Saturday, March 30, 2024

Six Books Saturday #8: Favorite Émile Zola's Books

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.

As Zoladdiction 2024 will begin in two days, it's more than appropriate, methink, to soft-kicking it off by sharing some of my favorites from the Rougon-Macquart cycle. I have read all but one from the series (I couldn't get through with Doctor Pascal - yet) - and even read some of them more than once. So, without further ado, here's my...


1. Germinal

I might have said this over and over again, that Germinal is my all time favorite - not only of Zola, but of all. It has all the elements of what a good book is supposed to be. Here's my first and second review. I'm currently listening to the audiobook for Zoladdiction, let's see what I'll think of Germinal after the third read!

2. L'Assommoir

This one is the most mind-blowing for me. Maybe because it was my first introduction to the Rougon-Macquart. But L'Assommoir is also the most picturesque in the series.

3. La Bete Humaine

Another picturesque book from Zola's bibliography, so vivid and beautiful! And it is dear to me especially since is talks about kind and evil in human being, a topic which I have interest in. Here are some posts which I have dedicated for this book.

4. The Conquest of Plassans

Another masterpiece from Zola, with a surprising twist in the end and a great momentum building. My review.

5. The Ladies Paradise

Who would have thought that Zola would write something with a love story, and a happy ending? Yes, a happy ending - a rare occurrence if you read Zola's. It is the lightest of the Rougon-Macquart and actually quite a fun read! Review of my second reading (listening from the audiobook).

6. The Fortunes of the Rougons

It's the first of the series/cycle, and you know how it usually is - laying the background, foundation, and all. It is also a remarkably entertaining story with various plots following several characters. Some of them would also appear in later books. I have read it first in 2015, then reread it in 2020.

Have you read any of them? Which one is your favorite? If you haven't, which one would you like to read first? You can join us in Zoladdiction 2024 and read it to celebrate Zola's birthday!

Next Six Books Saturday: 27th April 2024.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Brooklyn (2009) by Colm Tóibín #ReadingIrelandMonth24

🔶️ Set in the 1950s of Ireland, the main character is Eilis Lacey, an intelligent young girl of 19, living with her mother and sister Rose. She's learning bookkeeping and wishes to work as bookkeeper, but no works available in their small town of Enniscorthy. Unlike her confident and independent sister Rose, Eilis is more obscure, passive, and obedient. She always do what others tell or expect her to do.

🔶️ Through Rose, a priest who's coming from New York City promised Eilis a job in a department store in Brooklyn. Obedient as always, out to Brooklyn she move, leaving her beloved home town. Not because she really wants it - in fact, she's a bit reluctant to leave - but more because Rose and her mother subtly push her out. Her mother likes Rose better, and is quite the selfish type of a parent.

🔶️ Thanks to Father Flood, Eilis is settled in a respectable boarding house and started her work nicely. She even takes a night classes in bookkeeping, planning to work as accountant later on. But she quickly feels uprooted, lonesome, and doesn't belong anywhere. So, when a young Italian plumber called Tony courts her, Eilis just naturally accepts him in her life. I doubted if she's really in love with him. Tony is head over heels fallen for her, but Eilis is just goes with the flow, so to speak.

🔶️ When she begins to feel happy with her new life, a surprising news came from Ireland, that forces her to come home. Tony persuades her to marry him in secret before leaving, as he knows her so well that her hometown might lure her to never come back to Brooklyn. Once again she complies with his suggestion. Tony wasn't wrong. Her mother once again steers her to marry a local beau, in order to make her settle in Ireland. Eilis never told her mother of her secret marriage, and she keeps procrastinating in making decision whether to stay on her own land, or to return to her husband. For an indecisive person like Eilis, it is rather amusing to see what the ending would be. But it's worth the waiting, as we got to enjoy Tóibín's beautiful writing - warm and engaging.

🔶️ I loved to read Eilis' loneliness and grieve; somehow I could relate with her loved one:

"...that was like how she felt when ... died and she watched them closing the coffin, the feeling that ... would never see the world again and she would never be able to talk to ..." or " actual pain that...was dead and there were things like this, ordinary things, that ...would never know, that would not matter" - those are what I've been feeling since my father passed away eight months ago. I'm able to let him go; I believe my father "lives" in peace in heaven now, but I still can't move on from feeling a pang of not being able to talk to him or share anything anymore.

🔶️ Another thing that I could well relate with:
"...Was it difficult being an only child?"
"It matters more now, I think, when my parents are getting older and there's just me...
" - How true it is! And so, you can imagine how this book got me to think and reflex a lot. Not only these relatable things, but also personalities of the characters and what induced them to act as they did. Eilis and her mother are interesting individuals; Eilis' habit of procrastinating reminded me much of Lily Bart from The House of Mirth. I'm also amused by Eilis' mother's attempt to keep Eilis at home with her. It seems selfish, but I could understand why. Sometimes you just can't help it.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Read this book for:

Hosted by: Cathy @ 746 Books

Monday, March 25, 2024

The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl by Agatha Christie #AgathaChristieSS24

🧣 Anthony Eastwoods is a crime writer who is in, what we call "a writer's block". He has come up with a catchy title for his next book: "The Mystery of the Second Cucumber" - one that will interest many readers - but couldn't get on with matching plot. Then, one phone call solved his problem.

🧣 Anthony receives a call from a foreign woman asking for help as she's in great danger, mistaken him for somebody else. She gives him an address, and a password: "cucumber". This single word and the weird coincidence pique Antony's curiosity, so he goes there to meet the girl. I won't tell you what he will face, as it will ruin the whole mystery.

🧣 Suffice to say, that this is the most interesting story I've read so far for #AgathaChristieSS24! The adventure is highly engrossing, and the element of surprises are delightful. Anything that you'll imagine is going on, well... I bet the truth will be far away from that. Guess what title and plot Anthony did eventually decide to write! 😉

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Friday, March 22, 2024

Howl's Moving Castle (1986) by Diana Wynne Jones #MarchMagics2024

💙 Fantasy genre is never my cup of tea. Excepting the Harry Potter series, I rarely enjoy fantasy novels as much as, say, crime or literary fiction. But people have been praising Diana Wynne Jones' classic Howl's Moving Castle, and when Chris @ Calmgrove announced the upcoming of March Magics 2024, I thought this is a good time to try it. It is also my choice for the 1986 entry for A Century of Books. Did it exceed my expectation? Not really...

💙 The story is told from the perspective of Sophie Hatter, a 18-year-old eldest girl of three sisters in a magical kingdom of Ingary. Accustomed to the "rule" that an eldest will never succeed, Sophie accepts her dull existence as a hatter in the family shop, with no bright future ahead. Until the Witch of Waste finds her and turns her into an old woman, apparently with no reasonable motive - but that will be part of the mystery.

💙 Ashamed of her condition, Sophie runs away from home, and finds herself in Howl's Castle. Howl is a wizard with notorious reputation as young girls' heartbreaker. He lives in a "castle" which constantly moves, and has several doors which are portals opening to various places. They are bewitched by Howl's fire demon Calcifer. The latter was bound to a contract with Howl, and longs to break it.

💙 Enter poor Sophie, who needs someone to lift the Witch of the Waste's curse, and thinks that Calcifer might do that if she helps him break his contract. She pretends to be a cleaning lady to get to stay in the castle. And thus, the unsophisticated Sophie, who doesn't realize her own magical power, becomes member of the household, which, besides Howl and the fire demon, also consists of an apprentice boy called Michael. A lot of hilarious adventures spring up from these unlikely gang, as the mystery around themselves is slowly unfolding, and the need to conquer their enemies grows.

💙 I wonder whether I'd enjoy this more had I read it as a child - maybe. But I felt like wanting to know a lot more about the character's struggle than the writer permitted. I might have compared this to Harry Potter. The latter swept me to its universe so easily, but I felt none about this one. It is a nice fantasy story, but not as impressive as I would've expected.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Read this book for:

hosted by Chris @ Calmgrove

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (1966) by Dorothy Gilman

🃏 Emily Pollifax is a 60ish years old widow who lives in New Jersey in the 1966s, bored with her life to the extent of having a flitting thought of committing suicide (luckily she dismissed it immediately!) Her doctor orders her to find something that she has been desiring to do, but couldn't, and do it now. Well, her childhood dream has been to become a spy, but surely she can't be a spy in her sixties? Or can she?

🃏 Mrs. Pollifax decided that she can at least try. So, she went to the headquarters of CIA in Langley to volunteer as a spy. If only becoming a spt is that simple! But, through a combination of coincidences and misunderstandings, Mrs. Pollifax is found by a Mr. Carstair, who, at the moment is looking for a spy who looks like ordinary tourist. And so, Mrs. Pollifax is a spy now, and her first task is to disguise as a tourist in Mexico, and retrieve a package from a bookstore while on "holiday".

🃏 Can you imagine a combination of Paul Gallico's Mrs. Harris (Mrs. 'Arris) series and John Le Carre's spy book? That's what this book feels like. Mrs. Pollifax is as funny, feisty, and warmhearted as Mrs. Harris, but she can be as resourceful and brave as any other spy. And Mrs. Pollifax turns out to be quite a brilliant one, despite of her seemingly fickle old woman.

🃏 As is with Mrs. Pollifax, the story itself is as unexpected. The uprising political tension during the Cold War seems real enough, though not as bleak as the reality might have been. I love Mrs. Pollifax's relationship with Farrell, the real spy who's been captured and imprisoned together with her in Albania. I like how he calls her Duchess, and his amusement of Mrs. Pollifax's clever thinking, and of her obsession with solitaire (the card game). I also love the Albanian soldiers who's kind to Mrs. Pollifax - that was too implausible maybe, but added a humanity touch to the story nonetheless; and also source of a few hilarious scenes. But the runaway scenes are the most brilliant and hilarious ones!

🃏 All in all, it's a charming, funny, and sweet story with spy-adventures - rather than thriller. It's also a good way of learning a little about the Cold War and Albanian culture in the 1950s.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Monday, March 18, 2024

The Unbreakable Alibi by Agatha Christie: A Short Story #AgathaChristieSS24

🔷️ The story must have been set during earlier days of the newly married couple Tommy and Tuppence's new detective agency business. A client came one day with unusual "problem" to be solved. A stuttering young man, who's in love with an intelligent girl who likes to play games, is presented with a challenge from the girl. He sees that solving the challenge would be the only way to win her love, so now he prepares to pay whatever expenses needed to solve it.

🔷️ The case is about a double alibi. The girl claimed that she had been in two different locations- one in London and the other in Torquay - at the same time. Tommy and Tuppence decide to accept the case, and off they go to restaurant, hotel, and theater, as well as interviewing her friends, to check on the girl's alibi. Surely one of it would prove to be fake.

🔷️ On the whole, it is one of the easiest mysteries to solve. I'm sure almost every Golden Age detective-story writer must have used the same trope. But maybe it's still new when Christie wrote this? Anyway, unexciting as it was as mystery, it's always fun to read another Tommy and Tuppence's adventure, is it not? As well as the appearance of the faithful Albert - who was still an office boy in this story.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Friday, March 15, 2024

The Stranger's Companion by Mary Horlock

Thanks to John Murray Press (Baskerville)  and NetGalley for providing me review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Stranger's Companion is a historical mystery and gothic thriller which is inspired by real events in Sark, a small island, part of the British Channel Islands, in 1933. The clothes of a man and a woman was found neatly folded on the edge of a cliff, but no one knew whom they belong to. And that's how this story also begins.

⚪ Throughout the story we are brought to two alternate timelines, the past is around the 1923, while the present is in the 1933. The main event, the mysterious two clothes without the owners, is happening in the present. They are first found by Everard Hyde. A girl called Phyllis Carrey is interested in the case, and writes reports for local newspaper.

⚪ Phyllis has just returned to the island after being out of it for some time. From the beginning, we get a feeling of mystery surrounding Phyllis and Everard - who has also just returned from a kind of exile. They seem to be anxious of meeting each other. Little by little the mystery unfolded along the story, as well as the mystery of the missing persons whose clothes were found by Everard.

⚪ As fascinating as the missing person mystery is, the mystery of the past is much darker and more menacing. We are presented with a glimpse of the after war of 1923; of the precocious young Phyllis and the shy and scared boy of Everard. How they amused themselves by playing "ghost" and other mischievous stuffs to the already superstitious islanders, and how they eventually entangled in dark secrets that will change their lives.

⚪ The main attraction of this book is the writing style. I love how the writer put some "excerpts", either from tourist information guide, or from the news containing updates on the investigation, to open the chapters. They provide a refreshing touch to the otherwise rather gloomy story with superstition, ghost hunting, seance, and of course, murder.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

**The Stranger's Companion will be published in June 20th, 2024.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Announcing the 11th Zoladdiction in 2024! #Zoladdiction2024

April is coming soon, which means that Zoladdiction is just around the corner! And this would be the 11th Zoladdiction! For you who are not familiar with it, Zoladdiction is a reading event on April, to celebrate the birthday of Émile Zola (in 2nd April). It is mainly because we love Zola's writings, and also to get more and more people to appreciate his works. For the whole month we will read, post, and talk about Zola - his life, his works, and his influences.

How It Works

  • Pick any of Zola's works, or Zola's biography, and read them. Any books about Zola by other writers are acceptable too.
  • Post your review/thoughts on your blog/social media (you can use hashtag #Zoladdiction2024).
  • But I also encourage you to go beyond reading
  • Yes, we will still read Zola, but during April we can also share/post/tweet/talk about just any thing that is related to Zola. A book you're reading reminds you of Zola? Share it! Found Zola's quote on Twitter? Retweet it! Or Zola’s picture on Instagram? Share it! Watched movie about Zola? Share it! Anything.
  • Don’t have time to read one book? Worry not, a short story or essay is equally good.
  • To participate, simply leave comment, or mention me on Twitter, using hashtag #Zoladdiction2024, and tell us your plans for Zoladdiction (it might inspire others).
  • If you want, you may grab and put Zoladdiction banner on your blog, so that others might aware about it.
  • If you blog about your participation, leave the link in comment box.
  • Linky will be provided in the Master Post (will be published on April 2nd - on Zola's birthday). You can submit links to your Zola posts there.

So, are you in? What's your plan?

Mine would be another re-read of my most favorite book of all time:
Germinal. This would be my third (the second one was 9 years ago), and this time I will be listening to the audiobook. I also plan to read a few short stories from Zola’s three collections (haven’t decided the title). Now, I’m very excited to return to Germinal (psstt… I might even start earlier!), and can’t wait to see what you will read!


Monday, March 11, 2024

The Moving Finger (1942) by Agatha Christie

✒ I have just realized why I can't seem to remember any Miss Marple books I have read before. It's because Miss Marple is perhaps the most inconspicuous amateur detective that ever existed in crime fiction. This book is one clear proof of it. True, it is Jane Marple who eventually solved the mystery, but she only appeared in the last fourth of the story. And that's only for several scenes.

✒ Jerry and Joanna Burton take abode at Little Furze in a quite town of Lymstock, where 'nothing ever happens', on doctor's orders. Jerry is recuperated from injury after plane crash landing. When they begin to settle in, Jerry receives what people call a poison pen letter, insinuating that he and Joanna aren't brother and sister. Disgusted, Jerry throws it away, and thinks it must be a wicked joke from some neighbors who dislike strangers coming to their town.

✒ It turns out later, that many others have also received the same kind of letter. People begin to feel uneasy, feeling that something nasty is bound to happen. And it indeed happens to a Mrs. Symmington, who, after receiving a nasty poison pen letter, committed suicide.

✒ Now, it is not a matter of evil joke anymore, and soon the police is involved. But a murder then follows - a maid worked at the Symmingtons, and people get more restless. The vicar's wife, impatient with the police's slow progress, takes initiative to bring in 'an expert'. The expert turns out to be none other than our dear Miss Jane Marple!

✒ I liked this charming and rather sweet mystery. The solution is clever, and I couldn't guess the murderer. The most interesting element, though, is its similarities with two other Christie's earlier books. First, Jerry Burton was tagged by the constable along his investigation. This, and Jerry's remark that usually in detective novel, a person who's given that privilege turns out to be the murderer, instantly reminded me of another prominent book by Christie. I won't reveal the title, but if you know, you know!

✒ Secondly, Jerry also reminded me of Captain Hastings, in term of his love interest and the way the girl being used as decoy. Again, I won't reveal the title, but the similarity is uncanny. All in all, it's a quiet delightful book with not one, but two romances!

P.S. Without mentioning any title, can you identify the two titles I'm speaking about, which I think are similar to this book?

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Friday, March 8, 2024

Scarlet Feather (2000) by Maeve Binchy #ReadingIrelandMonth24

💓Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather have two things in common: passion of cooking and dream of having their own catering business. They've known each other since culinary school, and been cultivating their dream ever since. This story is about the realization of that dream, their journey from nobody to be a respectable business entity. But not only that, this story is also about their individual struggles to maintain balance between career and personal lives, as well as the lives and struggles of people and families around them. In short, this is a story about friendship, family, love, and humanity.

💓 This is a book about people, rather than a plotted story. Reading it, you'll feel like you become a part of their circle for a certain period of time. It's like you are closely related to every one, moving around from one's house to another. You see, therefore, their ups and downs, and that you're rejoicing at their triumphs, heartbroken at their sorrows. As the title hinted, the main characters are Cathy Scarlet and Tom Feather, the owners of Scarlet Feather - their catering business. But the story also revolves around three families: the Mitchells, the Scarlets, and the Feathers.

💓 Cathy, the daughter of a maid, has married into the wealthy Mitchells, in whose house Cathy's mother used to clean. We follow how the two families awkwardly get along with each other, while the Feathers are rather circling on the outer edge of the stage. Interestingly, there are two characters who bind the scattered characters together: Maud and Simon. They are ten years old cousins of Neil Mitchell, Cathy's husband; two broken-home children of an unstable couple.

💓 When Maud and Simon's parents aren't capable of looking after them, Cathy and Neil bring them to stay temporarily in Waterview, their house. Cathy often brings them to the premises - meaning Scarlet Feather's - and so Tom and the staffs become acquainted to them too. Then Cathy's parents agree to take the children at their house, and the rest is history. The children's wild temperament are tamed by Lizzie and Muttie. And along the process, they steal and touch many people's hearts. So much so, that people are, at different stage, concerned when they're missing, and equally rejoiced and relieved when they're safely found.

💓 In short, this is a heartwarming book that reminds me again, that hardworking and kindness are always worth it in the end. Perhaps the reward isn't a life changing fortune, but a series of small contentment through our days which warm our heart always, and give us courage to keep doing it, and to convince us that life is, indeed, good after all. It impressed me much that Binchy could weave this seemingly everyday stories into a wholesome reading experience, that though it is 500 pages long, there's any passage that felt dull or unnecessary. I couldn't stop reading through the pages, yet I hoped it never come to an end. That is a sign of a brilliant book, is it not? I adored this book, and I think I will look forward to every #ReadingIrelandMonth from now on, just to be able to read another Binchy! Which one do you suggest I read next?

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Read this book for:

hosted by: Cathy @ 746 Books

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Fire in the Thatch (1946) by E.C.R. Lorac

🔥 Chief Inspector Robert MacDonald has become my favorite police-detective since my first E.C.R Lorac: Murder in the Mill-Race. I like his methodical investigation and communication skill. In this case, MacDonald (or the Scotland Yard) was summoned to give his opinion on a burnt thatched cottage in a rural countryside at Mallory Fitzjohn, Devon; whether it was an accident or a foul play.

🔥 Nicholas Vaughan bought Little Thatch, a cottage belongs to Colonel St. Cyres, and planned to farm the land and renovate the cottage. Colonel St. Cyres and his daughter were pleased with their new tenant, a conscientious hardworking man, compared to his competitor, a gentleman from London called Mr. Gressingham. The later was recommended by June St. Cyres, the colonel's daughter-in-law, whom the colonel had dismissed (the proposal from the gentleman, not the daughter-in-law).

🔥 One day Little Thatched was on fire, and Vaughan was found killed inside. The local police marked the case as accident, but a navy captain who had been Vaughan's chief suspected a foul play. This is a mystery where the key to solve it lays in the personality of the victim - a field where Robert MacDonald is an expert of.

🔥 The mystery itself isn't very complicated. It lacks of suspects and surprises. June St. Cyres hasn't got an opportunity to be closely investigated by MacDonald, and I feel that she's there at all only to bring Gressingham and his London lot into the picture. However, the countryside atmosphere and the detailed description of Vaughan's farming infused a charm into this story. Vaughan has a pleasant personality; his relationship with the St. Cyreses is heartwarming. We are fortunate to enjoy these two elements long enough before the tragedy came into the picture.

🔥 All in all, it is another enjoyable murder mystery from Lorac.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Monday, March 4, 2024

#MurderEveryMonday: Mysteries from Authors Best Known for Their Non-Mysteries

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 for a mystery written by an author who is more famous for having written non-mystery stories

Benjamin Black is pseudonym of John Banville, an Irish novelist who has won a lot of literary awards, 2005 Booker Prize is among them. We know him mostly as a literary fiction author with beautiful prose, and I have just found out last year that he also wrote mystery. Here's my review.

Susan Scarlett is the pseudonym of Noel Streatfeild, who was best known for her children's books. Scarlett also wrote several romance books (lately re-printed by Dean Street Press), but she only wrote one (unfortunately) mystery, which I liked! Here's my review if you're interested.

I don't think this one need explanation, but in case you haven't known yet, Robert Galbraith is the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling, who's famous with the Harry Potter universe.

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, March 1, 2024

Agatha Christie Short Stories 2024 - MARCH #AgathaChristieSS24

March is here, I hope you've enjoyed our February stories as much as I did! This month we will read one Tommy and Tuppence, and another with a random detective.


This story was first published by Collins in 1929, as one of the Partners in Crime collection. It's about Una Drake, a capricious Australian, who has challenged her fiance to crack two unimpeachable alibis. Despairing that Una will not marry him if he cannot guess how she managed to be in two places at once, Montgomery-Jones calls on Tommy and Tuppence for help.


This is a story which Agatha Christie had been struggling to publish back then. Originally published in a magazine in 1924, it's titled The Mystery of the Second Cucumber. But when it was then selected in The Listerdale Mystery collection in 1934, the title was changed to Mr Eastwood's Adventure. Later on when it appeared in the US collection The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (1948), it experienced another title change - the one we use in #AgathaChristieSS24: The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl. So, if you can't find any copy with this title, you could check if the other two might be what you get in your collection!

Strangely though, the story itself is also about a mystery writer's struggles! Struggling with a commission from an editor, Mr Eastwood receives a mysterious phone call summoning to save a woman's life. 

Are you excited? Both sound like fun to me! ;)