Stationary Travellers #poetry #Longfellow #books

Source: Pexels

We travel–to explore the world, experience new places, sounds, smells, cultures, to see the wonders this world has to offer. We travel for adventure, for excitement, for fun, even relaxation. Travel means all this and more. It means to get up and get going, but for us as readers, we can ‘travel’ even without that. Through the books on our shelves, we can have almost all the same experiences, see new sights through the authors’ eyes (and in our minds), learn about new cultures (perhaps even more closely and in more detail than in person), visit magical and fantastical places (Narnia or the lands up in the Faraway Tree) that we never can in real life, and have exciting adventures with the characters we are travelling with!

Image source: Pexels

So each time we open a book, we too travel, enter new worlds, real or imaginary. And this we can do from our comfortable reading nooks. This is just the kind of travel that H.W. Longfellow writes about in ‘Travels by the Fireside’.

Image source: Pexels

In it, he writes of rainy days, of ‘ceaseless rain…falling fast‘ which ‘drives [him] in upon himself’–away from the grey, dreary, and wet atmosphere outside to the cosy comfort of ‘fireside gleams‘, and more importantly, to the ‘pleasant books that crowd [his] shelf; And still more pleasant dreams.’

Image source: Pexels

That is certainly where a cold rainy day or dreary winter evening drives us readers, with a favourite book, sipping some hot coffee/tea, losing ourselves in the worlds that they open up for us! Longfellow reads too of tales sung by bards, ‘of lands beyond the sea‘, and these songs, as he is writing in his later years, bring back to him memories of his youth, when perhaps he went on adventures of his own, the tales he reads of making him relive his own memories. [The songs of the bards and journeys on ‘sea and land’ that he refers to incidentally made me think very much of Odysseus’ adventures, though Longfellow wasn’t really speaking of any specific stories.]

Roman Mossaic depicting Odysseus
Source: Giorcesderivative work: Habib M’henni [Public domain]

His travels through ‘others eyes’ are far more comfortable than real-life adventures for he no longer fears ‘the dust and the heat‘, or ‘feel[s] fatigue‘, nor does he need to ‘toil through various climes‘. He ‘journey[s] with another’s feet‘, and ‘turn[s] the world around in [his] hand‘, through these songs of the bards as he travels over ‘many a lengthening league‘ and ‘learn[s] whatever lies; Beneath each changing zone‘. In fact, he sees ‘when looking with their eyes; better than with [his] own.’

Do you like travelling? Actual travels or do you prefer to like Longfellow (and me 😛 ) travel comfortably in your armchairs? Have you read this poem before? How did you like it?

Find the full poem here.

Children’s Book of the Month: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

April was my month for reading books published or set in the 1930s, so for my Children’s book of the month also, I picked one from this decade–Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, first published in 1936. The popularity of this one led her US published to rechristen her other books (not a series though with some connection) with Shoes in the title (Circus Shoes, Party Shoes, Skating Shoes, etc.).

In the book, Professor Mathew Brown or Great Uncle Mathew or Gum, lives with his niece Sylvia and her nurse Nana, and from time to time takes off on expeditions from where he brings back fossils, adding to a huge collection which has to be thinned down from time to time. One day he decides to travel by sea rather than land, and from three of these voyages brings back three little babies, either orphaned or whose parents are unable to take care of them, and these three little girls are Pauline, Petrova, and Posy (who comes with a pair of ballet shoes her mother gave her). They take on the surname Fossil, for that is what ties them together. But while Pauline dreams of being an actress, and Posy can be nothing but a dancer (she is one), Petrova is happiest with cars and engines. Gum hasn’t returned from his latest expedition for long nor has been heard from, and money is tight, so Sylvia decides to take in boarders, and this leads not only to the children making new friends, but also entering the Children’s Academy of Dancing, where Pauline and Posy are happy, and Petrova simply does all that is required of her so that she can begin earning and support the house as soon as possible (that is at age 12, when no other option would be available to them). We join them on their journey at the academy as their train to hone their different talents, begin their careers on the stage, and try to get their names into history books!

What a charming and lovely story this was. I loved all the characters—the three girls are all very likeable, and even when they have their difficult moments or sulks, they essentially remain nice girls; Nana is sensible, yet not too strict; Sylvia is also very young and must struggle to keep things going. The boarders—the Simpsons, a couple back home from Malaysia, Theo, who teaches at the Academy, and the two doctors (of literature and mathematics, respectively)—are very likeable too, and one loves how all of them begin to become a big family, though each of them lead their own lives. The girls’ time and experiences at the Academy reminded me very much of the other series from the 1940s that I’ve been reading, The Blue Door series by Pamela Brown. The hard work that goes into training and into the roles themselves, the fact that success can go to one’s head very easily and fall from it can be truly hard, and of course, the joys that little successes and opportunities can bring. This was a really gentle and sweet story which I truly enjoyed reading. The lovely illustrations by Ruth Gervis add a lot to its charm. Absolutely loved it!

The Fossils making their vow by Ruth Gervis

I’d featured this book in one of my initial Shelf Control posts (here).

What’s New on My Shelves: April 2019

Since my TBR mountain was already somewhat like the picture above, of course I had to add some more to it 🙂 (In my defence, I have been ‘good’ for a while now only adding a couple of books every now and then, but this month, this was not the case, as you will see below). Partly, this happened since there were a few sales on books, plus Amazon had some nice freebies on Kindle, and I also got a coupon which I used. So here’s what got added to my shelves this month. I’m still being lazy about writing posts so this one’s going to be only short descriptions 😛

These I ordered new.

Truly Devious is the first in a trilogy of young adult mysteries (or do I just say mystery) set in a school for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists, Ellingham Academy. Shortly after it opened in the 1930s the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped. In the present, Stevie Bell wants to solve this case, but gets pulled into another one taking place in the present as well. The mysteries I don’t think get resolved in one book, something which would have bothered me but since I know this already, I’m interested to give it a try.

Uncle Dynamite is part of Wodehouse’s books featuring Uncle Fred or Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, Fifth Earl of Ickenham, who also appears in the Blandings books, filling in for Galahad to ‘help’ Emsworth. This is the first of his own full length adventures.

Thunderhead is the second in the Arc of a Scythe series, which I began reading last year and enjoyed the first book of very much. Set in a world where human beings have overcome most of their problems, including death, this revolves around Citra and Rowen two apprentices to a Scythe, people charged with keeping the population in check since natural death no longer occurs.

Next on Kindle I got the above three books for free. The first two were being offered as part of some books for World Book Day on the 23rd, while the last was free under another offer (It still is currently-India link here). The Hangman’s Daughter is a mystery (first in series) set in Germany in the 1600s; The Great Passage, the translation of a Japanese novel about friendship, love, and words (lingusitics), while Bewildering Cares is a diary of a vicar’s wife in Manchester in the early days of World War II (somewhat on the lines of the Provincial Lady).

Finally I got some books second hand.

Pompeii is the story of the place in the days before the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. The Little White Horse and The Dragonfly Pool are both children’s books,the first about young Maria Merryweather who comes to live with her aunt and uncle in Moonacre, and the second about Tally Hamilton who is sent away to boarding school because of the war, a place that turns out far more interesting than she’d ever imagined. From there, they travel to the kingdom of Bergania, where she ends up befriending and helping the prince.

Life in a Cold Climate is a bio of Nancy Mitford written based on her novels and other material (I just finished Mary Lovell’s bio The Mitford Girls, earlier this month); Innocent Traitor is a novel about Lady Jane Grey, the nine-days queen; and News From Thrush Green is the third in the Thrush Green books by Miss Read, in which a mother and son move into the village.

Finally I also ordered Sophie’s World, which takes one on a journey through Western philosophy through a story. This one I’d started reading a year ago but didn’t finish because there were other things to be done; so am getting my own copy to finally read it.

And just as I was writing this, this arrived. Muhammad Bin Tughlaq: The Tale of a Tyrant by Anuja Chnadramouli, historical fiction re-imagining Tughlaq’s life and times.

Have you read any of the books on my list or plan to? What did you think of them if you did? And what have you recently added to your shelves? Looking forward to hearing all about it!

Review: Blue Door Venture by Pamela Brown

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

This is book 4 in Pamela Brown’s Blue Door series about a group of children, now young adults, who had set up an amateur theatre in their town of Fenchester (based on her home town of Colchester), and after training at drama school have taken their little venture professional. After running the Blue Door theatre as a repertory company for a few months with encouraging but slow results, the Blue Doors happen to come across a young man named Lucky who works his way into the company as their Box Office man when old Mr Chubb falls ill. But while he is very active and does a lot of good for the business increasing their earnings, one fine day he disappears, and with him all the money that the Blue Doors had made off their Christmas pantomime. Now, they can no longer pay off their loan, nor keep the theatre open. And their nemesis Mrs Potter-Smith is losing no opportunity to raise obstacles in their way or cast aspersions. Does this mean their dream of running a repertory company is at an end? The police don’t seem to be getting anywhere in tracing Lucky so the Blue Doors decide that it is up to them to do it. While Maddy has to return to the Academy, it is decided that the three boys with pursue Lucky while the girls will get jobs and earn enough to keep the venture going.

This was once again an exciting and fun instalment in the series. While at the start we are entirely immersed in theatre life with the Blue Doors, as they deal with day-to-day problems and with the loan that hangs over their head, to run the theatre which requires constant investment which they can’t at that moment afford. Once again, the experiences and struggles that the children have in running the theatre are very real, and while they try to handle everything as best they can, and do falter from time to time, one is still a little in awe of how they manage to run a professional company at such a young age. Once Lucky strikes, the story turns into more of an adventure as the boys begin to trace him to different places. While the chase may be fun, it isn’t easy as they must manage on what little money they have going without enough food or rest for days. The connect with the theatre remains, however, through the girls’ experiences as they get different jobs and try to help the boys as best they can. This part is very exciting reading (taking one into an Enid Blyton, Famous Five-ish story) as one sees them pick up each little clue, and follow Lucky, trying to pin him down and get back their money, and of course also makes it different from the other entries in the series. This was a fast paced, quick (I finished it pretty much in a day) and fun read which I thoroughly enjoyed (as I did the earlier books in the series). I can’t wait to see what they get upto next, though it would seem the only book left in the series focuses once again on Maddy’s adventures (like Book 2).

This book was first published in 1949 and is being republished by Pushkin Press on 23 July 2019!

p.s. I’ve reviewed the first three books in this series (The Swish of the Curtain, Maddy Alone, and Golden Pavements) on this blog earlier here, here, and here.

Review: The Forest of Wool and Steel by Natsu Miyashita

My thanks to NetGalley and RandomHouse UK for a review copy of the book. This is a Japanese novel translated into English by Philip Gabriel (who has also translated Murakami).

The Forest of Wool and Steel tells us the story of a young man Tomura. As a high school student, Tomura was deputed one day to conduct a piano tuner, Mr Itadori to the school gym to tune the piano. Hearing him work, more specifically the sounds that he manages to produce, evokes in his mind images of the forest at nightfall, the forest being the one place where Tomura feels welcome and at peace. This experience affects him so deeply that he decides to train as a piano tuner, even though he has so far never played the piano, nor has much of a ear for music. Once he completes his course, he joins the same company where Mr Itadori works in Hokkaido, and it is here that we follow him as he learns from each little experience—attempts at tuning on his own, accompanying his mentor Mr Yanagi, and other senior tuners from the firm (including the not-so-pleasant Mr Akino), or simply from hearing performances, whether at a concert hall or in a home, as different players (clients) approach the piano differently and require different things from it. In all this, his quest is not simply to become a master tuner or a specific kind of tuner but to achieve the kind of sublime sound from his work that Mr Itadori had, and which inspired him to take up this course in the first place. Among his various clients are twins Yuni and Kazune who are sixth form students, and whose journey with the piano is in a way entwined with Tomura’s own.  

This book was an interesting read, and while nothing major happens—we are basically following Tomura through his everyday experiences, seeing him learn something new about turning though each visit to a client or each observation of another tuner—yet, at no point did I get bored or feel that the book was dragging. In fact, one feels as though one is learning with Tomura, experiencing each little lesson with him, on the quest with him to become good at his work. Throughout, Tomura is plagued by self-doubt wondering if he will ever be good enough, be able to get past the technicalities and achieve what he is looking for, revising at times, what he thinks his goal should be—this is something that I could (and am sure others would too) relate with because it is about trying to be the best that you can be at something you love, and in that, one does experience these feelings. For Tomura, besides questioning his own abilities, he is constantly considering who he is tuning for—the client, the audience, or perhaps, the instrument itself? Reading this book, something that will strike you throughout is how knowledgeable the author is, not only about the piano and music but about various nuances of tuning—humidity, whether the curtains in a room are open or closed, even the height of the stool of the player are as likely to affect sound as parts of the piano like its hammers and strings. We learn a little of the instrument’s history as well—and all of this knowledge flows naturally though the text, no information dump here. Another aspect which makes this book very pleasant to read is the images and sounds that are invoked when one reads it—Tomura is often thinking of the forest (he was brought up in a mountain village)—all very prettily described.  A pleasant read about the quest to be the best in one’s calling! (Also, it hardly feels like one is reading a translation.)

The book has won several prizes in Japan and has also been turned into a film.

The book releases on 25 April 2019!

#NetGalley #TheForestOfWoolAndSteel

Shelf Control #39: Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Wednesday, the 10th of April–Shelf Control day again! Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles. To participate, pick a book from your pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and share your links with me as well (in the comments) as I’d love to check out your picks!

Like last week, I am continuing with my theme of books set/written in the 1930s (which is my reading theme this month), and my pick for this week as you can see from the cover is Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, first published in 1930. Waugh originally wanted to call it ‘Bright Young Things’ but changed his mind as he found the phrase too clichéd.

What it’s all about: This book, set in the 1920s though written in 1930, is a satire on the ‘Bright Young Things’, post-World War I English society, a mix of innocence and sophistication. It tells the story of Adam Fenwick-Symes who seeks to marry Nina Blount, and parodies the conventions of romantic comedy. There are an assortment of characters all seeking new sensations–playing practical jokes, having wild parties, stealing policemen’s helmets (real life Wodehousian characters?). But behind the glittering surface lies darkness and vulnerability. This was Waugh’s second published novel.

Interesting coincidence(s): While picking this one for Shelf Control this week I was merely looking for books on my TBR from the 1930s, and didn’t deliberately go out and pick up Waugh. But it turns out this book has quite a few things in common with one of the books I’m currently reading, the book being The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell, a bio of the Mitford Sisters. Of course, Evelyn Waugh was a friend of Nancy Mitford, but this book is dedicated to Diana (Mitford) Guinness and Bryan Guinness (to whom she was married at that point). Also, in the book, I’ve just reached the chapter on the ‘Bright Young Things’!

So enough to make me want to pick it up, even if I didn’t otherwise!

Evelyn Waugh: Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was a writer, journalist, and reviewer of books. He attended Lancing College and Oxford. He wrote numerous works of long and short fiction (including Brideshead Revisited, Decline and Fall, A Handful of Dust, and Scoop), travel books, and memoirs. In fact, his fiction draws inspiration from events in his life. Satire and dark humour are among the themes/genres one sees in his works.

Have you read Vile Bodies? Or any other work by Waugh? Which one/s and how did you like them? Or if you’re planning to pick him up, which one do you plan to read? Looking forward to reading all about it!

p.s. All the info on the book and Waugh is from Goodreads (here) and Wikipedia (here and here).

#MurderousMondays: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

A couple of weeks ago, Mackey at Macsbooks started off a feature #MurderousMondays in which she shares her latest murder read. As she wrote in that post, murder mysteries come in various forms, cosies, paranormal, historical, futuristic, and contemporary of course, and like her I love most of them. Since I enjoy them so much and read murder mysteries very often, I thought of borrowing this feature. I may not post something under this feature every week, but it will appear pretty often.

This month (reading plans here) my reading theme is the 1930s, and I essentially have a set of books on my TBR which were written in the 1930s. So my pick for #MurderousMondays was also a book written in the 1930s, Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie. Published in 1937, this is the seventeenth in the Hercule Poirot series of books.

As the book opens, we ‘meet’ Linnet Ridgeway, an heiress who is refurbishing a country house she has just acquired—she is a girl who has it all, money, looks, brains. She claims she has no enemies but she has interfered in people’s lives which may have given rise to grudges. Her friend, Jacqueline de Bellefort, who has fallen on bad times but has so far refused to take any favours or charity comes to visit, seeking a job for her fiancé, Simon Doyle. Fast forward a little, and we see Linnet has ‘stolen’ Simon from Jackie and is now Mrs Doyle, on honeymoon with her husband in Egypt. We also meet a few other travellers who have come there on holiday, including Hercule Poirot, and a couple of people who we see have come from England and America to intercept Linnet, though we don’t know the precise reasons why. Jacqueline de Bellefort has had her heart-broken, and wants revenge, and follows the Doyles wherever they go, doing nothing, threatening nothing, simply being there. When the Doyles try to escape her by going on a Nile cruise, without making their plans known, she appears once again. What seems to be mere unpleasantness or annoyance takes a more serious turn when an attempt is made on Linnet’s life at Abu Simbel. While she escapes this, soon after, she is found dead with a bullet through her head (just as Jackie had once threatened) after an evening of much drama and confusion. But while Jackie had the strongest motive, she also seems to have a solid alibi; and there are also others on board who may have had reasons of their own to do away with Linnet. To add to the confusion, the travellers are joined on their return journey by Colonel Race who is in search of another murderer, travelling under an assumed identity. Are they the same or different? Does Poirot manage to catch his killer?

Abu Simbel
Source: Pepaserbio [CC BY-SA 4.0 (

This one is certainly on my favourites list of Poirot books both because of the plot and the setting. The setting in more than one way is interesting—first of course, that it is in Egypt, and takes us down the Nile. The four great statues of Abu Simbel staring down at one, imposing, awe-inspiring, and also unsettling for some, where some of the action takes place. The other aspect of the setting is that it is more or less is like a country house setting with a bunch of people (though here they don’t all know each other) in a common space, one of them most certainly a murderer, and one who strikes repeatedly. Then of course, there is the plot itself. While the bare plot is that of a rich woman who was murdered, there are many smaller plot twists and turns—most characters, it seems, have things to hide, some innocuous and others not so much so, which might well throw anyone (not Poirot of course), on the wrong track or off track. It was great fun seeing him unveil all of the secrets, and unravel the threads to get to the truth or truths since they are more than one. There is a hint of romance as well of course, and while some of it was guessable, there are surprises there as well. All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable read. While this was a revisit for me, I remembered the main plot well but not all of the many subplots, so I enjoyed it much more than I expected to.

There have been a few film and television adaptations of this one, including a 1978 version starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot; a TV version with David Suchet; and an upcoming version. There is also a hidden object game based on the book.

Have you read this book or watched any of the adaptations? How did you like it/them? Have you tried the game version? Any other murder mysteries that you’d recommend set in Egypt? Looking forward to your thoughts!