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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Findouters Challenge: Of a Poodle and a Stolen Painting

The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage (The Five Find-Outers, #12)The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage by Enid Blyton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Findouters challenge: book 12. I started the Findouters challenge last October and have been reading these books in order since. Last month I took a bit of a ‘break’ from it as I was reading mainly historical fiction. But now I’m back to it, and plan to finish the series this month. The Mystery of Tally-ho Cottage was a book I last read many years ago, probably still in school, but not after unlike some of the other books in the series so all I really remembered about it was that it had the Larkins and the Lorenzos but who they were or what the mystery was about I didn’t remember at all. When I began reading though, the solution came back to me, and is certainly among the more creative and fun ones in the series. The story begins more or less the same, though this time Pip and Bets, Larry and Daisy are all in Peterswood while Fatty has been away for two weeks of the Christmas holiday. So, the opening is of course, the four and Buster (who Pip and Bets have been dog-sitting) setting out to the railway station to meet Fatty, due to arrive that day. There they or rather Buster get into a quarrel of sorts with a couple they later learn are the Lorenzos (tenants at Tally-ho Cottage)―the latter having accused Buster of ‘attacking’ their poodle Poppet. The matter settles down as the Lorenzos are leaving town and Poppet is to stay with the rather nasty caretakers of the cottage, the Larkins. Soon it emerges that the Lorenzos have stolen a valuable painting and taken off, and there is once again a mystery to solve. Meanwhile Ern is back in Peterswood staying with his other relatives the Wooshes, who happen to live just next to Tally-Ho giving him an opportunity to keep an eye on Tally-ho for Superintendent Jenks has forbidden Fatty to get involved.

This was another fun entry in the series with, as I wrote already, a pretty creative solution. As far as the ‘investigations’ are concerned, Ern takes a bit of a lead, building a tree- house and involving his twin cousins Liz and Glad in the process. (While the children are friendly to him, their attitude but for Bets is once again the same as ever Pip (who won’t make a noise in his house for fear of his strict parents) accusing Ern of not being brave, and almost all the children believing him to be loose lipped). Still, he catches on to some important things though it is Fatty and the others who interpret them. Also as usual, it is Bets who points to the all-important clue, unwittingly though in this one and Fatty catches on putting all the pieces into place as a result. But none of this before a couple of adventures in ‘disguise’, including as an ‘Indian’ (these bits are a bit exaggerated and stereotypical, but in good fun) to lead Goon a merry dance, as well as a midnight adventure. But yes, none of the planting of false clues and such, only playing tricks on Goon a little. Fatty also uses his mimicry and ventriloquism skills but to entertain rather than to ‘detect’. On the foodmeter, this one rated just ‘ok’―there was eating and drinking (scones, cocoa, gingerbread, cake) but it didn’t seem overflowing with food as some of their adventures are. A fun and entertaining read overall which I quite enjoyed.

A few of the original illustrations are available on the Blyton Society Page here: http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/bo… (but it has a review with spoilers so avoid that if you haven’t read the book but plan to).

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Review: The Hazel Wood

The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood, #1)The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Children’s Publishers, UK for a review copy of this book.

I’d been noticing this book all over and found the cover very intriguing (though I didn’t know much about the story except that it had to do with fairy tales) so when I found it listed on NetGalley I put in a request. This is the story of seventeen-year-old Alice who with her mother Ella has been living a roving life―since she was a child, every few months, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, they must move, for bad luck finds them everywhere they go. But something changes and they make an attempt (albeit not a very good one) at setting down, but then Ella’s mother goes mysteriously missing. Realising that this has something to do with a book of rather dark fairy tales Tales from Hinterland, which her grandmother Althea Proserpine wrote many years ago, her only book which was somewhat successful but is not wrapped in mystery, Alice sets out to track her down. In the process she is helped by her classmate/friend(?) Ellery Finch who also happens to be a huge fan of the book, and practically knows it from cover to cover.

So to start off with, I must say I felt the tiniest bit of disappointment because somehow or other I was expecting this one to be in a historical/old-fashioned setting but it wasn’t but that wasn’t much of a bother once I actually started reading. I enjoyed the writing overall. The story is told from first person perspective, but to me Alice’s voice didn’t always come across as that of a seventeen-year-old, sometimes she seemed much older (though I wouldn’t say that about her actions/behaviour―that was very much a teen).

I really thought the author was very imaginative with the whole atmosphere she created and the plot itself as well. She weaves in references/tributes to known fairy tales but the ones she creates are very much her own and while much much darker I think than our more common ones, I found them interesting to read. Even outside of the fairy tales, when Alice and Ellery are tracking down her mother Ella, the atmosphere is dark, creepy (very creepy), and I found when I put down the book for the day, I wasn’t left feeling the most comfortable, so that certainly was a job well done. The plot again I enjoyed, it had me interested enough to want to keep reading on to find out how things turn out―what really happened to Ella, and what Alice and Ella’s connection is with the world in Hinterland. Some reviewers seem to have found the initial part of the book a little slow, but I didn’t think so. In fact, I thought it did its job well building up the anticipation and the excitement towards what the magic world would be like, what its secrets were, or whether indeed there really was one. I did think it dragged a bit at a point or two because I remember thinking why they still hadn’t got there. As far as the second part was concerned, while I found it interesting reading, to see how things played out, I wasn’t entirely grabbed by it, though the end was satisfying. The ‘mystery’ element in the plot or rather what the actual connection was between Alice, her mother, grandmother and the Hinterland world, I didn’t guess at all.

Alice herself I felt very neutral towards except at some points where she rather annoyed me. For instance, her constant digs at Ellery about being rich and privileged do get a bit much when it is clear and she is aware that his life is no less complex than hers, and while may be privileged in one way, is far from it in others. But why I didn’t really ‘like’ her I did want to find out how things would turn out for her. Ellery, though he wasn’t perfect, was someone I felt more sympathetic towards.

So overall, a pretty good read―there were many things that I really enjoyed about the book, but it wasn’t a five-star read for me.

I notice from the goodreads page that there is a sequel planned plus the Tales from Hinterland themselves, the latter I know I want to read―the sequel―I’m curious about that as well.

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February Reading Theme Review and Plans for March

February as I mentioned in my reading goals post some days ago has been about reading Historical Fiction. Besides of course being a genre I enjoy, I found that most of the books I had for review with me, as well as one I picked for a challenge which I was participating in on Goodreads fell within this category, so it became my February reading theme by default. Related to my theme, over the month, I read six books. (My two non-theme-related reads were children’s books, both of which I have reviewed here).

Two of the books that I read were by author Anuja Chandramouli, an Indian author who writes fiction centred around mythology, fantasy, and history (not all in one), and the ones I read were of course historical fiction, both of which I had received for review. The first, Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts was about King Prithviraj Chauhan who ruled over parts of north India around the late-twelfth century. I didn’t really know much about his life, except a famous legend which tells of a Princess Samyukta’s love for him (having heard of his valour but not having seen him). When her father refuses to invite him as a possible suitor for Samyukta’s hand, she garlands his statue to show that it is him alone that she would marry, and soon after, he arrives and takes her away with him. Chandramouli’s book has a somewhat different version of this story, but it is focussed more on Prithviraj’s life and reign and made for interesting reading. My review is on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/review-prithivaraj-chauhan/. The second book by Chandramouli was Rani Padmavati: The Burning Queen which is the story of Padmavati, the beautiful queen of the kingdom of Chittor (part of modern-day Rajasthan) who chose to give up her life rather than fall into enemy hands once the kingdom fell. This story too is a different version that the popular one I’d heard. Padmavati is however, more the subject of legend than history, and some ways, the book reflected that, presenting her as near-perfect, almost not real. This was a fairly good read but the writing was not of the same quality as Chandramouli’s usual style, and the book didn’t feel like it had as much substance as Prithviraj, so it was the Prithviraj that I preferred of the two. My review of Padmavati is also on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/02/27/review-rani-padmavati-the-burning-queen/.

Then next I read The Light in the Labyrinth by Australian author Wendy Dunn, whom I have never read before. I got this book via NetGalley. This is a story of the last few months of Anne Boleyn’s life told through the eyes of fourteen-year-old Katherine Carey, her niece and Mary Boleyn’s daughter who arrives at court, a naïve young girl with no idea of what court life is really like, and also unware of the secret of her own identity. The book takes us through life in Henry VII’s court―the politics, conspiracies, betrayals, and dangers. This was a book I really enjoyed reading, as would any historical fiction fan. My review is again on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/02/16/book-review-the-light-in-the-labyrinth/.

One of the challenges I was part of with the Goodreads group A Book for All Seasons required me to read a book in a series but not a debut book. For this category I picked I’m Half Sick of Shadows, the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. Eleven-year-old Flavia is a genius of sorts, budding chemist with an interest in poisons and her own lab, and also amateur sleuth, who ends up helping the local police in her village Bishop’s Lacey, solve a few twisted murders. I read my first Flavia book last year and enjoyed it very much. In this one, Flavia’s father has had to let their house, Buskshaw, out to a film company because of money troubles. It is around Christmas and the house is soon snowed in (a-la the Sittaford Mystery, which Bradley mentions), and one night after a performance of a scene from Romeo and Juliet, put on by the actors for charity, a murder takes place, and Flavia as usual ends up spotting the most crucial clues. The mystery in this one was perhaps not as complicated as the previous one I read (book 2: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag) but what I really enjoy about the books is Flavia herself, she’s got spunk and a ‘voice’ that I enjoy, and is always upto something interesting (in this one she’s setting up a trap from Santa Claus). My detailed review is on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2297915593?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1.

Next up was another mystery, book 7 in the Brother Cadfael Mysteries by Ellis Peters set in the 1100s, when there was civil war between King Stephen and Queen Maud, and which is another series which I enjoy reading. In this one, the Sanctuary Sparrow, a young boy, or rather a young man, Liliwin, literally bursts into the Abbey at Matins, pursued by a mob that is out to kill him. They accuse him (a performer and musician) of having done in one Walter Aurifaber, and stolen various treasures during a wedding celebration at the Aurifaber home. The abbot gives him sanctuary, and Brother Cadfael convinced of the boy’s innocence sets out to clear his name. While the mystery was a pretty good one (I didn’t really guess it and there was a twist of sorts at the end (though not in the mystery) which I didn’t expect), what I really enjoyed in this book was Peters’ portrayal of the Aurifaber household which is full of tensions, greed, jealously, and various other emotions, and where ‘power-games’ of sorts are playing out, particularly between two characters. The characters’ stories really drew me in and I was interested to see how things would turn out, finding myself even rooting for characters on both sides of one struggle, at any rate. Thinking back, I realise I probably should have rated it higher than I did. My full review is on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2302352555?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1.

Finally, I read Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett, another book I got from NetGalley, and which is the story of sixteen-year-old Mary Adams who comes to London to work as a scullery maid, but ends up living a double life of sorts, when she catches the eye of some pre-Raphaelite painters, and begins to model for their pictures. This was another enjoyable read which takes one into the world of art and artists (including real life artists Millais, Rossetti, and Lizzie Siddal, who was not only a model for the pre-Raphaelites but a poet and artist in her own right.) Since I only wrote this review yesterday, I’m not going into too much detail. My review is on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/review-following-ophelia/.

So that was my February reading―a pretty good reading month overall, with authors known and new, and a few good ‘discoveries’ thanks to NetGalley.

For March, the theme I’ve picked is Catching-up, as I mentioned also in my reading goals post. This is because there are a few books that I ended up setting aside half-way or part of the way in, and a challenge or two I need to catch-up with. So some of the books I will be reading this month are The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (this one to ‘catch up’ with my NetGalley reviews), books 12–15 of the Five Findouters books by Enid Blyton (to complete the Findouters Challenges that I started towards the end of last year), Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (started reading this with a Goodreads group but put it aside mid-way (not the book’s fault)), and Sophie World by Jostein Gaarder (started but set aside to catch up with other challenges). I will be reading at least one non-fiction, and doing a poetry/poem related post as I mentioned in my reading goals post. If there’s time after all that, I might just read a couple of ‘fresh’ books off my TBR pile to make some progress on my Mount TBR challenge (catching-up with that challenge). So let’s see how March turns out. As of now, I’m heading off to read Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray which I will be reading over March and April with the Victorians Group on Goodreads. Let’s see how things turn out. Hope everyone has a good reading month ahead!