29 September 2016

What's in a Name challenge 2016 Wrap-Up

It's time to wrap up my first challenge of the year. I signed up for the What's in a Name challenge on August 12, so I was late to the game, but not as late as in 2012, when I started at the end of August.

I posted my first review on August 18, and the last on September 27, so it took me 6 weeks, give or take, to finish it - counted in reading time, not by reviewing dates.

The challenge got me back in the groove of reading, as I had been in the kind of slump where I wanted desperately to read but couldn't decide which TBR book to pick up next, so I usually ended up with rereads or loan books I needed to return soon.

The challenge gave me something solid to base my choices on, and as a matter of fact I think I may continue letting my book choices be guided in a similar way. One coffee break at work when I had nothing better to do I decided it might be fun to see what categories had been used in previous What's in a Name challenges that I had not participated in. I came up with a nice list of categories that I just might use to help me decide what to read, but more about that later...

Here are the books I chose, shown in the order I reviewed them and with links to the reviews:

Half of the books were mystery novels. Of the rest, there was one romantic historical novel and two non-fiction books, one a travelogue and the other an expatriate memoir, so there was not a whole lot of genre variety.

Of the six, my favourites were Show me the Magic and The Affair of the Mutilated Mink, but I was happy with all the choices. Technically, I could have used the non-fiction books for the other challenge I am participating in, the Nonfiction one, but I decided that since the aim was to get me reading more, that would be cheating. And now to finish the Nonfiction challenge!

28 September 2016

Last Week's Book Haul (September 19-25 2016)

I already posted a photo of the books I acquired last week, but here I discuss them in more detail.

Here is the stack:



Nearly half of these are rescue books, i.e. books gleaned from the freebie bin at one of the charity shops I regularly visit. From the bottom they are no. 1, 2, 3, 6 and 12. The rest I got second-hand from two other charity shops.

From the top down the books are:
  • Fairies at Work and Play by Geoffrey Hodson. I thought I was picking up a book of fairy tales, but this turned out to be something more remarkable: Descriptions of beings, classed for convenience under the heading of "fairies", observed by the author and published by the Theosophical Publishing House. Wikipedia reveals that the author was a Theosophist who wrote extensively about Theosophy and clairvoyance. Depending on whether you believe in fairies or not, this is either a natural history of fairies and other nature spirits, or a marvellous fantasy.
  • Hope Is the Last to Die: A Coming of Age Under Nazi Terror by Halina Birenbaum. I have had Night by Elie Wiesel on my TBR list for some time and I though it would be interesting to read these books one after the other to compare female and male experiences of the Holocaust.
  • The Lonely Planet Boston guide is the latest addition to my growing collection of guide books. As a general rule, I prefer Eyewitness guides, but I'll buy LP, Rough Guides, Let's Go or other guidebooks if they interest me. I have been thinking about taking a trip by myself to the US for some time, and had decided I would either visit New York or Boston, as they are both quite easy to get around in by public transport. The book is 9 years old, but will give me a general idea of things to see and do.
  • Potty, Fartwell and Knob: From Luke Warm to Minty Badger - Extraordinary But True Names of British People by Russell Ash. This is one of those books that proves you can publish a book about just about anything. I happen to live in a country where there are laws governing what names people can give to their children, but even so, there have been some fairly strange names in use in Icelandic. I'll probably keep it in the loo and read a few pages at a time, as it's mostly composed of lists. 
  • Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlman. A historical novel about two real-life gentlemen obsessed with measuring the world: Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Gauss. It remains to be seen if it arouses my sense of wrongness about using real-life people in novels, but I don't think so, as both of these men are merely names for me. Here's a review that gives a bit of insight into the story. 
  • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English behaviour by Kate Fox. This promises to be an interesting bit of sociology/anthropology. 
  • Woodwork in Theory and Practice by John Arthur Walton. I have asked my father to teach me how to use his lathe to work wood, and this looks like a nice introduction to the subject, plus it covers other kinds of woodwork as well.
  • Troy: Homer's Iliad Retold by David Boyle and Viv Croot, edited by Michael J. Anderson. Some of the reviewers on Amazon liken this to an extended Cliff's Notes on the Iliad, which makes it quite a useful book to have. Now I just have to decide which translation of the Iliad to read. 
  • Symbolism and Romanticism are two volumes from a collection of books about various art movements and the theories behind them. I rescued them in the hope that there is some discussion of the literary side of these theories.
  • Illustration Now! is a gorgeous coffee-table book devoted to imagery by 150 illustrators, and not a whole lot of text. I look forward to looking through it and maybe finding inspiration for my own art. The publisher, Taschen, specialises in art books of all kinds and they are always beautifully designed.
  • Metal Techniques for Craftsmen: A Basic Manual for Craftsmen on the Methods of Forming and Decorating Metals by Oppi Untracht. I rescued it thinking my father might find it useful, but really would like to keep it for myself because of the illustrations.

27 September 2016

Top Ten Tuesday




Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

 Today‘s challenge is to list Books On My Fall TBR List.

Visit the originating blog to see what other members of the book blogging community are planning to read in the fall, and maybe add your own list.

Now, I don‘t like making reading lists unless I‘m listing potential challenge reads, but here goes:

First, 3 books I have started reading and plan to finish soon: 

  • The Confession of Brother Haluin by Ellis Peters. Mystery.
  • What The Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem by E.S. Turner. Social history. Finishing this will bring me one book closer to fulfilling my goal for the Nonfiction 2016 Challenge.
  • Deadly Slipper by Michelle Wan. Mystery with a botanical twist.


Other books I plan to read:
  • Eothen by Alexander William Kinglake. Travelogue that appears on some lists of the best travel books ever.  Finishing this will fulfil my goal for the Nonfiction 2016 Challenge. I might even level up, since there are so many good non-fiction books I would like to read.
  • One book from the stack I bought in September. (At least).
  • One large format book.
  • One art/photography book or cookbook.
  • One eBook.
  • One book in Icelandic.
  • One translated book.


Struck speechless!

I read a thoughtful piece by Elyse over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books today, titled Reading, Self-Care and Guilt, about how she copes with fibromyalgia through reading.

Then I turned to the comments section and was struck speechless by Ashley McConnell's comment (no. 13). Really, there are no adequate words to describe how I feel about ignoramuses like the one she describes.

Review: The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters

Genre: Historical mystery.
Themes: Deception, escape, forced marriage, murder.
Reading challenge: What's in a Name, the book with a profession in the title, and my final book for this challenge.

I was planning to read a piece of social history, What the Butler Saw: Two hundred and fifty years of the servant problem, for this challenge, but looking over my bookshelves I spotted the 8 books I had left to read in the Brother Cadfael historical mystery series, and couldn't resist picking the next one as the final book in the challenge: The Hermit of Eyton Forest.

Now, some might say that being a hermit is a religious vocation rather than a profession, but in fact there once existed a professional class of ornamental or garden hermits. They were men who were specifically hired and paid to live in hermitages or other suitable structures on great estates and to be full-time hermits for a given length of time, generally seven years.

I read the previous book in the series, The Rose Rent, in September 2012. Coming back to Cadfael after an absence of four years was like running into an old friend and immediately falling into the camaraderie you had when you last met, many years ago.

Two plots intertwine in the story: There is the young boy entrusted by his ailing father to the abbot for education and upbringing and to keep him away from his scheming, ambitious grandmother, and then there is the newly arrived holy man, the hermit of the title, and his young assistant, who may or may not be an escaped villein with his lord in hot pursuit. Then there is the matter of a guest at the abbey who shows mysterious behaviour, and the civil war looms in the background. There is also the inevitable romance sub-plot.

Peters' style is as skilful as ever, and the book was a joy to read, even if I pretty much foresaw every plot revelation before it happened. This is perhaps because she, unlike for example Agatha Christie, plays fair with the reader. There are no red herrings dragged across the trail here, just a fair laying-out of the facts and no twisting of narrative conventions. The joy of reading a book like this is not in the who or even the why, but how the author resolves the mystery.

In other words: If you are conversant with the genre you can pretty much guess what's going to happen before it happens, but don't let that stop you from reading it because it's a satisfying read.

26 September 2016

Weekly Monday Round-up (September 26, 2016)



It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Dat 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.






Non challenge books I finished last week:

  • It's All About Treo: Life, Love and War with the World's Bravest Dog by Dave Heyhoe and Damien Lewis. Non-fiction, memoir.

Mini review: The true story of the 6 months explosives search dog Treo and his handler, Dave, spent in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2008. Treo sniffed out some very dangerous IEDs, saving the lives of soldiers and civilians, and was awarded the Dickin Medal for his efforts in 2010.
The book is at times heart-warming, but there are also gruesome scenes of death and destruction.

Heyhoe (or his collaborator (ghostwriter?), Damien Lewis), has an annoying fondness for the word "whilst" that manages to make everyday sentences sound pretentious.


  • The Darwin Awards 2: More True Stories of How Dumb Humans Have Met Their Maker by Wendy Northcutt. Mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Tales of people who removed themselves prematurely from the gene pool, some fictitious, others unfortunately true.
Mini review: There was a time when I was an avid follower of the Darwin Awards website. I used to read the nominations, chuckle and shake my head, thinking "Is there no end to human stupidity?" or occasionally "No way this is true!" Then I think I overdosed on these stories and I began to find them gruesome and tasteless, so I'm not really sure why I picked this up, except maybe because it was second-hand and on sale, and I was looking for a book to read in the loo, something with short, complete pieces that could be finished in a short sitting.

Anyway, I ended up reading it in bed, a chapter at a sitting, and the first 9 chapters I just found depressing because of all the stupidity and bad luck (I still couldn't stop reading), but then I hit the final chapter which contains Darwin Award winners from past years, some of which have been confirmed as fiction/urban legends, and  found myself having a laughing fit such as I haven't had in years, the kind where you laugh so hard you think you're going to burst something, it's hard to breathe because your diaphragm is spasming and tears run down your face. I don't even remember which story it was that set me off, but reading about a horrible but funny death was suddenly okay because it was an urban legend, i.e. no-one had died for real.
Only recommended for that final chapter and/or if you have a high-level of schadenfreude.

  • Hickory Dickory Dock by Agatha Christie. Murder mystery.

Not much to say about this, except that I knew who the killer was about halfway into the book, but couldn't see what the motive was until nearer to the end.









  • Les Liaisons Culinaires by Andreas Staikos. Culinary love story and recipe book.
Wikipedia tells me there is a movie and I intend to find out more about that, because I love food movies.
Micro review: Delicious-sounding recipes, but the story couldn't hold me for some reason.




 Reading challenge progress: I am reading the last book  for What's in a Name and have 2 to go in the Nonfiction challenge. 

 Last week's book haul: (click to enlarge)


I will elaborate on this stack later in the week.

Other activities last week:
I stayed at a health spa for the whole of July and managed to get into better shape than I have been in for years. Since coming home I have been taking walks for my health, trying to get in a minimum of 5 kilometres a day. I don't always go somewhere I can walk a new route and in order to not become bored with walking in the same area day after day, I have been loading my phone with music to listen to.

Lately, I have been downloading podcasts and on my last walk I listened to two and a half episodes of Thinking Allowed from the BBC. This is a program that I have enjoyed on and off at home for several years and it suddenly occurred to me to listen to it during my walks. Not only is the subject matter (sociology and related subjects) interesting and varied, but each episode is around 28 minutes long. It takes me around 10 minutes to walk one kilometre, so I know it's time to start heading homewards when the second episode ends.
I decided to listen systematically to this show, and I'm up to January 2013, so I have many, many episodes left to listen to.  


DVDs I watched this week:
I picked up the first season of Supernatural second hand some time ago and finally sat down to watch the pilot and first few episodes.

As I expected, it's formulaic but still entertaining (and the leads are hot, which is always a bonus).

It's sort of like watching early paranormal episodes of The X-Files, only with freelance investigators and no romantic "will they or won't they" question hanging in the air. Instead it's "will they find dear old dad?" and "when will they find the killer?"

I have deliberately not read up on the show, so I don't know if they ever do find their father, but I'm inclined to think they will, and the second question will become the main quest, or perhaps they will find an entirely new MacGuffin.

23 September 2016

5 links on a Friday #6

Verbed nouns:
Why ‘medalling’ and ‘summering’ are so annoying.  People have been turning nouns into verbs for centuries – so why does it grate so much? Brandon Ambrosino takes a look.


On trashy novels:
In Defense of Trash. Why Pleasures Should Never Be Guilty, From Valley of the Dolls to Bonkbusters.
 
Book list:
11 Books Inspired by Shakespeare.
I have only read one of these (The Daughter of Time), but The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and A Thousand Acres are on my "read when I have the time" list.

The art of illustrating your own books:
The Lost Art of Custom-Illustrating Your Favorite Books. On Grangerizing, the 19th-Century DIY Craze.

 
And, finally, a video: 
8 Writers on Facing the Blank Page from Louisiana Channel on Vimeo.



 

21 September 2016

Review: Dead Man's Folly

Status: Rearead. Permanent collection.
Genre: Murder mystery; detective fiction.

Did I mention I'm on an Agatha Christie kick? When I picked up Cards on the Table for the What's in a Name reading challenge it had been ages since I had read any Christie and I had forgotten how delightful her books are. So I decided to read some more Christie. Since I own three Avenel omnibus volumes of Christie's books, each with 5 novels in it, plus several single books, I have plenty to choose from and began with one I don't recall reading before: Thirteen at Dinner (aka Lord Edgware Dies).

One of the Avenel volumes contains Poirot stories, another Miss Marple stories, and the third is called Agatha Christie's Detectives, and that's what I'm making my way through right now. It contains one Miss Marple story, two Poirots, one Tommy and Tuppence story and one Superintendent Battle story. I have already finished two of the books, and have three left, all of them ones I don't think I have read before.

This particular story begins when Poirot receives a mysterious phone call from mystery writer Ariadne Oliver, and rushes to rural Devon to see what she wants. She has devised a murder mystery game for a fête, but feels very uneasy and has a distinct feeling she is being manipulated into something and so has called on Poirot to investigate. Her uneasiness turns out to have been well founded when a teenage girl who was playing the victim in the game turns up murdered and Mrs. Oliver's hostess disappears, but both Poirot and the police are stumped as to both the motive and the killer. It takes Poirot several weeks of puzzling over the facts and various small incidents and comments before he reaches a conclusion and reveals the identity of the killer.

This is far from being one of Christie's best. The plot is contrived and the characters are underdeveloped and recycled and so are some of the plot elements. Even Poirot fails to sparkle. The story doesn't have the lightness of the other Christie books I read recently, and sort of clunks along. There are even some red herrings that are never properly explained away.

Conclusion: Kind of Blah, but not so much that I regret reading it.



19 September 2016

Weekly Monday Round-up (September 19, 2016)

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date.

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

Reading challenge book I finished last week:
None.

Non challenge book I finished last week: Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie. (Another first-time read). A Hercule Poirot mystery. I have no plans to review it in full.
Micro-review: This is far from being Christie's best, but the final twist was interesting and goes against certain narrative conventions. This is possibly not the best book to take as a reading material on a flight, as I did.

Currently reading: 
Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie. Standalone historical mystery.

Reading challenge progress:
I still have 1 book left in What's in a Name, 2 to go in Nonfiction 2016 before I can level up or finish.

Last week's book haul:
I came across a small second-hand bookshop in Aarhus (more of that below) that was having a sale. I think I showed great restraint in only buying one book, but I made it count:

Other activities this week:
I attended a large translation studies conference in Aarhus, Denmark. I was there from Wednesday to Sunday, and the conference ran from Thursday to Saturday. Most of it was either about theoretical or practical research on translators and their work (e.g. quality assessment, ergonomics, revision), but a couple of the lectures I attended did touch on literary translation.I just wish I could have cloned myself for the occasion, because I missed several juicy lectures. 

I went to Copenhagen on Sunday to catch my flight back home, and my GPS tracker tells me I walked around 12 kilometres that day. I got in a lot of sightseeing, two museums and an art gallery. It was my first time in Denmark for 19 years, but it was just like I had been there last week. I even remembered how to get from the central train station and down to Strøget, the main shopping area.

I got a chance to watch the first three episodes of Lucifer on the flight home. Must say I was disappointed to find it was a detective series, after having read the comics the TV series is based on. I'd say "based" in this case means they took the characters and settings and left out the story from the comics.

16 September 2016

(a kinda, sorta) Review: Room by Emma Donoghue, and the struggle to escape a reading slump



I was already familiar with Emma Donoghue's writing through her thoroughly wicked, twisted and delightful take on fairy tales, Kissing the Witch. (As a matter of fact, I think I should reread it and write a review.)

It was with some trepidation that I approached this book, knowing Donoghue can write well, and write well about dark subject matter, and the concept of this book is nothing if not dark, and unlike the fantasy of fairy tales in Kissing the Witch, Room is grounded in realism, which I have always found much chillier and more frightening than any fantasy. I had heard it variously described as horrible, fascinating, harrowing but inspirational, and several reviewers called it exploitative of the suffering of real world victims of crimes such as the one that forms the background of the story.

I knew, almost from the moment I heard of Room, that I would want to read it - not quite enough to go out and buy it, but if I came across it cheaply or for free I would definitely read it. I think the same thing about dozens of new books every year, and while I occasionally do get my hands on one and read it, I forget about most of them. After all, when you are struggling to make inroads on a TBR library of over 700 books you already own AND people keep lending you interesting books, it‘s easy to forget the „might read some day“books. 

But not this one. Every time I saw a copy or a photo of the cover, I thought „I have to get round to reading it“. Finally I came across a second hand copy, bought it and took it home with me. It went on the chair where I keep all my newly acquired books until I have time to enter then into my library database and there it sat for a few weeks while I struggled through a reading slump during which I reread lots of books in order to try to get myself in the mood for reading something new. 

And then it finally happened: I was ready for a new (to me) book. I looked at the volumes awaiting entry into my library catalogue and noticed Room at the top of the pile. I picked it up, opened it and began to read. I barely put it down again until I was about halfway through, and then finished it in one sitting the next day. 

I don‘t think it can count as a spoiler when I say that the story is clearly inspired by true stories about women kidnapped and kept as sex slaves and forced to give birth to their abductors‘s babies. The Fritzl case is the most clear inspiration and one that Donoghue has openly admitted. 

Despite what I had read about it when it first came out, I had somehow managed to miss an important fact about the story. Not knowing that, I had wondered how the author had managed to hold at bay the full horror of the situation depicted in the book. Having the narrator be a child was a stroke of genius and made it possible to keep the horrible situation on the periphery of the story, focusing instead on the narrator and his relationship with his mother. Some might say that this only makes it all the easier to let one‘s imagination take over and fill in the blanks with all kinds of horrifying details, but I found it made it easier to push all that aside and instead allow oneself to see the world of Room through the innocent eyes of the child who thinks the world consists of the room where he and his mother are incarcerated and there is nothing outside. 

Jack is a believable five-year old, bright for his age, with the wilfulness and energy of a young child, but he is stunted by the small world he has been forced to live in, and fearful of the world his mother tells him is outside the room. His mother, known simply as "Ma" comes across as brave and hopeful most of the time, except when she has bouts of depression that make one wonder if perhaps Jack is her lifeline, the thing that has made her keep on living through her captivity. 

I don't think I will say more about the plot, but I will say that I found the story inspirational and well written and I enjoyed reading it, although I don‘t think I will ever read it again. It‘s simply not that kind of book.