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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, September 30, 2021


Just Finished Reading: The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie (FP: 1943) [234pp]

It was doctors’ orders, so of course he said yes. The prescription was rest, no stress, and quiet. What could better sum up all of that list than a country cottage on the edge of the sleepy town of Lymstock. But after his accident Jerry Burton couldn’t possibly look after himself – not with the amount of plaster he was carrying around. Luckily his sister Joanna was available to play nurse and to suffer the delights of country life far away from her too complicated love affairs in London. But almost before they had settled into their new domicile they received an anonymous poison pen letter – or rather a scurrilous note put together from odd bits of typeface cut from a book. The slur was laughable – that the Burton’s were anything but brother & sister – and quickly discarded in the fire. But they were far from the only people receiving such missives. It would seem that the reputation of peace and quiet in the countryside was somewhat of an exaggeration. As the letters became the talk of the town people began to wonder just how much truth there was in the torrent of accusations. After all, some said, there’s no smoke without fire. Others regarded as a trivial nuisance, something else to gossip about on the High Street. Until that is Mrs Symmington commits suicide not long after receiving a particularly scurrilous note. But if she killed herself the accusation must’ve been true – right? If she killed herself. The police, as always, move slowly. As suspect after suspect is eliminated from their list a concerned member of Lymstock’s community calls for outside help. Her friend, Miss Jane Maple, is only too happy to oblige.

I am, as I’ve said before, a HUGE fan of Miss Maple in particular and Agatha Christie novels in general. I don’t think I’ve read a single one that I didn’t like. This was a total delight. The setting was classic Christie in small town/large village southern England. The cast of characters – in particular the two main ‘leads’ of Jerry & Johanna Burton were brilliantly drawn as was the ‘love interest’ Megan Hunter, a 20-something ex-student ignored by her family and at a loose end. As usual, it seems, Miss Marple only appears around 75 pages before the end of the book once the crime has been committed and once the reader has already amassed most of the information required to solve the mystery and point a finger at the killer. I was about 90% confident that I had done so but found that I was wrong (although I still maintain with very good reason!). As I said a total delight from beginning to end and, being quite short, a fast read. Interestingly, being published in 1942 at the height of WW2, the on-going war not only receives no direct mention but hardly a hint. The only possible connection with the on-going global conflict was the fact that Jerry Burton had been injured in a plane crash although no mention was made of him being shot down or anything like it. I suspect this was very deliberate and that the tale was designed by the author to be a work of escapist literature in order to take people’s minds off the war. I’ve already bought the next book in the Miss Maple series and will be scheduling it in as soon as I can. LOTS of fun on multiple levels and highly recommended for anyone looking for a period mystery to take your mind off things for a few hours.   

Monday, September 27, 2021



Just Finished (re)-Reading: Dune by Frank Herbert (FP: 1965) [464pp]

It was an act of betrayal and an act of love that started it. Lady Jessica, sworn concubine of Duke Leto Atreides, had been ordered by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood to only birth daughters. But in an act of staggering disobedience and presumption she gave birth to a son – Paul. By this act Jessica put at risk generations of selective breeding but something could still be saved. If, that is, he survived. A great change was coming. House Atreides was to replace House Harkonnen as the steward of planet Arrakis, the only planet in the known universe to produce the spice Melange. This substance is the pivotal element in universal commerce and is almost beyond price. Without it the human star spanning empire cannot exist. Arrakis is a great prize but also a great trap. Leto is aware that the Harkonnans and the Emperor are planning to move against him but events quickly spiral out of control. In the most hostile environment in the universe the young Paul must hide, survive and seek out the local desert people – the Freemen – if he has any chance at all of striking back against his families enemies. If that wasn’t enough for someone who had yet to attain manhood, something is growing inside Paul that he can barely comprehend and cannot easily control. It started with dreams of the future and a girl in the desert. Where his dreams will lead him will affect billions and, if he can master them, bring an empire to its knees.

I first read this classic of Science Fiction a little over 40 years ago in my late teens. To say that it had a lasting effect on me would be to downplay its impact. Even then, after already reading SF for 4-5 years I had never read anything like it. Both the scope and the depth of the narrative where, to be honest, intoxicating. It was, in a most literal sense, mind expanding. I did wonder, with the passage of 4 decades and the repeated viewing of the deeply flawed 1984 David Lynch adaptation (plus the more recent viewing of the SF Channel adaptations of Dune & Children of Dune) whether it would have anything like the same impact today. It didn’t – as I couldn’t really expect. What I was impressed by, still, was the depth of the story mostly rendered in things unsaid or mentioned almost in passing. It was clear throughout the book – much longer than most SF novels of that time – that the story, large as it was, was only a small part of the overall universe in which it was set. Not only is the tale set thousands of years hence in man’s future but the canvas upon which the story is drawn covers countless worlds and peoples some of which we only hear of as a planet’s name or a reference to a family name – nothing more. But the background is *there* in the shadows waiting to be revealed. Most of the epic is, at least in the first book of the first trilogy, left unsaid and undiscovered. Naturally, as a teenager, I wanted to know more, much more….

There is probably little to be said about Dune that hasn’t already been said a hundred times. It IS a classic of SF and fully deserves to be so. It influenced a great deal of galaxy spanning SF from its initial publication date and probably single-handedly elevated the entire genre into something at least potentially worth reading by anyone (and everyone). One of the funny things though, at least for me, was that I never identified with the teenage hero as I was ‘supposed’ to. The hero for me (and I was to later find out for others too) was the sword master Duncan Idaho. Funnily Duncan isn’t in this novel very much – in fact he hardly gets a bare mention – but I think becomes a central character in the latter two books. Yet it is him, rather than Paul that I remember most. Weird.

One more thing before I finish. I haven’t seen the new movie (yet) but I have high hopes for it after seeing the trailers which most definitely look the part and indicate that the new director has taken the original text to heart. But one of the criticisms I’ve heard more than once is that Paul Atreides is yet another example of the ‘white saviour’ in fiction who swoops in and ‘saves’ indigenous people from disaster. This is wrong, so wrong, from a number of perspectives and shows that the critics involved simply haven’t read the books or have a basic understanding of the plot. For one thing the director himself has said this is not the case and he should know. Plus there’s the actual story.

[WARNING – The following may contain spoilers if you haven’t read the book(s) and are planning to see the movie!!]

What Paul and Jessica are forced to escape into the deep desert it is the Freemen who rescue THEM rather than the other way around. If it wasn’t for Stilgar and his tribe its probable that both Paul and Jessica would have died out there. The reason Jessica is adopted into the tribe is two-fold. Firstly for her fighting skill that makes her worth ‘ten times her weight in water’ (and also puts paid to any accusation of the plot being sexist BTW) and second because she is a Bene Gesserit and they have seeded the planet with legends that Jessica can use to manipulate the Freemen into believing her and her son are part of an ancient (false!) prophecy. Paul earns HIS place both via his mother and by the fact that he kills another Freeman in open combat. Later Paul provides technical and strategic skills the Freeman didn’t have but at no point – not even at the end – does either Paul or Jessica ‘save’ the Freeman. Before Paul’s arrival the Freeman had been living under the Harkonnan heel for decades and had been more than holding their own against their depredations. Even with the advent of Imperial forces later in the novel pre-Paul/Jessica trained Freeman managed to kill them with relative abandon. Paul and his mother USED the Freeman and their legends to save themselves and did not ‘save’ the Freeman. Looking into the future Paul’s actions actually result in countless Freemen deaths because of his refusal (cowardice?) to follow the ‘Golden Path’ that his prescience provides him with. So ‘Saviour’? Absolutely not. If that wasn’t enough the author was asked for the main theme of the book. He said ‘Don’t follow leaders blindly – especially charismatic ones’. So, no ‘saviour’ there then!    


Hugo - Best Novel
Nebula Awards - Best Novel

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Favourite Male Characters in Literature from the Last 10 Years of Reading

As I posted my favourite female fictional character list a few weeks ago I could hardly not post my favourite male character list too! As with the previous post this list is in no particular order (except maybe slightly chronologically) and is certainly not rank ordered. Some character names will also be dropped in despite not always being read in the preceding 10 year period. So, let’s get listing…

Commander David Cochrane Smith – Ship of Force (and others) by Alan Evans

Atticus Finch – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Randle Patrick McMurphy – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kessey

Joe Miller – The Expanse series by James S A Corey

Richard Sharpe – The Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell

Captain Jack Aubrey – The Master & Commander series by Patrick O’Brian

Henry DeTamble - The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Doremus Jessop - It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Captain William Kite - The Guineaman/The Privateersman by Richard Woodman

‘Victor’ – The ‘Victor’ series by Tom Wood

Dr. Bernard Rieux - The Plague by Albert Camus

Maurycy Szczucki - The Death of the Fronsac by Neal Ascherson

James Ogilvie - Drums Along the Khyber by Duncan MacNeil

Police Investigator Porfiry Petrovich - A Vengeful Longing (and others) by R N Morris

Edgar Hill - The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker

Thomas Kitson - The Street Philosopher by Matthew Plampin

William “Ridgerunner” Moreland - The Outlander by Gil Adamson

Takeshi Kovacs - Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan

Yashim the eunuch - The Janissary Tree (and others) by Jason Goodwin

Tom Nash - House of the Hanged by Mark Mills

Oliver Mellors - Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D H Lawrence

Will Swyfte - The Devil’s Looking Glass (and others) by Mark Chadbourn

Jean-Baptiste Baratte - Pure by Andrew Miller

Jake Geismar - The Good German by Joseph Kanon

Mark Watney - The Martian by Andy Weir

Thomas Hookton – 1356 (and others) by Bernard Cornwell

Nathan Ward - The Poisoned Crown (and others) by Amanda Hemingway

State Prosecutor Paul Copeland - The Woods by Harlan Coben

Admiral Phillip Kolhammer USN – Axis of Time trilogy by John Birmingham

Erast Fandorin - The Winter Queen (and others) by Boris Akunin

Joe Pitt - Every Last Drop (and others) by Charlie Huston

Colour-Sergeant Jack Tanner - Blood of Honour (and others) by James Holland

Well, that’s more than I thought I’d have at this point. I’ll add the obvious ones here too – despite not reviewing anything with them in during the period in question: Sherlock Holmes and Duncan Idaho (from the Dune series). I’ve probably missed a few but what is life without room for improvement?

Thursday, September 23, 2021


Just Finished Reading: The Tribe of Tiger – Cats and their Culture by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (FP: 1994) [234pp]

As my regular readers will know I have a love of all things Feline. OK, maybe not *all* things – litter trays, spraying & cat urine…. NOT nice!! But MOST things feline. Growing up we never had cats because my mother really doesn’t like them. We had just about everything else though, from snakes, fish, a whole host of birds and rabbits as well as various rodents. Just not cats. It was only in my late 20’s that a cat almost literally fell into my lap and I had her (or she had me – it’s hard to tell) for the next 16 years.

As I only ever had a single cat I could observe her behaviour as an individual but I never directly observed (at least not close up) how cats acted around each other – siblings or not – so I never experienced anything that could be called ‘culture’. The author recognised that her use of ‘culture’ in this regard was, at the very least, controversial but stuck to her rather unscientific guns throughout this chatty and often fascinating look at cats – both large and small. Hopping between her day to day experiences with several generations of house/farm cats, her stays in Africa with various local tribes and their contacts with lion populations and her encounters with large cats in North America this was much more than the standard ‘Why your cats does X’ book you often find in pet stores. With a family background in Anthropology, although not being a trained anthropologist herself, she has a number of interesting insights and ideas regarding both territoriality in cats and their social hierarchies – even in unrelated house/farm cat groupings. Using the more domesticated and more familiar house cat as reference the author shows how their behaviours are much more explicable when related to their much larger brethren on the African savanna or in the wild places of North America. Although I no longer have a cat I found this to be both an interesting and often heart-warming read from someone who really knows her subject and whose love of these creatures shines through on every page. Full of personal stories from both Africa and the States this was a delight from beginning to end and often felt like spending time with a favourite Aunt in a cosy room at the end of a long and productive day. Definitely a must read for all cat lovers out there. Recommended.    

Monday, September 20, 2021


 What sharp teeth you have...........

Just Finished Reading: The Whites of Their Eyes – The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History by Jill Lepore (FP: 2010) [175pp]

I will be the first to admit that my knowledge of the American Revolution/War of Independence is…. Somewhat limited. My knowledge of the factors running up to the break with Britain and the people involved (including the ‘Founders’) is likewise sketchy at best. I am planning to dig into such things in the near future (probably showing up in my review pile next year at the earliest) but for now what little I did already know has been enhanced (somewhat) by this excellent little book. But, as you can no doubt tell from the sub-title, this slim volume isn’t wholly about that event. It’s about how the Revolution is thought about today (or actually back in 2010) and how it’s being used – and abused – to promote a certain political ideology.

The author most definitely knows her ‘stuff’. She a Harvard professor of American History and a Pulitzer Prize nominee. So you can imagine how pleased she was with the renewed interest in the founding of America – her specialist subject. She was less pleased, however, to discover exactly what those on the Right (and especially on the far-Right) had been saying about the history of the Revolution and, of course, the practically sanctified ‘Founding Fathers’. Of course most countries have their founding myths but such a modern country as the United States also has a lot of documentation (and research!) covering that period which can be access and compared to the myths that surround it. More often than not the myth does not do well when it meets the historical facts of the case. Myths do, of course, have their uses especially to those who want to clothe their particular political beliefs in the ideas and ideals of the Founders in order to gain credibility amongst their followers. Inconvenient facts, opinions and documents – even by the Founders themselves – need to be side-lined, disputed or (best!) ignored and forgotten. This is what the author discovered to be the case, not only at grass-roots level where it might be expected but also in the leadership of the movement who had invested in a particular image of the Revolution that was too often cherry-picked from the facts at hand. For those the myth and the image of the Revolution had become far more important and, more importantly, far more usable than the messy and inconvenience truth of the matter.

Looking across the Atlantic Ocean it has always confused, confounded and somewhat amused me how (apparently) many American citizens revere the Declaration of Independence as well as the Constitution and have deified the Founding Fathers who contributed to them. I can certainly understand interest in them, study and serious thought but reverence? That, to be honest, might just be my reaction – being the cynical atheist that I am. I don’t tend to revere anything or anyone. But it is clear, even from the little I do know of these times, people and events, that the Founders were VERY human. They were not gods or in the least god-like in intelligence or moral judgement. Nor are the documents they produced or the Republic that grew out of them perfect or anywhere close to that. No doubt when I dig deeper into the subject I’ll discover just how messy, disorganised, partisan and imperfect the whole thing was. Long running disagreements, enmities and questionable compromises are scattered like spent musket balls throughout the deliberations. The result was far from perfect it was, in fact, human. To mythologise the Revolution and its many protagonists is to do it a dangerous disservice. To understand it and to learn from it requires actual knowledge of the real history of the events – warts and all. I’ll be seeing if I can do that… Recommended and much more from this author to come.  

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Looking Backwards: Nice Place You Have (2)

As I’ve said before here many places in England (and the rest of the UK) have odd, unusual and often funny names because of their individual histories. Because occupying groups changed over time as well as languages and language usage you might easily get a Celtic village which had its name Latinised later changed into Medieval English and then updated into what it is today. Such a long and often convoluted process can produce apparently bizarre place names but once you dig into their histories it can all become almost obvious and also reveal a LOT about what was going on back at the very edges of the historical record.

Following my ancestors records again I came across my 5th great-grandfather who lived and died in the village of Albrighton in Shropshire from 1773-1858. The village was mentioned in the Domesday Book as Albricston(e) or the home/farm of Albric/Aethelbeorht, it received its charter in 1303, which was renewed in 1662 for rather unusual reasons. The charter declared that "because Albrighton (then) adjoined Staffordshire on the east, south and west sides, felons and other malefactors fled Staffordshire to escape prosecution because there was no resident justice of the peace in that part of Shropshire". [From Wiki] Interestingly Charles Dickens stayed there in the local Public House briefly whilst working on The Old Curiosity Shop.

My 6th great-grandfather lived in a little village called Wem (again in Shropshire) during the 18th century. For a place with such a small name it has a LONG history.  The name of the town is derived from the Old English wamm, meaning a marsh, as marshy land exists in the area of the town. Over time, this form evolved into "Wem".  The area now known as Wem is believed to have been settled prior to the Roman Conquest of Britain, by the Cornovii, Celtic Iron Age settlers: there is an Iron Age hillfort at nearby Bury Walls occupied over into the Roman period, and the Roman Road from Uriconium to Deva Victrix ran close by to the east at Soulton.  Weme was an Anglo-Saxon estate, which transitioned into a planned Norman castle-town established after the conquest, with motte-and-bailey castle, parish church and burgage plots. The town is recorded in the Domesday Book as consisting of four manors in the hundred of Hodnet. The Domesday Book records that Wem was held by William Pantulf. [From Wiki]

Another of my 6th great-grandfather’s lived during the mid-18th century in King’s Bromley in Staffordshire. The manor was anciently called Brom Legge, and derived its present name from the circumstances of its being the property of the Crown for nearly two centuries after the Norman Conquest, previous to which it had been distinguished as the residence of the Earls of Mercia. Leofric, the husband of the famous Lady Godiva, died here in 1057. Henry III granted the manor to the Corbetts, who sold it, in 1569, to Francis Agard, of Ireland. About 1670 it was sold by Charles Agard to John Newton, of the island of Barbados, and in 1794 it was bequeathed by Sarah Newton to her cousins, John & Thomas Lane. [From Wiki]

Lastly (for now) is the intriguingly named village called Tong in Shropshire, birthplace of my 6th great-grandmother in 1708. Presently Tong has a population of around 243. I have to wonder what the population was over 300 years ago! The name of the village derives from the Old English Tweonga, which means a pinched piece or spit of land. This stems from the fact that Tong sits between two tributaries of the infant River Worfe.  In "White-ladies," one of the "Boscobel Tracts" that describe the events of the escape of Charles II from England after the Battle of Worcester (3 September 1651), there is a statement that Charles, while sheltering at Boscobel House about two miles away, "had the pleasure of a prospect from Tong to Breewood (sic), which satisfied the eyes, and of the famous bells at Tong, which entertained the ear." The bells he heard were the bells of St. Bartholomew's. During the escape Charles also spent the night of 4/5 September 1651 at Hobbal Grange in the parish of Tong as a guest of Richard Penderel.  The village is remarkable mainly for its church, St Bartholomews, outside of which is the supposed grave of Little Nell, a fictional character in Charles Dickens's book, The Old Curiosity Shop. It is thought that Dickens visited Tong church. His grandmother is supposed to have worked at Tong Castle many years before as a girl. The Castle (demolished in 1954) stood to the south; its site is now occupied by the M54 motorway.  The 'grave' is thought to have come about because Charles Dickens's novel was serialised and shipped over to America, and as a result, Americans began coming over to England to visit scenes featured in the book. The tourists recognised the references to Tong church from the book and came to view the supposed 'grave', which of course was not there. However, a verger and village postmaster, George H. Boden (16 August 1856 - May 1943) apparently asked local people to pay for a headstone, forged an entry in the church register of burials (apparently the giveaway was that he used post office ink to do this), and charged people to see the 'grave'. The marker has been moved from time to time to make way for genuine graves. [From Wiki]

Finally, in related news Ancestry.Com has just updated my genetic profile on their website. Originally I was 59% Irish, 36% Scottish (STILL a mystery to me!), 3% English/North European and 2% Swedish. The update has tweaked that a bit as their database grows and their algorithm improves. The new details are now 62% Irish, 32% Scottish (!), 3% English/North European and 3% Welsh – so I’ve lost my Swedish connection…. [sobs]. More to come… [grin]  

Thursday, September 16, 2021


Just Finished Reading: The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan (FP: 2008) [170pp]

What can we learn from History, apart from the fact that we seem to learn very little indeed from our past? This is just one of the intriguing questions raised by this fascinating little book. History, as all readers of non-fiction know, is not simply a statement of what happened in the past. Being story telling creatures, as well as meaning seeking ones, we look at History to produce a narrative – a coherent story. In order to do that the actual historical record needs to be manipulated, massaged and packaged in such a way that what we regard as a meaningful story arises from the chaos of real life events. The problem then is just what kind of ‘History’ is the end product of that process and, more importantly, what can it be used for.

History, as we all know, is usually written by the victors. Orwell was quite correct when he put these words into the mouth of his ‘1984’ protagonist Winston Smith: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past…” Control of History is sought after by those who need to define their origins – as a group, a people or a nation – so that they can shape their future. Nations often have foundation myths that they hold onto tightly and fight to preserve despite the messy reality of what actually happened. Of course if an origin story is missing it can always be created or ‘enhanced’ in such a way to legitimate the policies or positions of those in power centuries later. Control of past events helps solidify power in the present. Likewise revolutionary forces can use past events and past heroes (most especially if said ‘hero’ has biographical details that are historically “fuzzy”) in order to bolster support and justify actions that would be in normal circumstances questionable or actually unjustifiable. History can also be used to bind multiple peoples or countries together in the name of past debts or past agreements. ‘Special [Historical] Relationships’ can be invoked to justify going to war against countries that pose no direct threat to another’s national security, an ancient prophecy can be used to define modern international relationships and so on. History, real or far too often imagined, can have real world consequences in the here and now.

Knowing how History can be manipulated, suppressed or simply ignored for a whole host of reasons the author – a celebrated historian herself – calls on more historians to help fill the increased desires of the reading public with works of accessible but quality history texts rather than leaving it to non-historians (too often flouting actual historical research and rigour in favour of a good story that can sell copy) to fill out bookshelves and either mislead or confuse readers about what really happened in the past. Popular history doesn’t need to be bad history is her message and good history can provide the foundation not only for a true understanding of the past but a clear-eyed understanding of the present – and the future. A quick read and an interesting one which leaves you wondering about the idea of history and how it’s constructed and, more importantly, why it’s constructed the way it is. Recommended.          

Monday, September 13, 2021



Just Finished Reading: The Hunger Games – Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (FP: 2010) [455pp]

It was what she was made for, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. Being a symbol of the growing resistance to the Capital was bad enough but now they were insisting that she become THE symbol of resistance – The Mockingjay. Pressure, always pressure and then before she could get used to the idea some more pressure just in case it wasn’t already too much. She wanted to help of course. She couldn’t think of anyone else who hated the Capital more or wanted to see President Snow dead more than her but…. Was she up to it? That was the question that kept her awake at nights – that and the nightmares from the previous Hunger Games she had barely survived. She had her PR Team to make her look good on the propaganda videos but still she had to perform, she had to look as if she knew what she was doing, she had to inspire others. But to tell the truth she could barely inspire herself. Everything changed when Peter, dear lost Peter, warned of the incoming attack on District 13. If a near-death experience and the chance to save the boy you loved wasn’t enough to get her ass moving she really didn’t know what was. It was time to end this. Time to smash the Capital once and for all time. But then what? What would they put in its place and who would be its new face? Katniss had no idea. The only thing she knew for sure was that she wanted no part in any future where people, children, fought each other for entertainment. If she could just stop that it would all be worth it. Time to go to work….

I read the original Hunger Games in 2013 and Catching Fire two years later in 2015. Fast forward another SIX years and I finally finish another trilogy. At this rate I doubt if I’ll ever finish my next challenge – the Maze Runner series….. [lol] But anyway, at least it’s done now. Despite not enjoying the movie versions (OK, except the risible 3rd movie in the Divergent series) as much as its competitor I do think that, overall at least, I enjoyed the books much more. The end of the Hunger Games trilogy was vastly superior to the train wreck that was ‘Allegiant’. Not only did it have a (mostly) coherent plot and quite a bit a character development – both for Katniss and some of the other major players (those who loved anyway!) – but the ending made sense and gave the readers a sense of closure and final relief for the girl simply no longer wanted to be on fire. Satisfying I think is the word rather than anything else. I don’t think that any of the books knocked it out of the park for me. They were, as this is, competent, solid, entertaining reads. The translation from page to screen was very accomplished with the screen version being rather toned down from the dark and surprisingly bloody books. There’s definitely a lot more death, blood and tears between these pages than ever made it to the silver screen – so be warned! If you were expecting action and fighting without blood and, all too often, guts too then you might be shocked at the graphic nature of the narrative. There’s plenty of soul searching too that didn’t make it to the movies (it would’ve slowed the narrative too much) so be ready for some pretty HEAVY thoughts here. Overall surprisingly good and overall better than the movies.       

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Favourite Female Characters in Literature from the Last 10 Years of Reading

I recently finished ‘A Town Like Alice’ (review in around 5 weeks) and not only loved it but became very impressed by the main female character Jean Paget. I couldn’t help but think about all of the other great female characters I’ve discovered in other books over the years so started to put together a ‘Top 10’. Needless to say, looking below, this grew beyond 10 fairly quickly so I restricted it to the last 10 years of Blog reviews. Some of the characters have become famous in their own rights whilst others are obscure characters from equally obscure books but, for me at least, stood out in some way or other. So, here they are – in no particular order:

Jean Paget – A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Elizabeth Bennett – Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

Anne Elliott – Persuasion by Jane Austen

Mara Carlyle – Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer

Jean Louise Finch (AKA ‘Scout’) - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Clarissa Oakes - Clarissa Oakes by Patrick O’Brian

Claire Abshire - The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Berenice Charlotte de Mornay-Perigord, former vicomtesse de Laval - The Rising by Ian Tregillis

Sarah Fry - Sharpe’s Escape by Bernard Cornwell

Andy (Andrea) Rodriguez - Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Mary Boulton - The Outlander by Gil Adamson

Georgia Mason - Feed by Mira Grant

Tomisen (Tomi) Harkaway - The Last by Hanna Jameson

Irene Sauvelle - The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafo

Miss Jane Marple – Various by Agatha Christie

Helen Ambrose - The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

Ms Michael Tree - Deadly Beloved by Max Allan Collins

Madame Defarge - A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Lacey Flint - A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton

‘Skeeter’ Phelan - The Help by Kathryn Stockett

‘Reno’ - The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner

Martha Andersson - The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

Mathilde Donnay - A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot

Anna-Maria Mella - The Blood Spilt by Asa Larsson

Jane Eyre - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Mina Harker - Dracula by Bram Stoker

Lea Prism - Prodigal by Marc D Giller

Rae "Sunshine" Seddon - Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Thursday, September 09, 2021


Just Finished Reading: Dark Tide – The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo (FP: 2003) [238pp]

Boston Harbour, Around Noon, January 15, 1919. It started with a bang like thunder followed by what sounded like a carriage or an automobile crashing into a long fence. For the briefest of moments there was silence and then screaming. One word rang out above all others – RUN! Brief seconds before the 50 feet tall steel tank located conveniently on the harbour-side had ruptured spilling around 2.3 million gallons of molasses onto an unsuspecting populace. The 15 foot high wave moved at 35 miles an hour – far faster than anyone caught in its path could move. Minutes later around 50 people were dead, some drowning in basements, and hundreds more lay injured or maimed. Wooden buildings had been swept away and even the Boston overheard railway had buckled under the onslaught. But what had caused the tragedy? With the clean-up operation still in progress the highly respected ‘soldier-lawyer’ Hugh W Ogden was asked to get to the bottom of things, decide who was responsible for the tragic events of the January afternoon and assign compensation accordingly. Confident that he could do so in good time he told the partners of his law firm that he expected to be back in his office in six weeks. The full investigation and presentation of testimony would last much, much longer than that.

The company that owned the giant tank and had it specially built to house the molasses knew that they were on to a good thing. With the war in Europe getting ever more deadly and with the USA about to join in the need for explosives was never higher. With molasses as a major ingredient for industrial alcohol and with that as a major ingredient of a whole host of explosive substances the profits were immense – and could be maximised if the giant tank at Boston was erected on time and if it was kept as full as possible as often as possible. The onsite manager knew what was best for him and his career and pledged to ensure that both happened with expeditious speed. Unfortunately for near-by residents, mostly Italian immigrants housed in poorly maintained blocks adjacent to the harbour, the manager had little knowledge or experience of construction or the safety margins involved. Seen leaking from the moment it was constructed and a source of ‘sweetener’ for local children the only response from local management was the occasional ‘caulking’ of the seams and finally a re-paint to hide the stains of molasses dripping continually down the sides. Naturally when the tragedy unfolded the company in question denied any wrong doing or any negligence. In their ‘defence’ they proposed that the tank had been destroyed by Anarchist terrorists without a single piece of evidence to support it – apart from one rather questionable ‘eye witness’ who apparently saw ‘smoke’ rising from the tank just prior to the disaster. Other witnesses and expert testimony told quite a different story.

Apart from the leaking, visible to everyone and regularly reported, the giant tank itself had never been stress tested at anything like full capacity – even with water. The plans for the tank had never been approved or even inspected by any independently qualified engineers and the sheeting delivered from the steel company had never been checked to see if they met the specifications given to them and which had been requested by someone with no knowledge or expertise in the design or building of such tanks – and someone who had never even sought advice on the project. It was in every respect a complete shambles.

I’d never heard of this truly bizarre incident until this book popped up on my Amazon recommendations some time ago. With such a strange story I just had to buy it. I was most definitely NOT disappointed. The reporting of the incident itself, the very interesting political background behind a whole spate of bombing throughout the US at that time and the look at the investigation was riveting. Told with knowledge and gusto this was a fascinating and often heartrending tale from beginning to end which did full justice to those who were injured and killed due to this avoidable disaster. If you’re looking for something more than a little odd or just for a gripping tragic story this is definitely the book for you. Highly recommended.