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Showing posts from 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…

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.

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.

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 …

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.

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.

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, …

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…

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

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…

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…

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'…

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'…

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 b…

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 …

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 anythi…

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 prec…

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…

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 n…