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.