Spring and Summer

I thought to myself the other day ‘It’s almost June.  Isn’t that Once Upon a Time time?’  It is.   Only two months late.   But as Carl makes this easy with a category you only need one book in I’m going to sign up this late.   It goes until June 21st, so if you’re interested in fairy tale, mythology, folklore, fantasy…  and can read a book by the 21st, sign up!   It has lovely art, too!


I am signing up for The Journey as I like to make things easy.  One book.   That’s it.  I can always do more if I have the time.




I may not have time because I’ve decided I really need to refocus on reading.  I’ve read like 13 things this year, which is pathetic.  So, I’m stepping it up, but not too much with the 10 Books of Summer challenge.   Cathy of https://746books.com/ is doing 20 Books of Summer, but I’m a slow reader and have not been very focused this year, plus I have a terrible time sticking to a list.   I’ve tried to make the list fun enough that I h



Dead Wake – Erik Larson: author of Devil in the White City

Kim – Rudyard Kipling:  having failed to read the Buddenbrooks for 1901, I thought I should try this instead

Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens

A Hoarse Half-Human Cheer – X.J. Kennedy

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont – Elizabeth Taylor

Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy L. Sayers

Magicians – Lev Grossman

Desert Queen – Janet Wallach: saw the movie and wanted to know more about Gertrude Bell

Virginia Woolf – Hermione Lee:  Woolfing Along July-Aug book

and a player to be named later.   I had worked out 10, but realized one was already started which I guess would be cheating.  I think it better be something light as I have two history, a biography and two classics which may or may not be too much for a 3 month period.   There are bloggers out there who read that monthly or so it seems, but I am not one of them.  Then again, there are people who read less than this all year.  But ‘comparisons are odorous’ and that way lies madness.   If I must pick a 10th, I’ll update soon!


Monday or Tuesday, Or Woolfing Along After All

Hello, Friends, by which I mean strangers I may or may not sort of know in a way through their writings on teh interwebs.   And maybe that’s a purer way of knowing people.   I wonder what Woolf would have made of it — she who writes a story in which someone invents a whole back story for a woman on a train only to have it shattered when reality proves to be other than she imagined.   I am, once more, or really for the first time, #Woolfalong-ing rather than Woolfingalongafter.   Perhaps I’ll even go back to Night and Day and take another stab at it.  For the May-June phase, we were to read a book of short stories.   I chose Monday or Tuesday because it was one she published during her lifetime with her husband on the Hogarth Press.   If you had one of those first thousand copies, you had a book not merely written by the author, but published by her as well.   As it turns out, it is very short.   I read it in two days.  Which may be how I like my experimental fiction.


Strange to think just the year before Agatha Christie published her first mystery.   Two very different writers.  Woolf is almost entirely observation in these stories.  In fact, calling them stories seems incorrect.  The aforementioned woman on the train — who is just a daydream.  A narrator wondering about a mark on the wall.  These come closest to being stories, which is not very close.  Then you have observations.  Acute ones.  Details by the hundred.  It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope or a fly’s eye and trying to make sense of it.  They say our brain filters out much unnecessary information which enables us to get on with our day.  This reads like a mind without those filters — overwhelming detail.  Detail which adds up to nothing.  With the exception of A Society which follows a group of young women as they investigate how men have run the world while they’ve been busy populating it.   They seem to conclude that no, by and large men have not done a very good job and yet the investigation has exhausted and irked them to the point of simply throwing in the towel.  Can’t say I blame them.  Trying to change the world is hard work with a deeply uncertain outcome.   The story is entertaining and frustrating simultaneously, but it’s definitely a story which makes it oddly out of place in Monday or Tuesday.

Bad Blogger! Bad, Bad Blogger!

Sorry I’ve not been around to give you the dish on what I’m reading.  This may be because what I’m actually finishing is kind of meh.   Also I think this is the Readathon and I’m missing it because of Distractions.  I wanted to join the 1938 Club and so started Nausea, but didn’t get far.  I started Night and Day for Woolfalong, but keep reading other things instead.  I think these are all my sins to date.

Anyhoo, I’ll do what lots of bloggers do to catch up: mini-reviews.


Back when we were reading Hamilton, I picked up from a book exchange Burning Down George Orwell’s House by Andrew Ervin.  I read it a few pages at a time while waiting for other things, so maybe not the fairest reading.  On the other hand, it never really kept me reading.  I was ungripped.  It’s the story of a not-as-young-as-he-used-to-be man who gets fed up with his job in advertising, his marriage ends and he decides to fly to the ends of the earth when he learns the house Orwell wrote 1984 is for rent.  This is true – it exists, it’s extremely isolated on a barely populated Scottish isle, and you could rent it yourself.  I trust the people are nicer than they are in the book.  The hostility Ray encounters is one of the less believable aspects of the book along with the werewolf, his ability to survive that hostility and the tremendous amount of scotch he pours down his throat.  It’s supposed to be darkly comic, but I guess it’s not really my sense of humor.  Still, a great title.


I love this cover even though you can hardly tell what it is.   And I enjoyed this book although the plot got a bit convoluted and the chapters on coding a bit much.   The second book with Harriet Vane — two years have passed and she still hasn’t learned what a great guy Wimsey is.  She starts to catch on though as she discovers the body of a professional dance partner from a seaside hotel on a rock while hiking.   She’s a bit cold-blooded about the publicity, I think, but Wimsey joins her and they investigate together by day and dance by night.  The plot comes to involve wealthy widows, gentlemen farmers, cryptography, and Russian nobility, as I said, a bit too complicated, but still, a very good book.  Probably my favorite Sayers so far.


Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia of the Florentine Carabinieri is the detective listed on the cover and this is the first of the mysteries supposedly starring him, but he’s in bed with the flu most of the time.  It’s Christmas time in Florence and an Englishman has been shot.  Carabiniere Bacci decides not to wake the Marshal, but investigate for himself.  He is subsequently joined by two men from Scotland Yard and the Marshal’s boss.  She uses titles instead of last names so in some conversations I found it hard to know who was speaking.  This is not a great mystery.   It’s closer to a shaggy dog story.  The characters are pretty good, but the plot…   after much investigation by Bacci and the Yard, the Marshal recovers and ends the mystery in an abrupt finale that is basically uninteresting.   It was her first, so maybe they get better.   Just not sure if I want to try.

So, there you have most of it.   Hopefully I won’t wait another month (or longer) to post again.   For those who are readathoning – have fun!   Hopefully I’ll join back in in October!


Adam and Eve and Pinch Me

Ruth Rendell’s Adam and Eve and Pinch Me – title comes from an annoying children’s joke – is not a mystery.  I realized this when we finally got to the crime about 166 pages in and followed the murderer the whole way.  I did hold a little corner of hope that there’d be some sort of twist at the end, but that was not to be.  The book follows OCD Minty, idiot Zillah and Fiona and her neighbors and their relationships particularly with a guy named Jerry or Jeff or Jock who’s a good-looking, good-for-nothing who uses his looks to live off women.  If I sound a bit surly it’s because I feel somehow betrayed by the book — which doesn’t make much sense, I’ll admit.  It all seems somewhat contrived.  As though Rendell wanted to write a book to demonstrate that people aren’t always responsible for their actions so she invented this character Minty who grows more peculiar throughout the book.   But don’t we already know of people who’ve had psychotic breakdowns and aren’t responsible for their actions?   This might have been ground-breaking a hundred years before it was written, but now it just seems both contrived and elementary.  There are a number of coincidences as well which stretch credulity too far.   It feels like there aren’t more than a dozen people living in London.


Somewhat to my surprise I learn there are three different books with this title.  It doesn’t seem that good a title to me.  Reading other blogs and reviews, everyone else seems to like it a lot.  “Characters that will capture your heart.”   Um, some of the side characters are likable – Minty’s neighbors and Fiona’s neighbors are both nice couples.  But the main characters?   Zillah, who enters an arranged marriage with her childhood friend who’s a conservative politician trying to stay in the closet, seems to have no idea what a conservative is, what politics are, or what tabloids are.   She seems to like her children no more than Jims, who is a shallow jerk who barely speaks to his new fake family.   Fiona who doesn’t really have a character except a certain tendency toward charity.   Jerry/Jock/Jeff is clearly getting by on his looks because his main characteristics are telling annoying jokes and eating mints.   I also found the timeline hard to follow and it seemed like Fiona’s supposedly hugely overweight neighbor lost it all in a month.  Rendell can write and I found myself drawn back to the book until I finished it, so clearly there’s something in it, but there’s also, for me, disappointment.   Like opening Al Capone’s vault  — all anticipation, no payoff.



Woolfalong Pt. 1 – To the Lighthouse

#Woolfalong is a year-long project hosted by Heavenali to explore works by and about Virginia Woolf.   I’ve long had an interest in her, but have not done much about this interest since college.    I had started To the Lighthouse once before, but started over for this, but it was slow going and for that I’m blaming Alexander Hamilton.   I couldn’t really read the Hamilton bio and To the Lighthouse at the same time, so Woolf went by the wayside for a bit.   Then when the Chernow was done, I focused on Woolf, but it was still slow going because this is a dense book.   It all takes place in two days with a separation of about 10 years illustrated by a passage of the decaying of the house.   It is a vacation place of the Ramsay family and the first half of the book draws a picture of the Ramsays – apparently a picture based pretty heavily on Woolf’s own family.   This one day doesn’t seem particularly significant in any way.   The father is shown as being rather insensitive and boorish as he tells his son they won’t be able to go to the lighthouse the following day.   The mother tries to comfort the son by reading to him and doing cutouts.   It is mostly from her point of view, though it switches and we learn, over and over again that Mrs. Ramsay is beautiful and has a strong effect on other people.   Presumably because of this beauty.   I don’t know.   It’s mentioned a lot.   The day is so thoroughly drawn and yet, I’m not sure what is meant by any of it.

Warning!  Spoiler!   Okay, not really as there’s no plot, hard to spoil anything.  More three panel book reviews if you click the image.   But there are spoilers there, so go cautiously.


Ten years later – another day at the same house – the children have grown and they are actually going to the lighthouse now.   The two youngest kids and their father whom they yearn to rebel against.   Point of view is now mostly Lily the artist, guest of the family, and Cam the youngest daughter as she rides in the boat.   I wish I had something to say about this.   I put off writing hoping something would occur to me.  The only thing I can think of was being glad I live in a time where girls are taught math rather than listening to other people talk about all kinds of things they have no knowledge of.   Mrs. Ramsay seems like a nice mother, the father seems astonishingly childish.   Especially if it’s a portrait of Woolf’s father.   He was a mountaineer.    One expects better behavior of a mountaineer than flinging his dishes out the window.   It is hard to tell if his philosophical work was good for the time, but not great, or if he’s like whatshisname in Middlemarch wasting all his time on a massive project that is no more important than making a giant ball of rubberbands.   

I’m sorry not to be more insightful.  I’m going to keep Woolfing along and maybe develop a bit more sensitivity or something.  Next up is Night and Day –  Woolf’s second novel and apparently based on her sister.  I believe I at least started this in college.  The beginning seems very familiar.


Strong Poison

So a few weeks ago, as a break from Hamilthon, I read Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong Poison.  This is the book which introduces Harriet Vane, a mystery writer, and Harriet’s in a tough spot.  Her ex-lover has died of arsenic poisoning and Harriet gave him coffee just before he got sick.  The dinner he ate earlier was shared with his cousin and he’s not known to have eaten or drunk anything else.  Harriet is unsympathetic to the jury for having lived in sin plus she’s known to have purchased arsenic (for a book, she claims.)  Enter Lord Peter, smitten, which makes things awkward, to save the day.  Fortunately, the jury is hung instead of Harriet, which gives him a short time to find the real killer.


Sadly, this is not my cover.  My cover is the lame Invisible Wimsey suit and monocle.

I definitely enjoyed this.  Sayers seems to be really hitting her stride.  I finished this in a couple days and went on to the next one which for me is Have His Carcase because I read Five Red Herrings a couple years ago for Bingo.  I have paused part way in Have His Carcase because I want to Woolfalong, though it is, for me, tough going.  I’m behind, but close to finishing To the Lighthouse about which more soon.

Hamalong VIII – The End

A day late isn’t bad, all things considered and by all things I mean 724 pages.  But it was great to have Alice leading and my fellow read-a-sloggers to share the joy and the pain with, and they were manifold.   The book is highly readable although occasionally repetitive and Chernow draws some conclusions not a few of us found dubious at best, he does write in such a manner that we could come to our own conclusions.  One of mine is, highly unoriginal, that Hamilton was an amazing man whose ideas on government were and are the continuing basis of this country and he should be a hell of a lot better known, left on the 10 dollar bill and more things should be named after him.   No question he had his flaws, but Jefferson who we seem to idolize had them and a good deal more    I hope after this I can recover some of the respect I used to feel for Jefferson.  I admire the effort Chernow made to paint a picture of Eliza Hamilton.   Not so easy considering she had 50 years to try to expunge herself through overzealous humility.   Eliza, how are people supposed to follow your good example if no one knows what it is?  Very glad to see it wasn’t all pain and suffering the rest of her long life.

This section, of course, has the duel.  We’ve known about the duel probably since our school years, and yet whatever we knew was mostly forgotten since school did a pretty poor job of explaining Hamilton’s importance in the founding of the government.  I was startled that this happened while Burr was vice-president!    He did this even after Hamilton had helped him out with money the previous fall!   The man was a waste of space.   Who wouldn’t have been better off without him in their lives?   I would enjoy his sense of humor if he’d had a scrap of decency, if he’d ever cared for anyone besides his daughter.   And if I didn’t know how he wrote to her about all his amours.   Creeeeeepy.

Thou hast shooted dead great Hamilton

I was glad he lived long enough to see his wife and family.  And I totally understand he could not have shirked that particular duel.   Burr would never have let him live it down, though Lord only knows what Burr thought he could get out of it.   Just another huge mistake in a long line of them.   You can’t keep turning on people and expect them to trust you later.  Of course Jefferson wasn’t going to keep you on after you almost stole the Presidency.  And no Federalist would have been on your side after shooting Hamilton.   In politics you have to pretend to be friends with people.   And unless you are amazingly popular, enough to start your own party, you have to leave at least one half of the population unoffended.

Okay, he had some bad ideas along the way, but it seems like we have him to thank in large part for the different branches of government checking and balancing each other and that is huge.   For a country to go from nothing to excellent credit in what?  10-15 years?   Amazing.  And being an abolitionist — an actual, non-slave owning abolitionist at that time was pretty great, too.  He shouldn’t have spent so much on his house.   And if he couldn’t run away when he saw Maria Reynolds, he should at least for once in his life kept quiet.  But this is a man who should be admired and remembered as a great American, a great human being and thanks to Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda, he has a much better chance of that.  Thanks much to Alice for heading this readalong, who knows if I would have gotten around to this someday or not?    And my fellow readers for your entertaining and insightful posts which kept me reading along with  right behind you.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.


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