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Showing posts from April, 2010


I have a project I have been thinking about for some time. Years ago, long before I exchanged my Icelandic food website for a blog, I translated some folk tales about the island of Drangey into English and put them up on an auxiliary website, accompanied by photos. I got some enthusiastic responses, but due to my freelance work I didn’t have the time to develop the idea further, so I filed away the idea. Now I finally have both time and inclination to put this idea into action. Numerous Icelanders have collected folk and fairy tales over the centuries so the resources are basically bottomless, meaning this could become a long-term project. I really don’t want to add yet another blog to my already too large repertoire, so I will post them on one of my existing blogs. To begin with, the format will be one story, either a folk tale or fairy tale (or possibly even an urban legend) per week, accompanied whenever possible by photos or illustrations found in the public domain or licensed as

Top mysteries challenge review: Beast in View by Margaret Millar

When reading up on Millar, it was a fun little discovery to find that she was Ross MacDonald’s wife, which, unless I am mistaken, makes them the only married couple on the MWA list. Year of publication: 1955 Genre: Psychological thriller Setting & time: Los Angeles, USA, contemporary A rich young woman who lives alone is startled by a threatening voice on the phone and turns for help to the only person she trusts, her stockbroker. He begins to investigate, but before the voice’s owner is caught, she has spread mayhem and death all around her. The writing style of this story is plain and straightforward, but the plotting is excellent and the way the characters are drawn is quite good, even if they do run somewhat to stereotypes. The story gives a believable description of a woman who is spiralling into madness, her obsessions and how they make her lose control. The plot twists are unpredictable and the ending a shocker, although in retrospective there were subtle clues hidden in

Let's hear it for the translators!

I came across this article on translators in Sunday's web edition of The Guardian. I agree with the commenter who asked why there was no prize for old translators - why make a distinction? On the one hand, I can understand that young - meaning new - translators might need some encouragement to continue in this field of work, because the pay is frankly shit and there is little acknowledgement of the hard work that goes into a good literary translation, but on the other hand don't the old dogs (like myself) need encouragement as well? By the way, the Icelandic translation prize makes no distinction between old and new translators, but simply rewards good translations. And it's twofold: one for fiction and one for non-fiction. If only they would add a prize that rewards good technical translations, I would be very pleased indeed.

Now reading

Making Money by Terry Pratchett. I finally found myself in the mood to read this, after having listened to the abridged audio book. I am enjoying all the little jokes and witticisms that were left out in the abridgement. Here is one - I think it was actually in the audio version, but it's worth quoting: Time turned the evil bastards into rogues, and rogue was a word with a twinkle in its eye and nothing to be ashamed of. I wonder if Mr. Pratchett reads historical romances? The rogue is such a common male lead in them that this sentence could be part of the historical romance writer's rules of storytelling.

Short stories 106-110

“Phineus and the Harpies” by Appolonius of Rhodes. From Great Short Stories of the World . Originally from The Argonautica , based on an older myth. One of the better known Greek myths, fleshed out with embellishments. “ The Willows ” by Algernon Blackwood. From The Midnight Reader . A brilliantly eerie and atmospheric tale from a true master of the strange story. Recommended. “ The Gray Champion ” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. From Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s Tales . A melodramatic American version of the “sleeping champion” myth. “The Pietro Andromache” by Sara Paretsky . From Windy City Blues . An engaging if not very mysterious mystery. “Rumpole and the Fascist Beast” by John Mortimer. From The Trials of Rumpole . Humorous as always, but not one of his best.

Top mysteries challenge review: Deadheads by Reginald Hill

Year of publication: 1983 Series and no.: Dalziel and Pascoe, #7 Genre: Police procedural Type of mystery: Murder (maybe) Type of investigator: Police Setting & time: Yorkshire, northern England; contemporary When the managing director of a local company tells Dalziel that he suspects one of his underlings at the company of murder, he thinks there is little in it, but sets Pascoe on the case nonetheless before leaving for a seminar in London. Pascoe starts sniffing around and finds an unusual number of deaths that have come in very handy for the subject of the investigation. Meanwhile, a new addition to the police force is proving to have good policeman instincts, one of the detectives is having a personal crisis, Pascoe's wife has struck up a friendship with the suspect's wife, and Dalziel has renewed his acquaintance with the suspect's mother. Hill is very funny but never to the detriment of the narrative, and his style is very readable and rather literary. The

Just finished

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. A good book to bring the horrors of the Holocaust to the attention of young teenagers - although I still think nothing beats (the non-fiction) Diary of Anne Frank for that purpose. Warning, possible SPOILERS below: I found this to be a good book for the most part and well written, and while it is meant for younger readers, it is still readable to an adult. However, I have some problems with it. I do realise the story is a parable for young teens, and therefore not totally realistic, but this irked me anyway. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood to read a parable – but there was nothing in the blurb that indicated that is was anything but a novel anchored in reality, and therefore I read it as such. The first is that I found hard to believe is that the nine year old protagonist, Bruno, could be so terribly naive to never realise what was really going on inside the Auschwitz fence that was literally a few meters away from his house. For a norma

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Today we Icelanders wish each other a Happy Summer. The third Thursday in April is the designated First Day of Summer in Iceland, and a public holiday, one of the few that are non-secular. In the era when people only had experience and superstition to rely on for weather forecasts rather than scientific meteorology, one of the ways in which the weather the coming summer was predicted was by putting a bit of water in a shell on the eve of the First Day of Summer, and going out just before dawn to check if the water had frozen over. If it had, the summer was supposed to be a good one. If not, then God help us. I am pleased that today is a holiday, because while I have a cold and a sore throat and feel rather tired, I am not really sick enough not to go to work. Having today off is going to give me a chance to rest and hopefully I will be feeling better tomorrow. I have already finished two books today, both, I hasten to add, ones that were already half read. Below is the review for one

Short stories 101-105

“ The Lord of Château Noir ”, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. From Tales of Unease . A chilly psychological tale with a twist. “Rose-coloured Teacups”, by A.S.Byatt. From Sugar and other stories . About mothers and daughters and the distance between them. “The Yellow Slug”, by H.C. Bailey. From Masterpieces of Mystery . A dark psychological story featuring Dr. Reggie Fortune, one of Bailey’s series detectives. Made me want to read more: Recommended. “Arsenic and Old Ideas”, by Jan Grape. From Malice Domestic 2 . A cosy about one of those clever women who manage to make their men see things differently in the service of justice. “Dougie, Spoons and the Solarium Aquarium” by Jenny Colgan. From Girl’s Night In . Funny and slightly surrealistic story about a man who loves snakes. A stinking cold and sore throat have combined with more overtime work to set me even farther behind in my reading. I have the economic collapse and volcanic eruption to thank for all the extra work, and my mother for t

Short stories 96-100

“King Rhampsinitus and the Thief". From Great Short Stories of the World , originally from Herodotus’s History . The tale of a clever thief that could have come straight from the 1001 Nights . “Coyote Peyote” by Carole Nelson Douglas. From The Mysterious West . A nice little introduction to the lead character of the Midnight Louie detective novels. “Ad Astra per Aspera” by Susan Compo. From Malingering . A strange little story. “Outside the Law”, by Anthony Berkeley. From Great Tales of Detection . A clever little psychological story about criminals in trouble. Recommended. “The Substitute“ by Marguerite of Navarre. From The Penguin Book of French Short Stories . A coyly bawdy tale reminiscent in theme of more explicit ones found in The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales . Just as I thought the overtime work was finished, I got more, setting me even further back in my reading. I have only finished 4 books so far this month, and I have 5 short stories to catch up on. This I find

Now reading: Deadheads by Reginald Hill

A good wordsmith can give a description of what a person looks like with a few well chosen words. In the instance below one sentence was enough not just to make me see a specific physical type in my mind's eye, but also to make me laugh, not the least because who I saw in my head was basically a younger Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. She was a good-looking woman in that rather toothy English middle-class way which lasts while firm young flesh and rangily athletic movement divert the eye from the basic equininity of the total bone structure.

Gave up on: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Not that it's a bad book, but it's one I can take or leave, and I am leaving it. The length may have something to do with it. If a book of that length - 550+ pages - has not yet captured my imagination around page 250, something is wrong, either with me or the book. I am inclined to think that in this case it's a little of both. I may get the urge to finish it some day, but until then it goes on the Unfinished list.

Just finished: The Viceroy of Ouidah by Bruce Chatwin

A marvellous historical novel, inspired by the story of a real 19th century Brazilian slave dealer who settled in Dahomey (now Benin), befriended its king, sired an army of children with his native wives and mistresses and sent off thousands of slaves to their deaths or lives of misery on the plantations of Brazil. I love the style, which is rich without being cloying, and full of atmospheric descriptions. I found myself riveted and read it slowly, to savour it to the fullest. Tempting as it it to include this book in the Global Reading Challenge as the entry for Africa, I think I will wait and choose a book by an African author for that entry. It did, however, help me cross another country off my list of countries I have visited in books. -- The over-time work is done for now, foreign journalists will be quoting from the translation I was working on, and my friends and family will hopefully stop asking me what is in it because the secrecy has been lifted and they can now read it for t

Books for Judy

Judy Haley of the Coffee Jitters blog contacted me recently, asking for recommendations for books to lighten her mood while she is dealing with breast cancer. I took some days to think it over, and then came up with the following: Dear Judy, Your request sent me to my re-read and feel-good shelves. I imagined what it would be like to be in your situation and which books I would read for comfort, and I chose a number of my favourites. You have probably read some of these books, but you might have to be reminded of them just the same. You wrote that you enjoy chick-lit and mysteries, but also that you were looking for feel-good books, so I included books in other genres as well. I have put them in in no particular order, just as I spotted them on the shelf. Specific titles: Jerome K. Jerome: Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog) – classic humorous novel Connie Willis: To Say Nothing of the Dog – speculative fiction, time-travel, romantic, funny (it helps to have read Three M

Short stories 91-95

“The sweet shot”, by E.C. Bentley. From Trent Intervenes . A contrived little mystery that raises questions about justice. “The white cat”. Fairy tale from Best-loved Folktales of the World . A marvellous and colourful fairytale. from “The Gloria Stories”, by Rocky Gámez. From Wayward Girls and Wicked Women . A colourful and funny story about a lesbian relationship that takes an unexpected turn. “Big Knighty Out”, by John Gordon Sinclair. From Big Night Out . An entertaining and brutal story about learning to stand up for oneself. “The Case of the Discontented Soldier”, by Agatha Christie. From Parker Pyne Investigates . Another silly little adventure story by Christie. I'm not reading as much as I would like these days, because I have been working overtime for most of this week. I love getting a bit more money into my savings account, especially as the freelance translation work has all but dried up, but the last thing I want to do when I get home after staring at words on a compu

How’s that for a stereotypical librarian?

There was something of the jumble-sale look about Miss Cavendish herself: an old brown skirt which nearly reached the ankles, sagging olive cardigan sweater, brown hair in a bun like a pincushion. ... The library certainly seemed to be Miss Cavendish’s métier. Her eyes, regarding Jury over the tops of half-glasses attached to a narrow grosgrain ribbon, looked weak, as if she’d spent too many nights reading. Her sallow complexion was marked by many moles like a foxed-page book. And when she moved, she seemed to whisper and creak as if her pages were loosening, though the sound was probably from a stiff petticoat. From The Old Fox Deceiv'd by Martha Grimes. Here, however, is a thoroughly non-stereotypical librarian .

Short stories 86-90

Page count: 1472 I cheated a bit on the challenge over Easter. I thought could safely leave behind all my short story collections when I went to stay with my parents over the holidays because I was sure they were bound to have something I could read for the challenge. This proved wrong. Therefore I will be reading 2 short stories a day until I catch up. “ The Good Bargain ”, a folk tale from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm . A story about stupidity, greed and unexpected cleverness. Rather racist and certainly not one of the memorable tales. (Link is to a different translation). “Harry”, by Rosemary Timperley. From Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories . A chilling and well written tale of an imaginary friend – or is he? Recommended. “The Sand Sifter”, by W.D. Valgardsson. From The Divorced Kid’s Club and other stories . A bit of depressing social realism. “ The country mouse and the town mouse ” by Aesop. From Great Short Stories of the World . One of Aesop’s immortal

Now reading: The Old Fox Deceiv'd

This is my first Martha Grimes book. I am on page 104 and the story has already yielded a number of interesting characters and several clues that may prove to be real or red herrings. I find Grimes a good describer of places and atmosphere, and I admire her humour and turn of phrase. Consider this: "Doesn't look very healthy to me," Wiggins said,eyeing it and then returning to his safer tea. Jury watched wonderingly as his sergeant spooned sugar into it with no regard at all for the tooth fairy.


Make up your fucking mind, will you? When I try to enter my account, I get this: "Okay, I haven't bought anything for 2 years, so they must have deactivated the account. I'll just open a new one." I enter my e-mail address and click on the "new customer" button. Up pops this: "Hmmm. Maybe it's there after all." Then I try various things, like retrieve the password, jump through all the hoops required to do that, etc. and end up with this: In order to contact them directly over this, I have to sign in. Guess what? I can't sign in because the damn system refuses to recognise my password, which I can't retrieve because while the damn system claims to have my e-mail on the register, it suddenly forgets all that once I enter all the required information in order to retrieve it. Classic Catch 22. All I want is my old account back and the wish list of hundreds of items that I spent 5 years accumulating. If that's not possible, I want to be

Review of Expletives Deleted: Selected writings by Angela Carter

I don’t really think that writers, even great writers, are prophets, or sages, or Messiah-like figures; writing is a lonely, sedentary occupation and a touch of megalomania can be comforting around five on a November afternoon when you haven’t seen anybody all day. From the Introduction . Year published: 1992 Genre: Literary criticism and analysis This is my third entry in the Bibliophilic Books Challenge . This volume of selected pieces of literary criticism and analysis by Angela Carter contains essays and reviews selected by her. They are not presented chronologically, so you don’t get much of a sense of development of writing style or ideas, but rather of unity of theme, genre or place. Carter writes from a personal point of view in many of these pieces, not trying to be objective, sometimes not even bothering to be coy or polite about saying she thinks something sucks, but almost always giving good reasons why. She is at her most venomous in two pieces mentioning cooking doyenne

Reading report for March 2010

I finished 17 books altogether in March. I went on a major Nora Roberts glom, reading 5 of her contemporary romances published under that name and 1 of the futuristic police procedurals/thrillers published under the J.D. Robb name. Altogether I read 7 romances in March, more than any other genre. A special mention in that category goes to Jo Beverley, as I discovered her Malloren series of historical romances, which promise to make a delightful diversion (getting a comment from the author herself was fun). I listened to Tony Robinson skillful reading of Terry Pratchett‘s Making Money , a book I have tried to read at least 3 times but have re-shelved each time because I wasn‘t in the mood to read it. I may make another attempt soon, because I found it quite funny in places and would like to read all the little jokes that got left out of this abridged version. The TBR stack has finally started to diminish, which was achieved by a mixture of reading and culling without reading. I got it

Ending line

And deep, deep under the streets of the city, in the cool, quiet dark, the diamonds waited to shine again. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb: Remember When Thus ends a very satisfying read. I would like to mention two errors that I found very entertaining. They could be the author's or could have crept in at any stage during the editing or proofing. Both are entertaining in their way, and both made me stop, go back, and smile. One is goofy: the names of the hero and the heroine's dog get mixed up at one point. The dog has a human name and the man a rather common dog name, so it's an understandable error. The other is, well, funny because it changes the meaning of what is being said: the misguided criminal thinks about himself as being "...entirely too young and vi r al to need glasses."