to observe and admire our favourite author. Indeed you will spare more than a thought to the great Miss Austen, as you will realize the stark reality of the not-too-happy and depressing situations she faced. After watching this movie, you will be sure to think more about the author than just the wonderful characters she created.

I cannot recommend this film enough. If you're an Austen fan and you haven't watched Miss Austen Regrets yet, rush and see it. I'm pretty sure you won't regret watching it!

Friday, June 4, 2010

South Asian Author Challenge - COMPLETED

It feels great to complete a challenge, that too one that involves reading 10 books, a maximum that I chose knowing I read a lot of Indian authors. My list of completed books differs from my initial list of books, but as you might very well know, I shall be reading a lot more South Asian authors.

I'm very glad that Swapna of S.Krishna's Books hosted this challenge, because it helps more people experience the writing of some amazing South Asian authors. This was a fascinating reading experience for me  and I read some pretty amazing books for this challenge. Here are the ten books I read:

1. The Palace of Illusions - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
2. Letters From A Father To His Daughter - Jawaharlal Nehru
3. Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri
4. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
6. The Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie
7. Diplomatic Divide: Cross Border Talks - Dr. Humayun Khan and G. Parthasarathy
8. The Space Between Us - Thrity Umrigar
10. Young Turks - Krishan Partap Singh

Fiction: 7
Non-fiction: 3

Best Books: 
1. Nehru: The Making of India - A befitting tribute to a great man. This is a biography of Jawaharlal Nehru that is masterfully written and is a joy to read. One of those books that you will go back to all the time.

2. Interpreter of Maladies - Worthy winner of the Pulitzer prize. Lahiri writes with sheer beauty, elegance and emotion. A collection of unforgettable short stories that made me cry and laugh with them. 

3. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People - A heart-warming, affectionate portrayal of modern India and her people. Zama's writing is deceptively simple, sensitive and interesting. I'm looking forward to reading its sequel The Many Conditions of Love.

4. Diplomatic Divide : Cross Border Talks - This is a book I haven't reviewed here because I'm no expert at the subject and I didn't have much to say about it except that it is a fascinating study of India-Pakistan relations. This book, a compilation of the thoughts of former Pakistani diplomat Humayun Khan and former Indian diplomat G.Parthasarathy, covers a wide range of relevant issues and makes a wonderfully strong case about the importance of talks and mutual confidence building measures. If you're interested in politics, modern history or diplomacy, this book is quite the treat! 

5. Letters From A Father To His Daughter - Nehru writes with such affection and an intention to tell his daughter Indira about the world, its history, her country, society etc. I wish I had read this book as a child!  The book is a perfect way to open your child to the world that is around him/her. A definite classic.

6. Unaccustomed Earth: A more mature, darker collection of stories about the lives of Indians living abroad, through this book Lahiri reinforces just why she is one of the best writers around. Gripping, emotional and fascinating, this book is a must-read.

Young Turks - Krishan Partap Singh

Rating: 7/10

If I had to sum this book in a sentence, I would say this is a watered-down Jeffrey Archer style political thriller that is worth reading, if just to stay away from boredom. Because that is one thing I can be quite sure of, as far as this book is concerned. Predictable, it is. Unbelievable in places, yes. Boring? Definitely not. This is an excellent page-turner in the best sense of the word.

Having heard so much about Krishan Partap Singh and knowing my like for political fiction and non-fiction, I picked Young Turks. This is the story of Karan Nehru and Azim Khan, childhood friends, accidental entrants to politics and later, cabinet ministers. A friendship that has endured and flourished over the years stands in grave threat of collapsing, when the Prime Minister's chair is waiting for one of them to take over. Who will it be?

Reminiscent very mildly of Archer's Kane and Abel for the powerful lead characters, Young Turks is worth reading if only for the heady mix of history, politics and patriotism that it provides. The different struggles that the men face in their political and personal life are chronicled in an easy, interesting style. Karan Nehru, a man who holds a surname of astronomical importance in Indian politics, is the brash, outspoken, vivid, fun type. Azim Khan, a fierce patriot who insists on putting his country before his religion or anything else, is soft, sensitive, practical, intelligent and honest. I couldn't help but admire Azim for his clear, sensible vision for his country, while I thought Karan is a fun yet very predictable character.

I feel the book stops itself from being an epic political thriller because it glosses over and moves too quickly from scene to scene, time period to time period. Singh explains a lot of political, diplomatic and military issues to aid the reader in understanding the intensity of each situation. I admired that the author paid tribute to Jawaharlal Nehru- the 'architect of modern India', by adequately and rightly referring to and praising the great man that he was, in this book. The political speeches of the characters are well-written; just what a common man would like his leaders to say. The book also sends a simple but important message, that of a united, strong India. 

I had some problems with the book, one of which was the implausible final events leading to the climax. It was just too dramatic and unbelievable in my opinion. Another thing that irked me was the presence of grammatical mistakes, spelling errors ('foriegn' minister?!) and typos in the book. I dearly wish the editor had checked through the book well enough and avoided these errors that irritates the reader.

In conclusion, Young Turks is a great way to pass time, especially if you're in the mood for a page-turner or a political thriller. Krishan Partap Singh writes in an easy style that would attract all readers and I'm looking forward to reading the other two books which along with Young Turks forms The Raisina Series. I hope Singh gives Chetan Bhagat a run for his money!

This book rounds up the ten books I needed to read for the South Asian Author Challenge hosted by S.Krishna's Books. Needless to say, I'll continue to read a lot of Indian authors. Expect a challenge review post coming up soon :)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thursdays With Tagore - June 3

Every Thursday, I shall read one of Tagore's poems as translated in this book or some other poem I can find. I shall post some lines from the poem and perhaps a detail of how I liked this poem or not. Any others who want to join in this meme are absolutely welcome to do so! 


Well, maybe it's play, but one which we must join
with everyone, in a happy hullabaloo!
What would be the point of leaving it all and sitting
silently in a dark corner of the self?
Know that you are but a child in this vast world,
in the cradle of infinite time, in the sky's playground:
you think you know it all, but you know nothing!
Pick it up - with faith, humility, love -
that grand toy - coloured, musical, scented -
which your mother's given you. Well, maybe it's dust!
So what? Isn't it dust beyond compare?
Prematurely senile, don't mope, sitting alone:
you won't be an adult till you join the merry-go-round.

The poem is typical of Tagore, beautifully exploring the themes that he loves: Time and life being a play with men and women 'actors and actresses' :

Know that you are but a child in this vast world,
in the cradle of infinite time, in the sky's playground:
you think you know it all, but you know nothing!

This poem I found remarkable because on the face of it, it seems very simple, but its inner meaning is profound and unforgettable. The literal and metaphorical meanings are equally gripping. These are things we've all heard people say, but not quite in the deceptively easy yet powerful way that Tagore does:

Prematurely senile, don't mope, sitting alone:
you won't be an adult till you join the merry-go-round.


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