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Showing posts from March, 2006

Bibliophile reviews Vanity and Vexation (a kind of romance)

Author: Kate Fenton
Previously published as: Lions and Liquorice
Year published: 1995. American publication: 2005
Pages: 276
Genre: Romance (sort of)

The Story:
A film outfit arrives in a tiny Yorkshire village to film Pride and Prejudice. Local writer Llew Bevan looks on the proceedings with a jaundiced eye as the film’s star sweeps his widowed brother-in-law off his feet, and he himself can not help being attracted to not one, but two of the outsiders: haughty director Mary Dance, and a young woman who has a serious quarrel with Mary.

Technique and plot:
Ring any bells? No? Think Pride and Prejudice in a modern setting with older players and reversed gender roles.

I have avoided reading any of the “sequels” that have been written to Jane Austen’s novels, as I know no-one can do the characters as well as she did. But a modern spin-off is another matter. I read about this book several years ago while browsing the The Republic of Pemberley fansite. Everyone said it was hilarious and I thought…

Bibliophile reviews Flight of a Witch (mystery)

Author: Ellis Peters
No. in series: 3
Series detective: George Felse
Year published: 1964
Pages: 247
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of detective: Police and amateurs
Setting and time: Wales, 1960’s
Some themes: Murder, robbery, obsession

The Story: A young man sees Annet, the daughter of his landlord, walking up a mountain. She returns five days later but maintains that she has been away only 2 hours, counting on being believed because of stories of such things having happened before on the mountain. However, she looks like the young woman seen standing near a jewellery store where an old man was murdered and robbed, and the police suspect that her male companion is guilty of the crime. But Annet refuses to talk, and Felse has a hard time solving the mystery and finding her lover.

Review: I have read a couple of Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mysteries and one non-series book, and therefore could not include her in the challenge. But this is my first acquaintance with Inspector Felse.

The story …

Bibliophile reviews The Athenian Murders (mystery)

Author: José Carlos Somoza
Year published: 2000
Pages: 314
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of detective: A “decipherer of enigmas”
Setting & time: Athens, ancient Greece
Some themes: Murder, philosophy, obsession, translation

The Story:
It is the time of Plato. A beautiful young man is found murdered on the outskirts of Athens, and his teacher, the philosopher Diagoras, hires Heracles Pontor, Decipherer of Enigmas, to investigate the death. In footnotes we see the comments of the translator who is translating the ancient manuscript that tells the story, into a modern language. As the investigation progresses, the translator gets more and more involved in the story, even begins to think he is in it, and traces, for the benefit of the reader, some clues that are scattered throughout the text and seem to refer to the 12 labours of Hercules. The translator thinks they are the key to a secret meaning hidden in the text (and the reader scents an ancient secret about to be revealed). Someone seems …

Bibliophile reviews Embers (literature)

Author: Sándor Márai
Original title: A gyertyák csonkig egnék (Hungarian)
Translated into English by: Carol Brown Janeway
Published: 1942 (original), 2003 (translation)
Genre: Literature

Excerpt from Embers

Story:
It’s 1941 and an old general is living alone with his servants in a castle in the Carpathian forest. One day an old friend of his announces his arrival, and old memories bubble to the surface. The friend listens while the general talks about their childhood friendship and the events that led to the friend’s departure 41 years before.

Review:
This novel is a bit unusual in its set-up in that nearly two-thirds of the story is a monologue by one of the main characters. The interjections by the other main character are so few and short that it can’t really be called a dialogue. The first third of the story is scene setting, descriptions of people, places and situations, told in a conventional style. The story is slow, almost painfully so at times. The language is flowing, almost sensuo…

Mystery author # 12: Elizabeth Peters

I read three of Peters’ books: two non-series romantic mysteries, and the first book in the Amelia Peabody historical mystery series. I think I have got a pretty good sampling of her work. Peters also writes suspense stories under the name of Barbara Michaels, and I have one of those books in my TBR stash that I plan on reviewing.



Title:Crocodile on the Sandbank
No. in series: 1
Series detective: Amelia Peabody
Year of publication: 1975
Availability: In print
Type of mystery: Supernatural (?)
Type of investigator: Amateur
Setting & time: (mostly) Egypt, 1880’s
Some themes: Archaeology, stalking, mummies, adventure, feminism, romance

Story:
Amelia Peabody, a spinster in her early 30’s, is left a considerable fortune by her father and decides to go on a Grand Tour of Europe and Egypt. In Italy she rescues a young, destitute English lady, Evelyn, who has been “ruined” (loss of sexual innocence without the blessings of marriage was a big deal for women in those days) and cruelly abandoned by he…

Mystery writer # 11 : Amanda Cross

Title:In the last analysis
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1964
Type of mystery: murder, whodunnit
Type of investigator: amateurs
Setting & time: New York, 1960’s
Some themes: Psychoanalysis, murder, literature, university life

Story:
New York literature Professor Kate Fansler is shocked when a former student of hers is murdered on the couch of the psychoanalyst Kate recommended to her. What’s worse, the psychoanalyst, an old friend of Kate’s, is the police’s favourite suspect. Not trusting in the intelligence and experience of the police, Kate begins an investigation of her own, assisted by her nephew-in-law to-be who does the sleuthing, and a friend who is an assistant district attorney and has access to inside information about the investigation. Kate herself mostly does the thinking and the mental arithmetic involved in putting together the clues and finding a likely suspect and motive. This she does and arrives at a theory. Unfortunately she is, at first, unable to prove it, as…

Bibliophile reviews Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret

Author: Judy Blume
Year published: 1970

The Story:
12 year old Margaret Simon has conversations with God, but doesn’t belong to any religion, because her mother is Christian and her father Jewish and they want her to choose her religious orientation for herself. When she is given an assignment where she has to keep a journal about some self-chosen subject for the whole winter, she decides to investigate religion. She and her friends are getting to the age when boys are becoming exiting, and they are all looking forward to the moment they will start to menstruate. Basically, religion and budding sexuality are the main themes of the book, along with friendship and prejudice.

Technique and plot:
I decided to read this story mostly because it is among the most banned or challenged books in the USA and has been since it was first published. It seems to have been challenged mostly for it’s portrayal of budding sexuality, but probably also for the controversial religious content – Margaret beli…

Mystery author # 10: John Dickson Carr/Carter Dickson

This time I read two novels by the author, one each with his two series sleuths.

Titles:The Hollow Man (alt. title: The Three Coffins), The Red Widow Murders
No. in series: 6, 3
Year of publication: 1935 (both)
Type of mystery: locked-room mystery, whodunit, howdunit
Type of investigator: amateur, retired professional
Setting & time: London, 1930’s (both)
Some themes: Locked rooms, poison, the French Revolution

John Dickson Carr is one of the Golden Age mystery writers. He was an American, but lived in Britain for a long time and set many of his books there. He was a very prolific writer during the peak of his career, and wrote most of his books under two different names: his own, and the pseudonym Carter Dickson. He had two series detectives: Dr. Gideon Fell, a professor of lexicography about whom he wrote as Carr, and Sir Henry Merrivale, written under the Dickson name. In addition he wrote non-series books, many of them historical novels.

The Hollow Man is one of Carr’s most famous no…

Mystery writer # 9: Sister Carol Anne O’Marie

Title:A Novena for Murder
No. in series: 1
Year published: 1984
Availability: In print
Pages: 183.
Setting & time: San Francisco – mostly Mount St. Francis College for Women, 1980’s (but has a somewhat timeless feel)
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateurs and police detectives
Some themes: Immigration, cultism, love, blackmail



Summary: 75 year old Sister Mary Helen has been dodging retirement for several years, but now the church has decided that she deserves her rest and she has been sent to Mount St. Francis College for Women to spend her retirement at what they call the Sister’s Residence, but she knows is nothing but a convent. The former teacher expects it to be boring, but a few days after her arrival, a Professor Villanueva is found murdered in his office and suspicion falls on Leonel, the assistant cook, whose fingerprints are found on the murder weapon. Sister Mary Helen is convinced of his innocence, and starts an investigation of her own. When she finds the bod…

Travel literature, part 3: Travelling while staying in one place - Expats writing about life abroad (updated 13 September 2016)

Here is a genre that has been included under the heading of “travel”, although it should properly be labelled “memoirs of places”, or, to borrow from Peter Mayle: “being there” books. These are the accounts of people, for some reason often British, who have chosen the expatriate life and moved abroad and then felt the urge to write about it. The genre has existed as long as there have been expatriates, but it was Peter Mayle who made it popular with modern readers with his bestseller A Year in Provence. Since the publication of this book more and more people have jumped on the bandwagon and written about their experiences. The result has been that the places the most popular books describe have seen an increase in tourism, and people long to buy houses there and live the dream presented in the books. Some have gone further and made that dream come true.

I like to divide these writers into two groups: the simple-lifers and the good-lifers.
Broadly speaking, the former try to outdo eac…

Bibliophile reviews Undead and Unwed (paranormal)

Author: Mary Janice Davidson
Year published: 2004
Pages: 255

First in a series.

The Story:
Elizabeth “Betsy” Taylor is a talkative, shallow shoe-addict with an attitude that comes her in good steed but also causes problems when she is struck by a car and rises two days later as a vampire (read the book to find out why). The discovery that her stepmother has stolen all her designer shoes and intended to bury her wearing a pink suit (a colour she hates) and cheap shoes initially upsets her more than being dead. Everything indicates that she is the new Queen of the vampires: she can enter churches, touch crosses and say “God” without any discomfort; instead of burning her, holy water only makes her sneeze; daylight just makes her sleepy; and dogs and people are attracted to her like iron filings to a magnet. Not to mention that men get horny just looking at her, something she has never experienced before. She soon discovers that there are two vampire clans in the city: Nostradamus’s clan, who…

Bibliophile’s booklists

I am a maniac when it comes to making lists, and book lists are no exception. I currently have the following set up:

Books Read list. I keep a handwritten reading journal where I write down information about the book (author, title, publication year, pages, rating, rereads, etc.), summarize the plot and write my review. The BR list is an Excel file which contains everything the journal does except the summary and review, and which allows me to gather statistics about my reading habits.

The Library list. This is twofold: a master list of all the books I want to read that are available at the various branches of the Reykjavík City Library and the National Library, and a series of smaller lists, broken down by the location of the books. These I print out small and keep in a Filofax that resides in my handbag.

The Wanted list. An auxiliary to the library list that lists books I want to read but not badly enough to buy, which are not available from the library. This list I check about once a…

Bibliophile reviews The Bloody Chamber (short stories)

Angela Carter was a brilliant short story writer and often used mythological or folk tale themes in her stories. Years ago I read another collection of her stories, Fireworks: Nine profane pieces, as part of a course on modern British literature, and was captivated by her use of language and the interweaving of folk tale elements and feminist themes into a rich web full of mystery and magic realism.



The stories in this collection are all variations on folk tales, with the exception of one story which owes more to modern vampire mythology. As the title suggests, there is a take on the Bluebeard story. Other folk tales readers may recognise are “Beauty and the Beast”, “Puss-in-Boots”, "Snow White" and “Little Red Riding Hood”. Carter reworks these stories into tales about strong, smart and, for the most part, resourceful women who know how to turn men’s desires to their advantage (for the most part: the protagonist of “The Bloody Chamber” doesn’t have a clue). Most of the stori…

Bibliophile reviews Road Fever (travel)

The other “fast travel” book I read last week was Tim Cahill’s Road Fever: A high speed travelogue, which had been languishing in my TBR pile for over two years. This is the account of how adventure travel writer Cahill and Gerry Sowerby, a professional adventure driver, drove from Ushuaia, the southernmost town in Argentina, to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, the northernmost place they could reach by road, in under 24 days, a world record.

Other reviewers have complained that nearly half the book is taken up with the planning and financing of the trip, but I found it refreshing to be allowed to see some of the intricate planning that goes into this kind of journey. So many adventure travel books make it look like the adventurers just decided to set off without any planning at all, which of course is a gross deception (in most cases).

I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I started reading it, probably something macho, but I was pleasantly surprised. Cahill is a skilful writer and manages…

Bibliophile reviews Border Crossing (travel)

I have always been of the opinion that in order to enjoy travel, you have to do it slowly. By slowly I mean taking your time to explore, to talk to people and enjoy being there, even if you had to fly to get there. But that is not to say that I don’t enjoy reading about fast travel. I just don’t see the point of it.

I read two such books last week, and enjoyed them in different ways. The first was Rosie Thomas’s Border Crossing: On the road from Peking to Paris. (I will review the other tomorrow).

In 1997, Thomas, a middle-aged author of women’s literature, and Phil Bowen, a thirtyish adventurer whom she had met while on a hiking holiday in Nepal, joined a rally from Beijing to Paris, which was being held to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the first (and then only) such race. The book describes the 45 day race to the finish line, across 13 countries, covering 16 thousand kilometres, complete with friendships, strife, a serious health problem, breakdowns, and road accidents. Rosie he…