Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (2)

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He had all the mental sensations of a man who, having prepared to exert his whole force in opening a supposedly stiff window, finds that his wife has had the carpenter in without telling him, and is consequently precipitated into the street.

Romance to the Rescue by Denis Mackail
Image source: Photo by Mikes Photos from Pexels
https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-yellow-and-purple-flower-on-window-120173/

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Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (1)

When you sell a man a book, you don’t just sell him twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships and sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean.

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley (1917)

Image source: By Johannes Jansson/norden.org, CC BY 2.5 dk, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25009679

Findouters Challenge: Anonymous Messages and Hidden Secrets (and a rant about the new eds)

The Mystery of the Strange Messages (The Five Find-Outers, #14)The Mystery of the Strange Messages by Enid Blyton

Findouters challenge: Book 14. This is the second of the findouters cases to involve mysterious letters, the first being the Mystery of the Spiteful Letters. This time though, the target is not random people around Peterswood but a certain Mr Smith against whom they are directed and Mr Goon to whom all the notes are addressed. The notes are anonymous and composed of words/letters cut out of newspapers and magazines. Nobody is seen leaving the notes but they appear all over Goon’s house. Goon immediately suspects Fatty and goes to warn off the findouters but this turns out to be a blessing in disguise for our five who have no case to solve (as usual) in the holidays. Goon too soon realises that it wasn’t the findouters who are playing a trick and enlists Ern’s help―actually hires him to help. And so the Findouters start off on another exciting mystery, this one with plenty of hidden secrets and also more to it than first meets the eye. Like in the Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage, Ern takes on a more active role in this one and does himself proud.

Before I get to my reactions to the actual book itself, I have to rant about the updated eds. Totally my fault, but somehow, I bought a new edition (2011) of this one, something I actively avoid doing usually, and every change they made―pointless in my view (except may be one, but even that didn’t make sense) jarred. For instance, Fatty always called his parents ‘mother’ and ‘father’―which has been changed here to ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’―why? Do children today not know what ‘mother’ and ‘father’ means, or is it so hard to understand that perhaps in the past, people addressed their parents differently? Elsewhere ‘daily woman’ becomes ‘cleaning lady’―again something that needn’t have been changed, anyone can easily look it up―isn’t that the point of books (or one of the points, at any rate) that you learn new things― new words/expressions, new things about other places and cultures, about your own culture/ country, about the past. Such pointless changes simply ruin the book for me, it loses its sense of time and place, which is part of its value. A third change that stood out was all the references to ‘fat boy’ which is what Goon does call Fatty are changed to ‘big boy’―this I get why it was changed but for one, it wasn’t used in the sense that it is understood today (something else that children today can’t understand, apparently―if we go by the changes), and two, it was meant to be nasty, which ‘big boy’ simply doesn’t convey. Grrrr….

Apart from the edition, Blyton herself made a bit of a mistake in this one, with Mrs Trotteville claiming that she’s been living in Peterswood from nineteen years, when she and her family only moved here in book 2 of the series―and if it were indeed nineteen years since then, our findouters ought to have been in their thirties now 🙂

But anyway, now finally the story itself. While the updated text, as I said, was jarring, the story itself was interested. The opening was different from the usual (one or the other of the children having to be received from the station, holidays with nothing to do)―this one begins with Goon puzzling over the anonymous notes and takes off from there. The mystery was one of the more interesting ones with as I said a little more complicated than it seems at first and it was fun to see how Fatty worked the whole thing out. Of course, it was him that put together everything at the end. Bets this time has some good ideas but one major clue comes from Ern and his attempts at writing por’try (I always forget that all his poetry begins with ‘The Poor Old’ or ‘Pore Old’ 🙂 ) and Ern indeed has a very active role in this one, helping the findouters and Fatty when he is needed the most, and proving himself brave, loyal, and clever. The solution was among the more interesting ones and was rather enjoyable. There was disguising of course, though only once, and actual investigating by all the findouters. On the foodmeter, this one was average, there was food, plenty, but not overflowing. Sid and Perce’s antics are brought in, and with it some laughs, though they themselves don’t make an appearance. A fun read though spoiled for me by the edition (which I must get rid of asap and replace with an older one).

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Of Spaces to Play and Nature (or what substitutes for it)

Finally, a post about a poem, after not being able to do this the last two months. The poem I picked this time around (not related to my theme this month) is A City Sand-Pile by Edmund Leamy. Leamy (1848-1904) (I hope I looked up the right one) was an Irish MP, and Barrister, who also wrote poetry and some collections of Irish Fairy Tales.

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(Not quite the right picture, but you get the idea!)
Source:Wikimedia Commons(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DINNER_(held_by)_HAMBURG-AMERIKA_LINIE_(at)_%22SCHNELLDAMPFER_%22%22VICTORIA_LUISE%22%22%22_(SS;)_(NYPL_Hades-275556-476655).jpg)

This is a short (only three stanzas) light-hearted poem about a sand-pile left in the street by “building men” who little know the sheer joy their carelessness or thoughtlessness (“Little did they think or care”) would bring to a whole lot of little children who come upon the pile and rush eagerly to play in it.

The poem captures beautifully the children’s surprise and delight at not only finding the sand-pile, but more importantly at a chance to really play and enjoy themselves, a chance that makes it for them a golden day―a contrast to that “dingy street” on which the sand-pile is or the “cloudy skies” of the city, a city which is dull and grey, and offers them little chance to play as children need. This second stanza captures these feelings and contrasts so well that the reader can literally hear the children’s shrieks as they play, and sense the rapture that they must be feeling at a chance to be children. My own words can’t describe it as well, so here are Leamy’s own:

Children in a sand-pile
On a golden day,
Glory! How their eager cries
Filled the city’s clouded skies
As with unrestrained surprise
They found that they could play.

This stray sand-pile that the building men little thought about, that was perhaps no longer much use to them, has given so many so much happiness. This for children, as the third stanza tells us, who have never known the beach, or sea, the mountains or fields, trees or streams, at least he writes they have this sand-pile still, that makes their lives complete. Their happiness in a way feels so much “deeper” than perhaps if they had access to fancier gadgets or toys.

While Leamy’s poem is light and cheerful, and captures one of the joys of childhood, in this last stanza is what I’ve been noticing in some other things I’ve been reading as well, a lament in a way over that contrast between cities and city life with nature, open, vast green spaces, whether mountains or fields, trees, or water-side places, where not only children but adults too can feel calm, peaceful, happy, and which also gives them a chance to be themselves, each in their own way. I remembered something I read in Virginia Wolf’s The Common Reader (1925) where discussing Chaucer, she writes,

Chaucer was helped to this to some extent by the time of his birth; and in addition he had another advantage over the moderns which will never come the way of English poets again. England was an unspoilt country. His eyes rested on a virgin land, all unbroken grass and wood except for the small towns and an occasional castle in the building. No villa roofs peered through Kentish tree-tops; no factory chimney smoked on the hill-side.

Also in Bookworm (2018), which I recently read (review on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/review-bookworm/), the author Lucy Mangan describing her childhood reading, writes of various books set in the countryside (which living in London she wasn’t familiar with) and at one point (I was a little lazy here and didn’t look this up) writes something to the effect that at least there was a countryside when she was a child, and children now wouldn’t have a chance to really know the places these books take us to. But then at least we have these books to take us to those places, while it isn’t the same as being there, we can at least step into these pages and experience it second-hand (like Longfellow’s traveller by the fireside).

But looking at such similar lines of thought at different periods of time made me wonder (as other situations and contexts have too), it is really the same problems, the same issues that people face, worry about, irrespective of time, only the degree perhaps changes.

Author Profile: Henry Cecil

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I first came across Henry Cecil, or Henry Cecil Leon, as his full name is, in a bookshop I used to shop at some years ago, when I laid my eyes on what seemed like really fun covers (sort of like Wodehouse books). When I asked about them, I was told that they were humorous fiction related to the law (which makes him the perfect choice for this month’s theme). So of course, I had to try one, and the one I picked was Ways and Means. Ways and Means is a collection of four stories featuring the somewhat likeable cons/tricksters Basil Merridew and Nicholas Drewe who use the subtleties of the law to their advantage (including a slander action against their “neighbours”), making fair sums in the process. Their pretty wives are also very much part of the plan, well some of their plans, anyway. In one of the stories, they even “start” an art movement “the Gropists”. These were fun stories, but while I enjoyed them I didn’t absolutely love them. (I was still glad I read this one first because it made my reading of another Cecil title, Unlawful Occasions, some years later, much more fun than it would have been had I not read this one―I won’t say why for that will spoil it for you).

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But when I found Cecil’s books in another shop, I was interested enough to try another and that’s where I found Daughters-in-Law which is my favourite of all his books I’ve read so far. This is the story of Mr Justice Coombe, who has twin daughters Prunella and Jane who follow in his footsteps and join the law, Prunella becoming a barrister and Jane a solicitor. Jane and Prunella fall in love with the sons of Major Claude Buttonstep but the major hates lawyers. But when the Major gets into a dispute with a rather annoying new neighbour, Mr Trotter, all over a lawn mower which he had lent the latter, and has to go to court, much hilarity ensues. The rest of the story is of course about how things play out when they reach court, whether the Major gets back his lawn mower, and whether Jane and Prunella can marry their sweethearts. This one turned out to be such good fun that it led me to look up and read more Cecil.

Henry Cecil was born in 1902, in a not very well-off family, but his parents give their children good educations (and he did well by them too giving them the gift of a car and chauffeur, which made them very happy. In 1923, he was called to the bar, and in 1949 became a county court judge. It was on his experiences in court that he based his various books. He has written (I hope I counted correctly) 28 books of fiction which include novels and short story collections, as well as some non-fiction (wikipedia has a list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Cecil_Leon). (I’ve read 10 of these so far, and an 11th is on my TBR, which I will be reading this month) He was inspired to write fiction in a sense by Richard Gordon’s doctor books, which made him want to do something similar for the law (this I read in his autobiography, Just Within the Law (1975), which I was lucky enough to find in my university library some years ago), and when you read his books, you see that he mostly certainly did! (The picture below is also from the autobio, and I had taken it back when I read it (2012) to send to a friend who also enjoys his books.)

Henry Cecil

The plots of his stories involve mostly the subtleties of and loopholes in the law which his characters are happy to take advantage of, leading to some very amusing situations indeed. Themes range from blackmail and defamation to adoption and even murder (on quite a few occasions actually), though while some of the books have an element of mystery, one can’t really describe them at mysteries. One that is very different is the Buttercup Spell which involves a whole lot of people (a judge included) being affected by buttercup pollen which make them love their fellow beings, and lead to some rather strange and crazy situations. This quote from the Sunday Times at the back of one of the books I have, reminded me a little of what is said of Wodehouse as well: “The Secret of Mr Cecil’s success lies in his continuing to do superbly what everyone knows he can do well.”

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His books include standalone titles as well as some series. One in particular is the Roger Thursby series which comprises Brothers-in-Law, Friends at Court, and Sober as a Judge which traces the journey of Roger Thursby, a twenty-four-year old who is just called to the bar, and at least, initially, bumbles his way through court, and a little bit in personal life too. The second book sees him as a QC while in the third, as the title shows, Thursby becomes a judge. Brothers-in-Law, the first in the series was according to Wodehouse, “the best Henry Cecil”, yet! (Though different, this book is kind of like Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, if one wanted a comparison.)

Another series of sorts is formed by the books No Bail for the Judge and According to the Evidence. No Bail for the Judge sees a highly respected judge Mr Justice Prout accused of the murder of a prostitute. He would clear himself, only he doesn’t remember a thing of what happened on that fateful day. His daughter Elizabeth enlists the help of a gentleman-burglar Ambrose Low to help clear his name. In According to the Evidence, one Alec Morland is on trial for murdering a serial killer, and his fiancé Jane approaches Ambrose, now married to Elizabeth Prout, to do what he did for his father-in-law in the first one. But in this one, things are different, for Morland has taken the law into his own hands.

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Gentlemen-crooks appear in more than one of Cecil’s books, but so does another type of character, the exasperating witness in court, and none is more so than Colonel Brain. Col. Brain is a retired Lieutenant Colonel who appears in at least four of Cecil’s books (these aren’t a series as such, but he is a recurring character, as is the drunken and somewhat similarly exasperating lawyer Mr Tewkesbury)―No Bail for the Judge, According to the Evidence, Natural Causes (where he is quite benign compared to his other appearances), and Independent Witness among them. He appears mostly (always?) in the role of a witness, either one who has genuinely witnessed the incident in question or whose help is enlisted (for instance by Ambrose Low), though Brain is no crook and if he is “enlisted”, it is without his knowledge which means the results are not always predictable (landing people into some trouble as well). I have honestly never encountered a comparable character in any other book I read (let alone real life), and as Cecil’s books are based on his real-life experiences, one can only imagine what the real Col Brain, or if based on more than one person, what those people must have been like. Here’s a sample of his evidence from According to the Evidence (1954):

Colonel Brain, said the judge….“you are being asked a perfectly simple question. Will you kindly answer it?”

“Of course, my Lord”, said the colonel. “I understand that’s what I’m here for.”

“I’m glad you realize that at last,” said the judge.

“Oh-my Lord,” said the colonel, “I’ve realized it all the time.”

“Very well then. Answer the question.”

“Yes, my Lord―when I know what it is.”

The judge said nothing for several seconds, while he looked keenly at the witness.

“Are you telling me,” he said eventually, “that you don’t know what the question is?”

“Not in advance my Lord. D’you mean you want me to guess what it is, my Lord?”

“I mean nothing of the kind. Do you mean to tell me you were a colonel in the Army?”

“A lieutenant-colonel, my Lord. If I’d known that was the question, I’d have answered a long time ago.”

“It was not the question.”

“I’m sorry, my Lord. Shouldn’t I have answered it then?”

And so it goes. You get the picture I’m sure and this isn’t even the best of the lot but just one I remembered and picked up to share. And if he seems merely funny at this point, wait till you get a full dose, you may want to tear your hair, just as the judges very often want to do. Mr Tewkesbury can be somewhat similar sometimes (not always). From Daughters-in-Law (1961):

“Very well, then. What questions did you ask my client at the first interview to see if he had a good cause of action?”

“May I look at my notes?”

“Certainly, if they were made at the time.”

Jane handed some papers to the usher who handed them on to Mr Tewkesbury. He gazed at them for some little time.

“Is that what you want?” asked Mr Bone.

“It’s what I’ve got,” said Mr Tewkesbury. “I can’t say I particularly want them.”

Interesting plots with some twists along the way, some likeable characters and some infuriating ones, twists and turns of the law, but always a smile and many a time, plenty of laughs is what you’ll get from Cecil’s books. So if you haven’t read him yet, do. It’ll be great fun.

Review: Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye

Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye (Geronimo Stilton, #1)Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye by Geronimo Stilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this book for review through NetGalley. This is the first title in the Geronimo Stilton series featuring the eponymous mouse (I could hardly call him a “hero”, but he is one of sorts) and characters now familiar from the book I read earlier, Geronimo’s sister Thea, their slightly annoying cousin Trap, and nephew Benjamin. In this one, the somewhat cowardly Geronimo is taken out to lunch by his sister Thea who informs him that she has found a map to a treasure island and intends to go find it, and expects that he Geronimo will accompany her. She also decides that cousin Trap will join them since he knows all about sailing. So off they go on a rather long sea voyage to the island where the treasure lies. But the journey isn’t the only adventure, once there, they must interpret the map and find the treasure. Geronimo isn’t the most adventurous of mice but in this one, he did quite well, once he got there.

This was another quick (just took half an hour or a little more) and enjoyable read. As far as the adventure itself goes, this one definitely had much more substance than the previous book I read, in which they seemed to be in-and-out of their destination in pretty much the blink of an eye. I thought the end pretty good fun too, with a nice surprise element that I wasn’t expecting. This one, as the other book I read, was replete with rat/mouse and cheese references which add a cute touch to the whole book, but still it felt as though it went a tad overboard with these but not so much as to be annoying. I enjoyed the illustrations and maps, and also in places how the book plays around with the font to make it more effective. I’ve been reading some criticism of these books, as being not worth the hype, etc., and it not being clear why children are crazy about them to the extent that they are. While I couldn’t really answer the second question, I thought (yes, I’ve only read two so far) while they aren’t books that I absolutely adored or which floored me, they are creative, light, fun, and entertaining reads, so they have value as that. Good fun.

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Some Wonderful Children’s Books I “Discovered” as an Adult

 

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Reading Lucy Mangan’s #Bookworm (my review is on this page below) took me into one of my favourite genres, children’s literature which I enjoy reading even now (as anyone who reads my reviews or sees this page would know) and inspired by it is this post about a few children’s books that I discovered/read as an adult and loved. This isn’t of course a complete list but just the few names that immediately came to mind on thinking about children’s books that I hadn’t read as a child.

 

Gone Away Lake and Return to Gone Away by Elizabeth Enright

This was an author I hadn’t read or even heard of until some years ago when a friend not only mentioned her but send me these two books as present. And what a wonderful present they turned out to be. A Newberry Honor book, Gone Away Lake tells the story of “beginning to be eleven”- year-old Portia Blake who with her younger brother Foster who are visiting their Aunt and Uncle and cousin Julian for the holidays. Portia and Julian set off to explore the woods around their house, collecting stones, observing insects, but near a swamp they come across something exciting, a once elegant resort community, now abandoned for years. But is it really? The houses are not quite as abandoned as it would first seem, and Portia and Julian soon make friends with the eccentric but loveable siblings Pindar Payton and Minnehaha Cheever, listening to stories of long ago, and having the adventure of a lifetime in the process. In the sequel, Portia and Foster return to Gone-Away where their parents have bought their own house. What I love about these books, especially the first, because they’re are in way, magical―their magic being of the kind that is real and not what falls within the realm of fantasy―an adventure that anyone can have, a kind of place or people, anyone can come upon. The books are illustrated by Beth and Joe Crush (who if I remember right have also illustrated the Borrowers books). Having read these, I also read Enright’s Thimble Summer which was also quite lovely and am looking forward to reading her Melendy Quartet, which I have heard good things about but not read yet.

 

The Family at One End Street by Eve Garnett

This one I had heard about but only read when it came up as a group read in one of my goodreads groups. This is the story of the Ruggles―Mr Ruggles is a dustman while Mrs Raggles takes in washing. They have seven children ranging from twelve-and-a-half-year-old Lily Rose to the baby William. While the first chapter introduces us to the family, the rest trace the adventures of each of the children in turn, and finally of the family as a whole. Illustrated by Garnett herself, these are simple stories of everyday life in a poor family, but not one that mopes around and curses their fate but is happy with what little they have, finding pleasure in the simple things in life, and adventure in any opportunity that presents itself. (And no, that doesn’t mean that they are little angels in the form of children, they are naughty and they get into their share of trouble, but much of it is in good fun., and no one of it is twee, so no fear of that either). Not everyone in the group I read this with liked these but I found them absolutely charming, with likeable characters, and a book which leaves you feeling warm and happy. This one has a couple of sequels too but I haven’t got my hands on them so far.

 

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

This one I’m not even sure how I came across. Perhaps comparable with One End Street, this little gem features five little girls, Gertie, Charlotte, Sarah, Henny and Ella, aged between four and twelve living with their mama who looks after the house, and papa who runs a junk shop in the East Side in New York City. Once again, it isn’t about great adventures but everyday life from library day to trips to the market, illnesses and festivities, and the joys and sorrows that these bring. What makes this one extra-special is the richness of detail on Jewish festivals, culture, and observances, described so well that it feels as through one is part of the family seeing things unfold with them. This one is illustrated by Helen John, and there are sequels as well but as for One End Street, I haven’t gotten to these yet. My review is on goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1716276635?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

 

Wings Over Delft by Aubrey Flegg

This one I found by sheer chance when I was browsing some books on an online store. I liked the description, and it was on discount so I ordered it. The first in a trilogy, this one is about Louise Eeden the daughter of a master potter in Delft who is about to marry the scion of another large pottery house, a match that means not only a personal relationship but a merger of businesses to her father’s advantage. But Louise only likes the young man in question Reynier as a friend she has known from long, nothing more. Meanwhile she is having her portrait painted by Master Haitnik, something that brings her in close contact with the painter, his family, and his gangly apprentice Pieter. But this story is much more than just these personal and social relationships. It takes us into the world of painting (how portraits come into being, how they are planned, the thought, and the vision involved besides the execution), as well as questions of science, philosophy, religion, and tolerance, a lot of which is relevant even today. While I wasn’t exactly pleased with the ending (based on a historical event though it was), the rest of it is a really wonderful read. The sequels (again I haven’t gotten hold to these yet), trace the stories of other characters who some centuries later (during the French Revolution, and then World War-II) happen to find themselves in possession of Louise’s painting, an idea that I found really intriguing. My review is on goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2068992183?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

 

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

This was again a gift and from the same friend that sent me the Gone-Away books, and I’m not entirely sure if this qualifies as a children’s book at all. This is a combination of history and fantasy, more specifically time travel, and tells the story of Penelope Taberner who is sent to some relatives in the country to convalesce and in that house finds herself travel back and forth in time, landing up in the Elizabethan age and amidst the Babington Plot which sought to rescue Mary Stuart (Queen of Scotts) from captivity. This is a lovely read but also a sad one in a sense with Penelope’s sheer helplessness when she is unable to help the Babingtons who she comes to know so well, and at having to leave the friends she grows to love. A wonderful book which I’m not sure I have quite the right words to describe.

 

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

This is the first of a series of eleven Wolves Chronicles, which are connected and yet not―each (at least till book 3) following a character from the previous book (but not the main one) on a new adventure (book 3 onwards, I think we stay with one character). So while Willoughby Chase is about two little girls Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia, who fall into the clutches of a rather evil governess when Bonnie’s parents go missing at sea, and the second Black Hearts in Battersea follows Simon, a little boy who had helped the two girls in the first book, on a full-blown adventure of his own. I’ve only read these two so far but these were really good fun, he first with a pretty mean villainess, and an equally enjoyable adventure/mystery in the second, with great imagery and a bit of a dark/gothic touch. From what I’ve heard of the others, they’re really enjoyable as well. Illustrated by Edward Gorey. My reviews are: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1511853980?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1 and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1519300202?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

 

Just William by Richmal Crompton

The first of thirty-nine books by Richmal Crompton follow the adventures of William Brown, mischievous school boy of eleven as he and his friends the Outlaws (Douglas, Henry, and Ginger) go from one adventure to the next, whether it is exploring the little lane behind his house or adopting a ‘norphan’ or exhibiting a dangerous animal (his dog painted with green spots), among other hilarious adventures. Lucy Mangan in Bookworm called Crompton the Wodehouse for children, so I probably needn’t say much more about just how funny these are. Illustrated by Thomas Henry and Henry Ford (I love the 1920s and 1930s illustrations), aside from being downright side-splitting fun, these also take you into the social scenario of the time, give one a ‘feel’ of the period, and in fact take one in a way, on a journey through time in the periods in which the books were written, new developments reflecting in the themes of the stories. (Each is a collection of short stories.) I knew of these books as a child since these were among my mother’s favourites but only got down to reading them as an adult.

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

All I’ll say about this (and the Harry Potter books in general) is I was quite sceptical about reading them initially but when I did, I really loved them all. The first, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, remains my favourite in a way because that “magic” of the first entry into the wizard world is something special.

 

The Three Investigators by Robert Arthur

This series of children’s mystery stories are written by various authors but the one’s I’ve read so far have all been by Robert Arthur. Earlier editions had intros by Alfred Hitchcock. Technically I knew of these as a child and also had one, but it is only as an adult that I really began to read other titles in this series which features three boys Jupiter Jones, Peter Cranshaw, and Bob Andews, Jupiter being the brains of the operation. What I love about them (the ones I have read so far including the Fiery Eye and the Screaming Clocks) are the imaginative solutions, which I found much more interesting than some of the other children’s mystery series I’ve read. I’m really looking forward to exploring other titles in this series.

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett

One might describe this series as a little bit gimmicky, thirteen books, each with thirteen chapters and a macabre, glum atmosphere, but they’re also really good fun. The series features three children Violet (inventor), Klaus (reader/bookworm), and baby Sunny (who develops into a great cook since she is really good at using her teeth), who are orphaned when their parents die in a fire, and move from one relative or friend to another while the evil Count Olaf is trying to get them, and their property into his own hands. These are fun adventures but also very witty (for instance baby Sunny saying “Ackroyd” when she meant “Roger” J) and full of allusions and the author poking fun at different things (like fads in the Ersatz Elevator). Perhaps not a series that can be read all at once, I think they’re crazy and great fun in smaller doses. So far I’ve read 6 books in the series plus Snickett’s “Unauthorized Autobiography” which tells one some answers but not all. I’m looking forward to reading on and seeing how things play out. (Illustrated by Brett Helquist).

 

So those are some of my favourite children’s books that I discovered as an adult. What are yours?

Review: Bookworm

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood ReadingBookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House, UK for what turned out to be a quite lovely read for me. I’d also like to add a thank you to my goodreads friend Susan for mentioning this book, else I mayn’t have come across it.

Bookworm quite simply can be described as the author’s memoirs of her childhood reading, and it is that, but also so so much more. The author, Lucy Mangan, takes us through her reading from the days she was read to, to when she began reading herself, through till her teens, and eventual transition into grown-up books. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Mog the Cat, Babar the Elephant to Topsy and Tim, Miffy, Milly Molly Mandy, Rumer Godden, Blyton, Beverley Clearly, school stories, dystopian literature, All of a Kind Family, Dr Seuss, Dahl, Narnia, Nesbit, William, Burnett, to Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume and more present-day books like the Harry Potter books and Hunger Games books―this has it all, and much much more (a real feast of children’s literature). And it isn’t just about the books themselves and the joy that they brought Mangan as a child but also the things about life and people that various books taught her, or rather opened her eyes to, and of course how she relates to or appreciates these as an adult. She also writes about children’s literature itself, how it has evolved over the years, about illustrators and their visions of/approaches to their work, and also different genres and how they developed.

Starting this book, the first thing that caught my eye (and probably does every other reader’s) was the little illustration at the beginning of each chapter―a cat, a teddy bear, a school hat―this changes with every chapter and relates in some way to it, and I thought it a delightful touch. I also really enjoyed the writing―Mangan is not only witty, she has a knack for describing the books themselves and her feelings about them just perfectly. One can “feel” her love for them (and for bookish spaces), and how she is enraptured by the books, the characters, the stories, and the illustrations (the section on illustration was among my favourites). One can’t help being affected by her enthusiasm (of course one is probably already enthusiastic about books to start with). Also reading the book, I couldn’t help but reminiscing about my own childhood reading, in which there was quite a bit (though not all( in common with the author’s―mine was a lot of Enid Blyton like hers (but I have a grouse about that part that I’ll come to), Burnett, Heidi, Alcott, Topsy and Tim, among others, though while the author went through a Sweet Valley phase (these were books I’ve never read though I remember other children in my school reading them), my phase around that time with a similar type (conglomerate-produced) of book was Nancy Drew―I read pretty much all I could get my hands on, the original books, the files, even the supermysteries (that featured both Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys in one), and I also read related series like the Hardy Boys books, and Dana Girls. (Writing this down I realise that this probably has to do with my love for mystery/detective stories in general, which extends to my current reading as well.) But not to get carried away, my point was her sentiments were ones I could really relate to, much of the time. Another point on which I agree with the author is the needlessness of “updating” books to make them more relatable, editing out period specific features―I mean if books had to be relatable, why at all do we need to learn about other cultures or parts of the world, they aren’t things we see and do in our daily lives, are they? Why learn history at all?

The Enid Blyton chapter in this book was the one that I was looking forward to the most and that was the one that turned out to disappoint me a little as well. While I agree with her response to many of the criticisms against Blyton, the fact that she finds Blyton unreadable as an adult (reiterated elsewhere in the book) was something that I just couldn’t digest. I loved EB as a child and I still do, I still read her and love her books (may be I am more critical of them and notice things that I mayn’t have as a child), so does my mother, so does a friend who only began to enjoy her as an adult and loves Ern and Fatty and Snubby and Barney as I do (and this is a very well read someone), and so does a whole group of EB fans of various ages I am part of on Facebook. Her Findouters mysteries (so many of them) have solutions I still find interesting, the imagination she shows in her “fantasy” books like the faraway tree books is something that always delights (and amazes), and her quite good knowledge of nature and animals reflects in some of her fiction series (the ‘Adventure’ books, for instance, or the Adventures of Pip for that matter) as well as in her non-fiction. And she doesn’t deal with only light themes, one only had to read, say, the Six Cousins books to see that. Yes, I do realise this is the author’s personal opinion but I couldn’t help but be disappointed by it (kind of like the author’s own reaction to Richmal Crompton’s opinion of her William books―not to compare the books themselves of course).

But anyway, at the end of it all, this is a great book for Bookworms in general and lovers of children’s literature in particular. Like me you will probably have added quite a bit to your TBR at the end of it, so be prepared to do a lot of book shopping. But also be warned, there are some spoilers along the way (not in every case, but you are told once in a way which characters, er… pop off, etc.) so in case there are books you’re planning to read from those she mentions, may be you’d want to skip a para or two. Four and a half stars!

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March Theme Review (very embarrassing) and Theme for my April Reading!

So March turned out to be a very busy month and as a result, book-wise, it was rather embarrassing with me finishing only four books 😦 I have of course read most of Bookworm by Lucy Mangan which I should be done with in a day or two and more than half of Vanity Fair which I have been reading with a reading group on goodreads. So while not as bad as four makes it sound, but still not very good. Also I wasn’t able to do my poetry or non-fiction posts this month. Clearly I need to manage my time much better.

Well, back to the books I did read this month from the Catching-up theme that I’d planned. The first was of course one I’d got from NetGalley, The Hazel Wood, which is the story of seventeen-year-old Alice who has been living a more or less itinerant life with her mother for wherever they live, ill-luck seems to follow. Something changes and they settle down to a more “normal” life but it doesn’t turn out to be quite as they’d expected. One fine day, Alice’s mother suddenly disappears and it falls to Alice to find her. All she knows that this might have something to do with her grandmother, who she has never met, and who is the author of a volume of rather dark fairy tales, which she can’t get her hands on either, no matter how hard she tries. This was a book I quite enjoyed though I wasn’t as grabbed with the second half of the book as I’d have liked. Still I enjoyed the author’s imaginativeness in the very dark fairy tales and the world in which those tales play out, that she creates. Very very creepy. My review is on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/review-the-hazel-wood/

While I had planned to finish the four books that I had left of my Findouters Challenge, I ended up reading only two of these this month, Book 12 The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage and Book 13, The Mystery of the Missing Man, both very different from each other as far as this series is concerned. Tally-Ho Cottage involves a stolen painting, and the missing ‘thieves’―actors who have been living at Peterswood until they pretty much walked out of the village, while Missing Man is of course about what the title says, and also sees the Trottevilles with a guest, one Fatty can’t get the better of (for a change). Tally-Ho also has Ern, Mr Goon’s nephew and the children’s friend back in Peterswood. They have the usual elements of the books of course but in Tally-ho, Ern plays a pretty active role in the investigations involving his twin cousins Liz and Glad, though it is Bets again who spots the all-important clue. Missing Man has Fatty solving everything, all by himself, the investigations not really leading to anything, and a denouement very different from the usual Findouters plots. Both were entertaining entries in the series, with Tally-ho having the more “interesting” solution of the two, but both with food, disguises and fun, and not too much focus on simply baiting poor Mr Goon! My reviews are below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/findouters-challenge-of-a-poodle-and-a-stolen-painting/
https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/findouters-challenge-where-fatty-meets-his-match-in-a-way/

The last of my four reads this month was Elizebeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters which is quite a different book from her North and South. While the latter deals with social issues (labour–factory owner relations), the former is more about individuals, and personal relationships, family relationships to be more specific―parents and children and amongst the “children” themselves. When a country surgeon Mr Gibson decides to remarry because he is too much away from home to properly look after his growing daughter Molly, the decision changes their lives in many ways. Mrs Kirkpatrick, the widow whom he marries is not the stereotypical stepmother, and in fact looks out for Molly as much as she does for her own daughter, but she is quite self-centred, concerned with her own comforts, social position, and whims. Her daughter Cynthia, the same age as Molly, while very different in character from Molly, turns out to be a good friend to Molly. But where Molly is honest and straightforward and feels things deeply, Cynthia is secretive and superficial in many ways. As the story plays out we see how their upbringing and their relationship with their respective parents, besides their own nature affects the things they do or don’t and the relationships they form. Alongside is the Hamley family, country squires and friends of Mr Gibson and Molly. The old squire is traditional and orthodox, his son and heir Osborne is not the typical country lad preferring his books and writing poetry and has secrets of his own, while the younger son Roger is a man of science, achieving much that his family doesn’t think him capable of. Despite being about family and relationships, themes like class and social mores do also stand out. Despite my rather haphazard reading of this book, I did enjoy it. My review is on goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/213050257?book_show_action=false

After a not very good reading month in March I am hoping April will be better, and I have pretty elaborate plans for it (am keeping my fingers crossed that they work out). The theme I picked is Books and Lawyers (or should that be Lawyers and Books?)―not only Lawyers in books because I want to include some written by lawyers but not necessarily with a law/courtroom theme. There’s actually a whole lot of books that fit this theme that are on my TBR but some of the ones I will try to fit in this month are The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardener, Theodore Boone by John Grisham, Dark Fire, and Revelation, both by C.J. Sansom (from his Matthew Shardlake series), Perishable Goods by Dornford Yates, and Fathers-in-Law by Henry Cecil. This time also I will try harder to get my poetry and non-fiction posts up, perhaps try out another idea that has been in my mind for a while―a post on a favourite author that fits this theme. With the way last month went, this itself seems fairly ambitious but let’s see how things go. If at all there’s time after all of this, some of what’s remaining from Catching-up month will be what I’ll pick up even though it doesn’t actually fit this month’s theme. But before any of this, I will be finishing Bookworm by Lucy Mangan which is a wonderful memoir of the author’s childhood reading which I am enjoying very much. Hope everyone has a great reading month ahead!

Findouters Challenge: Where Fatty Meets his Match (in a way)

The Mystery of the Missing Man (The Five Find-Outers, #13)The Mystery of the Missing Man by Enid Blyton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Findouters challenge: Book 13. The thirteenth of the findouters books begins as usual but also somewhat unusually as well. The children are home again, this time for Easter break, and Fatty to everyone’s surprise is slimming (or attempting to slim, at any rate) for he has been selected for the tennis team at school and while he can hit his shots, running around the court with his current weight isn’t the easiest of things. Meanwhile the Trottevilles have visitors, a friend of Mr Trotteville, Mr Tolling a coleopterist is in Peterswood for a conference and brings along his daughter Eunice who turns out to be the one person Fatty can’t manage to get the better of. Meanwhile his attempts at disguising as a tramp (only for fun and in his shed) lead to his discovering that there is another mystery for the findouters to solve. There is a man the police are looking for, an ace of sorts at disguises and the police are certain he’s in Peterswood. With the fair in the village, and also the conference there are plenty of places to hide. The children are of course trying to solve the mystery before Mr Goon, yet again, but also in a way that Eunice who annoys them doesn’t get wind of what’s going on.

Reading this book, I noticed so many things that were different from the usual findouters books. There are the usual elements of course, school holidays, a mystery, a touch of boasting from Fatty, disguises, Mr Goon and Buster, and food of course. But for one, this book was the first in which I noticed the children drinking coffee―so far (If I haven’t missed it), it was mostly cocoa/chocolate in winter and endless lemonade in summer, so while ages aren’t mentioned in this one, one begins to realise they’re growing older. And then the mention of perms which quite surprised me for while the children weren’t talking of fashion in this case, this wasn’t something that pops up in their vocabularies in general. Then of course, there is Eunice herself, the first time someone who manages to ‘boss’ Fatty around a bit, and who he can’t seem to escape or get the better of. So even he isn’t invincible. Still, while she can be overbearing, no doubt, she’s got some fun in her as well and turns out far better than one would expect from when the book starts off. One sees more of Mrs Trotteville’s lighter side as well in this one. And yes, their equation was Goon is a lot different in this one as well―he still calls Fatty, that ‘toad of a boy’ and doesn’t want his interference, and Fatty still plays a trick or two on him but there isn’t that outright unpleasantness between them that is apparent in many of the books.

Anyway back to the mystery itself, this was again one that I’ve read many times before so though I was reading it after a long-ish gap and had forgotten some of the details, I did remember the solution. While not one of the most interesting, the solution was still fairly so, and one which I as a result enjoyed. This time around though, it was Fatty who worked it all out by himself, literally all of it. The denouement too, come to think of it was very unlike the rest of the series, considering (well that might be a spoiler of sorts)… On the foodmeter, this was certainly much above average. With all that slimming and talk of it, it is only to be expected that Fatty eats a lot more than usual. So yet another enjoyable one, though it seemed very different from the rest of the series.

The original illustrations are available here (but beware, there is a review with spoilers): http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/bo…
(The site mentions the illustrations are by Lilian Bucanan from the first ed, but there are several on this page that I have in my ed and those are by Mary Gernat).

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