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

Lord Peter Views the Body

Lord Peter Views the Body  - Dorothy L. Sayers

I like Peter and Bunter, but the stories in this collection were lacking something - either the development of other characters or a hook.


I stand by my hypothesis that some authors are great at creating novels but can't quite transfer the same skill to short stories or - without referring to the format - simply shorter stories.


Still, some fun adventures with Peter.


Now on to the next Wimsey novel...


Whoopigoldbergbook - Whoopi Goldberg

Well, this was fun. The style of the book immediately reminded me of the scene in one of my favourite Goldberg films Jumping Jack Flash, where her character, Terry Doolittle, is injected with a truth serum and can't stop herself from commenting on everything that is going on around her.


I loved that scene, but I can see how the train-of-thought approach to writing might not be to everyone's tastes.


Nevertheless, this was a book I really enjoyed. Goldberg is honest and forthcoming, to the point that she does admit that she had the help of a co-author when writing this, her first ever, book.


The sad aspect of the book of course is that many of the issues she writes about in this mixture of biography and social commentary are still relevant 20 years after the original publication in 1997.


Postern of Fate

Postern of Fate - Agatha Christie

Postern of Fate was Dame Agatha's last book. And knowing this, made reading the book rather sad. Not only because it is the last book she wrote but also because she seemed to have written it in a way to emphasize that this truly was Tommy and Tuppence Beresford's last hurrah.


So, we have Tommy and Tuppence in their seventies, moving into a new home in the country, and being reminded by their acquaintances of the great adventures they used to get into. As they start to get settled in their new house, Tuppence finds a book that contains a coded message to indicate that Mary Jordan did not die of natural causes.


But who was Mary Jordan?


The unravelling of the mystery ensues.


While the first half of the book was not horrible and seemed to merely meander through the nostalgia of the earlier adventures of T&T, the rest of the book seemed to pursue a similar line of conspiracy theory as the abominable Passenger to Frankfurt (yes, some of the characters in Passenger also appear in Postern of Fate) and the slightly less annoying Destination Unknown


Not that I don't enjoy a good conspiracy story, but not if it is told in such a rambling manner, without a logical train of thought, and, of course, not when it is anywhere near as ridiculous as or even reminding me of Passenger to Frankfurt.


So, with all these points against it, do I regret reading it? No. But then, I am a Christie fan/completist and appreciate that she is thought to have struggled with dementia in the late years of her life. A theory which the quality of her writing and plotting in her later books seems to support.

Book Haul...and Coffee

Happy Sunday All!


I had so many plans for this weekend, and only few of them have actually realised. However, when plans go out of the window because you're meeting up with friends for gelato instead, then who am I to argue with that?


Also, I passed by our local Waterstones on the way home from the gelato extravaganza. Passed by is not quite correct, tho, is it? I mean, "raided" would be more accurate. And because all that raiding was exhausting, I needed a pick me up, so stopped by the coffee roasters, too. This month's special roast is from Honduras (fair trade) and smells absolutely divine. Needless to say, it is currently steaming away in a cup next to me. 


In short, I am all set for the rest of the long - I have Monday off from work - weekend.


Hope you all are up to fine weekend capers, too.




Mario und der Zauberer (Mario and the Magician)

Mario und der Zauberer: Ein tragisches Reiseerlebnis - Thomas Mann

Soll man »abreisen«, wenn das Leben sich ein bißchen unheimlich, nicht ganz geheuer oder etwas peinlich und kränkend anläßt? Nein doch, man soll bleiben, soll sich das ansehen und sich dem aussetzen, gerade dabei gibt es vielleicht etwas zu lernen.


[tr. Should we "leave" when life is a bit eerie, not quite harsh, or a little embarrassing and ailing? No, you should stay, look at it and expose yourself to it, there may just be something to learn from it.]

It is spooky when a book that was written a long time ago and comments on an impending catastrophe, reflects - or seems to reflect - current affairs. 


Mario and the Magician was written in 1930 and describes the rise of fascism in Italy. I had no idea the novella would be about this. I was intrigued by the title simply because Thomas Mann was called "the Magician" by his children, which was not was this story was about at all. 


But there we have it, two sides of the coin: what can appear charming, entertaining, and imaginative by some, may also be used to destroy. An allegory used marvellously by Mann, whose grotesque magician Cipolla binds his audience by hypnotism to obey his commands, and whose disrespect for the dignity of the townspeople culminates in destruction. 

»War das auch das Ende?« wollten sie wissen, um sicherzugehen … »Ja, das war das Ende«, bestätigten wir ihnen. Ein Ende mit Schrecken, ein höchst fatales Ende. Und ein befreiendes Ende dennoch, – ich konnte und kann nicht umhin, es so zu empfinden!


[tr.: "Was that the end?" They wanted to know to make sure ... "Yes, that was the end," we confirmed. An end with horror, a most fatal end. And a liberating ending nevertheless, - I could and can not help feeling so!]

As for myself, I am still in shock that I have found a work by Thomas Mann that I could connect with, even if that connection is one of concerns for current events. I still don't enjoy Mann's writing style much, but in this instance his drawn out narrative and formal, seemingly dispassionate, choice of words, helped to build the tension of the story.

The Murder at the Vicarage

The Murder at the Vicarage - Agatha Christie

‘Nobody knows a thing about it except you, Padre.’ ‘My dear young man, you underestimate the detective instinct of village life. In St Mary Mead everyone knows your most intimate affairs. There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.’

The Murder at the Vicarage was the first Christie I have ever read, and although this was a long time ago, my recent re-read of this book still held the same enchantment as my first encounter with the book. 


There is something fabulous about this book that makes is quite different from Christie's other books, and I still can't put my finger on what it is that makes this one so special (other than a slight twinge of nostalgia of discovering Christie for the first time).


The book famously is the first of the Miss Marple mysteries but I really enjoyed all of the characters in this story, especially our narrator - the Vicar - and his wife:

‘It is a pity that I am such a shocking housekeeper,’ said my wife, with a tinge of genuine regret in her voice. I was inclined to agree with her. My wife’s name is Griselda— a highly suitable name for a parson’s wife. But there the suitability ends. She is not in the least meek.

They were such a lovely couple and Griselda seemed the kind of young woman with gumption that make Christie both fun and modern in her time. However, as some of you may recall, one of my main peeves with Christie is that she seems to have a problem with modern attitudes, and whilst I enjoyed Griselda's character, I could not help but notice during this re-read how often she is being patronised. 

What are you doing this afternoon, Griselda?’

‘My duty,’ said Griselda. ‘My duty as the Vicaress. Tea and scandal at four-thirty.’

‘Who is coming?’

Griselda ticked them off on her fingers with a glow of virtue on her face. ‘Mrs Price Ridley, Miss Wetherby, Miss Hartnell, and that terrible Miss Marple.’

‘I rather like Miss Marple,’ I said. ‘She has, at least, a sense of humour.’

She’s the worst cat in the village,’ said Griselda. ‘And she always knows every single thing that happens— and draws the worst inferences from it.’

Griselda, as I have said, is much younger than I am. At my time of life, one knows that the worst is usually true.

It's not just her husband who attributes her youth with naivety, but also the other villagers, especially one old biddy, which makes me question my perception of Christie's attitude towards young(er) characters. I mean, in her later novels, her high-Edwardian morals become problematic because they are so disconnected from the time she wrote in, but I (apparently wrongly) assumed that her earlier books did not have this problem. 

‘Don’t you think,’ said my wife, ‘that Miss Cram may just like having an interesting job? And that she considers Dr Stone just as an employer?’ There was a silence. Evidently none of the four ladies agreed. Miss Marple broke the silence by patting Griselda on the arm. ‘My dear,’ she said, ‘you are very young. The young have such innocent minds. 

As most of you know by now from my other Marple reviews, I don't like her as a character. That does not change my love of the book as whole, however, which is such a perfect construct of suspense, tight plot, and that little bit of satire of the English village. 

Miss Marple always sees everything. Gardening is as good as a smoke screen, and the habit of observing birds through powerful glasses can always be turned to account.

The Harmony Silk Factory

The Harmony Silk Factory - Tash Aw

Memories are things to be buried. They die, just as people do, and with their passing, all traces of the life they once touched are erased, for ever and completely.

Despite my initial misgivings about the book and despite the fact that the book suffered from the pressures of "having to read it" for a book group, The Harmony Silk Factory turned out to be a fairly interesting read. 


Mostly set in Malaysia just before the Japanese invasion, Aw created a story that is set on the verges of different things: the demise of colonial rule in Malaya, the fledgling rise of communism, the impending Japanese occupation. Nothing is set. Neither the circumstances of the story, nor the characters. 

The story is that of a man, Johnny Lim, yet, none of the story is told by Lim himself. We have three narrators, his son, his wife, his (supposedly) best friend, all of whom give their memory of Johnny Lim, and not one of whom is a reliable narrator. 


So, having marvelled at the book all the way through it, I am no longer sure that anything described in the book truly happened. Or at least not in the way, it appears.

For example, there is a drowning that is not a drowning, a father who may not be a father, an act of treason, that may not have been one.


What remains, however, is that Johnny Lim's story mostly seems to be a story of betrayal. It's either people themselves who commit this betrayal or it is their memory.

Not bad for a book that I did not think I would enjoy.


Where the book falls down, tho, is in that the abundant descriptions drag on and that it jumps so much between characters and time periods that it is confusing to follow.  

Reading progress update: I've read 15%.

The Harmony Silk Factory - Tash Aw

This may be a reading slump, this may be the story, or this may be an aversion to "having to read" a book, but I'm not feeling this one...

This is what happens when...

The Harmony Silk Factory - Tash Aw

I go to the library without first establishing the firm resolve to only return books and pick up what I had reserved.


So, apparently, I now joined a book group. The meeting is next Wednesday. 


I'd better get reading...


Black Disabled Woman Syllabus

Reblogged from JL's Bibliomania:




The people I've been listening to say that one of the most important things us able-bodied white folks can do is to signal boost.  So I thought I'd share the list of books and resources that Vilissa Thompson compiled about being black, disabled, and a woman. 


Most of what I see coming across my BookLikes feed is fiction, but perhaps someone who is looking for something to read in response to the current US upheaval or for Black History Month will now hear Vilissa and the others she mentions.



Culture and Anarchy

Culture and Anarchy - Jane Garnett, Matthew Arnold

But what is greatness?— culture makes us ask. Greatness is a spiritual condition worthy to excite love, interest, and admiration; and the outward proof of possessing greatness is that we excite love, interest, and admiration.

Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy was an odd book to come back to in these times of so much talk about making  things "great" again. I had first read the book way back when I was at university. Back then, I read the book with the purpose of finding arguments for and against different aspects of "culture" and whatever that meant, but I never got the time to read what Arnold actually had to say beyond his eternal buzzwords of "sweetness and light", both which are still as vague as ever. 


Having revisited with Arnold over the past couple of weeks, the best I can say is that I am glad I have read the book without the pressing agenda of writing a piece of coursework about it. There are a lot of sides to Arnold's writing that are worth exploring - tho, his sometimes tongue-in-cheek style of narration has left me wondering more than a few times which point he was trying to make. 


Just like the quote about greatness could be interpreted to mean all things to all people, Arnold's argumentation by use of fictional characters (and few real ones) generalised his ideas so much, that for most of the book I was left wanting to shout at him: "But where is your proof? Where are your sources for making this claim? What evidence have you to support your claim?"


And this was true even more so with the points I wanted to agree with, than it was with the sketchy claims I was looking to refute. It sounds great to hear Arnold use such flowery rhetoric like:

"It is in making endless additions to itself, in the endless expansion of its powers, in endless growth in wisdom and beauty, that the spirit of the human race finds its ideal. To reach this ideal, culture is an indispensable aid, and that is the true value of culture." Not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming, is the character of perfection as culture conceives it; and here, too, it coincides with religion. And because men are all members of one great whole, and the sympathy which is in human nature will not allow one member to be indifferent to the rest, or to have a perfect welfare independent of the rest, the expansion of our humanity, to suit the idea of perfection which culture forms, must be a general expansion.

But where are his examples? 

It sounds great to hear Arnold refer to "men are all members of one great whole" but in the same line of argument, he becomes divisive, too, when referring to the members of the working class not knowing what they want, to members of the middle class as wanting the wrong thing, to the members of the aristocracy as being too remote and not intervening enough in the frivolous pursuit of industry, to Philistines and Barbarians. But most divisively of all, Arnold seems to restrict the benefit of the application of "culture" as he saw it to the English.

"In the first place, it never was any part of our creed that the great right and blessedness of an Irishman, or, indeed, of anybody on earth except an Englishman, is to do as he likes; and we can have no scruple at all about abridging, if necessary, a non-Englishman's assertion of personal liberty. The British Constitution, its checks, and its prime virtues, are for Englishmen. We may extend them to others out of love and kindness; but we find no real divine law written on our hearts constraining us so to extend them."

Sarcasm? Or true sentiment? It depends on the reader's own outlook and interpretation. There is a fine line in Arnold's argument that can be used or abused for and against nationalism, for and against religion, for and against liberalism, etc. but left me with a general sense of puzzlement about whether any of Arnold's points had actually carried any momentum other than to promote the ever-so-wishy-washy phrase of "Sweetness and Light"?

"Now, the use of culture is that it helps us, by means of its spiritual standard of perfection, to regard wealth as but machinery, and not only to say as a matter of words that we regard wealth as but machinery, but really to perceive and feel that it is so. If it were not for this purging effect wrought upon our minds by culture, the whole world, the future as well as the present, would inevitably belong to the Philistines. The people who believe most that our greatness and welfare are proved by our being very rich, and who most give their lives and thoughts to becoming rich, are just the very people whom we call the Philistines. Culture says: "Consider these people, then, their way of life, their habits, their manners, the very tones of their voice; look at them attentively; observe the literature they read, the things which give them pleasure, the words which come forth out of their mouths, the thoughts which make the furniture of their minds; would any amount of wealth be worth having with the condition that one was to become just like these people by having it?"

By the end of the book, I was left craving for a more modern and more scientific approach to dissecting "culture" for all that it means, because while Arnold was (and to some extent still seems to be) celebrated for his efforts on defining culture, his efforts are limited to his own personal views with little to show any credentials of research or actual knowledge of society, history, or any other fields remotely relating to what we would now class as sociology, cultural studies, anthropology, etc. 


Nevertheless, if you're looking to dig into the mindset of a high-Victorian Englishman, Culture and Anarchy does make for an entertaining, tho slightly painful visit. 

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity  - Elizabeth Wein


I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending. I spent the first twelve years of my life playing at the Battle of Stirling Bridge with my five big brothers, and even though I am a girl they let me be William Wallace, who is supposed to be one of our ancestors, because I did the most rousing battle speeches. God, I tried hard last week. My God, I tried. But now I know I am a coward. After the ridiculous deal I made with SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden, I know I am a coward. And I’m going to give you anything you ask, everything I can remember. Absolutely Every Last Detail.

This was impressive. I had kept putting off reading Code Name Verity because I had no idea this was a YA novel when I got it, and when I found out that it was, my heart sank.


However, despite my reservations and some initial concern about the voice of the narrator, I could hardly put the book down. Sure, there are things you can pick apart, but in the end this was a tough spy story - and very much an adventure story that was engaging both mind and gut. And the latter was utterly wrenched.


Maybe it's because I have overdosed a little on Bond recently and a spy thriller from a female perspective was just what I needed as an anti-dote, or maybe it's because Wein takes great care with details without bragging about her research, or maybe it's because it's just nice to read a story about WWII that is not all about patriotism or nationalism or the clear division of good and evil, but this was a nice change of pace from my recent encounters with espionage thrillers.

Found on FB
Found on FB

Bond Does Romance...

On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Ian Fleming



All right. I needed diversion and maybe this will make you smile, too. 


I'm not taking part in the Romance Bingo but I love reading everyone's updates and look forward to those fab bingo cards being filled in. Also, I keep wondering about whether whichever book I'm reading would fit into any of the categories. And then it hit me hard:


While reading the latest James Bond - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - I kept picturing the bingo card and kept filling in different categories, which leads me to this: 


On Her Majesty's Secret Service expressed in Romance Bingo markers.



Are you ready for some VERY tenuous links between the bingo categories and the book???



1. Insta-love - Check!

I'm not sure which one to give you here Bond or Tracey, but Tracey - in a suicidal mood - pretty much decides that Bond is the one man who can save her after they spend an hour (that is one hour) in bed together. Btw, that hour happens within a short time of them exchanging their first words with each other. I'm sure no one is shocked by this - this is Fleming after all.


2. TSTL - Nope.

(Inconceivable, I know, but there are no TSTL characters in this one. Apart from the girl with the chicken allergy maybe. I'm giving her the benefit of my doubt, tho. She may have had hidden depths. We never get to find out.)


3. "Headless" Woman - Nope.

(Again, chicken lady notwithstanding...)


4. Love is Murder - Check! Check! Check!

It's very dramatic and very sad. If you've seen the film, you'll know that there is no happy ending.


5. New Adult - Nope.

(Thankfully, the genre wasn't in vogue when Fleming wrote this.)


6. Young Adult - Nope.

(Again, thankfully so.)


7. Regency Romance - Nope.

(Although, the idea would have been fun...)


8. Eyeshadow and Heaving Bosom - Nope.

(Unless, I've missed this. Hm...)


9. Virgin - Best First Time - Check!

Ok, tenous, because as we know neither Bond nor Tracy are virgins but there is a bizarre scene where Tracy wishes she had been one for Bond. I cringed so hard at that but Fleming just was full of such lines...


10. Gothic Romance - Nope. 

(Again, this might have been fun.)


11. Blown Away - Check!

Most absolutely! There is action in this one and it is practically choc-a-bloc with "tremendous explosions", one of which has Bond hurl "forward and sideways in a Catherine wheel of sticks and skis."


12. Man in a Kilt - Check!

This one is tenuous again. This is the book where we find out that Bond is half Scottish. Also, he gets to impersonate a Scot. However, unlike in the film, there is no mention of Bond wearing a kilt. On the other hand, it is nigh impossible to read this book and not picture him wearing one. So, I'd say it qualifies.


13. LOVE - Check!

In their own stupid ways Bond and Tracy are in love. 


14. Rogue - Check!

Erm, Bond. You have met Bond, right?


15. Historical Romance -  Nope. 

(There is some genealogy and heraldry as part of the plot, but it isn't a historical romance as such.)


16. Secret Billionaire - Check!

 Ah, but you see this one is interesting. When Bond first meets Tracy, she's broke and in debt with the casino. This would make her a social pariah but Bond steps in just in time to save her from the social disgrace. A few pages later, we learn that Tracy's father is a millionaire and she wasn't broke after all. (It's more complicated but you get the idea...)


17. Twins - Check!

(Again, I am thankful that Fleming did not get to write about twins in this.)


18. Fairy Tale Retelling - Check! Check! Check!

Bond as knight in (and out of) shiny armor rescuing the princess (or, in this case,

Comtesse Teresa di Vicenzo) is the main theme of this book!


19. Wedding Bells - Check! Check! Check!

This famously is the book where Bond gets married.


20. Second Chances -Check!

The first encounter of Bond and Tracy does not go well. They do end up in bed together, but this means little. (This is Bond we are talking about.) It takes both of them a second encounter to warm to each other.


21. Key to my Heart - Check!

As we know, Bond loves a woman who can drive a car. In this book, it is Tracy's driving skills that instantly attract Bond to her. It is quite a cute scene. 


22. Pirates Argh - Check!

A little tenuous, but I cannot help picturing Draco's henchmen as pirates. They are Sicilian and connected with the mafia, but in my mind they are pirates. At least, they conduct their business affairs in a similar style to what pirates did.


23. Guy/Girl Next Door - Nope.


24. Interracial Couple - Nope.


25. Urban Fantasy Romance - Nope.

(Again, it would have been fun...)


I kinda wish the card had been around when we started the Bond Buddy Read, but it may have given the impression that I was not taking Bond seriously. Which, erm, of course, I am. 


Btw, I am still stewing over the actual review of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It just needs a little more thought...


Culture and Anarchy - Reading progress update: I've read 22%.

Culture and Anarchy - Jane Garnett, Matthew Arnold

Well, I'd never thought I'd quote Matthew Arnold, but this seems to turn out to be quite a timely read.


Arnold on Culture:


And because men are all members of one great whole, and the sympathy which is in human nature will not allow one member to be indifferent to the rest, or to have a perfect welfare independent of the rest, the expansion of our humanity, to suit the idea of perfection which culture forms, must be a general expansion.

A Huddle of Pirates and ... Sunday Soup.

A "Huddle of Pirates"???


Yeah, I should explain that. Probably. Of course, if you'd rather keep that mental image, feel free to skip the next paragraph. 


This weekend was the first in a while where I had the time and energy to make plans with friends and do something fun, so I met up with friends for coffees and last night went to the see the local ice hockey team get beat. They deserved it. I'm not their biggest fan, but the other team were just better. Also, the other team has a better name and it includes the word Pirates. No way would I root for another team! :D


So, from our seats right behind one of the goals, we saw them huddle. It was fun. The friend I went with plays ice hockey and she was able to explain things to me. I'm sure she explained the same things to me last year, but I have no memory for the rules. Also, I wanted every opportunity I could get to suggest that the start of the game should be called the "puck off". It's a much better name. I think it will catch on. At least, I will make every effort to promote the term "puck off" as the new legit hockey phrase.



I'm sure others have thought of it before me, but anyway.


In other news, today is Sunday and I have made soup. I apologise for the distinct lack of Sunday Soup posts, but I just haven't felt inspired to experiment with cooking much - and in my case cooking is pretty much experimenting. What I said about memorising rules pretty much also applies to following recipes - it's just such an alien concept to me. (Or my mom. Or, come to think of it, my gran.)


After several simple veg and pasta combinations, I wanted to make something different. My first attempt didn't quite turn out, or turn into anything tasty really, so I didn't count it as a Sunday Soup endeavour. Never mind.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I came across a great vegan food blog that featured a soup I haven't had in years - solyanka.

It's a Russian soup with a nice balance of sweet and sour. It's usually using left-over veg and meat,  lemon, and a dollop of sour cream. The recipe I found is vegan (recipe here) but I changed it slightly to add some white cabbage, veggie "meat" chunks, and greek-style yogurt instead of the sunflower sour cream.


And this is what it looked like:



It was delicious.


Happy Sunday, All!



Currently reading

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
Progress: 60%
Gelebte Sehnsucht. Grenzgängerinnen der Moderne by Susanne Nadolny
Progress: 16/208pages
Am I Normal Yet? (The Normal Series) by Holly Bourne
The IHOP Papers by Ali Liebegott
Progress: 73/256pages
Metamorphoses by Denis Feeney, Ovid, David Raeburn