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Congratulations Sir Terry

Terry Pratchett has been knighted. Congratulations, Sir Terry!

While the honour comes from his services to literature, he seems to be shaping up to become a spokesman for Alzheimer's research, which could very well have won him the honour in a few year's time, if he had not got it for his writing.

Mystery author #52: Qiu Xiaolong

Title:A Loyal Character Dancer
Series detective: Chief Inspector Chen Cao
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 2002
Type of mystery: Missing person, murder, organised crime; police procedural
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Shanghai, China; 1990s

Story:
Chief Inspector Chen, a young officer and rising star in the Shanghai police deoartment, is ordered by his superior to accompany and entertain an American police officer, U.S. Marshal Catherine Rohn. Rohn has come to China to escort to the USA the wife of a man who is an important witness in a case against a human smuggling ring that both the USA and China want to break up. But the woman has gone missing, and Chen is torn between the need to find her and wanting to solve an apparently gang-related murder. Rohn is not ready remain inactive while the Chinese police conduct the search for the missing woman, which complicates matters, as does a growing attraction between her and Chen and the attempts of Chen’s political enemies w…

Bibliophile reviews The Twelve Deaths of Christmas by Marian Babson

Year of publication:1979
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: London, England; contemporary

Story:
Over the space of 12 days leading up to Christmas a murderer is on the loose in London, killing at random with whatever weapon is at hand. We know from the beginning that this is someone who suffers from pathological headaches that bring out a switch in personality from a respectable citizen into someone whose grip on sanity has been loosened to the extent that they act on the little annoyances that occasionally drive all of us to commit murder in our imagination, while still being able to look and act normal. When they recover from the headache, they don’t remember what they did, so there is no suspicious behaviour to give them away. The second thing we are allowed to know is that this person lives in a boarding house in London, but which one of the inhabitants is it?

Review:
This is not what I would call a cosy mystery. Its tone is too nasty for that, with …

Added another batch to BookMooch

This time it‘s a mixed bag of humour, action, romance, science fiction and picaresque.

Kingsley Amis:Lucky Jim
Alan Dean Foster:Jed the Dead
Carl Hiaasen:Double Whammy
Valerie King:A Christmas Masquerade
Stephanie Laurens:A Comfortable Wife
Alan Parker:The Sucker's kiss
Nina Porter:A Matchmaker's Match

Bibliophile reviews two Christmas crime novels by Mary & Carol Higgins Clark

I decided to review these two Christmas themed crime novels together, as they were written by the same author team and belong to the same series, or actually two series, one by each author. I think Mary started writing her Christmas novels with Silent Night (which I haven’t read), but the first one I read was All Through the Night, which I think is her first Christmas novel to feature lottery winner and amateur sleuth Alvirah Meehan. The subsequent Christmas novels have been written in co-operation with her daughter Carol, who is a writer in her own right.

Deck the Halls appears to be their first collaboration, but since then they have written a number of Christmas novels together, featuring Alvirah together with Carol’s series sleuth, Regan Reilly and her boyfriend (later husband) Jack.

These two (and All Through the Night) are not mysteries, but rather suspense novels with caper elements. The reader knows the whole time who the criminals are and the viewpoint swings between the sleuth…

Added more books to my BookMooch inventory

This time it's a stack of Regency romances someone gave me just as I was losing interest in the genre. Some of them appear to have never been read.

Titles:
Claire Darcy: Elyza
Barbara Hazard: The Calico Countess
Sandra Heath: A Matter Of Duty
Elizabeth Hewitt: Marriage By Consent
Judith A. Landsdowne: Lord Nightingale's Triumph
Dorothy Mack: The Steadfast Heart
Anita Mills: Scandal Bound
Patricia Oliver: Lord Gresham's Lady
Mary Evans Porter: Toast Of The Town
Margaret Summerville: Fortune's Folly
Sheila Walsh: The Rose Domino
Joan Wolf: A Double Deception

Christmas presents for book lovers

It seems everyone is offering Christmas gift suggestions for those without a clue as what to give their loved ones...and here is another one:

The obvious thing to give a book lover for Christmas is a book (or two). However, if you don’t know the person’s reading tastes well enough or are unfamiliar with which books they already own and you feel that book tokens or a book store gift certificate is not personal enough, here are some suggestions. First the practical ones:
a reading light, either a clip-on battery-operated travel model or one they can put on a desk or stand on the floor.
a book stand or book holder. They come in different shapes and sizes, from big stands made for reading in bed to small travel models designed to hold books open.a reading pillow. The luxury model looks like the back and armrests of a comfy chair, while the cheaper versions look sort of like breastfeeding pillows.book marks. personalised book plates.a book case.removable book covers to protect the books they…

Once more, with feeling:

Read my words:
I
do
not
accept
spam
comments.

I consider you telling me about your book to be borderline spam. I realise it's a tough market and you want to sell as many copies as possible, but if you think a smarmy comment telling me how wonderful my blog is will get me to buy your book or advertise for you for free, you are mistaken. If you ask me nicely, I may publish information about your book, but don't count on it.

Furthermore:
I consider a publisher telling me about a book they've published to be spam.
Telling me about a website that is not book-themed is spam.
Telling me about a book-themed commercial website is spam.
Trying to sell me anything is spam.

So save yourselves the trouble and don't sent me spam comments. I will not publish them.

Please do:
Let me know about your non-commercial book website (I don't mind if you have an Amazon store or mild advertising).
Tell me about other people's non-commercial book websites.

Thank you.

TBR challenge

I came across an interesting challenge in a book column on the Wall Street Journal website: save money by reading a book that you own but have never read, through the Guardian books blog, via BookNinja's blog.

I think it's excellent advice. Although I am still not suffering much from the local financial crisis, I know that in the coming months my mortgage payments are going to go up, and necessities are already getting more expensive, leaving me with less play money. Therefore I am going to take up the challenge and try to make inroads on my TBR stack instead of buying more books. It's no hardship, considering that I own around 4-500 books I have not read and have a library TBR list of several hundred more.

However, I will continue to mooch and give away books, at least until postage gets prohibitive.

Bibliophile reviews Death of a Hussy by M.C. Beaton (mystery)

I wrote this review ages ago, but for some reason I never got round to posting it until now.

Series detective: Constable Hamish Macbeth
No. in series: 5
Year of publication: 1990
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Lochdubh village, Scotland, contemporary
Number of murders: 2
Some themes: Family ties, money, inheritance

I was familiar with M.C. Beaton in her guise as romance writer Marion Chesney long before I read this book. I enjoyed some of her light-hearted Regency romances, but knew her to be a very uneven writer after having read an Edwardian romance of hers that was such a horrible collection of bad clichés that I ended up throwing it in the trash (I wrote a review, but upon reading it over I thought it was unfit for publishing. Let's suffice to say that I do not recommend Chesney's Kitty to anyone, not even her most ardent fans).

My first attempt at reading an M.C. Beaton mystery ended with me returning the book to the library unfinished. Th…

Reading report for November 2008

It seems like November has gone by in a flash, in spite of, or perhaps because of, having been a very busy month for me. In addition to Christmas gift-making and -shopping and my bookbinding classes, I finished reading 12 books, mostly genre fiction and a couple of travel books. I made it to author no. 51 of my reading challenge, and have started on the last author.

There was only one reread this month: Pratchett’s Thud!, which I read instead of finally sitting down with Making Money which I have still not been able to work up the enthusiasm to read. I may not read it until I actually have Unseen Academicals (which Pratchett is currently writing) in my hands, as I have a dread of running out of new Discworld books to read.

The high points of the month were Henry Miller’s rambling and enthusiastic travel memoir of Greece at the beginning of World War 2, and Connie Willis’ very funny time travel adventure.

The books:
Mary Balogh: Slightly Wicked (historical romance)
Caroline Graham: Death o…

Old Mills & Boon covers

Mills & Boon celebrates its 100 birthday this year, and there is a book out to celebrate it: The Art of Romance: Mills & Boon and Harlequin Cover Designs by Joanna Bowring and Margaret O'Brien. Click on the link in the post title to see some of the covers.

The first one is especially interesting - definitely a child of its time. I can't tell if he's supposed to be on the verge of attacking her or if he's supposed to have just found her, but I would like to find out.

There is also a contest in which you can win a copy of the book if you come up with a good title for one of the covers.

Bibliophile reviews To Say Nothing of the Dog, or, How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis

Year published: 1998
Genre: Science fiction, alternative reality, time travel
Setting & time: Oxford, England, 2057 and southern England, late Victorian era

The Story:
Due to under-manning, 21st century historian and time traveller Ned Henry is sent on an important mission to 19th century Victorian England, despite being an expert on the 20th century. Due to time-lag he is not quite sure what his mission is, but with a little rest and some detective work and help from Verity Kindle, another 21st century historian, he is able to discover what it is that he is supposed to do. At the same time, he is trying to avoid of Lady Shrapnell, a rich aristocrat who is trying to rebuild Coventry Cathedral (in Oxford) and wants him to find the artifact mentioned in the book’s subtitle, so he can recover from the time-lag and continue the search.

Technique and plot:
Here is a book I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone who enjoys science fiction, historical fiction and romance, and appreciates l…

I have added more books to BookMooch

Diane Mott Davidson: The Last Suppers
Diane Mott Davidson: Prime Cut
Diane Mott Davidson: Tough Cookie
Alex Duncan: The Diary of a Country Doctor
Susan Dunlap: Diamond in the Buff
Ann Granger: A Season for Murder
James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
J.J. Marric: Gideon's Week
Anne Perry: Bluegate Fields
Anne Perry: Seven Dials
Anne Perry: Southampton Row
Arthur W. Upfield: Boney and the Mouse
Arthur W. Upfield: Murder Must Wait

Bibliophile reviews A Season for Murder by Ann Granger

Going through my library to cull books, I discovered a number of novels, novellas and a couple of short story collections with a Christmas theme. While Christmas mysteries can be read year round, and are, in fact, sometimes best read at any other time of the year – at least if you like the holidays untarnished by thoughts of dark deeds – other Christmas fiction is usually best read in December, which is why I decided to embark on a reading spree with a Christmas theme. I am not one to let mysteries disturb me, so I am including some of those as well as the science fiction, fantasy and romance Christmas stories I found. Here is the first review.

Ann Granger was my mystery author #41, and I promised I would review her as an author once I had read some more of her books. Since this one is part of the same series as the previous one, I will leave the review for until after I have read A Rare Interest in Corpses, which is from another series of hers, a historical one.

Series detectives: Cons…

Major library cleanup

I've been having a major cull of my library and have added some 17 books to my BookMooch inventory, and will be adding more soon. The rest of the culls (mostly heavy books that cost to much to mail abroad) I will be donating to a library.

The books are:
Margery Allingham: Death of a Ghost
Mary Balogh: Slightly Wicked
Agatha Christie: A Pocket Full Of Rye
Stuart Kaminsky: Murder on the Yellow Brick Road
Karen Kijewski: Alley Kat Blues
Pamela Labud: Spirited Away
Donna Leon: Through a Glass Darkly
Charlotte MacLeod: The Luck Runs Out
Anne Perry: Rutland Place
Ellery Queen: The Siamese Twin Mystery
Nora Roberts: Chesapeake Blue
Nora Roberts: Inner Harbor
Nora Roberts: Rising Tides
Nora Roberts: Sea Swept
Dorothy L. Sayers: Lord Peter Views The Body
Arthur W. Upfield: The Battling Prophet
Valerie Wolzien: We Wish You A Merry Murder

I have another 70 books in my inventory, mostly mysteries and romances with a few non-fiction books thrown in.

Click on the title of this entry to see my BookMooch inventory.

Mystery author #51: Donna Leon

I think it was Maxine who first recommended Donna Leon to me, and after that I got several more recommendations for her books, so I decided to include her in the challenge.

Series detective: Commissario Guido Brunetti
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Venice, contemporary
--

Title:The Death of Faith (alternative title: Quietly in Their Sleep)
No. in series: 6
Year of publication: 1997

SPOILERS ahead

Story:
A young nun who has left her order comes to Commissario Brunetti with a story of some deaths at a nursing home where she worked that she finds mysterious but that at first appear to be perfectly normal. She seems to suspect that members of her order or of the Catholic church may be involved. When Brunetti starts digging, the nun is attacked and Brunetti’s boss tries to have him stop the investigation, which just makes him more determined to get to the bottom of the case.

Review:
The writing and characterisations in the book are very good. The characters com…

Thanks for the laugh!

On the Book Design Review last Friday there was a post about an article on the Guardian books blog about the value of reading bad books. In the post, BDR author Joseph Sullivan mentions a bad book that he once read, and, well, I guess you'll have to read it to find out why it was so funny: take me there.

I recommend reading the Guardian article as well.

Mystery author #50: Caroline Graham

At first I hesitated to include Caroline Graham in this challenge, as I have seen at least a dozen episodes of the television series based on the characters from the Barnaby books. However, I think I am justified in including her, since books and television are different mediums and I have not seen the episodes based on either of the books I read for the review (although I did watch Death of a Hollow Man after I read the book).

The first book in the series, The Killings at Badger’s Drift, made it onto the British Crime Writer’s Association list of The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time, despite having won neither the Gold or Silver Dagger, but it must have come close because the books that did get these awards that year are also on the list. Clearly it was a very good year for the Daggers.

About the series:

Series detective:Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Causton, a fictional town in southern England, and the surrounding area; contemporary

T…

Reading report for October 2008

I got through 10 books in October. 3 were rereads and 3 I had been reading for several months. I also discovered that Jennifer Crusie is becoming one of my favourite comfort read authors, and I am now trying to get hold of those of her books I don’t already have.

Here are the books:
Scott Adams: The Dilbert Future (humour, philosophy, comics)
Isabel Allende (text), Robert Shekter (illustrations) & Panchita llona (recipes): Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses (food, erotica)
Caroline Graham: The Killings at Badger's Drift (police procedural, murder mystery)
Donna Leon: The Death Of Faith (police procedural, murder mystery)
Sigurður Ægisson (text) & Jón Baldur Hlíðberg (illustrations): Íslenskar Kynjaskepnur (Meeting with Monsters) (bestiary)
Jeffrey Steingarten: It Must've Been Something I Ate (food, article collection)
Marion Trutter, ed.: Culinaria: Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan (culinary geography)

And the rereads:
Jennifer Crusie: Faking It (romance)
Terry Pratch…

Bibliophile reviews The Withdrawing Room by Charlotte MacLeod

Title:The Withdrawing Room
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 1980
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur & semi-pro
Setting & time: Boston, USA; 1970´s

Story:
Following the deaths of her husband and mother in law (see The Family Vault), Sarah Kelling is stuck with 2 houses and 2 killer mortgages that may or may not be illegal, but it will take months or perhaps years to sort them out, so until then she is close to broke. Being a practical person and not as proud as her richer society relatives, she turns her townhouse into a boarding house, accepting only people with good references. Soon, however, one of her boarders is murdered, and another one soon afterwards. The case is solved with the help of a bag lady and Max Bittersohn, who has returned to the scene and rented a room in the house.

Review:
Some of what I wrote about the previous book in the series may be applied to this one as well, except the plotting is even more intricate. The author subtly points the read…

Book crafts: A purse made out of books

Check this out: book purse

I share Penwiper337's opinion of Reader's Digest Condensed Books. However, while I do loathe them, I do think their gilded faux leather bindings look good enough for using as decorations (as long as no-one has to be victimised by the contents), and I think this is a pretty damn good idea. My only concern is that it would be a bit heavy to carry around, but of course it could just be used as decoration by dedicated purse collectors.

Bibliophile reviews Steel Guitar by Linda Barnes

Series detective: Carlotta Carlyle
No. in series: 4
Year of publication: 1991
Type of mystery: Blackmail/murder
Type of investigator: Private detective
Setting & time: Boston, Massachusetts, USA, late 20th century

Story:
Cab-driving PI Carlotta Carlyle runs into her former friend Dee Willis who is now a famous blues singer. Despite ambivalent feelings towards Dee, Carlotta accepts an assignment from her: to find their old friend Dave. At first Dee is unwilling to tell Carlotta why, but then admits that Dave seems to be trying to blackmail her. When Dee's recently fired ex-bass player is found murdered in Dee’s bed, she wants to cry off the search for Dave, but by that time Carlotta has become personally interested in finding him and discovering the truth, and enlists the help of another old friend.

Review:
While I have read one other book by Barnes (thus making her ineligible for the reading challenge), this was my first book about Carlotta Carlyle. I found the style snappy and the st…

Addictive website: Lists of Bests

Not only will you find people's personal lists there, but also all sorts of other lists, including lists of award winners and official Best of... lists, and you can choose items on the lists to indicate that you have read the book, seen the movie, been to the place, eaten the dish, etc.

Clicking the post title will take you directly to the website, clicking the link below will open in it a new window.

Lists of Bests

Mystery author #49: Karen Kijewski

Title:Katapult
Series detective: Kat Colorado
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 1990
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Private investigator
Setting & time: Sacramento, California, USA; late 20th century

Story:
Private investigator Kat Colorado is upset and angry when John, her friend and cousin by informal adoption, is found murdered. Their grandmother (John’s real and Kat’s informally adopted gran) sends Kat on a quest to find John’s killer and discover the whereabouts of his sister, who has been missing for 4 years. Kat is soon in over her head, dealing with determined criminals who will stop at nothing to stay out of jail. There is also a family drama brewing and a young streetwalker who needs to be rescued.

Review and verdict:
Kat Colorado is a typical hard-boiled female PI with a nose for trouble, a heart of gold and a troubled past that she wears like a medal. Unlike Jill Smith in Susan Dunlap books that I reviewed earlier, she is an almost instantly likable character …

Reading rut

I’m in a reading rut. After my reading marathon in September I first did not pick up a book for 2 weeks, then went into a rereading cycle which is what I do to jump start myself when I temporarily lose interest in reading, and now I have fallen into an old familiar rut where I start reading one book after another but after the first session I don’t feel like reading any more of the book, put it down somewhere and start reading another book. And another. And another. It’s pathetic, but I can’t help it.

In addition to the usual half-dozen or so books I am reading page-by-page or chapter-by-chapter over a long time (3 years in one case, and I’m only halfway through), I have several of these start-stop books scattered around. The book that started the rut, Clive Barker’s Abarat, I put down when I discovered halfway through that it was the first episode in a 5 book series, the last of which is still being written. I think I will shelve it and not read it until the last book is published and…

This is pretty cool: Wordle

I Wordled this blog, and this was the outcome:



Click on the image to see the large version.

Mystery author #48: Camilla Läckberg

The first book in this Swedish series, The Ice Princess, was published in English earlier this year, and according to Amazon.co.uk, this one will be published (in hardcover) in February 2009, under the title The Preacher.

Icelandic title:Prédikarinn
Original Swedish title:Predikanten
Series detective: Patrik Hedström (assisted by his colleagues and his girlfriend, writer Erica Falck)
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 2003
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Fjällbacka, Sweden, contemporary

Story:
The corpse of a young woman is found in a ravine in the small Swedish town of Fjällbacka and beneath the body lie two skeletons of young women who had disappeared more than 2 decades earlier. All three had been tortured in similar ways before dying of strangulation, so everything points to the same killer. Patrik Hedström of the local police heads the investigation while his heavily pregnant girlfriend deals with invasions of visitors seeking to stay in their ho…

Reading report for September 2008

I have been on leave from work with nothing to do except exercise for 50 minutes 2-3 times a day, eat my meals and attend the occasional lecture designed to improve my lifestyle. This has given me time to read voraciously. I therefore got through 20 books in September (I could have read a book a day, but I was pacing myself). This is not a record number of volumes for me but I am sure it comes close to being a record number of pages (or words) I have read in one month, since I only started reading 3 of the books before the beginning of the month, and some of the books were above average length. Only one was a reread (I think you can guess which one, at least if you read this blog regularly). I doubt I will be able to keep this up in October, as I will be going back to work then and starting an exercise regime where I work out for a minimum of 60 minutes a day, meaning I will have 60 minutes less potential reading time. But my health comes first, so I will be on the lookout for interes…

Mystery author #47: Charlotte MacLeod

I have read 7 of MacLeod’s books so far, but I am only going to do full reviews the first book from each of her 2 series. I will also list the others with short reviews. I may do full reviews of some of them later on.

The Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn series:
This series deals with the adventures of Sarah Kelling (later Bittersohn) and Max Bittersohn. She is a member of one of Boston’s old blood families and starts out as a housewife and later becomes the owner of a boarding house, and Max is a private investigator who specialises in art and jewellery.

The series starts out with Sarah as the main sleuth and Max as the helper, but in the 4 books I read (in order of publication) the focus shifted gradually towards having Max as the main sleuth and Sarah as the helper. This is perhaps natural, as Max is a kind of private detective, and as a matter of fact art and/or jewellery feature in all 4 murder cases.

The books are full of funny and eccentric characters, many of whom belong to Boston…

Mystery author #46: John D. MacDonald

Title:One Fearful Yellow Eye
Series detective: Travis McGee
No. in series: 8 (of 21)
Year of publication: 1966
Type of mystery: Blackmail and other nefarious business
Type of investigator: Private detective
Setting & time: Chicago, Illinois, and Florida, USA; 1960s

Story:
Travis McGee responds to a call for help from his former lover, Glory Doyle Geis, and flies up to Chicago to meet her. Her brain surgeon husband had died a long, slow death and while he was dying he had managed to turn most of his assets into money which then disappeared. His grown children by his first wife are deeply suspicious of Glory, who wants to find out what happened for her own peace of mind and to prove her innocence in the matter. Travis immediately suspects blackmail, and when he starts digging he uncovers a sordid trail of blackmail and violence.

Review:
When I picked up this book to read it I knew I was about to meet one of America’s most famous fictional PIs, but I didn’t know I was in for a stylistic treat …

Reading report for August 2008

I was slightly above my average reading level in August, with 14 books, perhaps subconsciously trying to make up for June and July. I started all but one of the books I finished within the month, which is unusual. The exception was the Heyer biography which I had been reading on and off for more than a year.

I have been on a travel book kick lately, finishing 3 within the month and I have started 2 more which I expect to finish in September. I also added 2 more authors to the reading challenge. Susan Dunlop I have already reviewed, and I am planning to read a couple more of Charlotte MacLeod’s books before I post a review. I am beginning to see a light at the end of that particular tunnel and will hopefully finish the challenge by the end of the year.

Ideas for a new challenge are welcome. I am leaning towards a travel book challenge, but it may be difficult to implement as I want to read about a new country every week and don't want to read guide books.

In the months to come you m…

Mystery author #45: Susan Dunlap

Title:Karma
Series detective: Jill Smith
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1981
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Berkeley, California, USA; 1980s

Story:
Jill Smith is off duty when she witnesses the mysterious murder of a guru at a Buddhist temple, but as the first officer on the scene she gets to lead the investigation, which soon turns out to be anything but simple. A number of people have various reasons for wanting the victim dead, most of them have something to hide, and none are willing to reveal all they know.

Review:
This is an enjoyably twisty mystery, plot driven with a nice old-fashioned puzzle plot. There are a number of red herrings, and like in so many good detective novels, the murderer is hiding in plain view all the time.
The negative thing is that Jill, the investigator, is in no way a unique character. She is just a typical stereotypical literary cop: married to her job, divorced because of it, seems to have few friends (all of th…

Reading report for June and July 2008

The period from the last week of June, the whole of July and the first week of August was an incredibly busy time for me. First came a 3 week intensive summer school in Croatia, during which time I read only 3 books, then a 12 day stop at home, followed by a 10 day holiday in the USA, during which I read a total of 1 book. I am surprised that I managed to read as many as of 16 books in June and July, but of course most of them were June reads.

Of the June books, 2 were rereads.

Books I read in June:
B.M. Gill: Seminar for Murder
Nick Hornby: High Fidelity
Linda Howard ofl.: Under the Boardwalk
Tim Moore: Spanish Steps
J.D. Robb: Betrayal in Death & Interlude in Death
Margaret Truman: Murder in the Smithsonian

Rereads in June:
Jennifer Crusie: Anyone but you & Bet me

Books I read in July:
Polly Evans: On a Hoof and a Prayer
Georgette Heyer: Powder and Patch & April lady
Timothy Holme: The Neapolitan Streak
Hrafn Jökulsson : Þar sem vegurinn endar
Jerry Stanley: Children of the dust bo…

Bibliophile reviews Roads: Driving America’s great highways by Larry McMurtry

Year published: 2000
Genre: Non-fiction, travel
Setting & time: USA, 20th century

At the end of the second millennium acclaimed author Larry McMurtry set out to drive along some of America’s interstate highways. Each month he would choose one or more interstate, fly to the end of the road or a handy stop along the way, rent a car and drive home to Texas. Most of the roads he chose were ones he knew already, but a few he had not been on before. The trip was mostly made without any stops other than the necessary ones for sleep, food or restroom breaks, and generally at or above the maximum speed limit.

If this sounds like an unlikely premise for a travelogue, I agree that it is, but McMurtry has managed to write a readable book about it nonetheless, as have others, like the previously reviewed books by Rosie Thomas and Tim Cahill.

Roads is not a book for people who like authors who stay in one place for long stretches of time and really get to know a place. Neither is it for people who…

Bibliphile reviews Strangled Prose (mystery) by Joan Hess

Series detective: Claire Malloy
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1986
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur, aided and thwarted by police
Setting & time: Arkansas, USA; mid 1980's


I recently found this review which I wrote ages ago, but then put aside as I wasn't certain I should publish, as it may seem a bit too much like a rant. I decided that I would publish it, as it illustrates something that really nags me, not only about the occasional mystery, but also about some romances. It concerns behaviour that is designed to really make me lose all sympathy for characters guilty of it.

Story: Claire Malloy, in spite of her unflattering opinions of romance novels, agrees to host the publication party of her friend Mildred's (aka Azalea Twilight) latest offering, Professor of Passion, a torrid story about amorous goings-on at a university. A militant feminist member of the faculty invades the party and reads passages from the book that draw up an unflattering…

Mystery author # 44: Margaret Truman

Margaret Truman, who died in January of this year, wrote a number of non-fiction books, mostly dealing with the White House and her parents, U.S. President Harry S. Truman and his wife, Bess. She also wrote a series of mysteries that take place at various landmarks in Washington D.C. In the Wikipedia article on her it is said that it has been claimed that the books were ghost-written, I suppose because someone decided it was beneath her to write mysteries.

The books in the Capital Crime series can be divided into two sub-series: those that feature Annabel Reed and/or Mackenzie Smith as the detectives, and those that don’t. I read one of each, not out of any particular choice, but because those were the ones I owned.

Title:Murder at the Library of Congress
Detective: Annabel Reed-Smith
No. in series: # 16 in the Capital Crimes series; # 8 in the sub-series featuring Annabel Read (-Smith) and Mackenzie Smith
Year of publication: 1999
Type of mystery: Murder, stalking
Type of investigator: Ama…

Bibliophile reviews On a Hoof and a Prayer: Around Argentina at a Gallop by Polly Evans

Year published: 2006
Genre: Non-fiction, travel
Setting & time: Argentina, 21st century

Polly Evans seems to have settled into a career as a travel writer, seeking out one adventure after the other. I don’t know what her journey in China was like, or her bike ride around New Zealand, but I know that her trip to Argentina was a typical whirlwind tour of tourist travel destinations. That she managed to squeeze out of it a semi-interesting travelogue is mostly due to 2 things:
1. She dug up some fascinating snippets of Argentinian history that she used to spice up the narrative.
2. She included horses and her efforts to learn to ride them.

Without the historical tidbits and the descriptions of her riding lessons and her subsequent rides and relationships with horses and her increasing confidence as a rider, I don’t see how On a Hoof and a Prayer could possibly have been stretched to book length, or even been made interesting enough to get published.

Much as I enjoyed her first book, It’…

Bibliophile reviews Seminar for Murder by B.M. Gill

Series detective: Detective Chief Inspector Tom Maybridge
No. in series: 2
Year of publication: 1985
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: London, England; 1980s

Story:
D.C. Maybridge is asked to hold a lecture on ballistics at a seminar for mystery writers. When the man in charge of the seminar is found dead, his body mutilated after death, with a taunting note to Maybridge pinned to the headboard above his body, there are a number of possible suspects, and Maybridge and company have to unravel a tangled web of alibis and find the truth.

SPOILER WARNING
From here onwards there may be spoilers, hopefully not serious ones, but you never know.


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I did warn you…

Review:
Not giving the readers a chance to test themselves against the detective is one of the few infractions agains the principle rules of mystery writing that I can not abide by in a straight (i.e. not supernatural or sci-fi) mystery. A deus ex machina solution is another. Some authors have got away…

Bibliophile reviews Tim Moore’s Spanish Steps: Travels with my donkey

Year published: 2004
Genre: Non-fiction, travel
Setting & time: Spain, 21 century

The Story:
In 2002 or 3 or thereabouts, travel writer and journalist Tim Moore set out to trace the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrim trail from St Jean Pied-de-Port in France to the shrine of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, with Shinto, a pack donkey, in tow. Unable to find stabling for Shinto in St Jean, they actually stated the journey about 10 km up the road. What followed were 40 days and 750 km. of slow travelling. While some of the dangers braved by medieval pilgrims were no longer available, such as robbers, bears and wolves, the weather was still there to inconvenience them just like it did their predecessors, sometimes with blistering heat and sometimes with pouring rain, as were such age-old annoyances as snoring roommates and moochers. Then there were hardships undreamt of by the pilgrims of old, such as cars and the overpowering heat of asphalt under the sun. On the o…

Reading report for May 2008

I was slightly over my average in May and finished 16 books, all but one that I started reading within the month, which may be a record for me. The classic of the month was one of the minor Icelandic sagas, that of Bárður snæfellsás. This particular saga reads like a myth, as the central character becomes a sort of god or godly protecting presence. That is not to say he didn't exist at one point - the story may well be based on one of the original Nordic settlers of Iceland - but it has become a hero tale that mixes fact and fiction, much like the saga of Grettir the strong.

I am abandoning The Canterbury Tales, as they have become a chore and I am not enjoying them as I should. I will try again when I am in the right mood.

Bárðar Saga Snæfellsáss
Suzanne Brockmann: Hot Target
Rita Mae Brown: Rest In Pieces; Catch As Cat Can
Carol Higgins Clark: Decked
Jennifer Crusie, Eileen Dreyer, Anne Stuart: The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes
Dara Joy: Rejar
Marian Keyes: Further Under The Duvet

Collecting bookmarks

I have been slowly but surely accruing a collection of bookmarks over the years. Some are plain and utilitarian, several are adverts for books, publishers or bookstores, some are library marks, others are works of art. I have never really considered myself a collector of bookmarks – but being an avid reader, I grab them when and wherever I come across them, especially when they are free. The reason, of course, is that I keep losing them, usually inside books. Still, I have managed not to lose some of them and I estimate that I have maybe around 40, tucked away inside books and in my bookmarks holder.

A couple of years ago I got the idea of buying souvenir bookmarks when I travel, and the first ones I got are some lovely ones with panoramic photos of American national parks I visited last spring. This, however, is the farthest I have taken bookmark collecting. Perhaps it’s because I do not want to end up like my grandmother, whose postcard collection has taken over her larder and numbe…

Have you read all those books?

Do you hear this on a regular basis? Does it annoy you or do you answer with a smile?

I dread the day when my (rapidly growing) reference library starts drawing this question. I think that to ask someone whose library is a work tool (such as a teacher, lawyer or writer or indeed a translator like myself) this question shows both ignorance and bad manners. I’m sure mechanics or dentists don’t often get asked if they really use all their tools, but display a wall of bookcases full of reference books and sooner or later someone will in all earnestness ask you if you have really read them all. I mean, come on, how many people do you know who have read the entire Oxford English Dictionary?

As for book collections meant mainly for pleasure reading, what the people who ask this question don’t realise is that for someone whose main hobby is reading, the point of having many books is not that you have read them all and are now proudly displaying your accomplishment, but that you don’t ever want …