Shelf Control #25 Speaking From Among the Bones

Wednesday the 12th of December, and my twenty-fifth time writing a shelf control post. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at 
Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about celebrating the books waiting on your TBR pile. (If you’re anything like me, there’s PLENTY to choose from there.) All you do to participate is pick one book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s blog as well.

Mysteries, and especially historical mysteries are a favourite with me, and time and again I find myself not only buying and/or reading these books but also picking and writing about them for Shelf Control. This week, its the same again, and my pick is Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley.

What It’s All AboutSpeaking from Among the Bones is the fifth book in Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series. Flavia, when the series starts, is an eleven-year-old girl obsessed with chemistry, and lives in her crumbling family home with her father and sisters, her mother having gone missing. She falls into and solves several murder mysteries, often ahead of the local police as all good detectives do. Oh and she has her own chemistry lab! The series has nine books so far.

In this one, when the tomb of St Tancred is opened in their village of Bishop’s Lacey, the body of the church’s organist, his face covered by a gas mask is recovered. Flavia’s interest is piqued and she sets out to investigate. Who killed the organist in this way, and why hide his body in a crypt? Flavia’s adventures lead her to a story of ancient relics and lost manuscripts.

Where and When I Got It: As is usual for me lately, this one was ordered online, late last year. The edition I’ve got is a 2014 paperback published by Orion books. The cover is the same as the picture above.

Why I Want to Read this: Of course because this is a historical mystery, one of my favourite genres, but also because I love this particular series. I read the first book early last year and absolutely loved it. The mystery was fun enough. The setting, by the way, is 1950s England (in case you didn’t know). But mostly, it is because Flavia herself, our “heroine” is such a fun character. I enjoy her spunk, her “voice” (the stories are told in first person), all the chemistry, and her family (a little bit of an I Capture the Castle kind of scenario there). Somehow, I haven’t got my hands on book 2 yet but I have read 1,3, and 4, and and looking forward to reading this one. Alongside the mystery, we also follow Flavia’s own story–her father is in debt, her mother is missing, and she has an interesting relationship with her sisters. So I’m looking forward to seeing how things progress on that front as well.

Time for the usual questions now! Have you read this one or any of the other books in the Flavia series? Are you a fan like me or did you not take to them as much (I have heard both opinions)? If you do like the books, which are your favourites in the series so far? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

#FlaviaDeLuce #mystery #AlanBradley #historicalfiction


Children’s Book of the Month: Gangsta Granny by David Walliams

I’ve written about this one previously on Shelf Control (find that post here), and now that I read the book, here’s my review.

This was my introduction to Walliams, whose books I’d been noticing for quite a while, and I picked this one since the plot sounded great fun (so do many of the others, actually). This is all about eleven-year-old Ben, whose parents are obsessed with a dancing show “Strictly Stars Dancing”, and who want him to take an interest in it as well. No, not just an interest, but they wish he’d turn a contestant and conquer the dancing world on both sides of the pond.But Ben is really interested only in plumbing, and even goes to great lengths to buy plumbing magazines and hide them where his parents can’t find them, not expecting them to encourage him in this pursuit. Anyway, when Ben’s parents are watching the show or going to any live event associated with it, Ben is left at his grandma’s (usually every Friday). But he finds poor Granny rather boring because she is your typical old lady with white hair, and false teeth, who unfortunately smells of cabbage (and cooks everything, including cake, with cabbage—there’s even a “recipe”), and only likes to play scrabble with Ben, and read endless gangsta novels. All Ben tries to do when he is at Granny’s is to try and escape, even trying to agree to watching Strictly Stars Dancing with his parents. But all that changes one day to just the reverse when he discovers that his grandma is an international jewel thief—a gangsta granny!!! Now Ben can’t wait to be at Granny to hear all about her adventures when she was young(as he realises to his surprise that all grannies are), and even to try and join her one, perhaps?

This book was so cute and so much fun. I loved the plot when I read about it and as much when I read it in execution. The story goes along for a bit as you expect it to, but then also takes a few unexpected turns as well. It has adventure, humour, lots of fun illustrations as well (by Tony Ross) which I really loved as well. It is lighthearted pretty much all through but takes on a slightly more serious note towards the end which is a little bittersweet. Ben is pretty likeable, and his parents are a little crazy but fun too. In poking fun at their obsession with the dancing show, Walliams is also I guess poking fun at his own world (I only discovered that he is a judge on Britain’s Got Talent when I wrote a post about this book some time ago).Granny who might look like your typical grandma turns out surprising in her own way, though what she really wants in life is no different from others in her place. I enjoyed her tales about all her jewel heists in various parts of the world. Another thing I liked about the book is that without being preachy, it is able to deliver an important message as well about age and about the relationship between generations—not just grandparents and grandchildren but parents and children as well. I really enjoyed this a lot. The one complaint I had though was that the humour in some places is somewhat on the crass side which I found off-putting, but not all of it, so it didn’t interfere with my reading too much.

Have you read this one? How did you like it?

#Humour #ChildrensLiterature #DavidWalliams 

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (34)

“Ben smiled broadly. He suddenly remembered how he used to love his granny telling stories when he was younger, transporting him to a magical world. A world where you paint pictures in your mind that are more thrilling than all the movies or TV shows or video games in the universe.”

DaviD Walliams, Gangsta Granny (2011).

Image source: Pexels

Shelf Control #24: Crazy Rich Asians

Another week has zoomed past, and its time for Shelf Control again! (This is going up a little late this week). Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about celebrating the books on your TBR. To participate, simply select one book from your TBR pile and write a post about it, linking back to Lisa’s blog, of course. Posts under this feature go up every Wednesday.

My pick this week is once again a popular title, which I’m sure everyone has heard of, and probably read or seen the film version of. I haven’t done either yet.

What It’s All AboutCrazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is the first of a trilogy, also called Crazy Rich Asians, which comprises Crazy Rich AsiansChina Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems. In this one, Rachel Young agrees to travel Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young for his cousin’s wedding, where he is best man. When she gets there, she is surprised (perhaps shocked) to find that Nicholas’ family home is certainly not humble as she was expecting but his family is rich, crazy rich. She encounters Nick’s formidable mother, as well as others in the centre of Singapore society. The book takes a look at the lives of these jetsetters, their clashes, differences in generations, customs, their loves and hates in contemporary Asia.

When and Where I got it:  On kindle, a couple of months ago, since they had a really good offer.

What Makes Me Want to Read It: This is a book that I’d been hearing about a lot, even before the film came out, and I did want to see what the fuss was all about. Though this does count as ‘chick-lit’ which I don’t usually read, the genre has surprised me in a good way before so let’s see.

So have you read this book or the series? And the film? What did you think of it/them? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Another (Not so) “Lazy” Wrap-Up: November Reads

I’m going to try not to make a habit of this but for the second time in a row, I’m only ending up doing a lazy wrap-up which is essentially that I’m not going into very much detail about each book read (but, I’ll try and do better than October and give some description, at least) and will simply link my reviews with each book read. November, for me was a pretty good reading month. I managed to finish eleven books in November, but of course two of these were only “technically” completed in the month, most part/s of them having been read in October. So here goes:

So, I’ll start with the ones I finished in November but had actually read in October. The first was my Halloween read, The Great Ghost Rescue by Eva Ibbotson. This I read most of on Halloween itself. This is the story of a ghost family who find themselves without a home since humans can never leave any place alone and must destroy and “develop” everything. Luckily they find a friend in a young boy Rick, who is at school and who helps them secure a sanctuary. But that isn’t the end of their troubles. Find my review here.

Next was The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown, which I got through NetGalley. This is all about a group of seven teens and kids (the youngest is nine), who set up their own theatre and put up almost professional shows, all of them wanting to take up one or the other career in the theatre. But their parents don’t quite approve. Can they convince them? My review is here.

After the Pamela Brown I read another NetGalley book. This was a children’s/middle-grade fantasy, and a first in series which I enjoyed very much. The Last by Katherine Applegate, is about Byx, a dairne (a dog-like creature) whose pack is killed and who is herself kidnapped by a human, who she later finds is actually a friend. She sets off an a journey to look for a legendary place where others of her kind were once said to live. This one had an enjoyable plot, great fantasy elements, and very likeable characters. (review here).

Then there were two mysteries (four actually). Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz was one I was really looking forward to reading having heard many good thinks about it, and it definitely turned out to be an excellent read. A book within a book and not one, but two murders to solve, worlds Poirot and Miss Marple like as well as modern day, I really enjoyed this. (Review here). Then from NetGalley, I read All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth, a mystery but different from ones I usually read. This was a young adult mystery set amidst the rich kids of Manhattan, partly in a posh prep school, and is centred around the disappearance of the main character’s mother. I did figure out parts of this one, but it was still pretty enjoyable. Find my review here.

For Guy Fawkes day, I also read another short mystery (not part of my overall book count) which was ‘Murder in the Mews’ by Agatha Christie. This was once again fairly enjoyable, and the opening on Guy Fawkes night made it a good fit for the day. Since it was a book I’d read before I did know whodunit etc., but I hadn’t guessed it the first time around. (review here).

And before I forget, I did read a fourth mystery as well; this was actually my last read this month. Treasure at Poldarrow Point by Clara Benson is the third in her Angela Marchmont series set in 1920s England. For a change, I’ve been reading these in order. In this one Angela has been ordered to the seaside (near Penzance) by her doctor after a bout of the flu. Here she is soon joined by her cheeky, yet likeable goddaughter Barbara. At one of their neighbours’ homes, Poldarrow Point one evening, they are told of a hidden treasure in the house which Barbara is immediately interested in finding. But the mystery turns out to be deeper than simply a hidden treasure with more than one person seemingly targeting old Miss Trout, who lives there. This was a touch like a children’s mystery, Enid Blytonish (unlike the other two I’ve read so far in the series) but still very enjoyable. (My review is here).

The Book of Indian Dogs was my only non-fiction read in November, and this was one I was really looking forward to reading for quite some time–infact ever since I noticed it in the new releases last year. And while this does have a lot of interesting information on the history of dogs in the country and on various indigenous breeds, including a little encyclopedic section and pictures/illustrations, for its approach and its appendix in particular, this turned out to be probably my most disappointing read this year. Read my review here.

This month, via NetGalley, I also read the first two of Tamora Pierce’s Immortals Quartet, which I enjoyed very much. This series is about Daine, a thirteen (in book 2 fourteen)-year-old girl who has wild magic, the ability to not only communicate with animals but get them to obey her and even more. Since this is unlike the “gift”, magic which others in her world possess, she doesn’t attach much value to it till she comes to the country of Tortall. Here with her new friends and mentor Numair Salmalin, she learns to hone her magic and also use it to help her friends, new and old (human and animal). The first book Wild Magic, introduces us to Daine and others in Tortall, where she has her first adventure against the immortals, creatures of legend, part-animal, part-human who were for long banished to the divine realm (review here).  In the second Wolf-Speaker, she is summoned by her old friends, the wolves to help sort out the trouble that has hit their new home which humans are fast destroying with incessant mining and tree-cutting. But the problem is far more dangerous as they discover. (review here).

Then I read another NetGalley book which was a lot of fun, Will the Real Carolyn Keene Please Stand Up by Christine Keleny. This as I’m sure you can guess from the name is to do with the Nancy Drew mysteries, a favourite with me as a child/teen. This is the story of Edward Stratemeyer and the Stratemeyer syndicate, responsible not only for the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stories but also the Bobbsey Twins, Dana Girls, Tom Swift, and many many others, and also of the writers, particularly Mildred Wirt who wrote the stories based on Stratemeyer’s ideas. My review is here

Lastly, also in the children’s category I read Upper Fourth at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton, fourth in the series which I am reading/rereading through chronologically. In this one Darrell’s sister, Felicity has also begun to attend Malory Towers but things are not turning out as Darrell expected them to. Meanwhile there are new students as usual, but the older ones must also face their own issues and problems and deal with them. Of course, there is also the lighter side of school with feasts and picnics which is great fun. Find my review here.

And so my wrap-up turned out to be not as lazy as I thought it would be after all!

So those were the books I read in November. How was your reading month? Any recommendations? And what plans for December? Looking forward to hearing all about them!    

Review: Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

My thanks to Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

This is the second of the Immortals series (my review of book 1 is here) by Tamora Pierce. The one opens with the wolves that Daine once hunted with trying to reach her and thinking over the news they’ve received of her from other creatures of the forest. Daine, now fourteen, meanwhile is heading with her mentor/teacher, the mage Numair Salmalin, their horses including Cloud, and Kitten the dragon baby, towards the pack for they have sent for her help as their new home, Dunlath is in trouble. The two-feet there are cutting down all the trees, mining incessantly, chasing away prey making the place unliveable for them, and ultimately for themselves. When they get there however, they find that it isn’t only the animals who are in trouble. A family of local nobles,the lords of Dunlath, are plotting treason against King Jonathan, and switching loyalties. Here they are aided by a whole group of rogue mages, who have some very powerful magic at their command, and don’t seem to care who or what they destroy. Circumstances become such that Daine is left all alone with only her animal friends and some immortal ones in Dunlath. The only other human helping her at first is ten-year-old Lady Maura, younger sister of the Lady Yolane. Daine begins to learn and practice more of what her wild magic makes her capable of,and these new found powers and her friends are what help her face and defeat the “villains” of the piece.

If anything, I think I enjoyed this one even more than the first book. The first book obviously had to set out the background, and introduce us to the world that Daine lived in, and the friends she found in Tortall, but this one to me felt more rounded as a story. I enjoyed watching Daine, who spends much of the novel away from human company, explore her new powers or rather the new uses she discovers of her magic. This helps her not only to do things she couldn’t earlier but view the world through the perspectives of her different animal friends. This was an element I really enjoyed. Pierce does a great job of highlighting the various things—sounds, smells, sights—that different animals would notice, and making one (even the reader) feel that they were looking through the eyes and mind of the animal in question. The adventure elements for me were fairly exciting as well. But besides these, the book also had some important messages to give. It may be set in a fantasy world, but even there “humans”continue to behave as they do in real life, destroying their environment,surroundings, disrespecting other living creatures for what they think is their own gain.  The other was about needing to understand creatures/life that is different, human or animal, as life, as creatures/people who have thoughts, feelings, concerns, and who shouldn’t be judged as monsters or evil in an off-handed way. Here Maura, who is scared of some of Daine’s “friends” manages to shows Daine how she herself might be prejudiced unfairly against some others. Pierce manages to show us that even people who are “good” aren’t always flawless and may have their own prejudices and discriminatory attitudes that they need to address—another message extremely relevant for our world. Once again a wonderful read, in which I especially enjoyed all the animals and Daine’s interactions with them!

Shelf Control #23: Emily Fox-Seton

Wednesday again, and time for another Shelf Control post. 
Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR pile. All you do to participate is pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. And link back to the Lisa’s blog of course.

This time, my twenty-third time participating, my pick is a classic of sorts, Emily Fox-Seton by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which comprises the Making of Marchioness and the Methods of Lady Walderhurst. The books have been collectively published as Emily Fox-Seton. The Making of a Marchioness was first published in 1901.

What It’s All About: This is the story of Emily Fox-Seton, a young woman of good birth but little money. She works as a companion/assistant to Lady Maria Bayne, described as both selfish and funny, but one who ends up liking Emily very much. Her fortunes undergo a change when Emily marries and becomes a marchioness. But her husband’s heirs, not too fond of this new change in their lives begin to act against Emily. How she deals with the situation forms the second book, described as having “gothic” elements.

Where and When I Got It: This one is in public domain and I downloaded a copy from Project Gutenberg. (In case you’re interested, it is available here). There is an edition published by Persephone books as well (the cover picture above).

Why I Want to Read It: I’ve read three of Burnett’s children’s books before of which I love The Secret Garden (in fact, it’s one of my all-time favourite books), like A Little Princess very much, and Little Lord Fauntleroy a little less so. Emily Fox-Seton is different however, being one of her novels for adults, so I’m interested to see how it turns out, and how it compares with her children’s books. I’ve heard good things about it, but also read some mixed reviews. There are elements which are not perhaps the most PC but that may or may not be a turn off. Let’s see.

Have you read Emily Fox-Seton or either of the two books? What did you make of them? Have you read any other/s of her books? Which ones, and did you like them? Looking forward to hearing from you!

The Shakespeare Project: Macbeth Act III

The Shakespeare Project is simply me reading Shakespeare and writing about it, act by act. My introductory post about it is here. This of course, as you can see from the title is my third post on Macbeth. The first two, on Act I and II, respectively, are here and here.  Please note that these posts are not spoiler free. Just to recap, so far, Macbeth and Banquo, victorious in battle encounter the weird sisters on the heath, where they foretell that Macbeth will be Thane of Cawdor and then King, while Banquo’s children will be kings though he himself will not.

Macbeth and Banquo Meet the Witches
Source: John Wootton [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

When the first of these prophecies comes true, Macbeth begins to have foul thoughts, and plots to kill the King, Duncan to realise the second of these prophecies without leaving matters to fate. He is weak however, and his resolve wavers constantly, but the formidable Lady Macbeth is there to steer him towards his goal. And so Macbeth murders the King and also his two guards who he successfully blames for the deed. He is crowned King while King’s sons have escaped and ended up being suspected as the true culprits. However, while Macbeth may have made the witches’ prophecies come true, he has already begun to be haunted by his deeds.

The 1994 Penguin ed.

The third Act opens with Banquo reflecting on how Macbeth has achieved all that the witches prophesised, but Banquo suspects that Macbeth is responsible for all of what has come to pass and has certainly not played fair in achieving what he has achieved. Macbeth now enters the scene and commands Banquo to attend a banquet that is planned for later that evening, while also inquiring into Banquo plans for going out riding that day, and whether his son Fleance accompanies him. Clearly, he isn’t simply “making conversation”, and has an ulterior motive in finding this out.

As soon as Banquo leaves, Macbeth’s true thoughts are revealed to us. He begins to think that there is no point in being King if his position were not secure, and if the witches’ prophecies were true, then all that he has done to secure the throne for himself, will end up benefiting Banquo’s sons. And since he can’t let that happen, he decides to challenge fate, charging two murderers with the task of doing away with Banquo and Fleance. And that too is done, by convincing these men that Banquo is responsible for their fate.

Macbeth and The Two Murderers by H.E. Selous

In the next scene, in conversation with his wife, Macbeth confesses that he is still being plagued by nightmares, and that his mind is not at rest. But he also tells her that he cannot be at peace while Banquo and Fleance are alive. He asks Lady Macbeth to be nice to Banquo at the banquet, but refuses to tell her what he has planned until the deed is done. 

In the third scene, we find the two murderers whom Macbeth has sent to kill Banquo. They are joined by a third, also sent by Macbeth but without their knowledge (I wondered at this point whether the third man was supposed to kill them once the deed was done). The three waylay Banquo and Fleance, and kill Banquo but Fleance manages to escape.

Macbeth in the 1916 film
Source:Unknown author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Now we find ourselves back at Macbeth’s castle, where the banquet is prepared and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth enter with nobles and attendants. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth welcome the guests and bid them to enjoy themselves. In the mean time, the first murderer returns and informs Macbeth that Banquo is dead but Fleance has gotten away. This naturally shakes him, but he is still happy that Banquo is dead. Lady Macbeth now has to remind him to be attentive to his guests, and Macbeth, back to his pretence begins to comment on how Banquo has still not appeared. Ross remarks that this means Banquo has broken his promise.

Banquo’s Ghost
Source: Théodore Chassériau [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

But just then, Macbeth notices the table is full, but Lennox, another noble insists that there is an empty seat. Banquo has kept his promise after all, even if he has now become a ghost. Macbeth begins to babble while his Lady tries to calm him down and make his excuses to his guests. When Macbeth does finally come to his senses and begins to entertain his guests, proposing a toast to the “missing” Banquo, the latter reappears, causing Macbeth to react once again, wishing the hallucination away.

When Lady Macbeth finds she is unable to get him to stop hallucinating, she sends their guests away. Macbeth, however, continues to be haunted by his thoughts, convinced that the guilty (himself) will be brought to justice. He decides to seek out the witches the next day, and learn the worst that is to befall him.

And so we return to the witches. But before Macbeth arrives, the sisters are chided by Hecate for having revealed their prophecies to one so undeserving. She also decides to work some spells which will give Macbeth illusions, and trick him into thinking that he is above everything, and this will prove to be his downfall.

The Three Witches
Source: William Rimmer (American, 1816-1879) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the final scene of this Act, we find ourselves back at the palace witness to a conversation between Lennox and another Lord. They discuss Duncan’s death for which Donalbain and Malcolm were conveniently held responsible, as may Fleance be for his father’s death, for he fled the scene. Macbeth as they have realised has been handling things far too well. We also learn that Macduff has made his way to England where Malcolm also currently is, and is seeking help from the King to restore to Malcolm what Macbeth has stolen from him. Macbeth is preparing for war, while Lennox hopes that Duncan will return soon to free them from the tyrant, as they now refer to Macbeth.

So it seems that Macbeth’s downfall is imminent, with many things bringing it about. The witches, Hecate, specifically is planning some spells which will have this effects. Macbeth’s own conscience, if one can say that he has one, seems to be making sure that the truth will be revealed from his own lips before long, and is torturing him rightly for what he has done. And the others in the Kingdom aren’t as blind to what has been happening or as naive as to fall for his pretences any more. 

It was interesting in this Act to see Macbeth’s conflicting thought processes. On the one side, he is well aware that it is his ill deeds that are responsible for his nightmares and all that he is facing, while on the other, he continues to do more and more, this time also killing Banquo (even if not by his own hand) at the same time well aware that one ill deed leads to others. He knows why he is going through what he is, the throne has not brought him the pleasure that he perhaps supposed, yet he is getting drawn deeper and deeper in. Now, he doesn’t even made Lady Macbeth privy to his plans, even though she continues to give him courage and support him. But she isn’t as much “in” things as she was initially. Is Macbeth going to end up losing the support he has from her too?

A puzzle that this Act throws up is the true identity of the third murderer, which has been the subject of some discussion, theories ranging from the Thane of Ross to Macbeth himself (see wikipedia here).

Macbeth is now all set to seek out the witches for the second time (first actually since on their first meeting, it was they that sought him out). He wants to learn the worst, but Hecate has other plans in store for him, plotting to bring about his downfall rather than help him. The next Act will tell how that pans out!

Macbeth is truly turning out to be a very complex character. What do you make of him? Do You have a theory on who the third murderer was?