Two New Blogging Projects

Coinciding with the official move of my blogging activity from this blog  to my new one (http://themisathena.info/) — and to start into the new year — I have come up with two new blogging projects:

 

1. Diversity Bingo

This is in support of my Around the World reading project, which hasn’t quite seen the progress it should have had in 2020 (though fortunately it didn’t come to stall entirely, either).  I’m aiming at getting through the categories within the space of this year, though this isn’t set in stone … if it takes longer, it takes longer.  Here are the bingo card and the categories — fellow travelers welcome!  (My master update post can be found HERE.

 

2. An Alphabet of My Likes and Dislikes

The second project is something I saw in BeetleyPete‘s blog and liked so much that I decided I’ll have a go at it, too — not least because it may also serve as an introduction to those of you who haven’t been following me for a long time yet: an alphabet of (some of) my likes and dislikes.  (I hope Pete won’t be angry at me for stealing his idea … as you know, Pete, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!)  Similar to another moderately recent post of mine, I won’t be selecting any topics / likes and dislikes that you can easily glean from the contents of my blog anyway — such as the fact that I own am owned by two adorable 3 1/2 year old tomcats and that I love books, music, movies, tea, photography and traveling — but for each letter of the alphabet I’ll try to come up with something that defines me as a person in one way or another.

Pete completed his project on the basis of one post per day, and with likes and dislikes separately … I don’t think I’ll have quite the stamina to spread it out this much, so I’ll combine both likes and dislikes in a single post.  (I’ll try to do one a day, but it is possible that life is going to intervene and I won’t be able to stick entirely to that schedule.)

The project’s sole organizing principle is going to be the alphabetical order; “likes” and “dislikes” for the same letter of the alphabet are almost certainly not going to be connected (or if they are, it’s merely going to be a coincidence.)

The project’s master post can be found HERE.

 

Note: The posts belonging to these two new projects are only posted on my new blog ( http://themisathena.info/ ).  Similarly, like all master posts for my blogging projects, those for these two projects can be accessed from the link contained in the sidebar of my new blog.

2020 in Facts and Figures

I already posted my main 2020 in Review and Looking Ahead to 2021 posts a while ago — only on my new blog (separate post to come) –, but I held back on my 2020 reading statistics until the year was well and truly over.  And for all my good intentions when posting my mid-year summary back in early July 2020, the second half of the year continued pretty much in the same vein as the first half had begun; i.e., my statistics for the whole year are still a variation on the theme of Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, or, 17 charts showing that 2020 was a year of reading Golden Age mysteries written by women (and following other Anglo-/ UK-centric reading proclivities); i.e. comfort reading galore … it was just that kind of year, I guess.

As a result, my Golden Age Mysteries / Detection Club reading project progressed very nicely.  Luckily, as I said in my main 2020 in Review post, I also managed to add a number of new countries to my Around the World challenge, and the gender balance is solidly in favor of women authors: I read almost 2 1/2 books by women for every book written by a man — in fact, I even reread more books by women than the total number of books by men.  So there was at least some progress in other areas, too.  And I liked or even loved most of the books I read in 2020 — including most of the new-to-me books –, which of course was another huge plus; in a year where reading was my go-to source of comfort, at that: most of my ratings were 4 stars or higher and thus, above the rating that marks “average” in my personal scale (3.5 stars).

Still, in 2021 I’m going to make a fresh attempt to refocus on my Around the World reading project, in furtherance of which I’ve also created a Diversity Bingo that I’ll try to get through in the space of this one year (though if it takes longer, it takes longer); and I’ll also try to include more books from my Freedom and Future Library in my yearly reading again.

And now, without any further ado:

Greatest New Author Discoveries of 2020

Classics and LitFic
Bernardine Evaristo
Olivia Manning

Historical Fiction
Dorothy Dunnett
Jean-François Parot
Paul Doherty

Golden and Silver Age Mysteries
Josephine Bell
Moray Dalton
Molly Thynne
Christianna Brand
Anthony Gilbert
Raymond Postgate
Patricia Moyes

My Life in Book Titles

This is a meme I’ve seen on quite a few blogs towards the end of 2020; it was created by Annabel at Annabookbel.  You’re to answer the prompts, using only books you have read in 2020; without, if possible, repeating a book title.  I thought I’d include it in my yearly roundup — and to up the ante a little bit further, I decided to use only books I read for the first time in 2020.

In high school I was Unspeakable (John Bercow)

People might be surprised by (my incarnation as) Lioness Rampant (Tamora Pierce)

I will never be The Horse You Came in On (Martha Grimes), nor Resorting to Murder (Martin Edwards, ed.; Various Authors)

My life in lockdown was like (a) Tour de Force (Christianna Brand) and (a) Tragedy at Law (Cyril Hare)

My fantasy job is The Thinking Machine at Work (Jacques Futrelle)

At the end of a long day I need to be Homegoing (Yaa Gyasi) (to my) Pilgrim’s Rest (Patricia Wentworth)

I hate being (around) Serpents in Eden (Martin Edwards, ed.; Various Authors)

Wish I had The Lost Tools of Learning (Dorothy L. Sayers)

My family reunions are (often with) Thirteen Guests (J. Jefferson Farjeon)

At a party you’d find me with My Friend Mr. Campion (Margery Allingham), Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (Emmuska Orczy), and other Bodies from the Library (Tony Medawar, ed.; Various Authors)

I’ve never been to Goodwood (Holly Throsby), Cherringham (Matthew Costello, Neil Richards), or At the Villa Rose (A.E.W. Mason)

A happy day includes A Small Place (Jamaica Kincaid) (of my own): My Beloved World (Sonia Sotomayor)

Motto(s) I live by: To Love and Be Wise (Josephine Tey); and We Should All Be Feminists (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

On my bucket list is Shakespeare’s Local (Pete Brown)

In my next life, I want to have The Grand Tour (Matthew Pritchard, ed.; Agatha Christie)

The Stats

Number of books started: 273
Number of books finished: 271
DNF: 2
Average Rating (overall): 3.9
Average Rating w/o Favorite Annual Xmas Rereads: 3.8

Note: The above chart includes my 6 annual Christmas rereads, which have a habit of slightly skewing my overall rating figures upwards; without these books, the number of 5-star books is reduced by 5 and the number of 4.5-star books is reduced by 1.

Note: “F / M (mixed)” refers to anthologies with contributions by both male and female authors, as well as to books jointly written by male and female authors. — “N / A” in the protagonist gender chart refers to Martha Wells’s Murderbot, who is deliberately created as gender-neutral.

Note: “Multi-ethnic” either refers to several persons (authors / protagonists) of different genders, or to one person of mixed ethnicity.

 

Halloween Bingo 2020: The Rest of the Game and Wrap-Up

Sooo, that’s another bingo game behind us already!  Many thanks to our game hosts for successfully moving the game from BookLikes to a new venue and organizing one heck of a game despite that venue’s built-in limitations.  I had a great time and would only have wished I could have participated more throughout the game (particularly in October).

As I had expected, RL started to run major interference by mid-September; and while initially I was at least still able to continue reading (even though I no longer had any time to compose update posts here on WP), by the beginning of October, even reading was essentially a no-go.  Just as well that I had powered through my remaining books by that time … otherwise, this would likely have been the first year in which I hadn’t made it all the way to blackout.

Anyway — here’s my blacked-out bingo card — gained after having had to wait for Doomsday (to be called … on the game’s very last day, at that: could there possibly have been a better conclusion to this year’s game?), with my “virgin” card below and my final spreadsheet at the end of this post:

 

My Master Update Post

 

The Game’s Final Books

… (roughly) in the order in which I read them:

 

Naomi Novik: Spinning Silver


Book 2 in Novik’s series of books updating classical fairy tales (though not, actually, a sequel to Uprooted — this one very much stands on its own ground): essentially, a blend of Rumpelstiltskin, Baba Yaga, and the English / British version of the elf lore, set in a fictional Eastern European country that is, however, very clearly inspired by Russia — down to the use of proper names, titles, and other terms, which are either downright Russian or a sort of pan-Slavic bowdlerization of Russian, Polish, or other Slavic terms.

Novik almost lost me during the initial scene-setting, which struck me as overly elaborate and wordy (she’s clearly her own greatest fan where it comes to the use of descriptive language or, for that matter, even “showing” instead of “telling”); but once the story got going, I was happy enough to come along for the ride, and there were enough innovative elements to keep me interested throughout.  It was probably a good thing that both the source material and the setting were entirely fictional, though (even if heavily borrowing from Russian and pan-Slavic elements), because I’m almost certain that if Novik had aimed for an existing historical setting (as she does in her Temeraire series), she’d have had me wincing at some point or other. — I may go on to read Uprooted or another fairy tale-based book by her eventually, but it’s not a priority, and after this first taste of her writing, I am even less eager to go anywhere near Temeraire.

 

The Medieval Murderers: The Lost Prophecies


This was a reread, which this time around I liked quite a bit better than when I first read it a few years ago.  The Medieval Murderers series of round robins are the perfect books for the “Relics and Curiosities” Halloween Bingo category, as their very concept consists in following one (supposedly cursed or unlucky) item through history, from its first use or appearance at some point in the (typically: early) Middle Ages to the present day (or beyond); so they have become sort of my go-to series for this bingo square.  Yet, in this particular instance I was sorely tempted to change my mind and assign the book to either the “Doomsday” or the “Dystopian Hellscape” square, as it ends with a scary-and-believable-as-hell doomsday scenario set in a post-climate-catastrophe future, with half the world (e.g., all of Africa and India) essentially burnt up and turned into a scorching, uninhabitable desert, and the better part of the rest half-submerged by the world’s oceans after the melting of the polar ice caps.  (It’s also a showcase for not extrapolating too noticeably from the political order at the time of writing, though, as it was written pre-Brexit and more or less takes Britain’s continued membership in the EU as a given … oh well.)

Like in all the books in the series, the individual sections of The Lost Prophecies (which concerns a book of doomsday prophesies compiled by a 6th century Irish monk) can, at heart, stand on their own, even though there are occasional cross-references; particularly, of course, to the “dangerous book”‘s mysterious origins.  Individually and collectively, the book’s various parts take the reader on a journey from 6th century Ireland to medieval Devon, late medieval Cambridge, the Tartar Steppe, rural England in Shakespeare’s times, and, as mentioned above, the doomsday world of the “dangerous book”‘s final prophecies.  As is to be expected in a round robin — and as is typically the case in this series, too — not all of the individual mystery sections are equally strong, and I’ve found my previous likes and dislikes essentially confirmed upon this reread, even if, as I said, I liked the book quite a bit better as a whole this time around.

 

A.S. Byatt: Ragnarok


Ultimately, I decided to go with Byatt’s take on Ragnarök for the “Doomsday” Halloween Bingo square, because let’s face it, doomsday doesn’t get anymore terrifying than in Norse mythology — and I am glad that Byatt, for one, didn’t try to humanize the Norse deities, as so many other authors do in their attempt to make them understandable to modern readers.  (You can easily do that to the gods of Greek mythology — and honestly, that’s one of the reasons why as a child I found them, and Greek mythology as a whole, much easier to understand than Norse mythology; but try to assign human characteristics and motivations to Thor or Loki and you’re instantly missing their intrinsic nature.)  By the same token, I found it intriguing that Byatt herself — as the “thin child” through whose eyes we are witnessing Ragnarök here is, as she herself confirms in the book’s afterword, an only thinly-veiled edition of Byatt’s younger self — was drawn so much to the Norse version of doomsday in her younger years.  Of couse, what with WWII persistently threatening to destroy her own world, on the one hand it’s easily understandable that she would turn to the kind of storytelling that centers on precisely this sort of catastrophe; on the other hand, the thoroughly alien and hard-to-grasp Norse deities don’t seem to be the very first, logical point of identification coming to mind.  All the more thought, however, Byatt clearly put into her approach to Ragnarök, and all the more the whole thing is to the benefit of the reader … even if, like myself, that reader still comes away preferring Greek to Norse mythology.

 

Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad of Tom Dooley


Just as the Medieval Murderers series has, over the years, become my go-to series for “Relics and Curiosities”, Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series is my go-to series for the Southern Gothic bingo square.  I’ve enjoyed all of the books from that series that I’ve read so far; none more than The Ballad of Frankie Silver.  This particular entry, while not a complete let-down, was thus a bit unexpected as it is the first time that I could not empathize with one of the major POV characters (which, I find more and more, is kind of crucial to my enjoyment of a book); not least because I thought her character unnecessarily clichéd.  And although McCrumb insists that — like in her other Ballad novels — the essential story is based on historic fact, she seems to have given in to conjecture here more than she usually does, which is something that I find problematic at least if, like here, it involves people who have actually lived, and have been a part of the events described, though not necessarily (or at least not demonstrably) in the way set forth by the author. — Research and faithful narration aside, however, McCrumb can still write rings around many another writer, and her scene-setting and ear for dialogue (both interior and exterior) is as flawless as ever here.

 

T.S. Eliot: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats


Original review HERE.

Additional separate post HERE — Macavity, Mr. Mistoffelees & Co. in all their feline glory still very much deserve a post of their own!

 

Michael Jecks: The Malice of Unnatural Death


I’ve been a fan of Michael Jecks’s Knights Templar series for a number of years now, and although he pretty much grabbed me with the opening scene of that series’s very first book (and never mind that that particular book did come across as more of a typical “early” book later on), I keep enjoying how much better the series gets the further it progresses.  I am not reading it in order (though I’ve read enough books at this point to have a fairly solid grasp of the two main characters’ overall story arch) — so far this hasn’t greatly bothered me, but I may find it more difficult to go back to some of the earlier books after having read this particular installment, which, never mind its occasionally gut-wrenching scenes, is a veritable page-turner and darned near perfectly crafted in virtually every respect.  It’s also the perfect Halloween (bingo) read, in that it combines a (medieval) mystery — set in Exeter and the main characters’ nearby Dartmoor home — with apparent elements of the supernatural; concerning, as it does, the activities of a necromancer — an assassin claiming to be in league with the devil and using powers bestowed on him by the devil in order to carry out his murders (in the dead of winter, at that).  All told, this was definitely one of the highlights of my bingo reads this year.

 

Ellis Peters: The Devil’s Novice


Another (re-re-)reread and, not just in its medieval setting, the perfect follow-up to Michael Jecks’s The Malice of Unnatural Death: The story of a young man professing an earnest desire to become a novice at Shrewsbury’s abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul and yet, soon revealing in his sleep that he is haunted by demons that will need to be exorcised before any decision about his future can be made — not just the decision whether he is meant for the cloister at all.

This is one of my favorite installments in Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael series; I’ve revisited both the book and the screen adaptation starring Derek Jacobi numerous times … and I confess that petty li’l me always gets an extra kick out of seeing the odious Brother Jerome brought down a peg or three here when he is temporarily rendered incapable of speech.  (And I feel secure in the knowledge that not merely Cadfael but Abbot Radulfus shares that sentiment, so I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it, either.)

 

Alice Hoffman: The River King


This was, incredibly, my first taste of Hoffman’s writing — in hindsight, I’m wondering whether I should have started with her Practical Magic books after all (but then again, I might be wondering about the same thing in reverse — i.e., whether I should have started with this book — if I had).  Either way, I was a bit more underwhelmed than I had expected to be — with this book, at any rate: I”ve always been much less certain that the Practical Magic books are for me, and am even less certain about that now.

This is a murder mystery with supernatural elements set in a New England prep school: I found the main characters and the setting well enough executed, but I suppose I’m just too prosaically-minded to see what the supernatural elements added to the (by and large sordid, but hardly original) story — and Hoffman’s writing at times has a downright manipulative quality that I found more and more jarring the further I progressed in the book.  I also have a serious bone to pick with the ending, which doesn’t seem to hold out much hope for the victims of bullying in this (the real, not the supernatural) world — in a book that clearly aims to send a message, that is just about the last sort of message I’d want to see.

 

Colin Dexter: The Dead of Jericho


Another comfort (re)read (well, its been that kind of year … and fall): It was more or less “six of this, half a dozen of the other” whether I’d use this book for the “Film at 11” bingo square and something from Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael series for “Read by Flashlight or Candlelight” or vice versa, but I ultimately decided to go with the more obvious focus on the book as actually written here, simply because this book’s screen adaptation is one of the Morse TV episodes I care somewhat less for than the series as a whole.  The reason is that the screenwriters’ fiddling with the plot (which is present, to some extent, in all episodes of the TV series) in this instance creates a structure that is several degrees more serpentine than the already fairly convoluted plot of the actual book — which in turn, for a number of reasons isn’t my absolute favorite in the series, either, but as a writing exercise it’s still superior to the screenplay.  (No reflection on the cast: John Thaw, Kevin Whately, and Gemma Jones are all in great form.)

Another reason for my decision to pick this book for this particular square was that the audio version is narrated by Samuel West, who does an absolutely phantastic job, as he does for the entire series.

In keeping with the theme of this square, I made this listening experience as comfortable and laid-back as possible; starting while having a bath and finishing in bed — with my obligatory black(ish) Halloween bingo good luck cat by my side. — Thanks again to Lora who agreed to flip this square for my original card’s “Stone Cold Horror” … I’d never have found a horror novel set in winter on my shelves (nor been inclined to read it even if I’d found one, this year being what it is)!  You’ve got to admit … this was the much more “feel good” version:


 

Patricia Highsmith: Ripley Under Ground


This year’s Halloween Bingo buddy read — thanks again to Christine, BrokenTune and Lillelara for the fun of reading this book together!  Somehow, that seems to be the way Patricia Highsmith’s books are enjoyed best … Though I have to say, while I struggled with Strangers on a Train, I’m getting a complete and total kick out of Tom Ripley.  I mean, sure, he’s a psychopath, and it was slightly even more fun to watch him turn into the monster that he actually is in the first book … but it was still eye-rolling good fun to watch his antics in the arts world.  (He also seems to be one of the notable exceptions to the fact that, as a rule, I have to be able to empathize with at least one of a book’s POV characters, see above.  Which is a rule that of course also applies to Highsmith’s books — hence, in part, my response to Strangers on a Train — and c’mon on, you can’t seriously root for a psychopath … or can you?!)

 

Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White


Thank God for writers like Wilkie Collins, who always provide(s) me with enough options to fill at least one horror-related bingo square without having to reach for a spell card … and still read something generally classified as “horror” (or “gothic”) without actually being scared out of my wits and unable to sleep afterwards.  In The Woman in White, it’s all in the psychology: At heart, this is more mystery than what we’d call “horror” today — chiefly concerning, as it does, the identity of the eponymous “Woman in White” and the goings-on in a house that, it turns out, she used to call her home — but one character (the odious Count Fosco) alone provides enough of a creep factor to satisfy the definition as “gothic” three times over, and most of the other tropes of the genre are present as well (mysterious lonely country estate, women in peril, doomed love, fire, etc.) — For those who may have struggled with Collins’s The Moonstone: This is similar in structure in that it, too, has several narrators, but none of them have quite as many idiosyncrasies as does Betteredge, in particular, in The Moonstone; and I also found The Woman in White somewhat more tightly plotted.

 

W. Stanley Moss: Ill Meet by Moonlight

The book I’ve wanted to read ever since I visited Anógia village, high up in the Cretan Mount Ida (or Psiloritis) massif, several years ago: The first-hand account of the WWII abduction of German Major General Heinrich Kreipe near his home in Heraklion, after which Kreipe was marched all the way up the mountain and, ultimately back down again to the southern coast of Crete and, from there, into English captivity in Egypt for the entire rest of the war.  I’ve posted about this before, so by way of background I’ll let that other post say all that is necessary … for purposes of this update, let me just add that “the book itself” is a ripping great read and then some; not just because it’s all true (what need for fiction if reality can write this sort of story?!), but also because Moss’s narrative style is tremendously engaging; affable and charming, understated, and straightforward at the same time. — And for anybody wondering just how fast friends he and Patrick Leigh Fermor (only incidentally his commanding officer in the venture) really were, I’ll give you just one excerpt; straight from Moss’s diary, which forms the backbone of the text, in this particular instance, from their first day in the cave (!) where their little group awaited the arrival of “Paddy” Leigh Fermor and the rest of their contingent:

“To remain here for a few days in comparative idleness will not be unpleasant.  I have with me the books which Paddy and I selected in Cairo to take with us, and among them there is something to suit every mood.  My literary companions are Cellini, Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, Tolstoi, and Marco Polo, while in a lighter vein there are Les Fleurs du Mal, Les Yeux d’Elsa, and Alice in Wonderland.  Then there are The Oxford Book of Verse and the collected Shakespeare which Billy MacLean gave us on our last night in Tara [before starting on the mission] …”

Only a person whom Patrick Leigh Fermor considered a true brother in spirit would find it perfectly normal — even indispensable — to bring (a) any books at all, (b) so many books, and (c) these books of all the books in the world on a potentially deadly mission in enemy territory (as Crete was for the Brits in WWII) … not to mention, consider Baudelaire’s controversial masterpiece and Louis Aragon’s patriotic wartime poems to his muse Elsa something “in a lighter vein.”  (And, of course, this is only one of several passages in the book that literally had me do a double take.)

N.B.: I’ve since found out that above and beyond the passage quoted in my other post, Leigh Fermor actually did end up writing his own full, book-length account of that particular mission, too … guess what went straight into my online shopping basket once I’d made that discovery.

 

J.J. Connington: Nordenholt’s Million


This was a book I instantly knew I’d be saving for Halloween Bingo after I’d read its back cover blurb. And it proved chillingly topical for our times — it sort of describes the combined effect of Brexit (and Trump in the U.S.), venture capitalism, and a rampant, out-of-control biological pest coming together.  (As a minor but significant tangent, also throw in religious fundamentalism.)

In the book’s case the pest is a bacterium that destroys the chemical compounds in which plants ingest nitrogen; in other words, it’s a killer with the capability of destroying the world’s entire food reserve (not just plant-based — animals directly or indirectly (via their prey) feed off plants, too, after all) in the space of less than a year. In the crisis brought about by the bacterium’s spread, a businessman / venture capitalist “relieves” the inept government of the reins of power — first behind the scenes, ultimately overtly — and puts in place a scheme where 90% of the British population (and 99+ % of the world’s population) are condemned to starve, while the remaining 10% of Brits — all of them, of course carefully selected — are put to use in creating a new, utopian society, which alone is in possession of nitrogenated soil and can grow plants.  (When religious fundamentalism takes hold in that community of the “select few”, the leader of the cult is first publicly unmasked as a fraud and then, literally only seconds later, shot dead in full view of the crowd he has amassed.)

I was shocked to see that this book was published in 1923; after having read the first chapters, I’d have expected at the very least that Connington had seen Hitler’s “Enabling Law” and use of the press for propaganda purposes in action, but no … and yet, he foretells them with a frightening degree of accuracy, only on the basis of the British system (which, yes, you’ve guessed it, in the book does include adjourning parliament to avoid inconvenient questions. And yes, at the moment when the crisis hits, the future dictator is an MP himself, too … by way of a sort of lateral activity, with the ultimate aim of furthering his venture capitalist interests). The way in which Connington pretty much foretells everything we saw with Hitler, and everything we’re now seeing with the combined effects of Trump, Brexit, a venture capital-based economic system AND the pandemic is scary to the nth degree … I’m glad he only ever put his ideas into this book and didn’t, himself, set about putting them into practice.

Connnington was, incidentally, a chemist by training, so he clearly knew what he was writing about as far as the scientific elements are concerned.  In fact, he was even prescient enough to foresee the use of nuclear energy — it’s the energy on which his future, utopian cities are ultimately run.  (They also consist of buildings made of other materials than stone or concrete, not unlike the building materials that are actually used today.)

If, in the final analysis, I only ended up rating the book 3 1/2 stars after all, this is based on essentially three reasons, and all of them only truly materialize in the final part(s) of the book — though some of these issues already start cropping up about halfway through:

(1) In terms of social clichés and perceptions, Connington was, alas, very much a man of his times.  There’s no sugarcoating the fact that the book contains some glaringly racist passages (and it’s not unconscious racism, either — he clearly meant every word); and, similarly, his take on women and women’s role in society is … well, let’s say, at the very least problematic.  There’s a distinct element of misogyny; even if it’s not quite as blatant as the racism (and he may even have believed he was doing something “advanced” in expressly giving one particular woman more of an active voice / role in building that utopian society).

(2) Connington, like a fair number of his contemporaries, was in favor of euthanasia — which is a fact I only know because I’ve read Martin Edwards’s two books about Golden Age crime fiction; but even if I hadn’t known this going in, it would have been hard to miss here.  However terrifying the first half of the book, the more the narrative progresses, the more it becomes clear that the author himself doesn’t, fundamentally, seem to see anything wrong with starting from a “clean slate”, as it were, of hand-picked superior human material (although even he does seem to balk at the more horrific aspects of achieving such a “clean slate”).  I haven’t read anything else by Connington yet — except for one mystery short story, that is — and I’m willing to grant that, had he foreseen the extent to which the Nazis took their particular version of a “clean slate”, he, too, would have been horrified.  (He died shortly after WWII; maybe some of his final literary output can provide some guidance as to his thinking once the world had begun to learn about the unspeakable horrors wreaked by the Nazis.)  Still, it’s an unnecessarily jarring feature.

(3) The utopian society ultimately emerging from all the turmoil is presented only in the sketchiest of terms, in great contrast to the description of the destruction of the world as it had been known until then.  Granted, this wasn’t Connington’s focus, but the ending of the book still feels rushed; and I found it hard to envision how, even after the discovery of nuclear energy (for which not one but several scientists knowingly and selflessly sacrifice their own lives … really, Mr. Connington??), the whole thing is supposed to have worked out … especially without the least further social turmoil.  As Connington himself shows, human society doesn’t work like that — and it’s not just the “dumb, gullible masses” (whoever they are) who won’t be pacified by the “bread and games” approach forever.

Still, I am glad that I have read this book — and there were times when, in the first half especially, I very much felt like quoting huge passages verbatim and yelling at people: “Listen to this — and this is from a book published in 1923, for crying out loud!”

 

Julie Smith (ed.) & Various Authors: New Orleans Noir


This year’s final bingo book: an anthology of mystery short stories set in New Orleans, by some of the Big Easy’s best-known crime writers.  As is usually the case with such compilations, some of the entries struck more of a chord with me than others, but taken together, they definitely conveyed an image of how the city just might see itself — or at least, some of of its seamier sides.  In a way, it also proved as fitting a final Halloween Bingo book as Nordenholt’s Million (which I had initially expected to finish last): what I hadn’t known when I picked this anthology — but instantly learned from the introduction — was that this book was put together in support of post-Hurricane Katrina disaster aid.  And in a year largely dominated by a global pandemic, that seems as apt a way to conclude my Halloween Bingo reads as having to wait for the Doomsday square to be called in order to be able to record my full “called and read” card blackout.

 

Previous Status Updates:
Week 1
Week 2

The Mystery Blogger Award

 

I was nominated by arielaonthego for the Mystery Blogger Award — which came as a complete surprise; thank you so much, Ariela!

Rules
  • Display the award logo on your blog.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  • Mention Okoto Enigma, the creator of the award .
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
  • Answer 5 questions.
  • Nominate 10 – 20 bloggers.
  • Notify your nominees by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Ask your nominees 5 questions of your choice, including 1 weird or funny question.
  • Share the link to your best post.

 

Three Things About Me

… that you can’t already tell from the rest of this blog, I take it (such as the fact that I own am owned by two adorable 3 year old tomcats and that I love books, music, movies, tea, photography and traveling).

1. Strictly speaking part of this, too, is something you can tell from the rest of this blog, as many of my posts are imported and have an “original post: …” link at the bottom, but since it’s fairly key to where I am (literally) coming from and I’ve collected a number of new followers in the past couple of months (welcome, everybody!):

From 2013 until the summer of 2020, I used to belong to a book blogging community called BookLikes. What made the BL website (itself) unique was its format of combining a blogging community with a central “dahsboard” feed and an integrated book database, but the BL community was actually about a lot more — we played book-related games together and shared photos and posts on everything from cooking / baking / dining to gardening and other “off topic” (non-book) interests and views, etc.; all of which, over time, created a truly tight-knit community that was unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere else on the web. — I activated my WordPress blog (which in the past had chiefly been my backup for my BookLikes posts) when BL, through the site owners’ neglect, took a nosedive in July … since which time the BookLikes community has been a bit of a traveling circus on the lookout for a new permanent home. (We’ve found a venue for our signature fall book game, Halloween Bingo, and a venue where most of us have agreed to dip at least a toe in the water in order to keep the community together, but the BookLikes site with its unique format is still very much missed.)

That being said, the de-facto BL demise has inspired me to spruce up my WP blog and strike out in the blogging community, which I definitely consider a good thing. The one bit I didn’t realize when I made that decision was that WP has, in the interim, started to push their block editor, which I hate with a vengeance. So, I’ve decided to go “self-hosted” in order to be able to continue using the classic editor (without having to remember to select it every time I’m creating or accessing a post, that is — and even that is clearly a disfavored option on WP.com these days, so it’s bound to disappear entirely at some point). There’s nothing much on the new version of my blog, yet, but I wanted to have a chance to set it up in time before WP.com goes “block editor without the option” once and for all. I’ll officially share the link to my new blog as soon as I consider the transition (essentially) far enough along the way for it to make sense. For the time being, I’ll be double-posting in both places, so as not to have to rely on WP’s (less-than-perfect) import system — so if you’re using the WP Reader and are seeing two versions of my posts, you’re not seeing double … this one is down to me.

2. I’m a massive hoarder — Marie Kondo and I would never be friends. (In fact, I abhor her attitude to book ownership in particular.) Other than my books, music and DVD collections, I’m channeling my hoarding proclivities into a collection of mugs (not all of them with book-related themes) and a collection of refrigerator magnets (chiefly Shakespeare, travel, and cat-related), but if I had unlimited space, I’d doubtlessly fill it with other things as well.

3. My favorite color is red — which you don’t necessarily see in the clothes I wear (outside the odd red sweater or other, that is), but it’s impossible to miss the moment you enter my apartment: there are plenty of red “touches” to what passes for my version of interior decoration, my “daily use” china, cooking pots etc. are (mainly) red, etc.. Red also features somewhat more prominently in the new, self-hosted version of my blog; as it has done, in fact, in most of the websites that I’ve owned ever since I started dabbling with that sort of thing back in the early 2000s.

 

My Answers to Ariela’s Five Questions:

1. What is your favorite dessert?

Anything involving either fresh citrus fruit, fresh pineapples, or fresh strawberries.

Anything involving cherry or plum sauce (or compote, or stewed / baked / flambé cherries or plums — I like both cherries and plums better after they’ve been processed in some fashion than when they come straight off the tree, but once they’ve been processed, I like them a lot.)

And anything involving a combination of crème fraîche (or some similar base; e.g. double cream) and wine, port, or sherry.

 

2. What is your favorite book?

Oh help, I can’t even pin down my favorite dessert to a single option and you’re asking me that? Lol.

Favorite play: Shakespeare, Hamlet. Favorite 19th century classics: novels by Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. Favorite Golden Age mysteries: Sherlock Holmes, as well as virtually anything by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Favorite Silver Age and contemporary mysteries: P.D. James, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly. Favorite fantasy: Tolkien, Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter. Other recent favorites include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun; Aminatta Forna: The Memory of Love; and Bernardine Evaristo: Girl, Woman, Other.

 

3. If you could have one super power, what would it be?

The ability to fly — even if that is a superpower only in humans.

 

4. Do you like to dance?

Yes, but you don’t want to watch me while I’m doing it!

 

5. Would you rather have a pet porcupine or a pet mushroom?

Hah. 😀 Assuming that “neither” is not an option, I guess I’d go for the porcupine — I’d probably eat the mushroom at some point anyway (if I wasn’t too scared it was poisonous), and you can’t communicate with a plant (at least not in the sense of getting an immediate response) … whereas you can with an animal. Besides, I once had a cat with a very decided noli me tangere (don’t touch me) attitude, so I could probably get used to a pet with that kind of attitude once again. And generally speaking … more power to any creature (other than humans) coming armed against predators. There’s a reason why I like wild cats (and hate trophy hunters) — and, for that matter, why roses are my favorite flowers.

 

My Best Post:

Hmmm, that’s a difficult one given that my blog is currently in double transition (from BookLikes to WordPress and within WP from .com to self-hosted). So I think I’m just going to share the links for a few very, very old “battle of the books” posts that have already made their way to the new version of my blog (even if the formatting is still slightly off — and incidentally, it’s pure coincidence that two of them involve works by Tolstoy):

Astrid Lindgren: Pippi Longstocking vs. Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina
Mark Twain: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn vs. Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
Isabella Beeton: Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management vs. Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace

 

My Nominees Are:

Anyone who sees this and feels they want to do it! (If you do, please drop a link in the comments section of this post.)

 

My Questions:
  1. What is your favorite season?
  2. Who is your hero / heroine in fiction (and why)?
  3. Would you rather be able to produce literature or music? (Assume that “both” is not an option.)
  4. If you had a time machine allowing you to travel to up to 3 different eras (past and future), what era(s) would you like to travel to?
  5. From a burning building, you have the option to rescue either a [cat / dog / supply your own favorite animal] or a priceless work of art, but not both. Which of the two do you rescue (and why)?

The Halloween Creatures Book Tag

Rules:

Answer all prompts.
Answer honestly.
Tag 1-13 people.
Link back to this post. ( For me it was SnoopyDoo!)
Remember to credit the creator. (Anthony @ Keep Reading Forward)<
Have fun!

 

Witch

A Magical Character or Book

Terry Pratchett’s witches, particularly Granny Weatherwax. And DEATH (preferably in his Hogfather incarnation). No contest.

 

 

Werewolf

The Perfect Book to Read at Night

Any- and everything by Agatha Christie.

 

Vampire – A Book that Sucked the Life Out of You – and Frankenstein – A Book that Truly Shocked You

Joint honors in both categories to two novels chronicling civil war and genocide in two African countries, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (Nigeria / Biafra) and Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love (Sierra Leone). Both of them are, in their own way, the literary equivalent of a gut punch that leaves you gasping for air in huge, big gulps. And both are, for that and many other reasons (characters, writing, the whole package) unforgettable in all the right ways.

The Devil

A Dark, Evil Character

Umm … the original blood sucker? (I don’t much go in for the sparkly variety.) And, of course, Tom Riddle aka Voldemort … and the dementors. Those creatures are vile.

 

Zombie

A Book that Made You “Hungry” for More

Dorothy L. Sayers’s Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane tetralogy, particularly Gaudy Night. While I can totally see that (and why) for Sayers there really was no easy follow-up to Busman’s Honeymoon, I’d still have loved to see how she herself would have framed Peter and Harriet’s married life and continuing investigations … instead of having to rely on another author’s attempts to pick the bones of Sayers’s sketchy drafts.

Gargoyle

A Character that You Would Protect at All Cost

Hmm. This one was difficult, because one of the things that I like about my favorite characters — and pretty much any and all of them, and across all genres — is that they are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, even in the face of adversity. But I guess if you’re up against evil incarnate and you’re looking at the one group / fellowship of people who actually stand at least a minute chance of facing up to it, a little extra protection can’t go awray.

Along the same lines, Harry Potter, Dumbledore’s Army, and most of the teachers at Hogwarts.

Ghost

A Book that Still Haunts You

I could easily have used Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love for this category all over again — as well as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (see below) and, to a minimally lesser extent its sequel, The Testaments. I didn’t want to do that, so I decided to go with Clea Koff’s The Bone Woman — not just for its content as such, though, but because I have seen cases related to the very ones that she describes up, close and personal … and short of actually being the victim of human rights violations yourself, there are few things as devastating and haunting as working with victims, or otherwise being involved in the aftermath.

Demon

A Book that Really Scared You

I reread Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale last year before moving on to The Testaments, and it scared the living daylights out of me; possibly even more than when I read it for the first time many years ago — not least because events in the past couple of years have shown just how realistic Atwood’s dystopia is, and how little it takes for society to slide down that particular slippery slope.

Skeleton

A Character You Have a Bone to Pick With

You mean other than each and every TSTL character ever created?

OK, let’s go with the two protagonists of what I’ve come to dub my fall 2017 headless chicken parade — Giordano Bruno in S.J. Parris’s Heresy (essentially for not bearing any demonstrable likeness to the historical Giordano Bruno, who would probably have sneared at his fictional alter ego in this particular book / series), and Albert Campion in Margery Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse, for losing not only his memory but also the better part of his essential character makeup as a result of being coshed over the head.

Mummy

A Book You Would Preserve Throughout Time

Well, the likes of Hamlet, Pride & Prejudice and Sherlock Holmes have already made their point as far as “timeless” is concerned, so it feels kind of pointless to pick a classic here.

That being said, I hope one day the time will come for people to scratch their heads and wonder what all the fuss was about, but right now — there hasn’t been a book in a long time that challenged stereotypes (gender, race, class, writing styles, younameit) in the way that Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other has. It’s the reality check we all urgently needed, and a book that can’t ever possibly have too many readers … now and for the foreseeable future.

Creepy Doll

A Cover too Scary to Look At

That of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary — because I really do NOT want to think about the possibility of my pets ever turning into zombies, revenants or the like, or otherwise taking on similarly murderous qualities. And that is precisely what this cover makes me do.

 

The Monster Mash

It’s Fun to Be with Friends on Halloween!
Tag Your Friends!

Anyone and everyone who wants to do this, I hope if you are reading this and have not done it you will. It’s fun, and outside of Halloween Bingo, nothing says bookish Halloween like tying a few of your reads to a roundup of Halloween creatures! 🙂

Patricia Moyes: The Sunken Sailor


I read Moyes’s first Henry & Emmy Tibbett book (Dead Men Don’t Ski) earlier this year and liked it a lot.  While I still liked most of book 2 as well, The Sunken Sailor (aka Down Among the Dead Men) suffers from a bit of a sophomore slump: Moyes first does a great job establishing the characters and atmosphere of the tiny Suffolk harbor community where the Tibbetts go to spend a sailing holiday with friends.  However, inexplicably, somewhere before the book’s halfway point, Henry Tibbett of all people, the man whose “nose” for crime is proverbial at Scotland Yard, after having duly “nosed out” the suspicious circumstances of the death lurking in the recent past of that seaside community, decides to let unexplained bygones be unexplained bygones … and for the worst (and in terms of his character, most unbelievable) of all reasons — as a result of being vamped by a woman (moreover, a woman who herself is one of several suspects and, even if not guilty, just might have reasons aplenty for not wanting the truth to come out).  A less convincing instance of throwing a spanner in the plot works just so as to be able to produce yet another avoidable death (as well as a belated solution) I’ve rarely come across, and based on her first book, I seriously would have expected better from Moyes.  (I also found few of the characters in thei book as likeable as Moyes obviously intends them to be.)  This isn’t an awful book, and I’m still going to continue reading this series, but I do hope we’re talking sophomore slump here and I trust I haven’t already seen the best of the bunch when I read book 1.

(In terms of bingo squares, the book just scrapes within the definition of “Dark and Stormy Night” and I’m counting it for that square as Christine expressly confirmed that it counts.  It would obviously also qualify for “Fear the Drowning Deep” — which however isn’t on my card — and, the edition I own, also for “Full Moon”, as that’s what the white dot on the cover actually is.)

Kathryn Harkup: Death by Shakespeare


Hmmm.  After having read and liked — though not loved — Harkup’s book on Agatha Christie’s use of poisons in her mysteries (A Is for Arsenic), it took the Shakespeare fan in me about a millisecond to snatch up this third book of hers when I came across it earlier this year … only to then decide, almost as quickly, to save it for the “Truly Terrifying” (or alternatively, “Paint It Black”) Halloween Bingo squares.  And as is so often the case, anticipation built over a period of time in the end doesn’t quite deliver the hoped-for bundle of goods.

My main bit of gripe is that Harkup doesn’t seem to have had a very clear picture for which audience she was writing this book.  On the one hand, she spends (I’m tempted to say, wastes) several chapters giving an abbreviated biography of Shakespeare and describing the London and the theatrical world in which he moved — NONE of which will be new to anyone even remotely familiar with the Bard and his life, time, and works (and all of which, thus, can only be of any use to a complete newbie to Shakespeare’s works) … and ALL of which I’ve seen discussed better, in greater detail and with a better-informed historical perspective by both Shakespearean scholars (most notably Stanley Wells) and general historians writing for a non-scholarly audience (e.g., Ian Mortimer and Liza Picard). (At least she doesn’t give any credence to the identity conspiracy theorists, but that still doesn’t stop her from using bits of unfounded speculation on the Bard’s life experience later in the book whenever she considers it expedient for a specific purpose.)  Similar things can be said for her comments on medicine in the Elizabethan age, which on the one hand is pretty much a staple in historical fiction set in the Plantagenet and Tudor eras; on the other hand, the details that I didn’t already know as historical fiction background, I’ve learned in greater depth by visiting Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr. John Hall, who was a medical doctor (incidentally with rather advanced and well-informed views, compared to many of his contemporaries), who is widely believed to have provided his father in law with the requisite background knowledge for a plethora of deaths occurring in his plays, and whose professional equipment and records form part of the permanent exhibition on Elizabethan-era medicine that can now be visited in his former home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

On the other hand, when Harkup does finally get around to discussing Shakespeare’s portrayal of death and killings in his plays, she gives very little context to the majority of scenes she discusses, so anyone not intimately familiar with those plays (particularly the “histories”, which probably feature most widely overall in her book — and chiefly among these, the two “Henriads”) is soon going to be utterly lost as to the significance and context of the scene(s) under discussion.

Moreover, in at least one instance (Richard III and “The Princes in the Tower”) Harkup, while paying lip service to the idea that RIII perhaps “wasn’t quite as bad a tyrant as Shakespeare makes him out to be”, nevertheless falls into the very trap for which she poo-poos the medical analysis that established the bones found in the Tower in the early 20th century as those of “The Princes”, namely to reason from the desired result instead of dispassionately looking at the available evidence and letting the chips fall where they may.  This review isn’t the place for this particular bit of historical discussion, so let me just say that I am unable to take seriously any writer who, like Harkup, blandly describes the reign of Henry VII as “a new era of hope and peace for England” (or words to that effect), in either blissful ignorance or blissful disregard of, to name but a few examples,

(1) the cruelty of “Morton’s Fork”,
(2) Henry VII’s (and later his son’s) ruthless and systematic annihilation of the remaining representatives of the House of York (most notably, the execution — on demonstrably trumped-up charges — of his own closest rival for the throne, who at the time was a teenager, imprisoned in the Tower on Henry VII’s orders since his early childhood), or
(3) the fact that Henry VII (a) purposefully dated his reign from the day before his victory at Bosworth, which in one single stroke of the pen made every single combatant on Richard’s side a traitor to the crown, and (b) only crowned his wife Elizabeth queen a year after he himself had well and truly secured the crown, never mind that she had a much greater claim to the crown than he himself did to begin with.

(And let’s not even get into the inconvenient little detail that BOTH Richard III and Henry VII had their fans and detractors among the eminent writers, politicians and diplomats of the time, depending on who you were listening to and whom they were writing for, which is precisely one of the reasons why it’s so hard to determine what is self-servicing Tudor propaganda when it comes to Richard III and what is credible historical testimony.  Or the fact that Harkup blithely buys in virtually all of the things now actually known to be Tudor propaganda and hence, inherently unreliable …)

Anyway.  For what it is in terms of the actual discussion of Shakespeare’s use of death in his plays, it’s an interesting read. Unfortunately, way too much of that discussion gets lost in superfluous and, in part, downright irritating “white noise”.