Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Pre-nup - Beth Kendrick

The Pre-nup by Beth Kendrick was unexpectedly fun. I say unexpectedly because I seem to have somewhat outgrown candyfloss books although I do pick one up now and then when I need a light read. It is hard to stay interested in cardboard romances, barely there plots and more often than not, in heroines who do not seem to have a single sensible thoughts in their heads but The Pre-nup was a pleasant surpirse.

For the blue-bloods and the nouveau riche living in Mayfair Estates in Phoenix, Arizona, pre-nups are a matter of routine. After all, it makes sense to protect one's assets before one ties the knot in the event of a divorce. Because what is one to do with a rabid ex-husband or ex-wife who is out to fleece you? Right. Everyone does it and for Ellie, Jen and Mara the pre-nup doesn't hold much significance anyway because they are in love or in some definition of it and everything will work out fine and besides, pre-nups are just a "technicality". So what happens when life threatens to kick them in the shins? When their relationships seem to be disintegrating right before their eyes?

When Ellie married rich and handsome Michael she was sure the marriage would last forever and she had no qualms in signing the pre-nup Michael's family insist on. A few years on and Ellie is alone with her five year old daughter. She couldn't save her marriage but she will save her divorce. The pre-nup can go to hell.

When Jen married Eric, they both knew that she loved him as a best friend but wasn't in love with him. Eric thought that his love would be enough for both of them. Jen's entire life is her health drink company Noda, that she started from scratch and that Eric invested in. But now, Eric is a jaded man; he is desperately in love with his wife but tired of her nonchalance. When he floats the question of divorce, Jen is suddenly scared that she would lose everything including the husband that she loves more than she realized.

Mara's fiancé has forgiven her for the foolish one-night fling she had ages ago. So why does he include a cheating clause in the pre-nup that she insisted on drawing up in the first place? Mara is hurt but is there something more? Is she so afraid of commitment that she is subconsciously rebelling against the marriage? Mara has to pull herself together if she wants the man she loves, who is tired of her being cynical. It is either no pre-nup at all or a pre-nup with a cheating clause. Meanwhile the wedding plans are hanging on by a thread; what will she choose?

I finished this book in one sitting because it was funny and absorbing. Add in a perceptive Vegas stripper as an unlikely Fairy Godmother and you have the whole zoo. There are likeable and dislikeable characteristics in all three protagonists and I was very interested in finding out how things turned out (even though one always knows with these stories). According to me that is the mark of a good "chick lit.", even though you know that there would be a happy ending, the pace, the dialogues and the plots should keep you interested in wanting to know how that happy ending comes about. The Pre-nup is a funny light-hearted take on the cynical concept of pre-nuptial agreements. This book kept me turning the pages on a sleepless night and for that I will give it full marks.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

All Creatures Great and Small - James Herriot

I don't think there is anything better than James Herriot when one is sick and in need of some comfort. His books are simply made for late night reading under the yellow glow of a bedside lamp. I admit, I am romanticizing the book a little (I tend to do that a lot), but I can't help it. All Creatures Great and Small made me supremely happy.

It is the late 1930s: The Nuremberg rallies were spewing hatred, the Anschluss had come to Austria and the world was being driven inexorably towards war. But we, along with James Herriot are faraway from it all. Indeed, while reading this book, a part of me could not believe that anything other than the fictional village of Darrowby could have existed in those times.

James Herriot, M.R.C.V.S is fresh out of college when he comes to Darrowby to be interviewed for the position of assistant to Siegfried Farnon who owns the veterinary practice there. He gets taken on and is installed as the newest member of Skeldale House. All Creatures Great and Small, which follows the first two years of Herriot's life as a country vet is a wonderful account peppered with amusing anecdotes and touching experiences all with a wry sense of humour, an ability to laugh at himself and an indefatigable joie de vivre.

The best thing about about this book is that you don't have to be an animal lover to enjoy it. It draws you in until you are a part of the Dales yourself. I had a lovely time reading about the eccentric Siegfried, Tristan, Siegfried's incorrigible brother, the formidable Miss Harbottle, the various Yorkshire farmers in varying degrees of crustiness and all the cows and horses and sows and dogs that Herriot treats.

Some of my favourite stories are the ones about Tricki Woo, the dog, Angus Grier the brooding colleague, Tristan's scrapes, Herriot's courtship of a certain young lady, the various times when Herriot gets called out into the freezing night to look after a calving or a foaling. For me, someone who is extremely squeamish, it was fun to read about the young vet coming in regular contact with animal muck in poorly lit barns and sheds all over the country side. There are bad and frustrating days but there are extremely good ones too and Herriot manages to reinforce that belief with his magical talent of making the ordinary seem quite extraordinary.

No racy book, this but it is one of those quiet ones that are wholesome and full of fun and if you were to indulge yourself in them, you would come away with something rather valuable. As sick as I was while reading this, it was like chicken broth to me :)

In reality, James Herriot, whose real name was James Alfred Wight, practised in Thirsk in the Yorkshire dales. Darrowby is said to have been a composition of three towns and villages: Leyburn, Middleham and Richmond, according to this webpage. I have included a picture of the original Skeldale House in Thirsk. Skeldale House has been turned into an interactive museum. You can check it out here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

She has paracetamols! SO "Lost in Austen"

Lost in Austen is the story of a modern day London girl, Amanda Price who is besotted with Pride and Prejudice. Amanda feels she was born in the wrong period and longs for the old world courtesy of Regency England. Voila, she gets her wish one day when a hitherto undiscovered door in her bathroom opens directly into Longbourne and through which comes Lizzy Bennet. Elizabeth Bennet convinces Amanda to go through the door. Amanda goes through, the door closes shut and now she is left to make her way through this inexplicable, very real Pride and Prejudice that unfolds in front of her.

But Amanda must be wary: There is no telling whether the world in front of her will follow Jane Austen's pen and it up to her to try and make it.

Now, I don't really want to go into an in depth analysis of the series ( I am useless at it anyway) so I will just give you quick points on what I liked and what I did not like!


1. Jemima Rooper as Amanda Price: She was spot on as a bewildered leather jacket wearing London girl who is thrown headlong into Regency England. Amanda spent most of her time curled up with P&P but navigating that in real life is another matter.

2. I can't believe I am saying this, but, George Wickham: Yes. Scum himself. In this loose adaptation, Wickham is not all what we have known him to be and that is all I am going to say. Tom Riley did a great job!
3.Dialogues: They were fresh, brought out the laughs at the right places and held up the pace when there was a hint of lagging.

4.Ahem, well, Elliot Cowan in the wet shirt scene: I know that this scene is probably overrated but Elliot Cowan made a nice Mr.Darcy in it.
5. Pemberley: The exterior of Pemberley was shot at Harewood House, near Leeds, in West Yorkshire. While this is not my favourite Pemberley (mine is Chatsworth House from the 2005 adaptation), the house of course, is breathtaking. I would love to make a pilgrimage of sorts to all these places if I ever get the chance.

1. I might draw flak for saying this but Elliot Cowan as Mr.Darcy did not work for me. I found him too stiff necked and ill tempered. Mr.Darcy is a mite arrogant and prejudiced, true, but at least I don't think he jerked his head in a stiff bow the way Cowan does. And I found Cowan's Darcy MUCH more inconsistent than the real article. Also. I wonder if it did not hurt him to hold his jaw that way? He did it throughout.

2. Jane and Mr.Bingley: Why? Probably, the thing that disturbed me the most about Lost in Austen was Jane and Mr.Bingley's story. It was a bit of a mess.

3.The ending left me with a few questions and I felt that it could have been handled better.

4. They showed so little of Elizabeth Bennet!! That was such a disappointment.

5. Guy Henry as Mr.Collins gave me the willies.

I had a few good laughs this weekend while watching Lost in Austen. Let me tell you straightaway that this one is not for Jane Austen purists. I suspect that the many digressions, the many unprecedented twists and turns might make a purist howl with rage. On the other hand, if you are in the mood to watch an interesting spin off on what is one of the most delightful (for me, it jointly holds the number one spot with Little Women and will remain there) books, and if you want some good laughs with a runaway plot then I am sure you will have a fine time with Lost in Austen.

Note: Do check out Kal's lovely write up on Lost in Austen on her blog At Pemberley

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Bear called Paddington - Michael Bond

First of all, my many thanks to Priya Iyer. If she hadn't mentioned this book in one of her posts, I would have never gotten around to reading it. Although I hadn't read the book, Paddington Bear evokes lovely memories of a trip to Madras from Vellore (where I was living at the time). I was four, and it was a trip with my mom in a hot and stuffy Ambassador car to Pondy Bazaar. Memories of a broad and leafy avenue, bursting with shops of all manners and sizes. A gift of the Paddington Bear video cassette and memories of watching it till the tape got old and frayed.

It is funny how certain memories stay latent in the back of your head, ready to burst forth at a moment's notice and Priya's post on the list of books she wants did it for me! I am big on nostalgia and all of a sudden I HAD to read the book as soon as I could. So what a lovely surprise when I found a copy tucked in a corner shelf in Connexions Bookstore on Diwali eve! And it turned out the be THE perfect gift to myself :)

A Bear called Paddington: classic adventures of the bear from Darkest Peru - the story opens with The Browns spotting a chocolate browney, grubby looking bear sitting on a small trunk in a dark corner in Paddington station. He is wearing a funny dilapidated hat and has a tag around his neck that says, " PLEASE LOOK AFTER THIS BEAR, THANK YOU."

Needless to say, the Browns adopt him and thus begins Paddington's delightful adventures. He is small, has dark ears, an uncanny stare and loves marmalade more than anything else. Paddington is resolute, his aunt Lucy had sent him all the way from Darkest Peru on a life boat with a jar of marmalade. Paddington is a magnet for scrapes. Trouble usually finds him. Not the other way around, at least, not intentionally.

The thing about Paddington Bear is that not for one moment do you feel, "I should have probably read this as a kid. I would have enjoyed it more." The writing is fresh and the humour is there all at the right places. I found myself laughing out loud at so many instances and genuinely looking forward to reading the other books in the series. Paddington reminds me a bit of myself. I used to get into a lot of trouble. The cricket ball would go and hit the window. And if I soiled my Monday's school uniform before school, nobody would believe that it was an accident; I was accused of wanting to skip school instead. To be told not to touch anything mostly meant that I had to touch it. The hand acted like a magnet. I regularly sneaked out of the house on weekend afternoons to try my brother's huge mountain bike (which was almost twice my size) only to come home with both knees bleeding. Doesn't everyone have (somewhat) similar stories of childhood like that?

I guess what this book does is (especially when you read it as an adult)that, it unleashes all of those memories. And you are a kid again in a minute: no job, no plastic cards, no yelling boss. Just the dread of school on Monday. I am pretty sure that at some point, I used Paddington Bear as a license to some of the things I did. I remember citing all kinds of examples, from Noddy to Paddington to George from Famous Five to the GI JOES.

When was the last time you read something that was pure FUN? When there are no subtexts and undertones, complex plots or cardboard romance? Even if you had read A Bear called Paddington as a kid, I suggest you take this weekend to kickback and gorge yourself on stories about this little brown bear.
Note: I have included pictures of Paddington's statue in Paddington Station in London, a picture of Michael Bond holding a stuffed toy replica of Paddington and a picture of my own grubby brown bear. His name is George and I have had him ever since I can remember. He is really old now and a little wobbly, but I will never part with him. That would absolutely break my heart. Have you any old toys like that, that you especially love?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett

The last time I enjoyed a book this big this much, I was in school and reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the very first time.

The Pillars of the Earth set in 12th century England, at a time when the country was caught in the throes of a civil war is the story of the building of a magnificent Cathedral in a little place called Kingsbridge. Tom Builder, a mason, has dreamed forever of building a cathedral. To build a place of worship of his own design. I suppose, in spite of the
many subplots, this is really Tom's story. And how he finally gets his dream. Kingsbridge becomes the epicenter for this story. There is Philip, the idealistic young prior, there is mysterious Ellen, Tom's second wife, there is Ellen's son Jack in love with the lovely Aliena, daughter of the deposed Earl of Shiring, Barthelomew. There is the slimy Bishop Waleran of Kingsbridge and the power hungry Hamleighs. Topping all this off, there is the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud, contesting for the throne of a country that is left without a clear successor after the death of the heir of old king Henry I, out at sea on a vessel called The White Ship.

The building of this cathedral touches each one of these lives and they all have their own designs for it, good or otherwise. There really is nothing more to say about the plot. This is above all else, a human story. Its plot, the triumph or pillage of human emotions. If I were to root for any one character from the book it would have to be Jack, Ellen's son. There was a quality about Jack that drew me in right from the start. With his carrot top hair and piercing blue eyes, Jack captures your heart more than any other. He is straight up and no nonsense but not quite so out of control as his mother Ellen and his love for Aliena was so beautiful to behold, especially for a romantic like me.

The strength of this book lies in the fact that there is no one hero, no one protagonist. It is the life of a village and of a county. While Prior Philip is not my favourite I could not help liking him. Philip worships God beautifully and shows us how. The growth of Kingsbridge, the prosperity of its people and this cathedral to serve as a means of further economy and prosperity for Kingsbridge is his way of serving God and you cheer Philip as he overcomes set back after set back.

Through this book, Ken Follett has thrown into stark relief the distinctions between a Man of God who seeks to serve Him and His people and a Man of God who is ruthless, ambitious and sees his piety as a means to power. Bishop Waleran of Kingsbridge along with the Hamleighs tries his best to sabotage every effort of Philip. The cathedral should not be built and Kingsbridge should be destroyed. I detested William Hamleigh from the bottom of my heart. At the same time, I pitied him as I would a disgusting creature that has lost the fight rather badly. William Hamleigh would spend his whole life bewitched by Aliena, the girl he was once to have married.

So what happens? Does Tom Builder finally get his dream? That is of course for the reader to find out. In this epic on 12th century England, there is one man who has in someway, something to do with the fate of England, and that is Prior Philip. He shares his dream with Tom. His triumph is Tom's; his defeat is also Tom's. Read The Pillars of the Earth and live every word of it. In this blog, I cannot do enough justice to this mammoth 1076 page book but I have tried my best. This is not a review; it is an earnest effort to try and convince anyone who happens to read this post to give this book a shot and be as awed as I was.

I am reminded of the lovely Christopher Morley quote you can find in my blog and that I will quote here: "Lord! when you sell a man a book you don't sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue - you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night - there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real book." This is one such book.

Note: I have included images sourced from Ken Follett's website. The sketches are present in the book and as you can see, they depict various stages of the building of the cathedral. I have included a picture of Ken Follett too. I was somewhat surprised. I didn't expect him to be so genial looking. Does that ever happen to you? Do you read a book, form an image of the author and then find out that in reality he/she is entirely different?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Diwali Bounty!!

My Diwali gifts for myself :)

The lovely looking "The Book of Tomorrow"

by Cecelia Ahern:
Tamara Goodwin has always lived in the here and now, never giving a second thought to tomorrow. Until a travelling library arrives in her tiny village, bringing with it a mysterious, large leather-bound book locked with a gold clasp and padlock. What she discovers within the pages takes her breath away and shakes her world to its core....

Any Festival/Holiday staple: Nora Roberts. This time it is a lovely looking book called "The Right Path":
Midnight on an unspoilt Greek island. Returning from a peaceful moonlit swim, Morgan James has a shocking and frightening encounter. A dark, dangerous stranger threatens her with a knife, ordering her to keep quiet about his presence on the cliff-top. The next day, Morgan meets the same man, but this time he's visiting her hosts. Are they people she's staying with mixed up with a drug-smuggling ring? Answering this question turns into a matter of life and death when Morgan finds a body on the beach - and her sunny Greek paradise becomes a place of stark terror.

The much longed for "A Bear called Paddington" Michael Bond. Many thanks to
Priya Iyer for reminding me to read this one :)
"A bear? On Paddington station?" Mrs.Brown looked at her husband in amazement. "Don't be silly, Henry. There can't be!" Paddington Bear had travelled all the way from darkest Peru when the Brown family first met him on Paddington station. Since then their lives have never been quite the same....for ordinary lives become quite extraordinary when a bear called Paddington is involved.

"The Compendium of nosh" by Jack McLean. Promises to be really interesting if like me, you love to cook:

From baked Alaska to blueberry grunt, capsicums to cardoons, fadge to fufu, it gives wickedly funny, informative insights into foods, flavours, produce, etiquette and observances. Jack McLean approaches the secrets of the kitchen in a hilariously irreverent and refreshingly down-to-earth style, and his extraordinary confection is a must-have for foodies.

And for good measure: I don't have patience with beauty and fashion magazines and except for the times when All Sports runs a football special, this is my favourite magazine and the November issue promises to be lovely!

So that's it. That's my Diwali bounty! Happy Diwali everyone, hope you have a lot of fun with family, food and fireworks. Stay safe :)