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Showing posts from July, 2011

Review: Bellwether by Connie Willis

Genre: Science fiction, romantic
Year of publication: 1996
Setting & time: Boulder, Colorado, USA; contemporary

Sociologist Sandra Foster is deep into a research project studying fads: how they begin, evolve and fade out. HiTek, the company she works for, has high hopes of the results, hoping that they can learn to start and control fads if they can just discover how they begin. Chaos theorist Bennett O’Reilly is reduced to studying monkey group behaviour – that is if he can ever get the corporation to acquire the monkeys. An incompetent office assistant called Flip brings Sandra and Bennett together by misdelivering a package and while she tramps through the company like a colourful, sullen cloud of poison gas or the Plague, leaving chaos and destruction in her wake, Sandra and Ben find their research fields converging and things getting stirred up more and more by Management, fads, the prospect of a large research grant, a flock of sheep and Flip. The book’s title comes from the …

Slowing down the blog

I know I haven't been a good blogger lately. I have been neglecting the blog and not posting much, and very few reviews. In the past when the blog has gone into semi-hibernation it has often been because I was away travelling or because I was going through one of my depressive episodes, but not this time. I have been focusing on my photoblog and on photography in general, and I haven't been reading much, and all of this has led to me neglecting the book blogging.

Photography and reading are the two hobbies that have stayed with me the longest. I read my first novel all on my own at age 7 (not counting the readers we had at school), and I got my first camera when I was around 12.
I would just as soon give up reading as I would eating - it is that important to me - but there have been years when I didn't do much photography. However, I find it gives me something reading doesn't - like almost all the other hobbies I have tried through the years (which include quilting, ro…

Bimbos of the Death Sun - Sharyn McCrumb

Originally published in April 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
I just finished reading this prequel to Sharyn McCrumb’s Zombies of the Gene Pool and I think it’s a really good story. Not only is the mystery strong, with several interesting suspects, a likeable hero and a loathsome and rather tragic murder victim, it is also a very funny description of people one is likely to meet at a sci-fi and fantasy “con” (“convention” to the uninitiated, although “gathering” is perhaps more descriptive). The title itself, just like that of the sequel, is a parody of the kind of titles you’re likely to come across on a pulp sci-fi novel. 4 stars.

Warning: slight SPOILERS ahead

The story: Jay Omega has written a sci-fi novel, and his girlfriend, Marion, thinks he should do more to promote it, even if he is deeply embarrassed about the title which the publisher gave his novel. So he goes to a local sci-fi and fantasy convention, where he runs into all sorts of weird and weirder members of the “fen…

Icelandic folklore: Finnish Breeches

Time for a bit of folklore for a change.
Dead Man’s Pants or Finnish Breeches were believed to be a useful item for a person who wanted to always have money. To make them, you had to make a deal with someone you knew, allowing you to flay off their skin when they are dead. When the person in question had died, you had to go by night to the cemetery and dig up the body. Then the whole of the skin between ankles and waist had to be carefully flayed off in one piece and put on like a pair of pants over bare skin. The skin had to come from a man because the money would be drawn into the scrotum. 
In order for the pants to work their magic, the owner has to steal a coin during mass on one of of three big Christian holidays (Christmas, Easter or Whitsun), in the time between the reading of the epistle and the gospel, and put it in the scrotum of the pants. The coin will draw in more coins and the scrotum will never be empty when one needs money, but the original coin must not be removed or th…

Quotation for today

"Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered." W.H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

Links galore: Romance book covers and titles

I have sometimes mentioned book covers how important they are. I may also have mentioned the standardised covers found in genre literature, and especially romance novels. As individual artwork, some romance covers are beautiful and evocative, but taken as a whole, the genre suffers from some terribly cheesy artwork that occasionally makes one wonder if the artists are all copying each other's work. I have especially noticed this in traditional Regency romances, serial romance and historical bodice-rippers. Sometimes the covers really invite you to have fun with them, and that is just what these people have done:

These cover artists were really just asking for it: Longmire does romance novels.Some of the comments are funny, some not so funny, but this blog showcases a lot of bad romance covers: Uncle Walter's Bad Romance Novel Covers.There are some wonderful comments here, and the repetitive element is really brought to the fore:The Smart Bitches snark romance covers.Here the Sm…

Wednesday night video: Obsessed with mysteries

Disclaimer: Although this video is a Barnes & Noble production, I would like to state that I am in no way affiliated with them and the video is here merely because it shows a pair of really serious book lovers who concentrate on one of my favourite genres: the mystery.


List love: Another 10 bookish pet peeves, travelogue and ex-pat memoir edition

If you are a regular visitor to this blog you will know that I love reading travelogues and count them as my favourite non-fiction genre. Having read so many, I have naturally discovered things that I like and dislike about them, so here is a list of 10 things that annoy me in travelogues. Not all of them are annoying enough to make me stop reading, but some of them have sufficed to make me never want to read another book by a particular author:

Authors who went on long trips to find themselves and then wrote at length about the process, disguising it as a travelogue. I much prefer the ones who travel because they're curious or because they love travelling or adventure or who travel “because”. Got-to-find-myself books tend to be too much about the author's internal struggles and feelings and not enough about the places they visit and the people they meet. Such books should really be shelved as self-help or general memoirs rather than as travelogues.Authors who write patronising…

2 mystery reviews: The Flanders Panel and The Man on the Balcony

Originally published in April 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
The Flanders Panel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte is a murder mystery tied up in a chess-game in a painting and in reality. The painting is a 15th century panel by a Flemish master, which the heroine, an art restorer, must clean and restore before it can to be auctioned off. She discovers a hidden inscription in the painting, and when her ex-lover is murdered and a mysterious person starts leaving cards with chess moves on them where she can find them, it looks as if the two events are connected. She receives assistance in solving the mystery from a chess-player, and from her two best friends, an art gallery owner and a slippery antiques dealer.

This is a good, spooky, twisty mystery with a chess game at its heart. Even if you know nothing about chess, you can still enjoy it - I only know how the chessmen move around the board, and I liked it.
3 stars.

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The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö is a totally differ…

Friday night folk-tale: Gunna’s Fumarole

The Icelandic word “hver” can refer to different kinds of geothermal phenomena, such as a hot spring (hver), a fumarole (gufuhver) or a mud pool (leirhver). The fumarole in question is located in Reykjanes, in an area with several other attractions like the old Reykjanes lighthouse and one of several places in Iceland where the continental divide between Europe and North-America is clearly visible. 
There was a judge or lawyer named Vilhjálmur who lived near the current location of the town of Sandgerði in the last half of the 17th and into the 18th century. He had a standing feud with an old woman named Guðrún, nick-named Gunna, over a cooking pot he had taken from her, probably as payment for a debt. The old woman was so angered by this action that she made threats and promised she would get revenge.
Guðrún died and Vilhjálmur attended the funeral and headed home that same night, but on the following day he was found dead in Reykjanes. His body was all broken up and covered in purple …

Wednesday night video: How to read a book you don't want to read

Chances are you are here because you love reading and don't have the problem this video is about, but hasn't even the most avid reader and book lover come across a book they have to read but don't want to? This video offers one very good solution:



Incidentally, for the part beginning around 6:20 - I recommend always using post-it notes, but that's just because I hate untidy books with writing in the margin.

Reading retreats

I came across this article about reading retreats on Salon.com. It was no news to me that people actually pay to go on book tours/reading retreats, but what the article did do is give me an idea: when my parents go on their trip to the USA in September I am going to offer to house-sit for them. Then I will pack my pets and a load of books and head up north to have myself my very own budget reading retreat.

The family summer house might be a better idea, as it has no internet to distract me, but since it's only about 10 km. away from my parents' house and my uncle, my aunt and my cousins and their kids are liable to drop in at any time, I really don't see the point of going there, especially not since my parents have an electrical bed with adjustable mattresses that are perfect for reading in bed. I'm looking forward to it already.

Yet another 10 bookish pet peeves, romance novel edition

I'm not participating in the Top ten Tuesdays meme this week, but here is one of my own lists:

These come in addition to the general peeves that I dislike in all fiction (list 1, list 2).

Heroines who need rescuing by the hero all the time. Come on, authors, can’t she solve the problem herself or rescue him for a change?Alpha jerk heroes. Take-charge is one thing, bullying is another altogether.“Forced seduction”, i.e. heroes who rape or “forcibly seduce” the heroines. Extends to heroines who get Stockholm syndrome and fall in love with the alpha jerk heroes who raped/”forcibly seduced” them. Authors, if you make the heroine fall in love with her rapist I am going to make a voodoo doll with your name on it and stick pins in it until you stop writing that crap. Never, in any set of circumstances is this ever right. Not even when the heroine discovers halfway through the ordeal that she likes it.Pirate heroes. Read my essay about this subject for the reasons why.Characters in histor…

Circus of the Damned - Laurell K Hamilton

Originally published in March 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
This is the third installation in the Anita Blake - Vampire Hunter series. Blake is an Animator whose job it is to raise zombies from the grave, along with other duties: the occasional execution of murderous rogue vampires and work as an adviser to the police in cases where her expertise is needed. In this case, the action starts when Blake is called out to a murder scene where a man has been attacked by a pack of vampires. Blake herself soon runs into them and has a narrow escape. She soon meets an ancient vampire who wants to return vampiredom to the old order: no integration, no citizenship, just a few clever and powerful vampires against humanity, with the weak and the stupid destroyed. She plays an important part once the battle for the city - between the “civilised” vamps and the “wild” vamps - begins. Her hate/desire relationship with master vampire Jean-Claude continues to intensify, and she meets a living man in…

Icelandic folktale: The Farmer's Daughters

Here is an interesting thing – of the three young people in this story, only the girl is nameless, and guess who the hero of the story is? Tsk-tsk.
Once upon a time there was a well-to-do farmer who had three daughters and lived a little way off from the castle of the king of his country. The eldest of these girls was twenty and the others were younger, but all three were of marriageable age. 
One day the girls were walking outside their father’s farm-house they saw the king riding past with two of his men. One was a scribe and the other a shoemaker. The eldest sister spoke: “All I wish for is to marry the shoemaker.” The middle sister then spoke, saying: “I would have the scribe.” Then the youngest sister said: “And I wish I could have the king himself.”
The king had heard them talking but had only heard a little of what was said. He became curious and said to his men:  “Let us go to these women and hear what they have been discussing. I thought I heard one of them say “the king himself”.”

Wednesday night video: Night of the Living Books

I think we can all agree that the best thing about some books is the cover - especially when it comes to old pulp novels. Here artist Thomas Allen has taken this assertion to its logical conclusion and created art out of the covers:


Travels in a Stange State: Cycling Across the U.S.A. by Josie Dew (a sorta-kinda not really a review)

I don’t feel like writing a full review of my latest read, but would like to recommend this book to anyone who would like to read about a refreshingly normal person travelling without any attempt at finding herself or using travel to heal old wounds or discover deep truths. It’s just travel, with lovely descriptions of nature and places, of nice people, strange people and not so nice people, very short historical snippets when she feels they are needed and the occasional observation on the differences between the USA and Britain.

I also recommend it to people who like to read about cycling adventures, since it’s about her bicycling journey around the Hawaiian islands and across the continent from California to Nova Scotia. It’s funny and well-written and told in short episodes so it’s a good book to keep in one’s purse or pannier for a few minutes reading on the bus or while catching a breather. 3+ stars.

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi

Originally published in March 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
This is a wonderful, sweet memoir about mature love, between the author, a divorced American food writer and chef, and Fernando, a Venetian bank worker who fell in love with her from afar but only found the courage to approach her when she returned to Venice a year later. Within a few months she had tied up her life in the USA and moved to Venice to be with him. The book tells of their first three years together, getting to know each other, marriage preparations, their life together, adjustments to a new culture, and Marlena’s other love affairs, namely with Venice and food.

At the end there is a chapter of recipes for some of the food she mentions in the books, with some truly mouth-watering recipes.

Rating: A lovely, tasty combination of true romance, travel and food. 4 stars.

Review: The Last Great American Housewife by Staci Greason

Disclaimer: Ms. Greason was kind enough to offer me a review copy of this novel. I am not being reimbursed for the review other than by receiving this free copy.

I started reading the book right after I got the copy and then something came up and, typically for me, I forgot all about it and the deadline I had given myself (and Ms. Greason) to finish it. Anyway, I finally did finish it.The book is published as an e-book only (to begin with).

Kate Miller is a stay-at-home mom and housewife with two kids and a husband who takes her for granted. When her mother dies, Kate‘s seemingly perfect life begins to unravel. Her first effort at breaking out of the monotony ends in disaster, but leads her to meet a mother and son who, although she at first thinks they are both weird and crazy, become her friends. The indirect result of this friendship is that Kate leaves her husband, and the direct one that instead of going to a hotel to stay while she figures out her next move she ends up tree-sitti…

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

This is one of those books where I saw the movie first, so comparisons were inevitable. It’s funny, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what Delysia LaFosse looked like in the movie when I started reading the book, but Miss Pettigrew will forever look like Frances McDormand to me.

First Published: 1938

Miss Pettigrew, a middle-aged gentlewoman who works as a governess-for-hire, is down on her luck and reaching the end of her tether. Almost broke and desperate for a job she really has nothing to lose and so when she is sent to the wrong house for a job interview and discovers her prospective employer going through a crises, she steps in and saves the day.

This so endears her to the young woman that she is soon called on to solve more problems and gets whirled ever more deeply into the social circle around Miss LaFosse, who, it turns out, is an actress and night-club singer with serious man trouble.

Miss Pettigrew, over the course of a day and a night, undergoes a transformation …

Friday Night Folk-tale: The Jug of Milk

The theme of pouring a bottle of scotch (or vodka or brandy or gin or sake or whatever) over a drinking man’s grave is well known, but some ghosts don’t crave alcohol but something softer:
Once upon a time a passing traveller stopped by a farm where there lived a prosperous farmer and his wife, a hospitable and generous woman. The visitor exchanged pleasantries with her and she offered him some refreshment, but he refused and said he was in too much of a hurry to accept. Nevertheless she went and got some milk in a jug and offered it to him, but he said he didn’t want any, but would have some on his return journey. He then took leave of her and continued on his way. 
The traveller's destination is not known, only that he needed to cross a treacherous river on the way there but was drowned in the attempt. His body was recovered and buried in the graveyard of the church next to the aforesaid farm. 
The night after the funeral he came to the farmer’s wife in a dream and asked for the …

Reading report for June 2011

June was another slow reading month for me, with 9 books finished. I love reading and ideally I would like to read a book a day, but when one suffers from chronic myalgia it is easy to read oneself into a state of pain, stiffness and headaches that take far longer to get rid of than to acquire. Therefore I have been taking it easy with shorter reading sessions (except for one book, which I simply couldn‘t put down once I had started reading it). The fitness class paid off as well – I feel less stiff and the headaches are gone, but I need to be careful. The time I would otherwise have spent reading has not been wasted, however. I have been watching some of the dvds I acquired over a number of years but never watched, and I have also been doing a couple of crafts projects, also taking care never to overdo it.

The books were the usual mélange of genres, although my consumption of mysteries has dropped dramatically lately. This is a bit alarming because more than half of my TBR books are …