Wednesday the 22nd of May, and Shelf Control time again. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and is all about celebrating the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. Each week, simply pick up a book from your TBR, and write a post about it. Don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do share your links in the comments with me as well as I’d love to check out your picks.
This month, I’ve been reading (or at least am attempting to read) the 2018 books on my TBR pile and so for Shelf Control have been featuring other recent publications waiting to be read on my shelves. This week’s pick is The Glory of Patan by K.M. Munshi (translated by Rita and Abhijit Kothari). The book is and isn’t a recent publication. The book was originally published in Gujarati in the 1910s, but this translation came out in 2017.
What it’s all about: This is the first of the ‘Patan Trilogy’ ; in the book, the Kingdom of Patan is facing an uncertain future. The king, Karnadev is on his deathbed while his heir, Jayadev is much too young to take the throne. Warlords are scheming and merchants attempting to wrest power. In this atmosphere, it falls to the Queen Minaldevi, and chief minister Munjal Mehta to maintain order, and ensure that the throne is secure for Jayadev to take over. Thus begins an exciting and fast-paced tale of the exploits of the Chalukya dynasty in Gujarat.
The Author: Kanhaiyalal Maneklal Munshi (1887-1971) was an activist, politician, educationist, and writer from Gujarat. He has written many novels, dramas, and also non fiction in Gujarati, Hindi, and English. I have mentioned this in another post but my first acquaintance with Munshi was in college classes, as when studying the Constituent Assembly and its debates in any context, Munshi is often quoted, and it was only much later that I realised that the novelist and politician were the same. The translators Rita and Abhijit Kothari are researchers and teachers based in Gandhinagar/Ahmedabad.
Last year I happened to read one of his books, Prithvi Vallabh (review here), also a work of historical fiction based on a twelfth-century poem, which I enjoyed reading, mostly because of its many unconventional elements. After reading that I wanted to explore more of his works and someone on Goodreads recommended this trilogy, so when I found this one on sale, I picked it up last year (I think it was in October). I have a hardback edition published by Penguin/Viking.
Have you read any books by this author? Which ones and how did you like them? Looking forward to reading your thoughts!
All the info about the book is from the blurb on the book itself, while about Munshi is from wikipedia (here).
My thanks to the author, and Penguin RandomHouse India for a review
copy of this book.
Muhammad Bin Tughlaq (reign 1325–1351) was the second ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty, which ruled over a large part of the country described as the Delhi Sultanate, ruled over by five different dynasties, the Mamluks, Khaljis, and Tughlaqs among them.
This book opens in a period of turmoil around the Delhi/Dilli throne when after the demise of Alauddin Khalji, his son Mubarak Shah has proved to be a disappointment, wasting his opportunity on the throne on his own pleasures and debauchery with the result that he has been murdered and the throne taken over by Nasiruddin Khusrau Shah, one of Khalji’s generals. In his capital, young Jauna Khan, son of Ghazi Malik, is a hostage of sorts, though officially Master of the Horse. But he is courageous and manages to make his escape and join his father, who goes on to found the Tughlaq dynasty as Ghiasuddin Tughlaq. His father’s death on return from one of his campaigns sees Jauna ascend the throne as Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, but the circumstances of the death mean that Muhammad will always be suspected of patricide. As the Sultan, Muhammad was a visionary, attempting a series of innovations from shifting his capital, to introducing currency—minting coins of base metals with higher value—and also had other radical ideas including pertaining faith and tolerance which were ahead of his time and did not sit well with his officials or people, despite his own good intentions. Unfortunately for him, most of his schemes and a few of his campaigns failed, and he is remembered as cruel or mad rather than for his ideas. In telling his story, the author explores all of these facets of his personality and of his life, as he goes from being Prince Jauna to Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq to the Mad Monarch amidst a few (his mother and sister) who loved and genuinely cared for him to others like his officials who didn’t really seem to understand him, and still others who were ever ready to betray.
This is the third book of
historical fiction I’ve read by the author and it was my favourite so far. I
really liked how she’s presented Muhammad (from whose point of view the story
is told) as a person—a powerful monarch, yes, but not as someone good or bad or
classifiable into clear cut categories, but rather an interesting but much
misunderstood person, with ideas much ahead of his time, whether it be his
innovations or his interest in interacting with those from other parts of the
world. He is cruel certainly and the tortures he perpetrated on those who
crossed him were horrifying but I felt it was no less so than other
monarchs—the Mughals after him or Henry the VIII for that matter (which is not
to say that those actions were not despicable but just that they weren’t
extraordinarily so). (Incidentally, while in some of the author’s earlier
books, I found what I called the ‘gory bits’ a bit much for me, here while they
were still disturbing to read (as they should be), I didn’t feel that they were
out of place where they were included.) Also he acts on his whims at times which
again was characteristic of so many monarchs (and people generally). But from the
overall portrait that this book paints, the feeling one comes away with is some
level of sympathy for a man who certainly deserved better than he got.
Of the themes the author explores in the book, the one that stands
out throughout is the need for tolerance for difference, whether it be of faith
or other aspects—this is something that is relevant even in the current context
and yet a lesson that people refuse to learn.
I enjoyed the author’s writing and descriptions, especially of
celebratory occasions like his sister Khuda’s wedding—the vivid pictures she
paints make one feel like one is there viewing the ceremonies and celebrations
oneself. In some places, though, I felt some word choices were a touch modern
and didn’t quite fit the historical context/atmosphere in the book. But while parts
of the story and Muhammad’s personality might be as the author imagined them,
the research that has gone into the book shows.
Another small complaint I had with the book was something I felt with her earlier historical book, Prithviraj Chauhan as well—in a work of historical fiction, especially when a monarch and his kingdom is the centre of discussion, including a map/s of the Sultanate as it was in the period or periods being written of would have made the reading experience better as one could have immediately referred to it to see what places or areas were being spoken of. The second element which would also have been helpful was a list of characters mentioned or even a family tree/s. The first chapter of the book where the author describes the situation of the Delhi throne after Khalji’s death, numerous characters are mentioned, not all of whom one was familiar with and I found it a little confusing to keep who was who straight in my mind. I realise that many of these (in fact, most) don’t really come up again in the story, but still a cast of characters describing people in the different dynasties would have helped keep things clearer.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book which presented many facets of a very interesting historical personality. A solid 4 stars.
My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere books for a review copy of this
The Catherine Howard Conspiracy is the first in a trilogy, the Marquess House trilogy, and is a mystery/thriller that unfolds in two parallel timelines. After a brief prologue setting out some events in 1542 Pembrokeshire, we come to the present day where historian–archaeologist, Dr Perdita Rivers working at an undersea site where a sunken ship, possibly from the Armada, has been found is told that her estranged grandmother, an eminent historian Mary Fitzroy has died, and that her and her twin sister, Piper are left heirs to her estate. She soon discovers that her estate is not only vast including the imposing Marquess House, but also includes treasures in the form of the books and documents that Marquess House is home to including its own legacy and the results of her grandmother’s research. As she begins to look into this, she begins to uncover the secrets that Marquess House hides (which connect to Catherine Howard) as well as much that has been hidden in her and Piper’s life. In this, she is helped by her grandmother’s lawyer and friend, Alistair Mackensie and his family, particularly, his youngest son, Kit. Alongside, back in the sixteenth century, we follow Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth queen, from the time she enters the palace as maid-in-waiting to Anne of Cleeves, catches Henry’s eye, and becomes his queen. But as queen she is caught between the ageing and increasing violent Henry, who acts entirely on his whim, and her own family the Howards, particularly the Duke of Norfolk who wants his own ambitions for the Howard family realised through her. Having seen the fate that befell her cousin Anne Boleyn, Catherine must live in fear nearly every step of the way, and can rely only on a few to protect her.
Some aspects of the book when it begins, and the comparisons with Dan Brown, kind of gave me a clue as to the direction in which the plot was headed, so when I started, my enthusiasm was kind of dampened, but as I read on and the two storylines unfolded with the present-day characters uncovering various secrets, I began to get absorbed in the plot and want to keep reading on to see what they would find next, and how they would get to the answer to the mystery. I also enjoyed the historical part of the story as it played out (though there were certain scenes, describing Henry’s brutality and depravations which were a bit too gruesome for my liking—may be a little less detail would have worked better for me here). The author has taken historical events and characters and given them her own interpretation. So, many of the characters, Catherine Howard, Lady Rochford, and Norfolk, in particular, have different personalities than one is (or at least I was) used to from other fiction (even, non-fiction) set in the era. How much of this interpretation is true (the conspiracy is fiction of course, as the author says), I can’t tell but it was certainly an interesting spin on events, and told in a fast paced, and exciting manner. The main character, Dr Perdita Rivers, I didn’t really take to so much, in the sense that I felt her a little too naïve in many situations; also I felt even when the answer to some things seemed to stare her in the face, she took a page or two longer to get to it. While this book solves part of the mystery, there is a further thread to explore which is probably where the next one will pick up, and I am excited to see how that turns out. An exciting read which I would have enjoyed far more if the secrets unveiled would have really taken me by surprise.
This is the first in a mystery series featuring Perveen Mistry, the first female lawyer in Bombay (based on the real firsts, Camelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam) set in the 1920s. Perveen is 23, has read law at Oxford, and is employed in her father’s firm as no one else would employ her. She isn’t a member of the Bar since this is still not permitted at that point. Her father’s firm is appointed to execute the will of one Omar Farid, a wealthy mill-owner who was their client. On his death, he has left behind three widows, all of whom are purdahnashin, that is they live in seclusion with no contact with men from outside their family. As a woman lawyer, Perveen is the only one who can speak to them, find out what their wishes are regarding their money, and communicate to them what the law is, and how it can help them. But her efforts aren’t appreciated by all, especially the guardian of the estate, who is clearly not acting fairly, and this spells trouble for Perveen (since he thinks he can intimidate a ‘mere woman’. But when a murder takes place and she continues to investigate, Perveen finds her own life also in danger. Alongside, a second thread of the story takes place taking us into Perveen’s past including the struggles she faced as the only female student in the Government Law College in Bombay, and the decisions in her personal life that had unforeseen consequences that was affect her life in the long run.
This was such an enjoyable read for me. I thought the author captured the whole atmosphere of 1920s Bombay and life in the Parsi community as it would have been back then really well. It felt really authentic, especially some of the customs, mannerisms and language. I also really liked Perveen as a character. She is an intelligent young woman, but also very human—she takes decisions that aren’t always the right ones as all of us do, and also acts impetuously at times. But still she is a likeable character, and a strong one considering all she has borne in her past, as well as feisty in how she deals with the dangers that she faces when investigating the case at hand. She is also confident in the way she conducts herself, not allowing much to intimidate her. I also loved that her family, especially her parents are so supportive of her, are with her every step of the way and taking care even when she is unaware that they are. The mystery was interesting, and also brought forth how life would have been for women in the position that the widows were in—unable to operate in the real world, unable to be safe when their husband was no longer with them, and vulnerable to be taken advantage of by even those who were left to care for them (servants pilfering money and such). I really loved this book and am looking forward to the second in the series which comes out sometime in May.
The final Wednesday of the month, and time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR pile. To participate, simply pick one of the books from your TBR and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page and also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to read about your choices.
February being my month for reading historical mysteries, I have also been featuring historical mysteries in Shelf Control all this month (my previous posts are here, here, and here). This time, my pick is a book from a series that I’m really enjoying reading, Revelation by C.J. Sansom.
The Series: The Matthew Shardlake series is set in Tudor England, a period about which I enjoy reading very much, and features Matthew Shardlake a lawyer who is a protege of sorts of Thomas Cromwell. When the series opens, Shardlake is charged by Cromwell with investigating a murder at a monastery in Scarnsea, amidst the unrest that the dissolution of monasteries by Henry the VIII has brought on. His service with Cromwell continues into the second book, but even after Cromwell’s death, he continues to investigate fairly complicated cases. The series has seven books so far, the first six in Henry VIII’s reign, while book 7 sees Shardlake in the service of Elizabeth, while Edward VI is on the throne.
The Book: It is Spring 1943 and Henry VIII is wooing Catherine Parr, while the protestant faction at court watches with bated breath as Lady Catherine is known for her reformist tendencies. Alongside, a teenage boy, a religious fanatic is placed in Bedlam. When an old friend of Matthew Shardlake is murdered, he finds himself led to both these threads, and also to the book of Revelation. There are a series of murders, witchcraft and possession to contend with on the way, in this once again complex mystery or should I say mysteries. Revelation is the fourth book in the series.
The Author: C.J Sansom is a Scottish-born writer of historical novels, who holds a BA and PhD in history. After holding different jobs, he retrained as a solicitor, and practiced for a while before taking to writing full time. Besides the seven Shardlake novels, he has also written two other historical novels, one set in 1940 Spain in the aftermath of the civil war, and one an alternative history in Britain after World War II.
I’ve loved what I’ve read of this series so far, and am really looking forward to get to this one!
Have you read this one or any other books in this series? What did you think of them? Which is your favourite in the series. Looking forward to reading your thoughts!
Wednesday the 13th of February–Shelf Control day again! Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR pile. To participate, all you do is to pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments as I’d love to check out your picks!
This February my reading ‘theme’ or rather the genre I’ve picked to read is historical mysteries (February reading plans here) and in keeping with that, I also plan to focus my Shelf Control posts on the historical mysteries waiting to be read on my TBR as well. Last week, I featured Angela Marchmont (here)–this week another lady detective, Posie Parker in the same time period, and the book Murder at Maypole Manor by L.B. Hathaway.
The Story: Posy Parker is a lady detective, trying to make her way in 1920s London. In this book, she is asked to accompany Inspector Richard Lovelace on an undercover mission to Maypole Manor, the home of Lord Robin Glaysayer, where a New Year party is to be held. There are twelve guests including an Italian nobleman, a famous filmstar, a government spy, and a clairvoyant. As expected (it’s winter of course), there’s a blizzard outside and murder inside, which Posie must solve in this Golden Age style mystery, which is the third in the series.
Where I got it: This one I came across on offer on Kindle and picked it up since it was a mystery and in a setting that appeals to me as well. There’s always room for a cosy mystery!
The Author: L.B. Hathaway is a writer of historical fiction, who worked as a lawyer at Lincoln’s Inn for almost a decade before turning to writing full time. She describes herself as a fan of Golden Age crime fiction, and an ardent devote of Agatha Christie. Besides this series, she has also written/is writing a trilogy of thrillers in Tudor England.
This series has six books and a seventh on the way as I can see from the author’s website. I haven’t read any of the books before, but the cover was appealing (it looks like a fun cosy). While the plot (people stuck in a blizzard with a murderer targetting them) isn’t ‘new’, it will be interesting to see what spin the author puts on it! Some that I’ve enjoyed in similar settings (blizzard and murder) include The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie, and I’m Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley.
Do you enjoy cosy mysteries ?What are some of your favourite cosy mystery series/books? Have you read this one or any other book in this series? How did you find it? Looking forward to hearing about it!
thanks to NetGalley and Europe Comics for a review copy of this book.
This is a graphic novel and first in series featuring Renée Stone, author of detective fiction, who arrives in Ethiopia (then, Abyssinia) along with a number of other “hand-picked Europeans” in October 1930 to witness the coronation of the last Emperor Haile Selassie I. As she is getting off the train after a twenty-hour journey, she meets archaeologist-epigraphist John Malowan, who is immediately smitten by her. She herself is interested in his friend/travelling companion, Theziger, a dashing explorer. Once there, she also bumps into a critic and author Graham Gray (obviously, a play on Graham Greene, even down to his book “No Reply from Istanbul”), who seems to enjoy bringing up the more painful aspects of her life. Meanwhile, John takes her to meet his family (who think she is his wife), and there she is given a Mesopotamian cylinder, belonging to John’s grandfather, Hormuzd Rassam, also an archaeologist. This is just the beginning of an adventure as it is soon clear that there are some sinister elements after John, to do with his family and especially his father, who seems to have been a smuggler/dealer in artefacts. This takes them to an elephant sanctuary and to Lalibela, where at 8,200 feet above sea level, a replica of Jerusalem had been built, and puts them in a situation where they do not know whom to trust. With John being quite a scatterbrain, it is up to Renée to take charge and get them to safety.
I chose to read this one since the description made it sound very much like the characters were based (loosely) on Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan, a successful detective novelist and an archaeologist coming together to solve a mystery. While I was expecting this to be somewhat of a whodunit, it didn’t turn out to be one, but was more on the lines of a thriller of sorts in an archaeological setting, with elements of mystery and murder. I liked that the book incorporates a real historical event, the coronation of Haile Selassie and historical characters—Hormuzd Rassam was real, and I also enjoyed learning about Lalibela, also a real location. The concept of the story was interesting, and I liked (as I usually do) the archaeology setting, and the fact that this turns into a quest for a lost treasure (which will continue in the next volume). Also, I liked how the book based its characters on Christie and her Husband and brings in Graham Greene (though I don’t think there’s more than a basic similarity). While I found the story enjoyable, it (and the characters) somehow didn’t grab me as much as I had thought from the description that they would. Still, this was a quick read with a subject and setting that I enjoy, and the fact that the next leg of the adventure will take us to Mesopotamia, certainly makes me want to pick up the next volume.
Another Wednesday and time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies. It appears every Wednesday, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR, write a post about it and link back to Lisa’s page. I would also love to read about your picks, so do share your links in the comments if you plan to participate.
For 2019 I’ve been planning to pick a reading theme each month (based on my overlong TBR), and pick books to read that fit that theme (something I did for a few months in 2018 as well). This month, since tackling the oldest books on my TBR is one of my 2019 goals, I picked Oldest First as my theme (read about my January plans here). So I thought for the three weeks that I have left of this month, in this feature too, I’ll pick some of the oldest books on my TBR. And this time’s pick is The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott.
The Story: This is a historical novel telling of the tragic love story of Lucy Ashton and her family’s enemy Edgar Ravenswood. Edgar’s father was deposed of title for supporting King James VII, and it was Lucy’s father who bought his estate. Edgar is bent on revenge but gives up his plans after meeting and falling in love with Lucy. But Lucy’s mother isn’t going to allow things to go along smoothly. This is a fictionalised account of an actual story that took place in the Lammermuir Hills in 1669 involving the Dalrymple family. Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor is based on this story.
When and Where I got it: I have an Everyman’s Classics edition paperback, bought second hand a few years ago (probably four years).
The author: Sir Walter Scott was a historian, playwright, novelist and poet born in 1771. He turned to writing novels and stories, genres then considered aesthetically inferior, after having achieved success as a poet. His numerous novels include Waverley, Ivanhoe, and Kennilworth.
Why I want to read it: I’ve read one book by the author earlier, which is Ivanhoe and enjoyed it quite a lot, and had been planning to pick up some more (another reason being that one of the schools I studied in as a child was called Waverley), and spotted this when shopping and picked this up. This year seems the perfect time to read it since first published in 1819, The Bride of Lammermoor turns two hundred this year (see my post on some book birthdays here).
Have you read any books by Scott or do you plan to? Which ones and if you’ve read them, what did you think of them? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
Wednesday, the 9th of January, and time again for Shelf Control!!! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and appears every Wednesday. This feature celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR. So pick a book, and write a post about it and link back to Lisa’s page, if you’d like to participate. I’d also love to read your posts if you do participate, so do share your links below.
Today, the book that I’ve chosen to feature is Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke. This is the first in a series, Victorian San Francisco Mystery series (Yes, a historical mystery yet again 🙂 ) which currently has five full books and a few short stories/novellas.
The story: Annie Fuller runs a boarding house in San Francisco as her husband had squandered her fortune and then committed suicide five years ago. Alongside she is also secretly Madam Sybil, a clairvoyant, giving advice to San Francisco’s wealthy. When one of her clients, Mathew Voss dies, the police believe it to be a suicide because of bankruptcy, but Annie thinks it’s murder, and that Voss’ fortune has been stolen. This means having to work with Nate Dawson, the Voss family lawyer, who finds Annie infuriating as she challenges every stereotype of “proper” ladylike behaviour.
Where I got it: This was (and is) a free book on kindle which is where I picked it up over a year ago as I can see. In fact I also have a couple of other titles in the series waiting on my TBR.
What makes me want to read it: In this one, I find both the plot description and setting interesting. When I read Victorian era books/mysteries, they’ve usually been in England–I don’t think I’ve read any set in San Francisco (though of course, the American connection always pops up in Sherlock Holmes). The plot description also makes it sound like a light-hearted, cosy mystery which I certainly like to read. So let’s see how this (and the others in the series) turn out.
The author: M Louisa Locke has been a professor of history for over thirty years, and is now retired and a full time writer. Her Victorian San Francisco Mystery series is based in part on her dissertation research on nineteenth-century Western working women. Each of the books in the series takes us to a different setting in Victorian San Francisco–domestic service, public school teaching, the printing industry, and a modern department store among them. Find out more about her books on her blog here.
Find some reviews of Maids of Misfortune on other blogs (PP Shaw) here and (Rosepoint Publishing) here. These bloggers certainly enjoyed the book.
Have you read this one or any others in the series before? Or is one on your TBR pile? How did you find it/them? Looking forward to hearing all about them!
My thanks to NetGalley and Kodansha Comics for a review copy of this
Blissful Land is a manga comic/graphic novel set in eighteenth-century Tibet, and it was this setting that essentially drew me to this book. This tells the story of Khang Zhipa, a thirteen-year-old “doctor-in-training”, who lives with his father, a doctor/farmer, his mother, also a farmer, and younger sister Pema. He is somewhat obsessed with the herbs that he collects, and prepares medicines to treat whoever is in trouble. He in fact dreams of helping not only his village but other villages around. When the story opens, he is returning home from another herb collecting excursion accompanied by his Yak and Sangay, his dog when he tries to help a farmer who’s been suffering exhaustion. They notice a party of travellers heading to their village, which is bringing a bride all dressed in her finery. When Khang arrives home, he is surprised to find the travellers there, and after a day or so, to find that the bride is in fact here to be married to him in due time, and will be staying with his family till then. The story is basically a very simple one with each chapter giving one a peek into the kind of life people in Khang’s position may have led every day, the things they did, the food they ate, and of course how Khang and his bride-to-be, Moshi Rati, get to know each other better, learn of each other’s interests, and importantly, learn to communicate with each other as time passes. This is of course only the first volume so the story stops part way.
This was a really pleasant and charming story—and a pretty quick read. Despite having nothing much in terms of plot, it is wonderful to see what life may have possibly been like in a small mountain village of Tibet of that time. I loved the artwork, which is really very beautiful–the buildings and the surrounding mountains, and especially the costumes of the characters—I wonder if the final product has coloured pages because that would really make it so much better (like the cover, which is gorgeous). I also really liked how the author incorporated information on the various herbs and plants that Khang used in his treatments, and also the time and effort the actual preparation of various medicines took. Also the way the characters are introduced to the reader is fun. There is also some additional information at the end about the names used, some customs, Yaks, and even a recipe for butter tea. This was overall very pleasant to read, though I would have liked if the story didn’t stop somewhat abruptly even though it has a second part. 3.75 stars.