07 October 2012

When book titles collide

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 reviews of books I want to read. Well, I found no fewer than eight books with that title, three with and five without the definite article. An additional book had the phrase as part of the title, and another one a variation on the theme. Of the ten books, eight were romances, mostly historicals, and the remaining two looked as if they had romantic elements in them. Now, it’s one thing for several different publishing houses to publish books with the same title. After all, they can’t be expected to be constantly checking up on the competition, but in this case two well known publishing houses had each published two of these Devil’s Bargains. Duh!

Would you believe it happened to me twice in the same day? Yep, there are three books about errant earls out there, all of them Regency romances. England must have been full of dazed and confused earls back in those days.

This hasn‘t changed. There is an ongoing discussion about this on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog, and here is an article about the subject from the (now sadly defunct) romance newsletter At the Back Fence.

Just for fun, I googled The Devil's Bargain and variations on the theme and came up with the following in the romance category alone:

With a definite article:

Without an article:

 Other variations:

05 October 2012

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 Rose Rent. Historical mystery.
Wilfred Thesiger: The Marsh Arabs. Travelogue.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings. Fantasy (audiobook, read by Rob Inglis).
J.R. Ward: Lover Reborn. Urban fantasy/Paranormal romance.

04 October 2012

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 and Stiff 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 finish it.

Reflections... is about his stay in Rhodes, as a press officer for the British Army, in 1945 to 47. His descriptions of the people of the islands, his friends and various events are loving, laid-back and dreamily poetic, exploring friendship, ruins, folk traditions and festivals, comedy, tragedy and the Greek character, and drawing up image after image of Rhodes: shimmering under a blazing summer sun, turning purple in the dusk, quiet and blackened under a starry sky, and sleepy and lazy in the soft light of morning. 

There is no shortage of humour either: 
"The octopus when it appeared looking like a boiled motor-tyre was greeted with shouts of applause. Gideon proposed a toast to it. The octopus was in no condition to reply to these courtesies. It lay bubbling in a rich red sauce flavoured with garlic and peppercorns. Hoyle once more constituted himself taster and repeated 'I was afraid it was going to be a leetle tough but,' putting a piece of the sucker in his mouth, 'praise be it isn't.' It wasn't."
It was with sadness that he left Rhodes for his next posting, but this was just one example of his love-affair with islands, especially Greek ones. He also wrote about Cyprus (in Bitter Lemons) and Corfu (Prospero's Cell). It think I just might have to read those before I tackle his serious fiction.
4+ stars.

03 October 2012

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 made. Her revenge for her ill-treatment by the nuns was to take the recipes and use them in her own pastry shop, which she opened after she left the convent (which incidentally closed soon after she left).

It's funny that I should have chosen this particular book as the follow-up to Daughters of the House, because the two contain a shared theme or thread, that of people's troubled relationships with the Catholic church. The title Bitter Almonds is apt. Not only can it be read as a reference to the bitterness Maria Grammatico harbours towards the church (but not to God: she seems to be deeply religious, but it's a private religion) after the indifference and casual cruelty she lived through in the convent, but also to the almonds that are used in so many of the pastry recipes she learned in the convent.

Her story, which Simeti says she has organised into a narrative but otherwise not embellished or added anything to, is simply told and gives one an impression of the life in the convent as she experienced it and compares it with the life she knew before. In-between Simeti tells the story of her acquaintance with Grammatico and how she came to write the book.

Last, but certainly not least, are the recipes, which take up a good half of the book. They are mostly ones Grammatico learned in the convent and uses in her pastry shop, and has generously shared with Simeti and the world. I have every intention of trying some of them, perhaps starting with one of the basic recipes that can be turned into more than one kind of pastry.

4 stars.

01 October 2012

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 points are predictable, others are surprising. I didn't really like either of the girls, and as my readers will know, I have to like someone in a book to really enjoy it. I found this a big drawback, but enjoyed the book up to a point nonetheless.
3 stars.