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

Reading progress update: I've read 118 out of 479 pages.

The Last Man - Mary Shelley

Pride and tenderness now struggled, and at length made a compromise together. She would see Raymond, since destiny had led him to her, and her constancy and devotion must merit his friendship. But her rights with regard to him, and her cherished independence, should not be injured by the idea of interest, or the intervention of the complicated feelings attendant on pecuniary obligation, and the relative situations of the benefactor, and benefited. Her mind was of uncommon strength; she could subdue her sensible wants to her mental wishes, and suffer cold, hunger and misery, rather than concede to fortune a contested point. Alas! that in human nature such a pitch of mental discipline, and disdainful negligence of nature itself, should not have been allied to the extreme of moral excellence!

Some lady - Evadne (probably a personification of either any classical goddess or a symbol for about every woman who's ever met Byron) pining for Raymond, a.k.a. Byron.


While the condensed story of the Shelley-Byron Set is fascinating for its time, the drawn out description that Shelley gives of their relationships - as portrayed through the characters of this book - can only have been interesting for Shelley herself, and maybe for some of her close friends. 


I get that she wrote this as part of dealing with the grief of loss over the deaths of both Shelley and Byron, I really do, but there are limits to my interest in the group when it comes to looking for a plot / storyline in this book.


Bring on the damn plague!

The Sunday Post - Paris Edition - Part Two (A Follow-Up...)

Happy Sunday!


It just occurred to me that I spent the whole day reading and pottering about but haven't actually sat down to follow up on my promise last week that I would share pictures of my exploring Paris south of the river last Sunday.


Let me remedy this:


So, most of you know how much I LOVE the Natural History Museum in London, right?


Much like myself (still suffering from that stupid cold), Paris was under the weather last Sunday, so I thought I'd go and explore Natural History Museum there as it is a little bit off from the tourist trail and I figured that there would not be as many crowds.


So, I set off on the Metro, which was empty. Landed at my stop, and turned down into an empty street. 


I finally got to this entrance:


It doesn't look like much when you first get there, does it?


Once you walk through the gates, you find yourself in the middle of a park. So, I thought "Okay, ... where now?" Then I walked further along the little path ahead and  ... Wow!

Trust the French to turn a museum into an entire park full of palace sized buildings (each dedicated to a different discipline), botanical gardens, benches, and public access for joggers and anyone else who wants to go for a stroll.



I was pretty run down on account of the cold (and a little fever) so I didn't get to see everything I wanted to see. It's definitely a place I want to return to on the next trip. 


I did love the dinosaur exhibit, but then it is hardly surprising that this section should be impressive. After all, Georges Cuvier (a statue of whom is above) was as important in the history of this museum as Richard Owen was for the NHM in London, and as we know ... Georges Cuvier very much is one of the, if not the, founding father(s) of paleontology.  

Reading progress update: I've read 67%.

Fatal Passage - Ken McGoogan

Not that I have ever had much time for Dickens, but his response to Rae's report of cannibalism amongst the Franklin Expedition confirms my idea of him as a pompous, presumptuous, asshat:

"Dickens then quotes the most challenging paragraph from Rae’s report, which refers to the mutilated corpses and the contents of the kettles and which concludes “that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last resource—cannibalism—as a means of prolonging existence.”


He proposes to refute this suggestion both by analogy and “on broad general grounds, quite apart from the improbabilities and incoherencies of the Esquimaux testimony; which is itself given, at the very best, at second-hand. More than this, we presume it to have been given at second-hand through an interpreter; and he was, in all probability, imperfectly acquainted with the language he translated to the white man.”


Dickens elaborates on the difficulties of translation, argues that a lack of fuel would have precluded cooking “the contents of the kettles,” and suggests that bears, wolves, or foxes might have mutilated the bodies. What is more, scurvy would not only cause dreadful disfigurement and woeful mutilation, but also “annihilate the desire to eat (especially to eat flesh of any kind).” Where does all this lead?

To the assertion of a suspicion of murder:


[Nobody can rationally affirm] that this sad remnant of Franklin’s gallant band were not set upon and slain by the Esquimaux themselves. It is impossible to form an estimate of the character of any race of savages, from their deferential behaviour to the white man while he is strong. The mistake has been made again and again; and the moment the white man has appeared in the new aspect of being weaker than the savage, the savage has changed and sprung upon him. . . . We believe every savage to be in his heart covetous, treacherous, and cruel; and we have yet to learn what knowledge the white man—lost, houseless, shipless; apparently forgotten by his race; plainly famine-stricken, weak, frozen, helpless, and dying—has of the gentleness of the Esquimaux nature.


I'm not impressed.

McGoogan's book is rather good, tho.

Reading progress update: I've read 34 out of 479 pages.

The Last Man - Mary Shelley

The ex-queen of England had, even during infancy, endeavoured to implant daring and ambitious designs in the mind of her son. She saw that he was endowed with genius and surpassing talent; these she cultivated for the sake of afterwards using them for the furtherance of her own views. She encouraged his craving for knowledge and his impetuous courage; she even tolerated his tameless love of freedom, under the hope that this would, as is too often the case, lead to a passion for command. She endeavoured to bring him up in a sense of resentment towards, and a desire to revenge himself upon, those who had been instrumental in bringing about his father’s abdication. In this she did not succeed.

Oooh, ... how seditious!

Let's see where Mrs Shelley is going to take us. :D

The writing has been easy to follow so far, much clearer than what I remember the writing in Frankenstein to have been (even tho I adore Frankenstein).


With her proposing the idea of the abolishment of the monarchy in favour of a republic, I can see that the novel may not have been popular at the time of its publication in 1826. 

I keep forgetting how progressive Mary Shelley was.

Quick Curtain

Quick Curtain - Alan Melville

The only reason I finished this is to claim my bingo square and bingo #4. 


While the satire of the theatre society, mystery genre and adoring public was interesting, I didn't find this to be an enjoyable read at all. Seriously, Tey picked up a similar approach in A Shilling for Candles and worked it so much better that, by comparison, this fell totally flat for me - from the slapstick take on Holmes and Watson to the mock resolution of the murder.



Halloween Bingo - Darkest London

Quick Curtain - Alan Melville

I need something light, which is an odd thing to say perhaps when picking a murder mystery, but Quick Curtain's premise sounds a lot less stressful than Deep Water. 


And that's what I need right now. Cozy-ish murder.


This one is set in London's Theatreland. :D I have high hopes.


Halloween Bingo - Genre: Horror

The Last Man - Mary Shelley

I only have 3 books left to read (plus one in progress that I need to finish) for Halloween Bingo, so I'm going to take some time and figure out which ones will be next.


I'm going to pick Mary Shelley's The Last Man for Genre: Horror because I am all horrored-out at this point, and need something that is more Goth than Gore.


I'm also super intrigued by a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel written by Shelley in 1826. I mean, she's not the first author that immediately comes to mind when thinking about post-apocalyptic sci-fi.


Bring it, Mary!


I'll be listening to The Last Man mostly on my commute next week.


Brat Farrar

Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey, Carole Boyd

‘Come and see me again before you decide anything,’ the Rector had said; but he had at least been helpful in one direction. He had answered Brat’s main question. If it was a choice between love and justice, the choice had to be justice.

Brat Farrar (written in 1949) was not a perfect read. I have had issues with the some of the reactions of the characters, and I believe some of the timing of the story is off, too.

The story is set in post-WWII Britain, which puts some of the story at a time during the height of WWII. I'm not disputing that this is possible, but Tey doesn't mention anything about the ongoing war when relating those parts of the story - and this is not typical for Tey whose main character in another series, Allan Grant, suffers from PTSD after WWI.  

What it does read like is a story that was originally drafted in the 1930s and then was revised for publication in 1949...except that some of the historical facts were silenced.


However, the story itself was really interesting: it's not the usual whodunit. We know from the start that Brat Farrar is an impostor. What we don't know is what happened to the character that he is trying to pass off as. This is revealed very slowly while were waiting to see if any of the Ashby family recognise Brat as a fraud.


I loved that concept. 


I also loved the way that Brat introduces himself to the villain of the piece:

‘I suppose you wouldn’t like, in return for my confidences, to tell me something?’

‘Tell you what?’

‘Who you are?’

Brat sat looking at him for a long time. ‘Don’t you recognise me?’ he said.

‘No. Who are you?’

‘Retribution,’ said Brat, and finished his drink.

You see, I was tickled by the coincidence that Agatha Christie pursued a similar line in her book Nemesis (with Miss Marple playing the part of Nemesis). Nemesis being the name for the goddess of retribution. 


There are no connections or similarities between Tey's and Christie's books other than the reference to mythology, but I liked that both authors picked up on the same theme.

Reading progress update: I've read 69%.

Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey, Carole Boyd

‘Funny,’ he said, as Brat plunged the shoe into the water, ‘if any Ashby was to earn his living at this job it ought to have been your brother.’


‘You never showed much interest.’

‘And did Simon?’

‘There was a time when I couldn’t keep him out of this place. There wasn’t anything he wasn’t going to make, from a candlestick to gates for the avenue at Latchetts. Far as I remember, all he ever made was a sheep-crook, and that not over-well. But he was always round the place. It was a craze of his for the whole of a summer.’

‘Which summer was that?’

‘Summer you left us, it was. I’d misremember about it, only he was here seeing us put an iron on a cartwheel the day you ran away. I had to shoo him home for his supper.’

I suppose the last line was the author saving a discrepancy here. I just can't get my head around that "Patrick", i.e. Brat, has only been gone for 7 years but people seem to allow for him forgetting an awful lot about his life before that. It does not add up. 

Also, Simon is very suspicious and I would have expected him to be able to tell if Brat is his brother or not. It's not like they were separated at a young age.

And why does no-one ask Simon why he thinks that Brat isn't/couldn't be his brother when he first hears about him?

Reading progress update: I've read 272 out of 272 pages.

Deep Water - Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn

I finished the book.

Now, I'm going to make some much needed hot chocolate. 


What a nightmare of a story, but, damn, Highsmith was brilliant.


Reading progress update: I've read 259 out of 272 pages.

Deep Water - Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn



I still can't tell how this is going to end.

Reading progress update: I've read 244 out of 272 pages.

Deep Water - Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn

Oh, Vic, you little perv - watching Edgar and Hortense having some sexy time.


(Note: Edgar and Hortense are his pet snails.)


I'll spare y'all the details.


Reading progress update: I've read 229 out of 272 pages.

Deep Water - Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn

He and Trixie fixed dinner for three, and set the table for three, though Melinda refused to sit down with them. Melinda had not done any marketing, so Vic had opened one of the cans of whole chicken that had been sitting on the shelf for a forgotten length of time. He had also opened a bottle of Niersteiner Domthal from the back of the liquor closet and poured some for Trixie and himself into stemmed glasses over a couple of ice cubes. He had made mashed sweet potatoes topped with toasted marshmallows, because Trixie loved them. Vic and Trixie had a long discussion about wines, how they were made and why they were different colours, and Trixie got tipsy enough to insist on classifying root beer as a wine, really her favourite, she said, so Vic let her call it a wine without correcting her.

   ‘What’re you doing, getting the child drunk?’ Melinda asked, passing by them with her fourth or fifth drink.

   ‘Oh, a glass and a half,’ Vic said. ‘She’ll sleep better. You should consider it a blessing.’

I know this is 1957 but giving your 6-year-old a glass and half of wine (undiluted) is crazy! She's 6 years old, Vic, you unbelievable asshole.

Reading progress update: I've read 207 out of 272 pages.

Deep Water - Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn

I just caught myself shouting at the book.


That doesn't happen often...unless it is a really stupid and bad book, which this one isn't. It's really good and gripping but the main characters are so horrible to each other and Vic is just plain evil. I really wished they'd just get divorced ... or kill each other. 


Thankfully, there was a development.


‘There’s more to life than getting along,’ Vic said quickly.

‘It helps!’

They stared at each other.

‘You believe me, don’t you?’ Melinda said. ‘All right, Vic, I want the divorce. You asked me if I wanted it a couple of months ago. Remember?’

‘I remember.’

‘Well, does the offer still hold?’

‘I never go back on my word.’

‘Shall I start the proceedings?’

‘That’s customary. You can accuse me of adultery.’

She took a cigarette from the cocktail table and lighted it with an air of nonchalance. Then she turned and walked into her own room. A moment later she was back again. ‘How much alimony?’

‘I said a generous allowance. It’ll be generous.’

‘How much?’

He forced himself to think. ‘Fifteen thousand a year? You won’t have to support Trix on it.’   

He could see her calculating. Fifteen thousand a year would mean he couldn’t print so many books a year, that he’d have to let Stephen go, or dock his salary, which Stephen would probably agree to.

For a whim of hers, Stephen and his family would have to go on short rations.

‘That sounds all right,’ she said finally.

(show spoiler)


Again, Melinda is not great either but she deserves better than bloody Vic.

Arthur Conan Doyle: Gothic Tales

Gothic Tales (Oxford World's Classics Hardback Collection) -  Arthur Conan Doyle, Darryl Jones

While ACD is, of course, best known for the Sherlock Holmes stories, he also left an abundance of other stories to us, many of them quite Gothic and featuring ghosts and mummies and other evil characters. 


This edition of Gothic Tales contains 34 short stories of horror and suspense that are not related to the Holmes canon.


As with any collection of short stories, some are better than others. 


Btw, all of the stories are available online for free, some are even available as audio narrations on Youtube. 


The 34 Stories:


The American's Tale - 3.5* - fun, in a cryptozoological way

The Captain of the "Polestar" - 4.5* - Wow. So much atmosphere.

The Winning Shot - 3.5* - Necromancy?

J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement - 2.5* - Interesting but too dragged out, also very dated.

John Barrington Cowles - 4.5* - So good. So dark.

Uncle Jeremy's Household - 1* - Thriving on Indian mysticism and some stereotyping.

The Ring of Thoth - 4* - spooky

The Surgeon of Gaster Fell - 2* - Boring.

A Pastoral Horror - 3.5* - Haha. Gory, but with a fun twist.

"De Profundis" - 4* - Grim, in a plague way.

Lot No. 249 - 4.5* - Classic, fun mummy horror.

The Los Amigos Fiasco - 4* - Truly grim. A story about electrocution.

The Case of Lady Sannox - 3* stomach turning tale. Also, ironic that the stereotyping backfires. 

The Lord of Chateau Noir - 2* - Meh.

The Third Generation - 2* Meh. Medical superstition.

The Striped Chest - 3* - Good, fun, maritime superstition.

The Fiend of the Cooperage - 1* - VERY colonial creature feature.

The Beetle-Hunter - 4* - Atmospheric. This could be at home in the Holmes canon. Also: Brooke Street!

The Sealed Room - 2* - Ghostly.

The Brazilian Cat - 4* - Another one that reads Holmesian in nature. Also: Pernambuco! :D 

The New Catacomb - 3* - another one where archaeology features

The Retirement of Signor Lambert - 2.5* - Operatic ripper story.

The Brown Hand - 2* - Draaaagging on a bit.

Playing with Fire - 3.5* Paranormal fun.

The Leather Funnel - 4* - pure Gothic horror based on historical fact

The Pot of Caviare - 3* - "It was the salmon mousse."

The Terror of Blue John Gap - 2.5* - too drawn out. Fits with the Lost World.

Through the Veil - 3* - Supernatural Scotland.

How It Happened - 4.5* - Aww. Cute.

The Horror of the Heights - 2* - too much like Lovecraft for me

The Bully of Brocas Court - 3* - Regency bare-knuckle fighting.

The Nightmare Room - 4* - Ha. A very 1920s twist.

The Lift - 2* - Evangelical.

Reading progress update: I've read 141 out of 272 pages.

Deep Water - Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn

So he talked of something else, of the possibility of going to Canada before the weather got cold. They might make some arrangement for Trixie to stay with the Petersons for ten days, Vic said.

‘Oh, I don’t think I’d care for that,’ Melinda said, with a cool smile.

‘This summer’s gone by without a real vacation for either of us,’ he said.

‘Let it go by. I’m sick of it.’

‘The winter’s going to be even more boring – without a break somewhere,’ he said.

‘Oh, I don’t think it’s going to be boring,’ she said.

He smiled. ‘Is that a threat?’

‘Take it the way you like.’

‘Are you going to put arsenic in my food?’

‘I don’t think arsenic could kill you.’

It was a charming evening.

Come on Melinda. Surely, the arsenic is worth a try.

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