31 January 2009

Top mysteries challenge review: The Journeying Boy by Michael Innes

Michael Innes is best known for his Appleby series, but this is a non-series book, albeit one that takes place in the same world. Appleby is even mentioned once in the book, and it is stated that he is no longer with the police. The detective in the story is one of his successors at the Yard.

Year of publication: 1949
Genre: Mystery, thriller
Type of mystery: Kidnapping plot, murder
Type of investigator: Police, special agent and amateur
Setting & time: England and Ireland, contemporary (to publication)

Respectable, elderly private tutor Richard Thewless is hired to accompany the 15 year old son of Britain’s most respected nuclear physicist on a summer visit to relatives in Ireland, when the first choice for a tutor cancels his appointment unexpectedly. Only he didn’t really cancel, he was murdered (unknowingly to the boy and his father), and Detective-Inspector Thomas Cadover wants to know why. The boy, Humphrey Paxton, seems to be both nervous and given to telling stories, so it is not surprising that Mr. Thewless doesn’t at first believe his broad hints that someone is out to get him. Things finally come to a head at the end of the journey, when boy and tutor meet the villains head on.

The three characters mentioned in the overview above represent the points of view in the story, which always shift between chapters and never within them, making it very clear whose POW is being shown. The reader has the advantage of the characters in being the only one who has total overview of all three viewpoints, and can, if she is clever enough, fit together the pieces of this intricate puzzle plot into a picture that makes sense to her before it does so to the characters - provided she doesn’t get lost in a labyrinth of words.

The story is very wordy, and most of it is narrative, making the text very dense. Sometimes it makes for good effect, like in a detailed and very tense scene late in the book when Humphrey is being chased by his enemies and in a somewhat surrealistic ghostly midnight chase through a dilapidated old mansion, but at other times it holds back the action, like when Mr. Thewless’ is searching desperately for Humphrey on a train. That particular scene, which is meant to be at once comic, tense and full of panic, does not come well enough across exactly because of this wordiness. I actually found myself skipping whole paragraphs of this scene, and had to force myself to go back and read them.

Some good points are the humour, which is sometimes subtle and sometimes veers into full blown farce, and the tension, which keeps mounting, with minor climaxes which only serve to heighten the tension instead of relieving it.

Another strong point is the characters. All are expertly drawn and realistic, even the minor ones and there are no stereotypes. Even the funny-speaking servant who at first might seem a very crude caricature of an Irish peasant turns out to be merely humouring his master who expects that sort of thing. Seemingly sinister characters turn out to be totally innocent of any wrongdoing, while others who appear to be innocent turn out to have something to hide, although not necessarily in a bad way.

The ending is a bit over the top (in the classic tradition of Boy’s Own adventures), but satisfying all the same, with a nod to Edgar Allan Poe and all ends tied off into a neat bow.

Rating: A good thriller which could have been made very good with some judicious editing. 3 stars.

Books left in challenge: 117.

30 January 2009

Review: A Nasty Bit of Murder by C.F. Roe (mystery)

Alternative English title: The Lumsden Baby
Genre: Mystery
Year of publication: 1990
No. in series: 1
Series detective: Dr. Jean Montrose
Type of investigator: Amateur (G.P.)
Setting & time:

General practitioner Dr. Jean Montrose arrives at the Lumsden house just in time to meet a distraught Mrs. Lumsden, whose baby son lies dead in his crib with his head bashed in. As trouble brews in the Montrose family and evidence and suspects pile up in the Lumsden case, it is up to Dr. Montrose to put the police straight as to the motive and the killer when they are led astray by evidence that seems to be trial proof but isn’t, and to try to keep her family together.

Few things in straight mysteries sicken me more than the murders of babies and young children. I think it’s because it feels like the writer is going against the rules by killing off someone who is basically an unwritten page, defenseless, totally innocent of any wrongdoing, and whose only offense is being an obstacle to something. Even though three out of four of these things apply to many adult murder victims in mysteries as well, a dead baby or child just feels icky in a way that a dead adult does not, especially when the device is used in a book that is otherwise written mostly in the cosy style like this one. I say mostly, because there are also a couple of autopsy scenes that are more in keeping with a rougher kind of mystery, and there is a creepy atmosphere that suffuses the book from beginning to end that doesn't belong in a cosy. Had the victim been, say, a teenager, and/or the autopsy scenes had been less visceral, this would have been more of a cosy and less of a mish-mash. As it is, I can’t help but wonder if Roe wanted to write a more hard-boiled mystery but got told to tone it down by his/her editor.

In spite of the ickiness the story was interesting enough to keep me reading, because although I quickly realised the who and why, I wanted to see the how unfold. There was still something wrong with the story from beginning to end. It is, in fact, written like the author doesn’t like her/his leading character. The tone when describing Dr. Montrose’s thoughts and actions is ever so slightly mocking, even sniggering, especially when drawing up the difference between her detection skills, which are considerable, and her apparently nonexistent ability to see what is happening under her nose within her own family.

In fact, the word “nasty” in the title describes this story quite well. There are hardly any sympathetic characters, except possibly the token police detective who is Dr. Montrose’s side-kick, and he is really such a stereotype of the species (side-kicks, that is) that it’s difficult to form an opinion of him, other than that he seems to be a modern reincarnation of Hastings.

There is an attempt at describing the kind of seething hot-pot of corruption, dark secrets and evil passions that Ruth Rendell does so well, but it comes across as melodramatic instead of tense and menacing. There is menace, but unfortunately the source of it is the feeling that the author doesn’t like any of the characters and is willing to sacrifice any one of them, the heroine included. All the story did for me in the end was to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

The twists are not bad, but they are mostly predictable and once certain basic facts have been established it is not hard to guess what will happen next. It’s only the how that kept me reading to the end: how the alibis were established, how the second murder victim got to where he was found, etc. Ultimately, while the solution made sense, the ending was not satisfying in any other way.

Rating: Do not read if you want something nice and cosy with no blood or guts or if autopsies, dead babies and/or doormats disturb you. 2 stars.

28 January 2009

Wednesday reading experience #4

Reread a book you enjoyed as a child or teenager but haven’t read since.

Which book would you choose and what are your expectations?
Which book did you choose and is it still as enjoyable as it was back then??

26 January 2009

Top mysteries challenge review: Cop Hater by Ed McBain

Year of publication: 1956
Crime sub-genre: Police procedural, mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police detectives
Setting & time: New York city, USA, 1950s

When a police detective is murdered, execution style, on his way to work, both the murder department and the detectives of the 87th Precinct are galvanized into action. When a second and then a third detective is killed, it becomes clear that someone who really, really hates police detectives is out there, murdering them at random. Or is he? Detective Steve Carella is not so sure.
Meanwhile, trouble is brewing as a reporter starts annoying both police and members of a street gang he suspects of being behind the killings, and the killer decides to pay a call on Carella’s girlfriend.

Apart from the characterisations of women based on their breast size, I like this book. The narrative is taut and fast paced, the twists are well done and the male characters, especially the likable and smart Steve Carella, are well drawn.

Rating: A fast paced and thrilling police novel. 3+ stars.

24 January 2009

Review of The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

Genre: Historical mystery thriller
Year of publication: 2006
No. in series: 1
Series detective: Yashim Togalu
Type of investigator: Private investigator
Setting & time: Istanbul, Turkey, 1830s

Yashim Togulu, the 19th century equivalent of a modern private investigator/spy, is approached by the head of the Turkish Sultan’s new modernised army in Istanbul and asked to investigate the kidnapping of four young officers and the murder of one of them, presumably by men belonging to what remains of the old army, the dreaded Janissaries. They had been forcibly disbanded 10 years earlier, but now seem to be planning a coup. At the same time the Validé, the Sultan’s mother, summons Yashim and asks him to find out who stole her jewels and murdered a young concubine in the harem.
What follows is a thriller full of mysterious happenings, gruesome deaths, fire, chases and several near-death experiences for Yashim.

This is a well-written and -plotted mystery thriller, with interesting twists and terrific descriptions of 19th century Istanbul and Turkish society of that time. The only gripe I have with it is that Yashim, the eunuch hero, is a bit too perfect. He is good looking, intelligent, resourceful, a good fighter, great cook and expert lover (see note), plus being extraordinarily lucky. He is, in fact, the 19th century incarnation of James Bond. Making him a eunuch inserts something for him to be unhappy about, thus lessening the dazzling perfection of his character, but it also makes him a more perfect action hero as it enables him to enter the Sultan’s harem to investigate crimes in there, and also to safely make love to women without fear of getting them pregnant, allowing the author to insert plenty of sex. A stroke of genius, really.

Rating: A very atmospheric and thrilling mystery. 3+ stars.

Note: If you’re wondering how Yashim can make love: it is not implicitly stated in the book that erections are involved. Yashim could just have really, really good manual and oral skills, although how he manages the latter with a moustache, I couldn’t say.

Awards and nominations:
2007 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel
2007 Macavity Award for Best Novel, finalist

23 January 2009

Review of Crime Beat: True stories of cops and killers by Michael Connelly

Year published: 2004
Genre: True crime, newspaper articles

This is a collection of articles Michael Connelly wrote before he became famous for his Harry Bosch mysteries. He began his writing carreer as a crime reporter, first in Florida and then in Los Angeles. The articles cover mostly murders that were considered newsworthy at the time, both locally and nationally.

The writing is typical unremarkable and rather dry newspaper reportage and it is obvious that the book is published to squeeze a little extra money out of hardcore Connelly fans. I would only recommend it to people who like their true crime without too much gory detail. The hardcore fans will buy it anyway.

Rating: A collection of not-so-good newspaper articles by a now famous author. 1+ star.

21 January 2009

Wednesday reading experience #3

Challenge your prejudices:
Choose an author, a book or a genre you hate and give them/it a second chance. Try, for example, some of the detested required reading from your literature classes in school, read a romance if you are a romance hater, a mystery if you don’t like those, etc., but make it an
informed choice. In other words, do not grab the first one you see, but do your research and find a book you really think you could like.

In the last reading experience I posted I mentioned Heart of Darkness, which might be a good choice because so many people seem to dislike it, as would The Da Vinci Code, which I know many people dislike without having read it.

My own choice is a book: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, for which I developed a dislike when I had to read and analyse it before I was ready for it.

What would your choice be; or if you answered the call: what did you choose to read and what was the outcome?

19 January 2009

Review of Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie

Year published: 1993
Genre: Romance, contemporary
Setting & time: USA, contemporary

The Story:
Business consultant Kate goes on holiday at an expensive country resort, determined to snag a husband. Not just any husband, but one who fulfils the conditions set out on her list: distinguished, rich (so heiress Kate can be sure he’s not a gold digger), driven, business-minded, etc. - basically what a cynic might term "the average rich yuppie female’s husband wish list".
But then she meets Jake, the resort’s head-handyman, an ex-tax lawyer who decided to drop out of the rat race and spend his life relaxing and enjoying the simple things in life. Kate and Jake hit it off immediately, but convince themselves their interest in each other is just friendly. Divorced Jake doesn’t want to tie himself to another driven female, and Kate wants to tick off her list. There are plenty of prospects, but somehow her dates with them always turn out disastrous, because what Kate really wants is love. Everyone knows what will happen, except Kate and Jake, but the fun is in seeing how it happens.

This is an early Crusie – in fact she says in the introduction that it was the very first book she finished writing. The book was originally published by Harlequin in paperback, but now that Crusie has become a Big Name in romance, her early category romances are being reissued, both in hardcover and paperback. I am grateful for that, because the originals seem almost to impossible to find (I’m still trying to find a copy of one of her earliest published books, Sizzle, which has not been reissued).

Helpfully (or not), Crusie points out some of the mistakes she (thinks she) made in the writing, but taken altogether, I think it’s a pretty good beginner effort.

Rating: An entertaining little romance with some very funny moments. 3 stars.

17 January 2009

Top mysteries challenge review of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

I was recently lucky enough to come across a cheap hardcover omnibus volume of all five of Dashiel Hammett’s novels, and as four of them are part of my Top Mysteries challenge, I consider this a piece of good fortune.

This book, Hammett’s final novel, was the spark that started the series of Thin Man films, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as sleuthing pair Nick & Nora Charles. Like many others, I was under the impression that Hammett had written a series of Thin Man books, but when I did a little research, I discovered that this was the only book and the rest of the Thin Man stories were all movie originals, some of which seem to have been based on stories written by Hammett exclusively to be turned into movies.

Year of publication: 1934
Genre: Mystery, detective novel
Type of mystery: Murder, missing person
Type of investigator: Private detective (retired)
Setting & time: New York, USA; 1930s

Retired private eye Nick Charles gets dragged into a case involving murder and a missing person when a young woman asks him to help her find her father, a former client from Nick’s P.I. days (the eponymous Thin Man). Subsequently the Thin Man’s lawyer, his ex-wife, the police and the crook wanted for the murder of his secretary all refuse to believe that Nick isn’t investigating the case, forcing him into it, although he never admits that that’s what he is doing. Everyone (excepting Nora), the police included, lies through their teeth all the time and backstabbing is rife, giving Nick a hard time puzzling together the clues, but eventually he gets there, which is a wonder in itself, as he is cheerfully half-drunk most of the time.

One can’t help wondering if The Thin Man isn’t a parody of the hardboiled detective genre that Hammett helped popularise with his stories about the Continental Op and Sam Spade. Nick is tipsy (and sometimes more than that) most of the time, and yet he seems to have all his senses set on full strength, has perfect recall, can draw complicated conclusions and manages to be charming and funny even when about to pass out from drinking. Of course he could be a typical unreliable narrator, fooling the reader into complacency by his descriptions of his constant drinking, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is a very comic character, and the story itself, with the constantly lying Wynants, bumbling police, cheerleading Nora and supporting cast of criminals and hard-boiled dames is very funny and while quite a good puzzle plot mystery with numerous twists, turns and red herrings, has an unmistakable air of parody and even sometimes touches of satire about it. Nick gives one the impression of being a big softie with a core of steel who has the heart of gold act down so pat that he believes in it himself.

There is a lot of dialogue, which makes the narrative confusing, as clues are hidden all over the place, sometimes even in the wording that the characters use. Hammett was clearly in fine form when he wrote it, and it's a shame he never wrote another novel.

Rating: Confusing, thrilling and very funny hard-boiled classic. 4+ stars.

This is the first book I finish in the Mystery Reader Cafe 2009 chellenge: the author new to me.

14 January 2009

Wednesday reading experience #2

Read some Joseph Conrad. Many people seem to hate him because of having been forced to read and analyse Heart of Darkness in English literature class. Instead I recommend Lord Jim or Typhoon (not having read the rest, I can’t recommend them).

I have The Secret Agent on my TBR list.

If you took up the challenge, which book did you read and what did you think of it?

07 January 2009

Wednesday reading experiences

I am going to post, every Wednesday for one year, a weekly reading experience, book(s), author or genre I want to recommend to readers who are open to suggestions. If you like, you can call it a challenge from me to you, but please don’t follow it slavishly – it takes the fun out of it. I have done some of these things myself, but not all, but I will certainly be taking my own advice.

I would love to read your comments about doing this.

Here is the first one, something I have often enjoyed doing:

1. On a cold, rainy day, read a book that takes place somewhere warm and sunny and feel the warmth seep into your chilly bones.

Possible warming reads for rainy days:

Gerald Durrell: My Family and Other Animals
Tony Hillerman: The Blessing Way or just about any other Joe Leaphorn and/or Jim Chee book (some do happen in winter, but The Blessing Way is a summer book).
Bill Bryson: In a Sunburned Country
Arthur Upfield: The Man of Two Tribes and Boney and the Mouse
Elizabeth Peters: Crocodile on the Sandbank
Certain chapters from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire and Mary Austin's The Land of Little Rain

Which books would you recommend for this exercise?

Bibliophile reviews Bone in the Throat by Anthony Bourdain

Here’s another review I wrote shortly after I read the book (in 2007), and then forgot to post. Discovering it has reminded me that I still have the sequel left to read.

Year published: 1995
Genre: Crime, thriller, comic
Setting & time: New York, USA; 1990s

The Story:
The book tells the story through the eyes of several characters, but the protagonist is Tommy Pagano, a young sous-chef at a restaurant he doesn’t know is a front for the FBI who are using it to trap some loan-mongering crooks, one of whom is Tommy’s uncle. Other characters include the tragic figure of the drug-addicted chef, the restaurant boss who is trying to keep both the FBI and the mafia happy so he can keep running his restaurant as long as possible, and a couple of FBI men who are trying to do their jobs. Tommy’s world begins to crumble around him when he witnesses a gruesome crime but can’t report it because it would lead to his own death. The chef gets into trouble over his addiction and tries to quit, and the uncle does his best to try to get Tommy to work for the mafia.

Technique and plot:
This is an entertaining story, no doubt about that, but there is too much going on. The chef’s problems, although they matter for the main story, are covered in too much detail and the story swarms with too many characters. Several incidences unrelated to the main plot are included, possibly because the author wanted to tell some good stories (and they are good stories, just extraneous to the plot), but eventually they drag the story down instead of adding to it.

The good points are mouth-watering descriptions of food, stomach-churning but entertaining kitchen antics, very funny tough-guy dialogue and humour as black as the night.

Rating: A slightly overcooked but very entertaining crime thriller replete with gallows-humour. 3 stars.

06 January 2009

One more challenge, and then I promise I’ll stop....(I think)

This one can actually be incorporated into the TBR challenge and the 52 Icelandic books challenge, but it’s still a challenge. I learned of it through Petrona:

The challenge was made by the Mystery Reader Cafe group on Yahoo, which I have promptly joined and am just beginning to explore. The rules go like this:

1. Read a mystery with the word "murder" in the title
2. Read a mystery set in your region
3. Read a mystery that has been on your shelf for at least a year
4. Read a mystery from a "new to you" author

Each book should be different.

I already have books lined up that fulfil all these points.

The “murder” one might be Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise or any of a number of other books I have with that word in the title.

The “set in your region” will be Tími Nornarinnar by Icelandic author, journalist and critic Árni Þórarinsson. It has been translated into German and French and probably more languages, and I heard somewhere it was going to be published in English as Season of the Witch. This one is also part of my 52 Icelandic books challenge.

I have a couple of hundred that fulfil “on the shelf for a year” – for example King Solomon’s Carpet by Barbara Vine, which is next on my reading list.

The “new to me author” was Dashiell Hammett – I finished reading The Thin Man last night, so that's one book to cross off the list.

04 January 2009

Bibliophile’s reading report for 2008

Total books read in 2008:
153, which is 10 more than in 2007, making my weekly average 2,95 books.

Last year’s unfinished books were fewer than the year before and consisted only of 2 books I gave up on and a couple of guide books I borrowed and read only the relevant sections of for my trip to Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina.


Fiction: 117 (76,5%), up by 8,2% since last year.
Non-fiction: 31 (20,3%) down by 10% since last year.
Mixed: 5 (3,3%)

My non-fiction percentage is down from 2007, which means I was unable to fulfil my goal to reach 35% non-fiction in 2009. Maybe this year I’ll do better (I have some juicy travelogues lined up that may pull this average up).

Total no. of pages read: 44691, compared with 38901 in 2007, which is not surprising as I read more books in 2008.
Average number of pages per book: 292. This is 18 pages longer than in 2008. I have some big reads of 700+ pages lined up that may push the average page count even higher this year.
Number of books 300+ pages long: 78 (51%). This percentage was 49% in 2007 and 26,8% in 2006.

Re-reads: 12 (7,8%). This is slightly more than last year.
Library and loan books: 23 (15,1%). This is nearly the same percentage as in 2007.
E-books: 1
Audio books: 1
Translated books: 4 (2,5%)

Books published before 1900:
3. Last year it was 4, so I did not fulfil my goal of reading at least 12 in 2008. However, the count is bound to go up this year, as I am planning on reading some Icelandic Sagas as part of my challenge to read more Icelandic books.
Books published after 2000 (that year not included): 54, or 35,3%, compared with 21,8% in 2008.

Average rating per book (out of a possible 5+): 3+. When I do the actual calculations I interpret the +’s to mean 0,5. Last year the actual average was 3,5 stars, but this year it’s 3,4 stars, so the average rating is ever so slightly down.
Most common rating (out of a possible 5+): Not suprisingly (considering the above), the most common rating is down from 4 to 3,5 stars (representing 34 books, or 22,4%), but the distribution between the most common scores is more even than last year. This year, no books got a score of 1 or 1+, as opposed to 1 each last year. 6 books got 5 stars versus last year’s 5 books, and 3 books got 5+ stars, a distinction given to no book in 2007. I was unable to give scores to 4 books last year, but there were 9 of those in 2007.
(Books that I do not give a score are ones that need different criteria from what I generally use. My usual scoring consists of a combination of literary quality factors (objective, minor point) and reading enjoyment (subjective, major point), but scoreless books generally need not only objective, point-by-point comparison with other books of the same kind, but some also need scoring based on practical application. Those are always non-fiction, usually reference- or educational books, such as craft manuals and travel guide books, and also some history books).

Languages: I read and listened to 148 books in English last year, or 96,7% out of the total. Last year it was 93%. This year’s reading challenge will therefore be to read more books in Icelandic (see posting from December 1st).

Breakdown by genre:
This breakdown is by main genre, so genre-crossing books get classified under one genre even if they could possibly belong to more, sometimes as many as three or four. Books where I only read a few books in the genre are collected under "miscellaneous fiction or non-fiction". The only time I use a fuller genre classification is when there are enough of them to be statistically interesting.
The books that mix (or seem to mix) fiction and non-fiction I divided into genres as I saw fit.

Crime, mystery and action, including one non-fiction crime book: 53 (34,65%), down by 9%
Romance: 44 (28,75%), up by 21,75%
Fantasy, sci-fi, fairy tales, myths and supernatural (incl. horror): 12 (7,8%), down by 5,55%
Miscellaneous fiction: 8 (5,2%) down by 1,85%
Travelogues, memoirs of places, geography, guide books: 15 (9,8%) down by 2,2%
Miscellaneous non-fiction: 21 (13,75%), down by 3,2%

Most read authors:
This was definitely a Nora Roberts year for me. I had been avoiding her non-J.D. Robb books for years because I suspected I would either love or hate her romances and either could be disastrous for my enjoyment of her J.D. Robb thrillers. As it happens, I ended up generally liking the books, but not necessarily loving them. The one standalone novel of hers I read garnered my highest rating out of her Roberts books, a 4. The rest consisted of a novella collection, three trilogies and one tetralogy (that I am trying to hammer together a readable review of), each book with a rating ranging from 2+ to 3+, ending up with an average score of 2,75. The 4 books written by Roberts as J.D. Robb got nearly a whole star more on average than her other books.

The runner-up was Charlotte MacLeod, some of whose books I did love. Her books ended up with an average rating of 3,5. Unsurprisingly, Terry Pratchett came third, as I am still rereading the Discworld novels.

Here is the score:

Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb: 19
Charlotte MacLeod: 8
Terry Pratchett: 7
Jennifer Crusie and Ngaio Marsh: 5 each
Georgette Heyer and Susan Elizabeth Phillips: 4 each
Suzanne Brockmann and Tony Hillerman: 3 each
Rita Mae Brown, Mary & Carol Higgins Clark together (plus one book each), Susan Dunlap, Caroline Graham, Donna Leon, Ellis Peters, Margaret Truman and Connie Willis: 2 each

03 January 2009

Reading report for December 2008

I finished a total of 16 books in December, in a variety of genres. Only 2 were ones I had started in a previous month, which makes for a pretty good page count, but has not considerably lessened the pile of partially read books strewn around my apartment. I discovered to my dismay that I forgot my annual Christmas-time reading of Dickens' Christmas Carol, but I did read 6 Christmas-themed books, so that's a consolation.

Marian Babson: The Twelve Deaths of Christmas (Christmas mystery)
Suzanne Brockmann: Frisco's Kid (Contemporary romance)
Augusteen Burroughs: Running With Scissors (Memoir)
Mary & Carol Higgins Clark: Deck The Halls and The Christmas Thief (Christmas mystery)
Michael Connelly: Crime Beat: True Stories of Cops and Killers (Collection of newspaper articles)
Jennifer Crusie: Manhunting (Contemporary romance)
Erik Durschmied: The Hinge Factor (Military history)
Jason Goodwin: The Janissary Tree (Historical mystery thriller)
Faye Kellerman: The Ritual Bath (Mystery)
Dervla Murphy: On a Shoestring to Coorg (Travelogue)
Qiu Xiaolong: A Loyal Character Dancer (Mystery)
Various (Cach, Ashley, Neale): Christmas Cards from the Edge (Christmas romance)
Various (Greenwood, Harte, Craig, Johnston): Winter Wonderland (Christmas romance)
Patricia Warren: Tales From the Country Matchmaker (Memoir)
Connie Willis: Miracle and other Christmas Stories (Christmas fantasy stories)

P.S. I’m working on the annual reading report. All I have to say for now is that I seem to have finished 152 books in 2008.

02 January 2009

Another mystery reading challenge

Yesterday I wrote about my new 52 books challenge, which will cover a number of genres. However, I also want to continue reading and reviewing mysteries, and I might as well make a challenge out of it:

I am planning to read the British Crime Writer’s Association’s top 100 crime novels of all time and the Mystery Writers’ of America top 100 mystery novels of all time. The lists were originally published, respectively, in The Hatchards Crime Companion (1990) and The Crown Crime Companion (1995).

While such “top” or “best” lists can never be definitive due to their subjective nature, they can certainly act as indicators of quality, which is why I chose them. I’m getting fed up with starting to read mysteries that I can’t keep up enough enthusiasm for to finish, or even slogging all the way through badly written ones that are well-plotted enough for me to want to know the solution.

The lists overlap somewhat, making a total of 158 works of literature (168 books, the Sherlock Holmes novels and short story collections and the books in Len Deighton’s Spy trilogy being counted as single works).

I have read 39 of these works, so that leaves me 120 (= 122 books), which should last me a while. Additionally, at least 107 of the 168 have been filmed, either for television or the big screen, so it might be interesting to make a study of book to movie adaptations.

Getting hold of some of these books may be a problem, especially the older ones, some of which appear to be out of print. Some I already own, one I can get from the Project Gutenberg website, 65 from various libraries in the Reykjavík area, and the rest I have put on my BookMooch wishlist. It remains to be seen if I can get hold of all of them, but I’m not in a hurry.

Conveniently enough this challenge overlaps somewhat with the TBR challenge I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, as 11 of the books are in my TBR stack and more will hopefully come in through BookMooch.

This challenge will be tagged as Top mysteries challenge and the TBR as TBR challenge.

01 January 2009

A new 52 books challenge

Now that my mission to discover 52 new mystery authors is completed, I have decided on a new challenge revolving around the number 52: I am going to read one Icelandic book (on average) per week for the next year. I feel I have been neglecting my native literature lately, and I plan to rectify that.
There will only be reviews when I know a challenge book has been translated into English.

I will start counting from the first complete week of 2009, i.e. next week.

The challenge books I do review will be tagged as "52 Icelandic books".

Added another bunch of books to my BookMooch inventory

This time it's 10 mysteries, some of which I have reviewed here, and 1 Regency romance:

Carol Higgins Clark: Snagged (a Regan Reilly mystery)
Charles Cohen: Silver Linings
Emily Hendrickson: The Wicked Proposal
Timothy Holme: The Devil And The Dolce Vita (an Achille Peroni mystery)
Cecile Lamalle: Prepared For Murder (a Charly Poisson mystery)
Charlotte MacLeod: The Palace Guard; The Convivial Codfish; The Withdrawing Room; The Plain Old Man (Sarah Kelling and Max Bittersohn mysteries)
Charlotte Macleod: Wrack and Rune (a Peter Shandy mystery)
Qiu Xiaolong: A Loyal Character Dancer (a Chen Cao mystery)

Happy New Year!

My best wishes for a splendid new year, health and happiness in 2009 to my readers!