Saturday, December 30, 2023

Six Books Saturday #5: Favorite Books of 2023

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.

As this would be the last Six Books Saturday of the year, it will be the perfect post to share my favorite reads of 2023. The candidates are 15 of 75 books I've read this year which I've given five stars. From those 15, I picked these:


6. Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
My review of the book

5. Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior
My review of the book

4. The Ladies Paradise by Γ‰mile Zola (a re-read)
My review of the book

3. Behind a Mask by Louisa May Alcott
My review of the book

2. The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain
My review of the book

1. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
My review of the book

Have you read any of them? Which one is your favorite?

This would be my last post of the year. I have read one more book, intended for #DeanStreetDecember, but I hadn't enough time and energy to write the review. So, I would include a short one for my Holiday Reads post early next year. Meanwhile, I'm wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year of 2024!

Next Six Books Saturday: 27th January 2024.

Monday, December 25, 2023

#MurderEveryMonday: Christmas Covers

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 which has Christmas imagery on

'Tis the season, let's have fun with a lot of gorgeous Christmassy covers! (though I have read only four of them, but, who cares?) 

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.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Some Christmas Short Readings #ALiteraryChristmas

To compliment the end of Advent and the approaching of Christmas Eve, I have read three short stories and one memoir with Christmas theme:

πŸŽ„Christmas Magic 1959: Short Memoir by Kathryn Meyer Griffith πŸŽ„

Kathryn Meyer Griffith is a prolific author with more than thirty five novels, mostly in the romantic or suspense genre. In this short memoir, she recounted her one most memorable childhood Christmas she'd ever spent with her parents and siblings, at her grandparents house, in 1959. I can mostly relate to Griffith's sentiment, as Christmase is also something I cherished most of my childhood, as Griffirh put it, "a childhood that strongly shaped me as an individual, and some of my fondest recollections". This memoir is short, but packed with the spirit of Christmas - a perfect vehicle to reminisce on our own childhood Christmases.

πŸŽ„ Crime at Lark Cottage: Short Story by John Bingham πŸŽ„
Narrator: Gordon Griffin

The weather was foul on that Christmas Eve. John Bradley stopped his troubled car outside Lark Cottage, planning to call the garage from there. A frightened woman and her eager little daughter were resided. They heard a click down the gate, signaling that someone is arriving. The woman insisted Bradley to stay, and he complied. But who was the visitor? And why was the woman so horrified? Would a crime be committed? Or could it be averted with Bradley's presence? - A very short but gripping crime story with unusual plot and unexpected twist.

πŸŽ„ The Lights Before Christmas: Short Story by J.R. Albert πŸŽ„

This short story was told from the perspective of a string of Christmas lights that adorned one particular house in Maple Street. Each light has it's own voice and character, with Karl as its natural leader with his cheerful passion to shine as bright as he could. It's a sweet story of the truly meaning of Christmas.

πŸŽ„ The Man with the Sack: Short Story by Margery Allingham πŸŽ„

This short story was told from the perspective of a string of Christmas lights that adorned one particular house in Maple Street. Each light has it's own voice and character, with Karl as its natural leader with his cheerful passion to shine as bright as he could. It's a sweet story of the truly meaning of Christmas.

From the bottom of my heart, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 22, 2023

Lady Osbaldestone's Christmas Goose (2017) by Stephanie Laurens #ALiteraryChristmas

πŸŽ„ It's December 1810, and the widowed Lady Osbaldestone is back to her dower property, Hartington Manor, intended to settle for good in the village of Little Moseley in Hampshire. This Christmas, three of her grandchildren - Jamie, George, and Lottie are staying with her, sent by their mother during their father's recuperating. Lady Osbaldestone has never dealt with little children (they're around 7-9 y.o.) before, and is wondering what would amuse them during the holiday.

πŸŽ„ A problem is soon presented itself. The village's geese which had been fattened for the villagers' Christmas dinner had vanished - the whole flock of them - as if into thin air. Unless they were to be found before Christmas, the whole village's Christmas would be ruined! And that's how Therese (the first name of Lady Osbaldestone) sees a perfect way to distract the children from doing mischief out of bore: solving the mystery of the missing geese!

πŸŽ„ That is not the only project Therese set task upon herself. Matchmaking is a perfect job for a keen eye of human being like her. A young Lord came home from the war, wounded. It left an ugly scar on one side of his face, but even uglier in his heart, that he becomes a recluse.

πŸŽ„ On the other hand, a young woman must run the estate by herself and manage her spoilt Oxfordian brother, after his father's death. These two had been attracted to each other when they were first met under Therese's eyes, and now she prepared a subtle but effective campaign to draw them together, then leave the rest to cupid's. Her three young charges are excited with their two projects, and follow their grandmother's instructions thoroughly, while sometimes bring out their own brilliant ideas into action (these are solely from Lord James aka Jamie - an intelligent lad!)

πŸŽ„ Needless to say, this is a delightful charming book very suitable for the season, for it emphasizes love, family, friends, kindness, acceptance, and courage. It's packed with little mysteries, humorous but witty banters, and adventurous actions. The skating incident on the frozen lake, especially, surprisingly brought me to the edge of my seat - quite suspenseful! The plot on vanishing geese is also smartly written. Well done, Stephanie Laurens! And now I can't wait to read the rest of the Christmas series!

Rating: πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„1/2

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Fair Miss Fortune (1930/2011) by D.E. Stevenson #DeanStreetDecember

πŸ‘— Jane Fortune is a new comer at a small picturesque English village. She stays at Dingleford Cottage, formerly owned by Mrs. Prestcott. As the title hinted, she is a fair girl with sweet nature, who intended to open a tea shop.

πŸ‘— Enters Captain Charles Weatherby, a smashing gentleman with good upbringing and lovely personality, who's immediately smitten to Jane, a sentiment that she reciprocates. Charles isn't the only man attracted to Jane, Harold Prestcott is another admirer. Harold is what we call "his mother's son". Mrs Prestcott is a selfish woman who dominate her son to be quite her slave.

πŸ‘— Unknown to anyone, Jane has a twin sister, Joan. While they are physically identical, Joan is quite different in personality to Jane. Joan is bolder, carefree, and often mischievous. She ran away from a bullying ruthless suitor from London, and take refuge at Dingleford Cottage. And for that reason, the sisters agree to keep Joan's presence a secret. And this forms the foundation of hilarious incidents and misidentification that made this novel another, softer, version of Wodehouse's stories.

πŸ‘— When Harold first came to Dingleford Cottage, it was Joan that he met, but he thought she's Jane. Joan seemed to equally like this sweet and simple young man. You can imagine, then, how astonished Charles, Harold, and others when they met Joan, whom they thought was Jane. Some awkward and comical meetings and misunderstandings are sure to take place! Not mentioning how Stevenson deliberately naming her heroine "Fortune". If you imagine there would surely be someone mentioning Miss Fortune, and the other misinterpreting it as "misfortune", well, you're not wrong. It sounds foolish, but to me those make this novel charming and delicious to read! Just the kind I need during the craziest time of year - December.

πŸ‘— The funniest scene is when a colonel is picking up Jane to be his guest at a dance party. Jane caught a cold the day before, and can't go to the dance. Joan, who loves dancing, insisted on replacing her place. When the colonel arrived - through kitchen door - he incidentally saw Jane, clad in pajamas, going down stairs. The two were astonished, the colonel was especially annoyed in finding Jane wasn't ready yet and thought he must wait at least twenty five minutes more. Imagine how astonished he was when not five minutes later Joan entered the kitchen, beautifully attired in gorgeous dress, make up, and all - and didn't understand the colonel's astonishment. (If you don't think it's that funny, it's because I'm not good at describing itπŸ˜†)

πŸ‘— All in all, it's a satisfying read for me. This is just my second D.E. Stevenson, and though it's in different league from Vittoria Cottage, I still love it. I love them both equally. Interesting fact: D.E. Stevenson wrote this in 1930s but the book was only published posthumously in 2011, and Dean Street published it in 2022.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

I read this book for:

Monday, December 18, 2023

A Bramble House Christmas (2015) by C.J. Carmichael #ALiteraryChristmas

πŸŽ„ Willa Fairchild, accompanied by her son Scout, arrived for Christmas holiday at Bramble House B&B in Marietta, Montana, followed by Finn Knightly at the same time. Willa's intention is to have a Christmas holiday, which, somehow, is important for Scout. Finn, however, are following Willa there for, as yet, an obscured purpose.

πŸŽ„ That's how this novella starts, with a snowy village, a cozy inn with lovely people, enshrouded with thin mysteries. Only gradually that the mysteries are unfolding. We came to know that Finn, a children book's illustrator, wants to know why his deceased father had left fifty thousand pounds to the nurse (Willa) who treated him during final illness. The reason behind Willa's over-protectiveness towards Scout soon becomes clear too.

πŸŽ„ Then there's also the mystery around the sapphire ring Finn's father had gifted Willa. The Brambles family - owner of the B&B - recognize the ring as an heirloom. Are there more than one ring, then? And how did Finn's father own the ring in the first place?

πŸŽ„ Amidst all these mysteries, one thing is sure. Finn and Willa are attracted to each other. Willa eventually opens up about her fuss over Scout all the time. But Finn still hasn't confessed that he is the son of her ex-patient, and that Finn isn't his real name. How would Willa react about his true purpose of getting to know her in the first place? That he had thought her a scheming ambitious woman?

πŸŽ„ This seemingly short, light, soppy Christmassy romance, turned out to have more depth than you would've expected - personal struggles in facing illness and death is one, and family secrets is another. All is encased with Christmas and winter cheerfulness - skating, skiing, tobogganing, hot cocoa, snowman's building, gifts, scrumptious Christmas dinner - just all you could imagine of a wonderful Christmas. And of course, there's love, forgiveness, and hopeful future - the essence of Christmas.

πŸŽ„ If it sounds like a perfect Christmas read, well.... it is!

Rating: πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„1/2

Friday, December 15, 2023

Miss Marley (2018) by Vanessa Lafaye #ALiteraryChristmas #InspiredByClassics

πŸŽ„ We all know A Christmas Carol is the most famous Christmas story ever, written by Charles Dickens, the man who re-invented the Christmas spirit. It' is about Ebenezer Scrooge's transformation - perhaps the biggest character transformation in literature. We know what has made him the hard miser we have known him at the start. And his transformation begun with Jacob Marley. But what we know about Marley? What had made him ended up a tormented spirit burdened with those self-forged chains? This novella, Miss Marley, is our answer, written as a prequel to A Christmas Carol.

πŸŽ„ Miss Marley is Clara Bell Marley, sister to Jacob Marley. The siblings lived comfortably in their big house. But after their parents death, they were expelled from their house by their corrupt wicked uncle. Thus begun their wretched lives in London's slump. It began in working house, which infected poor Clara's lung and gave her severe coughing. Then Jacob brought her out in the street. And that's where we saw them at the beginning of the story.

πŸŽ„ Few days before Christmas, cold, hungry, and homeless, the siblings kept dreaming of a better life. Jacob was caring and attentive towards his sister. During their wretched hours, he kept telling her that he will fight and work hard to make Clara's life happier. One night they witnessed a man dying in the corner of the street. Instead of calling for help, Jacob picked one the man's two purses, and they ran away.

πŸŽ„ The money provided them shelter and medicine for Clara. They started working, and with the money, Clara suggested to lend money to the poor - thus the start of their money-lending business. Later on Jacob would find the acquaintance of a young ambitious Ebenezer Scrooge, with whom he would partner in building Scrooge and Marley counting house.

πŸŽ„ As soon as they started the money-lending business, Clara witnessed how Jacob gradually changed, from the caring and attentive boy who protected her in the street, to be the ruthless businessman who ignored his clients' plight for the sake of gain. This makes Clara abandoned their joint business, and chose to work at the store instead. After Scrooge and Marley, Jacob's transformation to the heartless man became more permanent. He didn't even relent when Clara and her fiancΓ©e needed business fund.

πŸŽ„ If you love A Christmas Carol, then this novella might thrill you. But let me warn you that it's less cheerful and hopeful for a Christmas read. It's about what had led Marley to be the doomed spirit, is it not? You can't hope that kind of story would make you feel Christmassy. But as a classic reader, I'm sure you'll appreciate it. Moreover, Vanessa Lafaye has kept the atmosphere true to Dickensian London.

πŸŽ„ An interesting fact: Lafaye died in the midst of writing this novella. The publisher and her husband then asked her writer friend Rebecca Mascull to continue. And we must give credit to Mascull for a seamless story, which you wouldn't know had been penned by two writers.

Rating: πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

James: A Novel by Percival Everett, the reimagining of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn #InspiredByClassics

Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for providing me review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

πŸ›Ά James is the reimagining story of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, now told from the enslaved Jim's point of view. My reading of Huckleberry Finn was a few decades ago (hence no link of a review to provide here), that I almost remember nothing of the details before reading this book.

πŸ›Ά This story begins at the same point as was Huckleberry Finn. Jim heard about Miss Watson's intention to sell him, while Huck was apprehensive following news that his abusive Pap is coming home. Both slave and boy ran away that night. First to the Jackson island, then along the Mississippi river, with a lot of adventures - misadventures is more appropriate; more dangerous than fun - and revelations.

πŸ›Ά Their first adventures are close to what Mark Twain written in Huckleberry Finn - their boating along Mississippi river towards Cairo, the great flood that swept a house, from which they took provisions. I don't remember, though, the identity of the corpse they found in the house, which, would be revealed later in this novel. Their encounter with two con artists or confidence men, the King and the Duke, who were always attempting to prey on the gullible and naive, is also told here.

πŸ›Ά The major difference between the two books is in the depth of the story. Huckleberry Finn is more appropriate for YA readers, while James is more for those who had read the latter at school and now want to dig deeper than just what's on the surface, that is the adventures. For instance, here we get to know more of Jim's personality - his thirst for knowledge and passion for reading and writing.

πŸ›Ά His literary passions shaped Jim to be a more dignified man. The farther we plough through the book, we get to know the true mind and personality beneath the seemingly stupid, enslaved Jim: the intelligent, resilient, family man James.

πŸ›Ά Through James we were reminded of the extend of cruelty in slavery. Not only physical - the punishment, the lynching - but also the belittling of innocent human being. This novel is daubed as "both harrowing and ferociously funny". I personally think it's more thought provoking, though there are sprinkles of hilarity here and there, and of course, it's packed with the youthful adventures we are familiar with from Huckleberry Finn.

πŸ›Ά My favorite part is when Jim, or I should call him from now on James, talk normally to his fellow blacks, but then changes his language when a white people is present. His philosophizing in his mind or dream with John Locke or Voltaire is indeed quite hilarious. But my most favorite is perhaps the biggest revelation in James and Huck Finn's relationship; that is something I did not see coming, yet, quite makes sense. Their dynamic relationship is the book's soul anyway.

πŸ›Ά Needless to say, I am so impressed by this book, something I didn't expect. It deserves one day to be a classic of its own, which I believe Mark Twain would have approve had he read it himself. It's harrowing, but also hopeful.

Rating: 5 / 5

**James will be published on 11th April 2024.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Mystery in White (1937) by J. Jefferson Farjeon #ALiteraryChristmas

πŸŽ„ A Literary Christmas is always a seasonal reading event I'm looking forward to. This year, however, Tarissa @ In The Bookcase doesn't host the reading Challenge, so Brona @ This Reading Life suggested that we will just share the #ALiteraryChristmas hashtag for fun - no event, just sharing hashtag and to be connected. So that's what I'm going to do. This is my first book, a Christmas murder

πŸŽ„ When the six passengers found themselves being trapped in a snow-bound train, they decided to leave the train, and walk to the next station. They consist of one theater girl, one clerk, one psychic, one old pompous man, and a brother and sister who were on holiday. The psychic left first, running abruptly chasing someone. Then the others followed his trail. They were all eventually lost, like you would imagine during the blizzards. Tired, cold, and hungry, they were relieved when they find a house, imagining the warmth shelter it'll provide!

πŸŽ„ Fortunately the door wasn't locked, so they welcomed themselves in after knocking on the door without avail. The fire was lit, kettle's boiling, and tea were laid for three, but mysteriously, there's no one in the house! Since the theater girl's leg was injured, and the clerk's having fever, they decided to stay on. Then mysterious things started happening, like the sounds in the locked attic room, but next was found empty but not locked! A knife was found lying on the kitchen floor when they were entering it. There's also the framed photo of an old malicious man above the fireplace which felt like following them with his gaze!

πŸŽ„ Then a stranger came, a Cockney man, whom the old pompous man recognized as another train passenger who has killed another passenger! What was really happening? Was there a murderer among them? And yet... where were their hosts?

πŸŽ„ This, as you would imagine, was a perfect murder mystery you would love to read while curling under the blanket during a cold winter night - or in my case, cold rainy night! It might not be a proper Golden Age mystery - if you expect one by one were killed, you'll be disappointed - but it was fun and delightful nonetheless. There are the murder, family conflict of the past, little Christmassy stuffs, little sparkling romance, and the warm cozy atmosphere near the crackling fire amidst the snowy freezing storm outside, with a tinge of mystery and supernatural aspect. What more do you expect? I say, this is a perfect cozy Christmas mystery!

Rating: πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„1/2

I also read this for:

Friday, December 8, 2023

Murder While You Work (1944) by Susan Scarlett #DeanStreetDecember

❤ On board the train which takes Judy Rest to her new work in a munitions factory during WWII, she met Nicholas (Nick) Parsons, a handsome young man who works as some kind of explosive researcher at the same factory. He gets rather queer when Judy told him she'd been billeted with the Formers. That's apparently the first foreboding about the house.

❤ The household which would become Judy's temporary home consists of old Mrs. Former - a half-dead elderly woman who's fond of her equally old dog: Mr. Roger; her daughter Rose - a sweet, naive woman; Clara Roal - an intelligent widow and Mrs. Former's niece who manages the household with strict economizing. Last but not least is the boy - Clara's son Desmond - a queer child upon whom Clara's existence is centered.

❤ Judy sees clearly that Mrs. Former and Rose are afraid of Clara. She herself are instantly attached to them both, but she stands out against Clara, who dislikes her, especially after she learned about Judy's former work as hospital nurse. One day Mr. Jones, the dog, was found dead. Clara has been despising him, she thought it's a waste to feed a dog, that the food should be given to her child instead. In fact, that's her view of her economizing - Desmond should receive all the best, and the adults should make sacrifices for the sake of the child.

❤ Mr. Jones's death occurred right after he's stolen meat from the larder. And this incident raised Nick's first suspicions towards Clara. Things get worse with Mrs. Former's sudden death of, apparently, heart problem. The question raised whether it's natural death, or is it murder? If it's murder, what's the motive?

❤ This story is an inverted mystery. The readers - as well as our main characters - know without doubt whodunnit, but the motive and method remain a mystery, or at least, a doubt. Is it worth reading, then? Of course! If you are a hardcore fan of proper Golden Age mystery, though, you might be disappointed. But on the whole, this was a good entertaining read. There's the eerie Gothic atmosphere of it, fast-paced psychological thriller, a spark or romance to spice up the story, and loveable characters on the whole. My favorite is Judy Rest. She's a plucky young woman with determination, but also kindhearted towards the weaker. I love how she determined to stay in the house, despite of the looming danger, for the sake of poor Mrs. Former and Miss Rose. A strong headed but soft hearted heroine makes a perfect story!

Rating: 4,5 / 5

I read this book for:

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Vittoria Cottage (1949) by D.E. Stevenson #DeanStreetDecember

πŸ’š In this quiet domestic post-war novel, we get acquainted with Caroline Dering, a forty something widow who lives in a rural village of Ashbridge, and the owner of the titular Vittoria Cottage. She is a simple, quiet, and charming woman, doting mother of two daughters and one son.

πŸ’š Caroline's son is in Malaya, serving the British military. Her older daughter, Leda, is nineteen, and in love with Derek, son of the local squire. In this peaceful atmosphere, Caroline's life is suddenly stirred by the arrival of a Robert Shepperton, a widower who is recuperating from war and the loss of his wife and bombed London house. Reluctant at first to accept the fact, Caroline realizes that she is in love with Mr. Shepperton.

πŸ’š Complication arises in the form of Caroline's sister Harriet, a vivacious actress from London, who, soon after her arrival to stay at Vittoria Cottage, falls in love with Mr. Shepperton. It is with anguish that Caroline watches them comfortable in each other's presence. But whom does Robert Shepperton - who always have reasons to visit Vittoria Cottage - really love?

πŸ’š In contrast with these middle-age triangle-love, is Leda and Derek turmoil relationship. Leda is a spoilt girl who must get what she wants, while Derek a lazy chap. They want to get married, but Derek's father and Caroline advise them to wait until Derek finishes his law school (which he hates), and get settled.

πŸ’š My favorite character, excepting Caroline and Mr. Shepperton, is Caroline's son James, who comes home from war midway through the book. He's Caroline dearest offspring, and James is so care and tender towards his mother. I love their relationship. If only every man in the world can treat his mother like James to Caroline, I believe our world would be much better to live in.

πŸ’š All in all, this is a charming and comforting story of domestic life in a rural village after WWII. A perfect vehicle to catch a glimpse of post-war life - the peacefulness of the middle-ages, as well as the restlessness of the youths, all interwoven in one beautiful canvas, skillfully crafted by D.E. Stevenson. A very soothing read for the hustle-bustle of life during the end of year.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

I read this book for:

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

Monday, November 20, 2023

Death of a Blogger (2021) by Dawn Brookes #NovNov23

⛴ To be honest, I picked this novella up in the first place because of the 'blogger' element. As a blogger myself, it struck me that we don't (at least I don't) see many books about blogger, let alone book blogger. But in this particular novella, the blogger posts about gossips and scandals, so it's not counted as a respectable blog.

⛴ Lady Marjorie Snellthorpe is taking a cruise with her two young friends, Rachel and Sarah. On the departure morning, one of the passengers, an unpleasant woman whom every one has been avoiding, was pushed from the top stairs of the hotel, fell down, and died. Any one of the passengers whom Marjorie has met the night before could have done it due to the usual morning chaos, prior to departure. But who? And why?

⛴ The victim turned out to be a nasty blogger. She wrote about secret and scandals of her acquaintances - obscuring the names, of course - but when we know, we know. This, of course, was a strong motive. And it's from her blog posts that Marjorie eventually built up her deduction to decide who the murderer is.

⛴ Besides busying herself with the murder case, Marjorie was also busy to avoid her cousin-in-law, a brazen, noisy woman called Edna, who's also on the cruise. It's rather impossible to avoid a relative on a cruise, right? Not only that Marjorie failed to shy away from Edna, she had to accommodate her in her room because the cruiser somehow overlooked Edna's booking. Awkward at first, as you can only imagine, but it gives both women chance of retrospection. Sometimes things were not as it seemed to be; people aren't what they appear to be. And a cruise might be a perfect place to patch certain things up.

Death of a Blogger is the prequel to The Lady Marjorie Snellthorpe Mystery series. It's quite an entertaining cozy mystery. The plot itself is nicely crafted; I didn't guess the murderer. The characters are plausible, and considering the shortness of the novella, they were developed nicely. Overall, it's not special, yet entertaining enough.

Rating: 3 / 5

This book counts for:

Hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books & Rebecca @ Bookish Beck

Friday, November 17, 2023

Betsy-Tacy (1940) by Maud Hart Lovelace #NovNov23

πŸ‘­ My third novella for #NovNov23 is a children semi-autobiographical novel from Maud Hart Lovelace, depicting a little girl called Betsy Ray and her best friend Tacy Kelly. This book is the first of the series, beginning when Betsy was five years old.

πŸ‘­ Betsy is an imaginative, precocious child who loves to tell stories. Unfortunately there isn't any little girl her age nearby to whom she can tell them. Therefore, when the Kellys moved in across the street one day, she's so joyful to find out that there's this thin girl of her age. Her name's Tacy - short of Anastasia - and she is bashful.

πŸ‘­ Reading this book felt like following the two little girls around doing delightful little things. Like bringing your lunch out to have a picnic under the tree, or making a playhouse out of a piano box. There're also the more playful and adventurous activities like creating multi colored sand in glass bottles, then sell them to their friends and neighbors. I loved how the elderly neighbor, not only did she bought it properly, she displayed it proudly on her drawing room. This made the girls so happy when they were 'making call' to the lady. Yes, the girls also played making calls, complete with borrowed clothing items from their mothers. Mrs. Ray even given some of her calling cards!

πŸ‘­ But it's not all. Like I've mentioned above, Betsy is imaginative. So when the girls are getting bored, they play by Betsy's imagination. An old dog cart could make them travel to big city, and a pair of feather could make them fly.

πŸ‘­ All in all, this was a lovely, playful read. The different characters of Betsy and Tacy made them perfect for each other. I loved the adults here - especially Betsy's mother. The neighbors and the schoolteacher were also amiable people who were never condescending towards the girls.

πŸ‘­ I loved also the picturesque landscape of Hill Street, which Lovelace portrayed so vividly and beautifully. I listened this story from audiobook, narrated quite nicely by Sutton Foster - at least she doesn't high-pitch her voice when the scene is excited. This is the kind of book that makes you warm and happy; not overjoyed, but like sunshine that warms you through and would make you believe that it is good to be alive anyway, despite everything else.

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Fool Errant (1929) by Patricia Wentworth

🦜 Hugo Ross would be an unlikely hero of any novel, let alone a spy novel. He's a nervous young man, stammering and blushing a lot, although quite intelligent, and gradually, proved to be courageous too. He's penniless, and when someone tipped him off that a vacancy for secretary is open in Meade House, to work for a famous inventor named Ambrose Minstrel, he did his best to secure the position by arriving in the vicinity the night before the interview. It was pitch dark that night, and all of a sudden he heard someone's running towards him, and a moment later collided with him!

🦜 It was a girl, an excited girl who tends to chattering when excited. She was running away from home, and was rushing to catch her train. Learning that he's going to work for Minstrel, she urgently warned him not too, before getting to the train and vanished; without even telling him her name.

🦜 Hugo did get the job. But no sooner than he started, strange occurrences happened - trivial and annoying, but inexplicable all the same: someone stealthily trying to open his bedroom door at night, then a man who's insisting of buying a worthless item at high price. Hugo also overheard himself mentioned as a 'mug' by Minstrel and his assistant. Puzzled, but feeling that something menacing is broiling, Hugo consulted his case with Benbow Smith, his brother-in-law's uncle, an ex-intelligent, eccentric man who lived with his parrot pet, Ananias.

🦜 Apparently Hugo had unwittingly drawn into an intriguing plot of espionage. He was designated to be the space goat when the plot succeeded, due to his apparent naive and gullible behavior. It's a huge risk to continue - he could be imprisoned or severely punished if they succeed to put the blame on him - or even if they realize that he know about them. He could just leave Meade House behind, or continue what he's been doing in order to do something for his country. And Hugo chose to go on. The enemies' ignorance of his knowledge would be his weapon - he continued to appear as gullible as possible, do whatever they ask him.

🦜 This novel proved to be a highly entertaining read! Suspenseful from the start, unlikely hero and heroine (Loveday Leigh, the girl who warns Hugo, proved to be clever and courageous too), unique unforgettable investigator with his parrot, high-paced adventures, with healthy dose of cute romance. I loved Hugo Ross and Loveday Leigh, and of course, Ananias the 🦜. Benbow Smith with his secretive aura would probably be an interesting character, but his role in this one is too minor to be noticed. Hopefully we get to see more of him in the rest of the next books. Because, of course, I want to read more from this series!

Rating: 5 / 5

For Bingo Card: Espionage/Spy