Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 

Booklikes-Opoly - BrokenTune's Game Updates

Let the games begin!

Many thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for creating this intricate and detailed game for us.


I'll use this post for updates and as a balance sheet (aka score card).



April 29th:


Bank account: $38 (one audiobook in progress - potential reward: $5)

Dice roll: 10 (4+6)


....which takes me to: "Cars Land" Sq. 18 - Read a book that was published in 2006, 2011, 2013 or 2014, the year of Cars and its sequels, or that has a car on the cover."


 I have a few options for this square but I am going with Die so Geliebte by Melania G. Mazzucco (542p.).

Reward: $5 


April 27th:


Bank account: $35 (one audiobook in progress - potential reward: $5)

Dice roll: 5 (2+3)


....which takes me to: "Fantasyland" Sq. 9 - Read a book that is tagged genre: Fantasy or fairy tale on GR. 


For this I am choosing The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan (352p.).  

Reward: $3 


April 25th:


Bank account: $32 (one audiobook in progress - potential reward: $5)

Dice roll: 9 (6+3)


....which takes me to: "Frontierland" Sq. 4 - Read a book where a character travels by boat, or where the letters in the title can be used to spell "river". 


For this I am choosing Boundless: Adventures in the Northwest Passage by Kathleen Winter (288p.). I must say I was rather impressed by the number of unread books I have that would qualify for this square. I hope I land here again. 

Reward: $3 


April 23rd:


Bank account: $29

Dice roll: 6 (3+3)


....which takes me to: "?" Sq. 25 - Read a book that is tagged Historical Mystery or is part of a series included in the Best Historical Mystery Listopia on GR. 


Death Comes as the End (272p.) is tagged as required and I already have it on my tbr. How kind of the BL-Opoly gods to let me squeeze in some Dame Agatha.

Reward: $3 


Dice roll #2 (because of doubles): 8 (2+6)


....which takes me to: "BL" Sq. 32 - Roll the electronic dice, and perform the task that corresponds to your roll!


Dice roll: 


"8. Read in the wild! Take your book with you and find a place to read that isn't your living room for an hour!"


Ok, ... a separate post will be forthcoming for this. 


April 21st:


Bank account: $28

Dice roll: 7 (1+6)


....which takes me to: New Orleans Square 19 - Read a book that is tagged Gothic or horror on GR or that is a ghost story. 


The Victorian Chaise-longue (99p.) is tagged as horror. I already started it a few days ago, so I will deduct the pages I have already read from the total page count of the book (i.e. 99 - 9 = 90).

Reward: $1


April 19th:


Bank account: $23


Dice roll: 9 (3+6)


....which takes me to: Main Street 13 - Read a book about a (real or fictional) American lawyer or politician, or that is set during the Civil War.


Umm, ok... I am spoilt for choice here: The books on my TBR that come to my mind immediately are:


Thirteen Days by Robert F. Kennedy - 185p.

Hard Choices by Hilary Clinton - 702p. (I'm listing the page number from Ammy for the kindle edition, as this is the book I have. Apparently, the pb is 656 p. and the hb 925p.)

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg - 402p. 


As it is way too early in the a.m. (it's a little past midnight), I won't make a choice right now, but I'm leaning towards RBG. 


(Note: I did read My Own Words by RBG.) 

Reward: $5


April 15th:


Bank account: $20


Dice roll: 5 (1+4)


....which takes me to: Electric Company.


Hooray! A STEM book it is. I take it, Dr. Fortey telling of his life researching natural history will fit the bill.


Dry Store Room No.1 by Dr. Richard Fortey - 320 p.

Reward: $3

Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan

I read this for the Fantasyland #9 Square of BL-Opoly. Usually, I would write a review on finishing a book for the game, but I will make an exception for this one because I am finding it impossible to review these books as standalones. This is a series that builds on each previous book.


Suffice it to say that this has been my favourite so far.

"Each step leads to the next, and sometimes there is virtue in not allowing common sense to call you back."

Reading progress update: I've read 60%.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan

Haha. The memoirs of Lady Trent just keep getting better and better. If I'm not in awe of the historical or natural details that Brennan weaves in (like the discovery of the Rosetta stone!), then I'm laughing a lot at her challenging the Victorians...

“I know it is strange.”

“Strange,” Tom said, still muffled by his hands, “is flinging yourself off a cliff for the sake of dragons. Strange is what you have done up until now. This … is something else.”

“Very well— I know it is absurd.”

“That comes closer to the mark.” He took his hands down, shaking his head. “I needled you in Eriga about attracting marital interest wherever you go, but I admit, I never expected this. Must you do it?”

...I'm not going to spoil any of the story for anyone who has not yet read this (and wants to), but our heroine faces new challenges with every book that make her more thoughtful, more accepting, and more fun to read about her development.

Reading progress update: I've read 14%.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan

One of the reasons why I like this series so much is that Brennan's characters are capable of empathy and personal growth and Brennan uses their relationship with the fabulous mythical creatures to show this. 

"Jake soon tired of pretending to be a victim and so began mock-wrestling with the head, pretending to be its mighty slayer. “I’m going to kill one of these someday,” he proclaimed. “I should prefer you didn’t,” I said, rather sharply. “I did this for science, but it having now been done, I hope it needn’t be done again. Only the fangs have any real value on the market, and those only as curiosities and raw material for carving; should an entire animal die, just so we might take four of its teeth? I almost feel sorry for it. At the end, it was trying to swim away. It only wanted to live.”

“She,” Tom said, climbing over the railing. He was dripping with bloody water. “No eggs in her abdomen, but the ovipositor marks her very clearly as female. I wonder where they lay them?”

My chastisement had made little mark on my son, but Tom’s revelation silenced him. Much later, he admitted to me that the pronoun was what struck him so forcefully: the pronoun, and the possibility of eggs. With those two words, the sea-serpent changed from a terrible beast to a simple animal, not entirely different from the broken-winged sparrow we had once nursed back to health together.

A dangerous beast, true, and one that could have sent the Basilisk to the bottom of the ocean. But she had been alive, and had wanted to go on living; now she was dead, and any progeny she might have borne with her. Jake was very quiet after that, and remained so for several days."

It is quite moving. 

Reading progress update: I've read 1%.

Voyage of the Basilisk: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan

I'll be reading this for the Fantasyland #9 square.


I really enjoyed the first two books of this series and hope that this one (which obviously looks like a take on Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle) lives up to the previous one.


The question is, however, whether I can finish this one in time before going on holiday, which will slow down my reading for the next couple of weeks.


Yeah, ironic, isn't it? Holiday but not much time for reading...


Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage - Kathleen Winter

Boundless is one of those books that I picked up because I really liked the cover and the subtitle of my edition read "Adventures in the Northwest Passage", not "Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage". If it had been the latter, I may have hesitated. It was the adventure aspect that drew me to the book just as much as the cover.


Well, adventure in the sense that I expected was not the focus of this book, but it did stir my wanderlust and I did enjoy following Kathleen Winter's travels along the Northwest Passage just as much as any other travelogue based on that area of the world. 


Unlike some other travelogues, Winter used her trip as a time of introspection and to get to grips with some events in her life that needed closure. From this angle, there were quite a lot of parts that I was admittedly less interested in and that I did not really pay attention to because the constant introduction of new people, fellow travellers and people she meets on the way, did not provide much time and space to get invested in them.


However, as a general book to get a feel for this remote area of the world (Greenland and northern Canada) and, especially (I felt) the tourism industry in this part, it was interesting and even entertaining.

Reading progress update: I've read 79%.

Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage - Kathleen Winter

Some parts of this book are beautifully written, but there is so much meandering...

Booklikes-Opoly - Task: Read in the Wild

Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation - Judith Mackrell

For this task, I was allowed to pick a book of my choice, so I picked one that had been lingering on my virtual tbr shelf for ages: 


Flappers by Judith Mackrell. 


I have this as an audiobook, but according to Ammy, the print version has 512 pages, yielding a potential reward of $5.


As for reading in the "wild" for an hour (wild being defined as a location other than my living room), I had hoped to take the audiobook with me on a jog down the beach. However, the temperatures dropped by 10C yesterday and we had another relapse into snow, sleet, and icy rain, so I put the jog on hold. Instead, I started listening to the book on the way to and from work this week. 


Death Comes as the End

Death Comes As the End - Agatha Christie

“All life is a jest, Imhotep - and it is death who laughs last. Do you not hear it at every feast? Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”

Death Comes as the End is Dame Agatha's only historical mystery and she makes full use of her in-depth knowledge of Ancient Egypt. The detail of Egyptian artefacts and religious beliefs Dame Agatha weaved into this was delightful and made up for the odd dalliances with annoying love triangles. What it didn't quite achieve was to give some authenticity to the characters which still seemed as if they had been copied out of an English country house setting. 


I guess, in a way one could argue that the relationships between Christie's characters and their issues are universal, but I could not help imagine some of the characters having a strong London accent. 


Never mind, it was a fun read.

Reading progress update: I've read 16%.

Death Comes As the End - Agatha Christie

LoL. Imhotep sounds a lot like Colonel Protheroe from Murder at the Vicarage.

I wonder if this story will take a similar turn...



The Victorian Chaise-longue

The Victorian Chaise-Longue - Marghanita Laski, P.D. James

"Will you give me your word of honour," said Melanie, "that I am not going to die?"

I love it when a book starts with a first sentence that packs a punch. With this one, we immediately know that what follows will be a story of life and death.


The Victorian Chaise-longue is a very short (99 pages) novel about a woman in the late 1940s or early 1950s that is recovering from illness and suddenly finds herself in a most precarious situation - it appears she has woken up in 1864.


I will not reveal anything else about the plot (and the above is pretty much revealed on all general descriptions of the book), other than that the plot takes on a different shape depending on how you approach it.


Sounds mysterious? Well, it isn't. It's just that the plot is one thing if you read it with the expectation that everything in the book happens just as it is described. If, however, you begin to doubt the narrator, you may start to wonder what is really going on. 


Do I know the answer to this question. Nope. 


However, I really enjoyed the conjectures that this question of whether "here" is "here" or whether "here" is really "there" allows. In fact, by the end of the book I could not help but draw parallels to one of my all-time favourite novels A Tale for the Time Being, only of course that Marghanita Laski published The Victorian Chaise-longue in 1953, 60 years before Ozeki's book. Do I think that Ozeki borrowed from Laski? Absolutely not. 

The comparison merely came up because both authors seem to base their ideas on a similar question about what time really is, and how we live in time.


And both books look at people in their time, and really caught up in time and other circumstances. In Laski's novel, this leads to illustrate the state of women in society - Victorian society and that of the 1940s/50s. Is there much change? 


The Victorian Chaise-longue seems to be listed as gothic or horror in the same vein as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper is but I have issues with this classification. In my mind, tagging works as "gothic" or "horror", seems to pass them off as works of the imagination when, in fact, they are quite real. Scary and horrible they may be, but the connotations of the "horror" genre seem to deny such works the sense of veiled realism that truly punches the gut.


While I loved the book for its content and delivery, there were a few quibbles I had with the writing, which seemed to jump about a bit (But then, this may have been a way to show the MC's state of mind.) and with one element that left me puzzled - had the treatment of TB in the late 1940s/early 1950s really not moved on from the 1920s?


I mean, Laski makes mention of penicillin, yet, no antibiotics seem to be part of the treatment and the MC herself still believes that fresh air, sunlight, and milk will provide a cure - much like prescribed in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (1924). Again, this is not a real criticism of the book, just an additional question I derived from it.


I am very much looking forward to reading more by this author.

My Own Words

My Own Words - Wendy W. Williams, Mary Elizabeth Hartnett, Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Before you start throwing things at me for giving this book such a low rating, let me make one thing very clear: The two stars are no reflection on Ruth Bader Ginsburg's writings or thoughts. If there was any reason I devoured this book, it is because I quickly became a fan of RBG when reading about her broad-mindedness and her passion for equality and her efforts to bring both into the shaping US jurisprudence. I would love to read more about her and her legal opinions, but not in this book.


This book, My Own Words, not exactly what the title promised. My Own Words was not as I expected a book written by RBG, but was merely a collection of articles about her, speeches by her, and some legal options that were superficially annotated by two other authors. This resulted in a hodge-podge of pieces that at times had no train of thought -especially the beginning of the book.


It took about 80 pages to get to a part of the book that presented RBG's involvement in matters of law, which is the part I was most interested in reading about. Yet, even once the book got going (so to speak), the structure of the book would not allow to develop a point or to give enough information to fully understand what was being commented on in the excerpts of RBG's speeches or opinions. 


Especially in the instances where the book presented RBG's opinions on judgments, the book was disappointing in that the annotation tried to summarise cases but often failed to present the legal arguments that were being debated. So, when the book presented RBG's words on the matter, it often read like an opinion that had no relevance because it seemed to be an answer to which there was no question. 


I had to research some of the cases to fill in the missing background, and this is something that I would have expected that the book would provide. I am no stranger to reading case law, some of which can be convoluted, but I would rather read the actual judgments and corresponding law reports than this book.  

Reading progress update: I've read 16%.

My Own Words - Wendy W. Williams, Mary Elizabeth Hartnett, Ruth Bader Ginsburg

If the book continues as it has started, this will not be a satisfying read.

Quite disappointed so far.


For Murder by Death...

The mystery boxes at the NHM...



Why should I be the only one wondering what was in them?



Dry Storeroom No. 1

Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum - Richard Fortey

Dry Store Room No. 1 was a kind of miscellaneous repository, a place of institutional amnesia. It was rumoured that it was also the site of trysts, although love in the shadow of the sunfish must have been needy rather than romantic. Certainly, it was a place unlikely to be disturbed until it was dismantled. I could not suppress the thought that the store room was like the inside of my head, presenting a physical analogy for the jumbled lumber-room of memory. Not everything there was entirely respectable; but, even if tucked out of sight like suppressed memories, these collections could never be thrown away. This book opens a few cupboards, sifts through a few drawers. A life accumulates a collection: of people, work and perplexities. We are all our own curators.

Before you get any ideas, this book is not just about the one storeroom. And while the book is focused on London's Natural History Museum - its history, people, and exhibits - Dr. Fortey tells of much more than just the museum, he just happens to use the museum as an anchor for his discourse into the history (naturally!) of the world and the people and finds that have shaped our understanding of it.


And what an anchor it is! The Natural History Museum started out as a part of the British Museum (another favourite haunt of mine), but the collection of natural artefacts soon outgrew the capacity of the British Museum and efforts led by Richard Owen succeeded in the split of the collections and the establishment of the Natural History Museum as a separate enterprise and an important new centre of research - which it is to this day. 


Dr. Fortey goes into a lot of detail about the history of the museum and its collections, and in turn this reveals a wider story of the development of the natural sciences in society. 


Fortey's forte, however, is when he gets to speak about the different collections and the people who have shaped not only the departments of the museum but also the scientific research - from lichen, to minerals, to worms. I had no idea, I could be so interested in worms!


My first concrete interest in the NHM's collections was when I read about Mary Anning's groundbreaking finds of ichthyosaurus and plesiosaurus specimen which are held by the NHM.


Anning's finds are, of course, some of the famous exhibits, along with the archaeopteryx, or the dodo skeleton. While Fortey mentions them, he also introduces the collections that are not on display and that are mostly of interest to the scientific community. He does it in a way, tho, that is strangely fascinating. And while not all parts of the book are equally interesting, and while Fortey's tangents sometimes strayed off into the finer points of plant classification, I loved his message, or rather messages, which drive home the importance of the Natural History Museum and the scientific research conducted there:   

Science, treasure, rarity, beauty, scholarship: this hidden gallery made me understand again the heterogeneous attraction of Museum life. Nowhere else could a link with the Mughal emperors be relevant to what happens deep beneath the surface of the Earth; nowhere else would the fanatical collecting of a toffish Russell become a long-term resource for mineral genesis; nowhere else could rummaging in an attic reveal an archive of the Prince Regent. From the Russell Room I looked out on to the Victoria and Albert Museum across the other side of Exhibition Road. The prospect might suggest imperial nonsense and ‘pomp and circumstance’, a slightly ridiculous inheritance from the nineteenth century when the Sun never set on the British Empire. But South Kensington has become transformed by time and usage into something that is more than just the ‘BM’ and the ‘V& A’, a monument to a Britain that no longer exists. The collections are there to inform and inspire the whole world, and not just a small corner of it. I am not much of a post-colonialist, and I don’t necessarily admire the principles on which the collections were made. But I do understand the primacy of collections as a record of the world, both human and natural. There is more to collections than the golden rule about never throwing things away. There is inherent value in having people who ‘know their stuff’. The apparently esoteric can suddenly illuminate unsuspected areas of knowledge. Those who have devoted their lives to collections – obdurate people, odd people, admirable people – actually make a museum what it is and should be.

Reading progress update: I've read 67%.

Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum - Richard Fortey

Alan showed me one mineral that could not be displayed at all to common view. Proustite has a blood-red colour that fades when exposed to light – a shy creature, indeed. It was not named after the novelist Marcel Proust, though one feels it should have been. These famous, well-formed crystals mined from Copiapo, Chile, some of which would almost cover your hand, have an unreal quality, as if they did not quite belong on this Earth at all. I suppose that since they are a compound of silver, arsenic and sulphur they must also be very poisonous. They thus combine a lethal but hidden beauty; they are of the earth, but somehow also unearthly. Wordsworth was no friend of geologists, whom he regarded as dull enumerators of facts, but he did write a line that seems quite appropriate to gemstones: ‘True beauty lies in deep retreats.’ 

I thought I'd share this part because the mineral is just beautiful:


Currently reading

Die So Geliebte. Roman Um Annemarie Schwarzenbach by Melania G. Mazzucco
Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell
Progress: 26%
Metamorphoses by Denis Feeney, Ovid, David Raeburn
Progress: 144/723pages