27 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.

26 November 2006

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.

21 November 2006

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.

19 November 2006

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 those marvellously pointless journeys that can only be justified by repeating a quote attributed to Sir Edmund Hilary on being asked why he wanted to climb mount Everest: "Because it's there". In this case, it was a mountain that, to anyone's knowledge, had never been climbed before, didn't seem too difficult for amateurs, and furthermore, was situated an area mostly unexplored by Europeans. This was enough for Mr.Carless, who then managed to lure his friend into coming along with him, for which we can thank him because the offshot was this book.

Rating: A funny and interesting account of a journey that today would be nearly impossible because of the political situation in the country. 4+ stars.

17 November 2006

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, usury, temptation, religion.

Story: Brother Athelstan has been sent by his prior to a very poor parish in London to atone for his sins and part of his punishment is serving as a scribe and assistant to Sir John Cranston, the drunkard coroner of London. They are assigned to investigate the death of a rich goldsmith who had lent money to John of Gaunt, the newly appointed regent of England. The murder took place in a locked room and Athelstan is able to ascertain that the servant who was thought to have committed the murder and then killed himself, was also murdered. However, it takes more suspicious deaths before Athelstan and Cranston are able to discover the identity of the killer.

Rating: A historically detailed, well-written, suspenseful and complicated mystery. 3+ stars.
Title: The Hangman's Hymn
Series detective: None
No. in series: 5
Year of publication: 2001
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur, appointed by law
Setting & time: England, mostly Gloucester, late 1300's
Number of murders: Many
Some themes: Witchcraft, devil worship, poverty, social injustice, the hangman's trade

The premise of this series is that Chaucer's pilgrims from The Canterbury Tales each tell more stories than the ones Chaucer wrote about. In fact, Chaucer is a minor character in the stories.

Story: Events on the road between stops lead to Simon, the carpenter, being asked to tell his tale. He had come to Gloucester in the hope of attracting the attention of a young woman, but her father had prevented him from doing so and he had been robbed of all he had, even his clothes. He is rescued and accepts the position of assistant hangman in order to earn some much needed money. One night he and his fellow hangmen attend a secret trial of three women accused of horrible serial murders, sacrifices to the devil. The hangmen are then ordered to take them deep into the nearby Forest of Dean and hang them and keep watch over the bodies for three days before burying them. The hanging is carried out but a storm drives them to seek shelter during the first night, and in the morning the bodies are gone. Almost immediately they begin to be haunted by strange sounds and visions of the disappeared women, and one by one the men who attended the trial are murdered. In the end it is up to Simon to dig deeper and investigate the murders to find the leader of the coven so they can be stopped.

Rating: A dark mystery thriller that should appeal to all mystery lovers and quite a few horror lovers as well. 4 stars.
Title: The Demon Archer
Series detective: Sir Hugh Corbett, Clerk of the Secret Seal
No. in series: 11
Year of publication: 1999
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Professional
Setting & time: England and France, early 1300's
Number of murders under investigation: 4
Some themes: Family relations, lechery, religion, revenge

Story: Sir Henry Fitzalan, an important emissary of king Edward I is assassinated by a mysterious archer. At the same time, the body of a young woman is found in Ashdown forest, Sir Henry's estate, with an arrow wound in her throat. The king sends Sir Hugh Corbett to investigate. He discovers that Sir Henry knew something that could seriously inconvenience King Philip of France, and also that he was hated by many people, including his siblings. Among the suspects are Sir Henry's brother, his verderer, and the mysterious outlaw known as the Owlman.

Rating: A complicated and twisting historical mystery, full of intrigue and dark deeds. 3+ stars.

Author review: Paul Doherty is a historian. Many of his mysteries, including all three I read for this review, take place in fourteenth or fifteenth century England, which is not surprising considering that he wrote his doctorate about the reign of Edward II of England (1307 to 1327). The richness of the historical tidbits he includes in his books shows his familiarity with the era, but he has also written mysteries that take place in Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt and Classical era Greece. Unfortunately I was unable to get hold of any of those books.
The writing is expert, the storytelling excellent, and while I had all three murderers figured out before mid-book, the mysteries are by no means weak - Doherty just seems to firmly believe in Rules no. 1 & 2 of mystery writing and plays completely fair with the reader. It was fun to see the sometimes complicated plot twists that led to the final resolution of each story. The style of The Demon Archer and The Nightingale Gallery is similar, those two being straight mysteries, but The Hangman's Hymn is a bit different. It is as much a thriller as it is a mystery, and most of the story is quite dark, even supernatural at times, as befits a book that deals with evil and devil worship. Doherty's characterisations are excellent, and even minor characters are fleshed out and made realistic. All of this comes together to make entertaining stories that are difficult to put down. I think I can safely say that I have found another author whose books I will seek out.

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 and his family, his animal collecting expeditions, nature, people and animals he met, and about the zoo he established in Jersey.

16 November 2006

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 when I can be sure of getting all the books in the series to read in chronological order. Reading them in order allows me to enjoy character development and to detect when the series starts going downhill.

Oldies and Classics:

Gulliver’s Travels - Jonathan Swift. Satire, adventure, alternative reality.
Wonderfully imaginative adventure and scathing social and political satire combine to make this a great story. Many readers will only be familiar with the first two books of this masterpiece, about Gulliver and the Lilliputians and Gulliver and the Brobdingnagians, but there are two more which have received less attention. Swift would not have called it fantasy – to him it was social satire, using fantastic elements to draw out the ridiculousness of certain people and institutions – but most modern readers read it more as a fantasy than as a satire.

Phantastes - George MacDonald. Adventure, fairy tale fantasy.
Here is an author who influenced both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and was instrumental in having Lewis Carroll submit Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for publication. Yet he seems little regarded today, except by serious fantasy fans who are interested in the origins of the genre. I challenge any serious fan of fairy tale fantasy to read Phantastes - you will not regret it. There is a development of themes in it that can be seen in later works by other authors, and a clever reworking of old fairy tales and myths.

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien. High fantasy.
Although LOTR was far from being the first fantasy novel, it was among first that showed the precision and attention to background detail that made the world it depicted seem real to its readers. Many readers criticise it for all the detail, which they feel bogs down the story, but don’t realise that without all this background, it would just be another good vs. bad saga that might already be forgotten.

The Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis. Adventure.
When I was young enough not to detect the religious content I found this series absolutely wonderful. I have not read any of the books since I was in my teens, but remember them with fondness.

Peter Pan - James M. Barrie. Adventure.
This story fascinated me when I was a child. I saw the Disney movie when I was quite young, and later, when I read the book, it became one of my favourites. To be able to fly like Peter Pan was a childhood dream. I have not been able to bring myself to read it after I grew up, out of feat that it will be spoilt by reading it through critical, adult eyes.

The newer ones:

The Discworld series – Terry Pratchett. Humorous fantasy.
Pratchett has created a world that seems very real, although I wouldn’t want to live in it (a short visit would be nice). The early books are lighter and more laugh out loud funny, while the newer books are darker and give you things to think about, while still being funny, although often in a tragicomic way.

The Harry Potter books – JK Rowling. Magic, alternative reality.
It seems to be fashionable in some circles to criticise the Harry Potter books for nothing more than being popular. The fact is, though, that the Harry Potter books are well written, well plotted, good reads (with one exception, and even that had some merits), that are written to grow with young readers. Unfortunately The Order of the Phoenix nearly put me off the series, and while I want to know how it all ends, I think I will wait until I can borrow the next book rather than buy it.

American Gods - Neil Gaiman. Dark, mythological fantasy, alternative reality.
Dark fantasy mingled with horror and interwoven with mythology. About a war between the old gods and the new gods, and a human who gets mixed up in it.

Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various graphic artists. Alternative reality, mythological fantasy.
Completely captivating graphic novels.

The Chronicles of Pern – Anne MacCaffrey. High fantasy that changes into science fantasy.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading those, even when the same story was repeated up to three times from different viewpoints. I lost interest when MacCaffrey turned the fantasy/science fantasy (quite unnecessarily) into science fiction. The last book I read in the series was Dragonsdawn, which, while a credible explanation of the origins of the dragons, was a letdown because it rationalised something that didn’t need to be rationalised.

The Neverending Story and Momo – Michael Ende. Adventure.
Ende was a genius when it came to writing fantasy that appeals to all ages and these two deserve status as classics of the genre.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart. Mythological fantasy.
I was quite young when I first read this, and found it fascinating. It’s the story of Merlin and his involvement with King Arthur, told by Merlin himself. For a long time I thought it was a standalone book and found the ending rather abrupt, but later I discovered that there are three more books, which I have been trying to get hold of.

15 November 2006

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 closed bookshelf for the kitchen. I don’t mind food stains in my cookbooks – it gives them character - but my non-recipe foodie books I want in pristine condition.

TBR books go in the home office, and so do the dictionaries and reference books, except the literary references which are shelved with the literature they refer to. TBR books are organised thus: all the mysteries and thrillers together by author (not alphabetical), all the romances together, and then the rest of them by colour. I act as a library for my mother, so all the books she has not yet read go on a special shelf. Everything is double stacked except the last category, but that is only because I’m keeping them in a CD case and it only takes one row of books. I would like to get shelves I can triple stack. I currently own more unread novels than read ones, but am working hard to change that.

Read books go in the bedroom. General fiction and genres I don’t have much of go together. Literature has a couple of double stacked shelves and blends into mythology, fairy tales and sagas which then blend into fantasy and science fiction. Gerald Durrell and James Herriot have a shelf to themselves, and my Terry Pratchett hardcovers have two. Mysteries go by themselves and also romances, and so do travelogues (along with a few outdated guidebooks I keep as mementos of my journeys) and audio books. Large format books in all genres except sewing, crafts and quilting go on the bottom shelves, and so do all the gardening books. Non-fiction has a book case to itself, with everything arranged in very broad categories, except quilting, sewing and craft books which have one whole shelf to themselves.

Most of my old children’s books and a few chosen school books are in boxes in the basement, as I can’t fit them into the apartment without resorting to having specially fitted bookcases made (a distant dream for when I have enough money to spend on such luxuries).

Dear reader: How do you organise your library? Are you a Dewey or Library of Congress organiser, or do you have a more eclectic system? Do you organise by colour? By size? By periods in your life? By price?
Tell me - I would like to know.

Here’s someone else who has been giving the matter some thought: : Sarah Crown asks readers to share their shelf help tips.

14 November 2006

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.

10 November 2006

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 wherever they found an empty space on the shelves.

I divided the books into broad categories: art & architecture, science & maths, guide books, geography & travelogues, etc. and stuck a coloured label on the spine where regular libraries put the Dewey label. Then I alphabetised the fiction by author and arranged the rest on the shelves alphabetically by the labels, knowing full well that that trying to organise them by genre would only end in confusion. The system meant that once you had learned the colour codes you could quickly find the kind of book you wanted, even though it was not in alphabetical order, because there were not a whole lot of books in each category, usually less than 100. I would be interested in seeing if the system is still in use...

Link to part 2.

08 November 2006

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 the TV series.

Rhoda: A life in stories by Ellen Gilchrist, because it seems like a fun book to read. I'm going to make it my bedtime read and read one or two stories every night.

The Emperor's Babe by Bernardine Evaristo, because it's time I read some poetry (it's a novel written in blank verse).

My Journey to Lhasa by Alexandra David-Neel, because it's one of the oldest books in my TBR stack and I already read and enjoyed Magic and Mystery in Tibet.

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 before Nicholl sets off for the jungle temple where he finds, if not exactly what he was looking for, then at least an insight into Buddhism and a bit of relaxation before his return home.

Technique and plot: Nicholl has the journalist's instinct for a good story, and that is probably what led him to accept the offer of a stranger to journey with him into the Golden Triangle. The account of the part of the journey spent in the company of Harry and Katai reads like a novel, and in fact had I not known this was supposed to be non-fiction, I would have taken it for one. Besides his instinct for sniffing out a good story, Nicholl also has ability to tell a good story, so that a rambling journey full of periods of waiting becomes an interesting exploration of feelings and relationships, interspersed with adventure and even some danger. The jungle temple episode serves to show Nicholls's final disillusionment with what he seems to have seen as the old mysterious and spiritual east – at least he doesn't seem to have got any enlightenment there, although he did acquire some insight into Thai beliefs and thinking.

Rating: An interesting journey in the Land of Smiles. 3+ stars.

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 trying to read it I found myself distracted by the constant, nagging thought “I whish I was finished reading this”. I’m wondering if maybe it a case of overanticipation, that I was simply so eager to continue reading that it stopped me from being able to read. I guess I will find out tonight...

05 November 2006

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 Nora Bonesteel awaits the girl's ghost, which she has seen many times at that time of year. Finally, a young woman is having marital problems that Martha tries to help her with. All these stories cross and uncross and finally blend together as Martha, determined to prove herself by capturing the escaped convict, comes to realise that policing is both rewarding and very, very hard.

Review: While there is a more genuine mystery going on in this book than in the previous one in the series, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter, this is still more than a mystery. It is written with the same skill as the previous book, and the characters are well-drawn and realistic. As in real life, not everything ends well, but some of the endings are inevitable, while others are not.

Rating: Another great installation in the superb Ballad series. Highly recommended. 4 stars.

04 November 2006

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:

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

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 Crusie
Fasting Feasting: Anita Desai
Ritual murder: ST Haymon
A Very long engagement: Sebastien Japrisot
The Stone Boudoir - In search of the hidden villages of Sicily: Theresa Maggio
The Hangman's beautiful daughter: Sharyn McCrumb
She walks these hills: Sharyn McCrumb (upcoming)

Rereads: (Unreviewed)
Carpe Jugulum: Terry Pratchett
A Hat full of sky: Terry Pratchett
Maskerade: Terry Pratchett
The Wee Free Men: Terry Pratchett

October report:

Reviewed and upcoming reviews:
The Body Politic: Catherine Aird (upcoming)
Case histories: Kate Atkinson
The Roads to Sata: Alan Booth (upcoming)
The Hangman's Hymn and The Nightingale Gallery: Paul Doherty (upcoming)
News from Tartary: Peter Fleming (upcoming)
Last places: Lawrence Millmann (upcoming)
A Short walk in the Hindu Kush: Eric Newby (upcoming)
Borderlines - A journey in Thailand and Burma: Charles Nicholl (upcoming)
Wintersmith: Terry Pratchett

An author bites the dust: Arthur W. Upfield
Jumping the Queue: Mary Wesley

Comrade Don Camillo: Giovanni Guareschi (Icelandic translation)
Sourcery: Terry Pratchett

02 November 2006

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 every time you trade abroad. Furthermore, you are encouraged to list books by generating 1/10 of a point for each book you list.

The downside is that the website is not as well designed as the TitleTrader site and it can be hard to find things. For example, if you want to know if anyone has wishlisted a particular book, the only way of finding out is to browse through all the wishlists or actually list the book (edit: see comment by John). However, TitleTrader would do well to imitate some of BookMooch's features, such as the Save-for-later list, the ability to see a list of books and traders by country and the ability to gift trading points, not only to other members but also to charities (we have been asking for the last two for months on TitleTrader).

You do need to keep up a good trade-to-mooch balance: for every 5 books you mooch, you must trade 1, meaning you can not just list hundreds of books no-one wants, accumulate the points and then go on mooching without ever sending out a book.

If you are interested in trading with me, you can register for free at BookMooch. My member name is Netla.

Here is my current inventory.

01 November 2006

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)