31 December 2016

My November and December book haul, pt. 1

Here are the books I bought in the last week of November and the first three weeks of December. 
I've already posted the books I got for Christmas, but here are the rest - well, part of them anyway. I decided to break this up into two posts because there are so many books.

First photo:
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is one I decided I wanted to read when I first heard of it, but then  never got round to doing it.  
  • The Love Child and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter both looked intriguing, for vastly different reasons.  
  • The Second Book of General Ignorance I got because I have the first and I'm a fan of QI.  
  • Seaworthy I got because I love Linda Greenlaw's writing, and  
  • The Complete Stories of Dorothy L. Sayers because I love her writing as well. 
Only Greenlaw's book is new. The rest are second hand, although some of them look like they have never been read.

Second photo:
The books in both photos below are all second hand, although I suspect at least a couple of them have never been read.   

  • Gönguleiðir á Íslandi is the first in a series of book describing interesting hiking routes in Iceland, and this one happens to cover the part of the country where I live. Since I am trying to get into better shape, and indeed must exercise daily in order to burn off some of the carbs my body can't metabolise properly because of my diabetes, so this book is going to get used when the summer arrives. Until then, I am planning to participate in a series of walks that will allow me to explore a beautiful nature area north of Reykjavík with a guide.
  • Lazarillo de Tormes and The Swindler contains translations of two Spanish picaresque novels that I started to read several years ago and then had to return to the library before I was able to finish them.
  • The guide book is self-explanatory.
  • Unfinished Tales is a welcome addition to my small collection of Tolkienana.
  • Green Grass, Running Water sees to be just the kind of magical tale I love to read, and  
  • The Tower promises to be a cracking thriller with supernatural elements.

Third photo:
  • My Family and Other Animals is one of my most reread books of all time. I decided it was time to get a new copy, since my old one is getting quite tatty.
  • The Consolations of Philosophy seems like a good introduction to the everyday uses of philosophy. 
  • Fimm fingra mandlan is a book of translated short stories by a Swedish author and seems like just my cup of tea.
  • The Snow Geese is a travelogue and those are like catnip to me.
  • I have hopes that The Big Little Book of Pilates will help me understand the Pilates system better and know what the hell I am doing the next time I decide to participate in a Pilates class.
  • At Home in Mitford seems like just the kind of book my mother would enjoy. Who knows, I might too...

30 December 2016

The books I got for Christmas

I usually get at least one book for Christmas, and this year I got four, so it was a good book Christmas.

My brother got me the Terry Pratchett Diary and The Turnip Princess.  I am reading the latter and enjoying it very much. The man who collected these tales, Franz Xavier von Schönwerth, was a contemporary of the Grimm brothers, but unlike them, he seems to have only given the tales he collected a minimal editing. They are therefore raw and feel much more "real" than the tales the Grimms published, which were refined and polished before publication. They therefore remind me very much of the Icelandic "ævintýri" (märchen) collected by my favourite folk-tale collectors, Ólafur Davíðsson and Jón Árnason.

Der schönster Ort der Welt is a book of essays by German-speaking booksellers. The title translates as "The most beautiful place in the world". It was a Christmas resent from myself to myself. It remains to be seen how do at reading it, since the only German I have been reading for the last several years is legal language, which is worlds away from the literary language.

The final book, Kryddjurtarækt, is about growing herbs and I got it from my aunt, who always gives me thoughtful and useful gifts. I have several kitchen gadgets she has given me that I didn't know I needed but have proven very handy.

21 December 2016

Review: Never the Bride by Paul Magrs

Genre: Urban fantasy, alternative reality, pastiche.

I'm not going to give any plot summary here, since the plot hinges on so many secrets that I might give one away by accident. 

Never the Bride builds on an interesting, if not exactly original premise: the old Gothic horror stories describe real historical events and there really are more things in Heaven and Earth (and Hell) than Horatio could have dreamt.

The Bride of Frankenstein is real and lives in Whitby; the Invasion from Mars really happened; vampires walk the earth; and there are more spooky goings-on in the Goth capital of Britain than you can shake a stick at.

Oh, and the book is full of cliches, just like the last two paragraphs. That's not to say it isn't entertaining, but there is something missing. The narrative is episodic rather than linear and while the stories that make up each episode do connect into a plot of sorts, there are so many loose ends flapping in the breeze that you can see not one, but several sequels looming up. None of the characters are fully developed, although Effie comes close to being more than a stereotypical elderly spinster, and Brenda shows promise of being developed into something deeper.

Some of the longer conversations are quite stilted, and there is a very stilted monologue in which the person talking speaks as if they are reading from a book. This could have been much better rendered by incorporating the story told therein into Brenda's general narrative, and even then it would still be a case of telling rather than showing, a mistake I would not have expected from as seasoned an author as Magrs, because this is such a common mistake of inexperienced writers.

As for the good points, the depiction of Brenda and Effie's friendship is realistic, showing both the ups and downs of friendship between two unusual women who are still getting to know each other. The story is also peppered with darkly funny incidents and descriptions that will at the least elicit chuckles, if not outright laughter.

The tone is almost like that of a children's book, written in fairly simple language (and thus suitable for intermediary learners of English), but it is clearly written for adults. At least one would assume so, what with descriptions of gruesome deaths and allusions to sex.

Despite the faults, I did enjoy reading this book, and while I'm in no hurry to obtain the next book in the series, I wouldn't mind reading it if I came across it.

19 December 2016

Reading report,19 December 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the past week.

I was in Germany last Monday and didn't have time to finish a reading report before I left, so here's a double doze:

The week before last I finished listening to Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie, audiobook read by Hugh Fraser. I'm quite sure I have not read this one before, and I think it's just become one of my favourite Poirots. Fortunately there were no foreign accents in this one, other than Poirot's (refer to my previous comments on the subject in my last reading report if you don't know what I'm talking about).

This week I read quite a lot, but only finished two books.

The first was Never the Bride by Paul Magrs. This is the first book in an alternative reality urban fantasy series and while I found several things that could have been done better, I mostly enjoyed it but still have no intention to let all the various cliffhangers drag me into reading more of this series. I'm writing a review, so will not say any more here.

The second book I finished was one I started reading earlier in the year but set aside for various reasons. I found it languishing under a pile of laundry recently and decided to make an effort to finish it, and I'm glad I did because unless I read some really spectacular books before the end of the year, it will decidedly be in the top 10 of the books I have read this year. This was Casanova by Ian Kelly, a biography of the famous 18th century Venetian adventurer whose amorous exploits led his family name to become a synonym for "womaniser". This book presents Casanova as much more than that: an epicure, sensualist, mathematician, man of letters and clever observer of human nature, but also an opportunist, fraudster and gambler. A complex man, in fact. I happen to have two more Casanova books in my TBR pile: A 1929 edited English translation of his autobiography, Histoire de ma vie, and the novel Casanova in Bolsano by Hungarian author Sándor Márai. After what Kelly says about the various editions of the Histoire, I hesitate to read that one, as it's based on a heavily bowdlerised German version. It looks like the edition to read, should one want to read the story in Casanova's own words (or as near as possible, it having been written in French, which I do not feel up to reading) is the 1967 Williard R. Trask complete English translation, but it's so very looooong.

I am currently reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, or rather, I am listening to it. A friend lent me an iPod loaded with the audiobook and more or less ordered me to listen to it. So far I am enjoying it, but I think I need to get a printed copy, because the descriptions of the photographs just aren't the same as seeing them.

I have now managed to strike 6 books off the list of partially read books I compiled in October: three I decided to start reading over again, two that I finished reading, and one I decided to cull. Unfortunately I have added several books to the list since then, so I'll probably finish the year with between 50 and 60 partially read books strewn around the place. I think it might be time for a reading challenge...

I have also nearly reached my aim of culling 100 books from my collection. I was running out of shelf space and while rearrainging my bookshelves I realised I have a number of books on my keeper shelves that I had no interest in reading again, so I am going through the whole collection and culling books.

I have finished a project from this marvellous book that is going in a lucky recipient's Christmas package:

I can't show it yet, nor can I reveal who it's for, as the recipient might visit the blog.

I am already planning another project, a combination of two recipes in fact: the hare and the deer. Can you guess what I'm planning to make?

In other news:
I received an eagerly awaited package on December 5: two pairs of spectacles I ordered from abroad at the beginning of November. I made the mistake of putting the progressive vision pair on immediately. Then I sat typing a blog post and wondering why my eyes were watering, having forgotten my rule to always wait until I wake up the next morning to put on new spectacles, especially when the prescription is different from the previous one. I had the usual eye fatigue after the first day of wearing them, but I'm fine now and my vision is clearer than it has been in months (I was waiting for my eyes to recover from diabetes-related eyesight problems and had to use my old specs in the meantime). The other was a pair of single vision spectacles with lenses that darken in the sun and I plan to use as sunglasses.

16 December 2016

Friday links, 16 December, 2016

I didn't do much web-surfing last week. However, I did come across these links:

Not directly (or at all) related to books and reading:

Back to books: 
Today's book list is one of those inevitable end-of-year lists of the best novels of the year.
25 of them, to be exact.

Why did I chose this particular list? Because it's the first one I came across, that's why. In any case, these lists usually contain more or less the same collection of the year's bestsellers, and only the future will tell us which ones will be considered to be really good in the long run.

Finally, a book I might buy, or at least read:
Here's a link to an interview with the author.

09 December 2016

Friday links, 9 December 2016

When this list posts, at 8. a.m., my flight to Germany will be taking off from Keflavík Airport. I hope someone will find something to entertain, inform or educate them in this list:

Firstly, I came across this interesting Infographic about how the world reads and thought I'd share it.

Secondly, I have never been a member of a book club, and after reading this, I'm glad: Top 10 Book Club Faux Fas.

Thirdly, here is an interesting article about Arthur Conan Doyle and how he was taken in by a simple hoax: Arthur Conan Doyle, Spiritualism, and Fairies.

Fourthly, the stories that inspired famous books are often just as fascinating as the books themselves. Here is an article on The True Story of Jaws.

Fifthly, here is a fascinating animated article about discovery: How Delivering Meals To Seniors Showed Me The Real New York. For once, a Buzzfeed article that is not full of annoying gifs from movies and TV shows I haven't seen.

Then there was the time an American gentleman wanted the USA to buy Iceland from Denmark. I'm glad they didn't, as it's unlikely we would be an independent country today if this had happened.

And, finally, here is the book list:
I have a fairly tidy mind, but for some reason lists with an illogical number of entries fascinate me. This one made me wonder: Why 37? I don't know, but probably they couldn't think of any more books: 37 Books With Plot Twists That Will Blow Your Mind. I have read 4 of these and own 3 more that are TBR, but several more of them are on my ever-expanding TBR-not owned list.

07 December 2016

Drowning in books

I may have mentioned before that many Icelanders LOVE books. Not only do we buy them for ourselves, but we also love to give them as gifts. The market is small and therefore the one time it really pays to advertise books is the time of the year when you can give books to lots of people. In other words: Christmas.

Don‘t get me wrong: Books do get advertised at other times, like in March/April/May when the 14-year olds go through their confirmations and in May/June when school graduations take place. The market at those times is however mostly for reference books, classic literature in fine bindings and expensive non-fiction books about subjects like photography, natural history or cooking, and the advertising is likewise mostly limited to these subjects.

Books that are likely to sell well and are published in paperback at various times of the year, such as the latest by authors like Jo Nesbø or Lee Child, also get advertised, while some, especially translations of Harlequin romances, are simply sold in grocery stores the year round and can usually be fount right at the register.

Religionwise, Iceland is for the most part Christian. While many people who are registered members of the national church are really only nominally religious, they still celebrate Christmas. Some agnostics and people of other religions celebrate it too, either as a family holiday or to make sure their kids don‘t feel left out. Many of these people give books as gifts. The price tag on the average hardback novel happens to coincide with many people‘s idea of the right amount to spend on a Christmas present, and (in case I didn‘t put it across strongly enough before) ICELANDERS LOVE TO READ!

No surprise then that Jólabókaflóðið (English: The Christmas Book Flood) is a major annual event in Iceland. In the three or so months leading up to Christmas new books begin to appear on the market, beginning with a trickle and ending in a flood, or possibly a tzunami. It certainly feels that way when you look at all the juicy new titles and the stacks upon stacks of books appearing in book shops and some supermarkets, beginning in November. This is also when the media bombardment starts for real.

The March-June advertising I mentioned earlier is only a dress rehersal for the Big Season. New books and books that were published without fanfare earlier in the year are advertised with various levels of build-up, ranging from an entry in Bókatíðindi (English: Book News or, literally Book Tidings) or newsletters from publishers, to ads in newspapers and magazines, to radio and TV still ads. I have even spotted a few book trailers in recent Christmas seasons.

However, there is a downside to all this. The book flood causes an over-inflation of book-selling data, as a large number of books will be returned to the bookshops for credit after the holiday season. These go back in stock, and while some will be re-sold normally in the course of the year, most will end up at the big annual Book Publisher's Union (Félag íslenskra bókaútgefenda) book market and at individual publisher's sales throughout the year, which is where canny book-lovers can pick up great bargains on previous years' books. The stocks will then dwindle little by little, year by year, until finally, sometimes after a couple of decades of making these rounds, the print run will finally be sold out.

About 15 or so years ago, Bónus, a chain of low-price supermarkets in Iceland, started stocking books around Christmas-time, and soon other chains followed suit. They only carry the books most likely to sell, and sell them at such bargain prices that one knows there must be robbery going on somewhere. Many people will rather buy these books there than at a higher price elsewhere because who doesn't love a bargain? However, it seems that it's the authors who lose the most when books are sold at such bargains, and therefore, when I buy books in Icelandic to give as gifts, I prefer to buy them at full price from a book shop.

Another reason why I prefer to take that approach is that although it is possible to return books to Bónus and the other supermarkets, you can not get a direct refund, but must either choose another book or choose to get a credit note.

Getting a book bought in a supermarket is a horror for me, because people rarely get it right when they buy me books because of not asking what I want but simply assuming I would like something, and because I rarely want any book that's available in the supermarkets, and then the alternative is the credit note and in Bónus or Nettó that means your Christmas present ends up being... groceries.

At least books bought in Hagkaup can be exchanged for clothes, magazines (which cost as much as paperback books around here), electronics or costume jewellery.

Additionally, supermarket books are only returnable for a couple of weeks after Christmas, whereas if you return a book to a bookshop, you have a vastly bigger choice of both books and other merchandise to get in exchange, and if you don't find anything then, you can get a credit note that's valid for a year.

So, expats living in Iceland: I know books are expensive here, but if you are unsure whether your Icelandic friends actually want the book you're planning on giving them for Xmas, or there is a chance they might get more than one copy, spend a little more and buy it in a bookshop. They will thank you for it if they end up exchanging it. And don't forget to ask for a skilamiði, because without it they will have to pay to exchange the book.

Yep, you read that right: if the book does not have a little exchange sticker with the bookshop logo and a date on it, you have to pay to exchange it. This is because dishonest people realised that they could buy a book in Bónus and return it to a bookshop and pocket the difference. This happened at such a large scale that the bookshop chains took to putting exchange stickers on the books with "exchange by" dates.

I hope you have found this article on the Icelandic book-flood informative, and if you have any questions or comments, you know what to do. My comments are moderated and since time differences mean that you might be commenting while I am sleeping, it can take as much as 12 hours for a comment to appear, and longer on weekends.

06 December 2016

Enter this great Giveaway!

Who would like 250$ to buy books with? 

I know I would.

 This Christmas giveaway is run by I Am a Reader, it runs from December 5th to 22, and the prize is a 250$ Amazon Gift Code or $250 in Paypal Cash! Good not just for buying books (although that's what I would use it on).

What would you buy if you won?

Thanks to this awesome group of bloggers and authors who have joined with me to bring you one fabulous prize!!

Click on the image to read all about and enter the contest!

05 December 2016

Reading report, Monday 5 December 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at the Book Date and is "a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week."

Visit the Book Date to see what various other book bloggers have been up to in the past week.

I can hardly believe it's December already. It feels like summer was only yesterday, and now Christmas season is here. I'm caught in a time phenomenon where days pass very slowly, but weeks zip by. Before I know it, it will be April and I'll start preparing my VW mini-motorhome for my trip to Germany. 

Plans for the trip itself are ongoing, although I am taking a short break from planning that trip and am instead getting ready to fly to Frankfurt with my mother to visit Christmas markets in Hessen and Baden-Württemberg later this week. We will be staying in Heidelberg. Last week the long-term weather forecast was for rain, but the forecast has changed and now it looks like it will be dry the whole time and we might even see some sun.

As for reading, I didn't finish any books worth mentioning in the week before last, so I didn't write up a report. Instead of reading as much as I usually do, I was busy working on some Christmas presents. One of them is a large, crocheted bedspread that is made up of granny hexagons that need to be crocheted together. It's about 3/4 done and I'll post a photo once it's finished.

The books I finished last week were mostly romances, with a couple of mysteries and a travel book thrown in for variety. This is a time of year when I'm at risk for depression, so I usually turn to the guaranteed happy endings provided by romance novels.

The non-romance books were: 
  • Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie, an audio book read by Hugh Fraser. First-time listen, but I have read it before.
  • Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie, another audio book read by Hugh Fraser. I do not remember reading this book before. Fraser is a good reader, and does a creditable French accent for Poirot, but I have noticed that when he does other accents, they all sound vaguely Russian, which is very incongruous when the character he's speaking for is supposed to be South-African. On the other hand, he does outraged Englishness very well indeed.
  • Campervan Crazy: Travels With My Bus by David and Cee Eccles, which is the book I chose as my prize for the money I won in October's prize drawing on The Book Date. Loved it! It's about the Volkswagen Transporter, mostly T1 and T2 camper conversions, and the people who love them. These vans have been everywhere and seem able to get to places where usually only 4WD vehicles would venture into. My own campervan is a new VW Caddy, but I get a glint in my eye whenever I see a classic Transporter on the road.

The romances were all Christmas-themed novellas and long short stories: 
  • Bluebird Winter by Linda Howard is a rather creepy contemporary romance novella in which a doctor comes to the rescue of a woman in labour, delivers the baby and coerces her into marrying him because, hey! insta-love!, all within 48 hours of meeting her for the first time. Cue misunderstandings and a "getting to know you" period which mostly seems to consist of her being told by everyone what a wonderful man he is. I found the story unsatisfactory due to the unconvincing way he fell in love with her and the aforesaid creepiness factor.
  • When Love Flue In by Lillian Francis is a gay romance novella in which a rich businessman has been in love for several years, with the man who comes in once a year to clean his chimney, and finally gets the chance to get to know him better. I liked this one. The romance didn't feel rushed, as the characters had both been half in love with each other and only needed an opportunity to get to know each other in order to start a romance.
  • Jesse's Christmas by R.J. Scott. I can't remember anything about this one, so it must have been pretty mediocre because I would remember if it was good or bad.
  • The Christmas Throwaway by R.J. Scott. This one I did like. It's a sweet and slightly sappy Christmas story about a policeman who rescues a young man who has been driven out of his childhood home for being gay. They fall for each other, but the cop is very careful to keep things proper and fearful of being seen as a predator, so the story actually takes three Christmases to get to the coming together part of the romance.

Currently, I'm reading several books, but I don't expect I'll finish any, what with concentrating on finishing the bedspread and my long weekend in Heidelberg. I do plan on taking one - just one - book with me, but which one? Books to take travelling are always a difficult choice, but I'll probably pick a a book of short stories or essays, or my go-to in-flight read: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It's due for a re-read.

02 December 2016

Friday links for December 2, 2016

Today's collection of links is mostly stuff I have found over the last several weeks and months:

Here's a scrumptious literary food blog:The Little Library Café, where blogger Kate Young cooks and bakes food inspired by her favourite works of fiction.

Famous people:
I've been reading Casanova by Ian Kelly in stops and starts since the summer and found this article on him and his writings interesting: How Casanova's X-rated Memoir Created a Legend.

The book is dead. Long live the book! 
Once again, the book's demise has been announced and  yet the book lives on: The myth of the disappearing book: Misplaced hype overebooks dates back to the phonograph in 1894.

Book porn: 
16 Beautiful Jane Eyre Book Covers.

On my tour of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah's national parks this summer I bought a number of lovely retro-style fridge magnets with artwork related to each of the parks I visited, and I also bought a handful of stickers with similar art to use in and on my travel journal of the trip. When I got home I started looking for information about them and found this article: The Forgotten History of Those Iconic National Parks Posters.

Apropos of the last item, here´s this week's book list:  
100 Must-Read Books About the National Parks. I have only read one book on this list, Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, but it is one of my favourite pieces of nature writing. I would quite like to find books about the other parks I have visited, especially Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Finally, a book I am considering ordering: