Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

This was a series that I never read as a child, although my sister actually owned the books. Why did I never venture into this world, I’m not quite sure. I did love lots of books written by British authors, like Noel Streatfeild and Enid Blyton.

This was a series that I never read as a child, although my sister actually owned the books. Why did I never venture into this world, I’m not quite sure. I did love lots of books written by British authors, like Noel Streatfeild and Enid Blyton.

Well I’m making up for it now. And just nicely, this fits into the Back to the Classics challenge for “a children’s classic”.

And I must say, that Vintage Classics cover is rather a striking one, isn’t it?

When I started reading this, I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy it. It took a while to get into it but when I did, it was a fun read.

In case you’ve not heard of this series before. Here’s a little about it. It was published in 1930. And the Walker children (also known as Captain John, Mate Susan, Able-Seaman Titty, and Ship’s Boy Roger) are given permission to sail their boat Swallow and stay on Wild Cat Island. They meet the Blackett sisters, who are also a sailing family. They’re the “Amazon” part as they’re the “pirates” and their boat is named Amazon. Luckily they become fast friends.

Camping on deserted island, sailing, cooking their own meals, sailing to the nearby farm to get fresh milk. What a life!

It was interesting to be reading a book about these young children allowed to go about doing all this on their own. I mean, sure their home wasn’t too far away. But still, they were pretty much left to figure things out for themselves. Like cooking meals and fetching fresh milk.

There’s something rather charming about this more innocent way of life. When children are able to roam independently. I think especially in contrast to this past year, where we have been largely confined to our home and neighbourhood. Would I even let my kids walk to the nearby park (about 15 minutes walk) by themselves? Um, probably not.

While it was a pleasant read, I honestly didn’t even consider borrowing the second book in the series. I don’t think I ever felt so absorbed in any of the characters that I longed to remain in their realm. Maybe because I’m reading this book decades too late? Would I have loved it more as a kid?

Top classics covers done right


Cover Theme Freebie: literally anyyyything about covers

I’m not very good with freebies to be honest! Anyway, after some consideration, I’ve decided to go with “classics done right” – that is, beautiful redesigned covers for classic lit. In other words, book covers I have been drooling over….

F Scott Fitzgerald collection by Penguin Classics

Virago Modern Classics Designer Collection

Penguin Clothbound Classics

Vintage Classics Woolf series

Puffin in Bloom – I own three out of four (except for the Anne of Green Gables – I’ve got the version below)


Puffin Classics

Penguin Drop Caps

Which ones have you been eyeing? 

On reading The Hobbit


So it was with some trepidation and also a bit of excitement that the Husband and I settled down to watch The Hobbit not too long ago.

We were baffled by how this story could be turned into a trilogy. I remembered reading this as a kid. Or a preteen. Teenager? Well let’s just say it was long enough ago that I can’t quite remember. But I do recall borrowing the book from Queenstown library in Singapore and the librarian checking it out for me. This would almost never happen for kids these days in Singapore as all the checkout happens via machines. Efficient yes, impersonal too.

But anyway, I remembered enjoying the book but never rereading it again. Then LOTR and Peter Jackson happened and Tolkien fever hit pretty much everyone I knew. How many times have I seen the trilogy I do now know. But The Two Towers has the distinction of being the only movie I’ve seen in the cinema twice.


Back to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It started out slowly and I was appalled by the dwarves’ singing and thrilled to find Richard Armitage (whom I adored in the BBC North and South miniseries) in a lead role. Ok so I could do without all that facial hair!

And so while I was trawling Scribd for something new to read, The Hobbit popped into view. And oh how perfect it was. It was a rousing exciting adventure. Dwarves and elves, a wizard and a hobbit. Eagles! Goblins and wolves and a cunning dragon. Ah and what a treasure hoard too. What an exciting read for any kid and kid at heart. Except of course for its lack of female characters. I suppose that’s why Galadriel makes an appearance in the movie version.

The Hobbit was such a fun romp of a read! I was rather sad that it was over. Oh well guess I’ve got two more movies to watch. 




I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge – A 20th Century Classic 

The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai: Four Girls and a Compact


The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai deserves a better reader than me. It required three renewals – easy enough as it was an ebook and no one else was interested in it. There was quite a bit of glancing through of passages. And I really got confused by the very many characters in this book. The lack of a true story arc didn’t really help matters. In fact, it seems that few Chinese have read this tome – The New Yorker said that it may be “China’s ‘Ulysses'”!

But while it is lengthy and not the easiest of reads, it is a fascinating look into a time that is hardly written about. Brothels in 19th century Shanghai, specifically, in the foreign settlements outside the city.

It begins with a young man arriving in Shanghai, fresh from the country, and falls for a courtesan who turns out not to be a virgin despite his having forked out plenty to ‘deflower’ her. It is a cutthroat business after all! The story is more episodic than most, so we catch glimpses of this young fellow throughout the book. The focus here is on the (many) girls instead.

Here’s what I did gleam from the book:

– there are different classes of prostitutes. There are girls and there are “maestros” who sing and don’t play finger games. The ones called ‘prostitutes’ are something else altogether. More like streetwalkers. Likewise, there are different ‘classes’ of sing-song houses, and within those houses, the girls were ranked. Although all of these girls really do provide more than entertainment, it is only hinted at in the book. Nothing hot and heavy here!

– there is a ‘humble’ side to a divan

– opium opium opium. All the time!

– Besides opium, plenty of drinking  and finger games. Having watched my share of Chinese movies, I can guess at what the finger games are like but I wish there was more description.

– To “call” a girl, you send a servant out with a ticket
– They did eat “western” meals and drink coffee, probably because they were in the foreign districts. I wish the western-style meals were described though. There were also ‘foreign’ policemen.
– Girls are bought at ages 7 or 8. And they can “do business” at age 16.
– The Shanghainese thought the Cantonese uncouth. Cantonese prostitutes are described as having “terrifying” physical strength.
– bound feet can make a “rickety noise”. Yikes!
– Although most of the girls, especially those who have been in the trade since young, are skilled in music and singing and charm, they were almost always illiterate
– Courtesans were not supposed to go anywhere on foot. They were usually transported from party to party by sedan or rickshaw, or even carried by manservants

– Plus, it was first translated by Eileen Chang, of Love in a Fallen City fame. The translation was discovered among her papers after her death.

Here’s the New York Times’ review for a more complete picture.

Also some background to how prostitution transformed Shanghai’s Old City in this article from CNN Traveler.




2015 Translation

I read the Sing-song Girls of Shanghai as a Translated Classic for Back to the Classics Challenge

And for the Books in Translation Reading Challenge



In contrast, the novella Four Girls and a Compact was light, breezy and easy to read. But also quite forgettable.

The girls are tired of work and life in the city. They’re ready for a break out in the fresh air. They send one girl out to seek their El Dorado.

“To get out of the hot, teeming city and breathe air enough and pure enough, to luxuriate in idleness, to rest—to a girl, they longed for it. They were all orphans, and they were all poor. The Grand Plan was ambitious, indefinite, but they could not give it up. They had wintered it and springed it, and clung to it through bright days and dark.”

The girls are a little indistinguishable but otherwise it’s a cute little story. It’s available to read online or as a free download at Project Gutenberg


I read Four Girls and a Compact for the Back to the Classics Challenge – Novella

Night and Day

Oh Virginia Woolf, there is so much to say but will be left unsaid because that’s how things seem to work in your world. Things left unsaid.

For that seems to be how it is in Night and Day. In this London society where cupid’s arrows seem to have flown haphazardly. For Mary loves Ralph who loves Katherine who doesn’t love William who might love Cassandra and not Katherine (his fiancée).

And signals are crossed or missed entirely. And hands are wrung, sighs are sighed, walks are walked and lots of tea is made.

Things sort themselves out eventually and all seems fine and dandy except that there is an odd number in this equation. And that is poor Mary, who devotes her life to causes and who sort of becomes the reluctant counselor to all these lovelorn folks. Of course she herself is caught up in this love-line (so not a triangle or even a square or a circle because no one seems to love her back….awwww!) so she is the maker of tea and her flat the convenient drop-in place for the lovelorn and the confused. It is hard not to like her (especially her family and their amusing initial shyness with Ralph) and I just wish she were treated better.

As for Katherine, I was quite determined to boo and hiss at her, since I’m on Mary’s side and all that. But Woolf sneaks in these bits about how K has this secret love. An unspeakable atrocity as she is the granddaughter of some famous (now deceased) poet (who has a kind of cult status that has visitors calling at the house to see his writing desk and manuscripts).

When she was rid of the pretense of paper and pen, phrase-making and biography, she turned her attention in a more legitimate direction, though, strangely enough, she would rather have confessed her wildest dreams of hurricane and prairie than the fact that, upstairs, alone in her room, she rose early in the morning or sat up late at night to…work at mathematics.

Yes, a secret love for mathematics. That makes me want to forgive all her faults – and she has many. But it is hard because of Mary and her fondness for Ralph, who’s in love with Katherine. And Katherine is one who believes that love should be:

“Splendid as the waters that drop with resounding thunder from high ledges of rock, and plunge downwards into the blue depths of night, was the presence of love she dream, drawing into it every drop of the force of life, and dashing them all asunder in the superb catastrophe in which everything was surrendered, and nothing might be reclaimed. The man too, was some magnanimous hero, riding a great horse by the shore of the sea. They rode through forests together, they galloped the rim of the sea.

As for the male characters, I didn’t think much of them. William is written as too silly and pompous a character. And Ralph too angsty.

At one moment he exulted in the thought that Mary loved him; at the next, it seemed that he was without feeling for her; her love was repulsive to him. Now he felt urged to marry her at once; now to disappear and never see her again.

Night and Day might not be one of Woolf’s more lauded books but it was quite a treat to read.


This is my Classics read for the Mixing it Up challenge.