Review: Random Acts of Kindness

Random Acts of Kindness Part 1Random Acts of Kindness Part 1 by Victoria Walters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a set of the first four chapters of this book that I received through Netgalley.

In what promises to be a delightful and heart-warming read, this set of chapters introduces us to Abbie Morgan, a twenty-eight-year old Londoner heading to the small town of Littlewood where she is to live with her sister, Louise, having been made redundant and also broken off with her boyfriend. Pretty much as soon as she arrives there and enters the café where she is to meet Louise, she experiences an act of kindness―her lost bag is returned to her by complete strangers, something that takes her by surprise, for no one in London would have done such a thing. But with it, she is introduced to life in Littlewood where people look out for each other, are ever willing to lend a hand, extend random acts of kindness, and now that Abbey is part of Littlewood, and at the receiving end of kindness, she must continue the tradition and do her own bit of kindness for someone. Besides Abbey, other new arrivals at Littlewood, Ezther and her daughter Zoe, who have just come in from Budapest, and were in fact the ones who restored Abbey’s bag, also experience their own share of kindness. Everyone it seems, newcomer or resident, and irrespective of any personal troubles, is drawn in by its infectious atmosphere, and ready to do their act of kindness.

This was a really enjoyable and pleasant read for me. I loved the picture of life at Littlewood that one gets from these chapters―the pace may slower, and there may not be all that one gets in a metropolis, but the warmth and concern in its people and from them, in its atmosphere, makes life a much pleasanter prospect. One is just getting to know the characters and their backstories and the brief meeting was enough to get me interested in knowing what’s going to happen next, how things will turn out for each of them (since they each have personal troubles to work through, problems to face), and how the Littlewood atmosphere will work its magic on their lives. I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalment/s.

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Shadows of Days Past

I didn’t think I’d be returning to writing about poetry quite so soon, but when reading Wives and Daughters (which I’m reading in serial with a group on goodreads), I found a reference to John Gilpin (Cowper’s The Diverting History of John Gilpin), which I was all set to revisit during the week and write about, since it is among the funniest poems I’ve read so far (though yes, I still haven’t read very many poems overall). But anyway with a busy week I never did get down to reading it (I hope to sooner than later and will write about it). But I also ended up remembering Kipling’s The Way Through the Woods which I first read some years ago as part of his book Rewards and Fairies, the sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill, and also liked very much.

This beautiful (and haunting) poem takes me (or rather my thoughts) to two different things each time I read it. Kipling writes in it of a road that “They shut…Seventy years ago” which has been reclaimed by the woods, the weather, and the rain, where there are now “coppice and heath” and “thin anemones”, so

now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods.

Part of this poem paints this picture of nature becoming “free” again, to grow, to go about life with no fear—the ring-dove brooding, badgers rolling at ease, trout-ringed pools, and the otter, whistling to his mate, for:

“(They fear not men in the woods
Because they see so few)”

Man’s presence and influence more often than not spells trouble for nature, constraining it rather than allowing it to blossom, even to be, destroying it for “development”, or his own greed, or mere entertainment. So of course the description of a place free of man’s influence, his interference, which forms most of the first stanza and part of the second as well, leaves one with a sense of peace, of freedom, rejoicing in her joy, watching the badger roll, or listening to the otter whistle to its mate, none worried that someone might harm them.

The second stanza on the other hand, is rather haunting, for while one mightn’t know that there was once a road through the woods,

“Yet if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late…”

The shadows of the past are still there:

“You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through,
The misty solitudes,
As though they practically knew,
The old lost road through the woods…
But there is no road through the woods!”

One can’t see the road through the woods anymore but one can feel its presence—its memories and shadows remain, and perhaps the wood remembers where the road once was. It feels as through past and present are there at the same time. Yet these shadows, though uncanny, are not really frightening—they bring back memories, make one think of the days past, and perhaps also the thought that where man once was there is always a mark of some kind.

But one also can’t help but wonder when one is lost in this picture, whether it is that this is the only way that the two can coexist? Nature blooming, joyous, thriving, and at peace only in a place where there is no human presence―just shadows of what was―no longer anyone to disturb or destroy…

Fay the performer, and Selina the artist!

I haven’t been doing very much reading this week though earlier in the week I finished All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor which I absolutely loved (my review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1716276635?book_show_action=false), and for the rest am part way through Sophie’s World (which I had started last year but stopped part way in because of reading challenges and things) and Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell which I am reading in instalments with a group on goodreads.

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So I thought this week, I’d write about some old picture stories that I really enjoyed reading when I first found them and revisit quite often. Bunty and Judy, Debbie and Mandy were Girls Picture Story Library comics, each carrying one complete picture story, their outer back covers with pictures of pop stars or sports people (at least the ones I have), and upper and back inner covers, each giving a quick glimpse into the story in the parallel issue of its sister magazine (Judy in Bunty, and Debbie in Mandy and vice versa) that month, and its own next issue. I haven’t got very many of these (though I’d like to find more)―only about 10 that I found many years ago second-hand, when I was travelling with my family. But my two favourites which I have read countless times are what I thought of writing about today.

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Fay of the Footlights is Bunty no 235, and tells the story of thirteen-year-old Fay Foster whose parents perform in the Victorian music halls. But her mother has been ill, as a result not performing very well and they end up losing their engagements at the halls, and before long Fay’s mother dies. But Fay and her father must still earn their living, and put together an act where the two of them perform. Luckily for them the audiences love their act but work is still slow in coming. They have had to move to cheaper lodgings which are owned my Mrs King whose daughter, Bella, about Fay’s age, is nursing her own dreams of becoming a famous singer. The Kings convince Mr Foster, who isn’t the strongest financially at the time, to take Bella into their act but Bella, whose talent is mediocre, seems to hurt their performances. The audience however, is keen to hear more of Fay. But spiteful (and very jealous) Bella and her mother seem to be prepared to go to any lengths for Bella to be the star of the show. Fay manages to outsmart them quite a few times but when Bella teams up with another performer who Mr Foster has scorned, Fay falls into a trap that is not as easy to escape. What I enjoy about the story is how Fay with her talent and wits manages to outsmart any ‘enemy’ and overcome any difficulty, bringing her and her father back on the path to fame and fortune.

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Which brings me to my other favourite, Debbie no 91, Selina’s Search which is about another very talented young lady, Selina James, and is also set in Victorian England. Selina and her father are quite poor, and are depending very much on Mr James’ earnings from a painting of the opening of the new Merchant’s Hall which he has been commissioned to make. But Mr James is ill and falls faint in the midst of painting the picture, six figures still missing from the picture, without completing which they will have no money. So it falls to Selina, also a talented artist to track down these six people and sketch them. The six missing people include a page, but also some illustrious persons like a Duchess and the French Ambassador, so how does Selina convince them to sit for her? Through her talent, of course. Her search takes her to various places across the city (and outside), and into many adventures, from tracking a thief to designing ‘Cinderella’ shoes, arranging flowers to entertaining street children. Selina is not only sharp and talented but also very resourceful, and it is great fun to see her use her talents in many different ways to not only get the pictures she so desperately needs but also in the process help out many others and have her own share of adventures. Of course, Mr James completes his picture at the end with the sketches Selina has made, and Selina―she gets a fitting reward for her pains! This is a really enjoyable one, and my favourite of all that I have.
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(Selina with her ‘Cinderella’ shoe design)
(Apologies for the not very good pictures)

Winter in Verse

Before I even start, I’d like to say that I’m not so much a poetry person―don’t read much of it, have written just one for school, so any comments or observations of mine are pretty much those of a layperson―and pretty literal. That said though, I have been trying time and again to read a few poems, but don’t end up doing this regularly.

Anyway, now on to what I actually want to write about―winter―or more specifically three poems on winter that I read which paint pictures of very different facets of the season, positive and negative, how it impacts nature and people’s lives. Winter by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, for instance describes the effect frost has on both people and nature. The first stanza suggests it is written sometime at the beginning of the new year since the frost has “bitten the heel of the year gone by”. From people’s point of view it means fires burning, the wood becoming more withered, and fuel dear. And in nature, so many creatures have vanished from sight, the frost having “rolled [them] up away”―the plump dormouse, probably hibernating, the bees being stilled, and flies dying. However while the frost may have bitten into a lot of things, “into the heart of the house”, “into the heart of the earth”, the poet doesn’t allow it to bite into his own heart―not letting the chill affect him, and in the final stanza is optimistic about spring being nearer, even as the woods are “searer”, fuel “dearer”, and fires burn “clearer”. While Tennyson is certainly writing about the cold, dreary atmosphere outside (and indoors as well) causing all “life” to disappear and people to stick closer to their fires, his own attitude is optimistic, his own heart warm and happy for he doesn’t allow it to affect him, and looks optimistically on at the coming spring (this part reflecting perhaps a later time in winter).

Cold and near-isolation outdoors, and warm and welcoming hearths are pictures painted by T.S. Eliot’s “The winter evening settles down”, the first of the preludes (though the book I read it in had it as a separate poem). Here Eliot describes the end of a cold winter day―six o’clock―when most people are presumably back home. He writes not only of sights but of the sounds and smells of a winter evening. He doesn’t really take us into the house but outside in passageways are the smells of steaks, which in itself for me conjured up pictures of people sitting by their firesides, warm, away from the weather outside, enjoying their steaks. Outdoors though (this one is of course in a town/village), is a very different story―withered leaves under one’s feet, perhaps fluttering as a gusty shower throws them up, as it does newspapers lying about, while the showers beat against “broken-blinds and chimney pots” adding to the already dreary and somewhat isolated atmosphere. The only beings that seem to be outdoors braving the weather are the “lonely cab horse” who “steams and stamps”, and perhaps the lamplighter for there is the “lighting of the lamps”.

While Eliot and Tennyson write of the chilly winter atmosphere and frost “biting” into homes and into the earth, the third poem I read “Frost” by L.M. Dufty (interestingly while I have this poem in the book, the poem nor the poet seem to appear in any internet searches―the only result that I got was Silver Bells, the book I read it from) which focuses not on the chill the frost brings with it but the very pretty picture that frost creates when it comes. Frost for Dufty is a “busy sprite” who leaves the meadows all “sparkling and clean” and fashions “fringes of silver” for the grey wintery grasses which so far looked soiled and dim. Frost may make places icy, but for the poet, he has actually changed muddy hollows and cart-ruts into a diamond floor. His final stanza describing what the frost does to windows is the prettiest:

“And windows are studded
With drawings like dreams
Of fragile white forests
And towers and streams.”

So a much more positive and certainly aesthetically appealing picture of the chilling Mr Frost! (I love the accompanying illustration in the book―wish I could have shared it here).

So winter may be chilling and grey, cold and dreary, a time when nature goes to sleep or into hiding (when Persephone goes to Hades), yet one can find comfort in the fact that there are warm firesides to sit by, and hot meals to eat (for those of us lucky enough to have them), and certainly beautiful pictures to see, clean, sparkly surrounds, fringed with white which frost has painted for us. And then again, as Tennyson tells us, even if the frost has chosen to bite into everything, into nature, and our surrounds, our hearts can always remain happy and warm, and choose not to let Mr Frost chill them too.

Findouters Challenge: A robbery, lots of food, and some well-deserved payback

The Mystery of Holly Lane (The Five Find-Outers, #11)The Mystery of Holly Lane by Enid Blyton

Findouters Challenge: Book 11. It’s Easter holidays again, and Bets and Pip are preparing to meet Fatty at the station as Fatty’s school breaks a week later than their own. Quite sure that Fatty will be in disguise again, the children get into a bit of a muddle when they mistake a Frenchman who is in Peterswood to visit his sister for Fatty but when the real Fatty turns up and is able to placate him with his impeccable French, he soon enough befriends the children. Meanwhile having no mystery at hand, the children decide to play the fool yet again, with Fatty taking Mr Goon in as a foreign lady who can read palms and Larry posing as a window cleaner doing some practice “shadowing”. But of course, their tricks lead them into a new mystery once again, when an old, nearly blind man in Hollies, a cottage on Holly Lane is robbed of all his savings, and the very next day, all his furniture is mysteriously stolen at midnight. Fatty just happens to be there to retrieve a window-leather Larry had dropped when cleaning the windows at Hollies, though he doesn’t till the next day catch on to what’s been happening. Once again, the children are in a race against Goon to try and beat him out at solving the mystery, where the chief suspect ends up being the old man’s granddaughter Marian, who did in deed look after her granddad very well but was the only one who knew where his money was and mysteriously vanished just after the money did.

This was one of my favourites as a child since I enjoyed the very creative solution to the mystery or at least part of it very much and though I hadn’t forgotten it, still enjoyed reading it very much. The part with Mr Henri convalescing, sitting by the window at his sister’s house had a bit of a “rear window” touch to it. In some books in this series, I found myself finding fault with the children for the kind of tricks they played on Mr Goon, who isn’t the most likeable of people, no doubt but doesn’t always deserve how far they go. But in this one, my reaction was quite the opposite. Mr Goon does a rather detestable thing with Buster, having him falsely accused and captured and it was fun watching how Fatty got back at him. In fact, I enjoyed seeing Mr Trotteville, who usually comes across as quite stern, approving of Fatty’s “revenge” and having fun at watching it play out. On the foodmeter again, this one rates fairly high with plenty of scrumptious teas and icecream, cake and macaroons, and Buster getting his favourite dog biscuits topped with potted meat. This was also one where Chief-Inspector Jenks, now Superintendent Jenks takes the children out for a treat with plenty more food. As far as solving the case was concerned, in this one it was Fatty who really did pretty much everything, catching on to the important clues and solving everything at the end, besides of course having a very good time with his disguises. So a really fun read which I thoroughly enjoyed (though modern readers may find some things non-PC about this one).

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Other People’s Bookshelves

Exploring other people’s bookshelves is something I find fun―I like looking at books of course and one never knows what new author or book one might find that way. When I opened my account on shelfari (now of course, goodreads), I got a chance to explore virtually and did end up finding plenty of new (to me) authors including through shelfari friends’ shelves, like Nancy Mitford, Barbara Pym, Miss Read, Margaret Oliphant and others.

But anyway, it was only very recently that I discovered book channels on youtube, and even more recently that there were so so many videos of bookshelf tours (so clearly, others too enjoy exploring other people’s bookshelves :)). So when I had my holiday last week, I actually ended up watching quite a few of these―just random ones that “looked” interesting. What struck me really was just how different so many people’s bookshelves were from my own. (Whatever I am writing about these shelves is purely from memory and not notes, so it may not be a hundred per cent accurate but by and large, it’s based on what I noticed. Also what I am writing is just observations, things I noticed, not “judging” any one or anyone’s shelves so I hope it doesn’t come across that way).


The first thing I noticed on almost everyone’s (who’s videos I watched―these were mainly people from America and Canada, though there were one or two from other countries as well) shelves (bar one or two) was the profusion of Funko Pop figures. Literally everyone seems to have them on their shelves and I hadn’t even heard of these. Mostly, people had Harry Potter related ones, and a few Alice in Wonderland, but no Hunger Games ones though I found many/most did have these books on their shelves, and named them as favourites. But anyway, as a result I looked these up (and though I haven’t ordered any yet, I might at some point) I found them very cute and found a range of these available (even (non-book related) Queen Elizabeth II with her corgi). Besides Funko Pop, quite a few people had other Harry Potter knick-knacks including the Hogwarts Express, Wands, Time-turners―such fun to have that magical world in front of one.


Harry Potter is in fact the one series that I can safely say I found on pretty much everyone’s shelves and one can find on my own as well, though of the other authors that people had I found I didn’t really have all that many authors in common. (Of course, I do admit that my shelves have far more older books than contemporary ones.) Looking at others’ collections, I really noticed (again) for the first time, what a range of editions are available for collectors. Pretty much everyone had the Illustrated editions as well which I still haven’t started to pick up but those I will eventually.

Back onto knick-knacks, there were also on most people’s shelves book-scented candles which again I had not even heard of but these I don’t think I shall get for myself.

Now back to my focus, the books themselves. Most people I found had a lot of fantasy/YA books and authors in common on their shelves. On most shelves I found Sarah J Maas, Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare, and Marissa Meyer, among others. There may be more in common of course, but these were books I noticed on a lot of shelves, and took note of because these are authors I have not read so far, and bar a couple had not really even heard of till I started watching these videos, and I will definitely be looking into some of these and may be giving them a try. Another book that’s definitely going on my shopping list is the Night-Circus-like (at least so it seems to me) Caraval, which again I found on quite a few shelves. Plenty of people had the Hunger Games books, the His Dark Materials books which I have read and the Divergent series which I have not but do have on my TBR. I was surprised how few people had the Game of Thrones books which I’d expected to see more of. This is of course another series I have not yet read but do plan to.

I was also surprised I didn’t find very many detective/mystery novels (one of my favourite genres) on people’s shelves, or may be they were there but just by authors I didn’t recognise. Only one shelf had some Agatha Christie but not very many (she is one author whose books I really enjoy.) Some shelves did of course have J.K. Rowling’s Robert Galbraith books. The Cormoran Strike series is one I’ve read the first two books of and enjoyed and it was nice seeing others have as well. And only one person had Flavia de Luce, another series I discovered only last year but have really enjoyed the first two of. Two more are on my TBR. Eleven-year-old chemistry genius Flavia may not be very believable as someone so young, but she is great fun. I found C.J Sansom’s mystery series set in Tudor England, a series I haven’t read but do plan to, on one shelf but no Ellis Peters whose mysteries featuring Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury Abbey in twelfth century England I rather enjoy. And though not mysteries as such, John Grisham’s books I found only on one shelf.

I found quite a few classics in common on other people’s shelves but no “humour” shelf as such. I have one with Wodehouse, Henry Cecil, E.F Benson (another discovery from other people’s shelves) and Richmal Crompton’s William books on them. Only one person had some Wodehouse but then again there may have been books in this category by authors I didn’t know.

I could go on and on but I’ll only just write a little more about children’s books which again I found some in common, Roald Dahl particularly who was on a lot of shelves (and is on mine as well), A Series of Unfortunate Events (I have read about half but not all but love how witty they are though I don’t know If one should class them as children’s books – so many literary allusions that I wouldn’t have caught on to as a child) but no Nancy Drew (I think may be one person had a Nancy Drew) or Trixie Belden or Three Investigators or even Enid Blyton, authors I enjoyed as a child and still do.

But still, I still really enjoyed watching these videos and have ended up discovering a fair number of books/authors which are going to end up on my shopping list and TBR pile sometime or other (when my existing TBR goes down a bit). And I’ll probably end up watching more of these and adding to my never ending TBR 🙂

Review: Kartikeya

Kartikeya: The Destroyer's SonKartikeya: The Destroyer’s Son by Anuja Chandramouli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My thanks to the author for a review copy of this book.

This was a book that I was interested to read because its focus is Kartikeya, the older (though in some accounts younger) son of Shiv, the god of destruction and his consort Parvati. It is their younger son, the elephant-headed Ganesha who is more popular. In fact, I knew very little about Kartikeya except seeing his idol in the Durga Puja where he stands, with his mount the peacock, alongside his mother, brother, and other deities; a little from mythological shows on TV; that he is more revered in the South of the country; and the only story I’d really read/knew of before was really to do with Ganesha’s intelligence. So, of course I was keen to see what this would tell me of Kartikeya. The book tells the rather unique tale of Kartikeya’s birth, his early life at Mount Kailash with his parents, and the prophesy that it is he who will bring an end to the rule of the three asuras―Soora, Simha, and Taraka―over the three worlds and restore the king of the devas Indra to power. We are acquainted with his prowess in war, his compassion towards his “enemies” (some of them, anyway) and also, perhaps, some of the more infamous tales associated with him, which the author interprets somewhat more positively, as in keeping with his character, his infinite capacity for loving and being there for any that needs him, rather than a flaw as one might ordinarily view it. We are also told of how he acquires his rather loquacious mount, Chitra the peacock, at once fun and annoying, and his meeting with his consorts Devasena, Indra’s daughter and Valli.

Kartikeya is handsome, compassionate, and while a warrior, keen also to maintain peace. In fact his is the only rational voice in his family, his parents being more tempestuous and inclined to fly off the handle, much too easily for their own good. When in war, Devasena helps him see the less violent way to give the asuras their just desserts, but he doesn’t shy away from giving those that deserve it a worse end. Also he is not power-hungry like Indra, and in fact, prefers to leave it to others who he sees more capable of bearing it. It was interesting to learn how it happened that Kartikeya headed to the South but as another reviewer has also said, I would have liked to have learnt more of his adventures there. We are told that he endeared himself to the people there but not why.

What I enjoyed in the book was really the various legends and stories about Kartikeya and his family, though being mythology in its full-blown form, it does tend to get explicit, which I could have done without. While I knew of that the devas were indeed subject to the same failings as mortals, it was interesting that even the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva aren’t quite free of these. In fact, their lives aren’t all that very different from ours, affected by jealousy, anger, and unfortunately also, the women among them being at the receiving end of injustice. It in fact, even makes one wonder why the distinction between gods and mortals, when they seem essentially the same. Of the devas, Indra the king is a rather debauched, depraved and treacherous soul making one wonder why one so unworthy was ever made king (haven’t read enough mythology to know much of his story―more his misdeeds that anything positive). The three asura brothers are far better people, as while they may well have been responsible for much violence and pain, it is Indra that has provoked them into it with his own reprehensible acts. Not only that, the asuras realise that power or even the fulfilment of one’s deepest wishes brings with it unhappiness and discontent, not what one was seeking.

Chandramouli’s descriptions are vivid (even the gory ones, some of which send a chill up one’s spine) and her command over the language very good, though there were places where colloquialisms creep in (for instance Kartikeya “showing up” somewhere) which seem somewhat out of place in a mythological setting.

Three and a half stars.

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December 2017: Race to Finish My Reading Challenge

For the last couple of years at least, December has been the most I read the most, partly because I have time off of course, but also because I’ve been finding myself falling a little far behind the number of books I challenged myself to read at the beginning of the year. I also end up reading a whole lot of shorter reads and in fact have ended up “discovering” an author or two in the process whom I end up enjoying quite a bit. Last year, I read a few books from the Miss Pickerell series by Ellen MacGregor, science fiction and adventure, as well as Thornton Burgess’ books whose books were sweet little tales of small animals living by the Laughing Brook, very like Enid Blyton’s stories and Beatrix Potter’s.

This December I read 19 books (to finish my goodreads challenge of 100), not all of which were full length, of course (in fact, plenty were very short between 30 and 80 pages). But I did manage to read a range of genres even though 17 of the 19 books I read were mysteries. Still I read a classic, historical fiction, children’s fiction, and one with a ghost/supernatural theme, besides a number of cosy mysteries. This will therefore be a pretty long post.

I read four children’s books this month, all of which were from the Five Findouters (and Dog) series by Enid Blyton. I loved Enid Blyton as a child and still love her books. I’ve read a lot of her books (but nowhere near all since she wrote over 700). I’ve been doing a personal challenge reading all the 15 Findouters books chronologically, and this month I read books 7, 8, 9, and 10. The findouters are five children, Frederick Algernon Trotteville (“Fatty”- a name which he gets from his initials and appearance), Laurence and Margaret (Larry and Daisy) Daykin, and Philip and Elizabeth (Pip and Bets) Hilton, and Fatty’s scottie Buster. They live in Peterswood Village and every holiday when the older children (all but Bets attend boarding school) are back home, they come upon a mystery to solve. Their “arch-rival” is the village constable Goon who isn’t the nicest or brightest of people but the children’s tricks on him (including planting false clues, and making up false mysteries) do tend at times to go too far. The four books I read this month were the Mystery of the Pantomime Cat, Mystery of the Invisible Thief, Mystery of the Vanished Prince, and Mystery of the Strange Bundle. The children are faced with robbery, kidnapping, and mysterious happenings at night in these books and as usual beat out PC Goon at solving them. Unlike some other adventure series where the children stumble upon and solve mysteries, the findouters, particularly Fatty wants to be a detective and goes about acquiring skills including writing in invisible ink, escaping from locked rooms, and trying out a variety of disguises. Fatty’s disguises are not only useful in solving the mystery at hand but he also uses them to play tricks on poor Mr Goon. Another favourite feature of mine in these books is the food―the children pretty much gorge in all the books, in some more than others―pies and cakes, buns, macaroons and sandwiches, with lemonade and ice cream in summer and hot chocolate in winter. My reviews of all the books I’ve read in the series so far are on this page.

The historical fiction I read in December, three books, were also all mysteries but took me to different periods. The Coffin Lane Murders by Alanna Knight is book 11 in the Inspector Faro series which took me to Victorian Edinburgh, where the Inspector is faced with what seems to be a serial killer. Being close to Christmas means that there is ice all around making it harder to look for Clues. Sulari Gentill’s The Prodigal Son, the prequel to her Rowland Sinclair series, is set in 1920s Sydney to which Rowland returns to find that he doesn’t fit in any more, until he gets into the Sydney School of Art and begins to work on his skills. But there is something mysterious going on, his expenses turning out to be too high and household treasures disappearing. The third was Alan Bradley’s The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, the second of the Flavia de Luce series, in 1950s England. Flavia, an eleven-year-old is a genius of sorts at chemistry and at solving crimes. In this one, a travelling puppet show arrives at her village, Bishops Lacey, and the puppeteer is killed mid-show.

Another newer mystery (2010) I read, also dealing with a serial killer was Ruth Rendell’s The Monster in the Box, book 22 featuring Inspector Wexford. Wexford finds himself spotting a serial killer who he knows has killed in the past but he has not a shred of evidence against him. In the process of catching the killer, Wexford revisits the initial days of his career and life.

Among the cosies I read this month were two books featuring Chef Maurice Manchon by J.A Lang. One a full length mystery Chef Maurice and A Spot of Truffle is free on Kindle and the second a short prequel, Chef Maurice and a Very Fishy Tale I got again free by signing up to the author’s newsletter. Chef Maurice is a Frenchman, who runs a restaurant Le Cochon Rouge in a small village in the Cotswolds. In A Spot of Truffle, his mushroom supplier goes missing and then ends up murdered and Chef Maurice must solve the case to get to the source of his supply of white truffles and rescue his pet pig Hamilton, who he has recently adopted to be a truffle-pig. In A Very Fishy Tale, Maurice finds a wooden fish with a call for help engraved on it on a sea bass supplied to his restaurant and his friend restaurant-critic Arthur Wordington-Smythe is keen to get to the bottom of the mystery. Maurice is something like Poirot, with a big moustache, pork-pie hat, even in a sense in his manner of speaking, and an exaggerated but fun character. This was a new to me author and series and I had fun reading both.

Another series of very short cosies I found myself reading were the Julia Blake mysteries by Gillian Larkin, an author who was a first time read for me, but I ended up reading six books by her this month, all free through Kindle or her newsletter. Julia Blake is a middle-aged lady running her own cleaning business. She seems to off and on stumble onto bodies in the course of work and even in her own neighbourhood leading her father to joke that she’s cursed. These are mostly very short stories so one leaps directly into the mystery without too much background. The four I read were Virtually Scared to Death, A Deadly Restoration, A Party to Die For, and A Lesson in Deceit. These are all quick reads, but ones I didn’t manage to guess the killer so good fun. Also by Gillian Larkin I read Playing at Murder, first in the Butterworth series. This features two retired sisters-in-law Connie and Sabine Butterworth, both very likeable ladies. When Sabine, who has worked in insurance, retires, Connie informs her that she intends to start a detective agency with her as partner and before Sabine can even process this, in walks their first client looking for her missing child-minder. Finally, also by Gillian Larkin was A Different Shade of Death, which was really different from what I usually read having a ghost/supernatural theme, though also a cosy mystery. Grace Abrahams who runs an antique shop with her brother has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts of murdered people who she helps solve their deaths. This one has her looking into the death of Charlie Ford, a loan-shark (he claims he isn’t) who doesn’t know who or what killed him.

The one other cosy I read was The Case of the Hidden Flame by Alison Golden and Grace Dagnell, part of the Inspector Graham series which sees the Inspector arrive at a small police station on Jersey to take up his new post. But just as he is settling in to the White House Inn, a body is discovered by a retired army-man on the beach below.

Besides all the mysteries I’ve written about, the two other books I read were Undelivered Letters by J. Alchem, one I’d received for review. I liked the concept but the writing and the end were disappointing. My review is on the blog. Finally, there was The Curate in Charge by Margaret Oliphant which tells the story of a country curate who has served faithfully and conscientiously for 20 years not having bothered to advance his own prospects but suddenly finds himself out of work when the rector passes away. Margaret Oliphant’s books have pretty strong female characters and so did this one in the Curate’s elder daughter Cecily, who has to take charge of the house and family when trouble descends on them.

My reviews of all the books I’ve mentioned are on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/5917681?shelf=read.

So a really interesting and enjoyable reading month, with a bit of a race to the finish at the end. But I had fun doing it, discovered some fun new (to me) authors, and have set up a new challenge on goodreads for this year 108 books!