Category: Reading

Reader Review: "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand"

by Brenda S (Langley, B.C.): The story was very charming….I really enjoyed the characters, some very likeable and some not so very likeable. The storyline was really clever. I highly recommend the book to everyone.

Reader Review: "Bad Paper"

by dpfaef (Spokane, WA): Debt collection has always had a bad reputation, this book does nothing to dispel that reputation. Jake Halpern follows an ex Wall Street Banker and an ex-convict set up shop in the Collection Capital, Buffalo, which is home to some of the largest collection agencies in the country.

Who knew that banks sold their uncollected debts for pennies on the dollar? We do know that collection agencies are unmerciful in their pursuit of money, but the pursuit of “paper” is even more cut-throat than could be imaged. Consumer Debt Collection is a totally under-regulated industry. I learned a lot about this dark side of the financial world.


Reader Review: "The Room"

by AmberBug @ ShelfNotes (CT): Quirky, that is the perfect word for this book. If The Room lasted any longer (approx. 125 pages), I would have picked a less pleasing adjective to describe it. Bjorn, the main character, is completely on the spectrum and the reader is fully aware of this after a few pages in. He clearly likes to do things a certain way and can’t understand why people may live in separate realities from his perfect one. A great example of this was when he sees a drawing his coworkers child has made (primitive drawing of a sun and mound of grass), but he can’t understand why she has posted this for everyone to see. He feels completely baffled as to why someone would subject others to looking at something so deplorable. This should give you a little insight into the kind of character Bjorn is, this is also a great way to determine if you want to read this book. Does Bjorn sounds like someone you can spend 125 pages with? For me, it was a resounding YES. I love reading behind the eyes of someone so different from me, even IF they do infuriating things.

The whole book is set in Bjorn’s workplace, has a cast of characters only from that workplace and focuses on only the relationships within that office. Again, this might not be for everyone but I really liked it. I thought it brought a little lightness to the topic and was a great setting for someone with OCD/Autism to be driven to the brink of despair. I felt terrible for Bjorn and how his coworkers treated him, he obviously can’t help himself… but at the same time, his uniqueness was also the thing that had me laughing for much of the book. I wouldn’t call this a comedy or a drama, maybe a dramady? Anyways, I don’t have much more to say other than I really enjoyed it, nice and short but completely for me. I like novellas like this and I wish I would come across them more often.


Reader Review: "Invisible City"

by Davida Chazan (Jerusalem, Israel): To tell the truth, crime dramas aren’t really my thing. But being Jewish, I found the connection to the ultra-orthodox or Hassidic world was what drew me to this book. Their world is famous (or perhaps I should say infamous) for being insular and separatist to the extreme, and this is what makes them so fascinating. Their wanting to remain that way also forces these communities to use whatever means possible to cover up any imperfections that might make them liable to scrutiny from the outside world. In a democracy, one of those means is their ability to use their large blocks of votes in exchange for elected officials turning blind eyes to their internal goings on and private organizations. So when Rebekah sees the body of the dead woman taken away by a Jewish burial society instead of the Medical Examiner, questions start to arise. Of course, these questions also lead Rebekah to discovering more about the community her mother grew up in, left and then returned to.

One of the first things you’ll notice about this book is the writing style. Dahl first person account is imbued with a gruffness that is well in keeping with the crime-beat journalism scene. While this might seem a bit more hard-boiled than a reporter this young might use, it does work well in the setting. This tone makes more sense when you realize Rebekah has lived her whole life estranged from her biological mother, and all she knew about her was shrouded in various levels of anger and doubt. This is toughness is well tempered with a vulnerability that comes with her youth combined with the innate insecurity of someone just starting out in her career. With this mixture, it then becomes reasonable that Rebekah is of two minds regarding finding her mother. In short, Dahl has brought us a marvelously developed and changing character that acts and reacts to her surroundings and the situations they present with a lovely balance of the expected and unexpected. There is no doubt that Dahl’s Rebekah Roberts is exactly the type of protagonist that crime fiction readers will want to follow for several volumes.

I should mention that Dahl has also done a very good job dealing with writing about the Hasidic community. Often writers have a difficult time delving into a part of society that is the source of rumors and conjecture without coming up factually short. The Hasidic community in particular isn’t one that will open its doors for investigation. Even when they do, their trepidation will often prevent researchers from getting too close to any uncomfortable truths. But Rebekah is technically Jewish and that does open some lines of hesitant communication that would otherwise be closed. My only problem with this premise is that I’m not convinced they would have been quite as forthcoming as Dahl makes them, partially because of Rebekah’s gender. This isn’t to say that they’re all tripping over themselves to reveal their dirty secrets, but one or two male characters did seem a bit more communicative with a female than I would have expected. Still, this is hardly anything that most readers would notice, and I’m willing to believe that behavior among the ultra-orthodox in Israel that I’ve experienced isn’t exactly the same as those living in New York.

With the setting and characters all in place, what would a good crime drama be without a good plot? Dahl’s murder here is what underlies this story, and in the best traditions of any mystery, she leads us down blind alleys and towards her eventual twist without revealing too much. In fact, her clues are so subtle that I was actually surprised to find out who the murderer was, and I’m usually very good at figuring these things out. Dahl does this with a very even pace throughout most of the book, so that when the climax finally comes she can let the adrenaline kick in, and take it all up a notch, making for a truly exciting reveal. This shows an exceptional talent for a debut novelist, and if she can repeat this in her next novel, she’ll be well on her way to being a superstar. All of this is to say that I have to give "Invisible City" by Julia Dahl an extremely strong four and a half stars out of five, and highly recommend it to even people who don’t usually read crime drama.


Reader Review: "The Paperbark Shoe"

by Cloggie Downunder (Thirroul NSW Australia): “The tin roof of the Italian's hut flashed like a semaphore at the clouds scudding over the moon, smoky white clouds, fraying at the edges, with deep purple bellies”

The Paperbark Shoe is the first novel by West Australian-born novelist and short story writer, Goldie Goldbloom. It won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Fiction in 2008, and the Literary Novel of the Year from the ForeWord Magazine (Independent Publishers) in 2011. In 1943, Italian Prisoners of War were sent out to work on West Australian farms, a welcome source of labour at a time when able-bodied men were away at war. Antonio and Gianpaolo arrive at Mr Toad's farm on the Cemetery Road, five miles west of Wyalkatchem, dressed in their maroon-dyed uniforms.

This remote holding (“On one side of us stands the uninhabited coast, thousands of rocky miles patrolled by sharks, and on the other stands the vast, appalling desert of the great red centre, studded with the bones of animals and men that have strayed there and melted into the earth”) is home to Gin Toad, albino, prize-winning pianist, mother of three and two months pregnant; and Toadie, known for his collection of women's corsets. Both misfits in society, together for reasons that never included love.

When Antonio flatters Gin with attention and compliments, her attention is drawn to Toadie's shortcomings: “I can hear him now, his voice so like the croaking of a frog in a bucket, his deep sniffs punctuating each sentence”. The nature of their marriage irritates her more than ever: “He never touched me in the daytime, in the light, that man who ran his hands so tenderly over the horses, who touched his nose to their velvet muzzles and murmured to them as he gazed into their eyes. He had it in him, a capacity for love. But he hid it from me” Goldbloom's plot goes where expected, but with a twist. Her characters are a breed apart: many are quirky, all are in some way flawed, and while this can be endearing, the only truly appealing character in this tale is young Alfie. All the rest are selfish, some to an appalling degree. Her descriptive prose is beautiful and she certainly captures the feel of the West Australian desert and the small town attitudes of the 1940s. An outstanding debut.


The Lord Of The Rings Audio Book

J R Tolkien

Is The Lord Of The Rings Audio Book Suitable For Tolkien Purists?

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has taken the world by storm over the last few years. J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic stories have been given a new lease of life thanks to the fantastic cinematic world of Peter Jackson. His film adaptations captured the spirit of the original novels and created a whole new army of Tolkien fans. They were released in three installments as The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003). As an aside, in 1978 th…

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has taken the world by storm over the last few years. J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic stories have been given a new lease of life thanks to the fantastic cinematic world of Peter Jackson. His film adaptations captured the spirit of the original novels and created a whole new army of Tolkien fans. They were released in three installments as The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003). As an aside, in 1978 the animator Ralph Bakshi created an animated version of the story, attracting more fans to the world of the Shire and Middle Earth (though not to the same degree as Jackson’s creation).

However, despite the popularity of the novels and the films, many people are unaware of the wonderful Lord of the Rings audio book. The audio book is attracting a sizable fan base, although purists might sneer at the idea of an audio book version of the novel. However, the classic text read aloud brings a whole new dimension to the story and may even provide new insights into the plot. Also, consider the convenience of being able to listen to the novels whilst on the move: in the car, on the train or plane, for example. Maybe you’d like some entertainment whilst sunning yourself on the beach but can’t stand the glare of the sun on the white pages of a book!

Are there different versions of the Lord of the Rings Audio Book?

Yes, there are several versions of the story, but perhaps the best known is read by actor Robert Inglis. This is a mammoth work which runs to forty six CDs! The recording is first rate and is completely uncut, which means that you’re going to need quite a few days to get through the entire collection! For LOTR devotees this could be the first choice, especially if authenticity is your primary concern.

However, there is another extremely popular Lord of the Rings audio book produced by the BBC. You need to be aware that BBC audio books are usually in a radio-theater style rather than a simple, straightforward reading of the novel. This might be preferable if you are seeking a more entertaining, or fun, experience. The choice between the two styles of audio book is ultimately up to you and your personal preferences.

How much will all this cost me?

As you can imagine, forty six CDs is going to cost quite a bit of money. Think of it, though, as an investment in your future entertainment. In fact, the CDs could cost you up to $100 if bought brand new in the high street. However, thanks to the marvel that is the internet, it is possible to locate discounted, used copies from a number of suppliers. If cost is an issue for you then it would certainly pay to shop around on the web and locate a number of suppliers to compare prices.

Even die-hard Tolkien fans will find the Lord of the Rings audio book an entertaining experience.


Classical Definition of Ghazal

Arabian Woman

Talking About Ladies


Ghazal ! The word originates from arabic, meaning, “way or mannerism of talking to or talking about women.” Thus in fact it s an expression of love! But in this ever changing world the ghazal has become a reflection of the life around us, and now there is hardly any sphere of human interaction which the ghazal hasn’t touched.

Ghazal ! The word originates from arabic, meaning, “way or mannerism of talking to or talking about women.” Thus in fact it s an expression of love! But in this ever changing world the ghazal has become a reflection of the life around us, and now there is hardly any sphere of human interaction which the ghazal hasn’t touched.

To better understand the finer nuances of Urdu ghazal it is imperative to understand the structure around which a ghazal is woven!
Classical Definition of Ghazal
Briefly stated Ghazal is a collection of Sher’s which follow the rules of ‘Matla’, ‘Maqta’, ‘Beher’, ‘Kaafiyaa’ and ‘Radif’. So to know what Ghazal is, it’s necessary to know what these terms mean.
To understand these terms easily , we will take an example.
1. koi ummid bar nahin aati
koi surat nazar nahin aati.
2. aage aati thi haale dil par hasi
ab kisi baat par nahin aati
3. hum wahan hain, jahan se humko bhi
kucch hamaari khabar nahin aati
4. kaabaa kis muh se jaaoge ‘Ghalib’
sharm tumko magar nahin aati

What is a Sher ?
It’s a poem of two lines. This definition is deceptively simple. Please note that, every Sher is a poem in itself ! A Sher does not need, anything around it, to convey the message. All the 4 stanzas in our example are independent poems, Sher’s.

So Ghazal is necessarily a collection of two-line-poems called Sher. [ So the Rafi solo “rang aur noor ki baaraat kise pesh karu” is NOT a Ghazal, as every stanza is of 3 lines, and not 2. ]

What are other restrictions ? Many, and important ones.
[ Any collection of Sher’s is not Ghazal. Some good examples are ; the famous Mukesh song from Yehoodi, “yeh mera deewaanaapan hai” ; and the title song of “dil apana aur preet parayi”. Each stanza in these songs can be considered as an independent Sher, but they are NOT Ghazal’s. To understand, why, we have to wait till ‘Kaafiyaa, ‘Radif’. ]

What is ‘Beher’ ?
‘Beher’ is the ‘meter’ of the Sher’s. It can be considered as the length of the Sher. Both the lines in the Sher *MUST* be of same ‘Beher’. And all the Sher’s in one Ghazal *MUST* be of the same ‘Beher’. There are 19 (!!) kinds of ‘Beher’. But in simple terms, ‘Beher’ is categorized in 3 classes. Short, medium, long.

Small :
ahale dairo-haram reh gaye
tere deewane kam reh gaye
[ Also Talat song, “dil-e-nadan tuze hua kya hai” ]

Medium :
umr jalwo me basar ho, ye zaruri to nahin
har shab-e-gam ki seher ho, ye zaruri to nahin
[ And by Gulzar, “ruke ruke se kadam, ruk ke baar baar chale” ]

Long :
ai mere humnashin, chal kahin aur chal, is chaman me ab apanaa guzaaraa nahin
baat hoti gulon ki, to seh lete hum, ab to kaaton pe bhi haq hamaaraa nahin
[ The filmfare winner, “Manzile apani jagah hai” !! Yes ! It IS a Ghazal. And the Shayar is Prakash Mehra !! surprise , surprise !! ]

So Ghazal is a collection of Sher’s of SAME ‘Beher’.

What is ‘Radif’ ?
In a Ghazal, second line of all the Sher’s MUST end with the SAME word/s. This repeating common words is the Radif’ of the Ghazal. In our example, the ‘Radif’ is “nahin aati”. [ Sometimes, the Ghazal becomes known by its ‘Radif’. eg. “jaraa aahista chal” sung by Pankaj Udhas. On RMIM we all know one Ghazal by the ‘Radif’ as “aahista aahista”, don’t we ? or is it 2 or 3 ?

What is ‘Kaafiyaa’ ?
‘Kaafiyaa’ is the rhyming pattern which all the words before ‘Radif’ MUST have. In our example the ‘Kaafiyaa’ is “bar”, “nazar”, “par”, “magar” etc. This is a necessary requirement. Something which is followed even in the exceptions to all these rules.

So Ghazal is a collection of Sher’s of same ‘Beher’, ending in same ‘Radif’ and having same ‘Kaafiyaa’. [ That’s the reason, why “yeh mera diwanapan hai” etc. are NOT Ghazals. There is no common thing which can be called ‘Kaafiyaa’ and ‘Radif’. ]

What is ‘Matla’ ?
The first Sher in the Ghazal *MUST* have ‘Radif’ in its both lines. This Sher is called ‘Matla’ of the Ghazal and the Ghazal is usually known after its ‘Matla’. There can be more than one ‘Matla’ in a Ghazal. In such a case the second one is called ‘Matla-e-saani’ or ‘Husn-e-matla’. In our example, the first Sher is the ‘Matla’.

What is ‘Maqta’ ?
A Shayar usually has an alias ie. ‘takhallus’ eg. Mirza Asadullakhan used ‘Ghalib’ as his ‘takhallus’ and is known by that. Other examples are ‘Daag’ Dehlvi, ‘Mir’ Taqi Mir, Said ‘Rahi’, Ahmed ‘Faraz’ etc. There is a Sher in a Ghazal, the last one, which has the Shayar’s ‘takhallus’ in it. [ A Shayar, can use the ‘Maqta’ very intelligently. He can “talk to himself” like one in our example. I have lots of favourite Sher’s which are ‘Maqta’ of some Ghazal. Some gems are

koi nam-o-nishan puchhe to ai kaasid bataa denaa,
takhallus ‘Daag’ hai, aur aahiqon ke dil me rehte hai


jab bhi milte hain, to kehte hain, “kaise ho ‘Shakil’”,
iske aage to koi baat nahin hoti hai

The first one uses the meaning of the ‘takhallus’ to create the magic, and the second one is just simple, simply beautiful. ]

To summarize, Ghazal is a collection of Sher’s (independent two-line poems), in which there is atleast one ‘Matla’, one ‘Maqta’ and all the Sher’s are of same ‘Beher’ and have the same ‘Kaafiyaa’ and ‘Radif’


The Art of Reading

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party

The Art of Reading

Much has been written about the art of writing; far less about the equally important art of reading. By this I mean proper reading, reading which enables you, in the words of a former Mathematics master of mine, to mark, learn and inwardly digest.

One famous author who did write about reading was the author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832 – 1898)). In the introductory essay to one of his textbooks on Symbolic Logic, he enunciated four rules for mastering the art of reading. In a greatly simplified and abbreviated form, these are as follows:

  • Begin at the beginning, and do not allow yourself to gratify a mere idle curiosity by dipping into the book, here and there. This would very likely lead to your throwing it aside, with the remark “This is much too hard for me!, and thus losing the chance of adding a very large item to your stock of mental delights.
  • Don’t begin any fresh Chapter, or Section, until you are certain that you thoroughly understand the whole book up to that point, and that you have worked, correctly, most if not all of the examples which have been set.
  • When you come to any passage you don’t understand, read it again: if you still don’t understand it, read it again: if you fail, even after three readings, very likely your brain is getting a little tired. In that case, put the book away, and take to other occupations, and next day, when you come to it fresh, you will very likely find that it is quite easy.
  • If possible, find some genial friend, who will read the book along with you, and will talk over the difficulties with you. Talking is a wonderful smoother-over of difficulties.

As Andy Miller wrote in The Guardian of Sunday, June 18, 2014:

“The pleasures of reading involve patience, solitude and contemplation, but we rush to consume content effortlessly.”

Patience, solitude, and contemplation are all conspicuously absent in today’s hurried world of sound bites, brief internet articles, and press updates. Perhaps if people were to concentrate on these three virtues, and substantially less on the modern insistence on instant gratification of desires, the world would be a quieter, more pleasant, and more spiritual place.

In the ultra commercial sphere of best selling fiction, of course, authors pen what their market wants. Such writing leads only to a superficial scanning of the text, rather than a reading of it. At night, when I pick up the novel I am currently reading from my bedside cabinet, I frequently have to re-read the preceding chapter to remind myself of what on earth the book was about, and who on earth are the characters which populate it. Admittedly, this may have something to do with the well known feature of ageing – the ability to recall events of one’s distant childhood vividly, while at the same time being unable to remember what was for supper last night !

None of these kind of books make very much of an impact on me. By contrast, I remember very well the superbly drawn characters of Charles Dickens, the prescience of H G Wells, and the comic situations of Fielding.

Still, to give the last word to Lewis Caroll, the way to read is

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.”


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James Bond

James Bond

History and All Things James Bond 007


History and All Things James Bond 007

By Ben Smith

Being James Bond 007…Bond…James Bond…All the ladies love him and the men want to be him!

Originally a fictitious character created by author Ian Fleming, who incidentally was a keen Ornithologist and named James Bond after a Caribbean Bird Expert in his first Bond novel – “Casino Royale”! Ian Fleming had no idea of the hype and unrivaled phenomenon that was to come with his character and Bond materialised into one of the best known and best loved spies the world has ever known.

Who plays Bond? Well only the most debonair, sexy, handsome, suave and sophisticated, charming actors need apply with chiseled features and a voice that would melt an iceburg, ageless and timeless and totally unstoppable. Each of the actors who have played Bond have all given the Agent their own brand of spice and originality shaping and changing the character slightly. Actors to have played bond are David Niven, George Lazenby, Sir Roger Moore, Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan. Of course, until recently, Bond had a certain well groomed, never a hair out of place look until, in addition to the prerequisites above, the rugged Daniel Craig broke the mould and added a bit of roughness and edginess to the character.

Of course without the music the Bond films would be silent and not as intensely action packed. The title sequence, the music, the talents of the composers such as John Barry, Monty Norman and David Arnold, to name just a handful, have all made unforgettable music and help invoke the passions and danger that is Bond. Those theme tunes are often named after the title of the film – but not always – on the odd occasion the Film Theme will differ from the Theme song and these are highlighted below:

James Bond Theme (Dr No, Monty Norman Orchestra 1962), From Russia With Love (Matt Munro 1964), Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey 1964), Thunderball (Tom Jones 1965), You Only Live Twice (Nancy Sinatra 1967), Look of Love (Casino Royale – Serigo Mendez and Brasil 66 1967), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (John Barry Orchestra 1969), We Have All the Time in the World (Louis Armstrong 1969), Diamonds are Forever (Shirley Bassey 1971), Live & Let Die (Paul McCartney & Wings 1973), The Man With the Golden Gun (Lulu 1974), Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me – Carly Simon 1977), Moonraker (Shirley Bassey 1979), For Your Eyes Only (Sheena Easton 1981), All Time High (Octopussy – Rita Coolidge 1983), Never Say Never Again (Lani Hall 1983), A View to a Kill (Duran Duran 1985), The Living Daylights (A-ha 1987), License to Kill (Gladys Knight 1989), Goldeneye (Tina Turner 1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow 1997), The World is Not Enough (Garbage 1999), Die Another Die (Madonna 2002), You Know my Name (Casino Royale – Chris Cornell 2006), Another Way to Die (Quantum of Solace – Alicia Keys and Jack Black).

Of course last but not least, his favourite tipple has always been the iconic Martini…Shaken not Stirred…

Affordable James Bond Tribute Band Shaken Not Stirred

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Victorian Literature

Victorian Authors


Victorian Literature

By Angelina Grey

The Victorian era or the Victorian period refers to the period of June 1837 to January 1901, as it was the period when Queen Victoria ruled the British Empire. The Victorian era is known as a period of prosperity and development for the British Empire. The period was marked by industrial development, rise of a larger stronger, as well as more educated middle class.

The era was preceded by the Georgian period and succeeded by the Edwardian period. A major feature of the Victorian period however has been the development in the field of art and culture. This period is characterized by intense and prolific adventurism in the field of literature, especially by novelists and poets.

The 19th century was witness to the growth of the novel as the leading form of literature, as far as the English language was concerned. Pieces by pre-Victorian writers like Walter Scott and Jane Austen, had mastered both closely-observed social satire, as well as adventure stories. Popular works were able to set up a market for novels amongst the reading public. The 19th century is many a time considered to be a high point in British literature, along with other countries like the United States of America, France, as well as Russia. Books, along with novels in particular, became omnipresent, and the Victorian novelists were able to churn out masterpieces, with continuous appeal.

Some of the most illustrated and talented Victorian novelists include Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lewis Carroll, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Benjamin Disraeli, George Eliot, George Meredith, H. G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Gissing, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Philip Meadows Taylor, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Anthony Trollope, George MacDonald, G.M. Hopkins, Oscar Wilde and William Thackeray.

Victorian novels, used to be influenced by the large extensive novels of responsiveness of the preceding age. As it is, they often were more of idealized portraits of the difficult lives, where hard work, perseverance, love and luck would win out in the end. They portrayed a scenario, where virtue would be rewarded and the evil would be suitably punished. This formula was a striking feature of the earlier Victorian fiction. The situation, however, became more complex, with the progress of the century. By the 1880s and 90s, books became more realistic and at times even grimmer.

As it is, the Victorian age continues to be a major chapter in the long and illustrious history of the English language. The works of the period are often very relevant in contemporary times.

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