Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Strange that I should be giving only two stars to a book that I found hard to put down but the end was so lame that it quite ruined the book for me. Horowitz captures the golden age style of writing splendidly - I would love reading the earlier Atticus Pund mysteries- but the frame-narrative was disappointing. The opening lines, however, are some of the best out there:

"A bottle of wine. A family-sized packet of Nacho Cheese Flavoured Tortilla Chips and a jar of hot salsa dip. A packet of cigarettes on the side (I know, I know). The rain hammering against the windows. And a book.
What could have been lovelier?"

Indeed what can be lovelier though I can do without cigarettes and replace wine with tea.


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Friday, October 13, 2017

Forgotten Book: Close Quarters by Michael Gilbert

Of late, writer and lawyer, Michael Gilbert has been a lot over the blogosphere. Yvette @insomanywords did a series of posts on him and then Margot Kinberg @ Confessions of a Mustery Novelist turned the spotlight on his first novel, Close Quarters. Unable to resist any longer, I borrowed Close Quarters from the Open Library and found it so engrossing that I finished it in a day.



Published in 1947 but set a decade earlier there is (as other reviewers have commented upon) a Golden-Age feel to the novel which takes place in the closed community of Melchester Cathedral with its Bishop, Dean, Canons (Principals and Minors),  Precentor, Vicars (Chorals), Vergers (Principals and Others, Head Master, Choir Master, Solicitor, Gatekeeper-Sergeants. With little idea of organized religion and even lesser of the hierarchical clerical order, this made my head reel. It did not help matters that some of the names also seemed alike: Halliday and Hinkey, Prynne and Parvin,  and I was glad to note that the Dean's nephew, Seargent Pollock from the Scotland Yard, who was conducting an unofficial investigation into certain unsavoury occurrences at the Close, was 'scribbling desperately in his notebook' as his uncle rolled out these personages. And no, the list of characters given at the beginning didn't really help me as I was reading it on my lap-to and couldn't go back and forth.  In fact, this is a book that would be better read as a printed copy since there are maps and even a cross-wood puzzle that I'd have loved to solve had it been on a page in front of me. Sigh...



Anyway, to get back to the story, the Dean  is a worried man and in a masterly first chapter - as he tosses and turns on his bed while a storm rages outside - we are told why: there is a smear campaign on against the Principal verger, Appledown which has taken the form of anonymous letters and messages which appear all over the place: on flags, walls etc; there is the accidental death of a Canon a year back; there is the widow Mrs. Judd who just wouldn't move out of the premises; there is Vicar Malthus who seems to be always disappearing; there are the small, niggling things which has made the Dean realise that there is 'something rotten in the Close'. The atmospheric first chapter sets the tone of the book which can turn downright eerie and scary at times (And since I was reading it in the dark of the night, I KNOW).



Unwilling to involve the police, the Dean calls over his nephew who can conduct an unofficial investigation. However, soon after the arrival of Pollock, a murder occurs and the police does get involved in the form of Inspector Hazelrigg (who would go on to appear in six other books by Gilbert). Incidentally, I guessed the identity of the murderer through something read either in an Agatha Christe or Sherlock Holmes where it was said that it is the unexplained things, however insignificant they might appear to be that give you the clue to the whole affair.



The closed community - where Masters prepare lessons in Latin and students learn Greek but where Edgar Wallace is also available as bed-time reading - adds to the tension though there is humour to be found too (as a character puts it) in "lacerating each other's characters in the most Christian way imaginable."





All in all, this was a book that I enjoyed. Besides Margot's, other reviews of the book can be found here:


Noah's Archives

I Prefer Reading


I already have Gilbert's Smallbone Deceased, Death has Deep Roots, and Killing of Katie Steelstock on my wishlist; would you recommend any other?

*



First Line: The Dean as he lay awake in bed that memorable Sunday night, pondered the astonishing vagaries of the weather.

Series: Inspector Hazelrigg #1

*

Submitted for Fridays Forgotten Books @ Sweet Freedom. Please head over there for the other entries.



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Celebrating 25 Years

To Both of You

25 Years of Love, Joy, Happiness, Togetherness, Support, Concern, Laughter, Sharing, Caring...









*

Wishing many many many more years of Love and Happiness, moments to cherish, and memories to treasure....


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Review: Assassins: A British Mystery Series Set in 1920s London

Assassins: A British Mystery Series Set in 1920s London Assassins: A British Mystery Series Set in 1920s London by Jim Eldridge
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A promising start to a police procedural set in post-WWI London peters down to a rather predictable end. It is quite unfortunate since I liked the mix of real-life and fictional characters. Also the team of Detective Chief Inspector Paul Stark and his sergeant, Robert Danvers - coming as they are from two different strata of a very class-conscious British society - is rather engaging. However, nowhere did the narrative really make me feel the tension of murders being committed at a delicate point of British history- the privation after the war, the Irish question, the looming threat of Bolsheivism - the author throws everything in the cauldron but nothing gives the book that extra edge. The romantic sub-plot seems forced too. That said, I'd like to read the second in the series before giving up on the series.

*

Opening Lines: London, October 1921
Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for the Colonies, glowered at the tall, thin police detective standing before him. ‘Are you suggesting that my actions have interfered with a criminal investigation?’ he demanded menacingly.

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: सरदार भगत सिंह के सहयोगी शिव वर्मा

सरदार भगत सिंह के सहयोगी शिव वर्मा सरदार भगत सिंह के सहयोगी शिव वर्मा by Pramod Kumar
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Biography of revolutionary and later member of the CPI (M), Shiv Verma, a close associate of Bhagat Singh and Sukhdev and who has written one of the most moving accounts of his departed friends in his award-winning book Sansmritiyan. Since hardly anything is known about Verma this is a laudable attempt but the writer goes into certain irreverent details which add nothing to the narrative.

*

First Line: Mujhe smaran nahin ki mahan krantikari Shiv Verma se sabse pehle mein kab mila.

Source: Purchased in 2015.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Revolutionary's Life: Bandi Jeewan

Bandi Jeewan Bandi Jeewan by Sachindra Nath Sanyal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book which according to a British secret report sent "more young men to the jails and gallows than any other book" is a first-hand account of the revolutionary movement in India during the second and third decades of the twentieth century. Sachindranath Sanyal, who was awarded the life-imprisonment twice by the British authorities in India gives a vivid account of what it meant to struggle for one's freedom during the colonial rule. It also details the often-negative attitude of the Congress top-leadership towards the revolutionaries. An interesting read though the Hindi of the first volume is a little tough to understand at times.

*

First Line: Kisi samaj ko pehchanane ke liye us samaj ke sahitya se parichit hone ki param avashaktya hoti hai, kyonki samaj ke pranon ki chetna us samaj ke sahitya mein bhi pratiphalit hua karti hai.

Ed. Pt. Satyanarayan Sharma

Pub Details: 1922. ND: Sakshi Prakashan, 2015
Pages: 368


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Review: A History of the Indian Nationalist Movement

A History of the Indian Nationalist Movement A History of the Indian Nationalist Movement by Verney Lovett
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A biased, often condescending look, at the freedom struggle of India.

*

First Line: An accurate knowledge of the conditions of the past is necessary for a right understanding of the problems of the present.

Pub. Details: 1920. ND: Vishal Publishers, 1972.
Pages: 303.
Other books read of the same author: None.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Ghost in Pearls: Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Lost Among the Living Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Random thoughts after reading Simone St. James' Lost Among the Living, a book listed on 50 Most Suspenseful Novels:

1. Who makes these lists???????

2. Why am I sucker for such lists??????

3. If you are going to introduce the supernatural in a mystery, take some tips from John Dickson Carr. To use it as deux ex machina is pathetic.

4. The protagonist is madly in love with her husband but at the first whiff of suspicion, the missing spouse is suspected of not only being a traitor but also a murderer!!!! Is this what love is all about?

5. The protagonist feel betrayed as certain things were not revealed to her and is unforgiving about the whole issue but in the course of the same conversation she says that if the things were such great secrets than she she should have been kept in the dark even now. Make up your mind, woman.

6. Two stars (rather than one) because I liked Cora and Martin and hope they live happily ever after.

*

First Line: By the time we left Calais, I thought perhaps I hated Dottie Forsyth.

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Saturday, September 2, 2017

Waste of Time: The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry The Cry by Helen Fitzgerald
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Do people really like such books? Peopled with unsympathetic character; alternating narrative by hysterical women; it being thrust down our throats that in an extra-marital relationship, the man is the villain - not the wife, not the mistress who, poor things, are nothing but victims and given a chance can actually like each other and be friends; the supposedly BIG reveal turning out to be a damp squib, something that you had guessed right from the beginning; Philosophical posing such as 'we cannot build our happiness on somebody's sorrows' but can apparently get away with murder.....

Oh God! I just want this book out of my system.

*

First Line: It was the fault of the airport security.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Women in Translation: Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt

Usually, I don't enjoy modern mysteries because I feel the world intrudes too much. Racism, sexism, pedophilia, dysfunctional families become the foci of the novel rather than the murder. However, while reading Simone Van Der Vlugt's Shadow Sister, I was surprised when I became more interested in the problems that a teacher of a school faces rather than the suspense about the killer.




Lydia, one of the narrators of the novels (the other is her twin sister Elisa), is a teacher at Rotterdam College, a school where plenty of students are from Turkey and Morocco. Caught between the cultures, neither integrated nor even fully welcome in Holland, the students can be extremely volatile at times. But even Lydia is shocked when one of them threatens her with a knife. This to her tastes like a personal failure because she has taken the trouble to get close to her students - doing overtime, visiting their homes, attending inter-cultural coaching sessions etc.

This involvement with her work has brought many positive results and the students have started opening up and discussing their problems with her but it also has a downside: her husband, Raoul feels that she is neglecting their little daughter Valerie and would rather have her working part-time in his software company. This has caused quite a bit of friction between the two. Thus, it is to Elisa that Lydia turns for comfort. But is Elisa the right person to turn to?



The novel switches between the two narrative voices and what I loved was how much is revealed through the two voices. Neither of the women is what they assume they are and it is both creepy and funny as the reader gets a glimpse into their personalities. This makes for a very interesting read but the last few chapters feel forced and the identity of the killer is a big let-down.

That disappointment aside, I loved the narration, the sibling relationship, and the description of the problems that can beset a multi-racial institute. I will definitely look for more books by this author.

*

First Line: All of a sudden he's got a knife.



Original Title: Schaduwzuster
Original Language: Dutch
Translator: Michele Hutchison

Publication Details: London: Harper Collins, 2010
First Published: 2005
Pages: 282

Source: Bought @Delhi Book Fair, 2016.





Thursday, August 24, 2017

Forgotten Book: Gossip to the Grave by John Burke

Luke stared up at her. “Running off to construct a dream lover? That’s the way. The only way. Build him yourself.”



Jenny Clark is what we would call a Page-3 reporter in India, somebody who covers parties thrown by the frivolous rich, adds spice and gossip, and hints at scandals. When the novel opens, she is in the doldrums having been jilted by her lover. A throw-away remark by a colleague as to what would be her specifications for an ideal lover makes Jenny not only imagine a man -who is witty, smart, sophisticated, handsome, and fond of P.G. Wodehouse and James Thurber - but also feature him in her gossip columns. She has no idea that the man- whom she names Simon Sherborne - will become the talk of the town and all the women will be dying to invite him to their parties.



“Track him down. If he’s anything like you make him out to be, he could stir up some fun among those corrupt innocents of yours. Somebody,” said Chris hopefully, “might get hurt.”




Things become rough for Jenny when her editor demands a photo of the mysterious Mr. Sherborne and instructs her to take a camera man along to the next social event she covers. Jenny begins to think of taking on a new job or moving back to her parents when at the party a man comes over to her and introduces himself:

She turned. The man from the saleroom was standing above her — six inches above her, that widow’s peak, she estimated...

 The man smiled a slow, broad smile and held out his hand. As she took it she said quietly, to help him: “Actually I’m Jenny Clark.”
 “Ah, yes. My best press officer.”
 “Yours?”
 “I’m Simon Sherborne,” he said.


But unlike the lover whom Jenny had conjured up for herself, this man is more interested in an heiress, Annabel Wager, and pressurizes Jenny to introduce him to her. What game is he playing and how far will Jenny go to keep up the charade?




The novel begins well but soon meanders into forgery, fraud, inheritance issues and loses its way.

Still it was nice to read a novel where there are no mobile phones, where people are not texting or taking selfies of themselves 24/7, and where it is really difficult to contact a person and one has to search for call-phones which have now virtually disappeared.

Also there was this line which I absolutely loved:

She was surprised he didn’t present her with a shorthand pad and four newly sharpened pencils and ask her to take detailed notes of what the police had to say.








It brought back my growing-up years when I'd see college-going bhaiyas and didis with the pads, the yellow-black striped sharp pencils, and Pittman's Shorthand instructor earnestly trying to improve their skills and earn a diploma in shorthand while getting a college degree as it'd give them an edge in their application for government jobs. When I reached college, however,  the shorthand colleges and typing schools were all on their last legs and soon were to close shop forever...

*

First Line: Jenny Clark invented Simon Sherborne one rainy evening in late April.

First Published: 1967
Source: Borrowed
Other books read of the same author: None

*

Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase. Please head over there for the other entries.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Review: The Cat's Table

The Cat's Table The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It seemed to me as though the writer was trying too hard: to have every small day-today action assume a philosophical hue. Expected better from the author of The English Patient.

First Line: HE WASN'T TALKING.
Source: Bought in 2014.
Other books read of the same author: In the Skin of a Lion, The English Patient.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reading Challenge: Dread and Read

Earlier this year, I decided to join the Dread and Read challenge @ Hotchpot Cafe which (as the name suggests) challenges us to read the books that are there on our TBR piles but that we dread reading. To make the task easier, our gracious hostess, Jane,  has offered us sweeteners.



What with one thing or the other, however, I quite forgot to write a sign-up post for it. But better late than never and so here I am committing myself to read four books that have been languishing on my shelves. All of them are auto/biographies of Indian freedom fighters.

1. Bandi Jeevan by Sachindranath Sanyal.
2. Aap Beeti by Bhai Parmanand
3. Inquilabi Yatra by Manorma Dewan
4. Lala Lajpat Rai by Feroz Chand


Want to join too? You can sign-up here before the 1st of December.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: Envious Casca

Envious Casca Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After being majorly disappointed with WHY SHOOT THE BUTLER? I had kind of given up on Georgette Heyer but then found a lot of people talking about this and so gave it a go. Am glad that I did because it is quite enjoyable and though I guessed the modus operandi (and by extension the murderer) it is a decent locked-room mystery.

First Line: It was a source of great satisfaction to Joseph Herriard that the holly trees were in full berry.

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Review: Journey Under the Midnight Sun

Journey Under the Midnight Sun Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

SPOILER ALERT. Read it only if you have read the book.


"Some people walk forever in the sunlight, and some people have to walk through the darkest night their whole lives.... I've never lived in the sunlight....No, there never was a sun in the sky over me. It's always night...."

Excuse me, while I puke because these sob lines are spoken by one of the most sadistic, manipulative, cold-blooded b%*#s I have come across in books. The woman who uses men and then throws them over and who gets her female competitors raped really wants us to believe that she has had a hard life. This one doesn't spare even her friend. Why? Coz the friend one day turned smart and beautiful and started garning male attention. And, of course, our self-pitying female couldn't bear it, and so got her sexually molested by her pet-dog Ryo, who would go to any extent to satisfy her- murder, rape, betrayal. She even gets him to rape her underage step-daughter and if that wasn't enough, forces herself also upon the young girl.

And what is her rationale? Because she was sexually abused as a young child so, of course, everything is justified. Even killing her foster mother because the old lady was lingering on.

And Ryo? The boy who killed his father when he saw him sexually assaulting a young girl, in the end rapes a young girl himself.

Giving it two stars only because of my loyalty towards Higashino and because Kazunari was able to manfully resist Yukiho (Three cheers for him).

*

First Line: Sasagaki left the station and headed west along the tracks.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: Christmas is Murder

Christmas is Murder Christmas is Murder by C.S. Challinor
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this up with a great deal of anticipation. Christmas, snow all around, cut-off from the world, the odd guests, the sinister servants, the piling dead bodies....but where was the terror,the growing distrust, the suspicious glances, the false faces??????????????...A totally non-atmospheric mystery. Not keen to read more of the series.

First Line: Mrs. D. Smithings requests the pleasure of the company of Reginald Graves, QC at Swanmere Manor, December 23 to 27.
RSVP

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Forgotten Book: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

A couple of years back, I read Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes which was not so much about a murder in a boarding school as a deconstruction of the process of detection where it was the limitations of the detective - subjectivity, prejudices, likes, dislikes, - that was interrogated. It was a novel that broadened the scope of a detective novel.

This week, I read Tey's Daughter of Time, a book that often features in the best -100 -mysteries- of -all- time lists. Again Tey broadens the scope of a detective novel, this time examining a historical mystery which gives her the opportunity to examine the way the past comes down to us.




Bored stiff after fracturing his leg while pursuing a criminal, Inspector Grant becomes interested in the man generally viewed as a monster: Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets and the man considered to be the killer of his two young nephews. Fascinated by the portrait of Richard, Grant dwells deeper into the story and with the help of a young research scholar (who does all the leg-work for him) makes a convincing case that rather than being a murderer, Richard was instead a victim of false, malicious propaganda initiated by the Tudors and their lackeys, especially as that first Tudor - Henry VII's claim to the throne was rather shaky.



But as said earlier, the novel is more than just an investigation into a murder done long ago. It is also about how the past gets narrated - Who is writing it? - How objective is the account?' What are the writer's intentions? - Is there anyone to whom the 'historian/ writer/ narrator' is bowing to? - Who is in power? -In fact, while reading the book I kept on thinking about that Big Brother maxim - "Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past."




I quite enjoyed the book but I have a few reservations. Through Grant, Tey pokes a lot of fun at Sir Thomas More whose The History of King Richard III has been used as a standard book of reference by writers and historians. The 'Saintly' More is shown to be in a despicable light who fudged facts but Tey hardly mentions the even more saintly Shakespeare whose play Richard III presents the king as a deformed hunchback as villainous as villainous can be. Wasn't Shakespeare also through his History plays pandering to the Tudors? Why does Tey not question the Bard-of-Avon?

And for a novel that asks us to question the veracity of historical narratives, to dismiss the IRA as a murderous mob is a travesty.



These things apart, I really liked the novel. And yes, Richard III has a very-very strong case in his favour. But then I always liked the Richards more than the Henrys:)


*

First Line: Grant lay on his high white cot and stared at the ceiling.

Source: Project Gutenberg Austalia

Other books read of the same author: (Amongst others) The Franchise Affair

*

Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books, today @ Todd Mason's Sweet Freedom.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

1977: Invisible Green by John Sladek

1977 is the year chosen for this month @ Past Offences' Crimes of the Century meme and that has given me the opportunity to read the book that had long been on my wishlist: John Sladek's Invisible Green.





The novel opens on a day in 1939. The world is sitting on a pile of dynamite as the seven members of the murder club meet to discuss a Sherlock Holmes adventure and have a group photograph taken.





Time passes. One day, the only female member of the group, Dorothea Pharaoh, now in her sixties, decides to host a reunion of the club. One member is dead but the others all receive her invitation. One of the members, Major Stokes, a rabid anti-communist in the days of yore, rings up to tell her that a certain Mr. Green is planning to kill him as he is about to uncover a great communist conspiracy to take-over Britain. Ravings of a lunatic? Perhaps. But Dorothea is still concerned enough to call her friend, the detective Thackrey Phin, to look into the matter. He keeps an all-night vigil outside the Major's house.... but to no-avail...come the morning and the Major is dead. The police dismiss the death as heart-attack but then two more members of the murder club die. So who is the person behind these murders? What are the secrets that the members are trying to hide? And what is that unsavoury story behind the one member who is supposed to have died during the Blitz?

I guessed the identity of the killer because of a slip that the murderer made but it gave me no pleasure and I kept on hoping that I was wrong about his/her identity.




That apart, I enjoyed this novel and it is sad that the author wrote no Phin mystery after this, turning to SF for financial reasons. And I also found an underlying note of sadness in the novel. Part of it was that it is written in the style of an age that was past (and going by the writer's comments had no market value during the seventies). Part of it was that with the passing of an era, some of the characters seemed to have no place in the world:

Phin read it through, half-horrified at the writer's obvious mental anguish, half admiring his fertile imagination. The letter stopped just short of Martians and the great Pyramid, but it was of the same order of madness: An unhappy, lonely, probably ailing old man magnifying his misery into a world-wide plot against him.

In a sense, the plot was all too real. The world had indeed turned against people like Major Stokes. The battle was not between the long-defunct "NKVD" and "M.16" - it was between that sinister and nebulous force called Modern Society and a handful of forgotten pensioners. Society, employing the weapons of neglect, starvation, indifference, and bureaucracy, was certain to triumph.

Ah... the unrelenting march of time.




*

For more on the book, here's Sergio's review it and here's Bev's.

*

Opening Lines: Autumn, 1939.
                   "LOOK PLEASED, EVERYONE," said the photographer.


Source: Open Library

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Death And The Pleasant Voices

Death And The Pleasant Voices Death And The Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gem of a read. A good mystery with the right sort of intrigue and atmosphere. The Anglo-Indian's angst was a tad exaggerated though. Poor fellow. To imagine that he was the result of two people's love for each other and yet to be so lonely and wretched.


First Line: I have never seen such lightening or such rain in all my life.

Source: Open Library

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: In Bitter Chill

In Bitter Chill In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Should have been subtitled: A Warning against One-Night Stands.


First Line: BLADE CLANKED ON FLINT.



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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every other book, nowadays, is marketed as a psychological thriller/ mystery. I wish the writers of those books would read this book first before sitting down to write yet another tale narrated by a hysterical/ neurotic female.

Immensely moving and tragic. I want to read more of Shirley Jackson.

First Line: My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.
Source: Open Library.
Other books read of the same author: The Haunting of Hill House.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mount TBR: 1st Checkpoint 2017

It's time for the year's first check-point at Mount TBR @ My Reader's Block.



I have barely started on my climb, having reviewed only one book from my shelves: The Blue Note.




My favourite character of the book happened to be Julian.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Purple Roomby Mauro Casiraghi

The Purple Room The Purple Room by Mauro Casiraghi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


"We left the courtroom in silence. Without saying a word, we each knew what was going through the other’s mind. Every moment of our life together, from the day we first met, until the exact moment when it all ended. It was the inventory of our successes and failures, many of which weren’t the same. I had mine, she had hers. Standing there, on the stone steps of the courthouse, the moment had come to leave each other for good. To go our separate ways. It was then that we felt the elation of failure. A weight had fallen from our shoulders. At long last we could abandon the struggle to love and respect each other until death do us part. We could stop feeling incompetent and guilty. We had been relieved of our duty. We were fleeing from the battlefield like two deserters. It didn’t really matter that I’d been the first to start running. Now we were the same. Alone again, face to face, just like the day we met."


Sergio has survived an accident that almost killed him but he has gaps in his memory. There is one persistent image however that doesn't let him rest: that of a woman standing against a purple wall. Lost and drifting with a sense that he has failed in his relationships, he feels that life will straighten itself out once he meets the woman again.

"The memory that I have of her, in the purple room, will disappear with me. There will be nothing left. What’s been the point of getting this far? I’d like to be able to ask those who are still pushing on, driven by some incomprehensible force. Roberto and Loredana, clinging to each other in the hope of a child. Nino and Sabrina, wrapped in each other’s arms in a hotel room in Majorca. Franco seeking comfort in Petra’s young bosom. Silvia, in love with her insects. Simonetta, with her lovely voice, full of regrets. Luisa and everyone who frequents her dating agency. Marilena. Antonella. Even Jenny and her twenty customers per night. All willing to pay in the hope of finding something that might not even exist. Trying so hard to love and be loved. Only to lose it all, end up alone, cry, suffer. Then start all over again, driven on by the hope that this time it will be better or, maybe, convinced that it will be worse, but determined to plunge right back in, up to their necks. Maybe to end up like me––staggering towards the memory of a state of grace, of a purple room on a sunny afternoon that no one will ever be able to give back to me."

The book with its poignancy reminded me of Arun Joshi's The Last Labyrinth and I liked Sergio's friendship with Roberto and Franco. Would like to read more of this author.

*

Opening Lines: I stopped waging war on the ants after I got out of the hospital. I don’t kill them anymore.

Other books read of the same author: None

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Forgotten Book: The Third Eye by Ethel Lina White (1937)

In 2012, Curtis Evans reviewed Ethel Lina White's 1937 novel The Third Eye, very-very favourably (read his review here). As I had liked all the books that I had read of White till then it immediately went on my wish-list. But it is  only now that Project Gutenberg, Australia has made it available (along with a host of other books by White) that I have been able to read it.





Young, spirited Caroline Watts feels (quite mistakenly) that she is becoming bothersome to her sister Lesley and brother-in-law Professor Freeman and wants to take up a job and move out of their home. Without any  professional degrees, she applies for the job of a sports-teacher at Abbey school. Professor Freemason is not happy about it but the two women (the 'practical sex' as White puts it) convince him that he is worrying about nothing.

However, Caroline too feels the same misgivings when she reaches the school on a dark, drizzling night. On inquiring about the Principal Mrs. Nash, she is told that the lady was with Mrs. Yaxley-Moore, the matron, and wasn't to be disturbed at any cost.:

"That is Mrs. Nash's private suite,.. She is with Miss Yaxley-Moore. So she must not be disturbed."

The peculiar note in her voice corresponded with the man-servant's flickering smile. It created an atmosphere of insinuation which was distasteful to Caroline.

I doesn't help matters when she is told that the previous sports-teacher had died suddenly in the same bed which she has been given:

She slept badly on her first night. Besides being homesick, she was full of nervous fancies which made her shrink from occupying a bed where some one might have died recently. For some time she lay awake, starting at every creaking board before she drifted into a semi-unconscious state in which she could still hear the rustle of the rain while her brain played the strange pranks of dreams.

She thought that she was awake, but was unable to stir, because of a heavy fear of something stirring inside the bed, which paralysed every muscle and locked every joint. She did not know how long it endured, but at last her fingers flexed again and she switched on the light.


As she sat up, she realised that she was really awake, and in a strange but commonplace room. In spite of her relief, she could not shake off the impression of her dream immediately. That sudden drainage of power in the moment of peril appeared to her the more horrible because of her own confidence in her strength and agility.

"Is it a warning dream?" she wondered with a flicker of prescience.





From the next morning, Caroline realises that there is something rotten in the school, especially in the kind of insidious hold that Yaxley-Moore has over Mrs. Nash with her claims to have a third-eye and the gift of communicating with the dead. Caroline wants to prove her  a fraud but doesn't have any conclusive proof. Then finally before the school breaks-up for the winter holidays, Caroline realises that Yaxley-Moore has been guilty of negligence towards an asthmatic girl. And now she has solid proof - in the form of two unopened bottles of medicine - which the matron should have given to the sick girl. Threatening exposure, she asks the matron not to rejoin in the next term.

However, Yaxley-Moore is not one to give up easily and along with her half-sister, Miss Bat, plans to stop Caroline from reaching the school after the break. And this is when the novel really takes off. As Caroline boards the bus on another rain-drenched evening, the nightmare begins.

She was only just entering the labyrinth, when she could not distinguish true from false—friend from foe—or know which move led to salvation or death. The poor Professor, who had preserved a touch of Celtic vision in spite of the grind of routine, had been smitten with presentiment at his last sight of Caroline's face, drowning in the fog.

Who is to be trusted, who is to be not? Who is the young wife of a naval officer? Who is the lady in brown? Who is the commercial traveller? And who is that figure in front - a man or a woman??? Are they all in league against Caroline?

By now the poison of the anonymous letters had spread through her system, numbing her sense of proportion. As she looked around her she began to suspect every one in the bus. From that moment, Someone who was her enemy was travelling with her in the Streamline Coach. Yet, because it was impossible to credit any particular person with sinister qualities, "Someone" became an abstraction of horror, rather than an actual human being.

It was this anonymous element which gradually wore away her nerve, until lethal squares seemed to crowd the board.

And what  about the aristocratic lady in fur:

"Shirley Temple in disguise," suggested the bony man, making his bid as humorist. "She wants to escape her fans, so don't ask for her 
autograph."

[This reminded me that England's captain Douglas Jardine had sent two Shirley Temple dolls to the daughters of Australian cricketer Bre Oldfield when the latter had been felled by a Harold Larwood bomb. We are definitely in the thirties.]





But to get back to Caroline's dilemma: Should she accept the invitation of a man who claims to be the professor's friend? What about the car-driver who so eagerly offers her lift? Should she stay on the bus or get down? Will she ever reach her destination?

The coach continued to roll through the forest, which stretched for miles. On either side of her were walls of dark, funereal trees—pines, Scotch firs, yews—all weeping with moisture. The ray from the lamps picked out details: the rusty stain on a rubbed trunk, like dried blood; the moonlight-blue tips of black-green shoots; the scar of a lopped branch, which glimmered whitely like a magnified eye.


Read John's comment about the dagger:)



A totally terrific ride. Hop on NOW.

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Besides Curt, John @ Pretty Sinister Books also rates this book very highly. His review can be read over here.

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Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase and Crimes of the Century @ Past Offences.

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First Line: FROM THE first, Professor Freeman was reluctant to let his young sister-in-law—Caroline—accept the post of games mistress at the Abbey School.

Source: Project Gutenberg Australia.

Other books read of the same author: (Among others) The Wheel Spins




Reading Challenges: My Kind of Mystery & Celtic Coasts

Carolyn @ Riedel Fascination hosts a number of challenges every year. She is a fantastic host, encouraging the participants by visiting the blogs and commenting on the posts submitted. And yes! There are prizes too!




Like the past years, I am again signing up for her My Kind of Mystery challenge. This year, there don't seem to be any levels of participation. So if you love mysteries or are thinking of starting on this genre, why don't you sign up over here?


The other challenge that I am signing up for is the Celtic Coasts challenge, a gathering place for all Celtic reading. Since Carolyn has not set any quota, you can do as much (or as little) reading as you please. More information, over here.



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To see the other challenges Carolyn is hosting this year, go to her home-page.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Review: The Boy That Never Was

The Boy That Never Was The Boy That Never Was by Karen Perry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Another book that promises more than it delivers.

Harry and Robin are coping with the grief of losing their three old son. Though it was a natural calamity that took him away yet both are full of guilt and resentment which is straining their relationship, or what is left of it anyway.

This book seemed to drag in the beginning then seemed to perk up in the middle but the climax completely ruined it. I liked Harry and his friends - Spenser and Cozimo. He seemed more closed to them than to his own wife. Wish at least one chapter p-o-v had been provided to both at least.

All I could think at the end was that nobody really cared about the child. They all wanted him to satisfy something within themselves without really bothering about his needs and wants.

*

First Line: A storm is rising.
Alternate Title: The Innocent Sleep

View all my reviews