Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Goodbye May!

A woman reading on her balcony (Oscar Coddron)

My reading life has slackened a bit this month, after April excitement subsided. Well, another "storm" hit our lives again, but like always, it, too, will pass. Meanwhile...

πŸ“š Books Read in May

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography
(started in March)
Read from: audiobook

The Professor's House by Willa Cather
Read from: printed book

Summer by Edith Wharton (not yet reviewed)
Read from: printed book

The Professor's Commencement by Willa Cather (short story)
Read from: e-book

πŸ“š 2023 Statistics

πŸ“Š Total books read so far: 22
πŸ“Š Total short stories read so far: 5
πŸ“Š Challenge progress:
* 2023 TBR Pile Challenge: 7
* 2023 Victorian Reading Challenge: 2
* 2023 Audiobook Challenge: 9

πŸ“š What's happening in June

πŸ”Έ️ For the first time, I'm joining #20BooksofSummer hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books. I opted for 10 Books. Here's the list of books I'd be reading.

πŸ”Έ️ Another fun event I'm joining is Reading the Meow hosted by Mallika @ Literary Potpourri

How about you, how has your May been?


Monday, May 29, 2023

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography | An Audiobook Review

"To be part of something one doesn't in the least understand is, I think, one of the most intriguing thing about life."

🧑 Dame Agatha Christie is one author whose books I continually read since I was 11 years old. Yet, I didn't really know much about the author herself. Until I read this book, her autobiography. From now on, I would call her Agatha - or Aunt Agatha - because that's how I felt about her after reading this Autobiography, as intimate as an aunt and her niece!

🧑 Agatha wrote this autobiography at the age of 75. It covers her life from childhood (about five y.o.) to the time she wrote this. It is by no means a chronological account of her life. Instead, she wrote from memory. Scattering bits and pieces of bygone events and perceptions which came to her memory as she's writing, she told it us; adding sometimes her views on certain subject, or comparison with her present situation.

🧑 Just imagine listening to your grandma telling you stories about her past: "I remember one day when I was about five or something..." - it's that kind of stuffs. But from these stories, and Agatha's comments on the events, we came to know much about her. Just like how you would've known your grandma more intimately after listening to her for half an hour every day during one summer holiday. You would feel you've known her all your life. And so, this review would also be bits and pieces of what has impressed me from this book.

🧑 Agatha's father was a caring, generous man with sense of humor, and liked by many people. Her mother was shy, impulsive, and melancholic. And she was a good story teller. Her stories was always different. One of them was The Curious Candle - a detective story! Her mother, however, didn't allow her children to read before age 8. Nevertheless, Agatha taught herself to read from story books. She could read at 5 y.o., and loved story books (and telling stories) ever since.

🧑 Agatha first ever story-telling in childhood was when her friend Margaret lost her front teeth and made her speech incomprehensible. Agatha daren't say she didn't understand what she said, but didn't want to not having conversation either, so she invented a story about fairy. Later, when Agatha didn't have friend at same age, she invented imagery friends and instilled different personalities into each. She would chat with them while playing outside. And that's how the seeds of a novelist was sown, I believe.

🧑 Agatha first wrote a detective story (The Mysterious Affair at Styles) was due to her sister's challenge. But later after her father's death and financial problem, she began to write as a profession (though 'till the end she never embraced her status as a succesful author). But, as we all know, monetizing hobby could be an unwholesome job. To divert from this, Agatha loved writing plays, and do it wholeheartedly.

🧑 Besides writing, her other passions were travelling, archeology, and houses. Agatha is one of the most adventurous persons I've ever known. She always tried to do new things, and almost always found them interesting. Either it be her work at the dispensary during War (where she got to know several poisons for her murder cases), or being assistant to her second husband Max Mallowan during their excavation gigs.

Max Mallowan & Agatha Christie during excavation gig at Ur, 1931

🧑 Speaking of husband... I hate Agatha's first husband: Archie Christie! When her mother died, Archie didn't accompany his wife during her grief because he couldn't stand sorrows and miseries. He then returned to their home asking for divorce because he's in love with another woman, who was there for him during his wife's absent. Dude, she was grieving her mother's death! How do you expect her to amuse you? It's you who should've been there to support your wife in those difficult times. Didn't like funerals? Nobody did! But that's life. Are you human or not?! Actually I didn't like him from the first. He seemed to be egotistical person. And it turned out he was.

🧑 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!)

🧑 Many of her unique novels were mostly inspired (or persuaded) by her acquaintances. The Pale Horse, for instance, was inspired by a chemist (Agatha's instructor during war). Death Comes at the End was the result of Agatha's friend' persuasion that she need to write a murder story set in ancient Egypt. A colonel (Archie's boss) 'asked' her to put him as character in her novel -The Man in the Brown Suit was the result. It's fascinated to learn this backstory of her many novels!

🧑 Of Agatha's own favorite writers and books: her Walter Scott's favorite was The Talisman (didn't surprise me considering her fascination of the Middle East), while Bleak House was crowned as her favorite Dickens. She also loved Dumas (my face too!), especially 1st volume of The Count of Monte Cristo. But her most favorite author was perhaps May Sinclair.

🧑 I listened to this audiobook almost every day for about 6 or 8 weeks, and those were happy days! I loved Judith Boyd narration, though her "excitement squeals" were rather unpleasant. But overall, it's been entertaining as well as inspiring. Agatha lived her life the fullest, and she always found joy in everything she did. My readings of Agatha's books will forever change after this! What a life, and what an autobiography!

Rating: 4,5 / 5


Friday, May 26, 2023

The Professor's Commencement by Willa Cather: A Short Story #WCSSP2023

πŸ‘¨‍πŸŽ“ First of all, I had to google "commencement" before realizing the meaning of this academic term. It's good to have learned at least one word from a story, even if I didn't really enjoy it.

πŸ‘¨‍πŸŽ“ It is about Professor Emerson's last day of teaching in a high school before his retirement from thirty years of service. His sister, a widowed Agatha, laments his lack of ambition. The Professor himself is often disconcerted by massive industrialization of their society, which muted academic passions of his pupils.

On the night there is a retirement party, and the Professor, as a tradition, must give a speech. He decided, upon Agatha's advice, to read something which he had blundered years ago. Maybe this time, this last time, he could make up for his past humiliation?

πŸ‘¨‍πŸŽ“ No, he couldn't. He blundered again, but his sister consoled him, saying that "it's all right". Now the Professor is dejected and hopeless. He feels that he had achieved nothing. But had he?

πŸ‘¨‍πŸŽ“ Poor Professor Emerson is having a mid-life crisis. I pity him, not because he achieved nothing, but because even at his age (fifty), he still cannot accept himself as it is; he hasn't made peace with himself. So what if he's "just" a high school professor for thirty years, if he had given his best every day of it, and enjoying it all the while? A failure is he who possess much but does nothing; while a successful one is he who does all he could with what God has blessed him with.

πŸ‘¨‍πŸŽ“ All in all, though I felt this story rather boring (my least favorite of the year so far), at least it serves as a remembrance to always accept oneself as it is; make peace with one self; and be happy!

Rating: 3 / 5


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Judging Book by Its Cover: The Professor's House (Willa Cather)

Judging Book by Its Cover is a blog feature where I analyze book cover art, compare it with its content, as well as with covers from few other editions.

Book summary:
"Professor Godfrey St. Peter is a man in his fifties who has devoted his life to his work, his wife, his garden, and his daughters, and achieved success with all of them. But when St. Peter is called on to move to a new, more comfortable house, something in him rebels. And although at first that rebellion consists of nothing more than mild resistance to his family's wishes, it imperceptibly comes to encompass the entire order of his life. The Professor's House combines a delightful grasp of the social and domestic rituals of a Midwestern university town in the 1920s with profound spiritual and psychological introspection." - Amazon

My own review

My copy is a Vintage Classics edition of 1990

While I love flowers, including flowers in cover arts, I don't think these four flower stalks in the cover do any justice to the book at all. It feels like the designers were run out of idea and just threw four flowers to fill the otherwise blank spot. Esthetically it's not really pretty, and it has no meaning whatsoever. I hate it when publishers/designers do this!

Now, let's pick three more cover arts from different editions.

The Kindle edition, published by Open Road Media in 2021

This one is really interesting. There is two images instead of one, and it looks like two layers of wallpaper on the wall. The outer layer's is that of a study (with the wooden desk and chair, and books on the shelves). A professor's study would look like this. Then someone tore it open, revealing another one with unrelated picture of a cliff city.

This cover art truly represents the book; with the story of Tom Outland and the ancient remains of a cliff city he'd found in the Blue Messa. In term of relevance, we can tick it off. But from the aesthetic point of view, I don't think it looks appealing on a book. It's rather ambiguous, instead.

The Virago edition, 2006

I like the simplicity of this cover. The bareness of the room and the very uncomfortable wooden chair reflected Professor St. Peter's old house, from which he's supposed to move out. There's also the sense of emptiness of abandoned room, and loneliness too. It's very relevant with the tone of the story. However, as cover art, it makes the book seems too depressing, that I don't think I would ever pick it if I've found it on display at a bookstore.

The alternate edition from Vintage Classics, 1990

I have saved the best for last. This is my cover art champion! I love the faded brush strokes effect that gives the sense of dreaminess which retired people often feels of their world - like their influences in the world is receding. I love also the stretch of landscape view from the window.

Then there's the mannequin bust - which looks misplaced in a Professor's room, but actually in accordance with the story. I love how the mannequin bust (or the form, as Professor St. Peter and Augusta the sewing woman call it) seems to be an integral part of the study, instead of accessory, so that if you don't pay minute attention of it, you won't notice anything wrong. And that's how one should do a cover art - beautiful, yet relevant to the story.

What do you think? If you have read the book, which cover art do you think truly represents the story? And if you haven't, which one appeal to you most?

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Professor's House by Willa Cather: A Review

🏠 The Professor's House is a frame story (story within a story). Professor Godfrey St. Peter and his wife is moving out to a new, more comfortable house - no doubt after their two daughters married.

🏠 But St. Peter couldn't be apart from his old house yet. He now realizes how uncomfortable his old house has been; yet, he loved it. Especially his study in the attic room - a room where Augusta, the sewing lady used to sew dresses for the ladies of the house. He even loved the "form" (mannequin bust) where Augusta put his daughters' pretty dresses. He didn't think it weird; on the contrary, he accepted it as an integral part of his study. Moreover, he enjoyed Augusta's silent company while they were doing their works.

🏠 The Professor feels acutely the loneliness which old age often brings. He feels mentally farther away from his family. Lilian, his wife, was jealous of his relationship with his pupil Tom Outland, whose arrival to the St. Peter's would change their entire life, even long after he died in the war.

🏠 The Professor's reminiscences of Tom Outland is the frame story I was talking about. And what a remarkable story! Together with his friend Rodney "Roddy" Brake, he found a hidden cliff city of an Indian tribe in the Blue Mesa of New Mexico. It was of a fine civilization that they found, which Tom treated as a solemn object. On the other hand, Roddy treated it as mere intrinsic object. He sold the remnants in good price without consulting Tom. This enraged Tom and resulted to their quarrel and separation.

🏠 Studying under St. Peter's direction, Tom excelled in science. He invented a vacuum system, which he patented right before he served in the Gulf War, and never came back. In his will, he bequeathed the money from the patent to Rosamond St. Peter, to whom he was engaged before leaving for the war.

🏠 So, this story, which at first I thought as easy and straightforward, turned out to be a complex and thought provoking one. There are few things that left me pondering hard. One of these is why or what made St. Peter felt isolated from his family and peers - besides mid life crisis? I think Tom Outland and the values which he stands for had a huge influence over him. That explains also Lilian's jealousy of Tom; it's him who pulled St. Peter away from her.

🏠 St. Peter and Tom Outland valued history and heritage higher than money. Lilian, the daughters, the son-in-laws didn't understand why St. Peter was annoyed when Marsellus (Rosamond's husband) proudly announced that they would named their new house (bought from Outland's patent) "Outland" (while realizing that it's from his wife's ex fiance's money). The same thing must have been felt by Roddy on Tom's annoyance over the selling of the curios from the cliff city.

🏠 I think this was Cather's silent critic of modern civilization's high praise of money and wealth. St. Peter and Tom Outland both belonged to the old world, where a house is more than a building to protect you, and a lost civilization is more than its charming remnants. These old objects became an identity, it's what had made one who one is today. And that's why they are precious.

🏠 I was surprised at how deep this reading has brought me reflecting, and am grateful to have read another of Cather's remarkable works. I can't say this as a fun read (it's more confusing than fun when I was at it), but I realized its meaning after much reflection. This is one proof of the importance of reviewing or blogging of classics; I often realize the true value/impact of a book while trying to write a review/post. This has really been an unexpected read.

Rating: 4 / 5


Friday, May 19, 2023

10 Books of Summer (but not really summer) 2023

Since a few years ago I've been longing to participate in an annual event: 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books. But I know I would never be able to read twenty books in three months. We don't have summer here in Indonesia - only dry and wet (monsoon) seasons - and therefore, no holiday for me during June to August; life goes on as usual. June and July are always my favorite months of year, in term of weather. They are usually the coolest months of the year; while August is the windy one. However, holiday or not, I think 20 books in 3 months is more than I can chew. But this year is different, Cathy is very generous to slack down the bar to 15 or even 10 books, yay! And so, here's my first: 

10 Books of Summer (not really summer) 2023

Summer by Edith Wharton
I've read somewhere that this was Wharton's favorite, and it seems a perfect title to kick off this challenge, ain't it?

The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgetald
This is the only Fitzgerald's novel I haven't read, and also his last and unfinished novel (published posthumously in 1941). Hollywood, here I come!

The Hummingbirds' Gift: Wonder, Beauty, and Renewal on Wings by Sy Montgomery
I'm a bird-lover, and have been longing to read books about birds. I found an audiobook of this book the other day, and can't wait to listen to Sy Montgomery herself narrating her own story!

Mallika @ Literary Potpourri is hosting a cat-themed reading week on 12 - 18 June 2023, and after some serious pondering, I've decided to read:

The Cat Saw Murder by Dolores Hitchens
A murder mystery after few classics is always welcomed. I have never read Hitchens too, so I'm pretty exciting!

Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P.G. Wodehouse
Recently I seem to need a Wodehouse every now and then. How about a Wodehouse with a cat, then? Perfercto! πŸ‘ŒπŸΌ

Art Heists and Hairballs by Bailey Booth
A cozy mystery, of which I've just found a free e-book at Google Playbooks. It's a novella, so I believe I'd be able to squeeze it in for the week!

Paris in July?

I've been crossing my fingers for Paris in July to return this year! As a Francophile, there's the joy of reading anything French. My pick this year are two books by French authors (alternately I will pick books about France by foreigners the next year):

The Elegance of Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
So excited to get to listen to the audiobook!

Letters from My Windmill by Alphonse Daudet
I was impressed by my first encounter with Daudet in this Christmas anthology, and happened to find this e-book for free the other day. It seems interesting!

The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain
If I still have time, I would love to read this humorous book!

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
Can't wait to listen to David Suchet's narrating a Christie's!

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Do you remember how I was raving about a cozy mystery by Jesse Q. Sutanto few weeks ago? Before that book, which has been creating quite a buzz, she wrote a hilarious romcom-murder-mystery mashup that I can't wait to read!

My last of the ten books is still uncertain. I'd see which book would suit my mood then. It rather depends also on whether or not #AustenInAugust would return. That event would encourage me to plunge into Austen universe, but if not... I don't know. Let's just see!

The Girl, the Dog, and the Writer in Lucerne by Katrina Nannestad


Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Will you also participate in this event? What books do you plan to read?


Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Blogger-Inspired Wishlist Ep. 5: Seven Books from Four Ladies

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.

In this edition, four ladies have inspired me to add seven more interesting books to my ever-growing wishlist.

Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest by W.H. Hudson
Inspired by Gypsi Reads

First published in 1904 and a bestseller after its reissue a dozen years later, Green Mansions offers its readers a poignant meditation on the loss of wilderness, the dream of a return to nature, and the bitter reality of the encounter between savage and civilized man.

Gypsi's post

Murder by Request by Beverley Nichols

No synopsis available.

From Kaggsy's review:
"As a mystery, “Murder by Request” was actually very enjoyable. The plot was quite ingenious, though, the characters entertaining and well drawn, and the solution a satisfying one as far as I was concerned."

When a Man Marries by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Inspired by Gypsi Reads 

It began with Jimmy Wilson and a conspiracy was helped on by a foot-square piece of yellow paper and a Japanese butler and it enmeshed and mixed up generally ten respectable members of society and a policeman.

From Gypsi's review:
"A laugh-out-loud misadventure that is well-written, engaging and completely entertaining. Rinehart, known for her popular mysteries, has a wonderful knack for writing conversation and ridiculous situations, both of which made When a Man Marries such fun."

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

Inspired by a short story written by Emile Zola, Belle Epoque is set at the height of bohemian Paris, when the city was at the peak of decadence, men and women were at their most beautiful, and morality was at its most depraved.

From Lark's review:
"Elizabeth Ross drew inspiration for her novel from the short story "Les Repoussoirs" by Emile Zola, and she does a masterful job. Belle Epoque definitely lives up to its name--this is a beautifully told story of friendship, and beauty, and truth."

Saving Ceecee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
Inspired by Pam @ Read! Bake! Create! 

Laugh-out-loud funny, at times heartbreaking, and written in a pitch-perfect voice, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a spirited Southern tale that explores the intricate frailties and strengths of female relationships while illuminating the journey of a young girl who loses her mother but finds many others.

Pam's post

The Fly on the Wheel by Katherine Cecil Thurston

With a nod to the works of Tolstoy and the BrontΓ«s, The Fly on the Wheel is a poignant portrait of the moral and psychological restrictions imposed on young women at the turn of the twentieth century. Illicit love, toxic relationships and feminist desires determine the course of Isabel’s introduction to Waterford society, with dramatic and tragic consequences.

From Kaggsy's review:
"This is a beautifully written and very powerful story. Thurston writes elegantly, and captures quite brilliantly Waterford and its denizens and its layers of society. As well as painting a vivid picture of Waterford’s people, Thurston also captures the local landscape very evocatively; the countryside around the place comes alive and the book really does transport you back in time and in place."

The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks by Shauna Robinson

When Maggie Banks arrives in Bell River to run her best friend's struggling bookstore, she expects to sell bestsellers to her small-town clientele. But running a bookstore in a town with a famously bookish history isn't easy. Bell River's literary society insists on keeping the bookstore stuck in the past, and Maggie is banned from selling anything written this century. So, when a series of mishaps suddenly tip the bookstore toward ruin, Maggie will have to get creative to keep the shop afloat.

From Lark's review:
"What I loved about this novel:
Maggie learning to love books and reading...even a few of the classics.
The banter between Maggie and Malcolm, the Bell Society's 'spy', and their slowburn friendship. (Their 'dates' are very entertaining.)
The clever mashup events Maggie hosts with local authors who turn Moby Dick into a romance and The Great Gatsby into science fiction.
Maggie's exuberance and ability to connect with so many people in town.
The humor and the happy ending

Have you own/read these books? Or have I make you add more to your WL/TBR? πŸ˜‰


Monday, May 15, 2023

Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle by J.A. Lang: A Cozy Mystery

🐷 Even before I googled about J.A. Lang, I have known right after finishing the book, that she must be a fan of Agatha Christie, or in particular, Hercule Poirot.

🐷 Chef Maurice Manchot, our amateur sleuth, is a mustachioed French boisterous chef who own a bistro called La Cochon Rouge in Beakley, a little village in Cotswold countryside. His 'Hastings' is Arthur Wordington-Smythe, a food critic, who is often seen with Horace, his great Dane, the laziest dog in the world.

🐷 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.

🐷 The murder was investigated by the lovely PC Lucy Gaviston, their local constable. The case consisted of two break-ins to Ollie's house - though the one thing that missing is only an old map over the desk with Ollie's marks. What was it? And why anybody thought it worth enough to kill someone?

🐷 Then Hamilton was kidnapped when he was in a visit with Maurice and Arthur. Followed then by a threat to stop meddling something which isn't Maurice business, or else... (the kidnapper sent a chuck of bacon with the letter to highlight it!). The police didn't think this pignaping as something serious, no doubt their priority was Ollie's murder. Therefore, Chef Maurice must solve the mystery by himself, or otherwise the police won't find his Hamilton!

🐷 But Hamilton wasn't as weak as you might think. When his owner didn't come and save him for days, he must rescue himself. And he did! Chef Maurice found him on the road one day. I was wondering how he escaped, and rather annoyed that this part was never properly explained.

🐷 Anyway, Chef Maurice invited everyone we've met in the story (practically all the suspects) in a welcoming dinner party for Hamilton. It was a proper party, with delicious fancy foods and wine. The guest of honor even had his own fancy dishes! But that's not the main agenda. Chef Maurice was revealing the murderer, while channelling his inner Poirot - complete with the classic red herring (you'd thought he would accuse A, but then A isn't the murderer, but the very unexpected B).

🐷 All in all, this is an entertaining cozy mystery. Very hilarious, especially with the lazy Horace and little Hamilton. The story actually opens with a prologue about Hamilton. First, you'd think he's a guy, then probably a dog, but through the story you finally realized he's a micro pig. How cute!

🐷 As a murder mystery, there isn't much there. It clearly showed that it's a debut from the writer. It's made pretty sweet with a love story developing between PC Lucy and Patrick, Chef Maurice's sous-chef, and has cute cover with Hamilton in it. And with the delicious foods Maurice cooked, you'll find yourself a nice light and fun book, perfect for a holiday read!

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Friday, May 12, 2023

1st Impression on The Professor's House by Willa Cather

What it’s about

After completing his masterwork and garnering a great deal of money for it, history professor Godfrey St. Paul has purchased a new house. But when the time comes to move, he cannot bring himself to do so. Sitting in his comfortable study in his current house near the shore of Lake Michigan—and on the verge of a midlife crisis—he reflects on his past.

At fifty-two, he has dedicated himself to his work, his garden, and his wife and two daughters, but despite all of his successes, he is unhappy with the course of his future. He retreats into his memories—his career and fond recollections of Tom Outland, his most outstanding student and once his son-in-law-to-be, who was lost in the Great War. He also thinks of his present and the daunting mystery of what lies ahead. And soon the introspection takes over...
  - Goodreads

First lines:

"The moving was over and done. Professor St. Peter was alone in the dismantled house where he had lived ever since his marriage, where he had worked out his career, and brought up his two daughters."

My 1st impression:

I sympathize with the middle-aging Professor Godfrey St. Peter. The older we grow, the more we need stability. I realized this after watching how terrified my parents (my father especially) were when I suggested to sell our house and move into an apartment about seven years ago. Our thirty-years-old house was dilapidated at that time and in need of massive renovation (which we couldn't afford). Surely to sell the house and use the money to buy a smaller apartment was the most sensible choice. But my father was adamant, with many excuses. My mother and I need about a year to persuade him, that he finally relented. But that was that. To move to even a better place, to leave the old one with so many memories, to be separated from old habits, is hard and uncomfortable.

And that's what the Professor must have felt when the family move to a new house. Uprooted - that's the most appropriate term. He realized of so many imperfections of the old house, but he had accustomed to them. The old house had become, to St. Peter, a beloved entity. When you love someone, you're aware of their flaws, yet you still love them for what they are. You learn to accept the flaws with affection, and soon the flaws are mere unique personalities to you, and you'll be sad to be without it. And that's what the old house is for St. Peter.

So far the story is quite promising. I got to know Mrs. St. Peter, Lilian, who is jealous of St. Peter's deceased beloved pupil: Tom Outland. Then there are the daughters and sons-in-law. The elder is Rosamond, who was engaged to Tom Outland when he's alive, but now married a Marselus. Outland bequeathed his patented invention to Rosamond, and now its revenues enriched the Marseluses, and they even named their new house: Outland. I guess this will soon create problems.

Keep or Stop Reading?

Definitely I'll keep reading. I am curious about the secretive Tom Outland's background. I don’t know him, but I begins to like him. One character which I want to see more is Augusta, the sewer woman, who has become like a friend to St. Peter.

Have you read this book? Did you like it?


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Shelf Control #1: Mrs. Harris Goes to Moscow by Paul Gallico

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. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what it’s about, when/where you got it, why you want to read it and such.

This is my very first Shelf Control post. I've been meaning to do this before, but I was always catching up with reviews and other posts. Then an eleven days holiday came, and I was finally ahead of time. And so now I could do this post properly.

My first pick is Mrs. Harris Goes to Moscow by Paul Galico. I bought the e-book few years ago, but then forgot it until very recently.

Paul Galico has written four novels on various hilarious adventures of the memorable Ada Harris (Mrs. Harris or Mrs. 'Arris), an old char woman in London who works for prestigious households. My first encounter with Mrs. Harris was the first book, which has recently been adapted: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. I loved it so much, that I instantly picked up the sequel: Mrs. Harris Goes to New York - less charming but equally entertaining. The third book is Mrs. Harris Goes to Parliament, but it's not really appealing to me, so I skipped that, and went to Moscow instead.

In this adventure Mrs. Harris wins a trip to go to Russia, accompanied by her bosom friend, the loyal Mrs. Butterfield, also a char lady. Mrs. Harris was also charged with a love letter by her employer. Then things begin to go crazy when the two char women, through some administrative faults, were suspected by KGB as spies!

It promises a good hilarious reading, though I'm a bit worried, because many Goodreads reviewers said this was their least favorite of the four. Hmm... shall I just give it a go? Or no? Maybe I'll just keep it until I'm in need of a good laugh!

Have you read this book? Or any of Mrs. Harris series?


Monday, May 8, 2023

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto: A Cozy Mystery

"Vera Wong Zhuzhu, age sixty, is a pig, but she really should have been a rooster. We are, of course, referring to Chinese horoscopes."

πŸ’š With that first line, I was instantly hooked to this cozy mystery by Jesse Q. Sutanto, the first ever of the genre from an Indonesian writer (that I’m aware of). Moreover, I, too, am a pig - still referring to Chinese horoscopes, mind you. I am what people call Chinese-Indonesian - though my Chinese part is certainly very small in proportion. I even have a proper Chinese name, though I never use it, nor people ever call me by that name. Sharing the same Chinese horoscope to Vera Wong, added my enthusiasm to read this mystery. It is guaranteed to be relevantly funny too, judging by that first line!

πŸ’š Vera Wong lives in the Chinatown of San Fransisco. She owns a tea house: VERA WANG'S WORLD FAMOUS TEAHOUSE. I wasn't mistyped Wong to Wang, neither did they who made the sign board. Vera had conveniently (and deliberately) put the famous designer's name for her tea house! Cheeky old darling, isn't she?πŸ˜‰

Vera is a bold, brave, disciplined old woman who lives alone up her shop, after her husband Jinlong died and her only son Tilly (Tilbert) moved out. Her business nowadays is decreasing, only one of her customers, Alex, loyally comes to enjoy Vera's special concoction almost every day. Vera always knows which leaves her customers need in every situation.

πŸ’š One morning as she went downstairs to open shop, she found a dead body of a stranger lying on the floor! But don't worry, Vera has watched enough CSI series that she knows what to do. She didn't touch the body at all, well... maybe only a tiny inch when she's taken the flash drive from it?... And while waiting for the police to come, she even drew a mark round the body as the police always do (again from CSIs she's watched). But when the police came, they said it's just an accident and even throw her out of her own house. Vera was adamant, as she's sure it's a murder! First there are scratches on the man's face, then there's the flash drive - but this she didn't mention to the police! Alright, as the police can't do it properly, she determined that she, Vera Wong, will solve the murder herself!

πŸ’š Vera knew that murderers usually return to the crime scene to make sure they didn't left traces. So, she waited patiently in her tea house. And sure enough, one by one they came - all with different 'motives'. “Here they come - my four suspects!” - thought Vera. They were Riki Herwanto, Sana Singh, Oliver Chen, and Julia Chen with her cute little daughter Emma.

πŸ’š The dead man, Marshall Chen, was, apparently, a scoundrel. Little by little, through her soothing tea concoctions, delicious foods, and warm heart, Vera managed to - not only unfolding each suspect's involvement with the dead man - but also to make them feel loved and accepted. They grew fond of each other in no time - especially Riki and Sana (ahem), and Oliver and Julia (who were Marshall's brother and wife, respectively). The four of them had one bond: one way or another, Marshall had, separately, manipulated them. And Vera slowly becomes like their mother or grandmother, with whom they can tell everything, struggles and all. And Vera always knows how to cheer them up and bring them new hope.

πŸ’š It's not an easy task for Vera to do her job well. How could you put four lovely people into suspects when you loved them like family? But Vera Wong wouldn't budge, not even when somebody ransacked her tea house!

πŸ’š This is a jolly hilarious cozy mystery, with a depth of humanity. It's heartwarming with love and friendship, and... there're numerous feasts of mouthwatering dishes, which reminded me of my grandmother. Whenever we came to her house, there're always at least four or five different dishes at the table. It's just the ordinary Chinese family meals.

πŸ’š How about the murder mystery? It's not disappointing. You would or wouldn't guess the murderer, but it is a bit of a twist, and the ending is satisfying. I loved the book so much, and earnestly hope Vera Wong would investigate yet more murders to come! She might possibly be, considering that Warner Bros. TV has just acquired this book rights, with Oprah Winfrey's and Mindy Kaling's production houses to produce a TV series! Yay to Vera Wong, and bravo to Jesse Q. Sutanto!

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Which cover you like most? My e-book copy has the blue one, but I think the black one with an old lady peeping through the blinds is more adorable, and somehow fits the book. And in the blue one, the writer's name is missing 'Q', which is rather annoying.

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation, from Hydra to The Magic of Faraway Tree

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. Hydra by Adriane Howell

"Hydra is a novel of dark suspense and mental disquiet, struck through with black humour. Adriane Howell beguilingly explores notions of moral culpability, revenge, memory, and narrative – all through the female lens of freedom and constraint. She holds us captive to the last page." - Goodreads

I haven't read this book and 'dark suspense' is just not really my cup of tea right now, so I can't think of anything else that is similar to the books I have read, other than that it is a book from an Australian writer. So I would use this to lead to my first chain - another book I've read from an Australian writer:

1. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

"...Most of all, it is the story of the Clearys' only daughter, Meggie, and the haunted priest, Father Ralph de Bricassart—and the intense joining of two hearts and souls over a lifetime, a relationship that dangerously oversteps sacred boundaries of ethics and dogma." - Goodreads

One of most memorable events of this book is a woman (the daughter: Meggie) who fell in love with a priest. This reminds me of another book where the female protagonist was also in love with a local priest:

2. The Conquest of Plassans by Γ‰mile Zola

"Marthe Rougon and her husband Mouret live peacefully with their children in a little town of Plassans, almost a perfect happy family. But one day Mouret has an idea to rent their second floor to a priest. Without their knowing, when AbbΓ© Faujas arrived with his mother, the faiths of the Mourets have been sealed. Little by little Faujas and his family—later on his sister and brother in law also live there—conquered Mourets household, just as Plassans being conquered by the AbbΓ©. It all comes gradually, subtly, but cunningly, that no one realizes it until it is too late." - my review

In this story, Plassans is a peaceful small village that is stirred by a stranger. In another book I've read recently, a stranger also came to a peaceful village and made a tremendous stir, which is:

3. The Stone of Chastity by Margery Sharp

"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." - my review

You know, I came to think that Professors in literature most often brings a certain excitement to a story, do you agree? The most exciting adventure brought by a scientific Professor is:

4. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

Professor Otto Lidenbrock believes there are volcanic tubes that reach to the very center of the earth. And this book has inspired many books/authors: "The category of subterranean fiction existed well before Verne. However his novel's distinction lay in its well-researched Victorian science and its inventive contribution to the science-fiction subgenre of time travel—Verne's innovation was the concept of a prehistoric realm still existing in the present-day world. Journey inspired many later authors, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his novel The Lost World, Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Pellucidar series, and J. R. R. Tolkien in The Hobbit". - Wikipedia 

So naturally, my next chain would be:

5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit is children's fantasy with magical creatures such as elves and goblins. I haven't read many fantasy books, but the one I very recently enjoyed is full of elves, pixie, fairy, and goblins. And so, this charming children stories will be the end of of my chain:

6. The Magic of Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton

"When Joe, Beth and Frannie move to the countryside, they discover that their new house lies next to the Enchanted Wood! And in that wood stands the Magic Faraway Tree. This is no ordinary tree - it is home to more magical lands full of elves, pixies, talking creatures and wonderful adventures than the children ever imagined possible!". My thoughts.

I'm so glad to see how this chain had begun with quite a gloomy book, but ended with a cheerful one!

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


Thursday, May 4, 2023

Holiday Reads: The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton: An Audiobook Mini Reviews

I was having an eleven-days-holiday, while our Moslem fellows are celebrating Eid. I've been meaning to re-read Enid Blyton's adventure books. You see, her books had been my childhood excitement, and it'd be perfect for holiday read. Then I found this audiobook of The Faraway Tree narrated by Kate Winslet! I'm not usually keen to read fantasy, but a children book in Kate Winslet's voice... I can hardly say no!

The Faraway Tree contains of four books - three novels and one short stories. Winslet only narrated the first three novels, so those were what I picked. These are mini reviews of them:

#1: The Enchanted Wood

Joe, Beth, and Frannie moved with their father and mother to a cottage in the country. There's a wood behind it, called The Enchanted Wood, where the trees whisper to each other. There they meet some elves, whose bag is robbed by a gnome. The children chase the gnome, but he runs away up an enormous tree. It's the magical Faraway Tree! Its top branches reach through the clouds, to the magical land that keeps changing. Once a land leaves the entrance hole of Faraway Tree, it will never return, and another land will then appear.

Up the Faraway Tree the children climb, and meet various sort of creatures. Some were rude, but the others are kind and friendly, such as Silky, a fair fairy with silky golden hair; the deaf Saucepan Man, a funny little man with saucepans and kettles hung all around his body; and MoonFace, the most amiable of them all, whose face is round and shiny like the moon. They all live along the Faraway Tree; their tiny houses are carved inside the trunk. I love MoonFace's house most because of the slippery slip! It's a hole in the middle of the trunk, down which one can slide through to the bottom of the tree. Fancy sliding down a tree!

With them, the three children embarked on delightful adventure after adventure through different lands. Sometimes they're dreadful enough (The Ice and Snow, the Roundabout Land) but sometimes they're really fun (Land of take-what-you-want, and Land of Birthdays). Their most exciting adventure was helping their new friends when The Faraway Tree was invaded by a group of Red Goblins.

#2: The Magic Faraway Tree

Rick is a cousin of Joe, Beth, and Frannie, who comes to stay with them as his mother is ill. He's a boisterous and greedy boy, the same age as Joe. He is skeptical about the Enchanted Wood at first, but soon is so excited to be in a magical adventure. So the three children take him to the Faraway Tree, and he comes along to several more of their adventures with MoonFace, Silky, and Saucepan Man on whichever strange lands happen to come on top of the tree.

My (and their) favorites are Land of the Goodies (reminds me of Hansel and Gretel with edible houses and all); and Land of do-what-you-like (whatever you wish to do, it happens immediately, like riding an elephant or wading on the beach). The most annoying is perhaps the Land of Dame Snap - what a wicked lady she is!

But the most thrilling one so far must be in the Land of Spells. They certainly are in a pickle there, and but for the clever help from Watsizname, the Angry Pixie, and Dame Washalot - who were angry to them often before, but came to help anyway - they might not have returned safely to their homes!

#3: The Folk of the Faraway Tree

A friend of the children's mother asked her to take care of her daughter, Connie, because she (Connie's mother) is ill. How convenient it is the practice of sending one's children to friends or relatives when they're ill! Anyway, Connie is a dainty, curious, spoilt girl who likes to prying at others' secret. She didn't believe at first of the Enchanted Wood and Faraway Tree. The tree folks don't like her, and the Saucepan Man in particular is often rude to her. But after some adventures in several lands: the Land of Marvels, the Giant Land (on the top of Jack's the beanstalk!), the Land of Nursery Rhyme, etc. Connie becomes quite an ordinary girl, and believes at last of the Faraway Tree.

Connie gets her most valuable lesson when she's listening to something she oughtn't at the Land of Secrets. She gets a spell that's taken her voice. Then they all go to the Land of Enchantments where MoonFace and Silky got enchanted. Luckily Saucepan Man quickly sets them and Connie free by his mother's spell, and they landed down again at the Faraway Tree just a split second before the Land moves away!

The last and most exciting adventure of the children and tree folks is when an army of trolls attack the roots of the Faraway Tree to dig for jewels, that the leaves gets withered, and the tree is dying. This is the most serious thing, and now the children, the tree folks, and the woodland creatures will join forces to save their beloved tree!


As always, Enid Blyton never disappoints in bringing the most exciting adventures we could imagine. It was delightful to read. And I guess, it's a perfect educational story too for children. In particular the symbiotic mutualism relationship between the tree folks and the Faraway Tree itself. The tree has given food and shelter to the folks, so when it is dying, the folks courageously fought its enemy. In return, the tree grew the best fruits the folks have ever tested. It's a good way to teach children to respect nature.

All in all, it has been an enjoyable reading and fantastic holiday. Once again, thank you Enid Blyton!

Rating: 4 / 5