We Have Always Lived in a Castle – Shirley Jackson

For the first Jackson book, I chose We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Published 1962). Now I know that this is her last book but this was also the book that most captured my attention.

whaliacIn We Have Always Lived in a Castle, we meet Constance and Mary Katherine Blackwood, sisters who live seemingly peaceful lives in the large Blackwood Manor. The rest of the family with the exception of their father’s younger brother Julian died of arsenic poisoning one night. Julian narrowly escapes death but becomes an invalid living a painful life in the process. All the facts of the case point to Constance and it is implied through Mary Katherine or Merricat’s narration and uncle Julian’s ramblings that Constance although innocent has isolated herself from society choosing to live out her days in seclusion. She is content with Merricat running the errands. Merricat sounds like a typical teenager at first, however, you cannot help but sense that something is off about her. Her mannerisms are wild and untamed, plus she seems to constantly make up her mind to be kinder to uncle Julian. Their uneventful lives are most definitely interrupted by an unannounced visit from their estranged cousin, Charles Blackwood. His motives and indirect clashes with Merricat change their lives forever.

I couldn’t sympathise with Constance as she makes the least attempts at re-integrating into the society 6 years after her trial not to mention her attempts to protect Merricat. I was thoroughly exasperated by Merricat’s psychopathic nature and her  attempts to alienate herself and Constance from the society at large. However, the one point that never failed to surprise me was the depth of darkness and apathy displayed by the Blackwood sisters. The foreword did warn that the themes of isolation, fear and subsequent persecution reflect the anti-semitic feelings of Jackson’s own neighbors towards her and her family. But what bothered me was the manner in which Jackson chose to portray her feeling. Jackson’s penmanship is astounding, her characters were well thought out and the theme is quite disturbing. The only negative is the inadequate motive for the mass homicide, vaguely explained through Julian’s reminisces and Merricat’s musings. This made it hard to understand Constance’s reasons for protecting the identity of the murderer.

April 16 Reads

Now that Spring is officially here, I was hoping to settle down on the patio chair with a book and a cup of tea on weekends. What ends up happening is I wake up at noon and most of the time goes either in catching up on TV series or just heading out. I started a new routine wherein I wake up a few minutes earlier than intended, make myself a cup of coffee in microwave and read a couple of pages while I finish the aforementioned coffee. While it isn’t much in the way of progress, it does give me that tiny bit of satisfaction.

The Fur Person by May Sarton was the first book I’ve read this April. This is a short and sweet narrative of a stray cat who considers himself The Cat Person and his quest to find the perfect human to cater to his needs. Highly recommended for all cat lovers!

April was also a month where it took me longer to finish some of the books and as a result, I was able to get through only a few –

brooklyncColm Toibin’s Brooklyn was bittersweet yet an intense and fabulous read! This coming of age novel traces Eilis Lacey’s journey from small town Ireland to America as she struggles to overcome home-sickness while gathering the courage to sit for bookkeeping certifications. She finds friends in the unlikeliest places and so does romance come eventually.

A tragedy in the family turns out to be a test in disguise, for the choices she must make means leaving a loved one behind. Its as cryptic as I can get without giving away much. The prose was beautiful, slow paced and evocative prompting the readers to close their eyes and picture the scenes, Eilis’s emotions as she struggles to take the right step or say the right words. With the exception of perhaps the last few pages which were a tad too long, this book is simply beautiful. I loved it more than Nora Webster.

 

avmbkAnimal, Vegetable, MiracleBarbara Kingsolver’s books had rave reviews on both amazon and goodreads, especially her latest book titled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This lengthy book documents Kingsolver’s year long experiences as she and her family embark on a transformative phase of moving from Tucson, Arizona to their ancestral farm in Appalachians, of moving from grocery store purchases to sustaining themselves on fresh seasonal produce grown on their farm by the family. As Kingsolver notes, the journey is tough at first what with having to give up soda, candies, fruits and a lot more items, then making the resolve to buy seasonal produce at the local farmers market. She also provides plenty of facts and numbers on the amount of fuel consumed for moving food across the countries, amount of fuel consumed to get out-of-season produce to the grocery stores across the US. Another alarming fact which I was vaguely aware of having seen the struggles of farmers in India is the extensive control that Monsanto has over the seed and fertiliser market, its quest to crush farmers who are trying to save the genetic strains of vegetables and fruits that were consumed by Americans centuries ago not to mention the hidden havoc that GMO crops might be wreaking on human bodies (the rise of allergies).

Overall, this was an eye-opener for me and R as we are trying our best to stick to seasonal produce. While in New Jersey, we often bought locally grown organic produce, this book just strengthened my belief to hopefully continue the same in Cali.

 

lalaLyrics AlleyLeila Aboulela’s depiction of life in Sudan and Egypt in the early 1950s through the lives of Mahmoud Bey Abuzeid, his family and friends evokes the times gone by when peace and prosperity ruled Africa. The story is inspired by the accounts of Aboulela’s uncle who was a poet and this can be witnessed through the lyrics and poems composed by Nur Abuzeid, the heir apparent of the Abuzeid dynasty, whose dreams are dashed by a fatal accident. Nur’s journey in seeking solace from a broken heart and a broken body forms the crux of Lyrics Alley. Beautiful and vivid portrayal of characters, each with their own background. The story also portrays the transformation they undergo following Nur’s accident.

For me, it is also a book that gives you glimpses into a world where things are perfect, just the way you would like them, a sudden catastrophic event could change everything and everyone you’ve ever known. Religion, politics and women’s liberation form a strong backdrop as witnessed through the conversations between the protagonists and the surrounding cast of characters. Yet another all-time favorite!

 

Deborah Madison popped up on my radar through a chance search on Amazon. Seeing how her books were rated high on goodreads, I borrowed The Greens Cookbook and Local Flavors from the library. Madison lists off the popular recipes that she and her team created at her famous restaurant in the Greens Cookbook. Also, this one is predominantly aimed at Vegetarians. Local Flavors on the other hand touches lightly on meat and poultry based dishes and when I say lightly, I mean a few recipes are scattered about. What Local Flavors does highlight is the importance of using fresh seasonal produce, the flavor profile of unusual varieties of greens not to mention exotic fruits and vegetables. I loved the Greens Cookbook a lot more than I did the Local Flavors.

And then came May!

Jan 16 Reads

SnobsJF2016 started off with me finally picking the faded paperback copy  of The Starship Titanic by Terry Jones. With a solid foreword by Douglas Adams, I anticipated the story to be very similar to Adams’ books and truth be told, I wasn’t disappointed. The grand yet tragic tale of the Titanic is transformed into a humorous and adrenaline filled space adventure.

A group of humans are transported to the alien world Blerontin when they accidentally board the fabled Blerontin luxury space cruise, aptly named Titanic by its eccentric and long-suffering innovator, scientist and designer Leovinus (modeled after Leonardo da Vinci). The rest of the story follows the humans as they thwart a nefarious plot to destroy Titanic while trying to return to Earth. The story was downright hilarious while not losing its element of adventure, quite an entertaining read.

Next on was The Bookseller of Kabul by the Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstad. Seierstad’s chance meeting with a bookseller in the streets of Kabul lead to her year long stay at the bookseller Sultan Khan’s small home with him and his large family. This book is Seierstad’s accounts of her observations of one family’s struggle to survive the harsh environs in a conflict ridden country. The writing is beautiful and I want to say flawless as the stories flow in and out seamlessly. The evocative tone brings home the harsh realities of the barren landscapes, the constant fighting amongst the local warlords, the constant invasions and the meagre resources which render even the most optimistic people apathetic. Seierstad’s own musings throw a stark contrast between what is glorified in the name of culture vs. the situations people actually confront.

Snobs by Julian Fellowes – I put down Snobs on my TBR list since Downton Abbey season 3 and I had wait for the prices to drop just to buy a copy on the Kindle app. Though I purchased this book in 2014, I only managed to read it this January, and it felt like I hit a major milestone in my reading. Edith Lavery is a high climbing self made socialite whose ambitions at becoming a Lady clash with her desire for passion. Narrated by a unnamed yet reluctantly close friend of Edith, the story chronicles Edith rise and fall in London’s high society as she successfully courts and marries Charles Broughton, the son of Marquess of Uckfield only to fall in society following her affair with Simon Russell, an actor whose ambitions exceed Edith’s. Julian Fellowes lays out the stark contrasts between the British aristocracy and the ambitious middle class through Edith’s story. I felt that one of the key reasons this book was successful was the timing of its publicity. But then again, any book on British aristocracy will be interesting owing to the fact that it provides us a glimpse into the past.

And then there were…

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – I was hooked onto Crichton’s psychological sci-fi thrillers since 2005. While I gradually weaned myself off of his works after gaining access to contemporary literature, I nonetheless retained The Andromeda Strain. This was probably because the plot never tired me no matter the number of re-reads. The key theme of this story is the ethical dilemma faced  by the people studying the unknown life forms while also highlighting the harsh truth that is the governments stop at nothing when arming themselves with biological and chemical arsenal. I felt that The Andromeda Strain is one of Crichton’s best works and hopefully turns into a classic in the next century.

And finally X-Men The Last Stand by Chris Claremont – I love MCU and its cast of characters. While I enjoyed watched the X-Men movies, I wasn’t thrilled with the written version of The Last Stand probably because it leaves some questions unanswered while raising new ones. The Last Stand focuses on Jean Grey, a level 5 mutant with powers many would kill for. The plot follows the movie storyline except, it adds nuggets of information that a Marvel fan might not miss. Happily though, it was a quick read!