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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Happy New Year!

I wish everybody a very Happy New Year! May this new year bring fresh starts, new dreams and new ways of fulfilling them, and joy and satisfaction all around. Have a great day and a wonderful year ahead!

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