Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (41)

“‘Such nonsense!’ declared Dr Greysteel. ‘Whoever heard of cats doing anything useful!’

‘Except for staring at one in a supercilious manner,’ said Strange. ‘That has a sort of moral usefulness, I suppose, in making one feel uncomfortable and encouraging sober reflection upon one’s imperfections.'” 

Sussana Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Image source: Pexels.

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Children’s Book of the Month: Syren by Angie Sage

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This is the fifth of a seven-book fantasy–adventure series featuring Septimus Heap by English author Angie Sage. I haven’t read any other books in the series before, and this was a chance find on the shop-soiled table in my neighbourhood bookshop. What attracted me to the book was the cover, and its somewhat different shape—it’s nearly but not quite a square. I loved the cover art—and the others in the series (one set of covers, in particular) are equally pretty.

 

Septimus Heap is the seventh son of a seventh son, and so as folklore tells us, he has magykal powers. He is apprentice to the ExtraOrdinary Wizard Marcia Overstrand with whom he must serve an apprenticeship of seven years and seven days.

 

The books starts out with two parallel storylines. On the one side we have Septimus Heap who is setting out to fetch his friends Jenna and Beetle, and his brother Nicco, and Snorri (who I think is Nicco’s girlfriend, though I’m not very sure) from the trading post where they have stopped after their previous adventure. Jenna and the others have in the meantime met her father Milo Banda and his ship the Cerys, and have gone on board. Septimus sets off on his dragon Spit Fyre, and on the way back (only Jenna and Beetle have accompanied him), Spit Fyre is injured and they are forced to land on an island where everything is not quite as peaceful and calm as it seems on the surface—there is something amiss in the background. The Island belongs to the Syren, and she is luring more than one person there, though at this point it is unclear why. Meanwhile Wolf Boy is sent by Aunt Zelda to the Port Witch Coven to perform an unpleasant and dangerous task, which he doesn’t know is the first step to being her apprentice. At the Coven he finds Lucy Gringe (girlfriend of Septimus’ other brother Simon) has been captured by the Witches. He helps her escape but in getting away they end up aboard a ship, the Marauder captained by the shady Captain Frye, which is setting off on a mission to steal the light from Cattrokk Lighthouse, with a nefarious purpose. Both events end up related to a dangerous plot, and the rest of this about 630-page adventure relates how Septimus and his friends tackle the situation.

 

I really enjoyed this one despite the obvious drawback of reading a book from this late on in a series. This did mean that I wasn’t quite sure who was who, their backgrounds, what adventures they’d had in the past, how the magyk and such worked, among other things—and not all of those questions cleared up by the time I reached the end either. But the plot itself I thought was very well done—I liked how the author tied all the different plot threads together to create an exciting adventure. I only picked up some clues of what was going on, but didn’t entirely see how the different lines would come together, and what they were leading to. I also very enjoyed the world the author has created—there’s a map of the actual world―but I also meant the other elements—the magyk, alchemy, dragons, and jinnees—as other reviewers have said, not as dark as Harry Potter’s world but very imaginative all the same—there’s the magic of course, and also the legends, and even games (at least one in this one). And speaking of Harry Potter, while there were things one could compare, I liked that this one didn’t have its protagonists on in the Harry–Ron–Hermione as many fantasy series/books following Potter have done. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but it’s nice to see something different too. I liked many of the characters, Septimus himself, the Wolf Boy, Beetle, and Mr Miarr. But while the ExtraOrdinary Wizard may have been female, two of the girls in this, Lucy with her tendency to scream all the time, irrespective of the occasion, and Jenna who seems to rely on her emotions/heart more than her head didn’t come across too well, especially the latter. Syrah on the other hand I liked much better, and a part of her story was very well done—pretty scary when one thinks about it. I also loved Spit Fyre the dragon and Jim Knee (you’ll know who that is when you read the book).

 

This was a really fun read for me, and I definitely want to read more of the series. Of course, I can’t end this review without writing about the illustrations which I really liked very very much. Those of the characters of course, but my favourite was that of the ship the Cerys, which I though was really beautiful—all her sails and details stood out very well.

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.

Findouters Challenge: Where Fatty Meets his Match (in a way)

The Mystery of the Missing Man (The Five Find-Outers, #13)The Mystery of the Missing Man by Enid Blyton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Findouters challenge: Book 13. The thirteenth of the findouters books begins as usual but also somewhat unusually as well. The children are home again, this time for Easter break, and Fatty to everyone’s surprise is slimming (or attempting to slim, at any rate) for he has been selected for the tennis team at school and while he can hit his shots, running around the court with his current weight isn’t the easiest of things. Meanwhile the Trottevilles have visitors, a friend of Mr Trotteville, Mr Tolling a coleopterist is in Peterswood for a conference and brings along his daughter Eunice who turns out to be the one person Fatty can’t manage to get the better of. Meanwhile his attempts at disguising as a tramp (only for fun and in his shed) lead to his discovering that there is another mystery for the findouters to solve. There is a man the police are looking for, an ace of sorts at disguises and the police are certain he’s in Peterswood. With the fair in the village, and also the conference there are plenty of places to hide. The children are of course trying to solve the mystery before Mr Goon, yet again, but also in a way that Eunice who annoys them doesn’t get wind of what’s going on.

Reading this book, I noticed so many things that were different from the usual findouters books. There are the usual elements of course, school holidays, a mystery, a touch of boasting from Fatty, disguises, Mr Goon and Buster, and food of course. But for one, this book was the first in which I noticed the children drinking coffee―so far (If I haven’t missed it), it was mostly cocoa/chocolate in winter and endless lemonade in summer, so while ages aren’t mentioned in this one, one begins to realise they’re growing older. And then the mention of perms which quite surprised me for while the children weren’t talking of fashion in this case, this wasn’t something that pops up in their vocabularies in general. Then of course, there is Eunice herself, the first time someone who manages to ‘boss’ Fatty around a bit, and who he can’t seem to escape or get the better of. So even he isn’t invincible. Still, while she can be overbearing, no doubt, she’s got some fun in her as well and turns out far better than one would expect from when the book starts off. One sees more of Mrs Trotteville’s lighter side as well in this one. And yes, their equation was Goon is a lot different in this one as well―he still calls Fatty, that ‘toad of a boy’ and doesn’t want his interference, and Fatty still plays a trick or two on him but there isn’t that outright unpleasantness between them that is apparent in many of the books.

Anyway back to the mystery itself, this was again one that I’ve read many times before so though I was reading it after a long-ish gap and had forgotten some of the details, I did remember the solution. While not one of the most interesting, the solution was still fairly so, and one which I as a result enjoyed. This time around though, it was Fatty who worked it all out by himself, literally all of it. The denouement too, come to think of it was very unlike the rest of the series, considering (well that might be a spoiler of sorts)… On the foodmeter, this was certainly much above average. With all that slimming and talk of it, it is only to be expected that Fatty eats a lot more than usual. So yet another enjoyable one, though it seemed very different from the rest of the series.

The original illustrations are available here (but beware, there is a review with spoilers): http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/bo…
(The site mentions the illustrations are by Lilian Bucanan from the first ed, but there are several on this page that I have in my ed and those are by Mary Gernat).

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Findouters Challenge: The Findouters go to the Pantomime

The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat (The Five Find-Outers, #7)The Mystery of the Pantomime Cat by Enid Blyton

Findouters Challenge: Book 7. The second of the Findouters books with a “cat” in the title and theme. In this one, Goon is going away on holiday and is being replaced by a much-friendlier PC Pippin who is in every way Goon’s opposite. However, when it starts off Pippin is quite eager to please Mr Goon though he doesn’t quite believe what he has to say about the children. But Goon’s behaviour towards the children, and particularly Buster soon changes his mind. The children in the meantime have decided to make up a mystery, yet again for Pippin to “solve”―clearly not having learnt very much from their past experiences. Their “mystery” as is usual leads Pippin to stumble onto a real one, a robbery at the village pantomime. Someone has broken into the safe and stolen all that was in it. Goon’s (who is back by then) chief suspect is the pantomime cat Boysie Summers, and his friend, one of the actors Zoe (who plays Dick Whittington). And it doesn’t at all help that Boysie is somewhat slow and can be browbeaten into a confession, while the clues the children “planted” included a handkerchief with the initial “Z” as well as the cigarette ends of the brand she used, making Goon’s case stronger. So of course, it falls on the children to solve the mystery and clear their names. So starts off a new adventure where the children interview suspects and witnesses, check alibis, and of course, beat Goon to it. But this time around, only just.

This one had quite a few of the trademarks of the Findouters books with Fatty using his disguises (mostly to fool poor Goon), Bets stumbling upon the right answer in the nick of time, and quite a bit of food. In fact, on the “foodmeter”, this one rates the highest so far (plenty of sandwiches and snacks, biscuits and buns). The solution to the mystery had some obvious elements but also some creative ones so it was good fun overall. The children still come across as rather arrogant about their own skills and intelligence, believing themselves “free” to trick just about anyone, despite obvious disapproval from their parents, and Inspector Jenks. [But without their tricks of course there would be no mystery.] Still, despite this, in this one their behaviour was far better than the previous book with Ern where I felt they simply gave no thought to their actions. I enjoyed their investigation though―approaching the actors and other witnesses, checking alibis, and all in a way that children could do (and Goon certainly couldn’t), but alongside also having fun with a trip to the pantomime and a picnic as well. Overall, this was a fun instalment with an interesting mystery element.

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Findouters Challenge: Disappearing Cat


The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat (The Five Find-Outers, #2)The Mystery of the Disappearing Cat by Enid Blyton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Findouters Challenge: Book 2. This second book is set some months after the first and is the first of the two “cat” titled findouters books. Bets is excited at Pip, Larry and Daisy coming home after three months away at school. In the meantime, Pip has received a letter from Fatty saying that his parents like Peterswood so much that they’ve bought a house there, so the Findouters will be together again. Pip and the others return to find that the Hiltons have a new neighbour, Lady Candling who happens to have a set of prize-winning Siamese cats, among them Dark Queen who has some distinctive white hairs in her tail, and has won £100 recently. Interested in seeing them, the children make friends with the gardener’s boy, fifteen-year-old Luke, who is slow at some things but deft with his hands, tending the garden and carving whistles and model cats for the children, particularly little Bets. His “boss” Mr Tuppings the gardener, however, is a nasty piece of goods, ill-tempered and always out to make poor Luke miserable. When Dark Queen goes missing, Luke who has been working around the cat cages at the time, is the prime suspect, circumstances pointing to him, and it is only the children who believe he is innocent. They set out to solve the mystery and along the way, end up playing some tricks on poor Mr Goon whose ankles are once again Buster’s target.

This was one of the more creative of the findouters mysteries where the “how” was great fun, much more interesting than book 1 (which wasn’t all that straightforward either). I remembered part of the plot but not all of it, and also not the twists along the way. Once again it is young Bets who catches on to the important clues and while the others are slower to see their significance, Fatty ultimately works it out. Inspector Jenks is also quite happy to come to their aid when they aren’t sure what course to adopt. On the “food meter”, this one still ranks low, the kids eating a little but still not making any trips to the tea shop or eating ices with Inspector Jenks. My impression of all that food must come from the later books. I’m enjoying reading these in order and seeing how the stories developed overall. The food element for one seems to have come in much later. Also, we haven’t yet “met” all the children’s families, only the Hiltons so far and the Findouters haven’t begun using Fatty’s shed. Now on to the next one to see how things go. What fun this is!

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Reading Challenge: Five Findouters


Source: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31764783The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage (The Five Find-Outers, #1)The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage by Enid Blyton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Findouters Challenge: Book 1. Among Enid Blyton’s mystery series, the Five Findouters have always been my favourite (though I read and loved the others too), one reason being the very imaginative solutions to so many of their cases. This time around I’ve decided to read all 15 of the books chronologically for the first time.

The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage is the first of the series and opens with siblings Laurence “Larry” and Margaret “Daisy” Daykin waking up to the smell of a fire. They and their friends Philip “Pip” and Elizabeth “Bets” Hilton step out to investigate and find that a wooden cottage which serves as workshop for one of their neighbours Mr Hick is on fire and valuable documents have been destroyed. Mr Hick himself was on his way back from London at the time, but most of the people he employed, and his “rival” of sorts in the study of documents pretty much dislike him, and justifiably so. At the scene of the fire, Larry, Daisy, Pip and Bets meet a fat boy who’s been staying at the local inn with his parents, and who they (the first three) don’t much take to, and his little Scottie they all love. Soon they find themselves forming a “detective” club of sorts (thus becoming the Five Findouters and Dog) in which they reluctantly include Fatty (who they name after his initials F.A.T. and appearance) and little Bets, starting on their investigations and trying to stay a step ahead of their village constable Mr Goon, who pretty much appears on the scene with his trademark Clear Orfs. Towards the end they also make the acquaintance of Inspector Jenks who turns into a good friend to the children, as the series progresses.

This was a fun first book in the series but for me lacked the full flavour of the later books. I enjoyed the mystery element though it wasn’t among the best of the lot (the kind that one has come across in other books too and can guess at). Fatty is of course a bit of a boaster and one can see why the other children find him annoying but I thought they treated poor Bets rather shamefully, considering as in the other books in the series, it is she that finds the most important clues. Bets in this one is eight years old but EB seems to have made her a little too young for her age. And while there is some food and eating in the book, it is nowhere as much as the later books where there were many many trips to the tea shop and plenty of eating in Fatty’s shed. Still this was a good beginning to the series, and a nice enough mystery which I enjoyed revisiting. Three and a half stars.

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Book Review: The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

Being a cat lover or should I say cat slave for the last six–seven years, I was quite keen to read the Wildings as it is of course a book about cats. The book is the story of a clan of stray cats who live in the Nizamuddin area of Delhi and includes Beraal, a beautiful back and white “queen” and great hunter, Miao, a Siamese of great dignity and wisdom, the toms Katar and Hulo, and a kitten Southpaw, “rescued” by them and being brought up as part of their clan. They lead a relatively happy life, free to come and go as they like, living under the open sky, having to hunt for their food, and facing a fair share of danger from predators. For the most part, they stay out of the way of the bigfeet (humans) but do get some love and some food from a fakir. They live by a strict code, hunting only for food and showing respect for all life around them, and as a clan they have each other’s backs, always stepping up to support the other when needed. They train little Southpaw, the youngest of their troop and can be strict with him, but they also always protect him and look after him when he gets into trouble (something he is rather inclined to do). I loved the little details that the author puts in of their interactions with their fellow creatures, the environment, like their avoiding hunting the “seven sisters” or jungle babblers, something I’ve also noticed. Each of the cats Roy has created or put in to her tale is a real one, and one can’t help love as well as feel a certain amount of admiration for them. Each of these cats is also unique as are her other colourful creations like the Supreme Court cats Affit and Davit who speak legalese and demand proof.

 

Into the midst of the Nizamuddin cats, one fine day comes Mara—a little orange kitten with unusual powers, a “sender” which hasn’t been seen for years—the cats are reluctant and wary as a sender is also an omen of dark times to come. But when Beraal actually meets Mara, she can’t help but take to her and, soon takes her under her wing training her to use her powers better. Mara is an indoor kitty, scared of stepping outdoors but goes on great adventures through her powers of telepathy even making friends with a family of tigers—Ozymandias (“Ozzy”), Rani, and the cub Rudra at the zoo. It is also these powers that she uses to help her friends when they need her.

 

The Nizamuddin cats’ relatively ordinary lives change when a large group of ferals lead by the evil Datura are on the verge of entering into their world and turning it upside down not only posing danger to them but all the other animals and birds in the area, also the bigfeet. Datura and his troop are well flushed out with malice literally dripping from them. They live by no rules and hunt not to eat or defend but just for the pleasure of it. The Wildings must prepare for battle, form alliances, seek help from wherever they can (including the cheels) and face a worse enemy than they ever have.

 

I enjoyed so much in this book, the writing, the beautiful illustrations (I especially liked how they’re merged into the text in so many places, the bees flying through, for instance), the cats, the stories of their daily lives, their hunts, their code, their whole world, the other animals, squirrels and mice, the magnificent cheels, the tigers, and Mara who was just a little kitten but a very special one (as was the real one on whom she is based—her story appears on the author’s blog). But the author also makes them and their stories realistic, and at times for me it got a little too real (may be a little too graphic too) and heartbreaking (the note on which it ended was somewhat upsetting) and I found myself tearing up and wishing that she had given it a little more of a storybook end.