Caveat emptor .... and baleful promises !

When I first walked into the IKEA (eeek-ayyy-aaah for the snobs*) store I was blown away. First, by the designs, then by the prices. IKEA being a Scandinavian company features European designs for people on a budget. Comparing an IKEA design with a clunky American design, there i(wa)s never any doubt in my mind which one I would pick up.

Until recently, all our shopping at IKEA was from the kitchen and bathroom sections, we never bought any big furniture. The kitchen stuff is amazing, I've been using frying pans, plates and bowls, cutlery, bar and stemware, candles, shower curtains, tablecloths for a few years now with no problems. And the prices and designs just CANNOT be beat.

Recently we decided to buy some beds. We're renting, and I'm one of those who buy something and regret it almost instantly, so buying $1000+ beds for a house we didnt even have yet was really out of the question. Of course we decided to go IKEA! Mostly because the beds were cheap, were in designs that were modern, came in black so they would match our overall decor and were just very elegant to look at.

So, we chose the IKEA Hemnes (~$299) bed frame for the master bedroom and the cheaper MALM (~$129) bed frame for the guest bedroom. Assembly was pretty easy, in fact BigB and I were awed by it, the design seemed so clean cut. The bed was held together with some slightly flexible metal rods (so that when we were done, the metal rods looked like a diamond within the rectangle of the frame). Marvelling that this was all that was needed to hold the bed together, we put the rest of the stuff in place. Duh!!

That was 3 months ago. Last night, as I sat on the side of the bed I heard a hideous crack followed by a vision of my papaya legs waving in the air. The darned thing had fallen apart!!!! And, it WASNT because of me ... I'm NOT overweight. Besides the embarassment, I think I'm angrier at myself, since when did something cheap ever mean good quality and how many times have I drummed that into my head these past couple of years.

So there! New resolution made, no more furniture buying at IKEA and no more browsing thru the showroom section at the store in case I severely test my new-found resolve. Oh, and if you are ever a guest at my house, you know what's in store for you, right ??? You cant say I never warned you .....

* how you can be a snob about a store for cheap furniture beats me, but live and learn ...

NFNS Season Finale ....

So Aaron won the Next Food Network Star finale last night. I was cackling when someone (Susie?) mentioned Big Daddy's Kitchen was a unique idea for FN. No, really, Guy's Big Bite has spiky-haired loon, this guy is bald!

Dont have much against Aaron, he is absolutely approachable and his food makes me drool even though I wouldnt eat half of what he cooks (clogged arteries anyone?), but his TV personality is so blah. I really hope his show is better, but, yet again, it's going to be NOTHING new and this is just what FN needs in their lineup.

I am tired of seeing all my fav in-the-kitchen shows pushed to daytime slots when I cant watch them and the evenings filled with overhyped stars and their over-exposed reality-format shows.

Lisa had an amazing pilot, I've really warmed up to her these past couple of weeks and I wanted to cook that fish and leeks recipe. Maybe not the unpronounceable, unspellable yolk sauce (at least show us the name of the dish, would love to know how to spell zabaglione(?) ), but she has tons of creativity and I would just tune in to see what she was wearing.

And Adam's was the pilot I genuinely liked the most, he was so at ease and had so much fun with it. Didnt feel like the audience laughs for his segment were scripted (really, what was up with them laughing their guts off, BigB and I were so weirded out). Adam was of course, sabotaged by Bobby Flay hating him - watch the Vegas buffet when he's in line for Adam's food, his expression speaks volumes.

Anyway, I had the inkling that Aaron was going to win when he fell flat on his face in the Vegas challenge and the judges pushed him through to the finale anyway. The rationale was that they couldnt kick off a consistent performer which to Aaron;s credit he had been so far, but if they had been true to their show they would have kicked off the non-performer that week.

And they didnt. Which meant that they had pre-determined the winner all along. And, they didnt mention at the start of the season that there was no audience poll either. Which means that I just spent abt 9 weeks wasting my time.

Grrr .... But, what will I watch next Sunday night?? :(

Review: One Night For Love

Rating:

I once chanced upon Mary Balogh's 'The Secret Pearl' a complicated tale of the relationship between a Duke and his child's governess and was instantly a fan.

In 'One Night for Love', Neville Wyatt, the Earl of Kilbourne, newly returned from the battlefront is getting ready to marry his childhood friend and longtime fiancee when a bedraggled woman enters the church disrupting the ceremony. This is Lily Doyle who Neville had married and then watched die in an ambush in Spain before being grievously injured himself. Lily survives however, but is taken prisoner and has only just stepped onto England's shores.

Neville and Lily, after the initial shock, start trying to get the semblance of a life together, but Lily is hopelessly out of her element as a countess. The daughter of Neville's Seargent, she is illiterate, has no accomplishments and no conversation with which to deal with her husband's guests and relatives. Fighting insecurity and low self-esteem Lily decides to leave Neville so that he can get his life back together with a woman from his own class, one who truly belongs by his side. But, there's one thing she has not counted upon - she is the love of Neville's life, and he of hers ....

As I finished reading this all I could think was, Mary, where did the magic go? The book should have been named the TwitCapades for the level of intelligence displayed by the lead characters.

Neville, who apparently doesnt believe in medical knowledge, takes one look at his wife and decides she is dead. Wishful thinking, maybe?

It's left to the French enemies to realise that she was just injured. And when she does come back all the sensitive Neville can do is mutter "Lily. You are dead." statements for the following 5 pages. Carrying on the tradition of sensitivity, Neville decides to marry 1 single, measly, year after he loses Lily, the apparent love of his life.

As for Lily, I've never come across a more exasperating heroine. You would think she had tons of spunk, following the army all her life, living abroad, being captured and surviving rape amongst other things and making her way back alone to England from Portugal. But, her actions and thinking do not equate with courage, physical or mental.

Now, I was prepared for a lot of internal navel-picking, Balogh's novels almost always follow the same format where we delve into the depths of her protagonists' feelings, but Lily was just an escapist. She comes across as a child running away from her problems and most of the times she survived, she probably did because no one thought such a twit was worthy of any attention.

The two twits have a scene of all-consuming passion (ho-hum, but what did you expect from this pair) and at the end of this, the sensitive twit says incredibly "I'm sorry." All I wished was that someone had put the idiot out of his misery a long time ago! Of course, twit two wasnt to be outdone and she responds, even more incredibly, by saying "Thank You." *cough, doormat*

Lily after articulating her insecurity over class differences and illiteracy doesnt get much support from Neville so sets out to educate herself with the help of Neville's enlightened aunt. Sensitive Neville when faced with the results of these endeavours treats Lily like an unintelligent child "Did you just read that verse, Lily?", "Did you play that elementary finger-exercise all by yourself, Lily", "Did you dance a country dance without trodding on your partner's feet, Lily?", "Did you just stab me in the larynx, Lily?" Oh, sorry, the last was just this papaya's wishful thinking !!!

By this point, the only reason I was still reading was because I wanted to plumb the depths of Balogh's awful writing. It did get worse, we suddenly came across a plot to have Lily killed. Of course, since these are the twitcapades, the villain is so inept as to try a couple of times so that even the twits were warned that not everyone was feeling the love and they ended up having a HEA.

But, by the time I came to the part devoted to murdering Lily, I realised why I was getting so antsy and irritated with the plot. As I've said repeatedly, Heyer has done almost every historical romance formula out there and done it exceedingly well. So this subject, marriage between the classes has been explored by her and in the brilliant historical romance 'These Old Shades' and the contemporary 'Barren Corn' that it makes me impatient when another author cannot handle the subject sensitively and actually borrows Heyer's plot elements to move her story forward.

Balogh doesnt offer much insight into the way the couple handles the myriad minefields surrounding their relationship - Neville's abandonment of Lily on the battlefield, her torture in captivity, her abandoning of him once she returns and instead spends a lot of time on Neville wondering how much he hurt his jilted bride. But, for a romance to work between the two principal characters the reader has to understand their motivations involving each other. Probably loss of potential is also what failed to warm me towards the story.

And I was thoroughly dissatisfied with the ending Balogh gives her piece. I resent that she went out of her way to get readers to identify with a woman who was struggling with the class issue and then immediately makes it a non-issue. It's as if Balogh wishes to say that a marriage between the classes is not possible and of course, messages like this always make my hackes rise. But then, many would point out I shouldnt be reading historical romances anyway!!!

Oh well, at least Heyer's novels are intelligent and dont make me want to slap every character soundly. I'll go back to reading Balogh when she writes her next novel with a disfigured hero and an oval-faced heroine since it seems that those are the ones she excels at. But what do I know, I've only read 3 of her novels so far, and this one ensures that it's back to my own bookshelf for the next historical romance I feel inclined to read.


Regency Buck

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Judith Taverner and her brother Peregrine seem impossibly blessed. They have good looks, an immense fortune and forthright manners to recommend them to Polite Society. Headstrong and heedless, they would have been able to enjoy their London debuts thoroughly if they hadnt been forced by their father's will under the guardianship of the Earl of Worth. Worth, handsome, sardonic, cynical and mysterious has given the duo sufficient reasons to dislike him intensely, but he is a conscientious guardian. Or is he?? As the Season progresses and the hapless Perry falls into one dangerous situation after another, an unwelcome suspicion starts to enter and very soon takes strong possession of Judith's mind. When Perry disappears, Judith friendless, alone and desperate, has to make up her mind whether the Earl is all who he seems to be.

Regency Buck, while not my favorite, is another of Heyer's captivating romances. Heyer who established almost all the historical romance formulas that are hashed and re-hashed these days uses the mysterious guardian ploy, here much in the fashion of the celebrated Gothic romances of the time. While the tone of the novel is definitely not Gothic, a few references indicate that Heyer knows what form she was playing with and has a blast gently mocking these very popular novels.

Coming to the novel itself, it's written with Heyer's characteristic wit, has an interesting storyline, brilliant dialogues and endearing secondary characters to while away the time with. Some contemporary Regency characters and refereneces make their appearance here from Beau Brummell and Lord Byron to Jane Austen, always with Heyer's intention of setting the historical period and context for the reader.

As for the principals, Worth is the original alpha male, dominating, powerful and confident. He would have been extremely unpleasant to read about, but Heyer balances this out with a heroine almost as masterful as Worth is himself. Judith is fearless and frequently shocks Society with her unconventional behaviour. Perry is the quintessential younger brother, charming and endearingly youthful. A scene where he wearies Judith out with nautical descriptions had me laughing out loud, so true did it ring.

Heyer's historicals take a little reading to get accustomed to. She uses a lot of contemporary (for the Regency) slang and references and frequently switches POV's between characters all in the same scene and this might take some getting used to for the reader of modern romances. However, she is the unparalleled Queen of the historical romance. Watch the Regency period come to life under Heyer's vivid pen and watch the two principals match wits with each other. I guarantee you a great read!!

But, why the song and dance??

My Vietnamese friend was reminiscing how when he was a kid, friends, family, neighbours would all gather together with a projector watch a Bollywood movie and spend a very happy couple of hours together. Now all he really remembered of those times were the songs and elaborate dances. And, then he asked with a little snigger "Why do you have all that singing and dancing in the movies??" The better for you to remember them, my dear.

But, seriously if I had bothered collecting a dollar everytime I was asked this question, I would be a very rich, happy papaya. A recent interview with Ms. Rai had her grimacing when asked the same with her characteristic i-never-answer-what-i-dont-rehearse frown "It's just our culture", she said, slightly rolling her eyes, "it makes you smi-ile, it's fun!!". Way to go, Ash! I admit I dont have a good answer either, but then I dont live and breathe Bollywood.

I'm hardly the average B'wood cinephile, I mostly hate the large-scale extravaganzas, I watched Devdas in 45 mins, and I hate melodrama and overt sentimentality. I started thinking about the magic of songs (& dances) in the movies after watching Veer-Zaara last night. And, after thoroughly enjoying it.

Taken apart, this movie should have irritated me A LOT. It started with shots of SRK's pink-lipstick covered lips, followed a structure so totally similar and shamelessly copied from DDLJ that at times I flashed on Kajol instead of Preity, endless, pointless rain, had the theme of sacrifice which annoys me no end and let's not even get started on the entirely forced theme of Indo-Pak bhaichara.

But, taking the sum of the parts, the wonderful acting by the leads, some canny choreography and cinematography and the absolutely hummable song numbers so favorably affected me that I hardly noticed these irritants at all. Even Anupam Kher mouthing 'dilchasp, bahut dilchasp' only had me mentally grimacing willing to disregard the cheesiness because the rest of the movie pleased me so much.

Would the movie have been the same without the songs? I doubt it. The only person who delivers without having a single song is Rani Mukherjee and that's because she has a character-backed role. Sure, some songs are pointless, introduced because there's a catchy tune and the directors wanted to liven up a flagging movie, but at times when they're done right like in Veer-Zaara, the songs carry so many themes that they're an integral part of the movies themselves. Someone reading subtitles would not understand.

So, in Veer-Zaara, you have character development with the song where the rebellious Preity sings 'Hum To Bhai Jaise', 'Lohri', 'Kyun Hawa' and 'Aisa Desh Hain Mera' which are beautifully shot and indicate background, the people, the country, the customs, 'Main Yahaan Hoon', my favorite, which beautifully shows newly awakened love and the omnipresent lover, 'Do Pal' which talks of heartbreak and separation and the visually dramatic 'Aya Tere Dar Par Deewana' which is of a besotted lover willing to die for his love

'Jaan-o-dil vaar doon main, zindagi haar doon main,
jaise shamma pe marta hain parwana'

And it does help that King Khan is at the top of his game here. I've never been one of his admirers, but have to admit he looks gorgeously handsome (when he forgets to add the lipstick) and made even my cold heart miss a couple of beats when he crooned intently

'Main tumhaare hi dil ki toh awaaz hoon
Sun sako, toh suno, dhadkanon ki zabaan
Main yahaan hoon, yahaan hoon, yahaan hoon, yahaan...'

Kya romance!! Sigh.

I do understand the role that the songs play but why include them in the movies in the first place? Is it a hangover over from the times when a movie promised 3+ solid hours of entertainment and an industry now too profitable to ignore, is it because of the huge musical tradition that dominates Indian culture, or is it because as Ms. Rai simplistically points out that shaking that boo-tay makes people smile??? Anyone have any answers here?

Blood Brothers: Book 1 in the Sign of Seven Trilogy

Rating:

I'm a greedy reader. If I love a book, I'm always left wanting more when it ends. So, I was delighted when I stumbled upon Nora Roberts' trilogies. Now, Roberts as a writer is amazingly prolific, ranging across tons of romance novel forms, but I think these trilogies are the best idea she could have ever had.

Basically, the trilogy consists a common storyline with 3 couples, each book being given over to the romance between one of the couples. I love her paranormal romances where across the 3 books, the couples unite to fight paranormal forces. 'Blood Brothers', Book 1 in the Sign of Seven trilogy is one such.

Cal, Fox and Gage share the same birthday, July, 7, 1977 and have been inseparable friends since birth. On their tenth birthday, they escape from parental supervision to the forbidden Pagan Stone in the woods surrounding their home in Hawkins Hollow.

There, an innocent boyish ritual involving an oath and the mixing of their blood unleashes something dark, powerful and evil. Now, every seven years starting on their birthday and continuing 7 days after, the entire town goes mad.

21 years later, Cal with the premonition that this year is going to be the worst, hires a writer Quinn Black to document the history of the town, hoping that a fresh pair of eyes will unearth some of the answers he and his friends have been searching for - what is the nature of the Beast and how can they overpower it?

With Quinn comes her researcher friend Cybil and a stranger Layla and it soon becomes apparent that the 6 of them together share a powerful connection. But, will this connection be enough to help them tame the Demon, read Books 1-3 to find out.


Book 2 in the series is 'The Hollow' and book 3 is 'The Pagan Stone' (due to be released in Dec '08). If I knew that the last one hadnt been printed yet, I wouldnt have picked this up since I like reading these trilogies at a single go.

Anyways, as a romance writer Roberts is always a sure bet. You know you cannot get a lousy read with her books - she is a master at characterisation, pacing, dialogues and family dynamics. I especially like her writing for all the spunky, take-charge heroines she creates. No virginal, hand-wringing, bosom heaving heroines for Roberts. And the heroes are no slouches either.

The paranormal romaces require a leap of faith, she creates alternate universes and uses a lot of magick (that spelling always cracks me up) and spells etc. This book is a PG-13 version of Roberts meets Stephen King. The paranormal never gets scary, these are primarily romance novels with the little fanciful plot elements thrown in.

And while, they are somewhat predictable, like knowing the characters and the couples you can almost predict who'll hook up with whom, Roberts never gets repetitive and I'm sure is the envy of many a romance writer for the snappiest dialogue around. Book 1 isnt the strongest start for a trilogy, but good fun to read! Now, to wait till December :((

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If you want to start off with the trilogies - The Circle Trilogy (vampires), The Three Sisters Island Trilogy (witches), the Key trilogy (mythological) are wonderful reads in that order.

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