03/09/2012 at 11:23 AM (Adventure, Australian Literature, Books, Crime, Inspired) (, , , )

Well, I know I was out of commission for a while but when you pursue a full-time working life on weekdays and use weekends for socialising like me, time just flies. I did make time for reading a few books though and as I have a glorious long weekend ahead (thank goodness for Labour Day in Vic), I can actually be not too tired to write. So I did manage to read the tome that is Shantaram despite my time poorness.

In 1978, the author of Shantaram was sentenced to nineteen years in prison after he was convicted of a string of armed robberies. In July 1980, he escaped from Pentridge Prison miraculously in daylight, becoming one of Australia’s most wanted men for several years. Written by Australian Gregory David Roberts who did actually live in the slums of Bombay, Shantaram is a unique novel that blurs the boundaries of fiction and autobiography.

Shantaram book cover

The real story begins after our protagonist arrives in Mumbai with a false passport under the alias Lindsay Ford. The city impresses Lindsay and his stopover soon turns into an extended and dangerous stay on borrowed time. His chance meeting with an enigmatic taxi driver, Prabaker, who has an infectious smile, whom Lindsay hires as his guide to India shapes the rest of the narrative. They soon become fast friends and Prabaker takes to calling him Lin. Lin is taken to the village of Sunder, where the family of Prabaker resides. Prabaker’s mother decides that Lin’s character is of a happy and peaceful nature and renames him Shantaram (Man of God’s Peace).

So now the story of where the title comes from is over, the pace of the plot increases after Lin gets drunk, is robbed and decides to live in the Mumbai slums and thanks to a first aid kit and a fire ends up as the “slum doctor”. This experience makes him almost local and his fluent mastery of Hindi as well as Marathi, a popular language in Mumbai, opens up new avenues of earning money to him. He also interacts with other foreigners living in Mumbai, involved in all sorts of criminal circles, and then ends up involved in some shady situations, including a stint in theArthur Roadprison. The two foreigners that play a crucial role in Lin’s life is Karla, a Swiss-American woman and Afghan mafia lord Abdel Khader Khan. The former introduces him to true love and the latter inspires him to abandon his path of crime and return to living an honest life.

It’s funny but Lin is a villain that you want to see succeed. The writing in Shantaram is sometimes a bit too cliché and full of sentimentality, possibly to display the tender heart of the guy who looks tough, so if the plot is what interests you and not how the prose is written, I recommend you give it a go.

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The Sign

09/09/2011 at 12:36 PM (Adventure, Books, Environment, Mystery, Politics, Religion, Thriller) (, , , , , )

The Sign, the third book written by author Raymond Khoury, combines a tale of politics gone awry and the realities about the impact of global warming into the plot of a thriller. In the modern world depicted by the writer, the joint forces of pollution of the earth and arising political upheaval gives rise to big arguments between those who believe in evolution and those who believe in creationism. The sign which appears over Antarctica, during the collapse of an ice shelf, as a shape-shifting globe and then vanishes are claimed by the latter group as a divine sign from God. The sign itself was able to arouse my curiosity but all the squabbles regarding its “divinity” put me off. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think this a Bible-thumping book at all but which way you lean politically is likely to effect how you perceive the book. The Sign seemed too technical and science focused for me to like it at first until the thriller part came into play with scientist Danny Sherwood’s escape attempt.

This sign’s appearance is witnessed by Gracie Logan, a science reporter who’s at the right place at the right time. She is boarded on a scientific vessel to cover the breakage of the ice shelf. Deciding to follow the story of the sign and investigate what it means, she is led to Egypt after a tip-off from a priest called Brother Ameen. Her crew sees the sign drawn in a Coptic cave inhabited by a Catholic priest called Father Jerome who is widely regarded as a Saint. The catch is that these images were drawn seven months earlier before the appearance of the sign in Antarctica. In regard to Gracie and her TV crew, I feel the descriptions were just too long and the debates on creationism versus evolution were too much on the preachy side to be enjoyable. Those characters became marginally of interest only after the death of a main crew member in Egypt in shady circumstances.

The Sign Book Cover

Image from:

Once Boston’s Matt Sherwood, reformed car thief, was added to the equation after learning about the possibility that his brother’s death was a murder from his best friend, the plot becomes more action-packed and the pace begins to accelerate significantly. The short chapters and simple to read prose keeps you turning pages more because you are interested in where the plot will lead rather than because the characters arouse your sympathies. This is a plot-driven novel which doesn’t really care much to endear the characters to you. This is all about the characters going from Point A to Point B and to Point C in pursuit of the ending. Perhaps this is because of the writer’s credentials as a screenwriter – it is a lot easier to imagine this as a blockbuster with a lot of action. This book may have the pace of an adventure written by Dan Brown but because it considers much deeper subject matter such as global warming and environmentalism in almost lecture mode, I feel it’s more of a science fiction about corruption in religion and politics rather than the plot of a religious thriller featuring religious figures from myths and legends of the past. It almost feels like you’re reading something academical when reading bits of the book not involving Matt’s physical encounters with the Bullet as he tries to find out what really happened to Danny Sherwood, his kid brother.

This book will bring enjoyment for a fan of quickly moving adventure thrillers if you don’t mind lectures with an agenda sneaking into your fiction. For me, this detracted from having a wholesome reading experience. If a book claims to be a thriller, I have different expectations of content rather than politics and the possible dangers to humanity through global warming. This is not a religion-bashing book either as the final solution to the corrupt plans by the state and the military who are at odds with each other seems open-minded. But while I didn’t dislike this book, I believe it could have been written a lot better.

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The Copper Beeches

07/16/2011 at 1:47 AM (Adventure, Books, Mystery, Short Stories, TV) (, , , , , )

When I was a little girl of about eight, I found a set of abridged books that had once belonged to my mother when she was a child. They included Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, a set of three macabre tales by Edgar Allan Poe, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and my favourite, a set of three Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This book included these following stories: The Red-Headed League, The Speckled Band and The Copper Beeches.

This post is about The Adventure of the Copper Beeches – namely the television version. It belongs to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes story collection. We are introduced to Holmes while he is having an ardent discussion with Watson regarding the chronicling of his cases. Then afterwards he produces a letter in which a red-haired young lady, Violet Hunter, asks him advice on whether she should accept a position as a governess in the Rucastle household in the countryside. She is offered an overly generous salary, only one six-year-old male child is under her charge and the offer of pay is increased when she rejects the offer after learning that cutting her tresses is a necessary condition of her employment. After some deliberation, she thinks her rejection is hasty and accepts the position when Mr. Rucastle writes to her. But she does consult Sherlock Holmes before she leaves and he warns her to take care and to send him a telegram if she would need his assistance.

Violet finds the situation she is in very odd. The estate is very large and she is told that there is a mastiff that is only fed every two days to keep him perpetually hungry if intruders break in to the premises. Her discovery of a set of tresses similar of colour to that she cut off from her own head puzzles her. The two servants, Mr. and Mrs. Toller seem like an unsavoury pair. She is sometimes told to wear an electric blue dress (electric blue came into vogue in 1890 – two years before the publication of the story in Strand magazine) and with her back to the window, she is told a series of funny stories by Mr. Rucastle which makes her laugh. Mrs. Rucastle sits in on these sessions but does not ever laugh and when Violet sneaks a glance in a mirror hidden in her handkerchief, she notices a bearded man behind the bars of the gates. She is most frightened when she wanders into the mystery wing with the shuttered turret and then Mr. Rucastle discovers her intrusion as she wanders out. He first makes a pretense of soothing her fears but when he threatens her with the dog, she decides its high time Holmes became involved in the affair.

Holmes and Watson arrive at the Rucastle estate when the master and mistress are away. They decide to break into the tower but finds the room empty but obviously someone had been kept shut up there. Mr. Rucastle returns and with the thought the trio had helped his daughter to escape with her lover goes to release the mastiff. Unfortunately he is mauled by the dog as it turns on him because Mr. Toller had not fed the hound for two days. Watson shoots the dog with his revolver. It turns out Miss Hunter had been hired for the express purpose of impersonation due to a matter of inheritance.

Mr. Rucastle (played by Joss Ackland) comes across as a bit of a creep from the start owing to his tone of voice. I think the sinister veneer this bestowed on him made it rather obvious he was the villain of the piece but you rather expect him to be more dastardly in his actions. Violet Hunter (played by Natasha Richardson) is incredibly beautiful and was a wonderful actress until her life was tragically cut short. The fact the TV version is highly faithful to the original is a credit to its producers as you feel it would have met with distinct appreciation by its original author.

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The Priory School

07/15/2011 at 1:11 AM (Adventure, Books, Mystery, TV) (, , , , , )

The Sherlock Holmes series in which Jeremy Brett plays Sherlock is quite addictive. It is a little more sombre in character than Poirot or Marple – the latter two have touches of modern influence in the set lighting. The story I will focus on today is called The Adventure of the Priory School. Part of this story is said to pay tribute to this Greek myth.

 The ten-year-old Lord Saltire, son of the Duke of Holdernesse, is kidnapped from his preparatory school. Not only the boy missing because it seems the school’s German teacher, Master Heidigger and his bicycle have also gone. The principal, Thorneycroft Huxtable, employs the services of Sherlock Holmes. The Duke is offering a princely sum to those who can inform him about the whereabouts of his missing son and the kidnappers involved. Holmes accompanies the principal and investigates the school and the residence of the Duke. He finds out the boy used to cry at night and disappeared on a day that he received a letter. James Wilder, the personal secretary of the Duke lets slip the information that the Duke is divorced from the boy’s mother who lives in Italy. But the Duke insists that his ex-wife is not involved, no ransom note comes forward and the Duke’s letter to his son which was posted by James Wilder has been taken so nobody can find out its contents.

Holmes and Watson scour the moor for clues and stumble upon some bicycle tracks. It turns out the tyres don’t match with Heidigger’s bike. Eventually the body of the poor German master is discovered with his head smashed in. There are only cow hoofprints near the scene but it seems to Holmes that the cow had walked, cantered and galloped – highly improbable behaviour for such a placid animal. After Watson expresses a desire to dine after the walk in the desolate moors, they find an establishment with a man who has a scar imprint upon his cheek. The food is terrible . In the stable, there is a horse and Holmes examines its hooves – it has been recently adorned with new nails on its old horseshoes. Watson tells Holmes that he has an instinctive feeling the gruff man, who uses the name of Hayes, knows all about the missing boy.

When a cyclist arrives from the direction of the Duke’s residence, Holmes and Watson hide and observe it is James Wilder. After Holmes examines the bicycle tyres, he knows he has found his culprit. The episode culminates in a chase scene where James Wilder takes the boy as his hostage into an underground cavern while Holmes follows closely behind. Unfortunately, things take an unexpected turn for both the villain and the detective but the Duke is reunited with his missing son. It turns out James was jealous of the boy because he was an illegitimate son and wanted manoeuvring power to force the Duke to change his current will. This ending is not similar to that of the book although three-fourths of the storyline subscribes to the original plot.

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Fortune Cookie

06/25/2011 at 3:44 AM (Adventure, Australian Literature, Books, Classics, Culture, Educational, Romance) (, , , )

After I read Fishing for Stars (you can read more about it in my previous posts), I had Bryce Courtenay cravings. Books can affect me this way just like cookies and cream flavoured ice cream. So I found myself Fortune Cookie. I was quite lucky because I looked it up on the library catalogue and while it said that it was on the Adult Fiction shelf, I could not find it. So I asked about it from the librarian, who told me it had only arrived a few minutes ago and handed it to me. They had not yet got to replace the returned books.

Basically Fortune Cookie is the story of a fourth-generation Australian born Chinese called Simon Koo who works in advertising but really wants to be an artist. Not a typical Asian stereotype, hmm? In any case his work gets him a promotion so he can try to manage on his own but it’s located in Singapore. Initially he’s not keen as his mum is always on the lookout for matrimonial prospects and that also was where she was born. But everything changes for the better when he meets Mercy B Lord, an orphan Chinese/Japanese girl who was raised by Catholic nuns and who works for an agency called Beatrice Fong. Her name came about when the nuns discovered heron the doorstep and said “Mercy Be, Lord!”

Fortune Cookie Book Cover

He soon falls in love with her and she seems receptive despite his peasant appearance and brick-like build, which can’t be described as handsome in the least. In addition, he has kept the fact that he is wealthy a secret in Singapore to keep his distance from gold-diggers. So he is thrilled when Mercy B Lord accepts and returns his love for her but she keeps disappearing every Thursday. She refuses to talk about it and says if he does bring it up, she will leave him. Unfortunately when his employers threaten him about his liaison with her, he brings up the forbidden subject. Then she packs up and leaves making him finally realise that her regular Thursday assignation is one of a dangerous sort.

To make up for her absence, he makes a painting of her and submits it to a Hong Kong art gallery competition. He captures the very moment that he realised he was in love with her in the painting and adds a symbol particular to a dream had by his ancestors to her gown’s collar. When the painting wins first prize, all is in uproar because Mercy B Lord has lost her anonymity. But Simon manages to see her in secret and she ensures that he doesn’t lose face by her being absent at a gala dinner honouring his painting.

Then Beatrice Fong dies and things start to fall apart again. Simon discovers the habitually drunk American ad man who is his partner and his illiterate Asian housemaid wife are not quite what they appear to be on the surface. His suspicions about his employers are confirmed to be true and he realizes that Mercy B Lord is involved with the drug trafficking trade in Thailand, Burma and also in Singapore, where handling these things were a hanging offence. But together with his friend Danvers and some high-powered people pulling strings, the two lovers are reunited to leave their doubts at rest once the mysteries are uncovered.

You might be wondering why the book is called Fortune Cookie? The story has nothing at all to do with ” a small, delicious cheap round wish cake“. Simon’s name is Kee Koo. He played rugby for his school and one of the school dad’s bet on his team. He won the game when the school had hardly ever won rugby before and the dad made a lot of winnings on the bet. So the winning dad asked Simon “what was his name?”   He said Koo. Then the father asked for his other name and Simon responded with “Kee”. Then the lucky dad said to Simon “You have won me a fortune, Koo Kee”.

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Eat Pray Love (Film)

10/24/2010 at 10:38 AM (Adventure, Books, Inspired, Movies, Spiritual) (, , )

The movie starring Julia Roberts as the woman who packs up her job and marriage to travel in pursuit of balance mostly stays true to the book but has a tendency to stray off track in the smaller details. I suppose it made the pace faster even if it still turned out to be a movie that was 2.5 hours long in the cinema.

I’m not  going to rehash the plot here since you can easily do that on IMDB . Besides after covering the book plot earlier in the blog covering the film plot  as well would be pointless.

Instead I will stick to some observations that stood out.

1. It was rather interesting to see the relationship between Liz and her editor. I never expected authors would run to the houses of their editors for shelter during a marital breakdown.

2. It was also rather strange to see only the one Giovanni who was Sophie’s paramour throughout the movie. So it turned out they had disposed of the twin Italian tutors from the book.

3. They had completely written out the Italy visit from Liz’s inspiring sister.

4.  They never bothered with Tutti saga where her mother faltered from buying the house until the very last minute until being told the money was going to be taken from her.

5. Felippe’s  son visits him in the film and actually meets Liz and inspires his father to pursue her even if she’s regularly mean and nasty to him. This is no feature of the book.

All I have to say is the movie made me feel nothing – it dragged and felt long. It was not because I’d read the book because I’ve seen the film adaptations of print before and actually found enjoyment in it. Most surprisingly of all, for a film about the woman on the trail of self-discovery, it is the men (Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins and Javier Bardem ) who stand out.

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Coming Out of the Closet about V. C. Andrews

10/16/2010 at 11:27 AM (Adventure, Books, Family, Romance) (, , , )

Many people I know claim they only read serious literature especially if they are creative degree students with aspirations to pretentiousness. Otherwise, they are mad about science fiction and anything to do with narcotics.

I am so out of the loop.

While these people bang on about Terry Pratchett whose Hogfather movie had me fall asleep before even one-third of it finished playing, V.C. Andrews and her tales of incestuous tragedy have had me infatuated for years. But I preferred to keep this desire for sordid drama in the closet. It is finally time for me to come out.

It started out with Willow.

Willow ( The De Beers Trilogy Book 1)

But it didn’t stop there. Once I finished savouring the life Willow lives among the residents of Palm Beach where she discovers her true identity , the V. C. Andrews obsession led me to read the sequel, Wicked Forest where the story continues  as Willow gets hitched with all the thrills and frills of opulence. Next in Twisted Roots the continued succession of tragedy strikes Willow’s daughter within the saga as she pursues a singing career on the road. Next I found myself reading Into the Woods where tragedy befalls the daughter of Jackie Lee Houston through her socialite mother’s toyboy. Hidden Leaves on the other hand was pretty much shown to be what Willow’s real father thought fit to tell her after her adoptive parent passed away.

I feel rather bad about reading about the misery suffered by her characters but maybe it’s because you cannot be jealous of her protagonists even if they are beautiful, wealthy and successful. It is fairly clear misfortune will strike at some point and destroy all that harmony anyway.

Then I discovered Heaven which was perhaps the best of hers I have read. It gives us a glimpse of the poor Casteel family and the fate in store for  Heaven which happens to be the name of the title character.

Recently I went to the library and while I was going through the section for Archer, I realised Andrews was on the neighbouring shelf and I ended up borrowing Flowers in the Attic.  Having invented a mother that could be so cruel to her own offspring, I’m not surprised she’s regarded as an occult writer even though you wouldn’t think so from the substance in the content.

Now I can count the following among the V.C. Andrews novels I’ve read-:

The Dollanganger Series: Flowers in the Attic

The Casteel Series: Heaven, Dark Angel, Fallen Hearts, Gates of Paradise

The Cutler Series: Twilight’s Child, Midnight Whispers

The Landry Series: Ruby, Pearl in the Mist, All that Glitters, Hidden Jewel, Tarnished Gold

The Logans Series: Melody, Heart Song, Music in the Night

The Delia Series: Delia’s Crossing, Dealia’s Heart, Delia’s Gift

and I think if I find another V.C. Andrews I have not yet read, I will still enjoy it  even though it cannot ever be classed as serious literature.

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The Alchemist

01/11/2010 at 9:51 AM (Adventure, Fable, Spiritual) ()

The Alchemist

Facing a long V-Line journey to Traralgon, I decided to travel from the comfort of my seat to the deserts of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

It was definitely an interesting take on spiritual reading but I think what made it so successful was the simplicity of the language and its attempt to answer the questions everyone is searching the answers to but is afraid to listen to through the travels of an Andalusian shepherd boy.

What did I learn from it?

Everyone has dreams to follow but feel held back by love, the fear of change and conditions of adversity. There are prices to pay before reaping rewards. Patience is an important skill.

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