April 2021 Reading Wrap Up

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!

Review: Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie

Death Comes as the End is the only historical mystery by the Queen of Crime, and in one of my very favourite settings–ancient Egypt. This was a reread for me but after a long time so I had forgotten much of the story including whodunit.

Miss Marple, Christie’s elderly lady detective, often uses her knowledge of human nature to solve mysteries, for that she believes remains the same irrespective of where one is. And that is what seems to be the case in this story as well for it may well be 2000 BC but people remain just the same—their nature, motivations, desires. The idea of the setting was suggested to (actually pretty much forced on) Christie by Prof Stephen Glanville (to whom the book is also dedicated), who gave her plenty of possible source material, from which she settled on some letters by a fussy father, annoyed with his sons and instructing them on what to do (Autobiography, p. 514). Based on these, she created the family in the book.

In our story, we are introduced to Renisenb, the recently widowed daughter of a Ka-priest (a mortuary priest), Imhotep. She has returned home with her daughter Teti, and thinks she finds things just as they were when she had married and left. At home is her old grandmother Esa, her brothers Yahmose and Sobek, their wives Satipy and Kait, and also a step brother Ipy. Also always on the scene is her deceased’s mother’s unlikeable poor relation, Henet, always snooping, and creating trouble with her tongue. And there is also Hori, her father’s scribe and assistant. While things may seem as usual, there are dissatisfactions beneath the surface for both Yahmose and Sobek want more active roles in their father’s business (agriculture and timber) as does Ipy (still treated as a child, which he is), while Imothep is controlling and seems to want to keep his family under his thumb. Satipy and Kait, but especially the former harangue their respective husbands, and bicker among themselves. But the last straw is when Imothep, who has been travelling, returns with a new concubine, Nofret, who at nineteen is younger than even Renisehb.  

Nofret seems determined to create trouble for each of the family, especially rifts between Imothep and his sons, and leaves no opportunity to stir up trouble (mostly with her poisonous tongue). When Imothep has to travel again and leaves Nofret behind contrary to his mother’s advice, matters get worse as Nofret pushes each of the others (with the exception perhaps of Renisenb) to the edge, and then manipulates things to cause Imothep to disinherit his sons. Henet who has a similar nature readily assists her while Kameni, the scribe who had come to summon Imothep and remains here is forced to, on Imothep’s instructions. But Nofret has taken one step too far and before long is found dead. Hers is not the only death for as time passes, more deaths occur as those remaining are left wondering whether this is indeed the curse of Nofret or the work of a human hand.

Though narrated in third person, we witness most events through Renisenb’s eyes. Though Renisenb at first believes that everything is as it was, she finds she is seeing the people in her house differently—her father who seemed to inspire awe in her is pompous and a little foolish, her sisters-in-law always bicker (and she can see that at least until Nofret comes on the scene, this is just friendly fighting, no real hurt intended), and she also realises what Henet is really up to. In a reflection, perhaps of the more modern day in which the book was written, she also questions whether as her sisters-in-law see it, the only life for women is around their children and the inner courts of the home. She is a likeable character with a different way of seeing things; and none of the others really wish her any ill.

But while Renisenb has a different outlook and does try to determine (even if not consciously) who is responsible for all that is happening, two others are closer to the answer. Another character I really liked in the book, Renisenb’s grandmother Esa is one of these. Esa cannot see much because of her age, yet she sees much more than anyone else. She is able to see the true nature of people and situations, warns the person concerned well in time, including her son Imothep, but many don’t pay enough heed and must face the consequences. Her great interest in life though is her meals and one can see the relish with which she enjoys them.

Other than Esa, the scribe Hori too, it is clear, sees a lot though he chooses not to speak. He tries to get Renisenb to see things more clearly as well. He seems far more sensible than any of Renisenb’s brothers and Esa seems to rely on him as well. But he can well be one of the suspects. As can Khameni, perhaps, besides the rest of the family.

As in most Christie stories, there is a thread of romance here as well. Khameni falls for Renisenb almost at first sight and she seems to like him too. Does she find a second chance at happiness amongst all that is happening?

The mystery itself I found to be an interesting one, and as (almost) always, Christie had me thinking along a completely wrong track. This one has more than one death, in fact many more and as things go on, one really begins to wonder. But despite having read this before (it was long ago) I had entirely forgotten the solution, and was glad Christie was able to surprise me again. [Her autobiography mentions that there was a point about the denouement that she had agreed to change (and a moot point at that), but regretted later, and since she doesn’t specify what, one is really left wondering.]

The setting was of course also something I really enjoyed as well. There is the Nile in the background with boats going along, the fields that belong to Imothep, the various rituals that take place like appeasing a deceased family member to avert the evil that has befallen the family, and some food too, that especially Esa enjoys. I wondered at there being few details about the structure of the house itself but found in Christie’s autobio that this was something that was difficult to find information on, though she constantly pestered Stephen Glanville for information on various points that she needed. Still I felt overall one does get the ‘feel’ of being in Egypt, and that made it all the more enjoyable for me.

 An interesting and different (although still familiar) read.

I read this with a Goodreads group reading less well-known Christie’s, one each month of the year. This was the book for May.

Shelf Control #138: Catnip by Valerie Tate

Wednesday, the 5th of May, and 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, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, when you got it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget to 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 as well!

My pick today combines several things I enjoy, and is not unsurprisingly a mystery. From my seemingly endless pile of mysteries on Kindle, today’s pick is Catnip by Valerie Tate. First published in 2014, Catnip is the first in a series, the Dunbarton Mysteries, which has six books so far, each set around a member of the animal world–Catnip, Horse Sense, Frog’s Legs, and so on. And the title and cover of this one should reveal the other thing that attracted me to this title–the kitty of course (but really, I would read anything with animals but with caution as I don’t like it when they are harmed or hurt in any way, even in a story).

In this one, an elderly matriarch dies leaving everything she has to her cat. Set in Dunbarton, Ontario, this is a mystery with a cat right at the centre of it. The dysfunctional Dunbar family is expectedly rattled when the family fortune is left to the cat, and before long we see catnapping and even murder (not the cat, I’m fairly certain). While the cat is formidable and proves to be more than a match for the humans, he is unfortunately caught one day, stuffed into a sack and carried away. The estate’s lawyer, Christopher Mallory and the Dunbars themselves are under suspicion but when a murder occurs, Christopher finds himself confronting a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to conceal their identity.

This one sounds really cute, and I am pretty sure from the whole idea of the series that nothing will happen to kitty. Mysteries are of course, a staple read for me and one with a cat, and one who can outsmart everyone is just the perfect kind–how could I resist? While I have read books set in Canada (L.M. Montgomery for starters), I don’t think I’ve read a mystery set in Canada so that should be fun too.

Have you read this one or any of the others in the series? Which one/s and how did you find it? Any other animal centric mysteries that you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Lisa’s pick this week is a book that’s on my shopping list as well, The Familiars by Stacy Halls (here)

Book cover image and info from Goodreads (here)

Centenary Post: The Many Facets of Satyajit Ray

Celebrated Indian filmmaker, music composer, lyricist, illustrator, and author (among much else), Satyajit Ray was born 100 years ago today, 2nd May 1921. While Ray is most remembered for his films, he had many many talents. This post is going to be all about his contributions to the literary world, and these were not only through his writings.

Satyajit Ray in New York, via Wikimedia Commons, Dinu Alam Newyork, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ray was born in Calcutta to Sukumar and Suprabha Ray. He came from a very talented family; his father Sukumar was a writer and poet, and his grandfather Upendrakishore Ray was a writer and painter (One of Ray’s commercially successful films, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, the Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, a singer and musician who are bestowed with boons by the king of Ghosts, was based on a children’s story by Upendrakishore). Ray’s father died when he was only three, and he was brought up by his mother. He studied at Government High School, Calcutta, Presidency College, and then the Viswa Bharati University, Santiniketan, founded by Rabindranath Tagore. Ray started his career working in an advertising agency and then went on to design covers for books at a publishers, Signet Press, in Calcutta.

As an author, Ray wrote a range of short stories and story collections, many for younger readers, and also translated English works into Bengali, among them Lewis Carroll’s Jaberwocky and a short story from Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Among Ray’s best known creations is the sleuth Feluda. Pradosh Chandra Mitra or Feluda is twenty-seven and adept at martial arts. But he solves mysteries not using his strength but his analytical skills. In his adventures, he is usually accompanied by his young cousin, Tapash Ranjan Mitra or Topshe and from the sixth adventure by detective-story writer Lalmohan Ganguly or ‘Jatayu’, who brings a comic element into the tales. Feluda was inspired by Sherlock Holmes whom Ray admired. The first adventure appeared in 1965. There are 39 Feluda stories, which have plenty of adventure and take us to different destinations including Kathmandu and London. The stories have been adapted into films and for television, a couple of which were directed by Ray himself. Some others were directed by his son. Sandip Ray.

Satyajit Ray’s other famous creation is Trilokeswar Shonku or Professor Shonku who appears in a set of science fiction stories. Professor Shonku lives with a servant Prahlad and a cat, Newton, who is 24. Professor Shonku was a child prodigy and speaks 69 languages, and was based on Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger. He has several fascinating inventions to his credit (including an air conditioning pill, a remembrain, and a space food for cats), and his adventures take him to real and fantastical places–including to Tibet in search of a unicorn and the Gobi Desert tracking a UFO.

Among several other stories by Ray were spooky stories (Tarini Khuro) and stories featuring the middle eastern philosopher Mulla Nassruddin, remembered for his wit. Ray also wrote his memoirs and an anthology of film criticism.

Besides writing and translation, Ray was also an illustrator, having learnt painting and art at Santiniketan. He illustrated book covers, children’s books, movie posters, and publicity material. As the Satyajit Ray World Website notes, ‘he was the first Indian artist who experimented with a style of brushing that was entirely Indian. His easy brush strokes, pointed or broad was the hallmark of his jacket designs in the early phase of his career as an artist.’

Ray is also credited with designing the logo of one of India’s largest publishers and distributors, Rupa Publications, which began its journey in Calcutta (find the publisher’s site here–I’m not sure if I can share the actual logo). He also designed the packets for Wills Navy Cut Cigarettes (source).

And if that wasn’t talent enough, Ray was also a calligrapher and depended on his own calligraphy for covers of modern Bengali poetry collections for which he could find no suitable metallic typeface (source). Ray is credited with creating numerous Bengali typefaces. And his talents weren’t confined to Bengali alone. He also created four typefaces in English, Ray Roman, Ray Bizarre, Daphnis, and Holiday Script. (More about his talents as a caligrapher here).

Ray’s English Fonts, image source: https://www.freepressjournal.in/cmcm/knowing-the-lesser-known-side-of-satyajit-ray-the-godfather-of-indian-cinema

When I started writing this (once again, rather last minute) post on Ray, I knew about some of his books and also that he had illustrated the Feluda stories. But reading about him I was awestruck by just how talented he was. The aspects I have highlighted here are just to do with the literary world. Besides this he was also a critically acclaimed filmmaker, music composer, screenwriter, and also designed posters and material for his films. A truly fascinating person.

Have you ever watched any of Ray’s movies or come across his books or other works? Which ones and how did you find them? Looking forward to your thoughts!

For this post I mainly relied on Wikipedia (here, here and here), the website of Satyajit Ray world (here), and a couple of articles (here and here).

Review: Ghost by Lubov Lenova

My thanks to Booktasters for a review copy of this one.

Ghost is a murder mystery set in a fantasy world. In this world, all children manifest magical gifts (like the ability to produce fire, to read minds, or more rarely, to turn time or heal others) around the age of fifteen. The gifts can be used on everyone except those they love.

Men (in a reflection of our world) can of course do certain tasks including become Guardians who protect cities from crime, which are closed to women, including our main character Lana. Lana is in her twenties and wanted to be a detective but is now serving as a secretary to the Guardians, the chief in her town (Triville) being her father. In the past, Lana was posted to Mercy House, an institution where girls (only girls) with destructive gifts were sent for these destructive strains to be removed. But in her time there Lana found that this is not the case and these women were actually deprived of all their magic, leaving them as incapables. She helps her friend Rebecca escape this facility promising to meet her back home but before she reaches, Becky is murdered. And Lana has never been able to find out why or by whom.

Meanwhile in the present day, a school girl, Bella, running into the forest after being bullied by her fellow students is murdered. Soon another murder follows. This is suspected to be the work of a serial killer they call the Ghost. Lana is keen to investigate but must tread carefully. An errant guardian from another town, Richard Laine comes into town to investigate the matter as well, since he has been on the trail of the Ghost for long, and solving the case will also help reduce the punishment he has to face for his own indiscretions.

Alongside, the other teens who were teasing Bella are going through their own web of complicated relationships. And they too want to unveil the secrecy surrounding Mercy House, the girls who have been murdered and the guardian who is rumoured to hunt out girls with destructive gifts. They carry out their parallel investigations.

There are also some threads of romance in the story with Lana’s past with the handsome but ambitious guardian Charles, and also the stories of the teens among them, Julia and Elisa and Kyle, brother of Becky.

This was a fun plot combining fantasy and a murder mystery, both of which I enjoy, particularly the latter. I liked that this one had more than one mystery thread as far as the murders were concerned and there are plenty of twists and secrets as well. I didn’t guess until pretty much the reveal, one part of the answer while the other I didn’t see coming. The other plot threads with the issues surrounding Mercy House (not as such a mystery since we know from the start what goes on there) which were also interesting and one wants to know how the matter is resolved.

Lana is a likeable protagonist, determined to solve the mystery at hand and helping girls escape Mercy House for which she can even bend the rules but in matters of the heart, she isn’t above making mistakes.  Richard Laine is a flawed character too but when it comes to solving the mystery he is as determined as Lana. The teens we meet are more difficult to classify—one can understand some of their actions in view of the complicated relationships they share and also their determination to escape if need be, Mercy House but the initial bullying scene doesn’t fit in with the shape their characters take later and felt as though it doesn’t fit in even though it has a role in the plot.

While this is a fun enough story, I felt the writing and the dialogue could have been strengthened, which would have made it a far better read.

Still it was a nice read. Oh and yes, it also has some illustrations which I always enjoy.

Review: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

My thanks to Headline and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

I can’t quite remember when I first heard of the minotaur and the labyrinth in Crete—it was either in my school English book (class 5?) which had the story of Theseus killing the minotaur, and finding his way out of the labyrinth with the ball of golden string or in the Bobbsey Twins’ Greek Hat Mystery where the children go to Crete (though I don’t remember if Theseus was mentioned). I don’t remember if Ariadne was mentioned in either story but the school book one did cast Theseus as the hero—and that is what this book challenges.

Ariadne is, as the description says, a retelling of the story of Theseus and the minotaur but it is much more. Opening powerfully, the initial section is told in the voice of Ariadne, princess of Crete, as she describes how her father, Minos, treated Scylla who stood with him against her own people and of Medusa who paid for the sins of another as did her own mother Pasiphae who suffered for her husband’s arrogance (I wondered why Medea’s story is not seen through this lens, though–she is seen as a witch). The minotaur, born to Pasiphae as a result, sees sympathy only from Ariadne but is soon beyond loving or ‘taming’, and becomes Minos’ weapon to terrorise everyone, including Athens, defeated at his hands. With Theseus’ arrival, Ariadne thinks she has found love and freedom but her fate is no better than that of countless other women including those she has described and she finds herself abandoned on Naxos awaiting death, until Dionysus comes upon her.

Alongside we alternately follow the narrative of Phaedra, her younger sister. Also initially taken with Theseus, Phaedra soon becomes aware of his true nature—he is a hero concerned only with being a hero and having adventures that bring him fame, anyone who helps him is never acknowledged, he takes whatever he wishes, irrespective of whom he hurts, and he is not interested with any problems of everyday life, like the welfare of his people. In a marriage that circumstances force her into, Phaedra finds some solace in the power she can wield as she rules in Theseus’ place. The two sisters’ lives take them on very different paths, yet both face and constantly acknowledge the restrictions placed on them, the injustices that they must bear and the conduct expected of him as women.

Having enjoyed Circe by Madeline Miller, this one which was compared to it caught my eye and I felt it certainly lived up to my expectations. Ariadne and Phaedra are both strong characters, yet very different from the other and I liked that their voices were different even though both recognise the boundaries they must live within (whether or not they like it), and express themselves as best they can within these. While Phaedra finds she can use her intelligence as de facto ruler of Athens, Ariadne settles into a more conventional (yet very different life) when she finds Dionysus who can understand her because of his own story. But the real power unfortunately continues to lie beyond them, in social convention, with men and the gods, and this is eventually what dictates the reality of their lives.

This was beautifully written, engrossing and strongly feminist—and one I certainly recommend!

Shelf Control #137: English Eccentrics by Edith Sitwell

Wednesday, the 28th of April, and time for Shelf Control once 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–what its about, why you want to read it, when you got it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget to 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 as well!

This time’s pick is another old book which I’d been meaning to read for a long time, in fact ever since I saw a copy in the library when I was in college. At that point it was only the name that attracted my attention since I didn’t really know what it was all about, not do I remember picking it up to look (though I probably would have). Anyway, I did later add it to my TBR.

The English Eccentrics or English Eccentrics: A Gallery of Weird and Wonderful Men and Women (the titles on different editions are slightly different) by Dame Edith Sitwell was first published in 1933. The book is a set of (I think interwoven) portraits or sketches of a range of characters, among them hermits, quacks, mariners, travellers and men of learning. We have Lord Rokeby with a beard that reached his knees and who seldom left his bath, Curricle Coats who wore a coat sewn with diamonds, and Princess Caroboo an impostor who fooled an English town for months. And these aren’t fictional eccentrics but very much real life ones!

The description of the book somehow reminded me of E.F. Benson’s The Freaks of Mayfair (published much earlier in 1916) although that one was sketches of fictional personalities, but they were a fun set of eccentrics from snobs to quacks and scandal-mongers in whom were some shades of characters that appeared in Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books. This was a fun read (my review here) and I am expecting that Sitwell’s volume will be that too. Real life eccentrics are likely to turn out far more unbelievable than fictional ones, don’t you think?

Have you read this one? Or any others like it? Which one/s and how did you find it/them? Do you enjoy reading portraits or character sketches sometimes or prefer they be woven into fiction? Any favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Find reviews of the book here and here

Book cover and info are as always from Goodreads here

Lisa’s pick this week is When You Read This by Mary Adkins, a modern-day romantic comedy but one which deals with finding love after loss (find her post here)