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

Reading progress update: I've read 11 out of 192 pages.

Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Sherlock Holmes - Andrew Norman

This is not off to a good start.


The Preface seems to say that Norman's focus in this biography will be to explore what motivated a reasonable, logical fellow to believe in spiritualism and fairies.


I was hoping for a relatively objective biography that would explore different areas of ACD's life - he was an interesting person!


And then I got the last paragraph of the Preface!

"My investigations led me to conclude that Doyle's father had suffered not only from alcoholism and epilepsy, as has previously been described, but more importantly from a serious mental illness. Not only that, but this illness was itself a hereditable disease, in other words, one which Charles may have handed down to his son via the genes. Suddenly I realised that I now had an opportunity to solve what I consider to be the ultimate mystery, that of the bizarre and extraordinary nature of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself."

This is just bad. And this is the Preface!!!


This may end up being one of the fastest DNF's in the history of my reading (although, nothing will beat the English translation of Olivier Todd's biography of Albert Camus that sucked so much that I had to abandon it at the Translator's Note.)


I Stopped Time

I Stopped Time - Jane    Davis

She span away from me, a sleek starling becoming one with the swirling, churning mass. Something in the way she moved - her hands raised above her head to part the crowd - made me wish I had a camera to frame her, just as she was. I blinked and, in that instant, it was as if I was experiencing a flashback, although I knew it wasn’t a memory of anything I had experienced. That was the moment I became a photographer.

Apparently, I bought this book in 2014. I remember nothing. It's been lingering on my kindle ever since and if I hadn't been looking for a book with a certain cover to fulfil one of the tasks for the Kill Your Darlings game, it would have been left unread for even longer. 


I Stopped Time really was a rare find. Having known nothing about it when I started the book, the stories of Lottie and James quickly drew me in: James is a former politician who was "disgraced" and forced to resign when a low-life paper covered his involvement with a rent boy. However, James story really begins when he learns that his estranged mother has passed away at the age of 108 and left him with forty-two boxes of, mostly, photographs.


With the help of Jenny, a young art student, James begins a journey of discovering his mother's story by examining the photographs. 


Lottie was James mother. She had reasons for leaving the family when James was still a toddler, and the reason is kept from the reader until very late in the story, until we have had a chance to get to know Lottie from her early childhood in Brighton in the early 1900s, through her formative years as a famous photographer in the 1920s, and in her old age in the late 1980s.


I mentioned in an earlier update that the story dragged a little in the middle. I no longer hold that criticism. It had to drag. We had to have time to learn about Lottie in so much detail. By taking us through Lottie's everyday life during and shortly after the First World War, Jane Davis makes us look at both labels and defiance. We follow Lottie as she learns who she is, and by doing so we get to see how identity is shaped (or not) by events and family. 

Reading progress update: I've read 70%.

I Stopped Time - Jane    Davis

The first third of the book was great, the second third has dragged on quite a bit, tho.

I hope the last third will pull the meandering story back together without forcing too many solutions.

Reading progress update: I've read 30%.

Five Little Pigs - Agatha Christie

Fortunately, in the course of his career, Hercule Poirot had made friends in many counties. Devonshire was no exception. He sat down to review what resources he had in Devonshire. As a result he discovered two people who were acquaintances or friends of Mr Meredith Blake. He descended upon him therefore armed with two letters, one from Lady Mary Lytton-Gore, a gentle widow lady of restricted means, the most retiring of creatures; and the other from a retired Admiral, whose family had been settled in the county for four generations.

WooHoo! A nod to Lady Mary of Three Act Tragedy!


Reading progress update: I've read 16%.

Five Little Pigs - Agatha Christie

Meredith was what my contemporaries used to call Namby Pamby. Liked botany and butterflies and observing birds and beasts. Nature study they call it nowadays. Ah, dear—all the young people were a disappointment to their parents.


It already looks like Dame Agatha had fun with this one, too. Hehe.

And it appears this will be a character-driven story. 

Reading progress update: I've read 7%.

Five Little Pigs - Agatha Christie

Sir Montague shrugged his shoulders.

‘Don’t ask me. Of course, she was fond of the fellow. Broke her all up when she came to and realized what she’d done. Don’t believe she ever rallied from the shock.’

‘So in your opinion she was guilty?’

Depleach looked rather startled. He said: ‘Er—well, I thought we were taking that for granted.’

‘Did she ever admit to you that she was guilty?’

Depleach looked shocked. ‘Of course not—of course not. We have our code, you know. Innocence is always—er—assumed.

Erm, it looks like I'm having a Poirot week. This is # 3. Oh, well, ...



Reading progress update: I've read 20%.

I Stopped Time - Jane    Davis

I think this is one of these rare finds ... a random kindle purchase that has been lingering on my shelf for 4 years and that has so far managed to draw me in completely. 


Told from two POVs - one from Lottie and one from her son, Sir James - told nearly 100 years apart. I'm really enjoying the web of mystery that is being woven - How did Lottie end up as a photographer? Why did she abandon her family? How come Sir James never knew his mother was still alive, when she must have known where he lived? 


I hope the books manages to keep my interest right up to the end of the book. 

Reading progress update: I've read 66%.

Dumb Witness - Agatha Christie

She opened the morning-room door, and Bob shot through like a suddenly projected cannon-ball.

‘Who is it? Where are they? Oh, there you are. Dear me, don’t I seem to remember—’ sniff—sniff—sniff—prolonged snort. ‘Of course! We have met!’

‘Hullo, old man,’ I said. ‘How goes it?’

Bob wagged his tail perfunctorily. ‘Nicely, thank you. Let me just see—’ he resumed his researches. ‘Been talking to a spaniel lately, I smell. Foolish dogs, I think. What’s this? A cat? That is interesting. Wish we had her here. We’d have rare sport. H’m—not a bad bull-terrier.’

Having correctly diagnosed a visit I had lately paid to some doggy friends, he transferred his attention to Poirot, inhaled a noseful of benzine and walked away reproachfully. 

Aaaaah, gotta love Bob. 


KYD: Yellow Game - Claim for Victim # 1 (Ariadne Oliver)

I'm not very good at writing reviews at the moment - a bit of a slump, I guess. But I did finish Cards on the Table (featuring the fabulous Ariadne Oliver) earlier today (yesterday, strictly speaking), so I am claiming the card for Ariadne Oliver, who has already been identified as Victim #1.

Reading progress update: I've read 40%.

Cards on the Table - Agatha Christie

Mrs Lorrimer is one of those women who play bridge at bridge clubs all day. Women like that must be made of armour-plating—they can look after themselves all right!

This book was a really good choice to lighten up with - murder aside, Ariadne Oliver is on top form in this one.

Reading progress update: I've read 27%.

Cards on the Table - Agatha Christie

Ariadne Oliver is Dame Agatha's alter ego, and Dame Agatha had tons of fun with her:

‘I enjoyed your last, Mrs Oliver,’ said Superintendent Battle kindly. ‘The one where all the Chief Constables were shot simultaneously. You just slipped up once or twice on official details. I know you’re keen on accuracy, so I wondered if—’

Mrs Oliver interrupted him.

‘As a matter of fact I don’t care two pins about accuracy. Who is accurate? Nobody nowadays. If a reporter writes that a beautiful girl of twenty-two dies by turning on the gas after looking out over the sea and kissing her favourite labrador, Bob, goodbye, does anybody make a fuss because the girl was twenty-six, the room faced inland, and the dog was a Sealyham terrier called Bonnie? If a journalist can do that sort of thing, I don’t see that it matters if I mix up police ranks and say a revolver when I mean an automatic, and a dictograph when I mean a phonograph, and use a poison that just allows you to gasp one dying sentence and no more.

What really matters is plenty of bodies! If the thing’s getting a little dull, some more blood cheers it up. Somebody is going to tell something—and then they’re killed first. That always goes down well. It comes in all my books—camouflaged different ways, of course.



Reading progress update: I've read 6%.

Cards on the Table - Agatha Christie

I need a comfort read to recover from all the sadness of The Man in the Iron Mask. A good murder should do it.


Mrs Ariadne Oliver was extremely well-known as one of the foremost writers of detective and other sensational stories. She wrote chatty (if not particularly grammatical) articles on The Tendency of the Criminal; Famous Crimes Passionnels; Murder for Love v. Murder for Gain. She was also a hot-headed feminist, and when any murder of importance was occupying space in the Press there was sure to be an interview with Mrs Oliver, and it was mentioned that Mrs Oliver had said, ‘Now if a woman were the head of Scotland Yard!’ She was an earnest believer in woman’s intuition.

For the rest she was an agreeable woman of middle age, handsome in a rather untidy fashion with fine eyes, substantial shoulders and a large quantity of rebellious grey hair with which she was continually experimenting.

If Ariadne can't make me laugh, nobody can!

KYD: Question

The instructions say:

"If another team identifies the suspect, your team still needs to "collect" the card by completing one of the tasks on the card. Only ONE team member needs to do this. The remaining team members can continue to read for the other crime elements."

Does this also apply to other elements of the game? I.e. if there are several victims, and other players have identified the other victims, do we need to complete the relevant reading tasks for the victims identified by other players so we can "collect" the card to complete the game?



Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

The Man in the Iron Mask - Alexandre Dumas, Francine du Plessix Gray, Joachim Neugroschel


I need chocolate. :(

Reading progress update: I've read 93%.

The Man in the Iron Mask - Alexandre Dumas, Francine du Plessix Gray, Joachim Neugroschel

The letter destined for the living only reached the dead. God had changed the address.

The last time I read this was some 20 years ago. I completely forgot how utterly sad the last part of this book is. 

Reading progress update: I've read 70%.

The Man in the Iron Mask - Alexandre Dumas, Francine du Plessix Gray, Joachim Neugroschel

At this moment his horse made a false step for the second time, and Fouquet's again took the lead. It was an unheard-of spectacle, this race between two horses which now only kept alive by the will of their riders. It might be said that D'Artagnan rode, carrying his horse along between his knees. To the furious gallop had succeeded the fast trot, and that had sunk to what might be scarcely called a trot at all. But the chase appeared equally warm in the two fatigued athletoe. D'Artagnan, quite in despair, seized his second pistol, and cocked it.


Surely one of the most thrilling scenes in the Musketeer novels - the epic chase between Fouquet and D'Artagnan.


Currently reading

The Power by Naomi Alderman
Progress: 147/340pages
Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Norman
Progress: 104/192pages
The Constant Liberal: The Life and Work of Phyllis Bottome by Pam Hirsch
Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist by Sharman Apt Russell
Progress: 25/256pages
Women and the Vote: A World History by Jad Adams
Progress: 16/528pages
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry
Progress: 39%