Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Shelf Control #7: Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

Shelf Control
is a weekly feature created by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. Since early January 2023, Shelf Control has moved base to Literary Potpourri.

As I was browsing for a Christmas e-book or two to read next month, I found this book I forgot I've ever bought, how long ago has it been on my shelf?

Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery

Summary from Goodreads:
"In the heart of Paris, in the posh building made famous in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Pierre Athens, the greatest food critic in the world, is dying. Now, during these his final hours, his mind has turned to simpler things. He is desperately searching for that singular flavor, that sublime something once sampled, never forgotten, the Flavor par excellence. Indeed, this flamboyant and self-absorbed man desires only one thing before he dies: one last taste.
Thus begins a charming voyage that traces the career of Monsieur Arthens from childhood to maturity across a celebration of all manner of culinary delights. Here, as in The Elegance of Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery’s story celebrates life’s simple pleasures and sublime moments while condemning the arrogance and vulgarity of power.

I have almost read The Elegance of Hedgehog for Paris in July this year, but I got bored at first chapter, and so didn't continue. I wonder whether Gourmet Rhapsody would better suit me. I like food-theme stories, and it might add charm to this book. So, I think, I'll keep it a try!

Have you read this book? Do you think it's worth reading?

Monday, November 27, 2023

A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia (2016) by Clara Benson

πŸ’° Ticky Maltravers is what you would call in 1929 as the toast of London high society. One would surely find him in parties, and people use to invite him in their dinner parties. One could say that Ticky almost never eats at his own home. Does that mean Ticky is a loveable person? Not necessarily. At his own birthday party (thrown by his friends, of course, Ticky NEVER had his own party), someone poisoned him. Investigation that follows reveal that the poison must have administered by one of the guests, who is one of his so called friends.

πŸ’° Freddie Pilkington-Soames is at another dinner party when it happened, and he (by a hilarious complication such as what usually befalls Bertie Wooster in P.G. Wodehouse realm) went straight to his mother's house very drunk. His mother, Cynthia, is one of Ticky's circle who attended the party. She and Ticky came home in a taxi (Ticky lives several houses near hers), and dropped dead in front of her house after saying that he's been poisoned!

πŸ’° Normal people would have telephoned the police or an ambulance, but not Cynthia Pilkington-Soames. Of course, in a story which was a combination between Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse, the characters won't take the ordinary road. No, instead, Cynthia asked Freddie to move the body to the deceased's own house. Freddie who, being very drunk, couldn't think straight, did what his mother bid him. The body-moving scene was very hilarious, involving some heaving, some miscalculation, and a toy wheelbarrow! But it was done eventually.

πŸ’° When Freddie woke up the next morning, sober and the intelligent himself again, he realized with a chagrin that he mistakenly put the corpse to the house nextdoor instead of Ticky's (which would have been thought of as a drunken-man-collapsed-after-party-incident, and won't raise much suspicion). As it was, the queer incident puzzled the police.

πŸ’° Freddie is a journalist, and he was lucky to have secured Ticky's case to handle, as he need to know whether the police suspected him or her mother's involvement (and to avert suspicion if any). One thing lead to another, and before he knew it, Freddie has become an amateur sleuth. He has a bigger advantage than the police, because he's one of the circle - the insider - while the police can't get anything from those posh people.

πŸ’° As you can imagine, this was a highly entertaining murder story. When I said it's a cross between Wodehouse and Christie, I wasn't exaggerating. While the hilarity and the gentry's life reminds you a lot of Bertie Wooster, the plot has Christie's touch in its simplicity and complexity at the same time. And considering this was Clara Benson's debut novel in the series, made it more amazing.

πŸ’° I'm fond of every element in this book, but most importantly the characters. They all feel real. Ticky is what I can imagine a slimy social parasite is. Someone who takes for granted others' generosity because he has everybody in his grasp. And the name choice is brilliant, Ticky the tick! The posh gentry are what I imagine the suspects are going to be - indifferent of anything else as long as their reputation is save. And that's what made Ticky a successful blackmailer (you know it's a blackmail from the first, of course, thanks to the title), and a potential murder victim.

πŸ’° Freddie is my favorite, he's the bridge between the gentry and working class, and he has such a pleasant personality. I loved what he did in the end, he completed it remarkably; only few people can resist the temptation when they had other's vulnerability in their hands. All in all, it's a successful debut, and I can't wait to continue on through the series!

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Six Books Saturday #4: Female Amateur Sleuths

is my personal monthly bookish meme, inspired by Six Words Saturday, which I've stumbled upon @ Travel with Intent. It's basically to list six books of random category, which I'd decided on the spot. Anything is possible according to my whim. I post Six Books Saturday on last Saturday of each month. If you're interested, you are, of course, welcomed to join me. There's no rule, really. You can post six anything about books. 

Any regular reader would have noticed that lately I've been reading a lot of crime novels. Today I will share my six favorite female amateur sleuths, whose series I'd love to read through. I love them partly for their sleuthing styles, but partly, also, for their personal characters. Here they are, in no chronological order:

Six Favorite Female Amateur Sleuths

Rachel Murdoch from Rachel Murdoch Mystery by Dolores Hitchens
A smart and agile seventy years old spinster who loves sleuthing with her clever cat Samantha.

Hildegard Withers from Hildegard Withers Mystery by Stuart Palmer
An intelligent thirty years old school teacher and a romantic spinster.

Edna May Oliver as Hildegarde Withers

Lady Hardcastle and Florence Armstrong from A Lady Hardcastle Mystery by T.E. Kinsey
The collaboration of a lady and her maid results in an unusual pair of amateur sleuth. Their dynamic relationship is part of their charm.

Vera Wong from [book] Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto
A Chinese-American elderly woman, owner of a tea house, with cheeky and affectionate personality, who uses her brilliant cooking ability as her main sleuthing tool.

Joyce Meadowcroft from A Thursday Murder Club Mystery by Richard Osman
An elderly woman, ex nurse, witty and charming. One of the four residents of retirement village who love to solve murder mystery.

Flora Steele from Flora Steele Mystery by Merryn Allingham
A bookshop owner turns sleuth, partnering with a handsome crime writer, results in a fun bookish mystery series.

Have you read any of them? Who's your favorite female amateur sleuth?

Next Six Books Saturday: 30th December 2023.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Would you join me in: Agatha Christie Short Stories 2024? #AgathaChristieSS24

Throughout her literary career, Agatha Christie had written no less than 167 short stories! How many had I read? I have no idea. I know I've devoured many of her short stories collections, but the problem is, I tend to see them as what they are, a collection of stories; one book containing several stories. Meaning that I regarded each of them as mere elements of a book, never as a story of its own. And that's why I never remember all the story, well.. maybe one or two with standout titles.

That's what I've been wanting to do, giving credit to each story by reading and reviewing it as stand alone. And what's more appropriate than to start the project right on the centenary of Christie's debut short story: The Coming of Mr. Quinn, which was first published in 1924? And so, here's my...

Agatha Christie Short Stories 2024

What is it?

- Reading & reviewing Christie's short stories as standalones.
- Two short stories a month, starting from 1st January to 31st December 2024.
- I have curated twenty four stories in no chronological order, with equal proportions of the Poirot, Marple, Harlequin, Tommy & Tuppence, Parker Pyne, and some non detectives.
- Most importantly, would you like to join me in this journey? πŸ˜‰

The reading list:

JANUARY: The Coming of Mr. Quin (Harley Quin)
JANUARY: The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman (Hercule Poirot)
FEBRUARY: The Pearl of Price (Parker Pyne)
FEBRUARY: The Affair at the Bungalow (Miss Marple)
MARCH: The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl (Hercule Poirot)
MARCH: The Unbreakable Alibi (Tommy & Tuppence)
APRIL: Have You Got Everything You Want? (Parker Pyne)
APRIL: The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor (Hercule Poirot)
MAY: The Sign in the Sky (Harley Quin)
MAY: The Crackler (Tommy & Tuppence)
JUNE: The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael (Hercule Poirot)
JUNE: The Blue Geranium (Miss Marple)
JULY: Manx Gold (NN)
JULY: The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper (Tommy & Tuppence)
AUGUST: The Gate of Baghdad (Parker Pyne)
AUGUST: The Man Who Was no. 16 (Tommy & Tuppence)
SEPTEMBER: The Herb of Death (Miss Marple)
SEPTEMBER: The Bird with the Broken Wing (Harley Quin)
OCTOBER: The Hound of Death (NN)
OCTOBER: The Voice in the Dark (NN)
NOVEMBER: The Dead Harlequin (Harley Quin)
NOVEMBER: The Girl in the Train (NN)
DECEMBER: The Chocolate Box (Hercule Poirot)
DECEMBER: A Christmas Tragedy (Miss Marple)

How it works:

* Early each month I will post a reminder of what two stories we will read that month, as well as any background info, if any. You can put links to your reviews of the month in the comment section.
* You're free to put reviews of two stories in one post if you like, or in two separate posts, as long as it's published within the allocated month.
* You're free to post it on your blog, twitter, or instagram. Just note that I might not do instagram posts/comments, but as long as you put the link in the comment, others might find your reviews.
* I might include a topic of discussion every now and then, whenever I feel like it. I'll publish these in my own reviews. Be sure to check my reviews, and you can answer/respond in the comment or in your own reviews if you want.
* You can join in whichever month/story you'd like, no obligation to complete all - it's not a challenge! As long as you read them within the month.
* Don't forget to visit, read, and comment each other's review - it's always fun to exchange idea/opinion with others who read the same thing with you!
*The hashtag we will use: #AgathaChristieSS24

Easy-peasy, right? Only two stories a month - less than 100 pages to squeeze into your tight schedule. πŸ˜‰

Well, are you in?

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Behind a Mask: or, A Woman's Power by Louisa May Alcott: An Audiobook Review #NovNov23

🎭 Who would have thought that years after reading Little Women (which I found flat and too stereotypical), I would be fascinated by Louisa Alcott's writing? And yet, here I am, surprised at finding such a brilliant novella I had no idea she's ever written!

🎭 Behind a Mask or A Woman's Power is one of Blood and Thunder Tales, a thriller series, which Alcott had written years before Little Women. The first of these was a novelette titled Pauline's Passion and Punishment which she wrote while in financial straits. After she entered it in a competition, and won the prize, Alcott published it anonymously under the name of A. M. Barnard.

🎭 Behind a Mask told the story of Jane Muir, a deceitful governess who came to join the wealthy Coventry family, to guide the 14 year-old Bella Coventry. The household consists of Mrs. Coventry (Bella's mother), Gerald (oldest son - an idle gentleman), Edward (youngest son - the romantic young man), and Lucia Beaufort (a cousin who loves Gerald, and regarded as his wife-to-be). There's also Sir John Coventry, uncle to the children, who lives near their house.

🎭 Jane Muir arrived as a shy, demure, polite young woman of 19, who had been persecuted by endless marriage proposals of her former employer, a guy called Sidney, who happened to be Gerald's acquaintance. But right after she was alone in her bedroom at the first night, we saw immediately that she was actually a thirty years old actress, who was in disguise with wig and fake teeth.

🎭 Mrs. Coventry and Bella were instantly charmed by Miss Muir, while Edward fell head over heels for her. Sir John also gradually found comfort in this girl's company. Only Gerald and Lucia who were suspicious. Thus, it was amusing to watch how Miss Muir gradually won over the family's heart. Even the skeptic Gerald was soon infatuated by her, after she confessed that she'd actually come from a respectable family, and an equal to her employer. Jane's enemies are now Lucia - who's watching her lover slowly slipped away from her, and Lucia's faithful maid.

🎭 Jane's aim was certainly to marry one of the men, to be a Coventry; but the question is, which one? To succeed she must act quickly before the truth overcome her plot, otherwise she would be ruined - penniless and homeless. Will she succeed? Moreover, will this story make her a heroine - a lower class woman's ambition to secure a better life, or will it be 'truth will win over evil' - a condemnation of ambitious female sex in 19th century a la Thomas Hardy?

🎭 I loved everything about this novella! It's like watching a genius actress performing her act, live. Alcott's narrative described Jane Muir's gestures in little details - her sighs, drooping eyelids, her tremble, voice modulation, hand on the heart - everything is perfect. She performed each in the right time, with right amount, to create the right effect. It's so satisfying to read and follow her actions. I know she's deceitful, but I can't help wishing her successful, and the suspense was delicious right to the end.

🎭 Needless to say, this was one of the best novellas I've ever read. No matter what people call this kind of story - a thriller? a sensation novel? - it works for me. What an satisfying read of a brilliant writing! Or should I say 'a satisfying listening', because its was the audiobook version which I've enjoyed for this novella - and it was superbly performed (as usual) by B.J. Harrison. He was such a brilliant performer - not only narrator. He gave each character a perfect modulation in speech, and gave this sensation novella a credit by making it 'live'.

Rating: 5 / 5

This book counts for:

Novellas in November 2023
hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books and Rebecca @ Bookish Beck

Monday, November 20, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 3 / 5

This book counts for:

Hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books & Rebecca @ Bookish Beck

Friday, November 17, 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 / 5

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Fool Errant (1929) by Patricia Wentworth

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 / 5

For Bingo Card: Espionage/Spy

Monday, November 13, 2023

A Quiet Life in the Country (2016) by T.E. Kinsey: An Audiobook Review

πŸ’™ Lady Emily Hardcastle and her maid Florence Armstrong have moved from the hustle bustle of London to the rural countryside of Gloucestershire, to seek for a quieter life. However, just a few days after their arrival, they found a body hanged from a tree on their morning stroll. It appears like a suicide, but Lady Hardcastle's watchful eyes soon found evidences that it was a foul play.

πŸ’™ The police seem to take the wrong way, though, that our unconventional amateur sleuth pair decided to investigate by themselves. During this time, Lady Hardcastle received an invitation for a house party at the Granger, while Flo (Florence) was asked to help with the service.

πŸ’™ That night one of the band members was murdered, and the hostess' emerald was stolen. Lady Hardcastle and Flo were joining the police inspector in investigating the murder, but the stolen emerald was secretly handled by Lady Hardcastle due to its family secret.

πŸ’™ I loved everything about this book! First off all, the mystery was well thought of. The clue were scattered proportionately along the investigation, that the story is never dull. The interviews conducted by the inspector -and attended by our sleuths - unfolded slowly secrets and undoings of people involved.

πŸ’™ My favorite part is the dynamic duo of the lady and the maid. Their relationship is not like what a lady and her ladies maid had had in 1908. Lady Hardcastle and Flo seem more like a friend despite of class difference. I love their silly banters and teasing, and these are often the funniest part of the book, just like this one:

Flo: ...A maid with bad knees called Edna.
Lady H: She has knees called Edna?

πŸ’™ The unique personalities and mysterious past of Lady Hardcastle and Flo, added certain charm to the already delightful cozy mystery. We get glimpses of their past dangerous adventures abroad, which might have honed their detecting prowess, and gave them an ultimate weapon - hidden strength and confidence beneath their polite feminine manners.

πŸ’™ Needless to say, this will become one of favorite cozy mysteries this year, and a series I'm excited to read on - or listen on, I should've said, as I enjoyed the audiobook, nicely narrated by Elizabeth Knowelden.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Friday, November 10, 2023

Blogger-Inspired Wishlist...with a Twist, Ep. 10,5

Blogger-Inspired Wishlist is a feature where I post recent additions to my wish list, which had been inspired by reviews from my fellow bloggers. Now, about the twist...

While browsing Twitter, I sometimes stumbled upon books that interest me. It could be from someone's tweeting about his/her latest book haul, or someone's retweet of book promotion from his/her favorite bookstore. Either way, if the title/cover and its Goodreads' summary attracts me, I'll put it into a list. No summaries/explanation, just the links.

Looking for the Durrells by Melanie Hewitt

West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge
From @Kittling_Books, retweeted by @Caffyolay

Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley

The Square of Sevens by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

Wrong Poison by Nikki Knight

Comes a Stranger by E.R. Punshon

The Ghost of FrΓ©dΓ©ric Chopin by Eric Faye

Vango: Between Sky and Earth by TimothΓ©e de Fombelle
From @debnance 

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
From @JanCarson7280, retweeted by @ds228

Hotel Splendide by Ludwig Bemelmans

Wonder Cruise by Ursula Bloom

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes

Mrs. Plansky's Revenge by Spencer Quinn
From @Kittling_Books, retweeted by @Caffyolay

The Backyard Birds Chronicles by Amy Tan

The Biscuit Barrel Murder by Geoffrey Start

A Murder of Aspic Proportions by Amy Lillard

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

The Shooting Party by Anton Chekhov

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

A Cadenza For Caruso by Barbara Paul

Windswept by Annie Worsley
From @RedRiverCroft , retweeted by @holnicoteNH

Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson

Proud Sorrows by James R. Benn

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

The Incredible Theft (1937) by Agatha Christie #NovNov23

πŸ“‘ The dinner at Lord Charles Mayfield that night was no ordinary dinner party. The guests are Sir George Carrington - Air Marshal - with his wife and son; Mrs. Vanderlyn - beautiful American woman who often involves in espionage using her beauty to extract secrets from her victims; Mrs. Macatta; and Mayfield's secretary, Carlisle.

πŸ“‘ The dinner was only a camouflage of the more important agenda: the secret meeting between Lord Mayfield and the Air Marshal concerning plans of the new bomber plane which will make England superior. Carlisle was instructed to lay out the plans on the table ready for the two prominent figures of the country, while they were taking a short after-dinner stroll.

πŸ“‘ Things happened quickly in that very short time. Lord Mayfield thought he saw a shadow coming out of the room, while Sir George saw nothing. And when they were finally ready to start the meeting, the plans were stolen! Carlisle admitted that during their absence, he went out of the room after Mrs. Vanderlyn's maid screamed on the stairs, which she said, because she saw a ghost...

πŸ“‘ Due to the sensitivity of the situation, the police couldn't be involved to investigate the matter. Sir George suggested then, to call Hercule Poirot, who soon decided that the theft was an insider. But which one? Is it Mrs. Vanderlyn, whom Lord Mayfield suggested? Or Carlisle, whom Mayfield defended? Or another unexpected one?

πŸ“‘ I knew I hadn't read this novella before, but somehow the premise was familiar to me. A quick research told me that this was actually an expansion of Christie's earlier short story: The Submarine Plans. She altered the submarine to bomber plane, expand the story, and changed the characters; but the essence is there.

πŸ“‘ On the whole, it's an interesting case. The theft is quite cleverly crafted, though it lacks subtlety. At least, there were some fishy things from the beginning, which should have led to the thief's identity. The element which was supposed to be red herring felt rather childish, and I wonder who would believe that. The solution was not very satisfying also, but it is still entertaining enough.

Rating: 3,5 / 5

I read this book for:

For Bingo Card: Private Detective

Monday, November 6, 2023

#MurderEveryMonday: Cover with Painting Equipment

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 an artist/painting equipment on

I've found four books from three queens from Golden Age era which have paintings on the covers. I've only read one, though, Five Little Pigs, which was fantastic. Here's my review .

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

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Six Degrees of Separation, from Western Lane to The Unfinished Clue

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 yet another book I haven't read:

0. Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

A coming-of-age novel about an eleven-year-old girl who was shaped by her father to be a sport machine.

"Eleven-year-old Gopi has been playing squash since she was old enough to hold a racket. When her mother dies, her father enlists her in a quietly brutal training regimen, and the game becomes her world. Slowly, she grows apart from her sisters. Her life is reduced to the sport, guided by its the serve, the volley, the drive, the shot and its echo.

But on the court, she is not alone. She is with her pa. She is with Ged, a thirteen-year-old boy with his own formidable talent. She is with the players who have come before her. She is in awe.

An indelible coming-of-age story, Chetna Maroo’s first novel captures the ordinary and annihilates it with beauty. Western Lane is a valentine to innocence, to the closeness of sisterhood, to the strange ways we come to know ourselves and each other." ~Goodreads

The main character has lost her mother, and that would be the link to my first chain, a girl whose mother has just passed away in a book I've read very recently:

1. The Weather at Tregulla by Stella Gibbons

My review

Una Beaumont lost her chance of studying acting in London after her mother's death, and she saw her chance of freedom in a self-centered painter who regards his painting above anything else.

This reminded me of another book with a self-centered painter I've read lately:

2. Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie

My review

Hercule Poirot investigates a murder which happened sixteen years ago. He classified the five suspects as five little Pigs, following a nursery rhyme.

Agatha Christie loved to title her books with nursery rhymes. Another of these is one of her famous books:

3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

My review

And Then There Were None was originally published as Ten Little Indians, and the order of the murders were also following the nursery rhyme. I read it in junior high school and it was the first book I've read set in Devon.

Another Golden Age murder mystery set in Devon:

4. Murder in the Mill Race by E.C.R. Lorac

My review

A quiet little village was disturbed by the murder of its prominent figure, Sister Monica, whose body was found drowning near the mill.

The mill here instantly reminded me of another book, also with 'the mill' in the title:

5. The Mill in the Floss by George Eliot

My review

I read this book many years ago, so I had to read my own review to find any thing to link with the next chain. And I got it! There's a minor character in this story called Stephen Guest. And that reminds me of another Stephen Guest on another book I've read recently:

6. The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer

My review 

It's a perfect Golden Age detective story with a charming detective, wonderful plot with surprising twist,  proportionate writing with decent pace, a tinge of efficient romance, pleasant and believable characters, set in an English countryside.

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

Friday, November 3, 2023

Operation: Happy by Jenni L. Walsh

Thanks to Zonderkidz-Books and NetGalley for providing me review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

πŸ• Happy is a big fluffy sentry dog - a German shepherd-collie-husky mix. And this is a story about an American Naval family. The year is December 1941, the main setting is Pearl Harbour. You know what will happen, but if you imagine this would be a heartwrenching story about dog in WW2, relax, because the author has guaranteed through her opening credit:

For dog lovers everywhere.
(Don't worry, Happy is going to be okay.)

Are we okay? Can I go on, then? πŸ˜€

πŸ• I have mentioned that Happy is a sentry dog, but when his holder is retired, he has a new owner: a twelve year old girl called Jody. Happy's eyesight is weakening, while she's approaching her golden years. Jody is used to live from place to place, according to where her naval officer father was ordered to go. And amidst all the confusion and unsettling feeling of the ever changing circumstances, Happy is, for Jody, her solid rock, the stability she longs for.

πŸ• The book opens with the Zuber family (Dad, Mom, Jody, and her older sister Peggy) and Happy on board a ship towards their new abode in US Naval base at Ford Island, in Honolulu, Hawaii. The fast changing environment causes Jody to feel a little shy and nervous. But she is a resourceful and optimistic girl. To overcome it, she has started a best-of-list for every place she had lived in. Right now she's starting Fort Island list. The list starts sunny and cheerful, but Jody also notices her mother's growing nervousness.

πŸ• The first sign that WW2 is touching America is when the siren began to wail. Then air raids and hiding in the bunker became almost a routine, until the Pearl Harbour attack. It was during these terrifying moments that Jody's character shines through. Her father judged her correctly by making Jody the leader of Team Zuber, while he's fighting for the country. Happy is constantly on guard during these attacks, he knows the way to the bunker, and always make sure that his girl, and Pebby, and Mom are save.

Happy doesn't leave my side. He's like a second skin. I don't mind. He's my constant, always there. My number one.

Jody is also starting another list during these moments, trying to have what fun she can amidst the gloomy circumstances.

πŸ• After Pearl Harbor attack, Jody, Peggy, and Mom must leave Fort Island, and stay in an apartment in San Fransisco, while Dad is staying behind. While Happy thinks they are finally safe now without air raids and what not, some events unfold before him, that Happy knows he needs still to keep on duty. Mom is having a nervous breakdown, she becomes lethargic, can't do anything, can't make any decision, and sometimes seems to be oblivious of her surroundings. Jody and Peggy are never sure which Mom will they see when they're coming home from school, the Sad Mom or the Old Mom?

πŸ• During these moments, Jody takes charge and do in her utmost to ensure they live as normally as possible. The 'attack' on Peggy by a man at their apartment hall, forces Jody to take responsibility as an adult. Can she lead Team Zuber to safety until Dad's return? And what will she do to ensure she's having happy moments with Happy while they still have time?

πŸ• I love everything about this book. It's alternately funny and heartwarming, sad and cheerful. Sometimes the story is told from Happy's point of view, and these are my favorite. Happy's eyesight might be weak, but not his nose. He can smell Jody's nervousness - it smells bitter like broccoli - and her smile smells like vanilla. And of course, I love Jody. She's brave and resilient, and I admire her for taking adult responsibility almost without a flinch, and always humble on taking compliments.

πŸ• All in all, it's a lovely, heartwarming coming-of-age historical fiction about a dog and his girl's hopeful and courageous journey during one of the darkest moments in history. I read at Jenni Walsh' website that this story was actually inspired by real-life experiences of a young Pearl Harbor survivor. This story also inspired me for creating a bucket list with my eighty-two-year mother, who, like Happy, is having a weakening eyesight. And like what Jody did, to and with, Happy, my mother and I will do things together that will make, her especially, happy, while we still have time!

Rating: 5 / 5

**Operation: Happy will be published on 2nd April 2024.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Cryptid Files: Loch Ness by Jean Flitcroft #WitchWeek23 #NovNov23

πŸ¦• It's been four years since Vanessa's mother died, and unlike her twin brothers Luke and Ronan, who's getting on with life nicely, Vanessa's heart is still gripped with anger and grief she's unable to cope with. Her father's growing intimacy with his girlfriend Lee doesn't make it any easier. Now her father's proposing a family holiday in Scotland, which Vanessa would've accepted gratefully, if his father hadn't mentioned that Lee is coming too. Not only coming along, she realized later on that they are staying at her house! What a preposterous idea!

πŸ¦• On the other hand, visiting Scotland would be exciting for the twelve year old Vanessa. She might be able to complete her mother's search about Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. Like her late mother, Vanessa is fascinated with this Cryptid creature. She has even met Nessie in her dream when she's fainted near the bank of the loch.

πŸ¦• When she's taking the boat to the loch alone (her father and Lee, who had promised to take her, don't show up), the boat overturned, and Vanessa is drowning into the deep dark water. When she's awake, she finds herself lying in a sort of cave. Inside her head she hears a soothing voice telling her to scrape moss from the wall under the cave, and eat it! Strange as it is, Vanessa eats the moss anyway, and just like the voice said, it makes her stronger, and enable her to swim deep in the water without breathing air: "Swim down deep enough and you'll find me" said the voice. And she swims on.

"She was aware now of a large shape glowing at a distance beyond her.... A huge object moved slowly towards her.... As it approached her, the glow grew more intense and the water warmer... She found herself face to face with large real-life eyes, only a couple of inches away from her. [...] 'Put your arms around my neck and I'll show you my Loch.'"

πŸ¦• Vanessa did as she's told, and with that, a strange unlikely friendship between two creatures is cemented. Like Vanessa, Nessie had lost her mother when they came through the lock-gate many years ago. They were stuck, and couldn't come out to the sea. Nessie's mother crushed by boat when they swam under it while the water got shallow. That is what draws them together - that, and the fact that Vanessa believes in Nessie. And that believe, in turn, saved her from death. But how about returning up the land, back to her family? Could Nessie help Vanessa one more time?

πŸ¦• This was unexpectedly a poignant and heartwarming novella. I have just lost my father three months ago, and I can imagine how hard it would have been for a twelve year old girl to cope with losing her mother. The safety and comfort of having a mother is too acute for teenage girl at that age. Though it is a fantasy story, I'm so relieved that Vanessa found Nessie's presence soothing. It might not replace a mother's love, but at least it might soothe her wounded heart a little. From then on Vanessa would be able to accept the lost of her mother, but from time to time she might perhaps relapse into sadness when something reminds her of her mother. Well, at least that's what I've been having with my late father...

πŸ¦• I loved how each chapter starts with snippets of articles about Nessie's history and sightings. It helps elevating Nessie into the spotlight. Unlike some stories where Nessie are indicated in titles or subtitles only but her role is insignificant, this story keeps a nice balance between the humans and monster. Nessie here isn't a cute childish creature, but graceful and elusive, worthy of its legendary status.

πŸ¦• On the whole, it is a middle grade fantasy that also touches a sensitive issue of grief, told poignantly to remind us about the true value of love, family, and friendship. It is short but wholesome, fantastic but down to earth.

Favorite quotes:

   "Life without adventure is no life at all."

   "There's nothing like imagination to get you through life."

Rating: 5 / 5

I read this book for:

hosted by Chris @ Calmgrove & Lizzie @ Lizzie Ross

hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books & Rebecca @ Bookish Beck