Sunday, April 30, 2023

April Wrap Up - Welcome May!

April has come and gone like a swirl. So many things had happened, it seemed. First half of the month there's the Easter week, then my Mom was hospitalized for 3 days for observation after a week of severe vertigo. Thank God she's alright, but I've had to catch up with some jobs and chores at work and at home, to compensate those three days. Not mentioning the mini-menopausal depression, urghh! Then the second half of April I had 11 days of holiday, hurrah! This month's random selection of reading reflected very much of my chaotic April!

📚 Books Read in April

The Ladies' Paradise by Émile Zola - a re-read
(started in March)
Read from: audiobook

The Stone of Chastity by Margery Sharp
(started in March)
Read from: e-book

Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford
Read from: e-book

N or M? by Agatha Christie - a re-read
Read from: audiobook

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym
Read from: e-book

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto (not reviewed yet)
Read from: e-book

The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton (not reviewed yet)
(#1) The Enchanted Wood
(#2) The Magic Faraway Tree
(#3) The Folk if the Faraway Tree
Read from: audiobook

Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle by J.A. Lang (not reviewed yet)
Read from: e-book

El Dorado, A Kansas Recessional by Willa Cather (short story)
Read from: e-book

📚Reading Events Attended/Hosted

Zoladdiction 2023 (hosted by me)

I've planned to read 2 books, but managed only 1 book. My posts:
* an open letter to one of the characters in The Ladies' Paradise
* reviewing The Ladies' Paradise -a re-read
* character analysis of Denise Baudu from The Ladies Paradise
* answering The Émile Zola Tag

It's been fun! The proper wrap-up will be published tomorrow.

The 1940 Club (hosted by Simon @ Stuck in Books & Karen @ Kaggsy's Bookish Rambling)

I've somehow managed to read 2 books:
* The Stone of Chastity by Margery Sharp
* Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford
I've had so much fun, many thanks to Simon and Karen! Can't wait to the October's #1962Club!

📚 2023 Statistics

📊 Total books read so far: 19
📊 Total short stories read so far: 4
📊 Challenge progress:
* 2023 TBR Pile Challenge: 5
* 2023 Victorian Reading Challenge: 2
* 2023 Audiobook Challenge: 8

📚 What's happening in May

🔸️ Will be reading Willa Cather for my annual #CatherInMay. The book is: The Professor's House

🔸️ Will read the only F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel I haven't read: The Last Tycoon

🔸️ Will keep listening to the audiobook of Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

Friday, April 28, 2023

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym: A Review

"Who would change a comfortable life of spinsterhood in a country parish, which always had its pale curate to be cherished, for the unknown trials of matrimony?"

🔶️ Who, indeed? At least Harriet Bede, a spinster in her fifties, won't. Neither will her older sister, Belinda, also a spinster. They both live peacefully together in a small town in English countryside.

🔶️ Belinda is the quiet, submissive, unassuming one; while, of course, Harriet is her opposite - bold, loud, impulsive. In the usual fashion of a little parish, their existence revolve around the clerical world.

🔶️ Belinda has loved the Archdeacon Hoccleve since their student lives, but the pompous Henry Hoccleve married Agatha, a bishop's daughter, instead. While Harriet.. well, Harriet is always fond of young curates. She seems to never love any man, though regularly receives marriage proposal from Count Ricardo Bianco.

🔶️ There are three important events that set this story. First is the newly arrived curate, a Mr. Donne. As Harriet begins to dote upon him, rumors is circulating that he's to be engaged with Agatha Hoccleve's niece. Another one is when Agatha goes to a German spa. A librarian Doctor Farnell is staying with the Archdeacon, along with his friend, a Mr. Mold. The latter proposes to Harriet, but gets rejected.

🔶️ Then when Agatha returns, she brings a guest, a former acquaintance of the Bedes sisters, now a Bishop of Mbawawa. He, too, seems to pay attention to Harriet - or so Belinda thinks, otherwise why does he always find reason to come to their house?

🔶️ All these times Belinda is always worried lest Harriet accepts one of the proposals, then get married, and she would be left alone. Her own peaceful mind has been already a bit disturbed by Agatha's absent, and when dear Henry (the archdeacon) invites her for supper.

🔶️ All these harmless little incidents had quite stirred Belinda and Harriet's peaceful lives. After all, when one is fifty, one needs stability. A little excitement every now and then is welcomed - a new young curate for instance - but not more complicated than that, thank you!

🔶️ All in all, it is a heartwarming story, sometimes funny (not LOL funny, but enough to make you chuckling); and overall enjoyable, relaxing, and satisfying. Since getting to the age fifty, I started to feel the need of stability myself. Too much excitement is mentally tiring for me, and it tends to lead to depression. And so, I could relate very well to Belinda's feelings.

🔶️ I guess this charming book would be on my perpetual re-read list. Plus it is a perfect remedy for depression!

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

N or M? by Agatha Christie: A Re-read from Audiobook

🕵️‍♂️🕵️‍♀️ N or M? brings us back to the lovely detective couple: Tommy and Tuppence. We left them more than twenty years ago during WW1 in The Secret Adversary, and meet them again on the outbreak of another war, WW2. They are in middle age now, have married with three grown up children, who either serve in the war or in intelligent, and in what we call as 'mid-life crisis'. They wish to be actively involved in the intelligent world, full of action and danger, like they used to do brilliantly in the previous war.

🕵️‍♂️🕵️‍♀️ And their wish came true! A British secret agent approached Tommy, asked him to go undercover to a hotel in the seaside Leahampton called Sans Souci, which was believed to be the camp of German spies and fifth columnists. They were male and female, whose initial were N and M. Tommy was selected because he has long retired from service, and therefore was unknown in the intelligent world. He was to depart secretly alone without Tuppence, though.

🕵️‍♂️🕵️‍♀️ Of course Tuppence anticipated this, and went undercover herself anyway to Sans Souci to meet the astonished Tommy. We can't expect Tommy to counter-spying alone, right? Since Tuppence was always the brain of the two. So they stayed at Sans Souci as two strangers, old ordinary widowers.

🕵️‍♂️🕵️‍♀️ They soon found out that the other residents seemed to be a group of harmless ordinary British middle classes. There was even cute little Betty Sprout, a 3 y.o. precocious child with her blubbering of "goosie goosie gander", which add to the inoffensiveness of the group. It's hard to believe that two German spies were among them. But they were!

🕵️‍♂️🕵️‍♀️ Things soon got out of control. First someone's sneaked to Tuppence's bedroom, then Tommy inadvertently revealed the spy's identity, leading up to his disappearance. It's up to Tuppence now, along with their old friend Albert who came to help, to solve the mystery and rescue Tommy.

🕵️‍♂️🕵️‍♀️ I didn't remember N or M? to be this fun. I guess because I have come to middle age along with them, that this story felt more relevant than before. At this phase, I prefer this one more than The Secret Adversary. It felt more real, more down to earth, and dealt more with human psychological side.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday: Audiobook Narrators

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and this week's prompt is...

Top Ten Audiobook Narrators

I have only found a fondness in listening to audiobooks only early this year. Thus, I've only known a handful of audiobook narrators. Here they are in the order of my encountering them:

David Suchet

My first audiobook is Agatha Christie's Sad Cypress, performed by none other than David Suchet himself! He was the perfect narrator for this particular book; or could it be perhaps, because it was my first experience? Anyway, I enjoyed Suchet's clear voice, sharp articulation, and he gave each character a unique and fitting personality by various intonation and accents. However, I sampled his narration of Evil Under the Sun the other day, and found him read it rather too fast.

Cherry Jones

Cherry Jones is the most perfect choice to narrate Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. She did justice to every single book with such enthusiasm and earnestness that I felt like swept into the Ingallses' home when I read Little House in the Big Wood. Her voice is clear and soothing, with good articulation and perfect intonation for the story.

John Lee

I have attempted to listen to Ken Follett's World Without End a few months ago. It's been years since I've read  Pillars of the Earth. John Lee's narration was perfect for this story. His voice is crisp, with nice articulation, and consistent pace of narration. It was the book that I've had problem with; it's too violent for my taste in the first 100-ish pages, and I didn't think I would be able to listen to the remaining 900-ish; so I abandoned it!

B.J. Harrison

B.J. Harrison is by far my most favorite narrator. He was perfect in narrating von Arnim's The Enchanted April. Since I have listened and read the book simultaneously, I knew for sure that Harrison's narration enlivened many of the book's scenes. His voice is pleasant, soothing, with perfect undulation. Good news is, that he has narrated lots of books (which I've found in Scribd).

Leighton Pugh

I encountered Leighton Pugh when I listened to Zola's The Ladies' Paradise. At first the audio was quite difficult to enjoy, Pugh's voice is quite heavy, and his accent's sometimes rather thick. But I kept going on; and I'm glad I did, because once I was used to, it's easy to follow his narration. His French accent is flawless, and his pronunciation is nice.

Hugh Fraser

I think you'd guess easily whose books Hugh Fraser narrated for most - yep, Christie's! I first listened to him in N or M? And I was quite struggled as I've expected. Fraser's British accent is thick, and his reading pace is inconsistent. He could blurbing some words so fast in a sentence, that I didn't quite catch what he said, though I've adjusted the speed to the minimum 0,8x. It's rather unpleasant, but I guess I must adapt, for he narrated many of Christie's I've wanted to listen to.

Judith Boyd

I'm currently listening to Agatha Christie: An Autobiography, narrated by Judith Boyd. Her voice is soothing, and what I like most is her sharp articulation. Normally my audiobook speed setting is 0,8x. It's the most comfortable way to enjoy the audiobooks before sleep. But I made exception for Boyd's narration; her voice is so clear and her pace is steady, that I've adjusted the speed to 1x. One thing I can do without is her high pitching voice whenever she gets to an exciting passage. It's a bit unpleasant.

Kate Winslet

I have found a delightful audiobook series of Enid Blyton's The Faraway Tree, narrated by Kate Winslet. I always love Winslet's voice; her accent is so pleasant to listen to, and she has that sort of gleeful voice which ought to make you smile. I am currently listening to the third book right now, and have enjoying it so far. She would be one of my favorite narrators at the end, I'm sure!

I have been enjoying only those eight audiobooks so far, so the next two narrators are the ones I haven't got to listen to, but wish very much to:

Dan Stevens

Don't you think Dan Steven's is the sexiest male voice on earth? Or is it just me? 😋 I would love to listen to audiobooks that he's narrated. But so far, I haven't found one which I really want to read. Well, I'll be waiting patiently...

Tilda Swinton

Last but not least, back when I was doing a thorough reading of Moby Dick, I came across one chapter narrated by Tilda Swinton. And I remember wishing her to narrate the rest of the chapters. She has a clear voice and sharp articulation, that it made me, whose English is a second language, understood the whole sentence quite effortlessly. I wish to come across a good book narrated by her in near future!

Have you listened to these narrators? Who's your favorite? Or who would you like to narrate one of the books you wish to listen next?

Monday, April 24, 2023

El Dorado, A Kansas Recessional by Willa Cather: A Short Story #WCSSP2023

🌵If I must give this particular story a one-word review, it would be: swindle. Because that's what it is about. A poetical prose beautifully written by Willa Cather, about swindle.

🌵 Colonel Josiah Bywaters had lived peacefully in Virginia for years. Until one day, four years ago, his friend introduced him to a amiable young man called Apollo Gump. That's when his life was about to change completely.

🌵 This Apollo young man persuaded the Colonel to invest in Western land, but he rejected. Soon, however, the Colonel grew fond of the young man. They drank whiskey together, while Apollo told many stories about Kansas City, in particular a town called El Dorado: "the beauty of the location, the marvelous fertility of the surrounding country, the commercial and educational advantages of the town."

🌵 Soon enough the Colonel was persuaded, and after sold his business, left Virginia to move to El Dorado, along with some other men Apollo had also successfully persuaded.

🌵 El Dorado was practically owned by the Gumps. Every establishment was owned by one of Apollo's brothers; they were the banker, physician, architect, real estate agent, mayor, and so on. Apparently, El Dorado was founded by the Gumps, and now it was built by promise; promise that a railroad would be built, the waterworks would be put in, next spring. And Josiah was once more persuaded to invest his money on the land, while opening a grocery store.

🌵 When spring came, however, the Gump boys were summoned by their dying father. Excepting Apollo (he, too, later went away), they were all gone. And with them, all the funds - banking, real estate, etc. They realized then, that they were swindled.

🌵 All of them left El Dorado, but Josiah. He stubbornly refused to leave that deserted town, waiting to get his money back. Not even after other houses and buildings were torn down, and Josiah's store was the only building still intact. Would his patience bring fruitful result? Or would he be dying in the loneliness of the barren bluff?

🌵 I love this story! All the elements of what I love from Cather is here. Poetical prose, beautiful and poignant, vividly portrayal of the characters' struggles, all in a short story. And the ending is superb!

🌵 I also love how she described the landscape as a living creature:

"The river is a turbid, muddy little stream, that crawls along between naked bluffs, choked and split by sand bars, and with nothing whatever of that fabled haste to reach the sea. Though there can be little doubt that the Solomon is heartily disgusted with the country through which it flows, it makes no haste to quit it. Indeed, it is one of the most futile little streams under the sun, and never gets anywhere."

"Sometimes, in the dusk of night, when the winds were not usual and only the stars could hear, the dry little corn leaves whispered to each other that once, long ago, real yellow ears grew in the Solomon valley."

"Near the river was a solitary frame building, low and wide, with a high sham front, like most stores in kansas villages. Over the door was painted in faded letters, 'Josiah Bywaters, Dry Goods, Groceries and Notions.'"

🌵 Josiah himself is an inspiring character. His patience, his strong will to endure, not so much the poverty than, the loneliness. Many others in his place would have had fallen to pieces sooner than a year. But not Josiah. Maybe we can learn a bit from him - of his resilience, not his poor judgment - such as living life as if he'd live in his happy past. Josiah would always wear his best Sunday suit, and went for fishing - though there's scarcely any fish in that muddy river. These little things help him maintain his dignity, and ridiculous as it seems, I think it help him enduring his desolate situation. Do you agree?

Rating: 5 / 5

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Ladies' Paradise by Émile Zola: A Reread from Audiobook

👗The Ladies' Paradise (Au Bonheur des Dames) is one of my favorites from Zola. It is less "raw" than the others in Rougon-Macquart cycle, so obviously, more cheerful. In this second reading, I realized that this book is the one where Darwinism struggle for existence is most strongly applied.

👗 Ladies' Paradise is the first department store in Paris (inspired by Le Bon Marché). It was first founded by Madame Hédouin (told in previous novel in Rougon-Macquart novel - which I didn't review - Pot-Bouille), where Octave Mouret has worked as a salesman. He was a charming womanizer, and at the end of Pot-Bouille, he married the widowed Madame Hédouin.

👗 The Ladies' Paradise begins a few years after Madame Hédouin died, leaving the store to Mouret. Besides being charming, Mouret was, apparently, a visionary and innovative business man. Under his management, Ladies' Paradise doubled its capital in a short time. Mouret's key formula was by 'tickling' women's senses and greedy desires, which was achieved through colossal artistic displays, enormous mass gatherings, sensational promotions, and generous discounts.

👗 I could imagine how fascinating it was for the Parisian women. A glamorous building, the adrenaline rush seeing the crowds (let's get those silks before the others take all!), then the beautiful colorful arrangements which makes one buy what she doesn't need. And the cheap prices too! It's enough to lure any woman to buy impulsively.

👗Moreover, Mouret strategically placed relatable departments far away from each other. It makes one who needs a dress and a coat, for instance, after buying the dress, must pass furniture, haberdashery, and children departments, before she could reach coat department. It resulted that she might be tempted to buy also a lamp, buttons, and a cute jacket for her daughter, which she didn't plan at all.

👗 Mouret could run those schemes at all because he knew women's character perfectly. Or he thought he knew, until Denise Baudu, a plain country girl who's just arrived in Paris to work, entered his life. His life changed (for the better) when he fell in love with Denise. Now, Denise is an extraordinary character - I have written about her character - she's nothing like common working-class girl, and her dignity surpasses those of bourgeois ladies. Moreover, Denise is intelligent and as visionary as - but more kindhearted than - Mouret. I imagine, if they join forces in the management, the Ladies' Paradise would become a truly formidable establishment!

👗 However, while the Ladies' Paradise enjoys its phenomenal success, many conventional shop keepers in Paris suffered from huge loss. They lost their customers because they couldn't compete with the department store, and many ended up with bankruptcy, or even ruined. This is where the Darwinism struggle of existence theme becomes relevant. These bourgeois have been used to just provide the clothing items on their store and sit relaxed behind the counters; customers would automatically come through their doors. When a rival came, they were indignant; lamenting, even cursing, but did nothing. Some, perhaps, couldn't do anything to compete with Ladies' Paradise, but few of them weren't as hopeless as they've thought. Monsieur Bourras, the umbrella shop owner, for example, could have done something to rescue his business, as I have suggested in previous post. It was, indeed, the struggle of existence - only the fittest would win.

👗 For this second read, I listened from an audiobook, narrated by Leighton Pugh. I'm glad I've done that, because the listening has enhanced Zola's picturesque description of the Ladies' Paradise to another level. Reading from printed copy might have been a bit boring (Zola's descriptions can often be dragging on and on!) But by listening, it surprisingly provided a vivid portrays of the scenes. Far from boring, I enjoyed it imenesely like I were visiting the department store myself. It was very rewarding!

👗 Finally, there is the love story of Mouret and Denise - the only romantic story you would find from Zola's Rougon-Macquart! On the whole, it has been a very satisfying reading!

Rating: 5 / 5

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Classic Character: Denise Baudu from The Ladies' Paradise (Émile Zola)

Denise Baudu's is perhaps one of the most wonderful character-developments in literature. She came from a small village in France, where she worked as shop assistant. Denise is about 18 y.o. when she first arrived in Paris as an orphan with two little brothers to take care of.

Despite her uncle's unceasing hatred towards the grand department store across the street, which ruined his and other shopkeepers around the block's businesses, Denise is fascinated and greatly attracted by this modern establishment.

She arrived at the Ladies' Paradise, on her first day to work, as a timid, skinny, unkempt country girl, with her worn wooden clogs and wild hair. The other staffs laughed at her. The humiliation and her bewilderment with metropolitan Paris made her failing at the job she must've been qualified, thanks to her former experience.

Her first meeting with Octave Mouret, the genius behind, and owner of, the Ladies Paradise, left unexpected effect on each of them. Denise admires Mouret's visionary genius but a bit afraid of him - at least that's what she thought she's felt. I think Denise has fallen in love with him from the first (and it's reciprocated, though Mouret, too, didn't realised at first)!

During the bullying and poverty phase, Denise shows her true quality. Her only friend, Pauline, shows her how easy to solve her problem of poverty: take a lover! Apparently it was a common thing for Parisian working-class girls to take a lover, who would buy them dinners, take them to nice places, and buy them dresses. But Denise vehemently rejects the idea. Denise, who appears to be meek, is actually a strong girl full with resilience and determination.

With those quality she succeeded to return to the Ladies' Paradise after her earlier dismissal (by people who dislike her). Not only return, but return triumphantly with promotion - although this is partly due to Mouret's support - but Denise really deserves to be Assistant Buyer.

Octave Mouret is a womanizer. But neither his charm nor his wealth could tear down Denise's determination - she always says 'No!' She loves Mouret, this she finally realizes, but she don't want to be a man's mistress.

I admire Denise's courage and resilience. She is disliked by her colleagues, and humiliated by Mouret's former mistress, but she bears them valiantly, never loses her integrity. She's still the amiable, humble but dignified, kindhearted girl from the country, though she is now a respectable manager! Not only that, Denise is a very intelligent girl. The Ladies Paradise keeps improving thanks to Denise's many feedbacks to Mouret. I can't blame Mouret for being obsessed with this skinny, plain girl, for she's single-handedly changed both Mouret and his employees' life for the better!

Denise's humiliation by Henriette

Denise Baudu is now officially my most favorite character from Zola's Rougon-Macquart universe.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Blogger-Inspired Wishlist...with a Twist, Ep. 4,5

Okay, it's not really a twist, but it rhymes! 😜 As you've probably been familiar with this blog feature, 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. Now, about the twist...

While browsing Twitter, I often stumbled upon books that interest me. It could be from someone's tweeting about his/her latest book haul, or someone's retweet of book promotion from his/her favorite bookstore. Either way, if the title/cover and its Goodreads' summary attracts me, I'll put it into a list. This is that list. Of twenty one books. No extract of reviews, only the title and author. And some book covers or little notes here and there.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

Away with the Penguins by Hazel Prior
From @PeriwinkleCott1  quote tweeted by @LadyTeapots 

The Black Spectacles by John Dickson Carr
From @BL_Publishing, retweeted by @kaggsy59

The Rotten Core (The Lady Hardcastle Mystery) by T.E. Kinsey

All Done by Kindness by Doris Langley Moore
From @LouiseCulmer1, retweeted by @DeanStPress

Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks
From @barkerforbooks, replied by @chriswolak

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner
Inspired by Laurie (Goodreads)
This is the only one I've got from Goodreads (shared in a tweet)

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont
From @Kim_A_Howard, quote tweeted by @mary_russell

Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir
From @artistmonet (a fan account of Claude Monet)

The Poisonous Solicitor: The True Story of a 1920s Murder Mystery by Stephen Bates

Priceless Betrayal by Victoria Tait

The Hymn Tune Mystery by George A. Birmingham
From @GaiaBird1 

The Boy and the River by Henri Bosco

Bellevue by Alison Booth

The Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore

Fortunata and Jacinta by Benito Pérez Galdós
From @neglectedbooks, retweeted by @alokranj

Green Money by D.E. Stevenson
From @Valster11 

Twice Round the Clock by Billie Houston

A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson

Fresh from the Country by Miss Read

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto
The first cozy mystery ever from an Indonesian writer! I think I'm going to read this one straight away after my current read!

Have you spotted a favorite or two? Or have I inspired you to acquire one, two, or more to your TBR? 😏 

Friday, April 14, 2023

Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford: A Review for #1940Club

I have found this little gem through my searching for a book published in 1940, to read for the 1940 Club. I was struck first by the title: Pigeon Pie. Now, I like eating pigeon, but never on a pie. So, it sounds really delicious to me (the book title, not the pie). And I wasn't wrong, it was a light, delicious, highly entertaining book! Though I wonder, why titled it Pigeon Pie. There was, indeed, a pigeon in the story, but I didn't remember it being killed to be cooked in a pie - although Sophia eating a pigeon pie at the end of the story should be wonderful, I came to think, for it would be a---, wait... maybe I should start from the beginning!

🐦 Nancy Mitford written this book in late 1939, just before World War II began. But it was written as a lighthearted, hilarious satire on the outbreak of a phoney war. I think it's a satire of British high society's views on serious matters, such as war.

🐦 Lady Sophia Garfield is a highly imaginative, flippant woman, who is easily distracted. When the news about the outbreak of the war was broken, she is both excited and bored at the same time. Her husband, Lord Luke Garfield, on the other hand, doesn't believe there would be a war, because Herr Hitler and 'Our Premier' is in good relationship.

🐦 The Garfields' marriage is rather a failure. Luke keeps a woman called Florence Turnbull to stay in the house, Granby Gate; while Sophia is in love with Rudolph Joselyn. Both husband and wife settle on with this neat arrangement. And I think that’s the best for both parties, at least they are still happy and respect each other. While Luke joins a new religious cult: the Boston Brotherhood, Sophia enrols at First Aid Post as a receptionist.

🐦 Counting laundry at the First Aid Post (of which she is terrible) isn't a glamorous occupation. Sophia is dreaming about being a beautiful spy. All the more because her nemesis, Olga Gogothsky (née Baby Bagg) - whom Sophia nicknamed ‘duck-billed platypus disguised as a Sultana’ 🤣 - keeps boasting about being on secret mission as a spy.

🐦 Then a series of events is rapidly happening in succession. Her godfather Sir Ivor King, the legendary singer is found dead, Luke goes to America, and Sophia stays alone in the house, with Florence and two men from the Brotherhood. She then finds out that her house has been the nest of spies! And, as if answering her wishes, she herself is offered a job as a spy!

🐦 I have never read Mitford before, but after this, I'd certainly read more of her! Witty and hilarious, fast-paced but light story about, otherwise, a gory one about war. However, it doesn't feel like she's mocking or taking the war lightly, but more of seeing it from more positive perception. In reality, Mitford wrote a preface, apologizing that Pigeon Pie was written by Christmas 1939, but only published in May 1940.

🐦 My favorite part is perhaps Sir Ivor's 'propaganda': the Pets Program, where he sings for the benefits of all animals, including Millie, Sophia's dear bulldog. But the funniest part is maybe from the rivalry of Olga and Sophia, which produces some of the funniest banters, such as this one:

Olga: “Dearest, I must tell you that it’s a secret. However, when you hear that I have an appointment under the Government, that I have to undertake great responsibilities, and that I may often be called out in the middle of the night without any idea of where I am to go, you may guess the kind of thing it is. More I cannot say.”

Sophia: “Sounds to me like a certified midwife.”

Like I said, this was a silly and hilarious story, very engaging and entertaining.  it! 

Rating: 4 / 5


*I read and reviewed this book for:*

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The End of Book Depository and the New Era of My Reading Life

You must have heard by now about the closing down of Book Depository, the global online bookshop, owned by Amazon. I was terribly sad by the news, as were, I believe, many people who have been counting on Book Depository to get access to affordable imported books at their doorstep.

For me personally, Book Depository (BD) had been my ONLY source for English books. Amazon is sometimes cheaper, but their shipping cost to Indonesia is crazy! The shipping alone is often higher than the book itself. We have a local imported bookstore here, but their prices are higher than BD, and they provide mostly popular book, or classics in certain edition only. In short, all printed book I own, mostly came from BD.

I will never forget the exciting, hopeful wait for my ordered books to come (since they were shipped via post office, one couldn't track the package, and could only hope the package would arrive safely and on time). Once it arrived six month after order, that I have even forgotten I've had ordered it. But eventually, the books arrived. And that's what matters. But now, no more such things. For me, at least, it's the end of an era.

These, apparently, were the last batch I'd ever received 
from Book Depository!

What next, then?

I have hinted before in another post, my concerns that has encouraged me to consider audiobooks. Long story short, I've had problems with my eyesight, which compelled me to reduce activities which threaten to strain my eyes. Since my fulltime job requires me mostly to use computer, I can't do anything about it. It leaves me to reduce my reading and watching (TV/movies streaming). Of course I can't do that, can I? So, I have made these compromises:
  1. Stop watching either TV or movies. I have, sadly, cancelled my subscription to Netflix. But it has to be done if I want to keep reading. And I want to be able to read - I WILL - until I can't!
  2. Stop reading printed books, and switch to e-books or audiobooks. As I have said in this post, I started listening to audiobooks this year, and so far, enjoy it. But I can't rely my reading 100% to audiobooks because: a) not every book has audiobook version, b) if any, it always depends on the narrator, c) I can't listen to audiobooks at my lunch break or during commute. And there is where e-books are my hero!

What I love about digital books is the adjustable font sizes and background, which can't be found in printed books. Thanks to e-books and audiobooks, nowadays I can read comfortably without further injuring my eyes.

And they are much cheaper too than printed books! I've subscribed to Scribd, which cost me about $5,5 per month, with free access to all books available. If I can't find certain book, I could buy an e-book in Google Playbook. Either way, it's much cheaper than buying printed. And that is what my future reading life looks like.

Back to Book Depository's closing down, it's saddened me because of so much happy memories I've experienced of its brilliant services. But it's not so devastating, since I've decided not to buy printed book anymore. I still occasionally use my existing printed copy though, but only to consult something I don't quite get from audio or e-book.

In short, it's the end of an era, but on the other hand, it marks a new era in my reading life. Come what may, I'm happy to be able to keep reading for years to come. That, in the end, is what really matters, isn't it?

Monday, April 10, 2023

The Stone of Chastity by Margery Sharp: A Review for #1940Club

💙 This was my first acquaintance with Margery Sharp, and I must say that I wasn't too impressed.

💙 Professor Pounce, an expert in folklore, came to an old village called Gillenham, after learning about an ancient legend of the stone of chastity. According to the legend, there was a stepping stone on the local stream, on which a chaste woman would cross safely, but an impure or unfaithful one would certainly slip into the water.

💙 Accompanying the Professor, were the meek Mrs. Pounce, his sister in law; the idle Nicholas, his nephew; and a voluptuous girl called Carmen, whose capacity nobody knew about. They all lived in Old Manor. The Professor's first campaign for his scientific study was distributing a questionnaire on general knowledge about the stone of chastity (have you heard about it, do you know where it's located, and so on) to all the villagers, enlisting Nicholas to assist him.

💙 This questionnaire immediately stirred the village. The vicar's wife was enraged, marked it as paganism. Nicholas tried to warn the Professor about it, but to no avail. He received only one response to the questionnaire, but it's enough, because he's finally found the stone!

💙 Next step is the experiment. Professor Pounce, regardless of the women's rejection, invited all women of Gillenham to participate in the experiment (by stepping into the stone). Pious Mrs. Pye organized the village women to confront the Professor over this outrageous plan.

💙 Now, as I have said in my 1st Impression on this book, this is a ridiculous, hilarious, but clever satire. Unfortunately, I didn't feel as connected to the story as I've expected. It is quite entertaining as a book, but lacks of charm. The only interesting and relatable main character here is probably Professor Pounce. Nicholas is flimsy with all his romantic pursues; Carmen doesn't feel alive - only a voluptuous figure without soul.

If you are looking for a light, silly, ridiculous book, this would be it!

Rating: 3 / 5

*I read and reviewed this book for:*


Friday, April 7, 2023

The Émile Zola Tag #Zoladdiction2023

My answers to The Émile Zola Tag, for Zoladdiction 2023:

How was your first introduction to Émile Zola? We'd love to hear your stories!

It was at a business event about twelve years ago, which I attended as representative of my boss who couldn't make it. As I have anticipated that I would be bored (it's a sort of celebration of the our client's company anniversary), I brought my new copy of Thérèse Raquin. I didn't know then who Émile Zola was - I even thought him as a she! And the cover of my edition indicated the book as a literary romance. OK, perfect book to read at the back seat, while now and then I will clap my hands with the others, I thought. But, alas, I was wrong! And then I was so thoroughly absorbed into this wonderful psychological thriller, that I almost finished it during the whole event (breaking only during lunch). I must have given a queer sight to the other guests, absorbed in a book at a business event! At that point I knew that I have fallen in love with Zola - imagine, to be able to write like that! The rest is history.

Do you read Zola's randomly, or do you follow a certain, or even your own order?

I started the Rougon-Macquart from L'Assommoir, then continued randomly to several other titles, before I read the first one: The Fortune of the Rougons. It was years later that I realized I should have read the cycle chronologically. 

What do you like and/or dislike from Zola? It can be his works, views, or personalities.

What I like most from Zola is his writing style. It often has the quality of a painting - picturesque and eloquent. Then, there's this brutal honesty in his narrative; the powerful intensity in his description that often send blows to one's mind.

As a human being, I admire Zola's persistent love of truth, which is reflected on his involvement in the Dreyfus Affair. And, though I disagree with his attachment to his mistress Jeanne Rozerot, at least he still respected and cared about his wife Alexandrine.

If you must spend a day with one character from Zola's books, who would you rather be with? And what both of you would do?

Denise Baudu from The Ladies' Paradise. I've just re-read this book, and realized how amiable and clever Denise was! Hanging out with her would make my morning delightful! I would love to take a stroll with her in the Jardin des Tuileries, while listening to her smart business ideas. Then after an impromptu picnic (my treat!), we would visit the Ladies' Paradise, where she could show me their lovely displays with splendid color plays. What a feast it would have been! 😉

Name one of Zola's books you would recommend others to read! Or if you haven't read him, which book do you like to start with?

Germinal. Always! It's such a perfect book in many aspects.

You were invited in Zola's soirée (Zola's famous literary dinners of Naturalism writers) at Médan tonight. You may listen to all the conversation/discussion, but you're only allowed to suggest one topic - what would that be?

I would LOVE to be in one of Zola's soirées! The topic of my choice would be: Free will. I would throw this question to them: "What do you think about free will? You guys write much about determinism, that our action is determined/dictated by our hereditary flaws. Don't you believe that with efforts, we could fight against those flaws?" - that would be a discussion I'll never forget! Do you think they will invite me again after this? LOL

What is your least favorite book from Zola?

Every writer must have a flop, right? Nobody is perfect. My least favorite from Zola is His Excellency Eugene Rougon. Politics is never my cup of tea, and Eugene Rougon is perhaps the most 'soulless' character from all the descendants of Tante Dide!!

Have you read any book/work by other authors about Zola? Biography, companion book, essay, historical fiction, etc. Share them, please! (It may inspire others). If you haven't, would you like to?

Here's the list, with links to my reviews.
🔹️The Life and Times of Émile Zola by F.W.J. Hemmings
🔹️A Biography of Emile Zola by Alan Schom
🔹️The Disappearance of Émile Zola by Michael Rosen
🔹️Zola: Photographer by Francois Emile Zola
🔹️An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris (historical fiction of the Dreyfus Affair, Zola appeared, but not much)

I have also in my TBR:
- Brian Nelson's The Cambridge Companion to Émile Zola.

Still on my wishlist:
- Ernest Alfred Vizetelly's With Zola in England - the story of Zola's exile during Dreyfus Affair.
- Eileen Horne's Zola and the Victorians: Censorship in the Age of Hypocrisy

Of the Rougons, the Macquarts, and the Mourets, which family do you like best? Why?

This is a bit difficult. Coming from middle class background myself, I feel more related to the Mourets; they are mostly quite pleasant, respectable people. However, the Macquarts had mostly been depicted in Zola's best stories (and my favorites): L'Assommoir with Gervaise, Germinal with Etiènne, La Bête Humaine with Jacques, etc. They always brought the most compelling dramas, so... I'd go with the Macquarts!

My favourite Zola's quote(s):

"Now the April sun, in the open sky, was shining in its glory, warming the earth as it went into labour. From its fertile flanks life was leaping forth, buds were bursting into green leaves, and the fields were quivering with the growth of the grass. On every side seeds were swelling, stretching out, cracking the plain, filled by the need of heat and light. An overflow of sap flowed with whispering voices, the sound of the germs expanded in a great kiss. Again and again, more and more distinctly, as though they had come right up to the soil, the comrades were hammering. In the fiery rays of the sun, on this youthful morning, the country was pregnant with this rumbling. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing up for the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth." ~ the ending of Germinal.


Wednesday, April 5, 2023

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot: A Review

💚 First thing first, let's get this straight: all eight of James Herriot's books in the All Creatures Great and Small series are NOT non-fiction. I've always had the impression that it's a memoir. I have read it as a memoir. But as I researched through Google today, I realized that it's actually a semi-autobiographical novel. Herriot (real name: James Alfred Wight) drew the characters from real people, but the events were only inspired by real ones. He used his imagination for the rest. Some sources even mentioned that the story was only 50 percent true. While reading through, I have been suspicious about many of the stories. They didn't sound true; many felt exaggerated, and sometimes were too coincidental. I have been wondering how much of it is true. Now I know. But that didn't change my mind; it's a lovely and inspiring book.

💚 James Herriort is a young fresh graduated veterinary surgeon who got his first job as veterinary assistant in small village called Darrowby, in the Yorkshire Dales. His boss is Sigfried Farnon, an eccentric, temperamental, and caustic, but kind veterinarian. Most of the funniest, laughable things in this book came from James' dynamic relationship with Sigfried.

Swaledale, one of dales in Yorkshire Dales National Park

💚 There's also Sigfried's younger brother Tristan, a laid back young chap, whom Sigfried sent to vet school but didn't get on well. He often became the receiver end of Sigfried's occasional outburst rages, many times sacked, but then returned after few days as if nothing ever happened.

💚 The book consists of individual disjointed stories of incidents in the veterinary surgeons daily lives and works. Phone calls from the farmers - day and night, even midnight! - when their animals get sick, or the cows are having trouble during calving, and so on. Sometimes the case proved to be triumphant for the vets, but their failings aren't less often too. They were fortunate when called by hospitable farmers who trusted and appreciated the vets, but there were numerous of those who were suspicious of modern treatment and made the vets' life miserable.

💚 There are some hilarious stories, while several others are quite heartwarming. One of my favorites is Mrs. Pumphrey, a wealthy lady, with her Pekingese Tricki Woo, who talks seriously to James - the lady, not the dog - as if Tricki is a child, calling him Uncle James, and even sent him invitations from Tricki. Sigfried used to tease him on this account, but James was indulged by the lady with treats after each visit, so...

💚 Then there's also a jolly fellow called Phin Cavert, who's so impressed that James cured his pig (?) with only Epsom salts and cold water, that he repeated the story to everyone. He calls James "Harry", by the way. That story was pretty hilarious!

my gorgeous fore-edge painted copy

💚 Not all the farmers are prosperous. There's a touching story of a poor old man and his cancer dog, which James must put to sleep due to its helpless case. It was the most beloved dog of his late wife. The old man gave Herriot a cigar at the end. That one is one of the most memorable stories. The other is a rich old man who takes care with love of two pensioner horses for twelve years. He started as a farm labourer, had been working hard until, finally, become a landowner with many good breeding horses, which he treated as stocks. When asked why he cared so much for those pensioner horses, the answer is quite touching: "They were two slaves when I was a slave".

💚 On one occasion James reflected on two visits he had attended for the day. One is for a prosperous farmer, whose snobbish wife and daughter treated him (the farmer) cruelly. The other is a farmer with very opposite condition. This one is probably the poorest farm in Darrowby. The old farmer work every day, no matter sick or health, to provide for the family, without ever complaining. His daughter loves him, and happily rides her bike miles away to nearest town only to buy a bottle of her father's favorite liquor. She beams at the thought of how the bottle would give her father a cheerful surprise after a day of toil. What a lovely daughter! James pondered upon these two families. He asked himself, of the two farmers, which one he'd rather be? In the end he thinks he'd prefer to be the poor one - poor. And I couldn't agree more!

💚 It is during his visits to these farms that James first met the girl he's attracted to: Helen Alderson. She's a bit tomboy, very intelligent, and not shy and giggly like most girls James has ever known. It's quite hilarious their courting, through half the book; James's awkwardness and Helen's patience are too cute and sweet!

💚 All in all, it's a delightful, honest, rustic piece of work, beautifully woven into a neat book. I would definitely read the sequels.

Rating: 4 / 5

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

If I were Old Bourras in Émile Zola's The Ladies’ Paradise [Re-posting]

Le Bon Marche by Felix Valloton
The Parisian store which inspired The Ladies' Paradise

This is a post I've published years ago, when reading The Ladies' Paradise for the first time (unfortunately I didn't review it at that time). Now I'm rereading it, this post came back to me, and I thought it quite proper to re-post it.


Reading Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise gives me certain excitement which I have never encountered before from Rougon-Macquart series that I have read so far—it is the business aspect. The growing expansion of Octave Mouret’s first modern department store in Paris has awakened my own business instinct which has grown from my more-than-twenty-years (update: now thirty) of working in trading business.

This is not a proper review of the book (for I am still half through it at the moment), but I was intrigued to give my personal advice to one of the shop owners whose business is threaten to be ruined by the ever expanding Ladies’ Paradise.

Old Bourras owns an umbrella shop. He used to have employees worked for him, and his specialty is carving the handle-knob with artistic subjects, which, I believe, gives his umbrellas a personal touch. But then Ladies’ Paradise opened its umbrella and sunshade department, selling umbrellas in much cheaper prices, and stealing Bourras’ loyal customers away. It gave old Bourras a terrible blow, but, does it really have to end that way? I personally do not think so.

If I were in Bourras’ place—instead of spending my passion and energy with condemning the department store, or by wasting my capital to compete with it—I would offer an attractive scheme of partnership to Mouret. I would persuade Mouret to sell my umbrellas IN his department store. Oh, Mouret would certainly laugh at me... at first:

Mouret: “What? Buying umbrellas from you, while I could buy from our manufacturers in larger quantity and with much cheaper price? How do you think your umbrellas could compete with ours?

But I would calmly smile to him, and say: Me: “Of course not, sir. I know I won’t be able to compete with your big store, if I sell the SAME umbrellas as yours.

Mouret (still chuckles): “What do you mean? Umbrella is umbrella; people buy it to shade themselves from sunlight or rain. If they could get ours cheaper, why on earth would they pick yours?

Me: “But what I am offering you now, sir, is not the same product that you are selling in one of your departments.

Mouret (his business instinct being awaken): “Go on...”

Me: “You see, sir, I am more an artist than a businessman. You might say that I sell umbrellas, but for me, these umbrellas are my artworks. I love carving, and it gives me utmost happiness to sit in my quiet shop, carving the handles with beautiful subjects: flowers, animals, fruits, etc. I’m happy to see that my customers love them, and it gives them satisfaction, knowing that their umbrellas were carved specially for them. And, of course, in the end it gives me money to buy my bread and lodging.”

Mouret: “So, you were saying that…”

Me: “Yes. I am offering you a new concept of umbrella. It’s not just means of shading one from sun and rain. Umbrella can be a fashionable item. Just imagine a luxury umbrella with finely carved ivory handle and elegant design, in the hand of a charming lady on a rainy day outside The Opera. The lady’s friends would have adored it, and the lady would answer proudly: ‘Oh, I have ordered it at The Ladies’ Paradise the other day. They allow us to choose our own design, you know, and pick our own subject to be carved on the handle!’ And soon enough, these ladies will queue up to order such elegant personalized umbrellas at your store, sir!

Mouret (now quite bought up by the idea): “But how can I be sure that you won’t sell it with cheaper price to other stores, or even worse, directly to my customers?

Me: “I am ready to grant you an exclusive right to sell my umbrellas at whatever price you believe is most profitable, if you consent to appoint me as your sole supplier, and buy my products at reasonable price. I put my trust on your lawyer, sir, to issue the contract which I would be proud to sign to bind our partnership.

Mouret (amazed and curious): “Do you realize, M. Bourras, that if we had this partnership as your idea, your income will not significantly improve? Because producing personalized goods is different from mass production. In the end, your business will not profit much more than it is now. It would certainly profit The Ladies' Paradise, but what will it do for you?

Me: “Dear M. Mouret, I have told you earlier, that I am no businessman. With this partnership, I will earn enough money for my business to keep going, and a humble living for myself. But mostly I will have pleasures from making beautiful umbrellas. It’s all what I need in this world.

So…. do we have a deal?


In a new turbulence era, we better face the changes with open mind. It is good to keep our principles, but do not let it bar our judgment. Creativity is the key, and always find a win-win solution! When a huge power dominates our society (in this case capitalism), don’t fight back! Or else it will crush you mercilessly. Open mind and creativity will give us better bargaining position.

If only I can get into the story, and give my advice to old Bourras! But then…. It will alter the story. And considering what Zola wanted to say with his Rougon-Macquart series, I think I’d better return to my book and enjoy it. Pardon, Monsieur Zola, for indulging my imagination for a moment in this post! J


What do you think?