Wednesday, December 1, 2021

#AdventReading Day-1: The Christmas Mystery: The Lambkin


credit: Flora Waycott

Have you ever read Jostein Gaarder's books? I know this might not be eligible to be called "classic", but is there any specific rule, anyway? I say, Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery deserves to be considered "classic", and I am so fascinated by its beginning, that I decided to post each chapter each day to Christmas Eve. Why? Here's why...

The Christmas Mystery is about a boy called Joachim who found an old beautiful Advent Calendar in an old book store. I never knew there is "advent calendar", but it's a sort of cardboard with 24 cut-out "doors", that when you open each door, it will reveal either a different picture or plastic figure, just like this:



It is no doubt to introduce the true meaning of Advent to children - the hope and joy of waiting for Christmas. Why did I never get this when I was little?

Anyway... Joachim's calendar is a Magic Advent Calendar, and on the 1st day of December he finds inside the first door of his calendar: a picture of a toyshop with a little lamb and a girl. But there is something else... a folded paper which was hidden there had fallen to his bed. A story is written on it, titled: The Lambkin - and that would be the story for 1st day of Advent.

But before revealing the story (within the story), I must note here what the store owner had told Joachim about the old magic calendar. That a mysterious man called John, a roses seller, often comes to the store asking for a glass of water, which he often pours over his head. One time he put a picture of a young woman with inscription: Elisabet in the window. Do you see what Gaarder is doing here? He will tell the REAL advent story, through the fictional advent calendar (and perhaps parallel with the main story). 

Back to Joachim's hidden story. It's about a little girl, Elisabet Hansen, accompanying his mother Christmas shopping at a department store. From a toy shelf, a little lamb toy falls down the floor and becomes alive. It runs out of the store, and Elisabet chases it away because she wants to stroke its fur. While running, she also realizes that time moves backward:

"Perhaps the hands (of the clock) had become so tired of going in the same direction year after year that they had suddenly begun to go the opposite way instead."

The runaway lamb from a department store suggested escapism from worldly business of Christmas: "Perhaps the reason the lamb had come to life and run away from the big store was that it could no longer bear to listen to the cash registers and the talk about buying and selling". It also reminds us to focus more on the true value of Christmas, and what Advent truly is - a journey to welcome Jesus.

Can't wait for Day-2, what story and inspiration will we get? Will John appear inside the story? 

 

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann


๐ŸŽ„ The Nutcracker is famously known as a Christmas classic, both as children tale, and ballet. I have been ignorant of it, though, till several years before, since Christmas here isn't celebrated as festive as in the western part of the world. Christmas for our family is more about going to church on Christmas Eve and having more cakes to eat, while listening to Christmas music; with a little gift exchanges among friends or Christmas decorations in the background. Christmas tales are definitely not our tradition. With that deficiency, I plunged into this tale for the first time in my life.

๐ŸŽ„ It follows a seven year old girl, Marie Stahlbaum and her brother Fritz, who get as their Christmas presents, a clockwork castle with mechanical people - handmade by their godfather Drosselmeier, a clock maker.

๐ŸŽ„ They soon get bored by it, though, so Marie shifts her attention to another present: an ugly nutcracker, and she is fond of it.

๐ŸŽ„ When the clock strikes midnight, a bunch of mice came to the house, led by a huge seven-headed mouse - the Mouse King, and suddenly all the toys/dolls inside the glass cabinet became alive. Led by the nutcracker, they all involved in a battle against the mice.

๐ŸŽ„ The next morning Drosselmeier told the children a story about Princess Pirlipat and Mouse Queen. Long story short, the princess was cursed by Mouse Queen, and the only cure is Krakatuk - the hardest nut on earth - cracked and handed on a certain ritual by a man who would become her husband. A young man called Drosselmeier was good at cracking nuts, but unfortunately he mis-executed the ritual, so the curse moved on him instead. That's how he became the ugly nutcracker toy which is now inhabited the Stahlbaums' glass cabinet.

๐ŸŽ„ Thanks to little Marie's selfless and unconditional love towards the nutcracker, the curse is finally lifted, and the ugly toy turns into a handsome real person of Herr Drosselmeier, the godfather's nephew.

๐ŸŽ„ It's not really a bad tale, really, as it inspires children to accept people, despite of their appearance. Yet, I found part of the tale rather disturbing. How can Marie - the 7 year old little girl - becomes a fiancรฉe of a young man, to be married in one year, to become the queen of the doll kingdom? I mean, seven y.o...!

๐ŸŽ„ In the end, despite of the above unsettling part and (maybe) the mediocre translation of the edition I read, I think I can see why this tale becomes classic. I will perhaps love it more if I've had read it as a child. Still, I doubt how I would have reacted on the marrying part; my parents would have never read it for me, for sure!

Friday, November 26, 2021

2022 Chunkster Reading Challenge



I've had a terrible reading problem lately: difficulty to focus on a book more than twenty minutes at a time. I'm not sure whether it's my declining eyes (I haven't had them checked since the pandemic), or my mental condition (what with the pandemic, then my Parkinson's father), or.... is it just that my reading habit has been shifting due to social media? I don't know. But that's the fact. And that's why, alas, my reading in 2021 has been dominated by shorter books. Therefore, when I found Becky's challenge, I thought: why, this would be a perfect way to shake off that reading slump of mine, and be back in business again! So, without further ado, here it is... the first challenge I enter for 2022:



2022 Chunkster Reading Challenge
Host: Becky @ Becky's Book Reviews

- A book must be 450 pages or more to be considered Chunkster
- Goal (up to each participant - yay!) : 6 (six) books


And these are the bulky guys I've challenged myself to read next year:

  1. Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens (832 p.)
  2. L'Assommoir by Emile Zola (528 p.) - re-read
  3. Flappers and Philosophers by F. Scott Fitzgerald (672 p.)
  4. Evelina by Frances Burney (512 p.)
  5. Middlemarch by George Eliot (880 p.)
  6. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (528 p.)

Middlemarch is worrying me the most. Dickens is always humorous and comical, so it's quite entertaining, but I'm not sure about Middlemarch. Well... let's just see.. :) Wish me luck, friends!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

๐Ÿ’œ Linnet Ridgeway possesses everything a girl wants most in the world: she is a wealthy heiress and very beautiful - she always gets all she wants.

๐Ÿ’œ Her best friend Jacqueline de Bellefort, on the other hand, is neither rich nor beautiful. But she's happier than Linnet could ever be, because she's (too much) in love with her fiancรฉ Simon Doyle. Therefore, when Linnet snatches Simon from his fiancรฉ and becomes Mrs. Doyle, Jaqueline gets resentful.

๐Ÿ’œ On a trip to Egypt, Hercule Poirot meets newlywed Mr & Mrs. Doyle, who are on their honeymoon, with the bitterly jealous Jacqueline stalking the couple as her way of revenge.

๐Ÿ’œ Then on that terrible night on board the steamer from Waldi Halfa, strings of incidents happened. Jaqueline quarrelled with Simon, which ended with the girl shooting Simon, wounding his leg. The morning after, Linnet was found dead in her cabin, shot into her head in her sleep, while her pearls were missing.

๐Ÿ’œ The question is, whodunnit? Is it the easiest guest, Jacqueline; or Linnet's trustee who have most probably squandered her money? Can it be one of the passengers whose father had been ruined by Linnet's father, or the usual suspect, the husband?

๐Ÿ’œ I know that this novel is one of readers' favorites, but I found it a bit unsettling, when the ending is concerned. In some conversations (within this particular book or others), Poirot states that a murderer is a criminal, whatever is his/her motive. However, his action towards some murderers are sometimes inconsistent, especially when he particularly likes them. I found it unsettling - like Poirot is playing God.

๐Ÿ’œ The case itself isn't too bad. A murderer within a bunch of strangers in a holiday trip is always promising, though in this case I had my suspicion due to the over melodramatic of one of the incidents. Nice, packed with actions, but not really exciting.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

My Christmas 2021 Reading Plan

Why wait until December? I think the most perfect time to start Christmas reading is Mid November. It is when the weather starts getting cooler (here in Indonesia monsoon season is just beginning), and one is beginning to get impatient for Christmas to come.

Actually I've been waiting for A Literary Christmas 2021 for happening, but until this post is written, I haven't seen any sign from Tarissa's blog. Do you happen to know whether it's going to happen at all? It would be more fun to participate in an event and read with a group, but nevertheless, event or no event, here is ๐ŸŽ„ My Christmas 2021 Reading Plan ๐ŸŽ„:


The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman


It would be my last classic this year, which would be counted for both Back to the Classics 2021 and The Classics Club. This would be my first read of this children classic, and I'll start soon after finishing the last Agatha Christie on my 2021 list (all is coming to the end, eh?)



The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder


If you think this one is a usual mystery book with murder and all, you're wrong! With Jostein Gaarder, it will always be a complex story (this one is a story inside of a story). It's about a boy who found written stories hidden inside an Advent calendar - one story for each day until Christmas! It would be fun to read them along the Advent calendar, so I'd start in November 28th.



Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Steven's


Between Nutcracker and the Advent reading, I'd need a real murder mystery to get along. For once I'd leave Agatha Christie behind, and pick something lighter. This one looks fun!



The Story of A Nutcracker by Alexandre Dumas


And what could have been nicer than reading Alexander Dumas' take on The Nutcracker to wrap Christmas up, eh?


Do you plan your Christmas reading ahead? Or you just go with the flow and grab any book you feel like reading? Do you start early or wait until December?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

๐ŸŒž The Inimitable Jeeves is the first comedic novel in Jeeves series from P.G. Wodehouse, one of the greatest humorists and writers of 20th century. Well, it's actually more of semi-novel, as it's constructed of eleven short stories which are assembled chronologically into a novel. You can detect its lack of cohesion after each chapter - which make the whole reading experience becomes...well, unwholesome.

๐ŸŒž Jeeves is what they call a gentleman's gentleman - a highly competent valet - to a wealthy "idle rich" gentleman called Bertie Wooster.

๐ŸŒž Wooster is fond of Jeeves, because of his almost perfect competence in either serving his comfort or solving his personal (and general) problems.

๐ŸŒž In this first semi-novel, most of Wooster's problems come from his best friend Bingo Little, who is always falling in love with the next charming girl he ever lays his eyes to, and his rather tyrannical Aunt Agatha, who always persuades him to marry. Other than that, Jeeves' domineering manner sometimes annoys him when the valet disapproves his flamboyant fashion styles, although in the end he'll relents to it, rather than being deprived of Jeeves' flawless services.

๐ŸŒž Overall, it's a witty, humorous piece to read. It's the kind of book you'd need to keep you sane in difficult or dreary times. It's amusing and entertaining, but lack of deeper or meaningful values. You'll have fun while reading it, but most probably forget most of it after.

Am I going to read more of Wodehouse, or Jeeves' series in particular? Certainly, you'd need one or more comic antidote every year, right?

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Sunday, November 7, 2021

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

Followers (or frequent visitors) of my blog should have known by now that Agatha Christie is one of my favorite authors. For some time I've been searching for her contemporaries in crime/detective fiction, who is as good as (or even better than, though I doubt there'll ever be!) Christie. I've tried Dorothy L. Sayers - quite good, but lacks the human nature aspect. Then I saw a beautiful Folio Society edition of Josephine Tey's book in my boss' shelf, and I couldn't resist to borrow it. So, this is it!

๐Ÿ”น️ The Franchise Affair is about two eccentric women from Milford - mother and daughter - who are accused of kidnapping a young girl to force her to work as housemaid.

๐Ÿ”น️ Marion Sharpe (the daughter) called a local lawyer called Robert Blair to assist her in an interview with Scotland Yard. A 15 y.o. girl called Betty Cane told the police a rather fantastic story about how two women from The Franchise (the Sharpes' house) had given her a lift, wanted to hire her as a maid - which she refused - and imprisoned her in the attic and beat her. She gave a detailed information about Marion and her mother, the car, the house - which is surprisingly quite accurate


๐Ÿ”น️ So, this is not a usual whodunit story, but rather to decide which party is a liar.

๐Ÿ”น️ Though quite reluctant at first, Robert vigorously defended Marion and her mother - and in the process, fell in love with Marion! To prove that Betty Kane lied (Robert trusted the Sharpes from the first), Robert must find witnesses who saw/ knew where Betty was during the period when she said she's abducted.

๐Ÿ”น️ If you expect a fast-paced crime story, this one isn't for you. The investigation runs quite slowly, along with our introduction to each character. And since Robert is a lawyer, of course there's a few court scenes. Add a bit of romance into it, and voila... you get the gist of the book.

๐Ÿ”น️ Was I impressed by the book? Not really, I was just curious how Betty did it (oh yes, half through the book you won't doubt about her credibility). And since you'd be sure that in the end the Sharpes will win, the only curiosity left is how they will achieve it and how Betty will react (will it be a sweet revenge?) Not very impressive, huh?



๐Ÿ”น️ Disappointed as I was with this book, I still want to try another from Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar. I heard good things about it. If it's failed, then I'll drop her from my list altogether.

๐Ÿ”น️ Which author do you think is comparable to Christie? Any recommendations? Some say Ngaio Marsh is one of the best, though not as good as Christie. Do you think she worth a try? Or should I just stick to Christie only?

Rating: 3,5 / 5

P.S.
I think picking this title for Folio Society collection is wasting money. My boss should have bought Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - not only it comes with great story, the pictures look fabulous too. This one's is meh...