The first quarter of 2021 gone already—one can hardly believe it. April turned out to be a pretty good reading month for me with seven completed books, and two others I started, one which I’m reading in instalments with a Goodreads group and the other which I finished just into May. I had quite a range in terms of genre which I was happy with since I like to read different things—a memoir, a couple of mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction, and children’s fiction. One of these was a revisit, the rest ‘new’, and four were NetGalley reads.
I started off the month with an Agatha Christie revisit, and one which I had actually only read last year, The Man in the Brown Suit. This was part of the lesser-known Christie books that one of my Goodreads groups is doing this year. This is the first of Christie’s books to feature Colonel Race who appears in many other books later including Death on the Nile but here Colonel Race is much younger, and we see a different (more emotional) side of him than in later works. Also if one didn’t ‘know’ him from later works, he would be high on our list of suspects. The book is the story of Anne Beddingford whose father, an eccentric scholar dies leaving her with a very tiny fortune. All her life she has looked for adventure and now falls into one as a man on a railway platform (who smells of mothballs) falls to his death in front of her after having seen something that frightened him. This turns out to link up with another mysterious death in Mill House, the home of Sir Eustace Peddlar. And Anne had found an order to view the property near the dead man. Anne decides to investigate, and before she knows it has used all the money she has in the world to book a passage to South Africa. On board the ship she meets Sir Eustace, Colonel Race, and a socialite Mrs Blair, and as things move on is drawn further and further into the mystery. This was a fun combination of a thriller and mystery. Am linking my review from last year since I didn’t write full review this time around (here).
After reading the first volume of Charmian Clift’s memoirs of the time her family spent living in Greece in the 1950s, Mermaid Singing (review here) in March, in April, I read the second volume, Peel Me a Lotus. This second volume is her account of part of their time spend in Hydra (to which they moved from Kalymnos). As the book opens, Charmian is pregnant with her third child and the family are buying their own home in Hydra which has to be put into shape before the baby is due. Unlike the first book which was focused more on their interactions with local people, on Hydra there are a number of (somewhat) eccentric expats—among them artists, writers, and also drifters, intellectual hoboes and such and much of the book is about these colourful characters and Clift’s family’s interactions with them. While the writing in this book was good as in the first (especially as Clift is a keen observer), the tone itself is a touch darker for her frustrations with daily drudgery and the difficulties they need to face (of earning a living unlike many others loafing away on Hydra) get to her from time to time. But still there are picnics and swims, interesting conversations, and even a visit from a film crew besides political troubles to cope with (full review here).
Completely different in tone and genre was my next read in April, The Goldsmith and the Master Thief by Tonke Dragt. Translated into English from Dutch, this children’s book tells of the adventures of twin brothers Jiacomo and Lorenzo, identical as two drops of water (but with different personalities) born in interesting circumstances in the fictional kingdom of Babina. When they suddenly lose their parents and must make their own way in the world, the two have to separate for a while and end up learning different trades—Lorenzo becomes a goldsmith and Jiacomo, a thief (at least he trains as one though he refuses to steal). The brothers have a series of adventures ranging from school-boy pranks to pitting their wits against a master of riddles, tacking thieves and ghosts, and even solving a political crisis. This was a great deal of fun and had me wishing that Dragt’s books had been translated to English when I was a child for I would have really enjoyed them then too. I’ll share my full review later this month.
Next was my second time reading Rena Rossner, The Land of the Midnight Stars. This is the story of three sisters Hannah, Sarah, and Levana who live with their parents and grandmother in the Trnava. They are Solomonars, descended from a clan who were handed Solomon’s secrets. Each of the family has certain powers like their father Rabbi Isaac can change form; Hannah has power over plants and healing abilities; Sarah controls fire and can weave; and Levana speaks to the stars. But when the black mist begins to affect their part of the world, they are blamed for the misfortunes that occur, and must flee the village after facing much personal tragedy. When the family attempts to start afresh with new identities in a new place, giving up their heritage, new challenges face them. Can they ever find a safe place to live? There was a lot about the book that I liked from the elements of folklore and history to each of the girls’ stories. But overall the stories didn’t feel like a cohesive whole; rather just as different stories that had some kind of connection. So while this was a good read, it wasn’t a great one for me (full review here).
Having come across the announcement for the #1936 Club rather late, I decided to make a last-minute attempt at participating and picked up my first Albert Campion mystery Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham. The story is set around a family run publishing firm Barnabas Limited being run by three cousins, John Widdowson, Paul Brande, and Mike Wedgwood, grandchildren of the founder. They are all his daughters’ children while his only surviving son Sir Alexander Barnabas is a KC. Paul Brande suddenly disappears and Campion, a friend of Mike Wedgewood, is asked to look into the matter. But Paul is soon found dead. Suspicion falls on Mike, who is in love with Paul’s neglected wife, Gina. And when most of the circumstantial evidence points to him as well, he is arrested and tried. Now Campion assisted by another cousin of the Barnabases, Ritchie, must clear his name. There is also the matter of another disappearance from the firm, Ritchie’s older brother, twenty years earlier, a case which has remained unresolved. The mystery was a really enjoyable one with very few clues as to who could have possibly done it. Alongside there were some interesting characters like the ever-complaining Magerfontein Lugg, Campion’s manservant and a former thief, and Richie Barnabas who is disillusioned with the world he lives in, speaks in broken phrases but is far more perceptive than his family realises (full review here).
Next for me was a very different read, which I’d requested vis NetGalley essentially because of its setting—Malaysia. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho is about Jessamyn ‘Jess’ Teoh brought up in the States but now moving back to Malaysia with her parents who have decided to return home. Before she leaves the States, and then again in Malaysia, she begins to hear strange voices in her head which she attributes to stress. But soon she finds that this is not the case and this is the voice of her grandmother, a medium, who has passed on a year earlier. Ah Ma was medium in a temple which is part of a site being developed by a rich businessman Ng Chee Hin. To stop him, Ah Ma wants Jess’ help. But when Jess agrees, she doesn’t quite realise what she is letting herself in for as she is immersed into a world of gods and spirits while also coping with real-life problems. I loved the exploration of the cultural relevance of gods and spirits in Malaysia, for not only different local communities but even outsiders and also enjoyed the story a lot. I’ll share my full review closer to the release date.
Finally, via Booktasters, I read Ghost by Lebov Lenova. This is a murder mystery with fantasy elements set in a fantasy world. Our protagonist Lana is the daughter of the chief of the guardians (equivalent to the police) in her town but is unable to become a guardian herself since she is a girl. But she yearns to be a detective. She is faced with two cases, one the murders of some school girls, which are said to be the work of a serial killer, Ghost. The other is her past experiences at Mercy House an institution where girls with destructive powers are sent for the destructive strains to be removed, but as she ends up discovering, the girls have all the magic taken away from them instead. Lana’s friend Rebecca was sent there and though Lana helped her escape, Rebecca was murdered and the case remains unsolved. Alongside, a guardian from another town, Richard, is on the trail of the ghost while some teens are attempting to find what really happens at Mercy House. This was an interesting plot both in terms of the mystery and fantasy elements but I felt the writing could have been much better (full review here).
Besides these in April, I also started The Semi-detached House, one of only two novels by Emily Eden (find a short post I had written about her here), for a read with a Goodreads group. Here eighteen-year-old Lady Blanche Chester, high-strung and a hypochondriac, moves into Pleasance, a semi-detached house with her sister Aileen while her husband Lord Arthur Chester is away with a diplomatic mission. On the other side are the Hopkinsons who Blanche dreads, imagining all sorts of details. But soon enough it turns out that Captain Hopkinson (also away when our story starts) was the Captain of a ship on which Arthur had served before coming into his title and the families develop a friendship. Also on the scene are a family of newly rich social climbers, Baron and Baroness Sampson who are attempting to gain both socially and financially from whoever they meet. I am about half way through this short comic read, and will have my review up later this month.
Finally, just at the end of the month, I started Death Comes as the End, the next Agatha Christie on my Goodreads group’s challenge list. This is the only historical mystery by Christie, set in Egypt in 2000 BC, and one I enjoyed very much. My review is already up (here) but this will be part of my wrap up for May as that is when I technically finished it.
So those were the books I read in April (and some which have carried over into May). How was your reading month? Which reads did you most enjoy this April? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!