Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (2008) by Jeanne Birdsall

πŸ‘­ When Rachel (Hamlette) of Hamlette's Soliloqui announced the We πŸ–€ Sibling Stories Week, I knew it's time to revisit The Penderwicks - the first of which series I'd read many years ago. The Penderwicks consist of the father, four sisters (who might remind you of the four sisters in Little Women), and a dog.

πŸ‘­ It's four years after their mother's death, the Penderwick sisters live on Gardam Street, still with their father, and the dog. Rosalind, the elder, has grown up to be the little housewife of the family. She's responsible, much matured for her age, and little Batty - the youngest - depends on her much like a child to a mother (she can't sleep before Rosalind tells her a story - nobody can tell stories like Rosalind!). The second sister Skye is the tomboy (like Jo in Little Women?) and the most intelligent one. She's obsessed with math, logics, and scientific stuffs. Jane, on the contrary, is the most imaginative and romantic one in the family. She's the poet and writer. Last but not least, is little Batty, the imaginative kid who loves animals.

πŸ‘­ On the fourth year of their mother's death, the Penderwicks is visited by Aunt Claire who brings an unpleasant tidings from the past: a letter written by their late mother right before her death. It's her wish that Mr. Penderwick starts dating again. This gives the Penderwicks such a consternation, who had hitherto live comfortably in each other's company. The sisters, worrying that they might end up living with a terrible stepmother, devise a plan to thwart any chance of their father marrying again.

πŸ‘­ The Save-Daddy Plan - that's the name of their mission. As usual, when something crucial happens, Rosalyn as the eldest, would call for a MOPS - Meeting Of Penderwick Sisters, where they vow of secrecy. It's decided then that, as they couldn't prevent their dad of dating - it's their mother's wishes too anyway - they could choose a terrible date for daddy, that he would hate! Little do they know that Mr. Penderwick himself has some secret plans on his mind about this dating business. You can imagine how hilarious they're to read - hilarious, warm, and charming!

πŸ‘­ I love the sisters' dynamic relationship, and how they support each other, while always maintaining the Penderwicks honor! My favorite plot is Skye and Jane's swapping homework - Jane is writing play for Skye, while Skye is doing an essay for Jane. You know how these would go in consequence. They provide more laughter and drama to our delightful read! All in all, it's a satisfying, entertaining read.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Read for:

hosted by Rachel (Hamlette) @ Hamlette's Soliloqui

Monday, February 19, 2024

Cigarette Girl (2012) by Ratih Kumala #IndonesianLit

🚬 I'm proud to say that Cigarette Girl is the best Indonesian historical fiction I've read so far. A highly entertaining story with good plot and pace. Most importantly, it is unpretentious, unlike most of others in the same genre from the same country. This is my second read, and I enjoyed it as much as before.

🚬 Whether we, Indonesians, like it or not, cigarette is always part of our culture. For me personally, the aroma of tobacco sticks to my memory. It is something I grew up with. My late father was a smoker until many years later when he stopped smoking. The tobacco smell coming from my father's body or clothes always associated to me the sense of love and protection. No matter how hard life is, it will be okay because my father will there for me. God, how I miss those feelings right now! Nowadays people might condemn cigarettes as silent killer etcetera, but I always have a soft spot for cigarettes, tobacco, and cloves. But enough about me, now about the story itself.

🚬 Tegar, Karim, and Lebas are the offsprings of a wealthy cigarette business owner Soeraja. They are summoned home as their father is dying. Unexpectedly, on his death bed, Soeradja mentions a woman's name they've never heard of, but enrages their mother: Jeng Yah ("Jeng" is a respectable address to a woman, similar to Ma'am). Who is Jeng Yah? And why does their father want to meet her? The brothers decide to solve the mystery and look for the answer by taking a trip to M town, where it all began.

🚬 Parallel with the present line, Ratih Kumala brings us to the past. It all began in the early 1940s when the Dutch was still colonizing Indonesia. A visionary ambitious young man called Idroes Moeris was working as a cigarette roller, but longed to produce and sell his own cigarettes. His time came when the Japanese arrived in 1942 and confiscated Moeria's boss' belongings. Fortunately the boss still keep some cloves and tobacco in stock, which Moeria then bought for his first venture in cigarette industry.

🚬 Soedjagad was Idroes Moeria's colleague, and close competitor, not only in stealing the heart of a pretty girl called Roemaisa - daughter of a scribe - but also in buying the boss's cloves. Roemaisa rejected Soedjagad's proposal because she fell in love with Moeria; and we know who eventually got the cloves. These brought bitterness to Soedjagad, and from then on he was like a thorn in Moeria's flesh, a shadow that shrouded his life.

🚬 Both competitors thrived as two big cigarette industries, but Moeria was always leading with his genius business inventions and good taste in concocting delicious sauce for his clove cigarettes. Soedjagad, meanwhile, was always copying his ideas, but lacked Moeria's secret recipe of the sauce. But it would all change in the hand of their successors.

🚬 Moeria and Roemaisa had two daughters. The elder one is the most beautiful and intelligent. Her name is Dasiyah, but people called her Jeng Yah. The enigmatic Jeng Yah. Dasiyah inherited her father's knack of cigarette making, and was soon entering the industry. How did she meet Soeraja, and what happened then, is an engaging mystery to unfold!

🚬 What I liked most from this book is how Ratih Kumala alternately and proportionally tells the story from the point of view of characters from both the past and present, and was able to connect them so seamlessly, yet we still distinctly perceive the time difference. It is equally amazing how she could explore each character - present and past - beautifully in just under 300 pages.

🚬 I love mostly the portrayals of the three Soeraja brothers. Tegar was made the heir from childhood, but envied his brothers for happily living their childhood, while he was forced to learn about family business. Lebas, the laid-back child, on the contrary, envied Tegar for being with their father all the time, while he and Karim played together alone. And Karim, the calm trustworthy Karim, who later becomes the mediator between the two opposite-pole of his brothers, is satisfied to work for their family business. Lastly I'm satisfied with ending, with the way the three brothers react to the revelation of Jeng Yah and their family secret history.

🚬 On the whole, it is a story about two most important events in Indonesian history: Japanese occupation which led to independence proclamation in 1945, and the 1965 genocide. They are nicely presented through the intricate stories of love and jealousy, ambition and struggles, business intrigues and betrayals, as well as the interesting history of clove cigarettes industry. Cigarette Girl has also been made a Netflix series, currently playing. I haven't had chance to watch it (some people had recommended it), but I'm pretty sure that the book, as usual, would be much better.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Friday, February 16, 2024

The Affair at the Bungalow: A Short Story #AgathaChristieSS24

πŸ’Ž In a dinner party, a pretty young actress, Jane Helier, tells a remarkable story. She's the type that people usually think beautiful but silly. So that when she begins with "it happened to a friend of mine", the others - Miss Marple included - are all convinced that the friend is Jane herself.

πŸ’Ž A burglary committed in a riverside bungalow, belongs to a wealthy man, taken for his mistress, an actress. A young man got a letter from Jane Helier, invited him to discuss a play at the bungalow. But Jane never actually sent him the letter. He came, and met a girl who called herself Jane Helier. He was served a cocktail, and passed out. The moment he came to himself, he's lying out in the road. And then the police arrested him for burglary; the jewelry which was kept at the bungalow was stolen.

πŸ’Ž It was a remarkable story, indeed. No one present could solve the mystery: who really stole the jewelry, why the deception? Everyone is perplexed, even, it seems, Miss Marple. However, just before she leaves, Miss Marple whispers something to Jane. A cryptic message, it seems to us, but it shows that Miss Marple has solved the perplexing mystery, which appalls Jane.

πŸ’Ž It is surprisingly a short and simple story with a brilliant plot twist! I wouldn't have guessed the truth. A superb short story for Agatha Christie's fans!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Easy Life in Kamusari (2009) by Shion Miura #JapaneseLitChallenge17

🌳 Yuki Hirano has just finished high school and doesn't know what to do next. So, his parents enrolled him to Mount Kamusari to be trained as a forester. As Yuki was, in a way, forced to take the job, he arrives at the small village grumbling. More so because Yoki Iida, in whose house he would live, snatched and threw his phone away, so that he feels desperate, lonely, and out of place.

🌳 Forestry works are no leisure. Yuki struggles in his first training, but soon gets the hang of it. And it is then that he realizes the beauty of this village at the foot of Mount Kamusari, and appreciates the meaningful job he has in preserving nature. The easy life in Kamusari is far different from his former life in Yokohama city, and he embraces this new life. Yuki even let's himself attracted to a girl older than himself, Nao - a local teacher and sister-in-law of Yuki's boss, Seiichi.

🌳 This book provides a really comfort reading. Shion Miura's writing transported me to the everyday simple life on Kamusari, brought me to meet the people, and learned much about forestry, the little village tradition. I love how the Nakamura team member accepted Yuki in no time, and especially Yoki's household: grandma Shige (Yoki's mother), Miho (Yoki's wife), and even Noko the dog. They grew to love him eventually. But the best part of this book is the detailed description of the forestry work - it's really remarkable, and even kind of epic sometimes. All in all, it's beautiful, refreshing, funny, and warm coming-of-age story.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Monday, February 12, 2024

Fresh from the Country (1955) by Miss Read

πŸ‘©πŸ»‍🏫 Miss Read is the pen name of Dora Jessie Saint MBE, an English writer and schoolmistress who was famous for her novel series such as the Fairacre and the Thrush Green. She also wrote some children novels, as well as a couple of standalone novels like this one: Fresh from the Country.

πŸ‘©πŸ»‍🏫 Anna Lacey is a "fresh from the country" young teacher who's starting her career in a London suburb primary school. The story is about her challenges and struggles. Not only the kind of new teachers would face in their early stage of educational career, like dealing with unrelenting pupils, facing "difficult" parents, or even "rum" characters of her colleagues. Those are minor challenges, as little by little Anna gets the hang of the teaching business. The real struggle for her is the contrast of city life with her countryside origin.

πŸ‘©πŸ»‍🏫 Anna experiences a culture shock. Being used to simple life with simple country folks, she's having hard time to adapt with the boasting or greedy people around her. Not mentioning their obsession in money and achievement. Poor Anna is always distressed near the end of term, and can only return to herself after a few days breathing the pure and calm air in the country.

πŸ‘©πŸ»‍🏫 Overall, it's a refreshing read that calm you down after work rush, and it makes me want to read the countryside series. This charming and at time funny book was first published in 1955, and re-printed by Furrowed Middlebrow (the imprint of Dean Street Press) in 2020.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

Friday, February 9, 2024

The Pearl of Price: A Short Story #AgathaChristieSS24

πŸ’œ I didn't remember of ever reading a Parker Pyne mystery before. Or if I had, it slipped my memory. In this story Pyne is having a holiday trip to Petra, in the Middle East - a journey which, no doubt, was inspired by Christie's own journey with husband Max Mallowan.

πŸ’œ Among Pyne's fellow tourists were a wealthy American with his daughter and also secretary, an archeological doctor, a British politician, and a few others. The American girl is wearing pearl earrings, which her father boasts of costing him very expensively. The earrings' screws are rather lose, and the day before the incident, she had almost lost them, witnessed by the others, coincidentally, after a talk about honesty. 

πŸ’œ On their journey to the next day, the girl is, again, losing one of her pearl earring. But this time, they are nowhere to be found. Which means, that one of the men present had stolen them. Which one, though? They searched each other without avail. Parker Pyne must use his deduction ability to solve the mystery.

πŸ’œ It is a very straight forward case. I'm pretty sure everyone can easily guess the whodunnit, but perhaps not the howdunnit. Or maybe, if you pay close attention throughout the story, you'll guess it right. It's clever, easy, and pretty straightforward.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/5

Monday, February 5, 2024

#MurderEveryMonday: Covers with City on or in the Title

Murder Every Monday
was created by Kate @ Crossexamining Crime and @ArmchairSleuth. Put simply, the plan is for readers to take a photo of a crime fiction book (novel or short story collection) which meets a given week’s theme criteria and to then share it online, using the hashtag #MurderEveryMonday.

This week's theme is:

Cover with a city on or in the title

Have your read any of them? Which cover(s) do you like most?

If you want to participate, here's the list of the weekly theme: