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Reading Report for November 2012

I finished 12 books in November, of which one was a reread. They were my usual mixture of mysteries and romances, in addition to two memoirs and a book of urban legends.

One of the hallmarks of a good book is its ability to affect one‘s emotions, and I read a number of such books last month. Unfortunately only two of them awakened positive emotions, one (Beware of Cat) to make me feel happy and well-disposed towards humankind, and the other (Misery Loves Maggody) made me laugh out loud at the ridiculous and wonderfully stupid antics of the characters and the situations they got themselves into.

In one of the others I was annoyed with a clueless character and in another it was a masochistic lead character that got my goat.

However, it was Blood, Bones and Butter which really got me worked up. I closed that book full of negative feelings, a seething rage and just a bit of paranoia - come to think of it: not unlike the feelings of the author herself seem to have been at the point where s…

What's in a Name challenge wrap-up

I suddenly realised I forgot to write a wrap-up post for this challenge. Well, here it is:

I finished the first book in the What's in a Name challenge on August 30, and the final one on October 1, so it took me a little over a month to read them all.

The books were:

Reading report for October 2012

I finished 21 books in several genres in October, of which 9 were TBR challenge books and 4 were rereads.

After catching up with the Brotherhood of the Black Dagger series, I found I wanted to sink myself into another made-up world and started reading a new series: the Cynster family historical romance novels by Stephanie Laurens. I finished four of them in October and am now reading the fifth. I am finding these historicals an interesting, well-written and well-plotted collection of well-known romance themes with kick-ass heroines and pretty much interchangeable heroes.

So far the storylines have been the ‘compromised lady’ combined with ‘the heir must die’, the ‘gentleman problem solver’ combined with the ‘sneak thief’, the ‘surprising will’ combined with the ‘forced marriage’ and ‘the woman who must keep her land and protect her people at all cost’, and another ‘gentleman problem solver’, this time combined with ‘amorous amateur criminal investigators’ and, briefly, the ‘woman disg…

When book titles collide

Disclaimer: 
I do realize that many authors do not have control over what title is stuck on their books (by the look of it by bored editors who think readers don’t care about these things), and my heart goes out to them when I see a particularly unoriginal or over-recycled title. So don‘t take this little rant of mine as criticism of authors (like someone did when I originally posted about this subject on my original 52 books blog, nearly 10 years ago).

This is what I wrote back then: 
I conducted a bit of accidental research into the subject of recycled titles with a book I came across in the library a couple of weeks ago. I had read a favourable review of a novel titled The Devil’s Bargain, but could only remember the title. I found the title in the library and took the book home to read. Just in case, I re-checked the review, but discovered the book in the review was by a different author from the one I had found. So I turned to Amazon UK, where I have often been able to find review…

Reading report for September 2012

I finished 12 books in September.
They fall into several genres, with romance being the most popular one. Half of the books could be called romances, although only three are labelled as such. The other three have strong romantic elements. Of the remaining books, five were non-fiction, of which two belong to my favourite non-fiction genre: travelogues. There was one reread, or rather re-listen, as it was an audio book.


The books:
Elisabeth Tova Bailey: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. Memoir/natural history.
H.E. Bates: The Darling Buds of May. Humourous fiction, romantic.
Bathroom Reader's Institute: Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges into History. Trivia.
Calista Fox: IOU Sex. Erotic romance.
M.J. Fredrick: Road signs. Contemporary romance.
Ernesto 'Che' Guevara: The Motorcycle Diaries. Travelogue.
Steven D. & Stephen J. Dubner Leavitt: Superfreakonomics. Economics.
Debbie Macomber: 311 Pelican Court. Women‘s fiction, cosy, romantic.
Ellis Peters: The R…

Review: Reflections on a Marine Venus, by Lawrence Durrell

"Is not Lindos the official beauty-spot of Rhodes? The contrast with Cameirus is remarkable—for where Cameirus is refined, turned in upon itself in sunny contemplation, Lindos is bold, strident. Cameirus has all the stillness of an amphora in a Museum, with its frieze of dancers caught in a timeless dancing; Lindos, under the sweetness of its decoration, is like a trumpet-call, beaten out in gold-leaf and vibrating across the blue airs of time."
Novelist Lawrence Durrell was the oldest brother of naturalist Gerald Durrell, and they shared the ability to write beautifully evocative texts about things that interested them. I must admit that I have never read any of Lawrence's serious fiction, but I have enjoyed his humorous works about life in the diplomatic corps, Esprit de Corps andStiff Upper Lip, and did not have much left of Bitter Lemons, his travelogue about Cyprus, when I had to return it to the library and then somehow never remembered to borrow it again to …

Review: Bitter ALmonds: Recollections and recipes from a Sicilian girlhood, by Mary Taylor Simeti & Maria Grammatico

This book is the memoir of Maria Grammatico, owner of a famous pastry shop in Erice in Sicily where she uses recipes learned while living as an orphan in a convent in the town.

Simeti recorded her story, translated it and organised it for the book, which is the narrative of Grammatico's life, her 15 year stay with the nuns and a little of her impoverished childhood in the Sicilian countryside before that.The loss of her father threw the family into even deeper poverty, and her mother was forced to send her and one of her sisters to live with the nuns, who took in orphans, so she could could feed the rest of the family and ensure the two girls were well looked after.

What followed were years of hard work and deprivation, but also of opportunity. Grammatico learned to form and prepare the pastries the nuns sold to supplement the convent's income and, being a clever girl, she was able to learn the recipes - which the nuns guarded from the girls - by simply watching them being ma…

What's in a name challenge review: Daughters of the House by Michèle Roberts

This is the sixth and final challenge book, the type of house. The choice was limited - there were very few books in my TBR+1 pile that had any kind of abode in the title, let alone a type of house, so I ended up choosing the common, generic word.

This literary novel, shortlisted for the Booker the year after it was published, is the story of two cousins, one French, the other half-English, half-French, who grow up in a big house in a small village in France in the 1950s. One of them returns to the house after 20 years in a convent and family secrets and lies are uncovered and events in the village explained as the story plunges back into their childhoods.

This is a beautifully written little book, full of descriptions of everyday things loaded with symbolism and metaphor. The story it tells is that of a typical love-hate relationship between two cousins, one who is special and another who longs to be. The narrative is full of twists and hints about dark deeds and while some plot poi…

What's in a Name challenge review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

No sooner hand I finished the previous review when I picked up the next book in the challenge and read it through in a single sitting. It was that fascinating and that good.

This is my fifth and second-to-last book of the challenge, the creepy crawly (a snail), and the only one so far that has not been on my TBR list. Just to be clear, the TBR books are the ones I have owned for over a year. 

The reason I didn't choose a TBR book for this category was simple: I only have one unread book about creepy-crawlies that fits the plus-one-year rule, and it's a reference book as thick as a telephone directory that I have no intention of reading from cover to cover. 

The author was struck by a mysterious illness while on holiday in Europe and the outcome was a debilitating condition that made her an invalid. Stuck in a cycle of slight recoveries and violent relapses, she was bound to her bed when a friend brought her a pot of wild violets and a forest snail. She began observing the s…

What's in a Name challenge review: The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates

My fourth What's in a Name challenge book was this delightful short novel, the first in a series of (I think) 5 books that have also been used as the basis for a television series. The challenge category is # 6, the something you'd find on a calendar, that of course being the month of May.

Cedric Carlton, a clerk from the Internal Revenue office arrives at the Larkin family farm to find out why Pa Larkin hasn't filed his taxes. He meets the Larkins' oldest daughter, Mariette, and falls in love with her at first sight, which comes in useful for Pa, who clearly has no intention to pay his taxes and uses Cedric's infatuation with Mariette to dodge all questions about the matter. Cedric, renamed Charley by Pa, quickly forgets why he came and takes sick leave in order to stay with the family and be near Mariette, who seems quite interested in him too.

This is one of those lovely novels in which a formula as old as literature is used to good effect to tell an entertaini…

What's in a Name challenge review: The Marsh Arabs by Wilfred Thesiger

This is the third What's in a Name challenge book I finish, the topographical feature, that of course being a marsh. This means I am halfway there, and one more TBR book down.

The Marsh Arabs is a travelogue that, along with another travelogue by the same author, Arabian Sands, often appears on lists of best travel books and classics of the genre. It's easy to see why. The style is straightforward and no-nonsense, yet never dry or boring and it was refreshing for a change to read a travelogue by someone who knew exactly who he was and what he was doing, rather than the more common "searching for meaning and/or identity" travelogue so common today.

In 1951 to 58 Wilfred Thesiger spent several months of each year in the marshes of southern Iraq, getting to know the inhabitants, their way of life and customs. He seems to have travelled to this particular area in search of people who were not yet too modernised to have lost all connection with their past and the land, …

Reading report for August 2012

It suddenly occurred to me that I had yet to post a reading report for last month. 

I finished 12 books in August, out of which one was a reread. It was a mixed bag this time: autobiography, travel, popular science, romance, urban fantasy, mystery and suspense. Some of my favourite genres, in fact.

The TBR challenge is inching along, with 3 books in August, and I got going again with the Brother Cadfael mysteries, reading three of them back to back. I finally got hold of the final book I needed to complete the series and now there is nothing holding me back from finally finishing it.

The Books:
Alison Arngrim: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch. Autobiography.
Andrew Beahrs: Twain's Feast: Searching for America's lost foods in the footsteps of Samuel Clemens. Travel and food.
Georgette Heyer: The Convenient Marriage. Historical romance. Reread.
Sam Kean: The Disappearing Spoon: and other true tales of madness, love, and the history of the world, from the periodic table of the el…

What‘s in a Name challenge review: The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, translated by Alexandra Keeble

Here is my second What‘s in a Name challenge read, no. 5, the something you‘d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack, that thing being a diary.

The Motorcycle Diaries shows famous revolutionary Ernesto Guevara as young, roguish and immature but already beginning to form the ideas and ideology that would later lead him to join the Cuban revolution and attempt to carry through revolutions in the Congo and Bolivia, the latter which would cost him his life. How much of that revolutionary spark that can be seen here and there in the book is his own fiction and how much is true is impossible to know, as he edited the diary he kept of the journey and may have added to it to make it more interesting for his political brethren. The final chapter, his mini-manifesto of support for the downtrodden and for the revolution he believes in, is certainly a later addition, written to give the book a climax and a real ending.

For the most part, however, this book is about the joys of travel. Guevara an…

What‘s in a Name challenge review: The Raven in the Foregate, by Ellis Peters

Here is my first What‘s in a Name challenge book: item no. 2, the something you'd see in the sky, that thing of course being a raven.

I have been making my way through the Brother Cadfael series in order of publication for the last several years, going rather slowly because I have been picking them up from second hand book shops, flea market stalls and BookMooch, knowing I would want to keep them after reading them. This is the 12th in the series out of 21, so I am a little over halfway there.

Synopsis:
The parish priest of Holy Cross, commonly called the Foregate because it lies just outside the walls of the abbey, dies and the Abbot of Saint Peter and Saint Paul brings back from a visit to his bishop a priest to replace him. But the priest clashes with his flock due to his inflexibility and lack of humility and kindness. When he is found drowned in the mill-pond on Christmas Day with a suspicious wound on the back of his head, foul play is suspected and Brother Cadfael and sher…

Reading Challenge

As a regular visitor to this blog will have noticed, I have not been very active lately. This is because of many things that have combined to make me disinterested in posting reviews and writing about books. However, I would like to become more active and to that end I decided to join a reading challenge and pledge to blog about the books I read for that challenge to give me a little boost. 

I mentioned back in January that I would probably just do my personal TBR challenge this year and if I were to do or join any other challenges, it would be somehting small that could fit within the TBR challenge, and I decided on the perfect mini-challenge for that: the What's in a Name challenge run by Beth Fish Reads.

The challenge is, in the words of the challenge mistress:

 "Between January 1 and December 31, 2012, read one book in each of the following categories:
A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: Black Hills, Purgatory Ridge, Emily of Deep Valley

Top Ten Tuesddays meme: Bookish confessions

This week the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish urge us to use our blogs as confessionals:
"Anything! You dog ear, you hated a book  but said you loved it, you have $500 library fines...anything goes!"
So, in no particular order, here are my confessions (don't forget to check out the rest):
I break spines (but only on paperbacks). I buy most of my books second hand, meaning the authors don’t get any royalties from me. Give me a book and unless I specifically asked you to give it to me I will, in all likelihood, return it and use the credit to buy a book I know I'll want to keep. Back in my student days (when I was pretty much broke) I would buy books, read them and return them to the book-store. I have been known to check out 20 library books at once... and return 19 of them unopened.Back when I was studying English. Lit., I read several classic novels and wrote admiring and glowing essays about them that got full marks from the teachers, but in actuality I hat…

Review: Twain‘s Feast: searching for America's lost foods in the footsteps of Samuel Clemens by Andrew Beahrs

As anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time will know, I enjoy reading books about food and books about history, and I love travelogues. This book combines all three. The premise of the book is to hunt down some of the foods that Mark Twain wrote about longing for when months of insipid European hotel food were beginning to wear on him during the journey he describes in his travelogue A Tramp Abroad (I know just how he feels). 

Beahrs is an unapologetic foodie and clearly a fan of Twain‘s and he seems to have been tireless in chasing after the foods he chose to discuss in the book. Some of these he makes sound mouth-watering, and the reader can‘t help joining in his lament over how some of these foods have been lost or stopped being as easily available as they were in Twain‘s time, e.g. prairie chicken and terrapin. Others, I must admit, I would give a miss, such as raccoon and possum. Cranberries and maple syrup I am familiar with (when this is written, I am happi…

Review: Stuff White People Like: A Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions by Christian Lander

I used to be a regular visitor of the eponymous blog that spawned this book. I was aware from the first that it should really be titled "Stuff liked by stereotypical, white, middle-class, liberal, urban Americans aged between about 18 and 40", but that didn‘t make it any less funny. I‘d check in, smile or occasionally giggle over the humour, agree or disagree with Lander, and then move on to the next blog in my feed. For some reason (i.e. I found another blog I liked better – I have limited time to read blogs and only ever juggle about 10 at any given time) I stopped reading the blog, but coming across the book in a second hand shop brought a smile to my face and I bought it and took it home with me to read. 
The thing to keep in mind when reading this book is that it is, as I said above, very much about stereotypes and therefore it is by necessity hyperbolic. It also seems to aim to shoot down or at least uncover pretentiousness and one-upmanship, which makes it satirical.…

Reading report for July 2012

I finished 14 books and 2 novellas in July, all but one of which I started reading within the month, so the page count is impressive, around 5400 pages, not counting those parts of London: The Biography I read earlier. You could say I‘m making up for lost time, having read very little (for me) during the winter.

Of the books I read in July, I have already reviewed London: The Biography . Not unsurprisingly, 3 of the other books and one novella came from the Black Dagger Brotherthood series. The other novella takes place in the same world but is not part of the series. Neither novella will go on the Books Read list until I have finished the books they are to be found in, but the titles are Father Mine and The Story of Son. The former is about the couple from Lover Awakened , the third book in the series, and what happened afterwards. The other is a sweet paranormal love story.

Another series I recently discovered Debbie Macomber‘s Cedar Cove books, of which I read the two first in…

London: The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd

It took me a more than a year to finish this epic non-fiction book of history/biography. Not that I couldn't have finished it earlier – under normal conditions it would have taken me about a week to read a novel of this length – but this humongous piece of non-fiction just isn't the kind of book I want to devour in a few reading sessions. For starters, it's heavy, both literally and figuratively speaking. The paperback edition I started reading weighs one kilo (that's about 2.2 lbs.) – the kind of book you really need to keep on a lectern or a book stand to read. Therefore it was a physical relief to be able to set it aside for a Kindle edition for the last 200 or so pages.

As for the figurative heaviness, it could easily have been cut down by 200+ pages without losing anything important. Ackroyd's style here is verbose, bloated and often aimless (but admittedly never dry), the equivalent of the talker who speaks only for the pleasure of hearing his own voice. Thi…

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 epistolatory books I enjoyed and hope you do too

I haven’t participated in Top Ten Tuesdays for ages, but as it’s freebie week, I decided to enter one of my book lists. Do visit the hosting blog, The Broke and the Bookish, and click through to some of the other participating blogs.
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. Non-fiction. Lovely, lovely collection of letters between Hanff and the staff of a bookstore in England, written over a period of 20 years. Recommend the movie as well. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Written as a series of accounts of the theft of a precious stone, using different styles and voices. It’s long, but worth reading. Letters to Alice, Upon First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon. What the title says, plus much more besides. Discusses not only Austen, but the art of writing as well. Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos. A novel told entirely in letters between the characters, a couple of scheming French aristocrats playing a dangerous game of seduction. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. A corres…

Reading report for June 2012

If you have been wondering why there have been so few posts this month, it‘s because I have been reading: voraciously, almost manically. I finished 17 books in June, reading most of them from cover to cover within the month. Three of them were rereads, the In the Garden trilogy by the fabulous Nora Roberts, who is also my most read author of the month. 13 of the books were romances, with a 14th being romantic but lacking the clear-cut happy ending of the others. Of the rest, two were mysteries, one of them a short story collection and the other the first book in the series. Lastly I read one book on language history.

The best read of the month was Morgan Matson‘s Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, a romantic coming-of-age epistolary road novel for young adults. It reaches into picaresque territory, with the eponymous characters going on a road trip across the USA and taking a route not sanctioned by the adults who planned it for them, doing things they aren‘t supposed to do and making …

Books read from January to the end of May

I'm on Pinterest. I find it useful for various organisational tasks and for making visual memos, and one of the things I have used it for is to make a visual representation of the books I have read, by pinning the cover images:


List love: All at Sea

Jungle, desert, mountain, sea?

Someone asked this question not long ago in a random poll on a chat forum I frequent, and my answer was emphatically “the sea”. I grew up in sight of it, I start to feel antsy if I can’t hear, see or smell it for more than a couple of weeks, and I really think I would lose something important from my life if I were to settle somewhere far away from it. A lake is just not the same - fresh water smells different, and so do saltwater lakes. So here is some List Love, featuring the sea in a pivotal role:

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Novel. While the eponymous white whale is the star of the show, the book actually is about much more than just Captain Ahab’s obsession. The descriptions of life at sea on a whaling ship were what I most enjoyed about it.In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. The true story that inspired Moby Dick. An enraged bull sperm whale sinks a whaleship in the Pacific and the cre…