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Old Friends

Posted originally on: February 4, 2010

Today seems to be more of a day to muse than ramble. I’ll leave you all with some passages from some of my all-time favorite books – in both children’s and adult categories. Pick up any one of them from a bookshelf and spend some time with it, if you haven’t already done so, and you would’ve made a friend for life. I promise.

 

  • They set off to the east this time, across the thick, springy heather, and almost at once found signs of the passing of caravans: twigs broken off the bushes, a wheel rut on a soft piece of ground.
                              – “Five Go to Mystery Moor” by Enid Blyton

 

  • But her cooking made up for everything: three kinds of meat, summer vegetables from her pantry shelves; peach pickles, two kinds of cake and ambrosia constituted a modest Christmas dinner. Afterwards, the adults made for the livingroom and sat around in a dazed condition. Jem lay on the floor, and I went to the back yard. “Put on your coat,” said Atticus dreamily, so I didn’t hear him.
                              – “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

 

  • As soon as they entered, Bingley looked at her so expressively, and shook hands with such warmth, as left no doubt of his good information; and he soon afterwards said aloud, “Mr. Bennet, have you no more lanes hereabouts in which Lizzy may lose her way again to-day?”
                              – “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

 

  • A robin hopped about the growing pile of soil looking for worms. The morning sounds of Thrush Green were muffled by the height of the earth walls about them, but in the distance they could hear the children playing on the two swings on the green.
                              – “News from Thursh Green” by Miss Read

 

  • “Wait a minute then,” said Swaminathan and ran out. He had one last hope that his granny might be asleep. It was infinitely safer to show one’s friends a sleeping granny.
                              – “Swami and His Friends” by R.K.Narayan

 

  • A train went through a burial gate,
    A bird broke forth and sang,
    And trilled, and quivered, and shook his throat
    Till all the churchyard rang;
                              – “Time and Eternity” by Emily Dickinson

 

  • “C’mon we’d better go outside for a while. Mom’s getting that look.”
                 – “The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson

 

  • “It is bush tea,” said Mma Ramotswe as she reached for the tea-pot. “Mma Makutsi – my assistant – and I drink bush tea because it helps us to think.”
                              – “The Full Cupboard of Life” by Alexander McCall Smith

 

  • He had missed the old rectory, too, with its clamor and quiet, its sunshine and shadow. Never before in his life as a rector had he found a home so welcoming or comfortable – a home that seemed, somehow, like a friend.
                             
    – “A Light in the Window” by Jan Karon

Happy Valentines Day, everyone! Hope you are surrounded by both old and new friends with whom to share this day!

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Continued from Enid Blyton -1

Soon, I graduated to the Famous Five series. These books feature the four cousins Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog. (I can hear the tune in my head as I’m writing these words: that was how part of the title song went for the TV show made in the UK based on these books, in the late 1970s.)

Most of the adventures in this series took place on the sea or close to it, where George lived with her parents and Timmy. The four cousins – none of them older than sixteen, if I remember it right – could take a picnic hamper and row in a boat by themselves to the small island (called Kirrin Island, and owned by George’s father, incidentally) in the middle of the sea, which had the ruins of a castle on one side of it and the remains of a shipwreck on the other. They could camp away for days inside an old and abandoned lighthouse or pack themselves into a caravan and travel to the Mystery Moor, all without any adult supervision.

Can you think of anything more adventurous and attractive for a ten-year-old reader?

Blyton wrote numerous books and series targeted at toddlers all the way up to teens. After Famous Five, I barely skimmed through one series called Malory Towers. None of the other books she’d written were available in the libraries where I lived, so I never got much into any of the other ones written by her.

Her books are readily available in the bigger book stores in India (and probably in various countries in Europe, too? I’m not too sure), but, sadly, not so in America. Very few have even heard of Blyton in the U.S. To the best of my knowledge, none of the bigger chains of book stores have her books on their shelves. You’d have to buy them online or borrow from those public libraries that carry them.

It is with some reluctance, at this point, that I bring up one thing about Enid Blyton’s books. They are not politically correct, at least for this day and age  – the narration sounds as if girls are supposed to behave a certain way and boys need to be given upper hand by default. For instance, as you read the books you can’t help but perceive that the prim-and-proper Anne’s actions are approved wholeheartedly, whereas tomboyish and headstrong George (christened Georgina, but shortened to George by the girl who hates being a girl) is tolerated with patronizing indulgence.

However, given the time period that she wrote these books (1940s to 1960s), those were probably the sensibilities that were in vogue. As a child, I just took it in stride and never bothered about it much. Being a girl myself, my reasoning was simple: those were the author’s opinions about the subject. That didn’t necessarily mean that I had to agree with her. It didn’t take anything away from the books for me, so why fuss over it?  

There are some who claim that Blyton’s continued success is an enigma because her work is exceptionally poor. Hollow plots, repetitive storylines, two-dimensional characters, limited vocabulary and bland, unliterary penmanship are all evident throughout her 700-plus books**. May be so, but being as they are, her books sold 60 million copies and were translated into nearly seventy languages over the years. Need I say more? (Actually, I do: It is either “To each his own” and all that or “A case of sour grapes”. You decide.)

If you’re an adult who hasn’t had a chance to read Enid Blyton, then snuggle up with one of her books today (under the pretext of reading to a child, if you’re shy about reading a children’s book for yourself). The child will love it anyway, but you may soon find yourself putty in the hands of a masterful storyteller, who makes the craft seem beguilingly simple.

As time went by, many more authors came into my life and took me to a great many places and reinforced my love for the written word. However, Enid Blyton was not going anywhere – she had lodged herself securely into a niche inside my heart.

If the book that I’m currently writing manages to induce the same strength of emotions, at least in one child, which Enid Blyton’s books did in me, then I’ll feel that I have earned the right to aspire to write for children.

** – Excerpts taken from an article in Fiction Circus.

Check out  The Enid Blyton Society that I found online a few weeks ago. It has charming illustrations for her first edition books and all the information you want about the author and her books.

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Here are the first two installments: Whodunit -1 and Whodunit – 2

This three-part series has been my version of a shout-out to all my ‘sisters-in-crime’ – thank you, for having my back!!     

More of those amazing mystery series around:    

  • Southern Sisters Mysteries by Anne George: This author herself reminds me of Miss Marple. The humor in these books is sharp as a blade, and you never have a chance to recover from one farce before another is lobbed at you. The contrast (on all fronts — physical, emotional and behavioral) between the two sisters, Patricia Anne and Mary Alice, is just hilarious, and it lands them both in the funniest of pickles imaginable. I only wish that the author had lived longer to churn out some more of these gems – call me selfish!

     

  • Rei Shimura Series by Sujata Massey: This is set in modern-day Japan (at least half of the series, after which the author moved the whole setting to America – go back to Japan, Rei!!). Rei is an antiques dealer who finds herself in the most bizarre (and sometimes compromising beyond belief, during which the author finds it necessary to give the reader lurid and intimate details that only act as needless distractions for me) situations and sets about solving the conundrums behind them. The author does a wonderful job of introducing the cities and towns of Japan and their customs in a seamless fashion, thus making the books very attractive to me.

     

  • Ellie Quicke Mysteries by Veronica Heley: Taking place in a nondescript modern-day suburb of London, it features Ellie Quicke, a widow, who is coming into her own and finding her ‘self’ after being a wife and a mother forever. She lives in the coziest of houses, whose backyard borders the green on which her church is located. Throw in an insensitive daughter, a bossy aunt-by-marriage (who constantly reminds me of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations), demanding church co-patrons, and two fervent beaus and you have a winner. Watch out, though — this author can actually wring your heart with her direct, yet sensitive, treatment of some of the subjects (such as pedophilia and domestic violence) in these books.

     

  • Benni Harper Mysteries by Earlene Fowler: Benni Harper and her husband, Police Chief Ortiz, enjoy one of my very favorite relationships in all the novels I read. It is so sweet, yet so complicated like any ‘real’ relationship. (I’m not much of a fan of those books that depict relationships as if they can thrive and coast along without any bumps. C’mon, how real is that? Which relationship ever gets to the point of complete complacency? Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.) Anyway, Benni is a horse-riding real, live cowgirl (and stubborn as a mule when it comes to solving crimes). And you can’t help but love her sassy 70-something grandma, Dove, who is like a tablespoon of nutmeg in eggnog. This series has an underlying theme of quilting and folk art, which I love reading about.

     

  • Melanie Travis Mysteries by Laurien Berenson: This involves single-Mom Melanie Travis (at least for part of the series) and her travails in life. Because of her steamroller of an aunt, Peg, who is an authority in dog (standard poodles) breeding, Melanie and her son, Davie, find themselves owners of a poodle and busy dog show participants before long. As the titles of the books indicate, dog-show-world is where Melanie gets embroiled in mysteries, which she manages to unravel time and again. Even if you’re not up to the challenge of breeding and showing dogs yourself (or, especially in that case), you may just vicariously love to lose yourself in the fast-paced and muddling life of Melanie, like I did. Give it a try!

     

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. I could do a whole ten-part series if I wished to cover all the mysteries I’ve tried and liked over the years. (No, I won’t. Please don’t run away!)    

Btw, Happy Valentine’s Day (Sunday), everyone!! I’m not much of a red roses and balloons person, so that’s all I’m going to say about the subject. Besides, who needs pink candy when one can have black coffee?    

I know it doesn't look like much in the picture, but it is really a lot for those of us who try to make snowmen out of the few flurries that stick to the ground

 

P.S: Where I live, it doesn’t usually snow. But it did all day yesterday and some into the night resulting in a 10 inch accumulation (the highest in the last 100 years). Standing at my window, I feel like C.S. Lewis’s Lucy about to step into Narnia.    

    

   

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Meet ‘Blue Billi’, an amateur detective. Does she remind you of another feline in bubblegum pink? She should! They’re cousins, you see, and sleuthing runs in the family.

 

 Here’s the first installment of mystery series that I like: Whodunit – 1 

To continue my list of must-read mysteries:         

          

  • China Bayles Mysteries by Susan Wittig Albert: China is an ex-criminal lawyer who gave up the rat race to retire to the small town of Pecan Springs in the hill country of Texas, near Austin, where she runs a small herb store called ‘Thyme and Seasons’. Almost against her will, she continually finds herself embroiled in murder and mayhem, which her left brain cannot help but pursue until they’re solved. Impractical, whimsical and new-age loving Ruby,China’s best-friend, adds color and contrast to the super-practical China and her exploits. What’s not to like about this combination?

           

  • Sano Ichiro Novels by Laura Joh Rowland: Set well in the past – in the 16th century Japan teeming with warlords and samurai – you get to see a Japan (and world) in these books that you may not have chanced upon anywhere else. San Ichiro, a samurai and a detective, finds himself getting ever closer to the Shogun and the tangle of political intrigue that surrounds him. Ichiro gets married, a little into the series, to an intelligent woman (with nuances of an almost 20th-century feminist), who begins sleuthing against her husband’s wishes, thus adding tension to the already pulsating drama of the series. Sometimes, though, the icky factor on the physical side of the relationships seems almost gratuitous to me, and I put this series aside for awhile. And then I begin to miss the amazing imagery and the enigma enfolded into every page, and I run back to the library for more.

           

  • Miss Marple Mysteries by Agatha Christie: This series doesn’t even need any introduction. I like this series better than any others that Christie has managed to spin in her lifetime. The unassuming granny-like Miss Marple and her sharp wit are so much in contrast with each other that it is a downright winning combination. The episodes when she uses her doddering appearance shamelessly to her advantage are just scrumptious. And being the sucker that I am for high-teas and the English countryside, this has always been one of my favorites.

           

  • Goldy Culinary Mysteries by Diane Mott Davidson: One of the few culinary mysteries that really caught my imagination. Goldy Bear, a divorced single Mom (at least for part of the series), is trying to bring up a son and keep herself afloat and her sanity intact, all the while fending off a violent ex-husband. This is set in the exotic Rockies of Colorado, where Goldy runs a catering business. She finds herself, along with her best friend Marla Korman (now, how they both become friends is in itself an absurdly hilarious thread running through the whole series), entangled in many a murder-web. And just reading through the detailed recipes that Davidson includes in these books makes me feel full and soporific, like the little rabbits in Beatrix Potter’s ‘Peter Rabbit’.

           

  • Aunt Dimity Series by Nancy Atherton: Aunt Dimity is a ghost with a quirky sense of humor and a strong sense of honor. She almost makes you wish that you’d encounter a phantom or two in your own lifetime, if they all promise to be cousins of Aunt Dimity in how she conducts herself. Apart from the mysteries themselves, the beautiful location of the village of Finch and the idiosyncrasies of the various characters living in it make for a delightful read. Don’t forget to make yourself a pot of tea before you sit down with a book in this series.

           

  • Amelia Peabody Mysteries by Elizabeth Peters: Amelia Peabody is a Victorian archaeologist/Egyptologist who digs alongside her husband, Emerson. This series takes place in England and Egypt (mostly the latter) at the turn of the 20th century. The author is quick-witted and has an incisive humor, which Peabody embodies, naturally. The situations in which this couple (and later the next generation) finds itself are always larger-than-life and can happen only in books, but you still can’t help but embrace them. The only beef I have with the author: the cloyingly-sweet love that Emerson exhibits towards Amelia sometimes grates on my nerves. (Not a very appropriate thing to say in February and that too this close to Valentine’s Day, is it? But, there you have it.)

To be concluded on Friday…

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Ugh! Why did I have to go and make that promise so prematurely? I gave you word a few days ago that I wouldn’t do music clips in my posts, right? Now, I’m absolutely regretting it.

I’ll just depend upon your innate goodness now. I know how annoying it can be when you have to make allowances for other people’s ineptitude, but could you humor me just this once?

As you read this post (and the next two), could you please imagine the original score for ‘Pink Panther’ in the background? There’s a dear! The personality of this post just begs for that theme.

With that taken care of, what is it with mysteries and human nature? What draws us to the inexplicable and the unknown? I have no idea. (Hey, I never told you that I have an answer!)

I myself am a self-confessed mystery buff. I love books that deal with sleuthing and crime-solving. However, I have some stipulations to liking a mystery:

  • The person who has managed to get himself killed should be neatly dead and cold by the time the detective arrives at the crime scene. I’m not for those books in which the murdered, gasping and squirming, scribbles an enigmatic message in his own blood on the pristine white walls of his room before he finally croaks.

 

  • There’s shouldn’t be much happening at the scene in terms of blood and gore that the author feels compelled to describe in detail to the reader. Trailing entrails and oozing plasma? NO!

 

  • I can take it when the average Joe, or Jane, turns out to be the murderer, and that too only because they were sort of cornered into it. Depraved souls like serial killers and mass murderers? Nope, definitely not for me, thank you! I have a very impressionable imagination and I like to sleep, even if only occasionally, at nights.

 

  • If the book has some (multi-)cultural elements weaved into the storyline – especially those that I haven’t had a chance to come across personally in real life – then that book becomes a must-read for me.

Without further ado, here are some of the series I like and why I like them (in no particular order).

  • Mary Russell Novels by Laurie King: This is one of those many series of books that tried to resurrect Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. What sets this series apart? To begin with, Holmes is taken away from his habitual 221b Baker Street in London and plonked in the countryside. And the books manage to breathe life into Holmes in a whole different way: in these novels, he is as close as he can get to being a regular human with regular emotions, even if his intelligence is as other-worldly as ever. (We wouldn’t even want it any other way, would we?) But, there is this delightful twist — Holmes takes a backseat in this series to his protégé, Mary Russell. She matches wits with him again and again and comes up on top most of those times. An intelligent series that takes the two protagonists, and hence the reader vicariously, detecting all over the globe.

 

  • Constable Evans Mysteries by Rhys Bowen: Evan Evans (yes, you read that right – looks like ‘Evan’ is a very popular Welsh name) is as unassuming as protagonists could get. The simplicity of life in the village of Llanfair located at the foot of Mt. Snowdon (and the imagery used in the descriptions) makes me ache with the desire to go live in that village. Every book in this series leaves you with a good feeling about the world in general, notwithstanding the murder(s) that Evans solves in them. This author is extremely prolific. She has two other full-fledged mystery series in her kitty: Molly Murphy Mysteries set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century and A Royal Spyness Mysteries set in the 1930s London. She does justice to both the settings with élan and ease. It is hard enough to write one long-running mystery series without repeating yourself and the plotlines. To do three of them? That is just mind-boggling to me! If truth be told, I’m a bit jealous of this author, even as her vast talent enthralls me.

 

  • Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn Novels by Tony Hillerman: I don’t have enough superlatives to talk about these novels. They are set in the Four Corners region of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The protagonists, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, work for the Navajo Tribal Police and solve crimes in that area, all the while subtly educating the reader about the customs distinctive to each of the Indian tribes in the area. The stark, parched beauty of the southwestern desert comes to life in these books like it must never have done before. Medicine men, skinwalkers, shapeshifters, witchcraft — there is something to cater to tastes of every kind in these novels.

 

This post will be continued on Wednesday, to be concluded on Friday… What am I to do? I told you I like my whodunits!

You might have noticed how I snuck it in – yes, I’m going to post only every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from now on. Even though I joked about not pacing oneself and keeling over, it is a serious possibility in this multi-tasking life. So, I’m really trying hard to proactively find a better balance in all the things I do in a day. So, please bless me, and more importantly, keep coming back to visit me!!

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Old Friends

Today seems to be more of a day to muse than ramble. I’ll leave you all with some passages from some of my all-time favorite books – in both children’s and adult categories. Pick up any one of them from a bookshelf and spend some time with it, if you haven’t already done so, and you would’ve made a friend for life. I promise.

 

  • They set off to the east this time, across the thick, springy heather, and almost at once found signs of the passing of caravans: twigs broken off the bushes, a wheel rut on a soft piece of ground.
                              – “Five Go to Mystery Moor” by Enid Blyton

 

  • But her cooking made up for everything: three kinds of meat, summer vegetables from her pantry shelves; peach pickles, two kinds of cake and ambrosia constituted a modest Christmas dinner. Afterwards, the adults made for the livingroom and sat around in a dazed condition. Jem lay on the floor, and I went to the back yard. “Put on your coat,” said Atticus dreamily, so I didn’t hear him.
                              – “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

 

  • As soon as they entered, Bingley looked at her so expressively, and shook hands with such warmth, as left no doubt of his good information; and he soon afterwards said aloud, “Mr. Bennet, have you no more lanes hereabouts in which Lizzy may lose her way again to-day?”
                              – “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

 

  • A robin hopped about the growing pile of soil looking for worms. The morning sounds of Thrush Green were muffled by the height of the earth walls about them, but in the distance they could hear the children playing on the two swings on the green.
                              – “News from Thursh Green” by Miss Read

 

  • “Wait a minute then,” said Swaminathan and ran out. He had one last hope that his granny might be asleep. It was infinitely safer to show one’s friends a sleeping granny.
                              – “Swami and His Friends” by R.K.Narayan

 

  • A train went through a burial gate,
    A bird broke forth and sang,
    And trilled, and quivered, and shook his throat
    Till all the churchyard rang;
                              – “Time and Eternity” by Emily Dickinson

 

  • “C’mon we’d better go outside for a while. Mom’s getting that look.”
                 – “The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson

 

  • “It is bush tea,” said Mma Ramotswe as she reached for the tea-pot. “Mma Makutsi – my assistant – and I drink bush tea because it helps us to think.”
                              – “The Full Cupboard of Life” by Alexander McCall Smith

 

  • He had missed the old rectory, too, with its clamor and quiet, its sunshine and shadow. Never before in his life as a rector had he found a home so welcoming or comfortable – a home that seemed, somehow, like a friend.
                             
    – “A Light in the Window” by Jan Karon

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