Monday, December 4, 2023

Murder on the Menu (2023) by Alex Coombs

Thanks to Bedford Square Publishers and NetGalley for providing me review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

πŸ₯£ Chef Charlie Hunter arrived at Hampden Green, a little village in the Chiltern Hills, an idyllic English countryside, to open a new sheet to her life. She bought Old Forge cafe, and determined to transform it into a high quality restaurant with high quality foods she's capable to cook. It's no matter that she doesn't have financial stability to start with, Charlie is a hardworking and relentless woman, she will progress little by little.

πŸ₯£ One thing she didn't count for, is the hostility showed by the locals. First DI Slattery, who seems to dislike her from the start without apparent reason. Then there's the local builder, Dave Whitfield, who's known as a pompous bully - or knobhead, as Charlie's first staff Jess called him. He was found dead few days after Charlie punched him for bullying her. That's right, Charlie Hunter is a tough woman besides a good chef. Of course, this automatically made her a suspect.

πŸ₯£ In no time, our chef made acquaintance with the locals. Ollie the drug dealer, Luke the handsome Yoga teacher, the duke and the psychic, are only some of them. One of these new "friends" of hers is a murderer. But which one? And what's the motive?

πŸ₯£ As a debut cozy mystery in a series, Coombs has successfully laid her foundation. We get a glimpse of Hampden Green and its inhabitants, also some backstory of Charlie's past. The cafΓ©'s two staffs are interesting additions to our heroine's personality. I only wish that the narrative was made more straightforward, it feels rather redundant. For me the premise is rather dull, some concession in building contractor or others, which I didn't follow very well, but got the gist.

πŸ₯£ What's missing in this novel, though, Coombs compensated with the mouthwatering descriptions of the cafe's menu, the morning preps, mise-en-place, the cooking process itself, to the plating. These are what I've picked this book for on the first place, and for that element alone, it's paid off.

πŸ₯£ If you love reading food-related cozy mystery, this book would suit you, though for me it's a bit too violent and vulgar to be called cozy. The mystery itself is lacking finesse; at least I could easily guessed the murderer, in spite of the twist, and thought that Charlie should have been less trustful. I can only hope the next on the series would be much improved.

Rating: 3 / 5

**Murder on the Menu will be published on 7th December 2023.

Friday, December 1, 2023

The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948) by Margery Sharp #CCSpin #DeanStreetDecember2023

πŸŽ€ Post-war England found six unlikely group of people living in the same living quarter of Chipping Hill, home of a middle-age widowed Isabel Brocken, the titular 'foolish gentlewoman' of this book, a sweet person by nature, and innocently kindhearted. Her brother-in-law Simon, a pompous misogynist gentleman, is staying as guest, while his bombed house is in repair. To his chagrin, he's not the only guest. Also staying with Isabel is Humphrey Garrett, her recently-demobbed nephew, and Jacqueline Brown, her ex-ATS companion. Completing the assemble are the Pooles: Mrs. and Greta Poole, mother and daughter whom Simon hired as caretaker-slash-cook.

πŸŽ€ The post-war vibes are poignantly depicted in this book. Simon's disapproval of post-war changes and longing for the return of pre-war orderly world; Humphrey and Jacqueline's need of peace and rest after their hectic lives during war. They spiced up the whole story for me.

πŸŽ€ After a moment's struggle, the six of them reached a harmonious existence. But just as they have settled down conveniently, a complication came in the shape of Tilly Cuff. Tilly is Isabel's poor distant cousin, who had grew up with Isabel and Simon, but on opposite position of the classes.

πŸŽ€ Young Isabel was in love with a young man, but the man loved Tilly. Isabel found and read his proposal letter to Tilly, but she tore it up, and so, deprived Tilly of a life better than being governess and companion all her life. Of this youthful vice Isabel repented, and now determined to have a reconciliation by means of inviting Tilly to stay at Chipping Hill, and later on gifted her the house and most of her money.

πŸŽ€ Her generous idea was opposed by the three others, but most strongly Simon who couldn't bear to see the Brocken's estate being given to stranger like that. But Isabel, to anyone's surprise, didn't budge. Tilly arrived at last, and with that, the end of the peacefulness at Chipping Hill.

πŸŽ€ Saying that Tilly stirred the whole household is an understatement - putting it upside down would be more appropriate. Years of having to put up with difficult employers and colleagues made her bitter and malice. Even the Pooles, who had hitherto managed to be left alone by the family, couldn't avoid Tilly's evil snare. Isabel saw all these transformation in Tilly. What do you think she would decide concerning her idea, would she do it anyway? Or could Simon and the others make her realize of her foolish attempt?

πŸŽ€ This is a seemingly light read, but actually much deeper than I first thought. Isabel turns out to be not as foolish a gentlewoman as Simon had thought, she just think differently. But when she knows she's right, she sticks to her idea. When it comes to her conscience, she does what it tells her, no matter how others think or even oppose.

πŸŽ€ And Tilly - she's the most complicated of all. Seeing what she does to others is pretty annoying. How can a person be such malevolent and inconsiderate? But once we consider her past, well... every action of hers began to make sense. I never agree with her reactions, one shouldn't throw one's anger upon others who are innocent, but I understand that sometimes, under continuous pressure, one might snap.

πŸŽ€ My favorite character here is Isabel. She's not foolish to me, but a sweet person, who knows what she wants, and dares to be herself. It often happens, that someone calls another 'fool' because the other doesn't share the same views. There's rarely wrong with either views or opinions, because we each have our own priority in life, don't we? I also admire Mrs. Poole for her determination to make best of what life has to offer.

πŸŽ€ All things considered, this was a wonderful read. And after my disappointing start with Stone of Chastity, I can finally enjoy reading Sharp.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Shelf Control #7: Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

Shelf Control
is a weekly feature created by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. Since early January 2023, Shelf Control has moved base to Literary Potpourri.

As I was browsing for a Christmas e-book or two to read next month, I found this book I forgot I've ever bought, how long ago has it been on my shelf?

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

Summary from Goodreads:
"In the heart of Paris, in the posh building made famous in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Pierre Athens, the greatest food critic in the world, is dying. Now, during these his final hours, his mind has turned to simpler things. He is desperately searching for that singular flavor, that sublime something once sampled, never forgotten, the Flavor par excellence. Indeed, this flamboyant and self-absorbed man desires only one thing before he dies: one last taste.
Thus begins a charming voyage that traces the career of Monsieur Arthens from childhood to maturity across a celebration of all manner of culinary delights. Here, as in The Elegance of Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery’s story celebrates life’s simple pleasures and sublime moments while condemning the arrogance and vulgarity of power.

I have almost read The Elegance of Hedgehog for Paris in July this year, but I got bored at first chapter, and so didn't continue. I wonder whether Gourmet Rhapsody would better suit me. I like food-theme stories, and it might add charm to this book. So, I think, I'll keep it a try!

Have you read this book? Do you think it's worth reading?

Monday, November 27, 2023

A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia (2016) by Clara Benson

πŸ’° Ticky Maltravers is what you would call in 1929 as the toast of London high society. One would surely find him in parties, and people use to invite him in their dinner parties. One could say that Ticky almost never eats at his own home. Does that mean Ticky is a loveable person? Not necessarily. At his own birthday party (thrown by his friends, of course, Ticky NEVER had his own party), someone poisoned him. Investigation that follows reveal that the poison must have administered by one of the guests, who is one of his so called friends.

πŸ’° Freddie Pilkington-Soames is at another dinner party when it happened, and he (by a hilarious complication such as what usually befalls Bertie Wooster in P.G. Wodehouse realm) went straight to his mother's house very drunk. His mother, Cynthia, is one of Ticky's circle who attended the party. She and Ticky came home in a taxi (Ticky lives several houses near hers), and dropped dead in front of her house after saying that he's been poisoned!

πŸ’° Normal people would have telephoned the police or an ambulance, but not Cynthia Pilkington-Soames. Of course, in a story which was a combination between Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse, the characters won't take the ordinary road. No, instead, Cynthia asked Freddie to move the body to the deceased's own house. Freddie who, being very drunk, couldn't think straight, did what his mother bid him. The body-moving scene was very hilarious, involving some heaving, some miscalculation, and a toy wheelbarrow! But it was done eventually.

πŸ’° When Freddie woke up the next morning, sober and the intelligent himself again, he realized with a chagrin that he mistakenly put the corpse to the house nextdoor instead of Ticky's (which would have been thought of as a drunken-man-collapsed-after-party-incident, and won't raise much suspicion). As it was, the queer incident puzzled the police.

πŸ’° Freddie is a journalist, and he was lucky to have secured Ticky's case to handle, as he need to know whether the police suspected him or her mother's involvement (and to avert suspicion if any). One thing lead to another, and before he knew it, Freddie has become an amateur sleuth. He has a bigger advantage than the police, because he's one of the circle - the insider - while the police can't get anything from those posh people.

πŸ’° As you can imagine, this was a highly entertaining murder story. When I said it's a cross between Wodehouse and Christie, I wasn't exaggerating. While the hilarity and the gentry's life reminds you a lot of Bertie Wooster, the plot has Christie's touch in its simplicity and complexity at the same time. And considering this was Clara Benson's debut novel in the series, made it more amazing.

πŸ’° I'm fond of every element in this book, but most importantly the characters. They all feel real. Ticky is what I can imagine a slimy social parasite is. Someone who takes for granted others' generosity because he has everybody in his grasp. And the name choice is brilliant, Ticky the tick! The posh gentry are what I imagine the suspects are going to be - indifferent of anything else as long as their reputation is save. And that's what made Ticky a successful blackmailer (you know it's a blackmail from the first, of course, thanks to the title), and a potential murder victim.

πŸ’° Freddie is my favorite, he's the bridge between the gentry and working class, and he has such a pleasant personality. I loved what he did in the end, he completed it remarkably; only few people can resist the temptation when they had other's vulnerability in their hands. All in all, it's a successful debut, and I can't wait to continue on through the series!

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Six Books Saturday #4: Female Amateur Sleuths

is my personal monthly bookish meme, inspired by Six Words Saturday, which I've stumbled upon @ Travel with Intent. It's basically to list six books of random category, which I'd decided on the spot. Anything is possible according to my whim. I post Six Books Saturday on last Saturday of each month. If you're interested, you are, of course, welcomed to join me. There's no rule, really. You can post six anything about books. 

Any regular reader would have noticed that lately I've been reading a lot of crime novels. Today I will share my six favorite female amateur sleuths, whose series I'd love to read through. I love them partly for their sleuthing styles, but partly, also, for their personal characters. Here they are, in no chronological order:

Six Favorite Female Amateur Sleuths

Rachel Murdoch from Rachel Murdoch Mystery by Dolores Hitchens
A smart and agile seventy years old spinster who loves sleuthing with her clever cat Samantha.

Hildegard Withers from Hildegard Withers Mystery by Stuart Palmer
An intelligent thirty years old school teacher and a romantic spinster.

Edna May Oliver as Hildegarde Withers

Lady Hardcastle and Florence Armstrong from A Lady Hardcastle Mystery by T.E. Kinsey
The collaboration of a lady and her maid results in an unusual pair of amateur sleuth. Their dynamic relationship is part of their charm.

Vera Wong from [book] Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto
A Chinese-American elderly woman, owner of a tea house, with cheeky and affectionate personality, who uses her brilliant cooking ability as her main sleuthing tool.

Joyce Meadowcroft from A Thursday Murder Club Mystery by Richard Osman
An elderly woman, ex nurse, witty and charming. One of the four residents of retirement village who love to solve murder mystery.

Flora Steele from Flora Steele Mystery by Merryn Allingham
A bookshop owner turns sleuth, partnering with a handsome crime writer, results in a fun bookish mystery series.

Have you read any of them? Who's your favorite female amateur sleuth?

Next Six Books Saturday: 30th December 2023.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Would you join me in: Agatha Christie Short Stories 2024? #AgathaChristieSS24

Throughout her literary career, Agatha Christie had written no less than 167 short stories! How many had I read? I have no idea. I know I've devoured many of her short stories collections, but the problem is, I tend to see them as what they are, a collection of stories; one book containing several stories. Meaning that I regarded each of them as mere elements of a book, never as a story of its own. And that's why I never remember all the story, well.. maybe one or two with standout titles.

That's what I've been wanting to do, giving credit to each story by reading and reviewing it as stand alone. And what's more appropriate than to start the project right on the centenary of Christie's debut short story: The Coming of Mr. Quinn, which was first published in 1924? And so, here's my...

Agatha Christie Short Stories 2024

What is it?

- Reading & reviewing Christie's short stories as standalones.
- Two short stories a month, starting from 1st January to 31st December 2024.
- I have curated twenty four stories in no chronological order, with equal proportions of the Poirot, Marple, Harlequin, Tommy & Tuppence, Parker Pyne, and some non detectives.
- Most importantly, would you like to join me in this journey? πŸ˜‰

The reading list:

JANUARY: The Coming of Mr. Quin (Harley Quin)
JANUARY: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (Hercule Poirot)
FEBRUARY: The Pearl of Price (Parker Pyne)
FEBRUARY: The Affair at the Bungalow (Miss Marple)
MARCH: The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl (Hercule Poirot)
MARCH: The Unbreakable Alibi (Tommy & Tuppence)
APRIL: Have You Got Everything You Want? (Parker Pyne)
APRIL: The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor (Hercule Poirot)
MAY: The Sign in the Sky (Harley Quin)
MAY: The Crackler (Tommy & Tuppence)
JUNE: The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael (Hercule Poirot)
JUNE: The Blue Geranium (Miss Marple)
JULY: Manx Gold (NN)
JULY: The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper (Tommy & Tuppence)
AUGUST: The Gate of Baghdad (Parker Pyne)
AUGUST: The Man Who Was no. 16 (Tommy & Tuppence)
SEPTEMBER: The Herb of Death (Miss Marple)
SEPTEMBER: The Bird with the Broken Wing (Harley Quin)
OCTOBER: The Hound of Death (NN)
OCTOBER: The Voice in the Dark (NN)
NOVEMBER: The Dead Harlequin (Harley Quin)
NOVEMBER: The Girl in the Train (NN)
DECEMBER: The Chocolate Box (Hercule Poirot)
DECEMBER: A Christmas Tragedy (Miss Marple)

How it works:

* Early each month I will post a reminder of what two stories we will read that month, as well as any background info, if any. You can put links to your reviews of the month in the comment section.
* You're free to put reviews of two stories in one post if you like, or in two separate posts, as long as it's published within the allocated month.
* You're free to post it on your blog, twitter, or instagram. Just note that I might not do instagram posts/comments, but as long as you put the link in the comment, others might find your reviews.
* I might include a topic of discussion every now and then, whenever I feel like it. I'll publish these in my own reviews. Be sure to check my reviews, and you can answer/respond in the comment or in your own reviews if you want.
* You can join in whichever month/story you'd like, no obligation to complete all - it's not a challenge! As long as you read them within the month.
* Don't forget to visit, read, and comment each other's review - it's always fun to exchange idea/opinion with others who read the same thing with you!
*The hashtag we will use: #AgathaChristieSS24

Easy-peasy, right? Only two stories a month - less than 100 pages to squeeze into your tight schedule. πŸ˜‰

Well, are you in?

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Behind a Mask: or, A Woman's Power by Louisa May Alcott: An Audiobook Review #NovNov23

🎭 Who would have thought that years after reading Little Women (which I found flat and too stereotypical), I would be fascinated by Louisa Alcott's writing? And yet, here I am, surprised at finding such a brilliant novella I had no idea she's ever written!

🎭 Behind a Mask or A Woman's Power is one of Blood and Thunder Tales, a thriller series, which Alcott had written years before Little Women. The first of these was a novelette titled Pauline's Passion and Punishment which she wrote while in financial straits. After she entered it in a competition, and won the prize, Alcott published it anonymously under the name of A. M. Barnard.

🎭 Behind a Mask told the story of Jane Muir, a deceitful governess who came to join the wealthy Coventry family, to guide the 14 year-old Bella Coventry. The household consists of Mrs. Coventry (Bella's mother), Gerald (oldest son - an idle gentleman), Edward (youngest son - the romantic young man), and Lucia Beaufort (a cousin who loves Gerald, and regarded as his wife-to-be). There's also Sir John Coventry, uncle to the children, who lives near their house.

🎭 Jane Muir arrived as a shy, demure, polite young woman of 19, who had been persecuted by endless marriage proposals of her former employer, a guy called Sidney, who happened to be Gerald's acquaintance. But right after she was alone in her bedroom at the first night, we saw immediately that she was actually a thirty years old actress, who was in disguise with wig and fake teeth.

🎭 Mrs. Coventry and Bella were instantly charmed by Miss Muir, while Edward fell head over heels for her. Sir John also gradually found comfort in this girl's company. Only Gerald and Lucia who were suspicious. Thus, it was amusing to watch how Miss Muir gradually won over the family's heart. Even the skeptic Gerald was soon infatuated by her, after she confessed that she'd actually come from a respectable family, and an equal to her employer. Jane's enemies are now Lucia - who's watching her lover slowly slipped away from her, and Lucia's faithful maid.

🎭 Jane's aim was certainly to marry one of the men, to be a Coventry; but the question is, which one? To succeed she must act quickly before the truth overcome her plot, otherwise she would be ruined - penniless and homeless. Will she succeed? Moreover, will this story make her a heroine - a lower class woman's ambition to secure a better life, or will it be 'truth will win over evil' - a condemnation of ambitious female sex in 19th century a la Thomas Hardy?

🎭 I loved everything about this novella! It's like watching a genius actress performing her act, live. Alcott's narrative described Jane Muir's gestures in little details - her sighs, drooping eyelids, her tremble, voice modulation, hand on the heart - everything is perfect. She performed each in the right time, with right amount, to create the right effect. It's so satisfying to read and follow her actions. I know she's deceitful, but I can't help wishing her successful, and the suspense was delicious right to the end.

🎭 Needless to say, this was one of the best novellas I've ever read. No matter what people call this kind of story - a thriller? a sensation novel? - it works for me. What an satisfying read of a brilliant writing! Or should I say 'a satisfying listening', because its was the audiobook version which I've enjoyed for this novella - and it was superbly performed (as usual) by B.J. Harrison. He was such a brilliant performer - not only narrator. He gave each character a perfect modulation in speech, and gave this sensation novella a credit by making it 'live'.

Rating: 5 / 5

This book counts for:

Novellas in November 2023
hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books and Rebecca @ Bookish Beck