29 August 2011

The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer

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

This is a delightful Regency romance from the mother of the genre, Georgette Heyer. It should perhaps rather be classified as a historical novel with a romantic twist, because, like in all the Heyer novels I have read so far, the romantic element doesn’t come in until about 3/4 of the way into the story and takes second place to adventure. All the way through it is a delightful romp with a plot that would not feel out of place in a Shakespearian comedy.

Sir Richard Wyndham, dandy and sportsman supreme, is about to give in to family pressure and marry a young woman who only wants him because he’s rich and can get her family out of financial trouble. As he walks from his club one night, slightly the worse for drink (as they would have put it back in those days), he sees a young woman, dressed as a boy, struggling to climb out a window. She turns out to be the Honourable Miss Penelope Creed, an heiress who is attempting to escape the house of her aunt, who is trying to force Penelope into marriage with her odious son. Richard decides to help her escape, and accompanies her to the country where she has another aunt whose son she intends to marry. To avoid detection, they travel by stagecoach, Penelope still dressed as a boy, and pretending Richard is her tutor. What awaits them is adventure in the form of stolen diamonds, low characters, murder, and a pair of lovers in desperate need of help.

A great combination of adventure, romance and historical detail. 4 stars.

24 August 2011

If you remember the B&N video from a few weeks ago about the mystery-obsessed couple, here is another one, this one about a woman who loves a good romance novel. Without further ado, here is the Disclaimer: Although this video is a Barnes & Noble production, I would like to state that I am in no way affiliated with them. And now the video:

22 August 2011

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

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

This is the first of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, written during the Golden Era of crime fiction, an era that produced many authors who are still in print and considered to be classics. They include Sayers, Agatha Christie, S.S. Van Dine, Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr, to name a few of the biggest.

The story tells of how Lord Peter Wimsey gets involved in two criminal cases. The first is the mysterious appearance of a naked corpse in the bathtub of a respectable architect, and the second the disappearance of a rich businessman who had a strong resemblance to the dead man. Aided by his valet, Bunter, and his detective friend, Parker, Wimsey uncovers a clever and diabolical revenge scheme and a very ingenious method of corpse disposal, with a few red herrings thrown in to confuse both Wimsey and the reader.

Wimsey has, when the story begins, solved at least one case of theft, and other criminal investigations of his are alluded to, and characters are spoken of as if the reader were expected to know them. Either it is a trick of Sayers’ to make the reader feel at home with the characters right away and make away with long “get to know them” passages, or the novel is the continuation of short stories about Wimsey. Either way, it does not feel like the first thing she ever wrote about him, and the aura of familiarity makes one feel as if the book has been plucked from the middle of a series, but without the reader having really missed anything.

I liked this book much better than the previous Wimsey mystery I read, Five Red Herrings. That particular story was much too involved and mathematical for my taste, but this one is quite different, and I’m glad I didn’t let my dislike of the other book prevent me from reading this one. 4 stars.

19 August 2011

Friday night folk-tale: The Disappearing Passenger

The Disappearing Passenger is a famous story belonging to the type of folkloric tales that are called urban legends. It has been localised in many countries, and Iceland is no exception. The area where this version is supposed to have taken place was a very lonely and rather desolate place before they put down electrical lighting along the road, and was thought to be haunted long before the motor-car was invented, so it was perfectly natural that sooner or later a ghost story would pop up in connection with cars.

This isn't a translation, but the story as it was told to me. 

It was during the Second World War and a lorry driver was driving from Keflavík home to Reykjavík after dark. There was a blackout, so no lights could be seen anywhere except the car lights, and those only lit the road for a couple of meters right in front of the car, because of black-out precautions. The road in those days was all gravel and the going was slow. On a lonely stretch of the road the driver began to feel uneasy, and when he glanced towards the passenger seat he was startled to see that he wasn't alone in the car. He knew he had been alone when he started off and since he hadn't stopped anywhere since starting out he found this very peculiar. 

The passenger was dressed in a dark jacket with a deep hood that was pulled up so that the driver could not see his face. The driver was somewhat spooked by this, but since the passenger wasn't making any threatening gestures but just sat there, he decided that he must be harmless. He even tried to engage the passenger in conversation, since it was a lonely drive, but he got no answer and soon gave up. After a while the feeling of uneasiness disappeared, and when he looked at the passenger seat, the passenger was gone. 

When he got home to Reykjavík and told the story, he was told that he wasn't the first to pick up this mysterious passenger, but it only happened if the driver was alone in the car.  After that, the driver refused to drive this route alone after dark, and he never saw the mystery passenger again.

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.

16 August 2011

List love and Top Ten Tuesdays meme: 10 bookish pet peeves, fantasy, horror and urban fantasy snark edition

It’s freebie week at The Broke and the Bookish, which means we can post and link a list of anything book-related, so I decided to use this List Love list I had prepared and enter it in the meme. Please click on the link above to visit the hosting blog and check out what the other participants have posted.

I have read a fair bit of fantasy and horror literature over the years and some science fiction, and am now making inroads into urban fantasy. While I have been mostly lucky in my choices of reading material in those genres, I have come across some duds and a few really terrible books and short stories, and I have also come across tropes and clichés that I have disliked in stories that I have otherwise enjoyed. So here, without further ado, is a list of 10 things that irk me about fantasy, urban fantasy and science fiction:

  1. Over-complicated world-building, including when there is a map and the story takes place in 1/20th of the area shown and nothing of the rest is mentioned in the story. Authors: It’s better to unfold it bit by bit, sequel by sequel.
  2. Over-simplistic world-building. If we don’t see any merchants selling, traders trading, tax men taxing, farmers farming and night-soil men going about their business we are going to wonder how your world functions. It makes enquiring minds wonder what is the economic basis of this community? How does it interact with other communities? Doesn't anyone ever take a dump around here? And why, oh why, is the weather tied into the emotional state of the protagonist?
  3. Unnecessary weird words and strange names. If you have to use strange names, at least make them pronounceable and don’t sprinkle them with diacritical marks and strangely placed consonants. As for weird words, only use them for things that don’t already have a name in your language. Calling what is basically a sword a knizl is just overdoing it, even if the thing looks like no sword known in this reality. If it serves the purpose of a sword, it is a sword.
  4. Inconsistencies in made-up languages. Authors, some of your readers have actually studied linguistics.
  5. When you plag.. borrow from famous authors, can you at least be subtle about it?
  6. Every fantasy story does not have to be part of a trilogy or a series. How about a standalone for a change? This extends to publishers who don’t put a single hint on the cover of a book from a trilogy or whatever-logy that it’s only part of a longer story and not a standalone.
  7. Cardboard-cut-out villains who are just evil with no explanation and have no character. A good villain has a personality, at least a minimal back-story and isn’t totally evil. Cold, dead eyes, fangs and bat wings are not enough. Neither are scars, greasy hair and a cackle.
  8. Human/non-human sex. And living/dead sex. Gives me the creeps.
  9. Science fantasy that suddenly turns it into sci-fi. When my favourite fantasy turned into sci-fantasy it didn't faze me, but when it suddenly became more or less pure sci-fi I decided enough was enough and stopped buying them.
  10. Horror stories that leave nothing to the imagination. You don’t have to be graphic to be effective, in fact some of the best horror stories leave it to the reader’s imagination to fill in the (deliberate) blanks.
Bonus peeve: Covers - I could actually write another list of 10 based just on them, but I’ll let two examples stand for the rest:
  • Old-school covers with half-naked females with breasts that in real life would make them fall over if they stood up, and men with pecs bigger than the women’s breasts. 
  • The modern urban fantasy female back-to-the-reader pose with tramp stamp. For some reason it irks me greatly.

15 August 2011

Used & Rare and Slightly Chipped by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone

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

I read these two books by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone one after the other. The first, Used and Rare: Travels in the book world, is about why and how they started accumulating a library of used books, how they gradually began to understand the language of book collecting and recognise the value of books, and how their collecting escalated until they were buying expensive first editions, and how they finally came to their senses and decided it was more important to get good reading copies of many favourite books than to spend thousands of dollars on a few first editions.
This is a charming book about the development of a hobby that the authors show can be both affordable and enjoyable, even for people of modest income, as long as they don’t get carried away with first edition fever.

The second book, Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in booklore, which on the dust jacket is somewhat pretentiously called a “companion piece” to the previous book (it is fact an ordinary sequel), is about their continuing interest in books, friendships made through book-collecting, and adventures, such as when they attended the Edgars (mystery book awards) and the auction of the estate of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. This book is padded with pages upon pages of information about authors and book trivia, and one gets the impression that it was written in haste. Some of the charm of the previous book is still there, but this book is not as solid a piece of work.

Call me grumpy, but I thought books had to be proofread before going into printing. I have never in my book-reading life come across as many typing and spelling errors in any book as I have in those two, errors that any decent computer proofing tool would have found. It is all the worse in book one because it is not a first edition and someone should have corrected the spelling errors before it went into paperback.
The second book has rather fewer proofing errors, but the ones that there are, are much worse, terrible typing errors that have gone unnoticed at the proofing stage. Of course, should this book ever become collectible, this will probably make the first printing of the first edition more valuable, but that is no consolation to the poor reader who has to put up with the errors. For this reason I am withholding one star from each book, and giving Used and Rare 3 stars and Slightly Chipped 2 stars.

12 August 2011

Friday Night Folk-tale: Strandarkirkja

Strandarkirkja is located on the south coast of Iceland and is one of Iceland‘s oldest churches. The current building dates back to 1888, but there has been a church in this location since at least the 13th century.

The following tale is told of the origins of the church:

A young man, the son of a farmer, was sailing from Norway with a load of wood for building houses. As his ship neared the southern coast of Iceland, a great storm broke out with thick fog and darkness and the crew were convinced that the ship was going to founder upon the shore and break apart. There are few natural harbours in this particular area of the southern coast and there was no way of finding any shelter from the storm. 

The crew knelt in prayer and pledged to build a church if they were able to land safely, in the location of landing. As soon as the words of the pledge were uttered, a bright light blazed up on the shore. They followed the light and suddenly the storm died down and all was still. As they approached land, they saw that the light emanated from a shining figure on the shore, but it disappeared when they landed. 

Looking back in the dawn light, they saw that the light had guided them through a narrow trough of calm sea that cut through a great wall of breaking surf. Since that occurrence, the inlet where they landed has been known as Englisvík or Angel Inlet. As pledged, they built a church up on the shore above their landing place, where a church as stood ever since. 

Ever since that first miracle, people who are struggling against the odds, in danger or trouble, have made pledges to the church. Usually these pledges come in the form of money, but people have also given furnishings to the church, and there are many stories of wishes being miraculously fulfilled.
Some say that as a result of this, it is the richest church in Iceland.

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.

11 August 2011

A look back in time

I posted the message below on this date 7 years ago on the original blog:

Heatwave and perennial books, top 5
Posted at 9:39 am.
The weather outside is Mediterranean today: blazing sun, still and sticky atmosphere (wouldn’t be surprised if there is a thunderstorm later today) and a heat haze is obscuring the mountains. Good day for sitting on the balcony, reading a book and getting sunburned. A record temperature was registered for Reykjavík this morning and it looks set to be broken in the afternoon.
Apparently tourists have been complaining about the heat. I can imagine the complaints: “We didn’t come here to get sunburned - where’s all the snow?”

And now back to business as usual:
There are several favourite books that I read again and again, and the re-reading of some of them has become an annual or biennial event for me. These perennials vary widely in subject, ranging from biography, to fantasy, travel and children’s books. One thing they all have in common is a certain kind of magic that ensures I never tire of them and they are always fresh.

My top 5 perennial books (that I read at least once a year):
1. My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell
2. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
3. Good Omens - Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
4. The Bafut Beagles - Gerald Durrell
5. Momo - Michael Ende

And now, August 11, 2011?
The weather is sunny and warm, with a mild breeze playing in the leaves of the trees. It looks like a wonderful day to be out doing something fun, but I am in bed, sweating out a bad cold and generally feeling sorry for myself.

The list of my top perennial books still contains My Family and Other Animals, Good Omens and The Hobbit, but my rereading pattern has changed, and I no longer read them or any of my perennials annually. Instead, I plan my rereading, often in series, or I grab them when I don't feel like reading anything new and I feel like I need the comfort of familiar words and sentences.  Momo and The Bafut Beagles  have been replaced by other books: Anyone but You by Jennifer Crusie and These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer.

08 August 2011

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

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

I just finished reading this collection of short stories and poetry by Neil Gaiman. Previously, I had read Stardust, Neverwhere, American Gods, Good Omens (collaboration with Terry Pratchett) and the Sandman comics and enjoyed all of them, as well as his illustrated children’s books, Coraline and The Wolves in the Walls.

(I don't have the book with me, so there may be some errors in the story titles below.)

The stories and poems in this collection are mostly fantasy, and in fact there are stories for lovers of just about any subgenre of fantasy. You will find humorous stories (Chivalry, Bay Wolf, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar), dark stories (Only the end of the world again, The White Road), supernatural stories (The wedding present, The daughter of owls, Black cat), weird stories (Eaten alive, The facts in the disappearance of Miss Finch), folkloric stories (Troll bridge, The white road, Snow, glass, apples), detective stories (Murder mysteries, Bay Wolf), horror stories (Snow, glass, apples, Eaten alive), vampire stories, werewolf stories. Gaiman plays with themes familiar from his novels and graphic novels: myths, legends and folktales, literature (Beowulf, HP Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde), popular culture, sex, blood, and death.

The stories and poems vary, but the overall quality is quite good. 3+ stars.

06 August 2011

Reading report for July 2011

The number of my read books is staying low at 8 books finished in July. Three were rereads, but the remaining 5 were all TBR books, so I am getting somewhere with that challenge.

I found one keeper among the TBR books: Bellwether, which went into the rereads shelf alongside To Say Nothing of the Dog. The Paris literary companion is also going in my keeper collection for now, as there are a few passages in it that I want to keep, but for the most part it was disappointing, with its too-strong focus on literary classics and the past. All three murder mysteries were good reads, all in different ways. I may post mini-reviews of them next week.

The TBR books:
  • Catherine Aird : A Late Phoenix. Murder mystery.
  • Ian Littlewood ( chose the passages and wrote the introductions): Paris: A Literary Companion. Literary passages describing different aspects of Paris.
  • Julie Smith : Dead in the Water. Murder mystery.
  • Janwillem van de Wetering : The Corpse on the Dike. Murder mystery.
  • Connie Willis : Bellwether.Romantic science fiction.

The Rereads:
  • G.K. Chesterton : The Incredulity of Father Brown. Short mysteries.
  • Jennifer Crusie : Anyone But You. Romance.
  • Connie Willis : To Say Nothing of the Dog . Romantic science fiction, time travel.

Finally, it is with some sadness and much relief that I hereby announce the death of the Top Mysteries Challenge. Like several other challenges I have devised for myself through the years it turned out to be simply too ambitious and I realised that in order to read the few really good books I had found on the list, I had also read some others that didn't give me much pleasure. Looking over the books I had already read, I couldn‘t see that I had given these books, on average, any higher ratings than the same kinds of books I had read that weren‘t on the lists, and therefore I decided to kill it off.
It did bring to my attention some books that I otherwise wouldn‘t have read and gave me the kick in the arse that I needed to read several others I had been planning to read, and for that I am grateful. I am going to incorporate most of the list of the remaining books into the „potential future reads“ section of my TBR list, but they will not be a priority.

05 August 2011

Friday night folktales is cancelled for this week

I feel a migraine coming on and as I have no ready-translated folk-tale to post, I am cancelling the folktale for this week.

03 August 2011

Wednesday night video: The Cookie Monster visits the library

Sesame Street has, to my knowledge, never been shown on Icelandic television, so I missed out on ever experiencing that as a child. I am sure I would have loved it. Here the Cookie Monster, one of the recurring and best loved Sesame Street muppets, visits the library:

01 August 2011

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

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

The relationship between Min Dobbs and Cal Morrisey begins on a sour note when she overhears her ex-boyfriend, David, make a bet with Cal that he can’t get Min to have dinner with him. A further bet, which Cal does not accept but both Min and David think he has accepted, says that Cal can’t get her into bed with him within a month. Min, upset and slightly drunk, decides to piss David off by going out with Cal, and thus begins a rollercoaster relationship that involves food, friends, families, in-laws, statistics, snow globes, a frantic ex-girlfriend, a jealous ex-boyfriend, and a stray cat with a talent for mischief.

I’m fast becoming a fan of Jennifer Crusie. Not only does she write great romance, but her novels (at least those I’ve read) are funny and the characters great. This one is no exception. In the last Crusie novel I read (Fast Women) I felt there were too many side characters that drew the attention away from the main couple, but in this one the focus is mostly on one couple, with a large supporting cast. Crusie has toned down her obsession with strange and ugly animals, and is generally getting better all the time.

Rating: A great screwball comedy of a romance. 4 stars.