30 March 2010

Just finished reading

Carolina Moon by Nora Roberts. One of her better standalone romantic thrillers, IMO.

I found the secondary couple more interesting than the primary couple in this case, and I don't know if the hint was too obvious or if I simply had one of my hunches, but I had the killer pegged from his first appearance.

I have come to the conclusion that I like Nora's supernatural pure romances better than her non-supernatural pure romances, and her non-supernatural romantic thrillers better than her supernatural pure romances. The fantasy romances, thrillers or not, I can take or leave.

Carolina Moon is one of her supernatural romantic thrillers, but one without magic or fantasy elements, for which I am glad , because they would have ruined the story.

29 March 2010

Dear reader

Please, if you can answer me this, I would appreciate it. Is there a Nora Roberts novel in which she uses neither the word "ravage" or the word "plunder" in the context of kissing?

Keeping and culling

I find it incredibly difficult to cull my books.

I convince myself that I have a good reason for keeping every one of my keepers. Most of the time I have, but not always. Generally, I keep a book I know or strongly believe I will read again. I have also kept some of my old university text books, knowing that they can be good for reference, and so it has proved, for some of them. Others I keep just because I once enjoyed them, and might again, which leads me me to the next category: the many books that I keep planning to re-read, but I never get round to. My travelogue collection is big on those. And then there are the travel guides I keep that are years out of date, because they have memories attached to them. Can't let go of those, now can I?

I cull about 95% of my owned books after I read them, which is a lot. Many go on my BookMooch list, some I give back to the charity shop, and the hardcovers and the paperbacks that are in a 'like new' condition I donate to the library. I keep telling myself that I should cut down on the book buying and concentrate on books I think I might want to keep after I have read them. Fat chance.

Then there are the TBR books. By my estimation, about 80% of my 900 odd TBR books were bought very cheaply from a neighbourhood charity shop, and most of them on speculation. The rest I got through BookMooch, was given or bought new. I often buy books I would like to read but which end up sitting on a shelf for a couple of years before I either read them or find them and think to myself: "why on earth did I buy this?", and cull them without reading them. I think I have a subconscious fear of seeing a book I want to read, not buying it when I have the chance, then not being able to find it anywhere, leading me to hate myself for not grabbing it when I had the chance. This is of course one of the varieties of the dreaded Reader's Anxiety. Unfortunately, having all those books sitting around unread can cause another variety: the one where you take a look at your bookshelves and think "I will never be able to read all these books!"

On Sunday morning, I finally put into action an idea I have been toying with for a while. I opened the Excel file in which I keep the list of all my books and opened the TBR spreadsheet. Then I opened the gegnir.is website, which is a database of the book collections of many Icelandic public libraries, including all the ones I have access to. Then I made a new spreadsheet, titled TBR-once owned. Then I took a long, hard look at my TBR shelf and noticed some authors whose books I remembered seeing in some library or other. Then I sat down and searched the Gegnir database for all the titles I owned. All the ones that were available from a library I have access to, I moved from the My library spreadsheet to the new spreadsheet, then took the books down from the shelves. Some will go in my BookMooch inventory, and the rest I am taking to a second-hand book shop to see if I can get some money for them. If not, it will be a gain for the charity shop.

The initial cull only yielded 20 books, some by writers whose books I enjoy but nevertheless know I will not want to own. A "what the hell was I thinking" cull yielded another 2 books. 22 books is not much for a library of this size, just barely over 1% of all the books, but it's a start. I aim to get my TBR-owned list down below the 900-mark before the beginning of June, through a combination of ruthless culling, culling with intent to read later, and reading and culling.

Ideally, I should follow up with less book-buying, and since I now have a definite financial goal to aim for - I am saving up for a trip to Egypt - that should make it slightly easier. However, it remains to be seen whether I will merely be making space for even more TBR books, or whether I manage to keep my book-buying impulses under control.

28 March 2010

Short stories 81-85

“A Rock and a Hard Place”, by Nancy Pickard. From Women on the Case. An interesting story about crime prevention with an intriguing protagonist.

“Being”, by Richard Matheson. From A Treasury of American Horror Stories. Quite a good alien horror story from a master storyteller.

“Heaven”, Mary Beckett. From Wildish Things. A story about a woman who values quiet so much that she becomes addicted to it, but doesn’t really begin to appreciate it until she no longer has much chance of enjoying it.

“New Moon and Rattlesnakes”, by Wendy Hornsby. From The Mysterious West. There are no limits to what a desperate woman will do. Made me want to read more, so I'll have to say Recommended.

“Eye Witness”, by Ellis Peters From A Rare Benedictine. A tale of robbery and how the money was recovered with a little guile.

27 March 2010

Top mysteries challenge review: The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters

Year of publication: 1981
Series and no.: Brother Cadfael #5
Genre: Historical mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Monk
Setting & time: Shrewsbury, England; 1139

A wedding is to take place at the Shrewsbury abbey church, between an ageing knight and a young woman, the heiress to a great fortune who is being forced into the union by her greedy guardian. She loves one of her groom’s squires, and he her, but she is well guarded and escape is impossible. It becomes even more so after her young swain is accused of theft and barely escapes the clutches of the sheriff. When the groom is brutally murdered, suspicion naturally falls on the young man, but Brother Cadfael has reason to believe him innocent and sets out to investigate the matter thoroughly. Meanwhile, the fugitive plans to spring his ladylove from her guardians.

This is one of the best of the 5 Cadfael books I have read so far, but not THE best. This opinion probably comes from my having suspected, with growing certainty, who the killer was right from the murder onward. I expect the book made it onto the CWA list of best mysteries more for its message of tolerance and sympathy and the writing style than for the excellence of the mystery.

Rating: A nicely constructed and well written mystery. 4 stars.

Books left in challenge: 84

Place on the list(s): CWA 43
Awards and nominations: None I could find

26 March 2010

Reading progress

Damn, how I wish The Anatomy of a Murder wasn't so depressingly cynical (I hate reading negative books when I am struggling with depression). I should have finished it by now, but instead I am stalled a few dozen pages in and the trial hasn't even started. Someone please tell me it gets better.

In other news: I was able to get The Book Thief from the library, and while I find it interesting enough to keep reading, it is not the page-turner I expected.

The worst kind of bad cover...

...is, in my opinion, not the ugly one or the tasteless one, but the one that gives away the solution to the mystery. I just finished such a book. I wonder how many other readers recognised the spoiler and were pissed off by it? I certainly hope the author was. I caught on as soon as one of the suspects was mentioned, which somewhat dampened my entusiasm for the story, although it was of course interesting to see just how the detective solved the case and got the necessary proof to put the killer away.

The cover design itself is quite stylish and appropriately sinister, although there are some details in the foreground that distract slightly from the overall effect, and the balance is slightly off as well. There will be no cover image this time, and I will not post the title or author in here, because I don't want to spoil it for readers who might otherwise not have recognised the cover image for a spoiler.

(If you really want to know, read the comment, but only if you have to know)

25 March 2010

Quotation of the day

The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them.
Samuel Butler

Very true. This would go well on a bookmark used only in the classics.

24 March 2010

Time for a book quotation

Beware of the person of one book.
St. Thomas Aquinas

A very succinct way of saying that reading broadens the mind and enlightens the soul. I think this would make a great bumper sticker for bookmobiles.

22 March 2010

Short stories 76-80

“A good man is hard to find“, by Flannery O'Connor. From A Good Man is Hard to Find. A very well constructed story of senseless violence.

“Rumpole and the Showfolk”, by John Mortimer. From The Trials of Rumpole. One of those slyly funny stories where Rumpole is left feeling like he’s been had. Recommended.

“Cyberworld” by W.D. Valgardsson. From The Divorced Kid’s Club. A kid forced to spend time away from the computer discovers that cyberspace is bigger than he thought.

“Bylestones”, by Arthur Morrison, From A Century of Humour. Hard to describe without giving away the plot. Very cinematic and would make a great episode in a sitcom or a chapter in a movie.

“Skin”, by Roald Dahl. From Completely Unexpected Tales. One of Dahl’s more chilling unexpected tales, even if the ending wasn’t all that unexpected. Recommended.
When I was a child and teenager my family would watch Tales of the Unexpected almost religiously every week. Completely Unexpected Tales contains two of Dahl‘s short story collections. I had already read the first 5 stories before I began this challenge and recalled 3 of them as episodes of the show. I am looking forward to continuing to read them because so far they have all been skilfully written in a variety of styles and voices, always with a twist ending and not always the most obvious one.

21 March 2010

Finished: Nora Roberts: Dream trilogy

This trilogy is made up of three interconnected novels: Daring to Dream, Holding the Dream and Finding the Dream, and focuses on three women, raised under the same roof, who consider themselves to be sisters, and the men they fall in love with.

It's not the best Roberts trilogy I have read (that would be a tie between the In the Garden and Chesapeake Bay trilogies), but it's okay. The last book is a little too recycled for my taste - the plot reminded me too much of the one in Irish Rebel which I read recently.

What I really like about trilogies and series like this is being able to re-visit characters that were leads in other books and have returned as supporting cast, giving the reader the ability to see "happily ever after" in action.

19 March 2010

Short stories 71-75

“The Debutante”, by Leonora Carrington. From Wayward Girls and Wicked Women. A rather nice absurdist story.

“He pales next to you” by Susan Compo. From Malingering. A slice of life story that reads more like the beginning chapter of a longer story or novel.

“Kim’s Game” by M.D. Lake. From Malice Domestic 2. A young girl with a very good memory nails a killer. The motive is missing, which is a big miss.

“Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother”, by Margaret Atwood. From Bluebeard’s Egg. A slice-of-life story, much like the stories one imagines the storyteller the story is about would tell. Elegant turns of phrase and a light touch make it a delight to read.

“The Great West Raid”, by E. Phillips Oppenheim. From A Century of Detective Stories. A realistic and rather dull police procedural.

18 March 2010

This made me smile:

...although my mother is sweet and old and a lady, she avoids being a sweet old lady. When people are in danger of mistaking her for one, she flings in something from left field; she refuses to be taken for granted.

Margaret Atwood, "Significant Moments in the Life of My Mother" from Bluebeard's Egg (a short story collection).

17 March 2010

Dear Nora:

Couldn't you have used some other word than turgid?

It's a word I associate with lofty, overwritten prose, and not with foreplay, although lord knows I have read some romances in that style - not one of yours, I hasten to add. It's not a good word to use in a romance. But, then again it could have been worse: you could have used to describe something other than a throbbing pulse...

16 March 2010

Current read:Daring to Dream by Nora Roberts

I've finished My Lady Notorious, which is a nicely steamy adventure of a historical romance to lose oneself in. The best thing is that it's the first in a series. I will definitely be reading more of Jo Beverley's books, and the next book in the series seems to be the way to go.

I have now moved on to a modern romance: The first in Nora Roberts' Dream trilogy. Here is a snippet of dialogue that made me chuckle:

"You've lost a little weight. How come you never lose it in your boobs?"
"Satan and I have an understanding."

15 March 2010

Current read: My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley

He had found his damsel in distress, but it wasn't sweet Verity. It was the difficult, angry, beautiful Charles.

At this point in the story, the heroine, disguised as a man, has kidnapped the hero, who has seen through her disguise but decided not to embarrass her by revealing that he knows she is a woman.

I have always enjoyed reading cross-dressing historical novels, although I am fully aware of the difficulties of successfully disguising either sex as the other. However, there are plenty of true stories about the subject, mostly about women who chose to dress and act like men and got away with it. Sometimes these real cross-dressers may have been transgendered (of both physical sexes) and in some cases they were women who chafed at the restrictions put upon them by a patriarchal society, but the most common stories are of women following their men to war and dressing as men to avoid being sent home or becoming the victims of sexual violence.

However, writers, and especially romance novelists, often take the theme to extremes, putting their cross-dressing characters into all sorts of situations where the average person would soon be discovered as a gender-impostor. As romance novel heroines (in romances it is much more often the women who cross-dress) are often beautiful, this tends to stretch the credibility even more. This is why I prefer it to be treated tongue-in-cheek, like, for example Georgette Heyer does so well (she even has a cross-dressing set of twins in one of her novels, the young man pretending to be his sister and vice versa).

Usually the disguise is kept up through a good part of the novel with no-one the wiser, which is why this story is a refreshing example of this sub-genre: the hero sees through the disguise as soon as he is able to get a good look at the heroine.

14 March 2010

My relationship with short stories

I have always admired short story writers for being able to tell a complete story, sometimes in only a handful of pages, because it’s not easy at all. I should know because I have only managed to write a couple that I am really happy with (and I don’t really know what an editor would make of them).

One of the regrets I had when I was studying English literature and language at university was that there was no special course on the short story among the available literature courses. I did read and even analyse a fair number of them as parts of several courses, but it was more because some teachers wanted to cram as many authors into their courses as possible than from a real desire to explore the short story as an art form. The most memorable of these was Shirley Jackson’s chilling tale “The Lottery”, by many considered to be the most perfect example of a short story in existence. I haven’t read enough short stories to judge that for myself, but I know that I have read more scary short stories than I have any other kind (with the possible exception of mysteries) and it is a stand-out among those.

I tend to devour short stories by the book, and setting myself the challenge of one per day is an attempt to slow down that pace so I can appreciate them as single units rather than in relation to other stories in the same collection. By breaking up the single author collections and jumping between themes every day, I have, I think, managed to keep my mind fresh and open and better able to appreciate the stories for themselves and keep the challenge fresh. I haven’t read any really awful ones yet, although the first Hawthorne story I read came close, with its incredibly saccharine tone, but even that had a clear purpose: to make the unpleasantness of the theme and the criticism of the wrongdoers - the story being based around real events - more palatable to the descendants of the very people he was criticising.

In most of the short story collections I own the stories were not written to be published together, but were originally published singly in literary magazines and later anthologised. When they were not, they were written especially for themed anthologies with stories by several or many authors. Of course, there are exceptions – authors sometimes do write short stories that are meant to be read together like novels (e.g. The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie, which I own but am not including in the challenge), but for the most part they are better appreciated singly than one right after the other. At the end of the year I hope I will have formed enough of a short story-reading habit to continue reading them in this manner without making a challenge of it.

12 March 2010

Short stories 66-70

“Dundi” by Þórarinn Eldjárn. From Ó fyrir framan. A rather good tale of the “unexpected ending” type.

“Philomel Cottage” by Agatha Christie. From The Listerdale Mystery. What to do when you discover that your new husband is a murderer? This story offers one solution.

“Keflvíkingasaga” by Þórarinn Eldjárn. From Ó fyrir framan.

“The Price of Light” by Ellis Peters. From A Rare Benedictine. A sweet little story of love and a betrayal avenged. A comfortable read and a change from the usual murders of the Brother Cadfael novels.

“The Hunt Ball”, Freeman Wills Crofts. From Masterpieces of Mystery. A short tale of what selfishness and desperation can lead to, and what bad planning will do to a man.

11 March 2010

Current read: Expletives Deleted

A short passage from the author's Introduction:

...I like to write about writers who give me pleasure. Pleasure has always had a bad press in Britain. I'm all for pleasure, too. I wish there was more of it around. I also like to argue. A day without an argument is like an egg without salt.

This bodes extremely well for this collection of Angela Carter's literary reviews.

Crazy For You by Jennifer Crusie

On a gloomy March afternoon, sitting in the same high school classroom she'd been sitting in for thirteen years, gritting her teeth as she told her significant other for the seventy-second time since they'd met that she'd be home at six because it was Wednesday and she was always home at six on Wednesdays, Quinn McKenzie lifted her eyes from the watercolor assignments on the desk in front of her and met her destiny.

Since this is a romance novel, you might think her destiny was tall, sexy and gorgeous, but, this being Jennifer Crusie, the next sentence goes:

Her destiny was a small black dog with desperate eyes, so she missed the significance at first.

And so begins a by-turns funny and suspenseful romp, but with a very serious side story about stalking. This was my first Jennifer Crusie book and although I stated in the review that I had no intention of rereading it, I have done so at least twice. In fact, I finished re-reading it yesterday for (possibly) the third time. Below is the original review, posted on my first 52 Books blog, in October 2004, and no. 36 in the weekly challenge that gave the blog its name.

Just beware: there are spoilers in it. I wrote it before I had figured out that a review doesn't have to give away the whole, or nearly the whole, plot.

Author: Jennifer Crusie
Year published: 1999
Pages: 298
Genre: Romance
Sub-genre(s): Suspense
Where got: Public library

I promised I'd review a romance for book-of-the-week, and here it is. Jennifer Crusie is a popular author of contemporary light (i.e. funny) romances, and was specifically recommended to me by a romance-reading friend.

The Story:
Quinn McKenzie is bored to death with her life. On the surface everything is great: she has a teaching job she likes, is surrounded by friends and family who all love and depend on her, and is living with high-school basketball coach Bill Hilliard, otherwise known as Mr. Wonderful Hometown Hero. When Quinn decides to adopt a stray dog and Bill sneaks off to the pound with the dog because it doesn't fit in with the perfect life he has mapped out for them, she decides she's had enough. Enough of being taken for granted and subtly controlled by Bill, enough of being dependable, enough of being good. So she moves out, buys a house and starts flirting with her former brother-in-law, car mechanic Nick Ziegler. Nick and Quinn have been the best of friends since high-school, and while Nick has always had sexual fantasies about Quinn, she has never seen him as anything but a friends - until she notices him looking at her with rather more than friendly interest. Things get complicated when Bill refuses to accept that Quinn has left him and starts stalking her, Nick's brother Max and his wife Darla have a fight, and Quinn's mother kicks her father, Joe, out of the house. Both Joe and Darla move in with Quinn. Bill makes life difficult for Quinn, but that doesn't stop her from trying to reel in the irresponsible and commitment-phobic Nick. Things come to a head when Bill finally goes too far and Quinn is hurt…

Technique and plot:
The book is well written, the characters believable and well rounded for the most part, and the story moves along well. The small town atmosphere is realistic, with everyone seeming to know everything about everyone else. I had a good laugh at the lessons in female vs. male mentality when Quinn is educating Nick and Max about what women want and expect from men. The story is sometimes funny, sometimes suspenseful, and even a bit scary at times, especially the glimpses we get into the mind of the increasingly disturbed and confused Bill. The sex scenes are sexy without being overly descriptive, which is good because if there is anything that spoils a book like this for me it's pornographic passages swathed in purple prose.

The very serious theme of stalking is handled with understanding. Bill is never knowingly vicious or gloating, he just does what he thinks is necessary to get Quinn back. Even the meddling with the handrail and electricity and gas is just meant to gently show her that the house is unsafe without him, and was certainly not meant to harm her the way it did. Bill is so supremely self-assured and has such a perfectly one-track mind that it takes the human equivalent of being hit by a bulldozer to get him off track, but Crusie still manages to give him a distinct personality and show his vulnerability as his perfect life comes crashing down around him.

The dog is cleverly used as a way of showing how different people think: Bill thinks the dog is the reason Quinn left him and that if only he could get rid of it, Quinn would come back to him and live out the life he has so precisely planned for them; for Quinn the dog is a sign of her independence; to Darla the dog is the snake in Quinn's Eden, and so on.

Nick is a romance hero to die for, an irresponsible but caring man who finally finds a woman who can hold his attention and keep him happy, and Quinn is sweet and likeable and just sexy enough that you believe her to be capable of keeping Nick interested.

All in all, I liked the book and although I have no intention of rereading it, I will be looking out for more books by Crusie.

Rating: A funny, sexy, entertaining and suspenseful romance with a very yummy hero. 4 stars.

09 March 2010

Review of Mulata de tal (The Mulatta and Mister Fly) by Miguel Ángel Asturias, journal entry 2 and review

This is the second book I finish in the Global Reading Challenge, the North-American one. Guatemala, the author’s home land and setting of the book, is part of Latin America which makes people with a not-too firm grasp of geography sometimes assume it’s in South America. This novel is the first I read that takes place in Guatemala, although I had read about the country in travelogues before.

Year originally published: 1963; English translation: 1967
Transleted by: Gregory Rabassa
Genre: Literary novel (fantasy, magic realism, surrealism)
Setting & time: Guatemala, timeless

The story begins with a humorous description of one Celestino Yumí’s disgraceful behaviour at a realistically described village fair, then moves into magic realism territory and from there on to fantasy, finally culminating in a vortex of surrealistic descriptions. The story tells the tale of Yumí, his wife Catalina Zabala, and the Mulatta, a magical, sexual being connected to the moon, who charms Yumí and enrages Catalina and causes a struggle between them. All three then get drawn into a battle between the old Mayan demon-gods and the Christian Devil, and between the Christian Devil and some Catholic priests, for the hearts and souls of the people of a small town. Part two of the book can easily be seen as a metaphor for the destruction of the old Mayan beliefs by Christian ideas.

This is a colourful narrative, full of metaphor and descriptive language, and must surely draw on the author’s knowledge of Mayan folklore and beliefs (he was, among other things, a student of ethnology), although I can’t really be certain it isn’t all straight from his imagination, because I know very little about the subject of Latin American folklore (I would like to change that, so if anyone can recommend a good book on the subject, I would appreciate it).

What I do know is that I would have enjoyed Mulata de tal a lot more had there been some sympathetic characters in it. I could only ever sympathise with any given character for a few pages at a time, because they would always go and do something that would prove that they were irredeemably bad, and not in any kind of charming or even particularly hateful way. I feel that in order to really enjoy a book, there has to be at least one character one can either sympathise with or enjoy hating, and this book has neither. It’s a little like watching a troupe of monkeys enjoying a day out. You see flashes of genuine feeling that are immediately smothered in excess of some kind and it isn’t until the last 50 or so pages that you begin to see genuine depth of feeling, but those feelings are felt by characters it is also hard to sympathise with, and they are negative feelings, of fear and lust that lead the characters astray.

The best thing about this book is the language and the imagination that went into the storytelling. I can only imagine what it must be like to read some of the more colourfully expressive and glorious passages in the original Spanish.

Because of the problem with the characters I can not give this book more than 3 stars, but if it had given me a character to really like or really hate, it would certainly have got one more.

07 March 2010

Sharyn McCrumb

If he stayed chained naked to this post much longer, there just wouldn't be any afterward to the foreplay.

There is something very comfortable about Sharyn McCrumb's novels. Even when she's writing about gruesome stuff like murder or gloomy subjects like mental illness, injustice and ghosts, she still manages to exude a feeling of cosiness and comfort. Her books are always humourous as well, but the humour is never gratuitous. It lightens up the mood but doesn't trivialise the serious stuff.

Take the beginning line of this post, which constitutes the first paragraph of The PMS Outlaws, the latest (and possibly last, seeing as it came out 10 years ago) of her Elizabeth MacPherson novels. One main storyline of the novel - the one it takes its title from - is about two women fugitives who trawl bars looking for lonely men whom they fool into thinking they are going to have a threesome, then handcuff them naked to something solid, rob them and take off with their cars. You might think this would continue into something very funny, but in fact what follows is just a rather sad, realistic passage about a lonely man, made stupid by lust and a few too many beers, who fell for a trick by two clever, sober, not entirely sane women. But because of that opening sentence (which seems to be the man's own thoughts), that mixes sexual innuendo with humour, you keep reading, and before you know it, you have been sucked into the story. (If you want to know what happens next - go read the book).

McCrumb tents to interweave two or more story threads in her books. In her contemporary novels they at some point begin to merge, while in the novels that mix together historical events (often based on the true stories of real people) the historical part has a bearing on the contemporary one.

Quite apart from the fact that she is a fantastic storyteller, McCrumb is also good at creating realistic and believable characters, plus she writes well. All of this comes together to create very readable stories, and in the case of the Ballad novels, a loosely connected series of books with titles and sometimes story-lines drawn from folk-songs, books that have deservedly won literary awards.

I always come away from her books not with a feeling of having read a book, but of having had a story told to me orally, by an experienced storyteller with a good voice who knows just how to keep a listener happy and hanging on to every word. I love the feeling.

While The PMS Outlaws isn't one of her best, it is a good conclusion to the Elizabeth MacPherson series that leaves us with the hope that the very likeable but troubled Elizabeth will find, if not happiness, then at least closure in her life. I know I am going to miss her, but at least I have a few of McCrumb's Ballad novels still to look forward to, and also the hope that she still has many good writing years ahead of her.

Short stories 61-65

“Racine and the Tablecloth” by A.S. Byatt. From Sugar. A beautifully written story about a girl and one of those horrible, disapproving teachers who can make one’s life hell without ever realising it. Disappointing ending, but otherwise good.

“Klámhundurinn” (The Porn Dog) by Þórarinn Eldjárn. From Ó fyrir framan. A darkly funny story about one of those dogs. (if you need an explanation, just ask...)

“The President of San Jacinto” by H.C. Bailey. From Great Tales of Detection. An intriguing little mystery, my first Reggie Fortune story.

„Dýrið“, by Þórarinn Eldjárn. From Ó fyrir framan.

Father and Son” by Guy de Maupassant. From Mademoiselle Fifi and other stories . A coy and brilliant little story about a man succeeding his father in an unexpected way. (Link is probably to a different translation). Recommended.

06 March 2010

The Mulatta and Mister Fly by Asturias, journal entry 1

Cheat ! Tramp ! Pig ! Having fun among the simple people down from the hills and villages to have a good time at the fair, which was less of a fair than a lair of wild delights, now that they had done their duty at church and bought or sold their animals, there was time to gab with friends, and anybody picking a fight would get himself chopped up with a machete or stuck with a knife, and all around there were clusters of eyes glistening at the sight of such pretty, teaty, well-haunched women who were the product of an over-abundant rather than an aberrant nature.

Thus begins the tale of Celestino Yumí and his wife, Catalina Zabala, and their picaresque process from peasants to... whatever it is they will become, since I am only on page 207 out of 333. Currently they are in the process of trying to become great sorcerers.

I have been reading this book very slowly, because although it is a fun read in some ways, I simply can not connect with the protagonists.

05 March 2010

An experiment

I have been going over the blog entries for the last several months with a mind to doing something new. Not just to change things for the sake of change but to change for the sake of making the blog more interesting, for me and for the handful of readers who visit it. There are three things I would like to try and I will have to see if I have the stamina for it because it calls for more frequent posting and some scanning and image editing on my part.

  • The first thing is to include more reading journal entries, i.e. comments on books I am in the process of reading.
  • The second is to write something about each and every book I finish. I don't think I will have the stamina to review them all, but I want to try to mention each book. This might include posting the opening sentences or passages of all the books I read and any interesting passages that have caught my attention, made me laugh, made me stop and think, or impressed me in some other way, but I'm making no promises about that.
  • The third thing is to resurrect an old feature: the cover analysis and criticism. This time around I plan not only to snark bad covers, but also to discuss good cover design, and, should I come across different covers of the same book, to compare them (like I did in this post).

It remains to be seen how long I can keep it up - I tend to blog in cycles, so that for a while I am posting every day, and then there will be stretches of days or even weeks when I am simply not interested in posting anything at all (in one case more than a year passed without a post, although not on this particular blog).

This is, besides an attempt to make the blog more interesting, also part of an attempt to pull myself out of a descent back into depression that is just beginning. The symptoms are all there: the disinterest in reading, being bored by everything, the avoidance of human contact, the increased appetite, the feeling of fatigue when I know I'm not tired, and the increased need for sleep. I have learned to fight this by various means, and making changes, however small they may be, is one of them.

02 March 2010

Short stories 56-60

I am making an effort to finish the stories in two Icelandic short story collections I borrowed from the library, because I have to return them soon. I don’t really think anyone is going to be looking for them based on my descriptions of the contents, so I’ll just list the titles.

From Ó fyrir framan by Þórarinn Eldjárn: “Saga svefnflokksins” and “Opinskánandi”.

From Sjöstafakverið by Halldór Laxness: “Corda Atlantica”, “Jón í Brauðhúsum” and “Fugl á garðstaurnum”

The books we love and hate

There is an interesting discussion going on in the comments section of a post on the Jezebel blog, on books people have loved or hated.

One comment jumped out at me:
"I know a girl who hates To Kill a Mockingbird because she had a terrible teacher who ruined it for her. I think that's a bigger tragedy than a kid reading Twilight."

I guess this means I will have to go read Twilight so I can form my own opinion on it.

Another interesting comment:
"There are no bad books, just terrible and misguided authors."

01 March 2010

Reading report for February 2010

I finished 15 books in February. 4 were crime novels, 6 were romances, 7 were historical.

A special mention must be made of The Song of Bhagavad-Gita. It is a chapter from the great Hindu epic, The Mahabarata, where Krishna, one of the many manifestations of God in Hinduism, explains religious philosophy to Prince Arjuna on the eve of a great battle. I don’t know how accurate the translation is, since I don’t know Sanskrit, but I do know that it is beautiful and mixes prose and verse in a nicely balanced way. It took me nearly three months to read it, as it soon became apparent that it needed to be read slowly and each chapter thoroughly digested before moving on. I can’t say that much of its message stuck, but I do know that after reading a chapter – always at bedtime – I would have a wonderfully restful night’s sleep, because it had such a soothing and calming effect on my mind.

Challenge count:
Top mysteries: 0
Global Reading Challenge: 1
Bibliophilic Book Challenge: 2
TBR Challenge: 8

Rereads: 2
Icelandic books: 2

The Books:
Maggie Black & Deirdre Le Faye: The Jane Austen Cookbook (historical cookery book)
Agatha Christie:After the Funeral (murder mystery)
Jennifer Crusie: Welcome to Temptation (romance)
Jennifer Crusie & Bob Mayer: Agnes and the Hitman (romantic thriller)
Halldór Laxness: Úngfrúin góða og Húsið (historical novel)
J.J. Marric: Gideon's Month (police procedural)
Orhan Pamuk: The White Castle (historical novel)
Ellis Peters: St. Peter's Fair (historical mystery)
Julia Quinn: When he was Wicked and It's in his Kiss (historical romance)
Nora Roberts: Irish Rebel and Sullivan's Woman (romance)
Unknown: The Song of Bhagavad-Gita (religious philosophy)
Jason Wilson (series ed.) & Ian Frazier (book ed.): The Best American Travel Writing 2003 (travel articles)
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir: Aska (murder mystery)

Tentative reading plan for March:
I didn’t make any headway with the Top Mysteries challenge in February, but intend to do better this month. I have started reading The Anatomy of a Murder and will review it as soon as I finish it. I also have another book on the list lined up which I may even finish before Anatomy... because it's short enough to read in one session.

In the Global reading Challenge I am halfway through The Mulatta and Mister Fly by Miguel Angel Asturias, an entertaining, magical picaresque novel set in the author’s native country, Guatemala. I will have to finish it soon, because I must return it to the library in 10 days time.

For the Bibliophilic challenge I want to get my hands on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It remains to be seen if I am successful, as it is very popular and I am planning to get it from the library. Just because a copy is available right now, when the library is closed, doesn’t mean it will be after I finish work tomorrow.

I have the latest crime novel by Arnaldur Indriðason lined up and plan to read it soon.

And finally I would like to try to get my hands on more of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton romances, having read 2 of them in February and liked them very much.