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Showing posts from October, 2011

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Originally published in May 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
This is a novel about age, ageing, relationships and the ever present Death. The title, Memento Mori, means “a reminder of mortality” and refers to mysterious phone calls that the elderly people in the story keep getting, from someone who sounds different to each of them, but who always tells them the same thing: “Remember you must die”. The calls affect them in different ways - some ignore them, others accept the message, and at least one is driven to minor madness by it. The characters are all interconnected: friends, servants and former servants, their children and caregivers. Their relationships are complicated, full of memories of past illicit love affairs, and the present is fading health, dottiness, blackmail, and an ageing gerontologist who uses his friends as research material. As the calls escalate, so Spark burrows deeper into the lives and minds of her elderly protagonists, revealing their hopes and fears, and …

List love: Halloween reading

Tomorrow it is Halloween, and so here is a list of books you might want to pick up and read (or start reading) on that special day.

I posted two Halloween lists last year, one of short stories and one of books. This year there will only be one list, of books and a couple of long short stories. I tried to list all different stories from last year, and this time decided to not only choose obvious stories but ones you perhaps wouldn't at first think of in connection with Halloween. Their subjects suit the Halloween theme without necessarily being classifiable as actual horror stories. It is quite possible to get a chilly frisson of fear and/or revulsion without blood, guts and screaming demons.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadaversby Mary Roach. A non-fiction examination of what happens or can happen to our bodies after we die. It’s actually quite cheery and even funny in places, but the subject is one that makes a lot of people squeamish and since it is all about the physical af…

Icelandic folk-tale: The little ghost

Since its almost Halloween, I decided to post a ghost story. This is one of the most chilling and tragic ghost stories found in the Icelandic folk-tales, and almost everyone knows it.

The folk-group Islandica has recorded the ghost’s poem under a haunting melody, sung by a little girl, that chills me to the bone every time I hear it. I have incorporated it into the story. I think I mentioned it in the introduction to last’year’s Halloween ghost story, but will repeat it anyway, that verses that were supposedly spoken by ghosts in Icelandic folk-tales usually have repeated words and/or lines in them, which are the mark of a ghost.
Once upon a time there was a young woman worker on a farm. She had gotten pregnant and given birth to a baby and to avoid punishment she had left it out to die of exposure. This was not uncommon in those days, as the law concerning babies born out of wedlock was very harsh. An unmarried woman who got pregnant risked heavy fines at best (if she had powerful re…

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha.

In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man.

However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men.

Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwoven stori…

Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
Warning: Minor SPOILERS
Kate Malvern is left alone in the world after the death of her father, and discovers she is too young and too pretty to get work as a governess. Her former nursemaid, Sarah, writes to Kate’s estranged aunt, telling her of Kate’s misfortunes, and the aunt soon arrives and sweeps Kate off to her mansion. It soon becomes clear that aunt Minerva has ulterior motives in bringing Kate to Staplewood, and Kate’s sense of uneasiness is increased by the erratic and often violent temper of her very handsome cousin, Torquil. When Torquil’s cousin Philip appears on the scene, Kate’s feelings are thrown into an oproar: she sees that he despises her, but she still feels attracted to him, and when his misconceptions about her are cleared up, he starts showing interest in her. But her aunt has other plans, Torquil’s behaviour keeps getting stranger and stranger, and it looks as if Kate and Philip may not be able to…

Icelandic folk-tale: Borgarvirki

Borgarvirki (literally "the fort on the rocky hill") is situated in Vatnsnes in northern Iceland, about 40 km off the Ring Road. It is an old fort built on the top of a steep, rocky hill, from where there is a good view in all directions. The hill is the remnant of a volcano, and the fort is inside the crater. It has natural rocky walls on two sides, with walls built of rock extending across two gaps in the crater wall, to the south and east.According to legend, there was a freshwater spring inside the fort in the days when it was in use.

According to legend, back in the Saga age there was a chieftain named Víga-Barði (Bardi the killer), who had made a lot of enemies. He and his men were besieged inside the nearly impregnable fort for a long while and their food supplies started running low. 
One day Barði asked how much food was left and was told that the only food left was one sausage (this was a kind of sausage either similar to haggis or blood sausage - the story doesn'…

At home with books by Estelle Ellis & Caroline Seebohm, photographs by Christopher Simon Sykes

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.
I sat down after work on Tuesday and can't say I looked up much until I had finished At home with books: how booklovers live with and care for their libraries. It's a gorgeous coffee-table book with oodles of pictures and chapters on various millionaires, aristocrats, collectors and designers and their libraries, interspersed with advice on how to care for and display books. The libraries range from small and cosy to huge and imposing, but all the owners are real bibliophiles who read their books and obviously love them. The only thing that was missing, in my opinion, were the libraries of some ordinary people. Cool coffee table book.
I was inspired by this book. My library only contains about 1200 volumes* at the moment, but I can foresee it getting a lot bigger - maybe even as big as my grandmother’s library which at its biggest contained at least 10 thousand volumes. This means that one day I will have to serio…

What's in a Name challege wrap-up post

Well, I did it. Although I had given up actively trying to finish the challenges I signed up for at the start of the year, I managed to finish this one, and didn't even realise it for a couple of months, so completely had I put it out of my mind.

The challenge was to finish 6 books with certain types of words in the title, given in the order I finished them:

A SizeSomething EvilJewelry or a gemLife stageA numberTravel or movement
Click on the links to see the reviews of the books I read for the challenge.

As might be expected, considering my interest in the genre, four of the books were mysteries. Two of those were hard-boiled/noir detective novels, one a cosy police procedural and one a mystery thriller. The others consisted of a romance novel and a memoir-travelogue.

Although I was wasn't actively trying to finish this challenge, I am glad I did. I might even participate in next year's What't in a Name.

Review: As I walked out one midsummer morning by Laurie Lee

I decided it was time I finished at least one challenge. As you may remember, I decided to stop trying to finish the challenges I had signed up for (Gothic novels, mythology and What's in a Name), without actually quitting them. The plan was to stop actively looking for books that fit and just wait and see if something I read fit a particular challenge. Well, I didn't realise it at the time, but I actually finished my last What's in a Name challenge book 2 months ago. That's the one with travel or movement in the title, which this book fits perfectly. So here is the review:

Year of publication: 1969
No. in series: 2/3
Genre: Memoir, travel
Setting & time:England (London) and Spain, 1934-36

Laurie Lee set out on foot from his home in Slad, in 1934, and ended up in London, working as a labourer for a while, before taking a ship to Spain. Starting out in the northern port of Vigo, he walked across Spain, visiting various cities and towns and ending up in the town of Almuñ…

News: AmazonCrossing to publish books by 6 Icelandic authors

It was announced yesterday at the Frankfurt Book Fair that AmazonCrossing, Amazon.com's publication imprint for translated foreign books, would be publishing 10 books by 6 Icelandic authors in 2012. This is good news for the authors, as it is very difficult for authors to break into the American market if they don't write in English. (only about 3% of all books published in the USA are translations).

Listed below are the 6 authors, and the 5 titles I could find:

Hallgrímur Helgason: The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning (in Icelandic: 10 ráð til að hætta að drepa fólk og byrja að vaska upp). Hallgrímur wrote 101 Reykjavik. This book is no less funny and sarcastic in tone and it is also a thriller.Audur Ava Olafsdottir: The Greenhouse (in Icelandic: Afleggjarinn). No idea what this one is about.Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson: The Flatey Enigma (in Icelandic: Flateyjargáta). A double mystery.Vilborg Davidsdottir: Galdur (same title also in Icelandic). Historical novel. Arni Thorarins…

TBR challenge progress and 10 reasons I haven’t read ‘that’ book:

If you read this blog regularly you will know about my TBR challenge. (If you are a casual visitor: it's a challenge to reduce my out-of-control TBR Stack (it’s so big it deserves the capital letter) of books I own but haven’t read. I have now reached the updated 2011 goal of reducing it to 820 unread books, which is very good indeed, especially considering I started out with the goal of reducing it to 850 books. I am now going to raise the bar even further and set myself the goal to reduce the Stack by another 20 books so that by the end of the year I will “only” have 800 books in the TBR. As before, I plan to do this with a combination of culling and reading.

In order to make things go a little faster, I am going, whenever I buy books, to read at least one of them right away, followed by an older TBR book. This means that at least one new book from every batch bought never makes it into the Stack and every time I buy books the Stack gets reduced by one older book. I have tried …

Morality for Beautiful Girls

Originally published in June 2004, on my original 52 Books blog.
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Year published: 2001
Genre: Detective story, literature
Where got: Public library

It’s easy to imagine you’re in Africa when you’re sweating away - the sun has been shining all day and the temperature inside my apartment is around 28 °C and feels hotter.

The story:
The detective agency is having financial difficulties and to save money Precious has moved the office to her fiancé’s office. Mr. Matekoni is not feeling well, but refuses to see a doctor, and Precious has to go away for a few days to find out if a client’s sister-in-law is really trying to poison her husband. Meanwhile, her assistant/secretary, Mma Makutsi, takes over both the agency and the garage and runs both with efficiency. While Precious is away, she is handed a case to solve, which relates to the book’s title.

Technique and plot:
As with the other two books, the prose is beautiful in its simplicity, even poetic at times, and f…

Not Another Bad Date by Rachel Gibson

Genre: Romance, contemporary, minor supernatural elements
Theme(s): Second chances, coming home, sports, raising teenagers, divorce, death
Year of publication: 2008
No. in series: 4
Setting & time: Small-town Texas; contemporary
Sex? Yes (fairly explicit)

Adele Harris is plagued with bad dates. One man after another she had dated for the last 3 years has turned out to be a creep or a jerk, and she is ready for a change - any change. This arrives in the form of her pregnant sister, whose husband has left her for his personal assistant. Together they return to their old home-town in Texas after an absence of 15 years, and Adele ends up looking after her 13 year-old niece while her sister is in the hospital with preeclampsia. Once there, she discovers that Zach Zeamaitis, the football player she had loved and briefly dated in college, is widowed and living there with his 13 year-old daughter. Neither thinks they have any particular interest in renewing the acquaintance, but neither can de…

Reading report for September 2011

You may have noticed that I have been going through a rather bad reviewing slump for the past three or four months, that has gone hand-in-hand with a reading slump. Not that I haven’t been reading, but I have been sticking to re-reads and favourite authors and rejecting one book after another that doesn’t fit into this category.

I think I have finally managed to break out of the reviewing slump - at least I actually find myself interested in reviewing again. I am also clearly in the middle of a turn-around genre-wise. Every few years throughout my reading life I have found myself focusing strongly on a particular genre. For about 6 years now this genre has been that of crime literature, but now I find myself focusing more on romances, adventure and non-fiction. I also find myself longing to re-read old childhood favourites I haven’t thought about in years, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t review them. These include some classic adventure and sea-faring tales, and I also have a co…

Simply Irresistible by Kristine Grayson

Originally published in June 2005, on my original 52 Books blog.

Psychic Vivian Kineally is surprised to find three terrified women knocking on her door and claiming to be the Fates, on the run from a mysterious power that is trying to capture them. The Fates have given up their magical powers in order to fulfil some new job specifications, having been fired and told to reapply only when they can show that they have the skills to do their job in today’s multicultural society. In the meantime, they will be replaced by three Valley Girl types, daughters of Zeus. They send Vivian to find Dexter Grant, a mage who they think can help them. There is an instant attraction between Vivian and Dexter, who becomes determined to save her from whatever power it is that is now trying to get to her as well as the Fates. They seek help from two other mages, but ultimately, it’s up to Viv and Dexter to save themselves and the Fates from the enemy (who, by the way, is shown to the reader from the start…