Review: The Legend of Griff by Richard Sparrow #BookReview #Fantasy #Humour

My thanks to the author for a digital review copy of the book.

This is (which I didn’t realise at first) the first in a fantasy–adventure series complete with a prophecy, magic, mages, a tyrannical king, goblins, and trolls and fairies, even a storybook ‘hero’—all the usual ingredients but with a fun twist. In the Kingdom of Lohr, we meet different groups on missions, a bunch of trolls—mercenaries on the trail of someone; the group of people there are trailing, a motley lot including a mage carrying a magic sword in secret somewhere; then a third group of Kingswatch constables on the trail of poachers in the Great Untame; and alongside a lone adolescent goblin, Griff of the title, who is travelling to the city, wanting only to make a name for himself as a minstrel in a kingdom not very friendly to those not human. Alongside, on a pig farm is a young orphan boy, Arn Propp, handsome, brave, ready to stand up for injustice, in short the perfect hero who is trying to his work well (he lives with his uncle, aunt, and cousins, who in this case (not stereotypical) actually like and appreciate him) and get along in life but who suddenly also finds himself thrown in the midst of adventure, when he goes to rescue his cousin from some thugs. The paths of these groups cross and stories collide with unusual results, especially when one event throws the entire course of things on its head, and we find ourselves with an unlikely hero who has to take on the reins.

This was a really fun read for me. A couple of other reviewers of this book have mentioned how like Pratchett this book is, and that was something that came to my mind as well—the humour, and the set-up of the story while original also reminded me a lot of Pratchett, and there were moments specifically that I found myself thinking of the city watch books in particular. I enjoyed how the author picked up the elements of a typical fantasy adventure and put his own spin on it making it a very entertaining journey. Also, it isn’t just the ‘main’ twist, but there was another along the way which took me by surprise and I’d love to see how that plays out over the course of the story. Like the discworld book it specifically made me think of, Men at Arms, this one too weaves in issues of diversity, people refusing to understand each other, even listen to each other merely because they are different, and the need to look at things from each one’s point of view before taking action (more often than not violent) recklessly (not a problem of the fantasy world alone, unfortunately). The characters were also very likeable, and I liked how the author made us see things from each one’s or each group’s pov. I am keen to see where their adventures take them next and what new twists and turns the plot takes. Great fun!  Four and a half stars!

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Children’s Book of the Month: Superstar Tapir by Polly Faber and Clara Vulliamy #Children’sBooks

This is as you can see a book for very young readers, but the reason I picked it up was that I heard about it (another volume in the series, actually) from a friend’s review and not only did the stories sound charming, the illustrations/artwork was what caught my eye—pages in distinctive stripes, and all the art in black, white, grey, and one specific colour—in this case, yellow/orange (the colour of a ripe mango-fitting considering the main character’s name). I actually wrote about this one in a Shelf Control post last month (here).

Mango and Bambang is a series of (so far) four books featuring the adventures of a ‘calm and clever’ little girl Mango Allsorts, and her friend, a ‘daring and devoted’ tapir Bambang. This, the fourth in the series, is a collection of four short stories, connected somewhat in that each story starts off where the previous left off, but is essentially a complete story in itself. In the stories in this collection, Mango creates for Bambang who has never seen snow, his very own snow day, complete with the experience of falling snow but in a very special way; Mango’s father, who balances books for much of the time, takes a break and takes Mango and Bambang to the fair, which smells of popcorn and sugar, here the friends enjoy the rides while Mango’s father takes a turn at the hoopla, but there’s also trouble as the two run into an old enemy, in no less than a mummy’s tent; Bambang’s friend, the little dog Rocket has always been interested in space, and when she disappears having set out to travel to the moon, Mango and Bambang must find her and make sure she is safe; and in the final story, the two are invited to the premiere of Bambang’s cousin, Guntur’s movie, ‘A Tiny Tapir’s Tears’ and while Bambang is impressed with his little but somewhat puffed-up cousin’s many talents, Mango makes him realise that he isn’t an ordinary tapir either.

This certainly was as charming a collection of stories as my friend had said in her review. I enjoyed them all—though if I had to pick a favourite, may be it would be the snow day. I loved the friendship between Mango and Bambang, and how they always stand by and help each other, in every situation, whether it is an adventure where they are escaping a villain, helping a friend, or simply making each other realise their true worth. The stories are as I said, complete in themselves, but there are also connections with stories from earlier books—friends they have met in the past, villains they have encountered, and such, so if one reads these as a series, these would add to one’s enjoyment, though reading a later book first doesn’t spoil one’s fun in any way (I have only read this one).

And (I have sort of said this already in my Shelf Control post) there’s lots to love about the book in terms of the artwork as well. I liked the illustrations and style very much, and also the whole design of the book—the tiny tapirs covering the front and back inner pages, the illustrated ‘cast of characters’ (or at least of main characters) at the beginning, and the distinctive striped pages with illustrations at the beginning of each story. This was a sweet and pleasant read (quick too), and I’m sure if you enjoy children’s books, you will love this one as well!

#Review: The Book Hunters of Katpadi by Pradeep Sebastian #Books #Booklove

The Book Hunters of Katpadi is a story that takes one into the world of antiquarian books and collecting. Set around a fictional bookstore Biblio in Chennai, supposed to be the country’s first full-fledged antiquarian book store. Run by two bibliophiles, Neela and Kayal, the store specialises in modern Indian first editions, and is in the process of preparing its first catalogue. There are two story threads that we essentially follow in the book, both connected with Biblio. One a librarian from a college has been helping himself to valuable antiquarian editions from the college and replacing them with better looking editions of far lesser value—and doing so not secretly as such, but taking advantage of the fact that no one else knows the true worth of the older books and think the ‘fancier’ editions better. Some of these treasures have found their way to Biblio, and it falls to Neela and Kayal to help restore the college library’s collection. Then we have the second thread which focuses on the adventurer–explorer–translator (among other things) Richard Francis Burton, and a set of book collectors obsessed with material associated with him or that came from his pen. Some exciting pieces of Burtonia have surfaced in the small hill station of Ooty, and Burton collector, Nallathambi Whitehead, one of Biblio’s regular patrons, who can’t travel for health reasons asks Kayal (who is travelling to Ooty to look at some other old books at a school) to look into it. The Burton material she comes across there has the potential to shake up the world of bibliophiles, and especially of Burton collectors completely.

Richard Francis Burton (1864) byRischgitz
via wikimedia commons
Illustration from Burton’s Translation of Vikram and the Vampyre (1870)

This was a really lovely read for me. The book is labelled a Bibliomystery, and while there isn’t much of a mystery, there is a surprise twist at the end which makes the ‘mystery’ part of it good fun. And it is the Burton thread that essentially has this component, the other being focused on how our two bookwomen deal with the little ‘problem’ at the college library.

For the most part, it is really all about the world of books—more so the printed book, printing culture, bibliophiles, collectors, and first or otherwise important editions. The book takes us specifically into the world of book collectors in India, where the pursuit is not as prominent or sizeable as in the West with their being few collectors, and fewer antiquarian booksellers. We also get some background into collecting in the West, major auctions that changed the collecting world, great collectors and such. And we also get a look into specific books, writers, and collectors (largely from India’s colonial past) that were associated in some way or other with the country—either they lived and travelled here for a while or wrote their works here. As a bibliophile (just a hoarder of books though, not a collector), I truly enjoyed reading these segments in which the author’s love for books and enthusiasm are infectious. [Lots of my favourite children’s books/series are also mentioned, Anne of Green Gables, William, and The Three Investigators among them.] Anyone who loves books or collecting would enjoy them equally, I think. The author also goes into aspects of printing, hand presses, paper which make physical books special, in addition to the material that’s in them, which again was something I enjoyed reading.

Another plus of the book for me was that it has illustrations (by Sonali Zohra)!!! Always love those. Plus, the publishers have taken trouble with how the book looks—not only the cover but the little motifs like a little golden key on the cover (under the jacket) and the locked trunk that it opens (unlocking the bibliomystery) on the inner cover page.  

I have seen reviews of the book critiquing it for being more non-fiction than fiction, which is true in a sense as these parts were more prominent than the story/stories, and while the two are related certainly, perhaps it does not read as a work of fiction as a whole—but despite this being the case, I did enjoy reading this very much, and will look out for more by the author. This is incidentally his first novel—earlier works are non-fiction bookish essays.

#Murderous Mondays: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson #BookReview #Mystery

It’s been a while since I did a #MurderousMondays post, but that’s as it’s been a while since I read a murder mystery, surprisingly for me. #MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them with this feature too!

This is a more contemporary murder mystery compared to ones I usually read, but with a dual time line, one current and one in the 1930s, it was something that I was very interested in picking up. Truly Devious is the first in a trilogy of the same name. In the 1930s, a tycoon named Albert Ellingham sets up the Ellingham Academy in Vermont for gifted students who are free to study subjects/fields that interest them. One day, Ellingham’s wife and three-year-old daughter are kidnapped and never recovered. Alongside, a particularly gifted student has also gone missing. Days before this event, a mysterious riddle/poem arrived, threatening murder, signed by someone called Truly Devious. Eighty years later, in the present day, a young girl called Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Bell arrives at Ellingham, her particular interest—true crime. And part of her aim in coming there is to solve the Ellingham case, which she feels was never really solved. As she gets settled in to life at Ellingham, meeting other students each with their peculiar interests, she also starts to look into the Ellingham case, in which pursuit the faculty and staff are ready to help and encourage. But as she is doing this, there seem to be indications that Truly Devious might strike again—only Stevie isn’t sure whether what she saw real or something she imagined. But the threats become real very soon when death does strike again. But could really it be Truly Devious back from the past?

Wow, I enjoyed this so much for a book which I knew would not have the solution to the mystery—either mystery in fact—that will only happen in book 3. But despite this, the book was so well paced and gripping, it kept me reading throughout. Each of the characters, students or teachers is well drawn out, they each have their quirks and individual personalities all of which stand out in some way or other, and because of which one doesn’t ever end up confusing them even though there are quite a few. This isn’t a book where there are ‘hold-your-breath’ moments throughout as there can be in some stories, yet it holds one’s interest all the time. The story goes back and forth between the events of the 1930s when the Ellingham kidnapping took place, and the investigation that was conducted there (interview transcripts and such) and the present as Stevie is looking into that case, and also of the murderer who strikes in the present.

The book also explores this concept (which I have come across before in the context of learning and problem solving) of that period/mental state between sleep and wakefulness/ between consciousness and unconsciousness when the best/unusual ideas strike one. For Stevie too, certain connections turn up in this state and yet one is never entirely sure whether they are ‘real’ or what her mind has processed when at that point. This part was really interesting for me.   

As far as the mystery itself is concerned, being the first book, it does of course give one the background of what happened but also, Stevie manages to pick up some clues towards the solution of both mysteries, interesting little and not-so-little points which you can see are significant and why so but not perhaps where they will lead or how these will shape up the whole picture. But still one has enough to want to continue on, to see what she will pick up on next, even though the mysteries won’t be solved in that one either. One ‘revelation’ at the end of this one had me thinking of a totally different book, The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery, because it is very like one secret in that book. And speaking of books, this one talks about mystery stories, especially Agatha Christie, also Holmes, as well as poetry so those who enjoy literary references would love that aspect too.

This was an exciting read for me and I really can’t wait to get to the next one. It becomes available in my part of the world around the end of this month, and then it is a wait till next January for the final instalment. But I think it will be worth it!

Review: #MaryShelley by David Vandermeulen, Daniel Casaneve, and Patrice Larcenet #NetGalley

My thanks to NetGalley and Europe Comics for a review copy of this book.

This graphic novel is the second volume on Shelley’s life (I read and reviewed the first a few months ago-review here), and written from the point Mary Shelley takes more of a centre stage in the ‘story’, picks up in 1814, where the first volume left off. Percy had fallen in love with Mary Godwin, and accompanied by her sister Claire Clairmont were about to elope. As this story opens, the three travel to Europe, struggling with money troubles, and living an itinerant life, and seeking adventure. In Europe, first Claire and then Mary and Percy join Byron (that is they take a house next door, and visit constantly). Here also joined by Byron’s doctor Polidori, the little group enjoys themselves with conversations and walks until the weather turns inclement. And so comes the famous time when each of them takes on the challenge of writing a horror tale—we see Polidori narrating his Vampyre, and then Mary being inspired to write Frankenstein—the task more or less taking possession of her. Each of the group’s complicated relationships and moralities are also explored. But then the story takes a rather odd turn, which made me stop and actually look up what was happening—instead of continuing as a biography, it moves into the world of fiction, and more specifically Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, the devastation caused by the plague and the depths to which people can fall even amidst such disaster, with the Shelleys and Byron taking on a central role among the last few survivors.

I really enjoyed the first volume of this series and thought it a very cute way to getting to know a little about Shelley’s life and work. This second volume opens the same way, and up until the time in Villa Diodati, where all of them composed or began to compose their horror stories remains on this track, and this part I enjoyed very much, as much as I did the first volume. In fact, the composition of Frankenstein, etc. was a part of this book that I was looking forward to very much and I was glad that the authors included it in detail, and went a little into the works, and also tried to imagine the kind of conversations the Shelleys, Byron, and Polidori might have had in their time there. But then the story’s turn towards the fictional gave it a very weird feel which while interesting in a way didn’t make any sense to me in this book, especially considering the way the two volumes proceeded from the start. If the authors had chosen to take a fictional path entirely or from the start combined fact and fiction, it might have still worked but when one is reading something biographical, even if done with humour as these books have been (the art work too is caricature-like, which was fun), one kind of expects it to continue that way, and it is a touch disappointing when it doesn’t. I enjoyed the first part of the book a lot, and while the second was done imaginatively, and was interesting, it just didn’t seem to ‘fit’. 3 stars for this one!  

The book released on 17 April 2019 in English!

Review: Muhammad Bin Tughlaq: Tale of a Tyrant by Anuja Chandramouli

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.

Tughlaq’s Coins
Image source: drnshreedhar1959 via wikimedia commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Forced_token_currency_coin_of_Muhammad_bin_Tughlak.jpg

 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.

Review: Mr Finchley Discovers His England by Victor Canning #NetGalley #Humour #MrFinchley

My thanks to NetGalley and Farrago Books for a digital review copy of this book.

First published in 1934, Mr Finchley Discovers His England is the first in a series of (I think) three books featuring Mr Finchley, a forty-five-year-old bachelor, who works as a solicitor’s clerk in London. When one of his bosses Mr Bardwell dies, and the office is taken over by his partner Mr Sprake, there comes an unexpected change in Mr Finchley’s life. For the first time since Mr Finchley was employed, he finds himself getting a three-week holiday. So of course, as holidays must usually be, he books himself into a hotel at Margate. But when he is waiting to catch his train, a man asks him to watch his Bentley, which Mr Finchley agrees to do but he falls asleep in the process. When his eyes next open, the car is being driven, away and Mr Finchley finds himself kidnapped. He is unnerved but decides to take the experience as an adventure, one he could have never had in his normal life. From here, he manages to make his escape. And with this starts a holiday completely unlike what Mr Finchley could have ever imagined. Mr Finchley traipses across the country, soaking in nature, meeting interesting people and having a series of unforeseen adventures. He falls in with tramps, artists, travellers, and gypsies, ends up taking jobs at a fair and selling petrol, being mistaken for a vagrant and a lunatic, is almost strangled, plays cricket and even takes to smuggling! His adventures change his life completely, so much so that there is likely to be a change in his everyday life too.

This was such a fun, charming read, with gentle humour and a very likeable set of characters. Something like Three Men in a Boat but without the slapstick. What I really liked about Mr Finchley as a character was how open he was to each new adventure, to each new experience, and how ready he was to enjoy every thing that came his way, irked sometimes (only initially), but never complaining or grumbling much, rather relishing every moment. The people he meets have interesting stories (unlike Mr Finchley’s own which is rather ordinary untill this adventure begins), some sad, some simply unusual, and while not all are honest and straightforward, they certainly are far from the ordinary. I also loved how away from grey London, Mr Finchley gets to really immerse himself in nature, whether it be the birds around, or the sea, or the moors, there is a certain peace about the places he spends time at which transfers itself to the reader as well. My first acquaintance with Mr Finchley and Victor Canning’s work was really delightful. Looking forward to more in the future.    

The book was published on 18 April 2019!

Review: The Tale of Genji: Dreams at Dawn: Vol. I by Waki Yamato

My thanks to #NetGalley and Kodansha Comics for a review copy of this one.

This is the first volume of the graphic novel/manga version of the eleventh-century Japanese classic, The Tale of Genji by noblewoman Murasaki Shibaku (believed to be the first novel ever written). It tells the story of Hiraku Genji the ‘shining prince’, son of the Emperor Kiritsubo, and a low-ranking lady at court who the Emperor falls deeply in love with. When his mother dies, Genji is sent to his grandmother, and later brought back after her death. In the meantime, the Emperor hears of a young lady, Princess Fujitsubo who resembles Genji’s deceased mother, and she soon becomes his wife. But Genji ends up falling in love with her. His forbidden love and his estranged relationship with his wife lead him to seek the woman of his dreams elsewhere, and he ends up falling in love with a series of different women. This first volume of the manga series takes us through part of the story, giving us the tale of Genji’s mother, his initial years as a child, and the stories of some of the women he falls in love with.

Before I write about the story itself, I have to mention the artwork which is really gorgeous. I especially loved the coloured pages at start of the book and at the beginning of each chapter. These are really delicate and beautiful (faces and costumes), and reminded me quite a bit of the very first anime/manga I ever saw on TV Fushigi Yugi/Curious Play.

Back to the actual story, this was I thought a great way for someone like me, who’s heard about Genji but never read it to get a glimpse of what the story is about, in a fairly simple way (The book is supposed to be quite confusing and complicated, so far as I know). The book also gives one an idea of what court life, especially that of nobles and royalty would have been like at that point—customs, etiquette, leisure activities (poetry, music, games), and even love. That said, though I don’t know if it is a story that would appeal to me as a story though I would may be have read it as a classic work. Genji is a complex character certainly, but I didn’t find him a very likeable one. But then again, if he wasn’t as ‘lost’ as he was (or at least not as unaware about what he was looking for), there would be no story. Also, even in the manga version, there were points at which I found myself a little bit confused as to some of the female characters (who was who and such). There is however a helpful character guide at the back (which I should probably have consulted then).

This version isn’t simply an adaptation of the original text into art, but the author has imagined her own Tale of Genji, creating her own dialogue, associating different flowers and foods with the different women, etc., as she explains at the end. I think the author has done a great job translating the story into this much simpler version, with her own interpretation of the characters and conversations, and the book certainly succeeds in giving first time readers like me a broad idea of this classic. This was a good read, though not a great one for me as despite the lovely artwork which I enjoyed very much, and the author’s efforts that I certainly admired and appreciated, the story wasn’t something that really drew me in. (However, I would like to know where Genji ends up, so will probably continue with the manga version.) 3.5 stars.

This manga version was first published in the 1980s, and was published in English on 26 February 2019 in digital form.

Review: Arnica, the Duck Princess by Ervin Lázár #NetGalley

My thanks to NetGalley and Steerforth Press/Pushkin Press for a digital review copy of this book.

This is an English translation of a Hungarian classic children’s tale, first published in 1981 and now being printed by Pushkin Press. The translator is Anna Bentley and the book has been illustrated by Jacueline Molnár.

King Tirunt lives in a palace by a round lake, a palace with thirty-six towers and three hundred windows. He is a just ruler, punishing only those who deserve it, and taking precautions (very great ones) against giving orders when he is in a temper, that is to say, he ensures they aren’t followed and locks himself in his throne room while he is in a temper. With him lives his daughter Arnica, a very special princess, “so sweet and gentle that when she smile[s], wolves and bears forget their fierceness”. King Tirunt wishes that Arnica would marry the person she loves and does not mind who he is or where he is from. Into their lives comes just such a person, Poor Johnny. Poor Johnny has nothing except the clothes on his back and is “footloose and fancy-free”—not only that, he wants nothing either which means that the Witch of a Hundred Faces fails to entrap him (she must enslave a new person every seven years to retain her magical powers), despite the untold wealth and riches she offers. Making his escape (she does pursue him with magic, when he simply walks away) Johnny meets Arnica and they fall in love. But the King wants to be sure before he gives his consent, and makes them wait six months. When this period is up and they are awaiting Johnny’s arrival, the witch acts, casting a spell, as a result of which it turns out that at any given time, either Arnica or Johnny must be a duck. Now they much find a way out, and they don’t mind whether both are ducks or humans but they want to be the same thing at the same time. So off they set to seek the Seven-headed Fairy, the only one who can free them of the curse. Along the way, they meet various people, each with their own oddities, and problems, and change their lives as they move on.

The story is told in third person, and off and on, there is also some dialogue between the narrator and the person he is telling the story to. This gives it the feel of a traditional storytelling style.

I found this to be a really pleasant and cute read. This is a fairly short (just 96 pages) book and a great deal of fun. Being a children’s classic, there are hidden messages of course, but it isn’t preachy or forced down your throat. All of the people they encounter, in fact, find that the solution to their problems lies within themselves, just a change of attitude or approach is called for. And that is what the book tries to tell its readers. Also, the story/stories are told in an amusing way, some episodes more than others, like the Witch’s frustration when Johnny fails to be lured by treasure or the story of Tig-Tag the robber, which was very good fun. I also liked that despite the various little troubles Arnica and Johnny fall into on their adventure, there is no melodrama or exaggeration. Arnica and Johnny are very likeable; Johnny, in fact, reminded me a little of a Grimm’s character in the story ‘Hans in Luck’ where too, the ‘hero’ attaches little to material possessions.

The book has some really colourful illustrations. These reminded me (the style) somewhat of the illustrations for Dunno (by Boris Kalushin) though the ones in these book aren’t as delicate. I loved the colours, also the patterns used, the animals, flowers, trees, etc. but while I didn’t much care for the human beings (illustrations) in the book at the start (they felt a little clumpy), even these kind of grew on me as I read on.   (See cover above)

A charming and cute read.

Have you read this book or do you plan to? If you have, how did you like it? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

#MurderousMondays: Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston

It’s Monday again, so time for #MurderousMondays. #MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many murder mysteries, and of you’re reading any, you can share them too!

As I wrote last week (here), since my reading theme this month is 1930s books, the mysteries I am reading this month are also those written or set in the 1930s. The book I read this week is a British Library Crime Classic, Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston. Charles Kingston O’Mahoney, who wrote under the pen name Charles Kingston, began writing crime fiction in 1921 and went on to publish twenty-five mysteries until his death in 1944 (the last was posthumously published). Murder in Piccadilly was published in 1936.

Robert ‘Bobbie’ Cheldon is twenty-three, jobless and incapable of doing work, spoiled rotten by his mother Ruby Cheldon, and brought up in the expectation of inheriting his uncle, Massy Cheldon’s substantial estate (with an income of ten thousand a year). But Massy has a good few years, may be decades, before him yet. Bobbie however has fallen in love with a very pretty but not too talented dancer Nancy Curzon, who dances at a nightclub called the Frozen Fang. And the only way she will accept his suit is if he has a fortune—now! The only solution his mother and uncle have for the present is for him to get a job which they ensure he gets, but he must start at the bottom of the ladder. And Bobbie doesn’t want to work. However, he is also too much of a namby pamby to think murder, well may be not think it, but carry it out at any rate. But the murder does happen, and Bobbie, wittingly or unwittingly becomes involved, for there are unsavoury elements, friends of Nancy, among them ex-pugilist Nosey Ruslin, happy to nudge him in that direction, since it would be sure to give them a golden-egg-laying goose. And Bobbie is too young and foolish to see what’s coming. When the murder takes place, Chief Inspector Wake of Scotland Yard is given charge of the case, and while he is quick to work out who may be involved, he must find the requisite connections and proof, and the extent that each person he suspects is indeed involved, and this starts a sort of battle of wits with Nosey Ruslin. How will the Inspector put the clues together, and does he manage to do it as quickly as he thinks he can?

This certainly wasn’t a conventional murder mystery since we knew who the victim was and who plotted the murder, but it was still surprisingly interesting reading throughout. In the initial parts, as I said, while it is clear who the intended victim is, and who could be the possible killer, one can’t be very sure whether the murder will actually take place and how, though when it does, we have sufficient warning. And then, while we know who has been plotting the murder, we don’t know immediately who actually did the deed, so this remains a bit of a mystery. Once Chief Inspector Wake comes into the picture, the story for me got even more interesting as one begins to see how he acts on both intuition and evidence, preferring human clues who can reveal things to the more traditional understanding of clues, though even these turn out to help him in more than one way. Watching Nosey and the Inspector pit their wits against each other, even when we ‘know’ Wake will come out victorious turned out to be good fun. And the end, well, that has its own little surprises in store as the characters get their just desserts in a way one didn’t see coming (though there was a hint along the way). Even in terms of the investigation, things turn out quite differently than what I expected, and I was left wondering whether any of the characters really ‘won’. [Incidentally, the characters (a dancer in a nightclub, an ex pugilist, and a penniless young gentleman among them) almost sound as if they’d stepped out of a Wodehouse novel, but here they are more real and far less attractive.] So, this book turned out to be mystery that wasn’t a mystery, and yet had plenty to surprise me when I read it. Entertaining and fun!