Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bombay Time - Thrity Umrigar

bombay time
thrity umrigar
c. 2001
271 pages
completed 8/14/2011

read for: south asian challenge and TBR challenge

*may contain spoilers*

Bombay is awake.

Mehernosh Kanga, son of prominent Parsi lawyer Jimmy Kanga, is getting married today. Mehernosh has recently graduated from Oxford with his own law degree, but instead of choosing to practice in England or being lured away by the glamour of America, he has chosen to return to the city of his birth and join his father's firm in Bombay. The wedding of Mehernosh acts as an excuse for the residents of Wadia Baug, Jimmy and Zarin Kanga's own home, to gather and reflect on their lives together: the disintegrating marriage of Rusi and Coombi, the tragic love stories of Soli and Tehmi, the joy the group finds in their friendships with one another, and their ever changing relationship with the city of Bombay.

This was a surprisingly quick read about the lives of a particular Parsi community living in Bombay. The Parsis are an ethnic minority in India, a people descended from Persian immigrants who fled Muslim persecution during the 10th century. Much of their culture and how it differs from ethnic Indians, specifically their Zoroastrian religion, adds to their stories, their relationships with each other, and even more their relationship with Bombay. That being said, Parsi culture and religion was well integrated into the story without becoming overwhelmingly expository.

While certain characters are mentioned and seen throughout the entire book, each chapter is seen through the eyes of someone different. Each character gets their own story told, their triumphs and losses, how they became the men and women they are today. This is both good and bad; it's good in that each character has their own unique story to tell and it's good to see how the others fit into their story, but also bad because, for example, I really didn't like Coombi and didn't want to hear her story. Thankfully she was the only character I really didn't like. I had some issues with Tehmi, too, but that was a little different. While I liked the character of Tehmi, I didn't like how her story turned out. Every other character seemed so deeply rooted in reality that her breath problem after the death of Cyrus seemed out of place. It was too bizarre.

There wasn't too much overt description of the city of Bombay, no paragraphs of imagery describing streets and buildings, and yet Bombay itself became almost a character in its own right. Bombay changed with the times just as Rusi or Soli or Dosamai did, and its specific role in history had just as strong an effect on certain people as their neighbors. These stories might have turned out quite differently had they not occurred in Bombay.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Music Mix Friday...ABBA "Waterloo"

Today I took my last final for my last class of my last quarter of college (yea for me!) That class was on the French Revolution and Napoleonic years. I don't really know any songs about the French Revolution, so Napoleon it is! I figured this song was appropriate (or insensitive, depending on your love for Napoleon...).

Does anyone else feel the ABBA women seem awkwardly stiff? The dudes are totally getting into it in comparison. Also, I don't think ABBA quite understood what happened to Napoleon at Waterloo...

I Will Repay - Baroness Emmuska Orczy

i will repay
baroness emmuska orczy
c. 1906
307 pages
completed 8/9/2011

read for: historical fiction challenge, TBR challenge, and scarlet pimpernel series

*may contain spoilers*

"Coward! Coward! Coward!"

In 1793, during the height of the French Revolution, Juliet Marney finds herself rescued from the Parisian sans-culottes by Paul Déroulède, a prominent figure in the National Convention. Déroulède is a passionate public speaker and is beloved by the people of Paris as a favorite of the recently martyred Marat and a staunch republican, someone who understands and speaks for the sans-culottes. Juliet and Déroulède continue to live together after her rescue, but soon realize that neither is exactly what they seem and could either be each other's salvation or damnation.

So, this is a Scarlet Pimpernel novel, but did you notice my complete lack of mention of the Pimpernel? Yeah, that was pointed. The Pimpernel is hardly in it at all. Yes, there is a daring rescue attempt by the end, and yes, you do eventually realize (or guess way in advance) that another minor though pivotal character from earlier in the novel was Sir Percy in disguise, but really this is not his story the way The Scarlet Pimpernel or Sir Percy Leads the Band are. This is very definitely the story of Juliet and Déroulède. I can see that some readers would be irritated by that, but I didn't mind it. I was definitively wrapped up in the story of Juliet and Déroulède, not to mention I just love reading about the French Revolution. But for others, the lack of Pimpernel could be a strong deterrent.

Orczy has an interesting voice as an author. I'm not sure how much of that comes from the time period she was writing in (1900s) or the subject matter, but she writes in an impassioned voice that's unusual in more modern works. It almost felt like she had written a speech (a really, really long speech) rather than a novel. In fact, I actually found that silently reading did a disservice to the prose and ended up reading most of it out loud. I realize that's super a little weird, and thankfully no one else was in the house, but it just seemed to sound better out loud. There are a lot of exclamation marks and bemoaning the fate of France at the hands of the sans-culottes.

I did have some issues with this particular edition (of course, I've since returned it to the library and so can't tell you which edition). There seemed to be quite a few typos. I mean, not on every page of anything, but enough so that I felt it to be distracting (especially while being a dork and reading out loud).

I just finished my very last college course (the final was literally this morning) which was on the French Revolution and it honestly made it so much more enjoyable to read this. It was like a supplement to the course, being able to read the story but pick out the events and figures that we'd been studying in class. I find it best to read historical fiction like this when I really feel like I know the basics of the period.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

The White Queen - Philippa Gregory

the white queen
philippa gregory
c. 2009
445 pages
completed 8/3/2011

read for: historical fiction challenge and read from my shelves challenge

*may contain spoilers*

In the darkness of the forest the young knight could hear the splashing of the fountain long before he could see the glimmer of moonlight reflected on the still surface.

When she walked with two sons to the crossroads to wait for the king, Elizabeth Woodville, a widow at age 27, only planned to ask for her dead husband's lands back. She didn't intend to fall in love and become Queen of England. Despite the rise in prominence and power her new position brings to her family, it also brings political struggles and death. Elizabeth makes instant enemies in those who don't like her influence over the king. Not to mention, the country is far from stable as cousins fight each other, each with a claim to the throne.

I've read all of Gregory's Tudor novels, but this is the first of her new series about the Cousin's War (more widely known as the War of the Roses). I think the third in the series comes out later this year and with (maybe?) a fourth one still to come. For anyone who keeps up with me and is familiar with this series, you can probably guess that it makes me crazy that the series' are not written in chronological order. So I try to look at them as stand-alone novels, and for the most part they can be. This book ends with a slight cliffhanger that hopefully gets picked up in a later novel, but otherwise they can be fairly solitary.

The last two Philippa Gregory books I read were split into three narratives, but this one reverts back to having only one. To be honest, I think this books could have benefited from having other narrators along with Elizabeth. Possibly someone like Elizabeth's brother Anthony or something like that (though I realize Anthony would prove to be a problem as a narrator 100 pages or so before the end of the novel)? My reason for this is that there's a lot of time when Elizabeth's not really doing anything, but there's so much going on politically and militarily. As a reader, I felt those episodes would have benefited from a more first hand account. There was just so much action that Elizabeth wasn't privy to that I felt her lone narration did a bit of disservice to the whole story. It could get a little boring with Elizabeth stuck in sanctuary just hearing about the battles. Not to mention, I honestly found the character of Elizabeth a little...I'm not sure, but I wasn't wild about her. She was a little too ambitious at the risk of her family, a little too calculating. Sadly much of her calculations didn't pan out the way she wanted.

One thing I was genuinely happy about was the relationship between Elizabeth and Edward. So often queens in these stories are so very unhappily married, and it's that unhappiness that adds weight and strength to part of their character. So many royal marriages are just horrible and so depressing to read about, which made the genuine love and devotion shown between Edward and Elizabeth incredibly refreshing. In fact, seeing as Elizabeth herself was not what was really drawing me into the story, upon the death of Edward and therefore their relationship I lost a lot of momentum in reading (the first 300 pages were read in three or four days and then the last 100 pages took me a few weeks). Their relationship was definitely uncommon. Politically, it made much more sense for Edward to marry a European princess, someone who could solidify his position as king. And with another royal family behind his children, I feel the little princes would have had a much stronger chance of surviving his death. Of course this is nothing but speculation...

Speaking of relationships, while I wasn't always wild about Elizabeth herself, I did greatly enjoy her family. Again, sometimes in historical fiction specifically about royalty, families don't act the way normal families do (being as they're not normal families). And that's definitely seen in the tenuous relationships between Edward and his brothers George and Richard. But Elizabeth and her family actually loved and supported each other. I loved her mother and I especially loved her brother Anthony. And I was glad we didn't spend too much time with her children other than her daughter (also named Elizabeth). I think it would have been too horrible to get attached to her sons.

I do have to point out that I could have done without the supernatural elements. I understand the reasons for adding them, that Elizabeth's mother was arrested (though acquitted) for witchcraft and that the women of the family claimed to be descendants of Melusina the water goddess, but I found they detracted from the book. I think I could have gotten behind Jaquetta and Elizabeth practicing witchcraft a little more if the results were more ambivalent, but I didn't like the blatant use of magic.

I think this was definitely a good start to a new series. Gregory does a good job of taking historical questions (such as the mystery of the princes in the tower) and creating very plausible answers for them. Of course we don't know what really happened, but the way the answers are presented make for a good argument or at least an interesting possibility. I'm looking forward to continuing the series with The Red Queen.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Theft: a Love Story - Peter Carey

theft: a love story
peter carey
c.  2006
269 pages (102 pages read)
stopped reading 6/28/2011

read for: i want more challenge

*may contain spoilers*

I don't know if my story is grand enough to be a tragedy, although a lot of shitty stuff did happen.

Michael Boone, known affectionately as Butcher Bones by his brother Hugh, used to be a famous artist in Sydney, Australia. Now, however, after losing his wife and his son and much of his work in a nasty divorce, he's not much more than a broke, drunk has-been. Forced to leave Sydney, Boone and his brother take up residence as caretakers for an old patron's country property. Their lives are quiet until they meet Marlene, a women who lets them know their neighbor is the owner of a priceless painting, a missing Liebovitz. Just days later, the painting goes missing and, being one of the only people to know of its existence and whereabouts, Boone is accused.

And...that's as far as I got. So if this book goes on to be about something else, I'm sorry for misinforming you.

There's nothing overtly wrong with this book. I'm not throwing it down in disgust or anything. In fact, a part of me that vividly remembers how much I loved Oscar and Lucinda thinks maybe I put it down too soon. I haven't managed to take it back to the library yet, even though I stopped reading over a month ago and am even currently sitting in the UW Suzzello Library Cafe. I just got confused. There's some stuff that I don't understand and after 100 pages I'm not invested enough to see if continuing on will clear anything up. So I put it down. But I'm still not sure...we'll see...

1/5 unless I pick it up again.

Monday, August 1, 2011

To be read...

Break the Skin - Lee Martin
The Leavenworth Case - Anna Katherine Green
A Matter of Class - Mary Balogh
Ellis Island - Kate Kerrigan
The Little Stranger - Sarah Stranger
The Heretic's Wife - Brenda Rickman Vantrease
The Killings at Badger's Drift - Caroline Graham (1st in a series)

6 new books and 1 new series. Can you tell I engaged in next to no blogger activity this month?

By the end of August...

Okay, yes, as you may have noticed from the fact that I've not posted since July 3, July turned into the month where I didn't read a single book. I've got maybe 30 pages left of The White Queen which I've been reading since the last day of June, and I've started The Liar's Club, I Will Repay, and Bombay Time, but haven't really gotten more than about 25 pages into any of them. I actually don't like to read more than one book at a time (unless I've got school books or a REALLY big book that I can only read in small increments) which I think is why I haven't really gotten into those three. I'm dragging my feet horribly on The White Queen  and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure why. I read the first 300 pages in incredibly good time (for me) but then something happened and I can't really bring myself to read more than a few pages at a time. It's possible that my enjoyment changed after a certain character died (is it really a spoiler if it's history?), but I'm not sure. Anyway. Hopefully I can force myself to finish it tomorrow and move on.

To be Read by the End of August
The White Queen - Philippa Gregory
I Will Repay - Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Bombay Time - Thrity Umrigar
Dragonwyck - Anya Seton
Amsterdam - Ian McEwan

I was asked after I posted my last monthly goal if I ever finish these monthly lists, and the answer is almost always no. But I think that's okay. I may not always (or ever) complete things, but at least I have goals. :)