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

Reading progress update: I've read 71 out of 240 pages.

Bats in the Belfry - E.C.R. Lorac

I didn't make any progress on this until I was on the flight back home last night.


It's still not looking like this will be a favourite book. 


The characters are still bumbling idiots, and now we also have a Scotland Yard Inspector who fits right in with them. 


Talking about Scotland Yard, this is new New Scotland Yard...which I happened to stroll by on Sat. And, yes, I rather liked that the surveillance camera photobombed the shot.


Out and About: It's too bloody hot!


I'm sweating buckets. Is it the excitement of seeing Roger Allam on stage shortly? Or is it the bloody heat??
In any case, I'm headed inside the dungeons of the NT to rehydrate.



Reading progress update: I've read 31 out of 240 pages.

Bats in the Belfry - E.C.R. Lorac

I tried to start Bats in the Belfry ever since picking it for BL-Opoly but just couldn't get into it. Now, that I had an hour on a plane, I made some progress and am getting a serious hint of After the Funeral, with a note of Golden Age snark, and an aftertaste of some xenophobia. 


I hope this turns out to be just a first impression and there is more to it than meets the eye right now. But right now, I cannot for the life of me figure out why someone would decide to volunteer to keep an eye on a total stranger just because that person is a total stranger who's ruffled another character's feathers...and we know nothing about any reasons so far. 


Also, I have no idea how this relates to the deceased. At all. The only thing we do know about the stranger that apparently must be kept an eye on is:


1. That he reminds one of the characters of a "dago".

2. The he went to a pub.

3. That one of the characters doesn't like the look of him


So far, this is damned silly but one of the women characters is quite snarky and I am interested to see what part she'll play in this story.

Out and About - London


This little memorial to Dame Agatha is on St. Martin's Lane. St. Martin's Theatre, which is still running Dame Agatha's The Mousetrap is just on the left. 


London is mad at any time of the year, but in summer (and just before Christmas) it is the maddest. This particular part of the city is so full of people that it is equally hard to stand still as it is to try and actually walk...without bumping people who try to stop. And as everyone, really everyone, seems to be on their mobile phones - either talking, texting, or trying to read Google maps - I've come to the conclusion that on this trip my use of phone will be limited, including a limit on picture taking and on relying on Google maps (which I know I can do without). And what can I say, it's been a blast walking around just looking at the city. 


It's changed. It keeps changing all the time. But there are elements that are the same. 


Little oases of green in between blocks of buildings that are so overflowing with people sitting on the grass (because of the current heat wave) that you can hardly see any ground. 

People trying to get to places, looking knackered, hardly able to move because there are just so many people slowing down their pace, and still showing total patience with everyone. 


I love this city. But I certainly could not live here.


@Lillelara - Bullers of Buchan

Just for illustration:



Reading progress update: I've read 15 out of 784 pages.

Agatha Christie’s Complete Secret Notebooks - Agatha Christie, John Curran, David Suchet

The Golden Age of British detective fiction is generally regarded as the period between the end of the First World War and that of the Second, i.e. 1920 to 1945. This was the era of the country house weekend enlivened by the presence of a murderer, the evidence of the adenoidal under-housemaid, the snow-covered lawn with no footprints and the baffled policeman seeking the assistance of the gifted amateur. Ingenuity reached new heights with the fatal air embolism via the empty hypodermic, the poison-smeared postage stamp, and the icicle dagger that evaporates after use.

This is probably the first time in years that I have several massive, massive books on the go at the same time - The Complete Secret Notebooks, The Blackwater Saga, The Second Sex, and I'm trying not to count in The Complete Works of Shakespeare on my currently reading shelf. 


But it can't be helped. I wanted to start the Curran book before attending some events with the author on Saturday ... one of them about E.C.R. Lorac, whose Bats in the Belfry is my current BL-Opoly read. 


What I like instantly about Curren's The Complete Secret Notebooks is that each chapter seems to start with a spoiler warning, i.e. a list of Christie's works for which the chapter will include solutions or spoilers. It sounds obvious, but for me this is a "must have" for any non-fiction book about Christie's work. 


So, we are off to a great start. 

Booklikes-Opoly! - Roll & Book Selection

Bats in the Belfry - E.C.R. Lorac

I finished Gaudy Night yesterday but the effect of the book is such that I just couldn't even roll to see what book the Opoly Gods had in store next. 


I rolled tonight instead.


You rolled 2 dice:

5 3

Timestamp: 2019-06-26 20:01:19 UTC


...which takes me to: 


10. There's nothing like a trip to the beach to start the summer off, and, for readers, half the fun is picking the beach read!
Read a book that appears on any beach reads list or a book whose author's first or last name begins with any letter in B-E-A-C-H.


I'm not going to trail through any beach read list. I'm not a fan of reading lists, except those that I compile for myself...and in any case, what is the use of any beach read list that doesn't include the entire set of British Library Crime Classic, other Golden Age mysteries and generally ANY  other book that I might like to read. 


Anyway, Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac will be my next book, which is rather fitting as I am planning a short trip to London. 

Reading progress update: I've read 502 out of 502 pages.

Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers

The Proctor, stumping grimly past with averted eyes, reflected that Oxford was losing all sense of dignity. But what could he do?

Yeah,... Still as good and better on the re-read.

Reading progress update: I've read 414 out of 502 pages.

Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers

Another scene I absolutely love - Peter instructing Harriet in self-defence:


“Try throttling me for a change, and I’ll show you.”


“Did I say this field was soft?” said Harriet, when her feet had been ignominiously hooked from under her. She rubbed herself resentfully.


“Just let me do it to you, that’s all.”


And this time, whether by skill or favour, she did contrive to bring him off his balance, so that he only saved himself from sprawling by a complicated twist suggestive of an eel on a hook.


“We’d better stop now,” said Peter, when he had instructed her in the removal of the thug who leaps from in front, the thug who dives in from behind, and the more sophisticated thug who starts operations with a silk scarf.

“You’ll feel tomorrow as if you’d been playing football.”


“I think I shall have a sore throat.”


“I’m sorry. Did I let my animal nature get the better of me? That’s the worst of these rough sports.”


“It would be a good bit rougher if it was done in earnest. I shouldn’t care to meet you in a narrow lane on a dark night, and I only hope the Poison-Pen hasn’t been making a study of the subject. Peter, you don’t seriously think—”


“I avoid serious thought like the plague. But I assure you I haven’t been knocking you about for the fun of it.”


“I believe you. No gentleman could throttle a lady more impersonally.”


“Thank you for the testimonial. Cigarette?”

Reading progress update: I've read 14%.

Blackwater: The Complete Saga - Michael McDowell, Matt Godfrey

That was the great misconception about men: because they dealt with money, because they could hire someone on and later fire him, because they alone filled state assemblies and were elected congressional representatives, everyone thought they had power. Yet all the hiring and firing, the land deals and the lumber contracts, the complicated process for putting through a constitutional amendment—these were only bluster. They were blinds to disguise the fact of men’s real powerlessness in life. Men controlled the legislatures, but when it came down to it, they didn’t control themselves. Men had failed to study their own minds sufficiently, and because of this failure they were at the mercy of fleeting passions; men, much more than women, were moved by petty jealousies and the desire for petty revenges. Because they enjoyed their enormous but superficial power, men had never been forced to know themselves the way that women, in their adversity and superficial subservience, had been forced to learn about the workings of their brains and their emotions.

The heart of the novel, I suspect.


Reading progress update: I've read 220 out of 502 pages.

Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers

I've missed Lord Saint-George. Why oh why did they leave him out of the tv adaptation? Well, him and Mr. Pomfret.

“Darling Harriet, that’s unkind. You don’t mind my calling you Harriet?”

   “As a matter of fact, I do, rather.”

“But I can’t keep on saying ‘Miss Vane’ to a person who knows all my hideous secrets. Perhaps I’d better accustom myself to saying ‘Aunt Harriet’. What’s wrong with that? You simply can’t refuse to be an adopted aunt to me. My Aunt Mary has gone all domestic and hasn’t time for me, and my mother’s sisters are the original gorgons. I’m dreadfully unappreciated and quite auntless for all practical purposes.”

   “You deserve neither aunts nor uncles, considering how you treat them. Do you mean to finish these cheques today? Because, if not, I have other things to do.”

   “Very well. We will continue to rob Peter to pay all. It’s wonderful what a good influence you have over me. Unbending devotion to duty. If you’d only take me in hand I might turn out quite well after all.”

   “Sign, please.”

“But you don’t seem very susceptible. Poor Uncle Peter!”

   “It will be poor Uncle Peter by the time you’ve finished.”

Reading progress update: I've read 56 out of 250 pages.

Just for the love of it - Cathy O'Dowd

Oh, holy crap! They're up there on 10th May? I had no idea when I picked up this book. 

Ang Dorje and the Sherpas wanted to go for the summit. I felt good and strong, better than I had expected. I, too, wanted to go. I feared that every day spent waiting at this altitude would simply weaken me. Tomorrow the weather might change, the winds might rise again. Our chance would be gone.

However, both Bruce and Ian were feeling battered and tired by their passage through the storm, and favoured another 24 hours of rest. None of us knew what to make of the weather.

This was it. The decision. Stay back and miss the summit or press on and risk the weather. I listened to the circling conversation, edgy and impatient. I wanted to go and would climb just with the Sherpas if I had to. However, I was reluctant to go without the other two, after all we had been through together. Was it more important to keep the team together, with the risk that no one would reach the summit, or to split the group to grab a summit chance? I didn’t know.

The Sherpas agreed to wait one more day. For better or worse, the decision was made. The wind died in the late evening and the spectacular Himalayan star pattern began to peep through the cloud. At 11.30 p.m. we watched as the other teams left for the summit, one by one. As the tiny, gleaming head-torches slowly made their way off into the darkness in the early hours of 10 May, the unspoken question was whether we had made a terrible mistake. Rob Hall was on the way to his fifth ascent of Everest, a record for any Western climber. Scott Fischer was an experienced and immensely strong mountaineer. Both had decided the time was right.

At least it was our decision. It would be better to have done what we thought was safe and to have made a mistake, than simply to have followed people more experienced than we were, and then to have blamed them if things did not work out.

Reading progress update: I've read 25 out of 250 pages.

Just for the love of it - Cathy O'Dowd

O'Dowd's book is about the first South African expedition to Everest. This was organised in 1996 and the team of climbers originally contained 5 men, who were invited, and 1 woman, who had to audition. Susbequently, two women were added to the team:

Ian finally informed us one by one of his choice. All the while we were being filmed. By now I felt like a piece of putty that had been stretched out way too thin. He rambled on about how difficult the selection had been, and how sorry he was he could not take everyone. My heart sank. Then he invited me to join the team to Nepal. Initially I just felt overwhelming relief. Then the excitement welled up.

The other selection was Deshun. That came as something of a surprise on the face of it, but made sense on reflection. Jackie was simply incompatible with Ian. Anneli wanted Everest for the wrong reasons. Nandi’s heart was not in it. Cynthia, although determined and game, was physically tiny. Ian did not think she had the bodily strength. That left Deshun and me.

I had found Deshun quiet, friendly, efficient, determined. I thought we would get on well. Ian’s rationale for taking two women was that the woman on the team would be under intense media scrutiny. He wanted a back up. He felt that, in exchange for three months of free travel in Nepal, we could put up with some tensions of being still ‘on selection’.

We returned to South Africa and went our separate ways. I would only be needed back in Johannesburg at the end of February. There would be six long weeks of waiting. I was trying my best to finish my thesis before I left. However, the topic of ‘the selection and presentation of photographs of political violence in South African newspapers’ was difficult to get excited about when Everest was looming so large on my horizon.

Sitting in front of my computer in my Grahamstown flat, the whole Everest application experience seemed unreal. It was almost impossible for me to grasp the reality of it all. In a few weeks I would be on my way to the Himalaya, to the slopes of the highest mountain in the world. I was revelling in the anticipation of it all.

However, disturbing rumours were reaching me about the other members of the team. I heard through the grapevine of the climbing community that one of the others, Ed February, was commenting that they, the other members, would ‘throw the baggage off the mountain’. Deshun and I were the ‘baggage’.

They also ended up with a dodgy doctor, more interested in getting high (in any way but altitude) than her duties on the trip, and a questionable journalist to report back to the newspaper that sponsored the expedition.


If we thought that other expeditions were fraught with discord and ill-will, this one seemed to have exceeded it. 


For various reasons that became apparent very early on in this book, this will be the only one of O'Dowd'd books I'll ever read, but there is some interesting content in this. 

Reading progress update: I've read 138 out of 502 pages.

Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers

Now, this is how to write undergraduates ... and I am sure there is a bit of Sayers in all of them:

Miss Millbanks had her room in Queen Elizabeth, and had furnished it with a good deal of taste. She was a tall, elegant girl, obviously well-to-do, much better dressed than the majority of the students, and carrying her intellectual attainments easily. She held a minor scholarship without emoluments, declaring publicly that she was only a scholar because she would not be seen dead in the ridiculous short gown of a commoner. As alternatives to coffee, she offered Harriet the choice of madeira or a cocktail, politely regretting that the inadequacy of college arrangements made it impossible to provide ice for the shaker.    Harriet, who disliked cocktails after dinner, and had consumed madeira and sherry on an almost wearisome number of occasions since her arrival in Oxford, accepted the coffee, and chuckled as cups and glasses were filled.

   Miss Millbanks inquired courteously what the joke was.

“Only,” said Harriet, “that I gathered the other day from an article in the Morning Star that ‘undergraduettes,’ in the journalist’s disgusting phrase, lived entirely on cocoa.”

   “Journalists,” said Miss Millbanks, condescendingly, “are always thirty years behind the times. Have you ever seen cocoa in College, Miss Fowler?”

   “Oh, yes,” said Miss Fowler. She was a dark, thick-set Third Year, dressed in a very grubby sweater which, as she had previously explained, she had not had time to change, having been afflicted with an essay up to the moment of attending Harriet’s talk. “Yes, I’ve seen it in dons’ rooms. Occasionally. But I always looked on that as a kind of infantilism.”

Not to mention this absolute beauty about the poison pen letters:

“I had one too,” said Miss Layton. “A beauty—about there being a reward hell for women who went my way. So, acting on the suggestion given, I forwarded it to my future address by way of the fireplace.”

So, yeah, either Death on the Cherwell got it entirely wrong or Somerville (Sayers' college) was far more fun than St. Hilda's (which Hay's Death on the Cherwell seemed to have been based on). 

The Reign of King Edward the Third

The Complete Works (Oxford Shakespeare) - William Shakespeare, John Jowett, Gary Taylor

What an odd play. 


From the introduction contained in the Oxford edition (Wells, Taylor, et. al.) of the Complete Works I gather that this play was a more recent addition to the Works and that only Scenes 2, 3, 12, and perhaps 13 may have been written by the Bard, with the rest having other authors who are not known. 


What makes this an odd play is that this was - supposedly - written after Shakespeare's play about Richard III (which I skipped in the re-read project because it's still relatively fresh in my memory). However, while Richard III had a clear storyline, a dramatic development, and some gloriously fleshed-out characters - which Richard himself growing ever more into the sniveling creature that RIII has so often been portrayed at - Edward III seems to lack all of this. I would even go so far as to say EIII seems to lack a clear train of thought. 


Was the intent to create a biography of EIII? Or to create a character study of him? Was it meant to be a romance - between EIII and the Countess of Salisbury? Was it meant to be a morality play (as the proposed preposterous murders planned by EIII and the Countess were averted at the last minute)?

Was it merely a play about the glory of England when faced with war (with both the Scots and the French this time...oh, and the king of Bohemia,...whatever)?


In short, what the fuck did I just read?


It also didn't help that I couldn't find any key points in the play that were of interest ... no fabulous speeches along the lines of "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious...", no interesting ideas, no interesting characters even...and, no, I cannot see anything interesting in the proposal of EIII and the Countess to kill their respective spouses so they can be together... I may have rolled my eyes at this. A lot. 

I even had to acknowledge that this would have been infinitely improved if this had taken a Strangers on a Train turn. It didn't.


I would have loved to have accompanied this reading with a performance of the play. However, the one that I found online seemed to struggle with the verse and the pacing and made following the plot (was there one?) not just difficult but also deeply unpleasant.


So, Shakespeare may have contributed parts to this play, but they aren't enough to salvage the play as a whole. 




Reading progress update: I've read 69 out of 502 pages.

Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers

So, I decided to re-read Gaudy Night for the BL-Opoly "classics" task. It's classic Sayers at its best.

“More of your scattered belongings?” said Wimsey, as she took the postcard; then, seeing her flush and frown of disgust, “What is it?”

“Nothing,” said Harriet, pushing the ugly scrawl into her bag.

He looked at her.



Currently reading

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