Sunday Salon | 26 January

It has been very grey and murky in SW London for the past wee while which is ideal weather for reading and not actually that bad for going on a walk. This week has been a bit of both for me.

January so far has been a good reading month; I’m ahead of my Goodreads target (not something I bother about too much but it’s nice to know). Reviews will follow for some of these but I thought I’d capture here one that I enjoyed very much.

Beast by Matt Wesolowski

Elusive online journalist Scott King examines the chilling case of a young vlogger found frozen to death in the ‘legendary vampire’ tower in another explosive episode of Six Stories

I love the Six Stories series; I enjoy the mix of podcast transcript and background notes with a nice bit of foreshadowing (as often happens in real-life podcasts). At the end of the third volume, I really thought that there weren’t going to be any more – it felt like the revelation at the end of that story provided an element of closure. So I was thrilled to see Beast pop up when I was looking for something else, and of course I had to buy it.

And it’s a really good story. Elizabeth Barton is a vlogger who has built up a large following in her small town in Northumberland (and further afield). She was found dead at a local landmark after taking part in a challenge and three young men were convicted of causing her death.

But someone is trying to throw a spotlight on the case by asking “who locked Elizabeth in the tower”? In looking into the story Scott finds that there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Of course.

The manipulation of followers and participants along with the curated nature of (some) vloggers’ output is brought to the fore here, and as well as Elizabeth’s individual story there’s a lot for us to think about in terms of how far we should believe what we see.

It’s a really good story and I hope there will be more.


This last week we have also been on an outing to Osterley House and gardens, part of the National Trust but once owned by a large banking family. The house is closed at the moment but there is an exhibition of treasures including a famous work portraying Saint Agatha by Dolci. It’s a luminous work but Agatha’s story is beyond grim and possibly should have a content warning.


It was this blog’s birthday this past week, and this coming week is my actual real-life birthday at the end of the month, actually on Brexit Day (boo hiss). My way of coping with this is to assume that anyone daft enough to celebrate our exit from the European Union is actually commemorating my special day.

Hope you all have a wonderful reading week, with apologies for the rambles. I’ll see you in my next post!

December Books | Impulse Buys

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

It is a fact that I am not supposed to buy books in December because gifts, but as we share wishlists I know the range from where my presents will be drawn.

That’s a complicated way of saying that if a title wasn’t on my wish list it was fair game. Here we go.

The Pre-Orders

  • Beast by Matt Wesolowski – because I love the Six Stories series and the podcast format makes for compelling reading
  • Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer – because any new book by this author is a must-buy for me

The True Crime

  • American Predator by Maureen Callahan – if you’ve seen my earlier post you will know that I have already read this, and will be looking into this awful serial killer more in 2020
  • Dark Dreams by Roy Hazelwood – Sexual Violence, Homicide and the Criminal Mind because who doesn’t want some light reading…
  • The Forest City Killer by Vanessa Brown – I heard an interview with the author on a recent podcast and had to find out more about this Canadian case

The Other Non-Fiction

  • The Pulse Glass by Gillian Tindall – a personal and global history in objects; I love this sort of thing
  • Good Morning, Good Life by Amy Schmittauer Landino – I follow Amy’s YouTube channel but bought the book specifically for an online book club read; I’m already behind…..

The Fiction

  • Intensity by Dean Koontz – I don’t think I’ve ever read any Koontz; this is serial killer rather than horror
  • Gallows Court by Martin Edwards – murder in 1930’s London, the first in the Rachel Savernake series
  • We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory – Harrison is the Monster Detective, a storybook hero. What happens when he and others like him join a support group? 

That should keep me busy for a while 😀

Sunday Salon | Books Read

Hope everyone had a fabulous holiday season. In getting ready for 2020 I thought I would write up some short reviews of (most of) the books I’ve read recently. All links are to Goodreads btw.

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Ghoster by Jason Arnopp

I shall declare an interest here as I am one of Jason’s supporters on Patreon so obviously think he is a top bloke. Ghoster is the first full length novel by Jason that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it, although as an Old I had to look up what ghosting actually meant – you, young reader, are probably way ahead of me. Kate has met Scott, fallen in love and is driving to another city to move in with him. She’s given up her flat, transferred to another employer (she’s a paramedic) and is well on her way to future happiness when she realises that she can’t contact Scott. At all. And when she gets to his place it is empty and he isn’t there. But his phone is……

I spent a lot of time during this creepy book inwardly yelling to Kate not to do the thing that she was about to do, but of course it wouldn’t be a horror novel if the protagonist was sensible so it is only to be expected that things do not go well. Great fun.

Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore by Terry Newman

With an iconic image of Joan Didion on the cover and a blurb that stated I would find out about the “signature sartorial and literary style of fifty men and women of letters” thus combining two of my favourite things – fashion & books – it was obvious that I would get this.

It’s quite a slight volume and doesn’t entirely deliver on the sartorial stuff – not enough detail about what they actually wore for my taste – but there were enough tidbits to satify my curiosity.

That Virginia Woolf worried about bad hat days is also a comforting fact for the dedicated reader and follower of style.

American Predator by Maureen Callahan

I’m not sure exactly where I came across the name of Israel Keyes. It must have been one of the true crime podcasts that I listen to (yes, more than one, don’t jusge me) but I can’t for the life of me remember which one. However I found out about him, I was immediately fascinated by how this man could have carried out so many awful deeds without anyone knowing about it. The subtitle of the book says it all:

The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century

He is of course a deeply disturbing and horrible figure who killed all over the USA during a period of fourteen years, burying kill kits for future use, many of which have never been found. This book focusses mainly on the somewhat flawed investigation into his crimes, and I will be following it up by listening to yet another podcast – True Crime Bullshit – which is only about Keyes.

An American Story by Christopher Priest

This is a very well-written novel with a sympathetic (mostly) protagonist and one of the most momentous events of the past few decades in the shape of the 9/11 attacks as context. Ben is a freelance journalist whose then girlfriend died in the attack on the Pentagon; she wasn’t supposed to be on the plane that crashed into the building and like many others her remains were never found, so Ben begins to wonder if she ever really died and if she did whether the accepted story told the whole truth.

There are too many of these inconsistencies to be ignored. At every step of the 9/11 story there is doubt, or there are unanswered questions, or simple logical gaps.

If you concentrate on this story being about loss and in particular the pain experienced when no body is recovered, so there is no certainty and no resting place where one can grieve and find solace, then this is a powerful novel. The 9/11 conspiracy theories work for that reason and that reason only but I still find them very disturbing.

The Only Plane in the Sky by Garrett Graff

[..] in The Only Plane in the Sky, award-winning journalist and bestselling historian Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, recently declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members, Graff paints the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet.

An incredibly moving companion piece to Priest’s novel, it covers the events of that day from a wide range of sources. Extraordinarily sad, powerful reading.

Chase Darkness With Me by Billy Jensen

More true crime (sorry, not sorry) this time from the perspective of a journalist who stopped writing about crime and started trying to solve cold cases as a citizen detective. It is a fascinating book, and you can follow Billy’s work alongside his co-host Paul Holes on their podcast Murder Squad. A must-read for all Murderinos, though if you are a Murderino you’ve almost certainly read this already.

Review Catch-Up | Movies

All of these deserved individual posts but I’m superstitious and don’t want 2019 reviews to wander into 2020. It’s a thing.

Doctor Sleep

My thoughts on the Kubrick film of The Shining have been aired here before (in short, it’s a good Kubrick film, but not a great King adaptation) and I read Doctor Sleep when it came out (you can find a review of it here) and I was therefore a bit wary of what I was going to see, given that director was trying to remain faithful to both. I needn’t have worried, this was a really good film with excellent performances (especially Ewan MacGregor). Not really a horror film IMHO but creepy and absorbing and will become a favourite I’m sure.

Directed by Mike Flanagan, 2h 31 minutes long and rated 15 for strong bloody violence, gore, horror, threat and language. All boxes ticked.

Knives Out

As you will know from my book reviews I love a good crime novel and also enjoy crime movies if they are done well. I was excited for Knives Out given the premise and the amazing cast and again was not disappointed. Daniel Craig was in his element, excellent use was made of Chris Evans (and his sweater) and of course Christopher Plummer was wonderful as always – he has been one of my favourite actors for many years and I love seeing him on the big screen. It’s definitely best if you know as little as possible about this film before you see it so I will say no more other than it is thoroughy recommended.

Directed by Rian Johnson, 2h 10 minutes long and rated 12A for brief bloody images, moderate sex and suicide references, strong language

The Irishman

I’m ambivalent about gangster films and their tendency to make heroes out of criminals, even if that’s not intentional, but The Irishman was getting great reviews and the Book God was very keen to see it so we settled down to watch it on our re-established Saturday Night is Film Night – something we used to do fairly regularly but lost impetus because of excellent TV options. Anyway, this was 3.5 hours long and my heart sank a tiny bit but as soon as elderly Robert De Niro started talking I became transfixed and happily watched the whole thing. Of course it’s morally dubious and Al Pacino presents a master class in scenery chewing, and the female characters are all woefully underused, but it was beautfully made and I enjoyed it very much.

Directed by Martin Scorsese becuase of course it was, like I said it was 3h 29 minutes long and rated 15 for strong violence and language

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Well. I’m not going to say a huge amount about this here because everyone else is talking about it and I actually want to see it again before I go into any detail (avoiding spoilers as always of course) BUT subject to my disappointment at the lack of Rose Tico and the wasted opportunity that was Finn & Poe not being the couple we know they should have been, and the reminder that Carrie Fisher is no longer with us, I really really enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. It’s not perfect but it is very satisfying.

Directed by JJ Abrams (self descibed as not good at endings), Episode IX is 2h 22 minutes long and rated 12A for moderate violence, threat

Have you seen any (or all) of the above? What did you think?

December Books | Gifts

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

All of my presents this year were books. This is a very good thing.

The Mansion by Ezekiel Boone – it’s a house with a flawed and, let’s face it, potentially evil and certainly dangerous artificial intelligence which controls all of the stuff.

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum – subtitled Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, speaks to my interests.

Occult Paris by Tobias Churton – The Lost Magic of the Belle Époque, according to the blurb this features Theosophists, Rosicrucians, Martinists, Freemasons, Gnostics, and neo-Cathars.

The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion – does what it says on the cover; this book is beautiful and has me wanting to watch the TV series all over again.

The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott – The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder That Shocked Jazz-Age America; more true crime in the 1920s.

The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelly – all about HMQ and the work that goes into dressing her for the wide range of events she attends, written (with permission, no scandal here) by her long-time adviser and curator. Irresistible.

The Hotel Years by Joseph Roth – a selection of articles from the 20s and 30s when Roth travelled around central Europe living in hotels and writing about the places he visited.

Twilight of Empire by Greg King & Penny Wilson – all about Mayerling and the suicide pact (or was it?) between Crown Prince Rudolf and his young mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera; this tragic event has led to an excellent ballet and a lot of conspiracy theories.

Scottish Queens 1034-1714 by Rosalind K Marshall – the lives of Scottish Queens, whether reigning in their own right or as consorts, aren’t often discussed in the way that they should be, so this will be interesting. Will Lady MacBeth feature I wonder…..

The Golden Thread by Kassia St Clair – using the story of varieties of cloth to illuminate history; I’ve already dipped into this and it is going to be fascinating.

All of the above were from the Book God, and from my Brother Who Is Not on Social Media I received

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – an oral history of a fictional 1970s rock band, this has been on my list for ages and glad I have it in my hands at last.

What books did you get for Christmas?

October Round-up | Books read

I was reasonably pleased with my reading in October, especially as I had a couple of mini-reading slumps. The issue for me at the moment seems to be that I get about a quarter of the way into a book then no matter how much I am enjoying it I kind of stop. See if you can spot a pattern….

Pandemic * Sonia Shah [10 October]

More than three hundred infectious diseases have emerged or reemerged in new territory during the past fifty years, and ninety per cent of epidemiologists expect that one of them will cause a disruptive, deadly pandemic sometime in the next two generations.

Recommended by the ladies of This Podcast Will Kill You (a must-listen if you are at all interested in diseases etc.), this uses cholera as an example of how pandemics start and spread as the basis for theorising about how any future pandemic might behave. Fascinating and a bit scary, especially when the author talks about how groups are scapegoated when disease breaks out.

The Year of Learning Dangerously * Quinn Cummings [20 October]

I have said here before that I am a great admirer of Quinn and support her through Patreon so that she can tell small stories through Twitter. Anyway, this is the second of her three books that I have picked up, and it is all about home-schooling her daughter. A mixture of personal experience and the history of the home-schooling movement, I found it fascinating and hilarious.

A Long Cold Winter * Max Gladstone & Lindsay Smith [20 October]

When I bought this I knew it was a short story but wasn’t paying enough attention at the time to notice that it was, in fact, the first part of a serial called The Witch Who Came in from the Cold written by multiple authors. So I treated this a taster and enjoyed it very much. I didn’t realise that I needed Cold War magical spycraft in easter Europe quite so much, but apparently, I do.

The Luminous Dead * Caitlin Starling [21 October]

a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

Less of a horror story than I expected, more of a creepy character study. I probably shouldn’t have read this in the wee small hours while in the throes of insomnia. It was totally worth it, but not for anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. Trust me.

The Twilight Pariah * Jeffrey Ford [22 October]

All Maggie, Russell, and Henry wanted out of their last college vacation was to get drunk and play archaeologist in an old house in the woods outside of town.

Another short read, this was definitely a horror story. They probably shouldn’t have removed that thing from the trench they dug because of course there were Consequences. Really liked this but the end just sort of happened; the story concluded but it looked like there was going to be more. Which I would have welcomed.

Longer * Michael Blumlein [24 October]

Gunjita and Cav are in orbit. R&D scientists for pharmaceutical giant Gleem Galactic, they are wealthy enough to participate in rejuvenation: rebooting themselves from old age to jump their bodies back to their twenties. You get two chances. There can never be a third. After Gunjita has juved for the second and final time and Cav has not, questions of life, death, morality, and test their relationship. Up among the stars, the research possibilities are infinite and first contact is possible, but their marriage may not survive the challenge.

Not sure the payoff worked but there were enough thought-provoking ideas along the way to make it worth reading. I just wanted a bit more.

Sunday Salon | 18 August (for real this time!)

I can’t decide whether no-one noticed that I got the date wrong last time or if everyone was just being polite.

Anyway, here we are on the genuine, accept no imitations Sunday 18 August 2019 for my weekly round-up. It will be a short one this week because….

  • my brain is mush after writing my mega-movie round up which I published yesterday;
  • I still haven’t finished any of the books I’m reading;
  • my current reading list hasn’t really changed since my last post;
  • I haven’t been anywhere interesting, working on stuff at home instead; and
  • I only bought two new books, both pre-orders; more about them later

But you will have realised from the picture accompanying this post that we did go and see the new Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I really liked it and will be reviewing it shortly; it has got me running down Manson-related rabbit holes the contents of which I will no doubt talk about here in due course.

As for the new books ….

  • Chase Darkness With Me * Billy Jensen – the memoir by the journalist and true crime podcaster about his career and involvement in solving cold cases. He finished Michelle McNamara’s book on the Golden State Killer after her sudden death, and manages to be absolutely serious and very entertaining all at once. I’m really looking forward to reading this on as I’m a regular listener to Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad
  • Dahlia Black * Keith Thomas – ” … a suspenseful oral history commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Pulse—the alien code that hacked the DNA of Earth’s population—and the response team who faced the world-changing phenomenon.” They had me at “for fans of World War Z” 🙂

And that’s it. I have a few pre-orders being delivered next week and a couple of outings planned so should have more to talk about. Have a great reading week!