Review: Murder at the Museum by Lena Jones

My thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins UK Children’s for a review copy of this book.

Murder at the Museum is the second in the Agatha Oddly series of books, a children’s series. Agatha Oddlow is thirteen and a very busy thirteen-year-old indeed. She is a detective and has been one for as long as she can remember, and any time a mystery piques her interest, she simply has to look into it. She is a great fan of Agatha Christie, her namesake, and especially of Poirot. In this one, the case she works on is a murder at the British Museum—one of the staff members has been stabbed for no apparent reason, and the only artefact missing is one of little value. So robbery was obviously not the motive. Agatha also attends the prestigious St Regis school as a scholarship student, where her friends are Liam and Brianna, who also help with her investigations. It helps that Brianna has her own chemistry lab at home and can run various tests. [Brianna was a member of the “Chic Clique”, a typical popular girl, but is now friends with Liam and Agatha, with whom she can be herself.] And if that wasn’t enough for a thirteen-year-old, Agatha is also awaiting tests to become a member of the Gatekeepers Guild, a secret organisation that works to keep London (in fact the country) safe, and has access to a network of tunnels and passageways under the city which can get them anywhere. Her mother was a star member, and died in somewhat mysterious circumstances which Agatha wants to get to the bottom of. Oh, and to add to all of that, Agatha’s father seems to have a secret too! All of this together makes for an action packed story where all these threads move along together to create a fun and exciting read.

I read this book without having read the first one, and while reading them in order would have made things a little clearer in terms of the background and the Gatekeepers Guild, not doing so didn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the story too much. Agatha herself I thought was a very likeable character, with a good deal of spunk, and not too much respect for the rules. The story is told in first person by Agatha. Though she is a fan of Christie, the way her mind works (sort of like the Mind Palace, which if I remember right is from the Sherlock TV series) and the case itself reminded me much more of Sherlock Holmes than Poirot. Some of what how she goes about solving her case also reminded me of Enid Blyton’s Findouters books (disguises and such). Liam and Brianna seem pretty likeable too, but I didn’t feel I got to see enough of them or at least them in action as much as we do (and obviously so) Agatha. The mystery itself, since I had Sherlock Holmes on my mind was something I could guess, the what at least, but still it was good fun. With the thread of her mother’s case continuing on, and of course another mystery to solve, this is a series I will definitely enjoy exploring. Till the next one comes, I still have the first to read. Great fun.

This book comes out on 7th March 2019!

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Christmas for Everyone

Merry Christmas to everyone!!!

I haven’t written a poetry-based post for a bit, and had this one in mind for a while, which is rather “perfect” for the day and the season. I especially love the sentiment that it conveys. The poem is “Eddi’s Service” by Rudyard Kipling and appears in his book Rewards and Fairies (1910), which is the sequel to Puck of Pook’s Hill. It is set in A.D. 687.

The poem is about “Eddi, priest of St Wilfrid“, in a chapel at Manhood’s End. It is Christmas eve, and Eddi organises a midnight service for all that care to attend. But it is stormy night, and no one appears for the mass, although Eddi rings the bell. However, Eddi is neither disheartened not deterred.

“Wicked weather for walking,”

Said Eddi of Manhood End

But I must go on with the service

For such as care to attend.”

And so he begins the service by lighting the altar candles. Just as he is doing this, an old marsh donkey arrives, “Bold as a guest invited“, and as the storm gets stronger, water beating at the windows and splashing on the floor, another guest arrives, this time “a wet, yoke-weary bullock“.

Source: publicdomainvectors.org

Eddi observes his guests and thinks:

“How do I know what is greatest,

How do I know what is least?

This is my Father’s business,”

With this sentiment, Eddi proceeds with the service, narrating the story of Christ–of Bethlehem and the rider who rode to Jerusalem. His “audience” listens patiently, and does not stir, and only when the gale blows away, and day breaks, they leave the chapel together.

The Saxons, who have been keeping Christmas, but haven’t attended the mass, mock Eddi, but his belief still strong, he says,

“I dare not shut His chapel,

On such as care to attend.”

As I wrote already, I loved the sentiment that is in this poem, that all creatures great or small are the same in the creator’s eyes, or at least that we (humans) cannot know who “greater” or “lesser”, who is more “important” and who is not, and so our duty is to treat them all the same. At least, that’s a more general message that I feel we can take away from this, and one that is relevant to us as much today, since so many are rather callous when it comes to our fellow living creatures who are not the same as us. After all, they too are on this earth, and equally entitled to be here. If we (humans) consider ourselves so very superior to these “animals”, doesn’t it fall to us to make space for them, to let them live, rather than demonstrate our mastery over them or our disdain for them as being “lesser” creatures?

Eddi I think did get the point, and I hope more and more of us do too!

Find a little about the “real” St Wilfrid and his chapel, and Eddi here, and another post on this poem, here.

Have you read this poem before? What are your thoughts? Looking forward to hearing them!!!

Images: both from pexels.

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (36)

“The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over, and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries. “

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908)

Review: Wolf-Speaker by Tamora Pierce

My thanks to Harper Collins UK and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

This is the second of the Immortals series (my review of book 1 is here) by Tamora Pierce. The one opens with the wolves that Daine once hunted with trying to reach her and thinking over the news they’ve received of her from other creatures of the forest. Daine, now fourteen, meanwhile is heading with her mentor/teacher, the mage Numair Salmalin, their horses including Cloud, and Kitten the dragon baby, towards the pack for they have sent for her help as their new home, Dunlath is in trouble. The two-feet there are cutting down all the trees, mining incessantly, chasing away prey making the place unliveable for them, and ultimately for themselves. When they get there however, they find that it isn’t only the animals who are in trouble. A family of local nobles,the lords of Dunlath, are plotting treason against King Jonathan, and switching loyalties. Here they are aided by a whole group of rogue mages, who have some very powerful magic at their command, and don’t seem to care who or what they destroy. Circumstances become such that Daine is left all alone with only her animal friends and some immortal ones in Dunlath. The only other human helping her at first is ten-year-old Lady Maura, younger sister of the Lady Yolane. Daine begins to learn and practice more of what her wild magic makes her capable of,and these new found powers and her friends are what help her face and defeat the “villains” of the piece.

If anything, I think I enjoyed this one even more than the first book. The first book obviously had to set out the background, and introduce us to the world that Daine lived in, and the friends she found in Tortall, but this one to me felt more rounded as a story. I enjoyed watching Daine, who spends much of the novel away from human company, explore her new powers or rather the new uses she discovers of her magic. This helps her not only to do things she couldn’t earlier but view the world through the perspectives of her different animal friends. This was an element I really enjoyed. Pierce does a great job of highlighting the various things—sounds, smells, sights—that different animals would notice, and making one (even the reader) feel that they were looking through the eyes and mind of the animal in question. The adventure elements for me were fairly exciting as well. But besides these, the book also had some important messages to give. It may be set in a fantasy world, but even there “humans”continue to behave as they do in real life, destroying their environment,surroundings, disrespecting other living creatures for what they think is their own gain.  The other was about needing to understand creatures/life that is different, human or animal, as life, as creatures/people who have thoughts, feelings, concerns, and who shouldn’t be judged as monsters or evil in an off-handed way. Here Maura, who is scared of some of Daine’s “friends” manages to shows Daine how she herself might be prejudiced unfairly against some others. Pierce manages to show us that even people who are “good” aren’t always flawless and may have their own prejudices and discriminatory attitudes that they need to address—another message extremely relevant for our world. Once again a wonderful read, in which I especially enjoyed all the animals and Daine’s interactions with them!

Halloween Read: The Great Ghost Rescue

Great Ghost Rescue

This was my pick for my Halloween read this year. Eva Ibbotson’s books (at least the couple I’ve read so far) feature witches and ghosts and ghouls with their stinks and spells, smells and sometimes even ‘bloody’ inclinations, but still remain light-hearted, fun reads, rather than ‘horror’ fiction. Most of them (the ghosts, I mean) are rather likeable, much more so than some humans. The Great Ghost Rescue was no different, and yet perhaps a more serious themed book than the others I’ve read by her. In this one, somewhat like the last one I read (Dial-a-Ghost), a family of ghosts find themselves homeless after many centuries, for modern humans can never seem to leave any place alone, or any one (human, animal, or ghost) to live their lives in peace, covering everything with concrete, noise, and garbage, and destroying any bit of nature they can lay their hands on. But luckily for this family, headed by the Gliding Kilt and his wife, the Hag, they meet a little boy at his school, Rick, who empathises with his fellow creatures and sets out to help them get a sanctuary for ghosts. Soon news of their ‘mission’ spreads all over, and various ghosts and other creatures begin to join them. The youngest of the ghost family, Humphrey is called Humphrey the Horrible, but is anything but horrible. But when their path to securing their sanctuary turns out to be riddled with far more danger than they had anticipated, it is Humphrey who has to act, to save his family, the other ghosts, and himself. (The actual story is somewhat different from the synopsis at the back of the book based on which I’d written about this book here.)

 

This was once again a fun read but much more than just an adventure story with ghosts. The author, as I read from her bio had moved to England from Vienna, from where her family had to flee during the Nazi regime, and this book certainly reflects those experiences. There are places where she expressly talks about people who are not wanted because they are different, but really the whole book is about that as well—that everyone, animal, human, even ghost or vampire-bat is entitled to a place where they can live securely and happily. These creatures may be different but perhaps the real horror is caused by humans who seem to keep destroying everything, animals’ habitats, food sources, open spaces, and then target the animals for whatever they do in their desperation; target those who are ‘different’ just for being so. Another point that stands out is how we judge others so readily, yet rarely evaluate our own actions.

 

But I am making it sound all serious—while these themes are indeed what stand out, this is also an adventure story, where there are ghosts of various sorts in need of a home, a perilous journey to be made to find that home and even a villain to be defeated to finally achieve it, and this book has all those elements and also some touches of humour.

 

Though more serious than what I had in mind for Halloween, this was still an enjoyable and fun read!

Will Your Aunt be Eaten Up?

Yet another post ‘inspired’ by booktube, well not inspired really but on something I was reminded of because of a video I saw there. Before I start however, I’d just like to clarify that despite what the title might suggest, this is a post on something humorous, not spooky. So, a few days ago I was watching this chat/discussion video with three booktubers, and one of them said something about an aunt, and went on to talk about how the word is pronounced. As far as I was aware, the ‘aunt’ vs ‘ant’ difference was one of British vs American pronunciation, but one of them brought up the point that this may be a Canadian vs American thing (as well) (which I am not aware of so won’t comment on). [The video is here– it’s a long one but the point comes up at the start; around 2:39.]. Also, please note this post has spoilers so in case you are bothered by this, don’t read on.

 

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But that discussion reminded me of a poem that I like very much, and one that pokes fun at this very thing–the Ant-Eater by Roald Dahl, which appears in the book Dirty Beasts. The poem has some of the same themes as many Dahl stories, spoilt rotten brats who ultimately end up paying the price for being as they are.

The poem is about this very spoilt child called Roy, the only child of a wealthy American family, who lived somewhere near San Francisco Bay. Roy is

 

“A plump and unattractive boy –

Half-baked, half-witted and half-boiled,

But worst of all, most dreadfully spoiled.” (Dahl, The Ant-Eater)

 

Somewhat like Verruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (or even Harry Potter’s cousin Dudley)Roy is bought everything that he desires by his parents, whether toy cars and model airplanes or a colour TV, besides all sorts of animals, his house being filled with “sufficient toys; To thrill half a million boys” but he continues to demand more and more and more. Then comes a point at which he is hard pressed to think of something new that he doesn’t have, and after giving it some thought, he comes upon a really novel idea. He demands a peculiar pet, one no one else has–a “Giant Ant-Eater”.

 

Of course, as soon as his father hears of it, he begins to try and locate one, writing to all the zoos and such but finds they are simply not sold. So he begins looking elsewhere. Ultimately, he manages to find “an Indian gent” living “near Delhi, in a tent”, who has what they want but demands a price of 50,000 gold rupees (were there ever gold rupees, I am not sure).

 

Naturally, the price is paid and the ant-eater arrives, but demands food as soon as he reaches for no one has looked after him or fed him on the way. But heartless Roy is not one to be bothered by things such as this, and saying that he wont give him bread or meat sends him off to look for ants, for that’s what ant-eaters eat. The poor ant-eater hunts high and low, and finding not a single ant desperately asks Roy for food once again, only to be told “Go, find an ant!”.

 

One day, it so happens that Roy’s old aunt Dorothy, a lady of eighty-three arrives for a  visit. Roy is keen to show off his new pet, and takes her down and indicates the poor animal, all skin and bones. He calls the Ant-Eater to meet his ‘ant’ for:

 

(Some people in the U.S.A.

Have trouble with the words they say.

However hard they try, they can’t

Pronounce simple words like AUNT.

Instead of AUNT, they call it ANT,

Instead of CAN’T, they call it KANT.)

–Dahl, The Ant-Eater

 

The ant-eater pricks up his ears at this, and asks whether that is indeed an ant? And of course, goes on to do just what Roy had told him, since he has found his ‘ant’. This scares Roy who tries to run and hide, but, as the nephew of an ‘ant’…

 

This is such a fun poem, which I only ‘discovered’ when a friend mentioned it, and I loved it since I first read it. I love how Dahl pokes fun at the differences in accent in such an amusing way. Also, one can’t help smiling, in fact, laughing as the events unfold, cheering on the poor Ant-Eater, and fairly glad for what happened to Roy. One can’t help but feel just a little sorry for ‘Ant’ Dorothy, though, for it wasn’t really her fault that her nephew was quite so rotten.

 

This has turned out more a summary of the poem than a comment on it, but since I enjoy it so much, I’m going ahead and posting it anyway.

 

Have you read this poem before or any others in this collection (I haven’t read the others)?  Did you enjoy it/them as much as I did? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

If Beatrix Potter Really Loved Animals, Then…

Beatrix Potter is an author I’ve enjoyed since I was a child, and I continue to love her stories and illustrations. She has written 23 different tales and some other books as well, but this post is not about her as an author (I do want to do a separate post on her, being an author whose works I really enjoy); instead this one is about something that I keep thinking when I read her stories. It is a rather minor point so I even wondered whether it’s worth a post (of its own) at all, but am writing it all the same. But a warning, this post is not spoiler free, so if this bothers you, don’t read on.

 

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The 1902 cover of Peter Rabbit

Image source: Beatrix Potter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So I’ve read about nine of Potter’s animal stories (or at least remember these) and have about fourteen–one lot in a collected The World of Beatrix Potter–plus a few individual books. I love the stories, and from the illustrations one can clearly see how closely she observed the various animals she drew, and also her love for them. Her characters are animals of course, but anthropomorphic and combine their animal characteristics with some human behaviour and certainly, human dress and mannerisms–some translated to their animal equivalents.

 

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Mrs Tiggy Winkle with her Iron

Image source: Beatrix Potter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Mr Jeremy Fisher

Image source: Beatrix Potter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But anyway, to the point of this post, while I do love Potter’s animals and their stories, I can help but wonder, why is it that all (or nearly all) of her animals end up getting in so much trouble, either spanked or sent to bed by their parents (like Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny; and Tom Kitten and his sisters), having their tails yanked off (like Squirrel Nutkin) or their eggs eaten up (like Jemima Puddleduck). Mr Jeremy Fisher has terrible luck on his fishing expedition, being turned nearly into a trout’s dinner, and himself ending up serving roasted grasshopper with ladybird sauce to his guests instead of minnows freshly caught. Tom Kitten fares no better in his second adventure, and is turned into an almost roly-poly pudding by Mr Samuel Whiskers.

 

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Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny after a whipping from the latter’s father.

Image source: Beatrix Potter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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And Squirrel Nutkin minus much of his Tail (Mr Brown the Owl has it as you can see)

Image source: Beatrix Potter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Beatrix_Potter_-_A_Tale_of_Jeremy_Fisher_-_Illustration_from_page_55

Mr Jeremy Fisher with his dinner guest, Sir Issac Newton

Image source:Beatrix Potter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Of the Beatrix Potter stories I’ve read, Mrs Tiggy Winkle is the only one which is pleasant throughout (this is such a sweet story and one of my very favourites). Another is perhaps Pigling Bland who manages to get away, more or less by the skin of his teeth with his friend Pig-Wig, and go dancing over the hills and far away, ending up completely unharmed.

So naturally, I did wonder why–if she is writing stories about animals, then why are they mostly such naughty ones, and why ones that get into a fair deal of trouble. Of course, this makes them all the more interesting no doubt. But also perhaps, the situations they end up in, trouble with other animals or with humans are perhaps a reflection of their situation in real life too–animals do tend to get into trouble every so often, and sometimes they don’t have such escapes as they do in her stories. So perhaps, while she is making them more human-like in her stories taking them away from reality, she is also preserving a bit of reality. Reality that which both animals and humans have to face)–even if you manage to get out of trouble, you have to face the consequences, and life doesn’t always go back to the way it was (not exactly, anyway).

Do you love Beatrix Potter’s books as much as I do? Which are some favourites? If you’ve read some others than the ones I mention, were there other characters who had a better time than some of the animals I’ve talked about here?

And if you like Potter, you might want to try stories by American author and naturalist Thornton Burgess. His stories are somewhat on the same lines with animals getting into some scrapes or facing minor troubles off and on, and then finding a way out. Some ‘by the skin-of-their-teeth’ situations there too! Looking forward o hearing your thoughts!

 

Review: No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

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My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s Publishers for a review copy of this one.

 

This was such a wonderful wonderful read for me—heart-breaking, and cute, and making me smile a little all at the same time. The story is told in the voice of twelve-and-three-quarters-year-old Felix Knutsson, who lives with his single mother, Astrid (she insists he calls her by name) in a Westfalia van. They have seen a change in fortunes from a time when they were doing ok and had a home, to one where Astrid is more or less jobless, and almost penniless, and have to take the only option available to them, of living in a van. Felix had had to change schools and homes many times over the years as they moved around various parts of Vancouver but finds himself now back in school with one of the only friends he ever had, Dylan Brinkerhoff. Before long Winnie Wu, somewhat Hermione-Granger-like, and a bit over-enthusiastic about school joins their little group. But Felix has to navigate through all of this without ever letting slip his living arrangements as both Felix and his mother are terrified of falling into the ‘clutches’ of the Ministry of Children and Family Development, which they are convinced will place him in foster care, and apart from his mother. Alongside, he must also deal with his mother, who isn’t exactly a bad mother but not a particularly good one either, with many facets to her character (specifics might be a spoiler), that are far from perfect. His only hope lies in participating in his favourite game show Who, What, Where, When, which is having a junior edition, through which he might win some prize money that can help tide them over.

 

I loved Felix—he was so sensible, mature for his age, able to face much more than anyone his age could and all without constantly whining or pitying himself. This is not to say that he doesn’t want life to get back to normal, or that he is a Pollyanna, but he takes things in his stride better than even a grown-up would. One can’t help but feel sorry for him having to not only present a brave face to the world but also to be the strong one in his family in some situations. Some of the situations they have to face are plain frightening at times, and others require Felix to accept things that he wouldn’t normally approve of (after all, he has to live). I also liked how the author conveyed so many things subtly capturing things in a way a child might perhaps see them, and not having to say things explicitly/directly all the time. Seeing Felix’s situation, one can’t help but think about people like him who have to live every day without the things we tend to take for granted—food to eat, a bed to sleep in, a toilet in one’s home—and realise the need to have more help at hand for people in such circumstances, and feel grateful in having those things, besides also realising, that a life with dignity which is a ‘basic’ human right remains a luxury for so many. At the same time, the book gives a positive and hopeful message about people themselves. I also liked that the book really reflected well how multicultural our world really is now. This may be classified as a YA book, but is one that can be appreciated by everyone, even adults (perhaps more so), and I highly recommend it. Simply wonderful read.  (p.s. of course, I loved the little illustrations!!!!)

Review: Illusion by Stephanie Elmas

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My thanks to NetGalley and Endeavour Media for a review copy of this book.

 

I requested this one because the combination of Victorian England and magic was one that sounded exciting—something like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, perhaps. This story opens with Tom Winter, a music teacher who gives the daughters of the well-to-do piano lessons, being cheated when purchasing some herrings for supper at the docks. He notices some shadows, a flicker of something, only to find that his old friend, Walter Balanchine has returned to London after three years in the East, and proposes to start performing magic acts based on what he’s learnt over this time, in which Tom is to assist him. Accompanying him back from the East are a young boy Kayan, and a black panther, Sinbad. But the unique and intriguing Walter is not merely an illusionist but also a healer, who wants to help those in distress, even if he isn’t a doctor in the traditional sense. Tom manages to find him an engagement, and they soon become a rage in town. In one of their ‘magic’ shows Tom notices the beautiful, young Tamara Huntingdon, and their lives take an unexpected turn. Tamara is to be married to the much older and sinister Cecil Hearst, and appeals to Tom to rescue her from this fate. Tom of course, turns to Walter and so begins their unexpected adventure.

 

This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Though I must say, when starting this book, while I was enjoyed the elements of the magic/illusion shows, and Walter’s character, I wasn’t sure where all of it was leading or what direction the story would take. However, once Tamara enters the plot, and more specifically, when she asks Tom for help and Walter begins to formulate his plan, I really began to get drawn into the story, not wanting to put it down. Even then, I couldn’t really tell where everything was headed or how things would turn out, and there were plenty of turns the plot took, plenty of little mysteries and revelations, nearly all the way to the end that I didn’t see coming and made it all the more interesting to read.

 

The characters are in some ways black and white, not so much grey about them―yet they are all believable. Tom, Walter, Sally, Kayan, and Tamara are each very likeable, each with their own distinct personality―one feels for them and wants things to turn out well for them. Cecil Hearst is menacing, creepy, sadistic, and all else in the same direction―someone who likes to show his power, to be in control, with no concern really for what he is doing and who he is doing it to. He was generally well done, with his equally intimidating henchmen, but there were points at which I felt may be not as convinced by his power. And Walter, I can’t not comment on him. Probably the most unique character in the book, both in appearance and in his traits, and one whose magic soon begins to affect the reader as well—at first, I wasn’t sure if (because of his unusual traits) he’d turn out magical but unsettling, but soon enough one realises, he is someone who really wants to help people, and who will ultimately come through for them,  someone one begins to have faith in.

 

The settings too were an element I enjoyed, particularly Victorian London, where we see both the homes and lives of the wealthy, and of those struggling for survival. And this is yet another book where there is magic and Prague in one! And of course, there is also the ‘magic’ in the book which also took an unexpected turn. While there is the usual magic of marvellous illusions, hypnosis, and tricks, the real magic of the book turned out to be very different—more the kind that real life can sometimes hold, where things fall into place, and eventually all turns out right! While this was a book where one faces real life in all its ‘not so pretty’ forms, the overall impression it leaves you with at the end is of a ‘feel good’ book, where things will be right after all. Four and a half stars.