Shades Of Words


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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows : Part 2

Be warned! Spoilers Ahead!

IT ALL ENDS. Well not really, there is Pottermore coming up in October, so JKR ain’t done milkin’ this cow yet. But back to what would appear to be a graceful conclusion to this decade long saga…

It ALL ENDS. This summer’s biggest blockbuster release – the concluding part of the movie finale to the famous book series – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2– hit the theaters with all the associated mania. People lined up in mile long queues, dressed up in costumes, bought back to back tickets for the same movie and did a whole bunch of crazy stuff. Well, did the movie live up to the hype – I think yes!

I really looked forward to HP Part 2, not so much as it was the end of all the drama, but because I was really impressed by Part 1 and was quite eager to say how the rest of the more action packed half of the story will play out on the big screen. I oddly did felt a bit sentimental about it (though I was more emotional when the last book came out) and wanted to watch this quietly so decided to give the cinema a wide berth on the premier weekend. I waited for a week after the release and decided to catch an afternoon show. The wait paid off, I got excellent seats and an almost empty theater.

Now on to the movie – the first thing that hits you is the scale – everything is larger, darker, scarier and better. Every character has a permanent expression of impending doom on their face, except for Voldemort, who shows signs of megalomaniacal happiness. The whole movie can be basically seen as sum three segments of :

Now on to the movie – the first thing that hits you is the scale – everything is larger, darker, scarier and better. Every character has a permanent expression of impending doom on their face, except for Voldemort, who shows signs of megalomaniacal happiness. The whole movie can be basically seen as sum three segments of :

  1. Harry, Hermoine and Ron continue their journey to find the remaining Horcruxes.  A brilliant scene to watch out for – Hermoine impersonating Lestrange (excellent performance by Helena Carter) that really lightens the otherwise dark movie.
  2. Battleof Hogwarts – Very soon, the trio are in Hogwarts, and its here almost after 20 minutes into the movie, where the action really begins. It is also at this moment and onwards, that this movie truly belongs to Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry. I have always thought Radcliffe to be a bit of a wooden faced actor – but I think he really shows off his stuff here. He was extremely convincing in this intense performance – without the usual support of stronger adult actors in the same frame. Even Rupert Grint and Emma Watson had very little role in the final movie
  3. Harry Vs. Voldemort – This is the most crucial part of the story and the logical conclusion to all those years of adventure, pain and sacrifice. The first confrontation was perfect – exactly as I had imagined it. My all time favorite scenes from this were the “after death” conversation with Dumbledore and the scene where Harry sees his parents. The second and final confrontation left lot to be desired. In the book, this is an extremely important “coming of age” scene for Harry where he finally confronts Voldemort in front of everybody but without their help in a very classic “just you and me in this till one of us dies” scene. The movie took away the grandness of the scene by making it a very long chase through Hogwarts, a random free fall and the final confrontation which NO ONE WAS WATCHING

So did I cry – not really? I did get misty eyed a couple of times. However, I did so cheer for Hogwarts when the armored men came to life and formed a battalion against Voldemort’s men.  This scene looked and felt so much better than what it was in the book. And I felt so proud when Neville stood up to Voldemort and then killed Nagini – he has come such a long way!

I thought it was a pretty good movie – but I believe Part 1 was way better. There was something subtle and classy about it that just did not pull through to the second half.



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The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place

Just a few weeks ago, Amazon was having a major Kindle sale, as a part of which it was selling some popular books for as low as $0.99-$3.99. I ended up buying quite a few – it was a great way to try new stuff without spending too much money. What caught my attention about this book was the lovely jacket cover and the basic plot line – “Young governess has been hired to educate three children who have been clearly raised by wolves”. I usually don’t read children’s book, but this novel appeared intriguing enough.
Once you start reading, it does not take you long enough to build affection and respect for the determined governess, the very young Penelope Lumley, who has been sent from the Swanburne Academy to Ashton Place to take care of three kids of questionable origins. Penelope, an orphan herself, forms a very strong empathetic bond with the children – Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia. It is extremely amusing to watch her struggle to teach the children Maths, Geography, Drama and Latin, when they are determined to behave like pups. On top of this, she has to deal with her immature and melodramatic mistress, Lady Ashton who sees the children as an unnecessary burden. Penelope is also angered and flustered by her master, Lord Ashton’s callous attitude towards the children – who he treats as his furniture and not as his wards. It was he who found the children in his forest grounds , hunting one evening. Having discovered these wild and howling kids, he kept them in the barn where Penelope first met them, when she arrived at Ashton Place.
Penelope deals with all crisis and demands of her employers with the courage and good sense that she inherited in Swanburne Academy. She often falls back on the legendary and extremely practical preachings of the Academy’s founder – Agatha Swanburne. I quote one of my favourite “Agathaism” :

“That which can be purchased at a shop is easily left in a taxi; that which you carry inside you is difficult, thought not impossible, to misplace”

Penelope, being fifteen, is almost a child herself with stars in her eyes, and sometimes you can glimpse that when she lets her imagination run away with herself. For instance, in one instance, she is to be accused of stealing the almanac from the library and her thoughts go something like this –

“It had even occurred to her that the police might be summoned and criminal charges be filed, after which she would have to bravely defend herself in front of a stern, white-wigged judge. Her eloquence would earn a standing ovation from the dazzled spectators, who would find it impossible it to believe that this mere girl of fifteen was not a trained lawyer”

But things are not all as they seem in Ashton Place – Why does Lord Ashton insist the children attend the Christmas Ball when they are clearly not trained in social etiquette? Why does he himself disappear on the day of the Ball? Why were the children abandoned in the forest in the first place? Who are their parents? Why does Old Timothy keep appearing in the most unlikely places? These questions add a bit of gothic element to what I would consider a light, funny and entertaining children’s book.
Most of these questions remain unanswered in the first instalment of the series – The Mysterious Howling. Though not exactly a cliff-hanger, if as a reader you have invested enough interest in the characters, you are bound to pick the second book: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place – The Hidden Gallery.
In the second book, we follow the escapades of the Ashton household into London. After the catastrophic Christmas ball, Ashton Place is undergoing major repairs. Lady Ashton convinces her husband the need to move to London till the renovation is completed. Penelope is extremely excited about this change in location – she has never been to London and only read about it in books. She sees this as an opportunity to expose herself and the children to some real art and culture. Once in London, Penelope is clearly overwhelmed by the city and is a bit depressed. Enter Simon, a young struggling playwright (obviously, for a young governess of fifteen, a romance is needed) who befriends her and the children and proves to be a valuable companion during their stay. The open questions from the first book remain unanswered and the plot thickens. First there is the gypsy soothsayer who warns the “hunt is on”. Then there is the hopeless Hixby’s guide to London- a gift from Penelope’s teacher and friend – which proves to be extremely useless in all regards with the exception of its directions to the hidden gallery no. 17 in British Museum. On top of this all, there is Judge Quinzy, whose unusual and unwelcome interest in Penelope and the children worries her. And most importantly is the mystery of the color of Penelope’s hair! While a lot more happens in the second book, as a reader you are really no further then where you started and that is a bit irritating. One has no choice but to look forward to the third book!!
Maryrose Wood is without doubt, a very good children’s storyteller. The writing is rich, witty and the language makes for very good “reading aloud” to kids. Some of my favourite sentences are as follows:

“ As you may know, travelling alone is quite a different kettle of fish from travelling with companions. It tends to make people anxious, especially when enroute to a strange place, or a new home or a job interview, or ( as in the case of Miss Lumley) a job interview in a strange place that might very well end up being her new home”

“ There is no alarm clock like embarrassment”, and by the time the conductor spoke the word luggage, Miss Lumley was far more awake than she wished to be. Had she really said something about bandits?”

“The truth is that one cannot go through life without being annoyed by other people, and this was just as true in Miss Penelope’s Lumley’s day as it is in our own. Annoyance is a fact of life; one ought not to lose one’s grip because of it..”

“Penelope had read several novels about such governesses in preparation for her interview and found them chock-full of useful information, although she had no intention of developing romantic feelings for the charming, penniless tutor at a neighbouring estate. Or-heaven forbid!- for the darkly handsome, brooding, and extravagantly wealthy master if her own household. Lord Fredrick Ashton was newly married in any case, and she had no inkling what his complexion might be.”

Penelope, Simon and even the children are good role models. The children though naughty also possess a grateful, kind and generous nature. The moral messaging of the overall story is sound. The Incorrigible.. is clearly written not only to entertain but also to educate children. Words and phrases are explained as a part of the narrative without breaking the plotline –

“This is called “selective truth telling” and it is frequently used in political campaigns, toy advertisements and other forms of propaganda”

“Viola – as you may know, is a French word that means “there you are”. Like “Eureka” or “By Jove, I’ve got it” is sometimes exclaimed by people who have figured out the answer to some sort of problem or riddle”

If you have kids who still like to be read at night or who are still a few years away from their teens, this is a really perfect book for them


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Eating out in St.Louis – II

The Boathouse – What a lovely name ! Located on the bank of the lake in Forest Park, this restaurant is more than just a place to eat. It offers rental boats to paddle around the lake, a deck with rocking chairs where you can sip your beer and stare at the ducks flapping around the dock, and some live entertainment in the evenings. In the hot summers, you can choose to sit indoors in the air conditioned area for breakfast or lunch, but I would recommend having dinner in the evening, when the patio is softly lit and there is cool breeze coming from the lake.

The cuisine is standard American with some Italian on the menu. I think I ordered a pizza which was just okay. I have heard their sandwiches are pretty good and I may try that out next time. But really, The Boathouse, is for spending good time in a pretty place. Once you have had your meal, you can just sit in the rocking chairs by the dock and stare at the stars.

Food – Just about okay; Service-Efficient; Ambience – The reason why this place is so popular

 Mayuri  – Authentic Indian Cuisine

I generally dread eating in Indian restaurants when I am not inIndia. This cultural reinterpretation of what my cuisine should be like, can be pretty unnerving. Firstly there is no one Indian Cuisine – what is mostly served in restaurant is either “Spicy South Indian’ or/and  “Punjabi Mughal” which generally bypasses a lot of unique dishes and flavors of central, western and eastern India.  The other issue with the food that you get in Indian restaurants is that its really the  “high on spice and oil” version of what people actually eat in an Indian home. Trust me, if  the only experience that you have had of Indian food is an a restaurant, then get an invitation to an Indian home and see what they eat – you will be pleasantly surprised.  So when I try to experience “ true Indian cuisine”  in theUS, I limit my expectations to hoping to eat food that is similar to what is served in restaurants back home. What I mostly get, is the sweetened, spiced down and dare I say, tasteless version of most curries. There are only or two Indian diners that I really like in St. Louis– Mayuri, being one of them.

It serves a reasonable variety of North and South Indian cuisine in all its greasy glory. The lunch buffets have a tremendous variety, but I think ala carte has better quality. I have eaten there quite a few times and the food is always well cooked. I especially love the “chutneys” they serve if you order South Indian snacks like “dosas” and “idlis”. The only drawback of Mayuri is the ambience and service which is quite similar to the chaos of a “bazaar” in India and looks out of place in a dine-in, air conditioned restaurant in a US suburb. A popular choice for catering, Mayuri is a good place to take your non-Indian friends, provided they can stomach the grubbiness of the place and the greasiness of the food.

Food – Pretty Good; Service – Polite but not sophisticated; Ambience- What ambience?

Note : I have picked the images from different blogs.


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Miss Mapp

British humor has its own identity – wry, genteel, steeped in sarcasm, slightly tongue-in-cheek. All writers have their own style but there is something inherently similar in the language and narrative. I always find similarities between Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell and PG Wodehouse with their mostly country house settings, caricaturized protagonists and situational humor. I also tend to measure every other British humorist against them, which probably doesn’t help my reading at all, as it happened in the case of Miss Mapp by EF Benson

The ‘Mapp and Lucia’ novels come highly recommended from all my blogging friends – I spied a free copy on Kindle and thought –‘ Why not?’. E.F. Benson was an early 20th century writer and is today mostly famous for this set of books.  Miss Mapp is the third book in the series and is about the life of “high society” in the small British town of Tilling.  The “High Society” comprises of a group of mostly middle aged women – Miss Mapp, her arch-nemesis Diva, the wannabe social climber Mrs Poppit, the local Padre and his mousy wife and the two retired military men – Captain Puffin and Major Flint.

As there isn’t much to do fill the long days, hours are spent planning bridge parties and trying to garner as much gossip as possible. Miss Mapp and Diva spend considerable time and energy to get the first piece of gossip and the latest fashionable dresses.

Miss Mapp, our heroine, is a forty something busy body who likes to believe that she represents the creme de la creme of Tilling. She is greatly feared for her inference skills that may put Sherlock Holmes to shame.  Here is an example –

“Mrs. Plaistow turned the corner below Mrs.”Mapp’s window, and went bobbing down the steep hill…She distinctly looked into the Captain’s Puffin’s dining room window as she passed, and with misplaced juvenility so characteristic of her waggled her plump little hand at it. At the corner beyond Major Flint’s house she hesitated a moment, and turned off down the entry into the side street where Mr. Wyse lived. The dentist lived there, too, and as Mr. Wyse was away on the continent ofEurope, Mrs. Plaistow was almost certain to be visiting the other. Rapidly Miss Mapp remembered that at Mrs. Barlett’s bridge party yesterday Mrs. Plaistow had selected soft chocolates for consumption instead of those stuffed with nougat or almonds. That furnished additional evidence for the dentist, for you could not get a nougat chocolate at all if Godiva Plaistow had been in the room for more than a minute…”

The book is a series of comical situations that she lands up in as she constantly tries to put down other townsfolk – especially Mrs Poppit and Diva. She is also not above spying in people in the middle of the night to gather what they are up to. For Miss Mapp, must, without doubt know everything that goes in that town. It is quite clear from the attitude of the townspeople that Miss Mapp is more tolerated than liked and is often quite fodder for gossip herself.

What are more amusing than Miss Mapp’s attempts at finding information, are extreme and rather elaborate attempts of pretending not to care. It is a truly a wonder at what lengths will an idle but curious mind will go to keep itself occupied.

Benson is seriously funny and you do tend to chuckle quite a bit now and then. However, it’s not something that you have never read before.  Which in itself is not a bad thing but it does not make me want to go and read out the next book in the series. I like all the characters, but I don’t care what happens to them next. And yes building empathy is not the goal of this kind of literature, but if I had to read something that for both the sake of literature and entertainment I will go back and pick up Wodehouse.

But dear reader, don’t go my opinion. I highly recommend giving the Mapp and Lucia books a try. I have just read one of them and I will eventually read the others for sure. Just not right away