Children’s Book of the Month: Superstar Tapir by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy #Children’sBooks

This is as you can see a book for very young readers, but the reason I picked it up was that I heard about it (another volume in the series, actually) from a friend’s review and not only did the stories sound charming, the illustrations/artwork was what caught my eye—pages in distinctive stripes, and all the art in black, white, grey, and one specific colour—in this case, yellow/orange (the colour of a ripe mango-fitting considering the main character’s name). I actually wrote about this one in a Shelf Control post last month (here).

Mango and Bambang is a series of (so far) four books featuring the adventures of a ‘calm and clever’ little girl Mango Allsorts, and her friend, a ‘daring and devoted’ tapir Bambang. This, the fourth in the series, is a collection of four short stories, connected somewhat in that each story starts off where the previous left off, but is essentially a complete story in itself. In the stories in this collection, Mango creates for Bambang who has never seen snow, his very own snow day, complete with the experience of falling snow but in a very special way; Mango’s father, who balances books for much of the time, takes a break and takes Mango and Bambang to the fair, which smells of popcorn and sugar, here the friends enjoy the rides while Mango’s father takes a turn at the hoopla, but there’s also trouble as the two run into an old enemy, in no less than a mummy’s tent; Bambang’s friend, the little dog Rocket has always been interested in space, and when she disappears having set out to travel to the moon, Mango and Bambang must find her and make sure she is safe; and in the final story, the two are invited to the premiere of Bambang’s cousin, Guntur’s movie, ‘A Tiny Tapir’s Tears’ and while Bambang is impressed with his little but somewhat puffed-up cousin’s many talents, Mango makes him realise that he isn’t an ordinary tapir either.

This certainly was as charming a collection of stories as my friend had said in her review. I enjoyed them all—though if I had to pick a favourite, may be it would be the snow day. I loved the friendship between Mango and Bambang, and how they always stand by and help each other, in every situation, whether it is an adventure where they are escaping a villain, helping a friend, or simply making each other realise their true worth. The stories are as I said, complete in themselves, but there are also connections with stories from earlier books—friends they have met in the past, villains they have encountered, and such, so if one reads these as a series, these would add to one’s enjoyment, though reading a later book first doesn’t spoil one’s fun in any way (I have only read this one).

And (I have sort of said this already in my Shelf Control post) there’s lots to love about the book in terms of the artwork as well. I liked the illustrations and style very much, and also the whole design of the book—the tiny tapirs covering the front and back inner pages, the illustrated ‘cast of characters’ (or at least of main characters) at the beginning, and the distinctive striped pages with illustrations at the beginning of each story. This was a sweet and pleasant read (quick too), and I’m sure if you enjoy children’s books, you will love this one as well!

Shelf Control #50: And Berry Came Too by Dornford Yates #Humour

Wednesday, June 26–time again for Shelf Control! The last one this month–time certainly is flying. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains (Mine is currently at 266 including all the e-books I’ve downloaded). To participate, just pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This month I’ve simply been picking random books from my TBR pile to write about in this feature, and this week’s pick is a collection of connected short stories, And Berry Came Too by Dornford Yates.

And Berry Came Too (1936) is book six in the ‘Berry’ series of books by Yates. These are more or less (with the exception I think of Adele and Co) collections of connected short stories featuring the Pleydell family–Berry and his wife Daphne, her brother Boy and his wife Adele, their cousins Jonah and Jill. Along the line Jill marries Piers, Duke of Padua who joins the group. In the initial stories, they are also joined by a Sealyham Nobby, but he wasn’t there in the last one I read. The group is more often than not falling into various ridiculous adventures, sometimes tracking down thieves and criminals or stolen goods, getting stuck with contraband, or getting away from angry gendarmes. Their adventures are for the most part hilarious, but there is sometimes a touch of drama and also a little romance. [The books are set in the post World War I period, and Berry, Jonah and Boy have all been in the army. Shadows of this appear off and on, but the tone of the books is light-hearted for the most part.] Interwoven in the books are beautiful descriptions of nature, and at times, also of towns and cities, reading which not only takes one amidst the scene being described but which also bring one the sense of peace that one feels when in those surroundings.

I have quoted this one before earlier on this page, but from Berry and Co.

As was fitting, St. George’s Day dawned fair and cloudless. Her passionate weeping of the day before dismissed, April was smiling—shyly at first, as if uncertain that her recent waywardness had been forgiven, and by and by so bravely that all the sweet o’ the year rose up out of the snowy orchards, dewy and odorous, danced in the gleaming meadows and hung, glowing and breathless, in every swaying nursery that Spring had once more built upon the patient trees.

Dornford Yates, Berry and Co (1920)

Back to this book now, this is a series of eight stories, described as ‘the hair-raising adventures and idiotic situations of the Pleydell family’ (from the description of Goodreads/Fadedpage). The description doesn’t give any further details but if they are like the earlier books in the series, I know I will have a good laugh or rather many good laughs reading them. Berry’s conversations and even his letters are simply hilarious, and this is sure to have some of those. (I have an e-copy, by the way, downloaded via fadedpage.com).

Cecil William Mercer
by George Charles Beresford via wikimedia commons

Cecil William Mercer (1885-1960) was an English novelist, who wrote under the pen name Dornford Yates (a combination of the maiden names of his grandmothers). He wrote both comic novels (the Berry series) as well as thrillers–among them the Chandos series in which Jonah (Jonathan Mansell) appears as a main character in a different avatar, and standalone books. I have read four of the Berry books so far which I enjoyed very much, and one of the Chandos series which was enjoyable but I didn’t like how he’d changed the relationship equations between the Berry characters (who appear in that book as well–not the entire series though).

Have you read any books by Yates before? Which one/s and how did you like them? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Beauties in Black: Some Favourite Book Covers

A lazy post today since I haven’t finished the book(s) I was planning to review this week. Us readers love our books for what’s inside of course, but we also love books for what they look like, don’t we? Covers–pretty or striking in some way or other–are what draw us to books so many times. Today’s post is just some of my favourite book covers in Black–not all of course, just ones I could think of at the moment. Most of these are recent reads (except Night Circus), but I know when I rearrange my shelves (long overdue) I will find others that I don’t remember. The books I ‘m sharing today are also ones that I really enjoyed the content of also, aside from the pretty covers.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood (review here) was one I read via NetGalley, and the gorgeous cover was what really drew me to it. It was because of the cover that I looked up the description and put in my request.

Ok I realise Circe is more gold than Black but it does have a fair amount of black and it is soooo pretty!–I couldn’t not have it here. The black with gold, and silver combination is also beautiful in Listen O’ King (review here). I wanted to read a version of the Vikram and Vetal stories, but part of the reason I picked this one over others available was that cover. How could I resist!

In Circe and the Night Circus, I love the embossing on the covers. The Book Hunters of Katpadi is perhaps not as pretty by comparison as some of the others I have here, but I loved the black and sea green combination (the end papers are sea green–also a little of the cover art which I think is not so clear in the image), and the little motifs like the little key on the cover (under the jacket), and the chest that it unlocks inside (review where also mention these here).

Finally, a series which I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten down to yet, The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden,all three books of which have these very pretty covers–all in black too!

Do you pick up books simply because of the covers? Have they turned out good reads or not so good ones much of the time? If the description isn’t so promising, would you give it a try anyway? Which are some of your favourite book covers? And if you’ve read or are planning to read any that I’ve mentioned here, I’d love to know how you liked them. Looking forward to your thoughts!

Shelf Control #49: Diabolic Candelabra by E.R. Punshon #Mystery #TBR #GoldenAge

Wednesday, June 19–time again for Shelf Control! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, just pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This month as I wrote before (last week’s post here), I’m simply featuring random picks from my TBR pile in Shelf Control rather than picking books around my monthly reading ‘theme’ as I usually do since I this month, I’m trying to catch up with reads left over from previous months, and haven’t picked a theme as such. So this week’s pick is another such book, a golden age mystery in fact–Diabolic Candelabra by E.R. Punshon.

Diabolic Candelabra (1942) is the seventeenth in a series of thirty-five mysteries featuring Bobby Owen, who works his way up from police constable to Commander at Scotland Yard over the course of the series. In this one, Inspector Owen’s wife Olive is on the hunt for a recipe for chocolates. But where Owen is concerned, a simple hunt for a chocolate recipe doesn’t as expected remain that. Instead into the recipe are added a wood-dwelling hermit, a girl who talks to animals, an evil stepfather, and two very valuable works of art–of course, a recipe not for chocolate but murder! Described as a ‘beguiling story of labyrinths and seemingly impossible murder’ which is a ‘treat for armchair sleuths’.

I picked this one up (with a couple of others in the series) a few months ago when it was free on Kindle. Having never tried Punshon’s books before, I thought that was a good chance to. As far as this specific story is concerned, I like the description–a recipe for ‘uncommonly good’ chocolates which turns into a complicated puzzle, and that too, a Golden Age mystery–just my cup of tea!

E.R. (Ernest Robertson) Punshon (1872-1956) was an English novelist and literary critic, most successful in the 1930s and 1940s. He is best known today as the creator of Bobby Owen; the series featuring Owen was published between 1933 and 1956. Punshon also wrote crime and horror short stories, and was reviewer for many of Agatha Christie’s books in the Guardian when they were first published. Find a full list of his works here.

Do you enjoy Golden Age mysteries? Which ones or which authors are your favourites? Have you read Punshon before–this book or any other/s? How did you find them? Looking forward to your thoughts!

All descriptions are from Goodreads and wikipedia, as always.

#Review: The Book Hunters of Katpadi by Pradeep Sebastian #Books #Booklove

The Book Hunters of Katpadi is a story that takes one into the world of antiquarian books and collecting. Set around a fictional bookstore Biblio in Chennai, supposed to be the country’s first full-fledged antiquarian book store. Run by two bibliophiles, Neela and Kayal, the store specialises in modern Indian first editions, and is in the process of preparing its first catalogue. There are two story threads that we essentially follow in the book, both connected with Biblio. One a librarian from a college has been helping himself to valuable antiquarian editions from the college and replacing them with better looking editions of far lesser value—and doing so not secretly as such, but taking advantage of the fact that no one else knows the true worth of the older books and think the ‘fancier’ editions better. Some of these treasures have found their way to Biblio, and it falls to Neela and Kayal to help restore the college library’s collection. Then we have the second thread which focuses on the adventurer–explorer–translator (among other things) Richard Francis Burton, and a set of book collectors obsessed with material associated with him or that came from his pen. Some exciting pieces of Burtonia have surfaced in the small hill station of Ooty, and Burton collector, Nallathambi Whitehead, one of Biblio’s regular patrons, who can’t travel for health reasons asks Kayal (who is travelling to Ooty to look at some other old books at a school) to look into it. The Burton material she comes across there has the potential to shake up the world of bibliophiles, and especially of Burton collectors completely.

Richard Francis Burton (1864) byRischgitz
via wikimedia commons
Illustration from Burton’s Translation of Vikram and the Vampyre (1870)

This was a really lovely read for me. The book is labelled a Bibliomystery, and while there isn’t much of a mystery, there is a surprise twist at the end which makes the ‘mystery’ part of it good fun. And it is the Burton thread that essentially has this component, the other being focused on how our two bookwomen deal with the little ‘problem’ at the college library.

For the most part, it is really all about the world of books—more so the printed book, printing culture, bibliophiles, collectors, and first or otherwise important editions. The book takes us specifically into the world of book collectors in India, where the pursuit is not as prominent or sizeable as in the West with their being few collectors, and fewer antiquarian booksellers. We also get some background into collecting in the West, major auctions that changed the collecting world, great collectors and such. And we also get a look into specific books, writers, and collectors (largely from India’s colonial past) that were associated in some way or other with the country—either they lived and travelled here for a while or wrote their works here. As a bibliophile (just a hoarder of books though, not a collector), I truly enjoyed reading these segments in which the author’s love for books and enthusiasm are infectious. [Lots of my favourite children’s books/series are also mentioned, Anne of Green Gables, William, and The Three Investigators among them.] Anyone who loves books or collecting would enjoy them equally, I think. The author also goes into aspects of printing, hand presses, paper which make physical books special, in addition to the material that’s in them, which again was something I enjoyed reading.

Another plus of the book for me was that it has illustrations (by Sonali Zohra)!!! Always love those. Plus, the publishers have taken trouble with how the book looks—not only the cover but the little motifs like a little golden key on the cover (under the jacket) and the locked trunk that it opens (unlocking the bibliomystery) on the inner cover page.  

I have seen reviews of the book critiquing it for being more non-fiction than fiction, which is true in a sense as these parts were more prominent than the story/stories, and while the two are related certainly, perhaps it does not read as a work of fiction as a whole—but despite this being the case, I did enjoy reading this very much, and will look out for more by the author. This is incidentally his first novel—earlier works are non-fiction bookish essays.

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (61)

Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun, which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world.

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby (1838-9)

Image source: Pexels

p.s. If you’ve watched #TheHeirs, I’m sure you’ll like the picture!

Shelf Control #48: Passion by Jude Morgan #HistoricalFiction #Poetry

Wednesday, June 12–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/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it–when and where you got it, what makes you want to read it, and such. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This month, as I mentioned last week also, I don’t have a specific reading theme and am only catching up with books I have left over from my TBRs for the past couple of months. So for Shelf Control, too I am simply picking random books to feature from my TBR shelf. This week’s pick as you can see from the cover is Passion (2004) by Jude Morgan.

Images: Shelley, Keats, and Byron.

Historical fiction once again, this one is set in the years of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and around the lives of three romantic poets–Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Keats. The three come in to prominence, becoming famous or infamous for their lives as much as for their works. This book explores their stories through the stories of four women in their lives–the gifted Mary Shelley, aristocratic Lady Caroline Lamb, quiet Fanny Brawne, and Augusta Leigh–who themselves flout many conventions in loving them. Told from different perspectives, the book explores the intense tempestuous lives of these men and women, and at 663 pages (Review books 2004) is quite the tome.

Images: (clockwise) Mary Shelley, Caroline Lamb, Fanny Brawne, and Augusta Leigh

Jude Morgan was born and brought up in Peterborough on the edge of the Fens, and studied Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Among his books are The Secret Life of William Shakespeare (2014), The King’s Touch (2003) focusing on Charles II, and Symphony (2007) about composer Hector Belioz.

Last year, I was reading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice, a book set in 1950s England (which reminded me very much of I Capture the Castle, and which I very much enjoyed; review here). Anyway, at the back of the book was a description of Passion, a book I’d not heard of before but reading the blurb I knew this was one I wanted to read. So I looked it up online and ordered a copy (second hand) as soon as it showed up.

Having just read a bio of the Shelleys in graphic novel form (reviews here and here), and enjoyed poems and other writings by Shelley, Keats, and Byron, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, at different times, this is of course a book I am very much looking forward to reading. Once again, I would love to see how the author has recreated the time at Villa Diodati where Frankenstein was created. I have never read anything by Morgan before nor any serious account of these three poets’ lives, other than bits and pieces here and there, so this would also be a chance for me to get a picture of their lives.

Villa Diodati
via wikimedia commons

Have you read this book before or anything else by this author? How did you like it? If you haven’t, would you want to read it? Any favourite poems or writings of Keats, Byron, and/or Shelley? Looking forward to your thoughts!

The descriptions of the book are from Goodreads and the blurb at the back of the book; of Morgan from Goodreads, and all images are from wikimedia commons.

#Murderous Mondays: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson #BookReview #Mystery

It’s been a while since I did a #MurderousMondays post, but that’s as it’s been a while since I read a murder mystery, surprisingly for me. #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 kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them with this feature too!

This is a more contemporary murder mystery compared to ones I usually read, but with a dual time line, one current and one in the 1930s, it was something that I was very interested in picking up. Truly Devious is the first in a trilogy of the same name. In the 1930s, a tycoon named Albert Ellingham sets up the Ellingham Academy in Vermont for gifted students who are free to study subjects/fields that interest them. One day, Ellingham’s wife and three-year-old daughter are kidnapped and never recovered. Alongside, a particularly gifted student has also gone missing. Days before this event, a mysterious riddle/poem arrived, threatening murder, signed by someone called Truly Devious. Eighty years later, in the present day, a young girl called Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Bell arrives at Ellingham, her particular interest—true crime. And part of her aim in coming there is to solve the Ellingham case, which she feels was never really solved. As she gets settled in to life at Ellingham, meeting other students each with their peculiar interests, she also starts to look into the Ellingham case, in which pursuit the faculty and staff are ready to help and encourage. But as she is doing this, there seem to be indications that Truly Devious might strike again—only Stevie isn’t sure whether what she saw real or something she imagined. But the threats become real very soon when death does strike again. But could really it be Truly Devious back from the past?

Wow, I enjoyed this so much for a book which I knew would not have the solution to the mystery—either mystery in fact—that will only happen in book 3. But despite this, the book was so well paced and gripping, it kept me reading throughout. Each of the characters, students or teachers is well drawn out, they each have their quirks and individual personalities all of which stand out in some way or other, and because of which one doesn’t ever end up confusing them even though there are quite a few. This isn’t a book where there are ‘hold-your-breath’ moments throughout as there can be in some stories, yet it holds one’s interest all the time. The story goes back and forth between the events of the 1930s when the Ellingham kidnapping took place, and the investigation that was conducted there (interview transcripts and such) and the present as Stevie is looking into that case, and also of the murderer who strikes in the present.

The book also explores this concept (which I have come across before in the context of learning and problem solving) of that period/mental state between sleep and wakefulness/ between consciousness and unconsciousness when the best/unusual ideas strike one. For Stevie too, certain connections turn up in this state and yet one is never entirely sure whether they are ‘real’ or what her mind has processed when at that point. This part was really interesting for me.   

As far as the mystery itself is concerned, being the first book, it does of course give one the background of what happened but also, Stevie manages to pick up some clues towards the solution of both mysteries, interesting little and not-so-little points which you can see are significant and why so but not perhaps where they will lead or how these will shape up the whole picture. But still one has enough to want to continue on, to see what she will pick up on next, even though the mysteries won’t be solved in that one either. One ‘revelation’ at the end of this one had me thinking of a totally different book, The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery, because it is very like one secret in that book. And speaking of books, this one talks about mystery stories, especially Agatha Christie, also Holmes, as well as poetry so those who enjoy literary references would love that aspect too.

This was an exciting read for me and I really can’t wait to get to the next one. It becomes available in my part of the world around the end of this month, and then it is a wait till next January for the final instalment. But I think it will be worth it!