The first book in the Earth’s Children series is the Clan of the Cave Bear. I first came across this through a friend’s review on goodreads and had been in a quest to find it ever since. The appeal here was this is a historical fiction based on the first interactions between the modern humans and the Neanderthals, and considering we at present don’t know the past…the mystery was hard to pass this off my TBR list. And find it I did at the cafeteria library where I work along with the last book of the series.
Ayla is a modern human who loses her parents and clan to a nasty earthquake and is found almost dead by a clan of Neanderthals who are in search of a new home as well. The clan’s medicine woman and Mogur take an instant liking to Ayla and believe that she brings with her the protection of the spirits. The rest of the story traces Ayla’s adoption into the clan, her interactions/conflicts with the clan.
As obvious I took an instant liking to Ayla, Uba the medicine-woman and the gruff Mogur. While Iza and the Mogur Creb display a sense of understanding way beyond that of their clan, their knowledge and their instincts to adopt Ayla come across as remarkable. I thought it even built a strong case in favor of the Neanderthals who to my knowledge are known to be rough and not as adaptable as the modern humans. The only other exception in this book is Brun, the head of the clan and Iza & Creb’s brother. While he is wary of Ayla, he does go out of his way to ensure that she is accepted into the clan. His gruff and often aloof nature does seem to betray a more softer and wiser side that is rarely seen.
For a prehistoric fiction, this appears to be well-researched and well-thought out plot which proceeds at a steady pace. My only grouse was that at times the author digressed and became way too descriptive either with the settings or the domestic activities that I wondered if the author was desperate to showcase this as a romantic fiction. The book ran beyond 200 pages and that was reason enough that I didn’t bother pursuing the rest of the series as aggressively as I would’ve usually done. Otherwise, its beautifully written and seems to be one of a kind fiction on a branch of humans that are now deemed extinct.
I’ve now surrounded myself with books new and old, read and unread. As I took stock of my bookshelf, I was happy to find that my collection has accumulated quite a bit. I bought a few e-books as well and although I’m still debating what device to use, I’m just savoring the fact that I have all these new titles waiting to be read.
Moving on to my March readings although it is well into June… I did manage to get through quite a few books and this might be because of the extended winter that managed to shut us at home for weekends together.
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
The first book of March was a pleasant romantic comedy pseudo fiction by probably the most notorious of all Mitfords, Nancy.
It was such an enjoyable read that I was almost tempted to buy “Love in a Cold Climate”. Perhaps not yet! This piece of fiction is about an upper class English family right before the advent of WWII. The Radlett family is the main focus and their personalities are loosely based on those of the Mitford family, especially Linda Radlett closely resembling Nancy Mitford. The story is narrated by Fanny, Linda’s cousin, who watches Linda’s charm and its effect on others from the sidelines but as time progresses, takes on the lead role herself. It is a story of lost love and happily ever-afters gone bad.
One only has to look into the author Nancy Mitford’s life to know what this story is about. Eldest of the notorious Mitford girls, Nancy was known for ruling the London social scene and her upper-class English charm. A happy marriage is probably the only thing that Nancy couldn’t get as seen from her rocky affairs and failed marriages. And this aspect forms the crux of this light fiction…it is a light fiction with a deeper more somber undertones. Definitely well worth a read!
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Stratchey
Yet another delightful find from Vipula and Danielle’s blogs was “Cheerful Weather for the Wedding“. While reviews on other sites such as goodreads and amazon were lukewarm, these 2 blogs highlighted that one reader’s favorite needn’t necessarily be favored by another. This book also became my first Persephone Book, and I was so thrilled at starting my own Persephone collection much to Raks’ amusement.
The highlights of this book is that the scene is established right from page 1, the characters are put in place and the story starts with the protagonist’s wedding day, at the Thatcham House. It takes awhile to understand the undercurrents of emotions that pass through the Thatcham house and as you begin to realize that nothing is as it seems the story ends leaving me as a reader wondering if there could’ve been more. Lowlights is that it does have an air of incompleteness which might’ve have contributed to the lukewarm response it currently receives. Its a quick read for sure!
The Sea by John Banville
My first impressions of the cover was that the content might be poetic than a simple story but as I started reading, my impressions flickered and morphed until I managed to arrive at an expression of bemused surprise. Max Morden, a retired art historian, ventures on a trip down his memory lane following his wife’s death. He returns to the cottage known as “The Cedars” in the fictional sea-side town called Ballyless. As for his memory trip, it varies between 2 paths – his interactions with the Grace family during his childhood and the final days before his wife’s death.
In reality, the book is sad and rather depressing, that no amount of penmanship can revive a sense of joy or even a fleeting moment of happiness. It is a book you wouldn’t ideally read even if you’ve lost a loved one because Max’s relation with his wife takes on an angle of awkwardness making it sound as if they didn’t love each other in the end, and that was something I couldn’t digest!
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
I discovered Isabel Allende’s work through Eva’s posts and was lucky to find “The House of the Spirits” at NPL. Released in 1982, this is Allende’s debut novel inspired by her final farewell letter to her dying grand-pa. The story centers around the de Valle family, focusing on Rosa and Clara de Valle who are the eldest and youngest daughters of the de Valle clan head. Rosa’s untimely death throws a shadow over her fiance Esteban Trueba and her youngest sister Clara so much so that fate i.e. Clara decides that she will marry Esteban. From then on the story chronicles their lives and that of their only daughter & grand-daughter (Blanca & Alba). Woven into their lives are also some of the key post-colonial events in Chile.
The tale flips back and forth between Esteban’s narration and the general description. Though this story is rich in magical realism, it is everything except a fairytale…it is a mixture of trials and tribulations, of despair and hope. It also highlights the never-ending conflict between the Truebas and the Garcias and these conflicts come to torment Esteban, until his death. By page 50, I kept wondering if the story would ever end and sheer persistence helped me get through this otherwise heavy tome. The book is definitely worth a read if you are interested in stories with magical realism or interested in Chilean historical fiction.
Marilyn Wood’s Wonderful Weekends
This closed my March reading marathon and although it wasn’t a fiction, it was a good read in the sense, I got to mark down a few more places that Raks and I could potentially visit in and around NJ. I’m quite not sure but I believe the edition that I found was a 1984 edition detailing restaurants and activities that were in vogue that decade. And so it became a quick read and not as enjoyable as I hoped.
My first review books from LibraryThing was an unedited version of Anna Badkhen’s latest work “The World is a Carpet – Four Seasons in an Afghan Village“. It chronicles Anna’s observations on the day-to-day activities of the residents of Oqa, a non-descript village that rests forlorn at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains. Oqa doesn’t exist on google maps, has no known or proper connectivity to the rest of the civilization, and its inhabitants survive mostly on opium.
Of the many people Anna comes into contact with, there is one family that came across as most endearing and that is Baba Nazar and his family which includes wife Boston, son Amanullah and daughter-in-law Thawra. The book begins really at the beginning…that of Thawra weaving a carpet. As Baba Nazar explains, the defining features of the carpet are neither the colors nor the patterns but the thickness, the number of knots and most importantly, the weaver’s mistakes that not only bring into existence an extra petal or anomaly in pattern but also tells the tale of the weaver. Interspersed into the narration are sketches/drawings of the people and their expressions…so thoughtful yet lost.
I first read about Afghanistan as part of the history lessons at school, where we were taught nothing but the greatness of the Kushan Empire and their famous emperor Kanishka in rather generic terms. My history textbooks painted a rich, beautiful picture of Afghanistan, the Bactria and Baluchistan, of the trading on the grand silk road while skipping over most of the bloodshed. My 2nd expose of this country was through Victoria Finlay’s vivid description of the Ultramarine mines in the interiors of Afghanistan. While it didn’t paint a pretty picture, it did give a glimpse of the heritage that was fast fading. And now Anna Badkhen’s book completed my education on Afghanistan, reminding me that there are other countries out there…original cradles of civilization that are stuck in so similar a situation.
I’m not sure how many of you know this author/journalist from her prior works but here’s a brief intro – Anna Badkhen’s prior publications include Peace Meals: Candy-Wrapped Kalashnikovs and Other War Stories and Waiting for the Taliban. Her coverage of civilians in war zones was acclaimed by many and has appeared in many notable publications. And true to her profession and subject at heart, this book highlights hot topics such as the never-ending wars, the rising insurgency and the growing gap between rich and poor at many levels and serves as a grim reminder of the inexplicable fate of humanity if these issues aren’t given their due. The sadness and the beauty of human life are so richly and intricately woven into a complex pattern that it was tough to identify where one knot ended and the other began! Watch out for this book in June 2013, if you are looking to read up more on the conditions in a war-torn Afghanistan.
February is the shortest month of the year and quite so made for the time when I read the least. I could only get through 3 books-
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
Snuff is the latest title in the Watch series, Discworld. Sam Vimes and his family are vacationing at the Ramtops village, at Sybil’s ancestral home. On what happens to a normal evening jaunt, Vimes unwillingly gets caught up in the local politics not to mention a goblin murder. His investigations lead him deeper into the local aristocracy and its dealings with the goblins, and Vimes being the noble person he is, can’t resist solving a case even on the vacation. Unlike some of the other books where other members of the Watch get involved, this purely focuses on Vimes. An altogether enjoyable read although it seems to be lacking a tiny bit of humor!
The Wide-Eyed Wanderers by Richard and Amanda Ligato
I have said all there is to say about this title here.
Jaws by Peter Benchley
The book was an interesting read, probably more interesting than the movie. Link to the Post.
I loved blogging ever since I discovered it, but over time the long hours at work and then the need to not look at the laptop afterwards just reduced the frequency. Not sure how many people in the blogosphere are from IT and face this situation! I’ve thought a bit and decided to write brief summaries of all books by month unless I specifically liked a book very much and have a lot more to say.
My reading this January was pretty diverse with books ranging from historical fiction, fantasy fiction to non-fiction books. I hope this trend continues as I’ve realized that too much of a single genre could affect my interest and reading speed.
Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay
I found this book on Amazon while looking up on readings related to color and history of color. This one was a interesting find in the sense, I wanted to understand colors from an art perspective but really ended up consuming massive amounts of interesting facts & history of all the key colors i.e. black, brown, white, violet, red, yellow, blue, green and indigo. The author Victoria Finlay, travels across the globe in a kind of quest to discover the origin of every shade of a color. For instance, did you know that one of the red dyes was produced by crushing cochineal insects that are commonly found on prickly pears in mexico? Or that Indigo cultivation in India started what is now known as the Indigo wars in West Bengal, which served as a pre cursor to the First war of Indian Independence in 1857? And there are many more such fascinating facts in the book. As a reader, I’ve come to appreciate colors a lot more than before and feel a little more knowledgeable than before for sure!
The Ugly Duckling by A A Milne
This was a re-read as I simply couldn’t resist reading the play out aloud to Raks who was patient enough to listen. Here’s the older post on this play.
Arabic Short Stories by Denys-Johnson Davies
This is probably one book for which I have no words or rather nothing much to say. This compilation features stories from some of the best and not so well known authors from the Middle East ranging from countries like Lebanon, UAE and Iran. Its worth noting that the authors all hail from lower to middle income groups, often self-taught with recognition coming at a very late age. The blurb kind of misled me in picking this book because, in reality, the tales are anything but magical. Each story is a grim reminder of the complexity of human nature and the results that are wrought from this complexity. Most often the tales end abruptly leaving a lot to the readers imagination. Maybe because of this or maybe not…I tried but failed to enjoy the book. This definitely marks the least favorite book of this year.
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
I felt that this book represents a paradox in the sense that it is actually an engaging read quite contrary to the ratings it actually received. Narrated by Grace Bradley, an ex-maid at Riverton, it tells the story of the Hartfords – Hannah, Emmeline and David, and their transition from a beautiful rich childhood into a tumultuous and rather dark adulthood. The story also shows the rapid transition of Hannah from a cheerful girl who marries into a banking family to a despondent lonely woman who wants nothing more than to elope with her lover. Her fairy tale ends on a tragic note but the story doesn’t stop there, for Grace has unwittingly intertwined her own life with that of Hannah’s. This beautifully penned piece of fiction with its vivid and surreal description of the Riverton manor did make for an enjoyable read in January.
The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
This piece of historical fiction is narrated for most part by Misha Semyonov, a Russian immigrant to the US. Unknown to his only grand-daughter, Misha and his wife were part of the Russian revolution and in fact, closely connected to the Romanovs than one might imagine. He also was witness to the assassination of the royal family and their whereabouts, and this, he narrates in a series of tapes to his grand-daughter, also hinting in the end to her legacy. The story is woven on the basis of the well known mysteries of the missing bodies of the Tsaverich and his sister, a missing suitcase of jewels now estimated to be worth billions and an account which mentions that the kitchen boy who was at the Ipatieve House with the Tsar and his family was ordered away just hours before the execution. The story starts on a tragic note, setting pace for the tragedy that is yet to come and at the end, left me a little more sympathetic of the Romanovs.
Once Upon a Time by A A Milne
While not exactly short, this play begins with a rather funny incident that starts a war between 2 kingdoms -Euralia and Barodia wherein Hyacinth, the princess of Euralia is left in charge of the kingdom with only Countess Belvane for an advisor. The scheming countess is anything but friendly and soon Hyacinth finding herself friendless summons prince Udo of Araby to support her in securing the throne. Much to the princess’s frustrations, things don’t exactly turn out the way she wants but alls well that ends well right? The play was a tad bit lengthy and often too descriptive when it came to countess Belvane and her schemes making it just a little bit boring. Now I didn’t say it wasn’t enjoyable.
Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook by Terry Pratchett
The recipes are deceptively simple with candid ingredients that are left to the readers’ imagination. I quite enjoyed the 2nd part of the book which was basically’s Nanny Ogg’s advise on etiquette and decorum to the young lads and ladies of the Discworld. She does cover basics on the different species that co-habit the Discworld and other interesting facts on it. The book carries a heavy dose of humor that I’ve come to associate with the Discworld series.