Thursday, December 30, 2010

Awesome Author Challenge 2011

This awesome challenge is hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books, and it is all about reading works by authors who have been recommended to you but whom you have not had a chance to read yet. I finished this challenge last year and enjoyed discovering new authors - so I'm excited about doing this again.

I will be participating at the Simply Awesome level (3 to 6 books). One author whose books I would like to read already comes to mind - Sharon Kay Penman. Thanks, Alyce for hosting!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Out of Hibernation

I have been in hibernation for about 7 months now. Family events, travel, you name it - it has been a very busy and a fairly difficult time for us. However, I have been reading as much as I can and hope to be back to blogging very soon. I have missed being part of this great community and really look forward to being back!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Character Connection - DEATH

This is a very interesting meme from the Introverted Reader, where the goal is to spotlight one character of interest every week.

My character connection for today is Death, the Grim Reaper in Terry Pratchett's wonderful Discworld. Death appears in almost all of the Discworld novels, but we first encounter him in some depth in Mort, the story of a young man who becomes Death's apprentice.

Death is rather typical actually - he is a skeleton, and usually wears a cowl and a carries a scythe to boot. in his own words he is an ANTHROPOMORPHIC PERSONIFICATION, and rides a pale horse named Binky. "He long ago gave up using traditional skeletal horses because of the bother of having to stop all the time to wire bits back on." (Mort) Being a skeleton, Death does not really talk per se, but his words enter the listener's head directly, not passing through the ears. He is the only character in Discworld who talks all in SMALL CAPS without quotation marks.

When Mort first converses with Death, he exclaims "But you're Death, You go around killing people!"


Death is indeed very matter-of-fact about his job. When Mort first accompanies Death on his duties, their 'client' is a king who is killed in a plot by his cousin. Mort is appalled to see this assassination being carried out and wants Death to prevent it. LISTEN, said Death. FAIR DOESN'T COME INTO IT. YOU CAN'T TAKE SIDES. GOOD GRIEF. WHEN ITS'S TIME, IT'S TIME. THAT'S ALL THERE IS TO IT BOY. Death then goes on to take a swing with his sword, passing it through the kings neck neatly. A GOOD CLEAN JOB, said Death. ROYALTY ARE ALWAYS A PROBLEM. THEY TEND TO WANT TO HANG ON. YOUR AVERAGE PEASANT NOW, HE CAN'T WAIT.

Death lives in a very large house with his faithful manservant Albert and his adopted daughter Ysabell. He is not very imaginative with color though, and black is the predominant color in house and garden. Even the broccoli that Death grows is black, tinted with purple. Death has a fondness for cats, but is truly fascinated by human beings. So much so that, in Reaper Man, he is accused of being too human and sent to live among humans by the Auditors of Reality who
make sure that everything in Discworld proceeds according to The Rules. While other species created new deaths, there is chaos among humans, while Death is having a good time as Bill Door, a farmhand. Death eventually returns to his duties and all is well with Discworld.

Death appears in all the Discworld novels except one, and is a fun, friendly, and fascinating character - my favorite in Discworld.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Awesome Author Challege - Wrap-Up Post

The Awesome Author Challenge is an interesting challenge hosted by Alyce at At Home With Books where you get to read works by three awesome authors you have been recommended to you but whom you have not got around to reading yet. This blog was only four days old when I decided to sign up for this challenge, and, not being sure if I was up to a challenge, I decided to do it at the Easy level which meant reading three new authors. The books I read for this challenge were:

1) Gallows View by Peter Robinson
2) The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
3) Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

I must say I am very glad I participated in this challenge. I loved all three books and hope to read more by all these authors. I was particularly impressed by Georgette Heyer whom I had postponed reading for years in spite of many recommendations. Cotillion was so witty and well-written, I can't wait to read more by Heyer.

Thanks, Alyce, for hosting this challenge and helping me get introduced to three great authors!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Locus Focus - 221B Baker Street, London

Locus Focus is a meme hosted by Shredded Cheddar. The goal is to write about your favorite settings in books. This is my very first post and I am excited to take part in this fascinating meme!

My setting for today is 221B Baker Street, London, England. This address is probably one of the most well-known fictional addresses - that of a building in London occupied by Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective and Dr. John Watson, his friend and companion.

Holmes' residence also serves as the office where he receives clients, and therefore, features in most of the novels and short stories in which he appears. When we first meet Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, Dr. Watson is looking for a room to share and is introduced to Holmes. The first impression Watson has of 221B is as follows: "They (the rooms) consisted of a couple of comfortable bed-rooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two large windows." Later, we learn that the building is a three level home, with Watson's bedroom being over the sitting room. This probably made it easier for the doctor to stay confined to his bedroom when Holmes entertains his clients.

When any of these nondescript individuals put in an appearance, Sherlock Holmes used to beg for the use of the sitting-room and I would retire to my bed-room. He always apologized to me for putting me to this inconvenience. "I have to use this room as a place of business", he said, "and these people are my clients." ( A Study in Scarlet)

The sitting room was the most frequented part of the lodging, and was used for many purposes, the most famous being of course, Holmes' brilliant deductions. Holmes also used cocaine in this very room. "Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting-room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night." Holmes played the violin in this sitting room when, "leaning back in his arm chair of an evening, he would close his eyes and scrape carelessly at the fiddle which was thrown across his knee." The sitting room also doubled as a dining area, and Mrs. Hudson, their landlady provided the meals for the two men. And how can I not mention Holmes spraying the walls with bullets on a whim as shooting practice? Mrs. Hudson must have been a very accomodating landlady!

While the numbers in Baker Street did not run up to 221 during Conan Doyle's time, they do now, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum is now at 239 Baker Street (though the number on the door says 221B - see picture). Numerous letters are written to Holmes at this address every year, and there have been many debates related to the location of this address and the floor plan of the flat - not many fictional addresses can boast of such fame!

Here is an interesting link to an artist's plan of the rooms at 221B Baker Street and more notes related to the flat itself.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Character Connection - Captain Arthur Hastings

This is a very interesting meme from the Introverted Reader, where the goal is to spotlight one character of interest every week.

Almost all detective novels feature a loyal sidekick who assists the detective in his quest to solve a crime. In police procedurals, this sidekick is often an officer of lower rank, while in novels with a private detective, the responsibility falls on the shoulder of a friend or significant other. One of my favorite sidekicks in Captain Arthur Hastings, the friend and companion of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, who is my Character Connection for this week.

Arthur Hastings is introduced to us in Poirot's first case "The Mysterious Affair at Styles". The year is 1916, the First World War is going on, Hastings is thirty and has just returned home from the Front to convalesce after being invalided. He runs into Poirot whom he has encountered before, but their partnership in solving crime begins at Styles.

A sidekick in a detective novel plays an important role as he or she makes it possible for us to view all that goes on in the story, without getting into the detective's head or without the author being the narrator. Hercule Poirot confides in Hastings (though not all), and this allows us to keep up with Poirot and knowing what he knows, while enabling us to come to our own conclusions given that knowledge.

Hastings is the perfect companion - fiercely loyal to Poirot, willing to take risks for him and carry out his instructions without questioning why. Hastings is sometimes annoyed at Poirot for not telling him all, but can never stay annoyed with Poirot for long, such is his respect and love for Poirot. All this makes Hastings very endearing to me - in fact, I often feel closer to Hastings than to Poirot. Poirot is indeed brilliant, but he may just have too many little grey cells when compared to the average reader of detective fiction. Poirot is someone to be respected and admired, but Hastings is the one I would want as a friend, certainly more on my wavelength than Poirot. While Hastings is made to look extraordinarily stupid sometimes, this is a ruse that works in making me feel better about my own ability to deduce. Hey, I may not be as smart as Poirot, but I am certainly smarter than that Hastings!

Hastings is also gallant, falls in love rather easily, with a weakness for pretty auburn-haired women. He is a gentleman from the upper crust of English society, and his being so makes is easier for Poirot to gain the confidences of members of that class who are often hostile to the strange foreigner.

Out of the 33 full-length novels that Christie wrote featuring Poirot, Hastings actually only appears in eight, though he does feature in most of the short stories involving Poirot. We see the evolution of his character - he meets the woman he loves while working on a case, marries her and moves to the Argentine for a while. And we see Poirot missing Hastings' presence during this time, not being able to talk to someone about the case at hand, and most of all missing the loyalty and support that are Hastings' trademarks.

Hastings returns however, and what a reunion they have! In Curtain, Poirot's final case, Hastings returns once more from the Argentine having buried his beloved there. He reminiscences on the old days:

It was at Styles that I had met again that strange little man, Hercule Poirot, whom I had first come across in Belgium.

How well I remembered my amazement when I had seen the limping figure with the large moustache coming up the village street.

Hercule Poirot! Since those days he had been my dearest friend; his influence had moulded my life. In company with him, in the hunting down of yet another murderer, I had met my wife, the truest and sweetest companion any man could have had.

There is Arthur Hastings for you - great friend, great husband, great person.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Review: Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Year: 1953
Pages: 316 (Putnam Hardback)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Regency Romance
My Rating: 4.8/5
My Source: Library

The short of it: A very light and humorous regency romance by Georgette Heyer, with very well-drawn characters and an interesting plot. I recommend this book for the avid romance reader as well as those who are not too fond of the romance genre, but enjoy a well-written narrative filled with humor and delightful characters.

The long of it: This is a book by the master of regency romances, Georgette Heyer. The year in 1815 or thereabouts and the setting is London and its vicinities during the British regency. Kitty Charing, a lively, smart, charming young woman is potentially a young heiress. However, her rich and miserly old guardian Mr. Penicuik has one condition under which she can inherit - she has to marry one of his several grand nephews. This condition brings on a couple of offers from nephews she has no interest in; but the one grand nephew, Jack Westruther, on whom she has had a crush for a long time does not propose. To incite his jealousy, Kitty pretends to be engaged to Freddy Standen, another of the many grand nephews, and goes to London to stay with his family. The rest of the story is a hilarious narration of the events that unfold out of this decision, with several romantic plots taking place at the same time. A cotillion is a nineteenth century dance involving several couples and partner exchanges, and is indeed an apt title for this story.

This was my first Georgette Heyer novel. I am a big fan of Jane Austen, and Georgette Heyer had been recommended to me by several friends as her romances are also set in the British Regency period. However, I found Heyer's narrative technique and characters to have more in common with those of P. G. Wodehouse than of Jane Austen. The multiple romantic plots with mix-ups are very Wodehousian. The earls, viscounts, and baronets who punctuate this book bring to mind the members of the upper crust in Wodehouse's books. Even names seem familiar - Hannah Plymstock brought to mind Wodehouse's Tipton Plimsoll, while Lord Dolphinton bears some resemblance to Lord Emsworth. Freddy Standen reminded me of Bertie Wooster, though a more intelligent version who did not require a Jeeves in waiting.

Every character in this book is developed very well - but particular mention must be made of Kitty Charing and Freddy Standen. Kitty had my sympathy from page one - an intelligent, strong willed young woman, good at heart, wanting to help lovers in distress, and not really thinking very much about her own future. Freddy Standen is not your typical romantic hero - he is not tall or handsome and quite the dandy. He spends more time adjusting his neckcloth and scolding his sister for her bad taste in dress than sweeping you off your feet. Indeed, he is not at all impressed with young gallants like Walter Scott's young Lochinvar who carried away the woman he loved from under the very nose of her intended bridegroom. "Sounds to me like a dashed loose-screw" is all Freddy has to say of young Lochinvar! Freddy, is in spite of his quirks, the most decent, honest, and simple man in the book, and I found myself wishing that he, and not one of the others, will win Kitty's hand at the end.

I tend to be skeptical of the romance genre as a whole, though I love a light romance a la P. G. Wodehouse and fun characters, and this book suited my taste to a T. I enjoyed this book very much, heartily recommend it, and definitely plan to read more of Heyer.

This book counts toward two challenges - The Awesome Author Challenge hosted by At Home With Books, and the Typically British Reading Challenge hosted by bookchickcity.

This book is also part of the Book Review Party Wednesday for May 12 hosted by Cym Lowell.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Book Review Blog Carnival No. 43

Hello, and welcome Book Review Blog Carnival No. 43! We have a number of interesting reviews spanning several genres, and I am excited to be hosting the carnival this week. Thanks to all who participated, and hope you enjoy reading the reviews as much as I did!


In this edition, we have an eclectic collection of non-fiction books covering topics ranging from libraries and books to food and moms.

In honor of National Library Week, Clark Bjorke at I'll Never Forget The Day I Read a Book, whose brainchild this carnival is, reviews a book about libraries and librarians interestingly titled This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, and written by Marilyn Johnson. Bjorke writes, " Johnson may be the next John McPhee, able to tease out a fascinating book on even the most mundane subject."

Moving on from libraries to books themselves, Daniel Alarcon's The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook is recommended by Scouting Technology and the Arts. Scouting says, "what a smart book to "write". Ask some of the best novelists in the world some questions about books and writing, then edit all the replies. Voilà, book written."

Still on the subject of books, How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler is discussed by Reading Scholar. Says Reading Scholar, " If you have the time and interest I would highly recommend you pick up the book. Read and Re-read the chapter on analytical reading until you can flawlessly practice it. The rest of the book is not worth the time because the best way to learn once you know how to analytically read is to actually spend 45- minutes to an hour slowly reading through a book and really understanding it. Practice is the best teacher."

Here is a review that is particularly appropriate on Mother's Day. Busy Moms Who Love to Read highlights Momover by Dana Wood, a guide for new moms about getting it together mentally, physically, and spiritually, and says "I think this book would make a perfect baby shower gift to any mommy-to-be, as long as she likes to laugh at witty repartee."

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan is the subject of a review at Science on Tap. According to Science on Tap, "Stripped of science, gobbledygook, and intimidating biochemical terminology, Pollan spells out a straightforward, common-sense, distilled treatise on "rules" for eating soundly, for all concerned with food and nutrition. He boils it down to this: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much," and then spends a chapter explicating each of these basic concepts in more (but very simple) detail."

Science Fiction

Frank Herbert's award-winning classic Dune is reviewed by Josh Hanagarne at World's Strongest Librarian. Josh is glad to have read this book and says that Dune "resists summary because, according to its many fans and foes, it is any number of books and few people have the same interpretation.”

Other Fiction

This edition of the Carnival also includes a variety of other fiction books, including books dealing with a variety of relationships and books with an international flavor.

Colloquium reviews The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards, a book on family, relationships and secrets, and states "Compulsively readable and deeply moving, The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a brilliantly crafted story of parallel lives, familial secrets, and the redemptive power of love." Colloquium concludes that this book is "a quick, mostly engrossing read, and perfect for a book discussion group because of the numerous ethical and moral questions it raises."

Another book addressing relationships is Kristy Kiernan's third novel, Between Friends. Sumana at Books With a Cup of Coffee suggests reading this one, saying " I loved the book, it gives you a picture of families dealing with infertility and other chronic illnesses. It makes you feel their emotions, sadness, happiness…you cry with them, laugh with the..try to understand them. I would certainly recommend this book to everybody who loves a good book."

From family relationships to romantic relationships. A historical romance, A Distant Melody by Sarah Sundin is the subject of a review by Missy Frye at the Incurable Disease of Writing. This is the first book in the Wings of Glory series by Sundin, and is a "satisfying blend of action, romance, and history" set during World War II. Missy goes on to say " A Distant Melody is an exceptionally well-crafted novel. The characters are superbly developed and the plot and story are gripping."

Jim Murdoch at The Truth About Lies reviews two books with an international flavor. Romanian writer Herta Mueller was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009, and The Passport is a 92-page novella written by her. It is a narrative of the difficulties faced by an ethnic German living in Romania when he applies for a passport in order to migrate to West Germany. According to Murdoch, "The Passport is a haunting book. I have no doubt that what Müller went through that resulted in the writing of this book will haunt her for the rest of her life."

Jim Murdoch also discusses Stone Tree, a collection of short stories by the Icelandic writer Gyrdir Eliasson. Murdoch says, "I personally liked the book, not every story, but there were only a couple where I felt cheated on the storytelling front but not of the atmosphere front."

Finance, Economics, and Careers

Bargaineering reviews The Little Book of Big Dividends by Charles B. Carlson, which primarily deals with establishing investing goals and dividend investing. Says Bargaineering, "If you’re a seasoned dividend investor, this book will only server as a refresher (I finished it in less than two hours). If you are brand new and/or want to know if you are missing any key ideas in the strategy, then I would put this book on your future reading list."

Christian Personal Finance writes that Where the Jobs Are Now by Joe Watson discusses industries with fast growth rates and is " reference guide to achieve long-term employment. " While the books is heavy on statistics, " The author hopes “Where the Jobs Are Now” will help ones’ search for a lasting and stable career. And, in this tough economy, it might just be the book many are looking for."

Hobbies and Crafts writes recommends a whole series of craft project books "that often come with tools and materials to make the projects described within." This series is the Klutz Krafts for Kids Kits and titles include Paper Fashions, Lettering in Crazy Cool Quirky Style, Quick Draw Flip Books, Shrink Art Jewelry, and FineCraftGuild's favorite, Paper Fashions Fancy.

Katya at Expat reviews Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, a book on photography. Says Katya, " If you are passionate or interested in fine art photography, this is a must read."

Self Help

Your Best Library writes about Ask and It Is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks. " Your life reveals who you really are. Relax and enjoy your life. Nurture your desires, so that you can feel who you really are. Discover and love yourself. Always remember that life is not about knowledge, but about fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy.”

I would like to thank Clark Bjorke at I'll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book for dreaming up this wonderful carnival and for giving me the opportunity to host. I have come to learn that the carnival has been in existence since September 2008 - keep up the good work, Clark!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Blogger Hop May 7-13

Jennifer at Crazy for Books has a book blogger hop going on every Friday. What a great way to visit new blogs and get to meet new bloggers! I look forward to visiting several new blogs this week, and a big thanks to all who made their way here through the Hop!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Character Connection - Hamlet

This is a very interesting meme from the Introverted Reader, where the goal is to spotlight one character of interest every week.

My choice this week is Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, one of Shakespeare's greatest characters, and possibly the greatest dramatic character ever. I've been inspired by the gorgeous and extremely talented David Tennant's version of Hamlet which was aired on PBS last week, and which I have seen three times already and can't get enough of!

Hamlet's character has been analyzed to bits by scholars, and I'm going to make my case as to why I personally love this character. Hamlet is a very sensitive and emotional young man, but not crazy as he is made out to be sometimes. To see what he is going through, I would like you to put yourself in Hamlet's shoes for a bit.

Your father, whom you loved deeply, has passed away. While you are filled with profound grief, your mother marries your uncle who is now king. Your are shattered by this event, when the ghost of your father appears before you and tells you that your father was actually murdered by your uncle, and wants you to avenge this murder.

This is indeed a tough situation for anyone. Hamlet is driven by conflicting emotions. He loves Ophelia, but mistrusts women because of his mother's actions. He has an opportunity to kill the king, but does not do so. In the meantime, the king is plotting his murder. All this leads to Hamlet being directly or indirectly being involved in the death of more than one person, eventually ending in tragedy all around.

It is hard to have a crush on Hamlet, but I like this character, because Hamlet is sometimes a part of me. There are moments in all our lives when we are faced with difficult questions and choices and find it hard to decide what is right and to act on that decision. Hamlet is given several soliloquies where he debates himself, is conflicted, very emotional and even appears crazy. How can I not cite his best speech

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep -
No more - and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to! 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep -
To sleep - Perchance to dream;
ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Ultimately Hamlet is a very good person, trying to do the right thing, and
Shakespeare brings this out very well indeed. Here is Horatio's final tribute to

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet Prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Upcoming Event - Book Review Blog Carnival 43

This blog will be hosting the Book Review Blog Carnival Number 43 on Sunday May 9th. This is the brainchild of Clark Bjorke at I'll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book!, and takes place every other Sunday. Please do feel free to submit a review here - submission deadline is Saturday night!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Character Connection - Henry Tilney

This is a very interesting meme from the Introverted Reader, where the goal is to spotlight one character of interest every week.

My character for this week is Henry Tilney, the leading man in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. While Mr. Knightley from Emma has always been my favorite Austen hero, he is followed very closely by Henry Tilney, and, depending on my mood, I sometimes would rather have Mr. Tilney as a friend and companion over Mr. Knightley.

Henry Tilney is in his mid-twenties and described as "rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it." He is witty, clever and can be quite sarcastic. One thing he is not is a typical romantic hero - he not only is not quite handsome, but he also reads gothic novels and knows his muslin. Now can you imagine Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Colonel Brandon, or Mr. Knightley discussing the Mysteries of Udolpho or a good bargain on a yard of muslin?

This may be one of the reasons that many Austen fans find Tilney not to be as swoonworthy as the other gentlemen listed above. Another, in my opinion, is that while these other heroes fall madly in love with their heroines and struggle with jealousy and repressed passion, we do not see Henry go through this whole spectrum of intense emotions. It was Catherine Morland who first fell in love with Tilney though he soon reciprocated her feelings wholeheartedly. So secure is Tilney of Catherine's feelings that he barely displays a hint of jealousy at the sight of the odious John Thorpe, and never really has to repress any passion on his part.

All this, however, does not make Tilney any less of a hero than Austen's other men. He is a good brother, devoted to his sister Eleanor, genuinely fond of Catherine and is able to see through her naive and artless behavior and recognize the goodness within. He is aware of the failings of his father the general and his brother the rake, and is able to confront and stand up to his father when necessary. It must be kept in perspective that while Henry Tilney may not have been a good match for Elizabeth Bennet or Anne Elliott, he was perfect for Catherine Morland.

One aspect of Henry Tilney that makes him particularly attractive to me is his sharp wit, and wry humor. After reading Tilney's speech on the usage of the word "nice", who can but think twice before using this word?

"..and this is a nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! it is a very nice word indeed! - it does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement; - people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word."

Henry Tilney has sometimes been referred to as cruel for his teasing of Catherine Morland and his sharp remarks. While it is true that we do not really get to understand his true nature as well as we do with other Austen men, I prefer to rely on Eleanor Tilney's high opinion of and regard for her brother, as she is shown to be a very sensible person. Tilney is sensible, caring, and sensitive to the strengths and weaknesses of Catherine. I think I just may choose him over Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth as a suitor - again, only Mr. Knightley will give him a run for his money!

And last but not least, I cannot but be impressed by JJ Feild's performance as Henry Tilney in the 2006 version of Northanger Abbey. He is all I imagined Henry to be!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review - The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
Year: 1905
Pages: about 265 (Signet Paperback)
Genre: Classics, Historical Fiction
My Rating: 4.75/5
My Source:

The short of it: An light and easy-to-read classic that is a combination of adventure, romance, historical fiction, and mystery. I heartily recommend this to readers of all tastes.

The long of it: The Scarlet Pimpernel is set during the French Revolution (around 1792), when French aristocrats were being put to the guillotine by the Republican government. At this difficult time, a mysterious man calling himself the Scarlet Pimpernel manages to save the lives of several aristocrats using daring maneuvers and ingenious disguises. He thus becomes the object of speculation in English genteel society to which belongs the heroine Marguerite Blakeney.

Marguerite is the beautiful and clever wife of Sir Percy Blakeney, a rich baronet and reputed fop. She was formerly a French actress, Marguerite St. Just, and along with her brother, Armand, a staunch Republican. Her marriage, the result of a passionate courtship on Sir Percy's part, is strained as a result of an incident in her past that Sir Percy learnt about soon after their wedding. Further, she is being threatened by the villain Chevalier, an agent of the French Republican government, who wants to use her position in society to find the true identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel in exchange for her brother 's life.

This book is a classic that is also a fast-paced page turner. Baroness Orczy has created very interesting characters who evoke the admiration of the reader. Sir Percy Blakeney is the stereotype English aristocrat with too much time and money to spare, while Lady Blakeney is the ideal woman - beautiful, fashionable, clever, and daring. The plot is well developed and all the loose ends tied up at the end. There is also some humor evident toward the end of the book, which makes it all the more endearing. There is something to cater to almost everyone's taste - romance for the romantic, adventure and mystery for the lovers of adventures and mysteries, and history for the fan of historical fiction. The baroness was herself a member of a displaced Hungarian aristocratic family, and it is clear that her sympathies lie with the aristocrats. Her version of the French revolution is no doubt one-sided, but the book is a very appealing read, particularly if you like books set in that era, but, like me, find Dickens a bit dry read.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was staged as a play in 1903 before being published as a novel in 1905 after the play was a grand success. Baroness Orczy also wrote a number of sequels including to The Scarlet Pimpernel, and I am planning to try reading one or two, though none achieved the success that TSP did.

Quote of Note:
We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven?—Is he in hell?
That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.
- Sir Percy Blakeney

Bonus: There have been numerous film/TV adaptations of The Scarlet Pimpernel, notable among them being a film in 1939 starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, a TV adaptation in 1982 with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour which seems to have good reviews, and another TV adaptation in 1999 with Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth McGovern. The last is the only one I have seen, and while Richard E. Grant did well, the storyline is very different from the book, and is rather disappointing to a true TSP fan.

This book counts toward two challenges - The Awesome Author Challenge hosted by At Home With Books, and the Classics Challenge 2010 hosted by Trish.

This book is also part of the Book Review Perty Wednesday for April 28 hosted by Cym Lowell.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Book Blog Hop, April 23-29, 2010

Jennifer at Crazy for Books has a book blogger hop going on every Friday. What a great way to visit new blogs and get to meet new bloggers! I look forward to visiting several new blogs this week, and a big thanks to all who made their way here through the Hop!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Character Connection: Marguerite Blakeney

This is a very interesting meme from the Introverted Reader, where the goal is to spotlight one character of interest every week.

This week's character is again from a book that I just finished reading. The book is The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, and the character is Marguerite Blakeney, the extremely beautiful, intelligent, daring wife of Sir Percy Blakeney.

The setting for The Scarlet Pimpernel is England and France during the French Revolution when members of the French aristocracy were being put to the guillotine by the Republicans. Marguerite Blakeney, formerly Marguerite St. Just used to be an actress at the Comedie-Francaise whose sympathies lay firmly with the Republicans. She then married Sir Percy Blakeney, one of England's richest aristocrats, a good friend of the Prince of Wales, and a reputed fop.

Lady Blakeney is described as one of the most beautiful and fashionable women in England. She is an active socialite, attending balls and parties where all eyes are on what she wears and how she comports herself. Before marriage, Marguerite was a member of one of the leading intellectual salons in Paris, and is described as "the cleverest woman Europe". Marguerite thus seems to have it all - beauty, wealth, intelligence, and a handsome husband - but happiness eludes her. Her marriage, the result of a passionate courtship on Sir Percy's part, is strained as a result of an incident in her past that Sir Percy learnt about soon after their wedding. Marguerite tries every trick in the book to ignite a spark in Sir Percy, but fails to do so, and is left feeling miserable, She then tries to hide behind a mask of contempt for her husband's inanity, but suffers deeply behind the mask.

Pride and fear prevent Marguerite from expressing her feelings and when she does attempt to open up, other circumstances prevent him from responding to her overtures. Marguerite soon learns of the reasons behind her husband's distance, and becomes aware of her immense love for the man, and how close she has come to betraying him in error. Then, we get to see her courage, passion, and dedication to the two men she loves in full bloom as she risks her life trying to help save them from the clutches of the enemy.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is written largely from Marguerite's point of view, and to me, she is the real hero of the novel. She is indeed a passionate woman in every way, and the reader rides the waves of her intense emotions - love, hate, happiness, misery, guilt, a desire for atonement, fear - what a range of sensations, all within 265 pages! Throughout the book, one feels a strong sympathy for Marguerite, a hope that all will go well for her, and a wish that she will find true love and happiness with Sir Percy.

To me Marguerite is the ideal heroine - seriously, who would not want to be Lady Blakeney with her beauty, talent, intelligence, wit, immense courage, wealth, title, passion, love of life, and above all, the wonderful Sir Percy?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Non-fiction Five Challenge

Trish is hosting the Non-fiction Five Challenge which will run from May 1 to September 30, 2010. Here are the rules from Trish's blog:

1. Read 5 non-fiction books during the months of May - September, 2010 (please link your reviews on Mister Linky each month; Mister Linky can be found at the beginning of each month on this (Trish's) blog)

2. Read at least one non-fiction book that is different from your other choices (i.e.: 4 memoirs and 1 self-help)

3. If interested, please sign up below with the link to your NFF Challenge post (all choices do not need to be posted and may change at any time)

I really look forward to participating in this challenge!

Review - The Murder Room

The Murder Room by P. D. James
Year: 2003
Genre: Crime fiction, police procedural
My Rating: 3.75/5
My Source: Library

The Dupaynes, two brothers and a sister run an esoteric London museum dedicated to the interwar years. All is well until one of the brothers, Dr. Neville Dupayne, decides not to support the renewal of the lease on the museum, a move that will lead to its closing, and have a very negative impact on several people involved with it. Thus, when Dr. Dupayne is soon found murdered in a horrifying manner, there is more than one person with a motive for the murder. Adam Dalgliesh, assisted by Inspectors Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant sets out to find the elusive culprit, and soon finds himself not only dealing with stakeholders in the museum, but also other who emerge from Dr. Dupayne's shadowy private life.

P. D. James is the master of character development, and succeeds in creating complex and three dimensional characters in this book. As with any good whodunit, there is a closed list of suspects, and clues interspersed throughout the book. James' narrative is, as usual, very refined and makes for a compelling read.

This book also features the introduction of a new sergeant, Francis Benton- Smith, a very handsome and ambitious young man of English and East Indian parentage. There is some tension in his relationships with Inspectors Miskin and Tarrant, and I look forward to the further development of these relationships in the next book. There are also important developments in Dalgliesh's personal life, though P. D. James takes great care to see that her detective's personal life never, at any point, overshadows the plot of the novel - commendable indeed.

This book is a page turner, and Adam Dalgliesh solves the mystery with a combination of brilliant detecting and hard work. However, while this book is a solid read, it is not P.D. James' best, and is certainly not in the class of "A Taste for Death" my favorite of all of James' work. While James' characters are usually very multifaceted, this book has several characters whom I found hard to sympathize with, and others who were rather annoying. All said, I would recommend this to anyone who is familiar with James and Dalgliesh, but not to anyone who wishes to try reading James for the first time.

This book counts toward the Typically British Book Challenge hosted by BookChickCity.

This review is now part of Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesday for April 21

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Blogger Hop: April 16-22, 2010

Jennifer at Crazy for Books has a book blogger hop going on every Friday. What a great way to visit new blogs and get to meet new bloggers! I look forward to visiting several new blogs this week, and a big thanks to all who made their way here through the Hop!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Character Connection 1

This is an interesting meme from the Introverted Reader, where the goal is to spotlight one character of interest every week.

I have just finished reading "The Murder Room" by P.D. James, and will feature Adam Dalgliesh, her greatest creation, as my character for the week.

Adam Dalgliesh is a detective created by P. D. James and appears in fourteen of James' novels. Dalgliesh is a Commander in New Scotland Yard, very competent, and respected by his superiors and subordinates alike. He is extremely intelligent and astute and exercises his sharp intellect to solve many complex cases that baffle others around him.

He is tall, dark, and quite attractive. He is also an intensely private person who believes in clearly separating his personal and professional life. His colleagues know very little about him as a person although his intellect is never in doubt. He has authored at least one volume of poetry,"A Case to Answer and Other Poems", and is well-respected in the literary world too. He however has no desire to be a professional poet - solving crimes helps him serve society, preserves his privacy, and even inspires his poetry.

Dalgliesh has the gift of making everyone around him feel very comfortable and wanting to confide in him, a very useful gift to possess in his profession. He is conscious of this fact and at one point even ponders

"Hasn't t always been like this? People tell me things. I don't need to probe or question, they tell. It had begun when he was a young detective sergeant and then it had surprised and intrigued him, feeding his poetry, bringing the half-shameful realization that for a detective it would be a useful gift. The pity was there. He has known from childhood the heartbreak of life and that, too had fed the poetry. He thought, I have taken people's confidences and used them to fasten gyves round their wrist"(The Murder Room, 2003).

He is a widower through most of the series, his wife having died in childbirth. He has since had a fear of getting too close to women and of being in a committed relationship, although the last few books see him falling in love ( I won't give away too much here). He is, however, well aware of his shortcomings, and it is this self-awareness that makes him very endearing to me. Honestly, I can see myself falling in love with Adam Dalgliesh!

P. D. James, in my opinion, is the best at character development in the crime fiction world, and Adam Dalgliesh is her best creation. If her books are read in order, one can trace the evolution of Dalgliesh's character which is very well done indeed. Baroness James will turn 90 in August, here's to her - thanks for giving us Adam Dalgliesh and may he live long and prosper!

Monday, April 12, 2010

On Libraries

National Library Week is being observed April 11- April 17. Many of us book lovers also love libraries, and this is a great time to celebrate them. A visit to the library is such a sensory experience for me - the sights, sounds and smells all serve to give me instant pleasure!

Which is why, it is with sadness that I note that our county is seriously considering closing one or more branches of the public library system due to a budget shortfall. I hope to make my opinion on this matter heard by voting in the referendum May 4th.

I have fond memories of the various libraries that I have patronized since my childhood. However, one of my favorite libraries is a fictional one - the library in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, a great must-read book. Without giving too much away, this library is part of a medieval abbey, architecturally an extremely complex structure, and is also central to the story. According to William of Baskerville, the leading monk-sleuth and his sidekick Adso,

"The library has fifty six rooms, four of them heptagonal, and fifty two more or less square, and of these, there are eight without windows, while twenty eight look outside and sixteen to the interior!

And the four towers each have five rooms with four walls and one with seven...The library is constructed according to a celestial harmony to which various and wonderful meanings can be attributed..."

Now, what I would give to visit that library! Well, at least one can dream of visiting one of the great libraries pictured here, I guess..

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reading Journal Challenge

The Reading Journal Challenge is hosted by Sea Benjamin at Reading With Sea. Here are the requirements:

Goal: To keep a journal that lists your monthly book purchases and reads.
Timeline: This challenge will be running from March 2010 through February 2011
Guidelines: Participants will keep a journal, which is to include the minimum information: Books bought and books read in each month.

I'm joining this challenge with the hope that I'll keep a better record of the books I buy and read.

March 2010

Books Bought
I hit the library used book sale in March, hence the unusually long list of book bought.

The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
A Place of Execution - Val McDermid
Through a Glass, Darkly - Donna Leon
Sad Cypress - Agatha Christie
Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories - Agatha Christie
Dumb Witness - Agatha Christie
The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey
Hogfather - Terry Pratchett
Poem Stew

Books Read
Hangman's Holiday - Dorothy Sayers
Jane Austen for Dummies - Joan Klingel Ray
Gallows End - Peter Robinson
Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon - Jane Austen
April 2010
Books Bought
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Orczy
Ruth - Elizabeth Gaskell
Talking about Detective Fiction - P. D. James
The Butter Thief - Chris Murray and Kim Waters Murray
Books Read
Sad Cypress - Agatha Christie
Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes - Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein
The Murder Room - P. D. James
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Baroness Orczy

Review: Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein

Publisher: Abrams
Year: 2007
My Rating: Four Stars
My Source: Library

This is a little gem of a book that attempts to marry philosophy and humor. The intention here is to give a lay reader a very broad overview of the main branches of philosophy without the reader being mired in detail and complex terminology. With philosophy, even a broad overview can sometimes be overwhelming, and this books seeks to avoid this by incorporating jokes to illustrate philosophical concepts.

The book has ten chapters each of which deals with one broad area of philosophy - Metaphysics, Logic, Epistemology, Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Existentialism, Philosophy of Language, Social and Political Philosophy, Relativity and Metaphilosophy. Each of these topics is divided into several subtopics with a couple of pages being dedicated to each of these subtopics. There is a brief introduction to a philosophical concept followed by jokes to illustrate it and some discussion as well. The authors have managed to find jokes that are very appropriate to the ideas - no easy task I imagine.

The authors, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, both hold degrees in philosophy from Harvard, but what strikes me most is their ability to be witty in the text itself. In discussing Rene Descartes, they say

In the seventeenth century, Rene Descartes opted for reason over a divine source of knowledge. This came to be known as putting Descartes before the source.

Descartes probably wishes he'd never said, "Cogito ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am"), because it's all anybody ever remembers about him - that and the fact that he said it while sitting inside a bread oven.

Humor is fairly subjective and one man's great joke is another's groaner. I can only say I enjoyed most of the jokes very much although there were a few corny ones about - and I doubt if any joke book can avoid a few of those. For instance, the following joke is used to demonstrate the relativity of the perception of time:

A snail was mugged by two turtles. When the police asked him what happened, he said " I don't know. It all happened so fast."
The joke is indeed a relevant example of the relativity of one's awareness of time. Good joke or groaner? You decide!

If you want a very basic introduction to philosophy but would like a page turner as well, this is a good book to read. If you are looking for more in-depth ntroduction to philosophical topics and philosophers, this book is certainly not for you. If you do not care about philosophy at all, I would say that this book still makes for a fairly good joke book.

Bonus: Learn about this book and others by the same author at the book's website which also has audiofiles on some major concepts and philosophers.

This review is part of Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesday for April 14.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Awards Time!

Thanks to Kals at At Pemberley and Whitney at She is Too Fond of Books for presenting me with my very first awards - the Beautiful Blogger Award and the Honest Scrap Award.

For the Honest Scrap award, I need to list ten facts about myself and pass it on to ten other bloggers. So, here I go:
  • I am a bit of a Britophile - I love British books, TV and actors (Richard Armitage, JLM, RP-J and Jason Isaacs in particular).
  • I practice yoga.
  • I enjoy classical music, particulary Bach.
  • In real life, I am a statistician and enjoy the company of numbers.
  • Anton Chigurh from "No Country for Old Men" is my favorite cinematic villain. He barely edges out Darth Vader.
  • My pet peeve is drivers who don't use their turn signals.
  • I enjoy long road trips very much.
  • I love learning languages.
  • I once ran into Shaquille O'Neal at the library, and yes, he is big!
  • My favorite characters from The Simpsons are Dr. Nick Rivera and the Comic Book Guy.

I would like to pass these two awards to the following ten bloggers:

Emidy at Une Parole

Margot Kinberg at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

Carin at Caroline Bookbinder

Morgan at Smitten with Books

Missy at Missy's Book Nook

Lea Kelley at What Miss Kelley is Reading

Chris and Jess at Park Benches and Bookends

Sumana at Books with a Cup of Coffee

Nancy O at 2010: The Year in Books

Laura at Tattooed Books

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 3

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser for today:

"This joke raises the philosophical question, "How could something finite, like six months, possibly be analogous to somethng infinite, like eternity?" Those who ask this question have never lived with a tax accountant."

- from Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein (page 20).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Review - Sad Cypress

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

Year: 1939

Pages: about 224 (Dell Paperback)
Genre: British Crime, cozy, private detective, whodunit
My Rating: Four Stars
My source: Library used book sale

The short of it: A classic Agatha Christie cozy whodunit featuring Hercule Poirot. If you like a tight plot with a clear short list of suspects, you may enjoy this one.

The long of it:

Elinor Carlisle seems to have it all - a pretty and level-headed young London socialite, engaged to the man she passionately loves, in line for a large inheritance - until things begin to go radically wrong. Her rich old aunt Laura has a stroke, her fiance falls in love with an enchanting woman, Mary Gerrard, who is also getting very close to her aunt. When both the aunt and Mary Gerrard die, Elinor is arrested with what seems to be a watertight case against her. Will Hercule Poirot be able to save her, or as he would put it, discover the truth?

Agatha Christie is master at creating a puzzle and leaving all the pieces in front of you, challenging you to piece it together, and she does it well in this book. Almost all the elements that I enjoy in a classic whodunit are present here - the important characters are all introduced early creating a clear short list of suspects, the characters are well-defined, the clues and red herrings are well-distributed (though one non-essential clue is a revealed rather late), and the reader should have everything in hand to solve the crime before the result is revealed. The characters are all well-defined to the point where one can probably find the equivalent of an Elinor or a Mary in one's life. Poirot makes his appearance only at about page 93 minus Captain Hastings, but is at his element in this book. One unusual feature of this book is the courtroom scene at the end, reminiscent of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novels. The mystery is eventually solved with all loose ends neatly tied up as is characteristic of Christie.

On another note, I have long been a fan of Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell and am thus a little familiar with the class distinctions that existed in English society in the Regency and Victorian eras, and the transformations that were taking place as opportunities for social mobility increased. Thus it was interesting to note that this book, written in 1939, addresses the persisting class differences. Christie writes about the difficulties faced by Mary Gerrard who, while being from a working class background, is given a well-rounded education by Aunt Laura. One of the characters comments:

"All this schooling and going abroad! It changed Mary. I don't mean that it spoiled her or that she was stuck-up - she wasn't. But it - oh, it bewildered her! She didn't know where she was any more. She was - well, put it crudely - she was too good for me, but she still wasn't good enough for a real gentleman like Mr. Welman."

Mary no longer fit in with the working class, but she can never be considered on par with the gentry!

While this book is not in the caliber of "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" or "The Murder in the Orient Express", it is very enjoyable and is a good book to read when one is in the mood for a quick, stimulating yet cozy read.

Bonus: The title was taken from a song in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Sad Cypress was adapted for TV in 2003 as part of BBC's Poirot series with David Suchet playing Poirot. Rupert Penry-Jones (of Persuasion fame) played Roddy, Elinor's fiance. Dorney Court, a Tudor manor house from about 1440 was used as a filming location.

Challenges: This book counts toward two challenges I am participating in.

1) The Marple, Poirot, Holmes challenge hosted by Kals, and

2) The Typically British Reading Challenge hosted by BookChickCity
This review is also now part of Book Review Party Wednesday (for April 7) hosted by Cym.

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, and I would like to share a fun poem by one of my favorite children's authors, Shel Silverstein.

by Shel Silverstein

"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more--that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut--my eyes are blue--
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke--
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is--what?
What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"

Book Blogger Hop April 2- April 8

Jennifer at Crazy for Books has a book blogger hop going on every Friday. What a great way to visit new blogs and get to meet new bloggers! I look forward to visiting several new blogs this week, and a big thanks to all who made their way here through the Hop!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser

My 6-year old who is into reading these days is a big fan of Curious George, the mischievous simian, and his many exploits. So I was delighted to read that the Jewish Museum in New York is hosting an exhibit featuring some of the original artwork for the Curious George books from March 14 through August 1, 2010.

The creators of Curious George, H.A Rey and his wife Margret apparently fled Paris in 1940 when it was on the brink of being occupied by the Nazis. According to the Jewish Museum website, they carried a Curious George manuscript with them and this helped them in their flight. They eventually reached safety in the United States, but their narrow escape did have an impact on their writing, which is why Curious George has so many adventures in which he is on the run .

According to the museum, the exhibit features nearly 80 original drawings and will also be in San Francisco from November 2010 to March 2011. I doubt if I will be able to attend either in person, but the absolutely lovely artwork featured at the museum's website is indeed worth a virtual visit!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Word of the Week 1

In many books I read, I find a word or phrase that I have not "met" before and that I wish to be better acquainted with. Some words are worth doing research on, and I would like to shine the spotlight on one such new word or phrase every week.

This week's phrase is: "cottage ornee" (with an acute accent on the first 'e' in ornee)

"He is a warm friend to Sanditon - ' said Mr. Parker - "and his hand would be as liberal as his heart, had he the power. - He would be a noble coadjutor! - As it is, He does what he can - and s running up a tasteful little cottage ornee, on a strip of waste ground Lady Denham has granted him..."
- from Sanditon by Jane Austen.

What exactly is a "cottage ornee"?
For starters, it is pronounced the French way - "cottaazh ornay"


"A cottage ornee is a villa on a small scale, which may be characterised by the garden-front opening into a picturesque lawn varied by groups of trees. The cottage is generally low in proportion to its extent, and the roof; which is frequently thatched, has projecting eaves. The walls should be covered with climbing plants, and there is generally a veranda round the house."

From the Wikipedia entry on Houghton Lodge (pictures included):

According to Wikipedia, around the final quarter of the eighteenth century, "it became fashionable for the upper classes to enjoy country life due to the improvements in roads which made a visit to the country easier than it had been."

"The new fashion extended to architecture and incorporated elements from the growing interest in the picturesque. Designs became more rustic, houses became lower and seemingly smaller, often at the expense of the servants comfort, as the still essential domestic quarters were forced out of sight, often underground or onto a separate wing of their own.

Houghton Lodge:

Houghton Lodge is a standing cottage ornee in Hampshire, England. This website has nice pictures and explanations to go. It even has a section on Jane Austen and the cottage ornee. I enjoyed exploring this site, and would love to visit Houghton Lodge someday!

Teaser Tuesday 2

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read

  • Open to a random page

  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser for today:

"Reginald has a good figure, and is not unworthy the praise you have heard given him, but is still greatly inferior to our friend at Langford. He is less polished, less insinuating than Manwaring, and is comparatively deficient in the power of saying those delightful things which put one in good humour with oneself and all the world."

from Lady Susan by Jane Austen (in the volume Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon, page 56).

Comments: I have been a bit behind with my reading this week, but enjoyed reading Lady Susan very much. It joins Emma and Northanger Abbey as one of my Austen favorites now. What a delightfully wicked character Lady Susan is!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Mystery Challenge

Another interesting challenge from Kals at At Pemberley. It involves reading books by Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - two pioneers of detective fiction. Here are the rules:

1. This challenge is from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010.

2. You will have to read a minimum of 6 books in total: two Miss Marple mysteries, two Sherlock Holmes mysteries and two Hercule Poirot mysteries. You can of course, read more than 6 books if you want to.

3. The books you have chosen for this challenge can overlap with other challenges.

I'm in - thanks for hosting Kals!
Book read toward this challenge:
1) Sad Cypress - Poirot (finished April 2)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teaser for today:

" I shall be afraid of her. - She must have too masculine and bold a temper. - To be so bent on marriage - to pursue a man merely for the sake of situation - is a sort of thing that shocks me; I cannot understand it. Poverty is a great evil, but to a woman of education and feeling it ought not, it cannot be the greatest. - I would rather be a teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like."

from The Watsons by Jane Austen (in the book Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon, page 110).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Good first book in a series

Gallows View by Peter Robinson
Year: 1987
My Rating: Four Stars

The short of it: This first book in the Inspector Banks series has a straightforward plot, but is solid in character development.

The long if it:

This is the first in the Inspector Banks series by Peter Robinson. Chief Inspector Alan Banks and his family have just moved to Yorkshire from London and are trying to adjust to both to country life and to the Yorkshire culture. Unfortunately, things are not as quiet as Banks had hoped they would be. He soon finds himself with three cases on his hands - a Peeping Tom, a series of burglaries, and the murder of an old woman, each of which may or may not be related to the others.

Being the first book in a series, the focus is on character development. Robinson provides us with a complex, yet likeable detective. Like Ruth Rendell's Inspector Wexford, Banks is a family man. However, he is obliged to work with the intelligent and very attractive Jenny Fuller, a psychologist assigned to the case, and finds himself sorely tempted to have an affair with the willing Fuller. This aspect of the story is valuable to the development of Banks' character, and for us to get a better understanding of the man behind the dedicated cop. Banks also has short-lived hobbies and is currently obsessed with opera.

Robinson also paints nice pictures of Bank's wife Sandra and his boss Gristhorpe. It is very refreshing to see that Gristhorpe is a boss who seems to genuinely care about his subordinates and works hard to maintain good relations within the unit - a nice change from the often antagonistic and unpleasant superiors seen in crime fiction (Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series and Martha Grimes' Richard Jury series come to mind here).

The plot itself is not too complex or deep, but there is a nice twist at the end which makes it interesting. The book brings to mind Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series. The setting (rural Yorkshire) plays a significant role, just as Rankin's Edinburgh does. While Robinson's prose is not as captivating as Rankin's is, and Banks is not as complex or troubled as Rebus is, he is a character with promise and this book left me asking for more of him. If you are a fan of Inspector Wexford or Inspector Rebus, you may enjoy this book. If you have never heard of them, I would still recommend this book to any fan of police procedurals who enjoys becoming involved with the characters.

Quote of Note: "Screeching! Good lord, woman, this is the sound of the human spirit soaring: 'Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore.' " Banks's soprano imitation made up in volume what it lacked in melody.

Bonus: According to Peter Robinson's blog - ITV is getting ready to bring Inspector Banks to television and Stephen Tompkinson is to play Alan Banks. While I'm not too familiar with Tompkinson, he seems to have a solid resume, and can apparently "raise his right eyebrow halfway up his forehead without moving the left eyebrow" (source: IMDb).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

One more challenge!

I have to say I'm enjoying signing up for challenges! This time is it the Typically Britsh Reading Challenge 2010 hosted by Book Chick City. I'm going for the highest level here - reading 8 books by British authors. I am a bit of a "britophile" and look forward to read British authors across genres.
List of Books:
1) Gallows End by Peter Robinson (finished March 19)
2) Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon by Jane Austen (Mar 30)
3) Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie (finished April 1)
4) The Murder Room by P. D. James (finished April 15)
5) Cotillion by Georgette Heyer (finished May 2)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

Jennifer at Crazy for Books has a book blogger hop going on every Friday. What a great way to visit new blogs and get to meet new bloggers! I look forward to visiting several new blogs this week, and a big thanks to all who made their way here through the Hop!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Not just for dummies

Title: Jane Austen for Dummies
Author: Joan Klingel Ray
Year: 2006
Number of pages: Around 340 with actual content
My Rating: Five Stars

The short of it: Very good introductory reference for anyone who has read all of Jane Austen's major works and who wishes to have more insight into her life and the manners and customs of the time she lived in.

The long of it:
How does a curricle differ from a gig? Why didn't Jane Austen marry? What is an entail? What is the "special license" that Mrs. Bennet wants for Lizzie's wedding? What were the rights of ladies in Austen's times? Did Jane Austen ever comment on social issues?

Questions like these arise on reading Jane Austen's work for the first time, or even on subsequent readings. This book gives a good overview of the life and times of Jane Austen in a crisp, clear, and engaging manner. It is well-organized and easy to read with illustrations and pictures where relevant, and includes a broad spectrum of subjects ranging from dancing, courtship and marriage in Regency times to authors who influenced and who were influenced by Austen.

There are very relevant examples from Austen's works under each topic, which makes it entertaining and understandable. The number of examples seems slightly weighted in favor of Pride and Prejudice, but I can understand that given popularity of that book as well as the breadth of issues addressed in it. The book also has discussion sections on Austen's books and film adaptations (up until 2006), and Ray does insert her views a bit here, thus breaking the instructional tone that books in the Dummies series sometimes tend to have. Initially, I was a bit skeptical on even reading a book from this series cover to cover, but I could not pass on a book by Joan Klingel Ray. Ray is a professor of English and was also the president of the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) from 2000 to 2006. According to the book, she has taught at least three Austen-related classes , and reading this book makes me wish I can sit in on one of her lectures!

As in all the Dummies books, there is a section titled "Parts of Tens" which has several "top ten" lists and discussions, including ten Austen-related places to visit, ten memorable characters, ten Austenisms and ten Austen-related books. The last provides a list of good sources in various areas related to Austen and the Regency period, in case the reader wants to acquire more in-depth knowledge in a given area.

The one thing I did not enjoy in this book was someone's inability to proofread. The book does contain a few minor errors, mostly grammatical. I did not appreciate Edward Ferrars being referred to as Edmund or Eleanor Tilney being called Elinor! However, these are very minor and do not take away from the book, unless the reader is particularly picky about these things.

Overall, I heartily recommend this book both to the Austen newbie as well as to more experienced Janeites. However, be sure to have read all the six major works of Austen before you read this (in spite of the book telling you otherwise), as one cannot really write such a book as this without spoilers!

Quote of Note: "Readers may love Dickens, but I never hear Dickens's fans calling him 'Charles.' Yet Austen fans easily call Austen 'Jane.' Jane is that wonderfully witty, wise, and well-spoken narrator who's a friendly and welcome companion as you read the novel." (page 17).

Bonus: Here is an interview with Joan Klingel Ray from AustenBlog.