31 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 me a long time to finish this book – I read into the middle of it in two sessions and then stalled for almost two months before I started reading it again. Why? To be frank, it sags badly in the middle and could do with some editing and tightening. There is so much overdescription and overplotting that drags down the story that I was tempted to grab a pencil and start editing. I never thought I would say this about a mystery, but there are too many clues (!!) and not all of them are necessary. The plan may have been to create a richness of narrative, but I at least kept thinking "get on with it!" again and again. The main narrative thread keeps getting broken up with chapters and chapters of flashbacks in the form of letters or historical documents that are so long that once the main thread reappears, you have as good as forgotten where the main narrative left off before the flashback.

That said, here are the good points: Kosova can write. She is a good storyteller and the plotting is good, even if it is too elaborate at times, which is why I kept reading to the end. I wanted to know how it ended and why it ended that way, even if I had to wade through a lake of padding to do it.

The parallels with Bram Stoker's original Dracula are clear, except for the plot element of Dracula actually wanting to be found, and while Kostova's dark prince is a lot smarter and more devious than Stoker´s, he is ultimately a legitimate offspring of Stoker's evil monster rather than of the modern, sympathetic Anne Rice vampire. My only complaint with regard to Dracula is that we see too little of him – he is rather like Tolkien's Sauron in that respect: his presence is felt rather than seen throughout most of the book.

Rating: A good plot, but too much padding. 3 stars.

30 January 2007

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 anyone but themselves. That knowledge does not in the least change the feeling, but I am trying to overcome it.

And now for the review:

Title: Eight Feet in the Andes: Travels with a mule from Cajamarca to Cuzco
Author: Dervla Murphy, with interjections from her daughter Rachel
Year published: 1983
Genre: Non-fiction, travel
Setting & time: Peru, 1980s

Dervla Murphy is one of the world's best-known adventure travellers and has written several books about her journeys to various, often remote, corners of the world. This one is about her four month Andean journey on foot along the Peruvian Inca road known in Spanish as the Camino Real, from Cajamarca and southwards to Cuzco. She was accompanied by Rachel, her 9 year old daughter (who turned 10 during the journey), and Juana, a mule whose original purpose was to serve as a mount for Rachel but ended up being almost exclusively a pack animal. They were unable to follow the Camino Real completely, as long stretches of it no longer exist, and they would often find themselves scrambling up and down steep mountainsides in search of trails or shortcuts to make the journey easier, and taking what seemed like the right way, only to have to turn back when the way was blocked by landslides or deep ravines. They both seem to have tolerated the hardships of cold, heat, snow, rain and the occasional unfriendly locals with equanimity, both being experienced travellers.

Dervla Murphy is an excellent writer and her descriptions of their daily travails along the trail are interspersed with descriptions of the breathtaking landscapes of the Andes, nature, weather, and the people and how they lived and their reactions to seeing two apparently crazy females appear in their villages (sometimes people would even refuse to believe that the deep-voiced Murphy was a woman). Murphy is the kind of writer who can make every description of a sunset or sunrise interesting and unique (there are several in the book) and is able to look with a certain amount of humour at even the most difficult situations. She shows great sorrow for the lack of environmental foresight and the abuse of natural resources and the mismanagement of power that was rife in Peru at the time (and probably still is), and it would be interesting to see how the situation appears to a person visiting the country now, more than 20 years later.

Rating: An excellent and interesting story about a crazy journey through the Andes. 4 stars.

29 January 2007

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 having 8-10 books on the go at a time so that I will learn the methods well, so when I got home I scoured my bookshelves and storage room for books in need of rebinding and unbound books that are not so valuable or precious to me that failure or clumsy handiwork will spoil them for me. On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon I sat in front of the TV, watching DVDs of my favourite movies and picking apart book after book. The next step is to repair them as needed so they will be ready for rebinding when I get to class next Saturday.

Here is what I have done so far: The signatures are all bound together, but it still needs some finishing touches before it is ready for the cover. Notice the rust on the edges of some of the signatures? They were stapled together and before I got them they had been stored somewhere damp enough to rust the staples and stain the paper. I only hope the rust will not continue to deteriorate the paper now the cause has been removed.

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BTW, if you’re waiting for me to continue reviewing – I have not read much lately and have additionally been suffering from reviewer’s block (more on that later). I have four author reviews I have started, but all of them are waiting until I finish one more book so I can give a reliable review of the author.

24 January 2007

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.

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, but I only get an e-mail after I have approved the comment.

18 January 2007

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 genres, but most have in common that they are very readable and make me feel good. They can be biographies, travelogues, comic books, fantasies, or mysteries, or indeed any genre, both fiction and non-fiction.

I divide my rereads into three categories: one time rereads, repeat rereads and perennials.

The one time rereads are books I could not help but breeze through at such a speed that many details got lost in the reading, like the last two Harry Potter books and some thrillers and mysteries. I like to go back and read them again at a more sedate pace to savor the details and see what I missed the first time around, without feeling I must read them as if I were in a speed-reading contest. Some of the books I could not help but breeze through on the first read have become repeat rereads and even perennials.

The repeat books are books I come back to every few years (or sometimes after many years), like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. They are comfort reads, books I return to whenever I don’t feel like reading something new (although in the case of Pratchett I discover something new on nearly every reread).

The perennials are books I have read, on average, once a year or biennially ever since I first discovered them. They are the ultimate comfort reads and coming back to them is like being reunited with old friends. Some have been with me since childhood, like The Hobbit, Anne of Green Gables and My Family and Other Animals, while others are relatively new on my perennials list, like Good Omens and The Lord of the Rings (recently upgraded from repeat status to full perennial since I acquired the unabridged audio book version).

All my rereads have one thing in common: none of them ends badly for the protagonist. A couple have ambiguous endings, but none have bad ones. It’s not that I don’t like books with bad endings, it’s just that my repeat and perennial rereads are comfort reads. I don’t want to be shocked or made to feel sad and/or miserable by the ending when I reread a book. For comfort, I need to know that whatever obstacles and hardships my favourite protagonists have to overcome, they will surmount them and come through, if not unscathed, then at least alive and with a good future or the promise of one ahead of them.

17 January 2007

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 Disc. While trying to find a wizard who can find Rincewind, the wizards stumble on a wormhole that leads to a rather unusual tropical island. It is not until they are stuck on the island in the company of the university’s housekeeper, Mrs. Witlow, that they discover that they have gone back into the distant past. They stumble across a God who helps them get off the island in a highly unconventional and dangerous “boat”, and they set off to find Foureks. Meanwhile, Rincewind is on the run on said continent, first from general danger, then from a Creator who insists that he is the only person who can fix the problems of the country, and then from the Watch, who want to hang him for sheep-stealing. Will Rincewind save the day and bring rain? Will the wizards find Foureks? Read it and find out.

Technique and plot: Rincewind is the protagonist of one of four sub-series within the Discworld series. Of the four series, the Rincewind books are the most frivolous and parodic. As the other series have become darker and more serious and the humour deeper, the Rincewind books (along with some of the early standalone books) have become the comic relief of the series. This is not to say the other series are not funny, but the humour tends to be deeper and darker than in the Rincewind books.
The narrative is Pratchett’s usual chaotic mixture of plots (only two this time) that at some point you know are going to come together, you just don’t know when. The Rincewind plot is, for most of the story, a series of sketches, while the plot with the wizards is more coherent.

Rating: Of the Rincewind books this one and The Last Hero are probably my favourites, but in relation to the other books (and considering that Rincwwind is my least favourite regular character) in the series I can only give this one 3+ stars.

16 January 2007

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 a wilderness hike. In Newfoundland he visits Lance Aux Meadows, where a Viking settlement has been excavated, and goes to a lonely beach where he and his guide encounter a strange kind of pollution.

The book does not tell the story of the Vikings, but is rather an attempt to understand their influence upon the places where they settled and of the places on them, and to try to see what those places were like before they were settled.

Millman writes a very readable style, and as he is mostly writing about places I know or should know, I found the book very interesting. Ultimately, of course, the journey was not made for the sake of discovery, but for the sake of the journey, something it has in common with some of the best travellogues ever written.

Rating: An interesting and eccentric travelogue. 4 stars.

14 January 2007

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 wide and does anything that comes into her mind, usually without thinking about the consequences. As an adult, she turns into one of those women who can not seem to be happy without a man in their lives, but once she has caught one, she can not be happy with him and leaves him for another, and so on. The stories of her adult life are give one a look into a life that is not altogether happy, but also not altogether unfulfilled.

The writing style is uneven, and the contents range from being funny, emotional and interesting, to being uninteresting, depressing and repetitious. In other words, a very uneven collection.

Rating: The stories range from 2 to 5 stars in quality.

13 January 2007

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 will ever read it again. If I think I will re-read it, it goes on the keeper shelves in my bedroom, but I only keep about one in very 15, so the keeper shelves are filling up quite slowly. I may not have to buy a new shelving unit for either room for a couple of years if I manage to keep this up.

The problem is that once I buy a book, if I don't read it within a couple of weeks, it will go into the stacks and remain there for an interminable length of time, until I either forget why I wanted to read it and trade it away unread or find it accidentally and actually read it, which is rare. I want to change this and finally read all my oldest TBR books, and I also want to prevent the new acquisitions from sinking down to the bottom of the pile. Therefore I have thought up a new challenge that will run alongside the 52 mystery authors challenge.

There is a small single shelf on the wall of my home office that until now has held some ornaments and knick-knacks. I have cleared it and put on it a mixture of some of my newest and oldest TBR books, and a couple of loaners I need to read soon so I can return them. The challenge is that whenever I want to start reading a new book I own, I have to choose one from the shelf or choose to finish a book I have already started reading but have been taking a break from. The only exceptions to this rule are mysteries that are part of the other challenge, as I already have a reading plan for those. Books I take off the shelf to read will not be replaced with other books – I must finish them all or get rid of those I decide not to finish before I re-fill the shelf. If I am successful and manage to stick to this plan, I will continue the challenge until the end of the year, and longer if necessary. I am starting with only non-mysteries so as to force myself to read only mysteries intended for the 52 authors challenge, but once that challenge is over I will add some mysteries to the shelf.
Reviews will be provided as evidence of my success and occasionally photographic evidence as well, starting with this photo of the full shelf:
(if you want a closer look, click on the image and when the Flickr page opens, click on "ALL SIZES" above the photo to see it full size)

TBR: To Be Read

The titles are, from left to right:
Úti að aka: á reykspúandi kadillak yfir Ameríku (Out for a drive: by smoke-belching Cadillac across America) by Ólafur Gunnarsson & Einar Kárason
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
The Kite Runner by Khaled Husseini
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
The Literary Gourmet by Linda Wolfe
Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer
Granta Travel Writing, vol. 10 by various authors
The Titus Books (the Gormenghast trilogy) by Mervyn Peake
Tender at the Bone Ruth Reichl
Oscar Wilde by Philippe Jullian
Second fiddle by Mary Wesley
Nathaniel's Nutmeg by Giles Milton
Eight Feet in the Andes by Dervla Murphy
Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn
Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The Ugly American by Lederer & Burdick
Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer
Arabella by Georgette Heyer (I have already read the other novel in the book)
Harriet Said… by Beryl Bainbridge
Irish Fairy Tales by Sinéad de Valera
Gods, Graves and Scholars by C.W. Ceram
Slightly Scandalous by Mary Balogh
Sylvester Or the Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer

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 show the British how a clever woman could penetrate their blockade and fool the Tibetans into letting her travel through their country. With her went her adopted son, a Sikkimese Buddhist monk by the name of Yongden. Neel travelled disguised as a Tibetan beggar-pilgrim and got an (at the time) unique insight into the lives of the people of Tibet. The journey was hard, but while they did run into danger several times, they always got out of it unscathed, and finally made it to Lhasa where they stayed for 2 months. They then returned, with Neel out of disguise, visiting Buddhist temples on the way and buying antiques.

Review: Madame David-Neel was a formidable woman, that much is clear. She had a strength of will and character that make her a memorable person, but I'm not sure I like her much. She comes across as rather arrogant and seems to have thought herself smarter than just about everyone she met on her journey (probably because of her higher level of education), even to the point of speaking rather condescendingly about her travelling companion, whose superstitions she looks down on as being rather silly, rather than accepting them as the product of his cultural upbringing.

Neel's writing is sometimes more in the style of fiction than non-fiction, to the point of resorting to melodrama when describing certain events, complete with too many !s at the end of sentences, which got to be quite annoying after a while. This style slowly fades as you read further into the story, but resurfaces whenever the travellers meet with danger of any kind. Apart from this tendency to sensationalise her story, Neel's writing is good and her descriptions of the landscapes and weather and people are interesting and well written. As a travelogue this is an excellent piece of writing and tells with clarity and lively language of the long walk to Lhasa by an intrepid traveller who would allow nothing to stand in her way.

Rating: An interesting tale of an interesting woman's journey through forbidden territory. 4 stars.

08 January 2007

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 table for more than a year when I decided to participate in the From the Stacks reading challenge, so it was a logical choice.

Story: When Eve Dallas reprimands a lower ranking police officer on the scene of a gruesome and mysterious murder, she has no inclination that it is the beginning of events that will eventually lead to her career as a police officer being severely threatened. The case she is working on involves the mysterious murders of homeless people and the removal of diseased organs from their bodies. Eve and her colleagues come to the conclusion that the murderer is probably a doctor who is conducting illegal experiments, but finding out who it is proves to both difficult and dangerous and Eve has to use all her experience and resources (including her husband's connections and computer savvy) to catch the killer.

Review: This is another thrilling installation in the In Death series that takes Eve right to the edge when first her spotless reputation is threatened and then her job. As in the previous books, the personal interactions and relationships of the characters are mixed up with the mystery plot, making it possible to read the book both as an individual mystery thriller and part of a continuing story about people who happen to investigate murders both as a sport (Roarke) and for a living (Eve and her colleagues). The futuristic aspects are incidental to the plot, and even people who cordially hate science fiction should be able to enjoy the story.

While I have at times complained about too many sex scenes in the In Death books when recommending them to others, in this case it was interesting to see how Robb uses sex to express the moods of Eve and Roarke and various nuances of their relationship and how they, and especially Eve, use physical action (fighting as well as sex) to relieve their emotions. That said, there are still too many sex scenes in the book. Most romances don't even have that many, but fortunately they are short, generally 2 pages or less and there is no purple prose.

The murder mystery is baffling and gruesome at times, and while there are subtle hints, I for one didn't discover them until after the murderer's identity was revealed.

Rating: Another great installation in the series. 3+ stars.

07 January 2007

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 become more unstructured and flowing, suggesting that Zuleika really craves love above everything else.

The rhythm of the verses at their most snappy and slangy remind me sometimes of a rap song, and when most serious of something that could be recited to the accompaniment of classical music. It does not take long to get into the rhythm of the narrative, and Evaristo's inventiveness and way with words never ceases to entertain.

Rating: An entertaining and interesting look at human relationships and emotions, set forth in verse. 4 stars.

06 January 2007

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 Heyer. 3+ stars.

04 January 2007

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, who was not made to look sufficiently ugly to be a convincing Nobby (a man who has to carry around a certificate to prove he is indeed human and not a monkey or a misshapen dwarf).

Pratchett purists will have missed certain things from the books, like Foul Ole Ron and company, the mud and boots incident, the old man and the king and at least a sight of the Librarian. However, there were plenty of other small scenes and touches that made it from book to film and which will have delighted the fans while sometimes confusing people who have never read a Discworld book. The adaptation was in fact remarkably faithful to the book.

The adaptation is good – for television – and while I would have preferred better special effects, I doubt it could have been done better on a TV budget.

My only big complaint is that because it was shown on Sky One, there were several long advertising breaks (my friend having been too lazy to pause the recording while the ads played) and I found my concentration being broken every 15-20 minutes with adverts for indigestion remedies and furniture sales. But I hear the DVD is coming out at Easter and it will be fun to watch it uninterrupted. Or perhaps I will save my money and begin a campaign to have it shown on Icelandic state TV, which does not have advertising breaks in the middle of programs.

01 January 2007

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 Stacks challenge book finished)
Conspiracy in Death: JD Robb (third From the Stacks challenge book finished)

Unreviewed (as always, you can request a review if you want to know what I thought of them)
The Big book of cats: Susan Feuer, ed.
The Last Continent: Terry Pratchett
Madame Sarah: Cornelia Otis Skinner

Audio book listened to:
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, read by Rob Inglis: JRR Tolkien