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

Reading progress update: I've read 145 out of 232 pages.

Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will - Simon Callow

I'm still enjoying the book immensely, but there is hardly an episode in Wagner's life that doesn't make me cringe. Hard.

Reading progress update: I've read 70%.

Portrait of a Murderer: A Christmas Crime Story - Anne Meredith

He thought, “If it’s coming to that, let me be out of the way. I can’t face it.” But at the thought of a self-inflicted death his meagre spirit recoiled. No, not that. Not that. Nor arrest either. Nor, if he could help it, suspicion or exposure. Somehow there must be a way of ensuring silence. His thoughts whirled like a wheel of fire in his distorted brain: Greta—Father—Brand—Eustace—Exposure—Bankruptcy—Shame—Failure—Obscurity—Greta… and so on, round and round.

…Up and down, up and down, while, like the wheels of a railway carriage, beating out a monotonous rhythm, his thoughts took possession of him, expressing themselves harshly, unmusically. Up and down—down and out—no way out—out and down— And so on, until someone came seeking him, and he had to mask his terror and join the community once again.

I don't know why I couldn't get into this book last year, but it just goes to show that sometimes it is just the wrong time to read a particular book. 

I'm really enjoying Meredith's writing style this time around. 

Reading progress update: I've read 42%.

Portrait of a Murderer: A Christmas Crime Story - Anne Meredith

He could no longer restrain himself; he felt the blood burn and thicken in his veins; like a man making desperate headway against a wind that deprives him of sight, breath, and speech, he could not pause to take his bearings. He must rush headlong into debate; his period of control was over. Miles, with a despairing glance at his wife, accepted the position. The instinctive loathing between these two was coming to a head; within the next few moments almost any startling occurrence might take place. A wild battle of wits—and possibly not of wits alone—would be engaged upon, whose story would be gleefully repeated in every village kitchen so long as interest in Gray’s death served the people for gossip.

Ooh, that's tension you can cut with a knife. I love how Meredith wrote this story.

Also, family love on Christmas Day. Fa-la-la-la-la-lah-lah-la-lah...

Im Auto durch zwei Welten

Im Auto durch zwei Welten - Clärenore Stinnes

Im Auto durch zwei Welten (It roughly translates as Two Worlds by Car, tho I am not sure if this was ever translated.) is Clärenore Stinnes' account of her drive around the globe in 1929. She was the first women to circumnavigate the world in a car, which was a feat the she actually plays down in her book. She's much more focused on the actual technical difficulties she and her co-pilot and technicians encountered on the way. And when I say technical difficulties, I mean she focuses on bits of the car falling off while they are almost tumbling down cliffs in the Andes or nearly drowning in mud in Siberia. 

Her focus is truly on the car. 

She doesn't add a lot of commentary, which is probably because wasn't a writer. She was a driver and car enthusiast. And while I imagine that her book was thrilling its readers when it was first published in 1929 because it was fresh and exciting, it didn't quite manage to have the same effect when I read this. I belie that for me the lack of commentary (or context or added description she could have provided) makes the book a little two dimensional. 


And so we have the oddest thing here: this is the first time that I actually prefer a work of historical fiction to the actual non-fiction account.


A few years ago I read Michael Winter's book Pferdestaerken (Horse Power), which introduced me to Stinnes' story and I still hold Winter's book as one of the best works of historical fiction I have come across. So, while I am not disappointed by Stinnes' own account, there are gaps in her story that I had to fill with information I remembered from Winter's well researched and well presented almost-biography.

Reading progress update: I've read 8%.

Portrait of a Murderer: A Christmas Crime Story - Anne Meredith

Three days later he met Greta Hazell, and within a fortnight he had taken a handsome little flat for her in Shaftesbury Avenue—not till later did he realise that its rent was three hundred and twenty pounds a year—and was buying her whatever her fancy of the moment prompted. After some months he realised that he was by no means her only visitor to the flat. Taxed with infidelity, she laughed impudently. Did he suppose she kept all her life for his pleasure? she asked. Richard was dumbfounded. Here was something he had bought defying him. It was intolerable. He determined at once to break off the liaison and never see the wretched creature again. Then she stated her terms. They were staggering; at first Richard could not believe her. She was—in execrable taste—amusing herself at his expense. But she speedily disillusioned him. He could do nothing.


Ha. Serves him right.


I'm going to use this book for the Festive Tasks, too, but am not sure for which door, yet.

Reading progress update: I've read 39 out of 232 pages.

Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will - Simon Callow

Severe - Wagner said he could never once remember her [his mother] having embraced him - and strongly pious, she was given to leading impromptu family prayer sessions from her bed, dispensing moral precepts to each of her children in turn. She was determined to make a serious young man out of Richard.

All in vain. He was a terrible student, lazy and wilful, refusing to study anything that failed to engage his imagination, which left exactly two subjects: history and literature - ancient Greek history and literature to be precise, with a bit of Shakespeare thrown in.  His forte was recitation. At twelve, he made a big success speaking Hector's farewell from the Iliad, followed by "To be or not to be" - in German, of course, both of them: languages, he said, were too much like hard work.

As vibrant as Callow's writing is, I am not getting the warm fuzzies about Wagner as a person. From very early on he seems arrogant, obnoxious, impulsive, and very fond of his own voice and achievements, even their has been little so far to back it up.


I love Callow's writing. He makes the brawls at the opera come to life as much as he makes me cringe at Wagner's early compositions which, when performed, are described as an audiovisual assault at the audiences.


I had to take a break from reading at the point where smarmy Wagner sucks up to Meyerbeer to benefit from his patronage, full of hypocrisy as he made no attempt to overcome or even question his antisemitism.

Not that I get the impression that Wagner ever questioned anything about himself...

Reading progress update: I've read xx out of 232 pages.

Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will - Simon Callow

There he stood before them, the self-proclaimed Musician of the Future. He held a hand up, and in the ensuing silence, in the marked Saxon accent which he never made the slightest attempt to lose, he said: "Now you've seen what I want to achieve in Art. And you've seen what my artists, what we, can achieve. If you want the same thing, we shall have an Art."

Erm, right. It never occurred to me that Wagner spoke with a Saxon accent. That's quite funny. 

24 Festive Tasks: Door 8 - Penance Day - Tasks

Task 1:  “Confess” your book habits.  Dog-earring?  Laying books face down?  Bending back the spines? Skimming?  OR: Confess your guilty reading pleasure, or comfort reads.


I've commented on this before, and recently, but I do scribble in my books (only my own, not borrowed books!), so for this task I will focus comfort reads.

Comfort reads fro me can take various forms and genres - sometimes a Golden Age Murder Mystery does the trick, in which case Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie are my go to authors, along with more "recent" discoveries of Josephine Tey (if only she had written more!) and J. Jefferson Farjeon. 

Sometimes, I need a good, but not gory, suspense thriller (I'm still working through Highsmith's canon).

And yet at other times, I need a good non-fiction book. Those are also comfort reads to me. 


Task 2:  It’s “Pennants” day according to MbD’s husband:  post a picture of your favorite team’s logo / mascot and the last time they’ve won a championship (or not).


I like watching some sports, but I don't understand how one can be obsessed with a  sports team or even have a favourite sports team, because... well, I just don't get it. 

Even for the team sports I do like watching, my support depends on how they are playing - not that they are winning, but how well are they playing together as a team, and how are they conducting themselves overall - so I usually get the side-eye when I support a team that people wouldn't have expected. However, because this changes a lot and because I am mostly interested in sports on the international rather than the club level, this makes the task of choosing a pennant difficult, so bear with me as I am thinking aloud here:


Let's choose a sport first: The rugby autumn test are just underway and I am going to focus on rugby. I really like the Scotland team because they are fun to watch, even tho they don't win much. However, when Wales, South Africa or New Zealand are playing I have a very hard time deciding who to support. Luckily, fans aren't segregated into a home and away side in rugby stadiums, so changing your mind half-way through a game is no big deal.


However, ...


I'm going to have be arbitrary here and pick the French pennant:


Because no matter how you look at it, it takes some serious guts to wear an image of a cockerel in support of Les Bleus, and the French fans just excel at embracing the fun side of a poultry mascot.




Task 3: In centuries gone by, penance would often end up in what might be described as a very extended bad hair day (complete with sackcloth and ashes). Tell us: What’s a bad hair day to you – and what (if anything) do you do about it?


I have thin, straight hair that won't do much other than lie flat. So any day that the hair wins out and resists my efforts to keep it from falling in front of my eyes is a bad hair day.


Task 4: Early Christian spiritualists would sometimes do penance by spending time in the desert. If you’ve ever visited a desert region (or even live there), post a picture and tell us about it. Alternatively, post a picture of sand dunes (NOT with water in the background!).


In 2013, I was preparing to move to Dubai for a work assignment. This was cancelled at the 11th hour, but I still ended up going back and forth at least once a month for about half a year. I'm not the biggest fan of Dubai, so the change of plans was ok with me.

While I was going back and forth, I did try and make the most of my trips out there, which of course included trips to the desert.



As readers, you all might also appreciate that I was reading T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom at the time, and I got a special sense of the vastness of the desert and the heat when reading the book during that time. I know that the book is set in a different region, but the UAE was the closest I was going to get to the places described in the book.


Book:  Read any book concerning a man / woman of the cloth, a book about a character hiding a guilty secret or searching for absolution.


I'm going to use A Game for the Living for this book task, because one of the characters, Ramon, was so caught up in his religious guilt that he confesses to a murder that we, the readers, spend the rest of the book finding out whether he did it or not. Also, I'm not going to lie, the book was bad and I need some good to come out of having read it - so I am claiming this point!


The Prophet

The Prophet - Kahlil Gibran

Sure there are a few beautiful passages in this, but on the whole, this book irritated me on so many levels.


Not for me.

#New BookLiker



Can you please check out  Tickets to Paradise, who seems to be a new(ish) and underfollowed BookLiker?


I haven't re-posted this in a while, but since it is still difficult to connect with other members and interact if you're new to BookLikes, I would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone about the open discussion groups set up some time ago where people can drop in say hello or tell others about new blogs they have found. 


The Groups are located in :


Find New Booklikes Blogs To Follow


Happy reading!



Tea Love

Inspired by Lillelara's post about her tea shelf, I say


Bah Humbug!!


to having too many teas on your shelf. 


T. Rex and the Crater of Doom

"T. rex" and the Crater of Doom (Princeton Science Library) - Walter Alvarez, Carl Zimmer

The story of research on the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction through the 1980s is complicated, because so many people played a part and so many scientific disciplines and kinds of evidence were involved. Anyone preparing to recount the events has to choose a way of organizing the material and deciding what to include and what to exclude.6 The story has been told several times,7 and it has usually been presented as a conflict between those convinced by the evidence for impact and those arguing the case for volcanism as the cause of the extinction. I prefer to tell it in a different way. I want to focus on the search for the crater which must have been excavated if the impact hypothesis was right, and to consider why finding that crater was so difficult.

Don't let the title of the book mislead you. This book is neither about T. rex nor is it a geologist's attempt at writing a fan-fiction Indiana Jones sequel. This book is specifically about the pre-historic event that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and more so it is the record of the various scientific theories about that event. 


Alvarez goes to great lengths to explain how he researched the KT boundary from a geological perspective, how other scientists added their views to the topic, and how the discussion in the scientific community took place to examine different theories and find support or dismiss various ideas. 


What I have come away with from the book (apart from many details about geology) is that while Alvarez and his team may have every right to be credited with proving the merit of impact theory - i.e. that a huge asteroid or comet crashing into Earth caused the catastrophe that eventually killed of the dinosaurs (among many other species) - his work was supported by the efforts of the wider scientific community that helped to solve the puzzle. 


Even tho this book did not discuss dinosaurs, it was a fascinating read. And that is something I never thought I would say about a book on geology.

24 Festive Tasks: Door 7 - Mawlid - Tasks

Task 1:  Make two “prophesies” you think will come to fruition in 2019 in your personal or reading life.


Prophesy # 1: I will get a grip on my physical Mt. TBR. 

Prophesy # 2: I will finish the Dame Agatha reading project. 


There you have it. I'll not comment on the actual likelihood of either, one may be more likely than the other. 2019 will tell. ;D


Task 2: The Five Pillars of Islam include almsgiving and the pilgrimage to Mekka. Tell us: Have you ever donated books or rescued them from (horror of horrors) being trashed? Alternatively: Is there a book-related place that is a place of pilgrimage to you?


Absolutely! After I read physical books, I donate them to a couple of charity bookshops in town. I only keep very, very special books on my shelves. And of course, I also "rescue" books at library sales etc.

And bookish pilgrimages are the best!


Task 3: Prophets are messengers. Tell us: Which book characters are your favorite messengers (no matter whether humans, angels, (demi)gods, etc.)?


Messenger # 1 - Not a book character but I simply have to list him: The Metatron from the film Dogma.


Never has a Biblical figure been portrayed in a more entertaining manner.


Messenger # 2 - Sybill Trelawney, the great channeller of prophesies and Head of the Divination Workshop at Hogwarts School. 


Messenger # 3 - Seyton: His part in the play may be small, but to me he's the memorable character whose message starts Macbeth on his "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" speech, which is one of the highlights of the play. 



Task 4: Muhammad was a merchant before becoming a religious leader. List 5 books on your shelves in which a key character makes / undergoes a radical career change.


# 1: Murder on the Links (Arthur Hastings - Amateur sleuth to rancher)

# 2: Hogfather (Banjo - Thug to Keeper of the Tooth Fairy's Castle)

# 3: Our Man in Havana (James Wormold - vacuum cleaner salesman to spy)

# 4: Carol (Therese - sales clerk to set designer) 

# 5: The Pledge/Das Versprechen (Police inspector to gas station attendant)


Book:  If you can find a copy, read Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.  Or read any book about a leader of a movement, nation, religion or large group, OR read a book with a green cover OR with a half moon on the cover.





Reading progress update: I've read 43%.

"T. rex" and the Crater of Doom (Princeton Science Library) - Walter Alvarez, Carl Zimmer

Even tho I know how this book is going to conclude, Alvarez' writing makes it sound like there could be other outcomes - it's quite thrilling to read. He does this by actually giving us an oversight of the scientific work at the time that either supported his idea or came forward to try and disprove it. 

I love the way he gives equal airtime to both his supporters and the colleagues who disagreed with him, and does so without any notions of one-up-man-ship. 

"Dewey and I had come to completely opposite views of the KT boundary, and our heated exchanges enlivened a few scientific meetings. But even as the evidence for impact at the KT boundary was building up, so was the evidence that Dewey McLean was right about the age of the Deccan Traps."




"Chuck Officer disagreed intensely and often—not only with me, but with almost everyone else who favored impact. Again and again he made us go back and test whether our arguments were really as strong as we thought. Even though it was frustrating not to find the crater for ten years, it was actually a blessing, for an early discovery of the impact site might have short-circuited the intense challenge to each bit of evidence that Chuck Officer compelled us to face."

Again, I'm probably still suffering from the effects of reading The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs ... ugh.

A Game for the Living

A Game for the Living: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics) - Patricia Highsmith

"Theodore thought he was as happy as anyone logically could be in an age when atomic bombs and annihilation hung over everybody's head, though the world 'logically' troubled him in this context. Could one be logically happy?" 

I don't know, but I do know that this A Game for the Living certainly did not contribute to my happiness.


I am still confused as to what the story of this book was: was it a murder mystery, or an attempt to create an atmosphere of haunting guilt and haunting surveillance, while two of the main characters, Teo and Ramon, are trying to hunt down the killer of their ex-lover Lelia, while trying to decide whether the other is involved in her death.


This book just didn't work for me. There are rudimentary philosophical musings but Highsmith's atheist character, Theodore ("Teo"), was not well placed to discuss Ramon's Catholicism, and Teo's own attitude towards life is so detached that it is hard to empathise with him. There are, and I am probably biased from having read Sartre's Nausea only recently, some similarities between Highsmith's Teo and Sartre's Antoine, who both are outsiders and like to observe the people around them, never feeling part of the lives around them, and never really wanting to be.

As for Teo's Catholic counterpart Ramon, he was so guilt-ridden that he confesses to a murder he didn't commit, but instead of giving us an insight into why he feels this way, Highsmith doesn't go into much detail of Ramon's belief or frame of mind. There was a point in the story when I thought Highsmith might attempt a novel like Greene's The Power and the Glory (she was a fan of Greene's), exploring the different depths of the human condition, but this fizzled out into nothing as the murder mystery part of the plot took over.



It was all very unsatisfying.


At least, I am comforted by the fact that Highsmith knew this herself. When I took to Andrew Wilson's excellent biography of Highsmith to read up a little bit about the background to the book, I found this:

Later, Highsmith came to regard A Game for the Living, published in November 1958, as one of her worst novels. ‘The murderer is off-scene, mostly,’ she said, ‘so the book became a “mystery who-dunnit,” in a way – definitely not my forte.’46 She concluded that the book, which she said was ‘the only really dull book I have written’,47 lacked the elements which she thought were vital in her novels – ‘surprise, speed of action, the stretching of the reader’s credulity, and above all that intimacy with the murderer himself . . . The result was mediocrity.’

From Andrew Wilson's Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith (Bloomsbury Lives of Women)


In summary, this was probably the weakest Highsmith novel I have ever read (followed by Strangers on a Train) but I am glad I've read it, even if it is just to remind me how high a bar she set for her books and what high expectations I have come to approach her books with. 

Reading progress update: I've read 247 out of 278 pages.

A Game for the Living: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics) - Patricia Highsmith

The murder mystery genre really was not Highsmith's forte. At least she knew it. 

I think this is the first of her books that I'm actually bored with in the second half of the book.



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