!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
The Gloaming
The Gloaming - Melanie Finn

A random pick off a list of 2016 must-reads that the library oh-so-kindly purchased a copy of based on my recommendation.


Short summary only - dark as all get out. Creepy and disjointed. I am not a fan of first person POV but it works here because you start to doubt what is going on just as the POV character is in the moment. And yet there is a glimmer of hope, albeit a very dim one. It starts a bit slow and sags towards the end, but the chapters are short enough to keep the pages turning and the figurative language is grimly delightful.


This story bounces between past and present, African and Swiss settings, and between multiple characters. There is dubious consent all over the place and death, specifically a lot of children's deaths. Reader beware.

I'm thinking of the old joke about the couple who find themselves alone on Thanksgiving. The husband calls their children and says, "Your mother and I are getting a divorce." Then he hangs up, turns to his wife, and says, "The kids will be over in fifteen minutes."

Dyke, Dick, and Todd Gold. "Old Things - And What Really Matters." Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths about Aging. Kindle ed. Weinstein, 2015. 266. Electronic.

Reading progress update: I've read 399 out of 704 pages.
Moby-Dick (Bantam Classics) - Herman Melville

I have not died, nor have I completely abandoned this book. It is oddly entrenching (is that the word? *checks Merriam Webster* No, it is not. But it sounds good, so NaNo mindset rules apply) and when I finally picked it back up this week, I skimmed through several chapters despite crushingly short breaks at work.


I was amazed at the fact that I've been "reading" this book for more than a year. At first I kept misplacing it around my room as I am reading from my physical copy of the book, then after June my entire personal life collapsed into a ~work-work stress-stress caused by politics-politics at work stress about real politics~ mess. I have read a page here, a quick read there, but finished hardly anything in months. My reading challenge bar chart looks terrible.


Still chugging along, still reading. One thing that struck me about the coincidence of reading Moby Dick during National Novel Writing Month is that it is written in exactly the kind of way that emphasizes word count that most 'chievers like me utilize. The amusement of this realization was worthy of actually writing this progress post. :)


Here's to hoping for more reading/blogging time post-elections!

People say, 'I suppose you got bored with life,' but it wasn't as sudden as that. The seeds are in you and although it may take ten, twenty or forty years, eventually you can do what you wanted to do at the beginning.

Powell, M. (2012). Below stairs: The classic kitchen maid's memoir that inspired Upstairs, downstairs and Downton Abbey [Electronic]. New York: St. Martin's Press.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4.5 Stars
A Study in Emerald
A Study in Emerald - Neil Gaiman

An alternate universe of Sherlock Holmes canon. I have read it before but I saw the audio version on Audible and decided, eh, why not?


This particular version was narrated by Neil Gaiman (I thought it was Gy-man, not Gae-men? Huh, go figure.) and he has a lovely voice, but it irritated me profoundly that he pronounced Lestrade as Le-stray-d. Just... no. It does not sound nice.


The story, of course, takes place in England, but one renamed Albion and in which supernatural elements are at work and creatures - for lack of a better term - literally rule. The story is narrated by the consulting detective's companion, a veteran of the Afghan war. A strong knowledge of the entire Sherlock Holmes series is practically a requirement due to the reliance on some of the lesser-known canon references used to make the twisty ending come to light. Likewise, the faux contemporary advertisements that break up the chapters require at least a mediocre familiarity with both 12+ grade English vocabulary and classic horror stories.


As evidenced by the name, the main plot shares similarities with Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet." Probably a good place to start as a prequel of sorts for the uninitiated. :)

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3.5 Stars
The Sherlockian
The Sherlockian - Graham Moore

There are two stories going on here:


1) In contemporary times, a fanboy is initiated into an exclusive club for Sherlock fans (thus the term Sherlockian is used quite often afterwards) and they all gather for a special event: another celebrated BNF has found Arthur Conan Doyle's lost diary and is going to share it. Except he ends up dead. Murdered, naturally. And why call the police when you have a bunch of wanna-be Sherlocks hanging around the place?


Honestly, I would probably go see a movie adaptation of this book purely for that scene in particular.


The mystery escalates of course. There is a Woman involved. And it all ends at Reichenbach.


2) In the Victorian era, Arthur Conan Doyle has just killed off Sherlock Holmes and suffers the consequences from the fans of his time. He is a top-notch drama queen about the whole thing (given a modern reader's foreknowledge) but eventually gets over it. Until he becomes involved in serial murders, "anti-feminism", and escapades worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself.


Extra spoiler: his being miffed at being treated as the Watson at one point.


I loved the fact that Bram Stoker is basically his sidekick and the author writes about Conan Doyle's reflections on his relationships with J.M. Barrie and Oscar Wilde with such depth of emotion; I have no idea if the real life people knew each other, but I would be inclined to believe it based on the presentation of this historical fiction.


Ultimately a happy ending because, as we all know, Sherlock Holmes comes back to life.


Audiobook notes: no idea if the Scottish accent of the narrator is authentic, but I like it. <3

2 Stars
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - Ian Porter, Adam Sims, Alfred Birnbaum, Haruki Murakami

Eh, I use the tags "science fiction" and "fantasy" very loosely with this novel.


As with all of Murakami's works, it skirts the edge of this and that. It is difficult to follow if you are not paying attention, moreso when you are trying to pay attention to an audiobook as it turns out. There are two narrators that switch off on chapters due to the split narrative of the story. I found their voices pleasant to listen to, but their accents for different characters and their pronunciations of certain Japanese words grated on my ears to the point that it ruined those parts of the story for me. I think that I would have preferred to read this one.


I enjoy the themes of reality vs. non-reality that Murakami regularly explores in his stories, this one especially delving into the Russian philosophical side of things, haha. The particular flavor of, ah, graphic detail is definitely an acquired taste though.


Alas, I will not be counting this one for any of my on-going challenges.

3.5 Stars
Fool Moon
Fool Moon - Jim Butcher

Well, this is not the cover on my edition. And it turns out my copy was one of the worse off survivors of the book auction debacle and I will probably chuck it because it is not in a fit state to be passed on. I'm not sure how it survived be read, actually.


This is the second book in the series and lightly covers the basic story of the first without actually summarizing it, and re-introduces a couple of the prominent secondary characters, Murphy (of the police) and Marcone (of the criminal underworld), betwixt whom Dresden tries to survive with varying degrees of success.


Given the obvious title, "werewolves" are involved with this book's plot. I do appreciate how Jim Butcher takes the "when things look bad for your protagonist, make them worse before they get better" approach to writing. It keeps the pages turning, although the chapter end-lines are sometimes... lacking in wit, one could say. They would perhaps flow better as longer chapter segments. The first person narrative style grates, at times, particularly since I can't relate to the male POV, but the author regularly pokes fun at the character's self-confess chauvinism and almost breaks the fourth wall a few times. Some good twists on the werewolf genre and a rather bittersweet, IMHO, ending. Nicely leaves open some plot holes to fill in during future books with regards to Dresden's parents and his past/events that led to his unique circumstances within the magical community.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
The Geography of Madness
The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World's Strangest Syndromes - Frank Bures

It is interesting in subject matter, literally about penis thieves as the title says, but as you may imagine, no actual penises are (permanently) stolen. It segues into how the organ theft is very real to the people who experience it and those around them who believe it's happening, but completely imaginary to anyone else around them who don't have the same culture beliefs. The book goes on to describe other culture-bound syndromes and does a pretty good job at breaking down the predisposition to thinking these things only happen in "less civilized" or "less educated" countries, even though that is reiterated frequently by the medical professionals as to why the incidences keep occurring. Notably, the author points out how PMS is almost exclusively an American problem for women, or other American or Western "diseases" like anorexia or pet hoarding that do not exist in our cultural opposites, yet no one would say that the Western world lacks in civilization or culture. (Debatable.)


He mentions the change in understanding and societal perception of, for example, depression as being something mental (and shameful) to something physical (and suddenly curable) and the case studies in the placebo effect. There is the historical precedent of fugue:

Hacking suggests that fugue and other conditions can flourish in a place and time because the right conditions exist in the same way that ecological conditions allow certain species to arise... When those conditions change, the animals die out. In the late 1800s, a niche opened up in Europe to allow fugue to arise, and then it was gone. As a kind of resolution of the dichotomy, Hacking has proposed the term “bioloop” to describe the process by which our ideas and beliefs affect our physiology, and our physiology in turn affects our minds.

The information and suggested analysis is well-written, but the book could easily have been half its present length and made a stronger, more concise argument. However, that is not the author's writing style. A good chunk of the unnecessary writing is about his struggling writing career or the mundane details of his travels to track down information about the phenomena, even including accounts of dead ends that could have been excised from the final copy of the book for pacing reasons. I don't care that you tried the local recipe of chicken in some mid-sized town in China and found it subpar; just tell me about the darned subject of your book.


Solid three, overall.

World Books Challenge

Oops, fell a bit behind and forgot to finish reading/update the list this past month. Have several in-progress books lying around that I need to finish up and post and that should kick up my progress in the next month or so. July was just so crazy!




Per the idea borrowed from Merle, the goal is to "travel the world" by reading one book set in every country of the world as listed below with preference given to books by a native author.


List format is also borrowed from Merle. :)


12 out of 200 countries = 6%


North America and the Caribbean 
2 out of 24 countries = 8%

Canada: ?
United States: Capital Dames by Cokie Roberts
Mexico: ?

Costa Rica
El Salvador

Antigua & Barbuda:
Cuba: Adios Muchachos by Daniel Chavarria
Dominican Republic:
Haiti: ?
Puerto Rico:
St. Kitts & Nevis 
St. Lucia
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago 

South America 
0 out of 12 countries = 0%

Chile: Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar? / My Documents by Alejandro Zambra?

2 out of 54 countries = 4%

Egypt: The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany

Cape Verde:
Ivory Coast: 
Liberia: The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper?
Nigeria: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin?
Sierra Leone:
Burkina Faso

Democratic Republic of the Congo: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver?
Sao Tome & Principe: 
Central African Republic
Republic of the Congo 
Equatorial Guinea

Kenya: Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner
South Sudan

South Africa: 

2 out of 49 countries = 4%

France: Marivaux?
Ireland: Colm Toibin?
Netherlands: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier?
Spain: Manolito Gafotas?
Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
United Kingdom: The Dead Duke, His Missing Wife, and the Secret Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell
Belgium: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque?
Malta ?
San Marino
Vatican City

Greece: Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis?
Bosnia & Herzegovina 
Czech Republic 

Middle East 
1 out of 16 countries = 6%

Iran: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi? / Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani?
Saudi Arabia: In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed

Yemen: Henna House by Nomi Eve?
United Arab Emirates


5 out of 31 countries = 16%

Afghanistan: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg? / In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab

India: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Sri Lanka: A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman?

China: Leaving Mother Lake by Yang Erche Namu, Christine Mathieu? / Four Sisters of Hofei by Annping Chin?
Japan: Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki
North Korea: In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
South Korea: The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim

East Timor: 
Myanmar: The Lady and the Peacock by Peter Popham?
Philippines: Monstress by Lysley Tenorio?
Singapore: Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu?
Vietnam: The Novice by Thich Nhat Hanh
Cambodia: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung

Australia and the Pacific 
0 out of 14 countries = 0%

Australia: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay(?) / Fly Away, Peter by David Malouf(?)
New Zealand: The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera?
Marshall Islands 
Papua New Guinea 
Solomon Islands 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4.5 Stars
Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum
Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum - Jessica Posner, Kennedy Odede

It took me quite a while to find the time to start this book, but once I did I had mainlined it in about 1 1/2 days before and after work, staying up till dawn to finish the last third. Not gonna lie: I cried. The story is written by both Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner in alternating chapters progressing in roughly chronological orders although they both start their narrations at different points, eventually overlapping towards the end. As is mentioned in the ending notes, they wrote everything in hindsight based on their memories and journal accounts. As such, things were elided or perhaps forgotten as tends to be the nature of memory and some of their personal opinions were probably sharpened by maturity.


SHOFCO is the abbreviation for Shining Hope for Communities, the name of the organization started by Kennedy to instigate change in the slum he lived in, called Kibera, in Kenya. (Linked to the official website if interested.)


The introduction provides a concise summary of the book and tells you ahead of time that Kennedy and Jessica will eventually develop a romantic relationship, but be warned this is not exactly a fairy tale. See below: 

"SHOFCO is a love story, but it’s also a lesson in development. The organization succeeded in part because it had someone with local knowledge and charisma to lead the way, and in part because it had a policy wonk foreigner who could help open overseas wallets. That’s a potent partnership. If it’s just foreigners, there’s a risk that locals will see them as cows to be milked, or that a project won’t have the necessary buy-in from local people. Indeed, SHOFCO is successful partly because it didn’t begin as an aid program at all but as a local empowerment movement, with Kennedy and his buddies organizing soccer games and street performances decrying rape. Only after it was well established did it take on a more structured dimension, building effective partnerships."

One of the things I really liked was how brutally honest the accounts were. There is no hiding or holding back of the horrible endings some people faced, many of the persons mentioned, especially in Kennedy's narration, ultimately die. The matter of fact way it is related is sobering and reminds you that this a real life story, and yes, it really is that bad outside of our Western bubble. That brings me to the other thing I liked about this book - Jessica's narration is bluntly relatable, acknowledging how privilege is like a lottery we don't choose to be born into and how difficult it is to find a "right" way to react to that realization.


Jessica's quotes:


-- "“Do NOT get married while you are here. There is always a student who ends up married. Don’t be that student,” warns Donna. I roll my eyes." I love this quote in connection with this later one which shows how young and impetuous Jessica was, a key part of her personality that bore fruit to her and Kennedy's later joint efforts. "I am always willing to sacrifice convenience for fashion. My mother couldn’t understand why I so desperately needed to bring my new sundress. How could she be so dense? I. Just. Needed. It. In that dress, I felt ready for anything. In the end, her sense had won out."


-- "I realize how wedded we are in America to knowing all the details." The insightful realizations about her own culture is very interesting each time it is brought up.


-- "I realize I came here in part to prove my openness, to be able to say that I survived it, but that is not what Alice needs. She needs to get her husband out of jail, and to bring her kids home. It’s not altogether unreasonable that she hopes I might be a pathway to that. I feel a faint disappointment—in us both."


-- "And I can’t help but think how unfair and utterly random it is that I was born into a place that gave me so much; to be so blessed that I was concerned mainly with finding happiness, not consumed by the daily drudgery of survival. No matter what I feel for Kennedy and he for me, we are from two different worlds: mine of plenty and his of want."


-- "I think of what it means to be a teenager in America, necessarily pushing boundaries, making expected mistakes. Here there is no margin for error: a mistake, no matter how insignificant, dashes any small hopes to break the cycle of poverty. Here in Kibera the world is relentless and unforgiving." I remember reading somewhere that teenager culture in America was the first of its kind back in the 50s due to the unique set of socioeconomic and political circumstances at the time, and it has just developed since then. A good reminder that things are not the same everywhere.


-- "None of these life events are unfolding as we’d imagined. When I left Kenya, I was sure that our romance was over. Now we’ve resuscitated “us”—in response to extreme circumstances. A life-changing love has been reduced overnight to a practicality, boxes checked off on a marriage application." This, and other events that happen in their personal relationship, make one question the nature of it. Is it truly romantic? Was it romantic, ended, and then became a partnership built upon mutual trust and admiration and fueled by their passion to change the world via the girls' school? It is never actually quite explained, and maybe it doesn't have to be.


Kennedy's quotes:


-- “I could have had it before. I just never needed it. You know the problem with Americans? You always think the rest of the world is just waiting for your money.”


-- "Being tied to Catholic doctrines meant contradicting goals for our group. The church was adamantly against family planning and the use of condoms. This made no sense. I had watched too many teenage girls become mothers and lost too many dear friends to HIV/AIDS. Using protection seemed the only option." An opinion and truth that is not commonly expressed in Western literary sources due to the popularity of the Catholic church.


-- "For too long my community had been told that we could not do anything by ourselves without money from the outside, without the financial support and wisdom from the Western world. But since we were the ones who understood all the challenges we faced, we also had the best shot at finding the solutions." This feeds back to an earlier bit about how being told one is poor and good for nothing fuels poverty and poor decision making, perpetuating the cycle for generations; and how Kennedy's determination eventually snowballed into something greater.


-- "African problems would never be solved as long as advantaged people from the Western world thought that they could save our communities by starting organizations, or volunteering in Africa, without the actual and deep engagement of the communities they sought to improve. Without mutual understanding and real community leadership, foreign-led interventions ultimately do not succeed..." Self-sustaining movements, ideological.


-- “American men are so funny,” I tell her. “I don’t understand why they like women who are so thin they have to search the bed to find them.” LOL, in tribute to Rosemary who once told me the exact same thing. ;)

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
Servants' Hall
Servants' Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance (Below Stairs Book 2) - Margaret Powell

Took me a while to find the time to read this. Somehow I just never seemed to have had the time to read it on my breaks at work or be able to stay awake to read it at home. Oh, well... This sat in my drafts folder for an extra month too as I tried to find time to pick apart the quotes that I had saved and record my thoughts about them. Et voila~


-- "An extensive vocabulary was in no way comparable with the right accent." One of the lessons in a business class I took was about how you can't discount the oil executive's intelligence just because he has a Texan accent... dialectal prejudices are a real thing!


-- "The tea was strong and black... Just like the way Mother made it for my father if he was in work, and if she had the money. When it was weak tea, my father would say, 'What's this then? Water bewitched and tea begrudged.'" That last bit would probably be amazing embroidered on a tea cozy.


-- "...but it wasn't easy then for an unmarried daughter to be independent. Miss Helen had no income of her own, hadn't been brought up to work and, furthermore, was rather plain." The descending order of importance in necessary feminine traits for independence: money, skill, and beauty.


-- "Young Fred said he had liked talking to me, but personally I'd have derived far more pleasure and satisfaction if he had seized me in a violent embrace and kissed me passionately. A good brain was something but a lovely face would have earned more in dividends." Haha, this is the truth, ain't it?


-- "Doris made us laugh even more by saying there was a seventeen-year-old girl at the orphanage who hadn't any hair at all; not on her head, under her arms or down below. But it wasn't the poor girl's bald head that the matron cared about, it was the baldness down below; matron said it was indecent." Huh, how times have changed! Reminds me of that 'unspoken defense against unwanted sex' phenomena thing - ladies not shaving; interesting morals contrast. 


-- "And I thought... how difficult it is for the poor to be romantic. They have nowhere to go for privacy. If you take a boyfriend home, your family, having only the one sitting-room, are always there. So it's 10p at the pictures, fish and chips in a newspaper, and kissing as far away from a street lamp as possible. It's easy for the rich to have a 'grande passion'; they can dine, drink and dance to induce the mood, and have somewhere to retire for the privacy and pleasure." This reminds me of the first book by Margaret Powell where she alludes to the fact that her parents had so many children, despite being too poor to care for all of them, because sex was the cheapest source of entertainment, and the consequence was more children. The economic influence of wealth on culture (and/or behavior?). Compare with this piece from later in the book: "Most of our male conquests were measured by the degree of generosity they showed in buying us chocolates, a decent seat in the cinema and a drink afterwards. But in return for this they expected, and we were prepared to give, a certain amount of petting such as kissing and hugging in dark corners; certainly nothing more than that, though occasionally more was attempted. // No doubt the daughters above stairs were not required to give anything in exchange for an evening's entertainment, but then their escorts had not needed to work long and arduous hours to acquire enough money to take a girl out." There is also the social obligation or expectation that the woman should repay the man in... something... for the fact that he spent money on her. My contemporary mindset is disgusted by this while at the same time... huh.


-- "We wanted to get married not just to get out of domestic service, but because to be a spinster was looked upon almost with contempt as indicating a woman who lacked what it takes." Again, the difference in morals between today and then when this was written and the time she was writing about even further before that. I suspect the later line: "Lack of money, with the approach of old age and inability to work, was a constant anxiety to domestics." Also had a ring of truth to it. Especially in a society where work for women was limited to begin with. Sharing the burden with a marital partner is a feasible solution.


-- "One of my history books describes the [General Strike] as 'one of the most controversial and significant events of the inter-war years', but at the time it made little or no impression or difference to us in domestic service." A topic that fascinates me as I become old enough to read events that happened in my lifetime in history books taught to children today. Was it really as bad or as good? How does the teaching of history distort the actual history itself?


And then there is the crux of the second book, the "plot" that elicits the advertisement slogan of "True life inspiration for Downton Abbey!" or whatever it was on the library's page. The circumstances of fellow maidservant Rose after she marries the heir of the household they all work for. And it doesn't go well at all... "...I for one remembered what young Fred had said... apropos of Rose and Gerald. 'I think that it's Gerald who will regret it'. What was Rose giving him in return for a lovely home, beautiful clothes and a life of ease? She refused to acquire an education, to read about current events; as an intellectual companion she was hopeless; now we heard that she was loth to be a bed-mate. And although she was even prettier now than when he'd fallen in love with her, Gerald had a right to expect more out of marriage than just gazing at a pretty face."


Does he? But on the other hand, doesn't he? In the fictional world, Rose would be the hailed protagonist and we would feel sympathy for her, but in this true-life account, Rose is not portrayed as sympathetically. She clings to her family's ideals which heightens the class differences between her and her husband, and she absolutely refuses to compromise with him in any way. Over time, she is noted to be as uncompromising as her mother, Mrs. Lawton, to the point where this is: "I couldn't argue with Mrs. Lawton... but I did not agree with her firmly held opinion that only disaster could follow a deviation from the master-servant relationship; that above and below stairs were so divided by class, education and lineage, they could never mix. If Rose had not been so stubborn and narrow-minded, so determined not to change from the Rose Lawton of a back street in Manchester to being Mrs. Rose Wardham, mistress of a fine house and servants; if she had acknowledged her husband's genuine desire to make his wife socially acceptable, then the marriage could have been a success." That Rose rues the upper-class expectations of her new status while enjoying the luxuries (fine clothes, a house, servants of her own) further divorces her from the sympathy of the reader, while also underlining the envy of her friends in the story - Margaret and Mary - both of whom are confident they would have changed to suit their (wealthy) husband's tastes in a heartbeat. Yet is that really better?


Before they can seem too mercenary, this relatable bit is mentioned at the end of Mrs. Lawton's rant about what marriage meant to women of her age and status: "'What's love got to do with it? That's not what marriage is all about. Marriage is leaving your parents' home to look after your man, have his kids, make one shilling go as far as five, and keep a clean, respectable and God-fearing home.' // Mary and I looked at each other and I knew the same thought was in her mind; that such a description of marriage was far removed from our ideas on the subject." Perhaps it is the difference in expectations of romanticism and pragmatism in a relationship that I, as a reader in the 2010s, am bothered by.


Then there are these last two quotes. The first I find terribly relatable because of how true it is to have your expectations of the outside bashed by the reality of the inside and contrasted by those who live there: "The cottage was very pretty, creeper-covered and thatched roof, just like a picture-postcard cottage. But of course postcards cannot show the drawbacks to what appears to be picturesque - and here they couldn't have shown the tiny leaded window panes that excluded the sunlight, the lack of piped-water, electricity and drainage, the erratic path - well, erratic anyway in the pitch dark for visitors - to the primitive lavatory at the bottom of the garden. To us three city girls, one night only was a laughable experience, but I'm sure we'd never have coped with the lack of amenities as did Elsie's mum. She'd always lived in the cottage and was used to it."


But the last quote, here, is the one that reminds me what I disliked about Ms. Powell's narration. Is this a tendency that crops up as we age? I feel that I am starting to do it myself, but why do I do it? Why do we look back at the past as being better, when really it was probably just as bad or worse, we just didn't pay it no mind at the time? Too much time reflecting? A change in how bad things happen or are shared, as is the case with the spread of instant news media? What is it? Anyway, here's the tone shift that often occurs in the middle of narrative bits:


-- "Yet there was one vast difference between the terrible Depression of the early thirties and living in England now. In spite of Mr Lawton's bitterness against the government, he, and the tens of thousands like him who'd lost their jobs and were living on the poverty line, never resorted to the violence and vandalism that prevails today. Nobody of my generation could ever have dreamed that the day would come in England when it wasn't safe to walk through the streets in the evening for fear of being mugged, when quiet country lanes and city parks were to be avoided if one was alone. How smugly did we read about the violence in America and say, 'It can't happen here'. Of course there always have been people who are just plain 'bad', but at one time if they were caught, they had to pay for their crimes; now they get therapy."


So preachy? Yes. But otherwise an interesting story. Don't read it for the Downton Abbey angle, however, for you will just be disappointed.

Would I have been happier if I'd been able to do what I wanted when I was young? I might have been. I'm not one of those who pretend that because you're poor there's something wonderful about it. I'd love to be rich. There's nothing particularly beautiful about being poor, having the wrong sort of clothes, and not being able to go to the right sort of places. I don't particularly envy rich people but I don't blame them. They try and hang on to their money, and if I had it I'd hang on to it too. Those people who say the rich should share what they've got are talking a lot of my eye and Betty Martin; it's only because they haven't got it they think that way. I wouldn't reckon to share mine around.

Powell, M. (2012). Below stairs: The classic kitchen maid's memoir that inspired Upstairs, downstairs and Downton Abbey [Electronic]. New York: St. Martin's Press.

4 Stars
The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs (Audio) - Thomas Harris

I didn't realize this was an abridged copy.


I was so excited by how amazing Kathy Bates' voice sounded narrating the sample clip that I streamed the entire book over the course of two days. It's just over 3 hours long but I honestly could not tell it was abridged. Is it abridged because parts were cut out or because Bates talks so fast? Hmmm... For reference, this version, at least, is like a text version of the movie. I didn't realize how closely the movie followed the original source material. As usual, however, I feel the text is superior, if only because the imagery (or lack thereof, which is freaking terrifying when it's used) is amazing. Not a single wasted word. The only reason it took me so long to listen to the whole thing is because I kept falling asleep while listening, so I had to go back and try to find my spot again to pick up from.


Another plus: Bates's accents are ah-mazing~~! I don't know if it's her pitch or tone, but she manages the same inflections used by both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in the movie that made their characters so memorable. Got chills when she did the humming and sighs as the characters. Spectacular performance.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
2 Stars
Marriage of Inconvenience
Marriage of Inconvenience - Cheryl Bolen

I don't remember why I wishlisted this. I have a thing for regency romances, I think. (Hello, Mr. Darcy.)


Quick read, or rather it is better as quick read. Don't slow down to think about how the motives of the heroine to get married change radically between one page and the next. It is a bit annoying that the male protagonist figures out the heroine's "super secret identity" in the span of about 3 paragraphs when no one else in the country ever realized it, yet he keeps the secret for the majority of the story only to hold it over the heroine's head at the end. Sigh.


I liked the focus on development of the characters (even if their motivations and internal monologues were so wishy-washy at times) and emotional romance instead of physical romance. Also, it is adorable that winning over a large family of step-children is one of the heroine's goals. (Spoiler: she succeeds!) I wasn't particularly keen on the blatant Americanisms thrown in - no, it is not cool to move to England with the sole intent and purpose of tearing down their cultural system because it does not jive with your contrived American sense of "freedom and equality" and the way you intend to accomplish this is by fulfilling your princess countess fantasy by marrying a peer with influence with the government. WTF.


But, ahem, other than that, and with a great deal of reminding myself that it is just wish-fulfillment  historical romance fiction, it was a cute story. :)

2.5 Stars
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective - Kate Summerscale

I was intrigued by the blurb. Read the preview on Scribd, liked it enough to pay a credit for it, whizzed through the first third - very interesting! Ohhhh, was it the governess? The parents? The step-siblings? An outside party with a grudge against the unlikable master of the house?! - and then slowed in the second third - rehashing the evidence, why do we need full excerpts in the original Victorian language of the trial? Recounting the fall out of the trial in pop culture of the time, oh, and Mr. Whicher's life sucks but hey, let's throw in side stories, although they were kind of interesting peeks into contemporary life - and the last third just dragged and dragged.


The person we thought did it, well, did it. Maybe. Some nice, twisted speculation at the end there. A lengthy epilogue of sorts for the family and what happened to them. The cultural fascination with the detective genre grew and expanded after the murder mystery occurred.


I liked the linguistic nuggets of trivia, found the unedited transcripts of the trial to be padding for length, and would have preferred less redundant recaps every five to ten pages, but, eh, wasn't a bad read overall.

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Taste of Marrow (Kindle Single) (River of Teeth) - Sarah Gailey
Cyrano de Bergerac - Evelyne Amon, Edmond Rostand
The Night Manager - John le Carré
The Calligrapher's Daughter - Eugenia Kim