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Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Year published: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Setting & time: Ankh-Morpork, can remember what year (it’s mentioned in the book)

For some reason I have not yet been able to bring myself to finish Terry Pratchett's last Discworld book, Making Money, possibly because it failed to grip me in the first chapter, and also because I do not find Moist von Lipwig that interesting a character. I had no such problem with Unseen Academicals. It is interesting from the first page, and while it didn’t turn into a must-finish all-nighter for me, I did enjoy it. The humour is less dark than it has been in several preceding books, and the book sparkles with good humour throughout, even when nasty things seem to be about to happen, are happening, or have just happened.

As with most of Pratchett’s other Discworld books, this one presents the reader with several interwoven story threads involving a number of characters that gradually come together into bigger strands and finally become one as the story nears i…

Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham

Year published: 1960
Genre: Science fiction, satire
Setting & time: England, mid-20th century

Two scientists discover an anti-ageing substance derived from lichen and put it to use in very different ways. When the public find out about the substance it is not, as one might expect, unanimously welcomed, and society is divided into different factions when people start to realise all the implications.

I don’t quite understand why this book is labelled as science-fiction even if a scientific discovery and its consequences are at the centre of the plot. The science is explained in simple layman terms and doesn’t dominate the plot even though it is of course the factor that sets the plot in motion. This is an interesting moral satire on British society in the mid-20th century and an intelligent examination of what might happen in such a society if the people discovered that it was possible to double their expected lifespan.

This is a fun read rather than a funny one, as the undertone is qu…

Review of Sex and the City

Merry Christmas Everyone!


Originally published in June 2004, in 2 parts
Book 22 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Candace Bushnell
Year published: 1996
Genre: Social life and customs
Sub-genre(s): Sex, dating, relationships
Where got: Public library

Came across this while browsing in the library and decided to give it a go. It will be interesting to see what the book that spawned the hit TV series is like.

The Story:
There isn’t really a story as such, this being mostly a collection of articles about the mating habits of New Yorkers that appeared in Bushnell’s newspaper column, but some of the same people pop up repeatedly and you get to know something about them and their relationships with each other and others. Sex, dating, marriage and the attendant social rituals are the order of the day, and are sometimes investigated through conversations between people comparing notes on the subject and sometimes as little story vignettes that illustrate the subject. Faithful viewers of the TV ser…

Wednesday reading experience # 51

Read a sequel/prequel or rewrite of a famous novel that features some of the same characters but is written by a different author.

This could be, for example, a modernisation of a famous novel such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as retold in Kate Fenton’s Vanity and Vexation or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre retold as science fiction in Sharon Shinn’s Jenna Starborn.
Examples of sequels and prequels (and spin-offs) include all of Jane Austen’s books (authors include Emma Tennant and Joan Aiken) and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books (authors include Laurie L. King and Nicholas Meyer).

Additionally, you can find thousands of (mostly unauthorised) short stories and some novels that have only been published on-line, written by fans (and not all of it is slash fiction). Most of it is not terribly good, but if you search hard you can find some gems among the rubble.

Some questions to consider:
How did you feel about reading about characters you knew and loved from the original, in…

Review of The Haunting of Hill House

Originally published in June 2004, in 2 parts
Book 21 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Shirley Jackson
Year published: 1959
Where got: Public library
Genre: Horror
Sub-genre: Haunted house tale

I started reading this book a couple of days ago and have finished the first two chapters. Although nothing supernatural has happened yet, a subtle sense of suspense and creepiness has started to build. So far, I’m reminded of the beginning of both the TV series Rose Red and the movie The Legend of Hell House, but I guess there are limited ways in which you can start a haunted house tale.
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Finished it this afternoon. This is a book that is best read in broad daylight – not that it kept me awake or gave me nightmares, but it took me quite a bit longer than usual to fall asleep after reading the first two chapters at bedtime.


The Story:
Two young women, Eleanor and Theodora arrive at Hill House, a fancy country mansion, to meet Dr. Montague, a researcher of psychic phenomena who has asked them to h…

Books I acquired during my trip to India

Most of these books I bought or was given in India, but three I bought in London, two on the way to India and one on the way home. The first two were the guidebooks, and the third was Ulysses by James Joyce, because I couldn't find an edition in India that I liked.




Some of the books pictured had been on my wish list for varying lengths of time, others were bought on speculation because I liked the look of them. The books that it's hard to see titles or authors in the photo are, from the top:
1. Incident on the Kalka Mail by Satyajit Ray.
4. Le Morte D'Arthur, part II by Sir Thomas Mallory (I have had part I for ages but never could find part II until now).

Books number (from the top) 2, 8, 9 & 17 I was given by my friends.

Not pictured are the books that I bought, read and exchanged for other books: No Full Stops in India by Mark Tully, and The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple. Both were interesting reads and very informative about various aspects of Indian society, but nei…

Wednesday reading experience # 50

Celebrate the Christmas season with a holiday-themed read.

Any one of Charles Dickens’s Christmas novels will serve to get you in the mood. Start with A Christmas Carol, then move on to The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. I leave it up to you whether you also read the less popular The Battle of Life and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.

Fannie Flagg’s A Redbird Christmas is funny and somewhat sentimental, but many of us like sentimentality around Chrismas.

Connie Willis has an excellent fantasy and science fiction themed collection titled Miracle and other Christmas Stories.

For younger readers J.R.R. Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters is both heartwarming and funny and while Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! may have been written and drawn for children many adults find it enjoyable as well.

Christmas probably wouldn’t be complete for many Americans without "A Visit from St. Nicholas", better known as "The Night Before Christmas". This famous po…

Wednesday reading experience # 49

This should of course have been published on the 9th, but I thought I had it on automatic posting and didn't even check. So here it is now, none the worse for being a little late:

Choose a major literary award, local or international, and read some books that have been given the award.

It can be any kind of award, not just literary fiction. It could, for example, be for crime writing, romance, travel writing or science, etc.

Did you agree that it should have won the award? For a fairer comparison, you could also read the books that were nominated alongside the winner and decide which one you like best and why.

Review of Closed at Dusk

Originally published in June 2004.
Book 20 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Monica Dickens
Year published: 1990
Where got: Bookstore (sale)
Genre: Thriller, mystery


I was going to read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum as this week’s book, but I’m too busy right now to read such a long and dense text in only one week. Instead I have switched to another mystery that is shorter and less demanding.

I’ve read several of Monica Dickens’ children’s books and the autobiographical book One Pair of Feet, about her experiences as a nursing student during World War 2. It will be interesting to see how I like her adult fiction.


The story:
This is not a mystery as I first thought it was, but a thriller, or perhaps it might be called an insider mystery, as the reader knows who the villain is nearly the whole time. In this particular edition, the blurb cleverly gives a hint, but I at least didn’t catch on to it until I reached the chapter where the villain’s identity is revealed, and then I turned to …

Reading report for November 2009

As might be expected I finished only a small (for me) number of books in November. They were mostly read in hotel rooms after dinner to delay sleep so I wouldn't wake up at 4 a.m. and on long train journeys when the company was less than convivial (or I had no company) and I was tired of looking at unchanging landscapes.

6 of these books are about India in one way or another. 2 are travelogues, 2 are collections of articles, and 2 are novels by Indian authors.

One of the friends I visited on my trip introduced me to R.K. Narayan – in fact she gave me the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to Malgudi. Satyajit Ray I discovered on her bookshelves and subsequently bought another book by him that I have just finished reading. They are written for children but are thoroughly enjoyable for adult mystery lovers and beautifully translated.
My friend also recommended Bill Aitken to me and I bought one of his books that I still haven‘t read. Dalrymple and Shand are old acquaintanc…

Reading report for October 2009

I´m back from a great holiday in India.

Here is the reading report for October. I will post the one for November soon, plus a photo of my book acquisitions from India and possibly some reviews.

I only read one Top Mystery in October, and only one Icelandic book, but I did quite well in the TBR challenge, with 7 books altogether.

Árni Gunnarsson (text) and various photographers: Eldgos í Eyjum (documentary)
M.C. Beaton: The Skeleton in the Closet (mystery)
Suzanne Brockmann: Force of Nature (romantic thriller)
Edmund Crispin: Frequent Hearses (murder mystery)
Jasper Fforde: The Well of Lost Plots (futuristic fantasy)
Nicki Grihault: Culture Smart! India (cultural guide)
Thomas Hardy: Under the Greenwood Tree (romantic novel)
HRF Keating: The Murder of the Maharajah (murder mystery)
Sarah Macdonald: Holy Cow! (travelogue)
Ngaio Marsh: Singing in the Shrouds (murder mystery)
Stuart Mclean: Stories from the Vinyl Café (short stories)
Ellis Peters: Death to the Landlords (murder mystery)
Unknown: The E…

Review of The Stainless Steel Rat

Originally published in May and June 2004, in 3 parts.
Book 19 in my first 52 books challenge.

Entry 1:

Author: Harry Harrison
Published: 1966 (this edition: 1997)
Where got: Bookstore, sale
Genre: Science fiction, action

I’ve wanted to read this book since I read and enjoyed Harry Harrison’s short story “The Golden Years of the Stainless Steel Rat” in the comic fantasy collection The Flying Sorcerers.

This is classic science fiction, as can be seen from how long this book has been in print. First published in 1966, it is still being reprinted.

Harry Harrison’s official website.


Entry 2:

Progress report:
So far so good. This is not as funny as I had thought it would be after reading the short story, but maybe the stories get funnier in the later books (did I mention this is the first in a series?). The style is very straightforward and reminds me of classic macho tough guy detective stories. The story is plot driven and there has been action on nearly every page so far. The Stainless Steel Rat …

Wednesday reading experience #48

If you have a favourite genre and a favourite sub-genre within that genre (say historical mysteries or paranormal romances), choose a different sub-genre you are less familiar with and try that (e.g. forensic mysteries or Amish romance).

I find I often stick to a comfort zone in my choice of reading materials, concentrating on one or two particular sub-genres and tending to ignore the others, but my original 52 books challenge had me reading out of my comfort zone and I have tried to continue that practice. It has introduced me to authors, genres and sub-genres I might otherwise never have discovered.

Review of The Godmother

Author: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Year published: 1994
Where got: Public library
Genre: Fantasy (real world, alternate reality/possible future), fairy tale

As I mentioned yesterday, I went to the library to look for a suitable romance to review so I could keep my promise to choose reading material outside my comfort zone. Found no romance I liked the look of, but came home with The Godmother, Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen and Foucaults’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading The Godmother, never having read anything by Scarborough before. What got my attention was the the title and the cover , which shows a middle-aged woman (who resembles Lauren Baccall) with a knowing smile and a pose of authority and confidence, surrounded by graphics that suggest magic and interposed on an image of the Seattle skyline (immediately recogniseable because of the Space Needle). Woohoo, I thought. Magic in the modern world. Nice!

I finished it in one sitting, around …

Review of The Professor and the Madman

Originally published in 2 parts, in May 2004.
Book 17 in my first 52 books challenge.

Full title:The Professor and the Madman: A tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English Dictionary
Author: Simon Winchester
Published: 1998
Genre: History, biography, lexicography
Where got: National library

This book is about two men who worked on the making of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and their longstanding relationship. What got me interested in it was the title. We will have to see if the book lives up to it.

The story:
The book touches upon several subjects, but the core story is that of two men who were influential in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. One was Professor James Murray, the longest-serving editor of the OED, and the other was one of the most useful contributors of quotations to the book, Dr. William C. Minor, an inmate in a lunatic asylum (as they were called in those days). The life stories of both men are told in brief, showing how Prof. Murray ro…

Review of A Hat Full of Sky

Originally published in 2 parts, in May 2004.
Book 16 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author:Terry Pratchett
Published: 2004
Where got: Amazon.co.uk
Genre: Fantasy, children's

This book was delivered by the mailman on Friday afternoon, and I had to restrain myself not to start reading until after dinner. Finished reading it around midnight. I am going to read it again - more slowly - before I review it.

This is the sequel to The Wee Free Men and is the third Discworld book for children.

As usual, Pratchett has done an excellent job. The book is written for children, but is actually quite a good read for adults, who will read it at a deeper level. As this is a children's book, there are not as many allusions to other works as there are in the adult Discworld books, but there are still quite a few, some of which will be easily picked up by children and some which are better understood by adults.

Here be SPOILERS
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The story is slower than The Wee Free Men and not quite as laugh-…

Review of Icelandic Food and Cookery

Book 15 in my first 52 books challenge.
Originally published in 3 parts in May 2004.


Entry 1:

Author: Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir
Year published: 2002
Where got: public library
Genre: Food, recipes, social history

Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir is at the moment Iceland's most famous cookery book author who is not a chef. Her previous two cookery tomes, Matarást (Love of Food) and Matreiðslubók Nönnu (Nanna's Cookbook) are veritable food bibles. The first is an encyclopedia of food, ingredients, cookery methods, kitchen science, cookery terms, food history etc. etc., and the second is a collection of over 3000 recipes from all over the world. Both are unfortunately only available in Icelandic.

Icelandic Food and Cookery is Nanna's first cookery book written in English (to my knowledge). It focuses on food that may be called Icelandic, both traditional and modern. This book is of special interest to me because what Nanna is doing with this book is exactly what I have been doing with my cooking …

Wednesday reading experience #44

Discover the literature of a foreign country you are not much familiar with.

I plan to see if I can find some English translations of Indian writers while I am in India, because my reading of Indian literature consists of a prose retelling of the stories told in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, and a handful of books by Indian women writers who write in English*. When this posts (I am posting this ahead of time) I should have finished reading a translation of the Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the Mahabharata.

*Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Anita Desai.

Review of The Prime of Miss Jean Brody

Originally published in 2 parts, in April and May 2004.
Book 14 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Muriel Spark
Published: 1961
Where got: second hand shop
Genre: Literature, satire

I seem to have a knack for choosing books that have been made into movies. I wonder why?

This week's choice was made into a memorable, if rather stagy, movie, starring the wonderful Maggie Smith.

SPOILERS AHEAD!
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Don't say I didn't warn you!

The book is about a teacher at a private girl's school in Edinburgh (Scotland) who has her own special ideas about education. She strives to turn out girls who are liberated and free thinking - or what she thinks is liberated and free thinking. Her behaviour and teaching methods are far from orthodox in the conservative environment of the school. She makes enemies among the other teachers and the headmistress is constantly trying to find an excuse to get rid of her. Her closest allies are a group of her students, six girls known as "the Brodie…

Wednesday reading experience #43

Read an epistolatory novel.

These are novels written as a series of documents, e.g. letters or e-mails, blog entries, historical documents, reports, reviews, excerpts from books, newspaper clippings and diary entries. Basically anything that is traditionally written or typed, used without any connecting passages to form a narrative. It enables the author to let the characters (or a chosen number of characters) express themselves directly without having a narrator tell the story.

I have already recommended reading fictional diaries, which form part of the epistolatory genre, so a different epistolatory form is recommended.

Here are some that I have enjoyed:
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Written as a series of accounts of the theft of a precious stone, using different styles and voices.
Letters to Alice, Upon first reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon. What the title says, plus much more besides.
Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos. A novel told entirely in letters between the characte…

Holiday notice

I am off to India for the next 5 weeks. During that time it is unlikely that I will post anything new, but there will be some automatic postings, including the Wednesday reading experiences for the whole time.

Top mysteries challenge review: The Murder of the Maharajah by H.R.F. Keating

In keeping with my India-oriented reading I chose a Top Mystery that takes place in that country, not long before the end of the Raj when Maharajahs still had some power (even if it was dependent on British support).

Year of publication: 1980
Genre: Mystery, cozy
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police officer
Setting & time: The fictitious state of Bhopore, India; 1930.

Story:
The immensely rich Maharajah of Bhopore is murdered and several people had the means, motive and opportunity (or at least two out of the three), to have done it. Due to an impending visit by the Viceroy of India, the Resident Adviser calls in District Superintendent of Police, Mr. Howard, and presses him to solve the case quickly, because if the murderer turns out later to be the heir to the throne, it isn’t good for the Viceroy to have met him. Howard sets out to methodically investigate the case, and in a reconstruction at the end makes some interesting and startling revelations.

Review:
Keating has …

Review of The Gentle Tamers

Originally published in 2 parts, in April 2004.
Book 13 in my first 52 books challenge.

Entry 1:

Full title:The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West
Author: Dee Brown
Year published: 1958/1981
Where got: second hand bookshop
Genre: Social history, women, pioneers

This looks like a promising piece of women's history. If we were to go by the history books we read in school, it would seem that men single-handedly settled the western parts of the United States. This is of course not so - women did their share of the work and had a great deal of civilizing influence on the men. I'm looking forward to exploring the west with them, through this book.

Written by the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee


Entry 2:

The Gentle Tamers is a collection of true stories about the women of the wild west. Some who are included are true pioneers, like Janette Riker, who survived a harsh Montana winter alone in a covered wagon, others are included because a history of women in the Wild West wouldn'…

Wednesday reading experience #42

Challenge your prejudices some more: Read a book that you have panned or derided without actually having read it.

Some frequently panned books that come to mind include novels by Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer, Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steel. Others include such famous and/or infamous works of the more distant past, like philosophical and religious writings of all ages and eras, Marx’s Communist Manifesto, Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, and anything by the Marquis de Sade. Of course you should choose one that you have prejudices about.

Whether your prejudices are rebuffed or confirmed, you will at least now be able to pan or praise the book in question without hypocrisy.

Books I have enjoyed, pt. 1

About 10 years ago, as I waited in a Canadian airport lounge for my flight to be announced, I found some unused Canadian currency in my pockets and went to browse in the airport stores to find something on which to spend the money. I chose a small bottle of Canadian maple syrup, and then decided to get a book to read on the plane. Among all the usual bestsellers and other typical airport books, I found a small shelf of Canadian literature and gave it a browse. One of the books I picked up had a whimsical image on the front, of a block of small shops. The title was Home from the Vinyl Café and the author was Stuart McLean. I opened the book and found myself engrossed in reading a story of a hapless husband charged with cooking the turkey for the family's Christmas meal and running into all sorts of difficulties, starting with forgetting to buy the turkey.

I promptly bought the book and read most of the short stories therein on the flight home, with frequent giggles and stifled laug…

Review: Holy Cow!

Author: Sarah MacDonald

I am heading to India at the end of the month, and have been doing a lot of reading about various places I might visit. I had this one unread India travelogue in my TBR stack, and decided to read it to whet my appetite.

This is the story of how MacDonald returned to India after having left it over a decade earlier, wowing never to return. But fate plays funny tricks on people: her boyfriend, a broadcast journalist, was stationed there and she quit her job and moved to Delhi to be with him. She was not a religious or spiritual person when she arrived, but a fortuneteller's prophesy set her off on a search of spirituality among the many religions of India, and in the main the book is about this search. Each religion and spiritual experience is examined - often extremely superficially, I thought - and she takes away something good from each of them, but eventually rejects them all because none is perfect for her, finally finding the peace she is looking for wit…

Review of Seabiscuit

Originally published in 2 parts, in April 2004.
Book 12 in my first 52 books challenge.If you're wondering about no. 11, it was The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. I did not feel it was worth republishing.

Entry 1:

Full title:Seabiscuit: An American Legend
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Year published: 2002
Where got: book store
Genre: History, biography, sports

This book is about a famous American racehorse and the men whose belief in him took him from the lowest rungs of the racing world and right to the top.

I am not particularly interested in sports, and know next to nothing about horse racing, so this is not a book I would have picked up if it had not been for the fact that it has been made into a film.

As a teenager I enjoyed a film about another famous racehorse, Phar Lap, and so when Seabiscuit hit the cinemas I decided this was a film I wanted to see.

Well, somehow I managed to miss it. However, after watching a National Geographic documentary about Seabiscuit, I decided I would read th…

Wednesday reading experience #41

Read THAT book.

You know the one I mean: the one every one of your friends has read, or the one you promised someone you would read, or the one that you want to have read but don’t particularly want to read, or the one that you have desperately wanted to read just about for ever but haven’t because it daunts you because of its size or its reputation.

THAT book can be just about any book ranging from Twilight to War and Peace, so I would love to hear what you would choose and for which of the above reasons.

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When I have finished my current reading challenges I am planning to tackle a tome that is the embodiment of THAT book for many people: James Joyce's Ulysses. I want to do this to challenge my prejudices about Joyce, whose short stories were apt to put me to sleep when I was studying him in modern literature at college. It is also one of those books that any literary snob worth her salt wants to have read, and I dearly want to be able, when said snobs start talking about Ulysses, …

Top mysteries challenge review: The Game, Set & Match trilogy by Len Deighton

I suddenly realised that I had not yet posted my review of Deighton’s trilogy, so here it is:

While I listed these books separately on my TBR list, the trilogy is listed as one book in the CWA list, so I will be reviewing them all together. Each book gets a brief synopsis and a very short review, and then I will review the common points together. I will try not to drop serious spoilers in the synopses, so they will necessarily be rather telegraphic, but if you have not yet read these books you probably should avoid this review anyway.


Published: 1983-5.
Genre: Espionage thriller.
Type of investigator: MI6 agent.


Title:Berlin Game:
Setting & time: London and Berlin, contemporary.

Story:
Agent Bernard Samson has been doing desk work for 5 years but his superiors in MI6 want him to go out back in the field to convince a frightened spy in East Germany to stay in place for a while longer. The man is convinced that Stasi or the KGB are about to discover his identity, and the only person he trus…

Review of The Book of Intriguing Words

Originally published in 3 parts, on March 28 to April 3, 2004.
Book 10 in my first 52 books challenge.

Entry 1:

Full title:The Wordsworth Book of Intriguing Words: The insomniac's dictionary of the outrageous, odd and unusual
Author: Paul Hellweg
Published: 1986 (as The Insomniac’s Dictionary)
Where got: University Student Bookstore
Genre: Dictionary, glossaries

I'm studying for exams and writing final essays for the next three weeks, so during that time I'm going to review some of the reference books I use in my field of study. To make it more fun, I'm going to pick some of the more unusual reference books in my library.

As a student of translation I am naturally interested in etymology, semantics and semiotics. This book is not only a nice way of finding unusual words, their meanings and origins, but it is also quite short for a dictionary and fun to read.

Entry 2:

Being a confirmed logolept, I like to collect words, and this dictionary was a windfall for me because it has plen…

Wednesday reading experience #40

Now that you have become firmly familiar with the diary form, both in reality and fiction, why not try keeping one for a while?

This may look like a writing assignment at first sight, but I’m getting to the reading part:

Read your journal at the end of the journalling period, and again in 5, 10 or 20 years time. Annotate it if you feel like it.

Alternative suggestion: If you are a regular journal/diary writer, have you ever read your old ones? It can be like meeting a total stranger who is sort of familiar, but sort of not, and it’s interesting to read about how you saw or reacted to something back then versus the way you see or remember it in retrospective.

I have occasionally dipped into my travel journals from years past, and have often been surprised at what I have found in them. I have been amazed by the prejudices I held, the opinions I had, the way I handled a situation, how immature I was. I still cringe every now and then when I take one of these nostalgia trips, but even though…

Reading Larsson

I am about 90 pages into the English translation of the second volume in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, The Girl who played with Fire. It's a slow beginner, but the main storyline seems to be kicking off.

I take grave exception to all the [insert expletive of choice] product placements in the beginning chapters of part 2. Who cares whether Lisbet Salander bought Bonde or Billy bookcases? Or what was the brand name of her sofa or her coffee table? It isn't even necessary to list what she bought - surely it would have been enough to say she went shopping for new furniture at IKEA and brought back just about everything she needed for her new apartment? The whole thing reads like a combination of an IKEA advert and instructions for a movie set designer.

Earlier in the book there are several other such lists that, although not as heavy on the product placement, do make the book longer without mattering to the story.
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If anyone who has read the book in Swedish reads this, cou…

Review of The Loved One

Originally published in 2 parts, on March 24-26, 2004.
Book 9 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Evelyn Waugh
Published: 1948
Where got: second-hand bookshop
Genre: Social satire

I first saw the movie as a child and again recently on TCM. I had no idea it was based on a book until I started reading about the film on IMDb, and when I found the book I immediately bought it in anticipation of a good read.

Here are a couple of links to information about the author and his books:

Evelyn Waugh: The best and the worst
Evelyn Waugh (includes a bibliography)


The novel tells the story of Dennis Barlow, a poet and ex-pat Englishman who has managed to make himself a nuisance to the stiff upper-lipped Englishmen of Hollywood by taking a job at a funeral home for pets - something that "just isn't done" by Englishmen Abroad. When arranging the funeral of a friend at Whispering Glades, a fancy and extremely kitsch funeral home, he meets a young cosmetician by the name of Aimée whose job it …

Reading report for September 2009

I only finished 13 books this month, which would have been about average for most years except this one. Since I read 20+ books every month of the year up to now, this is actually quite far below average, but I‘m not worrying. After all, one needs to have a social life too.

In the challenges, I read:

3 Icelandic books:
Benedikt Gröndal:Sagan af Heljarslóðarorrustu - a literary parody that tells the story of the battle of Solferino as if it were an Icelandic Saga.
Páll Líndal: Reykjavík 200 ára - a short 200 year history of the city of Reykjavík, mostly told in photographs.
Þórarinn Eldjárn: Sérðu það sem ég sé - a collection of quirky short stories from one of Iceland‘s best short story writers.

TBR challenge:
John Berendt:The City of Falling Angels - a combination of travel book and the history of the fire that destroyed the Fenice opera house in Venice.
Dashiell Hammett: Red Harvest (also a Top Mystery read) – a brutal crime thriller.
Betty MacDonald: Onions in the Stew - funny memoir.
James…

Wednesday reading experience #39

Now that you have read a real diary, try a fictional one.

Last Wednesday I recommended a real diary because it helps to be familiar with the non-fiction diary form when reading fictional diaries. In fiction the diary form has been used to good effect in parody and for satire, but also for more innocent humour. It has also been used in dead earnest in fiction. It is one of the forms which epistolatory novels take, a sort of monologue where the reader takes on the role of the narrator's confessor.

Here are some that I can recommend:
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ and The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend. These are ostensibly written for teenagers, but can be enjoyed by adults as well. I have not read the sequels, but I do own them and plan to read them.Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding.Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison. Written for teenage girls, but quite enjoyable. Have not read any of the sequels, but expect them to be enj…

Review of Himself and Other Animals

Originally published in 2 parts, on March 17-23, 2004
Book 8 in my first 52 books challenge.

Entry 1:

Full title: Himself and Other Animals: Portrait of Gerald Durrell
Author: David Hughes
Published: 1997
Where got: public library
Genre: Biography, memoir

This week's book is about one of my favorite authors: Gerald Durrell. David Hughes, a longtime friend of Durrell's, wrote the book as a tribute to his friend back in the seventies, but it wasn't published until after Durrell's death. It's more a portrait of the man than a regular biography - I guess it should be called a memoir rather than a biography.

Entry 2:

Finished it last night. The book is well written and set up as a busy week in the life of Gerald Durrell, back in the 1970's when it was originally written. Interspersed with descriptions of Gerry's daily routine, character and moods are comments and reminiscences of himself, his friends and his family. He is shown in different environments and interacting w…

Wednesday reading experience #38

Read a published diary/journal or a collection of excerpts from diaries/journals.

Diaries can be an excellent way of seeing into someone’s mind and also to find out little things about daily life in the past that can hardly be found anywhere else. For this reason historians find diaries to be an excellent source of research material. They also make good material for biographers.

While the diaries and journals of famous people may be most interesting to the general public in the authors’ life time or recently after their death, in the long run it is often the diaries of ordinary people like Anne Frank and Samuel Pepys that end up being much more fascinating. While parts of Frank’s diary were written with the view of later publication, Pepys probably never intended his diaries for publication and so he is more candid and outspoken than he might otherwise have been.

I am currently reading The Faber Book of Diaries, a collection of interesting diary entries chosen and edited by Simon Brett. …

Top mysteries review: Red Harvest

Year of publication: 1929
Series and no.: The Continental Op, first novel, preceeded by and based on short stories
Genre: Noir thriller
Type of investigator: Private detective
Setting & time: Personville, a fictional town in the western USA, probably California or Nevada.

Story:
The nameless narrator, know to the reader only as the Continental Op, arrives in the small city of Personville where the crime situation has become so bad that people have started calling it Poisonville. His client is murdered before he can meet him, but the dead man’s father retains his services to find the killer. The Op starts investigating and uncovers all sorts of nastiness, and events finally lead to him becoming so annoyed with the place and it’s criminal elements that he decides to clean up the town.

Review and rating:
Like the previous two Hammett novels I have reviewed, this one is written in a spare and quick style and the narrative moves fast. The story is nasty and brutal and slightly tempered with th…

Some recently acquired books

Here are some books I have acquired recently:


About half are BookMooch acquisitions and the rest I got at a second hand shop that sells stuff for charity.
The one you can't see the title of is A Voyage by Dhow by Norman Lewis.
I have already read The Thirteenth Tale, but getting it in hard covers was a piece of good luck.

Review of Hawksmoor

Originally published in 2 parts, on March 9-12, 2004.
Book 7 in my first 52 books challenge.

Part 1:

Author: Peter Ackroyd
Published: 1985
Where got: public library
Genre: mystery, horror

I read this book years ago as part of a college course on modern English literature, but I remember nothing about it. Even now, when I'm almost finished with part one, I still remember nothing about the previous reading, which I guess shows how interested I was in it at the time.

Every other chapter happens in the 18th century and is written in the style of that time, which takes a while to get used to. The other chapters are written in modern English and happen in modern times. The narrative point of view shifts between chapters, from 1st person to 3rd person. These stylistic changes necessitate a shifting of mental gears at the beginning of each chapter and make the book challenging to read.

So far I'm finding it to be a dark and rather menacing narrative. Dyer, the 18th century narrator, appears to…

Wednesday reading experience #37

Read a graphic novel. If you are not already a fan of comic strips and/or comic books, you might be surprised to find just how sophisticated they can be.

Graphic novels tell a story in graphic form, using the images and minimal text style of comics to convey what a regular novel does in words alone. The term is used about stories too long to publish in one single edition of a comics magazine, and describes both works originally published in book form and works originally published in episodic form in comics magazines and later collected into book form.

There is some debate as to the exact definition of a graphic novel, but for the purpose of this blog post let’s define a graphic novel as a book containg a single long story or a collection of shorts stories with a common theme or setting, told in graphic form.

I can personally recommend:

By Neil Gaiman and various artists:
The Sandman seriesThe Books of MagicThe Death series (spin-off from Sandman)Stardust (also a traditional novel and a mo…

Reading journal on The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Book 5 in my first 52 books challenge.
Originally published in several parts on February 22-22, 2004.

Entry 1:

Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Published: 1998
Where got: public library
Genre: Detective novel

Reason for choosing:
I first read about this book in a book review in one of the daily newspapers in Iceland. The title caught my attention and I decided that such an unusual and humorous name was very promising as to the contents of the book. So far I have not been disappointed (after reading chapter one).

Entry 2:

I'm quite enjoying the book so far.

Here are some links with information about the author and some of his other works:

About the series
Publisher's website, dedicated to the series

Entry 3:

"I love all the people whom God made, but I especially know how to love the people who live in this place. They are my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do."

There is something enchanting …