31 July 2006

Bibliophile reviews Vetrarborgin (crime) by Arnaldur Indriðason

Title in translation: Arctic Chill
Series detective: Erlendur Sveinsson and co.
No. in series: 7
Year of publication: 2005
Type of mystery: Murder, police procedural
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Reykjavík, 2005
Number of murders: 1
Some themes: Immigrants, racism, child abuse, missing persons

Story: On a frosty January morning a young boy, half Thai, half Icelandic, is found stabbed to death outside the building where he lived. Most people assume that the crime was racially motivated, but Erlendur is not so sure. He and his team patiently sift through evidence and question suspects, and other cases intrude. When the murder weapon is finally found it leads the investigators down a disturbing path.

Review: When I reviewed the last book I mentioned that the reiterations of the police officers' personal lives and problems was getting boring. Fortunately it is not so in this story. Arnaldur only uses very brief summaries to ensure new readers know what's going on, but does not repeat the whole story like he has in the previous couple of books, which is good. The murder case is disturbing and utterly realistic, and the motive (or non-motive) is quite Icelandic. There are two very good red herrings included in the plot, and the ending is completely unexpected.

The Icelandic winter (at its worst) is described in such detail that it almost becomes a character in the story, and the weather descriptions serve to make the story dark and gloomy.

Rating: A very good addition to the series. 4 + stars.

28 July 2006

Stereotypes of Africa

Have I mentioned that I love a good satire? Click the link to read one. It describes about 90% of all the travelogues and novels set in Africa (written by outsiders) that I have read. The author has obviously studied the subject at length.

The crazy post

Crazy, for a bibliophile, is staying up half the night reading a book you've read before when you need to have full use of your faculties the next day and you didn't get enough sleep the night before. I “fell into” a book last night, one have read before and while I announced in the review that I was not going to read it again I obviously broke that resolution. I finally forced myself to stop around 1:30 a.m., which means I got 4 hours of sleep. But every bibliophile knows that a good book is worth some missed sleep.

What book can this be? Jennifer Crusie's Crazy For You. If you like romantic thrillers, you can't go wrong with this one. The story never gets bogged down, it's funny, sexy and fast paced and it just made my "occasional re-reads" list. It is also quite the most realistic novel about stalking I have ever read.

27 July 2006

An apt book quote for today (well, yesterday really)

Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?
Henry Ward Beecher (1813 - 1887)

This was definitely applicable to me yesterday. I went on my weekly expedition to the charity shop and came across two shelves of green-and-white Penguins. For those unfamiliar with this species, they are the classical cover for cheap editions of crime novels published by Penguin. I managed to leave out everything I knew I could get at the library, such as four Raymond Chandlers and several Agatha Christies. I still came home with 12 books by Freeman Willis Croft, Ellery Queen, Earle Stanley Gardner, Michael Innes and other classical mystery authors.

25 July 2006

Book quotation for today

Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.
Kathleen Norris, Hands Full of Living, 1931

24 July 2006

The dreaded book diet: Progress report

The TBR stack keeps growing, mostly because I haven't been reading much lately, or rather, I have been reading library books. I have cut down my visits to the second-hand bookshop to once a week, and have been able to stick to the book-buying quota (max. 2 per visit), so in theory I should be reading them faster than I buy them, but this is not the case.

I do have a good excuse: I finished the rough translation of the book I was working on and am now halfway through reading the translation and the original side by side to look for errors and missed sentences. This is much slower than reading two books, as I am also editing as I go. I have the third round left – the final polish where I remove all traces of foreign sentence structure, grammar and wording from the text and make it read like it's originally Icelandic. In-between I read translation theory. Either I have been very lucky, or translation scholars as a rule have a knack of writing academic texts that are not dry, and in fact quit readable.

Anyway, enough about that. Here's a sight to gladden the heart of a reader: a couple of shelves full of TBR books. Double stacked.

23 July 2006

Spam comments

I never ceases to amaze me that people still try to put spam in the comments to my posts even when they are moderated. It's as if they think I'm stupid enough not to recognise spam from legitimate comments. Just to clarify: I consider every attempt to advertize something - even books - that must be paid for as spam, and likewise do I consider invitations to visit free porn sites or receive free samples of herbal Viagra and such as spam. Why? Because I didn't ask for them, that's why.

If you have a novel and want to have it reviewed, it must either be available for free as an e-book or a blog, or you can send me a free copy to review. If it's not for free and you don't want to give me a copy, don't bother to post a comment because I will not publish it.

20 July 2006

Translators: The invisible profession?

Translators are, in a way, invisible. The modern attitude is that literary translations should be as target language oriented as possible, not quite localised, but enough so that they read like they were written in the target language. Some publishers allow a little foreign flavour, the occasional expression left untranslated, as in, for example Pierre Magnan's The Murdered House that I reviewed some time ago. This emphasis on the invisibility of the translators has, inevitably, led to the profession being not only underappreciated, but underpaid as well. The above link leads to an article that investigates this phenomenon.

19 July 2006

Physical books vs e-books

I recently conducted informal surveys about e-books on two readers' forums, and realised that while there is a generation of readers out there who grew up with computers and feel perfectly at ease around them, even they still prefer to read a physical book rather than an e-book. Various reasons were cited: you can take a book anywhere, books are cheap, it hurts the eyes and causes headaches to read off a computer screen, etc. etc. When I looked at the responses in-depth and asked a couple of more pointed questions, what became apparent was that the real reason for preferring physical books to e-books was that books are personal and computers are not. These readers preferred books because they loved all the different textures, smells, paper, typefaces and bindings and the sensation of turning the pages. You can never get as close to a laptop, PDA or e-book reader as you can to a book because the computers render each book identically and require you to push buttons to turn a page, and they don't give off the heady scent of ink, paper and glue (and sometimes age) that physical books do.

While I do read e-books (I even sometimes take my laptop to bed with me to read) I tend to agree with these opinions. There is something infinitely more exciting about opening a new book than opening a new computer document. For starters, computers have no discernible odour, except when they overheat, and a smell of newness which quickly disappears. I love the scent of books, and while (as I said) I do read e-books, I only do it if it's impossible for me to get the book in physical form.

Which do you prefer?

18 July 2006

Mystery author #22: Stuart M. Kaminsky

Title: Murder on the Yellow Brick Road
Series detective: Toby Peters
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 1978
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Private detective
Setting & time: Hollywood, 1940s
Number of murders: 3
Some themes: Fame, film-making, dwarfs

Story: Tough Los Angeles P.I. Toby Peters gets a frantic call from Judy Garland, who has received a mysterious phone-call that directed her to the Wizard of Oz set where she found a murdered dwarf in a Munchkin costume. It's been a year since the movie was made, but the set is still being used for publicity shots, and the dead Munchkin was one of the actors who sometimes posed for shots with visitors to the studio. M.G.M. wants the murder kept quiet, and Toby is hired to do some investigating, which leads him into the world of the little people and from there in some rather unexpected directions before he finally solves the mystery. None other than Raymond Chandler assists him in the investigation.

Review: This is the first hard-boiled mystery I read for the challenge. While some of the tales I have read have been pretty dark, none has had that special narrative style that marks the hard-boiled story. Although it is undoubtedly hard-boiled, it is not one of those seriously tough, humourless stories, but a light-hearted and at time wryly humorous one with a protagonist who doesn't take himself too seriously, and who is surrounded by quirky characters of all sorts. Kaminsky has a talent for drawing up interesting characters, and there are several in this book, including characters my research tells me are regulars in the series.

I think I wrote about my unease when reading fiction about real people in an essay on the original 52 Books blog, ages ago. Well, this book features a bunch of them (Judy Garland, Louis B. Mayer, Clark Gable, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Rooney) but fortunately Kaminsky has not made them behave in any kind of unexpected way (from what I know of them), so it didn't bother me at all.

Rating: Loved it. Want more. 4+ stars.

Author review once I've read some more.

Fantasy mystery - looking for recommendations

I've been on the lookout for fantasy mysteries for my challenge but haven't really had much luck so far. I have already read all of Terry Pratchett's “Watch” books, so I can't use them in the challenge.

There's something quite appealing about mixed genres, unless the author has gone overboard and the result looks like an Indian masala movie – visually great but too long and narratively incomprehensible. Pratchett has managed to avoid that, and I'm looking for another author who has managed to do the same and I would appreciate recommendations. It doesn't have to be in the Pratchett style.

Here are a couple of fantasy mysteries by two authors I hold in high regard:

Terry Pratchett: Theatre of Cruelty

Neil Gaiman: The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds

17 July 2006

Reading while travelling

Someone on a travel forum that I visit often asked if people read while travelling and whether reading “all the time” didn't make them miss out on the experience of travelling. It gave me the idea for this little piece:

I read when I'm travelling
Some might say that I was missing out on something, seeing new things or meeting new people, but if you think about it, travelling actually gives you a lot of chances to read without missing out on anything really good, and smooths away much boredom.

The trick is to know when to read and when not to read.

I read when there's no-one of sense to talk with:
on flights and aboard night buses,
when the landscape passing me by is all of a sameness (ever driven through North Dakota? Flat as a pancake and nothing but fields interspersed with farmhouses and dull-dusty small towns as far as the eye can see. Gets boring after a while),
when it's too hot/cold/wet to be out and about,
when the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere,
when I'm stuck in transit for hours (I hate airports),
when I'm stuck in no-man's land for hours or waiting for a border to open,
in the evenings before I go to sleep,
at breakfast before I go out.

Also when I don't want to talk to anyone because:
I'm homesick,
I just don't feel like it,
some idiot is bothering me (headphones with no music help as well),
I'm ill or indisposed and confined to my hotel room (everyone avoids you anyway in such a situation),
or I'm overloaded with travel experiences and need a day of quiet and rest.

I don't read:
When there's interesting conversation to make up for the dullness of a situation or place,
when there's something more interesting to see or do.

Reading can enhance a travel experience, just as travelling can enhance a reading experience. For example, it can be wonderful to be somewhere and reading about the place you're in. Reading about the Raj when I was in India enabled me to imagine the country as it was then, much better than reading about it at home, and reading stories set in London when I was there gave me ideas about places to visit that the guidebooks ignore.

Chronic Nose-in-bookitis is a different story. It often points to boredom or lack of interest in one's surroundings, which is enough to make anyone reach for a book.

However, occasionally you come across travellers who have booked their trip so they can relax in new or exotic surroundings and choose to do so by reading. I know I would do it if I had already explored all the places I wanted to see. Just imagine sitting under a palm tree in Barbados, drinking a pina colada and reading a juicy pirate novel or lounging in a hammock in a private garden in Italy on a warm, sunny day, with a glass of wine and Enchanted April to read. Maybe when I'm old and the travel bug no longer makes me itch but merely tickles me now and then.

14 July 2006

Bibliophile reviews Lovely in her bones (mystery) by Sharyn McCrumb

Series detective: Elizabeth MacPherson
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 1985
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur
Setting & time: North Carolina, USA, 1980's
Number of murders: 2 (+1)
Some themes:

Story: Elizabeth MacPherson and Milo, her brother's room-mate who is a physical anthropologist, are getting interested in each other and he agrees to let her participate in an archaeological dig in the Appalachians. The dig aims to prove the tribal status of the Cullowees, an ethnic group that has lived in the area for generations, but which is now about to lose its land to a mining company unless they can prove they are Indians and have the area declared a tribal land. Trouble begins brewing even before the dig begins, since it is obvious that one of the students is head over heels in love with the professor leading the dig, and one of the assistants is distinctly unpleasant and unlikeable. Then a murder is committed and suspicion falls on several of the expedition members, plus some of the inhabitants who feel they will be better off if the mining company gets the land.

Review: This is the second Elizabeth MacPherson mystery, and the first I have read in the series that actually fits that label. While someone who has an analytical mind and/or knows mystery story traditions will figure out the killer and motives early on, it is still interesting to see the mystery unravel. Elizabeth has a new obsession in every book, and this time around it's herbal medicine that she is fascinated with, along with a developing interest in archaeology driven by her interest in Milo (which will eventually lead her to study physical anthropology).
There is more plot than in the previous book in the series, but the characters are not as entertaining and there is less humour.

Rating: A mildly entertaining southern gothic mystery. 2+ stars.

13 July 2006

Bibliophile reviews Payback (thriller) by Fern Michaels

Year published: 2004
Genre: Thriller
Sub-genre(s): Fantasy (not Fantasy fantasy, just unrealistic enough to be called one)

The Story: Seven women with something to avenge have formed a Sisterhood of revenge, aided by a former MI6 operative. In this second book in the series, Dr. Julia Webster, the wife of a senator who is about to be announced as the running mate to the next Democrat presidential candidate, serves up her revenge cold. The philandering husband has infected her with HIV and isn't even aware he has it. She also wants to punish the owners of an HMO who have been avoiding paying their subscribers' claims, resulting in the deaths of many who would have lived had they got the proper treatment. The party where the candidate will announce his running mate is the perfect place to grab the bad guys and start the punishment. But there is one snag: the former boyfriend of one of the women thinks they were involved in the disappearance of a woman who murdered her daughter's killer, and he will not rest until he sees them behind bars for obstructing justice.

Technique and plot: When I picked up this book and read the blurb, I thought it sounded interesting enough to pay 50 kronur (original price: 1300 kr.) for it and read it. I had recently read a rather funny Icelandic revenge tale about jilted girlfriends who got together and punished the dogs who treated them badly, and thought it would be interesting to see Michaels' take on the subject.

Guess what? I can not believe this person has written more than 70 books, some of them best-sellers. Need I say more? She has fans, so I guess I should substantiate this. The storytelling is simply not polished enough for such an experienced author. In fact, the book reads like a first book, with typical firstbookitis symptoms that a good editor would have corrected, and one is tempted to think the writing has been farmed out (in the best tradition of Barbara Cartland), simply because it's hard to believe that such an experienced author would make such basic mistakes as this novel is full of. An example would be the constant repetition of Charles being Myra's one true love. Do we really need to be told more than once? Apparently the author thinks it needs to be hammered home, which I think shows a deplorable lack of faith in her reader's ability to remember things and likewise a regrettable lack of good editing. There are numerous errors of logic in the story, and while I am quite ready to believe that intelligence agencies the world over work together on covert operations, I refuse to accept that Interpol is involved. But then the book is probably written for an audience that doesn't care about small details, like the stupidity of using one's own truck to carry out a kidnapping, or that the sudden financial magnanimity of hitherto ungenerous people followed by their disappearance along with that of a US senator would not cause a stir and start an investigation, or that people can be hypnotised into permanently forgetting who they are. But then this is a fantasy, and should make happy all those who enjoy reading about vigilante justice and can look past the bad writing.

Ah, yes. The writing? A high-school student could have written this text - n o, scratch that, it's an insult to high school students to say that. There is an interesting story in there somewhere but it gets bogged down in bad writing and has a very childish fantasy ending.

Rating: Badly written, badly edited, with a semi-interesting story that a better writer could have done justice. 1 star for the story.

12 July 2006

Bibliophile reviews Sick of Shadows (mystery) by Sharyn McCrumb

Series detective: Elizabeth MacPherson (here aided by brother Bill)
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1984
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateurs, police
Setting & time: Georgia, USA, 1980's
Number of murders: 1 (2)
Some themes: Insanity, eccentricity, alcoholism

Story: Elizabeth MacPherson, recently graduated from college and searching for a future career, is invited to act as bridesmaid to her cousin Eileen. The first thing Elizabeth notices when she arrives at the family mansion to take up her role in the wedding party is a replica of Neuschwanstein castle on the lawn, built on a smaller scale than the original but still big enough to live in. This is the home of her cousin Alban and a taste of things to come. Her other cousins, Geoffrey and Charles, make Alban look only slightly eccentric by comparison and Eileen is on the mend after a long stay in a psychiatric hospital and is nervous and insecure, which is no surprise to Elizabeth once she meets the girl's mother. The wedding preparations are disrupted when a murder is committed and the police begin an investigation. With the help of her brother Bill, Elizabeth finds clues that may just help prevent another murder, but will she be in time?

Review: This is the first book in a series about Elizabeth MacPherson and like some of the other books by McCrumb I have reviewed, it has a weak mystery. The story is very much character driven and is really more about people and their interactions with each other and the results of those interactions than it is about the murder, which has an obvious solution. Although the story is billed as the first Elizabeth MacPherson mystery and we would therefore expect her to be the sleuth, she is not the one who does the detecting in the book. In the end, it is a message from her brother Bill, who has figured everything out through her letters and a phone call (he is not present during much of the story) that breaks the case open.
McCrumb writes with wry humour about the eccentricities of the family, thus creating a good contrast with the pathetic, tragic figure of Eileen, who is the one person in the story who obviously has a real mental problem. (I say “obviously” because there is someone else who is insane, but it doesn't become obvious until the final pages). All of this makes for a darkly humorous southern gothic story, which, while neither a good mystery nor as funny as some of McCrumb's other books, is a good introduction to Elizabeth MacPherson and her family that will come in handy when reading future books in the series.

Rating: A southern gothic tale of murder among eccentrics, and the beginning of a successful mystery series. 2+ stars.

11 July 2006

Mystery author #21: Kate Ellis

Title: The Merchant's House
Series detective: Wesley Peterson
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1999
Type of mystery: Police procedural: murder, theft, missing persons
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Devon, UK, 1990's
Number of murders: 2
Some themes: Infertility, obsession, infidelity, archaeology

Story: DS Wesley Peterson transfers from the London Met to the police force in a small seaside resort town in Devon. On his first day of work the body of a brutally murdered young woman is found and he is plunged into an investigation. Meanwhile, another officer is becoming increasingly upset over a case involving a child's disappearance, and a team of archaeologists dig up two skeletons in the ruins of a 17th century merchant's house, one of them clearly a murder victim. Each chapter begins with a passage from the diary of the man who owned the house, slowly uncovering the story of the murder that was committed in the house.

Review: Here's a well-written and beautifully constructed first novel. The story has several strands that are gradually brought together with a sure hand. The writing is polished and the characters are interesting. The sexist and racist attitudes encountered by Peterson (who is black) and a female DC Rachel Tracey are never overdone and their reactions are realistic. (One has hopes that DC Carstairs will get a comeuppance in a future book, or at least see the error of his ways).

I want to read more of Ellis' books before I write an author review, but judgning from this one I am fairly certain that I am going to enjoy her other books.

Rating: An interesting and cleverly woven tale of crimes new and old. 4 stars.

07 July 2006

One-of-a-kind books, part II: Journals

While I like the idea of scrapbooks as one-of-a-kind legacies for coming generations, my very favourite one-of a kind book is the journal or diary. My grandmother has a weather journal my great-grandfather wrote over a period of several years, and my parents have been keeping their own weather journal for the past 7 years. No doubt both may he useful for future research by meteorologists. While these journals, much like scrapbooks, are meant to be seen and read by others than their creators, other journals are never read by anoyne except the person who kept them. There are exceptions of course – I am pretty certain that some people, especially famous ones, keep diaries that are ostensibly private but in reality meant for publication or at least for use by the writers' biographers.

I do not keep a daily journal myself, because I tend to write about events rather than thoughts and feelings, and my daily life is pretty much in a routine which would make the journal rather monotonous after a while. However, when I break the routine to travel, that's when I dust off my journal and start writing. While most of my travel journals have been private, I did keep one that was meant to be read – the report of my four-month overland journey across Europe and SW-Asia to India and then around India and Nepal. It was a long journey and I knew my parents would want to know about it and although I do like to talk about my travels, it is sometimes more convenient to be able to hand someone a written account they can peruse at their leisure.

I think the process of keeping a journal for others is not unlike that of writing a novel. You tend to think much more about what you say and how you say it when you know other eyes will peruse what you have written. People who have shown little interest in hearing about my journey have shown great interest in that journal and expressed a pleasure of having read it that they certainly would not have felt had I simply told them about the journey.

While it may feel like snooping when you read someone's diary, old diaries can and have given historians and biographers an insight into daily life, social mores and historical events of a given era, and they are valued by them as such. While I don't think my journals will ever reach the fame of Pepys' diary, I do think they may in the future give historians an insight into the mores and attitudes of my generation.

06 July 2006

Romance vocabulary

Here's an entertaining blog post I came across today, about euphemisms used in romances:


One-of-a-kind books, part I: Memory albums

I have only been able to snatch a chapter of two of reading for the last two days because I am putting together a memory scrapbook for a friend who is getting married. Three of us have already put in two nights of work and will finish it tonight, in time for the bridal ... I can't call it a shower, although we will certainly give her some presents, but mostly it's a chance to have some fun together before she ties the knot. Let's call it a 'bride-to-be's day out'.

We have scanned and printed, cut and glued, and had only just started writing and embellishing at around 1 a.m. last night. All of this got me thinking about one-of-a-kind books. There's something very appealing about owning a copy of a book no-one else has, even if it only has personal and not monetary value. This one is mostly pictorial, telling her story from the time we first knew her at elementary school and ending with her fiance and their two children. We have been careful not to put anything too embarassing into the book – it will be perfectly safe, for example, for her future husband to read it. We do hope the album will become a treasured item to her and a lasting reminder of our friendship.

Scrapbooking is a huge phenomenon and there is no doubt that the scrapbooks of today will be a boon to the historians of the future, as well as treasured family heirlooms.

Scrapbooks/memory albums are a good idea if you have regular photo albums that are overflowing and no-one ever looks at. Taking a selection of photographs and designing a setting for them and writing some text to explain what's happening in the photos can turn anonymous photographs into heirlooms. The designs can be just as elaborate or simple as you like, and while there are plenty of pre-made settings available, you don't have to use them but can design settings of your own. There are plenty of embellishments available, ranging from glitter-glue, labels, stickers and stencils, to pockets, eyelets, tea-bag folding patterns, quilling, spirelli, and even jewelry. Personally, I prefer simplicity, but I have seen some pretty good-looking highly-embellished memory albums.

What most appeals to me about memory albums is being able to tell a story in both pictures and writing, that may be read by future generations. By using archival-quality materials, you can create a memory album that will last decades, even centuries, and keep your memory alive long after you are gone, giving you a kind of immortality. It's comforting thought.

Addition to Reading Challenges

There's a new suggestion in the comments. Reading Challenges

05 July 2006

Blurb 'translations'

As most habitual readers know, you should never trust the blurb on a book because
a) it may give away the ending of a mystery;
b) it does give away the ending of any romance novel;
c) you can't trust the review quotes because they are so creatively edited that they often seem to say exactly the opposite of what the reviewer meant to say (i.e. that the book is not worth reading);
d) you can't trust recommendation by celebrities, even famous authors, because: (i) they may be under contract by the publisher to help push unsellable books; (ii) they may be personal friends doing the poor author a favour; (iii) they may be sleeping with the author;
e) who gives a monkey's ... if the book was short-listed for some award?;
f) they're all a load of tosh anyway.

Here's someone who has enough experience with blurbs to attempt to decipher their meaning: What that blurb really means

Things found in books

Besides marking and underlining text and writing and making doodles in the margins of books, people stick all sorts of things into them as bookmarks or for safekeeping and then forget about them. As a lifelong library patron and buyer of used books I have had the opportunity to study this phenomenon up close. The most common item I find, perhaps not surprisingly, is sales and library receipts, followed by libray bookmarks, advertising bookmarks from bookshops and publishers and sticky notes (especially inside academic books). But I have also found postcards, both blank and written, art bookmarks, boarding passes, money, stamps, dried flowers, assorted scraps of paper (with and without writing) and photographs. Also included is one fast-food menu and a beer label that had been carefully peeled off the bottle and stuck inside the cover of a book.
The saddest find was a child's drawing. It made me wonder if a parent had not cared what happened to the picture, or whether was it so precious to them that they used it as a bookmark so they could look at it every time they opened the book. The most disgusting find (apart from various mystery stains and squashed bugs) was a used hormone patch.

I myself have stuck things inside books and then forgotten about them. The only really important thing I have lost in a book was my I.D. card. I was about 12 when I absentmindedly stuck it into a Desmond Bagely thriller to mark my place. I then stopped reading the book for some reason and put it back on the shelf where it remained unread for several years. I couldn't for the life of me remember what I had done with the I.D. card. Fortunately I didn't need it much. By the time the old one was rediscovered I had both a driver's licence and a passport and didn't need it any more. But this did teach me never to use anything as a bookmark that I didn't want to lose.

A recent discovery I made was inside a dictionary I haven't used much since I left middle-school. It was a lock of my own hair that I suddenly remembered putting in there shortly after I got the book, that showed unmistakably that while I am now a brunette, in my childhood and into my teens my hair was dark blonde. I think I will remove it, as I now know that the oils in hair are not kind to paper, but I need to find a place to keep it where it will not be lost, perhaps a memory box.

I have usually stuck the more personal items I find, like photos of people and written postcards, back in the book I found them in, but I have kept the unwritten postcards, bookmarks, stamps and money (mind you, if it was a large denomination note in a library book, I would check at the library if anyone had reported it missing, but I have never found high value money). Now, however, I think maybe I will follow the lead of the editors of Found Magazine and keep all of them. They may make an interesting art project some day.

04 July 2006

Bibliophile reviews These Old Shades

Author: Georgette Heyer
Year published: 1926
Genre: Historical novel
Sub-genre(s): Romance

The Story: The devilish, rakish Duke of Avon rescues Léonie, a young woman disguised as a boy, from the streets of Paris, thus winning her everlasting love and adoration. His reasons are at first purely selfish, as he recognises in her the tell-tale family appearance of his worst enemy, and he believes he can use her to exact revenge. But before long, he begins to really care for her, and his mission of revenge begins to revolve around getting justice for Léonie, who has been wronged by her family.

Review: I really hate it when people dismiss Georgette Heyer as a “mere” writer of romance novels (their wording, not mine). Sure, she did write some that were pure romance (and very good they are too, Venetia for example), but mostly they tended to be humorous historicals about adventures and mishaps where people also happened to fall in love (often apparently as an afterthought by Heyer), while in a pure romance novel it is the story of how the couple fell in love, with descriptions of their feelings of love (and lust) for each other that is the focus of the story.

I have read several of Heyer's historicals, and up to now The Nonesuch has been my favourite. Now, however, I have found a new one. This is the best Heyer I have read so far. It manages to be both plot- and character driven, there is not too much happening as in some of her other novels, nor is there too much silliness as in some, there is no secondary love story to distract the reader, and contrary to The Masqueraders where I was never quite ready to believe in the success of the protagonists' cross-dressing, here it somehow manages to be perfectly believable.

As well as being written with Heyer's usual humour and historical detail that never bogs down the story, it has very well drawn characters, even the supporting cast being allowed to be realistic (something Heyer has occasionally failed to do). I think I have found a new perennial read.

Rating: A perfect historical adventure and love story. 5+ stars.

Now if someone could please tell be why it is titled These Old Shades? I don't remember coming across the phrase in the book, and I'm wondering if it's a reference.

P.S. New term added to the glossary.

01 July 2006

Bibliophile's reading report for June 2006

I thought if I would organise the translation work (see previus reading report) during my fortnight's holiday like a regular working day, starting at 8:00 and clocking off at 16:00, it would give me time to read for fun. Instead I have been so heartily sick and tired of the written word that I read only two books from start to finish during those two weeks.
Now I have found a renewed interest in an old hobby: rock painting, which means my creative juices are really flowing, which in turn means the (mild) depression I have been suffering from is clearing away (it seems to be stress related). I haven't felt like painting rocks for the last two years, but now I am spending a lot of my free time away from the computer, selecting, base coating and painting rocks, everything from strawberries to cats. The time spent not reading gives me a chance to mull over the translation and the dissertation and gives me a clarity of perspective that recreational reading tends to obscure.

I have not included any of the translation tomes I have been reading, because I haven't read any of them from start to finish. I have actually read my usual number of pages (and then some) in June, but it is not reflected in the following list:

A really cute corpse: Joan Hess
Death and the pregnant virgin: ST Haymon
Death on the high C's: Robert Barnard
Kleifarvatn: Arnaldur Indriðason

The American Gun Mystery: Ellery Queen (will be reviewed as one of the 52 once I finish reading a couple more books)
Graffiti 5: Nigel Rees
Jacobson's Organ and the remarkable nature of smell: Lyall Watson
The Masqueraders: Georgette Heyer
Never! Fascinating facts about Ireland: Nigel Smith

Rereads: (unreviewed)
Mort: Terry Pratchett
My family and other animals: Gerald Durrell
Reaper Man: Terry Pratchett

Total books read: 12