All posts by phinnea

The Circular Staircase

This blog limps along. I do apologize. I’ve missed a few and maybe I’ll go back and fill in, but this is what I finished most recently. Mary Roberts Rinehart’s second book and one of her most famous. I’m afraid I enjoyed the Man in Lower Ten more. Shorter. This one kind of dragged a bit. Not that I hated it. I enjoyed a lot of it, just think it could’ve been cut quite a bit. The other problem is that if everyone had just said what they knew at the beginning, instead of hiding all their secrets, and these are the good guys, there basically would’ve been no mystery.

Rachel Innes, a spirited woman of a certain age, a spinster who raised her sister’s children, has rented a house in the country for the summer. She is to stay there with her niece and nephew, but she arrives first with her cranky maid and gets settled in. Well, anything but settled really. From the first moment there are mysterious noises, someone seems to be breaking into the house, dropping golf clubs down the stairs. The servants all leave. Rachel carefully locks herself and her maid in her room and there’s a bit with the transom that seems awfully familiar…

I’ve seen this movie. Only I haven’t. I saw The Bat. Made into a really good B movie with Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead. Some scenes are exactly the same. Some of the plot is the same. In the book there’s the niece and nephew and no Bat. In the movie, there’s no Circular Staircase. Confusing. Well, Rinehart and Avery Hopwood adapted the novel for the stage: added the Bat, removed the stairs, but apparently left in the kids, Halsey and Gertrude, who were later removed for the 1959 film version. It’s true the staircase doesn’t seem as significant as a titular staircase ought to, but why suddenly add a villain called The Bat? Strange.

Anyway, it’s not bad. It was written in 1908 so there’s a number of racial attitudes of the times that might bother people. And as I said it drags a bit in places. No one will let anyone else know what they’re doing or what they know so it drags out a mystery which could have been about a third of the length, but I will almost certainly read more of her

Give a little listen

So, I ran across a challenge for 2021, New (To You) Narrator Reading Challenge – listen to audiobooks with a narrator who’s new to you and I thought, hmmmm, that wouldn’t be too difficult. I never listen to audiobooks, so all the narrators are new. I’ll sign up for the lowest level and all I have to do is listen to one audiobook. I’ve been kind of thinking I should give them a try and never getting around to it, so I’m hereby signing up and maybe this will inspire a whole new kind of reading for me. And if not, well, I gave it a try.

I can’t save the image type so you’ll just have to go to the link if you’re interested:

24 Hour Readathon 2020

Good morning! By some miracle, I am up and have my coffee and am ready to start reading. Only 11 minutes late. I figure I can certainly read all the time I would have slept, right? I plan to get a thing or two crossed off the list today amongst the reading. We’ll see how that goes. We always start this off with a quiz. Most unfair at this hour. I often wonder what hour to start would best suit me. I definitely like the reverse readathon better for timing, when I start at 8 pm, but I should like to try noon, and/or 4 PM to see how they go. Anyway, onward!

Opening Survey!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Maryland, USA – Sunny right now with fine fall foliage.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I’ve decided to start Piranesi. I (almost?) always start a new book for the readathon.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Poppables – airy potato chips.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I always set out to read a lot, but somehow mostly don’t.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Read more? I hope? First half hour almost gone and no words read. You see how it goes.

9:37 – Reading well. Drank coffee. Thinking of breakfast.

11:33 – Ate lox and mini-bagels. Got a glass of water.

2:34 – Tried to nap. Failed, or if I slept it was brief. Reading, reading, reading. Had a piece of cake.

8:00 – Half-time

I had a tuna sandwich and too many Poppables for lunch and leftover pizza for dinner. Almost done with my book.

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now? Piranesi – almost done.
2. How many books have you read so far? 7/8
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I don’t know! I haven’t finished one in so long, I didn’t bother figuring out a second one.
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? A few, have to do stuff sometimes. But mostly read.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? I’ve almost finished a book! Can’t remember the last time that happened!

9:30 – I think I will head to bed to read. I know we’re not supposed to do that, but it’s one of my favorite things. I believe after Piranesi I will read The Applegreen Cat, but no guarantees. I might read something else. So there!


So, I finished Piranesi. Go, me! And did a few pages of the Applegreen Cat, but it’s print and it’s a lot easier to read on a Kindle in bed at night so I switched to The Circular Staircase which I’d forgotten about after deciding to read more Beckford, all of which I should be sharing with the world clamoring to know my opinion of Vathek.

Anyhoo, that was a very good Readathon. Especially the first 12 hours. After that there were more unnecessary distractions.

Hope everyone had fun and you’ll join us in April! Unless they host a mid-winter reverse readathon. That would be good. Hint, hint. Almost forgot, closing survey:

Closing Survey

  1. How would you assess your reading overall? Best it’s been for years.
  2. Did you have a stategy, and if so, did you stick to it? I picked a good book for this, which isn’t always easy to do. Piranesi drew me in immediately.
  3. What was your favorite snack? Poppables, I guess. I forgot the Charleston Chew in the freezer.
  4. Wanna volunteer for our next event? Stay tuned for the recap post! Sorry, I’m a bad person. I just wanna read. Thanks to everyone who did volunteer!

Time flies

So, here we are 7 weeks later and it’s time for the 24 Hour Readathon. I hope I can spend some time on it, but I have a thousand things to do and I didn’t do any of them today, which was the original plan. I have bought some snacks and chosen a book to start with so there’s something ready anyhow. And maybe someday I’ll write a bit about what I’ve read since the beginning of September.

You can read all about the readathon here, but if you’re new you only have 9 hours to choose your books, gather your snacks and get ready to read as much as you can along with hundreds of other people around the world. Doesn’t that sound like fun? It is! Give it a try! (You don’t have to make it through the entire 24 hours. I never have. Just join in, read what you can and have fun!

20, no, 7 Books of Summer

The 7th and I suppose final book was Murder on Wheels by Stuart Palmer. The second Hildegarde Withers book and possibly my last. It starts off pretty well, a car accident without a driver. Then a body appears with a rope around its neck. A witness saw the driver leap backward out of the car. And there’s a rodeo in town.

So, a lively start, but shortly after that I was fairly sure I knew what had happened. I was partly right, but could never have guessed the whole end. Nor can I honestly believe it was written and published. He must have had a three book contract.

Piper and Withers’ constant bickering gets on my nerves. There’s a grandmother who won’t come out of the attic. An ancient parrot that does nothing but curse. So, there’s some fun stuff, maybe I’ll try another especially as I’ve already bought at least one more, but if another one has a solution like this one, I’m done.

The 20 Books of Summer was not a success from the point of view of finishing 20 books, but from the point of view of actually reading and blogging about 7 books it was a success. I have not been good about reading or blogging for about a year and a half, so this is an improvement I hope to keep going. Next up is Readers Imbibing Peril XV. – read a scary book, a thriller, a detective novel, a gothic, anything dark or darkish, police procedurals, cozy, horror or dark fantasy. From 1 September until Halloween. I love doing this, so I’m making the transition to #ripxv with Labyrinth of the Spirits which was supposed to be a Book of Summer.

Book 6 – 2020 Books of summer

I have been leaning toward reading classics since I finished the first draft of a list of a thousand or so to read for the rest of my life. Probably way too many and the list must be refined, but there’s nothing on it I’ve read that I don’t wish to read again and nothing that I never want to read, as there is on every list I’ve looked at. I had to make my own and I’ve worked on and off at it for years, but never quite could decide on which things and enough of them. So the next book I was going to read was going to be one on both lists – 20 Books of Summer and My Own Personal 1,000 Books I Must Read Before I Die – Greenmantle.

Second in the series of Richard Hannay adventures, Greenmantle follows The 39 Steps. You have more likely heard of The 39 Steps, made into a movie in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock. Also turned into quite a funny play (all humor added by the adapters) in which all the roles are played by 4 actors. Greenmantle takes place during World War I. Hannay has been injured, but is now almost fully recovered. He’s called in to be given a special assignment. The Germans are up to something. They have a secret weapon – some sort of relic or religious treasure or maybe some sort of new prophet to inspire the Muslims to help the Germans capture the Middle East. The trouble is they don’t know who or what it might be. All they have is three obscure clues and the knowledge that the thing or person is heading toward Constantinople. Will Hannay find out what is happening and stop it? He’s given a free hand to choose his men and do whatever he thinks best to stop whatever it is. Quite a challenge.

Hannay takes it up, along with his friend Sandy, and an American with dyspepsia who plays a lot of solitaire. These adventures are not to modern taste. When I read a book and think there’s not enough violence, something’s wrong. Plot points tend to be based on a tremendous amount of luck – when he arrives in Portugal undercover, who should he meet, but his old friend Peter, a Boer tracker and hunter par excellence. They pair up disguised as men looking to fight for the Germans, but after initial success they run into problems in the form of a German officer called Stumm.

I don’t want to tell you what happens because it’s rather a fun read despite the reliance on massive amounts of luck and Hannay being quite a dope some of the time. It’s entertaining somehow despite the problems with the plot and the writing and Hannay’s (sometimes hilarious) character traits. It’s a quick read and I enjoyed it. I’ll probably try the next Hannay adventure, but I admit, it’s probably not for everyone.

20 Books of Summer 2020 – No. 5

What I started the night of the Reverse Readathon was Lincoln in the Bardo. A strange combination of the historic death of 11 year old Willy Lincoln and the Tibetan Book of the Dead – The Bardo Thodol. The book is supposed to be read to guide the consciousness of the recently deceased between incarnations. Oddly enough I read it many years ago, but don’t remember a darned thing about it, nor why I read it.

The book is entirely composed of quotes from various sources on the Lincolns, Willie’s death, and life in the White House, and the dialogue of various souls who are in possibly the strangest afterlife ever imagined. We are introduced to the two main entities, Bevins and Vollman, who reveal their pasts and their current situation. They believe they are not dead, but sick. Their bodies are in ‘sick boxes’ and they must go back to them every night. Each being has some obsession, some problem, some wish that ties them to their life in the previous place. Their particular issue affects what they do in this afterlife. Looking for love, waiting for their children to visit, everyone has their own thing. Into this weird world, arrives Willie Lincoln, dead at age 11 in 1862. Vollman and Bevins urge him not to stay. Children usually move on. Presumably they don’t have enough baggage to linger there, but Willie is not your ordinary kid. He thinks for himself and he thinks he should wait for his parents.

I don’t think I can do justice to the strangeness of this world into the borders of which Lincoln steps. It is very well written. It draws a remarkable picture of a bizarre and disturbing afterlife, remarkable characters revealed as flawed human beings and how they wound up where they are. A remarkable book well worth your time.

Reverse readathon 2020

Many people have heard of and participated in Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon in April and October, but far fewer know about/participate in the relatively new Reverse Readathon. It starts 12 hours earlier, so if you usually start at 8 AM Eastern Time, you’ll start at 8 PM Friday night. It’s much more casual, not all the hoopla, prizes, contests, etc. Snacks and books for as much of the 24 hours as you can. They don’t care if that’s one hour or 24. The point is that everyone enjoy a day with as much reading as you can put into it and those people who usually start in the morning, start at night and vice versa. I wish there was one in the Winter, too.

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to read as there are things going on, but I will try to do more than usual, which shouldn’t be hard as so many days go by without any reading in them. I’ll be back. It starts in 1:42 from … now!

Opening Survey!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Maryland, U.S.A.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Stack? Ha! Decided to start Lincoln in the Bardo.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Tough question. Pistachios? Mint chocolate? Cookies? I’ve already had Americone Dream ice cream. That’s pretty good right there?

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I want to do too many things so reading sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Oh, probably nothing. Not read enough. Wish I’d read more. Yeah, Probably that.


  1. How would you assess your reading overall? Better than usual. Only managed a few hours, but that’s more I think than I have the past few times. If only I can finish a few serious projects, then maybe I can get back to reading more.
  2. Did you have a strategy, and if so, did you stick to it? Um, no.
  3. What was your favorite snack? Garlic parmeson Kettle crisps.
  4. Wanna volunteer for our next event? Stay tuned for the recap post! Sorry, I can’t even read for the day, let alone volunteer.

Book 4 – 20 Books of Summer

You’ll probably think from this burst of posts that I’m a lot closer to the 20 book goal than I am. I am about here, as a matter of sad, sad fact. Four books done. Why yes, it is August. The odds of me finishing 16 books this month are astronomical. But I’ll do what I can. There is at least the reverse readathon tomorrow.

So, book four was The Golden Box by Frances Crane, second in the Pat and Jean Abbott series which I’m reading somewhat out of order. Jean is still Jean Holly and she and her cat Toby are visiting her sick aunt in her home town in Illinois which she hasn’t been in since she left 8 years ago when her parents died. She barely arrives when the horrible old rich woman who runs the town dies under mysterious circumstances followed quickly by the apparent suicide of a young maid. Jean’s boyfriend Patrick Abbott arrives for a flying visit on his way to Washington – America is just about to get into World War II – but gets involved with the mystery. In both this one and the third one, they are not married yet, not even engaged in this one and Jean is a bit young and somewhat annoying about Patrick. I’m supposed to believe she isn’t sure of him, but it’s a little hard to believe that. She gets mad at him over stupid things. Another thing that’s a bit tough in these is while not a lot of racism, they just can’t help it. Some peoples’ attitudes in 1941 were, well, racist. Still are today, of course, but it’s a hazard of reading old books.

The young maid who probably didn’t hang herself was African American and may have been killed to stop her from talking about the death of her employer, the scroogey rich old lady. She was one of the first to see the body and spoke of a golden box in the dead woman’s hand. A box which has disappeared. It is an entertaining story with a creepy bird watcher, the dead woman’s three daughters each with their own personality, and the mysterious Annie who was a sort of governess to the girls and stayed on afterward. Annie was an orphan who has no second name and may or may not be keeping one of the daughters in a drugged stupor.

I enjoy these books, I like Pat and sometimes I like Jean. I enjoy these mysteries although I think the mysterious title box in this one is kind of lame, the story is interesting and entertaining and I look forward to reading more Abbott mysteries.

20 Books of summer – book 3

Undecided which book to read next I got a random number of the internet which led me to The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. You would never know from this blog that I’m a Neal Stephenson fan. Going back to Snow Crash which was a bit outside my usual sort of read, but it was really good, so I found and read more of him. Now and then he writes with someone else. D.O.D.O. is one of these. He wrote it with a woman named Nicole Galland. I’ve never read anything else by her. But I wasn’t wowed by DODO, so I doubt I will. Not sure who to blame for the okayness. It starts off pretty well, with a young polyglot meeting a military guy and signing on for some project she knows nothing about mainly because it gets her away from her icky boss and this guy is pretty cute. At first she’s just translating old documents that reveal that magic used to exist and that a few centuries prior it became rarer and rarer until it stopped altogether at the moment someone took a photograph of an eclipse in 1853 (or something like that.)

And I’m not really buying this, but all right, go on. They figure out there might be a way to create a small environment in which magic could work. A sort of small clean room in which one witch could work some magic. Only they need a witch. Apparently it’s hereditary so they think maybe they can find the great great granddaughter of a witch when one turns up. She has been waiting for them for 150 years or so having slowed her aging. She is very cranky from having waited so long, which you would be. They’ve also fortunately found a professor who had been working on this special space in which magic can be done. God knows why he was working on this. I can’t remember why, but he’s very excited to be able to work on it again. All of these nice people are blithely working on this project for the good of their country with a rather naive seeming belief that whatever they’re doing is good. Okay, say that it is. They’ve decided to time travel. The witch can send a person back in time. As to what else the witch could do, no one ever seems bothered to find out. They decide to go back and violate what is it — the first commandment? Don’t fuck around with history.

As I write about it, I’m a lot more unsatisfied with the whole thing than I realized. It’s entertaining in parts. It has some good characters. If you had told me there was a Neal Stephenson book partly set in Shakespearean times, I would have thought ‘yeah, baby!’, but I would have been wrong. Our narrator at that point is Grainne, an Irish lady of the evening who is really a witch working for Grace O’Malley, a real figure of history barely touched on, merely the recipient of Grainne’s letters filling in gaps in plot for us in a most annoying style.

Oh, I’ve griped enough. It’s super long and I could gripe a lot more. I’m probably taking it too seriously. After all, their rivals in this business are a banking family named Fugger, pronounced Fucker in Germany where they are from. Hilarious.

Sorry I’m so crabby. Lower your expectations and you’ll probably enjoy it and wonder what the heck I’m on about.