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 with her and her sister Claire Clairmont were about to elope. As this story opens, the four 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!

Advertisements

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!

Review: The Catherine Howard Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

My thanks to NetGalley and Sapere books for a review copy of this book.

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.

Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein
Source:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HowardCatherine02.jpeg

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.

The book released on 28 March 2019!

Children’s Book of the Month: Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

First in a fantasy series, this book has been compared to Harry Potter, and is one I’ve been hearing so much about, and was very much looking forward to reading. Morrigan Crow is cursed, and as a result blamed for pretty much everything that happens (or rather goes wrong) in her town of Jackalfax. Her father Corvus Crow is a politician, who doesn’t really want her, but must pay for all the damage her curse is alleged to have caused. People in the town take advantage of this position raising all sorts of ridiculous (and clearly false) claims holding her responsible for things like for ruining their batch of marmalade or even weather changes, but Corvus must pay for the ‘damage’ since there is no way of proving that the curse had nothing to do with these occurrences. Anyway, her curse means that she is slated to die on Eventide, her eleventh birthday, but when the time comes, she finds herself magically transported to a whole other world, Nevermoor, by a remarkable man called Jupiter North, and given an opportunity to enter trials with other gifted children to become a member of the Wundrous Society. But she must pass the trials first (where there are some very talented competitors, all of whom don’t play fair), and any slip could mean being banished from Nevermoor forever, and back to her fate—death.

I expected to really love this book and I wanted to love it too but sadly, this didn’t happen for me. That said, I don’t mean that I disliked the book, there was a lot I really liked about it. The whole world of Nevermoor was a little hard for me to get my mind around—and I couldn’t form a clear picture of it in my head—as was the case with the magic that worked there (what the system was, how it worked and such). These elements will probably be developed in the other books but still, I would have liked to form a better idea of it. But there were things that I liked such as the Deucaulion Hotel, of which Jupiter North is proprietor, and the magic that works there, the interesting rooms (and characters) within it—I think there will be more secrets there that will be revealed as we go on. I also loved the Christmas celebrations—these kind of reminded me of Harry Potter—Christmas for Morrigan within Nevermoor versus what they had at home (as did the broad idea of a child who was not wanted at home, blamed for everything, versus this magical world where people want to be her friend; and so did the story of the ‘villain’). Of the characters, Morrigan herself was just ok for me. I wanted her to do well, but more for the sake of seeing what the challenge would be like, what the next one entailed and such, than for her winning. I did like her friend, Hawthorne, and loved Fenestra. The plot was fun enough, the various challenges were interesting but again, not may be something that ‘blew me away’ so to speak (the first I liked the best). While the ‘mystery’ element which was building up throughout regarding Morrigan, did have an element of surprise when it was revealed, the actual reveal didn’t turn out to be as magical or as much of a spectacle as I was expecting. The latter part of the book, where various secrets were uncovered, were far more engrossing for me than the initial parts. So this was over all a good read, imaginative and enjoyable though I would rate it at around a 3.75 for me.

Review: Golden Pavements by Pamela Brown

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

Golden Pavements is the third in the Blue Door series of books by Pamela Brown set around a group of children (three sets of siblings) interested in theatre, who are now training to be professional actors, and aspire to make their amateur theatre, the Blue Door Theatre, in their hometown of Fenchester, professional. While I say this is the third book, the events of this book start before the second book, Maddy Alone, and continue past the events of that book. So when we start, Nigel, the eldest has spent some time at the British Actors Guild Dramatic School while the others (with the exception of Maddy who is still twelve) have just come in for their first term. Soon enough they are absorbed in theatre life, with things to be learnt and shows to be put on, but alongside also having to deal with the reality of living life on their own on meagre allowances, and having to penny pinch or take up jobs (even against rules) to make up where they’re falling short. We see them in their time at the Academy, their tours and summer jobs, the time that Maddy joins them, and finally as they leave the Academy and set off to set up their own repertory company. At times, we are following all of the children, while at others, one or more of them as they take up jobs (like Lyn and Vicky serving as assistant stage managers in a small repertory company for ten weeks). They have fun but the work is hard as well, and some lessons of life they must learn the hard way.

This instalment in the series focused on the experiences of young actors (or producers, or stage managers, or anyone connected with the theatre) when they first begin to translate their dreams into reality. The children’s amateur productions or experience helps them but working in a professional setting is a completely different cup of tea. While this doesn’t discourage any of our young heroes and heroines, they experience both highs and lows, good performances and bad ones, tough days and golden ones. Probably written on the basis of the author’s own experiences, this feels very real (But she managed to achieve this effect with the first book in the series as well, which she wrote when 14 or 15, what had me especially in awe was that she could out forth the ‘grown ups’’ point of view very fairly as well)—the kind of experiences they undergo, their hopes, aspirations, decisions that they take, and I had great fun going along with them. I haven’t read very many books in a theatre setting, but this one while not going into every little detail gives one a fairly good idea of the workings of the process, of the hard work that goes into it, and of the fact that despite all of this, the result may not always be a happy one. I also found all of the children very likeable (as in the previous instalments), and even when they don’t take the right decisions on everything or are veering off course, one can’t fault them for it because these are mistakes that anyone can (and would probably) make. This was a fast-paced, endearing, and absorbing read, and I enjoyed myself very very much reading it.

Pamela Brown was a British writer, actor, and producer of children’s television programmes. The town of Fenchester is based on her own town of Colchester. Very passionate about the theatre, she and her friends put up plays as children, and she went on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (using her earnings from The Swish of the Curtain).

This book was first published in 1947, and is being republished by Pushkin Press on 25 June 2019.

p.s. My reviews of The Swish of the Curtain and Maddy Alone are here and here. I will also be reviewing book 4, Blue Door Venture via NetGalley soon!

Review: Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay

My thanks to NetGalley and Red Rogue Press for a review copy of this book.

Ever Alice is pretty much a sequel to the Alice books taking place when Alice is fifteen. Alice has never ceased to believe in Wonderland and those she met there, but in the “real” world, this has meant that people, her parents and sister included, do not think her “normal” but “mad”. As a consequence, she is now undergoing treatment in a mental facility, dreaming of returning to her family one day. On the other side, we see the Queen of Hearts, here Rosamund, who is turning more and more ruthless as time passes, and beheading whoever irks her in one way or other, their innocence being of no consequence. The White Rabbit (here Ralph) comes to Alice and seeks her help in doing away with Rosamund. Alice does not wish to kill anyone but does want to escape, even more now that she is going to be subjected to new treatments to “cure” her at a different facility. Once in Wonderland, Alice finds herself placed as one of the Queen’s ladies alongside Bess (the Duchess with the pig baby), who hates her, and Sabrina who wants to be her friend. She also finds herself falling in love with the Prince of Hearts, Thomas. But plots to do away with the Queen are very much underway, and Alice is a part of them whether or not she wants to do any actual killing, while the Queen on her side is trying to secure her throne by getting rid of Constance, the Queen of Spades, and anyone else that she is in a mind to. How does Alice fare amongst these plots and counter plots?

I loved that so many of the characters that we are familiar with from the Alice books (this is probably the first sequel/retelling that I’m reading) are there in the book with “new” names—Ralph the white rabbit, Sir William (the Hatter), and Charles (the Dodo) besides the Duchess with the pig baby (Bess) and others (With the new names, it took some time to get my head around how was who). There are also other characters that are new but springing from the books as well as those familiar from outside, such as Humpty Dumpty’s cousin (Marco Polo), Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum’s children, Lady Godiva, the Frog Princess, and Marilyn Montagu, the actress! The story for the most part switches between Alice’s viewpoint and Rosamund’s (though in third person) and so we see the other characters through their stories.

This was a fun sequel to Alice which for the most part keeps the humour and whimsical tone that one would associate with Alice (though it didn’t have perhaps what I would call Alice-y lines). I loved how the author created a skittles game (with armadillos and penguins) on the same lines as the original croquet, but very imaginative and fun all the same; and there is also another trial that Alice has to face. The plot was fairly interesting (though the Alice being brought back to kill the Queen bit is, may be, similar to the recent Alice films), and I liked how it played out with a fair number of twists and surprises along the way. (Even with characters who we “know”, things don’t turn out as we expect). For me though, after the first few pages, it somewhat began to drag for a bit (in the sense that I was enjoying it but not to the point that I couldn’t put it down or wait to get back to it), but then a little after the half way point, it once again picked up pace and I wanted to read on to see how things turn out for all the characters. The book has both light and dark moments—one point/aspect at the end was a little too dark for me, but it was definitely something that I didn’t see coming, and kind of left me with an eerie feeling.

I enjoyed reading this book very much, but not as much I expected to, so this was about a 3.5 stars for me.