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Showing posts from July, 2009

Mystery review: Monk’s Hood by Ellis Peters

Genre: Historical mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur
Year of publication: 1980
No. in series: 3
Series detective: Brother Cadfael, a Benedictine monk
Setting & time: Shrewsbury, England, 1138

Story:
A man who has pledged his estate to the monastery is murdered by slipping some massage oil made with monkshood (aconite, a deadly poison) into his food. Brother Cadfael, who made the oil to be used as a topical relief for rheumatism, is deeply offeneded. On top of that, the dead man’s wife turns out to be someone he loved very much as young man and had planned to marry. When suspicion falls on her teenage son who had been his stepfather’s intended heir before they had a falling out, she begs Cadfael to help the boy. He begins an investigation that is somewhat hampered by the Prior who is in charge of the monastery while the abbot is away and doesn’t approve of what he sees as Cadfael’s worldly ways, and also by the absence of deputy sheriff Hugh Beringar, who, unlik…

Mystery review: One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters

I used to faithfully watch the television adaptations of the brother Cadfael books (starring Derek Jacobi as Cadfael) but I remember very little of them, except that I loved the medieval setting of the series. I have been patiently assembling the book series for reading ever since I joined BookMooch, as I want to read them all and would prefer to read them in order of publication. Now I have nearly the whole set and am ready to start. I read the first book, A Morbid Taste for Bones several years ago, and didn’t review it, but I may revisit it and post a review.

Genre: Historical mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur
Year of publication: 1979
No. in series: 2
Series detective: Brother Cadfael, a Benedictine monk
Setting & time: Shrewsbury, England, 1138

Story:
At the end of the siege of Shrewsbury (a real historical event) by King Stephen (a real person), pretender to the English throne, the whole of the defending garrison, 94 men in all, are executed as an example …

Wednesday reading experience #30

Read one of the great foodie books. I recommend Brillat-Savarin's Physiology of Taste.


Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) was a famous French gastronome and his book on the subject, Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), is still in print. Here he is discussing the effects of digestion on men of literature (translation by Anne Drayton, from the Penguin edition):

"I believe that men of letters, for the most part, owe their choice of genre to their stomach.
According to my theory, comic poets will be found among the regular, tragic poets among the constipated, and pastoral and elegaic poets among the lax; whence it follows that the most lachrymose of poets is only removed from the most comic of poets by a degree of digestionary concoction."

The book covers all kinds of subjects and their relation to food, eating and digestion, and is a must-read for true foodies.


Other good food reads I can recommend are:

The Book of Tea by Anthony Burgess and Alain Stella – a bri…

Blast from the past: Review of Holes

Originally published February 11, 2004.


Author: Louis Sachar
Published: 1998
Where got: Public library


Picked up Holes at the library along with next week's scheduled book and read it in about three hours.

It's written as a story for older kids and teenagers but has appeal for adults as well - at least this adult. It's well written and funny in places, but also contains some nasty scenes of cruelty and injustice that should appeal nicely to kids and teens who love reading stuff like Grimm's Fairy tales (unedited) and Harry Potter. Those same scenes may gross out delicate souls and younger children.

The story tells of Stanley Yelnats, a boy wrongfully convicted of a crime and sent to Camp Green Lake, a miserable juvenile work camp in the Texas wilderness. There, his and the other inmates' days are spent digging holes at random in the dry lake bed. He quickly realizes that they must be looking for something but the reader figures out much sooner than he does what it is, th…

First blast from the past: Reading journal entries and review for Catch 22

This was the very first book review I posted on my very first blog (52 Books: A bibliophile's miscellany), back in 2004. It was the first book I read as part of a book-a-week reading challenge that aimed at discovering as many new authors and genres as possible. I might not review it in the same way or give it the same rating now, but I am letting the entries stand as they were when I wrote it. All that has changed is that I left out some outside links, left out the cover image and fixed a spelling error or two as well (I hate those).

Originally posted in several parts on January 24-31, 2004:

Entry 1:

I've had this book in my "to be read" pile since sometime last autumn, and have wanted to read it for even longer, which makes it a good choice for the first in my 52 books challenge. Below are a couple of links related to the book.

Author: Joseph Heller
Published: 1961
Where got: charity shop
Genre: Satire, war

Entry 2:

I've finished several chapters and am beginning to be …

New (old) reviews

Yahoo has announced that it's closing down Geocities, its free website-hosting service, so the archive for the old 52 books blog will be going offline in the autumn. I have therefore decided to move some of the old reviews and other material over here, to make them easier to find. I am also going to see about taking the old blog down, since many of the links are broken and it has turned into a big mess. I am going to be posting this material under the label "blast from the past" and will try to post no more than one review, book list or essay a week.

Wednesday reading experience #29

Read Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media and/or Neil Postman’s Amuzing Ourselves to Death. Although they’re oldish books, they offer some still-valid insights into today’s mass media.

Mass communication studies are a fascinating discipline, and can really help us understand how the media are affecting and often manipulating us without our knowledge.
I came across the following on the Guardian book website this morning, and felt I had to comment.

Alphabetisation is the most banal approach to bookshelving going: who wants their living room to look like a lending library?

Sarah, I don't really see what is banal about alphabetising your books. Everyone should use whatever system suits them best and not have to worry about being publicly criticised for it. The only problem I can see with straight alphabetising is that if you own a mixture of paperbacks, hardcovers and books in various larger formats and shapes (like I do), it's not an economical use of shelf space. But banal? No, just practical.

I'd rather be reading

... but duty calls. I am taking a short sanity break from translating a legal contract on a short deadline, which is very exacting work, and I can't use a translation memory because it's in badly scanned pdf form and the reader can't convert it to text. I'm of a mind to change my price list to charge more when I can't use translation memory, because not only does it mean more typing for me, but I also have to figure out the lay-out of the document and hand-count the words. Unfortunately it also means a higher risk of error, so maybe that evens it out. It's some consolation that the contract happens to be fascinating...

Top mysteries challenge review: Laura by Vera Caspary

Year of publication: 1943
Genre: Mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: New York, USA; 1930’s
Place on the list(s): MWA #44

Story:
A young woman is found with her face blown away by a shotgun blast and is identified as the owner of the apartment where she was found. However, shortly afterwards the murder investigation takes a new turn when the real owner of the apartment turns up very much alive.

Review:
This is an interesting novel mostly for the way it is set up. The points of view shift to show how the main characters saw things, making it an interesting example of the use of one or more unreliable narrators. Other than that, it is a mediocre mystery, and more a study of how a strong, independent woman can arouse strong feelings and reactions in men.

The story is well put together, but the killer’s identity is glaringly obvious from early on and this does not, in my opinion make Laura a good mystery, only a study of stereotypes strung together with …

Top mysteries: changes and ranking

I’ve found a more reliable source for both the lists I am using and have discovered that the lists I was using weren't entirely correct, so I am changing the combination list accordingly. Out go 10 books and in go 9.
Interestingly, a book I read and reviewed as a Wednesday Reading Experience earlier in the year gets added to the list: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.

The lists I am now working from give the ranking of the books, and I think it would be useful to include this information with the reviews. However, I don’t want to repost the reviews I have already posted because it plays hell with the feed readers and annoys real readers, so here is an list of rankings for the books I have already reviewed, alphabetised by author. CWA stands for the British Crime Writer’s Association and MWA stands for the Mystery Writers of America.


Anthony Berkeley: The Poisoned Chocolate Case; CWA # 41
Christianna Brand: Green for Danger; CWA #84
Truman Capote: In Cold Blood; MWA # 54
Vera Caspary:…

Wednesday reading experience #28

Try one or more of the great dystopian novels.
For some reason I have always found them more interesting than the utopian ones.

I recommend:
Aldous Huxley : Brave New World
George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-four and Animal Farm
H.G. Wells: The Time Machine
Franz Kafka: The Trial (I need to reread this one, it’s been ages since I read it)
Several of the short stories in Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House, e.g. “Harrison Bergeron” and the titular story.

Currently on my reading list are:
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Check out this Wikipedia list for more suggestions

Wednesday reading experience #27

I forgot to post the Wednesday reading challenge on Wednesday, so here it is now:

If you come from a Western or Christian culture, read the Bible and consider how it has affected the literary heritage of your culture or country. If you belong to a non-Christian religion or culture, do the same with the primary book of your religion.

It is not necessary to be religious or even to be a believer to enjoy doing this, just to enjoy reading and thinking about literature and literary connections.

There are many, many different stories in the Bible, and most, if not all, have been reworked, twisted, inverted, used as inspiration, referred or alluded to in some form of literature.

Here is a list of some literature to check out that use biblical material or biblical themes:

Connie Willis: “Inn” and “Epiphany”, both in Miracle and other Christmas Stories
Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman: Good Omens
David Seltzer: The Omen
John Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s Progress
Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy
C.S. Lewis:…

Top mysteries challenge review: Penny Black by Susan Moody

I finally found the book (under the driver's seat of my car), so here is the review.

Year of publication: 1984
Series and no.: Penny Wanawake, no. 1.
Genre: Mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur (photographer)
Setting & time: Washington D.C., USA; 1980s.

Story:
Photographer Penny Wanawake is shocked to discover that a friend of hers has been stabbed to death in a restroom at Los Angeles airport. Her search for the killer takes her to Washington D.C., into the company of the city’s diplomatic and political elite, made easy by her connections: her father is a diplomat and her mother an English Lady. Once in Washington, she delves into the world of orchid breeders where a fierce competition is taking place to be the first to breed a "black" orchid. She also uncovers some seedy secrets that someone may just be willing to kill to keep under cover.

Review:
Penny Wanawake was, when the first book was published, quite an unusual and exotic detective: a six-foot…

Reading report for June 2009

My reading has dropped back to about 2 books a week, and all the books I read this month were challenge reads. My reading was unusually heavy in mysteries, but I also got in a some travelogues, some history, poetry, fantasy and one brilliant modern classic.

In the Top Mysteries Challenge, I read 3 books. All were good.
*Earle Stanley Gardner: The Case of the Velvet Claws (murder mystery)*Ed McBain: Sadie When She Died (police procedural, murder mystery)*James McClure: The Steam Pig (police procedural, murder mystery)

In the Icelandic books Challenge, I finished 5 books, none of which have been translated into English, but 2 have been translated into one or more Scandinavian language and one into German as well. There exist English titles for both of them, so there may be translations in the works.
Bjarni Þorsteinsson: Kvæði (poetry)Magnús Á. Árnason, Vífill M. Magnússon, Barbara Árnason (illustrations): Mexíkó (travelogue)Örlygur Sigurðsson: Rauðvín og reisan mín (travelogue)Sjón : Argóar…

Wednesday reading experience #26

Choose a historical era and read one or more non-fiction accounts of it, either of the general history of the era, an event that took place within the era (e.g. a war, the discovery of new lands or a royal marriage), or the biography of a person who lived during that era. Then find a historical novel that features the same era, event, or person, or is directly about the same (i.e. a novelisation), and see how an author can use - or in some cases abuse or twist - historically known facts to tell a fictional story.

You may even want to compare the history book and historical novel with a novel about a similar subject that was written during that era.


Some suggestions for historical novels:
Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
Georgette Heyer: An Infamous Army. Her other novels, which are mostly either pure romances or have a strong romantic element (Infamous Army does too) are more domestic in scope, but they are excellently researched and give one a good idea of the manners and language of the era …