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Showing posts from March, 2009

To Be Read

I recently compiled an Excel spreadsheet containing information about my TBR books so I could keep better track of how I am doing in the informal “reduce the TBR stack” challenge. I excluded reference books, craft books, cookbooks, travel guides and books one rarely if ever reads from cover to cover, and according to this reckoning I have, as of today, 789 TBR books in my book collection.

I had not realised I owned so many books I had not read. Of the genres, about half are mysteries, thrillers or crime novels of one kind or another. The second biggest genre is novels of all sorts, including 81 historical non-mystery novels. This is followed by 55 romances and 49 travelogues and a smattering of other genres. Since I get rid of 9 out of every 10 books I own either through BookMooch or by donating them a local charity after I have read them, there is a lot of shelf space I can free just by reading more of my own books and fewer library books.

When I have finished reading the current cr…

Reading journal: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, 3rd and final entry

Some final thoughts on the book:
I have rarely read a long mystery or thriller that didn't at least sag just a little bit in the middle, but this one does not. It does take a while for the central story to begin but once it does start rolling it never slows down until the almost disappointingly short climax is reached and the long denouement begins.

That he was able to keep the reader's attention through a slow background setting and introduction of characters the length of a short novel and a denouement that is an almost self-contained story the length of a novella, shows that Stieg Larsson was a master of the craft of writing. This is a first novel but it shows no signs of firstbookitis, which isn't really surprising because Larsson was a veteran journalist and therefore an experienced writer. That he was a reader is obvious. Apart from the references to Astrid Lindgren that suffuse the story in the characters of Mikael and Lisbeth (who are his speculations on what Kalle B…

Top mysteries challenge review: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Genre: Psychological thriller
Year of publication: 1955
No. in series: 1
Series protagonist: Thomas Phelps Ripley
Setting & time: The USA (beginning chapters), Italy (remaining chapters); contemporary

Teaser:
How on earth do I synopsise the beginning of this story without giving away too much? I’ll try, but don’t blame me if you haven’t read the book and see something in here that you consider to be a spoiler.

A Mr. Greenleaf asks the protagonist, Tom Ripley, to go to Italy to persuade his errant son, Dickie, to come home to America. Once there, Ripley easily befriends Dickie, but when clouds start gathering on the friendship horizon Ripley decides that he deserves to be in the situation Dickie is in: financially independent and living in wonderful Italy; whereas Ripley is poor and unemployed and once his travelling money from Greenleaf senior runs out he must return to the USA to an uncertain future.

Review:
Herein you will definitely find SPOILERS.

The book is very well written, the cha…

Reading journal: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, entry 2

I got so engrossed in the book last night that I didn’t stop until my eyes were stinging from all the reading and it was past one o’clock in the morning. I stopped around page 410, which leaves me the last section of the book, about 120 pages. I hated to stop, as I had got to a very exciting part in the plot, with one protagonist in mortal danger and the other about to head into it. That there should be so much left of the book when the climax appears to be starting tells me that either the climax is going to be drawn-out, there will be a second climax, or the denouement is going to be a long one.

Some thoughts about the plot: I really, really hope there is some real purpose to the horrifying abuse Lisbeth has had to suffer at the hands of her legal guardian. I would hate to think it was just a gratuitous addition to the book or a way to have her supply a small and not very important item to the profiling of the killer. It does emphasise that vulnerability that I mentioned earlier, th…

Top mysteries challenge review: The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

Genre: Comic mystery
Year of publication: 1946
No. in series: 3
Series detective: Gervase Fen
Type of investigator: University professor
Setting & time: Oxford, England; contemporary

Story:
Poet Richard Cadogan goes to Oxford for a holiday and due to bad planning he ends up missing the last train and hitch-hiking part of the way, arriving in Oxford in the middle of the night. While walking along a street he comes upon a toyshop with its door ajar. In he goes to let the owner know, but finds the shop empty and the body of a murdered woman in an abandoned apartment on the first floor. However, when he brings the police back to the crime scene in the morning the toyshop has been replaced by a grocery shop, the apartment looks different, and there is no body. Convinced he didn’t dream this, he turns to his old school pal, amateur sleuth Gervase Fen, who is now a don at one of the colleges, and together they embark on an attempt to explain the mystery.

Review:
This book was a surprise after the…

Reading journal: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, entry 1

I did say I was going to start journalling about Crime and Punishment, but as it happens I had to read this one first, because I was on a waiting list for it at the library and got it on “new book loan” which means I only have it for 2 weeks, so must finish it before then, whereas I can keep the other one for 2 months, and then get another copy if that isn’t enough. This is a long book, over 500 pages, so it lands itself well to journalling. I am reading the Icelandic translation.
--

So, here are some thoughts about the book so far:

The intro chapter is a very good hook which suggests that an intriguing mystery is about to unfold.

It’s good that of the two leading characters Carl Mikael Blomkvist is introduced first, because he is the more conventional and less interesting of the two. Even the attempt to make him slightly less conventional by having him be involved in a ménage à trois does not quite work. If he alone had been the leading character, I would have expected this to unfold lik…

Wednesday reading experience #12

Journal or blog about a book as you are reading it. This is is a good way to get thinking about things like writing style, formulas, points of view, themes, characterisations, etc.

I am about to start reading Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, and plan to make some journal entries about the book while I am reading it. I would have liked to do this with Ruth Rendell's A Judgement in Stone which I read recently because it really got me thinking, but it is so short that I read it in two sessions and taking a break to journal about it would have spoiled the mood. Crime and Punishment, however, is so long that I expect it will take several sessions to finish it, which lends itself perfectly to journalling.

I'm interested in seeing how others do this, so if you’re journal blogging about a book or planning to do so, please post a link in the comments to this post and I’ll check it out and leave a comment (or two).

Mystery review: My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

This book is due to be published in Britain and the USA in April.

Original Icelandic title:Sér grefur gröf
Genre: Murder mystery
Year of publication: 2006
No. in series: 2
Series detective: Þóra Guðmundsdóttir
Type of investigator: Lawyer
Setting & time: Snæfellsnes, Iceland; contemporary

Story:
Þóra’s client, a hotel owner in Snæfellsnes (south-western Iceland), wants to sue the people who sold him the land for the hotel on the basis of the place being haunted. This would not be a problem if the hotel were an ordinary one, but it is a new age health spa and some of the staff claim to be sensitive to that sort of thing, the owner included. Þóra goes up there to investigate and prepare the lawsuit (or rather to dissuade the client to go on with it), but arrives in the middle of a murder investigation. The architect who designed the hotel has been brutally murdered, and when a second person connected with the hotel is murdered as well, Þóra’s client is arrested on suspicion of being respons…

Mystery review: The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas

Original French title:Debout les morts
Translator: Siân Reynolds
Genre: Mystery
Year of publication: original: 1996; in English: 2006
No. in series: 1
Series detectives: Historians Marc, Lucien and Matthias, and former police commissaire (Armand) Vandoosler (Marc’s uncle)
Type of investigator: Amateurs and semi-pro
Setting & time: Paris (mostly), France; contemporary

Story:
Three down-on-their-luck historians move into an old run-down house along with the uncle of one of them, a former police commissaire. Because of their names the old man calls them “The Evangelists”: St. Lucas, St. Mark and St. Matthew. The four men quickly make the acquaintance of their neighbour Sophia, a retired Greek opera singer, and also that of Juliette who runs a restaurant nearby. Some weeks later Sophia disappears. Her husband seems unconcerned, but Juliette and Sophia’s niece Alexandra, who turns up shortly afterwards, are both convinced something has happened to her, as are the four men, who have already aler…

Top mysteries challenge review: A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell

Genre: Psychological thriller
Year of publication: 1977
Setting & time: England, contemporary

Story:
Eunice Parchman, illiterate and deeply ashamed of it, is hired as a housekeeper by the respectably upper-class Coverdale family, Mrs. Coverdale quickly becoming dependent on her for the housework and thus reluctant to let her go even when repelled by her. A seemingly innocuous event leads Eunice to become friends with Joan Smith, a religious fanatic living in the nearby village, and seals the fate of her employers which is revealed simply and starkly in the beginning paragraph: “Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.”

The whole narrative is an elaboration and examination of all the little causal threads that come together and drive Eunice to murder the Coverdales.

If you like a book to surprise you, don’t read the following review, because I got a bit carried away and wrote a short analysis that will best benefit people who have already read th…

Wednesday reading experience #11

Try reading in the bath or hot tub. I recommend something you will not cry over if you accidentally drop it in the water.

If you only have access to a shower, you have my sympathies. If, however, you have discovered a safe way to read in the shower, please share the secret.

Mystery review: Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Icelandic title: Þriðja táknið (literally: The Third Symbol)
Genre: Mystery
Year of publication: 2005
No. in series: 1
Series detective: Þóra Guðmundsdóttir
Type of investigator: Lawyer
Setting & time: Reykjavík (mostly), Iceland; contemporary

Story:
Icelandic Lawyer Þóra (Thora in English) is hired by the parents of a German history student who was found murdered in the offices of the history department of the University of Iceland. They want her to help Matthew, an investigator they have sent over from Germany, to find out why their son was murdered and why his body was mutilated. Since they are not convinced that the suspect the police have arrested is guilty, they also want Þóra and Matthew to find the real killer.

The victim had been researching and comparing the history of witch hunts in Germany and Iceland and was the leader of a clique that practiced magic rituals. The mutilation of his body is connected to a magic spell found in an old grimoire, so it would seem logical that he w…

Mystery review: Pel and the Faceless Corpse by Mark Hebden

Genre: Police procedural
Year of publication: 1979
No. in series: 2
Series detective: Chief inspector Evariste Clovis Désiré Pel of the French Police Judiciaire's Brigade Criminelle
Setting & time: Burgundy, France; contemporary

Story:
On a miserably cold and windy winter’s night Pel is called out to a farm where the body of a murdered man has been found in front of a memorial for resistance fighters killed by the Germans during World War II. The man has been shot in the face and head in such a way as to make his face unrecognisable, and because his fingerprints are not on file Pel and his men have a hard slog ahead of them to even find out who he is, let alone find his murderer. Complicating things is a second murder and an attempt on the life of a farmer who lives nearby. Then there are the fugitive bank robbers who may be hiding out in the area, and a pesky chicken thief the commissaire of police wants caught. All this weaves together to make an entertaining story.

Review:
Judging …

Wednesday reading experience #10

Take a newspaper and read it all the way through. It’s amazing what we miss in the papers when we always just read one or two particular sections.

When I did this for the first time I was amazed at what I had been missing. Now I try to at least read the headlines to every article and piece of news, and the beginning paragraph as well, and I often find something I am glad I didn't skip.

Online advertising

I couldn’t help myself when I saw this sponsored ad on a website I visited:

“Learn How a Mom Combined 2 Products to Get Rid of Her Wrinkles Forever.”


To which my answer is: When is the funeral?

Top Mysteries review: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

This is part of my Wednesday reading experiences, one where I challenged my readers to read a book by Joseph Conrad, and did the same myself.

Year published: 1907
Genre: Novel
Setting & time: London, England; 1886.

The story deals with Mr. Verloc, an anarchist who is also a secret agent for a foreign embassy. When the embassy requires him to prove his usefulness by committing an act of terrorism, he conceives an idea which will not put him at risk and that will, if successful, prove his usefulness to the embassy and prevent them from exposing him to the police. But the act of terrorism goes tragically wrong and Mr. Verloc has to pay for his failure in a way he never imagined.

This book was first published over 100 years ago, but it is very relevant in today’s society because of its themes of anarchism, terrorism and the examination of the driving forces behind them.

The story is excellently written and tightly plotted and a good solid read. Not that I would read it again, like I would,…

Free download: Temeraire/His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

I loved this book when it was first published, and now it's being offered as a free download!

Here is my review.

And here is a link to the main site. They have more free downloads available, and will be adding even more.

These books are being offered by Random House to promote the sci-fi and fantasy series they publish under their Del Rey imprint, so this is perfectly legal.

Top Mysteries challenge review: Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

Year of publication: 1950
Genre: Psychological thriller
Setting & time: USA, contemporary

Story:
Guy Haines, a young architect, meets loafer Charles Bruno on a train. Guy wants to divorce his estranged wife so he can marry his new girlfriend, and Bruno wants his father dead. Bruno suggests an exchange of murders and Guy refuses. But soon afterwards Guy’s wife is murdered, and he gets sucked into a sick and terrifying relationship with Bruno, who wants him to honour the deal he thinks they made.

Review:
This is a good psychological thriller and an examination of what can make an honest and upright person commit a terrible crime. It is also an examination of the feelings that might arise in said person afterwards, and it might also be seen as an examination of the differences between the lazy, degenerate rich and the honest, hard-working middle-class.

The story is well plotted and the narrative moves slowly but surely towards an inevitable end, with some interesting twists along the way.…

Why lie about having read a book?

This article in today’s Guardian got me thinking about why anyone would lie about having read a specific book. I have always been able to understand people who pretend to not have read a book. After all, it’s easy to get the wrong idea about someone who admits they have read Mein Kampf or the works of the Marquis de Sade. But when I started thinking about it, I realised that of course some people would get the wrong idea if someone were to admit they haven’t read works which are required reading among students of English literature and culturally required reading in English-speaking countries. I am of course referring to books like Animal Farm, Hamlet or Jane Eyre.

But why pretend to have read books like Ulysses or War and Peace which are not required reading except in specialised university courses?

Is it perhaps a simple wish to seem well read, or an attempt to seem somehow “better” than those around one that have not read those books?
I would be interested to hear what you think. …

Wednesday reading experience #9

Ask a stranger for a book recommendation and follow it. You never know what might happen. If you are too shy to approach a stranger, try someone you know but have never discussed books with, like a workmate or an in-law.


What happened? Did you read the recommended book, and how did you like it?

Interesting musings on book-to-film adaptations

As my regular readers know, I have a degree in translation studies. This is why, when I come across interesting articles or books about any aspect of the craft, I naturally want to tell the world about them.

Apart from Language X to Language Z renderings, "translation" can, among other things, refer to what is also called "adaptation", that is the rendering of one form of art into another, the most common being the adaptation of a book into a film.

Here is an interesting article on the subject by Salman Rushdie that I came across on the Guardian website.

Reading report for February 2009

I finished 21 books in February, which is quite a bit better than my monthly average for 2008 (not that I'm competing with myself or anything...). Out of those, I had started reading 5 before the beginning of the month – 2 of them last summer.

In the reading challenges the situation is as follows:
I finished the last of the Mystery Reader Café challenge books: the book with the word "murder" in the title, so that challenge is finished.In the 52 Icelandic books challenge I read 4 books.In the Top Mysteries challenge I finished 2 books.In the TBR challenge I finished 7 books that had been on my shelves for more than a year.
Additionally, I culled 7 of the books I read this month and will be adding them to my BookMooch inventory, making room on my book shelves for the 7 mooched books I received in the mail. 5 of these I will be reading for the Top Mysteries challenge. I also found 2 TM challenge books in the book section of a local charity shop.

I listened to one audio book…

Mystery review: Myrká by Arnaldur Indriðason

I wasn’t sure if I should post this review right away, considering that the book will probably not be published in English until 2010, but then I though “why not?” It just means the review will be there for those who want to know something about the book beforehand. Unfortunately I do not have an English title for it, but I will post it once I know what it will be.

Added April 7, 2011: The English title is Outrage, and it is due out in June of this year.

Genre: Police procedural
Year of publication: 2008
No. in series: 9
Series detective: Detective Erlendur Sveinsson and colleagues, of the Reykjavík detective force
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Reykjavík, Iceland; contemporary

Story:
Erlendur, the leading investigator in the previous books, is away on vacation, and the detective in this book is his colleague Elínborg. She is called in on a murder case involving a young man found with his throat cut and some Rohypnol tablets in his pocket. Was the man a drug rapist or were …