31 July 2010

Now reading: Maps & Legends: Reading and writing along the borderlands by Michael Chabon

Entertainment has a bad name. Serious people learn to mistrust and even revile it. The word wears spandex, pasties, a leisure suit studded with blinking lights. It gives of a whiff of Coppertone and dripping Creamsicle, the fake-butter miasma of a movie-house lobby, of karaoke and Jägermeister, Jerry Bruckheimer movies, a Street Fighter machine grunting solipsistically in a corner of an ice-rink arcade. Entertainment trades in cliché and product placement. It engages in regions of the brain far from the centers of discernment, critical thinking, ontological speculation. It skirts the black heart of life and drowns life’s lambency in a halogen glare. They must handle the things that entertain them with gloves of irony and postmodern tongs. Entertainment, in short, means junk, and too much junk is bad for you—bad for your heart, your arteries, your mind, your soul.
          But maybe these intelligent and serious people, my faithful straw men, are wrong. Maybe the reason for the junkiness of so much that pretends to entertain us is that we have accepted—indeed, we have helped to articulate—such a narrow, debased concept of entertainment. The brain is an organ of entertainment, sensitive at any depth, and over a wide spectrum. But we have learned to mistrust and despise our human aptitude for being entertained, and in that sense we get the entertainment we deserve.

Thus begins a book of essays about reading and writing that is promising to be very good entertainment indeed, and also material for thought and reflection.

Here is another good quotation from the same essay.

30 July 2010

Friday Night Folklore: Father of eighteen in Elfland

Once upon a time there was a farmer’s wife. One summer day she was at home and looking after the house with only her young son, some three or four years old, for company. The boy had grown big and strong for his age, a bright child who had learned to speak correctly and clearly and was the pride of his parents.

The mother had some chores to do besides guarding the house and looking after her son, and had to leave him alone while she went to a nearby brook to wash the milk pails. She left the child in the doorway of the house and was gone for some time.

When she returned and spoke to the boy, he cried out and started yelling, kicking and crying in a strange and frightening way, which was surprising as he had always been a very quiet child, gentle and sweet-tempered. But all she could get from him now were yells and screams.

After this the boy never spoke a word, but was always crying and acting up and could not be consoled, so that his mother no longer knew him for the same child. This went on for some time, during which he also stopped growing.

His mother was saddened and bothered by this turn of events and finally in her despair she went to see her neighbour, a woman both wise and knowing, and told her about her child's condition. The woman questioned her closely about everything that had happened, how it had happened and when and where. When she had heard the whole story, the wise woman said to the mother:

“Do you not think, my dear, that the boy is a changeling? It is my belief that he was switched when you left him alone in the doorway.”

“I don't know,” she replied. “Can you tell me how to find out?”

“That I can. Leave the child so that he thinks he is all alone and make sure he sees something new and curious. He will speak if he thinks he is alone. Hide and listen to what he says and if you think his words strange, take a rod and beat him mercilessly until something happens.”

Thus ended their conversation, and the mother thanked her neighbour for the good advice and went home.

Once she came home, the mother took a small cauldron and put it in the middle of the kitchen floor. Then she took a number of sticks and tied them together so that she could poke the end up the chimney, and at the lower end she tied a wooden spoon and put it in the cauldron. Then she went and got the boy and put him on the kitchen floor and left him there, but hid just outside the door and listened closely to what was happening within, keeping an eye on the boy through a chink in the door.

Shortly after she had walked out she saw the boy stand up. He started circling the cauldron and looking curiously at the elongated spoon. Then he said: “Now I am as old as my beard may show, a father of eighteen in Elfland, but I have never seen such a long shaft in such a wide pot.”

Hearing this, the woman opened the door and walked into the kitchen with birch rod in her hand and proceeded to beat the changeling with it, hard and without any mercy, which made him
scream loudly in pain. When she hand been at it for a while she saw a strange woman enter the kitchen, carrying a beautiful boy child in her arms.

“Our actions are unlike.” she said, “I caress your son and you beat my husband.”

With these words she set down the child and walked out with the changeling. But the little boy grew up to be a good and useful man.

Note: 
Stories of changelings and children stolen by elves are very common in the folklore of many countries, and some folk-tales suggest that elves are few in number and slow breeders and that they steal children in order to improve their breeding stock and increase fertility. The same has, at least in Icelandic folk-tales, been said about trolls. 

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.

26 July 2010

How to Become Ridiculously Well Read in One Evening

Picking up where I left off in January, here is a blast from the past. I plan to post these on Mondays until I run out of them. I will correct them for spelling/typing errors and bad grammar and add formatting where I think it is necessary for clarity and reading ease, but will avoid editing them unless I think it's absolutely necessary. They do not necessarily express opinions I hold now. I may add comments to some of them.

Originally published in July 2004, in 2 parts
Book 24 in my first 52 books challenge.


Compiled and edited by: E.O. Parrott
Year published: 1985
Genre: Poetry, pastiche, prose
Where got: Public library

I came across this amusing little volume while browsing in the library. It’s a collection of humorous summaries of some of the famous literary works considered (by some) necessary for a person to be well read, and therefore splendidly suited for someone who is trying to read more. It includes summaries of works both by English-speaking authors and works that have been translated into English from other languages. Most of it is in verse, but some pieces are in the form of prose, all in a variety of styles.

Here’s a short sample of what this book has to offer - incidentally also the shortest piece in the book:

“D.H. Lawrence: Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by Wendy Cope:

Smart girls make passes
At the working classes.


When I began reading this book in earnest I quickly realized it was no use to read the pieces on books I hadn’t read, because in order to enjoy humorous literary encapsulations like this, you must be familiar with the original literary works. So I have merely skimmed those pieces and only read in full the ones on books I have read and/or seen the movie version of.

The majority of the pieces are in verse form. Among the forms used are haiku, limericks and blank verse. Some of the others are in the form of very short plays, others in epistolary form or stream-of-consciousness. There are pieces on 155 books, some few books have had two pieces written about them, but most only one.

In the introduction to this book I called it ‘amusing’ and that is all it is. I have smiled several times at some clever verses that summarise, if not the actual contents, than at least the spirit of the book in question. More often, though, I have frowned at half-rhymes, tortuous rhymes, rhymes that don’t rhyme and lines that don’t scan but should. Of course, I never expected the verses to have the kind of quality that makes poetry immortal, but there is an incredible amount of badly written poetry in there. Some of it makes up for the lack of proper rhyme and scansion by virtue of wit, being worth a half-smile, a chuckle, or a smirk when it reveals some silliness about the original.

Rating: Presented in haiku form as befits the book. Whether it be good haiku or bad haiku, I leave up to the reader to decide.

Literature summed,
Sometimes funny, sometimes not,
2 stars and that’s a lot.

23 July 2010

Love Magic

This should really be titled "sex magic" but the person who wrote it down lived in a more prudish age than we do ;-)

Around 1820 there were two young men who lived on a farm in the Eyjafjörður area. They were studying sorcery in secret but were found out when one evening after dark one of them came into the common room and walked up to a young woman who was sitting there and kissed her passionately. She was surprised by this, especially as she thought she heard something rattling in the man’s mouth as he kissed her, and because all of a sudden she began to feel aroused. In the room were also two motherless lambs that were being fostered inside the warmth of the house, an ewe and a ram.

She thought quickly and said: “If you are playing a trick on me, it shall affect the ewe-lamb instead.” Immediately the ewe came into heat and kept offering herself to the ram all night long.

When the girl noticed this and felt the passion she had almost succumbed to subside, she questioned the man and wouldn’t let him go until he admitted that he had put piece of lead with some magic runes on it in his mouth and then kissed her in order to get her into bed with him.

20 July 2010

Short stories 186-190

“Adios, Cordera!” by Leopoldo Alas. One of those nasty sentimental tales of the kind I used to hate as a kid, about the death of an animal (here as a metaphor for loss of innocence), that always made me feel as if I were being manipulated into crying. The introduction calls it “consistently charming and thoroughly Spanish”, whatever that means.

Here end the Spanish short stories and we jump back in time and all the way to China.

The Story of Ming-Y” by Anonymous. Originally from Marvellous Tales, Ancient and Modern (Kin-Kou-Ki-Kuan). A charming and romantic little ghost story. Recommended. (This is the same translation, except the first paragraph, which gives away an important plot element, so avoid reading it if you can. The link will open a pdf-file).

“A Fickle Widow” by anonymous. Originally from Marvellous Tales, Ancient and Modern (Kin-Kou-Ki-Kuan). Yet another of those horrid stories where people feel obliged to test the fidelity of a spouse. Admittedly, this one is more entertaining and sophisticated than most.

The Virtuous Daughter-in-Law”, edited by P’u Sung-Ling. Originally from the Strange Stories. A rather confusing tale of a shrewish mother-in-law, her two sons and daughters-in-law, the reward of virtue and the punishment for greed. (This is the same translation, except the first paragraph, which gives away an important plot element, so avoid reading it if you can. The link will open a pdf-file).

Here end the Chinese stories the Japanese ones begin.

“The Forty-seven Ronin” by anonymous . A bloody tale of honour and vengeance among Japanese samurai, based on a true story that took place in the 18th century. Reminds me of the Icelandic Sagas, except for the hara-kiri part. Recommended.

19 July 2010

Useful website of the week: Book Drum

I first heard of this useful website through the July issue of the Discworld Monthly e-newsletter.

Book Drum offers a way for readers to read or contribute "Profiles" of books. These consist of several features, including a summary, setting information, glossary, author information and reviews.

The most exciting feature is the "Bookmarks". This is a collection of multi-media annotations for the book, utilising text, photos, maps, and even music, sounds and videos to explain and clarify the text.

As of yet they have fewer than 100 Profiles posted, but thanks to a dedicated group of users you can expect it to grow continuously. Anyone can register and contribute a profile, and once a profile is published, other users can add to it.

So, Dear Reader, do pay it a visit. Read it and spread the word, even register and add a profile. I plan to register myself and test how easily the profiles can be posted and added to. Expect a review when I have become fully acquainted with it.

18 July 2010

Short stories 181-185

How Lazaro Served a Bulero” by Diego Hurtado de Mendoza. Originally a chapter from Lazarillo de Tormes. A story about a scoundrel and seller of papal indulgences that rings very true, considering what I have read about them. I think I’ll put Lazarillo de Tormes on my reading list, because I love me a good picaresque tale. (in the link, scroll to the chapter "How Lazaro Went to Work for a Pardoner and the Things That Happened to Him Then" - obviously this is not the same translation as the one I read)

“Guzman and My Lord Cardinal” by Mateo Alemán. Originally a chapter from Guzmán de Alfarache , another famous early picaresque novel. In this narrative Guzman, the narrator, is hoist with his own petard when he tries to swindle a Cardinal of the Roman church who turns out to be a truly good man.

“Rinconete and Cortadillo” by Miguel de Cervantes. Originally from the Exemplary Novels. A funny little picaresque, written in the florid language of a courtly Romance with the low-life characters behaving as if they were knights or aristocrats, and thus a pretty good parody. Recommended.

The Tall Woman” by Pedro Antonio de Alarcon. A creepy story that is best read aloud to a group of people on a foggy night for full effect. Recommended. (This appears to be the same translation. The links opens a pdf file).

Maese Pérez, the Organist” by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. A nicely inventive ghost story. Recommended. This appears to be the same translation. The links opens a pdf file).

17 July 2010

Kicking paranormal butt (a review)

The new girl in town arrives and makes friends among the school outcasts: a geeky girl who has an unrequited crush on the nerdy guy who develops an embarrassing crush on the first girl. She antagonises some of the popular kids and meets an older man who assumes the role of her mentor, even if he can’t quite keep her wild impulses and independent spirit under control. Then strange things start happening, and she meets a mysterious, sexy guy who appears to be a few years older than she is but is in fact, much, much older than he looks. She is attracted to him but knows she shouldn’t be, because he is part of her job calling.

Sound familiar?

It should – I’m talking about Buffy, right?

Wrong. I am in fact referring to Shadowland by Jenny Carroll (pseudonym of Meg Cabot, later re-published under that name)

Year published: 2000
Genre: Urban fantasy, young adult
Series and no.: The Mediator #1
Setting & time: California, USA, contemporary

Book covers

On her first day at her new school, psychic Susannah Simon meets a ghost and discovers that she isn’t the only one who has her particular psychic ability, as if moving to California from New York wasn’t tough enough. She and the school principal are both mediators, psychics who can not only see ghosts, but speak with them and touch them. Their job is to help the ghosts move on into the next world, but it can be tough, especially when the ghost doesn’t want to leave, and Suze has to use some unconventional ghost-busting means.

This particular book is, as other reviewers have pointed out, built firmly on the same model as Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the TV series, not the film. In Buffy it was vampires, in the Mediator series it’s ghosts. The book is pure formula throughout (and don’t imagine that Joss Whedon invented it, far from it), but, importantly, it is an entertaining formula.

Susannah is a sassy tough girl who has a psychic talent that she doesn’t dare tell her mother about for fear of ending up in a psychiatric hospital. She makes a chatty, entertaining narrator, a bit like several other of Cabot’s young heroines, which brings me to a problem. If you took a paragraph from any of Meg Cabot’s books for teenagers, be it the 1-800-WHERE-R-U series, the Princess Diaries, the All American Girl books, her adult Heather Wells books, and now the Mediator books, that didn’t contain any clues as to which series it comes from – i.e. no easy means of knowing who's talking, like names or places – you wouldn’t be able to tell who the narrator was, because they all use exactly the same narrative voice. Apart from that, the books generally make nicely entertaining reads, and this book is no different. Just don’t read any books from the different series too close together.

The tone is light, even humorous at times, the pace is fast-moving and the whole book only covers a period of four days. It’s very much plot driven and as for the characters, you can’t go far wrong if you imagine the main characters from Buffy in the lead.
--

I'm off to a family reunion. Have a good weekend!

16 July 2010

Friday Night Folklore: The Priest's Little Box

Once upon a time there was a priest who was thought to be a white wizard with the power to exorcise and bind demons. Once he was riding out on an errand and had taken a young serving boy with him. They had ridden for a while when the priest suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to take with him a little box he always carried with him and sent the boy back home to get it, warning him not to open the box.

The boy rode home and found the box where his master had told him. But as he was riding back with it he was overcome with curiosity about the contents of the box and opened it to have a look inside. Out flew a myriad of midges, in a cloud so thick that he could not see the sky for it. He heard it buzz into his ear: “What to do, what to do?”

The boy realised that they must be imps and could easily harm him. But he was a quick thinker and answered: “Braid me a rope from the sand.”

After some time the midges came back and buzzed: “It is done, what to do now?”

“Go back in the box,” said the boy, and the midges obeyed.

Shortly after this he caught up with his master, who asked if the had done what he was told, but the boy had to admit that he had not, and told him everything that had happened. The priest was impressed by his quick thinking and said the deserved to be allowed to have some schooling.

The place where the imps braided the sand can still be seen to this day.

15 July 2010

Meme: Favourite genres

I have never participated in a blog meme before, but I have often come across them and I think they are a good social tool to bring together bloggers with similar interests. So I decided to participate in one, and whenever I come across one that interests me I will participate in it.

I found this one on Lost in Books. The question is simple (perhaps deceptively so): What are your favourite genres?

My absolute number one all-time favourite genre is Travel Literature. I prefer the non-fiction kind, i.e. travelogues and travel memoirs and, to a lesser extent, ex-pat memoirs, but I also like to read road novels, which is probably why I like The Hobbit so much.

In second place I must place Mystery Fiction, along with the related genres of Detective and Crime Fiction.

These two genres have been with me longer than any other. Other genres come and go, but these two have stayed.

I also have a weak spot for Fantasy, but I can hardly count it as a favourite genre because I am very picky when it comes to choosing Fantasy to read and only read a handful of authors in that genre.

14 July 2010

Review of If Angels Burn by Lynn Viehl

I found the first two books in this series at the library, and dearly hope they will buy the remaining six in the series. I feel I need to read these books because I think that while Viehl has done a good job of making the spin-off Kyndred books that I have been reading independent of the Darkyn books, I feel I need to know more about the world and background they take place in.

Book covers


Year published:2005
Series and no.: Darkyn, #1
Genre: Urban fantasy, paranormal romance
Setting & time: Chicago and New Orleans, USA, with scenes in Rome, Italy; 2000’s

Chicago reconstructive surgeon Dr. Alexandra Keller repeatedly refuses to see an out-of town patient despite his increasingly urgent and generous offers of reimbursement, because she doesn’t want to leave the patients under her care for the time it would take to examine him and do the surgery in New Orleans, which he is not willing to leave. But Michael Cyprien is not used to people saying ‘no’ to him and has her kidnapped and brought to him. Their encounter ends up with Alexandra becoming infected with the pathogen(s) that turned him into a Darkyn (basically a vampire) and begins to turn into a Darkyn herself. Alexandra wants none of this – she just wants her life back and will do almost anything to achieve this. The problem is that Cyprien is a mightily attractive man...

At the same time, Alexandra’s brother John, who is a Catholic priest, is being inducted into a secret order that is dedicated to destroying the Darkyn, an old enemy of Cyprien’s has arrived in America, and the king of the Darkyn is beginning to take an interest in Alexandra. (I expect these three plot elements will carry over into the following books).

Like the Kyndred novels I have already reviewed (Shadowlight and Dreamveil), this is a very readable book, tightly plotted and full of thrills. The only thing I really have to complain about is that the romance between Alexandra and Cyprien doesn’t come across as very plausible, and not because it’s a “falling in love with your enemy” plot, but because I feel that Viehl doesn’t manage to show well enough the transition from initial lust into eventual love. We are told they love one another but I came away from the book with the feeling that both characters were deeply in lust with each other but not in love. Therefore I am only giving it 3 stars, because it is still a pretty good paranormal thriller/urban fantasy.

I am now reading the second book, and it promises to deliver a nice little package of conflicts a little further along in the story.

13 July 2010

Cleaning up my act

I have been a bit haphazard about adding labels to my blog posts and have sometimes been using two or even more similar labels (often one in the singular and another in the plural) where one would do, so I decided to clean up the labels to make them easier to navigate, and to add missing labels to the older posts.

In order to not have too many labels, I decided to only put author names as labels when I have posted more than once about a particular author, so I have removed all authors with only a single label, and put "Author:" in front of the others so that they all appear together in the label list, like I did from the start with locations. I am also considering doing this for the type of mystery and the type of detective, to make them easier to find.

I also removed all book titles from the labels, so that if you want to find multiple posts for the same book, you must now either use the search function or click the author label.

This is a work in progress, so any changes will happen gradually. But before I start adding labels left and right, I have a question:

Dear Reader, could you please tell me how you use labels/tags? I have put a poll on the right sidebar and would appreciate it if you could take a few seconds to answer it. The answers I get will affect how I do my labelling in the future.

11 July 2010

How's that for a "It was a dark and stormy night..." beginning?

It was the dark hour before dawn. Rain fell in a ceaseless torrent upon the sodden clifftops and smashed straight as stair rods onto the churning, while-flecked sea beneath. Great waves rose in the Channel and surged around St. Catherine's Point to curl and break upon the tagged rocks in a thundering, relentless roll, sending white spray into the darkness.

From the prologue to The Least Likely Bride by Jane Feather.

This is the last in a trilogy of historical romances that take place during the English civil war. I obtained the first two a couple of years ago and have already read them (another 2 books off the TBR list - yay!), but only got the third a couple of months ago.

10 July 2010

Review: Vision in White computer game

You may wonder why I am (very unscientifically) reviewing a computer game on a book blog, but since the game ties in with a book, Vision in White by Nora Roberts, I decided to go ahead.

I downloaded the demo for the game, which gives you 60 minutes of playing time, and got through about 3 chapters and several scenes in that time. I chose to play an untimed game, but it's also possible to play against the clock.

This is a hidden object game - you get a list and have to find all the objects and bonus items hidden - sometimes in such plain sight thay you simply don't see them - in the gorgeous and complex scenes on the screen. The boards or scenes you play through are very intricate and lovely, and the items you have to find are often very cleverly hidden. There are all sorts of other hidden items in the scenes that are clearly meant to confuse you, so you need to pay attention to the list.

Taking on the persona of wedding photographer Mackensie Eliot, you visit different rooms in the mansion where she and her three friends run their wedding business, Vows. In between playing the game, you witness some conversations and scenes from the book. From reviews I found on Amazon I discovered that the game follows the book pretty closely, and it would probably make a nice compliment to the book, especially in helping the reader visualise the house and its surroundings.

Occasionally you get mini games that you get no points for but can earn hints for the hidden object scenes. I got to two of them, a cake decorating game and a photography game. During the photography game the movements of my mouse pointer became wobbly and it was very difficult to control the pointer with any precision in the mini-game and all the scenes that followed, making it difficult to pinpoint the smaller hidden items. This alone was enough to make me decide not to buy the game. I don't know if it was that my computer doesn't have enough memory to run the game smoothly, or if it was the software itself, but this was very annoying.

Another annoyance was the background music, which I am certain must fall under one of the Geneva Convention's provisions on torture - it was that brain-numbingly annoying and horrible. It didn't occur to me to check if it could be turned off, but I dearly hope so. The voices of the characters were also annoying in the extreme and hopefully they can be turned off as well.

I would, provided that the sounds could be turned off and the mouse pointer problem fixed, like to play this game to the end.

09 July 2010

What will they think of next?

There is a computer game out based on Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet series.
I'm thinking about giving it a spin to see what it's like and if and when I do, I'll post a review.

Friday Night Folklore: The Kelpie

Iceland shares a belief in kelpies with several other northern countries like Scotland, Ireland, Norway and the Faeroe Islands. These are malevolent water creatures that most usually take the form of a gray horse that has its hooves and withers on backwards. The horse is docile, even friendly, until mounted. Once someone has mounted a kelpie, they can not get off again (some say touching it is enough to get stuck) and the kelpie will take the helpless rider into its lake with it and eat them. Most stories about kelpies are of this nature – someone usually gets eaten and someone escapes – so I decided to tell a different kind of kelpie tale:

Once upon a time a group of farmers were at work restoring the wall around their parish church in rural Iceland. Early one morning they were all at work except one old man who was a loner and not very convivial company due to his bad temper. It was mid-day before he appeared, leading a grey horse. The other men scolded him over his lateness, but he paid them no heed and simply asked what job they would have him do.

Because he had a horse with him, he was assigned to the group that was to bring building material for the wall, which he gladly accepted. The grey horse was bad-tempered and attacked the other pack horses, kicking and biting until they all ran away. The men were unhappy with this and decided to give him a heavier load to calm him down, but it was to no avail. The horse carried twice as much as before and still kicked and bit. The old man then loaded the horse with everything that the whole herd of pack horses had carried before, and then the horse stayed calm.

In this manner he brought the whole of the building materials needed for the restoration of the wall. When this was done, the old man removed the horse’s halter, but hit the horse over the rump with the reins as he released it. The horse didn’t like this at all and kicked the new wall with both hind legs so hard that a section of the wall fell away, and then it ran off.

The last that was seen of the horse was that it ran straight to a nearby lake and dived into it, and everyone agreed that it had been a kelpie. The breach in the wall could not be repaired because it would fall down again and again. Finally the problem was solved by using it as a gate.

A little more on kelpies:
A way to test if an apparent horse was a kelpie was to say ‘nykur’, ‘nennir’ or ‘naddi’ to it, but these are the Icelandic terms for a kelpie. A kelpie would take fright upon hearing its name and return to its watery home as fast as possible.

The cracking sounds of ice breaking on lakes and rivers is supposed to be the kelpie neighing.

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.

Tabs

As you may have noticed, I have added some pages to the blog. One is a glossary of terminology that I use or may use in my reviews, and the other is an explanation of how I rate the books I read. I may add more tabbed pages in the future, if I decide I have something I want to share but don't want to put it in a blog post.

I have considered adding a page with the epic TBR list and possibly the REALLY EPIC TBR but not owned list, but it's a lot of work so it may happen gradually.

I am working on putting my BookMooch wishlist on a page.

08 July 2010

Short stories 176-180

“Mendicant Melody” by Edmondo De Amicis. More of a meditation on the human condition than a short story, this tells of poor people who earn their living by singing. Beautifully translated. Recommended.

“Lulu’s Triumph” by Matilde Serao. A clever little romantic story about a young woman who has wisdom and insight beyond her years. Recommended.

“The Hero” by Gabriele D’Annunzio. A horrifying but powerful story of religious fervor. Recommended.

“Two Miracles” by Grazia Deledda. A touching tale of two very different miracles. Recommended.

Here end the French stories and the Spanish begin.

“The Son and His Friends” by Juan Manuel. Originally from Count Lucanor. About a “true” test of friendship. Rather distasteful, but well written.
365

07 July 2010

I'm not into astrology...

...but I have read a fair bit about the subject, and all of my regular readers know I read romances. Combine the two and you get this very funny blog post.
Found on Dear Author.com

06 July 2010

A little teaser for you

Everyone has seen in actuality or on film the splendid glittering length of Fifth Avenue, the wide wide street solidly lined with incredible towers of metal, glass, and soaring stone: the sparkling Corning Glass Building, its acres of glass walls rising forever; the enormous aluminium-sided Tishman Building; the great stone masses of Rockefeller Center; weather-worn St. Patrick's Cathedral, its twin spires submerged down among the huge buildings which dwarf it. And the sparkling stores: Saks, Tiffany's, Jensen's; and the big, old soiled-white library at the corner of Forty-second Street, its stone lions flanking the wide steps of its main entrance. They must be the most famous seventeen blocks of the world, and beyond them even farther down the length of that astonishing street, the unbelievable height of the Empire State Building at Thirty-fourth Street, if the air should happen to be miraculously clear enough to see it. That was the picture - asphalt and stone and sky-touching towers of metal and glass - that was in my mind instinctively as I turned to look down the length of that street.

Gone. All gone! This street was
tiny! Narrow! Cobbled! A tree-lined residential street! Mouths open, we stood staring at rows of brownstone houses, at others of brick and stone, at trees, and even patches of fenced snow-covered lawn before the houses. And all down the length of that quiet street, the highest structures I could see were the thin spires of churches, nothing above them but gray winter sky. Coming toward us, rattling on the cobbles of the bare patches of this strange little Fifth Avenue, was another horse-drawn bus, the only moving vehicle, at the moment, in several blocks.

From Time and Again by Jack Finney

04 July 2010

Short stories 171-175

“The Friar of Novara” by Angolo Firenzuola. About an avaricious friar who gets a comeuppance for his un-Christian behaviour.

“The Greek Merchant” by Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio. Another comeuppance story, this one about a miserly merchant and a poor, honest widow.

“The Venetian Silk Mercer” by Carlo Gozzi. A humorous moral tale about a clever merchant wo falls prey to an unlikely thief. Recommended.

Cavalleria Rusticana” by Giovanni Verga. A lively tale of love and honour that became the libretto of Mascagni’s epynomous opera. (different translation)

“The Peasant’s Will” by Antonio Fogazzaro. A sorrowful tale of greed and hard-heartedness.

03 July 2010

Reviev of Dreamveil by Lynn Viehl

Photobucket

I bought this book yesterday, started reading it once I got home, and didn't put it down until I had finished.

Year published:2010
Series and no.: Kyndred, #2
Genre: Urban fantasy, romance
Setting & time: New York city, USA; 2000’s

Shape-shifter Rowan Dietrich arrives in New York, almost as if drawn there. She’d had an unhappy childhood there, first with abusive foster parents and then as a street child, and really just wants to visit the graves of some old friends before heading onwards to Boston and the job that awaits her there. A motorbike accident throws her in the path of alluring and mysterious chef Jean-Marc Dansant, who (not entirely out of the kindness of his heart) gives her a job at his restaurant, lends her an apartment and arranges to have her neighbour, the sexy but hostile Sean Meriden, repair the bike for her.

Rowan finds herself drawn to both men, but finds it hard to decide which one she wants more, and so the tension between then begins to mount. Meanwhile, a teenaged Kyndred is hiding away in an abandoned building near the restaurant, a father is pining for his missing daughter, Meriden finds himself pressed into searching for a runaway girl, and GenHance are up to their old tricks.

I hugely enjoyed the first of the Kyndred books, Shadowlight, and was thrilled when Viehl announced that Rowan’s story would be the next in the series, because I must admit that when I read Shadowlight I liked her better than Jessa and Matt, the heroine and hero of that book.

The romance doesn’t disappoint, with a scorching love triangle that is complicated by the weird talents of at least two of the participants, and an unexpected but hinted-at twist near the end. The man who has forced Meriden to look for his missing daughter is a rich and ruthless man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, and this, along with the activities of GenHance, the villains of the last book, add excitement. At some points I couldn’t help but wonder if seeds were being sown for future books, when scenes that didn’t seem to have much to do with the main story occasionally popped up, and, as in the previous book, some characters from the Darkyn books appeared in what felt very much like a foreshadowing and was definitely a big clue. I guess I will find out more in the books that follow.

The narrative is fast-paced but never wildly so, and there isn’t a huge mega-destruction climax like in Shadowlight, but the climax is a good one and terrifying on a smaller scale as the full power of one of the Kyndred is unleashed. The denouement, when Rowan makes up her mind, is interesting, to say the least. The kitchen and food scenes are nothing short of delicious. Being a consummate foodie I love me a good chef in romance and this one didn’t disappoint. 4 stars.

Reading report for June 2010

Of the 28 books I read in June, 3 were TBR challenge books, 21 were non-challenge, and there were 1 each from the Top Mysteries Challenge, Global Reading Challenge and the Bibliophilic Book Challenge. 1 was a re-read.

The links lead to the reviews and teasers I posted over the past month.

The books:

Tentative reading plan for July:
Of the books I had tentative plans to read in June, I finished two: The Oxford Murders and Wash this blood clean from my hand.

Of the others, I have started reading (and plan to finish in July) Time and Again , which is a Top Mysteries challenge book, I think the only piece of speculative fiction on the whole list. It looks promising. I also started reading Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, but gave up in frustration when the book started to literary fall apart in my hands. I plan to find a better binding and continue reading it, because it promises to be a great tragi-comic read.

I returned both prospective Africa books to the library, but chanced upon Ways of Dying as an African read for the Global Challenge. Ideally, I would have preferred to read a book from a country I had not read a book from before, but the choices here are limited, and in any case it was a good read.

For July, I plan to focus more on non-fiction. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travelogue Between the Woods and the Water has lain half-read for long enough and I want to finish it. In June I started reading The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin’s classic travelogue, but will probably put it aside until I have finished Fermor.

I also have several books on history that beckon, but I will let my mood decide which one I tackle. I will also re-read at least the second Harry Potter book, and hopefully make some headway with the Top Mysteries Challenge.

I did consider starting reading After Babel, George Steiner’s seminal book on linguistics and translation, but decided that one big book at a time is enough and will finish Darwin before I start on Steiner. Besides, I am going to do a close reading of it with a view to translating it, so maybe I’ll wait until winter when there isn’t so much lovely good weather to distract me.

02 July 2010

Friday night folklore: Doing business with a sorcerer

Icelanders in the old days believed strongly in magic, both good and bad, as may be seen from the many folktales about the subject. Contrary to many other European countries where practitioners of magic were in the main thought to be women, in most Icelandic folktales they are men, and during the witch-hunts of the 17th century only one of the 20 executed victims was a woman. However, when featured in folktales about sorcery, women tend to be better at it than men, and are often featured as the ones who help to lift an evil spell, as in the story below.

Once upon a time a group of men were on a journey far from home. The aim of the journey was to buy stockfish for the winter. This was long before the automobile was invented, and most roads in Iceland were just well-trodden paths, so everyone travelled either by foot or by horse. The men rode their saddle horses and brought with them a train of pack horses to carry provisions and to load up with stockfish for the return journey. They arrived at a farm where they had hope of buying fish from the farmer, and raised their tent near the farm late one night.

In the morning the farmer awoke and saw the tent and went out to meet the travellers. They discussed their wish to buy stockfish from him while they all walked back to the farm. Passing where the travellers’ horses were grazing, the farmer stopped to look at the horses and noticed a chestnut and white skewbald(*) horse that outshone all the others in grace and beauty. He said to the horse’s owner:

“I will sell you fish in exchange for that horse.”

But the owner replied that although he would be glad to have the fish, he would prefer to return home without it rather than sell this horse, which he loved very much. The farmer persisted in trying to make a deal for the horse, but the owner kept refusing.

“You will not make any profit by that horse, then,” said the farmer finally, but the owner said the didn’t care. All that mattered to him was to keep the horse.

The travellers then bought fish from the farmer, but when the time came to saddle up and go home, the beautiful horse lay dead in the grass. As they stood over the carcass and the owner was bemoaning its fate and saying that he could at least take the horse's skin home with him as a memento, a young girl, about ten or eleven years old, came by on her way with a heard of cows she was taking out to pasture. She looked at the horse and said to the owner:

“You’re not so cocky now, mister. You should have sold the horse to my father. Say, what will you give me if I bring it back to life for you?”

He didn’t think she could do it, but said he would reward her if she did manage it.

The girl now walked widdershins around the horse three times, muttering something under her breath. At the end of the last round the horse rose to its feet and shook itself. The girl laughed and said:

“He wasn’t dead. My granny also taught me some tricks.”

The traveller paid her handsomely for the favour and the horse lived out a long life in his possession.

Notes:
* Translation for Americans: Pinto

Copyright notice: The wording used to tell this folk-tale is under copyright. The story itself is not copyrighted. If you want to re-tell it, for a collection of folk-tales, incorporate it into fiction, use it in a school essay or any kind of publication, please tell it in your own words or give the proper attribution if you choose to use the wording unchanged.

01 July 2010

2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Congratulations, Molly Ringle! To see her entry and the runners-up, click here.

For those unfamiliar with this award, it is given for the 'best' made-up bad opening sentence for a novel. The award is named after Victorian novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who was the first to use the "It was a dark and stormy night..." opening. The aim is to deliberately produce the kind of purple, pompous and generally terrible prose that tries to be profound and/or original when written in earnest but only manages to be unintentionally funny. Here is the full sentence:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
From Paul Clifford by Bulwer-Lytton.

Now if only there was a William Topaz MacGonagall award, I would gladly participate...

Multiple books syndrome

I read. This is no secret, and I would hardly be running a reading blog if I didn’t, but there’s more to my reading than just reading one book after another. I read multiple books at a time. This may just be pure biblio-gluttony on my behalf, but I like to think it’s simply because for me books are like food, and I like variety in my reading fare just as I do in my culinary diet.

When I go to a lunch buffet, I don’t restrict myself to just one dish – I try to sample as many as I can, reject some and go for seconds of others. Since I have a TBR stack of nearly 900 books, a collection of over 1500 possible rereads and a small but beguiling pile of library books by my bedside, I look upon these books much as I do a buffet. A very large buffet, to be sure, but one I know I can make it through with steady effort.

I used to be a ‘one book at a time’ girl, but when I started secondary school this became impossible. Besides all the non-literature subjects like history and mathematics, by the time I was in my fourth and final year I had literature to read in 4 languages. The different languages made it easy to remember which book was which, but in college all the books I read were in the same language and I would be simultaneously reading for several different literature courses. For example I remember reading Hawthorne (19th century American literature), Ian McEwan (modern British literature), and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology all at the same time, while also reading Terry Pratchett for fun. No surprise: I emerged from college with the ability to keep multiple books on the go without getting confused. It had also become a habit.

Reading several books at a time is actually easy once it is a habit, as long as they belong to different genres. I would never read two mysteries at the same time, or two travelogues, but one travelogue and one mystery together is fine.

I usually have one book on the go for each room in my flat, but I may not touch some of them for days on end while I concentrate on others.

I take the big, heavy books to bed with me. My current bed-time reads are a brick-thick edition of Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle and an even bigger encyclopedic dictionary to look up all the science jargon.

The smaller, shorter books I read in the living room or my spare bedroom/work-room/library, depending on where I have dragged my reading couch (it’s currently in the living room, since my brother is temporarily residing in the spare bedroom). I am currently re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in between decluttering efforts in there (having had to move all the junk from the spare bedroom to the living room to make room for my brother).

The kitchen books are often collections of essays or articles that can be read in the course of one or two meals. I have learned not to read cook-books while I eat, as they tend to increase my appetite, but foodie books are fine. However, my current kitchen read is a novel, Jack Finney’s Time and Again, but I expect once the action picks up I will move it to the living room.

The toilet books tend to be something short I can grab and read piecemeal, often at random, while I do my business, like Mad books or other cartoons, Ripley’s Believe It or Not books and other trivia, or magazines.

So, dear reader, do you read multiple books at a time? If you do, do you make sure they are different genres, or do you perhaps find it easy to read two or more in the same genre at the same time? Do you have a system for this, of do you just grab the nearest book when you feel like reading?