Shelf Control #55: Superior Saturday by Garth Nix #Fantasy #TBR #Children’sLiterature

The last day of July, and the last Shelf Control for the month! 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/mountains (Mine is currently at 260 including all the e-books I have). To participate, simply 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, in tandem with my ‘theme’ of reading sequels and next in series books, I’ve been featuring these in my Shelf Control posts as well. This week’s pick Superior Saturday by Garth Nix is book 6 in the Keys to the Kingdom series by the author. This is a fantasy-adventure series comprising seven books published between 2003 and 2010; this one appeared in 2008. Each of the books (as the name of this one suggests) is set around a day in the week. The central character is a twelve-year-old asthmatic boy named Arthur Penhaligon who lives with his large adopted family. But Arthur has been chosen to be the heir of ‘The House’–the centre of the universe. One Monday, an asthma attack brings him into contact with Mister Monday, in charge of the Lower House where he finds his true fate. Here he learns that must defeat seven trustees who represent seven deadly sins, and collect keys from each in the process. The keys are not actual keys but different objects that hold equal power and can do much of what is asked of them.

In Superior Saturday, Arthur has five of the keys, and now must face a greater challenge than any he has faced before for the sixth, as Superior Saturday is the oldest and most powerful of the trustees, and also a sorcerer with tens of thousands of sorcerers at her command. She has control of the Upper House, and has been the one plotting against Arthur all along. Alongside, his home city is under attack, and he can’t rely on his allies.

This was a book I randomly picked up from the shop-soiled section at my neighbourhood bookshop since it sounded like fun. I haven’t read any of the others in the series (or any other by the author), and while the world sounds a little complicated to may be understand from a later point in the series, I’d still like to give it a try. Besides the story, what sounds interesting about the series are the literary and mythological references/allusions sprinkled all through, including Arthur himself (Penhaligon/Pendragon).

The Author: Garth Nix is a children’s and young-adult fantasy author from Australia, known for the Old Kingdom, Keys to the Kingdom, and Seventh Towers series. He has also written various standalone novels for children as well as some works for adults as well.

Have you read this series before or any other books by Garth Nix? Which one/s and how did you find them? Do you enjoy books with literary references and allusions? Which are some of your favourites (books or series)? Looking forward to your thoughts!

As always, info on the book, series, and author is from Goodreads, and Wikipedia, here, here, here and here.

Eleven (actually thirteen) Series I’m in the Middle of

This month, as you probably know by now, I’ve been reading sequels and next in series books (July plans here) so I thought I would do a post about some of the series I’m in the process of reading (and want to read more of–all the way to the end). This is of course not an exhaustive list (there are plenty of others), nor confined to one genre, but just a few that I am very much enjoying reading and want to continue with. (Slightly off track here–Shelfari used to have a nice feature which automatically told you–based on your shelf–which series you had read how much of, also lists like the 1001 books, etc which I liked.) My list actually has thirteen series (two each by two authors).

The Fairacre and Thrush Green books by Miss Read. Both are sweet, yet realistic series set in country villages–one focusing on Miss Read who is headmistress of the village school, and the other more generally on the village of Thrush Green. Life in these small villages is far from quiet–in fact they are probably busier than some cities in some senses, yet one feels a sense of calm when ‘visiting’ them. I’ve read I thing three books each of both series, and am looking forward to more.

The Monty Bodkin books by P.G. Wodehouse. Monty Bodkin, a wealthy young man, is in love with Gertrude Butterwick, and but her father will only consent to the match if Monty holds a job for a year. So begin his adventures with Heavy Weather where he comes to Blandings as Lord Emsworth’s secretary. There are three books in this series of which I’ve read (and loved) the second, The Luck of the Bodkins. Now I want to read Heavy Weather and Book 3, Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin.

Once again a trilogy, the Louise trilogy, in Wings Over Delft we meet Louise Eeden whose father is a master potter in Delft. He is having her portrait painted by Master Haitnik, and there are rumours that she is to be married to the heir to the largest pottery business in town. But while she sits for her portrait, she becomes close to Master Haitnik and his gangly apprentice Pieter. While the broad plot sounds like a romance, it is far more than that going into questions of faith, science, philosophy, and tolerance. The other two books in the trilogy are set during the French Revolution and the Second World War, and what connects the three stories (which was what interested me in the books first) is the portrait of Louise painted in book 1.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett is a really crazy, but also creative and funny one. With thirteen books each with thirteen chapters and names with alliteration, this tells of the adventures of three siblings, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire (Sunny is only a baby when the story starts) whose parents are killed mysteriously, while the evil Count Olaf tries various different ploys to get at their fortune. Violet is an inventor, Klaus loves books, and Sunny develops cooking skills (when she grows older). What I love about the books are also all the references and allusions like one instance where Sunny says Ackroyd, when she meant something like Roger! I’ve read six of the thirteen so far and not in order but I do want to see how it comes together and what the mysterious VFD stands for!

The Flavia De Luce books by Alan Bradley are mysteries set in the 1950s featuring a thirteen-year-old chemistry whiz Flavia De Luce who has a lab of her own (in an old crumbly family home where she lives with her father and sisters). In each book she gets embroiled in and solves a murder mystery while we also follow the story of her family, in financial trouble since her mother went missing on her travels some years ago.

The Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters–set in the twelfth century, amidst the civil war between the Empress Maud, and King Stephen, both claimants to the English throne, Brother Cadfael is a former crusader, now a Benedictine monk at Shrewsbury. Here he practices medicine and also solves mysteries. These I love mostly for the historical setting, but also for the mysteries.

The Three Investigators books by Robert Arthur (and others). These are children’s mysteries featuring three boys Jupiter Jones, Peter Cranshaw, and Bob Andrews who run their own detective agency. Jupiter is the brains of the operation. These mysteries are pretty creative, much more I find than many other children’s series I’ve read, and I would love to read more.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, the amusing autobio of sorts of the adventures of Durrell and his (quite crazy) family on Corfu was such an enjoyable read. I loved this a lot, especially the descriptions of the houses they lived in and all the animals (also many of his non-fiction, animal books), and want to read the other two.

Truly Devious is again the first of a trilogy of the same name, this one a young adult mystery set around Ellingham Academy a school for gifted students in Vermont. Here young Stevie Bell is accepted as a student and she wants to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the founder’s wife and daughter in the 1930s, but she soon finds herself embroiled in murder in the present day as well. I loved the first book, and am looking forward to the other two (find review of book 1 here).

The Matthew Shardlake books by C.J. Sansom–murder mysteries set in the Tudor era, specifically the reign of Henry VIII. In these, lawyer Matthew Shardlake solves sometimes rather gruesome deaths, while trying to protect himself from the politics of these turbulent times as he serves under some of the most important actors in the realm, his mentor originally being Thomas Cromwell. These are so gripping, they keep me up reading well beyond bedtime. Seven books in the series so far (all doorstoppers).

Finally, the Barsetshire and Palliser books by Anthony Trollope–I’ve read five of the first six, and two of the second six. The first set in the fictional county of Barchester is centred around the clergy, but also people in the villages of the country who are connected with politics as Plantagenet Palliser, who first appeared in the Barshetshire books, makes his way in Parliament (Not all of the stories are centred on him, though).

So these are some series I’ve read part of and want to continue on with. What are some of your favourite series that you’ve read or are currently reading? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Shelf Control #54: Harding’s Luck by Edith Nesbit #TBR #ChildrensLiterature

Wednesday the 24th of July–it’s Shelf Control time once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains (Mine is currently at 260 including all the e-books I have). To participate, simply 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 week, once again continuing with featuring sequels or next in series books that wait on my TBR, my pick is a children’s book–Harding’s Luck by Edith Nesbit. First published in 1909, this is the sequel to The House of Arden published a year earlier, the two books forming a series called the Fabian Time Fantasies (This is according to Goodreads, Wikipedia simply calls the series The House of Arden series). The House of Arden featured two children Edred and Elfrida, who with their aunt are the last of the Ardens, and live in a crumbling castle. Eldred inherits the title and also learns that if he manages to locate the missing (for generations) family fortune before his tenth birthday, it will be his. They meet a magical creature, the mouldiwarp, with whom the travel through time (into the past mostly) to trace the treasure. There they get into a fair few scrapes, at times (for instance, in the Gunpowder plot) because they seem to know what will occur before it has actually happened. I read this book some years ago, and enjoyed it enough to look for the sequel. (I don’t remember the details so much now.) I downloaded a copy of this via Project Gutenberg (here).

Harding’s Luck, the book I’m actually featuring, is the story of young Dickie Harding, a poor lame boy who lives in a back street in London. (He was a minor character in book 1.) One day, on planting some (I guess) magic seeds he finds growing a moonflower, which he attempts to exchange for his silver rattle which his aunt had had to pawn. This begins his adventures, as soon enough he is transported back in time by mouldiwarps to awake as Richard Arden. But the time travel doesn’t start immediately for Dickie does have some adventures in the present before this, being forced into begging and theft.

I’ve read very mixed reviews of this one, some liking it quite a bit, others criticising it for reasons including a not very strong link to the first book, as well as on Dickie’s character being much too ‘good’ and sacrificing. But anyway, having enjoyed the first book (and plenty of Nesbit’s other books), I’d still like to give this one a try.

Edith Nesbit
via wikimedia commons

The Author: Edith Nesbit (who wrote as E. Nesbit) was an English author and poet, who wrote over 60 children’s books including the Pssamead Books, and the Treasure Seekers or Bastable books, and The Railway Children to name a few. She has also written novels and story collections for adults, besides poetry. She was also a political activist and co-founder of the Fabian society.

Have you read this book? How did you like it if you did? What about other works by the author? Any favourites which you’d like to recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts!

My info on Nesbit comes from Wikipedia as usual: here.

On the book: Goodreads of course (here), also a couple of blogs: here, here and here.

Shelf Control #53: Death of a Pig in a Poke by Matthew Hole #Mystery

Wednesday, the 17th of July–Shelf Control time! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains (Mine is currently at 261 including all the e-books I’ve downloaded). To participate, simply 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’m reading sequels and next in series books, and those are also what I’m featuring (as far as possible) in my Shelf Control posts as well. This week’s pick is a mystery (yet again, my first Shelf Control this month was one too (here)), Death of a Pig in a Poke by Matthew Hole. This is book 2 in the Tarricone Murder Mystery series of which so far as I can see, there are only two as of now. The series features Tarricone and Son, probate researchers. There is also Tarricone’s ‘wily’ aunt Nelly. The first book was set in Agatha Christie’s country house ‘Greenway’ in Devon.

This book, published in 2014, sees Tarricone rushing off to Spyte Manor when Lady Clemency Breeze climbs uninvited into (or perhaps, breezes into) the back of his taxi in London. This leads Tarricone into a murder investigation where there is obviously a corpse, but also a vanishing gardener and a labyrinth in a garden. To add to it, the local detective inspector, it seems, has an agenda of her own. This one has been described by goodreads reviewers as a mix of a classic and new mystery, with plenty of twists.

I picked up this and the first title in the series last year I think, both on kindle when they were available for free. Mysteries are of course one of my favourite genres to read, and Agatha Christie one of my favourite writers in that genre (when it comes to the actual puzzles, there are few who can beat her, and she gets me every time–almost), so when I spotted these (someone mentioned them in a book group on Goodreads) mysteries which are inspired by and set on the lines of Christie’s books, I picked them up. There aren’t very many reviews of this series or much about the author anywhere though, so I will be diving in blind so to speak.

The first book in the series

Have you read either of the books in this series? How did you find it/them? A good, gripping mystery or just ok? Or do you plan to read this or the first book? Looking forward to your thoughts!

The description and cover images as usual are from Goodreads.

John Gilpin’s Ride of a Lifetime#poetry #humour #WilliamCowper

John Gilpin
Randolph Caldecott [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

‘The Diverting History of John Gilpin’ is a comic ballad written by William Cowper in 1782. This is, I learnt from Wikipedia, based on a real-life wealthy draper from Cheapside in London. Cowper, it seems, heard the story from Lady Anna Austen and was so amused by it, he decided to put it in verse, and this poem was the result. And well over 200 years later, this one continues to be a great deal of fun.

As the story opens, John Gilpin, ‘a citizen, of credit and renown‘ is speaking to his wife. His wife reminds him that while they’ve been married twenty years, they haven’t had a holiday. Since the next day is their wedding anniversary, she proposes that they and with them their three children, her sister, and her sister’s child go to the ‘Bell at Edmonton’. The two ladies and children will travel in a ‘chaise and pair‘, while Gilpin for whom there would be no room, ‘must ride on horseback after [them]’.

Gilpin and his Wife
by Randplph Caldecott, via Wikimedia Commons

Gilpin readily agrees to this plan, and says that he’ll borrow a horse for the occasion from his friend the calendar, being also extra pleased with his frugal wife, who’s said they’ll carry their own wine ‘which is both bright and clear‘, for to buy it is dear.

The new day dawns, and as planned, the chaise arrives to pick up the travellers. But lest they be considered proud, it was not brought to their door,

So three doors off the chaise was stay’d,

Where they did all get in,

Six precious souls, and all agog

To dash through thick and thin,

As they set off, John Gilpin himself prepares to mount his horse, but as soon as he has got on all set to ride, he gets off again, having spotted three customers, for while loss of time ‘grieved him sore‘, ‘loss of pence, he fully well knew would trouble him much more’. Customers dealt with, he is about to set off once again, when Betty (the maid, I assume) comes rushing to remind him that he has left the wine behind. Mistress Gilpin has put the wine in two stone bottles which John Gilpin fastens to either side of his ‘leathern belt’, and now throwing on ‘his long red cloak, well brushed and neat‘, he is indeed ready to go.

And so he starts off finally, riding slowly and cautiously (as becomes his character), but unluckily for him, his horse has other plans. As soon as the horse feels the road get smoother under his feet, he begins to pick up speed, starting to trot, and before long, to gallop. So poor John Gilpin must hold on for dear life, grabbing onto it’s mane with both hands, leaving the creature,

…who never in that sort,

Had handled been before,

What thing upon his back had got,

Did wonder more and more.

As they speed on, Gilpin’s hat and wig fly off, the bottles swinging at his sides, dogs bark and children scream, while onlookers cheer him on, ‘Well done’. For seeing him ride at that pace, they’re convinced he’s riding a race, carrying a weight, and not any old race, but one ‘for a thousand pound‘. Under the same impression, the turnpike-men open the gates quickly as he approaches and Gilpin rides on, the bottles soon smashing and the wine pouring out, leaving only the bottle necks dangling from his belt. Soon he rides into Edmonton, his destination, where his loving wife, standing on a balcony tries to stop him and indicate where his family and his dinner awaits. But the horse does not relent, for his master, the calendar, has a house ten miles further at Ware. And it is there that he takes John Gilpin, flying like an ‘arrow swift…shot by an archer strong‘, finally coming to a halt.

Gilpin’s horse making away with him
Lodge, Henry C., [from old catalog] comp via Wikimedia Commons

Gilpin’s friend the calendar is naturally amazed to see him, enquiring why he is there unexpectedly, and bareheaded at that? Gilpin relates his tale and soon, the calendar brings him a hat and wig (his own and a little too big for Gilpin), and invites him in for a meal but Gilpin refuses wanting to join his wife for

…all the world would stare,

If wife should dine at Edmonton,

And I should dine at Ware.

The calendar offering Gilpin a hat and wig
Metropolitan Museum of Art [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons

Before starting again, Gilpin ‘tells’ the horse that he’s come here at his own pleasure but must head to back to Edmonton for Gilpin’s. But did he really expect the reckless creature to understand? For of course, as soon as Gilpin is on the horse, with a snort the creature takes off once again, this time galloping even faster than before. Soon enough go the hat and wig again, as Gilpin is carried past his destination. Gilpin’s wife, looking on what has taken place, now asks a young postboy to follow her husband and bring him back, for a reward of a crown.

Gilpin’s Family Looking On as He Rides Right Past Them
by Randolph Caldecott, Edmund Evans [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Spotting this high-speed chase on the street, another misunderstanding develops, and some onlookers begin to shout, ‘Stop thief–stop, a thief—a Highwayman‘, and join in pursuit. But when they get to the turnpike again, the turnpike-men open the gates in the blink of an eye believing Gilpin to still be riding a race.

And so he did, and won it too,

For he got first to town,

Not stopp’d till where he had got up,

He did again get down.

And so came to an end Gilpin’s adventure, his outing that was and wasn’t, with Cowper hoping that ‘when he next doth ride abroad, May [he] be there to see!

In Pursuit of the Highwayman
by Randolph Caldecott, Edmund Evans [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

This is such a fun little story, one that brings a smile to one’s face, when reading and picturing what befell the poor linen draper, who only wanted to enjoy a day out with his family, but couldn’t thanks to one very obstinate horse.

Have you read this poem? Do you find it fun or just so-so? Any other poems on the same lines that you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Find the full poem here: https://www.bartleby.com/41/324.html

Wikipedia: on the poem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diverting_History_of_John_Gilpin

and on Gilpin: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gilpin

Shelf Control #52: The Second Common Reader by Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, the 10th of July–Shelf Control day 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 (Mine is currently at 262 including all the e-books I’ve downloaded). To participate, simply 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’m focusing on reading next in series books and sequels waiting to be read on my TBR pile for the most part (July plans here), and so my Shelf Control posts too will feature some sequels or books from series other than book one, which are waiting on my TBR. This week’s pick is The Second Common Reader or The Common Reader: Second Series by Virginia Woolf.

The Common Reader: Second Series is a sequel of sorts to Woolf’s The Common Reader: First Series, and like this first is a collection of literary essays focusing on specific books, writers, poetry, and more generally on reading and its pleasures. Among others, this volume talks of the Elizabethans, Donne, Swift, Robinson Crusoe, De Quincey, Thomas Hardy, Mary Woolstonecraft, George Gissing, and Beau Brummel. This collection of twenty-six essays ends with Woolf’s reflections on ‘How to Read a Book’?

I read the first volume of her essays some years ago, and really enjoyed them. She talked of books and authors I knew like Jane Austen, George Eliot, the Brontes and Conrad as well as those new to me like Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle who’s point of view, albeit a touch eccentric, was one that interested me very much and made me want to look her and her writings up immediately. I also enjoyed reading Woolf’s views on these works, and on, in some cases, the circumstances in which the writers may or may not have written, their inspirations, and such, but mostly because (while she may have not been a ‘common’ reader), it is essentially the thoughts of a reader (and one reading at least some of the books that you do), and one certainly always enjoys reading those!

Since I enjoyed the first series so much, I picked up the second (downloaded via fadedpage.com), and am looking forward to some new insights into authors I’ve read before (and how it would impact my revisits), and certainly to discovering ‘new’ ones who I haven’t?

Have you read any of Virginia Woolf’s essays? How did you find them? And how about her books? Any you like or dislike? Which ones? Looking forward to your thoughts!

From fellow bloggers:

A peek into Woolf’s Writing Lodge and images of her bookshelves: https://calmgrove.wordpress.com/2018/11/10/woolf/

A review of her book Flush (one of my favourites, based on and written from the point of view of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog): https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/110620162/posts/11157