Wednesday the 29th of May, and Shelf Control time again. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. Each week, simply pick up a book from your TBR shelf, and write a post about it. Don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do share your links in the comments below with me as well as I’d love to check out your picks.
While in my Shelf Control posts this month, I’ve been picking recent (over the last couple of years) publications to feature, this week I’m going a few years back with a 2011 publication, Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer.
The Story: This is the first in a series of seven books–The Clifton Chronicles. Only Time Will Tell is the story of Harry Clifton, a dockworker in Bristol, and his uncle expects him to join the shipyard once he leaves school. But he unexpectedly wins a scholarship to an exclusive boys’ school, and this of course changes his life completely. He was told that his father (who he has never known) died in the war, but as he grows up, he discovers not only the real story behind his father’s death, but also that perhaps Arthur Clifton, a stevedore who spent his life on the docks, might not be his real father. The story is set in the period between the two wars, and when the Second World War is about to break out Harry must decide whether he wants to take up a place at Oxford or join the navy and go to war. I picked this one up on Kindle when it was on sale a few months ago.
Jeffrey Archer is an author whose stories–both short stories and full-length–I really enjoy. Fast-paced and gripping with interesting plots, and unexpected twists, his books (the ones I’ve read so far) always manage to keep me hooked throughout (and coming back for revisits too!). Some of my favourites are his short story collections, A Twist in the Tale, and To Cut a Long Story Short, and of the novels, The Fourth Estate (which fictionalises (not much) the story of Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell), and False Impression (Others too, but these were ones that popped into mind at the moment). It’s been a while since I’ve read anything new by him, so am very much looking forward to reading this one.
Have you read this one or others in the series? How did you like it/them? Do you like Archer’s books? Which are some favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts!
p.s. All the info about the book is from Goodreads as always!
This month I didn’t read any children’s books except for In the Fifth at Malory Towers which I’ve reviewed already (here). So for my children’s book of the month this time, I thought I’d do a more general post about Enid Blyton’s school stories. If you’ve been following this blog, you know of course that Blyton is one of my favourite writers who I read a lot of as a child and still continue to. With over 700 books to her credit, she has written so many genres, fantasy and magic, circus stories, mysteries, farm stories, adventures, nature books, and much much more. But this post is all about her school stories–all set in different boarding schools of course, where there are the ‘usual’ elements of school life–lessons, exams, and games, but also adventures and fun, and sometimes, a mystery or two as well. Among her school stories are three series and one standalone.
Malory Towers: I’m starting with this since this is the series I’m currently revisiting. This series (of six books) tells the story of Darrell Rivers, a twelve-year-old who heads off to Malory Towers, a boarding school in Cornwall, when the series opens. She is excited to make new friends in her time there but when she arrives, she realises that making a good friend is perhaps not as easy as she first thought. And before she does, she must see people for who they are, because first impressions are not always right. What I’ve been loving about this series is how (even though Blyton had a certain idea of how ‘good’ children were) it throughout carries the idea that the world is made up of all sorts of people (like the level-headed Sally, the sharp-tongued Alicia, talented scatterbrain Irene and musical Belinda, and the self-absorbed ‘baby’ Gwendolen Lacy), and one has to learn to deal with them, accept them, also each of us need to change a little for things to go on. I also like the fact that our heroine Darrell isn’t a perfect character, she has temper issues which she has to constantly deal with. Though not students, the two Mam’zelles especially the jolly Mam’zelle Dupont stand out as well! These are fun school stories of course with fun and games, and tricks (the funnest ones were when they write with invisible chalk on the music master’s stool, when Alicia’s cousin June inflates herself in Mam’zelle’s class (where all tricks are played), and when Mam’zelle Dupont plays a trick of her own) too but what I liked most on this reading is the focus on people and human nature. The distinctive Cornish landscape too stands out in many of the stories.
St Clares: This was the series (once again six books) I read more of as a child (countless times, in fact) and so it remains a kind of favourite with me, the details staying more with me than in the other school stories. Here we have not one ‘heroine’ but two, twins Pat(ricia) and Isabel O’Sullivan, and unlike Darrell Rivers, they are not looking forward to St Clares when they first head there. They’ve been head-girls at their old school and believe they are good at everything, and wanted to attend a more ‘snobbish’ school where they friends were going. Luckily, their parents think otherwise and find St Clares the more sensible choice. After initially attempting to be ‘difficult’, the twins soon realise the worth of the school, making friends and doing well. This series has its share of amusing characters too, the fun Doris and Bobbie, the fiery-tempered circus girl Carlotta, and the French girl Claudine among them. And substituting for Gwendolen Mary, is the less selfish but empty headed Alison, the twins’ cousin. Again first impressions are not everything, when the ‘mousy’ Gladys turns out to be a superb actress! There are once again games and matches (lacrosse particularly, but also tennis), lots of tricks, and also plenty of midnight feasts (more than in Malory Towers If I remember right) in this series.
The Naughtiest Girl: This series of four is set in Whyteleaf School, a very different one from Malory Towers or St Clares. Our main character here, Elizebeth Allen, is like Pat and Isabel O’Sullivan not particularly keen to go to Whyteleaf, and tries her best to be thrown out. But of course, that changes soon enough when Elizabeth realises she actually likes the place, but she has to work up the courage to say so! The school itself is what stands out in this one. For one, it is co-ed unlike Malory Towers and St Clares. But more than that it is much freer and also in a way much more radical, since all decisions are taken by a student body, including determining punishments and trying to keep the environment as egalitarian as possible (the other schools are pretty traditional with the teachers and head in-charge of discipline). The students have a wider range of activities, and yes, they allow pets (just the place for me–of course, Malory Towers allowed Wilhemina ‘Bill’, and Clarissa to keep their horses at school).
Mischief at St Rollo’s: Unlike the other three above this is a standalone and was published under Blyton’s pseudonym Mary Pollock. This is one I haven’t actually read yet, and only found out about fairly recently. This one features siblings Mike and Janet Fairley who are being sent to St Rollos (where they don’t want to go, of course 🙂 ) but begin making friends from when they get on the train to school. There is the usual sharing of tuck, midnight feasts, and even a case of cheating in the previous term, the consequences of which are still playing out.
Have you read any of these books? Which ones and which are your favourites among them? Any other school stories or series you’d recommend? And yes, If I missed any of Blyton’s school stories here, do let me know. Looking forward to your thoughts!
My thanks to NetGalley and Europe Comics for a review copy of this
This graphic novel is the second volume on Shelley’s life (I read and reviewed the first a few months ago-review here), and written from the point Mary Shelley takes more of a centre stage in the ‘story’, picks up in 1814, where the first volume left off. Percy had fallen in love with Mary Godwin, and accompanied by her sister Claire Clairmont were about to elope. As this story opens, the three travel to Europe, struggling with money troubles, and living an itinerant life, and seeking adventure. In Europe, first Claire and then Mary and Percy join Byron (that is they take a house next door, and visit constantly). Here also joined by Byron’s doctor Polidori, the little group enjoys themselves with conversations and walks until the weather turns inclement. And so comes the famous time when each of them takes on the challenge of writing a horror tale—we see Polidori narrating his Vampyre, and then Mary being inspired to write Frankenstein—the task more or less taking possession of her. Each of the group’s complicated relationships and moralities are also explored. But then the story takes a rather odd turn, which made me stop and actually look up what was happening—instead of continuing as a biography, it moves into the world of fiction, and more specifically Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, the devastation caused by the plague and the depths to which people can fall even amidst such disaster, with the Shelleys and Byron taking on a central role among the last few survivors.
I really enjoyed the first volume of this series and thought it a very cute way to getting to know a little about Shelley’s life and work. This second volume opens the same way, and up until the time in Villa Diodati, where all of them composed or began to compose their horror stories remains on this track, and this part I enjoyed very much, as much as I did the first volume. In fact, the composition of Frankenstein, etc. was a part of this book that I was looking forward to very much and I was glad that the authors included it in detail, and went a little into the works, and also tried to imagine the kind of conversations the Shelleys, Byron, and Polidori might have had in their time there. But then the story’s turn towards the fictional gave it a very weird feel which while interesting in a way didn’t make any sense to me in this book, especially considering the way the two volumes proceeded from the start. If the authors had chosen to take a fictional path entirely or from the start combined fact and fiction, it might have still worked but when one is reading something biographical, even if done with humour as these books have been (the art work too is caricature-like, which was fun), one kind of expects it to continue that way, and it is a touch disappointing when it doesn’t. I enjoyed the first part of the book a lot, and while the second was done imaginatively, and was interesting, it just didn’t seem to ‘fit’. 3 stars for this one!
Wednesday the 22nd of May, and Shelf Control time again. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. Each week, simply pick up a book from your TBR, and write a post about it. Don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do share your links in the comments with me as well as I’d love to check out your picks.
This month, I’ve been reading (or at least am attempting to read) the 2018 books on my TBR pile and so for Shelf Control have been featuring other recent publications waiting to be read on my shelves. This week’s pick is The Glory of Patan by K.M. Munshi (translated by Rita and Abhijit Kothari). The book is and isn’t a recent publication. The book was originally published in Gujarati in the 1910s, but this translation came out in 2017.
What it’s all about: This is the first of the ‘Patan Trilogy’ ; in the book, the Kingdom of Patan is facing an uncertain future. The king, Karnadev is on his deathbed while his heir, Jayadev is much too young to take the throne. Warlords are scheming and merchants attempting to wrest power. In this atmosphere, it falls to the Queen Minaldevi, and chief minister Munjal Mehta to maintain order, and ensure that the throne is secure for Jayadev to take over. Thus begins an exciting and fast-paced tale of the exploits of the Chalukya dynasty in Gujarat.
The Author: Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi (1887-1971) was an activist, politician, educationist, and writer from Gujarat. He has written many novels, dramas, and also non fiction in Gujarati, Hindi, and English. I have mentioned this in another post but my first acquaintance with Munshi was in college classes, as when studying the Constituent Assembly and its debates in any context, Munshi is often quoted, and it was only much later that I realised that the novelist and politician were the same. The translators Rita and Abhijit Kothari are researchers and teachers based in Gandhinagar/Ahmedabad.
Last year I happened to read one of his books, Prithvi Vallabh (review here), also a work of historical fiction based on a twelfth-century poem, which I enjoyed reading, mostly because of its many unconventional elements. After reading that I wanted to explore more of his works and someone on Goodreads recommended this trilogy, so when I found this one on sale, I picked it up last year (I think it was in October). I have a hardback edition published by Penguin/Viking.
Have you read any books by this author? Which ones and how did you like them? Looking forward to reading your thoughts!
All the info about the book is from the blurb on the book itself, while about Munshi is from wikipedia (here).
My thanks to the author, and Penguin RandomHouse India for a review
copy of this book.
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (reign 1325–1351) was the second ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty, which ruled over a large part of the country described as the Delhi Sultanate, ruled over by five different dynasties, the Mamluks, Khaljis, and Tughlaqs among them.
This book opens in a period of turmoil around the Delhi/Dilli throne when after the demise of Alauddin Khalji, his son Mubarak Shah has proved to be a disappointment, wasting his opportunity on the throne on his own pleasures and debauchery with the result that he has been murdered and the throne taken over by Nasiruddin Khusrau Shah, one of Khalji’s generals. In his capital, young Jauna Khan, son of Ghazi Malik, is a hostage of sorts, though officially Master of the Horse. But he is courageous and manages to make his escape and join his father, who goes on to found the Tughlaq dynasty as Ghiasuddin Tughlaq. His father’s death on return from one of his campaigns sees Jauna ascend the throne as Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, but the circumstances of the death mean that Muhammad will always be suspected of patricide. As the Sultan, Muhammad was a visionary, attempting a series of innovations from shifting his capital, to introducing currency—minting coins of base metals with higher value—and also had other radical ideas including pertaining faith and tolerance which were ahead of his time and did not sit well with his officials or people, despite his own good intentions. Unfortunately for him, most of his schemes and a few of his campaigns failed, and he is remembered as cruel or mad rather than for his ideas. In telling his story, the author explores all of these facets of his personality and of his life, as he goes from being Prince Jauna to Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq to the Mad Monarch amidst a few (his mother and sister) who loved and genuinely cared for him to others like his officials who didn’t really seem to understand him, and still others who were ever ready to betray.
This is the third book of
historical fiction I’ve read by the author and it was my favourite so far. I
really liked how she’s presented Muhammad (from whose point of view the story
is told) as a person—a powerful monarch, yes, but not as someone good or bad or
classifiable into clear cut categories, but rather an interesting but much
misunderstood person, with ideas much ahead of his time, whether it be his
innovations or his interest in interacting with those from other parts of the
world. He is cruel certainly and the tortures he perpetrated on those who
crossed him were horrifying but I felt it was no less so than other
monarchs—the Mughals after him or Henry the VIII for that matter (which is not
to say that those actions were not despicable but just that they weren’t
extraordinarily so). (Incidentally, while in some of the author’s earlier
books, I found what I called the ‘gory bits’ a bit much for me, here while they
were still disturbing to read (as they should be), I didn’t feel that they were
out of place where they were included.) Also he acts on his whims at times which
again was characteristic of so many monarchs (and people generally). But from the
overall portrait that this book paints, the feeling one comes away with is some
level of sympathy for a man who certainly deserved better than he got.
Of the themes the author explores in the book, the one that stands
out throughout is the need for tolerance for difference, whether it be of faith
or other aspects—this is something that is relevant even in the current context
and yet a lesson that people refuse to learn.
I enjoyed the author’s writing and descriptions, especially of
celebratory occasions like his sister Khuda’s wedding—the vivid pictures she
paints make one feel like one is there viewing the ceremonies and celebrations
oneself. In some places, though, I felt some word choices were a touch modern
and didn’t quite fit the historical context/atmosphere in the book. But while parts
of the story and Muhammad’s personality might be as the author imagined them,
the research that has gone into the book shows.
Another small complaint I had with the book was something I felt with her earlier historical book, Prithviraj Chauhan as well—in a work of historical fiction, especially when a monarch and his kingdom is the centre of discussion, including a map/s of the Sultanate as it was in the period or periods being written of would have made the reading experience better as one could have immediately referred to it to see what places or areas were being spoken of. The second element which would also have been helpful was a list of characters mentioned or even a family tree/s. The first chapter of the book where the author describes the situation of the Delhi throne after Khalji’s death, numerous characters are mentioned, not all of whom one was familiar with and I found it a little confusing to keep who was who straight in my mind. I realise that many of these (in fact, most) don’t really come up again in the story, but still a cast of characters describing people in the different dynasties would have helped keep things clearer.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book which presented many facets of a very interesting historical personality. A solid 4 stars.
We travel–to explore the world, experience new places, sounds, smells, cultures, to see the wonders this world has to offer. We travel for adventure, for excitement, for fun, even relaxation. Travel means all this and more. It means to get up and get going, but for us as readers, we can ‘travel’ even without that. Through the books on our shelves, we can have almost all the same experiences, see new sights through the authors’ eyes (and in our minds), learn about new cultures (perhaps even more closely and in more detail than in person), visit magical and fantastical places (Narnia or the lands up in the Faraway Tree) that we never can in real life, and have exciting adventures with the characters we are travelling with!
So each time we open a book, we too travel, enter new worlds, real or imaginary. And this we can do from our comfortable reading nooks. This is just the kind of travel that H.W. Longfellow writes about in ‘Travels by the Fireside’.
In it, he writes of rainy days, of ‘ceaseless rain…falling fast‘ which ‘drives [him] in upon himself’–away from the grey, dreary, and wet atmosphere outside to the cosy comfort of ‘fireside gleams‘, and more importantly, to the ‘pleasant books that crowd [his] shelf; And still more pleasant dreams.’
That is certainly where a cold rainy day or dreary winter evening drives us readers, with a favourite book, sipping some hot coffee/tea, losing ourselves in the worlds that they open up for us! Longfellow reads too of tales sung by bards, ‘of lands beyond the sea‘, and these songs, as he is writing in his later years, bring back to him memories of his youth, when perhaps he went on adventures of his own, the tales he reads of making him relive his own memories. [The songs of the bards and journeys on ‘sea and land’ that he refers to incidentally made me think very much of Odysseus’ adventures, though Longfellow wasn’t really speaking of any specific stories.]
His travels through ‘others eyes’ are far more comfortable than real-life adventures for he no longer fears ‘the dust and the heat‘, or ‘feel[s] fatigue‘, nor does he need to ‘toil through various climes‘. He ‘journey[s] with another’s feet‘, and ‘turn[s] the world around in [his] hand‘, through these songs of the bards as he travels over ‘many a lengthening league‘ and ‘learn[s] whatever lies; Beneath each changing zone‘. In fact, he sees ‘when looking with their eyes; better than with [his] own.’
Do you like travelling? Actual travels or do you prefer to like Longfellow (and me 😛 ) travel comfortably in your armchairs? Have you read this poem before? How did you like it?
Mysteries and detective fiction are one of my favourite genres to read (you may have noticed :P), and so, of course, the quintessential detective, Sherlock Holmes would have to be among my favourites too, and he is. I love the setting in early twentieth-century England, the puzzles he solves, and his powers of observation, which has everyone of even average intelligence feeling a lot like Watson. I realised, I haven’t really written a post about Holmes or stories featuring him on this blog, so decided to start with a few of my favourite short stories. Oddly enough, though so many of the Holmes stories are surrounded around murders, the ones I’m including in this list are mostly not!
The Red-Headed League: One of my very favourite short stories which I’ve read countless times and also watched the adaptation of (with Jeremy Brett) many times is the ‘Red-Headed League’. One Jabez Wilson comes to visit Holmes with an extraordinary problem. A pawn-broker not doing too well, he saw in the newspapers an unusual opportunity to make a good sum, being offered to only those with red hair. Since Mr Wilson has red hair, his assistant Vincent Spaulding encourages him to apply, and he finds himself selected and given a rather odd task–to copy out the Encyclopaedia Britannica for a few hours each morning during which he cannot leave the League’s offices. He takes the assignment up until one fine day, he arrives to find a notice that the League is dissolved. Holmes must find out the meaning of this trick that was played on Wilson, and of course, it turns out that there was far more to it than the ridiculous joke being played on Wilson. I love this one for how funny the whole scheme is (one can’t help but burst into laughter along with Holmes and Watson) but also for how Holmes works out the real reason behind it.
The Adventure Blue Carbuncle: This one I love for both the puzzle and the lovely Christmassy atmosphere of the whole story (the latter probably came through more strongly in the adaptation). Watson visits Holmes to find him examining a hat which was dropped by a man who was being harassed by some ruffians. With the hat was also a goose–the goose Holmes gives to the Commissionaire who found it, but when he cooks it he finds it has laid a rather expensive egg–the Blue Carbuncle, a priceless jewel stolen from the Countess of Morcar, for which theft John Horner, a former convict and now a plumber has been arrested. But how did the jewel get into the goose? Holmes looks into the case, beginning with tracing down Mr Henry Baker, the man who lost the hat and goose, and whose character he deduces rather perfectly from the hat alone (this is one of the scenes I enjoy most in the story). With that begins a chase after the origins of the goose and how the stone came to be in it!
Fun fact: The carbuncle is supposed to have been found in the goose’s ‘crop’, something geese don’t have; this is considered Conan Doyle’s greatest blunder (via wikipedia).
The Naval Treaty: In this one Percy Phelps, an old schoolmate of Watson gets in touch about a serious problem. He has been ill with brain fever as a result of what happened, and his career is nearly finished. He was a good student at school and through his uncle’s influence has a good position at the Foreign Office, often being entrusted by his uncle, Lord Holdhurst with delicate and confidential tasks. One such was to copy a naval treaty, which is to be kept completely confidential. Percy stays after work to complete his task, and when he leaves his desk for a few moments to see about some coffee he’d ordered, the treaty disappears. There was no one in the office but the Commissionaire, and the charwoman, his wife. But when they are investigated, no leads are found. Now it is up to Holmes to see who could possibly have stolen the treaty, and why the obvious consequences, had the treaty been leaked, haven’t played out yet. Again, I loved this for the way Holmes works out the puzzle which is in some ways very simple, and yet quite twisted at the same time.
The Man with the Twisted Lip: This case is about one Mr Neville St Clair who has gone missing when on business in London. Mrs St Clair who was also visiting London separately notices his face on the upper floor of an opium den, but when after some difficulty she manages to enter the place, the only person there is a beggar with a twisted face, Hugh Boone. The police thinks she may have made a mistake, but soon wooden bricks which her husband had promised to buy for their son and some of his clothes are found. The beggar is arrested and charged with the murder of Neville St Clair, but he refuses to say anything except denying his involvement, and also interestingly refuses to be washed. Holmes who is investigating finds a rather surprising answer. Once again, not a story involving murder but still a pretty interesting puzzle of which I loved the solution.
The Adventure of the Dancing Men: One Hilton Cubitt from Norfolk visits Holmes with mysterious pieces of paper which have figures of dancing men on it. He has recently married an American woman, Elsie Patrick, who refuses speak about her past which had some disagreeable memories and people though she personally has done nothing wrong. They have had a happy marriage so far but messages with these dancing men began to arrive making Elsie very fearful. When Holmes cracks the code that these dancing men represent, he realises Cubitt’s life is in danger but by the time he arrives at his home, Cubitt has been shot. He now uses the code that he has cracked to trace the killer. This is only one of the stories I picked in this set that has a murder, and is a little more sinister in tone than the others, as well as is more tragic. But what I enjoy about it is the codes and code-breaking element which is great fun.
So there are some of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories. There are more that I really like and I will write a separate post about them sometime.
Do you like Sherlock Holmes? Which are some of your favourite stories? Looking forward to reading about them!
Wednesday, the 15th of May! Shelf Control time again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles. To take part, simply pick a book from your TBR and write a post about it–what made you pick it up, why you are excited to read it and such. Link back to Lisa’s page of course, and do leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to look at your picks!
This week, I’m continuing with featuring recent publications in these posts as my theme for this month is 2018 reads. [I don’t have that may 2018 books pending as of now so have broadened the range for Shelf Control.] The book I picked this week is The Great Passage by Shion Miura. The book was first published in Japanese in 2011, while its translation by Juliet Winters Carpenter was published in 2017.
What it’s all about: Described as ‘[a] charmingly warm and hopeful story of love, friendship, and the power of human connection’. Kohei Araki has been inspired from a young age by the various meanings that words carry, and finds a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime, who collects antiquarian books and has a background in linguistics. When Majime finds himself tasked with completing The Great Passage, a 2900-page tome on the Japanese language, on his journey he finds friendship, romance, dedication to his work, and inspiration from something that binds us all–words.
I got this book on Kindle as part of Amazon’s World Book Day offers.
This sounds like a really interesting read, focused around themes that I love–books and words. The description of Araki’s character reminds me very much of a character I ‘met’ in another Japanese work recently, Tomura in The Forest of Wool and Steel (review here), who is so deeply affected by the sounds of a piano being tuned in his school, that he takes up tuning as a career. This book, which is also about the making of a dictionary, also has shades of another read I very much enjoyed, The Surgeon of Crowthorne. This seems to be a book that I’m quite sure I will enjoy reading, and certainly one that give me plenty of food for thought as well.
The Author and Translator: Shion Miura, the daughter of a classics-scholar, who loved reading from a young age, published her first novel in 2000, the year after graduating. She has written several novels and short stories, and won the Naoki prize in 2006 for her linked short-story collection, The Handymen in Mahoro Town, and the Booksellers Award in 2012 for The Great Passage.
Juliet Winters Carpenter is an American translator of Japanese literature and has translated several novels, short story and poetry collections. She has won the Japanese-US Friendship Commission prize for her translations of Abe Kobo’s Secret Rendezvous, and Minae Mizumara’s A True Novel, besides other awards.
Have you read The Great Passage or do you plan to? What did you think of it if you have? What are some of your favourite books about books or words? Looking forward to reading your thoughts!
All the info about the book and Shion Miura is from Goodreads (here and here) and about Juliet Winters Carpenter from Wikipedia (here).