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

Can you tell...

...that I could not decide which books to take?



I obviously thought only of the essentials.

Reading progress update: Chapters 1 & 2

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime - Val McDermid

I need to stop here for the time being. 


It took me all of chapter 1 to get used to McDermid's style in this book, which I can only describe as a mix of her prose and what I presume is her reporting style (she was journalist before turning to crime writing full time...). 


She definitely places a lot of focus on the stories of different crimes, but the science related facts are there too. Not as much "hard science", yet, as I'd love but there are definitely some parts that made me perk up after reading about some of the descriptions of the horrible crime scenes. 


I particularly liked this one so far:

"Arsonists often leave matches behind, assuming they will burn away to nothing. But the powdered rock in a match head contains the fossilised remains of single-cell algae called ‘diatoms’. A diatom’s shell is made of silica, which is abrasive enough to help you strike the match, and tough enough to endure extremely high temperatures. Each of the 8,000 known species of diatom has a unique shell structure, identifiable through a microscope. Different brands make their matches using powdered rock from different quarries. If forensic scientists can spot the diatoms, they can identify the match brand."

Flat Book Society: Forensics

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime - Val McDermid



I have been looking forward to this book ever since I got it at the Bloody Scotland book festival last year.


I may not take this on the plane tomorrow - I cherish my copy too much - but I hope to read at least the first chapter tonight.


Happy reading, All!



Edit: Inspired by Ani's post, I am also reading this for Square 15 of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season. 

Reading progress update: I've read 73 out of 652 pages.

William Pitt the Younger: A Biography - William Hague

The relationship between Prince Fredrick and his father King George II was an early example of a noted Hanoverian tradition, being one of unmitigated hatred between monarch and heir. The Prince of Wales was truly loathed by both his father and mother. Queen Caroline once exclaimed when she saw the Prince pass her dressin-room window: "Look, there he goes - that wretch! that villain! - I wish the ground would open this moment and sink the monster to the lowest hole in hell!"




Cue the 4 Georges...


The Sunday Post: Halloween Fun

With Halloween happening on a weekday night this year, my friends and I had a bit of seasonal fun this weekend at this lovely place: Glamis Castle.



Glamis is my favourite castle hands down (and I have visited ... many). It's not just the Macbeth connection, or the connection with Queen Mother, or anything like that, it is because they (still privately owned by the Strathmores) really care about the place and about making visitors feel welcome. There is always something special about what they put on. And it is a community thing - the castle is staffed by locals who have been there for a long time, the guides have been there forever, the old castle kitchens (now the restaurant) uses local produce from the estate, etc. I seriously love visiting this place and try to do so at least once every year. 

This year, the castle put on a Halloween event - A Halloween themed tour of the castle and they also made up a Macbeth inspired walk around the grounds that was fitted with sculptures and a light and sound installation.
One of my friends has problems with her eyesight at the moment and can't really manage well in the dark. So, we decided to get there in the afternoon and walk around the castle gardens and woods first, while there was still daylight.
It was so much fun. The other friend who came was a bit sceptical at first because, well, how much fun can trees with lights really be, right? However, we spent nearly the whole walk laughing and being shocked by the sounds. At one point my sceptical friend found a big, bright red button in from of the witches sculpture - of course she pressed it! The thunder, lightning, and smoke that ensued set us jumping. One of us even lost her shoe! Seriously, we had so much fun.
After the woods, we joined the castle tour that we had booked. It was fab! They had dimmed the lights so the parts of the castle were completely dark, others just lit by candles. They decorated everything with gargoyles, skeletons, cob webs ... and live actors dressed as ghosts, zombies, knights, witches...all turning up at random times to make you feel really, erm, uneasy. 
(This photo was one I found on the Glamis Castle Facebook page.)
The tour told only of the castle's ghosts and gory stories, and a little history. Not much history, tho, because this was a Halloween tour and there were kids present (who might have been bored). And still, we all learned something new. 
At the end of the tour, I ended up as a tribute to the resident witches but managed to escape just in time to follow my friends to the old castle kitchens for homemade roast pumpkin soup and a well deserved and absolutely huge pot of tea. 
So much fun.
On top of that, I picked up from the tour that there seems to be a connection between Glamis and Bonnie Dundee (Graham Claverhouse or Bloody Dundee) - who was the subject of Josephine Tey's only (as far as I know) work of non-fiction (which is on my TBR). And because of how rabbit holes work, I now need to know what the connection is. (There is a portrait of Claverhouse in the portrait gallery at Glamis...) 
Happy Sunday!

Halloween Bingo - Card & Books - Blackout!



All done! The Baron the the Gang are united again and are looking to forward to the Great Pumpkin celebrations!


Many thanks again to OB and MR for coming up with an awesome game and to all the other BookLikers who are making it so much fun to play and watch others play. :D




Right, so this is my lovely Bingo Card for this year's Halloween Bingo, which I will update on this post as we go along - Baron Samedi covering squares I have read, and The Gang popping up on squares that have been called.


And 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: 




Genre Horror: Gilded Needles - Malcolm McDowell

Serial Spree Killer: The ABC Murders - Agatha Christie

Murder Most Foul: Problem at Pollensa Bay - Agatha Christie

Terrifying Women: Eleven - Patricia Highsmith

Magical Realism: The Ghost Bride - Yangsze Choo



Row # 2:



Witches: Lords and Ladies - Terry Pratchett

Haunted House: Blithe Spirit - Noel Coward

Gothic: The Castle of Otrando - Horace Walpole

Terror in a Small Town: The Moving Finger - Agatha Christie

In the Dark, Dark Woods: The Green Archer - Edgar Wallace



Row # 3:



Classic Noir: Double Indemnity - James M. Cain

Ghost: Thin Air - Michelle Paver

Free Space: Josephine Tey: A Life - Jennifer Morag Henderson

Cozy Mystery: An Expert in Murder - Nicola Upson

Darkest London: The Man in the Queue - Josephine Tey



Row # 4:



Locked Room Mystery: The Sign of Four - Arthur Conan Doyle

Vampires: Monstrous Regiment - Terry Pratchett

Supernatural: Cold Moon Over Babylon - Michael McDowell

Romantic Suspense: Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

80's Horror: Wicked Stepmother - Malcolm McDowell



Row # 5:


Amateur Sleuth: Death of an Airman - Christopher St. John Sprigg

Monsters: The Deceased Miss Blackwell and her Not-so-Imaginary Friends - K.N. Parker

Classic Horror: Sweetheart, Sweetheart - Bernard Taylor (1977)

Diverse Voices: Haiti Noir - Edwidge Danticat

Country House Mystery: Speedy Death - Gladys Mitchell


 While all the spaces have been filled in and the Baron is currently waiting for the rest of the Gang to pop up for bingo celebrations, I'll try and catch up on the review writing side of things. 




I have a pointy hat ...

... and I am not afraid to use it.



I'm off to have some seasonal fun with friends this afternoon.

Sherlock Holmes: A Case of Identity

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry

“There’s a cold-blooded scoundrel!” said Holmes, laughing, as he threw himself down into his chair once more. “That fellow will rise from crime to crime until he does something very bad, and ends on a gallows. The case has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest.”


Erm, as much as I love Holmes, this cracked me up: To say that the case has not been entirely devoid of interest is a round-about way of saying that it has for the most part been of no interest what-so-ever, but, you know, just not entirely.


That's how I would describe A Case of Identity - almost entirely devoid of interest.


The mystery is based on a the disappearance of a fiancée, which causes a young woman to seek out Holmes at Baker Street. The actual story is preposterous bordering on the plain silly and I would like to hope that ACD wrote this with a smirk on his face as he drew up the characters in this story:


On one hand we have gullible girl bestowed with an over-abundance of Victorian ideals, such as becoming engaged on a first outing with a suitor (I know, one has to laugh!), on the other we have a true scoundrel, who seeks to swindle the gullible girl out of her cash (or at least some of it) by "patronising" her in the most idiotic way. 


The actual story is almost the opposite of A Scandal in Bohemia: The characters lack the sophistication, the class, the wit, the flair. It may have been ACD's intention to draw this contrast, and make it even more apparent by Holmes and Watson even making specific reference to Irene Adler, I don't know, but the effect it had on me was that I had no interest in the mystery or the characters - quite the opposite to A Scandal in Bohemia.


However, to paraphrase Holmes, the story has, in some respects, been not entirely devoid of interest. We get more insight into the lives of Holmes and Watson. We learn that Holmes is not operating entirely on intellect as so often (falsely) portrayed. He has a strong sense of justice, but his main criticism of the scoundrel is that said scoundrel has been utterly heartless.


Aside from getting to spend time with my favourite Baker Street duo, there was only one other thing that proved interesting:  

“If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’ There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”


I loved that paragraph. It made me laugh. However, I had no idea who Hafiz was. As my reading buddy, Troy, and I started to discuss the story, we also started to ponder about why ACD would choose to quote a medieval Sufi mystic and poet. How did ACD know about him? 


But the more we thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense. After all, Watson is a veteran of the Afghan Wars. A few of the Holmes stories have an Indian or Far Eastern element. With ACD being quite a circumspect citizen of the world and a traveller (tho, I could not find anything about him travelling to Persia), I can no longer think of a reason why he should not have been familiar with a medieval Sufi mystic and poet. 


So, even though, the actual mystery is pretty underwhelming, I liked that I learned something new (to me) about a medieval Persian poet.


Here's one of Hafiz's to round things up:


For years my heart inquired of me 
                   Where Jamshid's sacred cup might be, 
And what was in its own possession 
                   It asked from strangers, constantly; 
Begging the pearl that's slipped its shell 
                   From lost souls wandering by the sea. 
Last night I took my troubles to 
                   The Magian sage whose keen eyes see 
A hundred answers in the wine 
                   Whose cup he, laughing, showed to me. 
I questioned him, "When was this cup 
                   That shows the world's reality 
Handed to you?" He said, "The day 
                   Heaven's vault of lapis lazuli 
Was raised, and marvelous things took place 
                   By Intellect's divine decree, 
And Moses' miracles were made 
                   And Sameri's apostasy." 
He added then, "That friend they hanged   
                   High on the looming gallows tree— 
His sin was that he spoke of things 
                   Which should be pondered secretly, 
The page of truth his heart enclosed 
                   Was annotated publicly. 
But if the Holy Ghost once more 
                   Should lend his aid to us we'd see 
Others perform what Jesus did— 
                   Since in his heartsick anguish he 
Was unaware that God was there 
                   And called His name out ceaselessly." 
I asked him next, "And beauties' curls 
                   That tumble down so sinuously, 
What is their meaning? Whence do they come?" 
                   "Hafez," the sage replied to me, 
"It's your distracted, lovelorn heart 
                   That asks these questions constantly."
(Found at  

The Adventure of the Red-Headed League

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry




October 9, 1890.


Sherlock Holmes and I surveyed this curt announcement and the rueful face behind it, until the comical side of the affair so completely overtopped every other consideration that we both burst out into a roar of laughter.

The Adventure of the Red-Headed League is one of the first Holmes stories that I have read and it also is one of the most memorable. Of the 50-odd short stories, many merge into one another after reading them, but a few are distinctly different. 


What makes TRHL quite special is that it shows Holmes and Watson laughing - yup, Holmes does not only show emotion but shares a joke with Watson. Their client does not see the funny side as much of the joke is on him (which is not Holmes' fault!), but nevertheless it shows that Holmes, too, can be silly.


In fact, we get to know that there are a lot sides to Holmes that his clients do not get to see:

My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer but a composer of no ordinary merit. All the afternoon he sat in the stalls wrapped in the most perfect happiness, gently waving his long, thin fingers in time to the music, while his gently smiling face and his languid, dreamy eyes were as unlike those of Holmes the sleuth-hound, Holmes the relentless, keen-witted, ready-handed criminal agent, as it was possible to conceive. In his singular character the dual nature alternately asserted itself, and his extreme exactness and astuteness represented, as I have often thought, the reaction against the poetic and contemplative mood which occasionally predominated in him.

The most important aspect of this story, however, is the The Red-Headed League. It is almost sad that this enterprising collective is nothing but a ... oh, but I won't spoil this. The underlying mystery must be maintained for anyone who hasn't read this, yet!


What I will say, tho, is that even though the underlying plot itself has become standard repertoire, it made me laugh to think about how much fun ACD must have had writing this story - which in many ways compares to slapstick comedy.



As my (everso-patient) reading buddy also noted, it is hard to read The Adventure of the Red-Headed League and not think of the Granada/ITV adaptation featuring Jeremy Brett. Although I love ((you have no idea how much!) the Brett adaptations, there are some differences between the adaptations and the original stories - with TRHL, the tv adaptations brought in an aspect that is not present in the book - Moriarty!


I understand why the producers may have thought this would be a good idea. After all, it lends some common purpose to the first series, which we know will end with The Final Problem. Without this common thread (Moriarty), the tv series, like the stories, is just a random collection of unconnected plots. This works as a magazine article (the way stories were published originally), and in theory should work as a tv series (after all Ironside or other series did not need an over-arching plot!) but it made me wonder how much faith the producers had in the first series of adaptations. Did they not think that it would appeal to the public enough to come back to watch another episode? 


I don't know, but if one thing should have been clear from the history of Holmes, it is that the stories hardly ever fail to find an audience!  


The Elements of Murder

The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison - John Emsley

He was 32-years-old but had gone grey, which he jokingly said was due to quicksilver. Although there is no connection between the two, there is a link between the body burden of several metals and their level in hair. Mercury, lead, arsenic, and antimony, are particularly attracted to the sulphur atoms in the keratin of hair and so it is possible by the analysis of a strand of hair to show whether that person had been exposed to a large dose of these toxic metals. Newton’s alchemical experiments appear to have reached a climax in the summer of 1693 when he wrote an account that is a combination of bizarre alchemical symbols and comments and is known as the Praxis [Doings] and this showed how unbalanced he had become. Isaac Newton was well known for being temperamental. Criticism of his work aroused in him an abnormal hatred of a rival and his feuds with other eminent scientists of the day such as Robert Hooke and Gottfried Leibniz were more emotional than rational. At times, Newton withdrew into virtual isolation and in 1693, when he was 50-years-old, his behaviour became so abnormal that his sanity was even questioned.

The Elements of Murder was fun, but it was a book with shortcomings. I don't like to start out pointing at the issues with a book but bear with me:


1. The book does not cover that many elements. In fact, only five (all of them metals) get serious page time: Mercury, Lead, Antimony, Arsenic, and Thallium. There is a section at the end of the book that covers some more elements, but most of these entries do not even extend beyond a single paragraph.


2. Arsenic, Thallium, and Antimony are covered in other books (such as the fabulous A is for Arsenic), which made much of the information in this books seem like old news. 


3. Some of the writing is ... dubious. There is something wrong with the flow of the narrative. I can't put my finger on what it was, but I had to read some paragraphs several times to understand what the author was talking about. There were also a couple of paragraphs where the author alluded to something but then suddenly dropped the thought in what seemed mid-sentence and then moved on to something new. 


Yes, this book could have done with better editing. is why I still enjoyed the book:


The introduction about the history of alchemy and that first chapter on mercury were fabulous!


Emsley explains the properties and history of mercury, its uses, and its impact on the environment. He also goes to describe famous people who experimented with it, and how mercury has been responsible for various deaths. This part was really interesting and packed full of history and hard science. I loved it. 


However, in parts, it seemed like the author wanted to write a book about mercury only, and then felt compelled to add more chapters. 


I would still recommend the book on the chapter about mercury alone, but I do recommend to find it in a library. 


Sunday Post (which also has some soup in it...and a shelfie)

Happy Sunday! 


Yes, it may be late in the day but it is still Sunday from where I'm typing. 


I am woefully behind in writing reviews but, having tried for several times today, it appears I may be in a reviewing slump at the moment. So, I'll just go with the flow. Reviews may or may not follow this week. 


Anyway, while I procrastinated over writing up some of those long overdue reviews today, I had a good look at my living room shelves and ... *shock* ... it hit me that I need to do a read&cull&sort sometime soon.



See, my plan this year was to not stress about my physical TBR and just read what I want. As a result, my main shelves are now double-stacked...and this does not even take into account the shelves and stacks in the spare room, bedroom, and, yes, there are some books in the hall, too.


So, I got to thinking that for 2018 I will try and focus on my physical TBR. 

The mere thought was intimidating. 


Intimidating enough to need some comfort food ... Here is where the soup comes in.



Apart from the ongoing buddy reads for science non-fiction, Sherlock Holmes, and my Dame Agatha project, there is one other theme that I am looking to explore more next year - the Suffragettes. But more on that one in a separate post nearer to January. 


Is anyone else also thinking abut 2018 projects already?

Angel with Two Faces

Angel with Two Faces - Nicola Upson

What was that?


I was so looking forward to the second instalment in the Josephine Tey series, because the first one had really surprised me in the best way - and I'm not keen on either series or tribute- / fan- fiction.


But where was the sparkle, the pep, the genuine dialogue between the characters that made the first book work so well? 


For what its worth, where was the plot???


This book seriously suffered from "telling, not showing", from a stagnant plot, from solely basing all success of this story on shock-value (which was not that shocking once got used to all sorts of stereotypes being exhausted...).


So disappointing.

Reading progress update: I've read 6%.

William Pitt the Younger: A Biography - William Hague

I may have gone a bit mad with yesterday's library haul, but so far my first pick seems to have been a great choice.


Hague's biography is fabulous so far. He provides such a great picture of the times and the politics that it is hard to put this book down.

Reading progress update: I've read 34%.

Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate - Reinhold Messner

As I noted yesterday, parts of this book are really cringe-worthy. Other parts make me question whether Mt. Everest is of any size at all when compared to Messner's ego. 

Others still tempt me to pledge to dnf the book the very next time he tells us (YET AGAIN!) that he is climbing Everest without oxygen (because everything else is cheating).


And then you get to passages like this one (excuse the shoddy writing - like I said, the book needed an editor - or at least a decent translator):

I must get this second tent up. I do want to come out of all this, I do want to survive. One more time. So Ang Dorje and I climb out from the chaos, under the torn canopy, and try in the lulls of the storm, to erect a new tent. But over and again the gusts of wind get under the slack fabric and blow it up like a balloon. The tent is almost ripped from our hands. The storm drowns our cries; we cannot understand each other from as little as a couple of metres apart. We have to keep turning out of the wind to rub away the snow which is clogging up our eyes. Once I can see the utter ridiculousness of our situation, I relax a bit. Even towards death. It is too late for anything. The storm builds up into a hurricane. My skin feels as if it burns. The first blue-white tinges of frostbite appear on my finger tips and the end of my nose. I am chilled to the marrow although I am wearing a complete down suit. At last, after an hour, I crawl into the second tent. It sways, it flaps, but it holds. It holds, and I burst into tears.

Reading progress update: I've read 33%.

Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate - Reinhold Messner

I'm delighted to say that the descriptions of the actual climb are much better than the introductory chapters. Yes, chapters.

Reading progress update: I've read 17%.

Everest: Expedition to the Ultimate - Reinhold Messner

Well, this is never going to be a favourite book. For a start, it needs an editor. Badly!

And then, of course, we have the author...


But at least this will be a quick read. :D

Currently reading

Manto: Selected Stories by Aatish Taseer
Progress: 34%
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Fry
Progress: 21%
Das Wunder des Baums by Annemarie Schwarzenbach
Progress: 21/295pages
Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer