2022 Reading Challenge discussion

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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments This time aiming a little higher than last time (last year was 100)- so 9 books a month, 108 in total!.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments Authors
Male: 3
Female: 16


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments Places I "visited"

Mount Kailash
England (Peterswood-fictional)
New York (Lower East Side)
England (Shrewsbury Abbey)
India (Rajasthan, Delhi)


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments The first challenge of the year is to read the three books on my currently reading shelf which I didn't finish last year for one reason or other

1. Kartikeya by Anuja Chandramouli
2. Sophie's World by Joostein Garder
3. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust


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Susy (susysstories) Lady Clementina wrote: "This time aiming a little higher than last time (last year was 100)- so 9 books a month, 108 in total!."

Wow, wishing you the best of luck Lady C & a very happy New (reading) Year!!


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments Susy wrote: "Lady Clementina wrote: "This time aiming a little higher than last time (last year was 100)- so 9 books a month, 108 in total!."

Wow, wishing you the best of luck Lady C & a very happy New (readin..."


Thank you :)


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Blagica  | 12008 comments Wishing you the best of luck with your goal this year.


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments Blagica wrote: "Wishing you the best of luck with your goal this year."

Thank you :)


Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments # 1 Kartikeya: The Son of the Destroyer by Anuja Chandramouli
My thanks to the author for a review copy of this book.

This was a book that I was interested to read because its focus is Kartikeya, the older (though in some accounts younger) son of Shiv, the god of destruction and his consort Parvati. It is their younger son, the elephant-headed Ganesha who is more popular. In fact, I knew very little about Kartikeya except seeing his idol in the Durga Puja where he stands, with his mount the peacock, alongside his mother, brother, and other deities; a little from mythological shows on TV; that he is more revered in the South of the country; and the only story I’d really read/knew of before was really to do with Ganesha’s intelligence. So, of course I was keen to see what this would tell me of Kartikeya. The book tells the rather unique tale of Kartikeya’s birth, his early life at Mount Kailash with his parents, and the prophesy that it is he who will bring an end to the rule of the three asuras―Soora, Simha, and Taraka―over the three worlds and restore the king of the devas Indra to power. We are acquainted with his prowess in war, his compassion towards his “enemies” (some of them, anyway) and also, perhaps, some of the more infamous tales associated with him, which the author interprets somewhat more positively, as in keeping with his character, his infinite capacity for loving and being there for any that needs him, rather than a flaw as one might ordinarily view it. We are also told of how he acquires his rather loquacious mount, Chitra the peacock, at once fun and annoying, and his meeting with his consorts Devasena, Indra’s daughter and Valli.

Kartikeya is handsome, compassionate, and while a warrior, keen also to maintain peace. In fact his is the only rational voice in his family, his parents being more tempestuous and inclined to fly off the handle, much too easily for their own good. When in war, Devasena helps him see the less violent way to give the asuras their just desserts, but he doesn’t shy away from giving those that deserve it a worse end. Also he is not power-hungry like Indra, and in fact, prefers to leave it to others who he sees more capable of bearing it. It was interesting to learn how it happened that Kartikeya headed to the South but as another reviewer has also said, I would have liked to have learnt more of his adventures there. We are told that he endeared himself to the people there but not why.

What I enjoyed in the book was really the various legends and stories about Kartikeya and his family, though being mythology in its full-blown form, it does tend to get explicit, which I could have done without. While I knew of that the devas were indeed subject to the same failings as mortals, it was interesting that even the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva aren’t quite free of these. In fact, their lives aren’t all that very different from ours, affected by jealousy, anger, and unfortunately also, the women among them being at the receiving end of injustice. It in fact, even makes one wonder why the distinction between gods and mortals, when they seem essentially the same. Of the devas, Indra the king is a rather debauched, depraved and treacherous soul making one wonder why one so unworthy was ever made king (haven’t read enough mythology to know much of his story―more his misdeeds that anything positive). The three asura brothers are far better people, as while they may well have been responsible for much violence and pain, it is Indra that has provoked them into it with his own reprehensible acts. Not only that, the asuras realise that power or even the fulfilment of one’s deepest wishes brings with it unhappiness and discontent, not what one was seeking.

Chandramouli’s descriptions are vivid (even the gory ones, some of which send a chill up one’s spine) and her command over the language very good, though there were places where colloquialisms creep in (for instance Kartikeya “showing up” somewhere) which seem somewhat out of place in a mythological setting.

Three and a half stars.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments Challenge 2: I started a Five Findouters Challenge last year to read all the five findouters books by Enid Blyton and my childhood favourites - chronologically for the first time. In 2017, I read books 1-10. This year, I continue from 11-15

11 The Mystery of Holly Lane
12 The Mystery of Tally Ho Cottage
13 The Mystery of the Missing Man
14 The Mystery of the Strange Messages
15 The Mystery of Banshee Towers


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #2 The Mystery of Holly Lane by Enid Blyton
Findouters Challenge: Book 11. It’s Easter holidays again, and Bets and Pip are preparing to meet Fatty at the station as Fatty’s school breaks a week later than their own. Quite sure that Fatty will be in disguise again, the children get into a bit of a muddle when they mistake a Frenchman who is in Peterswood to visit his sister for Fatty but when the real Fatty turns up and is able to placate him with his impeccable French, he soon enough befriends the children. Meanwhile having no mystery at hand, the children decide to play the fool yet again, with Fatty taking Mr Goon in as a foreign lady who can read palms and Larry posing as a window cleaner doing some practice “shadowing”. But of course, their tricks lead them into a new mystery once again, when an old, nearly blind man in Hollies, a cottage on Holly Lane is robbed of all his savings, and the very next day, all his furniture is mysteriously stolen at midnight. Fatty just happens to be there to retrieve a window-leather Larry had dropped when cleaning the windows at Hollies, though he doesn’t till the next day catch on to what’s been happening. Once again, the children are in a race against Goon to try and beat him out at solving the mystery, where the chief suspect ends up being the old man’s granddaughter Marian, who did in deed look after her granddad very well but was the only one who knew where his money was and mysteriously vanished just after the money did.

This was one of my favourites as a child since I enjoyed the very creative solution to the mystery or at least part of it very much and though I hadn’t forgotten it, still enjoyed reading it very much. The part with Mr Henri convalescing, sitting by the window at his sister’s house had a bit of a “rear window” touch to it. In some books in this series, I found myself finding fault with the children for the kind of tricks they played on Mr Goon, who isn’t the most likeable of people, no doubt but doesn’t always deserve how far they go. But in this one, my reaction was quite the opposite. Mr Goon does a rather detestable thing with Buster, having him falsely accused and captured and it was fun watching how Fatty got back at him. In fact, I enjoyed seeing Mr Trotteville, who usually comes across as quite stern, approving of Fatty’s “revenge” and having fun at watching it play out. On the foodmeter again, this one rates fairly high with plenty of scrumptious teas and icecream, cake and macaroons, and Buster getting his favourite dog biscuits topped with potted meat. This was also one where Chief-Inspector Jenks, now Superintendent Jenks takes the children out for a treat with plenty more food. As far as solving the case was concerned, in this one it was Fatty who really did pretty much everything, catching on to the important clues and solving everything at the end, besides of course having a very good time with his disguises. So a really fun read which I thoroughly enjoyed (though modern readers may find some things non-PC about this one).


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #3 All-of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
What a wonderful, endearing, lovely read this was! The adventures of five little girls (Gertie, Charlotte, Sarah, Henny and Ella) aged between four and twelve living with their mama who looks after the home, and papa who runs a junk shop in the East Side in New York City. I shouldn’t perhaps say adventures, for really this is the story of their daily lives, the daily happenings, chores, trips to the library, the little ups and down, the joys and sorrows that life brings every day―but that in itself is an adventure and I loved every bit of it.

The book opens with the girls heading off to the library on Friday, the day being ‘library day’ for them. That was enough to have me love it! But I loved it for so much more. For one, that the girls and their parents find happiness and contentment in what little they had; their means may have been modest but they lived life to the fullest within it and had their little pleasures with trips to the library, to the market, celebrating various festivals, even a day-out at Coney Island. This is something I feel one needs to remind oneself every so often, in a time when we are always wanting more no matter how much we have and are never satisfied―one doesn’t need to have much to be happy, just to appreciate all one has and enjoy it to the fullest rather than spending all one’s time brooding over all one hasn’t. (This aspect was very reminiscent of the Family at One End Street, and something I loved about that book too.) The other thing about this book I really loved was how rich it was in terms of showcasing culture. The beautiful detail in which Taylor describes Jewish festivals and observances makes one feel as if one is there with the family, watching the celebrations as they happen, listening to the sounds, and smelling the food (almost tasting it, even). And then of course the people themselves―none of the girls are really naughty as such, mostly well-behaved but they are all very real, very human and very likeable and I loved them all.

I was so thrilled to learn that this is a series of books and there are four more I haven’t read. Really looking forward to these.

It wouldn’t do to not mention the illustrations by Helen John which I also really liked very much.

A delightful read- if I could have rated it more than five stars, I would have :) I know I will keep coming back to this one often.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #4 The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon
This was my first read by the author, and a book I read of course because it was on my TBR, but also for a challenge, part of which required me to read a book/ author with ‘Q, X, or Z’.

Our ‘hero’, Richard Temperley arrives at Euston Station at 5 am after an uncomfortable train journey on which though he had upgraded his ticket to first class to be able to get some sleep, he was unable to as his co-passenger snored. So sleepy and not in the best of moods, Temperley takes up the porter’s suggestion to use a hotel smoking room to catch up on some sleep. He steps out of the room to make some inquiries about his luggage, and on his return a beautiful young lady runs past him. In the smoking room he finds his only other companion is the snoring man from the train. But when Temperley settles down to sleep, he notices something amiss, the man is no longer snoring. He’s been shot! When the police arrive on the scene they find a red ‘z’. And thus begins the mystery of the ‘z’ murders. Temperley has quite obviously fallen for the beautiful young lady, who is quite obviously on the police’s list of suspects. He determines to get to her before the police do, and soon enough finds himself on the trail of the murderer. Meanwhile other ‘z’ murders take place, seemingly unconnected, and save for one (which happens in front of us), with no visible motive. How does it all connect, and how is the young lady (Sylvia Wynne) connected with it all?

This was a book I ended with mixed feelings about. I enjoyed the writing, and some of the dialogue, the sort of banter between Temperley and DI James, the little insight we get into Temperley’s mind working (more so at the start when the effects of fatigue are obvious), and the idea of the mystery certainly. Temperley is the hero and a reasonably bright one, but the author makes him fairly human and fallible, not beyond making mistakes, another thing which I liked. The Inspector and his sergeant(?) Dutton were again characters I quite liked, since while they may well have humoured Temperley, cut him a lot of slack even but they were clearly some steps ahead of him at most times. I wished they had a stronger role in the latter part of the story.

However, while this wasn’t a “whodunit”, I would have still liked the mystery to be “solved’ at the end by the Inspector, or Temperley even, but instead much of the answer is revealed (towards the end of course) but through a conversation of the “villain” himself and his accomplice (and that too before they are tacked down), who we “meet” in a manner of speaking fairly early on. Also, I wasn’t entirely convinced on Temperley’s reasons for not wanting to work with the police from the start or at least not doing what he did some way in (specifying this might be a spoiler) earlier on. It was the same for the murderer’s explanation, his explanation made sense, but I wasn’t convinced by the entire thing. But that said, the author did manage to create a fairly sinister image of him. The ending again, partly because of the way the denouement or at least explanation for the “villain”’s actions came about, and partly because it felt almost like an end of a romance/adventure film (a touch silly even), rather than a murder mystery was a tad disappointing. I wouldn’t have actually minded the end if the mystery aspect had ended or at least been revealed differently.

Nevertheless, I do have a couple of other books by the author on my TBR and I am still going to be reading them.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments Random Acts of Kindness (Part I) by Victoria Walters
This was a set of the first four chapters of this book that I received through Netgalley.

In what promises to be a delightful and heart-warming read, this set of chapters introduces us to Abbie Morgan, a twenty-eight-year old Londoner heading to the small town of Littlewood where she is to live with her sister, Louise, having been made redundant and also broken off with her boyfriend. Pretty much as soon as she arrives there and enters the café where she is to meet Louise, she experiences an act of kindness―her lost bag is returned to her by complete strangers, something that takes her by surprise, for no one in London would have done such a thing. But with it, she is introduced to life in Littlewood where people look out for each other, are ever willing to lend a hand, extend random acts of kindness, and now that Abbey is part of Littlewood, and at the receiving end of kindness, she must continue the tradition and do her own bit of kindness for someone. Besides Abbey, other new arrivals at Littlewood, Ezther and her daughter Zoe, who have just come in from Budapest, and were in fact the ones who restored Abbey’s bag, also experience their own share of kindness. Everyone it seems, newcomer or resident, and irrespective of any personal troubles, is drawn in by its infectious atmosphere, and ready to do their act of kindness.

This was a really enjoyable and pleasant read for me. I loved the picture of life at Littlewood that one gets from these chapters―the pace may slower, and there may not be all that one gets in a metropolis, but the warmth and concern in its people and from them, in its atmosphere, makes life a much pleasanter prospect. One is just getting to know the characters and their backstories and the brief meeting was enough to get me interested in knowing what’s going to happen next, how things will turn out for each of them (since they each have personal troubles to work through, problems to face), and how the Littlewood atmosphere will work its magic on their lives. I’m definitely looking forward to the next instalment/s.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #5 Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts by Anuja Chandramouli
My thanks to the author for a review copy of this book.

This is the fourth book I’ve read by Anuja Chandramouli, and while the first three I read were mythology, and a combination of mythology and fantasy, this one is purely historical fiction. Now I must confess that as is the case with Kartikeya, the other book by Chandramouli I read earlier this year, Prithviraj Chauhan was a character I knew very little of when I started the book―I knew he was a warrior king of course, but the only real ‘story’ I knew of him was that of his ‘romance’ with Princess Sanyukta, and one reference I same across in the context of the tale of Alha Udal (which I only read as a picture story―and really only finished now when I started this book) where he is presented as the ‘enemy’ of our heroes and indeed not in very positive light, with even the story with Sanyukta being given a different spin. So anyway, back to this book, I was really glad to actually read his story, which this book tells, pretty much starting with his birth, his life as a child, his education, his reign, wars, loves, and of course his end. He was a child for whom much glory but also great sorrow was portended, and in his story we see how the astrologers’ (one in particular, really) predictions played out.

From the blurb at the back of the book, the impression one gets is that this is a story of Prithviraj of course but also that his story with Sanyukta was the main focus. But this is not really so, the focus of the book is Prithviraj and his story with the Sanyukta legend only forming a small, though important part of it. This was something I actually liked about the book rather than holding against it. It gave a complete picture of the king’s life and deeds rather than focusing just the few legends one most often hears about him. I also liked that the author was able to present a quite good picture of the time as well―the various kingdoms and fiefdoms, the petty and more serious battles between them, the ‘politics’ of the time and of course, the threat and invasions from outside in the form of Muhammad of Ghazni and Mahmud of Ghur. One sees the essence of what was also to cause trouble in a much later age, the Kings attaching more to their petty fights and refusing to aid each other against threats from outside (even allying with them at times) bringing about not only their supposed enemies’ downfall but also their own. Another thing that I really liked about the book was that Chandramouli presented the characters, Prithviraj as well as others as human beings, and not ‘heroes’ in the storybook sense of the word. Prithviraj has several good qualities but he is not beyond having shades of grey and black even. We see his youth and impetuosity, which leads to differences with others older than him, his mother among them. Other characters too make good decisions and bad ones, but they are presented as human with failings and strengths. In fact, the only character who seemed to really have his head on his shoulders was his uncle Kanha, an unusually wide man. Even Prithviraj’s enemies when one comes to think of it, while presented, and naturally so, from Prithviraj’s perspective, don’t come across as outrightly evil (except some, anyway). Also, that the author has put in some research into writing this book is evident from the descriptions of the politics of the time, the alliances and battles, and various relationships but I won’t go into issues of accuracy since I haven’t got much knowledge of the time period, but I did notice a few variations from the Wikipedia account of Prithviraj (I glanced through but didn’t read thoroughly) and the Alha Udal picture story/comic (probably I shouldn’t attach as much to this one).

The book of course has Chandramouli’s characteristic vivid descriptions, which I enjoy reading but there is of course, as would be expected in a book which has its fair share of war, plenty of blood and gore. While most of it was justified, I still cringe a bit at the references to excreta, which while made sense in some cases, felt unnecessary in others.

A couple of things that I felt would have made the book better for the reader were one that the author should have included a map of the region which she is talking of which would have made the picture a lot clearer. Also she should have included one or more family trees explaining the various kingdoms and relationships as while one does get familiar with Prithviraj and his more immediate family pretty much from the start, when it comes to other branches, and the relationships between them, it took me a bit of time and some rereading to get my head around it.

This was overall a pretty good read for me―though it took a little time to really get into the story, once I was into it, I really enjoyed it even overlooking the things that I didn’t like so much about it. Looking forward to the author’s other historical fiction title that I have on my TBR- Padmavati!


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Blagica  | 12008 comments Hope you had fun getting lost in pages this first month of the year!


message 17: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments It was slower than I wanted (in terms of the amount I wanted to read) but all good fun! February seems to be turning into a historical fiction month from the books I have on my TBR that I need to read sooner than later- some I have for review, and other I selected for challenges.


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Susy (susysstories) Lady Clementina wrote: "It was slower than I wanted (in terms of the amount I wanted to read) but all good fun! ..."

That's what matters!
Hope February will be as much fun!!


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Blagica  | 12008 comments As long as you are having fun that is what matters!


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #6 The Light in the Labyrinth by Wendy J Dunn
My thanks to NetGalley for a copy of this book for review. This one I picked because it was set in Tudor England, Henry VIII’s court to be specific, and told through the eyes of young Catherine ‘Kate’ Carey, daughter of Mary Boleyn, and Anne’s niece.
Kate Carey is disgruntled with her life at home with her mother and stepfather, Will Stafford, perplexed at why her mother married so much beneath her, and why she has to stay home with her new step brother and sister while her brother Henry is at court. When finally, she gets permission to go to court, she finds life there completely unlike what she had expected. Danger and treachery lie at every step, every unguarded word, every friendship even, can in the blink of an eye spell doom. For a young girl like Kate, despite her position, the court isn’t the safest of places either (this wasn’t something I’d realised from the other books I’ve read set in Tudor England). Life isn’t much rosier for her aunt the Queen, as Kate also finds for Anne hasn’t yet given the King his heir, and her past ally Cromwell is now her enemy awaiting his chance to bring her down for they no longer see eye to eye. As she navigates through the court in the last five months of Anne’s life, Kate has to grow up all too soon, facing truths of her own life, and supporting her aunt, who she loves very much, and who loves her in turn through the very heavy trials that lie ahead, the very heaviest one among them.

I thought the author did a great job of telling Anne’s tale from Kate Carey’s perspective, and gives us a credible portrayal of the world of Henry’s court through the eyes of a naive fourteen-year-old. Kate is really only a child when she first arrives―a typical adolescent with dreams and also her share of tantrums (of a kind) but once at court she must already start facing truths she had been protected from so far, and face the often ugly reality of life. But on the positive side for her is her love story with her future husband Francis Knollys, who she also meets at court.

Cromwell in this story is also the villain of the piece, certainly like some portrayals I’ve read of him (unlike the more positive image that Hilary Mantel has painted in her books) – but one realises in this as in so much historical fiction (or even non-fiction, for that matter), so much depends on perspective―the same person can well be a hero or a villain, depending on whose story is being told.

I also enjoyed the author’s take on Anne Boleyn herself. We see her as a strong, and courageous woman who may have been arrogant, and certainly ambitious but as one who did love her husband, and who wanted really to do something for the country once she was Queen. I also liked the somewhat “feminist” interpretation that the author gave to Anne’s character which was as much responsible for her downfall as were the conspirators plotting to bring her down.

This was a really enjoyable read for me. I wonder why it is classed as YA though―besides of course the fact that it is written from the perspective of a young adult. The fact that it spares us some of the gore (all it cannot), and leaves some things in the shadows didn’t for me necessarily make it YA. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction generally, and fiction set in the Tudor period in particular would enjoy this one. Great read.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #7 I am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Book 4 of the Flavia de Luce series, this was actually the third I’ve read since I haven’t yet got my hands on book 3. In this one, it is Christmas time at Bishop’s Lacey, and Colonel de Luce, in even more dire straits has decided to let out Buckshaw to a film crew. To her surprise the famous actress Phyllis Wyvern has heard of Flavia (her success as a detective previously), and they strike up something of a friendship, Ms Wyvern seeming to understand Flavia more than others do. But before long there is a murder. But unlike in previous books, this one has happened when half of Bishop’s Lacey is at Buckshaw for a performance of scenes from Romeo and Juliet for charity, and they’re pretty much camping there since they’re snowed in. The police arrive on the scene, of course but it is Flavia who once again catches on to the most vital clues. Meanwhile Flavia is also laying a trap from Santa Claus who she is convinced exists from something that happened with her Christmas ‘wishlist’ the previous year.
This was another enjoyable instalment in the series for me. The mystery itself was interesting and one where I didn’t guess the murderer but not as complex as the previous one I read- The Weed the Strings the Hangman’s Bag―though there were plenty of secrets, and complex relationships for Flavia to weave through. For me, though in this series, more than the mystery, it is Flavia’s character, her voice, and indeed her antics that I enjoy the most, and on those counts this book didn’t disappoint at all. There is as usual plenty of chemistry, and lots of literary references- great fun. Feely and Daffy her sisters actually showed they were slightly human in this one! Can’t wait to read the next one.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #8 The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters
In this, the seventh of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, one night during Matins a young boy quite literally bursts into the chapel, and in pursuit is a mob from the village convinced that the boy, a musician and entertainer, has committed robbery and nearly murdered someone. Abbot Radulfus is happy to give him sanctuary and Brother Cadfael who is soon convinced of the boy Liliwin’s innocence has forty days on hand to clear his name. But the case is far more complex than a robbery in a house, where a wedding celebration (of Daniel Aurifaber) was underway. Things in the Aurifaber household are far from simple, and there is plenty of tension in the air aside from the added problems the robbery and attack on Walter Aurifaber have brought about. The matter becomes even more complicated when the Aurifaber’s rather nosy tenant who is concerned much more with others’ business than his own is found murdered, obviously connected with the original robbery and attack.

Brother Cadfael find himself having to wade through many complex relationships, secrets, and tensions in reaching the solution to this one. I enjoyed the atmosphere as always and the “feel” of the times, as always. But more than the mystery itself, it was interesting to see things play out in the Aurifaber household―the new bride trying to get a foothold in “her” home, Daniel Aurifaber, the handsome young heir juggling more than he can handle, and his spinster sister Susanna finding that she might be ousted from the only position she had, managing the household while Walter, their father is only concerned with the loss of his wealth and the old matriarch, Juliana, now over eighty still struggles with her temper. One gets caught up in their stories, wanting to see how things will turn out for each of them since all those who have a grievance genuinely do have a point, and if one person “wins”, the other will have to “lose”. Meanwhile Liliwin’s name must be cleared, and while some abbey members (Brother Anslem among them, who is happy to coach the young performer) are welcoming, Brother Robert the prior can’t wait to get rid of him. The denouement was quite a surprise, though the how the person turned out at the end was to me more a surprise than the who or why. Another engrossing read.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #9 Mary Kate and the School Bus and Other Stories by Helen Morgan
I read or rather reread this one for the ???th time yesterday as one of the challenges I’m taking this year with the group A Book for All Seasons on goodreads involved reading a chapter book I enjoyed as a child. Actually it was more about reading the first one, one remembered reading as a child but as I didn’t really remember, I picked one which I enjoyed reading very much and read countless times. This is also one of very few non- Enid Blyton books I read as a child.

Mary Kate and the School Bus and Other Stories by Helen Morgan, illustrated by Shirley Hughes is a little collection of 7 chapters/stories about a little girl Mary Kate who is has just turned five and is about to start school. The stories aren’t of adventure or fantasy but of simple everyday happenings that can be as exciting as an adventure. The stories in this collection include Mary Kate getting her first ride in the school bus before she formally starts school (which turns out to be an interesting little adventure on a very snowy day), Mary Kate starting school which sees her getting so many new things (from her uniform to school supplies) that she thinks it’s as good as a birthday, her first day at school, shopping with her uncle Jack, losing her first tooth, a day of things going wrong, an early morning walk and picnic with her aunt Mary, and finally her first sports day at school. While I like all the stories in this collection, a few of my favourites are the one where Mary Kate ends up going on an early morning walk (at half-past three) with her aunt to watch the sun rise, and enjoy the peace and beauty of the woods, also ending up having a picnic breakfast, and the other―two connected stories of Mary Kate preparing for her first day at school, receiving the various things she’d need from her relatives (coloured pencils, and pencil cases etc.) and setting down in school with her own name tag and making a friend. What I love about these overall, are that they are such simple, gentle stories which give you a sense of calm and contentment, and which show you how much joy and indeed excitement of a kind there can be in the routine happenings in life, if one is open to enjoying them rather than waiting for “special” things or “big” happenings. While these are essentially children’s stories, there are things once can enjoy about them as an adult as well. I also love the illustrations by Shirley Hughes. A lovely revisit.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #10 Rani Padmavati: The Burning Queen by Anuja Chandramouli
My thanks to the author for a review copy of this book.

Padmavati, the legendary queen of Chittor who chose to commit jauhar (self-immolation) rather than fall into enemy hands when their kingdom fell is the focus of this book by Anuja Chandramouli. While in a sense a historical figure, Padmavati or Padmini is also a legend for historical accounts of her are few. Chandramouli’s books traces her story from about the time that she is married to Rawal Rattan Singh of Chittor with whom she falls deeply in love and who reciprocates, to her life at Chittor, which in many senses is far from perfect to the final trial when Chittor is under siege and Rattan Singh is forced to consider the most difficult decision of his life, surrendering to the enemy. Chandramouli’s version of this story was somewhat different to the one I’ve heard but it comes across mostly as more realistic than stuff of myth or legend. Padmavati is near perfect, beautiful beyond description, with a disposition to match, blessed in the love of her family and in her husband but having to contend with others in Chittor, her husband’s first wife among them who have nothing but ill-will towards her. Rattan Singh is torn between his principles and quest for fairness, and the conduct expected of him. Alauddin is ruthless, the consummate villain but one who does operate by his own principles, a hate of traitors (no matter who they may be benefitting) among them.

This was a fairly enjoyable read for me―for it makes Padmavati’s story a little more complex, and a little more realistic than the legend―it isn’t about love and lust and honour alone, but also about hate, jealousy, betrayal, and conspiracy. In fact, Alauddin’s part in the whole tale as it comes across isn’t half as black as the ordinary version―his conquests more related to his ambitions for empire. And Chittor’s fall was not a consequence of Alauddin’s might but circumstances that were beyond Rattan Singh or his people’s control. For me (as compared to the other historical novel by the author I read earlier this month, Prithviraj Chauhan), the characters in this one felt somewhat (though not entirely) more black and white than ones with many shades. Padmavati herself in particular I thought came across as a little too perfect, particularly in her conduct, without the slightest reaction to any hate, any hostility she faces. In comparison, Rattan Singh perhaps feels a little more human. Rattan Singh’s first wife I think was well fleshed out, one who let her feelings get the better of her (saying more would be a spoiler). Like other reviewers have also said, I felt the writing in this one was not of the same quality as some of her other books. Also, if I compare it with Prithviraj Chauhan again, that story felt like it had more substance to it as well, perhaps a result of a stronger historical basis than for Padmavati who is more a subject of legend. Still, it was a quick and interesting read. Three and a half stars.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #11 Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett
I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
I picked this one because the description was on the same lines as another book I read last year―Wings over Delft (which was of course in a whole different time period and setting, and really a completely different story as well). This one tells of sixteen-year-old Mary Adams who arrives in London to work as a scullery maid, a job she isn’t really cut out for, but which is the only option available to her as she has lost her previous situation. But along the way, she catches the eye of a group of young pre-Raphaelite painters, many of whom wish to paint her. When one of them convinces her to be his model, Mary begins a double life of sorts, maid by-day, and artist’s model whenever she is needed. Her ‘second’ life takes her into society, parties, meetings with famous artists, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Millais among them, and she is soon the talk of the town. Soon enough she begins dreaming of a better life, and the path to achieving it seems open before her. But when trouble creeps into her life in more than one form, she must take some difficult decisions which might take life in a completely different direction.

I found this book to be a fast-paced, engrossing read, pretty much from the start. Mary was a likeable character, coming across as a believable sixteen-year-old, and one finds oneself rooting for her throughout. The other characters too develop realistically rather than as ‘storybook’ ones―people one likes may not always turn out as one expects them to (although that doesn’t necessarily make them ‘bad’ people, just people), and friendship and help at times comes from completely unexpected quarters. And that indeed is what can be said about the plot and the story as well. I enjoyed the world of art that the book takes us into―although it doesn’t go into it in depth (I couldn’t help comparing it on this count with Wings over Delft); while it creates the atmosphere of the world of art/artists, it remains a light read. What adds to the atmosphere the book creates, and lends it more authenticity, is the combination of both fictional and historical figures (the artists, their muses) in the story which was another element I really enjoyed about it. While I do like reading books on art etc. (the Great Artists Series, especially since it gives one a good introduction to different artists and their works, styles, etc.), the pre-Raphaelite movement was not one I was familiar with, and reading this led me to look into it, and the paintings mentioned in the book. But it is not only art, poetry and poets, and Greek mythology are also elements around which the story is woven. But at the centre of it all is Mary’s story of course, which I found interesting throughout, and it would be fun to see what the next leg of her adventures leads her into (we already know where!).


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #12 Hang on to Your Whiskers by Geronimo Stilton
I received this book for review via NetGalley.

I first noticed these books almost 10 years ago when I visited somebody and noticed them on their children’s bookshelves. Though I wanted to, I never really got down to reading one but when I saw this one offered through NetGalley, I simply couldn’t resist. In fact, I’ve even gone and read this out of turn (Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood was the NetGalley book I should have technically been reading since I am trying to read them in the order I get them).

So for the book now. Geronimo Stilton is an Italian book series featuring the eponymous hero who is the publisher of the Rodent’s Gazette. In this one (alternatively titled All Because of a Cup of Coffee) in a diner, a gorgeous mouse spills coffee on Geronimo and he is instantly in love (despite having a series of accidents just after). So much so, that he ignores his staff not working, forgets some of their names even, only dreaming of his love, and doodling hearts. He buys flowers, cheese-flavoured chocolates, but Stephanie von Sugarfur is simply not interested. In fact, she already has an admirer. To win her over, Thea, Geronimo’s sister convinces him that he has to be ‘famouse’ so they, with their cousin Trap, and little nephew Benjamin set off on an adventure to find the world’s eighth wonder―the Valley of the Cheesettes on Butterfly Island.

This was a really fun read. One could almost describe this as a picture book, with illustrations aplenty. The characters are cute and fun as well. Geronimo might well be a journalist/newspaper publisher but he isn’t all that keen on adventure (he scared of pretty much everything)―circumstances and his friends drag him into it. Thea (who I thought great fun) is his opposite―adventurous, a biker, and even flies her own plane. The story was pretty enjoyable, including the end. Besides the story itself I loved the little touches like the names of the characters and cheese references, besides also the maps and things. Since the ‘author’ of these adventures is supposed to be Geronimo himself, there is a nice little bio of him at the end describing him as a Rattus Emeritus of Mousomorphic Literature and Neo-Ratonic Comparative Philosophy and winner of the Ratlizer Prize, among other things. There are also maps of the New Mouse City, Mouse Island, and the offices of the Rodent’s Gazette, where the adventures are set. (In the e-version I got though, these were a little blurry, especially Mouse Island). Still I enjoyed the illustrations (these were B&W―I think the ones in the books are coloured), idea, and story. A quick and entertaining read.


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Blagica  | 12008 comments You are doing great! Hoping March is a smashing success for you.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments Blagica wrote: "You are doing great! Hoping March is a smashing success for you."

Thank you :) So far am part of the way into Hazel Wood which is intriguing me quite a bit. Also reading Vanity fair with another group here.


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Blagica  | 12008 comments Very cool. I am glad you are enjoying your reads


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #13 The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Children’s Publishers, UK for a review copy of this book.

I’d been noticing this book all over and found the cover very intriguing (though I didn’t know much about the story except that it had to do with fairy tales) so when I found it listed on NetGalley I put in a request. This is the story of seventeen-year-old Alice who with her mother Ella has been living a roving life―since she was a child, every few months, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, they must move, for bad luck finds them everywhere they go. But something changes and they make an attempt (albeit not a very good one) at setting down, but then Ella’s mother goes mysteriously missing. Realising that this has something to do with a book of rather dark fairy tales Tales from Hinterland, which her grandmother Althea Proserpine wrote many years ago, her only book which was somewhat successful but is not wrapped in mystery, Alice sets out to track her down. In the process she is helped by her classmate/friend(?) Ellery Finch who also happens to be a huge fan of the book, and practically knows it from cover to cover.

So to start off with, I must say I felt the tiniest bit of disappointment because somehow or other I was expecting this one to be in a historical/old-fashioned setting but it wasn’t but that wasn’t much of a bother once I actually started reading. I enjoyed the writing overall. The story is told from first person perspective, but to me Alice’s voice didn’t always come across as that of a seventeen-year-old, sometimes she seemed much older (though I wouldn’t say that about her actions/behaviour―that was very much a teen).

I really thought the author was very imaginative with the whole atmosphere she created and the plot itself as well. She weaves in references/tributes to known fairy tales but the ones she creates are very much her own and while much much darker I think than our more common ones, I found them interesting to read. Even outside of the fairy tales, when Alice and Ellery are tracking down her mother Ella, the atmosphere is dark, creepy (very creepy), and I found when I put down the book for the day, I wasn’t left feeling the most comfortable, so that certainly was a job well done. The plot again I enjoyed, it had me interested enough to want to keep reading on to find out how things turn out―what really happened to Ella, and what Alice and Ella’s connection is with the world in Hinterland. Some reviewers seem to have found the initial part of the book a little slow, but I didn’t think so. In fact, I thought it did its job well building up the anticipation and the excitement towards what the magic world would be like, what its secrets were, or whether indeed there really was one. I did think it dragged a bit at a point or two because I remember thinking why they still hadn’t got there. As far as the second part was concerned, while I found it interesting reading, to see how things played out, I wasn’t entirely grabbed by it, though the end was satisfying. The ‘mystery’ element in the plot or rather what the actual connection was between Alice, her mother, grandmother and the Hinterland world, I didn’t guess at all.

Alice herself I felt very neutral towards except at some points where she rather annoyed me. For instance, her constant digs at Ellery about being rich and privileged do get a bit much when it is clear and she is aware that his life is no less complex than hers, and while may be privileged in one way, is far from it in others. But why I didn’t really ‘like’ her I did want to find out how things would turn out for her. Ellery, though he wasn’t perfect, was someone I felt more sympathetic towards.

So overall, a pretty good read―there were many things that I really enjoyed about the book, but it wasn’t a five-star read for me.

I notice from the goodreads page that there is a sequel planned plus the Tales from Hinterland themselves, the latter I know I want to read―the sequel―I’m curious about that as well.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #14 The Mystery of Tally-ho Cottage by Enid Blyton
Findouters challenge: book 12. I started the Findouters challenge last October and have been reading these books in order since. Last month I took a bit of a ‘break’ from it as I was reading mainly historical fiction. But now I’m back to it, and plan to finish the series this month. The Mystery of Tally-ho Cottage was a book I last read many years ago, probably still in school, but not after unlike some of the other books in the series so all I really remembered about it was that it had the Larkins and the Lorenzos but who they were or what the mystery was about I didn’t remember at all. When I began reading though, the solution came back to me, and is certainly among the more creative and fun ones in the series. The story begins more or less the same, though this time Pip and Bets, Larry and Daisy are all in Peterswood while Fatty has been away for two weeks of the Christmas holiday. So, the opening is of course, the four and Buster (who Pip and Bets have been dog-sitting) setting out to the railway station to meet Fatty, due to arrive that day. There they or rather Buster get into a quarrel of sorts with a couple they later learn are the Lorenzos (tenants at Tally-ho Cottage)―the latter having accused Buster of ‘attacking’ their poodle Poppet. The matter settles down as the Lorenzos are leaving town and Poppet is to stay with the rather nasty caretakers of the cottage, the Larkins. Soon it emerges that the Lorenzos have stolen a valuable painting and taken off, and there is once again a mystery to solve. Meanwhile Ern is back in Peterswood staying with his other relatives the Wooshes, who happen to live just next to Tally-Ho giving him an opportunity to keep an eye on Tally-ho for Superintendent Jenks has forbidden Fatty to get involved.

This was another fun entry in the series with, as I wrote already, a pretty creative solution. As far as the ‘investigations’ are concerned, Ern takes a bit of a lead, building a tree- house and involving his twin cousins Liz and Glad in the process. (While the children are friendly to him, their attitude but for Bets is once again the same as ever Pip (who won’t make a noise in his house for fear of his strict parents) accusing Ern of not being brave, and almost all the children believing him to be loose lipped). Still, he catches on to some important things though it is Fatty and the others who interpret them. Also as usual, it is Bets who points to the all-important clue, unwittingly though in this one and Fatty catches on putting all the pieces into place as a result. But none of this before a couple of adventures in ‘disguise’, including as an ‘Indian’ (these bits are a bit exaggerated and stereotypical, but in good fun) to lead Goon a merry dance, as well as a midnight adventure. But yes, none of the planting of false clues and such, only playing tricks on Goon a little. Fatty also uses his mimicry and ventriloquism skills but to entertain rather than to ‘detect’. On the foodmeter, this one rated just ‘ok’―there was eating and drinking (scones, cocoa, gingerbread, cake) but it didn’t seem overflowing with food as some of their adventures are. A fun and entertaining read overall which I quite enjoyed.

A few of the original illustrations are available on the Blyton Society Page here: http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/bo... (but it has a review with spoilers so avoid that if you haven’t read the book but plan to).


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #15 The Mystery of the Missing Man by Enid Blyton
Findouters challenge: Book 13. The thirteenth of the findouters books begins as usual but also somewhat unusually as well. The children are home again, this time for Easter break, and Fatty to everyone’s surprise is slimming (or attempting to slim, at any rate) for he has been selected for the tennis team at school and while he can hit his shots, running around the court with his current weight isn’t the easiest of things. Meanwhile the Trottevilles have visitors, a friend of Mr Trotteville, Mr Tolling a coleopterist is in Peterswood for a conference and brings along his daughter Eunice who turns out to be the one person Fatty can’t manage to get the better of. Meanwhile his attempts at disguising as a tramp (only for fun and in his shed) lead to his discovering that there is another mystery for the findouters to solve. There is a man the police are looking for, an ace of sorts at disguises and the police are certain he’s in Peterswood. With the fair in the village, and also the conference there are plenty of places to hide. The children are of course trying to solve the mystery before Mr Goon, yet again, but also in a way that Eunice who annoys them doesn’t get wind of what’s going on.

Reading this book, I noticed so many things that were different from the usual findouters books. There are the usual elements of course, school holidays, a mystery, a touch of boasting from Fatty, disguises, Mr Goon and Buster, and food of course. But for one, this book was the first in which I noticed the children drinking coffee―so far (If I haven’t missed it), it was mostly cocoa/chocolate in winter and endless lemonade in summer, so while ages aren’t mentioned in this one, one begins to realise they’re growing older. And then the mention of perms which quite surprised me for while the children weren’t talking of fashion in this case, this wasn’t something that pops up in their vocabularies in general. Then of course, there is Eunice herself, the first time someone who manages to ‘boss’ Fatty around a bit, and who he can’t seem to escape or get the better of. So even he isn’t invincible. Still, while she can be overbearing, no doubt, she’s got some fun in her as well and turns out far better than one would expect from when the book starts off. One sees more of Mrs Trotteville’s lighter side as well in this one. And yes, their equation was Goon is a lot different in this one as well―he still calls Fatty, that ‘toad of a boy’ and doesn’t want his interference, and Fatty still plays a trick or two on him but there isn’t that outright unpleasantness between them that is apparent in many of the books.

Anyway back to the mystery itself, this was again one that I’ve read many times before so though I was reading it after a long-ish gap and had forgotten some of the details, I did remember the solution. While not one of the most interesting, the solution was still fairly so, and one which I as a result enjoyed. This time around though, it was Fatty who worked it all out by himself, literally all of it. The denouement too, come to think of it was very unlike the rest of the series, considering (well that might be a spoiler of sorts)… On the foodmeter, this was certainly much above average. With all that slimming and talk of it, it is only to be expected that Fatty eats a lot more than usual. So yet another enjoyable one, though it seemed very different from the rest of the series.

The original illustrations are available here (but beware, there is a review with spoilers): http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/bo...
(The site mentions the illustrations are by Lilian Bucanan from the first ed, but there are several on this page that I have in my ed and those are by Mary Gernat).


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #16 Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell’s last novel is incomplete, but has enough for us to be able to tell how things would end. The is the story of the Gibsons; Mr Gibson, a country surgeon, is a widower with a young daughter Molly. When Molly begins to grow older, Mr Gibson feels that someone is needed at home to look after and ‘protect’ her which he can’t do with his busy schedule, being away from home much of the time. As a result, he ends up rather abruptly marrying a widow Mrs Kirkpatrick, who runs a school, and has a daughter of her own, about the same age as Molly. Mrs Kirkpatrick isn’t a stereotypical stepmother, but isn’t a loving or caring mother either, more interested in her own social position, connections, whims, and comforts. She doesn’t have any ill-feeling towards either her daughter or her step-daughter, ensures that both of them have the same comforts (irrespective of their wishes in the matter), but is also a scheming woman, willing to do or say anything to advance her position through her daughters, and not above snooping and such to do what she has to. Her nature makes the atmosphere in the house uncomfortable, something Mr Gibson chooses to ignore because he wants to keep the peace in his house. Meanwhile Cynthia turns out to be someone Molly gets along with as far as the former lets her, but Molly (and the reader) know she has much to hide, never getting to know the real Cynthia. The two are friends but a study in contrasts as well, Molly, honest, straightforward, kind and caring, and Cynthia with plenty of secrets, nice enough, but superfluous in her feelings and relationships. As their stories play out, we also meet the other inhabitants of their village Hollingford, the ‘family’ (the Cumnors who live at the Towers) and to whose daughters Mrs Gibson was once governess, the much older family of the country squire Mr Hamley whose gentle wife takes a strong liking to Molly, their sons Osborne and Roger (of whom Mrs Gibson is very keen that Cynthia marry Osborne being the Hamley heir), the local gossips, and others.

Unlike Gaskell’s novel North and South (which was the one I last read) this one doesn’t deal with social issues but with more personal themes, relationships―those of parents and children, of siblings, of stepparents and stepchildren―and of people themselves, Mr Gibson for instance, taking this rather abrupt decision of marriage without really thinking of who he was marrying; Mr Hamley, with his traditional view of things; Roger Hamley who is a man of science who’s work the Squire can’t quite understand, and Osborne Hamley the elder poetic son, who isn’t turning out the man his parents expected him to be, and has secrets of his own. And then this book also looks at theme of family and of upbringing, of the importance of the love one gets from one’s family, the kind of relationship one shares, which may lead to relationships where there is trust and communication, and those where this may not be the case, leading to much misunderstanding and some pain.

This is very different from North and South and also in some ways from Cranford, though if one were to class them, this one is closer to Cranford. While it deals with family, relationships, and individuals at a personal level, as people, it does get us to think about issues like tradition/modernity, class, social mores, the position of women, even. My reading of this book this time around was rather haphazard. Having started this book in serial with a group here a couple of months ago, things got in the way, and I fell behind, and then read what I had left in bits and pieces, a chunk at the beginning of this month, and the rest now, so my thought aren’t quite coherent (which probably reflects in my review). Still I found this to be a pleasant and interesting read for me. I enjoyed that she kept her characters human, no (pretty much) outright ‘heroes’ or ‘villains’. The contrasts between Molly and Cynthia in fact made me thing of the contrasts between Becky and Amelia in Vanity Fair which I am also reading just now, and where some of those same issues, nature, upbringing, class, and so on creep up. And as I already mentioned, the ‘incomplete’ indeed didn’t feel so much so. An enjoyable read overall.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #17 Bookworm by Lucy Mangan
My thanks to NetGalley and Random House, UK for what turned out to be a quite lovely read for me. I’d also like to add a thank you to my goodreads friend Susan for mentioning this book, else I mayn’t have come across it.

Bookworm quite simply can be described as the author’s memoirs of her childhood reading, and it is that, but also so so much more. The author, Lucy Mangan, takes us through her reading from the days she was read to, to when she began reading herself, through till her teens, and eventual transition into grown-up books. From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Mog the Cat, Babar the Elephant to Topsy and Tim, Miffy, Milly Molly Mandy, Rumer Godden, Blyton, Beverley Clearly, school stories, dystopian literature, All of a Kind Family, Dr Seuss, Dahl, Narnia, Nesbit, William, Burnett, to Sweet Valley High and Judy Blume and more present-day books like the Harry Potter books and Hunger Games books―this has it all, and much much more (a real feast of children’s literature). And it isn’t just about the books themselves and the joy that they brought Mangan as a child but also the things about life and people that various books taught her, or rather opened her eyes to, and of course how she relates to or appreciates these as an adult. She also writes about children’s literature itself, how it has evolved over the years, about illustrators and their visions of/approaches to their work, and also different genres and how they developed.

Starting this book, the first thing that caught my eye (and probably does every other reader’s) was the little illustration at the beginning of each chapter―a cat, a teddy bear, a school hat―this changes with every chapter and relates in some way to it, and I thought it a delightful touch. I also really enjoyed the writing―Mangan is not only witty, she has a knack for describing the books themselves and her feelings about them just perfectly. One can “feel” her love for them (and for bookish spaces), and how she is enraptured by the books, the characters, the stories, and the illustrations (the section on illustration was among my favourites). One can’t help being affected by her enthusiasm (of course one is probably already enthusiastic about books to start with). Also reading the book, I couldn’t help but reminiscing about my own childhood reading, in which there was quite a bit (though not all( in common with the author’s―mine was a lot of Enid Blyton like hers (but I have a grouse about that part that I’ll come to), Burnett, Heidi, Alcott, Topsy and Tim, among others, though while the author went through a Sweet Valley phase (these were books I’ve never read though I remember other children in my school reading them), my phase around that time with a similar type (conglomerate-produced) of book was Nancy Drew―I read pretty much all I could get my hands on, the original books, the files, even the supermysteries (that featured both Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys in one), and I also read related series like the Hardy Boys books, and Dana Girls. (Writing this down I realise that this probably has to do with my love for mystery/detective stories in general, which extends to my current reading as well.) But not to get carried away, my point was her sentiments were ones I could really relate to, much of the time. Another point on which I agree with the author is the needlessness of “updating” books to make them more relatable, editing out period specific features―I mean if books had to be relatable, why at all do we need to learn about other cultures or parts of the world, they aren’t things we see and do in our daily lives, are they? Why learn history at all?

The Enid Blyton chapter in this book was the one that I was looking forward to the most and that was the one that turned out to disappoint me a little as well. While I agree with her response to many of the criticisms against Blyton, the fact that she finds Blyton unreadable as an adult (reiterated elsewhere in the book) was something that I just couldn’t digest. I loved EB as a child and I still do, I still read her and love her books (may be I am more critical of them and notice things that I mayn’t have as a child), so does my mother, so does a friend who only began to enjoy her as an adult and loves Ern and Fatty and Snubby and Barney as I do (and this is a very well read someone), and so does a whole group of EB fans of various ages I am part of on Facebook. Her Findouters mysteries (so many of them) have solutions I still find interesting, the imagination she shows in her “fantasy” books like the faraway tree books is something that always delights (and amazes), and her quite good knowledge of nature and animals reflects in some of her fiction series (the ‘Adventure’ books, for instance, or the Adventures of Pip for that matter) as well as in her non-fiction. And she doesn’t deal with only light themes, one only had to read, say, the Six Cousins books to see that. Yes, I do realise this is the author’s personal opinion but I couldn’t help but be disappointed by it (kind of like the author’s own reaction to Richmal Crompton’s opinion of her William books―not to compare the books themselves of course).

But anyway, at the end of it all, this is a great book for Bookworms in general and lovers of children’s literature in particular. Like me you will probably have added quite a bit to your TBR at the end of it, so be prepared to do a lot of book shopping. But also be warned, there are some spoilers along the way (not in every case, but you are told once in a way which characters, er… pop off, etc.) so in case there are books you’re planning to read from those she mentions, may be you’d want to skip a para or two. Four and a half stars!


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #18 The Case of the Curious Bride by Erle Stanley Gardner
The first of my theme related reads this month (for my reading plans and “theme” for the month see https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2...). One couldn’t possibly have Books and Lawyers as a theme and not read Perry Mason! This, one of the earlier titles in the Perry Mason series, sees yet another beautiful young woman seeking Mason’s help. When a certain Helen Crocker shows up at Mason’s office one morning seeking advice for a “friend”, it doesn’t take Mason and Della long to find out who her this friend is or that Helen herself is a new bride. But once found out, she does not come clean and seek Mason’s help deciding to deal with her problem, a blackmailer, on her own. But when the blackmailer ends up dead, and she is the prime suspect, she has to turn to Mason once again, who finds that aside from the DA, he has a formidable opponent in the form of the young lady’s millionaire father-in-law, who will go to any lengths to get his son free of who is believes is a gold-digger.

This was once again a very exciting and fast-paced Perry Mason mystery. As usual, before I could even get my head around what was happening, or what the matter was all about, Mason had already begun to lay the foundations for the case, and spinning a web in which he sews up the prosecution as always, also solving the mystery in the process. Through I couldn’t work out how each element would come together at the end, in this one it was pretty clear that even he doesn’t know how exactly things will play out and takes all possible steps/actions, or lays all possible traps which can go on to help him later. As usual I enjoyed the courtroom scenes where the slightly overconfident Deputy District Attorney in this one John Lucas (No Hamilton Burger this time) doesn’t realise what he’s getting himself into, poor chap. In this one, Mason’s client is a little more straightforward than usual (never having read these in order, am not sure if this is because it is earlier in the series), but I was almost wondering whether she really did do it, considering all that she said. It did have the same sort of “feel” as hardboiled detective stories but perhaps not as strong as some of the others. Enjoyed reading this one.


message 36: by Lady Clementina (last edited Apr 04, 2018 06:47AM) (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #19 Geronimo Stilton: The Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye by Geronimo Stilton
I received this book for review through NetGalley. This is the first title in the Geronimo Stilton series featuring the eponymous mouse (I could hardly call him a “hero”, but he is one of sorts) and characters now familiar from the book I read earlier, Geronimo’s sister Thea, their slightly annoying cousin Trap, and nephew Benjamin. In this one, the somewhat cowardly Geronimo is taken out to lunch by his sister Thea who informs him that she has found a map to a treasure island and intends to go find it, and expects that he Geronimo will accompany her. She also decides that cousin Trap will join them since he knows all about sailing. So off they go on a rather long sea voyage to the island where the treasure lies. But the journey isn’t the only adventure, once there, they must interpret the map and find the treasure. Geronimo isn’t the most adventurous of mice but in this one, he did quite well, once he got there.

This was another quick (just took half an hour or a little more) and enjoyable read. As far as the adventure itself goes, this one definitely had much more substance than the previous book I read, in which they seemed to be in-and-out of their destination in pretty much the blink of an eye. I thought the end pretty good fun too, with a nice surprise element that I wasn’t expecting. This one, as the other book I read, was replete with rat/mouse and cheese references which add a cute touch to the whole book, but still it felt as though it went a tad overboard with these but not so much as to be annoying. I enjoyed the illustrations and maps, and also in places how the book plays around with the font to make it more effective. I’ve been reading some criticism of these books, as being not worth the hype, etc., and it not being clear why children are crazy about them to the extent that they are. While I couldn’t really answer the second question, I thought (yes, I’ve only read two so far) while they aren’t books that I absolutely adored or which floored me, they are creative, light, fun, and entertaining reads, so they have value as that. Good fun.


message 37: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12008 comments A book is a dream that you hold in your hand. I hope that April brings you many more five star reads. Do you have a stand out book so far this year?


message 38: by Lady Clementina (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments Blagica wrote: "A book is a dream that you hold in your hand. I hope that April brings you many more five star reads. Do you have a stand out book so far this year?"

Thank you. March wasn't the greatest reading month for me (in terms of number) but I'm hoping to make it up in April- my favourite so far of the "new" (to me) books I've read is All-of-a-Kind Family. Also enjoyed Bookworm and the Light in the Labyrinth.


message 39: by Lady Clementina (last edited Apr 05, 2018 08:55PM) (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #20 Theodore Boone by John Grisham
Another of my “theme”-related reads this month. I haven’t read Grisham in a long time so it was nice to pick this one up, and while in his usual genre of legal/law-related books, this one is also different since it is YA. The eponymous Theodore Boone is a thirteen-year-old eighth grader, with a great academic record, not much into sports for health reasons, and he is also a lawyer! Well not quite, but still enough of one to be able to give out legal advice to his friends and classmates and handle cases at animal court. His parents are both lawyers (real estate and family law, respectively), and as a result Theo knows his way around the courts, has a judge for a friend, and aims to be either a trial lawyer or a judge (more so the former). When their small city of Strattenburg sees its first murder trial in years, Theo is obviously excited and keen to follow the proceedings, the first day of which his government class is taken to observe as part of a school field trip. But there is a twist in the tale when Theo finds out something that can turn the case on its head, but the secret is not entirely his to tell. How will he handle it, is justice served at the end―you will have to read on to find out.

One of the things that stood out to me in this book as a YA title―especially comparing it to some of the others that I’ve been reading, or have read descriptions of―was how “normal” Theo and his family were. I mean I know and am one to say that there isn’t such a thing as normal, but perhaps as close to the ideal normal as it gets, and this I found refreshing because while I agree books ought to be representative, be the kind that people can relate to, others that I’ve been reading had me wondering why there wasn’t even one “ordinary” character who didn’t seem to carrying a whole lot of baggage―this book is more balanced that way, it has a range of children, those with problems (broken homes, single parents struggling to bring them up, poverty, drugs), and those without. I also read a criticism in another review about how the kids in this book were not like kids that age, and while I can’t quite compare it with real children (since I really don’t know many), it does seem different from the more popular pictures of children that age.

To the actual book and characters now, I found this an interesting and enjoyable read with a likeable hero as well as other characters. I loved how Theo has his own “office” and advices clients of his own, with useful information, and the kind that he at his age can believably handle. The case itself was pretty interesting, and I enjoyed seeing how things would turn out at the end, I mean one knew what would happen, perhaps, but not how it would come about. The only thing I perhaps missed was an element of surprise or twist in the plot (which one does see in many Grisham books), which would have made it a little bit extra special. But this was a good read, and it will be fun to see what Theo gets upto in his next adventure.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments My March review and reading theme and plans for April are here:

https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2...


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments New poetry related post on my blog: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2...


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #21 The Mystery of the Strange Messages by Enid Blyton
Findouters challenge: Book 14. This is the second of the findouters cases to involve mysterious letters, the first being the Mystery of the Spiteful Letters. This time though, the target is not random people around Peterswood but a certain Mr Smith against whom they are directed and Mr Goon to whom all the notes are addressed. The notes are anonymous and composed of words/letters cut out of newspapers and magazines. Nobody is seen leaving the notes but they appear all over Goon’s house. Goon immediately suspects Fatty and goes to warn off the findouters but this turns out to be a blessing in disguise for our five who have no case to solve (as usual) in the holidays. Goon too soon realises that it wasn’t the findouters who are playing a trick and enlists Ern’s help―actually hires him to help. And so the Findouters start off on another exciting mystery, this one with plenty of hidden secrets and also more to it than first meets the eye. Like in the Mystery of Tally-Ho Cottage, Ern takes on a more active role in this one and does himself proud.

Before I get to my reactions to the actual book itself, I have to rant about the updated eds. Totally my fault, but somehow, I bought a new edition (2011) of this one, something I actively avoid doing usually, and every change they made―pointless in my view (except may be one, but even that didn’t make sense) jarred. For instance, Fatty always called his parents ‘mother’ and ‘father’―which has been changed here to ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’―why? Do children today not know what ‘mother’ and ‘father’ means, or is it so hard to understand that perhaps in the past, people addressed their parents differently? Elsewhere ‘daily woman’ becomes ‘cleaning lady’―again something that needn’t have been changed, anyone can easily look it up―isn’t that the point of books (or one of the points, at any rate) that you learn new things― new words/expressions, new things about other places and cultures, about your own culture/ country, about the past. Such pointless changes simply ruin the book for me, it loses its sense of time and place, which is part of its value. A third change that stood out was all the references to ‘fat boy’ which is what Goon does call Fatty are changed to ‘big boy’―this I get why it was changed but for one, it wasn’t used in the sense that it is understood today (something else that children today can’t understand, apparently―if we go by the changes), and two, it was meant to be nasty, which ‘big boy’ simply doesn’t convey. Grrrr….

Apart from the edition, Blyton herself made a bit of a mistake in this one, with Mrs Trotteville claiming that she’s been living in Peterswood from nineteen years, when she and her family only moved here in book 2 of the series―and if it were indeed nineteen years since then, our findouters ought to have been in their thirties now 

But anyway, now finally the story itself. While the updated text, as I said, was jarring, the story itself was interested. The opening was different from the usual (one or the other of the children having to be received from the station, holidays with nothing to do)―this one begins with Goon puzzling over the anonymous notes and takes off from there. The mystery was one of the more interesting ones with as I said a little more complicated than it seems at first and it was fun to see how Fatty worked the whole thing out. Of course, it was him that put together everything at the end. Bets this time has some good ideas but one major clue comes from Ern and his attempts at writing por’try (I always forget that all his poetry begins with ‘The Poor Old’ or ‘Pore Old’ ) and Ern indeed has a very active role in this one, helping the findouters and Fatty when he is needed the most, and proving himself brave, loyal, and clever. The solution was among the more interesting ones and was rather enjoyable. There was disguising of course, though only once, and actual investigating by all the findouters. On the foodmeter, this one was average, there was food, plenty, but not overflowing. Sid and Perce’s antics are brought in, and with it some laughs, though they themselves don’t make an appearance. A fun read though spoiled for me by the edition (which I must get rid of asap and replace with an older one).


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #22 Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom
This second in the Matthew Shardlake series was actually my first time reading this series and I found that it certainly deserves every praise that it has received and more. I actually finished this book early last week but for one reason or other haven’t gotten down to it until now.

Greek Fire or dark fire as it is also called was something I first came across in the Tradewinds Caravans game, and it is this mysterious weapon of the past, something that belongs to the realms of alchemists, and almost falls in the same category as the philosopher’s stone, that forms one of the themes of this mystery. It is 1540, and Henry VIII is in the process of contemplating a divorce from his fourth wife Anne of Cleves, and courting Katherine Howard. Thomas Cromwell, who was responsible for making the match with Anne of Cleves is as a result in trouble. The only thing that can save him is this claim by a small-time alchemist and his brother that they have discovered the secret of the famed Greek Fire. After some demonstrations, Cromwell has passed on the secret to the King who waits to see it with his own eyes. But before that can happen, the alchemist and his brother have begun to act strangely and then they end up brutally murdered. Cromwell enlists the help of his one-time protégé, Matthew Shardlake to get to the bottom of the case and to help Shardlake assigns Jack Barak. Meanwhile Shardlake has an equally complex case of his own on his hands. Though he doesn’t usually do criminal work (these were days when accused were not allowed representation), a client as charged him with the task of helping his teenage niece accused of brutally murdering her much younger cousin. But when asked she will say nothing, not what happened, and not even plead her innocence. Her uncle however is convinced she cannot be guilty, and soon, so is Shardlake. Her refusal to plead however means she must face the press soon, a horrifying prospect. But a brief respite with Cromwell’s intervention means Shardlake at least has some time to look into the matter. The trouble is, it isn’t very much, in barely two weeks, he must get to the bottom of both matters and time doesn’t wait for anyone.

This was as I said already an excellent read for me. The setting, and sense of time and place it gives one was just so well done―this book doesn’t just have Tudor England as a background or setting it really takes you there, the sights, the smells (particularly the smells), the turmoil after the monasteries were dissolved (though this is some time after this happened) and the ill-effects this had on the many poorer segments of society who were dependent on them, the things that were filtering in from the new world, sugar banquets and new fruit. And it doesn’t confine one to any one segment of society but takes us from the houses of the nobility to the poorest shacks in town, to prisons and to the establishment of alchemists and apothecaries. While human beings and human nature may be quite the same, one certainly is much more thankful that we have come some way from how things were back then. But it also takes us into the issues facing people themselves, from facing the courts and prisons as an accused to voicing one’s opinions particularly on religious matters, and navigating the politically charged world not knowing when the tides will turn, or indeed for some at least having to live in perpetual fear of the whims of the King himself―Sansom not only shows us this atmosphere but to an extent makes us experience it as well. But beyond all this, this is a mystery series, and not one but both of Shardlake’s mysteries here have aspects we don’t see coming. This book though nearly 600 pages long kept me hooked throughout, never dragging, rather always keeping me reading on and not wanting to put it down. Can’t wait to get started on my next Shardlake.


message 45: by Lady Clementina (last edited May 03, 2018 03:48AM) (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments # 23 Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity Fair, the novel ‘without a hero’ aptly opens with our two very different heroines leaving Miss Pinkerton’s school/establishment heading to very different destinations, and perhaps destinies. Amelia Sedley, the daughter of a well-off merchant, well-liked by all her fellow students and teachers is heading home to a comfortable life, and marriage to the son of a family friend, the very handsome George Osborne, while Rebecca ‘Becky’ Sharp who has been an articled pupil. Teaching other students in exchange for her own board and keep, is to be governess in a family after spending a few days of rest in Amelia’s home. But fortunes have other things in store for them both. Not only as their circumstances different but the two girls themselves are as different as chalk and cheese―Amelia is simple, straightforward, good-hearted, but just a little bland, while Becky, who has had to and must continue to make her own way in the world, has a grudge against the world at large, is manipulative, and looks at nothing but her own advantage in everything she does, and needless to say, as a result is the more interesting of the two, even if not the most likeable. Fate of course has something different in store for Amelia whose father loses his money, which leads to George’s father literally disowning their family and breaking off the match with Amelia. Becky on the other side takes up her new appointment and begins to use her brains, charm, and manipulation to work her way up the social ladder. Things aren’t that easy for her either for there as many miscalculations along the way and her plans too backfire. But while Vanity Fair is the story of these two young women and the people in their lives, it is really the story of Vanity Fair itself, representative of society at any point in time where money, power, position, and status are valued but not the human person for himself or herself, where social success is, for most, the ultimate measure of achievement, where greed, hypocrisy or opportunism are part of daily life, and where life is certainly not ‘fair’ not does everyone necessarily get their just desserts.

I read this book in instalments over two months (March–April) with the Victorians group here. While thinking back over the characters for this (long overdue) review, I realised that there wasn’t one whom I really liked, though they were all quite human (even the angelic Victorian heroine Amelia finds her voice once in a way), and there were times when I felt sorry for one or the other characters. There are times one is cheering on Becky, others when one disapproves of her actions, times (much of the time for me) when Amelia’s ostrich-like attitude to some things, and one-track mind got on my nerves, yet there were moments when I cheered for her too; Dobbin too gave me cause for both annoyance and cheer; and so did Rawdon Crawley, who I found myself feeling sorry for at one point, as well as Old Sir Pitt, who was otherwise despicable at most moments. The story has plenty of twists and turns, with unexpected incidents in some ways happening even up to the end and was in itself interesting to follow, but more than that I think, the value of the book lies in its look at Vanity Fair itself, for while the times may have changed and many other facets and aspects about society, human nature with respect to it remains the same, the same ‘false gods’ (money and power) continue to be worshipped and sort, and the same wiles and machinations employed to get them. It sees life and people as it is and they are, not always in black and white, and not always fair. While I can’t say as such that I loved this book, I certainly did appreciate it and the picture that it was trying to paint (rather than a message being given of any sort), and the discussions with the group made it a far more enjoyable experience than it would otherwise have been.


message 46: by Lady Clementina (last edited May 03, 2018 10:44AM) (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #24 Fathers in Law by Henry Cecil

#24 Fathers in Law by Henry Cecil
Fathers-in-Law was another of my ‘theme’ reads in April. Henry Cecil’s novels usually have issues related to the law (from murder to blackmail to also the more mundane things) but presented always in a humorous tone, and focused on loopholes and absurdities, and with their share of eccentric characters. In April in fact, I did a little author profile on him and his works for my blog: https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2...

Fathers-in-Law was the eleventh book by him that I read (not counting his autobiography), and the story in this one is concerned with English adoption law (in the 1960s, when this was written―not sure how things stand now). A childless couple Mary and Bill Woodthorpe adopt baby Hugh, the natural mother having claimed that the father knows nothing about him, and probably does not want him. To speed up the adoption process (as Mary is so desperate to do), their lawyer makes sure the case is heard by a milder judge (not one who cuts corners, but who doesn’t insist on prolonged inquiries which often prove unnecessary) and while that fetches them what they want in the shorter run, in the long run, this turns out to spell trouble. Not only are they targeted by a blackmailer, who they, with the police, manage to deal with quite cleverly (not before a few missteps), some years down the line, it turns out that the natural father wasn’t unaware of the child but loved him very much, and the reason the mother gave him up was the father was in prison on a fairly serious conviction. His claims of innocence are however, suddenly proved true, and now out of jail, he wants his child back. So begins a new legal battle between the Woodthorpes and the natural parents, both sides genuinely loving the child and both sides having merits in their claims. So who gets little Hugh?

This book was as Cecil’s others written with humour pretty much throughout but with its theme, it does feel somewhat ‘heavier’ than Cecil’s other books. Both Mary and Hugh’s natural father, Randolph are very deeply attached to the child, much more so than their respective spouses/partners, and one can’t help but feel for both as one or the other is sure to be hurt by the outcome whichever way the matter goes. It doesn’t help that one takes to all of the characters (except perhaps the blackmailer), and all of them, with the said exception, behave decently throughout. But, the path to getting there has its moments of laughter, including the testimonies and cross-examinations in court (particularly of the ‘experts’). I tried to think of the wildest solution to the whole matter that came to mind, and well, that wasn’t what happened but the solution that the judge reached at the end I thought was probably the most sensible one, and while the party that didn’t get the child would have been disappointed, in the long run, things would have improved for them, if things play out the way the judge predicts they would. The book certainly did keep me reading to find out how it would end, which made it an enjoyable, even if not entirely the light read that I’d expected.


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #25 The Mystery of Banshee Towers by Enid Blyton
Findouters challenge: Book 15. The final book of the findouters series, this marks the end of my findouters challenge which I began last October. This one opens a little differently from the rest as while the children are setting out to receive Fatty as usual, this time around he comes by bus rather than train. There is no mystery waiting for Fatty to solve at the start, and as the childrens’ parents want them out of their hair, they suggest the children go on expeditions to different places around Peterswood. Meanwhile Ern has also come to the village, staying once again with Mr Goon, as one of his sisters has the measles, and this time around he’s brought with him his very own dog Bingo, who not only the children but also Buster takes to instantly. Ern gets into a bit of trouble with Mr Goon and moves into Fatty’s shed thereby also getting the time to join them on their expeditions. So almost Famous-Five-like, their first ‘trip’ takes them to Banshee Towers, an old house that now houses a gallery of sorts for sea pictures. Ern and Bets are awfully keen on seeing these and it is their interest, and Ern’s keen eye that gives them the first hint of mystery. On their very first trip they find some mysterious and rather unfriendly characters in Banshee Towers, the owner included, and also that a banshee actually wails there at a certain hour. Not only that, there is a mysterious trap door, and also a secret path from the outside, which Buster and Bingo have discovered, When Fatty and Ern return a second time to investigate, Ern notices something wrong with one of the paintings he was admiring the previous day. While the other children are not inclined to believe him at the start, Bets has noticed the same thing, and so begins their ‘investigation’ to discover what’s really going on in Banshee Towers.

This one lacked quite a few of the ‘trademark’ elements of the findouters stories, Fatty not disguising himself even once, and the children not pranking Mr Goon (the second bit was more welcome, because as I’ve been noticing this time around, they do tend to unnecessarily bother him, and do interfere with his work), except one little trick at the end. Mr Goon too, though wanting the findouters out of his hair, isn’t at his worst, and by the end is even ready to extend a friendly hand to the children, and one begins to wonder if this will work, but of course…. In this one also, the children are in no direct ‘competition’ with Mr Goon to solve the case, which makes things somewhat smoother. But this doesn’t mean Fatty doesn’t get to use some of the tricks he’s learnt or that the mystery is any the less dangerous or exciting, or the villains, any the less menacing. Ern, as has been the case in the last few titles in which he appears, plays a much more active role, and shows that he too is very bright (he’s proved himself enterprising too before―the children unfortunately still have that somewhat arrogant opinion of Ern’s brains not perhaps being as good as their own), even if not as much so as Fatty, who as usual pieces together the puzzle and works out the answers in what seems like no time at all, leading Chief Inspector Jenks to remark that they would both make good policemen. In fact, he can’t wait for Fatty to grow up and join the force. Ern’s is still at his portry as well, of course, but for a change, his pome does begin with ‘The poor old…’ . The mystery while not overly complex did have some interesting elements to it, and it was nice to see how Fatty worked out some parts of the puzzle. On the foodmeter, this was above average, though the children don’t go to the tea shop as often as usual, there are teas, toffee, and biscuits in the shed, breakfasts and suppers for Ern, and also some treats for Buster and Bingo. Buster and Bingo I thought made a fun pair of crazy dogs who also played their part in the mystery, besides snaping away at poor Goon’s ankles. This was a fun read and a good close to the series, though if one reads the last lines, it reads like any entry in the series anticipating another mystery, though in this case, no other comes. Which means of course, that one simply has to start back at the beginning 


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Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments My review/ wrap up of the Five Findouters series:
https://potpourri2015.wordpress.com/2...


message 49: by Lady Clementina (last edited May 03, 2018 10:54AM) (new)

Lady Clementina ffinch-ffarowmore | 476 comments #26 The Innocent Man by John Grisham
My second Grisham for April, and also my non-fiction read for that month (Both the Grishams I read in April, in fact, were different from his usual, the YA Theodore Boone, and this, non-fiction). The Innocent Man I guess would be classified as ‘true crime’ and this was more or less my first foray into the genre (unless Arthur and George, and Conan Doyle’s version of it counts). This book deals with the conviction of and many years spent on death row by an innocent man, Ron Williamson, of the small town of Ada in Oklahoma. Williamson as a child is an excellent baseball player and seen by most as a future star but when his career doesn’t really take off, let alone him achieving any success, he turns to alcohol, drugs and women, not being able to really even hold a job very long. He faces serious charges on more than one occasion. But in the early 1980s, his life is turned upside down when he finds himself a suspect and the accused in murder of a young waitress close to his house, a woman he’s not even met. Along with him, his friend Denis Fritz, a school teacher also finds himself a co-accused (simply for being Williamson’s friend and having taken a trip out of town with him), and on the flimsiest of evidence, and the testimony of snitches who tell any story that will get them an advantage, Ron ends up on death row and Dennis with a life sentence. In prison, Ron is fighting not only for his freedom but also his sanity, for already disturbed before he has even landed in prison, his stay behind bars drives him deeper into depression and into losing his sanity. His is not the only such case as we see, there are many innocents languishing in prison, even on death row, some from the same town because of a mix of circumstances, from inadequate legal help and financial resources to the authorities themselves, who while not as such corrupt (as one would generally understand it), aren’t much concerned with a fair trial, but more so with securing the conviction of people they believe are guilty (not necessarily based on any evidence).

This book was for me a very disconcerting read. Just the thought, no, in fact proof that, not one or two but many many innocents end up in prison, even on death row as a result of botched up investigations, poor legal aid, and trials that are far from fair, is disturbing. That there are investigators who seem to begin with ‘gut feelings’ and then towards collecting evidence or so-called evidence that can convict the person they have these feelings about (conveniently overlooking what doesn’t help them) rather than thoroughly investigating the case, and even judges who aren’t as concerned with ensuring a fair trial as they ought to be, and all this in a system which supposedly proceeds on the presumption of innocence (while in fact perhaps it is in a sense a presumption of guilt in practice)―what can this do but shake one’s faith in the system (The blurb behind my copy puts it more aptly, ‘It is a book that will terrify anyone who believes in the presumption of innocence…’). Williamson was far from the ideal person, had made many mistakes, committed crimes even; he was a mess, but did he need to suffer as much as he did because of it? The journey is no easier for the victims’ families who believe the culprits have been caught, punished only to be told that these weren’t the ones after all. What are they to believe? What if a mistake was made again the second time? How do they know? And even if the suspect's innocence is finally proved, does his or her life ever get back to ‘normal’ again? Not everyone will stop looking at them with suspicious eyes, what reparation can they get for a life that can never be ‘normal’ (besides all of what they've been put through)? While this book was about a case in the 1980s when aspects of evidence weren’t as strong or developed as today (particularly, no DNA testing), one can’t help but wonder that even this could well be botched up just as things back then, though may be in a different way. Reality can certainly be far scarier than a horror story.

The book, I thought, was well written―it certainly held my attention throughout (I have read reviews that this one is not as good as In Cold Blood but since I haven’t read that one I can make no comparisons), and yet, while I wanted to read on to see how things would turn out, there were times I just put it aside because I kept feeling so unsettled reading it. But then that was probably the point of bringing these cases before us, to show us how far from perfect this system can be and is, and how it can turn lives upside down for no reason whatsoever. For that alone, it is worth a read.


message 50: by Blagica , Cheerleader! (new)

Blagica  | 12008 comments You are doing great! I hope May is a fantastic month filled with books and sunshine!


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