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Showing posts from June, 2010

New name for the blog

I decided it was time to change the name of this blog to something more representative of what it's about. I haven't done a 52 books challenge for several years so the 52 books title was outdated.

As you can see, I changed the look of it as well. I finally found a bookish design I liked that didn't require me to stop using the gadgets. I may play around with it a bit in the following days, adjusting colour schemes and background images and so on.

Please let me know if you find it difficult to read because of the colours, and any other comments you have about the new look.

P.S. Maxine, I didn't reject your comment, it disappeared when I edited the post...

Short stories 166-170

Now I have started reading the Italian chapter. The first story of the chapter that is long enough to fit the reading challenge is one I have read before, but I want to recommend it anyway, as it is fine example of a short story: “The Falcon” from The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. (different translation)

“Galgano” by Ser Giovanni Fiorentino. Originally from Il Pecorone. A romantic tale about a lovesick swain and his cruel (and married) lady-love. A nice change from the bawdy tales which were so popular at the time.

The Two Ambassadors” (to read, scroll down to NOVELLA XXXI) by Franco Sacchetti. Originally from the Novelliero. A short, funny moral tale. Recommended. (different translation)

“The Cavalier of Toledo” by Masuccio Salernitano. Originally from Il Novellino. Another romantic tale, in which the lovers are separated by differences in social status. Nicely told.

Belphagor” by Niccolo Macchiavelli. A well-known theme from both oral and written literature about making a deal …

Bibliophilic Book Challenge: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I went on a reading spree over the weekend and finished three books, all of which I started and read from cover to cover with only short breaks. One was the Katie MacAlister book I quoted from in the previous post, which turned out to be good, mindless fun, full of steamy sex, violence and hot vampires, and another was a Regency romance by Loretta Chase, Viscount Vagabond, which I enjoyed despite, or perhaps because of, the improbable plot. The last was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society , which makes it 7 books I have finished in the Bibliophilic Book challenge. Not only is it about a book club, but each member of the club has his or her favourite book or author, which they frequently mention.

Year published: 2008
Genre: Novel, epistolatory
Setting & time: London and Guernsey, Britain, 1946

Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, Dawsey Adams, telling her about a book he owns that was once in her possession and sparking her curiosity with a mention of …

Now reading: Sex, Lies, and Vampires by Katie MacAlister

Here is the opening line:

"Imps?"
I blinked in surprise at the completely unexpected question. "I beg your pardon?"
"Imps? You are imp removals, ja?" The woman who had answered the buzzer connected to an expensive cream-colored stone building didn't look insane, but how many people meet you at the door by asking if you were there to remove imps?

On it goes from there, a wacky, funny, sexy urban fantasy adventure that sometimes reads more like a parody of the genre.

Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda (Global Reading Challenge)

Here is my African entry in the Global Reading Challenge, which marks the halfway point in the challenge for me. The author is South-African and the book takes place during the period of transition in the 1990s when Apartheid ended. I am not knowledgeable enough about the recent history of South Africa to be able to tell if it happens after or shortly before the racial segregation ended, but I am inclined to think it’s before.
Although this is a first novel, it was not written by a novice writer – the author had already published poetry and several award-winning plays when he wrote it.

Year published: 1995
Genre: Novel
Setting & time: South Africa, an unnamed city and a village, 1990s with flashbacks to the 1970s and 80s.

Toloki, a homeless man living on the street, has carved out a niche for himself as a professional mourner. Paid by relatives of the deceased, he goes to funerals and grieves for the dead. One day at a funeral he meets Noria, a woman from his home village, which h…

Friday night folklore: Water to wine

Last Friday I posted a tale of how Öxará got its name. Here is another folk tale about the same river:

It was believed that the water in the river Öxará would turn to wine for one hour every year.

Once upon a time two priests were up and awake in Þingvellir on New Year’s Eve. One was a young man who was writing a sermon for the New Year’s Day mass, and the other was an old man who was keeping his colleague company.

Around midnight the young priest had become very thirsty and so he went out with a bottle which he filled with water from the river. But when he came back to his lodgings, he noticed that the water was wine-coloured. Upon tasting it, he found that it was indeed wine, and of good quality too. Both priests had a drink from the bottle and then put it on the windowsill and went on with their work.

A short time later they took the bottle, intending to enjoy the wine that was left in the bottle, but all they found was pure and clear water. This greatly surprised them, and was the bas…

Short stories 161-165

The Last Lesson” by Alphonse Daudet. A symbolic, emotional tale. A little too saccharine for my taste, but well told and was, at the time of writing, undoubtedly effective for stirring up national pride and keeping alive the anger over a certain historical event. (This seems to be the same translation as the one I read).

The Fairy Amoureuse” by Emile Zola. Originally from Tales for Nanon. A Romantic transformation tale that would, in a simpler form, be at home in the Metamorphoses. A nice read, well written but a bit too treacly for my taste. (This seems to be the same translation as the one I read).

The Substitute” by François Coppée. A tale of self-sacrifice, well written but clichéd to a modern palate.

“Our Lady’s Juggler” by Anatole France. Originally from L’Etui de nacre. A beautifully told miracle tale about the power of faith. (Same translation).

The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant. An excellent moral tale with a twist, beautifully written and does not try to stuff the moral…

Et tu, Georgette!

Tsk, tsk! Blue eyes on page 87 and brown on page 125?

I had expected better from someone of your exactness in all matters historically correct. For that matter, I would have expected better proof-reading.

Please, someone tell me that this was not Heyer's mistake, but a dreadful proofing error and that it's one colour or the other all the way through the first edition.

Now reading: Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer

Rich, proud and respectable Mr. Ravenscar pays a visit to his aunt and finds her distraught over her son's plans to marry Miss Grantham, a young woman who works in a gaming-house (an illegal casino), a most disreputable profession for a woman at the time, just above the level of actress or courtesan. He goes to the gaming-house to check out the young woman and assess how much she will have to paid to make sure she doesn't marry his cousin. Of course, things aren't really that simple.

Like all Heyer's novels, this one promises to be full of quotable stuff, both conversations and descriptions, but I will stick to two (at least to begin with).

I am only on chapter three, and already I have found several echoes of Jane Austen. It certainly looks like the interchanges between Miss Grantham and Lord Ravenscar are going to be of the Darcy/Elizabeth type. Here is part of one - see if you recognise the Austen scene it echoes and reverses:

'Oh, I have been familiar with gaming-…

Just finished: Wash this blood clean from my hand by Fred Vargas

Epigraph:

Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?
William Shakespeare: Macbeth Act II, Scene ii.

Short summary:
A chance sighting of a newspaper article sets Commissaire Adamsberg off on a chase for a serial killer he had given up trying to catch years before, but he ends up as a fugitive himself.

Teasers from the book:

'I did get into the FBI archives once, just for fun,' she admitted shyly.
'No need to looks so shy, Josette. It's no sin to do good for other folks.'
Adamsberg looked in even greater astonishment at this frail old woman, one-third society lady, one-third shy little creature, and one-third seasoned hacker.
...

Adamsberg speaking:

'These last few days, my life has been in the hands of magical women. They've been tossing me from one to another, and every time they save me from falling into the abyss.'

Jóra in Jórukleif

There once was a girl named Jórunn, a farmer’s daughter from the south of Iceland. She was young and had a promising life ahead of her, but was considered rather temperamental. She kept house for her father.

One day a horse-fight was held a short distance from the farm. One of the fight-horses belonged to Jóra’s father and was a great favourite of hers. She and other women were present at the fight, but when it progressed, Jórunn saw that her father’s horse was beginning to falter. She became very upset and angry and finally went totally berserk, ran into the fray and tore the hind leg off the other horse.

She then ran, so fast that none could catch her, with the leg in her hands, until she came to where the Ölfusá river fell in a waterfall over some cliffs. There she tore a huge rock from the cliffs and threw it into the middle of the river where the waterfall was, and then used it as as a stepping-stone to cross the river. Since then the place of her crossing is called “The Troll Woma…

Just finished

Exit the Milkman by Charlotte MacLeod.

I love MacLeod’s turn of phrase. Here are a couple of examples:

Three minutes later she was fast asleep and didn’t wake up until the barnyard Pavarotti that belonged to the farm down the road let loose with a midday cock-a-doodle-doo that might perhaps have awakened the dead in the old town burying ground if he’d tried just a little bit harder.
....

Jim was eyeing those four pot roast sandwiches much as Romeo might have ogled Juliet before they’d been properly introduced. Which, come to think of it, they never were.



While I enjoyed the language and the storytelling style, the ending was not to my taste, as it combines two endings that I really, really hate. My regular readers will know about at least one of them and enough to suspect what the other is.


P.S. To any Icelanders and Icelandophiles out there: Happy National Day!

Short stories 156-160

“Lausus and Lydia” by J.F. Marmontel. At attempt at a thrilling story of romance and antiquity. Well-written (or translated). Pity it’s also a piece of melodramatic drivel.

The Mysterious Mansion” by Honoré de Balzac. A very atmospheric and well told little horror story using a trope that readers of Poe will be familiar with.

Mateo Falcone” by Prosper Mérimée . An excellent and expertly told story about honour and revenge. Recommended.
(This appears to be the same translation as the one I read). Ages ago, a simplified version of this story was set reading for my last semester of French, but we never got further than the first few pages.

The Mummy’s Foot” by Théophile Gaultier. A beautifully told romantic narrative that proves that just because it features a mummy, a story does not have to be one of horror to be interesting. Reminded me of some stories I have read by Lord Dunsany. Recommended.
(Translated by Lafcadio Hearn - link is to the same translation).

The Torture of Ho…

Now reading: Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda

Here, the narrators introduce themselves:

It's not different, really, here in the city. Just like back in the village, we live our lives together as one. We know everything about everybody. We even know things that happen when we are not there; things that happen behind people's closed doors deep in the middle of the night. We are the all-seeing eye of the village gossip. When in our orature the storyteller begins the story, 'They say it once happened ...,' we are the 'they'. No individual owns any story. The community is the owner of the story, and it can tell it the way it deems fit. We would not be needing to justify the communal voice that tells this story if you had not wondered how we became so omniscient in the affairs of Toloki and Noria.

Toloki and Noria are the protagonists of the story.

The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters

Year of publication: 1983
Series and no.: Brother Cadfael, # 7
Genre: Historical mystery
Type of mystery: Robbery and murder
Type of investigator: Monk
Setting & time: Shrewsbury, England, 12th century

A young travelling jongleur and entertainer is hunted down by an angry lynch mob bent on administering justice after a goldsmith is attacked and - they think - murdered on the night of his son's wedding. He manages to reach the sanctuary of the abbey church and when questioned, adamantly denies having had anything to do with the robbery. The goldsmith has survived the attack, but a robbery of that magnitude is punishable by death, so the young man is no better off. Cadfael's impression is that he is innocent, and that indefatigable sleuth sets off to investigate the crime. As always, love rears it's shining head, and the mystery seems impenetrably tangled.

This is the best of the Cadfael books I have read so far. It not only has Peters' characteristic comfortable narrative …

Dear Guillermo Martínez:

Were you aware, when you wrote Crímenes imperceptibles, that British police officers - even detectives - only carry firearms under very special circumstances, and that those circumstances do not include surveillance or off-duty tasks like going to concerts with their family?

Didn't think so.

Other than that little error, I really liked the book.

Now reading: Veins of Ice by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Since this book has yet to be published in English, I have no way of confirming if Veins of Ice is the title it will be published under, but I found it on a reliable site on Icelandic literature. The Icelandic title is Auðnin (The Wasteland).

Here is a little teaser for the book, translated by myself:

They walked out of the shop, but Þóra stopped suddenly in the doorway when a familiar voice was heard from the direction of the security gate.
"If I can take one lighter aboard, why can't I take two?" thundered Bella. "What can I possibly do with two lighters that I can't do with one?"
Þóra turned back into the shop and headed in the direction of the strong liquor shelves.

Those who have read the previous books in the series will know that Bella is Þóra's secretary and the bane of her existence: a rude, crude young woman foisted upon her and her law partner by their landlord. In this scene, taken from early in the book, Þóra and Matthew are heading to Greenland…

Friday night folklore: The ghost's greeting

Iceland was unlit by street-lights longer than most other countries in Europe, and with the long winter nights, with more than 20 hours of cold, wintry darkness in December and the nearest farm often far away, it's no wonder that Icelandic folklore is rich in ghost stories.

We even have several different types of ghosts:
a svipur is the apparition of a person that will simply be seen but not heard or felt in any other way, often only once, and sometimes they are seen - usually by a loved one far away - before they are dead or at the moment of death; a vofa is another harmless but more horrible kind, seen and heard but not felt; a draugur can be benevolent, tricky or evil (or all three, depending on its mood) and is able, when fresh, to harm or kill; an uppvakningur is a ghost deliberately raised, often for a specific purpose; a sending is the worst of all: an uppvakningur awakened, sometimes after being deliberately murdered for the purpose, to be sent to harm someone; a fylgja is …

Short stories 151-155

“A New-Year’s Eve Confession” by Hermann Sudermann. A nostalgic little story with a twist in the tail. Recommended.

Here end the German, Austrian and Swiss authors and the French begin.

“The Divided Horsecloth” by Bernier. A prose translation of a verse original. A very old tale beautifully told. Makes me wish I could read Medieval French so I could see if the original matches the translation in eloquence.

The Lay of the Two Lovers” by Marie de France. A fairy tale about star-crossed lovers.

“The Pious Lady and the Gray Friar” by Marguerite de Navarre. Originally from The Heptameron. Another politely bawdy tale by Navarre that would not have been out of place in The Decameron or The Canterbury Tales.

“Memnon the Philosopher, or Human Wisdom” by Voltaire. A humorous tale of human folly. Recommended.

Top mysteries challenge: Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare

Year of publication: 1942
Series and no.: Detective Inspector Mallett #4
Genre: Mystery
Type of mystery: Threats, murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: England, 1939-1940

A slightly drunk High Court judge hits a man with his car and thus starts a series of events that end in murder.

As a mystery this story should satisfy any reader who enjoys legal mysteries. It is full of twists and red herrings and it's a challenge to keep up with the detective.

The character descriptions and development are skilful and the interactions between the characters are complex enough to satisfy anyone’s demands for realism. There is a subtle, slightly mocking tone running through the whole narrative, so that one is constantly on the alert for a punch-line to crop up, but it never does.

The writing is polished and knowing that Hare was personally acquainted with the legal environment the story depicts, having been a barrister and worked as a judge's marshal on the circuit court, one kn…

Short stories 146-150

“Eulenspiegel and the Merchant” by Anonymous . Originally from Eulenspiegel, the Merry Jester. A tale in which the prankster Eulenspiegel does literally everything he is told, and teaches (hopefully) a rich man a lesson. For those unfamiliar with Eulenspiegel, he is a character of central-European folklore, a trickster and joker who lives by his wits and exposes people’s vices and hypocrisy. Read more.

“The Story of Serapion” by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Originally from The Serapion Brethren. A rather dull philosophical tale.

“A Legend of the Dance” by Gottfried Keller. Originally from Seven Legends. A saccharine little tale about one of those intolerably good girls who go to Heaven through martyrdom, which then turns into a strange muddled-up mixture of elements from Christian and Greco-Roman mythology.

“The Fury” (L’Arrabbiata) by Paul Heise. A rather good romantic story about learning to let go of your fears. Recommended.

“The Triple Warning” by Arthur Schnitzler. Originally from Masks and …

Friday night folklore: Búkolla

The Icelandic word for a fairy tale literally means an adventure, which is of course just what they are. It is from these kinds of stories, along with myths and legends, that the modern fantasy genre has sprung, and they are no less imaginative than their literary offspring, albeit usually shorter.

There are some explanatory notes after the story, but first here is one you need to know before reading it:
The life-egg is a common theme in Iceland fairy tales. The life-power of monsters, especially trolls and giants, is stored in eggs, and if a monster‘s life-egg is broken (often on the monster‘s face or forehead), the monster will die.

Búkolla:
Once upon a time there was a farmer and his wife. They lived on a tiny farm with their three daughters, Sigrid, Signy and Helga. They loved Sigrid and Signy, but cared nothing for Helga, who had to make her bed in the ash-pile. They were poor and the only livestock they owned was one cow. It gave a great deal of milk and was their most prized pos…

Reading report for May 2010

I celebrated my 40th birthday in May, and it wasn’t until after the fact that I realised that it would have made a perfect excuse for a reading challenge – possibly 40 books written in the year of my birth – but I think I have enough challenges to juggle already ;-)

Of the 11 volumes I read in May, 4 were TBR challenge books, 3 were Bibliophilic Book Challenge books and 3 (or 21, if you count them as books and not as volumes) were non-challenge books. Two of the last three mentioned are omnibus editions, one of 15 previously separately published Edward Gorey short books and the other is a selection of 1001 drawings from 5 books by Icelandic artist Hugleikur Dagsson. Since I have hitherto counted books in omnibus editions as separate entities, I will continue to do so. This makes for an impressive number of books “read” in May (29), even if some 1225 pages of them were mostly drawings with very little text. However, I must say that some of Gorey’s detailed drawings demand as much attent…

Recently finished

Venetia by Georgette Heyer. A reread.

'Don't waste a thought on any of the eligible suitors you've found for me, dear ma'am! There is more of my mama in me than you have the least idea of, and the only eligible husband for me is a rake!'
Venetia, to her aunt, on the subject of suitable husbands

Now, in real life, marrying a rake would probably be a huge mistake, but in Romancelandia you know they're going to live happily ever after, so it's allowed to give a sigh of pleasure as you close the book and reach for the next one.