Review: Puccini's Ghosts


Rating:


Lila duCann, an ageing opera singer, has returned home to her little Scottish village to bury her father. Burnhead is the kind of small town with a static and nosy population that Lila is extremely scornful of and has tried to dissociate herself from for most of her adult life. Now, returning home, she finds that her father's death has affected her more that she thought and unbidden memories of her last summer there start coming back to haunt her. The summer that she discovered first love, the summer that changed her life forever, the summer that her family, in order to broaden the operatic horizons of Burnhead, decided to stage an amateur spectacle of Puccini's Princess Turandot. Through Lila's flashbacks and memories we come to be acquainted with her mother Fleur, an ambitious ex-opera singer, her clueless father Raymond, Fleur's brother Uncle George, whom Lila has romanticised and worshipped most of her life and Joe, Uncle George's student, come to sing the principal male lead in Princess Turandot. Gradually, a trajectory unfolds of the tragic, eventful summer and an outcome that will change and shape the rest of her life.

Papaya Pit

Puccini's Ghosts by Morag Joss is touted as psychological suspense a la Ruth Rendell but the events of the summer and the big reveal arent really that dramatic. A frail tension exists in the story only because the protagonist who is an unsophisticated, unloved 15 year old doesnt really understand the undercurrents that mark different events that happen around her. But, we as readers have a pretty good idea of what most of the skeletons-in-closets are going to be and so the overall suspense is pretty much lost.

I was very distracted with the author's use of the first person and third person voice, initially it was used to indicate the present and flashback mode, but these gradually become interchangeable as reality blurs for Lila and this didnt really improve the reading experience for me. The author does succeed in finely bringing out the extreme unhappiness of almost every character involved with Lila. However, the larger drawbacks of Puccini's Ghosts like the absence of an engrossing plot and the presence of mainly unlikeable, unsympathetic characters lead me to give this book 2 swans and a not recommended tag.

'She's My Poo!!'

So, the other day I happened across episodes involving a cup of joe and a purportedly hip, young Bollywood director K - let's call him KJoe for want of a better name.

This was a talk show that I'd heard various (all bad) reviews of. But, you know that they say about curiosity and papayas ... plus KJoe had invited most of the happening and beautiful celebrities of Bollywood and being a closet-celeb-watcher it was inevitable that I would be suckered into it.

The first few episodes were borderline dull, with KJoe setting my teeth on edge with his 'Haayy-lo' greeting to the stars, that is, until I hit upon the mother-lode of episodes.

Before my disbelieveing eyes, KJoe actually introduced an ultra-famous celeb starlet with the words 'The moment I set eyes on her, I knew ... She's my Poo!' .... and delivered with a totally serious, straight face nonetheless. Freaking hilarious!!

After wiping the tears from my eyes, I watched the rest of the interview. The deal here was this - KJoe had invited 2 guests, one was one of his supposed bff's (best friends forever, duh!) and the other was ThePoo!!

Now, KJoe proceeded to fawn all over ThePoo calling her accomplished, beautiful, a star, ad nauseum, and suddenly turns around to his bff and says 'And you've had a couple of flops, right?'. Bff, completely deflated, mutters a 'Yee.. ah' while ThePoo looks on serenely smiling, flipping her hair etc etc Bitch-o-meter alert here!!

While I'm amused, this is still being totally insipid so I stop watching. Maybe I will re-watch on a really, really dull day but I doubt it.

Oh, why no names ? Maybe, I just wanted to call someone poo here (still rofl) ... after all I'm not the first and the name has been immortalised on the silver screen :P

Anyway, looks like this is another talk show involving (in)significant events in the over-exposed lives of celebrities . I may have picked the worst episodes to watch, but since I cant tolerate the director's movies, I cannot be bothered to give his show another chance.

Now that I think of it, two words would aptly replace all of the writing above wrt this show - Ho Hum!!

The year of the couch papaya!

4 years of embarrassment should be enough for any papaya .... I didn't start off as a couch papaya u know! After all, I live in beautiful Utah where a love of the outdoors is almost another religion and where the natives hike, bike, run, (insert any other fatiguing activity here) all through the summer to stay in phenomenal shape for THE winter activity of them all ... skiing. When I first moved here, visions of me skiing elegantly down the slopes, skidding to a halt at the bottom amidst a light shower of snow made me sign up eagerly for my first ski classes. But years of being the kid wailing in the swimming pool, or always placing last in the sports races at school (shudder ... some skins are best left unscratched) .. should have better prepared me for the outcome. I should have realized that a papaya dressed up in layers and layers of clothes resembles a ... *shock*, *horror* ... potato! And, it should have been self-evident that instead of the cool elegance I was trying to achieve, I would be barreling clumsily down the slope screaming in my mind 'Pizza, French friieees .. shoo, kid! NO, Pizza! Pizza!! Pizzzaaaaaaaa ... '. And, that I would be the one at the apres-ski parties with the bared grin assuring people 'Of course, I enjoyed sliding on my bottom all the way down, that's how you learn isnt it?'. But, this year I've had enough. There will be no more self-induced torture!! After all, the couch beckoneth .....

Hyphenated Chinese .... and the real thing!!

Restaurant Review: Hong Kong Tea House & Restaurant
565 W 200 S
Salt Lake City, UT. Ph: (801) 531-7010

Rating
:

The one cuisine which I can never get enough of or even get bored of is Chinese-Indian (the correct term) or Indian-Chinese, as we Indians like to call it. For people critical of it's being termed as a cuisine check out the NY Times article on hyphenated chinese. So, anyway, the tastes of Indian-Chinese (chicken lollipops, chilli-garlic noodles, etc etc slurp!!) can be really mind-blowing, and in India it's even crossed over to become a higly popular street food. I still remember the little push-carts selling gobhi (cauliflower) or chicken manchurian doing brisk business well into the wee hours of the morning. To anyone who hasnt tasted Indian-Chinese and who loves spicy food (and I dont mean spice in a 'curry' way :S), do watch out for it, you wont be disapponted!

You would think the next best thing to hyphenated Chinese would be the real thing but if you live in Salt Lake City, no if you live in Utah, it's unbelievable how the Chinese restaurants can be so blase. I have a general rule-of-thumb when visiting Chinese restaurants - if the sweet and sour chicken is colored poisionous pink avaoid the place like the veritable .... In fact, I think they should make the sweet 'n sour chicken the mandatory widnow display to ward off unsuspecting diners. Of course, I never order this item, but if we are ever in a larger group there will be that one unadventurous soul who will do so. Anyway, the large number of buffets and chain-Chinese restaurants in SLC dont even come close to satisfying any of my cravings for good Chinese, and I do get hit by that particular craving a lot. That is, until some friends (thank you, guys, we're endlessly indebted) introduced us to the Hong Kong Tea House and Restaurant.

Dont be daunted by the humble exterior, the un-prepossessing interior and even the neighborhood this restaurant is in and I can promise you, your stomach will be thanking you once you are done. The hostesses are extremely friendly and the food is priced pretty reasonably. Just about the only disappointing thing is the limited parking :(

So, anyway, onto the real business the food. Perhaps the first thing a newcomer should try is the dim-sum that is served for lunch every day. The dim-sum comes in plates of different sizes - the small/medium and large plate and the specials. The small to large plate range from abt $2.25 to $4.25 per plate and I guess the special is a little more expensive. The quantity in each plate is generally 3 of each item even with the small plates. One of my all-time favorites here is the barbequed pork bun (steamed or baked) which is bbq pork stuffed inside the most incredibly fluffy, sweet white bun you have ever sunk your teeth into. The combinations of spicy pork, sweet bun and sometimes a dribble of salty soy sauce can get really interesting on the palate. Some of the other wonderful items you cant miss with are the perfectly fried salt and pepper calamari, the lightly pan-friend chives and shrimp dumpling, tofu or eggplant stuffed with shrimp, fried taro root, the brilliantly-colored Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce and a whole lot of others which I cant remember the names of at this moment. They also serve some of the commoner appetiser items like egg rolls, salt and pepper wings, fried shrimp balls etc and while these are as good as the rest I dont find myself ordering these all that often. If like me, you have a penchant for spice, do ask for their chilli oil as a dipping sauce. For dessert, we've tried the mango pudding which is a flavoured, gelatin-like pudding but the taste is really light and refreshing on the palate after the meat and fried items (almost like the Joy mango ice-cream on a stick that we got in India way back when) !!

From among the entrees, it's always a good idea to check the specials. We've eaten lobster, crab etc from these and they've been succulent and excellent. BigB's staple is the steamed sea bass ($18), steamed perfectly with ginger, scallions and served with soy sauce. Mine is the Szechuan Bean Curd with Rice. It's melt-in-your-mouth bean curd, fried and cooked in a sauce with carrots, peas and peppers - very satisfying. I dont see this on the menu nowadays, but if you ask for it, they will make it for you. Most of the other items on the menu are wonderful, but I'm tired of writing now :( Something that you must try out are the tapioca drinks, we tried a mocha flavored one (it was like a thin milkshake) and with the tapioca added to it. The tapioca as one of the hostesses explained tasted like a ball of chewy, gummy candy and was really interesting (in a good way :) in the drink. Sometimes they serve soup as desserts (yes, I know, what ??). The first time they explained it to us, we were skeptical, but then we ate the most delicious bowl of peanut-butter soup and were converted. We've tried red bean soup and black bean soup at different times and they've all been really good. Will update the prices of the entrees, next time since I cant remember, I think they're always between $8-$12 and the seafood can get pricier.

Bon Appetit!!

Lost, anyone ?

Here be spoilers:

I never seem to get too much current TV viewing done. Mostly, I watch reruns or else get shows on DVD for a marathon viewing. So recently, when a friend raved on and on .. and on ... about the start of the 3rd season of Lost I wasnt much impressed. One day with time hanging heavy on my hands, I checked out the abc.com website which carries previous episodes and I was hooked. So there I was, developing a pleasant Wed night addiction until the shocker of the season (oh well, for me, remember I am a virgin viewer) ..... the episodes actually stopped airing until Feb. Bad, ABC, very bad!! :( At least, I now have enough time to catch up on my viewing of the the previous seasons.

However, there are some things which irritate me exceedingly about the show. I love, love, love the incredible look of the show, the locations, the mysteries of the island and a lot of the characters and stories. But, I just hate how everyone has this incredibly melodramatic or picked-upon background. Michael's story was really too unbelievable complete with evil-ex-gf-accident-son-hates-me angst. I hate it when I can feel heavy-handed manipulation and his story seemed to be written to have the max tear-jerking effect. I especially hate that with the exception of the handful of people who the stories focus on, the rest of the 40 survivors can be led about like sheep. There's kidnappings, deaths, black smoke monsters etc going on and all these people seem to do is turn up for the funerals, no questions asked. If people were dropping dead at such an alarming rate, I think I would be more interested and not wait to be asked and feel 'left out' of things. Oh well, I know why this is so, it just irritates me. And I was so sad when Ana Lucia was killed :( - the one strong, female character in the show! Yeah, yeah Kate's there but I cant feel any empathy for her! It's a good thing she's with Sawyer now, Jack is too upright for her anyway.

So all that's left now is to wait till Feb :( I wonder if this season will get any better, so far the first six episodes havnt really been that impressive .... familiarity (in this case, with the Others) breeds contempt and all that. However, I say watch out for that Juliette, she has this manic quality about her that should be fun when it's unleashed :P The writers maintian that there's a logical, scientific explanation for everything that happens on the island. I'm going to be waiting with interest for that revelation. I just hope it doesnt go the way of a 'government experiment gone terribly wrong' ...

Review: The Time Traveler's Wife


Rating:

Henry and Clare meet when she's 20 and he's 28, they get married when she's 22 and he's 30 but Clare has already known him most of her life for she's met him when she's 6 and he's 36. Time travels in this extremely distracting circu-linear fashion in Audrey Niffenegger's engaging novel. The storyline proceeds in little vignettes through different periods in Henry's life as he time travels and while this is difficult to get used to at first, the story emerges first beautiful, then haunting, of the disturbed librarian who struggles to to live normally with a genetic disorder that can uncontrollably take over his life in times of stress and anxiety and of the artist who grounds him and keeps him whole with her love for the time that they have together.

Here be spoilers:
I have never been partial to the themes of unrequited love, longing and separation in the fictional world. In fact, I hate to think of separation and someone waiting for another person their whole lives. Life is too short, and such indulgence in one's pain always drives me to distraction. So, the suggestion made by the author that Clare waits for Henry the rest of her life really, really irritated me. It seems wantonly mean to your title character. The first time around, I was able to delude myself into thinking that Clare does take Henry's suggestion and live her life until the time that she can see him again but a re-read of the relevant chapters convinced me otherwise.

I didnt like the characters of Charisse and Gomez at all either. Charisse is too accomodating while Gomez is endlessly selfish. They both seem to exist to bring to light deficiencies in Clare's character, mainly her willingness to cheat with her best friends boyfriend/husband. While the title of the story is the time traveller's wife, we see her life mainly as an extension of and through Henry's, and these little out-of-character elements bring the feeling that we never really know her in the first place.

Couch Quotient
Finally, this is a well written, intensely moving story of the couple's meeting, courtship, marriage and the ending itself moved me to tears and stayed with me a couple of days after I was done reading it. The middle of the book is a little slow, but stick with it because the end is well worth it! Natives of Chicago and denizens of the art world will probably appreciate the book more because it has a lot of cultural references which, while interesting, didnt really add to the story. The time traveling exists as a gimmick through the story and so I would classify this as a contemporary romance rather than sci-fi/ fantasy under which genre I actually found it in the library. But, to people who might be put off by this classification, do give this a chance. The author gets so many things right and it's an enjoyable ride!

A warning to audio book fans, this book contains some graphic language and scenes.

Of Swans - Songs and otherwise .....

Since, I cant seem to find anything worthwhile to add to my blog, I'm going to use it as a review system of sorts with reviews of some of my fav things - books/ movies/ food etc. My tastes pretty much lean toward popular fiction and movies so dont expect anything high brow and you wont be disappointed. Hmm.. that's assuming anyone even cares! oh well!

The rating system that I'm going to use here is out of 5, anything with 3 swans and above is recommended. Why swans? Hmmm, many reasons, I was thinking of swan songs today, swans are graceful, elegant creatures and I hope my writing attains some/any qualities by association, BigB spent a couple of hours last afternoon making the extremely cute swan figure for me (thank you tons, sweetie) and if I say now that I want, for want of a better item, a papaya, I'll be skinned and eaten :P ... so, swans it is!! Coming to the reviews themselves, I hate spoilers, so anytime I do include such paragraphs there will defintely be a spoiler warning.

Pardon my blog!

So, finally I succumb!! Committing personal thoughts to paper (or in this case my keyboard) has never really been my thing, not even when it was considered almost de rigeur in my engleees-medium, all-girls school. Dont get me wrong, I have come across a number of very articulate, humorous, engaging blogs and I can spend quite a number of perfectly contented couch-papayying hours browsing away. Then, why am I here and why now ?? To be frank, the place I work for has lately gone mainstream and started ...... the corporate blog!! Now my curiosity, which at the best of times is never a quiescent thing, has been peaked, so intead of inadvertently comitting career hara-kiri/ doing the foot-in-mouth(or-fingers) thing/ publishing my swan song so to speak, this will be an experimental area for me to errrm .... let it rip .....

Let's see how long this lasts!!

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