31 May 2011

Re reading old books

I'm in my re reading mood these days - didn't feel much like reading romances or thrillers either, so I went through my bookshelves and got out some much loved classics - Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty by Robin McKinley and my much loved Alice in Wonderland - the book for when you are tired, or despondent or just plain bored. When I was 10 and very very sick, my father bought this book for me - Alice in Wonderland. I was at once fascinated and engrossed in the book and forgot to be cantankerous and demanding or whiney and attention seeking.

Today the book that he bought for me is still around, though tattered and hanging by its bare threads. It should be put in a museum of much loved books - together with all the Enid Blytons, Hans Christian Anderson and Frances Hodgkins. Anyway, last year I came upon this beautiful hardcover edition with illustrations by the original artist, Sir John Tenniel at the Big Bad Wolf Sale and quickly grabbed it, thinking myself the most lucky person that day! There were only 6 copies and they cost, can you beat it, RM8.00. Gem of the year!
What I loved about Alice, and still do is the no nonsense style of Lewis Caroll. In those days I didn't care who the writer was nor how the book came about. I loved the conversational style of Alice, the main character and narrator of the story and I enjoyed her adventures. In fact for a long time after that, I wanted to be Alice and wished we had rabbits in top coats in hot tropical Malaysia, one I could follow down a rabbit hole and have adventures that were both funny and brave.

Another book that I loved and enjoyed reading recently was a re-telling of Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty. This was  written by Robin McKinley and called Spindle's End. It is a truly spell-binding book full of rich detail and colourful characters. The main story does follow the original - about the baby princess who was about to be baptised and on her baptism day the wicked fairy came and sent out a curse. But after this there are so many twists and turns in the story that at times one forgets that it is the story of the sleeping princess. McKinley's baby princess is rescued by a fairy, but a fairy who is not even one yet. She is only a young girl who happened to be at the christening and who happened to overhear the curse. Out of the goodness of her heart she runs to the cradle and holds the baby and says "No, no it will not happen... it will not happen.. You will have all my magic, all knowledge if it will help you at all and it will protect you." Words that became actually the little princess's protection for this young fairy had a gift of talking to animals. Somehow she found herself with the little baby princess in her arms on her way home to her village which is at the very furthest corner of the kingdom. It took her almost 65 days to to reach home , having to keep away from the main pathways and using only the forest track that wound along the borders of the country. Along the way, the little princess was helped and nurtured by all the animals in the forest - bear, fox, cow, even wolf gave their milk readily to help keep the princess quiet and safe. The fox was the first creature to help her, though generally foxes avoided humans as much as possible.

" All the creatures of forest and field and riverbank knew the infant was special. She was the princess, spirited away from the evil fairy Pernicia on her name day. But the curse was cast: Rosie was fated to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a poisoned sleep - a slumber from which no one would be able to rouse her..."

Rosie as she was later called grew up never knowing she was a princess, away from palace rules and curses. The wicked fairy along with the whole palace, looked for her but nobody suspected that the little girl growing up with two fairies far away in a corner of the kingdom was actually a princess. For one thing she grew up to be robust and tomboyish, liking all manner of boy adventures rather than to sit at home and learn to spin. She was also, inspite of the gifts by her twelve fairy godmothers, quite homely looking. Her hair was beautiful it is true, being long and golden and blond and soft as silk. She had a very happy nature and the gift of friendship - everyone who knew her loved her. But she had a nose which while not ugly, was a trifle big for er face and eyes which were as blue as the skies with long curly lashes but which were too big for her small inquisitive features. She was protected by the very ordinariness of her upbringing and thus it was that she never knew that she was the princess the whole country was talking about, until just the week before she turned 21, when a stranger came to the door and claimed to be from the palace and that she Rosie was actually a princess.

After that night things happened very fast. Penicia the wicked fairy who had been looking for her finally realised where she was. The handsome young man who had come to work as Narl's apprentice was actually a prince and her bethrothed, but he was in love with Peony her best friend. Rosie herself realised that she did not want to become the princess and rule a kingdom but preferred to be in her village looking after the animals. But curses as we know cannot be thwarted and so things become even more interesting after this. All in all , this is a very satisfactory book to read, even if you are not really a fan of fantasy or fairy tales. The writer weaves a tale that is really magical and yet so astoundingly real that once you start, you cannot put the book down until you have reached the end. Because the end is not like the fairy tale. There is a ball where the princess was supposed to be introduced to her family and her kinsmen but Pernicia comes to this ball too. And the curse is thrown except that this time, it is Rosie alone who can rescue herself. And this she does, with the help of all her animal friends (very Disneyish this one) but also Narl the blacksmith who is actually a fairy in disguise and who loved her. Like all good fairy tales there is a happy ending, though it is not the ending we all think it would be. I would give this book a 4 out of 5!  Very good read indeed and one a lover of words would love - beautifully written with lots of descriptions.

21 May 2011

Surabaya jaunt 2

An Tibetan llama greeted us as soon as we entered the gates
The Surabaya Safari Park is situated roughly 25km out of the city. Its a sprawling 290 hectares of  woodland - huge grassy areas blend well with huge old trees that simply look as if they have been there for centuries, instead of only 20 years old. Well most of the trees are but many are also older than that. But I beleive what Malaysia failed to produce, Indonesia has done quite well - a well maintained safari park. There are easily more than 60 0r 70 animal species here, with most of the major large mammals as well as the reptiles and birds represented.

The tigers were beautiful - large and rather lazy looking they were all having a siesta in the afternoon. One lion was seen having a drink but this one was quite old looking, and thin too.

We saw the endangered Sumatran rhinos from far though - there were three of them but they were too lazy to move. The elephants however were a mite too friendly and when Wan threw some bananas out at them, a trunk came sniffing right inside our van!

The most interesting of these animals to me were the dancing elephants! They could actually sway to music!

Surabaya jaunt

Last week we all flew to Surabaya for a supposedly long weekend break. However it didnt really turn out to be a relaxing one - not for me or Emma, my new daughter in law who was with us. First the flight there was early in the morning - at 8.30 am, which meant that we had to leave the house about 5.15 am!  We arrived in Surabaya about mid morning - just nice we thought. But the journey from the airport to the city was horrendous - a mile long jam indeed awaited us just as we left the airport, on the way to Bromo, a mountain resort,  70 km west of Surabaya. Because of the congestion, the driver decided it would be better for us to have an early lunch since Bromo it seemed is not a town,nor even a village, but just a resort in the midst of acres of tea and other vegetation.
After a long journey along a narrow, bumpy, winding road that seemed more like a track used for jeeps we arrived at Bromo Cottages, a resort about 3000m above sea level. Mount Bromo is actually a volcano, an active one at that! The resort however is only about 2,000m above sea level but even then the temperature was fairly cool - very temperate, I'd say. Almost like an English spring!

Hydrangeas just outside our cottage

Lillies and roses on the slopes

Bromo Cottages itself is quite a surprise - a welcome one. The cottages are really single- roomed chalets and they are all on the hill slopes. So we had to climb down a few stairs to get to ours, which luckily is just next to my son's. Shasha my daughter and Yatie, our maid has another cottage closer to the main reception. There are flowers all over the slopes and around the cottages. Hydrangeas as big as plates bloom brightly beside our cottage and the roses are simply stunning. All around us we can see the mountains - green and verdant. Other cottages dot the hillside - these we were told later are workers' cottages. The hillside is heavily planted - all kinds of vegetables (temperate ones like cabbages, onions, potatoes, carrots etc) are grown here. There are also a lot of apple orchards but they were further down. We stopped at one on our way to Surabaya, the next day and I managed to take a few photos.

Apple trees
 Evening comes early in these parts and by 5pm the mists are rising and the clouds cover the sky. We stayed indoors after some tea, taken with Indonesian meatball soup - me to finish reading my book and Repin to tinker with his blackberry. There is very poor reception, but I'm not surprised.

That night we all retired early, not least because we were bushed by the journey, but also partly because there was nothing else to do! The next day was Sunday and the plan was to visit an apple farm and a waterfall, then on to the Safari Park. We ended up just doing the last one - there's nothing much one can do at an apple farm (its not picking season yet) and none of us were prepared to climb a rocky hillside to see the waterfall. At least the Safari park was interesting, though the animals, especially the lions, looked a little too thin for my liking. Pictures will be in the next write up.

7 May 2011

New Books

This will be my fourth entry for Naida's Romance Reading Challenge.

Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts is another one of her gems.  I say this because her books are  mostly polished -the characters real and multi dimensional, the plot flawless and the background very well researched. This book, like most of her other books has a well researched background on the careers of her characters - this time the book is about fire jumpers. Fire jumpers are just like fire fighters except that their work involves jumping into the heart of the fire and killing it from the inside. It is serious, dangerous work and her two main characters - Rowan Tripp and Gulliver Curry seem to enjoy the hard dangerous job.

Like in all of her books, Roberts fills Chasing Fire with details that really brings the story's world to life. She shows how smoke jumping is a high stress, physical career where one mistake can mean death. Smoke jumpers have to carry everything they need when they head into a blaze: food, drink, equipment for putting out the fire, sleeping bags and they cannot go home until the fire is out. This can mean days or even weeks of digging, spraying, clearing bush and sometimes running from certain death. The isolation of the areas where they fight fires means that if a smoke jumper, or a team of smoke jumpers, gets stuck, they are often too far away to receive outside help. Roberts really makes the smoke jumpers' experiences multi-dimensional with firefighting lingo and such vivid scenes that readers will be able to feel the heat on their faces and smell burnt trees.

Like many of Roberts' heroines, Rowan Tripp is gutsy, hot-tempered, fiercely loyal and can drink like a man. In fact she behaves almost like a man, except for the fact that she loves perfumes, especially one that smells of peaches. Gulliver or Gull on the other hand is more romantic, is easy going and flexible, kisses well and is smart and respectful. In fact the perfect hero. And to add to all this macho image, he loves to read and is rich as well. Who wouldn't fall in love with such a hero? Well, Rowan for one didn't, or refused to. Brought up by a bachelor father (her mother ran away and later died), Rowan has few feminine traits and has a lot of relationship issues.

He's the type of man who can tell a woman he loves her in spite of her not giving an inch:"I care about you, Rowan. The you who's got a laugh like an Old West saloon girl, the you who picks out constellations in the night sky and smells like peaches. I care about that woman as much as I do the fearless, smart, tireless one who puts her life on the line every time the siren goes off." (sigh...)

The two however find that they are fast falling in love, although Rowan refuses to admit it. However when the crazy lady who is running around vandalizing the smoke jumper's equipment targets Rowan, Gulliver's laid-back attitude is finally shaken off and his protective inner self is revealed. Mean while there are two burnt bodies found in the forest fires and because of her altercation with the "crazy lady who had vandalised her room" Rowan becomes a suspect. There is plenty of action in this, novel, not less the romance, sexy action type. You get nose to nose with the forest fires - the details are amazingly real and indepth and if you still can't fall in love with Roberts, then you are a hardcore anti romance type.

Like all her books, this one is a keeper - you want it for yourself! I'd give it a 5!

This is not part of the review though I definitely want to say something about this particular writer. I've always enjoyed her books though I mostly loved her series - the Quinn Brothers, the Born In series, even her tryout of a fantasy cum vampire novel series starting with Valey of Silence and Dance of the Gods.However my absolute favourite is the Quinn Brothers series. Here she portrays 4 men - strong, responsible, charming. And their women are all strong women but not domineering. All with different careers - one is a cleaning lady - but her women are all very real and very down to earth.

4 May 2011

At the hospital

We were supposed to go back to malacca that day. All I had to do was collect my mother in law from my brother in law's house and take her back to Melati.  She told me that she had a stomach ache but thinking it was one of her regular diaroeaa, thought it was okay. But suddenly on the highway her stomach cramps became worse and she started groaning in pain. I then made a split second decision and instead of going home, swerved to the Melawati town centre, where the Damai Service Hospital was. I rushed to the emergency counter and told them my mother in law was in the car and having stomach cramps.
She was groaning in pain. They carried her straight to the emergency room and a doctor was called. The doctor said it could be due to build up of acidic gases in her stomach leading to the cramps. Also she was a picky eater-  not liking everything that's supposed to be good for her, like milk, oats, unsweetened tea etc. And added to the number of medication she was taking every morning, it didnt help. She had pills for hyper tension, diabetes, liver problems and I don't know what else. All this while, as the doctor probed and poked, she was still groaning in pain. I asked the doctor - "Are you giving her something to relieve the pain?" "Yes," she said - and a fairly heavy dose too," said the doctor - an oldish lady with mannish manners, and a shock of dyed reddish hair, but a soft gentle voice, at odds with her appearance.

So my mother in law was admitted into the Damai Service Hospital that Friday afternoon and I had to relay the message to her various offspring. The first person to arrive was my husband, still in his office attire since he was supposed to have a meeting with some Health Ministry officials that afternoon. He cancelled the meeting however, to be with his mother. After some delay she was finally admitted to one of the rooms upstairs - small but complete with attached bathroom. The pain had not diminished, and she was still groaning in pain, clutching my hands like a child and saying, "It's painful Kat,... it's painful Kat..." all the while. I felt at a loss - what can one do in the face of so much pain? The nurse came in again and said she would give her one more jab of the pain killer and it was only after the jab, that she calmed down enough to sleep through.

She was kept in hospital for three days, and I stayed with her throughout. Well, at least I finished my book - Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts! Our plan of going back to Malacca was shelved and we all spent the weekend at the hospital instead. Well at least it wasn't anything serious - I mean nothing life threatening, though a gastritis problem can be quite painful I know. So much for our long Labour Day weekend plans!