What’s New on My Shelves: April 2019

Since my TBR mountain was already somewhat like the picture above, of course I had to add some more to it 🙂 (In my defence, I have been ‘good’ for a while now only adding a couple of books every now and then, but this month, this was not the case, as you will see below). Partly, this happened since there were a few sales on books, plus Amazon had some nice freebies on Kindle, and I also got a coupon which I used. So here’s what got added to my shelves this month. I’m still being lazy about writing posts so this one’s going to be only short descriptions 😛

These I ordered new.

Truly Devious is the first in a trilogy of young adult mysteries (or do I just say mystery) set in a school for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists, Ellingham Academy. Shortly after it opened in the 1930s the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped. In the present, Stevie Bell wants to solve this case, but gets pulled into another one taking place in the present as well. The mysteries I don’t think get resolved in one book, something which would have bothered me but since I know this already, I’m interested to give it a try.

Uncle Dynamite is part of Wodehouse’s books featuring Uncle Fred or Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, Fifth Earl of Ickenham, who also appears in the Blandings books, filling in for Galahad to ‘help’ Emsworth. This is the first of his own full length adventures.

Thunderhead is the second in the Arc of a Scythe series, which I began reading last year and enjoyed the first book of very much. Set in a world where human beings have overcome most of their problems, including death, this revolves around Citra and Rowen two apprentices to a Scythe, people charged with keeping the population in check since natural death no longer occurs.

Next on Kindle I got the above three books for free. The first two were being offered as part of some books for World Book Day on the 23rd, while the last was free under another offer (It still is currently-India link here). The Hangman’s Daughter is a mystery (first in series) set in Germany in the 1600s; The Great Passage, the translation of a Japanese novel about friendship, love, and words (lingusitics), while Bewildering Cares is a diary of a vicar’s wife in Manchester in the early days of World War II (somewhat on the lines of the Provincial Lady).

Finally I got some books second hand.

Pompeii is the story of the place in the days before the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. The Little White Horse and The Dragonfly Pool are both children’s books,the first about young Maria Merryweather who comes to live with her aunt and uncle in Moonacre, and the second about Tally Hamilton who is sent away to boarding school because of the war, a place that turns out far more interesting than she’d ever imagined. From there, they travel to the kingdom of Bergania, where she ends up befriending and helping the prince.

Life in a Cold Climate is a bio of Nancy Mitford written based on her novels and other material (I just finished Mary Lovell’s bio The Mitford Girls, earlier this month); Innocent Traitor is a novel about Lady Jane Grey, the nine-days queen; and News From Thrush Green is the third in the Thrush Green books by Miss Read, in which a mother and son move into the village.

Finally I also ordered Sophie’s World, which takes one on a journey through Western philosophy through a story. This one I’d started reading a year ago but didn’t finish because there were other things to be done; so am getting my own copy to finally read it.

And just as I was writing this, this arrived. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq: The Tale of a Tyrant by Anuja Chnadramouli, historical fiction re-imagining Tughlaq’s life and times.

Have you read any of the books on my list or plan to? What did you think of them if you did? And what have you recently added to your shelves? Looking forward to hearing all about it!

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Shelf Control #41: Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Wednesday the 24th of April, and time for Shelf Control once again. Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles. If you want to join in, every Wednesday, simply pick a book from your TBR pile (or mountain, as mine is:) ), and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page and do share your links in the comments below as well, as I’d love to see your picks!

This is the final Shelf Control post in April, and I have yet another book today published in the 1930s (which is my reading theme for the month). Today’s pick is Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell. This book was first published in 1934. This is second in a series of thirty-two books that Thirkell set in the fictional county of Barshetshire, created by Antony Trollope. He wrote six Chronicles of Barsetshire.

What it’s all about: The story is centered on the Leslie family of Rushwater House, where Lady Emily reigns amidst confusion and turmoil. Mr Leslie has taken off on a cruise to the “Northern Capitals of Europe”. Agnes, the daughter of the house is home on a visit with her children. Two other sons deal with their problems and try to find their own paths. One grandson, Martin is fast growing up. There is a cousin Mary, also there on a visit. And there’s more of a cast to add to the confusion–French tenants, and a social leech, Mr Holt. Wild Strawberries takes us on an amusing journey into all their lives and interactions!

Angela Thirkell
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Angela Thirkell, was an English and Australian novelist. Daughter of John Mackail and Margaret Burne-Jones, she was a first cousin once removed to Rudyard Kipling. Her brother Denis Mackail was also a novelist, best known these days I think for Greenery Street republished by Persephone books in 2002. [Going off on a tangent here, but Mackail’s work was praised by Wodehouse in one of his books, and the one book I’ve read by him, Romance to the Rescue was really good fun, very Wodehousian.] Thirkell’s works are described as having ‘satirical exuberance’. She has written a handful of standalone books, besides the Barsetshire Chronicles. Find out more about Angela Thirkell on Wikipedia (here) and from the Angela Thirkell Society of North America here.

I read one of her Barshetshire books a couple of years ago, August Folly (1936) which was a delightful comedy of manners set around an amateur performance of Hippolytus being rehearsed in a village amidst which many f the characters fall in love or fancy themselves in love, only to be shaken back into reality and their senses eventually. Based on that reading experience, I so expect Wild Strawberries to be a fun and crazy journey as well!

Have you read this book or any of Thirkell’s other Barshetshire books? If any other/s which one/s? Did you enjoy them? Looking forward to reading your thoughts!

All the information about the book and Thirkell, are as always from Wikipedia and Goodreads, and about August Folly, from my own review.

Review: Arnica, the Duck Princess by Ervin Lázár #NetGalley

My thanks to NetGalley and Steerforth Press/Pushkin Press for a digital review copy of this book.

This is an English translation of a Hungarian classic children’s tale, first published in 1981 and now being printed by Pushkin Press. The translator is Anna Bentley and the book has been illustrated by Jacueline Molnár.

King Tirunt lives in a palace by a round lake, a palace with thirty-six towers and three hundred windows. He is a just ruler, punishing only those who deserve it, and taking precautions (very great ones) against giving orders when he is in a temper, that is to say, he ensures they aren’t followed and locks himself in his throne room while he is in a temper. With him lives his daughter Arnica, a very special princess, “so sweet and gentle that when she smile[s], wolves and bears forget their fierceness”. King Tirunt wishes that Arnica would marry the person she loves and does not mind who he is or where he is from. Into their lives comes just such a person, Poor Johnny. Poor Johnny has nothing except the clothes on his back and is “footloose and fancy-free”—not only that, he wants nothing either which means that the Witch of a Hundred Faces fails to entrap him (she must enslave a new person every seven years to retain her magical powers), despite the untold wealth and riches she offers. Making his escape (she does pursue him with magic, when he simply walks away) Johnny meets Arnica and they fall in love. But the King wants to be sure before he gives his consent, and makes them wait six months. When this period is up and they are awaiting Johnny’s arrival, the witch acts, casting a spell, as a result of which it turns out that at any given time, either Arnica or Johnny must be a duck. Now they much find a way out, and they don’t mind whether both are ducks or humans but they want to be the same thing at the same time. So off they set to seek the Seven-headed Fairy, the only one who can free them of the curse. Along the way, they meet various people, each with their own oddities, and problems, and change their lives as they move on.

The story is told in third person, and off and on, there is also some dialogue between the narrator and the person he is telling the story to. This gives it the feel of a traditional storytelling style.

I found this to be a really pleasant and cute read. This is a fairly short (just 96 pages) book and a great deal of fun. Being a children’s classic, there are hidden messages of course, but it isn’t preachy or forced down your throat. All of the people they encounter, in fact, find that the solution to their problems lies within themselves, just a change of attitude or approach is called for. And that is what the book tries to tell its readers. Also, the story/stories are told in an amusing way, some episodes more than others, like the Witch’s frustration when Johnny fails to be lured by treasure or the story of Tig-Tag the robber, which was very good fun. I also liked that despite the various little troubles Arnica and Johnny fall into on their adventure, there is no melodrama or exaggeration. Arnica and Johnny are very likeable; Johnny, in fact, reminded me a little of a Grimm’s character in the story ‘Hans in Luck’ where too, the ‘hero’ attaches little to material possessions.

The book has some really colourful illustrations. These reminded me (the style) somewhat of the illustrations for Dunno (by Boris Kalushin) though the ones in these book aren’t as delicate. I loved the colours, also the patterns used, the animals, flowers, trees, etc. but while I didn’t much care for the human beings (illustrations) in the book at the start (they felt a little clumpy), even these kind of grew on me as I read on.   (See cover above)

A charming and cute read.

Have you read this book or do you plan to? If you have, how did you like it? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Shelf Control #40: Death in the Stocks by Georgette Heyer

Wednesday, the 17th of April, and time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is about celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR and write a post about it, linking back to Lisa’s page. Do share your links with me as well as I’d love to check out your picks as well.

As April 2019 is my month for reading 1930s books, I’ve been trying to include 1930s publications or books set in that period in my other posts as well, including Shelf Control. So, this week to I have another 1930s pick, and another mystery (the first, two weeks ago was a British Library Crime Classic (here)), Death in the Stocks by Georgette Heyer. Death in the Stocks was first published in 1935.

This is the first in Heyer’s series of mysteries featuring Superintendent Hannasyde, described on Goodreads as “a perspicacious police superintendent for Scotland Yard”. He appears in four books (Death in the Stocks, Behold! Here’s Poison, They Found Him Dead, and A Blunt Instrument), and the series continues with his junior officer, Inspector Hemmingway, who appears in a further four books.

In this one, an English bobbie on his way back from patrol finds a body in evening dress, where else but in the stocks of the village green. The victim is Andrew Vereker, a not-very-well liked man, and in whose family there are several people with a motive to kill him. The family are corrupt, eccentric, and in no way cooperative. So of course, Hannasyde must investigate and identify a killer “so cunning that even his consummate powers of detection are tested to their limits…”.

Georgette Heyer, English writer of romances and detective fiction, was born in Wimbledon in 1902, and named after her father George Heyer. At seventeen, she began a serial story to entertain her brother who was ill, which her father enjoyed so much that he asked her to prepare it for publication and found an agent. This was The Black Moth. She went on to write numerous historical romances (particularly Regency romances), and other historical fiction, mysteries, short stories, and also a couple of essays.

I’ve read a few of her romances which were enjoyable, and also a couple of books featuring Inspector Hemmingway which I very much enjoyed. The mysteries, even when I could figure out the murderer, were enjoyable reads and what I especially liked about them is the humorous tone in which they are written, and the somewhat eccentric characters the Inspector encounters in each of his cases. (Incidentally, another of her mysteries, Penhallow, is an excellent character study, keeping one completely engrossed even when one knows whodunit.) So I am hoping that this first part of this series will have these elements too, and am looking forward to reading it.

Have you read this one or any of Heyer’s mysteries? Did you enjoy them or do you prefer her romances (if you’ve read those)? Looking forward to reading your thoughts!

All the information on the book and on Heyer is from Goodreads, and Wikipedia as always!

#MurderousMondays: Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston

It’s Monday again, so time for #MurderousMondays. #MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many murder mysteries, and of you’re reading any, you can share them too!

As I wrote last week (here), since my reading theme this month is 1930s books, the mysteries I am reading this month are also those written or set in the 1930s. The book I read this week is a British Library Crime Classic, Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston. Charles Kingston O’Mahoney, who wrote under the pen name Charles Kingston, began writing crime fiction in 1921 and went on to publish twenty-five mysteries until his death in 1944 (the last was posthumously published). Murder in Piccadilly was published in 1936.

Robert ‘Bobbie’ Cheldon is twenty-three, jobless and incapable of doing work, spoiled rotten by his mother Ruby Cheldon, and brought up in the expectation of inheriting his uncle, Massy Cheldon’s substantial estate (with an income of ten thousand a year). But Massy has a good few years, may be decades, before him yet. Bobbie however has fallen in love with a very pretty but not too talented dancer Nancy Curzon, who dances at a nightclub called the Frozen Fang. And the only way she will accept his suit is if he has a fortune—now! The only solution his mother and uncle have for the present is for him to get a job which they ensure he gets, but he must start at the bottom of the ladder. And Bobbie doesn’t want to work. However, he is also too much of a namby pamby to think murder, well may be not think it, but carry it out at any rate. But the murder does happen, and Bobbie, wittingly or unwittingly becomes involved, for there are unsavoury elements, friends of Nancy, among them ex-pugilist Nosey Ruslin, happy to nudge him in that direction, since it would be sure to give them a golden-egg-laying goose. And Bobbie is too young and foolish to see what’s coming. When the murder takes place, Chief Inspector Wake of Scotland Yard is given charge of the case, and while he is quick to work out who may be involved, he must find the requisite connections and proof, and the extent that each person he suspects is indeed involved, and this starts a sort of battle of wits with Nosey Ruslin. How will the Inspector put the clues together, and does he manage to do it as quickly as he thinks he can?

This certainly wasn’t a conventional murder mystery since we knew who the victim was and who plotted the murder, but it was still surprisingly interesting reading throughout. In the initial parts, as I said, while it is clear who the intended victim is, and who could be the possible killer, one can’t be very sure whether the murder will actually take place and how, though when it does, we have sufficient warning. And then, while we know who has been plotting the murder, we don’t know immediately who actually did the deed, so this remains a bit of a mystery. Once Chief Inspector Wake comes into the picture, the story for me got even more interesting as one begins to see how he acts on both intuition and evidence, preferring human clues who can reveal things to the more traditional understanding of clues, though even these turn out to help him in more than one way. Watching Nosey and the Inspector pit their wits against each other, even when we ‘know’ Wake will come out victorious turned out to be good fun. And the end, well, that has its own little surprises in store as the characters get their just desserts in a way one didn’t see coming (though there was a hint along the way). Even in terms of the investigation, things turn out quite differently than what I expected, and I was left wondering whether any of the characters really ‘won’. [Incidentally, the characters (a dancer in a nightclub, an ex pugilist, and a penniless young gentleman among them) almost sound as if they’d stepped out of a Wodehouse novel, but here they are more real and far less attractive.] So, this book turned out to be mystery that wasn’t a mystery, and yet had plenty to surprise me when I read it. Entertaining and fun!

Review: Blue Door Venture by Pamela Brown

My thanks to NetGalley and Steerforth Press/Pushkin Press for a review copy of this book.

This is book 4 in Pamela Brown’s Blue Door series about a group of children, now young adults, who had set up an amateur theatre in their town of Fenchester (based on her home town of Colchester), and after training at drama school have taken their little venture professional. After running the Blue Door theatre as a repertory company for a few months with encouraging but slow results, the Blue Doors happen to come across a young man named Lucky who works his way into the company as their Box Office man when old Mr Chubb falls ill. But while he is very active and does a lot of good for the business increasing their earnings, one fine day he disappears, and with him all the money that the Blue Doors had made off their Christmas pantomime. Now, they can no longer pay off their loan, nor keep the theatre open. And their nemesis Mrs Potter-Smith is losing no opportunity to raise obstacles in their way or cast aspersions. Does this mean their dream of running a repertory company is at an end? The police don’t seem to be getting anywhere in tracing Lucky so the Blue Doors decide that it is up to them to do it. While Maddy has to return to the Academy, it is decided that the three boys with pursue Lucky while the girls will get jobs and earn enough to keep the venture going.

This was once again an exciting and fun instalment in the series. While at the start we are entirely immersed in theatre life with the Blue Doors, as they deal with day-to-day problems and with the loan that hangs over their head, to run the theatre which requires constant investment which they can’t at that moment afford. Once again, the experiences and struggles that the children have in running the theatre are very real, and while they try to handle everything as best they can, and do falter from time to time, one is still a little in awe of how they manage to run a professional company at such a young age. Once Lucky strikes, the story turns into more of an adventure as the boys begin to trace him to different places. While the chase may be fun, it isn’t easy as they must manage on what little money they have going without enough food or rest for days. The connect with the theatre remains, however, through the girls’ experiences as they get different jobs and try to help the boys as best they can. This part is very exciting reading (taking one into an Enid Blyton, Famous Five-ish story) as one sees them pick up each little clue, and follow Lucky, trying to pin him down and get back their money, and of course also makes it different from the other entries in the series. This was a fast paced, quick (I finished it pretty much in a day) and fun read which I thoroughly enjoyed (as I did the earlier books in the series). I can’t wait to see what they get upto next, though it would seem the only book left in the series focuses once again on Maddy’s adventures (like Book 2).

This book was first published in 1949 and is being republished by Pushkin Press on 23 July 2019!

p.s. I’ve reviewed the first three books in this series (The Swish of the Curtain, Maddy Alone, and Golden Pavements) on this blog earlier here, here, and here.

Review: The Forest of Wool and Steel by Natsu Miyashita

My thanks to NetGalley and RandomHouse UK for a review copy of the book. This is a Japanese novel translated into English by Philip Gabriel (who has also translated Murakami).

The Forest of Wool and Steel tells us the story of a young man Tomura. As a high school student, Tomura was deputed one day to conduct a piano tuner, Mr Itadori to the school gym to tune the piano. Hearing him work, more specifically the sounds that he manages to produce, evokes in his mind images of the forest at nightfall, the forest being the one place where Tomura feels welcome and at peace. This experience affects him so deeply that he decides to train as a piano tuner, even though he has so far never played the piano, nor has much of a ear for music. Once he completes his course, he joins the same company where Mr Itadori works in Hokkaido, and it is here that we follow him as he learns from each little experience—attempts at tuning on his own, accompanying his mentor Mr Yanagi, and other senior tuners from the firm (including the not-so-pleasant Mr Akino), or simply from hearing performances, whether at a concert hall or in a home, as different players (clients) approach the piano differently and require different things from it. In all this, his quest is not simply to become a master tuner or a specific kind of tuner but to achieve the kind of sublime sound from his work that Mr Itadori had, and which inspired him to take up this course in the first place. Among his various clients are twins Yuni and Kazune who are sixth form students, and whose journey with the piano is in a way entwined with Tomura’s own.  

This book was an interesting read, and while nothing major happens—we are basically following Tomura through his everyday experiences, seeing him learn something new about turning though each visit to a client or each observation of another tuner—yet, at no point did I get bored or feel that the book was dragging. In fact, one feels as though one is learning with Tomura, experiencing each little lesson with him, on the quest with him to become good at his work. Throughout, Tomura is plagued by self-doubt wondering if he will ever be good enough, be able to get past the technicalities and achieve what he is looking for, revising at times, what he thinks his goal should be—this is something that I could (and am sure others would too) relate with because it is about trying to be the best that you can be at something you love, and in that, one does experience these feelings. For Tomura, besides questioning his own abilities, he is constantly considering who he is tuning for—the client, the audience, or perhaps, the instrument itself? Reading this book, something that will strike you throughout is how knowledgeable the author is, not only about the piano and music but about various nuances of tuning—humidity, whether the curtains in a room are open or closed, even the height of the stool of the player are as likely to affect sound as parts of the piano like its hammers and strings. We learn a little of the instrument’s history as well—and all of this knowledge flows naturally though the text, no information dump here. Another aspect which makes this book very pleasant to read is the images and sounds that are invoked when one reads it—Tomura is often thinking of the forest (he was brought up in a mountain village)—all very prettily described.  A pleasant read about the quest to be the best in one’s calling! (Also, it hardly feels like one is reading a translation.)

The book has won several prizes in Japan and has also been turned into a film.

The book releases on 25 April 2019!

#NetGalley #TheForestOfWoolAndSteel