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Showing posts from November, 2006

Bad book covers revisited

I have mentioned on several occasions my dislike of bad cover art. Well, I'm not the only reader who feels insulted when publishers put something tasteless, confusing or just plain butt ugly on a book cover. Click on the link (the post title) to see the results from the annual All About Romance worst cover contest. Unfortunately I somewhow managed to miss the 2005 voting, but never mind - I plan on voting in the 2006 contest.

From the Stacks report

I am finally reading the first book of the five I set myself. I am 8 1/2 chapters into The Flame Trees of Thika and liking it so far. I can not help but compare it with other African memoirs I have read, especially Karen Blixen's Out of Africa and the impressions of later visitors to the area, such as Evelyn Waugh and Dervla Murphy.

While the book attempts to show things from the point of view of a child, it is written with knowledge the child could not have possessed at the time, so it is interesting to see how Huxley balances her childhood memories with adult judgment and opinions.

Can someone tell me why...

...some books smell like tobacco? I don't mean the ashtray-scented books that come from smoker's homes, but brand, spanking new books straight from the bookshop than give off a smell similar to a newly opened pouch of fresh pipe tobacco.

It's kind of a nice smell (it reminds me of my grandfather who used to roll his own cigarettes using pipe tobacco), but it seems to me it doesn't belong in books, and I have only ever smelled it on new or new-ish hardcovers.

Bibliophile reviews A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (travel) by Eric Newby

Year published: 1958
Genre: Travel (non-fiction)
Setting & time: Afghanistan, 1950's

In 1956 Newby and his friend Hugh Carless embarked on a quest to climb Mir Samir, a mountain in Nuristan, a remote area of Afghanistan. Considering that neither had any real mountain-climbing experience and they were badly under-equipped and not in very good physical shape, it is amazing how few accidents they had and that they managed to climb almost within sight of the top of the mountain, after which they travelled even further into Nuristan, apparently in order to become the first white men to visit the place.

Review: Eric Newby was a humourist in the best English tradition, a master of funny understatement and irony. This, while not his only travelogue, is the one he will be remembered for. It pops up on many lists of the world's best travelogues, and for good reason, and it seems destined to become a classic of the genre. It is well written, funny and interesting, and describes one of …

Mystery author #25: Paul Doherty

Also writes as: Anna Apostolou, C. L. Grace, Ann Dukthas, Michael Clynes, Paul Harding, P. C. Doherty, Paul C. Doherty, Vanessa Alexander. Some books have been published under two different names: one of the above, and later the name Paul Doherty, which I believe is his real name and under which he now writes all his books.

Note: Much of what I want to say about the writing style and characterizations and plotting and so on is applicable to all three books, so I will put it in the author review.

Title:The Nightingale Gallery, being the First of the Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan
Series detective(s): Brother Athelstan, a Dominican friar, and Sir John Cranston, coroner of London
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1991, under the name of Paul Harding; reissued in 2002 under the name of Paul Doherty
Type of mystery: Murder, locked-room
Type of investigator: Amateur and professional
Setting & time: London, England, 1377
Number of murders: 4
Some themes: Locked-room murder, adultery…

Bibliophile recommends: Gerald Durrell

I discovered Gerald Durrell when his classic memoir, My family and other Animals, was translated into Icelandic. My brother and I loved to be read to, even after we could read perfectly well ourselves, and our mother loved to read to us. The two books she read to us most often were My Family… and Tolkien’s fantasy story The Hobbit. Both books were pure magic to us, Tolkien’s because of the fairy tale element and Durrell’s because of the humour and his talent for description, of places, nature, people and animals.

Later, when the family was able to afford holidays abroad, we bought Durrell’s other books whenever we found them, and now my mother and I have most of his memoirs and two of his novels in our book collections. My Family… is still just as magical as it was when I was a child, and is one of my perennial reads. Other favourites include The Bafut Beagles, The Whispering Land and The Drunken Forest.

Durrell’s prose is beautiful and flowing and he writes with humour about himself …

Some fantasy novels I have enjoyed

I haven’t been reading much lately (only six books this month so far), and have been suffering from selective writer’s block as well – I have something like six half-written reviews on the go and can’t bring myself to finish them, but find it perfectly easy to write short essays. To keep the blog going, here is a list of book recommendations I wrote ages ago but never published until now:

First I have to say that my explorations into fantasy literature have not taken me far into the world of series fantasy. The reason is that I have too often discovered that the book I was reading was part of a series where the story was so interwoven with previous books that it was impossible to enjoy it without having read those first, or that the story actually started X books ago, and/or would not end for another X books. I have nothing against series, but each book must be readable as an independent story with a solid beginning and end to interest me. This goes for any genre. The only exception is…

Organising your books, continued

Link to part 1

How I organise my own library:

I am not the kind of person who needs to have everything perfectly organised – just organised enough to be able to find things fairly quickly without having to refer to a catalogue or index, and my system reflects that. This is a system I arrived at after several moves which I used as opportunities to try out different arrangements, since I had to take the books down from the shelves anyway.

Books I am reading are strewn all over the house, several in each room. Those I think I have been reading for too long and want to finish soon reside on top of the back of the living-room sofa. Another pile sits on one of the kitchen chairs, well out of splattering range of the stove but within an arm’s reach of the table.

Cookbooks and food reference books belong in the kitchen. Food history, food travel books, essay and article collections and foodie memoirs, however, go with the rest of the history, travel and biography books until I find a decent …

The new Blogger

I have switched over to the new Blogger and am beginning to explore the possibilities it offers. The first thing I will be doing is to go back to the beginning and label all the posts to make it easier for my readers to find posts with similar themes. I am starting with the challenge authors and plan on having them all done by the end of the week and then I will label the other posts at leisure. Hopefully the work will be done by the end of the month.

This may confuse some feed readers - I know Maxine's has been reporting all the reposts.

Later on I may change the look of the blog, provided it will be possible to copy all the alterations I have made to the current template over to the new one. Who knows, I may even create my own personal template.

Organising books

The photos below of the colour-organised bookshelves got me thinking about book organisation. I once got the task of organising a small school library. There were not a lot of books in it, probably about 1500 or so (certainly fewer than in my home library right now), but it was an eclectic collection of mostly reference books and novels, with some art and technical books in-between, all in no order at all, except fiction was kept in a different room so it wouldn’t get mixed up with the non-fiction. I decided right away that this was not a Dewey job and invented a coarse system that suited the library and the disorganised lending system.

This was the lending system: you took whatever books you wanted and returned them to the shelves once you were finished with them. Or not. There were no cards, no lending list and no catalogue, and most of the students (adults, one and all) could not be trusted to remember from what shelf they took the book, basically just sticking the books back where…

I've joined a group reading challenge

OK, so I am already doing a challenge of my own, but the 52 authors challenge does not have any time constraints (although I would like to finish it before the end of 2007).

I discovered this one through Jenclair's (mostly) book blog,
A Garden Carried in the Pocket. The challenge was issued by Michelle and is called From the Stacks. The aim is to read 5 books that have been languising in the TBR stack before 30 january 2007. Click on the above link to read the rest of the rules and join in the fun (there's prizes).

Here are the books I picked and the reasons why (besides having been TBR for too long). To be fair I have not included any book that I plan to read as part of my own challenge:

Conspiracy in Death by J.D. Robb, because I started reading the In Death series in order of publication but have been stalled at this book for nearly a year.

The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley, because it's been on my night table for a year and a half and I have fond memories of th…

Bibliophile reviews Borderlines (travel) by Charles Nicholl

Subtitle:A journey in Thailand and Burma
Year published: 1988
Genre: Travel (non-fiction)
Setting & time: Thailand and Burma, 1986

The Story: Nicholl recounts his three month journey to Thailand in search of enlightenment in a forest temple. Instead he found the reality of Thailand, a land of contradictions where drug smuggling and prostitution exist side by side with ancient rituals and traditions and no-one seems to find anything unusual about it. He meets Harry, a Frenchman who trades in all sorts of commodities (although he denies being involved in drug smuggling) and accepts his offer of a guided tour of the Golden Triangle in return for picking up his Thai girlfriend and chaperoning her while Harry is off on an expedition to connect with people who can sell him gemstones. Katai, the Thai girl, turns out to be a complicated and intelligent young woman who is very conflicted about her relationship with Harry. Together the three explore the borderland between Thailand and Burma be…

Running out of steam

Has this ever happened to you?
You pick up a book, it turns out to be very gripping but you can’t finish it in one sitting so you put it aside and get on with whatever you have to get on with. Then the next time you have time to pick up the book – say the next day – you just can’t get into it. It doesn’t grab you the way it did when you started to read it and although you want to know how the plot resolves itself you no longer feel like reading it all the way through.

I’m sure this happens to many readers.

Right now, it is happening to me. I started reading Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian three days ago and expected to finish it in four sessions (it’s a large format book and 600 pages long), but when I came home last night and picked it up to start reading, I could not get into it. It sometimes takes me a chapter or two to get back into a book, but after five chapters I gave up and started reading a crime mystery instead. I’m still interested in the book, but last night when I was t…

Bibliophile reviews She Walks These Hills by Sharyn McCrumb

No. in series: 3
Year of publication: 1994
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: North Carolina, USA, contemporary
Some themes: Second sight, madness, family ties, ghosts, legend

Story: Police dispatcher Martha Ayers wants to become a policewoman. After some hesitation, Sheriff Arrowood takes her on, saying if she passes her probationary period he will send her for training and make her a full member of the small police force in Dark Hollow. Her lover, police officer Joe LeDonne, isn't too pleased and finds an outlet for his feelings that could break up the relationship. Meanwhile, an escaped convict is making his way towards the town and his ex-wife and daughter. He suffers from a mental disorder that makes him think he is still back in the sixties and it's only a few days since he last saw them. At the same time a student of folklore is trying to retrace the trail along which a young woman captured by Indians 200 years before escaped, and psychic…

Reading reports for August, September and October 2006

As my regular readers will know, I was very busy doing other things than writing reviews during most of the summer, and neglected some of the regular features of this blog. One of these things was the reading report. Now I want to make amends, so here are reading reports for the last three months, all in one blog entry.

As always, if I haven't reviewed it, you can request a review.

August report:

Reviewed:
The Seagull's Laughter: Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir (in Icelandic)
My sister's keeper: Jodi Picoult
Love bites: Lynsay Sands

Unreviewed:
Matarsögur: Sigrún Sigurðardóttir & Guðrún Pálsdóttir, eds. (interviews and reminiscences about food by Icelandic women, with recipes)
Nerd in shining armor: Vicki Lewis Thompson (romance)

Rereads: (Unreviewed)
Equal rites: Terry Pratchett
Lords and Ladies: Terry Pratchett
Wyrd sisters: Terry Pratchett
Witches abroad: Terry Pratchett


September report:

Reviewed and upcoming reviews:
Death of a hussy: MC Beaton (upcoming)
Anyone but you: Jennifer Crusi…

Mooching books

One of the ways I aquire books is by trading them for other books, but many trading websites either cost money to use (meaning I could just as well go and buy the books) or are restricted to one country or continent. The one I have been using, TitleTrader, is international, well designed and easy to use, but there are not many traders there who trade to Europe. Most of the users are Americans who only trade within the USA, and if they trade abroad, it is usually only to Canada. The result is that it can take months before I find a book I want.

Now I have discovered BookMooch. Not only does it have loads of European traders, but it has a system that is designed to encourage traders to trade outside their country and continent: you get 3 trading points for sending to another country (only 1 if you trade within your own country), but you only have to pay 2 trading points to request (or mooch) a book from abroad (1 point for local books), meaning that a free trading point is generated ever…

Bibliophile reviews The Stone Boudoir by Theresa Maggio

Subtitle:In search of the hidden villages of Sicily
Year published: 2002
Genre: Travel, memoir, social life and customs
Setting & time: Sicily, 1980s & 1990s

Theresa Maggio, a third generation Italian-American, describes her many visits to her grandparents' native Sicily over a number of years where she visited not only their native village, but also many other small and remote villages. Her purpose was to both to discover her heritage and to record the ways of life of Sicilian villagers, both traditional and modern.

Rating: A very enjoyable and informative book about a love affair with Sicily that is enough to make anyone want to visit the place. 4+ stars.

Stack of books...

Stacked, originally uploaded by Netla. ...nevermore to be read. Glued and screwed together to make a work of art. Kind of sad.

Location: Reykjavík City Library (main branch, second floor)