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Showing posts from January, 2007

Bibliophile reviews The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Year published: 2005
Genre: Supernatural mystery thriller
Setting & time: The USA, Europe and Turkey, 15th to 21st century

Warning: minor SPOILERS ahead

The Story: The story is narrated by a historian who tells the story of a desperate hunt for Dracula. Mysterious books have been delivered to several people, mostly librarians and historians, that suggest that someone wants them to know that Dracula lives. But once they begin searching for clues as to his whereabouts, they are warned off (or are they? - I suspect they are being tested rather than warned) by a mysterious force that they suspect is Dracula himself. The hunt covers several centuries, through the research the searchers have to do to uncover the truth, but the main story begins in the 1930s and spans the middle decades of the 20th century and tells of three generations of historians who race against time to discover the secret location of Dracula's tomb and just what it is he wants with them.

Technique and plot: It took…

Finally, a review

You may have noticed that I haven't written any reviews lately. I have, as a matter of fact, been suffering from a highly specialised form of writer's block known as reviewer's block. The symptoms consist of an inability to write reviews due to feeling that you must be objective and ready to rationalise your reasons for giving a book a particular rating. Which of course is nonsense. It is nearly impossible to write objectively when reviewing - at least, I think the best reviews I have read have to some extent been based on feelings rather than on objective criteria - and as to defining the why of a rating, "I liked it" or "I didn't like" should be enough when I don't feel like explaining in detail. While the author and potential readers may feel better knowing why the reviewer liked or disliked the book, a reviewer like myself – who is not writing for a defined or large audience and only rarely about new books – really has no obligation to anyon…

Bookbinding, contd.

I took the first class on Saturday, three classes behind everyone else because I was on a waiting list and someone dropped out after the course started. This means I get double classes the next three Saturdays so I can catch up with the others. Oh yes, the others: I am by far the youngest student in the class which is a merry group of (mostly) pensioners. Everyone but one woman belongs to my grandparents’ generation, and the one exception is of my parents’ generation. The teacher tells me that not many younger people want to take bookbinding classes, perhaps a sign that the disposable mentality has firmly established itself.

I got started preparing and binding a collection of small booklets of fairy tales I have owned since I was a child and were published before my parents were born. In this first class I learned to repair pages, prepare endpapers, ready the book for binding and hand-sew the signatures together, and also how to take apart a book for rebinding. The teacher recommends …

Taking bibliophilia to the next level

I’ve signed up for a bookbinding course. It has always saddened me to see books that are in bad condition, bindings falling apart and covers falling off, and I have some at home that I want to repair. Having a book rebound is expensive – in fact it often costs more than buying a new copy, and I expect that by repairing about 6 books I will have recouped the cost of the course. Plus, my grandmother has stopped her bookbinding activities and has promised to give me all her equipment once I have done the course, so I will not need to buy equipment. She has everything but a guillotine (book-cutter) and letter stamps, but I will only need those if I need to put new covers on a book or make a book from scratch.

I am supposed to bring some bound books to experiment on, scissors, a sharp pocket knife and a darning needle.
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Now, if someone can explain to me why comments that are posted to my Blogger blogs have suddenly stopped getting e-mailed to me? I still have the e-mail option on, b…

The joys of rereading

Rereading may seem like a waste of time when there are hundreds or maybe thousands of books out there you want to read and oodles more that are available and you have yet to learn about. Still, I love to reread certain books and have read some as often as 20 times or more.

There are many reasons why I reread. When I have the blues, sometimes just the anticipation of an upcoming joke in a familiar funny book can pull me out of it. When I’m depressed or sad or upset, a comfortable familiar book can soothe my feelings, and when I am sick and unable to concentrate on a new book an old familiar one can make me forget my illness for a while. But I don’t just reread when something is wrong with me, I also do it when I’m happy or feeling lazy or in any other kind of mood. Sometimes I half-remember something I want to remember fully, and it is often easier to just reread the entire book that go looking for the remembered detail by skimming over the text.

The books I reread belong to various genr…

Bibliophile reviews The Last Continent: by Terry Pratchett

Year published: 1998
Genre: Fantasy

Because Euro Crime requested it, her is a review of a Discworld book I reread in December:

Disclaimer: I am a Pratchett fan and have read all the Discworld books, so this review is based on a comparison with the other books in the series, as well as my knowledge of literature in general. It may also be a bit biased.

The Story: The Librarian of Unseen University, the Discworld’s premier college of magic, is suffering from a virulent form of the flu that causes him to change shape every time he sneezes. In order to cure him, the other wizards need to know his real name, which is a bit difficult as he was changed into an orangutan years before and has worked very diligently at destroying every clue as to his real name to avoid being turned back into a human. The wizards think Rincewind may know the answer, but he is stuck on the continent of Foureks, which is possibly what our world’s Australia might be if transported onto the flat and magical world of the…

Woe is me...

Isn’t it typical that just when you have started a strict reading regime, a book comes along that makes you want to cancel it?

Yesterday I went to the second hand book shop and found Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.

My online reading group has been raving about it on and off for months. It is on several of my online reading buddies' favourite book lists and I have been wanting to read it for ages. Arrrggg!

I will be strong!, I will be strong!!, I will be strong!!!


Incidentally, I finished Eight Feet in the Andes and am planning to start the Gormenghast trilogy today.

Bibliophile reviews Last places (travel) by Lawrence Millman

Year published: 1990
Genre: Travel (non-fiction)
Setting & time: Norway, the Shetland Islands, The Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, Canada (Newfoundland); 1980's

In the mid 1980's the author took a journey tracing the route thought to have been taken by the Vikings in their quest for new lands to settle, from Norway to Canada, through the Shetland Islands, the Faeroes, Iceland and Greenland. It took him four months and he visited the countries in the same order as the Vikings did, in each country visiting lonely places and trying to find and understand the Viking heritage. In the Shetlands he searched for speakers of Norn, the old Nordic language of the islands that was all but eradicated by the British and is not spoken fluently by anyone any more. In the Faeroe Islands he visits the loneliest place he can find, and later witnesses a grindadráp, a slaughter of pilot whales. In Iceland he visits Askja, a spectacular crater lake in the hightlands, and in Greenland he takes …

Bibliophile reviews Rhoda: A life in stories by Ellen Gilchrist

Year published: 1995
Genre: Fiction, short stories
Setting & time: USA (and Mexico), mostly the south, 1940s to 1990s

This is my fifth and final read for the From the Stacks challenge.

Ellen Gilchrist has been writing short stories about the indomitable Rhoda Manning for most of her career as a writer and the stories in this book are collected from previous short story collections, with excerpts from one novel. They are arranged in chronological order so that they form a collection of sketches of Rhoda's life from the age of 10 until she is a grandmother in her fifties. The stories are not always consistent with details of Rhoda's family and the chronology of her life, which is probably due to the fact that the stories were written over a period of 15 years and were never meant to be read together.

Of the stories, the ones I found the most entertaining were the ones about Rhoda's childhood and teens. She has a spirit of rebelliousness and a streak of independence a mile w…

My 'Empty the shelf' challenge

I am a hoarder. A chronic one. If I acquire a new hobby, I start hoarding supplies for the future, as clearly shown by my stockpile of quilting fabrics, various craft supplies and tools, rocks for painting on, semi-precious stones for polishing, yarn and thread for crocheting, and books. The books are the most obvious sign of my hoarding tendencies, as they fill every available shelf in two rooms in my apartment.

Believe it or not, I actually have my book hoarding under control at the moment, meaning that the book stockpile has not yet started creeping out of my home office and into the other rooms. To achieve this I have had to be very strict with myself and only buy books I can't get at the library or ones I suspect I will want to keep. Right now, I am working on diminishing the TBR stockpile by only reading one library book for every 5-10 owned books. I have likewise been controlling the number of my keepers by evaluating every book once I have read it and deciding whether to I…

Bibliophile reviews My Journey to Lhasa by Alexandra David-Neel

Year first published: 1927
Genre: Non-fiction: Travel
Setting & time: Tibet, 1920s

The fourth book I finish in the From the Stacks
challenge. That only leaves Rhoda, which I finished yesterday and will review soon.


The Story: Alexandra David-Neel was a Frenchwoman who became interested in Eastern philosophy at an early age. She made many excursions abroad and lived in Asia for many years, finally becoming a Buddhist and being accepted as a lama. When the British denied her access to Tibet (in fact they deported her after she entered the country without their permission), she decided she would show them that she would go where she wanted, and after three years of careful planning she set off on a journey to Lhasa, Tibet's capital and at that time still mostly closed to Westerners others than diplomats. She says that she was not particularly interested in reaching Lhasa for the sake of whatever philosophical and religious experiences it offered, but merely to have been there and to …

Bibliophile reviews Conspiracy in Death by J.D. Robb

Series detective: Eve Dallas
No. in series: 8
Year of publication: 1999
Type of mystery: Murder, whodunnit, police procedural, futuristic mystery thriller
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: New York, USA, 2059

This is the third book I finish for the From the Stacks challenge. Upcoming is a review of My Journey to Lhasa.

When I first heard of the In Death series I thought it sounded like something I would enjoy. The review I read emphasised that in order to enjoy the books fully, it was important to read them in the order of publication, so I got the first book from the library, read it in one sitting and got hooked. After reading several books, I decided that while it was indeed best to read them in order, they could be read out of order, but only if one was reading them for the mystery plots and not for character development and relationship dynamics. I continued reading them until I finished book seven, and then I got reader's block. Conspiracy… had been on my night tab…

Bibliophile reviews The Emperor's Babe by Bernardine Evaristo

Year published: 2001
Genre: Verse fiction
Setting & time: London, second century A.D.

The second From the Stacks challenge book I finish.

The Story: Zuleika, daughter of Sudanese immigrants in Roman London, tells her story, all the way from a carefree childhood, to a marriage to a Roman senator at age 11, her friendships and empty life as a trophy wife, to her passionate and ill-fated romance with emperor Septimus Severus. Her affair with Severus is doomed from the start, but Zuleika regrets nothing and meets her fate with equanimity.

Technique and plot: The story is told in first person and written in blank verse. The style is snappy and inventive, mixing together Latin and modern slang, references to Londinium and people and events contemporary to Zuleika with references to modern people, places and events. There is wild humour, especially where her friend Venus is concerned, but also pathos and sorrow and everything inbetween. Whenever she describes intimacies or sex, the verses be…

Bibliophile reviews Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer

Series detective: Inspector Hemingway
No. in series:
Year of publication: 1961
Type of mystery: Murder, whodunnit, howdunnit
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Rural England, 1960s
Some themes:

Story: Inspector Hemingway of the Scotland Yard is called in to investigate a mysterious murder in a small English village. Several people had reason to dislike the victim, who was an unpleasant man, a social climber who was not above using blackmail to get his way. Most of the suspects were on their way home from a tennis party when the murder took place, and Hemingway needs to establish their alibis or lack thereof before turning to finding out just how the murder was done.

Review: This is a clever puzzle plot, worthy of Agatha Christie, and written in Heyer's deft style. While I had the murderer figured out after not too many chapters, I was unable to figure out the howdunnit of the plot until the Inspector began unravelling it.

Rating: Another clever and interesting puzzle from H…

Bibliophile reviews the book to TV adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather

A friend who was in Britain over the holidays brought back videotapes with Sky’s long-awaited adaptation of Hogfather and we watched them together on Sunday.

While I am firmly of the opinion that the Discworld books deserve bigger budgets and better special effects than usually offered by television, I will say that for a television adaptation this is pretty good. The look and ambience are just right, and most of the casting is good. Michelle Dockery was an excellent Susan, and Marc Warren was genuinely creepy as Teatime, although not as creepy as he could have been had he spoken in a slightly more normal voice. The childlike voice and speech patterns and American accent grated on my nerves the whole time and made the character seem too exaggerated. Ian Richardson did a good job of speaking for Death, and the wizards seemed to have jumped straight out of Paul Kidby’s paintings of them. Just about the only bit of casting I was unhappy with was Nobby, who was played by Nicholas Tennant,…

Better late than never...

December 2006 reading report

Happy New Year!

I did not finish reading many books in December, but the number of pages does not reflect this – most of the the books I read were over 300 pages long. I have turned back to an old hobby I all but abandoned while I was at university, namely rock painting, and anyone who has done any painting knows that it's impossible to paint well while holding a book ;-)

I listened to an unabridged audiobook of The Lord of the Rings while I painted, so I suppose if I count the pages of that book into the total, it makes a pretty good number of pages. In addition, I read about half of the 600-something pages of The Historian, which will probably be the fist book I finish reading in 2007.

I finished three of the remaining four books in the From the Stacks challenge.

Books I plan to review: (this may change)

The Road to Oxiana: Robert Byron
My journey to Lhasa: Alexandra David-Neel (fourth From the Stacks challenge book finished)
The Emperor's Babe: Bernardine Evaristo (second From the…