Review: Death Angel

Rating: 1 / 5

Drea Rousseau is a gangster's moll. She's lived for 2 years with Rafael Salinas, a drug smuggling crime-lord, convincing him of her stupidity and her absolute devotion to him, all the while ensuring that she puts by enough money for a secure future when she wont have her looks to trade on. She thinks she has Salinas where she wants him, until Salinas makes a little deal with an assassin he hires. As a reward for a job well done, he agrees to give Drea to him for a couple of hours. Drea, humiliated and in a furious rage swears to make Salinas pay and runs away. With 2 million dollars of his money. Salinas hires the same assassin to kill her, but as the hitman hunts her down neither he nor Drea have an inkling of how radically their lives are going to change.

It's pretty difficult reviewing this novel, without giving a lot of the story away. The rest of the book follows Drea's footsteps as she chases after the money with little side trips into Salinas, the assassin's, some FBI detectives' heads and all the dull details about banking and finance you never knew and could care less about. And a miracle in the middle of the novel which sets up both characters for their ultimate redemption.

I consider Linda Howard to be a hit-or-miss author, when she's good she's unputdownable, but unfortunately has a lot of turkeys too. Considering what it is about her novels I like, I think along with the decent writing and humor I like that she creates strong characters. In fact, one of her books Cover of the Night, has a thoroughly implausible storyline - a handful of goons besiege an entire American town - I still liked it immensely because I liked the lead pair and all the sundry characters of the town.

So, where this book fails is in the premise, creating believable characters whose moral rescue and redemption the reader understands, is involved in and is rooting for. And it's even more dissociative for the reader when the hero is nameless for almost a third of the story. Drea started off as a good character, pretending to be a blond bimbette but actually a shrewd, smart woman who looks out only for herself. But I found it hard to believe that such a street-smart character fell in love, with an assassin no less, over a few hours of sex. And the hero's motivations were even less apparent to this reader. To get the two together Howard employs a spiritual/ psychic plot device which brought the book to a grinding halt for me, and I could only skim thereafter.

I guess that's about all I can discuss without going into major spoilers. The rating is so low because Howard does have some truly good romances out there.

If you are a new reader some of her better titles are Dying to Please, Cover of the Night ... hmm, I'll add more when I think of them. Dont pick up Shades of Twilight, Open Season or this one :)

The week in diet!

I'd be the first person to tell you that crash diets dont work. In fact, my recommended tried and tested method of losing weight is calorie control. But, with me needing to lose some excess weight by the end of March and only a week to do it in I figured the GM diet/ Cabbage Soup Diet was the diet to go on. Additionally, a friend recently got great results following the same, and I'm gullible that way....

I've done this diet before and lost approx 9 lbs in 1 week (the diet says you will lose between 7-10 lbs in the week) .... and gained 5 lbs back on day 8 when I binged. And developed a 6 month aversion to apples and bananas. So, this time I knew I had to be better organized so that I wouldnt repeat myself. So, here's my notes and plans. Do note that this diet should only be followed for the recommended 7 days and not repeated in a month. Also, I dont endorse any diets, this is just a log of my experience. Please take the claims of the link above with a heavy dose of skepticism. The diet works through starvation and lowering your calorie intake, so I doubt it is healthy.

For me,

1) I knew from my previous experience that I had to plan every meal. Just because it lists fruits and vegetables thinking you can just eat them raw when hungry is misleading. My aversion to certain foods also developed because I didnt take care to have a large variation of fruits & veggies on hand. So, first, plan every meal and shop for the entire week. Also, a very important thing to remember is cook the foods you like, now is not the time to try any exotic untried stuff.

2) You are supposed to make cabbage soup which can be eaten any time of the day in virtually unlimited quantities. The cabbage soup recipe listed sounds pretty horrible. I knew I wouldnt be able to eat it, so I made my own veg soup and ate it for 4 days without getting tired of it. The recipe I followed is here. It freezes well too so if you are sick of it you can always eat it later.

3) Even though you are eating plain meals, make sure you add lots of flavour so you dont feel like you are compromising your meals. Garlic, ginger, spices, condiments are your friends and are allowed on the diet.

4) I would recommend starting it on a Saturday or when you have some days off because I experienced the most weakness on the first 2 days of the diet.

5) The diet recommends drinking 8 glasses of water. I didnt count but I drink a lot of water every day so I kept at the same.

6) My goal was to follow the diet without feeling like I am compromising on food so that after the week was over any weight would remain lost and I wouldnt binge. So, I didnt follow the diet completely but made little adjustments that I dont think added too many calories overall.

Day 1: All fruits except bananas. Your first day will consist of all the fruits you want.

Weighed myself.

Ate a quarter watermelon for breakfast. Lunch was 2 apples+2 pears+1 tsp. honey+cinnamon zapped in microwave for about a minute and a half until the juices started flowing. A great addition to this would be peaches, nectarines, any fruit which can be baked. Felt weak and light-headed during the day so in the afternoon I ate a quarter cup rice with moong dal (yellow lentils). Headache went away immediately. Some grapes around tea time and for dinner 1 small serving butternut squash soup with 5 croutons.

Reccos: Cook fruits in the microwave to whatever level of firmness you like. You can make a fruit salad, or a fruit smoothie with a dollop of non-fat yogurt. For pineapples or grapefruits - Cut the fruit into small pieces, finely chop 1 green chilly, finely chop coriander leaves. Mix together.

Day 2: All vegetables. You are encouraged to eat until you are stuffed with all the raw or cooked vegetables of your choice. There is no limit on the amount or type. For your complex carbohydrate, you will start day two with a large baked potato for breakfast. You may top the potato with one pat of butter.

Same weight as previous day.

1 Baked potato w. a yogurt topping. Ok, baked potatoes are seriously overrated, mine was mealy, maybe I baked it too long? Lunch and dinner was a bowl of chinese stir-fry. 1 cup of soup during the day. Also, drank tea (no sugar, dash of milk) with 3 digestive biscuits. Felt light-headed and and weak again during the day, but the stir fry was tasty and satisfactory. Had no cravings.

Chinese Stir-Fry: Heat 1 tsp oil in a wok. Add minced ginger and garlic and fry till aromatic. Add vegetables (bok choy, mushrooms, carrots, brocolli, french beans, tofu etc) and stir fry them on high heat for 2-3 mins. Season with soy sauce. Take off heat and add scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

Reccos: Try a tofu scramble - small amount of tofu scrambled with onions, garlic, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms. Roast/grill portabello mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and eat tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Day 3: A mixture of fruits and vegetables of your choice. Any amount, any quantity. No bananas yet. No potatoes today.

Lost 1 lb.

Breakfast was a quarter cup dry lentil prep (moong dal) with pumpkin added. Lunch was a large bowl of butternut squash soup with croutons and 2 fat-free crackers. Evening tea + 2 digestives. Dinner was a fruit salad of grapes, 1 apple, 2 pears and 2 oranges. Was very busy through the work day so did not notice any exceptional weakness or headaches as per previous day. No food cravings either.

Reccos: Vary whatever you cooked on previous day so you dont feel like you are eating the same thing.

Day 4: Bananas and milk. Today you will eat as many as eight bananas and drink three glasses of milk. This will be combined with the special soup which may be eaten in limited quantities.

Gained 0.5 lbs :(

Breakfast was 2 bananas+blueberries+almond+chocolate milk shake with a dollop of yogurt for creaminess. Had the same shake in the evening instead of tea. 2 Bananas eaten during the day. Soup for lunch and dinner with croutons. No weakness but suffered a stomach upset.

Reccos: Try different flavours of milkshakes as listed above. A variation is an Indian prep called shikran - mash the bananas a little bit, add milk to it and cardamom powder. My mom would also add sugar but I dont think it's needed. The milk to bananas should feel like eating cereal.

Day 5: You will eat beef and tomatoes. Eat two 10 oz. portions of lean beef. Hamburger is OK. Combine this with six whole tomatoes.

Same weight as previous day.

No time for breakfast, lunch and dinner was 2 cumin crusted chicken breasts (I added 1 tsp. chilli powder to the recipe because I need some heat with my food) with huge quantities of tomato relish (added pepperoncinis to recipe) as side. Chicken was delicious and very satisfying. Stomach was perfectly fine the entire day.

Reccos: I know it says hamburger is ok, but if you have problems with controlling yourself around food eating a burger without the buns can lead to some serious cravings. So, my point, dont try it. For variations on the tomatoes, try frying them like they are served in the English breakfasts. Make a virgin bloody mary. Or stir-fry beef with onions, tomatoes and black pepper powder.

Day 6: Beef and vegetables. Today you may eat an unlimited amount of beef and vegetables. Eat to your hearts content.

Lost 2 lbs.

Breakfast was 1 cup of tea with 2 digestives. Lunch was 1 small slice of meatloaf with stir-fried veggie leftovers from Day 2 and a roasted tomato-red pepper-parsley sauce for the meatloaf. Evening - I had 1 cup of coffee w. 1 tsp. sugar and 2 digestives. Dinner was a meatloaf sandwich with the remainder of the stir-fry as a side.

So, I did badly this day. It's only because while I found a really nice recipe for meatloaf, I forgot that I HATE it. So, I couldnt eat any of the nice lunch I spent about an hour prepping and cooking and had to fill myself up with the veggies. Felt weakish, though this was probably because of my disappointment with the food so added sugar to my coffee to fortify myself. And since I had a mountain of leftovers I put another small slice between bread just to make myself eat it. And unfortunately my soup got over on day 4 and I was too lazy to make any more.

Day 7: Today your food intake will consist of brown rice, fruit juices and all the vegetables you care to consume.

Same weight as previous day.

Ginger tea in the morning and evening with 2 crackers each time. Lunch was a vegetable fried rice w. broccoli, carrots, snap peas, mushrooms, bell peppers, scallions, ginger+garlic. Dinner same fried rice with a side of stir-fried bok choy with cashews. Also drank a grapefruit+orange+lemon juice in the afternoon. No after-effects or weakness or headaches or cravings. Feeling light and happy weight-wise.

Day 8:

Same weight as Day 7.

So, the net result was I lost 2.5 lbs. Yeah, I was pissed initially, the bad vibes starting on day 4 itself. But, on reflection I realise it's because I dont have much weight to lose. I'm 5'3" and 119 lbs which is normal. When I did this before I was carrying some excess weight which is why I saw the more dramatic weight loss. So, basically this just means that the amount of weight loss depends on how much you have to lose.

You know with research how even if you dont get results, it qualifies as a step forward because you just proved a theory isnt possible. Well, if you are thinking of this diet, I hope it will give you an idea if it will work for you or not.

For me I realize that instead of weight loss what I really wanted to do is tone my body. Which means getting my lazy ass off the couch and into the gym. Sigh.

Alien: Resurrection and Firefly/ Serenity

B got the Alien Quadrilogy for his birthday this year. As an aside, if you are an Alien fan, this DVD set is a great buy. So anyway, the 4th Alien movie is completely different from the rest in terms of tone and sci-fi action and as we kept watching some of the gags unfold I felt this odd deja vu. It hit me a minute later. Albeit darker in tone, the crew of the pirate ship from Aliens could be dead-ringers for the crew of Firefly. There's the same group dynamic, the same humor in the script, even a basketball court on both ships.

Alien 4Firefly
Space Pirate shipBettySerenity
Hunky CaptainElgynMal
Soldierly female secondHillard/Ripley(maybe)Zoe
Mercenary crew memberJohnerJayne
Fragile MechanicAnnallee CalKaylee
Released1997 2002
WriterJoss WhedonJoss Whedon

Hi, I'm couchpapaya and I'm a nerd .......

Free stuff ....

and this Papaya get along very well ... eHarlequin is giving away 16 romance ebooks for free.


Review: Death in Holy Orders

Rating: 3 / 5

When I started reading Elizabeth George I noticed that other reviewers compared her to PD James all the time. I've read James before (Children of Men), but never got around to reading her mystery series with New Scotland Yard detective Adam Dalgliesh and I figured it was time to pick one up.

Death in Holy Orders is actually book number 11 in the mystery series.

After the accidental death of an ordinand, Ronald Treeves, in St. Anselm's an elite theological college on a remote section of the Suffolk coast, his father unconvinced goes to New Scotland Yard for help in uncovering the truth behind the boys death.

Commander Adam Dalgliesh who has lived at St. Anselm's for a few summers in his youth and has fond memories of the place offers to look into the death on his visit to Suffolk. When he arrives there he learns that the college is hosting a couple of guests for the weekend besides a few ordinances and the resident priests.

If ever there was a case of World's Worst Guests, you'll find it here. There's Archdeacon Crampton who is trying to get St. Anselms shut down, Father Sebastian Morell who has worked very hard to acieve his position as head of St. Anselms and intends to keep it that way. There's Inspector Yarwood who was the examining officer in charge of the suicide of Crampton's first wife. There's Father John who Crampton succeded in putting into prison over charges of sexual abuse and ordinand Raphael Arbuthnot who hates Crampton for what he did to Father John. And there's Arbuthnot and Dalgliesh squaring off over Dr. Emma Lavenham who has arrived to conduct her semi-annual seminars on poetry at the college.

It isnt surprising with this setup that tensions run high, tempers are frayed, emotions are shredded and the murder of one of the guests makes it clear to Dalgliesh that a subtle mind is at work. As Dalgliesh and his team start to investigate they uncover a number of surprising secrets of this small group of unlikely suspects.

Having read both authors it is unsurprising that George is compared to James. Here's the same approach to telling a mystery, delving into the psychologies of the motley group of characters until a motive starts to emerge. I think I prefer James going by this book since with her latter novels George has started delving and padding a bit too much.

Being my first Dalgliesh novel, I enjoyed it quite a bit. James' writing is strong, very descriptive, her characters are interesting and while the ultimate mystery and solution may have been slightly weak it did not diminish my enjoyment of wallowing in her artfully created theological universe.

What did diminish my enjoyment is the character of Father John, a man convicted of paedophilia, who unaccountably gets a very sympathetic treatment from all the characters, except Crampton. Paedophilia is a serious crime and I did not like to see it treated as something which should be acompanied by a slap on the wrist and the person who put the criminal behind bars as someone who hounded a poor, weak old man into prison.

Back and forth on this one. I think I'll recommend with 3 points.

Let there be vampires!

I dont like vampires much. The Bram Stoker and Stephen King vampires were downright scary, and while Anne Rice's wonderfully graphic and philosophical Vampire Chronicles were intriguing enough, it wasnt until Hollywood made Rice's vision *ing Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas, fanged, long-locked, in period costumes and frankly mouthwateringly gawh-gus that I began to rethink my aversion. I watched the movie with wide eyes, slack-jaws, flushed cheeks and maybe even the hint of drool pooling at the corners of my mouth. Cruise as the Vampire Lestat still retains a special place in my imagination.

But that was it wrt vamps until about a year and a half ago I started reading romance. And noticed a trend among the staid bookshelves of my library. Apparently, while I was in the mystery aisles, vampires had become pop culture phenomena, they were sexy and nobody was bothered by blood breath ala Count Dracula anymore. The paranormal romances outnumbered all the other romance genres being stocked and checked out, vampires had even invaded chick-lit, while the teen market was catered to by shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

I'm not that interested in vampire romance mainly because most of them follow the formula of centuries-old vamp meeting the love of his life in a modern woman. Most romance genres are unrealistic towards propagating the stereotype of true love and soulmates, but the immortal who mopes or broods around until said partner appears is difficult for me to stomach. And frankly it seems very lonely too. Not to mention all the sucking and slurping of blood (one wonders which STD class people missed). But I digress.

So, anyway, since it looked like the adults and teen markets were already cornered along came writer Stephanie Meyer who felt that the tweenie age group deserved some of the fun too and penned the Twilight saga, a series which has enjoyed success much like Rowlings' Potter series. Obviously, with all the hype I had to check it out and finally, a couple of weeks ago, I received my copy of Twilight...And was appalled. Meyer's writing is terrible, there is no character development, no dialogue, no action, no impetus to the story.

The story of Twilight is as follows: Bella Swan moves to Forks, Washington to live with her father and is attracted to Edward Cullen, who just happens to be a vampire. Bella and Edward take one look at each other and know they are meant to be together .. the forewer and ewer kinds. There's just the little problem of Edward wanting to kill Bella, more specifically drink her blood, each time he smells her.

And therein lies the conflict of the story touted to have the greatest pair of lovers since Romeo and Juliet. The rest of the story goes on with mundane experiences, Bella meeting Edward's family, enjoying a game of vampire baseball (Quidditch-Fidditch phhooey, we have a real-life game here), being bratty to her friends and ultimately being in some minor, blink-and-you-miss-it danger because she now hangs with the vamps and just smells so goood.

Ms. Meyer reduces her characters to cardboard cutouts with animal instincts - Bella exuding the pheromones that attract the male, while Edward, much like a male peacock or more accurately a carnivorous flower has all the flamboyant physical attributes to make him a successful in attracting her. Intellectual stimulation doesnt play any part in this couple's courtship. So, Bella loves Edward for being beautiful, he sparkles, people (cho pwetty)!! While Edward loves Bella for smelling good. Also, Bella's character is awkward, whiny, selfish, and cannot lift a finger for herself. This is a character who has to have the seat-belt fastened for her and constantly be told when to eat and drink.

There's a lot written about how the books are anti-feminist, abusive and narrow minded with the values and examples she is setting with her characters' behavior and her writing. Parents value Meyer's writing because she apparently (like the Bush government's policies) preaches abstinence, but I don't like the way she endorses it, literally it's do AND die. Again lots of criticism can be found online so I wont go into that - let's just say I agree.

Anyway, I found that I kept reading it just because the story is likeable. The big disconnect for me came towards the end when Bella starts to nag Edward constantly to kill her so she can be with him forewer and .... right we've been here before. And I was shocked to find a character with no goals or aspirations other than suicide in a book purportedly for kids, whatever be the justification - the most popular one being it's mind candy, leave your brain behind. Either way, it's irresponsible.

So, I didnt like Twilight. And I will not read the rest of the series. The IMDB pages for the movie has most fans saying that the book was a whole lot better than the movie, so off I went to Youtube. I didnt watch completely but what I noticed was that they kept the cheesy bits of the dialogue in, the acting was uniformally bad, the chemistry between the lead pair non-existent. And the story remained the same, dull and vapid. And the less said about the Goth lipstick for the 'pale' vamps the better. Despite my disapproval, the movie did very well worldwide, what were they thinking ??!!

So, why is this series doing so well? Time to perform a very rudimentary amateur analysis.

It's written at the perfect time, culturally, when there is an unprecedented fascination with vampires, this might explain the number of adult women drawn to the story, even to Meyer's heavily neutered vampires. It deals with true love and forbidden love which are best-selling themes for romance and it might just be that no one has written a novel with these themes for teens before, but I might be mistaken in this bit.

And teenage girls seem to think that if Bella who is an apparently shy and awkward (the apparently is because this is the author's description, within moments of moving to Forks Bella actually has 5 boys hitting on her) teenager, can get the coolest, handomest, strongest boy in school then there's hope for them too. Couple that with the fact that a vampire is the quintessential bad boy and being helpless and rescued and reforming the male plays on female fantasies somewhere.

Also, Twilight looks pretty fat at 500 pages, but these pages are covered with large font writing and double-spaced paragraphs. Reading the simplistic language and completing such a huge number of pages does give the non-readers a sense of accomplishment and again this is something that can have contributed to the wide scale sales of the book.

In effect, Meyer's success is due to her making use of the opportunity presented to her, and having a decent story idea for fertile imaginations to run away with, it is in no way a tribute to her writing skills. If there are any male fans, it beats me why.

I was explaining to a friend why I didn't like Chetan Bhagat's writing and pat came the accusation 'Or you might just be jealous?' Sure, I'm jealous of Bhagat and Meyer and their franchises while being only admiring of Rowling's much, much, MUCH larger franchise, one which has popular as well as critical acclaim. You have to start small, I guess. So to clarify, the only thing in common between Meyer and Rowling's series is Robert Pattinson, who played Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter movies and plays Edward Cullen in Twilight.

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