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Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note: This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review.

When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story (The Hobbit, anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down to fi…

Brief mentions, May 2020 (Books no. 27, 30, 31, 33, 35, 37, 38)

No.  27: Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie. Frequent reread. This is my favourite book by Crusie, and one of the books I reach for when I need the comfort of a familiar read.

No. 30: A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (audiobook read by Stephen Thorne). Second reread, first listen. Liked the reader, but am looking forward to listening to the books read by Derek Jacobi, whom I still see in my mind's eye when I read or listen to the books.

No. 31: A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy. An interesting little book with delightful drawings by the author, containing scattered diary entries and letters describing his 5 years working at the Hogarth Press when it was being run by Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Non-fiction.

No. 34: The Potter's Field by Ellis Peters (The Cadfael Chronicles no. 17). Another enjoyable outing from Ellis Peters. Peters was a pretty good writer of mysteries, but if truth be told, one reads the Cadfael books just as much for the rich world-…

Book 39: L.A. Lore by Stephen Brook

Researched and written in 1991, and published in 1992, just before the Rodney King riots, L.A. Lore is a snapshot of Los Angeles at the start of the 1990s as observed by a knowledgeable outsider. Brooks visited the city for three months and traveled to most of its municipalities and neighborhoods (and some neighboring ones), gathering material for his book. He puts a strong focus on architecture and museums, but also discusses the media, religion, the different cultures of the different neighborhoods, racial relations and history of the city, to name a few of the ingredients. Many chapters begin with snippets of radio shows he has listened to, although some of them actually seem fictional in their bizarre awfulness.

The book is just about as sprawling as L.A. itself. I, like anyone else, have been aware of L.A. for a long time, and know the names of some its neighborhoods from popular culture and media: Hollywood, Bel Air, Venice, Malibu, Beverley Hills, Burbank, Santa Monica, Redond…

Book 36: Very British Problems: Making Life Awkward For Ourselves, One Rainy Day at a Time by Rob Temple.

I am always pretty sceptical when I come across social media spin-off books, and although I have bought a few, I make a point of only buying them second hand, because I tend to just read them and then dispose of them.

This one is based on a popular Twitter account and contains a previously tweeted collection of problems that the author considers to be very British, although as a non-Brit I have to say that some of them are just very human. It's one of four books in a series, which just shows how popular the Twitter is. 

Much like another Twitter spin-off book (two books, actually, if I have my counting right), Justin Halpert's Sh*t My Dad Says, the phenomenon is actually funnier if you read the tweets as they drop one by one. Read too many in one go, and they become tedious.

This book has lived in my kitchen for the last couple of years, where I have occasionally picked it up to read a page or two of problems while waiting for the kettle to boil or my tea to finish brewing…

Book 32: Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh; audiobook read by James Saxon

Since I have already posted about the audio version of another Marsh detective novel, Artists in Crime, which was read by a different narrator, I figured I would do one for this one as well, just to compare the narrators. There have been a number of different audiobook narrators for the books in this series, but Philip Franks and James Saxon have each narrated more of them than any of the other narrators and therefore I decided it would be interesting to compare their styles and techniques.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I was mainly happy with Philip Franks' narration of Artists in Crime, with the sole exception of his pronunciation of Roderick Alleyn's last name. His reading was even and the voices just different enough to tell them apart, and his pacing was good.

James Saxon, who narrated this book, pronounces Alleyn's name the way I have always thought it should be pronounced, i.e. the same way as Allen, which is good.

Saxon has (or rather had - he died in 2003…

Book 33: Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham

Published in 1931, Police at the Funeral is the fourth of the Albert Campion detective novels by Margery Allingham.

As I haven't read the previous novels and it has been along time since I read the only other Campion novel I have read, I don't feel equipped to comment much on Campion as a character, except to say that he's quite superficially developed at this point and he and Lord Peter Wimsey might well be first cousins: both are charming and aristocratic (although Campion's status is only hinted at by other characters - he is, in fact operating under an assumed name) and can look deceptively silly and vacuous when they want to, to the detriment of anyone who has to match wits with them. He also slips quite adroitly into a Bertie Wooster type role when he is trying to lull people into thinking him inconsequential and stupid.

Anyhow, the story is about a family of middle-aged and elderly eccentrics who live in a house belonging to a formidable old lady who is mother to…

Book 29: The Venetian's Wife: A Strangely Sensual Tale of a Renaissance Explorer, a Computer, and a Metamorphosis by Nick Bantock

I first became aware of Nick Bantock's illustrated novels when I came across the first edition of Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence when it was published in 1991. I didn't read them, however, until a few years ago, and found them beautiful - and the story rather superficial.

This story concerns a young art conservator, Sarah, who is lured away from her safe museum job by a mysterious man who only corresponds with her through emails. While she works on his behalf to reunite an old art collection on his behalf, his story unfolds and she undergoes a spiritual and sexual transformation.

Like Bantock's other books, it is beautifully decorated with the author's artwork, but is not as tactile as the books in the Griffin & Sabine and Morning Star trilogies, as the art is just printed on the pages and there are no fold-ins to unfold or envelopes containing letters to pull out.

The story is told more in text than in images, which means that the readers can …

No. 28: Maigret Sets a Trap by Georges Simenon (reading notes and reflections)

Original title: Maigret tend un piege. Translated by Daphne Woodward (1965). 

This is the first Maigret book I have read in ages. 

Opening a Maigret novel is like visiting old friends, not just Maigret, Madame Maigret, Janvier and all the rest, but also Paris. 

In this book, we jump into the middle of an investigation of serial murders in Montmartre and Maigret is about to set a trap for the killer. It doesn't go quite to plan - he escapes, but does leave behind a piece of evidence that will lead the police to him. 

Like most other Maigret books I have read, this isn't a whodunnit. In the Maigret books, the identity of the killer isn't often hidden from the reader until the last chapter, and instead we get to see how Maigret figures it out (although sometimes the killer is known from the beginning). Then the rest of the book is about either proving it or applying so much psychological pressure that the killer gives up and confesses. In this book, there is the usual psyc…

Book 26: Venice: Tales of the City, by Michelle Lovric (reading notes)

Venice: Tales of the City is an anthology of writing about Venice, gathered together, edited and sometimes translated by Michelle Lovric.

The book is organised into themed chapters and each chapter begins with some Venetian proverbs, then moves on to short quotations about the city, and then to excerpts from longer works, including  history books and travelogues, poetry and fiction.

Many of the quotations are curiosity-inducing and make one want to read more, which is just what an anthology should do.

Lovric has taken care to curate this eclectic collection in such a way as to not only include passages about Venice as seen through the eyes of visitors and expats living there, but also through the eyes of Venetians, and its fun to compare the two and see how often one sees allusions or direct statements about the city's decline and its glorious past in the texts written by foreigners and Venice as a vibrant, living city in the texts written by local writers and visitors from the ti…

Book 25: Mrs. Moreau's Warbler: How Birds got their Names by Stephan Moss (reading notes)

I consider myself to be an anglophile and have paid regular visits to England for the last 20 or so years. Every time I go there, I buy books that become my souvenirs of the trip. This is one such book.

I am a great lover of both language and popular science, and often when I find books that feature both, I try to buy or borrow them. Natural history, including zoology and its many branches, is also among my favorite non-fiction subjects to read about, so this books was an obvious choice for me.

Mrs. Moreau's Warbler mainly deals in etymology - one of my favorite aspects of language studies. But it is not just about etymology - the origins of words - but about and how we use language to define and classify the world around us, combined with taxonomy, ornithology, history and the author's bird-watching activities.

The author's approach to the subject is systematic and time/history based, i.e. he begins with the "Origins of Bird Names" and then moves on through diff…

Book 24: Happyslapped by a Jellyfish by Karl Pilkington

Karl Pilkington amuses me. His child-like observations are entertaining and occasionally funny and his persona of ultra-straight man (in the comedic sense) being buffeted around by circumstances that are only made funny by his responses to them (which usually are either bafflement or misery), make for entertaining television.

An Idiot Abroad is possibly the best antidote you can find for an overdose of self-important travel shows, because it shows you that you don't have to enjoy travelling all the time - it's okay to sometimes just endure it. When I first came across the TV series An Idiot Abroad, I couldn't figure whether he was acting or not, but I came to the conclusion that he probably wasn't - he's just never developed a brain-to-mouth filter and so says what he's thinking and doesn't feel he needs to pretend to be sophisticated or profound.

Anyhow, this isn't the kind of book that I would ever pay full price for - but I have enjoyed his TV work e…

Brief mentions, April 2020 (Books no. 22 and 23)

No. 22: Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie. Reread. It has the snappy dialogue one has come to expect from Crusie, but I have always felt there was too much going on in it and after finding myself skimming over pages and passages on this reread, I think I will probably cull it.

No. 23: The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett. Occasional reread. Not one of my favourite Pratchetts, but it's a good read, and funny to boot.



Book 21: Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie, audiobook read by Deanna Hurst

I first read Bet Me in 2005, and it has been on my list of regular rereads ever since. As I have been moving towards multitasking while I "read", I decided to get the audio version, and I have no regrets. This is actually my second listen - I also listened to it back in 2018 when I first got it.

This is just to add some notes on the narration, as I have already reviewed this novel.

Read my original review to see what I thought of the book.

The narrator, Deanna Hurst, does a good job of the reading, and one never confuses the characters, as she gives them different enough voices that once you get used to them, you never have any problems telling them apart, but she also doesn't exaggerate them, which is good, because while this book has some funny moments, it isn't a comedy in itself and I have occasionally listened to audiobooks where the narrator exaggerated thins so much that it sounded like slapstick. Her voice is well-fitted to the often rapid-fire dialogue, and …

Book 20: Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh, audiobook review

This isn't a review of the book, as much as of the narrator of the audio book version.

Artists in Crime is among of the better of Ngaio Marsh's Chief Inspector Alleyn novels, and one of the ones I occasionally reread - not so much for the murder plot, which is gruesome and more than a little melodramatic, albeit clever - but for the romance.

It's not a romance novel per se, but the side plot concerns Alleyn's very tentative courtship of his future wife, artist Agatha Troy. They had met in a previous book, where he was interested in and attracted to her while she was in equal parts intrigued by him and annoyed with herself for being so. In this book we get to see how she begins to accept that she has feelings for him, and he to have some hope that she may reciprocate his feelings for her. It is not the same breathtaking romance arc as in contemporary author Dorothy L. Sayer's detective novels, to which some have drawn parallels, but is quite satisfying even so.

Philip…

Books 13-19: Rereads, all by Nora Roberts

I embarked on a reread of Nora Roberts' In the Garden trilogy and Bride Quartet in March and have been reading them at the kitchen table while I eat my breakfast and dinner, and over lunch as well on the weekends.

I find some of Robert's books to be good comfort reads, and who doesn't need a good comfort read during times like these?

While I usually go to for Roberts' standalone romantic thrillers (e.g. Northern Lights) or the Cheapeake Bay trilogy (minus book 4, which don't much care for), the In the Garden trilogy has moved into my top 5 favorite Noras (counting series as one book). It is one of the better of her paranormal romances (called paraNoras by some of her fans), with solid characters and interesting romances with an intriguing, if paper-thin, ghost story to pepper things up. I especially like that the romances are generational, with couples in their 20s, 30s and 40s - hot heroes and heroines I can identify with - finding each other as they try to disco…

Book 12: Zoo Quest to Guiana by David Attenborough (thoughs and comparisons)

I came across a second-hand copy of this book in a charity shop in Kew, Richmond on a recent visit to England. (Was there a couple of weeks before the Covid-19 panic started).

I love travelogues and one of my favourite authors of such stories is Gerald Durrell. I have nearly all of his travel books that he wrote about his various animal-collecting and, later, filming expeditions to odd corners of the globe, and as a matter of fact, one of my favourites is Three Singles to Adventure, about an animal-collecting expedition to Guiana which was made around the same time as the expedition Attenborough describes in this book. It was therefore interesting to read about Attenborough's adventures in the same country around the same time.

It is, unfortunately perhaps, inevitable when one comes across two books about the same place and same kinds of activities written around the same time, to compare the two, especially when one of them is a favourite. I certainly found myself doing this whil…

Reading in progress: The Once and Future king: The Sword in the Stone, by T.H. White (listening notes, ongoing)

When I came across the "Once and Future King" by T.H. White on Audible (read by Neville Jason, who does a fine job of it), I knew I had to buy it. I already owned a physical copy of the book, but I have found lately that it suits me better to listen to long books rather than to read them, because my hands want to be doing something other than holding a book while I read.

This novel, which was originally published as a quadrology of short novels and later collected and revised into one long novel, is a retelling of part of the Arthurian legend and is considered to be one of the finest of the many re-imaginings of that legend.

It was disappointing to discover that this is actually an edited version that seems, according to one review on Audible.com, to be not just abridged but actually a bastard version comprised of both the original short novels and the revised one-volume edition. However, another reviewer kindly pointed out some of the missing passages and where to find the…

Book 11: Calamity Jane by Roberta Beed Sollid (reading notes)

Like many other legends of the old West, Calamity Jane's legendary status makes her out to be a larger-than-life character, a shining heroine who lived as she pleased and enjoyed more freedom than most women of the era. Considering that she was already a legend in her own lifetime, surprisingly little seems to be known about her real life, which is eclipsed by her legend.

I think I first became aware of the legend of Calamity Jane when I watched the 1953 movie starring Doris Day and Howard Keel as a kid, but what I remember best is the Lucky Luke comic about Luke's encounter with her. Both are, of course, purely fictional. I'm not sure I even realised she wasn't a fictional character at that point.

I have a mild interest in all things Old West, and when I came across this book, which was, at the time of original publication, touted as the most accurate and exhaustively researched biography of Calamity Jane, I decided to shell out the money to buy it - which wasn&…

Book 10: Goldenhand by Garth Nix (scattered reading notes)

-The beginning chapters of this novel make it seem like "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case" may have been cut from Goldenhand prior to its publication, as it shows how Nick Sayre finally made it back to the Old Kingdom after he went back home after the events of Lirael. However, it wouldn't have added anything except to explain why Nick finally decided to return to the Old Kingdom and to show the meeting between Nick and Lirael from his point of view. It is therefore not necessary to have read the story in order to understand anything that happens in the novel - the events of the story have little bearing on the main plot.

-I have started to notice a certain predictability in these books, but it's part of the fun to see how well I am able to predict future events.

-I like that Nix isn't afraid to let his characters get seriously hurt. Lirael has already lost an arm and another important character loses a leg. Both losses are used as a device to show ho…

Book 9: Across the Wall: A Tale of the Abhorsen and Other Stories (reading notes and digressions)

I read the first three books of Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series last year, after coming across an irresistibly priced boxed set of them in a charity shop. I loved them.

I couldn't really say which was my favourite, but I knew I wanted more and the ending of Abhorsen suggested there were more, so I did my research and got my mother to buy a copy of Goldenhand for me on one of her trips abroad. I then came across a second-hand copy of this book, Across the Wall, a collection of short stories by Nix, and knowing it contained a story that takes place between Abhorsen and Goldenhand, I promptly bought it. However, it took me a while to start reading it.

The stories are a varied collection and only the first, "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case" is an Old Kingdom story, so it was a fun introduction to Nix's other writing.

Nix seems to be first and foremost a children's and young adult writer, and from what I've read about him, the Old Kingdom series is …

Book 8: The Second Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd & John Mitchinson (reading notes)

I love trivia, which is why I, while I still watched TV on a regular basis, enjoyed watching quiz shows. QI was no exception. For those who don't know what QI is and are loath to click on the link or don't trust Wikipedia, QI is a comedy quiz show on BBC television in which two teams of three comedians each are quizzed by a seventh comedian. Stephen Fry was its first presenter and later Sandi Toksvig, herself a regular panellist in the show, took over.

The aim of the game is fun and this spin-off book gets its title from one of the rounds of the show: General Ignorance, which makes fun of the more common general knowledge round of other quiz shows. The questions in that round are ones that seem easy, as most people think they know the answer to them, but those "everybody knows" answers are in fact wrong, so the aim is really to set people straight in an entertaining way.

Although it is tempting, I don't think I will say why I no longer enjoy watching QI, but I c…

Book 7: Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuściński (reading notes)

-This reads like fiction - prose more beautiful than one has come to expect from non-fiction and many of the chapters are structured like fiction stories. There is little continuity between most of the chapters, although some of the narratives or stories spread over more than one chapter. This is therefore more a collection of short narratives than a cohesive entirety. You could pick it up and read the chapters at random and still get a good sense of what is going on.

-Here is an author who is not trying to find himself, recover from a broken heart, set a record, visit 30 countries in 3 weeks or build a perfectly enviable home in a perfectly enviable location, which is a rarity within travel literature, but of course Kapuściński was in Africa to work, and not to travel for spiritual, mental or entertainment purposes (he was the Polish Press Agency's Africa correspondent for nearly 30 years).

-I have no way of knowing how well Kapuściński knew Africa - I have never been there and …

Book 6: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (reading notes and musings on Vonnegut's other books)

- My first introduction to the weird and wonderful world of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, which I read as a teenager and can remember little about. Since Mr. Rosewater is mentioned in Slaughterhouse-Five, I really should go back and read it again, in English this time around.

- I have since read Welcome to the Money House, Deadeye Dick and Cat's Cradle, and have Hocus Pocus and The Sirens of Titan on my TBR list. Cat's Cradle is the one that affected me the most and is the best apocalyptic novel I have read.

-It was fun coming back to Vonnegut's sometimes biting humour and revisiting places (Ilium) and characters from other books (Eliot Rosewater, Kilgore Trout).

- The mixture of realism and fantasy in this novel makes for an interesting and sometimes shocking juxtaposition, as protagonist Billy Pilgrim slides between different eras of his life, from war-torn Germany near the end of World War II, to different parts of his marriage and life in Ilium, …

Book 5: Erotica Universalis by Gilles Néret (review)

As the title suggests, this is a collection of erotica - paintings and drawings to be precise.

The title is misleading - the imagery is nearly all of European or North American origin and almost exclusively pertains to heterosexual sexual acts by white people. Nothing universal about that.

I would also call the "erotica" in the title misleading, as a lot of the imagery is, to my mind, pornographic rather than erotic. I know the two terms are used interchangeably by some and that other's definitions of them differ, but I associate erotica with beauty and sensuality and often also playfulness, being more suggestive than directly, in-your-face sexual. Erotica arouses one's sense of beauty as well as being sexually arousing, while porn has a cruder aesthetic and more directly appeals to the sexual appetite and shows sexual acts directly, leaving little to the imagination instead of giving the viewer leeway to imagine things

Now, porn has its place just like erotica and…

Book 4 1/2: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

I'm only counting this as half a book, as it's really a short story (there is also a novel, but I haven't read that). The only reason I'm writing about it at all is that it's such a poignant, though-provoking story.

Actually, this isn't going to be a review, let alone a reading journal entry, because I tried to write down some non-spoilery reading thoughts about this story, and ended up with what amounted to a very spoilery summary, so rather than ruin the story for someone, I simply will leave off here with two questions:

I remember watching, long ago, a movie or TV show episode about a similar experiment, but one that ends quite differently, with the Charlie-esque character going insane, escaping his body and going digital. If anyone remember such a movie/TV show, I would like to know the title of it. Note that I may be mashing up two different films here, so vague is my memory of this.Secondly, if you have read both the novel and the short story: does the nov…