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

Notifications... I miss them so much...

I have nothing else to add. 


Reading progress update: I've read 68%.

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 - Margaret MacMillan


The rest of the book are notes and sources.


That was a hell of a long, depressing, and infuriating read - but it was worth it.


I haven't been able to keep up with the chapter updates - it didn't help that BL was (and still is) so slow to load anything - but I will add more thoughts to the forthcoming review.

And if we want to point fingers from the twenty-first century we can accuse those who took Europe into war of two things. First, a failure of imagination in not seeing how destructive such a conflict would be and second, their lack of courage to stand up to those who said there was no choice left but to go war. There are always choices.

Pancake Day

It's Pancake Day today. I'm not making this up. It's a thing.


Shrove Tuesday is celebrated differently in different parts of the world, and in these parts, we are having Pancake Day. 


There was a short but fun article on the BBC News website today giving some details to the background of Pancake Day. I don't really care that much about the significance of Shrove Tuesday, but I am partial to a pancake. Especially one made just right to my own liking: not too thick, lightly browned, and not drowned in syrup. 


A bit like this...



I've gone for a fruity topping today, but Nutella was a close second choice...except I forgot to pick up a jar on the way home.


Anyway, I still have left over for breakfast tomorrow.




When I was a student, I used to phone my mum at any time of day (or night) because I could never remember how much milk and how much flour. I eventually wrote it down on a sticky note, which is still pinned to my kitchen wall. 


1 egg

100 g flour (I used self raising)

200 ml milk

1 pinch of salt


I don't use oil or butter in my pan as most recipes recommend. The non-stick pan usually works better for pancakes without additional oil - the oil or butter is usually soaked up by the first pancake...and usually makes the firs pancake the least tasty one. So I don't add oil or butter to the pan, and trust me, these lovelies were anything but dry.


Have you been celebrating Tuesday?

The War that Ended Peace - Reading updates

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 - Margaret MacMillan

I meant to read this book in 2014, but may have gotten side-tracked with other books about WWI in that year...


I'll keep a running post for reading updates for this book as it will encompass too much information to deal with in one post and I would like to keep notes while reading - and I would like to keep the notes in one place.


Reading updates:


Chapters 10 through 16 - ...


I haven't made notes on these chapters individually. They all describe further events in international politics that are fuelled by imperialism, nationalism, and the general ineptitude of various people in positions where diplomacy and circumspection are requirements which they all seem to be lacking and try to make up for with arrogance, nationalism, and ambition to put themselves on the map.

Aehrenthal recognised that there were risks in stirring up the Balkans. The international scene, he told Austria-Hungary’s Common Ministerial Council in the autumn of 1907, was generally good but there were trouble spots, such as the Balkans themselves or Morocco, and there were turbulent forces at large in the world. ‘The stage is set, the actors are ready, only the costumes are lacking for the play to begin. The second decade of the 20th century may well witness very grave events. In view of the combustible material about, they may come sooner.’32 In 1908 Aehrenthal came close to setting that material alight but luck was with him and the world for the time being.

Alois von Aehrenthal was Austria-Hungary's Foreign Minister, and it is actions and statements like the above that show how unsuitable he was for that positions. Many of his international counterparts seem to have been no better. 


Seriously, these people were bat-shit crazy and it is scary and depressing to read, even more so when one considers how many "politicians" today lack the very qualities - knowledge, tact, circumspection, diplomacy, long-term planning - caused the infernal events of WWI and its consequences.


Previous updates are below the page break.


-read more-

Dame Agatha - Reading List Update

Update - Feb. 2018: 44 of 66 books read. There are a few favourites among the ones that are left.


Update - Jul. 2017: 35 of 66 books read. I think most of the clangers are out of the way now.


Update - Jan. 2017: 28 of 66 books read. Looking forward to more.


Update - Jun. 2016: A few more of the reads and re-reads taken off the list.


Update - Dec. 2015: I'll repost this every now and then to keep track of titles and reviews.


I have read most of Dame Agatha's books in my teens (though mostly in translation) but as am in the process of a re-read, I need a list to keep me right. 


Title Detectives
1920 The Mysterious Affair at Styles Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1922 The Secret Adversary Tommy and Tuppence
1923 The Murder on the Links Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Monsieur Giraud
1924 The Man in the Brown Suit Colonel Race
Anne Beddingfeld
1925 The Secret of Chimneys Superintendent Battle
Anthony Cade
1926 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Hercule Poirot
Inspector Raglan
1927 The Big Four Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1928 The Mystery of the Blue Train Hercule Poirot
1929 The Seven Dials Mystery Superintendent Battle
Eileen "Bundle" Brent
1930 The Murder at the Vicarage Miss Marple
Inspector Slack
1931 The Sittaford Mystery
also Murder at Hazelmoor
Emily Trefusis
Inspector Narracott
1932 Peril at End House Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1933 Lord Edgware Dies
also Thirteen at Dinner
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Inspector Japp
1934 Murder on the Orient Express
also Murder in the Calais Coach
Hercule Poirot
1934 Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
also The Boomerang Clue
Bobby Jones
Frankie Derwent
1935 Three Act Tragedy
also Murder in Three Acts
Hercule Poirot
Mr. Satterthwaite
1935 Death in the Clouds
also Death in the Air
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Japp
1936 The A.B.C. Murders
also The Alphabet Murders
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp
1936 Murder in Mesopotamia Hercule Poirot
Captain Maitland, Dr. Reilly
1936 Cards on the Table Hercule Poirot
Colonel Race, Superintendent Battle, Ariadne Oliver
1937 Dumb Witness
also Poirot Loses a Client/Mystery at Littlegreen House
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
1937 Death on the Nile Hercule Poirot
Colonel Race
1938 Appointment with Death Hercule Poirot
1938 Hercule Poirot's Christmas
also Murder for Christmas/A Holiday for Murder
Hercule Poirot
1939 Murder is Easy
also Easy to Kill
Superintendent Battle
Luke Fitzwilliam
1939 And Then There Were None

Sir Thomas Legge
Inspector Maine
1940 Sad Cypress Hercule Poirot
1940 One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
also An Overdose of Death/The Patriotic Murders
Hercule Poirot
Chief Inspector Japp
1941 Evil Under the Sun Hercule Poirot
Colonel Weston, Inspector Colgate
1941 N or M? Tommy and Tuppence
1942 The Body in the Library Miss Marple
Inspector Slack
1942 Five Little Pigs
also Murder in Retrospect
Hercule Poirot
1942 The Moving Finger
also The Case of the Moving Finger
Miss Marple
1944 Towards Zero
also Come and Be Hanged
Superintendent Battle
Inspector James Leach
1944 Death Comes as the End Hori
1945 Sparkling Cyanide
also Remembered Death
Colonel Race
Chief Inspector Kemp
1946 The Hollow
also Murder After Hours
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Grange
1948 Taken at the Flood
also There is a Tide...
Hercule Poirot
Superintendent Spence
1949 Crooked House Charles Hayward
Chief Inspector Taverner
1950 A Murder is Announced Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Craddock
1951 They Came to Baghdad Victoria Jones
1952 Mrs McGinty's Dead
also Blood Will Tell
Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Spence
1952 They Do It with Mirrors
also Murder with Mirrors
Miss Marple
Inspector Curry
1953 After the Funeral
also Funerals are Fatal
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Morton, Mr. Goby
1953 A Pocket Full of Rye Miss Marple
1954 Destination Unknown
also So Many Steps to Death
Mr. Jessop, Captain Leblanc
1955 Hickory Dickory Dock
also Hickory Dickory Death
Hercule Poirot
Inspector Sharpe
1956 Dead Man's Folly Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1957 4.50 from Paddington
also What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!/Murder She Said
Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Craddock, Lucy Eyelesbarrow
1958 Ordeal by Innocence Arthur Calgary
Superintendent Huish
1959 Cat Among the Pigeons Hercule Poirot
Inspector Kelsey, Adam Goodman
1961 The Pale Horse Inspector Lejeune
Ariadne Oliver, Mark Easterbrook
1962 The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side
also The Mirror Crack'd
Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Craddock
1963 The Clocks Hercule Poirot
Det. Inspector Hardcastle, Colin Lamb
1964 A Caribbean Mystery Miss Marple
1965 At Bertram's Hotel Miss Marple
Chief Inspector Fred "Father" Davy
1966 Third Girl Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver, Chief Inspector Neele, Mr. Goby
1967 Endless Night Sergeant Keene
1968 By the Pricking of My Thumbs Tommy and Tuppence
1969 Hallowe'en Party Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver, Superintendent Spence
1970 Passenger to Frankfurt Stafford Nye
1971 Nemesis Miss Marple
1972 Elephants Can Remember Hercule Poirot
Ariadne Oliver
1973 Postern of Fate
Last novel Christie wrote
Tommy and Tuppence
1975 Curtain
Poirot's last case, written 36 years earlier.
Hercule Poirot
Arthur Hastings
1976 Sleeping Murder
Miss Marple's last case, written 36 years earlier
Miss Marple





Read: 44/66


Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry

An anomaly which often struck me in the character of my friend Sherlock Holmes was that, although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction.

Not that I am in the least conventional in that respect myself. The rough-and-tumble work in Afghanistan, coming on the top of a natural Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a medical man. But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs.

I have always held, too, that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime; and when Holmes, in one of his queer humors, would sit in an arm-chair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.

Our chambers were always full of chemicals and of criminal relics which had a way of wandering into unlikely positions, and of turning up in the butter-dish or in even less desirable places.

Having read this, I am much relieved and encouraged that my own housekeeping is a little more organised than that at 221B. 


The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual is a bit different from other Holmes stories - and is very different from the TV adaptation (I'm talking about the Jeremy Brett one. It's always the Jeremy Brett one for me.)


As with the Adventure of the Gloria Scott, which was Holmes first "adventure", this one precedes Holmes meeting Watson for the Study in Scarlett. And, unusual also, this story is told by Holmes, not Watson. So, what we get is Watson recording Holmes own speech, and as a result the narration is a little more to the point than other stories. 

We also get to know Holmes a little better. 

“These are the records of your early work, then?” I asked. “I have often wished that I had notes of those cases.”

“Yes, my boy, these were all done prematurely before my biographer had come to glorify me.” He lifted bundle after bundle in a tender, caressing sort of way. “They are not all successes, Watson,” said he.

As for the mystery itself, there is quite a Gothic feel to it: an old estate in the country, which has been passed through the same family for hundreds of years, a treasure hunt, and a wronged woman. 


I mentioned that the TV adaptation is quite different to the original story. The plot is almost the same, but the characters - especially the relationship between Holmes and Mr. Musgrave - are quite different, which Mr. Musgrave being the source of some rather mean ridicule by Holmes. That is not really there in the story, and as a result, Holmes does not come across as an ass in the same way. I like the TV adaptation, apart from that particular aspect, and I have no idea why it was scripted like that.


Murder on the Links

The Murder on the Links: A Hercule Poirot Mystery - Agatha Christe

It was a day in early June. I had been transacting some business in Paris and was returning by the morning service to London, where I was still sharing rooms with my old friend, the Belgian ex-detective, Hercule Poirot.

The Calais express was singularly empty—in fact, my own compartment held only one other traveller. I had made a somewhat hurried departure from the hotel and was busy assuring myself that I had duly collected all my traps, when the train started. Up till then I had hardly noticed my companion, but I was now violently recalled to the fact of her existence. Jumping up from her seat, she let down the window and stuck her head out, withdrawing it a moment later with the brief and forcible ejaculation ‘Hell!’

Ah, Hastings. This book is all about Hastings. 

And by the end of it, Christie may have had the proverbial excess of "a good thing", because even tho this is only the second book in the Poirot series, Christie seems desperate to get rid of Hastings. And I can't blame her.


Don't get me wrong, I love Hastings. However, in this particular book which is mostly written about him and not so much about Poirot, Hastings is utterly annoying. And what can possibly be worse than Hastings being annoying? Yes, there is only one thing - Hastings being in love.


Never mind the convoluted murder mystery in the French countryside ... somewhere near a golf course ... blah, blah,..., the real question is, will Hastings get the girl?


By the end of the book, I wished he would, because they seemed to deserve each other, and that maybe Hastings would learn a few things and stop being such an idiot (even if he is lovable). But as we know, ... that is not quite how it goes, and of course I desperately miss Hastings when he isn't in a Poirot story. 


So, there. Not quite a review of the book, but really the book isn't about the murder that much anyway.


Reading progress update: I've read 1%.

Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Kathryn Harkup

I don't usually anticipate the release of a new book, but this one I have been looking for. I really loved the author's A is for Arsenic (currently in the running for our Flat Book Society read in May), and I am confident that this new one will be equally as enlightening (ha!), fun, and just a little bit ... dramatic.


Here's the opening to the book:

On 4 November 1818, a scientist stood in front of the corpse of an athletic, muscular man. Behind him his electrical equipment was primed and fizzing with energy. The scientist was ready to conduct a momentous scientific experiment.

The final preparations were made to the cadaver – a few cuts and incisions to expose key nerves. No blood ran from the wounds. At that moment the thing on the table in front of the young scientist was just flesh and bone, from which all life had been extinguished. Then the corpse was carefully connected to the electrical equipment.

Immediately every muscle was thrown into powerful convulsions, as though the body was violently shuddering from cold. A few adjustments were made and the machine connected a second time. Now full, laborious breathing commenced. The belly distended, the chest rose and fell. With the final application of electricity the fingers of the right hand started to twitch as though playing the violin. Then, one finger extended and appeared to point.

The images conjured up by this account may seem familiar. Perhaps you have seen them on the silver screen when Boris Karloff’s iconic creature twitched and stumbled into life. Or maybe you have read something like this in the pages of a novel written by the teenage Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. But the description above is not fiction. It happened. Two experimenters, Aldini and Ure, made the dead move using electrical devices. 


Reading progress update: I've read 44%.

Her Royal Spyness - Rhys Bowen

I had never actually seen a dead body before and I stared at him in fascination. He can’t really be dead, I told myself. It’s some kind of macabre French joke, or he’s trying to frighten me. Or maybe he’s sleeping. But his eyes were open and staring vacantly at the ceiling.

Sleeping? He's submerged in a bathtub. Fully clothed. And in cold water as the author has already told us that no one knows how to light the boiler.


I was just about ready to throw in the towel when we finally had some movement in the plot. Not great, and I am not convinced the whole mystery can be developed and solved within little more than half the book, which is all that is left.


Also, this is decidedly more "chick lit" than mystery, at least in my book.


Still why is the book called "Her Royal Spyness"? No spying has occurred. Charring, dusting, disguising, but no spying. :(

Reading progress update: I've read 40%.

Her Royal Spyness - Rhys Bowen

‘Splendid. That’s wonderful. I do hope Boy has not been – getting in your way.’ The look she gave implied that he had got in the way of a great many females.

Ok, a bit bored by the setting and the cads and bounders and Binky and the snobs.

When is the mystery making an appearance?

Reading progress update: I've read 27%.

Her Royal Spyness - Rhys Bowen

‘I suppose so,’ I said, ‘but I don’t think I plan on doing it again. Too hair-raising. There were people who knew me.’

‘Like that twerp Hautbois?’ Darcy said scathingly.

‘You know Tristram, then?’ ‘I can’t say I actually socialize with him these days. We were at school together. At least, I was a couple of years above him. He snitched to the masters and got me a beating once.’

Ok, I turned to this on the recommendation that it was a light and funny read. And that it is. It is also quite interesting as it is based on the characters of the real Royal Family at the time - which is quite funny and satisfying the history nerd in me in a weird way.


Alas, there hasn't been any spying, yet. I hope it does make an appearance soon and distracts the plot from the developing Darcy farce-y romance.


It's certainly a light and fun read, tho. :D


Is anyone else having problems with notifications?

I don't seem to get any.

Does anyone have suggestions?

I'm enjoying my current reads - but they are all a bit serious and depressing.


Does anyone have any suggestions for some frivolous and fun reads that would lighten up my current reading?


Preferably not chick lit, paranormal , or SF.


I have light reads - mostly mysteries - but I don't seem to have a lot of "funny" books.

Reading progress update: I've read 25 out of 328 pages.

No Surrender - Constance Maud

Oh, goody, only 300 more pages of Maud's polemics. 


Don't get me wrong, this is an important book, but the delivery of Maud's argument is as elegant as cracking an egg with an ice axe.


At least the beauty of my Persephone copy of this book makes up for some of the lack of quality in the writing. 



Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day - Winifred Watson

Saccharine fluffy story dating back to 1938 and showing its age - a couple of racist comments and the insistence that woman's main goal in life is to marry...


The dated comments weren't actually what hindered my enjoyment of the book. It was the insipid story more than anything.  

For WhiskeyInTheJar...

A Menu Monday tribute:


The chili what had gone wrong-ish somehow. Well, the left-overs...



It worked quite well as a pasta topper yesterday and it is nowhere near as runny today as it was when I made it. So, I managed to have it in mini tortilla boats today. Oh, and despair not, there is grated cheese at the it can melt properly.


It was yummy.

Currently reading

Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Kathryn Harkup
Progress: 1%
Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir by Penelope Lively
Progress: 34/224pages
The Constant Liberal: The Life and Work of Phyllis Bottome by Pam Hirsch
Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist by Sharman Apt Russell
Progress: 25/256pages
Women and the Vote: A World History by Jad Adams
Progress: 16/528pages
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry
Progress: 32%