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



Unspeakable - Dilys Rose

What a disappointment.


Here was a book with a great premise: a historical fiction story set in Edinburgh and telling the story of the last man to be trialled for blasphemy in the UK. 


Unfortunately, the book turned out to be less of an investigation into the historical details of Thomas Aikenhead's life and trial, and more of a study of missed chances. Missed chances for the storyteller, that is.


If you're setting out to write a story that has a charge of blasphemy at its heart, don't forget to discuss what blasphemy is and how it was viewed in the time the story is set. Or, if this was a fairly recent law (which it was in this case) how it came about. I want to know these things. This is what I came here for together with this next aspect:


The trial. Surely, if the premise of the book is that it is about the last person put to trial for blasphemy, it is not too much to expect at least an attempt at a 17th century version of a court room drama?! 


But no, we basically got that young Thomas was arrested, put in jail, had a brief private exchange with the people who accused him (this part had to be made up by the author as this certainly would not have been in the official records), then his charge is read in court, and a couple of pages later the judges put on their black caps... Ugh.


I need more than this. I need to know how the trial was handled. Did he have a defense? Did the legal system at the time allow for a legal aide to be provided? What considerations were made by the court? How come the prosecution ask for a penalty that should only have been available for a third offence, but not a first as this was? How come the court followed through with this? What was the public reaction? 


I have so many questions. But, yet again, we get only a very few pages right at the end of the book. 


Btw, I marked this review as containing spoilers, but really since the author and the publishers have decided to give away the outcome of the trial in the very first line on the back-cover of the book, I might not have given a damn about the spoiler warning.


Just as I really could not give a damn about the first 75% of the book which were all building up to the offence, the prosecution, trial, and punishment. 


So, apart from a book of missed chances, this also was a book of misunderstanding between me and the author - I skipped much of the book between pages 99 and 158, and the author somehow managed to skip writing a story worth reading.


Oh, well.


Reading progress update: I've read 99 out of 272 pages.

Unspeakable - Dilys Rose

Observations so far:




The story is told in a form of Edinburgh vernacular.

The descriptions of life in Edinburgh at the close of the 17th century are quite vivid.




The story is told in a form of Edinburgh vernacular.

This is not a gripping read.

The story features some clear political bias. Even if I agree with the sentiment in general, I'd rather not have this rubbed in my face on every second page.




Why did the publisher and author think it was a good idea to give away the ending in the first line on the back cover blurb?

Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile

Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile - Fran├žoise Sagan

Bonjour Tristesse & A Certain Smile, both novellas by Sagan have been on my TBR for years, and I am so glad I finally read them. 

There was no particular reason I wanted to read them other than that I heard so many readers speak of them, tho not about them. I was intrigued.


I had no idea that Sagan was only 18 when she wrote Bonjour Tristesse, but reading the novella I had been wondering what age group the author was writing for. You see, I didn't connect with the main character. She was quite young mentally and I was wondering if this was a novel that would now be found in the YA/NA section, except the writing is far too accomplished for NA. 

On the other hand, there are far more issues and layers to the stories than I'd probably expect from a YA (never even mind NA...) book. So, even if the novellas fit on either of those shelves - both certainly feature the angsty young people pursuing love interests as their main plot - the novellas are also more than they appear. I'm just not sure, that the reader is given much of a chance to explore the additional issues before the main plots - the romances in both novellas - end.  

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 272 pages.

Unspeakable - Dilys Rose

Let's follow up Ranke-Heinemann's epic demythologisation of the church with a wee novel about the last person in Britain to be tried for blasphemy... 


I would have saved this one for Halloween Bingo but I don't think it fits into any of the categories on my card.

Reading progress update: I've read 135 out of 297 pages.

Putting Away Childish Things - Uta Ranke-Heinemann Nein und Amen. Mein Abschied vom traditionellen Christentum - Uta Ranke-Heinemann

Ok, this one has turned out unexpected in several ways:


1. On page 2, I realised that I had bought this book two different editions. The other edition I have is the original German version. I'm reading both in parallel, which is rather fun.


2. This is a much faster read than I had expected from a book about theology. But then Uta Ranke-Heinemann is a good communicator and her writing is clear and structured.


3. This book has made me laugh out loud quite a lot. I'm not sure why I was surprised at that because I've followed her interviews for ... a long time.


4. I thought there may be sections which I am not going to be interested in, but so far I have not been tempted to skim or skip anything.


5. I think I will be a little bit sad when I finish this book. Luckily, I have another one of hers on a shelf somewhere... ;D

Halloween Bingo - Free online photo editing sites

Reblogged from Jennifer's Books:

Following a suggestion from Moonlight Reader, I thought I'd compile a list of online photo editing sites that players can use to mark their cards since Picmonkey no longer has free accounts. Which I rather rudely found out in the middle of Halloween Bingo last year. It's a shame because I really liked Picmonkey. I believe that MR uses the site to make our absolutely gorgeous bingo cards.


I've not been able to find anything I liked quite as much, but here are a few options. Note: outside of the first one, I've not tried any of these. I've only checked to see that they offer a free option and have stickers that are Halloween/Autumn related.


BeFunky - This is the one I settled on after I had to stop using Picmonkey. It's easy to use and has a nice selection of stickers. You can also upload your own graphics to use as stickers. There are free and paid versions. I used a combination of Halloween and Autumn stickers to mark my card last year. Not sure if I'll use the same stickers or choose new ones. Or try one of these other options.


Ribbet - Has free and paid accounts. There's a small selection of Halloween stickers. This one seems to save a copy of the last thing you edited even without an account. I signed up for a free account and it says I can now upload 100 photos.


Fotojet - Has free and paid accounts. There is a small selection of Halloween stickers.


Fotor - Has free and paid accounts. Has a nice selection of Halloween stickers. You can also upload your own images to use as stickers.


Pixlr Express - Free. Doesn't have a Halloween sticker section that I can see, but a few stickers out of some of the other categories would work.



If anyone has more suggestions, please let me know in the comments and I'll edit them in.

Noel & Cole: The Sophisticates

Noel and Cole: The Sophisticates - Stephen Citron

DNF @ 24%




This is not a great biography of either of its subjects. It's not even a good or tolerable biography... I weep for the trees that had to die for this waste of paper.


I should have stopped after the introduction which included the following clanger:

"Kate Porter and Violet Coward steered their young sons early into creative and performing lives. Kate did so because she was a frustrated singer and Violet because she hoped to rise above the penny-pinching boarding-house-keeper life she had been born into. Because of this interdependence, each youth was to revere his mother, have night terrors about losing her while writing off his milquetoast father who left breadwinning and discipline to the distaff side. Coming from such a classically twisted psychological situation it is not surprising that both Noel and Cole were homosexual. With their raising of women, especially strong, determined and opinionated women, to such an exalted pedestal, perhaps bisexual would be a more apt description of their libidinous behaviour."

The author clearly has issues. He also, clearly, is full of crap.


And yet, I hoped he may have something insightful to say about the work of either of his subjects. Unfortunately, of the part of the book I managed to read, I believe I have learned more about the author's personality (and his many, many issues) from his gossipy, presumptive, speculative, condescending statements than I learned anything of impact about about Coward or Porter.


I finally drew the line when reading this about Coward's The Vortex:

"The idea for the play, whose controversial theme was one of the main reasons for the queues at the box office, came to Noel when he was invited to a party by his friend Stewart Foster. Across the room he glimpsed Stewart's beautiful and seductive mother, Grace, sharing a banquette with a young admirer. As soon as the party was seated one of the young girls blurted out, "Look at that old hag over there with the young man in tow; she's old enough to be his mother."

The Freudian Oedipus complex, the Hamlet-Gertrude relationship and perhaps Stewart Forster's own attentions to his seductive mother at the soiree immediately propelled Coward's dramaturgical mind into the concept of weaving the plot of a play wherein both a son and her young lover would vie for the love of the mother."

It's a good thing for the author that you can't libel the dead. Did I mention that there are little to no references to sources in this book?


I should have DNF'd this at the introduction.


On the plus side, it's another one off Mt. TBR.


I'm going to put on some Cole and make another cup of coffee.

Reading progress update: I've read 13 out of 185 pages.

Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis - Robert F. Kennedy, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

"Recent scholarship confirms the portrait of John F. Kennedy sketched by his brother in Thirteen Days: a remarkably cool, thoughtful, nonhysterical, self-possessed leader, aware of the weight of decision, incisive in his questions, firm in his judgment, always in charge, steering his advisers perseveringly in the direction he wanted to go."



Time was.

Reading progress update: I've read 52 out of 272 pages.

Truth and Bright Water - Thomas King

This seems to be a very similar book to Medicine River. Similar characters, similar setting, similar everything... It's ok, but I am not sure I want to stick with this one. 


Neither Medicine River nor this one seem to have the magic and pull that The Back of the Turtle had.


I also have King's Green Grass, Running Water on Mt. TBR, which seems to also be set in Medicine River and I might just sample that one before deciding whether to read it or pass.

Reading progress update: I've read 348 out of 348 pages.

Under The Visible Life - Kim Echlin

Ugh... That was beautiful.

And really, really sad.


Under The Visible Life - Kim Echlin

I'd like to say I'll go to bed at a reasonable hour tonight after last night's book-induced sleep deprivation, but I would only be kidding myself. 


This book ... well, let's just say it will be finished before have to go to work. It's Friday tomorrow. I'll just have to hide in my office and maybe hijack the coffee machine for personal use? I'm sure that will work...


In the meantime, I find it hard to read the stories/story of Katherine and Mahsa without a bit of appropriate musical accompaniment.

Reading progress update: I've read 120 out of 348 pages.

Under The Visible Life - Kim Echlin

I'm seriously hooked. Also, I need to add Middlemarch to my reading list.

Reading progress update: I've read 109 out of 348 pages.

Under The Visible Life - Kim Echlin

Just so you all know, I am running on caffeine today because after finishing my book (Medicine River by Thomas King) last night I thought it was a great idea to have a tiny wee peek at my next read... One hundred-odd pages later, there were not enough hours left of the night to get some real sleep.



On the plus side: The TBR-busting is going well. ;)


Devil's Due

Devil's Due - Phyllis Bottome

She was a woman who had wanted to be free; and had paid her own price for it. Max had no objection to her freedom. On the contrary, it would make his own course of action simpler. He would not have respected her scruples, but he would respect her pluck.

I may have turned to Bottome's books because of the connection with Ian Fleming (who lived with Bottome and her husband when he was a troubled teen), but having read several of her novels now, I have to admit that there is something about them that I really enjoy. 


That something that keeps me coming back to her books is, I assume, her way of looking at the world around her and reflecting that outlook in her books. She was daringly modern, and refreshingly individualistic, especially for the time period that she wrote in.


I say I assume that this is what draws me to the books because it certainly is not the plotting and - oh my god - it is definitely not the writing... Bottome was a writer who managed to gift us the following:

Plunged into fathomless sleep, Mariandel became conscious that a chicken was tapping at its shell. It tapped this side, it tapped that, but the darkness of the shell held it in. She began to be afraid that its beak was too soft, or the shell too hard, and that it would never get out. Tap! tap! tap! No! that was no chicken!

You see what I mean about the writing. I still have flashbacks to that chicken dream.


Yet, at the same time, she also gave us a cast of characters who are brilliantly faulty and brilliantly human, and who all struggle between doing the right thing, the easy thing, and the expected thing. 


Devil's Due was written in 1931, which is something I had to keep in mind when reading this.


The story is about an Austrian nobleman who had lost his fortune at cards, and who tries to make his way back to the life of luxury by any which way he can, which is mostly being a cad. One day, he meets his match in a young noblewoman who nearly ran him over when skiing. As it turns out, she falls for him but doesn't want a relationship  - 1931!!! - and she is perfectly fine with him being married, not asking his wife for a divorce (because he wants her to at least have the benefit of his title after he squandered her dowry - such a great guy....*insert eye roll*), until a divorce cannot be avoided (there is another man...and a messy love octagon).

Long story short, they get married, he's still a cad, she despairs, he re-marries his ex-wife.


The plot is odd...but not as odd as Murder in the Bud...but where the story comes to shine is, again, in the characters' acceptance that they need to break with the social norms in order to find some happiness in their lives. And they did, it just wasn't to be a HEA. 


I really enjoyed this, except for the odd eye-roll here and there, but I fully know that her later books were better and this isn't quite one of the better ones, yet. It does show all the potential, tho. 


As with The Lifeline, Devil's Due also has an Ian Fleming connection. Fleming lived with the Bottome's for a while when his mother was fed up with his antics, and he was fed up with the antics of his mother. He was a troubled teen, started philandering quite early, and caused all sorts of mischief. He did look up to Bottome and her husband as quasi parents, however, and - trusting Pam Hirsch's biography of Bottome, they remained life-long friends. Bottome clearly saw a lot of potential in Fleming, and in Devil's Due, she based one of the more likeable characters - a very natural young ski instructor - on Fleming, who will play a pivotal role at the end of the story.


Still, I could not help but picture the below, every time Fleming's character appeared on the scene:


(Photo found in Pam Hirsch's The Constant Liberal: The Life and Work of Phyllis Bottome)

Halloween Bingo - Card & Books


Many thanks to Moonlight Madness for my lovely card for this year's Halloween Bingo.

As with previous years, I will update this post as we go along - with our yet-to-be-announced special guest 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: (The Ladybird Book of the Zombie Apocalypse)

Country House Mystery:   

Classic Horror:

Amateur Sleuth:


Row # 2:



Genre: Horror:

Murder Most Foul:

Terror in a Small Town:

Romantic Suspense:

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)

Free Space:  (Get Well Soon)

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: (Disappearance at Devil's Rock - Paul Tremblay - Library)

Ghost Stories:

Darkest London:

Relics and Curiosities: (The Amulet - Michael McDowell)

Genre: Suspense: 


Row # 5:



Fear The Drowning Deep:

Cozy Mystery: (The Accidental Alchemist - Gigi Pandian)

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

New Release: (October - Michael Rowe)


At this point, I'm trying not to get carried away with assigning books to all the spaces. Let's see what books feel right at the time, eh? 

There is, however, a list of books that I will mine for the squares - all of which are on my kindle already:


The Tokio Zodiac Murders - Soji Shimada

Toplin - Michael McDowell

To Love and Be Wise - Josephine Tey

Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey

Miss Pym Disposes - Josephine Tey

The Singing Sands - Josphine Tey

The Yellow Room - Gaston Leroux

The Last Post - B.K. Duncan

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

Elizabeth - Ken Greenhall

Edinburgh Twilight - Carole Lawrence

Nine Coaches Waiting - Mary Stewart

This Rough Magic - Mary Stewart

The Rock - Robert Daws

Before the Fact - Frances Iles

The Loving Spirit - Daphne Du Maurier

Frenchman's Creek - Daphne Du Maurier

Laurels are Poison - Gladys Mitchell


... and of course several Dame Agatha and Dorothy Sayers novels



The Doors of Perception/Heaven and Hell

The Doors of Perception/Heaven and Hell - Aldous Huxley

I don't even know why I thought this might be a good read for me. 


Sure, this is the book the inspired The Doors but it is infinitely more enjoyable to listen to Jim Morrison's musical expressions of his experiments with drugs than it is to read Huxley's accounts of his, and even then this is only because the songs are so much shorter.


Not for me.

Currently reading

Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck
To Bed With Grand Music by Sarah Russell, Marghanita Laski, Juliet Gardiner
Cole Porter by William McBrien
Progress: 21/437pages
Morgan: A Biography of E. M. Forster by Nicola Beauman
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry
Progress: 79%
Isabelle: The Life of Isabelle Eberhardt by Annette Kobak
The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt by Nina Voogd, Elizabeth Kershaw, Isabelle Eberhardt
Die Aula: Roman (German Edition) by Hermann Kant
Progress: 43/448pages