Thursday, August 31, 2023

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

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

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

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

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Have you read this book? Or watched the movie?


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4,5 / 5

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

Monday, August 28, 2023

The 12.30 from Croydon (1934) by Freeman Wills Croft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3,5 / 5

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

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Six Books Saturday #1: New-to-Me Crime Writers

#SixBooksSaturday is my new personal monthly bookish meme, inspired by Six Word Saturday, which I've stumbled upon @ Travel with Intent.

I thought it would be fun to list six books of random category/theme, which I'd decide on the spot. It might be six favorite books from my favorite author, or six books I've just added to my TBR. Or, if I find a gorgeous pinkish cover, I might list six pink book covers. Anything is possible according to my whim.

I will post Six Books Saturday on the last Saturday of each month. If you're interested, you are, of course, welcomed to join me. There's no rule, really. You can post six anything about books with your own theme, and leave your link in the comment, so I can read you posts. Or you can share the posts in Twitter (I still call it that) with hashtag #SixBooksSaturday, and don't forget to tag me!

This month I pick a theme which is correlated with this month's British Classics Crime Challenge theme, which is Authors New to Me.

Here is my first Six Books Saturday:

NEW-TO-ME CRIME WRITERS I've read so far this year, whose books I'm excited to read more
(in no particular order)

Christianna Brand
(my first read: Heads You Lose)

Dolores Hitchens
(my first read: The Cat Saw Murder)

Stuart Palmer
(my first read: The Penguin Pool Murder)

E.C.R. Lorac
(my first read: The Murder in the Mill-Race – review yet to come)

Merryn Allingham
(my first read: The Bookshop Murder)

Robin Forsythe

Have you read these writers? Which one is your favorite?


Friday, August 25, 2023

The Pleasure Cruise Mystery (1933) by Robin Forsythe

Algernon Vereker is lucky to have Manuel Ricardo as his best friend. When Vereker's feeling down after bad criticism of his latest painting, Ricardo suggested a pleasure cruise holiday. Well, his suggestion is not fully unselfish, because he hoped Vereker would pay for his ticket as well!

Just when Vereker begins to feel bored on board the cruise, mysterious things happen. A woman called Beryl Mesado, his cabin neighbor, seems to avoid being seen in public. She makes an appearance at dinner, but it's quite a distance from Vereker's table, that he can't see her face. She wears a pale blue dress and a diamond necklace with butterfly clap. On board with this elusive woman is a maid/companion and the Colvins (sister and brother-in-law).

At his cabin Vereker hears conversation between Beryl and Colvin. Beryl insists that Colvin must do "the job" quickly despite of the "risks". At this Vereker's boredom vanishes, and his sleuthing mode is on!

On the fatal night, Vereker hears Beryl's exclaimation that Maureen's necklace is gone. Who's Maureen? Then a rattle sounds inside Vereker's cabin, which he can't find the source. At midnight, Ricardo wakes him up as he'd found a woman's body on the deck, wearing pale blue evening dress, but without the diamond necklace. Her knuckles were bruised inside her chamois gloves (which doesn't match her evening outfit), and Vereker notices that her shoes are of bigger sizes. The Colvins admit that Beryl had had bad heart condition, and that must have been the cause of her death. But was it?

Later on Vereker found the diamond necklace with butterfly clasp on his cabin! So, that's where the rattle sound came from! But Colvin said the missing necklace is of white and cinnamon diamonds. Are there two missing necklaces, then? And was it burglary and murder?

This is a very complex and complicated murder mystery. Besides the Colvins, the other suspects consist of Dias, an acquaintance of the family, and a wealthy young girl, a Miss Penteado, Ricardo's crush. The murder method is the most unusual I've ever known. It's like when Forsythe saw the device, he thought, "Ha! That can cause death if one isn't careful!", and used it for his next novel.

All in all, it's a fun read. I loved the holiday vibes onboard the cruiser. I also loved the witty banters between Vereker and Ricardo; and the mystery itself is really puzzling. The only setback is the redundancy whenever Vereker told Inspector Heather or Ricardo of how the case has been progressing, or their discussing over the solution. Other than that, it's a witty, highly entertaining mystery with unusual but ingenious plot. Many thanks to Dean Street Press for re-printing this Golden Age Mystery!

Rating: 4 / 5

For Bingo Card: Mystery Set on Boat/Ship
For Monthly Theme: Authors New to Me

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Shelf Control #4: A Fete Worse Than Death by Lesley J. Taaffe

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.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you must have noticed that lately my readings are mostly of e-books and audiobooks, which I get from either Scribd or Google Playbook. In this episode of Shelf Control I am featuring an e-book from my "Saved" shelf at Scribd:

A Fete Worse Than Death (and other small church matters) by Lesley J. Taaffe

Summary from Amazon:
"Pastor Michael of Ainsworth Baptist Church has taken several months away from his duties to enjoy a well-earned Sabbatical and so Sister Marjory Steeple, stalwart of the church, upholder of traditional values and all that is seemly and decent, has taken it upon herself to write regular letters to Pastor Michael to keep him up to date regarding what is going on during his absence. Sister Marjory also takes the opportunity in her correspondence to make helpful suggestions as to how the good pastor might best improve the running of the church upon his return, and finds it unexpectedly therapeutic to off-load some of her own personal problems at the same time. These problems mainly revolve around her non-church going husband, George, and his unnerving obsession with his own funeral arrangements, their wayward son Christopher, and a bluff old cousin called Murgatroyd Thrip who is diligently (and against all the odds) following his calling to be a maverick missionary in far flung corners of the world.
Strangely enough Pastor Michael does not seem to appreciate Sister Marjory's selfless sacrifices and insightful suggestions quite as he should

I think this would be a charming, humorous read that I'd need to cheer me up after some rough time, or a gory murder mystery. I like the tone of it, and the epistolary style of this lite book. But I'm surprised that it doesn't get reviewed in Amazon, and I couldn't find it in Goodreads either, thought it has been published since 2012. I hope it means that I've found a gem, instead of a junk!

What do you think of this book? Have you heard about it?

Monday, August 21, 2023

The Lonely Hearts Book Club by Lucy Gilmore: An Audiobook Review

💗 Sloane Parker is a librarian who loves her job in a small town. One of the patrons is an old curmudgeon called Arthur McLachlan, whose rudeness is not new to the staffs. Sloane had had her share of rough dealing with him too, but she also enjoys their literary banters.

💗 One day Sloane realized Arthur hasn't visited the library for some time. Worried that something's happened, she visited his house where he lives alone - against the library's rule - and found him really ill. From then on Sloane takes care of Arthur, in disguise of working with Arthur's personal library. In doing that, Sloane sacrifices a lot: her job (she got sacked) and facing the grudge of her fiancé. But she is happy.

💗 Besides Sloane, there is also Maisie, Arthur's nosy but kindhearted neighbor who also cares about him; Greg, Arthur's estranged grandson; Matteo, Sloane's ex-colleague who's hired to be Arthur's health nurse. The four of them gather regularly at Arthur's house to form a book club.

💗 Each member of the book club alternately narrates their story from their own point of views. And through these chapters, we slowly get to know each one of these characters - strength and weaknesses, problems and struggles, hopes and dreams, rejection and loneliness.

💗 I love the premise of this story, which is books. It is books that unite these strangers from various backgrounds. Through books that they discuss, they get to learn about themselves and their mistakes. Through books, they find courage to accept themselves and their loved ones, and to build their own future. Through books also, they cement their loves and friendship, and learn more about human's nature.

💗 Among various book titles mentioned throughout the book, Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day and L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables become two most important ones. Remains because it's their first book for the club, and Anne because they use it (by highlighting its passages with different colors - each represented certain person) to express their feelings to one of them. It would certainly be the most valuable gift a bookish person could ever receive, isn't it? Especially if the book happens to be his/her favorite. 

💗 All in all, it is a book about love, friendship, family, forgiveness, and redemption; sweet and heartwarming. And it makes me wanting to re-read Anne of Green Gables! I have listened and enjoyed this story from an audiobook, very well-narrated by Angie Kane. Given that this book is narrated alternately between the characters, audiobook is a perfect way of reading it, and I'm glad I've done that.

Rating: 5 / 5


Friday, August 18, 2023

Book Tag: I'll Get Around to It Later

I saw this book tag @ Golden Age of Detective Fiction the other day, and decided to do it for fun. The creator has posted this in 2022, but it's still relevant any time, so, why not?

The rules
  • Link back to the original post–this one right here!–so the creator can read your answers and support you.
  • Link back to the post of the person who tagged you and thank them.
  • You may use the included graphic anywhere in your post, but you don’t have to.
  • Fill all seven categories.
  • You can either leave this tag open so anyone can do it or tag up to seven people.

The categories

📚 A classic book that you have been meaning to read forever but haven’t yet
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - There's many of these, actually, all is waiting for me to take on. Be patient dear books, I'm just waiting a good reason to pick you next. Maybe next Classics Spin will do?

📚 A book on your shelf that you haven’t read yet
Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt - I almost forgot I own this. Must get to it sometime next year! And I need to sort my TBR out, who knows what gems I might find there!

📚 A book that you got recently that you haven’t read
The Blue Sky by Galsan Tschinag - I featured this book in Blogger-Inspired Wishlist Ep. 6, and have actually bought a copy instantly, but then a sad thing came my way, and I didn't think I'd have the energy to read a sad book, no matter how inspiring or hopeful it is. So, for now, I really need to keep it back on the TBR pile.

📚 A book that you’ve had forever but haven’t read
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming - I think I might have saved this one for too long, and now I'm just not interested anymore. Shame on me, I know! 

📚 A book a friend recommended that you haven’t read
Middlemarch by George Eliot - more than one friend recommended this actually, but it's just not the right time (is there ever a right time? I don't know.. I just don't think I'd be able to tackle that mammoth task of reading it at present).

📚 A book you’re procrastinating on
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman - I have bought the book, and I've been excited to read this second book of the series after enjoying the first so much, so why do I keep procrastinating? Can I use that excuse of "not the right time" once more?...

📚 The next book on your TBR
Mrs. Harris Goes to Moscow by Paul Galico - I've just "found" this book among my e-book shelf the other day, thanks to Shelf Control meme, and this time I MUST get to read it!

Want to play along? Just consider yourself tagged!

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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

🍫 This is the third and final installment of The Girl, the Dog, and the Writer series. Freja Peachtree is ten years old when the series began in Rome. She was brought up mostly within Arctic region by her researcher mom, and grew up as a shy but intelligent girl. When her mom is sick, Freya had to live with Tobias Appleby, an absent-minded bestselling crime writer, and his huge silly puppy Finnegan.

🍫 In book one, The Girl, the Dog, and the Writer in Rome, the unlikely trio stumbled upon exciting adventure, and got acquainted with Vivi, a sweet girl who was apprenticed as a chef. Tobias was instantly smitten by her, that when Vivi moved to Provence to be apprenticed to a famous chef, Tobias followed her step. Once again the girl, the dog, and the writer were embroiled in another adventurous mystery.

🍫 Now Vivi moved to work at a chocolatier in Lucerne, and at the same time Tobias and Freja are heading there too, where Clementine, Freja's mother whom she hadn't met for months, is hospitalized. This is also Clementine's first "appearance", and I've been wondering what illness had took her away from her daughter for months? It's not clearly stated in this book, but judging by her condition.. mightn't it be cancer?

🍫 Switzerland is famous for chocolate, and we get chocolate in almost every page of this book! The mystery this time is a string of chocolate thefts. The mysterious thief only steals particular chocolate dishes which was made of Margrit's chocolate - a premium quality chocolate from a premium factory. Why? And the thief seems not to enjoy the chocolates and throw them like trash - Freja & co. finds chocolate-coated log in the forest behind their hotel. Again,  why?

🍫 There's also the mystery of Lady P - a patient next to Clementine's bed - who's just had an accident- or has she been pushed by her maid? But the biggest mystery for Freja is: who is Tobias Appleby? Freja shares Tobias' curly hair and his habit of pulling his ear while pondering; does it mean he is...?

🍫 In Lucerne is the best of the series - it has similar quality to the previous two, but twice intensified. The mystery/adventure is more puzzling, the romance is sweeter, and the family and friendship theme is deeper. It has all the quality of a great book. All lose end is tied satisfactorily, and the whole story has a bitter and sweet taste; full of love and humour. I might love it more for personal reasons. Freja, Clementine, and Tobias' relationship is the kind that is tightly bound with love - love that shape them into one solid unity. That's the kind of love we used to have - me, my mama and late papa - and that has shaped me into what I am now. I might often be fragile, but that love protects me and gives me strength. And I believe Freja would grow up a wonderful woman. No matter what happens in our journey, that love would always live inside us.

Rating: 5 / 5

Monday, August 14, 2023

#MurderEveryMonday: London Scene Covers

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

This week's theme is:

Cover with a London scene or landmark

For this specific theme, I know I can rely solely on British Library Crime Classics, whose collections are always with beautiful artistic cover arts. I have not read any of these seven books, but aren't they just lovely to behold (and collect)?!

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

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


Friday, August 11, 2023

The Penguin Pool Murder (1931) by Stuart Palmer: A Cozy Mystery

🐧 When Miss Hildegard Withers, a school teacher, led her third-grade pupils to a field trip at New York Aquarium, her original plan was to widen their knowledge and send them safely after that to their respective parents. What really happened then was far beyond what Miss Withers was even capable of imagining - and she is an imaginative person!

🐧 String of incidents happened in rapid succession. A pickpocket ran away after stealing purse - but knocked down by Miss Withers by the means of her umbrella; then Miss Withers found that her precious hatpin was missing, and sent the pupils to look for it. No sooner that the hatpin was found and pinned back where it had been, than one of her pupils saw something remarkable about the penguins inside the pool. While she's watching, a body floated inside the pool - a dead body of a man!

🐧 The murder victim - for it was a murder - is a stockbroker. The case is investigated by Detective Oscar Piper, with the efficient Miss Withers served, at first, as a sort of secretary - writing down Piper's interview results of people involved in the case. But gradually she becomes sort of invaluable assistant to the detective.

🐧 Piper instantly suspects the victim's wife, who was at the Aquarium at the moment of murder, secretly meeting her old flame. Add that fact with her exclamation: "Oh Phil...what have we done!", and Piper has a strong case against the couple to take them into custody. For a policeman, the sooner you solve a murder case and bag the criminal(s), the better. But for an amateur sleuth, investigating is an exciting activity. Moreover, Miss Withers believes in the couple's innocent, so she works on the case to prove she's right - and reuniting the old friends to a happy ending. At least that was her intention.

🐧 It is really a very delightful mystery to read. The premise is interesting (and we get to know a little more about penguins too!); the murder solving is quite complicated; and I love the characters of Miss Withers and Oscar Piper. Miss Withers proves herself to be an intelligent amateur sleuth, and often sees things which puzzles Piper the professional detective.

🐧 If this first of a series is this good, then I will definitely read the rest! I love it from start to end. And though I could easily guess the murderer, this book is far from predictable. The twist comes at the very end when you least expect it!

Rating: 4,5 / 5


Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Blogger-Inspired Wishlist, Ep. 7: Literary Fictions & Murder Mysteries

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.

This episode is supposed to be up last month, but as I’ve been busy due to my father’s death, I can only publish this today. These eight interesting books have been inspired by some bloggers I’ve been following. Some are nice literary fictions, and the rest are murder mystery novels. Hope you enjoy it!

The Bangalore Detective Club by Harini Nagendra
Inspired by Cath @ Read-warbler

When clever, headstrong Kaveri moves to Bangalore to marry handsome young doctor Ramu, she's resigned herself to a quiet life. But that all changes the night of the party at the Century Club, where she escapes to the garden for some peace and quiet—and instead spots an uninvited guest in the shadows. Half an hour later, the party turns into a murder scene. When a vulnerable woman is connected to the crime, Kaveri becomes determined to save her and launches a private investigation to find the killer, tracing his steps from an illustrious brothel to an Englishman's mansion. She soon finds that sleuthing in a sari isn't as hard as it seems when you have a talent for mathematics, a head for logic, and a doctor for a husband . . .

From Cath's review:
"Cozy isn't always my thing but I found the depiction of 1920s Bangalore to be absolutely fascinating. The author is Indian and lives there and this 'really' shows as we gets a warts and all description of a very crowded city with a lot of poverty. I liked Kaveri who breaks all the rules about where she can go and what she can do as the wife of a quite well to do doctor. Said husband is a great character too, a man who appreciates his intelligent wife even if she can't cook. The neighbour, Uma Aunty, who aids and abets Kaveri and teaches her to cook in exchange for reading lessons is brilliant too and there's a very rich and varied cast of other well drawn extras. I did not guess the culprit until nearly the end as the whole thing was quite complicated. I liked this a 'lot'."

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous Mirabelle Dartigen - the woman they still hold responsible for a terrible tragedy that took place during the German occupation decades before. Although Framboise hopes for a new beginning she quickly discovers that past and present are inextricably intertwined. Nowhere is this truth more apparent than in the scrapbook of recipes she has inherited from her dead mother. With this book, Framboise re-creates her mother's dishes, which she serves in her small creperie. And yet as she studies the scrapbook - searching for clues to unlock the contradiction between her mother's sensuous love of food and often cruel demeanor - she begins to recognize a deeper meaning behind Mirabelle's cryptic scribbles. Within the journal's tattered pages lies the key to what actually transpired the summer Framboise was nine years old.

From Davida's review:
"Harris has a writing style that feels like the writer is chatting with you. It’s almost as if an old friend has come to visit and has begun to tell you a slice of their life, in a nostalgic manner.
To my mind, Five Quarters is the best of these three (although not my favorite Joanne Harris book), with the most well rounded and developed characters, the most involved but comprehensible plot and the most charmingly delicious descriptions of culinary designs, yet. In short, I highly recommend this book and give it a rating of four and a half stars out of five!

Apricot Sky by Ruby Ferguson

“I’m haunted by an awful dread,” said Raine. “It was a wedding Mysie once went to. The bridegroom never turned up and the bride swooned at the altar.” “Have you practised swooning?” It’s 1948 in the Scottish Highlands, with postwar austerity and rationing in full effect, but Mr. and Mrs. MacAlvey and their family and friends are too irrepressibly cheerful to let it get them down. There’s Raine, newly engaged to the brother of a local farmer, and Cleo, just back from three years in the States, along with their brother James, married to neurotic Trina, who smothers their two oversheltered children. There are also three MacAlvey grandchildren, orphaned in the war, whose hilarious mishaps keep everyone on their toes. There are wedding preparations, visits from friends, an adventurous hike, and frustrated romance. But really the plot of the novel is, simply, life, as lived by irresistible characters with humour, optimism, and affection.

From Davida's review:
"This is truly a fun novel, and one that is very sweet (without being saccharine), and richly written with poetic adulation for this spectacularly special land that only a true Scotswoman could imbue.
The highly poetic descriptions of the sea side, and the islands, and the lands, and the homes themselves, are so lovingly written, it is hard to not ache to be there to see it ourselves. Even bad weather and annoying midges don’t seem to tarnish her adoration in the least. For nothing else, this would be an excellent reason to read this book, to get a taste of Scotland or be reminded of its beauty

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn
Inspired by Cath @ Read-warbler

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. But now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates their real-world resourcefulness in an age of technology. When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realise they've been marked for death. To get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They're about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman - and a killer - of a certain age.

From Cath's review:
"I liked this without actually loving it. It was a fun, if slightly unlikely, romp which took me on a mad jaunt to various countries. I imagined Helen Mirren leading this disparate, motley bunch of four oap assassins, one of their partners, and a computer nerd. I didn't find characterisation to be that strong, the women blended a bit too much into one person sort of thing, not much to tell them apart. But it was fine and I did actually enjoy it."

Minor Disturbances at Grand Life Apartments by Hema Sukumar
Inspired by: Simon @ Stuck in a Book

Grand Life Apartments is a middle-class apartment block surrounded by lush gardens in the coastal city of Chennai, India. It is the home of Kamala, a pious, soon-to-be retired dentist who spends her days counting down to the annual visits from her daughter who is studying in the UK. Her neighbour, Revathi, is a thirty-two-year-old engineer who is frequently reminded by her mother that she has reached her expiry date in the arranged marriage market. Jason, a British chef, has impulsively moved to India to escape his recent heartbreak in London. The residents have their own complicated lives to navigate, but what they all have in common is their love of where they live, so when a developer threatens to demolish the apartments and build over the gardens, the community of Grand Life Apartments are brought even closer together to fight for their beautiful home...

Simon's post which has intrigued me in the first place.

Mr Kato Plays Family by Milena Michiko Flasar

Mr Katō―a curmudgeon and recent retiree―finds his only solace during his daily walks, where he wonders how his life went wrong and daydreams about getting a dog (which his wife won’t allow). During one of these walks, he is approached by a young woman. She calls herself Mie, and invites him to join her business Happy Family, where employees act as part-time relatives or acquaintances for clients in need, for whatever reason, if only for a day. At first reluctant, but then intrigued, he takes the job without telling his wife or adult children. Through the many roles he takes on, Mr Katō rediscovers the excitement and spontaneity of life, and re-examines his role in his own family. Using lessons learned with his “play families,” he strives to reconnect with his loved ones, to become the father and husband they deserve, and to live the life he’s always wanted.

From Davida's review:
"In this book, some parts of some of the conversations are described rather than being written out as dialogue. So, for example, instead of writing something like ‘She asked him “did you see that dog?”’ you have something like ‘she asks him if he saw the dog.’ These are interspersed with regularly defined dialogue, and sometimes included parts of a conversation that Katō is just thinking about, or wants to say, but doesn’t articulate out loud. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t confusing, nor is it distracting. Instead, it gives this whole book a more inward-looking feel to it, where what we are witnessing is more about Katō’s thought processes than his actions. ...very, VERY warmly recommend it for lovers of literary fiction who like a good, slightly unusual, somewhat twisty, character-driven novel."

Murder at Mallowan Hall by Colleen Cambridge
Inspired by Rekha @ The Book Decoder

Colleen Cambridge's charming and inventive new historical series introduces an unforgettable heroine in Phyllida Bright, fictional housekeeper for none other than famed mystery novelist Agatha Christie. When a dead body is found during a house party at the home of Agatha Christie and her husband Max Mallowan, it's up to famous author's head of household, Phyllida Bright, to investigate...

Rekha's post which has intrigued me in the first place

The Housekeepers by Alex Hay
Inspired by: Margaret Agnew @ Aunt Agatha's

Mrs. King is no ordinary housekeeper. Born into a world of con artists and thieves, she’s made herself respectable, running the grandest home in Mayfair. The place is packed with treasures, a glittering symbol of wealth and power, but dark secrets lurk in the shadows. When Mrs. King is suddenly dismissed from her position, she recruits an eclectic group of women to join her in revenge: A black market queen out to settle her scores. An actress desperate for a magnificent part. A seamstress dreaming of a better life. And Mrs. King’s predecessor, with her own desire for vengeance. Their plan? On the night of the house’s highly anticipated costume ball—set to be the most illustrious of the year—they will rob it of its every possession, right under the noses of the distinguished guests and their elusive heiress host. But there’s one thing Mrs. King wants even more than money: the truth. And she’ll run any risk to get it…

From Margaret's review:
"The Housekeepers builds slowly. Secrets are revealed like foil peeled off of chocolate. It takes time to get to the heist itself, though watching these women work is a lot of fun. The biggest weakness of the book, perhaps, is how little we get to know the women themselves. While each have moments of inner reflection, none are fully fleshed out before the book ends. It can leave the reader wishing they knew Mrs. King better – but happy to be along for the ride she carefully crafted."

Have you own/read these books? If you haven't, which book appeals to you most? For me, it's perhaps Minor Disturbances at Grand Life Apartments, just because I myself live in a middle-class apartment building, and I think I'd be able to relate a lot with it. Hopefully!

You might want to check:
Previous episodes of Blogger-Inspired Wishlist

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Judging Book by Its Cover: The Red Pony (John Steinbeck)

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:
Young Jody Tiflin lives on his father's California ranch. He is thrilled when his father gives him a red pony, and later promises him the colt of a bay mare. Both these gifts bring joy to Jody's life--but tragedy soon follows. As Jody begins to learn the harsh lessons of life and death, he starts to understand what growing up and becoming an adult really means. - Goodreads

My own review

My copy is a 1992 Penguin Books edition

I love the barefooted little boy and the pony in this cover art, it truly represents Jody and his love of his red pony. I also love the pale minty-green and brownish-yellow streaks on the horizon, as if indicating how Jody wakes up very early every morning to be with and take care of his pony. A very nice cover art, and very true to the story!

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

Penguin Classics, 1994

A red pony grazing in the field on a warm sunny day is a perfect cover art for a book titled The Red Pony. But it's all really about the boy who owns the pony, not the pony; the red pony only appears in a quarter of the book. So, I feel something’s missing in this cover art. And does red ponies usually that red? I've always imagined they are more of earthen clay red than blood red.

Penguin Books, 1993

Another of the horse-only cover art. But in this one, the horse is less dominant. It's just a little shadowy thing perched on a cliff on a full moon that makes everything looks red. I won't even know it's a horse if not clearly hinted on the title - I would've thought it a wolf! A nice art perhaps, but not giving the book the credit it deserves.

Penguin, 2017

The last one is another boy-pony dynamic, but on a more modern style of a cover art. I love this one too; the bottle-green background, the font, the boy's overall, and the pony's head tilting beneath the boy's caress.

My favorites are definitely the two of the boy-pony covers, but it's hard to pick one. Both are gorgeous cover arts, but maybe the modern one features a little too-matured-image of Jody? The one of my own copy (the first one) seems to be more appropriate. And I always love a few brushes of pastel colors in cover arts, so I pick that one as a winner!

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?

P.S. How come that all those gorgeous editions are of Penguin group? Haven't other publishers published this book? Or have they become rare?


Sunday, August 6, 2023

CC Spin #34: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

🐴 The Red Pony is a compilation of four novellas. It follows the life of Jody Tiflin, a little boy of ten, who lives in a ranch, owned by his father Carl. Unlike his stern, cold-hearted father, Jody is a kind-hearted, sensitive boy.

🐴 The first story (The Gift) is about a red pony his father gifted Jody - the one which inspired the title. Jody named the pony Gabilan, and he adores him so much. With the help of Billy Buck, the ranch's reliable hand, Jody takes good care of Gabilan - feed, clean, and train the house regularly.

🐴 One rainy day, due to weather miscalculation from Billy Buck, Gabilan was out in the field, exposed to downpours. He (Gabilan, not Billy) caught a cold. A severe one, in fact, which exerted Billy's whole efforts to cure the horse. Will he succeed?

🐴 The third story, "The Promise", is also about horse. Carl thinks it's time for Jody to have more responsibility. He asked him to bring their mare Nelly to be "serviced" at a neighbor's farm, and Jody can raise and train its colt. The foaling, however, isn't a smooth process, but Billy Buck has promised Jody to give him a colt. Can he keep it?

🐴 The rest two stories are about two outsiders. The one is an old Mexican who claims he was born in that ranch long before the Tilfins bought the land. The other is Jody's grandfather who keeps re-telling same stories about how he used to lead a wagon train across the plains. These stories bored Carl and Billy, but fascinated Jody, who consoles his weary grandfather by stating that he, too, wants to be a leader.

🐴 As a whole, this book is about Jody's journey to adolescence, through responsibility and experience. Steinbeck wrote these stories while tending her ill mother in the hospital, and his anxiety reflected throughout the stories. Not a fun read, but Steinbeck wrote it quite beautifully.

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation, from A Comedy to A Mystery

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. Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Summary from Goodreads:
"Sally Milz is a sketch writer for "The Night Owls," the late-night live comedy show that airs each Saturday. With a couple of heartbreaks under her belt, she’s long abandoned the search for love, settling instead for the occasional hook-up, career success, and a close relationship with her stepfather to round out a satisfying life. Enter Noah Brewster, a pop music sensation with a reputation for dating models, who signed on as both host and musical guest for this week’s show. Dazzled by his charms, Sally hits it off with Noah instantly, and as they collaborate on one sketch after another, she begins to wonder whether there might actually be sparks flying. But this isn’t a romantic comedy; it’s real life. And in real life, someone like him would never date someone like her...right?"

As was with most of Six Degrees of Separation I've worked so far, this is yet a book I have not read. For my first chain I'll pick a phrase from above Goodreads summary: a pop music sensation, which instantly reminds me of a book I have read this year...

1. Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford

The music sensation is a unique character from this book, godfather of the heroine, a famous singer with terrific voice.

"The unique quality of his voice was the fact that it could reach higher and also lower notes than have ever been reached before by any human being, some of which were so high only bats, others so low that only horses, could hear them. When he was a very young man studying in Germany, his music teacher said to him, 'Herr King, you shall make, with that voice of  yours, musical history. I hope I may live to hear you at your zenith.'"

My review of this highly entertaining book.

The pigeon in the title, reminds me of Pigeonsford village, the setting of this golden age mystery:

2. Heads You Lose by Christianna Brand

Excerpt from my review:
"On that fatal day, after tea, Fran is showing a hat she's just bought. In her jealousy, Grace, after witnessing Pendock having been smitten by Fran, blurted out that she hates the hat, and that "I wouldn't be seen dead in a ditch in a hat like that!" Indeed, that night, Grace is found dead, inside a ditch in Pendock's garden, with decapitated head, and Fran's new hat on it!"

Here's the complete review.

From one hat of a girl, to another of a president:

3. The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain

This wonderful book begins when a man found a hat belongs to President François Mitterand, who incidentally left it at a restaurant. The man then took and wore it, and to his surprise, the hat lifted his spirit and gave him courage.

You can read more from my review.

The story on my next chain also begins with a hat. More precisely, when a girl found a hole in her hat. She assumes it was caused by pebbles, but Hercule Poirot knows better - it's left by a bullet! Yes, it's an Agatha Christie's book:

4. Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

Excerpt from my review:
"Nick Buckley, a young girl who lives in a house nearby, called End House, walked in and joined them, and found that there's a hole in her hat. You would, no doubt, guess what has really occurred - that the pebble is in fact a bullet, and that someone has shot Nick, but missed only an inch of her head. And so, this case was opened, quite unusually, without a corpse."

Here's the complete review.

Nick is the center of this story, and she reminds me of another Nick who is a narrator of this classic:

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I don't think you'll need any summary/introduction of this book. But, do you remember how much metaphors Fitzgerald had thrown throughout the book? My post would refresh your memory. One of these metaphors is... (quoting from the post)

"Yellowish color—in Gatsby’s car, Wilson’s garage, Myrtle dress, etc—symbolizes moral corruption. The accident is caused by the yellow car, Myrtle’s manner changes completely after she changed to cream-colored dress."

For my last chain, I picked a book, where the color yellow made it to the title:

6. The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux

Excerpt from my review:
"The titular yellow room is Mademoiselle Mathilde Stangerson's bedroom at the Chateau Glandier, where she was assisting her father, Professor Joseph Stangerson in his scientific works, that night. At midnight Mademoiselle resigned to her bedroom, locking the door that opens to the laboratory, where her father was still working, and their loyal old servant "Father" Jacques was sitting quietly.

Then the strangest thing happened - it happened so suddenly that the two men were astonished. Loud voices came from inside the room: people struggling, furniture tumbling, Mademoiselle's yelling 'help!', and there's even gun shots. The two men frantically tried to open the window from outside (it's locked), then force-opened the locked door. When they were able to enter, what they found was too impossible. No one was in the room, except Mathilde, lying unconsciously on the floor, bloody hand marks on the wall. Who had attacked her? Why? But most importantly, how did he escape (the door opens to the laboratory is the only door to the bedroom, and there's no chimney)? Even the Police couldn't come to any suggestion."

And here is the complete review.

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