August ‘Clear the Table’ Review and September Reading Plans

This is a quick review of my August reading.  I’ve been feeling much too lazy to write this post, so am going to just write it now before it gets worse and I end up skipping it altogether. So for August, I’d simply planned to Clear the Table of all the doorstoppers and other books that I didn’t end up reading in July despite planning to, but it turned out somewhat of a repeat of what I did in July. I did read 9 books in total which was great considering I did have a lot on the work front last month as well, but of these, only four I think were ones originally on the list, and the rest were either new acquisitions or books that I got approved for on NetGalley. So I read only three books of my original August TBR in that month (Clutch of Constables, The Elf and the Amulet, and Syren) plus one more from my NetGalley pile (No Fixed Address) which I only finished in August (started in July).

Most of these books I have reviewed on this page so I won’t be going into any details but will link the reviews here. The rest as always, I’ve reviewed on goodreads, so I will link those as well.

No Fixed Address is the story of twelve-year-old Felix Knutsson who’s been living with his single mother in a van since she lost her job and they lost their home. His and his mother’s horror of social services means they can’t let anyone find out, and Felix pins all his hopes on winning the junior edition of his favourite game show. This was a book I really liked very much and definitely recommend. My full review is here.

The Elf and the Amulet by Chris Africa is the story of three teens Chassy, Nita, and Andrev, who are thrown into adventure when they decide to eavesdrop on the conversation of two guests at Nita and Andrev’s parents inn. This was a fun enough read, but not one that stood out to me particularly. Here is my review.

Next I read one of my newer acquisitions, Turtles all the Way Down by John Green. This was my first John Green and I liked it very much–not saying anything about it here since I’m pretty sure everyone’s heard of/read reviews of this one. My review.

 

This next bunch had two off my original list and one new one. Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh is the twenty-fifth in her Roderick Alleyn series, and sees his wife Troy on a river cruise where some strange events have been taking place. The story is being narrated by Alleyn as he discuses his cases at a police training course sometime later. This was a book in which I enjoyed the setting very much, but not the mystery and characters as such. My review is here.

Next was Murder in the Happy Home for the Aged by Bulbul Sharma, where a body found in the garden of an old-age home sets the residents into action as they decide to solve the mystery themselves, to prove the policeman who thinks it pointless even to speak to them wrong. I really enjoyed this one, and my review is here.

Then I read another off my original list, Syren by Angie Sage. This is the fifth in a fantasy-adventure series of seven books featuring Septimus Heap, seventh son of a seventh son and thus in possession of extraordinary powers. In this one, when Septimus’ dragon Spit Fyre is injured, he and his friends find themselves on a beautiful but mysterious island where something strange seems to be reaching out to Septimus. This was a really fun read with artwork which I also enjoyed. My review is here.

 

Then I picked up on my Malory Towers project/challenge again, reading the second book in the series Second Form at Malory Towers, where the girls deal with new students, lessons, and their own problems and insecurities. My review is here.

The Monsters We Deserve by Marcus Sedgwick is a book I received through NetGalley and had put in a request for because of its theme of creativity, writers and writing, and monsters, all inspired by and revolving around Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This was certainly an interesting read, one that is hard to really classify, but also one that I’m not sure I made complete sense of. My review is here. Reminded by this read of 2018 being the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, I also reshared my old post on the book earlier this week. Find it here.

Finally in August, I read my second graphic novel this year, The Wolves of La Louviere by Flore Balthazar, also via NetGalley. This is set in World-War-II Belgium and describes how the Balthazar family (the author’s own) coped with the challenges the war threw up, and alongside tells the story of Margurite Clauwaerts, the teacher of one of the younger Blathazar children and a resistance member. This was a very impactful read, bringing out not only the cruelty of the conquerors but also that the conquered were not that much better when they came out ‘victorious’. My review is here.

So that was my August reading. My September plans are very very ambitious, much more so than August as I have some free time at the moment and am hoping to get some reading done. I plan to read among others, The Riddle of the Sands, The Dancing Bear, Don Quixote, Scythe, Dissolution, and the Invisible Hand (which is an interesting children’s title about time travel and Macbeth which I came across on NetGalley) (my theme here simply being A Little of This and A Little of That). I have already finished Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi (review here), Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh (review here), and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (since I finally bought myself the really gorgeous illustrated edition; review here). I am also in the middle of the Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner which I will be reviewing either later today or tomorrow.

winter wood

 

So how was your August? Any favourites or new discoveries (or even revisits) that you would like to recommend? And what are your plans for September? Looking forward to hearing all about them! Happy reading month!

July Reading Review and Plans for August

This one, if you notice, is simply title ‘July Reading Review’ and not ‘Theme Review’–because I didn’t end up reading or rather finishing even one single book from my theme reads (Doorstoppers) this month. So very very embarrassing. But I did read a total of 9 (8 and 1/2 to be honest, I finished book 9 only in August) books this month, so as a reading month, it wasn’t bad at all. Only the books I read turned out to be group reads and netgalley reads for the most part. So here’s a quick review of how this month went for me reading-wise.

Six wives

I kicked off the month with a non-fiction read which I had started in May but couldn’t pick up in June for one reason or other. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir takes us into the reign of Henry VIII, but told from the point of view of his six wives and their stories, and the parts of his life that were concerned with the women who became his wives. This is a long read so it did take me some time but it kept my attention throughout and I ended up learning a lot that I didn’t know about some of his wives and also about Henry himself, besides ‘meeting’ all six Tudor monarchs, who appear in the book. My review is on this page here.

Next were three very different titles, all of which I got through NetGalley. The first My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih is the heart-wrenching, and culturally rich story of a Jewish family in Ukraine, which must first put up with the hardships of Russian rule, but then, far worse, with the Nazi invasion. Told in the voice of fourteen-year-old Hanna Slivka, it tells of the family’s struggle living first in the woods and then in a cave for over two years, each day spent in perpetual fear of what if. A book I cannot recommend highly enough. My review is here.

Next up was another book I enjoyed very much, Isabella of Angouleme, part 2 by Erica Lane. This is the story of Isabella of Angoulême, second wife of the cruel King John (of the magna carta and Robin Hood fame), after his death. Her her son Henry III is now on the throne while she herself returns home to France to begin to achieve her own ambitions for power. This leads to a somewhat happier second marriage and the beginning of a career where her relationship with her children is tested, and she must make difficult choices (although she doesn’t have many qualms). An easy read, and about a time in history that I knew very little about so informative as well with plenty of details that I enjoyed. My review is here.

Then also from NetGalley I read my very first Manga comic, Tokyo Tarareba Girls, Vol 1 by Akiko Hagashimura. I had a few minor struggles with reading when I started being unused to manga. Overall, the plot was something I liked the idea of but I couldn’t really connect with the main character so it was over all an ‘ok’ read. My review is here.

midsummer

In July I also wrapped up A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, which I have been reading act-wise and positing about on this blog as I went. In July I read Acts III (my post is here) and IV and V (my post is here). My review (of sorts) in on goodreads here.

Men at arms

Then there were a couple of books that I read as group reads for different Goodreads groups. One was Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, the second of his City Watch series and number 17 of the Dicworld books. This one had humour, murder, a mystery, a werewolf and also reflected some issues that we face everyday in our lives–people not being able to along with other communities, those who are different from them, and I thought had a positive message to give about that. I enjoyed this, perhaps even more than Guards Guards (first of the City Watch books). My review is on goodreads here.

Up next was another mystery, but this time a mystery proper–The Mystery at Underwood House by Clara Benson. This is the second of her Angela Marchmont series set in the 1920s. In this one, Angela who has a more prominent role than she did in Book 1 is called by a friend to look into a series of mysterious deaths in her family, each taking place at a dinner/meeting that the patriarch had required his family to have as a condition in his will. An Agatha Christiesque atmosphere (though not as strong), and an interesting enough mystery where I didn’t guess whodunit. My review is here.

underwood.jpg

Finally, two more NetGalley reads. First was Illusion by Stephanie Elmas which tells the story of Tom Winter who’s friend Walter Balanchine has returned to England from the east after three years and involves Tom in performances of magic/illusion that he gives. When a young woman (whom Tom has fallen for) appeals to him for help in one of these performances, as she is to be married to the much older and sinister Cecil Hearst, Walter and Tom must come up with a plan to rescue her. My review is here.

Lastly, the book I finished only at the beginning of August, No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen is another I recommend very highly. The story of twelve-and-three-quarters-year old Felix Knutsson, who is living with his mother Astrid in a van, circumstances having rendered them homeless,  Felix’s one hope lies in winning the junior edition of his favourite TV show. Cute, humorous, and heart-breaking, this was a wonderful read. My review is here.

In August what I basically plan to do, is clear the table. One read the few books I still need to read for different group reads: The Dancing Bear by Francis Faviell, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, and Death at the Bar and A Clutch of Constables, both by Ngaio Marsh. I shall also be reading my NetGalley books–currently The Elf and the Amulet by Chris Africa, and attempting to catch-up with my theme reads for last month, Don Quixote, Poland, and Syren.

What are your reading plans for August? Looking forward to hearing them. Happy reading month!

Light-hearted and Fun: June Theme Review and my Reading Theme for July

June for me was all about Light-hearted reading, and the authors/books I picked off my shelves were those I thought fit this theme–Miss Read, Barbara Pym, and Wodehouse, and new (to me) authors Eva Rice and Julian Fellowes (based on the descriptions of the books). For a change this month, I actually managed to read all the five titles that I’d planned to pick for this month, with a total of eight books completed (one a spillover from last month). All of my theme reads with the exception of my Children’s book, Cairo Jim and the Secret Sepulchre of the Sphinx were set in England (this did however fit my ‘light hearted reads theme and my review is here).

I started off my ‘theme’ reads with The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice, which is set in the 1950’s and follows the story of eighteen-year-old Penelope Wallace who lives in a crumbly house with her mother, society beauty Talitha, and aspiring musician brother (when he is home from school) Inigo. Her meeting and friendship with Charlotte, her aunt Clare, and cousin, Harry, a magician, changes life as she has known it. The book, reminiscent of Nancy Mitford and I Capture the Castle, really immerses one in the 1950s post-war world, Jazz, Teddy boys, and Elvis looming on the horizon, yet to break on to the music scene in England, at least. My first book by the author and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Read my review here.

eva rice.jpg

Next, I travelled into the English countryside, still in the 1950s with the third of the Fairacre books, Storm in the Village by Miss Read. In this one, a storm certainly brews up in the village with a proposed housing settlement threatening to take over the hundred acre farm, and Miss Read’s junior/assistant, Miss Jackson, falling for a quite unsuitable gamekeeper. I especially loved how the chapters are arranged around the storm theme–straws in the wind, the storm breaking, and then the calm after the storm. My review is on this blog here.

storm

Also in my theme reads was P.G. Wodehouse’s Summer Moonshine, in some ways a fairly typical Wodehouse story with an impoverished earl, a country house (in this case a very ugly stately home), money troubles, and matters of the heart, while in others not very usual for there were no impostors and nothing whatsoever was ‘pinched’. Not my favourite Wodehouse, but it still made me laugh as he always does. My review is here. And a quote from the book was my Bookquote last week (here).

summer moonshine.jpg

Barbara Pym’s No Fond Return of Love takes us into her familiar world of proofreaders and index-makers, and matters of the heart of course, this time with Dulcie Mainwaring who isn’t perhaps looking for love but finds herself interested in Dr Alwyn Forbes who is also the object of her friend Viola’s Dace’s affections while he himself seems interested in Dulcie’s young niece Laurel. She (and the reader) has an interesting time looking into Alwyn’s family and background while navigating through a world peopled by a host of somewhat eccentric characters. My review is here.

no fond ret.jpg

Finally I read Snobs by Julian Fellowes, which is the story of Edith Lavery, a middle class girl who marries into the nobility, to the decent, honest, but dull Charles Broughton, only to find that the life she was trying to break into is perhaps not all that she’d imagined it was. When she seems to find ‘love’ or what she thinks is love elsewhere, she must consider what it is she wants in life and accept that perhaps, one can’t really have everything. My review is here

Snobs cover.

This month I also started my re-visit of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series of school stories (review of the first is here), the second of Blyton’s series that I’m reading chronologically for the first time. I also finally began reading Shakespeare, something I’ve been planning to do for ages but didn’t get down to. The first play that I’ve started is A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and my posts on Act I and Act II are here and here, and on Act III should be up some time later this week.

In July, I plan to tackle some doorstoppers, at least some thick thick tomes that have been sitting on my TBR for a while but I haven’t gotten down to. Since I also have a few other ‘slimmer’ volumes to read for various group reads and challenges on goodreads, I’m only starting with a list of three with a possible fourth that I may pick up, if at all I can manage. The three I plan to read are Poland by James Michener, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and Syren by Angie Sage. For the fourth, I might just pick up a Trollope (The Eustace Diamonds) or Wheel of Fortune (Susan Howatch).

So have you read any of my June or July books? What did you think of them?

And what are your reading plans for July? Looking forward to hearing about them! Happy reading month!

 

Kings and Queens: May Theme Review and My Reading Theme for June

 

This wont be a very long wrap up post since once again I ended up reading not very many books this month (finished seven totally and only four for the theme, the fifth I’m still part-way in but will include a little about it in this post).

So my May theme was of course, Kings and Queens, and I picked various books from my TBR this month that featured Kings and Queens (as well as a knight or two). In these books, I met Kings and Queens real and fictional, in England, and Holland, and in India (three set in India, actually). Tudor England, Maratha and Mughal India, and parts of the Deccan were places I ‘visited’ this month, besides the realms of the Kings of Dragonaut and Unauwen in fictional country. There was adventure, and excitement, also courage, chivalry, deceit, and cunning–opulence and grandeur, but also battle and loss. There were knights but no damsels in distress, and a few rather strong female characters. Reviews for three of the four books I read are already on this page.

My first ‘theme’ read this month was Band of Soldiers by Sardidndu Bandhyppadhyay, and was also my ‘children’s book of the month’. This was all about Sadashiv a sixteen-year-old who finds he has to make his own way in the world and ends up joining Shivaji, the Maratha king, and his band, around the time that the latter was acquiring his kingdom. As part of Shivaji’s band, he undertakes several missions–from infiltrating enemy camps to delivering messages to enemy territory, there’s plenty of danger and excitement in all his adventures. Here is my review.

 

Band of Soldiers

Then it was off on another adventure with another young man, seventeen-year-old Tiuri, about to be knighted by his king, the King of Dragonaut, who is thrown into adventure when a stranger approaches him for help. Breaking all the rules, Tiuri heads off to the kingdom of Unauwen, facing many dangers on the way, to complete the mission that a knight has tasked him with, and which he has promised to do. He may not have formally become a knight, but in his actions, he is truly one. My review.

 

letter for the king cover

The third book, once again set in India, tells the story of Prithvi Vallabh, the ruler of the region of Malwa, who falls captive to his enemy, King Tailap of Manyakhet (one he had defeated on sixteen or was it eighteen earlier occasions). But while Tailap may be king, Manyakhet is really ruled by his older sister Mrinalvati, who was widowed at a young age and leads an austere and joyless life, which she believes is the right way to life. She may not believe in giving way to her feelings (and doesn’t let anyone else in her kingdom do this either) but is keen to humble Prithvi Vallabh. But Prithvi Vallabh ends up teaching her a lesson or two, proving that he has managed to rise above emotions far more successfully than she ever has. My review.

 

Prithvi

Then I read Ruler of the World, the third of the Empire of the Moghul Series by Alex Rutherford. This takes us through the reign of the third Mughal emperor, Akbar, who found himself crowned king at thirteen, to his handing over the reins of the empire to his son Salim, who rules as Jahangir. Abkar is a person who expanded the Mughal empire and added much to its riches and grandeur, he was loved by his people, but his relationship with his family, including his sons remained difficult because of the treachery he had faced earlier in his life, which led to him not being able to trust any one, not even those close to him. On the other side, Salim faces the frustration of having to obey his father’s commands, whatever they may be but not being given any responsibility, however much he wants and is ready to take it.  My review.
Rule of teh world

The last of my theme reads that I’ve started (but not yet finished) is Alison Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and which is also my non-fiction read for May. This of course takes us through the stories of all six of Henry’s queens, and while I have read books about or featuring one or the other of them, this is the first ‘collective’ bio that I’m reading. So far I am enjoying it very much, and should be able to review it sometime next week.

Six wives.jpg

Finally, my poetry post this month on Leigh Hunt’s ‘The Glove and the Lions‘ also fell pretty much within my Kings and Queens theme, while the author I wrote about this month, Emily Eden, also fit herself in by having made some quite wonderful portraits of Indian kings during her time in the country, of which she’s also written her memoirs.

While I didn’t end up reading all that many theme reads for May, I hope to do better in June and am once again setting out some elaborate plans. For my theme this month, I want to do some Light-hearted and Fun reads, and will be including Storm in the Village, Snobs, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Summer Moonshine, and No Fond Return of Love. Of non-theme reads, I will be reading Bleak House over the next few months with a Goodreads group, and from NetGalley I have Isabelle of Angouleme. There will be a children’s book and non-fiction read, of course but also last month’s non-fiction review.

What are your reading plans this month? Happy reading month!

April Theme Review and May Reading Theme

My April theme was Lawyers and Books, books about lawyers/law, and those written by lawyers, even if not around legal themes. I ended up reading seven books in April (one spillover into May) which fit the theme, one fit into the category by pure coincidence, and I didn’t get to one which I planned because of time issues. I am already a little late with this post so won’t go into too much detail of the books, but give a quick overview. I will link my reviews (on this page and on goodreads- I have reviewed all on either one or both pages).

 

My reads this month took me into courts of course, from a criminal trial in Tudor (more specifically Henry VIII’s) England, to one in 1930s America, then America in more modern times, and also into an adoption hearing in England in 1960s England. One of the first books I finished in April, Bookworm was the book that fell into this category by coincidence since the author Lucy Mangan happens to be a qualified solicitor. The book itself is her memoirs of her childhood reading and took me back to some of my old favourites besides adding plenty to my shopping list. Her Enid Blyton chapter was a tad disappointing for me though. My review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/review-bookworm/

Dark Fire, the second of the Matthew Shardlake books by C.J. Sansom is of course set in Tudor England, where Shardlake must not only clear his client, wrongly accused of murder, but undertake a dangerous assignment for Thomas Cromwell, discovering the secret of the mythical Greek Fire. Two exciting (and complicated) murder mysteries, likeable characters, and the atmosphere of Tudor England which Sansom really brings alive made this an excellent read. The criminal trial parts of it were interesting since I hadn’t known that there was no representation allowed for the accused or that they could be subjected to the ‘press’ if they didn’t plead (irrespective of whether a man or woman). My review is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2306600903?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

 

I had also planned to read Revelation, also from the Shardlake series but ran out of time. Plus I finally bought the two books that I didn’t have from the series and so am switching to reading these chronologically, now that I have them all.

 

Then it was off to 1930s America with Perry Mason who must clear a client who is initially dealing with a blackmailer and before long finds herself accused of his murder. The Case of the Curious Bride was exciting and fast-paced, and it was great seeing Mason in action, many steps ahead of others as always. My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2347880680?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Criminal trials in modern America were the subject of two reads, both by John Grisham and both very different from the usual genres I’ve read by him. Theodore Boone, a thirteen-year-old schoolboy with lawyer parents finds himself playing an important role in the first murder trial in many years in his little town. This was a YA read but had a charm to it with an ‘old-time’ feeling of the kind of childhood portrayed which I really liked. My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2034624480?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1. The other book by Grisham was his non-fiction The Innocent Man, about Ron Williamson, a baseball player who career didn’t really take off despite high expectations and who ended up having to not only face a murder charge for a murder he didn’t commit but being convicted and spending years on death row before his name was cleared. This was also my Non-Fiction Read of the Month. My review: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/april-non-fiction-read-the-innocent-man/

Fathers in law cover.jpg

Henry Cecil’s Fathers in Law, on the other hand was about a couple, the Woodthorpes who adopted a little baby Hugh, whose mother has claimed the father is unaware of him and given him up for adoption since she can’t bring himself up on her own. The father however very much loved and wanted his son but couldn’t be with him since he was wrongly convicted in a serious crime. But when his name is cleared and he returns to claim his son, both sides who love the child equally are in a predicament. This is written with Cecil’s usual humour but more serious in tone than his usual stories. My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2368034462?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

Perishable goods cover.jpg

Finally, I read Dornford Yates (Cecil William Mercer)’s Perishable Goods which is a thriller and the second in his Chandos series of books which also features characters from his Berry books, which I love. This one was an ok read for me, not as fast paced as I’d expected from a thriller, and disappointing in spoiling that light-hearted view I have of the Berry books and people in them. It wasn’t however a bad read. My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1932158742?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1

letter for the king cover

So April turned out a fairly good reading month, and I’m quite excited about May as well for which I’ve picked Kings and Queens. In my TBR pile The Letter for the King, Band of Soldiers (translated), The Once and Future King, Ruler of the World, Prithvi Vallabh (translated), and The Six Wives of Henry VIII.  I’m already someway into the Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt, which I got through NetGalley and which I should be reviewing by next week.

 

What are your reading plans for May? Do share! Happy Reading Month 🙂

March Theme Review (very embarrassing) and Theme for my April Reading!

So March turned out to be a very busy month and as a result, book-wise, it was rather embarrassing with me finishing only four books 😦 I have of course read most of Bookworm by Lucy Mangan which I should be done with in a day or two and more than half of Vanity Fair which I have been reading with a reading group on goodreads. So while not as bad as four makes it sound, but still not very good. Also I wasn’t able to do my poetry or non-fiction posts this month. Clearly I need to manage my time much better.

Well, back to the books I did read this month from the Catching-up theme that I’d planned. The first was of course one I’d got from NetGalley, The Hazel Wood, which is the story of seventeen-year-old Alice who has been living a more or less itinerant life with her mother for wherever they live, ill-luck seems to follow. Something changes and they settle down to a more “normal” life but it doesn’t turn out to be quite as they’d expected. One fine day, Alice’s mother suddenly disappears and it falls to Alice to find her. All she knows that this might have something to do with her grandmother, who she has never met, and who is the author of a volume of rather dark fairy tales, which she can’t get her hands on either, no matter how hard she tries. This was a book I quite enjoyed though I wasn’t as grabbed with the second half of the book as I’d have liked. Still I enjoyed the author’s imaginativeness in the very dark fairy tales and the world in which those tales play out, that she creates. Very very creepy. My review is on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/review-the-hazel-wood/

While I had planned to finish the four books that I had left of my Findouters Challenge, I ended up reading only two of these this month, Book 12 The Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage and Book 13, The Mystery of the Missing Man, both very different from each other as far as this series is concerned. Tally-Ho Cottage involves a stolen painting, and the missing ‘thieves’―actors who have been living at Peterswood until they pretty much walked out of the village, while Missing Man is of course about what the title says, and also sees the Trottevilles with a guest, one Fatty can’t get the better of (for a change). Tally-Ho also has Ern, Mr Goon’s nephew and the children’s friend back in Peterswood. They have the usual elements of the books of course but in Tally-ho, Ern plays a pretty active role in the investigations involving his twin cousins Liz and Glad, though it is Bets again who spots the all-important clue. Missing Man has Fatty solving everything, all by himself, the investigations not really leading to anything, and a denouement very different from the usual Findouters plots. Both were entertaining entries in the series, with Tally-ho having the more “interesting” solution of the two, but both with food, disguises and fun, and not too much focus on simply baiting poor Mr Goon! My reviews are below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/11/findouters-challenge-of-a-poodle-and-a-stolen-painting/
https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/findouters-challenge-where-fatty-meets-his-match-in-a-way/

The last of my four reads this month was Elizebeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters which is quite a different book from her North and South. While the latter deals with social issues (labour–factory owner relations), the former is more about individuals, and personal relationships, family relationships to be more specific―parents and children and amongst the “children” themselves. When a country surgeon Mr Gibson decides to remarry because he is too much away from home to properly look after his growing daughter Molly, the decision changes their lives in many ways. Mrs Kirkpatrick, the widow whom he marries is not the stereotypical stepmother, and in fact looks out for Molly as much as she does for her own daughter, but she is quite self-centred, concerned with her own comforts, social position, and whims. Her daughter Cynthia, the same age as Molly, while very different in character from Molly, turns out to be a good friend to Molly. But where Molly is honest and straightforward and feels things deeply, Cynthia is secretive and superficial in many ways. As the story plays out we see how their upbringing and their relationship with their respective parents, besides their own nature affects the things they do or don’t and the relationships they form. Alongside is the Hamley family, country squires and friends of Mr Gibson and Molly. The old squire is traditional and orthodox, his son and heir Osborne is not the typical country lad preferring his books and writing poetry and has secrets of his own, while the younger son Roger is a man of science, achieving much that his family doesn’t think him capable of. Despite being about family and relationships, themes like class and social mores do also stand out. Despite my rather haphazard reading of this book, I did enjoy it. My review is on goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/213050257?book_show_action=false

After a not very good reading month in March I am hoping April will be better, and I have pretty elaborate plans for it (am keeping my fingers crossed that they work out). The theme I picked is Books and Lawyers (or should that be Lawyers and Books?)―not only Lawyers in books because I want to include some written by lawyers but not necessarily with a law/courtroom theme. There’s actually a whole lot of books that fit this theme that are on my TBR but some of the ones I will try to fit in this month are The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardener, Theodore Boone by John Grisham, Dark Fire, and Revelation, both by C.J. Sansom (from his Matthew Shardlake series), Perishable Goods by Dornford Yates, and Fathers-in-Law by Henry Cecil. This time also I will try harder to get my poetry and non-fiction posts up, perhaps try out another idea that has been in my mind for a while―a post on a favourite author that fits this theme. With the way last month went, this itself seems fairly ambitious but let’s see how things go. If at all there’s time after all of this, some of what’s remaining from Catching-up month will be what I’ll pick up even though it doesn’t actually fit this month’s theme. But before any of this, I will be finishing Bookworm by Lucy Mangan which is a wonderful memoir of the author’s childhood reading which I am enjoying very much. Hope everyone has a great reading month ahead!

February Reading Theme Review and Plans for March

February as I mentioned in my reading goals post some days ago has been about reading Historical Fiction. Besides of course being a genre I enjoy, I found that most of the books I had for review with me, as well as one I picked for a challenge which I was participating in on Goodreads fell within this category, so it became my February reading theme by default. Related to my theme, over the month, I read six books. (My two non-theme-related reads were children’s books, both of which I have reviewed here).

Two of the books that I read were by author Anuja Chandramouli, an Indian author who writes fiction centred around mythology, fantasy, and history (not all in one), and the ones I read were of course historical fiction, both of which I had received for review. The first, Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts was about King Prithviraj Chauhan who ruled over parts of north India around the late-twelfth century. I didn’t really know much about his life, except a famous legend which tells of a Princess Samyukta’s love for him (having heard of his valour but not having seen him). When her father refuses to invite him as a possible suitor for Samyukta’s hand, she garlands his statue to show that it is him alone that she would marry, and soon after, he arrives and takes her away with him. Chandramouli’s book has a somewhat different version of this story, but it is focussed more on Prithviraj’s life and reign and made for interesting reading. My review is on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/review-prithivaraj-chauhan/. The second book by Chandramouli was Rani Padmavati: The Burning Queen which is the story of Padmavati, the beautiful queen of the kingdom of Chittor (part of modern-day Rajasthan) who chose to give up her life rather than fall into enemy hands once the kingdom fell. This story too is a different version that the popular one I’d heard. Padmavati is however, more the subject of legend than history, and some ways, the book reflected that, presenting her as near-perfect, almost not real. This was a fairly good read but the writing was not of the same quality as Chandramouli’s usual style, and the book didn’t feel like it had as much substance as Prithviraj, so it was the Prithviraj that I preferred of the two. My review of Padmavati is also on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/02/27/review-rani-padmavati-the-burning-queen/.

Then next I read The Light in the Labyrinth by Australian author Wendy Dunn, whom I have never read before. I got this book via NetGalley. This is a story of the last few months of Anne Boleyn’s life told through the eyes of fourteen-year-old Katherine Carey, her niece and Mary Boleyn’s daughter who arrives at court, a naïve young girl with no idea of what court life is really like, and also unware of the secret of her own identity. The book takes us through life in Henry VII’s court―the politics, conspiracies, betrayals, and dangers. This was a book I really enjoyed reading, as would any historical fiction fan. My review is again on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/02/16/book-review-the-light-in-the-labyrinth/.

One of the challenges I was part of with the Goodreads group A Book for All Seasons required me to read a book in a series but not a debut book. For this category I picked I’m Half Sick of Shadows, the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. Eleven-year-old Flavia is a genius of sorts, budding chemist with an interest in poisons and her own lab, and also amateur sleuth, who ends up helping the local police in her village Bishop’s Lacey, solve a few twisted murders. I read my first Flavia book last year and enjoyed it very much. In this one, Flavia’s father has had to let their house, Buskshaw, out to a film company because of money troubles. It is around Christmas and the house is soon snowed in (a-la the Sittaford Mystery, which Bradley mentions), and one night after a performance of a scene from Romeo and Juliet, put on by the actors for charity, a murder takes place, and Flavia as usual ends up spotting the most crucial clues. The mystery in this one was perhaps not as complicated as the previous one I read (book 2: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag) but what I really enjoy about the books is Flavia herself, she’s got spunk and a ‘voice’ that I enjoy, and is always upto something interesting (in this one she’s setting up a trap from Santa Claus). My detailed review is on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2297915593?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1.

Next up was another mystery, book 7 in the Brother Cadfael Mysteries by Ellis Peters set in the 1100s, when there was civil war between King Stephen and Queen Maud, and which is another series which I enjoy reading. In this one, the Sanctuary Sparrow, a young boy, or rather a young man, Liliwin, literally bursts into the Abbey at Matins, pursued by a mob that is out to kill him. They accuse him (a performer and musician) of having done in one Walter Aurifaber, and stolen various treasures during a wedding celebration at the Aurifaber home. The abbot gives him sanctuary, and Brother Cadfael convinced of the boy’s innocence sets out to clear his name. While the mystery was a pretty good one (I didn’t really guess it and there was a twist of sorts at the end (though not in the mystery) which I didn’t expect), what I really enjoyed in this book was Peters’ portrayal of the Aurifaber household which is full of tensions, greed, jealously, and various other emotions, and where ‘power-games’ of sorts are playing out, particularly between two characters. The characters’ stories really drew me in and I was interested to see how things would turn out, finding myself even rooting for characters on both sides of one struggle, at any rate. Thinking back, I realise I probably should have rated it higher than I did. My full review is on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2302352555?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1.

Finally, I read Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett, another book I got from NetGalley, and which is the story of sixteen-year-old Mary Adams who comes to London to work as a scullery maid, but ends up living a double life of sorts, when she catches the eye of some pre-Raphaelite painters, and begins to model for their pictures. This was another enjoyable read which takes one into the world of art and artists (including real life artists Millais, Rossetti, and Lizzie Siddal, who was not only a model for the pre-Raphaelites but a poet and artist in her own right.) Since I only wrote this review yesterday, I’m not going into too much detail. My review is on this page below: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2018/02/28/review-following-ophelia/.

So that was my February reading―a pretty good reading month overall, with authors known and new, and a few good ‘discoveries’ thanks to NetGalley.

For March, the theme I’ve picked is Catching-up, as I mentioned also in my reading goals post. This is because there are a few books that I ended up setting aside half-way or part of the way in, and a challenge or two I need to catch-up with. So some of the books I will be reading this month are The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (this one to ‘catch up’ with my NetGalley reviews), books 12–15 of the Five Findouters books by Enid Blyton (to complete the Findouters Challenges that I started towards the end of last year), Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (started reading this with a Goodreads group but put it aside mid-way (not the book’s fault)), and Sophie World by Jostein Gaarder (started but set aside to catch up with other challenges). I will be reading at least one non-fiction, and doing a poetry/poem related post as I mentioned in my reading goals post. If there’s time after all that, I might just read a couple of ‘fresh’ books off my TBR pile to make some progress on my Mount TBR challenge (catching-up with that challenge). So let’s see how March turns out. As of now, I’m heading off to read Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray which I will be reading over March and April with the Victorians Group on Goodreads. Let’s see how things turn out. Hope everyone has a good reading month ahead!