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

Heads up....

Buona sera,


Just as a heads up, I will be out of town for a few days. In case I'm not responding to messages and posts, I haven't left BL or anything, I'm just trying to burn the candle at both ends and make the most of this work trip.

Should be back on Sunday night unless I get lost, which is always a possibility as I am going to try and add some adventure to the whole thing.


BT :)


2016 Mt. TBR - October Update

So, with all the bingo fun over the past few months, I have totally neglected Mt. TBR. I just checked, and the last time I wrote an update about Mt. TBR was in May.



Suffice it to say that I have no idea what books I have added since...I may have lost track a little here.


Book count....


January Mt. TBR - 44

February Mt. TBR - 40

March Mt. TBR - 35

April Mt. TBR - 35  

May Mt. TBR - 37 (another 4 are still wip)


October Mt. TBR - 45 (Huh???)



Actual running total of Mt. TBR books read in 2016: 37

Books added since last update: ???

Swaps this month: 0



Rules - I picked a stack of physical books of my shelves at home which I would read over the course of the year. Any new purchases are added to the pile. If I pick another physical book off my shelves, I get to take one off the pile and put it on the shelf - as a swap.


Silence: A Novel (Picador Modern Classics) - Shusaku Endo, William  Johnston, Martin Scorsese

Many thanks to the More Historical Than Fiction book club for bringing this book to my attention.


The premise of a story of catholic missionaries trying to spread Christianity in Japan really caught my interest because I have fond memories of reading Shogun, which featured a similar premise as a side-story. Although, if any of you have read Shogun "fond" may not be the best way to describe the reading experience as there lots - and I do mean LOTS - of gory descriptions of cruelty and violence.


Obviously, I must have forgotten about that when I gleefully signed up to the group read of Silence.


Endo also goes into a lot of detail when describing the obstacles and hardship - read "torture and violence" - that the priests and Christians endured under the samurai rule, at a time when Christianity was banned from Japan - because the rulers decided it was of "no value" (according to one of Endo's characters) to the Japanese society.


The second aspect that intrigued me to the book was, of course, that some reviews compare Endo to Graham Greene. How could I not be intrigued by that?


Silence really was an intriguing read. Endo really tried to capture the mind and spirit of the priest that is sent to Japan and discovers that he may not be able to fulfill his mission and the doubt he feels when he witnesses the events around him.


Unfortunately, this really didn't work for me.


Endo's narrative limits the reader to experience the book only from the priest's point of view. There is not a lot of dialogue or consideration that deals with the point of view of the Japanese characters. I'm sure Endo created this limitation on purpose, maybe to focus on the priestly condition and to emphasize the isolation of the foreigner from the other people around him, but without the other perspectives the book is really limited and reads more like a list of Japanese torture methods than an investigation into the human or priestly condition.


In turn, this distances Endo's work from that of Greene's. I may not have enjoyed Greene's religious musings but at least he made his protagonists doubt their mission, doubt their conviction, and consider other points of view. This was missing from Silence.

Hallowe'en Bingo - Blackout & Booklist

Blackout update - 15th October: Thank you OB and MR for creating and running this bingo game. It has been so much fun - not just reading and following everyone else's updates, but also venturing out of my comfort zone for some of the squares.


For the Halloween Bingo, I'll keep this post as the master bingo card and will re-post it whenever there is an update. (**Edit** I will update the post throughout the week but will only re-post on a Sunday.)

I have also added a link to this post on my blog menu.


We (the flock and I) have the following squares covered:



And these are the books - proposed reads are in italics, finished reads are in bold:


1. Candlelight/Flashlight -

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman 


2. Magical Realism -

Boy's Life by Robert McCammon


3. Witches -  

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett  


4. Horror -

The Elementals by Michael McDowell 


5. Black Cat -

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe 


6. Diverse Authors -

Salsa Nocturna by Daniel Jose Older 


7. Ghost/Haunted Houses -

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende 


8. YA Horror -

The Witchcraft of Salem Village by Shirley Jackson


9. Scary Women -

Mermaids on the Golf Course by Patricia Highsmith


10. Reads w/Friends -

The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. C. Doyle 


11. Grave/Graveyard -

The Distant Echo - Val McDermid 


12. Mystery -

Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie  


13. Free Space!

The Raven by E.A. Poe


14. Gothic -  

Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu 


15. Creepy Crawlies -

The Adventure of the Speckled Band - A.C. Doyle 


16. "Fall" -

Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz 


17. Locked Room Mystery -

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers 


18. Dark/Stormy Night -

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett


19. New England -

Murder, She Wrote: Killer in the Kitchen by Donald Bain, Jessica Fletcher


20. Full Moon -

Jogger’s Moon by Jon Messmann  


21. Vamps vs. Werewolves -

Night Shift by Charlaine Harris 


22. Supernatural -

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury 


23. Classic Horror -

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman


24. Pumpkin -

The Human Ate My Pumpkin! by Jon Mac


25. Set on Halloween -

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie




























The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende

Nana had the idea that a good fright might make the child speak, and spent nine years inventing all sorts of desperate strategies for frightening Clara, the end result of which was to immunize the girl forever against terror and surprise. Soon Clara was afraid of nothing. She was unmoved by the sudden appearance of the most livid and undernourished monsters in her room, or by the knock of devils and vampires at her bedroom window. Nana dressed up as a headless pirate, as the executioner of the Tower of London, as a werewolf or a horned devil, depending on her inspiration of the moment and on the ideas she got while flipping through the pages of certain horror magazines, which she bought for this purpose and from which, although she was unable to read, she copied the illustrations. She had acquired the habit of gliding silently through the hallways and jumping at the child in the dark, howling through the doorways, and hiding live animals between her sheet, but none of this elicited so much as a peep from the little girl.

It's just so damn hard to surprise a clairvoyant.


This was my second reading of The House of the Spirits and, if anything, I enjoyed the magical elements of the book much more on this visit.

A re-visit.

A re-visit, spending this last week with the Trueba family, who in turn are re-visited by their past, which Allende spins into the narrative with such ease that reading the story of the different generations made me wonder at every turn of the page what happens next, and what happens to this or that character. Throw in the unspecified political and historical context of the story and I was hooked. Again, I think the second read was more engaging for me than the first in this respect, too. I guess, when I read the book for the first time, I was looking for clear-cut references and didn't appreciate the intention of the book as much, but some of the beauty and sadness of the book lies in the possibility that it may have been the story of many families, not just that of the Truebas.

I'm looking forward to that catch-up.
I'm looking forward to that catch-up.

The Meaning of Matthew & The Laramie Project

The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed - Judy Shepard The Laramie Project - Tectonic Theater Project, Moisés Kaufman

This isn't much of a review. I've been trying to put together a review of both books ever since I read them earlier this year, but just really don't want to critique the stories or styles or messages in either The Meaning of Matthew or The Laramie Project.


The Meaning of Matthew is Judy Shepard's biography of her son and her account of the trial of her son's murderers. She's not a writer but she does tell her story in earnest and without canonizing her son. He was a flawed young man with problems that he was working to overcome. His mother is very candid about this. As much as the book is about Matthew and his death, however, it is also about the public response and the family's engagement with the family. The overwhelming public support that the Shepards received led them to set up a charity in their son's name, which is still going.


I expected that at least some part of the book might be bitter; it was not. On the contrary, I found it to carry a different message altogether: Instead of accusing society of its failings to protect her son, the message the book seemed to carry was one of amazement of how people of different faiths, different backgrounds, different views, could rally together in a crisis, and one of hope that society as a whole will grow from that crisis.


The Laramie Project is a play based on interview's that the theatre group conducted in Laramie in the wake of the murder. The interviews captured the shock of the community and the disbelief that such a senseless act of violence could have happened in that community.

Much like The Story of Matthew, The Laramie Project also focuses on the humanity and kindness that came to the fore in the aftermath of the murder. My favourite scene - which is also features in Judy Shepard's memoir - is how a group of students made up angel costumes and formed a chain around a group of Westboro Baptist Church protestors to block them from shouting abuse at the family at the funeral. 


What led me to picking up these two books is that I have my own memories of the media coverage and discussions about the murder. When Matthew Shepard died on 12th October 1998, I was a teenager, away from home for the first time on my own for a long period of time. I had accepted a placement as a foreign exchange student in a small town in West Texas. What I remember mostly about the actual event, is that a lot of people I went to school with - only a three years younger than Matthew - were full of homophobic nonsense and full of conviction that their view of the world was the only one that was valid. It was scary.

So, I was both surprised and grateful that both books chose to not focus on the fears and  prejudices in people they, I am sure, must have encountered in connection with the events, and instead chose to create a memory to people who found a way to share their humanity.

The Sunday Post (belated)

Dear Friends,


It's been a while since I posted about something dear to me. The last few months have been pretty stressful for various reasons, and sometimes it's not that easy to remember the simple and good things that are around.


Yesterday, I met up with a friend for coffee...and cake. We try to catch up like that every few weeks, just hang out in this fab little local cafe (that make their own chocolate!) and catch up on the world, books, plan adventures. It's simple but it's great fun.


Anyway, yesterday I arrived, and my friend had placed a bag on my seat. Turns out she made me a blanket - specifically for keeping cozy when reading (those are her instructions!).

I was just happy spending time with my friend and catching up, but now,....... Now I have the world's most awesome reading blanky!




The First Man In Rome: Update: I've read 56 out of 705 pages.

The First Man in Rome - Colleen McCullough

"Birth is an accident!" Said Marius with equal passion. "Why should it have the power to dictate the course of a life?"

"Why should money?" Caesar countered. "Come now, Gaius Marius, admit that it is why the way of all men in all lands to value birth and money"

I love McCullough's writing. Twenty pages ago I had doubts whether I would be able to stay with this book, but it seems that we are now past the initial scene setting and introduction of main characters.

Sunday Soup

I did not have much time today, but still wanted to make something quick for dinner, which I could heat up again tomorrow night. Chances are that Monday will be a long day at the office.


Anyway, I hoped for something more adventurous this Sunday but ended up making another batch of veggie and pasta soup.



Happy (Soup) Sunday!


Jogger's Moon

Jogger's Moon - Jon Messman

They don't write thrillers like this anymore! 

And that's a good thing.


Well, maybe they do still write thrillers like this, but at least I tend not to read them.  

Don't get me wrong, I did not hate this book. It is just very dated, and although it did remind me in parts of Cagney and Lacey, which is a very good thing, it just wasn't Cagney and Lacey.


The police, led by a NY Italian (who is struggling with his divorce) and his sidekick (who is struggling with her attraction to her colleague), just didn't do anything for me.


The mystery is kinda meh, and the main interest in this book for me was to read the crazed out monologues of the killer.


Seriously, I love the idea of reading this kind of book but there is just not much there in way of story of characters to justify the effort.


There are some funny parts, but they are really only funny because they are so dated. 

Hallowe'en Bingo - Last Book

The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende

I can't believe it but I have reached the last square and last book for the Hallowe'en Bingo.


It's been a coin toss between House of the Spirits and a re-read of The Haunting of Hill House - which really is the perfect book for the haunted house square. I'm looking forward to re-visiting The House of the Spirits, tho. It has been a long time since I read it.


The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Complete Sherlock Holmes -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Ryan

My first impression as I opened the door was that a fire had broken out, for the room was so filled with smoke that the light of the lamp upon the table was blurred by it. As I entered, however, my fears were set at rest, for it was the acrid fumes of strong coarse tobacco which took me by the throat and set me coughing. Through the haze I had a vague vision of Holmes in his dressing-gown coiled up in an armchair with his black clay pipe between his lips. Several rolls of paper lay around him.

"Caught cold, Watson?” said he.

“No, it’s this poisonous atmosphere.”

“I suppose it is pretty thick, now that you mention it.”

“Thick! It is intolerable.”

“Open the window, then! You have been at your club all day, I perceive.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“Am I right?”

“Certainly, but how?”

What's not to love about Holmes and Watson?


In The Hound of the Baskervilles we have another adventure of the two, but unlike in other stories, Watson takes centre stage for a lot of the story. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but the stories do live off the chemistry between the two characters.


I am not going to give away any of the plot here, but there is a certain scene in Chapter 12 that I love best of all of the story. Although, I have to admit, the idea of a lepidopterist chasing across the Dartmoor moors with a butterfly net also appeals to my sense of whimsy.

Anyway, this story is not about butterflies. It's about a hound and boots and murder, and I loved it.


What's more, in my favourite adaptation, the producers took some liberties with my favourite scene - not the one with the lepidopterist - and added it this absolute gem - Holmes cooking!






I know, I should have saved this for the Sunday Soup post, but I didn't want to spoil people's appetite.


You're welcome! ;)

Hallowe'en Party

Hallowe'en Party - Agatha Christie

Ever had a bite at a nice red juicy apple and there, down by the core, something rather nasty rears itself up and wags its head at you?

Those damned apples!They're Aridane Oliver's weak spot, and in this story, bobbing for apples is a dangerous game.


This is the third time I've read Hallowe'en Party, and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, much more than on my previous reads. It's one of those books that dwells on details and contains a lot of humor that is somewhat pushed aside when reading the mystery for the sake of finding out who did what.


‘Do you know what you sound like?’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘A computer. You know. You’re programming yourself. That’s what they call it, isn’t it? I mean you’re feeding all these things into yourself all day and then you’re going to see what comes out.’

‘It is certainly an idea you have there,’ said Poirot, with some interest. ‘Yes, yes, I play the part of the computer. One feeds in the information—’

‘And supposing you come up with all the wrong answers?’ said Mrs Oliver.

‘That would be impossible,’ said Hercule Poirot. ‘Computers do not do that sort of a thing.’

‘They’re not supposed to,’ said Mrs Oliver, ‘but you’d be surprised at the things that happen sometimes. My last electric light bill, for instance. I know there’s a proverb which says “To err is human,” but a human error is nothing to what a computer can do if it tries.

 Of course, the mystery in Hallowe'en Party is pretty good, too. The book relies almost entirely on the perception of relationships, the figuring out of which kept me guessing until the very end.


I must admit that I actually like Ariadne more than Poirot at times, and in this story she gets plenty of page time. She's scatty, but loveable. She's such an antidote to Poirot who can sometimes seem a bit condescending. For all of Poirot's self-assuredness, Ariadne, tho confident, allows for doubt and alternative possibilities.

I still sometimes think she would have made a great main character if Christie had only allowed herself to write a book dedicated to whimsy.

But to everything that happens there has to be a past. A past which is by now incorporated in today, but which existed yesterday or last month or last year. The present is nearly always rooted in the past.

Boy's Life

Boy's Life - Robert R. McCammon

See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls.

Boy's Life is one of those books that is difficult to describe. It has a plot that is nearly impossible to summarise. The best description I have read of Boy's Life so far is that is purely magical.


I should really leave it at that. Nothing I can tell you about Cory, the boy in question, and his growing up in small-town Alabama in the early 1960's will tell you much about the complexities of characters - from wild west gun slingers to every day milkmen to larger than life old ladies - or the mysteries, grief, love, kindness, and adventure Cory encounters in this book.


That's where I'll leave it. 

There are things much worse than monster movies. There are horrors that burst the bounds of screen and page, and come home all twisted up and grinning behind the face of somebody you love.

Sunday Soup

More soup this week. I love soup.


This week's effort looks a bit anaemic in this picture, but let me assure you that it is pretty tasty. I went for a veggie version of chicken noodle soup - mostly because I found some veggie pieces in the freezer that I didn't know I had. Also, I could have sworn I had smaller pasta somewhere.... But that's the beauty of soup - you can pretty much make it to suit whatever you have at hand.



Happy (Soup) Sunday!



Currently reading

Das Versprechen (German Edition) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt
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