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

Halloween Bingo: Diverse Voices

The Red Power Murders - Thomas King

This is one of the physical books I packed for my holiday and I can't wait to see how Thomas King fares in the mystery/crime genre. 


From the blurb on GR:

"Thumps DreadfulWater has never liked surprises—even the good ones are annoying. So it’s no shock that a string of seemingly random occurrences is causing Thumps some real discomfort. First Noah Ridge, the Red Power Native activist, arrives in Thumps’ sleepy town of Chinook. Then the body of a retired FBI agent turns up at the local Holiday Inn. In the background hovers the ghostly presence of Lucy Kettle, second-in-charge of the Red Power movement, a tough woman in a tough place until her disappearance years ago. Now the sheriff wants Thumps to trade in his photography gig for a temporary cop beat. And it won’t be over, Thumps soon realizes, until everyone’s dead—or famous."

I will read The Red Power Murders for the Diverse Voices square.


Reading progress update: I've read 140 out of 287 pages.

Thirteen Guests - J. (Joseph) Jefferson Farjeon

So, we have several crimes

including a slashed painting, a dead dog, and two bodies,

(show spoiler)

and it seems the puzzle-solving is just getting underway.

“Well, Mr. John Foss,” said Nadine, as she sat on the pouffe that had been waiting for her all day, “shall we pool our knowledge and see whether we can make anything out of it?”

  “I’m afraid my own knowledge is very incomplete,” answered John.

“So is mine. So, I believe, is everybody’s. Just bits and pieces which they’re trying hard not to give up. Even Mr. Taverley.”

She paused, and added suddenly, “I don’t know whether you can feel it in here—this room is a sort of backwater—most reposeful—but the atmosphere in the rest of the house is positively—what?”

   “Secretive?” he suggested.

“Gives one the creeps. Yes, even quite apart from the fact that two dead people are lying in the studio. We’re all on guard against each other. Split up into small parties. That’s why I want to form a party with you. I wasn’t born for just my own company.”

   “I shouldn’t have thought you ever had to endure loneliness.”

“I don’t often. Perhaps that explains why I object to it so strongly when it happens. We’re all divided into groups of fours and twos and ones, and I refuse to be one of the ones!”

Heads up...

(Not an actual photo of me standing on my suitcase, tho I have similar socks.)


The temperatures have dropped, the autumn winds have arrived, and I am going to take a week off to soak in some extra sunshine before we're back in that time of year when daylight only seems to last for a hand-full of hours. 


I don't know if I'll be around much other than to check in every now and then but I expect that there will not be a lot of posts from me. 


My flight leaves tomorrow morning. So, I still have a few hours to decide which books to take. :D

Reading progress update: I've read 76 out of 287 pages.

Thirteen Guests - J. (Joseph) Jefferson Farjeon

Many things stirred that night. The golden retriever, Haig, restless in his kennel near the locked studio and sniffing sensitively with his cool black nose, was not alone in sensing uneasy happenings. The stag destined to be roused by harbourers on the morrow from his entanglement of fern and briar, lifted his head from the ground as though momentarily conscious of his new danger as well as his new dignity. He was in his fifth year, and had just emerged from the raw designation of young male deer. Then he lowered his head to invisibility again, with antlers laid back almost parallel with his body.

The cock-pheasant in the little wood near Bragley Court suddenly fluttered for no reason his sleepy mind could fathom. No stoat was near. Had Death itself, that unbelievable conception, cast a transitory shadow over the bird’s wing while seeking a location for its next victim? The sly old fox, back in his burrow at Mile Bottom after a pleasant meal of mice and beetles, took longer than usual to settle in his earthy den. He missed the badger whose house he had stolen. It was a pity the badger had not taken it kindly, and that they had quarrelled over the possession of a hen. They might have been pals.

Oooh. Could this be a nice bit of foreshadowing?

Halloween Bingo - Card & Books - Update Post

Slight change of plans re the physical sheep and Hastings stickers... 


Many thanks to Moonlight Madness, Obsidian Black Plague, and Murder by Death for my lovely card for this year's Halloween Bingo.

As with previous years, I will update this post as we go along - with Captain Hastings covering squares I have read, and The Gang popping up on squares that have been called.


I am also listing the books I plan to read / have read for each square - with () being planned reads, Italics being books in progress, and bold being books I have read:


Row # 1: 




Cryptozoologist: (The Curse of Loch Ness - Peter Tremayne)

Deadlands: Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

Country House Mystery:  Clouds of Witness - Dorothy L. Sayers

Classic Horror: Gothic Tales - Arthur Conan Doyle

Amateur Sleuth: The Expendable Man - Dorothy B. Hughes


Row # 2:



Genre: Horror:

Murder Most Foul:

Terror in a Small Town:

Romantic Suspense: Wildfire at Midnight - Mary Stewart

Modern Noir:  Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer


Row # 3:



A Grimm Tale: Six Gun Snow White - Catherynne Valente

13: 13 Guests - Jefferson Farjeon (in progress)

Free Space:  Get Well Soon - Jennifer Wright 

Gothic: (The Last Man - Mary Shelley)

Terrifying women: (Deep Water - Patricia Highsmith...unless it qualifies for the drowning square)


Row # 4:



Modern Masters of Horror: October - Michael Rowe

Ghost Stories: The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde

Darkest London: 

Relics and Curiosities:  The Amulet - Michael McDowell

Genre: Suspense: 


Row # 5:



Fear The Drowning Deep: Fatal Passage - Ken McGoogan (in progress)

Cozy Mystery: Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers

Diverse Voices:  (The Red Power Murders - Thomas King)

New Release: (Stealth - Hugh Fraser)



Unallocated but in progress: n/a


Wildcards available: 2 (no author nominated as yet)


Halloween Bingo - Classic Horror - Progress Update

Gothic Tales (Oxford World's Classics Hardback Collection) -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Darryl Jones

Update: Finished the book, claiming the square.


I've been looking forward to this square quite a lot. It gives me an opportunity to combine my quest to read more Arthur Conan Doyle with Halloween Bingo. 


While ACD is, of course, best known for the Sherlock Holmes stories, he also left an abundance of other stories to us, many of them quite Gothic and featuring ghosts and mummies and other evil characters. 


This edition of Gothic Tales contains 34 short stories of horror and suspense that are not related to the Holmes canon.


I'm going to spread out reading this volume over this month and use this post as a tracker of which stories I have read (as I tend to not read short story collections in order necessarily and there are some stories I want to get to first).


The 34 Stories:


The American's Tale - 3.5* - fun, in a cryptozoological way

The Captain of the "Polestar" - 4.5* - Wow. So much atmosphere.

The Winning Shot - 3.5* - Necromancy?

J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement - 2.5* - Interesting but too dragged out, also very dated.

John Barrington Cowles - 4.5* - So good. So dark.

Uncle Jeremy's Household - 1* - Thriving on Indian mysticism and some stereotyping.

The Ring of Thoth - 4* - spooky

The Surgeon of Gaster Fell - 2* - Boring.

A Pastoral Horror - 3.5* - Haha. Gory, but with a fun twist.

"De Profundis" - 4* - Grim, in a plague way.

Lot No. 249 - 4.5* - Classic, fun mummy horror.

The Los Amigos Fiasco - 4* - Truly grim. A story about electrocution.

The Case of Lady Sannox - 3* stomach turning tale. Also, ironic that the stereotyping backfires. 

The Lord of Chateau Noir - 2* - Meh.

The Third Generation - 2* Meh. Medical superstition.

The Striped Chest - 3* - Good, fun, maritime superstition.

The Fiend of the Cooperage - 1* - VERY colonial creature feature.

The Beetle-Hunter - 4* - Atmospheric. This could be at home in the Holmes canon. Also: Brooke Street!

The Sealed Room - 2* - Ghostly.

The Brazilian Cat - 4* - Another one that reads Holmesian in nature. Also: Pernambuco! :D 

The New Catacomb - 3* - another one where archaeology features

The Retirement of Signor Lambert - 2.5* - Operatic ripper story.

The Brown Hand - 2* - Draaaagging on a bit.

Playing with Fire - 3.5* Paranormal fun.

The Leather Funnel - 4* - pure Gothic horror based on historical fact

The Pot of Caviare - 3* - "It was the salmon mousse."

The Terror of Blue John Gap - 2.5* - too drawn out. Fits with the Lost World.

Through the Veil - 3* - Supernatural Scotland.

How It Happened - 4.5* - Aww. Cute.

The Horror of the Heights - 2* - too much like Lovecraft for me

The Bully of Brocas Court - 3* - Regency bare-knuckle fighting.

The Nightmare Room - 4* - Ha. A very 1920s twist.

The Lift - 2* - Evangelical.


Reading progress update: I've read 71 out of 287 pages.

Thirteen Guests - J. (Joseph) Jefferson Farjeon

Coming back to the fabulous Mr. Farjeon's writing after the two excursions into Mary Stewart's work of "romantic suspense" makes me appreciate his writing even more. 


If we must have an insta-something romance among the threat of blackmail and murder, then let it be written like this:

“You’re not going to ask me what I know about you that would make you wince?”

   “No. You can tell me that voluntarily, if ever you want to. May I put the question?”


   “Well, here goes. It’ll show you, anyhow, that I’m not idealising you.” She wondered. “When you kissed me just now, did you feel as though you were beginning another ‘affair’?”

   For an instant she almost decided to cheat. But for his reference to David Garrick, she might have. That reference had weakened her defences, however, for she doubted now, as she saw his eyes watching her for every informative little sign, whether she could cheat him. For once in her life, she had the sense that she was being beaten.

“Would you like to withdraw the question?” She gave him that chance, but he did not take it. He shook his head.

“No, I didn’t feel I was beginning an affair,” she answered. “So now where are we?”

   He found, to his dismay, that he did not know. The exact significance of a kiss has baffled countless intelligences. His expression gave him away, and as she felt her power returning she was urged by an intense desire to use it kindly.

   “Listen, John,” she said. “And you can call me Nadine. That doesn’t mean anything these days. I’m not a silly, impulsive woman, though a few fools sometimes imagine I am, but I do react quickly to a situation when it develops. That’s my true nature. I even remember the day when I found it out—consciously, I mean. A pretty foul beast kissed me, and spoilt his chance of a repetition by saying, ‘If you can’t be good, be careful.’

I slapped his face, but I took his advice. I asked myself whether I was ‘good.’ I refused to hedge. I found I wasn’t. But—you may or you may not understand this—I refused to desert myself—to become twisted, or dull, or insignificant—by living the life of some one else. It wouldn’t have been life to a person like me. It would have been death. So I decided to be careful, to stick to a few rules I made, and have generally kept to, and to go through with it.”

She paused suddenly. Then gave a little shrug, and continued: “Rather funny, telling you all this after only a few hours’ acquaintance, but somehow I feel I owe it to you. And then one of my rules is to be frank—although I admit my frankness with you has been unusually rapid.... I wonder why?”

   He restrained an impulse to make a suggestion. Her self-analysis fascinated him, and he did not want to interrupt it. His eyes were on the contours of her shoulder, but his attention was on the contours of her mind.

This Rough Magic

This Rough Magic - Mary Stewart

I'm done.

Done with the book and done with Stewart. 


Her kind of romantic suspense really does not work for me on either romance side or the suspense side of things.


Having read two of her books, I am left with a feeling that her stories are overly contrived, full of snobbery, looking down on people who are different from a specific set of stuck-up upper-middle class English folk, and promoting an ideal of woman that is dated, and that I would have perceived as dated even at the time that the books were written. 


I'm coming away from her books with a sense of regression of ideas and perceptions that, to me, read more like a terrifying vision of dystopia in the way of The Stepford Wives than a state of affairs, romantic or otherwise, that is to be aspired to, or that provides me with any escapist comfort.


It was interesting to try and broaden my horizons and discover a new to me author. I also have to say that Stewart could create an absolutely spectacular sense of place and atmosphere. 

However, I found her characters and story lines just aggravating.


Not for me.



Previous updates:


Just to get it out of my system...

Reading progress update: I've read 129 out of 372 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 262 out of 372 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 308 out of 372 pages.

Reading progress update: I've read 308 out of 372 pages.

This Rough Magic - Mary Stewart

‘Where is she tonight? Did she know you’d come out?’

‘She’s out with friends at the Corfu Palace. I got a note from her when I got in, and it was too late to join them, so I just stayed home. I … felt kind of blue. We’d had such a lovely day, you and I, I just couldn’t stay in the house, somehow.’

‘Poor Lucy. And then I was foul to you, I’m so sorry. Anybody know where you are?’

The question was casual, almost caressing, and it went off like a fire alarm. I hesitated perhaps a second too long.

‘Miranda was in the house. I told her I was coming out.’

‘To the boat-house?’

‘Well, no. I didn’t know that myself, did I?’

If you're alone on a boat with a man you suspect of being a murderer, you probably do not want to tell him that no one knows where you went.

Lucy is such a dipstick.


Reading progress update: I've read 262 out of 372 pages.

This Rough Magic - Mary Stewart

‘Lovely, thanks. We went to the Achilleion.’

‘I have been there once. It is very wonderful, is it not?’

‘Very. Then we had tea at Benitses.’

‘Benitses? Why did you go there? There is nothing at Benitses! In Corfu it is better.’

‘I wanted to see it, and to drive back along the sea. Besides, I was longing for some tea, and Corfu was too far, and I wanted to look at some antiquities on the way home.’

She knitted her brows.

‘Antiquities? Oh, you mean statues, like the ones on the Esplanade, the fine English ones.’ ‘In a way, though those aren’t old enough. It really means things many hundreds of years old, like the things in the Museum in Corfu.’

‘Are they valuable, these antiquities?’

‘Very. I don’t know if you could say what they were worth in terms of money, but I’d say they’re beyond price. Have you seen them?’

If you ever find me explaining the meaning of "antiquity" to a Greek adult, please kick me.

Reading progress update: I've read 129 out of 372 pages.

This Rough Magic - Mary Stewart

I laughed at her. ‘You should be like me, and get your jewellery you-know-where. Then you could lose the lot down on the beach, and not worry about Leo’s beating you.’

‘If that was all I thought would happen,’ said Phyllida, with a spice of her usual self, ‘I’d probably enjoy it. But it’s his mother.’

This. This is the sort of throw-away comment that pops up through-out the book that makes me cringe. It's not just dated, it's not even funny. 


And the description of women in this book is just down-right insulting:


Phyllida was described earlier as the stereotypical hysterical female. She forgot her valuable diamond ring in a plastic bag at the beach, then blamed her male friend who retrieved her things from the beach for not noticing the bag. This was right after they discovered the body. He tried to help comfort her and not make her go back to the place where they found the body. He had no reason to know that the plastic bag was hers.

How in the world is it his fault she lost the bloody ring?!


Our main character - Lucy - is little better. She over-dramatises everything and is so naive, I'm not even sure how she even manages any social interaction. She's not TSTL exactly but she's really, really childlike. 


And then we have the dolphin. Stewart - through Lucy's eyes - tries to make the dolphin out to be some sort of magical sea monster. 

Don't get me wrong, I also hold dolphins to be magical in numerous ways, but our poor excuse for a heroine needs to get over it and accept that it is a dolphin, not the Kraken.

The bundle stirred. As my breath whistled sharply in, I saw, in the torchlight, the gleam of a living eye. But then in the split half-second that prevented me from screaming, I saw what – not who – this was. It was the dolphin.

Apollo’s child. Amphitryte’s darling. The sea-magician. High and dry.

The eye moved, watching me. The tail stirred again, as if trying to beat movement out of the hard earth as it would from water. It struck the edge of the crisping ripples with a splash that seemed to echo right up the rocks.

I tiptoed closer, under the blackness of the pines. ‘Darling?’ I said softly. ‘What’s the matter? Are you hurt?’

The creature lay still, unblinking, the eye liquid and watchful. It was silly to look, as I did, for recognition, but at least I could see no fear of me. I shone the torch carefully over the big body. There seemed to be no wound, or mark of any kind. I examined the sand round about. There was no blood, only a wide, dragged wake where the animal had been hauled or thrown out of the water.

Just to get it out of my system...

This Rough Magic - Mary Stewart

...and, more importantly, off of my shelves:


I started This Rough Magic on Sunday morning but could only handle so much of the book before I wanted to slap several of the characters. 


The problem is, I really want to read the book until the end because Stewart's atmospheric writing is just that good and I really like the idea of tying this story into the story of The Tempest (Shakespeare). 


So, I think I will finish this book this week - independent from Halloween Bingo - in the hope that this will cure me of any desire to read more of Stewart's work.

The Sunday Post ... Lighthouses and Soup

Happy Sunday!


I've needed today to just relax and do some over-due household there was not a lot of excitement today. But, I was also recovering from a very, very windswept day out with friends yesterday.

Just as we had the city's Doors Open Day last week, yesterday and today the Shire held a similar event. 


So, a couple of friends and I jumped at the chance of a wee road trip on a gorgeous day to see Tod Head Lighthouse.


The lighthouse is one of the later Stevenson ones. It was designed by David Alan Stevenson of the famous family of lighthouse engineers, a cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson (the author), and grandson of Robert Stevenson who pioneered lighthouse engineering around these parts.

Tod Head was built in 1897, much later than the famous lighthouses built by Robert Stevenson (such as the famous Bell Rock built between 1807 and 1810), but it follows the same sort of design as the earlier buildings - and you can pretty much spot a Stevenson lighthouse based on the outline shape. 


Tod Head was decommissioned in 2007 and has been private property since. This is why it was such a special event to be able to have look at the lighthouse from up close - it is not one that is open to the public on any other day of the year. 



We arrived at the lighthouse a few minutes early and spent a few minutes braving the strong wind and communing with the resident rescue chickens, while the owners took the opportunity to grab some late lunch. Apparently they had visitors since 10 am and had been rushed off their feet all day. I believe it. It is a fabulous spot and even tho they had organised a booking system (all free of charge but there is limited parking), people just dropped by in a constant stream. 

Anyway, we had some fun with the chickens. They had a lot character and liked shoe laces. When we got back to the front of the building, one chicken had followed us and managed to completely freak out one of the visitors just by freely roaming in the garden. I don't know, but I felt sorry for the chicken more than I was for the lady who apparently was not expecting animals to roam the property...even tho you had to pass by several farms complete with cows and sheep to get to the lighthouse. It was weird. It was also kinda funny. 


This is the chicken that caused so much terror.


The funniest thing that happened, however, was that just when people started to leave the lighthouse, a couple of sheep decided to go for a leisurely wander on the single road track that led back to the road. And the lady who had earlier been terrorised by a member of the poultry gang was the second car stuck behind the sheep. Luckily, the first car were a couple of young guys, one of whom got out and tried to drive the sheep along without stressing them out too much. 


Now, I don't know about you, but from what I know about sheep, I have a feeling the two were doing this all day long - messing with visitors, popping on the road for a walk down to the other field whenever there was a car in sight. 


Anyway, the lighthouse was lovely, but the animals made our day yesterday. 


Sunday Soup:


As I mentioned, I mainly did some home maintenance today, which also included some cooking. I was in the mood for something light, so tried a variation of this Egg Drop Soup.


The variation was that I used vegetable bouillon and, just because I seem to simply be incapable of following recipes, I added some sweetcorn and peas and half a fresh red chili pepper.


No chickens were harmed in making this soup.


It was tasty, but not exactly filling. It did go well with with a sandwich on the side, tho.

Reading progress update: I've read 28 out of 287 pages.

Thirteen Guests - J. (Joseph) Jefferson Farjeon

Interestingly, this Farjeon story also starts with a scene on a train:

“Hallo—Flensham!” he exclaimed suddenly.

The train began to move on again. The young man jumped to his feet. On the rack above him was a suitcase. He seized it with one hand, while the other groped for the door-handle. A moment later the suitcase shot out on to the platform.

The sight amused the lady, to whom every sensation was meat, but it insulted the large and depressed station-master, to whom every sensation was a menace to routine.

Worse followed. The owner of the suitcase shot out after his belonging, and as he shot out his foot caught in the framework of the door. Now the lady’s amusement changed swiftly to anxiety, and the station-master’s indignation to alarm.

“Quick! Help him!” cried the lady.

The station-master, the chauffeur, and a porter ran forward. The train chugged on. Its late passenger sat on the ground, holding his foot. He had been pale before; he was considerably paler now.

I'm loving it so far. It has all the wit and fun that Mystery in White had. Maybe even more so.

The teacups at the Black Stag were thick and white. At Bragley Court they were thin and yellow, and they began their clinking in the drawing-room, a long, lofty room of pink and cream, and then followed the guests to their various locations. If you disliked pink and cream and a preponderance of elderly feminine society, you stayed away from the official headquarters, confident that the yellow cups would find out where you were and come to you. Mohammed, at Bragley Court, would not have been put to the trouble of going to his mountain.

John’s cup came to him at exactly five o’clock, on a brightly-polished mahogany tray.

Seriously, if this one continues the same way it has started, I will feel the need to read everything that Farjeon has written.

Ways to Die in Glasgow

Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer

Sometimes you can sense a shitty day is on the way. I liked to give them levels—scores out of ten. The game was to guess at the start what level of shite the day would achieve. I’d got pretty good at it. I judged I was at the beginning of a seven. Maybe I’d be able to get it down to a six if I went for a run later, got some air into my brain and cleared out the booze.

I don't know what I expected by I'm kind of glad this book wasn't it. For the first third of the book I was so bored with the patronising tone, the gore, the over-the-top descriptions of the Glaswegian criminal underbelly that I really considered swapping this book out for another. 


But then the story seemed to have gotten beyond the scene setting and picked up some pace to move the plot forward and actually developed into a bit of a ride, where I could not figure what the next turn would bring. 


Would the character I just got attached to make it through the next chapter? 

Would the solution to the murders - plural, there are lots - turn out how I imagined it?

Would the author name yet another street that I remember staggering along after a fun a night out to see a band? 


There were elements in this book that I didn't enjoy but that I appreciate for needing to be in the story to create the Noir atmosphere and setting. And, yet, having finished the book, I am left with a smile, looking forward to the next adventure featuring Sam Ireland and her haphazard ways of investigating, and hoping that I might enjoy this series just as much as McDermid's Karen Pirie books, which I was reminded of more than once this afternoon.

Reading progress update: I've read 88%.

Ways to Die in Glasgow - Jay Stringer

I can't remember which fellow BookLiker mentioned that is was better not to get too attached to the characters, but that was really sound advice.


It's a little bit like Game of Thrones but set in Glasgow, ... and without dragons.

Currently reading

The Red Power Murders by Thomas King
Fatal Passage by Ken McGoogan
Progress: 163/327pages
Teller Of Tales: The Life Of Arthur Conan Doyle by Daniel Stashower
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry
Progress: 79%