16 January 2017

Reading report, 16 January 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the past week.

I have only finished two books in the last week. The time that would have been spent reading or listening to a couple of other books I instead used to listen to a number of podcasts. In the last few months I have been exploring the BBC website and finding podcasts to listen to and I have discovered some that I like and others I am ready to like but haven't listened to enough to decide if I do.

Among the former are iPM, a program where listeners are interviewed, often revealing extraordinary stories; More or Less, where statistics are discussed and sometimes set right; Woman's Hour, a long-running program for women where everything and anything of interest to women is discussed; and Elements, where the role of the elements in the world's economics is explained.

I already enjoyed listening to Excess Baggage, a travel programme that was cancelled in 2012 (I still have some episodes to go before I finish it, and as a matter of fact, I'm in no hurry), and Thinking Allowed, a program on sociology.

iPM is the only one I have caught up with, so I still have plenty of episodes to catch up on, which is just as well because I am running out of audio books to listen to while I do my crocheting.

Ah, yes, crocheting. I went through my projects and finished several that I had put aside while I finished a bedspread I made for my mother for Xmas. I tried to upload some photos, but Blogger wasn't having any of that, so on the the books:

The books I did finish were: 

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. I'd forgotten how much I like Hemingway's prose. This is the first non-fiction book of his I read, and it is definitely going on the keeper shelf.

Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie. Audiobook read by Hugh Fraser. A fine standalone detective novel.

In the next week I expect to finish Marco Polo's Silk Road: The Art of the Journey, a sumptuous edition of Polo's Travels, based on two 19th century English translations, and also a reread of Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie, a ghost story that shows us (possibly) how The Turn of the Screw might have ended if the governess in that story had had some sense...

09 January 2017

Reading report, 9. January 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the past week.

The reading year began well for me. I have finished three books so far, which is considerably fewer than the same time last year, but they were good books.

First came Thee Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story by Leonie Swann.

I found the idea of the story intriguing: a herd of sheep, a mixed bag of an old Irish heritage breed and some other breeds, some of them rescue animals, find their beloved shepherd dead in their pasture, a spade lodged in his abdomen. The humans around them don't seem too concerned or eager to investigate, so the sheep decide to solve the mystery themselves.

There is a sequel, about what happens to the sheep after the case is solved.

Then came Maigret and the Wine Merchant by Georges Simenon.

One of the things I love about Simenon's crime novels is that they are usually not all about finding out whodunit, but rather about proving that a particular person did it and finding out why. There is sometimes some uncertainty about the killer's identity, but it is usually cleared up around midway through the story, and the rest is a psychological chess game with the killer on one side and Maigret and his team on the other.

In this case, a rich wine merchant is murdered and no-one seems to care overmuch. Maigret's investigation reveals a man obsessed with being the boss, with an apparently insatiable appetite for sex that's driven by a need to dominate. A lot of people might have wished him dead, but who had the nerve?

The final book was All Fishermen Are Liars by Linda Greenlaw.

I first found out about Linda Greenlaw when I found her first book, The Hungy Ocean, at a book sale and bought it on a whim. I grew up in a fishing village in northern Iceland and heard and read a lot of sea stories. It was therefore interesting to read a sea story from another fishing culture.

This book is a collection of sometimes funny, often hair-raising sea stories, possibly true, possibly not, probably somewhere halfway in-between, framed by the story of the author and her concerns for the health of a good friend and her attempts to persuade him to go into retirement. I have another one of her books on my TBR shelf and will read it soon - if I can find it.

05 January 2017

Most memorable books I read in 2016

I have just tallied the books I read in 2016, and they come to 234 (oops, forgot some that were on my Kindle, so  make that 246), only including those I finished after a full reading. I also skimmed several more, maybe 20 or so, but they don't count. When you read this many books in one year they tend to blur together into a muddle of indistinguishable plots, characters, pages and covers, even some of the good ones. However, I keep a scoring system for the books I read, and so I can go over them and use the list to jog my memory. 

Books were judged memorable by the simple expedient of taking the top-ranking books from my list of read books, removing all rereads and then weeding out the others until I had narrowed the choice down to the 16 books I remember the best from the year's reading. If there had been any memorably terrible reads I would have included them, but I generally stop reading such books as soon as i realise how terrible they are.

Note that memorable does not necessarily mean the book was particularly good or that I placed it on a keeper shelf, only that I found it memorable enough that the whole story more or less flashed before my eyes as I read the title from the list. This, in itself, is a certain measure of quality, but by no means the only one, or even the best one. If truth be told, I read only a scant handful of books last year that I would be willing to reread, another measure of quality.

It's funny, but I don't think I have ever had so few books on my end-of-year list that had a title beginning with the definite article: only two.

Half the books were non-fiction. Broken down by genre there were:
2 travelogues and 2 books about humans and their relationships with each other and with nature;
one historical biography; one book about the food industry; one history book; and one you might call a documentary, as it's combination of travelogues, history and profiles of Volkswagen Transit campervan owners and their vehicles.

The fiction books partially parallel the non-fiction. There are:
3 historical novels, of which one is biographical; 2 detective novels, of which one is historical; two fantasies, of which one is an animal story (of sorts); and one novel (which is also a prison break story of sorts).

I finished all of these books in the second half of the year, and 14 of them after I began book blogging again.

I may do a statistical analysis of all the books I read, but don't hold your breath waiting.

The books were, in alphabetical order of author (foreign authors by last name, the Icelandic author by first name, because that's how we do in in Iceland):

  • Ben Aaronovitch : Rivers of London. Urban fantasy detective story. Lots of Good Book Noise over this one.
  • James Anderson : The Affair of the Mutilated Mink. Historical murder mystery. Lots of chuckles and a couple of outright laughs.
  • Tim Butcher : Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken Heart. Travelogue, reportage.
  • Annie Caulfield : Show Me the Magic: Travels Round Benin by Taxi. Travelogue.
  • Agatha Christie : Five Little Pigs. Murder mystery.
  • Rob Cowen : Common Ground. Humans and nature. Evocative and lovely, but ultimately lacking.
  • Emma Donoghue : Room. Novel. By turns sweet and harrowing, and a very emotional read.
  • David & Cee Eccles : Campervan Crazy: Travels With My Bus. Coffee table book.
  • Gretel Ehrlich : The Solace of Open Spaces. Essays about humans and nature. More Good Book Noise.
  • Einar Kárason : Ofsi (Rage) and Óvinafagnaður (A Gathering of Foes). Historical novels, based on the Icelandic Saga of the Sturlungs.These are the first two books in a trilogy, but unfortunately the last book, Skáld (Skald) didn't live up to the expectations awakened by the first two.
  • Christina Henry : Alice. Urban fantasy thriller. Dark and imaginative pastiche.
  • Daniel Kehlmann : Measuring the World. Historical and biographical novel. Funny and made me want to read more about the characters and the time period.
  • Ian Kelly : Casanova. Biography. More Good Book Noise. Not only a portrait of a man, but also of the times he lived in.
  • Felicity Lawrence : Not On the Label: What really goes into the food on your plate. Reportage. Scary and sometimes revolting. I still don't have much of an appetite for chicken.
  • E.S. Turner : What the Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem. History.Very informative social history of an often neglected underclass.

01 January 2017

My November and December book haul, pt. 2

Happy New Year! 

These are the rest of my November and December book haul:

First photo:
  • I bought the Billy Connolly book because I saw an episode of the TV series some years ago and liked it.
  • The Bro Code is a rescue book. I was never regular watcher of How I Met Your Mother, but have enjoyed the few episodes I have seen, and decided this might be interesting.
  • A Light in the Attic I got because I have enjoyed Shel Silverstein's song lyrics and drawings and have hear good things about his poetry.
  • Feathered Friends is a colouring book my mother gave me. I have a fair number of adult colouring books that I use as inspiration for my own art and this was a nice addition to the collection.
  • Dr. Mütter's Marvels is the kind of intimate history book that I love to read, and  
  • The Science of Discworld IV is the final book I needed to complete my collection of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. It's the only new book among those shown.

Second photo:
  • Being an agnostic, I like to read literature that both supports and denies the possible existence of a higher power. One of the points of agnosticism is a willingness to explore both sides of the religious argument and therefore a book like The Portable Atheist is a good text to sample various aspects of the anti-God side of the argument. God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, who edited this collection, was also available, but I decided to rather choose this, to get a flavour of the atheist argument rather than one man's point of view. 
  • The Disappearing Spoon is a book I read in 2012 and enjoyed hugely, but it was a library book and so had to go back to where I got it from. Now I have a copy of my own to reread whenever I want!
  • The Year of Living Biblically describes one of those ludicrous things that people sometimes do. In this case, the author decided to follow the Bible's precepts for behaviour for one year. I'm interested to see what happened. It might be a disaster or it might not, but it only cost me 100 kr., so it's not a big deal if I don't like it.
  • High Tide in Tucson is a collection of essays by Barbara Kingsolver. I love essays, and look forward to reading these.

31 December 2016

My November and December book haul, pt. 1

Here are the books I bought in the last week of November and the first three weeks of December. 
I've already posted the books I got for Christmas, but here are the rest - well, part of them anyway. I decided to break this up into two posts because there are so many books.

First photo:
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is one I decided I wanted to read when I first heard of it, but then  never got round to doing it.  
  • The Love Child and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter both looked intriguing, for vastly different reasons.  
  • The Second Book of General Ignorance I got because I have the first and I'm a fan of QI.  
  • Seaworthy I got because I love Linda Greenlaw's writing, and  
  • The Complete Stories of Dorothy L. Sayers because I love her writing as well. 
Only Greenlaw's book is new. The rest are second hand, although some of them look like they have never been read.

Second photo:
The books in both photos below are all second hand, although I suspect at least a couple of them have never been read.   

  • Gönguleiðir á Íslandi is the first in a series of book describing interesting hiking routes in Iceland, and this one happens to cover the part of the country where I live. Since I am trying to get into better shape, and indeed must exercise daily in order to burn off some of the carbs my body can't metabolise properly because of my diabetes, so this book is going to get used when the summer arrives. Until then, I am planning to participate in a series of walks that will allow me to explore a beautiful nature area north of Reykjavík with a guide.
  • Lazarillo de Tormes and The Swindler contains translations of two Spanish picaresque novels that I started to read several years ago and then had to return to the library before I was able to finish them.
  • The guide book is self-explanatory.
  • Unfinished Tales is a welcome addition to my small collection of Tolkienana.
  • Green Grass, Running Water sees to be just the kind of magical tale I love to read, and  
  • The Tower promises to be a cracking thriller with supernatural elements.

Third photo:
  • My Family and Other Animals is one of my most reread books of all time. I decided it was time to get a new copy, since my old one is getting quite tatty.
  • The Consolations of Philosophy seems like a good introduction to the everyday uses of philosophy. 
  • Fimm fingra mandlan is a book of translated short stories by a Swedish author and seems like just my cup of tea.
  • The Snow Geese is a travelogue and those are like catnip to me.
  • I have hopes that The Big Little Book of Pilates will help me understand the Pilates system better and know what the hell I am doing the next time I decide to participate in a Pilates class.
  • At Home in Mitford seems like just the kind of book my mother would enjoy. Who knows, I might too...

30 December 2016

The books I got for Christmas

I usually get at least one book for Christmas, and this year I got four, so it was a good book Christmas.

My brother got me the Terry Pratchett Diary and The Turnip Princess.  I am reading the latter and enjoying it very much. The man who collected these tales, Franz Xavier von Schönwerth, was a contemporary of the Grimm brothers, but unlike them, he seems to have only given the tales he collected a minimal editing. They are therefore raw and feel much more "real" than the tales the Grimms published, which were refined and polished before publication. They therefore remind me very much of the Icelandic "ævintýri" (märchen) collected by my favourite folk-tale collectors, Ólafur Davíðsson and Jón Árnason.

Der schönster Ort der Welt is a book of essays by German-speaking booksellers. The title translates as "The most beautiful place in the world". It was a Christmas resent from myself to myself. It remains to be seen how do at reading it, since the only German I have been reading for the last several years is legal language, which is worlds away from the literary language.

The final book, Kryddjurtarækt, is about growing herbs and I got it from my aunt, who always gives me thoughtful and useful gifts. I have several kitchen gadgets she has given me that I didn't know I needed but have proven very handy.

21 December 2016

Review: Never the Bride by Paul Magrs

Genre: Urban fantasy, alternative reality, pastiche.

I'm not going to give any plot summary here, since the plot hinges on so many secrets that I might give one away by accident. 

Never the Bride builds on an interesting, if not exactly original premise: the old Gothic horror stories describe real historical events and there really are more things in Heaven and Earth (and Hell) than Horatio could have dreamt.

The Bride of Frankenstein is real and lives in Whitby; the Invasion from Mars really happened; vampires walk the earth; and there are more spooky goings-on in the Goth capital of Britain than you can shake a stick at.

Oh, and the book is full of cliches, just like the last two paragraphs. That's not to say it isn't entertaining, but there is something missing. The narrative is episodic rather than linear and while the stories that make up each episode do connect into a plot of sorts, there are so many loose ends flapping in the breeze that you can see not one, but several sequels looming up. None of the characters are fully developed, although Effie comes close to being more than a stereotypical elderly spinster, and Brenda shows promise of being developed into something deeper.

Some of the longer conversations are quite stilted, and there is a very stilted monologue in which the person talking speaks as if they are reading from a book. This could have been much better rendered by incorporating the story told therein into Brenda's general narrative, and even then it would still be a case of telling rather than showing, a mistake I would not have expected from as seasoned an author as Magrs, because this is such a common mistake of inexperienced writers.

As for the good points, the depiction of Brenda and Effie's friendship is realistic, showing both the ups and downs of friendship between two unusual women who are still getting to know each other. The story is also peppered with darkly funny incidents and descriptions that will at the least elicit chuckles, if not outright laughter.

The tone is almost like that of a children's book, written in fairly simple language (and thus suitable for intermediary learners of English), but it is clearly written for adults. At least one would assume so, what with descriptions of gruesome deaths and allusions to sex.

Despite the faults, I did enjoy reading this book, and while I'm in no hurry to obtain the next book in the series, I wouldn't mind reading it if I came across it.

19 December 2016

Reading report,19 December 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the past week.

I was in Germany last Monday and didn't have time to finish a reading report before I left, so here's a double doze:

The week before last I finished listening to Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie, audiobook read by Hugh Fraser. I'm quite sure I have not read this one before, and I think it's just become one of my favourite Poirots. Fortunately there were no foreign accents in this one, other than Poirot's (refer to my previous comments on the subject in my last reading report if you don't know what I'm talking about).

This week I read quite a lot, but only finished two books.

The first was Never the Bride by Paul Magrs. This is the first book in an alternative reality urban fantasy series and while I found several things that could have been done better, I mostly enjoyed it but still have no intention to let all the various cliffhangers drag me into reading more of this series. I'm writing a review, so will not say any more here.

The second book I finished was one I started reading earlier in the year but set aside for various reasons. I found it languishing under a pile of laundry recently and decided to make an effort to finish it, and I'm glad I did because unless I read some really spectacular books before the end of the year, it will decidedly be in the top 10 of the books I have read this year. This was Casanova by Ian Kelly, a biography of the famous 18th century Venetian adventurer whose amorous exploits led his family name to become a synonym for "womaniser". This book presents Casanova as much more than that: an epicure, sensualist, mathematician, man of letters and clever observer of human nature, but also an opportunist, fraudster and gambler. A complex man, in fact. I happen to have two more Casanova books in my TBR pile: A 1929 edited English translation of his autobiography, Histoire de ma vie, and the novel Casanova in Bolsano by Hungarian author Sándor Márai. After what Kelly says about the various editions of the Histoire, I hesitate to read that one, as it's based on a heavily bowdlerised German version. It looks like the edition to read, should one want to read the story in Casanova's own words (or as near as possible, it having been written in French, which I do not feel up to reading) is the 1967 Williard R. Trask complete English translation, but it's so very looooong.

I am currently reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, or rather, I am listening to it. A friend lent me an iPod loaded with the audiobook and more or less ordered me to listen to it. So far I am enjoying it, but I think I need to get a printed copy, because the descriptions of the photographs just aren't the same as seeing them.

I have now managed to strike 6 books off the list of partially read books I compiled in October: three I decided to start reading over again, two that I finished reading, and one I decided to cull. Unfortunately I have added several books to the list since then, so I'll probably finish the year with between 50 and 60 partially read books strewn around the place. I think it might be time for a reading challenge...

I have also nearly reached my aim of culling 100 books from my collection. I was running out of shelf space and while rearrainging my bookshelves I realised I have a number of books on my keeper shelves that I had no interest in reading again, so I am going through the whole collection and culling books.

I have finished a project from this marvellous book that is going in a lucky recipient's Christmas package:

I can't show it yet, nor can I reveal who it's for, as the recipient might visit the blog.

I am already planning another project, a combination of two recipes in fact: the hare and the deer. Can you guess what I'm planning to make?

In other news:
I received an eagerly awaited package on December 5: two pairs of spectacles I ordered from abroad at the beginning of November. I made the mistake of putting the progressive vision pair on immediately. Then I sat typing a blog post and wondering why my eyes were watering, having forgotten my rule to always wait until I wake up the next morning to put on new spectacles, especially when the prescription is different from the previous one. I had the usual eye fatigue after the first day of wearing them, but I'm fine now and my vision is clearer than it has been in months (I was waiting for my eyes to recover from diabetes-related eyesight problems and had to use my old specs in the meantime). The other was a pair of single vision spectacles with lenses that darken in the sun and I plan to use as sunglasses.

16 December 2016

Friday links, 16 December, 2016

I didn't do much web-surfing last week. However, I did come across these links:

Not directly (or at all) related to books and reading:

Back to books: 
Today's book list is one of those inevitable end-of-year lists of the best novels of the year.
25 of them, to be exact.

Why did I chose this particular list? Because it's the first one I came across, that's why. In any case, these lists usually contain more or less the same collection of the year's bestsellers, and only the future will tell us which ones will be considered to be really good in the long run.

Finally, a book I might buy, or at least read:
Here's a link to an interview with the author.

09 December 2016

Friday links, 9 December 2016

When this list posts, at 8. a.m., my flight to Germany will be taking off from Keflavík Airport. I hope someone will find something to entertain, inform or educate them in this list:

Firstly, I came across this interesting Infographic about how the world reads and thought I'd share it.

Secondly, I have never been a member of a book club, and after reading this, I'm glad: Top 10 Book Club Faux Fas.

Thirdly, here is an interesting article about Arthur Conan Doyle and how he was taken in by a simple hoax: Arthur Conan Doyle, Spiritualism, and Fairies.

Fourthly, the stories that inspired famous books are often just as fascinating as the books themselves. Here is an article on The True Story of Jaws.

Fifthly, here is a fascinating animated article about discovery: How Delivering Meals To Seniors Showed Me The Real New York. For once, a Buzzfeed article that is not full of annoying gifs from movies and TV shows I haven't seen.

Then there was the time an American gentleman wanted the USA to buy Iceland from Denmark. I'm glad they didn't, as it's unlikely we would be an independent country today if this had happened.

And, finally, here is the book list:
I have a fairly tidy mind, but for some reason lists with an illogical number of entries fascinate me. This one made me wonder: Why 37? I don't know, but probably they couldn't think of any more books: 37 Books With Plot Twists That Will Blow Your Mind. I have read 4 of these and own 3 more that are TBR, but several more of them are on my ever-expanding TBR-not owned list.