Friday, September 22, 2023

Montgomery Bonbon #1: Murder at the Museum (2023) by Alasdair Beckett-King: An Audiobook Review

Bonnie Montgomery is an ordinary 10-year-old girl who lives with her mother and grandpa Banks. But as soon as she's on a crime scene, with the help of a moustache, a beret, and foreign accent, voila... she would instantly transform into her alter ego: Montgomery Bonbon, the great detective.

πŸ•΅️‍♀️ On a visit to Hornville Museum, the power is suddenly off, and then, a horrible shriek. Montgomery Bonbon, accompanied by her—I mean his—accomplice (grandpa Banks) rushed to the crime scene, where a museum's staff was found murdered, and a rare exhibit was stolen.

πŸ•΅️‍♀️ Undeterred by the local police's effort to ban Montgomery Bonbon from the crime scene, Bonnie must count on her wit and deduction skill to solve the murder and the theft. It's easier said than done, for Montgomery Bonbon has had quite a few dangerous struggles, including interviewing the suspects, entering a closed scene, and snooping at private places, before his triumphant moment finally come

πŸ•΅️‍♀️ This was a refreshing, funny, fast-paced murder mystery for young readers. Montgomery Bonbon, the small moustachioed man with his foreign accent is not dissimilar to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. Not just his appearance, but also his style of denouement in the end.

πŸ•΅️‍♀️ I loved every single moment of this story, especially when Montgomery Bonbon lost his moustache - I laughed out loud at that!! And that little cheeky moment at the end concerning the moustache, why, that's a clever touch, I say! The mystery itself was brilliantly written, clever solution, with a little theatrical drama which is not unlike Poirot's.

πŸ•΅️‍♀️ An added value to this delightful mystery: I listened to the audiobook, narrated by non-other than the writer himself: Alasdair Beckett-King! He isn't just a wonderful writer, but also a stand-up comedian and actor. Hence, this highly entertaining gem!

Rating: 5 / 5


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Mayhem in Circulation by Leah Dobrinska (A Larkspur Library Mystery #2)

Thanks to Level Best Books publisher and NetGalley for providing me a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

πŸ‚ Larkspur, a small lakeside town in Wisconsin, has lately been suffering from vandalism. Dead bird and egg yolks were found scattered on the road. And it happened just before the upcoming Fall Festival, not mentioning the tourism showcase Mayor Sandra Collins and team have been working very hard to prepare for.

πŸ‚ But that was just the beginning. The next day the mayor was found dead outside the municipal building, amidst graffiti paint. Even worse, it happens just when the reporter, who would do the town profile, arrives. Is it an accident? Or... murder?

πŸ‚ It's a murder alright. Inspector McHenry is handling the investigation, and Miss Greta Plank, the thirty-years-old Larkspur Library Director, isn't supposed to involve in anything concerning the murder. But, how can she do nothing when their beloved town is suffered? Greta is an amateur sleuth, and she has done some sleuthing before (in book one). Despite of McHenry's concerns of her safety, Greta does involve in the case. Suspicious (and often dangerous) things seem to be happening wherever she is. What's happening to this town? Who would do such an unthinkable thing? Is it an outsider's job? Or anyone of the community?

πŸ‚ Though I didn't start from book one, I could immediately feel transported to the Larkspur town from the start, with its warm friendly community vibes. I loved Greta's three supportive girlfriends, and of course, her budding romance with McHenry. I loved the witty banters the two exchanging during their investigation, and McHenry's reliable and protective support to Greta.

πŸ‚ Of the mystery itself, I liked how the suspicion were equally divided over some close suspects - each with few mysterious snippets of action or conversation, which kept the story run along smoothly, until the disappearance of one of Greta's friends. That's when the story changed gear, from a sinister atmosphere to a truly murderous danger.

πŸ‚ All in all, it's an enjoyable, charming, unputdownable cozy mystery - a perfect autumn read! I couldn't guess the murderer; it's a little bit surprising. I loved particularly how the writer made Larkspur, the town, become a unique character in this story. The other characters are believable, like what you'd expect in a small town, where gossips, friendship, and jealousy are bound to surface. It's not difficult to guess that I'd be waiting expectantly for the next book!

Rating: 4,5 / 5

**Mayhem in Circulation (A Larkspur Library Mystery #2) will be published on 5th December 2023.


Monday, September 18, 2023

The Crooked Wreath aka Suddenly at His Residence (1946) by Christianna Brand

πŸ–Ό️ The Crooked Wreath is book #3 of Inspector Cockrill series. It was originally published in the UK by different title: Suddenly at His Residence. I have ranted before on how publishers annoyingly change titles when publishing cross country. For this book, however, I prefer the US title: The Crooked Wreath. I happened to listen to the audiobook version with the same title. 'Suddenly at His Residence' seems to reveal too much of the book. By reading the title, I immediately guessed the victim-to-be; it must be a wealthy man. The crime is perhaps within the family, and the motive would be inheritance. And so it is what the book is about!

πŸ–Ό️ Sir Richard Marsh is a wealthy man; the owner of Swanswater estate, but he's turned a bitter man. When his wife, Serafita, was still alive, he had cheated on her. After her death, Sir Richard married Bella, his mistress. But, perhaps out of guilt, he made in his house a shrine for Serafita, complete with her portrait, and a wreath. Her ballet shoes were also kept around the house (she was a ballerina). Every anniversary of her death, he made his family gather around this shrine to do a kind of memorial ceremony. And so, long after her death, Serafita is still 'resided' in her house.

πŸ–Ό️ This year his grandchildren attend the memorial. There are Philip, with his wife Ellen, Claire (who is having an affair with Philip), and Peta. Those three are his grandchildren by his deceased wife. Also attend the service are Edward, his grandson by Bella; and Sir Richard's young lawyer, Stephen, who is in love with Peta. Annoyed by these young people's lack of respect, Sir Richard threatened to disinherit them.

πŸ–Ό️ On that fatal night Sir Richard spent the night at the lodge, where, he spitefully stated, he would make a new will. The next morning, the family found him dead of poisoning, while the will was nowhere to be found. No one could have entered the lodge that night because the gravel path was freshly rolled by the gardener. And when his body was first found, the path was still pristine. How, then, the murder could have been done?

πŸ–Ό️ Inspector Cockrill is investigating the case, however, his role in the story was passive - too passive for a detective story. The deduction was mostly done by the suspects. They alternately come up with solutions of who must have been the murderer, and how it must have been done. It means that we get to suspect each of the family member along the story, and each of them is quite plausible.

πŸ–Ό️ This story reminds me of Heads You Lose; closed-circle of suspect (within the family); Cockrill's passive involvement and his good relationship with the family; and the psychological suspense in the end. This one's ending is unsettling, though. Cockrill relies too much on the suspects, I think it would've been better had the story been without detective. And the dramatic, theatrical ending is rather unreal for me. It could be good for a Hollywood movie, but rather unsuited for the tone of the whole story.

πŸ–Ό️ To conclude, it is an intriguing locked-room mystery, brilliantly written, but with unsettling ending, and lack of detective role.

Rating: 3,5 / 5

For Bingo Card: Locked Room Mystery 

Friday, September 15, 2023

Murder in a French Village (2023) by Merryn Allingham (Flora Steele Mystery #7)

Thanks to Bookouture publisher and NetGalley for providing me a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

πŸ’™ The seventh instalment of Flora Steele Mystery series - a cozy mysteries set on the 1950s - follows another sleuthing adventure of Flora and Jack Carrington, this time farther away from their little village of Abbeymead. Flora is a bookshop owner, while Jack is a crime writer, and through the previous six books they had been both partners in crime and, ahem... a couple in the making.

πŸ’™ The story opens when two women were crossing the busy street of Paris, when a black car suddenly jumped from a traffic light queue, hit one of them to death, then drove away. The survived woman is none other than Sybil Carrington, Jack's estranged mother. She summoned Jack to come to Paris, as she's convinced the incident was a deliberate murder, and SHE was the intended target.

πŸ’™ Stunned but intrigued, Jack left for France, accompanied by Flora, who has her own unfinished business of solving the mystery of her parents' tragic death in France when she was a kid.

πŸ’™ Sybil lives in Provence with a wealthy Italian count called Massimo Falconi. Lately she's been a victim of various incidents, which she claims, done by the count's family, who want her to leave him. Is this true? Or is it just a woman's paranoia? And Sybil's friend's death, is it not pure accident?

πŸ’™ Staying at the count's chateau in a small village in Provence, Flora and Jack feel the hostile atmosphere of the household. Then small incidents start to happen. Even Jack and Flora are now targeted for some of them. Are they just coincidences? Or is there a murderer lurking inside the chateau? And what is the motive? Jealousy from the ex-wife? Or inheritance?

πŸ’™ This was my second read of the series. I've read the first one: The Bookshop Murder in June, which I loved very much, and ready to read more. But ever since, I couldn't find any e-book of the rest (book 2 to 6). I don't know why, but it's pretty annoying! I wish the publisher Bookouture would soon make the digital edition available.

πŸ’™ Anyway, Murder in a French Village is a very engaging read. First of all, due to several minor incidents that scattered along the story, we are provided with a handful of suspects. Moreover, with each incident, more clues are revealed itself. It was exciting to keep guessing who could have done this and that, as we know little by little. more secrets of everyone. Then another thing would happen, that the one we were currently suspecting couldn't have done it, so we suspected another one, and so on. Each suspect is equally explored, which made it more difficult to guess whodunnit until the climax. At least, I couldn't guess, though I have suspected the murderer earlier, along with the others.

πŸ’™ I also love how Allingham explores Flora's personal struggle about her late parents. It adds a deeper touch to this cozy mystery, and made me connected more with Flora and Jack. Speaking of the couple, I love how their relationship also develops along the story. I loved them from book one, they have a strong chemistry from the start.

πŸ’™ Although I would've preferred the mystery to be set in Abbeymead - a cozy mystery in a cozy English village is always superb, n'est pas? - it is probably quite refreshing (and necessary for the series development) to see Flora and Jack going abroad and have more time with each other alone. Now I can't wait to read the next book, which, judging from an exciting news that came in the end, would most probably be set in Abbeymead, with a literary touch! I miss seeing Flora riding Becky (her bike) to deliver books to her customers, or Jack typing manuscript for his next book!

Rating: 4,5 / 5

**The Murder in a French Village (Flora Steele Mystery #7) will be published on 30th October 2023.


Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Shelf Control #5: My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George)

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.

This week I pick an e-book I've been keeping for a while:

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Summary from Goodreads:
"Every kid thinks about running away at one point or another; few get farther than the end of the block. Young Sam Gribley gets to the end of the block and keeps going--all the way to the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. There he sets up house in a huge hollowed-out tree, with a falcon and a weasel for companions and his wits as his tool for survival. In a spellbinding, touching, funny account, Sam learns to live off the land, and grows up a little in the process. Blizzards, hunters, loneliness, and fear all battle to drive Sam back to city life. But his desire for freedom, independence, and adventure is stronger. No reader will be immune to the compulsion to go right out and start whittling fishhooks and befriending raccoons."

I am a bird-lover, and most recently started to compile a list of bird-theme books. It's not much, as I prefer novels with birds as character, rather than how-to-non-fictions of birdwatching or its kind. Right now, I'm just excited to read this one.

Have you read this book? Or do you know bird-theme books I might like?


Monday, September 11, 2023

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (A Re-read)

πŸ“š Retired Colonel and Mrs. Bantry are a respectable couple in the little village of St. Mary Mead. When a body of a stranger (a young woman) was found in their library, Mrs. Bantry was afraid that scandal will hit her husband hard. So, she quickly asked her friend, Mrs. Marple, to investigate the murder.

πŸ“š The young woman isn't the regular set of village girl. She's rather extraordinary - with heavy make-up, platinum-blonde hair, and silver-spangled dress. Does she have something to do with Basil Blake, a film worker who's just moved in? No, he said he didn't know her. She was finally identified as Ruby Keene, a dancer, by her cousin. But who murdered her? And how and why did her body appear in Colonel Bantry's library?

πŸ“š Ruby's missing was first reported by Conway Jefferson, a crippled wealthy man who's in the process of adopting Ruby, as he's disappointed with his own nearest family (son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and step grandson). Is this the murder motive the police (Superintendent Harper) is looking for

πŸ“š In order to investigate, Mrs. Bantry and Miss Marple is staying at Hotel Majestic, where Ruby worked, and Conway Jefferson stayed. It was here that most of the investigations are going on. Then a second murder happened. A women's body was found inside a burnt car. The car belongs to a man who's staying in the hotel. Are the two murders connected?

πŸ“š This mystery seems simple at first, but it gets more complicated along the way. Miss Marple takes quite an active role in the investigation, thanks to her sharp observation. Small trifles like the dead girl's bitten fingernails proved to be one of the key-clues to this complicated mystery with few twists. An enjoyable read for fans of Golden Age detective stories.

Rating: 4 / 5

For Bingo Card: Re-Read
For Monthly Theme: Books by Agatha Christie


Friday, September 8, 2023

Away with the Penguins (2020) by Hazel Prior

🐧 First of all, Away with the Penguins is the same book as How the Penguins Saved Veronica; the first is the UK title, the latter, the US one (isn't it annoying how publishers keep changing titles? I think they should keep the original one, except for translation - and they, too, should translate from the original title). But let's put that aside, and let the book itself shines, because it is quite marvellous!

🐧 Veronica McCreedy is eighty-five years old lady - a curmudgeonly tough old nut who lives alone with an assistant in Scotland. Though physically declining, her spirit still brightly shines. She is rich but doesn't have any family left to bequeath it to. Or so she thought.

🐧 Now what she needs is to transfer what's left in her into a worthy cause, like what her father had always taught her. And she's found one: penguins! But first thing's first: she needs to make sure she didn't have any family left. A hired agent gave her the confirmation: she has a grandson she never knew, the son of her longtime estranged and dead son!

🐧 Patrick Fuller grew up hating his father for leaving his vulnerable mother in the lurch, when Patrick was a baby. Now he's an unkempt young man without purpose, semi-addicted to dope after his girlfriend left him for another man. It is in this condition that Veronica McCreedy suddenly entered his life as a grandmother he never knew he had.

🐧 Their first meeting is very awkward. Two opposite people from two very different generations, who keep their own bitter secrets, with only one thread connect them: a Joe Fuller, or Enzo, the son Veronica must give up long ago, and a father Patrick grew up hating - well, it's almost impossible to unite them. But nature always has its unique healing quality. In this case, it is represented by the penguins.

🐧 Three scientists do research on how to save Penguins in a colony in Antarctica, but they are in financial difficulty. Veronica is eager to leave her money for this research, and despite the scientist team's warning that their quarter is by no means adequate to accommodate an elderly, Veronica stubbornly comes to Antarctica to see the penguins. What'll happen next? Will Veronica change the penguins? Or is it her life that will be changed by the penguins? And how about her relationship with Patrick?

🐧 This is one of the most wholesome, heartwarming books I've read lately. I loved how the story is told alternately from Veronica's and Patrick's views. It provides the reader outlets to get to know each character more intimately. Then, Terry's (one of the scientists) blogging about penguin adds a charming aspect of the penguin's cause. One of interesting things I learned is that penguins are used by scientists as indicator of ecosystem changes. On the whole, it is a refreshing and entertaining novel, beautifully written - sometimes touching, sometimes funny. Oh, and I adore Pip, the little penguin. Prior wrote the novel so vividly that I felt like seeing cute Pip alive, while occasionally petting him!

Rating: 5 / 5


Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Blogger-Inspired Wishlist, Ep. 8: A Little Something for Everyone

Blogger-Inspired Wishlist is a feature where I post recent additions to my wish list, which had been inspired by reviews from my fellow bloggers. It includes some synopsis, as well as some excerpts of the review which have intrigued me, complete with a link to the blogger's original post.

The present selection is so random, I think there will be something for almost everyone. 

Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa

When Takako's boyfriend reveals he's marrying someone else, she reluctantly accepts her eccentric uncle's offer to live rent-free in the tiny room above the shop. Hoping to nurse her broken heart in peace, Takako is surprised to encounter new worlds within the stacks of books lining the Morisaki bookshop. As summer fades to autumn, Satoru and Takako discover they have more in common than they first thought. The Morisaki bookshop has something to teach them both about life, love, and the healing power of books.

From Davida's review:
"The really fun part of this book was Takako’s getting to know her uncle Satoru, who was really sweet, if a bit annoying at times. The development of that relationship, together with her growing love of reading books, was really at the heart of this story, and what kept it going from start to finish. The author really used this as the basis for the book, and brought other things along to put obstacles in their paths, as well as bolster their commitments. This is the main reason why it really must be considered a coming-of-age story."

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

In December 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of French ‘Elle’ and the father of two young children, suffered a massive stroke and found himself paralysed and speechless, but entirely conscious, trapped by what doctors call ‘locked-in syndrome’. Using his only functioning muscle – his left eyelid – he began dictating this remarkable story, painstakingly spelling it out letter by letter. His book offers a haunting, harrowing look inside the cruel prison of locked-in syndrome, but it is also a triumph of the human spirit.

From Lory's review:
"Bauby writes with wry humor and an impressive lack of cynicism about the humiliations imposed by those around him who don’t understand or don’t want to engage with his condition. But his restraint all the more brings home the fact that even within a person whose inner world is completely closed off to us, there is a living being deserving of respect and love. The butterfly trapped in the diving bell finds release through communication, through the links that we forge through empathy and understanding."

A Month in Provence by Gillian Harvey

Interior designer Nicky always used to know how to make the best of things. Ever since she lost her husband though, things haven’t been easy. She’s had to raise her two daughters alone and she’s so proud to see them all grown up, and she knows that’s down to her. But she can’t help but feel like she doesn’t know what to do with her life now… But then her best friend begs her to help out. Jenny is a TV exec and her new renovation show is in peril. Only Nicky can help. The catch – Nicky needs to fly to Provence… tomorrow. To renovate a tumbledown B&B.

From Marg's review:
"One of the things that I really liked about Nicky and Robert is that they are both widows, so they really understand each other, and that they are both expats. Normally you will read these new start stories and one will be moving from the UK but the other character will be French/Italian/Greek etc. I also liked that Nicky had been alone for a long time. Many times these stories feature women who have just recently separated from their partner, move to France and find true love in the space of 300 pages. I also really enjoyed reading about the town of Rousillon. It sounds like a beautiful place on the pages of the book. I did go and look at some pictures of the town and it did look gorgeous!I have read several of Gillian Harvey's books now and have enjoyed them all."

A Paris Odyssey by Axel Forrester
Inspired by Harvee @ Book Dilletante


American Grant Decker is in Paris on a photography assignment. When he arrives at Gare du Nord train station, he discovers just how unprepared he is to navigate this new world where the language is both vaguely familiar and baffling. ‘”Vous ne parlez pas franΓ§ais?” My brain turned around three times and then went to sleep!’ Determined to get his bearings, Grant explores the length and breadth of the city on the metro. But it is when he makes new friends among some street performers that he discovers a different Paris. These off-beat characters help him sharpen his eye and open his heart to the many love stories that weave through ‘the city of light.’

From Harvee's review:
"At first I thought this was a memoir, the details sounded to true and the narrator so authentic. Then I realized that the book was actually fiction - a novel about Grant the photographer on his first trip to Paris, written by a female author! This really didn't matter, in the long run."

Death by Coffee by Alex Erickson
Inspired by: Rekha @ The Book Decoder 

When Krissy Hancock and her best friend Vicki decide to open a bookstore cafΓ© in their new town of Pine Hills, they decide to call it "Death by Coffee," after Krissy’s father’s most famous mystery novel. Little do they know how well the name fits…

From Rekha's review:
"Coming to the murder mystery, we have plenty of suspects there. Krissy manages to question them all and looks like each of them had a motive. Once again, Krissy has this unique ability to pester people – which finally ends with them talking to her so that she stops bothering them. Lol! The identity of the killer was shocking and unexpected. There’s a shocking development before Krissy comes face-to-face with the killer. I didn’t see this coming. Didn’t expect it either. Overall, Death by Coffee by Alex Erickson is an entertaining and engrossing read."

Foul Play at Seal Bay by Judy Leigh

It was meant to be the start of quiet season in the sleepy Cornish village of Seal Bay, but not for sexagenarian librarian and wild swimming enthusiast Morwenna Mutton. Because when a local businessman is found on the beach with a bread knife is his back, bungling police officer DI Rick Tremayne is soon out of his depth. Morwenna knows it’s going to be down to her to crack the case.

From Davida's review:
"Leigh sets up the basic premise very intelligently, where we have no reason to disbelieve why Morwenna wants to find the killer, or why she becomes endangered herself. Then there’s Cornwall… what a beautiful place in England to put a bunch of cozy mysteries! I must praise Leigh for some of the action/danger scenes which were deftly written, and definitely had me on the edge of my seat a couple of times. There’s no questioning that this book is a truly enjoyable read, and an excellent introduction to Morwenna as a brand new, and loveable amateur sleuth."

Murder at the Pumpkin Pageant by Darci Hannah
Inspired by Carla @ Aunt Agatha's 

Lindsey prefers to keep her bakeshop’s Halloween decor light and autumnal, rather than gruesome and ghoulish. But everyone knows her lighthouse home is haunted. Some intrepid teens have even tried to break in to witness the resident ghost themselves. Dreading Halloween night, Lindsey reluctantly allows her influencer and podcaster best friend, Kennedy, to host a live ghost hunting investigation in the lighthouse, conducted by a professional team. Protective of her ghost, Lyndsey is understandably nervous about what they might uncover . . .

From Carla's review:
"Darci Hannah’s fourth book is a wonderful addition to her series and I highly recommend this book to any looking for a delightful Halloween escape lakeside. There is a little bit of something for everyone – dogs, a ghost, costumes, a murder, romance, intrigue, and of course pumpkin spiced everything. One really can’t have too much of that, and there are some rather tasty recipes in the back that readers will have a hard time passing up."

Mrs Hart’s Marriage Bureau by Sheena Wilkinson
Inspired by Simon @ Stuck in a Book 

April McVey hasn’t a romantic bone in her body. So how has she found herself at the door of Mrs Hart’s Marriage Bureau, job application in hand? Matchmaker Martha hopes the lively Irish girl will breathe fresh air into a business struggling to keep with the times amid the tumult of 1930s Britain. So when lonely widower Fabian arrives at the bureau, the pair’s matchmaking skills – and professionalism – meet their first true test. Mrs Hart’s Marriage Bureau is a charming and witty romantic comedy about friendship, loneliness, and the unexpected places where we find fulfilment.

From Simon's review:
"But most of all I enjoyed Mrs Hart’s Marriage Bureau because of April. Give me a spirited and garrulous heroine and I’m sold. I love the delightful chaos of a character who combines good intentions with putting her foot in it. It’s a real treat of a book, and I had a lovely time reading it."

Have you own/read these books? If you haven't, which book appeals to you most?

Monday, September 4, 2023

Adventures with Raymond and Bonnie: The Deserted Cottage (2023) by John Williams

Thanks to Troubador (Matador) and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book, published in January 28th, 2023.

🐦 The Deserted Cottage is the first of Adventures with Raymond and Bonnie series, a children fiction intended for young readers from seven to nine. Raymond is a young robin who lives with his parents on a pile of logs next to a big oak tree at Farmer Tussock's farmyard. His best friend, a young blue tit called Bonnie, also lives in the same place with her parents.

🐦 In this first adventure, Raymond and Bonnie fly to the nearby Fir Cottage, where Mr. Digweed lives alone. "None of the bird families knew his real name; he was just called Mr Digweed simply because he was often in his garden... digging up weeds."

🐦 Mr. Digweed is a lovely old man. He treats the birds very kindly. There's always enough food and water for every bird who ever flies over Fir Cottage. His bird-feeder is never empty. It's no wonder that all the birds in the countryside love him.

🐦 But that particular morning, Raymond and Bonnie found no trace of Mr. Digweed. His cottage was closed and dark, and the feeder empty. What can possibly happen to Mr Digweed? Does he go somewhere? When two days passed, and still no sign of Mr. Digweed, Raymond and Bonnie began to worry.

🐦 Then they saw two strangers arrived at Fir Cottage. Two hooded men made a forced-entry to the house, brought out Mr. Digweed's stuffs, and put them into their van. It's a burglary! They are robbing the birds' dear old friend – they must help poor Mr. Digweed! But what can two little birds do to thwart this evil operation?

🐦 Besides the exciting adventure, there's also a trouble looming in the background. Farmer Tussock is considering to sell the logs where the robins and blue tits live, which means that they must find new homes coming winter. Will they find home as warm and as cozy as the farmyard? Can Raymond and Bonnie still be together? This might provide a good story for the next instalment.

🐦 As a bird-lover, I was excited to find this charming book about birds, with gorgeous illustrations by Simon Goodway (I embedded two of them for you to admire, they are pretty cute, aren't they?) I also loved the countryside setting, the birds (besides Robin's and blue tits, there are Marty the magpie and a bunch of starlings too), and a lovely human being in the good Mr. Digweed, who provides love and comfort for the weaker creatures.

🐦 While this book is originally intended for young readers, it also provides a soothing and relaxing read for adults. If you love birds and in need of a feel-good book, this would be your perfect choice. As for young readers, it will convince them that being kind to others is a worthwhile attitude, and it makes one feeling happy.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation, from Wifedom to Chef Maurice's Sleuthing

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme, now hosted by Kate @ books are my favorite and best.

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

This month we start from:

0. Wifedom: Mrs. Orwell's Invisible Life by Anna Funder

"This is the story of the marriage behind some of the most famous literary works of the 20th century —and a probing consideration of what it means to be a wife and a writer in the modern world. 
At the end of summer 2017, Anna Funder found herself at a moment of peak overload. Family obligations and household responsibilities were crushing her soul and taking her away from her writing deadlines. She needed help, and George Orwell came to her rescue.
Eileen O’Shaughnessy married Orwell in 1936. O’Shaughnessy was a writer herself, and her literary brilliance not only shaped Orwell’s work, but her practical common sense saved his life. But why and how, Funder wondered, was she written out of their story? Using newly discovered letters from Eileen to her best friend, Funder re-creates the Orwells’ marriage, through the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War in London. As she peeks behind the curtain of Orwell’s private life she is led to question what it takes to be a writer—and what it is to be a wife.” - Goodreads

This is yet another book I have not read. But the word "Invisible", and the premise of the book: a famous author's spouse, instantly reminded me of another biography of another 'invisible' woman behind a famous author:

1. The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin

It's a biography of Ellen Ternan, Charles Dickens' mistress.

Excerpt from my review, particularly about Nelly:
"It is so ironic, that a woman, who once had a great influence towards a great man, must be kept hidden for centuries, scrapped from histories. Even until now, no one knows the exact life of Ellen Ternan. Historians and biographers could only do detective works and deductions, but could never (at least ‘till this day) reveal the whole mystery. Nobody was sure of Nelly’s feeling and aim when she decided to accept Dickens in her life. I think both Nelly and her mother were fascinated and flattered at first, that a man of such importance paid attention to her. They must have thought it’d be a better future for her, for she could never expect a better husband, not with her theatre background. But Nelly was used to adventurous life in theater, and so living secretly and anonymously might have distressed her. Poor Nelly, I only hope that whatever happened in her last years, she have had once happy moments with Dickens." - here's the full review.

Naturally you'd think I would pick a Dickens for my next chain, wouldn't you? So, I would! And this one is the most hilarious I've ever read so far:

2. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

I've read this two years ago, and I remember there are quite many hilarious comical scenes throughout the story. One I remember vividly because it reminded me of similar scene in another book. Here's the excerpt from my post:

"Then there is the eccentric neighbor of the Nicklebys, an old gentleman who likes to throw vegetables over the wall to express his love to Mrs. Nickleby, which reminded me of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot who throws a marrow over his garden wall in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd." – And this is the full post if you’re curious.

Do you know an author whose one of favorite character from books was from Nicholas Nickleby? Agatha Christie! She mentioned the vegetable-throwing in her autobiography, which I've picked as my third chain:

3. Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

A remarkable person, Agatha Christie was, and a charming autobiography she's written! Here's an excerpt from my review containing the particular scene:

"...Though I enjoyed every second of my listening to this book (I listened to audiobook), as a reader, my favorite part is when Agatha's taking about her favorite books, her writing and publishing books I've read, and various inspirations of them. Agatha's favorite character from Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby was the man who courted Mrs. Nickleby by throwing vegetable marrow. Did this where Poirot's throwing vegetable marrow in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd came from? (She said "maybe", but I'm certain it did!)" - here's the full review.

Now for the next chain, you've probably guessed...

4. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

I don't think I need to put a summary of this book. If you haven't read it, you missed one of the most genius Golden Age crime fictions, with one of the best plot twists ever written. But if you have, you'd probably need this line from the book to refresh your mind about that vegetable-throwing scene: "Now I give up on you. You shall torment me no longer. I will KILL you! [throws vegetable marrow from the garden, and it lands near Dr. Sheppard's feet] Sacre - ! My dear doctor, I beg of you a thousand pardons, but these vegetable marrows, they have driven me to the edges of barbarity! Ah, please to forgive me.” 

The story is narrated by Dr. Sheppard. And this reminded me of another crime fiction I read this year which is told also from a Doctor's point of view - well, he's actually a vet, but still, we call him a Doctor, right?πŸ˜›

5. Fifty-Four Pigs by Phillip Schott

Excerpt from my review:
Our sleuth is Dr. Peter Bannerman, an introverted veterinarian who is obsessed with orders, numbers, and lists. One day he saw a swine barn exploded. It belongs to Tom Pearson, one of his neighbors in New Selfos, a small lakeside town near Manitoba. When the Police investigates, they find fifty-five bodies – fifty-four of the pigs (as hinted in the title), and one of human being's.” The full review is here.

Another cozy mystery with a pig would be my last chain:

6. Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle by J.F. Lang

Excerpt from my review
One day Chef Maurice was annoyed because their mushroom supplier, wild food importer and local foragers, Ollie Meadows, failed to deliver their order. So, Maurice went to Ollie's house, helped himself in through the back door, and found... nobody. Inside the fridge, however, he found a bag of truffle. An exceptional quality of white English truffle, in fact.

Suspecting that Ollie might have found a patch of truffle nearby, Maurice adopted a micro pig whom he trained as a truffle-hunter. Well, he'd prefer a dog actually, but little Hamilton (the pig's name) reacted perfectly to the smell of truffle, so... Off they went one day to nearby woods - Maurice, Arthur, and Hamilton. Then after a few miles, lo and behold… Hamilton ran and squeaked excitedly over there. Did he find it? Yes, he did! Not truffle, though, but Ollie's dead body
.” - click here for the full review.

A micro pig pet named Hamilton - isn’t it charming?

Have you read those books? If you do #sixdegree, how it worked out for you this time?


Friday, September 1, 2023

20 Books of Summer 2023 Wrap Up & British Classics Crime Challenge 2023 Update

I have pessimistically started this challenge with the lowest expectation of finishing 10 books in three months, but ended up reading no less than 21 books! The last two months are pretty crazy, and that's how I managed to read that many books. Reading is purely escapism for me at this stage of my life.

Books read for 20 Books of Summer 2023 (21/20):

πŸ”Ή️ Summer by Edith Wharton
πŸ”Ή️ The Cat Saw Murder by Dolores Hitchens
πŸ”Ή️ Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse
πŸ”Ή️ Art Heists and Hairballs by Bailey Booth
πŸ”Ή️ One by One They Disappeared by Moray Dalton
πŸ”Ή️ The Bookshop Murder by Merryn Allingham
πŸ”Ή️ Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
πŸ”Ή️ The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux
πŸ”Ή️ The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain
πŸ”Ή️ Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand
πŸ”Ή️ Fifty-Four Pigs by Phillip Schott
πŸ”Ή️ Letters from My Windmill by Alphonse Daudet
πŸ”Ή️ Dear Paris by Janice MacLeod
πŸ”Ή️ Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien
πŸ”Ή️ The Red Pony by John Steinbeck
πŸ”Ή️ The Penguin Pool Murder by Stuart Palmer
πŸ”Ή️ The Girl, the Dog, and the Writer in Lucerne by Katrina Nannestad
πŸ”Ή️ The Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore
πŸ”Ή️ The Pleasure Cruise Mystery by Robin Forsythe
πŸ”Ή️ The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Croft
πŸ”Ή️ Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R Lorac

2023 Statistics

πŸ“Š Total books read so far: 40
πŸ“Š Total short stories read so far: 5
πŸ“Š Challenge progress:
* 2023 TBR Pile Challenge: 8
* 2023 Victorian Reading Challenge: 3
* 2023 Audiobook Challenge: 11

British Classics Crime Challenge 2023 Update

After two months, I have managed to read five books for this challenge, crossing five categories from the Bingo Card.

Bingo Card (5x5): 5/17

Set On An Island: Evil Under the Sun (Agatha Christie)
Closed Circle of Suspects: Heads You Lose (Christianna Brand)
Mystery Set on Boat/Ship: The Pleasure Cruise Mystery (Robin Forsythe)
Death on Board: Aircraft: The 12.30 from Croydon (Freeman Wills Croft)
Death by Drowning: Murder in the Mill-Race (E.C.R. Lorac)

#BCCC2023 Monthly Theme:

July - Favorite Detective(s):
- Hercule Poirot (Evil Under the Sun)

August - Author(s) New to Me:
- Robin Forsythe (The Pleasure Cruise Mystery)
- Freeman Wills Croft (The 12.30 from Croydon)
- E.R.C. Lorac (Murder in the Mill-Race)


Thursday, August 31, 2023

Throwback Thursday #3: Anna and the King of Siam (Margaret Landon)

Throwback Thursday is a monthly bookish meme hosted by Davida @ The Chocolate Lady's Book Review Blog every first Thursday of the month, where we are highlighting one of our previously published book reviews.

I see this as an opportunity to re-post (or translate posts originally published in Bahasa Indonesia) my old book reviews, previously posted in my old (now inactive) blogs.

For #ThrowbackThursday this week I picked a historical fiction I have read and reviewed in April 2018

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

🟒 I am never a movie person. But among the short list of movies I have ever watched (most of them are book-turns-to-movies or movies starred by Matt Damon--yes I'm his fan!), there are even shorter list of movies which I often re-watch. One of them are Anna and the King, starring Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.

🟒 I loved its cultural background of 19th century Siam. I also loved the silent and respectable romance of an English woman and the King of Siam, as well as the perfect chemistry of Jodi and Yun-Fat. I learned later that it was based on the diary of a real Anna Leonowens--an English Governess hired by King Mongkut of Siam to teach his children (later on, his harem too). When searching for this diary, I stumbled upon this historical novel by Margaret Landon. She re-wrote Leonowens' diary into a more flowing story (cutting a lot of tedious geographical and anthropological entries of the original diary).

🟒  If you have watched the movie, imagine the much savage, violent, selfish, and distrustful King, in oppose to Yun-Fat's charismatic and charming version; then increase by ten folds the wretched condition of the slave of a rich lady, of whom Anna has helped to buy the freedom. Imagine also how the revengeful King would react when his favorite concubine, Tuptim, was running away with her lover; that instead of regretting his impotence in intervening the court verdict and heartbrokenly but secretly crying for Tuptim's unfair death penalty like Yun-Fat's version, the real King was ten times crueler and more revengeful in his terrible rage. And lastly, the real King, while quite often granting Anna's request, he was also harsh, unfair, and deceitful towards Anna--and certainly very far away from having any sparks of romance! There... if you combine those aspects, you'll get the rough idea of the book.

🟒 When starting this book, I have prepared myself to not expecting any romanticism of the movie. Nevertheless, I was a bit surprised to learn the terrors Anna and her household must have endured during her stay at Siam. And my admiration grew for her. If this was truly Anna Leonowens' account of her real life in Siam, then she must have probably been one of the bravest women ever lived in 19th century. How terrible and dangerous her life and work were, and all for a vague hope that the crown prince Chulalongkorn might bring justice and brighter future to Siam when he succeeded his father!

🟒 The only time I did not hate King Mongkut, was near the end, in his thank you letter to Anna, where he said: "...All that [Chulalongkorn] ever learned of good in his life, you taught him." I think that was one thing teachers would always like to hear.

🟒 Finally, while the movie ends with emotional separation (the dance always makes me cry!), the historical novel ends with a slightly hopeful future, though not as emotional as when Yun-Fat embracing Jodie in their last dance: "It was through the principles laid down in her teaching that he had formed the plans by which he had transformed his kingdom."

🟒 4/5 stars for this tremendous story of an English woman.


Have you read this book? Or watched the movie?


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Murder in the Mill-Race (1952) by E.C.R. Lorac: An Audiobook Review

πŸ”Ά️ When Dr. and Mrs. Raymond Ferens moved to a rural village called Milham in the Moor of Devon, they were charmed by the picturesque village. But after a while they begin to notice the hidden malice among its people.

πŸ”Ά️ Sister Monica is the warden of the local children's home. Though everyone praises her very highly - almost like a saint - the Ferens see her as a cruel authoritarian woman with huge influence among the people. But they wisely keep their knowledge to themselves, and not interfere with the children's home affair.

πŸ”Ά️ Then one day Sister Monica's body was found floating near the mill, with bruises on the back of her head. Neither suicide nor accident were considered possible, and therefore... murder it was. But, who's done it? And why?

πŸ”Ά️ The local Sergeant finds it difficult at first to deal with the village people, in finding clues or motive. Unanimously they shut their mouths as tightly as clamps; no one seems to know anything, and everyone seems to protect the others. But Chief Inspector MacDonald is undeterred by this show off of "village loyalty". He's an outsider, and he wisely but determinedly uses his authority to dig for facts.

πŸ”Ά️ The further Inspector MacDonald digs, the more it is revealed that Sister Monica wasn't saintly at all. Dark secrets were enveloping her person, that somebody's honour was threatened.

πŸ”Ά️ This was my first Lorac's, and I instantly loved her style. She reminds me a little of Agatha Christie's small-village-mystery. Inspector MacDonald becomes my new favorite detective now; his deduction and understanding of psychological aspect of human beings is marvellous, and his way of handling people is uncanny. He has Hercule Poirot's confidence as well as intelligence, but without the latter's (cough) vanity.

πŸ”Ά️ I always love simplistic mystery in small villages, where everybody knows everything about everyone - there's bound to be hatred, gossips, and jealousy underneath the supposedly peaceful atmosphere. This one is all that. A simple but satisfying read!

Rating: 4,5 / 5

For Bingo Card: Death by Drowning
For Monthly Theme: Authors New to Me

Monday, August 28, 2023

The 12.30 from Croydon (1934) by Freeman Wills Croft

πŸ›© The story opens with little Rose Morley's enthusiasm over her first journey by plane. Her mother has had an accident in France, and her father takes her on the journey, together with her grandpa, who insisted on going along despite his declining health. The flight goes well, and they are all enjoying it. But when the plane arrives in France, they can't wake Andrew Crowther, Rose's grandpa. He's dead!

πŸ›© The story suddenly switched to a Charles Swinburn, Crowther's nephew who has succeeded his uncle in leading the manufacturing business Crowther has built. It was then that I realized that this is actually an inverted mystery. It's not about whodunnit, but howcatchem. The readers follow the story from the murderer's point of view, instead of the detective's as in most crime stories.

πŸ›© Charles Swinburn is the murderer. Business is slacking, and he needs money to avoid ruin, and, most importantly, to marry Una Melor, a refined girl he's infatuated to. Crowther had made it clear that he will inherit a lot of money after his uncle died (the money will be divided between Charles and Elsie Morley, Rose's mother), but he can't wait until then. If only....

πŸ›© We follow Charles' every step and thoughts through the story. How he's disgusted at first at his own thoughts of committing murder, his pleas to get the promised money from his uncle in advance (and rejected), to his decision to take the only possible way he sees - murder - while self-justifying himself. We witness here the machination of mind of an ordinary decent man turn murderer. Fascinating!

πŸ›© When the decision has been made, the realization is quite simple. Charles meticulously crafts his method; planning the details, thinking over all possibilities, alibi and all. It is a simple murder, really. He just switches off his uncle's bottle of indigestion pills with another in which he has put cyanide inside one pill, placing it near the bottom of other real indigestion pills (to give him enough time to prepare his alibi). When his uncle would take that poisonous pill, he'll die quickly, and everyone will think it a natural death, while Charles is far away from home, taking a holiday on a cruiser.

πŸ›© As usual, 99% of every genius plan must have at least one setback. In murder, that tiny loophole can ruin the whole plan. And what with perpetual remorse and anxiety, sooner or later a murderer can lose his mind. This story should show every murderer-to-be, that committing murder is really not worth it - whatever it was that one expects to gain!

πŸ›© It is a very interesting approach to a murder mystery, but I think I much prefer the conventional style. Moreover, this story feels a bit redundant. After having followed the murderer’s detailed action, we must then attend the court, where the case is discussed again; and after that, the police and detectives discuss all the loose ends. Interesting, perhaps, but rather tiresome.

Rating: 3,5 / 5

For Bingo Card: Death Onboard: Aircraft
For Monthly Theme: Authors New to Me