Monthly Roundup- September 2009

This is the first of my monthly roundup posts, for new readers or those who just want a recap of everything that has happened on this blog for the past month.

I hosted my first giveaway of Michelle Moran's new historical novel, Cleopatra's Daughter, which received quite an enthusiastic response. Michelle also wrote a guest post for my blog about Life and Libraries in the Ancient World.

I participated in my first Book Blogger Appreciation Week, a really fun experience. You can read all my BBAW posts here.

This month, Roald Dahl was my featured author, where I wrote about what makes him one of my favorite writers.

I reviewed the following books:
Eclipse- Stephenie Meyer
The God of Small Things- Arundhati Roy
Dead Until Dark- Charlaine Harris
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- Roald Dahl
Darkfever- Karen Marie Moning
The Hobbit- J R R Tolkien

I reviewed the following movies on Monday Movies:
National Treasure2: Book of Secrets
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Transformers2: Revenge of the Fallen

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Monday Movies: The Godfather of National Treasure

Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Don Vito Corleone(Marlon Brando) is the head of the most powerful Mafia family in New York, but his old-fashioned beliefs, especially his opposition to drugs, ruffles many feathers. When a smart, greedy drug dealer, Sollozzo(Al Lettieri), decides to take the Don out with the help of the rival Tattaglia family, the Corleones find themselves bombarded on all sides. It is upto the Don's youngest son, Michael Corleone(Al Pacino), who had wanted no part in his father's activities earlier, to take charge of the situation.

I loved this movie, almost as much as I loved the book. I have watched the movie once before, but that time I wasn't really able to appreciate the scope of the movie, as I was mostly distracted by Marlon Brando's accent, but not this time. The vast tapestry of characters came together perfectly to create this gem of a movie. The performances are all superb; they brought out the depth and complexity of the characters. But the best was Al Pacino as Michael Corleone. He gave a powerful understated performance, his transformation from a quiet, unassuming war hero into the ruthless, chilling Don was fantastic. Coppola stays true to the essence of the book, but makes the movie his own. I loved how deftly he handled the subject, his compassionate portrayal of the Mafia. The different threads weave together into one thunderous climax, and the depiction of Michael's revenge is splendid. Another highlight of the movie was the music; I loved it. I would say the music played a big role in making the movie the classic it is, as it complemented the story so well. A really awesome movie, one you shouldn't miss for the world.

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha
Directed by: Jon Turteltaub

At a Civil War conference, black market dealer Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) shows a missing page from John Wilkes Booth's diary, which implicates bounty hunter Benjamin Gates'(Cage) ancestor as the architect of Lincoln's assassination. To prove his ancestor's innocence, Gates finds a cipher on the page which leads him from Paris to the Buckingham Palace to the Library of Congress, leading to a treasure hunt in Mount Rushmore.

National Treasure is a campy adventure movie, not much to write home about. It has an average plot and okay acting. There is quite a bit of humour in the movie, which is the only plus point. The scenes between Helen Mirren and Jon Voight are fun to watch; their chemistry is quite crackling. The ending of the movie seemed a little lame to me, a little forced. This is a movie to watch if you have nothing else to do, or you are a big Nicholas Cage fan.

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And the Winner is...

So, the winner of my first giveaway of Michelle Moran's new historical fiction novel, Cleopatra's Daughter, as chosen by, is


Congratulations! I'm sending you an email right now, and I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

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Durga Puja Celebrations

Durga Puja is the biggest festival for us Bengalis. According to the Krittibas Ramayana, Lord Rama invoked the Goddess Durga before his battle with Ravana. Since he prayed to her in the autumn, as opposed to the traditional spring worship, this is also known as Akal Bodhan. Today is Maha Ashtami, the main day of festivities in the Puja calendar. Today is the day everyone decks up in new clothes, offers Pushpanjali to the Devi, and has a good time generally.

The coolest thing about Durga Puja in Kolkata is definitely the pandals. There is one on every street corner, sometimes two or three. The city is lit up, and looks like a dream. People go pandal-hopping, travelling from one pandal to another through crawling traffic, sometimes ditching the vehicle to go on foot. The best thing would be the midnight pandal tours, when people go pandal-hopping at night to avoid the rush. Below are some of my favorite pandals, from the mega College Square pandal by the lake to the Hogwarts-themed one at Salt Lake.

I haven't been home for Durga Puja since the time I joined college, and I miss it a lot, especially at this time of the year. Of course I'll be at a Puja, but it's not the same; home is home after all. Writing this has helped lessen the lonely feeling, and I'm looking forward to enjoying myself this Puja.


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REVIEW Eclipse: Stephenie Meyer


I wasn’t really prepared for the surprise this book gave me. Not in terms of plot or anything, but the fact that it was readable, sometimes bordering on enjoyable. I fully expected to lambast this instalment in the Twilight series, but as it turns out, there are a few redeemable things about it.

After all the ups and downs in Bella’s life through Twilight and New Moon, she is finally with her vampire boyfriend Edward, though her werewolf best friend Jacob vehemently opposes it. Bella is waiting to graduate so that she can become a vampire, but some events throw that plan out of the window. There have been a chain of killings in nearby Seattle, a stranger has been lurking about in her room, and her mortal enemy Victoria is on the prowl. So, as you see, Bella’s life is about to be thrown out of gear again.

Eclipse is very dialogue heavy, especially the first half of it. Bella and Edward arguing about her decision to become a vampire, Bella and Jacob fighting over her choice of boyfriend, all this makes for pages of conversation, which becomes tedious. But then Meyer redeems the book by introducing some suspense, some action. The storyline of newborn vampires wreaking havoc tied in with Victoria’s thirst for revenge was pretty neat. But what I liked best were the back stories of all the characters: how Rosalie and Jasper became vampires, how the werewolves of the Quileute tribe came into being; they made for quite interesting reading. Of course, in terms of the main characters, there is nothing path-breaking. Edward is caring but over-possessive, Jacob is pushy and overbearing. Bella is as selfish as ever: she is willing to sacrifice Edward’s family so that she and Edward can be together, she continuously whines even when everything goes perfectly for her, she toys with Jacob. Honestly, I’m quite tired of her, and I can’t, for the life of me, think of one single reason for everybody to be so concerned to keep her alive. One of the comments on my previous review said that this was a book about love and loss and romantic feelings that girls experience; I still find hardly anything like that. I guess it’s how you look at it, Bella’s voice sounds whiny and selfish to me, it may be a symbol of undying love to someone else. My verdict: if you have read the two previous books and are wondering whether to continue, I would say Yes, this book merits one read.

Have you read the Twilight saga? Do you think it merits the attention it has got?

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REVIEW The God of Small Things- Arundhati Roy


This book was smaller than I expected, but I couldn’t wait for it to end. It is not a difficult book to read, but the plot was insipid, the characters so lackluster that I didn’t care what happened to them. Roy brings a new dimension to Indian-English writing, but I wished she put as much thought into her plot development as she did into her sentence construction.

God of Small Things is a non-linear narrative about dizygotic non-identical twins, Rahel and Estha, belonging to a pickle-making Christian family of Ayemenem in Kerala. They live with their divorced Ammu in her maternal home, along with their Marxist-loving uncle Chacko, their spinster grand-aunt Baby Kochamma and their violin-playing half-blind grandmother. The great turbulence in their lives begins when Chacko’s ex-wife Margaret Kochamma and her daughter Sophie Mol arrive for a brief visit in Ayemenem, a visit that culminates in Sophie’s death, Ammu’s banishment from the house and the twins’ separation.

The book dealt with a lot of issues: the dominance of the caste system in society, the unbridgeable gap between Touchables and Untouchables, the impact of Communism. It also explores the hollowness in relationships and the animal emotions that lurk behind the respectable façade of most people. Baby Kochamma’s jealousy, with her desire to poison the lives of others and joy in others’ misfortunes, Mammachi’s blindness a symbol of her possessiveness for her son, Comrade Pillai’s hypocrisy, Ammu desperately wishing to be free of her claustrophobic existence. Her portrayal of the caste system and its ramifications on society is both empathic and emphatic; she points out all the hypocrisy in Indian society through the Keralite family which inhabit the pages. Her writing is descriptive, vivid, awesome at times. Sample this:

Centuries telescoped into one evanescent moment. History was wrong-footed, caught off guard. Sloughed off like an old snakeskin. Its marks, its scars, its wounds from old wars and the walking-backwards days all fell away. In its absence it left an aura, a palpable shimmering that was as plain to see as the water in a river or the sun in the sky. As plain to feel as the heat on a hot day, or the rug of a fish on a taut line.

But there were quite a few bits that went straight over my head; parts that made me think this book was more a demonstration of the author’s command over the language than the actual telling of a story. I felt little or no connect with the characters, not even with the twins. Also, I was quite uncomfortable with the obsession with sexuality: every sentence had sexual connotations. Don’t get me wrong, I am not squeamish, I just don’t like the society of perverts that inhabits the pages. And the ending: incest was way too much for me to stomach, I was left with a grossed-out feeling at the end. So, despite Roy’s impeccable writing, this book didn’t work for me.

Read another review at: things mean a lot
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Trish's Reading Nook

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REVIEW Dead Until Dark: Charlaine Harris


My first Sookie Stackhouse novel. I had fun reading it, with enough suspense to grip my attention.

Dead Until Dark is set in a time when vampires are legally coexisting with humans in society. Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in Bon Temps, with an uncomfortable secret: she is a telepath. When Bill Compton, a vampire, walks into the bar, she is glad to see him, as she can’t hear his thoughts. After she saves him from a vampire-blood-draining couple, they strike up a friendship despite some disapproval. But their relationship faces several challenges, notably the murders of some women who were known to hang on to vampires.

This book was a welcome change from Twilight, and all the dopey romance that came with it. Sookie is a practical girl; her narration is easy on the mind. She is continually conflicted with how to stay out of the heads of the people around her, and you feel sorry about her lack of privacy. So when Bill comes along, you understand why she wants a relationship with a person whose thoughts don’t invade her, because that’s as close to normal as she’ll get. Sookie’s and Bill’s relationship isn’t a fairytale; she has trouble dealing with Bill’s vampire instincts. In all cases, this is the story of two people who have their own problems to deal with, while dealing with the crisis that arises when they get together.

The mystery is also well-constructed, and the romance weaves in nicely through the suspense. There is more action in this book; Sookie is spunky and level-headed, so her reactions to the problems in her life are interesting to read. She also has a tart tongue that flares up in unexpected situations, such as at the Fangtasia bar with Eric. The ending of the book is well-written, with action and emotion in equal measure. It wasn’t predictable and that’s what made it a good read.

Read another review at: booktumbling

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Sunday Salon: BBAW Roundup

The Sunday

It's been a really hectic week, what with exams and all. I really did not manage to participate in my first Book Blogger Appreciation Week as much as I wanted to, but I did enjoy what I managed to take part in. BBAW has been a way for me to see how huge and how interconnected the book blogging community really is.

I used to see the BBAW buttons on a lot of blogs, and heard a lot of good things about it too. So when I heard about this year's BBAW, I thought I had to be a part of it. I haven't been a book blogger for long, so I wanted to use this opportunity to get to know the whole book blogging community. I was really surprised as to how many passionate bloggers there really are, and how prolific their reading is. It was so good to read their diverse opinions and interests, something that is one of the highlights of book blogging.

My favorite part of the BBAW is the interview swap. I had a blast thinking up questions and writing down the answers for the interview. It was really cool to meet a really fun fellow blogger in the process, and finding a blog I will regularly visit in the future. Another meme I really enjoyed was the reading meme. It was fun to read all about other book bloggers' reading habits, and know that I'm not the only one with the quirky tastes. I'm still visiting some of the blogs I missed, though I'm afraid I may not be able to read all of them.

I really wanted to thank all the people behind BBAW for organizing such a major event so smoothly, for making this experience a really memorable one for me and and everybody else who participated in it.

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BBAW 09- Setting Goals

Write in 50 words or less…what do you like best about your blog right now and where would you like your blog to be a year from now?

What I like best about my blog is how it has changed me. I've become a better reader and a more structured critic, and more outgoing as well.
A year from now, I'd like my blog to have more reviews, more comments, a few author posts and giveaways. And I'd love to meet more people and generally have a lot of fun.

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BBAW 09- Discovering New Books

Today we encourage you to blog about a book you read only because you discovered it on another book blog. Preferably, this will be a book you loved! You might also write a bit about the blog you discovered it on!

One of the reasons I started blogging was to discover new books, to step outside the few authors I keep rereading and find new ones to love. While I've found a lot of new books on the blogosphere, I've managed to read only a few of them. One of these books is City of Bones, from Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments trilogy. I first read a review of this book on Becky's blog, Becky's Book Reviews. Becky reviews a lot of YA on her blog and she's been adding books to my TBR faster than the speed of sound. When I found the publisher offering a free copy of City of Bones, I picked it up. And I liked it a lot. It was fast-paced and action-packed, a book right up my alley. You can read my full review of City of Bones here.

Another book I picked up because of a fellow blogger was Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Nymeth from things mean a lot recommended it to me. Nymeth is a very eclectic reader and her tastes are quite similar to mine, so I went over to read her review of the book, and I was hooked. I have had the book for a long time on my shelf, but I hadn't got around to reading it because I thought it would be heavy and boring. But Nymeth's review made me pick it up, and I'm reading it right now, and I must say, it's been a good read so far.

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BBAW 09- Reading Meme

We encourage you to be creative with this! Please choose one or two questions to answer or try to answer all the questions in five words or less. Or choose a picture to answer a question! Brevity is the goal of today!

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

Ans: Churmuri- a delicious Indian snack

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of
writing in books horrify you?
Ans: No marking

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

Ans: Dog ears (I know I'm mutilating the book, but I don't have bookmarks. Sorry!)

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Ans: Fiction

Hard copy or audiobooks?Ans: Hard copy

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
Ans: Put it down anywhere

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Ans: No, but I'm trying to.

What are you currently reading?Ans: Atonement by Ian McEwan

What is the last book you bought?
Ans: .

Ans: The Day of the Jackal- Frederick Forsyth

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
Ans: Usually one at a time, but sometimes 2 or 3

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
Ans: I read anytime anywhere

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?Ans: Series

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

Ans: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
Ans: Genre

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BBAW 09- Interview Swap

One of the highlights of BBAW is having bloggers swap interviews and post during BBAW. This is such a fun way to get to know other bloggers and make new friends. This BBAW, my interview partner was Animegirl from Animegirl's Bookshelf. Her blog focuses primarily on Young Adult and Romance, and I enjoyed going through her site and her reviews. This interview was a superb way for me to get to know her, and I loved every bit of it. You can head over to her blog to read my answers to her questions.

1. Tell us something about yourself.

I’m a girl, absolutely insane and my actual real name is Alex but no one ever calls me that.

2. What made you first start blogging? How did you come up with the name of your blog?

Well, I first decided to blog because I was always ranting to my friends about the books I was reading and I think I started to get on their nerves because I was always wanting to discuss plots and characters with them even if they hadn’t read the book in question, so after a while I decided to just put it out there rather than keep torturing my friends.

As for the name, I actually started my blog calling it AnimeGirl’s Book Blogging, which is pretty self explanatory, but then I sort of messed up my layout completely and for some weird reason I couldn’t fix it, so it was easier to just start over and I realized I didn’t want to call it book blogging anymore, so my sister Boo suggested I called it Bookshelf, since I’m always begging my dad to put up new bookshelves for me.

3. Who are your favorite authors?

I have many so I’m going to break them up by groups:
In the Historical Romance front Lisa Kleypas and Elizabeth Hoyt are my current favorites.

In the Contemporary Romance front, I really like Rachel Gibson’s books and Meg Cabot’s, oh and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

In the YA world, I’m currently obsessed with Kelley Armstrong’s Darkest Powers series, other than that, all time favorites include Mariah Fredericks, Lisa Ann Sandell, Sarah Dessen, Meg Cabot again, Melina Marchetta and Cara Lockwood.

4. What are the best books you've read in the past year?

On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Forever Princess by Meg Cabot. Cheryl St. John’s His Second Hand Wife. And, the Bard Academy Series by Cara Lockwood.

5. If you could organize a dinner with five of your favorite characters, who would they be?

If it’s any characters, only requirement is to be fictional then I’ll go with my favorite villain Zagato from the anime Magic Knight Rayearth, Han Solo from Star Wars, Elaine from the book Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Sandell, Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Wolverine – if impersonated by Hugh Jackman, all the better!
(Me: I'm rooting for Solo and Wolverine too)

6. Where do you get most of your books and recommendations from?

For recommendations I do rely almost entirely on friends who I know has a similar taste than mine, and I also read a lot of reviews trying to get a scope of what the book is about and see if it’s the type of book for me, though I try not to do this as much because there had been books lots of people have raved about that I have not been able to stomach – like Twilight – and others that I completely adore though lots of people think they are only OK.

Where do I get them from, I mostly shop online or when visiting relatives in the US, living outside the US my options are limited since books aren’t exactly a popular pastime in my country its hard to come by them, though from time to time I do find the occasional decent import at some big bookstores. (I hope this is what you meant)

7. I'm not much of a romance reader. What books would you recommend to me?

Romance is hard because everyone has different ideas about what it is but two of my favorite romance books are Lisa Kleypas’ Dreaming of You and Ain’t She Sweet? by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (both oldies but goodies). For a book with lots of tension between the characters ‘And then He Kissed Her’ by Laura Lee Guhrke is one of my favorite. For more lighthearted stories Meg Cabot’s She Went All the Way, and Lynsay Sands’ The Deed or The Key - both are very funny – are pretty good.

8. On the subject of romance, what are your favorite romantic movies?

I admit to being a sucker for A Walk to Remember, I’m also very fond of Laws of Attraction with Julianne Moor and Pierce Brosnan, Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Ever After with Drew Barrymore. I really dislike Titanic, though.
(Me: I LOVE Roman Holiday)

9. Any parting words? About blogging, reading, anything in general?

Only my favorite quote about reading “Reading is like playing games, like falling in love: Is a challenge always, and a promise each time.” I don’t remember who said it but I believe it to be true.

I love the quote! Thanks a lot Alex! I'll be checking out your recommendations; you've given me quite a few to look out for.

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Book Giveaway: Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

UPDATE: Contest is closed. A big thank you to everyone who participated..

On the first day of my first BBAW, I'd like to announce my very first giveaway (lots of firsts there). It's a book that's been making waves across the blogosphere, Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran, which is releasing September 15, and I'm really looking forward to reading it. Michelle is the author of historical fiction bestsellers like Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, and she's offering this fabulous giveaway to promote her new book.

For the contest, Michelle is giving away a copy of Cleopatra's Daughter, as well as an ancient coin complete with certificate of authenticity. That's so cool, isn't it?

All you need to do to enter is leave a comment on this post, with your email id for me to be able to contact you. And of course, there are additional entries.

+5 for following this blog
+3 for blogging or tweeting about this giveaway
+2 for commenting on any of my other reviews
+1 for telling me about your favorite historical fiction read

That's a lot of entries; since this is my first giveaway, I'd like to make it as easy for everyone as possible. This giveaway is open internationally, as Michelle has generously offered to ship the prizes anywhere in the world. Contest is open till Friday, September 25, 2009. All the best!

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Guest Post: Michelle Moran, Author of Cleopatra's Daughter

I'm thrilled to have Michelle Moran, author of the bestselling historical novels, Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen, guest post on my blog today. It's my first guest post, so I'm super excited. Michelle's new book, Cleopatra's Daughter, is releasing on September 15. She has something exciting for the readers of this blog, so I suggest you check back in tomorrow to know the full details. You can visit her website to learn more about her and her writing.


One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by readers is what life was like two thousand years ago when Julius Caesar walked the corridors of the Senate house and Cleopatra visited Rome. Surprisingly, life for the ancient Romans was not unbelievably different from today. The Romans had many of the little luxuries that we often associate exclusively with the modern world. For example, baths were to be found in every city, and public toilets were viewed as a necessity. The toilets depicted in HBO’s Rome Series are copies of those discovered in Pompeii, where those caught short could find a long stretch of latrines (much like a long bench with different sized holes) and relieve themselves next to their neighbor. Shops sold a variety of wigs, and women could buy irons to put curls their hair. For the rain, there were umbrellas, and for the sun, parasols. Houses for the wealthy were equipped with running water and were often decorated quite lavishly, with elaborate mosaics, painted ceilings, and plush carpets.

In the markets, the eager shopper could find a rich array of silks, along with linen and wool. You could also find slaves, and in this, Roman times certainly differ from our own. While some men spoke out against it, one in three people were enslaved. Most of these slaves came from Greece, or Gaul (an area roughly comprising modern France). Abuse was rampant, and the misery caused by this led desperate men like Spartacus to risk death for freedom.

For those few who were free and wealthy, however, life in Rome provided nearly endless entertainments. As a child, there were dolls and board games to be played with, and as an adult, there was every kind of amusement to be had, from the theatre to the chariot races. Even the poor could afford “bread and circuses,” which, according to Juvenal, was all the Romans were really interested in.

For those more academic minded, however, there were libraries. Although I don’t portray this in Cleopatra’s Daughter, libraries were incredibly noisy places. The male scholars and patrons read aloud to themselves and each other, for nothing was ever read silently (the Romans believed it was impossible!). Other cities were renowned for their learning, too: Pergamum (or Pergamon) was the largest and grandest library in the world. Built by the Greeks, Pergamum became Roman property when Greece was captured and many of its people enslaved. The library was said to be home to more than 200,000 volumes, and it is was in Pergamum that the history of writing was forever changed.

Built by Eumenes II, Pergamum inspired great jealousy in the Egyptian Ptolemies, who believed that their Library of Alexandria was superior. In order to cripple this Greek rival (and also because of crop shortages), Egypt ceased exporting papyrus, on which all manuscripts were written. Looking for an alternative solution, the Library of Pergamum began using parchment, or charta pergamena. For the first time, manuscripts were now being written on thin sheets of calf, sheep or goat’s skin. The result of this change from papyrus to parchment was significant. Now, knowledge could be saved by anyone with access to animal hide. Manuscripts (although still quite rare) were now available to more people. Alas, so impressive was this vast Pergamese library of parchment that Cleopatra asked Marc Antony to ship its entire contents to her as a wedding gift. This transfer marked the end of Pergamum’s scholarly dominance, and is the reason why, today, we remember Alexandria as possessing the ancient world’s greatest library.

Summary of Cleopatra's Daughter:

The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony’s vengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome, but only two—the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander—survive the journey. Delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.

The fateful tale of Selene and Alexander is brought brilliantly to life in Cleopatra’s Daughter. Recounted in Selene’s youthful and engaging voice, it introduces a compelling cast of historical characters:

Octavia: the emperor Octavian’s kind and compassionate sister, abandoned by Marc Antony for Cleopatra
Livia: Octavian’s bitter and jealous wife
Marcellus: Octavian’s handsome, flirtatious nephew and heir-apparent
Tiberius: Livia’s sardonic son and Marcellus’s great rival for power
Juba: Octavian’s ever-watchful aide, whose honored position at court has far-reaching effects on the lives of the young Egyptian royals

Selene’s narrative is animated by the concerns of a young girl in any time and place —the possibility of finding love, the pull of friendship and family, and the pursuit of her unique interests and talents. While coping with the loss of both her family and her ancestral kingdom, Selene must find a path around the dangers of a foreign land. Her accounts of life in Rome are filled with historical details that vividly capture both the glories and horrors of the time. She dines with the empire’s most illustrious poets and politicians, witnesses the creation of the Pantheon, and navigates the colorful, crowded marketplaces of the city where Roman-style justice is meted out with merciless authority.

Based on meticulous research, Cleopatra’s Daughter is a fascinating portrait of Imperial Rome and of the people and events of this glorious and tumultuous period in human history. Emerging from the shadows of history, Selene, a young woman of irresistible charm and preternatural intelligence, will capture your heart.

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Sunday Salon + Author Feature: Roald Dahl

I've got my mid-term exams going on right now, so I don't have much time to blog. That's why I thought of combining my Sunday Salon and Author Feature posts together. Today is Roald Dahl's 93rd birth anniversary, and I hope you all will join me in remembering this literary legend.

Brief Bio: Dahl was born in Wales to Norwegian parents. When he was three, his eight-year old sister died of appendicitis, and his father died of grief weeks later. He attended many boarding schools, but his experiences there were not pleasant ones. After finishing his schooling, he joined the Shell Petroleum Company and was posted to Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania. When World War II broke out, he joined the Royal Air Force, ending the war as Wing Commander. His first children's book was The Gremlins, about mischievous little creatures that were part of RAF folklore. The book was commissioned by Walt Disney for a film that was never made, and published in 1943. Dahl went on to create some of the best-loved children's stories of the 20th century, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. He also had a successful parallel career as the writer of macabre adult short stories, usually with a dark sense of humour and a surprise ending. Dahl died in 1990 of a rare blood disease, aged 74.
For more about him, you can visit his official website

Selected Bibliography:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
James and the Giant Peach
The Witches
The Twits

My Reviews:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

My Views: When I decided on doing Author Feature, the first author who came to my mind was Roald Dahl. I loved his books so much while growing up, and while re-reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sometime back, the magic started to weave itself around me again.

The reason I love Roald Dahl so much is because of his inventiveness. I remember reading Matilda and going "Whoa! What an idea!" The same with all the other books I've read. Actually, when I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I pestered my dad to buy me all the chocolates that Dahl described. And all my dad's explanations about fiction and imagination cut no ice with me. That is the impact Dahl has on you; kids are drawn into his fantastic world, and wish that our own world was just as magical as the one woven by his words.

Most of Dahl's stories have a common premise: there is a hero/heroine who usually suffers a lot, a villain who antagonizes the lead character (and the reader) at every step, culminating in the hero teaching the villain a lesson he/she will never forget. But the way the characters are described makes each story unique. Whether it is Ms. Trunchbull or the BFG or Willy Wonka, each character comes alive before your eyes, and it's like seeing a movie running through the pages. It's not all hunky-dory; some characters are scary, mean or flatly unlikeable, but that's what makes his books interesting.

Dahl also subtly inserts many morals throughout his stories. Through the behaviour of the people in the tales, he leads the reader to understand what qualities he/she should develop to become as loved as their favorite characters. One major theme is reading vs television. Dahl makes the case very strongly against television, whether it be through Mike Teavee in Charlie or the Wormwood family in Matilda. But there is no preachiness; the message naturally springs out from the story. I want to share with you a verse from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where you see this coming in effect.

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks —
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They'll now begin to feel the need
Of having something good to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They'll grow so keen
They'll wonder what they'd ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean.
Repulsive television screen!

Dahl's greatest gift is his style of writing. His descriptions are just so amazing, so creative and sometimes so utterly ridiculous that it's brilliant. His ideas are eccentric and completely original, yet so simple that you wonder how nobody could have thought of it before. Dahl also doesn't talk down to the reader; you feel like you're listening to a story your friend is telling you. That's why it transcends all boundaries of age; whether you are 9 or 90, Dahl's storytelling enchants you.

I have never experienced a dull moment while reading a Roald Dahl book; he is, and will remain, one of my all-time favorite authors. What books of his have you read? Which is your favorite? Do you agree with me when I say his writing is unparallelled?

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REVIEW Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- Roald Dahl


I have a zillion books in my TBR and I go and read a book I’ve read so many times. Why? Because I love this book so much; it was, and still is, one of my favorite books.

Charlie Bucket is a poor boy living with his parents and four grandparents in the same town as Willy Wonka, the most famous chocolatier in the world. When Willy Wonka announces a never-before opportunity for five children to visit his Chocolate Factory and learn his secrets, Charlie’s family pool in to buy him a Wonka’s Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight for his birthday, but there is no Golden Ticket in there. But one cold winter day, Charlie finds a fifty-penny in the snow and uses it to buy a slab of chocolate, and lo and behold, it turns out to have a Golden Ticket. Thus begins Charlie’s journey into Wonka’s factory, a paradise of chocolaty delights, a trip that will bring him more than just a lifetime of chocolates.

If there is anything I can say against this book, it is that it made me HUNGRY! I mean, with all those delicious chocolates popping up at every instant, how can my mouth not water?

Mr Willy Wonka can make marshmallows that taste of violets, and rich caramels that change colour every ten seconds as you suck them, and little feathery sweets that melt away deliciously the moment you put them between your lips. He can make chewing-gum that never loses its taste, and sugar balloons that you can blow up to enormous sizes before you pop them with a pin and gobble them up. And, by a most secret method, he can make lovely blue birds' eggs with black spots on them, and when you put one of these in your mouth, it gradually gets smaller and smaller until suddenly there is nothing left except a tiny little pink sugary baby bird sitting on the tip of your tongue.

Is that all? No, you have Hot Icecreams for Cold Days, Fizzy Lifting Drinks, Cavity-Filling Caramels, Wriggle-Sweets that wriggle delightfully in your tummy, and much much more. The book is an exercise in creativity, it’s a joy to read Dahl’s imagination run amok as he creates this fantastic little world every child (and adult) will love. I read that Dahl lived close to a Cadbury factory and dreamed of creating a new chocolate that would win the appreciation of Mr. Cadbury himself. Looks like he put all that inventiveness in this book. However, I must include a statutory warning. After reading this book, you will suffer serious hunger pangs and an urge to run to the store and buy up all the chocolates on display. Read at your own risk!

But this book is not all fun and games. Dahl subtly inserts some social messages into the story. He warns parents against spoiling their children sick, against giving in to their every whim, whether it be food or television. There is an air of a favorite uncle dispensing out wisdom to little kids, the feeling of him taking you on his lap and telling you how to be a better person. In a non-preachy way, he gets his message across. The book is as much about morals as it is about chocolates; it tells you that you can triumph all odds if you retain your values. A scrumptious book, a gem in children's literature.

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Monday Movies: Ben Button and the Transformer's Revenge

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett
Directed by: David Fincher

Near the end of World War I, a watchmaker creates a backward running clock which is hung at the New Orleans train station. Some time later, a baby is born in the rich Button household, with the features and ailments of an 85-year old man. The boy's father is horrified and dumps him on the porch of a nursing home, where the matron Queenie, takes him in and cares for him. Benjamin (Brad Pitt) grows older in intellect and younger in appearance, and lives a complete life, sailing at sea, fighting in World War II and travelling the world. All the while, he is in love with his childhood friend Daisy (Blanchett), a dancer who ages normally, but they cannot be together, except for a short while when their aging processes meet.

I don't really care much for Brad Pitt, and his performance seemed a little insipid to me. The movie proceeds really slowly, and I almost fell asleep, but that could also have been due to the fact that I was quite tired that day. The whole reverse aging process was done very well, but it seemed like the movie concentrated on that a little too much. But despite that, and despite its length, it was a nice movie, a visual spectacle, with a lot of special scenes, like the one where Ben sees Daisy dance and the final montage of his life. The scale of the movie is very lavish, and the post-war era very nicely caught. The cinematography is excellent, it's the highlight of the movie. It's worth a watch.

Starring: Shia La Beouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel
Directed by: Michael Bay

Sam Witwicky (Shia La Beouf) is going to college, leaving girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) and robot-disguised-as-yellow-car Bumblebee behind. But when Sam starts getting weird visions of ancient symbols, he asks Optimus Prime for help. The Decepticons, headed by a resurrected Megatron, are instructed by the ancient Transformer leader The Fallen, to search for an energy source called The Matrix of Leadership. The Decepticons attack Earth and want Sam to be handed over to them, as the symbols Sam is seeing are clues to the location of the Matrix. So it's time for our favorite Autobots, aided by the U.S. Army, to save the world and help Sam destroy the Matrix.

Okay, there is a lot of fodder for action fans: lots of things blowing up and falling apart. This time, it's not just New York City which gets hammered, but also the pyramids which have Decepticons swarming up them. It's a really cool movie in terms of special effects, Megatron and The Fallen are real menacing. There is a lot of humour and sarcasm throughout, which makes the movie an entertaining watch. But if you are looking for a story, forget it. The movie is not mindless action mumbo-jumbo, but there's not much to look out for in the plot. Watch the movie for a couple of hours of fun.

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Sunday Salon: Short Story Focus

The Sunday
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Yes, Sunday Salon is back! This Sunday, I thought I'd focus on a genre I enjoy, but haven't reviewed much of- the short story. After watching the movie (watch out for the review on Monday), I thought I'd read the story. I liked it, and I look forward to reading more Fitzgerald.

The story focuses on Benjamin Button, born as a wizened old man. It follows his "childhood" at the Button household, his adult life as a businessman and then a soldier, and his "old age" as a Harvard footballer. Don't expect any of the drama of the movie; Benjamin is neither abandoned by his father nor does he have an epic romance with Daisy, but his story is gripping anyways. Fitzgerald is witty as he paints the picture of this man aging backwards; there were touches of Oscar Wilde in the telling.

A few people who were unfailingly polite racked their brains for compliments to give to the parents--and finally hit upon the ingenious device of declaring that the baby resembled his grandfather, a fact which, due to the standard state of decay common to all men of seventy, could not be denied. Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were not pleased, and Benjamin's grandfather was furiously insulted.

But there was an underlying sense of pathos to the whole story. Benjamin desperately tries to live a full life, even as others look at him in pity and disgust. He doesn't really have anyone close to him, someone he can speak to regarding this condition he cannot control. His father, wife and son believe that it is somehow his fault he ages backwards, and that he should just give up the tomfoolery and be normal again, so that their reputation remains intact; their callous attitude enrages you. Fitzgerald has us empathize with the character, and draws us into Ben's world. I liked this story a lot, and I enjoyed Fitzgerald's style of writing and his ability to connect with the reader.

And here are this week's giveaways:
The Eclectic Reader is giving away Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins or Fire by Kristin Cashore till September 30
Alaine-Queen of Happy Endings is giving away Fire by Kristin Cashore or Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger till September 30
Wrighty's Reads is giving away one copy each of Cleopatra's Daughter and Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran till September 10
Peeking Between the Pages is also giving away one copy of Cleopatra's Daughter till September 10

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Saturday Evening Poetry: Gabriel Okara

Gabriel Okara is a Nigerian poet and novelist. Winner of the Commonwealth Poetry prize in 1979, he has captured the sights and sounds of Africa with remarkable clarity and sensitivity. His famous poem, Once Upon A Time, was part of our English syllabus, and I loved the poem and the feelings of loss of innocence that it conveyed. I had been looking for other poems of his, and came across another equally amazing poem, The Snowflakes Sail Gently Down, where he contemplates how Westernization is eating away at Africa's cultural heritage. The loneliness of the poet, the wistful yearning for his homeland is very evocative. I was particularly struck by his turn of phrase, especially the "touch of silk cotton on water falling", something I found very beautiful. His voice is melancholy and perceptive, and his poem strikes you in the heart.


The snowflakes sail gently
down from the misty eye of the sky

and fall lightly on the

winter-weary elms. and the branches

winter-stripped and nude, slowly

with the weight of the weightless snow

bow like grief-stricken mourners

as white funeral cloth is slowly

unrolled over the deathless earth.

And dead sleep stealthily from the

heater rose and closed my eyes with

the touch of silk cotton on water falling.

Then I dreamed a dream

in my dead sleep. But I dreamed

not of earth dying and elms a vigil

keeping. I dreamed of birds, black

birds flying in my inside, nesting

and hatching on oil palms bearing suns

for fruits and with roots denting the

uprooters' spades. And I dreamed the

uprooters tired and limp, leaning on my roots --

their abandoned roots

and the oil palms gave them each a sun.

But on their palms

they balanced the blinding orbs

and frowned with schisms on their

brows -- for the suns reached not

the brightness of gold!

Then I awoke. I awoke

to the silently falling snow

and bent-backed elms bowing and

swaying to the winter wind like

white-robed Moslems salaaming at evening

prayer, and the earth lying inscrutable

like the face of a god in a shrine.

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REVIEW Darkfever: Karen Marie Moning


This seems to be my month of free e-books, which are part of a fantasy series. I found a free download of the first book in the Fever series on Suvudu, and I plunged into it, barely hours after I’d finished City of Bones (yes, I'm a little behind on my reviews).

When her sister Alina is brutally murdered, MacKayla Kane journeys to Dublin to ensure that the case is not closed for lack of evidence. Her sister’s last message talks of betrayal and urges her to find the shi-sa-du, but Mac has no clue as to what it is. After a couple of strange visions and an encounter with the enigmatic bookseller Jericho Barrons, she realizes that strange creatures lurk in the shadows. Barrons tells her that shi-sa-du is actually the Dark Book Sinsar Dubh, which otherworldly monsters called Unseelie are pursuing. Mac learns about the Fae, her ability as a sidhe seer uniquely positioned to find the Book, and grasps one fundamental truth: she is way over her head into something very sinister.

Darkfever starts off with the familiar conflict between the ignorant heroine and the mysterious stranger. It’s a little slow to begin with, but picks up speed after Mac discovers her powers as a sidhe-seer. There is a quite a bit of humour amidst all the paranormal occurrences, Mac’s reactions to Barron’s world as compared to her own are quite funny. There are hints of a romantic attraction, which are probably developed in later books, but I’m glad they are just hints because a full-blown romance while fighting faeries is distracting, to say the least. There are echoes of other fantasy books: Hallows of Harry Potter, glamour of Mortal Instruments, even the Porsche 911 of New Moon. The book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, much like the season finale of a drama series, where you are left a tantalizing hook for the next instalment.

Honestly, Mac is irritating at first. She tries to be the sane practical feminist, but ends up sounding like a naïve blond bimbo. It’s only after she trusts Jericho and learns about the Fae world around her that her character begins to lose some of the Barbie sheen. She becomes more level-headed and brave, and a much stronger person than she was. In the space of a few days, she hobnobs with a vampire, steals from a mob boss and learns about her sister and herself. Her character develops enormously between the first page and the last, and her narration becomes a more pleasant read. I haven’t read any paranormal fantasy before, so I have nothing to compare it with, but I can say this: if you manage to stick with the book past the first 100 pages or so, you’ll like it.

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REVIEW The Hobbit: J.R.R. Tolkien


In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said before? Nothing, except that it’s a fantastic read, a book that will make you fall in love with fantasy all over again.

Bilbo Baggins loves his cozy little Hobbit hole, with his pipe and his cakes. But when the wizard Gandalf comes a-knocking, with thirteen dwarfs in tow, he becomes the first Baggins to have an adventure. The search for gold guarded by a dragon leads them into goblin-land, has them chased by wolves and captured by wood-elves. Amidst this all, dear Bilbo manages to snag something “preciousss”, a bit of cold metal that will change his and his descendant’s lives forever.

This book introduces you to Middle-Earth, and like other Tolkien books, gives a vivid and intricate portrayal of the land. The mountains and valleys just come alive before your eyes, as do the meals that he describes so thoroughly (I can’t tell you how hungry I felt). Bilbo is the reluctant hero, the hobbit who would like nothing better than his little home with his second breakfasts, but is instead thrust into adventure with a bunch of other un-hero-like dwarfs. And he steals the show (with a little help from the Ring), sneaking in and out of trouble and saving his friends an awful lot of times. I especially loved his riddle game with Gollum, it was smart and witty. The poems spread throughout the book are delightful, sometimes funny and sometimes somber. My favorite are these two: the first a comical one when the dwarves dine with Bilbo, and the second a lovely wistful song for the road.

Here's this

Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
Thats what Bilbo Baggins hates-
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!

Cut the cloth and tread on the fat!
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!
Splash the wine on every door!

Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;
Pound them with a thumping pole;
And when you’ve finished, if any are whole,
Send them down the hall to roll!

That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So, carefully! Carefully with the plates!

And this

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have knows.

To people who haven’t read any of Tolkien’s books, I recommend you start with this one before going on to the LOTR trilogy; to those who have, read it again. It’s warm, funny, and light-hearted and worth many rereads.

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