Reading Round Rome challenge – February reviews

This is a sticky post – scroll down for newer entries.

Please post the links to your January reviews for the Reading Round Rome challenge by leaving a comment here.

The Thirty-Nine Steps: John Buchan

Another spy story involving the British, the Germans, and the sea in the period before World War I!  And another great listen (librivox again – and again good quality reading).  With only ten chapters this book seemed short, and I completed it pretty quickly.  It rattles along at a great pace, involving a most unlikely tale, with lots of suspense and drama, and of course at the very last minute everything is resolved.  The hero of the story has had remarkable adventures and experiences in South Africa which stand him in good stead here.  I found myself wondering, how is it that in car chases, even primitive ones like these, in the remote Scottish Highlands, there never seems to be a need to re-fuel?  I did enjoy this.

image from

Here is the cover: I’m using it for the letter “L” in the Find the Cover Challenge.  L is for Light – the light shining from the railway engine as it steams up (or down) Britain bearing the intrepid Hannay on his adventures.

RATING: 3.5/5

VINTAGE MYSTERY CHALLENGE 2012: 3/8 (Deadly Decades theme: 1910-1919 – published 1915).

The Record of a Quaker Conscience: Cyrus Pringle

Cyrus Pringle was a Quaker who was drafted into the Army during the US Civil War.  The Quakers (“Society of Friends”) were conscientious objectors, and this book is Pringle’s diary from the day he received his draft notice until the day he was finally granted release from his army service by President Lincoln.  It is a short but superb read, taking us through some hair-raising and gruelling experiences.  For a more detailed and excellent review, please visit another reader’s site here:

I read the free Kindle download; the text is also available free online.

I know that this is a rather short volume to count towards a reading challenge, but one of my other e-books will be a definite chunkster, so I feel quite okay about counting this as one book for the 2012 ebook challenge.

RATING: 3.5/5


The Riddle of the Sands: Erskine Childers

My second book for the Vintage Mystery Challenge, and again I listened to a audio download.

I chose this book because of the author’s Irish connection: I knew of him first as the father of a President of Ireland (also named Erskine Childers), but now I have learned a little about his own career (English-born, distinguished naval career, supporter of Irish independence, executed in 1922 in the aftermath of the complicated and futile Irish Civil War).

Hailed as one of the first, possibly the first modern spy story, this book is about naval intelligence and espionage, playing on anti-German British sentiment in the early years of the 20th century.  It is based at sea, on boats and ships, and is full of maritime details.  As I have no love for or much interest in the sea, this was a bit of a challenge, yet it is a sign of a good book to say that by the closing chapters I was really gripped and anxious to know how it all ended.

Like “The Woman in White”, this novel too has a love story, but it is of a much more discreet quality and much less significant to the overall main theme.

RATING: 3.5/5

VINTAGE MYSTERY CHALLENGE 2012: 2/8 (Deadly Decades theme: 1900-1909 – published 1903).

What is poetry? (Poetry blogalong)

This being the last Tuesday of the month, I’m supposed to blog about poetry.  Alas, I have no great insights or wonderful finds to share.  I’m separated from most of my poetry books at the moment, with only two volumes actually on my shelves.  One is a (self-published) volume of mainly religious poetry, which was a gift, but which isn’t really doing anything for me.  The other is a volume of D. H. Lawrence, from which I expected more.

So I’m asking myself the fundamental question: what is poetry?

It seems there are as many answers as people who answer.  One definition is “an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response”.  By this definition, most of what’s in the religious anthology I mentioned is probably “poetry”.  But it’s not, for the most part, GOOD poetry (in my estimation).

So, what is GOOD poetry?  What “does it” for me?

Perhaps this is the question that I’ll try to answer of the course of this year of monthly blogs about poetry.

The Conservationist: Nadine Gordimer

This was not an easy read.  I drifted away from it about half-way through simply because other books, more shiny and more instantly rewarding, came my way; but I was attracted back to it, not least because of the “Books I Started But Didn’t Finish” Challenge, and am glad that I got into it again and read to the end.

Two things stood out for me.  The first was the way that Gordimer gets us inside the mind of Mehring, the rich white man in South Africa under apartheid, so that we see things from his point of view, and – as one Amazon reviewer puts it,  “What is interesting for the reader is that it requires an effort to step out of his mind and see his thoughts and behavior for what they are — insensitive, self-serving, and at times brutal.”

The second thing I will remember from this book is Gordimer’s way of writing about the countryside – her slow, patient way of building up metaphors and luring us into a sense of the countryside of which she writes.

This is the cover: I’m using it for the letter “V” in the Find the Cover challenge.  V is for Veld – the South African open countryside depicted here (I had to double-check the meaning of this word).

The Woman in White: Wilkie Collins

This was great.  A super start to the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.

I listened to the audi0 download.  The quality of the reading was superb, particularly the parts narrated by “Walter Hartright”.

I had not read The Woman in White before: for some reason I thought that it was very scary and violent, much more blood-and-guts-y that it really it.  I was not expecting a love story, and was enthralled by it.  Of course there are many other elements in the story too, most of which recur in all successful mysteries down to today.

Collins’ use of language is marvellous – how much more fluent those Victorian writers seem to have been than we are today!

But what a different society in other ways too – the social mores of the time are so utterly different, the expectations of how women were to behave, and servants, and the politeness of 1850’s England… at least on the surface.

The story has a happy ending, but I did feel a bit that poor Marion deserved just a little bit better at the end.  But, given her character, perhaps she had further adventures later…

This is the cover: I’m using it for the letter W in the Find the Cover challenge.

W is for White.

RATING: 4.5/5

VINTAGE MYSTERY CHALLENGE 2012: 1/8 (Deadly Decades theme: pre-1900’s)

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