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

Holmes Pastiche


I am not a fan of Holmes pastiche (as many of you know), but while checking out another Sayers-related rabbit hole, I have come across one work of Holmes pastiche that I'd highly recommend:


The Adventure of the Two Collaborators


It's short. 





The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

DNF @ page 81.


Dear fellow Flatbookers,


I am so sorry.

I really thought I had turned a corner. 

I really thought I had found a book that could keep my interest and that would not lead me to yet another DNF of a pop science book. 


But here's the thing, after making it through Part 1 of Kean's books I have serious issues with The Disappearing Spoon:


1. Kean comes across as a condescending twit. This is a major turn off for me.

2. Kean can't write in a way that conveys a clear train of thought. Also not great for a book that tries to explain science to non-scientists.

3. Kean's ramblings from one topic to the next give me neither pleasure nor information, both of which are essential from a pop science book.

4. Kean's research is abysmal. Seriously, 81 pages and I am frustrated by the glaring lack of attention to historical fact (see below*) ... so have to imagine that his scientific facts are not trustworthy either.

5. I simply cannot bear to read Kean's dismissive comments about the achievements or discoveries of scientist in the past, while Kean himself has nothing to show for it, nor does he make any attempts to show up any other personalities who may have been more worthy of praise and recognition. 


So, in the words of a great classic character (fabulously portrayed by Greg Wise) ... I will not torment myself. 


I'm out. 


Sorry. Again. 


I just can't.






Seriously, tho, I was really irked by the portrayal of Bunsen's character, by the dismissal of Mendeleev as a fluke, by the portrayal of J. F. Boettger's biography (which is riddled with "inaccuracies" ... like describing him as a trickster in the same line as a slide of hand magician... He was an apothecary's apprentice. And the king - there were two kings actually but that is a longer story - really didn't force him to make porcelain in the first instance, he wanted gold. Porcelain just happened to be worked on at the same time...with more success.) - And I don't even have a clue why the section about Boettger was included in the first place. It served no purpose.


I was sorely miffed by the time I got the end of Part 1. 


Then I skipped ahead a bit as I by chance came across a page where he mentions Alvarez and the iridium layer that lead to the KT impact theory. It really was then when I came across the things that broke the camel's back: Kean dismisses Alvarez' findings without much of an explanation why and glosses over supporting evidence, then he cites the Indian volcanoes (which were a coinciding factor as discussed in Alvarez' book), and then completely wanders off: first to a still disputed Nemesis theory and then to Sagan quoting "We are all star stuff." 

There is no logical argument to follow here nor is there any underlying evidence for what Kean presents.

Tho, to be fair he didn't actually make any point, so his ramblings don't exactly *need* backing up with facts.


Seriously, this book can go ... add itself to the charity pile right away.


Previous Reading Updates:


Reading progress update: I've read 56 out of 400 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 33 out of 400 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 56 out of 400 pages.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

"He was lucky, really, that a good scientist like Lecoq de Boisbaudran discovered eka-aluminium first. If someone had poked around for one of his mistakes – Mendeleev predicted there were many elements before hydrogen and swore the sun’s halo contained a unique element called coronium – the Russian might have died in obscurity. But just as people forgave ancient astrologers who spun false, even contradictory, horoscopes and fixated instead on the one brilliant comet they predicted exactly, people tend to remember only Mendeleev’s triumphs. Moreover, when simplifying history it’s tempting to give Mendeleev, as well as Meyer and others, too much credit. They did the important work in building the trellis on which to nail the elements; but by 1869, only two-thirds of all elements had been discovered, and for years some of them sat in the wrong columns and rows on even the best tables."

Too much credit? Too much credit for being able to imagine beyond what was known at the time and what could have been known at the time?


And where exactly lies Kean's contribution to explaining how the world around us works? It certainly is not by way of his erratic explanations in this book.

Reading progress update: I've read 33 out of 400 pages.

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

Yeah, I'm late to the party but I have just made it through the first chapter.


"Made it through" will give you an indication of my impression so far.


I've recognised some of the information about the "geography" of the periodic table and the reasons for how elements are put in order, but I found the bits that I didn't recognise rather incomprehensible...or rather explained badly and leaving me with no idea where Kean was going with this, and certainly not interesting enough to skip back and try to make sense of it.


Also, I hope the examples and stories will expand from a US focus later on in the book.

Reading progress update: I've read 76%.

A Dog's Ransom - Patricia Highsmith

Ok, this has taken a slight turn. 


I thought this was going to be a character study, and it is, but now I just read scene that reminded me of one often mocked in a Bond novel - where the villain confesses all of his evil plans for no apparent reason. 


Except, that in this story the ridiculousness of this confession is met by an even more puzzling and disconcerting response from the "normal" people on the scene...


We're definitely back in creepy Highsmith country here, even tho I still don't "like" the book as much as many of her others.

Reading progress update: I've read 61%.

A Dog's Ransom - Patricia Highsmith



Now we do have a twist and a descend into madness, but it is not the person I thought it might be.

Reading progress update: I've read 52%.

A Dog's Ransom - Patricia Highsmith

But the next thing Clarence heard was the gentle hum of a dial tone. He put the telephone down, and slammed the back of his fist against his forehead in an agony of shock and shame. ‘God!’ He took off his tie and opened his collar. He’d go straight to the Pole’s pad and scare the hell out of him.

Clarence is such an idiot. 


Unfortunately, the story doesn't give a lot of conundrums or fiery scenes. There are some interesting observations and character development, but this isn't one of the Highsmith books that puts the reader on edge. 


Still better than A Game for the Living, but it isn't classic Highsmith. 

Reading progress update: I've read 40%.

A Dog's Ransom - Patricia Highsmith

‘Oh, the hell with the money,’ Ed said. He was thinking what a disgusting city New York really was. You had to rub elbows, you did rub elbows with creeps like this one every day of the week, every time you rode a bus or a subway. They looked like ordinary people but they were creeps.

Truly unnerving.

Reading progress update: I've read 30%.

A Dog's Ransom - Patricia Highsmith

Kenneth Rowajinski, at twenty minutes to 6 p.m. on Monday evening, had lugged his suitcase up the steps of Mrs Williams’s house, and treated himself to the first taxi he saw. ‘In trouble with the police! You’re a creep, a nasty old man, Mr Rowajinski!’ Mrs Williams had screamed after him. The bitch had four days’ worth of his money besides, because his rent was paid through Saturday.

What kinda lame-ass policing is this where the criminal confesses and is then allowed to abscond because the Police, for no apparent reason, trust that he will stay put?


What a weird story. Not without interest, tho. This is all about the interaction between different characters. More of a psychological study than a thriller.

Shelf Update...

I'm not done. 


I still need to re-arrange and put books back on the shelves, and clear out the bomb site that is my office and which will house the two shelves that previously were in my living room, and then ... yeah, there is still lots to do. 


BUT...  I give shelves: 



Re-arranged on the other side of the room:



And the long-awaited dedicated Wimsey/Sayers shelf.



Now for some tea and back to A Dog's Ransom...


New BR: A Dog's Ransom

A Dog's Ransom - Patricia Highsmith

Greta showed Ed the letter as soon as he came in the door. ‘I couldn’t help opening it, Eddie, because I knew it was from this – that creep.’

Just a heads up that Lillelara and I are embarking on our next Highsmith buddy read today: A Dog's Ransom


If the first line of the book (quoted above) is anything to go by, this should be fun and we should be back to "normal" Highsmith levels of messed up stories after the disappointment that was A Game for the Living


So, really just a note to say, there may be a few updates in you feed this weekend.

Good Morning...

Apparently, the Bookshelf Fairy is an early riser. Earlier than me on this cold Saturday morning anyway. 

The new shelves arrived at 8:30 a.m. I was still in my pjs. The Bookshelf Fairy's agent didn't mind. I didn't either. 


Anyway, now for coffee and power tools.


Where My Whimsy Takes Me... Or: A Couple of Projects for the Year of Free Range Reading

As most of you will have guessed from my updates so far this year, there has already been a major development to this year's reading: The Great Gaudy Book Hangover has motivated me to seek out some biographies of Dorothy L. Sayers, most of which have arrived at BT HQ, and one of which I have already had the pleasure to finish. 


Therefore, Project # 1 this year will be an exploration of Sayers' life and work - including the biographies, collected letters, and any other materials I can lay my hands on via the libraries available to me. 




Speaking of libraries, I am just returning from a visit to the National Library of Scotland (thanks to some spare time offered up after work meetings today), during which I looked up some more out-of-print works by Josephine Tey (aka Gordon Daviot aka Elizabeth MacKintosh). I particularly wanted to acquaint myself with Tey's/Daviot's/MacKintosh's playwriting. I have read much about it, but have so far not had any first-hand experience. Given that she was a playwright before she became a novelist, it seems I'm missing out here. 


So, in connection with this, Project # 2 will be to read a selection of her plays. 


I managed to read The Pomp of Mr Pomfret this afternoon and have a feeling that her style in other plays will also be delightful and accessible. 


I also found out that the NLS has an original corrected typescript of Tey's last novel in the Inspector Grant series ("The Singing Sands"), so I might try and have a look at it during one of the next visits to Edinburgh. It is also the last novel in the Grant series that I haven't read, yet.




Under a Pole Star

Under A Pole Star - Stef Penney

I'm not going to bother writing up a full review of why I am DNF'ing this book, but am instead reiterating a comment I just left in Lillelara's review - this contains SPOILERS, so you have been warned!


"I have the book and audio at home at the moment and, as I told you, I made a start on this last night. I woke up to a point in the audio which is beyond the point in the story that you got to and all I can tell you is that it does not get better ... Flora gets married to a creep who first says he can't consummate the marriage because he had been diagnosed with a malady but had gone ahead with the wedding because he thought he was cured, then had a flare up. This all is promptly followed by a ... "Last Tango in Paris" scene...pretty graphic...and pretty much the point where I kicked the book into touch this morning. 

Oh, and the writing really aggravated me, too. I never even got a sense that it was set in the late 1800s as there is so much emphasis on how well-educated and well-respected Flora was in academic circles. I think the writing in present tense doesn't work for the story either...and obviously, since the author is a screenwriter, the emphasis on descriptions that could be well adapted to film scenes put me off, too."


Anyway, I'm out!

Reading progress update: I've read 14 out of 450 pages.

Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul - Barbara Reynolds

I am delighted to say that Reynolds used numbered endnotes with gusto.

That is all.


All you Flatbookers out there will understand why this makes me happy.

The Flat Book Society - January Read - Starts Today!

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements - Sam Kean

Dear All, 


Just a reminder that The Flat Book Society's new Group Read starts today (15th January). 


All are welcome to join in if interested.  Either solo, or by joining us at The Flat Book Society.


From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes incredible stories of science, history, finance, mythology, the arts, medicine, and more, as told by the Periodic Table. 

Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie's reputation? And why is gallium (Ga, 31) the go-to element for laboratory pranksters?*

The Periodic Table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it's also a treasure trove of adventure, betrayal, and obsession. These fascinating tales follow every element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, and in the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. THE DISAPPEARING SPOON masterfully fuses science with the classic lore of invention, investigation, and discovery--from the Big Bang through the end of time.

*Though solid at room temperature, gallium is a moldable metal that melts at 84 degrees Fahrenheit. A classic science prank is to mold gallium spoons, serve them with tea, and watch guests recoil as their utensils disappear.


Currently reading

The Chronicles of Clovis by silksoundbooks Limited, Saki H H Munro, John Richardson
The Chronicles of Clovis by Auberon Waugh, Saki
Progress: 23%
Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul by Barbara Reynolds
Progress: 39/450pages
Flucht in den Norden : Roman by Klaus Mann
Teller Of Tales: The Life Of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower
Progress: 9/472pages
Sky Burial: An Epic Love Story of Tibet by Xinran, Esther Tyldesley, Julia Lovell