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Showing posts from February, 2009

Survival stories

I came across an interesting article at BraveNewTraveler: 8 Incredible Survival Stories. While I have only read one of the books (Endurance) and seen a documentary and the movie based on Alive, I am familiar with some of the other stories and think they are pretty amazing examples of survival. I already have Yossi Ghinsberg's book on my wishlist, and the movie based on Touching the Void is on my "To Watch" list. Now I want to check out the rest.

Be sure to also check out 8 of the Greatest Non-Fiction Adventure Stories Ever Told and 8 of the Greatest Fictional Adventure Stories Ever Told for some more great recommendations.

Review: On a Shoestring to Coorg (travel) by Dervla Murphy

Year published: 1976
Genre: Travelogue
Setting & time: India, 1973-4

This is the third of Dervla Murphy’s travelogues that I have read, and I think by now I could call myself a fan of hers. Her books project an image of a woman of strength, honesty, determination and individuality, and also one of bloody-mindedness and strong opinions that you sometimes don’t agree with, yet you can’t help admiring her for her strength of conviction. She isn’t afraid of matter-of-factly writing about things that might reflect badly on her, like getting drunk or angry or doing something embarrassing, but neither does she hesitate to tell the reader when she is overcome with admiration of something - often a beautiful sunset or a lovely nature spot. As a result, she comes across as more human than many travel writers who either turn everything that happens to them into a series of jokes, or seem not to be touched by anything that happens around them.

This book is Murphy’s slightly starry-eyed account o…

Wednesday reading experience #8

Read a book about a place you have visited, the area or city you live in, or a place you are visiting.


Being familiar with the place you are reading about can heighten the experience of the reading and make you look at a familiar place in a new way.

Reading about an area you are visiting can change your experience, for example by introducing you to new places, like sights, neighbourhoods, streets, museums, shops, pubs or markets that you would otherwise never have visited.


Have you made any interesting discoveries about a place through reading a book set there?

Mystery review: A Murder on the Appian Way by Steven Saylor

Genre: Historical mystery
Year of publication: 1996
No. in series: 5
Series detective: Gordianus the Finder
Type of investigator: Private detective
Setting & time: Rome, 52 B.C.

Story:
A rabble-rousing Roman politician is killed on the Via Appia highway, a day's journey from Rome, causing widespread rioting in the city. The dead man’s wife sends for Gordianus the Finder to hire him to discover what happened, but eventually he sets out along the Via Appia at the behest of another client. With a lot of digging and patient questioning he finds out what happened, but meanwhile trouble is brewing in his own household…

Review:
This is an interesting 1st century B.C. detective story and political thriller that reads in parts like a modern police procedural. Saylor’s writing is rich in detail and historical information, the plotting is layered and the narrative gripping, and the characters come alive on the page. Saylor is very good at drawing up an image of what Rome and the surrounding count…

BookMooch explosion

At the beginning of the year I changed my status on BookMooch from “ask me first” to “worldwide”. For the uninitiated this means that a step was eliminated from the process of mooching a book from me. Before, the person interested in the book would have to e-mail me and ask if I was willing to send the book to their country, and only after I had said “yes” could they mooch it. I did this because I was offering some books that were so heavy that even for 3 mooch points they were still not cost effective to send outside Europe. I always got a few mooches every month, but I also got a number of “will you send to my country” requests that came to nothing but took the book off the inventory list for a week, because if done right, asking automatically reserves the book for the asker. I think the number of “can I mooch” e-mails that never resulted in mooches was so high because many people don’t realise that the book is reserved for them when they use the “ask me” button. Once a book has bee…

Crime reading for neophytes

Thanks to Maxine at Petrona, I discovereed Uriah Robinson’s “Snowed in on Dartmoor” challenge: to list 12 books you would recommend to a reader who has never read any crime books.

While I have read hundreds – perhaps over a thousand – crime books, my reading has been somewhat limited in that I don’t particularly like a certain sub-sub-genre of the hardboiled sub-genre and have read very few caper books, but I still managed to find books to recommend from all 12 sub-genres he mentions.

1] The Origins:
Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone. One of the earliest mystery novels and a very enjoyable read.

2] The Age of Sherlock Holmes :
G.K. Chesterton: The Innocence of Father Brown. I considered R. Austin Freeman and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but in the end I decided on Chesterton, because I love the Father Brown stories.

3] The Golden Age:
Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None. There are a number of writers I could have recommended here, such as Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Josephine Tey or…

Top mysteries challenge review: Last Seen Wearing by Hillary Waugh

Year of publication: 1952
Genre: Mystery, police procedural
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Massachusetts, USA; March-April 1950

Story:
18 year-old Marilyn Lowell Mitchell disappears without trace from her college dormitory and goes missing for 2 weeks before she is found dead. It is only because of some clever comparative forensic work by the town's police chief that her death is ruled a murder and not a suicide. It is then up to the police to dig for clues as to the who and why of her death.

Review:
This is a pure police procedural and a very realistic one. The entire investigation is based on solid and diligent searching for clues and evidence and the elimination of suspects. It has the requisite false leads and dead ends, but no real red herrings, because those false leads are quickly revealed as such, instead of dominating the plot for several chapters like they might in a less realistic story.
But this is far from being a mere dry recounting …

Useful website of the week: Fantastic Fiction

Last week I discussed Stop, you’re killing me!, a useful website for readers of crime fiction. This time around the useful website is for all kinds of fiction, and if an author has also written non-fiction, that is included as well. The site has bibliographies for over 20 thousand authors with works in English.

Fantastic Fiction offers searches by author and book title, and if you go to the Preferences page, you can also search by short story title and ISBN. As with Stop, you’re killing me!, this website is only for books published in English, and doesn’t seem to include information on untranslated works (conclusion is based on a sample of Icelandic authors with both translated and untranslated books).

Putting in an author’s full name will take you directly to that author’s page, while searches by first or last name will bring up all authors in the database who share the name. A title search will bring up all the books that share the title word, or if the title is unique it will take y…

Mystery review: Seeking Whom he May Devour by Fred Vargas

Original French title: L’homme à l’envers
Genre: Mystery
Year of publication: 1999
No. in series: 2
Series detective: Commissaire Adamsberg
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Rural France, contemporary

Story:
Camille, an old girlfriend of Commissaire Adamsberg’s, is living in the French Alps with a Canadian who is there to observe and make a documentary about the European wolf. In the area, dozens of sheep have been killed by what appears to be a rogue wolf, but when a woman in the neighbourhood is found dead with her throat torn out by the same creature, rumours about a werewolf start circulating.

Camille had been fond of the dead woman and joins her foster-son and her shepherd in a search for the killer, whom they believe to be a man from the neighbourhood who has trained a big dog or a wolf to kill on command. A map found in his house shows a route through rural France he has apparently planned to take, and this they follow, finding the killer always a step ahead of them and …

Cool design

I follow the BoingBoing blog and yesterday it drew my attention to this piece of book-related furniture. It isn't real books, but carton paper printed to look like stacked books. It's sold to be used as a stool or a table. It reminds me of a sculpture made of books that's in the Reykjavík city library.

Others have given this idea a different spin by specially designing furniture, for example tables and chairs, to double as bookcases.

What I would like to do is to turn an existing piece of furniture into a bookcase, while still retaining the original function. If you have come across an example of this, please post a link in the comment section.

Mystery review: Have Mercy on Us All by Fred Vargas

Fred Vargas’ books are only just beginning to be published in Icelandic. I read this one first as it is the first one published, but it turns out that the second book to be published in Icelandic (English title Seeking Whom He May Devour) is an earlier book in the Adamsberg series. I hope it doesn’t matter much.

I actually read the Icelandic translation, Kallarinn, but I’m giving the English title so my English-speaking readers know which book I am talking about.

Original French title:Pars vite et reviens tard
Genre: Murder mystery
Year of publication: 2001
No. in series: 4
Series detective: Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Paris (mostly, France), contemporary

Story:
A man who has revived the ancient profession of town crier has been getting messages that are copied passages from old books about the Plague. At the same time the police are baffled by a mysterious symbol that appears on doors across Paris and turns out to be a protective sign a…

Top mysteries challenge review: The Poisoned Chocolate Case by Anthony Berkeley

Edited - I have added something to the review that might be of interest.

Year of publication: 1936
Genre: Mystery
Type of mystery: Murder, whodunnit
Type of investigator: Group of amateurs
Setting & time:
No. in series: 4

Story:
Amateur sleuth Roger Sheringham has formed the Crime Circle, a club of 6 clever people with an interest in theoretical criminology. A police inspector from Scotland Yard has decided to hand them a real unsolved case and see if they succeed where the police have failed. They have a week to prepare, and at the end of it each must put his or her case to the others, who will have a chance to accept or disprove the theory.

The case concerns a middle-aged rogue who, upon receiving in the mail a gift box of chocolates, gives it to another man. That man has lost a bet with his wife and gives her the chocolates to settle it, eats some himself and proceeds to fall violently ill. The wife eats even more chocolates and dies of nitrobenzene poisoning.

Who was the intended vict…

Useful Website of the Week: Stop, you’re killing me!

I keep a close eye on the traffic that comes to this blog, and especially which search engine keywords bring people here. Quite often people are looking for an author whose book or books I have reviewed. Another common search is for e-books and a third is for the series, reading or publication order of an author’s books. It occurred to me that perhaps I would be doing these people a favour by redirecting them to the right website, so I decided to start a new feature. I’m calling it Useful Website of the Week. Despite the name, it’s not going to be a regular weekly occurrence – the name merely indicates that I will not be doing more than one such post a week.

The plan is to review one or more useful website(s) each time, sticking to ones that are useful to readers, e.g. sites that distribute free e-books, detailed author sites, author and reader blogs that I enjoy, and sites that list useful information about an author’s books, such as series and reading order.
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The first Useful Website…

Mystery review: Tími Nornarinnar (Season of the Witch) by Árni Þórarinsson (Arni Thorarinsson)

This is one of the Icelandic challenge books. It has been translated already into German, French and Danish, and I read somewhere that it is being translated into English, which is why I am reviewing it here. What the English title will be remains to be seen, but the Icelandic title translates as Season of the Witch, taking its name from the song by Donovan, which has a bearing on the plot.

Genre: Mystery
Year of publication: 2005
No. in series: 4
Series detective: Einar the journalist (I didn't see a last name - perhaps it's revealed in the earlier books)
Type of investigator: Investigative reporter
Setting & time: Northern Iceland, mostly Akureyri, contemporary.

Story:
A woman falls overboard during a rafting trip in Skagafjörður, hits her head on a rock and later dies without having gained consciousness. Her mother contacts Einar and tells him she was murdered. Einar finds this hard to believe but starts investigating anyway, more as as sop to the old lady, whom he likes, than …

Top mysteries challenge review: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

This is the second Hammett novel I read for the top mysteries challenge, which leaves two.

Besides reading the book I watched the movie, which is the most faithful book to film adaptation I have seen.

Year of publication: 1930
Genre: Hardboiled detective story
Type of mystery: Theft, murder
Type of investigator: Private detective
Setting & time: San Francisco, USA, contemporary to writing

Story:
A woman approaches private detective Sam Spade and his partner, Archer, with an apparently simple request: to tail someone. But Archer is killed on the job and Spade is approached by two more people and asked to find a valuable statuette, the Maltese Falcon. The woman turns out to be after the same thing. What follows is a merry-go-round of ruthless lies, intrigue and murder.

Discussion and review:
Sam Spade is one of the most famous detectives in the history of detective fiction, because he was a perfect prototype of the tough guy detective who used brawn as much as brain to solve his cases, too…

Wednesday reading experience #5

Read a whole series in the order of publication (or the recommended reading order), without reading other books in between. It’s up to you whether you choose a trilogy or something longer.


I did this with the Anne of Green Gables books – unfortunately I read them in chronological order rather than order of publication, and found a nasty spoiler in the one book that was published out of chronology. I have also done this with sub-series from the Discworld series.

The Harry Potter books might be a not too strenuous series to read like this.

What series would you choose, and why?
or
What series did you choose and what was the outcome?

Review: King Solomon’s Carpet by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell)

Genre: Thriller, psychological
Year of publication: 1991
Setting & time: London, contemporary

Story:
A group of society’s outsiders rent cheap rooms in an old, mouldering school building. The owner is obsessed with underground railways and is writing a complete history of the London tube. His cousin and her children lead a fairly care-free existence, a young musician falls hard for a young woman who has left her family in order to pursue her dream to become a solo violinist, and another young man worries over his pet hawk, which seems to be dying. When a mysterious stranger arrives in their midst, he sets in motion a chain of events that will change all their lives in one way or another.

Review:
This is one of the best psychological thrillers I have read in a long while. The story moves slowly, occasionally making sudden spurts of action, but even the action is described slowly, almost languidly, so that the tension is magnified with each sentence one moves closer to each narrative cli…

Mystery review: Harðskafi by Arnaldur Indriðason

The English title of this book will be Hypothermia. According to Amazon UK it will be published in Britain in September.

The Icelandic title is the name of a mountain in the area where Erlendur is supposed to have grown up, meaning something like “a bare and sharp-edged mountain”. It has a bearing on events from Erlendur’s past that have been mentioned in previous books. Interestingly (at least from a linguistic viewpoint) another meaning of harðskafi is close to the meaning of the English word hardscrabble, and I am sure it is no coincidence that the two words sound similar.

Genre: Mystery, police procedural
Year of publication: 2007
No. in series: 8
Series detective: Detective Erlendur Sveinsson
Setting & time: Reykjavík and Þingvellir, Iceland; contemporary

Story:
A woman discovers her friend’s body hanging from a beam in a summer house by lake Þingvallavatn. She seems to have killed herself, but the friend is convinced she would never have done that. This is enough for Erlendur, who …

Reading report for January 2009

January was a bigger than average reading month for me: 21 books finished. This is no surprise as I had a week off from work in which I finished a total of 6 books. I expect I will be back to my average of 12,75 BPM in February.

In the reading challenges the situation is as follows:
I finished 3 out of the 4 Mystery Reader Café challenge books, and only have the book with the word „murder“ in the title left. I plan to try to finish that in February.In the 52 Icelandic books challenge I read 5 books, which puts me a little ahead of plan.In the Top Mysteries challenge I finished 4 books. That challenge is not on a deadline, but I would like to finish at least 25% of the books on the list by the end of the year.The challenge I am proudest of is the TBR one. In addition to the Mystery Reader Café „on the shelf for a year book“, I managed to read 10 other TBR books that had been on the shelf for a year or more. I decided to keep 5 and put the other 6 in my BookMooch inventory. The only book…