Sunday, September 19, 2021

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

🔹️ The first time I've heard about Paul Gallico was when I read his children-fantasy book: Manxmouse. His writing style is straightforward but nicely flows.
🔹️ Gallico wrote Mrs. Harris (Mrs. 'Arris) as a series of four novels. I read the first two: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs. Harris Goes to New York in a combined edition.
🔹️ Mrs. Ada Harris is a professional London charwoman, whose clientele are mostly wealthy and influential households. She saw a beautiful Dior's evening gown at one of her employer, and longed to buy one for herself.
🔹️ A combination of luck and perseverance eventually got her the chance to travel to Paris to buy a dress at the House of Dior. Can you imagine what kind of troubles she'd undertake to just arrive at the House of Dior - not mentioning to procure the dress?
🔹️ Mrs. Harris is an independent, adventurous, very clever, warmhearted woman. I love her views about hardworking. Though cleaning houses isn't the most enviable job, Mrs. 'Arris is very proud of her profession, and she derives a personal satisfaction from doing her job thoroughly and professionally.
🔹️ Her most valuable asset is her genuine congeniality. She touched heart and changed life of anyone she's met during her adventure. And that's how things became possible for her - that, and her optimism.
🔹️ The story is humorous and heartwarming. And it is set beautifully in Paris! A perfect book for Paris in July reading event (make sure you pick this one next year!), and the kind of reading you'd need when you're down.😊

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

Dumb Witness is probably, if not one of my favorites, certainly one of the most memorable Christie's novels for me. As a crime novel, its plot is mediocre. Indeed, there are some flaws, which is not of Christie's usual quality. But maybe, she has intended to write it rather casually, and out of her love of her family.

I loved it mostly because of one character: Bob, the dog. Yes, he is the fox terrier you usually see on the cover (at least I noticed that some editions use the dog's image on their covers). Does it mean Bob IS the dumb witness in this story? I wish!! Imagine, if only Bob did see the murderer did something, and unwittingly, when he asks Hastings to play, eventually leads Poirot to a clue - it would have been wonderful! But unfortunately, no. Bob just lends his careless habit of putting his toy ball on the top stair to inspire an accident.

Bob's owner is Miss Emily Arundell, a wealthy but prudish spinster. She makes it clear that after her death, her wealth would be divided equally to her nephew and nieces: Thomas, Theresa, and Bella - whom, in a way or other - need the money badly. One night during the stay of the nephew and nieces, Emily Arundell fell from the stairs after tripping over something. They found Bob's ball laid on the top stair in the morning, but is it really the cause? Later on Hercule Poirot found a nail covered with varnish on the top stairs (on which, deduced Poirot, the murderer tied a string that has tripped Emily Arundell). So, it's a murder attempt after all! - and poor Bob has been wrongly accused!!

There'd be a real murder at some point, but the one stuck in my memory is always the stairs accident, for two reasons. First, since it's the only incident which linked Bob with the case. And then, the incident itself seems to be rather forced. How can someone think of hammering and varnishing a nail in the middle of the night, while the nearest bedroom door is slightly opened?

As I said, it's a weak crime story; not one of Christie's brilliant works, I admit, but memorable and heartwarming nevertheless. Far from disappointed, I admired Christie more for writing variable crime novels which are are always entertaining!

Rating: 4 / 5

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My writing mood still hasn't returned yet, but I need to get these thoughts out of my mind soon, so for the next couple of months (perhaps, hopefully shorter!) I would only jot down my random thoughts in a post after each reading. It might not be a proper review, but at least it summarizes the book/reading.

Here's my take on The Beautiful and Damned, which I've read in June (more to follow).

🔅 Anthony Patch is a self indulgent young man, an heir to a wealthy grandfather.
🔅 Irresponsible, lazy, and drunkard.
🔅 Gloria Gilbert is a self absorbed beauty.
🔅 Imagine the two combined in a marriage. The most unlikely couple who bring their own ego to the marriage.
🔅 Their only similarity is their decadent life of partying and excessive alcoholisn, seeking pleasures while waiting with assurances for Anthony's upcoming inheritance.
🔅 The story takes place before, during, and after the Great War in the early 1920s. Anthony even served briefly in the army during WWI.
🔅 It is considered to be based on Fitzgerald's marriage to Zelda.
🔅 Anthony has no idea what to do (all the time!) besides spending money.
🔅 Gloria's only concern was her own beauty (and spending money too).
🔅 In the midst of one of their craziest parties, the rigid-almost-puritant old Mr. Patch crashed the party, and the next morning disinherited Anthony.
🔅 The couple hired a lawyer to appeal against the testament for years, and meanwhile seemed to be paralyzed. Anthony only live for the future (with the money), and Gloria can't see a future when her beauty is fading.

A quite difficult reading, and not at all my favorite, though you'll get to see glimpses of Fitzgerald's beautiful narration here and there. If you feel like giving up mid story, just hang on patiently, for the final twist is worth the waiting!!

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Paris in July 2021: A Blessing in Tough Moments

Paris in July this year isn't just about fun for me, it helped me to stay sane during Covid-19 surge in July. That was perhaps the scariest moments in my life. Some of our acquaintances died from it, and many more were positive, even one of my colleagues. Now it all feels like a dream (it's not over yet, but I am much calmer now). Reading books and watching movies about Paris are my only consolations. It helps me to forget the scary world out there for a moment. And these are what I did for Paris in July:


Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

A memoir of a runaway journalist who arrived in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, without hope or job, and accidentally found sanctuary at a bookstore in front of Notre Dame: Shakespeare & Co. If you love books, Paris - particularly stories about the American writers and bohemian life style of 1920s Paris - well... this book is absolutely for you!

Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

A light and heart-warming story about a London char woman in the 1950s who pursued her dream to go to Paris and buy herself a Dior dress. Along the way she unconsciously touched so many hearts and changed so many lives! Loved this book so much ❤.

I stopped reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame for a while, because who would read about Gothic cathedral of 15th century when death and tragedy are around you? But now I'm back for the readalong, ready to catch up!


Chef's Table: France (TV Series - 4 episodes)
Loved to see these passionate chefs who cook from what the experience in life. A beautiful documentary in French!

Julie & Julia (rewatch)
There... a movie about food too! A young woman who cooks and blogs through Julia Child's cookbook, and in the end finds her self-esteem.

French Toast
A South African woman who found in a diary and locket of her late mother, and goes to Paris to find her long-lost sibling. Some foods are involved too! :)

He Even Has Your Eyes
A french comedy about a Senegalese couple who adopted a white baby. Moving and funny!

That's all for now. Goodbye Paris in July, see you again next year!

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

Mr. Shaitana is an exotic, wealthy, and mysterious man, who likes to collect rare objects. In an exhibition, he met Hercule Poirot, and told him about his latest collection: murderers. Yes, murderers. That is, people whom he knows or suspects had committed murders, but were untouched by the justice. Ignoring Poirot's warning about the danger of this kind of amusement, he invited Poirot to a dinner party where he would exhibit his collection.

The dinner party turns out to be very interesting. Of the eight guests invited, four of them are the murderers, while four others are the "sleuths": Poirot, Inspector Battle, Colonel Race, and Ariadne Oliver - the crime writer. All four have appeared in some of Christie's novels, and this is a rare occasion where we meet the four of them in one novel (usually there are max. two of them). After dinner, there's a bridge game. The sleuths are playing in the next room, while the murderers are playing in the same room where Mr. Shaitana is relaxing by the fire.

You must have guessed what happens next. At the end of the game, Mr. Shaitana was found dead, stabbed with a stiletto from his own collection. All of the four have, at one time or other, at least once or twice, left the table for a moment to get drinks, and none of them paid much attention of the others because their focuses were, of course, on the game. Or at least, for the three of them, because one thing is sure - one of them is the murderer, and the motive is to prevent Mr. Shaitana from disclosing their crime. But which one? Are they all have committed murder in past?

I must say this is one of the most interesting stories from Agatha Christie. The suspect has been narrowed down to four persons, with no alibi. Motive is clear. Method is straightforward. The only way to solve it is by digging into the past murders and analyzing the psychology of each murderer, including their method of playing bridge. Each member of the sleuths takes part in the investigation, but of course, in the end, it's Poirot's grey cells which will get to the final answer. Interesting case, with a bit thriller and some twists!

Rating: 4 / 5

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Paris in July

There's one reading event that I've been looking forward to this year: Paris in July, hosted by Tamara @ Thyme and Tea. I've been fascinated in Paris since my visit there 21 years ago (boy... was it that long??) I've taken a French course for some years before that, and since then, my love for everything French and Parisian grows each year.

You've probably known of my intention to read 300 classics in 20 years. I'm thinking about squeezing at least one book about Paris every year, just for my love for France. And reading it in July seems most appropriate, when France is celebrating le quatorze juillet (July 14th - the Bastille day)!

This year I'll be doing:

Reading: Time was Soft There: A Paris Soujourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

Paris and bookstore; that's probably a heaven-on-earth for me! One day... probably after my retirement, I'd be happy to visit the most famous bookstore in Paris, but before that, why not reading a book about it?

Reading: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

I'm also participating in Nick's chapter-a-day Read Along (began in 24th June). During July I'll be reading quite a lot of chapters of it, but I won't be finish it before August. Well... just the biggest part of it will be superb enough, I guess!

Some TV series in Netflix, probably The Parisian Agency: Exclusive Properties and a movie called The French Toast, in Netflix, or some other French movies/series that I might find interesting. Or I should probably rewatch  Midnight in Paris, Julie and Julia, or Call My Agent!

What are your plan for next month? Are you joining Paris in July? Whatever your plan is, I hope it'll be as fun as I think mine will be!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Hello June!

(picture from Pixabay)

I love June! Here in Indonesia, June and July are the freshest months of the year - cooler temperature, drier air (less humidity). It's always lovely to open the bedroom window in the morning, to let the cool breeze and the crisp morning fragrant in. I love to stand by the window and taking deep breaths while listening to birds chirping and tweeting, after months of suffocating air during the monsoons. Today is that day!! And I love 1st June most because it's a public holiday, meaning I don't have to rush to the office, and a whole day of fun things to do!

This morning my Mom and I made our favorite dessert (we both are sweet-tooth persons😁). It's Snickerdoodle Mug Cake day, baby! It's easy to make (no baking, we use microwave), fast, and very yummy!! We always serve it in four mugs, which we will eat once (one mug each) in the morning, and once in the afternoon. That will make our day! I've found the recipe from Pinterest. The best part is the layers of cinnamon-sugar in between spoonful of batter, which add a crunchiness in the moist sweet soft cake.

As usual, my June is for Jazz Age! I'm reading Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned right now (actually has started it a bit earlier). It's not really my favorite, but still readable. After failed in reading Tender is the Night years ago, and now this one, I'm quite certain that Fitzgerald's best writing is short stories and/or novella - he shouldn't have written more than 250 pages novels!

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels - poignant but beautiful prose with perfect composition, and with layers of depth in it. This Side of Paradise is quite another beauty. It's light, naive, and full of gaiety - it's hard to not like it. But both The Beautiful and Damned and Tender is the Night... well, I'm not really sure I could stand reading about the shallow and egotistical characters for too long - that's not fun at all! But Fitzgerald's short stories.. now that's a treasure. I don't usually love short stories, but I always love Fitzgerald's.

Nick's The Hunchback of Notre Dame for Chapter-a-Day-Read-Along will also be happening this month. It begins on the last week of June, and stretches to August (53 chapters in 53 days). I will put the timeframe here to make it easier for me to catch up, since I most probably won't follow the one chapter a day rule strictly, but will try to make 7 chapters on the weekends.

24 Jun - 27 Jun : Book I Ch. 01 - 04 ✅
28 Jun - 04 Jul : Book I Ch. 05 - Book II Ch. 06 ✅
05 Jul - 11 Jul : Book II Ch. 07 - Book IV Ch. 04 ✅
12 Jul - 18 Jul : Book IV Ch. 05 - Book VI Ch. 03 ✅
19 Jul - 25 Jul : Book VI Ch. 04 - Book VII Ch. 05
26 Jul - 01 Aug : Book VII Ch. 06 - Book VIII Ch. 04
02 Aug - 08 Aug : Book VIII Ch. 04 - Book IX Ch. 05
09 Aug - 15 Aug : Book IX Ch. 06 - Book X Ch. 06
16 Aug - 21 Aug : Book X Ch. 07 - Ch. 04

I will probably finish The Beautiful and Damned in mid June, so I am thinking of reading Agatha Christie's Cards on the Table next, before the Hunchback readalong.

That's all for today, folks! I've been writing this while letting my Snickerdoodle cooling down. And now I will be savouring it!