31 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 gently (and sometimes not so gently) satirising them. The humour is inky black, and some of her portraits of people, especially one of them (read the book to find out who), are very funny.

The story starts slowly, and for the first chapters it’s hard to see where it’s going (actually, you do know where it’s going all along, but you keep wondering who the mystery caller is and if he will do something more than just make spooky calls).

I liked Memento Mori better than the previous Spark novel I read, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It’s a more focused story and the characters are more distinct (I kept getting the girls in the other book mixed up - no danger of that with the characters in this book). Another reviewer complained that there are too many characters - I don’t agree. If the characters are well drawn and distinct like those in this story, it doesn’t matter how many of them there are.

Rating: A darkly humorous story about the ironies of life, death and old age. 4+ stars.

30 October 2011

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.

  1. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by 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 afterlife it’s perfect for Halloween. Roach also wrote a book about the spiritual afterlife, titled Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, but I haven’t read it and so can’t say if I would recommend it or not.
  2. Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett. Vampire mythology gets turned on its head when classic evil vampires clash with a trio of more-or-less good witches. Many of Pratchett’s books have dark elements and some are very dark indeed. This isn’t even the scariest of the Discworld books, but with its classic Halloween-related theme of vampires and Igors I chose to recommend this one.
  3. Alternatively, if you want to read about evil werewolves, try The Fifth Elephant, also by Pratchett. It and Carpe Jugulum mark the point at which the Discworld series started getting darker.
  4. "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood. This is a very scary and atmospheric novella about two men who camp on an island in the middle of the Danube river and come across a mysterious and malevolent force that seems bent on destroying them. Need more convincing? H.P. Lovecraft thought it was finest supernatural tale in English literature.
  5. It wouldn’t be at all bad if "The Wendigo", another fine supernatural tale by Blackwood, was included in the same book. It is about an encounter with the titular monster on a camping trip in Canada.
  6. Any collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories.
  7. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James.
  8. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is a pretty obvious choice. May be read as a simple weird science horror tale, or as a complicated moral tale of the fight between good and evil.
  9. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. With a serial killer as the hero, you know it’s going to be dark. The fact that Dexter is somewhat endearing makes it an even chillier read.
  10. The Witches by Roald Dahl. This terrifying children’s tale of witches who hate kids can scare even adults.

28 October 2011

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 relatives to protect her) and a death penalty at worst (if she had no protection) for her “crime”.
Some time after this took place there was to be a vikivaki dance in the neighbourhood, to which this girl was invited. She was only a poor farm worker and had no clothing suitable to wear to the dance, but since she liked fancy clothes and fripperies this made her unhappy because she would rather stay at home than go in her everyday clothes.
Shortly before the dance she was out in the sheep-fold milking the ewes with another woman and telling her companion that she needed something nice to wear to the dance. The words had hardly left her mouth when they heard the following sung under the wall of the sheep-fold:

The woman who had killed her baby knew the message to be directed at her, and knew it must be the ghost of the baby speaking. The shock was so great that she went permanently insane.

The Icelandic version of the verse goes like this (the sung version changes the order and repetition, but not the words):
"Móðir mín í kví, kví,
kvíddu ekki því, því;
ég skal ljá þér duluna mína
að dansa í
og dansa í."   

In English:

“Mother mine in fold, fold,
 Do not worry none, none
 I will lend you my little rag
 To dance in,
 and dance in.”

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.

25 October 2011

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 stories in this novel is the more or less true story of Malinda Blalock, who disguised herself as a man in order to go with her husband into the army to fight in the American civil war.
  • The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer. About twins of the opposite sex who have for a long time masqueraded as the other sex and become very good at it. A bit far-fetched but good fun.
  • The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer, in which the young heroine is able to fool everyone but the hero into thinking she is a boy.
  • These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer, in which the heroine spends a considerable part of the book disguised as a boy.
  • Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. The cross-dressing plot in this comedy play verges on the ridiculous as people keep confusing Viola, the cross-dressing sister, with her undisguised twin brother, but Shakespeare’s brilliant plotting and way with words makes it work.
  • Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease. In this YA historical novel a girl who is running away from an arranged marriage disguises herself as a boy and in a girl-as boy-as girl twist ends up playing all the female leads for the troupe of actors amongst whom whom she has hidden. I can’t remember - as it has been a while since I read it - if she ever plays Viola, in which case she would be a cross-dressing cross-dresser.
  • The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, in which the heroine Portia disguises herself as a man in order to defend her lover Antonio in court.
  • The Two Towers, the middle book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, in which Éowyn, the brave female warrior, disguises herself as a man in order to be able to fight the enemies of her people. This is actually an easy disguise, as she simply has to keep down the visor of her helmet and no-one is any the wiser.
  • My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley. While the heroine does briefly cross-dress - not very successfully as the hero immediately sees through the disguise - the hero has much better success when he dresses up as a woman and pretends to be her sister’s chaperone.
  • Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett is a brilliant parody of this trope. In the beginning Polly Perks cuts her hair short and disguises herself as a boy in order to join the army so she can find her brother, but at the end there are so may cross-dressers and cross-dressing cross-dressers that you don’t know where to begin counting.

Honourable mentions:
  • The Triumph of Love by Pierre de Marivaux. Another play, in which a princess disguises her self as a man and infiltrates the home of her greatest enemy in order to right a wrong. Although in the movie version the male disguise is laughably easy to see through, it’s still good fun to watch.
  • Jingo by Terry Pratchett, in which corporal Nobbs cross-dresses as an unimaginably ugly woman, with very funny results.

24 October 2011

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 be together after all.

Up until I read this book, I had considered Georgette Heyer to be a skilful and diverting writer of funny historical novels with romances at the centre. This book, however, is not a comedy at all. There are no misadventures and silly secondary lovers, and romantic feelings crop up much sooner in this book than in the others I’ve read. It is, in fact, closer to being a typical romance than the other Heyer books I have read. But it is about much more than romance. It’s a psychological thriller, a gothic novel with the supernatural element removed (gothic lite perhaps?), with its theme of a (seemingly) helpless female, isolated and trapped in a big house with people who are not all what they seem, and its atmosphere of menace and danger. Torquil’s mental illness is handled skilfully and with compassion, and he is not made out to be a villain (as would have been very easy to do), merely a poor sufferer who can not help himself. It is his mother who is the villain of the story, and her “madness” or rather obsession, is of a completely different and altogether more subtle sort.

Rating: Very good romance with gothic touches. 4 stars.

21 October 2011

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.

It was misty when I took this, but visit it on a clear day and you can see for miles.

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't say). Being a cunning man, he took the sausage and cut it in two and flung the two halves down into the throng of besiegers, who were just then discussing amongst themselves that Barði would soon be out of food. 

They were startled to see the sausage come flying out of the fort, for they had expected the men inside to be driven to surrender soon out of hunger. The sausage, they thought, was a clear sign that there was plenty of food inside the fort, and as they had farms to attend to and families waiting for them at home, they struck camp and left.

These days the hill is easily accessible by road and a hiking path will take you up into the fort. It is well worth visiting, both for those interested in geology (the cliffs are composed of basalt columns) and for the view.

The road up to the fort. To imagine the size, the two tiny dots you see side by side on top of the hill are people.

17 October 2011

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 seriously think about getting fitted floor to ceiling bookshelves. When I do, I can definitely look to this book for ideas. 

I was also inspired to make a reading nook for myself. At the moment, I either lie in bed when I read, or lounge in the living-room sofa, but what I really would love to have is a big, chunky upholstered chair and an adjustable reading stand, preferably attached to the chair.**

Rating: Big and gorgeous, perfect for the coffee table, but don’t be surprised if you guests actually start reading this fascinating book. 5 stars.

Note: I acquired my very own copy of this book a couple of years ago and I pick it up every now and then and open it at random to look at all that gorgeous book-shelf porn. 

*The library has since swelled to about 2000 volumes.
** This is yet to happen, but I did buy a chunky, comfortable sofa that I read in.

16 October 2011

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:

  1. A Size
  2. Something Evil
  3. Jewelry or a gem
  4. Life stage
  5. A number
  6. Travel 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.

15 October 2011

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 Almuñécar. There he was able to observe first hand the political unrest that finally led to the Spanish civil war, in which he would later take an active part, described in the final part of his trilogy of memoirs, A Moment of War, which I have not read (yet).

Like the previous book in the trilogy, Cider with Rosie,  this book is written in a style that at times feels like one is reading a prose poem. The humour is there as well, but also a feeling of emptiness, as if, although he never states it outright, he was looking for something but didn't know what. He details his adventures on the road in Spain: fighting off wolves in the mountains, befriending shepherds and vagabonds, often sleeping rough, once falling ill with sunstroke, but never seeming to have been in any danger, not even when living among very poor people or when taking sides in the political debates of the time.

Unlike Cider with Rosie, which was written as if it were meant to be a one-off, this book was clearly meant to be continued in the last book in the trilogy, and therefore feels unfinished, in that it has no resolution or firm ending, just a suggestion that Lee is finally setting off on a journey that will enable him to find what he is looking for. It is nevertheless a very good read, and I look forward to reading the final book, although I am in no hurry to obtain it. 4+ stars.

13 October 2011

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 Thorarinsson: Season of the Witch (in Icelandic: Tími nornarinnar). Murder mystery.
  • Steinunn Sigurðardóttir - I couldn't find the title.

 I have read 3 of these books, and have even reviewed one of them on the blog. I think maybe I'll reread the other two and post reviews on them as well, and I might possibly read Galdur and review that, as I have been considering reading some of Vilborg's historical novels.

11 October 2011

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 it already and I think it’s going to work.

All this TBR blather has got me thinking about the reasons why people amass such collections of books they haven’t read, because it seems that most serious readers have at least some books they bought or acquired with good intentions but haven’t ever read. The reasons vary from reader to reader, but here are 10 of the most common reasons why I have so many books I haven’t read:

  1. I bought a stack of books on sale and this was one of them. It seemed sort of interesting at the time, but first I gotta read this. And this. And this....
  2. I felt I should read it because everyone seemed to be reading it and it got really good reviews and I bought it with good intentions, but now I’m having doubts.
  3. I won it in a competition without really wanting it.
  4. I read something by the author that I liked and glommed several of her/his books but lost interest or got bored with their formula before I could finish them all.
  5. I only discovered after I bought it that it is part of a series or -ology in which the story stretches over several books and I have never got round to getting the other book(s) in the series so I can actually read it/them. (I abhor such series and try not to read them unless I know all the books are published and readily available).
  6. I bought it for the cover alone and will never read it. I am interested in the artwork on old pulp novel and romance covers. Some of them belong to genres I am not really fond of, like crappy spy novels or rapey bodice rippers, but have artwork that I like. None of these books are on the actual TBR list (although they do appear on the list of all my books for insurance purposes), but they have a shelf to themselves and are on rotating display.
  7. It’s huge and intimidating. I am not always in the mood to read a book that it takes me a month to finish, on top of which reading big books is physically difficult for me as suffer from myalgia, but once I get that e-reader just watch me...
  8. I bought it on speculation because it was cheap and then forgot what I found interesting about it.
  9. I read a couple of books from the series, loved them and bought the rest, only to hit a really bad book. Now I am waiting for that horrible memory to fade from my mind so I can continue reading.
  10. I have so many books I don’t know where to begin. Help!

10 Reasons I have heard from others:
  1. I bought a “three for two” offer and couldn’t find a third book I really wanted, so I picked this up.
  2. I heard good things about the author but once I had acquired the book(s) I lost interest.
  3. I bought a box of books at auction and it was in there. I feel I should read it to get my money’s worth, but...
  4. It was recommended/given/lent to me by a good friend/lover/family member, but I am afraid I will not like it and then what will they think of me am when they ask and I tell them?
  5. It’s a school book. I only read the pertinent chapters, but I’m keeping it because it might come in useful some day as a reference book. (From a guy who has never used his degree and is working in an unrelated field).
  6. My ex left them and I haven’t got round to returning them to him. (This 2 years after said ex left AND the speaker had moved house once).
  7. I inherited it and it has emotional value but I’m not interested in reading it.
  8. Read them? Whatever for? I just got them because they look nice on the shelf. (She bought a collection of classics for the leather bindings alone).
  9. I’m saving them for when I retire.
  10. Read it? Are you crazy!? It’s collectible!! I must keep it in mint condition!!!

How about you, Dear Reader? What are your main reasons for not reading books you have acquired?

10 October 2011

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 flows easily. These books just keep getting better, and I have begun to feel that Precious and Mr. Matekoni are real people and that Smith has merely been writing down their story.

A third, brilliant installation in the saga of Precious Ramotswe and her detective agency. 5 stars.

05 October 2011

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 deny that there is still an attraction between them.
But Zach’s dead wife has a plan...

This is the fourth of Gibson’s loosely interconnected romances about a group of female writers in Idaho who find love, one after the other. I thought I had posted a review of the first one, Sex, Lies and Online Dating, which I read when it first came out in 2006, but apparently I didn’t. That book was a thriller, but this is a pure romance in the “second-chances” category.

Zach is a typical romance hero: handsome, sexy and rich and an ex-football player (“football as in American football), while Adele is a typical romance heroine who is smart and doesn’t see herself as beautiful, although the hero does. Despite being such typical romance heroine and hero, they are realistic people, and so are most of the supporting characters, with the exception of Devon, Zach’s dead bitchy wife, who is a mean-girl stereotype right out of every high-school underdog story ever written. She had bullied Adele all the way through their years together at school, and finally taken Zach away from her and unfortunately she never, not even at the end, rises above the stereotype.

The story realistically (for the most part) shows two people hooking up again after an initial heartbreak. Both of them have lives of their own, and both have been happy, if only briefly, with other people, but the old flame of their first romance has never died. Adele had been deeply in love with Zach and Zach had had some feelings for her that might or might not have been love, but even the most romantic reader can see that the girl and boy they were the first time around would not have lasted long together. They have grown into a man and a woman and had experiences that have matured and changed them into the people they are when they meet again, and it is those changes that both almost rip them apart and eventually bring them together in the end.

Adele and Zach were torn apart originally by Zach’s decency and insistence on doing the right thing when it turned out that Devon, with whom he had broken up shortly before getting together with Adele in college, was (deliberately) pregnant. With her dead and Adele and Zach both in the same place, things should run smooth, but Devon, who is stuck in Limbo pending the rectification of the wrongs she has done to others, has every intention of preventing the reunion from taking place even if it means losing her chance of getting into Heaven.

This supernatural aspect of the story feels unnecessary and strikes a false note in an otherwise straightforward romance. It would have been quite easy to keep Adele and Zach apart by non-supernatural means for long enough to create some tension in the narrative. Fortunately this aspect of the story is presented with a minimum of fuss and the Devon chapters are not long. Additionally, I must admit that they undeniably infuse some humour into the story. Anyone who has ever been bullied or wronged by a bitchy princess-type will immensely enjoy the descriptions of Devon’s stay in Limbo, even if they agree with me that it could easily have been left out of the story.

3,5 stars.

04 October 2011

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 couple of non-fiction adventure books I suddenly find myself interested in reading. This goes hand-in hand with my return to school. I am taking a couple of very interesting but demanding university courses in editing and terminology management, which you might think would mean I will have less time to look after my blogs, but as a matter of fact I find that going back to school stimulates my brain and gives me more energy, which in turn means I have more interest in blogging. So that’s a good thing. It’s only personal misfortunes and illness (and I count my periodic descents into depression as illness) that decrease my interest in blogging.

For those of you who mostly come here or originally discovered this blog because of the strong crime literature slant, I hope you will stay even if the content will start to go more in the direction of these other genres. There will always be a few reviews of crime novels - just will not as many - and I will continue to review Icelandic crime novels that are being translated into other languages.

This month’s finished books numbered seven, five of which were rereads. Additionally, I gave up on one brand-new book I was sent for reviewing a couple of months ago, which is a pity because it sounded really interesting and I was all set to enjoy it, but the writing style was not to my liking and so I gave up on it.

The first-time reads were:

  • Rachel Gibson : Not Another Bad Date . Contemporary romance. The review will post tomorrow.
  • Georgette Heyer : Sylvester, or The Bad Uncle . Historical romance.

The re-reads:
  • Georgette Heyer : Lady of Quality , The Corinthian and The Unknown Ajax
  • J.K. Rowling : Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Audio books, read by Stephen Fry.

03 October 2011

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).

When I picked this book up at the library last week and read the back cover, I thought to myself: “Hmmm. Magic, characters from Greek mythology, humour AND romance. Should be good.” Unfortunately it falls short of expectation. There are just too many things to complain about in connection with this book.
My first complaint is that there is no indication that this book is part of a series. In fact, I didn’t realize that until well into the book, when characters popped up from a previous two books, characters the author obviously expected the reader to be familiar with. 

My second complaint is that this is not a complete novel. The romance and the threat to the Fates parts are completed, but the story of the Fates’ problems is obviously just beginning, making it altogether obvious that you are expected to buy who knows how many other books to see that storyline resolved. Again, there is nothing to indicate this until the book suddenly ends without resolving the storyline.

My third complaint is that the romance feels undercooked, like a meal served up in a hurry. 

In addition to the main complaints, there are some other faults I would like to mention. There is a lot of potential for good jokes that is mostly wasted, although I did laugh at the names of the new Fates and their obvious teenage shallowness and inexperience, and at the Superman connection. The middle part with the other mages feels unnecessary, and reads more like a reminder of the books they originally appeared in. And the villain, a supervillainess no less, is, in the end, just too easily defeated, with the author resorting to a deus ex machina device to get rid of her.

Rating: Easily resistible. Resisting the sequel(s) will not be a problem, although I may pick up the prequels to satisfy my curiosity about the other mages. 2+ stars.