31 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

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, unlike his superior, is unlikely to arrest someone just because they seem to be the likeliest suspect.

Review and rating:
This is the third outing in the Cadfael series, and like One Copse Too Many, which I reviewed yesterday, it is a mixture of thriller, mystery and romance, has an eventful and twisting plot, and is well written. While the previous book is pretty much a straightforward whodunnit and procedural that turns on finding out who the murdered man was, why he was murdered and who, out of a large group of possible suspects, did it, this one is more of a puzzle plot. The group of suspects is small, and the solution is arrived at by a very careful piecing together of clues and facts from various sources. Like so often with mysteries with a small cast of suspects, the solution lies in finding out who had the strongest motive for the killing, and then finding out how they did it. And while I did figure out both before the omniscient narrator gives on that Cadfael has done so, I still consider this a better mystery than One Corpse….

In addition, it has some really wonderful descriptions of the landscape on the Welsh-English border, and a funny side-story about monastery politics. I therefore give it a solid 3 stars.

30 July 2009

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

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 to Stephen’s other enemies. However, Brother Cadfael, who has been given the task of redying the bodies for Christian burial, discovers an extra corpse. The young man had been murdered and his body hidden among the executed. King Stephen gives orders for the killer to be found and brought to justice and the task falls to Cadfael, who is, at the same time, involved in a potentially dangerous game of cat and mouse with an ambitious young man who has just pledged his allegiance to Stephen and is searching for the young woman betrothed to him. She is in in hiding, being the daughter of one of the men opposing Stephen and a valuable hostage if caught. With shrewdness born of wide-ranging experiences before he became a monk, Cadfael plans and plots and investigates, and succeeds, with the help of an unexpected ally, in carrying out his plans and finding the killer.

Review and rating:
Ellis Peters had a style that was flowing and readable, and in the Brother Cadfael books she has added historical detail that suggests research at least as exhaustive as that of Georgette Heyer in her historical novels. Combining this easy writing style with an interesting lead character, thriller elements, an eventful plot and a double romance, this makes for a nice mixture that I breezed through in less than 2 hours. Unfortunately, I couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for the mystery itself, which, in spite of all the investigating, pondering and theorising, turned out to be rather flat. 2+ stars.

29 July 2009

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 brilliant coverage of the history of tea, tea-drinking traditions, tea natural history and tea varieties, full of gorgeous photos and illustrations.
  • The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe. Although some of the history chapters are a little dry, this is a great read for those who wish to know where that heavenly substance comes from, how it came to be known to the world and how it’s made.
  • Unfortunately I have not come across a really good book about coffee, so I can’t recommend one.
  • Tender at the Bone and Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. The first is a wonderful memoir that describes the making of a foodie, and the second is a memoir and collection of her food articles and restaurant reviews from the New York Times.
  • A Cook’s Tour in search of the perfect meal by Anthony Bourdain. Combines two of my favourite hobbies: travel and food. If you're wondering why I am not recommending Kitchen Confidential, it’s because while it’s an interesting read, it is uneven and sometimes just plain gross.
  • The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten. Two great collections of food essays and articles by an obsessive gastronome.
  • Salt: A world history and Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world by Mark Kurlansky.
  • For a food porn fix: any of the Culinaria books. Gorgeous and heavy coffee-table books about food culture in different countries, rich in recipes and photographs.
I have avoided cookbooks, but many of these books have recipes in them as well.

And, just for fun, some of the foodie books on my TBR list:
  • The Art of Eating and The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
  • Comfort Me With Apples by Ruth Reichl

27 July 2009

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, through flashbacks to the past history of the lake and to Stanley's family history.

Favorite quote: "If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy."

Rating: Great read, skilfully written and well told.

24 July 2009

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 reminded of a TV series that I used to like watching as a teenager. The framework in both stories is war with all its attendant madness. Not that the book and the TV series take place in the same war or even the same continent, but some of the characters in Catch 22are displaying idiosyncrasies and attitudes that remind me decidedly of some of the characters from MASH.
So far the book has not tempted me to sit down and read it from cover to cover in one go. I'm on chapter seven and characters are still being introduced. A main storyline has not yet presented itself, although there have been hints...

Entry 3:

Catch 22 was first published in 1961. Critics who reviewed it either loved or hated it (there seem to have been no middling reviews), and at first it became a popular underground book, only surfacing to take its place on the bestseller lists when it came out in paperback. It came as something of a shock to readers who were used to serious anti-war novels full of pathos, with its dark and sarcastic humour, absurd dialogues and lack of a continuous storyline. It is by many considered to be among the best American novels of the 20th century, and readers still either think it's one of the best or one of the worst books they've read.

Catch 22 is one of those books that get classified under "general fiction" because people find it hard to put it anywhere else. I would say it belongs to the satire genre, with war as its main sub-genre.

The setting is semi-fictional, but the story could have happened almost anywhere in the world where American bomber planes were based, within the time frame of World War 2.

Heller based the book on his own experiences in WW2, which is perhaps the reason why some of the things that happen are so realistic and the conversations often believable in their absurdity.

The book's title has entered the English language as a term for things that are at once paradoxical, impossible and absurd.

Entry 4:

I'm at the halfway point in the book and it's becoming engrossing enough to keep me wanting to be reading when I'm at work. Have laughed out loud several times at the abusurdities and ironies of it and am looking forward to going back to reading.

Entry 5:

Note to anyone who hasn't read it yet: don't skip round to the ending at any time during your reading as it will ruin the rest of the book for you.

A friend asked me if If I'd seen the movie, but I haven't. I will check to see if it's available at the nearest video rental store, and will watch and review it if I do. In the meantime, here's one viewer's review
And more, at the Internet Movie Database

Finally, here is a quote which explains the basics of Catch 22:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he would have to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. “That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

23 July 2009

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.

22 July 2009

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.

21 July 2009

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.

20 July 2009

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...

19 July 2009

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

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.

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 some fairly good writing and regrettably predictable plot elements.

The worst part is the big cliché, which can not be excused by saying that it was not a cliché when the book was written, because it was well-established by that time. It's one that annoys me no end, twinned with another cliché that also annoys me, which is why, although I think the stock plot elements and stock characters are well utilised, I can't give the book more than 2 stars. Just to be clear: I am not referring to the much-mentioned cliché ending that I detest, which we have been mercifully spared here, but something else I don't remember mentioning before.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the reason this book made it onto the MWA’s list is that it was the movie that the voters remembered and not the novel. I have this suspicion because Christie's Witness for the Prosecution is known to have made it onto the same list for a similar reason. It isn't really eligible because there never was a Christie novel of that title – the original is a short story and there has been a play and a movie (both of which end differently from the short story), but all three are fondly remembered and appreciated enough to make it onto the list. If the voters made one such mistake, why not two? The film version of Laura is a classic of its kind and from all my research seems to be considered superior to the book. I haven't been able to judge for myself yet, but if I get my hands on the movie, I will certainly watch it and possibly post an update.

Rating: 2 stars.

Books left in challenge: 97.
Awards and nominations: None that I know of.

17 July 2009

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: Laura; MWA #44
Sarah Caudwell: The Shortest Way to Hades; CWA # 76
Joseph Conrad: The Secret Agent; MWA #86
Edmund Crispin: The Moving Toyshop; CWA # 25, MWA #72
Lionel Davidson: The Sun Chemist; CWA # 88
Colin Dexter: The Dead of Jericho; CWA # 37
Fyodor Dostoevski: Crime and Punishment; MWA # 24
Caroline Graham: The Killings at Badger's Drift; CWA # 80
Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon; CWA # 10; MWA # 2
Dashiell Hammett: The Thin Man; MWA # 31
Thomas Harris: Red Dragon; MWA # 27
Patricia Highsmith: Strangers on a Train; CWA # 38
Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley; CWA # 45, MWA # 71
Michael Innes: The Journeying Boy; CWA # 52
Peter Lovesey: The False Inspector Dew; CWA # 27
Ed McBain: Cop Hater); CWA # 36
Ed McBain: Sadie When She Died; CWA # 96
James McClure: The Steam Pig; MWA # 98
Nicholas Meyer: The Seven Per-Cent Solution; MWA # 65
Susan Moody: Penny Black; CWA # 57
Ruth Rendell: Judgement in Stone; CWA # 39, MWA # 89
Hillary Waugh: Last Seen Wearing; CWA # 12, MWA # 74

And just for fun, the listed books I had read before I started the challenge:
Desmond Bagley: Running Blind; CWA # 77
James M Cain: Double Indemnity; MWA # 34
James M Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice; CWA # 30
John Dickson Carr: The Hollow Man/The Three Coffins; CWA # 40, MWA # 44
G.K. Chesterton: The Innocence of Father Brown; MWA # 57
Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None; CWA # 19, MWA # 10
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express; MWA # 41
Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; CWA # 5, MWA # 12
Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone; CWA # 8, MWA # 7
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Collected Sherlock Holmes Short Stories; CWA # 21
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Complete Sherlock Holmes; MWA # 11
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles; CWA # 32
Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose; CWA # 13, MWA # 23
Ian Fleming: From Russia with Love; CWA # 35, MWA # 78
Ken Follett: Eye of the Needle; MWA # 25
Ken Follett: The Key to Rebecca; CWA # 95
Sue Grafton: "A" is for Alibi; MWA # 51
John Grisham: A Time to Kill; MWA # 73
Thomas Harris: The Silence of the Lambs; MWA # 16
Jack Higgins: The Eagle Has Landed; CWA # 54
Tony Hillerman: A Thief of Time; CWA #69, MWA # 53
Tony Hillerman: Dance Hall of the Dead; MWA # 37
P.D. James: Shroud for a Nightingale; MWA # 83
Alistair MacLean: The Guns of Navarone; CWA #89
J.J. Marric: Gideon's Day; CWA # 87
John Mortimer: Rumpole of the Bailey; MWA # 26
Elizabeth Peters: Crocodile on the Sandbank; MWA # 82
Ellis Peters: A Morbid Taste for Bones; CWA # 42, MWA # 100 (tie w. Rosemary’s Baby)
Edgar Allan Poe: Tales of Mystery and Imagination; CWA # 23, MWA # 32
Mario Puzo: The Godfather; MWA # 15
Mary Roberts Rinehart: The Circular Staircase; MWA # 40
Maj & Per Wahlöö Sjöwall: The Laughing Policeman; MWA # 46
Mary Stewart: My Brother Michael; CWA # 55
Mary Stewart: Nine Coaches Waiting; CWA # 62
Bram Stoker: Dracula; MWA # 70
Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time; CWA # 1, MWA # 4

I had posted reviews of some of these books online before I started the challenge and will be working on reposting them under the appropriate label.

15 July 2009

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

10 July 2009

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: The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Latters
John Milton “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained”
Mark Twain: Letters from the Earth
O. Henry: “The Gift of the Magi”

I had a longer list, but now I can't find it. I'll post more when I do.

07 July 2009

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.

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.

Penny Wanawake was, when the first book was published, quite an unusual and exotic detective: a six-foot tall photographer of African and English descent with connections among the world’s diplomatic set and aristocracy, educated at the best private schools and keeping company with thieves. She is polished, erudite, funny and sexy, but unfortunately, with her frequent sarcastic quips, Penny also comes across as somewhat bitter at times. While it may sound like a cliché, I kept seeing her as resembling Grace Jones in my mind’s eye while reading the book, only not quite as fierce (although I don’t remember if Jones ever wore her hair in beaded cornrows).

One thing I really liked about the story was that as a first-time Penny is believable. She is genuinely shocked and saddened by the murders, she makes mistakes and advances theories without having anything to go on other than dislike for the suspects. But she also shows a keen talent for reasoning and eliminating suspects once she is able to look past personal likes and dislikes. In that way she is more realistic than many of the first-time amateur sleuths I’ve read about.

The story is sleek and chic and full enough of twists to delight any mystery lover, and for an author’s first book it is very good, but it has a lead character who is amoral in certain respects and so is not for people who believe that detectives should be completely honest people.

Rating: An interesting and exotic mystery. 3+ stars.

Books left in challenge: 97

Awards and nominations: None that I know of.

06 July 2009

Yet another use for books


How to water the plants without soaking the book?
My guess is a really good, thick covering of that liquid plastic stuff that dries solid, but on the other hand this just might be a visual joke.

04 July 2009

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.

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 : Argóarflísin: Goðsaga um Jason og Keneif (fantasy)
  • Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson: Afturelding (police procedural, murder mystery)

In the TBR Challenge I finished 7 books:
  • Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine: Last Chance to See (endangered wildlife travelogue)
  • Mikhaíl Búlgakov: The Master and Margarita (novel - Icelandic translation)
  • *Cyril Hare: An English Murder (murder mystery)
  • Tony Hillerman: The Ghostway (murder mystery)
  • Ngaio Marsh: Spinsters in Jeopardy (murder mystery)
  • Stella Tillyard: Aristocrats (history/biography)
  • *Eric Wright: The Night The Gods Smiled (murder mystery)

01 July 2009

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 they cover (mostly the English Regency, but some take place in the 18th century)
Paul Scott: The Raj Quartet
One or more of Steven Saylor’s mysteries about Gordianus the Finder (the rise of Julius Caesar and Roman politics of the time is in the background of the stories)
Ellis Peters: The Brother Cadfael books
Wilbur Smith: River God and its sequels
Patrick Süskind: Perfume - I highly recommend this one
Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers and its sequels, or The Count of Monte Cristo
Victor Hugo: Les Miserables or The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Sigrid Undset: Kristin Lavransdatter
Baroness Orczy: The Scarlet Pimpernel
Toni Morrison: Beloved or The Bluest Eye
James Clavell: Shogun
Sir Walter Scott: any of the Waverly novels, e.g. Rob Roy, Ivanhoe or The Talisman
Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities
George MacDonald Fraser: The Flashman Chronicles
Patrick O’Brien: The Aubrey-Maturin series
Bernard Cornwell: The Sharpe series
Margaret Mitchell: Gone With the Wind
John Jakes: North and South
Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose or Baudolino
Arturo Pérez-Reverte: The Captain Alatriste novels
Fannie Flagg: Fried Green Tometoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
Alice Walker: The Color Purple