Monday, December 31, 2007

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

Title: Salem Falls
Author: Jodi Picoult
ISBN-13: 978074318713
Publisher: Washington Square Press/2001
Pages: 434

Salem Falls is the last book I read in the last day of 2007. It was a great way to end the year. Picoult takes up issues, which are too close to home. One can instantly relate to it. Many do not like the realistic way she portrays her novels. One thing about her is that she instantly sucks you into the story. Once I started it, I could not leave it until I finished it.

Jack St Bride, a former teacher in a girl’s prep school comes to Salem Falls wishing to forget his past. He had been in jail for eight months for having a sexual relationship with fifteen-year-old girl, Catherine Marsh, who had a crush on him. His own mother does not believe in him and deserts him. A PhD in History, he ends up washing dishes in a diner for Addie Peabody, who too has a ghost to bury. Unassuming and very handsome John, finds a way into the heart of Addie. As he had been convicted for sexual offence, he has to report to the local police about his whereabouts.

In that quiet place, four girls are trying to be witches by following Wicca rituals. They fantasize about him, and then maliciously target him yet again. Because of his past, he cannot escape this allegation.

Addie is shattered, as she does not know what to believe. St Bride’s lawyer too has misgivings about his innocence although he promises John the best deal out of it. John is defiant in the beginning and we see him slowly crumbling down under so much hatred. He accepts that he would get the maximum sentence and his life is over.

Slowly the dark secrets emerge, the witch hunting of John because of his past emerges, the girls try to stick to their story. We see dark magic and use of drugs by the sixteen year-old girls. Rape is a serious crime. However, it can be used as a powerful tool too. John is punished for what he would not do.

As with other Picoult books, we can see here too how power is misused. How law can be bended towards the ends, how a man despite being fulfilling his sentence still considered an offender. He is tried before he is punished. The title is very appropriate, as Salem Falls is a place, which has a previous history of witch hunting.

Books reviewed in 2007

I read a lot but only started posting about books since June. Even then I have not written reviews of a lot of books.

December (8)

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
The Sherbrooke Twins by Catherine Coulter
Nightway by Janet Daily
The Ultimate Tea Diet by Mark Ukra with Sharyn Kolberg
Sunset Embrace by Sandra Brown
For the Love of Rachel by David Loewenstein
Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult
Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw

November (8)

Real Magic by Brian A Fowler
Paradise Place by Warwick Deeping
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Downsizing Your Home With Style by Lauri Ward
Second Glance by Jodi Picoult
Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

October (10)

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by R L Stevenson
The Feudal Lord by Tehmina Durrani
The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie
The Coral Island by R M Ballantyne
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

September (12)

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J K Rowling
So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson
The Pearl By John Steinbeck
Waverley by Sir Walter Scott
Louisa Elliott by Ann Victoria Roberts
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My Mother's Garden--A collection of Essays

August (10)

Outlaw by Lisa Jackson
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
The Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandeya
Death Of A Salesman by Arthur Miller
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Leave it to Psmith by P G Wodehouse
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough
To Sir, with Love by E. R.Braithwaite
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

July (12)

Different Seasons by Stephen King
Marie Antoinette-The Journey by Antonia Fraser
One by Richard BachMan's Search for Meaning by Viktor E Frankl
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
The Unbearable Lightness of Being By Milan Kundera
Innocent Erendera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li
Fury by Salman Rushdie
Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Defy the Eagle by Lynn Bartlett
The Bafut Beagles by Gerald Durrell

June (3)

Deadly Kisses By Brenda Joyce
The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré

May (4)

The Places In Between by Rory Stewart
Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom by John Follain and Rita Cristofari
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Sherbrooke Twins by Catherine Coulter

Title: The Sherbrooke Twins
Author: Catherine Coulter
ISBN: 0515136549
Publisher: Jove Books/2004
Pages: 358

I received four Catherine Coulter novels along with four other romance novels. My friend must be wishing for me to read her books. I had not heard of her before this. Not tht I have heard of all the authors in this world!

The Sherbrooke Twins is about twenty eight years old twin brothers, James and Jason. As James is older by 28 minutes, he is the heir. He loves astronomy, riding and helps in managing his father’s estate. Jason can swim like a fish and is a philanderer. Corrie is their neighbour and he has known her since she is three years old. She is always dressed disreputably and does not how to be a woman. James' parents along with her Uncle and Aunt decide that Corrie needs a season and his dad Douglas selects the wardrobe her as he cannot trust his wife, Alex or Corrie’s aunt, Maybella to do that. Alex wears plunging necklines and Maybella does not wear anything other than pale blue!

When James first sees Corrie in a gown, he cannot believe she is so beautiful. Meanwhile, Jason comes back home after a visit from the Virgin Ghost that warns him that his parents are in trouble, which proves prophetic when someone shoots their father. James is kidnapped; Corrie bravely saves him from the kidnappers and sickness. As they spend a night together, they have to marry. Jason falls in love with Judith McCrae who he met at the season thrown for Corrie. However, the family remains unsafe, as someone wants Douglas dead. In the end, we see Jason leaving home as he considers all that ensued, is his fault.

Nowhere in the novel, have we seen any kind of chemistry between James and Corrie and then they get married. Their lovemaking seems like incest to me. Their character needed to be developed further. Their parents Douglas and Alexandra have more chemistry going between them. Latter part of the book is mostly about Jason.

The witty dialogues somewhat saves it from facing oblivion. Out of all the four, this was the weakest. Not that I was looking for any intellectual stuff! There are some similarities in all those, which I will sum up with my review of the last novel.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nightway by Janet Daily

Title: Nightway
Author: Janet Daily
ISBN: 0671624873
publisher: Pocket Books/1981
Pages: 361

Among contemporary romance writers, I like to read Janet Daily. Her descriptions of places and cultures are rather well done. Her character building too is good. Most of her books hold interest.

I picked up Nightway, dirt cheap from a pavement book bazaar. This book tells us about the ancient ways of Arizona's Navaho Nation to the new ranch wealth of the great southwest. This is about JB Faulkner and his two warring sons, Chad and Hawk who fight for their rights and for one woman's love.

Hawk is half Navaho and half white. When his mother and sister die, his father JB Faulkner gets him to his estate and asks Rawlins, his foreman to look after him. Although every one is aware, that Hawk is Faulkner’s son but JB does not acknowledge him. The boy is fascinated with his father’s wife, Katheryn. His father sends him to the best of schools and colleges. Just before his degree, hawk quits and comes back as he has no other ambition than the land. Although sometimes confused by his dual heritage, Hawk takes strength from within himself to become his own man after Carol, Rawlins daughter accuses him of rape when they found together by her father. He feels betrayed, as he is not good enough to marry her being the illegitimate son. Carol chooses Hawk's half-brother, Chad, and a life of comfort and wealth. Initially bitter, Hawk learns to live alone with no one on his side. Not even his father.

First half of the book is about Hawk, his desperate need to belong. He is not accepted by Whites or by Navaho as their own. We glimpse his deep hurt and loneliness, which he hides from everyone. He learns to control his feelings. Only in the second half, Lanna Marshall enters his life under unusual circumstances. Lanna, who had befriended JB just days before his death, is a beneficiary in his will. She is tormented by her attraction for both the brothers and knows her decision must be weighed against her passion for the dark, quiet half-breed who hungers for the comfort she so desperately wants to give.

I will not call this book a romance in the strictest sense. However, it made a nice change from heavy reading. When I am in the midst of marking exam papers, I prefer light reading. This qualifies as one.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Ultimate Tea Diet by Mark Ukra with Sharyn Kolberg

Disclaimer: I have only reviewed the book. I am yet to follow it through.

Title: The Ultimate Tea Diet
Author: Mark “dr. tea” Ukra with Sharyn Kolberg
ISBN: 9780061441752
Publisher: Collins

I received this book from Collins Nonfiction for reviewing. The Ultimate Tea Diet is offers a way to lose weight by making tea drinking a way of life. One can lose pounds by taking to tea and gain health benefits on the way. We get to know how it boosts metabolism, shrinks appetite helps in reducing weight. All from something, which tastes good, inexpensive and is easily available. It can be had at any time, any place, before meals, in between meals and after meals.

One can choose from wide variety of the beverage, which is available in varied flavours. This guide is divided into three parts, which again are divided into chapters. Part One consists of The tea/Weight Loss Connection and is divided into four chapters. Here we learn about the various teas (White, Green, Oolong, Black) are all derived from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. Though other alternatives are coming up. One such is Rooibos. It is not strictly tea as it does not come from the above mentioned plant.

Tea contains three main ingredients, caffeine, L-Theanine and EGCG. These help in burning calories, promote weight loss, help in metabolism. Tea contains antioxidants too, which are good for our hair and skin too. Caffeine stimulates, L-Theanine reduces stress, which further reduces appetite and storage of fat in our body. EGCG is the much-publicised antioxidant. These prevent and repair damage caused by free radicals. These stimulate weight loss.

Subsequent chapters talk of flavoured teas, tea recipes that can be tried by anyone wishing to lose weight. Frankly, I like drinking tea just the way it without any flavours. I do like to add milk and sugar. If one follows the Tea Diet plan given in Chapter 8, I suppose one can lose weight and gain a lot more. However, one also needs to have some dietary changes and physical exercise. A positive belief that he/she can lose weight is must.

As I belong to a tea-drinking country, I could relate to a few parts. Here we have spices added to tea, which is known as Masala Chai. It is available everywhere, roadsides, bus stops, railway stations etc.

Most who want/wish to lose weight can download the e-book. Drinking tea seems to be an easier way to do so. Even if one does not lose weight, drinking tea is any day better than coffee!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Booking through nominations

  1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
  2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
  3. And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?

Unless a book is well publicised, it takes a while to get a newly published book in India. Still I can name a few fictions.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini needs no description. I am in the midst of reading it and think, it is going to be as good as Kite Runner if not better. My vote goes for it.

The Gathering by Anne Enright: This book deals with death, love and self discovery. It takes on an adventure which is mostly internal.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: In this book, African history is captured with haunting intimacy. Adichie tells her gripping story through lives of Ugwu, a 13-year-old peasant houseboy who survives conscription into the raggedy Biafran army, and twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, who are from a wealthy and well-connected family.

In non-fiction, which is taking me forever to complete, I list the following:

The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth by Tim Flannery: In this stirring call to action, biologist Flannery provides an overview of the impact that global warming has on the environment and suggests possible solutions.

To answer that last question, "best" list does not influence me as much as the blog world. There are so many book lovers out there who recommend great books and one can get lost in challenges. That helps in my reading.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sunset Embrace by Sandra Brown

Title: Sunset Embrace
Author: Sandra Brown
ISBN: 0446356859

Publisher: Warner Brothers

Genre: Historical Romance

Pages: 360/Paperback

I picked this up from one of my friend’s place. She seldom reads anything other than romances. She insisted I read this one.
Sunset Embrace is romance all right with all the usual trials and tribulations the hero and heroine undergo before everlasting love. It is said to be set in 1870s when wagon trains moved from one place to another.

Lydia is a destitute and has been wandering for weeks. She is with child. One day her labour pain starts and she falls down with sheer exhaustion. She prays for death for herself and her yet unborn baby. Her baby is born dead and she is found in the unconscious state by Bubba and his brother Luke Langston, who go out and fetch their mother Ma Langston. One look at her and she is taken away to be looked after by the Langston family. Ma Langston does not ask about her past and accepts her as she is.

Meanwhile, in another Wagon, Ross Coleman’s wife dies in childbirth. Ma Langston laments about it and after a couple of days finds a perfect solution. There is a young woman without a child and a baby without a mother. Lydia is to serve as a wet-nurse for the boy. Ross is not keen. He takes Lydia to be a piece of trash and does not want her anywhere near his child. However, Lydia and the infant bond instantly. Even Ross cannot deny that. Despite his misgivings, he allows her to stay in his wagon for the sake of his son.

She had vowed no man should touch her and he is grief-stricken by his pureblooded wife’s death. He finds himself attracted towards her and because of his conflicted feelings is very nasty towards her. She is too strong-willed to take that from him and gives him back in equal measure. From there in starts, that inevitable spark of attraction. Before anything can be truly resolved, both their past catches up with them. Not only do they have to contend with the hardships and dangers that any wagon train would face, but also they are also being stalked by a murderous mad man who is intent on rape and murder.

There are other interesting characters from the wagon train: Bubba Langston, the boy who found Lydia and idolizes Ross wanting to become like him; Priscilla, who seduces Bubba; Winston Hill, the southern gentleman who is attracted to Lydia; and Ma, the matriarch of the wagon train. Each has a role to play in the book that when woven together make for an excellent read. Maybe I should read romances more often!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

For the Love of Rachel by David Loewenstein

Title: For the Love of Rachel
Author: David Loewenstein
ISBN: 0979194342
Publisher: Enalan Communications
Pages: 147
Rating: High

David offered this book at one of the online sites I visit. I won it from there in a draw. He sent it to me and I received it within a week. I sat down to read it that same day and finished it at one go.

For the Love of Rachel is a story of a father’s love towards his daughter who is born premature at 23 weeks of gestation. David and his wife wanted a child and after the process of in vitro fertilization, Susan conceives. However, her uterus is not able to hold the pregnancy and Rachel is born early. Her chances of survival are dim. Survive she does, with the love and faith of her parents, their families, efforts by the doctors, nurses and all involved in saving her life. She has a strong survival instinct. She lives in the hospital for nine months before she is taken home. Even then, she needs constant attention.

David and Susan never give up hope. They are ready to go to any length to save her, make her life comfortable. She has special needs because of mild cerebral palsy, partial hearing and vision. Despite that, she is a very happy child.

Somewhere down the line, David and Susan decide to have another child. This time they go for adoption. They go to China and get Amy as a sister for Rachel. Both these children teach them so much about life, its beauty, its perfection.

David has himself said that life gives us chances. Sometimes we miss those with our skewed view of it. We seldom learn from past, we dwell too much on the future, forgetting the present. Life is filled with love, wonder and gratitude. We only need to recognise that.

I am very glad I read it. Every one irrespective of having children or not should read it. This book goes much beyond Rachel although it is written about and for Rachel. With positive feelings, we can turn our lives the way we want it. A child, who had almost no chance of survival, lives because her parents do not give up hope. They are always prepared for the worst but never lose out on hope. They are lucky to have Rachel and Amy. Same goes for Rachel and Amy who are both lucky to have David and Susan as parents.

I have left certain aspects for the readers to find out for themselves. All in all a must read. My mother too recommends this. She rarely reads anything other than magazines unless something really interests her. For the Love of Rachel did.

Booking through cataloguing

Do you use any of the online book-cataloguing sites, like Library Thing or Shelfari? Why or why not? If not an online catalog, do you use any other method to catalog your book collection? Excel spreadsheets, index cards, a notebook, anything?

I have seen way too many books to use online cataloguing sites. I am a member of both Library Thing and Shelfari. Somehow I do not use those.

Right from my school days, I used the indexing method. I sorted out my books and numbered those accordingly. Genre/Author/number. It was my own personal library. Now too, when I get time I kind of put numbers on my books. I am way behind but I can still know where any of my books is placed. I can pick it from that place in a sec. It is kind of mental cataloguing. I do maintain a notebook, for I don't remember how long. I am trying to convert into Excel spreadsheets. Not an easy feat, considering I have 4000+ books. I need to drastically reduce the number. I just have not got around it. I buy more than I dispose off.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Booking through Out of Print books

"Do you have a favourite book, now out of print, that you would like to see become available again?"

There are many books which are not available for Indian readers. Many times, I have asked my friends in the other part of the world to send those books to me. One of those was "Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins" which is out of print in India. Amazon too does not ship some books to India. That makes it difficult for me to have access to books I want to read. Then there are forgotten authors like Warwick Deeping. I have searched the net. Amazon, e-bay do have those. However, shipping is a problem. In a way, Bookmooch has helped me in finding a few books which are out of print here.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult

Title: Perfect Match
Author: Jodi Picoult
ISBN: 9780340897225
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton/389 pages

It seems I am in some kind of roll reading Picoult! This is my fifth book by her. She has written many books. Her books take up issues, which many of us wish to brush under the carpet. As someone said, her stories hit too close to home.

Perfect match too is not so different. It takes up an issue, which is any parent’s nightmare. That, a child being raped. Nina Frost is a DA who tries to prosecute child abusers. Most of the times, the culprit goes free. When her five-year-old son is sexually abused, the world around her crashes down. Now she cannot think in a detached manner expected of a lawyer. Her son is her only concern and she has to protect him from at any cost.

How she goes about it is the moral dilemma faced by her, her husband Caleb and her best friend Patrick Ducharme. A split second decision turns out to be horribly wrong.

The book opens with Nina shooting down a priest in the court who she believes has sexually abused her son, Nathaniel. After she is taken into custody, she ceases being the person she was. Her husband leaves home with their son when she is released on bail. She completely breaks down. Only person, who supports her and believes in her, is her childhood friend, Patrick who has always loved her.

From there, the questions start. Did she do the right thing? Is she morally right and legally wrong? Is her life finished? What goes wrong? Why does Caleb distance himself from her? Is she going to lose the very thing she is fighting for? Picoult has the capacity to show us all the sides. Her way or rendering a story is spellbinding. Her capacity to research and presenting it for the layman is praiseworthy. Her story telling is objective. It is we, who take sides.

I work for sexually abused girls. I see families breaking down. I get emotionally involved too. This hit me hard. How do we justify child abuse especially from the very person we trust? That too, from a father. Believe me, the child involved never recovers.<

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Arms and the Man by George Bernard Shaw

Title: Arms and the Man
Author: George Bernard Shaw
ISBN-10: 0140450351
ISBN-13: 978-0140450354
Publisher: Penguin/80 pages

George Bernard Shaw takes the title for this play from the opening life of Vergil's epic poem Aeneid, which begins Of arms and the man I sing. Vergil glorified war and the heroic feats of Aeneas on the battlefield. However, Shaw attacks the romantic notion of war by presenting a more realistic approach.

The action takes place in Bulgaria in 1885 against a backdrop of war between Bulgarian forces and Serbian and Austrian coalition army. Raina Petkoff is the young and beautiful daughter of the Bulgarian Major Petkoff who is engaged to Major Serguis Saranoff. Serguis is out in the battles. An enemy soldier, Captain Bluntschli, takes refuge in her room and this is what makes the whole drama happen. Next morning she and her mother Catherine see him off but consequences of sheltering an enemy soldier are not to be waved off so easily. Once the war is over, he comes back, forcing each of the primary characters to re-evaluate their values and their relationships

Raina's "hero" Serguis comes back from the war with the aura of heroism, gallantry and victory along with her father, Major Petkoff. The various dimensions of human nature are poignantly depicted, the character’s masks are exposed, and each one of them is stripped down into imperfect and susceptible individuals. Serguis turns out to be a flirt and far from a contented happy model of a soldier; Major Petkoff is discerned to be a man who cannot see beyond the battlefield.

There is a vivid usage of humour and comedy to convey the futility and harm of old-fashioned social analysis. The theme is effectively that of war and love---and by extension marriage---and a combination of both. The play is replete with brilliant dialogue, flashing wit, buoyant humour and bitter sarcasms which reach their acme in this statement of Captain Bluntschli to Serguis, "I'm a professional soldier: I fight when I have to, and am very glad to get out of it when I haven't to. You're only an amateur; you think fighting's an amusement". First published in 1894, Arms and the Man is also remarkable for its explicit treatment of sexuality, which was either denied or shyly elucidated, in early Victorian literature.

Even after 100+ years, this has a contemporary feel to it and is as relevant as it was then. War cannot be anything but futile and there is no heroism in it for those who resort to it.