April 2021 Reading Wrap Up

The first quarter of 2021 gone already—one can hardly believe it. April turned out to be a pretty good reading month for me with seven completed books, and two others I started, one which I’m reading in instalments with a Goodreads group and the other which I finished just into May. I had quite a range in terms of genre which I was happy with since I like to read different things—a memoir, a couple of mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction, and children’s fiction. One of these was a revisit, the rest ‘new’, and four were NetGalley reads.

I started off the month with an Agatha Christie revisit, and one which I had actually only read last year, The Man in the Brown Suit. This was part of the lesser-known Christie books that one of my Goodreads groups is doing this year. This is the first of Christie’s books to feature Colonel Race who appears in many other books later including Death on the Nile but here Colonel Race is much younger, and we see a different (more emotional) side of him than in later works. Also if one didn’t ‘know’ him from later works, he would be high on our list of suspects. The book is the story of Anne Beddingford whose father, an eccentric scholar dies leaving her with a very tiny fortune. All her life she has looked for adventure and now falls into one as a man on a railway platform (who smells of mothballs) falls to his death in front of her after having seen something that frightened him. This turns out to link up with another mysterious death in Mill House, the home of Sir Eustace Peddlar. And Anne had found an order to view the property near the dead man. Anne decides to investigate, and before she knows it has used all the money she has in the world to book a passage to South Africa. On board the ship she meets Sir Eustace, Colonel Race, and a socialite Mrs Blair, and as things move on is drawn further and further into the mystery. This was a fun combination of a thriller and mystery. Am linking my review from last year since I didn’t write full review this time around (here).

After reading the first volume of Charmian Clift’s memoirs of the time her family spent living in Greece in the 1950s, Mermaid Singing (review here) in March, in April, I read the second volume, Peel Me a Lotus. This second volume is her account of part of their time spend in Hydra (to which they moved from Kalymnos). As the book opens, Charmian is pregnant with her third child and the family are buying their own home in Hydra which has to be put into shape before the baby is due. Unlike the first book which was focused more on their interactions with local people, on Hydra there are a number of (somewhat) eccentric expats—among them artists, writers, and also drifters, intellectual hoboes and such and much of the book is about these colourful characters and Clift’s family’s interactions with them. While the writing in this book was good as in the first (especially as Clift is a keen observer), the tone itself is a touch darker for her frustrations with daily drudgery and the difficulties they need to face (of earning a living unlike many others loafing away on Hydra) get to her from time to time. But still there are picnics and swims, interesting conversations, and even a visit from a film crew besides political troubles to cope with (full review here).

Completely different in tone and genre was my next read in April, The Goldsmith and the Master Thief by Tonke Dragt. Translated into English from Dutch, this children’s book tells of the adventures of twin brothers Jiacomo and Lorenzo, identical as two drops of water (but with different personalities) born in interesting circumstances in the fictional kingdom of Babina. When they suddenly lose their parents and must make their own way in the world, the two have to separate for a while and end up learning different trades—Lorenzo becomes a goldsmith and Jiacomo, a thief (at least he trains as one though he refuses to steal). The brothers have a series of adventures ranging from school-boy pranks to pitting their wits against a master of riddles, tacking thieves and ghosts, and even solving a political crisis. This was a great deal of fun and had me wishing that Dragt’s books had been translated to English when I was a child for I would have really enjoyed them then too. I’ll share my full review later this month.

Next was my second time reading Rena Rossner, The Land of the Midnight Stars. This is the story of three sisters Hannah, Sarah, and Levana who live with their parents and grandmother in the Trnava. They are Solomonars, descended from a clan who were handed Solomon’s secrets. Each of the family has certain powers like their father Rabbi Isaac can change form; Hannah has power over plants and healing abilities; Sarah controls fire and can weave; and Levana speaks to the stars. But when the black mist begins to affect their part of the world, they are blamed for the misfortunes that occur, and must flee the village after facing much personal tragedy. When the family attempts to start afresh with new identities in a new place, giving up their heritage, new challenges face them. Can they ever find a safe place to live? There was a lot about the book that I liked from the elements of folklore and history to each of the girls’ stories. But overall the stories didn’t feel like a cohesive whole; rather just as different stories that had some kind of connection. So while this was a good read, it wasn’t a great one for me (full review here).

Having come across the announcement for the #1936 Club rather late, I decided to make a last-minute attempt at participating and picked up my first Albert Campion mystery Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham. The story is set around a family run publishing firm Barnabas Limited being run by three cousins, John Widdowson, Paul Brande, and Mike Wedgwood, grandchildren of the founder. They are all his daughters’ children while his only surviving son Sir Alexander Barnabas is a KC. Paul Brande suddenly disappears and Campion, a friend of Mike Wedgewood, is asked to look into the matter. But Paul is soon found dead. Suspicion falls on Mike, who is in love with Paul’s neglected wife, Gina. And when most of the circumstantial evidence points to him as well, he is arrested and tried. Now Campion assisted by another cousin of the Barnabases, Ritchie, must clear his name. There is also the matter of another disappearance from the firm, Ritchie’s older brother, twenty years earlier, a case which has remained unresolved. The mystery was a really enjoyable one with very few clues as to who could have possibly done it. Alongside there were some interesting characters like the ever-complaining Magerfontein Lugg, Campion’s manservant and a former thief, and Richie Barnabas who is disillusioned with the world he lives in, speaks in broken phrases but is far more perceptive than his family realises (full review here).

Next for me was a very different read, which I’d requested vis NetGalley essentially because of its setting—Malaysia. Black Water Sister by Zen Cho is about Jessamyn ‘Jess’ Teoh brought up in the States but now moving back to Malaysia with her parents who have decided to return home. Before she leaves the States, and then again in Malaysia, she begins to hear strange voices in her head which she attributes to stress. But soon she finds that this is not the case and this is the voice of her grandmother, a medium, who has passed on a year earlier. Ah Ma was medium in a temple which is part of a site being developed by a rich businessman Ng Chee Hin. To stop him, Ah Ma wants Jess’ help. But when Jess agrees, she doesn’t quite realise what she is letting herself in for as she is immersed into a world of gods and spirits while also coping with real-life problems. I loved the exploration of the cultural relevance of gods and spirits in Malaysia, for not only different local communities but even outsiders and also enjoyed the story a lot. I’ll share my full review closer to the release date.

Finally, via Booktasters, I read Ghost by Lebov Lenova. This is a murder mystery with fantasy elements set in a fantasy world. Our protagonist Lana is the daughter of the chief of the guardians (equivalent to the police) in her town but is unable to become a guardian herself since she is a girl. But she yearns to be a detective. She is faced with two cases, one the murders of some school girls, which are said to be the work of a serial killer, Ghost. The other is her past experiences at Mercy House an institution where girls with destructive powers are sent for the destructive strains to be removed, but as she ends up discovering, the girls have all the magic taken away from them instead. Lana’s friend Rebecca was sent there and though Lana helped her escape, Rebecca was murdered and the case remains unsolved. Alongside, a guardian from another town, Richard, is on the trail of the ghost while some teens are attempting to find what really happens at Mercy House. This was an interesting plot both in terms of the mystery and fantasy elements but I felt the writing could have been much better (full review here).

Besides these in April, I also started The Semi-detached House, one of only two novels by Emily Eden (find a short post I had written about her here), for a read with a Goodreads group. Here eighteen-year-old Lady Blanche Chester, high-strung and a hypochondriac, moves into Pleasance, a semi-detached house with her sister Aileen while her husband Lord Arthur Chester is away with a diplomatic mission. On the other side are the Hopkinsons who Blanche dreads, imagining all sorts of details. But soon enough it turns out that Captain Hopkinson (also away when our story starts) was the Captain of a ship on which Arthur had served before coming into his title and the families develop a friendship. Also on the scene are a family of newly rich social climbers, Baron and Baroness Sampson who are attempting to gain both socially and financially from whoever they meet. I am about half way through this short comic read, and will have my review up later this month.

Finally, just at the end of the month, I started Death Comes as the End, the next Agatha Christie on my Goodreads group’s challenge list. This is the only historical mystery by Christie, set in Egypt in 2000 BC, and one I enjoyed very much. My review is already up (here) but this will be part of my wrap up for May as that is when I technically finished it.

So those were the books I read in April (and some which have carried over into May). How was your reading month? Which reads did you most enjoy this April? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Centenary Post: The Many Facets of Satyajit Ray

Celebrated Indian filmmaker, music composer, lyricist, illustrator, and author (among much else), Satyajit Ray was born 100 years ago today, 2nd May 1921. While Ray is most remembered for his films, he had many many talents. This post is going to be all about his contributions to the literary world, and these were not only through his writings.

Satyajit Ray in New York, via Wikimedia Commons, Dinu Alam Newyork, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ray was born in Calcutta to Sukumar and Suprabha Ray. He came from a very talented family; his father Sukumar was a writer and poet, and his grandfather Upendrakishore Ray was a writer and painter (One of Ray’s commercially successful films, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, the Adventures of Goopy and Bagha, a singer and musician who are bestowed with boons by the king of Ghosts, was based on a children’s story by Upendrakishore). Ray’s father died when he was only three, and he was brought up by his mother. He studied at Government High School, Calcutta, Presidency College, and then the Viswa Bharati University, Santiniketan, founded by Rabindranath Tagore. Ray started his career working in an advertising agency and then went on to design covers for books at a publishers, Signet Press, in Calcutta.

As an author, Ray wrote a range of short stories and story collections, many for younger readers, and also translated English works into Bengali, among them Lewis Carroll’s Jaberwocky and a short story from Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Among Ray’s best known creations is the sleuth Feluda. Pradosh Chandra Mitra or Feluda is twenty-seven and adept at martial arts. But he solves mysteries not using his strength but his analytical skills. In his adventures, he is usually accompanied by his young cousin, Tapash Ranjan Mitra or Topshe and from the sixth adventure by detective-story writer Lalmohan Ganguly or ‘Jatayu’, who brings a comic element into the tales. Feluda was inspired by Sherlock Holmes whom Ray admired. The first adventure appeared in 1965. There are 39 Feluda stories, which have plenty of adventure and take us to different destinations including Kathmandu and London. The stories have been adapted into films and for television, a couple of which were directed by Ray himself. Some others were directed by his son. Sandip Ray.

Satyajit Ray’s other famous creation is Trilokeswar Shonku or Professor Shonku who appears in a set of science fiction stories. Professor Shonku lives with a servant Prahlad and a cat, Newton, who is 24. Professor Shonku was a child prodigy and speaks 69 languages, and was based on Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger. He has several fascinating inventions to his credit (including an air conditioning pill, a remembrain, and a space food for cats), and his adventures take him to real and fantastical places–including to Tibet in search of a unicorn and the Gobi Desert tracking a UFO.

Among several other stories by Ray were spooky stories (Tarini Khuro) and stories featuring the middle eastern philosopher Mulla Nassruddin, remembered for his wit. Ray also wrote his memoirs and an anthology of film criticism.

Besides writing and translation, Ray was also an illustrator, having learnt painting and art at Santiniketan. He illustrated book covers, children’s books, movie posters, and publicity material. As the Satyajit Ray World Website notes, ‘he was the first Indian artist who experimented with a style of brushing that was entirely Indian. His easy brush strokes, pointed or broad was the hallmark of his jacket designs in the early phase of his career as an artist.’

Ray is also credited with designing the logo of one of India’s largest publishers and distributors, Rupa Publications, which began its journey in Calcutta (find the publisher’s site here–I’m not sure if I can share the actual logo). He also designed the packets for Wills Navy Cut Cigarettes (source).

And if that wasn’t talent enough, Ray was also a calligrapher and depended on his own calligraphy for covers of modern Bengali poetry collections for which he could find no suitable metallic typeface (source). Ray is credited with creating numerous Bengali typefaces. And his talents weren’t confined to Bengali alone. He also created four typefaces in English, Ray Roman, Ray Bizarre, Daphnis, and Holiday Script. (More about his talents as a caligrapher here).

Ray’s English Fonts, image source: https://www.freepressjournal.in/cmcm/knowing-the-lesser-known-side-of-satyajit-ray-the-godfather-of-indian-cinema

When I started writing this (once again, rather last minute) post on Ray, I knew about some of his books and also that he had illustrated the Feluda stories. But reading about him I was awestruck by just how talented he was. The aspects I have highlighted here are just to do with the literary world. Besides this he was also a critically acclaimed filmmaker, music composer, screenwriter, and also designed posters and material for his films. A truly fascinating person.

Have you ever watched any of Ray’s movies or come across his books or other works? Which ones and how did you find them? Looking forward to your thoughts!

For this post I mainly relied on Wikipedia (here, here and here), the website of Satyajit Ray world (here), and a couple of articles (here and here).

Review: Ghost by Lubov Lenova

My thanks to Booktasters for a review copy of this one.

Ghost is a murder mystery set in a fantasy world. In this world, all children manifest magical gifts (like the ability to produce fire, to read minds, or more rarely, to turn time or heal others) around the age of fifteen. The gifts can be used on everyone except those they love.

Men (in a reflection of our world) can of course do certain tasks including become Guardians who protect cities from crime, which are closed to women, including our main character Lana. Lana is in her twenties and wanted to be a detective but is now serving as a secretary to the Guardians, the chief in her town (Triville) being her father. In the past, Lana was posted to Mercy House, an institution where girls (only girls) with destructive gifts were sent for these destructive strains to be removed. But in her time there Lana found that this is not the case and these women were actually deprived of all their magic, leaving them as incapables. She helps her friend Rebecca escape this facility promising to meet her back home but before she reaches, Becky is murdered. And Lana has never been able to find out why or by whom.

Meanwhile in the present day, a school girl, Bella, running into the forest after being bullied by her fellow students is murdered. Soon another murder follows. This is suspected to be the work of a serial killer they call the Ghost. Lana is keen to investigate but must tread carefully. An errant guardian from another town, Richard Laine comes into town to investigate the matter as well, since he has been on the trail of the Ghost for long, and solving the case will also help reduce the punishment he has to face for his own indiscretions.

Alongside, the other teens who were teasing Bella are going through their own web of complicated relationships. And they too want to unveil the secrecy surrounding Mercy House, the girls who have been murdered and the guardian who is rumoured to hunt out girls with destructive gifts. They carry out their parallel investigations.

There are also some threads of romance in the story with Lana’s past with the handsome but ambitious guardian Charles, and also the stories of the teens among them, Julia and Elisa and Kyle, brother of Becky.

This was a fun plot combining fantasy and a murder mystery, both of which I enjoy, particularly the latter. I liked that this one had more than one mystery thread as far as the murders were concerned and there are plenty of twists and secrets as well. I didn’t guess until pretty much the reveal, one part of the answer while the other I didn’t see coming. The other plot threads with the issues surrounding Mercy House (not as such a mystery since we know from the start what goes on there) which were also interesting and one wants to know how the matter is resolved.

Lana is a likeable protagonist, determined to solve the mystery at hand and helping girls escape Mercy House for which she can even bend the rules but in matters of the heart, she isn’t above making mistakes.  Richard Laine is a flawed character too but when it comes to solving the mystery he is as determined as Lana. The teens we meet are more difficult to classify—one can understand some of their actions in view of the complicated relationships they share and also their determination to escape if need be, Mercy House but the initial bullying scene doesn’t fit in with the shape their characters take later and felt as though it doesn’t fit in even though it has a role in the plot.

While this is a fun enough story, I felt the writing and the dialogue could have been strengthened, which would have made it a far better read.

Still it was a nice read. Oh and yes, it also has some illustrations which I always enjoy.

Review: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

My thanks to Headline and NetGalley for a review copy of this one.

I can’t quite remember when I first heard of the minotaur and the labyrinth in Crete—it was either in my school English book (class 5?) which had the story of Theseus killing the minotaur, and finding his way out of the labyrinth with the ball of golden string or in the Bobbsey Twins’ Greek Hat Mystery where the children go to Crete (though I don’t remember if Theseus was mentioned). I don’t remember if Ariadne was mentioned in either story but the school book one did cast Theseus as the hero—and that is what this book challenges.

Ariadne is, as the description says, a retelling of the story of Theseus and the minotaur but it is much more. Opening powerfully, the initial section is told in the voice of Ariadne, princess of Crete, as she describes how her father, Minos, treated Scylla who stood with him against her own people and of Medusa who paid for the sins of another as did her own mother Pasiphae who suffered for her husband’s arrogance (I wondered why Medea’s story is not seen through this lens, though–she is seen as a witch). The minotaur, born to Pasiphae as a result, sees sympathy only from Ariadne but is soon beyond loving or ‘taming’, and becomes Minos’ weapon to terrorise everyone, including Athens, defeated at his hands. With Theseus’ arrival, Ariadne thinks she has found love and freedom but her fate is no better than that of countless other women including those she has described and she finds herself abandoned on Naxos awaiting death, until Dionysus comes upon her.

Alongside we alternately follow the narrative of Phaedra, her younger sister. Also initially taken with Theseus, Phaedra soon becomes aware of his true nature—he is a hero concerned only with being a hero and having adventures that bring him fame, anyone who helps him is never acknowledged, he takes whatever he wishes, irrespective of whom he hurts, and he is not interested with any problems of everyday life, like the welfare of his people. In a marriage that circumstances force her into, Phaedra finds some solace in the power she can wield as she rules in Theseus’ place. The two sisters’ lives take them on very different paths, yet both face and constantly acknowledge the restrictions placed on them, the injustices that they must bear and the conduct expected of him as women.

Having enjoyed Circe by Madeline Miller, this one which was compared to it caught my eye and I felt it certainly lived up to my expectations. Ariadne and Phaedra are both strong characters, yet very different from the other and I liked that their voices were different even though both recognise the boundaries they must live within (whether or not they like it), and express themselves as best they can within these. While Phaedra finds she can use her intelligence as de facto ruler of Athens, Ariadne settles into a more conventional (yet very different life) when she finds Dionysus who can understand her because of his own story. But the real power unfortunately continues to lie beyond them, in social convention, with men and the gods, and this is eventually what dictates the reality of their lives.

This was beautifully written, engrossing and strongly feminist—and one I certainly recommend!

Shelf Control #137: English Eccentrics by Edith Sitwell

Wednesday, the 28th of April, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, when you got it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

This time’s pick is another old book which I’d been meaning to read for a long time, in fact ever since I saw a copy in the library when I was in college. At that point it was only the name that attracted my attention since I didn’t really know what it was all about, not do I remember picking it up to look (though I probably would have). Anyway, I did later add it to my TBR.

The English Eccentrics or English Eccentrics: A Gallery of Weird and Wonderful Men and Women (the titles on different editions are slightly different) by Dame Edith Sitwell was first published in 1933. The book is a set of (I think interwoven) portraits or sketches of a range of characters, among them hermits, quacks, mariners, travellers and men of learning. We have Lord Rokeby with a beard that reached his knees and who seldom left his bath, Curricle Coats who wore a coat sewn with diamonds, and Princess Caroboo an impostor who fooled an English town for months. And these aren’t fictional eccentrics but very much real life ones!

The description of the book somehow reminded me of E.F. Benson’s The Freaks of Mayfair (published much earlier in 1916) although that one was sketches of fictional personalities, but they were a fun set of eccentrics from snobs to quacks and scandal-mongers in whom were some shades of characters that appeared in Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books. This was a fun read (my review here) and I am expecting that Sitwell’s volume will be that too. Real life eccentrics are likely to turn out far more unbelievable than fictional ones, don’t you think?

Have you read this one? Or any others like it? Which one/s and how did you find it/them? Do you enjoy reading portraits or character sketches sometimes or prefer they be woven into fiction? Any favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Find reviews of the book here and here

Book cover and info are as always from Goodreads here

Lisa’s pick this week is When You Read This by Mary Adkins, a modern-day romantic comedy but one which deals with finding love after loss (find her post here)

March 2021 Reading Wrap Up

Okay, I realise April is nearly over and I should be writing my April wrap up but since I didn’t manage to do one at the beginning of the month, I’m going ahead and writing this anyway.

March, at least the first part of the month, was a pretty solid reading time for me, though during the second half, work deadlines meant I didn’t read or review very many books (none during the last week). But still I was fairly pleased with the outcome—I read 6 full books and finished one more that rolled over from February.

I started off the month with an Agatha Christie revisit, Ordeal by Innocence, for a Goodreads group challenge where we are reading twelve lesser-known/read Christies over the year. Ordeal by Innocence introduces us to Dr Stephen Calgary just back from an expedition to the poles. On his return, he finds that an incident that had occurred before he left (a car accident in which he was involved giving him a concussion and memory loss) has led to a grave injustice, a young man being convicted for murder which he wouldn’t have been had Dr Calgary remembered the events of the evening he had the accident. Calgary gathers the courage to face the young man, Jacko’s family, but what he doesn’t think out are the consequences of his revelation. Jacko had been convicted for the murder of his adoptive mother, a rich heiress, Rachel Argyle, a well-meaning but controlling lady. Suspicion once again falls on all others in the house, Rachel’s husband Leo, and the other adopted children—stirring up a hornet’s nest. In a story that takes us into the minds—the fears and thoughts of the different characters—we get a rather enjoyable mystery. Full review here.

Next I read a book that combines fantasy and reality, Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura, via NetGalley. This is the story of Kokoro Anzai, a young school student who is suffering anxiety and unable to even leave her house because of the bullying she faced at the hands of the popular girl at school. One day the mirror in her room shines and opens a portal into a castle, a place which is said to be open for exactly one year, and where Kokoro meets six others—Aki, Masumane, Rion, Fuka, Subaru, and Ureshino—who have had a similar experience. Soon they become friends and provide the support the others need. We learn each of their stories and experiences as each of them tries to gather the courage to face their fears. But there is more to connect them than we see at the first glance. This was a story dealing with a lot of difficult issues, but one which also had lots of secrets, twists and turns, which made for interesting reading—at the end heart-warming and full of hope. Full review here.

The next book I read was a completely different and very light-hearted one, A Pocket Full of Pie by Mandy Morton, also via NetGalley. This is the ninth in a cosy mystery series set in a world much like ours but one which is populated by cats. Our heroines are Hettie Bagshot and Tilly Jenkins, two tabbies who live in a bedsit above a bakery and also happen to run the No. 2 Feline Detective Agency.  In this one, Tilly has been offered a show on the local radio station Whiskas FM—the show being about both crime fiction and true crime. But when one of the station’s star presenters Hartley Battenberg is murdered, Hettie and Tilly are charged with the investigation (no police in this world). Alongside, with Easter coming up, there are many events including a bake off being organized in the village. This was a fun read with a lovely cat world, likeable characters, lots of food, and at the same time, a good mystery with elements (motivations and plotlines) that belonged very much in the human realm. (full review here).

In more serious territory again was The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys, set in the Spain of the 1950s when General Franco was at the helm. In General Franco’s dictatorship, only those who conformed to his rules could survive while the rest if they dared question or do things differently had to pay the price, many times with their lives. Amidst this we follow the stories of the Moreno siblings, Julia (a seamstress who worked on matadors’ costumes), Ana (maid at the Hilton) and Rafa (who worked at a cemetery and a butcher’s shop), and alongside young Daniel, a half-Spanish young man who is visiting from the states with his oil-baron father, there to do business. While the Moreno siblings are struggling to simply survive, Daniel who has every comfort wealth can buy has how own struggles, wanting to be a photojournalist rather than join his father’s business. As Ana is assigned to Daniel’s family for their stay, the two meet and interact and become involved in each other’s lives. Each of the characters’ stories are interesting and draw one in, and with the historical material woven in, the book creates a picture of life that was in Spain of the period. A heart-wrenching and gripping read. (full review here).

I don’t seem to go very long without reading a mystery, and my next read was one again—also via NetGalley, The Custard Corpses by M. J. Porter. Set in 1940s England, in this one we meet Chief Inspector Sam Mason, who coming across new information relating to an old case (dating to the time he was a rookie) ends up stumbling across a series of gruesome murders, the victims of which were children. We follow him and his constable O’Rourke as they painstakingly piece together the puzzle which is unsettling but quite creative. This was however a bit of a mixed read for me since there were things like modern-sounding language and a little unsatisfactory explanation of the ‘why’ which took away from my enjoyment of the book (full review here).

As part of a readalong with Fanda Classiclit, over February and March I read Charles Dickens’ third novel Nicholas Nickleby in segments. In March, I read the last two of six segments. This is the story of Nicholas Nickleby a young man who with his mother and sister Kate must turn to their cold and cruel uncle Ralph for help when their father dies leaving them penniless. While Ralph helps them obtain situations, these are far from satisfactory but with these begin their adventures that introduce them (and us) to various colourful characters, put them in difficult and sometimes interesting situations, and alongside find them some romance as well. An enjoyable novel with lots of humour, I enjoyed my revisit of this one (full review here).

My last read in March was the first of two volumes of memoirs by Australian author Charmian Clift, Mermaid Singing, in which she writes about the year she and her family (husband George Johnston, and children Martin and Shane) spent on the island of Kalymnos to which they move from dreary London in the 1950s. They have to work of course (on books from which they earn their living) but alongside find they have time to spend with the children, to relax and also discover the island. There are picnics and walks, swims in the sea, and local celebrations and life. Clift is a keen observer and vividly describes life on the island, and its people with a great deal of wit making this a really enjoyable read. (full review here).

So those were the books I read in March. Late to ask but how was your reading last month? Which books would you recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Review: Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura

My thanks to Ruth Richardson and Doubleday/Random House UK for a review copy of this one via NetGalley.

This was in some ways a strange read, rather hard to classify and yet one I ended up enjoying very much.

Our story opens with Kokoro Anzai, a teen who has just started junior high but who we see is unable to go to school anymore because of what she faced there. She spends her time in her room, unable to eat properly, watching TV but not taking it in, not wanting to open the curtains, and certainly not ever stepping out. Her parents are very supportive, not forcing her into going to school but also find themselves helpless, since they don’t really know what she’s going through, and how they can help her (I found them refreshing since the stereotypical parent would not have reacted this way). Then one day, in Kokoro’s room, the mirror begins to glow and she is drawn into a different world. Here she meets a young girl in a wolf mask who tells her that this place, this castle will be open to her and six others—Aki, Masumane, Rion, Fuka, Subaru, and Ureshino—different from her and yet like her, who have also entered this place through their mirrors, for a period of a year, until the 30th of March. In this they must find a key and the one who finds it can have their wish come true. There are rules of course—the castle is open only from 9 to 5 and anyone who stays back after the appointed time will be eaten!!!

Told essentially from Kokoro’s viewpoint, we travel between Kokoro’s world and the world of the castle. In the real world, we start to learn what Koroko has faced at the hands of bullies, led by the ‘popular’ girl in her class, and how this had made her fearful of even stepping out of the house, even though she would like to have friends, and go to school—in fact school is the only world she can conceive of at that point. The world in the Castle at first seems to Kokoro no different from junior high—but as she begins to get to know the others, she finds she actually begins to have friends. With her we begin to see little titbits of each of their lives, and as the book moves on learn their stories. Each of them has faced some problems in their lives because of which they are unable to attend or face school—we learn of this and also of their different talents and interests. But there is more that connects them than first meets the eye, and as we read on, secrets are revealed and we also see the power of human connection—that by helping and supporting one another, much can be overcome, and one can even come out of the deepest recesses.

To start off with I will have to say that one will have to suspend disbelief a bit when reading the book because fantasy and reality intermingle throughout (in fact at some level, this reminded me a little of the anime/manga Fuishigi Yugi/Curious Play in which also the fantasy part connects up with reality in unexpected ways). At some level, one has to see it as a piece of magic that helps these kids face their problems, and gives them the strength to pull out of it.

When it started out, more than the fantasy element in the story, it was the real world that interested me—what had actually happened with Kokoro, would she be able to overcome it, how, and aspects like that. But with the fantasy element also came the other six characters and slowly we begin to learn about their lives and stories and this too begins to grip you. You want to know what they have faced, and want that things turn out ok for them too. Most of them have faced pain and hurt, and one really begins to feel for them. (One also realises how something that may seem ‘minor’ from one person’s point of view could affect another so much more deeply, perhaps another reason to be more conscious of one’s actions.)

The castle is a place of solace for them all, where they can escape reality and its problems, do things that interest them (each of them has a room there plus common spaces)—as time passes rather than being in their rooms, they begin to go to meet each other and spend time with each other. The key and the wish are secondary for it is the comfort that the castle provides that they need. They also begin to realise how they can support one and another, perhaps not just in the castle.

This story had so many secrets, twists and turns, some of which one doesn’t see coming at all. The characters try to unravel them as we go along, but answers are not always easily arrived at, and there is more than one twist awaiting us. This was an element I really enjoyed in the book.

The book deals with a lot of difficult issues, from bullying and harassment to death and loss, but, it is still heart-warming and at the end of the story one, comes away feeling positive and full of hope, knowing that things will be ok.

I loved the plot, liked the characters and the incorporation of fairy-tale elements, and found this a really touching read.

Shelf Control #136: Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac

Wednesday, the 21st of April, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, when you got it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today I am back to my endless pile (e-books) of Golden Age Mysteries, one I randomly downloaded because it sounded interesting. This one is Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R Lorac, first published in 1937.

This is number 13 in the Robert Macdonald series by the author. In this one author Bruce Attleton dazzled the London literary scene with his first two novels. But this early promise bears no fruit much to the disappointment of his wife, the glittering actress Sybilla. The two live in Regent Park but lead separate lives. Bruce is suddenly called away on a trip to Paris from which he disappears. All that is found is his suitcase and passport in a sinister artist’s studio, the Belfry, in a crumbling house on Notting Hill. It falls to Inspector Robert Macdonald to unravel his secrets and track down a blackmailer. Although the description doesn’t specify it, there is a murder as well as I can see from reviews of the book.

E.C.R. Lorac was one of the pseudonyms of English author Edith Caroline Rivett, born in Hendon, Middlesex. A prolific writer, she wrote forty-eight mysteries under her first pseudonym and twenty-three under another. She was also a member of the Detection Club.

A golden age mystery, set in 1930s London–is just my cup of tea. While E.C.R. Lorac isn’t an author I’ve read before, reviews by my Goodreads friends are quite positive and this is a genre I enjoy so I am quite willing to give this one a try.

Have you read this one or any others by this author? Which one/s and how did you find it/them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Find Lisa’s pick this week Slayer by Kiersten White here

Cover image, book and author details as always from Goodreads here and here