Mike Finn
Reading progress update: I've read 25%. - what it means to be Judas Coin.
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill, Stephen Lang



This quote seems to be what the book pivots on. Justin has transformed himself from an abused farm boy to a rock star by creating his Judas Coin persona. It's a persona he has adopted for so long that it has become the self he recognises when he looks in the mirror, the one he thinks he will offend if he does something that rubs against the grain because it's inconsistent with who he is. We are told that Judas/Justin believes that:


"His own identify was his first and single most forceful creation. The machine that had manufactured all his other successes. Which had produced everything in his life that was worth having and that he cared about He would protect that to the end."


This may be  Justin's central problem. He wants to protect Judas. Yet Judas was the one who betrayed with a kiss. The one who placed pragmatism and survival ahead of love and hope. The one who ultimately couldn't live with himself. It was as Judas that Justin has been so careless with his own life and the lives of those close to him that he is now surrounded by nothing but wreckage.


It think that if Juton want's to avoid the silver razor on the gold chain, wants to erase the dark scribbled across his eyes, he may have to throw Judas under the bus.



Reading progress update: I've read 18%.
Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill, Stephen Lang



Joe Hill never rushes a story and he's sure in no hurry in "Heart-Shaped Box".


What I'm enjoying most about this book is the how character-driven it is.


The plot so far is simple: complacent, rich goth rock star buys a ghost on the internet that turns out to be the real thing and which seems intent on harming him. 


The plot is not the story. The story is about the self-discovery of Judas Coin.


He's a man who doesn't like himself much but who also doesn't feel a need to do anything about that. He's built a comfortable, unchallenging, mostly empty life for himself and is happy to roll with it. Until the ghost arrives and brings his life into focus.


At the start of the book, we're given the take-it-all-for-granted it-is-what-it-is view of Coin's life. Yet, even then, things snagged my attention. Coin has lived with a string of young goth women half his age. He shares that he has trouble remembering their names so he names them after their State of origin. He calls his current bedmate Georgia. He knows the women don't like this because most of them want to forget where they came from but he does it because it's easy and because they let him. Even on a first pass, this made me think Coin was an asshole. As the story progresses and Coin's fate becomes linked to a Florida, a young woman he threw away when he was done, it finally occurs to Coin that he's behaved like a shit, just because he can. The slow shift in Coin's self-perception is skilfully done.


The ghost is deeply menacing. On the one hand, I'm fairly sure the ghost is there. On the other hand, as Coin himself says, perhaps ghosts live only in the heads of the haunted. Either way, Coin is set to suffer. As far as I can see, he deserves it. 

4 Stars
"Fledgling - Sorcery and Society #2" by Molly Harper
Fledgling - Molly Harper





Engaging YA fantasy with just the right mix of fun, fear and friendship



"Fledgling" is the second book in Molly Harper's new YA fantasy series "Sorcery and Society", set in an alternate Victorian England, ruled over by magical families calling themselves the Guardians, who have turned humans (called snipes) into surfs, bonded to a Guardian master.


The story continues on immediately after the climactic end to Changeling. I was pleased to see that, while it kept the same feel-good tone as the first book, it soon broke free from the confines of Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies, where most of the action in "Changeling" took place. This opened up more of the magical and political world and provided new challenges for Sarah Smith, our young snipe-with-magical-powers-pretending-to-be-a-Guardian-Lady heroine, Sarah Smith.


Molly Harper manages to produce a story that is an uplifting blend of fun, fear and friendship. The teenage girls in the story face some difficult challenges but that doesn't stop them from having fun and behaving like... well, teenage girls, albeit ones with Victorian restrictions on their freedom.


One of the strengths of the book is how well the friendship between Sarah and her two closest friends is described. The banter works and the mix of personalities creates a believable dynamic where the girls encourage and support each other and each brings something different to the story.


The plot has enough tension in it to keep me turning the pages but never falls far into darkness. It has a few surprises and it promises a satisfying story arc for the next few books.


I also liked the fact that the adults that Sarah has most contact with aren't just ciphers. Sometimes, in YA stories, adults appear like the maid in Tom and Jerry cartoons: they swing partly into view but don't really take part. Sarah's parents and the Guardian couple who are sheltering her all make a contribution to Sarah's development and continue to be developed as real characters.


I found "Fledgling" entertaining and engaging and I'm looking forward to the next one.



Reading progress update: I've read 69%. -with multiple gruesome murders so far, I know my attention should not be on this but...
Real Murders (Aurora Teagarden Book 1) - Charlaine Harris

...sometimes it's the smallest details that display cultural differences the best.


Our heroine has a distressed friend come unexpectedly to her door. As it's lunchtime, she offers him something to eat. Normal so far - at least my normal - then I read:


It’s hard to perform like Hannah Housewife when you’ve had no warning, but I microwaved a frozen ham and cheese sandwich, poured some potato chips out of a bag, and scraped together a rather depressing salad.


And now I'm completely distracted. A grown woman, living alone and she has no food in the house? And she needs "warning* before she can cook a meal? That's weird.


But the truly strange thing, the one I'd like independent confirmation of is: DO PEOPLE REALLY KEEP HAM AND CHEESE SANDWICHES IN THEIR FREEZER?


Surely not. FROZEN ham and cheese sandwiches? FROZEN cheese? FROZEN white bread? FROZEN ham?


And if they do, would they really MICROWAVE one and offer it as FOOD to a guest?


I find I'm more stunned by this than by any of the (fairly nasty) murders.


So, for the American and especially Texan members here, please let me know, is this something someone would actually do?

Reading progress update: I've read 56%. this is just about holding my attention but...
Real Murders (Aurora Teagarden Book 1) - Charlaine Harris

mainly because the Texan small town life being described is so far from my experience. Harris' writing is smooth and efficient and her character is likeable if a little relentlessly, self-deprecatingly ordinary.


I think I must have imagined the subversive part. There's no sign of it anymore. We're playing pin the blame on the suspect in the traditional way.

Reading progress update: I've read 31%.
The Awkward Squad - Sophie Hénaff, Sam Gordon


I'm really enjoying this.


It's not quite what I expected. It's not written as a satire, although it is occasionally funny.


What makes it different from Anglo versions of the same kind of story is the stoicism of the officers who have been branded as not wanted. They don't throw angry tantrums. They accept where they are and hope that things might get better.


The Commisaire in overall charge doesn't use her authority in traditional ways, nor does she allow her boundaries to the set by her bosses. 


The members of the squad are interesting rather than stereotypical and it looks as though three cases will be investigated in parallel. 


This would make marvelous TV. 

Ich kaufte aus Versehen eine deutsche Kopie von "Idaho" von Emily Ruskovich.



Ich kaufte aus Versehen eine deutsche Kopie von "Idaho" von Emily Ruskovich.


Ich kann es nicht in Großbritannien recyceln.


Ich werde es an die erste Person senden, die mich darum bittet.

Halloween Bingo Update 5 - Bingo 2 and 3 arrived today and I can now see blacking out my card



I got my second and third bingo today when Cryptozoology was called. Each of the three books I'm currently reading should also give me a bingo (although I know they don't count) and it seems like a blackout is possible before the end of the game.


So now I have:


3 bingos

18 squares read and called 

0 squares read but not called

5 called squares, three of which I'm reading for.


I read two books this week (plus t DNF).



"Fledgling" is the second book in Molly Harper's new YA fantasy series, set in an alternative Victorian England, ruled over by magical families calling themselves the Guardians. It was as much fun as the first and took the series in a direction that breaks it free of the "School For Magic* dynamic.


"The Taking Of Annie Thorne" was a well done, very grim, suspense/horror story with a Stephen King sort of story but set in England with a cast of very believable characters.





I'm currently reading three books, each of which should trigger a bingo when I complete them.


"The Awkward Squad" is a satirical French book looking at a squad in Paris created especially to hold misfits who can't be fired and who get to work on cases that can't be solved.




 "Real Murders" is my third attempt at getting a book for this square. I'd no great expectations beyond a book that I can read to the end and enjoy but I think it has a subversive twist to it that I like.






"Blood Moon" is the second book in a series about an FBI agent hunting a woman serial killer who seems to be more like a vigilante. I read the first book for last year's Halloween Bingo. This may turn into an HB tradition.







Reading progress update: I've read 14%.- I think Harris is being subversive.
Real Murders (Aurora Teagarden Book 1) - Charlaine Harris

I started "Real Murders" once before and abandoned it because I couldn't get comfortable with what I saw as the light approach to such a wicked murder.


I've read a lot more Charlaine Harris since then and her Lily Bard series, starting with "Shakespeare's Landlord" and "A Secret Rage" her unflinching book about rape" showed me what a serious writer she is. So this time, I looked at "Real Murders" with more care and I think I've found something interesting.


I'm reading "Real Murders* for the Cozy Mystery" square. I used a Transfiguration Spell to replace "Truly Terrifying" with "Cozy Mystery* because I never read true crime. I understand why people do but I can never rid myself of a sense of voyeurism. The one exception might be the recent book, focusing on the lives of the women Jack The Ripper killed but, even then, I dislike the continued fame of the Ripper.


"Real Murders" was my last-ditch attempt at a Cozy Mystery after my first two DNFd.


It's about the murder of a member of the Real Murder Club, who meet once a month to talk about true crimes.


It starts with what seems to be a copycat murder of one of the group.


I'm three chapters in and it seems to me that Harris is challenging the ethics of True Crime buffs. I think she's also challenging the idea of *Cozy* mystery, even while writing one. She's suggesting that the process of treating killing someone as the starting point for a puzzle serves to desensitise us to the reality of murder.


Here's what's going through the mind of the narrator, who has discovered the body and called the police.



I knew he was about to tell Gerald that his wife was dead, and I found myself wondering how Gerald would take it. Then I was ashamed. At moments I understood in decent human terms what had happened to a woman I knew, and at moments I seemed to be thinking of Mamie’s death as one of our club’s study cases.


This is followed by a police interview where the detective's disgust at the idea of a Real Murder Club is very clear.


I'm looking forward to seeing what Harris does with this. I'm hoping she continues to deliver a cozy mystery while undermining its basis.



Reading progress update: I've read 11%.
Real Murders (Aurora Teagarden Book 1) - Charlaine Harris


This is my third attempt at a book for this square. I'm hoping Charleine Harris will at least get me all the way through the book.


One odd thing is that I used a Transfiguration spell to turn Truly Horrible into Cozy Mystery and then the cozy mystery turns out to be about a group studying True Crime books.

Reading progress update: I've read 8%.
The Awkward Squad - Sophie Hénaff, Sam Gordon


"The Awkward Squad" is the English translation of *Poulet Grillés", which has a slightly more pejorative feel to it than "The Awkward Squad". It won a couple of prizes when it was released in 2015 and the series of books that followed have been popular.


I'm intrigued by the peculiarly French premise of the book: dumping all the failed but unsackable people and all the unsolved cases into one squad so the other squads' stats will look better. There's no expectation that the squad members will turn up never mind solve a case. It's the perfect set up for dry humour, crazy characters and a bit of suspense.


I think this is a good fit for International Woman Of Mystery and I'm hoping it will give me a smile or two.

5 Stars
"Gaudy Night - Lord Peter Wimsey #12" by Dorothy Sayers - Highly Recommended
Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey #12) - Dorothy L. Sayers


"Gaudy Night" is a beautifully written exploration of the importance and difficulty of personal choice, of the nature and relevance of academic life, of the possibility of finding love and the difficulty of deserving it, wrapped up in a mystery set in an all-female Oxford College in 1935.



I'd been told, repeatedly, that this was a wonderful book. I took it on faith, as I had abandoned the first Peter Wimsey book "Whose Body?" because it seemed to me to be a chaotic farce.


I was in the book's thrall before the end of the first chapter. In a few pages I'd already decided that I liked Harriet Vane and wanted to spend time in her company and that I admired Dorothy Sayers' skill in creating empathy for and engagement with an introspective intellectual woman working her way through emotions that she's trying to hold at arms-length.


Dorothy Sayers did so much with so few words. I hadn't read the two Harriet Vane books that preceded "Gaudy Night" yet, within a few pages, I learned a lot about Harriet: her history, her character, her mode of thought. She was already real to me.


What caught me by surprise is the emotional impact. 


I left my university thirty years ago. I've never been back. I never will go back. I'm not who I was then and he wouldn't recognise who I am now.


Sayers captured this sense of visiting a previous self, one untested and less well-formed than the self you currently inhabit and the anxiety it produces, perfectly.


Harriet Vane thinks:


It was all so long ago; so closely encompassed and complete; so cut off as by swords from the bitter years that lay between. Could one face it now?


"Closely encompassed and complete." I like that. It's an illusion in one way of course but it's a sentiment that strongly persists for me.


Even on her way to Oxford, Harriet'sanxiety persists. She's glad to be driving to Oxford in her own little car rather than entering by train as her undergraduate self always had and she's glad that:


For a few hours longer she could ignore the whimpering ghost of her dead youth and tell herself that she was a stranger and a sojourner, a well-to-do woman with a position in the world.


This seemed real to me, this telling ourselves stories of who we are and who we've been so that we can cope with what's to come.


I also liked the moments where, as the reader, I was left to draw my own conclusions. When Harriet opens a long-closed chest in the attic and retrieves her academic gown, she finds it in good order:


Only the flat cap showed a little touch of the moth’s tooth. As she beat the loose fluff from it, a tortoise-shell butterfly, disturbed from its hibernation beneath the flap of the trunk-lid, fluttered out into the brightness of the window, where it was caught and held by a cobweb.


That's a wonderfully gentle way to introduce foreboding that shows Sayers' lightness of touch and clarity of imagination.


I was also surprised that this book was written in 1935.  Based on the handed-down version of period dramas and television stereotypes, Harriet Vane seemed a remarkably strong and independent character, especially when written by a woman of a similar background. Clearly my perceptions need to be adjusted if this was contemporary popular literature.


The central mystery of the book involves discovering the identity sf the person who is making repeated attempts to sabotage the reputation of the all-female Oxford college, the individual members of the Senior Common Room and some of the students.


The attacks are vicious, spiteful and well-executed. They seem to be the product hatred, perhaps the darkest of passions, and it seems likely that the culprit is a member of the Senior Common Room.


Harriet is asked to come and live and work at her old college while discretely but with the full knowledge of senior staff, to investigate the acts of sabotage.


Harriet, five years after having been put on trial for her life for a murder she didn't commit, has built a life for herself as a writer of mysteries. She has a genuine passion for writing but she feels the need for something more.


Harriet has reached a point where she understands she must make a choice. At one point, when talking to a student, she says:


I’m sure one should do one’s own job, however trivial, and not persuade one’s self into doing somebody else’s, however noble.”


Harriet also recognises how hard it is to make the right choice. Talking to a Don at her college Harriet asks:


“But one has to make some sort of choice,” said Harriet. “And between one desire and another, how is one to know which things are really of overmastering importance?”

“We can only know that,” said Miss de Vine, “when they have overmastered us.”


The idea that having the self-awareness and discipline to choose how to live your life to follow your desire is necessary to find fulfilment but that real happiness can only be achieved by opening yourself up to a desire and allowing it to overwhelm you, is central to this book.


Harriet values her intellect and her control over her own life. She is self-aware and tries not to lie to herself. She wants to avoid harming herself or those around her. This makes it difficult for her to surrender to passion. I imagine that letting oneself be overwhelmed must feel a little like drowning to a woman like Harriet Vane. It takes courage not to keep your head below the water.


The mystery at her old college allows Harriet to hear the call of two of her passions: the lure of the academic life where she can excel at something that has more meaning to her than writing the fiction with which she makes her living, and the opportunity to deepen her understanding of Peter Wimsey, by getting to see him in different context, so that she can decide what to do about this man who regularly offers to marry her and will continue to do so until she tells him to stop.


For a while, Harriet lets herself fall back in love with the all-female academic life and the peace it offers. She sees it as:


"a Holy War, and that whole wildly heterogeneous, that even slightly absurd collection of chattering women fused into a corporate unity with one another and with every man and woman to whom integrity of mind meant more than material gain—defenders in the central keep of Man-soul, their personal differences forgotten in face of a common foe. To be true to one’s calling, whatever follies one might commit in one’s emotional life, that was the way to spiritual peace."


She also recognises that academic life could be an opportunity to make herself immune to the interference of men. As Miss Hilyard, one of the Dons, puts it, men:


"have an admirable talent for imposing their point of view on society in general. All women are sensitive to male criticism. Men are not sensitive to female criticism. They despise the critics.”


While Harriet can imagine choosing the academic life, she also recognises its distance from day to day life. As one of the few non-academic women says to the Dons:


None of you care in the least for my interests, and yours all seem to me to be mere beating the air. You don’t seem to have anything to do with real life. You are going about in a dream.” She stopped speaking, and her angry voice softened. “But it’s a beautiful dream in its way.


It seemed to me that Harriet sees the world too clearly and is too honest with herself to be content with "a beautiful dream".


It's also clear that Harriet's attraction to men and to Peter Wimsey in particular, is real and may not easily be ignored. At one point, as Harriet lets Peter Wimsey occupy her thoughts, she reproachfully tells herself:


“This won’t do,” said Harriet. “This really will not do. My sub-conscious has a most treacherous imagination.”


Harriet gains an admirer young male admirer during her stay at college in the form of the charmingly inexperienced Mr. Pomfret. This is her reaction when Pomfret asks her to spend some time with him:


Harriet was opening her mouth to say No, when she looked at Mr. Pomfret, and her heart softened. He had the appeal of a very young dog of a very large breed—a kind of amiable absurdity.


She is kind to Pomfrrz but sees mostly his youth, and in his youth, her own age. This provides a context for her consideration of what to do about Lord Peter Wimsey.


She feels unable to move forward with him because she owes him her life and she fears that there can be no equal partnership when one person is so indebted to the other.


I loved the way Wimesy is depicted in "Gaudy Night". He is mostly physically absent. When he is present, he does not dominate, nor does he seek to replace Harriet's judgment on the mystery with his own. He is attentive and supportive but he doesn't crowd her.


Harriet is given the opportunity to see Peter through the eyes of others and discovers him to be a valued scholar in the eyes of the academics and a revered officer in the eyes of the college Porter, who served under Wimesy in the trenches. She sees him through the eyes of his heir-to-a-major-fortune-one-day nephew, who views his uncle with affection and respect.


Although *Gaudy Night" is a mystery story, it seems to me that it is also something much rarer, at least in fiction: a romance between two intellectual, introverted, independent, habitually rational people, with all the challenges and opportunities that that implies.


I was delighted with it. I want to spend more time with Harriet and Peter so I'll be reading my way through the sub-series.


One thing that did disappoint me was the poor proofing of this particular ebook (ASIN B00R1T46K8). It has dozens of typos, presumably OCR errors, that should have been found and corrected. I think this is disrespectful to the text and to the reader.



Reading progress update: I've read 41%. - I'm abandoning this
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches  - Alan Bradley

This book is creeping me out in all the wrong ways. This is my 6th Flavia De Luce book. I enjoyed the first five. This one changes the direction of the series, which is fine, but it also changes the character of Flavia De Luce, which isn't.


I'd expected a cozy mystery. Something where eleven-year-old Flavia uses her unique intelligence and her knowledge of poisons to solve a murder while trying to find a place to be happy in her fractured family.


What I got is an eleven-year-old girl planning to resurrect the very dead mother who is lying in state in their stately home.


I also got some kind of bizarre spy theme squeezed in, presumably to fuel future books.


I find the plot around the mother creepy. I don't want to work through whatever embarrassing or grief provoking outcome it's going to produce.


The spy thing doesn't interest me. Flavia as a 1950s English version of Spy Kids doesn't sound appealing.


So I'm abandoning the book and the series.


My bingo game is going to suffer for this. I used a Transfiguration Spell to put Cozy Mystery on my board and now I've DNF'd two books in a row that I was reading for that square.


I'm going to try "Real Murders", the first Aurora Teagarden book and see if I can make it all the way through that. 

Reading progress update: I've read 35%.- this is not what I expected
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches  - Alan Bradley


This is my sixth Flavia de Luce book and something is off about it.


I've always liked Flavia but this time she seems not to be entirely herself.


Of course, her dead mother's body has just been returned to the family and is lying in state in the Hall, so eleven-year-old Flavia could be forgiven for being more emotional than usual but she seems to be surrendering science to magic, I never thought I would hear Flavia say something as stupid as:


"It was a brilliant idea, and because it was scientific, it simply could not fail."


I'm a little concerned with where this book is going. At the moment, the mystery doesn't seem that cozy.


Reading progress update: I've read 11%.
Fledgling - Molly Harper


I enjoyed Changeling, the first book in this series. Now I'm interested to see what Molly Harper does with the world she's created.

4 Stars
"The Taking Of Annie Thorne" by C. J. Tudor
The Taking of Annie Thorne - C.J. Tudor



Towards the end of "The Taking Of Annie Thorne", Joe Thorne says:

The past isn't real.

It's just a story we tell ourselves.

And sometimes, we lie.

I think that quote sets the tone for this grim, dark, violent, oppressive book about a man who, lost in his addictions and his guilt, has learnt to despise himself. A man who no longer seeks redemption, just revenge and, if possible, survival.


Joe Thorne is the heart of the book. He is the narrator and his world view stains the whole story like sweat on dirty sheets.


Joe is a teacher, but don't let that fool you. He's also a drunk, a gambler, and an habitual liar. His past has, quite literally crippled him. He's a man filled with guilt, anger and self-loathing.


I didn't find him an easy man to be with but I did find him very believable. In him I could see my worst self: the man who holds grudges, nurtures anger, knows what he should do and then doesn't do it. The man who reacts to confrontations with aggression, even when he knows it will earn him a good kicking.


Fortunately, I don't share his addictions, his tragic history or his isolation but he resonated with me more than I would have liked him to, especially when his reflections on life mirrored my thoughts. Here's an example:

There's a line people spout, usually people who want to sound sage and wise, about wherever you travel, you can never escape yourself.

That's bullshit.

Get far enough away from the relationships that bind you, the people who define you, the familiar landscapes and routines that tether you to an identity and you can easily escape yourself. For a while at least. Self is only a construct. You can dismantle it, reconstruct it, pimp up a new you.

As long as you never go back.

Then, that new you falls away like the Emperor's new clothes, leaving you naked and exposed with all your ugly flaws and mistakes revealed for the world to see.


"If newspapers are the place where facts become stories, the internet is the place where stories become conspiracy theories."

Joe Thorne's world is unrelentingly grim. Here's his reflection on the real meaning of the phrase "Time Heals All"

"Time doesn't mend a broken heart, it just grinds the pieces into dust."

There's more to "The Taking Of Annie Thorne" than a grim narrator with a flair for spitting out sharp-edged truisms. It has two other things that make it into an above-average thriller: a clever structure and a core idea that doesn't disappoint.


The book got my full attention by opening with an atrocity and then flipping, with no immediately obvious link, to Tom Thorne's first-person, narrative about journeying back to his childhood home.


For a while, the focus is on understanding who Joe is and why he holds himself and everyone else in such contempt. Then we get the first suggestions that this is a narrative that is going to go beyond the ordinary. Dark hints get added to the self-hate. A second timeline, twenty-five years earlier is opened up. The sense of foreboding rises.


At this point, some thrillers/horror stories fall apart. The big bad turns out not to be particularly big of bad and we slip slowly into an anti-climatic happy ending. "The Taking Of Annie Thorne" doesn't do that. The big bad doesn't disappoint. And when you finally know for certain where all the dark hints were taking you, the book moves into a dramatic end-game that is full of twists that surprised me but never left me feeling cheated.


I recommend the audiobook. Richard Armitage's narration is first-rate. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.


currently reading

Progress: 25%
Progress: 26/246pages
Progress: 61%
Bird Box - Josh Malerman