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

Series Cross-Over

The Secret Adversary - Agatha Christie

Oysters had just given place to Sole Colbert when a card was brought to Hersheimmer.

"Inspector Japp, C.I.D. Scotland Yard again. Another man this time. What does he expect I can tell him that I didn't tell the first chap?


Agatha Christie - The Secret Adversary 


I forgot that Japp is in this one, even tho it is a Tommy and Tuppence and not a Poirot adventure. 

Sunday Soup

There may be something in the air tonight because it's not just Whiskey who has had a craving for soup today. 


I met up with a friend for gelato earlier - apparently meeting for gelato on Sunday is becoming a thing - she was talking about soup she made earlier today. What can I say, soup's been on my mind for the rest of the afternoon....


So, here is what I ended up with: I just wanted something easy and filling, that I could make with ingredients that I already had at home. 


I roasted some sweetcorn with smoked paprika for a bit, then added it to other veg (celery, onion, carrot, a red pepper, and a potato). Let it boil with a bay leaf, salt, black pepper, rosemary for a bit, then blitzed it. 



The smoky goodness of the soup goes nicely with some cheesy topping. 

My sides are slices of bread topped with humus. 


It's a really simple soup, but I'm loving it.


Happy (Soup) Sunday All!

The Trouble with Education

Strong Poison - Dorothy L. Sayers

‘But what am I to do? Steal the box?’

‘Not quite. Do you know how to pick a lock?’

‘Not in the least, I’m afraid.’

‘I often wonder what we go to school for,’ said Wimsey. ‘We never seem to learn anything really useful.


Dorothy L. Sayers - Strong Poison

Library Haul and Weekend Reading Plans


Thanks to you all, my very own Mt. TBR is not getting any smaller and after several book discussions last week, I found myself with a pre-order of library books that became available today.


This is what my (longish) weekend will look like:




After a bit of Coin-toss Opera, that is...

Am I Normal, Yet?

Am I Normal Yet? (The Normal Series) - Holly Bourne

It's YA and I got given the book by a friend who had copies for World Book Night 2016.


Otherwise, I would not have picked it up, because...YA.


If I had read this when I was 15, I would have enjoyed this much more, but as I haven't the book fell a bit flat for me. 


The intention of the book is great, tho: To give readers an insight into how OCD and general anxiety disorder can affect people. It's not something that I as a 15-year-old would have been that familiar with, other than by way of crude jokes. And this is the point of the book - to get people think about the jokes and flippant remarks that are based on mental health issues. 


From that aspect, I really appreciated the book, too.


Where it fell flat for me was in the writing - it was so full of cliches that made it seem quite ironic that the books attempts to look behind the common misconceptions - and cliches - surrounding mental health issues.


And of course the precocious little sister character, just seemed a thinly veiled psychology lecture...

The Unexpected Guest

The Unexpected Guest - Charles Osborne, Agatha Christie

The Unexpected Guest is another play by Agatha Christie that was adapted as a novel Charles Osborne - so in short, it is not that great.


Of course I am peeved that I ended up with this book because it was advertised as an Agatha Christie novel, and it is not, but I am also astounded Osborne got to write several novelisations at all, and all of them on commission by Christie's estate!


He has no feel for Christie's characters.


While I can see that the setting in this novel is a typical Christie country house mystery, the main character of Laura Warwick does not strike me as a Christie woman at all.


But maybe I'm just peeved that Audible did not make it clear that this was an Osbone novel. 

The Daughter of Time

The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey

Richard III had been credited with the elimination of two nephews, and his name was a synonym for evil. But Henry VII, whose ‘settled and considered policy’ was to eliminate a whole family was regarded as a shrewd and far-seeing monarch. Not very lovable perhaps, but constructive and painstaking, and very successful withal. Grant gave up. History was something that he would never understand. The values of historians differed so radically from any values with which he was acquainted that he could never hope to meet them on any common ground.

I loved this book - it had absolutely everything that I wanted/needed on the rainy winter weekend when I read this. 


In a way, I could relate quite well to Inspector Grant as he was laid up in hospital with nothing to do but stare at the ceiling, bored out of his head. Rainy winter weekends can have a similar effect. Unlike Grant, of course, it didn't occur to me to start a research project into the life and legacy of Richard III, I merely cozied up with Tey's book and a good supply of tea and snacks.


I can't even put my finger of why I thought the book was so enjoyable - part of me liked the characters and the banter, part of me liked the "mystery" element, even tho there is little mystery to it, and part liked the historical aspect of it. I loved how Tey chose to format the story, how she disguised her research into the story of RIII as a hobby to pass time with. 


In a way, this is why I love historical fiction, not because it sugar-coats all of the historical information and presents it in an easily digestible narrative, but because it dares to ask questions and share how the actual research of non-fictional topics can be fun. It has the power to inspire people to learn more. 


I for one will take a much closer look at portraits from now on, and especially the one of RIII.


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...


Currently reading

A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup
Gelebte Sehnsucht. Grenzgängerinnen der Moderne by Susanne Nadolny
Progress: 16/208pages
Metamorphoses by Denis Feeney, Ovid, David Raeburn
Progress: 144/723pages