Friday, 27 September 2013

Semi-Charmed Autumn Challenge

I am signing up for the first autumn installment of the Semi-Charmed Book Challenge! 

Here are the details

  • The challenge will run from October 1, 2013, to December 31, 2013. No books that are started before 12 a.m. on October 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on December 31 will count.
  • New rule: In the past, I haven't allowed rereads because I said I wanted you to experience new books with my challenges. Now, however, I've decided up to three books for the challenge can be rereads. This is to allow you to revisit books from your childhood or young adulthood that you might get more out of now, or to finish books you started a long time ago but never completed. Please reread the entire book within the timeframe of the challenge in order to count it; no simply finishing old books or partial rereads!
  • Each book must be at least 200 pages long. Audiobooks are fine, as long as the print versions meet the page requirements.
  • A book can only be used for one category. If you want to switch the category later, that's fine, just be sure to account for that in your point total.
  • The highest possible total is 200 points, and the first five people who finish the challenge will win a featured/guest post on Semi-Charmed Kind of Life and be invited to contribute a category for the winter challenge. Good luck!

And now for the exciting part: The challenge categories! As of this posting, five people have completed the summer book challenge, and I invited each of them to contribute their own category to the autumn challenge. If you win the autumn challenge, you'll get to help me make the winter challenge! Fun, right?

5: Read a book that does not have "the," "a" or "an" in the title - Police by Jo Nesbo

10: Read a book that has been featured in Oprah's Book Club. This list includes all the books up until 2010. (Submitted by SCSBC13 winner Erin.)- Love in time of Cholera 

10: Read a book that takes place in the state where you currently live. If you do not live in the U.S., read a book that takes place in the country where you live. (Submitted by SCSBC13 winner Megan.) Dead Man's Time by Peter James

15: Read an epistolary novel, which is a book written in letters, emails, diary entries or other documents. See this Goodreads list if you need an idea, but make sure it's actually an epistolary novel first! Goodreads lists aren't verified, so non-epistolary books could have snuck their way on there- Diary of an Ordinary Woman 1914-1995 by Margaret Froster

15: Read a book first published in 2013- W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton (8/10/13)

15: Read a book with something spooky in the title. (Submitted by SCSBC13 winner Bev.) Jack O' Lantern

20: Read a book with "air," "water," "earth" or "fire" in the title. (Submitted by SCSBC13 winnerGypsi.) Fireside Mystery Book by Frank Owen 

20: Read a book on which a television series has been based (e.g. Orange is the New BlackGossip GirlPretty Little LiarsFriday Night Lights, etc.). Cross and Burn by Val McDermid

25: Read a fiction book that has someone’s first and last name in the title (e.g. The Story of Edgar SawtelleThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Bridget Jones's Diary, etc.). John Thorndyke's Cases by R Austin Freeman

30: Read two books by the same author. They can be in the same series, but do not have to be. Co-authors do not count (i.e. the author must be the sole author of each book). A Man Lay Dead and A Vintage Mystery by Ngaio Marsh

35: Read a fiction and nonfiction book about the same topic. (Example: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Woman Who Wasn't There are both about 9/11. I'm planning on doing a whole post with a list of ideas soon, if you care to submit any!) The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes and Jack the Ripper and the East End Compiled and edited by Alex Werner

Friday, 20 September 2013

Rations : A very Peculiar history: With no Added Butter by David Arscott

I picked this book from the Junior Section of the library because of its cover. It is a short account of Ration system in United Kingdom during the World War II. I read about fictional accounts of Ration during the War in many novels more recently in Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society about Rations and difficulty of finding proper food during German occupation in Guernsey and in The Child's Child about Rations in England. But both are fictional accounts.

This book is a non-fictional account about why Ration system was introduced during the War and what kind of goods were Rationed and what kind of goods were available plentiful. The book not only shows the hardships people faced during the War time but also provides interesting ways people found to make the best of what they had. With interesting war time recipes, cartoons and pictures this is both informative and interesting. It is interesting to learn that not only food, but also clothing and furniture were rationed. Each person was provided with some coupons, each item was assigned certain coupons and a person can buy whatever one needs with the coupons if one has the money to buy them, but were they enough to satisfy one's needs? The author gives a list of clothing with number of coupons required to purchase each and asks us if these would be enough to meet our needs, which does bring into understanding that how people went about with very little. Informative and interesting book!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

No Man's Nightingale by Ruth Rendell

There is a murder at the Vicarage. The Vicar is strangled to death. Sarah Hussain, the Vicar of Kigsmarkham, had faced lots of resentment and hatred because she is a single mother, a woman clergy and of mixed race. Who killed the Vicar and why? Retired Inspector Wexford acts as an adviser to Mike Burden in unpaid capacity. As he has no official standing no one has to answer his questions but suddenly everyone wants to confide in him. As Wexford looks into Sarah Hussain's murder, he also has to unearth the details about the father of Sarah Hussain's daughter Clarissa. Who is Clarissa's father? Is the answer to that question somehow related to Sarah's death? Is Sarah Hussain a victim of hate crime or is there more to her death?

Near the end of the book, Wexford ponders 'How does one make up names or aliases?' From the books they read, from celebrity names, in olden days one looked up the Directory or we google now. For example, Sarah's daughter gets her name Clarissa because Sarah was reading the book 'Clarissa' when she was pregnant. Maybe the authors use the same process to name their characters. In my opinion, however one gave names, one had to make sure the name is right for the character, for example you can't give a boy a girl's name or call a Hindu character Hussain, which as far as I know is a Muslim name. You can't call a man Kumari (a girl's name) that's what Ruth Rendell did in one of her earlier stories and in this one she calls the Hindu to Christian converted Vicar Sarah Hussain. What's in a name one may ponder? Does it really matter in a crime novel, whether the victim is called Hussain or Kumar? I wouldn't really had bothered if it had been a book by, say, James Rollins or Harlan Coben. But when the author's main storyline is about racism, brings in concepts like 'apologetic racism' and also discusses in detail about how one is named, how do people go about creating aliases one does get irritated and wonder if this is also a form of apologetic racism. How long would it take to check if Hussain is a Hindu name! 

The killer is quite obvious to me and also the other mystery about Clarissa's parentage is also quite clear though Ruth Rendell builds up some mystery over it. Whydunit of it is dismissed early on when the Burden and Wexford decide that why is not important. There are no big surprises and twists like in her other books. What really caught my attention is the small details, like Jeremy Klegg takes sips of alcohol from his hidden flask when he is nervous how this little thing builds up into something bigger. How Maxine talks and talks and thus discloses something to Wexford which she should not have, which results in something else. Jeremey Klegg and Maxine is what I would call typical Rendellian characters and the situation she builds around them creates anticipation. But this is a very small part of the story. I always loved the last minute surprises and twists Ruth Rendell throws into her book, sadly this books fails in that aspect. Having said all this I would also say reading Ruth Rendell is much more satisfying than many other crime novels more because of her characters and also the small interesting details she gives, if you ever wondered 'why' something happened, Ruth Rendell takes us into the situation and shows us how and why it happened.

P. S. Ruth Rendell is my favourite writer and I completely agree with Ian Rankin's quote on the back cover "Probably the greatest living crime writer in the world" 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

God's Spy by Juan Gomez-Jurado

Pope John Paul II has died and the Cardinals have gathered in Vatican for the funeral and the conclave that follows where the new Pope would be elected. In the meantime a serial killer is killing the Cardinals. Paola a psychological profiler, Dante who works for the Vatican, and Pontiero are asked to handle the case discreetly, to catch the killer and stop further killings. Father Anthony Fowler of former CIA also assists them. The investigators start off as a trio, with Pontiero and Dante constantly bickering, and Paola acts as a foil between them defusing tension. And then Pontiero is pulled off the equation and Fowler becomes part of the trio and again there is tension between Dante and Fowler making me wonder if Paola is the only women in Vatican.

From the outset we know who the killer is, they just have to catch him. How difficult would be to catch somebody in Vatican with just a few million paying respects to the dead Pope? Why is a psychological profiler in charge of the investigation as we already know who the killer is? There is a reason which comes out in the end.

The first half the story moves between the investigation in the present and the past of the serial killer. The story of the serial killer is narrated through transcripts of psychiatric sessions that slowly reveal the trauma and abuse both the killer suffered and he meted out to others which are very disturbing to read.

Some of the twists and turns are quite predictable. Why doesn't anybody ask even the obvious questions? If there is only one way to get inside a building and that way is heavily guarded, how could the killer have gone out? There is nice little twist in the end that I didn't see coming.

The story is based around real events and issues that the Catholic Church faces like the death of the Pope, the issue of sexual abuse meted out by Catholic priests and the Church's efforts to suppress the issue and struggle over modernisation of the Church giving it an authentic feel. If one wondered what happened to the Priests who abused children, did they face a trial, did they go to prison? It is shocking (even though we have read about it in newspapers) to learn that such Priests were generally shifted around to different Regions and when they become more dangerous they were sent to an institution that probably made them worse.

The author provides interesting details about the Vatican in the beginning like how the Petrol is cheaper than in Rome and the long queues at Petrol stations even when only few are given permits to buy in Vatican. The only reason I picked up the book from library because I wanted to read a Crime Fiction book based in Vatican for the European Reading Challenge 2013 hosted by Rose City Reader. Overall a little disturbing but an interesting thriller!

Orginally written in Spanish and this book is translated in English by James Graham.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Color Coded Challenge 2013 Wrap Up

Here are the books I read for the Color Coded Challenge 2013 hosted by Bev @My Reader's Block:

1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title. The Blue Room by Georges Simenon

2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title. Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong

The Red Road by Denise Mina

3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title. The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title.The Problem of the Green Capsule by John Dickson Carr

5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title. The Curse of the Bronze Lamp by Carter Dickson

6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title.-The Black Box by Michael Connelly

7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title-White Face by Edgar Wallace (19/1/2013)

8. A book with any other color in the title (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.). Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.). The Lake of Darkness by Ruth Rendell

The Curse of the Bronze Lamp by Carter Dickson

Sometimes you find a magical lamp that when you rub it out comes a genie that would fulfil all your wishes and sometimes you find a cursed lamp that brings destruction to all those who own it. Lady Helen Loring of Severn Hall finds a Bronze Lamp during her excavations with her father in Cairo. This is not the Lamp that grants one's wishes but looks like one that could cause death and pain. First Professor Gilary dies of a Scorpion Sting, if such a thing is even possible Helen wonders. And then soothsayer Alim Bey forecasts that Helen would go poof into the air before she reaches her room in Severn Hall. When just such a thing happens, you wonder if the curse of the Lamp is not just a superstition.

There are two witnesses who notice Helen run into her home and within seconds they find her Mackintosh and the bronze Lamp in the middle of the hall. But where is Helen? With the house practically swarming with servants and the grounds being worked on by workers and all exits are clearly visible how could one leave the house without notice. But they search the house thoroughly and they couldn't find her in it. Not inside it, not outside it where did she go. Are they any secret rooms, secret passages, trap door and all? Or is this the curse of the Bronze Lamp? Sir Henry Merrivale is at hand to solve these mysterious circumstances.

I love these impossible scenarios and there is something exciting about somebody who practically disappears before one's eyes, add in a cursed Bronze Lamp, two men who love our Lady, two soothsayers and a Gothic house inspired by The Castle of Otranto, what else one wants? I had a vague idea about the first disappearance (yes there is more than one) and what surprises me again like in other Carter Dickson/John Dickson Carr's books I have read is that though the solution is just before my eyes I keep looking for something else elsewhere. This is the first book featuring Sir Henry Merrivale that I have read, I wouldn't say I got a clear picture of him, except that he loves scrapbooking, he is eccentric and funny. An exciting little puzzle!

Published in 1945 this book can be borrowed as an ebook from Open Library like I did.