Sunday Salon: Awards

I received a couple of awards over the past month, but I haven't gotten around to acknowledging them. So I'm doing a belated handing out of the awards. So sorry for the delay!

I received the Beautiful Blogger Award from readerbuzz and from Laurel-Rain Snow. Thanks so much, it's really wonderful to be appreciated!

The rules of the Beautiful Blogger award are to pass it on to other beautiful bloggers and tell seven things about yourself.

I'd like to pass this award on to

1. Shweta from Book Journal
2. Veens from Giving Reading a Chance
3. Joann from Lakeside Musing
4. Ivana from Willing to See Less
5. Jenny from Jenny's Books

And now, 7 things about myself...

1. I love reading (duh!)
2. I love writing.
3. I want to learn to play the guitar
4. My dream is to have a little cottage by the sea
5. I'd love to have a snowy winter
6. When I was 6, I wanted to be a gardener
7. I can't swim, because I'm scared of drowning.

I received the Happy 101 Award from readerbuzz. Thanks a lot!

My charge is to list ten things that make me happy and pass on this award to five more bloggers.

1. BOOKS (this would probably occupy all ten spots, but I decided not to make it so easy)
2. Writing
3. Travelling
4. Learning new things
5. Eating mom's cooking
6. Lazing around (oh, you've no idea how happy this makes me!)
7.Watching sunsets and sunrises (very relaxing)

8. Food
9. TV
10. Music

I'd like to pass this award on to 

2. Kathy from Bermudaonion's Weblog
3. Anna from Diary of An Eccentric
4. Carol from Carol's Notebook
5.Fyrefly from Fyrefly's Book Blog

Have a happy weekend!

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Sunday Salon: BBC Adaptations

The Sunday

BBC came out with a few adaptations of Shakespeare's plays a while back, called ShakespeaRe-told, and I spent much of this week watching them on Youtube. These are a set of four movies which take four of Shakespeare's plays and retell them in a modern setting, without losing the essence of the plays. I watched The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing, and I really enjoyed them a lot. Macbeth is up next, and I'm looking forward to it, since it has James McAvoy in the lead, who is one of my favorite actors.

I really love the BBC adaptations of the classics, though I haven't seen too many to be a critical judge. The first one I ever saw was Pride and Prejudice, and that was the biggest motivation for me to read the novel. A long time after that, I watched North and South, which, other than giving me a huge crush in the form of Richard Armitage, made me realize that there are a lot of Victorian authors I have never even heard of. ShakespeaRe-Told was a big boon for me because I haven't read any of the original Shakespeare plays, even in abridged form (*gasp), and this really helped me a feel of what they were about. And they introduce me to a lot of great actors, actors whose work I'd love to see more of. BBC TV serials are so great for people like me who, let's face it, are too lazy to read the original novels, and want something more concrete and memorable than a Wikipedia summary.

So, what's your favorite BBC adaptation?

And here are this week's giveaways

Peeking Between the Pages is giving away The Girl who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen till April 17
Alaine-Queen of Happy Endings is giving away a choice of three books till April 30

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REVIEW The Music Room: Namita Devidayal


This book has garnered a lot of praise, with Pandit Ravi Shankar calling it “A must for every musician and music lover!” It was a very soothing read, and gives a fascinating insight into Indian classical music.

When she was ten, Namita’s mother took her to Dhondutai, a respected singing teacher of the Jaipur Gharana, and the only remaining student of its illustrious founder Alladiya Khan. Dhondutai sees in her traces of the tempestuous Kesarbai Kelkar, the most famous student of the gharana. But will Namita have the dedication to give herself completely up to her music, or will there be too many things in the way?

The Music Room takes you into the world of ragas and alaps, and is a wonderful journey into the swirling depths of Indian classical music. I love listening to classical music, though I can’t distinguish one raga from another, and I really enjoyed reading this book. It looks at how great musicians are made, and how they dedicate themselves to their art, sometimes giving up their families and their personal lives for its sake. Namita speaks lovingly of her guru, Dhondutai, and how she inculcated in her a passion for music. The book talks a lot about the guru-shishya parampara that is the cornerstone of Indian classical music and how Indian music can never be learned from books and sheets, unlike Western music, but only through the teacher who imparts the many nuances of the musical legacy.

Indian music is rooted in a fundamentally different assumption- that there is a continuous, unseen, and constantly changing reality which is the backdrop for all human action and perception. It is what shapes our karma or destiny, and helps explain why seemingly inexplicable things happen to us. The notes in Indian music are thus not categorical, separate, self-contained entities, but are connected through a subtle elusive continuum of notes that can barely be identified by the human ear. They are, in the metaphysical sense, part of that reality which lies beyond perception. These in-between notes are called srutis, and they are the essence of Indian music.

In a very literal sense, these srutis are the half notes and quarter notes that fill the interval between two notes. But that would be a grossly incomplete description. There is much more to the sruti, for it can entirely change the reality of the notes. For instance, how you reach a particular note is as important as the note itself. It may be arrived from below, or above, after caressing that hidden note that hovers next to it, and it will evoke a completely different sensation than if the musician were to meet the note directly.

I would recommend this book to every music lover, whether or not you have any knowledge of Indian music.

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REVIEW Three Men in a Boat: Jerome K. Jerome


First, a big apology to the readers of this blog. I've been off for longer than necessary. First it was mid-terms and then a poor Internet connection, and I really haven't been able to blog much. But that doesn't mean I haven't read anything! So, on to the review. I can’t believe I went so long without reading Three Men in a Boat. It is a marvelous book, a great piece of witty writing.

Jim, George and Harris decide to go on a boating trip to regain their health. They decide to take their dog along, and after much “meticulous” planning, set out. Three Men in a Boat follows their eventful couple of weeks, from which the trio returns, suitable rested and relaxed.

The narrator, like his friends is a very indolent man, which results in a variety of hilarious situations. Jerome’s flair for the comic is impeccable, and he packs page after page with hilarious incidents. There are many anecdotes which the characters recount at various instances, and my favorite ones are the German composer’s song at a dinner the narrator attended, and the entire chapter devoted to their previous boating escapades. The book does have its serious moments, especially when the narrator ruminates over the natural beauty or the historical significance of the place they are passing. This book is like a humorous travelogue, as Jerome takes you on a journey down the Thames, past the English countryside. I read this book as I was trying to get through Atonement, and I found it a short, breezy and awesome read. There are a lot of hilarious passages, and I found it difficult to pick a few, so I settled for this one right at the beginning, which set the tone and gave me an idea of what to expect.

I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms - discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it - wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus's Dance - found, as I expected, that I had that too, - began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically - read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright's disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid's knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn't I got housemaid's knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid's knee.

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REVIEW Conflicts with Interest: Michael Ruddy


I'm so sorry for the lack of posts this past week, my midterm exams are coming up, which, coupled with an erratic Internet connection, have served to keep me away from books and the blog. I will not be posting for the rest of this week and the next. This review, in itself, is long overdue, considering I read Conflicts with Interest a while back.

From the publisher: Sometimes life can be a poker game with a fortunate stroke of serendipity. Sometimes it's nothing but incessant bad luck. T.R. Morgan is playing such a game with his most feared situation as a builder: Defect Litigation. He finds himself caught in a nasty lawsuit against Steve Sanderson, a ruthless Bay Area lawyer. The problem- it seems, is when will T.R. lose his company and home over this lawsuit and how many times over? Or will his own gambling habit be his downfall? And is his new girlfriend, Catherine, actually who she seems?

Initially, I wasn't too interested in the story. There was too much convoluted legalese which made me feel a little bored, considering that it is more about U.S. law than Indian law. But you get to see a pretty accurate picture of how construction defect litigation proceeds and the unethical deals that abound, and how it affects a honest builder. The characters were a little one-dimensional, and I did not particularly care for Ryan, T.R's son, who I thought was a little petulant and clueless. This is a pretty interesting read, and I think it is quite relevant to people related to the construction industry, because, as I read in a blog, there are a few similarities with real-life characters.

Thank you to the author for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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REVIEW Club Dead: Charlaine Harris


Honestly, I did not like this book as much as the previous ones. I didn’t hate it, but it left me feeling pretty meh at the end.

When Sookie’s vampire boyfriend Bill, who was working on a secret computer program, goes missing, Sookie travels to Jackson to locate his whereabouts. But detective work starts taking second place to romance, as Sookie feels strongly attracted to Alcide Herveaux, a werewolf assigned to help her. Also, Eric keeps turning up when least expected, and Sookie has a love-hate relationship with him. But when the bodies start piling up, Sookie must find who’s responsible.

I don’t know if it was the story or my mood, but Club Dead wasn’t as fast a read as the other two. The mystery was in short supply, and felt like more of an afterthought than the main story. Sookie is in a love triangle (or is it square? or maybe pentagon) and her conflicting feelings make up most of the book. I didn’t find much of a plot, and the ending was contrived. This series is meant to be a light read between books, but it bored me after a while. A book I’d much rather forget, but I won’t give up on the series just yet.

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Blogsplash: Thaw

At times, people come up with innovative ways of using the blogosphere to promote reading, and Thaw, a novel by Fiona Robyn, does just that. I appreciated the concept and I'm participating in the Blogsplash for her novel.
Ruth's diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.
Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.
These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It's a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we're being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.
The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they're stuck to the outside of her hands. They're a colour that's difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.
I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I'm giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don't think I'm alone in wondering whether it's all worth it. I've seen the look in people's eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I've heard the weary grief in my dad's voice.
So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I'm Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I'm sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?
Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I've had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I've still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.
Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad's snoring was.
I've always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I'll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; 'It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for', before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It'll all be here. I'm using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I'm striping the paper. I'm near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I'm allowed to make my decision. That's it for today. It's begun.
Continue reading tomorrow here...

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Sunday Salon: Monthly Roundup- February 2010

We're having our annual cultural fest at our institute, so posting at this blog is a little slow. It'll be back to normal in a couple of days.

This month, in celebration of my blogoversary, I had a giveaway of Beth Fantaskey's novel, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, along with an interview of the author. I also interviewed author Chloe Neill about her work.

I reviewed the following books:
Atonement- Ian McEwan
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo- Steig Larsson
The Simoqin Prophecies- Samit Basu
The Amulet of Samarkand- Jonathan Stroud
Slaughterhouse Five- Kurt Vonnegut

Just five books, you say? Well, I did read a couple more, but I haven't had time to put up the reviews on my blog.

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And the Winner is...

So, the winner of my blogoversary book giveaway of Beth Fantaskey's Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, as chosen by is

Kailia Sage

Congratulations! I'm sending you an email right now, and I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Your book will come to you directly from Beth.

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REVIEW Atonement: Ian McEwan


I hadn’t heard of Ian McEwan until I decided to read Atonement for the Guardian challenge, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The arrival of her brother Leon has the over-imaginative Briony Tallis in a tizzy, and when she witnesses some intimate exchanges between her sister Cecilia and the gardener’s son Robbie Turner, she assumes that he is an oversexed monster. So when her cousin Lola is raped later that night, she accuses Robbie of the crime, resulting in his being sent to prison. Three years later, we meet Robbie at the warfront, wounded but desperate to return to Cecilia, and Briony who regrets her false accusations and wants to atone for them.

To tell you the truth, I found the first half of the book, set in the Tallis household, tedious. I did not care for any of the characters, the prose was long-winding at times, and I found it difficult to get through. I was totally disgusted by Briony, though; the vindictiveness she showed in relying on inaccuracies of her mind to send the innocent Robbie to prison was shocking.

But the book picked up in the second half. McEwan’s descriptions of the retreat were heartrending and evocative. I felt sympathy towards Robbie and his love for Cecilia, and his desperation to be reunited with her, which keeps him going despite his grievous injuries. Cecilia’s words “I’ll wait for you. Come back” are like a haunting refrain throughout the book. The war, and its effects on people, are also written about quite evocatively, and you feel for the soldiers. The ending was quite a surprise, and turned the story around. But honestly, I had a lot of trouble getting through the book; it was too wordy and long-winding for my taste, and I barely finished it. I actually appreciated it more after watching the movie; James McAvoy and Kiera Knightley pitched in with inspired performances.

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Author Interview: Chloe Neill

I would like to welcome Chloe Neill, author of the popular Chicagoland Vampire series, starring Merit, a powerful vampire who is initiated into the controversial Cadogan House. Thanks Chloe, for taking the time to answer my questions!

Hazra: Can you tell us about Firespell, the first book in the Dark Elite series?

Chloe: Absolutely! FIRESPELL introduces us to sixteen-year-old Lily Parker, who's thrown into a world of magic and evil that lurks in the secret underground tunnels of Chicago.

Hazra: How did the idea for Firespell come to you?

Chloe: I actually got the idea over lunch one day! I thought it would be interesting to explore a world in which a person's magic is only temporary, which is true for the Dark Elite.

Hazra: That seems like a really unique take! Who is your favorite character among all the books you have written?

Chloe: I really love Merit, since she's my first published heroine, but Scout from my Dark Elite series is also a favorite.

Hazra: How do you incorporate writing in your daily schedule?

Chloe: I have a day job, so I try to follow a daily word-count requirement. More writing on the weekends, less if I'm editing other projects.

Hazra: You are quite a voracious reader. What are the best books you have read in the past year?

Chloe: I'd say I used to be a voracious reader, but I haven't had much time lately. I always read the new J.D. Robb In Death book. I also read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer was outstanding.

Hazra: The Road has been on my wishlist for so long! Which authors have you been inspired by?

Chloe: I love the attention to detail in Stephanie Laurens' Cynster novels, especially Devil's Bride. They're one of my favorite romance series.

Hazra: What is the best thing about being an author?

Chloe: Having a reader tell you that they for the few hours they were reading your novel, they weren't thinking about work or the dishes or the bills.

Hazra: That is truly the best thing an author can hear! Tell us something about your upcoming projects.

Chloe: I'm currently finishing up the edits for TWICE BITTEN, the third book in my Chicagoland Vampires series, and writing HEXBOUND, the second book in my Dark Elite series. I have two additional series in mind, but no time to work on them. :)

Hazra: Finally, if you could organize a dinner with five of your favorite fictional characters, who would they be?

Chloe: Hmmm. How about Claire Fraser, Eve Dallas, Merit, Mallory and Buffy. All strong, brilliant women. :)

Thanks Chloe, for your wonderful replies. You can learn more about Chloe by visiting her website.

When Lily’s guardians decided to send her away to a fancy boarding school in Chicago, she was shocked. So was St. Sophia’s. Lily’s ultra-rich brat pack classmates think Lily should be the punchline to every joke, and on top of that, she’s hearing strange noises and seeing bizarre things in the shadows of the creepy building.
The only thing keeping her sane is her roommate, Scout, but even Scout’s a little weird—she keeps disappearing late at night and won’t tell Lily where she’s been. But when a prank leaves Lily trapped in the catacombs beneath the school, Lily finds Scout running from a real monster. Scout’s a member of a splinter group of rebel teens with unique magical talents, who’ve sworn to protect the city against demons, vampires, and Reapers, magic users who’ve been corrupted by their power. And when Lily finds herself in the line of firespell, Scout tells her the truth about her secret life, even though Lily has no powers of her own—at least none that she’s discovered yet...

Firespell is the first book in Chloe Neill's Dark Elite series.

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REVIEW The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Stieg Larsson


Another book that I’m the last person in the world to read. I really should make a feature of it. Anyways, I loved the book, and I really want to read the other two books.

Mikael “Kalle” Blomkvist has just lost a court case against a powerful Swedish magnate and faces 3 months in prison. He is hired by an influential old businessman, Henrik Wagner, to find out what happened to his granddaughter Harriet, who went missing from their home on an island 40 years ago. Blomkvist’s investigation involves detailed research into the Vanger family, with their plethora of relations. During the course of his investigation, he teams up with Lisbeth Salander, an asocial punk hacker working with a security company, who had conducted a more-than-thorough background investigation on him. Blomkvist and Salander uncover hidden information in decades-old evidence, which leads them to believe that the case is far more convoluted than they were originally led to believe.

The book starts off with Blomkvist being charged for printing libelous stories, and through that, we get a really clear look at all the ugly machinations behind a huge corporation. It is really interesting and Larsson uses his journalist background to provide all the juicy details. The mystery is introduced slowly, but grabs your attention with the detailing. You are as hooked as the reluctant Blomkvist, by the sprawling Vanger clan and their deeds over the past century. But where the book gets really interesting is when Blomkvist meets Salander. Initially, both their stories run parallelly, and honestly, I was more interested in Salander’s. She is a very interesting, complicated character with a twisted sense of justice, and there are many hints to her being molested as a kid. Salander’s razor-sharp brain, her disregard for authority and her thoughts and actions are the core of this book. I especially loved what she pulled off at the end, a masterstroke.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a classic “locked room with suspects” mystery. I’ve read so many books and still I’m never tired of this genre. In Larsson’s case, it is not just a mystery, but also a commentary on Swedish society. The rules of guardianship (which struck me as quite bizarre), the underhand dealing, the skeletons in the family cupboards; Larsson brings all this and more into a scintillating story. Read this book, I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did.

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REVIEW The Simoqin Prophecies: Samit Basu


Indian literature is rich in myths and folklore, but Indian fantasy fiction is sadly underdeveloped. So I was really happy to read this book, which incorporates Indian mythology to create a world that you are absorbed into.

It is the year of the Simoqin Prophecies, when the rakshas (demon) Danh-Gem I supposed to come back from the dead and restart the age of terror. The Chief Civilian of the prosperous city-state of Kol finds a Hero Asvin, and takes him to be trained by Gaam, the best mentor of Hero School, and Mantric, a spellbinder. Accompanying Asvin in his Quest are Maya, Mantric’s daughter and her friend Kirin. But the followers of Danh-Gem are rallying to bring him back, and Kirin follows his own path to rid the world of Danh-Gem.

In a hole in the ground there lived a rabbit. What is a rabbit? A rabbit (Bunihopus bobtelus) is a small white mammal that loves good food and is anxious when it is late for appointments. This particular rabbit was off on an expedition to the forest. He planned to wander around for a few years and then return home and write a book. There and Back Again: The Adventures of One Rabbit, he planned to call it. He popped out of his burrow and looked around, sniffing the air delicately.

He saw a man with a sword standing next to a tree, looking up. ‘Afternoon. Set out. Description of Forest. Many trees, leaves, green. Tension in air, palpable. Man, one, standing next to tree, looking up,’ the rabbit noted in his mental journal. Attention to detail is the key in holding a reader’s attention, he thought smugly. 

Sounds familiar? This brilliant opening to the book is just a trailer to what follows. Basu derives from various sources to build this colorful world which will have you in splits from Page 1. From the Ramayana and Mahabharata to Greek epics, from James Bond to comic book heroes, from Lord of the Rings to Arabian Nights, you will find traces of all these and more. Add to this a complex plot which ridicules as much of classic fantasy and science fiction as it incorporates, this book is the best debut one can write. Basu’s style of writing is witty and engaging, as he peoples his world with rakshasas, danavs and asurs (all types of demons), vanars (apes), spellbinders, ravians (powerful magical beings) and of course, humans. Though there are a lot of references to Indian mythology, readers not familiar with it need not worry, as they have many things to laugh over. Indian English writing never had it so good. I recommend this book to everybody who wants a good laugh with a great story. It’s hard for me to pick my favorite passages, because there are so many, but I’ll leave you with another.

The Guild of Superb Heroes was a group of people from all over the world, who had gathered in Kol to unite against the forces of Danh-Gem. Dressed in outlandish costumes, they would tell tall tales of their own exploits, and proudly proclaim that Kol was safe even if the Hero of Simoqin never turned up. Led by the Man of Reinforced Iron, a former champion of the WAK, and his brother, a trapeze artist named The Skimmer, they gave the people of Kol occasional hope and frequent mirth. Children ran home and told their parents about the mighty Thog the Barbarian, and a sumo wrestler from east Xi’en who painted himself purple and called himself The Unbelievable Bulk.

Who could feel fear in a city under the ceaseless vigilance of Supper-Man, who could eat anything, the scythe-wielding Jak the Reaper and the rubber-jointed and sweet-smelling Minty Python?  

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Sunday Salon: Book New York Times Bestseller List

The Sunday
I've been catching up with my favorite series all week, and reading the fantastic Samit Basu, so there hasn't been much activity on the blog. Just a reminder, my giveaway for Beth Fantaskey's Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side is open internationally till February 21!

So, a look at the NYT best-seller list.

1. WORST CASE- James Patterson and Michael Lewitz
Snippet: New York detective raising 10 children alone investigates a string of kidnappings and killings of teenagers by a villain with unusual motives.
My View: I've lost count of the number of books Patterson has written and the number of times he's topped this list.
2. THE HELP- Kathryn Stockett
Snippet:A young white woman and two black maids in 1960s ­Mississippi.
My View: There are a lot of good reviews of this book all over the blogosphere, and Beth of Beth Fish Reads has an Amy Einhorn perpetual challenge going on, to mark the books published by Amy Einhorn Books.
3. FLIRT- Laurell K. Hamilton
Snippet: Anita Blake, vampire hunter, and the men in her life. 18th book in the series.
My View: My roommate read like 7 or 8 books in the series, then got frustrated (and a little weirded out) by Blake's love life.
4. WINTER GARDEN- Kristin Hannah
Snippet:After their father’s death, two sisters must cooperate to run his apple orchard and care for their difficult mother.
Snippet: Robert Langdon among the Masons.
My View: Read my review here.

1. GAME CHANGE- John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
Behind the scenes at the 2008 election with Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, John and Elizabeth Edwards, John McCain and Sarah Palin.
2. THE POLITICIAN- Andrew Young
A tell-all by John Edwards’s closest aide.
3. ON THE BRINK- Henry M. Paulson Jr.
The Treasury secretary during the autumn of 2008 describes the decisions that were made during the financial meltdown.
4. I AM OZZY- Ozzy Osbourne with Chris Ayres
Recollections of heavy metal’s “Prince of Darkness.”
Race, poverty and science intertwine in the story of the woman whose cancer cells were cultured without her permission in 1951 and have supported a mountain of research undertaken since then.

1. A RELIABLE WIFE- Robert Goolrick
Snippet: Complications ensue when a wealthy Wisconsin widower in 1907 advertises for a spouse.
My View: Sounds like a fun book, but you never know.
2. THE LAST SONG- Nicholas Sparks
Snippet: A 17-year old spends the summer with her father in North Carolina and finds many kinds of love.
My View: After watching A Walk To Remember, I thought of reading the book. Couldn't get beyond 10 pages. Haven't dared to touch another Sparks since then.
3. DEAR JOHN-Nicholas Sparks
Snippet: An unlikely romance between a soldier and an idealistic young woman is tested after 9/11.
My View: See No. 2 above
Snippet: A hacker and a journalist investigate the disappearance of a Swedish heiress.
My View: I finished this book a couple of days back, and loved it. Review up this week.
5. THE LOVELY BONES-Alice Sebold
Snippet: A girl looks down from heaven as she describes the aftermath of her kidnapping and murder.
My View: Another book which has received rave reviews all over the blogosphere.

1. THE LOST CITY OF Z, by David Grann
A New Yorker writer searches for a British explorer who was lost in the Amazon in 1925.
2. THE BLIND SIDE, by Michael Lewis
The evolving business of football, viewed through the rise of the left tackle Michael Oher.
3. THREE CUPS OF TEA, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
A former climber builds schools in villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
An account from the point of view of women, African-Americans and others who are often marginalized.
5. ARE YOU THERE, VODKA? IT'S ME, CHELSEA, by Chelsea Handler
Humorous personal essays from the comedian.

Which of these would you like to read?

And this week's giveaways are:

Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books is giving away a copy of Michelle Moran's Nefertiti till February 15
Steph Su Reads is giving away a choice of ARCs until February 28

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Year 2 in Reading

This is a list of all the books I have read and reviewed in my second year of blogging. Please leave a comment (with link) if you have reviewed a book on the list or on the main review, and I'll link to your review.

The Amulet of Samarkand- Jonathan Stroud
Atonement- Ian McEwan
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-Stieg Larsson
The Simoqin Prophecies- Samit Basu

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REVIEW The Amulet of Samarkand: Jonathan Stroud


My roommate raved about the Bartimaeus Trilogy, and I thought that this was a perfect way to begin the new year. I really loved this book, and I’ll try to get hold of the sequels as quick as I can.

Bartimaeus is a djinn who is summoned by a young magician Nathaniel to steal the Amulet of Samarkand, a legendary artifact which is in the possession of a powerful magician Simon Lovelace. The theft of the amulet has unfortunate repercussions, as Nathaniel and Bartimaeus have to escape scheming magicians, powerful djinns and the mysterious Resistance to thwart Lovelace.

This was a fantastic book, just perfect for my taste. The writing is crisp, the story fast-paced and I had a lot of fun reading it. It is a contest of wits between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, and each does his utmost to get the upper hand over the other. Stroud creates this magical universe where magicians, assisted by the spirits they summon, control England. But these magicians aren’t always the good guys; they are conniving, power-hungry people who treat their spirits like slaves.

Bartimaeus is a wonderful character, a sarcastic djinn who resents the task he is summoned for and tries every way he can to get out of it. Stroud includes many footnotes in Bartimaeus narrative, which help the reader get an idea of the settings of the story. Most of the footnotes are snarky asides, which will keep you in stitches.

When you've helped construct several of the world's most majestic buildings, and in some instances given pretty useful tips to the architects concerned,[2] a second-rate Victorian mansion in the Gothic style doesn't exactly wet your whistle. You know the kind of thing: lots of twiddly bits and turrets.[3] It was surrounded by a wide expanse of lawn, on which peacocks and wallabies were decoratively scattered.[4]

[2] Not that my advice was always taken: check out the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
[3] Not a good enough description for you? Well, I was only trying to move the story on. Heddleham Hall was a great rectangular pile with stubby north—south wings, plenty of tall, arched windows, two stories, high sloping gables, a surfeit of brick chimneys, ornate tracery that amounted to the Baroque, faux-battlements above the main door, high vaulted ceilings (heavily groined), sundry gargoyles (likewise) and all constructed from a creamy-brown stone that looked attractive in moderation but en masse made everything blur like a big block of melting fudge.
[4] So decoratively that I wondered if their feet had been glued in position.

If you love fantasy, you can’t afford to miss this.

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Sunday Salon: A Year in Blogging

The Sunday

I had made a list of blogging goals and reading goals about six months back, and looking at the list, I see that I've fulfilled most of them. Except for the challenges. Honestly, I can't stick to challenges. I'm more of a random, impulsive reader, and whenever I have to stick to lists, my mind rebels. I drag my feet with those books, and ultimately end up not enjoying them, though I would probably have liked them if they hadn't been part of a list. Complicated? Weird? I think so too, but the mind wants what the mind wants. So, no challenges from now on.

And on the same note, no goals either. Goals make it sound like reading is a job to be done, with plans and results and what not involved. I read for pleasure, and goal-setting makes it seem like a task. It jinxes the process of reading. I do want to read more award-winning books, more series, more books in general, but I have found that I do end up reading good books whether I plan for it or not. So, even if the next year finds me reading zero award-winners and 100 Twilight-like books, so be it. I shall not complain.

I just want to list out my ten favorite reads of the last year, in alphabetical order.

1984- George Orwell
Anne of Green Gables- L.M. Montgomery
Artemis Fowl- Eoin Colfer
The Godfather- Mario Puzo
The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins
The Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini
The Remains of the Day- Kazuo Ishiguro
The Shadow of the Wind- Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Thirteenth Tale- Diane Setterfield
To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee

You can find a full list of the books I have read in the past year here. That's around 71 books. Hmmm...pretty ok, but I hope to do better this year.

One last thing. In celebration of my blogoversary, I'm having a giveaway of Beth Fantaskey's popular vampire romance, Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. Giveaway is open internationally till February 21.

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Blogoversary Book Giveaway: Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey

Update: The contest is now closed. Thanks to everybody who participated!

Yay! It's my blogoversary! I can't believe it's been one year since I started blogging. It feels awesome to have completed a year, especially because this blog started out as a late-night whim. I have read more books in this last year than I did the years before, and it's thanks to the blogging community that my TBR is overflowing. I love reading, I love blogging, and though I've had more fits than starts, I'm hoping this blog will see a few more blogoversaries.

Yesterday, I had author Beth Fantaskey on this blog, answering a few questions on her books and her writing. In celebration of my blogoversary and my reaching 50 followers, Beth has graciously offered to host a giveaway of Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. Jessica is a high-school girl who plans to "get a life" in her senior year, but that plan gets really messed up when the mysterious vampire prince Lucius turns up claiming that she was betrothed to him. How does Jessica deal with this new complication in her life? Enter the giveaway to read the book and find out!

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 (leave a link)
+2 for commenting on any of my other reviews
+1 for telling me about your favorite urban fantasy read

The giveaway is open internationally till Sunday, February 21, 2010. All the best!

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Author Interview: Beth Fantaskey

I'm really excited to welcome Beth Fantaskey, author of the popular Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, a tale of a young girl who finds that she is betrothed to a vampire. Watch this space tomorrow for a fantastic giveaway. Thanks so much, Beth, for taking the time to answer my questions!

Hazra: Tell us something about yourself.

Beth: Aside from the basic stuff, like I’m a 44-year-old mom who sometimes teaches at Susquehanna University, I:
  •  like to do endurance-type sports, like running and biking.
  •  have a difficult time writing if there’s no music playing.
  • am a terrible cook who can barely make scrambled eggs!

Hazra: Can you tell us about your upcoming book, Jekel Loves Hyde?

Beth: Jekel Loves Hyde is a paranormal romance about two teenagers who gradually discover that they share a mysterious (and possibly deadly) connection to the old novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As Jill and Tristen work against the clock to solve that mystery, they become more attracted – and more dangerous – to one another. It’s a love story with lots of dark twists and turns, and some humor, too, as shy Jill accidentally tastes a chemical formula that unleashes her wild side…
There’s a longer synopsis and preview chapter on my website, And I’m hosting a Jekel Loves Hyde book trailer contest there through March 15. Anyone who creates a video preview of the novel is eligible for some fun prizes. Or visitors can comment on the trailers that are already posted.  There are some great entries already!

Hazra: Sounds really exciting! What do you love about being an author? Is there anything you don’t like?

Beth: My three favorite things about being an author are:
  • using my imagination on a daily basis;
  • the freedom to work from home (in pajamas, some days!); and
  • interacting with readers (which is the most fun part, actually.)
There’s nothing I don’t like, really… It’s a pretty good job. Much better than my first job selling fried chicken!

Hazra: What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?

Beth: My biggest advice to new writers is to practice every day. I think a lot of people believe that you either “have talent” or you don’t. But writing is also a skill that you can improve upon, just like playing an instrument. You wouldn’t expect to sit down and play a beautiful song the first time you touched a piano. It’s the same with writing. The more you work at it, the better you get. Along those lines, be open to revising your work. I don’t think many people write perfect first drafts, either. I know I don’t!

Hazra: What is the most difficult part about being published? How do you suggest aspiring writers deal with it?

Beth: The most difficult part about getting published is all of the competition out there. You have to be persistent and have faith in the face of rejection. Don’t give up.

Hazra: Which authors have you been inspired by?

Beth: I am a big fan of the classic authors, like Dickens, Melville, Austen and the Brontes – some of whom are referenced in Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. (And of course Jekel Loves Hyde draws directly from that classic tale.)
My biggest influence is probably Dumas, though. I love his cliffhangers, and Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo) is my favorite hero/anti-hero.  I’m in awe of how Dumas created a character who is so intense and imposing and vulnerable, all at the same time.

Hazra: You have been to India researching the Dalit struggle for human rights. What would you say about your Indian experience?

Beth: India is the most beautiful, amazing country, but it’s also a place with pockets of incredible poverty – especially among the population of Dalits (formerly known as “untouchables.”) Because they are traditionally considered “unclean,” Dalit individuals are usually relegated to doing the dirtiest, most humble jobs and may be segregated from broader society in other ways, too.
My research involved documenting how Dalit leaders are trying to use media to expand interest in their fight for equality. It was fascinating and inspiring to be at the heart of a growing civil rights movement and meet the people who are making it happen.
Anyone who’s interested in learning more can go to, an organization dedicated to providing education for young Dalit students.

Hazra: That is really good work. Thanks for sharing it with us. Tell us something about the books you are working on. Will we see more of Jessica and Lucius from Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side?

Beth: I am working on a possible sequel to Jessica’s Guide, but it’s too soon to make a formal announcement. In the meantime, anyone who wants to read more of Jess and Lucius’s  story can check out the “mini sequel” on my website. It’s 23 chapters of new material that I wrote to thank everyone who’s asked to see what’s next for Jess and Lucius. (I won’t give away more here…)
I will give one hint though: If the sequel does become a reality, it will start where the on-line story ends, so readers can expect to see more of the new characters I introduced. (Including Lucius’s closest vampire friend, Raniero Lovatu, who seems to be piquing a lot of interest!)

Hazra: I'm sure a lot of people are waiting eagerly for that one! Finally, if you could organize a dinner with five of your favorite fictional characters, who would they be?

Beth: Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo); Pip (the tortured protagonist in Dickens’ Great Expectations); Sirius Black (from Harry Potter); Athos (the mysterious Musketeer); and Mr. Darcy (really, who doesn’t want to meet him??)
Gee – I looked at my list and think I must be drawn to dark, troubled and complex heroes!

Well, I'd say that you'd have a lot of trouble getting any sort of conversation going! Thank you Beth, for your wonderful responses. You can learn more about Beth by visiting her website.

Shy Jill’s father has always insisted that the Jekels are distantly related to THE Dr. Henry Jekyll, whose story inspired the 1886 novel about a scientist who creates an evil alter ego in his lab. In fact, Jill’s dad swore that a box locked away in his home office contains documents that detail Dr. Jekyll’s diabolical research.

And Tristen, a talented young pianist with a decidedly dark edge, has even closer – and worse – connections to the 19th century tale.Because if Tristen’s family legends are to be believed, he is a direct descendant of the monster, “Mr. Hyde,” and doomed to repeat a history of violence if he can’t find a “cure” for the evil that lurks inside of him. When Jill's father is murdered and her college savings disappear, she is tempted to break her parents’ rules and examine the forbidden papers, in hopes of winning a lucrative chemistry scholarship by re-creating the old experiments and determining whether the Jekyll-Hyde story really could have been true.

Can Tristen and Jill control the most frightening aspects of themselves in time to not only win a scholarship but to save their souls? And ensure that the love that’s growing between them won’t lead to their mutual destruction? Read Jekel Loves Hyde to find out!

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REVIEW Slaughterhouse Five: Kurt Vonnegut


I love science fiction, so it is a little embarrassing that it’s taken me this long to read a Kurt Vonnegut book.

Slaughterhouse Five is the story of Billy Pilgrim, a time-travelling American soldier who is captured by the Germans. The novel jumps between different types in his life, from his imprisonment at Dresden to his post-war life as an optometrist to his abduction by aliens.

You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?'
'No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?' 
'I say, "Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?"'
 What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that too. 
And, even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.

Initially, I had some trouble understanding the book as I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then I decided to stop analyzing and let the story flow, and then I enjoyed it more. It’s a war novel and a science fiction novel, but there are no memorable characters, no striking events, no fighting against all odds. It just goes on, much like an ordinary person’s life would. But amidst that ordinariness, Vonnegut manages to capture the true horror of war, the despondency which it brings and how it has the ability to make a sufferer indifferent to life. The book is apparently based on Vonnegut’s experience as a prisoner at Dresden, and he conveys the feelings of a war-weary soldier very effectively.

It wasn't safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now nothing but minerals. The stones were hot. Everybody else in the neighborhood was dead.
So it goes.
The guards drew together instinctively, rolled their eyes. They experimented with one expression and then another, said nothing, though their mouths were often open. They looked like a silent film of a barbershop quartet.

There is quite a bit of humour in this book, black humour that reinforces the suffering of the story. Vonnegut lampoons our society by showing it through the eyes of the Trafalmadorians. This book reminded me a lot of Catch-22. Though both books are widely different in genre and story, they both use acerbic wit and imagination to condemn war. Slaughterhouse Five is not conventional science fiction, and you should read it to figure out what it’s all about.

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Sunday Salon: December-January Roundup

The month started off badly when it came to reading and blogging, with me going through a bad reading slump (witness trickle of posts). But things picked up near the end, and I've got a good list of books up for review next month. I realized that I hadn't done a December roundup, so I'm clubbing both months together.

In December, when I was on holiday, I had two great guest posts, one on romance readers by AnimeGirl from AnimeGirl's Bookshelf and another on reading ghost stories by Nymeth from things mean a lot.

I reviewed the following books.
A Christmas Carol- Charles Dickens
Anne of Green Gables- L.M. Montgomery
The Vampire Diaries: The Fury- L.J. Smith
Ice Station- Matthew Reilly
Shadow of the Wind- Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Breaking Dawn- Stephenie Meyer
Second Helpings- Megan McCafferty
The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle- L.J. Smith

In January, I interviewed Gary Stelzer, debut author of The Cost of Dreams. I also reviewed the following books.
Living Dead in Dallas- Charlaine Harris
The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins
Paths of Glory- Jeffrey Archer
The Heretic Queen- Michelle Moran
Charmed Thirds- Megan McCafferty
Life After 187- Wade J. Halverson

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REVIEW Living Dead in Dallas: Charlaine Harris


I have been in a reading funk ever since I got back from home. I started several books to leave them unfinished, looking for one book to get me out of the slump. What a surprise when this one turned out to be the one!

Sookie’s normal life (well, as normal as it can get if you are a telepath dating a vampire) is shattered when she finds a body in a car outside the bar where she works. Add to that, she is sent to Dallas on an assignment by Eric to find a missing vampire, and finds herself embroiled in the sinister activities of a vampire hate group, The Fellowship of the Sun.

I enjoy Charlaine Harris’ style of writing- it’s easy to read and entertaining at the same time. There is suspense, there is romance, there is action, all of which keeps the pages turning. The characters are quite well-constructed, and I have a slight crush on Eric, and I get the feeling that he is going to get a bigger role as the series progresses. The mystery isn’t predictable, which is exactly what I want from a suspense novel. I didn’t like the plot thread involving the maenad though. The book was cruising along quite well with the Klan-like Fellowship, but the introduction of the maenad kind of messes the conclusion of the book. It seems to have been put just for some titillation. But on the whole, I’d rate Living Dead in Dallas pretty well.

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Sunday Salon: Random Ramblings

The Sunday
It's been pretty quiet over here for the past month, though I've been back to the blogosphere for quite some time. This time, the quiet is not because of pressure or anything like that, but just because I wanted to take some time to visit new blogs and polish my TBR before getting down to reading. Not that I haven't been reading, I have. But all the books I'm reading are in various stages of completion, so reviews are down to a trickle. I'm also celebrating my month-long holiday from the internet by surfing with a vengeance, where I found some interesting things, namely, Facebook founder is not the innocent geek he looks, Lifehacker has some pretty useful stuff for students like me and for readers like you, and discovered lots of really cool lit sites, some of which I'll be writing about in future Salon posts.

So, this is my first Salon post for the year and it's not about anything specific (like you didn't get that from the title!) First thing, it's my first blogging anniversary next month! Yes, I've been blogging for a year! I've managed to shed my lazy skin and keep up a semblance of regular reading and posting for a year! Anyways, I've not yet decided what to do to celebrate this occasion. Well, I'm anyway a last-minute kind of person, so blogoversary eve will probably find me typing away furiously. Another thing is, I'm pretty close to 50 followers. Not as many as some of my favorite blogs have, but it's a start. Actually, I was so scared that nobody would want to listen to what I have to say that I didn't install the Followers widget for the better part of a year. Thanks, J Kaye, for urging me to do so! And thank you to all those who follow via Google Friend Connect and RSS. You inspire me to read more and write more.

And while I'm leaving my blogging goals post for my blogoversary, this is a personal goal I would like to talk about. I've actually been doing a lot of reading about young achievers and I would also like to do something awesome (at least something I think is awesome) before I'm 25. Now, I still don't know what that is, but I'm going to find out. So I'm going to try and explore all my interests this year, to find out what I love doing the most and how I can take it forward. Wish me luck in this!

And here are a couple of international giveaways I'm signing up for

The Eclectic Reader is giving away a choice of 6 books to 2 lucky readers, to celebrate her birthday. Giveaway is open till January 31
Alaine- Queen of Happy Endings is giving away a choice of 6 books till January 31
The Undercover Book Lover is giving away 3 YA books till January 30
Peeking Between the Pages is giving away Holly's Inbox by Holly Denham, open till January 31

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REVIEW The Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins


I know that I’m probably the last person in the world to read this book, and you’ve probably read so many glowing reviews of this one that you are too jaded to read one more. But I really must say how much I love this book

Katniss lives in District 12, one of the poorest districts in Panem, ruled by the Capitol. Every year, a boy and a girl from each of the 12 districts are selected to participate in The Hunger Games, a ruthless play of survival where the victor is one who can kill everybody else. Katniss’ little sister is chosen, and Katniss volunteers herself to save her. Katniss is a tough one, but she will have to use all her resources to stay alive, and also figure out the enigmatic Peeta, the other participant from District 12.

I started this book at around 8 in the night, and I stayed up till 3 in the morning finishing it, and then rereading some bits again. I haven’t read a book which has inspired me to read this way in a long time, and this was an awesome Christmas present for me. The dystopian future that Collins shows is scary and the Hunger Games a deadly version of Survivor. Each of the challenges that the Games pose will keep you on the edge of your seat, but the most horrifying thing is kids, no older than eighteen, killing each other to survive.

You are drawn into Katniss’ fight for survival and her resourcefulness, she has become one of my favorite characters, and one of my top 10 heroines ever. I loved the way she steps up for her sister, her compassion for Rue, her defiance of the Capitol and above all, her bond with Peeta. I was really sorry when the book ended, somewhat like Katniss.

I take his hand, holding on tightly, preparing for the cameras, and dreading the moment when I will finally have to let go.

Looking forward to reading Catching Fire.

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REVIEW Paths of Glory: Jeffrey Archer


A holiday read. I’ve always been interested in George Mallory’s story, and this book, though a fictionalized account of his life, was something I looked forward to reading. But it was just an average read, not a particularly inspiring one.

George Mallory is the son of a priest who has a passion for climbing. He goes to Cambridge and takes up a job as schoolmaster, but not before scaling most of the Alps and proving himself to be an accomplished mountaineer. So when the time comes for the Royal Geographical Society to select a climbing leader for the first Everest expedition, there is but one choice. But Everest is a tough lady to please, as Mallory finds out to his cost.

When Mallory’s body was discovered on the slopes nearly ten years ago, I was really interested in the story. There was no proof of whether he’d managed to reach the top, but many believe he did. Archer takes us through the life of a man who loved climbing, and had a continuous affair with Everest, an affair that eventually took his life. Mallory is an interesting character, and his courtship of his wife does make for interesting reading. But I found the other people around him quite unlikable. His climbing rival, George Finch, is shown to be a pretty arrogant guy, and Archer makes it seem that it was only due to Mallory’s graciousness that he ever made it to the expedition, despite being a great climber and a pretty practical person. I don’t know if that were actually true, but I didn’t really appreciate this blowing up of Mallory’s personality. The other people around Mallory are snobs, more interested in misplaced English pride and gaining fame from Mallory’s endeavor than actually supporting him. Paths of Glory was a little too sensationalized, and while it works well in Archer’s other stories, it didn’t work for me in this one.

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REVIEW The Heretic Queen: Michelle Moran


This is the first book I have won in a giveaway since I started blogging, and a really good read. I really should read more historical fiction, it’s a great genre.

Nefertari is the niece of the reviled Queen Nefertiti, who is brought to live in Pharaoh Seti’s palace after the death of her entire family. Ignored by the royalty, Nefertari is taken in by the Pharaoh’s sister Woserit and trained to be queen. She and her childhood friend and future Pharaoh Ramesses, fall in love, but many challenges face their union. Nefertari has to contend with jealous courtiers, conniving relatives and hostile population who consider her a heretic.

My love is unique--no one can rival her, for she is the most beautiful woman alive. Just by passing, she has stolen away my heart.

I really enjoyed reading The Heretic Queen. Egyptian history has always fascinated me, and this book paints a rich tapestry of life as it was in Ancient Egypt. Moran stays close to history as she depicts the court of Ramesses the Great, with its undercurrents of jealousy and secrets. Palace intrigue forms a major part of the book, as Nefertari picks her way through the landmines that surround her to win the position of Chief Wife of Ramesses and Queen of Egypt. Nefertari is a likeable character, and you cheer for her throughout. Her love story with Ramesses is eternal, one which still stands strong in the pyramids he built for her. Moran’s writing is simple, and her plotting straightforward without seeming predictable. I’d recommend this book to people like me, just starting out with historical fiction, as well as hardcore fans.

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REVIEW Charmed Thirds: Megan McCafferty


The first week of college involved us running all over campus to pay fees, get books and the like, and so I haven't really been able to concentrate on my blog. I've been complaining quite a bit about stress for the past couple of months, but I've decided to stop cribbing and take things as they come. My studies are to become a little more weighty over the coming months, and I may not be able to blog as much as I want to, but I'm not going to freak out over it. Blogging is a passion, not a chore, and I know I can find at least an hour a day to blog, but if I can't, I won't try to force myself to blog. Anyway, on to the review!

Charmed Thirds didn’t work for me; the angst was too much to take. Maybe I wasn’t in a receptive mood, but the book really tired me out.

Jessica Darling is now in Columbia University, and pursuing a long-distance relationship with the enigmatic Marcus Flutie. The book takes us through the ups and downs of their tumultuous relationship and Jess’ encounters with her college friends and the high-school gang she hated so much, while dealing with her parents and superficial sister.

As I was reading this book, I kept thinking that no person can be so negative in life. I’m a cynic, but Jessica takes the cynicism too far; it just becomes sour curd. She doesn’t have much to complain about in her life, but complain she does, over and over again. Honestly, the whine binge had me a little angry, because she expects everybody to conform to her standards, while she cannot maintain a positive outlook for even a second. I couldn’t sympathize with her, because many of the situations she cribbed about were brought about by her own doing: her choice to be polite to people she couldn’t stand, her choice to date a really weird guy, her choice of friends and everything else. As I said, this book probably didn’t work for me because I wasn’t in a mood for teen angst, but I won’t be touching the rest of the books in the series till the effect of this one wears out.

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Author Interview: Gary Stelzer

I'm really excited to welcome author Gary Stelzer, who has just penned his first novel, The Cost of Dreams. It is a powerful story of a young Mayan woman's extraordinary journey of survival, and is sure to touch a chord in every reader's heart. Thanks a lot to Gary for taking the time to answer my questions!

Hazra: Can you tell us something about your debut novel?

Gary: This a tale about a young woman from Central America whose parents were murdered in a civil war, and who, with her siblings, walked and begged rides to California. She trusted that she’d found safe haven for her young family in the remote US southwest, only to discover that all of her life’s greatest challenges, by far, still lie before her.

Hazra: You are a doctor by profession. Why did you decide to switch to writing a novel?

Gary:The physician work was very intense and interesting, for the almost three decades that I practiced medicine. But as the health industry threw up such enormous cost & bureaucratic barriers, denying more and more people care essential to life and health, I felt I must leave. At the same time, a remarkable number of astonishing tales presented themselves in my work that I decided I wanted (and needed) to write about, rather than simply allowing them to accumulate in my brain with no reasonable outlet!!

Hazra: How have your experiences as a doctor shaped you as a writer?

Gary: The work of a health professional, be it nurse, paramedic, or physician, requires one to really, really reach deeply into ones mental and emotional reserves to answer the circumstances of health crises, day after day, for a number of years. Especially in so-called primary “frontline” care, one has to be on ones toes, paying alert attention all the time, and coming to work with the A game everyday.
Which I would say is decent preparation for the serious writer, enabling him to plumb the depths of his brain to flesh out, with real feeling and astuteness, a fine story.

Hazra: That is such a wonderful thought! Well, who is your favorite character from the book?

Gary: By far, Flora. She just will not quit until she obtains what she must have to survive and position herself for the care and mothering of her children (by her own very strange standards!). And she is just absolutely unafraid, of anything!! Very admirable attributes indeed! And though Marguerite was utterly lost and insane in the US, I cared (care) for her greatly.
And poor flawed and intoxicated and cowardly Monte is not all that unlikable either.

Hazra: Your book deals with a young American Indian, and also explores American Indian culture. How did you undertake your research to give the authentic Indian feel to your book?

Gary: Actually, there are two “sets” of indigenous persons in the book:
The first is the Mayan highlanders of Central America, which is where Flora Enriquez was born, and from where she flees with her siblings for her life.
And the second is the “natives” that are the very ancient inhabitants of the Barrancas del Cobre in Chihuahua, Mexico, called the Raramuri, also called the Tarahumara Peoples.
For both peoples, I bought a pile of research books and drew upon the best information I could find. The “Acknowledgements” page at the end of my book explains further.

Hazra: Which authors have you been inspired by?

Gary: Dickens, Faulkner, Dreiser, Steinbeck, Traven, Smiley, McMurtry - to name a few.

Hazra: Stalwarts indeed! Can you share how it feels to be a debut writer?

Gary: Insecure and uncertain, especially starting this late in life. But, for me at least, it is work that feels really important to be doing.

Hazra: Tell us something about the projects you are currently working on.

Gary: I’ve begun reading for the next book which is to be set in New Orleans during the time of Katrina. I have spent some time there already, and I’ll be returning soon to look for the thread of a story.
And, I’m trying to collect some deeper background (than I possess in my brain at the moment) on Detroit, site of the third planned book and home to the epicenter of America’s industrial collapse. There are thousands of tales wanting and waiting to be told there. Writers, heads up!!

Hazra: Finally, if you could organize a dinner with five of your favorite fictional characters, who would they be?

Gary: Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae from LONESOME DOVE, by Larry McMurtry,Ginny Cook Smith and Rose Cook Smith from A THOUSAND ACRES by Jane Smiley, and…Atticus Finch from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee.
THAT would be an interesting evening, would it not!!!

In The Cost of Dreams , Flora, a Mayan teenager, has escaped Talapa, her civil war-torn Central American village where herparents have been slain-and where even being seen in native wear could result in summary execution. Following her dream with nearly superhuman determination, she makes her way to San Diego, and against all odds, becomes a wife, mother and teacher. By hard work and shrewdness, she even obtains legal U.S. status. But her life takes a horrific turn when she's shot by her drug-dealing brother in-law.

Nearly a year later, still gravely wounded and disfigured, a freed Flora arrives at the Lake Michigan home of Kate Bowman, an American aide worker who had previously befriended Flora in Talapa. Kate's nephew had vanished on that mission, leaving Kate devastated and overwhelmed with guilt for permitting him to remain in a civil war ravaged Central America while she returned home.

Now Flora, eager to heal her injuries and desperate to restore what remains of her family, reignites in Kate a fire to learn the fate of her long lost nephew. The two women embark on a harrowing journey that takes them to the ancient caves of northwestern Mexico in the Barrancas del Cobre, an exceedingly vast abyss of canyons, in search of a storied Indian healer. The cost of healing borders on the unendurable.

You can read reviews of this book at
Cheryl's Book Nook
Raging Bibliomania

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REVIEW Life After 187- Wade J. Halverson


This is the first time I’ve received a book from an author to review, and I must say, I was pretty excited. I read this during my train journey from college to home, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Publisher’s synopsis: Sentenced to a life in prison when he executes the men who murdered his wife, Kane Silver is singled out by the warden for his fighting ability. Along with inmates Valentino Lopez and Si’Ling Lee, Kane is drafted into service and forced to fight for money in high-stakes tournaments. But when the three friends escape during a New Year’s Eve match in Lake Tahoe- saving the warden’s life in the process- their situation becomes more complicated. Their status undermined, they vanish underground and sign on to help a woman whose parents are being held by an Argentinean drug kingpin.

Life After 187 was a pretty fast-paced book, a decent read on the train. It is a very macho book, and maybe it will appeal more to guys. There are similarities with quite a few action movies, especially Sylvester Stallone ones. The boxing matches sprinkled throughout the story are the highlight of the book- they are entertaining, adrenaline-packed affairs that I enjoyed. They were well described, and you felt as if you were actually there, seeing every kick and punch.
I had a couple of complaints. One is that the book was kind of rushed at times. It covers wide ground and visits many locales, but the developments at each place were not adequately described. In this case, a slightly longer novel would have helped. Also, the prison as described in the book didn’t seem too realistic. I’m more used to the Prison Break grittiness of prisons, and this one seemed less of a prison and more of harsh summer camp.

The book seemed poised to be the first of a series, and I would be interested in reading further. Thanks to the author for sending me a copy. You can learn more about Wade Halverson and his books by visiting his website.

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A Big Thank You [The Twelve Days of Christmas- Day 10]

I unfortunately don't have a special post for today. I just got back from a really long holiday, though it hasn't shown on the blog, as I had some posts scheduled. I want to thank all those who've been visiting and commenting on this blog for the past month. I've a lot of catching up to do, lots of unread posts on my favorite blogs and finding more great ones.

I want to wish you a happy new year once again. May this year bring to all you bookworms more reading, more blogging and more friends in the blogosphere.

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Saturday Evening Poetry: William Topaz McGonagall [The Twelve Days of Christmas- Day 9]

William Topaz McGonagall was a Scottish poet, actor and weaver. He has been widely acclaimed as the worst poet in British history. A major criticism of his poetry is that he is deaf to poetic metaphor. His poetry is said to have inappropriate rhythm and weak vocabulary, making him one of the most spontaneously comic poet in the English language. This poem, which I read recently, had me in splits.


Mr. Smiggs was a gentleman,
And he lived in London town;

His wife she was a good kind soul,

And seldom known to frown.

'Twas on Christmas eve,

And Smiggs and his wife lay cosy in bed,

When the thought of buying a goose

Came into his head.

So the next morning,

Just as the sun rose,

He jump'd out of bed,

And he donn'd his clothes,

Saying, "Peggy, my dear.

You need not frown,

For I'll buy you the best goose

In all London town."

So away to the poultry shop he goes,

And bought the goose, as he did propose,

And for it he paid one crown,

The finest, he thought, in London town.

When Smiggs bought the goose

He suspected no harm,

But a naughty boy stole it

From under his arm.

Then Smiggs he cried, "Stop, thief!

Come back with my goose!"

But the naughty boy laugh'd at him,

And gave him much abuse.

But a policeman captur'd the naughty boy,

And gave the goose to Smiggs,

And said he was greatly bother'd

By a set of juvenile prigs.

So the naughty boy was put in prison

For stealing the goose.,

And got ten days' confinement

Before he got loose.

So Smiggs ran home to his dear Peggy,

Saying, "Hurry, and get this fat goose ready,

That I have bought for one crown;

So, my darling, you need not frown."

"Dear Mr Smiggs, I will not frown:

I'm sure 'tis cheap for one crown,

Especially at Christmas time --

Oh! Mr Smiggs, it's really fine."

"Peggy. it is Christmas time,

So let us drive dull care away,

For we have got a Christmas goose,

So cook it well, I pray.

"No matter how the poor are clothed,

Or if they starve at home,

We'll drink our wine, and eat our goose,

Aye, and pick it to the bone."

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