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Meme: Top Ten Characters I wish I could be friends with

The Top Ten Tuesdays meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Show your appreciation for this meme by visiting them and some of the other participating blogs.

Starting with three characters I wanted to be friends with as a child, and still do, here is my list:
George (Georgina) from the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, because she is feisty and smart and adventurous (the only girl in any Endid Blyton book I have read who is on an equal footing with the boys).Anne Shirley from the Anne books by L.M. Montgomery. She is a good and true friend despite her talent for rushing headlong into trouble.The Cat in the Hat from the books by Dr. Seuss. The original furry anarchist. Can you imagine all the mischief one could get up to with him and never be found out?Granny Weatherwax from the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, although I fear she wouldn’t much approve of me. A good woman to have at your back when the elves and/or vampyres arrive in town.Lord Peter Wimsey from the books by D…

Frankfurter Buchmesse 2011 Challenge: Englar Alheimsins

The Icelandic book I read this month and had planned to review for the challenge was Eftirmáli Regndropanna by Einar Már Guðmundsson, but as it turns out, it doesn’t seem to have been translated into German (I was convinced it had been, but I can’t confirm it). As it is too late in the month to find another book to review, I am instead reviewing another book by Einar that I read several years ago: Englar Alheimsins, which was translated into English as Angels of the Universe (by the late, brilliant Bernard Scudder and published in 1995 and again in 1997) and into German as Engel des Universums (by Angelika Gundlach and published in 1998). It is his best known and most popular book to date, and has been included on the literature curriculum in Icelandic schools. It earned the author the Nordic Council's Literature Prize in 1995.

The story has been filmed (the author writing the script) and I can recommend the film, although not for people who only enjoy happy endings.

The narra…

The Hollywood Musical

Originally published in December 2004, in 2 parts.
Book 43 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Jane Feuer
Series: British Film Institute Cinema Series
Year published: 1982/1993
Pages: 154
Genre: Cinema history and criticism
Where got: National/University Library

I came across this interesting volume while browsing at the library. As someone who possesses a growing collection of musicals and watches them frequently, I am naturally interested in the subject, which is why I picked it as the book of the week.

Contents and review:
A critical and analytic look at the Golden Era Hollywood musical as a genre. Feuer examines some conventions and formulas of the genre, how the earlier musicals refer back to stage shows, vaudeville and revues, while the later ones refer back to the earlier ones. She examines the importance of the songs, the standardized romantic storyline of the musical comedy, and in a postscript chapter takes a brief look at some post-Golden Era musicals and gay readings of the old …

Short stories 291-300

I have fallen way behind with my reporting of the short story challenge because I keep finding more interesting subjects to post about, but here is one more report:

“The Ghost of a Hand” by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. About a ghost that only shows its hand. “The Sweeper” by A.M. Burrage. The tale of a woman haunted by an event from her past. This ends October.
“Couching at the Door” by D.K. (Dorothy Kathleen) Broster. About the dangers of dabbling in the dark arts. Highly recommended. “The Familiar” by Sheridan Le Fanu. About a man haunted by a demon from his past. Very boring.“Full Fathom Five” by Alexander Woollcott. A very short tale that sounds like a “true” ghost story.“The Millvale Apparition” by Louis Adamic. About a painter working in a church who encounters an apparition/ghost.
We now come to Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories, a collection of ghost stories chosen by Dahl, who, I think everyone who has read his books will agree, knew his stuff when it came to chilling tales. I found…

The art of blurbing

This is a reworked post from my old, now abandoned, 52 Books blog. I’ll be taking that blog down as soon as I remember where I stored the password...
Blurb: noun [C] a short description of a book or film, etc., written by the people who have produced it, and intended to make people want to buy it or see it: The blurb on the back of the book says that it 'will touch your heart'. (from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)
I have mentioned several times the importance of good blurbs on books. By that I meant the teasers on the back cover or on the inside flap of the dustcover that are designed to entice a potential reader into buying the book. The good ones do this by giving the reader just enough enticing information to want the to find out more.
The worst of the bad ones give away an important plot element or even the ending of a book. Giving away the ending of a romance is usually okay because romance readers already know that the hero and heroine will get together at…

Friday night folklore: The Steward of Skálholt

Iceland used to be divided into two bishoprics: north and south. The one in the north was situated at Hólar in Hjaltadalur, and the southern one in Skálholt, not far from Þingvellir.
Once upon a time there was a bishop in Skálholt who was very hard and inconsiderate in his treatment of his stewards. For this reason they hated working for him and he would send them off without references when they quit the job. Some of them hated him for this and wished that the Devil would take their place when they left. Eventually there was no-one who would apply for the position, and the bishop then had sore need for a steward.
Then a man came to him, stocky and red-haired, and offered his services. The bishop gladly accepted, not the least because the man did not make any demands as to pay, saying they could negotiate that when he left the service. He made no mention of his family or where he came from, saying it did not matter, all that mattered was how well he did his job. He then took up the posi…

Useful website of the week: If you're looking for a reading challenge

Created by Teddy and Wendy, two bloggers who love reading challenges, A Novel Challenge is a blog all about just that. They collect reading challenges and book-related events together in one place to make it easier for others to find challenges. They don't steal the challenges - they merely let people know they exist and direct those who are interested in participating to the sign-up pages.

Time for some reading challenges, pt. 1

I am always on the lookout for new and exciting reading challenges. In the coming weeks I will be presenting some I have come across that I especially like. I haven't decided if I am going to participate in any of them in 2011, but I will be considering it.

To read more about the challenge, just click on the image and you will be taken to the originating website.

This one is very simple: You challenge yourself to read more books in 2011 than you did in 2010. It is hosted by the Book Vixen, who is also hosting three other challenges in 2011, of which I might do one: Men in Uniform (she plans to read romances for that one, but there is noting in the rules that forbids other genres).
I don't think I will be participating in this one. I read so much anyway that I don't need to push myself further, unless I decide to go for 200 books next year, which could easily happen considering the challenge I am setting myself for 2011 (more on that later).

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This one is to read more books …

Meme: Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Holiday Books

The Top Ten Tuesdays meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Do head on over there and visit some of the other participating blogs.

I don’t have 10 favourite holiday reads, but here are some I love and have read many times over:

1. Jólin Koma by Jóhannes úr Kötlum. This is an Icelandic book of Christmas poems, as beloved by Icelanders as ‘The Night Before Christmas’ is by Americans. First published in 1932, it is now in its 24th printing, the most popular children’s book ever published in Icelandic. A must Christmas read in my home.
2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. No need to explain this one. I read it in December about every other year.
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. One I reread occasionally. No need to explain this one either.
4. The Father Christmas Letters by J. R. R. Tolkien.I have only read this once, but I loved it and I want a copy of my own!

Apart from these, I try to read something new with a holiday theme each year, usually including at leas…

Stiff – The curious lives of human cadavers

Originally published in November and December 2004, in 4 parts. Book 42 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Mary Roach
Year published: 2003
Pages: 303
Genre: Popular science, biology
Where got: amazon.co.uk

Mom, Dad, what happens after we die?

This is a classic question most parents dread having to answer. While this book doesn’t answer the philosophical/theological part of the question – what happens to the soul? - it does claim to contain answers to the biological part, namely: what happens to the body?



Reading progress for Stiff:
Stiff is proving to be an interesting read. Roach writes in a matter-of-fact journalistic style that makes the subject seem less grim than it really is, but she does on occasion become a bit too flippant about it, I guess in an attempt to distance herself. Although she uses humour to ease the grimness, the jokes – which, by the way, are never about the dead, only the living, especially Roach herself – often fall flat. Perhaps it’s just me, but this is a serio…

Friday night folklore: The two brothers and the piece of parchment

Once upon a time there was an old farmer who had two sons. As he was dying he handed them an old piece of parchment with writing on it and said that one of them should always carry it on him, and especially when they went out to sea to fish, as it would ensure that their fishing would be as good as any man’s. The brothers thanked him for the piece of parchment and tried to read the text, but couldn’t understand a single word. Therefore they came to the conclusion that it must be a magic spell. They valued the parchment highly and told no-one of its existence.

They took over the running for the farm after the old man was dead, and rarely forgot to keep the parchment about one or other of their persons, believing strongly in its ability to draw fish to their boat. When they brought it with them out to sea, the fishing would be better than anyone’s, but when it got left behind the catch would be small or even none.

Word got around how lucky the brothers were when it came to fishing, and…

Top Mysteries Challenge review: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

Year of publication: 1915
Series and no.: Richard Hannay # 1/5
Genre: Thriller
Setting & time: England and Scotland, contemporary

Richard Hannay, having grown up in Rhodesia and now living in London, is bored to distraction by his life in England and seriously considering going back to Africa when his neighbour seeks his help. The man, it turns out, is a spy or an associate of spies, and has important information that will be of no use until a certain date. Until then he must stay alive. This he fails to do and Hannay finds him murdered in his apartment and has to go on the run, under suspicion for the murder and chased by the police and spy gang who killed his neighbour.

This is one of the early espionage thrillers in the modern mold, and as such, one can recognise many of the traits of the modern spy thriller in it.
A review or discussion I read of this novel said that in modern retrospect Hannay comes across as somewhat of a cliché, so I took care to read the book as if I was not…

The Dante Game by Jane Langton

Genre: Thriller, cosy
Series and no. : Homer Kelly, # 8
Type of detective: Professor of literature, lawyer and former policeman
Year of publication: 1991
Setting & time: Florence, Italy, contemporary.

Harvard Professor Homer Kelly is invited to teach for one school year at a new school for American students in Florence, Italy. One of the teachers has been in prison in the USA for murder, another one is a boring creep, the students are the usual mixed bunch, including one socially-inept stalker type and a ravishingly beautiful female student with issues, and the school secretary really works for the city’s top drug baron, who is planning to use a religious fanatic to assassinate the pope, whose anti-drug campaign is affecting business.

I picked up this book mostly because of the title. I haven’t read The Divine Comedy, mostly because I couldn’t decide which of the many English translations to choose, but I did wish I had the one quoted in the book on hand – I believe it was the Sayers…

The Complete Steel by Catherine Aird

Genre: Police procedural
Year of publication: 1969
Series and no. : Chronicles of Calleshire, # 4
Setting & time: Calleshire (fictional place), England, contemporary/timeless

A naughty boy on an outing at a stately home makes a gruesome discovery: someone has murdered the estate archivist and stuffed him into a suit of armour. The Calleshire police, in the persons of Detective Chief Inspector Sloan and his assistant, Crosby the speed demon (who I think is still a constable in this book). It is soon revealed that the man had recently made a discovery that could be a threat to the cosy existence of the family who own the place, but is that really why he was murdered?

I have written before of the timeless quality of Aird’s Calleshire books, which seem to exist in a kind of mid-to-late 20th century time vacuum. The last Calleshire book I read, Little Knell (which I didn’t review) was an exception of sorts, mainly because of its theme, which was hard drugs, but this, one of the early book…

Meme: Top Ten Villains, Criminals & Degenerates

The Top Ten Tuesdays meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. To see more villains, criminals and degenerates, why not head on over there and click on some of the other entries.

I am dividing my gallery of villains and monsters into two groups: the possible and the impossible:

Impossible:
Count Dracula from Dracula by Bram Stoker. A monster capable of turning his victims into monsters.Dorian Grey from The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. All the more evil for being so charming and innocent-looking. Comes under this heading because of the painting.The Queen from various Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, especially The Wee Free Men and Lords and Ladies. She knows people think she is evil and she doesn’t care. The Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. A totally loony, creepy villainess.The Snow Queen from 'The Snow Queen' by Hans Christian Andersen. Creepy and completely evil.I found her terrifying when I was a child.
The possible:
Hannibal Lecter from Red…

The Xenophobe’s Guide to the Icelanders

Originally published in November 2004, in 2 parts.
Book 41 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Richard Sale
Year published: 1994
Pages: 64
Genre: Humour
Sub-genre(s): Travel guide
Where got: Public library

I was thinking about reviewing a full-fledged guide book about Iceland, but realized I would never be able to finish one in only a week (actually I could, but it would not be much fun). Instead I picked up this slim volume that contains a humourous profile of the Icelandic nation. It remains to be seen if it’s accurate…

This is basically a brief portrait of the Icelandic nation, its behaviour, sense of humour, traditions, beliefs, food, drinking habits, etc. Don’t expect a deep analysis of the national psyche – this is purely humorous and on the surface. Apart from a few small errors and atrocious spelling of Icelandic names and words, I would say this is a pretty accurate, if rather exaggerated, description of Icelanders as a group. The outsider often sees things that a member of a gr…

Friday night folklore: The Gold Coin

Once upon a time there was a man who was very avaricious and would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. He was likewise so miserly that he could not bring himself to do good for any man. His pastor often reprimanded him for this, asking him where he thought this behaviour would eventually lead him, but the miser ignored his pleadings and reprimands completely.

Finally the miser died and upon hearing of his death the pastor became so very worried for his eternal soul that he could hardly sleep. The next night when he finally fell asleep, the pastor dreamt that he saw, in the sky above the dead man’s farm, a huge pair of scales. By one side there were angels who were putting the dead man’s good works on the scales and by the other demons who were piling his misdeeds on their side of the scales. Those were many and weighed heavily, but the good works consisted only of a piece of bread the miser had once given a poor and starving man out of pity. The demons started bragging about the w…

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

Genre: Women’s fiction, foodie book
Year of publication: 2006
Setting & time: Small town in Ireland, 1980s

Sisters Merjan, Bahar and Layla, refugees from the Iranian revolution, arrive in the Irish village of Ballinacroagh and open the Babylon Café. Chef Marjan prepares mouthwatering Persian food in the kitchen and serves it with the help of their sisters. But while most of the villagers welcome them, some disapprove of their presence, especially small-town kingpin Thomas McGuire, who wants to buy the house where the café is to open a disco. Aided by the town gossip and his loutish older son, he begins a campaign against the foreign ‘sluts’. But his younger son is dating Layla, the village priest is the sisters’ most faithful customer and the café seems set for success.
Each chapter begins with a Persian recipe and the food is incorporated somehow into each chapter.

It’s no secret that I like to read foodie books, so when I came across this novel in the library, I took it home wit…

Late to the party as usual: Discussion of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Disclaimer: I don’t think I really need to summarise this one, since it is so widely known. But in case you haven’t read it, be warned that the following discussion is full of SPOILERS and should not be read by persons who wish to be surprised by the book. I don’t want to call this a review, but there are some review elements in there nonetheless.
When a book gets as hyped up as Twilight I tend to recoil from it rather than jump on the bandwagon and read it right away. This is not because I don’t like hype, but because I hate buying books at full price and then discovering I don’t like them. I’d much rather wait until I can read a book and then decide if I want to own a copy, which I can, by that time, probably get second hand. Foreign bestsellers don’t arrive immediately in the libraries here, and I don’t know a lot of people who read foreign books, so unless I buy them, I can’t read them right away.
I had decided, as much as a couple of years ago, that I wanted to read Twilight, mos…

Making time for reading

I can’t count the times I have been asked how I find the time to read so many books. The asker will sometimes add that they never have time to read, or say they envy me for being able to find so much reading time, and so on. Sometimes the non-readers radiate an unspoken assumption about my nerdishness or my lack of a social life, but for the most part these questions come from other readers who want to know my secret. Well, guess what? There isn’t a secret.

If you are determined enough you WILL find time to read, even if you have a spouse and kids, high-maintenance pets, lots of friends, a busy job and an active social calendar. It’s just a matter of planning your time, prioritising and grabbing every opportunity you can. Here are some tips – just choose the ones that apply to you and you’re on your way to reading more:

Any time you find yourself with your hands empty and nothing to occupy your brain, read. If you have no such moments, create them. If this means taking the bus to work …

Meme: Top Ten Most Unfortunate Character Names

The Top Ten Tuesdays meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. For some more unfortunate character names head on over there and check out some of the other linked entries.

I didn’t participate in last week’s meme because I couldn’t remember the last time I cried over a book. Books do occasionally move me, but they rarely make me cry, and when I do cry over a book, it’s usually because I have reason to cry anyway and something in the book sets me off. I didn’t even cry over Marley and Me, and that was pretty sad.

This week’s theme is a good one, because it will allow the participants to blow off some steam about names in literature that are ridiculous, absurd, inappropriate or funny-in-a-bad-way. I tried to stick to major characters in my choice, not necessarily central characters, but important ones. This is because even authors who give their protagonists sensible names often give minor characters the most ridiculous monikers, and going for those would enlarge the pool to much.

I…

The Saga of Grettir the Strong

Originally published in November 2004, in 2 parts.
Book 40 in my first 52 books challenge.

Author: Unknown
Year published: this edition: 1985; original: 14th century
Pages: 141
Genre: Saga, medieval literature
Where got: Present from my parents

Today we Icelanders celebrate the Day of the Icelandic Language, and therefore I decided to read something in my native language for a change, and what is more Icelandic than a Saga? I chose The Saga of Grettir the Strong because I have special ties to it, having lived in Skagafjörður and visited Drangey, the island where Grettir spent the last years of his life.

The version I am reading is from a controversial modernised spelling edition of the Sagas.

This Saga is available in English for reading online: Saga of Grettir

Click here to visit my Drangey page. It contains a short summary of the Saga of Grettir, along with a couple of legends about the island.

The Story:
The life story of one of the greatest warriors in Icelandic history. He is thought to have…

Short stories 281-290

“The Silence of the Sea” by Vercors. A powerful story of shattered illusions during the German occupation of France during World War II. Recommended.
“The State of Grace” by Marcel Aymé. A funny satirical fantasy about the desire for conformity. Highly recommended.
“The Women” by Pierre Gascar. About life in a WWII work camp. Recommended.
“The Adulterous Woman” by Albert Camus. A strongly metaphorical tale about emotional estrangement and alienation. Recommended.
The Secret Room” by Alain Robe-Grillet. An atmospheric description of a grotesque situation. Recommended.
And that concludes The Penguin Book of French Short Stories ---
Since the gloominess of autumn/early winter is upon us and it is now dark outside when I wake up to go to work, I have been reading spooky stories I have found in the Web.
"The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall" by John Kendrick Bangs. Web. A humorous ghost story. Recommended.
"The Terror of Blue John Gap" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Web.A monster tale …

Short stories 271-280

I have fallen a bit behind posting these lists, but here is one and I will post the next soon. I have been keeping to the challenge more or less steadily, except I have been concentrating on spooky stories and horror tales in the latter part of October. You will see some of them on the next list.
"Fear" by Guy de Maupassant. Web. About what it is to be truly afraid. Here is a quotation from the story that I think captures the feeling very well:

“Fear — and the boldest men may feel fear — is something horrible, an atrocious sensation, a sort of decomposition of the soul, a terrible spasm of brain and heart, the very memory of which brings a shudder of anguish, but when one is brave he feels it neither under fire nor in the presence of sure death nor in the face of any well-known danger. It springs up under certain abnormal conditions, under certain mysterious influences in the presence of vague peril. Real fear is a sort of reminiscence of fantastic terror of the pa…

Friday night folklore: Dancing for the Devil

When Icelanders speak of something that seems to be merrily heading obliviously towards disaster they sometimes use the word “Hrunadans”, which literally means “the dance at Hruni”. I think there is hardly a word or combination of words that better describes the years leading up to the economic collapse of 2008. Here is the story behind the idiom:
Once upon a time there was a priest who served the Hruni parish in Árnessýsla. He loved all kinds of entertainment and parties, and it was his habit when the people had assembled in the church for the Christmas midnight mass, not to say the mass right away but to make merry with dancing, drinking, gambling and other frivolous kinds of fun for the first part of the night. His elderly mother, who was named Una, very much objected to her son’s behaviour and had often tried to reason with him and show him the error of his ways. But he persisted in having his fun and continued it for many years until the following event:
One Christmas night the ent…

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

Genre: Romance, paranormal thriller
Year of publication: 2010
Setting & time: Ohio, USA, 1992

Andie Miller is trying to tie up some loose ends in her life before accepting her boyfriend's proposal of marriage, but when she goes to see her ex-husband, North Archer, to return to him 10 years worth of uncashed alimony checks, he surprises her by offering her a hefty sum of money to go and look after his wards, two orphaned children, in an isolated house for a month. The children seem afraid to leave the house and the last nanny who went to look after them fled, claiming it was haunted.

Andie immediately clashes with the creepy housekeeper and discovers that there are indeed ghosts in the house. When various people, including North, a ratings-hungry TV reporter, a sceptical parapsychologist and a psychic, descend on the house with different purposes in mind, the ghosts get restless, and it is going to take more than just a séance to put things to rights.

This is not the best Crusi…

The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

Year of publication: 2004
No. in series: 1
Series detective: Dr. Siri Paiboun
Type of investigator: Coroner/doctor
Genre: Historical mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Setting & time: The Lao People’s Democratic Republic; 1976

At age 72 and after a long service to the communist cause, Dr. Siri Paiboun had been looking forward to a nice retirement, but the newly installed authorities had other ideas and appointed him as the state coroner. With no experience of the work he is expected to do, no interest in the job and limited equipment, he tries to make the best of things, but it isn’t until a comrade’s wife dies mysteriously and the bodies of three dead Vietnamese soldiers turn up in a lake that things start to get interesting.

I think I have a new favourite detective. Dr. Siri is deliciously grumpy and sarcastic, but he also has the good detective’s curiosity and willingness to find out the truth no matter what, and combined with his healthy disrespect for authority this makes him a del…

Progress report for October and tentative reading plan for November

Of the named books I planned to read in October, I finished We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett. Additionally, I read the planned-for 5 TBR books, plus one more, and one of the new books I mentioned last month: Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie.

I made a bit of headway with Simon Winchester‘s Calcutta , but didn‘t open a single Harry Potter book, which may be blamed on my brother who moved out of my spare bedroom and into his own space at the beginning of the month, taking the books with him. I‘ll need to visit him soon and see if he has unpacked them yet so I can borrow the next book and continue with Project Potter.

I decided to add a new reading challenge: to review one Icelandic book that has been translated into English and German, per month until the 2011 book fair in Frankfurt, starting in November. For this challenge, I may finally tackle Halldór Laxness‘ masterpiec…

Reading report for October 2010

I finished 15 books in October. 1 was a Chunkster Challenge read, 3 were Top Mystery Challenge reads, 3 were rereads, 6 were TBR challenge books, and 3 were neither rereads nor challenge reads.
8 of the books I read in October were mysteries or crime stories, which is a lot, even for such an avid fan of detective stories as myself.

One of the books I didn't review has such a strange title that I must mention it here: Do Ants Have Arseholes? and 101 other bloody ridiculous questions from the popular 'Corrections and Clarfications' [sic] page of Old Git magazine.This is, as astute readers may have guessed, a parody of popular trivia books like  Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze? and Do Polar Bears get Lonely?. As such, it is pretty good, giving irreverent and completely fictitious (and often funny) answers to what are mostly perfectly legitimate questions.

Catherine Aird : The Complete Steel- mystery, police procedural
Margery Allingham : The Tiger in the Smoke - myste…