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

A.S. Byatt: The Children's Book - DNF

The Children's Book - A.S. Byatt

Ok, this is not for me.


70 odd pages and no hint of a plot, just a lot of scene setting and Victorian historical information. 


I get that this is likely to be character or society study rather than a plot-driven novel, which is fair enough, but I'm not digging the writing. There is a lot of info-dumping, telling rather than showing, and circular writing:



And again, a pre-teen / early teen questioning their "capability to love"?

Not for me.


A.S. Byatt: The Children's Book - Reading progress update

The Children's Book - A.S. Byatt

Alright, this is the next book for the RL book group I kinda "joined". 


I am finding it really hard to find some interest in this. It's just not working for me to have children in Victorian London - the oldest of whom seems to be 11 - have such a developed understanding of social politics. 




Has anyone read this? I have a mind to DNF this. 

You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice - Ian Fleming

"The Superintendent went to the bottom of his file and extracted what looked like a blown-up copy of Doctor Guntram Shatterhand’s passport photograph and handed it over. Bond took it nonchalantly. Then his whole body stiffened. He said to himself, God Almighty! God Almighty! Yes. There was no doubt, no doubt at all!"

You Only Live Twice or, as I really want to call it, On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Part Deux, because I can't help seeing parallels to the second Hot Shots! movie, deals with a James Bond that has been broken after the events of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.


Bond has lost his interest in his job, is depressed, puts missions and lives at risk, chases pleasures aimlessly, and is on the verge of being fired. The only reason he is not is that M is persuaded to set Bond an improbable task that has no other aim than to make Bond realise that he needs to step up his game.


What M does not know, is that the investigation into the strange goings on on a Japanese island will play right into Bond's troubles.

"Bond held the pictures, not looking at them, thinking. Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Irma Bunt. So this was where they had come to hide!"

You would think that this set up of Bond being sent to investigate something far away from his usual life would provide some opportunity for Bond to reflect or try to deal with his own losses, you know, to make Bond grow as a character. But no. Instead, Fleming decided to use this book as an opportunity to showcase his own interest in all things Japanese and use Bond as a tool for comparing Fleming's understanding of British and Japanese cultures.

This part of the book is fun. It might, with good reason, make you doubt Fleming's research. There are at least two eye-roll inducing assertions in Fleming's portrayal of Japan - and one of which, about sumo wrestlers, seems to have become a myth that has transcended the Bond franchise.


Never mind, eh?


As this Bond buddy read comes to a close (only 2 books left, one of which is a re-read of a short story collection), I have come to really ask myself why I stuck with the series and had not abandoned Bond's exploits after From Russia With Love, which was one of the very worst books I have ever read. Ever.

Well, I have to admit that Fleming's attempts at dazzling his readers with bullshit are one of the reasons this series has been fun. I don't mean Fleming's xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, snobbishness, ... I really mean the times when Fleming tries to persuade the reader of facts that are ... wrong. The series is riddled with mistakes about biology, history, physics, chemistry ... anything that can be researched. Yet, Fleming talks about this stuff with so much conviction that reading a Fleming novel inevitably makes you question your own knowledge. It is fun to discover the errors or to learn something you didn't know by looking at topics that Fleming discusses with enthusiasm which just don't sound true. (Even more so if you have a patient reading buddy who doesn't mind sounding out some of the ideas with you.)


On the flip side, what I haven't enjoyed so much are the plots of the Bond novels. There are exceptions of course: Casino Royale, or Dr. No come to mind here, but overall the plots - reading in today, that is - were quite simplistic and often boring.

In You Only Live Twice, I would even go as far as to say that there is no real plot. Or at least, there is nothing that makes the plot interesting: There is not even an evil master plan to overthrow. We meet Blofeld and Bunt again, but they are mere mad shadows of their characters from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Where is the fun in this?


So, overall, this is an interesting novel for getting to know a little bit more about Fleming and his estimation for Japan, but it is an utterly boring Bond adventure, that ends with a weird variation on Madama Butterfly.


Such an odd novel.



Milanese Adventures

I'm back home with a sodding cold so I wanted to post this before retiring with a hot beverage.


The work part of the trip went better than expected and we ended up with a little bit of time to go exploring and indulge in some of that lovely, lovely Italian food. I won't torture you guys with pictures of the food, but thought I'd share some of the snaps I took when visiting the Duomo. It is such a magnificent building. The masonry on the outside alone is just astounding - none of the images seem to be the same, some tell a story, some are cautionary (as befits the use in a church), and some were actually funny.



Impressive, isn't it? No wonder it took about 600 years for the church to be completed.


And when, after some queuing, we finally got to look inside, it just took my breath away...





Check out that organ! It's the second biggest in Europe (after the one in Passau). It has two parts - one of each side of the altar. I can only imagine the sound this would create.



The weirdest thing was that there did not seem to be any point from where you could take in the whole of the interior. Whenever you moved, a new section of the interior would be revealed. For example, you can't really see the magnificent windows from the entrance. You have to go all the way to the back, and as you move forward, you discover sculptures and other parts like the entrances to the crypts below. 



It was such an awesome place. Literally.

View from the office today.
View from the office today.

I'll be out for a couple of days...

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming

 Bond stubbed out his cigarette, gave a quick glance round their trysting-place to fix its banality in his mind, and walked to the door, leaving the fragments of his old life torn up amidst the debris of an airport breakfast.

I have been dithering about writing a review for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. You see, I absolutely adore the film. It is the perfect Bond movie in my book (yes, even with THAT Bond).


It has a great story, fantastic cars, superb banter, evil masterminds, ridiculous evil plans to hold the world ransom, the typical Fleming level of fantastical "scientific" dazzle (of bullshit), dedicated hench(wo)men, ....



It had only been a try-on, to see what form the negative answer would take. But, as Bond followed her into the dining-room, it was quite an effort to restrain his right shoe from giving Irma Bunt a really tremendous kick in her tight, bulging behind.




lots of action,...even tho it's none of this:



and lots and lots of lovely scenery:




I love, love, love that movie. I'm sorry if I am going over-board a bit with the images, but what is not to love about the photography in this film, right?


The great thing about the original novel is that it actually is very, very close to the film. (I should say the film is close to the novel, but I think we have already established that I came to the book through the film.) Of all the Bond novels, I've read so far, this one was the one that most satisfied my expectations. And, with respect to the plot, the book was actually better than the film because we had more page time to explore the background to several scenes that don't necessarily make sense in the film such as how come that Blofeld's lair is in the middle of a ski resort? Or, why does Bond impersonate a Scot? Or, is there a reason for Tracy's manic-depressive behaviour at the beginning of the film?


The novel provides answers to all of this and really fleshes out the story beyond what the film could ever try do, but that is what is inherently magical in books - they allow for changes of perspective and inner monologues to be woven into the narrative.



He felt deeply protective towards her. But he knew that their relationship, and her equanimity, rested on a knife-edge which must not be disturbed.







However, even with the additional detail, I still could not love the book as much as I do love the film. Having thought about it for quite some time, I've come to the conclusion that there are three distinct reasons why the book did not quite work for me:


1. Fleming's attitude
Yes, while both the book and the film are definitely a product of their time, Fleming's novel includes a few more scenes that are just insupportable, such as that women may have a "subconscious desire to be raped" or that a woman who suffers from depression can magically snap out of it if only she meets the right man. Truly Fleminesque what-the-fuckery! I've said this before, and I'll say it again, Fleming was a sexist douche-canoe.


2. Bond
Gee, I don't like the man. While the book's insight into the motivations of characters could be of benefit, the film greatly improved Bond as a character by leaving out some of the inner monologue... 



Bond awoke, sweating. God Almighty! What had he done? But no! It wouldn’t be like that! Definitely not. He would still have his tough, exciting life, but now there would be Tracy to come home to.


All the right reasons, right?


However,  I do have to hand it to Bond, he does make a stand when it comes to being paid by Tracy's father to take her off his hands. Bond sniffs at a million pounds in gold in order to stick with  his principles. And, by the end of the book, Bond is truly shaken.


3. Tracy
The character of Tracy, played in the film by the incomparable Diana Rigg, is fabulous. Tracy's got some issues (which are explained in the book but not in the film), but she takes no nonsense, stands up to people, kicks Bond's butt at car racing, and saves his hide from Blofeld.  Yet, compared with the fabulous character in the film, book Tracy is a mere shadow of Rigg's depiction. There is a particular part of the dialogue in the book that has not transferred into the film, where Tracy relinquishes her independence.


While the scene and thought is appropriate for the time of the book's publication, it is still sad to see Tracy clip her own wings like that.

"She looked seriously at him, at every detail of his face. Then she leaned forward and they kissed. She got up briskly. ‘I suppose I’ve got to get used to doing what you say.'"

As you may have noticed, I haven't said much about the plot. As any other James Bond plot, it's ridiculous and outlandish. In particular, I didn't want to mention the completely daft idea of treating allergies with hypnosis. Oh, and Blofeld - besides wanting to take over the world - is looking into improving his family history with some certified connections to aristocracy. Again, ... not the most plausible in my mind, but oh well.


The main part of this Bond instalment is the love story, and the impact the encounter has on Bond. I have watched the film countless times, so the end of the book was no surprise. Still, the ending of the book, actually reading the lines, really got to me.

‘It’s all right,’ he said in a clear voice as if explaining something to a child. ‘It’s quite all right. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry. You see –’ Bond’s head sank down against hers and he whispered into her hair – ‘you see, we’ve got all the time in the world.’

Happy Friday

For all you history lovers out there....


Leicester City Council's got a sense of fun:


(Found on Ben Aaronovich's Twitter account)

50 Great Books about 50 Inspiring Women (from Flavorwire)

Reblogged from It's a Hardback Life:

From the Flavorwire archives, in honor of International Women's Day.

Image result for rosie the riveter

The IHOP Papers

The IHOP Papers - Ali Liebegott

Francesca, "Goaty", has a crush on her former college tutor and follows her to San Francisco, where she starts working at an IHOP, writing a novel, and crushing on pretty much every woman she meets... 

Seriously, if I had read a synopsis of the book, I would have given it a miss. As it turned out, however, the book is not just painfully cringe-worthy as we watch Goaty's journey of self-delusion, it is also, in part, really, really funny.


Unfortunately, The IHOP Papers are not as enjoyable as The Beautifully Worthless of Cha-Ching! both of which feature a much more mature main character. 

Ovid - The Metamorphoses - Reading progress update

Metamorphoses - Denis Feeney, Ovid, David Raeburn

Now that I have whittled down my currently reading shelf, I will start on my main reading project for this spring: Ovid's Metamorphoses


I dimly remember translating parts of this in Latin class in high school, but I can't say I truly appreciated Ovid's work other than for the sense of achievement that comes with slowly being able to translate a text from another language. 


It is time for a re-read.


I have no doubt that I will have lots of thoughts on this book. In fact, I believe this is the book that once already (when I first read parts of it) shattered my believe that people thought the world was flat until the age of the great explorers, when in fact, this notion of the flat earth had already been argued against, and a spherical shape widely accepted, by the Ancient Greeks. But such is the power of reading classical texts, isn't it?

It's not just a journey back in time to discover old stories, it's also a journey through the history of what is accepted as scientific knowledge.


Anyway, I will keep this as the main post and add updates of the 15 Books of the Metamorphoses as I sail through them.

The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop

The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop (Mrs Bradley, #2) - Gladys Mitchell

"Stop, James!" came in deep rich tones from the depths of the chair. "You are wearing grey flannel trousers!"

"Yes," agreed Jim, glancing down at them.

"If I had my way," said Mrs Bradley firmly, "grey flannel trousers should be taxed, together with dogs, automobiles, wireless receiving-sets, income, and the colour curiously termed beige."

I like Mitchell's character studies and her humour but her plotting and convoluted storytelling left me, yet again, puzzled beyond what I can put up with. I was lost by the half-way mark, and the red herrings and inconsequential discussions in the second half did nothing to salvage the mystery for me. 


Not even the humour and obvious Christie-mockery could make up for it.




*Edit* - I've changed my rating from 2 to 3 stars. I did enjoy the writing and the humor more than a 2-star rating would lead to believe. 

It seems that Monday has always been tricky...
It seems that Monday has always been tricky...

Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates (Cocaine Blues)

Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates - Kerry Greenwood

"Phryne leaned on the ship's rail. listening to the seagulls announcing that land was near, and watched for the first hint of sunrise. She had put on her lounging robe, of a dramatic oriental pattern of green and gold, an outfit not to be sprung suddenly on invalids or those of nervous tendencies - and she was rather glad that there was no one on deck to be astonished. It was five o'clock in the morning."

As much as I love the tv series, the book series will not one that I will continue with. 


All that I love about the tv series - the 1920s atmosphere, the banter between the characters, the quirky fun bits (like Dr. Mac's dry sense of humour) - I just can't get a feel for in the first book. 


I get that the book is different and that the characters (and back stories) are different, but I can't even get a sense of setting (any setting!) from the book. 

The writing is sparse and focused on dialogue, and except for whatever clothes people - especially Phryne - are wearing, there seemed to be hardly any description of anything. 

This strongly reminded me of the Murder, She Wrote tv tie-ins, which rely on the reader's knowledge of the series to fill in the missing parts with the knowledge of what the tv series had already communicated - visuals of place and characters. Except of course that the tie-ins were written to correspond with the tv series, which is not the case with the Phryne Fisher book (as the book preceded the tv series and has a slightly different story line and characters).


What's probably worse than not getting a sense of place - and I was really looking forward to reading about Melbourne in the 1920s! - was that I didn't even get a sense of the 1920s. 


So, yeah, this is where I am glad I got a copy from the library. I still love the tv series, tho. So much so that I consoled my disappointment with the book by re-watching a couple of favourite episodes on Netflix until the wee hours. 

The Secret Adversary

The Secret Adversary - Agatha Christie

IT was 2 p.m. on the afternoon of May 7, 1915. The Lusitania had been struck by two torpedoes in succession and was sinking rapidly, while the boats were being launched with all possible speed.

This is still one of the most intriguing Agatha Christie opening lines I have read (another can be found in Murder on the Orient Express, but I'll get to that in a different post). 


The Secret Adversary is the first adventure of Miss Prudence Cowley and Lieutenant Thomas Beresford, a.k.a. Tommy and Tuppence. 


Tommy and Tuppence have known each other since childhood but lost touch over the years with the exception that they met again in 1916, when Tommy was injured in the war and Tuppence worked as an auxiliary nurse. The story sets in as they meet again for the first time since 1916, now in London in 1920. Both are best described as Bright Young Things of their time, both are broke, and both are looking for way to make some money.


I absolutely love the start of this story, the setting and the dialogue between Tommy and Tuppence. It's fresh, it's witty, it's believable.

Christie shines through in every aspect of Tuppence, and, based on descriptions of her own circumstances in Christie's autobiography, I have a hunch that Tommy was somewhat inspired by Christie's then husband Archie.


When thinking about bright young things, I usually first think of Waugh's Vile Bodies. However, what is striking about The Secret Adversary is that it was published in 1922 - a whole 8 years before Vile Bodies!


This is only Christie's 2nd(!) published novel, and yet we get such fun dialogue as this:

"Rot!" said Tommy hastily. "Well, that's my position. I'm just about desperate."


"So am I! I've hung out as long as I could. I've touted round. I've answered advertisements. I've tried every mortal blessed thing. I've screwed and saved and pinched! But it's no good. I shall have to go home!"


"Don't you want to?"


"Of course I don't want to! What's the good of being sentimental? Father's a dear--I'm awfully fond of him--but you've no idea how I worry him! He has that delightful early Victorian view that short skirts and smoking are immoral. You can imagine what a thorn in the flesh I am to him! He just heaved a sigh of relief when the war took me off. You see, there are seven of us at home. It's awful! All housework and mothers' meetings! I have always been the changeling. I don't want to go back, but--oh, Tommy, what else is there to do?"


Tommy shook his head sadly. There was a silence, and then Tuppence burst out: "Money, money, money! I think about money morning, noon and night! I dare say it's mercenary of me, but there it is!"


"Same here," agreed Tommy with feeling.  

While I love Tummy and Tuppence, the plot of the story doesn't quite work for me. It's Christie's first attempt at international espionage, and, if you ask me, she should have left it at that. After the two friends discuss an idea to go into business together, the plot snowballs out of control fuelled by the most unlikely of coincidences, and at some point I got confused again (and this was my third re-read!) about who is who and who is bluffing whom. 


Mystery-wise, this is not the greatest of stories. However, I'd recommend it just for the sheer fun of getting to know Christie in her early years, before the necessity to make money from writing leads her to develop that famous formula that runs through most of her best known creations.

Love is Love

Love is Love: Exclusive Digital Edition - Sarah Gaydos, Jamie S. Rich

This is a collection of poetry, stories, and graphic artwork rather than one story. While all of the works included are expressing reactions to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the overarching theme of the collection is love. Love in various forms.


The artwork in this collection is fantastic, and really made me stop to think about it. 


Paper Girls

Paper Girls Volume 1 - Cliff Chiang, Brian K. Vaughan

I had heard good things about this and going by the synopsis, a graphic novel set in the 1980s and focusing on a group of girls on a paper route looked intriguing.


The 80s feel in this was great, the characters we're great, and I liked the artwork. 


What didn't work for me was the storyline. I'm just not that into time travel / alt universe even if this particular storyline also fits well with the 80s theme.

Currently reading

A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup
Gelebte Sehnsucht. Grenzgängerinnen der Moderne by Susanne Nadolny
Progress: 16/208pages
Metamorphoses by Denis Feeney, Ovid, David Raeburn
Progress: 144/723pages