This was originally released under the title The King’s Grave and reissued under the title The Lost King as a tie in to the excellent Stephen Frears movie based on this book. Ms. Langley’s fight to be taken seriously by academia and officialdom in her search for Richard III’s grave is a compelling story of a rare underdog victory. Her story is laid out in alternating chapters with historian Michael Jones’ telling of Richard’s life and milieu. It makes for a fascinating read, especially Philippa Langley’s mysterious intuition (backed by meticulous research) that led her to the unlikely final resting place of a king

It would seem that Thomas Maloney is an admirer of the novelist John Fowles and this work does have something of a lesser Fowles feel. I was a big John Fowles fan at one time though I haven’t read any of his works for decades and have no idea whether they would hold up. My tastes have changed, my life experiences have evolved. (Or devolved according to one’s POV, but this review is only tangentially about myself–as all reviews by anyone are tangentially about themselves. I’m moving on from that.) Initially I was going to give it 3 stars then thought 4 stars and bounced back and forth quite a bit.

From the start when reading The Sacred Combe (a phrase from John Fowles!) I felt it was a book from another era. Not Victorian, more recent than that, but not contemporary (though it was published in 2016). Modernist or postmodernist maybe. It’s slyly self-conscious in that pomo way. 

This is a character and setting driven novel rather than plot-driven. I’m certainly okay with that, though the characters at times seem more like set pieces than fully fleshed works of the imagination. It’s a tricksy novel, full of literary allusions, some more obvious than others. It has secrets that once revealed are more “Oh, okay,” rather than stunningly revelatory. Things seem about to happen then they don’t. The story is told in a wandering way with lush nature writing that at times walks the line of being over written.

Am I glad I read it? Well, I finished it. I no longer finish books that aren’t giving me *something.* So that tells you…something. Am I satisfied with having finished? I don’t know. It’s not only a tricksy novel but pondery with a placid surface. Perhaps I should have done more pondering before writing this review, but I’m done pondering. I woke up with the need to write down my thoughts and move on. And I suppose that, too, tells you…something.

My early teens were a tumultuous time, with loads of interpersonal drama. But it was also a time of “spiritual” awakening—or maybe an occult one?—when many lifetime practices began. From about the age of twelve I began to read every paranormal book in the Santa Monica County Library. I nearly succeeded, but that wasn’t as impressive as it might sound. Paranormal books were looked down upon back then (still are in many circles). The entire collection at Santa Monica consisted of one bookcase: perhaps seven tall, five feet wide, crammed full of the classic titles of the time. There was Charles Berlitz’s The Bermuda Triangle, Donald Keyhoe’s Flying Saucers Are Real, The Philadelphia Experiment, The Search for Bridey Murphy, The Interrupted Journey, books by Hans Holzer and Brad Steiger, and scads of others. Everything topic was covered, some of it profound and some sensationalist junk: ghosts, UFOs, bizarre theories, metaphysics, and reincarnation. As long as it was strange, I was into it. I also scanned the book sections of the local drug stores for “weird books” and SFF to squander my allowance on. I didn’t completely give up on critical thinking. Even back then some of this stuff seemed like junk. But I loved the mental adrenaline rush reading it gave me, the boundless what ifs.

This was also the time I began playing with the Ouija board—at first with my enthusiastic mom who bought it for us to play with and my friends. We’d have mostly hilarious, nonsense sessions. It was a lot of fun. Some “guy” kept coming through to flirt with my mom. He told her that her second husband would have the initials QZK and we spent many sessions trying to get the scoop on him. Answers on QZK never really showed up, of course. Mostly we got evasion and nonsense. Mom was still married at the time to my biological father, but they’d been estranged for years. She really wanted to believe in an afterlife of love. (She did eventually get it but not with QZK.)

I also tried working the Ouija by myself. At first the planchette was sluggish, then it moved more rapidly. I was not conscious of pushing it but I’m mostly convinced I unconsciously made it move and was mostly talking to my own right brain. I suffered no ill effects or demon possessions. The hysteria over Ouija boards conjuring demons really began in the 1970s after The Exorcist came out. Before that, it was considered a parlor game for people to fool around with. The The abominable Ed and Lorraine Warren also popularized the whole satanic panic/demon possession thing and still haunt the paranormal zeitgeist through The Conjuring movie franchise.

It didn’t take long for me to get bored with solo Ouija board sessions (no friends to play with) and I moved on to Tarot. I’ve done Tarot on and off ever since. I also tried my hand at automatic writing. Like the Ouija sessions, it began slowly and painfully, then became more fluid, then fast. The “spirits” would move the pen in big looping scrolls, taking up a whole notebook page with ten to fifteen words. The handwriting gradually got smaller, but never conformed to neat and staying within the lines. (Spirits don’t conform to the rules.) Again, I didn’t feel as if I was pushing the pen, but I believe it was an exercise in unconscious talking to conscious. Later it developed into something more profound—a way of having meaningful dialogue with my Self. When I was in therapy, trying to dive deep down and clear out the programmed junk in my psyche, my Jungian therapist encouraged me to continue with the automatic writing. I still practice it. It remains a beneficial way of talking to my Self, divining how I truly feel about things, working through the decision-making process, et al.

Except sometimes. Sometimes, even in the early days, the tone would shift into something that felt outside myself, much deeper than talking to the wayward winds inside my brain. Something channeled from Elsewhere? I dunno. I get this now and again with Tarot, too, that feeling when a reading really clicks into place and seems more than wish fulfillment or facile projection. A few years back I asked “Them” if I was talking to my ancestors. They answered along the lines of “took you long enough to figure that out.” “They” sometimes have a good sense of humor.

I continue to talk to myself and the ancestors. It’s a great comfort when I need it, a way of calming myself when I’m stressed, or working through what worries me. The messages that come through are overwhelmingly positive. If negative things come through (almost always self-critical crap, as distinctly different in tone as the profound messages are) I say a little clarification/protection prayer and ask them if the negative things are true. They usually respond with something like, “No. That’s interference from your Shadow or old negative programming.”

But it all began back there in my early teens. I really needed to believe in “cosmic friends” or better angels or a realm outside the tough times I was going through. I’m glad I found those better angels—even if they were merely the better angels of my own mind and soul finding their way to the surface. They have sustained me throughout my life.


Have you ever read a book you found impossible to rate with conventional stars? You loved it but it irritated you. You couldn’t put it down but you were reluctant to pick it up again. You know you’ll think long about it but you really don’t want to think about it anymore. You want to recommend it to your friends but you’re afraid they’ll hate you for it. It creeps into your dreams but it’s rather like a dream itself—one of those clinging ones you’re desperate to wake from—but once you do wake you can’t wait to go back to sleep again. You give up and rate it five stars anyway because it’s special and should be paid attention to but impossible to summarize with any coherence because plot happens but not in conventional ways and it really won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, although many cups of tea are consumed in the novel. It’s a great swirling cup of many brews, many liquids, actually, that has you asking, “What the hell am I drinking?”

Thus ends my review of The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison.

Random quote of the day:

“Each has his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart; and his friends can only read the title.

—Virginia Woolfe, Jacob’s Room

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Finished in 2022

Another year, another list of mostly escapist reading. Last year I read a lot of historical romance, this year I didn’t read any. I did discover Scottish noir in a big way and fell in love with it, particularly the work of Ian Rankin. Once again, this year I read a lot of books by M. C. Beaton, also set in Scotland. Although Beaton has a dark sense of humor, her books are in no way noir. Humorous, cynical cozies—and they’re so short, usually no more than 150 pages—that I often used them as palate cleansers when I’d been on a kick of reading difficult or dark books. There’s a gazillion of them and I’ve gone through about half at this point, but I think I’ve burned myself out for the moment.

I also was inspired by the AMC series, Dark Winds, to go back to reading Tony Hillerman’s series. I read a lot of them back in the day, but stopped and still had a number unread. I’d read them so long ago that I went back to the last two I’d read and they were almost like new. I had only the vaguest notion of what happened in them. So, between Hillerman, Rankin, and Beaton I’ve been spending a lot of time in the 1990s—which is very weird indeed. Kind of like a half-remembered and not altogether pleasant dream.

1. In the Dark Places of Wisdom by Peter Knightley
(I finished all but a few pages of this in 2021 so I listed it with my 2021 books but technically I finished it in 2022.)
2. Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon (reread)
3. The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
4. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (I also probably reread Goodnight Moon but forgot to list it)
5. Abandoned In Death by J. D. Robb
6. Murder On Cold Street by Sherry Thomas
7. Death of a Dentist by M. C. Beaton
8. Witchmark by C. L. Polk
9. Death of a Script Writer by M. C. Beaton
10. Death of An Addict by M. C. Beaton
11. The Deep Blue Good-by John D. MacDonald (I’d never read him although he was big back in the day. I may not read any more.)
12. Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
13. Laidlaw by William McIlvanney
14. A Highland Christmas by M. C. Beaton
15. Death of a Dustman by M. C. Beaton
16. Death of a Celebrity by M. C. Beaton
17. Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin
18. The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves (Like her writing and her mysteries but the character of Vera is so irritating.)
19. Death of a Village by M. C. Beaton
20. Death of a Poison Pen by M. C. Beaton
21. Death of a Bore by M. C. Beaton
22. Coyote Waits by Tony Hillerman
23. Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman
24. Wychwood by George Mann
25. Hollowdene by George Mann
26. Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith (faux Scandanavian blanc and hilarious)
27. The Fallen Man by Tony Hillerman
28. Miss Moriarty, I Presume? by Sherry Thomas
29. Desperation in Death by J. D. Robb
30. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (reread)
31. Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin
32. Dark Assassin by Anne Perry (another series I read a lot of back in the day and restarted)
33. Strip Jack by Ian Rankin
34. The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman
35. Waypoints by Sam Heughan
36. The Black Book by Ian Rankin
37. Hunting Badger by Tony Hillerman
38. The Talented Mr. Varg by Alexander McCall Smith
39. Fogou by Jo May (magical mystery tour)
40. Mortal Causes by Ian Rankin

Books I continued or started in 2022

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I read some nonfiction very slowly. Sometimes over a span of years. I also tend to read poetry slowly. It’s something to be savored, not rushed through. I’ve also gotten to the point in my life where if I’m reading a book, no matter how highly touted by critics, and have to force myself back to it, or I lose interest in what happens to the characters, or if it’s just too badly written, I abandon it. I usually give the books a decent chance—50 to 100 pages—but if something is badly written, I don’t bother. Too painful. Time is the most precious commodity and I also no longer feel the need to finish something because it’s “good for me” to do so. I guess that means I’m an intellectual lightweight.

There are other books I pick up and really like but have to take a break from and sometimes it takes me a while to get back to them. The weirdest thing is when I’m really loving a book, can’t wait to get back to it, but when I wake up the next day I just don’t want to continue reading. I can’t always tell why. Sometimes they are too something for the mood I’m in: too dark, too fey (or conversely, not fey enough), too something. The same thing happens with TV series. Love ‘em one day, not in the mood the next. I don’t consider any of these books or shows abandoned. I just need to “catch up with myself” and get back to them at a later date.

1. Orphic Poems by M. L. West
2. Heraclitus Fragments (tr. By Bruce Haxton (continued) (sort of poetry)
3. The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds
4. Luckenbooth by Fagin (abandoned)
5. Gobekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods by Andrew Collins
6. An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris
7. A Grimmoire Dark by D. S. Quinton (abandoned)
8. Nocturne for a Widow by Amanda DeWees (abandoned)
9. One Lost Soul by J. M. Dalgleish (abandoned)
10. Field Guide to The Haunted Forest by Jarod K. Anderson (poetry)
11. The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham
12. The Living Stones by Ithell Colquhon (restart)(and so close to finishing!)
13. Open Season by C. J. Box (abandoned)
14. Powers of Ancient and Sacred Places by Paul Devereux (a sort of reread though I didn’t realize it when I bought it. This is a revised and updated edition of a book I finished many years ago under a different title.)
15. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan (abandoned)
16. Dark Matter Monsters by Simeon Hein
17. Field Notes by Maxim Griffin (beautiful art and landscape book to be savored)
18. Ghost Month by Ed Lin (abandoned)
19. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
20. Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen (close to finishing this as well)
21. Hokuloa Road by Elizabeth Hand
22. Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath by Barbara Alice Mann
23. Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon (reread)


Random quote of the day:

“All books are either dreams or swords,
You can cut, or you can drug, with words.”

—Amy Lowell, “Sword Blades and Poppy Seed”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Bert and Ernie, Celine Dion, or the Band of the Coldstream Guards. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“When you are growing up, there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully—the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you.”

—Keith Richards, Life (with James Fox)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

I used to do a books read list every year, but I haven’t done one for a while. There is nothing particularly memorable or significant about this one. I just decided to do it. A pandemic snapshot, I guess.

I spent considerable reading time on escapist and comfort books. It was that kind of year—for many of us. I usually read a handful of romance novels in a year, but this year I went through as many as in the previous three or four years combined. Nothing wrong with that. They were good fun and what I needed at the moment. But before I said to myself, “All right, I’m good on the romance front,” I’d blasted through all eight of the Bridgerton novels, plus a Bridgerton related series (the Smythe-Smiths), plus two of the four Bridgerton prequels.

I also read an exceptional non-typical romance by Sherry Thomas before stopping (Not Quite a Husband) and loved her plotting and characterization so much that I looked up what else she’d done. This led me to her Lady Sherlock series (starting with A Study In Scarlet Women), in which Sherlock Holmes is the creation of a young woman who possesses Holmes’ acumen but knows she would never be accepted in Victorian English society for her talents because she is a woman. I admit to being skeptical of this premise because—let’s face it—these things are often quite lame. But Ms. Thomas showed such deftness and verve that these books have become a real pleasure for me.

Sometime earlier in the year while searching for something to stream, I came across a BBC Scotland TV show from the late 90s starring Robert Carlyle: Hamish Macbeth. It had that really quirky 90s vibe—sort of like Northern Exposure except set in the Scottish Highlands—and I binged all three seasons. Then I got curious about the source material, a long series of novels by M. C. Beaton, the author of the Agatha Raisin series. (I understand Ms. Beaton hated the TV show.) I also blasted through several of those. Fast, easy reads, humorous, interesting mysteries and characters, and a mordant eye towards human nature. But not particularly like the TV series.

I did dip into more serious stuff, but as I said, this was a year dominated by escape and comfort (à la Diana Gabaldon and J. D. Robb). As to the number of books read, I usually finish about 50 a year, not a spectacular accomplishment. I’m always picking up and putting down books and often have 3 or 4 going at once, which does tend to hold down my completion rate. But since it isn’t a contest, who cares? The list below is roughly chronological but doesn’t reflect the books I picked up and put down in between or when I started a particular book, just when I finished.

Books read in 2021 (with brief comments):


Random quote of the day:

“Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren’t real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books. All too often, that’s more than Mummy and Daddy know; for, in denying their childhood, the adults have denied half their knowledge, and are left with the sad, sterile little fact: ‘Unicorns aren’t real.’”

—Ursula K. LeGuin, The Language of the Night

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Desus and Mero, Beyoncé, or the Marine Corps Marching Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

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