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Rachel Hyland Posts

READING THE TBR, DAY 299: The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood (1987) by Eva Ibbotson

Another Eva Ibbotson triumph, though this one is rather more outlandish than the others I have read thus far.  Because there are ghosts in this one, and everyone is cool with there being ghosts, and moreover — spoiler alert for a thirty-year-old kids’ book — at the end, the ghosts become celebrities.

I mean, sure. Okay.

Despite this nonsensicalness, however, I really enjoyed this book. Even if a twelve-year-old Scottish laird is permitted to sell his ancestral castle to an American millionaire. Even if said twelve-year-old then moves in with the American millionaire and his allegedly frail daughter once the castle is transported across the Atlantic. Even if there is a kidnapping subplot enacted by a woman so enamoured of Hitler that she renames herself “Adolpha.”

Even if there are ghosts and everyone is cool with there being ghosts.

It takes a singular talent to make a story of such silliness enjoyable to the adult brain (or, such I have the audacity to claim). But, as has been amply proven to me repeatedly this year, Eva Ibbotson had just such a talent. 

I am just sorry it took me so long to discover it for myself.


TBR DAY 299: The Haunting of Hiram C. Hopgood, aka The Haunting of Hiram by Eva Ibbotson
GENRE: Children’s Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~13 years.  
KEEP: Yep!

READING THE TBR, DAY 298: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010) by Charles Yu

Surreal is the only word that can be applied to this mind-twisty, somewhat headache-inducing novel, which I bought long, long ago upon the recommendation of the Amazon algorithm that has, to date, found me most amenable to most of its suggestions of books I might like.

Once again, Amazon proves how well it knows me — even back then — because I liked this book a lot.

Especially when I understood it.  Which was… not always.

Because time travel. Ugh.

Our protagonist is also our author, Charles Yu, who is well-versed in the vagaries of said time travel, and the trappings thereof, with which his corner of the multiverse is well supplied. Yu’s father actually invented time travel, then disappeared, and it is the search for this visionary that takes up much of the narrative. But there is so much more going on here. There is profundity, and humour, and a deep understanding of the genre as a whole.

It’s an incredibly impressive work.

And I did like it a lot.

But now my head hurts.

Because time travel. Ugh.


TBR DAY 298: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
GENRE: Science Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~8 years.  
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 297: God is Not Great (2007) by Christopher Hitchens

In this somewhat strident effort, celebrated athiest Christopher Hitchens argues — very persuasively, very successfully — that humanity has outgrown religion in these science-blessed times, and in fact that religion is far more harmful than it is helpful nowadays.

Hitchens is very much preaching to the choir (if he will forgive the church-based metaphor) in this one, but even I found myself more and more convinced of his point the further the book went on. I don’t know how it would play with anyone who was fundamentally opposed to the idea at the outset — or, indeed, with anyone who is a fundamentalist of any sort — but I like to think that the logical, if occasionally extreme, force of his argument might at least arouse the occasional question in the minds of even the most devout.

Because he just makes so much sense.

And religion… just doesn’t, does it?


TBR DAY 297: God is Not Great: The Case Against Religion by Christopher Hitchens
GENRE: Philosophy, Non-Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~10 years.  
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 296: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (2019) by Theodora Goss

A third day in a row spent with the extraordinary ladies of the Athena Club was very well spent, as Mary Jekyll and her unlikely associates battle once again against the dastardly doings of the world-spanning alchemist conspiracy, while also trying to discover the whereabouts of Sherlock Holmes — in whom our Mary is increasingly interested, despite herself — missing these several days.

Also missing is Alice, the Club’s beloved housemaid, and it turns out that, just like her employers, young Alice also has a genetic heritage of strangeness, for which she is much coveted by certain elements of ruthless Victorian villainy.

It’s all a bit silly, at times, especially the levels of coincidence that are required to make most of the plot work, but it is entertaining nevertheless, and the ladies’ usual interpolations to the writing of the novel are made even more humorous by scribe Catherine Moreau’s increasingly self-promotion-y advertisements throughout the text.

I do hope this won’t be the last outing for the Athena Club. And in the meantime, I have discovered that Theodora Goss has several other books in her backlist, which I have already bought. Because, it seems, far from clearing books from my TBR with this daily reading lark, I am actually adding to my TBR far more frequently that I would have thought possible.


But also: yay!


TBR DAY 296: The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #3) by Theodora Goss
GENRE: Steampunk
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 weeks!  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 295: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (2018) by Theodora Goss

The next adventure of the newly-formed Athena Club, a group of literature-adjacent young women variously experimented on or deeply affected by said experiments, sees them travel to Europe to rescue the kidnapped Lucy Van Helsing.

They make some new friends, uncover more details of the evil world-spanning conspiracy that continues to shape all of their lives, and bond ever more over their terrible parents and shared differences.

It’s great. Not as great as the first installment, since that one came as such a fun surprise half of the fun of it was just discovering one literary allusion after another. But great, nonetheless.

So great, I am going immediately onto the next — and possibly last — one.


TBR DAY 295: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #2) by Theodora Goss
GENRE: Steampunk
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 294: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (2017) by Theodora Goss

With the third book in this series just released, I at last decided to read the trilogy, the first two of which I bought on a whim because the title of this one just would not be denied.

It is told in rather scattershot fashion, in a kind of meta way, in which the characters of the story oversee the story’s construction by one of their number.

It makes sense when you read it. 

The alchemist’s daughter of the title is one Miss Mary Jekyll, who is left almost penniless upon the death of her secretive father. As she begins to investigate Dr. Jekyll’s mysterious death, and life, however, Mary comes into contact with the fractious Diana Hyde and three other young women with somewhat unnatural origins — Catherine Moreau, Beatrice Rappacini and Justine Frankenstein — and they uncover a sinister plot by pseudo-scientists of the Victorian era who aim to rule the world.

Throw in a suave appearance by ace detective Sherlock Holmes (whom the ever-upright Mary finds strangely attractive), and this book becomes a thorough delight of fantastical imagining — and reimagining — that is a pure delight. 

Onwards to the sequel immediately go I!


TBR DAY 294: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #1) by Theodora Goss
GENRE: Steampunk
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 293: The Body (2019) by Bill Bryson

The inimitable Bill Bryson’s amiable, often incisive, travel narratives are among my very most beloved books ever, and I love his explorations of the English language, Shakespeare and the like, but his impeccably researched popular science works — first, A Short History of Nearly Everything, then At Home, and now this one — are, quite simply, works of staggering genius.

This one is somewhat squickier than his earlier scholarly tomes, because the human body itself is squickier, of course, but it is nevertheless fascinating, as Bryson not only details the various parts and functions of our biology but also honours those who have examined it so thoroughly and dedicatedly (and, at times, unethically) throughout the millennia.

It is fantastic.

Read it.


TBR DAY 293: The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Popular Science
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 month.  
KEEP: Of course.

READING THE TBR, DAY 292: The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole

Famous as the world’s first example of Gothic literature, this book is confusing in that it seems to be a satire of Gothic literature. Can one really satirize a thing as one simultaneously creates it? 

Apparently, yes.

Ostensibly a translation of an earlier Italian work (it isn’t, and reminds me of The Princess Bride in that regard), this florid, melodramatic tale of evil noblemen, self-sacrificing noblewomen, — except for Isabella; you go, Isabella! — pert maids and the occasional handsome hero is far more entertaining than I’d thought it would be, given a) its provenance, b) its age, c) its reputation, and d) this terrible cover.

The reason I bought it in the first place was that it is the kind of book read by heroines populating the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, but in many ways this book relates far more to the authors than their creations. From the Gothic parody that is Austen’s Northanger Abbey to the fact that Heyer also created a literary genre, I appreciated this work as much for the connections to those two favourites of mine as I did on its own merits.

But merits it does indeed have, even if the language is sometimes very dense, the characters even denser, and the horror factor is so mild that even I could handle it. (I am not very good with horror.) But for audiences at the time, this book was a revelation, and spurred an interest in the macabre and the thrilling that lasts until this day.

For that alone, The Castle of Otranto deserves to be read, and admired, and appreciated for many more centuries to come.


TBR DAY 292: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
GENRE: Gothic Fiction, Classic Literature
TIME ON THE TBR: ~15 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Hatchard’s Booksellers, Picadilly.
KEEP: Of course.

READING THE TBR, DAY 291: Sad Cypress (1940) by Agatha Christie

Well, this is yet another intriguing entry into the Poirot canon. A wealthy old lady dies on the brink of making a new will (because, duh), then a young woman close to her is poisoned, and the old lady’s niece is arrested for both deaths.

Unusually, this one spends more than a little time in a courtroom, which gives the tale an enjoyable Law and Order vibe. I actually figured out the murderer here, which I wish I could say was due to my general and abiding genius but I am afraid is more likely just because the plotting wasn’t quite as skillful as it usually is.

Nevertheless, this is yet another stellar installment in this continuing delight of a mystery series.

Well, except for all the people who get murdered, of course. That part is less a delight, obviously. 


TBR DAY 291: Sad Cypress (Poirot #21) by Agatha Christie
GENRE: Mystery, Cosy Mystery, Poirot
TIME ON THE TBR: ~6 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Vintage shop.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 290: Cyril and the Dinner Party (1986) by Michael Palin

Michael Palin is, of course, a comedy god, a fact proven again and again not only through his Monty Python hijinks but his travel narratives, and much more. But does he have skill with kids’ books?

Er. No.

Cyril is a little boy who one day discovers that he has magical powers and can change reality at a whim. He makes his family change form in assorted ridiculous ways — it is all very Harry-inflates-hateful-Aunt-Marjorie — and… well, that’s about it.

It’s fine. Forgettable, but fine.

Kids probably wouldn’t hate reading it. I didn’t hate reading it either. But I was very glad when it was over, and it’s only, like, 20 pages or so. Which makes this book a very good lesson that, no matter how brilliant someone might be, they’re probably not going to be good at everything.

Except for John Cleese, of course.


TBR DAY 290: Cyril and the Dinner Party by Michael Palin
GENRE: Picture Book
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
KEEP: I guess.