Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by MC Beaton

A dreary morning makes for bad lighting but reading this book has cheered me up. It’s a delightful romp about a poisoned quiche entered in a village cooking contest. Agatha Raisin, recent incomer from London, can’t cook to save her life and had in fact bought said quiche from a bakery, sets out to put things right.

Warning: grumpy main character; lots of microwaved meals; might make you think twice about retiring to little English village

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The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

This book was just an absolute delight to read.

Can I leave it at that? And then, you know, you can go run out to your library or bookstore or open your Amazon app and just get this book already?

Not enough?? Really…

Ok then. It has cats.

A clan of cats living in a neighbourhood in Delhi. There is Miao, a wise Siamese; the warriors Katar and Hulo; Beraal the queen; the kitten Southpaw and many more. And their lives are interrupted by a young kitten with amazing powers, she who is able to send out her thoughts and feelings so powerfully that it disrupts and unsettles any animal who senses it.

And of course cats can link up with each other. Because of course cats can do that.

“Mews reached only so far; scents and whisker transmissions formed an invisible, strong web around their clan of colony and dargah cats. But linking allowed them only to listen to each other. A true sending, where the Sender’s fur seemed to brush by the listener, its words and scents touching the listener’s whiskers, was rare.”

I don’t have a cat. I have two kids and I figure that’s enough for me to handle. But I am more of a cat person than a dog person. I like dogs too (well most dogs at least) but there’s something about cats. I don’t think you need to be a cat lover to read this book but it certainly would appeal to cat lovers!

Also, good news, there is a sequel and it’s called The Hundred Names of Darkness. 

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A Flynn

“Queasy as I was from the bumping carriage, with the stink of horse and mildew in my nose, with the gibbet and the meat pie and the innkeeper’s rudeness still vivid, the Jane Austen Project no longer seemed amazing. What I’d wanted so badly stretched like a prison sentence: wretched hygiene, endless pretending, physical danger. What had I been thinking?”

I’m so thoroughly pleased with this book. I hadn’t really heard much about it but was attracted by the title when browsing the library’s ebook catalogue. It’s an intriguing storyline, going back in time to retrieve (i.e. steal) a manuscript from Austen herself. One that wasn’t published in her time. Rachel and Liam are well prepared and well researched. Rachel is a doctor and has worked in disaster areas and Third World countries. But nothing could really prepare her for this.

But eventually, with mishaps often skirted by their use of their back story – that of a brother and sister who grew up in Jamaica and who have only for the first time stepped into England – they get used to life in the 18th century. It’s especially hard for Rachel – she’s the doctor but has to let Liam play the doctor (of course women couldn’t be doctors at the time). The plan is to befriend Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, and somehow weasel their way to Jane.

The chief danger of time travel, aside from the obvious physical risks to travelers themselves, was of somehow changing the past so as to decisively alter the future you’d come from, setting in motion some version of the grandfather paradox.

Time travel is always such a fascinating idea. What do their actions change, for example, the simple hiring of their staff, or when Rachel saves a young climbing boy from a horrendous future by paying his employer and letting him live in her household?

I wasn’t that big a fan of Rachel at first. She seemed a bit tactless at times but she eventually grew on me. I like the way Flynn brought the Austen family to life, especially Jane, sharp and intelligent, an acute observer initially wary of Rachel.

I tend to stay away from any Jane Austen spinoffs (if that’s the right word) but I really enjoyed this one. I mean of course every time travel story leads to many many questions and possibilities but I feel like Flynn handled it all really well.

Last week’s #comics

Buffy Omnibus Vol 1 and Vol 2

I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to read the Buffy Omnibuses. I’ve read Season 8 (loved it) as well as the High School Years (not so much). It was so much fun being back amongst the Scooby gang and also Drusilla and Spike (I love how I can imagine Drusilla’s accent as I read her speech bubbles, which are very true to her character – poetic and also a bit insane).

Pop Vol 1 by Curt Pires

A fun enough but violent comic set in a world in which celebrities are grown and bred and one manages to escape. The storyline wasn’t the best but I really loved the pop art style of illustrations.

Ghost Vol 1 and 2 – Kelly Sue DeConnick, Alex Ross, Phil Noto (Artist), Jenny Frison (Artist), Patrick Thorpe (Editor)

In this case, I’m not a fan of the illustrations. To be honest, I couldn’t really tell the male characters apart (and there are quite a lot of them). I do like Elisa, the mysterious Ghost, who has a strange power and an unknown past. The storyline gets a bit better in Volume 2 as we find out more about what’s happening in the city. Not exactly DeConnick’s best but it’s still interesting enough so far (especially since I am just now only finding out about Elisa’s past life) that I may continue. However, it looks like Vol 3 wasn’t by DeConnick so we’ll see how that goes!

#RIPXII The Bear and the Nightingale

 

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From the very start of the book, I am hooked.

And that is not a usual thing. I am a reader of many books. By that I mean that I tend to read several things at once. So it can sometimes take me several tries to get into a book.

(You might just wonder then, why not just concentrate and read that one book, finish it, and then move on to another? Well, that’s just not the way I work. I just like multiple books going on!)

First of all, I love that it’s a fairytale. And more than that, that it’s a snowy, wintry kind of read. I have lived most of my life near the equator – where the only seasons are hot and dry or hot and rainy. And I now live in Northern California where winters are, at the most, rainy, although we could easily drive a few hours to find snow. So I’ve never really been in that kind of dense and intense winters that  the north of Russia must have.

Vasilisa is the youngest child of a wealthy lord of a northern Russian village. She can see  the spirits of the house, forest, river, the spirits that protect them from evil, like the domovoi, which lives in the oven. Her new stepmother can see these spirits too, but she calls them demons and seeks refuge in the church. She soon forbids the household from honoring these spirits with offerings. But Vasya tries to continue this ritual when she can, fearing that something bad is about to happen.

“The domovoi was small and squat and brown. He had a long beard and brilliant eyes. At night he crept out of the oven to wipe the plates and scour away the soot. He used to do mending, too, when people left it out, but Anna would shriek if she saw a stray shirt, and few of the servants would risk her anger. Before Vasya’s stepmother arrived, they had left offerings for him: a bowl of milk or a bit of bread. But Anna shrieked then, too. Dunya and the serving-maids had begun hiding their offerings in odd corners where Anna rarely came.”

Things get even more interesting when Father Konstantin is sent to their village and the villagers grow more fearful, and so is bold and brave Vasya.

“No, Vasya was frightened of her own people. They did not joke on the way to church anymore; they listened to Father Konstantin in heavy, hungry silence. And even when they were not in church, the people made excuses to visit his room.”

Something is waking, something evil. And without these spirits’ protection, crops start failing, the creatures of the forest roam closer, danger lurks.

The Bear and the Nightingale was an absolute charmer of a book. I loved all the Russian folklore throughout and the rural setting. Perhaps the only part that didn’t sit too well with me was the last act, which seemed a bit rushed.

 

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This is my fourth read for RIP XII

#ripxii The Unquiet Dead

Goodness, I was not expecting this. Not at all.

What was I expecting? A crime/police procedural/mystery type book.

And yes, this was that. But it was also a lot more.

What is truly amazing is that this is a debut.

Inspector Esa Khattak is the head of Canada’s CPS, Community Policing Section, which handles minority-sensitive cases, but he’s a former homicide detective and counterintelligence agent. The story opens with him at prayer, which is interrupted by a phone call requesting him to investigate a suspicious death.

It seems simple at first – a man has fallen off a cliff.

But it turns out that this man Christopher Drayton may instead be Drazen Krstic, a war criminal behind the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 in which thousands of Muslims were slaughtered. So of course they have to figure out – was he pushed? Was he murdered? And did it have something to do with his war crimes or does it have something to do with his money-grubbing fiancée?

Rachel Getty,  “a strong, square-built, hockey-playing female police officer”, is Khattak’s partner. I like how they are so very different yet are still kindred spirits of sorts, with family problems and other personal issues that plague them.

Khan intersperses all this with testimonies from war crime trials. And she leaves us guessing until the last pages. A truly impressive debut!

Ausma Zehanat Khan holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a research specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans, so she definitely knows what she’s talking about.

Bibliography:

Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak series

  • The Unquiet Dead (2015)
  • The Language of Secrets (2016)
  • Among the Ruins (2017)
  • A Death in Sarajevo (2017) (novella)
  • A Dangerous Crossing (forthcoming 2018)Khorasan Archives series
  • The Bloodprint (2017)

This is my third read for RIPXII

#AsianLitBingo: Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai


I’ve been wondering why I’ve not read Selvadurai’s works before. Why have his books escaped my eye? It’s such a pity because he is such a great writer.

I knew that this book was a gay coming-of-age story but didn’t know that a big part of the story would be about the riots in Sri Lanka.

“But we are a minority, and that’s a fact of life,” my father said placatingly. “As a Tamil you have to learn how to play the game. Play it right and you can do very well for yourself. The trick is not to make yourself conspicuous. Go around quietly, make your money, and don’t step on anyone’s toes.”

Funny Boy is also a story about Sri Lanka and the ethnic violence that erupted in the 1980s – which is what drove the author and his family to flee Sri Lanka for Canada. Selvadurai’s mother is Sinhalese (the majority group) and his father is Tamil. The 1983 “Black July” riots resulted in the deaths of an estimated 400 to 3,000, thousands of shops and homes destroyed, and some 150,000 people were made homeless.

What seemed disturbing, now that I thought about those 1981 riots, was that there had been no warning, no hint that they were going to happen. I looked all around me at the deserted beach, so calm in the hot sun. What was to prevent a riot from happening right now?

Arjie and his cousins spend one Sunday a month at their grandparents’ house, free of their parents. The boys play cricket for hours in the front and the field, the girls play in the back garden and porch. Arjie plays with the girls, mostly “bride-bride”, where he, being the leader of the group, plays the bride.

“I was able to leave the constraints of my self and ascent into another, more brilliant, more beautiful self, a self to whom this day was dedicated, and around whom the world, represented by my cousins putting flowers in my hair, draping the palu, seemed to revolve.”

But his “funny” ways are soon discovered and the adults insist that he stick to the boys’ games.

“I would be caught between the boys’ and the girls’ worlds, not belonging or wanted in either.”

Arjie starts to attend a new school, as his father explains, it will force him to “become a man”. It is at this academy that Arjie meets Shehan, who is rumored to be gay. They become friendly and then, more than friends, but even that is something of a risk, as Arjie is Tamil while Shehan is Sinhalese.

Throughout the book, ethnic identity is brought to the fore. Arjie’s aunt falls for a Sinhalese man. But the community’s prejudice tears them apart. His mother meets an old friend, a reporter investigating police abuses of power, who disappears in Jaffna, where violence erupted.

Funny Boy is a moving, engaging read about a young boy’s journey into adulthood in Sri Lanka.

 


I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South Asian MC