Saturday, February 28, 2015

Non-Fictional Reads in February

Besides Mysteries, I also read a couple of non-fictional books in February:

BHAGAT SINGH: LIBERATION'S BLAZING STAR by P.M.S. GREWAL (2007)



The author, P.M.S Grewal is Secretary, Delhi State Committee of the CPI (M), writes a thought-provoking introduction to his assessment of Indian Revolutionary Bhagat Singh but adds nothing new to the already existing scholarship on Bhagat Singh.

First Line: Bhagat Singh, like all individuals, was a product of his times.

Publication Details: ND: LeftWord, 2007
First Published: 2007
Pages: 104
Source: Bought @WBF, Delhi in 2010
Other books read of the same author: None

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TERRORISM, INSURGENCY AND INDIAN-ENGLISH LITERATURE 1830-1947 
by ALEX TICKELL (2012)



Alex Tickell, lecturer in English at the Open University, UK, looks at certain flash-point situations during the British Raj: - The 'Black Hole' of Calcutta, the 1857 revolt, the assassination of Curzon Wyllie by Indian Revolutionary Madan Lal Dhingra in London, the Jallianwallah massacre, the dialogue between Gandhi and the revolutionaries - and discusses the impact on not only Indo-British relations but also on the literature of its time. Though a study of extensive scholarship, Tickell's book doesn't use convoluted arguments couched in high-sounding words but uses simple and effective language which make this book an easy and interesting read.

My favourite part of the book was however an extract from Veer Savarkar's book on the 1857 revolt:

Someone had asked the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah 'Zafar':

Dumdumaymen dam nahin ab khair mango jaan ki
Ai Zafar thandi ho gayi ab shamsheer Hindustan ki.

['Now that with every passing moment, you are becoming weaker, pray for your life (to the English): for, Oh! Emperor, the sword of India is now broken forever!']

To which the emperor replied:

Ghazion mein bhu rahegi jab talak imaan ki
Tabto London tak chalegi tegh Hindustan ki.

['As long as there remains the least trace of love of faith in the hearts of our heroes, so long, the sword of Hindustan shall be sharp, and one day shall flash even at the gates of London']

I'll also remember this book for another reason: I was reading this book in the Metro and a co-passenger glancing at the title of the book gave me a hard, searching look. It was then that it struck me that carrying books with the word Terrorism in the title can give rise to suspicious scrutiny nowadays.

*

First Line: By the night of 19 June 1756, the illusion of British mercantile authority in Calcutta, the East India Company's great trading centre in Bengal, had started to falter.

Publication Details: London & NY: Routledge, 2012
First Published: 2012
Pages: xiv + 273
Source: CRL: 0111944:g (Y:45) Q2
Other books read of the same author: None

Friday, February 27, 2015

Forgotten Mysteries in February

The mysteries read in the month of February:


THE MOTOR RALLY MYSTERY by  JOHN RHODE (1933)



Rhode's novel is centered around the great annual motor rally at Torquay. Robert Weldon takes part in the rally hoping to win a prize driving his 20 h.p. Armstrong Siddeley Saloon. Accompanied by Richard Gateman as the second driver and Harold Merefield as the map reader, he begins well. But on the second day, their luck turns. First they are waylaid by a fog and then in the dead of the night they come across another car from the rally which has met with an accident, killing both the driver and the man accompanying him. The coroner returns a verdict of death due to accident (and the coroner inquest is narrated in the most humorous manner) but then an astonishing fact comes to light and it is left to Dr. Priestly who is the employer of Merefield to solve the case. I wasn't too impressed by the one book of Rhode that I had read prior to this but this one I really liked and hope to read more of him.

First Line: The British Motor Car Rally of that year, organised by the Royal Automobile Club, was generally voted to have been a huge success.

Alternate Title: Dr. Priestly lays a Trap


Publication Details: London & Glasgow: Collins, 1934
First Published: 1933
Pages: 252
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: Night Exercise





MURDER AT THE BLACK CROOK by CECILE HULSE MATSCHAT (1943)



Cecile Hulse Matschat (1895-1976) was an American botanist and geographer who published a number of books on gardens, rivers, and the Okefenokee Swamp. In addition, she also published two books related to mystery and murder, both of which featured the Ramsays: Andrea and David. In this, their second adventure, the Ramsays are asked by the Military Intelligence to pose as guests in the house of Robert Brook, an oil magnate whose oil is being siphoned off to help the Axis in their war effort. The Ramsays go to Brook's plantation house, Black Crook, and meet a motley crew of family members, friends, and staff. The house is putting up a play The Black Crook and during the rehearsals a man is grievously injured and dies soon afterwards. The Ramsays find themselves caught in family politics as latent tensions come to the fore. Could the killing be related to the smuggling of oil? I found this novel to be okay. None of the characters except for the murderer and the murdered man really came to life.

First Line: David Ramsay sat at his desk in the New Orleans office of the Department of Government Housing.

Publication Details: London: Cassell & Company, 1945
First Published: 1943
Pages: 170
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: None

*

THE OVAL TABLE by J. JEFFERSON FARJEON (1946)



J. Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1955) was a British writer of crime and mystery. Belonging to a family of artists and authors, Farjeon was himself a prolific writer who published more than fifty novels and plays in his lifetime.

Leonard Boyd arrives from Australia with the idea of meeting a certain Mr. John Coleby. However, as he descends from the London train, he seems to be a wee bit reluctant to meet Coleby, spending his time drinking tea at the station. While at the tea room, he happens to see a few other people: a red-faced heavy set man; a human rat; a young couple. Finally as he makes his way towards Coleby's house, he is almost run down by a speeding bike. When he reaches Leak Hall, the home of Coleby, he finds that the latter is hosting a dinner party and the people he had seen at the station are all guests at the party besides a few more. As one of the guests hasn't turned up, Coleby invites Boyd to take his place - there have to be thirteen at dinner, you see.

At the oval table were thirteen little skulls mounted on slender ebony pedestals holding the thirteen name-cards in their teeth. These skulls gave an unpleasantly symbolic character to the white lilies in the tall silver vase.

The guests are naturally uncomfortable and their discomfort increases as time passes and Coleby declares that he has received anonymous letters threatening to kill him. So he has invited all these people who would gladly kill him and challenges them to carry out the threat.

The cloistered community, the claustrophobia, the paranoia... all combine together to create a novel where the atmosphere is the king. I definitely want to read more of this author.

First Line: Leonard Boyd was one of the thirteen people who sat round John Coleby's dining-table at the last meal he ever ate.

Publication Details: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1946
First Published: 1946
Pages: 192
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: None

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COUNTERSTROKE by ANDREW GARVE (1978)



Andrew Garve is one of the pseudonyms of English journalist and writer Paul Winterton (1908-2001).

Robert Farran is a troubled man. The once popular actor is on the downslide after the death of his wife and his drinking problem. When Sally Morland, the wife of a popular politician is kidnapped and the kidnappers demand the release of Tom Lacey, one of their accomplices caught in an earlier raid, Farran sees a way out. He offers to impersonate Lacey in order to get both the ransom offered by Sally's husband as well as the chance to show the world his acting skills.

This novel begins well and the tension is well-maintained as Farran prepares to become Lacey. However, mid-way through the book, the writer decides to put in a romantic angle and introduces a trope which I have always found mightily irritating with the result that the book loses its steam and instead of the tension becoming unbearable, Farran's act to hoodwink the kidnappers becomes almost laughable.


First Line: The night the news broke out about Sally Morland I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

Publication Details London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1978
First Published: 1978
Pages: 182
Source: Library
Other books read of the same author: None

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Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reading Challenges: Gentle Spectrums and Ethereal

This year I signed up for a new mystery challenge: My Kind of Mystery and realised to my great delight that the host, Carolyn, has two other exciting challenges too.



  The Gentle Spectrums 2015 Challenge has two parts: In the first we read books which have colours in their titles and in the second we read books that have certain subjects in their titles. I am signing up for both the parts though in the 'limitless pallet' I limit myself to  any 10 colours.

If you are interested, you can find the details over here.


The other challenge, Ethereal 2015, involves the reading of anything that belongs to the following categories:

 ~ Spiritual, mystical, paranormal:  non-fiction, fictional, religious.
~ Serious studies:  dreams, near-death experiences, miracles, astrology.
~ Novels with clergy:  Sister Carol Anne O’Marie, Caroline Roe, Margaret Frazer.
~ Books with animals talking / doing more than what society credits them.
~ Fantasy is certainly otherworldly, as well as witches and fairies.

I am signing up for the Intuition level for this one which means I'll be reading 5-10 books.

Details can be found over here.

There are prizes and other activities for all three challenges as well as bubbling enthusiasm. Have a look and join too.

Read Scotland 2015

After successfully completing the Read Scotland Challenge 2014 hosted @ Peggy Ann's Post, I am signing up for the 2015 version of the same.



My level remains the same: Just a Keek which means I'll be reading 1-4 books for this challenge. Details can be found over here.

Friday, January 30, 2015

January 2015 Reads

Right now I am juggling too many things and so am resorting to a monthly reading review. 

Individual and Society was my first read. Here are the other books read this month:

THE TWO SISTERS by H.E. Bates (1926)



The first novel of British author H.E. Bates chronicles the life of Jenny Lee who lives with her father and three siblings - Jim, Luke, and Tessie - in an isolated farmhouse. Attached to her mother who dies when Jenny is just in her teens, Jenny finds herself becoming increasingly lonely. A sensitive stranger, Michael Winter, enters her life but Tessie too falls in love with him. Neither the characters nor the plot really held my interest.

First Line: Running through these two Midland towns, Harlington and Bromsweald, some outskirting streets of which mingle with each other on a hill between the boughs of adjacent trees, is a road that lies white and comparatively empty from Sunday to Thursday.

Publication Details: London: Panther, 1958
First Published: 1926
Pages: 192
Source: H.M.L [F.B.A 74]

*

INSIDE INDIA by Halide Edib (1937)



Halide Edib was a Turkish nationalist (she was at one time a comrade of Kemal Ataturk), and a novelist. In 1935, she visited India to deliver a number of lectures at the Jamia Millia Islamia. Finding India 'to be nearer to my soul-climate than any other country not my own', she wrote this book. Starting from Bombay (now Mumbai) she travels through the length and breadth of the country: Delhi, Lahore, Peshawar, Hyderabad, Lucknow; meets people about whom we read only in our history books: Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Dr. A. Ansari, Dr. Zakir Husein, Kamla Devi Chattopadhya, and of course Gandhi. Throughout her journey, she observes the changing social milieu of India especially as it pertains to the zenana. 

A few factual inaccuracies aside (the main temple in Varanasi is devoted to Lord Shiv rather then to Lord Vishnu as the author states), this is an engrossing telling of a nation in transition. Professor Mushirul Hasan provides a lengthy introduction to the volume detailing Turkey's history and the importance of Edib. The only quibble that I have with the book is the inclusion of a piece on Gandhi by the author published in another book. As the unedited version of the same thing is in this book, I fail to understand the reason for its inclusion. With a considerable part of the book already devoted to Gandhi this is nothing but an overkill. However, overall this is a book anybody interested in India's past should read.

First Line: Tales had three ways of beginning in my country....
Publication Details: ND: OUP, 2002
First Published: 1937
Pages: lxxix + 272
Source: C.L [954.0309 E 41 I]

*


SANSMRITIYAN by Shiv Verma (1969)




Another book which relates to India's past. The author Shiv Verma was a comrade of Bhagat Singh and was sentenced to Life Imprisonment in the 1929 Lahore Conspiracy Case. Reading his reminiscences regarding Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Yatindranath Das, Bhagwati Charan Vohra, Mahavir Singh...who had all sacrificed their lives so that India could be free is a moving experience. The best part of the book is that he doesn't present these legendary figures as super humans but rather as the young men they were with all the frailties and heroism of youth. They fought, monkeyed around, discussed books and ideas, took care of each other, went without food, died for their convictions. I think it was in 2002 that I read this book for the first time and I simply did not want it to end. Reading it now after a gap of a few years, I had the same feeling. I just wanted it to go on and on...

First Line: Kuchh log zindagi mein bagair bulaye apne aap aa jaate hain aur phir sari umr kabhi peechha nahin chhodte.
Publication Details: Delhi: Lok Prakashan Grih, 2002
First Published: 1969
Pages: 167
Trivia: Awarded the Soviet Land Nehru Puruskar
Source: Bought @ WBF 2006.

*

AUTHORISED MURDER by Issac Asimov (1976)



For a long time, I knew Issac Asimov only as a writer of sci-fi. It is only when I started blogging that I came to know that he had also written mysteries. My first mystery read of the year has turned out to be Asimov's Authorised Murder. Dedicated to his friend, Harlan Ellison - whose brightness of personality is exceeded only by his height of talent - the book details a murder that takes place during a book convention. The protagonist Darius Just (modelled on Ellison) investigates the murder of his one-time protege, Giles Devore. The mystery is good enough but it is the humour in the book that is its mainstay. The footnotes between Just and Asimov (who appears as a character in the book) had me giggling. Also there is a debate between Asimov, Carl Sagan, Charles Berlitz, and Uri Geller in the book and since I remember Sagan from his T.V. series Cosmos (telecast in India many years ago) and read Berlitz just last year, it was like meeting old friends. If you like mysteries with a good dose of humour (albeit a little risque) than this is the book for you. 

First Line: Trace back the violent death of a friend and see how it happened.
Alternate Title: Murder at the ABA


Publication Details: London: Granada, 1979
First Published: 1976
Pages: 240

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

First Read of 2015: The Individual and Society

I have started 2015 with an anthology The Individual and Society. Divided into five parts: Caste/ Class; Gender; Race; Violence and War; and Living in a Globalized World, this has some wonderful pieces on all these important issues. While many of the writers were familiar to me, I have also discovered new voices like Maya Angelou, Omprakash Valmiki, Jamaica Kincaid, and Roger Mais. Reading Manto's The Dog of Tetwal and Amitav Ghosh's The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi was a deeply moving experience.



I am happy with this book (though a bit unimpressed by all the typos - all the more surprising since it is a prescribed text in an Indian University) and wondering what else will I read in 2015.

First Line: Jotirao Phule (1827-90), the son of a mali, completed his primary education in 1838.
Title: The Individual and Society
Editor: Vinay Sood, Indira Prasad et al.
Publishing Detail: ND: Pearson, 2005
First Published: 2005
Pages: 251
Source: Borrowed from CL [820-8 S62I]

Reading Through Time: Historical Fiction Challenge

Narratives of the past interest me tremendously and so I am signing up for the Reading Through Time: Historical Fiction Challenge, hosted by A Bookish Girl. 





Signing up for the Anthony Doerr level which means I'll be reading 5 books for the challenge. 
Details and Sign-up here.