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



Reading progress update: I've read 21 out of 320 pages.

Capital Crimes: London Mysteries - Various Authors, Martin Edwards

This week has been slumpish. I haven't felt like diving into any heavy reads or even full length novels or really anything that required a lot of focus. So, poetry and short stories and Paul Temple, and even this only a few minutes at a time, were the only reads I engaged in this week. Not that poetry doesn't require some focus etc. ... but poems are short and you don't generally need to remember a plot or characters from one poem to the next.


Anyway, I did manage to start Capital Crimes, which is a collection of short stories with London as a theme. 


The first story in the book was The Case of Lady Sannox by Arthur Conan Doyle. 


I have read this story before in a superb collection of ACD's (non-Holmes) short stories called Gothic Tales, and I found it stomach-turning then. On the re-read, it's still makes me wince, but then I am not a fan of horror ... and this falls into the horror genre for me.

However, I think I also appreciated the story a little more on the re-read for its pointing out issues regarding xenophobia and domestic violence. It's one of ACD's stories that I thought was quite modern, ahead if its time even, for story first published in 1893.


Btw, all of ACD's stories are available online for free.  


I am not sure I will write an update for all of the other stories in Capital Crimes, but for reference the stories included in the collection are:


The Case of Lady Sannox - Arthur Conan Doyle

A Mystery of the Underground - John Oxenham

The Finchley Puzzle - Richard Marsh

The Magic Casket - R. Austin Freeman

The Holloway Flat Tragedy - Ernest Bramah

The Magician Of Cannon Street - J. S. Fletcher

The Stealer of Marble - Edgar Wallace

The Tea Leaf - Robert Eustace and Edgar Jepson

The Hands of Mr Ottermole - Thomas Burke

The Little House - H. C. Bailey

The Silver Mask - Hugh Walpole

Wind in the East - Henry Wade

The  Avenging Chance - Anthony Berkley

They Don't Wear Labels - E. M. Delafield

The Unseen Door - Margery Allingham

Cheese - Ethel Lina White

You Can't Hang Twice - Anthony Gilbert

Reading progress update: I've read 64 out of 376 pages.

Selected Poems - W.H. Auden, Edward Mendelson

Well, I somehow got sucked into this tonight.

I hope to share a few lines tomorrow when I have a real keyboard at my disposal. Typing on the kindle is always more hassle than it's worth.

Palate Cleanser

Paul Temple: East of Algiers - Douglas Rutherford, Francis Durbridge, Anthony Head

The Sheltering Sky was not good. Not good at all. So now I need something entertaining and light and most of all ... delightful. 


Bring on a Paul Temple story read by Anthony Head...and set in Algiers, I assume.

Reading progress update: I've read 220 out of 256 pages.

The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles, Michael Hofmann

I have about 35 pages left to read. But given the latest plot development, a DNF is still not out of the question.


I certainly understand why some people on GR seem have shelved this book under "dick-lit".


I need something really, really good after this one.

Reading progress update: I've read 157 out of 256 pages.

The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles, Michael Hofmann

So, feeling ill, they have put a lot of effort into getting out of the town that has a doctor to go to a place that has no medical facilities? Oh, these people are such idiots.


Anyway, I just noticed looking at my books blurb and introduction, and at some reviews online, that most either make reference to Morocco or to  North Africa as a whole.

Sure Bowles lived in Morocco, but the story in this book is actually set in Algeria. It caught my attention early on because Camus' birthplace is mentioned, and I wondered whether Bowles was tipping his hat to Camus' The Stranger.


So, why do so many articles seem to mention Morocco?

Reading progress update: I've read 117 out of 256 pages.

The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles, Michael Hofmann


For a guy trying to save his marriage, Port spends a lot of time following pimps around town wherever he goes.


Also, I get vibes of the first McEwan I read (and hated) off this book. I wonder if McEwan was influenced by The Sheltering Sky when he wrote The Comfort of Strangers.

The Freaks of Mayfair

The Freaks of Mayfair - George Plank, E.F. Benson

The Freaks of Mayfair is a series of portraits of fictional inhabitants of Mayfair. The stories, in so far as they are stories rather than vignettes, are not related to each other, and I think the book would have worked better for me if they had been. 


Without this connection, the portraits, while funny in part, are not all that memorable. I think, I would have enjoyed these better if they had been connected because it would have allowed the characters to interact and develop another dimension outside of the small snippet we get in each story. I guess, what I was missing was that characters cross over into the stories of other Mayfair inhabitants, much like characters in Wodehouse's Wooster stories pop up throughout various books and we get to recognise people we have already met. 


So, while this was an amusing way to spend a few hours, The Freaks of Mayfair is not on par with the Mapp and Lucia stories simply because the is too little of the various characters before we move on to the next story, whereas we get to follow Mapp and Lucia through several trials of their relationship.


Still, there was one story called Aunt Georgie that seems to introduce us to the blueprint for George Pillson in the Mapp and Lucia series, and it was fascinating that Benson must have already assembled the cast of Mapp and Lucia when he wrote The Freaks of Mayfair in 1916. 

The Sunday Post

It's been a while since my last Sunday Post but to be fair there hasn't been much going on that was worth writing about since ... whenever it was that the virus took hold. 


So, with lockdown slowly easing in Scotland (and easing at a different speed to the rest of the UK, in case you were wondering), this weekend was the first time I had a chance to meet up with a couple of friends. We tried last week, but the weather wasn't allowing us to have a socially distanced picnic in the back garden AND stay dry.


Yesterday, finally!, we got to hang out in my back garden and chill and catch up and not use video chat and all able to dig into this:



I also made a kiwi fruit and banana cake. (I only forgot to take a picture after I put the glaze on.)



Both were demolished within minutes. We had a lot of fun. But it is fair to say that the sight of seagulls circling above us made us eat faster, too. 


Today I just chilled with John Donne. I finished reading the Everyman's Library collection of his works and look forward to picking up the book for re-reads of some of the poetry whenever the mood strikes. 


But of course, good poetry made me hungry for some equally sophisticated snack, so I played around with an idea for olive tapenade. It was nice.


Happy Sunday!

The Parcel

LoL. My mum sent me parcel that resembles more of an apocalyptic emergency package than any previous birthday gift. It made me laugh so hard:



And yes, this is an entire box full of coffee and chocolate...oh, and a mask, of course. XD

Tamburlaine Must Die

Tamburlaine Must Die - Louise Welsh

I thought of all of this as I lay in the high, damp grass of the churchyard, listening for the sound of pursuers. Tiny insects plied their trades, bustling to and fro like costermongers setting up stall on market day. The smell of earth and meadows reminded me of childhood and I remembered listening to my brothers’ calls as they searched for me one long hot afternoon. I’d watched them from my hiding place, refusing to be found, relishing the power concealment brought. It was a long time since I’d thought of those days and the remembrance added to my unease, for surely every man remembers his beginnings when he is about to die.

I had two reasons for picking this book: 1. The reference to Marlowe (author of Tamburlaine the Great) and 2. that cover. 

Other than that I knew nothing about the book when starting this. 


As it turns out, this is a novella about the last few days in Christopher Marlowe's life but it is also story of crime, plague, vengeance, betrayal, and a ultimately also a bit of a mystery.


There were a few things that didn't work for me: we're thrown right into the story, without any introduction, and the speed of the story seems to just rush through events. 


Now part of the problem I had may have been because this is such a short work. It could have done with more ... story, more time to unfold the story.


However, part of what I liked about it, too, was that it was pacy and seemed to have been told in haste, which makes perfect sense by the end of the book. 


In any case, I look forward to reading more by Welsh. I really appreciated her tone and interjection of a somewhat poetic style which, no doubt, was to fit with Marlowe as the narrator. I really want to find out how her writing compares in other books, and whether / how she develops her characters in full-length novels. 

Last night I received a summons to a house in Deptford. There I will be held to accounts, which cannot be squared. Life is frail and I may die today. But Tamburlaine knows no fear. My candles are done, the sky glows red and it looks as if the day is drenched in blood. I finish this account and prepare for battle in the sureness that life is the only prize worth having and the knowledge that there are worse fates than damnation. If these are the last words I write, let them be,


A Curse on Man and God.

Reading progress update: I've read 36 out of 532 pages.

Red Ellen: The Life of Ellen Wilkinson, Socialist, Feminist, Internationalist - Laura Beers

Last night I made a start on Red Ellen. From what I can tell so far, this will be a slow read because Beers took pains to give the reader a full picture of the circumstance of not just Ellen Wilkinson's life (1891 - 1947), but also of what life was like for people at the time. 


Up to this point, all I knew about Wilkinson was what Rachel Reeves, MP, disclosed about Wilkinson in the introduction to The Division Bell Mystery and which made me want to find out more about her. I mean, I liked her already for being the one to introduce free milk to schools...and to name her kettle "Agatha" in honour of her admiration for Agatha Christie.


Then I picked up Red Ellen last night, and it starts with this:

Born to a working-class family in south Manchester, Ellen Wilkinson had not left the northwest of England by the time she won a scholarship to the University of Manchester in 1910. In the thirty-five years that followed, she helped found the British Communist Party and met Russian revolutionaries Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotzky in Moscow. She was the tenth woman to gain a seat in parliament and became a renowned advocate for the poor and dispossessed at home and abroad. She travelled across Europe, America, and Asia in pursuit of international peace; went to San Francisco as one of the few female delegates to the inaugural meeting of the United Nations; and returned to Britain to play a central role in the postwar government. Along the way, she forged a remarkable series of friendships - she was on intimate terms with the leaders of the Indian Congress Party, the German anti-fascist resistance, and the Spanish Republican government; spent a Christmas with Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams; and had a tempestuous, if mutually admiring, relationship with Winston Churchill. In an era when several of her female parliamentary colleagues - including Lady Nancy Astor and Lady Cynthia Mosley - entered parliament on their husbands' coattails, Wilkinson was a self-made woman, although her repeated affairs with male colleagues inspired rumors of favouritism.

Well, I was hooked, even though some of the author's choices of words have made me wonder whether the book was really written in 2016 (yes, it was).


Chapter 1 deals with Wilkinson's family and childhood in a working-class part of Manchester, and we learn that her family was very passionate about two things: religion and science. As her father did not like going out by himself, we learn that Ellen accompanied him (as soon as she was old enough) to church meetings and all kinds of scientific lectures, which together with an extended spell of home-schooling (because of illness) seemed to have fuelled her inquiring mind quite early on.


There were two things in particular, tho, that caught my attention:


1. While the Wilkinson household had no great interest in politics, it seems that she was introduced to some political issues through the Wesleyan chapel they attended, which among others also held "protests against the Congo atrocities" or "against the British government's repression in India".


I dunno, it was quite nice to read that a culture of protests that focussed on international issues (rather than domestic ones) already existed at that time (pre-WWI). It's not something that I've come across in much of the fiction of the time - unless the issues has been portrayed as something happening in "exotic" places, or being mocked in that "ho cares about Ruritania" attitude. 


2. The other piece of information I was kind of surprised by was that when Wilkinson became interested in politics as a university student, she was not, at first, a supporter of the suffragettes, even tho she was a socialist. 


Red Ellen will be a slow read, but I am really enjoying it so far.


Reading progress update: I've read 127 out of 614 pages.

Blackout - Connie Willis

She’d misread all the clues, just as she had on the street when she’d thought it was early morning. The guns hadn’t started till the eleventh, after all, and of course the raids had sounded like they were overhead. Kensington had been bombed on Saturday. But if it’s Saturday, she thought, I’ve already missed four days. And the crucial first few days of the Blitz when the contemps were adjusting to it. That’s why they were all so calm, so settled in. They’d already adjusted.

I'll be happily contradicted in this, but my guess is that no one adjusts to bombing in four days. 


I once again listened to the book while making dinner, and again I found that the writing grates on me. I'll be setting this one aside.

Reading progress update: I've read 93 out of 270 pages.

Smallbone Deceased - Michael Gilbert

Dr. Bland, the pathologist, was a dry man but an enthusiast.

LoL. I've been tempted to quote so many parts of the book. I've basically been giggling all the way through this so far. It's delicious. 


It's also perfect for a Saturday that has seen fog and incessant rain all day. Thankfully there are books and tea. One of my local tea & coffee merchants has started a Bad Weather Tea, and I've been enjoying that one very much today. 



Friday Night Food

Well, I also made some soup (it's been raining all day), but by the time it was ready I didn't fancy it. So salad it is. :)

And, yeah, I'm switching to Smallbone Deceased for the rest of the evening.

Reading progress update: I've read 59 out of 614 pages.

Blackout - Connie Willis

‘The Crusades? That’s even more dangerous than the Blitz, isn’t it?’

‘Far more dangerous, particularly when one knows where and when all the Blitz’s bombs will be falling, which I will. And it’s less dangerous than— Sorry, I’ve been doing all the talking. I want to hear about your assignment.’

‘There’s nothing much to tell. It’s mostly washing up and dealing with children and irate farmers. I’d hoped I might meet the actor Michael Caine – he was evacuated when he was six – but I haven’t, and— I just thought of something. You might meet Agatha Christie. She was in London during the Blitz.’

‘Agatha Christie?’

‘The twentieth-century mystery novelist. She wrote these marvellous books about murders involving spinsters and clergymen and retired colonels. I used them for my prep – they’re full of details about servants and manor houses. And during the war she worked in a hospital, and you’re going to be an ambulance driver. She—’

‘I’m not going to be an ambulance driver. I’m going to be something far more dangerous – a shopgirl in an Oxford Street department store.’

‘That’s more dangerous than driving an ambulance?’

‘Definitely. Oxford Street was bombed five times, and more than half its department stores were at least partly damaged.’

‘You’re not going to work in one of those, are you?’

‘No, of course not. Mr Dunworthy won’t even allow me to work in Peter Robinson, though it wasn’t hit till the end of the Blitz. I can understand why he wouldn’t let me …’

Yeah, um, I'll switch to another book for now. There is something about the writing in this that just annoys me.

However, I'll keep going with this next week. It sounds like an audiobook that may work for me during the working week.

Reading progress update: I've read 26 out of 614 pages.

Blackout - Connie Willis

‘You’re going to Singapore.’

‘Yes, but I’m coming back before the Japanese arrive. Oh, that reminds me, someone phoned for you earlier.’

‘Who was it?’

‘I don’t know. Shakira took the message. She was here teaching me to foxtrot.’

‘Foxtrot?’ Michael said. ‘I thought you had to learn about foxhunting.’

‘I need to learn both. So I can go to the club dances. The British community in Singapore held weekly dances.’

He put his arms in the self-defence positions he’d had them in when Michael came in and began stepping stiffly around the room, counting, ‘Left and-two and-three-and-four and—’

I just started this one because a) I've had the audiobook for a while and b) THE COVER!!!. 

I thought it might be a good one to check out while making dinner.


So far this reads like a lesser version of Just One Damned Thing After Another (by Jodi Taylor), but since Blackout was published first, I guess the reference should be reversed...while maintaining that Blackout is a lesser version. 


It's reads like it was written for YA audience. 

Has anyone read this? Have I accidentally picked up another YA novel?


I don't think I'll get far with this. I'm not keen on the writing, the precious tone, the cliches, or the author letting me know how much research into historical events she's done.


I'll give the book until my dinner is ready but will probably switch to something more attuned to my tastes after that. 

Currently reading

Creed or Chaos? Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Or, Why It Really Does Matter What You Believe) by Dorothy L. Sayers
Red Ellen: The Life of Ellen Wilkinson, Socialist, Feminist, Internationalist by Laura Beers
Progress: 36/532pages
Selected Poems by W.H. Auden, Edward Mendelson
Progress: 64/376pages
The Complete Works (Oxford Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare, John Jowett, Gary Taylor
Progress: 605/1344pages
Halbschatten by Uwe Timm
Progress: 16/272pages