Review: Firefly & Serenity

The time - 500 years into the future.

Mankind has infiltrated the farthest reaches of space and the 'Verse is being ruled by the ’Alliance’ - an autocratic government-like entity. It is 5 years after the war between the Alliance and the Independents or the ’Browncoats’ which put the Alliance in power. The Alliance exercises control over the planets that form the central core but the planets that inhabit the outer reaches of space still try to resist it’s power.

Captain ’Mal’ Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a disenchanted ex-Sergeant in the Browncoat army and still very anti-government, leads a raggle of space smugglers on his spaceship, a Firefly-class transport, ’Serenity’.

The crew on Serenity is a varied bunch - the peppy chief engineer, 'Kaylee' (Jewel Staite), the pilot and resident comic 'Wash' (Alan Tudyk), his wife, the soldierly career woman and second-in-command 'Zoe' (Gina Torres), the Man They Call 'Jayne' (Adam Baldwin), a mercenary thug and odd jobs man and the stunningly, beautiful 'Inara' (Morena Baccarin) - a companion (the world’s oldest profession gets another name) and thorn in Mal’s side.

Mal himself has a skewed moral code but is extremely protective of his crew whom he regards as family. Joining the crew as passengers are 'Shepherd Book' (Ron Glass) a preacher, and two fugitives, the prim 'Dr. Simon Tam' (Sean Maher) and his crazy little sister 'River' (Summer Glau), a psychic and child-genius who has been subjected to mind-altering experiments by the Alliance.

Firefly - the series (Rating: 5 /5)

The tv-series ’Firefly’ which aired in 2002 for a couple of episodes until it was cancelled is the brain-child of Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel).

’Firefly’ as a series is certainly very engaging. It is envisioned along the lines of a Sci-fi Western (anachronism, but there it is!) with characters carrying gun-holsters, rifles, Colts and riding horses well into the future. The rationale for this was that the inner core planets under Alliance control were well-developed but the outer planets were places where people were just dropped off with a minimum of water and food and forced to populate worlds in a Frontier-like existence.

The most precious commodity and contraband in this future is food, not the protein-synthesized stuff that can feed a whole family for a month, but real, fresh food, which is in short supply on the outer planets. The show depicted the two worlds beautifully, the very well-developed modern inner core planets (all steel and glass, tall buildings and modern gadgetry) and the ’Wild West’ outer planets (undeveloped desert-like terrain, mining planets etc). Sometimes the show got too Western for me, like one episode which featured a bordello (and wouldnt u know it - a Madame called Nandi and Hindi music playing in the background argh!) and a gun battle, but the drama and the characters definitely made up for it.

Whedon’s vision for the future was that there were only two superpowers left - America and China, the Chinese angle is woven into the script subtly. We have characters wearing Oriental clothing, Chinese characters and instructions everywhere instead of English and the most fun of all, Chinese phrases introduced into the language. The Chinese words and phrases are included for situations which do not really need translation (I'm sure people can think of several situations where) and this introduced a sense of authenticity into the script. However, for a future in which a remaining superpower is Chinese, there are hardly any cast members, even extras who are even vaguely Oriental - blatant oversight, I feel.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Whedon’s vision is that he doesnt subject you to the horrendous masked creatures, scaly lifeforms or little green men that science fiction generally suggests. There are no aliens in this world, the only evil is unleashed by or is human. The most evil are the ’Reavers’, people who cut their own faces, living on the outskirts of the 'Verse. To elaborate in the words of one of the characters

’If they catch you, the Reavers will rape you continuously until you die, cut you up and eat your flesh and carve your skin into clothing ... and if you are very lucky, they will do it in that order.

Firefly worked for me because of the fantastic chemistry between the cast, fresh episode storylines each with an abundance of drama, humor and action and very decent special effects. Oh, and did I mention, I’m a sucker for spaceships :D

Serenity - the movie (Rating: 5 /5)

Even though TV networks unceremoniously pulled the plug on the series, it went on to gain a massive fan following with the result that Whedon wrote and directed the movie in 2005. The movie kept all the actors from the series, with a plot emphasis on the story of Simon and River. In an attempt to complete the story arc, the movie deals with some mysteries underlying in the TV series, about River, Shepherd Book and the Reavers. While River and the Reavers are dealt with in the movie, the resolution of Book’s character was very unsatisfactory.

In the movie, after picking up Simon and River, Mal and his crew soon realise that River is not who she seems. Apparently she is very valuable commodity to the Alliance who have sent a special agent known only as the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to eliminate her and the secrets she carries. The Operative’s search for River forces Mal and crew to carry out their own investigations, leading them to a planet called Miranda and a hideous discovery about Alliance experiments.

With Serenity, Whedon has cut out some of the most irritating aspects from the show, the excessive Western-ness - he’s changed most of the music from the show, there are still the old-fashioned guns but a lot less horse riding and other dated elements - and he’s created a better science fiction movie adeventure. The movie assumes that people are familiar with the story of Firefly, but it doesnt really require it. A few of the initial scenes are a little confusing with characters and plot elements being introduced rapidly - but the attentive reader shouldnt be lost :)

I thought that he majority of the cast have handled the transition from TV to movie pretty well (and of course, I could forgive anything of anyone who looks like Mal). Perhaps the most striking actor, a new member, is Ejiofor as the Operative. The Operative knows he is evil, but believes in harnessing that evil for the greater good, which he interprets as the Alliance being in power. Ejiofor’s acting as the smooth-talking, emotionless Samurai assassin is perfectly effective in bringing an immensely scary intensity and sense of focus to his role. The end of Serenity and especially the resolution with the Operative is really silly but I guess it had to end it somehow.

Finally, this is a perfect DVD watch to while away a lazy Sunday evening when you are in the mood for a little space-action, gun-fighting, drama and humor. Dont read too much into the hype created by IMDB and you wont be disappointed. Even better is to get the DVD’s of Firefly, watch them and then catch the movie. That would be (in 'verse slang) shiny!

In case you've been wondering ....

So, we picked up Rock Band 2 for the XBox a couple of Sundays ago. And what a hectic time it has been since. B and I find we barely have time left in the evenings for anything else, once the food has been bolted down we give each other sidelong looks, race to our instruments and groove our aging body-parts till way past bedtime. As an addiction it wouldn't have been so bad if every time I surfaced I didn't find a messy house, dishes piling in the sink, laundry baskets overflowing, frozen food pile seriously dented and work clothes begging to be ironed. Sigh.

A typical evening generally unfolds as follows,

B: Do you want to go to the gym?

CP: Sure, pick me up at ...

B(talking very fast): ... or we could go home and play!!

CP: :D

I must have been prescient, 'The Couch Papayas' has a rock band ring to it, dont you think????

Makeup, diet and moi !!

I've been wanting to jump on the mineral makeup bandwagon for quite a few months. Not because I've been gulled by the miracle benefits to skin that have been promised by all and sundry and their aunts, more because I love to play with makeup. Anyway, so I was hampered by trying any out because I HATE being left with a full jar of makeup that doesnt match and that I paid a ton of money for. I must mention that I'm pretty sad at choosing colors and have terrible luck buying makeup off the shelf. Unlike makeup in India or UK, the drugstore brands in the US (L'Oreal, Revlon etc) do not provide testers. And buying a department store makeup brand would require a person who isnt as as me.

So, I had given up on that particular wishlist until I stumbled upon Everyday Minerals, a mineral makeup company I've fallen in love with. First, they offer a FREE sample kit - with 3 foundation samples, 1 concealer and 1 blush, you just pay for shipping. And the best part, they do not limit you to one sample per customer. As I made my way through the samples, the admiration for the company's large-minded policy has changed to admiration for the makeup itself. It's goes on very smoothly, they have a ton of colours to match a wide range of skin types and because it's powder I find I can layer it on as much or as little as I like to create a very natural look. The price for the full-size makeup is also much lower then you would find in the stores. And as a final clincher, last weekend someone actually said to me 'You look great, your skin is glowing.' :D I think, after that, any other makeup brand will have to be pretty miraculous for me to give this one up.

Since I dont use much else, I cant plug anything other than the foundation and powders, the blushes I did get with my sample kit seem pretty enough. If you are wheatish-complexioned (much as it cracks me up, I couldnt find an apter word) like me, you might find the Olives - Light Olive, Olive Golden Medium or Olive Medium a very close match. Oh, and I must recommend the brushes too, they are absolutely the softest, and more importantly, cheapest brushes you will find anywhere!!!

Additionally, I think I've finally hit upon the perfect diet plan. And more importantly one that doesnt leave me tired with low energy towards the end of the day, which was the major problem with all the diets I have tried before. The only thing I'm doing, besides a judicious consumption of sweets and fried foods is that I started reducing my calorie intake. The only change I made in my diet, was to replace my night-time dinner of 2 chapattis with whatever side-dish I cooked up, to 1 chapatti, and reduced consumption of rice during lunch from every meal to once in a while replacing it with chapattis whenever I have the time.

And with this regimen I lost approx *drumroll* 8 lbs in 3 months!!!!! The first few days I was a little hungry but I ate salad alongside to compensate but now I find that the one chapatti fills me up without any additional cravings at all and more importantly I'm also exercising without any adverse energy effects so I think this is the right way to go (as an aside the 'looking great' comment earlier did have the weight-loss reason too, and while I got a lot of those no one mentioned skin 'glowing' until I started to experiment with the makeup). This means that this year will not see my festival staples of besan laddoos and chaklis being made, all because of the diet of course :D

Happy Diwali folks!!!

The Fabulous Outrageous Brownies

I believe that everyone needs a good brownie recipe in their repertoire. Notice I only said good, because for me a brownie was just that - a delectable treat most people cannot ignore, perfect for office parties, school bakes, picnics, potlucks and barbecues. And until Saturday, my good brownie recipe consisted of buying a packet of Betty Crocker's brownie mix from the neighborhood grocery store and pretending to bake.

Ina Garten's Outrageous Brownies changed all that. To start at the beginning, B and I were hosting a party last Saturday, so I was trolling Ina Garten's recipes for a pie I had a memory of seeing her bake on TV. Ina is the host of Food Network's Barefoot Contessa. I love the show for Ina's ample enthusiasm for the food she cooks and her laidback gourmet attitude. Plus all her recipes I've ever tried have been phenomenal. So, anyhoo, when I came across the recipe for her Outrageous Brownies, reading the recipe set me drooling and the reviews which followed decided me, I just HAD to bake them.

The only thing scaring me was that the recipe used 1 lb of butter for 20 large brownies. But, with a memory of the Contessa's generous portion sizes, I decided to divide the recipe in half, filling up a 13 by 8 inch pan to make 24 perfectly good-sized brownies.

And, all I can say is, now I know what I've been missing all this time. And I will never go back to that horrid baking mix again. These brownies are absolutely, spectacularly perfect, - the mix of bitter and semi-sweet chocolate just sweet enough, melty, gooey, crunchy and oh-so-chocolatey. If you ever need a chocolate fix, look no further. It's because Ina uses real chocolate (instead of cocoa powder) and coffee in the recipe. You dont really taste the coffee in the brownies, it just heightens the chocolate flavour making it rich and enormously satisfying.

So, anyway, my idea for the party was to setup a sundae bar of sorts with the brownies, vanilla icecream, nuts, cherries, whipped cream as fixings so people could whip up their own. And, of course, every self-respecting sundae needed some chocolate sauce. Since, I had some chocolate chips left over from halving the recipe, I decided to melt them AND drizzle some Kahlua into it to match the coffee flavour in the brownies. Kahlua chocolate sauce ..... some days I blow my own mind!

As with all my experiments, a lot was lost in translation. My chocolate chips melted obligingly over my double boiler and then I decided to add some water to make sure that the choc wouldnt reconstitute again. Unfortunately I added cold water and before my horrified eyes the melted choc congealed immediately into a lumpy mess. No amount of boiling or heating served to loosen it up. A bit panicked I added about 4 tbsp. of Kahlua, it remained gunky. So, finally in desperation (and since the goop tasted so amazing I didnt have the heart to throw it away), I iced my brownies with the pseudo-sauce, leaving it to harden naturally at room temperature, and I left a couple of the brownies un-iced for the kids. No sundae bar, of course.

What can I say, the guests looooved the brownies, the compliments kept flowing all night long!! I noticed dieters who timidly cut the brownies in half, throw caution to the winds and head back to wolf the rest down. Seriously, you cant stop eating these. And the best part, B overheard people agreeing that the iced brownies were much, much better than the un-iced ones. Dont get me wrong, the original is a brilliant recipe (thank you, Ina!!!!), but of course triple is better than double chocolate. So there. I actually (albeit however unwittingly) MODIFIED a Food Network Star's recipe AND MADE IT BETTER!!

Needless to say, I beamed like a mad Cheshire cat the rest of the evening.

Tagged ...

So, I was tagged by Smita and didnt want to be the last one standing. Anyways, rules are as follows:

RULE #1: People who have been tagged must write their answers on their blogs and replace any question that they dislike with a new question formulated by them.

RULE #2: Tag 6 people to do this quiz and they cannot refuse. These people must state who they were tagged by and cannot tag the person whom they were tagged by. Continue this game by sending it to other people.

1.If your lover betrayed you, what will your reaction be?
I'd be hurt and wanting my pound of flesh.

2. If you can have a dream to come true, what would it be?
Achieving a perfect balance between home and work life ... and world peace :)

3. Whose butt would you like to kick?
The q. should be butt's'. There are a few ....

4. What would you do with a billion dollars?
Invest and travel the world.

5. Will you fall in love with your best friend?
I did. I am.

6. Which is more blessed, loving someone or being loved by someone?
Being in love.

7. How long do you intend to wait for someone you really love?
Am impatient, so not for long ... 6 months should do it.

8. If the person you secretly like is already attached, what would you do?
Move on ...

9. What takes you down the fastest?
An elevator.

10. How would you see yourself in ten years time?
In a mirror ....

11. What’s your fear?
Teeth falling out, going bald, falling through the gap in the subway, becoming fat, being eaten by sharks ... where to stop :(

12. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?
Smita is an extremely friendly fellow bookie !

13. Would you rather be single and rich or married but poor?
Married and happy. Money will come and go.

14. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
switch my comp on ...

15. Would you give all in a relationship?
Yes ...

16. If you fall in love with two people simultaneously, who would you pick?
The one who loves me ..

17. Would you forgive and forget no matter how horrible a thing that special someone has done?
See Q. 1. Though after all that was done, I 'c'ould forgive and forget.

18. What is your idea of the perfect vacation?
sun, sand, siestas, snorkelling, scuba diving ....

19. What are your three most important expectations in love?
Just one, the vulcan mind meld ... too much to ask for ?

20. List 6 people to tag:
Samir, Amit and all you lovely readers who havnt done the tag yet (this means you WIAN), chop chop now ...

Not for the picky eaters !

There's this new food tag doing the blog rounds, and of course, I have to weigh in. For the sole reader who cares, here's the origination and the author's reasons for creating this list.

Anyhow, rules are as follows:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating (CP: I'm making them blue)
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi :)
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (drawing a blank here, anyone know any examples?)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream (best version ever - indian kesar pista yummmmy :)
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper (why???? i saw someone eat a whole habanero once! it wasnt pretty)
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (well, separately, yes ... the author has a note in his FAQ about why the two should be tried together. must be a male thing)
37. Clotted cream tea (will try not to repeat this tho)
38. Vodka jelly/jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat (Carribbean dish)
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal (eh??????? Indian curry dish. If anyone recognises it, enlighten please)
44. Goat’s milk (hope the cheese counts)
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (again, why???)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel (as sushi)
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (and never again!)
50. Sea urchin (sushi)
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer (mmmm... paneer!!! boy am stoked so many Indian items are on this list)
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (but just barely, the delicious Chimay Blueu has 9% ABV :)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips (reader pls note: healthy NEVER tranlates to tasty :()
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (heh, this is clay!!)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (in a custard not the actual fruit)
66. Frogs’ legs (tastes like chicken, of course :)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain (heh, see previous post)
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (v.v.scary, now this is where i draw the line)
76. Baijiu (pretty sure i wont like it, check this out, but i really, really, really wanna know what it smells like)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail (hmm, bit scary, not to mention slimy, but never say never)
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef (kinda! have eaten the american kobe-style beef)
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (rose petals/rose essence, should count methinks :)
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab (again, sushi)
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (scary. and MUST be cooked, unlike idiotic survivor dude who plucked one out of a louisiana swamp and proceeded to eat it .... alive)

That makes 45!!!! Slightly better than I expected .... but that's after all the broad interpretation :)

Going over the list, I realise that most of the foods I wont try are milk/milk products (I have the greatest aversion), American junk food and food items made of offal. That being said, I have eaten haggis and survived, I even think it's pretty decent. It will be interesting to get back to the list in a few years time and see if any of the blue items have been tried (and liked?).

And I'm sooo surprised at some of the mundane things I havnt eaten - oysters and venison and huevos rancheros and root beer floats!!!!!! Will remedy soon !

All you fellow foodies, how do you fare? Or better yet, copy this into your blogs and let me know!!!

As for me, I'm making a plan of where my next few meals are going to be .... for I have a ton of things to eat before I sleep :D

Chino Latino and the Pineapple Affair !

This weekend saw BigB, me, MGirl and MBoy make our way to Chino Latino, a trendy bar and restaurant in the Uptown area in Minneapolis.

Now, CL is so hip, that they dont advertise their name on the outside, being fronted only by a silver-gold shimmery facade and a scary black industrial-type door, the one which you know will lead to a darkened warehouse with chains and meat hooks gleaming from the ceilings , the type in the movies that people enter but never leave alive (aside: do the restaurant industry get a discount on these doors?? after the movie's over ?? because lately I see them everywhere) .... and, of course, being trendy means that the average wait time for a table is anywhere from an hour to longer.

Not that I was bothered by any of the above, it was our first visit to the place, after hearing about it from the M's who love it. So, I was enjoying myself, the company was good, I loved the atmosphere of the place, some faux-bamboo seating for that oriental feel, the bright art and colors on the walls, the urban crowds, the full bar, the idea that all the food was meant to be shared so every entree was for 3 people or more ...

What I didnt enjoy was the level of noise in the place, I heard only 1 word in every 10, and that was before the music started. And the food was underwhelming and expensive. So we had the popocateppe, which in the tradition of messy American finger foods, were fries piled high with black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole, some fried plantains, Brazilian empanadas (bars and fried food, what can I say) and Phillipine paella. All so-so. The paella was good but the only thing Asian about it was that it contained spring onions. And the least they could have done after making us pay through the nose for it was to use saffron, but they used annato. Hmph, cheapos!!! The cocktails were yummy, inventively named though, I loved the caipirinha and my flirtini a pineapple, champagne and vodka martini. Now, all woould have been well, if only we hadnt ordered a drink which was delivered in a honking big pineapple, the cynosure of all eyes as it made it's winding way to our table and the waitress announced the name in the middle of the only lull all night long - El Orgazmo ... aarghh!

Ordinarily, the pineapple thing would have bothered me quite a bit, but not that night (is it just me, or would anyone else have been embarassed too??). See, B's nickname for me is Tiny, I'm an average Indian woman, my height is .... average, for an Indian woman that is (5'3" if you must know). But, that night, I had on my 4" heels, had already made a very drunk male who got a little too close extremely sorry by stepping innocently on his instep and while still nowhere in the range of B's rarefied stratosphere, the personality of the AmazonPapaya did not include shy and retiring from any angle. So, I laughed it off and continued having a great time, until later when I told B about my 'slight' embarassment. And he decided I was nuts. With a capital N.

Needless to say, the evening didnt end as well as it began :(

Review: Earth Children Series

Rating : 4 / 5

The Earth Children series by Jean M. Auel is historical fiction set in the period of the Great Ice Age around 35000 years ago. Originally intended to be a set of 6 books, then later expanded to include 7, the series was first published in 1980, enjoyed unprecedented success with the first novel and led to a dedicated fan following for Auel. So much so, that in the 1980's there were an unprecedented number of female babies named Ayla (Ey-LAH) in the US after Ms. Auels' protagonist.

As a writer Ms. Auel isnt remarkably innovative, where the writing gains momentum is in things that interest her - the botany, geography, arcaehology of the paleolithic period. As an amateur anthropologist, Ms. Auel takes liberties with her subject material, doing an incredible amount of research but advancing theories which are not 'established' in the literature.

So, Ms. Auel's world contains two species of humans - the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons referred throughout as the Clan (from the Clan of the Cave Bear) and the Others. In her fictional world, the Cro-magnons communicate with a fully fledged language, the Neanderthals, due to the physiogonomy of her jaws have a (as richly developed) sign language and guttural sounds. While the brains of the Others are more receptive to new ideas, the brains of the Clan depend on ancestral 'memories', locked in their brains over generations, only needing reminding to awaken a memory but not very capable of new learning.

The series is bound together by a Cro-Magnon character called Ayla. While making her character the original feminist, Auel tries too hard to gain reader sympathy, the tall, blonde, blue-eyed Ayla is reviled as ugly by the Clan, is discriminated against but has many progressive ideas and comes up with the theory of reproduction all by herself. Since Ayla can be a little trying to read about, over the series she evolves into Superwoman with her very own blonde, blue-eyed, a little-less-than-Superman-ish consort, it becomes obvious that character development isnt really Auel's forte. What is, is her ability to construct and describe for the readers paleolithic civilization, the culture, the dwellings, the flora and fauna, the weapon making techniques, hunting strategies, spiritual beliefs, all these and more are amply described over the course of the books. So, if you are looking for a series with incredible historical detail the first three are for you. Reading the rest should depend on how involved you get and how patient you are with all the pontification.

Auel tries to deal with a number of issues in her books, equality between the sexes, prejudice and discrimination, culture, religion, medical knowledge, alcoholism and drug use, superstition and sex. While some issues like the religion and medical knowledge are judiciously presented, her world view of some topics is through rosy-tinted feminist glasses. So, an incredible amount of writing is devoted to the sexual liberation of women and matriarchal societies, which while not necessarily a bad thing, deviates from the hunter-gatherer norm of the period. Auel's writing on sex is clinical at best, touch on a required number of points/positions and move on, but that doesnt stop her from adding it in spades to every book in the series. I just mention it so that those who are contemplating reading are forewarned!

A break-down of the books is as below:

Clan of the Cave Bear: Inarguably the best of the lot, the story starts with the Cro-Magnon baby Ayla, being adopted by the Clan after an earthquake kills all the members of her tribe. Describing Ayla's trying childhood, from her love for her adoptive parents - the medicine woman Iza and the spiritual leader or Mog-ur of the tribe, Creb - to her fighting the jealousy and hatred of a Clan member Broud, her education in medicine and her rebellion towards the restrictions imposed by the Clan members on themselves and the woman, this is a quick and very engaging read.

Valley of Horses: The end of book 1 sees Ayla banished from her tribe and looking for the Others. While she doesnt find them, she finds herself in a valley where she takes refuge against the coming winter and remains for 3 years. In her solitariness she tames a horse Whinney and a lion, Baby for company. A parallel storyline follows the Cro-Magnon men (tall, blonde, blue-eyed, of course) Jondalar and Thonolan of the Zelandoni as they leave their tribe for a sort of Europe tour, until they end up in Ayla's valley. Jondalar and Ayla fall in love at the end of this book.

The Mammoth Hunters: Ayla and Jondalar come across the Mamutoi or the Mammoth Hunters and decide to spend a winter with them. Here she finds the companionship she has longed for and even an admirer in the tall, dark, brown-eyed (about time, you say?) sculptor Ranec. Ayla's many talents, make her beloved among the Mamutoi and she is adopted by them into their tribe testing the strength of her love and attachment to Jondalar. At the end, Jondalar who is longing for his home sets out to return to the Zelandoni, taking Ayla with him.

Plains of Passage: This is where the reader's commitment to the series is tested. As pages after pages of descriptive writing on vegetation, topology or the mating habits of mammoths go by one can see that the story has taken a backseat to the research. Which isnt terribly interesting either. Ayla's and Jondalar's reverse European tour, sees them meeting many tribes, some welcoming and innovative, some dysfunctional, others distrustful, combating prejudice or ignorance along the way, always with Super-Ayla making new discoveries. Jondalar is even given one discovery to make all by himself but it's Ayla's show all the way .... The end of this book takes Ayla and Jondalar on a death-defying trek over a glacier and puts them within reach of the Zelandoni camp.

Shelters of Stone: Released in 2002, this book took 12 years to write and has a significant amount of Auel's research into the French region where the large Zelandoni tribe lives. Apparently, the length of time between books also altered Ms. Auel's memories of her plot. Much had been made in the previous books about how the Zelandoni would not accept Ayla, pejudiced since she was raised by the Clan, but that premise fizzles out here. Also, after the Clan and the Mamutoi where Auel established certain character types living in a tightly-knit community, she takes the easy way out and rehashes them all here, just on a larger scale. Jondalar and Ayla finally get married and have a baby Jonayla, thus following the established romance novel precepts and the rest of the book sees them making efforts to settle down domestically.

While the scope of the rest of the series remain unclear, I think Auel will set the stage for the extinction of the Clan, as much has been hinted at in a recurring thread through the series. With no new book in sight, it seems unlikely that Auel will be able to accomplish completing her story. While I'd recommend the first 3 (and the rating is based on these), my interest has been tapering off in intervening years, so I might just take the time to see where Ayla and Jondalar end up. Then again, I might not.

Of subs, strangers and schweine ....

It hit me when the girl at the counter looked at me like I was a Martian for mentioning roasted and pepper in the same breath. I hate Subway! In fact I really, really HATE Subway!!! The thing is we frequent Subways most often since the other fast foods are too unhealthy and I probably hate Subway just an ounce less than I hate McD's, Burger King, Arby's, Insert-Random-North-American-FF-Chain-Here.

That epiphany happened on the Labour Day weekend (Sept 1st) on our road trip to South Dakota. It started off well enough - just me, BigB, prairie grasslands, endless road, humid weather, blue sky and Natalie Merchant's Motherland. We had bought Stephen King's The Cell expressly for the trip, but the evils of modern technology as a topic is just sooo old (apparently some zombie-fication or somethin is spread through the cellular network), the introduction was long and boring and by mutual agreement we stopped listening. There even was a nice old man whose slipstream I drove in for the better part of a 200 miles until I got bored of sticking to the EXACT posted speed limit.

So, anyways, the point is that all was well in our little world until those hunger pangs started panging away and myriad fast food signs later we spotted the Subway logo. And after that it was as much as I could do not to gag while eating my steak sandwich. Even B, who has survived on steamed veggies for months at a time, agreed that he was just a little bit sick of fast food when travelling.

Which brings me to the question - people I need help!!! I really need tips for packing food when on vacation or a road trip. My fav foodie writer on the net, did this helpful post a couple days ago about food to pack while travelling. As I ran my eye over the gamut of suggestions from nuts, granola to oatmeal, I felt the tears build up. Apparently, the days of our pulling over to a little roadside restaurant and eating a tasty South Indian thali are over. Excuse me while I have a little cry in the corner ....

Anyhow, the rest of the trip was a lot of fun as long as we made conscious decisions about where to eat. We covered the Badlands and Black Hills parks and while we didnt do too much hiking this time around we were busy making a note of all the trails and quaint hidden campsites for a later trip. Of course, my enthusiasm for this has waned A LOT since I spotted the 'Beware of rattlesnakes' sign at most of the campsites :( And we spotted the North American bison, a dopier looking animal I have yet to see.

But the most interesting thing was the people we met. The first was a waiter at a restaurant in a completely out of the way lodge in the park, a desi from Mumbai, studying to be a doctor in -wait for it - Russia, moonlighting here to pick up some extra cash! Plus, he knew about 5 languages, Russian being one of them and was learning another. Plus, he had most of his life figured out as in where he was going to work thereafter etc. Damn, we were impressed. I'm still wondering how he landed in SD from Russia but refrained from asking in the spirit of politeness, he was a total stranger.

The other desi's were a couple, the owners of the hotel we lived in and they were 1 of 2 Indian families in a town with a population of 200. While being impressed with their pioneering spirit so to speak, I was also a bit shocked. Keep in mind, this was a small town in a place which is mostly populated 3 months out of 12. We know because we drove through last November and were amazed to drive through a town which had houses, restaurants, gas stations, in short everything, excepting the people. Apparently, it's only populated during summer, the people moving back in during the 3 months of the tourist season and heading out after August. So, basically, there's nothing to do here the whole year around.

The other thing that struck me was that we went to a restaurant across the street one evening and the minute we walked in there was that moment's silence and the eerie feeling you get when every single person in the place turns to give you a once-over. It gave me the shivers, I tell you. Being a minority in a place so small cannot be easy. And most importantly, I feel that being in such a minority it's almost impossible to pass on a sense of your culture to your children. I know I wouldnt be able to live like that. Would you?

The other thing that happened was that Abha gave me an award and said some very nice things about this blog. Thankee much, Abha!!

I know I've been tardy in picking up the award but better late than never I always say. The rules of the award are

This award is for blogs whose content and design are brilliant as well as creative.

The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere.

1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back
2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.
3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’
4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).
5. And then we pass it on!

And here's the list of people whom I want to pass it onto.

Smita - who's eventful life I will never get tired of reading about. Her effortless writing style makes you feel she is talking directly to you and her joie-de-vivre makes hers a blog I turn to for putting that smile on my face early in the mornings.

Brevity, soul and wit, thy name is Avdi. She has a couple of blogs (all delightful) but I point to the books blog because that's the one I enjoy the most.

Bouncing-bubble - who doesnt write much, but when she does her straight-forward and realistic observations from books to music to life reflect the person she is.

It's been a pleasure knowing you ladies!!

And finally, is it just me or does anyone else find this song by Glukoza insanely catchy ?? oh and the music video absolutely hilarious ??

Dont disturb me now, I'm off singing

eins, zwei, drei, shiky-shiky schweine .........

Review: The Calcutta Chromosome

Rating: 3 / 5

Amitav Ghosh's mind-boggling The Calcutta Chromosome is an engrossing medley of science fiction, medical thriller, supernaturalism, eastern mysticism and colonial Indian stories. Set in an alternative vision of a run down New York in the 21st century, the protagonist Antar finds an old ID tag of a former colleague, Murugan, a self-proclaimed expert on Sir Ronald Ross. Murugan, was last seen in Calcutta in 1995 and has hence disappeared. Retracing Murugan's steps, Antar as well as the reader is taken on a journey through colonial India in the 1850s, specifically the steps leading to Ross's discovery of the malarian vector. Murugan is convinced that Ross had help with making the discovery, help from someone who already knew everything there was to know about malaria and was pushing Ross in the hopes of unravelling a greater mystery. A secret so secret, that it existed only in the medium that gave it birth, in Silence.

When I first read the book, I was extremely dissatisfied with it. Dissatisfied with the ending Ghosh gives it and with the ultimate failure of my own comprehension. Mostly because I hated feeling dumb.

I knew I had to re-read it, but never got around to it until Avdi's review got me interested all over again. And this time, not being bogged down by where the story was heading I was able to appreciate the book much more. So, I enjoyed Murugan's delightful politically incorrect banter, the malaria research lore, snapshots of contemporary Bengali culture and Ghosh's deft story-telling skills, especially a very RK Narayanesque ghost story of an uninhabited railway station and his subtly evocative narrative style

... morning commuters with the smell of dhal still buried deep in their finger nails ...

I did make a couple more connections I missed the first time around, but if put to the test, I cannot say I still 'get' it. All I know is there's not going to be a third time ....

To figure out how you as a reader will respond to the book, the closest analogy I can think of is putting together a complicated jigsaw puzzle and ending up with a murky outcome, unsure if you put the pieces in the right way around. If you are the type who anticipates a challenge and believe most of the fun was in putting it together, the book will be a rewarding experience. If you are the type focussed on the end goal and are displeased because there's nothing concrete, you might end up feeling cheated.

3 mistakes on my reading list ...

Does anyone remember the 'use this word in a sentence' portions in the ICSE Engish exams. I imagined our english teachers, either a) laughing uproariously or b) crying copiously (depending on their personalities) when grading these talented efforts.

Incidentally, I mucked up one of these sections. The word was 'cliche'. I misread it as 'clinch' (hold fast/make final/to embrace). Of course, I decided to use the lesser known latter meaning. I remember Rhett Butler making his appearance in that sentence. In my defense it was a timed exam and I exhibit poor judgement at the best of times (consider this a warning if you are ever sharing the road with this papaya and her papaya-mobile). It was only much, much later that the thought of the aged male lit teacher, let's call him GarrulousG, reading that sentence made me cringe ....

GarrulousG was one of those teachers who idolised English as the language of Shakespeare and Byron yada yada yada and once described the meaning of misogyny to the class with great relish. I forgot abt the exam soon enough, but it later became obvious that my innocent little sentence was the Hermione to his Malfoy (without using the obvious cliche here) ...

Came the day of the PTA meeting and Garrulous triumphantly pulls out my exam, handling it like a potential anthrax carrier. I saw a section of the paper marked all through with red and my face started achieving a similar hue. Garrulous read The Sentence out loud to my father and spat out the fatal words 'This is what comes of reading too many novels', following this obscure observation (I mean, what comes??) with a lecture on inculcating good reading habits (like good vanilla, ever notice how a reading habit always needs a qualification), describing a book-arrest of sorts for me, all blaringly delivered for the benefit of scores of interested classmates and their bored parents.

That I was largely unscathed (only my reading choices affected and often accompanied by guilt for about a decade) was all due to DearDad. Peeping at him, I saw polite interest and was joyfully relieved. That expression on his face meant Garrulous could have had a background track of crickets chirping and Dad wouldnt have known the difference, he was antsy over G wasting his time when he could have been speaking with the REAL teachers, the Math and Science ones that is ... and I was going to be allowed to continue with my very own reading habit, be it a good one or a BAD one.

I did learn though never to skim over any exam questions ..... and to think twice before I got carried away on the tide of my own cleverness :S

Anyway, the only reason this memory popped into my head was because I started reading The Duke by Gaelen Foley. It's best described as Hollywood Cliche Central. Authors making use of obvious cliches is a no-no at the best of times, what do you say when readers have apparently lapped up this book? Yes, You, Amazon-Reviewer-Who-Gushingly-Gave-This-5-Stars, I'm talking about You. Lovers bellowing names anguishedly outside windows. Soulful gazing into each other's eyes at a dance while the world blurs away. The sudden realisation of love and running feverishly into someone's arms followed by a make-out session. A white horse and a proposal. Didnt horses in a romance go out with Lochinvar?? Stopped reading.

Next, I read Elyza by Clare Darcy. Every conceit Heyer ever used made it's appearance in the first few pages. Stopped reading.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali was my attempt at tempering all the lighter stuff I was reading. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003. To someone unfamiliar with London, Brick Lane is to Bangladeshis what Southall is to the Punjabis (or Chinatown is to the Chinese :). The book has been made into a movie starring Satish Kaushik, and I was really looking forward to reading it.

Now, I cannot review this book since I didnt complete it, I just sped-read through and skimmed over other parts (never said the skimming was entirely useless) so I have a basic idea of the story. I couldnt really get into the author's writing style and while I was hoping for a portrayal of the Bangladeshi immigrant community, the book is more concerned with the life of the protagonist, Nazneen, who marries a man twice her age and settles down with him in Brick Lane. All very dull and dreary. I laughed (in disbelief) when a Bangladeshi mid-wife is described as being so hungry she could have eaten the baby she delivered, the single light (?) spot in a depressing narrative.

Gah! 3 lousy reads in as many days. I think, tonight, I'll paint my nails instead.

The birthday.

The shrill ringing of the doorbell woke her up. She lay still, trying to ignore the madman outside but just as she had convinced herself he'd gone away, it started again.

If it was the doodhwala come to collect his payment a day early, she was going to kill him, she thought savagely. Wasnt a body entitled to a sleep-in on their birthday?

A young boy was standing on the doorstep grinning widely.

"For you, madam," he said, carrying two flower arrangements.

He seemed to think it a matter of congratulations that she had rated not one, but two, and his joy at bringing these excellent tidings was palpable. She sighed, no she really couldn't send him away with a flea in his ear. Instead she handed over a generous tip.

Both were orchid arrangements, that sensuous, elegant flower she loved. These could only have come from two men. Even the flowers they contained revealed something about the personalities of the senders. One had the most vivid selection of orange & yellow orchids, the colours clashing together in a harmony of exuberance and joy, while the orchids in the second arrangement were a pure stately white.

She pulled out the cards, laughed out loud at the first which had a sappy love poem and was signed flamboyantly - Akash, while the other one said simply 'Have a nice day, R'. Rajan, Rajan, she thought, mentally shaking her head at him. Private & reserved as usual.

After arranging them in the living room to her satisfaction, she wondered about the rest of the day. On a sudden impulse, she called the magazine and took the day off. When was the last time she'd treated herself on a birthday? She had a dinner date with Akash, but now was for her alone. Akash's gift this year was a package at the exclusive Kavya salon. She would go today, get pampered, get her hair done, so she would be glowing in the evening.

Thinking of Akash, in her eyes, he was perfect - intelligent, thoughtful, kind, generous, loving. She and Rajan had a standing date on their birthdays, this changed slightly after the divorce. When Akash found out he had been swift to continue the tradition. Rajan wasnt backward these days, but he wasnt in the city and she loved Akash for wanting to make it special for her. She wondered if she would tell him, Rajan had been giving out some very direct hints about getting back together and she kept putting the decision off.

Who would have thought at the time of their divorce that they would ever be at this point now? It had been particularly acrimonious, two strong controlling personalities determined to hurt the other person worse, but their little boy had been the saving grace. Both loved him dearly and their determination to shield him had caused them to bond again and they had grown into a very easy-going and honest friendship. They could talk to each other about anything under the sun, from career decisions, monetary matters, to discussing their various relationships.

Truth to tell, they were now even better friends since the divorce and this was one of the reasons why the decision was so difficult. Did she want to lose such a hard-earned friend? She hadnt married all these years, hadnt even came close.

But, this was Rajan, she had carried a torch for him over the years, they'd been through a trial by fire together .... and that their son was so well-balanced was proof of how well they did together. Her boy was perfect allright, she thought fiercely, wiping away the easy tears surreptitiously. The girl, Sarita, massaging her gave her a startled look, but she closed her eyes and allowed the repetitive massaging soothe her back into happy somnolence.

Driving home, she thought ruefully that Sarita must have had magic hands and had bewitched her. What else could explain the nail polish colour she currently sported, Purple Passion??? She gazed at her feet aghast anew, ever since the divorce she had been a Bashful Brown or a Pretty in Pink. Akash wouldnt notice, but Rajan would, he always noticed everything about her. Was her subconscious sending her signals ? She would think about it later, HAD to think about it later, for now she would concentrate on a pleasant evening.

She selected a deep purple, crushed silk saree with golden undertones to the rich colour, tinted her lips with a matching shade, delicately applied mascara and was just slipping her feet into a pair of particularly frivolous sandals when she heard the door open. Akash bounded up the stairs, handsome in a charcoal-gray suit with the special smile he reserved for her and enveloped her in a bear hug.

"Happy birthday, gorgeous!," he said, his eyes twinkling warmly as he bent to kiss her.

She laughed, delighted "So, where are we going?" as he ushered her out of the house.

"The Blue Dahlia. I know how you love sushi, Ma!"

These are a few of my favorite .. err.. memories?

WhatsInAName tagged me to write about 7 childhood memories. Since, I've been reading a lot of these posts and didnt want to pass off someone's memories as mine (ya I'm that impressionable) I thought I'd approach it largely from the food angle and throw any other memories in between. I noticed the tag just says childhood memories, no good or bad, and that's just fine. Some of my memories I have no idea whether I'm fond of them, sure I laugh at some, but also cringe at others and so on and so forth. I'll try putting the pleasanter ones down here ...

  • A long time ago before I was worried about calories or acne, my fondest memories are of peeling little sweet wrappers and popping a delectable treat into my mouth. Available at any price range from the 10p lemon, orange slice shaped bakery sweets, the little Ravalgaon lemon and orange round sweets, to the pricier 5 Star bars, Cadburys Dairy Milk and Fruit and Nut bars, Nutties, Eclairs, Coffee Bites, I ate them all. And evenings and tea-times saw me munching happily on Britannia Bourbon and Jim-Jams. I loved pulling the bourbon biscuit apart, licking the chocolate cream off and then eating the biscuit. I still do it if no one's watching while the Jim-Jams, a fabulously sticky cream biscuit with a jam center, sprinkled with sugar crystals I can still eat anytime. Recently, I bought a 5 star bar, hoping to relive my childhood, all i realised was i'm old now, booo :(
  • I love certain food traditions my mom setup for us as we were growing up. So, every Sunday the house would be redolent with the smell of a traditional chicken recipe and fish fry. Festivals, picnics, birthdays saw various other food customs being set which I still looked forward to even amidst all the other stuff going on. If there's one thing I ever pass on to my kids, it would be a Sunday lunch tradition. Even though the menu never changed, the anticipation and fulfillment of eating a familiar delicious meal combined with family bonding made Sundays extremely special for me.
  • We werent huge movie buffs. However there was a time when the drive-in theater in Bangalore just opened and every Friday night saw my parents bundling us into the car with blankets, food, drinks irrespective of the movie playing. Neither LilBro nor me lasted the entire length of the movie, we just loved the mini-picnic feel of watching a movie under the stars part of a crowd, yet alone in our little car, the tinny sounds emerging from the speakers hanging over the car windows, eating samosas and pooris on paper plates. Even the rapacious mosquitoes were just minor irritants. We'd settle down happily into the back seat ensconced in a blanket, play or chat if we were bored and would be driven home completely and deeply asleep when the movie was over.
  • Summer vacations saw us going back to my dad's village. I loved the train journeys esp the food that used to be served. It might not have been the most hygienic (we saw them place the trains outside the loos in the second class compartments :), but until I ate that tray filled with dal, subjis, spiced chicken if you wanted it, sweet yogurt, pickle, pooris/parathas and rice I never felt as if my summer vacation had quite started. The rest of the time was spent reading comics like Tinkle, Chandamama, my stash of Enid Blytons and Carolyn Keenes, while munching on clandestinely stolen pieces of drying mangoes, salted and spiced waiting to be pickled, playing cards through the day with cousins and sleeping on little khatiyas under the stars if it got too hot to sleep indoors. Summer vacations also saw me reading all the prescribed literature books for the next school year, except the poetry books that is. I hate poems!!
  • We used to play the most amazingly corny games in our all-girls school. First was the hopscotch which I dont think any girl ever got tired of, then there was this game where an elastic would be stretched between 2 girls who acted like bookends holding the elastic in place and the rest would take turns hopping and twisting the elastic into the most fascinating shapes. And lunch times often saw entire snake-lines of giggling, pig-tailed girls in a strange marching-dance manoevre to the uninitiated, mouthing the mantra 'There was a girl, so thin and tall and fair .....'. You had to play it to understand :) I wonder if it was some strange Bangalore tradition or everyone else played it too? Living in an building with 52 flats meant there were always tons of kids to play with, we used to play dodgeball, lagori, chor-police but the one game we never got tired of playing was something inventively called tackling - our variation of another game. The compound of my building had huge concrete rectangle slabs (probably 8 ft by 5 ft) with tar fillings in between, and these became our tackling rectangles. The objective was to position the 1st team on the rectangles so that they could only move perpendicularly on the black tar lines, while the other team would try to run across 5 of these rectangles and back without getting caught by the 1st team. We even had complicated strategies per team, let the slowest kid across first to catch them while coming back, the fastest kid would man the last rectangle etc. Loads of fun!!!
  • We've been going for early morning walks most of my life, atleast for the time I lived with my parents and wasnt allowed to be a lazy papaya. We used to walk around MG Road and Cubbon Park. At that time of day, there would be no cars around and on MG Road, the stretch between Brigade Road and Cubbon Park, you would find kids practising roller-skating on the road itself. When I was older I walked with a friend and we had the most amazing encounters - from the uncle with the military haircut who wished two silly, giggling girls every morning, to the sophisticated women who walked with weights in their arms, to the aunties stopping for a gossip after every chakkar, to the men who blared music from their cars while doing their weird versions of sit-ups only to get back in and find they couldnt start the car, to the lovebirds who setup clandestine meetings before school, Cubbon Park was a fascinatingly busy place early in the morning. (I didnt mention the flashers but if you are a parent reading please be aware that it happens).
Ok social conscience appeased, and I think I'm done. I just realised I'm terrible at writing about myself. Why have a blog I wonder? Before I dwell further on my existential angst, let me pass the tag (remember it's 7, people, SEVEN memories) onto a few others Avdi (ms. avdi please tell me which blog you will put it on), Samir and Angel's Flight. Do with it what you will :D

Review: These Old Shades

Rating: 5 / 5

These Old Shades is a vivid Georgian (1714-early 19th century) romance by Georgette Heyer.

A mysterious page, Léon, employed by Justin, the Duke of Avon, is found to actually be Léonie. The mystery deepens as Justin makes Léonie his ward, providing her with jewels, clothes, security and everything she has ever only dreamt of. Justin conceals some deep reasons for adopting her, concerning an old rivalry with a French nobleman, the Comte de Saint Vire who tries desperately to get Léonie in his power. But, as Justin sets his plans concerning Léonie in motion he little thinks that the affection he feels for the page would deepen into a completely different and stronger emotion towards the woman ....

The plot and story is simple enough. The magic of These Old Shades lies in the masterful layers to the novel. Heyer is at her best with her trademark romance and intrigue, the delightful and witty banter and dialogues and the wry reading of certain character types. TOS is also chock-full of Heyer's research into Georgian and French fashions - for the men and the ladies, speech, mode of transport, lifestyle and amusements.

But, where TOS exceeds beyond a generic romance is in the detailing of her characters. Every character comes to life through the action and dialogue, whether it is the beautiful, intelligent, fiercely loyal Léonie, Justin's flighty sister Lady Fanny, his irresponsible brother Lord Rupert, the villainous Comte de Saint Vire or Justin's moralising friend Hugh Davenant. But, with the suave Duke of Avon and his redemption through the power of love, she has created an unforgettable romantic hero.

When we meet Justin, he is a hardened rake, an inveterate gambler given over to vice and laden with cynicism towards his fellow men. He is also a slightly sinister character, having cultivated among his acquaintance a reputation for omniscience and has rightly earned his nickname of Satanas. Into this slightly lonely existence bursts Léon with youthful impetuosity and innocent wisdom. As we come to know him through his dealings with Léon then Léonie, we see her breaking down the barriers surrounding his heart until the true man emerges.

It is difficult for me to name a favorite book by Heyer. I've re-read her books for the better part of 8 years and have found my tastes altering depending on age, mood and temperament. While TOS doesnt remain my favorite (now I prefer her older heroines and mature stories) I still look on it with a lot of fondness. It's the first Heyer I read, and I never looked back.

And, for those who just cant get enough of these characters, read the prequel (of sorts) The Black Moth and the sequel to this one, Devil's Cub.

Review: The Black Moth

Rating: 3.5 /5

Jack Carstares, the Earl of Wyncham has had to leave England because he was wrongfully accused of cheating at a card game. In an age where honor and courage was prevalent, this is the ultimate sin for a ’gentleman’ to commit. Forced to earn his living, he becomes a higwayman.

Closely entangled with the cause of Jack's disgrace is the Duke of Andover, Tracy ’Devil’ Belmanoir, a confirmed rake, who has his own reasons for wishing to keep Jack away from the Earldom. Lady Lavinia, Devil’s sister, a thoughtless, spoiled romantic, is married to Jack’s brother, Richard.

Also in the mix is an exotic beauty, Diana Beauleigh, who Andover has designs on. Andover plans to kidnap the lovely Diana, but of course as with all villains in romances, a spanner is thrown into these plans by Jack, but how, why and what happens next is a wonderful, action-packed, humorous ride with Heyer that I promise, you will not regret.

Secondary characters aplenty like the loveable, shatter-brained Andrew, Devil’s brother, the stolid, dependable O’Hara, Jack’s friend, mischievous Lady O’Hara and Jack’s serious and troubled brother Richard Carstares are masterfully woven into the plot.

The Black Moth, a historical romance by Georgette Heyer, was written at the age of 17 and is a wonderful induction into the world of Heyer. Since it was her first novel, it doesnt have quite the polished writing and sentence structure, wit and plot development that the later novels do. More importantly, TBM laid the groundwork for the novel These Old Shades. Almost the same characters from TBM make their appearance in TOS albeit with different names and with more intriguing personas. TOS is the better book by far, however if you wanted a prequel of sorts to the characters in that story (and you will once you read it) TBM comes as close to the real thing (Heyer's vivid world) as possible.

Them reading habits ....

So, here's a fun list doing the blog-rounds lately. Apparently, the average adult has only ever read 6 of the 100 books on the following list, ofcos I had to see how I stacked up...

The rules are as follows:

* Look at the list and bold those you have read.
* Italicize those you intend to read.
* Underline the books you really love (and strikethrough the ones you hate!).
* Reprint this list in your own blog.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

eeps ...
only 40/100, this means that I must stop whining that I have nothing to read (and stop reading the romance covers squirrelled away on my nightstand) !!

As for books I hated, the only one that evokes that knee-jerk reaction is Moby Dick which I read the first few chapters of and vowed never to pick again, so I'm sure it doesnt count.

So, how many have you read??

Review: The Palace of Illusions


A proud, egoistical princess. A proud, illegitimate prince. Five noble husbands. A 100 enemies. A divine ally and a war which will change the face of Bharath forever. Of course, I'm talking about the greatest of all the Indian mythological epics - the Mahabharata. And Chitra Benerjee Divakaruni's thoroughly involving version, the Palace of Illusions.

'Palace of Illusions' is the Mahabharata re-told from the feminine perspective and who better to take us through it than the woman who will be the cause of the Great War - the exquisite Princess Draupadi.

We follow Draupadi from her extraordinary birth through her teenage years, and get to know her as the little bit of woman in every one of us - spoiled, egoistical, foolish in love and with the desire to do great things to chart her course in history, and come to know the woman she becomes. A woman moulded by the fire which gave birth to her and flamed by the desire for vengeance until her future lies scorched in the blazing heat of that same spark she ignites.

Divakaruni's handling of Draupadi's thoughts, wishes and dseires is masterful, making the woman who seems to be an enigma in the original version of the great epic come to life between her pages. But, she is of course at her best with the effective, imaginative prose layered all through the story, and also describing simple people like Dhai Ma. One can imagine one's favorite grandmother or dai bent over a stove and ladling out the same effective doses of wisdom. And the treatment of Krishna is inspired! He is fun-loving, caring, taunting, a wise councillor, a dreaded enemy, but always that little bit inscrutable, much as every account of the God seems to relate.

It is not easy to retell a story which most Indian knows the salient points of and keep it fresh, but Ms. Divakaruni manages this with astonishing ease with her first person POV. She evidently has the epic well-in-hand as she uses tales out of chronology to illustrate a point, such as the story of Ekalavya, Drona's hapless disciple.

Possibly the only shortcoming I find with this book was that it was brief, but how can one condense the Mahabharata anyway. I did find myself wishing that Ms. Divakaruni had used her ample imagination and vivid prose to explore the other feminine perspectives too, Kunti comes to mind. Possibly the other disappointment was that with saddling herself with a biased point of view, we dont get any insight to the one character who is the most tantalising and mysterious of them all - Karna. I think I will have to look up Shivaji Sawant's much-acclaimed Mrityunjay after all!!!

Review: The Mists of Avalon


The time is medieval England, a land of mysticism and rigid faith, where the old religion of Goddess worship and the newly founded Christian religion battle to gain prominence over the hearts and minds of the people. The mystical island of Avalon is the center of the pagan religion, with a temple training Priestesses and Druids into the Mysteries.

But, the island of Avalon is slowly receding into the mists surrounding the lake, as it is pushed further from the memories of men, and only those men who know the location can find it. Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, is determined to bring back the old religion of Goddess worship, prevent Christianity from becoming the one true religion of the land and keep Avalon in the world from which it is being lost.

The 'Mists of Avalon' by Marion Zimmer Bradley, starts with the story of Arthur's parents Igraine and Uther Pendragon and proceeds to weave in all the numerous legends surrounding King Arthur and Camelot and a number of characters. We have, Morgaine who is Arthur's half-sister and Lady of the Lake after Viviane, Gwynhwyfar - Arthur's fanatically Christian wife, Lancelet - Arthur's cousin, chief knight and Gwynhwyfar's lover, Mordred - Arthur and Morgaine's son, the Merlin of Britain - one of Arthur's advisers, the famous sword Excalibur, the Round Table of the stories and the Quest for the Holy Grail.

As told from the feminine perspective, Viviane, Igraine, Morgause (Igraine's and Viviane's sister), Morgaine and Gwenhwyfar this forms an interesting re-imagining of the Arthurian legends weaving in all the fantasy elements nicely with the myth of Avalon and the Fairies. The only places I found it to be heavy going was with the endless arguments between the Christian and pagan religions (and there are a LOT of these) and the wearisome, hypocitical, piety of Gwenhwyfar. Also, Arthur as he is written, comes across as being a very ineffectual King - always wanting to please everyone, which is at odds with his fame as a commander of men and a leader on the battlefield.

Well worth a read for a lot of fantasy, medieval culture and for anyone remotely interested in the Arthurian legends. For someone wanting to go a little further back in time to the Romans in Britain, you could watch the Last Legion featuring Aishwarya Rai, though I cannot say I would recommend it!

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